posts tagged with the keyword ‘computers’



Back in the 1980s my brother bought an Apple ][+ from a local computer store called the Byte Shop in Greenfield, Wisconsin. (And yes, there were other stores that used the same name.) I was lucky enough to be able to use the Apple ][+, and learn about computers and programming, and it was the start of my journey of understanding and using technology that has been part of my life for the past 40 years.

My brother recently gave me the receipt for the joystick I purchased in 1982. Yes, this is what 12 year old Petey was saving his money for, an analog joystick made by TG Products from Richardson, Texas. (And you knew it was from there because it was printed right on the top of the enclosure.)

The included "documentation" mentioned a method of removing the springs inside that centered the joystick when released, and I used the "hack" to utilize the joystick as a drawing device (which was quite difficult with the springs in place, and still difficult with the springs removed.)

I remember a lot about this joystick and using it with the Apple ][+ at the time. Computers were so scarce back then, and I don't think anyone else I knew at school had one at home. I did my best to treat the computer with care, and even to this day, I'm sometimes shocked at the way people treat their technology, as if it's disposable... but maybe that's just how it is today, with computing devices being so ubiquitous and easily replaceable.

TG Products Joystick

Above is a great photo of the joystick that I borrowed from the Computer History Museum’s web site. Those buttons are still available, and I’m pretty sure I’ve used them for projects. (I may have even bought some from Radio Shack back in the day.) Also, check out that awesome ribbon cable! (Hey, it was an analog device.)

I did a bit of searching for this old joystick and came across a few links. Here one from a Vintage Apple site. It’s a bit weird because it’s extra long… what’s up with that? Well, see this tweet for some interesting info on that.

I found a few other TG Products online as well. There’s also a TG joystick at The Strong (which I wish I had known when I was there two years ago.)

And this one is a little weird… It’s a Super Game Stick for Apple II I found on Amazon which is obviously a clone.

The other strange thing for me is that back in 1982 I bought a computer controller (a joystick) and in 2019 I now occasionally build computer controllers, sometimes for work, sometimes for fun, and sometimes it’s a joystick.

Well, you know what they say… you can’t ESC your past.



I love @internetofshit on Twitter (and reddit) and things like Stupid Shit No One Needs & Terrible Ideas Hackathon, not just because they are hilarious, but because they reveal some truths about technology some may ignore.

As much as I love technology, I hate technology. In many ways, it makes our lives better… but in plenty ways, it makes our lives worse.

The Internet of Shitty Things is here. Have all of your best home appliances ruined by putting the internet in them!

Back in 2011 (or maybe 2010?) I ventured into the “Internet of Things” world a bit, and I’ve played with ideas since then, and watched as companies imagined everything connected to the Internet, typically with no thought to security.

Whether or not Cate’s tweet is true, it points out the fact that as we add technology to things we risk making them overly complicated and prone to failure. Turning on a light shouldn’t require installing a damn app or syncing anything. We live in a tactile world, and in my work (designing and building educational museum exhibits) we don’t want to turn everything into a touchscreen interface, for good reason.

Light Switches

Check out a few of these light switch mods on Thingiverse, including Frankenstein Light Switch Plate, Arcade Button Light Switch, and LEGO Light Switch Cover. These concepts all demonstrate that the light switch can be re-imagined as a fun activity, and not relegated to some app running on a digital network.

In other news, I recently tried an Oculus Rift, and while watching a corporate video inside of a virtual world was <sarcasm>completely amazing</sarcasm> I was surprised how comfortable the goggles were, and the first idea I had for them was an application that would allow me to wear them while in lying in bed reading, which I do a lot of while suffering from insomnia. Either a great use case or a great idea for the Stupid Hackathon.

Well that’s enough incoherent rambling for one day, I need to go read the specs on a TTL laser…



Somehow the folks at UWM’s Peck School of the Arts convinced me to become an Adjunct Lecturer and teach a Physical Computing course titled “Electronics and Sculpture”. Okay, I’m being a coy, I jumped at the chance, and I’m pretty excited about it!

I’ve been playing around working with Arduino microcontrollers for a little over five years now, building all sorts of strange projects, and truth be told, I did a lot of weird electronics projects when I was a kid, and even took electronics classes in high school. As for the sculpture part, I think a bunch of these projects qualify as sculptures.

Potentiometer LED

I’m still designing the course as I go, so this semester is extra hard. (I taught a digital art lab class last semester, but the material was all provided for me.) Developing curriculum is hard! Luckily I’ve got a great group of students are we’re figuring it all out together. I’m also trying to bring in bits and pieces from the world I’m used to; un-conferences, open-source, hackerspaces, maker culture, DIY, etc. So far it seems to be working.

