Videos and other stuff...

As you might have noticed, I decided to keep up my YouTube video production at an every-other-week schedule as close as possible. So far, since returning home from NFC, it worked out. Yay! Also, I keep getting some good feedback from non-furs.

I really love the combination of things that the "Tinkering with Atkelar" series has brought with it: random tinkering projects, scripting and editing a nice, not too long video together along with puppetry for moderating... It kinda ticks all my boxes right now.

Would I monetize YouTube? Well... maybe. I am not 100% against the option, but right now, I shall not. There are too many strings attached for what I can expect from a less than 400 subscriber channel. The fact that I could request it at all is only due to the age of my account... I certainly do not meet the current monetization requirements. And provided that YT wants a weekly upload... I maybe never will, unless I can make a decent living from it. And THAT is so far out of reach it isn't even funny.

I keep the comments on my channel to "manually approve" to weed out any trolls or weirdos mostly. So far, I only had to remove about 3 spam comments and one clear troll that was "offended by my weirdness"... I don't mind feedback, even negative one, but it should be civilized and factual.

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A few random thoughts about april fools...

The way I was raised, April fools jokes used to be a minor, but recurring thing. It's kind of a "let's have fun and don't be serious for one day" kind of thing. Similar to carneval, but without any pomp around. Simiar, there was shows akin to "candid camera" where people played out elaborate jokes. And it was fine... because none of these were ill-spirited, none were even remotely likely to cause harm and all of them were over very quickly; thus the "victim" of the joke had a good laugh as well. Everybody shook hands, laughed and went their ways. That's how it should be...

But what happened?

It seems that some prank-centered TV-shows had a drop in ratings and the only thing they could think of - like the one tracked bullying minds some executives surely are - is to "ramp up the extreme!"; this lead to pranks that made you think that they must have employed stuntpersons instead of random passerbys and "jokes" that kept being perpetuated, even when the pranked person already realized that it's a prank. Like the bully going "stop hitting yourself!"... Showing that on public TV set a bad example for the general public and now just about every other April fools' bit is more like harassment and bullying than a good natured joke.

The cynic in me hopes that one day, the victim of such a produced for public TV show keels over with a heart attack and they finally find out that TV isn't above the law; it certainly seems to be above common decency.

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YouTube... or rather Google.

Well, the most recent update in the TOS of YouTube did cause quite a stir, to the point that there are now petitions going around. And here's where I cannot help but think what corporate **** Google is pulling here.

Let's look at the facts: 1998 a law was established that made it illegal (in the US!) to track (more likely 'collect data about') children.

According to WikiPedia, YouTube was founded February 14, 2005; well, well after that law. Even the current owner of YouTube, Google, was founded at least very close to that law becomming effective: September 4, 1998.

Now, let's look at what has gotten Google into hot water with the FTC - who is enforcing that law as it seems: Google is selling ads on YouTube. To "improve" the ads, they keep track of basically everything you ever do with your browser. Either by direct or indirect tracking mechanisms. Look up "content delivery networks", "Google Analytics" and "reCaptcha"... by "providing" these web design fundumentals, Google makes sure that they can follow everybody even if that person is not using Google services. Adding "browsing protection" as a plugin to browsers adds even more control and information. And I do not even want to guess what details Chrome (and derevates) is sending home.

Naturally, the FTC stepped in and said: hey, this is legal for adults but not for kids below 13. Since you tracked them too, you are now up for a fine: x-million dollar. Google wiggled out of that with a settlement that included "no tracking on kid related videos"....

hang on... Google made a mistake and instead of properly fixing it, they delegated the punishment to everybody who is uploading stuff? Sure thing. And to make sure everybody "targets" the right "bad guys", they made sure to mention the FTC in every document about that change. Now there are already petitions going to "make the FTC revert the changes". When actually it's clearly Google's fault. They are manipulative to the highest degree in this case. The petition should say: Force Google to disable tracking of anonymous users and track the known ones based on their profile age. Done. Finished.

