Sunday, October 30, 2022

If one GUI's not enough for your SPARC workstation, try four

Who needs a jack-o-lantern when you've got a bright orange gas plasma display?
This is a 1990 Solbourne Computer S3000 all-in-one workstation based around the 33MHz Panasonic MN10501, irreverently code-named the Kick-Ass Processor or KAP. It is slightly faster than, and the S3000 and the related S4000 and later S4000DX/S4100 directly competed with, the original gangsta 1989 Sun SPARCstation and SPARCstation 1+. Solbourne was an early SPARC innovator through majority owner Matsushita, who was a SPARC licensee in competition with Fujitsu, and actually were the first to introduce multiprocessing to the SPARC ecosystem years before Sun themselves did. To do this and maintain compatibility, Solbourne licensed SunOS 4.x from Sun and rebadged it as OS/MP with support for SMP as well as their custom MMU and fixes for various irregularities in KAP, which due to those bugs was effectively limited to uniprocessor implementations. Their larger SMP systems used Fujitsu (ironically), Weitek and Texas Instruments CPUs; I have a Series5 chassis and a whole bunch of KBus cards Al Kossow gave me that I've got to assemble into a working system one of these days.

This particular machine is a fairly upgraded unit thanks in large part to Stephen Dowdy, formerly of the Solbourne Shack and the University of Colorado, where he maintained them. In particular, besides tons of OS stuff and documentation, the SBus RAM expander card giving this machine a total of 56MB ECC RAM came from his old S3000, and it also has a SCSI2SD along with a 256K L2 cache CPU module stolen from an S4100. The 1152x900 monochrome display is compatible with the SBus bwtwo. Just like I retain a great fondness for PA-RISC because it was my first job out of college, I have similar affection for Solbournes because one of my first undergraduate Unix accounts was on a department Series6.

KAP was an interesting processor with a great name, but its sometimes serious issues more or less directly led to Solbourne's demise as a computer manufacturer because Matsushita wouldn't let them walk away from its sunk design costs. Still, it was good competition when it was new and OS/MP was nearly 100% compatible with SunOS 4.x (4.1C, the final release, is equivalent with SunOS 4.1.3), so what you're really looking at is a SPARCstation "clone" of sorts with the hottest display this side of a Al Gore climate chart.

And it turns out that particular computing environment was really the intersection point for a lot of early GUI efforts, which were built and run on Sun workstations and thus will also run on the Solbourne. With some thought, deft juggling of PATH and LD_LIBRARY_PATH and a little bit of shell scripting, it's possible to create a single system that can run a whole bunch of them. That's exactly what reykjavik, this S3000, will be doing.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Battery Eliminator Bible: what's in that classic console AC adapter

This is hardly exhaustive, but I promised a list of amperage, voltage and polarity for the wallwarts with my classic game consoles here. I've included both the AC adapter's nominal rating and measured voltage with no load to give you an idea of tolerances, keeping in mind that electronics do age. However, please note that using this list is completely at your own risk: I take no responsibility for frying your machine if you wire it wrong or I measured it wrong. If the machine is highly valuable and it takes batteries, maybe you should just use batteries instead of taking a (small) chance on my competency. Last updated 22 January 2023

  • Allied Leisure Name of the Game (Electro-Mech Co. #1076): 5.5mm/2.1mm barrel jack, tip positive. This thing is a liar: the casing says 7.8V 30mA nominal, but I got a straight-up 6V on the multimeter. Works with both the Name of the Game I (A-100) and II (A-300).

  • Atari Pong Battery Eliminator (part# 4720/model# 4-0033-2): 1/8" TRS (3.5mm mono headphone) jack, tip positive, nominal 5.5V 100mA, measured 5.8V. However, 6V should be just fine, since it takes a total of 6 volts in batteries. Should work with all Atari Pong consoles (I use it with my Ultra Pong Doubles).

  • Atari VCS/Atari 2600 (part# C016353): 1/8" TRS (3.5mm mono headphone) jack, tip positive, nominal 9V 500mA, measured 14V. Advertised as compatible with Atari Video Pinball, Atari Stunt Cycle and Atari Tank II. Also works for the CX-2000 if you have one. ;)

  • Bally Astrocade. This is not detachable unless it was secondarily detached. Reading off my working wallwart, "blk-red grn-wht 85mA, 10.8VAC red-grn 1A, 7.5VAC." I'm not chopping it off to test it!

  • Coleco Telstar (model# 6041): 1/8" TRS (3.5mm mono headphone) jack, tip positive, nominal 9V 200mA, measured 10.6V. I use this very adapter with my Telstar Arcade and Telstar Gemini, but the box says it works for the entire Coleco Telstar range.

  • Commodore Type 708 AC Adaptor: 1/8" TRS (3.5mm mono headphone) jack, tip positive, nominal 6V 250mA, measured 6.7V. This was sold for the Commodore TV Game 3000H but should work with the TV Game 2000K.

