***king Articulate360

Just a note that as of June 2018 Articulate Storyline or 360 or whatever it’s called does some weird and dangerous file handling.

[Note: Apparently the sudden loss of your precious precious work can be mitigated by avoiding unusual characters in file names (spaces being considered unusual) and by working on a local drive (“C:” in Windows world) rather than a networked drive. I am currently trying this to see if it helps.]

So … the context … I am working away, modifying an existing presentation. I click somewhere, and suddenly get bounced back several slides and all my changes for the last X minutes get lost — even if I have saved the file!

The first time it happened I thought, right, I better save the file every change. But that does not help! It is like it is reverting my last few changes and then forgetting them so I cannot redo them — sometimes as many as 6 slides of work is lost!

This is just not acceptable. Especially since people have been having similar problems for years.

In the end, I find I have to save regularly (like every minor change unless I want to repeat it) and after any big changes I close down the program completely then reopen it. I also work on local files (ie on my computer, not the server).

So far, that seems to have reduced the issue to manageable proportions.

Also, no nonbreaking spaces. In 2018, no nbsp. Not impressed.

As of 2018 Alt-0160 does not work in Storyline360, whether using number row or numeric keypad or even the Symbol menu where it is called ‘NO-BREAK SPACE’. Pretty underwhelming — though that is not to say they are not taking the issue seriously — they are.

Does not work regardless of Num Lock setting. I have tried inserting Alt-0160 with and without Num Lock and using Insert → Symbol and choosing character 0160 from the character map. Just does not work. I get a space, but it’s a breaking one, I’ve tried inserting a nonbreaking space in a word document and then copying and pasting that into the Articulate document (this works in PowerPoint, for example) and that does not work either.

Pasting from Word using the different options (like Keep Source Formatting) does not work either.

If I paste a nonbreaking space in from Word (or PPT) and then copy and paste it back from Articulate into Word (or PPT), it turns into a regular space. So Articulate is somehow converting it to being the wrong character. FWIW, en rule Alt-0150 works fine.

I installed the program less than a week ago, so it is completely up to date.

Anyway, that’s my experience of this thing — that they want to charge over $1000 for!

Far out.

Thanks anyway.

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Printing PowerPoints with notes two (or more) to a page (repeat)

This is just a text-only version of the previous iteration with some new details. Just for the record. I had to work up the documentation, so why not post it?

This is what I did to print out PowerPoint slides two per page including the notes underneath.

There is (as of 2018) no option in the PowerPoint print dialogue for this. Note also that I do not have access to a full version of Adobe Acrobat Professional or whatever they are calling it at the moment.

(1) ‘Designed’ notes text in PPT; something like 12 pt for notes and 9 pt for refs/sources (Myriad Pro, though Univers works well too). Formatted notes consistently. To work with the slide notes in the text block under the slide, used ‘Notes Page’ under View. Can resize and so on and get WYSIWYG while formatting.

(2) Used CutePDF (http://cutepdf.com/) to print to PDF file. Went into Advanced settings for CutePDF and made sure paper was A4. Set Print Quality to ‘1200 DPI’, Set TrueTypeFont setting to ‘Download as Softfont’. Under PostScript Options set PostScript Output Options to ‘Optmimize for Portability’ and TrueType Font Download Option to ‘Native TrueType’. Other PDF print options might be acceptable; don’t know. Mac tends to work better with PDF than Windows. Cannot just use ‘Save as PDF’ option from the File menu because that does not give the notes pages.

The Print settings for PowerPoint (rather than the printer) were:
* Color (sic)
* Portrait
* Collated
* Notes Page (Print slides with notes)
* Print all slides (or the range you want)
* Printer: CutePDF
* No header or footer

Then printed and saved the file.

(3) I decided to crop the resulting PDF using a command line tool, because that is highly reproducible — I can get exactly the same cropped box every time.

I used pdfcrop.sh in Cygwin. Cygwin (https://www.cygwin.com/) is a Unix-like environment for Windows; pdfcrop.sh would probably work seamlessly in a command line terminal on a Mac if the software tools it draws on were already installed, possibly through Macports or similar.

pdfcrop.sh is available from https://askubuntu.com/questions/270493/how-to-crop-a-multi-page-image-scanned-pdf-file-which-wont-crop-with-pdfcrop, and also from https://darrengoossens.wordpress.com/2018/02/25/crop-every-page-in-a-multipage-pdf-file.

