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23Feb/220

Hello Z-Scale!

I can't see this ending well (nothing went well for the previous coffee-table layout), but let's give it a go anyway! I was randomly browsing eBay and saw a few un-powered sets of Kansai-coloured 485-series' and couldn't resist!

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Before I know it, I've bought a new glass coffee table and have scoped out Perspex manufacturers in melbourne to create a super-sized 'chinese container' to slide in the open area under the glass.

Oh, and if you're wondering about the Kitaguni's warpage above...

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It was purchased from a flea-market in Laverton in such state. We can only thank the Australian sun for doing the best it could. The seller wanted AUD$20! WTAF. I paid $5 just because I've been on the train in the real world.

What can you fit in 1160mm x 460mm x 110mm?

I've gone bonkers on AnyRail, trying to jam as much rail as I can into this area. It's actually not a good idea... I suppose... I should pay more attention to scenery...

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I then google'd a whole lot and got a bit of inspiration from Marklin:


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That station under the bridge is a great idea!

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I'm pretty happy with that last evolution. The top-left to bottom-right will be ground-level with a station in the middle under the bridge flying over. There's also a balloon loop to allow trains to be reversed. Anyway... more news on the coffee-table-layout as it happens.

Filed under: MRR No Comments
18Feb/220

Repairing a faulty AppleDesign ADB Keyboard

After setting up my G3 266mhz, I found that I couldn't play Transport Tycoon. The game worked perfectly, apart from very soft music volume, but I couldn't work out how to actually move around the map. In DOS or Windows TT, this was a right-click-and-drag, which was obviously not a thing on a single-buttoned Mac mouse. I tried opt/cmd-click to no avail.

I then realised that the UP cursor key worked, but no other directions. Back in Finder... only UP also worked. Trying a little harder, I then found that the outer-ring of keys on my AppleDesign ADB Keyboard failed to respond at all!

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I mean... you only have to look at it externally to see that it's had a hard life! Stickers... yellowed-plastic.. time for an autopsy.

Opening it up...

There's 6-or-so screws underneath, and a few clips along the bottom which'll need to be prized open. There's then 6000 screws holding the black metal plate to the back of the internal keyboard frame. Enjoy.

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The first obvious-ness was blistering contacts. This damage happened to be exactly on the cursor keys which didn't work... but a continuity test showed that this wasn't actually a problem.

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The next obvious-ness was a serious amount of water damage on both sides of the membrane.

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The real damage was black/broken traces. These are painted onto the plastic, so there's no soldering here, unlike when I fixed the eMate 300.

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Yeah, you'll just have to pretend the silver parts above are black. They were black. Unfortunately I didn't take a photo prior to fixing the bloody things! Actually, you can just see an example of the-blackening on the traces over on the far-right.

Fixing it

As you can see, I failed to take a 'before' photo, but whatevs. I first tried to use my Circuit Pen, but it turns out it had dried up all by itself. I had done everything right, the lid had been securely on during storage, but the pen was somehow rendered useless. Just for fun, I cracked it open and tried to use the contents, but they were taking WAY too long to dry on the plastic.

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Instead, I went back to Jaycar and bought a vile of silver conductive varnish. On the rack in the shop, this product looks like clear resin.

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The silver-ness of it actually settles to the bottom of the vile and I had a hard time finding it.

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A quick shake fixes that tho! Once shook, I used a toothpick to bridge all busted traces...

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Unlike the circuit pen, you can lather this shit on. It takes no time to dry and the resistance dropped to ~0ohms very quickly!

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In no time, many games were played.

Filed under: Apple No Comments
13Jan/220

Handy Portable Ethernet Pocket Adapter

Aaand another impulse purchase from eBay: a Handy Portable Ethernet Pocket Adapter. What a name? Turns out this is a clone of the Accton EN2209. Finding software wasn't the easiest, but somehow a university in Taiwan had the required file.

