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ZX SpecNext Emulation

Half a year late, due to pandemic, "brexit", China, and redesign perfectionism (which I appreciate, but it's delaying), delayed from summer '20 into sometime next spring(?), I'm still eager to get my ZX SpecNext. So in the meantime I do emulation.

I'd played a fair bit with a ZX Spectrum emulator, but SpecNext emulation was harder. After a lot of frustration with "CSpect", which is just a pile of C# crash logs, I tried "ZEsarUX" (hereafter "Zesarux") and with a bit of fiddling, it Just Works at emulating SpecNext.

  • Download from github.com/chernandezba/zesarux, install, run. It's unsigned, so macOS security theatre: right-click, Open (do not trash!), cancel, right-click, Open, Trust.
  • Zesarux FAQ
  • F5 for emulator menu
  • Settings, ZX Vision, disable First aid help (bullshit dialogs on every interaction! You can see most of it with F1 or just waiting 10s on a menu option)
  • Settings, General, disable Window Footer (ugly & useless)
  • Back up to Storage, MMC, select tbblue.mmc, enable MMC Emulation, Paging.
  • Back up to Machine, VTrucco/FB Labs, ZX Spectrum Next, TBBlue.
  • Autoconfigure? Yes. Where? Download. I picked 512M, and tbblue-512M.mmc. Configure? Yes. I picked 60hz, x2 scaling; YMMV.
  • Just wait a few seconds, and TBBlue should transition to "Welcome to NextZXOS" (seen above)
  • Now you're at the standard Speccy menu, right-arrow will increase speed to 28MHz, down a couple to NextBASIC
  • Type in a test program, like 10 print"Hello, Mark!" (have to type ^P for ", ^1 for !, it's a Speccy keyboard, but not the one-key ZX80 keyboard), run
  • save"hello.bas" (again ^P someday that'll be wired into my fingers) and cat to make sure it's there.

Sh-1 brings up the Speccy menu.

You'll need to memorize the keyboard layout in F5, Help, or make a little reference card like I did (for another emulator, on Zesarux Esc is Break, the far right-side keys don't do anything).

The MMC file (which is a disk image that holds your files) and .zesarux config are in home dir, which I dislike but I'm not arguing with it at this point. If I mount a FAT SD card, it should read/write that and it'd be easier to move files on and off, but I don't have one I can spare at the moment. Waiting for mail-order or shopping.

What I'm Watching: Cowboy Bebop

Both versions, on the 'flix.

The live-action one looks good, and visually the actors are close enough to the anime I don't mind much. Spike (John Cho) is cool, but stiff, and his kung fu is clearly done in CGI on a ragdoll in many scenes. Jet (Mustafa Shakir) is much better, occasionally rises to actually funny. Faye (Daniella Pineda) has a cameo and she's all right, but we'll have to see her for longer. Anyone demanding Ed or the dog right now is an idiot, they don't show up until later if this show follows the anime at all.

The ship looks great, nice analog switches and crappy machines that don't work without thumping. It's not quite as bric-a-brac random parts as the original, but maybe looks more functional. Spike's plane is much, much better than the anime's, it actually stays the same size in every shot, looks like it works, it's not just a badly-drawn plastic toy. So +1 there.

The habitats are just planets, it seems; you don't really get a sense of them putting up a dome on a barren rock. Obviously it's hard to be on the ground and show this, but we have CGI where you can paste a real thing onto an animated asteroid, and they don't.

My hearing is aging badly (Mark pauses to bat at his ear and dig some wax out), because the jazz is far less annoying than it was when I first watched this. If you get old enough, even terrible incoherent noise becomes tolerable! Sorry, jazz fans, but you're wrong.

So for comparison, I watched a couple eps of live-action, and a couple eps of anime; haven't seen those in 20 years.

