Atari Portfolio

This one has been on my bucket list from the beginning, and I’m happy to say, I was able to make my way through an eBay auction and pick up a mint condition unit that looks great and works even better.

In 1989, DIP Research in Surrey England developed the DIP Pocket PC. They licensed it to Atari in the US and UK, and Atari rebranded it as the Portfolio.

The Portfolio is widely recognized as the first MS-DOS Compatible palmtop computer. It runs a slightly modified version of MS-DOS 2.11.

This unit is in pristine condition, complete with expansion cards with several applications, we well as a card reader that can be plugged into a desktop PC for transferring files.

Specifications:

  • Manufactured: June 1989
  • Operating system: DIP DOS 2.11
  • CPU: 80C88 @ 4.9152 MHz
  • Memory: 128 KB of RAM and 256 KB of ROM
  • Display: monochrome LCD (no backlight) 40 characters × 8 lines
  • Graphics: 240 × 64
  • Power: 3× AA size removable alkaline batteries (Optional AC adapter)

TI-74 Basicalc

I had never heard of these machines until one came up on /r/retrobattlestations and I just had to have it.

The Basicalc is one of the early programmable calculators that was starting the trend in handheld computing from ‘calculator’ to ‘computer’. The TRS-80 PC-1 is another great example.

The TI-74 has a working BASIC interpreter, as well as the standard calculator functions. It also includes a ROM Module slot that allows for plugin expansion of pre-packaged applications.

Specifications:

  • TMS70C46 CPU
  • 31 5×7 character LCD
  • 32+4 KB ROM
  • 8 KB RAM
  • RAM/ROM memory expansion port
  • Hexbus port
  • 80 characters per line (31 visible)
  • powered by 4 AAA-size batteries

Happy to have this in the collection!

5 Mobile Titles Poised To Define AR Gaming

AR gaming is no longer just a concept. Thanks to Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore – development platforms allowing mobile developers to create AR games with relative ease – this form of gaming is now available on some of the most popular smartphones on the market. Particularly where Apple is concerned, we’ve already seen a lot of interesting games released, and there are surely many more to come.

The most interesting category that hasn’t quite exploded just yet, however, is that of mobile games being adapted to the AR format. These games have the advantage of familiarity and foundations of success, and could be some of the first major hits in augmented reality if and when they’re adapted. It’s a precedent that’s already been set by games like Stack AR and a few others, which are building on previous mobile titles. But if we were to bet on the kinds of AR titles people will be buzzing about in another six months or a year, these are some of the games we’d be keeping an eye on.

Angry Birds

It should just about go without saying that Angry Birds will always be at the forefront of mobile gaming. Through numerous versions, it has always been among the most popular titles in the app stores. What you may not know is that an Iranian company produced an AR version of Angry Birds back in 2012! It was said to make it appear as if the game were happening in 3D right in the room you’re standing in, which pretty much describes the point of AR as we now know it. We’re not suggesting this particular game will now make it big, but the fact that an AR Angry Birds has basically already been demo’d makes an ARKit or ARCore adaptation seem that much more likely. It’s a matter of time before this franchise moves into the new medium (and probably becomes the most popular AR game out there).

Monument Valley

AR is largely about visual intrigue, and in that regard no mobile game has ever stood above Monument Valley. Known for mesmerizing beauty, the game also happens to match the basic format and playing style of some of the early successes in augmented reality. That is to say, it’s effectively a puzzle game with a heavy emphasis on geometry and different angles and perspectives. You need only take a glance at some of the lists of the best early AR games to see that there are already a few titles imitating this style of gaming, and doing well with it. A Monument Valley adaptation could be the best of them all, and will probably emerge at some point.

Gonzo’s Quest

This could be a particularly interesting game because it’s already something of an innovator. Known as one of the best video slots available to online and mobile players, Gonzo’s Quest has been praised for its underlying story and video content (which take the game well beyond the slot reel). As one writer put it, the game creates a better sense of engagement by giving you something to focus on. We already know that a VR version of Gonzo’s Quest is being developed, and it could make the leap to AR as well – potentially establishing a new standard for casino arcade games in the process.

