I’ve managed to free up 7-8 MB of space on the PenMaster’s internal HDD without breaking anything. This has allowed me to successfully install Internet Explorer 3.02. Well I say successfully, although the package has installed, I was under the impression that it contained a TCP/IP stack and dialer software but this doesn’t appear to be the case. I had a look around and found Trumpet Winsock which I remember using with the Amiga 1200 when I first connected to the Internet back in I believe 1991. Funnily enough, the ISP I was using then, Demon Internet, are still hosting the file on their FTP server here.
I shall attempt to install this and see where it leads. If I’m honest I’m not feeling the retro lurve for the Samsung, whether it’s because it’s not quite old enough or possibly because it hasn’t actually provided much of a challenge in terms of getting it working I’m not sure, most likely a combination of both.
I may therefore change direction and look at something else from my growing pile of gear. I have a non-working IBM 5140 convertible which I may try to resurrect, it’s quite a unique machine on a number of levels so it would certainly be interesting to have it working.
Also it’s looking as though I’m going to have less free time this month than I’d hoped so fingers crossed I can get something else done.
I’ve been spending a fair amount of time messing around with the Amiga 1200 that I recovered from the loft a few weeks ago. It has been a little frustrating, I’d forgotten a lot about the Amiga and its idiosyncrasies and progress has been slow for several reasons that I’ll get in to below.
One of the main challenges I’ve found with retrocomputing is transferring files to and from your retro systems. With the Amiga 1200 this isn’t really an issue due to its PCMCIA slot which will happily read and write to standard compact flash cards with the appropriate adapter. A PCMCIA to CF adapter was therefore my first purchase (I later discovered I already had one grrrr.)
My next purchases were an IDE to CF adapter and some Kickstart 3.1 roms. Installing the latter was pretty easy although it’s important to note the manner in which the original chips are installed as there are more sockets than there are pins on the chips.
I then pulled out the original Seagate IDE hard disk, plugged in the IDE to CF adapter and added a SanDisk Extreme III 4GB CF card. I booted the system with my Workbench 3.1 floppy and set up the newly installed CF card.
I divided the card into a 200MB partition for Workbench and the rest as one large partition for games and data. After formatting the partitions (some considerable time) I made a fresh install of Workbench 3.1 and booted the system from the new CF drive. This whole process was a little tortuous as the Amiga kept crashing at various stages. At first I assumed the CF card was incompatible but I soon realised the 128MB SIM I’d installed was causing the problems. I swapped it out for a 4MB stick and the machine become much more stable.
The next challenge was installing AmigaOS 3.9 which is supplied on CD and at the time I didn’t have a compatible drive for the Amiga. Using a Mac I copied the contents of the CD onto a compact flash card in a drawer name AmigaOS3.9 and inserted it into the Amiga. I then fired up shell and entered the following command – ASSIGN AmigaOS3.9: cf0:AmigaOS3.9 and was then able to run the installer with the CF card mimicking the CD. However I ran into a number of problems with the installation and have since learnt that using a non-Amiga system to copy files or open archives destined for the Amiga can mess up the file permissions when you then try to use those files. After much fiddling I finally got a semi working installation of Amiga OS3.9.
I seem to have stopped using my Amiga just at the point that CD rom drives became quite widely used with the system, I personally never had one but wanted to add one now so I could install the OS properly. I ordered a buffered IDE interface and dug out an old Plextor external USB drive.
I opened up the back of the drive and disconnected the USB interface from the IDE connector on the drive and ran an IDE cable out of the box and into the Amiga. I had to make some changes to the Tooltypes of the CD driver that had been installed by OS3.9 to get it working:-
I now had a working CD ROM drive and was able to successfully install OS3.9 without problems and also install the Boing Bag 2 update. My next ambitions are to replace the external drive with an internal one, I already have a slim drive from an old Cubit box, whether I have the courage to cut a slot out of my 1200′s case is another matter, and Internet access. For now some Frontier Elite II.
