Saturday, September 30, 2006

Pimp My CoCo: Microprocessor Report :P

Okay, the HD63B09EP (or "right tricky bastard," as I like to call it) is nearly impossible to get hold of. So, until a source is found, thought I'd hunt for alternatives. Apparently Hitachi built 68B09EPs as well. If you're looking, you might try that part number as well.

Why is this so tricky? Well, Brian (Random_Rodder) could probably explain better, but the deal is that most of these chips are handled by chip dealers. These folks buy, sell, and trade microprocessors in a rather volitile up and down market. To order from these folks, you have to order in bulk. And buying 20 to 50 chips or so at $30.00 a pop, is probably out of most CoCoist's budgets. Even I'm not that crazy. Well, okay if I had the money... ahem...

Having some spare and backup MC68B09EP chips laying about, though, is handy. Particularly if you're going to be mod'ing your CoCo and intend to socket that chip. (I'll get into the other chips needed some other time.)

One problem in searching for these things is that not all suppliers list them the same way. And google is practically worthless for shopping for electronics parts. You'll see it listed as HD63B09EP, 6309, 63B09, 63B09EP, etc. And you have to try them all to get a hit. And most of the time, even if you punch it in precisely, well, it's not indexed, so no luck. I killed Yahoo Site search on the CoCo Hut for precisely this reason. It wouldn't update and it kept holding on to old crap. Anyhoo... try entering MC68B09E into Jameco's site. Doesn't work, even though they sell the chip. Sigh.

Okay, so...

First, hitting eBay works, and in general hit the whole and proper name for the chip. For exemple, searching for MC68B09EP, use the whole thing. EBay has a pretty good matching system, but it is on full words, not partials. So, 68B won't find anything useful most of the time. Common ones I hit are: MC68B09EP, MC68B09E, MC68B09, and then again without the MC in front. Same pattern for the HD68B09EP.

Oh, just in case and to be thorough: MC is Motorola, HD is Hitachi. I don't why. :)

Jameco has MC68B09Es on sale and in stock. The price is more than reasonable, although I have scored several recently on eBay for about $1.99 a piece. Still, can't go wrong with Jameco. Highly reliable in my book.

Radio Shack and Frys were no help at all. (So no link for you guys! ha!)

One seller on eBay has been selling MC and HD 68B09EP's for $9.50 each.

The "E" and "EP" parts, from what I've read so far (and I could be completely wrong), are identical, except that the "EP" has a lower power consumption. Thus I would expect it to run cooler. But from the looks of it, they take the same inputs and give the same outputs. TIFWIW, I'm mostly guessing. As soon as the Es I've ordered arrive, I'll pop one in the CoCo and see what happens. :)

So, is hunting the Hitachi 6309 worth it? Not having tried it yet, and somewhat perturbed about how difficult they are to get, my answer at this point is a definate yes and no. :) And I reserve the right to change my mind on this at any time.

Worth it: If you're like me, you like to tinker and adding "MORE POWER!" (grunt, grunt) is pretty much a compulsion if it's possible to do so. You'll do this even if there is no real reason, or sane reason for that matter, just because you can. If you also enjoy hunting obscure parts (or anything else), the thrill of an auction, the dealing to get what you want, then go for it. It a challanging excercise no matter how you approach it, from aquisition of the actual chip to installing it into the machine. Indeed, I'm not sure I can even do it. But it's fun trying. :)

Not Worth It: On the other hand... If you want to make you CoCo better and make it do more, this isn't it the way. There's VERY little that actually uses the 6309. NitrOS-9, couple of games, maybe a utility or two. Not really anything you can't get with the 6809. The installation process IS as hard as the experts say it is. It IS frought with peril. And if you're not a hardcore electronics hobbyist or professional, you WILL wreck the board. Seriously. Takes some heavy skills to get that 6809 out and socket it.

What we could probably use a bit more off the shelf availability is a memory upgrade. Or add a Speech/Sound Pak. Or pick up one of the RGB-to-VGA or S-Video adapters. Add a PC powersupply and run some fans. Add mass storage (again, more ready made off the shelf solutions would be nice). If you're hardware developing, sound and graphics are great ways to go. Some memory and storage options, a new disk controller, a multipak solution, would be great things to really ramp up the CoCo community. If you're upgrading, these are things that will make your CoCo experience that much more enjoyable.

So thus far, IMHO, FWIW and all those other four letters, upgrading your microprocessor is not a necessary upgrade, nor is it going to be worthwhile for most people. The good ol' MC68B09EP is tried, true and does the job nicely. If you're inclined, go for it. If you're looking for something new to do with your CoCo, you'll have better luck focusing elsewhere.

More on my "Excellent Detroy the Board Adventure" soon. I DID get that !@#$!%!@ing 6809 out. Ha! Got most of the solder pads, too. But I got the chip. Victory is mine! Sorta. :P

Angel's Luck,

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Comment: Game Survey Results

Okay, been promising to do a tally on the last survey about Color Computer games for a long time and never got around to it. So here goes... :)

This survey asked:

What type of games would you like to see for the Color Computer?

This was one of those mark all that apply questions. Most categories got at least a few votes except Classic Board, Text Adventures, and Sports - Racing. What? No one wants to play Monolopoly on their Coco? Sheesh! :)

This is a little different from the previous survey, where strategy games came out on top. This time, when we got more specific, arcade game won out. Different sample set? Too specific?

