What about Consoles? – My Brief History #4

When I started writing this series of posts about my life as gamer I didn’t expect to do a post on console gaming. Why not? Because so far it has been a significant part of my gamer experience. I expected to give it honorable mention in a wrap comment, along with mobile gaming. Yet here we are and I am writing this. What happened? The short answer is that I got myself an Xbox One for Christmas, so one way of the other, a console will be part of my life for a while coming, and before that happens it makes sense to take a status on my console experience so far.

The longer answer to the ‘why get a console now?’ involves retrogaming, media centers and surveillance cameras and the Raspberry Pi. Here is how: As mentioned in a previous post I am the generally happy owner of 3 Pis. Two are media centers, the third is used for various experiments.

Now, we have a spot in the house that we want to be able to check occasionally when we are away from the house. A quick solution for the budget aware person is to grab a Raspberry Pi, connect a camera and DIY. That’s what I am gonna do and that’s gonna set me back one Pi.

Then, regarding media centers: I have two Rasperry Pis running Kodi (one per TV) and that is a fine solution, except that one of the pies is not performing well and I want at the very least to have a backup. That could be another Pi, but trying out heavier hardware could be interesting.

Finally, as my first post in this series indicates, my heart still beats for old arcade and early computer games. Fortunately emulators are available that provide the opportunity to reply these games, either on a PC or *something* else. Again, the quick solution for the budget aware person involves a Raspberry Pi and, for example, an installation of RetroPie – a Linux package specifically build to run RetroArch on a Raspberry Pi. A great idea in principle, but I never was happy with the result, with the main gripe being controller setup. I just can’t get a stable setup with a wireless BlueTooth controller. So next step for me is to try building on hardware with native wireless controller support. I was already starting to look into options for building a NUC-based solution for this, when it occurred to me to check current costs of a gaming console. Turns out that both the PS4 and the Xbox One are now reasonably priced. Then, while I am not a fan of the Black Friday concept, I still checked if an Xbox could be bought at a reasonable price. Turns out it could. Directly from Microsoft even. No doubt to lock people into their games eco system before they get a Stadia or switch to Play Station 5 instead of getting the Xbox Series X when it arrives in 2020. And apparently also to keep people from buying more Raspberry Pis. In any case, soon I will unwrap my new Xbox and grow much wiser in the way of consoles. Time will tell if I succeed with my projects and whether gaming catches on – at least for the kids.

My brief history of gaming #4 – The Consoles in my Life

I am pretty sure that my earliest gaming experience was on a neighbor’s Atari 2600, some sort of tennis game and since then console gaming has always on the edge of my gaming universe, with a few trips inside. We shall see what my Xbox will do about that, but That may be a out to change, but I’ll start at the beginning.now I start at the beginning.

After the Atari next experience was the small handhelds with LCD screen. Nintendo’sGame & Watch: Octopus and Trojan Horse and Towering Rescue from Gakken. Very simple games by today’s standard, but quite exciting for a kid in the early 1980s and more than enough to make you want more.

I then took the Commodore path of 64 and the Amiga path and didn’t pay much attention to the console alternatives. I suspect that many consoles weren’t marketed very well in Denmark either – probably the market is too small.

What finally brought me to consoles was SSX Tricky and Dancing Stage Megamix, (played on floor pads) on the PlayStation 2. To me the biggest thing on PS2 was Final Fantasy X, my first experience with a JRPG and that way of telling stories, I also tried out Final Fantasy X-2 and Final Fantasy XII. However, I only went fully into FFX, possibly because of an unfavorable relation between the sofa-tv distance and the screen size, or perhaps the risk of tripping over the controller cable or the noisiness of the console. in any case, my PS2 experience topped with FFX and I haven’t played console game since. So on the eve of unpacking my Xbox One, this is the time to make status.

Memorable Games (that I played)

  • Half-Life – this is the only time I have played this classic game. Something missing in my education, I know.
  • SSX Tricky
  • Dancing Stage Megamix
  • Final Fantasy X

Memorable Games (that I would have liked to play but didn’t for various reasons that won’t fit in this headline)

Looking back, it would have been great to play some Mario games and meet Sonic the Hedgehog.

