Initially published on Push'n'Pop.
HxC emulators are now a common hardware in the CPC world. The original point is that this hardware is not specific to the CPC but compatible with nearly every machine using a disc-drive. It's the moment for Push'n'Pop readers all around the world to know more about the people behind this high-quality hardware. So Lotharek answered as fast as an arrow to this interview. Jeff brought some extra informations (see here for HxC HeadQuarters).
Eliot - I think only very few people in the Amstrad world really know who you are, contrasting with the Atari XL world! So please introduce yourself...
Lotharek - My name is Przemyslaw, I was born in 1977 in Poland where I live and work so far I'm married for second time, have great son (aged 8) and daughter (little bit older). I'm fan of ATARI 8 bit computers (800 XL was my first one), practice compound bow shooting, ride a bike, drink lot of beer and enjoy good movies. I run BURG trailer service in position of service manager and home do some retro electronics.
Eliot - What is Lotharek's Lair? How and why was it created?
Lotharek - I'm kind of big guy, sometimes I'm compared to bear, teddy bear by my wife, so Lotharek's Lair is a special place for me - it is kind of hobby and also second job that I keep on staying for long hours being seen by others that do nothing.
But, seriously - Lotharek's Lair origin is back in 2005, when I was living and working in UK. That time was crucial for me. I've learnt plenty of things and realized that good quality work is in demand. So, I started my page (simple html) to show my Atari upgrades. I wonder if I have copy now...
Eliot - Among other hardwares, you're the producer of the HxC Floppy Emulators designed by Jeff Del Nero. How did you meet and work together?
Lotharek - Actually I do not remember the very beginning. I was looking for some floppy emulator for my Amiga and found USB version from Jeff. I made it home using universal PCB, meters of wires and it worked. So, I asked Jeff, if I may produce some USB emuls for people - commercially. Jeff agreed.... then followed discussion about SD version, PCB layout etc... and now we have REV C :-). Meanwhile we met in Paris I have visited with my wife to do some sightseeing, few ideas are born, soon more will be introduced to life we cooperate for almost two years now and bothways is a good deal.
Eliot - Have you been involved in the design of the HxC emulators?
Lotharek - Yes and no. No - they are Jeff's babies, he designed them. In the final level of designing SD emul, Jeff took my suggestion about making SD emul more user friendly - position of leds, switches, LCD mounting etc etc. Now, I'm in the middle of adopting SD emul project into case 3,5` with micro LCD display, but those plans are for 2012.
Eliot - It could be handy that the HxC emulators have the same dimensions than a real 3.5" Floppy drive with the screen, buttons and SD card input in the front, as a replacement solution.
Lotharek - Yes, we know. I work on that... Problem is price of moulding form, that is far away from being cheap. We know there is demand for such a project but......
Jeff - Yes we have to make this version, and I hope to make something in this format at a reasonable price soon.
Eliot - So, will the design change in the future?
Jeff - Probably but I cannot tell more right now.
Eliot - What is the process to produce all your cards? How do you organize production, shipping and after-sales service?
Lotharek - Whole this process was organized by me... At the very beginning I was soldering SD emuls with my hands. 300 units approx were made by me. That was rough time. 2 months with sleeping 2 hours daily... I lost then 15 kgs of weight and looked like shadow. One day I said enough. I went to bank, take a big loan (my 3 months salary), took 2 weeks off and started driving around Poland to meet parts suppliers, PCB producers, companies that make soldering... etc etc...
Effect was that, that nowadays SD emuls are made by profs companies, that only get from me one mail: 200 units in 2 weeks time and all then follows itself...
I get home 200 PCBs, I take main CPUs - do flashing with bootstrap firmware which is official property of Jeff, assembly LCD and its socket, put all other parts into sockets, test on Amiga 600 (State of the Art demo because of its funny trackloader and then workbench floppy write capabilities). It usually takes me 8-10 hours to have 40-50 emuls ready for shipping. I pack them, secure for transport, go to post office, etc etc...
PS: Do you know that ladies at my post office when they see me entering building disappear somehow?? I wonder why.....
After sales service - HARDWARE - so far we have few issues, which I solved immediately. SOFTWARE - Jeff work with that. When I get mail from customer, like : "Lotharek, what should I do... etc etc...", I just forward it to Jeff with "Jeff, please advice" and it works.
Eliot - HxC is a success. Did you expect such a success? How many HxC have you produced? Did this amount lead changes in the process?
Lotharek - Thank you. We do not threat SD EMUL as success - even if it is. I'm proud that I'm part of something bigger. I`m happy that I will not be forgotten and some day when my kid type in google LOTHAREK he will get some info about his father. Did we expect such a big sale? hmmm... I didn't. Jeff???
Jeff - No, but in fact this is not a big surprise: Since 2006 I designed the device to be the more versatile as possible. This means that the device can be used on everything having something compatible with the shugart or PC floppy interface. And the need for this kind of device is there, and not only into the retrogaming/computing domain! Everyday I am in contact with retrocomputing guys, musicians guys, and industrial companies about the HxC project ;). Search for "hxc floppy" on Youtube to see some examples.
I don't have the exact number of SD HxC Floppy Emulator produced (I need to recount them), but I think that there are something around 1500 / 1600 devices produced until now.
Eliot - The different floppy disc emulators (Sdisk Emul, HxC, TFE...) were conceived by people interested by retro-computers. But these emulators are also requested for industrial machines, as we can see in this impressive video showing a knitting machine. Do you know what is the final use of the pieces you produce?
Lotharek - Every month new devices are added to the list of supported devices. We hope our emul will serve ALL because is the best one .It was created by (slightly geek) people for people, not only Amiga, STe, CPC GEEKS. You know, it is kind of feeling, when You know that Your work is distributed worldwide.
Eliot - Small retro-computer scenes like the Amstrad CPC one often meet difficulties to produce hardware once the prototype is working. So the project remains as a Do-it-yourself hardware (but everybody is not a soldering expert...) or very few pieces are produced and the hardware is rare, not supported and finally useless. Could Lotharek's Lair solve this problem even for small quantity? For example: MegaROM or Ramcard.
Lotharek - I'm very happy to run - even small batch - of INTERESTING project.
Eliot - Thank you for your involment in hardware production and to support indirectly our CPC world! Nice to have met you at the FOReVER C. The last words are for you...
Lotharek - Thank you, and sorry for my joke at Forever party - I really LOVE your accent.