Archive for September, 2017

Nerd Bumbling; My Computing History featuring Mac, DOS, Linux, BSD and FreeDOS

Posted in Uncategorized on September 19, 2017 by Q

Hold up.
Unless you for some wild reason enjoy reading the rambles from someone you don’t know talking about himself, stop now. This will be slightly long and boring. Why am I doing it then? For some reason, I feel like pushing buttons I suppose, and thought it might be a little relaxing to just “write” for a while.

I was born in the early 80’s and something I’ve loved my whole life is computers. I was never academic, I never went to college and never got the opportunity to work in the I.T. field. Still, I’ve been around a few blocks over the years and no matter what anyone could say, I’m proud of the things I’ve experienced. Just out of nostalgia, I know I’ve written once or twice about the beginning for me, Apple. It’s unfortunate that while Apple is a completely different company than what they were “back in the day”, one stereotype has always been prevalent is that the Apple lover is among the lowest on the technical competency scale. I always believed I was an exception to this rule and I’ll explain why. For starters, let’s start with passion. I always had the unfortunate and slightly ridiculous habit of forming emotional attachment and concern for technology that I use which so happens to bring some sense of happiness or joy to my life. My mom used to have to make me go outside to play when I was a kid because if I was left to my own devices, I would stay inside playing video games or playing with my computer. Still, I always felt like my machines were a close friend and even had a soul, which is funny since the idea of a “soul” is something I don’t actually believe in. Like I said, ridiculous.

Still, I went to school every day ready to geek out at any opportunity. I was actually happy that my floppy disks were “Mac formatted” in that time before Macs could read PC formatted disks. I was a big fan of Steve Jobs, and I still revere him as someone important to me, someone who impacted my life. Mind you, we’re talking before I was even a teenager. So back to technical competency. Even at my pre-teen ages, I was already the definition of a “power user.” I understood what file sizes and directory structures were all about, I understood every one of my system extensions and had a few third party ones I used. I could zip around my old Macs quickly because I understood and used a small smattering of keyboard shortcuts. By 6th grade I was an extremely proficient touch typist too 🙂 So, that said I was briefly in the camp of Mac vs PC, but then again my dad had certainly been thru more than a couple computers and I so happened to have a good working knowledge of DOS and Windows For Workgroups 3.11 by the time I made it to 13 years old. I had a basic understanding of what config.sys and autoexec.bat did, and how to mess with them. Of course, between both systems, I had stupid numbers of hours in on games. I had mountains of shareware disks and collections when that was a thing, and there were some games I somehow figured out how to crack with a hex editor that so happened to store registration keys in plain text within the executable.

I use this word again; ridiculous. Seriously, most guys by the time they hit their early teenage years have developed an interest in something like sports, but me? Nerd. Maybe it was evident when I was around the ages of 5 or 6 when of course I loved watching cartoons, but also was relaxed to watch Bob Ross on TV, and was fascinated with Star Trek Next Generation and Max Headroom. My mom used to tell me that she couldn’t understand how such a young kid could me mesmerized by stuff like that.

So, to move on, yes by high school I had a thorough understanding of DOS and absurd loyalty and love for the Macintosh. The world had moved on, we were looking at Windows 98 and Windows 2000 and I still used DOS on occasion when I would fire up the old PC just because those games were awesome. I remember sinking a lot of time into Ultima 6, Eternam, and Jazz Jackrabbit in particular. So, high school rolls around and my machine is a blue bubble shelled iMac. For most of my high school career, I was pretty much all Apple again. It wasn’t until after high school my interests in other things developed. I was working for an office cleaning company and one of the guys whose office I was cleaning happened to be working late. I don’t remember what brought up computer talk, but we started talking tech and he mentioned something to me about Linux. I hadn’t heard even heard of it, and please keep in mind this is still a time when the internet wasn’t 100% daily life like it is for us all now. There was local Linux users group that met once a month at this old school building turned storage and he invited me to it. There, I was introduced to an eclectic group of guys, mostly older adults, I think me and a friend of mine I ended up bringing were in fact the youngest guys there. These men were all I.T. guys or hobbyists like I never knew. A few of these guys were Red Hat men, some were Mandrake, one was a Debian fanatic. The first time I saw one of these guys boot up their machines, I’m watching the kernel output at boot flashing across the screen and man that shit was mind blowing. I felt slightly overwhelmed and thought I was well in over my head trying to hang around these guys. They were all so awesome and friendly though. Finally, I brought in a PC I had laying around and they helped me pick my first distro: Mandrake. They felt it was easiest for the new comer and back in that era, it was definitely touted as one of the easiest to pick up and use Linux distros around.

