Surprise Package: The MagPi Arrives, by Air, in Hard Copy!

magpi-envelopeIt’s not often, but sometimes things just turn up at your doorstep when you least expect it. Earlier this week, I received this mysterious envelope all the way from element14’s UK office. I wonder what it is …

As you can see, I wasted no time in finding out – tearing the envelope apart before I had even scanned it in.

As it turns out, it is a hard-copy edition of the official Raspberry Pi magazine, cunningly named, The MagPi.

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For those who don’t already know, The MagPi is the one and only official Raspberry Pi magazine. Released on a monthly basis since May 2012, it is a sort of “community” fan-zine turned semi-professional. Unlike traditional magazines, The MagPi started life in electronic form, licensed under Creative Commons (BY-SA-NC 3.0), meaning that the contents of the magazine are essentially “free” to read and reproduce.

From there, Issue 36 (August 2015) marks a milestone for The MagPi and The Raspberry Pi Foundation, as it is the first copy to go out in hard copy print form. The hard copy magazines have an issue price of GBP 5.99, and is available in newsagents and WH Smiths in the UK only, with expansion to US soon. Subscriptions are also being sold at this time, for six months or 1 year, costing GBP 55 for UK, GBP 80 for EU and GBP 90 for “rest of the world” for a one year subscription. Funds raised will go towards supporting the foundation in its goals.

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It was definitely quite exciting to have a hard copy in my hand, knowing that very few others on this side of the world would have the luxury of feeling a nice matte and selective-gloss cover and being able to flip through the pages.

In all, I found The MagPi to contain a good assortment of projects and be quite readable, with different levels of finish and difficulty, and a good way to inspire yourself and educate yourself about the possibilities already existing when it comes to using the Raspberry Pi. Not every project will appeal to every reader, but within its 100 pages, it’s not a “lightweight” by any measure. It doesn’t leave the newcomers out in the cold, with tutorials and FAQ sections, as well as “features” which cover some of the more mundane topics. There are also reviews of hardware, which are always interesting to see, as well as relevant advertising (although many of them UK based) which shows you just what sort of whacky expansion “hats” are being produced, many I wasn’t even aware of. It is quite a substantial effort, and the print itself is of very good quality.

It’s worth a read if you have some down-time, run out of ideas entirely or you’re just interested in learning more about the Raspberry Pi. Best of all, you can always read it free – you can’t beat the low, low price of free! Of course, if you would like to support the foundation, it’s always a good idea to subscribe.

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The back cover ad did give me a little bit of a laugh though. I’m sure they mean 192kHz, not 192Mhz, otherwise these boards would make a pretty good oscilloscope …

Conclusion

I congratulate The Raspberry Pi Foundation and The MagPi for reaching the milestone of releasing their first print edition (#36) – it really shows just how popular and useful the Raspberry Pi has become to “everyday” people and engineers alike. I really hope this works out well for them, and I think the hard copy will bring awareness to a whole different audience of people – even if just to get people talking about it. I will definitely treasure this physical copy – thanks element14!

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Tech Flashback: Fellowes Neato 2000 CD Labeler Kit

It’s the year 2000 and CD recording at home is a new development. Discs are expensive, and individually wrapped in retail packaging. These discs will have branding all over their faces and inserts. Printable discs didn’t really exist yet in the retail market, with thermal printable discs for replicators with expensive thermal printers and ribbons involved. Inkjet disc printing, let alone affordable disc printers, were still many years to come. But what if you wanted to make a small run of discs for a semi-professional purpose? It would not be economical to visit a replicator to do it, and it would take a while for them to get the job done. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a way to do it yourself at home?

The Fellowes Neato 2000 System

The solution, of course, was an “adhesive label” style system, branded as Neato 2000 and sold by Fellowes (an office supplies company). Kits were widely available, and sold even in department stores so that your “average joe” could now enjoy professional (ahem) results. I had never used one of these kits in my life, mainly because I never really needed for my discs to “look good”, and I had been warned off of them because of potential issues of unbalance, added weight to discs, labels falling off and data layer damage.

However, since one of these kits showed up, donated to me by a friend, I decided to see what was in one of them.

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As you can see, the box itself is very colourful, and tries to make the whole process seem relatively straightforward, while advertising the availability of not just a label for the disc, but also inserts for the jewel case. As expected, the disc in the illustration is a period correct Mitsui Gold CD-R – one of the most highly regarded blank discs of the era. The package is a kit, containing the software itself called MediaFACE, the applicator itself, and a set of paper stocks in photo-quality gloss and matte finishes for inkjet and (some) laser printer use.

