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How To Make An Aviation Cocktail

A few weeks ago, my wife and I started cleaning out her mother’s kitchen of the ~40 years of detritus she’s been holding on to. In the fray, I managed to save some really beautiful glassware such as these coupes.

My mother-in-law works for a law firm and one of the attorneys gave her these phenomenal sets of crystalware at Christmas. She didn’t want to part with them out of guilt, but she also *never* used them.

“Take them!” she yelled with her thick Cuban accent. “If you’ll use them, take them!”

Now, I’ve never really been one for fancy glassware (excepting the various branded pint glasses I collected for years), but I’ve always secretly wanted to have a really cool bar setup for entertaining.

So, under the guise of acquiring some really nice crystal wine glasses that Barbie has always wanted to use, I brought home my favorites.

Tonight I’m going to (forgive the expression) break them in.

Now, over the last 18 months, I’ve become a bit of a cocktail aficionado. I mean, I was already into the tiki scene since, like, 2008-ish, but I never really thought about learning to make these drinks myself. All that changed when COVID decided that I couldn’t go out anymore.

At the same time, I rekindled my appreciation for Alton Brown by watching Quarantine Qitchen on YouTube. Brown and his wife Elizabeth live in my hometown and I’ve always considered him kind of a “TV uncle” along with LeVar Burton and Adam Savage.

Seeing Brown’s eclectic collection of glassware inspired me to look around for some interesting pieces on my own, but eBay prices are way too high and thrifting really wasn’t a thing for a while (I still want to pick up a couple of those vintage Delta in-flight service glasses, though!)

So, tonight, after an extremely difficult month, I’m finally going to sit down and enjoy one of my favorite beverages. It’s a classic gin cocktail from the dawn of an era:

The Aviation

First, though, I need to decide on a glass: Do I go with the classic “Marie Antoinette” round coupe or the more stylistic, angled “Martini” coupe?

For tonight, I’m going with Marie just because she’s about a half an ounce larger (also so I can pretend I’m Leonardo DiCaprio in that Great Gatsby GIF)

via GIPHY

Okay, got a clean glass. First thing we’re gonna do is fill it with ice and set aside to chill.

First, let’s talk about hardware. Unlike many modern bartenders who prefer a fancy Boston shaker, I’m very partial to the Parisian shaker.

It’s got a nice period silhouette, but it’s only 2 pieces–unlike the cobbler variety most used by home gamers.

I like it over the Boston because (A) it just looks better, (B) doesn’t require a glass, and (C) seals better.

The Boston is for showing off, and I never strain with it (but many bartenders will tout that benefit anyway)

I can’t recommend a graduated jigger enough! Measurements get much faster and easier than eyeballing. Japanese or hourglass, it doesn’t matter (I just happen to like the look of the Japanese style)

Last thing is a good spring strainer. A Boston shaker can be used as a makeshift strainer, but if I’m going to strain a drink, I’m going to strain it!

This guy will get all those tiny ice flakes out so they don’t mess with the experience of a neat drink.

I’m going with the classic Savoy recipe here, but I’ve been playing around with the recipe some. Biggest change is that I’m going to be using violet liqueur instead of creme de Violette–because that’s what they had at Bevmo!

It’s really such a small amount only for coloring that it doesn’t appreciably affect the flavor. Despite what some purists will tell you!

Okay, let’s start with the good stuff! I am a fan of Sapphire going way back to my early 20s, but I haven’t bought it in over a decade. I switched to beer for a long time, and I picked up Beefeater for my tiki stuff since it was going to be so heavily mixed.

Not that there’s anything wrong with Beefeater! But if I’m going to be doing mostly gin, I want to taste my favorite.

That’s 1.5oz into the tin!

Maraschino liqueur fell by the wayside for a long time, but it is absolutely delicious and adds a nice, round cherry flavor to boozy cocktails like the Aviation, Manhattan, and Hemingway. We’re going to use 0.75oz for our concoction.

I don’t have any fresh lemons, but this will do for tonight. I need to get a couple of citrus trees for the apartment…. 😉 Throw in 0.5oz of lemon.

This is *not* the good stuff, but it’s what they had. Again, it’s really mostly for color and just a slight perfume of violet. Use 0.25oz at most.

Throw the ice from your glass in the tin and shake! (Yes, shake!) You don’t have to get violent here, just enough to mix and get the tin cold.

via GIPHY

Strain it into that chilled glass. Don’t that look something!

Now for the garnish! Most plebes use some of those neon red cherries that come in Dole fruit cocktail, but I’m gonna fancy it up a little bit for my new glass.

My step-sister and I discovered these at Trader Sam’s when she was out here for a conference a couple years ago. They’re stupid expensive, but so goddamned delicious!

And there we have it! Of course, keeping with the aviation theme, I had to use one of my Southwest Airlines swizzle sticks!

Delicious! And, as promised, my best Gatsby selfie 🍸

Now, there is very likely a contingent of you who reel at the thought of shaking an aviation (“You’ll bruise the gin!”). I get it, especially with a top shelf gin like Sapphire, you don’t want to lose those nice top notes from the juniper and pine.