The anime kung fu is only a little more cartoony than live-action's, and it's of course believable since they're cartoons. What seems dumb live, is fine animated. There's often more text & backstory setup in the anime missions. If you pause video, you can see the fight scene restaurant on TJ habitat was established in 2025! Uh, we're not on schedule for that. Also, the Moon blows up in 2021, so we still got a few weeks for that to happen. The habitats are definitely just one power-failure away from everyone dying, they look ramshackle and barely fit for survival, which fits with the setting.

When I made fun of Spike's plane above, I wasn't overstating it. It looks so trashy in the anime, it deserves a special Golden Raspberry award for unspecial effects in a cartoon. It'll go from so big it can't roll out of the hanger without folded wings, to small enough to dash down a highway through power lines, to big enough to catch a falling object on, in the course of a single episode. One scene, Spike stands next to it and it towers over him. Another scene, he's got his elbow on the windshield and feet on the ground.

The Tijuana job is almost the same between them, and the live-action show fills out Katerina's backstory into something interesting, has a much more plausible meet-cute with Spike, the guys aren't on top of "Asimov" (why? all names mean something, and this guy's no cold rational robot writer; did they know how much of a womanizer and ass-grabber Isaac was? It doesn't make sense even ironically). The Syndicate is a much earlier, more serious threat in the live-action show. They're just random bozos for a long time in the anime. Even when the ending's the same, it's 100% better in the live-action because she has a motive.

Overall, I like the pacing of the live-action show better, I'd prefer a bit more setup, but they're weaving the plots in far more subtly than the jumpy, twitchy anime did. They really should've got someone taller and more fit to be Spike. Andrew Koji's busy doing Warrior, but there's like a million other slightly younger guys with actual kung fu experience who could've done it.

In any case, it's a… not hard SF, but not complete space fantasy… with decent production values and a lot of fights. You can't expect The Expanse every week, right?

★★★★☆

What I'm Watching: G4TV!

It's 2005 again!

So back in the day, TechTV was kind of super-nerdy, and then it and a much lamer show G4 were bought by Comcast and digested and spat out as G4/TechTV, and they kind of hit their stride there, found a way to be nerd gamers but also flashy and dumb enough for the hoi-polloi. Tail end of me watching cable, but on holidays I'd see it and it amused me. Ah, Morgan Webb, how I miss you. Then in 2013 they got shafted by corporate network politics and buyouts.

For 8 long years we've had no G4. Well, today they've relaunched, on g4tv.com and twitch/g4tv. No more cable.

For some reason the launch stream was MC'd by some dumb "pro" wrestler; well, there was a lot of WWE (not the World Wildlife Fund, FYI) shit in old G4, too, especially towards the end. Adam Sessler is back, but he doesn't look good. He's turned from slightly balding nerd to schlubby last-season rock-collecting Hank Schrader. Morgan Webb's off doing PR for some game company. Olivia Munn's off being a movie star; there was a rumor she might do some cameos, but not so far. Kevin Pereira has been living in a rusted-out van under the train tracks, shooting up, don't ask what he's done to buy that smack, so he's come back and will do literally anything to stay on the show. I've never seen so much desperation waft off a dude.

The rest of the "new G4 talent" (and it gets funnier every time they say that on stream) are meh. The Black Hokage is OK, maybe. Once they said who he is, I recognized him from youtubes. He's a sometimes funny dude. I dunno Froskurinn at all, apparently she's a LoL (lol) ex-player/groupie/some bullshit. But 90% of the LoL fanbase hate her, so maybe she won't be too bad. Ovilee May is a noob with no skills but seems game for their dumb stunts, so maybe she'll improve. The rest are absolutely zero rep or talent so far.

Most of the launch stream was "what are we going to do" rather than doing, but A) The Space Cat DJ is the greatest prop they've ever had. B) The motorized stuffed squirrel is still very very sad and creepy. C) The "play Tetris on a giant Nintendo controller" segment was actually fun, like the good old days. Maybe they've got something in them this time around.

★★★½☆

When View Source is Outlawed…

… only outlaws will have View Source.

