Psion II LZ Repair

 

Psion_Organiser2_System_2

I thought I would post this sooner than later, as this is something I’m presently working on.

For those who might not be familiar, the Psion II was an early form of pocket organiser produced and sold by the British firm Psion. During its lifespan the organiser went through several versions. Beginning with the CM, a very basic unit with just 8kb of memory and ending with the top end LZ64, which has a 20 column 4 row display as well as whopping 64kb ram.

As part of an ongoing series of pocket computer reviews I’m writing, I have covered several models of the Psion II. Sadly the LZ64 suffers from a persistent and quite irritating whistle, which I believe comes from aging capacitor.

Today I removed all but two of the nine electrolytic caps inside my LZ in a bid to rid my unit of the blasted whistling. Here you will find some info on the capacitors I removed and their location on the PCB. If you own an LZ or LZ64, this information should be useful. As always the same rules apply, you repair your own gear at your own risk. If you set your shirt sleeve on fire, pour hot coffee on the cat or fall out with the postman, you can’t blame me! I’m simply providing this information as is. Hopefully it will result in a silent LZ, except for the for the odd beep and click of course!

insideorg

Fig.1 A single screw holds the top PCB in place

After you’ve removed the screws and popped open your Organiser, you’ll find the motherboard screwed to the front half of the case. Laying the device face down, unscrew the top board which is held in place by a single screw (see fig1).

The main logic board is still connected to the keyboard via a ribbon cable just behind the pins for the ROM slots. This cable is pretty stiff and will take some gentle persuasion so as to bend the logic board up enough to remove the screws holding the keyboard PCB to the front case.

Once you have the boards removed turn them over so you can view the logical board the right way up. Remember to handle the two PCB’s with care, after all they are 30 years old and tend to be delicate.

insidepsion

You should now see something similar to fig.2. Note the already exposed pins below the cluster of caps, this is because one of the 25v 10uF capacitors has already been removed from the board.

Using an already warm soldering iron, I removed each cap, recording their values as I went along.

Of the seven radial electrolytic caps, the LZ has;

5x 25v 10uF
1x 50v 1.0uF
1x 6.3v 100uF

For now I’m leaving the two large axial caps in situ, as I want to try the LX with radial caps replaced but the axial caps remaining. If the whistling persists this might indicate which caps are the culprit.

Until the new caps arrive there isn’t much more I can do, so I shall leave you with this pretty diagram, which shows the values and orientation of each cap.

-Keep on geeking!

cap_layout

 

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Palmtop and Palm PCs Part One

hp200lx

image courtesy of http://www.200lx.net

Whether you owned one or lusted after them on the shelves at Tandy or Dixons, during the late 80s and throughout the 90s, the personal assistant (or PDA) reigned supreme to anyone after a portable computer but not wanting spend the hefty price tag of much larger, more powerful laptops. Covering the history of these devices would cover more than a fair few articles alone and is a little beyond the scope of what we are going to do today.

Last year I was lent a Hewlett Packard 200LX by my friend Darren, who thought I might get a kick out of using this tiny DOS compatible palmtop. As it happens, he was right. Playing around with the 200LX has been interesting to say the least, even leading to the purchase of a Psion 3a for my own personal use.

The HP boasts a chiclet keyboard similar to those found on calculators and industrial equipment and features many of the same functions found on modern keyboards today, such as functions keys and a numerical keypad for quick data entry.

While using the HP, I have to admit I’ve held something of a love/hate relationship for the keyboard. In the beginning I struggled to type on it with any proficiency, often mashing the keys with my apparently podgy fingers. Only by the second week did things begin to change and suddenly I found myself typing with relative ease. I’d still occasionally catch the wrong key but overall I could turn out text at an acceptable pace. I wouldn’t say the 200LX is the best device for writing, blogging or any decent jaunt of typing for that matter. As a note taker it isn’t half bad, but to be honest there are better options available, but we’ll get in to that later.

The QWERTY keypad takes up roughly a third of the physical width of the device with a numerical pad occupying the remainder. What you’re left with feels awkward and slightly squashed to use. I can’t help thinking this might have been avoided had the designers simply used a full size keyboard, assigning the number pad down the right side, accessible via an FN key, a feature that was not unheard of in the late 80s and which is still used by laptop manufacturers today.

