Firstly, I realised that I'd left all my HX-20 software relating to transfer of data to a PC back on my home server. Normally this wouldn't be a problem as I'd ssh in and sftp the code back. However, for some reason my record of open ports on my home router doesn't tie in with reality, so I was left without connection.
As is often the case when trying to do things quickly I found and then lost several of the resources I'd used to determine how to transfer software in the space of a few hours. Eventually I got bored of this and actually took the time to bookmark some of the web pages.
So, what have I achieved. I downloaded one of the two available word processors for the HX-20, Deskmaster II. In this case it was chosen purely as the easiest one to install, and attempted to transfer it to the HX-20. Back home I'd had some success transferring files, however for whatever reason I couldn't get it to work with the 13KB BASIC file. It took the best part of two hours to get the file onto the HX-20 successfully. This was using minicom on the ubuntu laptop using a USB serial adapter.
On the HX-20 I used the following command (the arguments for which are explained below):
LOAD "COM0:(28N2B)" | |_____ 300 BAUD |______ 8 BIT |_______ NO PARITY |_________ 2 STOP BITS |__________ HANDSHAKING/CONTROL On Linux, load minicom, setup comms as /dev/ttyUSB0 (or whichever comms port) then 300 baud, 8 bit, no parity, 2 stop bits. Use the Ctrl-A S command to send an ASCII file.
I then had to modify RS/232 configuration in the BASIC program listing for the word processor so that printing to an external 'printer' happened at 300 baud and not 150 baud as specified (I suspect this is the speed of the built in printer). I could then capture the output using minicom on the linux laptop. This is what I managed:
Wow, what a convoluted route I've taken to get to the point where I can use a word-processor on the HX-20. The software I'm using is DM2 from Eclectic Systems 1983 and was downloaded to the HX-20 as a BASIC programme using minicom on a linux laptop at 300 baud. It took me about 2 hours to get here. I also tried to use hxtape but kept getting errors. The software, being BASIC, is very slow and I'm deliberately having to slow my typing otherwise I drop characters. It doesn't do word wrap, it essentially emulates a typewriter. I'm not sure how much longer I can stand it - 2 hours to get here and 10 mins of typing and I've had enough. There is a ROM based word processor for the HX-20 called SIDHA Writer which involves installing the ROM chip in a spare slot at the bottom of the machine but I couldn't locate one.
The other way to get software onto the HX-20 is via the external casette interface, and there is a PHP based packaged called hxtape which provides programs to output the 'tape-screech' necessary. This didn't work today either, I had it working previously, but it may just be down to the substantial size of the BASIC program causing it to fall over half way through. A valiant goal of this project is to provide a central resource for HX-20 software
I have to conclude that as a word-processor the HX-20 sucks. Even with a machine-code based word processing program the screen is simply too small to do meaningful work. I also have to conclude that programming in BASIC is probably similarly masochistic. Hell, the Cambridge Z88's screen felt small till I fired it up the other day in comparison and basked in that 80-column glory. The Z88 is also substantially smaller than the HX-20 (especially with the expansion pack) - clearly Sir Clive certainly knew what would work for a word-processor (except maybe his obsession with rubber keyboards).
So, no HANGMAN. To be honest when I thought about it I came to the conclusion that at 20x4 characters the interface would have to be seriously clunky. ADDENDUM: I've just noticed that there is a version of HANGMAN for the HX-20 already. I will give this a go in the next couple of days, just for a laugh...
What I have achieved is a lot of head banging with small measures of success this retrochallenge. I haven't had the time to really get into anything in depth. The AlphaServer 1000A soaked up a lot of my initial nights swapping bad RAM modules and fathoming that SCSI is nowhere as near as simple as I thought. The end result of that nightmare period was, however, a working machine on which I now have an OpenVMS 8.4 installation with fully shadowed system, user and applications disks, plenty of spare drives and a well configured boot sequence, several queues, printer support, etc, etc...
I discovered FAFNER, a large VAX 7000/820 running OpenVMS 7.2. The machine is available 24/7 and in some ways is more useful to me than the Deathrow Cluster which is the obvious other OpenVMS online choice.
With regard to the HX-20, which I bought for the challenge, I replaced the defunct NiCAD battery pack with new cells, which is holding charge well. I replaced the printer ribbon and paper and got the cassette drive working (for a while at least!)
I have managed to get software and data on and off the HX-20 and got a rudimentary feel for the machine. Plus points mainly revolve around the keyboard. If Sir Clive's baby had a similar keyboard it would be an awesome machine. I've also taught my girls and their cousins (all aged under 8) to write a small program in BASIC to generate a multiplication table, the novelty being with the HX-20 that they can instantly create the table using the built in printer. It would be hard to see with a modern computer how you could get such instant programming satisfaction.
Oh, and not to forget that I got an MS-DOS version of Kermit communicating with aliennerd's BBS using the LK250 keyboard driver. It would have been nice to connect to Sampsa's OpenVMS modem, but it wasn't up in time.
Lastly, I used the wayback machine to retrieve the main content of a defunct geocities website containing BASIC programs for the HX-20 and have created a page on my site to archive the contents for fellow HX-20 experimenters.
I'm afraid that's all I have. Good luck to all competitors. I've enjoyed reading your blogs.
Right, where is that bottle of wine....