Friday, February 28, 2014

Still Searching for the Key ... the USB Key

Like most Computer professionals I move a lot of data. Between locations I make use of the USB key and since USB 3 arrived in 2009 I have been looking for a decent key.  

It is now been over 4 years of frustration later.  However  I am still searching for a USB Key with these characteristics:

  • At least 80MB/sec [ so in my 5 minute coffee threshold I can transfer at least 20GB]
  • Very Small [so it is ultra portable]
  • No Cap, preferably slide  [so it is protected and I can't lose the cap]
  • Keyring attachable [so I have it with me always]
  • LOW Weight  [under 10 grams]
  • >= 64GB  [so I can move a whole Database]
  • Good aesthetics [we need form as well as function]
I do have a major aversion to putting crap, unnecessary objects on my keyring.  These could include a

  • SecureID    (there is a software program, or just ask the NSA)
  • Battery Charger
  • Seatbelt Cutter
  • Keyfinder   (whistle)
  • Light
  • Leatherman

Of course the principle objection to these extra objects is based on weight.  I'm not carrying  (usually by running or cycling) all those extra grams around all day.  So speaking of weight ..

The Current Status Quo

My 4 gram Muji Keyring is hard to beat 

And what do Marcus and Agata currently use?

Agata has a stylish USB2 key. Kingston Data Traveller. Keyring attachable.  6 Grams. There is no USB 3 equivalent!

Marcus for the last 4 years has used a 64GB micro SD card inside a carrier,  3 grams, terrible aesthetics, USB 2.0 key still going strong but sloooow.

Here are the leading contenders for an upgrade, which all FAIL on some important detail:


Thursday, February 27, 2014

Relative Values

Tom Cruise: Vanilla Sky

When I say Relative Values, of course I not only mean comparative values between two viewpoints, but also the values of my Relatives!

My thoughts crystallised  this week as I failed to sell my Western Digital 2TB hard disk for a modest price

Advertisment is here

from a man who told me he was

Doing Well
In our short conversation he enthusiastically claimed to be /doing well/.  But despite this he wanted a big discount on my hard disk and some extras too.

Like a muppet I agreed, but 3 no show appointments later, inconveniencing Marcus and Agata, we gave up on this /successful/ young man. 

Cutting Back
I spoke to a relation, who told me that since her Unemployment had started, their family was cutting back.   Indeed she aplogised for her downgraded car, now merely a Japanese Hatchback.

But some moments later whilst discussing schooling costs for her children Jemimah and Tarquin, it transpired that each term costs about 10000 CHF   (6000 GBP or about 10K USD).  Click, whirr, 3 terms, 2 kids ... this is about 36,000 British pounds per year, and this is primary school! 

And so to summarise:

The next time somebody tells you that they are /doing well/ or /cutting back/ just ask them exactly what they mean

One persons's idea of success or expensive may not correlate with another.   It really rather depends on the viewpoint.

International School Lausanne
Vanilla Sky, Inception Style

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Dyson Hot and Cool AM05 Review

We have been the proud owners of a Dyson Hot and Cool for over 3 months now, so we feel qualified to post this short review.

Cool Features

Most people are drawn to the different is not radical redesign of the classic fan heater by Mr Dyson.

Essentially air is drawn from the base and then  ejected upwards and out from the open hoop towards you.

Dyson AM05 Hot and Cool

Our motivations for buying the unit were

a) Conventional fan heaters don't heat a room, rather a limited area just in front of the unit.  The Dyson with a vastly higher air flow promises to heat a much larger volume

b) A single unit is a heater and a fan in hot weather.  Whilst we have a portable air conditioner it is large, bulky, difficult to setup.   If we had one unit that we can use for winter heating and summer cooling it would be more efficient.

c) Our old fan heater bit the dust.  We needed a replacement.

Other Interesting Points / Facilities
  • As noted it can heat or just fan, in which case it has a cooling effect

  • The unit has a remote control that magnetically sticks to the unit top when not in hand.  This means (for example) you can plug it in to heat the bedroom, then before you nod off just remotely power it down.  Nice
  • The airflow is really huge. Much, much larger than a conventional heater

  • The unit can tilt forward or backward to direct the hot air down or up.   I can preheat my running shoes before stepping out into the <10 degree C coldness of the morning.
  • The unit has a motorised pan action.  Also regulated via the remote control

  • The temperature can be set and the unit regulate its' output until this is achieved.

