Building the foundation

The project continues! The first step was to get a Super-Small Form Factor (SSFF) PC that had the hardware to run Steam games on top of Debian Linux, which is what SteamOS is a fork of. Luckily, I have a good friend who tends to collect cast-off hardware.

The first model I tried was a Lenovo ThinkCentre M92p Tiny Desktop. It has an Intel Core i5-3470T processor at 2.90GHz. The processor has an on-board graphics card, which was good enough to handle what the project requires. We cobbled together 8 gigs of RAM from a couple of different boxes. It has onboard 802.11n and bluetooth, but only VGA and DisplayPort outs, when the screens I was looking at were all HDMI. Also, during install, my friend and I could only get video to output to the VGA port, which was not going to work. So, on to the next one.

The second model I tried was a Dell OptiPlex 7040 micro. It’s got an Intel Core i5-6500T processor at just under 3GHz, which also has an integrated graphics card. This one already had 8 gigs of RAM installed, but no wifi or bluetooth. It didn’t have a hard drive, so I pulled a 128 GB SSD out of my LaCie Rugged enclosure and crossed my fingers that the hard drive space requirement was able to be fudged.

It was! I hooked it up to an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse. SteamOS installed, with no error, and booted right up! There was some serious screen twitching going on with the video card (Skylake! *shakes fist*), but a configuration change fixed that completely. I installed some games, and was grinning ear to ear at how smoothly they were playing.

Next Friday – Testing with the controller! Ordering and testing the screen! Also a wireless and bluetooth card!

New project!

I am incredibly excited. I am bouncing off the walls with giddiness and anticipation. I have a new project, but I can’t start on it until I get home from work travel. This project, everyone, this project!

I’ve been debating getting a Nintendo Switch since it came out about a year ago. I’ve gone back and forth on it, mulled it over during my gaming videos, and debated about it while hanging out in my favorite streamers’ channels. The hardware is beautiful and amazing and I want to pet it all day long. But the games… I’d have to re-purchase any classic games that I’ve bought for my Wii U, and because of the move from discs to cartridges, backward compatibility isn’t possible. Add on to that all of the copyright notices I get when I archive streams of Wii U games to YouTube. But the hardware… oh, man.

The project idea hit me when I was bemoaning this yet again, and asked why I would sink even more money into a game library for the Switch when I have all of these unplayed games in my Steam library? It seemed ludicrous.

So what I really want to do, is to play my Steam games on the Switch. But, meh, I’ve fought to get root and install OS ROMs on devices before, and I moved to an iPhone so I wouldn’t have to do that any more.

So what I REALLY want to do is play my Steam games on a device LIKE the switch. (CAPS.) My brain went pop, and I thought, that should exist! Spoilers, it does, or has in the recent past, or will in the near future, but either not in the form factor I’m looking for, or isn’t available for purchase.

Everyone, I’ve decided to build a hand-held Steam Box. The first iteration will only play those games with the Steam logo in the compatibility list (SteamOS). The second iteration will play all the Windows compatible games, up to and including modern releases.

I’ve got a plan. And, with the help of a good friend, a jumping-off-point in the form of a SFFF (super small form factor) PC ready and waiting when I return home.

Cannot. Wait.

I don’t like most social networks.

There, I’ve said it. It’s true.

I hate Facebook with the passion of a thousand burning suns. I could go on for hours about all of the bad and the terrible. In fact, I have. It’s pretty easy to get me going, in fact.

I fought joining Twitter, until signing up meant that I was more likely to get that job that I was after. Once I did, I was pretty well addicted. I fully embraced it as a microblogging platform, until Gamergate showed how lax they were with enforcing any sort of abuse policy whatsoever. I stayed as long as I could stand it, but eventually a vote was taken, and the citizens of Skippy chose Twexit.

Google Plus was just disappointing from beginning to end. Not only did Google/Alphabet/whatever decide to get rid of my favorite Google products (I STILL WANT READER BACK! YOU HEAR ME?), not only did it force gender-normative real names upon YouTube comments, not only did it replace Picasaweb (IT WAS FINE YOU JERKS), but it ended up being lackluster and bland.

I tried ello. Flash in the pan, and pretentious to boot.

Livejournal was my home from 2001, and I slowly migrated away from it, until its new-ish Russian parent company decided that all users were subject to Russian law.

