July 27, 2012
In last weeks blog we saw an awful lot about the Amiga, well I’m happy to reveal today’s blog is a continuation of the same theme. For the past week I have dragged the A3000 out from mothballs for a shake down and setup. After attending the last meeting of the Lincolnshire Amiga Group, I’d spent the best part of that event installing Workbench 3.9, MUI and MiamiDX. All in preparation for getting the A3k online. However as with anything, life got in the way and the A3k was put on a back burner until i had the time to work on it some more. Over the past year since receiving the A3000, I’ve upgraded the fast ram to 16mb and also installed a Zorro II Picasso II video card and X-surf network card . A lot of upgrades for a little computer. My intention was to make the A3000 a useful desktop computer. Which all these upgrades have gone a long way to fulfilling.
Over the past week, I have discovered the A3000’s stock 030/25mhz CPU is sadly holding the system back, even drawing the icon’s in Workbench is a slow process to witness. No where near as snappy as my A1200 /030 or my A1200T with it’s Blizzard 060/50. Something has to be done, which is why I’m hoping in the next few weeks to have an A3640 CPU board installed in the A3000. Before some of you start nodding your heads and saying what a great idea. This excellent plan does have one slight niggle. You may recall earlier when I mentioned the memory upgrade. This upgrade happens to goes pretty much where the CPU card needs to be installed. Which means, I can either have 16mb of ram or an 040 processor.
Unless that is, I can come up with a solution. Amigakit do happen to sell a ram Zorro II board with 128mb of ram. The down side is that like any new Amiga hardware, it’s rather pricey at £75!
I’ll be sure to post back more about this as it develops
In other news, the BBC micro has sadly developed a fault, which could be a faulty ram module. Sadly determining exactly was is wrong and fixing it, is proving extremely difficult. The BBC might be a simple computer by today’s standards, however the microchips and circuits which make up the workings of the computer are still complex when it comes to understanding faults when they occur. At least the fault should be repairable, which is certainly more then one could do if a modern computer developed the same symptoms. Modern computers are repairable only on the most limited scale, promoting a more remove and replace policy. If the BBC proves to costly to repair, the A3000 will most likely replace it as the ByteMyVDU workhorse. Which is providing today’s blog as it happens, using Final Copy. It has to be said typing with FC is certainly a lot easier then using Wordwise on the BBC. One thing I did find difficult on the BBC was typing, the keyboard is laid out differently to a normal Amiga or PC keyboard and takes a moment to adjust to. In last weeks blog I typed the blog out on the Nomad via an Amiga Emulator. Strangely enough the overall display and experience isn’t that different. However unlike the Nomad, getting blogs online is a little easier via its internet connection, without the need for ADF’s or ADF extraction software.
Amiga Emulators are great, the serve a purpose. If you want the true Amiga experience, get yourself an Amiga. They can be picked up for as little as £5-10 and are worth every penny for a trip to nostalgia land.
Emulation my dear Watson!
So for the past couple of days I’ve been playing with the Nomad. Firstly fixing the silly fault with the system failing to boot after the power has been disconnected. With the new CMOS reset switch installed, I can use the little retro computer without having to worry about it not booting every morning.
Now that it’s working, I’ve been looking at ways to retro the little machine. While Lubuntu does look very basic, one of the reasons I built the Nomad was so I could run old software and return to that old vintage computer feel. Finding a version of UAE (Universal Amiga Emulator)for Lubuntu was a stroke of luck and that it actually worked was fantastic. Truth be told it did take me a night of fiddling to get it running correctly.
So now, I’m using Textcraft 1.0 for the Amiga A500, to write this blog! How cool is that? The overall experience is pretty weird. It looks like an Amiga on the screen and performance wise, it’s acting like an A500+. Which coincidently is what it’s set to emulate. Expect to see more applications popping up as I play around with UAE. Having the entire back catalog of Amiga software available on the Nomad is pretty fantastic. It’s a pity that unlike other emulators, UAE does not give you much input / output options. It would have been nice to have some form of ADF explorer built in to the program. Luckily the is a program called “unadf” which is a terminal program for Linux, allowing you to unpack ADF files. Which made it possible for me to get to the text file I had written in Textcraft.
While it might seem like a chore, it’s pretty straight forward and no where near as complicated as retrieving my blogs from the BBC Model B.
Finally after many months of promising, I finally got round to testing the Retrobrite. My test subject, a rather yellowed A500+. I did say this was an Amiga themed week didn’t I? 😛 Results so far have not been mind blowing, to the contrary I think I must be doing it wrong. As the only thing to happen so far, is some white patches on the A500+ top casing. I’m not certain if this is the “Blooming” effect mentioned on the retrobrite wiki or simply that my mixture is not bleaching the plastic properly.
