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Atari 2600 jr: Controller Maintenance

I'd purchased two controllers from Holland (Game Over? in Amsterdam) and had received two more when I picked up this Atari from the rubbish dump. I have finally gotten a game worth playing and thought I'd test them all out.

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The game is Bezerk.. and it literally is just that. Think of a 'top-down' Space Invaders. You're a human, you're in a maze and there's robots who want to shoot you. If they (or you) touch a wall then you're dead. Your goal is to knock them all off and enter the next room. It's really quite challenging for such a simple concept.

This game is only playable if your controller works! It turns out that only one of mine had problems. This specific controller would not happily move left/right. Up/down and the buttons worked... but I couldn't get my guy out of the way reliably on the X axis. A little more testing realised a cable fault! If I put pressure on the cable, right where it enters the controller, then I could move in all directions... the cable must be internally fractured.

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Pulling it open, you can see the cable come in from the top. It then slaloms through the plastic pins to keep any unwanted pressure/tension off the solder joints on the PCBs. Too much flexing, over time, has ruined the cable. The only method was to cut it and shorten the cable.

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The cutting, pairing and soldering was quite painless. I unsoldered an existing wire and then soldered on the new wire, matching colour-for-colour. The end result was a perfectly working controller! It turns out you can even shoot diagonally in Bezerk!

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Two of the four controllers I've acquired used to have the screw-in joyticks. One of the other two actually still had the joystick in place! For the ones that have been snapped off, I grabbed a screwdriver and applied enough pressure to have the phillips-head torque the plastic left-over out of the thread.

Now to find a suitable replacement screw-in joystick!

11Aug/160

Toshiba T2000SX

It's a hard fact that one can fail when restoring old hardware. This ancient laptop was purchased from an auction house and has lived in my old university school bag, in the back of the parents shed, for a few decades. It booted, back in the day, and I vaguely remember installing Windows 3.x on it. After that... you couldn't really do much other than play Railroad Tycoon Deluxe.

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Seriously heavy, this thing is built to withstand nuclear fallouts; although it turns out it couldn't handle being in the shed. Turning it on again after so many years presented a hard drive exhibiting that charming click-of-death tune. The screen worked fine, the keyboard accepted commands and the floppy even seemed to function. After counting its on-board RAM, extended RAM and then extra ram (if you had the PCMCIA-like card installed (which this came with.)), the BIOS would ask you to insert a floppy disk.

As that the hard disk was dead, I'd decided to replace it with a compact-flash card. Other people online had successfully done this and so I thought I'd give it a go. The installed Toshiba BIOS wont recognise anything other than a Conner 'IDE' 20/40mb drive that usually comes with such a laptop and so I had to improvise. One user online pointed out that Anydrive would fix this. It's a tiny application which slaps an assembler JMP in the MBR to lie to the BIOS when it goes looking for the specifics. From here you can mimic the drive/partition information that the BIOS wants to see... you can't override the 'device ID' though.

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Installing the CF card was easy enough... The CF-IDE adapter just plugs everything together and has the appropriate pin missing to guide the correct connection. At this point I actually used VirtualBox (with a hack to allow direct disk access) to install Anydrive onto the disk. I used the parameters from the Conner: Quick Reference Guide For Disk Drive Products (Cylinders 980, Heads 5, Sectors 17) with anydrive, inside VirtualBox, and it installed. This way I didn't need the floppy disk. I then tried to format the drive, but nothing worked... it kept failing. I therefore went ahead and installed it into the laptop so I could use the floppy drive there.

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The machine booted up and the Anydrive message actually appeared! The bios actually read from the harddisk and then failed... the harddisk wasn't partitioned, so I had to use a DOS bootable floppy to continue. I downloaded an appropriate DOS 5 boodisk from allbootdisks and threw it in. Nothing... it just repeatedly asked for the disk. You could hear it sort-of read the disk... but it didn't get anywhere.

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First step... try the disk cleaner... didn't work. Second step... rip it open. Not an easy task. The main chassis is a single block of metal. The top circuit board must be lifted. To do so, you need to disconnect all the flimsy ribbon wires.

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Wait... what's that... oh great... the remnants of the drive belt. And it's not a happy elastic-band. It's a very proprietary, very flat, very thin ribbon belt. Screw it... let's try a rubber band anyway!

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Did it work? No... it took out the read head. Game over. Drive finished! A quick google proved no quick answers to finding a replacement drive.

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Do I care about a crappy 386 laptop at this point? No. I put the majority of the system back together to check if I could still use the HDD. No go there either... the HDD (well, CF card) was no longer being found and the Anydrive boot message was not displaying! No more disk input... stuff it. Here's the aftermath... it then all got shoved as-is back into the school bag.