  • mhoye post: Google is pushing thru disabling View Source in Chrome.

I'm impressed but unsurprised that nobody at Google said "wait, is this the right thing to do?", because of course they didn't, they're at Google, they already failed any moral test.

Like every nerd of a certain age, I learned web dev by doing View Source, and to this day it's my basic tool for finding out how/why/stop doing a thing on a site. Safari's inspector hasn't been crippled yet; given Little Timmy "Apple" Cook's bullshit about platform lockdown lately, I'm concerned.

So, this aggression will not stand, man.

I have a View Source bookmarklet which works fine in Mobile Safari and Chromium. It's only inline, and you have to copy-paste into a real editor to do much, but it gives you the site's content. They can't stop you.

wget or curl are useful ways of grabbing a page and all its resources.

Of course the real l33t h4xx0rz know:

% telnet foo 80
GET / HTTP/1.1
Host: foo<ENTER><ENTER>

Or you can make stelnet for https sites (thanks to @feld for the )

% echo 'openssl s_client -connect "$1:$2"' >bin/stelnet
% chmod 755 bin/stelnet
% stelnet foo 443
GET / HTTP/1.1
Host: foo<ENTER><ENTER>

Fuck those guys.

What I'm Watching: Invasion S1E3-4

S1E3. So this is the episode of terrible decisions. Jarhead sole survivor walks off into the desert. Iranian refugee family in New York commits felonies that'll get them lynched if they're caught; this is not at all plausible behavior for these people, and later when recriminations are thrown around, nobody remembers that Mom is the lead felon. "Fuck off Harry Potter", I say every time the English kids show back up. Harry and Dudley bond, nobody cares. Japanese comms tech is far more capable than anyone in "JASA" (oh this makes me so annoyed), so the only thing she can think of to do is burn her career and/or get arrested. One alien word at the end, seems to be the pattern of dropping one hint.

Why don't the aliens communicate in English or some other recognizable language, instead of just repeating "Wajo" over and over? They'd have plenty of time, decades of travel time, to hear our radio & TV transmissions and learn. This nonsense of aliens being incommunicado is just silly.

S1E4. Sadly, Harry Potter and all the Hufflepuffs make it out of the gravel pit alive and don't eat each other, and I am disappointed. Jarhead's otherwise competent rescue and evac is pointless, borders on Twilight Zone-y. The Japanese linguists studying the word "Wajo" are not gonna make much progress. Mom just wanders off on her own little adventure, using her backstory skills for once. President Hillary Clinton "The President" gives a ripoff ID-4 speech, even tho absolutely no physical evidence of the aliens has been seen yet. In anything like reality, they'd call it an unexplained source, or blame it on the Russians or Chinese, who have not yet been shown hurting.

Still ★★☆☆☆, nothing really happens. But I do want something to happen, for even a single plot thread to go somewhere, like Jarhead's did for just a minute.

Apple TV+ continues to annoy. I hit play on a show, I want to see the show and nothing but; parasitic shit-tick marketing show me an ad for another show (Tom Hanks and another dog, we know how his dog movies end, I won't watch this emotional blackmail, fuck you Tom Hanks), then the video window resizes itself, then a long loading screen/title card which isn't needed, then the pre-credits, then a teeny tiny little "Skip Intro" box may or may not appear in the bottom right, which still doesn't skip all the intro, another 15s or so after that before it starts. Does anyone at Apple ever, like, sit down and watch this, and say "yeah, that's a great user experience! That's what an Apple-like video player should be like!"? I think not.

What I'm Watching: Invasion

An Apple TV+ show. The TV+ app is awful, first of all. It's all big boxes, and the actual controls you want to see what eps are available are hidden under mystery burger icons. And then the show launches in a separate window. Turning on CC/subtitles, which I like even when watching English-language shows, doesn't take effect until I close & reopen the video window. And I can only really watch this on desktop, or iPad; I would have to get an AppleTV (not +) to watch it in the living room.