However, we have to take into consideration the complexity of the drink. By adding Maraschino, lemon, and Violette, we’re replacing much of the top notes with these new flavors. And when I shake a drink like this, I go just long enough to get the tin cold. On top of that, the ice dilutes the drink a little bit to give it a smoother texture. The shake also creates a tiny bit of foam, reminiscent of cirrus clouds, which help give the drink it’s distinct appearance (the drink is supposed to evoke the idea of an open sky, hence the name).

On the other hand, if this were a martini, you’d better believe I’d be stirring!

At the end of the day, it’s your drink! Make what you want how you want, and don’t let anyone shame you for being unorthodox. Just don’t be that asshole who drives drunk or ends the night praying to the porcelain gods!

Have fun, y’all. Hug your loved ones if you can.

The Meter That Won The Cold War

This ancient piece of technology might be one of my most prized tools. Obviously, it’s an analog multimeter, but it has an interesting history.

It came into my possession many years ago when my dad was clearing out his toolbox, and he thought I ought to have it.

Now, my dad is *not* an “electronics guy”. As a recently retired firefighter engineer, he’s much better with flow controls and assessing structural integrity. He’s the kind of guy who would reverse-engineer those Tuff-Shed structures at Home Depot by sight and memory.

However, he had this multimeter in his tool box because he inherited it when *his* dad, my grandfather, passed back in 1986. He just didn’t really have a use for it, so it sat there for the next 15-20 years when he decided I should have it.

Now, something you have to realize about my grandfather, affectionately referred to as “Grumpy”: No one, and I mean NO ONE, was allowed to TOUCH his tools–much less USE them! I have reports that he would literally scream and throw things at anyone who dared.

Except me.

Grumpy was a complicated man. He was a tech sergeant in the army during WWII. He landed at Normandy and survived. He beat a Nazi to death with his bare hands. He climbed a flagpole under fire to tear down a Nazi flag. He was basically Brad Pitt in Inglorious Basterds.

Needless to say, he had a lot of demons. He had some very serious post-traumatic stress, but machismo and lack of diagnosis prevented treatment. (Side note: Please take care of your health, both mental and physical.)

After the War, Grumpy went to Southern Polytechnic to study electronics and got a job at the Lockheed plant in Marietta, GA (Air Force Plant 6) working on the C-130 Hercules and, later, the C-5 Galaxy.

By the early 60s, Grumpy was head of his department. His job was to check the wiring on every aircraft that rolled off the line. All of it. Every plane.

Which means that every Herc since then and every Galaxy (including the original prototype) built until he suddenly passed away of a heart attack in 1987 had its electrical systems checked off by my Grumpy.

Those planes have in excess of 5 miles of wiring inside them. That brings be back to the early 1980s, when I was but a toddler.

For some reason unknown to the rest of the family, he really mellowed out around me. He saw something in me, they say. They also say that I’m very much like him–except not so agitated.

Grumpy was an early adopter of new technology that he could use. He bought a TI-30 pocket calculator when they first went on the market in the US. He never bought a computer, though, because he couldn’t see a use for one. Typewriters were good enough.

My cousin remembers getting his hand slapped for picking up that calculator, but I had no such repercussions.

In fact, I often took it outside to play with it–in the barn–gleefully pressing buttons in the dirt. Grumpy seemed to enjoy seeing that happen. He let me play with it.

(Incidentally, I also have that calculator. I’ll tell that story one day.)

Now, back to the multimeter….

This is the Micronta 20,000 Ohm/Volt 28-Range Multitester, RadioShack catalog number 22-022. It was produced from 1967-1973 (thanks to radioshackcatalogs.com for helping me narrow down the production years) and was Grumpy’s go-to tool at work.

I’m not sure when this particular unit was purchased (if anyone has a clue on where I could find a production date, please let me know), but I was able to grab the catalog pages featuring it. Here’s it’s glorious debut in 1967

(Note the typo in the previous advertisement)

And here it is in FULL COLOR in 1968

Nearly the exact same layout in the ’69 catalog

A nice green motif for a new decade, 1970

Yellow for 1971. Notice the addition of engineers to the “Used by more…” headline copy.

Back to BW for 1972 and a $1 price increase?! Must be stagflation.

Another year, and another $2 price jump! This would be the final year that the 22-022 would appear in a RadioShack catalog. For the record, $17.95 in 1973 is $108.83 in 2021!

And here’s 1974, the page is blue because the 22-022 isn’t there anymore and all the multimeters are built with cheaper plastics so they’re sadly not as robust. Grumpy also had the 22-027 in the top right corner. That’s another restoration project for later.

So, like I was saying, Grumpy worked at Lockheed Plant 6, and his job (among other things) was to check all the wiring in every plane that rolled off the line. This was *his* tool.