What's not to like?

  1. The price is still stratospheric!
  2. The lowest fan setting is too fast for Marcus,  and the consequence is that it is noisier than the /slower/ fan heater that is replaces

A fine fan heater and at the price we hope that it serves us well for quite a few years to come.


Dyson Hot and Cool website

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Fun with Firmware Upgrades

Another wonderful thing about having a full working Virtualisation and Multiple OS test server is that [at last] I've had time to play with an old favourite of mine

Firmware Upgrades

From the beginning ...

Going back in time some of my earliest Hardware cards had fixed, that is to say invariant Integrated circuits.  I'm going to use some actual pictures and examples to make it all so clear.

This is my classic 1977 Cromemco TUART Card Revision E

This provides 2 serial and 2 parallel ports.

If you consult My Card Revisions Weblink  you will see several files for the Tuart Card ...  Say for Revision E

 -----------------------------------------------------------------------                             MODIFICATION LEVEL SUMMARY

          Product Code         P/N                       Product Type TU-ART    
          Page 1 of 2          Date Issued 08/01/83      Revision E           
        =======================================================================           Mod Level 1      Reference #              Date Released 07/19/79
        -----------------------------------------------------------------------           Change: 1) For Tu-Arts used with 3703 printers only:
                     Cut IC7-5 to J3-22 and insert R28 (see ML 7) between
                     these two terminals.

          Reason: 1) This mod cuts ringing on the strobe line which can
                     cause the 3703 printer to print extraneous characters.
        -----------------------------------------------------------------------           Mod Level 2      Reference #              Date Released 11/16/79
          Change: 1) Cut pin 26 of 26 pin CA connectors (#017-0012).

          Reason: 1) A polarizing key will be added to all cables attached
                     to these connectors to guarantee correct mating of
                     cable to connector.
        -----------------------------------------------------------------------           Mod Level 3      Reference #              Date Released 03/26/80
          Change: 1) Superceded by Mod Level 6.
        -----------------------------------------------------------------------           Mod Level 4      Reference #              Date Released 08/06/80
          Change: 1) Put 1K resistor between IC24-10 and IC24-14.
                  2) Put 1K resistor between IC42-1 and IC42-14.
                  3) Put 1K resistor between IC1-13 and IC1-16.

          Reason: 1) To pull-up outputs of IC28 (74S288) when Tu-Art is not
                     being addressed and the 288 is tri-stated (See ECO 203.).
        -----------------------------------------------------------------------           Mod Level 5      Reference #              Date Released 08/07/80
          Change: 1) Replace metal screws & washers with nylon screws &
                     washers, at the locations indicated: IC37-7905/7946.

          Reason: 1) This regulators heatsink is electrical hot.  Nylon
                     hardware will alert users to this effect.
        -----------------------------------------------------------------------           Mod Level 6      Reference #              Date Released 10/03/80
          Change: 1) (Supercedes Mod Level 3)
                     Remove D2, pull IC34 pin 5.
                     Jump IC13-12 to IC10-6.
                     Jump IC13-13 to IC13-2.
                     Jump IC13-11 to IC34-5 on the chip.
                  2) IC34: replace the 7400 with 74LS00.

          Reason: 1) To improve input thresholds for the worst case
                     in the interrupt priority chain.  This change
                     replaces equivalent DTL "AND" function with TTL
                  2) The 74LS00 is preferable to the 7400.
        -----------------------------------------------------------------------           Mod Level 7      Reference #              Date Released 08/11/81
          Change: 1) Supercedes Mod Level 1
                     R28: change for 22ohm resistor to 47ohm.
                     To be done on all Tu-Arts.

          Reason: 1) R28 is added in series to the Data Strobe line (D7)
                     to reduce ringing when a Centronics printer is used
                     (port B).  R28 value should be 47ohm, 22ohm is
        -----------------------------------------------------------------------           Mod Level 8      Reference #              Date Released 03/30/81
          Change: 1) All 74LS04's should be TI only.
                     New part no. 010-0066-1.

