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Covid-19 Effects

As I’m sure you are aware of (unless you’ve just crawled out from under a rock in the last five minutes) Covid-19 is wrecking havoc with nearly every piece of American life as we know it. What’s worse is that it’s effects are not confined to America. China suffered it’s effects first, then Italy seemed to drown in cases and also went into a nationwide lockdown. China is still not completely back to normal or what passes for normal now. Italy is still deep in lockdown with no change in sight. Unfortunately it seems that the USA is the next big country to have the Covid-19 tsunami crash upon its shores.

My little store on the internet is going to be affected as well. While my story is pretty minor in the scheme of things it’s important that I bring this up and warn you. I operate on a shoestring budget out of my home and so I don’t keep a large supply of parts to assemble products I make. I don’t keep a large supply of bare boards either. As this virus affects world wide supply chains over the next few months I may not be able to acquire the parts or other supplies necessary to assemble boards in a timely manner. So you are going to have to make a decision not just to buy my products, but to bear with me time wise. If prices spike I may not be able to afford those parts under the current price listed for the assembled product. At that point you will be notified and given a choice to cancel your order or pay the additional cost. I will not engage in price gouging ever, so if parts prices go too high I will automatically cancel your order.

Stay safe and practice social distancing as much as possible. We will get thorough this too.

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Proposed Projects: Please vote by donation

Okay here are the three projects that I am wanting to pursue this year and hopefully finish. The first two are a continuing variation on work I’ve already done, but with some extra refinement. The third is something of a radical departure from what I’ve done in the past, but at least it is off the drawing board and into the actual testing phase already.

To repeat parts of my previous post. Whichever project gets the most donations in the next 60 days is the one I will focus on to completion. The highest donor will get the most discount on the final product and the most say in design. It won’t be completely free, but you will see a 50% discount. The second highest donator will see a 25% discount. Final design decisions still rest with me, but only because you can want all you can, but that doesn’t make it realistic, doable, or sell able to other people, which is kind of the point.

I’ll keep track of the amounts for each project and towards the middle of April I’ll declare the winning project. To have a winning project I need at least $100.00 donated for that project. If no project reaches that mark, then I’ll distribute the monies donated to the various projects and continue working on them in the background.

Atari XF551 compatible 3.5″ 130XE internal and Hammond Cased External Floppy Drive Boards

Currently I have reached beta testing phase on both versions.  A few bugs to work out given the new 26pin interface to the Slimline drives and some display board refinement needs to still be done.

I hope to offer the 130XE internal main board and display auxiliary board as a semi-finished set of boards (you would need to supply the slimline drive and data cable, and the WD1772 and Intel 8040/8050 chips.  Since this is a combination SMT and TH board, I would think this would be beyond the ability of many purchasers to assemble.   Extensive 130XE case modding will be needed.

The externally cased XF551 3.5″ version right now is expected to be housed in a suitable Hammond case and sport a 2 digit track # display, reset, front drive ID and bios selector switchs. I will be providing the main and front panel board with front panel. You will need to purchase the Hammond case and WD1772 and Intel 8040/8050 chips and the drive and data cable for the type of drive you want to use.

I got this idea from work that was done by Zaxon last year.  He provided a short run of both standard 5.25″ and 3.5″ externally cased drives and a version that would fit in a 130XE internally using a Dell Slimline 3.5″ drive.    Kudos to him.   My design is a little more refined, with a few extra features.  It borrows from work I’ve already done on earlier XF551 type boards.  It also would be produced domestically, thereby reducing shipping time and cost.

This is the beta version of the external XF551 3.5″ standard/slimline floppy drive board with proto track display,reset, bios select and front drive id selector.
This is a beta version of an internal 130XE 3.5″ slimline XF551 compatible floppy board

Atari SIO2IO Externally Housed Combo board

This project is still in the beta design phase and it’s exact specs will change. In general it will include the MIDI2SIO in/out connections by Mytek, DB25 parallel printer adapter by Supra Microprint, a basic DB9 Rverter serial port and the finished FujiNet wireless hardware project and be self powered. It should be compatible with nearly all Atari 8bit machines and be connected via a single SIO dongle. At this point it should be able to be sold either fully assembled or as a bare board with BOM.

This is a design mockup of an externally housed SIO2IO board.

