Swapping Matsushita Chassis on Millipede (and a few more bavacade updates)

Millipede Opened up from the Back

The big win for the bavacade this week was swapping out the existing Matsushita 19″ chassis in Millipede with a like-new replacement I got from Mike of East Coast Arcade Repair while in Virginia recently. It was kind of a fluke I should find another Matsushita chassis in such good working order given many folks consider this the worst chassis of the era. In various repair videos I have heard folks recommend just tossing the chassis and starting over, but as Mike was noting, this stuff is rare enough to begin with that throwing out anything seems like a total waste. I agree. Additionally, each tube is fit for a specific chassis, so swapping chassis often means reconfiguring the tube fitting, which is definitely not trivial.

The Matsushita often came shipped with Atari cabinets like Millipede as the service manual suggests, and I’m pretty sure the one I took out was original. The issue began when I moved it out of my basement in preparation for it going to the studio, the game powered on, board worked, but the screen was showing black. The monitor was getting power, so it had to be something on the chassis board(s), and given the sense that it’s extremely difficult to repair, I balked at the cap kit.

Millipede in bavacade

So, as luck would have it, Mike had a working chassis and I got that to swap it out, but when I did the screen was once again black…WTF! I dug in around the monitor adjustments, and it turns out the brightness was all the way down;* I also had to dial in the various red, green, and blue colors to get the game looking good—I am almost there, but not yet perfect.

Millipede Horizontal Position Hack

The other bit was that the horizontal position pot on the deflector board was not really adjusting the position all that much, and as a result, half of the high score and player 1 and player 2 scores where being cut off at the top of the screen. I have a hunch the horizontal position pot is bad, so it might need to be replaced, but I opted for the quick fix of simply pushing the black, cardboard monitor shield that surrounds the CRT up about a 1/2″ to solve the issue. A bit of a hack, and in the image above you can still see the player two score to the right gets clipped a bit, but much better than taking the soldering gun to the deflector shield.

So, with that fix, the first in the new studio, I only have Centuri Challenger down, and that is definitely a K4600 chassis issue, but no rush there.

It’s worth noting as well that I grabbed a backup Phoenix PCB board from Reclaim Arcade while in Virginia (so that game is back online), given mine was still with Mike before I left. Mike also fixed a few other boards for me, namely a Stargate backup board set I got online, two Crush Roller boards, a Williams FPGA board, and a Moon Cresta board. I’ll pick all these up the next time I’m in Virginia save the Moon Cresta board which was shipped to Portland, Oregon, and by all accounts is working beautifully with the newly installed high score save kit. YEAH! So, the bavacade maintenance continues, but at this point I’m definitely feeling ahead of the game.

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*This does beg the question of whether or not the brightness was all the way down on the original chassis to begin with? If not that, perhaps some related soldering joint was broken during the move—a common issue. Not sure, but for right now I have a working chassis, and another that I can test out my theories if anything happens to the working one. It’s  my opinion that having backup chassis is never a bad thing.

Posted in bavacade, bavarcade, video games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mastodon Costs

I started running both social.ds106.us and reclaim.rocks Mastodon instances back in November 2022. The ds106 server has about 40 active users, whereas the Reclaim Rocks server is pretty much Reclaim Hosting‘s own server, and we have 3 or 4 users tops. I saw Tom Watson was asking other Mastodon admins what it costs to run a server, so I thought it was a good occasion to take a look and see what our monthly costs are for social.ds106.us. Turns out Tom is looking for information on servers with thousands of users, which is not the case here, so really this breakdown is limited to smaller servers like ours which will probably work for 40-100 active users pretty easily, much beyond that I’m not sure.

