Retro Challenge - 2017/04 - Day 22

Wakefield Risc OS Show

Got up early as I was staying at the hotel. Wasn't feeling that hot as I'd stayed up drinking with a few of the BBC crowd that were staying at the hotel for the show.


Brought the boxes with all of my kit to my stand, unfortunately the lift in the hotel wasn't working so we had to climb 3 flights of stairs with everything. Luckily a very nice porter helped with some of the stuff.

Unpacked the Communicator and set it up with the monitor and put the PABX and modem for connecting to under the table hidden out of sight.

Spent the 2 hours before the show opened ensuring that the software was running, connecting my laptop to the hotel WIFI and pointing the dial up gateway to the server backend that sits on a VM in my Manchester data centre.

Tried various times to dial the modem and nothing was happening, the Communicator would go online but it hadn't dialled correctly. My friend Ryan then managed to find an option in the settings for using Tone dialling, we set the option and the thing dialled the modem correctly.

After a few more attempts we got a response from the server side. Unfortunately something was amiss, we were getting formatting missing on the screen.
I think this may be due to the FTDI cable I was using, I had issues with the USB modems that I previously used. I think there is some issue with the actual parity settings it uses VS the ones I've asked it to use. After a bit more fiddling we managed to connect it to CCL4 (a rather random telnet available ViewData BBS).


(Photo from


Quite a few people we interested in the machine, its a fairly obscure one that not many people had come across. I had a nice conversation with a guy from the Netherlands who is setting up a show in Holland and was looking for people to show items such as this.

Ian (BeebMaster) came over and spent a while figuring out the workings of the machine. It has an interesting set of applications that can be instanciated with a specific amount of memory and unlike the BBC you can switch between applications and they stay resident in memory. 

After taking a load of photos of the machine he ended up taking it apart so that he could get internal photos of the board etc.
We found some interesting things inside, the machine has 2 batteries (which I need to change) one I presume stores the settings not sure what the other is used for (you an store files in the memory so maybe it does that). There is also a pass through connector for a phone on the side but there is a removable panel that is in place so you can't see it.  

Retro Challenge - 2017/04 - Day 20

Wakefield Show Preparations

Finally managed to find some time to sort the BBC out and ensure everything works before setting off to Wakefield tomorrow.

BBC Power Supply

Sorted out the PSU in the BBC, unsoldered and replaced the 3 capacitors that tend to go bad. Gave the machine a good clean and put back together.
Got the monitor and went to plug in the machine, at this point I noticed that the plug had been damaged and I went off to Tesco (at midnight) to get a new one.
Chopped off the old plug and wired the new one, plugged in the machine and BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEPPPPPPPP. Something's not right with it.

Checking Prestel Modem

Got out my master and decided that I could use that instead, setup the Prestel adapter and checked it powered on ok. Seems good.
Dialled a number to check its working and nothing, realised that the modem only does pulse dialling, my PABX requires tone. (Swore quite loudly at this point).

As it was getting on for 1am I decided to pack everything up and decided on an alternative plan.

Alternative Equipment

Decided to go to the storage locker on the way home and got my Acorn Communicator out, wasn't sure how I was going to get it to dial as i'd only ever used it plugged into a real phone line. Was worried that the unit only did pulse dialling but had other equipment in the van to hopefully try if this didn't work.

Retro Challenge - 2016/10 - Day 31

Total Failure To Launch...

Well I managed to do very little on my projects over the month, various things have as usual got in the way.

Got a few bits today for my ViewData project...

PSU Caps

A bunch of caps to sort the "Magic White Smoke" issue out on several of my machines.


Some new RotaTone units to convert the other rotary phones I have to DTMF so that they will work with the PABX.

Will carry on any try to get the machines sorted for an Acorn event in November.


Retro Challenge - 2016/10 - Day 15

Slow start...

Well I've been on holiday for the beginning of the month so have had a slow start. Can't believe we are half way through already and I've barely done anything.

ViewData Demonstration Machines

Have managed to get the machines I'm going to use together, they need cleaning and the caps replacing in the power supplies but all of them work ok.

Ordered the parts for the power supplies and they arrived yesterday, next job is to dismantle the units and replace the caps.

Got another PABX to use so that I can keep the one on my desk and have one specifically for the ViewData BBS setup.

Kryoflux Imaging

Did a run of imaging yesterday, started with a few Archimedes games.

Created a raw copy and a disk image for emulation.
Opened the created disk image on RiscPCEmu.

Retro Challenge - 2014 WW - Day 13

VOIP Setup

Had a go at setting up my Asterix PBX, decided to upgrade the firmware and now it won't boot.