Atari Wireless CX-40 Modification

This project is a little past the paper design phase and into the alpha proto board stage.  I have verified basic wifi connection between an unmodified Atari CX-40 joystick connected to Arduino Pro Mini and a nRF24L01+ for a transmitter and a Arduino Pro Mini and nRF24L01+ receiver connected to the Atari 8bit computer joystick ports.  There is some lag and I still need to work on optimization in the software, but the basics are there.

I am also working on a drop in board for the CX-40 joystick that has a minimum amount of case mod.  I plan to have USB recharging ability for the battery and a led that indicates battery status, with an ON/OFF button to save on battery usage.   On the receiver board that plugs into the Atari 8bit computer port, I plan to offer a version for the Atari 130XE, 800XL and hopefully the 1200XL.  That board will sport a small OLED display indicating status of connection.

This board is almost exclusively SMT and I don’t feel comfortable selling any thing but a fully assembled set of two joystick insert boards and a Atari 8bit receiver board. I plan to eventually have a receiver board that will fit all Atari 8bit machines.

This is still a little rough in design, but it is getting closer to a final design.

Understand no monies will be returned and unless there is a winner no discounts given when the project reaches the release date. Hopefully there will be no tie breaker needed.

Vote donation has ended. The Atari SIO2IO externally housed board is the winner

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Something New, Something Old

I’ve decided to try something new this year. I have some projects that I’ve been working on in the background. A little at a time. Being retired means that money is hard to come by, and having money to set aside on hobbies is in even shorter supply. Social Security won’t kick in until late this new year, and the way things are going in Washington I’m not sure I can count on that anyway.

Over the years I’ve tried to fund my projects on my own. I have never liked ‘an ask’ for money to fund them, believing that when you start asking people to help you pay for something, you’ve automatically given them the power to control what you do. Or you’ve given them the right to expect something in return, a discount or even depending on the amount free return. I’m not saying that is wrong. Far from it, truth be told, it’s what I would expect in their place.

When I then sold these projects on the website, they were priced at cost plus one to two hours of minimum wage labor cost. It’s a sad fact that what I offer is more expensive than it should be, simply because I have very little ability to take advantage of the economics of scale. The Atari 8bit family is not measured in the millions of paying customers.

I had hoped that what little extra I brought in could fund continuing new projects. Sadly the price of supplies has nearly doubled in the last five years. The addition of tariffs (in effect taxation without representation) on many supply items has not helped. Like many other small business people I face the reality of raising prices to cover the costs and then seeing the inevitable decline in business because of it. Or I can look for other revenue streams, however odorous they may be.

Many people have read of the decision to allow advertising on AtariAge. So far I haven’t seen any, but I imagine it is because of a few people being willing to pay a monthly/yearly subscription. Kudos to those people. They deserve a hand for stepping up. Thank you.

A couple of years ago or so Mr Kline graciously stepped in when my then current hosting provider decided to raise their yearly fee by 20%. The hike in price would have meant shutting down as I was barely covering the current hosting and parts cost with my sales. He set aside space on his private server for my website and did not charge me. That was humbling to me, a very gracious move on his part. Thank you.

So I’ve come to a conclusion that I will need to do one of three things to survive.

  1. Sell only current items, no new development. This will inevitably lead to obsolescence and loss of sales too due to saturation. A slow death by a thousand cuts so to speak.
  2. Allow external advertising on my website, something I hate with all my heart and I swore would never happen.
  3. Provide for donation/campaign revenue through Paypal, something I hate only a little less than allowing external advertising.

With that in mind I have decided to go the third option while maintaining in the short term the first. Basically a blend of options 1 and 3. In the next couple of days or so I’ll add to the website three on going projects I am working on and a way of donating to their progress. Whichever one gets the most donations in the next 60 days is the one I will focus on to completion. The highest donator will get the most discount on the final product and the most say in design. It won’t be completely free, but you will see a 50% discount. The second highest donator will see a 25% discount. Final design decisions still rest with me, but only because you can want all you can, but that doesn’t make it realistic, doable, or sell able to other people, which is kind of the point.

Each of the three projects will have varying degrees of completeness ranging from bare board DIY offering to complete assembly. I expect once the 60 day competition is over, that the finished project should be delivered within six months. That’s assuming that I get any donations to speak of. Less than a hundred dollars US of donations isn’t going to take it very far very fast. But let’s see how it turns out.

