Arcade Pool… it WORKS!!

I’m a happy little camper right now.

You can’t have failed to mention that in my last post, I drooled a bit about getting “Arcade Pool” for the Amiga through the post. It’s a game I’ve had pretty much since its day of release, but my disk really will have seen better days. I know for definite it has no metal cover, and although the last time I fired any of my amigas up in anger back in 2006, it worked correctly, but I wasn’t taking any chances. I just ordered an original loose disk off ebay.

I checked today at the base of the Mercuryvapour Towers portcullis, there was a box staring up at me. Strangely familiar, yet also alien to me. For you see, a box for “Make-A-Chip” on the ZX Spectrum stared back at me…

It soon dawned on me that this must have been the “Arcade Pool” disk in some very innovative, and perfectly suitable packaging. Eventually, after a night at the pub, I sliced through the parcel tape, and yes! there it was!

Now, I originally planned to do a video on this, it was filmed, but it’s awful, so instead of fresh photos, you’re just getting screenshots instead.

So, the image above is, of course, the disk, fresh from its cardboard catacomb.

In it goes, and I fire up the disk image program. My heart sinks just that little bit… Click-click-click-click… This usually means the disk is warped / damaged… usually if a speck of dust has been pressed against the disk surface, causing a lump or a mark.

The clicking fades shortly after. I’m left with the faint rumble of the disk spinning, and the soft, rhythmic clunk of the head moving across the disk. Eventually, all 82 tracks are imaged. I go to make sense of the disk image…. aaaaaaand…

Those red sectors stared up at me like blood in a stool. It’s not always as bad as you think, but you’re programmed to think the worst. Those blue “unrecognised” sectors didn’t have me holding out much hope either. Had it worked? Was I about to relive my childhood? I fired up WinUAE. My voice in the video didn’t hold out much hope. I even said so in the video. I loaded the disk image, and watched in surprise, joy, and just a hint of speculation, when the company logos came up, followed by the screen I expected to see…

Mere seconds later, I had the title screen, as the sounds of Scott Joplin’s “Fig Leaf Rag” rang through my speakers…

It worked! The blue sectors are a by-product of the custom disc format it had used back in the day. Annoyingly, because of this, I was never able to make a backup copy of the disk, which is how/why my original disk survived, albeit in an unknown state

It soon became apparent that everything in this Amiga journey had came full circle. My rekindled love affair with the Amiga started on a Sunday afternoon in February last year when I came downstairs and Daddykins was watching a steam train video that happened to be playing the “Fig Leaf Rag” as its background music. It suddenly occurred to me just how much I missed Arcade Pool, and just the Amiga in general. I rushed upstairs, installed WinUAE, downloaded a disk image of the afore-mentioned pool game, and had a right old time but where was the fun in that? This wasn’t the original disk.

The fun has been in the whole journey I’ve taken in the last year. Managing to convert my original Amiga drive, finding out some of the stuff on it, reliving some of the many memories I have stored on it.

There has, of course, been downsides… Discovering the box of Amiga stuff I bought a few years ago was completely rotten. Constantly corrupting my hard drive image and having to start from scratch with it… my fault for not regularly backing it up I suppose.

Oh, just one quick thing on the Arcade Pool image. While checking the disk image, I noticed some text in the first sector of the disk…

Version 1.01 - May 1994 - pippistrello pippistrello, perchè hai fatto la pipi dentro all'ombrello?

Now, my Italian isn’t the best, so I had to rely on Google Translate for this one, but it comes back as roughly “Bat, do you think it is nice to pee in an umbrella”? It made me smile somewhat. the fact that I’ve owned an original disk of this software for 28 years, and have only just discovered this, amuses me greatly.

Greasy Weazles and dodgy disks

Ahhh, I’m still not having much luck, I’m afraid. I’ve still not got many of these games to work. It’s not the fault of my Greaseweazle, more my fault for neglecting my Amiga disks as a teenager and beyond.