          Reason: 1) Chips other than TI fail to oscillate (which oscillation
                     depends of change of gain in linear region).

And so with a soldering Iron in hand this leads to this:

A more modern way would be to control some functionality using a Microprocessor controlled card, driven with some software in a ROM  (Read Only Memory) or even  PROM  (Programmable Read Only Memory) or even memory that can be /flashed/ using a special low level program.

Example Early Microprocessor Controlled Card - Cromemco Octart

The Cromemco Octart had its own Z80 processor and Memory and so was an entirely self contained computer in its own right.

Moving onto Disk Controllers, Cromemco also implemented dedicated Z80 computers to perform hard disk operations using the STDC and ESDC Seagate and ESDI disk interface cards respectively.

If you click on the photograph you can see the large horizontally mounted Zilog Z80 Processor.

Here is the source code to the ESDC track format:

; ***********************************************************************
;   format track
;   ENTRY   HL points to buffer preamble
; ***********************************************************************
tw_wr:  push    hl
ld      hl,ciowp_init       ; point to cio initialization string
ld      c,cioctrl           ; control port address
ld      b,ciowp_siz         ; size of string
ld      hl,dmawp_init       ; point to dma init string
ld      b,dmawp_siz-1       ; don't include go command
ld      c,dmabase           ; base address of dma chip
in      a,waitam            ; wait for index
ld      a,(iy+es_wdsel)     ;  /
out     cyl_type,a          ; /
outi                        ; start dma
ld      a,(norsel)          ; normal code
out     cyl_type,a          ; /
pop     hl                  ; restore pointer

ciowp_init:                         ; random read cio initialization string
db      016h,0ffh           ; CT1 MSB counter
db      017h,0ffh           ; CT1 LSB counter
db      00ah,006h           ; Start counter
ciowp_siz:equ    $-ciowp_init       ; length of string

db      0c3h                ; reset
db      062h                ; block length follows
dw      22000               ; size of write
db      060h                ; cycle specs
db      002h                ; 2 cycle transfer
db      088h                ; stop on match
db      0ffh                ; never stop mask
db      0adh                ; port b address follows
dw      wrapbyte            ; address of wrape around write pattern
db      082h                ; rdy, ce, stop specs
db      0cfh                ; load registers
db      087h                ; start dma
dmawp_siz:equ    $-dmawp_init       

wrapbyte:db     000h                ; pattern for wrap around write

Don't forget this code was loaded onto the card  (i.e. firmware) and executed by the onboard Z80 to make (in this case disk formatting) work.

Firmware Upgrades today
Consumer firmware upgrades are today discouraged but you might still need to perform either a Motherboard of Hard Disk firmware upgrade.

In my experiments I tested DISK firmware upgrades for the following manufacturers with results:

Seagate: Best tools and resources!  To get things to work I had to boot from DOS or from a custom generated CDROM and worse, connect the drive to be upgraded to a specific port on a specific SATA controller.

Hitachi: Hitachi Hi-Test was eventually located and installed. But this OEM utility was so old that it did not actually work even in an old 32bit windows native environment.  

Crucial: Newer M4 and M500 drives have windows friendly upgrade tools.   C300 not so good.  Would not work even from a customised boot CDROM.

OCZ: Windows Friendly tool that works

Western Digital.  Have a Universal Firmware Updater but this does not cover its older desktop 3.5" drives.

Plug for Seagate Tools

Seagate Tools for Windows worked fine under x64 and displayed Seagate and non Seagate drives and allowed testing

Seagate Drive Detect was similarly useful

HDtune Pro is also a good tool to have bought.  You can use it for performance stats before and after any firmware upgrade as well as 

Feature and SMART health counter display.

OEM position in 2014
Nearly ever conceivable component of your electronics now has upgradable firmware.  There are a series of proprietary and vendor specific tools that are not released to the public to upgrade all kinds of devices.

To my great fascination I found out that some of the Power Supplies on my last IBM, large AIX computer actually contained an embedded Linux computer to report statistics on each Power Supply to send reports to a service processor. Amazing!

Consumer Position in 2014
Today Manufacturers are doing their level best to discourage user Firmware upgrades.    Since a firmware upgrade done wrong can /brick/ your device they figure it is best left alone.