Arcade Shooters, like Galaga, Galaxian, Gyrus, Defender, etc., garnered the most votes. I thought about this and thought about this. I mean, it's not like there haven't been a bazillian (at least) clones of most of the main arcade classics done to death on the CoCo. So why do folks want more?

Two things come to mind. First, while they certainly were done aplenty, they aren't plentiful any more. Getting hold of originals is tough and expensive sometimes. Yeah, you can download most arcade games and play them on an emulator. And if you have the patience to go through all the trouble, you can even load 'em into your CoCo from your PC.

However, I really do think that most CoCoists want something easier. I wonder if a group of CoCoist got together, sorted through everything available on line, and started offering them for sale on a 5 1/4" collection disk or two or five, if anyone would care? As long as they weren't making gobs of money off it, even just doing it out of the goodness of their hearts, would it be a copyright violation if the software has already been released for free distribution? I'm not saying someone should load up some disks and start charging twenty bucks a pop for them. But $5.00 to cover materials and copy time plus shipping would certainly be reasonable. And it would get those old CoCo games playing again! Just a thought.

Second, these games are quick and easy. And given the more mature base of users the CoCo currently has, quick and easy is probably important. Most of us don't have the luxury of days and days in front of our CoCos like we did when we were younger. Work, kids, and life in general often trumps CoCo-time. Arcade shooters are quick and easy to load up, play for 10 minutes, have a little quality CoCo time, and then get back to fixing dinner. The appeal is obvious.

That said, though... Adventure/Role Playing games came in a respectable second. And those are usually not sit down and play for ten minute games. Here I think there's a certain nostalgia factor, though. These were often the games that captured player's attention for the longest periods of time. They were an investment in time and computer love. There's certainly no reason why a few clever developers could sit down and design an RPG that COULD be played in smaller increments and still get the larger experience over time, though. Some cool and original Role Playing games would definately be fun on the CoCo.

Pulling in at third were Graphic Adventures and 3D Action games. Graphical adventures would be fun, but require a huge amount of work (hell, text adventures require a huge amount of work). Thus, I'm a big believer that CoCoists are eventually going to have to team up to produce top notch game software. You need someone to direct it, someone to write the plot, someone to code it, someone to do pictures, someone to do animation, someone to do sound, a bunch of someone's to play test and so on. Two or three creative and technical types getting together and having at it could probably come up with something pretty good. As for 3D shooters and such, well, GLOOM showed that it could be done on a CoCo. Here's hoping someone (or someones) pick it up and create some cool games with it. That one example aside though, it amazes me that no one has taken the most successful and, perhaps only, CoCo classic and done it again with say, Nazis, or spacemen, or talking vegetables. Dungeons of Daggorath was a 3D action game long before anyone else did them and it was all done in 16K. Now that's some manly man programing my friends.

Here's how the voting broke down by the end:

17.4% Arcade Shooters - Galaga, Gyrus, Defender
13.0% Arcade Classics - Pac Man, Dig Dug, Rampage
13.0% Adventure - Role Playing Games
08.7% Adventure - Graphical
08.7% Action - 3D
04.3% Simulations - Air Craft
04.3% Simulations - Cars
04.3% Simulations - Miltary
04.3% Simulations - People (the Sims, SimCity)
04.3% Action - Side Scrolling
04.3% Strategy - Turn Based
04.3% Strategy - Real Time
04.3% Puzzle - Action (Tetris, Bejeweled)
04.3% Puzzle - Classic (Crosswords, Su Doku)
00.0% Arcade Sports - Racing
00.0% Adventure - Classic Text
00.0% Classics - Board Games (Chess, Monopoly)

What about the losers? Well, classic board games translate to the computer, but really they're not particularly better than their cardboard and plastic originals. Maybe a Risk-type game with head-to-head capability over a null modem cable would be cool, but that's not really a "classic board game" so much as a simplified war game. As for Arcade Racing, has that ever been done well on the CoCo? I think I've played just about all of them now. There's a couple of decent racers, but none are outstanding. Fun for a bit but that's about it. Car simulations did get a few votes, which would seem to indicate a preference for realism and modeling over high speed action, in this case. Truely for the developer that loves a challange. :) And classic text adventures? I know there are some hardcore fans out there, but honestly, have you actually sat down and played one lately? Fond memories, but I think the majority of the world moved on to bigger and better. Not saying it couldn't be done, just saying it wouldn't be easy to do well and be of widespread interest.

This is, of course, all highly unscientific. Seriously, unscientific. Last thing any of us would want to see is someone developing a game, look at something like this, and go "oh, man, no one would want my game." On the contrary! I'm doing all turn based strategy games, probably for the next few years. It's what I like, it's what I know, it's what I can do well. Also considering a couple of puzzle games and, yes, even a "board game" of my own design for kids. If a couple of people play them and enjoy them, so much the better. We need hundreds of people plugging away on their CoCos producing all the categories above. Who says CoCoists wouldn't go nuts for a well plotted, deeply involved text adventure? I'd buy it! Everything is worthwhile. Do it well, do it right, and get it out there. We'll play it. :)

Of course, that's just my take on it... What say thee?!?

