Hello and my QL experience so far

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Chr$
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Hello and my QL experience so far

Postby Chr$ » Tue May 28, 2019 12:34 pm

Hello everyone, I'm Chris (see what I did there with the user name!). This is my QL experience to date...

As a child in the 80s I used to get the hand-me-down computers from my uncle Peter, who has always been into technical advances. First a half wooden Atari, a ZX81 and then, circa 1987/8, a Sinclair QL. I was only about 9 or 10 and didn't really get on with the QL. I don't remember doing anything with it, apart from perhaps booting from the supplied Psion programs and whatever else uncle Peter had on cartridge. I do remember, before I got it, he showed me a game (probably in Basic) where you had to fire missiles in the direction of enemy bases by entering the level of thrust and trajectory angle (or possibly just the trajectory), then hoping for the best. I think the enemy bases were on the right of the screen. He liked it as it was about the maths and physics of trajectories - does anyone know what that game was by any chance? I'd love to find that one and pop round to him with a QL.

That brief encounter was the total of my original QL experience. I have no idea what happened to it and suspect my step-dad may have nicked it as I'm pretty sure he had it away with my ZX81 and Spectrum(s). As a basic computer user I then ended up walking a common path of the time, with the usual Spectrum(s), an Atari ST and then pretty much the full IBM PC range from 286 onwards. I did once work in IT setting up and training teachers on wireless school registration systems (before WiFi - in fact, I believe one of the engineers responsible for the maintenance of the radio transceiver devices used to work for Sinclair Research). I hazily remember pre-windows and using an MS DOS command line for doing various things but am not a computer/programming whizz like a lot of people here and like many QLers seem to be!

I live in Germany now and have recently been into re-discovering some 8/16 bit relics (I know the QL is 'almost' 32 bit). I feel I am involved in my own personal preservation of very important parts of computer history, with the help of modern additions but trying to keep the whole feel as original as possible. I bid on and won a German QL on eBay - I like the fact that it has a different keyboard layout and the proper serial and mouse/joystick ports (although I didn't know that until I got it)! It's a pretty clean machine and came with a shabby box, manual in German and all original leads, feet and German Psion pack. Inside it looks like it's had various old improvements - that I will no doubt ask about in due course - including what appears to be the addition of an audio out connection, so I can hear the beeping through TV speakers (I haven't actually tried that yet). It also has a hole at the back where the expansion port is, which looks suspiciously like it would have been a parallel/printer port. The seller didn't mention or show the gaping hole, but it and the additions at least indicate that the QL probably saw quite a bit of use in its younger days and was well maintained.

mdv2_ doesn't work - it simply spins forever when you call upon it and then you can't do anything apart from reset - and after I'd opened the QL a few times to try various fixes (I replaced the voltage regulator as it was showing 5.3v and changed the 2 caps next to it, to no avail) the keyboard membrane also broke so I had to get a new one of those. I did also attempt to re-felt some of the cartridges with small pieces of felt pads, which worked initially and now doesn't - clearly the felt was too rough on the tapes. I also took the liberty of replacing the main voltage regulator with a modern equivalent, which doesn't get hot and renders the shoe-horned in heatsink obsolete. I then ordered a TDI from Tetroid so that I could move programs from the internet, via an old Windows XP PC to floppy disk/CF card.

But wow, quite a learning curve! I understood that you can't unzip QL files on anything other than a QL because of the headers and after a day of fiddling I was able to get unzip working on the QL. I think some forget that sometimes people don't even know the basics of using the QL command line to get it what you want to do. It was only after searching for various things that I eventually learned that to unzip zips you have to enter something along the lines of:

Data_use ram1_ (to tell it where you want the unzipped files to go)
Exec_w (or ew) unzip_exe;"filename_zip" (to specify that you want to run unzip and get it to extract the contents of filename_zip)

After that, and once I started getting on with the CF card, I discovered that Tetroid was kind enough to supply a copy of unzip_exe on the 'harddrive'! But not to worry, I enjoyed the experience and actually felt like I had achieved something by manually getting files unzipped by shuffling QL formatted floppy disk around, using Qemulator to write them from PC. Incidentally, I was able to source a floppy drive with a DF0/DF1 jumper, so my drive is flp1_ which is certainly more convenient. I also got a ROM switcher so that I could use the much talked about Minerva ROM - and then had more fun trying to change the keyboard layout back to German to match my actual keyboard - that eventual very simple solution consisted of a _bin file and the line:

Lrespr (path_)German_kbd_bin (which is now part of my boot file)

Moving files around on floppy disks is not always reliable and obviously quite time consuming, so during the weekend just gone I started exploring how to view and add files to the CF harddrive. I run +3e ROMs on my Spectrum +3 (excellent if you have a +3 and still want the original feel) so I had some recent experience of making an image of a memory card in an alien format (to PC), injecting files and then writing the whole image back to the card. Blimey though, it takes forever! For an 8gb card it took about 5 hours to read and over 6 hours to write the ammended image back to card. It worked in the end and I now have a win1_ which is crammed with so many QL zip files that it would probably take months to extract and try them all. For convenience and speed I have ordered a much smaller 128mb CF card!