HP200LX_SG70200118

image courtesy of www. keesvandersanden.nl

Setting aside my issues with the keyboard, the 200LX is actually a very capable portable PC or as it was known back then, IBM compatible. Written in gold above the screen is reads “Palmtop PC-2MB RAM”, that isn’t a gimmick or HP trying to use some fancy words to make the 200LX sound better than it is. The 200LX is as much a PC as any IBM XT, running DOS 5.0 on an 80186 compatible HP Hornet CPU. You can run a variety of DOS programs ranging from early DOS versions of Microsoft Word & Wordstar, extending even to a few old CGA games. Just don’t go expecting Wolfenstein or Doom, as I honestly struggled to get much more thank Zork to work for me. Sadly the display on the 200LX doesn’t lend itself well to fast moving graphics, ultimately suffering with motion sickness inducing screen blur. That being said, it doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun with the tiny computer, just so long as you work towards the machines strengths and not its weaknesses.

It’s due to DOS support that the 200LX, as well as the 95LX and 100LX are still popular today. Should you happen to own industrial equipment such as a CNC machines that uses DOS specific software to input data. A HP Palmtop might offer a compact, inexpensive means of communicating with your machines without the need of a bulky desktop computer or laptop. In addition both the 100LX & 200LX are capable of reading from compact flash adapters through their PCMCIA ports, making it easy to transfer files to and from the device without need of the data cable.

The 200LX also comes equipped with an IR port, offering the latest in 90s wireless data transfer. By today’s standards the baud rate is lacklustre and you’ll be hard pressed to find much to interface it with. There were some compact infra red printers manufactured back in the day, which I believe will link up to the 200LX.

Overall the 200LX has some good points about it, which include

-Decent Display
-Long Battery Life on 2xAA batteries
-Built in DOS 5.0
-PCMCIA port
-Rugged design

Software

The 200LX comes packed with an impressive list of built-in applications;

  • Appointment Book
  • Application Manager
  • Database
  • Filer
  • HP Financial Calculator
  • Lotus 1-2-3 release 2.4
  • Memo Editor
  • Notetaker
  • Pocket Quicken
  • Phone Book
  • World Time and Stopwatch

All of which does not include any software you can choose to load from compact flash. Aside from all the available DOS software you can run, there is also a library of HP specific titles to install. Once loaded in to the memory of the 200LX, there it will remain until such time as it is deleted or the device is reset. Access to a limitless DOS library obviously has its advantages, which makes the Palmtop such an appeal device.

Taking all that in to account you could be forgiven for overlooking some of the devices other failings. Were you looking to buy one today, the 200LX still retains a relatively high asking price as a bit of collectable retro kit, valued anywhere between £50-£140.

Personally I’d find it hard to justify paying more than £60 for one of these devices, as great as they are, there are better examples of pocket sized computing. In fact while I was writing this article I discovered they addressed my issues with the keyboard in a later model, doing pretty much what I had suggested. Other companies such as Atari, Amstrad, Psion, Sharp had devices which rivalled the HP Palmtop PC. While some were less compact than others, each took a stab at offering portable computer for users on the go. Only a few however offered you an IBM compatible computer that fit in your inside coat pocket, fewer still did it as well as HP had with the 95LX and later models.

Stay tuned for the next part of the article, when I take a look at another pocket portable, the Psion Series 3.

Keep on geeking

 

 


Aint Afraid of No Ghost!

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Wishing Everyone a Happy Halloween!

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And of course so 8bit to get you in the mood!

 


Back for 2017

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Hello dear reader! Did you miss us?

BMV is back for another year and I have a lot of fun articles I’d like to cover and maybe we can fit in a few interviews this year from people active in the community. I’m sorry the blog has been a bit quiet but I was away busily tinkering, working on my Atari Lynx video conversion, making an AmigaPi 1200 and several more USB tank mice for friends who wouldn’t stop pestering me for one after seeing the one I’d built I’ve also been playing with a Powerbook 180 and discovering the pitfalls of LCD tunnelling which the entire 100 series seems to suffer from.

Blasting away from 2016 is my Picade build which I finished just before Christmas, now in 2017 I put the finishing touches to the cabinet with some retro electric 80s art. Keep your eyes peeled as I’ll be offering up free cabinet decal art for anyone looking to deck out their Picade in proper 80s style!


Making a Classic USB Amiga Mouse

 

mouse2

-This hack requires a dremmel with cutting and sanding attachments. Always wear goggles and ask an adult for help if your still in school. Please safety first, I take no responsibility for injury or loss of bladder control if you undertake this guide.

