The NES-PC Part 0: Background

Fifteen years ago, I built a custom computer. Here it is next to the Nintendo Entertainment System that my sister and I used to play with as children.

Yeah, I don’t know which one is which either. That was by design. I thought of this box as a bit of a ‘sleeper’. It didn’t look like much, but it was far more fully featured than it appeared. This idea was pretty fully formed in my head for a couple of months before I actually took the jump and started to order parts. I remember having to hand my dad cash to pay for some online purchases, because he had an eBay account and I desperately needed a part that could not be gotten in a physical store.  I was quite proud of this build when I was 19. It went off to college with me and acted as my movie watching computer and occasional “lend to a friend” gaming box for over a year.
To be honest though, it wasn’t a complete success. Let’s take a look at my shame:
If I was willing to give myself some credit, I could call this “hiding my crimes” and point out that from the front everything looked fine. Some of this mess was the result of limitations; my best tool was a dremel and I didn’t have the patience or nerve to deal with sanding and painting. Some of this was due to laziness and rushing forward without planning ahead. This… this thing had a lot more potential than I managed to fulfill.

Regrets aside, it did its job amicably and lasted about as long as you could expect tech like this too. The hardware was arguably under-powered, but it really was the best small form factor gear that I could get my hands on at the time. It played a ton of slightly-old-for-the-time games, pushed pirated movies to my old CRT TV, and even acted as a friend’s only PC when his blew up. It features in the background of a bunch of my old photos from my college days. I used it until the little VIA cpu just couldn’t keep up anymore, and held onto it way longer than it was actually useful. Stupidly, I put the thing in the trash.

I found the digital photos the other day and was hit was a pair of simultaneous emotions. On the one hand, I cringed at how badly I’d done that job in the past, how primitive the workmanship and the hardware, and how little documentation of it had. On the other, I desperately wanted that NES-PC back.

Ten minutes later, I put “broken nintendo entertainment system” into the eBay search window and  found a cornucopia of options. I’ve been working on the new one since and it’s time to start putting together a log of my work here. Let’s get this party startet.

  • Part 0: Hardware
  • Part 2: Initial fit
  • Part 3: Brackets and fittings
  • Part 4: Ventilation
  • Part 5: I/O
  • Part 6: Finish

Something I Didn’t Think I Would Care About

A few years ago, I remember hearing about something called a “mechanical keyboard” and having vague memories of the huge clunky IBM branded monsters that used to be the standard. It didn’t really seem like the kind of thing I’d be into, really. I’ve written a couple hundred thousand words 1 on the ‘newer’ rubber dome models in my life; what could really be so much better about mechanical switches?

Obviously, I still have a ways to go about knowing myself better, because in restrospect this is exactly my kind of thing. One of the big turn off’s for the whole enterprise was, honestly, the cost. Spending a minimum of $100 just to get into the ground floor seemed extravagant, and I was honestly quite happy with my sub $40 boards I’d been buying. Then I noticed that monoprice.com had a “Cherry MX Blue” keyboard for not a whole lot more. “Scott,” says I, “that’s pretty reasonable. Let’s find out what the fuss is about.”

“Scott,” says I, “that’s pretty reasonable. Let’s find out what the fuss is about.”

The fuss, it turns out, is a typing experience that far exceeds the one I’d been having for nigh on two decades now. You know those bubble style buttons that’s on every microwave? You know how frustrating and unsatisfying they are to push, where you’re not quite sure by feel if you’ve done it right? Compare that to how it feels to throwing a freshly installed deadbolt lock, one that’s been oiled up and is still sitting in the doorjam perfectly. That will give you some idea of the difference between rubber dome keyboards and mechanical keyswitches.IMG_7728

My Monoprice board (pictured in the background there) was really me getting my toes wet. I immediately loved it, but I also knew that it wasn’t the ultimate solution. The first thing I noticed were the particular switch type in question: Cherry MX Blues. They felt very good, but these are colloquially known as the ‘clicky’ or ‘noisy’ switches. That descriptor is an understatement. If my office door was open and I was typing with enough force to bottom them out, the noice could be heard anywhere in my house. The sound of typing was loud enough that I felt bad using my computer when my wife was asleep2. So I knew I needed quieter keys.

