Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Hapiness, Dancing and Staying Young

Stones:On Fire

Sadly Uncle Mick has been in the press recently, pretty much for all the wrong reasons.

However it did bring to mind the fact that, well at last, he's starting to look quite old and wrinkly.   He is now a staggering 70 years old!

Dude looks like a Lady

I made a comparison with Steven Tyler or Aerosmith who is now 65.

I think Steven wins, hands down.   But then we need to check him in another 5 years time to be fair to Mick.

4 minutes

And of course a proud mention to Madonna (now 55) who because she is a woman is held to a much tougher standard than a man in the ageing race.

What does all of this teach us?

Why:  Happiness, Dancing, Exercise are often seen components to the physically old but young at heart

Staying Young: Part1 of 6

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Product Return Ratio

Most of us reading this article have limits.

We have limited time
We have limited money

It is also quite possible that based on our desires and needs we have an almost infinite number of things or services that we feel we would like to experience.

And contrary to popular supposition  Agata and Marcus's time and money are most definitely finite!

So when we consider a new purchase we consider the

Product Return Ratio

The PuRR  as I like to call it.  We evaluate a product on its cost (C) relative to metrics

a)  Cost / Time Used
b)  Cost / Money Saved (alternative opportunity cost)
c)  Cost / Regular Running & Maintenance costs

The Holy Grail might be

1. A product with a low initial cost
2. That lasts for a long time
3. Is used daily
4. Has low running costs (both time and money)
5. Has minimal environmental damage
6. And if not used has costly alternatives
7. Low fragility cost: Use it and forget about it (ease of continued use)

Example#1: Bicycle So for me a bicycle is a good example of a positive 1-6 compared against a motor car, there is really no comparison.  Unfortunately a car can do things a bicycle cannot do, for example travel long distances, use in bad weather conditions, carry loads.  So a bicycle can never be a straight replacement.

Example#2: Dishwasher
1. Cost about 400GBP in the UK  (or in Switzerland about 1000 GBP for the same item!)
2. Should last at least 1500 hours, say 3 years
3. Yes, used daily
4. Running costs are water, electricity, detergent : say 0.5 GBP  (or less in fact)
5. 20 litres water and 2KWh per wash cycle
6. Hand washing is not costly, but your time is. The cost per day: capital + run cost is about (400/365*3) +0.5 =  0.86 GBP/day.   So if you would be prepared to pop around next door and wash your neighbours dishes for about 1GBP, then maybe stay home and don't have a dishwasher

Example#3:Luxury trip for 2 to CES Las Vegas
1. Cost of 2 business flights to Vegas,  5 days accommodation, food,  = 9000 GBP  
2. Lasts 6 days
3. Used for 6 days
4. Running costs negligible as CES trade show is 100% entertainment
5. Hmm.  Flying to the USA and back for 6 days cf. doing nothing has high Environmental impact
6. Alternatives might be CES Europe, YouTube, the latter is free!, but the downside is that there is no experience.

So the next time Agata and Marcus spend 4000GBP each on a bicycle that might last between 5 and 10 years we would argue that it is a more balanced investment than the most pleasurable 6 day all expenses paid to CES.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Drugs and Determination

Given Marcus's perilous physical condition  (re Cycling Accident Thursday April 10th 2014) you might think the last thing I should be doing is entering a running race.

Hmm,  but I just ran another marathon.

Since I seem to have gotten away with it, well, I am still alive and not in hospital, here is the report

Agata's Summary
My darling wife Agata had an even shorter summary than my title:


On Friday, when Doctor Bally confirmed in Lausanne that my ribs were not broken he diplomatically said   (when I proposed the marathon I booked pre accident):  Your Body will tell you if you need to stop.

He did give me a prescription for some adhesive bandages impregnated with Ibuprofen.

Pre Race Drug Loading
I put on 2 of the Swiss formula adhesive pads onto my damaged right chest.   Then I took 4 Nurofen Ultra capsules. After that I could not feel so much pain and pronounced breathing in (blinking painful) was okay.

