dalliard.net

He didn't get where he is today by stealing somebody else's catchphrase.

Old Tech, New Problem

As you've probably gathered by now, I like my old tech. My Atari ST is a testament to how well-built some vintage kit was. It's nearly thirty years old and has (so far) only needed a replacement floppy drive to keep it working. I still play games on mine on a fairly regular basis, although there's a connectivity issue here. How can you still use it when bulky CRT screens have gone the way of the dinosaurs?

Unless you have a massive desk to support it, you've probably ended up using a flat-screen monitor instead - which presents its own problems:

  • Your retro-device probably connected to a TV using an aerial socket. Remember those? Yes, that would be an analogue signal that most TVs now don't support since the big switch-off many years ago.
  • Your retro-device probably displayed at a very low resolution (in the Atari's case, 320x200), which is too low for any modern screen to display.
  • Your retro-device probably displayed the picture on the screen at a very low frequency, again far too low for most modern screens to lock on to.

So how do you get the damn thing to display on a modern screen?

The answer lies (certainly in the Atari's case) with the monitor connector, which can work as a SCART interface. If you can find a suitable device (called a scan-doubler or video-converter) that will convert the SCART's RGB signal into something that you can hook up via HDMI or VGA, then you're in luck. The problem is that most good solutions are expensive. The best solution, the FrameMeister, originates from Japan - and one of those will set you back about £300. Erk.

Up to this point I'd been using a cheaper solution, but the quality was (as those in the know say) a bit potato. Text wasn't clear, the image had ghosting, things were fuzzy and the colour was a bit washed out. It wasn't the best, but as I wasn't prepared to sell a kidney to relive my glory days I put up with it.

And then, about a fortnight ago, I saw an interesting YouTube video (below).

A chap took apart and tested an alternative device. He gave it a quick demonstration, showing it running from the ST's output. The picture looked pretty good. He also didn't appear to have been sponsored by any external party, so on the face of it he didn't appear to be saying it was a good device because he'd been paid to.

It was for sale on Amazon at a fraction of the price of a FrameMeister, at just over £20 - so I gave it a go.

A few days later it arrived. The simple-looking black metal box was pretty well built. It takes either a SCART or HDMI connection as an input and outputs as HDMI, with a separate headphone socket if you need an audio output. As with all these types of boxes, there's the usual power supply adaptor.

When it comes to the output, you can pick a variety of resolutions to display at, ranging from 800x600 up to a full 1080p. You can switch between PAL and NTSC if required.

And you know what? The picture quality is pretty damn good. I've put some shots of it hooked up to a DELL monitor below, so that you can get an idea of how well it runs. Apologies for the slightly grubby screen!

edge
Above: ST Medium resolution (640x400). It looks pretty good, the text is well-defined and the colours aren't washed out. It's really quite usable.

edge
Above: ST Low-resolution (320x200), also looking pretty good.

Of course, these are only static images. I can also confirm that when it comes to playing games using the box, I've not noticed any lag issues, interference, or washed out colour. I've even run some demos from back in the day and it even displays the rasters without a problem!

I have to say that I'm pretty happy with this box as it's really made a difference. Not all of us can afford expensive solutions like the FrameMeister and it goes to show how things have improved in such devices over the last decade. It's a compact, well-made unit that will hopefully keep my Atari going for a good more years yet!

The original YouTube video that I saw is below:


I'm in no way associated with the company that makes these (I'm not even sure it has a brand-name!), but thought I'd share some info on a device that does a really good job. I can't verify this, but I'd imagine it also would work really nicely with the Amiga and any other games console that supports a SCART output.

Want to get one for yourself? Here's the Amazon link.
Comments

Introducing The Chicken

Say "Hello" to The Chicken.

edge
If you've ever heard of the phrase Scary Cat Lady before, then I'm gradually morphing into Freaky Bird Man. In my autumn years, I'm going to surround myself with birds. I can't surround myself with an entire flock at the moment, though, but have been after a feathered friend to Oz for a while - and this is why I'm introducing The Chicken to you. She's a Galah and originates from Australia (I should add that she didn't come all the way from Australia, she was bred in the UK).

As you can see, she's quite pink and contrasts nicely with my little green friend in virtually every way. Whilst Indian Ringnecks are parakeets, she's part of the cockatoo family and is a shade smaller than an African Grey parrot but with a slightly wider wingspan. Illness notwithstanding, The Chicken should live for upwards of forty years, possibly outliving me. Before being with us, she briefly lived with another family who decided that cockatoos weren't for them.

True to the cockatoo family, she's completely bloody mad.

