A Tour of Silicon Valley

I recently did a self-tour of Silicon Valley, and as someone who works in the field of technology, it was a fantastic experience.

The first stop of the tour was Apple Park, the Head Quarters for Apple Inc. The only section open to the public is the Visitor Center, which mainly consists of a massive apple store (which was insanely busy as it was 2 days after the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro launched) as well as a sizeable Augmented Reality display of the Apple Park Campus and the famous UFO looking Apple Ring building. This AR display consists of a large model, shown in the photos below, that you can interact with using an iPad Pro which the staff hand out to guests entering the display area. On the iPad Pro graphics are superimposed over the model showing not only a realistic aerial view of the campus but also showing various bits of information relating to the design of the ring building such as how the ring building is designed in a way to take advantage of the environment (wind, etc.) to cool itself in an ecologically friendly manner.

The next stop was the Apple Garage, which is the garage at the house in which Steve Jobs grew up. It is commonly considered the birthplace of Apple. Steve Wozniak (Apple co-founder) has said that this is a bit of a romanticized myth, but it was still great to see.

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Next came the Computer History Museum, a truly amazing museum with items covering the entire history of computers. From the abacus to mainframes and supercomputers to the current day smartphone, the items on display are truly astonishing. Below are some photos and descriptions of some of the items on display.

Numerous Abacuses on display, one of the oldest forms of calculation tools.

A variety of mechanical calculation machines.

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A Curta Calculator, also known as the Pepper Grinder Calculator. One of the most advanced handheld mechanical calculators ever created.

A Selection of IBM Mainframe Equipment.

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A model of ENIAC, the world’s first general-purpose computer.

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A Selection of Fortran Programming Books and Promotional Material.

A PDP-1 Display, Spacewar! one of the first video games ever was programmed on and ran on the PDP-1.

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A 486 DX motherboard.

A display showing the advancement of transistors, microprocessors, silicon wafers, and Moore’s Law.

Various Robots on display. Including expensive toys, industrial robots, and research robots.

Numerous bizarre and unusual computer peripherals on display.

Video and computer gaming displays, with various consoles and games on display.

Apple I, Apple II, Apple Lisa, and Original Macintosh computers.

IBM PC Model 5150 and an Altair 8800.

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A boxed copy of Windows 1.0.

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The NeXTcube workstation from NeXt Computers. NeXt computers were founded by Steve Jobs after leaving Apple in 1985, and Next Computers were acquired by Apple when Steve Jobs rejoined Apple in 1997. The NeXTStep Operating system became the foundation for Mac OSX.

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Waymo Self-Driving Car.

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A scale model of the Mars Rover.

World of Warcraft exhibition.

An exhibition showing the rise of MP3s and the rise and fall of Napster.

The next stop after the Computer History Museum was the Googleplex, the massive headquarters of Google. The Googleplex, which is mostly open to the public, has various significant things to see, such as the Android Statue Lawn, where retired Android statues representing previous versions of the mobile operating system are on display. From volleyball courts to Massive Statues to vegetable gardens, it is easy to see why the Google Campus has a reputation as the best working environment. Here are a few photos of the Googleplex.

The last stop in Silicon Valley was Stanford University, a University that amongst its alumni has various famous people. Stanford has a beautiful Campus, as can be seen in the photos below.

A Tour of Silicon Valley

MOVIE REVIEW – BATMAN VS TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES

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Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a 2019 DC animated movie based on the comic book miniseries Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles written by James Tynion IV and drawn by Freddie Williams II.

This movie is a great deal of fun and is more light-hearted than many other DC animated movies. The version of the Turtles in this movie is a mix between the 1987 cartoon and the Turtles from the comic books by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, keeping the colored face masks from the cartoon but being significantly more violent as in the comic books. It is worth reiterating that Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a lot more violent than the cartoon show, with the Turtles drawing blood in fights and Shredder killing quite a few people, the foot soldiers are also people like in the comic books and not robots as they where in the cartoon.

There are numerous homages to the 1987 cartoon in the movie, such as a scene from the cartoon shows opening sequence recreated in the movie, as shown in the screengrabs below.

