1:49 PM 8/1/2010 -- IT IS OVER!!1!
So another Retrochallenge has come and gone. I'm glad I finally had the opportunity to participate this year. It has been a fun trip back in time, dusting off those old IIe's. I certainly spent a lot of time with them when I was a kid.
It was also intriguing to see just how far technology has come, and the sorts of things we take for granted. Actually I was just remarking on this again this past weekend to my mother. She just got a new laptop and I was helping her transfer all of her files from her old desktops. We sat there chatting while several gigabytes of data moved silently and invisibly through the air between the two computers. How far we've come!
It is unfortunate that my one CP/M card went to the grave, but at least it got to have one more go at life before fading to oblivion.
I'm glad I was able to recover all of those documents. My mother's gratitude was well worth the swapping of disks, restarting of transfers, and manually typing in filenames to get them copied. I'll admit it was a bit fun, too. I do like a good puzzle and that one fit the bill for sure.
I'm not sure what the plan is for the Winter Warmup yet. I would like to do some programming, either in BASIC or Pascal, or perhaps using the CC64 library (if I can figure that out). Oh and maybe I'll get to the tandy stuff next time, too.
Anyway, it has been fun, thanks for reading, and thanks for giving me interesting things to read all month, fellow challengers!
2:38 PM 7/24/2010 -- FREE AS IN BEER
Not much to report. I tried a couple of different games for CP/M, to no avail. I'd run them, the cursor would drop and the disk drive would snoop around on the disk, then it would just drop back to command prompt. No errors, just back to the prompt. Not sure what to think about that.
Other than that, I haven't done too much retro computing. I played Mystery House on the IIe one night and beat it within 3 hours. It was an interesting mix of familiar and unfamiliar, but I remembered enough I think to make it fairly easy for me.
I had tried Expedition Amazon as well, but I don't get to Iquitos without it crashing with an error in a line. I overwrote it with a fresh copy from the interwong, but errors again. I'm thinking that there are bad sectors on the disk. I have about 25 or more blanks, so I should get to that and make a new copy.
Oh and today, much to the chagrin of several of you no doubt, I went garage saling with the wife and turned down two FREE macs. I know, I know. Both were marked as fully operational, one was a PowerPC, the other not sure. One was integrated with a monitor (not an iMac), and the other was a seperate case/monitor. I could have, I had my wife's sorta-blessing, but I'm just not a mac guy. Besides, both were missing keyboards/mice and I'm pretty sure they're different from PC ones. Plus I don't have any software for them.
But yeah, I know, FREE. Oh well. At least I'm reassured that garage sales are a viable place to dig up old hardware.
On that note, I'm off to a wedding. Enjoy your weekend, Retrochallengers!
5:25 PM 7/19/2010 -- SHE'S DEAD JIM
I was reading this afternoon about CP/M stuff when I ran across this rather non-descript repository of CP/M software. I then recalled that the
I grabbed what seemed to be an old blank disk, but being cautious, thought I would make sure. I checked it both in DOS 3.3 and ProDos before firing up AppleWorks to make sure there wasn't something hiding there. Nothing yet, so I put in the CP/M WordStar disk to check it with that, reset the machine and....
Some garbled characters.
Some disk activity.
I tried a different CP/M disk. Same thing. Reseated the CP/M card. Same thing. Reseated it three more times. Same thing. It gets as far as switching to 80 Column mode but that's it.
The other Apple IIe has a CP/M card as well, but it is a different brand (might be the Microsoft SoftCard). I popped that into the same slot, and then I'd just get a
It is a bit ironic, though, both in that it crapped out the day after I completed the project that it was associated with, and that it crapped out the night before I was planning on exploring it a bit more.
Perhaps it's time to start working with Apple IIe #2, give her a little bit of a workout.
5:49 PM UPDATE:
I got IIe #2 hooked up and after some fiddling discovered that there's a different boot disk for this CP/M card (it's not the MS one). And it works! So, currently my CP/M games disk is being transferred.
9:37 PM 7/18/2010 -- EUREKA!!!
Belly up to the bar boys, the drinks are on me!
