Retrochallenge – Summer 2012

This year’s Retrochallenge will soon be upon us, running for the entire month of July there’s still time to sign up and participate.  Head over to the Retrochallenge Website and register your interest.

This year I’m hoping to hook up my recently acquired Epson acoustic coupler to my PX-8 and with the aid of an old telephone dial in to one of the few remaining dial up services out there, and no doubt my own BBS.

Epson PX-8 Brochure

In my previous blog entry I posted some scans of some promotional literature for the PX-8 and it occurred to me that I’m now in possession of the all the hardware shown in the image opposite.  I thought therefore it might be interesting to try to recreate the shot.

Other options are to create another instalment for my Silent Running text adventure created with Inform.

@retrochallenge – Magic Smoke And Serial Ports

IBM 5140 Convertible

I’ve been trying out the expansion units that came with the 5140 and clip on to the back of the main machine.  One provides parallel and serial ports and the other is for connecting a monitor.  Unfortunately I had a ‘magic smoke’ incident with the later unit after powering up the machine.  It was a bit of an ‘oh shit’ moment as initially I didn’t notice it but caught a whiff of the tell tale stench before spotting the smoke rising from the unit and shutting it down.  I haven’t opened it up yet to see what the damage is but hopefully it’s repairable.

Expansion Bus Connector

Expansion Bus Connector

The expansion bus on the 5140 uses 8-bit ISA architecture.  At the rear of the unit is a single 72 pin edge connector which is repeated on the back of each expansion unit.  Once attached the expansion units give the machine a very odd look, especially if you also attach the printer unit which results in the 5140 almost doubling in length.

Theoretically you could create some kind of hack with an old unit and hook up an HDD but that’s well beyond my level of tinkering.

Serial/Parallel Expansion Unit

The serial port on the interface expansion unit is working.  I downloaded the ever dependable Kermit and after stripping it somewhat to fit onto a 720k floppy loaded it up and dialled out to my BBS and sent off a couple of emails.  It’s been interesting running a machine with no fixed disk.  The second drive by the way has started working, maybe whatever was preventing it from reading disks before has been dislodged.  I made a quick video of the 5140 below:-

I also found the following advert for the 5140 on Youtube, in it you can see the machine hooked up to a monitor, I lust after that monitor, I want one, a lot:-

@retrochallenge – PenMaster Progress

Samsung PenMaster Logo

PenMaster FDD Port

PenMaster FDD, Serial & Keyboard Ports

I’ve decided to take advantage of the few days of holiday I have left to get well and truly stuck into this year’s Winter Warmup as once back at work progress will no doubt slow considerably.  My first task has been to find a way to transfer software onto the PenMaster, there are a number of ports on the device but nothing I can easily use.  The FDD port is of a design I’ve not encountered before.  Initially I thought an old Fujitsu FDD I had might fit, however although the connector looks the same it is on a much smaller scale.  It then occurred to me I could use the parallel port Zip Drive that I’d recently connected to my Atari Portfolio.  I’d still need drivers of course but if I could find them I thought I would at least be able to add them to my BBS (Nostromo) and then dial in and download them onto the Samsung.

PenMaster & Modem

Modem & Keyboard Attached

I searched for a while before finding some drivers for Windows 3.1 on Epson’s site here.   I have to say I really like Epson as a company and the way it continues to support its old products.  I downloaded them onto the Windows XP box that hosts Nostromo and added them to the file section.  When I got home I dialled in with the PenMaster using Terminal and the built in modem and managed to connect.  However the internal modem refused to connect at anything greater than 1200 baud which may be its limit but seems a bit poor.  I made several attempts to download the Zip software but it kept failing.

Installing Zip Tools

So out came the trusty US Robotics Sportster which once connected to the solitary COM port on the PenMaster successfully connected at 19200 Baud and downloaded the Zip software in relatively quick fashion.  I had to modify the config.sys slightly, changing the ‘Lastdrive=’ entry to free up a drive letter for the Zip drive.  After digging through my Zip Disks I was able to find the original Zip Tools disk which allowed me to complete a full install of the Zip drivers and software.

Combined with my USB Zip drive I now have a pretty quick and painless way of downloading software on to one of my Mac’s, putting it onto Zip Disk and then loading it via the parallel port Zip onto the Samsung, first major hurdle hurdled.

I’ve also been trying to get acquainted with the pen input of the PenMaster, learning the gestures for space, return, delete etc.  It’s not bad, I can imagine with some practice you could probably get proficient at entering stuff fairly quickly.  Just to show how lacking in proficiency I currently am I thought I’d challenge myself to log on again to Nostromo and send a Tweet using just the stylus.  I recorded the process and include the video below for those who are very patient.  I have however also attached a keyboard and even managed to dig out serial mouse which still works which should offer more rapid progress.  I rather like the fact that the Tweet was not perfect, speaks volumes for handwriting recognition.

Tweeted with the Samsung PenMaster