Another reason to post this is to alleviate some of D’Arcy Norman‘s concerns around the costs of running the ds106 Mastodon server 🙂 As of now it’s running comfortably on Reclaim Cloud and is entirely covered by Reclaim Hosting, and we’re happy to do it for as long as we remain a viable company. But in the event that changes, I think the costs would be pretty manageable for 30-40 people at well under $2 per month. Anyway, here are the costs over the last 5 months for a 4GB containerized server and a dedicated IP address:

Monthly costs for social.ds106.us server

The only thing missing here is the media, which is offloaded to Digital Ocean Spaces at $5 per month for up to 250GB. Although, as a result of doing this analysis, I discovered I let the bucket get up to a 1 terabyte given the cron job to remove cached media was broken. Running regular cleanup tasks will save you significantly on storage space, and offloading to an S3 compatible storage solution is a must. So, if you take the above sampling, that averages out to $51.26 per month, and another $5 for S3 storage a month, you end up with $56.26 per month to run a small Mastodon server on Reclaim Cloud. Given there are 40 active users, that would be $1.60 per person, per month, and much of this assumes that someone is interested in taking on admin tasks—which right now I’m happy to do—but there is definitely a human cost there long-term. Which reminds me, make sure you run your Mastodon in a Docker container to make updates as easy as possible, moving our Mastodon from a VPS to a Docker container was the best thing we did for making things quite easy on the management side.

Anyway, I hope this helps anyone who is trying to figure out these details, but I’m not sure how well these numbers scale, but I would love to hear about how folks at the hcommons manage their community of thousands on Mastodon.

Posted in Mastodon, s3, sysadmin | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Ode to My 13″ Macbook Pro from 2015

13" Macbook Pro 2015

Those stickers tell a story, the above Macbook Pro is a 13″ retina display I bought in 2015. It was my first Reclaim Hosting company computer, and almost 9 years later has continued to prove to be the best computer I’ve yet to own. Things started out rocky between us, for sure. Just a week or so after purchasing the computer, I dropped it on a trip out to BYU and the screen cracked. Sad Panda!

That's no glitch

I waited about 6 months to get it fixed, talk about the challenges of computing with increasingly vanishing screen real estate. But after I finally bit the bullet and got a new screen, this computer has been rock solid ever since. The only reason I replaced it in 2020 was because it was struggling with all the video streaming requirements the pandemic thrusted upon us. It has 8GB of RAM and a 2.7 GHz dual core processor, but when I started playing with OBS it was definitely feeling the resource crunch.

Macbook Pro 13 2015 Specs

I had the unfortunate timing in 2020 of buying the last 16″ Macbook Pro with an Intel chip, that had four times the RAM (32GB) and an 8 core 2.7 GHz chip, but because of  a poor design the machine would continually overheat and the internal fan was like a plane taking off, definitely not ideal for streaming. So in many ways that machine was a total lemon, which led me to buy a M1 Mac Mini with 8GB of memory as my main computer in 2021 at a fraction of the cost of the Intel Macbook Pro.  And to be fair, the M1 chip was as fast as promised. In fact, I wrote a bit about the transition from the lemon Macbook Pro to the M1 already. The Mac Mini has proven to be quite a workhorse in and of itself, but the 2015 Macbook Pro continues to blow my mind, and let me tell you why.

Last week I was heading out of town, and for trips I usually resort to the lowly 16″ intel-based MBP lemon I bought in 2020. But this time that computer was incorporated into a strange streaming setup I am working on at bavastudio, so I needed a substitute. No problem, I can use the 13″ Macbook Air I picked up in New Orleans last Summer in a crunch given my Intel Macbook Pro got fried.*

Macbook Pro 13 2015 Open

However, turns out my son needed that Macbook Air for a school project given it’s that time of year, so I was considering traveling with just my phone—which is doable, but a bit dicey if things go really wrong. At this point it was late evening before a very early flight, so I was almost resigned to the phone until I thought why not try and setup a new user on the 13″ Macbook Pro that Anto uses. I wouldn’t need much app wise, just some basics in the event of a Reclaim emergency, such as 1Password, Slack, Asana, and, oddly enough, Skype. So, I set the machine up in about 30 minutes, and I had the old workhorse ready to go again in no time. It felt good to be reconnected with this “old friend,” and the only issue I ran into was that Slack would only run in the browser, not as a desktop app (which i think is related to it running on an older OS version, namely Catalina).