Going to setup my other router and configure the 2 VOIP ports to allow incoming calls to the PABX, this should then ring all of the modems that are available. I think if I can remember the PABX can be configured to ring one after the other which I think is a better idea. As the PABX has 3 incoming lines I can also add the real telephone line if required.

Retro Challenge - 2014 WW - Day 9

New BBS Features

Added some new features to my ViewData BBS...


Created a new menu from which to select the new options that I've added to the system.

TeleText Pages

I've added some static TeleText pages that are stored as files on the server.
They are loaded in a carousel and displayed in sequence.

I can also use this for displaying saved ViewData pages or my own pages for viewing.

External ViewData BBS Access

I wanted to be able to access other ViewData BBSs from the dial up terminal. As most of the surviving ones are only available by Telnet I decided that I would create a gateway from within my BBS.
When you select the option the system creates a telnet session out to the other BBS and passes data through to your terminal.
Once you have finished on the external system and the Telnet connection is terminated the user is returned back to my menu.

Connecting to CCL4 through my BBS...

What's new? Not a lot since 1996 :)

And logging off...

Retro Challenge - 2014 WW - Day 8

Multiple Modem Support

Added multiple modem support into the dial up server. Set the modem initialization strings in the configuration file along with the com ports for each modem required.

Plugged in the Hayes and the USB modem below and configured them in the new settings file.

USB Modem

Tried to get the USB modem to work, it responds as expected but there is something wrong with the data being sent to the terminal. It looks like its not using 7 even one, not sure why this is the case.

You can see it is sending the screen as certain characters are displayed correctly, it seems to be messing up the rest.

Have played around with several of the modem settings and can't seem to get this to work correctly, the Hayes modem works perfectly with the same settings.

After some more investigation it seems that the USB modem is using the wrong parity setting, it appears to be using odd parity even when I've asked for even.

Retro Challenge - 2014 WW - Day 7

Dial Up Server

Created a dial up server that connects to the back end ViewData service. The server can be run as a windows service or a console app.

Got the server to connect to the back end when the modem goes online, key presses were going from the terminal to the back end correctly but everything on the terminal screen was garbage.
Checked the back end was sending data to the dial up server and the characters expected seemed to be being sent to the terminal.

All I was getting was this...

Searched through the code and found the problem, after checking the serial settings over I noticed that the parity was set to None and it needed to be Even.

Changed the settings and got a connection from the back end.

Once this was working fixed a few things and tweaked the server to ensure that it disconnects from the back end correctly on modem disconnection.

Now that the server was working I've added some back end infrastructure to help me build pages etc. To start with the system now displays a nice "CONNECTED" message once it connects to the back end. Once you have finished on the system and exit from the menus the system will display "CONNECTION TERMINATED" and disconnect the modem.

So to demonstrate the system working I built a quick screen which loads from the server, the next step is to add a menu system.

I decided that the system should have a nice welcome screen which should pay homage to the original Prestel system...

To show the entire system working I knocked together a quick video if the system being dialed by the terminal...

Retro Challenge - 2014 WW - Day 6

Initial Testing Setup

Well managed to get everything talking, the setup is as follows...


Setup to allow me to dial between the machines, the PBX has 8 ports and 3 external lines. Eventually the idea is to connect the incoming modems to it and allow incoming connections via dialup.

Hayes Acura Modem

This is currently the modem I'm using for development as its a great modem and is pretty solid. Its one of 4 that I have which are brand new and still in their boxes.

This is connected to my development PC using a serial to USB adapter, eventually I either want to use the USB modems or have the 4 Acura modems connected to a serial card.

Terminatel 257

This is a black and white VideoTex terminal from Alcatel. It was a new boxed item that hasn't been used and would have probably been the sort of terminal used in France up until the demise of Minitel in 2012.

BT 746 Rotary Telephone

I acquired this the other day to complete my 80s retro desk setup. It is pulse dial only and does not work with the PBX but I have a new DTMF upgrade to fit to it before the end of the challenge. There's is something quite satisfying about dialing the modem with it.

Initial Test

Used Putty to create a terminal connection to the modem, manually setup the modem using AT commands and set it to auto answer.

Dialled into the modem from the Terminal and they connected ok.

Once in could type on both Terminal and Putty and they were exchanging data correctly.

Retro Challenge - 2013 SC - Day 7

Finally got some time to actually do something for my RC.

Tried to get my USB modem to work with my Windows 8 machine but the drivers are pretty much useless and it isn't detected automatically.
Finally decided to break out my old XP laptop, problem is that the keyboard doesn't work so found a USB one and got it up and running.