Not so long ago I posted an article on converting a broken Amiga Joystick into a working USB controller. In todays blog, I’m going to cover converting an old Amiga tank mouse in to a USB device. Before any of my fellow Amigans start shouting at me for desecrating a piece of retro tech, I’d like to state the mouse was pooched, the internal micro switches had clicked their last. Sure I could have repaired the switches, but I wanted an Amiga mouse for my AmigaPi and I doubt the world will miss one less yellow A500 mouse.

The first thing you’ll need is a broken mouse, please don’t bust up a working mouse, that’s just wrong and a waste of a good device. Next you’ll need to find a donor USB mouse, preferably something small, compact and simple in design. Essentially you’re looking for a budget mouse, the sort you might find in a 99p store. Below is a photo of the mouse I used, don’t worry if it has an internal LED, we can easily snip that out. Next we’ll need a beige USB cable, pick a length that suits your needs preferably something that will connect to the computer and leave enough room for the mouse to sit comfortable on your desk. If you’re still unsure, go for a 1m or 1.5m length cable as you can always trim it down to suit your needs.

We now have the essentials for making an Amiga USB mouse. Unfortunately I can’t walk you through the whole process, as it all hinges on the USB mouse you bought for the conversion. Initially you need to take both mice apart, and remove the electronics from the Amiga mouse. The only parts of the tank mouse you need are the main shell and the flexible plastic sheath around the mouse cord. The best way I’ve found to remove it, is by cutting along the under side with a sharp blade and pulling the cord out through the cut.

Let us turn our attention to the USB mouse, with the lid off you should have a good view of the PCB. The first thing you need to do is check the pinout of the cable because soon you’ll be removing it. To do this, you’ll need a multi-meter so you can perform a signal test on the each wire going from the connection point on the PCB to the pin inside the connector on the other end of the lead. I find it best to draw a simple diagram of the USB cable with the connector and the four pins laid out. I then jot down the corresponding colour wire for each pin.

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A rough sketch can save a lot of time

 

Usually this is red, black, green, white, but not all cables are the same so been warned. Once you know the colours and where they go, you need to cut the cable leaving roughly 2” inches coming from the PCB as we’ll be using the remaining wires to patch in the new cable, matching red to red, black to black etc. However if you wish to you can completely remove the old cable by de-soldering it from the PCB and solder your new cable directly to the board. This makes for a neat and tidy finish, but it can prove a challenge depending on your soldering skills. So if in doubt, stick to my suggested route and leave some of the old wire in place. This way it will be easy to match up all those colour wires.

Assuming you are happy with the length of your new cable, trim back the outer sleeve and expose the four inner wires. You should have something like red, white, black and green, if your cable came from China you might find you have blue or even an orange in place of one of the standard colours. Not to worry, just check with your meter and make sure you know which pin the wire goes to. Hopefully if you’re really lucky it will match the wires on the mouse, otherwise you might end up with green as white or red as green. Again jot down the colours on your diagram, matching them up to the respective pins. Usually white and black are voltage, green and red are data. But never take anything for granted, always check!

Once you have the mouse rewired, hook it up to your computer and confirm its working. If nothing happens, check your pin out again.

The chances are your mouse came with a scroll wheel and depending on your skill level, you can either remove this with a hot air gun or use tin snips to remove the parts holding the wheel in place. Just be mindful that you don’t damage the traces on the underside of the PCB. A little wiggling is fine just try not to tear the components right off the board as that would be very bad. Assuming the scroll wheel is now removed, hook the mouse up to a computer and check that it’s still works. Hopefully it does, if not, check you haven’t broken and traces. I’ve make two Amiga mice so far and neither had an issue when the wheel was removed.
If you mouse came with a silly blue or red internal LED (note not the optical sensor!) You can snip it off, as the tank mouse doesn’t need lighting up internally. Your optic sensor does use a red led which is directed into a lens,  don’t under any circumstances mess with it!
Here comes possibly the hardest part of the hack, inserting the new PCB into the tank mouse. Initially it won’t fit, for a start the optics will sit to high off the ground to be any good. So you’ll need a Dremmel to cut and sand the inside of the tank mouse, removing any lugs or protruding bits of plastic that are in the way. I’ve included a

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Use a Dremmel to gut the inside of the mouse case.

