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The annual Christmas pilgrimage – December, 2016

Just like the christmas trip in 2015, this trip just past for 2016 Xmas wasn't overly different. Still a great location with a lot of sightings. An early start out of Melbourne meant an easy trip onto the Hume highway. I caught the southbound XPT just out of Kilmore and a southbound inter-modal in Seymour.

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After a speeding ticket in Benalla, I b-line'd it straight to the Olympic Highway. It's a nice drive, off the beaten path, and away from influences to do stupid things on the road. First stop was at Harefield and I was greeted by an IRA 44 Class! Qube has taken ownership of a few of them and has been using one for the shuttle into Junee.

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Not much was happening in the yard, so it was a bolt further north to intercept the southbound steel train. I beat it through Illabo, meeting it on a driveway half way between Illabo and Bethungra.

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From there it was off to Cootamundra to tackle the XPT. I tried to beat it to Jindalee, but it won. Instead I then backtracked and got it at the station.

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At this time of day, between the two XPTs, there's always a quiet time when the sun is at it's peak and the rails are buckling. Due to this, I took time to have lunch and check out the pool at the usual motel.

Back to it... the XPT was fast approaching from the south and I wanted to get it at Jindalee this time.

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And then something weird happened... an off-the-radar rail-grinder rolled through! I love being in the-right-place-at-the-right-time.

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And of course, being zoomed-in and distracted, I hadn't realised that the 81+82 on the grain train were steadily already rolling towards me.

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The next train was a bunch of QBXs heading south to Junee. I had enough time, so I thought I'd try something different at Wallendbeen.

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That angle worked really well! I then caught them again past Jindalee on a driveway half-way back to Cootamundra.

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They didn't slow down through Coota, so I kept to the limit and then got in front of them before Bethungra.

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I had a really hard time keeping up with them once they were on the other side of the spiral. It's all downhill for them and me, but they were doing somewhere around 95km/h and made it hard to catch up when the speed limit was 100km/h. We were both fast-approaching Junee and I managed around a 50 metre advantage; just enough to park road-side safely and snap a shot above some lovely green pastures.

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From here, it was Junee yard.

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From there, it was back to Wallendbeen to catch the next southbound intermodal.

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I got in front of it and made it to another driveway past Jindalee, but before Coota.

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The sun was already starting to lose light, but there was still enough time to get the 2 QBXs that were coming in via Stockinbingal.

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Nothing was next on the radar, so I checked out the yard at Coota. Turns out there was a bit of shunting going on to get a grain train to fit in the yard.

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That steel wagon must have been defective as it was sitting by itself, blocking one road, to start with. It ended up being shunted into another road onto so that the arriving train could stash half of its wagons there. Pretty quick work actually. Nice to hear the 81s powering up and down when shunting a whole train to shift one wagon.

After this, it was dinner time... an early start on the radar showed, what should have been, a great opportunity for a cross at Yass Junction. Due to this I packed up and got on the road early. Thanks to my miscalculation, the pass actually happened around Goondah and the light was terrible. Instead I forged ahead to Yass and got the northbound grain there.

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I really do like that angle. From the grain silo, instead of the platform, you can get a nice long telephoto shot of the descent into the Junction. From here, it was off to Canberra and there's not much going on nowadays with the Museum closed and the scrap metal train done.

On the way back to Melbourne, I saw an opportunity for a shot at Jindalee of a northbound grain train. This all lined up well ... very well ... as the-right-place-at-the-right-time happened again.

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The grain train then appeared.

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A quick stop was had in Cootamundra to snap the Lachlan Valley Railway sheds where they have a nice collection of railmotors and 47 class locomotives.

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And then finally, after a pie at Culcairn, I caught up to a southbound freighter at Henty.

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The dim weather on the way back turned much dimmer over Seymour where visibility actually dropped to around 10 metres. Most people parked on the side of the road; but I didn't see that as 100% necessary and a few of us kept on driving through the car wash.

Another awesome pilgrimage!

