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End of 2018 Summer vacations

Written by cafealpha 6 comments
... One month ago, I wanted to announce that I wouldn't be available for several weeks, but I was suddenly taken in a storm of bringing/taking kids to/from schoolchildren care, washing bento boxes, going to work and the usual dish-wash/throw trash/laundry/whatever daily routines

Personally, I only had two rest days at the middle of August generously offered by employer as summer holidays ... two days !! That's one day, and ... one another day  Moreover both are consecutive And  that's ... so long I fear I would forget everything about work after such a long rest
Well, more seriously I took some day-off here and there during August too, and theses were a good occasion to refresh from everyday life

As a consequence, I completely neglected my email box during this period of time. Sorry to all concerned people !
I will try to tidy-up my mail box this week, but can't guarantee that everything will be done on planned time since day work went a bit crazy recently

So here comes some lines about my summer holidays ... hey, that's my homepage which I pay for hosting and where I installed and filled this blog, so I write whatever I want on it

So if you're not interested in me talking about my life, please skip until next horizontal separator


Summer 2018 activity #1 : going to the beach

As every summer, I celebrated the lapse of one year by going to the beach : four years ago, I spent nearly two months at hospital without any occasion to go outside, so that I like to take a revenge every year
At that time, I had around 50-60% of chances to be still here today. It's good to be alive

Well, there were a bit more medusa than usual, so I didn't swam so much, but that's better than not being able to go to beach at all anyway


This is an illustration photo : the girls are just
to boost my blog audience.
And I own TI-89 calculator rather than TI-83+


The kids wanted to make a sand castle, which
ended in some kind of free-style art
Title: Japanese style toilet, by cafe-alpha kids, 2018

I like that they didn't spent half a day to do a instagram-compliant thing that would then be destroyed by the sea but had fun anyway


Summer 2018 activity #2 : watching typhoons
I don't know if that's limited to the region I live, but there were a lot of typhoons this year ! There wasn't any kind of major damage nearby, but not everybody in Japan could be that fortunate ...

Personally, it was the occasion to do some cleanup on the balcony : I trashed several things that accumulated over past year, and Mr Typhoon helped to clean up dust after that

I wish typhoon and other similar kind of natural disasters could evolve into intelligent entities to clean up earth from climate-skeptical trolls



Rare footage from the birth of a French citizen
(That's not super related with typhoons, but this is my blog,
and I write whatever I want on it )


Summer 2018 activity #3 : going to several kinds of museums
The kids like museums, especially to watch insects, machines or similar stuff. But museums close early, unfortunately.

Close at 4PM ?!
That's not a museum, but an hideout for civil workers

Always should read the little letters : "open until 4:30 PM ... but can't enter after 4PM"
The rear door was still open, so we could sneak inside anyway ... that's funny to hack museum rules

Went to aquarium too. That's a Hammerhead Shark.
And it's also a multi-purpose drawing :
tilt your screen and E.T. will appear


Summer 2018 activity #4 : watering plants
Kid bring back okra from school. One of summer vacations homework was to take care of that thing, but from the limited range I could see, only me was doing such boring duty
Mr Okra in all its glory.
I put it near the space for hanging
laundry so that I don't forget to water it


Summer 2018 activity #5 : watching Saturn for real !
Local astronomy group prepared an "Watch Jupiter, Saturn, and also a bunch of other stars I forgot their name" event ... so I was super interested in it

土星, during small explanations about how to locate things in the sky.
Saturn was so bright it's hard to miss it in the night sky
But Mars was even brighter this summer !

