The Times They Are a-Changin’

My intent for this blog is to serve primarily as a notebook – a place where I can capture important details concerning my amateur radio activities and then refer back to them if needed. This includes interesting websites, hamshack successes and failures, equipment settings, as well as plans for the future. Occasionally the subject matter on the blog opens a bit broader… beyond amateur radio <gasp!>.

The cliche about some long time hams of having life “take over” at some point in a ham career is a cliche for a good reason. Sometimes the balance tips and radios are put on the backshelf. I’m at a mid-life career transition point, retiring from the military and moving into “the next phase”. Plan A is to become an elementary school teacher. None of my previous academic work really supports this transition and despite popular misconceptions, in the state of Kansas… you can’t just show up and say “Hey, I’d like to be a teacher!” It is actually a somewhat difficult process. Fortunately a nearby university has a well respected program that I am not too far from completing. The program is time intensive (this semester I am taking 13 credit hours… while working full-time). This is my last semester behind the desk. I start my retirement transition at the end of December and in January I start student teaching.

One of the great aspects to the program I am in is that I get plenty of time inside elementary grade classrooms so I have a clear idea of what I am getting into. Over the last 12 months I have had the opportunities to visit numerous classrooms seeing various grade levels and teaching styles. It is great going into this transition with my eyes wide open.

However, this educational experience (along with work) has been time-intensive. My time in front of the radio (or submitting blog entries) has been seriously limited. The hamshack has become somewhat of a dumping ground (for my other hobbies of O gauge model trains and 80’s arcade games) and only recently was I able to did a path out from the door to the operating desk. My goal is to adjust the balance just a bit and spend a little more time with the radios. We’ll see how it goes.

Hamshack Hula

I have been steadily working at getting the hamshack into some sense of functionality. Back in June, everything was looking good. I’d moved everything from the old house to the new house and adjusted for the more “constrained” space that my shack now occupies. I was just about there… and then my household goods from Korea arrived. Lacking time to adequately put everything in its place, boxes ended up getting dumped in the hamshack.

The basement gameroom has been my primary focus for the last two months. We got the new couch, the arcade cabinet is working, the pinball machine needs a bit of work, and the cocktail arcade cabinet is doing great. Now that the gameroom is just about where I want it, I’ve turned my attention back to the hamshack.

Before I moved my workbench to the new house, I should have taken a photo of how I had the pegboard setup. Being gone for year and not using the bench, I had no idea of what I had hanging where. Today I was able to get the workbench in order after spending a few hours sorting through the boxes that had come from Korea.

I’ve also started parting with equipment I don’t need or will probably not doing anything with. The Kenwood TS-930S is now sold. Hopefully the Heathkit SB-220 will soon be sold. Also the Radio Shack HTX-242 that was in the XYL’s car until I upgraded her to a TM-D710A is sold. It is time to get rid of the FT-1500Ms as well. Being a proud ownder of the Yaesu VX-8GR, I can now part with my trusty Kenwood TH-D7A(G). I am continuing to rumage through the shack pulling out what I really don’t need. So far, Craigslist has been working well. I’ll use eBay as a last resort.

So with my efforts, I can actually reach my operating desk, turn on the computer, sit down.

…. now I need to get an antenna up, something more permanent than a Buddipole.

Pac-Man Fever

I grew up in what is now known as Silcon Valley during in 1970s and 1980s. I expierenced first hand the development of computers and more importantly – electronic gaming.

My timeline bridges the transition between pinball and the video arcade machines. Pinball was cool and ubiquitous. However, very quickly games like PONG and TANK began to vie with pinball for floorspace in the local pizza parlors and burger joints.

My uncle’s favorite burger joint near Stanford University called The Oasis. During the mid-1970s, the place was loud with music and had a floor covered in peanut shells. What is also had was a Sea Wolf arcade machine. Sea Wolf had a periscope you looked through and then fired torpedos vertically up towards ships on the water’s surface. The adults enjoyed the beer and us kids loved Sea Wolf.

The pizza parlor on the corner of Fremont and Mary Ave in Sunnyvale had quite a few different names over the years. What it also had was TANK – two combatants manned their controls and battled each other in the midst of a maze of obstacles. The one cartriage that would come with the Atari 2600 (VCS) was COMBAT and included a similar (if not as impressive) game.