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It's currently sitting next to the bin and I'm finding it hard to take the final step and listen to it bounce down the garbage chute. I've failed you, you poor old thing.

10Aug/160

Atari 2600 jr: Composite Video Output + Audio

There seem to be a lot of options (and sites with comparisons of the options) available when adding composite video to the Atari 2600. Some require removing parts and disabling the RF output whereas others just hitch onto components and allow both signals to be produced. Here's a brief list of places to find information:

There's also hardware that you can purchase to make the job a lot easier:

Doing it yourself

I chose the mod available at Lynx's 0,68 Euro ATARI 2600 Junior Composite Mod (German). This mod offered a good balance of circuit complexity and as little atari-destruction as possible. All parts were purchased from the local Jaycar, except for the 330ohm resistor. They were out of stock and so I combined a 300ohm+33ohm.

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Construction was very straight-forward... I soldered straight onto the pins and scratched a pad for ground on the nearest plane. I then quickly wired up an RCA plug. I knew I'd need to de-solder it again to mount it into the case, so I didn't over-do the soldering.

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Great picture! This is the start screen for the 4-in-1 cartridge. All good... now for audio.

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Above you can see two wires heading to the required spot at the base of the resistor. One is folded up... I intend on doing the stereo mod next, so that's there for future-proofing. Currently mono audio is output via the white RCA socket.

UPDATE: My 'future-proofing' was useless... the PAL version of the Atari 2600 jr DOES NOT support stereo sound. So just connect the red plug to the white plug internally!

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Now... to play games...

9Aug/160

Atari 2600 jr: Introduction

This was an unexpected surprise. Canberra has a rubbish tip; well, a few, actually. At these tips, back in the day, the dumpers used to drive their cars/trailers/trucks right up to the wall'o'rubbish and offload. Whilst the father was scraping all the rubbish out and launching the bags onto the mountain of junk, the children would be scavenging through other people's discards.

I found many a thing there: old computers (286/386, at that time), model railway paraphernalia, misc. electronics, etc... After a while, too many dead bodies were being found and so they closed the dumping area off to the public. Instead, they built a concrete shed with a big mechanical compactor. Everyone's rubbish was thrown in a corridor and compacted. A truck would then drive it up to the real landfill area.

The public could no longer freely recycle other people's rubbish. It was lost once it went over the wall. An uprising occurred when an entrepreneur decided that he could form an organisation that worked at the tip under appropriate licensing (oh, I love democracy) and legally scavenge the rubbish. This was no good, unless they could actually sell it... so a 'shop' was set up at the rubbish dump. Can you believe this? We have to buy our rubbish back?

Either way... last Sunday... after 2 separate (and dismal) trash and treasure markets, I ended up at the Green Shed. I was initially looking for a bootable DOS disk... not finding much, I was disheartened and about to leave. As you exit the building, you pass the cash register, which is actually a large glass display cabinet. In it was a lost treasure. The attendant had me made: he knew I wanted it and happily quoted a price which would've doubled the takings for the day of the entire shop... but, for the unit, was half the going rate on eBay... as long as it worked!

My first Atari

Last year, I read the book: Racing the Beam. I can't remember how I came across it, but it ended up being a good read on the inner workings of the Atari. I was impressed to find out how they got around hardware limitations and changed the way kids would play games forever.

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I had never expected to own one. Especially one in this condition... It turns out this is the Atari 2600 Junior. It's the final version, slimmed down, produced somewhere between 1986 and 1991. It was brown when I got it...being in Canberra, I didn't have any tools with me, so I used floor-cleaning wipes (disinfectant was a great idea at this point) and tore the thing apart. After a good clean, it actually came up remarkably well. The best part was that the 'protective seal' was still on the steel Atari branding on the top of the case. I should've left it on there... but I really love peeling those things off!

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The whole loot included two game cartridges, two controllers (one had the screw-in joystick snapped), the base console and the wall-wart. The only thing that was missing was the RF cable. I cleaned it all at home in Canberra. Taking it apart, the solder joints looked fine... there was just a large accumulation of dust. A quick vacuum and wipe down got it into the state above.

I bit the bullet and plugged it into the wall. Toggling the power switch did nothing! Bummer... a dead Atari... I was very happy to have a new project. I popped it back open and scanned all components again. There wasn't anything obvious. I thought I'd leave it until I returned to Melbourne where I could go over it thoroughly with the multimeter. After re-assembling, I quickly tested it once more. The fourth toggle of the power switch saw the red power LED light! Ok... we're in for fun if the grime has gotten ALL THE WAY into the 'enclosed' power switch.