I thought I’d had luck getting my version of “Aquatic Games” to work, seeing as it’s one of the best Amiga games in my humble opinion. It converted almost perfectly, but sadly, track 72 had one single bad sector.

It booted, and I hoped it was going to work, but as soon as WinUAE reaches that track, it just freezes to a black screen. Bah. I do have one last trick up my sleeve. I’m sure I mentioned that I was going to buy a floppy disk cleaner? Well, it’s arrived!

You simply slap the disk into there, and the metal cover locks against a little hook, and you can then have access to the disk surface. The disk pictured is the first one I tried, aaaaand I had no luck at all. This wasn’t to do with the cleaning. The magnetic disk had came away from the metal spindle… The conditions these were stored in were so bad, the adhesive had dried out. So that’s one disk that’s never getting recovered.

I tried “New Zealand Story” next, and this was also a depressing sight.

I didn’t get an image of the disk before the cleaning, but that still looks completely knackered. The red ring going around the image above coincides with a scratch on the disc surface, so I’m surmising this has absolutely no chance either. Shame. I loved that game.

I tried another random disk. Remember in my first post, I posted the image of the disk with its surface lifted? Well, this was one of its 2 brother disks. I’m guessing that as they were kept together, it’d be in a similar state to the first one. A good candidate to see if it could be cleaned….

Yep, still not good. Still unusable, and still pretty noisy when converting. At least it didn’t instantly crumble into a pile of black dust like its fallen brother. I’m not even going to look at the third one, they’re both just going in the bin. A shame, as they’re KAO branded disks. I had quite a few of these when I was a kid. Always reliable.

I think the best test for this, is to locate one of the disks that was “OK”, but appeared to have a cluster of bad blocks in a certain area. That would suggest there’s dirt on the disk. It’ll be interesting to see if I can get it working 100%.

In other related news, I’ve been on ebay, and have picked up “Arcade Pool” for the Amiga. I think, out of every game I owned, this was the one I spent the most time on. I still have it somewhere, and the last time I tried it back in 2006, it still worked. The disk was pretty messed up though. One of the corners had been snapped off, and the metal cover was missing, so even if it was to turn up I wouldn’t fancy my chances in actually getting it imaged.

At the time of typing, it’s not arrived, as I only ordered it a few hours ago. I’d expect it to arrive here within the next week.

Playing with my floppy Greaseweazle day 2

Oh my. I wish I’d discovered this sooner. I’ve had so much fun with it over the last few hours, and I’ve discovered quite a few things about how it all works, and how to fix / identify problems. For now, I’ve given up on the initial box of disks that I was originally trying, that was more problems than enough. Luckily, I found another box of disks this morning. These were (mostly) my own, so I had more of an interest what was on them anyway.

I did a bit of a livestream while I was converting the disks. Enjoyed it. Got it done while reminiscing about my college days, and how I used to walk in with boxes of disks so I could download files and put them onto the Amiga. Happy days.

After I finished the stream, I intended to do a recorded version where I went through the disks that I’d imaged…. there was one slight problem. Most of the disk images didn’t actually bring anything up. It was as if the disks were corrupted. Well, that was a waste of time, then. I wanted to do some investigation on what was happening, and to see if anything could actually open the disk images. I found a program called ‘hxc’. It has cropped up a few times, so I decided to give it a go. Turns out it did more than just allow you to explore disk images. It lets you check every part of the disk, to see if it was valid, and in a recognisable format. It can even generate an image of the disk to see if there are any problem areas. I threw one of my original dodgy rips into it, and it came back with this…

Yeah, that level of red isn’t good. Almost every block was coming back as corrupted. There was no way this disk image would ever work. Thankfully, all that was lost was a bit of time. Looks like the drive heads had became clogged at some point during the process, as I was able to get plenty of good reads as the night went on. One good thing about this, is that it can show where the problem areas are on disks. Remember I was talking about that floppy disk cleaner? I guess this could help you track down bits of the disk that need cleaning. In all honesty though, it’s more than likely that the media has just degraded over the years. Here’s a screenshot where there’s part of the disk near the end not reading correctly…

OK, so that’s what an amiga disk looks like. this is what a PC-formatted disk looks like…

Oooh, pretty. This is a 720K formatted disk, as that’s what I was playing with. I then had a bit of a daft idea. This is literally just reading the magnetic information on the disk, and displaying if there’s valid information on it…. if I were to expose part of the disk to a nice, strong neodymium magnet… would that display exactly where I wiped?