In some exceptional cases though, particularly for newer SSD manufacturers have finally realised that the customer needs a simple, idiot proof tool that works directly under Microsoft Windows or exceptionally Mac OSX

HD tune Pro
Seagate Tools
Seagate Drive Detect

Crucial SSD Disk Firmware

Monday, February 24, 2014

Sunday Night Listening to the Radio

To set the scene, Marcus and Agata have not quite been sitting on our ****s all day.  We did manage a small relaxed cycle.

This is thanks to 
a) Winter being over in Switzerland
b) Sensible Thermal clothing, because in shaded parts of our route it was down to low single figures deg C

But as Sunday evening drew in; Marcus retreated to his study to settle into one of those most traditional English activities

Listening to BBC Radio4

Thanks to modern technology it is now possible to listen to the BBC Radio4 schedule, either live or on demand.  All you need is an Internet connection.

So to all my friends here in Switzerland or even America

Why not listen to Professor Hugh Montgomery right now

Kirsty Young's castaway this week is Professor Hugh Montgomery.
His area of academic specialism is intensive care medicine and he's also known for his pioneering genetic research into the ACE fitness gene - which determines our capacity for either strength or endurance.
In themselves significant achievements. But he is also, a children's author, an ultra-marathon runner and the current holder of the world record for playing piano underwater. At the age of only 15 he was also part of the dive team that investigated the treasures of The Mary Rose.
He says, "I've learnt that life can end randomly and pointlessly at any time. I don't want to be on my death bed and think 'damn! I wish I'd learnt to paint and write songs'"

Further I'd recommend that you visit the main BBC radio Website from where you can sign up for a BBC iD so that you can indicate your favourite programs.  Once you do that it will track what you still have to listen to.

For me, since the musical segments are abridged,  the great musical selections had me pausing the playback and ...

temporarily switching over to YouTube to pickup full versions of the guests' selections.

Another great relaxing evening.

Technology has certainly moved on.  It's no longer Once upon a time in the West.   The Internet is here to save us all.

Professor Hugh Montgomery DID
Desert Island Discs Home

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sunday Sermon:How Do you Explain

As usual, other people's comments are far more entertaining than mine

nuri baltalıoğlu

Sex? NO, wait, it's music. It might as well be astronomy. Or Physics. I've got so many purposes, I don't know what to do with them.

Simon Gauvin
Yeah sure, we just have to look at the evidence.?

Joe Salvatore1 
One word: Platypus?

Some Supportive Videos

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Stupidity Barometer

Subtitle: The Financial Stupidity Barometer

In my short lifetime I have seen some financial busts.   Many of them have been preceded by some pretty wacko Financial behaviour.

Now if we leave the Elephant in the Room (Quantitative Easing) aside for the moment since I've already commented on this,  I can recall about 17 years ago the pre crash stupidity index that was demonstrated to me in

Vintage Cars

In recent years though I am not sure if I can top the stupidity over-valuation index with the purchase of WhatsApp by Facebook for 19 Billion US dollars.

Facebook is a company valued at about 100 Billion USD   (I mean 100,000 Million Dollars, using the US Billion definition)  which provides a free Social Networking services:

Buying  for [reportedly] 19,000 Million USD  (19 Billlion USD)  a company  WhatsApp:

  • Provides a free Cross Platform Instant Messaging Application
  • Sends messages/ text/ pictures to other WhatsApp users via the Internet
  • 55 Employees
  • 4 year old company with 420 million users
  • Daily volumes of about 20 billion messages sent and 30 billion received
  • WhatsApp is bigger than its' rvials like Viber
  • Sale is 4Billion USD cash and remainder Facebook Stock
  • Facebook reportedly did it to gain user base and to remove WhatsApp competition.

The list of companies valued less than WhatsApp
includes American Airlines, Hertz and Ralph Lauren ..(follow the link)

Not yet worth 19Billion

Oh, it certainly is a Brave New World out there.