Let me know your feelings, as it doesn’t help me if most people are opposed to this.

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Year End Musings

I find myself at the end of another year. My feelings this year are mixed, more mixed than I ever remember them being. A lot of anger, a lot of helplessness, a lot of horror and a lot of fear at what has happened in my country over the last three years. I’ve leaned both directions politically over the years, depending on the subject in question. I suppose that’s inevitable in a country that prides itself on the rule of law, democracy and the American dream(Capitalism). At times those three subjects seem at odds with one another, at other times they form the legs of a three legged stool. Cut off one of them and the stool comes crashing down. We come crashing down as a country.

I was too young, not quite 10 years old, to fully understand and appreciate the fear and anger of the summer of 1968. I remember my parents seemed tense, and sometimes lost in thought, when they had time to be. On a long saved for summer vacation to reconnect with Mom’s family in Michigan, Dad uncharacteristically rented a motel room somewhere in Illinois. He made sure that it had a TV and that it would get the national news. We’d been on the road for hours that already hot and humid early June day. Us kids just thought Mom and Dad were tired too. Why else would we be sleeping in a motel room on a real bed, instead of the hard ground under the tent floor at some state/national campground. Heck, it wasn’t even normal stopping time.

The pickup truck radio had been on all afternoon I remember, but I don’t remember anything in particular on it. A lot of static, fragments of songs and the occasional ad that seemed to come through clear as a bell as Mom, then Dad spun the dial to try to tune in a closer station. But apparently they had heard something.

That late afternoon and into the evening all of us gathered around the TV and watched history unfolding. It had happened again, another Kennedy had been shot down. Politics didn’t matter that much right then, what had happened was just wrong. You don’t murder a man because you don’t agree with his politics. Not here. Not in a country that prides itself on the right to freely express a political view. Over and over again Mom and Dad repeated that, almost to themselves. Us kids were too young to fully understand, but it has never left my memory.

Today we find ourselves once again passionately and sometimes violently in political opposition across this country. In only the fourth time in our history we find ourselves in the process of impeaching a president. Every military person and holder of high office in these United States swears too uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. In that document and it’s amendments is the only legal peaceful method to remove a perceived threat to the country who has been elected to the Presidency. It’s not a coup, or deep state threat to be defended against to the death. The process does not kill or physically harm the president. It does not even put handcuffs on or haul he/she off to jail. It does hopefully stop the perceived threat that he/she represents. He/She is simply fired, based on verifiable evidence at the instigation of the House of Representatives and by the consent of the Senate.

Whichever side you come down on, don’t drag murder into the picture. Keep some degree of sanity about yourself. We have to be better than that.

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New 130XE RA Adapter Boards

New to the site are these 130XE specific RA adapter boards.  Right now I am offering these on a pre-order basis.   They compliment the Dual RA Cart Adapter board I already offer.  I am also working on the details of a full 130XE Cart/ECI right angle switcher board.  Just need to work out how best to deal with the various configurations of cart/eci devices.

Not to leave out the 600/800XL entirely I am also planing on offering a Dual T cartridge port adapter board.  Hopefully in the next few weeks.

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Reimaged XF551 for 3.5″ SF314/SF354 Floppy Drives

For some years there has been talk of using 3.5″ floppy drives instead of the original 5.25″ drives with the Atari 8-bit line.  It is not a fantasy, in fact it has been an accomplished fact for years.  Essentially take an original XF551 case and motherboard, use an adapter for both the internal data and power cables, pop in a compatible BIOS, use a 5.25 to 3.5″ drive tray converter and put the cover back on.  Presto!

Photo posted by flashjazzcat in AtariAge

 

You want it in a 1050 case?  Here you go!

Bob1200XL posting in AtariAge

 

There’s even been some attempts at a special pcb for a 3.5″ drive using XF551  derived circuitry.   Though the enclosure was none existent.  Review of Polish 3.5″ 8bit floppy design

Review of Polish 3.5″ 8bit floppy drive

 

Now I am able to offer a somewhat different approach.   With the assistance of tf_hh and manterola from AtariAge.com I have developed an Atari SF314/SF354 ST case compatible version of the XF551 circuitry with builtin 3.5″ floppy drive support.  It is a bare board pcb only, but I will be offering both a BOM and assembly instructions.  Further details can be found here

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Closing out the year……

It doesn’t seem that long ago, but it’s been slightly over five years ago that BitsofthePast.com went public.