The answer is yes. I purposely only wiped a specific area of the disk, and this shows exactly where the magnet went. Of course, no data was lost, as you don’t actually damage a disk by wiping it with a magnet, you simply just destroy the data. I simply wrote the image back to the disk.

I’m pretty confident that this Greaseweazle is the best thing I’ve bought for a long time. Sorry, I’m probably the only person on the planet that thought this deserved a blog post, but this has amused me greatly. It’s given me a new found affection for the floppy disk that I haven’t had since the 90s. I’ll be back to bore you more shortly.

My first day with the Greaseweazle

No, I haven’t gone and got myself a new girlfriend.

Instead, I’ve invested in a little PCB known as the Greaseweazle. And I’m sure I’m spelling that incorrectly, as I think I’ve spelled it about 4 different ways in the last hour alone. Basically, it allows you to create images from floppy discs, most notably, Amiga disks As you can imagine, this is somethingthat’s of interest to me, as I’ve been an Amiga fan for…. ooh, almost 30 years.

As I ‘m sure you’ll be aware, I’ve spent the last year reliving some of my amiga memories, especially afterresurrecting my old machine’s hard drive, and wallowing in the nostalgia of the old photos and music that was on there. there was one area that was, sadly, locked away. I had no way of converting my existing floppy disks to a readable format. There had been rumours that an Arduino based all-in-one USB device was coming onto the market, but the manufacturer is having difficulty with getting the parts, so I don’t think that’ll be available any time soon. While randomly browsing the net on Friday, I saw this thing called the Greaseweazle, and it was only £20. Yoink. I wasn’t even drunk.

I paid a little more to have the cables included. I’m sure I have loads of old floppy cables, but no idea where. Oh, and I also got a floppy drive cheap enough off Fleabay. again, there’s probably half a dozen kicking around this roomy mansion, but knowing I wouldn’t find one when I actually wanted one, I just plumped for buying one.

Days passed by, and they both landed through the Mercuryvapour Towers portcullis with a thud.

It seemed extremely easy. Connect the three wires, download the software, run it, aaaand…

Z:\greaseweazle-tools-v0.38>z:gw info
Host Tools: v0.38
Device:
Not found

Turns out all I had to do was switch it over to a different USB port, and I was good to go. I think that USB port was dodgy anyway. Within seconds, I was imaging my first disk!

This was purposely a brand new blank disk, as I knew at least it’d work. It did, I think, as I shortly had a 70Mb(!) floppy image. At this point, I’m still not 100% sure why the size is so large, some 60 times bigger than a regular floppy disk. All I can garner from the manual is stuff about flux, and magnets, and it’s all going over my head.

Anyway, the initial test passed. I decided to try with an Amiga disk… Now, I didn’t have many of my own to try, so I dug into a box of random disks I bought from a radio rally several years ago. This one in particular intrigued me…

No, they’re not pics of ham, but HAM was an image format on the Amiga that used special trickery to get more colours on the screen than the chipset could natively handle.

They’re mediocre by today’s standards, and the pixel-perfect screengrab probably doesn’t do it justice, I’m sure it’d have looked infinitely better when smoothed out via an RF signal on a CRT telly…

And that’s really where the fun ended. I tried other disks, and instantly found a problem. As I said, these disks never belonged to me originally, so I have no idea how they were stored, but they made some EEEVIL noises….

Initially I thought it might have just been the drive slipping. The drive was off ebay, as I mentioned earlier, so this was another unknown factor. The date code on the drive itself was 2006, so it might not have been used for 16 years. I left it to do its thing. It might work, it might not.

