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XF551 small update


I’m still alive.  I know it’s been almost a month since my last update.  Sorry.  I took a much deserved break and vacation to visit family in Phoenix Az. Once I land a job I doubt I’ll be able to get out there for a year or so.  One of the things I’ll miss from my old job is the built up vacation time I had.  So that took about ten days.  The last week has been spent recovering and taking care of problem areas.  Doing some spring cleaning and filing for unemployment.

Oh…. but this is a XF551 update post.  Sorry I don’t have a lot to report.  So far the current status is that I have a working modern power supply version prototype.  I have been working on getting an original power supply version working.  I think I’m just about there.  I’ve also been working on designing and building the modifications board and front panel display.  As well as the alternate OSC circuit since the 8.3333 MHz OSC isn’t exactly common.   I wanted to prove that I am still working on this.  Thank you for your patience.



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XF551 Updates



Well,  sorry about the silence.  It’s not that I haven’t been working.  I am finalizing what I hope to be the production models. I will be selecting two people one here in the US and one overseas to do final testing and review. For something this big and expensive I want to make sure I didn’t foul this up. They’ll be able to look at and use the finished product and make recommendations etc. They will also be helping with front panel display designs so they will need to have the ability to draft a cutting template and make quality cosmetic mods to the XF551 top case. Something I am not very good at. I tend to take a blow torch approach. Not very cosmetic I’m afraid.  Laughing

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Sea Change update


Well one chapter of my life is ended and another is about to begin.  My last day at work was this past Sunday.  It was a strange feeling. Not to many people were there. There usually isn’t on a Sunday. The usual irritable customers were though. A customer that thought that she was the only person alive that should be able to surf the net and a tech visit that afternoon was unacceptable. I should be able to fix her dead data modem remotely and have her up and running right now. A customer that wanted to get a good deal on his current services without adding another service to qualify for the current promotion. He didn’t like it when I also had to reminded him that he was 30 days overdue on his current bill and I would have to collect before I could change his service anyway.

The severance package was reasonably good.  The company has a hard to find nowadays defined retirement package and I was vested. So it looks like I’ll get a early retirement check in a few months. It won’t be much, but every little bit helps. I might not have to liquidate my 401k afterall. Finding a job in this environment is not going to be easy. I’m just at that right age that I’m too young to retire and most people won’t hire me because I’m too old. Age discrimination laws not withstanding.

To quote a saying I don’t know who said  “It’s been real, sometimes it’s been fun, but it hasn’t been real fun.”

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XF551 Small update



Just a small update:  I recieved what I hope is the last prototype boards in yesterday.  On these I’ll be testing the full blown board operation including the alternate osc circuit, front panel mods and the fit and trim of the boards.  I’ve started installing the parts tonight.  Hopefully I’ll have a ready to test board in about three days.   At this point I still am employed, so that has to come first.  🙂

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XF551 Updates



I have to tell you I have been riding on the leftover euphoria of finally getting the XF551 board working for the last couple of weeks.  I know it’s sad.  A thirty something year old piece of equipment kicked my butt for almost two years.  But heck you try to get it working when you have only a draft set of schematics from Atari missing parts info,  a error filled set of schematics from sobra, no Sam’s booklet, a sometime working physical drive unit, and the need to school myself on two different pcb softwares, less than part time time to work on it and all the normal drama of simply living.  Alright…. alright I’ll shut up.  Smile

I have been working on cleaning up the schematics, making it pretty and creating the fully implemented board to test all the mods with.   I send that off to the board house along with the front panel display/switch board hopefully by Monday.  I should have the boards in in about 2 weeks.  A few days to solder the board together and test and cross my fingers I’ll be able to offer the boards for sale.  Just about two full years after I started this crazy idea of a summer project.  Who’da thunk?

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XF551 Updates – Basic Board is Working !!!


I have not completely ceased working on the XF551 board.  Contrary to my earlier  announcement.  Damn thing has a hold on me.  Yell  My last board has yielded some positive results.

I went back to square one so to speak.  I decided to design a board with just the bare essentials necessary.  Hopefully to eliminate possible complications due to the mods I wanted to incorporate.  It reduced the board space needed and therefor also the cost to manufacture.

On the last test my previous board had failed the drive power on test.  I had the data cable on wrong and the cable itself was not made right.  I replaced the cable.  Then after retracing the board traces I found some mistakes.  That’s when I decided to go bare essentials.  A few weeks later new board in hand I proceeded to solder in parts.  Soldering complete, I inserted my chips. Did a fast power on test and no billowing smoke or loud pop.  Good….    Then I attached the new data cable and drive and powered on.  I was able to get the drive to spin up briefly when powered on, just like the original.

