Rob's Ramblings

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Econet ...

More on my econet blues.

I've now got a stable econet running with two Model Bs and two Master 128s. Wahay!

It seems that the network socket boxes I made myself some 25+ years ago were misbehaving. There was no strain relief on the cables, so some of the messing about recently tugged the cables, and introduced a short inside one of them. I guess all the dried out sellotape inside wasn't enough to insulate them any more!

So, one problem down. I've got a working econet between the Beebs. But the lot still goes down as soon as I plug the a5000 into it. Station not listening. Sigh.

Interesingly, with the A5000 powered off, the econet runs fine. If I set *Stations running repeatedly and power up the A5000, I get a valid reply from it, briefly, before it actually starts booting up, but as soon as it does, the econet dies.

I've also tried running netmonitor as I connect the A5000, and it seems that it's throwing all sorts of junk onto the lines. It doesn't look like valid packets, just garbage, enough to crash netmonitor, but it's something to investigate. Since I've now tried multiple econet modules, and the only thing between the module and the econet cabling is L8, I'm going to try bypassing that (the Masters don't have this, so it can't be essential, since they use the same econet modules) and see what happens...

Wish me luck!

Edit: 30th July. I made a little adapter to plug onto the pins on the bottom of the econet module rather than allowing it to mate with the motherboard, bringing out the connections to a DIN, so bypassing L8. Made no difference. Damn.

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Console Combat 2009

This weekend was the weekend of Console Combat. A chance to get together and play lots of old games in a City Centre Manchester Pub! Games aren't really my thing, but it was around the corner, and there were to be some Beeb people there, so I thought it would be best to show my face!

It was a fairly quick visit, I'm afraid to say. I had my youngest with me, and whilst she enjoyed a 3D Pacman on the A3010, squeeling with delight when we caught a ghost, most of the games were still a little complicated for a toddler to have a go at herself. We did enjoy a bowl of chips and a drink, though, and she was quite attracted to some cocktail arcade machines!

Apparently we missed most of the Beeb people, but I got a quick chat with the Beebmaster Ian, and a longer one with Dave Moore. He's got ambitious plans for the Acorn World show later in the year, but more on that at a later date.

Hope to see you all in September!

Edit: 30th Jul 2009
Thanks to Arcadian at STH for posting some more pictures here.

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Friday, 24 July 2009

Econet woes..

I've posted before about my problems getting the old-style Econet back up and running. I'm still having problems.

I'm also limited by the machines I have available to test things out with...

BUT so far, I've got the following working.

  • Station 103, a Model B. This one one of the ones I obtained recently. Along with my 6502dvd second processor this is running a Level 2 fileserver.
  • Station 101, a Model B, pretty vanilla. This is one of my original machines that ran the BBS 20 years ago.
Both of these are working fine, talking to each other quite hapilly.

And because I now have a known working pair of machines, I can now determine that...

  • at least one of the cables I was using to test things with, doesn't work.
  • the Master 128, station 40, I was running the fileserver on before will only occasionally see station 103, giving variouslly Net Jammed, Not Listening or Not Present errors.
  • the A5000 still can't see anything, nor anything it. Since I swapped over the econet modules in this and Station 40, it looks like both may be dead.
  • might be a loose module I tried, which came loose in a box along with two others, one badly repaired, and a pile of chis... I don't like swaping them about in Stn 40, though, as it's under a replay board that I have to take out first.
  • a Master 128 from the recent haul behaves exactly the same ...

So, I've got two Model Bs working, but nothing later. If I had at least one Master that was working 100%, then I could start swapping modules about to test them.

The only other econet-fitted machines are a Master with no battery pack (well, it DID have one, but it was a bit of a mess, and the keyboard has lots of dead keys anyway..) and a German Model B which has a dead PSU.

Time to drag out the other Masters that don't have econet fitted, see if I can get any of the modules working. After that, it's time to desolder the line drivers..


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Saturday, 18 July 2009

Snail Mail

I'd forgotten why it gets called Snail Mail. I ordered a 512MB mini-SD card on Monday, so I could re-load the A5000 and get the econet up and running again. I'm still waiting for them to get here. 5-12 business days, the eBay listing says.. I guess that means I could still be waiting this time next week.

It's the fault of instantaneous worldwide communications, of course. It's equally as easy to view the website of a shop next door as one at the other side of the world. And where eBay is concerned, the stuff could be coming from literally anywhere. The problem comes when you actually order stuff - the shop next door will probably walk round with it, but for the most part, UK sellers will post it and you'll get things next day or at least within a couple of days. The silly Hong Kong eBay seller will take much longer.

Back in the days of ordering things by post, when it took as long for someone to get your order as it did for the delivery to get to you, we expected things to take their time. Now, when the order is placed instantly, we expect things to arrive quicker. And they don't.

I guess I'm just being impatient... But I've several things I need to get sorted out in time for Acorn World at Retro Reunited, and I need to rebuild the fileserver before I can do them ..

In the meantime, I'm just hoping the postal disputes in London don't get worse and spread up here.


Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Rescued beebs!

Thanks to a lovely couple in Marple, I today collected a pile of ex-school equipment! Two Masters and a Model B were the least exciting bits - there were lots of software and manuals and documents about how the school econet had been set up. 5 seperate networks with at least three fileservers! I got two of the fileservers, but unfortunately no bridges.. also included, a pile of slightly rusty floppy drives, some with discs still in them, a Music 97, grafpad, light pens, some experiment boxes, and lots of spare chips ...

Anyway, photos are up on my nice new flikr account here.

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Monday, 13 July 2009

Fustration 2

OK. Time for an update.

I connected the A5000, Model B and clock box all up with a known good T-piece and still they cannot talk to each other.

I swapped over the Econet modules in the Master downstairs and the A5000, which still didn't work.

I connected them all back up, using the new run of cable, etc. and fired up Level 2 fileserver on the Master, and the Model B can see it and logion!! Finally a result that tells me something - the Model B works, the Master works, the econet module in it is the one from the A5000, so presumably both of those work. And, the new cable run works! But the A5000 can't see the FS on the Master, and still neither can log into the L4 on the A5000. Drat.

So... it must be something in the A5000 that's causing me problems other than the econet module, which given the buffers on the module blow first if there is a line issue, means it most likely is a software problem.

Of course all this power cycling of the A5000 has thrown up more issues; the poor thing has two elderly hard discs in it, and the second one seems to be dying - I'm getting all sorts of strange transfer errors on power up, even before the "RISC OS / Acorn ADFS" banner appears. One thing after another ...

OK then, let's go solid state: I try to fit an SD-IDE adapter I got off Mark of retroclinic when we were at Byte Back and after some hunting for hform, got it formatting a 2GB SD memory card. But it keeps failing. A quick email to Mark and he reminds me that there's a 512MB limit on RISC OS 3.1 .. argh. I'd forgotten all about that one; used to hit it all the time with DOS machines way back when... (At least it didn't do what one client machine with a caching IDE controller did to me once - let me initialise a 1GB disc, and as we were copying data to it, as we hit the 512MB, looped back to the start of the drive and trashed the partition tables and directory...)

So, rather than limit the format and waste 75% of the 2GB card, I've found some 512MB mini-SD cards on eBay for 99p with free delivery, so ordered one of those. I've disabled the second IDE drive in the A5000 for now, as there wasn't anything on it I need at the moment, and I hope I can copy everything off it when I get the new card. I've got master/slave issues to work out on that yet ...

And then, once the A5000 is all up and running on the new drive, I can try and find out why it's not liking the econet any more..

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Saturday, 11 July 2009

Guilty Looks...

If anybody hasn't seen our little one yet, here's a photo we put into the Huggies SnapStars competition - we'd appreciate it if you give her a nice high rating! :-)



Don't you just hate it when things just will not work.

Some time back, I pondered running econet over 2 spare pairs in a cat5 cable that was already runinng ethernet from the ground floor to the atic.

After much discussion on the mailing list over the merits of running econet without the earth connection, I tried it, and it worked, and all was good. However, the Beeb was not really decorative enough to keep out, so has spent almost all the intervening time in the cupboard!

I finally made enough room in the spare room to get it set up on a desk there, but there was no direct cable from the atic where the filesever is to that room. After much swearing, I did manage to run another cable there, and duly crimped RJ45 sockets on the ends, and transferred the Econet DIN-Cat5 cables over. And it didn't work.

All I get on the Master is "Station 10 not present" drat. It's got a clock though...

So I try..

  • Adding a crossover (by re-crimping one end) but that made it worse - didn't even see the clock...
  • Visually checking all the connections at each end...
  • Spending half an hour looking for the cat5 tester, then a little longer for a battery, just to confirm that the line is absolutely fine...
  • Added the earth connections to the DINs, now I have enough wires to use...
  • Set up a Model B in the attic, which also cannot see the server right next to it..
  • Tried a new drop lead from the server to the econet sockets..
  • Disconnected all the new cabling and brought the terminate upstairs, still no joy..
  • Reset the econet station number on the server and tried another version of !Server..
  • Power cycled the server several times doing all this..

And it still doesn't work..

All I lave left I am able to do is disconnect everything, link the B and the server and the clock together using T pieces and open up the server and re-seat the econet board.. it USED to work...


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Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Free Speech

Way back in the mists of time, well, 1979, long before the world wide web ever existed, when only nerds and teenage boys had computers, when Pan Am still ruled the air, and when teletext was still an optional extra on your telly, the Post Office brought out this alternate way of accessing pages of information on your TV screen via the telephone line, and they called it Prestel.

Although it carved out niche markets in the financial services and travel industries as a way of getting real-time information out to subscribers, Prestel never really took off at home. The adapters for your TV were expensive, cumbersome and rather a pain in the neck. You could buy TVs with the adapter built in, but they were just silly prices.