Photocell LED

As for these diagrams, I did them all with Fritzing. I also recently used Fritzing to design and fab a circuit board. Since it’s proven so useful to me, and using it has somehow become part of my job(s) I wanted to contribute. I donated some euros to the project. I wish I could do more, but perhaps in the future I can contribute more than just cash. Still, it’s a start!



I’ve been using computers for over three decades now, and about two of those decades have been professionally, you know, as part of my job for work. When using a computer I like to get things done, like, fast.

Back when I used Macs in the pre-OS X era I used BBEdit, which doesn’t suck, and along with the Finder of the day, I could do things really fast. I could edit files fast, and I could manage files fast. It was good.

Eventually I moved to Mac OS X, and found jEdit and things were slow at first. I even mentioned that it seemed like I was using a computer with gloves on. Things got faster.

Sometimes I see people use a computer and I get twitchy watching them try to select some bit of text, not starting at the end, or not double or triple clicking, or even just trying to retype some code instead of copying and pasting it.

I wonder if I could teach a class on using computers quickly, at least for dealing with text…

Of course I’ve also learned how to use find/replace, including regex, and tons of terminal tricks to deal with text and files and the like. And there’s still a ton I don’t know! There’s *nix tools that I could probably add to my toolbox to do things even more efficiently.

Anyway, if you feel like you could use a computer faster, you probably could. Really, in the old days we spent time waiting for computers, but if you’re dealing with text, chances are the computer is sitting around waiting for you.



Hey there… Dan Gillmor moved to Linux and it’s even better than he expected!

As for me, I’ve been using Mac OS X pretty much since it came out, and before that I used System 9, 8, 7, etc… Operating systems created by Apple. I’ve also used FreeBSD in the past (though mainly on servers) and I’ve been using Linux in some form or another for close to 20 years. Along the way I’ve also used Windows, though always for work, never for fun.

I’m going to call out a few things Dan mentions, just so I can comment on them.

…here I am, writing this piece on a laptop computer running the Linux* operating system and LibreOffice Writer, not on a Mac or Windows machine using Microsoft Word. All is well.

Luckily you can use LibreOffice on Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux. You can also use OpenOffice on Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux. And hey, you can also run NeoOffice on Mac OS X (sorry Windows and Linux users) which is what I did years ago before OpenOffice ran on Mac OS X.

This brings up a point I’d like to expand on, that even if you run Mac OS X (or Windows) you can almost always lean towards the open alternative that is available. This might mean LibreOffice instead of Microsoft Office, and it may mean Thunderbird instead of, or Firefox instead of Safari.

Other software I use includes jEdit, Arduino, Processing, Fritzing, Inkscape, Audacity, OpenSCAD, and yes… those are all available for Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux. You might also notice that (almost) all of the websites listed end with .org, which is telling.

The applications you use all depend on what you do with a computer, and what you use a computer for. I tend to use computers to make things, and luckily the specific things I like to make fit in well with the software I use.

Some of the applications listed above rely on Java. I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with Java, but it does help a lot of software run on multiple platforms. One of the applications listed relies on an X11, or more specifically, XQuartz. used to be distributed by Apple, but they abandoned it, but that’s okay because XQuartz exists.

One application I use that is not available for Linux is Evernote. I should say “not officially available”, since there is Nevernote and Geeknote. Yeah, often you can find an unofficial client for Linux that might work.

Of course if your work demands you use specific software, you may not be able to exclusively run Linux. Oh well…


No one should ever have to open a command-line window and type “sudo apt-get update” or other such instructions.

I tend to cringe when I see things a computer user should never have to do. I mean, if you want to do X, you may have to learn Y, right? Now, personally, great power comes from being able to open a command line window and type commands. It’s not always the easiest thing to do, though sometimes it is the easier thing to do, if you have the knowledge. If you don’t want to open a command line window and type things, chances are good you won’t have to. (But you should anyway, if you really want to harness the power of your computer. As long as it’s running *nix, I mean. Sorry, Windows users!)

And then…

It’s almost certainly too late for Linux to be a hugely popular desktop/laptop operating system, at least in the developed world.

Maybe, I don’t know… I have seen Linux change over the last two decades, and I’m still excited about what I see.

Dan did say “desktop/laptop operating system”, but let’s look elsewhere. Linux is used on servers, and appliances, and things. What do I mean by “things”? Well, every Raspberry Pi project runs Linux. Here’s 400+ projects running Linux. Here’s a few more projects and some tutorials, all using Linux. I even use Linux computers at work (building exhibits) that just play sounds. Using Linux on a Raspberry Pi makes sense for this, and lots of other things.

Anyway, Dan’s post is good (though it’s strange it’s posted on Medium instead of his own web site, because, freedom and all that) and I’d urge anyone who is not familiar with Linux to take a look at it. It’s pretty awesome. So is open source, and freedom, and the command line.

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