Without spoiling the story, it centers around Shredder and Ra’s al Ghul teaming up to execute some evil plan and Batman teaming up with the Turtles to stop them. A great selection of Batman’s rogue gallery makes an appearance, such as the Penguin, Bane, Mr. Freez, Harley Quinn, Two-Face, Scarecrow, and the Joker,  and some of them even get a unique TMNT twist. There are some truly amazing scenes with these villains, like when Leonardo is exposed to Scarecrows fear toxin, or when Bane tries to break Donatello’s back the same way he broke Batmans back (It didn’t work out so well for Bane, with Donatello having a shell).

There is also an epic scene where the Batmobile drives side by side with the Turtle Van and another great sequence where the Turtle Van fires manhole covers painted like pizzas, a reference to the 1989 Pizza Thrower Toy.

The voice cast does a fantastic job with Troy Baker voicing Batman as well as the Joker, and although he does an amazing job and has performed these roles before, he never quite reaches the levels of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill.

This movie is a joy to watch, and both fans of Batman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will love it. It is one of my favorite DC animated movies and one of the most enjoyable movies I have watched this year. Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comes highly recommended and is a must-watch for fans of either of the title characters. And to finish off, it is worth mentioning there is a post-credit scene that might hint at a sequel…

MOVIE REVIEW – BATMAN VS TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES

DESK TOUR

After a few posts with photos of my desk, I have received a few questions and requests to do a post regarding my desk setup, so here is a quick desk tour.

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As can be seen in the photos above I run two 27-inch monitors, for a secondary monitor I use the Dell SE2717H, a 75Hz 1080P FreeSync monitor, and for a primary display, I use the Dell S2716DG, a 144Hz 1440p G-Sync monitor.

The full specs of the PC can be found in a previous post here, with only a few minor changes since then that I will cover now.

The first change made was replacing the standard plastic backplate of the Corsair H150i Pro with an all metal one, as can be seen in the image below:

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The plastic backplate that came with the H150i never felt completely stable, and with the new metal backplate, the whole mounting feels much more robust. This backplate is available from Amazon. While replacing the backplate, I also replaced the thermal paste that came pre-applied with the AIO cooler with Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut. This process resulted in the CPU temperatures dropping by approximately 2-3°C.

The next thing that changed was the addition of a Corsair Lighting Node Pro and RGB Strips, as well as a storage upgrade with an additional 4TB Western Digital Blue drive, total storage is now 17.5 TB consisting of 500GB NVMe storage, 1TB SSD storage and 16 TB spinning disk storage of which 4 TB is accelerated with 32GB Intel Optane Memory.

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As the case front panel, Corsair AIO and the Corsair Lighting Node Pro requires USB 2 headers and my motherboard only has two, this resulted in a problem which was solved by installing an NXZT Internal USB Hub.

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I also added Phanteks Halos to my AIO fans, that was covered in a previous post here.

The final change was the switching out of the MSI Gaming X GTX 1080 with the Zotac RTX 2080 Amp Extreme.

The only additional change that might happen in the short term is the addition of a PSU shroud.

Now that we have covered the PC let us get back to the rest of the desk.

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The photo above shows that on each side of the primary monitor there is a speaker, they are Samson studio monitors, the MediaOne BT3. The microphone I use can be seen on top of one of the speakers, the Samson Meteor USB Studio Microphone. And the webcam used is the Razer Kiyo, which is set up on top of the primary monitor.

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On the back of both the monitors and desk, RGB strips have been mounted and the remote to control them is stored in a custom 3D printed housing under the desk.

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Various figures decorate my desk, most of them made by Funko, but somewhere 3D Printed.

From a peripheral perspective, I use the Corsair K70 MK2 mechanical keyboard and Razer Mamba Tournament Edition mouse (although I am considering replacing the Razer Mamba TE with the new Corsair IronClaw Wireless RGB mouse). Both the keyboard and mouse are on top of the Razer Goliathus Extended Speed Edition Mouse Pad. For a controller, I use an Xbox One controller, the Volcano Shadow Special Edition, which is kept out of the way when not in use by Vault Boy.

I use two headphones, one Wireless Gaming Headset, the Corsair HS70, and one wired professional studio headphones, the Samson Z55. I have a Silicon Headphone Anker under the desk to store these headphones when they are not in use.

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I store a precision screwdriver set under the primary monitor for easy access, the Xiaomi Wiha Precision Aluminum Screwdriver set.

My VR Headset and controller are stored on top of the pc case, it is the Lenovo Explorer Windows Mixed Reality Headset. This was covered in a post here.