I'd like to thank the people that are still involved with keeping QL's chugging along, by providing fantastic info or making soft and hardware available for it - Dilwyn, Rich Mellor, Vitaliy (Tetroid), Simone (Outsoft), Urs König, Daniele (Qemulator) and no doubt many others. I have noticed though, and it is a shame, that there are a lot of QL related dead links out there on the internet and quite a few related websites that look abandoned (or very long in the tooth). I also understand that it is probably almost impossible to get new/younger people into the QL and its derivatives - after all, the very idea of any kind of static computer with a keyboard, attached to a screen is falling out of favour and a lot of people these days can do everything they will ever need to do with that little computer that is either in their pocket or being stared into. The fact that the QL was probably not really well suited (or designed) for the average home user and that it didn't sell in massive numbers at the time means that 35 years later it's probably a mini miracle that there is still any support for it whatsoever - I think that proves that it was something special.

In everyday life I am involved in writing and publishing books on collectables. I know there is probably not really any financial gain to be had and it would be a labour of love, but for posterity I'd certainly love to publish or re-publish Sinclair/QL related books, in case anyone has one up their sleeve or owns the rights to any! And if there is anything else I can do to help preserve QL culture, I'm all ears.


I'm Chris, a Brit in the far East of Germany.
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vanpeebles
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Re: Hello and my QL experience so far

Postby vanpeebles » Tue May 28, 2019 4:29 pm

A very warm welcome to the forum. I got my first speccy from my Uncle Peter. I don't think it's the same one :D


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Dave
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Re: Hello and my QL experience so far

Postby Dave » Tue May 28, 2019 5:30 pm

Hi CHR$.

Welcome to the forum. Dive in!


RWAP
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Re: Hello and my QL experience so far

Postby RWAP » Tue May 28, 2019 7:12 pm

Welcome to the forums. We try to be friendly and helpful even if our memories sometimes need refreshing...

The mdv2_ problem could be the ULA but it could also simply be that the rubber roller on the left hand side is worn and needs to be replaced (or turned upside down). There should be a gap of no more than 0.5mm at the base of the rubber roller.


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Chr$
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Re: Hello and my QL experience so far

Postby Chr$ » Tue May 28, 2019 8:06 pm

Thanks to all 3 of you.

I think the mdv2_ problem is the ULA. I turned the rollers over on both of them and checked the gaps.

Actually, is it possible to remove the rear PCB from the rest of the Microdrive? It appears to be held on by the tape head, which is of course soldered to the board, or possibly held on to the black plastic part with what look like plastic rivet things? - I don't want to unsolder the head as that will probably cause more problems. I have some spares on the way and will try to get some kind of working mdv2_ sorted (even though I'll probably never use it, but knowing that something doesn't work bothers me).


I'm Chris, a Brit in the far East of Germany.
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jivrt
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Re: Hello and my QL experience so far

Postby jivrt » Wed May 29, 2019 3:52 am

Very nice walk down memory lane with a QL revival ending!
Welcome to this nice community.
You forgot to tell us how did you manage to connect your QL to a monitor/tv


Enviado desde mi iPhone utilizando Tapatalk


Original BBQL 1985, bought my me in Spain with JM ROM
Tetroid TDI with CF card, ROM switcher, power regulator, Gold Card clone and Backplane
Uses: teaching my children to program
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SinclairSociety
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Re: Hello and my QL experience so far

Postby SinclairSociety » Wed May 29, 2019 5:35 am

Welcome to the group! TJ


Sinclair Computers are AWESOME!!
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Chr$
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Re: Hello and my QL experience so far

Postby Chr$ » Wed May 29, 2019 9:23 am

Thank you thank you.

I simply used the RGB to Scart cable that I already had for the +3! I picked up an old flat screen TV locally (non HDMI) for 5 Euros. Actually that leads me to another question: When in F2 monitor mode, the final pointer screen with the top menus (I think it's the qman2 screen?) is off screen to the left and the 'HO' of 'HOTKEYS' is off screen (so are the channels below that). How can I shift them over, can it be done from the boot file? I managed to work out how to re-position the 'windows' on the normal red/black screen you get from F2 by slightly changing their size and position.


I'm Chris, a Brit in the far East of Germany.
Derek_Stewart
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Re: Hello and my QL experience so far

Postby Derek_Stewart » Wed May 29, 2019 5:52 pm

Hi Chr$

If you need spare microdrive units, I can supply them from working QL.

I personally do not use microdrives, I prefer to CF Cards or SD Cards.

With regards to your monitor ptoblem, the SCART cable for the Plus3, can not hanhle the QL 85 column screen mode. You need a video upscaler, which has been dicussed in the Forum.


Regards,

Derek
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Chr$
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Re: Hello and my QL experience so far

Postby Chr$ » Wed May 29, 2019 6:07 pm

Derek_Stewart wrote:Hi Chr$

If you need spare microdrive units, I can supply them from working QL.

I personally do not use microdrives, I prefer to CF Cards or SD Cards.

With regards to your monitor ptoblem, the SCART cable for the Plus3, can not hanhle the QL 85 column screen mode. You need a video upscaler, which has been dicussed in the Forum.


Yes, but I just wondered if it may be possible to move the screen to the right a little, as the things on the left (Dirs, program listings, the cursor entry etc) seem to be more important than the stuff on the right. Suppose I'll have to live with it then.

I may be ok for the Microdrive as I recently picked up some spares from Germany which included a complete lower case side with 2 microdrives and this very unusual, nearly complete Finnish keyboard/top part.
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I'm Chris, a Brit in the far East of Germany.

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