Saturday 18 September 2021

Raspberry Pi 400

Raspberry Pi 400

I felt the urge to get a Raspberry Pi 400 now that it has the scandinavian keys. Here are some of my first impressions.

Box contents

Holding the computer in my hand made me smile. It does have something in common with those small ZX Spectrum and Oric computers. Also, when was the last time there was a computer with a row of pins sticking out from the back?

Apart from the 400, the box contained a PSU and a Micro-HDMI to HDMI cable and a mouse. As a tiny bonus there's a MicroSD/SD adapter with the Raspberry logo.

The pins are wisely covered with a soft rubbery cover.

The box also has a hefty manual, another nod to the days of yore. But I was surprised to find it was in Swedish. As a Finn I wanted the Swedish-keyboard model, but not necessarily the Swedish manual! However I don't see myself as needing the manual that much (and of course I can read Swedish a bit).

The 400 is small enough to stick into a carry bag, but I'd cover it somehow before doing that. The cardboard box was rather huge and can't be used as a protective container in a small bag.

Not that anyone promised, but the box had no stickers :(

Booting up and using Raspbian

The tiny 16GB MicroSD card is already in, and after booting the first time the 400 will take few rounds to compose itself.

After setting the screen size and network, I'm in the Raspbian environment. I needed to adjust the keyboard layout to swedish before it accepted those ä's and ö's.

The keyboard is nice, maybe not as good as the comparable Apple Mini keyboard, which has nearly identical size and layout. But it's much better than some cheap alternatives I've tried in the past. This has a separate Delete key, but no separate Page Up/Down/Home/End/Ins keys.

The mouse, although with nice colours, is quite a lightweight. I'd prefer the wheel material had some more friction, it feels squicky and "wet". Even if the mouse connector has a logo, the mouse itself does not have a Raspberry logo on top. Ok, it might have looked a little silly.

There's a handy "soft-power" key combination, holding down the raspi-key and F10 switches the computer on and off, so I don't have to pull the plug. 

Not 100% certain but apparently displays cannot be hot-plugged, which I guess is the usual Raspberry boot thing.

Ahhh... the good old uncluttered desktop.

On the Raspbian desktop, the Raspi key opens the start menu, and with combinations of tab, shift-tab and cursor keys most things can be done without a mouse.

To have ssh access from another computer, it has to be first enabled from the Preferences.

Chromium browser is surprisingly bearable with the more plain sites. Youtube felt quite clunky and modern ads can also be a pain in the ass.

I edited some portions of this blogger blog post using the 400, and it felt possible, although not entirely fast. Google Docs felt a tad too slow to use really productively, but small text documents could be worked on. So, the browser-based cloud possibilities are somewhat limited, but obviously there might be some more lightweight sites too.

The 400 is quite capable of running the offline Libre Office suite, with word processing and spreadsheet. This could already be valuable for some.

I downloaded the Processing projects Multipaint and Petscii editor, and found these to be quite useable, although a better mouse is recommended! I didn't have to install a separate Java runtime environment either.

The Whining part

The integrated form-factor comes with some trade-offs. After connecting the PSU, Ethernet, HDMI and Mouse, there's an array of cables sticking out from the back and given how stiff these cables are these don't all fold as smoothly as 8-bit computer cables did.

To minimize this problem one can use wi-fi and even a Bluetooth mouse, although I'm personally through with battery-powered mice.

I'd probably want to put this computer away once in a while alongside with the peripherals. But unless the cables are separated and put away carefully, the computer is an uncomfortable mess of wires that doesn't really fit anywhere. It's worth saving that cardboard box.

What a compact computer!

I have to repeat that these issues are almost inevitable with a computer-in-a-keyboard, and it's still a more ordered package than a loose Raspberry.

The microHDMI connector is problematic to me, as I still don't have a HDMI-connector equipped display. I had to test it first with a TV but all the displays I've dedicated for computer use are slightly old and DVI-equipped. 

Also, looking around it appears a microHDMI->DVI cable isn't really a thing, I couldn't simply go to a store and buy one. What I did was get a 10€ adapter that makes the HDMI end into a DVI, and this is a good enough solution for now. This doesn't have sound, and since there is no separate audio out so all in all that microHDMI connector is a small minus for me, especially as the composite output is no longer available either.

What next?

I'm not sure what to use the Raspberry 400 for. It's smaller than a laptop, so it might be carried around easily, but this assumes there's a useable display at that other location. Also, now that the Pi is in a definitive case, I'm deprived of the never-finished process of creating my own cases for the Pi.

For now I've not tested any of my other Raspberry environments. How well does it work as Amibian or something else? After I get the 400 better positioned with a dedicated display, I can look at these other environments.

What I didn't think through beforehand is that of course every card I've created for Raspi 3 won't work directly here and I have to find the 400-compatible versions.

Wednesday 8 September 2021

Black Mesa

After I finished the basic original Quake levels on normal difficulty, I was still eager for some more primitive fps action. Without wanting to plunge into the next Quake chapters I turned my eye towards Half-Life 1 from 1998.

But then I remembered Half Life 1 had also been subjected to a sort of "remaster", the Black Mesa effort from Crowbar Collective, which had been made available as practically complete in early 2020.

The remastered Quake set some expectations to how an earlier game ought to be revisited. As a re-imagining of Half-Life 1, Black Mesa wavers between a remaster and a remake.

Is there a point in making a 1998 game look like it was 2006-ish game? This is at least partly due to the long, long development time. Years have passed and so-called AAA titles look even more gorgeous now, and in comparison this upheaval cannot really make Half Life look like a 2020s high-budget game in every aspect.

