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Exploring Mathematical shapes in RISC OS

Posted by Mark Stephens on 09:28, 15/2/2017 | ,
One of my long-time favourite programs for RISC OS is !PolyDraw from Fortran friends. If it is not already installed on your RISC OS machine, it deserves to be (shame on you). It is fast, fun, educational (and since 2016 it has also been free). It also has that wonderful property of a great game - you can use it pretty much instantly without the manual but it has loads of depths to explore.
!PolyDraw and its linked programs (!PolyNet, !Stellate and !PolySymm) lets you view, create and explore complex mathematical shapes. It also lets you print out the flat design for any shape which you can then cut out and stick together to make a physical shape.
The software gives you a huge range of three dimension shapes, which you can inspect in a 3D viewer. The viewer lets you choose how to rotate the shape in any directions, what color/shading you use (or you can stick to wire frame) and shows the flat outline net of the shape. When you print them out, the software adds tabs to the surfaces so you can cut out and glue the shape together. If the 141 initial shapes are not enough, there are additional data sets to load and use can create your own.
At RISC OS shows the Fortran Stand is usually full of Cubes, Dodecahedron and other icosahedra and the experts show you how to use features in the software. It's like being back in your coolest ever Maths class! As they say it is ideal for children of all ages (especially those over 18).
They are regular exhibitors at the South West Shows. So hopefully you will be able to see them in a few weeks.
All details and their downloads are on the Fortran Friends website.
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A fresh look at the Desktop Development Environment Manuals

Posted by Mark Stephens on 10:28, 1/2/2017 | , , ,
TheDesktop Development Environment manual is the essential documentation to make the most of the Desktop Development Environment. Both have been adopted and are now updated by RISC OS Open. The manuals come free with the DDE and are also available to buy in printed manual form.
The first edition of the manuals was produced in 1994 and it has been revised several times. As you would expect from professional developers, RISC OS Open includes a changelog so you can see what exact changes have been made. Last major update was in 2015. The manuals have also been rebranded with the RISC OS Open cog logo and company name.
There are 3 manuals in the set.
The Desktop Tools manual (329 pages) covers all the tools in the DDE (Make, Squeeze, SrcEdit, ABC, etc). There is a nice introductory section at the start telling you how to setup and start using the tools.
There are lots of screenshots to show the features in action. It should not be regarded as a tutorial but there is lots of material on using them. The Desktop Debugging tool includes 60 pages explaining how to use it.
The last 100 pages are Appendices which cover a summary of changes added over the years and information which you would need to use the tools (Library file formats, alignment details, file syntax,etc).
The Acorn Assembler manual (159 pages) shows you how to use ObjAsm. It includes some details on ARM Assembler instructions but it is not a tutorial (it does include some good further reading suggestions for you to learn ARM code). The focus is on using the tool and its features (ie labels, macros compilation). There are also some short chapters on writing RISC OS modules and interacting with C.
The Acorn C/C++ manual (438 pages) provides provides detailed coverage of the C and C++ language features supported by the Compiler (as well as the libraries) and some useful details and tips on writing RISC OS applications from C or C++. The languages are cleanly separated out so you only want to write C, it is easy to skip the non-relevent items. Again it is not a tutorial on coding, but a detailed summary of all the details you need to develop code.
All three manuals include an index at the back to help you to navigate as well as very detailed section descriptions at the start and a clear structure.
All three books are part of the DDE or available in a printed version (discounts for registered developers). The printed package makes a fairly bulky doorstop (and a great table stand for my MacBookPro!). I also find that it is the sort of programming content which I like to read and reread offscreen.
Further details on the DeskTop Tools Manual can be purchased from RISC OS Open website or they usually have some copies as Show events. Maybe something to check out at the South West Show later this month.
If you are looking to write software, you should also consider the Style Guide which tells you how the software should look and act to fit into RISC OS nicely.
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!Organizer reaches 2.26