Angel's Luck,

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Pimp My CoCo: 40 Track Drives, NitrOS-9, and Near Death Experiences

One of the goals of the current CoCo project is to add 40-track 5 1/4" drives. Actually, the end result should be dual 5 1/4", then switch to a 5 1/4" and 3 1/2", copy everything over to 3 1/2" and then run just 3 1/2" drives. Yeah, I'll add mass storage and back everything up to the PC as well, but 3 1/2" drives and disks are more plentiful and reliable. It'll be easier to maintain. I'll keep a 5 1/4" set up around for copying over old stuff. The other reason is I need something in the PCs to SneakerNet CoCo stuff back and forth until I can afford and have time to install a more elegant solution.

Anyhoo, the present goal is to switch from the 35-track, single sided FD-501s to 40-track duel sided drives. I've been monitoring 5 1/4" drives for months on eBay, and finally scored a nice fat lot of 'em for the bargain basement price of 1 whole dollar. Most excellent.

Most of them don't even have drive latches, but all of them fired up fine. With one problem: The top drive, regardless of which actual drive I stick on there, jumpered Drive 1, won't format a disk in NitrOS-9 and makes Drive Magic do the sit-n-spin. Everything else appears to work fine. I've got the jumpers set properly. Is there something else I need to do? Mod the cable or something? Any thoughts appreciated, of course.

The immediate reason for the switch was that I had ordered up NitrOS-9/6809 disks from Cloud-9 only to discover that they require 40-track drives. Now I'm happily going insane trying to learn NitrOS-9. Really it's making me batty and I don't get it. I'm told I will. And it IS fun to play with. But that fun factor will wear off eventually and I'll need to be able to actually do something with it (other than copy and sort files... ahem) to hold my interest.

But that's another post.

Putting together some drives for your CoCo is a lot easier than most people think. Well, a lot easier than I use to think, anyhow. The retro drives are great if you're only going to be retro-CoCoing. But if you plan to use your CoCo and bring it into the present, you'll need better drives. 5 1/4" drives are good place to start since you can run all that old CoCo software. Do note that to actually use the double sided, 40-track features of the drive, you'll need a new OS. NitrOS-9, ADOS, and HB-DOS are good choices.

Constructing the drive is dirt simple. You'll need:

1. Couple of 360K 5 1/4" disk drives. Doesn't matter what kind as long as they work. These pop up on eBay frequently, and I'm told you can score them at computer trade shows sometimes.

2. A power supply. I just used the one out of an old FD-501 I had, but a small PC power suppply should work as well. I'll be doing that myself soon enough, since the plan is to run a CoCo, MPI and drives all off of the same PC supply.

3. A drive cable. 5 1/4" drive cables are pretty much all the same. You'll need the wide connectors on both ends, and two connectors on one end if you plan to make a duel drive system. These also show up on eBay sometimes and should be available from some computer supply places.

4. A case is a good idea. Though you could probably construct a cage, or just lay them side by side as long as you can raise them off the table. Large project boxes are available from a variety of vendors that could easily be modified to hold the drives. This is what I'll probably do eventually, as well.

5. A drive controller. As far as I know, these aren't made any more, by anyone (it's one of those sorely needed things). You'll have to go retro on this one. The FD-501 and 502 paks should work fine.

The first thing I did was hook everything up and give it a whirl. Connect the power cables, connect the drive cables to the drive, and secure the drives to the case. Connect the other end of the cable to the FD501 controller and plug it into the multipak. Several tests in DECB show the drives firing up correctly and working fine. One drive I tested wouldn't spin up and made a horrible screaching noise. But after a few passes, it loosened up and spun properly.

Then I took them apart again because I couldn't get the top drive to format. So I decided to switch the drives. While pulling the drive cable out of the back of the drive, my knuckle brushed the power transformer right near fuse. I did this to demonstrate proper safety procedures, of course, and to demonstrate the dire consequences of ignoring or forgetting said safety procedures. In otherwords, the sucker lit me up like a Christmas tree.

So after my nuts fell back into place and numbness in my arm subsided a bit, I determined that a single demonstration would probably make the point, and I reached under the desk and unplugged the drive. After that, I figured I lay down for a bit. Being a crash test dummy is definately hard work.

So anyhow, NitrOS-9 is a lot of fun to poke at, but I'm really hoping I can find something useful to do with it as well. It's power is undeniable. It's also way beyond the average user. Of course, CoCoists aren't your average user, but the thing could be made simpler.

One thing I'd like to see is a public licence GUI for the system. A nice windowing system that had built in APIs for graphics and sound. A high level language compiler with tons of libraries for quick and easy software development. An easy way to run legacy apps from the same GUI. Click and go.

Some of that may be available or in development already, of course. Right now, to me, NitrOS-9 is like an annoying new guy who just started at the office. He's smart, capable and you want to like him, but there's not a real incentive to do so. And his personality could use some work. I've just begun my excellent NitrOS-9 journey, and looking forward to poking around my new frustrating friend some more. Just to see if something develops. But that, of course, is another post...

Angel's Luck,

News: Toolshed 0.9 for Windows Released

Boisy Petre has announced that Toolshed 0.9 for Windows is now available at Click on Toolshed at the top and then select the version you want. This is primarily a development tool for building software for NitrOS-9. Instructions for installing are here.

Angel's Luck,

Please send your Color Computer news items to

News: CoCo DVD Update

Roger Taylor recently posted on the malted media list that the new CoCo DVD will now be multiple disks. The preorder price is now $12.95, so get in there and grab it while the gettin's good! :)

Angel's Luck,

Please send CoCo news items to

Pimp My CoCo: Fried CoCo with a Side of Bacon

This week's adventure started with an enthusiastic shopping trip and ended with a white nuckle botch job. When the experts tell you that desoldering a chip from a double sided board, particularly one that's relatively ancient, is a pain in the tuckus, believe them. It sucks. It sucks bad. I'm talking top of the line, hard core suckage.

