Retrochallenge ’14 Day 28: Allo, Allo…

Been a quiet ten days since my last update.

I’ve been on holidays with the family, so I’ve done little more than play Fire Hawk on my 386.

I am looking to do a bit more before the RC ends on Thursday, but nothing too ambitious.  Tonight’s project will be to install the Windows 3.1 software for my Ten Tec RX320D software-controlled radio, and probably (DOS) software to control my Uniden BC895XLT radio scanner as well.  As Angry Red has no sound card, I’ll have to work with either an external speaker or headphones…

If I have the time in the next couple of days, I may try my hand at adapting the BASIC control program for the RX320D (that was given as an example in the RX320D Programmer’s Guide) to either TRS-80 Model 4P or Model 100 BASIC.



Apparently we’ve been given an extension!  The RC will end this coming Sunday instead of Thursday!  With that in mind, I’ll do my radio stuff tomorrow.  Tonight, I’ll spend my time fixing the brakes on my mountain bike.  I plan to commute to work via bicycle from now until the winter and, until I fix my road bike, the mountain bike will be my vehicle of choice.






Retrochallenge ’14 Day 17: Rated X.

(Note to all you watchdogs out there:  There is nothing perverse or pornographic about this post, nor in the tweet that probably led you here.  It’s all about the X Windows system.)


Haven’t had much time for the RC these last couple of days.  Too busy playing with our very active daughter Astrid, who recently turned a year old.

Asti-MSX2Seen here a few months ago, playing with Daddy’s Sony HB-F1XD MSX2.  Hacker training begins when she can read.


The only RC related thing I’ve done since last update involved armored, transforming mecha, which ended with my wife Jillian saying “Will you turn that damned thing off?  The baby is trying to sleep!”  🙂

Well, I shouldn’t say the only thing… I have been thinking about Angry Red and what function it will perform once integrated into my lab environment at the new house (which so far will consist of mostly Sun machines running various versions of Solaris)(The lab, not the house).  I mean, sure, it’ll make a dandy serial terminal and note-taker, but it’s capable of doing much more than that.  All of my machines are.  Everything was State of the Art once.

So, to that end, I felt the best way to integrate many of my old computers would be to add X-Windows functionality to each one.  Over the last few months, I’ve been hoarding different (and period-specific) X solutions for my various machines.  I have MI/X for Windows and classic Mac, AmiWin for my Amigas, MachTen for PPC Macs, eXceed for Windows, DesqView/X for Windows 3.1, and one for OS/2 Warp 4, the name of which escapes me.

Haven’t tried any of them yet, and likely won’t this time around (no Unix machines set up at the moment).  Hopefully we’ll be in a new house by the time the RC Winter Warmup rolls around.  My plan is to set up my old SparcServer 20 to serve X-sessions to the machines.  As I am only one man (gasp!), I’d only be using one or two machines at a time, so the server load should be light.

Apart from a few really old machines, most of my retrocomputers are capable of running Linux, *BSD, or old versions of Unix.  While it might be easier in the long run to operate in a homogenous *nix environment, it wouldn’t be much fun.  This is why I went with the idea of an X-client/server approach.  I could run *nix-type stuff when needed without taking away the uniqueness or strengths/limitations of the individual computers.

So, that’s my Endgame.  I have all the appropriate hardware and software, all I need now are the time and space to put it all together.  The rest of my Retrochallenge will be spent prepping Angry Red for this task, and maybe seeing what other machines I have left in the lab and what I can do with them.



Retrochallenge ’14 Day Whatever: Angry Red Planet!

Now that the World Cup is over and my Germans are rightful World champions, and since the Bundesliga season doesn’t start for another month, I figured I could spend some time on my Retrochallenge… whatever the Hell it is.

Last week’s small victory turned out to be a loss… the floppy drive in my Tandy 1500HD is toast.  Since the hard drive is quite dead as well, I have no simple way of booting the laptop.  This model didn’t have the TANDY EEPROM that many other models had, which usually contained a small MSDOS logical drive with Tandy’s DeskMate software.   So, unless I can fix the floppy drive, it is unusable as a computer.

Speaking of floppies, I found a 10″ x 10″ x 10″ box full of ’em rotting away in a damp corner of the basement.  Probably a good 200 disks easily, most of which were rendered useless by the damp.  No real loss, as they were mostly Amiga MODs and BBS & internet downloads I’d since backed up to CD.  I didn’t lose any original software disks, as they were at the top of the box and therefore spared the damp fate of the disks on the bottom.

Of those originals, 90 percent were late 80s/early 90s PC games… chief among them was Fire Hawk: Thexder II.  One of my favourite games of that era, and the first PC game I ever bought!

So, I fired up Angry Red to see if any of the floppies still worked.  In doing so, I took note of Angry Red’s specs.