Posted by Mark Stephens on 10:32, 30/11/2016 | , ,
One of the top items on my shopping list for the recent RISC OS London Show was the latest release of !Organizer. This is now at version 2.26 and maintained/developed for the last few years by Martin Avison.
!Organizer is one of my favourite RISC OS applications, and I love the flexible display modes. I have to use Google Calendar at work, and I find !Organizer much more flexible. A monthly view is fine until you get to the end of the month and suddenly find some surprises as the months roll on.
The 2 week rolling view in !Organizer makes it very easy to plan and organise my life and be ontop of my up-coming schedule. This has been enhanced in recent releases with the planner and 4/8 week rolling displays. ICal compatability also makes it very easy to import existing Calendars and lists of public holidays,etc available on the Internet.
Recent releases have seen small tweaks to !Organizer, which is no bad thing with a mature piece of software. It is already very configurable, and you can skin the softwarre to look exactly as you like. The guys at BaseCamp are rightly scathing on their blog about over-designing and cluttering up software with new features which make the product more cluttered and less usable.
So, what are the new features in 2.26? The headline feature is the ability to encrypt data with a password. Now that you can more easily share data and store the data on Cloud servers, it is good to see security options on what is critical and personal data. This feature is very flexible so you can encrypt some of the data (like your addresses) or everything. 2.26 also brings some tweaks to the Notes section and some bug fixes.
The upgrade is available from 2.24 for 20 pounds or from 2.23 (or the version on PiNut) for 30 pounds. If you have a version earlier than 2.24, this added some very interesting features to interact with Sine Nomine's OSM Mapping software to make it very easy to produce maps from your address book with a single click.
One of the great things about the shows is the chance to talk to the developers, who were very actively asking for idea and feedback. I suggested that there is still room for improvement in the Notes tools (which feels clunky compared to newer tools like Trello).
I would also like to see !Organizer able to send out emails to remind about events if a Mail client is available - this is one very good feature in Google Calendar.
It would also be useful to have more ability to create groups. At the moment I use Green for Personal and Blue for Work events and it would be nice to be able to define them better. If you have some ideas, the developers would love to hear from you....
If you are an existing user of !Orangaizer, you will be pleased to see the continued polish and maintenance of the software. If you are not a user, and looking for a small, polished and perfectly formed organizer, we recommend you take a look.
Organizer website
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!PhotoDesk adds support for latest hardware and software with version 3.14

Posted by Mark Stephens on 20:54, 23/11/2016 | ,
The long-awaited release 3.14 (nice pun for Pi users) of !PhotoDesk arrived at the RISC OS London show and is now available as an upgrade from CJEmicros.
In his show talk at London Show, Chris Evans talked about the new release. This version has actually been put together by a new maintainer (although my understanding is that the usual Swiss maintainer is still active). So what's in the new release?
The headline feature is improved support for latest software/hardware. !PhotoDesk has been upgraded to allow for Zero Pain Protection and to run properly on the new hardware (it flies on my new Titanium and also now works properly on Panda, latest RaspberryPi3, ARMX6 and IPEGv5). I have been running !PhotDesk for 2 weeks now and I have had no issues (just an old favourite running on much zippier hardware).
In terms of new features, the developers have also improved JPEG support. JPEG is more of a family of filetypes (with lots of different versions). JPEG support has been an area where RISC OS has fallen behind, and it is good to see the platform catching-up. It is also a really good reason to move to the latest version of RISC OS 5, with the improved OS support for JPEG from the bounty scheme. You can read-up on JPEG in detail here.
The upgrade CD includes an !Install application which will install the software onto your machine directly. If you try to copy this to another machine, it will detect this and not run. The upgrade CD itself could do with little spring clean. It includes a copy of !Webster and there is no zipped copy of the !Install. This is a pain if you only have access to a CD on a non-RISC OS machine and want to copy it across.
The copy of !PhotoDesk on the Nut Pi card from ROOL is not the latest. In his London Show talk, Chris Evans suggested users should contact CJEmicros if they have an issue with latest release.
The upgrade costs 12 pounds, and you will need your CD or to proof of an existing license. If you bought it directly from CJEmicros, they have a customer database they may be able to look you up on. The price seems reasonable to me - with new chips and new video hardware/modes, this is a lot of fiddly work under the bonnet.
For users of the latest hardware or looking to run on the latest RISC OS releases this is an essential purchase. If you have an older machine, the improved JPEG support is nice to have and it is good to see continued support and development of this critical and much-loved software.
PhotoDesk resources on Iconbar
1 comment in the forums

