Shameless Self Promotion

For my day job, I am a contract developer, running my own company and building web applications using HTML5 technologies and cross-platform mobile applications using PhoneGap. This is what lets me work on projects like FeedSpider in my spare time.

So, are you looking for someone to build you a website, web app, mobile app, or Windows application? Or are you looking for a couple of contract developers to help out your team?

OthelloVenturesWhat Othello can do for you:

Website development: Need a website? We do that! All the way from simple HTML/CSS brochure-style websites to more complex implementations using Content Management Systems such as WordPress. If you need it we can even set up your domain, hosting, and email for you!

Web Application Development: Need something a little more powerful than just a website? Using HTML5 and Javascript technologies, we can build you a web application that looks and feels just like a native app. We can even present it like one – packaging it as a Google Chrome App or a Mozilla Firefox App!

Cross-Platform Mobile Application development: Using cross-platform technologies, such as Apache Cordova, we can build you an application that runs identically across all of the devices that you need to support, including iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone, and even Tizen Phone and Firefox OS! We can also leverage the mobile code base to build a Universal Windows app or put it on the big screen with LG webOS or Tizen for TVs! How’s that for flexibility?

Windows Application Development: Web and mobile apps not quite what you need? We can build you a traditional Windows application instead. Specializing in C# (and C++ for when you really need it), we can build a Windows application that will suit your needs.

Not only that, our developers are North America-based, so you don’t have to worry about outsourcing your development to somewhere offshore, where the developers may not speak your language, and will certainly not be available in the same time zone.

Drop me a line to discuss what we can do for you: bh@othelloventures.com, or check out our website: www.othelloventures.com.

FeedSpider Dev Blog: Enyo, Cordova, and Android

So, yesterday, I finally went and did it. I fired up a Cordova project, dropped the FeedSpider code into it with zero changes, compiled the thing and set it running. And it worked!

Well mostly.

The stuff that I expected to break broke: sharing, notifications, and OAuth. But, those are the things that are platform-specific that I haven’t written for Android yet.

So, on with the screenshots!

FeedSpiderFeedSpider 2 FeedSpider3Android, Cordova, and Enyo play pretty nice together, don’t they? So, what will it take to make this work and get it ready for the Google Play store?

  1. A splashscreen.
  2. An upgrade to Enyo 2.5.1.1.
  3. A rewrite of some of the core components of FeedSpider into pure Enyo 2, getting rid of prototype.js entirely.
  4. Implementing the platform-specific features.
  5. A facelift. The Onyx look is starting to look a little dated, but it’s easily re-skinnable to a material design look.

As always, I’ll post updates as I go. It’s nice to be getting back into FeedSpider!

Damn You Canada Post

So I got my copy of the December issue of Juiced.GS the other day, and it included a special bonus, a 5 1/4″ floppy with demos! Needless to say, I’ve been looking forward to this since it was announced a few weeks ago.

Ken and his team took all reasonable precautions by stamping the envelope with “Magnetic Media, Do Not X-Ray, Do Not Bend” Of course, how do you think that it showed up in my mailbox?

If you guessed rolled up and shoved in, you’re right.

2016-01-06 18.30.47-2Needless to say, I was not impressed, and I did not have a good feeling about this. I opened it up to inspect the damage, and unfortunately, it looked like the floppy disk had been rolled up with it.

2016-01-06 18.31.35Look at the cracks in that casing!

Fortunately, when I contacted Ken, he told me that they were going to to do another run of the floppy disks, and was able to send me one for just the cost of shipping (or I could download the disk image, but it’s just not the same!)

Great customer service as always! I never had the experience back in the day, so I’m looking forward to trying out the first Apple II software disk that I’ve received with a magazine. Getting them off eBay isn’t quite the same!

New Years Resolutions 2016

It’s that time of year again!

Resolution 1: Post on the blog more regularly. A minimum of once a week.

I know that I say this every time that I come back from a break. It is just a matter of having the self-discipline to find the time to sit down and write something, even it it’s short. It’s not like I have nothing to write – I have a list of topics in the backlog. The problem is that if I miss one week, it becomes a lot easier to miss the next too, so I’m going to practice self-discipline.