High Noon

High Noon is the least likely game on this list to see a direct adaptation, but the concept of this game still seems worthy of recognition in this discussion. This was a one-on-one duel shooter that made use of a sort of form of AR. Your job was to pull your phone from a “holster” position and use your screen to locate your enemy, tapping to fire. Duels were held in real-time, but players were represented by animated characters in a cartoonish old West. It’s fairly easy to imagine a newer version of a similar game in which players are represented by their own avatars, and opponents appear as if they’re in real physical space. Such a game probably won’t be attached to High Noon, but even under a different name it would redefine AR shooters.

The Room

The Room seems poised for success for the same reasons that Monument Valley is: it’s a beautiful puzzle game with a heavy focus on angles, which pretty much suits an early formula being developed for engaging AR games. We’re singling out The Room in particular though because its developer, Fireproof Games, has actually already produced mixed reality content. The company produced Omega Agent for HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and Samsung Gear VR, stating that it wanted to stay true to the spellbinding nature of virtual reality in designing the experience. This doesn’t guarantee that The Room will get an adaptation, but it would seem to make it more likely.

Editors note: This article was a guest contribution.

Sharp Zaurus SL-5500 Linux PDA

In 2003, Sharp started making a series of PDAs under the ‘Zaurus’ name. The designs ranged from a small clamshell to a mini-tablet form factor. The SL-5000 was a development version, with the 5500 being the full release.

These units got very popular in the Linux community, because they ran a full on Linux distribution, and were easily modified. The original firmware (referred to as SharpROM) while functional, had some limitations. A new project, called OpenZaurus, was born that built a new Linux distribution specifically for these devices, coupled with an opensource graphical environment called OPIE. Later, this work was rolled into OpenEmbedded.

The SL-5500 is a full on Linux device, with enough hardware and expandability to make them really interesting to use. A built in mechanical keyboard behind a sliding cover, a good screen, CF slot for external cards, and SD card slot for storage made it a great mobile device.

Specs:

  • Running Openzaurus (linux distro) and Opie (desktop environment)
  • Screen resolution of 240×320 TFT Active Matrix display
  • 206 MHz SA-1110 StrongArm processor
  • 64meg RAM
  • Approximately 10 hour battery life

Quiet Sunday Morning at Home

There’s something pleasant about a quiet morning like this.

It’s Sunday morning. It’s rainy and cold outside, but nice and cozy inside. I can hear the water dripping on the porch and the windows… it’s soothing and relaxing. Some quiet jazz is playing on the Echo in the living room while I’m parked on the couch doing geeky things on the laptop. A nice cup of coffee sits at hand…

Nessie relaxing
We’re dogsitting this weekend, which has been going just fine. Her name is Nessie, and she’s super-low key and enjoying hanging out with us.

These times are super-special to me, and the last few weeks haven’t allowed many of them. I’m grateful I have a peaceful, safe, comfortable place I can relax and recharge.

Apple eMate 300

Back in 1997, Apple realized there was a market for computers designed specifically for classroom use. They had built much of their success on Apple II+ and IIe computers liberally distributed through schools, and, facing pressure from IBM and the ‘clone’ world, decided to leverage their moderate success with the Newton line of PDA’s.

Thus, the Apple eMate 300 was born. Building on the Newton platform, Apple took the top end configurations of the Newton Messagepad 2000 and 2100, and built a small, laptop-like device. The touchscreen remained, with the stylus, backlighting, and much of the NewtonOS, but Apple added a keyboard, rechargeable internal battery, a durable case, mounting hardware for securing the devices to desks, and some additional management tools for teachers to be able to work with roomfuls of eMates. Other changes were the addition of an internal memory expansion slot that allowed the units to be upgraded with additional RAM or customized ROM cards.

The device is quite attractive and easy to work with, light and easy to carry, and the 85% sized full stroke keyboard is comfortable to type on. As with all Newtons, it has no inherent networking support (short of Localtalk, a serial protocol used to communicate with printers and other similar devices), but does a PCMCIA socket that allows for network cards.