The world has changed.  The Hag and the Princess both ended their reign on this earth, but his music still echos in the Muskogee Civic Center and her regal flickering hologram still springs to life in the presence of a young boy and an old man on that silver screen.  From the blood spilled in a Florida high school a movement started,  changing the ridiculous idea that a right to own a gun for personal protection and hunting guarantees wanton access to weapons designed for the battlefield and maximum offensive carnage to a human body.   Increasingly we have people who use religion to justify taking control over another human being, usually female, ignore the other right to freedom of religion for that same human being and take away choice to control their own existence.  We elected by Russian deception and a slavery compromise holdover process a 79 year old child-man who fights and insults our hallowed institutions and allies, then invites dangerous dictators and despots to walk in the front door of our White House, allowed thousands of our people to die from neglect while patting himself on the back for the A+ way he had handled the island hurricane recovery and now he’s shutdown the government, leaving many of his people without a paycheck or services because the adults won’t give away their money to pay for a useless wall he swore another country would pay for.  More women of color, race and creed than at any other time in our history as a country, roared in an unmistakable voice of unity, love and rejection of hate and divisive words and they were heard and elected to state and federal offices.  Now hopefully we will see some moderation of this soul destroying ultra capitalism we’ve been saddled with for the last 30-40 years.

I’ve changed.  Age and arthritis in my hands forced me to sell the three guitars I had spent months finishing and assembling just a few short years ago.  I could no longer play them well enough to justify keeping them.  And the same arthritis in my knees forced me to take shorter walks and standing time.   Now my eyesight is weaker and darker.   The lighted magnifying glass is always on and positioned over the soldering area.  A lot of the restlessness I’d suffered from most of my life began to settle and I began to move slower and think longer about my actions before I did them.  Some degree of wisdom began to show up occasionally.  Burn out from a high stress telephone support job left me so tired and numb that four years ago I decided to leave the 40+ hour work week and go into semi-retirement.  It was the first real break I’d had in almost 30 years.   Though that has severely lowered my monthly bank balance I do not regret it.  I have paid the man my 30+ year work due.

But some things don’t change, at least not much.  The website still offers Atari 8bit nearly forgotten gems and new imaging of vintage hardware for a reasonable price.  I still explore new ways to connect 80s technology with today’s modern interfaces.  Hopefully this won’t change for a long time.

One thing to close out the current year with:

Release to public domain of my work on the 109oXLR.  I have proved the concept, but once done I chose to allow others to use and develop for it.

and pave the way for next year’s projects and goals.

Modified XF551 board for installation into Atari SF314/354 3.5″ floppy disk cases.  I know pc industry standard 3.5 floppy drives should work.  I’m hoping that the Atari floppy drive will also work.  Testing will begin after the New Year.

I’m working on re imaging not only the ICD P:R, but the Supra/ICD Microstuffer as well.

Additional custom boards for my miniITX case build:

Comm board to allow SIO2WIFI modem communication, and SIO2Serial/SIO2Parallel printer connection.  Beta testing also will occur after the New Year.

Status board for the 1088XEL board and a front facing audio jack.

And finally a 1088XEL version of my XF551 re image project.

 

 

 

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New Subsite 1088XEL.Bitsofthepast.com

I want to introduce you to an extension of the work I’ve done for the 1088XEL mini-ITX Atari.  I hope to have two builds eventually, one in the mini-ITX format and a second more advanced build of the 1088XEL based 1090XLR in a Micro-ATX case.  To that end I decided to start documenting the modification of a mini-ITX case to house the 1088XEL motherboard and accessory boards I sell.  These boards will of necessity be customized versions to better fit the particular APEX MI-008 case I’ll be using, but I hope to keep as much generic as possible.  The first few posts have already gone up on the site.  Come visit.  🙂

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Partkeepr Electronics Parts Inventory DB on PI3

A couple of years ago I got drawn into the mania surrounding the release of the then new PI3 model B.  Such a powerhouse of a computer in such a small package.  True, it couldn’t hold a candle to my main desktop pc in cpu speed, video or memory, but neither did it have a huge footprint, power appetite or  noise level.  Also about that time I graduated from just a couple three or four parts boxes to a full blown whole section of one wall lined with parts cabinets.  I was beginning to order parts for projects that I unknowingly already had in the bins.

