Saturday 15 December 2012

Capture II Redux

Today I visited Joe M. of the Southern California Commodore & Amiga Network.  Earlier this year and mentioned at , he was supposed to have rebuilt Capture II boards, the few remainders from the Jason-Ranheim Company.  He rebuilt one; it worked perfectly, and I was hoping that he'd have more finished in no time.  Well, no time became quite some time.  He ran into indeterminate problems, i.e., though he used the same components, the boards just wouldn't work.

He finally had to bring them to his place of work and use the powerful microscopes there in order to examine those boards.  He found that all of the rest of the boards had microscopic defects in the traces.  Perhaps that is the reason why they were left over from Jason-Ranheim; they were the defective and couldn't be sold.  Joe repaired the traces and got most of the boards working!  He gave me one to show off at future meetings and shows.  Hopefully, he'll release a few more later.

Merry Christmas!
Robert Bernardo
Fresno Commodore User Group
Southern California Commodore & Amiga Network

Saturday 8 December 2012

Sourcing new ribbons for old printers

There's nothing quite like a document printed from an 8 pin dot matrix printer. The kind that would be connected to an 8 bit computer, and made no attempt at hiding the blocky nature of the characters. We lived in a world of visible pixels, and we were proud to show them. Sometimes, I'd leave the tractor feed sides on the paper just for that added touch of mechanical technology. In these days of dirt cheap, razor sharp inkjet printers, it's fun and whimsical to send correspondence printed off one of these ancient but reliable printers. Problem is, getting replacement ribbon cartridges is becoming increasingly difficult, expensive, if not downright impossible, and re-inking can only go so far.

Dot matrix printers are here to stay, except these days they're marketed as "Impact" printers. Multi-part forms, the kind used in shipping where you have a white, red, and yellow copy, ensures the business need for an impact printer; laser and inkjet can't do multi-part forms. They're just not as common as they once were, so these days, industry makes ribbon cartridges for dozens instead of thousands of different makes.

My first printer ever was an MPS 802 connected to my Commodore 64. When I got a Commodore Amiga system, I sold the MPS 802 to buy an Epson LX-810, as the MPS 802 didn't work with the Amiga. The LX-810 model printer It always occurred to me that the printer ribbon cartridges looked very similar; but, as is the way with printer technology, there are slight differences in the ribbon cartridge design that prohibits interchanging the two.

I recently acquired an MPS 802 printer. It occurred to me that, while there may have been differences in the printer cartridge design, I assumed that the ribbons themselves would be of standard dimensions. It would have been cheap and easy enough for manufacturers to stamp out their own plastic ribbon cartridge cases en masse, but they likely bought the ribbons from a common source, as is typical in manufacturing. I checked. The dimensions of the ribbon in the cartridge of the MPS 802 are pretty much identical to that in the Epson LX-810 cartridge (and probably others).

To test, I took an old Epson LX-810 cartridge that still works but is slightly faded, and removed it from that cartridge. Next, I carefully pried the top off the MPS 802 cartridge, and removed that ribbon. Then I wound the ribbon from the LX-810 cartridge around the spools, snapped the lid back into place, and wound the ribbon back in. The result? Success.

This is good news, because Epson still sells a printer that takes the same ribbon as my old LX-810; it's the LX-300 printer. Ribbons for this printer are available at Staples for a reasonable $13 or so. I think I'll buy a brand new Epson printer cartridge to cannibalize for my MPS 802 now, but I probably should wear latex gloves this time.

Sunday 2 December 2012

World of Commodore 2012

I had the opportunity to attend World of Commodore 2012 in Mississauga, Ontario yesterday. The event took place in a conference room in the Admiral Inn. This is an annual event put on by the Toronto Pet User's Group (TPUG); the oldest user's group in Canada, and the second oldest user's group in the world. There were a variety of exhibits, including demonstrations and products for sale, a freebie table, and an itinerary filled with excellent speakers covering an interesting range of topics from modern hardware developments to the use of Commodore computers in the arts.

I had the opportunity to meet some old friends and make some new ones. It was also a place to rekindle some friendships I believed were long lost. The real pleasure was getting to meet Jeffrey Daniels of Denial in person for the first time the following day. With so many fascinating individuals who attended the event, some from some great distances, it was worthwhile just to be in the same room and talk about our varied interests in retro computing. Ever increasingly, the appeal seems to be about the aesthetics and creative artistic outlet represented by these vintage machines.

There's a trend these days to rekindle some of the great classics on modern hardware, so it was a pleasure to listen to a speaker from Comma 8 studios describe the process and challenges involved in bringing a modern version of M.U.L.E. to modern platforms like iPhone and Android. We got to listen to some possible theme music for the upcoming game, got to see how the characters are now rendered graphically, and got some insight into some of the challenges of creating a multiplayer game on these devices.

Jim Brain of Retro Innovations was present with a table selling his clever devices (I'm a huge fan and user of his uIEC), and announced that he was now able to legally sell JiffyDOS for the Vic 20, Plus/4, and Commodore 16 computers. I made sure to buy the first Vic 20 JiffyDOS chip after his presentation. This, combined with the uIEC and daughterboard, brings these computers into the 21st century; with the uIEC providing a modern SD card alternative to the 1541 disk drive, and JiffyDOS a fast and easy way to work with SD card files and images on the uIEC.

Next, we were treated by a presentation by a speaker from the Toronto Animated Image Society (TAIS) about a project,, where the Amiga computer was used in creating works of animated art. The microphone was then turned over to Mark Pellegrino, who treated us to G.I.R.L. This animated short work of art was completed using Deluxe Paint in an emulated Amiga. It was somewhat dark, somewhat disturbing, and yet very funny and entertaining at the same time. It was excellent.

Going along with the creative arts theme, Jeffrey Daniels of Denial presented his work the next day, explaining his philosophy of programming and his reasons for that philosophy. Some of his games are stunningly original, all are very playable. By drawing on subtle concepts of our consciousness, he develops themes that intrigue and draw us in. Some seasoned Commodore users are surprised that Jeffrey doesn't use machine language, as some of his games are so sophisticated they suggest that they might be written that way. I often think that had Jeffrey's games existed at the time the Vic 20 was created, Commodore's original intention of using the Vic's video circuitry in arcade machines may have been realized.

Unfortunately, I arrived too late to catch the first presentation, and had to leave before the final one. However, the event was well worth the $10.00 admission fee, and I decided to sign up as a TPUG member for a year. Besides buying Jim Brain's clever products (a daughtercard for my uIEC, along with JiffyDOS for my Vic and 64), I also scored an MPS 802 in great shape from the freebie table, and Cymbal's Games 20 book 1 for a dollar. Those of you who know me have seen my Youtube video of me opening up a Vic 20 for Christmas, showing off the Vic and this very Cymbal games book. the MPS 802 was the first printer I ever owned, and completes my original Commodore 64 set-up.

More pictures of the event can be found here: World of Commodore 2012 Web Album

If you're reading this and would like to contribute to this blog, perhaps to add details on the speakers I missed or to provide your own perspective, feel free to contact me or Robert to add you as an author.