There's many features of the platform that the "my content may be interesting to kids" selection disables, that have absolutely nothing to do with trackign/advertisements. Just to make the impact even more painful and throw an even worse light on the FTC.

Also, most people think that selecting "my content is for adults" is the safe option. Nope, in this case it's the one that enables tracking for the video and that can fall back on the creator because Google sidestepped the idea of punishment for their actions.
If it were just for the ads, I would have no problem selecting "I upload kid friendly stuff", becuase I do... but losing the comments and notifications? WTF... seriously... WTF!?! To use these, the other party needs an account and that includes a date of birth, so why not tie that to THEIR side instead of mine???

SX-64 Restoration Project

This is going to be a rather long story about me and my very first computer... or rather not "mine" as in "owning" but rather "my first" as in "the one that started me off on computers". Back when I was a child, around 1984, I got to visit my uncle and he allowed his son and myself to use his computer whenever he was not around. My uncle was divorced at that time already so this isn't something to be naturally expected.

My cousin was mostly into games and didn't bother a bit about programming or even the most basic things beyond how to load the next game but I got kinda attached to the idea to have a machine that I could shape to my needs.

The machine in question was a "mobile" Commodore 64, the SX-64 model. It was never (to my knowledge) used in a mobile fashion but it took quit some beating by my cousin... he usually smashed the joystick into it when he lost a game. Quite a tamper.

Back to present times, I wanted to own one of these for quite some time but only ebay made me realize just how rare they are... and for that just how expensive even used or broken ones are. Meh. But eventually, one popped up whih was below my own limit of around 400 USD including shipping. Yay!

The only problem with it was: US model. I need the European model (240V, 50Hz, PAL) and not the US one (110V, 60Hz, NTSC)... so I did some thinking: The SX has a built in screen, so the TV standard wouldn't be an issue. Also for the external monitor (TV) most modern TVs support both standards so also not an issue. The power supply however was a bit more of a challang. I hoped to convert the one built into the unit to the required voltage/frequency but it turns out that the required transformers aren't available at all. Note even the specs could be found. Oh well... let's look at the schematics then: There is a 9V AC transformer that is just routed to the user port with no internal connections whatsoever. Everything else is powered from either 12V DC (including the TV screen) or 5V DC. There should be an alternative, as these are very common voltages. And behold: I managed to find a power brick that had exactly that: 5V and 12V output with enough amperage to spare a bit. Add a tiny 240/9V transformer and everything is set! I just needed a way of mounting those things into the casing...

When it arrived, I was already a bit worried... the seller put it into a box, but only included a miniscule amount of bubble wrap and lots of newspaper for packaging. But with a 10+kg machine, the newspaper got compressed and it was basically banging around in the box. This also lead to a damaged keyboard case, with the missing part nowhere to be found. It must have fallen out during shipping. Highly annoying, as the SX was in very good condition originally.

I decided to go for a complete cleaning job first: disassemble, wash and rebuild. Holy cow, there are a lot of screws in that thing. And while it is pretty servicable, using different screws for everything isn't really helping a complete rebuild.


While I had all the electronics out, I changed all the electrolytic capacitors, just to make sure, as I have no good means of checking them. None of them had any visual issues, but I think averaga caps of today still outperform high end caps of the mid 80s.


I also removed all the chips from their sockets and used contact cleaner to make sure every connection is nice and crisp. The SX has the entire TTL bus routed over two boards and two ribbon cables, so any additional contact issue would probably be the end of any signal, even if it is "just" 1MHz.

During the PSU mod, I made the mistake of cutting the original wires instead of desoldering them... The wires are a pain in the behind to solder and turned out slightly too short for comfort. So if you ever put in a modern PSU: desoder, don't cut!

Since I know (from first hand experience) how mains voltage feels like, I got myself a 12VDC->240VAC converter and a cheap car battery some time ago, so I can test drive mains equipment with some insulation to the actual mains. Also, I can attach my scope without any special probe. This is how I fired up the SX for its first few tests.

