Commodore 64 Christmas Memories

When I was a kid in the 1980s, our first computer at home was a Commodore 64. Before that, our English-teacher Dad would bring home an Apple II+ for the summer from his high school, but although that was the same kind computer we had at school, it wasn’t ours. So when my twin brother John and I were confirmed, we pooled our money and bought a Commodore 64 from the local Toys R Us. We hooked it up to an old black & white 13″ television and borrowed a Vic-20 tape player from our friend who has upgraded his C-64 with a floppy disk drive. That Christmas, my brother and I asked Santa for a joint gift of a 1541 floppy disk drive of our own. and Santa not only came through with that, but ALSO a genuine Commodore 1701 color monitor! I still remember how blown away and excited we were; I’m sure my Dad’s desire to use the setup for making tests and quizzes for school had something to do with it, as well.

Commodore 64 - The Interface Experience: Bard Graduate Center
Stick an Okimate 10 thermal-transfer printer on the right side of this picture, add two Atari joysticks, and it’ll look like our childhood setup.

I’ll leave the tales of epic video game battles, writing my first “real” computer program (a database for the NCSF), and trials with Dad working on a 40-column screen but printing on an 80-column printer for another time. No, this blog is dedicated to the first electronic music playlist I’ve ever had: the Commodore 64 Christmas Demo program of 1982.

The C-64 has a lot of things going for it, and two of them were Sprite Graphics and their SID chip for sound. This made the C-64 superior to the Apple II+ for many home applications — including games. To make the less-expensive and retail-friendly C-64 appeal to the more technically-minded, Commodore created a program to show off the C-64’s capabilities with a holiday-themed demo program, which ran on the floor models in the stores. Of course, people wanted this for their own home setups, and we managed to procure a copy of the program, which we played and played every Christmas season. Thanks to the modern Internet, it’s easy to find video captures of the C-64 Christmas Demo, and I present it here in this blog for your enjoyment. Happy holidays!

Commodore 64 Christmas Demo program of 1982 — my first electronic “playlist”

Exactly One Year From Now…

…the first total solar eclipse to visit the continental United States since 1979 will cruise over the heart of the nation. The 47-mile-diameter shadow of the Moon will streak across the land at 1,800 miles per hour, starting near Salem, OR and leaving over Charleston, SC. The United States will be the only country on Earth that will witness this eclipse over land, and so it is being called the Great American Eclipse.


I have a page devoted to this eclipse, but since today marks the beginning of the 1-year countdown to the actual event, I thought I’d share a few thoughts.

My first thought: one year is not a long time to prepare.

  • If you don’t know where you’re going, you better get on that quick — especially if you’re looking for hotel accommodations. Even if you plan to camp out of your vehicle, you need to figure out where you’re going to be, and likely make some kind of reservation.
  • During totality, you can directly at the eclipse, so you really don’t need any instrumentation to experience the most majestic phenomenon in nature. However, leading up to totality — and again after totality ends — there will be about 90 minutes of partial solar eclipse, and you’ll very likely want to have a way to safely view that as it progresses. To do that, you can use simple “eclipse shades” or other safe solar filter. If you don’t have those things, you’ll want to get them ASAP.

My second thought: one year is a long time to prepare.

  • The total solar eclipse will be even more meaningful when you understand just how coincidental and rare this celestial line-up is, so bone up on your eclipse science. How big is the Sun? The Moon? What are the distances between Earth and these two objects? Figure out where that 400x size-to-distance ratio comes from, and you’ll own it in your mind. While you’re at it, find out why don’t we have a total solar eclipse every month.
  • Did you plunge in and get a solar telescope? When you receive it, use it on the sun right away. Get very comfortable using it, so on eclipse day you’re as proficient with the instrument as you are with riding a bike or driving a car. You don’t want to spend time figuring out a solar telescope while the event is happening!
  • If you heed the advice to make a weekend of it, check the Internet often over the next several months to see what other attractions and events are happening in your viewing area. As businesses and municipalities become aware of the eclipse, you can be sure there will be additional events coming together all over the path of totality!

My final thought: tell everyone you know about this event.

  • Got kids? Let their teacher(s) know. Some schools will still be out on 8/21/2017, but teachers may well want to let their classes know about the eclipse, as well as experience it for themselves.
  • Bring the family! And I mean extended family, too. This is certainly something family members will remember and talk about for years to come, so even if there are a few who are less than enthusiastic at the outset, I guarantee if they see the total solar eclipse they will be impressed — even moved. It’s a primordial experience, and they are NOT going to want to be ones in the family who missed it.
  • Send folks to this blog, or whatever your favorite eclipse site is, and get them thinking right now about viewing this most rare and awe-inspiring of natural spectacles. Remember, partial eclipses are NOTHING compared to a total solar eclipse, so unless you live in the path of totality, staying in your backyard isn’t going to cut it. Get yourself to totality, and try to sit on the centerline as close as practical!

Back To Charter

Charter Speed Test

After two and a half years of using AT&T U-Verse, I’ve switched back to Charter for my home services. AT&T nearly doubled in cost after the 2-year intro pricing, and they were inflexible when I called them to see what could be done to mitigate that. That wasn’t the reason I left, however; it was the Internet speed. I’ve always had problems with U-Verse Internet, never getting anywhere near the 18mbps I was paying for. Speeds averaged around 5-6mbps, and sometimes would get into the 10-12mbps range, but not very often. It became very frustrating to try and stream from a webcam or use FaceTime. Charter has changed a lot since I left them, and they promised 60mbps minimum speed. Couple that with essentially the same TV lineup and home phone service for $100 LESS per month than what I could get AT&T down to, and it’s pretty much a no-brainer.

Although their service technician was a little “rusty” in doing installations, everything was up and running inside of 90 minutes. I was blown away by my new Internet speed, and in fact I haven’t had a speed test come in under 60 Mbps! What does that mean?

  • YouTube plays at a wonderful 1080p with no buffering. Last Week TonightSmarter Every DayVintage Space and The Brain Scoop as they were meant to be seen!
  • iCloud is super-fast (my upload speeds are about 4x that of U-Verse). When I take a picture on my iPhone or a screenshot from an iPad, it appears in my Macbook’s Photos app almost immediately. I used to have to wait for the better part of an hour sometimes for this to work on my old network.
  • FaceTime is high-res and solid.
  • Streaming music from Apple Music doesn’t affect my other Internet work.

I haven’t tried Netflix yet, but I’m guessing it’ll be the same type of experience. Downloads from the App Store across all devices has been stellar.

What don’t I like about Charter? I was surprised to see that the old, low-resolution menu system was still there on the DVR box. I really do like U-Verse’s interface, and their mobile app is top-notch. Charter’s TV picture is excellent, but going back to the old box was a little disappointing; I thought for sure they’d have an updated and more modern system by now.

The mobile app (Spectrum TV) is a good app. At first, it appeared to be everything the U-Verse app was: streaming live TV, changing channel on the TV box, and setting the DVR. Unfortunately, I can only stream on the app; apparently, my model of TV box isn’t controllable by the app. I’ll certainly be asking about that when I get a chance to contact Charter.

Overall, I’m very happy with the switch. As a one-person, one-TV household who’s primary need is fast and steady Internet access, Charter seems to be a better solution — that just happens to be less expensive, to boot.