Monday, January 29, 2007

CoCo TV Ships

Just received email from Roger Taylor announcing that the CoCo TV DVD, Disk 1 has shipped! :)

The CoCo TV DVD is a three disk package. It collects all sorts of great stuff including game captures, video from CoCo Fests, schematics, and music. All done up in a professional DVD package. Should be quite entertaining. The three DVDs are currently priced at $19.95 and available from

Disk 1 is available now with the other two forthcoming. Get your snacks and beverage of choice ready. It's show time in CoCoville! Who needs the Superbowl. Okay, I do, but I'll be cutting to CoCo TV during the halftime show. :)

I'll give it the full Ebert treatment as soon as it arrives, of course.

Angel's Luck,


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Time is full but there's always room for CoCo

Here's a nice change. Well, mostly nice. I just haven't had much time to get on the PC lately. :) The bad thing is I haven't had much time to answer email, update the website and blogs, or post in the message boards. The upside is that the free time I have had has been spent in front of my CoCo! :)

It started out wanting to play Pegasus and the Phantom Riders on the CoCo 3. Still fun, even in black and white, but, well, it's in black and white. The game uses artifact colors on the CoCo 1/2 composite output in PMODE 2 and 4. (These are "faked" colors in a two color mode, achieved by alternating pixels in specific patterns. The effect, on a TV set, is color from a black and white picture.) So that's no good on a CoCo's RGB output.

Thanks to the guys on the message board, that problem is fixed. Robert Gault, jmk, NavyDave and Retro Rick all had suggestions on how to fix it. That got me into writing up a quick program to scan for the correct addresses with the game loaded in memory. Meanwhile, super CoCoists Robert Gault whipped up a disk patch that switched the game down to PMODE 3 and poof, 4 colors. Playing with the PALETTE command prior to starting the game, and using Robert's patch, the game plays AND looks great again. You can read the full thread here:

The CoCo Forums - CoCo 3 Patch for Pegasus

After a night of research, I decided to finish my little scanner program, just to see if I could locate the correct addresses. Using the information from the above gentleman, the CoCo 3 manual, and articles from the The Rainbow, it worked. While messing with it though, I got sidetracked into playing with the PALETTE command. I hadn't used this feature in, oh, 18 years or so? So I started writing up little programs that would display boxes in the various graphics modes and let me switch the PALETTE colors by loading the slots and trying different combinations. Which took another few days, of course.

Then... :) I started messing about with using the CoCo 3's PALETTE to animate the little boxes and a stick figure. Cool. So that ate up a few days as well. Now, I've got to get back to finishing up the memory scanner/PMODE locater thingie, but it's slow going thanks to lack of sleep.

So basically, a lot of fun, but nothing particularly useful out of almost two weeks of playing. But that's kind of the point...

It's great to play with the CoCo again. I recommend it to anyone. Turn off the PC, the TV, the books... and just start messing with your CoCo. One thing leads to another, and just out of this little playtime I've got about a bazillion ideas for games, programs, and other exploration I want to try. The accessibility of the CoCo makes it so easy to create. That might be the single most important draw of this machine. Whether you're a rank amateur, like me, or an electronics/programming wunderkind, have a day or two, or week or two, with your CoCo, uninterrupted, and see what happens!

Okay, not I'm late on my assignments for Mary's CoCo Nutz! E-Zine, so I best get going... :) (That's a plug, by the way. After you spend all that time on your CoCo, sent your creations in to Mary!)

Angel's Luck,


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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Pimp My CoCo: Cloud-9 512K SIMM Upgrade

If you're not running at least 512K on your CoCo 3, then just do it. Now. :)

As I've mentioned before, I'm a bit of an idiot-savant when it comes to technical things. Sans the savant part. While I can grasp technical aspects and theory of a device quickly, I have two very big problems that interfere with my ability to execute technical solutions. First, I can't hold numbers in my head. I don't know why. Never have. Can't even remember my own phone number until I've dialed frequently for over a year. Seriously. And second, sitting still for more than 15 minutes is pretty much beyond me. That might have something to do with the copious amounts of coffee I drink. hmmm...

