What Jessie Did Next...

...being the inane ramblings of a mundane Yorkshire bird.

Category: Acorn Madness (page 1 of 4)

I’m clearing a lot of my Acorn kit I’ve accumulated over the years and paring down my collection. Thankfully there is a handy Acorn Show this weekend in Wakefield, and I’ve got a stall there.

I’m looking to sell the whole lot:

  • A variety of Model B’s, some workers, some not (keyboard cable or PSU faults sometimes), some with boards, 1770/8271 DFS, etc.
  • A couple of Master 128s
  • Archimedes A420/1 base
  • RiscPC 7000 base
  • At least one Master Compact
  • A load of Econet stuff including clock boxes, junction boxes, Master Econet modules
  • Copros including 6502 cheese wedges, and a 512 in external case
  • A couple of other cheese wedges: teletext adaptor, Prestel adaptor
  • Acorn Atom (no PSU, condition unknown)
  • An Electron and some Elk peripherals including Plus1 and Plus3
  • A pile of 5.25” and 3.5” floppy drives, some cased, some not
  • A couple of DLT drives and a load of tapes
  • A pile of MDFS wedges (system units, floppy units, some SCSI drive units, tape streamer)
  • A lot of EPROMs/ROMs, which will all be priced at $buggerall
  • Some Master 128 cartridges

Additionally, there’s a load of other bits including MIDI interfaces, Music 4000 keyboard, EMR stuff, EPROM programmers, other bits and bobs. There’s also some non-Acorn stuff I chucked in a box for sale.

Although I’ll have basic guide prices with me for some of it, I’m willing to entertain any sensible offers (including “job lots”) as this is all part of my house clearance. I will not sell privately in advance of the day. However, I’m expecting a bit of interest so you will need to get in early if you want a chance of “the good stuff”, I suspect.

EVERYTHING is sold-as-seen. Where there are *known* faults, they are noted on the item. There are no guarantees, what you see is what you get, but I’ve connected all the Beebs up to my CUB monitor here and noted down when things aren’t right. I won’t have a monitor with me but I understand other folks will have faultfinding/repair places there. It’s a jumble sale, treat it as such 😉

And please wish me luck that it’ll all fit in my little Fiat Punto 1.4, and doesn’t knacker the suspension. See you Saturday 😉

Edit: As of 12th May, everything has been sold. Please don’t waste my time or yours by asking me if stuff’s still available 😉 Ta!

Last Saturday was Wakefield Acorn Computer Show, run by Wakefield RISC OS Computer Club.

There’s not much really to report as I don’t use RISC OS, but the highlights for me were an O2 Joggler running Netsurf and the current (maturing) status of RISC OS Open on Beagleboard hardware (photo).

I took along the Domesday Project of course as well as a couple of other machines. It was quite good having the Domesday running on a large 32″ flatpanel (photo) given the small crowds which would occasionally gather. I am also very pleased to report that the gentleman from Archive magazine brought along some more correspondence from the 1984 ‘Domesday Submission Kit’ with letters acknowledging difficulty in surveys and other things. I’ll get them scanned in as soon as I can.

Alongside the ‘normal’ BBC Master 128, I’d got my ultra-pimped Beeb running: a Master 128 with ARM7TDMI coprocessor, USB interface, CF card storage, 100baseTx Ethernet, and switchable 3.2/3.5 MOS.

There was also a Chuckie Egg incident – I thought I’d hit the high-score for the show (and indeed had red mist while playing it) but then got thoroughly beaten later on with a score of over 200,000. Boo! Need more practice!

Nice to see some of the 8-bit enthusiast crowd there again including Dave Moore from Retro Software and Ian Wolstenholme (I wonder if Ian made it home in one piece on the train, carrying an A7000, an A3000 and three Technomatic Winchester hard disks?).

Finally, I was a good boy and didn’t spend piles of cash on the charity stall (not that there was much of interest), coming away with a replacement monitor for the Domesday system for the princely sum of £2.

My full set of photos from the event are here.

Next Acorn ‘presence’ will be at Bletchley on 19th and 20th June as part of the Vintage Computer Festival. Mind, I won’t be there for most of the Saturday (as OP have a gig in Wakefield) but I believe on the Sunday there is a major ‘project day’ effort to try and get the Domesday Community Disc properly archived. Maybe see you there!

After a period of quiet not least because I couldn’t get from one end of the garage to the other, I’m back fiddling with 8-bit machines and preparing for several ‘appearances’ at retro computing events throughout the UK.