Latest batch of RISC OS magazines published at London Show

Posted by Mark Stephens on 07:54, 15/11/2016 | ,
Archive Magazine has been going since 1987 and is currently edited by Jim Nagel (you may remember his Computer Shopper Magazine Acorn columns). It is a printed A5 magazine (back and white with some colour). The style is very much traditional magazine and it has not changed over the years. As far as I can tell, its publication date is based on a complex and archaic forumla known only to Jim involving the dates of RISC OS shows, the position of the moon and lots of other secret variables. But it is generally worth the wait.
Drag'N'Drop is currently edited by Christopher Dewhurst with contributions from others. It appears regularly every quarter as a PDF which you can download and read on RISC OS or any other platform. It includes news articles (with links which you can just click on), features and tutorials (with the code also attached). The look and feel very much reminds me of the best of the traditional BBC/Acorn User style magazines.
Both magazines rely heavily on voluntary contributions which influences their content. If you have something to share, they both welcome your contribution.
Both magazines had their latest releases at the London Show, so lets dive in and see what they have to offer.
If you always judge a book by its cover, Archive has been putting considerable effort to impress with a colour cover. This month's edition features a very dramatic picture of Pebble Beach (from Jim Nagel's recent trip to Canada) accompanying the contents.
In his editoral, Jim talks about how much faster it is these days for a publisher and 6 pages of News are bang upto date for the London Show, where you could get your printed copy. The Magazine itself is a mixture of Reviews, tutorials, regular colums and little snippets of advice. So you can read about CloudFS, Findout about GPS on The Pi, learn about using HDMI, follow a guide on creating a program in !Appbasic, use TopModel for 3D printing, and annotating maps in RisosOSM. There is also a nice hint on connecting an Android tablet to Risc OS.
I have been a long time reader (and occasional contributor) to Archive and am always impressed by the high standard and knowledge of the content which is well-researched and written and carefully proof-read (Jim often adds little notes into articles to clarify).
If you are interested in trying Archive, I would recommend contacting the editor, as Archive has often offered sample copies if you want to try the magazine. Please do not judge Archive by its website (which is very old and does not do the magazine justice).
Drag'N'Drop has a much more garrish cover (it does have an article on 256 colour palette). It starts with an editorial on the show and new machines. The next section is a 'How do I..' with some tips on things we sometimes take for granted but may not be familiar to new users (get a basic prompt, open a task bar, etc). This is followed by 3 pages of news (with links to sites). The rest of the magazine consists of tutorials and coding activities.
The listings are explained and included and there is a really nice range of material here. In this edition, we have an introduction to MIDI sound format, an introduction to Forth, some machine code demos to do scrolling stars, an explanation of MemAlloc module, and a basic program to create Fibonacci Wallpaper. Lastly there is a neat little listin in Basic and Assembly to give you auto-focus. You can read some sample pages of the latest edition on the website to get a feel for the magazine.
If you are new to Drag'N'Drop, I recommend buying the USB stick which includes all the previous issues. This also works really nicey for following the tutorials which span several editions. At the London Show the USB key was available in a really beautiful little box with the RISC OS logo and some sweets. If you ask really nicely they may still have some in stock....
So how would I compare them? They are both well-written and presented to a very high standard. One is printed, one is online and there is a difference of emphasis between them, and I am pleased to say that the news sections contained lots of different items. Archive is much shorter in pages than Drag'N'Drop but does not have pages of listings.
I personally enjoyed both of them and will continue to be a regular subscriber to both as I feel they compement each other and fill slightly different niches. I read both cover to cover.
Archive Magazine
Drag'n Drop Magazine
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First Impressions of RComp's TiMachine

