Origin of CP/M’s PIP command

CP/M was, as you probably know, the first popular microcomputer operating system. It was good but imperfect, and its cryptic command for copying files, PIP, is often cited as an example. Copy makes sense. Even the Unix equivalent, cp, makes sense–it’s copy without the vowels. But what does PIP mean? What’s the origin of CP/M’s PIP command?

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All about the Lionel LW transformer

The Lionel LW Trainmaster is a 125 watt transformer that Lionel produced from 1955 to 1966. They are reasonably durable and Lionel made them for a long time. That means you can find them easily on the secondary market. They can be expensive if they have their original box and paperwork. But if you just want to run a train and don’t care about the paper, you can get a serviced LW for $50-$60, and an as-is one for under $40. At 125 watts, it’s the most powerful single-handle transformer of the postwar era.

The LW is a quirky transformer so there are some things about if you need to be aware of if you have other Lionel transformers, but as long as you keep those in mind, it’s a fine transformer that will serve you well. The quirks have nothing at all to do with reliability. Lionel just designed its layout a bit differently than many of their other models. In some ways it’s the ideal accessory transformer. We’ll cover that later.

One thing to keep in mind: Unplug the LW when you’re not using it. It doesn’t have its own power switch. I plug my transformers into a power strip and turn all of them on and off with the strip’s on/off switch.

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Resources for learning SQL

Whether you’re a sysadmin, an analyst, or use a computer for something else professionally–even if you’re not a database administrator or developer–SQL is a useful skill to know. I’ve gotten by for 20 years without knowing much more SQL other than simple SELECT statements, but those days are rapidly winding down–if I want to be good at my current job, I’m going to have to take some time to learn SQL. If you’re in the same boat, here are some resources for learning SQL.

Here are two resources:



SQL is the underlying language behind Oracle, Microsoft SQL, MySQL, PostgresSQL, and probably a few other databases I’m forgetting. If you’re doing something beyond Microsoft Access, it’s probably using some kind of SQL. Each implementation has its own quirks but the basics remain the same between all of them.

Building DOS gaming PCs

The ultimate DOS gaming PC is a topic that I’ve seen come up in forums frequently, and that I’ve been asked directly a number of times. I guess since I published advice on running DOS games on Windows PCs on two continents, people figured I knew something about that. I guess I fooled them!

The trouble is that no single PC can really be the “ultimate” DOS game machine. Well, not if your goal is to be able to optimally run everything from early 1980s titles designed for the original IBM PC up to the last DOS version of Quake. I learned that the hard way in 1995 or 1996, even before Quake existed. Read more

Beware “graded value” baseball cards on Ebay

There are a few hucksters on Ebay, whom I don’t care to give free advertising by mentioning by name, who hawk “graded” cards on Ebay and claim them to be especially valuable. One even puts supposed appraised values in his listings in parenthesis, then invites you to visit his page for an explanation of “graded” value, where he cites an example of a run-of-the-mill 1970s star card, normally worth $60, being worth $2,500 once graded.

The thing is, that’s an edge case. It’s important to understand those edge cases to avoid a ripoff.

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The Ferguson race riots: An outsider’s perspective from not far outside

A Ferguson police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African-American man, on August 9, 2014. The night after, riots broke out.

Ferguson is an inner-ring suburb in north St. Louis County. As such, Ferguson is now approximately 67% African-American, although the power structure remains mostly white.

I am a native of Kansas City who has lived in suburban St. Louis for a little more than 20 years. As a quasi-outsider, St. Louis has some quirks that I recognize and understand. It helps to understand that St. Louis is very divided, both along the lines of race but also along the lines of class. One of the first questions many St. Louisans will ask you is what high school you went to. This conveniently tells people how much money you grew up with. If you went to a private school, you’re good. If you went to a public school in an affluent area, you’re good. If you went to a public school in a poor area, I hope you’re living in a more affluent area now because there are people who will look down on you.

Sometimes the lines are fuzzy but sometimes they’re very stark. In north St. Louis, there’s an east-west street called Delmar. On the south side of the street are expensive houses. I won’t say they’re all millionaires on that side of the street, but many undoubtedly are. On the north side of the street, the houses that aren’t vacant are occupied by people who have minimum-wage jobs. The haves and have-nots can stare at each other from their windows, separated by five lanes of traffic. This oddity has even caught the attention of the BBC.

Ferguson is a step up from the wrong side of Delmar, but many St. Louisans would have jumped to conclusions about Michael Brown and his Normandy High School diploma for the rest of his life, regardless of how long that might have been. Read more

LOAD “*”,8,1 – what it means

The smartest guy in the room cited the Commodore command LOAD “*”,8,1 as something he used for years but never understood why it worked except it was the command he used to load games on his Commodore 64.

So I explained it. Now I can explain it to you too.  Read more

Nook won’t turn on? Try these four things.

I’d owned a Nook Simple Touch for less than 24 hours when I had a problem. So I learned out of necessity what to do when a Nook won’t turn on.

I found several things to try to get them working. Don’t expect the same solution to work every time. But these things are good to know.

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Let’s talk GPSs

I’ve used Magellan GPSs for about five years. I find them pretty easy and intuitive to use and like them. I’m not sure if it’s just a matter of what you’re used to, though. Magellans have their quirks–they’re more prone to sending you on u-turns than other brands–but mine doesn’t recalculate unless you change directions, its routes are fairly intelligent, its time predictions are pretty close, and I like that it dings at you just before you’re supposed to turn. My only gripes with it are that it doesn’t display the speed limit and the newest maps available for my model date to something like 2009.
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Marx trains and Lionel 1121 switches

There is some unfortunate misinformation circulating on various train forums. I first read this misinformation in the outstanding book by Peter Riddle, Trains from Grandfather’s Attic, published in 1991. As Classic Toy Trains editor Bob Keller noted while we were finishing up my article late last year, incorrect information in print lasts a long time. A very long time, sometimes. Lionel 1121 switches and Marx trains are rumored to get along famously. I am sad to report they do not.
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