Also, I might have played more of the Final Fantasy games as they came out. I have tried the ports of Final Fantasy VI and VII (not the upcoming 2020 remake)

Little Big Planet also looks fun – maybe next time.

I also missed the Nintendo Wii – it looked fun as a party game, but I was never convinced how it worked in other situations – perhaps I should take a look at the Switch. but first things first, I’ll go unpack my Xbox One.

Featured Image

The featured image shows the fruit bodies of a annosus root rot fungus colony I found during recent walk in a nearby forest. It was a great trip and I really enjoyed the fall forest with my kids. They helped my find lots of different fungi – the best of which are shared in my Instagram feed.

Related posts

Thoughts of Games – My Brief History #1

Becoming a Gamer – My Brief History #2

IBM Compatible Gaming – My Brief History #3

IBM Compatible Gaming – My Brief History #3

This post links to quite a few computer game store pages where the game in question is sold. Please be aware that I am in no way affiliated with the stores, the publishers or the developers, and I receive no commission from any sales. Should anyone reading this post go on to buy any of these classic, old games, then I am just happy that the people who enjoyable gaming moments back then get extra recognition.

On my list of must-play-games I recently made it to The Witcher 3, which I found very enjoyable after playing the tutorial a couple of times (I tested out playing via Steam Link, but didn’t quite like the experience, so my PC after a couple of attempts). In fact I enjoyed it enough to consider playing the first two games in the series first – also in order to understand who is who. And read the books. I’ll probably watch the Netflix series too : )

My brief history of gaming #3 – Playing the PC

I got my first PC in the summer of 1993. Like most of the PCs at the time it was a beige box and built around a 386 CPU, and it was intended for schoolwork as I had just finished high-school and would enroll in university soon after.

It was not a fancy machine in any way. At the time the only thing that distinguished PCs were the CPUs, which at the time ranged from i386 running up to 40MHz, and i486 at 25, 50 and 66MHz. I know I started at the less ambitious end of the scale, but I generally believe that if you don’t know why you need the more expensive model, you shouldn’t get it (I know that to some people just having the most expensive is reason enough, but I am not like that).

I soon found good reason to buy more powerful equipment though. Not just games, but also more serious stuff like exploring the world of fractals  during my early mathematics studies and then programming too, including simulation of chaotic driven/damped double-pendulums. I picked up an i387 mathematical co-processor quite early, which did wonders for my fractals, but other than that upgrades were mostly about increasing raw CPU power. The videocard rush had not taken off yet and to confirm that state of PC gaming it should be noted that sound card were not yet standard equipment yet (this was long before sound cards became integrated on motherboards).

While I might have shot too low in my initial purchase I got plenty of opportunity to upgrade and I had these:

I had that box until 2002. In the same period RAM went from 4 MB to 256 MB and disk storage from 160 MB to 12 GB. My primary OS was from Microsoft (DOS, Windows 3.1, Windows 95 and 98), but I also tried out OS/2 Warp and started running dual-boot setups with Linux. By 2002 though, much of the box had become obsolete and I moved on to a full replacement.

Gaming-wise, I was happily surprised. The first game I played on that machine was Prince of Persia (the original one). I was soon introduced to Wolfenstein 3D and X-Wing had launched in spring 1993 and I realized I might have aimed too low on the specs. Other early games from the period were Warlords 2 and The Lost Vikings. Then Doom came out in December 1993 and changed everything, but I also got to play Star Control 2 early on – a game with such unique dialogue and humor, which still gets headlines in the gaming news.

Memorable Games

In my early PC years I got to play a bunch of games that are still considered classics and which all demonstrated how the more powerful hardware allowed a wider range of games and ideas. Also, over the 9 years I build on that box, the games industry moved very far.