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Installation on a 486

My IBM PS/1 486 received this unit (after a WFW311 upgrade) and worked perfectly with it. Installation was very straight forward! Just download TCP/IP for WFW and install it as an additional protocol. DHCP worked fine.

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Installation on a PIII-500mhz

Things got awry from here. Firstly, running WFW311 on a PIII-500 with 512mb RAM is probably not a recommended thing to do... but... it installed so quickly... it was lovely. The adapter drivers installed and came up on a reboot. As soon as TCP/IP was installed, the whole machine froze!

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That second transmission light just stayed locked on and the whole machine actually became non-responsive. Seems to be some kind of race condition with the device... so... what to do? After thinking it was Parallel port settings, I changed them all to no avail. I then guessed it was clock speed, so I down-graded the 500mhz to the slowest setting possible: 333mhz.

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At 333mhz, the unit worked perfectly! WFW311 on this hardware is lovely! :) I then upgraded to 375mhz (75mhz bus), but it was NOT stable. WFW311 would lock every-other-time when booting? Seems 333mhz is the magic number.

What about Linux?

I started digging around for a Linux driver and found a few hits on the parport mailing list. These then lead me to harshman's archived page containing a driver! Seems it needs Kernel 2.0.30, so I went back to le'googs and started hunting.

Since I love Red Hat Linux so much, I jumped over to their page and checked the version history. Nice, we have a matched kernel with Red Hat Linux Version 4.2! Back to the Red Hat Linux Archive and there's a 4.2 folder... but wait, there's no ISO in the expected folder? Fortunately, the main guts of the OS are still available and we can then make our own installation media. Download that folder and copy it ALL onto a blank CD. Then jump into the images folder and write boot.img to a floppy. Special thanks to grem75 in this reddit thread for pointing out the required steps.

But that actually didn't work... No matter what I copied over, the installer baulked with an unrecognised Red Hat CD. So, I then downloaded the ISOs from archive.org. I'm surprised that didn't come up as a first search result, but then it occurred to me that archive.org never does? Has it blocked google?

Meanwhile, no amount of burning that image under Windows would work! I even tried to boot up an old ThinkPad with Linux Mint and wodim to try and get it to burn successfully. It didn't... it seems there's an issue with those images on archive.org? Finally, I used the FTP method and an NE2000 compatible card I had lying around to install RedHat.

Once RedHat 4.2 was up, I followed the instructions on harshman's page and, after a first failed insmod, the unit came up on the second attempt, received an IP and I was able to ftp into redhat! Amazing! This was also on the 500mhz at 100% speed, so no race conditions here!

Finally, if you check harshman's page, you'll note that he notes that there's already an updated version whilst he was making his... I wonder if a newer version of RedHat will support this unit?

Filed under: Retro No Comments
11Jan/220

Covox Voice Master Key

This item came up on eBay a long time back and went straight into the 'projects' box. Thanks to a newfound push to clean up the spare room, that box has been turned upside-down and dealt with. So, without any further ado, I present to you a 1988-vintage COVOX Voice Master Key.

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The box was well-worn, but all text can be read. Of interest is, in the second-last paragraph, the redacting of the quote "Plays back through optional COVOX Speech Thing". Was the redaction done by a child with a marker? Or from the factory? Finding information on this card online is pretty difficult. First hit was this Korean blog post on naver.com and you'll notice that the redacted sentence is totally removed from their version of the product. Their version seems to be a lot newer, but only of box design, not product name or quality.

Nerdly Pleasures also has a post on COVOX devices, but was very light-on for info on this card. I hope I can help them with their photo of the card as well. Also, the I/O for the DAC can be gleaned from the jumper setting above.

So what does it do?

First and foremost, this is one of the first pieces of hardware to let you control an IBM PC via voice. If I had the software, I'd test this functionality out... unfortunately I don't and no amount of searching has dredged up the installation disks. There's a disk image listing here, but no actual disk image? I messaged the author of that post and he just silently stepped out of the conversation... he must have the actual image to take those screenshots from DOSBOX? I then started by own thread, but no one cares.