AngryRedDOSShown here booting to MS-DOS 5.0

Angry Red is running MS-DOS 5.0/Windows 3.1 and sports a 20MHz 386 w/387 Math coprocessor, 2Mb RAM on board (with 3 empty SIMM-like slots for proprietary RAM modules), 100Mb HD, and two ISA slots, 1 x 8- and 1 x 16-bit.  The slots are currently occupied by a generic 28.8 modem and a 16-bit Adaptec SCSI card, the model of which escapes me for the moment.  I wanted to replace the modem with an 8-bit Sound Blaster card (which would also add a game port), but the card is too long to fit.  Ah well, I think I have an AdLib card or a twin gameport card somewhere in the lab…

As I suspected, Angry Red is saddled with slow-ass 8250 UARTs, which might hamper a future plan involving the serial ports.


AngryRedWindowsWindows 3.1 and the laptop’s namesake


AngryRedFileManagerWindows 3.1 in all its glory

I tooled around in DOS and Windows for a bit, mostly to refamiliarize myself with Windows 3.1.  Using File Manager required a bit of an adjustment on my part.  I’ve been spoiled by later, better file managers… even Windows Explorer looks good in comparison!  Tonight’s project will be to connect a SCSI CDROM to the system so I can go through my old Night Owl CDs (et cetera).  I’m looking specifically for tweaks and user interface options for Windows, perhaps a decent text editor and terminal program (w/zmodem) as well.

I found a program called Rooms which, from what I understand, creates virtual desktops (similar to some Xwindows managers) in Windows 3.1.  I’ll try it out tonight to see if I can make use of it.


The rest of the evening was spent playing Fire Hawk.  The game’s sound and background music sounded passable through the PC Speaker, but certainly not as good as it sounded through my old AdLib.  I’ll have to do something about that…



While I have the original diskettes, I don’t seem to have the manual the game came with… which makes defeating the manual-based copy protection a random endeavour.  Thankfully I had a copy of CopyWrite and Rescue (cracking programs) on one of the floppies I found in the box, so I was able to enjoy my favourite PC game again.  Next up, Star Control!

I’ll report on tonight’s CDROM/Windows tweaking efforts tomorrow morning.

Retrochallenge ’14: Days Nine and Ten

My blog host,, was down again last night, so I wasn’t able to publish anything.

I had a bit of good luck (or saving grace!) last night as I went to toss a few things into the trash.  Just as I was about to toss my non-working Tandy 1500HD laptop into the bin, I noticed a heretofore unnoticed switch on the side of the machine… one that was labeled BACKLIGHT.  One that was set to LOW instead of HI.  Duurrrrrrrr…

I’ve had this machine apart more often than my Amiga 2000, yet I completely missed this switch.  I brought the laptop back into the house, plugged it in, flicked the switch to HI, and powered it on.  Damned if it didn’t work!



This adds a whole new dimension to my Retrochallenge.  The 1500’s (XTA?) hard drive was dead when I bought the machine, but as far as I know, the floppy drive still works.  I’ll test it tonight (Thursday), and will then consider what I want to do with the machine, and how to integrate it into the RC and my lab.

I also tracked down the manual for another piece of hardware in the lab, as well as a program that supports it.  If I have time I’ll test it as well.

Will update tonight after work, assuming is up 😉








Retrochallenge ’14: Day Eight

I found a bit of time in which to work on Angry Red last night, mostly to re-familiarize myself with the machine.

It’s obvious I’d done some work (software-wise) on the system, although I don’t remember what my overall plan was.  Angry Red pre-dated my current project management system by a couple of years, so what few project notes I kept are scattered about on fast food napkins or scribbled on discarded printouts.

I vaguely remember installing Trumpet Winsock a few Retrochallenges ago, so I could dial in to my account at SDF.  I remember being able to connect via PPP, but not getting any internet programs to work (gopher, telnet, browser).  The project was probably shelved when life interfered and I was forced to drop out of that particular Retrochallenge (heh).

Of course, I won’t be able to dial out from my house, as we no longer have a phone line.  But that’s the great thing about having a portable computer, I can dial out from elsewhere if need be.  I might try to do just that later in the week, and troubleshoot the connection.

Speaking of connections, I dug out my old Xircom Parallel Port/Ethernet box from the depths.  I’ve had it for about a decade but never used it. Hell, I don’t even remember why I bought it… probably for use on a computer I no longer have for a purpose long-forgotten. I did manage to find the drivers way back when, even burned them to a CD! Now, once I find that CD I’ll be able to use the unit with Angry Red.

More updates to come throughout the day.

(CJ’s note:  Which didn’t happen, as MOTD was down all day yesterday)

Retrochallenge ’14: Day Seven (EDITED)

I didn’t have time to spare for the RC this weekend.  Too much going on.

My cat, Ethin, had to be put down Friday evening.  His many health issues (Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, Diabetes, Megacolon, to name the worst) finally got the better of him, and it was time to end his suffering.  At sixteen years old, he had a good run.

Ethin served as my Retrochallenge mascot for years.  He’d always hop up in my lap whenever he saw me concentrating on a computer problem, and would usually try to bat at whatever hardware I was working on… which usually meant having to gather up jumpers and screws from the floor.

I’ll miss my little buddy.