Many of these games from the time have become available again on GOG and Steam at very reasonable prices and packaged with DOSBox so that they can run on modern OS and hardware. No need to dig out the old installation discs.

I also played Diablo which is considered a classic with its own franchise, but even though I have completed it twice, I somehow never felt compelled to explore the franchise further. Maybe I should : )

Featured image

This image is a detail from the Mandelbrot set, generated on my first PC in 1993 using Fractint.

Related posts

Thoughts of Games – My Brief History #1

Becoming a Gamer – My Brief History #2

 

 

How to Install Plex Media Server on a Raspberry Pi 2019

Here is how

  1. Setup Raspberry Pi with OS of choice, e.g. install Raspbian using NOOBS
  2. Download Plex Media Server package for Debian/ARMv7 -> here and install as pi user
  3. Setup server etc. (extra attention needed for NAS media)

Done.

This maybe a shorter instruction than elsewhere on the net and on usual tech sites. However, if you follow those guides, you will be be stuck at the

wget -O - https://dev2day.de/pms/dev2day-pms.gpg.key | apt-key add -

step, failing with the message

gpg: no valid OpenPGP data found.

That is all the older guides meeting obsolescence and no longer being maintained. Supposedly Plex changed their build and dev2day is not offering the key anymore. Which is fine, as long as the documentation is updated as well. So while waiting for the major techs sites to catch up, I hope the above is useful.

Now speaking of Plex, Raspberry Pi and the combination of the two… Is it useful? Well, keep reading.

What is Plex?

Plex is a media server platform that will stream all sorts of media to all sorts of devices, both at home and elsewhere. It is derived from the Xbox media center (like KODI) but has evolved far since then. It supports many types of media and integrates with Tidal. To run all this at home you need a server – a computer that can connect to all data sources and provide the content to other devices. Depending on the content, a fairly powerful device is needed – especially when video must be transcoded between formats and resolutions.

What is Rasberry Pi?

The Raspberry Pi is a small single-board computer which is designed to be affordable (and it is). It can in principle be used as a desktop computer, but has also found uses in many DIY projects where some computer power is required, but smallness and affordability is preferred.

I personally got three Raspberries in the house.  Two are running KODI media center for our TVs an the third is used for various projects – like retrogaming and this Plex experiment.

Can the Plex Media Server run on a Raspberry Pi?

Well, “Yes” and “No”, it depends on the media you want it to serve. So technically it definitely can be launched and the UI be accessed and the server configured to server media to connected clients.

  • Music works – it taskes a while for the Pi-based server to load and update the library, but once done it works. The experience on the client is not the fastest, but music is played.
  • SD video works, sort of – it depends on the movie and how complex the images is. The lower end with cartoons and older animated movies works fine, but watching live action movies are underwhelming
  • HD video doesn’t work.

I suppose one could scale down videos to an even lower resolution and make it work though.

Featured image

This image shows our climbing hydrangea in fall colors.

Becoming a Gamer – My Brief History #2

I believe the term “gamer” is relatively new and while playing computer games has been part of my life since the mid-eighties, I have never thought of myself as a “gamer”. First, I am sure the term has not been widely used until recently (checking Wikipedia, the term is known since 1422 so I may be wrong, but perhaps it is only with the recent mainstream focus on eSports (outside Korea) that usage has spread), second, I have suffered from a misconception that being a “gamer” is mostly a young man’s game, mainly for those a strongly focused enthusiasm…

Actually, one reason for starting this series of posts is that I finally realized (accepted) that the label applies to me as well, just as much as I am a gardener because I tend a garden and I am an aquarist because I keep an aquarium. I play, ergo gamer.

My brief history of gaming #2 – Next was Amiga

In 1990 I upgraded and replaced my Commodore 64 with an Amiga 500. The natural upgrade path at the time if you were on the Commodore track, at least if you hadn’t passed by the Commodore 128 along the way. I didn’t and I know very few who did and they all booted directly to C64 mode anyway.