A more complete teardown

I returned to my workbench at home and pulled the machine apart; knowing that there were going to be gremlins in the system. Overall, it looked to be in great condition, but I grabbed the magnifying glass and inspected it all again anyway.

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The metal shielding comes off very easily. The top half is secured to the bottom half via metal tabs that have been slightly twisted. Grab a pair of pliers and bend them all straight again... you'll then find that both shields come apart with little force.

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After an inspection, I re-vacuumed the switches and grabbed a cartridge. I really wanted to check out Ghost Busters, so that was the obvious choice. Using my trusty BW CRT TV, I hoooked it all together. Scanning the UHF channel, I found no signal. I could get interference when I toggled the power switch, so I thought that I was near the right tuning every so often. I was on UHF because that's what the Commodore 64 used and I assumed that all consoles of that vintage would use the same frequencies. I was wrong. The Atari 2600 uses VHF Channel 2 or 3. This channel is selectable via the switch at the back of the console.

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Once on VHF tuning, the signal appeared easily. The console was set to Black and White, so the image was crisp! Even over RF. I wonder if these can do composite? Ghost Busters is pretty hilarious. Actually quite difficult to get started... but I think I'll write a post just for that story.

Top Push Buttons

The Select/Reset buttons to the right of the cartridge port, on top of the console, are spring-loaded via a 'sponge'. This material had deteriorated on both buttons over the decades and needed replacing.

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I happened to have some packaging material foam on hand and sliced some pieces off to replace the worn out sponge. I scraped the old sponge off first... needed a bit of elbow-grease for this ... was definitely stuck on well! Afterwards I used a bit of double-sided tape to apply the new sponge.

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Worked perfectly.

What's next?

Why, games! I've got a total of 36 to test out... so I'll flick through them and report on anything noteworthy. I also want this thing producing a composite signal... so a little research will see that occurring in no time.

4Aug/160

Commodore 64: Using an ancient BW TV

Using the Commodore 64 on the main TV produces a really great picture over the composite cables, but using it via a converter to VGA or via RF is a little dicey. I like the idea of 1:1 picture when using composite, there's no need to covert the signal. I also don't always get to use the main TV, so I went hunting for a suitable display for the Commodore 64.

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Turns out that last weekend I was in luck. Whilst rummaging at the local Trash and Treasure I stumbled across a Samsung LCD TV (RF, VGA, Composite and Component in!) and then... the holy grail... a tiny, portable, black-and-white CRT Television! Check out that hideous battery pack.

It happily allows you to scan the VHF/UHF airwaves; unfortunately there aren't any signals broadcast in this spectrum anymore. Actually, at the low end of VHF I got a local radio station, but no picture. It has the option for an external antenna, but this used a mono 3.5" audio jack.

Hooking it up to the C64

The external antenna jack was easy to work with. Opening the TV (runs on DC voltage, but BE VERY CAREFUL WITH CAPACITORS NEAR THE TUBE), I inspected the circuitry and found that the in-built telescopic antenna was also wired into the jack. This makes sense: plugging in the external antenna disables the internal antenna. The jack functions as a nice routing switch, choosing between sources when the jack has a cable plugged in.

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With this knowledge, I chopped up a 3.5" audio cable that I had spare and worked out which wire was ground. As expected, it turns out that the shielding was ground and the very tip (the white audio wire, red is unconnected) made contact with the RF input pin and disabled the internal antenna. With this, I then cut an RCA lead and joined the relevant cables. The C64 has a single RCA-style port for the RF output. Plugging the wire together, I then started scanning the airwaves.

I vaguely remember, from back in the day when tuning in a brand new Nintendo Entertainment System, that most consoles output a frequency somewhere near UHF channel 60. I happened to start at the 'top' of the UHF band, but after winding the dial to the other end I had a picture!

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There was further tuning on the side. Contrast, brightness and V-Hold allowed me to get quite a clear display in black and white, of course.

The fun part now was taking a quality picture of the tube. Shutter speeds are usually way too quick to see the full image... the camera can easily beat the scanline. I therefore slowed the camera down. Using this theory, I also had fun and sped the camera up...

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Hah... nice... very easy to see how the tube works. That Horizontal scanline illuminates a bunch of dots/pixels and does it fast enough to resemble a whole picture to the slow human brain.

Testing a game

My first cartridge was acquired from Game Over? in Amsterdam. This is 'Rat Radar Race', a game I'd never heard of. It was purchased because I didn't want to leave the shop empty-handed and, for quite a while, I've wanted to test out how cartridges work.

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I plugged it in and turned on the machine. I was amazed to find that it booted straight into the game. Very seamless and very fast! With floppy disks and tapes you actually had to enter BASIC commands to boot. This method is much nicer!