Specifications:

  • Screen: 480×320, 6.8″
  • Battery life: 28 hours
  • Processor: 25 MHz ARM 710a RISC processor
  • Initial cost: $799 ($1150 in modern value)
  • RAM: 1mb
  • ROM: 8mb
  • Storage: 2mb Flash

In many ways, the eMate laid the groundwork for the OLPC XO-1 computer which came out 9 years later.

Unfortunately, the eMates only lasted less than a year, when Steve Jobs cancelled the entire Newton project after Gil Amelio was fired as the CEO of Apple.

Best Amazon Echo Dot Wall Mount Ever

I have 4 Echo Dots, plus a full size Echo in the living room. Love the durned little buggers, and calling out ‘alexa!’ has become a normal part of every day life. I use it for music, news, shopping lists, and home control of lights and dimmers. I can see the days of carrying on conversations with your house getting closer and closer.

The Dots are cute, but they need to sit on a surface somewhere. That takes up space and clutter. I’d been digging around to try and find a 3d printed mount or something similar so I could mount the Dots on the wall.

This morning while cleaning up my workbench, I realized there was a very simple way of hanging the dot on the wall. A pair of 3″ framing nails later, and voila. The dot is up and off my workbench, it’s stable, the speaker is cleared enough to be heard and sounds fine, victory.

I know many people dont’ have 2×6 studs exposed everywhere, but goshdarnit, this was a quicky fix that works great.

Apple Newton Messagepad 130

The Newton was Apple’s first handheld ‘tablet’ computer. The first generation of these were the 110, 120, and 130. They were pioneers in the handheld computing realm, bringing unseen features such as full handwriting recognition and high resolution (for the time) touchscreens , with an intuitive and easy to understand interface.

The Messagepad 130 is interesting because it’s the first in the line to not only come with the vastly improved NewtonOS 2.0, but it included a backlight. The monochrome screens in all the Newtons is tricky to use in less than direct light, so this feature was a welcome addition.

Specifications:

  • Model: H0208
  • Memory: 2.5 MB
  • Storage: 8 MB ROM, 2 MB Flash (Expandable)
  • Screen: 320 × 240 monochrome , backlit
  • Introduced: March 1996

Psion Organizer II LZ

Manufactured in 1986, the Organiser II was really the first successful PDA. Psion started with the Organiser in 1984, billed as the ‘First Practical Pocket Computer’. This unit came out 2 years later and had a larger display, more RAM and a faster CPU.

One of the big innovations were ‘Datapaks’ – modules that could be plugged into the unit with either pre-loaded software or additional storage.

Specifications:

  • Dimensions: 5.6″ x 3.0″ x 1.1″
  • Weight: 8.8 oz. (without battery)
  • Display: 4 lines x 16 characters, Dot matrix LCD.
  • Keyboard: 36 keys, audible click, auto-repeat.
  • Memory: (CM) 32k ROM, 8k RAM. (XP) 32k ROM, 32k RAM.
  • Moss Storage: 2 slots for program & Datapaks.
  • Interfacing: 16-pin slot for optional peripherals.
  • Power: Standard 9 volt lang-life alkaline battery

For more information, check out oldcomputers.net page on the Psion Organiser.

Cambridge Computer Z88 Laptop Computer

The Z88 Laptop Computer was designed and developed by Clive Sinclair’s Cambridge Computer, Limited. It is a Z80 based, A4 sized computer running a 3.2MHz Z80 processor with 32k of RAM and a 64×640 LCD display. The membrane keyboard has a light touch and is quite a delight to type on.

These machines were more popular in the UK than in the US – over there the Sinclair line (ZX80, ZX81, etc) were phenomenally popular. I’d actually never seen a Z88 before, and had to do some research when I found it at the local MIT Flea market, but once I read up on it, I had to add it to the collection. This one was manufactured in 1988.

This particular one has 3 cartridges installed in the slots: some extra RAM, and 2 32k EPROM carts, one of which is labelled “PC Link” (a communications package. Looking forward to trying that out!)

