Car Boot Sale Sagas

By Ron Kilroy

Originally published in EUG #27

Three years ago, I accepted early retirement with an offer I couldn't refuse. For if I had, it might not have been available at a future date.

Other than the fiscal considerations, among many problems was the thought of keeping fit and hobbies. The former is covered by Tai Chi twice a week and the latter by electronics, etc.

Electronics today is no longer discrete components but chips with everything so, computers and I having been at variance since the late 1950s, it's time we got together. With this consideration in mind, I purchased an Acorn Electron system from a colleague before I left work. It comprised an Elk, Plus 1, 5.25" disk drive, AP3, tape recorder, View and Viewsheet cartridges and Philips "Monitor 80" VDU. A Panasonic KX-P1081 printer was added later, bought second hand with no handbook (A recurring problem with many items I buy). A friend gave me a 1081 handbook a month or so later.

The reason I chose the BBC equipment was due to my confusion as to what PC and peripherals I'll require and the expense; a decision I have not regretted in the light of the experience of watching a friend struggle with his PC loaded with WINDOWS 95 and trying to "drive" a printer.

I must admit I've had a great time trying to improve my system. With both software and hardware, a prime source has been the ubiquitous Car Boot Sales; they're like a box of chocolates without the index and "you never know what you'll find next".

Boot Sale Season is now in full swing and I have got a number of both Electron User and Beebug magazines. The latter mags whetted my appetite to know something about the BBC Micro.

I am not a Boot Sale addict but I cannot resist some items, with the following consequences:

  1. Dirty OKI-Microline 192. On cleaning, one of the circuit boards was found to have a surface-mounted resistor, displaced due to corrosion. The resistor was refitted with a 1/8 watt axial resistor.
    When the printer was connected to the Electron, subsequent to a successful self test, the print head functioned but there was no "line feed" with printed text continually overwriting on the same line. There was no handbook available, and internally no DIP switches and only links. I therefore phoned the Oracle (Gus) who informed me that some printers receive the line feed from their PCs and, in the case of the BBC and Elk series, to revert to BASIC's *FX6,0 command.
    Subsequently I realised that pencilled in many of my second-hand books is this gem of information at the top of the page.
    What does "Topset" the legend over one of the keys, signify?
  2. Another weekend I purchased a BBC Model B, a Philips "green" monitor, 5.25" disk drive and supporting handbooks. All were dirty and said to be working and, after a cleanup, all did with both View and Viewstore ROMs in place. This was a big gamble. I know that electrical goods bought from Boot Sales are risky both in terms of safety and function. What prompted me to take the risk was that on a previous week, at another sale, I saw a BBC Micro plus a disk drive on offer for just £3.00 and, while querying if the items worked, someone else snapped them up!
    Another BBC Micro I found was fitted with a WORDWISE+ ROM, but again no handbook. A neighbour has the Archimedes version of the ROM so I have borrowed his books.
    I intend keeping the BBC Micro because it can keep up with my wife's typing speed whereas the Electron cannot.
  3. A friend gave me a Panasonic KX-P1124 24-pin multi-mode printers, as usual in a grubby condition. But after a clean up and new ribbon cartridge, it worked with the Electron (after the magic *FX 6,0 was issued) but as usual there was also no book available. Other than the settings displayed on the front panel, which are not totally explicit, I am lost with this one. Can anybody help with the Printer Driver codes and any other information? (They probably exceed the number of KX-P1081 codes.)
  4. A printer with the "Acorn Computers" logo was irresistible and subsequently turned out to be the Acorn Olivetti JP101 Sparkjet printer, as advertised in Acorn User 1987 by Watford Electronics for £59. Here, with four refills and a BBC printer cable, it was just £10. The inkjet cartridge fitted was dry but could be wetted enough to give a readable self-test. At this time, Ribbons & Things quoted four refills for £19 but, given that the cartridges are no bigger than the size of an Argos pen refill, they would be uneconomic - has anybody any "practical ideas"?
  5. I purchased a second-hand monitor "Microvitec (CUB) No 1431". It gave an acceptable display when running games but was disappointing when using text mode (Mode 3 is my usual mode). The display was also narrow in the middle (pin cushion). I returned it to the shop.
    I have since read that the display on this model, and when using a TV is poor in text mode and that the word processor WORDWISE uses an expanded display to overcome this handicap.
  6. A disk (DFS) for Mini Office II was found and bought in the local SRS computer shop in the hope of finding the handbook at a later date (The label program was of interest). I struck pay dirt at yet another Boot Sale: the complete Mini Office II wallet with disk and books! Also both View and Viewsheet cartridges and books for the Electron.
  7. Yet another two printers were loaded on me in the hope I could "fix" them. An Epson MX-80 (out of the ark!) in which the manual paper feed only partially worked due to a compression set in the platter. Also its self test failed due to a fixed and overheating drive motor. The other printer is an Okimate 20 colour thermal printer that a friend asked me to look at. Both are lost causes, I think. Not to mention a waste of time. But I'll try during the winter months.

At last I feel that I'm running my system well. There has been the odd problem but with the help of EUG members and odd articles in the magazines, I'm getting there. One classic problem was the Printer Driver but with the help of Bill Woodall and Electron User, I succeeded. The fact it's not used very often is unimportant. I did it!

The other items I'd list to add are: 3.5" disk drive, RAM expansion, utility programs (be they firmware or hardware) and some Clipart. They will come along, I'm sure.

I apologise for all the above ramblings but Gus said it was time I made a contribution.

PS. What and where are all those companion disks and cassettes that go with the BBC/Elk magazines?

Ron Kilroy, EUG #27