Discovering that group set a whole new direction of geekdom in motion for me. I had only just started understanding the basics of using this system before I wanted to try others. Over the course of a couple years, I had been thru Mandrake, Red Hat, Suse, and during that experimental stage, one I used for a good while was called TurboLinux. So flash forward just a bit and here I am at about 22 years old. I was getting very serious about Linux and was rarely using my Mac because one, it was out of date big time. Two, I was becoming passionate about open source software and how awesome Linux was. I decided I wanted to make it a mission to establish some self-imagined geek credit and tried one of the distros that was considered top level advanced at the time, and that was Slackware. I can only say that to a new comer to Linux, it would be intimidating and it could be viewed as the opposite of user friendly. That folks is a myth. It just requires you to like text instead of icons for administrating your system. With the help of a guy who was my closest friend at the time, I built my first computer tower from scratch. The mobo was an MSI, the processor was the new AMD Athlon XP 2200+, it had 1.5GB of ram which at the time was kind of big, and an Nvidia Geforce 2 TI. The case of that tower had this kind of neon plexiglass lining die cut on the front which was clear but had slightly purple hue. It was over the drive bays in separate cuts, and the led lights for the power button and power on indicator were white. The tower was a sort of dark silver/gray that was a little more shiny, but somewhat like Apple calls “space gray” nowadays. The left side had a plexiglass opening so you could see the hardware inside and it had two blacklight bars inside across the top and bottom which made it flashy and attractive. Oh, about the front. It had a pair of clear tubes with led lights behind them that slowly transitioned across a multitude of colors and inside the tubes were water that made small bubbles spin around inside when the machine was on. It was sort of unique and kind of stupid by any standards, but I thought it was badass. I also had one of my Linux friends acquire a metallic and kind of bubble-dome Slackware case badge for it. It was a point of real pride for me.

I ran Slackware for many years. I was out of the Apple camp a good while before all that anyway because Steve Jobs had announced the switch to Intel not to mention the death of OS 9 which I loved very, very much. I didn’t like the look and feel of this new “OS X”, so I was kind of done anyway. So yeah, me and Slackware. I was extremely fond of the GNUstep tools and the WindowMaker environment, it was for the most part the only GUI I used for most of those years, and believe me I tried many of them. I also considered it a “fun” activity to tweak out TWM (tab window manager.) The most basic and borderline useless GUI you can use on a Linux system right? I had tweaked out scripts and really modified the hell out of TWM’s configuration….just for fun. What’s wrong with me? Another example of fun? I wanted to go a full month in pure text mode. No graphic interface, sort of. I never once fired up the X environment, and made it a point to do my word processing in VIM, used BitchX for an IRC client, used mplayer via console to watch movies and whatnot, LINKS for web browsing, and so on. I was ripping and burning lots of CDs, download music from FTP servers, and just all kinds of fun stuff strictly in text mode. Again, what the hell is wrong with me right?

I eventually came into a used dual G4 PowerMac for dirt cheap that had some issue with it’s power button. Once the machine was powered on and then shut down, I would have to unplug it and plug it back in before it could be turned on again. I never knew what that was about, but what the hell, that was the only problem with it. I started using it and making myself get familiar with OS X. I also started using this G3 tower I had picked up for OS 9 because I was really, really missing my old Mac OS. The convenience of the new stuff though was starting to grow on me. I guess my tinkering and learning phase was starting to slow down. I was in a relationship at the time too and didn’t have as much time to sit and bury myself in man pages and web forums, then again in this same era I hardly needed too since I knew how to compile my own kernels and was thoroughly proficient in Slackware. Something else I’ve written about on occasion is my obsession with music from again, a small child. The 3rd generation iPod had just came out and I never much about portable music players prior. The same friend who had helped me build my tower all those years ago ended up selling me his long story short. I was thrilled to death about the notion of being able to carry thousands of tunes in my pocket. This of course absolutely required a Mac. While there many projects starting to emerge to be able to copy music to an iPod via Linux, it was a nightmare for me and I never got that shit to work.