Radio Shack TRS-80 PC-1 Pocket Computer

I’m super excited about adding this piece of history to the Vintage Handheld Computing Collection. When i was in high school, I had a total geek crush on these units when they were came out. Handheld, ran basic, battery powered, very nifty looking.

I acquired one back in the day (and have an interesting story about using it in a Physics exam), but haven’t had a chance to play with one since.

This one was donated by one of my coworkers. It includes the cassette interface, the original docs and boxes, and the plastic overlays that were used for ‘functions’ – basically defined keys. It’s in good physical shape, but has a bad display. I haven’t had a chance to run up the batteries and dock for it, but physically, it’s in great shape. Even came with some financial add-on software.

This particular unit is a PC-1 – the first generation of the pocket computer. They were actually made by Sharp as the PC-1211, and rebranded as the TRS-80 Pocket Computer. The PC-1 moniker was added later as the line expanded into more models.

Creating Timelapse Videos from a Synology NAS

About a year and a half ago, I bought a Synology 216+ NAS .  The primary purpose was to do photography archiving locally (before syncing them up to Amazon S3 Glacier for long term storage).  The box has been a rock solid tool, and I’ve been slowly finding other uses for it.  It’s basically a fully functional Linux box with an outstanding GUI front end on it.

One of the tools included with the NAS is called ‘Surveillance Station’, and even though it has a fairly sinister name, it’s a good tool that allows control and viewing of IP connected cameras, including recording video for later review, motion detection, and other tidbits.  The system by default allows 2 cameras free, but you can add ‘packs’ that allow more cameras (these packs are not inexpensive – to go up to 4 cameras cost $200, but given this is a pretty decent commercial video system, and the rest of the software came free with the NAS, I opted to go ahead and buy into it to get my 4 cameras online).

It just so happens, in September, 2017, we had a contractor come on site and install solar panels on several houses within our community. What I really wanted to do is use the Synology and it’s attached cameras to not only record the installation, but do a timelapse of the panel installs. Sounds cool, right?

Here’s how I did it.

The Cameras

The first thing needed obviously were cameras. They needed to be wireless, and relatively easy to configure. A year or two ago, I picked up a D-Link DCS-920L IP camera. While the camera is okay (small, compact, pretty bulletproof), I was less than thrilled with the D-Link website and other tools. They were clunky and poorly written. A little googling around told me “hey, these cameras are running an embedded OS that you can configure apart from the D-Link tools”. Sure enough, they were right. The cameras have an ethernet port on them, so plugging that into my router and powering up let me see a new Mac address on my network. http://192.168.11.xxx/ and I got an HTTP authentication page. Logging in with the ‘admin’ user, and the default password of… nothing (!), I had a wonderful screen showing me all the configuration options for the camera. I’m in!

First thing, natch, I changed the admin password (and stored it in 1Password), then I set them up to connect to my wireless network. A quick rebooot later, and I had a wireless device I could plug into any power outlet, and I’d have a remote camera. Win!

Next, these cameras needed to be added to the Synology Surveillance Station. There’s a nice simple wizard in Surveillance Station that makes the adding of IP camera pretty straighforward. There’s a pulldown that lets you select what camera type you’re using, and then other fields appear as needed. I added all of my cameras, and they came up in the grid display no problem. This is a very well designed interface that made selecting, configuring, testing, and adding the camera(s) pretty much a zero-hassle process.

If you’re planning on doing time lapses over any particular length of time, it’s a good idea to go into ‘Edit Camera’ and set the retention timeperiod to some long amount of time (I have mine set to 30 days). This’ll give you enough room to record the video necessary for the timelapse, but you won’t fill your drive with video recordings. They’ll expire out automatically.

At this point you just need to let the cameras record whatever you’ll be animating later. The Synology will make 30 minute long video files, storing them in /volume1/surveillance/(cameraname).