A little more digging brought up this request post on Amibay for the same software. I posted a bump reply and got in trouble for hijacking someone else's thread... didn't realise that was a rule. I then PM'd the author, but no response as of yet.

So, without any software, I can't do the voice recognition/control stuffs... but can it play audio?

Audio output hardware

This unit does have an output port and the included head-set is just that; a speaker and a microphone! There are two microphone ports on the card, but we don't actually care about them as we don't have any software that'll make use of them. The headphone port interests me though as, with the redacted text on the box, there must be some way to use the 'included' COVOX Speech Thing functionality. The directory listing of the installation disk above even has a THING.EXE which must enable this card as a sound output device.

The output circuit includes an LM386N amplifier that's fed from the resistor bridge. That bridge is fed directly from the ISA bus data lines, so it must do something if data is fed in. The I/O Address jumper selections allow settings from 0x22f through to 0x28f. I initially thought that was 0x0220, thinking the F was just some naming style, and, after taking out my SB16, tried to get my machine to output sound via FT2 on 0x220... this was entirely fruitless and entirely wrong! I mean, come on, the jumpers don't lie... the I/O ranges really are all based with an 'f' on the end!

So, what to do? First up, anything that wants to use a COVOX Speech Thing as a sound output device will expect it to be on LPT1 or LPT2. These ports are configured via your BIOS and, well, it just wont work adjusting BIOS settings as anything configured there will just send data out the existing configured printer port. I went googling around and found that people had built their own DACs back in the day and someone even has a project for a DAC that sits in an ISA slot known as ISA-DAC-r0. Further on from that, I then found instructions on how to use it on the DOS Re-loaded forum.

There's a really interesting screenshot half-way down that forum topic where the user has used the DOS debug command to hack a memory address. This address contains the I/O register of your machine's LPT ports. Hilariously, you can actually tweak these addresses live when your machine is running!? The basic idea is to type debug, hit enter, then type the following:

-e 40:08 78 03 2f 02

then press enter and then type q and enter to quit. Above, you've entered the bytes 78 03 2f 02 into memory address 40:08. It turns out that that memory address is the system configuration area for the IO base address for your LPT ports and you can chain as many as you want together to pretend you have LPT ports. In the case above, the first port is 0x378, written as high-byte low-byte and then 0x22f, again as high-byte low-byte. Entering the command above will configure your DOS session to have LPT1:0x378 and LPT2:0x22F. Does it work? I configured Fast Tracker II to have a SoundPlayer on LPT2...

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And...

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Actually... here's a proper demo of its capabilities:

Woah! The audio quality was as-good-as any original SB2.0 that I remember... but it's probably worse... and MONO. Seems can you have two DACS and have FT2 run LPT1+LPT2 for stereo sound. More games were downloaded and tested and all worked fine! Amazing.

Now to just find the actual software!

Filed under: Retro No Comments
6Dec/210

NEC PC-9801VX – Video Output

After getting the PC-9801VX up and running via the monochrome output, it was time to get the RGB signals properly-connected to a real monitor. Thanks to previously playing with Amigas, I actually have an LCD on-hand that can do 15khz via a standard VGA cable. What to do? Hack together a cable that would interface with the DB-15 port on the PC-9801.

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As mentioned, this unit uses a DB-15 Analog port which looks exactly like a Macintosh Video port. Of course, it's not, so you can't just use a Mac adapter, but you can refit one, thanks to this blog. You can also just roll-your-own-cable, using the pinout here. Jaycar has the necessary DB-15 male port with housing and the cable above was built.

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Plugging it in saw the picture work beautifully... but the fonts were still out. A-Train was also still scaling off the bottom edge?

Front-Panel Dip-Switches

Turns out there's display configuration options on the front-panel to configure resolutions and font-sizes. As seen above, the DOS installation screen looked OK for the most part, but the selectable menu options showed stretched/cut-off fonts!? A quick read of the the dipswitch descriptions pointed to items that may help.