The best part? Audio! The RF cable was dodgy, but functioning quite well. The picture and hideous audio was being output rather well. I tried the game for a bit: You're a mouse, there's three of you... you navigate a maze by holding down the arrow of the direction you wish to turn next. Scaling the maze, you pick up cheese. If you hit a cat or a fellow 'blind' mouse then you fail. The theme music is actually the 'three blind mice' 'melody'.

RF Modulation/Demodulation

Just like an old dial-up modem, the RF mechanism for getting your console to display on your TV is inefficient. RF was meant for radio waves; the goal was to be able to transmit images over long distances. The tuner in the TV is therefore capable of tuning in to differing frequencies, producing different channels on your display.

This is overkill if your console is sitting right next to the TV. There is no real need to convert to a lossy format, only to make the TV find the signal and convert it back to a displayable format. Hence, TVs later added extra inputs for 'direct' signals. After RF came composite, SCART, Component, VGA, DVI, HDMI, etc... The Commodore 64 can actually produce a composite signal (as I was using on my other TV), so I wonder how hard it would be to provide a direct composite input into this little TV?

Bypassing the RF input and providing Composite

Turns out that this is totally achievable. The job of the 'tuner' circuit in the TV is actually to produce a composite video signal to rest of the video circuitry. The main question is: Where do I inject the composite signal from the C64 without destroying the TV, the C64 or endangering myself?

Our first step is to inspect the circuitry and determine what ICs are used. Next we'll check out the datasheets and then try and work out a method for signal injection. The signals we are talking about are available 'naked' on the back/front of most audio/visual components, so shorting them out is possible in the real-world and therefore shouldn't damage our equipment if we happen to do so. The main issue is when you wire up the signal to a power rail or other high-voltage feed... such a process wont end well!

I would first recommend that you review a few BW TV Schematics to understand what basic components are used. Ralph K has a great article: TV and VCR tuner modules which has a schematic for a tuner that shows how the fundamental components are connected. The tuner IC actually seems to be a mirror of the one used in this TV... either way, it still helped with the circuit tracing.

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A quick scan of the circuit board in this TV shows that it was built on a suite of Samsung chips. There's a KA2133 - 1-Chip Deflection System that provides the synchronisation for the tube. There's high voltages down in this area, so be very careful around the large capacitors!

Up under the tube is a KA2101 - Linear Integrated Circuit (TV Sound IF Amplifier). Not exactly what we're after, but we'll need this after we get the video fed in.

Top left of the board is the RF 'tuner'. Actually, the left-most box is a de-modulator. It does the opposite of what the RF modulator inside the C64 does. Unfortunately, it's not as simple as the modulator; it needs to be fed in variable parameters to determine the exact frequency to demodulate at. The C64 merely has a fixed set of parameters to modulate the signal.

You can see the wires running from the front panel into the space between the demodulator and, what I believe is, the tuner next to it on the right. This tuner is also shielded, but from the underside of the board I can see it has an IC in there. With a good torch and a little more disassembly of the chassis I was able to read the model of the IC. It is a KA2912 - Video IF Processor for BW TVs. Bingo. That datasheet also shows that Pin 3 is the video output.

The underside of the circuit board also has the pin numbers for the IC. How awesome for us? And for the assembly line lemmings who constructed it. Thanks to PIN DETAILS OF IC A-Z, BASIC ELECTRONICS AND ANTENNA : KA2912, we can see that it actually outputs a composite signal!

Injecting an external composite signal

From here, we're going to do damage to the circuit board. The first step is to bare the trace running to pin 3 by scratching the protective coating away. I've used my pocketknife to do this.

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Next we need to actually cut the track. Use the sharpest tool you have an scratch the track at a perpendicular angle, slicing a gap into the board. Make it a little wider than 1mm. A flat-head screwdriver can be used once the initial cut is in place. Now that you've got pads to solder to, tin the areas that are bare. Make sure that you don't have any solder bridging the gap! At this point I then turned on the TV to test it. No picture? Perfect! The signal from the UHF/VHF tuner has been severed.

At this point, as a test, we're going to hook the composite RCA plug directly into this track. It's better to find out as early as possible if we've got the track or location wrong. If there is no picture when you do this, then you'll need to dig further into the datasheets and determine a better location to cut in the signal.

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I hooked up the trusty C64 and ... it worked! Well.. nearly... the picture was scrolling and buzzing awfully. Turns out that there are two GROUNDs in on the circuit board. There's the 'signal ground' and 'supply ground'. If you, as I did with a paper-clip, ground the incoming signal to the supply ground then you'll get a shit signal. I then tried grounding to the other signal ground and got a much clearer picture. It was still rolling though.