For the next steps, you’ll need to make sure you have ssh access to your NAS. This is configured via Control Panel -> Terminal / SNMP -> Enable ssh. DO NOT use telnet. Once that’s enabled, you should be able to ssh into the NAS from any other device on the local network, using the port number you specify (I’m using 1022).

ssh -p 1022 shevett@192.168.11.100

(If you’re using Windows, I recommend ‘putty’ – a freely downloadable ssh client application.)

Using ‘ssh’ requires some basic comfort with command line tools under linux.  I’ll try and give a basic rundown of the process here, but there are many tutorials out on the net that can help with basic shell operations.

Putting It All Together

Lets assume you’ve had camera DCS-930LB running for a week now, and you’d like to make a timelapse of the videos produced there.

  1. ssh into the NAS as above
  2. Locate the directory of the recordings.  For a camera named ‘DCS-930LB’, the directory will be /volume1/surveillance/DCS-930LB
  3. Within this directory, you’ll see subdirectories with the AM and PM recordings, formatted with a datestamp.  For the morning recordings for August 28th, 2017 ,the full directory path will be /volume1/surveillance/DCS-930LB/20170828AM/.  The files within that directory will be datestamped with the date, the camera name, and what time they were opened for saving:
  4. Next we’ll need to create a file that has all the filenames for this camera that we want to time.   A simple command to do this would be:
    find /volume1/surveillance/DCS-930LB/ -type f -name '*201708*' > /tmp/files.txt

    This gives us a file in the tmp directory called ‘files.txt’ which is a list of all the mp4 files from the camera that we want to timelapse together.

  5. It’s a good idea to look at this file and make sure you have the list you want. Type
    pico /tmp/files.txt

    to open the file in an editor and check out out.  This is a great way to review the range of times and dates that will be used to generate the timelapse.  Feel free to modify the filename list to list the range of dates and times you want to use for the source of your video.

  6. Create a working directory.  This will hold your ‘interim’ video files, as well as the scripts and files we’ll be using
    cd 
    mkdir timelapse
    cd timelapse
  7. Create a script file, say, ‘process.sh’ using pico, and put the following lines into it.  This script will do the timelapse proceessing itself, taking the input files from the list creatived above, and shortening them down to individual ‘timelapsed’ mp4 files. The ‘setpts’ value defines how many frames will be dropped when the video is compressed. A factor of .25 will take every 4th frame. A factor of .001 will take every thousandth frame, compressing 8 hours of video down to about 8 seconds.
    #!/bin/bash
    
    counter=0;
    for i in `cat /tmp/files.txt`
    do
        ffmpeg -i $i -r 16 -filter:v "setpts=0.001*PTS" ${counter}.mp4
        counter=$((counter + 1))
    done
  8. Okay, now it’s time to compress the video down into timelapsed short clips.  Run the above script via the command ‘. ./process.sh’.  This will take a while.  Each half hour video file is xxx meg, and we need to process that down.  Expect about a minute per file, if you have a days worth of files, that’s 24 minutes of processing.
  9. When done, you’ll have a directory full of numbered files:
    $ ls
    1.mp4
    2.mp4
    3.mp4
  10. These files are the shortened half hour videos.  The next thing we need to do is ‘stitch’ these together into a single video.  ffmpeg can do this, but it needs a file describing what to load in.  To create that file, run the following command:

    ls *.mp4|sort -n| sed -e "s/^\(.*\)$/file '\1'/" > final.txt
  11. Now it’s time to assemble the final mp4 file.  The ‘final.txt’ file contains a list of all the components, all we have to do is connect them up into one big mp4.
    ffmpeg -f concat -safe 0 -i final.txt -c copy output.mp4
  12. The resulting ‘output.mp4’ is your finalized video.   If you’re working in a directory you can see from the Synology desktop, you can now play the video right from the web interface.  Just right click on it, and select ‘play’.

Here’s two of the three timelapses I did, using a remote camera in my neighbors house.  Considering the low quality of the camera, it came out okay…

This entire tutorial is the result of a lot of experimentation and tinkering.  There are holes, though.  For instance, I’d like to be able to set text labels on the videos showing the datestamp, but the ffmpeg that’s compiled on the NAS doesn’t have the text extension built into it.