SW1-1 sets the output resolution from 640x200 to 640x400 and this helped a bit, but the fonts were still wrong. I then also toggled SW2-3 and SW2-4 to enable both 80-character screen width and 25-character screen height. After this? Perrrrrfect!

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Very similar to the version from the MSX.

You don't have a 15khz monitor?

No fret! This is the internet and someone has already done this before. To make this work, you'll need a GBS8200 video adapter. Once you have this in-hand, you'll need to either wire things in directly, or build a circuit such as antarcticlion's GBHV_RGBS_CONV adapter. I've had a few PCBs printed for me...

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... and I intend to build them up and test them. If anyone wants one, then contact me here. I'll post again once I've built one and got it going.

Filed under: Retro No Comments
1Dec/210

Twilight Express Mizukaze – Virtual Railfan

Whilst still stuck on the wrong side of the globe, having to watch borders closing again thanks to new variants, I decided I'd make the most of the plethora of live cameras popping up in Japan to chase the Twilight Express Mizukaze on one of it's current round-trips. It's actually really sad to think that I first virtually chased this in 2017, saw it in 2019 and then haven't been able to go back since!

But enough of the whining, we're here to chase it virtually. The official journey starts at Shin-Osaka Station, but since the consist is stored in the yards just south-west, there is no direct route to the platform it's meant to pick up passengers on. Instead, it runs a huge loop via Osaka Station! This is a bonus for us as it means it passes more cameras.

Shin-Osaka: Dead-head to Kyoto

As mentioned, the train has already done a loop via Osaka Station and can be first seen exiting Shin-Osaka Station at 0933, heading north on the Shin-Osaka Webcam.

Mukomachi: Dead-head to Kyoto

Instead of turning at Suita, or even at Mukomachi?, they run the service all the way to Kyoto! Is this some kind of shake-out? It passed the Mukomachi camera at 0952 heading north.

Kyoto Station: Dead-head back and forth

Thanks to the Kyoto camera just to the east of the station, it's easy to watch it bounce back and forth. Here it is passing at 1010...

And then back again at 1023...

Mukomachi: Dead-head to Shin-Osaka Station

The goal is to arrive at Shin-Osaka at 1114, for a 1147 departure. The train is seen passing back past the Mukomachi camera at 1032.

Arriving at Shin-Osaka for departure

Finally, the train is seen on the Shin-Osaka Webcam one more, arriving back in to Shin-Osaka Station at 1113 on the correct platform.

Nishinomiya

Another user has set up a webcam in Nishinomiya and the train can be seen passing at 1202.

Base of the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge

There's some amazing cameras mounted on one of the supporting piers of the bridge to Shikoku. At least one of these point towards the railway and the train is seen passing at 1225.

Okayama (x3)

The train's route is quite random this time around... it passes Okayama to Nakashou, goes back to Seto via Okayama, then westbound once more to Kurashiki. It therefore passes the Niwase webcam three times! Here it is on the way to Nakasho at 1432...

And then back to Seto @ 1550...

And then back to Kurashiki @ 1733...

Unfortunately the Okayama Freight Terminal webcam is offline. There was also the meant to be a camera overlooking construction at Hiroshima Station, but that's now changed to a view over Kure Port and Pachinko Parlours.

Amarube Viaduct

I haven't been able to find any other webcams for the train's western leg, so its Day Two journey around Matsue and Shinji will be if-a-tree-falls-in-the-woods style. Fortunately, on Day 3 it passes the Amarube Viaduct at around lunch time. The viaduct's camera is some kind of older security camera and only produces singular frames. Fortunately it does refresh relatively quickly! I wrote a bit of code to continuously poll the image, check if there's a difference and then save the files. From here, I then filtered out the boring parts and turned the rest into an animated gif.

Above you'll see some beautifully-orange KIHA 40s running the local services, tour buses delivering hoards of ants, KIHA 189s running the Hamakaze and then finally the KIHA 87 Twilight Express Mizukaze bolting through, heading east.