photo to give you an idea of what it should look like, on both the mice I modded I had to superglue the cover ball cover in place. Depending on the donor mouse, the PCB might be too large for the inside of the Amiga mouse housing. If this happens you will need to trim the PCB with you Dremmel and a cutting disc. Regretfully I can’t walk you through this part as designs differ from one device to another. Usually trimming the board breaks the ground plane, you’ll need to do a little trace work with some wire to get things reconnected. Either way, you’ll have to get creative or find a friend to help you. Alternatively find yourself a donor mouse with a small PCB.
When your happy with the bottom half of the tank mouse, use a bit of blue tack and press the pcb down temporarily so that is sits inside the housing. Hook it up to your pc and take it for a test run. How does it perform? Is the cursor jumping about or shaking? If so, the optical sensor is probably sitting too high. First try pressing down the PCB with your thumb, does it improve? If it does, you might be able to get away with hot gluing the pcb while pressing it down with your thumb. Once the glue sets, the board will remain where it is. Otherwise use your dremmel to shave off a little more plastic before gluing the board in place.

Before you go gluing the board in place, we need to address the mouse buttons. You can do this one of two ways, either with a set of large micro switches or a pair of lever micro switches. The latter recreates the clicky sound of the tank mouse really well, but either will do the job just fine. Now returning to the PCB, you will need to remove the existing switches. As they will likely be too far back and not sit in the same place as the original Amiga buttons. You can either de-solder them or once again snip them off. I can’t stress the importance of being gentle at this point, if you damage the traces on the board at this stage you’ll have a hard time recovering the mess, so take it slow!

With the old switches removed, you can begin wiring in the new ones. Remember the new micro switches need to sit where the old amiga switches did inside the case. If you still have the original tank PCB, use it for comparison. If it helps, use a marker pen to drawn on the inside of the mouse case, so you have some guides to follow. Blue tack is your friend and will allow you to stick the switched down while you line them up with the mouse buttons. Once you have them lined up, you’ll need to wire them up to the new PCB. The wires will only need to be short and while it’s a little tricky to get everything sitting right, with a little time and patience it can be done, trust me I’ve done this twice.

With the new buttons wired up, you’ll need to test the mouse again by connecting it to a computer. If everything works, we’ll move on to the final stage, gluing all of the components in to place. It is up to you but I would strongly advise using a little blue tack to stick everything in place temporarily. Place the lid on the mouse and see if the mouse buttons work. Hopefully they should be clicking away inside the mouse and working just like the original. If things aren’t going exactly as planned, don’t worry because we used blue tack. Just pop open the mouse and adjust the switches a little until they are aligned with the plastic buttons build in to the upper lid. When you satisfied, remove the blue tack and use hot glue to fix everything in place. If you’ve only used a tiny bit of blue tack and don’t want to risk moving anything you can always glue the parts in place as they sit.

Finally with the buttons and PCB fixed in place, you need to put the flexible plastic piece back around the mouse cord. Simply peel it open using your thumbs and slide the cable inside. Because this collar piece is meant to keep the cable from pulling out of the mouse, you will need to use some glue to fix the cable from slipping up and down inside the collar. I did this by inserting some glue in the cut I’d made, not only does this hold the cable in place, but it also fixes the collar back together. Once the glue sets, it will stop you pulling the wires out from inside your mouse. Still, I’d recommend against holding the mouse by the cord.

All that is left to do now is to screw the mouse back together and take it for a spin. If you’ve been testing it a every step, nothing should have gone wrong. Hey presto you have a new Amiga USB mouse!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Using Alpine with POP3 Hotmail accounts

clippit

I really, really wish I’d found a page with that heading when I’d been trying to configure Alpine to work with Hotmail. A lot of us, myself included, don’t understand the inner workings of Alpine, which is no surprise as I gather it’s a pretty powerful email client.
Like many, I’m used to application being glossy and intuitive, all thanks to the colourful GUI OS’s we use today. The downside however, and bare in mind this is just my personal opinion. Is that all this eye candy is making us stupid and overly dependent on dumbed down interfaces that a 3 year old could follow.
Developers today work hard to make modern operating systems easy to use. So much so, that when we are faced with the bleak barren landscape of DOS or the Unix Terminal, the absence of pretty buttons has us running for the hills. I grow up in the 80s, Spectrum’s, C64s, DOS 6.22, I lived through all of that and was pretty good in using the lot, apart from the old BBC Micro. I always felt intimidated whenever I sat in front of a Model B at school. But somewhere along the way, I lost the ability to bend my head around a simple blocky, ASCII based program like Alpine. Worse still was after going online I found I wasn’t the only one. So after an evening with my thinking cap firmly on, here is how you get pop3 Hotmail working on Alpine.

