Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

Archive for September, 2013

The lazy way to work a sticky floppy drive spindle free

Posted by Trixter on September 26, 2013

In preparing for VCFMW, I was dismayed to find that one of my PCjr’s floppy drives (a Qumetrak 142) has a very sticky spindle, or a slightly stretched belt, or both.  The end result is that the diskette spins quite unevenly, like the belt is slipping.  To fix this, there are a lot of things I could do:

  • Order a new belt (someone on the PCjr forums thinks he has a lead on a source)
  • Try to rough up the inside of the belt so it has more friction
  • Partially take apart the drive and adjust two screws that will move the motor away from the spindle which will give the belt more tension

…or, take the lazy way out.  I noticed that, no matter how off the drive speed was, it usually managed to load the boot sector.  So, I created a boot floppy, loaded the boot sector into debug, and patched the boot code to this:

-l 100 1 0 1
-u 013e
1236:013E B402    MOV AH,02
1236:0140 B001    MOV AL,01
1236:0142 0E      PUSH CS
1236:0143 07      POP ES
1236:0144 BB0010  MOV BX,1000
1236:0147 FEC5    INC CH
1236:0149 80E51F  AND CH,1F
1236:014C B101    MOV CL,01
1236:014E B200    MOV DL,00
1236:0150 B600    MOV DH,00
1236:0152 CD13    INT 13
1236:0154 EBE8    JMP 013E

(I know the code can be optimized smaller, no need to tell me — this means you, Peter ;-)  This will proceed to read 1 sector from tracks 0 through 31 and then jump back to track 0 and do it again, endlessly.

I wrote this back to sector 0 and booted the disk.  At first, my drive sounded like this:  Chunk….. chunk chunk…. chunk…. … ….. chunk chunk chunk…..

An hour of it running and now I hear this:  Chunk chunk chunk chunk chunk chunk chunk chunk chunk chunk chunk chunk chunk chunk chunk chunk    Problem solved!  Well, until Saturday anyway, when I’ll likely need to run this again for an hour to work the drive.  But that will be enough for the tutorial diskette to run for the patrons.

PS: That boot sector also makes for a handy exercise to use with a floppy cleaning disk.

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Hey, a podcast appearance

Posted by Trixter on September 23, 2013

I had a great time talking with Anatoly of the DOS Nostalgia Podcast a few days ago, and what do you know, I’m capable of speaking into a microphone.  We spoke mostly about the first decade of PC gaming, and conclude with some games that were notable for being so well-programmed that they perform some amazing things on your 8088 that it really has no business doing.  Snag the episode here, and let him know what you think.

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Vintage Computer Festival Midwest 8.0

Posted by Trixter on September 15, 2013

Only two weeks away until the VCFMW and I’m very much looking forward to it.  I will be giving a longer presentation on the PCjr than I gave at @party (which was rushed and had a lot of stuff cut out due to all @party presentations being limited to 30 minutes), and I will have two or three PCjrs set up for exhibition and public use.  These will all be functional and have software and manuals and other materials to peruse, so if you’ve ever wanted to do stuff like play the original King’s Quest on the hardware it was designed for, stop on by.

If you’ve never been, it’s a small-to-medium affair that is roughly half “Commodore convention” and half “everything else convention”.  It is smaller and much less formal than VCF East but there is a lot more hacking and swapping and trading going on.  Admission is FREE.  Tables for exhibiting or selling are FREE.   If you are anywhere near Lombard, IL at the end of the month you have no excuse to miss it.

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Access Software’s Echelon

Posted by Trixter on September 7, 2013

Someone with a lot more patience and dedication than myself reviewed a game that I always felt should have some sort of coverage: Echelon.  It’s one of those games that was more of a tech demo than a game, a phenomenon that occurred often in the first 20 years of personal computer gaming.  Echelon was essentially Access flexing their programming muscles, first with a 3-D flight sim and, in a later revision, continuous digitized sound and speech from the internal PC speaker (on any 286 or higher, otherwise it pauses the system while audio is playing).  They loved this idea so much that Mean Streets was originally going to be a spiritual sequel to Echelon, with a better flight sim.  Thankfully, Mean Streets also had an adventure game built around the flight sim that was much more enjoyable, so that’s why subsequent games are known as Tex Murphy adventures and not flight sims.

Gemini’s review of Echelon is likely the only review anyone will ever see of this game, so I recommend you check it out.  And the next time you have a rainy day you should also check out the other 120 (!) episodes of his DOS-era game review show Ancient DOS Games.

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