Interestingly, Neato is still around today, and their MediaFACE software is now up to Version 5 (for purchase or free with label order) and also available as a web Flash-based application with free demo online.

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20150816-1402-4769The rear of the box elaborates on the possibilities, and tries to sell other labels which are available and compatible with the software. The item itself is Order Code 99960. Software requirements are PC  or Mac, with Windows 3.x, 95 and 98 supported. I’m sure rivals, such as Avery, would have had their own complete solution as well.

A pressed CD is included with the software. This was written back when 8.3-filenames were normal, and the “high resolution” graphics were all 150dpi. Yeah, high-res!

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The applicator itself consists of a spindle-like shaped device with a spring-raised centre that supports the hub ring of the CD. A label is printed, and peeled so that the sticky side is placed facing up on the applicator. A disc is then placed on the applicator, with the top facing the sticky label, and then the central hub is pushed down to “drop” the disc onto the label to apply it.

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A very primitive system, but I suppose if the labels are made with a good tolerance, the centering can be kept to a certain amount of error. It still doesn’t solve the issue of the added weight of the label causing strain on the drive, and the label itself potentially stressing the reflective coating on the disc.

Included in the package is a set of label stock, containing a few sheets of each type.

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Each sheet has a header with the title of the label type, with the second line containing the template file name, in this case A4CD2lbl.NTT. In this case, the left sheet is a matte type label, and the right is a gloss type label – the gloss type can only be used in inkjet printers, although the documentation does claim that the best results are had with inkjet printing likely because any “bending” of the label causes it to detach from the sheet, might cause the toner to lift from the paper and the heat may affect the adhesive. Two discs labels are printed on a single sheet, which could be a slight inconvenience – and of course, printer calibration is mandatory if you want to have your labels very accurately placed.

Interestingly, the paper stock itself has MediaFACEII on the header, which is newer than the software supplied, so this paper stock may have come from a re-order packet.

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Of course, the label is not the only thing that can be printed – the packet also consists of tray liner templates. This allows you to print the rear insert on pre-perforated stock, tear the edges away, and then fit it to your standard jewel case.

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All of the previous stock was single sided, except this one – the Jewel case insert. The design of this was also perforated for easy separating after printing, and allows you to print a “folded” card with front and back, and insides. It’s pretty close to what you can get professionally, although to make the final “quality” result requires that the user prints it with a high quality printer and uses high quality fonts and graphics. Most inkjet printers at the time hadn’t even reached “photo” quality yet … unfortunately.

The CD containing the software can be installed by running SETUP.EXE. Interestingly, it succeeded under a Windows 7 x64 machine, with no trouble at all. I could even run the software. Wow.

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I checked the software “about” for more information, and confirmed that this was an early version of their software. A very nice surprise to see that it works! I then started a basic label project for the above sheets, using some of the included stock images, and proceeded to print it to my local PDF printer. It worked! What a surprise.

As to making and mounting a label … I don’t think that’s necessary. The procedure is pretty much obvious.

Conclusion

If you wanted labels, you really had to pay for the privilege. Buying such a kit with a few sheets wasn’t that cheap from memory, and when you stuffed up or ran out, you’d have to spend quite a bit more buying additional label stock. For a while, it was cheaper than some other alternatives, like early inkjet printing and thermal printing since those solutions required expensive cartridges and ribbons and meant that you had to buy more expensive printable media. As photorealistic printers became more common, printed label quality was better, but they still couldn’t reach the “full coverage” edge-to-edge coverage you would get with full-surface printable discs.

It was especially surprising to see that the software, owing to its very basic features, installs and runs without modification on a modern Windows 7 x64 machine, and can still print labels to modern printers. That being said, optical discs are fading from relevance, direct inkjet printing is now affordable and comes bundled with their own software and templates, inkjet printable discs are widely available in many finishes, and is the preferred technology for labelling discs today without the risk that the label could damage the data layer, unbalance the disc, add too much weight to the disc or peel off the disc in use.

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Tech Flashback: iomega ZIP 100 Parallel Port Drive (Mint in Package!)

My fellow readers who have been following for a while would know that I’m literally swimming in Zip disk gear. Amongst the things I’ve done include taking one apart, looking at the performance of the drive compared to its contemporary (the LS-120), taking apart a cartridge and looking at the LS-120 box, taking apart a dead ZIP 250, and looking at various marketing materials surrounding the ZIP 100.

Imagine my surprise when a colleague offered me this – a pristine ZIP 100 Parallel Port drive in box. It’s not my first ZIP 100 Parallel (which is quite slow and CPU-intensive), but it’s the first ZIP drive I’ve seen in its box, making it highly desirable for preservation.

