Retro Challenge - 2016/01 - Day 23

A Slow Start...

Well its already taken me most of the month to get nowhere but I finally found some time to sort out some of my kit in the storage locker.

There were several things that I needed to do before I could start on sorting machines out, firstly I needed to sort out the stuff that had just been dumped in the lockup.
Once this was done I could move around and access things much easier.

Boxes

A lot of my stuff was moved from my house so that we could prepare it to be rented out.
These boxes contain all sorts from Xmas decorations to various selections of Acorn stuff such as my collection of AcornSoft titles and various other bits that need sorting out over time.


The red boxes below are old boxes I moved from my previous storage locker, they have seen better days and are being replaced by the clear stacking ones instead.
They currently contain stuff like my Sega Saturn collection and various cables etc.
Unfortunately they were blocking the door of the unit so I had to wheel them out of the way.

Building Shelving

I have already bought several  cheap shelf units from IKEA and installed them to hold some of my machines.
After removing the desk that was in the unit I decided that I could fit several more so built 3 more units.

Moving Stuff

Once I had installed the shelves it was time to move some of the hardware that has just been stacked in the middle of the unit.

I spent most of the day moving hardware around, sorting out where everything should go and designating shelves for certain machines.

Risc PCs

Here are most of the general Risc PCs I own, there are a few floating around but most are on the shelf.
I also have several boxed ones in very good condition of which one is mine from university which I recently found the invoice for. It cost me £1118 in 1997.

A7000s

Some of my A7000 and A7000+ machines. The others are currently stripped down due to batteries being removed.

A3000s, A3010s and A3020s

A few A3000s and a mixture of A3010s and A3020s.
I opened these all up back along to remove the batteries, they all need cleaning properly,

A few BBC Masters in here as well, most of my BBC Masters are currently off site where they are having their caps replaced.
There are also a few more in various boxes, these probably need to be moved to their own shelf later on.

Archimedes

Various models of Archimedes. I even have the disk only 305 version, most of these however have hard disks.
I had to put these on the bottom shelf as they are really heavy and I was afraid they were going to make the shelving fall over.

Phoebe & R140

Here are 2 of my rarer items. The first is an empty Risc PC 2 case (unfortunately only 2 exist with prototype boards in them).
The second is the R140 which is one of Acorns Unix machines, these were very expensive and thus pretty rare.

A4000s & A5000s

My selection of A4000 and A5000 machines, some at the bottom are currently stripped down and need rebuilding.

BBCs

Here are some of the BBCs I own, I probably have the same amount again in various boxes etc.
Most of these need cleaning up, that's a job for the future including RetroBriting them all.

One major job I need to do is replace the caps in the power supplies.

Electrons

This is only about half of the Electrons I own, you can see the difference in colour between the one in the middle and the first one.
Another candidate for RetroBrite I think.

The one at the back has a Plus 1 attachment plugged in which give the machine 2 rom cartridge ports.

Master Compacts

Shown are several of the Master Compact base units I have.
The actual machines are currently stored in boxes elsewhere, need to sort them out and put them with the bases.

Network Computers

Some of the NC set top boxes that I have.
These were produced at the end of Acorns life when they changed over to doing "Network Computers" and media on demand.

Monitors

A nice selection of monitors from my Acorn monitor stash.

CUB Monitors

My horde of Microvitec CUB monitors which where the go to monitor for the BBC micro.
Every school had one of these, they are pretty much indestructible.

'

At some point I'm going to get a few more shelves from IKEA and add another row for monitors to the set of shelves below.

Parts Shelf

This currently holds various equipment such as disk drives and machines that need looking at along with items such as disk drives and keyboards etc.
There are currently 6 A7000s above this which have been dismantled so that their batteries could be removed. Some have leakage which needs to be cleaned.

The Good Stuff

Here is a view of the boxed machine section.
This is my main collection which contains boxed systems in good condition. At some point I need to photograph all of this and document what I have.