When is an IMAP, not an IMAP, when its a POP!

So your struggling with Alpine and still cant retrieve your mail from hotmail yes? Well your possibly in luck, because below are the settings I used to get my mail via Microsofts POP3 servers. I’ll even walk you through what I did, so you can replicate it.

Things you need
-Linux Ubuntu or Xubuntu (will probably work on other destros)
-Liquid refreshment and snacks
-Internet access

First let us install Alpine, open up a Terminal and type;
“Sudo apt-get install alpine”

BMV-alpine4

Fig.1

Once your computer has finished unpacking and installing the package, lets run it, in Terminal type;
“Alpine”

You should see something similar to fig 1, continue to the config screen by pressing “S”, then press “L” for “Add a new collection”. You should see a page similar to the one in fig 2.

Enter the fields as follows
Nickname: Hotmail
Server: pop-mail.outlook.com:995/pop3/ssl/user=BGates@hotmail.com
Path: mail/
View:

‘In the server address, replace BGates with your own email address. Unless you are BGates, in which case, hello! *waves* ahem!’

Fig.2

Fig.2

Once everything is entered, press Ctrl+X to save and exit the screen, then press ‘E’. You should now be back to the main menu, press ‘S’ and then ‘C’, you should see something like fig 3. This is the main configuration panel and we have a few things that still need entering.

Fig.3

Fig.3

Personal Name: B Gates
User Domain: hotmail.com
SMTP Server (for sending): smtp-mail.outlook.com:587/user=bgates@hotmail.com
Inbox Path: pop-mail.outlook.com:995/pop3/ssl/user=bgates@hotmail.com

Compare your screen with fig 3, the only fields I had to change were the ones I’ve listed above. Now scroll down the screen until you reach “Folder Preferences” and make sure “Enable Incoming Folders Collection” has a cross next to it. Now for all the changes to take effect, you must quit out of Alpine by pressing ‘E” and then ‘Q”. This will bring you back to the command
prompt. From here, type;
“Alpine”

If all has gone according to plan, Alpine should now prompt you for a password, so that it can log on and retrieve your mail. Finally enter the “Message Inbox” by pressing “I”.

Voila! Your online and accessing your POP3 hotmail!

BMV-alpine3


Monkey Island 25th Anniversary

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Can you believe it? The famous Lucasarts title, celebrated its 25th birthday!

Released on October 1990 for the Amiga, Atari ST and Macintosh to name a few. The game was a smash, with critics of the time praising its humor, game play and graphics. So popular was the title, that is spawned a sequel, Le’chucks Revenge. LucasArts released a remake of Monkey Island in 2009 for Windows, iOS, Xbox 360 and PS3. This ‘special edition’ featured new hand-drawn visuals, a remastered musical score, as well as voice work for characters and a tips system to aid struggling players. Developers included a function in the remake, allowing players to switch between the 2009 and original 1990 audiovisuals.

Ron Gilbert first conceived the idea for Monkey Island in 1988, his frustration with other adventure games of the day led to him making it impossible for the player to die while playing. Something that could happen to you without warning in Sierra’s point & click adventures. Ironic that the first ‘point&click’ I played on my A500+ was Space Quest. After playing through that game, I played Monkey Island with an unshakable certainty that I would eventually wind up killing Threepwood.  So when he first fell off a cliff in the game, I stared at the TV with despair, then bewilderment. When a few moments later, he bounces back, saved from death by a rubber tree. The playful, parody of the Sierra “Game Over” screen is a nice touch and typical of the humor found in the Monkey Island series. To which Gilbert, Schafer and Grossman are responsible for. Together they wanted to develop a more accessible game compared to previous LucasArts titles, where amusement and exploration are key elements. Perhaps it is this approach that has made the franchise so popular, Monkey Island was innovative game for its day and is still enjoyable today through the 2009 remake. If you’ve never played the game before, I highly recommend buying a copy via Steam.

Monkey Island: Special Edition is currently available on Steam for £6.99
Monkey Island Steam link

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