Km Race Report
The rate started about 8 minutes late so on course timing was a bit out.   But the course was flat.   At first I was on the plod pace because I was not sure if the rib pain might suddenly get worse.

But as the Km continued my chest pains remained both constant and bearable.  So there was a chance to speed up a little.

At best I got upto 13Km/h at Km 20 or so but after that I slacked off to about 12.2Km.h rising to 12.5Km/h for the last 5Km sprint.

I realise that until I am fully regenerated it is going to be difficult to get runtimes back down to a more respectable 03:15 i.e. 13Km/h marathon speed. 

Weather Conditions/ Infrastructure
The weather was about 13 degrees and dry, so quite perfect.

Water stops were plentiful though a little muddled, lots of water and not enough Powerade.  No gels but sometimes Banana and chocolate.

I wore a watch
My TomTom MultiSports allows me to view multiple statistics including pace, speed, distance, average page/speed/.  I started at 11.x Km/h, then after Km5 graduated to 12.0Km/h, and by Km 20 I was upto about 13Km/h.  Piece of cake I thought!  But as distance increased my reported speed seemed to drop.  I swore I was running as fast, so at one point I stopped to see if the Watch had gone wrong!  No, apparently it was right and my perceptions wrong.

In fact in all my Sporting races to date I think this is about the 2nd with a watch!  

(Review of TomTom to follow shortly.   Great display and user interface but issues!) 

Really Interesting this watch thing.

Marathon time: 03:32.  Considering the circumstances, Marcus is very very happy!

Food and Drink
I drank only 4 half cups of water on race   (I was only plodding and not sweating). Post race  I gulped 1 litre of Powerade.  This made me feel sick and I had to quickly return home for some freshly squeezed Orange juice, to calm me down

Marcus ate 4 Powerbar Hydro on the course. I had to carry them because no Gels were provided at any stop.


As Chrissie Wellington also recounted in a story about Triathlon training with a broken wrist, I too can now say: This time I got away with it, but racing with damaged body components is not a recommended long term strategy. Memo to body:  Regenerate.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

In Renewed praise of Coverville

Coverville is a frequently produced Podcast of cover music from Brian Ibbot.

In Episode 1018 we were treated to a set of 4 covers from the music of Justin Bieber.  That's just a random choice.

I have listened for free for quite some time now.  But I can't tolerate this position any longer.

Imagine the time and effort that is required to put each Podcast like this together, and to maintain the website. To me this is quite remarkable!

So yes Brian.   I have finally paid.  Thank you for several years of enjoyment and we hope that our subscription and those of others will enable you to keep going for some more time ...

What can you do to help Brian?

  • Download/ Listen/ Subscribe  (via iTunes/other) to the Podcast.   Tell others about the Podcast if you enjoy it.  And if you do ...

  • Become a Coverville citizen.  It costs from just 30 USD yearly.  Payment via Paypal and this helps support Brian  (You also get some benefits, but IMHO don't sign up just for them)

Saturday, April 12, 2014

3 Strikes and I am not yet OUT

I have to admit that 2013 was a good if not a peak cycling year for me.  About 10,000 kilometres cycled.  If I say conservatively that I've been road cycling for 30 years then that is a lot of kilometres/ miles in 1 lifetime.

And until Thursday April 10, 11.44 I had only been in two Cycling accidents.

Now it is 3 accidents :-(  But my lights are not yet OUT

So Thursday was to be the gentle start to some triathlon training.

Already I had swam at 08.30 and by 11.00 I was gearing up for a cycle, with a run planned for the afternoon.   I put on the rather delicate

Speedplay Nanogram pedals onto the training bike and made sure all was in tip top condition.   I then set off cycling south but the journey did not last that long ...

As I was descending down the steep rue de Bugnon, Lausanne, Switzerland  towards some traffic lights in a cycle lane ....