Back via Kyoto

After meandering back through Fukuchiyama and Funaoka, the train passes the Kyoto Railway Museum and arrived into Kyoto Station. Thanks to the Kyoto Camera, we get it heading in...

And then heading back out on its final leg to Shin-Osaka...

And then, via the Mukomachi camera...

And finally back via the Shin-Osaka Webcam...

Filed under: JPN No Comments
29Nov/210

NEC PC-9801VX – Floppy Drive Maintenance

If you have the opportunity, do NOT use floppy disks... for anything... ever. I've just spent a lot of time debugging issues when I should've been playing A-Train! Due to the effort I've spent, I hope the answers you find in the rant below help you and prevent such effort expenditure. The goal was simple: The PC-9801VX was up and running and I wanted to run this...

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Yes, it's another version of A-Train. It's version 2, still prior to the version 3 that was released internationally. Now that I think of it, I'd actually purchased this game with a bunch of trains back here! I'd done nothing with it since... but now finally had a machine to run it on.

Unfortunately, the drives wouldn't even accept floppies!

I can't insert a floppy disk!

When this unit arrived, I tried to insert A-Train Disk A into Drive A. The disk would slide 70% in and then hit something. I decided not to push my luck and opened everything up...

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If you've noticed too much copper in the photo above, then you'd be spot-on. The 'head cover' of the read head has popped off (presumably in transit) and sat itself in front of the read head. This has succesfully blocked the floppy disk from inserting all the way. As these machines are super-popular in Japan, a quick Google found many examples of people having the same issue. I opened up the second drive and found the same issue!

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Each site that mentioned this issue had a different solution! Leave the cover on, take it off... leave it on? take it off? I'll do the latter... for now.

Expired capacitors

Now that the floppies could enter the drives, I tried to boot the machine. Drive A would do nothing... it'd just pretend there was no floppy at all. Drive B got as far as below and then noisily failed. The failure let me believe that it'd at-least loaded a bit of data from the disk.

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So, what to do? Fix Drive A first, then work out if it could do better than Drive B. I've already hinted to the issue, but it all became very obvious after extracting Drive A and flipping it over:

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What a mess! A quick google around found this article on FD1155D maintenance and, to my surprise, it actually mentions how to fix this exact problem. It mentions that if the disk isn't found and the motor just spins (which it did), then these capcitors are to blame. After a quick bit of cleaning and soldering, the tracks actually proved to still be conductive. I added a jumper wire anyway and replaced the capacitors as required.

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Shit job, I know, but.. it worked! Drive A now produced the SAME ERROR as Drive B! Progress!? Based on process-of-elimination, if both drives produce the same error, it's no longer the drives at fault. It's the motherboard (in-built controller) or the floppy disk!

Making my own floppies

First things first: make sure you have an old PC with a known-working 5 1/4" drive. Don't even bother going down this route if you have suspicions about the PC side of things. I went around in a few circles at the start as my floppy drive half-read the first disk I put in, only to totally reject everything after. The fix? Clean the heads with an ear-bud (q-tip?) and isopropyl alcohol! After that, it worked like a dream.

With the floppy drive functional, and Win98 Japanese version installed, I could then use the tools to get floppies written. I followed the instructions here and downloaded both Virtual Floppy Image Converter and Disk Copy Utility. Aim for the green download buttons on the pages when you're trying to obtain the software.

From here, everything was extracted and a relevant DOS bootdisk was found from the PC-98 Software Dump archive over at archive.org. There's also a bigger archive here, for those interested. The DOS disk image was inside the OS folder in FDI format, so it needed to be converted first. Go to the Virtual Floppy Image Converter folder and double-click the exe.

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Choose English and then set the default output location.

