Troubleshooting a Commodore 1541 disk drive

Today in my ongoing Commodore 128 series, I’m talking about my adventures trying—and unfortunately failing—to restore an original 1541 disk drive over the weekend. Hopefully I’ll have a follow-up at some point.

The Commodore 1541 was a 5.25-inch floppy disk drive released to compliment the C64. Commodore had sold drives for its PET and VIC-20 computers, but this was arguably the first to achieve a significant install base. They were faster and easier than data cassettes, and eventually became the preferred way to distribute software and store files in most markets.

(Ignore the partially disassembled Commodore 128; I’m cleaning and retr0brighting the keyboard!)

Among its quirks, the last digit “1” on the front badge looks more like a pipe character! I assume this was done to maintain kerning, but it’s always fun hearing the audible gasp from even veteran Commodore users when they realise they hadn’t noticed this before :). It’s also single-sided, but could use both sides of a disk if flipped and a notch punched into the opposing side.

The unit contained an entire computer with similar circuitry and ICs to the C64 itself. This freed the main computer from needing drive controllers, which kept costs down and meant (in theory) any type of drive could be added in the future. Unfortunately this meant the drives were physically larger and more expensive, and thanks to a bug in the original VIC implementation, were significantly slower than drives in the Apple II and others. Still better than tape, though!

I got my 1541 from eBay years ago for an abandoned Commodore project, so I decided I’d give it a try with my Commodore 128. I inserted a disk, plugged the drive into the cereal (heh) port of the Commodore 128, and powered both devices on. The 1541’s green LED powered on, and the drive span for two seconds as expected.

Then I tried loading the contents of the disk:


The sounds emanating from the drive were horrifying. It made the head-knocking sound for what sounded like an age, then flashed the red LED on and off continuously. Ejecting the disk made no difference.

I opened up the drive and marvelled at the complex logic board and mechanics. A couple of traces had been bypassed with patches on both sides; I’m not sure if this was done at the factory or someone else tried to fix this drive one before.

I lifted the logic board off, and gently cleaned the drive head with a q-tip soaked in isopropyl alcohol. The drive head is under the top black plastic mechanism in the below photo:

The small metal circle to the top right is part of the pulley mechanism that transfers motion from the stepper motor to the drive head; retro64 has a great diagram. I noticed that when I started the drive again, it would lurch slightly as though it was stuck, and the drive head only darted up and down the rails by a millimetre in either direction.

I added some lithium grease to the drive head rails, and a little to the metal wheels. All the parts move freely now and don’t make nasty sounds, but the drive head still refuses to move.

Various forums and mailing lists suggest it could be a drive alignment issue, so I have a 1541 cart in transit just in case to test. Ray Carlsen’s excellent 1541 drive guide also describes similar symptoms and suggests I check some of the ICs:

UE4 LM311 COMPARITOR (READ): Drive powers up and resets normally. Spindle motor runs, stepper moves slightly, but “FILE NOT FOUND” error, and red LED flashes. Check also UF3 and UF4.

I have a Commodore 1571 in transit at the moment, which supports burst mode on the 128, and drops to a 1541-compatible drive for my Plus/4 and C16. That said, if anyone has any suggestions about anything else I should try, please ping me!

I won’t watch it if it’s inaccessible

I reworked the title for this post at least a few times, but I ended up sticking with this seemingly obvious one because it captures the absurdity of this issue so well.

Earlier in the month I wrote about how “cord cutters” weren’t saving any money with all these new streaming services. Whereas one could watch Netflix before (for example), now every media company is launching their own me too service. Even former computer companies… oh Apple, how far you’ve fallen. This dilutes the utility of any one platform each time, as more and more shows are splintered off into their own paid services that fewer people are likely to subscribe to in aggregate.

Media companies either don’t realise this is happening, or they think that a tiny and ever-shrinking piece of pie is better than bending to the whims of Netflix, or not having pie at all. Both are silly.

In that post I theorised that piracy would be the natural outcome of this. If you don’t make your content accessible, people will resort to the methods they used to access it before streaming existed. You know the adage about fences keeping honest people honest? This is not how you make honest people.