That pretty much brought me back into Apple’s ecosystem but I wasn’t completely done yet. I still loved Slackware but wanted to try even more things. Here came FreeBSD. I remember the old user group when a couple guys talked about BSD but nobody there was into using it. The first time I fired it up, I had a blank console and the Linux shit I knew didn’t really apply there at all. I hit something on my keyboard that type an honest to goodness triangle on the screen instead of a letter, when I tried to clear it, it somehow got locked in a loop like hitting the enter key and the stupid triangle rose up and off the screen. This is still a memory I laugh about. Here I am trying a new system, and i’m typing fucking triangles that fly off the screen. I was like, NOPE. Whatever the hell this system is, it ain’t for me. I gave up for I think a year or so before I wanted to try BSD one more time. Something about the name and reputation intrigued me similar to Slackware, it was somewhat intimidating to me and that drove me to want to try again because I said to myself “I was able to conquer Slackware, I can do this too.” Looking back I still don’t know what was up with that triangle thing. Anyway, I had burned another disc and tried again. My buddy happened to have a physical copy of the FreeBSD handbook which if you know anything at all about FreeBSD, that thing was big enough to break thru a car window with if you threw it hard enough. Once you find what you need and take it slowly, it’s actually clear and concise. Keep in mind this is all user land stuff for me. Linux and BSD. Other than configuring my network adapter, I wouldn’t know the first thing in either system about setting up and configuring a network of multiple machines. Zilch, zero, nada. Still, long story short I got thru it and figured out how to set up a FreeBSD machine enough to make it usable. I got my video card working properly, I got my sound working, had an X environment with WindowMaker, I was set to go there. The package management system is the best thing I had ever experienced hands down. Unlike the years I had spent with Slackware where I mostly installed binaries and sometimes had to compile my packages, this time I didn’t have to track down and fight with dependencies. FreeBSD is so tightly structured and it solves that shit on it’s own thanks to the ports tree. No more compiling kernels for me to update my system. I can update my FreeBSD system and all the packages on it in just a couple commands. It really just works.

As awesome as that all was, I was still firmly back into the Apple camp again. At this point, I had a new obsession in my life, and it’s name was BlackBerry. I lived and breathed Research In Motion. My first blog online was entirely managed from my BlackBerry and I did tons of writing on those. I still have all of my BlackBerrys I’ve ever owned except one, the Blackberry Storm 2. That was my first touch screen phone and I hated it, I had ended up selling that to a guy I was working with. I then made it my mission I suppose to make the smartphone my mobile computer as best I could. I did everything possible and trudged thru some shit on occasion to do as little on my actual computer and do everything as much as possible on my smartphone. Toward the end of my BlackBerry days, I even did my taxes a couple years via TurboTax on my BlackBerry. Those devices. I called them my third appendage and my best friend. When Windows Phone 7 was first introduced, that was when some big changes were going on. BlackBerry 10 was out and they were shifting to Android. I had briefly tried an Android device, the Motorola Droid X2, and I hated that shit. I don’t know what it was but I hated Android. It was still considered the least secure mobile operating system in the market at this point too. I was going thru the same thing with BlackBerry that I had with Mac OS 9, they were transitioning to new things, and the classic stuff that I loved so dearly was being killed off. So, here came Windows Phone 7. In all my years one thing that was constant is that I hated Microsoft, and the only thing they ever had that I loved was MS-DOS. Me and a guy I worked with were hanging out one day and were at the mall looking at phones. I got to play with Windows Phone for the first time hands on ended up leaving with one. I was intrigued by this sharp, pretty interface with these floating tiles, dark themed OS, and gorgeous print. Seriously, I loved the font Microsoft used for that. Anyway, it was so new and so drastically different and it was the first thing after many years of BlackBerry loyalty to pull me away from that. I was honestly kind of in shock that I was attracted to something Windows. It was tricky since my computer was a Mac. You’d think I would’ve went iPhone, but at first glance it reminded me too much of Android and I thought the static “pages of icons” thing was boring anyway. By the next year when I was due for an upgrade, I tried an iPhone, the new iPhone 4. I had for a couple days and decided to take advantage of the return policy and got myself another Windows Phone. I was crazy about Windows Phone. I remained loyal for a good while. Windows 8 had come out and whereas a lot of people seemed to hate it, I already had a fair amount of time in with my Nokia, and had become extremely fond of the clean, tile interface those had. That made me do something I couldn’t believe; I acquired and installed Windows 8 on my PC. I thoroughly loved it because it was the perfect match to my Windows Phone. The support for it app wise was becoming less and less. I wanted to do a lot more shit on my device than I was able to with Windows Phone, and then I dropped out of the dream. I ended up getting an iPhone and I’ve stuck with that since. I still think it has a boring interface for the most part, but by this time, the world knew about Google’s shady privacy and data mining policies, the shit that most people who buy an Android phone just click “I agree” on. Yeah yeah, all big tech companies in the here and now mine you, but for what purpose? Google’s own (former) CEO described Google as “a marketing and advertising company first, a products and services company second.” I absolutely refuse to sit and get into an argument with people about this. Simply put, I never liked Google and even before I knew much of anything about them, I did not like Android whatsoever. Speaking as to right here and now, I’ve gotten so used to the iPhone that I’m content with it. My job requires me to have a smartphone handy as it’s tied into my company’s email system, calendars, notes, and so on. Everything is so smooth and convenient, so I don’t think much about it. I suppose in retrospect, if Windows Phone had done a lot better in the market and had the same mainstream support that iPhone and Android have, I might very well still be using it. Still, the past is the past and I’m happy where I am.

