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16Sep/200

I’m not original…

In fact, my new best friend is over 16 years old!

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I ... thiiiiink ... he's half deaf... might be time to replace his ears.

12Sep/200

EZIO + OS9 + Hypercard (Or Just Windows)

The EZIO Board is a serial-based I/O module that can connect to both Windows and Macintosh machines. Actually, it can connect to anything that speaks RS-232. One of these came up on eBay recently and I couldn't resist. I saw the Macintosh serial port and decided to give it a go. It's really similar to an Arduino, but from a few decades before the Arduino was even a dream. If I'd known about these back in the early 2000s then I would've definitely had a very nice automated model railway. But alas, I only happen to find one now thanks to eBay!

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The unit has 10 digital output lines, 10 digital input lines, 8 analog-to-digital lines and two PWM lines. You then get 4 +5v terminals and 4 GND terminals. There's a PIC microcontroller in the middle running the show and a MAX232 for the RS-232 comms. The unit has a DC-rectifier, so you can feed it 5-15v either AC or DC. The 5-15v is literally the operating recommendations of the 7805 voltage regulator on-board.

There's a whole lot of code on the old site (yeah, you have to use web archive to get to it), but it's mainly for Director!? and Macintosh. Hilariously, the Macintosh example uses Hypercard! Before booting up the Power Mac, I instead wrote a quick bit of C# to test out the unit.

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The shot above uses dotnet-ncurses, allowing the console to act like a canvas. It's really nice to be able to draw text to specific areas, rather than scrolling the screen. Anyway, the basic idea is that you can control the digital out and then everything else is read in. Interestingly, floating pins show some very random values... so if you're using this device, make sure you tie everything to ground or use pull-up resistors where appropriate.

Of course, the whole reason I bought this was due to the Macintosh serial port. I wasn't overly-energetic, so I tried a virtual Macintosh first...

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After installing Hypercard, the app came up, but the performance once it started trying to interact with the serial port was terrible. It also just didn't work, so I gave up and booted up the Power Mac.

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Yup, works a charm. Hypercard is pretty clunky, but I'm sure you could do a lot with it. I'll have to dig out the railway track and control a train!

5Sep/200

Philips CDI 450 – Laser Replacement

The Philips CD-i (Compact Disc-Interactive) brand/tech was released back in 1990 to add a level of interactivity to CD-ROM based entertainment. Philips, from 1990 through to 1998, produced and released multiple devices for both the home and educational markets based on this technology. One of those models was the CDI 450 and I just happened to stumble across one a long time back at a Belgian flea market. It's been in a box for quite a while and I've only just gotten around to looking at it... The driving factors were: #1 COVID lockdown is driving me crazy and #2 there's a version of The 7th Guest for this unit!

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The unit came with the power supply, a controller with it's face missing and, randomly, a game CD in the drive.

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The controller was obviously useless, so I went to GAME OVER? in Amsterdam and picked up the cheapest controller I could find.

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There's the standard rule of 'sunk cost' where you don't spend large amounts of money on something that could be dead. I then returned to Australia and the unit has been in the box since. Only recently did I turn it on...

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Cool! It works! My French is rusty, so I wanted to try and get other games working. No matter what I tried, the unit would not read CDRs. Every google search I tried lead me to believe that the laser was gone, or going, so I scoured eBay for a replacement. It turns out that searching for VAM-1201 will give you shops in China that have the exact 'new old stock' component that I needed! I ordered one, expecting it to take years, instead having it arrive in just under two weeks!

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Popping open the CDI was easy enough. There are four screws in the unit. Two are in the CD bay and two are in the 'optional module area' to the left. Open the CD lid and then remove the plastic shell to the left. It has two clips that need to be pushed in. Woah, what's this? My unit has the Digital Video Cartridge!

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With the screws out, you'll now find the RF shield in the way... remove this evenly, prying it up from each corner and making sure there are no wires in the way.