Sat 24th April: Wakefield Acorn & RISC OS Computer Show 2010 is a regular in the calendar and although it has been more on the brand new RISC OS side in recent years, this year there will be a stronger 8-bit presence. I will be there exhibiting ‘new things you can do with your BBC Micro’ including some of the flash-based storage units, new coprocessors, and the latest version of Sprow’s Ethernet interface.

Sat 19th June – Sun 20th June: Vintage Computer Festival at Bletchley Park. I’ve been asked to demonstrate the Domesday Project and discuss its impact and history with visitors – it’s also likely there will be a small Econet setup with some interesting bits and bobs, alongside vendors and a fleamarket in case you fancy spending some of your hard-earned on ancient rigs.

Sat 20th November – Sun 21st November: R3play in Blackpool. I’ve no idea what the Acorn presence will be at this show, but given that Arcadian’s on the organising committee it’ll probably feature some of us!

Some of these events will be very busy so if you want to have some old Acorn fun you probably should put these in your diary and organise tickets now. I know the recommended hotel for the VCF is almost full, so get your skates on.

Edit: Dave just mailed me and corrected on the dates, R3PLAY is now 6th-7th November.

I’m giving my ‘Teaching Old Micros New Tricks’ talk tonight (Wednesday 20th January) at the RISC OS North West User Group (RONWUG), covering some of the new projects to expand and enhance your BBC Micro. I’m hoping to have a few toys to demo with and have a look at as well as the talk itself.

This is effectively the same talk I gave in Wakefield last year – the presentation is already online in a PDF format here (although there are a few bits altered such as mentioning the Classic Gaming Events Union). Links to most of the products I’ll be discussing are here.

I understand these meetings are open for anyone to attend – it takes place in Sale in Cheshire, postcode M33 6LR. Starts at 7:30pm-ish tonight, depending on when I get there (yay rush hour M62) 🙂

On Sunday 15th November there’s a retro gaming convention in Coalville, Leicestershire brought to you by The Retro Computer Museum. There’s also some info on the Stairway To Hell forum.

There’ll be an Acorn-specific room which (although small) will have some interesting bits, and quite a few other systems as well. To see some pics of the last RCM event take a look here.

I’ll be going, although I probably won’t be taking any systems along with me to demonstrate.

Long-time Beeb guru Jonathan Harston has just posted a good series of default settings for a BBC Master 128 – most commonly reset when you have a dead CMOS battery or have factory-reset by holding down R as you switch the Master on.

Sensible settings (which you’ll need to type in) are:

*Configure Delay 32
*Configure Repeat 5
*Configure Lang 12
*Configure Mode 7
*Configure TV 0,1
*Configure ShCaps
*Configure Ignore
*Configure Print 4
*Configure PS 0.254
*Configure FS 0.254
*Configure File 9
*Configure NoDir
*Configure NoBoot
*Configure Space
*Configure Baud 7
*Configure Data 4

JGH recommends that you stick this on a bootable floppy so you can easily SHIFT-D-BREAK into it on a factory-default setup. Good idea!

For other faults, Sprow has a good section on his website detailing the most common Beeb power-on problems which is worth a read if you’re trying to get your old micro to work again!

I’ve PDF’d the slides for my talk on ‘Teaching Old Micros New Tricks’, new projects and fun for a BBC Micro.

You can grab them as PDF from here.

Last Wednesday I gave a talk at Wakefield RISC OS Computer Club on new projects for your BBC Micro, entitled ‘Teaching Old Micros New Tricks’. I also covered ‘getting started in the retro Beeb scene’ a little bit, and did a Q&A at the end.

First off, the links. I’ll split these into the sections of the talk:

Useful Boring Stuff:


Memory/CPU enhancements:

  • By far the most fun one is Sprow’s ARM7TDMI coprocessor. Don’t forget to find a cheese-wedge teletext adaptor so you can use the case for it!
  • John Kortink’s ReCo6502 is available although you will need to source your own Tube ULA.


  • Back with Sprow, I also demonstrated his BBC Master Ethernet interface which talks Samba to other computers. Sprow’s also working on a series of calls (presumably OSWORD and OSBYTE) to access the TCP/IP stack directly.

Honourable Mentions (aka stuff I missed out from the talk but are also cool):

I’ll make the slides from the talk available when I get a chance to PDF them, and will be repeating most of it at an upcoming Manchester Acorn group meeting – more about that closer to the time.

I will also write about the ‘retro scene’ and how to get back onto the Beeb in a future blog post.