The 22-022 came out in 1967, and assuming he bought it that year (I can’t substantiate this because I don’t have proof of purchase, but Dad says he remembers Grumpy getting it for Christmas of either 67 or 68), that would mean that this specific multimeter was used to test every plane that rolled off the line from 1967-1987 (or at least 73-87).

Some of those Hercs ARE STILL IN SERVICE (though, I’m sure, the original wiring has been replaced in the last 40+ years)

What’s more, the C-5 had it’s first flight in 1968, and I know Grumpy signed off on the prototype.

It’s entirely possible that this humble RadioShack multimeter was part of that assembly process, which makes it–in my book, anyway–a significant piece of aviation history.

It’s like if Igor Sikorsky’s grandson had one of his wrenches or if one of the Wrights’ progeny had some of their woodworking tools.

Maybe not *quite* the same.

Oh, did somebody say “restoration”?!

Although the multimeter is in great shape (just a scratch across the face that doesn’t affect reading), the probes disintegrated when I tested it. I’ve tried to find needle-tipped probes like it had, but I haven’t been able to find anything yet.

Meanwhile, I did find these vintage needle-tip probes on fleaBay, and they’re a perfect fit!

I also like the right-angle connectors a little better than the original straight connector. Part of me is still considering replacing the pin jacks with proper banana jacks, though.

“Knackered” doesn’t even begin to describe the condition of the original box. There’s one staple left (and it’s not really holding anything) while the rest is held together with 40-year-old masking tape (that’s crumbling worse than a bad cookie)

My first priority is to build a pouch like the ones later RadioShack products came with. Something to provide a little protection to the box itself while being a durable container for the piece.

It’s also gotta look like it originally belonged to the piece, so something that has that early 70s aesthetic.

Brown vinyl. I’m going to use this compact cassette case (another hand-me-down from my dad, actually) as the design model. It’s basically a hinged box with a vinyl wrap that’s folded and glued to look like it was sewn together. (We’ll talk about those cassettes another day….)

To start, I just ran a basic box shape, open on top, through the 3D printer. It’s just 1mm thick on each side, but that will be plenty enough to hold its shape once I wrap it.

I’m not going for super rigid here, just something to prevent the box from further incidental damage.

Fits like a glove!

Next thing to do will be to source some brown vinyl and come up with a template.

Okay, I’ve played around with the design and I think I’ve got something that will work. Hold on to your butts!

So far, so good!

The edges on the front and back are folded over and glued while the edges of the sides will wrap over the corners underneath. This will give it the illusion of being sewn together.

Also: Shout out to @HarborFreight super glue gel! It’s like regular old super glue, except it doesn’t run! Why didn’t I discover this sooner?!?

This might be my new favorite plastic adhesive.

It’s coming together! One side is a little low, but–like everything else–I’ll fix it in post!

Almost there! Just need to put a trim piece around the mouth.

All the hard parts are finished. I just need to find a snap closure for the flap. There’s probably one floating around at the shop.

After searching through several options for snaps (sew-on and riveted), I picked up a pack of these nice antique brass magnetic snaps.

With a liberal application of super glue, I think that we’re finally going to call this done!

I’m debating with myself whether or not I want to engrave Grumpy’s name on the flap. I think there’s enough room, but I just don’t want it to be cramped. I’ll play around with it some more and update if I decide to go that way.

Constructing A Shrine To Atlanta Hockey

It should come as no surprise that I’m a bit of a hockey fan. If you’ve followed me for any amount of time, you’ve likely seen the occasional #AnaheimDucksGOOOAAALLL or even the #BelieveInBlueland hashtag peppering my Twitter timeline.
Truth is that my love of hockey goes WAY back. I discovered the sport thanks to a particular 1992 Disney film. I grew up outside Atlanta, so hockey really wasn’t a thing people understood or even knew about–other than we beat the Soviets in it that one time at the Olympics.
Every so often, I might’ve been able to catch the last few minutes of a Knights game if I were flipping through channels and saw it at the right moment–assuming the reception was decent enough to see what was going on (Kennesaw Mountain is hell on TV signals, especially today).
I begged my parents to take me to The Omni for a game, but I would get alternating responses about it being too expensive or a more accurate “Ugh! I don’t want to go to Atlanta!”
Sadly, the Knights moved to Quebec in 1996 before I ever got a chance to see them in person. Another year would pass before the news that Atlanta would be granted an expansion team in 1999.

NHL hockey
In Atlanta
For the first time in almost 20 years
And I’d be old enough to drive

Let’s fast-forward a few years. I went to my first game in 2000 and it was one of the most visceral experiences of my life. The noise, the energy, the camaraderie of the fans–I was hooked and made it my mission to spread the Gospel of Hockey Love to everyone I knew!

Thanks, Giant Bird. You are my friend. I want to pet you and feed you some bird seed.

I would catch a live game any time I could, but I mostly enjoyed watching at home (whenever I had access to cable television) and, later, I was an early adopter of various streaming services that would provide those games (especially ones suffering a local blackout).