I was gently braking as the lights were red in the cycle lane with stationary cars to my left.   What I did not know was that a student motorcyclist was coming up the hill and then making an illegal left turn, between the stationary cars, and you guessed it cutting straight into my cycle path.


I braked.  I flew

I landed HARD

My reflex response was good.  Get out of the road and start taking photographs.

Emily Pasquini the driver who caused this accident smiles but I am not laughing

There was a witness but when I said I thought I was probably OK  (I wasn't) they left.  I did ask for their name and telephone number but they refused and walked off.

And then the perpetrator left also, leaving me with a tangled mess of a bicycle.

 It bloody hurts just here

Some minor abrasions.  As usual my long clothing saved me from skin on tarmac damage.

The first indication that things were far from well was when I tried to push back the right handlebar grip which was forced inwards on impact with the ground

SHOOTING pains in right ribs.

I mean the sort that could make me pass out.

Eventually I cycled to my local Doctor.


I called darling wife Agata who back from her lunchtime run reminded me that the doctors here close every Thursday. Only in Switzerland.

I went to CHUV casualty and checked in.

Hours later, everybody else who had arrived before and after me had been seen.   I was not.  I had to fill in a form to explain why I was outraged and walking out, then I walked out.

Next stop, police station.

Here I got lucky.  Relatively speaking. I spoke in to Sgt Durig who in good English took down my statement.  It was a really positive experience and put my mind into a better state.

Meanwhile it was now close to 19.00 Thursday and Agata had located my GPS position as reported by Google locations and so as if by magic arrived out of nowhere on her bicycle.

My saviour!

 Despite some ancient looking equipment

Friday morning I did manage to see my GP (local doctor) who after an X-Ray confirmed the ribs were not broken.

So now there are cuts and bruises, and it only hurts <a lot> when I laugh, cough or lie down.

I've spent a further 8 hours or so of form filling, calling insurance companies and asking the motorcycle driver for her details.   She has only replied to ask for mine!  What a bloody cheek.  In total then almost 2 days of time form filling, getting statements and photographs to the police, queuing at doctors, visiting the pharmacy ... whereas she sent me 2 SMS's just asking me questions.

To be continued.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Infrastructure Lacking

BBC: Key voting in Indian elections

Whilst the International Press has been quite excited by the Indian elections of the worlds /largest/ democracy  the more video shorts I see the more I strongly feel that

India should concentrate harder on its Infrastructure. 

In the Industrialised 21st Century  a smaller democracy might provide more for everyone.

Indian election primer

Running Costs

A mixture of passion, enthusiasm, and an interest in a subject leads me to caution myself from using the word crazy.

What I mean is, when you practice a sport, or academic pursuit, or really any form of activity where you ** really try ** hard you find yourself going to what others might regard as extreems.

Crazy today therefore might seem quite normal tomorrow.

And so to discuss the subject of 

What shoes when!
In our lives both Agata and Marcus do a fair amount of Cycling and Running.  It might be useful to see what mileage we are getting from them, and on a regular route whether one shoe performs better than another. And of course to compare running costs :-)

When Agata first suggested this, I did in fact say: You have to be Crazy! 

Then I considered that the above Asics Gel Kayano 20 shoes were bought in just October 2013 and already they seem to be dead!   (In Switzerland they cost about 280 CHF and in England the same shoes is about 100GBP which translates to about 150 CHF)

Now I don't track all of my runs  (sometimes I forget, and on races I don't carry a watch/ phone) so the above is conservative.  It obviously does not include other foot related activities like cycling.

Since November 2013 (not including October) I ran 1530Km.

Now using the Shoe Tracker website and it's integration into my Runkeeper    I can apparently keep even more stats about my current plods!

I went to the Shoe Tracker Website and before I knew it ,I too had subscribed.  

Ah well,  the Quantified Self, strikes again

Eric Clapton: Got to Get Better

Beatles: Getting Better All the Time

Shoe Tracker
Aerosmith: Crazy Acoustic

Thursday, April 10, 2014

MP3 tagging

Perhaps I am getting freekishly OCD  (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) but when if I visit friends and find that they have a disorganised MP3 collection, it makes me want to weep.