Resolution 2: More Apple II Projects

I lost the space I had available to work on stuff as of the summer, so I had to put all of my Apple II gear away. But in about a month, I’m going be getting some office space at home again, so I can set it all up again! I want to continue with the disk imaging, and find some sort of interesting hardware project to do, as well as retrobrite a bunch of stuff. Maybe I can even find something that I can write up for Juiced.GS!

Resolution 3: Work on LuneOS

I did a bit of work with the LuneOS folks last year, but mostly had to leave it alone due to being busy at work. Now that I’m going to have office space at home again, I want to find some time to contribute to the project – maybe get the Photos and Videos app complete and functional.

Resolution 4: FeedSpider rewrite into pure Enyo 2

I know, another FeedSpider rewrite!? The last re-write still relies heavily on prototype.js. With model and collection support, and taking advantage of bindings, I should be able to eliminate that entirely. I’ll be able to complete my goal of releasing FeedSpider for more platforms, especially iOS.

Resolution 5: Grow the business

If I want to be able to fund all of this, I need to keep growing my business, Othello Ventures Ltd. The goal is to take on more development contracts, so that I can bring on more people and turn that into a positive feedback loop. I also have a few other projects in mind that will hopefully help, and I look forward to executing on them. 2015 was a good year for the business. I want 2016 to be a great year!

That all should be enough to keep me busy for an entire year now, shouldn’t it!

More On UPTIME Disk Magazine

I was browsing through an old issue of inCider (November 1986) and came across this ad for UPTIME magazine. As is typical of the time, its very informative!

I’m actually tempted to write to the PO box and see if it is still owned by any of the same people who were working on this 30 years ago. I tried the phone number and it just directs me to a recording that offers a “quick 3 question survey, with select callers being given a free Caribbean cruise for answering.” I hung up before it got any further. Unfortunate, but not unexpected.

Uptime Advertisement inCider 11.86

IBM PC-DOS 6.1 Unboxing – Kind of

Or, Clever, Lazy IT People.

I got a call from a friend of mine the other day to let me know that they were cleaning out an old storage closet at his work. They had found a treasure trove of software from the early 90’s, including a couple of copies of IBM PC-DOS still in the shrink-wrap, and he was wondering if I wanted any of it. So, like any good retro-computing enthusiast, I said that I would take all of it!

He dropped it off for me the other day, and I finally got to dig in – so I present to you an IBM PC-DOS 6.1 Unboxing!

2015-11-26 20.34.51This is a very substantial box. It weighed in at 4.1 pounds – almost as much as the laptop that I’m writing this on. Let’s crack this open and see what’s inside.

2015-11-26 20.38.26First up, it looks like they included a friendly manual. (A $21.95 value!) That was nice of them! A quick flip through suggests that they’re trying to make DOS as user friendly as possible. (Well, as much as you can for DOS anyways).

2015-11-26 20.34.19The license agreement. This is a little more of what I was expecting. Very boilerplate, and surprisingly liberal. You’re even allowed to make a backup copy and transfer your license. My, how times have changed!

2015-11-26 20.34.34More detailed license info, including specs system requirements, and even the chance to win a ThinkPad! (if you registered by July 5, 1994)

2015-11-26 20.35.31Next up, the installation guide. Thin, straightforward, and surprisingly friendly (at least for a tech guy).

2015-11-26 20.35.48This one is much more reference-y. Also about an inch thick. Covers every single command built into DOS, including an exhaustively detailed explanation of the parameters and switches. Very useful, but not exactly bedtime reading.

2015-11-26 20.36.00The next one is about SuperStor/DS – an optional compression tool included with DOS. Useful for certain people, but I see why they didn’t include it in the main manual.

2015-11-26 20.36.08Another inch-thick book – this time on how to do just about anything in DOS. I’m not sure why they effectively included two users manuals in the box, but I guess that this is the more technical, in-depth one for DOS power users.

2015-11-26 20.36.19That’s it? What about the disks!?

2015-11-26 20.36.27Oh, I see.