Filed under: AUS No Comments
12Jan/170

Power Mac 7220

I've recently dug back into Macromedia Director disassembling with a goal to help finish an engine that can run movies under ScummVM. I've always wanted to make Gadget run on random hardware... and for that matter, on newer versions of windows without issues. To get this done, I've had to create permuatations of Director movies to be able to decode the bytes. For example, text labels on Director stages/frames can have fonts, styles (bold, underline, etc..), font sizes, margins, borders, box shadows and text shadows. Each of these customisations react against the others and therefore all permutations need to be given to be able to render stages correctly. To do this, I've been using BasiliskII, but it tends to dislike loading Director after closing it.

So... that's the brief... what's the answer? Since I've gotten rid of my Quadra 950 and Power Mac 7200, I scoured eBay to find a replacement. Turns out that a Power Mac 7220 (aka 4400) (aka not-really-a-mac) was available; two units, two keyboards, two mice and a monitor, actually. I only wanted one unit, but got a good offer to take the whole lot.

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Tear-down

All items were quite dirty and so a complete tear-down was required.

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That's not sepia tone.. that's a solid layer of 'protective' dust. I usually use that excuse with my car, but not with computers. The entire system was caked, so it received a solid once-over.

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Nothing better than finding spider eggs... bleach fixed that.

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Apart from the external case screws, the rest of the machine came apart with brute force. It is said that this Macintosh is as close to PC as possible... so it's very PC-like regarding IDE devices and case screws.. but then the Apple comes through with a perfectly dismantle-able case.

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The motherboard was slightly grotty! It all came up good after a wipe and vacuum.

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Of note: No fan on the CPU? AT-style power connectors. IDE connectors, but it seems that they're the same channel when you follow the traces (i.e. a header for master and a header for slave.) Crystal sound chip? Does apple ever use this? Built in ATI Graphics. "Feature Option"? First RAM slot is for "Single Bank" whereas the second two are "Dual Bank"? (I've read that this means you can have a 32mb in the single and 64mb in the doubles.)

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Power Supply Test

The power supply looked to be in good shape externally and I didn't feel like opening it. I decided to take the punt and switched the machine on.

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It chimed! The hard disk then started booting... All was going well until I heard the disk park the heads. It's a really scary event for a hard disk as it only happens when the disk itself knows it's in trouble. This is an old Quantum 1.2g and so the fact that it parked meant its basic error checking kicked in. The booting stopped as the drive was beeping. Not an overly audible beep, but it seemed to be fighting requests from the machine to fetch any more data.

Subsequent boots failed to produce happy disk-reading noises... it was parked for good. I'll need a screen attached to be able to see what's going on... and I'll need a video cable for that.

VGA Cable

I used the forum post here as a reference to wire up a VGA cable. I used an old VGA cable that I had in my junk box and purchased a male DB-15 connector and ribbon cable from Jaycar. After stripping and tinning both sides, I mapped out the VGA cable. The Macintosh side was easy enough as the IDC cable was, from the red wire, 1, 9, 2, 10, 3, 11, etc...

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Heatshrink came in very handy to keep everything isolated. Make sure you choose a size that is wide enough to slip over everything you want it to. ALSO make sure that you don't try to slip it over whilst the solder is still hot! ALSO make sure you remember to slip the heatshrink on before you solder the wires :)

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I initially tested on an LCD, but the Apple Multiple Scan 15 Display M2978 also worked first time! But gets very blurry after 30 minutes of usage.

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I shut the machine down and gave the HDD a little 'love tap'. Usually when the heads are parked (or stuck?), a tap can dislodge them. Of course, it could be that the magnet that locks the heads in place was just sticky... maybe the drive was wearing itself out trying to un-stick the heads. Either way... the small jolt did the job!

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PRAM Battery

There's no chance the battery still worked. It's also quite difficult to find an off-the-shelf replacement.

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I ended up at Jaycar and found a 3AAA battery holder. Using a bit of extension wire, I snipped the plug off the dead battery and wired it all together.

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The cable was run under the CD-ROM chassis and placed right next to the HDD. Taped up tight also... any effort to prevent future leakage (and terminal shorting) is appreciated.

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CD-ROM Drives

The IDE drive that comes with this machine did not like booting from CD. It might just be that my CDs were copies, or that the drive itself was faulty. I tried two other IDE drives, but had no luck trying to boot from them. I then tried a SCSI CD drive, but that wouldn't boot either. In fact, the SCSI drive needed the Sunrise CD driver to even recognise CDs. So, any IDE drive will work with the base drivers, but if you want to boot off a burnt CD then you will possibly need a real Apple SCSI drive.

