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Psion Organiser

I had an email from Nigel Barnes asking if I had any Psion 3a/PocketBook II software. Well, in terms of software there's the stuff on my site. Otherwise, not really. I've not done any low level hackery of the device.

Unlike Nigel, who is in the process of adding Psion support to MAME. Whoo!

But it did remind me to dig out my old 3a and power it up, you know, nostalgia and all.

It beeped, and the screen had a brief rolling line every few seconds. Here's why.

Broken ribbon cable
Broken ribbon cable.

I tried scraping away some of the plastic and soldering the two halves of the ribbon cable together. That... didn't work. It looked like it might have worked (once I'd cleaned up all the solder between tracks) but as soon as the cable was moved it broke. No strength whatsoever.

So I dug up my older PocketBook II with the broken hinge and stripped hat down to extract the LCD panel.
Simple job, right? Switch this display for that display. No problems.

This screen isn't working
This screen isn't working (PB2 screen on 3a).

Yup. Nothing whatsoever. So either the display circuitry is fried on my 3a, or the display is different enough that it won't work when transplanted between machines. That was, incidentally, a bit of a surprise. I knew the SIBO ROM inside the Acorn version was slightly different (tiny keyboard difference, an Acorn character, and an extra app) but I figured the rest of the hardware was the same.
Apparently not.

I switched motherboards and powered up.

The same screen working on the PB2
The same screen working on the PocketBook II.


Here's the 3a motherboard. The ROM identifies as S3A V3.40F/ENG (1994). With four 65V8512 memory chips, this implies there is 2MiB onboard.

Psion S3A motherboard
Psion S3A motherboard.

Here's the PocketBook II motherboard. The ROM identifies as S3A V1.30F/ACN (ACN for Acorn). With two 68V1000 memory chips, this device has a much tinier 256KiB onboard.

Acorn PocketBook II motherboard
Acorn PocketBook II motherboard.


So I reassembled the PocketBook II as best possible given the hinge problem. It powers up and works.

Acorn PocketBook II
Acorn PocketBook II and my "Physical" is falling.

As for the 3a, well, I have ordered a piece of ribbon cable from Amazon (shipping from China so...) and I'll try replacing the entire cable. It'll be fiddly and might not work, but worth a try I guess.

As for looking on eBay for a replacement, in a word "nope". This is purely a nostalgia issue. For the price of a used one on eBay, I could get myself a low end Android device like I'm using to write this...


Washing machine lethargy

I found a pair of black jeans that I had never worn, dusty and cobwebby. I also dug up a pair of blue overalls that might be useful for strimming. They say "Spring Grove". I'm guessing mom got them from a charity shop or something as it's not a name that I recognise, and anyway it sounds like the name of an asylum.

Oh, what the actual... Just Googled it. There's a Spring Grove psychiatric hospital in Catonsville (estd. 1797!).
Now, okay, mom might have worked there back in the day, but it seriously stretches credulity that she'd grab a pair of blue overalls and lug them through two different countries to end up in the corner of my room.

Uh... this is strange. Moving swiftly on... since this stuff was cotton I decided to try the 40°C cotton cycle. I put the things in at ten to two (or 1.50pm). It was finally done at quarter to five (4.45pm). Nearly three freaking hours! And that's including around ten minutes of psycho-spin (is it trying to wear out the motor/bearings?).
So, I rotated the knob back to Magic 40. That, at least, doesn't take for-bloody-ever to wash three things (I added a shirt).

As for the overalls, I don't know if it'll fit me. It looks like the size is 76 R, whatever that means.


Water is weird

Ever look at a glass of water and think "damn, you're weird".

Just me then?

That's okay. I'll share with you some of the reasons why water is utterly weird.

First of all, the chemical formula for water is pretty much the only one to have entered vernacular. Most people know that "aitch-two-oh" is water, even if they don't know what that gibberish actually means.

It is known to anybody who opens a high school chemistry textbook and pays attention that things come in three states. There's a gas state, a liquid state, and a solid state. Generally the difference between these is either temperature and/or pressure. At the average temperature of our planet (say 16°C) the rocks are solid, most metals are solid, mercury is a liquid, and argon, neon, and nitrogen are gas.
Butane and propane are gas at room temperature, but they can be compressed into metal cannisters where it becomes a liquid and undergoes a state transition in order to be a gas in a cooker. LPG means Liquid Propane Gas. It sounds less scary than "Propane Gas That's A Liquid Because It's Squeezed To About 200psi". It's also less of a mouthful to write on the bottle.
This works because liquid states take less space than the gas, and the solid is smaller than the liquid.
Likewise, a solid is denser than the liquid, which is denser than the gas. So if you drop ball bearings into a vat of red hot steel, they will sink, not float on top.