The pdfcrop.sh command looked like this:

$ pdfcrop.sh -t "105 112 105 112" infile.pdf outfile.pdf

The four numbers are how much to crop from left, top, right, bottom; I worked them out by opening the PDF in GSview (http://pages.cs.wisc.edu/~ghost/gsview/), a Windows-based viewer for PostScript and PDF files that gives coordinates of the pointer, so I could just move my mouse to where I wanted to crop and note down the coordinates.

I know there are graphical cropping tools, but this works and can do lots of pages. Feel free to use whatever tool works for you, but keep in mind that the ability to make exactly the same crop box every time is very useful. An automatic cropping of white space is not ideal since might vary from slide to slide or vary with alterations of the PPT file. It will also fail to remove any page numbers or footers/headers that are present.

(4) I now had a PDF file with the pages, including notes, cropped to have narrow margins. The next step was to put two onto a single landscape page. You can do this by opening the cropped PDF in say Acrobat and then printing to PDF again, after selecting ‘2 pages per sheet’ or equivalent in the print dialogue.

My preference was to use a command line tool. pdfnup (version 2.08 when I used it) is part of pdfjam, which in turn builds on the pdfpages stuff that is part of LaTeX:

$ pdfnup --batch --suffix '2up' outfile.pdf

This takes the ‘outfile’ from the pdfcrop.sh step and makes a new PDF with two pages per page and adds the suffix ‘2up’ to the file name, so the final file is ‘outfile-2up.pdf’

I have noticed that pdfnup gives less white space around the slides (and thus bigger images and text) than printing two per page using Acrobat.

Darren Goossens
darren.goossens@biotext.com.au

29 May 2018

Hermes 10 — portable as a microwave oven

The Hermes 10 is a funky machine from that generation of electric typewriters that were powered versions of manual ones — they still use a basket and typebars, and the paper goes past on the carriage, unlike say a Selectric where the paper sits still and the print head moves.

This one was bought at auction for less than $20 and it came with a case and a dust cover. The case is enormous. It could carry quite a few changes of clothes were it a suitcase. Here it is pictured beneath an Olivetti Lettera 32 in its case; the Hermes is damn near twice as wide and maybe more than that high. It’s also very heavy. And of course it needs a power socket to work, so the case is really for moving it from office to office. You’re not going to use this machine in Starbucks…

Olivetti Lettera 32 sitting on top of a Hermes 10.

It is big and heavy. It hums and smells a little like ozone — probably burning dust. It seems to work pretty well. The ribbon vibrator does not drop down as quickly as it should; I think it was over-oiled at some point (which is to say oiled at all). It seems to be in nice condition. The visible margins work, everything seems present and accounted for.

Hermes 10 from above.

One of the good things about this old design is that they do not take custom ribbon cartridges — they take conventional nylon ribbons on spools. That means unlike, say, to pick a completely random example, a CasioWriter cw-16, there’s no problem with getting ribbons even though the company behind the product is long gone, or at least long-left the industry.

Hermes 10 with the ribbon cover up, showing the conventional spools.

Touch is … odd. A bit like a big calculator. Pretty easy to get used to, though. Hitting return and watching the whole carriage zip back and the paper feed through is pretty nifty.

The arrangement of keys will be familiar to anyone who knows a Hermes 3000, though the backspace is where us computer users expect it to be — top-right rather than top-left as it is in the 3000. Here is the character set — one lonely accented ‘e’.

Character set from my Hermes 10.

Quite useful. Not as many fractions as older machines, but cents, at, pound and dollar.

The x, =, – and _ characters can repeat (for crossing out and drawing lines), though the _ and – cut lines through the paper; possibly an adjustment is needed or the platen is too hard. It’s a small enough issue and not enough to make me do major works on the machine.

Ser. no. 2052425 (http://typewriterdatabase.com/hermes.82.typewriter-serial-number-database), which places it in 1971.

Anyway, a real bit of big iron.

AlphaServer 1200 — flash the firmware

Following on from this post.

Booted up to SRM console but when tried to boot from console it said BIOS CHECKSUM error (or something like that).

(Note: If you are in AlphaBIOS and want to switch to the SRM console, press the Reset button, wait 5 seconds, then press the Halt button.)