I missed Vine entirely. I blinked, and it went away. And, yes, I’m going to point out how similar its life was to the length of its videos.

Snapchat? EEeeeeuuuuggghhhh….

Diaspora? Now THAT ONE had my attention. I signed up for notifications, and I wanted to host my own pod, and it was awesome and was going to be the best and… I have no idea what happened. I don’t remember ever getting the notification that it was available for use, or I did and never signed up or… ? No idea.

Mastodon seems to be a modern Diaspora, and the only problem I’m having so far is figuring out which node I want to be associated with for the life of the platform and/or until that particular node goes down for good. I’m unsure about how that data can be migrated if that happens, but whatever. I’m going to give it a try.

I’m not looking for a replacement for this blog, or for my vlog, or for my gaming videos. Actually, I take that back, I’d love to find a replacement for YouTube. But, I’m not expecting Mastadon to be that. I’m expecting it to be a place to connect with friends and view microblogging content and that sort of thing. On a distributed, open source platform.

If you’re interested, check it out. :) I’ll be posting my contact info there soon!

Hang up and drive!

iOttie Easy One Touch 2As I’m sure has been well established by now, I’m particular when I buy things. Picky, even. I had my car for several years before I was able to find just the right one. And then, to rule out possible mistakes, I asked for it for Yule from my might-as-well-be-sister.

She always gets me precisely what I ask for.

My car came with a mounting disc. I’m not sure if the previous owners had a GPS, an MP3 player, or a phone mount; all that was left was the disc. Also, it appeared to be fused to the dashboard – the two were one. So, I needed a phone mount that had a long enough arm to be mounted to the disc, and wouldn’t let go of the phone on bumpy road, or anything else that would make me a sad panda.

Enter the iOttie Easy One Touch 2.

Two years of casual research later, and I stumbled upon this bad boy. Pressure-triggered switch activates the clamp on the phone, and the rubber grips hold my Otterbox tightly in place. Push on the releases, and the phone comes right out. A bumpy road is no match for its Kung-fu Grip.

It has multiple joints, a telescoping arm, and can make me a perfect grilled cheese sandwich. Okay, maybe not that last one. And sometimes the joints need tightening. THat’s just the nature of road vibration.

So, overall? VERY happy with it, and I’d recommend it to other picky shoppers. Give it an eyeball, if you’d like.

I work with my hands.

Much like my headphones, I’m super particular about my keyboard and pointing device. Yes, I said pointing device. Up until recently, I’ve foregone mice in favor of the trackball. If I had the option of a bluetooth version of that, in fact, I’d probably still have one. That’s neither here nor there. Tangent, begone!

I’ve got a Logitech K811 keyboard and a Logitech MX Master mouse, and I’m quite pleased with them. They both do their jobs quickly and smoothly, unless they’re low on charge. The feel of the keyboard is great; it’s a dream to type on.

That was enough while I had one primary computer, but now that I’ve got a laptop for work and a desktop for personal stuff, I dig these devices even more. Each can connect to up to three different devices over bluetooth, and can switch between them with the press of a button.

Done with work? Change my monitor input, mouse setting, and keyboard setting. Playing games like a champ. Forgot to tie something up? Same process, and I’m back to a full work environment. All at the same desk.

And though my last Logitech trackball was of questionable toughness, I don’t regret sticking with the brand for a second. Hell, I’ve been with them since forever. I highly recommend both the K811 (or its PC counterpart, the K810) and the MX Master.

First Generation iPad Love

My family and I love our first generation iPad, and why wouldn’t we?

Another piece of old tech looking for a good home sent by the mysterious benefactor, I felt that making this iPad 1 useful would be quite the challenge. After all, Apple’s known for cutting devices off completely when they determine that backwards compatibility is no longer worth the effort. I didn’t even think it would connect to the app store.

My first step was to charge it. I’m not sure how long it had sat, but the battery charge was still at 25% (or thereabouts) when I got it. I had honestly forgotten about how awesome iPad batteries were. After I’d topped off the charge, I wiped it and started from scratch. I installed any available updates – the newest compatible iOS is 5.1.1. I tested all of the buttons and the touch screen, all working great despite some casing damage near the volume button.

The screens on these things are still freaking beautiful.

