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.



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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.



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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.





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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.

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Retrochallenge ’14: Day One

Aaaaaaaargh we’re off!

Today was spend playing with my old 386 portable (as opposed to a new 386 portable?), ensuring it works.  It does.

I dug it out of the depths while taking stock of the machines left in the lab… it’ll probably do all the heavy lifting for the duration of the RC.

I also found several Tandy computers I’d largely forgotten about: a Tandy 1000sx, a 1000rl, a TL2, and two laptops: a 2800hd and a 1500hd (which is dead).  No monitors, though.

Found a couple of interesting parallel port peripherals, too, which I will share with you later in the week.

The best thing I found today, the thing I’m most excited about, was the manual and driver diskette for my TRS-80 model 4P’s external hard drive!  The drivers are from a third party company and are supposedly an improvement over Radio Shack’s drivers.

Hopefully I can get the ancient 70 meg drive to spin up…

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Retrochallenge ’14: Considering…

A recent Twitter post from UrbanCamo reminded me that this year’s Retrochallenge is coming up in a month-and-a-half!

I really want to enter, but I’m leery of doing so.  The missus and I are busy packing up the house so we can renovate (then sell), and as such most of my computer equipment et cetera is boxed up and in storage.  There’s precious little left in the lab, mostly stuff I’ve never used, broken or damaged equipment, or things I’ve forgotten about.

Much of the equipment left over is of an appropriate vintage that they could be used in the Retrochallenge. Hmmm…

It’s tempting to enter the RC using “the mess” as my project.  The idea of using whatever’s in the pile, whatever I can salvage and throw together, and making it all work somehow really appeals to me.

Problem is, we don’t have any form of internet connectivity at home.  We cancelled our landline as well as our high speed internet earlier in the year because of our renovations, so I’ll have no immediate way of posting my progress.

Another challenge!  I’m liking this more and more!

Lastly, most (if not all) my disks and manuals are boxed up and in storage as well, limiting me to whatever stray disks are still lying around, and whatever is on the old hard drives of the machines still lingering in the lab.

OK, I’m sold.

I’m going to enter the Retrochallenge, my theme being “Working With Whatever’s Left”.



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Don’t Mess with Texas (Instruments)

I hit two of my favourite thrift stores on my lunch break today.  While I struck out at the first, the second yielded the following treasure!


Yes, I am the proud owner of a Texas Instruments TI-99/4A computer, complete with all the trimmings, including a Parsec game cart, joystick, and speech synthesis module!


I have no idea if it works, and no idea what I’m going to do with it, but I’m sure I’ll have some fun with it.

I’m still keeping my eyes open for an Atari 800-series computer…

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RCWW14: That’s a Wrap!

Well, that was fun…

Yet another Retrochallenge goes by with nothing to show for it.  I did use my Handspring Visor and Visorphone for the entire month, but that isn’t really a monumental challenge, as my main smartphone is my 2004-vintage Palm Treo 650, meaning most of the apps were the same.  All it meant was giving up mobile web access, but even that wasn’t a big deal as I can post to Twitter and Facebook (and receive important updates) via SMS.

I spent more time rummaging in my basement lab than I did doing anything constructive.  It wasn’t a waste of time, though, as I rediscovered a bunch of old Unix stuff I forgot I had.  This stuff will lay the foundation for my Summer Retrochallenge entry, wherein I will try to build a 386 running Xenix.  Not just a functional machine, but a useable one, one I can use for the entire month.

I may yet have time to play with my PC-1500, one of these days…


RCWW14: Homespun Archaeology

Imagine my surprise when I found the following in a box in my basement:


Excelan1 Excelan2 Excelan3 Excelan4 Excelan5 Excelan6

Excelan LAN Workplace was a TCP/IP stack for early versions of Xenix 386.   I have both this opened box and another sealed box in my possession (which I may sell sometime in the near future).

Unexpected finds like this are what I live for!  Whenever I feel as though my computer hobby is stagnating, I come across something like this that will rekindle the fire!

Finding floppy images for SCO Xenix 386 wasn’t a difficult task.  I have version 2.3.1 downloaded, but I think that includes TCP/IP capabilities.  If so, I’ll hunt for an even older release of Xenix so I can play around with LWP.

After which, I’ll have to look through the lab to see if I have a 386 on which to install Xenix.

Unfortunately, I won’t have time to play with this stuff during the Retrochallenge Winter Warmup, so consider this my entry into the 2014 Summer Retrochallenge!



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RCWW14: Shifting gears


I discovered a few interesting things while packing up my basement lab this evening… a few more boxes of Unix stuff I got when I bought out a failed dotcom’s equipment back in 2002.  Two versions of AIX, a version of HP-UX, a bunch of developers’ tools, manuals for things I don’t have, and one other thing that I’ll reveal tomorrow.

I am most excited about this last thing, as I’m going to plan my summer Retrochallenge around it.