So if I remember correctly (it has been about 24 hours), last night I was just googling around trying to find more information about the CP/M operating system when I ran across cpmtools. As described by the web page, "This package allows to access CP/M file systems similar to the well-known mtools package, which accesses MSDOS file systems."
Wait, I thought, could I use this to access the files on my disk images? I began fiddling and before long I was reading the directory of the disk images, and then writing them in output files.
The output files, however, were nearly gibberish. It looked like stuff that was written by someone whose primary language was not english, and then there were weird characters in there like it was an improper encoding.
Feeling as if I were on the right track, I figured that the files must be stored in a particular format that wasn't plain text. I was on the hunt for a WordStar to text converter. Before long I discovered HABit WordStar Converter. I didn't get anywhere with the commandline version, but they have a nice graphical version for Windows that worked like a charm! It gives you the option of outputting in either plain text or HTML. I tried text, and it would keep the proper formatting, but it would also keep it in its block, i.e. no real word wrap. So I converted to HTML which breaks any tabbing but at least it's in paragraphs and wraps. My goal was to get in M$'s .DOC format.
So, at that point I converted everything to nice looking HTML. The next step was to dig up an HTML-to-DOC converter. I could have opened them one at a time in Open Office and just saved them as DOC files, but that would've been quite time consuming, and I knew there HAD to be a program for batch conversion. Sure enough, I dug up unoconv, which somehow works with Open Office to do the batch conversions.
AND, I was already going to go to my folk's house today to help my dad with a project, so I got to bring a USB drive with 24 5.25" floppy disks worth of creative writing to my ma. I believe she will be up to the wee hours of the night tonight going through her old stuff. I'm quite pleased. Well chuffed, indeed!
What struck me last night as I was madly converting files, was that I was not breaking new ground here. It occured to me that these programs exist for precisely the same reason that I needed them: incompatibility.
It is very interesting to me that with all of the entirely dissimilar hardware that we use every day, from the x86 processors in our PC's, to the PowerPCs of recent history, MIPS in our smartphones, who-knows-what in our MP3 players, that we can now transfer all sorts of data across them seamlessly. Upgrade whatever computer to whatever else, and you transfer your data easily. Move it to your iPod at work, put it on your netbook at home. Right now I can appreciate that so much more than I could 18 days ago.
So now that I've accomplished all my goals for the RC, what's next? Still 13 days to go, and all. Well, I am quite intrigued with this CP/M add-in board thing, so I think I'll do some research into that and see what else it can do besides run WordStar.
I also grabbed that cable thing for the TRS-80 so I can see if I can get the Model 100 and Disk/Video Interface to play nicely. I am thinking now though that I might leave that for a future challenge. It would be fun to get to know that a bit better, and it's hard enough coming up with ideas for challenges!
Anyway, time for a celebratory beer. Cheers!
12:34 PM 7/17/2010 -- STEPPING IT UP
So, with the help of a friend who has done a fair share of soldering, I have ordered an iron and associated bits. I have yet to order the components, but there's no huge rush as the iron etc. won't get here until the 23rd.
Wgoodf's trials and tribulations, makes me a little nervous about jumping into soldering, but I figure what the heck, it's RetroChallenge. Failure is always an option.
Apart from that, last night I completed the last of the disk transfers. There were 24 disks total, and from 18 on they had A and B sides, so that puts it to 30. So, if all attempts to retrieve the documents themselves via my cable adapter thingy fail, I can at least spring for that emulator that supports the Z80 add-in card and CP/M. I feel pretty confident, though, that eventually I can build that converter. It might just take a few tries. Right, Wgoodf?
Whilst patiently waiting for the disk transfers to complete, I've been fiddling with some other projects. First was this:
TRS-80 Disk/Video Interface. Once again, an extremely filthy bit of computer kit. I know even less about this than I do about the Apples (frightening, isn't it?!). It does have screws, however, so of course I took it apart:
Seems like a big power supply for just an interface. Does it have a CPU? I don't know!