It's the sort of thing you do at a party, when the host has rigged their laptop or server into the Hi-Fi.  

I sort of sidle over hoping to put some /better music/ on then I get sidetracked and dismayed by their muddled collection!

My next step would probably be to explain that they can use a tool like


to make things more consistent.

Now I don't want to start a Holy War as to how exactly arrange your hierarchy e.g do you organise by Genre, Artist, is it Firstname Lastname etc

I'm just here to sell you on the tool.

Of course all this pre-supposes that you store your music on a computer filesystem, not within some organising tool like iTunes.

Where is your Music Collection Stored?
Essentially 3 different choices

a) Store your music on a hierarchical filesystem and play it directly using a player like VLC

b) Store your music inside a tool like iTunes, relinquishing control (yet again?) to Apple and hoping that the provider does not go bust   (probably not Apple)

c) Store and play your music in the Cloud, example Google Play Music

Agata Solution

Music is stored as .mp3 files in a file system
Organisation Hierarchy:  artist, album -> tracks
Music stored on NAS (Network Storage)
iTunes used to play music
iTunes does NOT manage the NAS music library
Whilst the NAS could run an iTunes server it does not
Marcus is told to take care of backup!

Marcus Solution

Music is stored as .mp3 files in a file system
Organisation Hierarchy: Category, Artist, Album -> tracks
Songs stored on NAS (Network Storage) for 5 years
All songs i.e. not just last 5 years on Master Server
Master Server backed up to Remote Server

iTunes Library is subset of links into NAS directory
thus, iTunes DOES NOT own the music library

Google Music stores last 20,000 songs I want to keep in a Cloud format. (it is free!)

SoundCloud is subscribed for emergencies

Organising with mp3Tag, An Example
Back to the main point!  mp3 tagging.   Here is an example of taking the Free SoundCloud Album tracks from Amerigo Gazaway

Download The Departure

Install mp3Tag

In explorer mark all tracks and drag onto Mp3Tag window ... now from the menu, let us begin

 Make the numbering inside the MP3 nice

 Set the Genre

 Remove the comment

 Change the filenames

 Ah, all wonderfully pretty and done

And finally

Someone made an effort to make this program.   Why not send them some money, however small, to show your appreciation.

Marvin Gaye Mashup Album
AmerigoMusic on SoundCloud



Wednesday, April 09, 2014

The Move to 2.5 inches

Whilst the Corporate Server marketplace has already moved to 2.5" Hard Disk storage, Marcus has been slower to act.

Despite all the hype, 3.5 inch hard disks really do store a lot more data than their 2.5" counterparts.

As I remarked in March  we should soon have 6TB drives that we can actually buy  (although sadly I write this in April and we are still not there ... quite yet).

But for home Power users we now have the chance to create a setup with

a) A powerful deskside server
b) A Server with only 2.5" local hard disks
c) Backend Storage  (e.g. Network Attached Storage NAS)  with 3.5" hard disks

Aside: There are some NAS e.g. QNAP HS-210  which can take slimline i.e. not even all form factor 2.5" SATA.  Quite what is the point?  Why not a reduced bay 3.5" NAS if space really is so critical?

As a test I'm migrating the Virtualisation Server I re-built recently to see how it works out in practice.

 Goodbye to 6TB of Internal 3.5" storage

I'm not sure if you can see but afterwards it is much cleaner inside!

I will try running the Virtualisation testing from 1TB spinning or smaller SSD stored in the wonderful Icy Dock 4 bay cage which dates back to 2011.

Now if I had a lot of money I would of course consider upgrading the whole infrastruture to a smaller system with just enough space for a Server motherboard, PCI slots and 2.5" drives.

But this kind of motherboard and case does not really exist at the moment, although I did notice the new Supermicro Motherboard configurator can help with motherboard selection  (E-ATX sizing is 12x13 inches by the way!)