I pulled up the app store and entered my Apple ID, and… it worked! Up-to-date listing of all of the available apps, updates, everything. Even search worked! I threw caution to the wind and tried to download a free app. The download started, and then came the error box. Okay, expecting otherwise had been a bit unrealistic. Wait, what was this? “This app requires at least iOS 7.1 or later. Would you like to install an older version that is compatible with your iOS?”

WHAT WHAT WHAT?

Yes, app store, I most certainly would. And did. It should be noted that a good half of the apps I’ve tried to install haven’t had compatible older versions. BUT, I’ve found more than enough to make the tablet well-loved by the kids (thanks Toca Boca and Netflix), the wife (Diamond Quest), and me (SSH app, Pocket, Facebook).

So, yeah. I didn’t have to jailbreak it or load anything custom on it or jump through obscure hoops to turn an aged tablet into a used-daily family computing device. Now I just need to find a case for it. Who knows how long I can get it to last?

Linux and a MacBook Pro

A few months ago, I received a package in the mail from a mysterious benefactor. It contained two pieces of tech that were old, outdated, and abandoned. The first was a 17″ MacBook Pro, part of the first generation released with Intel processors.

It was missing a battery, but otherwise worked. An old (and now known to be insecure) version of Mac OS X booted up and hummed along. The screen, once cleaned, was magnificent, even without being “retina.” I had plenty of uses for this – a computer for Cian, a computer to work on or putz around with when I was in the living room, a school computer for my brother-in-law… in the end, I decided on making it a kid/guest computer for the living room. Aidan had lost the privilege of having a computer in his room, Cian wasn’t ready for his own yet, and many guests have borrowed Nikki’s or my laptop when they were over.

This laptop just missed the compatibility cut-off for OS X Yosemite, and I wasn’t going to leave a known insecure OS on it. The same incompatibility ruled out 64-bit operating systems in general, but its max of 3GB of RAM made that a moot point. So, I installed 32-bit Edubuntu on it, and it ran fairly well, as long as I avoided the Unity desktop. Still sometimes Firefox would chug or Minecraft would stutter – forget trying to play it in full screen.

I still felt like the OS was doing injustice to the machine, so I kept looking. My memory upgrade (to the full 3GB) came in, and improved things, but I was still dissatisfied. I had much better memories of this class of machine. there’s not a whole lot of info out there about old Macs and Linux shacking up together, but I stumbled on two distros that I hadn’t played with in a while: Bodhi and Xubuntu. (Xubuntu is really just XFCE on top of Ubuntu, so not really its own distro, but whatever.)

While I dug Bodhi’s goal and vision, it felt clunky and counter-intuitive. The laptop’s graphics capability seemed ignored, and I just didn’t like it. Xubuntu was the exact opposite. It was smooth, though long to boot, and had a simple and straightforward implementation of XFCE. Things were intuitive; they just worked. Firefox flew when compared to running in Edubuntu, as did Minecraft.

Full screen runs like a dream!

So, I settled on Xubuntu, and I haven’t been sorry. The younger boys play Minecraft on it (and Acelyn is already asking to try), browsing is fully-functional and quick (even on YouTube and Facebook), and it stores nicely under the couch, to be set on the coffee table when in use. No battery needed!

Thanks again to the mysterious benefactor, and wherever/whoever he got this from. It’s got a good home.

Ouya as a Set-Top Box, part 2

I really appreciate that this last hotel had a media box hooked up, so that external devices could be connected to the room TV. It had composite, S-video, and HDMI, as well as a 3.5mm audio in jack.

I hooked up the Ouya, which survived another trip as carry-on in my backpack, and the video came right up. The audio was the obnoxious guy from the menu channel, and I couldn’t get it to go away. After a bit of fiddling, I double-checked the labels on the media box ports.

HDMI was labeled as “Digital Video.”

A quick call to the front desk confirmed that it was video only. There was always the audio in jack, but the Ouya doesn’t have a matching output. That left specialized cables or adapters and now I was moving into “too much work” territory.

I did have a work-around. The speakers on my laptop are excellent, and it has an HDMI out port. I hooked the laptop up to the TV, muted the TV, cranked the volume on the laptop, and used my trackball as a remote for Netflix and YouTube goodness.

Conclusion – Leave the Ouya at home as the really cool Android gaming console that it is.

To Do – Figure out how to avoid Laptop Neck while traveling. Maybe something like this?