This was also an occasion to assemble a small telescope by oneself. That's a cheap "30 bucks" model, but with lens good enough to see Jupiter moons oO


Summer 2018 activity #6 : adventuring in Tokyo

In order to renew a identification paper, I had to go to embassy located Tokyo : this was basically one day spent in transports, except 15 minutes at the embassy itself to sign a couple of papers, have my fingerprints taken, and pay 12198 yens

That's a long time I didn't get lost in Tokyo Everything was more or less smooth in changing from plane → train/subway → bus, but in the last steps walking to the embassy, the battery of my phone decided take a little rest for the remaining of the day
I was aware that battery wouldn't last long, so I printed nearly all directions, but last "use your own foots" steps weren't detailed a lot Fortunately the "ask random people around" solution could guide me to the embassy

The return back to home without help from phone was more or less OK, and when back to home I finally could unlock my phone
Why unlock ? Because my phone's power switch is broken At a moment, I asked for an estimation to my phone carrier to get this fixed, and price was around 80 buck-ish, so I decided it would be better to live with this broken switch rather than paying that
Now, I'm used enough to my phone power in sequence that I no longer consider it as a problem, but instead as child lock feature : if kid try to play game on it while it is running on battery, it turns off after around 5 minutes

My secret method to turn the phone on is to tweak the debounce circuit with a small wire. Electronics components there are super small (which is probably why the power switch broke ...), why requires the usage of tweezers or a small pliers hence can't be done outside since I don't always bring my electronics toolbox with me when I go on travel

My phone, and its broken power switch.
I feel like MacGyver when I turn on my phone


Summer 2018 activity #7 : going to hospital
This was "just" a routine appointment for periodic screening, and everything was OK This time was the occasion to celebrate the fourth year still alive after surgery

This is an archive picture : all the "no pokemon go in hopital"
warnings were removed. Instead there was a notice that
North side parking is not available, but I didn't took a
picture of it since I doubt the average reader of this
blog is concerned by such news



End of the personal and boring news August was also a time do PCB design to celebrate the 10th birthday of my favorite PCB house
(More pragmatically, I rushed to finish PCB design until August 31st because they were offering discount coupons until that date to celebrate this event )

Among PCBs ordered, there was minor change for Gamer's Cartridge, and a small board to flash MAX3000A CPLDs used in Gamer's Cartridge.

Gamer's Cartridge PCB rev 3.3 (c)

There's nothing changed nor deleted : I just added footprints for alternate voltage regulator : I'm using this alternate regulator in another project, so I would like to unify electronic components used in order to reduce stock management/space/etc to store theses two components.
Additionally, this alternate voltage regulator is a bit easier to solder, so at the end I would like to stick with this one

CPLD flash board

That's a really simple board to interface between CPLD and programming hardware : so far I was flashing Gamer's Cartridge CPLD one by one after soldering each cartridges, but thanks to this board it may be possible to flash a batch of CPLDs in a row hence save some bits of time on my side

Read more End of 2018 Summer vacations

Pseudo Saturn FAQ, May 2017 edition

Written by cafealpha 6 comments
Here is a small FAQ about Pseudo Saturn, so that it may help people experiencing troubles when installing or using Pseudo Saturn, and also ... reduce the number of inquiries in my mailbox

Pseudo Saturn 0.832 "Booting CD ... Error 1" message when trying to load a game.


The "Booting CD ... Error 1" message.
Special Thanks to C.L. for reporting the problem and sending the picture

This problem happens with Pseudo Saturn 0.832, both "no logo" initial build and final release with classy logo.

It concerns :
 - A specific hardware revision of Saturn : Japanese grey model 1 (95% sure), with power supply connector screwed to Saturn top case (not so sure).
 - Any game or application on burned on CD-R

So if you have Pseudo Saturn 0.832 and the "wrong" (incompatible) hardware revision of Saturn, it's not possible to play any CD-R copy of your games, and consequently can't upgrade your cartridge to other version of Pseudo Saturn, since it requires to boot a CD-R

Annoying isn't it ? The countermeasure is to either :
 1. Install latest Pseudo Saturn Kai on your Saturn cartridge
 2. Use another Saturn, compatible with Pseudo Saturn 0.832 :
      - Model 2 Saturns are 99% safe : I didn't received any "Boot Error 1" report with model 2 Saturn.
      - Please try on another model 1 Saturn only if you were lucky that day, else please be sure that this other Saturn won't be compatible too

Owning a spare and compatible Saturn -or being friend with somebody owning one- is the best solution, since it allows to both upgrade to Pseudo Saturn Kai, and to play games compatible with "JHL (PS 0.832)" game loader.