OK, looks like BIOS corrupted. If it’s a bad chip then it’s bad, but maybe flashing the BIOS would work…

OK, flash the BIOS on an AlphaServer

Some possibly useful references:

ftp://ftp.hp.com/pub/alphaserver/firmware/retired_platforms/servers/AS1200/alpha1200_v60_fw_relnote.pdf

http://btr0xq.rz.uni-bayreuth.de/Digital/alphaserver/firmware/retired_platforms/servers/AS1200/

The latter has three 3 1.44MB floppy disks as zip files, which are supposed to contain all the necessary files. It says:

Copy the following files to diskette #1:
as1200cp.sys
as1200fw.sys
tcreadme.sys
tcarcrom.sys

Copy the following files to diskette #2:
tcsrmrom.sys

Copy the following files to diskette #3 if you’ll be updating I/O option firmware:
as1200io.sys
tcreadme.sys
cipca420.sys
dfxaa320.sys
kzpsaa12.sys

But … these are V6.0 files and according to the docs, that won’t work (yet)

https://support.hpe.com/hpsc/doc/public/display?docId=emr_na-c00060044

Reading the documents, ones finds out that can only go to versions higher than 5.3 by going via version 5.3, because at that version the firmware gets reorganised (written to different parts of the non-volatile memory) — so need V5.3 images. But where from? Spent ages looking for them. Could only find:

ftp://ftp.hp.com/pub/alphaserver/firmware/retired_platforms/servers/AS1200/
File: as1200_v5_3.exe 2573 KB 30/11/04 00:00:00
File: as1200_v5_3.sys 2574 KB 30/11/04 00:00:00

But these are too big for a floppy. and even if I put on CD, no instructions on how to apply. I don’t want to brick the thing… Asked on a forum but got told to use a MOP server — some kind of network booting thing. I am way too dumb to make that work.

More googling; found a V5.3 firmware iso at http://ftp.uni-bayreuth.de/Digital/alphaserver/firmware/iso_images/:

as4100_v53.iso

But it is for the AS4100 not the AS1200. It contains a file called ./AS4X00/RHSRMROM.SYS which is clearly 5.3, and they seem to be very adjacent machines … do I dare use the 4100 file on the 1200? (It would be instead of the TCSRMROM.SYS you can see listed on disk 2 above).

https://support.hpe.com/hpsc/doc/public/display?docId=emr_na-c00342269 says…:

AlphaServer 1200:
The AlphaServer 1200 is AlphaServer 4000 electronics mounted in an AlphaServer 1000 enclosure.

OK; should be compatible. Do it. Create two floppies

DISK1:
-rw-r–r– 1 username username 806 Apr 25 18:58 AS1200CP.TXT
-rw-r–r– 1 username username 920 Apr 25 18:56 AS1200FW.TXT
-rw-r–r– 1 username username 1536 Apr 25 18:57 AS1200FW.SYS
-rw-r–r– 1 username username 1536 Apr 25 18:58 AS1200CP.SYS
-rw-r–r– 1 username username 4096 Apr 25 18:55 TCREADME.SYS
-rw-r–r– 1 username username 590336 Apr 25 18:55 TCARCROM.SYS

DISK2:
-rw-r–r– 1 username username 806 Apr 25 19:04 AS1200CP.TXT
-rw-r–r– 1 username username 920 Apr 25 19:03 AS1200FW.TXT
-rw-r–r– 1 username username 1536 Apr 25 19:03 AS1200FW.SYS
-rw-r–r– 1 username username 1536 Apr 25 19:04 AS1200CP.SYS
-rw-r–r– 1 username username 4096 Apr 25 19:04 TCREADME.SYS
-rw-r–r– 1 username username 996352 Apr 25 19:02 RHSRMROM.SYS

Note RHSRMROM on the second disk, copied from the 4100 iso file.

I need to make the lfu utility read the correct SYS file, so changed the file AS1200CP.TXT to call for the RH instead of the TCSRMROM file.

Ran lfu (booted up the AlphaServer into the SRM console and typed lfu ).

Selected dva0 (floppy).

Asked for as1200cp (the modified txt file).

It loaded the files (shows on screen).

l(ist) showed the SRMROM to be correct version

UPD> update srm*

Worked!

wget ftp://ftp.hp.com/pub/alphaserver/firmware/iso_images/v57.iso

Then I found the V57.iso firmware and burned to CD and repeated the process using that. In that case, started the Alpha and at the SRM prompt typed:

P00>>> b dka400:

and it booted from the firmware CD and I installed 5.7 version.

