Here is my sixth installment of the best things I’ve found, learned, read, etc. over the past year. These things are listed in no particular order, and may not necessarily be new. As time goes on, certain categories that show up in one year may disappear in another, or a new one might pop up. This is all fairly normal as I explore new things and abandon old ones.
Favorite Blog Posts Read
I end up reading a lot of articles over the course of the year, and cannot possibly remember all of them. Here is a selection of the ones that I can recall:
- Rotary Cellphone (2020) - This is more of a project page or build log than a post, but I really enjoyed seeing this project by Justine Haupt that shows how to build a cellphone with only a rotary dial for input.
- Surf Like A Shark (2019) - It is no secret that I have an interest in game console modems, and as a big fan of the GameShark device for the Nintendo 64 I’m surprised I had never heard about SharkWire, Datel’s WebTV-style N64 modem. Ernie Smith at Tedium provides a background for the service.
- Fax on the beach: The story of the audacious, visionary, totally calamitous iPad of the ’90s (2020) - Another Ernie Smith article, this piece for Input showcases the EO Personal Communicator and the world that it promised (but ultimately couldn’t deliver).
- MOTO GM300/GM340 POCSAG Unipager (2020) - A build guide by NotPike for running your own POCSAG pager station that extends the DAPNET (Decentralized Amateur Paging Network), a network run by radio amateurs.
- The polygons of DOOM: PSX (2020) - Doom expert Fabien Sanglard explores the engineering that went into porting Doom to the Sony PlayStation.
- Reverse engineering my cable modem and turning it into an SDR (2020) - An absolutely incredible account of reverse-engineering. I would love to read more things like this if you know of any.
Articles I wrote for Famicoman.com
I wrote a handful of articles this year for my own site. I definitely did not write as many as I wish I could have, but the projects that they coincided with did take some time in their own right. I learned a lot this year and hopefully others can learn from my mistakes and (rare) successes.
- How to Join NPSTN, a VoIP Network for Telephone Collectors - This article shows how to set up your own phone exchange on the Novelty PSTN with a Raspberry Pi, a physical phone connected to an ATA, and a softphone application running on Android.
- NODE Vol 02 - Announcement of the release of the second issue of the NODE zine.
- Corebooting the ThinkPad X230 with Skulls - I flashed the BIOS on my ThinkPad with the libre coreboot firmware.
- Connect a Wyse Terminal to a Raspberry Pi - I show two ways to interface a Wyse terminal with a Raspberry Pi, providing a dedicated serial console.
- Upgrading WiFi on the ThinkPad X230 - A follow-up to my previous ThinkPad article, now that coreboot is installed I upgraded the WiFi to something more modern.
- Get Your Vintage Computer Online with a Lantronix UDS-10 - This article shows how to use a Lantronix device as a cheap wired alternative to Wifi232 devices.
- RC2014 Troubleshooting Log - I got my RC2014 computer kit built and working this year. This article shows all the problems I faced before it would boot.
Articles I’ve Written for Other Publications
I’ve continued to write outside of my own site in 2020, but all of this material has gone into NODE VOL 02. Below is a list of articles included in that volume. All articles are freely available by downloading the zine (which you can do by visiting the link above).
- “Editor’s Letter” - An introduction to the zine.
- “Distributed VPNs - An Overview” - Covers a handful of different distributed VPNs, differing from traditional VPNs by having traffic routed to and through other users.
- “Secure Scuttlebutt - Decentralized Social Media & Messaging” - Covers the concept and technology behind SSB, a great platform for off-grind social networking.
- “Islands in the Net - The ALOHAnet” - I covered the birth, life, and influence of the ALOHAnet network. The founder Norman Abramson sadly died this year, a few months after the zine was released.
- “LibreRouter - An Interview with Nicolas Pace” - An interview with @nicopace about the new meshnet-focused, open-source LibreRouter.
- “Digital Rot” - A look at the impermanence of our data and what that means for the future of media.
- “IPFS 101 - The Interplanetary File System” - A guide to using IPFS for distributed file storage.
- “Connecting the Internet - How BGP Works, and Sometimes Doesn’t” - An examination of Border Gateway Protocol from inception to function to security issues. This article is based on my talk BGP: The Internet’s Fragile Beast from Radical Networks 2019.
Number of Books Read
A disappointing number this year, I only read one book. As I do 99% of my reading on the train and I haven’t been taking the train this year, I sort of understand why this happened. Hopefully I will read more next year, the pile of books I have certainly doesn’t get any smaller. Oh, and you may also have noticed that I closed down my Goodreads account. I never used the social or tracking features, so it really didn’t make sense for me to keep lists of books in a service that I wasn’t in control of when I could replace it with a flat text file.
- The Undersea Network (2015) - This book by Nicole Starosielski does a fantastic job exploring the technological, political, and cultural histories of undersea cable networks. As Starosielski visits important cable-related locations around the world, we get a first-hand look into how these undersea cables have changed the areas they touch and how the world has evolved with their use.
Still Need to Read
Not to mention a bunch more.