Of course, I've learnt all the above before with my previous Quadra 950. It's amazing how quickly you forget these things. The Power Mac 7220 was also locking the IDE non-Apple drives and they were getting quite confused. If you soft reboot when the drive is locked then you can quickly have an unusable drive until you power down the entire machine.

Again, just stick to real Apple CD drives and real Apple CDs.

Actually, with further googling, it turns out that there might be ways to correctly burn and make bootable a CD image. Supposedly the System Folder needs to be 'blessed'. I would've expected this to be already the case in the bytes inside the ISO image, but supposedly not. I might try Toast on the Mac and burn a disk image and test from there. Here's a good guide.

Extra IDE Disks?

There's two IDC headers for IDE connections on the motherboard. Looking closely at the board, you can see parallel traces running between the headers, so it's pretty safe to assume that they're on the same bus. From this you can then assume that the CD-ROM header is hard-wired as slave with the HDD header as master. Disregarding this assumption, I tried to plug two HDDs on the HDD port.

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I had an 80-pin IDE cable on hand, but it turns out these are 'keyed' with one blocked pin. This doesn't fit the header on the motherboard. Instead I found another IDE cable. The second drive is 200gb and was seemingly busted... clicking badly! I found another HDD, this time 500gb.

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The Apple booted up both times in this configuration, but never saw the second drive.

SCSI Disks

I've always been interested to know how 50-pin cables convert to 'Printer port' DB-25 pin plugs at the other end... turns out that this motherboard has a SCSI controller and a 50-pin IDC header that has an adapter to an external DB-25 port!

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Ok, so ... every second pin is skipped? Half-duplex over full? Totally interesting! Fortunately, I had a cable to convert it back to 50-pin and tested out my dual-drive external bay. All worked flawlessly, even though the second disk was incompatible... will need to install PC Exchange or something else... I don't even know what's on the drive!

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RAM

The 200mhz version supports up to 160mb. So that's two 64mb DIMMs and one 32mb. The recommended spec is Unbuffered 60ns Non-ECC 3.3 volt DIMMs. Even though it is mentioned here, here and here that ECC RAM can be used in non-ECC motherboards, this does not hold true for older Power Macs. G5 and higher were able to support ECC.

Network Card

Both machines came with the same network card in them. It's a Communications Slot II profile card, with very little information on it. Most information on the 4400/7220 indicates that it either has a 'built-in' card or just comes with a standard 'Apple CS II Ethernet' card and the aptly named extension from the Mac OS CD will work.

After re-installing OS 8.6, I could see the driver in the extensions folder, but there was no network link light. The device showed up in System Profiler, but with very little information.

I then tried OS 9.1. It is the last out-of-the-box compatible version with my machine. During both installs, I couldn't boot from the CD, so I performed a clean install over the top of 8.6. Neither made the ethernet work.

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The card has "BD-064 REV a." written on the top. "GSEP-M01" and "94V-0" on the back. Also "805-1614-A" on the face-plate. Googling for everything but the first item came up with zero results.

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Finally, I found this post (6 months old!) from someone in the same predicament. The post author indicates that there's more information near the ethernet port. It sure as heck isn't on the board...

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Oh what? It's on the face-place.. under the removable face-plate? Nice work. Actually, now that I think of it... the removable 'face plate' is only used for this type of PC-style case. In a usual Performa (or other Power PC), this piece of metal, which obscures the relevant information required, would not be obscuring the relevant information required!

The author of the post above reported the same model number, so I used the drivers he specified. I tried to use a floppy to copy over Sonic Systems EtherLAN 7.8 Drivers. This didn't work on either the first, second or third attempt. I kept getting serious disk errors on the Macintosh side, so I think the floppy drive is gone. I therefore resorted to wasting a CD-R and copied the driver, plus some other bits and pieces, over.

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Installation was a breeze... the link light lit up right at the end of the boot process just before the desktop and then I tried Internet Explorer... poor machine ground to a halt! 48mb of RAM seems to be insufficient.