Just accepted the CD’s instructions and then:

update * -all

from the lfu prompt provided by the CD. It successfully updated SRMROM and ALPHABIOS.

Then used my original three floppies to update to V6.0 of SRM.

Finally seems to be OK.

Some funny business with the IO update (‘not supported under lfu’), but seems to be OK, so will just suck it and see.

Is now able to boot from CD without errors, allowing install of operating system(s).

Next-ish?

Sneaky naughty google

Google, as you may or may not know, it watching you. They are also watching you when you’re signed out.

OK, so, say you want to sign out of Google. You’re in say Gmail.

You know that if you scroll to the bottom of your list of messages you’ll see a tiny tiny tiny little box labelled (somewhat vaguely, probably on purpose) ‘Details’. If you click it, you get details of all your recent sessions on Google platforms (that’s the right-hand side of the picture).

Screenshot showing the process of logging out.

Logging out of all your google sessions.

OK, so you click the ‘Sign out all other web sessions’ button, close the dialogue box and then log out of the Gmail (or whatever) session you’re in. You are now free of Google.

No.

With all your sessions logged out, try going to:

https://myaccount.google.com/intro/privacycheckup/1?utm_source=google&utm_medium=callout-unauth&utm_campaign=global-privacy-checkup-q2v2

Screenshot of the web page showing the options.

The list of option on the Google privacy control page.

 

Click on the first entry — Your Google Search History. You’ll see something like this:

Screenshot showing the Search history slider -- Google is collecting search history though you are logged out.

The Search History slider.

So now even though you’re logged out, there are more setting to try to control how your data are harvested. It’s is almost impossible to reduce the amount of data they suck out of you when you go online, but I hope this helps a little. (Note how they encourage you to log in.)

 

Oogle google doo.

Why Debian.

Having bought the AlphaSever 1200 and got it to boot, there were a couple of things I wanted to do with it.

First, I wanted to put OpenVMS on it, which I’ll talk about elsewhere.

Second, I wanted to put something modern on it if possible.

A look at Distrowatch suggested that I had three options, effectively; OpenBSD, NetBSD and Gentoo Linux. A bit of poking around revealed that OpenBSD would work, but without X windows. Now, that’s a perfectly valid option — the machine could actually work as a server. But for me, as a user who wants to monkey around and use the machine for more desktop-y stuff, that was not what I was after.

Since the SRM console can only boot SCSI drives, and the machine had some unused SCSI drive caddies ready to go, I decided I’d have to spend more than the $1 I had so far. I found a chap on ebay who had a couple of 300GB SCSI hard drives — and even better, HP/Compaq ones, the entity that had absorbed Digital. I didn’t need postage and in the end I scored 2 x 36.4GB and 1 x 300GB drives, perfect since I had 3 unused caddies.

I’ve got to hand it to the whole SCSI thing. No setting jumpers, no master and slave, no two only per socket like IDE drives; I just plugged the drives into the cabinet and when I next booted up SRM found them and gave them identifiers — dkb300, 400 and 500, the latter being the 300GB.

I had three disks. My options are NetBSD and Gentoo. Is there a third option? I could try for Windows NT 4.0, which shows up on ebay sometimes. But I’m not really interested in old versions of Windows … but old versions made me think.

I use Debian on my main desktop machine and on my Netbook. I had read somewhere during my recent researches that Debian supported Alpha up to 5.0 ‘Lenny’. With Debian’s relatively long-term support, the last Lenny update (5.0.10) was as ‘recent’ as 2012. That’s a while back, but it’s hardly ancient.

What’s more, Debian might not be considered especially user-friendly but compared to NetBSD and Gentoo it certainly does hold your hand. After too much time looking at NetBSD and Gentoo, I decided I’d start with Debian. If I could get it to work, get a working xorg.conf, for example, then I might find out some stuff that would be useful with the more hands-on installs.

The installer uses a generic kernel, but there’s an SMP one in the repositories.