I decided to have a dig around in the loft as I couldn’t remember exactly what was up there computer wise, I knew there was an Amiga 1200 and a CD32 but I was also surprised to find an Amiga 500 and a barely used Sony Playstation. I retrieved the A1200 and the A500, the first is in great shape, in fact it looks like new and it works, the hard drive even booting into Workbench on initial power up. The A500 is pretty grubby, very yellow and not working, giving only a flashing power LED and green screen. There was also an A590 external hard disk unit with it, I’d forgotten I had that.
The A1200 cost me a small fortune back in 1993, I ordered it with an 80mb drive and a Microbotics MX1230A accelerator board featuring a 68030 CPU, 68882 FPU and 4 Mb of additional RAM. It was and still is a gorgeous system, probably my second favourite retro system, pipped to the post only by the C64.
Thinking back to how much I used to dream about upgrading the RAM which was devilishly expensive in those days, it was odd to find a 128 Mbyte SIM in one of my piles of junk and simply plug it in. For some reason, in my mind, the A1200 still seems really powerful.
There were a couple of games on the drive, Sim City 2000 and Frontier, Elite II. Many, many hours were spent playing the latter which is one of my all time favourite games, despite the bugs. On researching the game I noticed you can download an OpenGL version here and play the game in high resolution under Windows or Linux which is pretty cool.
I also discovered there’s still a thriving community surrounding the A1200 with much ‘pimping’ of the original machines still going on. The most common upgrade seems to be a compact flash internal drive which I’m hoping to attempt. Others have added USB ports and even internal CD ROM drives.
During my Amiga years I still had delusions of becoming a digital graphic artist, I used to dream of ending up at somewhere like Pixar. With the 1200 I found a box of disks including Sculpt 3D and 4D and Deluxe Paint III and IV. I managed to recover some saved files from DPaint but no luck so far with the Sculpt files.
Dpaint produced .lbm bitmap files and after hunting around I found this site that allowed me to convert them to GIF’s. The second image was copied from a 1985 Tolkien calendar and the first from a book lent to me by Urbancamo called Space Wars, Worlds and Weapons. Very odd to see these again after all those years.
No progress on the Silent Running adventure for a couple of days. I got bogged down in trying to resolve a particular issue, realised it was time to walk away and come back fresh which hopefully I’ll do today or tomorrow.
Instead I’ve been messing around with the Equity, trying to understand what it’s capable of. My first experience with a PC as opposed to machines such as the Amiga and Commodore 64 was a Pentium 90 based machine with Windows 3.1, so the pre Pentium days passed me by.
I’ve been trying to compile the code I have written so far with the Equity with no luck as yet. As a point of interest the code compiles on a Core 2 Quad essentially instantaneously. On a Pentium 166 it takes a few seconds. On the Equity it’s taking around 4 minutes before failing on a specific library issue. I need to try the Minform library I mentioned in an earlier post next.
I also wanted to see what games would run on the Equity and found an early version of a Secret of Monkey Island demo which loads and runs. I was never really aware of the limited graphics abilities of the early PC’s having been spoilt by the abilities of the Amiga and its custom chips, it’s pretty basic stuff as I’m discovering.
The Equity has two option slots, one is currently occupied by the hard drive controller card and I believe the only other card produced specifically for the option slots by Epson was a modem card. Somewhat bizarrely one just came up on Ebay, unused, and new in the box so I snapped that up (only bidder) and it’s on its way.
It occurred to me today that I couldn’t remember the last time I had received a bill from, nor indeed how I was paying for my original dial up Demon Internet service.
Back in 1993 I signed up for their then pretty revolutionary ‘tenner a month’ dial up IP service. The legendary events surrounding the birth of Demon Internet are told in detail here.
In those days I was using an Amiga 1200, a US Robotics Modem and browsing the then limited Internet with NCSA Mosaic.