Slack in Browser MBP 2015

For anyone interested, the ports on each side give you an idea of how old this thing is. The left side has the magnetic power cable, two fire wire ports, a USB 2 port, and a headphone jack.

The right side has another USB 2 port, an HDMI port, and a large SD card port. Turns out I didn’t need access for any server issues that arose given my phone is pretty well equipped for server access, but I did use my dear old 13″ Macbook Pro for some banking and other tasks that are easier done on a laptop.

I imagine everyone working as long as I have with these machines has that one computer that has proven the workhorse you need to get things done, and has lasted well beyond its supposed relevance. That’s this computer for me, not to mention the 13″ form factor is much better for traveling, and when I’m at the home/studio office I have a multi-monitor setup hooked into the Mac mini, so the laptop goes in the drawer.

In fact, I should take a moment to write about my current M1 Mac Mini setup given I did get three screens running off it thanks to an NDI device Taylor shared with me, but that’s fodder for another post. This one is about my all-time favorite personal computer: the 13″ Macbook Pro from 2015, what a crunch chewy bar you are!

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*Another story there about how much the 2020 MBP sucks, it got exposed to a touch of water and the whole board fried, and I lost data and everything, luckily it was not my primary machine, but what a cluster. And this forced me to try and use my son’s Macbook Air from 2012 for the trip, but it proved way too slow for even the basics.

Posted in fun, general | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The Blog Generation

One of the ReclaimPress discussions Taylor and I had recently was with Chris Long, who will soon be taking on the role of provost at University of Oregon, leaving behind some absolutely amazing work and colleagues at Michigan State University. Chris has been an early supporter of Reclaim Hosting, and for that we’re very grateful, but it wasn’t so much because he liked our logos or thought we were cool (though secretly I think he did : ).

Rather, it was because he was part of a group of faculty at Penn State University almost 20 years ago that saw blogging as a way of narrating their work and capturing the life of the mind over the course of their academic career. Chris stayed that course on his Long Road blog, and while we were discussing the option of moving his site, it became clear just how important it was to him that this move be seamless and his site run under the best of conditions. The discussion was going to start as an argument for him to move from cPanel to ReclaimPress (see my last post about a post-cPanel toolkit), but it turns out there was no argument to be had. Chris immediately saw the value of running his blog in ReclaimPress given it would be faster, backups allow for multi-region restores, and he has access via SFTP and SSH should he need it elsewhere easily.

Another brilliant image from Visual Thinkery to capture the preciousness of our blogs

In fact, this is a theme that’s been in the air as we work to bring old gold bloggers over to ReclaimPress. Maren’s “20 years of blogging… now on ReclaimPress” discusses just this very thing, highlighting just how crucial her blog has become to her sense of self online. As a result, the moment of moving it elsewhere brought the importance of this space into sharp focus:

My blog, which I mostly take for granted, and which, thanks to the super solid shared hosting experience I have had ever since 2016 I never really had to worry about, ever, suddenly became my most precious of domains.

Years of chronicling your work, commenting with colleagues, and generally prospecting your small bit of the web is something that has been deeply valuable to a whole generation of web denizens, and as the center cannot hold, perhaps that small blog at the edge of the web, tied to many, many others, can keep both hope alive and some freak flags flying.

I can’t really speak too much about returning to the blog given I never left, but I’m ready for the vinylesque revolution of blogging, in fact I know a place where you can press your own blog vinyl fresh on the web.