But it’s perhaps even sillier than that. I realised recently I don’t even consider shows I might otherwise be interested in if they’re on an unsupported or different platform. Media companies are still used to living in the days of limited public airwaves and cable TV channels. We’re living with an embarrassment of riches now; we’ve got plenty of other entertaining things to enjoy if you lock your show behind another streaming platform.

(Original programming is about the only direct counterpoint I can see to this. It might be better overall for the industry, if your metric is the quantity of shows being produced. But it’s the same outcome: Apple releasing shows on their platform don’t even cross my radar because I don’t subscribe, and I ignore recommendations as soon as I realise I can’t watch it. But I suppose for companies like Apple, or Amazon, the content is there to have you buy hardware from them).

Truth in advertising hits Twitter

I rarely go to the landing page for Twitter, but if you’re not logged in you get this background image. It’s quite literally tattered remains of text; like a band poster that’s been torn off the wall of a city street for being illegally placed.

Picture from Twitter's login page showing inverted text torn up among splatterings of colour.

The effect is interesting, but did anyone on Twitter’s marketing team stop to think about what it represents? Is this what they want people to equate tweets to?

I might start my own line of step ladders, with a motif of an upstanding gentleman no longer being able to.

By the way, are we following each other yet on Mastodon?

WWR: Singer Songwriter Heaven

I was going to sit on this until the next Music Monday, but it couldn’t wait.

Play Singer Songwriter Heaven

I heard this on the Whole Wheat Radio stream this morning. It’s such a fun, jovial song, delivered with a wink and a smile. But it still choked me up towards the end, imagining my mum at one of those cloud nine cafés with her autoharp and lute. She’s in good company with all those others taken during their prime. Of course they have to be here, heaven needs new music too.

His music is on Bandcamp, along with the live album he released with Julie Beaver. It’s being added to the list.

Necessity versus rarity in online auctions

I’ve had saved eBay search for seven years for a specific piece of vintage computer gear. It’d almost become a joke at that stage, yet I kept it around on the remote chance that someone, someday, would be wanting to part with it and willing to sell it to me.

eBay alerts me almost every day with emails, and they’re usually either garbage, or the price isn’t right. So I delete them from my inbox and move on. It’s become a morning routine alongside reading RSS feeds.

So imagine my surprise when I saw an email for this specific item I’ve been waiting for since 2014! I almost deleted it on a reflex before realising the gravity of the subject line. I felt like one of those policeman on Forensic Files who got a hit in CODIS after running a latent print throughout his career. What were the chances that this automated system, churning away for all those years, would finally return something!?

Turns out, we can calculate that. Assuming roughly seven years, that’s one day out of 2,555. That’s about a 0.04% chance! That’s flawed in so many ways, but it does quantitatively communicate just how flabbergasted I was at finding this thing.

But then reality set in. It commanded a high price, as one would expect for a rare item. But then infinitely worse, it was still a price I could just afford.

I wouldn’t in my wildest dreams spend that much money on any other device like that, or even half that, or a quarter. My discretionary budget envelope for February had already been spent on other Commodore computer gear. I don’t put things on credit that I haven’t budgeted for and have the cash to cover (I only use them for points), so I’d imagine the buyers remorse I’d feel for tapping into savings to buy this thing would be swift and harsh.

There’s no rational, logical reason to get this thing. But then the mental bargaining begins: will I have to wait another seven years before I see this again? Will I be kicking myself that I let it go? Won’t Murphy’s Law ensure that a cheaper version will appear as soon as I buy this one? Or… who cares, these have been difficult months, and it’s my birthday soon, I deserve it! Right? R-right?

Envelope budgeting is the strongest method I’ve found to resisting temptation; another is to think specifically of opportunity costs. If I didn’t get this thing, I could have all these other experiences and extra vintage computer stuff. Because if I did get this expensive, silly thing, I’d be living in self-imposed austerity for the next month. And I’ll bet I’d come to resent it.

It’s all self-indulgent nonsense. But then, that’s what hobbies are, right?

The Internet interprets censorship as damage?

I’m shamelessly and deliberately invoking Betteridge’s Law of Headlines here, which states that any heading asking a yes/no question can be answered emphatically and unambiguously with the latter. Does it conform with the law if the author confesses to it though, rather than being coy? I can sense another silly post soon.