Cleaned up, I reassembled it. Unfortunately the monitor that belonged with it (actually I swear there was a different one that was orange and black) is all mussed up. It powers on and everything, but the screen is all squiggly, and there are no H- or V- adjustments that you can do. Not externally anyway.
So yes, back together. This is a strange bit of kit, I know how it is supposed to work, but I don't know what all it does. I do know that your keyboard input comes from plugging your Model-100 or -102 into it. I can't remember if that disables the screen on the lappy or not. Anyway, I did not have the cable in the stuff I had picked up, but I think I saw it last weekend at my parent's house. However, I believe it was also marked, "both cables BAD". That's not very reassuring but if I could see it maybe I could make one? We shall see.
Again, not being sure how any of this stuff works, I just popped in a system disk and powered it on. Check out that version number:
It works, anyway. Just need to get the cable and then we're in business.
As another project, I was playing with my dearest and most loved computer, my 120 Mhz Pentium that I got in 1996. It was my first IBM-PC, it came with Win95, and I had to reformat about once a month to keep it running smoothly. I know, I know, it's one of those dirty Pentium machines, and has no place in RC, but that's just too bad. It's still old and cool (and still works!).
The first thing I was going to do was try to get it to do a network boot. I found something called Thinstation which I thought might be lightweight enough for the P120. However the PXE boot software I have doesn't recognize my ISA NIC, so no dice. Would you believe that with all the computer junk I have around here, I don't have a single PCI NIC? I don't blame you! It's ridiculous!
I dug up a computer that it worked with (a PIII 450, slowest of the P3's!), fiddled for several hours, and just couldn't quite get it to work. I think it's because my router is preventing it from booting. Not sure. A way to test that would be to turn another box into the DHCP server, but that would just require too much reconfiguring. So I gave up on that.
Next, I tried to get several flavours of Linux and BSD to install on the P120 to no avail. I am pretty sure the original 1.2GB hdd is dead or near death (very sad), and my only other small disk (1.6GB) is getting a pretty nasty whine. That, and my HDD controller might be going bad or something, I couldn't get anything to fully install without locking up with the HDD light on. Thinking about ordering an IDE-to-CF adapter with a 4GB card just to play. I get these things in the cart but have such a hard time pressing the "Submit" button. We shall see.
As for the rest of the weekend and the week, I'm not sure. If I can get the cable for the TRS-80 tomorrow, I may play with that a bit. Otherwise I think I'm just waiting for parts to come in. Guess I'll just have to play some games on the II's.
7:56 PM 7/13/2010 -- ROLL CALL
I dug up a book at my parent's house last week on using the Apple IIe called, Apple II User's Guide for Apple II Plus and Apple IIe by Lon Poole. It has a brief introduction to the hardware on how to turn the computer on, use disk drives, etc., and it also has a section on programming. It reminded me that one accesses the printer from BASIC using:
So, I put this together via a small BASIC program:
Secondarily, I am convinced that this is not the solution to my document recovery plan. It would take a significant amount of time to print off each document, let alone the amount of paper. And, I don't know if I can even find another print ribbon for this thing if I use this one up. I'm really leaning towards the plan I mentioned earlier. Anyone have a suggestion for a cheapish soldering iron for a noob?
2:07 PM 7/13/2010 -- ADVENTURES IN RETROCHALLENGE
I didn't get anything done with the Apples over the weekend. I was out of town for a funeral Friday through Sunday, and my wife kept me busy with tasks around the house yesterday. However, one small victory from Friday afternoon:
I got the wife (happily) playing Oregon Trail! The downside of course was that she didn't want to stop, but I feel it adds some level of legitimacy to my endeavors. Sorry about the blur.
Anyway, today I managed to get the IIplus cleaned up sparkly clean. I had done the monitor last week, though there's something up with the anti-glare covering on the monitor. Seems like it got moisture behind it (perhaps?) and then mold or just water stains, I can't tell. Anyway, the bottom half gets a bit blurry, not that you can tell:
Unfortunately both of its floppy drives were DOA, but obviously it could boot from the known good one from IIe#2. They both respond to the boot but never do any accessing. I'll have to get in there with some cotton swabs and isopropyl alcohol to see if I can get them to do anything.