Macromedia Director

3 is throwing "An error of type 2 occurred". I haven't tried 4 yet. One step at a time!

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Turns out that Mac OS 8 is the last version that Director 3 will happily run on. I've created a partition specifically for this version. Director will open on 8.1 and 8.5 (getting past that error above), but then crash when trying to load movies. Mac OS 8.0 is the safest version to use.

Mac OS 9.2.2?

Nope. The 'Tanzania' motherboard that this Macintosh is based on does NOT support anything higher than OS 9.1. OS9 Helper which I used on my previous 7200 does NOT support this model. Don't even try!

BeOS 4.5

Turns out this is one of the few Power Macs that can run BeOS! I also have the CDs. Will test this out in short order.

Linux?

Sure, why not. Instructions are all over the internet.

Overclocking

The motherboard hardly has a passive heatsink on the CPU, so it can't be getting too hot during runtime. This gives an option to consider overclocking it, as we can just put a fan onto it!

There's a few links here at apple fool indicating overclocking the PowerMac 4400/160 and the Tanzania Motherboard. The first article is a dead link but web.archive comes to our rescue here. The basic idea:

How to update you PowerMac 4400/160 to a 4400/200:
1. Locate the SMD-Resitors R1 and R9 on the Logicboard. There on the left side of the CPU.
2. Remove R1 and R9 carefully and solder a 10K resistor to R2 and 10K to R8.
3. Attach a Fan on the Heatsink of the CPU.
4. Yes, now it runs at 200 MHz.

Ok, but we have the 200mhz version. Thanks again to web archive, here's the link on the Tanzania Motherboard. The blue box, up in the top-left corner near the CPU is where our settings are (or the bottom-right area below on my photo.)

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R8 and R9 are below the CPU OPTION pads with R21-24 above. The SMDs are tiny, so shifting them around will be a nightmare. By the table, we'd only need to shift R9 to R8 to get 220mhz and then, if that was stable, R21 to R22 for another 20mhz to 240mhz.

As that the components are already on the board, it can't be too hard to try... I also have a spare machine! Supposedly you can also change the base bus clock frequency from a 40mhz xtal to 50mhz and get a quick boost!

I'll tinker once I've got the machine stable.

Filed under: Apple No Comments
10Jan/170

IBM NetVista M/T 6825-M23

This poor machine was about to be sent to the recycle center... so I salvaged it and downgraded it. Getting Windows 98 to run was a challenge!

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Windows 98 doesn't like more than 512mb RAM

Found this out the hard way... the installer would boot the CD, start installing and then fail randomly throughout the install.

Once it actually made it to the first reboot and then failed to reboot. It threw an error on the dos prompt of which I failed to record.

The machine had 512+512+128 in there (which was an odd combo anyway) and I reduced it to just one 512 stick. After this is worked fine.

Sound Drivers

I downloaded and installed around 20 different SoundMax drivers and had absolutely zero luck. 1 month later (when I finally had a use for the machine) I came back to get the audio going; I needed a full multimedia experience.

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I checked out the motherboard and found that it had a AD1887 chipset... turns out that this was made well after the Windows 98 era and therefore finding drivers wasn't easy.

Fortunately, Totempole posted the same issue in the vogons forums! Unfortunately, his links are dead. A little googling found the correct file (although it stated it was for Windows 7 or higher?) which worked a charm! Here it is for safe-keeping: SoundMax AD1887 Driver for IBM NetVista Desktop Workstation (d63z32us.exe).

Note that if you want DOS Sound to work, then you need to specifically enable it.

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And then you can play awesome games!

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NVidia AGP Riva TNT2

This machine came with this card in the AGP slot. There's no on-board graphics in this machine.

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It seems like 81.84 was the final NVidia driver to support Windwos 98m but I somehow managed up with 71.84_win9x_english.exe installed. Display Properties shows that this card is an NVidia Vanta? Never heard of it. Running at 1920x1080 in Windows 98 SE is pretty random.. but great for the next trick.

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Now to start producing Director 5 movies for this project and ... playing A-Train.

Filed under: Retro No Comments
3Jan/170

The annual Christmas pilgrimage – December, 2015

This post is only around a year late. I've recently done this trip from Melbourne to Canberra to visit the family for Christmas and, whilst taking happy snaps this year (well, 2016), realised I had misplaced the photos I'd taken last year (well, 2015). Turns out they were sitting in a folder on the desktop of my (now disused) Vaio Duo.