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I have 3D printed a cable box, for easier access when plugging in the VR Headset.

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Lastly, behind the second monitor is where my 3D Printer is located, the Wanhao i3 Mini.

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DESK TOUR

A Look At The Leap Motion

The leap motion is a USB connected input device like no other. It allows user input through hand motion and gestures without any physical contact between the users’ hands and the device.

The Leap motion consists of a small flat device which is placed on the desk in front of your screen and to use it you simply hold and move your hands over it. The Leap motion contains Infra-Red Cameras and LEDs to track the position of hands as well as hand gestures.

It is a very interesting experience especially when combined with VR (I will cover this in a post at a later time).

The device can track both the user’s hands simultaneously, which results in a great and seamless experience. The included tech demos are also very impressive.

Here is a video showing the device in action:

The Leap motion is a bit of a novelty device and it’s won’t be replacing your mouse and keyboard any time soon. Also note that the sensing area in which your hands need to be isn’t that big, which is a bit restricting, however it does provide a great tool for experimentation with alternative ways of computer interaction.

I have some big plans for the device with my DIY VR headset version 2 in the future.

It is also worth mentioning that the Leap Motion prices have dropped since launch and I managed to pick one up from amazon for just over $60 when I was in the US last year.

A Look At The Leap Motion

Book Review – Dancing Barefoot by Wil Wheaton

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Dancing Barefoot is a collection of memoirs by Wil Wheaton in the form of five short stories. The stories are all quick and enjoyable reads covering topics of joy, sadness and self discovery, Wil experienced throughout his life. I really like Wil’s writing style and I am a regular reader of his blog WilWheaton.net. If you’re familiar with Wil’s blog you would pretty much know what to expect from Dancing Barefoot.

The book is a very pleasant, light and quick read and can easily be finished in a single sitting, ideal for a long flight. I really enjoy short stories in general and Dancing Barefoot is no exception, I would highly recommend it if you are looking for some light hearted-feel good entertainment.

If you enjoyed this book also give Wil’s other book Just a Geek, which I covered in another blog post, a try.

 

Book Review – Dancing Barefoot by Wil Wheaton

Book Review – Just A Geek by Wil Wheaton

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I picked up Just A Geek based on the recommendation of various people, and I can say I do not regret doing so.

Just A Geek is the memoirs of Wil Wheaton, of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Stand by me (and Big Bang Theory) fame. It is an honest and brutal look at his rapid rise to fame as a young teen and his subsequent and dramatic fall thereafter. He goes into a great deal of detail describing his love\hate relationship with Wesley Crusher, the character he portrayed on Star Trek: The Next Generation, as well as the doubts and self loathing he experienced as a result of him deciding to leave Star Trek.

In the book he writes of his time as a struggling actor who could hardly find work, to him discovering comedy and being part of a successful sketch comedy group and later starting his blog, WilWheaton.net. Starting his blog resulted in him learning HTML and teaching himself Linux and also helped him rediscover his love for writing. The rediscovery of this love helped Wil redefine himself as an author, helping him find balance and success in his life.

Just A Geek is a really enjoyable journey, starting with a young boy on the set of Star Trek: The Next Generation, more interested in Dungeons & Dragons than Star Trek, to a normal guy dealing with the complexities of everyday life, like paying bills and working on the relationship with his wife and step-sons.

Just A Geek is an inspiring and feel good book that I would really recommend. It shows how life hardly works out how we plan, but even so great things can come from the most unexpected places.

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Book Review – Just A Geek by Wil Wheaton

Interview with Largest Retro Video Game Seller in South Africa

In recent years, interest in retro video games has increased significantly. This has created a new marketplace consisting of buyers and sellers who exclusively focus on video games that, until recently, have been considered obsolete. I recently conducted an interview with Kristy Anderson who started a company a few years ago that focuses on selling retro video games and has subsequently grown to be the largest seller of retro video games in South Africa.

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How did you get into the business of selling retro games? 