So …

(1) Hunted around on the web and eventually found the Debian archive (archive.debian.org, oddly enough), and within that CD images for the first 6 of the 27(!) disks that made up the full Debian catalogue for Debian 5.0 (‘Lenny’) on Alpha. Downloaded the first 6 disks using a fast unmetered connection, plus the LXDE/XFCE disk and the KDE disk. Some direct download, some jigdo. Though I had internet on the machine, it is slow and expensive where I am. Also, I don’t need to worry about security updates, since Lenny is frozen, so a static CD repo is fine.

(2) Burned disk 1 and put it into the CD drive and booted into the SRM console. Typed:

P00>>> b dka400:

then at the aboot prompt chose kernel 0.

Soon the familiar Debian ncurses install screens started coming up and filled me with confidence.

(3) Set hostname and decided to install to 36.4GB disk, dkb400, which Debian knows as /dev/sdc.

(4) Created new partition table. Create ext3 root (/) partition of 34.4GB at ‘end of drive’. Then create swap of 1.8GB at end of available space. Then create 180MB ext2 boot partition (/boot) at end of the available 200MB and then in the last 20MB, right at the front of the disk ‘cos we’ve filled from the end forward, 20MB aboot partition.

This structure was chosen because (a) you need a small space at the front to install aboot, the bootloader Linux uses to boot on Alpha (aboot = Alpha boot), and aboot cannot boot an ext3 file system but can boot ext2, Hence the 180MB /boot partition. But I like the journaling of ext3, so I don’t want the whole drive ext2. I did not bother with a separate /home partition.

I considered a complex structure whereby all three OSs (this, Gentoo, NetBSD, should I get them working) would mount the same big /home file system from the 300GB drive, but I’m still experimenting. That could still be possible later, depending on how I chop up the 300GB drive.

Turned on bootable flags on aboot and /boot partitions. Don’t know if must, but did.

(5) Root password added and created my own user account in the usual way.

(6) Scanned in the CDROMs, or at least all the ones I’d bothered to burn — this sets up apt-get to know which disk each package is on, to allow install from CD. I can still set up a mirror for the odd thing that’s not on disk, but I decided not to do that yet. I’d like to keep my internet use down for now.

(7) Selected and installed software — ‘Desktop environment’ and ‘Standard system’ only. Watched it go, reading the files off the (fairly slow) old SCSI CDROM drive. Install needed disks 1 and 2 but no more.

(8) Rebooted:

P00>>> b dkb400:

Booted straight into working X login (gdm)! Amazing, Debian is ama … hang on, if I drag a window around the screen it gets blurred out and repeated in random places … uh oh. I hate debugging xorg.conf …

Look at /etc/X11/xorg.conf — it is a bare bones one, with most stuff done automagically.

(9) In the end, the solution was to go into the xorg.conf and reduce the colour depth. I say that in one line but it took me a while to figure it out.

The old video card (a VGA-plug Matrox Millennium MGA-2064W-R2 from 1995) is actually a pretty good piece of hardware, especially for its time. At a colour depth (DefaultDepth 16 in the relevant Screen section of xorg.conf) of 16 bits, it gives me modes all the way up to a frankly impressive 2048×1152, which is way beyond what is listed in the technical documentation for the card! (1600×1200)

I haven’t tried anything demanding in video terms yet, but all the modes work now. For reference, Debian current (9.4) running on amd64-type hardware and using the DVI-D cable runs at the monitor’s full resolution of 2560×1440. 2048×1152 from a card from last century seems more than I had any right to expect.

(10) In terms of software, most of the usual stuff seems to be there; LaTeX, various window managers, terminals, graphics, sound and video manipulation programs. Brasero, Audacity, xfce, KDE, Gnome (and it’s Gnome 2, which seeing as I use MATE on my more modern machines is completely fine), FLWM and Gimp and so on and so on. Even DOSbox, which emulates an old Intel x86 processor. There’s no OpenOffice, but even if there was it would be version 2.4, and I don’t think Open/LibreOffice had really hit its stride by then. KOffice is there (this is pre-Calligra) and is useful, and so are Abiword and Gnumeric. A lot of the tools I use routinely have hardly changed in 10 years (links, LaTeX, xFig). Probably the age is most apparent in the office software and the web browsers (especially Iceweasel 3.x, which is functional but a security issue). Old JavaScript limits the web things one can do — editing this WordPress, for example, is a problem.

(11) Installed the Debian package containing the SMP kernel, updated the soft links from initrd and vmlinuz to point to the SMP versions, and that was that. Hint: before rebooting, make sure that aboot.conf also has entries that point to the previous, working kernel and initrd in case something goes wrong.

