Retrochallenge In A Day, Sort Of

I began this day intending to start and finish my Retrochallenge for Winter 2016.  Of course given the on-going saga of my working and then not so much working Epson PF-10 portable floppy disk drive units, it would have fallen to virgin readers only to be amazed by my expeditious achievements.

Honesty however must prevail and this, my latest attempt to breathe reliable, long term life in to my PF-10 follows an infamous litany of countless failed attempts.

Each attempt has however brought me closer to this final crowning glory (spoiler alert.)

It’s the battery stupid.  Yep, NiCd, 30 years plus old, kind of makes sense really, especially to those of you who have completely ruined Retrochallenge by actually knowing what you’re doing, you with your big brained entryism.

A brief re-cap, the PF-10 has two batteries, both NiCd.  The main battery, removable, sits in a tray at the back.  If necessary it can be substituted for four LR14 dry cells.

The second battery resides internally and is intended as a backup for when the main battery runs low.  An LED on the front of the unit will light when the backup battery has been engaged and will flash when it starts to run low.

Initially, imagining that the main battery was probably an ex-battery (despite no leakage, none of my myriad of Epson NiCds have ever leaked) yet armed with the original power supply, duly plugged in, I naively imagined the unit would work, you know, power from the wall socket plugged in, power.







This I had concluded would be my epitaph, given the amount of times over the years I’ve sat staring at this message, often less than clearly displayed on the PX-8’s low contrast display.

To cut a tediously uninteresting story short, the on-board backup battery is required to hold a decent charge for the unit to work, regardless of how much power is being supplied from the main battery or power supply.

The hunt began to find a suitable replacement NiCd battery, no luck, I tried a NiMh, some luck but of course the on-board charging circuit is not suited.

Thus we find ourselves here today with the end looming of Retrochallenge 2016.  I found a NiCd, it has arrived, I have charged and connected it and yes it works.  Does it fit?  No, certainly not in the space inhabited by the original cells.  Not to worry however, surely it will fit the main battery compartment, no, you’d think it would but it’s off by about 4 mm.

So there you have it, I’m a ‘finding the right size battery’ away from success.  But I’m calling it, and that’s all that matters.

Retrochallenge in a day (or plugging in a battery,) beat that you losers.

P.S. I even used old pictures so I shot some shoddy video to show it working:-


Tamiya, Sand Scorchers And Other RC Memories

Tamiya Sand Scorcher

Contrary to popular belief, I didn’t spend my entire teenage life hunched over a Commodore 64.  Among my other interests such as garden creeping, re-mixing dance music, illicit driving of my parent’s Volvo and Julia Wray, were radio controlled cars.

Tamiya Frog

My Tamiya Frog

My first introduction to the joy of RC was the intensely frustrating experience of watching someone else, specifically Mark Palmer, driving his Tamiya Sand Scorcher whilst praying that he might let me snatch maybe a minute of driving before the ridiculously short battery life ended the run.

There is a thrill experienced by those like myself who have RC in the blood and it is quite difficult to articulate that feeling to others.  It’s a perfect storm of everything to which many teenage boys are attracted.  From the initial arrival of the kit, through lessons learnt and satisfaction gained from building the model on to the excitement and challenge of learning to drive and subsequent upgrades and customisations it’s a journey that ticks many boxes.

Kyosho Tomahawk

My Kyosho Tomahawk

After saving for some time I eventually became the proud owner of a Tamiya Frog and and some Futaba Radio Gear.  Feeling typically contrary I decided my colour scheme would be red with yellow spots

I began racing at the nascent Slip End Model Racing Club (a name which I only now realise was wonderfully appropriate) near Luton.  My memory is a little sketchy however I’m sure my good friend’s elder brother, Andrew Phelps, was involved in the creation of the club.  It became apparent that the Frog was not really up to racing and I graduated to a Kyosho Tomahawk, a much lighter, metal framed car.


My Team Associated RC10

I won quite a few races with the Kyosho and some of us started travelling to other race meets.  Around this point, Team Associated released the RC10 and after one of my friends bought one I realised that yet again if I was going to compete I would need to upgrade.  With the help of a well-timed birthday, some savings from my newspaper round and the sale of the Tomahawk I was able to get my hands on an RC10.

However it soon became clear that the cost of racing in any meaningful way was going to be prohibitive and unfortunately after a couple of moderate successes with the RC10 my RC racing career fizzled out.

scorcherboxartSo for the best part of 30 years my RC10 and my original trusty Futaba radio gear have lived their lives in successive lofts as we moved from house to house.  However when a friend recently messaged me a picture of a new RC car that he’d bought the whole thing began to snowball again.