So I got the Amiga and wasn’t really blown away. “of course”, you might say with the eyes of today – switching to a 3 year old model must be underwhelming, but coming from an 8 year old model, by today’s standard you would expect more? It would be like upgrading from an iPhone 5 to iPhone 8. Or, if you into Android, from a Galaxy S3 to S8 or A5 (2017). I never had an iPhone, but I tried both Galaxies, only recently having had to replace the absolutely adequate if unspectacular A5. “absolutely adequate if unspectacular” probably describes my A500 experience pretty well.

I had the A500 for 3 years and what I primarily remember or for is my first run at serious computing, doing both text processing for school (Kind Words” on a CRT screen) and my first database to keep track of Ultima V npc conversations. The Amiga was actually the place where I finished Ultima V (yes!) and a couple of SSI gold box games.

This may be unfair statement, but I don’t recall the Amiga as revolutionizing gaming (and my viewpoint is certainly based far from the main industry and press). Of course graphics improved, but I don’t think gameplay changed notably. To me the A500 is more memorable as a transitional platform at the time: if you needed powerful machine in 1990 and the budget was tight, then it was a viable solution. Also, who had foreseen Commodore crashing and the boring PC being Doom-ed suddenly to become much more soon after. I’ll get back to that in future posts.

Memorable games

My list of memorable Amiga games is surprisingly short. It is not that I kept playing on the C64 because I sold that one, instead it must be that I simply played less. My Amiga years cover my age between 15 and 19 years old and I am happy to have made that discovery! As a teenager I must, after all, have been into school and friends.

  • Ultima V: I finally completed this excellent game
  • SSI Gold Box Games: Curse of Azure Bonds and Champions of Krynn (maybe Deathknights too): Some fine Dungeons and Dragons Games
  • Sidewinder: My favorite Amiga shoot’m’up
  • Millennium 2.2 and Deuteros: Two resource management and exploration games, the later a sequel of the former. Actually, this type of game may have something new on the Amiga and they were great to play.
  • Logical: A fine puzzle game and something I hadn’t seen before either (there is a C64 vrsion, but I nver played it). Googling around I am happy to see several remakes/clones around for PC : )

Featured image

The sun setting over Riga Airport.

Related posts

Thoughts of Games – My Brief History #1

How to Sort Email – (my) Pro Edition

I started using email in 1993 when I had my introductory computer science class at the university. Using email was a requirement for us to turn in homework and so we had to learn it. With only a handful of assignments throughout the term I must have written 50 mails at most and received about as many that year. Sweet! How little did I know what the world would look like in 2019.

Much e-ink has flowed since then about the advantages and disadvantages of email and what to do about it, and this post is my drops into that ocean. I will not proclaim myself an expert on the matter. I am just another user who needs to deal with the incoming flow of information as well as possible, so here is what works for me today in my particular professional context.

My context

I work as a technical project manager in an fairly large IT organization where I am usually involved in 2-4 different projects with project teams spread across locations. I received about 100 emails on a typical day and On a typical day I receive about 100 emails and write 20-30 myself. Microsoft Outlook is the email client of choice.

Mail treads range between the single announcement mails over 3-5 mail back/an/.forths to long exchanges with 10 or more people involved and 10s of mails in threads that may even branch out. Most threads live for one to at most two weeks.

Regarding Outlook

Microsoft Outlook is a powerful email client that can do much more than receive and send messages and put them into folders.

Key features that I depend on in my daily work is:

  • Categories: Email categorization is integral to both my reading and sorting workflows. More about it below.
  • Customized search, that allows me to search for a very specific terms by using keywords [link] – a search can be across folders
  • Rules, that automate sorting and assigning categories
  • Cross platform access: Apart from the desktop client my mailbox can also be accessed via a powerful web-client that has similar functions as the desktop version(at least as my usage goes). On Android there is a mobile emails client called Nine from 9folders that supports most of my favorite functions as well and well worth the price for an ambitious mail user (Microsoft’s own Outlook for Android, on the other hand, is reduced to almost only basic mail functionality).