The fabrication of the brackets needed to tie down the new PSU was lost in digital limbo, I'm afraid. I did record every step of the process, but somehow managed to not copy the files before erasing the SD card...

The screen did turn on and the typical frame arund the actual content was recognizable, but the content was just flickering garbage. To me, it was clear: the VIC chip is not reading the correct RAM data but rather random data with every refresh. Hmmm... this could have a number of reasons, but investigation with my scope quickly put the PLA in the spotlight of shame: it outputs a constant DC level of 2.4V instead of any changing signal. On all output pins. And here's where I made a slight mistake that caused some delay: I looked at the chip's designation and it said (something like) UE3. I didn't realize at that time that Commodore used some sort of matrix for labelling these and just looked up the "#3 chip on the schematic". Which I ordered through ebay again. And when it arrived, I had two Basic ROM chips...

I put in the new PLA connected everything up again and turned it on: Start screen! Whoopie! Success! But even before I could get my cell phone ready to snap a quick picture, the top line disappeared... And after a restart, it only showed a white screen... Bummer #2. SOMETHING else was wrong. I found out that a removed SID chip gave me the start screen again. This is also when I ordered the "Dead Test" cartridge to check for any memory issues. Again probing the bus with my scope, the A13 line showed some weird response... not a rectangle but rather like the charge curve of a capacitor... I put that up to the CPU being buggy and ordered a replacement. Same for the SID since adding it in would immediately lock down the system.

By now I had almost everything replaced and it seemed to work. I decided to run the dead test and it looked good: no memory issues found, the SID plays. Even the original copy of Maniac Mansion loads and the intro plays... So it seemes perfect now.

About that time, the car battery ran out of juice and I decided that it was time to plug it in for real. All the mains stuff was already neatly tucked away anyway. So: plug in, Turn on and ZAP! Listening to the frantic noises of UPSs and standing in a pitch black room in the middle of the night, trying to find my way to the fuse box. It turns out that one of the two heat sinks of the new PSU is not (as I thought) connected to ground/earth but rather to one of the rectified inputs. Ahem. Move alon, nothing to see, just some stupid mistake in tracing a PCB track... Thus I put in a piece of inulation sheet and now that also worked fine.

One weird thing about the process was that the SX worked fine when I had it open, but crashed or didn't even go to the start screen when I put the case back on. I found out later, that the screws for the case actually squeezed againt the CPU board, but I'm still not sure if that was the issue.

The only thing left was that the dead test cartridge reported "all OK" but the count in the test iterations went like this: 00-01-02-03-04-XX-11-12-13-14-XX-etc... where "XX" are some of the graphic characters. It seemed that something was wrong anyway and since the dead test doesn't do a full RAM check and my test harness was still in the mail, I decided to use one of the C64s I got for parts and swap all the RAM chips. After 2*8*16 desoldering and one 8*16 resoldering... the problem was still there. ARGH!

I replaced the CPU next: and it worked! Somehow the replacement from earlier (which said "tested" on the ebay listing) didn't quite work. Or my PSU mishap caused the damage.. Anyhow, to make it even stranger, NOW the original CPU also works fine...

That's when I wrapped things up and put the thing together for the final time. I lost count on how often I opend/closed that case...

Anyhow, here's a little video I made during the process:

Radio restoration project - 3a

And here we go. The new magic eye tube arrived Monday. Tried to fit it in... discovered that the "will fit 100% compatible tube" was a larger diameter than the original one. Not enough time on Monday to fix that. I had to get out the Dremel tool to grind out the plastic tube for the magic eye so it would fit thorugh. But over all, it works now:


Radio restoration project - 3

And: I call it finished!