Other Stuff To Do...

There is a ton of other bits that I need to sort out but at least I can now get in and easily access the machines and shelving.

The next job is to start pulling out a machine at a time and do proper maintenance on each one.

Get other hardware that is stored in boxes and put them on the shelving, stuff like Master Compacts and various BBC cheese wedges (I have a load).

 

RetroChallenge - 2016/01

Well we are at the end of another year. This means several things, opening presents, new years resolutions to be broken and of course Retro Challenge!!

My Challenge...

This time around I'm not committing to too much. I have a week off at the start of the month so want to take as much time as possible doing the following...

Sort Out My Storage Locker

My collection of machines is no longer welcome in our house :)

It therefore lives in a secure lockup location just round the corner from our house.
Due to me moving out of my house and into my fiancées I have moved a lot of my possessions into storage. The problem is that I really need to get things like the shelving built and sort out various boxes etc to organise everything in there. I am currently having to climb over monitors to get to anything.

Update Machine List

I have started to create a list of machines that I own. I want to index all the other equipment etc so that I can decide which to do maintenance on first.
Several need looking at fairly quickly to sort issues such as leaking batteries or other problems that can't be put on hold.

Fix Machines Needing Urgent Attention

Several machines need urgent attention to stop damage to boards etc.

A while back I removed the batteries from most machines as they are the main issue in the Acorn product line. If left to leak they can eat through the board and damage machines beyond repair. A few of the machines I've been given recently are damaged beyond repair due to this problem.

Archive Machine

I bought a KryoFlux unit quite a while ago and want to use it to take archive images of my floppy disks.

I started to build a PC designed to be a standalone machine for this job. The machine has a 5.25 and 3.5 inch disk drives attached to the KryoFlux internally. I just need to finish installing an old motherboard and OS to run the software.

Backup Software

I have a pretty large collection of Acorn software, I started to backup discs a while ago and have a lot of them imaged as standard disk images. I want to use the KryoFlux unit to create archives of each disk. While doing this I intend to take high resolution images of the boxes and disk labels.

Other stuff...

If I manage to get anywhere with all of that then I will probably do some more work on my BBS software, since the Retro Challenge I have moved it to a database driven system and re-written some of the back end.
I really need to start loading pages into the system to create a usable BBS.

Retro Challenge - 2015/07

The Problem...

I currently have a BBC Master setup on the desk in my office. The problem is that its not very portable, if I want to take it anywhere it requires a large CRT monitor or my recently acquired Gonbes VGA convertor board, a modern monitor and a set of power supplies.

You then also need to take either a disc drive or the DataCentre to give me access to disc images so that I can actually do anything.

Solution...

I have a spare BBC Master Compact which I intend to make much more portable.

To do this I intend to add the following to the machine...

1) As the original BBC Master Compact uses a large desk unit to house the disk drives I need an internal method of storing software to run on the machine.

So I bought a GoSDC board which adds an SD card allowing me to store all of the software I need to use. The device plugs into a spare ROM socket internally in the machine.

John Kortink who designed the board was kind enough to supply one without the headers as he thinks the Compact may not have enough room inside with them attached. If this is the case I will need to wire a set of switched to the board to enable and disable it for updating the firmware.

2) So that I can run the machine away from any kind of power supply I want to add an internal rechargable battery.
Probably a lithium one with a charging circuit to provide a few hours of usage without needing a power supply. Obviously when the power is supplied it should cut off and charge the battery instead.

As part of this I will add in a power switch so that the machine can be easily turned off and will allow for charging without the machine being powered up.

3) To provide a VGA output I will fit the Gonbes board internally and provide a VGA socket on the back for connecting an external monitor.

This will require the power to the board and the TTL RGB output from the BBC to be wired to the board,

4) So that I can use the machine while on battery and without a VGA monitor or TTL RGB one I intend to provide a small screen built into the machine. This will probably be a 3-5 inch screen added to the top area of the case. Depending on the screen type this will either be wired to the composite out or to the second port on the Gonbes board.