Well, it’s a bit of a long story! I was big into pc gaming as a child, but the only retro console that I can vaguely remember playing was a golden china type with Mario bros and Circus on it. So I didn’t really have any retro consoles that were familiar to me, unlike many other South African children from the 80s and 90s. I also went to boarding school in my high school years and as a result, I stopped gaming for a very long time. It was only in 2008 when my husband and I went to Australia and stayed with a friend, that I discovered console gaming again. This friend had a Wii console and I was fascinated with the technology and played Wii sports for ages, getting really into my tennis game and nearly taking out the light fitting at the same time. We enjoyed the console so much that we decided to invest in one ourselves. Suddenly my love for gaming was re-ignited and I found myself taking a greater interest in all things gaming. The pivotal point was when I was looking for some hard to find Wii titles and the only place I could find them was online in East London. The only catch was that I had to buy the Wii console and all the games as one bundle and obviously, I had to find a way to get it to Durban. Taking a big leap of faith, I paid this random dude via EFT and then organized for a courier to collect. I then sold off the rest of the items and kept some of the games for myself. I ended up making a bit of money on the stuff I sold and a fledgling idea seemed to take hold. I found myself searching online for other gaming bundles and then began buying some of them. Soon I was hooked and spent all my free time bargain hunting and discovering more about the gaming world. I slowly diversified into Xbox 360 (had a learning curve with an ROD console along the way) and then started buying other consoles like PS2 and PS3. In early 2009 it started to become a regular thing and I was trying to juggle this sideline business with my full-time job working at a local vet. This became more and more difficult to do and I started to get very stressed out, as there was simply not enough time in the day to commit to both jobs. So I had to make a difficult decision – was this fledgling business viable enough to leave my full-time employment? It was a hard choice to make but I convinced my boss to let me work half-day for a few months so I could train my replacement and then in early 2010, I left the vet and committed to my business full-time. Around that time I also discovered a box with my husband’s old PS1 console in it and a ton of PS1 games. I sold these off for him and discovered they were quite popular. My sister also unearthed her old Dreamcast console (she used to work for Dreamcast in the UK) and I bought that off her too. It turned out that she had some limited release white label games (only given to staff and advertisers), which were very rare on eBay, and this prompted me to start selling internationally as well. Since then, my business has been growing considerably every year (especially the retro section) and we are always diversifying into new areas. Several years ago we started importing retro items from the UK due to the high demand for them and now we get regular shipments in. There has been a lot to learn, as we stock a lot of diverse gaming products, but it has definitely been worth it! I get to work from home doing something I’m passionate about and really enjoy, and I have the most amazing customers too 🙂

Have you seen an increase in interest in Retro gaming as of late?

Yes definitely. It used to be a slow progression over the last few years, where I would occasionally get customers enquiring about certain retro consoles and wanting advice on them. Suddenly though, last year, retro seemed to become the “in” thing. LPs were being released again and certain retro items seemed to be making a comeback. This has taken off to such an extent in the last 6 months or so, that demand is starting to outstrip supply. Prices have skyrocketed and it is becoming harder to find items at reasonable prices. We are constantly searching for new suppliers in order to try and keep up with the demand.

What are the most popular systems people are collecting for?

Considering that retro has become so popular of late, I have noticed a large increase in purchases of specific retro consoles. These are mainly consoles that were predominant in South Africa in the 80s and 90s, namely PS1 and 8 bit consoles like the Golden China or Nintendo Famicom. There is a huge nostalgic element associated with these consoles and as a result, I seem to get many requests for them. Also popular is anything retro Nintendo, especially all types of Game Boy consoles.

Where do you get your stock? From local sources or more imported items?

I get my stock from all over – both locally and internationally. That’s the reason I’m called “The Source” as I spend a lot of time trying to source rare items, good deals and new suppliers for my stock. A lot of my customers also like to do “trade-ins” on their old consoles/games and duplicate items.  I have managed to locate some suppliers in other countries like Japan and I just received my first Japanese shipment last week. This will become a regular thing along with my UK imports. However, imported items are constantly being affected by the exchange rate, which seems to be doing worse every year.

Do you collect retro video games?