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Finally drop the FDI image onto the app and a DCU file will be spat out. With a blank/spare floppy disk in the 5 1/4" floppy drive, open a DOS prompt and browse to the folder where the DCU image file is. Alternatively you can browse to the DCU application folder and just edit the command line below to find the DCU image file.

c:\DCU\DCU.exe -f @C:\PC-98\A.DCU,0

Above, correct the path for DCU and the path and filename for your DCU floppy image. The -f means format the sector prior to writing and the ,0 means write to Drive 0. This is A:, with Drive 1 being B. This software also runs on the PC-98 where the drives are 1,2,3,4 and not A,B,etc...

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I tested writing the DOS 3.3 disk to a blank floppy first. It ran quickly and worked flawlessly .. My PC-9801VX booted this newly-written disk to an installer! No hard-drives on this unit yet, but this made me pretty darn happy! I then decided to try and re-write the A-Train Disk A. It was already broken, so why not just try and re-write the same image back to it. The disk image is actually in the same archive above, so I extracted it, converted it and tried to write it...

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I first tried to write the DCU file to a blank disk and this completed with no issues, so I put it to the side. I then tried repeatedly to write the image back to the actual A-Train floppy, after removing the copy-protect tape. It kicked off and threw me to an input prompt very quickly. This prompt, as shown above along the bottom line, gives you a few options when DCU hits an error: R for retry, F for re-format and then retry and I for ignore-and-continue. Of course, choosing the latter will leave holes in your written image. As I'd mentioned, and as seen above, the errors weren't always perfectly aligned, but they were not stopping, so yeah, unfortunately that disk was trashed. I wondered if it could be cleaned (Herb Johnson has some tips)? Or if it's totally scratched up... or if you can even replace the medium inside? I tried a bit of isopropyl on it, as I'd done with the drive heads, but it didn't many any huge difference.

Just for fun, I thought I'd test the A-Train Disk A that I'd written to a blank disk. It booted fine, and that's when I realised I had options: leave the 'backup' disk in the box and don't touch the original?, try and transfer outer disk labels?, try and transfer inner disk guts? Hmmmm....

Re-sleeving or Re-mediuming a 5 1/4" Floppy Disk

This was super-risky. I had a properly-copied version of disk A on a (lol) Microsoft Works disk.. and a dead original disk. What to do? Pry open the original and swap the medium. First? Get out your Swiss Army Knife and perform surgery...

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Once you have the top broken open, do the same with the donor disk... being super-careful the whole time and remember: DON'T TOUCH THE MEDIUM.

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Looking at the old medium, you can see why it was never going to work (and also really hard to photograph):

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With everything out, just slot the new medium into the old sleeve and apply a TINY bit of glue along the seam you previously split open. And then?... test...

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Shit photos, I know... the game also seems to have shifted into a new resolution/mode and it's interlaced itself off the screen. Whilst my SCSI adapters are in-transit, I'll have to work out a proper video solution. (Update: Learn all about how to get proper video output here.

Filed under: Retro No Comments
25Nov/212

NEC PC-9801VX – Tear-down

I've always been fascinated by the older Japanese beige desktops and couldn't resist another impulse-buy when I saw this PC-9801VX show up on eBay. It was cheap, as it was listed as junk, until the shipping cost doubled the price. Regardless, I took the gamble, as I have a copy of A-Train for the PC-98 that needs a home.

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It arrived quickly, as postage from Japan can only currently be done via expensive couriers. Before long it was plugged into the step-down converter and failed to do anything good. From what I understand, on power up these machines are meant to PI-PO from their internal speakers... Of which this one did not!

A quick tear down saw the cause... but more on that later. What was I thinking?; purchasing such a huge beige boxen of junk. Fortunately, the tear down also saw that it came with surprises! The list included: a 4MB o'RAM CBUS board, an 8MB o'RAM CBUS board, a SCSI CBUS board and a SASI CBUS board. Also, two 5 1/2" floppy drives which can't be scoffed at... if they work.

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After a lot of research, it turns out that this unit is actually a 286, when purchased new. There's a lot of information online, but most of it is in Japanese. Fortunately, Wikipedia has a great article on the PC-98 series of machines and, if you scroll down far enough, you'll see this unit listed as an 80286 @ 8 or 10 MHz. BUT! What's that random sticker on the front?