WordPress Vinyl Cutter on reclaimPress

 

Posted in blogging, ReclaimPress | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

My Post-cPanel Toolkit

I spend less and less time in cPanel managing my online presence. I’ve moved bavatuesdays off cPanel 10+ years ago given my blog demanded a bit more juice than shared hosting could provide resource-wise. But once my go-to site went off cPanel, all the other projects I’d created with WordPress over the years were beginning to break due to major version updates and plugin/theme incompatibilities. It’s a trail of web tears if you let it go too far, so I’ve been converting as many of those sites as possible to static HTML over the years.

So I started thinking about what tools I regularly use while running my sites off cPanel. The first, and most important for me, is moving DNS management to something like Cloudflare. You can get a free account, and once you’ve pointed your domain’s nameservers at Cloudflare, you can manage DNS for the apex domain and all subdomains from their interface. Making that jump was the biggest for me, but I’ve never looked back in terms of returning to cPanel for DNS management. Also, if you still have subdomains on a cPanel account, you can use an A record in Cloudflare to point back to the cPanel server IP address.

After DNS, one of the features folks might need is email. But email on shared hosting has always been a bad choice, and that is increasingly becoming the case, so much so that Reclaim is strongly considering discontinuing shared e-mail support for all shared hosting accounts. Why is hosting email on shared hosting a bad? Well, because there are tons of spam houses out there that monitor and block servers that send out what they consider spam (which is not always the case), which leaves small hosting companies like us playing whack-a-mole on the regular just to keep basic email working. And being a small company we have none of the leverage of a Office 365 or Gmail, so it’s truly a losing battle to ensure email running well on shared hosting. In short: don’t run email on your shared hosting cPanel server. And if you are anathema to the free services like Gmail  and want to get serious out security and taking ownership then take a look at Proton Email.

With DNS and Email out of the way, the other feature I would miss is file management. This is tougher, given it will depend where you’re managing your actual site. Here’s a for example, on Reclaim Cloud each environment has a file manager built in where you can traverse directories, as well as upload, open, edit, and delete files, so there is a built-in solution there.* So ReclaimCloud has its own file manager.

File management in Reclaim Cloud

File management in Reclaim Cloud

But for ReclaimPress things are a bit different on this front, you can open, edit, and delete static files in your WordPress instance, but you would still need to practice some FTP kung-fu to upload new files to the server outside the aegis of the Media, plugin, and theme uploader built into WordPress.

More limited File Management in ReclaimPress (no file uploads)

What else? Domain redirects? Handled in Cloudflare. SSL certificates? Handled in Cloudflare. And I really think that’s about it for cPanel core functionality, although I am sure I am missing a few things, so let me know.

The one piece that might get you thrown off as you start to use other applications in other stacks is that transactional emails for things like password resets, welcome emails, etc. are not taken care of by the server automatically. This is why transactional email services like Mailgun become necessary for blog applications like Ghost.†

In fact, most of the other self-hosted tools I’m using these days like Ghost, Peertube, and Mastodon can often be run as one-click, stand alone containers on a service like ReclaimCloud. Which means, for me, managing the DNS through Cloudflare and the transactional emails through Mailgun. I’m finding my dependence on cPanel more around preservation than active publishing at this point, and I think a small, secure apache server on ReclaimCloud for archiving most of those sites would break that tether, but that might be fodder for another post.

Another big reason why I have been exploring these alternatives over the years is not only because more and more apps are created outside the PHP mold, but also because cPanel’s pricing model continues to become unwieldy, with 20% jump after 20% jump in license costs. A post-cPanel plan is as much about online survival as anything else.

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*What’s more, if you’re running a WordPress site on ReclaimCloud, you can create subdomain-based directories in the ROOT folder where the WordPress site lives and host your archived, static sites by pointing the DNS for that directory subdomain in Cloudflare to the site’s IP. Alternatively, those directories can just be subdirectories off the main domain and work just as well.

†In fact, Ghost has built many of the basic email functions into the app, but the email newsletter features that have made it so popular still require a transactional email service like Mailgun.