The cinematography is generally cyan-and-orange, as usual. So hideous. Occasionally you get a full daylight scene with colors, and it looks like a totally different film. Probably they make second unit directors or interns do the scenes that don't look like shit, because if you filmed a scene that isn't dull and oppressive you'd never work in movies again.

Weird also: Obviously filmed before the pandemic. Before the end of the Afghan War. It's so dated already, and not in a way that 2010 and earlier shows are, it's the "present" but none of our current concerns exist.

Have I mentioned I'm getting Apple TV+ for free for a year, and will absolutely be cancelling it before it gets paid because this is dreadful? Well, they're not persuading me otherwise with this.

Anyway.

S1E1. It's told in a bunch of vignettes of different characters, presumably bringing some kind of plot together, but I don't see one yet.

Sam Neill, now very old and kinda frail, is a somewhat useless sheriff in BFE Oklahoma, with some good-ole-boys gone missing, except very quickly their exit location is found. The crackhouse full of Nazis sure seem to fold pretty quick, instead of making law enforcement without backup disappear.

Kids in school somewhere else have nosebleeds (CUBAN RAY GUNS!), and a mother figures out her husband's cheating on her, but the important part is that in a power outage, the iPad also loses power. Look, I don't make this nonsense, I just watch it.

The Japanese astronaut is weirdest… their agency is called "JASA" (with the old NASA worm logo; actual NASA has gone back to the blue meatball) instead of "JAXA" (spiky anime title logo) as it is in reality, some comm tech claims to be putting a "viral download" in the launch capsule, they have their own capsule, the capsule's a big empty tin can which is very unlike the actual Soyuz or SpaceX Dragon capsules anyone goes up in. Clearly nobody involved in this has ever seen a single space launch. I presume since they wasted character time on this, the launch isn't as final as it seems. Is this supposed to be very alternate reality? Or just incompetence?

There's like a 5-second shot of a glittering thing which might be an alien ship.

I'm here for weird alien invasions, but one ep in I give this a ★☆☆☆☆. They better do something interesting in ep 2 or the ride stops here.

S2E2. The broken family whines at each other in a basement, then later outdoors they reenact The Monsters are Due on Maple Street.

Japanese comm tech, barely post-teen idol girl, has an incredibly non-Japanese attitude towards management and older men. There's zero possibility of this girl being in her position and yelling at everyone, and not being dragged out of the building by security. What is even happening here. The technical bits of her typing really fast, with some C++ template code in a console for no reason, and making fanciful statements about satellite positions, are just the incompetent screenwriters trying to sound spacey. Probably fine for low-IQ audiences, but this is so bad.

Harry Potter wannabe listens to terrible music, no point to this kid. They keep coming back to the little weasel and more nothing happens.

Jarheads in Afghanistan dick around doing nothing, finally have a mission to find a missing squad, during a radio blackout, which is becoming a theme. OK, finally something sort of adventure-ish. Another different alien-ish thing.

So for two eps, ★★☆☆☆ and maybe I'll watch more, see if it improves. It's not worse than a lot of things I've seen.

Very very slow, dull, tedious, lot of waiting around… then doing nothing… then waiting… then something sort of happens, with no explanation.

A Flotilla of Shit

Modern software is junk. Almost every program uses vastly more resources than it needs, and does its main task worse than older, more focused programs.

I don't think I have a single "new" program that's as good as the thing it replaced, not a single program as good and light as the stuff we had 30 years ago. So where possible I use 30-40 year old software, and I resent the complex stuff I have to deal with. It's polluting the planet, literally boiling the oceans.

Case 1

This blog is in WordPress, which is in PHP on a giant tower of shitty software, like 20 "plugins" to fix things that are inadequate and wrong in it. I've done what I can to lighten it some, streamline layout, but that's lipstick & yoga pants on a pig. 25 years ago I had a simple blog (uh, actually also in PHP, tho I had another one in Perl, so that's not any better). But that was <1000 LOC, it just needed a tiny local database, and really could've just used flat files. And before the blog, I had just my hierarchical web site, and before that I had Gopher.

