Sunday, July 10, 2016

PINE64 Affordable Single Board Computer - First Impressions

I Purchased the PINE64, single board computer from a recent Kickstarter campaign. If you have never heard of it, here's the link to PINE64. I read about this project earlier in the year and it sounded interesting. I've now had mine several weeks and I have spent a lot more time with it than I expected. Some full days actually.
PINE64 Pricing From the Kickstarter Project

A little about my background. I started my computer career as a COBOL programmer in 1980 but prior to that I bought a Commodore Vic 20. The first $300.00 computer you didn't have to assemble yourself. It was basically a computer inside a keyboard that required a TV as a display and a tape recorder to store programs. After I took that as far as I could, I bought a $5,000 IBM XT with 10MB hard drive and 512k ram. It cost more than my car. But it came with a programming language called BASIC and I spent untold hours writing programs.

Since then I've tested and implemented all sorts of Mainframe, PC, peripheral equipment, datacom, networking, wireless, and mobile computing. I get a certain joy out of learning new systems and conquering new challenges. 

If you have been following my blog you are probably thinking "Hey - I thought you retired!" True but it's hot right now in Florida, rains every day, and I'm in that little area where the algae bloom has made national news so I have some time to kill in the AC. Also, considering all the equipment I've seen over the years - this little board is amazing. I've seen very mixed reviews though. If your first introduction to computing was an iPhone, well then the PINE64 possibly won't impress you that much. If you burned out a soldering iron during your career, this board will simply blow you away. 

I opted for the $89 package. If I did it again I may have not gone with the LCD but I did enjoy the challenge of getting it to work. Based on many comments I saw out there, very few people know how to research but sure know how to complain. It took me less than 20 minutes to know what my problem was. I made a few simple videos to help out anyone willing to suffer through them but they may save you a bit of time deciding if this device is for you. 

One thing I learned in my career - there is always someone smarter than you who already has the answer. In the old days it was face to face, user groups, long distance phone calls, message boards on dial in modems, software on floppies sent through the mail. 99% of the time you are looking for answers, 1% of the time you have them and are only too happy to share. Now days, 5 minutes on the internet and done. 

In a nutshell, I really like the PINE64. I've have zero problems other than a few unexpected reboots after I've loaded new applications. I had the screen shimmer once. My unit came with Android but I tested Ubuntu and Remix OS as well.  I'm more comfortable with Remix OS but I think it needs refining. It was the glitchiest. On my board - the most powerful option you can buy for now, I found Ubuntu the slowest but not by much. The Android was the clear winner for me. I had no problem downloading apps and both the HDMI and LCD versions worked with no hangups. From reading others complaints, the biggest culprit seemed to be random power supplies. Always match the power supply exactly to the specs of the machine. Computing 101 and often ignored when equipment gets moved and people just stick in what fits. Yes - I managed a Helpdesk too. If you have the time, check out my videos. I'm going the spend the next couple of weeks writing my own apps. If it goes badly or gets too frustrating, I can always go back to retiring. 

If you are just starting to look into a computer career or maybe as an Android App builder - you may want to invest. If this little board frustrates you, computing might not a good fit. I personally think this is the beginning of a total revolution in the industry and I wanted to be part of it. Just like when I was a user of Delphi and ARPNET thinking the internet might be big one day if there was only some content worth viewing. Or when the only use for Wifi was to move files between laptops faster than the optical port and thinking if only there was way to connect to the network with no wires. I have been fortunate to have worked in an industry that has made epic changes during my time. I've not coded in a very long while but I bought this device to see if I can write even one app for it. My goal is to transfer it to the PINE64 on a USB and run it. If you have already, feel free to comment.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

See Rock City - My Third Trip.

I don't often tread the same ground in my travels. I like to see new things more often than not. That said, I had a very strong desire to See Rock City one more time.  I was nearing the end of a six week travel trip and I can honestly say, this was not on the way. More like 900 miles out of the way. Due to flooding on my intended route home from Texas I decided to drive a slightly more northern route. Then I very unexpectedly shot straight into the mountains. I arrived very late near Chattanooga TN.


I would like to mention for those who may have forgotten - I'm from Florida. All our roads are straight and level and the entire state is lit like New Year's Eve in Times Square. About 9:00 PM in the pitch black mountains, in the rain, was pretty much my limit on thrill rides. I found myself taking hairpin turns and drastic elevation changes. I was pretty far from where I wanted to be but a hotel presented itself in the mist so I went for it.


The next morning I woke up in the most beautiful place, mountains all around, a light mist, and no plan for the day. Did I mention I lost phone connection for the last 50 miles of my trip. I can not even remember the last time that happened and I've owned a cell phone since they came out. I use that phone to make every major decision these days and without it I can even drive from point A to B.


With a little wifi at the breakfast bar, I discovered I was pretty near Rock City. I was last there in 1978 when I took my parents then later in 1990 or so. I have very strong memories of the place. Happy times. In my mind I had a vivid image. I decided that was to be my destination - a walk in the park and down memory lane.