Posted in bavatuesdays, digital identity, indieedtech, Reclaim Cloud, ReclaimPress | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Reclaim the Comms

There’s been some discussion around the impact of the decline of centralized networks, such as Twitter, on individual and organizational communications. I’m not sure of the broader impact, but I do know it’s led Reclaim Hosting to take a wide range of approaches that have freed us from the impulse to centralize. More than two years ago we decided to focus on creating a monthly newsletter, as well as starting monthly community chats. More recently we moved away from irregular, syndicated posts from our own personal blogs and created a company-specific blog “Reclaim the Blog.”  Two of the three (the Roundup newsletter and Reclaim the Blog) are run on the open source blog software Ghost.* The community chat is usually held at meet.reclaimhosting.com/community-chat using the video conferencing software Jitsi, recorded for posterity and archived on ReclaimTV. We like open source.

Screenshot of Reclaim the Blog

Reclaim the Blog

ReclaimTV is another facet of our social approach, we run regular video-based workshops and weekly streams that represent an ever-growing archive of the work we do. The forward facing site of ReclaimTV is built-out with OwnCast (Taylor documents the process here), and we usually use YouTube (and sometimes PeerTube) for the live streaming, which is often managed through StreamYard (but occasionally OBS). What’s more, we have an archive of all our videos in both YouTube and PeerTube that can be readily accessed after they premiere.† The videos you see on the OwnCast front page at Reclaim.tv are all pulled from PeerTube:

Screenshot of ReclaimTV site

ReclaimTV

In terms of announcing events, we do as much as we can to announce upcoming events in the monthly Roundup newsletter, and then use Mastodon to regularly remind folks and  make announcements for upcoming streams, blog posts, case studies, etc. A lot of our comms are still driven by email, but we’re hoping more and more they become part of an activity pub network with apps like PeerTube, OwnCast, and Ghost that are, or will soon be, part of the federated network.

Reclaim Hosting’s Community page

In terms of an active community for conversation, Ghost has comments but they’re pretty dead thus far. We’ve been long-time users of Discourse for our forums, but that’s been a pretty quiet space. We decided to use Discord for integrating chat into workshops and live streams, and that has been working pretty well thus far for conversations (thanks to awesome folks like Erik Likness), but I think we could still do better on the broader conversations and pulling in new voices. You can get a sense of the broad range of activities at the community.reclaimhosting.com page, but the cool thing, at least for me, is that we’re relying on a fair amount of open source tools to create a fairly decentralized social presence. The return to a more heterogeneous web for publishing and connecting can be a bit more work, but at the same time I feel like we are returning to a web of building and connecting the tools to create that unique experience on the web we want, and that’s what I signed up for when I became an edtech—dammit.

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*The engagement numbers for both Reclaim’s newsletter and blog are staggering, anywhere from 40%-60% of the 800 users signed up open the email and click through links.

†The PeerTube mirror is based on the not-so paranoid fear of YouTube shutting down our account without notice

Posted in edtech survivalist, edtechsurvivalist, open source, reclaim | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

bava-o-rama

I’m starting to get deeper into designing the space for bavastudio, which feels very good. The centerpiece of this space is going to be the street window that will feature a diorama that provides a tableau of different 80s movies. The idea is that this space changes regularly, and in many ways the space can be experienced as much (if not more) from the outside than the inside. I’m calling this exposition space bava-o-rama, and it’s the first thing to be built.

I’ve been working with Riccardo of Domus to figure out the best way to do this, and after that I think Alberto is going to help build it out. The diorama will try and take as much inspiration from the American Museum of Natural History as possible, but instead of animals of the world, it will be movie scenes of a decade (which is a little lighter on the taxidermy and arguably more humane). That museum’s scenes of wildlife in action has had a spell on my imagination since I first saw them during a visit in elementary school, and the fact that they translated so well for Tommaso when we visited recently was quite encouraging.