Conclusion

Thinking about the Debian infrastructure — the servers, the mirrors, the fact that all these CD images can be reconstructed all these years later and used on what is not a current architecture, it’s all pretty amazing to me. That kind of thing can only happen when enthusiasts are empowered.

To get it all to work and only needing the one fix — the xorg.conf pixel depth — is remarkable.

The next thing I’ll try is the more modern Debian available through the efforts of the amazing people behind Debian unofficial ports. The key website seems to be this one: http://backup.parisc-linux.org/debian-alpha-archive/debian-cd/

Alpha and omega.

Sorry is kind of sorry

Sorry: The wretched tale of Little Stevie Wright by Jack Marx

A review:

This is an odd book. My gut reaction to it is distaste. Marx paints both himself and Wright as untrustworthy junkies — which is most likely true — but in doing so he expends a lot of words on himself — for a biography, it’s remarkably autobiographical. Whether this reflects an inability to get much useful material out of Wright, or rampant ego on the part of the author, it’s hard to tell. Perhaps it needs to be viewed as the book plus the ‘making of’ documentary all rolled into one. In fact, that’s what it is.

image of the front cover of Sorry by Jack Marx.

Cover of Sorry by Jack Marx.

The structure consists of alternating sections, one lot following Stevie Wright through his — yes, wretched — life, the other following Marx as he deals with Stevie and Fay(e) and tries to get material for the book.

I’ll discuss them separately.

The main problem with the actual biography part is that it lacks detail and dates. It’s just not a very good biography. Are we in 1969 or 1967? Is it 1975 or 1972 or 1979? It’s impossible to tell. Only by reference to some external source — like the internet — can the reader actually get a sense of when any of this happened. There’s no context half the time, just a narrow focus on Stevie and his drug problems and the emptiness of his life. OK, that’s important — but it’s not everything.

To his credit, Marx evokes the junkie life pretty vividly. Correctly, I can’t say. There’s a core of analysis in the work that seems valid — that Wright spent his life looking for easy answers, waiting for things to go his way, and the quick fixes he indulged in along the way turned from being the means to being the end in getting through life. After the Easybeats, did he make a new path for himself in music (like Vanda and Young)? No. Did he consciously give it up and get a ‘real’ job and work at it like a grown-up, like Snowy and Dick Diamonde? No. Things sometimes fell his way — Jesus Christ Superstar, Hard Road, ‘Evie’ — and often didn’t, and he wasn’t equipped for the mundane slog.

So that half of the book is an intermittently insightful, intermittently evocative narrative that hangs in the air, without context, without grounding in time or space. Interesting, but weak.

The other half … is not that good.

We follow Marx as he stays with Wright and his woman, Fay(e). Marx feeds them money in return for promised cooperation on the book, cooperation we never actually see although near the end he refers to his tape recorder so presumably he has got something out of Wright. Marx drinks, shoots up, mistreats people and generally paints himself as someone most of us would not want to associate with. He indulges in long vignettes that have little or nothing to do with the subject. He seems keen to tell us, basically, how immersed he was in the gutter and presumably this makes his comments on Wright more credible. I don’t know. I should say I have never been a fan of the ‘presenter as star’ kind of thing. It’s like one of those nature documentaries where all we ever see is the presenter telling us how hard it is to find the animal of interest. What it amounts to is padding, making the tiny little bit of real footage go as far as possible.

This is like that. It’s like Marx realised he did not have a whole book, so he’s padded it out with his own adventures and his list of attempts to get the story — all of which are essentially the same (he gives them money, they blow it on drugs, they ask for more money).

Pretty unsatisfactory.

Lastly, it’s not clear what if any of the content was actually provided by Wright. Some is very personal, so presumably some of the book comes from actual interviews. Much of it reads like a potted version skimmed from elsewhere and then padded out by Marx’s attempts to guess what was going on inside the band or inside Wright’s head. There are no sources given, so we can only assume it’s either all from interviews or partly from interviews and partly made up, or it’s been gathered from other sources but Marx is too lazy to document them.

If this is ‘gonzo’ journalism, you can have it.

If you want to know what it’s like being a junkie trying to cadge information out of a junkie, it’s a very handy book.

Of course, the Easybeats were a great band, we must never forget that.

ok?