Gopher was basically perfect. Just a structured tree of documents, accessed by raw socket connections or manually by telnet. If you wanted to make a journal ("web log" -> "blog" was a decade away), you put links to plain text entries on a Gopher menu.

iMark's Gopher Hole _   _   0
gMugshot    /images/mark.gif    example.com 70
1Games  /games  example.com 70
iJournal    _   _   0
01990-09-01 /journal/1990-09-01.txt example.com 70
01990-08-25 /journal/1990-08-25.txt example.com 70
.

etc. Actually at the time I probably would've done chronological order, not reverse.

We have Gemini now trying to be like Gopher, but it has TLS, and a complex connection protocol, and error messages (Gopher just responded "3" if something went wrong, possibly followed by a message), and then the page you get is presentation, not a menu; it doesn't tell you the content type of any link, it tries to style content in-line, like a lower-resource WWW. But to run Gemini, you need a web server to update TLS, it won't stay up without constant maintenance, and it uses more resources than just serving a web page.

Case 2

Mastodon is a giant database that constantly messages other databases to tell them about posts… and it still sometimes takes a while to propagate messages, or fails utterly. There's no markup except URLs, and either polls or images (can't have both, and aren't inline). The only control you have over your experience is blocking people, and crude text-match filters.

30 years ago, we had USENET, email, and IRC/ICB chat. USENET was often slow, some servers would only connect once a day, others every hour, some every 15 minutes or so. You might need a couple hops to get to someone. But your message length was unlimited, most clients handled some markup with *bold*, /italic/, _underline_, and <URLs and FTP hostnames>. Images had to be UUEncoded, but most clients could insert them easily, graphical ones could display them inline, and download them; I used text-only strn so I'd download and run xv to see images. But the power we had in those clients was so much better. strn did scoring, I had thousands of lines of regular expressions and header lines to match with scores up or down. I'd go into a newsgroup, and the best stuff would be at the top, mediocre stuff below it if I cared, junk and spam and assholes deleted.

If you wanted to immediately contact someone, email or chat existed. There's an experimental chat system on Pleroma, but not on Mastodon yet/ever. Or you can use the modern equivalent of that, burn 1GB of RAM and a CPU core running Slack or Discord. Madness.

Case 3

Emacs. Eight-hundred Megs And Constantly Swapping. Is emacs the original sin, or were there flotilla-of-shit programs before it? Back in the day, you could start micro-emacs ("me" on Atari ST, later uemacs) in milliseconds, or emacs in many tens of seconds or even minutes. The emacs people would just leave this giant blob of an interpreter, editor, half an operating system but not really, running all day, eat most available RAM and CPU, and load files into it. The me and vi people would instantly open a file, edit, and close, barely a blip on the system resources. 30 years later, uemacs starts in nanoseconds, and emacs starts in seconds, but it's just as obnoxious.

Today I use BBEdit, which is svelte for an IDE, but it's a giant pig compared to what "a text editor" needs to be; I keep trying other IDE-types like Sublime Text or Atom, and they're too heavy for me to tolerate. And in console, I run Vim, which isn't as bloated as emacs, but it's fat. None of these make me happy. STeVIe was much lighter, and I've repeatedly considered going back to it if I can recompile it. I did manage to compile Linus' build of uemacs and it's nice, but I can't get used to it again after 25-ish years off it; my console habits are vi, it seems.

Resolved

The end goal of software is not to put everything in it, a flight simulator in your spreadsheet (fucking Excel!); a computer in your fridge for playing ads; a web server, email client, and text editor in your math program "notebook"; a fucking NTFS miner in your MS Paint clone.

The end goal of good software is to do ONE THING. To do it fast, efficiently, and correctly, in the least resources you can.

Re-evaluate your use of flotilla of shit software, and dump it.