This brings me around to a small collection of memorabilia that I have. I picked up a handful of commemorative hockey pucks from various sources (mostly eBay or Frank & Sons) since moving to California.

Call it a way to hold onto my roots; I have a puck representing each of the professional hockey teams that played in Atlanta. I even have one for the 2008 All-Star Game held at The Phil.

For years, these pucks have been languishing in a small mailing pouch waiting for a way for me to properly display them. I figured it was high time I did something about that.

So I picked up a shadowbox at the local craft store and set about to design a way to hold these pretty bits of vulcanized rubber.

Incidentally, an NHL regulation puck is 76mm in diameter and 25.4mm thick.

The basic design could hardly be simpler. I just made a rectangle the size of the shadowbox and laid out the arrangement of the pucks as appropriately-sized circles. This is about the easiest thing I’ve ever done in Illustrator.


I saved the layout as an SVG and imported it to Fusion, extruding it to the requisite height before adding a backplane to fill in the remaining interior volume.


Since my printer can only print up to 200mm square, I needed to chop it in half and print as two pieces.


I’ve had this gold PLA filament for years, but it’s still good and I’m going to paint the thing anyway. I feel like I’d rather paint my pieces than buy so many differently-colored filaments. Probably because I don’t print as often I you might think I would.

I blame my trash Robo 3D printer for my printing angst. My first experience was a second-hand, not-ready-for-prime-time Kickstarter model with no documentation and less support.

Things are much better now, but I still often subconsciously avoid design and printing.

Halfway done! It’s at a 0.8mm layer height with 10% infill because at the end of the day, it’s a glorified spacer.

I’ll smooth everything out during the finish.

Both halves printed and glued. Now to pray that nothing shifts or settles while the epoxy cures.

Quick coarse sand to smooth out those lumps and hit it with a coat of primer.

Another sanding and primer followed by yet another sanding and one final coat. The face should be pretty smooth at this point. A couple coats of acrylic and it’ll be done!

After a few coats of acrylic, it’s ready for the pucks. They’re an extremely tight fit, so if I want to remove them I’ll probably need to break it.

And the final product is under glass! I’m not sure where I’ll hang it. If Barbie has anything to say about it, it’ll be in my office (and not at home). I’m just glad to finally have a home for these guys, and I think I’ve done right by them!

Fun fact: 3/4 of these teams are now in Canada (hence the joke that Atlanta is just a training market for new Canadian teams). The Gladiators are the last hope for pro hockey in the A (even though they play in the northeast suburb of Duluth).

I used to have a Gladiators T-shirt that declared “NOT MOVING TO CANADA”. I wore it while walking around Toronto once and got a few weird looks and a lot of laughs.

Hockey Love is strong in the south, but you’ll never convince the corporate overlords.

Pretending To Be A TV Mogul (or: Why I Built An Automated Broadcasting Rig)

Hey, remember that iMac I was working on last week? The one that I was putting Mojave on just ’cause? Well, I told you I had a project in mind for it!

Also: For the record, it’s an early ’09 model, not a ’10.

Anyway, I’ve always been a bit of a broadcasting nut. I always loved/hated the politics, the business, and the technology of commercial broadcasting.

In fact, in high school/early college, I wanted to make a career of it.

Even before then, I was recording “radio shows” and “TV programs” with friends. Much of it was parody–inspired by Dan Aykroyd sketches, Tiny Toon Adventures, that “Stay Tuned” movie, and Wayne’s World–but I played it seriously (which was part of the fun)

More than the programming, though, I was fascinated by the technological infrastructure. How radio equipment works, how signals are converted, but especially how that can be exploited.

When I was 14, the school band went on a trip to Panama City. My best friend brought a small FM transmitter like you would plug into a CD player to listen over a car stereo, and I hatched a BRILLIANT scheme.

After a covert mission to Radio Shack during a lunch break, we had exactly what we needed to build that elusive dream of all Gen X kids (and some of us Xennials): an unlicensed radio station.

It didn’t take long for us to get into a LOT of trouble with the adults 🤣

Anyway, I’ve always romanticized broadcasting. Fortunately, after a wave of consolidation and format changes in the late 90s (as well as the unfiltered reality related to me by industry vets), I saw where the industry was going and got out before I grew to hate it. That’s why I gravitated toward YouTube early on, but it’s very noisy and just doesn’t feel the same. YouTube is more like an old VHS exchange while running a production, aesthetically, feels different?

So, this bit of personal history brings me back around to the project at hand. I know that with today’s technology, literally anyone can broadcast. There’s really no gatekeeping anymore (which is a good thing), but I still love the idea of “curated” content. I love the idea of having a “channel” that plays constantly changing content, and I love the idea of being able to produce that content without necessarily “going live”. It’s not just making videos, but creating an experience beyond the video.

So I wanted to build a little homage to analog broadcasting. I wanted to capture some of the essence and the nostalgia of the old ways without getting caught up in the whole “content mill” mindset. Something that people could drop in, have something unique served to them, then stay and chat or just move on without commitment. Something that could run itself, automatically generating that curated content without my input.

