Friday, May 31, 2019

Forgotten Realms: Angelica, Remembered #gaming

Note:The following article was originally published in April 2017 on my website davidinark.com. The link to that is at the bottom of this one.


While poking around online, I discovered that I was late to a very cool party. It seems that Good Old Games managed to hunt down and secure the licensing rights to the classic “Gold Box” games from SSI built around the Dungeons and Dragons world. Now, to many of you, this means nothing. To me, however, this ushered in a surge of memories from my youth.

I played the “Pool of Radiance” series (as I called it) on my Commodore 64 from the time the Gold Box Series came out until well into my college years. Holy smokes. Stopping to think about that, I just realized I played that series starting in 1988 (freshman year) up until a couple years after my wife and I got married. We married in 1991, but I played the game at least until 1993 or later.

I loved the game. It was based on REAL D&D rules, regs, characters, stats… It combined two of my favorite things: computers and D&D. When I got the game in 1998, I fired up the game and began creating my characters and building a party. The first character I created was a female fighter. She was awesome from the very start. She had pixelated flowing blonde hair, was a tough character through stats, and became the undisputed leader of the party. I named her Angelica. She led battles, did most of the speaking for the group when put into such situations, and remained throughout the entire series – though others had not.

I have to admit, the temptation to resurrect Angelica from the depths of memory and plop her down at the beginning of a new tale, a new adventure, excites the nostalgic kid in me like you would not believe. Thanks to Good Old Games, I could do just that. They took the games, reworked them a bit, and created virtual DOS machines in which to run them. Oh, to fire up the games again and create a new band of adventurers in all that 8- or 16-bit glory…

Alas, it is not meant to be. You see, if I do buy the revamped games, I don’t think I could bring myself to create a new lead female character bearing the name and likeness of the one I had grown so fond of, the one who survived each of the games into which we could move our characters, allowing them to keep growing as new challenges arose from the disks contained inside those gold box games.

No. You see, sometimes you play with a certain character in a game series so long that when the time comes for that character to rest (she never died, the series just ran out and time moved on and I eventually got rid of all my Commodore 64 stuff), you let the character rest. Creating another wouldn’t be the same. And, if the replacement didn’t live up to the same level as the original, then the memory of the first is forever tarnished.

Angelica lives in my heart and memory the way she was: a strong, fierce, pixelated beauty.

Get the games here: https://www.gog.com/game/forgotten_realms_the_archives_collection_two

Link to original article:
http://davidinark.com/2017/04/11/forgotten-realms-angelica-remembered-gaming/


Monday, March 25, 2019

Packard Bell Legend 316sx (386sx-16) - Memories of my first IBM-PC


Though my first computer was a Commodore 64, my first PC was a Packard Bell Legend 316sx. It had a 386sx-16MHz processor, 1MB of RAM, and I can't remember if it came with the 120MB hard drive or if I upgraded to that, but I believe it came with the 120MB HDD (A Seagate ST3144A, if memory serves). Installed OS was DOS and Windows 3.0. I got it for a combo Christmas/birthday gift and I am almost certain it cost around $1600. I also got a Packard bell monitor with it.

The very first thing I did with it was to go to the store (heck, it was probably Walmart since Walmart actually sold computer parts in those days) to buy memory so that I could upgrade it to 4MB. I distinctly remember this because each megabyte was $40! That is crazy to think nowadays where, in 2019 anyway, we can grab 16gb of RAM for that price!

The system came with a 5.25" floppy and a 3.5" floppy. There was NO sound, no CD-ROM, and only had a built-in Oak VGA video card. It worked well for what I needed when I first got it (typing papers for college, mostly, and some rudimentary gaming). But, it wasn't long before the upgrade itch really got me going.

I started with a Multimedia Upgrade kit from Creative Labs. Unfortunately, the only images i can find online are of a later version than the one i got. I am pretty sure mine had a short audio card, CD-ROM drive, software and related cabling. I believe the upgrade included Windows 3.1 or 3.11 as well, so that the user could take "full advantage" of the new multimedia offerings. I think the CDs had to be put into a special cartridge tray that would then be inserted into the drive itself.

From: https://books.google.com/books?id=a2YTCyIAwwIC&pg=PP168&dq=sound+blaster+multimedia+upgrade+kit&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjGuujwxJ3hAhVBG6wKHQZfAdUQ6AEILTAB#v=onepage&q=sound%20blaster%20multimedia%20upgrade%20kit&f=false

While that sufficed for a while, allowing me to play and experience games in a way I hadn't before, I soon wanted more power under the hood. Rather than shelling out another $1500 for a newer machine, I looked into upgrading the CPU itself.

Since this was a 386SX, I had several options: 1) Upgrade from a 16MHz to 25 or 33, 2) Add a math coprocessor (the motherboard had a socket for that), 3) Upgrade the CPU with an adapter kit.

Yes, that's right! Back in the early 90's, there were adapters you could buy that would sit directly in top of your 386 CPU. The adapter would then house a 486 CPU piggybacked onto the 386 chip. Now, since my 386 was an SX variety, I had to stick with SX versions of the 486 (no DX for me).


I bought the Make-it 486 SX upgrade kit for about $100. This was quite a bizarre arrangement. In addition to the CPU upgrade sitting on top of an adapter socket, I also had to install a 486 CPU fan on top of that. Now, look back at the case for this computer. It's a small form factor, especially for those days, and this stacked-up CPU made for one VERY tall apparatus inside. Nevertheless, it worked flawlessly! Er, well, as flawlessly as Packard Bells could perform, anyway.

I also upgraded the modem several times over the years, and added a network card for local gameplay via IPX (Doom, etc). Heck, I think I even upgraded to windows 95 before it was all said and done.

Packard Bell became synonymous with low quality, cheap components that would fail completely, or worse, provide intermittent issues that would leave users frustrated, dazed, and confused.

In the meantime, though, I used my Packard Bell Legend 316SX from 1991ish when I got it until about 1994/5 when I was afforded the opportunity to upgrade to a newer machine through my employer.

The 316SX holds a fond place in my heart because it was the first IBM-Compatible PC that I ever owned. I can remember putting it in a backpack once to carry it on to the airplane for a trip. The airport security made me plug it in and turn it on. Of course, I didn't have a monitor, so the fans whirred, the lights came on, and the system speaker chirped to let me know there was no keyboard attached, but it passed security (much more lax in those days, pre-9/11) and I carried onto the plane with me (I wasn't about to let it suffer the agony of checked baggage).

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

#Ransomware Attack at School Triggers Best Practice Reminders

 
Recently, there was a ransomware incident at a nearby school district. The event occurred through a Remote Desktop Protocol Session (RDP) running on the Technology Coordinator's desktop. His machine had a publicly accessible RDP IP address so he could work from home, etc. Unfortunately, his computer was compromised and subsequently used to attack their servers.

If you are using RDP to get access to your network from outside, I recommend the following:
  1. Kill all RDP sessions accessible from outside your internal network. This may require editing your firewall settings to remove the public IP address(es) to your RDP computers.
  2. Change your password on any accounts used for accessing public RDP. The current en vogue system is to use passphrases rather than passwords.
  3. If you must have remote access, set up a VPN to handle that instead of RDP.Several companies offer secure VPN access.
  4. Do NOT put your own login account into the Domain Admins group.
  5. For internal RDP sessions, do *NOT* save the logon credentials. I know it is a pain, but better safe than sorry. :-)