Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas from Santa and Rose (part 10)

(from the OMG - Is That Rose? department)

Hi everyone,

Per our annual tradition, here's our new Santa photo for 2016:

It's been a transitional year for us - in many ways - but I'm so thankful we can spend the holidays together as a family.  Here's to a better 2017!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from the Pietromonaco family!


P.S.  Still the same shirt.  Maybe a new one next year!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Let It Be - A Note About Transferring Old LaserDiscs

(from the Analog Video department)

Hi everyone,

I'm one of the few people who have a copy of the Beatles movie "Let It Be".  Not a bootleg either - I bought a LaserDisc of it back in 1981, just after it was released to home video for the first time, and just before it went out of print.  It remains out of print up to this day.  

However LaserDiscs from 1981 are not the same as the LaserDiscs you commonly find today.  Discs from this era were designed around Helium/Neon laser technology and can have unique issues that are exacerbated with the later solid-state laser players.

For instance, the second side of my copy of Let It Be is defective - it has a form of inclusion. It's not laser rot per se, but it looks similar. (The major difference is that it doesn't get worse over time.)

My modern, solid-state LaserDisc players render this inclusion with high degrees of precision. I had become accustomed to watching it this way, when I read something interesting.

As you may have guessed, some folks are now watching/transferring these discs using older Helium/Neon players. The Helium/Neon lasers don't focus the same, and can "look past" some of these imperfections.

As it turns out, I do have a Helium/Neon Pioneer LD-660 in my collection - but I hadn't used it in years. After finding it in storage, removing the packing screws, and scanning back and forth across the surface of a disc for a while to re-lubricate the laser tracks, I put in the 2nd side of Let It Be.

I was pleasantly surprised. It's not perfect, but it's watchable - and it was definitely easier to digitize. And the first side looks great.

This still doesn't make up for the generally crappy transfer of the disc itself - nothing can help that. But - if you have one of these, and access to an older working Helium/Neon LD player - give it a shot.


P.S. The article I read was here:

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Lush live at The Showbox Theater - Seattle, WA - April 20th, 2016

(from the It Was 20 Years Ago Today department)

Hi everyone,

Well - I never thought I'd be typing this again - but I just saw Lush live in concert.

I've spent a lot of time with this band throughout the years.  The band members are roughly my age, and I remember buying their early EPs and thinking "These guys are amazing" and also "I think I can play some of these songs".  Early band lineups of mine did include covers of "For Love" from their sophomore album "Spooky".

Also - they were huge fans of Wire.  They covered "Outdoor Miner" on one of their EPs, which I thought was a great version.  And we both covered versions of Wire's "Mannequin" - although their cover was much more famous than mine.

I remember seeing one of their early Seattle shows at a small nightclub called "...the weathered wall".  According to Miki's notes, this was roughly June 1994.

I saw them once more, in 1996, then, sadly, it was all over.

Flash forward to this year when the remaining members got together and decided to try something.  The results were a new EP - Blind Spot - and a tour.

They were supposed to play a number of gigs prior to Seattle, but visa issues kept them out of the country.  We ended up being the first U.S. show - Miki even mentioned that they had basically just got off the plane.

They were amazing:

I even managed to capture a couple of songs on video:  "For Love" and "Monochrome".  Here's "For Love":

Monochrome was a complete surprise.  The band had done the three song "obligatory encore" and left the stage.  The house lights had come up, and they started playing exit music.  However - we were having none of that.  We cheered and clapped so long that Lush came back on stage and played a true encore.  You'll hear Miki mention at the start of the clip that "this really is the last one" - they weren't kidding.  Sadly, the Showbox had a hard 11:00 PM curfew, so that was literally the last song they could play.  Here's "Monochrome":

As Miki said at the end, "must go - slightly tearing up".  Indeed.  All in all, an amazing night.


Thursday, March 31, 2016

End of an Era: FFXI servers shut down for consoles: Xbox 360, PlayStation 2

(from the Adventures in Vana'diel department)

So - it finally had to happen. SquareEnix shut down the remaining servers for the console versions of Final Fantasy XI this morning, leaving it PC-only for now.

Full info here:

I remember getting FFXI for my PlayStation 2 - it came with the Sony PlayStation 2 HDD and the promise of a whole new world of PlayStation features. Unfortunately, right after launch, Sony canceled their US plans, and the Japanese features like storing games on the hard drive, and the Sony Broadband Navigator never came to these shores. Still - it was a rock solid FFXI platform, and I spent many hours exploring the world of Vana'diel on my PS2.