I fired up the image, and of course, it didn’t. Dammit. I was about to give it another go, but I thought I’d check the surface of the disk…. Oh.

Yeeeah. Those patches shouldn’t be there. That’s where the magnetic layer is missing from the disk, rendering it completely and utterly useless. Well, shite. This was disk 1 in a 3 disk software package, so they’re all pretty much useless. I checked some of the other disks, and I can see what looks like mould on some of them, so I’m guessing they weren’t stored in the best of locations. A friend, Rob, has pointed me in the direction of a floppy disk cleaner, which I’ll probably end up getting, along with a bottle of Isopropyl alcohol

Damn it. All this time and effort, and all I have to show for it, is a ladies’ bottom. I’ve had worse days.

Another year, another charity shop run…

Happy new year! Yeah, there hasn’t been a post so far this year, and in fact, I think the last one was November? anyway. I went charity shopping again the other day. I thought I’d do a video of what I got, instead of just typing about it… So here it is!

Oh, look. It’s a link!

Oh look, more records!

As promised, I thought I’d do another update on my charity shop purchases and days out. This week, there weren’t really that many. I didn’t do much on the Saturday. in fact the only place I went, was to Tesco to pick up a ready-cooked chicken, Therefore the rest of the day was spent with my face covered in the product of the rotisserie oven. Not much happening there.

Sunday was different, however.  There was a record fair in Durham… I’d remembered about it only a couple of days before, and Chris offered to give me a lift there. Woo, and indeed hoo.

The Durham record fair is never a big affair. I think I’ve mentioned about it before, there’s just a small section of a sports hall that’s netted off, while the rest of the place still is still used for badminton…

There was one stall that had quite a few boxes singles on it, at £1 each. It’s more than I normally like to pay for a single, but well, I thought I’m only here once, and there were some classics in there, such as Trevor and Simon (yes, THAT Trevor and Simon) covering a Donovan song (can’t remember which one off the top of my head) “Sky High” by Jigsaw… “I was made for Dancing” by Leif Garrett, and a couple of others that don’t spring to mind. I might edit this into a list later on… If there’s no list, then I couldn’t  be bothered. (EDIT: I couldn’t be bothered)

The Jigsaw and Leif Garrett songs are ones I’ve only just became familiar with in the last 6 months, thanks to an online “radio station” that I listen to quite regularly. Surprised I didn’t know them, as they were relatively big hits, reaching no. 4 and no. 9 respectively.

Also picked up another copy of the “Auf Weidersehen Pet” series 1 soundtrack. This wasn’t the one I had on tape as a kid, but instead contains the incidental music from the program. Been after a cleaner copy of “The Fire” from the final episode where the “hut borns doon”

So, onto Durham itself. This was a warm, if overcast Autumn day. There were only two charity shops open, so I think we only spent about half an hour there. I didn’t end up getting anything from there, except for a nice photo or two.

It was still incredibly early at that point, so on the way back, we made a detour to Peterlee. Despite being only a small town, it has its fair share of charity shops. There’s a huge Sue Ryder shop there. It’s pretty expensive too, so once again, I came out empty handed. There’s a large “Home Bargains” store next door, and I managed to pick up 5 of these for a quid.

You might notice there’s slightly more than 5 there. Turns out they’re absolutely brilliant for cleaning the muck, mould, shite and usually, for some unknown reason, dried blood, off the CDs that come from the charity shops. In fact, they’re so good, I went to the Hartlepool shop and picked up another 10 cans, and I might pick up more tomorrow. For that price, you literally can’t go wrong, and I’ll always need CD cleaning products.

Onto the main shopping precinct in Peterlee. It’s a depressing sight. This shop (which, until a couple of months ago used to be a British Heart Foundation) pretty much says it all.

I did notice that there’s a “Farplace” charity shop opened there too, which is great – they’re rapidly becoming my favourite chain of shops. It was closed, however, so I might have to make a detour there at some point.