This should be a mirror of what is output to the VGA / TTL RGB. I might put a switch in to be able to turn it off as it will display even when connected to an external monitor. If I have time it would be cool if when the external monitor is connected it displayed a cool logo.

Retro Challenge - 2015/01 - Day 21

Risc OS North West User Group (RONWUG)

Took my kit over to RONWUG to demonstrate how to setup an Econet network.

We started by setting up the MDFS and I explained the workings of the box. I decided to leave the tape unit at home as the thing is pretty heavy so it just has the floppy and hard disk units attached.

We looked at the serial connection and the built in administration menu, then I showed how to change disks using the "Release Discs" button on the front, how to shut down the unit and how the key on the front works.

I had wired up a set of socket boxes to use as a backbone on the network, the socket box below has a machine connected and a terminator as it the end of the network. There is another terminator at the other end.

The socket boxes basically sit on a five core cable that is Krone connected to the box. The cable is basically a bus network with 2 data lines (+/-), 2 clock lines (+/-) and a ground cable.

We then added in the clock between the 2 segments of the network and connected the 2 lines to each side of the network.

The clock should be as central in the network cable as possible.

Once we connected this the red "No Clock" led on the MDFS went out showing it was seeing the network clock.

We then connected a BBC Master and an Archimedes to the socket boxes. On resetting the Master using Break + N the screen shows "Econet Station 194" and then runs the !Boot file from the MDFS.

We then used the *DIR and *CAT commands to view the files on the MDFS. We found a games called IMOGEN and loaded that from the MDFS to show it working.

Upton typing the *STATIONS command we got back a list of machines connected to the network, the Archimedes was in the list showing as station 130.

On the Archimedes we checked out the NETFS filer that allows the system to browse the file shares on the MDFS, you enter your login details and it opens the filer window showing the contents of the MDFS.

I also showed how to upgrade the BBC Master to use Econet. Below shows the installed Econet card in the internal slot.

The Master uses the same card as the Archimedes range and the A3000 and A5000.

All in all we had a good night. The next job is to make the Archimedes bridge to a TCP/IP network so that I can access the MDFS via the network.

Retro Challenge - 2015/01 - Day 5

MDFS Setup

Started by setting up the main MDFS unit, and attaching the floppy drive unit to it.
After some searching on the internet found the manual for it.

Now connected my serial cable (which is a standard PC 9 pin to 5 pin DIN connector on the MDFS side), luckily this is the same as the BBC and I managed to find my already wired cable so didn't require soldering a new one.

The MDFS has the coolest on button (or rather a key). To start the server in normal mode you turn it to "Secure" or to "System" if you want to be able to enable "Utility Mode" or access certain functions from a networked BBC once it is running.

To stat off I turned on the MDFS an put the key to the "System" setting.

The power light now comes on and the "Discs Free" light starts to flash.

Now I started a terminal emulator and connected it to COM3 of my PC, pressing return gets a response from a monitor program that is ready to load the main system.

Now I inserted the system boot disk and pressed the "Release Discs" button on the front of the unit.

The disk drives are now polled and the system loads the main boot code from the disc, the "Discs Free" light now goes solid and the "Utility Mode" light also comes on.

At this point if I press return on the terminal I get the following menu.

There are various options available including "Boot the fileserver" which take the system out of utility mode and starts serving files on the network. If I mounted another disk you can serve just floppy discs to the network (this is what the original Acorn fileserver did).

Next I added the hard disc unit and the tape system unit to the stack.

On rebooting I found that the system will boot from the hard disk as it already has the boot code required installed, this means I don't need the floppy disk anymore.

Checking The Discs

After booting back into utility mode I used the "L" item on the menu to check the discs on the system, it turns out that I have 3 hard discs and a tape drive (I didn't realise the tape unit had a hard disc inside).

The discs reported are...