Anyway, the annual pilgrimage includes a stopover in Cootamundra. I've now stayed at the Cootamundra Gardens Motel three times and have never been disappointed. Coota heats up during the day and the motel even has a pool! You're also in ear-shot of the railway and level crossing on Gundagai Road.

Cootamundra is a great spot to stop. It's the junction of the "west" line to Parkes and the "main south." You get grain trains frequently as the station precinct includes grain storage facilities. You also get the east-coast steel trains and intermodals. There's the XPT and also the Griffith Xplorer (when they're running.) As I mentioned, it also gets very hot, so sunlight usually isn't an issue... also, there's the occasional thunderstorm at this time of year, so the backgrounds can be quite picturesque.

Speaking of picturesque, there's a lot of great photo opportunities to be had in the area...

Jindalee

Heading North out of Cootamundra, you'll cross the railway and then hit the 100 km/h zone. From here, you run parallel with the railway until North Jindalee Road. Turn left into North Jindalee Road then then left again into West Jindalee Road. This is a dirt road that happens to cross the railway where it deviates to negotiate the climb to Wallendbeen. From this bridge, if you're willing to drag your car over the dirt track (which is actually in great condition), you get a great view of the curves on both sides.

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Between Jindalee and Cootamundra

There are numerous level crossings along the stretch where the railway line parallels the highway between Jindalee and Cootamundra. Most of these are private property driveways, so be courteous and do not overstay your welcome.

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Berthong Road Level Crossing

From Cootamundra, take Temora Road north. Once in the 100 km/h zone, take the second right turn. It's a cross-roads and, after turning right, you'll quickly come to a level crossing with ample space to park. Berthong Road provides a great location to get south-bound trains at any time of day. It is also a great place to get north-bound, but the lighting is better in the evening.

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Bob Dear's Crossing

I don't know who Bob was, but just east out of Cootamundra is a fully equipped level crossing. You can get a good angle from below track-level on west-bound trains.

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North Bethungra Level Crossing

When approaching Bethungra from Cootamundra, the highway crosses the rails just north of the spiral. This location provides a great view in both directions; just make sure you choose the right side before the lights start flashing.

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Bethungra Spiral

This helix was created to enable heavy trains to climb the gradient what was too steep for a straight run. The south-bound track doesn't run the loop, only the north-bound track does. The basic idea is that the track is constructed in a loop that gradually inclines, allowing trains to keep speed and climb at the same time. Tunnels are used to allow tracks to cross.

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There is an access road (look for the Bethungra Waterworks sign) that will take you up to some amazing vantage points. Trucks and other machinery often use this road, so please make sure you park your vehicle out of the way!

Junee to Harefield

Junee is another junction-town like Cootamundra. It also hosts a range of accomodation and constant activity. There's a roundhouse also, which has a miriad of rollingstock hanging around in various states of (dis)repair. Qube has recently been running shuttles out of Junee to Harefield to build their consists which then run to Melbourne and Sydney. The rail from Junee to Harefield is relatively straight, but has some great curves mid-way.

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Fortunately, you can then cruise down the highway and meet any train again at Harefield itself. There's usually always activity here with a train being loaded or shunted.

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So, this was 2015... I've got a wad of photos from 2016 to post now... but I'll let this lot settle first.

30Dec/160

A-Train III SV – Super Famicom

Christmas always provides an opportunity to raid the childhood cupboards. My brother had once owned a Super Nintendo and I was sure it was still in the house somewhere.

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I was looking for it because of this...

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Yes, they made a "Super Version" of A-Train III for the Super Nintendo. Well.. that is actually where I am wrong... it's for the Super Famicom and this is what I got when trying to run it...

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Fail... to emulation we go! A quick google of "Take the A-Train" and "SNES" resulted in the acquisition of a relevant ROM (I own the cartridge, so this is OK, right?) and ZSNES.

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From above, you can see everything worked fine. The game jumps through two menus: the first allows you to chose a previous game, or start new, and the second lets you configure a new game. I'll explain all this soon. I'm now waiting for a USB SNES controller to play this properly.