Last night’s telly highlight was a programme I’ve been waiting a while for – Micro Men, the story of the Beeb vs the Spectrum, or more precisely the rivalry of Acorn MD Chris Curry vs (Sir) Clive Sinclair in the early 1980s.

It was set against the background of Cambridge and commenced with the collapse of Sinclair Radionics, designers and manufacturers of the digital Black Watch, various hi-fi systems, and the miniature TV. Much has been documented about the history of Sinclair (not least in a rather good book called The Sinclair Story by Rodney Dale) so I’m not going to rehash that here.

The casting was quite good – Alexander Armstrong as Sir Clive, Martin Freeman as Chris Curry. Armstrong’s makeup was a little false but with a little suspension-of-disbelief he carried it off: books on the Sinclair empires only mention in passing his lack of tolerance and quick temper, which Armstrong amplified to portray Sinclair as a megalomaniac whose grudges and single-mindedness ultimately contributed to his downfall regarding the C5. I’m not sure if Sinclair got a bit of a bum rap here; discussions with other 80s contemporaries who worked with him suggested not.

Although the caption at the start claimed to have dramatised and invented some scenes to aid the story, apparently many of those scenes you may have thought were made up weren’t: the wire-cutting scene before the demo of the first BBC Micro happened, as did the fight in the pub (confirmed by Professor Steven Furber, who was a supporting character in the dramatisation).

I particularly enjoyed ‘cameo-spotting’ such as the real Sophie Wilson playing the barmaid at the end, and little incidental details such as the whiteboard with the requirements for the ARM CPU (and consequently the first Acorn Archimedes). Cracking soundtrack too.

Serious kudos to the Centre of Computing History – apparently Jason Fitzpatrick was in it but I didn’t spot him. I’m sure I’ll see him when I watch it again with Nicky. I was vaguely surprised to find that Richard Hallas wasn’t involved – last I heard had been writing a history of Acorn.

The fallout’s been quite amusing – had lots of questions about Beebs from colleagues, friends and other random folks who were following the Twitter #micromen hashtag. I’ll write up a ‘getting started with your Beeb’ post at some point soon, but if you want to emulate then beebem is the best emulator and comes with the correct ROMs to start it up. I’ll also assemble a DSD so you can play a few games, maybe, although there are still quite a few legal issues (Granny’s Garden for instance is still aggressively protected by 4Mation).

You can still catch the programme on iPlayer by clicking here and BBC4 are repeating it ad nauseum over the next week or so. If you’re out of the country you’ll need to wait for other sources to illicitly distribute it I guess.

Update: Steve Furber’s comments on it are here, and you can see a video of the talk he gave at Retro Reunited here. I understand the CCH are also interviewing Sophie Wilson at some point soon.

Last weekend I went to Retro Reunited 2009 at Cedar Court Hotel on Ainley Top. RR09 is an exhibition and conference for folks who have little better to do with their time than play with computers and games from 25 years ago; I count myself among those, being a consummate Acorn-head. The show was run by volunteers and this was the first to feature ‘Acorn World’, a completely separate conference room with as much BBC Micro and Acorn kit as we could cram into it: this was the latest incarnation of several years of these events and we’d always wibbled about putting Econet and things around the venue.

I’d volunteered to help set up on the Friday, showing up at the venue around 7pm with a car-ful of lighting, display equipment and a rather beefy PA I’d been asked to fetch along. I’d also packed the BBC Domesday Project for demonstration. Annoyingly it seemed lots of folks had been asked to bring stuff and it wasn’t needed, so quite a bit of kit went back to Wakefield that night (except then it was required, or wasn’t, or was… in the end I just gave up on that bit!).

On Saturday I arrived early enough to acquire one of Mark Haysman’s Retroclinic Datacentres, an ingenious piece of kit which enables you to connect FAT32-formatted USB2 devices to your BBC Micro. I fitted it on the Sunday morning before anyone else showed up and can report it does exactly what it says on the tin – it’s a great piece of kit and I was able to download DSD and SSD images from my home fileserver over 3G, pop them on a memory stick, and play games we’d forgotten to bring with us!

Saturday was very very busy. One of the good things about welding conferences together is that there’s a lot of cross-pollenation which worked in favour Acorn World. I was demonstrating the Domesday system for around 6 hours straight and despite the lens focusing mechanism issue it kept up with the demand admirably. Jason over at The Centre For Computing History even brought his own Domesday player for me to faultfind but unfortunately we were unable to get it going.