My daughter and I had an excellent adventure at the local Radio Shack. The two that I had dropped by in recent years were "mall" stores. They pretty much sold cell phones and remote controlled toys. The one down the road here, though, is a real Radio Shack with a good sized selection of electronics parts, tools and components. The two sales people actually knew what I was talking about, and didn't look at me like I was some perv, when I asked for flux. (True story, the last mall Shack I was in, the little sales girl seriously looked like she was about to call security when I asked where the flux was, and had no idea what a "Tandy" was. I felt guilty, and so freakin' old, so I bought a stereo. I don't know, either.) Even better, they're getting ready to move to a much bigger location, which means "SALE" at the old location coming up soon. Hooray for our side!

Now, this is no mega store. Pretty much just the basics. But that's cool cause that's what I needed. I went going to buy some flux, LEDs, and electronics cleaner. So I get in there and figure I might as well pick up one of those manual solder pumps, too, just to try it out, of course. Oh, and they have a duel wattage iron on sale. Well, wasn't going to, but hey, it's on sale right? I've virtually no components, and though they don't relate to the current project I might as well rifle the parts drawers, grab some switches, some commonly used resistors, a few regularly used ICs, transistors, some capacitors and other necessities. Add in some more solder, a new wire stripper (two actually, they both suck, never have had a wire stripper that worked worth a damn, so the search continues), and I absolutely NEED those little micro clamps for... something.

So I'm standing there with this big armload of stuff, and my daughter is bugging me for V-Smile carts (throw one of those in the pile), and get checked out, drive home and unload all the goodies. Of course, I forgot to get flux, eletronics cleaner, and LEDs. Sheesh!

Anyhow, with a 20W/40W iron in hand and the desolder pump, I could finally get some real work done on desoldering the 6809. Or so I thought!

First, I soldered up quite a few holes on a blank PCB I had laying around. I wanted to practice using the desolder pump, get a feel for it as it were, before applying to the CoCo's board. Always a good idea to try it out before doing something stupid. Worked pretty good, so with full confidence, I attacked the 6809 again.

Things start off well until I noticed the mess the pump was leaving (see picture). Sucker splatters solder all over the place. This thing works, for those that are interested, by depressing a spring loaded slider on the side of the pump. When you press the trigger button, the spring releases with a big "thunk!" and the plunger shoots back up, creating a mini-vacuum and drawing the hot solder into the barrel chamber. Of course, if you're like me, you immediately take the thing apart to find out where the solder goes. :)

(It's actual quite clever. The inside of the barrel is coated with patroleum jelly. When the solder gets sucked up into the chamber that hard, it breaks into little particles which get trapped and suspended in the jelly. To clean you just wipe it out, and apply a new coat. The tip is teflon, so it doesn't melt easily and nothing sticks too it long enough to matter. Neat system.)

So this is literally whacking away at it, though. The pump makes a really big thunk, and I'm thinking it's not real steady for this type of work. I've seen smaller ones in catalogs, so maybe they work better for this. Anyhow, I soon discovered the difficulty.

The CoCo's mainboard is soldered on both sides. According to my reading, the goal in this case is to heat the bottom side enough that it melts all the solder on both sides. When you whack it with the pump, it should draw all the solder up and leave a nice clean hole, sans solder on either side. Well, that's great in theory...

I started off with the iron set to 40W. This did a splendid job of heating the solder properly and the first four joints went perfectly. Just as described in the articles. I was quite pleased. Then I hit the 5th pin and "wham!" the pump went off, the solder didn't quite melt properly, and the whole f@#$^!ing pad came up with it.

Okay, shake it off. What probably happened is I had too much tip on the solder. You gotta get that iron at an angle and heat the solder with the tapered side of the tip. Otherwise, the solder can melt unevenly. So what happens is you see the solder melt on one side, but the tip is blocking the other side you can't see, you hit the pump button and the still cold side yanks the pad off the board as it comes up. Tricky little bastard. The other option is I overheated the pad and the bond between the pad and the board melted. Same result either way. Regardless, I've botched it, but it might be repairable, so I decide to stay focused and keep going. Get the chip out and worry about fixin' later. So a hit the next pin. Bam! Same thing.

At this point, I'm cussing up a storm and the dogs next door are barking.

I reset the iron to 25W and after a bit, tried it at that wattage. At this point, I just want the chip out, consequences be damned. I'm thinking this board is parts anyway at this point.

What a freakin' mess. As the picture above shows, the solder doesn't quite get hot enough (or rather I wasn't willing to let it get hot enough... gun shy) and it splatters and leaves plenty on both side. So you have to resolder the pin and try it again. And again. Putting more and more stress on the board, of course. The splattering may also be a result of the tip not being at the right angle, or the joints not being clean enough. (Ran out of flux. So we'll be double cleaning it on the next attempt.)