BW TV Animation

What could be the problem? I quickly rotated the V-HOLD trimpot and had no luck... picture still rolling. At this point, I should have stopped ... breathed ... rolled the trimpot slowly... and tested it properly. But I didn't... instead I went and re-adjusted EVERY pot on the board. In fact, I didn't keep an initial record of what they were all set to and COMPLETELY de-configured the TV. I then spent another night re-configuring based on guesses from the photos I took for this blog. Painful... There were also fragile wires around the tuner circuit. I then realised the trimpot I replaced was grounding against the tuner RF shield! After fixing all these mistakes, I had a rather reliable picture.

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Now that this was certain, I went about inserting a switch that selected between the antenna plug or the composite input. This was a DPST switch, as I wanted to switch the mono audio as well.

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Now that I had a quick way to switch between both inputs, I plugged in both the RF signal and the Composite from the C64.

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For the standard BASIC screen, shown above, the picture was very nice on composite (first picture) and quite blurry on RF (second picture). Either way, they both showed well.

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Above is the display difference of a game cartridge. It actually seems that the cartridge is changing how the C64 outputs the picture! The first picture is composite and seems to be over-scanning? The second is RF and is happily rendered within the bounds of the picture tube. I wonder if that's PAL vs. NTSC or some other timing issue. Or maybe because I happened to alter all the trimpots and de-configured the TV. I'll keep digging.

Audio

The same trick was then applied to the sound channel output by the KA2101 - Audio amplifier. Documentation, other than the datasheet, on the KA2101 wasn't so easy to find, so I searched for similar devices. Turns out the MC1358 is a clone (let's not get into which one was created first) and there are quite a few circuits available online as examples of audio amplifiers.

If you look here at TradeOFIC, you'll see a stereo amplifier. We don't need 2 channels, but we do need to know where to inject our composite audio signal. On the mid-left of the diagram, you'll notice that they have an input select that cuts the line from Pin 8 of the MC1358 and splices in audio from an external plug. I love it when it's this simple! There is a capacitor on the other side, so we'll check our circuit and cut in after that if we have one too.

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The circuit was cut and the wires were hacked on. I then fed via the external audio input via the same DPST switch that I used for the audio. I only need to switch one wire as ground is common (remember to use SIGNAL ground!) and the audio is mono, so there is only one audio and one video wire. Having a TPST switch would've allowed for 'future expandability', but I cannot see myself installing stereo speakers into this little beast.

The best part? It seems that feeding a proper audio signal in with the composite video stabilised the video signal! Look at that crisp picture!

Looking back...

This was not an easy task... this post was written around 4 nights after I started pulling apart the TV. Take your time with old electronics. The case was brittle and the circuit board had been repaired and re-soldered.

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One thing I didn't mention above: I had to replace one shotty capacitor and I destroyed a trimpot. Don't forget that flexing wires around will break their solder joints... so expect to re-tin the majority of contacts under the board. Go nuts and replace/re-tin ANYTHING that looks suspicious!

Capacitors are a standard item to replace. Cell batteries are usually next in line for leaking. You're bound to find all sorts of issues with vintage items. Good luck!

Other References

1Aug/160

Tokyo – July 2016

The cheapest flight to Amsterdam favoured a return leg via Tokyo. Why just transit when you can stop over for two days? I've never really spent much time in Tokyo; My university was partnered with Kansai Gaidai and so most of my friends are living in the Osaka area. Due to this, I'd googled and facebook'd a few locations of interest...

Ochanomizu Crossing

right alongside Akihabara, you'll find Ochanomizu station. This station is located on the Chuo Line, right on the banks of the Kanda River. Two JR lines and the Metro intersect here and the scenery is fantastic. I took the Metro to Shin-Ochanomizu and walked 10 minutes to the bridge. Afterwards it was a further 5 minute walk to the middle of Akihabara.

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It just so happened to be raining... but nothing was stopping me from checking out the operations. I reckon in peak hour you'll have a high chance of getting a train on each track.

Tsurumi Line

This branch line (although it has physical connections at the far end) serves multiple industries in south-western Tokyo. It actually has multiple branches in itself, with specifically-timed services.

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The Tsurumi area is nearly all industrial and houses large warehouse/manufacturing plants for Toshiba, Shell and many others. You'll be presented with sidings of oil containers and other freight areas as you make your way down the line. Each factory seems to have it's own connection to the line.

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There doesn't seem to be any coupling/uncoupling at intermediate stations, so all trains have a single destination and the passenger must stay aware of this when boarding at Tsurumi.

Tsurumi Station

Tsurumi Station provides a transfer point to-and-from the Keihin Tohoku Line. Note that the Tokaido Line does not stop at this station!