I began to get encouraged.  I plugged in the SIO cable from an functioning 800XL.  Powered the drive and then the 800XL and the drive light comes on and stays on.  The 800XL beeps and displays ‘Boot Error’. Well… not exactly success, but it tells me that the computer is seeing the drive and communicating with it.  At least to some degree.  The drive is not spinning, or attempting to seek.

So now I start looking for possible problems with chips and drive.  I replaced all the chips except for the ROM and now the drive attempts to load.  It gets about a third into the load sequence and then the drive starts chunking every few seconds.  Okay,  a little further down the road.   What if the drive is bad?  So I replaced the drive and now it’s singing.

I just about fell down and kissed the ground.  So for the record I have a very basic mainboard using a modern power supply and it is loading a DOS 2.5 disk.  Here’s the YouTube videos I made.

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Sea Change Update


Well,  it’s been almost a month since my last post.  Perceptions have changed, expectations have risen and fallen with the tide.  I am still employed, but the countdown has begun.  On or around May 4th I will cease being an employee of my current company.  I have applied for another position in the company.  It would involve relocation to Phoenix.  So far there has been no job offer after the interview.  My hopes are beginning to fade.


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Major sea change happened today……..


Went into work today, expecting it to be just like any other day of the week.  I was so wrong.

It was the first day back after my ‘weekend’ off.  Funny…. I haven’t had a weekend off in so long I’ve forgotten what they are, at least the traditional ones.  But I digress.

I noticed the increased security presence, but thought maybe it was just the changing of the shift.  The call center seemed to be missing some people even at the early hour I start.  Again I didn’t think to much about it, the night crew is not very big in numbers anyway.  I sat down at my desk and began logging in, prepping for the first call of the day.   Since I had been gone two days I usually go to my email to catch up on what has been happening.  Most of the time it’s minor policy changes and silly contests to see who can sell the most this day or week.

All of a sudden I started to see emails from VP’s and GM’s popping into my inbox about some VERY important meeting that was going to take place that day.  Everyone in the call center was required to attend.  Well that meeting took place yesterday.  Finally the last high profile email from the GM popped in and I opened it up.

Now understand I am a veteran of losing jobs.  Some through no fault of my own and some because someone thought I’d done something wrong.  It comes with the length of life.  And it comes to all of us at some point or another.  I reached a zenith (or rather the pits) about twelve years ago during the dot com crash.  I had started a new job with this webhosting company, monitoring their servers and dealing with hiccups on an as needed basis.  I’d been on the job about a month working the graveyard shift.   It was New Year’s Eve.  I was at home just a few hours before going into to do my shift.  I get a call from my boss.  She was calling me to tell me not to come in, not that night and not ever again.  Oh and by the way the company had filed for bankruptcy that morning.   What I didn’t know at that time was the paycheck that had been deposited into my checking account just that day from the previous two weeks of work would be yanked out and returned to the bankruptcy court.   Effectively I not only didn’t have a job, but now my checks for rent and utilities were bouncing because of that.

Fast forward to now.  I’ve been with this company for nearly twelve years.  It’s had it ups and downs, but I am not ready to quit just yet.  Not my choice anymore.

The company is restructuring.  All billing and tech support positions in the local call center are going to be eliminated.  Sorry, but that’s what we decided to do.  Oh and by the way please continue to take calls and do not mention any of this to the public.  We’ll get back with you with more details.

Not quite as bad as that New Year’s Eve, but certainly not one of the better days of my life.

What does that mean to you?  All development of the XF551 and other products are on hold immediately.  If I want to stay with the company it means relocation and all the chaos that goes with it.  Right now I need to focus on surviving.  I will continue to sell what I have in inventory, but I don’t know if I will be able to replenish any time soon.  If it becomes clear that I will not have the financial resources to continue I will hand off the work and parts.  Maybe someone else can continue after me and bring this project to completion.

The shock still has ahold of me.   Be thinking of me.  Hopefully I will return.  Be thankful if you have a job.





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Very Poor Experience with Customer Support Part I

Last November I finally decided to build a website that would offer for sale pcbs that I was developing.  After careful consideration I decided on a hybrid site that allowed me to document my experiences and yet still provide a small online store to sell.  WordPress is the premier blogging software currently available today and is regularly updated.  It has thousands of plugins, including several e-commerce plugins that turn the blogging software into a virtual online store.  I settled on one that seemed to offer the best options for what I wanted to do.  WooCommerce.  It too was regularly updated.  It too has it’s own extensions numbering in the hundreds.   Best of all both were free.

I never expected to make a living doing this and so free was a good price.  But I didn’t want to roll my own plugins and extensions.    I was prepared to pony up money to companies/individuals who did make their living writing plugins and extensions for these two programs.

So I went looking for plugins and extensions that gave additional features I needed that were not included in WordPress and WooCommerce originally.  A webstore needs the ability to determine shipping costs at checkout so the customer is able to make an informed choice as to how much his total bill will be.  Faster – more expensive, slower – cheaper.  etc.