I have never been much of a collector as I’m a very practical person and don’t like having too much stuff around me that I don’t use. I do have a few first edition books that are especially important to me (one is signed by the author), but I’m not sure if you could call it a collection. In saying that, I do enjoy the process of finding new and exciting items and having them on display to show others. In that respect, my stock serves as a collection in itself, as I can fulfill my need to discover new and unknown elements of the gaming world and teach others about them, and yet they don’t go unused and will eventually land up in a good home. I am actually strangely protective over my retro items. I feel like finding them and making sure they go to someone who appreciates them is sort of like preserving history. I once had a photographer who wanted to buy a Gameboy console for a shoot and I didn’t want to sell it to him as I was concerned it wouldn’t be used and loved (weird, I know). Anyway, after being in this industry for over 7 years and seeing the passion that my collectors have for gaming, I fear it has rubbed off on me a bit. I have recently acquired a few collectible items like the Fallout 4 pipboy, vault boy bobble head and fallout fridge and I also have a fairly large selection of “special” mugs which include Mario, batman, superman and other geeky and gaming themes. I use a different one of these mugs every day so they do serve a practical purpose as well. I also own a Halo 4 edition Xbox 360 console and a Forza 6 edition Xbox one console which I use on a regular basis.

Do you play video games?

Of course I do 🙂 It would be a travesty to be in this industry and not enjoy video games or play them. Obviously we have to test a lot of our games to make sure they are working, so I do play a large selection of games for work, but I also like to play my own games on the weekends and evenings. I am currently playing Fallout 4 (I believe I’m on level 38 at the moment) and its been very absorbing. I have found myself playing quite late into the evenings sometimes as I “just want to finish this one quest” which turns into another hour of gameplay before you know it. You may have gathered from my previous comments that the Fallout series is a favorite of mine. I love the concept and enjoy exploring and interacting with this post-apocalyptic world.

What is your favorite video game of all time?

That is a tough one. I don’t know if many people have an outright favorite. I will break it into different years of my life:
Childhood: Kings Quest series and most specifically Kings Quest 6. Also played a lot of Mario bros, and enjoyed Resident evil 2 and the crash bandicoot series on PS1.
2008: The Legend of Zelda Twilight princess and resident evil 4
2009 to 2010: Fallout 3 and Red dead redemption
2010 to 2011: Fallout new Vegas
2011 to 2012: The Witcher 2 and Skyrim
2013 to 2014: Tomb Raider (2013) and The last of us
2015: The Witcher 3
2016: Fallout 4
I’m sure I’m probably forgetting some but these are the ones that stand out most in my mind.

Have you ever considered opening a brick and mortar shop? 

Yes, briefly. Truth be known, I enjoy having an online store. Some of my best and favorite customers live in other provinces and I also enjoy being able to work from home. If I had a physical store I wouldn’t be able to have the luxury of rolling out of bed and being at work 5 minutes later, being able to sit outside in my garden on a rare lunch break, having a swim in my pool when it gets hot or having a cat sitting on my lap or watching them hide and play in my empty boxes. Most importantly, I don’t know if I would have developed the friendships that I have with some of my customers in other provinces. Brick and mortar stores limit your customers to one area whereas online stores allow you to sell to anywhere in the world (I do sell internationally as well). Most importantly, you are constantly being introduced to new and different people and relating to them on an intellectual level without knowing what they look like or what their background is. We are all equals online and are judged by our opinions, how we act and what we say, as opposed to what we look like. Many people think it’s strange and dangerous to deal with so many people you don’t really know, but I like the possibilities it creates. I also love the way that gaming transcends all barriers and brings different people together.

Are you planning on having a stand at any of the local expos? (Like Rage or GeekFest?)

I have strongly considered this and I’m sure it will happen in the near future. There are a lot of weekend markets in my area and I have thought about having a stand at one of them occasionally. Rage is also a massive platform to market a business and I definitely aim to be there one day soon. The practicalities are preventing me at the moment, as obviously I can’t bring all my stock with me so would have to limit the stock I transport. Not to mention the costs involved with travelling to Joburg for Rage and accommodation while we are there. Also, a lot of our items are pre-owned and I usually like to polish discs and test games before sending them, to ensure they are working properly. So I have to figure out a way around this and also overcome my crowd phobia when it comes to Rage. I did visit it a few years ago, but the amount of people there was very intimidating for me. I am actually quite a shy person when it comes down to it but have become a lot more confident since starting my own business.

How would you describe www.thegamingsource.co.za

An eCommerce business that supplies a large selection of pre-owned games and consoles for all platforms at reasonable prices. We are also one of the biggest retro gaming suppliers in South Africa and are able to source and/or import almost any gaming item required.

If anyone is interested in buying anything related to retro gaming, you can visit The Source website at www.thegamingsource.co.za or contact Kristy directly at thesource100@gmail.com.

Interview with Largest Retro Video Game Seller in South Africa