The plastics are currently undergoing their third coat of retrobrite. I can’t do anymore after this as I’ve run out of peroxide. If it doesn’t work, I might consider using a different thickening agent, as opposed to wall paper paste. I might also try a different UV bulb.
Watch this space!
Ever since I completed work on the tiny retro system, it has displayed a peculiar habit of not booting after being disconnected from the mains for any length of time. At first I attributed this to the CMOS battery, but after swapping the battery three times. I had to conclude something else was a foot.
After consulting with various friends who hold a better grasp of electronics. I came up with a theory, which some agree with and others are less convinced about.
The LED PCB which I salvaged from a cycle light, is what drives the LED array on the front panel. Designed to run from 3xAAA batteries. I couldn’t help think the LED’s where some how continuing to draw power after the system was shut down. The only remaining source being the 3v CMOS battery.
Because the the regulator I built to drop the 5v feed to 2.88v is very simple. I can’t help but speculate that nothing is preventing the LED’s from continuing to draw power. Imagine a torch if you will, when switched on, the bulb will continue to illuminate until the source of power (batteries) has been depleted.
When the Nomad is told to shut down, the system does so. However the LED PCB is independent of the motherboard, in all but drawing power from a molex power connector. So the circuit is essentially open, just the power has been cut, so the lights go out.
As I said before, this is a working theory, which could be wrong and the motherboard itself could be to blame. So in an effort to fix the problem, I have rigged a CMOS jumper reset switch on the rear of the case.
Now when ever the system fails to boot, I no longer have to remove the lid to access the CMOS Reset jumper. I simply press the button on the rear. Now why dont they fit this to modern computers! 😛
When I heard the Magna center in Sheffield was holding ‘Games Britannia: Replayed’ I knew it was going to be something special. Arriving a little before 3pm on the Saturday, I walked in to the main hall and was instantly at home.
In one corner was a collection of BBC’s micro’s mostly model B’s from what i could make out. I later discover they had been used for a Beeb class room, teaching school children to program. Mix amongst the Beebs a crowd was now gathered, it didn’t take long to discovered why. In the center of the crowd was Eben Upton and his wife Liz speaking about the Raspberry Pi. Both of whom I later found to be very approachable and pleasent.
Pitched as the modern day Beeb, the Raspberry Pi is well worth taking note of. Standing to put you back £25, this all in one computer is powerful enough to surf the net, watch movies, do school work, play games and even use as a tv multimedia center like an AppleTV. If you hadn’t guessed by now, the Pi is a pretty versatile computer. Especially when you take in to consideration its size, 85.60mm x 53.98mm x 17mm. Not much bigger then a mobile phone.
Being introduced to the Upton’s by a friend of mine, who also happens to be the guy behind the Raspberry Pi logo. I have to confess I did not know until later, who I was being introduced to. Both where warm and happy to chat. It was interesting to hear the various questions people had been asking them about the Pi. Such as “How do I hook it up?”
Questions like these to me, highlight a growing ignorance some people suffer when it comes to technology. Beginning with OSX, Apple computers have become one of the least complicated systems to operate. The user has to carry out only the most minimal of maintanence. In order to keep the computer running properly. The majority of the work being carried out in the background by the computer.
Could it be that this aim to improve productivity and reduce how hands on the user is with their computers up keep. Has led to a generation of people, who think using a computer is as complicated as operating their DVD player. If we rewind to the beginning of the 80’s. People where buying the newly released Sinclair ZX Spectrum in kit form, as a means to keep costs down. With an instruction manual and soldering iron, they would spend weekends building their newly aquired computers. Today this sort of activity is unheard of, which in my opinion is a pity. Speaking from experience, there’s a lot to be said for building a computer system from scratch.
I can honestly say I have never been surrounded by so many consoles. The sheer number and variety was overwhelming. NES, Snes, Saturn, Dreamcast, VCS, A500, CD32, C64, C128, Spectrum, yes there was A LOT! My first console to try was an old Vectrex, this iconic console still has a strong following even today. Having seen how much these babies sell for online, I was amazed it was simply sitting there in a dark corner, silently inviting passers by to play with its bright vector graphics.
You can read about consoles all you like, but nothing beats sitting in front of that vivid screen and using the antiquated controllers to blast incoming missiles, as the hail down to flatten your cities. The Vectrex was everything I had read it to be and then some. For an old console, I was quite content to let the show pass me by, while I blasted away with my missile defense system.