So, that try was wildly unsuccessful and potentially crippling. Sigh. Luckily, pins 5 and 6 on the 6809 aren't connected to anything. As Rodder pointed (after some consultation and thanks Brian, appreciate it!), I seriously dodged the proverbial bullet there. One pin earlier and the FIRQ line is whacked. Some seriously potential issues as I would have had to try and connect that one with a wire. And one pin later and the Vcc pin is toast. Not too bad, and could probably successfully hotwire that one. :)

The lesson here is be patient. I know the powered desolder pump is on the way. It's suppose to be much more gentle and works better on these types of board. I also learned some handy hand powered desoldering techniques. For example, if you turn the board up on it's edge and clamp it in place with some helping-hands and a prop, you'll put a lot less pressure on the board. Even the weight of the iron and pump may be too much in some instances. But trying it again is not on the menu at the moment. I decided at that point it was best to just leave it alone until the new pump arrives and work on... The Case!

In our next adventure, we'll take a look at some ideas for that side of the project. At least with this type of work, the worse that could happen is I end up with a crappy paint job and big holes in the case. I can live with that....


Angel's Luck,

The Safety Post

In a bit I'm going to post my latest CoCo adventures, but before doing so, it's probably best to review some safety guidelines. Just for the record. :) Might even need to sidebar this one...

The reason behind this post (gory details forthcoming) is that I 1) almost probably wrecked a perfectly good CoCo this week, and 2) nearly killed myself putting together something as simple a disk drive for the CoCo 3. There aren't many deadly things that can go wrong when messing with your Color Computer, but there are a couple. Specific to the CoCo include electricity (household voltages can seriously hurt or kill a person), and if you're moding or repaking, and cutting and painting.

I do some pretty wacky stuff, and I'll admit patience is not one of my strongest virtues. But I have been building stuff (and dismantling stuff) my entire life. My father and his father before him were heavy-duty tinkerers and builders, so it kind of runs in the family. I try to be absolutely maticulous in my safety precautions, as I was taught. Even with years of practice, I've still been set on fire, electrocuted, nailed, stapled, stabbed, cut, bashed and suffered rapid decelleration trauma more times than I can count. For years, the Home Improvement TV show was my favorite, not because it was so funny, but because Tim Allen would do something crazy, blow something up or knock a big hole in something and I'd go "That's hysterical! What an idiot! Wait... I've done that. Huh." Call it empathy.

So, remember the golden rule of tinkering... if you can't afford it, have any doubts, or think there's even the slightest possibility of bodily injury, DON'T TRY IT! If that's the case and it must be done, hire a professional. I don't do a lot of work on my own car, not because I don't want to (yeah, I get the itch to take that sucker apart occasionally), but because if I botch it, it's too damn dangerous and the consequences to my family are too serious. I know my limits. Same goes for anything that can maime or kill you, or bystanders, if you fudge it.

With that in mind (and in preface to the upcoming adventures in the Evil Lab), here are some general safety guidelines to keep in mind when working on your Color Computer:

1. It sounds silly and repetitive, but there's a reason why it's repeated in bold print over and over: ALWAYS read the instructions and follow the recommended safety guidelines for the equipment and tools with which you'll be working. Memorize them. Stick to them. Step-by-step. Then review them again, just to be thorough.

2. Another one that sounds silly, but causes more accidents than probably any other oopsie: Unplug it before you touch it! I've absorbed enough current that it doesn't even really hurt any more, kinda tingles real hard, but numb limbs and an accellerated heart rate are not pleasent no matter how many times you take the punch. Unplug the sucker and then check to make sure it's unpluged. Twice.

On a similar note: When you're poking around inside the case, if you don't know what it is, don't touch it. If you discharge a capicator it will either smart like a bitch, or blow you across the room, or worse. If you don't know, no touchy.

3. When working with electricity, ground your ass. If you don't know what that means, or how to go about it, DON'T TOUCH ANYTHING! In my most recent brush with death, if I'd have taken the time to put on shoes, for example, it wouldn't have hurt as much. And it hurt like a mother.

4. Always wear eye protection. Those goggles are your best friend. I've literally had to pick metal shards out of my forehead after using a Dremel tool and having the bit splinter into a bazillion pieces at 10,000 rpm (re: see Right Tool for the Job, below). Painful, but better than being blind.

5. Keep a fire extinguisher handy. Always. Power tools and surfaces get hot, flames blow the wrong way, and electronic components can spark, overheat, and flame up. Get a good one and keep it charged.

6. Leather gloves are good. Rubber gloves are good. No, not kinky. They're specially handy if you'll be working with sharps or paint and chemicals. In the latter case, use a mask. They're cheap and you'll breath easier. Literally.

7. A shop apron, heavy duty cotton or leather, can save you a lot of trouble. Leather is fire retardant, shock resistant, and can slow down nasty chemical spills. Cotton is lighter and helps a bit with spills. Never wear cloths you want to keep when tinkering. :)

8. Speaking of cloths. Not too tight, restricts movement, but not baggy either. Too loose and power tools don't mix at all. Loose clothing tends to get caught on, well, everything. Cool and comfy, so spend an extra five minutes, try them on, tuck everything in and make sure they fit properly before wearing them to your workshop. I'm absolultely terrible about this, so don't be like me. Seriously.

9. Keep bystanders, particularly children, away and out of the workshop when doing anything even remotely dangerous that requires a degree of concentration. You definately don't want to hurt anyone. Other people are a distraction, as well, and that goes triple for children.