After quite some adjusting by trial and error (since I don't own a frequency analyzer, I had to improvise) the radio's reception in the FM range was quite good. AM signals decoded... I clipped an AM modulated signal from my DSO's frequency generator onto the antenna wire to simulate the low and high end frequency of the bands according to the labels. I managed to tune the oscillator to produce a working signal on all of these, but I could not find any radio station on any band. I guess AM is pretty much dead now around here. Bummer really.

Up next I had to re-assemble the chassis with the (previously) cleaned case. What I didn't realize before, was that the punched letters in the back cover actually had "golden" paint inside. They were grime covered so the back panel looked pretty much uniform colored. I scraped out each and every letter and digit with a screwdriver to recover the gold-ish color in most areas.

I also managed to find the old fuses that I did not want to use anymore (I bypassed them with a more modern glass fuse holder) but now I wanted to put them in for decorative reasons.


Last but not least, the "magic eye" tube does work, but it is almost invisible, as dim as it has become over time... a "new" one is going for 80 Euro on ebay. That is slightly above budget though. "Almost compatible" ones are still some 50 Euro. Yikes. Way out of my range for this pet project. EM34 is the type. Update as I type this: I found a "compatible version" for 19 Euro, that's more like it. Let's see what/when/if it arrives... I'll post a brief update!

Well... what do you think?


Radio restoration project - 2

...and an update!

As the power section is now working, I re-checked all the wires I had to re-solder during the physical cleaning and decided to go for an "all-in" approach. That is in this case "all tubes in". Since the FM input path goes right through the AM path, I figured: if that works, I can pretty much go on. But I never figured that it actually might work...

I put back all the tubes and since two of them are incredibly similar to each other, I had to resort to some high level game of "spot the difference" to find out which tube goes into which socket. Oh, did I forget to mention that the print on the tubes wiped off togehter with all the dust?

Here we go: tubes - check. connections - check. Makeshift antenna - check.

I honestly didn't expect anything particular when turning it on, I just wanted to make sure there was no "magic smoke" and all the fillaments light up. Imagine my surprise when I heard static on the speaker... so I decided to manually push the FM tuning rod. MUSIC! Sweet, sweet music!

So as of now, I can pretty much declare that restoration a success. Needs quite some tuning still, but hey... I was listening to the news just now!

Right now I am not so sure if the AM part works on its own, since I don't have any antenna that would work, but hey, I am optimistic!

Radio restoration project - 1

Finally, some visible, or rather audible, progress! As I mentioned on my Twitter several times before, I am in the process of restoring an old vintage radio reciever. It's from 1953 by the quality control stamps inside the case.

Why am I doing this? I see it as a challenge for my electronic skills. And: TUUUUUBES!

When I started back about two years ago, I took the radio from my granddads old workshop, where it sat for the better part of its life. As in: I remember it sitting there MY entire life.

Time has not been too kind to it, sadly. The wooden case looked very much in need for repair and the electrical stuff inside was, well... dusty.

I made sure to snap pictures of every detail before disassembling (wise decision)

Since I could not find a schematic diagram for it, I decided to just try out a "direct" approach: if I replace some wonky components (i.e. the transformer iron which was rusting away, and the fuses which were paper wrapped wires) I would give it a try and if it didn't work... it was at least going to be a nice showpiece.

Well, the visual restoration went just fine and after assembling every component, I turned it on... nothing but way too hot (in my opinion) tubes. Oh well.

Fast forward to earlier 2018. On a whim, I googled for the radio model yet again and behold: A schematic diagram! Also, several hours of watching tube equipment related repair videos, I felt up for the task.

Starting by removing all the old paper capacitors and ordering a set of newer ones, then rebuilding that thing... boy, point to point wiring can be a quite like a game of twister!

For visual reasons, I gutted the insides of the old main filter capacitor and stuck two newer capacitors into that space. Now it looks like the original is still in place and I didn't have to find a new place for the caps.

I discovered that the "on/off" switch had two positions: off and almost on. Or, infinite and 500kOhm. I'm pretty sure that's not how it should be, so I opened up the switch, pried apart the contacts and gave them a good scrubbing. Turns out they were silver, not black after all. Now the switch is infinite and 0.2 Ohms. That's more like it.