FUJITSU  M2611S
Ver 0703

F : Name: FS1   41600K

SEAGATE  ST277N-1
Ver 040C0800

I1: Name: FS2   61360K
I2: Name: FS3   1040K

FUJITSU  M2616S
Ver 1002

J1: Name: FS4   61360K
J2: Name: FS5   36400K

So there is a 40Mb, 60Mb and a 100mb drive split into 5 partitions.

I also tried to access the tape drive but this doesn't seem to want to work, I have a spare brand new unit in storage so I will bring that over and try it.

Also ran the verify on the discs, F is fine, J has one block on partition 2 that its not happy about and drive I seems totally on is way out. (Too be honest the drive doesn't sound that good).

Retro Challenge - 2015/01 - Day 2

Econet Clock

A nice guy in Germany did a swap of some Sinclair stuff that I didn't want for a SJ Research Econet Clock.

The clock arrived the other day and I finally got round to having a quick look at it.

The image shows the dip switches that allow the fine tuning of the network speed. This was one of the things the SJ clock did that was better than the Acorn one, it allows for complete control over the packet time and gap between packets.

Serial Cable

While over at my storage locker I managed to get the MDFS out and brought it home to fire it up.
The power lights come on so it looks like its doing something.

Next I need a serial connection to the back of the MDFS to check the status of the system and to configure it.
I started to make a serial cable but haven't quite managed to finish it yet.

Retro Challenge - 2015/01

Another year and a new global format, due to the fact that in the UK we don't really get a summer (Winter warm-up is basically the same as the summer one) we are now numbering the challenges by month (does this mean we can have mini 2015/03 challenges in-between?).

Mini Me...

This year I've got a miniature clone on the way due in February so I'll be fairly busy sorting out various things ready for the new arrival.
Thus this time I'm going for a small project that I might actually have chance to finish.

The Challenge...

As you may have gathered I'm a bit of an Acorn Computer nutcase, my collection of various machines is no longer welcome at my girlfriends so I have to hide my precious at an undisclosed location and secretly sneak them into the house when she's not around.

I recently acquired a set of SJ Research MDFS units from a friend and have all the elements to connect my BBCs together using an Econet network (Acorns cheap networking solution for the time).
Econet is basically a bus network with a clock signal to synchronise each of the hosts.

Initial Econet Network

To create the initial network I will need the following...

  • BBC Micros (I Have lots)
  • Econet cards for BBCs (these are internal cards that upgrade the BBC to allow for Econet use)
  • Econet clock (This provides the clock on the network and synchronises the machines)
  • Econet terminators (These are basically a set of resistors that sit at the end of the cables to stop reflection of the signal back down the cables)
  • Cable (Need to wire these up)
  • Socket boxes (Ideally I'll pull out the socket boxes that provide and easy way to plug the machines into the core network cable)

To start with I will get the clock working and set each machine an ID on the network, they should then be able to use basic services.

File Server

Once the main network is setup I want to look at getting the MDFS file server running, the initial bits to get working are...

  • SJ MDFS (This is a fileserver for the Econet network, it can also act as a clock but we are not using it for this) (I have 2 of these so hopefully at least one will work ok)
  • SJ MDFS Floppy Disk Unit (Add in the ability to load floppy disks and thus boot the system)

Then we can add...

  • SJ MDFS Hard Disk Unit (The SCSI disk unit which will store our files)
  • SJ MDFS Tape Unit (The tape backup unit which I have some backup tapes for, might see if we can restore some data)

Extra bits...

If we get everything working on the MDFS then I have these extra goals...