10. Speaking of which: STAY FOCUSED! Turn off the music and TV, zen out, say a prayer, or whatever you need to center yourself, but stay focused on the task at hand, right through to completion. EVERY single time I've been injured while screwing around with something, this is the reason why. I simple stopped paying attention to what I was suppose to be doing, or something else was going on that I was trying to divide my attention to. Every time. Let your brain wander off and bad things happen to the rest of you.

11. Keep a well stocked First Aid kit and learn to use it. Hopefully you'll never need it, but if you do, you'll be glad you did. In fact, do this before you do anything else. Make sure someone else knows where you are and what you're doing. If you're dealing with exceptionally dangerous materials or situations, such as volitile chemicals or high voltage electrical currents, have a buddy standing by. And make sure he knows what to do if things go FUBAR. Which brings us to...

12. Prepare and plan. Planning reduces the chance of something going wrong. Preperation helps you be ready to deal with it when your plan fails. If you're not already, become a devout believer in Murphey's Law. It rules the workshop. Anticipate that Dremel is going throw off shards, or that solder iron is going to get too hot and slip, or that power saw is going to jump. If you're wearing eye protection and long sleeves, you'll be okay. If you're wearing gloves and are using your clamps, you'll be okay. If you've got both hands on the sucker and are ready for it, you'll be okay. Most importantly, anticipate mistakes. Anticipate that you WILL forgot (unless you're one of those annoying people that never does, in which case, the rest of us hate you). Anticipate that other people will appear at the wrong moment. Anticipate that equipment fails. If you make your safety precautions habit and prepare thoroughly, you'll be ready for it. And have a much better chance of coming out of it with all your 2,000 parts.

Continuing that line of thought: Prepare your tools and use the right tool for the job. It's fun and satisfying to devise or improvise a way of doing something you haven't done before. But when it comes to potentially dangerous situations, stick with what works. Use the tools that are designed to keep you safe. There's a reason why eletrician's tools are rubberized. There's a reason why construction workers wear hardhats. Maintain your tools and keep them clean and in good working order, as well. A bad tool can hurt you just as quickly and thoroughly as the wrong tool. This is one I'm a real stickler for and I tend to go to great lengths (and nearly endless research) to obtain and use the best tool I can get (or afford). The right tool, well maintained, doesn't just make the job easier, it makes it safer.

Luck 13. Swollow your pride and don't wallow in ignorance. I tend to use self-depreciating humor to get around my ego, but do whatever works. ASK FOR HELP. Consult with experts before trying anything that might get you or anyone else hurt. In the CoCo community, we're lucky to have a bountiful resource of very smart, very generous people who are always more than happy to lend an ear. Heed thier advice and you'll save yourself some heartache... and maybe a nasty shock or two, as well.

Be safe.

Angel's Luck,

PS If ya have any other safety tips, advice, techniques or experiences, feel free to add 'em on. Couldn't hurt. :)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Comment: Pimp My CoCo! Part 2

Inspired by Brian (Random Rodder) thought I'd start posting occasionally on my own CoCo mod. This isn't a repak (well, not yet, we'll see how it goes), but more of a mod. The pictures below are mainly to demostrate what NOT to do. :P

Here's the CoCo completely taken apart. This is a 512K Color Computer 3 with the PBJ RAM upgrade. If you look close you can make out the PCB over there at the back near the ruler and lamp. I bought this CoCo because of this upgrade. It was so beat up, no one else even bid on it, if I remember correctly. heh! The case and keyboard are in pretty bad shape and will require some gnarly restoration. I'm thinking solid black case and keys except the break key.

The underside of the CoCo 3 mainboard. The longest vertical row of solder dots off on the bottom right there is the MC68B09EP and the target of my affections at the moment. The bastard. The $2.99 solder iron/solder wick attempt just ain't gonna work. I know, there's a bunch of very smart folks out there shaking their heads and muttering "told ya so." It was worth a shot.

On order from Jameco Electronics is a shiny new eletric solder pump, some of the curly solder cleaner stuff and a stand for the irons. Nothing wrong with the iron, actually. 25W and works great. Sure, if I do this often enough I'll get something nicer, but for one chip, it'll do.

Google has been no help at all. Sigh. I need a source for a Hitachi 6309, if anyone knows a place to snag 'em, drop me a note. :)

Any good project should start with a to do list, so here what I've got so far:

Mods to the Mainboard:

Desolder and socket the 6809.
Identify power needs.
Board (5V), Fans (5V), Light Kit (5V?), Drives (?), MPI (?)
Locate a proper power source.
Install power source.
Built and install power on LEDs under case badge.

Case Mods:

Template the window modification.
Locate appropriate fans for right side and top (something small)
Template the fan modifications.
Modify the case for window and fan mods.
Make a new case badge with clear color dashes for power on LEDs.
Modify case for power on LEDs.
Primer and paint case.
Primer and paint keyboard keys and faceplate.
(Is it possible to remove and change the keyboard faceplate?)
Install window and fans.
Install power on LEDs (make three LED board and hook into PS where?)
Identify light kit.
Install light kit.
Paint the MPI and Drive casings.

All of that should keep me busy for a good long while. Next step is to gather up the stuff I need. I'm thinking a trip to the Shack is in order tomorrow, on account I have almost nothing for eletronics work. Gonna need some cleaner, some flux, some rosin core solder, LEDs, spare common components (I think I have some old resistors and some timer ICs laying about somewhere), a 40-pin IC socket, and anything else I can pick up while I'm there.