Now let's consider water. Water that breaks all of the rules. That formula, H20, means it is comprised of two parts hydrogen to one part oxygen. A water molecule is made from two flammable and explosive types of gas...and it's our best defence against fires. But it's even weirder than that. If water molecules actually followed the rules, there would be nothing in the glass. It shouldn't be a liquid at all, but a gas. Other molecules that are similar (such as NH3, or ammonia) are gas at ambient temperature.

Water also disobeys the rules and has a less dense solid form than its liquid one, as you'll be aware if you toss ice cubes into a coke. This isn't because coke has a vastly different specific gravity. The same thing would happen if you put ice cubes into plain water.
As it turns out, this is vitally important to life. As the temperatures drop, the tops of rivers, lakes, and even oceans freeze. But since the ice floats on top (as the Titanic discovered) instead of sinking, it actually forms a protective barrier that traps heat helping aquatic life survive the winter, and on a global scale, survive several rounds of ice ages and snowball earth.

But it's not just a less dense solid phase, it's a larger one as you'll no doubt be aware if you've ever put a bottle of milk, coke, or whatever in the freezer and then forgotten about it. It expands, and as the broken glass or ruptured bottle will attest, it's pretty powerful.

Speaking of freezing, more weirdness. The Mpemba Effect, named after a student who discovered (in the sixties, I think) that hot water freezes faster than cold water. Yeah, think about that for a moment. There are videos on YouTube of people in cold places throwing hot water into the air that falls as snow and ice, while doing the same with cold water often has actual water hitting the ground in addition to the ice.

Now, think of this. I have just washed my clothes and hung them out on the line. The water that remains, well what little remains after a 1000 rpm spin for ten minutes, will evaporate.
We're all familiar with this. It's water transitioning to its gas state and rising up to form clouds where it turns back into its water state and messes up your hair. But, wait, I'm not boiling my clothes, and boiling water doesn't fall from the sky (usually, but given the way the climate is going...). These changes in state happen at ambient temperature, not the actual boiling point.
And it's a good thing they do, or we couldn't wash our clothes or ourselves, and there would be no weather. To put this into context, if I got out the mop and washed my floor with mercury, this mercury will be spread across my floor tomorrow. Next year. Next decade. It won't dissipate or evaporate. Which is just as well as it would also be an evironmental disaster, that much mercury.

Water is peculiar in that the hydrogen atoms in it bond to each other very tightly. This makes water very "sticky", especially to itself. This is why it's a liquid and not a gas. This also helps to explain how soap works. Soap is a molecule that has two halves. One half is hydrophobic (it avoids water) while the other half is hydrophilic (it is attracted to water). So soap molecules will mix up with your clothes and will half stick to the fabric and half stick to the water. But this won't work because the fabric doesn't come apart. So the action of turning the drum (or smooshing it around with your hands) will knock the soap molecules off of the fabric where they will slosh around and maybe attach to another fabric molecule, or to a dirt molecule. Once it has attached to a dirt molecule, it is happy as it will stay grabbed on to that even as the water sloshes around. So when the washing machine empties from the wash cycle, that murky water you're seeing is actually loads of soap molecules that have one end attached to a water molecule and the other end attached to a dirt molecule.

But water's ability to stick to pretty much anything means it is also about the closest thing that exists to a universal solvent, meaning that it will stick to and react with just about anything. It's so sticky that it's damned near impossible to find water in a pure state, because almost everything will dissolve in water to a detectable degree. Which actually makes it one of the most corrosive substances known. Granted, this reaction might take ages (the wreck of the Titanic still exists because the rusting is a slow process).
As it turns out, this is vitally important for life as nutrients and various other chemicals can easily disolve in water and, well, what do you think blood is? It's water with a bunch of chemicals and biological gunk mixed into it. About half of your blood is plasma, and most of that is water.
It's also why I don't like the taste of water and avoid drinking it in its natural (tap or bottled) form. It's not the taste of water itself, it's the taste of all the impurities dissolved in it. If you've ever looked at a bottle of water, it'll have a breakdown of what's in it.

What's in cheap bottled water
What's in cheap bottled water.

So, water is extremely important to life, to our planet, to our bodies, and to the environment.
But it's also really weird stuff.


I can, of course, take this a level further by introducing you to the work of "Dr." Masaru Emoto who had claimed that human consciousness can affect the molecular structure of water. Put briefly, water was frozen and the crystals photographed, and he claimed that water that was exposed to positive speech and thoughts created "pleasing" ice crystals, while those exposed to negativity yielded "ugly" formations. Of course this is pretty much concentrated bullshit, but just in case, hedge your bets and say nice things to the water you pour into the kettle for your tea. You never know, it might just improve the taste...