Removing all the tubes at first and then powering on, I confirmed that both the fillament and the B+ output from the transformer was OK.

Next, I installed the rectifier tube and got a nice full wave (or rather dual half wave) rectification out on the other end.

Connecting the filter capacitors and ballast again, I confirmed a nice, juicy 350V (on idle) B+ voltage. Good. Idle 350 means that it should not overshoot by much, so my 400V filter caps are OK to stay.

Up next: connecting the power output tube and the "multifunctional pre-amp tube", so I can put in a signal from the "Phono" input and validate the output stage.

I found out around here, that temperatures up to 200°C are considered normal for these tubes. No touchy! But also, do not label them with electrical tape!

After some tryouts, checking resistors, voltages and clening the tube socket contacts, I managed to get about 100Vpp on the output transformer. That's when I decided: hmmm... looks "OK", but there is no signal on the output side? Let's just connect the speaker and see if we hear anything... and behold! A 1kHz sine wave never sounded THAT good ^.^

Oh hey? Another year?!

Oh, has it really been the better part of a year since my last post? Where did the time go?

Oh... busy job, busy with staffing two furry conventions, busy busy busy. Keeping things updated in here is not a major priority anymore since most people wandered off towards other services.

This is mostly very sad, since LJ still offers a neat place to keep longer updates/articles/rants than - for example - twitter and similar services.

What have I been up to you ask? Honestly, I have no idea what happened during the last half year or so. I had stuff to do and things to attend to almost constantly and totally lost track of time.

The one personal project that kept me somewhat sane was a wooden calendar (I think I mentioned that some time before) and it's almost done now. Didn't quite make it by new year as planned, but it's very close to be finished. It is painted and assembled. The only things that are missing are: the main drive mechanism's weight (have to get some 2kg of lead into some copper pipe and attach that safely to a string) a mounting fixture for the moon (-phase indicator) and a place to hang that thing. Darn, it turned out a bit bigger than I expected, so the original plan won't work out.

On another note, I'll be at NFC and EF this year again, so hope to see some of you there! Say hi!

WTF: Graphics "design"

This time: PDF and "graphics artists". Don't get me wrong, I do respect the amount of work that go into graphical artwork and design, not a problem at all...

So, what is my WTF moment of the day? Graphics artists who turn up their nose to certain technologies as being "inferior" and "not having enough fidelity" when sticking to PDF as "the one true format that does everything with maximum precision and is just good enough for our job".

Example: I know there are minute differences between Arial and Helvetica fonts. Can anyone but a graphics artist who works with them on a daily basis see them? Nope. Can we - for all practical applications like writing receipts and creating dynamic webpages - ignore those differences? In my book, yes. They are close enough to work as substitutes. But graphics designers blow a fuse at the mere suggestion.

And yet... PDF... I am currently digging into the specifics of the format and - as usual when learning these things - writing my own library to handle reading/writing it. I can write text (with one standard font so far) and draw lines and fill rectangles with a solid color (either RGB or Grey) just fine. Now I wondered: Hey, let's do a circle next! Just to find out: PDF does NOT have a circle drawing primitive! It just can't be done! It only has lines and cubic Bézier curves. Which can only approximate a circle, but not quite hit it.

So here's where I cannot listen to people who gripe about some obscure line cap difference in Arial vs. Helvetica anymore, when all circles that they ever drew where closer related to eggs than spheres.

Disclaimer: I am not talking about different fonts like serif or sans-serif fonts, condensed or wide, bold or regular or even custom kerning or leading. Just those little glyph differences that are just about as prominent in normal text as the difference between a circle and a four-curve approximation.

That is also the reason that Illustrator (and some other graphical applications) will draw a circle that is actually a pre-defined path... because when it boils down: PDF can ONLY do cubic Bézeirs: Even straight lines are Bézeirs with the control points happening to be the same as the origins.
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