The Micral N And Others – The Micros Before The Altair 8800

Image: Book cover of 'La saga du micro-ordinateur'In many documentaries, the The Altair 8800 is portrayed as the computer that started the microcomputer revolution in 1975. And that’s a fair assessment as it was the first, and for its time, affordable computer that could be bought as a kit or fully assembled. As such it became immensely popular with hobbyist enthusiasts. Wikipedia has the details. But I was always wondering what came before the Altair by which Ed Roberts of MITS might have been inspired!?

Continue reading The Micral N And Others – The Micros Before The Altair 8800

The Internet Archive’s Open Library Is A Treasure Trove!

Over the past decades a lot of interesting books have been written about computing history. Some of them are still in print despite having been written a decade or two or three ago, but many of them are not. And then there are quite a bunch that never made it over the Atlantic so they are impossible to get from a second hand book store in Europe. One can of course order them in the US and have them shipped, but that usually costs more than the book itself and takes a long time. And in addition, I prefer electronic copies as I find them more convenient to read. But now I found a source that fixes all of this!

Continue reading The Internet Archive’s Open Library Is A Treasure Trove!

Micro SD Card Speed Comparison

A couple of years ago I bought a fast 32 GB USB3 Flash stick so I could quickly transfer really large files of several GB. The investment was well worth it, the stick was much faster than anything I had before. Another thing I do quite often is to create bootable micro-SD cards, e.g. as system volume for Raspberry Pis or as boot disks to install Ubuntu on notebooks. This was often a tedious exercise as the micro-SD cards I used so far could only be written to with speeds of less than 20 MB/s. However, manufacturers claim that there are much faster micro-SD cards on the market so I recently bought myself a new USB3 UHS-1 capable micro-SD card reader and somewhat more expensive (but still cheap) micro-SD cards to see if those small cards could really reach higher speeds.

Continue reading Micro SD Card Speed Comparison

Legacy Hardware: Upgrading to Ubuntu 18.04

I don’t have a dedicated TV at home and use a 10 year old 17″ PC for most of my media consumption. So far, I’ve been running it on Ubuntu 14.04 and I didn’t really see any reason to update it. Well, actually, over the years, software ‘enhancements’ have brought some ‘display shear’ when things in a DRM protected video in Firefox moved fast.  Also, Ubuntu 14.04 didn’t have some codecs to play back some video files with VNC or the bulit-in video player. It has been a bit of a nuisance, but not enough to throw out the PC and to get something new.

However, support of Ubuntu 14.04 is now rapidly coming to an end so I decided to upgrade to the latest long term support version. From 14.04 that would have meant going to 16.04 first and then to 18.04 afterward. A bit too much hassle, so I decided to just wipe the partition and do a clean install to save time.

To my great surprise, the user interface is as smooth as ever despite the PC with a Core 2 Duo processor being 10 years old. And, to my even bigger surprise, the display shear issue has not become worse but has subjectively even decreased a bit when streaming DRM protected (yes, it’s bad, I know) content in Firefox. I would have expected quite the contrary. So if you also have a 10 year old PC at home and are afraid to update Linux on it to something more recent, your worries are probably unfounded!

A 250 GB SSD for 35 Euros

Entry level SSDs for upgrading old PCs are becoming insanely cheap these days. When I recently upgraded a 10 year old PC from Windows to Ubuntu, I also used the occasion to replace the aging hard disk with a new SSD. At first I wanted to look for an HDD+SDD hybrid drive as I have done in a previous ‘upgrade’ because they were cheaper than pure SSDs. Quite to my surprise I noticed that such a compromise is no longer necessary.

Continue reading A 250 GB SSD for 35 Euros

The Perfect USB Boot Stick for Installing Ubuntu

Some things should be easy but they are not. When I recently wanted to install Ubuntu 18.04 on a 10 year old notebook I was faced with a BIOS that had an early implementation of UEFI that just didn’t play along very nicely with today’s EFI bootloaders. It took me a while to figure this one out and the obvious solution then was to switch-off UEFI in the BIOS and boot with the ‘legacy’ BIOS boot loader that requires GRUB to be put on the MBR (Master Boot Record). So much for the theory. But unfortunately, my Ubuntu 18.04 USB installation stick still wouldn’t boot. After a lot of experimenting I found out why.

Continue reading The Perfect USB Boot Stick for Installing Ubuntu

Blocking Software Updates

Is has become common practice of PC and mobile operating systems to assume that Wifi connectivity means unlimited data volume and is pretty much seen as an invitation to download hundreds of megabytes of software updates. This wrecks havoc on many peoples volume cap when they offer tethered Internet access from one of their mobile devices to other devices while on the road. This really makes me wonder why Google or Apple haven’t yet done anything about this on their mobile devices!?

Continue reading Blocking Software Updates