Clearly no fools, Tamiya, the wonderful Japanese model company, have over the last few years been busy re-releasing such classics as the Sand Scorcher, Holiday Buggy, Hotshot and Wild One.  With 80’s teenagers such as myself now hitting their mid forties, armed with a disposable income and children in tow (the perfect excuse,) the lure of that familiar Tamiya box, once both financially and often literally out of reach on the high shelf at the local model shop, is now too great.

IMG_1784I have therefore, in fairly short order acquired three new RC cars.  My first purchase was a Re-released Sand Scorcher kit.  For me the Sand Scorcher is the most iconic of RC cars and the only one that still gives me goose bumps today.  I shopped around and ended up ordering it straight from Japan, with VAT and import duties added it was still considerably cheaper that buying it here in the UK.

Whilst waiting it for it to arrive I discovered the Iconic RC Facebook group and it was there that a post alerted me to a great deal on the Tamiya Neo Fighter.  With its ‘No Guts, No Glory’ decal it felt to me like a spiritual successor to the Frog.  For £60 all in including ESC and Motor this was a deal too good to miss.  It duly arrived and I had it assembled and running, using my original Futaba Radio Gear, before the Sand Scorcher had even arrived.  It’s a great budget car for general bashing and has proved very tough.

_MG_0869I enjoyed the Neo Fighter build, it was pretty simple and got me back in to the swing of things.  When the Sand Scorcher arrived however it was a wholly different experience.  First, just the site of the box with its iconic design made my heart skip a beat.  Opening it up, seeing the blister packs and smelling the familiar rubber of the paddle tyres was a spine tingling experience.

_MG_0863With larger, less nimble fingers the build was challenging, not technically, but physically.  However it was a joy and seeing that famous SRB chassis come together before my eyes was a true pleasure.  I even enjoyed masking up and spraying the body, something I always used to dread in the past, invariably relying instead on professional model maker friend, Nick Phelps, to do it for me.

Battery technology has unsurprisingly moved on somewhat since the classic Tamiya Hump Pack NiCad days.  Rated at 1200 mAh if I remember correctly you were lucky to get 8-10 minutes running time after having had the battery on charge all night.  These days LiPo (Lithium Polymer) batteries are cheap, powerful and relative to the old NiCad packs, very long lasting.  Charging them is a little more involved, however knowing that you can do this relatively quickly and get as much as an hours running time is fantastic.

IMG_1841I absolutely love running my completed Sand Scorcher, it’s a hoot to drive, both hugely challenging and satisfying.  I’ve now also stumbled across the world of Crawling and have ordered an Axial SCX10.  Where will it end?

Vintage Computer Festival GB, Snibston July 2013


I travelled up to the VCF-GB today at the Silicon Dreams event at Snibston Discovery Museum and took the opportunity to capture a few pictures.  It was pretty quiet being a weekday but I suspect it will be somewhat busier over the weekend.

I arrived pretty early and a number of exhibitors were still setting up.  AmigaKit, Amiga North Thames and A-EON were not present when I was there although I did get to see Morph OS running on a Mac Mini G4, demonstrated by a very helpful and enthusiastic Ravi Abbott.  I happen to have a Mac Mini G4 and will have a play with Morph OS later.

The BBC classroom was all set up and running, a most peculiar experience to see such a set up again.  Had my previous Retrochallenge not revolved around programming the BBC I probably would have taken the opportunity to have a play.

In various rooms around the museum there were rows and rows of computers and consoles set up ready to be played with and I took full advantage.  I felt my age when I witnessed a young lad trying to insert a 3.5″ floppy disk the wrong way round, seemingly completely unfamiliar with the technology.

I spoke at length to Dylan Smith of Spectranet fame who has developed the ZX Spectrum ethernet adapter utilising the WIZnet 5100 chip.  I not only admired the finished product but Dylan’s extraordinary soldering skills on the prototypes.  I also saw a working Harlequin board which was very cool.

I missed the IBM SYSTEM/360 Recreation which was pretty disappointing, not sure if they simply hadn’t set it up but I was really looking forward to that.  I would also liked to have seen more equipment from the 60’s and 70’s.

Here are some pictures and video, as you can see it was very quiet on Friday morning so little opportunity to capture visitors interacting with the exhibits.  If possible I may travel back up on Sunday to see if some of the missing exhibits have appeared.