So to start off, I built what might be the epitome of mid-90s automated analog TV:

The Weather Channel

It’s simple, but it’s proof-of-concept for a little side art project that I’ve been kicking around in my head for a long time. Eventually, I want to add more concepts like simulated EBS, station ID, sign-offs, and other goodies.

And, of course, programming.

The biggest thing is that I want it to be fun. I want there to be interesting little surprises for people who watch, and–really–I want people to take part in it in some way.

There’s no other goal here than to have fun, so expect puzzles, Easter eggs, and plenty of irreverence. Eventually, I want to position this concept kinda like a zine-meets-public-access where people can submit content and share without the disparate nature of something like YouTube. I’d love to see this become a sort of discovery engine for other like-minded artists where real humans are finding oddities and curiosities and presenting them. I’d even love to see communities spin off and thrive on their own.

For now, though, just enjoy the wallpaper.

twitch.tv/airbornesurfer

On Game Design: Difficult vs Frustrating

I was thinking a little bit about video games this morning and the differences between a game that’s difficult (or even extremely difficult to where it’s almost impossible to finish without the help of Game Genie or save states or anything like that) versus games that were just arbitrarily difficult because they wanted to just fuck over the player.

Like, the difference between something like Ghosts ‘n Goblins that’s arbitrarily difficult for the sake of being arbitrarily difficult because they just do things to make it arbitrarily difficult throughout the entire game and then when you finally finish the game–if you finally finish–you don’t actually finish the game! You have to start over and then there is an item that you have to collect somewhere in the game that you don’t know about and you don’t know the whereabouts of it and it’s entirely random where it shows up and you have to get that and you have to finish the game again and you might get the good ending because it depends on how you played the game originally.

I feel like that is not the mark of good design. It’s not the mark of a good game, and–especially at the end–it’s not at all rewarding! It’s just been so frustrating to get to that point that you’re rewarded with a simple “Congratulations” screen and that’s about it! It’s like “No no no no!” I mean, at least give me a credits crawl or something! Maybe rudimentary animation? Give me something to be proud of!

Of course, this is the earlier 8-bit era games, and this franchise–especially being a port of an arcade game–is meant to be extremely difficult. These games are meant to eat quarters, but there’s a difference between being just arbitrarily difficult and being difficult in a fun way that encourages replay. I don’t believe the NES port of Ghosts ‘n Goblins encourages replay. It’s a frustrating game that is not fun enough to play again; however, the later ones are okay–like they’re fun diversions. The arcade version is actually kind of fun to play through, but the console versions–by and large in my experience–have just been arbitrarily difficult and they’re set up to be that way so that you play them for a long time. In my experience, though, it just means they get thrown into a corner (or traded or sold) and never touched again by that player.

Contrast this to something like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the original one that everybody hates but I actually enjoy). Everybody loves to hate that original Turtles game, but I love it. I think it’s a lot of fun, it’s unique, and it’s more interesting than the beat-em-ups that came later. Granted, I do love Turtles IV on the SNES because I think that’s a beautiful port of a really fun arcade game and the console version actually adds to the arcade game. Of course, the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade was ported to the NES as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game and it was amazing when it came out and it was a lot of fun and it was great to play to be able to play the arcade game at home but it and its successor The Manhattan Project just don’t grab me the way the first one does.

Maybe it’s because I had the first one and I really enjoyed playing it a lot, putting a lot of time and effort into playing it and getting good at it. Maybe I’m different because I never felt that the dam level was all that difficult? It seems everybody hates swimming under the dam and doing the bombs, but I’m like, “That didn’t take me long to learn and get through it!” It’s difficult, but it’s not so difficult that it becomes frustrating and has that arbitrary feel to where it’s just full of “gotchas”. Ghosts ‘n Goblins is full of gotchas, but Turtles is just a genuinely difficult, skills-based game. It’s not a memory-based game where the difficulty lies in simply memorizing all the patterns and knowing exactly where the enemy is going to be before it appears on the screen.

Turtles, like many well-designed games, is a game where you really have to develop certain skills in order to progress through the game. You have to learn how the dam works. You have to learn to lay out of the dam. You have to learn the swimming mechanic. You have to learn the map of level 3, And yeah, that’s a little bit of memory work, but there is there’s a Metroidvania-like discovery mechanic, and there’s a lot of skill-building involved where you’ve got to start getting good at using the individual turtles to your advantage because they all have different strengths and weaknesses and you have to be able to play that. Then there’s certain jumps that you have to make, and you have to make them a certain way, and you make them with the certain turtle (because of his weapon).

There’s a lot that you have to learn and a lot that you have to know, but there’s a lot that you have to actually be able to do versus something like Ghosts ‘n Goblins which is just run and gun and know where the bad guys are going to pop up. It’s not like you can watch the screen and time it, you just have to know before it happens, and that is the difference: You have to know before it happens.