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A 486, you say? In a 286 motherboard? I didn't quite believe it when I saw the photos on the auction... but opening it up showed that there was a slot for CPU upgrades and, well yes, you can actually put a myriad of faster CPUs in there! This one just happened to have a 486 upgrade.

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Nice. This opens up the game-play and MS Windows opportunities... if only I can get it to run.

Why wouldn't it boot?

Unfortunately, once down to the board, the CMOS battery proved to be the cause of failing to post. Excuse the awful photo, but I was in a state of buyer's remorse...

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You can see the green.. all the way into the CPU slot (middle-bottom) and, well, even further off the edges of the photo. The battery was quickly removed, but the damage was far-spread. Without schematics, tracing those corroded lines would be a nightmare. But what if I could find a replacement?

Buyee to the rescue

Turns out I had a cart of things to purchase from Japan, so I bit the bullet and purchased a junk spare motherboard for this machine. Yes, junk! That's all that was available online... no one in their right-mind would list these boards as 100% brand-new and ready-to-roll. I threw in a LAN card and a terribly-yellowed keyboard, just to double-down on my losses if everything failed! These also arrived in quick succession as Buyee charges like a wounded bull for shipping and uses top-notch couriers.

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The board was inspected and, to my surprise, was somehow perfectly clean. As above, you can see that the battery had corrosion, but it hadn't spread! Compared to the other board, it was a beautiful site.

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Shit photo, I agree... but above you can see the difference of the areas under the battery. Top being the newly-acquired board, bottom being the one I may have half-attacked with isopropyl and a toothbrush. Maybe, now that I have a working board, I can trace everything on it and check on the old... but honeslty, even in 1986 these boards were so bloody complex that I don't believe I have the skills to re-trace all of those traces.

But does it work?

Everything was assembled hastily... First flick of the switch, nothing... crickets. After a re-seat of everything that could be re-seated, I flicked it again. During the re-seating, I'd also turned the front volume dial up to MAXXX and, on pressing the power a seriously neighbour-annoying PIIIII-POOO PAAAAAAAAAAAAAA was emitted... Of course, the glee of the first two notes was murdered when that last note came out, deafening and disturbing, lasting until I hit the power switch.

Third flick, after another re-seat... PI-PO! Shit, that sounded perfect... I just had nothing plugged in to any video outputs.

Making it output video

This vintage beast loves its archaic refresh rates (more info here). RGB is 15khz or possibly 24khz, but nothing a new monitor will approve of. This video card has three output ports and you'll find the pin-outs here. I hacked together a 5-pin DIN to RCA plug cable (same as the Megadrive, actually, just without sound) and hooked it from the video card's top Mono output port to my 4:3 Samsung LCD.

It worked! But the picture wasn't great... maybe this is NTSC? Probably. I re-installed my capture card and tested out VLC with correct NTSC_J settings.

pc-9801-memcheck pc-9801-basic-startpc-9801-scsi-bios

It @#$%#$$# works! That last shot is with the SCSI card in... so it's found the TEXACO BIOS (is that the oil company? where did this machine come from?!) and tried to enumerate SCSI devices. I had none for it... so I removed ALL CBUS cards and tried to boot my A-Train floppy...

pc-9801-floppy-boot-attempt

First drive found nothing, and when nothing is found the machine just boots into the BASIC prompt. After a reboot with the floppy in drive B, it produced the above and stalled. It actually sounded pretty bad... but diagnosing the floppy drives is a whole-nother post, of which I'll tackle later.

In the meantime, if you want to know more about these machines, check out NEC PC98 Basic Reference. The amount of information in there is amazing!

(Update: The floppy drives live!)

Filed under: Retro 2 Comments
12Nov/210

Sony PictureBook PCG-C1S

Another eBay impulse-buy, this little guy came to me quickly (although AusPost is struggling during these 'unprecedented times') and in pretty good condition! It's a PCG-C1S, being the the second PictureBook model ever released.