  • Econet bridge (Allows me to create a fast and slow Econet network, one for the BBCs and another for Archimedes which can have a much higher clock speed)
  • Risc PC / Archimedes (Connect one of the newer Acorn machines to the network, I have an Econet card for the Risc PC which would be interesting to get working)
  • SJ Nexus (This was a newer version of the MDFS that served data via a ATM type networking protocol)
  • A5000 Gateway (An Acorn A5000 which I originally setup to bridge the Nexus to a normal TCP/IP network thus allowing access to the Nexus from newer machines, Ideally I would like to include connecting this to the MDFS via Econet and using it as a bridge to all data sources, it should also allow me to access the internet from Econet enabled machines)

Demo At RONWUG

I have promised to do a session at RONWUG (RISC OS North West User Group) around the use of Econet so would like to get a basic network running and setup ready for 21st January.
We can also use this evening to configure bits and play around with various aspects such as the MDFS and clock speeds etc and generally play around with stuff.
Depending on how far along I am we may try and do something cool like get a BBC on the internet.

Can't Wait...

So there is my challenge. Now to get Christmas out of the way so we can get started :)

Acorn Risc PC @ Hull University 1997

Here is my Risc PC from 1997 in my university room. Bought this at the Acorn World show that year.
Acorn disbanded the entire desktop division the year after.

The spec if I remember was..

233 Mhz Strong Arm
32 MB Ram
2 MB VRam
1.6 GB Hard Disk
CD Rom
Network Card
PC Card

Still have the machine and the Viglen 486 that is on the floor below this.

Retro Challenge - 2014 Winter Warmup

ViewData BBS Server

After failing miserably on the last Retro Challenge, I'm intending to actually get something done this time.
I've been playing around with ViewData and want to create a new BBS system that will run on a modern server and be able to take telnet or dialup connections.

So as part of the challenge I intend to implement as much of the following as possible...

1) Create basic ViewData BBS system that allows telnet access.
2) Implement a dial up server that forwards traffic to the BBS.
3) Create a ViewData terminal that allows the BBS to be accessed without a real machine (possibly implement this in Silverlight and host it on a web page).
4) Add ability to load pages into BBS and navigate through simple page tree (like original Prestel).
5) Add ability to create forms and entry validation etc.
6) Create gateway from BBS to other online telnet enabled systems (this will allow me to "dial up" telnet only BBSs such as CCL4).
7) Implement email service in BBS.
8) Implement search engine (google / bing).
9) Implement twitter feed.
10) Implement online game (shades etc). (Have looked at shades and it is still available, problem is it expects a 80 x 40 text based screen).
11) Create some kind of API for creating gateways between BBSs.
12) Detect non ViewData terminal and create ASCII representations of ViewData screens. (Might create a new gateway to do this).
13) Implement a demo of old Prestel screens.
14) Implement some real content for my new BBS.
15) Create system for doing downloads. (Have some examples of the way this was done via multiple pages in sequence).
16) Implement facebook feed.

Probably a bunch of other stuff.

Required Items

To test this setup I'll need to implement the following...

1) Setup PC to run BBS.
2) Install modems for dial in access (I have 4 Hayes modems which I have managed to get connected correctly, I also have 4 USB modems which work but are sending gibberish to the ViewData terminal, think this is some issue with stop bits or parity).
3) Wire modems into PBX.
4) Wire PBX to external line.
5) Look at possibility of using a set of VOIP lines (Think they should be ok with compression off as the speed is low enough).
6) Solder a set of cables for the BBC to connect to modems.
7) Try and get terminal server box to accept incoming connections and connect out on modem.

Terminal Hardware

Once the connectivity is setup I'll be testing using the following...

1) Alcatel TerminalTel 257 VideoTex terminal.
2) BBC Micro with Acorn Prestel adapter.
3) BBC Micro with Prism modem (1000 & 2000).
4) BBC Micro with Pace Nightingale modem.
5) Sinclair Spectrum 48k with Prism VTX 5000 modem.
6) Acorn A3000 with old modem (not sure of make).
7) Acorn Communicator. 
8) My new terminal program (which I need to write).
9) ConnectVX (A windows ViewData client).

So the intention is to have a working BBS that can be contacted by other users via dialup and telnet at the end of the challenge.