Posted by Mark Stephens on 14:52, 11/11/2016 | , , ,
The RISC OS shows are a great opportunity to actually see kit in action and talk to vendors. In 2016, we are really fortunate to have the widest range of hardware options ever available, ranging from fast and compact and super cheap Raspberry Pis, through ARMX6 (with their ability to support really large screens) and PiTop laptop, to high end desktop X15 machines. All were on display at the recent London show. I wanted to upgrade my main RISC OS machine (currently a 2012 PandaBoard) with a Titanium, and walked away with a shiny new TiMachine from RComp. Here are some first impressions for you….
Both RComp and CJEmicros offer finished machines based around the Titanium motherboard. You can also get the motherboard directly from Elesar and build your own system, and both RComp and CJEmicros have DIY options.
RComp’s offering is called the TiMachine and comes in either a standard black case or what they describe as a spangly box. The idea here is actually quite neat - your Titanium inside a ‘Titanium’ box. The box itself is fairly compact (I would describe it as large shoe box), with a nice blue power light and runs really quietly. There is an occasional hum from the DVD drive or the hard drive but otherwise this machine is pretty silent (I believe the cheaper box may be slightly noisier). My 2013 MAcBookPro laptop is definitely more noisy in my office.
When Apple ships their machines, they include some stickers and labels so you can personalise the machine. It would be nice to have something with the TiMachine, which can otherwise look a little ‘generic’ from the outside. My 2016 Apple laptop is on order, so I will be able to compare and contrast in few weeks….
I was upgrading from a Panda, and the first thing I noticed was ‘I am on a real machine again’. The TiMachine has a DVD drive and loads of ports at the back. The only other machine in my office with 2 ethernet ports is the high end MacPro server I have for continuous software testing.
There are also 2 DVI monitor slots (one with a cover on). I tried plugging my monitor into it and get a screen displaying a big Ti symbol.
It is also very nice to have a DVD again (especially as much RISC OS software or updates still comes on DVD or CD). There are lots of USB slots and audio input/output and lots of ports at the back. As Elesar says in their marketing, there is generally at least 2 of everything.
The Titanium motherboard includes an SD card for adding in Linux which is quite fiddly to access once you put the system inside a case. If you want this I would recommend you order it at the time of purchase and get the vendor to fit it when they build the system. I would recommend Linux for ‘light’ use or curiosity. I stick to my Pi3 and Mac for running Linux.
Switch on the machine, and the machine rapidly boots into a desktop screen (I generally stick to 1920x1200 pixels at 16 million colours). Coupled with a big screen, Titanium is currently the state of the art in terms of running RISC OS, with a very fast processor and board, SSD drive and high resolution. It runs all the standard applications extremely quickly and will handle any RISC OS task in its stride. Go back to an older RISC OS machine once you have used this machine, and you will notice the sluggishness. Chris Hall has posted some excellent statistics on speed of various machines and also has a really good discussion of the different machine options available. Things that used to bug me on the Panda (such as when doing Filer big copy operations are much smoother on this machine).
The only thing I would have liked faster is the Otter browser which still personally feels sluggish to me and does not run the sites I currently need to use (Trello, BaseCamp and Fogbugz). But Otter is definitely heading in the right direction and opens up a lot of sites to RISC OS.
On the IconBar the RISC OS icon in now the Ti symbol from the periodic table and I am running a June release of RISC OS 5.23 - if you buy a machine from RComp, they include you in their update scheme where they offer for RISC OS. RComp package up RISC OS for you and add in lots of additional applications. You can also buy in as a non-RComp customer. If you are upgrading from an older machine, you will find that this now includes lots of useful third-party software as standard (including image editors, development tools, other languages, etc). Some of it is probably more of interest from a historical perspective (old browsers) but there is lots of genuinely useful stuff in there. There is also a copy of PlingStore and PackMan opening up a wealth of free and commercial stuff. So there is no shortage of things to run on the machine. I bought the machine at a show so also got the RComp BundleCD included (also worth considering as an additional purchase).
There were some initial concerns about software compatibility and support (especially with the handling of colour). But CJEmicros also had their update for !PhotoDesk at the show and the other issues seem mostly sorted. It should only be a concern if you are running specific old/unmaintained software. I have not had any issues in my daily usage.
The TiMachine has a nice 'Getting Started' Manual with the machine and RComp asked me how I wanted the machine set-up so that the machine could come ready to run out of the box. They also sell a nice range of monitors (I have a new 27 inch BenQ) monitor, and they will setup both for you when they send it out. A 27 inch monitor with a 2048x1152 pixel 16million colour display is a really nice working environment (but it does spoil you when you then have to switch back to a laptop screen). If you have any problems after purchase, I have found RComp very helpful and supportive.
In conclusion… I really like my TiMachine and I have been switching tasks back from my Mac onto RISC OS. Writing and answering emails in !Messenger on this machine is a real pleasure. It is clearly a premium desktop machine at a significant cost. So, if you just want to dabble with RISC OS occasionally and want a very compact solution at a silly price, it is hard to argue against the RaspberryPi. If you want a proper desktop machine, and you can justify a premium machine which makes RISC OS really shine, RComp’s TiMachine is a very polished and attractive proposition.
If you have a new machine (Pi, ARMX6, PiTop, Titanium, RapidO), what are your thoughts?
Some photos of the TiMachine on Flickr
Chris Hall’s excellent benchmarks and discussion on different machines
RComp’s website
CJEmicros’ website
Elesar’s website
4 comments in the forums