The YMCA was open here, and I picked out a few singles from this batch. They were very well thumbed, and the covers were all an absolute state, but the vinyl itself didn’t look too bad.

Last stop in Peterlee was the “other” British Heart Foundation… Now, Peterlee is the same as most towns… Or at least it was. Two BHF stores. One that sells your standard charity shop clothes and bric-a-brac, and another, often much larger one that sells furniture only. Now, probably because the smaller shop had closed down, this larger shop had a very small selection of CDs. They had £1 stickers on, but the bloke out the back said he’d do three for a quid. Obviously, the person behind the till didn’t get the memo, as he tried to charge me £3…nah mate, I advised him to have a word with the guy out the back, and indeed, he then only charged me £1. Now I await the barrage of 0 comments calling me a greedy fecker.

Last stop of the day was another YMCA… The one in Hartlepool. I’ve had good results from this shop in the past… The items don’t get sorted as much as some other shops, so you can end up with some quality finds….

Something that I’ve been collecting for a little side project, are “knock-off” CDs. Take the songs from a famous artist, get someone else to record them in the style of the original singer, and sell them for much cheaper. These have been around since recorded music became a thing

A prolific manufacturer of these is/was Prism Leisure. I have no idea if they’re still in business, but, like this one, they released CDs along the lines of “Hits of {artist} as performed by Studio 99”

I have a couple of these now. Corrs, Britney Spears, Celine Dion, to name but a few, and they’re all absolute garbage! I have others too, the collection is coming along quite nicely.

And finally, I bought this.

I don’t think this needs explanation!

Happy 21st birthday to this blog!

21 years. That’s a lot to take in. I’d have been sat in a very similar position this time on Sunday, 4th November 2000, behind a keyboard with my legs underneath a desk, as I open my Blogger account, and begin typing about my day, my dreams, my banal, inane life as a 20-yr old Hartlepudlian. At 41, however, the world is a completely different place, and I’m a different person. Everything electrical has a blue LED in it…. Back then, they’d have only been invented 7 years ago. Blogging is a completely different scene too I had friends with blogs, but they’ve all come and gone. the rise of Myspace, and Twitter, then Facebook and Youtube quickly put paid to spending hours toiling over a keyboard. You could allow your audience to have small chunks of your mind without committing reams and reams of text to the ether.

As you know, I don’t really post much on here now. I used to joke about my “both of my readers”, but it’s ofrficially down to zero. I’ve not had a comment on a new post for years now. the only comments that come in now are hits from Google. I suppose I have to type something for people to read, but when I spend hours and get no feedback, it seems such a waste.

Privacy is also an issue. It’s naturally not a good idea to post stuff about myself in as much detail as I used to. I genuinely would have liked to post a lot more about the struggle I had with my foot, but maybe not a good idea to post *everything* in a public forum.

I know I say this every years, but I do have plans. Maybe go into more of a “Charity Shop Shit” type vibe, and start talking about the crap I’ve picked up in charity shops. Make that the permanent fixture. At least after 21 years of doing this bollocks, the bloody site will have a theme of some sort.

I’m sure you’ll be interested to know (lie) that I still do “blog” now, it’s it’s all private. I like “photo hoarding” where I take hundreds of photos when I’m out somewhere, and then add the details to the photos themselves via the IPTC information… Here’s an example from last Saturday…

A day out to the charity shops around Guisborough, Stokesley and Redcar. A particularly cold October day, there was definitely autumn in the air. Another decent haul of CDs, especially from the Herriott charity shop in Stokesley. An amusing part of the day was in the first charity shop we visited, “Frade” in Guisborough. I asked for a carrier bag, got given the pinkest, most floral “carrier bag” I’ve ever seen. Couldn’t have got rid of it quicker, but at least it made a good photo opportunity.
Might put it as my facebook profile pic.

Right, so that’s the celebration over with. I can’t believe I’ve kept it going for so long… here’s to another 21 years! There’s a chance I might have received that fucking Desmonds record by then…