Here’s another question: have you ever read the phrase “the Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it?”. Variations have circulated the intertubes since the 1990s, but the quote was first attributed to John Gillmore in a pivotal 1993 issue of Time. If his name sounds familiar, he was one of the founders of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American advocacy and education organisation nominally focused on the United States, but has global impact.

Fellow EFF co-founder John Perry Barlow echoed these sentiments a few years later in 1996, and attached a moral argument in his declaration of the Internet’s independence from government interference. It remains one of the more bold and forward-thinking challenges to bad legislation and regimes, and has been widely quoted.

These ideas built upon Steward Brand’s comments in the 1980s where he said “information wants to be free”, in a paper subtitled “intellectual property and the mythologies of control”. The rest of the quote is often ignored, but it’s used to justify the position that there’s only so much you can do to repress information before it finds its way out. The Streisand Effect is one extreme case where it can even backfire with spectacular and self-defeating results.

All of this is still conventional wisdom among technical people I talk with. It was in my course work at university. It’s stated with derision and glee everywhere from mailing lists to social media whenever a new law is proposed. But outside in the real world, the censorship damage has widened enough that I’m worried even John Gillmor’s reported routing is struggling to bridge the gap… both technically, and in the minds of Internet users.

A generation of people have grown up since those papers were written, many of whom have only known a censored Internet. The majority of these Internet citizens are either unaware they’re living in a sanitised subset of alliteration, or are entirely apathetic. I read the Western press gleefully reporting VPNs and underground peer to peer messaging networks in repressive countries, but barring a few precious exceptions, they’re not nearly as far reaching or ubiquitous as they claim.

Censorship programmes have also widened in scale and scope. More jurisdictions are doing it, including ones we wouldn’t have classed as dictatorships before. Limited legislation proposed in democracies, whether argued for in good faith or not, have succumbed to the feature creep we all warned about. This is the exact opposite to the world these authors wrote about and wished for, and unfortunately there’s every reason to think we’ll continue down this trajectory.

(The Facebook news debacle in Australia is another example. There were a clued-in minority who understood why news suddenly wasn’t appearing in their feeds, but I’d wager most people had no idea. Worse, they may have assumed digital versions of the news simply weren’t available at all, not that Facebook was just blocking it from being posted. People have been so conditioned by social networks to think they’re the only windows into the world. This isn’t the censorship I’m discussing here, but it’s impossible not to draw parallels).

It was a nice idea to think there was something intrinsic to information that meant it couldn’t be repressed, or that packet-switched networks would automatically treat censorship as it would a failed or misconfigured router. But I think the position is idealistic now, and I don’t think it holds up to scrutiny. It’s on us to do the rerouting, whether it be through advocating for legislative changes or technical measures.

Email unsubscribe fail: Trustwave

We haven’t done an email unsubscribe adventure for a while! It’s been a bit of a feature here since I first got that wall of text from CafePress in 2006, and I even used to have a blog annexe dedicated to it. There are still so many bad practices around extrication of emails from marketing lists, many of which you may or may not have opted into in the first place.

Here was the footer from a Trustwave marketing email:

Change Your Preferences or Unsubscribe

This is how it should be done. There’s a clear, unambiguous unsubscribe link that takes you directly to a page to process your request. It doesn’t require you to log in, or use a euphemism for Unsubscribe to evade email filters.

But then it falls apart. The resulting page says this:

Ware sorry to see you go. Are you sure you want to unsubscribe from all Trustwave marketing emails? You will no longer receive notifications about security topics and services specifically selected for you. Go back and update your email preferences to select the types of communications you get from us.

If you decide to unsubscribe, we’d appreciate your feedback.

Email confirmation:
Email Address: [textbox]

The only acceptable outcome from clicking an unsubscribe link is to be unsubscribed. These are all redundant:

  • Needing confirmation to unsubscribe
  • Needing to type your email address
  • Being told it will take two days to process

Therefore, this is a fail.

Follow me on Mastodon

I’d love to follow you! Here’s my link:

Mastodon is a federated microblogging platform, like Twitter but you can host it yourself. You can see a river of posts from the platform you’re on, but you can also ping people across networks. Many of my friends at the moment are coming from, but is also available if you want to give it a try.

The imitable @phessler invited me to try his BSD OS-adjacent Mastodon instance in 2018, but I’m only just getting around to using it properly thanks to the encouragement of @screenbeard.

