BBS days revisited.

I still have fond memories of dialing into some of the Bulletin Board Systems that were so common years ago before the Internet came into full swing. All I needed was communications software, a modem and the phone number of the BBS I wanted to visit. You didn’t even need a fast modem to enjoy these boards, in fact you could enjoy a decent BBS experience with a 2400bps modem. It may seem slow by today’s standards but back then it seemed fast enough.
How awesome it is to visit these old days again. Recently I came across a list of BBSes that are still in operation, easily accessible with your favorite telnet client. Those old days of colorful text, ANSI graphics and being able to interact with other callers are back again, at least for me. These BBSes need to be preserved as a reminder of what life was like before the Internet.
I even joined a BBS, something I haven’t done in years. This BBS called The Mushroom Cloud and has everything I remember from the good old days, with file transfers, chatting with the sysop, message boards and online games. Who knows, maybe I’ll even see you there someday.

Update on karaoke in Palm Beach County.

I got the following response to an earlier post in which I recommended some good karaoke spots in Palm Beach County.

We need to have a quarterly Karaoke report … as of today, Rich Bonano (Karaoke Spotlight) isn’t working the Palm Beach Shores venue and I would really, really like to know if he found a new home for the summer.

Next best would be another, similarly laid-back KJ in reach of Singer Island.

Any ideas?

After reading this response I sent Rich an e-mail to find out what he’s been up to lately. It had been too long since my friends and I had gone to his show at the Best Western motel in Singer Island because we just didn’t like how the management at the Top of the Spray lounge there had him under their iron grip. For one thing, karaoke was set to start at 7:30 and was to run until 10:30 when the lounge closed.
Rich responded to my e-mail, saying that he is in fact no longer doing karaoke shows at Top of the Spray. Business has been so bad at the motel lately that they just let him go after 21 years. However, he is doing a new Wednesday night show at The Palm Beach Shores Resort just down the street and it sounds like he’s very happy there. On top of that he’s still doing his Tuesday night shows at Panama Hattie’s on PGA Boulevard in Palm Beach Gardens.
I’ve since found another great karaoke show that’s always fun. Cowboy Calbert runs his shows at various locations in the Jupiter/Palm Beach Gardens area. They may not be as laid back as Rich’s shows were but they’re always a great time. Calbert himself is a very nice guy and he really knows how to get the crowd going.
Karaoke with Alex is still a fun show. On Sunday nights he does a show at Little Munich, a restaurant run by his family in Lake Worth. The food there is excellent and the karaoke show has gotten so popular that it now starts an hour early for more singing fun. It’s become one of my favorite karaoke spots.
However, Tommy’s Tunes has become the one karaoke show we avoid at all costs. The KJ himself is rude, arrogant and conceited. He even worked up the nerve to tell us not to come back to this shows unless we buy more alcoholic drinks. It sounds like he’s more interested in money and getting his guests drunk. He succeeded in losing a show at the Duffy’s Restaurant here in West Palm Beach after his customers got so drunk and rowdy they nearly wrecked the restaurant. Going to his shows will wreck your wallet just the same.
Thanks for writing in, Dave, and special thanks for getting me back in touch with Rich. I’ll try to post karaoke news here as often as I can.

Remembering the Twin City Mall.