If you can’t look at the screen and see what’s going to happen as it’s happening, and instead just have to know it’s going to happen before you see it, that’s a mark of bad design.

There have to be visual cues in order for the game to be fun. When you can see the visual cues, you can learn them. Then you can apply that to other places in the game versus just having to know where everything is and memorize the whole game in order to be able to beat it. Visual or auditory cues are the key to good game design. You don’t want to spoon feed anybody like modern games do, but you don’t want to leave them without any way to figure out the problem. It’s a delicate balance, and some games do it really well while some games do not.

Then there are games like Fun House (NES) which is very much skills based, but also memorization. In this title, you have to be good at controlling the avatar through its unique control scheme and you have to learn the layouts of every level! Meanwhile the designers did a decent job of placing cues and directing the player where to go. Once you’ve played a level two or three times you know how it works, but you’ve run out of lives and now you have to go back and you play it again, but there’s a fair “continue” mechanism that won’t set the player back too far and there are enough lives that troublesome spots aren’t detrimental.

A good design for a game keeps you playing; It has replay value. A well-designed game is just addictive enough, and it’s just difficult enough to warrant another try. Turtles is an extremely difficult game, but it’s also fun. Fun House is an extremely difficult game, but it is also fun. Mickey Mousecapade is ridiculously difficult! I’ve only beat it once (and I think I did that by accident), but it’s actually fun. It’s challenging–not something that is beyond your ability as a mere mortal–but just challenging enough to test your ability, and that’s the difference!

You don’t want games to be so difficult they’re not fun, but you don’t want them to be so easy they’re not fun either. I look at modern equivalents like I Wanna Be the Guy or  VVVVVV and they’re just difficult for the sake of being difficult, but they’re also doing it in a tongue-in-cheek way and you go into the game knowing that! You go into the game knowing that they’re just fucking around with you and they’re playing against all these different tropes that came before–all these different conventions. So they set it up and they’re all tricks! Every design element is there to trick the player, but it’s specifically done that way and it’s more of an artistic statement, I think, in how can conventions can inform our decisions and how we can play off of those conventions to misdirect and I appreciate what they did. These titles may be arbitrarily difficult, but they’re arbitrarily difficult for a specific reason. They are arbitrarily difficult because they’re setting you up for failure on every screen and that’s part of the fun. It’s subverting those tropes and those conventions, and it makes for a very fun experience even though it is hopelessly difficult.

There’s a lot of commentary on game design in those pieces, and even though I’ve never felt compelled to play through either of those examples, I appreciate what they’re saying. These games fit into the gaming landscape much in the same way that films from Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker fit into the larger landscape of cinema. These are pieces that play with established conventions and techniques, and while not always considered “good” by critical standards, they know exactly what they are and why they exist, and they delight in deconstructing everything you thought you understood about the medium.

Installing Mojave on a 12-year-old iMac

Let’s take a trip, shall we? I used to use this 2010 iMac at my office before it became hopelessly outdated. It’s spent close to the last half decade in storage at the shop (just off the left side of the screen in videos, actually). I’m gonna try to repurpose it

I forgot the account password, so I’m going to reinstall the OS

Silly me! Despite the wallpaper, it already has Mavericks on it

I wiped the hard drive to perform a fresh install of Mavericks. For some reason, I *really* hate entering my Apple ID. Probably because there’s always about 8 hoops I have to jump through (yay multi-layered security?) because I refuse to carry the Fruit Fone.

I actually have 2 of these lumbering beasts. Maybe I’ll put some flavor of Linux on the other for funsies.

Actually, thinking about it. It’ll probably be more useful running a newer version of Ubuntu than trying to force a newer version of OS X.

Still, I’M GONNA HAVE FUN TRYING!!!

Well, THAT took forever….

Well, there’s no big 🚫 over the icon. Let’s see if we can just run the app

Poop. That would’ve been TOO easy.

Gonna try DOSDude’s patcher and see what happens. dosdude1.com

Basically, this application patches the installers for newer versions of OS X so they’ll work on older Mac hardware. I’ll have to do this for every incremental update through Mojave.

This is promising….

Thinking aloud: If I do end up putting Linux on one of these, will it still have the chime? I don’t think it will, but I don’t recall ever trying to find out.

I came to really enjoy the chime. I was *mad* when Apple silenced it with the High Sierra “upgrade”.

Pretty sure the chime, then, is part of the OS and not, say, a bootloader? That would take some research.

MUAHAHAHAHA!!!

Seriously, though: I relish when something that *shouldn’t* work does. I feel like Alan Cumming in GoldenEye (even if I am just using a publicly available tool written by someone else)

Another half an hour waiting for the OS to install. I’m going to put this aside for the night and get some sleep.

Got up this morning and went to check on the Sierra install, but instead I got a big 🚫. Something obviously went wrong, now to see if I can recover.

“Success! Success! They’ve done it! They’ve done it!”

The trick is that you have to use a very specific version of the installer app with the patch–otherwise it will not install correctly. I managed to find a copy of 12.6.06 on archive.org and it worked a charm!