According to various websites the maximum number of emails that a folder can hold is 100,000. In my experience (with my hardware and my emails) I have experienced degrading performance when the inbox folder contains more than 4-6,000 items, so I need to sort and archive regularly. Since I receive about 100 emails per (work-) day, this means that I can have about 2-3 months of mail in my inbox.

Reading workflow

My reading workflow focus on ensuring that no actions are left behind. Since many of my mails are not just simple Q&A exchanges but can be longer discussions where different people contribute and responses drag out because people are busy with other things than this particular thread, I need a system where I can track an active thread over time.

I rely largely on the a combination of the unread mail filter, subject sorting and category of assignment; with the category only being assigned when mail has been read and no further action is required.

Here is what I do:

  1. In chronological view, pick a unread and categorized email.
  2. Switch to subject sorted view, review thread and take actions as needed, mark items as categorized according to content (cf. the outline folder structure below).
  3. Repeat steps 1-2 as many times as time allows or until all email has been handled.
  4. When done, mark all categorized mail as read.

I use the category marker to indicate when a mail has been processed and then combine it with the unread mail

Folder/Archive structure

For many years I used to build detailed and deep folder structures for my emails and then spent ages archiving mails, followed by occasionally spending ages finding them again, because I couldn’t remember where I had put that particular mail on that day. The point to remember is that most emails can be sorted according to several different criteria, and those criteria may even change after arching. Imagine for example an emails about a release 2.2 of a product. Perhaps the scope of that release is later changed to release 2.3 because other scope is introduced in release 2.2 or perhaps the matter discussed in that particular mail is moved to another release. Regardless, the odds of finding that email again is small, not because you didn’t archive properly, but instead exactly because you archived it in a very specific place. To avoid this, avoid folder hierarchies and embrace the search functionality provided by Outlook.

Here is what I do:

  • Inbox: All mail resides here until archived
  • Project folders: Projects where I contribute actively for an extended period has a folder. IN addition I have a folder for projects I am not involved in and possible one for programs that my projects are part of. All these folders have a prefix ‘_P’ to ensure that they are easy to find on any client (note the underscore that ensure the folders go on top in alphabetic lists)
  • “Info” folders for non-project related mail, organized to reflect the organisational structure, with Info corporate and then breaking up once the team structure is relevant for me. So:
    Info: Organization
    Info: Department
    Info: Team
    Info: Miscellaneous
  • “Newsletters” for newsletters
  • “Admin” for various administrative messages that relate to simply being employed, such as travel expenses, time registration, appraisals, training
  • “People” for tasks related to people management, including hiring/firing, 1:1 follow-ups and appraisals
  • “Private” for emails and content that might as well have been handled in personal mail
  • “Miscellaneous” for everything else

The list above reflects my current needs and is not supposed to be the final, ultimate and exhaustive list. For example it could make sense to have a folder set up for activities like art corporate club memberships (art society, fitness activity) or social activities like organizing the next x-mas party.

I use the Outlook categories to categorize emails in the same way. That makes it easy to get a view on all email related to a single product and make the archiving incredibly smooth.

Sorting/Archiving workflow

As mentioned above, my personal experience is that the Outlook inbox performs less well when it contains more than 5000 mails, so with approximately 2000 emails received monthly I need to archive regularly and the easiest way for me to do that is to keep archive once per month and hold only mails for last and current month in the inbox.

What I do is simple:

  1. On the last day of the month click Outlooks inbuilt “received last month” filter to show just that in my mail box (if you missed the date, just write “received:june” (if in August) to get all emails from the almost last month).
  2. Filter on categories (note that filter only returns 250 items, so this may have to be repeated several times for each category)
  3. Move all mails of a given category to the corresponding folder (note that the move is not instantaneous but one can switch between categories and filter one while the other is still moving)
  4. When all “last month” mails have been sorted, apply the ‘Categorized mail’ filter to retrieve all categorized mails. Sort the search result and clear the category from all folders expect the inbox

Featured image

Last night’s sunset seen from the garden.