When I arrived I found parking for hundreds of cars and mine was the only one. It seemed I was there an hour before they opened. I had no idea, just thought it was a slow day, but since I was carrying a couple of professional cameras, they sold me a ticket a little ahead of schedule and let me in. I had the entire park to myself.


Memories are a funny thing. I know Rock City has expanded a bit since the 90's but not that much. It's all rock. As huge as it was in my mind, it was vast in person. I do not remember the suspension bridge but in my youth I had a horrible fear of heights. I thought of that as I bounced across and even stopped in the middle to shoot photos, then walked back across as if it were a sidewalk.


Life moves so fast and changes so much. My parents can no longer make the journey let alone enjoy this amazing place. But I remember walking these paths with them. Re-walking these paths I remember more of my previous visits. This was but one stop of many but for Mom and Dad I brought back plenty of photos. It will be fun to compare them to the old photos albums.

[click here] for a few more photos or better yet, visit and make your own life long memories.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

McKinney Falls State Park - Who Turned off the Water?

I think these photos very nicely sum up my four week trip to Texas. Water and flooding everywhere I went except for the one place I really wanted it. McKinney Falls State Park. Well - more like the time. It absolutely poured rain and hail stones the very next day. But I was 100 miles up the road.


I met a very nice park ranger who let me know there was some tremendous flooding not too long before and most of the park was closed. There was a large welcome center nearby that was still closed  because of the water damage she said. Nearby as in these lovely dry rocks would have been 25 feet below the water line.


This mere trickle is nothing compared to the photos I had seen of the falls so imagine my disappointment. To photograph a roaring torrent of water would have a dream come true. That's not to say I didn't have a good time. The ranger let me know there was a fairly strenuous hike along the water if I was up for it. Not a problem.


Above is rock gouged out by fast moving water. The photo below is facing the other way. It's hard to get a sense of scale but there is a giant tree wedged into the branches of another giant tree at about the height I am standing. That would have taken a lot of water indeed.


A little farther downstream there are tons upon tons of river rocks for miles. The power of nature is a wonderous thing. Even though I did not see a great falls, I still managed to get some great photos of rocks. And pebbles. Lots of pebbles.


[click here] for more photos and if you have any with water - please share. Just so I can see what I missed.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Passing through Waco

Like the many cattle drives before me, I only had enough time to pass through Waco TX. I had only done enough research to visit the Texas Ranger Museum and get in a few photos of the  Waco Suspension Bridge.


I was not expecting to see an entire cattle drive cast in bronze. There are quite a few of these statues all gathered around the bridge.


From 1870 to 1889 according to the sign I found, this was a toll bridge for pedestrians, wagons, and cattle. I'm pretty familiar with cattle and I can not even imagine how one would entice a single longhorn let alone a whole herd to cross this bridge. Looking down to the water through the gaps in the very modern woodwork I can't imagine how I crossed it either.


Trying to compare the modern police car to the horse riding Texas Ranger also sets my mind reeling. At the Texas Ranger Museum they show an entire history of the rangers right up till today. Yes - they are still in business. This museum is huge just like the history of these crime fighters.


Although I could not spend much time, the time I did spend was well spent. [click here] to view the rest of my photos but visit Waco to get a sense of the history.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Inner Space Caverns - Too Convenient not to Stop.

I've been to caverns all across the country. Some were Mammoth, some just a crack in the earth with a big wooden door, and many in between those extremes. This one was just too close to the highway to pass by so I stopped in to check it out.

Inner Space Caverns is one of those in between sort but still had some very interesting features and formations. I was fortunate enough to have a small group and a very enthusiastic tour guide. There is a pretty good walk involved but he had a full set of stories - both to the end and back. More than I could remember. He even told me there was more to tell and he likes to mix them up. A lot going on in "Texas' Newest Cave"


Timing is everything and when we arrived there were bus loads of children touring that day. They managed to squeeze our little group of 8 right in at lunch time. Very lucky and most of the noise was enjoying a sandwich while we enjoyed the pristine silence with the occasional drip of water from the ceiling.


I did not do too badly with my handheld point and shoot camera on these photos but I noticed on the website they have a Photo Tour option. In all the caverns I've visited, I've always wished there was a tour that I could take more impressive photos or at least use a tripod. They also have a wild cave tour. Pretty full service touring.


If you don't care for caves, you can always hunt for gems. Inner Space Caverns is so close to the highway, that the highway accidentally drilled into it while it was being constructed. For the full story on that you need to take the tour.


I took a lot of photos underground and as you can well image most were a bit blurry but for the rest of the good ones [click here]

Monday, June 6, 2016

Austin - One Weird Day

I am usually a great trip planner but lack of research, last minute hotel booking, late arrival, and a very poor understanding of the area all conspired to make the "Keep Austin Weird" slogan of Austin Texas a very real thing.


I thought I had done a good job. 6th Street Austin looked like a really happening place. A last minute hotel choice lead me to a pricy Hilton right off the highway and right where the action is. All seemed in order.