Friends:Joey- Sup

Classic Car Pricing
Facebook Buys out the Competition
Koum WhatsApp's Founder in the Billionaire Club

Was FaceBook Cool or FOOL?
Was Google Planning to Outbid Facebook
Wikipedia WhatsApp
Still waiting to become 19Billion

Friday, February 21, 2014

A Big Worm

Quite a loud shriek was heard last night whilst I was having a shower at home in Lausanne. Then I heard Agata say:

There is a huge worm in our Washing Machine

Clearly I thought that I had misheard something.  So with water dripping all over the floor (from me) I ran into the utility room.

Agata repeated:  There is a huge worm in our Washing Machine.

Indeed pulling back the rubber I saw a fat earthworm of about 15cm sitting inside the folds of the washing machine liner.

[Above is a reconstruction, because I grabbed large worm and threw it down the toilet before thinking about taking a photo]

This seemed quite impossible.  I mean how the hell did it get there?

Did we pickup a large worm onto our clothes whilst running? Then innocently transport it into the washing machine without noticing?

It seems impossible.

Did a small worm somehow crawl through the water exit, into the washing machine, past the filters, feed on washing powder and 40-50 degree C water, and lie in wait for us?

It seems impossible!

As an obsessively clean couple Marcus and Agata do in fact clean inside the washing machine, and the liner, and I did this about a week ago.  Agata tells me she cleaned after that.

Our fuller list of Possible Explanations

  1. Worm was on clothes (How, since we have only road run recently?).  We did not notice?  We put clothes in. Somehow the bugger crawled from the main spinning compartment into the outer sleeve.
  2. Worm crawled up exit water pipe (from basement 3 floors below), past filters, into washing machine?
  3. We were both hallucinating
  4. Somebody broke into our flat (without signs of entry), planted a worm in the washing machine and left
  5. The Worm was sent from the Worm GOD, who was irritated that humankind had until now ignored him/her.

I asked Mr Google and he did not know.  I asked friends far and wide and nobody has ever had a similar occurrence.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Using A: Legacy Floppy in todays 32bit or 64bit, Windows and Linux Operating Systems

Subtitle:  Legacy Floppy Compatibility with UEFI boot

Introduction: In search of a fully working A:


Floppy Disk  DOES NOT work at all when booting using UEFI.

Floppy DOES work  when booting with BIOS in Linux, 32-bit Windows 8.1 and Windows Server

Floppy DOES work partially when booting 64-bit Windows 8.1.

There are exceptions see below, 360K 1.2MB and 1.44MB floppies do not behave the same

I am re-purposing an older Server computer to help with some Vintage Computer restoration and forensics.

It is critically important that I have the use of the A: floppy diskette drive, at least for the 'Operating System Guests' that will run inside the Server  (under VMware).   

But really the A: floppy, be it a 360K, 1.2MB or 1.44MB physical floppy should be accessible by both the booting Operating System and any Virtualised Guest OS.

Initial Building
A check of the presence (or not) of the A: drive might seem to be one of the first things to do.

However in the initial euphoria of Building a Windows 81.x64 system other protective measures like configuring the Anti-Virus or Backup or NIC-teaming seemed to jump in ahead.

Therefore it was not until recently that I was astonished to find that whereas the floppy diskette driver was loaded according to the OS,  the A: drive was 


The initial problem seemed to be Windows 8.1 x64 since I test installed Windows 8.1 x32 and it saw the floppy A: fine, on the same computer, with the same identical BIOS settings.

SO what did I find?
If Windows (be it 8.1 or 2012) installs via UEFI and generates a multiple partition UEFI style partition layout


If however you coax Windows into installing the old way, then (on the same computer) you WILL get a A: floppy.

Then you can use this floppy at the native OS level, or within a VMware guest, example Microsoft DOS 6.22 or Ubuntu Linux 

Come On, Do you really Need the Floppy?
Googling the answer bring you in touch with numerous Know-it-all's who either

a) suggest you use a USB floppy
b) make sarcastic or humorous comments (to them) about you being an idiot for needing a floppy

So, YES, actually I really need the floppy.  

Under DOS, if I am lucky I will use specialist tools to try and read the non DOS diskettes from old Cromemco Systems, and under Ubuntu/ Linux Mint we can read the diskettes with dd or read (and try to make sense of) the diskette image files of the Solid State Floppy Simulators I am testing.