Flash da BIOS on a Gigabyte mobo

My (now aging) desktop machine runs Debian current perfectly snappily. It’s an i7-2600K with 8G RAM and a couple of TB HD. Nothing exotic these days, though when I first got it Debian was not up to date enough and I had to install a backports kernel — far too much work for my liking.

I’ve been having some issues with flaky HD access, and while I think it is a slightly poor motherboard (bad SATA connectors or something — I’ve tried many cables), I figured I was running an oldish BIOS version and a newer one might be better.

Now, flashing BIOS is a bit scary. If it goes wrong you can brick the machine. But when I saw that the newest version (even if 5+ years old) was F8 and I was running F3, I figured it might be possible that there was a bug or something that had been fixed in one of the 5 newer versions.

Read about Qflash:

https://www.gigabyte.com/FileUpload/global/WebPage/20/images/utility_qflash.pdf

Seemed OK. Just find the file, copy it to USB stick, reboot, hit ‘End’ while powering on and then follow the menu prompts.

The BIOS image I found on the website was:

mb_bios_ga-h67ma-usb3-b3_f8.exe

at

https://www.gigabyte.com/Motherboard/GA-H67MA-USB3-B3-rev-10#support-dl-bios

(Gigabyte GA-H67MA-USB3-B3 is printed on my motherboard).

Downloaded, copied it to USB and in my ignorance rebooted. First I followed the instruction in the PDF and saved the old BIOS image to the USB stick, and then I realised I could not find the new one.

Exited without making any changes and revisited the website.

Looked closer at the file names in the Qflash examples (in PDF noted above) and realised they look nothing like mb_bios_ga-h67ma-usb3-b3_f8.exe; took a guess — maybe the exe file is a Windows self-extracting archive. Yes, it’s obvious to you, but I’ve not done this before, not much.

But I am on Debian … not Windows. Tried just unzipping it ($ unzip mb_bios_ga-h67ma-usb3-b3_f8.exe) but unzip did not like that. Threw errors.

OK.

Went to folder where mb_bios_ga-h67ma-usb3-b3_f8.exe was kept and:

$ mkdir flashbios
$ mv mb_bios_ga-h67ma-usb3-b3_f8.exe flashbios/
$ cd flashbios/
$ wine mb_bios_ga-h67ma-usb3-b3_f8.exe

Wine (which is apparently not an emulator), ran perfectly (version 1.8.7) and yes some files leapt out of the exe file. So:

$ ls
autoexec.bat
FLASHSPI.EXE
h7mausb3.f8
mb_bios_ga-h67ma-usb3-b3_f8.exe

Now, there is another option.

These are ‘7zip’ files, so can also type:

$ 7z e mb_bios_ga-h67ma-usb3-b3_f8.exe

where ‘e’ means ‘extract’. Whatever. Both work. I only figured out the 7z thing after first running Wine because it popped up a dialogue box that said ‘7z self-extracting archive’.

OK, so the file I need is h7mausb3.f8 (note it sticks to DOS 8.3 file naming rules).

Copied that file to the USB, rebooted and it all went smoothly.

Whether I have solved the issues I was having I don’t know (and actually I doubt) but the machine’s working, so that’s something.

Flash, ah–haah!

AlphaServer 1200

Ebay for 99¢, though I paid $1. Came with:

Alpha 21164 chip, 2 of
1 GB RAM
35 GB SCSI HD
2 x SCSI CDROM
1 x 3.5″ floppy drive
DEC ethernet card
VGA card (Matrox something or other)
PCI SCSI card (I won’t use) (PCI to UltraSCSI adapter Qlogic ISP10X0)
PS/2 ports for keyboard and mouse
COM and PAR ports as usual
1 x IDE PCI card with a 20GB HD attached (not working)

Photo of front of the machine.

The front of my old DEC AlphaServer.

The IDE card is not detected by the SRM console or the BIOS, so cannot be used to boot, but operating systems can find and mount it, so can be used for storage.

I did have to solder a little component, an inductor I am guessing, back onto the PCB of the 20GB IDE HD to get it to work, but work it does. (The IDE HD was in a rubber sleeve. Slipped it out of the sleeve and a little plastic-coated inductor fell out. Lucky it was not lost.) Found a second old IDE HD and put the two onto one of the IDE sockets on the PCI card, one as master one as slave. Not seen by SRM, sadly.