Let me know if you have any suggestions / improvements / success stories!

Toshiba Libretto 110CT

When I was working at in the IT Department at Wildfire Communications, the number one toy the execs and managers wanted was  the Toshiba Libretto ‘palmtop’ computer. They ran Windows 95, were compact and functional (for the time), and made great conversation / showoff pieces. I had to have one for my collection.

I’ve let people know I was collecting vintage handheld computers, suddenly everyone wanted to donate! I quickly put together the collection home page and made the wishlist known. Lo, a friend I know from Arisia said “I have a Libretto that’s just lying around. Want it?” – Heck yeah!

This weekend, it arrived via a somewhat circuitous route, and lo, it is a 110CT – a slightly later model than the ones I worked on (which were 50CT and 70CT’s), but still the same form factor and awesome design. One of the niftiest is the integrated touch-mouse on the right side of the screen.  The mouse buttons are actually on the lid, so you move the mouse with your thumb, and grip the buttons on the reverse side.

This one appears to have a screen problem that won’t let it show video properly, but I’m excited to have it in the collection. Thanks Ben!

For the curious, here’s the specs on the 110CT:

  • Manufacture date: 1998
  • Pentium 233MMX CPU
  • 32meg RAM (!!)
  • 4.3GB HD
  • 7.1″ 800×480 display
  • Came with Windows 98 or Windows NT

UPDATE 10/3 – Blank screen on startup / video problem solved

I finally googled around long enough to find the problem.  The Libretto shows an absolutely blank screen until any boot device is ready.  I noted that if I held down F12 on startup, I’d get the BIOS update screen, so the screen worked, the problem was elsewhere.  While on the BIOS screen, I heard a very light noise – and realized it was the HD trying to spin up, but failing.  This is not an uncommon problem in older computers.  The drives get ‘stuck’ and can’t spin up after sitting for a while.  Sometimes referred to ‘stiction’.

There’s only one cure for stiction.  A vigorous shake of the computer, or… yes, I really did this, rap the laptop on the table a few times.  For a book-sized computer, this was easy.  A few taps, and I heard the hard drive happily spin up, and lo! A windows 98 screen appeared!  We’re in business!

Handheld Retrocomputing Collection and Display

Okay, so everyone loves retrocomputing stuff.  Looking at a piece of equipment or an item and going “Gosh I remember using one of those ${back_in_some_day}.” Well, I finally decided to formalize my collection a bit, and set some goals for myself.

I’ve decided to focus on handheld computing devices that had a significant impact on the industry, or I have a special emotional connection with.  Handhelds in particularly are attractive because, well, I don’t have a lot of space.  So while I’m sorely tempted to collect Apple II’s, old CP/M machines, and DEC minicomputers, living in an 800sq ft townhouse makes that a practical impossibility.

So I’ve focused on handhelds.

It became quickly apparent that I’d need a place to store and display them.  My partner had a glass fronted wooden display case that was a good starting place.  It had a storage space underneath it for boxes and cables, and nice glass windows on the front.  I had some custom glass shelves made to replace the wooden interior shelving, and installed some LED lighting across the top.  With everything done, I was able to put all the things I had (so far!) into it, and it doesn’t look too bad!. (Here’s what it looks like with the doors closed.)

Many of these were items I already owned, but I’ve fleshed things out a bit with finds from eBay and other auction sites.  So far, here’s what I have.  All items work, and have functional batteries, except where noted.

  • Apple Newton Messagepad 2000.  (1995)
  • Palm Zire M150 (2002)
  • Atari Lynx (1989)
  • Palm Treo 750 (Sprint) (2006)
  • PalmPilot (1996)
  • Compaq IPAQ (2000)
  • Sharp Zaurus 5500 (2002)
  • Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100 (1983)

I hope to expand the collection going forward.  Here’s my current wishlist:

  • Atari Portfolio (first palmtop computer running DOS!)
  • Newton Messagepad 2100 (the best of the breed, and the equivelent of the unit I used to have)
  • Apple eMate 300 (This is pushing the bounds of a ‘handheld’, but they’re amazingly cool devices regardless)
  • Toshiba Libretto (I used these when i worked at Wildfire, and remember them fondly)
  • IBM Simon – This was the first real ‘smartphone’.  I used one for a while, and ended up either giving it away or selling it.  They’re scary rare now, I’m kicking myself for tossing it.