I was among the first users of Twitter, but I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the platform for the last few years, as evidenced by my need to take breaks from it. I wish I could say my interest in Mastodon was based on technical or philosophical reasons, but I think I need a break from the kinds of stuff that get posted there.

I used Jaiku, Pownce,,, and, so I’m not holding my breath about the longevity of this platform either. But I’d be gloriously happy to be proven wrong!

Gadget-like computers, or computer-like gadgets?

A prominant Apple blogger, with whom I otherwise agree on a lot of things, posted this about Palm:

Ed Colligan, as the CEO of Palm, should have known that in 2006, the future of phones was gadget-like computers, not the computer-like gadgets the industry (including Palm) had been making until then.

I tweeted on Monday that I’ve yet to make sense of this. I still haven’t!

Palm devices and iPhones are both computers. They both have memory, operating systems, CPUs, and IO. They’re also both gadgets, in that they’re multifunctional devices people can hold in their hands. What makes one more like a gadget, and one more like a computer, if they’re both?

John-Mark Gurney suggested it might have something to do with application stores, and the turning of computers into appliances. That would be consistent with the idea that an iPhone is gadget-like, though as John points out, Palm devices also had a store.

Palm devices were simpler than desktop computers; they had to be. Their bundled applications had widgets like a traditional computer GUI, but were designed from the start around stylus input (contrast that with Windows CE). The same can be said of the iPhone, only they optimised for fingers with a capacitive display surface and larger controls. Both have far more in common with each other than desktop computers, so I don’t see how one is more “computer-like” or “gadget-like” than the other. They’re both.

Ed Colligan invited comparisons when he ran my beloved Palm into the ground with strong words and little foresight. But this whole computer/gadget dichotomy reads more like Chopra than anything else.

Stores for Commodore 128 components

This is part four in my ongoing Commodore 128 Series! The C128 is a fantastic 8-bit computer because it can do so much with its built in mix of hardware, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be extended and introduced into the modern world in weird and wonderful ways. I also love how all of these are maintained by hobbyists from all over the world.

The components I’ve bought from these stores will eventually appear in their own post, along with my adventures installing and testing them. But for now I wanted a place to store this list.

I might add more here as I discover them. Let me know if there’s anywhere else I should know about!

Can’t set Firefox new tabs to use local files

For years I’ve used a simple page of links as my browser homepage. It’s a launcher with everything I need for my day-to-day activities, including online banking, personal projects, tools for work, online radio, forums, and so on. I thought it’d be easy enough to set this for new tabs as well as new windows. It’s not possible anymore, as far as I can tell.

I used to use the browser.newtab.url setting in about:config, which most of the mass producd tutorial sites still say works, and is listed as the chosen solution on Mozilla’s support page. It doesn’t work since Firefox 40.

Mozilla determined it was being used for malware, so it’s no longer possible without the use of a plugin. Mozilla’s support articles reference New Tab Homepage which “is not actively monitored for security by Mozilla”, and New Tab Override. I’m sure there are others. None of them work.

Among the many problems with removing features and delegating them to plugins is they’ll never have the same features. Plugins can’t reference file:// locations for security reasons, so I can’t use my page of links with any of these plugins. This wasn’t a problem when it was a core feature. None of the online tutorial sites, or Mozilla support articles, mention this limitation.

For comparison, Safari let’s you set this with a simple dropdown, in a native preferences pane.

Screenshot showing dropdown for 'New Tabs Open With'.

It reminds me of that old adage that people only use 10% of a program’s features, but everyone’s 10% is different. Mozilla’s software has been chipping away at my 10% for a while now, which sucks.

Commodore 128’s 80 column mode in VICE

For those in a hurry: type F9, then x when x128 starts to activate its 80-column mode. Does this count as part three in my Commodore 128 series? Let’s say so!

Screenshot showing x128 with the Commodore 128 easter egg in 80-column mode from the emulated VDC.

VICE is an excellent and well-maintained 8-bit Commodore emulator. It’s how I learned how to use Commodore computers before taking the plunge into real hardware, and I still use it to write BASIC code and test downloaded software. It can emulate Commodore disk drives, datasettes, Geo-RAM expansion cartridges, and that famous catch-all of much more!