Regardless, I absolutely love technology, mucking about with stuff, knowing how something works, and building things. Sometimes my two big faults are actually pluses. I can't remember numbers well, so I write everything down. So I always have a trail and a plan to follow if I need to go back over something. (I carry a rather packed full and royally messy Dell Pocket PC for a second brain.) I also tend to throw myself into active tasks with abandon and I never ever quit. Might take months, or years, to learn something or complete a project, but it will get done.

So what's this have to do with a memory upgrade for the CoCo? A lot. Making a couple hundred solder connections is something that would take me a long time to do. I'd be up and running around more often than sitting still and getting it done. But installing a memory upgrade on the CoCo is dirt simple. Even someone like me, with little patience at all, can get it done. It's a 15-minute job. 20 minutes if you're slow about it. Perfect for jacked up Starbucks junkies like me. And if I can do it, it's a given that anyone can.

The benefits of performing this upgrade are huge. NitrOS-9 runs better, CoCo Max 3 is easier to use, and the games are WAY cooler. So, even if you're just running your CoCo as a retro game console, upgrading to at least 512K opens up a whole new world of stuff to do with it. If you're building a modern CoCo, it's a bare minimum!

I was going to write an article for the Hut describing how to perform the upgrade, with pictures and everything, but there's no need. I selected the Cloud-9 Tech 512K SIMM upgrade and the included instructions are simple and complete. Follow them step by step and you're done. Easy peasy. So instead of a lengthy article on the web site, here's a run down to demonstrate how easy it is and what to expect, and hopefully to encourage more CoCoists out there to do the deed.

Here's a shot (click 'em to enlarge) of the Cloud-9 512K SIMM Upgrade package. It's a single satellite board with two 120ns SIMMs plugged into the sockets (also available without SIMMs if you prefer to install your own). It is oriented vertically and plugs into the CoCo 3's white memory connectors located to the left and below the installed memory. Other 512K packages I've seen are oriented horizontally, so if you've got mods inside your CoCo case, make sure everything will fit properly. The package also includes a manual (2 pages) and a CoCo 5 1/4" floppy disk with the memory test program on it.

Prep and Tools: You'll need a Phillips head screw driver for opening the CoCo case and a pair of micro-clippers. Highly recommended is a IC extractor tool (see below) for pulling the old memory out. You'll also want an anti-static wrist strap. Memory modules tend to be exceedinly sensitive to static. The cheapo one shown here I picked up from Jameco. Make sure it's clipped to something metal and grounded.

UNPLUG EVERYTHING FROM THE COCO AND THE COCO FROM THE ELECTRICITY. :) Unass the CoCo 3's case by removing the screws from the bottom, flip it over, take the top off and pull the keyboard up and down slightly. You don't need to unhook it, but the Cloud-9 memory board's lip has to sit right next to it and it's hard to get to it with the keyboard on the its posts. Just nudge the keyboard down and out of the way a bit.

Extract the original memory chips carefully. There's a better than average chance that, since they've been in there for over 20 years, they are a bit tight. Very gently pry them out of there. The chip extractor I'm using there is a professional model I pick up at Cyberguys. You can get the kind that clamp onto the chip and pull it up all at once. I like this one because I get more control. My experience with the other kind has been mixed. This is probably the most difficult part of the operation, but only because you need to go slow and careful. Just be gentle so you don't break a socket or bend something.

Here's I've gotten one of the memory chips out. These should be stored in an anti-static bag, tube or foam to use later, should the need arise. Like I said, this takes the most time. Maybe five minutes being nice and careful. There's not a lot of danger of damaging the CoCo here, but it could be done if you scratch something or pop a solder joint. Gently....

Once the old memory is out, you snip out two capacitors, C66 and C65 as labeled on the CoCo's motherboard. Some doofus soldered C65 on my CoCo right flush against the board (they're suppose to be raised slightly), so the clippers couldn't get hold of the leads to snip. If this happens, VERY gently wiggle the capacitor back and forth until it breaks off.