Note that when you are thrown into the map, the whole world rotates smoothly. The developers seem to have used every part of the SNES graphics hardware to produce very smooth translations and sprite effects. Even the music and sound effects are fantastic! This seems to be very different from the standard PC A-Train III.

30Dec/160

A-Train MD – Sega Mega Drive

Whilst continuing my quest to acuire every version of A-Train, I came across the
Sega Megadrive version on eBay. Never one to resist, I did a quick little bit of research to see if it'd work on a console over here once imported. I stubmled across the following eBay page regarding NTSC Megadrive games on PAL consoles and was assured that, although there's a cartridge shape difference, the games could be made to work.

I then found an AtGames Megadrive Clone (that link is to the Genesis, can't see the mega drive on their site?) for dirt cheap on eBay and everything arrived in short order. I disregarded any sound advice on the clones and just bought it. Here's a brutal review of this console. Update: It actually might be that this cartridge wouldn't work on a real Australian Mega Drive and that this clone saved me and allowed me to play the game.

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As you can see, the game came boxed and in great condition. An interesting fact: the game cost 8700yen at time of release! The instruction manual is huge and I'll need a lot of help to get through it. Fortunately the game fit perfectly into the Mega Drive Clone.

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And the million dollar test...

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What's USA doing there? Time to work out how this game differs!

19Dec/160

A-Train III – PC Engine

After finding A-Train for the MSX, the Famicom, the Amiga and the Megadrive, I googled a little more and found out that version 3 was released for the PC Engine. Of course, this is the actual version three, not I or II that were released on Japan earlier. It's on par with the first A-Train to be released to the west. I found a copy on eBay and couldn't resist!

PC.. Engine?

Yeah, this was a video game console released by Hudson Soft and NEC in Japan. It was later released in the west as the TurboGrafx-16. It was released at around the same time as the SNES and Sega Genesis.

This console made history as the first to have a CD-ROM expansion and then an inbuilt CD-ROM when the Duo was released. The console kept evolving and a second version of the PC Engine CD-ROM format was released. They named it Super CD-ROM². Older machines could be 'upgraded' via a System Card (HuCard) to be able to read the newer CD format.

Multiple variations of the PC Engine were built, check out the wikipedia link for more information.

A-Train III for the PC Engine

This version of A-Train has great sound effects and utilises the CD Audio for background music. It requires the Super CD-ROM² System Card to boot.

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I don't actually have a PC Engine, so I did a little investigation on how to emulate it. Turns out that Magic Engine needs to be purchased and mednafen needs a serious amount of configuration work to boot off a real CD.

Running with Ootake

This couldn't be easier... download Ootake from here and install it. You'll find an icon on your desktop once installed; double-click this. Initially you're greeted with a disclaimer. Insert your Game CD and then choose CD-ROM. You'll need a system card image to boot into the machine as a Super CD-ROM², a little googling should get this for you without too much effort. Once you've selected the file, hit OK...

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Now to work out how to play the game ... Ootake emulates the PC Engine Mouse and this game happily uses it, so it shouldn't be too different from the other versions!

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19Dec/160

Narita, Tokyo – November 2016

Thanks to Jetstar, I've been frequenting Narita International Airport lately as there is a great Melbourne to Tokyo direct flight on the Dreamliner 787. Sure, it's Jetstar, so you know what you're getting, but the red-eye timing is great on the way there and it's also not too early in the morning on the way back. Unfortunately, it seems that Qantas has seen how lucrative this leg is and will take it back early in the new year?

Getting to and from Narita Airport quickly means taking either take the JR East N'EX or Keisei Skyliner. On the way, other small towns flick by in the windows... these Limited Express trains don't bother stopping when it's not convenient.

Thanks again to Jetstar, we suffered a huge delay when returning to Melbourne. Well, actually, it wasn't Jetstar's fault. Melbourne Airport received a bad batch of aviation fuel and any plane loaded with it had to dump its tanks. Other planes waiting for fuel had nowhere to go and no fuel to receive.