The x128 executable starts an emulated Commodore 128, with separate windows for the 40 column VIC-II output, and 80-column for the VDC. I wanted to use the 80-column mode, but couldn’t figure out how to activate it given my MacBook Pro doesn’t exactly have a 40-80 column toggle switch like my real hardware does! Pressing F9 then x gave me a blinking cursor on the 80-column output.

I intend to write a longer post specifically about its C128 features, and maybe delve a bit into the TED side of the fence too with the Plus/4.

Comprehensive Breville BKE395 kettle review

Picture of the aforementioned kettle.

It’s small, simple to operate, boils water fast, and you get to watch it bubble away through its clear walls. We got one for our little kitchen to match our appliances, and it’s been delightful.

Fixing my unbootable Commodore 128

This is part two in my my Commodore 128 series. I originally intended to post about some device history and explain why it’s my favourite 8-bit computer of all time, but I got my unit booting again last night and wanted to share!

Josh Nunn of The Geekorium sent me this Commodore 128 back in 2018 in working order, though occasionally it would take a few power cycles to turn on. But since our last house move the power LED failed to glow, and it outputted no video signals at all. So I finally sat down last night to try and figure out why.

Easy tests

The easiest way to tell if a Commodore is working is by plugging in a disk drive, and seeing if the drive seeks when the computer starts. I had my trusty Commodore 1541 I got for my 18th birthday from eBay, but plugging it and booting the C128 showed no activity on the drive’s LED. I know the drive and serial cable are good from using them with my Plus/4 and C16.

Another easy check is to see if the C128 is supplying 5V to the second pin from the right of the datasette port. When I bought a replacement power supply for the C128, I also got a handy passive volt meter with pass-through that you can plug into the datasette port. The meter’s segment display didn’t turn on when the computer booted. Just in case the detector was faulty, I probed with my multimeter directly and got a measly 0.38 V (this number would also come back in other places). I was relieved the board was at least getting power.

(I forgot to take a photo of the meter when it wasn’t showing any power on the second pin. This was taken after fixing the machine).

Photo showing the vold meter plugged into the datasette port, with 4.91 on its display.

Probing for power

I watched a bit of a YouTube video where the gentleman was troubleshooting video issues (I think it was the imitable Jan Beta) when he reminded me of the Commodore diagnostic manual! has high quality scans of all the pages, so I loaded them up on my iPad. I set my multimeter to 20 V DC mode, connected the black probe to ground on the board, and started checking.

Section 2 described some basic preliminary checks:

  1. Measure the voltage on pin 25 (+ 5VDC) of the 6581 SID. I counted from the bottom-right in an anti-clockwise direction. Pin 25 was forth from the bottom on the left. I only read 3.58 V again, which was wrong.

  2. Measure the signal on pin 28 (+ 12VDC) of the 6581 SID. I counted this as the bottom-left pin. I read 11.91 V which was fine.

Photos showing my multimeter reading 3.58 V on pin 25 of the SID, and 11.91 V on pin 28 of the SID.

The manual said if any result was incorrect to refer to Section 2.2, “System Power Supply”. This could either be a very hairy problem, or something simple, so I crossed my fingers for the latter! I had a defective 5V supply, so I checked Section 2.2.1:

  1. Measure the voltage on the (+ LEG) of Capacitor C107. This is one of the small caps next to the power plug. It dropped further to 0.38 V, which was clearly wrong.

  2. Measure the voltage on the (+ LEG) of Capacitor C99. I read 5.23 V which was fine!

Photos showing my multimeter reading 0.38 V on capacitor C107, and 5.23 V on capacitor C99

The manual suggested the issue was a defective Switch S1. This the rocking switch next to the power plug for turning the C128 on and off. GGLabs sold replacements, but I was hoping I could fix this one first. I flicked it a few times and it seemed mechanically fine, though I noticed after doing that the voltage on the datasette port and the SID chip had dropped further! This confirmed my suspicions that this switch was dodgy.

