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Shop is still open for orders, but……

I am sorry to tell you that I have a family emergency that has blown up. My step father is in the hospital, (not with COVID19) in Arizona. My brother and I are leaving in the morning. They will not release him to his own devices. Apparently his mental capacity has degraded to the point that he needs 24/7 monitoring. Any orders placed will be delayed for however long it takes me to get back. I hoping not more than a week or two.

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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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International shipments halted for now

I’ve had several international shipments ‘lost’ within the continental US boarders in the last two months, with the US Postal Service refusing to take any responsibility for in conus delivery of First Class International Parcel packages to the post offices own Chicago Il International Distribution Center. I could understand once it leaves the US customs bound for whatever country it’s going to, but I refuse to accept that the Postal Service is not responsible for mail delivery inside this country. I mean that’s their job, that’s their very reason for existence. My customers are paying a pretty penny for shipping to their country and the US Post Office can’t even get the package to the place where it’s handed over to Customs. This results in having to refund purchase prices with one of us eating the shipping costs.

In a couple of other cases shipping has been so slow with no tracking of the package that when the customer complained about it (rightfully so) I have initiated a refund, only to finally see weeks later the package suddenly reappear in tracking outbound from Customs to whatever country it was addressed to.

I know COVID19 is a big reason, but it’s only one part of the problem. My position is that if you sell First Class International Mail service with restrictions and I abide by those restrictions, then by God do your job and deliver the mail to the hand off point at Customs. Or don’t call it First Class because it’s not first class service and for pete’s sake don’t charge me like it is.

It’s only been a few weeks, but it looks like things may have stabilized a little. I’ll allow international orders again as a trial. Hopefully I won’t regret it. Be aware that shipping is still slow, but I have more hope that at least the packages are moving.

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Thankgiving 2020

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday.  There’s a lot of fables and assumptions associated with it, but essentially it’s a day that’s been set aside to be be thankful for all good things that have happened.  We tend to get as many family members together as possible, drunk uncles, babies, obnoxious cousins, feuding sister in laws, complete strangers and all.  Most of the time we manage not to kill each other with mountains of food and drink, knives or guns.  Only occasionally we burn down the house trying to deep fry a turkey.  We swear we won’t do it ever again and then find ourselves piling into the car, plane, bus or train to get back to whichever family member’s home is big enough to host the entire family zoo the following year. 

      This year was different of course.  We traded food dishes, someone cooked ham, someone made their special desert, someone else made their special signature food dish.  But we each ate peacefully in our separate houses.  And dreaded the return of normalcy for next year.   😊

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Notorious RBG March 1933 – Sept 2020

Personally I am saddened by her death, but she lived a long full life. She did not go gently into the forever night. Her tenacity and ability to overcome personal health issues while still doing her job is nothing short of astonishing.

On a more practical side I pray her legal fights were not in vain. Our country’s future hangs in the balance now. With Moscow Mitch in charge of the Senate and his sole goal of packing the courts with life long appointments of conservative judges many who are not qualified to hold that appointment, I fear for the country. True to form he’s already decided he can forgo the very logic he used to justify refusing to hold a vote for President Obama’s nominee for nearly a full year before the Presidential Election in 2016. With barely six weeks before the current year Presidential Election and RBG’s body barely cold, he has already indicated he will take President Trump’s nomination to a floor vote.

Confirmation of President Trump’s nomination could doom the country to a judicial hard right turn for a generation. Do we fall back into the dark ages of the 50s and 60s of personal rights for women, those of color and different sexual persuasions? Do we fall back into the dark ages of the 50s and 60s of voting rights of the poor and those whose skin color is not white. Do we lose the hard won gains of the last 70 years? Regardless of who is elected President in November. I pray not.

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It seems 2020 will never end

It’s been a number of months since I’ve posted here. Not many of them very pleasant. Covid19 has cast a shadow over nearly every aspect of life. I find myself spending way too much time reading the news about it, following the political fights over it, being more in solitude because of it and wearing a mask everywhere I go now because of it. And yet I’ve had it easy. I haven’t gotten sick because of it or been hospitalized or died from it. I haven’t even lost my job because of it, as so many have. When you look at it from that perspective I have nothing to complain about or feel sorry for myself.

I have tried to keep busy, juggling several projects at once. Now finally I’ve finished three I was doing for MacRorie and TBA. I’ve turned over the gerbers and firmware and BOM for three projects just this past week. He’ll have pictures and more info on his website in the next month or so.

  1. Atari 1030 – incorporates Mytek’s power supply circuit for the 1088XLD, my XF551 based circuitry modified to support both 3.5″ standard and NEC slim line floppy drives with front panel drive id switching, reset and OS selector with dual LED track display in a 1050 disk drive case.
  2. PBI2CF3 – a modified Mytek IDE2CF3 board that plugs into the 600/800XL PBI connector. On U1MB equipped 600/800XL you can use CF cards just like you can do on the 1088XEL/1088XLD computers.
  3. 130XE2CF3- a modified Mytek IDE2CF3 board that plugs into a U1MB equipped 130XE ECI/Cartridge port and allows you to use CF cards as large storage devices like you can do on the 1088XEL/1088XLD computers

I’m also working on two daughter boards for the new Atari clone 576NUC by Mytek. These new daughter boards will implement the new Fujinet circuit internally and adapt the SDrive Max circuit as a builtin. Currently I am waiting on the second set of proto boards to come in from the board house.

The work on the Super SIO2IO board has slowed as I work out both the Fujinet hardware implementation and an Arduino Mega based printer buffer that I intend to add. I still plan to have a functioning proto type by the end of the year. Yes it’s been delayed, but I am still working on it little by little.

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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.