Snippets – 13th January, 2018

A round-up of 2017 news that could have been reported on at the time if people had only sent it this way!

With 2017 now behind us, looking back over the RISCOSitory posts for the year might leave people thinking there has been very little activity in the RISC OS world – but in fact it merely means there have been very few posts on the site over the course of the year. This, sadly, is a reflection of the amount of news submitted to RISCOSitory by developers etc, more than anything else, with their news being posted elsewhere.

So, over the last few weeks, I’ve been scouring forums and feeds that have gone unread due to a lack of spare time, and where something has jumped out at me as something I might have reported on, I’ve rounded it up in the snippets post below.

Run RISC OS on Linux

Although I only became aware of this in April, at the Wakefield Show, back in February Timothy Baldwin introduced readers of the RISC OS Open forums to his port of RISC OS to Linux.

For the port, RISC OS is built to run as an executable on (ARM-based) Linux computers – or in Timothy’s words, “as a standard Linux executable entirely in user mode.” In other words, it runs as a program in its own right, rather than as an operating system for the computer, and within that program normal RISC OS software can then be run.

Timothy Baldwin's ASUS Chromebook, with RISC OS running in a window on Linux at Wakefield 2017
Timothy Baldwin’s ASUS Chromebook, with RISC OS running in a window on Linux at Wakefield 2017
WIMP programming video tutorial

It appears there is a handy resource on YouTube for anyone thinking about learning to program on RISC OS, courtesy of James Hobson. Coming in ten parts, with the first video having published in late 2016, the series focuses specifically on WIMP programming in C using GCC.

The first video deals with setting up the tools you need, and the series continues from there.

Let’s make some (shaped) noise…

Jim Lesurf has expanded his range of miscellaneous audio tools with an application that can be used to produce 16-bit audio files from higher resolution 24-bit versions. The resulting 16-bit files can apparently contain more of the detail from the source 24-bit files, and have a “lower audible noise floor.”

The software can be found on Jim’s Audio Misc Software page – scroll down until you find WAV_NoiseShaper.

Find out how long your system has been running

If you have ever wondered how long your computer has been running since its last boot, Chris Mahoney has the tool for you in the form of Uptime. With it installed in a suitable location on your system, all you need to do is issue a single star command – *uptime

Chris released the first version back in February, and it now stands at version 1.10

CVS recompiled to run on newer hardware

CVS – which stands for ‘Concurrent Versioning System’ is what’s known as a version control system, and is often used to look after (for example) source code to a piece of software in such a way that the history of the relevant files is recorded, allowing an easy means to go back to a particular version.

The set-up operates on a client-server model, and John Tytgat ported version 1.12.9 of CVS to RISC OS, with the last version of his port being 0.26, back in 2004. In March, Colin Granville recompiled this for compatibility with newer hardware.

DBack and DRest released

Unsatisfied with backup software already available, which he says never quite met his own criteria, David Higton released DBack in April, along with DRest to perform a corresponding restore function, both available from his website under the GNU GPL v2 licence.

The software includes the ability to exclude specific parts of the directory tree from the backup, the ability to restore the whole backup, the whole thing with specific exceptions, only certain parts, and so on.

PiRus driver released

If you’ve taken note of Chris Hall’s GPS units, the hardware for which his SatNav application was written, you’ll note that it sports a small electronic ink (e-ink) display. This is the same type of display used in some models of the Amazon Kindle, for example, which persists even when power is removed, allowing for a much longer battery life than a regular LCD screen.

Obviously, in order to use it from RISC OS on his GPS unit, some kind of driver is needed – and back in March, Chris made this available. For technical details, please refer to this thread on the RISC OS Open forums.

The biggest RISC OS portable
Raik Fischer's home made RISC OS portable - picture borrowed from Raik's post on the RISC OS Open forum
Raik Fischer’s home made RISC OS portable – picture borrowed from Raik’s post on the RISC OS Open forum

Speaking of Chris Hall and his GPS unit, there is an obvious need for such a device to be as small as possible – a point that Chris highlighted, discussing whether or not it is the smallest portable RISC OS computer. This prompted German user Raik Fischer to highlight his own portable RISC OS computer on the basis that it might be the biggest!

Using a 3D-printer, along with components taken from elsewhere, such as a keyboard from a Thinkpad, Raik has produced his own laptop-style case to house a Wandboard (the i.MX6 Quad system board used in the ARMSX ARMX6 computer from R-Comp). It may not be an actual product that you or I can buy, but it’s an interesting project nonetheless.

Arm yourself for the zombie module apocalypse…

In July, Rick Murray released an alpha version of utility called RMTidyX. The program’s purpose is to seek out what Rick calls “zombie modules” – those that are ostensibly dead, but refuse to be removed with an RMKill, instead resulting in an “Incarnation not found” error.

He’d been using a program of the same name for many years, possibly written by Justin Fletcher, which he had patched for 26/32-bit compatibility, but it failed on high vector builds of RISC OS, and therefore set about writing his own version.

