Author Archives: Machina

Dreambox: change of plan

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Okay, so here’s a tip for anyone who, like me, prefers to make up their electronics projects as they go along – who simply doesn’t have time for all that planning and designing nonsense. Buy yourself a desoldering station. Seriously – buy it before you even buy a soldering iron, just to be safe. A quick recap: I decided that… Read more »

Dreambox: switching to plan A

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Planning is a good thing. Having your project mapped out before you start saves time and avoids wasteful detours and last-minute kludges. I should definitely do that some day. My approach to electronics is the same as my approach to writing software: just get started – it’ll all work out somehow. Luckily, I don’t write code or build electronic devices… Read more »

AVR basics: reading and writing GPIO pins

Once you’ve set up a pin, or a whole port’s worth of pins, as inputs or outputs, it’s time to start writing and reading values. This series is part of my learning process and I hope it will help others who, like me, are embarking on projects such as programming AVR chips. The way I learn things is to write… Read more »

AVR basics: ports and direction registers

Pretty much the first thing anyone does with a microcontroller, whether it’s a naked AVR chip or something fancy like an Arduino, is flash an LED. This series is part of my learning process and I hope it will help others who, like me, are embarking on projects such as programming AVR chips. The way I learn things is to… Read more »

Computing with arthritis – keyboards, mice and more

My doctor keeps telling me to stop typing. As a professional writer and enthusiastic coder that’s not going to happen any time soon. But it’s true that, for me, typing is a pain – literally. I have osteoarthritis in all the joints of both hands (and many other places) so constantly hitting keys is not a joyful experience. What I… Read more »

Building a 6502 computer – a place to start

We all have to start somewhere. Almost as soon as I’d decided I would build a 6502-based micro I realised that the learning curve is steep. It’s not like embarking on a new programming language where you can write a ‘Hello world’ program and go from there. When building a computer, there are many pieces that have to come together and… Read more »

Mechanical keyboards: Plum 87 RGB

Topre switches are a divisive issue in the mechanical keyboard community. To some they are the apogee of keyboard switch development. To others they are rubber domes with hype. Topre switches combine the slider mechanism of mechanical switches such as Cherry MX with a spring plus rubber dome capacitive actuator. So some people like to refer to them as ‘semi-mechanical’…. Read more »

From the archives: Good Software Guide

Like the Good Hardware Guide (here, here and here), this 1991 publication was an attempt to produce a book listing all the most important products on the market. Yes, one book. Can you imagine trying to do that now? These are just the items I wrote – my mate Steve Gold covered far more, and there may have been other… Read more »

From the archives: Good Hardware Guide – Peripherals etc

This is the third part of my contributions to the Good Hardware Guide, published in 1991. This sections covers printers, scanners, a couple of modems, monitors (and one graphics card) and other peripherals. These include CR-ROM drives which were seen as exotic then – as compared to today when they’re regarded as obsolete. That happened quickly, didn’t it? The Miracom Courier… Read more »

From the archives: Good Hardware Guide – Laptops

This the second part of my contributions to the Good Hardware Guide published in 1991. The fact that this list of laptop PCs is much shorter than the desktop ones is probably significant. Laptops were still ruinously expensive in 1991 and, from a performance point of view, still significantly compromised when compared to their desktop brethren. Macs & Desktop PCs Laptops… Read more »

From the archives: Good Hardware Guide – Macs and Desktop PCs

My old mate Steve Gold got me into this. If memory serves, the editor of this book, Richard Jones, had some kind of wheeze as to how this publication was going to be packaged and distributed. It was ultimately published by Kogan Page in 1991. But the truth is I’ve forgotten most of the details of this project, other than… Read more »

From the archives: Software bugs

This article originally appeared in Micro Decision in 1990. Back then, we thought of software bugs as  annoying. But that was a pre-Internet era. Now we know bugs to be dangerous, as they are the material with which malware works. Yet while software bugs today undermine our security, can we honestly claim that software is actually any less buggy? Probably yes…. Read more »

From the archives: WordStar 2000 Plus review

Wordstar 2000 Plus was the third version of the widely hated word processor. The reaction to the original Wordstar 2000 was similar to the one that greeted New Coke. Well, actually no, it was different… New Coke and the original Coke were just slight variations on of vile, corrosive sugared water. Wordstar 2000 was actually a very capable piece of… Read more »

Disk swapping the easy way

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At the risk of making this sound like another “kids today don’t know how lucky they are” post, let’s talk about disk swapping. If you don’t know what that is, you’re lucky. It would be depressing to even attempt to calculate how many hours of my life I’ve spent sitting in front of a computer feeding floppy disks into and… Read more »