Favorite Music Discovered
Favorite Television Shows
Strangely, two Amazon originals this year.
- The Grand Tour (2016) - I’ve been watching this trio since Top Gear, and now that they’ve been able to focus on specials (and not a ton of technical car talk or interviews) I love the show that much more.
- The Boys (2019) - A very well-executed dark look at superheroes that had me at the edge of my seat waiting for new episodes.
Favorite YouTube Subscriptions
I’ve been watching a lot more YouTube this year as I haven’t been leaving the house as much, and I think I’ve been cutting back a bit on conventional television shows. I watch many YouTube channels, but these have been my favorites this year.
- Vinsauce: The Full Sauce - Second year for this one, I really just love watching Vinny play weird, bad, or otherwise strange games for hours.
- Techmoan - Another repeat, I often joke that I could have been Techmoan back ten years ago if I had more money, but in reality I don’t think anyone comes close to being able to showcase obsolete technology as well as he does.
- Ghost Town Living - A man purchased a ghost town in California and makes videos of himself exploring and fixing up the town.
- Technology Connections - Educational videos on the history and evolution of technology. Sometimes showcasing obscure items, perhaps the most interesting videos examine everyday objects that you wouldn’t normally think about.
- Mythical Kitchen - This is now the only cooking show I regularly watch, and it has replaced Bon Appetit for me after all of the bad things that happened there. All of the mythical chefs have great chemistry and create some truly interesting dishes.
- Voultar - I once read a comment that Voultar is the Bob Ross of soldering, and I think this is completely accurate. Voultar performs game console mods in his videos and offers a lot of nice little tips along the way.
Programming Languages Used for Work/Personal
Life Events of 2020
Unfortunately I don’t think I really did anything that I would call substantial this year in terms of traveling, presenting, or otherwise. I don’t mind that at all considering the state of this year.
Life Changing Technologies Discovered
- DreamPi - Okay, this was on the list last year, but hear me out. DreamPi allows for present-day online play for the Dreamcast using the ubiquitous dial-up adapter interfaced with a Raspberry Pi. I was able to play with it a lot more this year, and even set up a Quake III Arena server you can play on from the Dreamcast version of the game!
- Fermentation - This is more of a hobby, but I had a lot of fun this year making my own sourdough starter, sauerkraut, beer, pickles, koji steak, and hot sauce.
- XBAND - I had known about XBAND (the defunct online service for the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo consoles) before, but this year I got to connect to it via Retrocomputing.Network.
- Hakko FR301 - An incredible desoldering gun. This has been a complete game changer for my soldering setup and I am no longer afraid to take more chances when building things knowing I can easily undo them. No matter how hard I tried, I could never make good use of desoldering braids, and this desoldering gun works wonders.
- Xbox Insignia - Not yet released, Xbox Insignia aims to bring back classic Xbox Live on the original Xbox without using any of Microsoft’s services. Test videos look very promising and I can’t wait to try it out!
- Oscilloscopes - I have had an oscilloscope for probably a decade but never did anything more than pump audio into it and watch the waveform dance around. Now that I have actually been able to use a scope for troubleshooting I understand just how valuable they are and I’ll make sure there is always one on my bench.
- OSSC - The Open Source Scan Converter is a great zero-lag line-doubler for use with older video game consoles. I’ve been slowly acquiring some SCART cables for my consoles, which is a bit of an odd thing to do when you live in North America, but I have been really happy with the output I get from the OSSC. For all you RetroTINK fans I want to wait to see what the 5X can do.
- Meshtastic - A LoRa project that combines inexpensive hardware with open-source software to easily create low-bandwidth nodes. Really easy assembly and setup, Meshtastic could be a game changer for local mesh networking.
This year this category will be empty as I have stopped using Reddit and gave away all of the subs that I had previously been moderating. I’m not sure if I changed or if it did, but it feels dramatically different than it did ten years ago and I wasn’t getting much out of it anymore.
Due to the outbreak I didn’t attend any conferences this year, and didn’t really watch videos from any that did happen to occur. Not technically a conference, I did have a lot of fun attending Dorkbot London’s Dorkmas 2020 - Cyberspace Edition and wish that there was an active Dorkbot group near me.
Completed in 2020
- Edited and wrote for NODE VOL 02.
- Worked on magazine scans for Anarchivism (Slowly going through Mondo 2000).
- Moved famicoman.com, obsoleet.com, and phillymesh.net to Hugo. I no longer have WordPress deployed anywhere.
- Got my RC2014 working!
- Played with LoRa (more on this another time).
Plans for 2021
- Write for NODE.
- Move Anarchivism off of MediaWiki. Have you moved a MediaWiki installation to Jekyll/Hugo? Let me know.
- Better maintain my personal wiki.
- Probably decommission a bunch of public servers/services I maintain. They don’t get much use and fall into disrepair.
- Do more stuff with packet radio, play with POCSAG.
- Restore a vintage payphone I own.
- Restore a vintage Ms. Pac-Man cocktail cabinet I own.
- Build a blue box.
- Start a dial-up ISP?
See you in 2021!