I still use FreeBSD from time to time on my PC tower, but mostly it (was) my Mac Mini and nowadays my present MacBook Pro. I do want to share however that in 2010 when I first discovered chiptune and wanted to start making my own, I was rolling with the Atari 2600 right? I’ve wrote about that on this very blog, how I first got into it and how just tinkering and screwing around evolved into my first tune, which then evolved into “BitPusher” and so on. My first EP and LP (Pixelize The System and Modus Operandi) were recorded on my FreeBSD machine. I try to keep myself up to date with FreeBSD, but hell, I am 100% Apple nowadays. I miss the old days terribly, and have genuinely emotional and fond memories, just lots of love. All my years have given me small mountains of knowledge. If you honestly have read all of this, I would hope there’s some fleeting piece of evidence that not all Apple users are simply mindless “sheeple” who are largely incompetent when it comes to advanced computing topics. I use a Mac and an iPhone and yet can fully administrate a Slackware or BSD machine. I choose Apple nowadays because yes it is simplistic, everything works seamlessly and smoothly and I appreciate those things. I will never be convinced either that Windows is superior to the BSD system that powers MacOS, and thanks to MacPorts I can even prove the further extensibility of MacOS beyond just the graphic interface. Just like myself as a kid who was proficient in the underpinnings of the classic Macintosh, I understand MacOS and can have some fun with it’s BSD underpinnings, so thanks for that built-in console there Apple.

Lol. To quote some classic Jobs; there’s still one more thing…that I want to ramble about. My fairly recent discovery of FreeDOS. Having loved DOS most of my life, believe me I am a loyal user of DOSbox. I once in a while crave those old DOS games and just so much enjoy re-living moments of my youth. It was only earlier this year that I discovered FreeDOS. The idea that DOS is still around, still being developed as is software for it as well, that completely blows my mind. I was stoked suffice it to say. Excluding DOSbox I suppose, one thing I have always hated is the idea of virtualization and am the same way with my chiptune. I have not just a strong preference for, but some sense of self confidence and pride in the fact that I work on the real hardware, rather than using a DAW and MIDI to make chip music. Likewise with computers. Now, using real DOS on modern hardware is sufficiently tricky and most of the time a failure for me, so that’s my case for DOSbox because it’s the only way I know of to get that stuff to really work short of buying and ancient machine which I honestly don’t want to deal with. But enter FreeDOS. I still am confounded and surprised big time at the idea of a modern DOS, that runs on modern hardware. I completely re-did my present PC tower and now dual boot between FreeBSD and FreeDOS. I am absolutely in love. Having modern memory management, the ability to use incredibly large hard drives, big plus. So far however, I have not had any success getting my network adapter working, because while FreeDOS has abilities MS-DOS never had, I’m kind of stuck because of no driver support. Likewise, sound card support is a problem too since my machine has integrated Intel HDA and there’s no driver support for it for DOS. Excluding those things though, it is rather amazing. It has successfully run every game and a few other things I have thrown at it as well and does it perfectly. I just kind of smile thinking that I have a relatively modern machine and this OS can be ran on it and do a good job at that. Modern alternatives to himem.sys and emm386.exe, that is just something I almost can’t wrap my head around. I am in love with FreeDOS but saddened big time by the limitations I am facing, the biggest of all of course being zero sound support. Playing those classic games in silence completely sucks and I just hope that Jim Hall and the people who continue to develop FreeDOS figure out some sort of support for that. As for internet, I am ok without it. I just so happen to have hardware that doesn’t have driver support. Still, there are graphical web browsers that are written for DOS, so if you are thinking it would be some text-mode only option available because “it’s DOS”, you would mistaken. It is possible to play movies and music, browse the web with a proper graphical internet browser and so much more. I just really want to say this again: I am in love with the very existence of FreeDOS, and I will continue to follow and support the project as best I can, and maybe someday they will fix these issues. They sort of advertise right on their homepage how great it is for playing classic DOS games and using classic software, not to mention that there’s NEW software being written out there for it. On the whole, it’s still plenty usable now, and of course it strokes my nostalgia big time because dude, it’s freaking DOS.

That all pretty much brings me up to date, and this has been my journey from the early 80’s as a child to right now. I don’t know for sure what will exist and where I’ll be let’s say 10 years from now, but yeah, as it stands i’m an Apple man, a FreeBSD man, and as odd as it sounds, a DOS man too. I am 100% sure nobody will ever read this shit because who would really want to? It felt good to just think back and write for a while, this is how I chose to relax. Take care all, and I want to give a fond and heartfelt nod to the many people across our globe who maintain and support FreeBSD and FreeDOS.

Good night.