I'll report back later as to whether this configuration is fast enough i.e. with the move to 2.5" drives from 3.5" and a reliance on external Network Attached Storage.

QNAP NAS systems
Supermicro Motherboard Configurator
Lian Li Current E-ATX cases


Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The HxC Solid State Diskette Emulator

What is HxC
HxC is a small electronics, solid state diskette emulator. Using the emulator and some diskette images stored in .HFE files on an SD card, your computer  can emulate 5.25 and 8 inch diskette drives that were commonplace in the 1980's

You may have an old or vintage computer that uses diskettes. But diskettes get old and unreliable, and your diskette drives too may be faltering.

If only there was some way to image your diskettes and store them.  Then as needed you could take the diskette image and use them in the emulator.  Yes, this is what the HxC can provide.

This post uses my Cromemo machines as a practical example but the techniques can also be applied to other S100 brand systems and other machines of this genre.

HxC Features at a Glance

  • Emulate Two drives simultaneously, not just one
  • Each 1.2MB diskette physical stored as a 4MB file  (trivial these days!)
  • HxC unit has a SD card slot.  You format the SD card FAT32 and place the .HFE diskette images onit
  • Virtual Diskette format can accomodate FM and MFM format disks, and critically combined format diskettes  (e.g. track 0 is FM format and remainder is MFM)
  • 300 and 360 rpm
  • Different versions of the emulator exist.  Mine has an LCD display to indicate what .HFE file is mapped to which emulated disk, plus buttons to change that mapping and some other functions.

I've tried a lot of other emulators!  I think the solid state floppy disk emulator market was born out of necessity because of the use of floppies in fabric machines in Asia and Electronic organs in America/Europe.  Demand for an electronic/ solid state replacement to floppies was significant. I recommend Gough Lui Gotek review   (and his website is amazing BTW)

I've also commented on the issues with emulating diskettes that have a mixed format track 0.  Please read this.

Setting Up the Hardware:

That Cromemco 64FDC Modification

I devised a simple modification that has previously allowed me to use Mode 3, 3.5" drives to emulate the older physical 8" drives.

This is advantageous because Mode 3, 3.5" drives whilst scarce are still available.  And the 8" DSDD  (double sided and density) format stored 1.2MB, considerably more than the 5.25" DSDD format of about 390KB.

Even if you don't use a physical 3.5" drive you need the conversion if your HxC is going to emulate an 8" drive on your Cromemco system.


Setting the HxC Jumpers

The configuration I settled on is 4 drives
(I won't bore you with all the other configurations that did not work)

Drive A = HxC drive A
Drive B = Physical 3.5" emulating 8"
Drive C = HxC drive B
Drive D = Physical 5.25"

I tried a lot of other jumper combinations but I found the manual quite annoying and unhelpful

So for now if you use these settings you will get a C: and A: drive on your Vintage System

Cutting the Cable
I had a 4 position cable which I have just cut so that 3 devices will now have 4 drives ...

You only need 3 positions because the single HxC connector will be good for 2 drives of course.

First find a full floppy cable with 5 connectors on it: The motherboard connector and  2 card edge females (for 5.25" drives) and two IDC? connectors to take male pins (from 3.5" drives).

This is the end of the cable with the twist in it.
I don't require the last card edge so I cut it off

Next Pull open the last IDC connector and untwist the cable. Then I re-assembled and had to glue back the top, because it was a single use affair and it would not fit back otherwise.

At this point 1 have a cable with 

1. A motherboard connector
2. 3 other connectors
3. No twist!

The connections will be in sequence:

1.  Computer
2.  360K 5.25" drive as D:
3.  3.5" drive emulating B:
4.  HxC with drives known to herself as A: B:  and to the computer as A: and C:

 Filing of the power connector necessary also

Lashup before mounting.


This was complicated by the fact that on my unit the mounting holes were not tapped i.e. just holes and so no screws could be used to mount.