Speaking of dearly departed shopping malls, I have very fond memories of the Twin City Mall that once existed in North Palm Beach, Florida. It had a few department stores, including Sears and one called Jeffersons. I still remember strolling through Jeffersons one day and seeing an Intellivision video game system for sale. It was hooked up to a TV, ready for someone to try out. Of course, I gave it a try and had a blast. Sears also was selling video game cartridges for the Atari home video game system that was a top selling item back then.
I still remember some of the stores at the Twin City Mall, such as one called Musicsmith. They sold cassettes, LP’s and 45’s, but no compact discs as those had not been invented yet. There was another store called Booksmith that sold books.
Oh, how could I dare forget drooling to the irresistible smell of freshly made caramel popcorn from Karmelcorn? That was always the highlight of my trip to the mall.
And of course, there was the arcade. I always had fun feeding my quarters to the video games there. One game I enjoyed playing was Star Wars, which didn’t have the sophisticated graphics as today’s games do. On the contrary, it used very simple vector graphics, but still, it was fun blowing up the Death Star again and again.
Sinistar was another game I loved to play. It was the one where your ship had to collect crystals needed to defeat a giant floating robotic head that was threatening the galaxy. I still remember those haunting words from the game’s onboard speech synthesizer: “Beware, I live!” Those games might be classics today but back then they were as good as video games got.
My most haunting and touching memory of the Twin City Mall was during holiday season when my mother took me there for some shopping. As we were walking around the mall, we passed the Talking Christmas Tree, which was the most magical thing I’ve ever seen in my life. In fact, I still get chills up my spine thinking about it. I remember standing there, speechless, in front of this huge, beautifully decorated tree, even after it said hello to me.
For years, even after it closed, the Twin City Mall continued to stand, completely abandoned and empty, doing nothing but creating a huge eyesore for the city. I don’t know exactly why the city waited so long to demolish the mall, but I think there was some debate going on about how to dispose of the pieces. I think that’s the story but I’m not sure. Anyhow, the mall was finally demolished to make way for a thriving shopping center that stands in its spot today.
I really had fun going back and reliving my vivid memories for this blog. I have other memories I will share in future posts.

Running Windows CE in Bochs.

Since discovering the amazing Bochs emulator last year, I’ve set it up to run MS-DOS, Windows 3.11, Windows 95 and Windows 98. I’ve also gotten curious as to how to have it run Windows CE, which comes embedded in numerous hand held devices. The web page with the instructions on getting CE up and running in Bochs is no longer online, but fortunately I found a cached copy in the Internet Archive. I reprint the instructions here.

Ever wanted to run Windows CE on your Bochs PSP x86 emulator? Well it’s easier than you think, and yota from our forums has figured it out.

Here are the steps to make the Bochs Image:

1 – Download image for Virtual PC from here.

I have noticed you will now need to sign up for a free account from HPC:Factor in order to download the disk images from their site. It’s painless and takes only a few minutes. Once your account is established, the above link takes you to a page with 4 different Windows CE images. The following instructions will work regardless of which image you use.

2 – Create a new image disk in Boch like for the Win95 prototype (…ighlight=win95)

I couldn’t track down the link in this second step. All you do here is create a new virtual hard disk image as usual with the bximage command. I’ve done some experimenting and found that Windows CE 5.0 will fit comfortably on a 15MB virtual disk formatted with MS-DOS 6.22. You can use the Windows 95 boot disk described in these instructions if you wish, but MS-DOS will work just as well and doesn’t consume as much virtual disk space.

3 – Like for Win95, run FDISK and FORMAT (use /S to make it bootable)

With the Windows 95 or MS-DOS boot disk image mounted as your A: drive, launch Bochs and run FDISK and FORMAT to prepare the virtual hard disk for use. 

The rest of these instructions should be fairly straightforward.

4 – Download the latest WinImage and install it

5 – Open the WinCE image you downloaded in 1 with WinImage and extract all the files into a temp folder. Delete file in the temp folder.

6 – Close Bochs, open the Bosch image with WinImage and Inject all the files from the temp folder into the Bochs image (except that was deleted previously).

7 – Change the memory allocation in the bochsrc.bxrc from 8 to 32 megs (I think “this” is the main problem for running on the PSP)

8 – Boot the Bochs image from the C: drive with Bochs. You will have a warning, just continue the emulation. That’s it, WinCE should be loaded…

9 – Change the bochsrc.bxrc file according to the Win95 but with 32 megs and copy the image to the PSP

See? It’s as easy as that. Now, go have fun with Windows CE on your PSP 😀

Have fun! Thanks to those for letting me know about the dead link.