Rob Sprowson (sprow.co.uk) was exhibiting, although he was on public transport so limited to what stock he could bring. Rob builds and sells add-ons for the BBC Micro and his latest creation is an ethernet interface which talks SMB so you can mount Windows shares from your Beeb. I’d acquired one some time back but hadn’t fitted it: it was a great time to give that a go since he was on-hand to assist. He also gave a smashing talk on the status of RiscOS Open, and inspired me to buy a Beagle board to play with when I get some time (that’ll be around 2039 when I retire then).

The main gaming room had the occasional bout of disaster: the first I knew about was on Saturday lunchtime when someone threw a pint of lager over a 4-way power distributor. Bang, off went he power to the whole room, cue bored-looking gamers in a dark hall. Got sorted quickly by all accounts tho.

There were also a few cancellations – sadly owing to family issues Rob (Irrelevant) couldn’t make it with his Viewdata setup, and chiptune musician pixelh8 pulled out citing health issues. That left things a little quiet on Saturday night, although we had a bit of a discussion about future events and (after some alcohol had been consumed) ended up looking for borderline-nudity on the Domesday system! Oh dear!

On Sunday we had a couple of (in)famous speakers: Mel Pullen who was a contractor at Acorn and engineered the Teletext and Prestel adaptors, and Steve Furber who designed the original BBC Microcomputer. Both were very interesting, and Steve was even requested to sign someone’s BBC Micro. I took a group shot at the end of the show (first time I’ve done that, not a bad attempt) at the request of the organisers – Steve’s the guy wearing the suit in the front row.

Some fun exhibition highlights: a fully-functional homebrew Acorn Electron on an FPGA, finding some of the Beeb music I wrote in 1991 on this Elk, discovering Nazi Tories on the Domesday, Risc OS on a Bush STB, finding the original pizza oven RPC slice which was on show at Acorn World ’95, a Speccy connected to a MicroVAX, and an Acorn Atom with a M128 Econet board.

On the ‘death-knell’ scale, we only had two machines go bang and Jason was hell-bent on fixing the PSUs afterwards. Hey, it wouldn’t be a retro event without the slight tinge of acrid smoke and ozone from a popped capacitor in the air.

There’d been quite a lot of discussion on the maillists about the venue: having organised stands and displays at these sorts of things quite a lot I nipped up with Dave Moore (Acorn organiser) some time back to check power and stuff. Consequently our bit was quite well organised and professional! I must admit I’m surprised ticket numbers were capped at 280 – the venue could have coped with a lot more.

I’d also liked to have seen a social being organised but that’s something for next time. The hotel beer was crap and expensive (£3.20 a pint!) and apparently the Coke was very very very pricey for something poured from a PET bottle – I don’t know, I took my own cans 😛 Nice courteous staff, although I preferred to stay in the Premier Inn about 5 minutes walk down the road, much cheaper and more comfy. The ‘Nag’s Head’ pub is cheaper for ale too.

I’ll look forward to the next one although the format needs some tweaking; well done to Gordon and Dave for organising it!

This weekend it’s the Retro Reunited show in Huddersfield, which also includes Acorn World 2009. It’s taking place at Cedar Court Hotel on Ainley Top, just off the M62.

I’ll be there demonstrating the BBC Domesday Project (assuming it works still, I’ve not dug it out yet) and there’s lots of other fun things. Sprow will be selling some of his fun new Beeb projects, and of course Mark Haysman of Retroclinic will be demonstrating his USB master/slave Beeb interface. Of course there’ll be Econet setups galore, robotic arms, turtles, games, MUDs, all that foo.

Sadly if you haven’t got a ticket then you’ll have to get on the waiting list – they sold out a week or two ago – but I’ll get some photos and things. I’m otherwise engaged in the evening so won’t be around for the Pixelh8 Chiptune gig but I’m sure it’ll be ace. I’ll be there all day Saturday and Sunday otherwise.

If you want to keep up with it on Twitter the hashtag #rre09 has been proposed, and the organiser himself is there as @retroreunited.

Edit: It would seem I’m there for the whole thing now including Saturday night. I’m also introducing a Q&A/talk by Mel Pullen (creator of the BBC Prestel adaptor and sysop of The Gnome At Home). There really are no tickets left though, and the waiting list for returns is huge.

Some folks just have too much time on their hands 😉 and there’s two new BBC Micro peripherals come onto the market:

  • John Kortink’s reco6502 is a remake of the classic 6502 Tube second processor for the BBC Micro – unfortunately still needing a Tube ULA but if you can source one then it makes a great little copro to fiddle with.
  • Sprow has just announced the availability of a Master 128 Ethernet interface, which is scarily useful.