Sperm Whale and Giant Squid diorama from AMNH

Often times the dioramas in the museum use a more conventional sense of space/framing to depict a scene, but the sperm whale and the giant squid is a brilliant instance of a part representing the whole, which for many of my scenes may be important given the limited window space. I was watching The Thing yesterday thinking about just this space restriction, and I think the crawling head might be a really good instance of a scalable scene that captures the spirit of the film. For example, what if you had an eye-level look at the Thing (in this case Norris’s head with various spider-like legs and two protruding, stalk-like eyes) under the desk. You focus on the Thing, and use a part of the industrial desk and rolling chair as atmosphere props, and some green goo on the floor and a little blue lighting from above for effect. On closer look, it’s a pretty basic VCT tile floor, so I do think it would be possible to capture this iconic scene from one of my all-time favorite films. There is no way I could have the Thing actually move, but maybe an animation of the eye-stalk, or something simple like that? Also, I hope someone has already reproduced this monster, because that might be a feat.

Image from the Thing of Norris’s head hiding under a desk

But I have some time on that one, because the first film scene I plan on baptizing the bava-o-rama with is from the third episode of Creepshow (1982), namely “Something to Tide You Over.” This is the story were the character played by Leslie Nielsen buries the character played by Ted Danson up to his neck, and waits for the tide to come in in order to drown him.

Scene from Creepshow’s “Something to Tide You Over”

To be extra sinister, he uses a live camera setup to stream his own wife in a similar predicament (who had an affair with the Danson fellow, explaining the elaborate revenge story) who is already fighting a losing battle against the tide a few miles down the shore. It’s a twisted episode for sure, and definitely my favorite from that anthology, but I also think I have enough of the pieces to make it work convincingly. What’s more, on the background of the diorama there will not only be a print or hand-painted rendition of the sky, beach, dunes, and ocean, but also a large exclamation, quoting what Leslie Nielsen’s character screams at the very end when he undergoes a similar fate, “I CAN HOLD MY BREATH FOR A LONG TIME!”

I can Hold my breath for a long time!

I’m mixing and matching a bit given Ted Danson never screams this, and the back of his head will be featured in the diorama, but this is very much inline with how I always mis-remember movie quotes and scenes, so kind of appropriate. Plus, the “holding my breath for a long time” quote is a bit of a dig given how long and difficult it has been to get a simple space like this setup in Italy for all sorts of reasons. I’ll have a cut of the wife drowning from the film on the TV in the bava-o-rama. Based on past work with Michael Branson Smith I’m thinking about using video looper on a raspberry pi hooked up to a this small black and white Motorola TV I have (that is perfect for the job).  That Motorola stopped working a few years back so I’ll have to take a look at that, otherwise I might find/build a facade roughly matching the film’s TV and put another CRT to ensure the effect is perfect. After that, the ingredients are pretty simple, just some sand, a tripod and camera, and a mannequin head with Ted Danson’s hair looking away from the window.

Anyway, I imagine you’re getting a sense of the full power of the ever amazing bava-o-rama. It’s been undergoing a few iterations given the difficulty of my communicating with the folks who will actually build this out, but the following drawings should give you a sense.

Below is a full drawing of the space. The rectangular grey things on the rights are video game cabinets, and that is not the exact setup, but I’m figuring on fitting 17-18  in that space. The right of the drawing (which is what we will be focusing on) is the bavavideo, featuring a wall of videos (blue) at the top, my desk (green), a small couching/watching setup, and to the far top-left the bava exposition window

Below is a close-up of the video store, to give you a better sense of the layout.

I made a rough sketch of the  window area, which was the basis for this idea. It will basically be at angles so that we have room to put the RallyX  (grey rectangle) cocktail cabinet up against the outside wall, which will be covered with wood paneling. Inside the exposition space we have both storage and the stage, the the dead space being important for removing the sides of the stage to re-decorate them for each new scene. We have also since come up with some pull-out drawers beneath the stage to make sure we have ample storage space. Originally I thought the access point would be above the cocktail video game, but that was stupid. There will be a door to the upper-left hand side.