Due to this, our operating aircraft was delayed. I received an email at midnight (before a midday flight the next day) telling me that my 12:50 would leave at 14:45. That's awesome when you're in Tokyo, as there's no end of stuff to do. Unfortunately, the email did not mention what time check-in was. Since the plane was suffering a 2+ hour delay, could I go to the check-in 2+ hours later? This was non-refundable-cargo-hold-style Jetstar and so I wasn't going to take that risk. I made it to the check-in desk at 10am for my 14:45 flight and the attendant happily checked in my obese bag! (Famicom + Games, MSX + Games, Model Trains, Pla-Rail, etc)

Now, thanks to Jetstar being an LCC, I was in Terminal 3 in Narita Airport with not much to do. I really like the terminal; the 'running track' is great to get people into the orderly fashion of Japan straight away and the food court is nice. But ... once through security (and they even warn you with signs stating so) there is nothing do to but sit in massage chairs.

It was 1030, the flight wasn't boarding until 1420. That was ... nearly 4 hours! Let's check out the closest town.

Narita

Yes, there is actually a town called Narita. It's located just south-west of the airport and isn't huge. The limited express trains of both companies (they have individual stations) often don't stop here. Therefore I jumped on the next Keisei local train (I no longer had a JR Pass and I wanted to test the competition) and travelled one stop.

So far, 15 minute walk to the station from Terminal 3, 2 minute ticket purchase, 5 minute wait and then 10 minute transit. We're here! McDonald's is out the front of the Keisei Narita Station. I had my last binge on delicious Japanese-style western food.

A quick walk north-east along the Keisei route saw a vista of a sweeping curve, but the elevation to take a shot from the road was too low. I intruded on a building's fire-escape and was quickly asked to move on.

It seems that, although it's a small town, I'm not the first Gaijin here and other intruders have done the same thing. If so, I'm not surprised; it would've been perfect to have the Skyliner bolting in with the sun where it was.

JR Narita Station

Oh well, time to check out JR. Wandering along any road north-west from Keisei will get you to the JR Narita Station. It's a lot larger and has a nice yard to the south. The N'EX trains come through frequently, but I was never in the right place at the right time.

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There's a viewing deck on the far side, near the bicycle parking. After this, I circumnavigated the yard to the south-west. At the time, this seemed like a great idea. I was wrong though... it's a LONG walk and it was already hot with the sun in your face most of the way. The road also doesn't provide any vantage point to the railway below. Once you get to the south-eastern side of the tracks, you're then too elevated to get a good shot without catenary. It was still nice to check out the sleepy town though!

Keisei Narita Station

After dawdling further around, you'll start intercepting level crossings for Keisei. This doesn't happen with JR, as their tracks are all grade-separated. From the south-west, where the companies rails cross (oh crap... if I'd looked at a map then I would've gone down to check out this over/under!) you can walk up the main road between both companies. You get a good view of Keisei to the right and the odd view of JR between buildings.

Further down the road, on the right, you'll hit some level crossings.

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And then... if you hang for longer than 20-or-so minutes, you're bound to see the one we're all waiting for.

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Now that I look back; waiting down at the area where JR passes over Keisei, regardless of the incorrect morning light, would've been a great opportunity. Oh well.. gives me something to go back for!

From here, it was a quick local trip back to the airport for a second and then third lunch.

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Is it just me or does Keisei have an Amtrak feel to their livery?

16Dec/160

N3331 Bar and Cafe, Tokyo

N3331 Bar and Cafe is located inside the mAAch ecute building in Ochanomizu, Tokyo. This is actually the old Manseibashi Train Station on the Chuo Line between Ochanomizu and Kanda Stations. Unfortunately, trains no longer stop here, so you'll need to walk from either of the stations mentioned above. You can also get here from Akihabara or the Tokyo Metro Kanda Subway Station, Shin-Ochanomizu Subway Station or Awajicho Subway Station.

The cafe actually populates the entire width of a short section of the original station platform and is therefore located right between the rails. You'll get to see a variety of local, express and limited express trains from your table.

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Note, it is required that you place an order prior to entering the cafe. I assume that the proprietor gets a lot of seat-warmers, rather than patrons and therefore at least wants a small amount of custom from each guest. The Kirin lager is delicious!