  • Magnavox Odyssey 3000 (model# AH9026BK01): 2.5mm TRS (mono headphone) jack, tip positive, nominal 9V 100mA, measured 9.8V. I'm told this will work for most of the other Magnavox Odyssey series except the Odyssey2 and Odyssey 4000, and the Philips Odyssey 2001 and 2100 (and naturally any of the Videopacs).

  • Radofin SC8000 (model# 9100): 2.5mm TRS (mono headphone) jack, tip positive, nominal 9V 100mA, measured 10.1V. Likely works for other Radofin consoles like the SC4000.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Refurb weekend: PowerBook 1400

The PowerBook 1400 is, and remains, my favourite laptop. It was everything the PowerBook 5300 should have been and more. It was my first laptop, too, a hand-me-down from my sister's then-husband in 2001-ish who said if I could fix it, I could have it (a 1400cs/117 with a 117MHz PowerPC 603e). Only about four years old at that point, it turned out to need a new inverter board and a LCD, so I just bought it a new entire top half and installed it myself. I named it Benji. It ended up as my sole portable computer until I upgraded to a 12" 1.2GHz iBook G4 several years later.

It's that modularity (plus an exceptional keyboard) that makes the 1400 a particularly wonderful machine: over time I added a Sonnet 333MHz G3, extra RAM (the cs supports up to 60MB), a Apple 8-bit external video card and a 3Com EtherLink III PCMCIA NIC (which I hacked up a driver for), all on top of the 56K modem he installed and the floppy disk and CD-ROM drive bay modules it came with.

Plus, those delightful swappable covers!

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

One more MOS 7600 Pong: Coleco Telstar Gemini

Oh, c'mon now, you're not sick of MOS Pong machines yet, are you? Of course you're not! Everybody loves Pong from the company that brought you the world-famous 6502 CPU! So here's another.

Briefly in the last entry but mostly in the one previous I discussed the unusual 1978 Coleco Telstar Arcade console in its unique triangular form factor, which had one of four variants of the MOS 7600/1 "Pong-in-a-chip" CPU in each cartridge, the specific variant containing its own mask ROM and shape table data. To maximize its investment and possibly to compete with Atari's Video Pinball which came out in 1977, Coleco essentially took their cartridge #3 with the MOS 7600-004 pinball-and-skeet variant and turned it into a standalone console of its own, the Coleco Telstar Gemini, also in 1978. (Although easily confused by modern collectors with the Coleco Gemini — no "Telstar" — which was their 1983 Atari VCS clone, neither was a sales contemporary of the other.)

This unit was an eBay find that was advertised as not working and priced accordingly. As expected, it works just fine with a Telstar AC adapter which I happen to have (I'll do a followup with some of the console wallwarts in my collection since the polarities and voltages are not always listed).

Saturday, October 15, 2022

IR-controlling the new air conditioner in the vintage server room

Computers are hot. No, I mean, they're hot. They heat our house in the winter here in primarily sunny Southern California (not as much as my wife would like, but that's another story for another day).

Previously we talked about monitoring the portable air conditioning unit keeping the server room cool. The SMS gateway, basically an overgrown Raspberry Pi, uses a USB decibel meter to report ambient noise volume in the room, from which we can extrapolate the state of the air conditioner's compressor and fan. The Sawtooth Power Mac G4 file server (and radio station) logs the temperature and humidity with a USB sensor of its own. The portable A/C unit exhausts warm air through a duct to the roof so the room can remain secure, and a turbine spins the hot air away into the atmosphere.

Unfortunately, what all this monitoring showed was the A/C unit was crapping out. The house central A/C's compressor died abruptly this summer after over two decades, naturally during the hottest part of the year, and it took nearly a week and $14,000 to get it dealt with (it was an old R-22 system and thus everything had to be replaced). The portable A/C was itself almost 11 years old by this time, and after that bad week running nearly non-stop started making an ominous unbalanced low warble from its exhaust fan. This got to the point where it was unable to clear its own condensate and a couple days where I had to empty the drain pan about every 12 hours, versus never having to before (not a great deal of humidity here). I like old computers, but I try not to accumulate old broken computers, and that goes double for old broken air conditioners. It was time for a replacement.

Saturday, October 8, 2022

Going where BeOS NetPositive hasn't gone before: NetPositive+

BeOS browser:
TLS apocalypse
Won't keep it off line.

(How do you pronounce BeOS?)

This is a real 133MHz BeBox running otherwise stock BeOS R5, surfing Hacker News and using a modified, bug-fixed NetPositive wired to offload encryption to an onboard copy of Crypto Ancienne (see my notes on the BeOS port). NetPositive is the only known browser on the PowerPC ports of BeOS — it's probably possible to compile Lynx 2.8.x with BeOS CodeWarrior, but I've only seen it built for Intel, and Mozilla and Opera were definitely Intel/BONE-only. With hacks for self-hosted TLS bolted on, NetPositive's not fast but it works, and supports up to TLS 1.2 currently due to BeOS stack limitations.