2015-11-26 20.36.34It looks like the IT folks, being clever and lazy like IT folks are (well, we prefer the term efficient) figured out that IBM packed the disks at the bottom of the box. So, not needing the manuals, they just sliced open the box through the shrink-wrap, slid the disks out, and put the boxes in storage, not even bothering to remove the shrink wrap and open the box.

All in all, there were 3 copies of PC-DOS 6.1 – all opened in the same way, 4 Copies of Windows 3.1, and 3 Copies of Microsoft Office 4, among others. Unfortunately, it turned out to be almost all manuals. I scored a complete copy of IBM PC-DOS 4.0 and WordPerfect 5.1 upgrade, and some fun monitor tents that will be the subject of a later post, but aside from that it was a bust. But, you win some, you lose some, and at the end of the day it was all free and I’m grateful to my friend for thinking of me.

Better luck next time, I hope. For the moment, though, I’ve still got all of the manuals. Anyone interested in taking them off my hands?

Apple II Disk Images: SofTyme Volume 10 Number 6

Every time I miss a week, it turns into 2 weeks, then 3, then before you know it, 3 months have gone by. Well, better than the almost year from the last time I took a break.

So, where were we? Shortly after my last post, I had to tear down my system due to the space that I was using for it being needed for something else. But, I had gotten about two dozen disks archived by then, and they’ve just been sitting there waiting for me to upload. (And I have a large box that still needs to be imaged – just got another 100ish 3.5″ floppies the other day too). So lets start looking at disk images.

First, though, I want to show off a picture of my imaging setup!

2015-08-04-14.33.45ADTPro is running on the MacBook in the dock beside the printer, and is hooked up to the IIGS by USB to serial cable. I’ve got a wireless mouse beside the IIGS to and manage the transfers. For fun, I also hooked up the 5th monitor (I’ve got 4 normally) beside the IIGS so that I could read stuff while I was swapping out disks. Unfortunately, that desk is in use now, so I had to tear the system down.

Anyways, I’ve been promising disk images for far too long and haven’t delivered, so let’s get started with SofTyme Volume X Number 6 (Side A) (Side B)

Softyme Vol. 10 No. 6

I wasn’t able to find much information on the Internet on this one, but it looks like it was one of many disk magazines that was published in the 80’s and 90’s before the rise of the Internet.

SoftTymeWhile it may not have been all that notable, it was popular enough to run for at least 10 years. (Assuming from the volume X on the ones that I have), and may have ultimately morphed into the Apple II version UpTime Magazine around Volume 11 Issue 2 or 3.

I suspect that this is the case, as I have SofTyme Volume 11 Issue 1, and UpTime Volume 11 Issue 3, and they are incredibly similar, sharing the same cover style, layout, mailing address, and much of the staff.

UptimeAnyways, I’ll update this if I learn more.

SofTyme takes up both sides of the disk, with A cover page, editorial, and feature sections on the front side, as well as advertising information, a classifieds section, and a number of programs, with the feature program being “Home Budget”.

Softyme TOCOther programs on this disk include:

  • Jousting
  • Flying Gammits
  • Auto Program
  • Take A Tour
  • Inventory
  • Voltaire
  • French Military
  • Marooned
  • Graphix Fun

There is also “The Flip Side” which is an entry point for flipping the disk. Its back side contains additional programs, this month featuring “Paul Zelman’s Shamrocks”. Unfortunately, the disk that I have appears to have been written with side A on both sides, so I don’t have a copy of the “Flip Side” for this one.

So, that’s it for this one. Download the disk images (Side A) (Side B), grab an emulator like Sweet 16 and try them out. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

What comes next? I’ve still got a pile of disk images, I have an SE/30 sitting on the desk beside me that needs a bit of love, and I just made what feels like a big score on eBay. I’m sure that I’ll find something to write about!

Cleaning an Apple Platinum 5.25″ Floppy Drive (A9M0107)

I was about two dozen disks into my archiving efforts when my 5.25” floppy drives stopped reading disks. Both of them. At almost the same time. I was afraid that I may have broken something permanently, because I had made the mistake of hot-plugging them one time. But a little bit of Googling suggested that the solution might be far simpler – the timing was a coincidence, and they might just need a bit of cleaning.