The idea came to me that the PI3 could be used as a light weight internal parts inventory web server.  It would have the advantage of being accessible on my home network from any device connected via a browser, be on all the time and not create noise or consume lots  of power like my desktop pcs.   I had dismissed an earlier idea to use one of my NAS units to do the same due to the OS being so tightly proprietary and their cpu and memory were even less than the PI3.

At the time the PI3 was using Debian 8 Jesse as it’s main OS.  Unfortunately that release of Debian was beginning to be long in the tooth as far as what web server apps versions would run on it.  For instance PHP 7.0 had been released, but was not recommended on Jesse and there appeared to be no install package that had been released for that version of Debian.  Finally Ubuntu Mate 16.04 was released for the PI3.  Now there was a more modern version of Linux that would support the newer web server apps.

So then I went looking for an electronics parts inventory DB app.  Finally I happened upon the Partkeepr website. At that time it still hadn’t reached v1.0 yet, but I was impressed at how complete it seemed to be already.  I decided to try and get it up and running on the PI3 with the Ubuntu Mate 16.04 OS.

I began a torturous odyssey to somehow get the Partkeepr app up and running on the PI3.  Sometimes I digressed back to Debian Jesse and the older support apps, sometimes I quit the PI3 altogether and tried running a Linux machine inside VirtualBox on my backroom pc.  I got right upto the final setup screen on the Partkeepr setup app where it was trying to ‘warm up the cache’ and it would fail every time on the PI3.  Once on the virtualbox machine running Ubuntu Mate I was able to finish the setup, but that wasn’t really the way I wanted to access Partkeepr.   I would set the project aside for sometimes months at at time, but it was never completely abandoned.

Over the last year and a half Partkeepr itself has improved and added features.  It is now at version 1.3.  Also apparently I am not the only one wanting to use it on machines like the PI3.  The last time I checked the Partkeepr Wiki website there was a work around for the slow I/O issue with PI machines that caused the cache failure.  So obviously there was enough demand to support the effort to find a workaround.  Also on the Partkeepr Wiki website there is a generic Debian 9 Stretch walk through to setup Partkeepr.  Then recently the Raspberry foundation updated it’s default OS to Debian 9 Stretch.

As the first major project for the new year I decided to take up the project again.  I decided to follow as closely as possible the generic Debian 9 Stretch walk thorough, while incorporating the slow I/O fix for the PI3.  Things went rather smoothly for a change.  There were some bumps in the road, but no major roadblocks as long as I made the necessary changes for the particular setup and app versions I was using.  As I went along I kept a journal of the necessary commands and configuration settings.   If it worked, I intended to memorialize it with the intention of seeing if I could repeat the install and eliminate wasted effort for others.   I believe I was successful in both.

I now have a functioning Partkeepr installation on my PI3 machine.  I have no illusions on the speed of this installation.  After all it’s on a PI3, but since I’m the only user and my parts inventory is somewhat under the 1000 number, it should work just fine.  I wouldn’t advise trying to use the PI3 for other server functions.  The instructions I am providing assume that the Partkeepr host is the only one on the PI3.  If you want to use and add additional virtual hosts on the PI3, I suppose you can, but I have no clue what changes need to be done to the instructions I provide to allow that.  This only gets you to the first login to the Partkeepr server.  You still need to configure parts location and part categories, before you can actually begin to enter your parts.   This web page gives you basic overall info on how to do that, starting on page two of the article.  For other info, remember Google is your friend.

Now I’ve had some experience in Linux from years and years ago, but I’m mainly a Windows person.  More so now that I find I don’t remember things as easily as I did in my youth.  🙂  So I have to warn you that even the simplified instruction I give you assume that you have some experience with Linux/PI3/CLI/Networking and computers in general.   If you don’t feel comfortable with the instructions, get a hold of a friend or someone who owes you that does have that level of experience and can do it for you.  One final caveat, this instruction assumes a US-Central Timezone installation.  You will have to make the necessary changes in the localization section of the PI3 for your country, keyboard and timezone settings.

Post Script Sept 19 2019:

Unfortunately it appears that the author of Partkeepr has decided to discontinue support and work on the software.  I have decided to also pull my instructions on how to install the software on the PI3 due to that.