Owning only 0.832 incompatible Saturn(s) will bring you to "install Pseudo Saturn Kai on a bare Saturn" step, so basically requires to open your Saturn, watch swap trick tutorials on youtube, fail several times in trying that ('%)=(&$ swap trick, finally success in installing Pseudo Saturn Kai , look for one missing screw in order to put back Saturn top cover, re-open the Saturn in order to remove the tape on CD-ROM lid open switch, and finally put back the Saturn in its original condition

Long install steps ? Yes, but at the end the problem will be fixed (if not, please contact me)
However, there's a limitation when using Pseudo Saturn Kai on model 1 incompatible Saturns : the few games not compatible with Pseudo Saturn 0.831 won't be playable
Incompatible games are the ones marked as requiring Pseudo Saturn patcher utility, in Pseudo Saturn Kai compatibility list. Notable examples are Panzer Dragoon Saga, Batman Forever and Alien Trilogy.

You sold a kidney in order to buy original discs of Panzer Dragoon Saga, and really want to play their CD-R copies on your model 1 Japanese Saturn so that original discs won't be damaged ?

Except selling the remaining kidney in order to buy a Rhea/Phoebe (), the only solution is to wait until a new version of Pseudo Saturn Kai is released, and hope I find a fix to this problem.
While waiting for new version of Pseudo Saturn Kai, how about trying games that Pseudo Saturn Kai can play with its good old "CWX (PS 0.831)" game loader ? I would for example recommend NiGHTS into dreams, Shining Force 3 series, and also Virtua Fighter Kids



"Firmware file read error !" message when trying to install Pseudo Saturn Kai

"Firmware file read error !" message (hard to read, sorry).
Grabbed from reddit, special thanks to yoqu for reporting the problem

First, I fixed error text display in Pseudo Saturn Kai's latest release (v6.074) : it is now displayed with white background color. Readability varies from a TV monitor to another, so please contact me if that's still not readable on your TV

This problem is generally caused by incorrect timing when performing swap trick, which makes Saturn booting Save Data Manager and Flasher utility from CD-R, but not being able to read files from CD-R after that.
Another causes may be Saturn's laser incorrect calibration, or affinity problem between Saturn CD block and CD-R brand, or burn settings.

The countermeasure is simple : please use Pseudo Saturn Kai alternate flasher utility, located in Pseudo Saturn Kai latest archive → pskai_alternate_flasher.iso. This requires another CD-R, but this will work
And, burning Pseudo Saturn Kai Save Data Manager and Flasher utility (pskai_sdm_flasher.iso) wasn't a waste, since it will boot correctly after flashing your cartridge to Pseudo Saturn Kai. Save Data Manager contains many save data to import to your Saturn, so you probably want to use them in order to start playing your favorite game elsewhere than level 1

So, what's the magic behind Pseudo Saturn Kai alternate flasher utility ? nothing really special in fact : both flasher executable and Pseudo Saturn Kai firmware data are packed in a single Saturn executable file. So as firmware data is loaded just after performing swap trick, file read error won't happen


Definitely not a smart way to counter a problem,
but it works, which is the most important


This "alternate" flasher utility was developed before Pseudo Saturn Kai, and used in Pseudo Saturn 0.83x flasher utilities. I then developed an "all in one" Save Data Manager & Flasher utility on a single CD-ROM which allows to flash cartridge, manage save data, etc.

I though this would make the "alternate" initial flasher utility obsolete, so that it was dropped in Pseudo Saturn Kai 6.036 and 6.037 releases ... unfortunately I was reported about that "Firmware file read error !" problem after that
So as a countermeasure, I restored this utility from Pseudo Saturn 6.074. Sorry for the troubles caused

Additionally, some more informations about this problem are displayed in current (W.I.P.) Pseudo Saturn Kai version.

Updated error message in flasher utility.