While waiting for the desolder pump to arrive, we might as well get started on the case mods. Which means a trip to Lowes this weekend for Dremel tool supplies (I'll be needing some etching and routing bits and standard cutoff wheels... the heavy duty ones I have now aren't proper for the CoCo's plastic case. Think melting. heh!) Also pick up some sort of plexiglass and some window fitting if they have it.

Before then I'll need to locate and decide on which fans to use, on account I'll need the demensions to cut holes for them. Have to remember to get something with mouting brackets and figure away to mount them without unsightly screws sticking out all over. And we'll be needing auto body paint and primer and lint free polishing cloths. We'll get into that later, but the CoCo's case, with it's ridges and bumps, is gonna be a bitch to paint properly. I'm thinking, with the right light kit: solid black. Black case, black cables, black lights, black keys, black drives, black MPI, everything. A CoCo 3 truely suitable for an evil lab. :D

Angel's Luck,

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Comment: Pimp My CoCo!

Okay, for awhile now I've mostly been posting news items to the blog. Important, of course, but this IS suppose to be a CoCoist blog about a "personal CoCo experience" as well, and I've have been negligent in that area. heh. I've also been slacking off on the CoCo Hut site as well. Guilty. So since I really want to CoCo tonight, but the brain isn't willing to engage properly for programing and everyone is asleep so gaming is out, I thought I'd share. Skip down a post if you just want the news. :P

I started disassembling the CoCo 3 on Sunday. I mean right down to the rivets on the underside RF shield. I even got the CoCo 3 center case badge off that sucker. Watch out, it bends easily. Luckily it's made of metal, so a little mini-plier action straightened it right out. So, then I got the bright idea that I'd go ahead and desolder the 6809 off the main board. I scrounged up an old 25W soldering pencil and, after digging about in the workbench drawer, produced a 2" bit of solder wick. Time to go to work! Bwahahaha!

Okay, before anyone gets the idea that this is a "good idea," just forget it. Attacking your CoCo's board with a $2.99 iron and an old piece of wick is, well, stupid. Luckily I am stupid, ignorance is bliss and all that, so I had a go anyway. (Seriously, you can completely muck up your board doing this, so don't unless you're willing to... seriously muck up your board. ahem.)

After hunching over the board for about 45 minutes with a magnifier in a gawd awful position suitable only for a truely mentally defective contortionist, I managed to get two... count 'em, 1, 2... joints off. Sheesh! At this rate, it'll be this time next year before I get that thing unassed. :/

See, the trick is to heat the solder just right, so that it starts to flow again, preferrably into the wick. You do this by placing the wick on the joint, then placing the iron tip on top of the wick over the joint. The wick heats up, the heat melts the joint and, hopefully, draws the molten solder into it. Works, but there's a small caveat, a proviso, a minor catch... or two or three... If you overheat it, you'll rip the adjoining trace right off the board. If you lift the iron before you lift the wick, you'll rip the trace off. If you nudge the tip too far off the heat point and it cools with the wick still in contact with the joint, you'll... well, you get the idea. So you have to go real slow and hold real still, don't breath, don't sneeze, and for God sake, don't flinch when a F#$&@ing moth flys smack into your face after you've been staring bug eyed at a tiny silver dot for 15 minutes. Oh and don't forget to grasp the wick with a pair of pliers on account it gets hot as sumbitch and will burn the little swirls right off your freakin' finger tips. Fun stuff. Really.

The goal of all this "fun" is to socket the 6809 for later replacement with a 6309, superboard upgrade and what have ya. Several kind gentleman who have been offering a ton of splendid advice on this project over at pointed out that it'd be a hell of a lot easier to just clip the chip out and then clean up the pins and solder after it's already out of the way. That would, unforunately, destroy the 6809, though, and not having a replacement at the moment, I have to save it. Which means doing it the hard way. Just like I like it! Hahaha! Other items on the to do list for the CoCo 3 are replace the power supply, add some lighting for fun, a couple of fans for cooling, 3 1/2" drives, and paint it. Yes, paint it. This can be done nicely, it just takes a whole lot of work. :)

I'll take some pictures as all this progresses and post 'em up here for people to laugh at... er... puruse.

In the real more fun department, I'm enjoy the heck out of playing the old cassette based games from the U.K. on the CoCo 2. I unhooked the gray for awhile, just because I needed a change. You know how it is. :P If you get the chance to pick up some of these games, do so. Haven't had a bad one yet. I'm also building new drives for both CoCos (the drives are in transit as I write this) so I'll report on that project as soon as I manage it. Also got it Hawksoft's S-Video converter awhile back and STILL haven't had a chance to hook it up. Can't wait to see how it compares to Roy's VGA adapter. Also been messing a bit with OS-9/NitrOS-9. Don't get me started. Grrrr....

On the programing side, I'm still messing with some mini-games (including the enhanced version of Light Psycles and some edu-tainment games for my daughters) and a big "Galactic Trader" game that's coming along nicely. The latter has been a blast to program so far. The code is a can of worms and is horrible. But it plays and it's kind of neat. I figure I can clean it out later. ;) Still a ways off from being done, though.

All of my programing projects currently, however, are in the low-res (SG 4) screen. What?!? you say! Well, it's easy. Seriously. I can focus on learning to program again instead of having to figure out how to move graphics around the screen quickly. This is a neat mode for the CoCo, and more imporant, any CoCo can run these programs (with memory and ROM limitations taken into consideration, of course). Sure I'll move to hi-res eventually. I even picked up Sundog's GrafExpress 2.0 from Glen on eBay. That system has some seriously wicked potential. But for now, this is happy programing. Programing the way I remember it as a kid. Not for any particular purpose, just for the pure stinkin' joy of it!