Initially I settled on WooCommerce’s USPS Shipping extension since I only planned to ship USPS and I figured that as they upgraded WooCommerce their extensions would be the first to be compatible with the newest versions.  Simple thinking right?  They weren’t the cheapest by any means, but you get what you pay for right?

Now I’ve ordered on hundreds of websites over the last few years and have come to expect that if I am buying software that can be downloaded that it is available immediately and if a license is required that it is either immediately available too or a email is sent to me within 24hrs with that info.  So I am confident that a website that is offering ecommerce software for sale is going to follow that experience  to the letter, particularly if that license is required to activate the extension. Right?

$79 later I have the software but only a confirmation that they are processing my order.

24hrs later no change.  Now legally and functionally I can’t use the software without the license.  It’s irritating, but as I am busy with other parts of developing the website I let it slide.

48hrs later no change.  Now I am peeved.  I am ready to setup my shipping and test the plugin to make sure it will work on my site.   So I open a ticket to find out why my order is showing processing and no license info still with the money pulled out of my bank account .  There’s an acknowledgement and a ‘sorry’ and ‘I am forwarding this to my billing department’  then nothing.

72hrs – 1 week later no change.  I have left several updates to the ticket.  No response.  Finally I decide enough is enough and demand my money back.  I have a useless extension without the license to activate it and I needed it last week.

1 week + 48hrs  no change.  Now it comes home how dangerous the web can be.  I am out almost $80 and I realize that the website is not in the US.  I don’t want to think that this is deliberate.  It doesn’t make sense from a business stand point.  It has to be that I’ve dropped through the perverbile crack and my order is just hung.  I mean this company is not just a flybynight operator.   The problem is that the only method to contact them is with their ticket system and I’m not getting any response.  Not even when I demand my money back.  I contact my bank to see what options I have and am advised that I can fill out a dispute form with the website info and history of the exchange.  So done and done.

2 weeks later My bank sides with me and replaces the money.  They then take it to the business.  Woocommerce finally updates the status of my order to reflect the refund and everybody is happy.  Right?

WRONG!  My faith and trust in WooCommerce is severely damaged.  I am out time and energy chasing their problem with their website and I am now a week behind on getting my own up and running.  When it became apparent that I was not going to get the license I had to go with another company offering a USPS shipping extension.  Now comes part II of this saga

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XF551 Update


I’ve resisted updating for the last couple of weeks.  Partly out of depression and partly out lack of time.  Lets get the bad news out of the way right now.  It’s a mixed bag, but there is some hope.

As I last reported the power supply seemed to be working and no fizzes, blue/black smoke or loud bangs to signal fatal failure.  I then proceeded to make the power and data cables to go from board to drive housing.  I verified pin to pin as best I was able to that my cables matched and mated with the originals.   As I placed them on the board it became apparent that some design assumptions would have to be changed.  Nothing fatal, just some more research and parts sourcing.

Then I placed the board into the case.   The fit of the board in the case is near perfect.  A tiny adjustment here and there and that part of the project is done.

DSC_1715M    DSC_1716M

Then I fitted the drive housing on it’s piers.  It fit and layed flat, but I could see barely a few mils between the OS chip in its socket and the bottom of the drive housing.    The bottom of the drive housing is not filled flat.  There are large open spaces around the spindle and drive motor so depending on the height of the other parts not installed yet I could have a fit issue between the board and the drive housing.  Or not.  Certainly something to think about.

After connecting the power and data cables I was ready for the acid test so to speak.  Would the drive/new board behave as the original?  Remember there is no connection to a Atari computer at this point yet.  I tested first the reaction of an original drive with only power applied as a gauge.    The power light comes on briefly and the motor seems to spin up and then come to rest, the power light goes off.  If I could get my board to do the same, then I could proceed to the next step of checking SIO signals from the connector to see if there was any danger of foreign voltage on the connector.

I pressed the power switch on.

The power light came on and the drive spun up.  And kept on spinning and spinning and spinning.  The light stayed on.

I turned the power switch off.

At least the power switch worked.  The power light went out and the drive stopped spinning.  Conclusions were that yes I had the power cable right.  But I couldn’t say for sure much else was right.  Two areas I began to investigate– 1) reexaming the board schematics to see if I had pins connecting to the wrong part (I swear I am beginning to see these schematics in my sleep) and 2) data cable mismatch.  I found errors in both.  The data cable I could fix immediately but I had run multiple pins to the wrong parts.  Perhaps a hold over from the Eagle design days.  That was not so easily fixed.

Coupled with other design changes I intended to make I decided to make one more proto board.  That new board should arrive next week.  Look for an update around the first week or two in March.

PS Feb 25 — The protoboard arrived today.  Along with the first proto of the front panel board for the led display and drive select etc.  I probably won’t come up for air for at least the next two days or so.