The curse of being a “Techie” – Making things too complicated

I have always been adept at technology. I am sure that some of it is natural aptitude, and some is single bloody-minded-ness that I learned from working with many different computers and other “smart” devices for years (decades now). I am the person that all my family calls when they have problems with tech.

But sometimes, it is a curse.  Case in point:

My bluray disc player
My bluray disc player

In 2007 or 2008, we took the plunge and went BluRay. We bought a good mid range player at the time, the Panasonic DMP BD30. It has been a faithful player, working great.  Every disk we tossed into it, regardless of the warning that a firmware upgrade may be required played without trouble.  Until May 10 2013 (My birthday).  I got a BD copy of Skyfall, and while the damn trailers on it played, it just wouldn’t play the main movie.  F*ck. I didn’t get a copy of Skyfall on Bluray to watch the damn, tossed in DVD copy.

So, I investigated the firmware upgrade. I have to say that the Panasonic website for support completely blows.  Yes, I was able to find it, but it took too damn long. Of course, it comes as a self extracting archive that is a Windows program.  Poopies.  I am a Mac person. But it was a self extracting RAR archive, so I was able to get the firmware file out.

But the instructions were complicated. It said to burn the image to a CD-R (not a CD-RW) and that it had to be ISO9660 format.  Easiest to do on windows, so I tried it with my work laptop.  No joy.

For some reason, I thought the PANA_DVD.FRM file was a disk image, so I tried all my tools and utilities to burn that image to a CD-R. I now have 4 coasters.

Finally, I thought to myself, perhaps it isn’t an image file (like an iso) but just the firmware file. I opened a toast session, selected “data CD” and ISO format, and burned that file to a disk. Joy, it took about 10 minutes, but the firmware is now updated to 3.1 (from 1.3) and I am watching the end of Skyfall on BD now.

My error was in my natural inclination to try to treat it as a disk image, and to burn it as such. That is because I am accustomed to that workflow. But in this case, the simple solution was to just burn the firmware file on a disk. Of course, the instructions say nothing like this, but are filled with warnings about Windows Vista or Windows 7. Being the geek that I am, I avoided the easy solution, and spent a few weeks messing around creating coasters.

For the record, the player works beautifully, and I am astounded that I was able to go 5 or 6 years before I was forced to do a firmware upgrade. I have friends who are constantly updating their player to handle new discs.

More nostalgia – Technology – the PC Clone

After my Atari 8 bit and 16 bit days, I tacked hard into PC clone land.  My first build was a Mylex motherboard, with 640K ram, and a 286 CPU.  I remember buying the components from a variety of sources, but since this was pre-internet (probably 1986 or so) I didn’t mail order anything.  Probably got much of it at Fry’s Electronics.

My first foray into the PC world
My first foray into the PC world

Added to this was an PC AT case and power supply, a 5 1/4″ floppy drive, an ISA RLL disk controller card, and a simple CGA display card.  A 40 (or was it 60) megabyte HD that was the most expensive part of the build was added to the mix. (It was a 5 & 1/4″ full height disk that was frightfully loud). I remember it having a turbo button (almost always in fast mode) that slowed it down to standard PC XT speed for compatibility – mostly games.

My good friend Mike Davis helped me assemble it, and got me started with a selection of software for use on it.  I did use the heck out of that system, and subsequently upgraded a few times over the years.  I remember going to a 386 board, with a 16MHz cpu, and a whopping 4 megs of ram. I learned a lot about things that we no longer worry about. IRQ lines and conflicts, UART’s for serial communication (which ones could support the faster 19.2K baud modems).  In those days, there weren’t robust BIOS systems to let you interrupt the boot process and change the settings, you had to open the case and set jumpers on the motherboard or expansion cards. Really annoying to hunt down an odd conflict.

The main driver for upgrading was to play games better.  CGA was replaced with EGA, and finally with VGA.  Using more than 640K of RAM required the use of fiddly memory manager applications. I was fond of DesqVIEW and QEMM386.  They both worked together to give you some true multitasking on the 386 chip.

Of course, I used these machines to run a bulletin board system, but it lost much of the Atari charm.  I did discover the online systems, and was a member of Delphi. The one thing that I remember from this time was that the PC world, while it had better, and more powerful hardware, lacked some of the soul of the Atari’s I cut my teeth on. But it was a good stepping stone in my technology education and evolution.

Sometime in 1989, I got the itch to try something new.  Still in university, I was able to get student pricing on a Mac, and I jumped at a Mac SE, with a 20 megabyte HD.  This was the all in one system, with the small monochrome monitor built in. But that is for another tale.