Pseudo Saturn Kai development continues ! Stay tuned

Read more Pseudo Saturn FAQ, May 2017 edition

Saturn cartridge firmware flasher utility : major (final ?) update

Written by cafealpha 6 comments
I made many fixes to my flasher utility. (Old article available here , even older article available here)

Changelog :
  - Tested on around 30 Action Replay cartridges. It was working fine for all known flash chips.
  - Ask for confirmation before returning to multiplayer screen.
  - Return back to initial screen in the case user don't want to go to multiplayer screen.
  - Retrieve and display chips IDs when firmware selection menu is displaying.
  - Fixed erase/flash operations for AT29C010 flash chips.
  - Minor fix about text display.
  - Fix for BFBF/1010 flash chips.
  - In the case Action Replay flash chips is supected, display disclaimer
    before flashing as a typical Action Replay flash device (SST29EE).
  - Refresh vendor/device IDs display during error/disclaimer message display
    in the case flash is not recognized.
  - Major changes in menu related routines.
  - Added key auto repeat feature : holding Up/Down button should scroll automatically now.
  - Added erase verification test.
  - If erase/write verification test failed, display informations about failure.
  - Use FRT-based delay during flash write/erase.
  - Changed highlight color in menus.
  - Change color of vendor/device strings according to chips flashability.
     - Hopeless   : red
     - Maybe OK   : yellow
     - Recognized : green

In short, it now has nearly the same compatibility as legacy arflash/Atlas utility, while being SGL-free (it doesn't uses Sega libraries), compatible with newer flash chips, embedding several firmwares in a same executable file, etc, etc.

In the case this flasher is not compatible with your Action Replay (it may happen, I don't decide about future revisions of Action Replay cartridges), please let me know in this article's comments or by email .
However, please note that I don't plan to add new features to this utility. New features were added during beta testing phase, and I really thanks beta testers for this.

Some screenshots from beta testers :
data/images/20150115_gameofyou_bfbf_1212.tb.jpg
BFBF/1212 flash chip, now recognized as SST/Greenliant type.
Picture provided by gameofyou1.


data/images/20150304_tabajaralabs_0101_2020.jpg
0101/2020 flash chips : everything is working fine, as in the previous version of the flasher utility.
Picture provided by TabajaraLabs.



data/images/20150305_amoc_53bf_4707.tb.jpg

data/images/20150305_amoc_53bf_4707_cart.tb.jpg
Weird 53BF/4707 flash chips : one chip is recognized as typical BF/07 (SST), while the other doesn't returns its vendor/device IDs.
As you can see on PCB picture, flash chips on right side are different, so that they return different vendor/device IDs.
Pictures provided by A Murder Of Crows.



data/images/20150316_sonic_dcer_1f1f_d5d5_fail.tb.jpg

data/images/20150316_sonic_dcer_1f1f_d5d5_ok.tb.jpg

data/images/20150316_sonic_dcer_1f1f_d5d5_cart.tb.jpg
1F1F/D5D5 flash chips : pictures before and after I fix the Flasher utility.
It (finally) works on latest version
Pictures provided by Sonic Dreamcaster.


data/images/20150315_zorlon_bfbf_1010.tb.jpg

data/images/20150317_saturnar_bfbf_1010_cart.tb.jpg

data/images/20150315_zorlon_bfbf_1010.tb.jpg
BFBF/1010 flash chips : according to datasheet, theses flash chips have twice more memory than usual chips (total 256KB -> 512KB).
However, a look at cartridge PCB between C6 capacitor and bottom-right flash chip shows that most significant address bit is grounded, so only 256KB can be addressed from Saturn ... what a pity
Pictures provided by SaturnAR and Zorlon.


You can download Flasher utility and its source code here : flasher_arp_20150326.7zhttp://ppcenter.webou.net/pskai/
Disclaimer #1 : You will loose your cartridge backup data after flashing it.
Disclaimer #2 : I'm not responsible in the case I brick your cartridge and/or damage your Saturn.