Demon was very successful and quickly established itself as the UK’s largest ISP. In 1998 it’s founder Cliff Stanford sold the company to Scottish Telecom, a subsidiary of Scottish Power. Scottish Telecom was subsequently rebranded as Thus and floated on the stock exchange. More recently (2008) Thus was bought by Cable and Wireless and is now branded as Thus, A Cable and Wireless Business.
During all these changes over the past 17 years I have also moved house twice, had numerous different computers, and of course no longer use the dial up service although I’ve never cancelled the account due to the amount of services where I use the associated e-mail for log in and partly through absent mindedness.
A quick scan of my bank accounts and there of course was the direct debit, now £19.99/month the reason I hadn’t noticed it, apart from being a dufus was I also have a Demon Broadband account for work and simply hadn’t noticed there were two debits going out each month. So I headed over to http://www.demon.net to see if I could log into my account and see what details were lurking there.
However I was unable to find anywhere to log in so I called the customer services number. Armed with, well nothing really apart from my user name I spoke to a very helpful chap. It transpired that the address they had on record for me was the original address I had given in 1993 and hadn’t lived at for 12 years and the phone number was similarly out of date.
After updating my records the chap advised me to call another department as he believed as a long standing customer I should be paying less for my service and he was right. I’m now paying £4.99/month as a loyal customer as opposed to the £19.99 I was paying, quite a saving. I was also able to retrieve my account number and set up my ebilling account and view some invoices, unfortunately they only go back around 12 months.
I now wanted to discover when the price increased to £19.99/month. I noticed on the bills that I could now access that the description of the product supplied was SDU/Premier Connect PLUS (UPGRADE.) So I entered this into Google and found the following page.
Which contained the following information:-
If you are an existing SDU customer, you will need to register in order to take advantage of Demon Premier Connect Plus. In future you will be billed £19.99 instead of the £11.75 that you currently pay for your SDU account.
I do not remember asking to be upgraded to this service so I feel another call to customer services is due.
And then there’s my Pipex Dial account…
I noticed today, rather sadly that WUArchive is more. I don’t know the exact date it was retired, on the site it simply says 2010. Some of my earliest experiences of the Internet were rooting around on this resource using Gopher. No doubt there are mirrors of the site still out there, but presumably they will slowly disappear as the original has. The holding page to be found at the original address is a little sad though it does display the following rather limited history of the archive’s hardware.
In December of 1992, it was a DEC Alpha AXP 3000/400 workstation, with a 64bit 133Mhz 21064 Alpha CPU.
By 1997, it had 65GB of space, and 192MB of RAM.
It was a Sun UltraSparc 2, with dual 200Mhz CPUs, 512MB of RAM, and 180GB of disk in 2001.
It retired as a dual Pentium 4, with 1 GB of RAM and 1.2 TB of disk.
Things move on but there’s a strange situation with the on-line world and equally electronic game worlds both on and off-line, we inhabit these places and remember them as we do places we have physically lived or visited and yet whilst we can return to towns, cities, schools and so on once these digital worlds are dismantled or the hardware no longer exists to recreate them they are lost forever.
As more people lay down roots in the digital world it seems more people are destined eventually to be cast adrift and unable to return to those worlds as they remember them.
I often wonder for instance just what proportion of family photographs of children’s first steps, their first days at school, weddings and so on will be lost to future generations as they exist only in digital form and are subject to inevitable hardware failures and obsolete technology.
My friend Mark recently introduced me to the story of the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project. A classic example of huge amounts of important data that could quite easily have been lost. It’s an extraordinary story and well worth a read and shows quite clearly the effort that can often be required to recover data stored on obsolete formats. There is clearly a window of opportunity for such projects to succeed and fortunately for the LOIRP they were just within that window.
I have today been messing around with a Vic 20 that I bought from ebay which came with the infamous Datasette. With little optimism of success I put a game cassette in, namely ‘Wacky Waiters,’ typed Load, pressed play and… it loaded with no problems. All the subsequent tapes I have tried have also worked, not bad for hardware that’s the best part of 30 years old!