In the mid 1980s, though, East Midlands Allied Press wanted to diversify their home computer magazines, and somehow came up with the idea of running an online service, and thus, Micronet 800 was born. With cheap or free modems and software for the more popular home computers being given to subscribers, it took off quickly, and thus a torrent of viewers were thrown into the online world.

But nobody really knew ... Prestel was primarily an information service. Companies paid for space to publish things, and users paid to be able to read it. Interaction was initially limited to a few "response frames" where users could fill in an online form and it was delivered to the company owning the page. After they had dialed up each remote server in turn to collect the messages. Since the early adapters had little more than a numeric keypad to control them, interaction was necessarily limited. Dedicated terminals had proper keyboards, but they were expensive and often only to be found in the financial or travel agent offices!

The home computer users quickly changed that - suddenly there were lots of people with full keyboards using the service - reading information and writing back to the Information Providers. Prestel Mailbox was quickly released, allowing ISPs to write back to the users, and for them to write to each other, and a centralised message computer created so that messages were no longer isolated at each server.

It was still very much a one-to-one communications though. If you wanted your words to be visible to more than just the one person you were writing to, there was little outlet for you.

Several organisations thought of ways to deal with this. "Letters to the editor" on various sites were the first, of course, mirroring the print media format.

A couple of IPs came up with automated softwares to take users messages and re-publish them on their paid for pages in an automatic carousel. Suddenly people could talk to each other, in public. Micronet ran a lot of these "chatlines" of course, but there were several others on various IP sites.

One of the earliest was a section called "Free Speech" on the Pan Am airline site. Initially populated by travel agents, it wasn't long before the "Micronetters" home computer users found it. This quickly overwhelmed the original operator (Justin?) as he downloaded and re-uploaded the messages manually, moderating and commenting on them as he went along. This format was unique on Prestel, and when he said he would have to give it up, I volunteered to take it over. This would have been 1985-1986 or so.

Over the next few years I ran "Freech" as it was often known, due to a slight timing glitch in the original upload software that occasionally messed up the page header. We migrated all over Prestel as I blagged spare pages from different IPs, ending up running it on a British Rail computer, accessed via a gateway...

Freech eventually closed down when a slightly salacious message, which I had already removed the contact details from and commented "no more like this" was featured on the Parkinson show in a sensationalist "look what I ran across while looking for train times" item. No matter that it was probably the most publicity the British Rail online enquiry system had ever had, they decided to pull the plug on me. I didn't even know about it, as I had taken up a new job and was 200 miles from home at the time and updates were somewhat more sporadic.. We relocated briefly to The Gnome At Home, but the damage was already done. This was late 1989.

So.. on to the reason for this blog post.. As well as the online publishing, at the behest of some users whom had "gone offline", I was for a time also offering a printed version of the messages in a magazine format.... and I've just managed to recover some of the original files used to generate the magazine.

It's not from the start, and it's not from the end, but here, for the first time in 20 years, you can re-read a little bit of the merry banter between nogger, EMU, Silicon Implant and many more. Not forgetting the moderator, me, The Mad Sysop (aka TMS).

It was an innocent time ...

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Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Miscellaneous Rants.

ok. I'm going to withdraw my custom from Sainsburys for the forseable future. I'm usually in there every day, for one thing or another, and spend about £150 a week!! But they peed me off last night. Closed the kiosk early, and lied about the time. That was just the last straw - there are loads of issues I have with them, but it was their "couldn't care less" attitude last night that was just too much for me. I've submitted a complaint to their careline, and we'll see if anything happens.

Two. I want to finish my work on BeebEm's AUN implementation. But Immediate operations and broadcasts aren't working. So I need to sniff some more network traffic between the real machines. Except the laptop I did it with last time won't stay on long enough to even boot without restarting.

Three. So I get back the laptop I lent out ages ago, and it comes back sans-PSU and with a completly dead hard disc, that looks like it might not even be the one I lent it out with. Brilliant. Not. Sacrifice the disc from an external drive to get the machine up and running, and reload Win2K. Now all I need are the drivers for the hardware. Which I had all nice and safe. On a seperate partition on the original hard disc. Argh. And it's an unbranded machine that I can't find diddly-squat about on the net, so it's gonna be an absolute pig to get sorted out. Just so I can use it for five minutes.. I might have to drag this one upstairs :-(

Four. Toddlers that wait exactly 25 minutes after you get to bed, just to make sure that you are actually asleep, before waking up and demanding milk...(actually, she's rather cute which more than makes up for this one..)

Five. Pets that seem to demand more and more care... What the hell am I supposed to do now the terrapins have gone and laid an egg in the corner of the tank?!

Six. Twitter. What's the hype?! Even XBMC now has a script to 'tweet' what you're watching at the time... I know what mine would say: Numberjacks, Bob the builder, Fimley the fire engine. See, it's not even me watching it most of the time..! (Thank goodness for the BBC iPlayer plugin!) Seriously, though, does anybody WANT to know what I'm doing from minute to minute each day - I don't know myself most of the time. I certainly don't have time to stop and tell the world..

Seven. Blog entries that ramble on about all sorts of crap.. oh, that's me. Drat.

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