Apart from that, I'm still transferring disks. The audio connection is pretty finnicky. Sometimes I can do three or four disks in a row with no problems, other times I can do one and the next hangs at block 002, 003 or 004. I feel like I have the audio levels set exactly where they should be. I think it's the jacks on the apple that are a bit dirty or noisy. Seems like if I pull the line connector out and put it back in again, it usually fixes it.
I've had no luck on finding an emulator to assist me in printing. However, I may try to do this. Essentially I would build a little converter to connect the parallel port output of the Apple to the parallel port input of a PC. I'm not positive about how the software he has is set up, but what I would optimally do is print from the Apple's word processor, and it would capture it as a text document on my PC.
Part of me says I should save that for the next RC, but then I don't know what else I might accomplish the rest of this one. The other part of me says that this is what the RC is all about and I should just get to it.
What to do, what to do. Right now I've got to go assemble a lawnmower, but I'll put some thought to it.
3:50 PM 7/9/2010 -- DAISYWHEEL, "RAT TAT TAT..."
I have mainly been transferring files lately. So far on Disk 15 of what may be around 26, so I'm already over half way there. I got one of the printers cleaned up (DX-10), activated its diagnostic mode, and watched it (noisily) print characters on to a sheet of paper.
The old ribbon still works. I had to lube the bar that it glides on as it was binding a bit, but it seems to function well at the moment.
I did hook it up to the IIe #1 today, but failed to get it to print anything. The manual (which I discovered yesterday), says you can supposedly print directly from BASIC to the printer by using the LPRINT command. All I got with that, however was SYNTAX ERROR? I'll have to play with that some more again later.
IIe #2 is reassembled, and I stuck the keyboard in it that was repeating endlessly. Fired it up, and Disk 1 activates but does nothing of value. Swapped them around and Disk 2 works fine. Seems as if the 1st may be DOA.
Again, as expected, keys were repeating endlessly when I got it to a DOS prompt. So I left it repeating, I figured what the heck, maybe it will sort itself out. So I went off to the bog, and when I returned, it had stopped repeating! Now I have two completely usable systems.
Next up: cleaning up the EXTREMELY FILTHY II plus.
7:38 PM 7/7/2010 -- BEER, RAMBLINGS, AND AUDIO TRANSFERS
Today I discovered a program called ADTPro. It allows you to transfer disk images to or from Apple II or Apple /// computers. It works via serial connection, audio, or ethernet. I downloaded it today and got it working with the IIe via audio ports.
One word: SLOW!!! Perhaps one of these days I'll shell out for a Super Serial Card, but I am patient enough for this at the moment. I can set it going and then do something else for
My current plan is to first back up all of the document disks as .dsk files on my laptop. That way I have a known good copy in case I accidently erase the real one (or the IIe dies). Secondarily, I may see if I can print out of an emulator. I'm not sure if that works or not (I've never tried.)
Let me applogize at the moment if my posts sometime seem a bit erratic or random, as I'm usually writing it while I'm actually working on this stuff. As such, there may be several minutes or even hours between paragraphs. So, allow me...
This really is blowing my mind! I'm sitting here watching the IIe transfer disk images to my laptop through audio ports! How great is that? Forget that Intel commercial where they're oohing and aahing about getting data through the air (WiFi). Audio Ports Baby!
There may even be enough time during the transfers to go out and get more beer. Soon...it's a bit early yet.
I did a quick browse online and it looks like the "Virtual ][" emulator supports printing, so I'll have to check that out.
Okay I checked out Virtual ][ and it supports printing so long as you pay $50. Also, I couldn't seem to get CP/M to boot (though it purports Z80 emulation), which I need because these documents are created with WordStar. I wonder to myself now if I could get a different machine emulator (since CP/M is for Z80 machines) and extract them with that. Hmm..that is a whole different world..
Decided to go get some beer. Set a transfer going, drove down to the local shop, got back and it was only 50% completed. Hm and getting random hangs now hmm. Tweak settings, retry. Ahh, this is the life.