Note : I didn't made PseudoSaturn firmware. All thanks about PseudoSaturn firmware must go to CyberwarriorX.

Read more Saturn cartridge firmware flasher utility : major (final ?) update

Backup Manager - Early Version #1

Written by cafealpha 8 comments
So I'm currently making a Saturn Backup Data Manager utility.
What's this ? It is a remake of "Memory Manager" utility present in Saturn BIOS.
data/images/20150204_backup_manager_sega1.png
Sega Memory Manager utility : main screen

It already exists, and can be used from BIOS, so why making such an utility ?
I have some reasons that pushed me making this, and one of theses is that Memory Manager user interface is very cheap, especially, it doesn't allows to select multiple backup data and copy/delete them. (Dear Sega, why didn't you developed this feature ??)
Also, there are some new features I would like to add, such as hex-edit of memory data ... I have very few time to play now (real life, children, cancer, etc), so 999 lives in Backup data is a must-have feature

This utility is currently WIP, so no download link is available right now, but it is WIP enough to publish screens on my blog
So here is what it looks like now :
data/images/20150204_backup_manager1.png
Backup Data Manager Main Screen

Don't trust the development progress only by looking at the main menu : everything behind is far for being finished
But at least, menu library itself is more or less completed, and I'm very glad about this point.

Here is a comparison of data selection screens :
data/images/20150204_backup_manager_sega2.png
Data Selection (Sega)
data/images/20150204_backup_manager3.png
Data Selection (this utility)

Yeah, I know that Japanese text is not displaying properly ... this will be fixed, but the priority for this is low, so please be patient.
And what is the green text display on Backup Data Manager screen ? This is multiple items selection

As a bonus, here are screens of Backup Manager running on real hardware.
Pictures were taken last September, when I still had a modchipped Saturn ready for use ... after that I was busy with medical stuff, and moving to a new apartment, so my Saturn I used for testing is currently hidden in a cardboard ...
data/images/20150204_backupmngr_hwtest1.tb.jpg
Early version of Backup Manager, picture was taken 4 months ago.
Can you spot the differences with current version ? ^^


data/images/20150204_backupmngr_hwtest2.tb.jpg
SatLink running on my 8 years old laptop, connected to my Saturn via USB dev cart.
This development environment is by faaar more convenient than $500+ vintage
development hardware/carts/whatever floating on ebay ♪



Among the things I would like to add before a release, there is the Saturn FDD support ... but I don't own Saturn FDD unit, and the cheapest unit I could find on auction sites costs 10'000 Yens, and the seller doesn't guarantee that it still works ...
I won't pay 10K Yens for a vintage objet I will only use once a year (and I fear my wife would trash it if she founds it ), so if somebody is ready to give some time for beta testing with Saturn Floppy Disk Drive, please let me know in the comments

Read more Backup Manager - Early Version #1

Saturn cartridge firmware flash utility : small update #2

Written by cafealpha 12 comments
I made some fixes to my flasher utility.
 - Added support for SST29LE010 flash chip
 - Added memory verify after flashing
 - Fixed erase/write operations AM29F010 flash chip
 - On startup, inform user that 3D pad and multitap pad are not supported

Thanks to beta testers on ASSEMbler forums, this new version has high chances to work on your Saturn cartridge
However, if you experience any problem, please let me know by leaving a comment to this article.

Some screenshots :
data/images/20140829_bfbf_0808.tb.jpg
BFBF/0808 flash chip, not recognized on previous version.
This version does now detect it as a 29LE010 device from SST.
Picture provided by dgist71.

data/images/20140901_flash_ok.tb.jpg
Write to AM29F010 chip was incorrect in previous version.
As displayed in this screenshot, this is fixed now.
Picture provided by XeCuTioNR.

You can download this utility here : flasher_20140902.7zflasher_arp_20150326.7zhttp://ppcenter.webou.net/pskai/
Disclaimer : You will loose your cartridge backup data after reflash. And, I'm not responsible in the case I brick your cartridge and/or damage your Saturn.

Read more Saturn cartridge firmware flash utility : small update #2

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