Friday, October 27, 2023

Australian Graphic Atlas on A3000 and Onkyo miniature system

 One interesting software release I never had was the Australian Graphic Atlas software for Amiga. It is interesting to me since it was written in Australia, about Australia, for the Amiga. Perhaps people overseas have never seen this software before.

I finally managed to secure a copy this year, and thought I would take a look on my A3000, now that I have returned from my trip to Japan. 

BTW You can look forward to a train blog entry about the luxury train called Shiki Shima (that I rode while there) very soon!

I discovered that the Australian Graphic Atlas software needs Amiga Vision installed as a prerequisite, which meant finding a copy of that also! 

That proved harder and took a while to find a copy from the US. First time I have ever got some commercial Amiga software that NEEDED Amiga Vision to work! Do you know of any others?

Amiga Vision was distributed with Amiga 3000 systems when you bought one back in the day and requires Workbench 2.0 as a minimum. 

Because my A3000 was second hand, unfortunately it didn't come with Amiga Vision. 

I suppose you could buy it separately also, since I have this boxed version of Amiga Vision I sourced from the US:

I set to work installing the Amiga Vision software on my Amiga 3000, which is a super kickstart v1.4 model running AmigaOS 1.3 and AmigaOS 3.1.4 dual boot, selectable on power on. There is a surprising number of disks in the package. 

If you want to learn more about how I built this super kickstart A3000 from scratch, (or just want to learn about super kickstarts) I did a 3 part series on this blog here: 

Part 1    Part 2    Part 3

Once Amiga Vision was installed from the floppy disks, I then installed Australian Graphic Atlas, which comes on 6 floppy disks.

This title is one that definitely would have benefited from a release on CDTV or CD32, as they would have been able to fit a lot more content on a CD.

As it is, there is still quite a bit to look at here - below if the main menu of Australian Graphic Atlas once run:

Most of this information about Australia included in this software you could just look up on Wikipedia nowadays, but back in 1992 encyclopedias were the norm and no internet for the general public yet.

 Having an electronic version of this type of information on your computer was rare.

For those not familiar with Australia's major cities and towns, the image above should help you out! I live in Adelaide, which is in South Australia.

You could also view rail network information, major roads and other geographical information like rainfall, population, etc.

I think whoever did the rail network was mis-informed though - the line from Adelaide to Sydney goes via Broken Hill not direct, and the line to Alice Springs goes via Tarcoola, even in 1992. The line to Alice Springs shown in the map was the original narrow gauge railway closed in the early 1980's and rails pulled up shortly after. The South Australia freight lines to Whyalla and Port Lincoln are not shown either. Yes, I am a train fan, so I know these things!

Also Sydney is located higher than shown in the map.

The road network (main highway roads of course) shows how much of the outback desert areas of Australia in the middle is not covered. 

There are dirt roads for those adventurous people which want to explore outback areas, but it is dangerous and potentially life threatening if anything goes wrong - there is nothing out there. 

Really. Nothing. 

A number of people (foreign tourists mainly) die out there each year due to car breakdowns and insufficient emergency supplies to survive until someone hopefully realises you are missing. There is no mobile signal, no fuel stations, no food stops, no repair places, and no significant towns for many hundreds of kilometres. Australia is a big country.

Building infrastructure like modern internet and mobile networks in this country is complicated by the sheer size, and that most people live on the coastline major cities.

You can also overlay all these bits of information to get a prettier view - domestic airline routes at that time are shown too:

As a small deviation, for those who are curious about the retro miniature stereo system in the photo above, while I was in Japan recently, I found a cool gatcha machine which contained Onkyo stereo components for 500 Yen. The detail on it is incredible so I just had to have it.

Gatcha machines (or capsule toy machines in western countries) are big business in Japan - there are so many to choose from. How many? A lot - here is just one store I went to in Toyama full of hundreds of these gatcha machines:

However this Onkyo stereo gatcha machine I found in Japan was very rare - I only found it in one place despite looking in multiple gatcha places all over various cities in Japan. It was deep underground in the heart of Tokyo station in Tokyo:

The fact it costs 500 Yen is quite high for a gatcha machine, so my expectations were high. I had to buy quite a few as it is lucky dip which components you get in each capsule.

Once I removed the miniature components from the capsules, I could then set about constructing them:

Here is the amplifier, tape deck, record and speakers that make up one system:

Here is the record player - the attention to detail is incredible:

It even includes micro sized cassettes for the tape deck (cassette decks open up), stereo cables for the speakers, and a record for the record player, which opens up too (as shown above). I love these detail things in Japan, you would never see something like this in Australia.