I was truly in heaven, however don’t be fooled. It was not all seen through roses tinted glasses. Indeed several of the consoles I tried, sported very unique spins on the common joystick. Something we all take for granted, but which took money, time and research to evolve in to what it is today. It strikes me as no surprise that the VCS 2600 was so popular. The single button, 8 axis controller was simple to use and easy to operate. Unlike several controllers I attempted to game with while at the event. I found Donkey Kong on the CBS ColecoVision to be something of a challenge to play at first, compared to the copy I have on my VCS 2600, which is a doddle to play.
Back in the fledgling years of the gaming industry, everyone was scrambling to get their units in to families homes. Be that with addictive software titles, impressive graphics or down to earth cheapness! A strategy which was used by many at the time and still employed today. This battle for a piece of the action, led companies to try all manner of tactics to lure in buyers. One of which was the joystick, incorporating multiple function buttons in to the base, must have seemed like a one up, from the humble Atari joystick. However most of these offerings, sufferers from being chunky or awkward to operate. In the end, the dear old 2600 joystick would out lived them all.
Settling and old score
Back in the mid 80’s my parents picked me up a Texas TI-99 at a jumble sale. It was the first computer I’d ever owned. Sadly it hadn’t come with any software, which eventually led to it being shoved in a closet. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to play on a working example of the TI-99, just to see what I was missing out on. Many a night had I spent messing on my second hand computer with no games, it wasn’t because I was sad or desperate for a computer, only a year later I found myself with a shiny new C64. The TI-99 with its black keyboard and shiny metal case was a thing of wonder to my 8 year old eyes. Opening the door to a whole new exciting world. Playing on my best friends Spectrum +2, I had seen what computers where capable off and I wanted in.
Playing Parsec on the TI-99 was a dream come true and I truly had a blast playing on it. Having read about Parsec in a issue of Retrogamer, I was pleased to find it was everything I had read. The unit I played on was fitted with the add-on voice synthesizer, which comes in to its own when playing Parsec, giving you a female voice reporting the next wave of enemy ships. It was truly unusual to hear such a human sounding voice, emanating from an 8 bit computer. The TI-99 maybe have to be added to my wishlist of old computers.
Meeting an old friend
Wandering the main hall, what did I come across next, but an Amiga 1200, which someone had left trying to load ‘The NewZealand Story’. An A500 game on a A1200, oh dear, oh dear. By sheer coincidance, I know from first hand experience, that this game does not favour some A1200’s running 3.1 rom’s. Even with relokick, it freezes during the loading process. Whom ever had left the A1200 loading, must have been unaware of this.
As I sat there, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the irony of coming to Replayed, have dozens of machines to choose from and sit in front of yet another Amiga. As it happened, my choice of location could not have been better. When a young couple stopped to admire the Amiga and ask me if NewZealand story was working. Being in my element, I explained what was wrong. Which then led them to ask if I was working at the event, I said no and went on to explain my history with Amiga computers and the Lincolnshire Amiga group. As it turned out, the woman’s father had introduced her to Amiga’s at an early age and NewZealand story was her favourite game. Which made the taunting disfunctional copy on the A1200 a real pity. Informing her of Amiga Forever, an Amiga emulator you can run on a modern computer. I pointed out that getting to play her favourite childhood games wasn’t beyond possibility.
Shareware…erm Indie Games!
During my roam around the hall, I found a stall showing off indie games. The two games I tried where of a surprisingly good standard for homebrew games. While support extends for only Windows at present. The rep promised they where working on supporting both Mac and Linux platforms. Paying for software on Linux perhaps goes against the Linux open source ethos. So its to be seen how this takes off.
I’ll end now with photos from the event.
Recently I bought an Atari Lynx II on Ebay. Listed as not working, I took a gamble at the chance of being able to repair it. So it’s not suprising how chuffed I was when it arrived and turned out to be working.
Sadly however this was to be sort lived. Lasting only a week the Lynx gave up the will to live. After a little researching online and also a prodding around inside the console. I concluded a MOSFET inside the Lynx was responsible. This particular MOSFET is renowned for blowing. At present there are only two Atari Lynx repair video’s on Youtube, covering this problem. That i know of, at the moment.
Having bought a replacement part, I tried repairing the Lynx. Sadly without success. It’s a real shame to be sure as I was really enjoying owning one of these handheld console finally. As i now own two games and a rechargable power pack for the Lynx. I shall be looking for a replacement, while at the same time. Seeking a means of repairing the currently dead unit. Sadly there doesn’t seem to be anyone refurbishing these devices, unlike the Game Gear.
So watch this space,