She's about nine months old now and has been attempting to say a few words, namely "ChickenChickenChickenChicken" and "HappyHappyHappy", although because Galahs aren't the best talkers in the world, she tends to sound a bit like a quiet dalek when she says anything. She loves to eat my ears, watch video on my phone, chew literally anything and dangle upside-down whilst screaming abuse at the dog. She's very cuddly and does a good job of impersonating a ball of candy-floss. Like all chickens, she clucks.

As I mentioned earlier, she's a contrast to Oz. They more or less get on, although at this early stage it involves climbing on top of each other's cage and shouting at each other. Oz is an old man who hasn't had to deal with another bird for about nineteen years, so I guess it's going to take him a while to adjust to having a pink-crested drama queen in the house.

Expect more pictures on Twitter (naturally).
Comments

100 ParkRuns

Yesterday I got to 100 ParkRuns, about 15 months after I joined the 50 club.

edge

Now the long hard slog for at least three years to get to 250.

Still, it's a nice way to start the New Year.
Comments

No, He Bloody Doesn't

This is Oz. He's my little Indian Ringneck Parrokeet and he's eighteen years old.

edge
If you look back through the dusty cobwebs of my site, you'll no doubt find a picture of Oz in his younger days. Despite his age he still looks as wonderfully green as he ever did - and I think he's still got a good few years in him yet. This is the joy of having a parrot. As life companions, he's already outlived most cats and dogs. Many ringnecks make 25. Whichever way you look at it, he's been my feathered friend for nearly half of my life.

Having a parrot isn't like having a dog or cat, for many reasons. One reason is that invariably, when I tell someone that I have a parrot, their first question is always the same:

"Does he talk?"

When posed this question, I politely respond that he doesn't.

All parrots talk is one of the great misconceptions of the animal world. Most don't. Why should they? This follows roughly the same line of logic that all humans are astronauts. Some humans aren't capable of being astronauts. Some humans don't want to be astronauts. There are also more male astronauts than female, although that's an entirely different discussion.

My parrot is a capable astronaut. He just doesn't want to be, so he makes a variety of suitable alternative noises instead. Sometimes he grumbles like an old man (no idea where he gets that from). Sometimes he makes noises that sound like flatulence (definitely don't know where he gets that from) and sometimes he just happily observes the world going by, like in this picture. Parrots, like you, have a personality and you can't force someone or something to do something it doesn't want to do. Putting a helmet on a bird doesn't make it an astronaut.

Bear in mind that should you ever want a parrot, you're making an exceedingly long-term commitment. Larger birds live longer - we're talking forty, eighty or more years in some cases. Unlike many other animals, they've not had generations of domestication and as a result the relationship you build with the bird is on an entirely different level. You're not going to train a bird to sit, stay or whatever in a few days. In fact, most things seem to take years. That's not because they're stupid and have a bird brain (another entirely different misconception), it's because that wild animal you have in your house is going to have to trust you first. Oz still surprises me by doing new things every so often. In the last six months, he thinks he's doing me a favour by pulling the stubble out of my face (ouch).

In summary, don't think of parrots as birds that talk, think of them doing a whole variety of other things. They whistle Star Wars tunes, chew your CD collection, hang upside-down from the ceiling, play football and drive buggies. Think of them as toddlers with a pair of pliers welded to their face or clowns with wings. How does that sound? Great?

If you'd like a friend with wings in your life, do your homework and find a breeder who really knows their stuff. The UK Parrot Society can help you. Or alternatively, adopt a rescued bird. Please don't go to a pet-shop.
Comments

RavensPi Update

Remember RavensPi, the Raspberry Pi-based car-audio-thing I did a while back? Of course you do. Well, now it's been updated! (The new version is on the right)

edge
When the Pi Zero was released, it presented an ideal opportunity to transfer the project to a smaller unit - with the only caveat being that the Pi Zero doesn't have a headphone socket. To get around this, I've used Pimoroni's pHAT-DAC to provide the audio. It's a dedicated audio-processing unit that delivers higher-quality, punchier audio in comparison to the original Raspberry Pi. If like me you're absolutely useless at soldering, you can also use their GPIO Hammer-Header to connect the boards together.

You can download the updated image that's been configured for the Pi Zero and the pHAT-DAC here (319MB download). Once downloaded, you'll need to write it to a Micro-SD card, just like before. Many tools exist, but if you use a Mac I can totally recommend ApplePi-Baker if you don't want to get your hands dirty on the command-line. Once on an SD card, just expand the image to fill the card, fill with music and add the tracks to the default playlist in MoC. Enjoy!
Comments