Next, line up the pins on the Cloud-9 board with the sockets on the CoCo's mother board. They're hard to miss, the nice bright white one's to the left and below the original memory. This is a VERY tight fit, so don't force it. Keep pressing firmly until they slide in, constantly checking the pin alignment. If you bend a pin, back off, pull the assembly out and use a pair of micro-pliers to gently bend it back into position. Try again.

Here's a shot of the upgrade installed and ready to roll. The keyboard fits right back on. This is the Korean built model, so it just sits up on the posts nice and snug. Put the CoCo back together and we're good to go!

After everything is back together and plugged in, run the memory test utility on the included floppy. I let it run about 50 times. I also let the CoCo run a graphic demo for about an hour and half. No problems at all and no noticeable increase in heat. Looks good and good to go! :)

That's it. Seriously, 15 to 20 minutes and basic mechanical skills are all you need to do this upgrade. It's cheap and it'll complete change and expand the functionality of your CoCo. The extra memory opens up a whole new world to explore on your CoCo and when it's this easy to do it, there's not a lot of excuse. Do it! :)

Angel's Luck,

Pimp My CoCo: DriveWire!

Awhile back I ordered up a DriveWire kit and a 512K SIMM upgrade from Cloud-9. Unfortunately, I flat ran out of time to install them before the holidays. Well, couple of days ago I got the time. And the truth is, I did have the time before the holidays, I just thought I didn't. Why? Because both are so freakin' easy that even a technological doob like me can do it. :)

Walking the DriveWire!

DriveWire was the more challenging of the two products. It's super easy to install. Just install the server software on the PC that come on 3 1/2" disk (be sure to hook up your 3 1/2" floppy if you don't have one on the PC... heh). Shut everything off. Then plug the rectangular serial end of the cable into the PC and the round CoCo serial end of the cable into the CoCo's bitbanger. After turning everything on, you run a wizard program on your CoCo (disk included) that builds a custom copy of HDB-DOS to use with the DriveWire.

Once HDB-DOS is up and running, your PC is now your CoCo's beeotch! You can use the PC like a hard drive, save and load programs, and copy and backup anything on the CoCo. The CoCo giving commands to the PC is the way it should be anyhow. Bwahahaha!

This all works as advertised with a few caveats, provisos, fine prints, et al. Ahem. The manual for the DriveWire system is well written, but misses a few bits that might useful for beginners (or idiots, like me, that haven't messed with a serial port and Windows hardware profiles in years). You WILL want to download the PDF for HDB-DOS. The DriveWire manual doesn't give a lot of examples on how to actually accomplish some tasks, but the HDB-DOS manual is quite complete.

The first snafu I hit was that I kept getting I/O errors when accessing the PC from the CoCo. Pissed me off tremendously because I was following the directions precisely. Well, not exactly precisely. I forgot that the PC sets its serial interface to 9600 bps by default. So, you need to reset the port to 57600 bps for the CoCo 3 hookup. Everything else should be fine (8-N-1).

That worked well and I was able to save and load programs from the PC. But BACKUP, DSKINI and COPY wouldn't work. They continued to give I/O errors and/or lock up the server completely. After much gnashing of the teeth, I broke down and emailed Cloud-9 for help.

Boisy of Cloud-9 wrote back and suggested I download the newer version of the server. This new version has a nicer interface and is more stable. After installing it (just copy the .exe file over the old one, leave everything else the same), everything started working just right. It wasn't long ago I recommended always checking for a new version before writing for support. Do as I say, not as I do. :P Thanks to Boisy, of course, for the help and the patient understanding. :)

So, how does it work?

Fantastic, that's how! If you want to add a hard drive to your CoCo, and your PC is next to your CoCo, this may be one of the best and cheapest ways to go about it. This isn't drag and drop, mind you, but it is pretty simple.