Checking and fixing the power switch

I unplugged the computer from mains and tried to get a closer look. I used the torch from my phone and noticed a large clump of fluff inside the mechanism when the switch was turned off. I used a small can of compressed air and was shocked by the amount of crud that flew out in either direction from a tiny burst, in addition to the aforementioned dust bunny. The second burst dislodged a further mist of dust. I didn’t have anything to compare it to before, so I assumed this switch was supposed to be stiff. But it moved with ease now, so it was immediately obvious that it was gummed up before.

(I suppose this switch is a primary point of ingress into the case, and is basically the only mechanical component of the whole computer).

My favourite Hi-Fi YouTuber Techmoan clued me into using contact cleaner on crackly volume dials to make them smooth and quiet, so I figured it was also worth a shot. I sprayed a small amount into the switch mechanism, and switched it on and off a dozen times to work it in. It now had a reassuring click in addition to taking less physical force. It felt like an entirely new mechanism, just as the drive rails did on my 1541 after cleaning and giving them new lithium grease. Who’d have thunk it?!

Photo showing me applying contact cleaner to the back of the power switch mechanism.

The alcohol seemed to evaporate in seconds, but I let the machine dry for an hour, then plugged it back in and turned it on. The sight nearly made me cry; one of my favourite machines was working again! I was getting the right voltages on the datasette port and the SID chip, and the power LED worked! The switch is also infinitely-more satisfying to use now, which is entirely pointless but fun in a tactile way.


Lesson learned: always troubleshoot basic mechanical things first if you can!

The next step is to source some more thermal paste so I can reattach the shield; the original 36 year-old paste had dried out and wasn’t making contact at all. I’m also retr0brighting the keys and thoroughly cleaning the keyboard switch mechanisms which over the years had become stuck under a few keys. But that’s for the next post :).

I also noticed that only one of the two LEDs light up on the power status light. I’m fine as long as one is working, but I’d like to see if I could replace this at some point too.

Photos showing the left-most LED power light illuminated, and the Commodore 128 boot screen on our TV.

Pop Up Parade’s Quintessential Quintuplets

I’m always bemused by how much of a networking conversation I end up having with people using almost nothing but abbreviations; people without industry experience would think we’re daft or speaking in tongues. I just realised non-weebs would see the post title here likely think the same thing.

Good Smile Company have done such a great job making anime figure collecting a more approachable hobby with their Pop Up Parade line, both in cost and in the smaller scale of their sculpts, while still maintaining decent quality. Their figs are much closer to premium figure manufacturers than so-called game prize companies like Sega, which is impressive considering even the latter have hugely improved over the last few years.

I’ve only seen Nakano Itsuki (left) and Nakano Yotsuba (right) be announced so far from the Quintessential Quintuplets franchise, but they’re adorable! The sculptors and painters captured the personalities of the characters so well with their expressions and poses. Itsuki’s blatant lack of glasses is my only minor quibble.

This is problematic for us, considering I’ve amassed even more Commodore hardware to write my C128 series and therefore have even less apartment space. Maybe Itsuki could stand on my 1541 shifty eyes.

The SS Golden Eagle

Speaking of the SS Martin Mullen, I saw that Wikipedia recently featured an article about the SS Golden Eagle, launched as the SS Mauna Loa in 1919. This photo by Walter E. Frost was taken in 1932.

Photo of the SS Golden Eagle in 1932.

This little ship had a long career spanning troop activities to the Philippines during World War I, to shipping pineapples. It’s worth a read.

Almost wrote about my Commodore 128

This post about my favourite 8-bit computer has been three years in the making, but I kept putting off over fears I can best describe as inadequacy. It’s strange and difficult to describe.

There are so many video creators, podcasters, and bloggers who have done incredible work at assembling information and presenting fascinating takes on 8-bit computers. Combine that with my own long journey to learn about this machine, and the feeling of guilt that I hadn’t done The Geekorium’s generosity justice by blogging sooner, and I ended up not posting about it at all. It’s like self-doubt-informed procrastination, which I suppose are usually interrelated.

It’s incredibly silly in retrospect. My blog has always been about the process, and thinking out loud. The steps involved in cleaning, upgrading, refurbishing, kitting out, programming, and learning about this new (to me) machine could have been an entire blog post series, but instead I kept plodding along, amassing thoughts and ideas for a big reveal blog post that ended up being too ambitious to be practical. Or became too big to write, in other words. I’ve only stumbled like this a few times in the history of my personal projects and writing, but when it happens it hits hard. So much so that I lose the ability to write cohesive metaphors.