Lets just say at the end of the block I chose was too weird even for me. In fact when I told the concierge I was heading over to the Museum of the Weird, he gave me a very weird look and asked if I was sure. It was where I thought was the closest place to get the tour bus tickets. I even found it quirky enough to buy a ticket and take the museum tour. Later I found out the closest place to get bus tour tickets was a block away from the hotel at the visitors center / convention center. Of course then I never would have ventured this way so doing things the weird way has it's benefits.

Walking even farther down the street I found a great english pub for some fish and chips. That did not take away from the fact that this section of town is not quite as polished and nice as the rest of Austin. In a few years I'm sure it will be amazing but where I was - it has some maturing and a lot of clean up to go through. But if you are into weird - this is the spot. When I started to see the night crowd roll in - I thought it best to head back to the hotel.


The next day was an early start and I opted for the bus tour which took me to many points of interest. Because of my poor research and planning skills, I spent way too much time at the state capital building and I did not make it back in time for the last Duck boat. I seriously considered staying one more day and doing it. Given the choice of one over the other, I think I would have opted for the boat.


But then I would have missed a collection of Rat Rods on South Congress (SOCO). Not to mention a great meal and the SFANTHOR House of Wax. Yes I toured that too. It was a weird day. Our guide told us this strip of awesome shops and eateries was the worst section of town not that long ago. It was quirky cool and of course, I didn't have nearly enough time to see it all. Yes my entire day was out of sync.


Austin offers so much great music and entertainment. I managed to avoid all of it. In fact it was like I almost planned to have a weird day. I really do wish I had spent just one more day exploring. But I can go back one day much better prepared. By the time I make it back - 6th Street might even be artsy and cool as opposed to the college drink fest it seems now.


I would really like to hear from other visitors to see what I missed. Send me some comments.

For photos of my weird adventure [click here]

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Riverwalk San Antonio - Ready to do it again

Four days was not nearly enough for me to fully enjoy San Antonio Riverwalk. Our hotel was right on the river. Even though the drive was a few hundred miles to get there, I dropped the suitcase as soon as I got to the room and headed out to explore.


The first thing that was immediately apparent, the walkways are right on the canal, the later it gets, the more people there are, and for most of it there are no guard rails. Being from South Florida, I'm no stranger to walking on the water's edge but a little caution is required.


The nice thing is you don't see as many people texting and walking as you do elsewhere in our modern world. Not dry ones at least. I asked our boat captain around the third day how many people fall in.


The not so surprising answer is about 200 reported a year. He also mentioned that what's reported is probably far less than what happens. Now in Florida, a canal this wide could be anywhere from 20-40 feet deep depending on how much swamp was in need of draining and filling. The Riverwalk about knee deep and there are giant gates to keep it that way incase of a flood.


After finding out that last little fact I was far less concerned about getting bumped in and had a beer or two. There is no shortage of places to get that beer along with a fine meal if you are so inclined. Which I was - A lot!


From the Tower of the Americas, you can not even see the Riverwalk. It is dead center of the photo below. As we were driving in, getting lost, ignoring the GPS misdirections, circling around, we passed over the many bridges in criss crossing the river and never realized it. The crazy, nerve racking, traffic of the city is completely lost to the cool, peaceful quiet of the river basically one staircase below. It is a true wonderland in the heart of a major city.


Eating and drinking are the prime activities but there is the Briscoe Western Art Museum right in the center of the river loop. Well worth visiting, and an especially good bargain on free tuesdays.


P1040295There is so much to see, do, eat, and drink that if I had another 4 days, I could easily have had a completely new experience to write about. The sites are not the whole story. Not by a long shot. It was the people of this town that made it special.

Every place we ventured into had someone willing to make us feel welcome. We had several boat captains but one in particular had such a long history with the town and such pride in the recent happenings it was a pleasure to listen for the hour long tour around. He was actually on a decision committee for their recent $71 million dollar expansion. I don't know of any place else that uses the opinions of those with a ground floor history to shape its future.

Another memorable person invited us to enjoy the greatest steak on the river at the Lone Star Cafe. He was not wrong. I really just wanted to sit on a street level balcony and overlook the river. Having a great steak was a bonus.

P1040301On our last day I wanted to have a last beer at the very posh Hyatt Regency. They have an elegant glass balcony overlooking the atrium. I spotted some lights outside the opposite door and I wanted to check them out. I hate to miss anything when I travel.

I found the Beir Garten Riverwalk. The place was virtually empty and seemed like a much more appropriate end to this visit. We had the full attention of the waitress who helped me find two of the finest beers I've had then basically hang out with us a while. She was telling us how they had just started up the place and it was very quickly catching on even though the location is a bit hard to find. She was also the perfect example of how friendly and welcoming this town is. Before I left, all the tables were filled and she was much busier but still with a huge smile for every table.

When I go back - I think this is the place I will start - I hope I can get a seat by then. If I took a photo of everyone who made this trip special I would have run out my memory card. Even to the guy sweeping the porch at our hotel who jogged over to open the door for us and asked with interest how we were enjoying our stay. I am almost certain he did not own the hotel but with four full days of that kind of universal, city wide pride and pleasantness it's easy for me to say - Go to San Antonio! - Stay on the river!

[click here] to see many more photos of my visit and take a look at my other posts from San Antonio.