On the CoCo Hut, well, there's so much to do it's shameful. I've got buttloads of pics to edit and articles to write up for the Museum section. I need to do up the next t-shirt for the giftshop. And I need to put up a new survey. Maybe I'll tie the latter two together somehow. I also need to flesh out the rest of the articles for the CoCo collector guide book that's due out in January of '07. So there is much to do. I'll get to it. Just having too much fun. :)

I'm also going to start linking in CoCo blogs to this page. If you've got one, or want to start one, drop a note this way and I'll add it to the list! :)

Angel's Luck,
Captain Computer 9/13/06

News: Major Adds More Sierra!

Thanks to BrizaOS9 for the heads up on this one! Guillaume Major has added yet MORE Sierra games for the CoCo 3. The games are Gold Rush!, Manhunter 1 and 2, and The Black Cauldron. Okay, if that's not enough CoCo goodness for you, you're nuts. :P Is this guy a genius, or what?!? Oh baby yeah!

Do ya want it? You know you do!

Please send you CoCo News items to

News: CoCo Lounge Adds Other Tandy Page

Glen VanDenBiggelaar of the CoCo Lounge has added an Other Tandy Computers page to the site. While not specificly Color Computer related, there's two things I'll throw in here: 1. They were excellent computers for their time and it's fun to scan through the info he has up about the CoCo's successors in the Tandy line. For a VERY brief time, the original 2000 was even called by some "The Super CoCo." :) The Tandy 1000, in 1984, was a PC Jr. clone (close enough), but did carry over the CoCo's joystick ports (no adding a special card for joystick support... thanks CoCo!). In addition, at least two of the 1000s had an all in one CoCo-like case (the HX and EX). 2. These machines were in production at the same time as the CoCo. Indeed, the CoCo outlasted most of them! So here's these "better" PCs sharing the same shelf space as the CoCo 3, and the mighty, might 6809-guy is holding his own. Gotta love it. :) Check out Glen's page at

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Saturday, September 02, 2006

Comment: Getting Ready to Fall into the CoCo

Spring is said to be the time to start anew, but here in Okieland, Fall is just as good! The temprature drops from a toasty 106 deg F to a more reasonable mid to high 80s. That means I can get back out in the Evil Lab and do some CoCo work. Woohoo! So, while it's not technically Autumn yet, it's close enough for CoCoing purposes.

I have two main projects I'd like to accomplish before the Holidays. First is to finish off at least one decent game. Not a fantastic game, mind you. But one that's playable and enjoyable. :) Since I've got at least three in various stages, I'll have to pick one, hunker down, and finish one of them off. The second is to do some form of mod on one of the CoCos. I haven't quite decided exactly what to do yet. It has to be within my meager abilities. Might be something as simple as gutting and completely disassembling, desoldering, socketing, and reassembling a CoCo 3. That would be fun and educational. Or maybe just cutting it up and putting it something else. I dunno. What would be cool and useful?

What CoCo projects do you have lined up for the Fall and Winter? Drop an email or post a comment to the blog and let us know!

There hasn't been a whole lot of CoCo news of late, but here's a quick browse through the old hitlist bookmarks with things that caught my eye. If you see something, drop a comment or email this way!

As reported before, but it's worth repeating, over at, Roger Taylor is preparing the CoCo DVD. This wickedly cool looking project will put oodles of CoCo goodness on your big screen for browsing with your remote control. Nothing better than curling up with a big tub o' popcorn, a beer, and a great movie featuring our favorite Bad Ass 8-Bit. "I am sick and tired of these m$@#&*%ing Commodores, on the m!@#$&*%ing plane!" I'd rent it. :P Also, dont't forget to stop in at the chats, the message board, and the photo gallery, all of which are top notch. The Gallery section in particular is getting fuller and is an intesting peek inside the lives of CoCoists from around the globe.

Not a whole lot of action at Capt's CoCo Hut. It has definately been the summer of the blog. I did get some new neato Microdeal cassettes and big pile of Tandy disks to try out. Probably spend my vacation at the end of October writing those up and getting them posted in the museum. I suppose I should eventually get back to the Surveys too, on account I think I was suppose to do that back in, oh, March or something. Heh. How about "What does your CoCo want for Christmas?"

The NitrOS-9 Project did get a nice makeover. No new content, alas. But I did get around to ordering up the 6809 version of Level II on disk from Cloud-9 (they are still taking software orders, just write 'em a note). Unfortunately, it requires 40-track drives and I only have the 35-track FD-501s at the moment. It's one of those, I'll get around to it when I have the extra cash to buy drives, things. But I am looking forward to playing with it.

L. Curtis Boyle's CoCo Game List keeps growing and getting better and better! If you haven't been by in awhile, pop in there and have a good look. This site is one I pop in from time to time and randomly click on links. There's games on there for the CoCo that you've never heard of, but would probably love to play!

chazbeenhad has posted an amazing Pac-Man game for the MC-10 by Greg Dionne! Wow! Who knew the 10ner could do that! Not to mention the rest of the site is fantastic, with some great stuff for the CoCo's sibling. Be sure to grab the MC-10 emulator while you're there.

Angel's Luck,

Please send your CoCo news items to