The first computer that I (or actually my dad) had was an Apple ][. We started out loading programs with a tape player (Breakout being my favorite). Then there were additions: one and then two 5 1/4″ floppy drives, memory expansion, an Epson dot matrix printer, and an acoustic cup 300 baud modem. For arcade-like gaming I received first paddles and then a joystick. Gaming on the Apple ][ was thrilling, but could not hold pace with the thrill of the development of improved graphics and sound.

To take advantage of these developments and to help me part with my hard earned quarters, dedicated arcades began to spring up. These augmented the arcade games found at the burger joints, minature golf courses, and pizza parlors… as well as the one or two games found at the local convience store or bowling alley. Near my dad’s house was Merlin’s Castle which had one of my favorite games – Lunar Lander. By my mom’s, another arcade (next to the Brunswick bowling alley at Homestead and Hollenbeck Road) had Scramble… a lesser know game, but one I am still obsessed with. During the summer, we’d go to the Great America amusement park where their video arcades had an awesome selection – to include the vector graphics Stars Wars game with incredidble audio. Another favorite location was Farrell’s, kitty corner from the Fremont and Mary pizza place. Farrell’s had two awesome games that are burned into my memory: Joust and Tron.

Let me not forget about Chucky Cheese Pizza Time Theater. Mr. Bushnell (from Atari) established one of the first Chucky Cheese Theaters across the street from the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose (also by the Century Theater where I first saw Star Wars). Chucky Cheese was the location to host a birthday party. The animatronic puppet show was horrible. The pizza just as bad. But the video arcade games where the latest and greatest. With a pocket full of tokens, an elementry school kid could have the time of his life.

I was first exposed to text-based games at IV Phase – a company where my friend’s mom worked at. Interestingly enough, IV Phase was located where Apple’s headquarters is now, where HWY 280 intersects Sunnyvale-Saratoga Road (aka HWY 9)…. I also remember that before IV Phase, the area was an orchard. The text-based game was Adventure. My friend and I each played a different terminal and could “see” and cooperate with each other in the game.

Apple ][ games became more sophisticated and better emulated (or copied) actual games found in the arcade. The big difference was that instead of paying 25 cents for a play, I could more than likely get an Apple ][ game for free; either from a BBS or one of my friends at school. My favorites were Wizardry, Choplifter, and Loderunner.

Entering high school in 1983, my interests turned elsewhere. The Apple ][ was actually used for productive activity like writing papers on what passed for an early version of word processing. When I was a sophomore, one of my friends who hosted a BBS was busted for hacking. The FBI took away all his computer equipment. This event, in addition to scarying the crap out of me, also produced additional incentive to stay away from computers. And I did, other than using MACs in college to write papers.

Now, 20 years later, I am enjoying a few different open source gaming platforms that are allowing me to re-live (and re-play) some great memories.

  • The Wiz
  • The GP2X Wiz is an open-source, Linux-based handheld video game console and media player created by GamePark Holdings of South Korea. Its the second in a series of handheld gaming devices, I picked mine up at The Wiz is capable of emulating many computer systems and gaming consoles. Such emulation allows me to play the original games – just the way they I played them back in the day. Some of the emulated computers include: Amiga, Atari 400/800, Commodore 64. The consoles are well represented by emulating Atari VCS, GameBoy, Genesis, Colecovision, Intellivision, Nintendo NES, and Nintendo SuperNES. However, where the Wiz (and other open-source devices) really shines with MAME (or Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator). MAME allows the device to emulate just about any video arcade game that ever was. From Asteroids to Zaxxon, the Wiz, through MAME, uses the original code from these arcade machines to provide an identical expierence to what the game was like back in the pizza parlors and game arcades.

  • The Caanoo
  • The Caanoo is the successor to the Wiz. The specifications are similar with the major differences being the Caanoo’s larger display, USB 2.0 capability, and WiFi capability. Another change (which some find contentious) is instead of D-Pad on the left side, there is a small analog joystick. I really enjoy the joystick as it gives a much higher degree of control for diagonal movement that is hard to reproduce with a D-Pad.

    Both the Wiz and the Caanoo are produced by GamePark Holdings (GPH). Where these devices depart from the handheld devises of Nintedo and Sony is that there are very few dedicated, for-purchase games created specifically for the Wiz or Caanoo. The majority of all the emulator software available is designed and coded through open-source channels. An active user base provides plenty of support in working through any issues of using the devices.

