Meeting: Interesting Ways to Use RISC OS

May 2009

Three WROCC members talked about things which took their interest. Steve Potts and Steve Bass walked us through the process of installing a compact flash ‘hard disc’ in a RiscPC, while Derek Baron gave us a fascinating insight into the RISC OS software he has written to assist with his stamp-collecting hobby. The evening was opened by Colin Sutton, who presented a slideshow of the photos he took at the Wakefield Show in April.

Report by John Bryan

I must declare I rather let myself into writing this report by commenting “How will I put that into my essay?” during one of Steve Potts’ admissions of error.

Show summary

The meeting was a little late in starting due to the vast array of equipment being connected and tested prior to the presentations. Chris Hughes opened the evening, giving us the lowdown on the recent show in Wakefield, and inviting members of the audience to send in any articles for the newsletter.

He went on to the events of the evening, starting with a slideshow of the Wakefield Show 2009 compiled and presented by Colin Sutton. Colin was to be followed by what was quite rightly declared the main topic: the double act of Little Steve Bass and Large Steve Potts; Derek Baron would close the evening by describing his use of a RISC OS computer.

The slideshow was extremely impressive in its professionalism and, out of the many, many photographs taken, Colin managed to take one of myself not paying attention in the lecture room!

Compact flash in a RiscPC

The main event did indeed feature the aforementioned duo, with Little Steve Bass explaining the advantages of upgrading a RiscPC to use a compact flash solid state hard drive. The cost is quite reasonable, considering that small, less than 10Gb drives are more difficult to source. My RiscPC hard drive is only 3Gb with lots of space still available (but for how long?).

We were informed of the different types and, as there are apparently several different mounting possibilities or ‘form factors’ as Steve called them, a little homework is required to determine which type would suit you. If you have ever delved inside your machine to upgrade the original mechanical hard drive, these small devices can be added to or replace it with ease.

At this point Large Steve Potts took over, and stressed that it was a ‘live’ demonstration. With the aid of a video camera so the audience could follow the action. fitting the adaptor is simply a matter of mounting the Compact Flash IDE memory card adaptor into an available IDE drive connector. Again if you have been inside your machine this is really straightforward.

With some trepidation, the machine was switched on and according to Large Steve the various banners of RISC OS 4.39 and RISC OS Six appeared. There was some surprise that the new hard drive had not been recognised and placed on the iconbar. “Does it need formatting?” went up the cry.

Large Steve then stated that the Simtec interface IDEtool software would need to be used to format the new drive, which the interface card had actually seen. The major things to decide were the name of the disc and the disc size. The name that came to hand was – guess what? – ‘Compact’, and the size was determined by clicking the up and down arrows until the program said there was zero space left! Steve advised that if using the built in IDE interface (on the motherboard), a recent copy of HForm – as supplied with RISC OS – is needed to format the card.

Testing the card

Answering ‘Yes’ to the interminable ‘Are you sure?’ messages, Steve then ran the program – which gave an error. Undeterred he carried on and restarted the machine, once again stressing that this was a ‘live’ demonstration, and was really surprised the new ‘Compact’ drive appeared.

To prove the new drive was indeed there and would hold data, Steve created a directory and a simple text file. The file was then duly saved, much to Large Steve’s astonishment. Now came the real test: could it boot up the computer?

Steve set the machine to copy the !Boot directory to the ‘Compact’ drive. The machine reported an error some three quarters of the way through – I think it was Steve’s impatience in trying to do many other tasks at the same time.

Until now everything went well. Steve then explained that in order to make the card drive bootable, the famous *Opt 4,2 command must be issued to it. This done, the machine restarted and came back as normal but using the mechanical drive! Once again Steve stressed this was a ‘live’ demonstration. Removing the old drive cable and starting once again the machine failed to boot up correctly, showing the new RISC OS Six fault reporting in action.

“Ah – the copy of !Boot is not complete, due to the error.” Plugging in the old drive, restarting, and completing the copying of the !Boot directory manually on to the new drive did the trick. The old drive was set so that !Boot would be ignored, and was disconnected.

Now with only the Compact Flash drive connected, the RiscPC started and got to the RISC OS Six banner pretty smartly. Errors were reported but, as Steve explained, the original boot files were referring to ‘HardDisc4’ – which was obviously not there.

From the audience came the suggestion to time the startup, to note any difference. Once again, Steve reminded us this was a ‘live’ experiment. In the case of the compact flash, startup from power-on to the banner of RISC OS Six took 28 seconds. Returning the system back to the mechanical drive produced a startup time of 32 seconds – hardly any difference, but then it was realised that the machine was actually still using the new card drive. Resetting *Opt 4,2 on the mechanical drive fared no better, as RISC OS had swapped the drives in software and used the first that it came to.

Removal of the compact flash drive sorted the confusion, and the start time lengthened to almost 60 seconds. It would seem therefore that the solid state drive is not only quieter, cooler, more robust, and readily available – it is also quicker to boot up.

From the above it would appear that a catalogue of errors were performed on the ‘live’ experiment, but each one added to the humour of the evening, and I for one came away with more knowledge of the filing system and its setting up. I am now looking for an adaptor and compact flash card, to keep my trusty RiscPC up and running.

I would like to thank both Steves for their most enjoyable ‘live’ presentation.

Philately on RISC OS

Derek Baron was then invited to take the chair and at first I thought he was just demonstrating a program about recording, filing and printing his stamp collection details. However as his talk progressed it dawned on me that he had written this very versatile program himself!

The ability to list stamps still to be obtained and even print sheets so that they can be stored and displayed did somewhat amaze me.

The stamp collecting veered into collecting postmarks and then in Derek’s case, the postmarks of a particular Austrian town that chronicled the changes in its history since franking began. Unfortunately I had to leave before the conclusion but enjoyed the evening being informative and humorous.