ulysses organization and old geek reminiscences

The three views of Ulysses
The three views of Ulysses

A bit of Ulysses cleanup. Ever since I installed the app, long before Ulysses changed to a subscription model, I was using the application, just puttering about.

I would start writing something, anything, and then I would just walk away and quickly forget. I’ve got all sorts of little (and some big) writing pieces in the Library, all of them uncategorized. Tonight I changed that by creating a category (or group in Ulysses parlance) for the blog named arcane science lab.

I’ll be slowly adding more as time goes on, especially one devoted to using the Raspberry Pi and all the little tiny computers you can get for just tens of dollars. As a kid growing up the best I could find would have been tubes (such as the ubiquitous 12AX7A, first manufactured back in the late 1940s before I was born) or individual transistors (too many to mention by individual name). When I was in high school, shops like Lafayette Electronics and old-school Radio Shacks carried all those parts as well as initial RTL (resistor-transistor logic) and DTL (diode-transistor logic) integrated circuits. They were quite primitive by today’s standards, but they worked and opened up a whole new universe of invention beyond just individual components.

By the time I started engineering school in 1972 I’d ‘graduated’ to Texas Instruments TTL (transistor-transistor logic) SSI (small scale integration). I had stacks of Texas Instruments part manuals around my room, as well as Fairchild, National Semiconductor and Sylvania and a startup by the name of Intel. Everything was socketed and wire-wrapped. While in college I started playing with early 8-bit CPUs, such as the Intel 8080, Motorola 6800, and MOS 6502. Especially the 6502.

The 6502 was so cheap compared to everything else, and so easy to hook into other ICs and memory and peripheral chips. I built more than a few small computers, all of them in assembly. I used an Apple 2, and then a Commodore 64, to write 6502 assembly kernels and monitors, and then use a special board to program EPROMs with the code for my circuits. I still have some of those boards (and I may write more detail about those experiennces).

Then I got a Real Job, found my future wife and married her, and moved into that part of my life where I helped raise a family and worked a career. But I never forgot those days of total creative control. I grew tired of watching computers that were once open get locked down. I lamented the loss of control until I read about the Raspberry Pi back in 2012, finally ordering one back in 2013.

Using the Raspberry Pi opened up the floodgates to the ‘maker’ world and Adafruit and Arduino. That’s where I started to really see the power of these computerized peripherals. I became entranced with the ARM architecture that underpinned nearly all the boards, learning to write ARM assembly language. It reminds me philosophically of the 6502.

So here I am using many of these components, as well as other individual components such as stepper motors and complex peripherals. For example, the NeoPixel. You sent it commands to have it light up in a practically infinite number of colors. And there are other peripheral chips with parallel port capabilities I’ve used. It just goes on an on. It’s like I’ve come home, except I would have given one of my kidneys to have any one of these electronic devices back in the 1970s and early 1980s.


why i still blog

Why do you still blog dad? Huh? Huh?

I have been writing in a blog for some fifteen years; nine years on a Blogger blog which is still out there, but static, and six years on this blog. I’ve touched on a lot of subjects over that period of time, some of the subjects being quite controversial. The most controversial occurred back when The SCO Group where desperately trying to sue IBM over Linux. I was wasting considerable time posting on TSG’s stock forum over on Yahoo. I’d never seen any of the other posters IRL, but I wrote a critical post on the Blogger blog about some of them and the way they were behaving. Needless to say that stirred up another shit storm on the forum, with one of the posters demanding I take my post down. I never did, and after all this time I’ve forgotten the name of the post and everyone involved. All that remains is the realization of how truly pointless the whole exercise was.

A reason for writing a blog in those early days was all the “fame and glory” I accrued with my postings about Open Suse Linux. Back in those days I ran Suse on everything I had, and even on a number of my work machines. Back when I worked for SPARTA (a now defunct aerospace consulting company) I had SPART purchase me a Gateway notebook, and I installed Suse on it, and did all of my development work on it. Everything was good, until one day it wasn’t. I then started to dabble in Ubuntu, and then tried Fedora, but eventually wound up on Ubuntu pretty much (and now Raspbian on the Raspberry Pi). At one point I even wound up being tracked by Alexa, and what an endorphin rush that was. But it didn’t last long, and I got bored looking at my numbers, especially as they got worse and worse.

Another reason for writing is because you have Something Important To Say. So you write it, post it, and then – crickets. Again, that didn’t last long.

Another reason is for catharsis. I went through a lot of that when Trump was elected, and if you go searching you’ll see a lot of posts from around the 2016 election and then the 2017 swearing in of the current president. I tried to be funny, and I wasn’t. I tried to be clever, and again I wasn’t. I was just mad and depressed and when I realized my posting on the subject wasn’t doing a damn bit of good, I gave that up. I then went into a shell and pretended the orange buffoon in the White House didn’t exist.

I publish now because I’ve lost all fear of writing and because of the subject line in the title: I like to talk about computers, cats, and cameras, though not necessarily in that order, and not just limited to those three subjects. I try to stay away from editorializing since I suck so bad at it, but sooner or later I wind up doing it in spite of the harsh lessons learned in the past. So I do it to get it out of my system, and then leave it here. Who important is going to read it?

And sometimes I publish because the ideas build up until they come rushing out in a flood of words. Look at my blog and you’ll see long stretches of nothing, punctuated with many postings in a single day. Today for example this is my fourth post. The first two were about the Raspberry Pi, the next about my comfortable broken-in moccasins, and now this little piece. The ideas seem to just lie inside my head, fermenting, until they’r ready to be sampled like some cheap wine. And then they come out, the literary equivalent of one of my Ginger’s hairballs.

I am going to be publishing more about the Raspberry Pi. Really, I am. Yes, you’ve read that here before, but trust me, this time I mean it. I may considered the latest Raspberry Pi 4 flawed, perhaps fatally so, but it’s a new machine with some interesting possibilities, and well, I’ve got some skin in the game as it were with my purchase of the 1GB version and now some new cases to help keep the operating temperature down. I’m getting back into my older Adafruit hardware, and the micro:bit has somehow stimulated some interesting ideas as well. There is something magical about programming a microprocessor directly in MicroPython (or Circuit Python if you’ve got some of the Adafruit boards).

I’m going to write a book. There, I said it. And it’s going to be a first person account of working with the Raspberry Pi, with real use cases as they say in engineering and what happens when designs incorporating the Raspberry Pi make contact with the real world. This is Florida, with its high heat and high humidity, where running cool is a real asset, and the Raspberry Pi 4 is nowhere near to running cool. Getting that little guy out into the real world is going to be interesting.

Finally, I really do need to step up and start writing about the horror in the White House. And can barely stand to say or write his name, but his actions are causing great harm, to America and the world. I’m heading into retirement Real Soon Now. Many try to leave the world behind, with all its problems, but today’s problems refuse to be left behind. So I see my blog and my writing as a tool to do something positive in this world besides moving to a retirement community (otherwise known as a waiting room for Death), snug in my little retirement home, doing little retirement activities, as my neighbors slowly die off, one by one, to be replaced by new strangers.

No, I won’t go gentle into that good night. I’m going to do my best to fight every step of the way, and I’m going to write about those adventures here as well as about cameras, computers, and cats.

For those who follow me, I hope to make it worth your while.