…then throw a hedgehog into your boot sequence…

Rick also updated his boot script processor, Harinezumi – which is apparently the Japanese word for hedgehog, but unlike actual hedgehogs it can be used to diagnose boot problems on RISC OS computers.

Version 0.07 addresses a few issues, one serious and one that stopped it working on RISC OS 5 systems, and one that meant upon successfully booting a computer that had previously failed, the log of the failed boot is retained and accessible.

…then update text editor Zap…

Zap also saw some attention from Rick when he looked into the ZapMJE module, which provides C and assembler source code for the text editor – and which wasn’t working properly.

…and when you’ve done all of that, read some Manga…

Another release from RickĀ  – this time something new – is Manga, an application for reading, er, Manga (Japanese comics) from Mangareader.net.

The software can be downloaded via !Store, but new test versions are also linked by Rick in this thread on the RISC OS Open forums.

…and finish off with some robot arm fun

Moving forward to the end of the year, Rick wrote a script interpreter for the Maplin USB controlled robotic arm (the same one often seen on the RISC OS Open stand at shows) – so instead of controlling each stage of movement using the keyboard, a whole sequence of movements can be planned in advance, and then played back via a script.

MP watching apps updated

Kevin Wells has a clutch of applications for fetching data about Members of Parliament – MPdata+ (for the UK), MSPdata+ (for Members of the Scottish Parliament), and MLAdata+ (for Members of the Northern Irish Assembly).

All three apps were updated during 2017 to cope with changes to the website from which the data is sourced, which switched from allowing a HTTP connection to only allowing more secure HTTPS connections.

At the same time the UK version, MPdata+, gained a button to fetch an MP’s voting record, and a later update saw the application gain buttons to launch various websites relating to the MP – their own page, a Wikipedia page about them, their Twitter page, and their Facebook page (if these pages exist or they have them).

Currency exchange rate fetcher released

Kevin also released a new application called Currency for looking up the exchange rate from any given currency to another. Subsequent updates to the application include the ability to export the exchange rate to another application (inserting the rate at the cursor), the ability to find the currency and currency code for a country, and to display the currency symbol if known by the software.

VKeyboard shifts F12

Another application from Kevin is VKeyboard, which presents the user with a ‘virtual’ on-screen, mouse-driven keyboard; when theuser clicks on a particular key, the relevant character is inserted into they keyboard buffer, so whichever application has the cursor, it receives that character just as if the key was pressed.

Kevin’s update to the application in October changes the behaviour of the F12 key – previously, this would open the normal command line at the bottom of the screen, but it now treats the key as though shift was pressed, and opens a task window instead.

There has also been a more recent update, with a new ‘Lower’ radio button to change between upper and lower case, the Caps and Shift buttons changed to radio buttons, and more.

Create imaginary friends

Released in November, RandUser is another application released by Kevin, this one being to create random user data. This can be used, for example, to test database functions without having to make up names, addresses, etc., manually – which can often lead to unimaginative, repetitive, and – based on my own attempts at making up such data – frankly rubbish test records.

Like applications such as MPdata+, and Currency, the data is pulled from a website, so a working internet connection and a copy of WGet is required.

ADFFS updates bring more old games to life on the Pi

Jon Abbott has released a few updated versions of ADFFS over the course of the last year, with the most recent being version 2.63 – and with each update, the number of old games that can be run on the Raspberry Pi with it increases.

Patrick M brings something new to the mix

Dr. Dave Johnson, PhD is a simple new game with a refreshing take on the Tetris theme, thanks to a reversal of the objective. In Tetris, variously shaped blocks fall from the top of the screen, with the objective being to fill up the space and make completed rows disappear, keeping the top of the landed blocks away from the top, and so prolong the game.

In Patrick’s title, however, your goal is to build a wall that reaches all the way to the top. Each block that falls is square, and its four quarters each contain a random pattern – when contiguous groups of four or more of these smaller squares form with the same pattern, they vanish, so the wall takes longer to build.

And then brings something else new to the mix

Patrick then proceeded to take a simple kid’s game from the physical world and put it on the RISC OS screen in the form of Magic Maze.

The game involves guiding a marble around a maze to guide it to the exit – which in the physical version involves the use of gravity; the maze is contained in a small plastic container, and the player tilts it so that the ball rolls in the right direction and (hopefully) down the right path. Patrick has recreated the effect on screen by having the player rotate the maze.

Laser Tank updated for Pi 3 compatibility

Another simple but fun game is Laser Tank from Will Ling, a RISC OS re-implementation of a Windows puzzle game by Jim Kindley and designed to be compatible with the original – levels for that version can be downloaded and used in Will’s. The latest updates to the game mean it should be compatible with the Raspberry Pi 3.

The objective of the game is to drive a tank from its starting position to the flag, a task hampered by various obstacles, all of which can be overcome with a little planning.

VNC gains clipboard and screen handling fixes

Not content with his work on the operating system itself, Jeffrey Lee pushed out an updated version of VNC server in August.