Still, in parts the game excels and surprises, like in the later Xen section, which has been boldly and lovingly remade into a gorgeous other-wordly environment, slightly reminiscent of Cameron's Avatar. Also, Half LIfe 2 has clearly been the visual guideline for the environments, and the look of that game has not aged badly at all.

It was only when I looked at a Half-Life 1 playthrough video I was reminded of how sparse and almost cartoon-like the original game looked.

I could not bring myself to buy the original HL1, so I can't comment much on the subtler gameplay differences between this game and something I last played more than a decade ago.

Suffice to say Black Mesa plays more like Half Life 2, and my first impressions were that this is HL2 but with more primitive levels, something I was not initially too comfortable with. I mean there's a lot more emphasis on Quake-style three-dimensional jumping and mazes, and a thematic repetition of "solve 3 sub-sections to unlock 1" style structuring. Making the environments and spaces larger sometimes adds to the time spent on finding your way around.

And the spaces are larger. Everything that was small is now grandiose, large and more naturalistic and filled with detail. This is very evident in some of the outdoor battles, and the rocket launch silo and control rooms now have the space they really deserve. 

You'd be forgiven for thinking the devs had reused the sound and speech materials of the original, but no, the music, sounds and dialogues are new and at places there is more dialogue. AI is different, and the weapon set, weapon behavior and availability of ammunition and such has also been changed.

Those eager to nostalgically revisit Half-Life 1 The Game, this might not quite be it. It might be something better, depending on how you feel.

It's obvious to me the game has grown in length, especially at the end. I put nearly 22 hours of gameplay into this according to Steam, more than I expected and perhaps wanted. I didn't stop for smelling roses and searching for secrets either.

Admittedly there were a couple of sections where I was enormously stuck for a better part of an hour just because I couldn't spot a ladder on the wall and the game seemed to lead me elsewhere (Office Complex anyone?). And this could be a minor downside of the added detail, it's not always obvious what is the main thing to look at. This problem is greatly alleviated by having the routes signposted in more or less subtle ways.

Some sections felt they had been shortened, such as the underground train ride. The playthrough video proved my memory correct, the section was longer and had more interactive elements. I'm really happy with this decision as that part of the original could be really annoying.

A minor gripe might be that I kept using the flashlight in many places as the environments were now so dark, and this doesn't always look too pretty.

The Xen levels felt initially impressive and motivated me to go on, although I felt some of the later sections were again exaggerated and overtly long. If only I'd checked the clock at that point, it might be interesting to know the percentage of game left upon entering Xen. Based on feeling it's like I've spent 1/3 or more of the game time in post-Xen environments.

Some of the areas like the trash compactor environments with conveyor belts and the Xen counterpart, just seem to go on and on and involves a lot of jumping and timing, as if the game was hard trying to be Manic Miner in 3D. This is another aspect that has been more softly handled in more recent games, even including Half-Life 2. Again, judging on the Half Life 1 playthrough videos, Black Mesa is more lenient about certain kinds of puzzles, and there may be less critically time-based jumping and swimming puzzles.

As I can play this natively on Linux, I was also interested about the performance. The game worked nicely on the 1060 with 1920x1020 resolution, with nearly highest settings on in every category. I did end up removing FXAA anti-aliasing and motion blur, the latter didn't seem to do much really.

The game crashed really early on, not a good sign, but this did not happen more than 2-3 times overall during the 22 hour game time. Some other glitches occurred. First time I exited the giant giant elevator to the sky to meet the Nihilanth, Gordon got stuck minding the step after the loading pause, and I could only look around. Luckily I had a suitable save.

On a couple of visually intense situations the framerate dropped atrociously, and this kept going on for a while even if the visual clutter was no longer on the screen. The game might then recover or not.

Friday 3 September 2021

voi perkele

Now that some more electric experience is behind me...

I've been slightly bolder in where and how fast to drive. I've been surprised how individual the units are. The braking efficiency, responsiveness to the acceleration button and stiffness of the steering handle may be very different. 

The ~10°C weather already makes me think whether I ought to clothe differently, or at least wear gloves.

But now, as I took over the scooter, I felt almost instantly that something was wrong. It wasn't as fast as it used to be? The news in Helsinki now is that due to the health concerns the scoots will be inactive in weekend nights and the top speed will be capped, but surely that's not yet in effect?

I stopped, took out the GPS app, continued with it and noticed it's peaking at 20km/h. I guess it's just a flick of the switch to "them". I've felt it would have been enough to curtail the use during night time and especially weekends.

Just to make sure, I measured it also on the way back, on a different voi.

A grab from the most dangerous video I've ever taken.

It's not that the speed is peaking at 20, but it's almost if the scooter can't even quite reach that speed, often hovering around 17/18 on a flat surface and barely getting to the maximum. This is perhaps to anticipate so that downhills won't exceed the speed limit too much. (Ok, so the speedometer app might not be super-accurate.)

To me the difference between 25 and 20 is the difference between "whoa this is actually tiny bit fast" and "meh". Or perhaps it indicates that after getting used to the higher to speed the lower speed simply feels wrong. Much like I wouldn't like to switch over to a slower computer.

I'm somewhat amazed how easily such a decision can be made and put into effect. Ok, so it's been discussed for some time already, so it shouldn't be a real surprise. But what if someone really put effort into achieving the "voialty" points in order to be able to get cheaper rides, but these rides are now slower, i.e. you won't now be getting what you invested in?

It might also set precedent for changing the law so that every scooter (owned or rented) could have this as the top speed. If so, it could be the deal breaker. I'll buy a tank instead.