While I did no actual work, I started making a long-term plan for my 386 portable, which some veteran RC’ers might remember as my Toshiba T5200/100, affectionately known as “Angry Red” due to its red gas-plasma display.

My ultimate goal is to turn Angry Red into a daily driver, able to do the mundane light-duty things I need, but also limited enough to pose a challenge and satisfy any retro-cravings.  Interoperability with my other hardware (new and old) will be a must.

Despite not having PCMCIA ports, game ports, networking, or a sound card, and being saddled with a slow-ass 8250 UART (I believe) and requiring proprietary RAM, it’s still a useful machine and still very expandable.

(LOL, that has to go on record as the most blindly optimistic thing I’ve ever written…)

I’ll go into a little more detail later this evening if not tomorrow.



Retrochallenge ’14: Following Along

I’ve finally had a chance to read the other RCer’s blogs!

I’m pretty excited this time around… I have been waiting to see an S-100 machine in the RC!  Not to mention a Sun3 system and a few Z80-based machines.

Love the Atari 8-bit stuff too.

I’m hoping to get my TRS-80 Model 4P’s hard drive going at some point (even if I don’t have time for it during the RC), as I’m wanting to develop for the machine, and a hard drive would be a handy thing indeed.  Can’t be bothered with emulators.



Retrochallenge ’14: Day Four

I rescued the 1500HD’s power adapter from the scrap pile, and thankfully it was the same adapter required by my Tandy 2800HD.

The laptop booted into MS-DOS, but I wasn’t paying close enough attention to determine which version.  If I remember correctly, it was running MS-DOS 5.0, but I’ll verify that later.

I did take a quick look to see which software was installed on the machine: MS-DOS, Windows 3.0, Telemate 4.x (my favourite DOS terminal program), some transfer programs for my Super Nintendo copiers, a few SNES ROMs and save games, and a few handy programs from PC Magazine’s DOS Power Tools series.

My mom had bought me a subscription to PC Mag way back in the early 90s (back when .com was known chiefly as a file extension and not part of a web address), and as a bonus perq they sent three floppies loaded with little programs and TSRs designed to make my MS-DOS experience that much easier.

Three PC Mag programs in particular stood out:  Touch, Sweep, No,  along with two from a friend: RAT,and Hexcalibur; which invariably ended up on each MS-DOS machine I owned (including the 2800HD). let you change a file’s date stamp.  Don’t remember why I needed this, but I remember it was important on some level.  I learned later that the unix command touch was different.  There was also an improved version called, but I don’t remember the specifics.  Probably for the best, as the metaphor was getting out of hand was cool.  It would execute a command in every directory on your hard drive, and I believe subdirectories, too. I remember using it to rid my hard drive of those small, unneeded files when drive space was at a premium.

for example, you could run:

sweep del *.DIZ

to rid yourself of all those FILE_ID.DIZ files included in every damned archive you downloaded. would exclude certain files from the effects of another command.  I don’t remember the exact syntax but I believe it went something like this:

no *.txt del *.*

which would exclude all files with the extension .txt from being deleted with everything else.  It was far handier than selecting files manually using DOSSHELL or PathMinder.

I remember using it to purge the contents of my SNES ROM directory (DIZ files, scene docs, BBS ads, read mes, save games, realtime saves, SMC roms), apart from ROMs I’d converted to Game Doctor format (*.078).  Very much a time-saver., or Resident ASCII Table, was another favourite of mine.  It’s a TSR program that was invoked by hitting the alt key twice, which then brought up a box displaying the values of each ASCII character.  My friend Kevin introduced me to RAT when we were in our Grade 12 computer science class (and when I was still a Coco kid).  I used the ASCII values to design title screens for our GWBasic program assignments.

and finally there was (Hexcalibur), my favourite Hex editor.  This was another program Kevin introduced me to.  We used to use it to change executable files on the school’s lab computers, in a teenage vandalism sort of way.

Changing (for example):

GW-Basic 2.x

Olivetti Personal Computer

Copyright 1988


SW-Basic 6.9

Spaghetti Personal Dinner

Copyright 1973

I don’t recall ever using HC for constructive purposes, I think I kept it around for nostalgic reasons.

Sigh.  Now that was a trip down memory lane…

Anyway, I’ll post some pics of the three laptops when I get home from work.





Retrochallenge ’14: Day Two and Three

Damn it!

I went to fire up my Tandy 2800HD laptop last night  to see if it still worked… and I don’t seem to have the power adapter for it!

Ah well, no big deal.  If I remember correctly, it uses the same adapter as the 1500HD laptop I just tossed on the recycling pile.  Will have to test it out tonight once I get home from work.

Speaking of Tandy computers, I found my Model 100 in my writing desk as I prepared to put the desk into storage.  Nice stroke of luck, that!  I’ll likely use the M100 to document all my RC entries from here on in.

I didn’t have time for much more than that last night.  I did a bit of contemplating regarding my 386 laptop (expansion upgrades, future plans, hacking it, etc) and came to the conclusion I could really trick this thing out with the right equipment and with minimal financial outlay.

More on that later.