When the Xbox 360 client came out, it was a blast to have an MMORPG on that platform. There were some odd issues with Xbox Live integration, and a couple of performance quirks, but the true widescreen and increased draw distance made it the FFXI platform of choice until the PC hardware and software options finally overtook it.

I played both console versions last night, archiving all of my screen shots and other ephemera. It was a bittersweet farewell. The servers were definitely overloaded - but it was still a lot of fun to run around Vana'diel and look at the sights one last time.

FFXI is going to continue on PC for the near future. Also - SquareEnix has announced plans for a full mobile version in the next year or so. This means adventurers will continue to fight the good fight, and explore the world of Vana'diel - but it's definitely the end of the console era for FFXI.

See you in Windurst!


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Setting up Oracle Java JRE 8 on Ubuntu

(from the Java - But Not Coffee department)

Hi everyone,

(This is a quick post - these instructions are necessarily terse and mainly serve as a reminder to myself. If you do try this - you do so at your own risk - I can't provide any help if you mess anything up.)

I needed to set up Oracle Java JRE 8 on my Ubuntu 12.04 LTS 64-bit system.

For previous versions of Oracle Java, I followed the steps in "6. Installation from RPM package" on the web page here:

These instructions worked fine for previous versions of Java but broke with JRE 8.

When I analyzed the failure, I saw it was breaking with the alternatives command.  Ubuntu uses update-alternatives instead of alternatives.

So - I decided to try something bold.  I created a symbolic link to alternatives from update-alternatives:

cd /usr/sbin
sudo ln -s update-alternatives alternatives

Then, I followed the steps in "6. Installation from RPM package".  The package installed properly.  Just for reference, here's the commands I used for the JRE 8u77 I installed today:

sudo alien --scripts jre-8u77-linux-x64.rpm
sudo dpkg -i jre1.8.0-77_1.8.077-1_amd64.deb

That left connecting up the Firefox Java plugin.  There's many ways to do that, but I like using alternatives.. er... I mean update-alternatives:

sudo update-alternatives --install /usr/lib/mozilla/plugins/ /usr/java/default/lib/amd64/ 20

Obviously - these are for a 64 bit system.  These won't work as written for a 32 bit system or a mixed 64/32 bit system.

Good luck!


Monday, March 21, 2016

GameStop: Good News For Retro Gamers

tl;dr: GameStop online is now selling retro/vintage games and accessories

When I was in GameStop this weekend, I noticed a flyer at the desk offering trade-in deals for NES, Genesis, SNES, Dreamcasts and PlayStations. I asked the clerk about it, and he said that they're using this to get retro gear for their on-line site. I found the link here:

This is a change in their policy where they would discontinuing selling older systems when newer systems were released.

UPDATE:  So - I ordered a Dreamcast game - D2 - from them. It arrived promptly, and the shipping container was a sturdy cardboard box with air pillows. They do warn you that the game packaging may not be perfect. In this case, it contained the original jewel box - definitely used, but not trashed. The booklet was included, as was the tray art. The hub for the fourth disk was broken, so they put the fourth disk in a separate envelope. The discs themselves appeared to be in good condition.

All in all - pleased with this service. We will have to see how the prices compare over time.


Thursday, March 10, 2016

Quick Review: Rise of the Tomb Raider

tl;dr: If you have an Xbox One - or in a surprise port, an Xbox 360 - and you're a fan of the new gritty Tomb Raider - or survival action in general - consider picking this up.

The storyline isn't quite as compelling, and if you play it straight through, you might find it a little shorter, but it takes the open world elements of Tomb Raider and enlarges them. There are many little side quests and things to do in this game world. Plus - some actual tombs to raid this time.

It's rated mature, and although it's not quite as violent as Tomb Raider, Lara still does a lot of killing in this one.

They just released a Windows version as well - available via Steam or the Windows 10 store. 

Warning: if your rig is slightly older, this will push it pretty hard, due to the huge open world spaces and all their fine detail. Unlike Tomb Raider, which runs on my rig set to ultra, I had to turn down some of the graphic settings for Rise Of The Tomb Raider. There are basic presets you can use which you can optimize for your hardware.

The previous paragraph really makes me appreciate my consoles even more.

I did play (and finish) this on the 360, and although the graphics are definitely dialed down, the frame rate is rock solid and it's eminently playable. If you're still rocking the 360, you won't be disappointed by this one, even though it doesn't quite look as snazzy as its predecessor, due to the open world demands.

I rate it a solid headshot with a compound bow.

More reviews here:


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

National Pancake Day - March 8, 2016

(from the You Can Never Get Enough Butter® department)

Hi everyone,

Today was IHOP National Pancake Day!  As is our tradition, Rose and I went to get our pancake on!