Let’s see how far we can ride this train. Hold on to your butts!

Aww yiss

LET IT RIDE!!!

It is done! I present to you, in sheer defiance of Cupertino, a 12-year-old iMac running the last version of OSX to support 32-bit apps! As much as I’d like to try, I’m going to hold off on upgrading to Catalina–this will serve my needs just fine.

Let’s See If I Can Get A Boxee Box Running

Dug this thing out of a box a while ago. Never had a chance to play with it until now.

I’m an XBMC user from WAY back (8.10), and–despite the fact that Boxee had allegedly violated the license in making this commercial product–I was actually excited about a set-top box that any Joe Schmoe could plug in and use. Alas! It was just a little ahead of it’s time.

I was an early adopter of the concept, rolling my own HTPC from a used Dell Optiplex that I picked up for $100 at a local refurbisher. That thing lasted me several years until I had to downsize!

So, anyway, I never bought a Boxee Box, but I ran across this and wanted to see what the fuss was about, so here’s for an evening diversion. Pour yourself a drink and let’s play with this bad boy!

The box promises an Intel processor, full HD 1080P (2010 eat your heart out!), and easy set up.

Along with that SWEET QWERTY remote! Smart TV manufacturers should take note.

Quick check on the Wiki says it’s an Intel Atom (1.2GHz) with PowerVR SGX535 integrated graphics. 1GB RAM & 1GB NAND on board. It’s a CE4110 SOC, so I don’t think it’ll be worthwhile doing anything with the board itself–especially with a locked bootloader–but we’ll see!

You gotta hand it to the designers, this came around during a time when everyone was making their own proprietary UI, mostly on Blu-Ray players, so your options were usually Netflix and maybe Pandora. No other apps. Certainly nothing that would play YOUR files!

Nice name dropping for those “content partners” (aka “someone wrote a plugin for XBMC that scrapes this content”)

The QR code points to m.dlink.com/boxeebox which is, of course, long dead.

I don’t suppose there’s a mirror anywhere. A cursory search didn’t come up with anything.

Okay! Let’s open ‘er up!

Not much here. It’s actually smaller than I expected.

This remote is pretty awesome, though. I wonder how much Netflix paid to put that dedicated button on there 🤔

Let’s fire it up and see what we get!

Typing on the remote is a little awkward because there’s no shift (just caps lock) and keys are multiplexed with numbers and symbols.

Well, that’s not good. And I don’t have an Ethernet cable laying around…or do I?

Aha! Eureka!

Well, it was fun while it lasted! I wonder if this has to do with the servers being long dead.

I can’t tell if I’ve got a problem with the network interface or if Boxee just isn’t seeing the server it expects. Either way, I don’t think I want to put any more effort into getting it working. Especially if the only thing I can really do is run Boxee.

I did some checking and really, all I can do is put a hacked version of Boxee on there that runs more like Kodi 18. Which would be cool if I weren’t already running Kodi on my smart TV. 😕

I could install an Alpine environment on the Box, but I’d have to access it from inside Boxee, which makes it less than useful. I was kinda hoping for a cool looking little lightweight PC that I could turn into some fun appliance. Oh, well.

I do like the goofy “rising cube” aesthetic and the LED panel behind the Boxee logo on the front. I may cannibalize the parts and do something fun with them later.

Stay tuned.

How To Install Pi-Hole on FreeNAS

I’ve been playing around a lot with my FreeNAS installation since assembling it last year as my “Pandemic Project” (which, of course, would become the first of many), and I’m constantly looking for new things to implement. Advertising has been a thorn in my side since the early days of the internet, so it seemed only logical that I should see what all the fuss with Pi-Hole was about!

Pi-Hole is most readily installed on a Raspberry Pi, but I’m trying to consolidate as much of my infrastructure as possible, so I thought I might have a go getting it working on the server. Unfortunately, FreeNAS is based on BSD while Pi-Hole is written for Linux (so there’s no plugin available), so we’ll have to install it on a virtual machine.

Installing Ubuntu Server on a Virtual Machine

The first thing we’ll need, of course, is the installation media. There’s a flavor of Pi-Hole written specifically for Ubuntu, so that seems to be the logical choice! My recommendation is to install the most compact version available, and the netboot installer image allows you to pick Ubuntu Server with minimal options. It’s a little difficult to find the correct download, so just grab the URL below:

http://archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu/dists/bionic/main/installer-amd64/current/images/netboot/mini.iso

Of course, if Bionic Beaver is outdated, just change the /bionic directory to the current version!

Back in FreeNAS, go to the Virtual Machines menu and add a new Linux VM. Give it a name that you’ll remember (“pihole” is a solid choice) and set the virtual CPU count to 1 and the memory size to 512MiB. On the Disks page, create a new AHCI disk and set its Zvol location to /data/pihole and size to 4GiB. When you get to the options for installation media, select “Upload an installer image file” and choose the mini.iso file you downloaded earlier. Once all your settings are configured, you can boot the virtual machine and install Ubuntu. The VNC option opens a virtual terminal that will allow you to connect to and interact with the virtual machine through the installation process.

