Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy via IM

Amazing. You can now play the classic text adventure (or “interactive fiction” as they seem to be called these days) game version of Douglas Adams’ book via an instant messenger client. It uses the Jabber network, but Google Talk is compatible so if you have that (or even just the Google homepage gadget, as shown below) you can play!

Just send a message to “prakbot [at] jabber.org”, and once connected, type !startgame to, uh, well, you can guess.

See here for more information.

Back to the 80s: Dongle Power!

Remember dongles? They’re devices that often came with (usually expensive) software. You plugged them into a port on your computer, and the software wouldn’t run without them. It was a stone age anti-piracy device, basically.

Well, lookee what arrived this morning:

That’s right. It’s a dongle! A USB dongle, in fact. Ah, the memories. The hideous memories. Memories of software not recognising you have a dongle plugged in and calling you a pirate. Memories of losing the dongle and being unable to run the software you’ve paid far too much money for. What fun.

So this dongle comes as part of a bit of embroidery design software called DigitiserPro. Sorry DigitizerPro, with a zed. It’s made by a company called Janome, who also make the USB-enabled sewing machine (yes, such a thing exists) it came with.

Now, here’s a problem. We have permission to install this software on all our PCs in the textiles room. Sadly, the dongle says no, since we have but one dongle. I have to ask, however, why does it have a dongle? The only use for the software is to use it with the sewing machine, or to design things on another computer, which are then transferred to the computer the sewing machine. So the sewing machine itself is acting as the copy protection, surely?

And there’s more! The software is awful. And I haven’t even managed to use it yet! The installer froze my machine. Once installed, it rebooted my PC (which is a Big Ol’ Pile Of Badness), and then took an age to load once that was done.

Now I don’t have a particularly slow machine. I’ve got an Athlon64 3200+, with a gig of RAM. Way in excess of the 800MHz PIII/128MB combo recommended. And yes, it does warn you on the splash screen (above) that it may take a while… but ten minutes? It wasn’t a one-off either – I know some programs take a bit longer on first run, but this was the same the second and third time.

And then there was more good news! I minimised the program, and my computer froze. Even to the point where the mouse wouldn’t move, and keypresses made the PC speaker beep. After a few minutes, I regained very, very slow control of Windows, and the Task Manager eventually opened to show DigitizerPro taking up 700-odd MB of my precious, precious RAM and a solid 99% of the CPU cycles.

I’m overjoyed to be in possession of this program. No, I really am.

Super Micro Game Gear

Lookie what just arrived for me! It’s a “PlayPal” handheld console, officially licenced by Sega and includes 20-odd Game Gear titles.

Not only that, but you can also connect it up to a TV and play them on that!

Update: If you want to buy your own, Play Asia have them in stock for a little over £15.

Happy Birthday, Mr Spectrum!

25 years ago this week, a man named Clive Sinclair unleashed the future into an unsuspecting world. That is, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum was released.

The details of the machine and its history have been reported all over the internet already today, so I won’t bother duplicating any of that here. I should, however, point out how much the Spectrum changed my own life.

As MJ Hibbett and The Validators so musically sang, my parents bought me a 48K Spectrum+ in 1984 to “help with my homework”. Of course, I did have a few edutainment titles, and yes, I did use it as a giant expensive calculator on more than one occasion, but once I’d loaded Thru’ The Wall and Maze Chase that came on the guide tape, it was clear that the Spectrum was for gaming.

From little acorns, naturally, grow giant oaks, and here I am now – somewhat addicted to gaming. Tch, eh?

Happy birthday, Speccy!


No, I didn’t sneeze. According to “resident” of #spin (a super top-secret geeky IRC channel, for super top-secret geeks, and me) Tom-Cat:

Galaksija is a Z80 based computer built in ex-Yugoslavia during the best computer years (80’s 😉 ).

I have no idea what it is. At all. Anyway, Mr Cat (I’m not really on first name terms with him) has written a Galaksija emulator. For the Spectrum. As you do. I downloaded it, read the Readme (which didn’t really throw much light on, well, anything really), and fired up SPIN, my Spectrum emulator of choice.

Loading the Galaksija emulator gives you a black screen with a command prompt. Having absolutely no clue as to what to do with it, I did exactly what all kids-of-the-80s would do in John Menzies or Tandy. I did this:

Commodore 64 PDA

OK, so I’m not a fan of the C64 (Spectrums FTW and all that), but this looks most ace. Jason Winters has taken one of them C64-in-a-controller things, added a mini keyboard from a PDA and a screen from a PSone, and bolted them all together to make a mini C64 compatible laptop, complete with joystick port and SD card slot for loading software.

Picodore 64

Jason Winters’ Pico-Projects: The Picodore 64 – a Commodore 64 PDA

Resurrecting the Amiga

Having fiddled around with WinUAE (an Amiga emulator for Windows) a little this week, I realised that I probably still had a load of stuff I’d like to have another look at, and maybe archive properly, on my old Amiga 1200. It’s been stuck up in the attic, unused for the last 6 or 7 years, and I wasn’t sure it was even going to work.

The plan was to get the information off the hard drive using either a compact flash card and PCMCIA card reader, or, if that failed, by using a PCMCIA network card, Miami (an Amiga TCP/IP stack), my home network, and and FTP server on my Mac.

Sadly, the Amiga was dead. It powered up first time, but didn’t recognise the hard drive, instead booting to the “insert Workbench disk” screen. I powered it down, and then it wouldn’t even boot that far – I just got a grey screen. The power light was on, but that was it.

So, I dismantled it, cleaned out all the fluff, dust, hair, spiders and seeds (I have no idea) out of the innards, reseated my 030 expansion card, removed and re-fitted my ROM chips, and made sure the HD and FD connections were fine. After putting it back together – success! It booted into Workbench. Hurrah!

I then rummaged through my pile of old floppy disks looking for a 720K PC disk that I could use to transfer the required card reader software. I was actually transferring the files from Aminet using my MacBook, so using a PC disk when no PC was actually there seemed a bit perverse. Anyway, if you want to do the same thing, you’ll need a compact flash card, a 16-bit PCMCIA card reader, fat95 (to be able to read and write the fat16 filesystem), and cdf (to be able to mount it as a drive). I got these installed OK, switched off the Amiga, inserted my card reader (with card in), and… nothing. Grey screen, no booting. Again.

Cleaned everything out again, but nothing worked still. If I removed the card reader, all was fine. Insert it, and it wasn’t. Then I remembered something from many years ago – with some Amiga expansion cards fitted with more than 4MB of RAM, the PCMCIA port is disabled, as it’s mapped into the same address space as the RAM is. So, I took the 4/8MB jumper off the expansion, and all was well (albeit my free fast RAM dropped by half, but that didn’t really matter). I could read and write to my 64MB compact flash cards!

I then spent a merry couple of hours transferring the lot to my cards. My entire hard drive (which cost about £150 when I bought it) fitted onto two 64MB CF cards (costing £1.47 each). Amazing.

After that, I thought I’d spend a bit of time trying to get the network stuff working with my PCMCIA network card and a copy of Miami, but couldn’t get anywhere. I got the card drivers and everything, but I just couldn’t get it on the network. Ah well.

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