The server gives four virtual drive slots to play with. You access these by typing DRIVE#n, where n is 0-3. Each slot is filled with a .dsk image on your PC. Insert a blank .dsk image in one of the slots and you can save to, load from, and format up to 255 floppy disks per drive. You can also turn selected disks on or off, but only from 0 to n, where n is the last disk you want off. So:

DRIVE OFF 2 turns off disks 0,1, and 2, or DRIVE OFF 0 turns of disk 1, etc. DRIVE OFF with no number designation just complete turns off access to the hard drives. DRIVE ON turns them back on, of course.

When a selected disk is off, the corresponding floppy is on. So if you type DRIVE OFF 0 the hard drive disk 0 (DRIVE 0 DISK 0) is off and the real floppy disk 0 hooked up to your CoCo is on. This is useful for copying files back and forth with the BACKUP or COPY commands.

Just remember that the DRIVE command a) switches which .dsk image is being access (0-3) from the server (ie. DRIVE#0) and b) when issued with the OFF/ON switch, selects which virtual floppy is on or off (DRIVE#0, DRIVE OFF 0, would turn off access to the virstual disk 0 on virtual drive 0 and turn on the real floppy drive 0).

As an example, to copy a disk from the CoCo to the PC:

Step 1. Mount a blank .dsk image in Drive 0 of the server on your PC (you can make one with MESS).
Step 2. Type DRIVE#0 to switch to the virtual drive 0 (this is the default).
Step 3. Type DRIVE OFF 0 to turn off virtual disk 0 on drive 0 and turn on floppy drive 0 connected to your CoCo.
Step 4. Insert your floppy into the CoCo's floppy disk drive 0 and type BACKUP 0 TO 1

The DriveWire and HDB-DOS will then transfer the contents of the real floppy to the virtual disk 1 in the drive 0 slot. It is then helpful (if you want to share around the .dsk image) to type:

Step 5. DRIVE ON to turn off the real floppy drive and activate all the disks in Drive 0 of the virtual drive.
Step 6. BACKUP 1 TO 0 to copy the contents of (virtual) disk 1 to disk 0. That just makes sure what you're copying is, by default, on the disk 0, which is where most people would look for it first and make sure it'll work in an emulator, for example.

Reverse the BACKUP command procedure to copy from the PC to a blank CoCo floppy disk. Took some getting my head around the conceptual thing that's working here when copying from hard drive to floppy drive, but once I got it, I was copying stuff back and forth with ease.

Of course, the main use for the DriveWire is to load and save programs and data on your PC directly to and from the CoCo. For this task, DriveWire is brilliant. No real special commands are needed. Virtual Drive 0, Disk 0 is your default drive. Switching is as easy as addressing the right disk when you need it. All of which is clearly laid out in the HDB-DOS manual.

Like I said, if all you want to do is add mass storage to your CoCo, DriveWire is ideal. The price can't be beat and it's a slick, easy solution.

Angel's Luck,

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Speak Up! Posted

Speak Up!, an early software synthesizer by David Dubowski of Classical Computing, has been posted. Find the program here:

Index of /files/coco/speakup

Works great in MESS (tested on CoCo 2B and CoCo3 NTSC ROMs), but might want to look at the docs on how to increase the pitch a bit. I found it was a little clearer that way.

Angel's Luck,

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SockMaster's HICOLOR Source posted

There's been a bit of chatter in the CoCo mailing list about more than 16-colors on a CoCo lately. So, John Kowalski, The Sock Master, posted the assembler source code for his HICOLOR viewer which can display over 6000 (that's six thousand) color simultaneously! Woo hoo! Check it here:

HiColor - BMP viewer

Angel's Luck,

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News: Joel Ewy's Amazing CoCo 3 Images

This is so neat I just had to post it. :)

Joel Ewy has posted some old images he made with a CoCo 3 and a DS-69B digitizer. 4096 colors and all! Very cool stuff. See the in the gallery at - TRS-80/Tandy Color Computer Photo Gallery, Forums, and Live Chat! :: Joel Ewy

Angel's Luck,

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