I realize we're only a week in but I'm really enjoying this. I never did do too much with these old beasts, mostly just played games (as I was a kid & folks wouldn't get me a Nintendo!). And I will say, watching the past RC's from the sidelines was definitely interesting, but participating is so much more fun!
I'm rambling now because I'm waiting for these disks to transfer. I should time one of these and then I'll do the math. Oh it tells me how many seconds it took. 140k/1614sec = .087KBps or 88.82 bytes per second. That's er 710.58 bps? I think? Scorchin! Still, it's through freakin headphone and mic jacks for cryin out loud. And to think I used to complain about the 21,600bps I'd get through the modem at my parent's house 10 years ago.
Bah ZX81 emulator won't do it because it wants audio files instead of disk images. I may just have to resurrect one of these printers, track down a good print cartridge and get to it. That would be the proper thing to do, anyway. I'd still like to back them up as dsk files first though, just in case.
Are the documents really that important, you ask? Not to me. The are to my mother, however, who in the '80s wrote a lot of poetry and creative writing stuff that exists only on these disks. Perhaps a stack of tractor paper with 'em on it would be a good xmas present this year. Perhaps I'll have them all printed out by then!
Ok I should quit rambling whilst I'm ahead.
P.S. Next year I should write some sort of text-to-HTML converter and save myself some formatting!
6:30 PM 7/6/2010 -- INTERNAL ORGANS
I had IIe #1 apart again today to see if I could fix the keyboard problem. While I was in there, I decided to inventory the expansion cards. Here they are by slot:
And finally, I put it all back together and started throwing disks at it. There are hundreds of disks to try but the few I used seemed to work fine. I did notice however that the left shift key on this keyboard is not functioning. Good thing there are two!
I even got the word processor up and running and browsed some disks. Now to figure out how I'm going to get them off of there.
8:45 AM 7/6/2010 -- A BRIEF INTERLUDE
Computing has come a long way. I was lamenting this morning that I couldn't update my blog (because the lack of internet), and then I wondered if there was an app for my phone. I checked the google app store, and sure enough, "AndFTP". I transferred the html and image files to my phone from the laptop, fired up the app, hit upload, and bada bing! Imagine that, I don't have to write a bunch of code from scratch, build serial cables etc.. Just touch a few buttons and hey there it is.
Neat, and useful, but I hear people shouting, "That takes all the fun out of it!", and I agree. It is, however, the mix of the old and the new that makes the RC itself possible. So while a part of me feels like I have violated the spirit of the RC, the other part of me is glad that I'm back in the game.
I will say now though that I am curious if there are FTP clients for old computers? I'd love to update my blog that way, maybe in a future RC.
Anyway, I'm just happy to be here.
3:58 PM 7/5/2010 -- THE FLIP OF THE SWITCH!
I have had some success with the first couple of projects.
First, I disassembled the Corvus hard drive unit and gave it a thorough cleaning:
There are multiple revision stampings on the motherboard, and a sticker on the HDD that indicates there are defects in the disk itself. I'm not sure if this was a refurbished unit Dad had picked up or if that was just the norm for 1984.
Mostly there was just a colony of dust bunnies lurking at the bottom, but I also noticed what looked like water stains at the rear of the unit under the power supply. I did not see any rust on any of the components, so I don't know how it got there. I know it was on a shelf that had water dripping on it when my parent's kitchen flooded, so maybe that's what it was from. At any rate, it's gone now.
While the chassis of the Corvus unit was drying, I attacked one of the monitors. I initially intended to completely disassemble it like the hard drive but once I saw the warnings about shocks on the inside, I decided to just do a visual inspection.
Reassembled, cleaned it up, plugged it in, and...well...I didn't have it plugged into anything, but the red light came on and it did it's high-pitched whistling thing. At this point, that's good enough for me.
Next I reassembled the Corvus unit, plugged it in, crossed my fingers, and flipped the switch. My ears were greeted by a frightening sqeal as the hard drive spun to life. It seemed to diminish a bit as the disk performed its initialization. At one point, the fault light came on for a few seconds, but then went dim again and the unit purred away. The squeeling also stopped briefly, but then started up again. I'm wondering if there is some way for me to get in there and lubricate the bearings without completely destroying it?