One of the SCSI CDROMs did not work, so instead I put a CDRW/DVDR onto the second IDE port. That gives me one CDROM that the BIOS can see to boot from to install media, plus something that can write data.

It has lots of PCI slots (no PCIE) and one (or is it 2?) EISA slots, which I put an old Ad-Lib card in, just ‘cos I had it lying around. I have no idea if it’ll work or be good for anything if it does.

So now the system has

1 x SCSI HD (35 GB) (plus three empty caddies)
2 x IDE HD (20 and 28GB)
1 x SCSI CDROM
1 x IDE CDRW/DVDR
1 x 3.5″ floppy

No USB; could try a USB PCI card, but can’t be bothered right now.

These machines had no integrated network or sound on the motherboard — they weren’t for desktop use, though they were sold as work stations.

When I got it this one did not boot. Hence $1.

Got it home — weighs a tonne — and plugged in the two power cables (one for each power supply) and a VGA cable which I ran to an old CRT monitor.

It started, the LCD on the front did a couple of checks then complained about power supply 1 (I think it was 1), then shut down.

Removed power supplies, tested fans — one had spider nest in it. Cleaned it, gave all the plugs a good wiggle and drove the fan for a few minutes using an external voltage source (toy train transformer connected directly to the fan inputs) to loosen it up. In my experience, these fans have very little torque, so a tiny bity of gunk can stop the fan spinning up and throw off the whole system. Giving it a clean and starting it with a finger push and letting it run for a few minutes can fix the problem.

And, yes that was enough. It booted up into AlphaBIOS, and then I had to start googling. I got it to boot into the SRM console, which is a sort of Unix-y VMS-y command line environment from which the boot process can be managed. (Note: If you are in AlphaBIOS and want to switch to the SRM console, press the Reset button (middle), wait 5 seconds, then press the Halt button(right).)

When I tried to boot, I got BIOS CHECKSUM error.

So I figured I had to flash the firmware. BUT…

That was pretty tricky. I’ll talk about that next time.

Photo of back plate of AlphaServer1200

AlphaServer 1200, back plate. No USB ports, but at leeast it’s got VGA.

Anyway, in SRM if you type (P00>>> is the prompt):

P00>>> show dev

you get a list of the devices the console can see, labelled in OpenVMS style.

On this machine, it includes:

dka400:     the SCSI CDROM

ewa0:       the ethernet card

dkb0:       the SCSI HD

dva0:       3.5" floppy drive

These are the devices available for booting. It looks like this machine used to have Windows NT installed, which was available for Alpha up to NT4.0. My intention is to install OpenVMS through the hobbyist program and get a second SCSI HD and put Gentoo, NetBSD or OpenBSD on it (these are the only options for Alpha architecture these days; well, I guess Linux from scratch is an option, but I don’t hate myself that much…).

 

 

Scratch.

VT220 time

Note that the quote marks work fine if I force ‘straight quotes’ rather than smart ones — the is my mistake, not the font author’s…

quotes.png

Font of the week: Glass TTY VT220, a font to look like a DEC VT220 screen, obtained by reference to how the glyphs were actually implemented by the CRT.

File is: Glass_TTY_VT220.ttf

Available from: http://sensi.org/~svo/glasstty/

Here’s an example, just screengrabbed from LibreOffice — and I forgot to turn off curly quote marks..

bitmap image showing the text sample; text of sample is repeated below in readable form.

An example of the font Glass TTY VT220, a TrueType font to mimic a DEC VT220 terminal. I suggest viewing at full size.

Here’s the text:

Hello, here is my amber screen, looking pretty good, eh? The font is Glass TTY VT220, available from http://sensi.org/~svo/glasstty/.
It is designed to mimic what you’d see on the screen of a DEC VT220 serial terminal from about 1985. Not all the characters are available, although everything that could be entered on such a terminal is there.

!@#$%^&*()_+1234567890-=
qwertyuiop[]\QWERTYUIOP{}|
asdfghjkl;’ASDFGHJKL:”
zxcvbnm,./ZXCVBNM<>?

You’ll note the quote marks don’t quite cut it, but otherwise it’s pretty nifty.

As noted, the quote marks do cut it. Maybe I’ll suck it into FontForge and see if I can come up with some ‘smart’ quote marks that match the spirit of the font.

Nice, though.