From the following drawing you get a sense of this original idea in play, and the dotted  lines are the removable walls of the stage that will be painted or printed with each new diorama. The floor will be a thick, 3/4″ plywood acting as a base for all the other materials we ultimately use.

To be extra clear, below is an annotated version of the above drawing to give you a sense of what’s what:

So, I think this idea is at a place where we can start building, which is pretty exciting. The angled walls may represent some issues for stability, so we are working through that, but the work has to start with the bava-o-rama, which is very appropriate given it’s what got me motivated once it was clear running an 80s arcade in Italy will be dicey to say the least 🙂

Posted in bavastudio | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

Reclaim Hosting Back on Cloudflare

As you can tell from my last post, I tend to use this blog as a testing ground for many other things. Such as the role of  avant garde when switching back and forth between services like Edgeport and Cloudflare. I was able to put both bavatuesdays and reclaimhosting.com back on Cloudflare’s load balancing setup fairly easily this afternoon, but I did run into one issue when reverting www.reclaimhosting.com back to Cloudflare that we ran into when bringing www.macalester.edu onto this multi-region, load-balanced setup in Cloudflare.

After switching DNS back to Cloudflare we got a SSL related Cipher Mismatch error, which according to Chris Blankenship (our sysadmin godhead) is caused by Cloudflare having SSL between the origins and the load balancer, but not between you and the load balancer. I got this error when moving www.reclaimhosting.com back onto Cloudflare’s load balancer. It ultimately resolved in about 5 or 6 minutes, but if this is for a client you probably want to spend the $10 for the advanced certificate to avoid any downtime at all.  Luckily this was not our first rodeo so we knew it would resolve, but wanted to make a note here of this error given I will forget as soon as I click publish. So anyway, www.reclaimhosting.com is back to a ,multi-region setup load balanced through Cloudflare, and now I want to see if we continue to have any editing issues as we have over the last couple of weeks.

Posted in WordPress | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Bringing the Bava back to Cloudflare

I was experiencing some weirdness with the editor of my blog this weekend. In particular, the link option was gone from the classic editor and I was unable to access the media library. Two pretty large obstacles to writing a post on this blog. I pretty quickly figured out the Edgeport plugin was causing an issue with the wp-link element in the classic editor, so deactivating Edgeport fixed that, but the media library was still not showing up no matter what plugins I deactivated.

I was at a loss, but given the Edgeport plugin was causing those issues, I began wondering if there was some wonkiness with Edgeport more generally, so I decided to quickly switch my blog back to Cloudflare for load balancing and the CDN. Luckily I still had the load balancing settings for the multi-region saved, so the process was pretty simple. Interestingly enough, we’ve been having some similar wonkiness on www.reclaimhosting.com, so I’m going to switch that back from Edgeport to Cloudflare for the time being and see if that takes care of some of the issues we’ve been having with editing, particularly in Elementor—which is a beast all by itself, and I rue the day we ever got in bed with that plugin.

Posted in WordPress | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Windows 98 Woes

It’s been a while since I’ve graced the bava with a few keystrokes, but between travel and my retro-computing mishaps, it’s been a hard road back. The travel was awesome, the building out my Windows 98 computer not so much. I’ve been knocking away at this for quite a few months, and after traveling I’ve forgotten more than I remember, so here’s an attempt to capture some of it because as of now the machine is not loading outside safe mode, so I’m in for some Windows pain in the coming days, weeks, months.

OK, a little context here, back in 2018 I picked up a Windows 98 tower as I was preparing for the 90s computer workstation installation at the OWLTEH Conference in Coventry back in the Fall of 2018. I also bought another 90s era computer in Coventry, England for the actual installation, but traveling with a tower was prohibitive, so someone at that conference must have taken that home. Anyway, as I started moving stuff out of the bava basement and into the bavastudio, the Windows 98 machine was one of the first things I wanted to play with. It’s a fun computer with tons of dos games, and a host of ROMs for both MAME and Genesis emulators (the Paperboy port for Genesis is amazing), and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Whoever sold it was basically thinking of this as a retro gaming machine, and it definitely fits that bill.