Bouyed by the fact that the first two seemed to at least be functioning, I disassembled the first of the two IIe's. This one has the interface card and cabling for the Corvus drive.
Despite the fact that some of the screws on the bottom were rusty, the machine looked pretty clean inside. I was surprised by the stack of cards. I could tell what some of them are by their cables, others by their markings, and others I have no idea what they do. I'll take a closer look at them soon.
I didn't do anything to the floppy drives other than clean the dust off of them. They're floppy drives, what could go wrong?
So, again, I washed the case, reassembled it, then set it up with the monitor. Plugged it in, flipped the switches, and....
I got a beep and the Apple ][ logo at the top but no floppy activity. I could see that while switching it on and off, the light for the #2 drive would blink slightly but not the #1. So I cracked the case, pulled the disk interface card, and moved the #2 drive to the #1 position. Swapped my disks, flipped the switch, aaand.....
We have a working system! However, I have a problem that whatever the last key you press, it repeats it indefinitely. I found a source online that said, "If you are having trouble with repeating characters...try jumpering an extra ground wire between the keyboard's pcb ground plane and the Apple II motherboard's ground plane." I'll have to try that in the next few days.
So, I feel pretty good about my first day. I'm not sure what to think about that drive (possibly the cable even?) but at least I have 5 others. ONE of those has to be good, too. Right? I'm fairly confident I can solve the keyboard problem. Once that is fixed, I can see if I can remember how to get it to access the hard drive again (Something about s6d1...).
Time for some beer.
11:45 AM 7/5/2010 -- ON WITH THE CHALLENGE!
First step, an inventory of the stuff from storage. For computers we have:
Each have monitors and a pair of 5.25" floppy drives. All are quite yellowed and in states of extreme dinginess. I opened all the drives and found that the IIe's still had floppies in them. We have non-official copies of Wordstar, Apple Works, and a disk labeled "Rescue Raiders" on the A side, and "Sub Commander, Star Trek, O'Rilleys Mine" on the B.
One thing that I can already see that I will benefit from in this challenge will be getting a better working knowledge of the actual hardware involved. These machines are leftovers from my dad's heyday as a computer hobbyist. The limits to my involvement were playing games and dabbling in programming. I have no idea what these things have for cards in them. One thing's for sure...I'm going to find out.
The printers are:
I know nothing about these two, although if I remember correctly, one sounds like a typewriter when it prints. The other one makes noises like a wood planer or something. I wonder if I can still find the special paper for these things.
Finally we have a Corvus...uh...actually I don't know what model it is, it doesn't say. I believe it is a 10MB unit though:
I also have a huge box of disks:
Almost all of them are bootlegs. I had no idea it was so sketchy when I was a kid, but my dad had a "source" that copied and sold programs. I'm sure they were all cheap, but not exactly the right way to go about it.
Next up, cleaning.
11:11 AM 7/4/2010 -- HURRY UP AND WAIT!
So far my Retro Challenge is off to a non-start. My wife and I closed on a house on June 30th, so I have been busy the last few days moving furnature and unpacking. I plan on bringing the Apple II's home today, so likely tonight I will be able to begin my adventure. However, in traditional fashion, the man to flip the switch on my internet won't be out until the 7th of July, so until then I will not be able to update my blog.
I saw the machines in storage yesterday. I think there were two IIe's and a II+. There were 2 monitors and two printers, plus the Corvus hard drive thing that I'd like to get working as well.
I also remembered the other day a little hack of a program I had done when I was in High School. If I can find the disk I had it saved on I'll maybe do a video of that, too.
Also, I got busted during the move. I had some of my computers stacked up in the hallway, and she said, "Wow, now I can see how many computers we have. That's like five more than normal people!" What she didn't know is that I had already moved at least 5 others to storage already :)
Anyhoo, I'm looking forward to getting this off the ground. I'll keep documenting my progress and put it all up on Wednesday.