If you are prompted for DNS servers, use Google’s (8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4) as a default for now.

When the install completes, Ubuntu will prompt you to remove installation media and reboot. Once you are disconnected from the VNC, stop the virtual machine and remove the installation media by deleting the CDROM from the “Devices” list under the virtual machine options.

Setting up Pi-Hole

Restart the virtual machine and connect to the VNC. Log into Ubuntu and invoke the following commands:

sudo apt update
sudo apt upgrade
sudo apt install net-tools
sudo apt install wget

The first thing we need to do is set up a static IP address for the virtual machine. Use ifconfig to find the local IP address.

In this example, the device is called ‘enp0s4’.

We will now need to change the settings for this device by editing the netplan config. Invoke the following command:
sudo nano /etc/netplan/01-netcfg.yaml

You will need to change edit the file so that it look like the image below. Pay special attention to the number of spaces for each indentation.

Once this is complete, reboot the VM.

After rebooting and logging back into Ubuntu, install Pi-Hole using the automatic installation script, just like you normally would.

wget -O basic-install.sh https://install.pi-hole.net

sudo bash basic-install.sh

Before you log into

Once the script finishes, you can access the web UI by navigating to [PIHOLEIPADDRESS]/admin. Make sure to change your password!

The last thing you’ll need to do is set up your router’s DHCP settings, but that’s best explained by Pi-Hole’s own documentation.

Using Pi-Hole For Whole-Network Ad Blocking

Internet advertising was once a fairly benign minor annoyance that spiraled into the oft-lampooned dark world of pop-ups on top of pop-ups. In these early years, simple ad-blocking plugins for popular browsers like Netscape Navigator (and its successor, Mozilla Firefox) were enough to keep these nuisances at bay, but as advertising technology got more sophisticated, Web 2.0 became more commercialized, and surveillance capitalism became the business model du jour, ad-blockers have moved from convenience to absolute necessity while simultaneously become more difficult to implement at the browser level.

Most commercial websites now can detect ad-blocker software and refuse to serve content in response. In these cases, it becomes necessary to allow some level of ad servicing–usually through whitelisting specific sites–but this also comes at the extended (and immeasurable) cost of privacy. Advertising networks track users’ movements across the internet and serve consistent ads based on that user’s specific browsing history. In this Brave New World, a user’s very identity is a commodity that must be exchanged in order to participate in society. One must sell their soul in an asymmetrical exchange to merely experience the world outside while the buyer resells the soul indefinitely and reaps exponential profits.

Pi-Hole is an application that adjusts the balance of power back into the hands of the user by allowing ads to be served, but intercepting and dumping them into a “black hole” before being displayed. Additionally, Pi-Hole blocks trackers from “phoning home” by directing their calls into the same virtual black hole, thus allowing the user to retain control over their identity. The result is a cleaner, safer, and more pleasant user experience with faster page load times and less noise in the browsing experience. Granted, Pi-Hole does have a few flaws that are more difficult to work around (such as Google’s first-party tracking), but by-and-large, the application is well-worth the few minutes that it takes to set up.

In my current network arrangement, I have Pi-Hole installed on a Raspberry Pi Zero W plugged into a 5V wall wart and connected to the WiFi. It’s not the fastest arrangement, of course, but it has a very low power consumption and serves my needs at the moment. I have also tried using Pi-Hole installed on an Ubuntu virtual machine in my FreeNAS server, but I noticed that it resulted in a noticeable increase in system resources (and noise, considering the case sits behind my sofa) so I migrated to the Pi. If you have the hardware to spare, I would probably recommend a Pi3B+ or better as the right nexus of speed and power consumption.

Installation on the Pi is fairly straightforward, following the directions of the Pi-Hole website. The most difficult part seems to be arranging the DNS settings on your router (which isn’t altogether difficult, but it doesn’t enjoy the virtue of an automatic installation script). I will put together a setup guide for the FreeNAS instance in a future number, for those who may be inclined (or whenever I upgrade my server and stuff it in an air-conditioned closet).

Pi-Hole is not a silver bullet to stop advertising and privacy-invading browser trackers wholesale, but I do recommend it as another tool in the ever-growing arsenal that users can employ to reclaim some of their own power on the internet. I’m still playing around with the idea of obfuscation, and seeing if it is even worth considering (it probably isn’t, but it may just be for fun), and I have been implementing other changes that have made my life–both online and especially off–better and less stressful than it used to be.

Subway: “We Cut Prices Too!” (circa 1992)

Oh, this takes me back! Once upon a time, you could get a pretty decent sub at Subway for a pretty decent price. Now, you have to ask for the toppings like 5 times in order to get 3 little slivers of onion, bell pepper, or olive. Things went downhill fast when they changed the way they cut the bread.

I still say Blimpie was the superior fast food sandwich, though.