Same with the tape deck component, which was a bit fiddly to get the cassettes into it, but they do indeed fit fine - the amplifier component is underneath:

There was also a separate MicroHifi system gatcha in the set which I also managed to get - it includes a cd you can put in the cd player tray, which opens and closes:

These miniature systems are REALLY small. How small? Here is a standard teaspoon for comparison:

Anyway, enough about that - but it is cool though right? I thought so too. :-)

Back to the Australia Graphic Atlas now! You also get the option win the software to view the major city layout maps. Here is Adelaide, my home city:

Below is Perth, Brisbane and Melbourne:

You can't zoom in on the maps or anything like that - it is just a image.

I think while this is pretty, I am not sure how useful it is given you can't explore the details of the city layouts - this is where a CD format would have been better I think.

There is also some images of the various major Australian cities:

There is also historical information included about the prime ministers in Australia (up until 1992 anyway):

You can select any of them to see more information about them - like Bob Hawke below. 

It doesn't mention it above, but he was originally born in Bordertown, a small town in South Australia. 
I was living in Alice Springs and Perth when he was Prime Minister. 

Personally I thought he was mainly famous in Australia for his ability to down a schooner in one gulp very fast and his comment that "Anyone who fires a worker for taking off work today is a bum" comment after Australia won the Americas Cup yacht race in 1983. 

You can see a brief best of Bob Hawke video here if you want to see that.

My history knowledge is clouded by a lack of interest in politics generally!

You can also see the prime ministers in a timeline view which is pretty cool:

You can also see the Parliament house layout, and you can click on different houses to see the layout, etc, if that kind of thing floats your boat!

There is quite a bit of information here, and I suppose if I was at school doing a project about prime ministers or learning Australian geography this would be a useful resource.

You can also lookup Australian postcodes in the software, which is probably the most useful feature, since posting letters was more common then and it was harder to find out postcodes without the internet - you had to visit a post office to find out back then!

Beyond that, it is just a curiosity that doesn't provide a lot of useful information these days. But I am glad to finally try Australian Graphic Atlas out on my Amiga in 2023.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Misc Amiga upgrades and new games

 To say the last month has been busy is an understatement. I have had so much to do for work, setting up a new office in Japan, and other overseas projects also in progress.

Finding time for the Amiga has been challenging, with trips overseas in August and this month meaning little time to spend on playing with them. 

They say that your hobbies are so important to regularly make time for, as part of your mental health. So despite being ridiculously busy, I tried to make time every week when I am at home.

I have picked up new Amiga hardware and software, and done upgrades of bits and pieces as I have found time, so I thought I would cover them in one post as I don't have time to create dedicated posts for each.

First up is an interesting game called Renegades Deluxe, available on a recent Amiga Addict Magazine cover disk:

The nice thing about subscription to Amiga Addict is I get the disk labels to put on the disk images I download and write out to real floppy disks. I could use the adf image on a gotek, but I prefer to use my floppy drives and disks, while they still work. 

It is so much more satisfying to use Amigas as they were intended to be used. I used my Amiga 500 for trying this game out:

I have to say, this game has a sort of bitmap brothers graphical style, not sure if that was intended but I like it anyway. I found it fun to place - kinda similar to Alien Breed in the gameplay.

Getting through the maps is satisfying, and I am impressed with the quality of the graphics in it for sure - it kept me busy for a while!

I also received a package of "new" titles from Vesalia. I was looking on their website while I was travelling for titles I may have missed out on, and I found a few so I grabbed them - some newish, some quite old.

SQRXZ IV is a typical Amiga platform game, which somehow I missed out on getting until now. It is not a bad game, but nothing that really stands out from plenty of other similar games on the Amiga.

I also tried out Marbelous

Last year I bought a game called Connect digitally, as it was not possible to ship the boxed version to Australia at that time. Now though, it is possible, so I made sure to pick up this Japanese inspired puzzle game:

It came on a CD and some disk labels, which I wrote out to a real floppy to use on my Amiga. You can also hard disk install this game, which is great! I recommend this game - it is challenging!

Another new release game I hadn't picked until recently was Black Dawn TechnoMage.

I ran this on my Amiga 1200 and it is quite an enjoyable dungeon crawler style game, reminding me of playing Obitus, Eye of the Beholder and Hired Guns.

I love that it has a automap feature, which makes it much less painful to navigate around than the older games which required graph paper!

Moving onto hardware, I found this interesting hardware for sales on eBay for Amiga 600/1200 called AURA. Audible Reality? I had never heard of this before - have you?