No, not done yet. There's more. It is actually rather hard to create water molecules. You can't just grab some oxygen and some hydrogen and smash them together to get water. If you were to pipe together hydrogen and oxygen, you wouldn't get water out of the nozzle, you'd get a flame, it's a blowtorch (though we usually use acetylene as it burns hotter).
It's easy to break water apart - two wires dunked into water and hooked to a reasonable sized battery (like a 9V PP3 or a 12V car battery) will start to bubble. The positive side will liberate oxygen, the negative side will create hydrogen. This is a simple chemistry/physics experiment.

Since it's hard to create water (and don't worry about losing water due to electrolysis, the oceans are vaster than our consumption, we're more liable to wreck the water in different ways), this implies that the water molecules in you, in every living critter, and generally every lake, ocean, puddle, and raindrop have been around for billions of years.
Those molecules of water that you just blinked to rewet your eyeball? Once upon a time they were excreted from a dinosaur. As the Tiktaalik crawled out of the oceans and decided that it prefered the land, it coughed and spat out those water molecules. And, of course, they were all a part of the primordial slime that eventually evolved to be, well, you.

And it's all been possible because water is weird.


Bonus points: Look up the Miller-Urey experiment.



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Gavin Wraith, 23rd July 2023, 22:36
Ever read Kurt Vonnegut's book "Cat's Cradle"? It's McGuffin is a form of water: Ice 9. It is a deadly threat to all life, because any ordinary water that comes into contact with it turns into ice 9. When I was a postgraduate at the Courant Institute in New York, in 1962, I spent a lot of time ferreting round second-hand bookshops. I came across a galley copy of Cat's Cradle wedged in a shelf at the back of the shop. The book was actually published the following year.
Rick, 23rd July 2023, 23:05
Never read it, but it wasn't hard to find a PDF (sadly no epub). 
Also stumbled across The Silent Land by Graham Joyce which sounds interesting.
C Ferris, 23rd July 2023, 23:38
Have you tried the book converter prog 'Calibre'?
David Pilling, 24th July 2023, 12:26
what about the standard kilogram evaporating and the drill for breaking a CFL, open all the windows to let the mercury vapour escape.
Gavin Wraith, 24th July 2023, 12:53
I enjoy being educated by your blog, Rick. You have a real gift for exposition. My own education, which I am happy to have experienced, was deficient in many ways. Chemistry I never learned because I was not interested in Bessemer converters, and I never got to the bits that might have appealed to me. The only Physics I learned was about mensuration and the mathematics of Newtonian dynamics. About the practical things, law, money, politics, I was taught nothing. I did make a toast rack for my mother in carpentry lessons. I am not good with my hands, and at DIY I am tool-less and useless.
Anon, 24th July 2023, 13:10
The pedant in me wishes to point out one thing. Oxygen is not, in itself, flammable. If you light a match in a pure oxygen environment (which I would NOT recommend!) then it's not the oxygen that burns. 
Remember the "fire triangle"? Heat, fuel and oxygen? Take any one away and the fire will go out. Dousing a fire with water works as it removes the heat. It also removes the oxygen, or at least the "free" oxygen. Anyway, it's the "fuel" part of the fire triangle that burns, not the oxygen. 
I do get what you mean about the 'taste' of water though. Our tap water here tastes of chlorine. I fitted an inline charcoal filter, so there's an extra tap over the kitchen sink for drinking water (filtered). Making tea or coffee with this is far nicer, it also means the kettle only needs descaling every couple of months rather than weekly. The filter costs about £8 (trade) and lasts for 10 years.
Rob, 24th July 2023, 21:49
Google dihydrogen monoxide .... :-) 
Jean-Michel, 27th July 2023, 09:50
I had the same problem with my Psion3a. I replaced the ribbon cable, not easy to find. 
FYI, !Psifs 32bit version works with the serial port of the RPi. You can recover files this way. I will be interested in the biorythm if you can get it back! Nostalgia!
Rick, 29th July 2023, 18:01
I've ordered a 20 way cable from Amazon. Only need 16, but I can cut off the other four... I wasn't able to find the actual cable used. 
My Psion/Pocketbook stuff is at, the Biorhythm program is there. 
Jean-Michel, 29th July 2023, 19:38
I thought you had already ordered it, I found one at Würth electronic 16 way, It was too long, I cut it in half. If you're interested I can send you the other half, I won't. 
After recovery, I will try to put the program via !PsiFs hoping that it still works with Risc OS 5.29
Rick, 29th July 2023, 20:12
I have ordered it...
Jean-Michel , 2nd August 2023, 10:05
Ok, if that doesn't work I can send you the piece of flat ribbon I used. On the other hand if you want I can give you the cable + serial link box, I have two.

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