Jeffrey is the latest in a short line of people to have worked on the software, which allows a RISC OS machine to be viewed and controlled from another computer on the network, and the fixes are for screen handling and the RAM transmit protocol when reading the RISC OS clipboard.

VNCSvr front-end updated to match

Not long after Jeffrey released his update, Steve Potts updated his own application, VNCSvr, which provides a normal RISC OS front-end for the VNC Server module, allowing it to be more easily configured.

VNCSvr is specifically targeted at RISC OS 6.14 or later, though Steve does say it works well on RISC OS 4.42 on the A9Home – and presumably other versions of RISC OS as well.

WimpBasic and Schema 2 updated and available

Following the unfortunate death of Dave Holden in 2014, Aaron Timbrell and Dave Bradforth set up a new website apdl.org.uk, to serve as an tribute to Dave’s work, and an archive thereof – with the long term aim of making sure all of the software Dave either wrote or came to look after continued to be available. That amounts to a lot of software, and the task is unfortunately not yet complete.

Christopher Bazley, who updated Schema 2 and WimpBasic for 32-bit compatibility in 2004 and 2005 respectively, has further updated both applications for ARMv7 compatibility, and taken the bull by the horns and made them available himself.

For those unfamiliar with the software, Schema 2 is a spreadsheet application and WimpBasic 2 is an easy to use programming language that makes programming the WIMP a much easier task. Both were originally products of Clares Micro Supplies.

Radio enthusiasts’ app Callsign updated

Speaking of WimpBasic, John Peachy turned found the previously missing source code to Callsign, one of his old applications written with the language in summer, and updated it to be 32-bit neutral.

The application provides an electronic logbook of all contacts made during a radio session, supports competitions, and can produce a printed logbook – all complying with the legal requirements of the operator’s licence.

DiscKnight updated to match ROOL developments

A tool that has come to the rescue of plenty of RISC OS users is DiscKnight, from David Ruck, providing disc checking and repair functions for filecore format discs. Dave updated the software in August, releasing version 1.53, which supports new features in RISC OS 5.2x, with 229 sectors meaning up to 256GB drives at 512B/sector, or 2TB using 4kB/sector.

DiscKnight is a commercial application, but existing users can upgrade for free.

GraphDraw no longer CrashDraw

Chris Johnson released an update to GraphDraw (mirror) in March, bringing it up to version 3.02, and fixing a bug whereby saving a draw file more than once caused memory corruption, leading to a crash.

Graphdraw is a graph plotting application that can plot a number of different types of graph from a series of x and y values input by the user, all of which can be fully edited.

CPUClock, meet CJE Micro’s

Chris also released updates to CPUClock (mirror), bringing it up to version 2.02, and then 2.03.

The application, which is only useful for modern native hardware, can display the current CPU speed – which may vary on some platforms according to how hard the CPU is being asked to work. It can also read and display the CPU temperature, as well as automatically reduce the speed if the temperature rises too quickly.

The main change in the first update was to make CPUClock recognise the real time clock module (which includes a temperature sensor) fitted by CJE Micro’s in the computer systems they provide, and the second update addressed a problem when running on the non-ES version of the Pandaboard causing unwanted audio output.

Snapper gains invisibility

Another of Chris’ applications – though originally developed by David Pilling – is Snapper (mirror) a useful tool for taking screen grabs either of the whole screen, areas thereof, complete windows including the RISC OS window furniture, or just the window’s contents.

Chris released an update in December that includes an option to hide the application’s control window when it’s taking a grab of the whole screen.

UnitConv updated

Chris also updated UnitConv (mirror 1, mirror 2), his application for converting between various units, number bases, and so on, bringing it up to version 2.36. The changes were to address a zero page error, address a number of minor bugs, and add new options to the number base conversions dialogue.

Brother (and generic) duplex printer definition files

Richard Darby had available from his website a printer definition file for Brother duplex printers – printers capable of printing on both sides of a sheet of paper without manual intervention (taking the paper out and putting it back in the other way up). The file, however, was also usable with other makes of PostScript Printer.

In April, he updated the file with some Brother-specific code to make paper try selection more reliable – but being Brother-specific, that meant it was no longer suitable for other printers, so to remedy this he has also published a generic duplex printer definition file.

Drag ‘n Drop magazine

The last time an announcement of a new issue of on-off-on-off-under-new-management PDF magazine Drag ‘n Drop hit the RISCOSitory mailbox was over a year ago, when volume 8, issue 1 was published to coincide with the 2016 London Show. However, since then four more issues have been published – the latest being volume 9, issue 1, which coincided with the 2017 London Show. The next issue is likely to appear in the run-up to the 2018 Southwest Show.

As a result of RISCOSitory not being made aware of new issues as and when they’ve been published, there is also no news (as yet) on whether the interim issues include the magazine’s excellent crazy page numbering feature.

STOP PRESS!

According to Phil Spiegelhalter the crazy page numbering does feature in the latest issue.