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The drive itself is a very late model Zip drive, and it came around the time when CD-RW drives just started to take off. This drive was dated at 30th November 2000. The package itself was originally quite dusty, and torn on the top, as if someone hastily tried to open it without removing the tab. Aside from the date, we can tell this is a late ZIP drive as the software comes on a CD-ROM and no Zip-Tools disk is included (no doubt, a cost reduction measure). Unfortunately, late drives are less sought after when it comes down to construction quality, as the cost reduction measures had resulted in these models being slightly less reliable (anecdotally speaking).

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This unit was made for PCs using the parallel port interface. As no disks were included, they “tacked on” a little label that says “Buy yours now!” like that would save their “sinking ship”. How very funny.

As this drive was made just before the Christmas of 2000, one of the things we see is a competition label in the bottom right corner, whereby registering your product by the end of the year would grant you the chance to win “JVC DVD Players, AGFA Cameras, Magellan Handheld GPSs, Iomega HipZip (MP3s), Siemens Mobile Phones and Compaq iPac (sic) Pocket PCs.” It seems that sales of Zip drives had really begun to fall, and they were looking for almost anything to try and stimulate their sales. Interestingly, the Iomega HipZip was one of the few devices that used their Clik! 40Mb cartridges, later named PocketZip after the Click-of-Death issues, when Flash wasn’t quite there yet (due to cost) and miniature hard drives were expensive. I never actually saw or held one of these cartridges.

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The rear of the box gives you some idea of what you can do with your Zip disks and drives. A lot of white space, with a few subtle layout issues. It claims this unit is Assembled in Malaysia. Software bundled in included Iomegaware, RecordIt, 1-Step Backup, Iomega Tools, Guest and CopyMachine. It seems Iomegaware v4.0.2 is still available from download from mirrors but is really only useful for Windows 2000 or so (at the latest) – I’ve had issues with the installed drivers causing conflicts on newer versions.

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They took advantage of the bottom to continue their “marketing blurb”. Not like many will turn it over to read it.

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The marketing blurb continues on one side, and the other includes the system requirements and specifications. It claims the drive requires a 486 or higher, Windows 3.x, 95, 98, NT, a 2x CD-ROM drive, 8Mb RAM, 30Mb HDD. RecordIt requires a Pentium 100, Windows 95, 98, 8x CD-ROM, 16Mb RAM and sound card. ZIP specifications include 29ms seek time, 20MB/minute transfer rate (~333kB/s), size of 7″ x 5.25″ x 1.5″ with ~1 lb weight and power saving mode with 1 year warranty.

Sadly, it seemed this drive was late to be sold, with the inventory label claiming a date of 18th January 2001 – meaning the buyer would have missed out on the competitions on the front label. If anything says poor sales, it’s old inventory sitting around.

Inside the box, we find the drive, still in its anti-static pink bag.

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The top window, where the Zip cartridge label can be seen, still contains its protective cover label with basic instructions on using the drive – namely insert the cartridge after the drive is powered up.

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The underside confirms the same date of manufacture, and the label confirms that the drive has never actually been removed from the bag and used – it may have been bought at a discount or as a spare for a critical project. One thing that was missing was one of the foam packing surrounds – there’s only one of them in there, so the drive rattles around a little in the cardboard box.

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The drive comes complete with the original software, which is enclosed inside an envelope.

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Of course, opening the envelope entails agreeing to the license conditions. To save you from the complaint that “I couldn’t read it till I put in the disc and opened the seal” or “I didn’t realize there was a license and clicked next”, it is printed on the envelope in rather small font.

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It’s still sealed, and never opened. How shocking to think someone had paid good money for something and never actually even bothered to test it to see if it worked.

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A leaflet detailing the support numbers is also included outside the envelope. I did try the Australian numbers and they’re both disconnected, as expected. The iomega website is no longer existent.

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Unlike older ZIP drives, this one came with a switching power adapter, which is much lighter than the linear “brick” style transformer formerly supplied. This may be part of the “energy saving” features of the drive as well.

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A fully sealed parallel port cable is also found wedged in there. It’s pretty much a complete bundle.

Conclusion

It’s not everyday you come across an old piece of technology that’s still practically sealed and brand new. It’s a very interesting feeling to hold it in your hands and to look at it – the feeling that it is useless and that it’s time is up, while still being practically pristine and unused. It makes it a good piece for preservation purposes, and it feels a shame to even think about opening it (especially when I do have other working drives to do recoveries with, should the need arise). I will keep this one safe.

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