Instead I settled on self adhesive Velcro.   It's been 3 weeks and it is holding nicely!

Initial Plan
The cunning plan was to add 2 synthetic drives (A: and C:) via HxC to the existing machine configuration.  Then I can boot the machine to the physical B: (8" pseudo) diskette, for example, and copy information to the A: or C: drives which are stored on the SD card.

A bit of a Problem
Diskettes are stored as .HFE images on the FAT32 formatted SD card.

Each .HFE image is bigger than the diskette.  A 1.2MB floppy is stored as a 4MB .HFE file.  On my 2GB SD card for example this is trivial!

There is a tool under Windows that can create blank .HFE files.  Except

It cannot create Cromemco Blank diskettes!

Can you see why? Well it is because there is only the provision to create all tracks of the virtual diskette image the same.  And we need track 0 in FM format, and the remainder in MFM format. Hmmm.

So the cunning workaround plan is
a) Make a Blank Physical disk on Vintage Cromemco
b) Take diskette to my real (1983) IBM PC and convert from  physical disk to .IMD (Dave Dunfield's Image Disk program).
c) Take the .IMD file to my Windows 2012 x64 server virtualisation PC and startup the HxCFloppyEmulator v2.0.20.1
c) Use the HxCFloppyEmulator program to read the .IMD and write .HFE
Repeat steps a-c with the different blank disk formats that you need.

Of course there are CDOS, Cromix, Uniform, Ftar

And single and Double sided

And single and Double Density

In other words a lot of combinations.

I have saved all the common blank HxC Cromemco Formats here

Some Initial Tests I made 
I selected the A: of the HxC to be a large Cromemco CDOS  (Cromemco Disk Operating System) diskette image.  Then in the Resident Disk Operating System   (RDOS) monitor program ran the tz command to test the memory and diskette.

Cromix for the Z80 Processor can (just) fit onto a single 1.2MB diskette (sans help files). And here we see an HxC image loading to Cromix.

I will make a much longer separate post showing many more tests that were performed and the results (mostly positive!)
How Can I use the HxC with Cromemco Images?

  • Goto the Cromemco diskette index
  • Perhaps decide the diskette you need from the catalog
  • Download the HxC software and install
  • Using the VirtualFloppy Emulator, read in the .IMD file and save as .HFE file
  • Place the .HFE file onto your SD card
  • Place card into HxC reader, press middle button to select drive, then select the file to be loaded against that drive.
  • You are now ready to use that diskette either to boot from or as a data source etc.
  • Further you can of course reformat that .HFE image or do anything you want to it.

NB: I already knew that some .IMD images were not correctly made.   (Often commented in the catalog). In this case you should contact me and ask for the IMD to be remade, and then (of course) after doing it, I will as a matter of course make a .HFE companion image and place to website.

What do the buttons Do?

Again the manual was not very helpful.  So I can tell you:

The middle button is to select an option
The left and right buttons navigate a list
Hold down the middle button to get into a list of functions

Some helpful pictures:

Which HxC Emulator?
I chose the SD FB Floppy Drive Emulator on a Black Case.  There are many other models.  But this one has a case and a display.  Important to me.  The polish Przemyslaw Krawczyk nickname Lotharek runs the best website of HxC emulator designs and he'll build your emulator to order after you have purchased it from his website or ebay shop.

In Conclusion

The HxC diskette emulator is a huge advance for Cromemco or other vintage owners wishing to preserve their diskette images on solid state media.

The emulator is crucially able to cope with read and write to images of mixed FM and MFM single and double density formats.

Furthermore the rotational speeds of 300 and 360 RPM used by 5.25 and 8" diskette drives.

The emulator can emulate 2 drives simultaneously with each virtual diskette image normally being about 4MB on the FAT32 formatted SD card.

Cromemco users can take advantage of the existing  diskette index to find the diskette(s) they need, place them onto the SD card in the HxC reader in just minutes and be up and running.

SD FB Floppy Drive Emulator

Blank .HFE Cromemco format diskettes