RComp releases update of !FireWorkzPro 2.20

Posted by Mark Stephens on 09:39, 5/11/2016 |
!Fireworkz Pro is the commercial version of Colton software's original software. RComp have taken over active commercial developement, so it continues to be developed with new releases and the latest version was released at the London Show last weekend.
The previous release included some big changes to upgrade support for Microsoft spreadsheets. The latest version is more a set of incremental improvements.
In the previous release I also found some little, annoying bugs in it on my machine with text not appearing in some dialog boxes and I actually went back to using the older version. I am very pleased to report all my bugs have all gone and I am very happy on the October 2016 release!
The big headline feature is the support for Global clipboard so that you can finally cut and paste properly with other applications. This also extends to other Operating Systems if you are also running RComp's Uniprint 4. The support for the Microsoft spreadsheets continues to improve and there seems to be a lot of work going on under the hood (always a good sign for active developments). This shows up in the other new developments.
Firstly, all the messages are now in external text files, which means the product can be easily customised or internationalised. If you are interested in this, it is probably worth talking with RComp about the potential.
There is also a new online help system which makes it much easier to access online documentation about !FireworkzPro. In my copy the website button still points to the old Fireworkz site (with the download of the free version on the first page) and RComp might want to consider redirecting it to a copy of the manual on their website.
In the London Show talks, Andrew Rawnsley was asked about the possiblity of Open Office Support. This would need a filter written to read and write the files (but not a total rewrite of the Software). So if you would like to use Open Office spreadsheets in !FireworkzPro, you should let RComp know there is a demand for this feature.
You can buy the software as an online upgrade (20 pounds from older versions, 5 pounds if you already have version 2.20) from !Store or directly from RComp and you also get it on CD (39 pounds) as a new purchase, includes both RISCOS and Windows versions and a copy of !PDFMaker for turning Spreadsheets into PDF files for sharing with other on any platform.
If you are a regular user of !FireworkzPro, the latest update is well worth moving onto and sales do drive future developments. It is really good to see this key application continuing to see active, commercial development in 2016.
The free, Open Source version of !FireworkzPro (numbered 2.10) is also available. The release info box gives a date of June 2016. It offers a smaller range of documents and features at a lower price. The source code for this version can also be downloaded.
RComp can be contacted on their website
Other free version of FireWorkzPro
5 comments in the forums

Elesar's new Cloud Storage software

Posted by Mark Stephens on 17:39, 1/11/2016 | , ,
The London Show on saturday was the first chance for many of us to get a look at some new software and hardware for the first time. One of the packages which especially interested me was CloudFS, the new cloud solution for RISCOS. So I bought a copy and here are my first impressions.
Cloud software allows you to have a remote storage area which you can access from your machines (not RISCOS until now) and there are lots of companies offering solutions (mainly Windows and Mac) including Google, DropBox, Box, etc. 
The CloudFS software cost 28 pounds and for that you get a Cloud account setup if you need it and a 12 page printed user manual and some software emailed to you. You get 10 gigs of data storage for free and can buy additional space. You just need to run the software and you will find that next time you run !Omniclient, there is a new protocol option (Cloud). Login (there are lots of helpful screenshots in the manual) and you will get access to a shared drive. !OmniClient also has a rather cute little cloud icon which will appear when you connect. 
The user manual also includes some links to download software for other platforms. So you now have a shared drive accessible across the internet. So what is it like?
I have tried to setup shared drives before with Samba or ftp and this is the first really workable solution I have found. You will need to be connected to the Internet to use it (so it is not like Google drive which caches data on your local machine). You can directly open and run applications and files from the drive, although I would not recommend this - access is slower and the no operating system will protect you from accessing the same file from different machines - at best you could lose data and at worse you will corrupt the file. You also cannot restore files, so make sure it is not your only copy!
My personal use case is that I wanted a slick and easy way to share data between all my machines and store remote back-ups of my data. CloudFS provides a really elegant solution for this. It will be interesting to see what Elesar do next... 
Details on the Elesar website.
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