It looks like a sound sampler for the Amiga, but unlike most of them which use the parallel port, this one uses the PCMCIA port on the Amiga 600 and 1200. This is totally new to me!

It allows the Amiga audio to pass through it also, which means you can just have one output to the speakers, which is very handy.

With no pass through, I have to unplug my Squirrel SCSI adapter or CDROM drive PCMCIA connectors though in order to use it. This means it is unlikely to be permanently connected to the Amigas, as I am more likely to use the CD drives. I will try it out soon though.

On the topic of CD drives, I was interested in finding a CDROM solution for the Amiga 600 and 1200's. 

For the Amiga 1200's I bought Squirrel SCSI PCMCIA adapters a few years ago, and connected external AppleCD 600 drives to them. One of the AppleCD drives I received the drive has completely failed, so I had to locate another internal similar SCSI drive and swap it out. With that done, I got it working with the Vampire A1200 system.

Space is an issue with these large external drives, so the new shelves I bought to raise the height of the screens allowed me to position the CD drive underneath, allowing enough room for the Amiga 1200's to still sit side by side o the same desk.

The cable from the Squirrel SCSI is short, so it didn't allow me to position the drive on top of the shelf as I would have preferred. Clearly it was intended to put the drive to the left side of the A1200, but also clearly I have no space for that. fitting the Squirrel scsi PCMCIA adapter in between is challenging enough!

It works well though like this.

For the Amiga 600, I didn't have another Squirrel SCSI adapter or another AppleCD drive to use, so I sought out another solution to give it a CD drive. I found a seller on eBay selling the Sony PCMCIA CD drive which is apparently compatible with the Amiga!

The cable for this drive is even shorter than the Squirrel SCSI adapter cable, so that is going to be a challenge for sure!

Luckily, the drive is very low profile, and can fit alongside the A500 floppy drive, while actually being lower than the drive eject button!

Perfect fit! Very happy about that!

The Amiga drivers were included on the floppy disk confusingly labelled DOPUS - they included DOPUS to make the copying easier I guess. 

Once installed per the included instructions, I was pleased to say the CD drive worked straight away - I tested with an Aminet CD.

I still need to hook up a phono to RCA cable to the CD drive, so I can enjoy the CD audio from it, but I will do that later on.

On the subject of music, Pete Cannon has been busy with his Amiga 1200 making music again, and recently released an Amiga Action themed LP vinyl release with another Amiga disk filled with samples used to make the songs.

I suspect he recycled the Amiga Power themed vinyl LP floppy disk from an earlier release for the floppy here too, as it says Amiga Power rather than fitting the Amiga Action theme of the cover. But no matter.

Sadly the vinyl was poorly packaged and bent badly - rendering it unplayable. I can play the digital versions though, so that is something I guess. Pete - if you are reading this, seriously, please package these better for transport for Australia. This is the second vinyl release from you I can't play at all.

Regardless of the vinyl condition in my case, it is great to see modern musicians using Amigas in the music creation process in 2023!

As I have covered previously, the Rapid road USB clock port devices I used in my Amiga 1200 systems failed, and the replacement ones I bought also failed eventually too. The units connected to the X-Surf Zorro cards still work perfectly in my big box Amigas, so I am not sure why the A1200 ones are so prone to failure.

Individual Computers sells the Rapid Road cards, but don't have any in stock for a few years now, and no ETA on when they will be available again.

I have an old E3B subway card I bought 20 years ago that I use in one of the Amigas, but I wanted to fix up both of the Amiga 1200's and A600 to have USB support again.

Alinea computer recently announced they had new stock of the remake of the subway usb clock port card, called Subway 2021. I picked up some units for my Amigas.

I also chose the additional optional power adapter card that allows you to provide additional power to the card to support powering USB external hard disks, rather than being limited to powering basic USB sticks only (without a external powered USB hub of course).

I started working on the A1200 030 system first:

Here is a close up of the Subway 2021 USB card:

Clock port connector on one side, and the two USB connector ports on the right side.

Also included is the instructions on how to install them in the Amiga.

A REALLY important thing to know is that the subway 2021 is NOT compatible with the popular Poseidon USB stack software, even though the older E3B subway worked fine with it.  Instead I need to use the newer ANAIIS USB stack software from Aminet with it.

I didn't bother buying the USB port cables since I have plenty from the failed rapid road devices. I connect ed one to the optional power board, which includes a floppy power splitter, one side goes to the internal floppy drive, the other to the optional board connected to the subway 2021.