Introducing the K-Fee monsters.

I’ve been wondering about any web sites with publicity photos of the famed K-Fee monsters who have helped scare up sales of the German energy drink in those scary TV commercials. This page comes pretty close. It has some interesting photos of someone being made up into Batboy. There’s also a photo of both Batboy and the zombie, that other scary monster who appears in some of the commercials. I still don’t know how the photographer got them to smile.

Portable Virtual PC.

There actually exists a portable version of Microsoft’s Virtual PC in which you can run your virtual machines virtually anywhere from your USB drive. You will need Virtual PC already installed on your hard drive so the launcher can copy over the needed files to your USB drive. After that’s done, you’re all set to go. You just need to remember to save your virtual machines to the My Virtual Machines folder on the USB drive rather than the hard drive.
I gave this a try and was impressed with how well it ran. I was able to create a virtual machine running MS-DOS and it ran without any problems.
This is a prime example of what AutoIt can do. The source code for the launcher is included.

The ultimate uninstaller.

Revo Uninstaller is a freeware uninstall tool I consider a real find. When you use this gem to remove a program you no longer need, it launches the program’s uninstaller to remove the program, much like Windows’ Add/Remove function. However, after the program is removed, Revo Uninstaller kicks in to scan the registry and hard disk for anything left behind and lets you delete what it finds. I used it to remove the RealOne Player and couldn’t believe how much was left behind in the registry. Why didn’t RealOne’s uninstaller remove those entries? It doesn’t matter, Revo Uninstaller took care of it.
Revo Uninstaller has some other useful tools including a file shredder to irrecoverably delete your files, an evidence remover that clears your free space, a tracks cleaner to remove traces of your computer usage and a junk files remover that can free up lots of disk space. I like its very cool hunter mode that lets you stop and remove programs by dropping its icon on the program’s window.
What a great program. Too bad I hadn’t found it sooner.

Assembling assembly language.

Years ago I studied assembly language at school but never quite got the hang of it. Nowadays, I’ve been feeling inspired enough to go back and study it again and perhaps even make a few programs in the process.
Most of my inspiration came from Steve Gibson of Gibson Research, who writes his programs in assembler. There’s a page on his site with links to assembly language resources on the Web along with his Small is Beautiful starter kit that includes a template for creating Windows programs in assembly language.
I got further inspiration from the late Phil Katz of PKZIP fame. He too was very proficient in assembly language and used it to create his famous PKZIP archiving tool.
For creating my programs in assembly language, I am going to use the Flat Assembler, which is free and open source. There are some cool sample programs included, including a very simple text editor and of course, the essential “Hello, World!” program whose executable program file size is only 3K.
To me, the best way to study a new programming language is to peek at the source codes of other programs and use snippets of their code to make my own programs. I am hoping this approach will serve me well in learning assembly language.

AutoIt ping script.

Here’s an AutoIt script that functions as a regular ping utility. It pings your specified destination 5 times and calculates the average round trip time.

Dim $a=0
$target=InputBox (“Pinger”, “Enter ping target: “)
if $target=”” then
for $g=1 to 5
$pong = Ping ($target,250)
If @error = 0 Then
Msgbox(0,”Ping ” & $g & ” of 5″,”Response from ” & $target & ” in “& $pong & ” ms”,1)
elseif @error = 1 Then
Msgbox(0,”Ping ” & $g & ” of 5″, $target & ” is offline”,1)
elseif @error = 2 Then
Msgbox(0,”Ping ” & $g & ” of 5″, $target & ” is unreachable”,1)
elseif @error = 3 Then
Msgbox(0,”Ping ” & $g & ” of 5″, $target & ” is a bad destination”,1)
Msgbox(0,”Ping ” & $g & ” of 5″, “Unknown error encountered”,1)
$a=$pong + $a
Msgbox (4096, “Results”, “Average roundtrip time: ” & $a / 5 & ” ms”)