Transferring involves heading up the escalator to the the station concourse. Walking north, you'll see the Tsurumi line trains waiting at the platform as they are elevated.

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Do make sure that the train you're about to jump on goes to your target station. Due to the multiple branches, there are specific interleaved services that travel to the individual factory terminals. I jumped on the regular service that goes via Hama-Kawasaki to Ogimachi. At Hama-Kawasaki you'll find a whole lot of freight activity, so it was high on my priority list.

Hama-Kawasaki Station

This station is actually the intersection of the Nambu Line and the Tsurumi Line. There is also a main freight trunk that connects Tokyo Freight Terminal (via a series of tunnels) to the Tokaido Line.

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This station is made of two parts and passengers, when using an electronic tickets, do NOT need to touch on/off when transferring. There are specific notices to prevent this. It also seems that photographers have haunted the place for a while! That sign about being careful whilst taking pictures is not new!

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A poor little critter has been abandoned in the yard right next to the Nambu Line Platform and it seems the environment is trying to reclaim it.

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Waiting on this platform, chances are good you'll see oil trains come to and from the yards to the south. You'll also see container trains bolting through the curve and turning north to the Tokyo Freight Terminal.

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I then walked a lap of the area. There are multiple level crossings and overpasses which provide vantage points in every direction. Of note is the viaduct that runs over the top of the station. Seems to no longer be in use, but would've been handy to allow through running previously. I am assuming that the Tokaido freight connection used to be further west, instead of coming down the Nambu Line?

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During my lap, I found the following. A collection of old prints that would've been hanging in a station building or staff quarters? I was on an overpass, so could not inspect closer... there was a line-side building that had been demolished, so they could've possibly come from there. Unfortunately it looked like their fate was sealed.

Kawasakishimmachi Station

I took a Nambu Line train from Hama-Kawasaki and got off here. This station is parallel to the freight lines, but doesn't give you the best vantage point. Either way, expect to see a lot of them pass.

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Of note around the station are a bunch of cool portable storage containers. Personal, private storage that you can rent. Those pink doors in that last photo show the containers. I saw two people using them whilst I watched the freighters pass. There's also a cool underpass between the platforms; I really (and I can't explain why) love the black paint and tubular formation.

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More freighters and then a hospital train? Also the local EMUs.

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Kita-Urawa Station

I've been a member of a Facebook group for a while where Japanese locals are always posting freights from the northern-Tokyo region. All of it seems to be centered around the Urawa area. There's a triangle here where the Musashino Line joins the main north-south Tohoku Main Line.

At Kita-Urawa Station you have the local trains on your platform... but then there's six other tracks to the west that provide express access into Tokyo. You'll see a range of freight and express passenger services here. I got off at this station as I'd already seen train buffs with their cameras out. I wasn't disappointed, but the camera angles weren't what I was expecting.

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Next time I'll traverse the Musashino Line and see what else is operating.

Shimbashi Station

C11 282 is stuffed-and-mounted here. It's a nice forecourt for the station. It's also a designated smoking area! How funny... humans can puff smoke just like the old Kikkansha used to! The area is called the "SL広場 新橋駅西口広場" which translates to Shimbashi Station West Exit SL Plaza.

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As with every trip to Japan... I get that feeling that I've hardly skimmed the surface.

28Jul/160

GAME OVER? Amsterdam – Retro Games Store

GAME OVER? has existed for over 14 years, tucked away in a side-street in central Amsterdam. I was very happy to hear this when asking the owner about the history of the shop.

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game-over-map

This shop is bursting at the seams! Wall to wall of amazing retro goodness. You'll find everything here from VIC20/C64/Atari through to XBOX/Gameboy/PlayStation. The window is full of relics and will get anyone interested inside. Don't be fooled into thinking that what's on display is all there is to offer... If you know what you're after, then ask away and have the owner dig bits and pieces out for you.

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I happened to want one of the controllers in the window; turns out they're all damaged and just for display. I was then lead to a draw, on the left as you walk in, and a motherload of C64/Atari items was presented. Pretty ... much ... heaven. The owners are really friendly and let me take pictures inside the store... so do chat with them; their wealth of knowledge was very helpful!

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As you can see from above, I picked up two Atari controllers and my first ever C64 cartridge: Rat Radar Race. Am still to test it, but have been told it is in working order. I couldn't trek half-way across the globe and not purchase a few goodies when they were there in front of me. I actually tried a few of the 'markets' around Amsterdam but found zero retro gaming items.

Check this shop out if you're ever in Amsterdam!