Since the event ended at 7:00 PM, we tried to arrive early.  We jumped on a couple of buses, and arrived at the Seattle Capitol Hill IHOP at about 5:30 PM.  The place was already packed, but we put our names on the list, and got in about 25 minutes later - plenty of time for pancakes!

We'll let the pictures tell the Story Of The Pancake:

No pancakes yet

When will pancakes get here?

Almost time!

Um - this is not pancakes...


Let me tell you how I really feel about pancakes!



All in all - we had a great time.  We also made a small donation to the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals as a thank you for the free pancakes.


Monday, February 15, 2016

Turn your Ubuntu 12.04 LTS into SteamOS (kinda)

(from the This is a cool trick department)

When I first heard about Steam for Linux, I immediately looked at their website and decided to try it.  Here's the specifications from the original page:

Steam for Linux requires the following:
  • 1 GHz Pentium 4 or AMD Opteron with 512 megabytes of RAM and 5 gigabytes of hard drive space, or better
  • Internet connection (Cable/DSL speeds recommended)
  • Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, fully updated
  • Latest graphics driver
  • NVidia driver support - For recent cards (e.g. series 8), you will need to install 310.x. For older cards, driver 304.x supports the NVidia 6 and 7 GPU series. To access these drivers, first update your cache and then install the specific driver you need from the list in Additional Drivers.
  • AMD driver support - For recent cards (e.g. series 5 and above), we recommend installing the 12.11 driver. For older cards, Catalyst 13.1 Legacy supports the HD 2400 Pro card and is the latest for the 2 and 4 GPU series.
  • Intel HD 3000/4000 driver support - you will need to use the latest Mesa drivers, Mesa 9 or later. For installation instructions, see here.
So -  I added a new hard disc to my Windows gaming system, and created a stand-alone Ubuntu 12.04 LTS installation.

Then - I heard about SteamOS.  It's built on Debian - like Ubuntu.  I was curious what it was like, but - hey - I'd already fine tuned my Ubuntu system - and I didn't feel like re-inventing the wheel.

That's where it stayed - until tonight.

I saw an article or two about Marc Deslauriers and a project he'd been working on:

"I've rebuilt a couple of #SteamOS packages in a PPA for Ubuntu 12.04 LTS. They add a "SteamOS" session that runs Valve's compositor and starts Steam in big picture mode."

There was an explanation of what this means here:

This had instructions on how to install it:

but they only work for Ubuntu 14.04, so here's the 12.04 instructions. 

NOTE:  Try this at your own risk.  It worked for me - but I can't guarantee it will work for you. Nor can I provide any tech support if your system is rendered unusable.

Enter these three commands in a terminal window - each sudo command should be one line - don't add any extra line breaks:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:mdeslaur/steamos
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install steamos-compositor steamos-modeswitch-inhibitor steamos-xpad-dkms

This will add a SteamOS login to the Ubuntu login screen.  Selecting it will launch Steam in Big Picture mode without the overhead of a normal Linux window manager.

I haven't fully tested this yet.  It seems to be behaving itself - I'll update this post as I find out more.  And - you can always remove it by

sudo apt-get remove steamos-compositor steamos-modeswitch-inhibitor steamos-xpad-dkms

and your system will be back to normal, pending a reboot.

UPDATE:  After running in SteamOS mode, then rebooting and starting Unity, my Ubuntu 12.04 LTS system lost the use of the Volume Up, Volume Down and Volume Mute keys on my multimedia keyboard.  This was a real head scratcher - none of the online guides seemed to work - and some of the fixes were downright dangerous.

I finally got my keys back by following the advice here: and deleting my ~/.pulse directory.  You'll want to reboot immediately after doing this.

Apparently, running in SteamOS mode disables the volume keys.  Deleting the ~/.pulse folder and rebooting recovers it safely.  You'll just have to reset your audio output next time you log into Unity/Gnome.

UPDATE 2: I finally upgraded to 14.04 LTS.  There's an additional package you can add - plymouth-themes-steamos.  This is only available for 14.04 LTS and 16.04 LTS - I had to leave it out for 12.04 LTS.  So - the instructions would be the same as above but with the extra package.  e.g.:

sudo apt-get install steamos-compositor steamos-modeswitch-inhibitor steamos-xpad-dkms plymouth-themes-steamos

It doesn't change a lot - but there's an extra SteamOS splash screen.

Also - I haven't had to delete the ~/.pulse directory in 14.04 LTS - my keys have continued to work - so that's nice.  I don't know if it's the change in videocards since I wrote this originally - had AMD, now nVidia - but it does seem to set the sound to HDMI even if I had headphones or analog selected.  But - that's easy enough to set once you go back to the Ubuntu desktop.