If I do end up getting these things, I may need to expand my cabinet.  But right now, I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got.

Update: I now have a page specifically for the collection.

A Weekend in Salem

The last couple weeks has been pretty stressy and work-focused, so Mariama and I decided to take a weekend off and go visiting someplace new.  We’re trying to expand our destinations a bit and avoid the trap of “lets go someplace comfortable and known…” – we hope to travel abroad in the future, and always going back to places you know isn’t gonna mesh too well when we’re travelling in new countries and strange places.

So this weekend we settled on visiting Salem, MA – I’d been here once a long time ago (we’re talking 15+ years, while managing a toddler), but really hadn’t looked around much.  This time we planned on exploring, biking, and walking as much as time allowed.

Because I booked things so late, our options for hotel stays wasn’t that wide, but I ended up booking a room with the Salem Inn, right in the middle of town.  We ended up in one of their ‘satellite’ houses, about a block away, called Curwen House.  Think early 1800’s colonial manor house and you’re not far off.  It was well apportioned, comfortable, and had free breakfasts each day (which was really good).  My only gripe was the air conditioning was stuck on HIGH all weekend, so we were a bit chilled.

Friday night we walked around town a little – we seem to be in mid/off season.  It wasn’t crowded, but it wasn’t dead.  It was cool without being chilly.  Pretty much perfect timing for exploring.

Saturday we got up early, had breakfast, and biked out to Marblehead.  This was our first ‘long’ ride in quite a while – things just have gotten in the way, and we haven’t been on the bikes nearly enough.  We rode about 9 miles total, out to marblehead, then down to the beach (Hello ocean!), and back to town.  We got back good and tired, but rather than fall into bed, we decided to go get a lateish lunch.  A really good restaurant called Bonchon was our destination (think upscale Korean fried chicken), which was delightful.  We were sort of energized after lunch, so decided to do more foot exploring.  Originally we had hoped to visit the Peabody Essex Museum (which had a series of exhibits that sounded great.  Ocean Liners, Movie Monsters, and some other nifty things going on), but the weather was so nice, and there were so many ‘little’ places we wanted to see, we decided to just walk and explore.

Saturday night we were initially going to go a very nice italian restaurant, but ended up at a place called Bambolina (which we found on Yelp).  It was wonderful!  This is absolutely not your neighborhood pizza joint.  We had fantastic appetizers and a hand made pizza (which was made right in front of us) that was outstanding.  Highly recommended!

Salem is an interesting town.  Naturally, it’s best known for the whole witch thing, and it’s hard to get away from it.  It’s the source of 90% of their tourist industry I suspect.  But the town isn’t particularly ‘high brow’ as many Massachusetts coastal towns are.  There’s definitely money to be found (particulary out on the coast near Marblehead and Swampscott), but a good portion of the town is fairly middle class.  It was interesting going from the touristy strip on Essex street and after a block passing homeless folks and loud Irish bars, then jumping right into restored 19th century homes.

Some takeaways…

  • This is a great place to visit that’s not far away from home (about an hour and 15 minutes) to get away for a weekend.
  • The restaurant scene is remarkably good.  Even though we only stopped in 2 places for meals, I could see spending time figuring out all the nifty places in the town.
  • The Salem waterfront is a big bay, so there’s not a lot of feel of ‘being on the ocean’ unless you go north or south a bit on the shore.  Having said that, there’s a huge marina and maritime museum right in town.
  • If you have an interest in early-mid 1800’s history, this is the place to be  The place is drenched in it.  Buildings, families, stories, monuments – they’re all here.

Will we come back?  I think so, yes.  As I said, it’s not far away, and with a little juggling, I think we could find lodging that’s comfortable and not very expensive.  Everything is within walking distance, and biking is very easy and gives you access to a lot of the area.