26Jul/160

AmigaDOS to Windows CMD/DOS Reference

Recently acquiring an Amiga has lead me to realise that not all command prompts are equal. *NIX shells aside, I had expected *DOS prompts to act on a standard set of commands... turns out I was gravely mistaken!

One imporant point: When copying from Windows, long filenames will have a '~1' at the end. The 'tilde', to AmigaDOS, is actually a wildcard. So when you're deleting, etc... it'll match ALL THE BLOODY FILES and delete them all on you. Therefore, when copying to Amiga, make sure that all filenames are in the old-school 8.3 format. See more on pattern matching here.

Therefore, I present to you the following reference guide. I've provided the mapping, where possible, between standard Microsoft *DOS commands and their equivalent AmigaDOS commands. Find a full list of available commands here.

Microsoft DOS AmigaDOS Notes
cd .. cd / Slash is not the root folder!
cd dir_name dir_name You can actually just type the directory name. This makes perfect sense, as you cannot have a file the same name, so it just changes to that directory!
copy A.txt B.txt copy A.txt TO b.txt Note the TO
copy A.txt other_dir\B.txt copy A.txt TO otherdir/b.txt Slashes are reversed!
copy ..\A.txt . copy /A.txt TO A.txt Single-slash to get to parent directory
copy x:\zz.txt . copy x:zz.txt TO zz.txt Note that drives are rarely one character on Amiga
copy z:\docs\readme.txt . copy z:docs/readme.txt TO readme.txt No need for a '/' start after the drive colon
dir *.txt dir #?.txt Yes, the wildcard is #?
dir /p list Amiga dir doesn't format any other way. Use list.

Good luck.

25Jul/160

Amiga 1200: ATX Power Supply

Amiga 1200s are ancient now... if you're having phantom issues with hardware or software then a crappy power supply may be to blame! Adding extra hardware, overclocking and otherwise modding these old machines also puts undue strain on their ageing power supplies.

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Due to this, it's best to prevent problems and provide a fresh and powerful source from which the A1200 can drain as many electrons as it wants.

Wiring up an ATX Power Supply

This is very straight-forward. All ATX supplies provide the required wires for the Amiga motherboards. Unfortunately, they also provide 100 other cables of which we don't need.

Ian Stedman's site has all the information you need to get the power supply hooked up. I followed the instructions and had no issues at all.

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If you're installing this in a tower case, then you can easily hide the extra wiring. If you're still using the 'keyboard' case, then you may want to find a way to discard all the extra cables. One method might be to de-solder or cut them right back at the power supply main board. Just be careful if you're opening it.

The wiring for the cable goes as follows.

ATX Power Supply Red Yellow Blue Black not connected
Component +5v +12v -12v Ground Shield
Amiga 1200 Red Brown White Black Yellow

Note: Don't forget to connect green from the ATX supply to ground! This is the soft-power latch that needs to be grounded for the supply to turn on.

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I entirely recommend you confirm the wiring from your Amiga power cable is wired as above! Also make sure that you test the cable prior to plugging it in to your Amiga!

After a quick test, I plugged it in and the A1200 purred away. Unfortunately my PCMCIA Ethernet issues still continued!

25Jul/160

Spain, Majorca – Port De Sóller, July 2016

I've recently been in Amsterdam for by Brother's wedding. Whilst over there, the plan was also to celebrate the buck's party in Barcelona. Although a beautiful city, I've previously checked out the freight and wanted to go somewhere different. After a little searching, I came across the island of Mahjorca and saw it had quite a few railway lines. One of them specifically caught my interest: there was a heritage train from Palma to Port De Soller and I was determined to check it out.

Getting to Palma

Palma has its own international airport. It actually feels a little like Las Vegas when you arrive. The airport is new, and quite large. Out the front you'll find 20-odd coaches ready to take tour groups to their resorts.

You get the feeling pretty quickly that the island is used as a dirty weekend away. There were around 25 drunk (they started on the beer at Schiphol Airport) dutch students on my plane as we left at 6am. I didn't bother to see where they went after we disembarked.

You'll find flights from all major european airports direct to Palma. It took 2.5 hours to get there from Amsterdam.

From the airport, take Bus Number 1. This will drop you off straight out the front of the Estació Intermodal which happens to be across the road from the Estació Tren de Sóller.

Palma - Estació tren de Sóller

The Tren de Sóller runs from Palma through to Port de Soller. The Palma station is located just next to the main station in the center of Palma city.

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This station is a built at the end of the Palma yard and has multiple platforms. There is a main single platform from the station building, but this is only for arrivals. Every train I saw leave departed from the loop platform. This involves walking into the yard, across the first track. It seems that the staff are more than happy for you to wander around and take photos.