Bad System with UEFI

Note the UEFI Disk Layout that is symptomatic of the issue

Good System
Before installing Windows 8.1 I used the Linux tool gParted to create 3 FAT partitions of 1GB each, leaving Windows no choice but to create a single MBR style 4th Windows Partition.

Registry Differences with UEFI Boot

On a UEFI boot system the HKLM registry entry for the floppy disk looks like the above.

Whereas on a system which has the A: drive notice the slight difference.  (I tried exporting the difference and importing but that does not work).

Further Issues even with BIOS style boots
Just when I thought everything was sorted I rechecked the compatibility using 

a) Physical 360K 5.25" diskette drive
b) Physical 1.2MB 5.25" diskette drive
c) Physical 1.44MB 3.5" diskette drive.

Well, blow me down, even some non UEFI i.e. regular MBR based BIOS booting systems let me down....

[In all cases BIOS is set to correct physical diskette size]

And most importantly even if the base OS works, then VMware might still not be able to pass these resources to a child OS ..

Windows 2012 R2 Storage Server x64
1.44 MB floppy WORKS FINE
xcopy fine
format fine

1.2MB floppy works FINE
format fine
copy fine

360K floppy in 1.2MB drive
command line fomat fine
copy fine

360K floppy
GUI format -> Windows can't format this type of disk
format a: /u /f:360    OK
GUI and command line copy OK

VMware diskette access

VMware Child OS Access - Fails

I've tried a clean boot and disabling AVG antivirus but still the VMware child cannot access A: of the native Server OS.

Windows 8.1 x64
1.44 MB floppy OK

1.2MB floppy  
can view files from GUI, but not format
format a: /u  OK
GUI and copy command work OK

360K floppy in 1.2M drive
format a: /u /f:360K    OK
GUI and copy command work OK

360K floppy  
GUI format -> Windows can't format this type of disk
GUI and command line copy  OK
format a: /u   OK

VMware guest  ... Example DOS partition
Freedos 1.1 Partition installed
Physical 1.44MB floppy passed to VMware guest and setup in VMware bios as 1.44MB ..

format a: /u OK
chkdsk a: OK

Windows 8.1 x32
1.44 MB floppy  not fully working
format a: -> Parameters not supported by drive
format a: /t:80 /n:9 -> Parameters not supported by drive
xcopy OK

1.2MB floppy
GUI format fails -> Windows can't format this type of disk
Command line format format a: /u  OK
GUI or cmd line copy OK

360K floppy in 1.2M drive
GUI format fails
format a: /u /f:360K   OK
GUI or cmd line copy OK

360K floppy
format a: /u /f:360K -> Cannot open volume for direct access
dir a: -> The parameter is incorrect

VMware guest  ... Example DOS partition
Freedos 11 Partition installed
Physical 1.44MB floppy passed to VMware guest and setup in vmware bios as 1.44MB ..

format OK
chkdsk OK

360K disk inside a physical machine (on attach) hangs Virtual Machine.  Eventually error is presented (Could not connect to Floppy A:.  It is being used by another virtual machine or some other progam)

Linux Mint 16 x64
1.44 MB floppy WORKS FINE
format works
cp copy works

1.2MB floppy 
mformat works
cp copy works

360K floppy in 1.2M drive  OK

360K floppy  FAILS
modprobe floppy
mformat a:  -> Can't open /dev/fd0  [But /dev/fd0 is not only there but I relaxed permissions also, and also did a modprobe]

VMware guest  ... Example DOS partition
Freedos 11 Partition installed
Physical 1.44MB floppy passed to VMware guest and setup in vmware bios as 1.44MB ..
format 1.44MB okay
chkdsk 1.44MB okay

Linux mint seems to have some clever options allowing for format of track 0 differently to other tracks.  This is exactly what Cromemco diskettes need.  What is actually needed is the ability to read such formatted diskettes.

With Mint I notice that even when diskette in /dev/fd0 is unmounted the head load light of the diskette drive is LIT continuously.

And Finally of course

  • Latest ATX and other consumer motherboards don't have any floppy drive electronics at all.
  • Latest consumer motherboards might only have UEFI so this again means no floppy

UEFI boot loses floppy
FDC Legacy Tests
FreeDos 1.1