As well, the form factor of the board, something I’d taken for granted for pretty much all the time I’ve used keyboards, started to get to me. I discovered that many people swear by the newer small boards. The advantage being not only a regained amount of desk space, but also a better ergonomic setup. A smaller keyboard means your mouse sits closer to the centerline of your body and reduces wrist and arm strain while using it.

When Massdrop.com featured a group by for a seemingly tiny keyboard with the new switch type I wanted to try, I had to get it on it. Since I’d just lost my job, the prospect of blowing nearly a hundred dollars on a peripheral seemed a bit ludicrous, but I excused myself by using some credit card reward points to pay for it. Thus, I became the proud owner of a KBP V60 Mini.

Worth every penny.

First off, the switches are the Cherry MX Brown switches that I ordered are a damn sight better than the blues. I was expecting them to feel very similar, and they do, with nearly the same activation force and a tactile ‘bump’ when they trigger. However, they’re also much more reasonably quiet. The feel is fantastic. The metal plate that the switches are mounted to feel exceedingly sturdy, and the caps have a nice weight and feel. Typing on this thing is a joy.

The small layout is something that takes getting used to. All of your function keys, navigation keys, and a few other things are on a function layer. For the most part this is pretty reasonable. Hitting FN+5 for F5 is absolutely fine. The sticking points come on the arrow keys and Delete. Arrow navigation is moved to FN+WASD, FN+PL;’, or through FN+Return which swaps your RSHIFT, WIN, MENU, and RCRTL buttons for a makeshift arrow cluster. None of these solutions really replace physical arrow keys properly. Similarly, Delete is FN+F or FN+Backspace, which is just a smidge inconvenient for how often Delete is used. Neither of these are sticking points, I love this keyboard nonetheless, but it’s something to remember when going for the next one.

The V60 Mini more than makes up for it with its party piece though:

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I don’t think I can accurately describe how nice it is to have a real keyboard, a really good one at that, working with my tablet. With my Nexus 9, the V60 Mini, a decent stand, and a couple of cables, I have  mobile writing station that is just fantastic. It’s been a little quest to find a Word Processor and a decent TXT editor, but once those were sorted, I can both write and do some coding on the run3. If you’re a human with a need to input characters into the digital world, this is a great way to do it.

Now I’m severely tempted to trying buying a kit and soldering my next keyboard together myself.

I’m dog sitting a my best friend’s dog.

 

This is Imoen1. She’s a breed called a Swedish Vallhund, which is a very old herdidn breed from Scandinavia. Although for a supposed herder, Imoen is a pretty low energy dog. She also happens to be a freaking adorable miniature wolf looking thing.

 

She was good enough to pose for me a little2 and I got some decent photos of her. If you can’t tell the scale, she’s about as big as a corgi. My buddy had wanted one of these dogs for a while, so I did a Petfinder search,  and it just so happened that at the time one was up for adoption in his city. So Imoen found her forever home and my friend got himself a terribly sweet little dog.

My wife’s basset/yellow mutt mix and Imoen get along pretty well. When I pulled the treats out, he, of course, came running. I’ve already got a million photos of this dog but he’s pretty cute so I couldn’t resist.

This peppy face belongs to the mastiff my wife rescued about a year ago.  Don’t let the expression fool you, she’s actually full of anxiety and is scared of just about everything. She doesn’t much like that there’s an unfamiliar dog in the house, so there’s been som drama. It seems like they’ve managed some sort of détente by now though.

 

 

 

 

Errata

Well, the first 5k word chapter of what is now titled Wright of Nobility has been up since just before I went to bed last night. At about the same time, I posted a fluffy little 1.4k word Korrasami thing called “Fess Up“.  The difference in how the two have been received is probably the least surprising thing in the world. That’s alright: WoN is, at best, a slow burn and if it’s going to go anywhere, it’ll need some time. I’m working on the next update1 but this bit needs more work, including some actual rewriting. So it’s slower going. I’m hoping I get some actual comments/messages/feedback on it at some point, just to get a better handle on how people feel besides yay or nay.

I’ve got an analysis article brewing too. My latest rewatch of ATLA has got me putting together a theory that I think needs to be put to paper2.

In other news, how did the genre of ambient music never really cross my path until now? I’ve been listening to music while I write forever now. I usually have gone with classical until just the last week but I find myself pausing it frequently whenever my brain has to crank away on something actually interesting. With actually ambient music, that’s not really a problem. I love it; it’s the best.