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Here you get to meet the train. It's a single electric locomotive hauling a fleet of around 5 carriages. All wooden construction is seriously endearing. The interior is simple and all windows can be opened. It seems that the Swiss helped build or electrify the railway. Don't expect air-conditioning either; it was 10am and the temperature was already over 30 degrees, so make sure you dress lightly!

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Expect to see some shunting in the yard too, and listen to the guards... chances are they're telling you politely to get out of the way. This is a heavily-utilised tourist train; so expect the odd foamer as well.

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The first service of the day from Port de Sóller arrived as we were about to leave.

Palma to San Sardina

This first leg of the trip starts with a run down a street in north-east Palma. Traffic is held at certain points and lights are coordinated. The train doesn't muck around either, full speed being met whenever possible through the city.

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10 minutes later the city fades away and you're in the country-side. There's a horse racing stadium on the north side, just after the city and some interesting stables. After this it's farmland and orchards.

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The first stop is then San Sardina. A lovely sandstone building that connects the Ferrocarril de Port de Sóller to the main metro train network. After this stop, the countryside really starts to get impressive.

San Sardina to Bunyola

There are other stops in-between; but the train hardly stops at them. Most people are destined to the very end station, so the intermediates aren't overly populated. Either way, the countryside doesn't disappoint. The backdrop is the mountain range that separates the plains from the ocean. On the other side is Port de Sóller.

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About 10 minutes before Bunyola you'll pass the maintenance yard. There's a rusting old hi-rail, that seems to have been made out of an old flatbed truck. There's also a triangle for turning vehicles... I don't know if it's still in use.

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From there, it's more olive groves. You'll then start entering a valley just before Bunyola Station. At the station keep an eye out for an older-style hi-rail and other construction vehicles.

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Bunyola to Sóller

The track now dives through quite a few tunnels before breaching the other side of the mountain range. Once on the other side, a large horse-shoe curve is navigated which provides a fantastic view of the town of Sóller. Note that we are still inland; the Port is still a distance away and alternative transport is provided!

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There's quite a few loops along the way. Expect to stop and wait for passes; unless the opposing services is already waiting for you.

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Before you know it, the train has navigated the descent and has arrived at Sóller Station.

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The town of Sóller

Above the ocean, surrounded in a valley, Sóller is the junction between the tram and the train. Spend some time here and check out the architecture and tapas menus!

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If you happen to wander behind the station, you'll find a few level crossings for the railway... many of which provide great vantage points. First you'll be able to see the rear of the station yard and then, following the track, all sorts of architecture that has been built to fit the railway in. One house actually consists of two plots, either side of the line, and has a private overpass!

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I got to one crossing late afternoon. You'll have to guess when the train comes through, but you can do that pretty easily with the timetable here.

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At one point, I walked down from Soller to the Port. This took a lot longer than I expected; but was totally worth it.

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Taking the Tram from Sóller to Port de Sóller

If you bought the combined ticket, then jump on the tram here. It's a long way to walk to the port! Unlike Melbourne, the trams from the city to the port consisted of multiple vehicles. The route is primarily single-track and there are loops at most stations. The consists are usually one driving car with two trailers, but the odd service has a driving car at both ends. Where required, the conductors will switch the driving car to the other end of the consist at the end of the line.

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The tram digs through suburbia and then descends, parallel to the highway, down to the port. At the bottom of the decent, you arrive through the mountain range into the port. At the bottom it's beach and marina; very different to everything you've just travelled through to get there.

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The tram makes its way along the shoreline. There's 2 stops before the end station which has a loop to swap the motor car around when needed. The trams then tirelessly work their way back up to Soller.

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Every so often there'll be consists trailing each other, especially after the train has arrived. There's a lot of juggling in the sidings all the way along the tracks!

Exploring the rest of Palma

After you've spent enough time at the beach, you'll find the tram/train service convenient enough to get you either back to your hotel (I stayed in Port de Soller overnight, totally worth it!) or all the way back to Palma. I ventured onto the Metro in Palma the next day to check out the area. There's a nice outlet mall called Festival Park accessible from Es Caullis Station.

On the way you'll pass Marraxti and, if you're looking out the north side of the train, you'll spot a miniature railway just before a highway overpass. Here's a map of the area. I didn't have time to check it out... but it looked to be in operating condition.

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The metro itself has a good mix of new and old stock and can take you all the way out to Inca and further. You can get to San Sardina and see the Sóller train pass. Otherwise, I had an early evening flight and heavy bags, so didn't venture far.

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Take note of the information signs on the network. They're very good at time estimation, to the point where they tell you if the service has left the start-point or not. Very handy!

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And that was that. Amazing island. Highly recommended. Spend a few days out at the remote areas and enjoy the transport in between.