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Mine had a lovely amount of discolouration... maybe from the rain that was falling in the flea market in Belgium? Fortunately the motherboard looked pristine.

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The Laser aparatus consists of the laser unit and drive motor in a plastic housing, attached to a metal plate via rubber suspension joints. This whole component is held in place by the two screws from the main case and two plastic lugs along the top frame. Gently lift the whole lot, evenly pulling it up. The top two lugs are quite tight, to make sure to ease the unit vertically away from them until it's free. Once done, don't lift too high as you'll first need to disconnect the data ribbon cable and power cables underneath.

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Once done, you then need to remove the laser unit from the metal plate. It's held there by four rubber spacers. Note that these are old now, so be very gentle when sliding them out laterally from the slots in the laser housing. I managed to break one when doing so, but fortunately this didn't impact the ability of the unit.

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Once you've slotted the new laser on the housing, place it back into the main unit. This is as simple as lining up the lugs at the top, holding the unit at 45-degrees whilst doing so. Note that the wired cable might be longer than the original... just place the wires somewhere in the spacing to the bottom-right. Also make sure the wires don't get pinched when you place the RF shielding back in!

From here? We test...

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And the icing on the cake:

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A perfect game to test out the DVC! It worked very very nicely.

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1Sep/200

Atari 2600 Jr – Reset/Select Switch Repairs

I've recently come across an Atari 2600 Jrs with faulty select and reset buttons. Turns out that the mylar strip that conducts the button presses to the motherboard is toast. It doesn't conduct anything at all and I can't work out exactly where the break is.

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To test if the button area even works, you can insert wires as above and check for continuity. In this case, they did, so I considered the following options to repair them.

Silver Conductive Pen

This nearly worked, but I couldn't get the paste to set correctly. The pen is from Jaycar and the basic idea is to draw a line where you want the circuit and let it set. I drew some pretty bad lines on the plastic film, but my first attempt seems to have failed as I drew the tracks too thickly. The 'ink' only becomes conductive once it's totally dry and I'm blaming winter and the fact that I don't have an incandescent bulb in the house anymore.

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The next attempts were seemingly too thin. It also seems that you can't 'restart' a trace... the joint isn't conductive? Finally, the resistance seen down the track is totally erratic... but that may also be due to wet ink.

Threaded Wire

I punched a few holes in the mylar and threaded copper wire through. It was a little too stiff but, once in-place, seemed to work quite well! The main issue with this method is that, at either end of the plastic strip, adhering the wire to the conductive trace is difficult. Of course, at the motherboard end you can just jam the wires in the socket!

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At the button end, you need to slip it in under the top-layer of plastic. I didn't feel confident that I could keep a valid joint and therefore didn't pursue this technique.

Microswitches

Prior to opening and testing the methods above, I was always intending on just replacing whole plastic strip with microswitches. There's a nice plastic base behind the push buttons and one could easily drill in some switches. This would also give a nice tactile experience to what is (from the factory) a really awful and mushy button press.

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I went ahead and drilled holes slightly smaller than the switches. From here, I gouged out the rest of the required space as I wanted a tight fit. Of course, I was imagining things thinking that I tight fit would be enough to hold the switches in place... a hard button-press would probably send them into the case.

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Therefore I glued a strip of plastic (yeah, it's a cable-tie) along the back of the holes as a backing plate for the switches. This worked perfectly! I probably should've soldered the wiring first, but it was each enough once the switches were in position!

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Once it was all back together, it turns out that the buttons were pressed in 100% of the time. To fix this, I had to drill out a section of the plastic where the button meets the switch. This worked nicely. I then decided to remove the rubber as the press was being overly-softened by it. I'd recommend you test it both ways to see which feels the best... you can also try mounting the rubber on the actual case to make sure the alignment is correct.

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From here, I just soldered the wiring up to a standard pin-header which fit snugly into the socket on the motherboard.

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Testing began and the switches performed perfectly!

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