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You can see by the single mono front speaker that they didn't focus too much on multimedia. Also no memory card slots or jog dials. Sporting a 266mmx Pentium CPU, there wasn't really much horsepower to play media with anyway! The internal drive had already been upgraded from 8.1g to 20g and the ram was maxed out with 2 64mb modules.

I used my previous knowledge of booting the PCG-CD51A to get Windows 98 installed... but struggled to find a stand-alone driver for the NeoMagic 256 AV video card that'd present the correct mode for the 1024x480 resolution.

So I went digging for an Application Recovery CD and found one for a PCG-C1X on webarchive. Not being an exact match, I was a little wary... and spent way too much time trying to boot and restore the system image. Instead, I then checked the Application CD #1 and found all the required drivers on it! You could download the pack and dig in, but an easier method is just to download this zip with all the drivers in it. I've also renamed the folders in the other directory to make it obvious as to what they are.

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There's an installer in the video driver folder, but just do the usual upgrade driver process through device manager.

CMOS Battery Replacement

The BIOS reported all-too-often that the system clock was wrong, so it was time to replace the battery. Remove ALL screws underneath the unit. Once the screws are out, flip the unit back over and pry the keyboard up. Be very careful not to lever the keys up as they'll easily pop off and end up across the room. Next, take out the three screws that were under the keyboard and pry the whole case apart.

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Removing the existing battery pack is actually quite a challenge! There's a huge piece of double-sided tape and it could easily destroy the mainboard if you just try to lever the battery pack out. Instead, I dissected the pack...

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Oh shit...

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The bloody cells had corroded.. I mean, why am I surprised? Let's hope it hasn't travelled too far. The plug on the mainboard end is so small that it's hard to determine if there's any of the usual green-tinge. Either way, I went hunting and a replacement battery-pack was found on eBay. It was actually for a Dell, but the cell specifications matched. Unfortunately, the plug was too large. Instead of finding another more-correct version, I chose to splice the plug over from the dead battery pack.

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This has worked well, regardless of the fact that the new battery pack already had a tarnished ground wire which required extra heat to get soldered.

DOS Gaming

Loading up the DarkSeed ISO saw a garbled colour screen on execution. The whole system was then frozen. Using this version worked fine though!

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DOOM worked fine also, although configuring sound was a little touch-and-go. If you tried to choose Adlib for music, then no SFX would play... and Soundblaster FM produced no music. Switching back to General MIDI and SB for SFX got beautiful music, but then the SFX stopped? A reboot with the same config saw it all working again. Seems the SB Emulation can get in a muddle and nothing like a good 'ol CTRL-ALT-DEL for Windows 98 SE to the rescue.

Linux on the PictureBook

I'd previously done this with a PCG-C1VX, and that all worked fine once the modeline was added, but this version of the PictureBook required a bit of extra work. The modes were already listed in the X11 config, but on boot, X11 would error saying that the modes won't display correctly on the LCD panel!

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There's a console app called dccxinfos that lists the available modes reported by the display hardware and our mode wasn't listed! (Yes yes, the above screenshot was taken after correcting the configuration!) So, the trick, after a lot of googling, was to add the overrideValidateMode command in the config. Here's the juicy bit:

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Finally, the LILO boot screen menu is stuck at 800x600 and runs off the page, but editing /etc/lilo.conf and setting the vga option on the linux kernel load line worked for further booting.

vga=769

just run lilo after editing the file above and reboot.

Filed under: Vaio No Comments
9Nov/210

Trans-Australian Railway Brochure Circa 1965

This item was picked up recently from a vintage shop in Colac. Finally, we're allowed to travel! Nothing like how we used to, though...

TA-1

TA-2

TA-3

TA-4

It's a 4-panel fold-out, with a full map on the back.

map

As usual, here's a better resolution version of the full-width map.

Filed under: AUS No Comments