  • The Pandora
  • Quite a departure from the two Korean handheld devices is the Pandora. Esentially a subnotebook (a bit smaller than your standard netbook), the Pandora has an inteseting homebrew history. The system by default comes with a Linux OS based on Ångström. The addition of a keyboard opens additional possibilities for the emulation of early computer platform games (… think Zork on the Apple ][). The biggest drawback to the Pandora is that they are just tough to get a hold of. The manufacturer, OpenPandora, has had a myriad of delays in shipping due to several different problems. Those of us who pre-ordered a Pandora have been hanging in for what is going on to almost two years. Those who have received their Pandoras have been quite pleased. Mine was posted via air mail and I’m hoping to receive it this week. My intent is that the Pandora will serve as my main means of entertainment on my flight back to the US in mid-June.

    Let the games begin!

    My generation’s pinball machine

    Space Invaders came out in 1978 when I was 9 years old. My first encounter was probably at the local 7-11 (next to Homestead High School in Cupertino, CA) that had Space Wars in addition to Space Invaders. However, a good portion of my initial Space Invaders game play was at Cal Skate – a skating rink in Milpitas, CA. This was the late 70s, Disco was still big, and Cal Skate featured a large disco ball over the rink that spun as everyone skated counterclockwise to the Bee Gees and Abba. I am not sure what captured my imagination most about Space Invaders – the green tint of the aliens descending from above or the cool sound that emanated from the game when I fired a missile at the bad guys. The line to play was long, as folks stacked up quarters and ogled each others high scores. Then there was Sea Wolf which I first encountered on the peanut shell littered floor of The Oasis in Palo Alto, CA (near Stanford University). Despite their excellent hamburgers, I much preferred manning the periscope and destroying the ships crossing the ocean above. Our most frequented pizza parlor was on the corner of Mary and Fremont Avenue in Sunnyvale, CA – that is were I first played Pong as well as another all time favorite: Tank (a two player game were each player had two levers to control the treads of the tank and a fire button. The tanks were then maneuvered through a kind of maze like obstacle in an attempt to shoot the other player). Over at Merlin’s Castle in Saratoga, CA my game of choice was Lunar Lander, a game of finesse and skill. I can’t forget one of the first Chuck E. Cheese Pizza Time Theater place over near the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose (and absolute favorite spot to host a birthday party when you are in the 4th or 5th grade). Nolan Bushnell, the founder of Atari and Chuck E. Cheese, insured that we were able to spend a zillion tokens in the vast array of video games that covered the place. Since that time it has been a never ending quest to replicate the look and feel of Space Invaders (as well as all the other arcade games I fell in love with) on a home device. I had the Atari 2600 which had its version of Space Invaders… pretty weak. Then my Apple ][ came along with pretty nice versions of some games – but it wasn’t the same. Years passed and with the development of the internet and java apps I saw the proliferation of classic games replicated in a web browser – but they always lacked something. If it was Asteroids, the actual asteroids weren’t shaped right or the play area was too small. In Centipede, the worm moved too fast or the colors weren’t right.

    Then I ran across this device at

    Like manna from heaven, The GP2X Wiz seems to be the perfect solution to my retro gaming fever. This is an amazing piece of hardware that allows the user to load emulators that enable you to play just about any video game that ever was. And you are not playing someone’s attempt at re-coding the game -it is possible to get the original code that was contained in those console machines back at the video arcade. So Space Invaders looks and plays just like it did back at Cal Skate some 30 years ago (only the screen is smaller, I didn’t have to pay a quarter, and there is no distracting reflection from a disco ball). I am not really a “video gamer” and had generally been unaware that it was possible to find these old games and play them on modern hardware but when I ran across the description of the GP2X Wiz on ThinkGeek I was intrigued. Not only can it play the games found in the old video arcades but also those crappy games I used to play on my Atari 2600 (of which I had a million). Also the original Nintendo (i.e. Super Mario Bros), GameBoy, and any other gaming system you can think of. Part of the fun is that the GP2X Wiz comes as just the hardware. In order to get it to play other games, you have to set it up and configure it. Its not difficult, but makes the whole experience a bit more entertaining. Most all of this can be accomplished on the average PC, but the GP2X Wiz brings it all together in an easy to use package.

    This devise has brought back some wonderful childhood memories and is a 100% blast to play around with.

    Interested in seeing more? I ran across this video on YouTube that gives a good representation of what the GP2X Wiz can do.