But I wanted to do more, I wanted to hook this computer up to the internet, update the CD-Rom drive, get my external iOmega drives working, etc. If I only had left well enough alone!

The motherboard for this machine is a MSI MS 6195 ir3, and it has an AMD 750 chipset with 200 MHz. So relatively fast for the time, and from what I can tell without checking the details I believe it has a fair amount of RAM, but will need to confirm just how much when I take this board apart, because as of now I can’t get it to load outside of safe mode 🙁

Here is the tale of the tape:

  • First major intervention was to add a 3Com ethernet PCI card to the machine to connect the computer to the internet. I wanted to play around with some of the Protoweb stuff Taylor Jadin turned me on to. The Internet Archive proved invaluable for finding copies of old installation software.* This installation was definitely not straightforward (nothing on these old Windows machines is), but after some head banging I got this working using a combination of UltraISO file burning and Daemon Tools to virtualize a CD drive with a copy of the Windows 98 2nd Edition ISO—which seems to be mandatory for just about everything you do on Windows 98. NB: I found the Windows 98 2nd Edition disc on the Internet Archive as well!
  • On boot-up there were a few errors with .vxd extensions after getting the 3COM etherlink card installed, such as dfx.vxd. The computer still loaded fine, but I had to enter through those warnings. After a quick search I found this post that helped to get rid of most of them by reinstalling the Client for Microsoft Networks—how satisfying to find a relatively easy fix.
  • The next bit was trying to get my iOmega drives working. I bought a new male–>femal serial cable and power adapter given mine were long gone. Initially I thought all was good given the disk drive powered on, but when I tried plugging both my old iOmega drives into the serial port neither were recognized. I even bought a third online that was working to confirm, but there is something amiss with the serial port on this motherboard for sure, so I need to figure that out, or not given the next issue.
  • Moving on, for a bit now the installed CD-ROM has been acting strangely, recognizing some discs immediately, but then later on balking for those same discs that previously worked. Also, it would sometimes freeze the computer forcing a hard restart. But yesterday things got even worse after I inserted Blondie’s Parallel Lines CD into the drive, the CD-ROM just stopped responding altogether. It was a fairly cheap CD-ROM as I could tell, and there was no way to manually force open the door, so I removed the existing CD-ROM and replaced it with an ASUS model I’d been carting around with me since 2003 or so. I was pretty fired up when I saw the CD light went on (it was powering up) and the trap door opened, but that was all that worked. Turns out the CD-ROM drive was not being properly read and somehow the boot-up process was borked, and the computer only loads in safe mode. When loading the computer it quickly notes “Pri Master ..Not Detected” and “Sec Slave…Not Detected.” I think this means the primary master disk and the secondary slave disk are not being found, whereas the “Pri Slave…IDE Hard Disk” and “Sec Master..ATAPI CDROM” are being detected. So, something with the boot process got all messed up when I added the new CD-ROM, which is not discoverable in Safe Mode, so I have no clean way of running the panacea that is the Windows 98 2nd Edition disc. I think next step is exploring the BIOS or just deleting the IDE controller and rebooting…who knows?

And that is where I stand right now. I know this is more than anyone wanted to know, but I have to get this stuff recorded if I’m ever going to find my way back out of this Windows hell. The irony of all this is I have a stream at 10 AM today to show off my setup and get my computer on the Protoweb browser with Taylor, but at this rate that is just not gonna happen as planned. Woe is Windows 98.

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*It’s worth noting here that in order to get the 3Com Ethernet Link working I had to wrap my head around ISO disks, and the best tools I found were UltraISO to burn the disk and then the Daemon Toolset to create/mount a virtual CD drive. I am trying to remember what version I installed, or what forum I got this from, but I am blanking, that said the following video was what got me started with UltraISO:

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