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You'll also be vying for position. As you can tell, the best table is up the end where the tecchan were recording the movements. Unfortunately they therefore were my subjects as well as the trains :)

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Sun sets early in Winter and the beer glasses were empty; so it was off to Akihabara for one last shopping expedition. Exiting the building proves how nice the renovations are.

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A short walk and you're back in the thick of it!

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16Dec/160

Tokyo, Japan – November 2016

After a lovely t-shirt-and-shorts-weather 25 degrees in Miyazaki, it was colder in Osaka. A few days later we arrived in Tokyo to a pleasant day, somewhat similar to Osaka weather.

After failing to correctly find a good location in the Urawa area last time, I had decided this time it was time to venture onto the Musashino Line and check out the freight as they branch down from the north.

Nishi-Urawa Station

This station is located to the west of Musashi-Urawa station and forms the left leg of the triangle with the Tohoku Line. Because of this, any freight that wants to head west uses this line to bypass the city. I arrived there on a really nice pre-winter afternoon and the setting sun provided a very surreal glow on all trains approaching from the east.

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You can tell you're in the right place when there's already a row of fans blocking your first shot :)

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I saw one express passenger train, but it wasn't until now that I realised it was a school excursion! The kanji is 修学旅行.

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Next up was an EMU transfer. Totally fluked it.

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Back to Minamisenju

I'd stayed in hostels here before, but this time I chose AirBNB. The apartment was in Arakawa-ku and had an amazing view of the Joban line, right after the freight line joined from the Sumidagawa Yard.

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There was a constant barrage of passenger trains, including express trains.

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And then the odd freight train!

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Having a beer on the balcony provided a perfect end to a fun day. The weather was getting eerily cool though.

First Tokyo November Snow in 54 Years?

WTF... it was freezing. What was happening... the sunset was amazing the evening before... where'd the heat go?

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Hahaha... that is ACTUALLY snow. And the flakes are huge. It's even settled around the neighbourhood already!

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Venturing out into it saw that the trains were actually struggling. Quite a few delays and a few track faults? I always laugh when Melbourne fails in the heat but never expected Japan to be caught unawares.

Back to Nishi-Urawa, the long way...

As that I was staying right next to Minamisenju Station, and knowing that freight traversed the Musashino Line, a direct path was cut to the closest Musashino Station. This happened to be Shin-Koshigaya Station on the Tobu SkyTree Line. Initially a local train was taken, but a transfer to an express occurred halfway down the line when the delays meant that the local would take a lot longer than expected.

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The snow was simply beautiful and not getting any lighter. It was actually making it pretty hard to focus on the trains over the large flakes!

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At Shin-Koshigaya Station, lunch was had at Matsuya. Once thawed out, we entered JR Minami-Koshigaya Station and departed for Nishi-Urawa once more.

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Even in the snow, there were still avid fans taking photos.

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This shot was nearly totally blocked by the EMU. My fellow photo taker got a little excited!

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An umbrella would've been a really great idea... keeping snow off the lens was a challenge.

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From there it was off to Akihabara...

Night Time in Minamisenju

Japan is always picturesque at night, so we went for an urban crawl photographing the scenes whilst trying not to freak out the locals.

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That last shot is a bit of cool street art depicting the Arakawa Street Car line that has a terminus just around the corner.

Freight at Mikawashima Station

The next day was back to brisk but sunny weather, so we checked out the area to the west of the apartment.

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The freight line drops away from the Joban Line at Mikawashima Station and there are a few level crossings to be taken advantage of. Unfortunately, the lighting in the morning isn't good for west-bound trains.

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Arakawa Toden Line

This is a small tram line running in the inner-north of Tokyo. It's all single-car EMUs and runs light rail at the east end.

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Most of my photos are in the shade as the line runs between tall buildings most of the time. I recommend checking it out later in the day!

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Last day in Minamisenju

A final shot from the balcony in the late-morning sun provided great lighting!

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The one location I haven't mentioned yet is the Sumidagawa Freight Yard which was just east of where I was staying. I've been here before a few times and have never been disappointed. There's always something being shunted, as well as services departing and arriving. This time they have a new hybrid shunter!

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And that was a wrap.. I'll post two more articles on Tokyo. We stopped through the N3331 Cafe in Ochanomizu and also ventured into Narita town itself as Jetstar delayed our flight!

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