Neither of the drives had been cleaned since they have come into my possession, and I was doing some fairly heavy use on questionable media, so I figured that it was worth a shot. A little further Googling showed that while there were plenty of guides on doing this on an older disk ][ unit, there was nothing for the Platinum 5.25” floppy drive (A9M0107). So, I figured that I would write one up myself.

2015-08-10 16.00.43Very first, the usual disclaimer for these sorts of things applies. You follow this guide at your own risk. I cannot guarantee anything about any of the procedures depicted here. Anything that you do to your hardware is your own responsibility. With that out of the way, lets get started!

Tools: Not much, just a standard #2 Phillips, a little flathead for prying off a metal plate that we’ll find inside, and some rubbing alcohol and a Q-tip for cleaning the drive head.

A9M0107 ToolsStep 1: Remove the Phillips screws on either side of the rear of the case.

2015-08-10 16.01.24Step 2: Remove the top case. The easiest way to do this is to put your thumb under the lock slot and push up at an angle. It should just pop off.

2015-08-10 16.02.24Step 3: Remove the screw holding the top plate and grounding wire to the chassis.2015-08-10 16.02.42Step 4: Using the little flathead screwdriver, carefully pry off the top cover. Note that it hooks over the front of the frame, so will need to be lifted at an angle.

2015-08-10 16.03.28Step 5: Disconnect the 4 connectors on the analog board, making sure to note which way they are attached so that you can plug them in again correctly later.

2015-08-10 16.05.37Step 6: Remove the two screws holding the analog board to the frame, and carefully remove the board, making sure to pull the cables out of the way. Set the board on a static-free surface.

2015-08-10 16.07.45Step 7: Remove the spacer and the metal plate that sit under the analog board and put them off to the side.

2015-08-10 16.09.07Step 8: Lift up the top part of the read-write mechanism (it’s spring-loaded) and use a  Q-tip soaked in rubbing alcohol to clean the read-write head (the white square in the center). Note that since these drives are single-sided, there is only one head, as opposed to the two that you’d find on a double-sided or high-density floppy drive.2015-08-10 16.09.38Step 9: Follow the instructions in reverse, and put the drive back together.

I wound up clearing a bunch of gunk out of my floppy drives. After putting them back together and hooking them up again (with the power turned off this time), they were happily back to copying disks.

2015-08-10 16.10.46Next time, I’m going to start looking at some of the disks that I’ve been copying – see if I can’t find something interesting for show and tell.

Fun with Floppy Disks

I received the part that I ordered and have begun imaging disks, but more on that later. (I also need to figure out why none of my 3.5″ Floppy drives are working). Today, I want to talk about floppy disks. 5.25″ ones specifically.

A standard disk sleeve is very boring, corporate, and to the point, like the example below.

Generic Disk ReverseAs I’ve gone through the pile of disks, I came across one company – Elephant Memory Systems – who decided to have a bit of fun with it. As a nice bonus, the disk must have been stored well, so it was still readable too!

Elephant Disk Reverse It’s always nice to see companies having fun with this sort of thing. If we were still using floppies in 2015, this sort of sleeve would be right in line with modern design sensibilities.

For Want of a Nail

Short post this week – I had intended do get started on disk copying using ADTPro. While the easiest way to do this is using a Uthernet card, the Uthernet I is out of production (and I don’t have one), and the Uthernet II hasn’t been released yet.

So, that means that I need to fall back to a serial null modem. To hook that up to a modern Mac, I also need a USB to serial adapter. I was sure that I had both of those, as I had used ADTPro to copy disk images to my Apple IIGS before. But, after searching through several boxes and drawers, I was only able to find the null modem cable, so I had to order the adapter. Fortunately, RetroFloppy offers one that is guaranteed to be compatible with ADTPro (you can get null modem cables there too).

USBMacI have one on order, and will be able to get back to this project when it arrives, which will hopefully be within the next couple of days.