Photo by Evan-Amos.

But there’s another reason why this feeling of defeat is so silly. This machine has been so much fun! Researching the intricacies of VDC memory for 80-column output, comparing the performance of 1541 and 1571 disk drives, how to load applications from cassette, and the process of physical restoration have been a source of deep fascination and joy, and a welcome distraction during These Times™.

Over the coming months I’m going to pick up and write what I should have done from the start, and write about this fun old computer. It’s unique dual-CPU, quad-OS architecture, surprisingly contemporary design, and the interesting moment in history it occupied between the 64 and the Amiga. I’ll write about the hardware upgrades I’ve given it, how I’ve transferred current software to it and added it to my home network, what it’s meant for a guy who grew up in the 16bit DOS era, how it relates to the Commodore Plus/4 and 16 that I also have, how I built an IKEA desk around it, and potentially more.

Isn’t it weird that we convince ourselves with these concocted narratives, when we should have just written what was on our mind from the start?

Replacing Facebook news with RSS feeds

Facebook have begun blocking news in Australia in response to some poorly-conceived, bipartisan legislation. My views of the company, and the politics that lead to this, are beyond the scope of this post. Instead I want to help people who might have relied upon Facebook for news, and offer a far superior alternative.

RSS is a decades-old technology built into most news sites and blogs. You subscribe to these in an aggregator, which let you read news as you would have on a social media platform. You can think of it as email for news, though other ways of presenting the information exists.

It’s simple to use. Sign up for a platform such as The Old Reader or Feedly, or download a program like NetNewsWire or Thunderbird. These tools will have an option to “add” an RSS feed. Most are smart enough to detect it if you give it a news site, such as:

RSS icon from the Gnome Colors project

Another option is to look on pages for the word “Subscribe”, or for an icon similar to the one on the right. These contain a link you can paste directly into your aggregator. For example, the SBS News website has a subscribe page listing feeds for a number of different topics.

If you need help, here are the state government health departments that are publishing RSS feeds. Right-click these links and choose Copy to get the link you need:

(The Queensland, Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia health sites don’t publish RSS feeds that I can see, which to me is a clear breach of their accessibility guidelines. I’ve sent them feedback, but in the meantime you can read the news directly on their sites).

And here are some common news sites. If you don’t see the sites you read listed, you can probably still paste their home page URL into your feed reader.

Please contact me on @Twitter or send me an email at me at rubenschade dot com (not spelled out) if you need help.

Cord cutters, and the age of streaming

Cable TV never had the ubiquity in Australia like it did in Singapore or the United States. But I’m familiar enough with the concept of “cord cutters”, or people cancelling their services in an act of defiance against the machine.

I’ve heard a few cited reasons. Customers were frustrated with the steep cost, especially given you still had to sit through commercials like free-to-air. The business model didn’t permit à la carting specific channels, so you were stuck scrolling through junk you didn’t want. People were worried during the Mr Orange era that a portion of their subscription compensated news channels that disseminated misinformation lies. And then there’s the poor customer service that’s emotionally scarred enough people that it’s a trope itself.

Torrents were used as an early replacement—and are yet to be beaten for technical efficiency—but streaming services are now seen as the savior. There was a brief period of time when media companies and consumers seemed to be on the same page, which I’m sure the former took as a challenge.

Today there are dozens of steaming platforms, with more launching all the time with flashy ads and eyerolls from the public. These dilute the individual value and utility of any one platform, and drives people back to questionably-legal distribution. What’s the motivation for customers to subscribe to yet another service for a single show?

Dave Winer recently discovered that going back to cable saved him money compared to the multiple streaming services he had before. I’m not surprised.

Clara and I recently cancelled all but one of our services, because outside anime we only watch independent producers now. I say this instead of “YouTubers” because that just happens to be where they are at the moment. Whatever we paid for the other services now get funneled into Patreon, which I suppose is the à la carte option.

MTG words of wisdom

Magic: The Gathering cards are underappreciated as sources of funny and profound quips. Here’s one from a 2004 Chittering Rats card:

Bottom feeders sometimes rise to the top.

And Muck Rats from 1997:

The difference between a nuisance and a threat is often merely a matter of numbers.