I am annoyed.

I have hunted high and low, and cannot find half the code I wrote in the late 80s/early 90s. Granted it’s on 5.25″ disc somewhere, I’m pretty sure I still had the backups long after I relocated the HD to my Archimedes in 1994. In any case, I’m bloody annoyed; it should still be around after 7 house moves and 20 years.

I suppose it could also have been on the disc which ended up running CCl4, although I suspect that’s not the original disc either.

So, I’d better work out what jZip-0 format means and try and recall it without the specification. Argh.

Indeed, annoyed.

I went to the Wakefield RISC OS Show last Saturday, exhibiting a stand-full of ‘vintage’ Acorn kit with nothing more recent than 1989!

There’s a photo of the stand here, showing on display (from left to right / far end to near photographer):

  • BBC Master 128 with 512k 80186 coprocessor, occasionally running DR-DOS (this particular unit got switched with Jonathan Harston’s Master Compact occasionally).
  • BBC Domesday Project, Phillips LVROM, Master AIV.
  • BBC Model B with ATPL Sidewise, 6502 2nd Processor, EPROM programmer.
  • SJ Research MDFS (four slices: CPU, two drive slices with SCSI disks and tape drive, floppy unit).
  • BBC Master 128 with ‘new’ technology including 2GB CF card drive (from Mark at Retroclinic) and Sprow’s ARM7TDMI coprocessor.

We had the stand hooked up with Econet which stayed alive for the whole day! The Domesday LVROM behaved itself (mostly), only getting ornery later on in the day when a restart cured it. Having the lid off made it more interesting anyway!

The show was much better attended than in recent years, plenty of interest and new faces possibly picked up from Byte-Back and the ‘retro scene’. There were even a few Econet bits on the charity stall although I resisted at the price being asked. I did manage to pick up a SCSI slide scanner and a box of other odds and ends for the Arc.

We found out during the day that domesday1986.com has disappeared as its main contributor had died, sadly. I am therefore resolved to step up my preservation efforts – but more on that later.

Jonathan Harston (aka JGH) demonstrated his relocatable module stuff for the ARM7 by getting BBC BASIC running under a Z80 emulator on an ARM7TDMI coprocessor hosted by a BBC Master 128, I’m sure it can get more convoluted than that but I’m not sure by how much. Additionally various Econet bits and bobs were shown off including a multiuser chat and game server.

For some reason the games we sorted out at Byte-Back refused to work any more, I suspect it’s the particular configuration of the Beeb units themselves. I promise next time we’ll have Chuckie Egg running (both myself and Ian had a go at fixing it but to no avail). Granny’s Garden and Podd were popular.

Special mention to Jonathan’s PSU which exploded and smoked in a rather spectacular fashion, threatening to fill the exhibition hall with acrid smoke. Apparently it didn’t stop working but was causing such a fuss it ended up outside on the pavement!

Fantastic find of the show: a rather nice chap showed up with a brown A4 envelope of goodies – an unused Domesday submission kit including teachers’ notes, two 5.25″ floppies for compiling a school’s Domesday pages, pupil notes and user manuals. Both myself and Ian took immediate copies of the floppies but I will make available DSD files of these if anyone wants a looksee, and scan in the documentation. It also changes the copyright situation slightly – I wouldn’t say ‘smoking gun’ but it throws doubt on what the BBC were saying a while back.

I got home, set stuff up again, ate curry, and nursed my aching back – I’d forgotten how heavy that MDFS is!

The next retro show is in Leicester at the end of May, but I won’t be able to make that. There’s a big one in Huddersfield in September where we’re planning to show off quite a bit of stuff, and in the interim I’ll be penning a few articles on the whole BBC Micro revival ‘scene’ as well as the resurrection of the Domesday preservation efforts. Watch this space.

It’s Wakefield Acorn Show tomorrow!

I have 12ft of table space, upon which I will be attempting to fit:

  • The BBC Domesday System
  • A multi-slice MDFS linking up the stand Beebs with Econet
  • A ‘New Stuff’ BBC Master equipped with CF card drive and Sprow’s ARM7 copro (plus anything else I can find)
  • An ‘unpimped’ BBC Master for games and stuff (yes indeed, there will be Elite and Chuckie Egg!)
  • A BBC Micro with EPROM burner and probably some other bits inside too

If any other stands want Econet I’ll be able to provide a spur over (I’m taking the stuff with me this time, *cough*).

Come and say hello, take photos, touch the Domesday, and all that 🙂

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