Close up showing the connections. Note that there is no protection if you connected the power cable or the clock port the wrong way - you will fry the subway 2021 board if you get it wrong, almost 100% guaranteed. Be careful, and double check the connections per the included instructions.

As the USB ports need to be threaded out the expansion port at the rear of the case, I needed to take out the floppy drive also...

With that done, you can see the Indivision AGA card with the cable that usually runs under the floppy drive. There is space to the right to feed the USB cables through.

Here is the cables feed through. I am aware there is an Omniport available now that can clean this up and present an external DVI/HDMI and USB from the respective cards..I should probably look into that!

Next issue I found is that this A1200 motherboard has a full set of pins for the clock port. Normally only the right side half pins are actually present. I had to break off the pins in the left side immediately adjacent to the clock port connector so that the subway clock port connector would actually fit!

Here is the Subway 2021 card installed in the clockport now:

I am using the optional power connector board to supply more power to the subway 2021 in this setup also, and so the floppy drive power splitter is now also in place connected to the subway 2021 optional card and the floppy drive power.

I downloaded ANAIIS latest version which is quite recent - July 2023.

I am intrigued by the readme that says the ANAIIS works under AmigaOS 1.3 also. Now that would be cool - USB support on my 1.3 Amiga. I'll have to try that on my Amiga 1000 later!

For now though, the Amiga 1200 runs AmigaOS I ran the installer for the ANAIIS software once extracted, and the Install_drivers installer after that. Not sure why both are not installed in one installer since both are needed...

Also, I needed to download and install FAT95 from Aminet for FAT support for USB sticks. This archive is included with Poseidon, but not with ANAIIS.

With that done, and one reboot later, I ran the usbctrl start command manually from AmigaShell first to confirm it is working, as per the instructions. 

There is a ANAIIS prefs tool to see the USB stack status information and to alter the settings:

ANAIIS found the subway 2021 card straight away, so that is a good start.

Looking around the ANAIIS tool, there is a settings section also:

Also installed is a seperate tool called Massive, which is used to help mount larger USB drives. Note that for me, I needed to add a FILESYSTEM=fat95 line to the INFO tool types for the Massive program before it could see the larger USB sticks.

I inserted a 16GB USB stick and it came up, although it was very slow initially while it was validating the disk. This took a few minutes, during which the system was jerky and slow to respond. After validating finished the system returned to normal.

At this point I noted that the usb stick was VERY VERY hot. I suspected it was to do with the optional power board, so I powered off the Amiga, and took it off...

After that the usb stick no longer got so hot, which was a good thing.

Not so good though is that I get read errors constantly trying to read the usb stick.

Sometimes you can hit try and it goes away, other times it does it ten times or more before it goes away. There are clearly problems.

In addition, no smaller USB sticks work at all. Only the larger ones that are detected by the Massive tool.

I have to say I am disappointed given the cost of them that they don't work to read USB sticks, which is of course the main reason I bought them. Maybe they work with mice and keyboards, but I couldn't care less about doing that since the Amiga already has a keyboard and mouse. Besides, USB support for keyboard and mice is only useful inside workbench...

I decided to leave it and do the other Vampire A1200 system next - maybe it was just bad luck:

The Vampire 1200 has the case with the USB port cutouts on the right side, which makes it a lot neater to connect up.

I then installed ANAIIS and FAT95 as I did on the other system. As I am running coffinOS, it replaces the onboard kickstart 3.2.2 with the AmigaOS 3.9 soft kicked.

The same behaviour happens on the Vampire 1200 system though - USB sticks mounted via Massive have this long validation periods and errors on read. Smaller USB sticks do not show at all.

It is good that USB kinda works, but it is pretty useless at the moment. I need to read up more and see if anyone else has seen and solved this issue.

I then put my older E3B Subway card into the Amiga 600 - I did this as it has a clockport slot on the A604n especially designed for it, so no clockport cable is needed.

Since this older E3B subway is supported by Poseidon USB stack, it works fine.

I will need to keep working to understand the problems with the Subway 2021 and ANAIIS software support of usb sticks. There is hopefully a simple reason for why it is not working for me.

I read something the other day about apparently needing to format the USB sticks to a specific format in the RDB first for them to work, which seems very clunky considering FAT is so standard and Poseidon USB stick supports it perfectly...surely not?

In the meantime, that is it for now.

I will be away from my Amigas for a bit and having a small break from work too, so likely will not have time to update the blog again until late October. Until then, please enjoy your Amigas and please look over the many other blog posts I have written! 

If you have some tips on how to resolve the issues I found with ANAIIS and USB sticks please let me know in the comments here, or via Facebook if you are friends with me there!