As I write this entry my mind has turned to Aminet, the online repository for the Amiga community, and yes it’s still going strong, a quick root around and a couple of images I uploaded 18 years ago are still present.
The first was a render of a 3D model created by G.Dean of the 92/93 Williams Formula 1 car. Rendered with Imagine 2.0 the image took 40 minutes to complete on a 50mhz 68030 Amiga A1200 with 4 meg of fast ram.
This past weekend I travelled up to the Vintage Computer Fair (VCF) at Bletchley Park. It was quite a treat for an old retro nerd like me. All the usual suspects were there, from the BBC Micro’s to Commodore Vic 20′s and 64′s, the superb Amiga and of course from Sinclair, ZX 80′s, 81′s and Spectrums of various flavours, even a C5 was on view (I always think of the late, great Kenny Everett when I see those.)
There was a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere and it was a pleasure to wander around and look at and interact with the various exhibits. A number of things caught my eye, including seeing Elite running on a BBC Micro (originally a truly seminal moment in computer games history,) an extraordinary version of the modern game Guitar Hero running on a Commodore 64, with attached guitar and of course the Amiga Tent.
Oh Amiga, how I love thee. Sorry about that, I have fond memories of all of my old home computers, the Vic 20, my first, playing Blitz on Christmas morning 1983, a version of which you can play online here. Then of course the Commodore 64, its cassette deck that I had to stand on or lay heavy books on to get it to load successfully. The behemoth that was the 1541 floppy drive (Load “*”,8,1) and of course the chunky modem that opened up the wonderful world of Compunet.
However a special place in my retro nerd heart is reserved for the Amiga, more specifically the Amiga 1200. My favourite Commodore computer although the market didn’t seem to agree, it sold in reasonable numbers however Commodore sadly folded not long after its launch following what I believe were a whole host of poor management decisions. Addicted to the brand that was Commodore I also bought an Amiga CD32 (yes it was me) which I still have in pristine condition (didn’t use it much.)
The Amiga has I believe achieved cult status amongst those who know a real computer when they see one, its main rival of the day, the Atari ST, beloved of Muso’s due to its built in Midi ports just wasn’t cool. This cult status was I believe evidenced by the fact that there was an “Amiga Tent’ at the VCF, a whole marquee devoted to the cult that is Amiga, no other system achieved this distinction (admittedly it was the 25th Anniversary as well but hey.)
I was also pleased to see that there are still people working hard to breath new life into the Amiga and its operating system. There was the Amiga One X1000 project and the iMica on display, both of which look very interesting.
I managed to keep my wallet in my pocket at the event (apart from a ridiculously expensive burger and bottle of water.) There was a pretty good condition Vic 20 that I mmm’d and aaah’ed about and I shall keep my eye on the above Amiga projects, a purchase there is probably likely. However on return, the retro fire well and truly lit, I ordered the excellent Amiga Forever and C64 Forever disks which I can highly recommend.
These projects install an easy to use interface through which you can quickly be in retro heaven, watching old demo’s and playing old games, many of which are included and many more which are available for download. Remembering fondly Summer Games on the C64 I downloaded it and grabbed a screenshot. Most events involved wiggling the joystick from side to side as fast as possible in order to run faster. My friend and I had a secret weapon, a mercury joystick. Thus it was possible to achieve extremely fast times by frantically shaking this joystick in mid air, switching at a much faster rate than a conventional stick.
Also included in the package are some DVD’s with lots of various footage including presentations and talks by various luminaries from the Amiga development days. The Dave Haynie interview is excellent as is his film documenting the last days of Commodore ‘The Deathbed Vigil.’
Feeling the need to promote my newly stoked retro fires I also headed over to Lemon Retro Store and ordered a couple of T-Shirts.
I’m now wondering if I want to engage further in the retro community and if so what I’ll have to sacrifice to do so, after all there are only so many hours in the day.