Mar 302012
 

This is just me thinking out loud, but back in the day I wrote a number of modem drivers basically for the purpose of running bulletin board systems, and mostly specific to the Novation Apple-Cat ][ modem. However, it occurs to me that it was also possible with those drivers to actually get to the DOS 3.3 prompt and do things. This was possible because it hooked into the DOS read and write character routines, and DOS itself was good about always using those when sending data and retrieving input.

While the days of using modem connections over the phone are probably behind us, the basic procedure for sending and receiving characters over the serial port in a Super Serial Card is probably nearly identical, and it wouldn’t require much of a rewrite of those drivers to adapt them to SSC operation. Apple has helpfully archived some sample code for accessing the SSC. So, it seems like it would actually be a pretty small step to make it possible to, say, SSH into the DOS 3.3 prompt of an actual Apple II, with some mediating software on a machine that would accept the SSH connection and then just pass the subsequent data through the serial connection.

Having thought through it that far, it also occurs to me that for lo-res graphics, it should be possible to mimic them (sort of) on an ANSI color terminal as well. The colors don’t quite match, but this would be sort of close:

Apple II ANSI
0 — black 40;0m — dark black
1 — magenta 43;0m — dark red
2 — dark blue 44;0m — dark blue
3 — purple 45;1m — bright magenta
4 — dark green 42;0m — dark green
5 — grey #1 40;1m — bright black
6 — medium blue 44;1m — bright blue
7 — light blue 44;1m — bright cyan
8 — brown 43;0m — dark yellow
9 — orange 41;1m — bright red
10 — grey #2 40;1m — bright black
11 — pink 45;1m — bright magenta
12 — green 42;1m — bright green
13 — yellow 43;1m — bright yellow
14 — aqua 46;0m — dark cyan
15 — white 47;1m — bright white

With just an ANSI terminal on the other side, the Apple could send a sequence like “^[[42;0m ” and print a dark green block. That’s still 8 characters for every block, and there are 1920 blocks in a full-screen lores screen, 1600 blocks in a split-screen lores screen. So, that’s 15360 bytes (or 12800 plus 160 more for the text part) that have to traverse the wire. Over a modem, that would be prohibitive. Over the SSC, we can go at 115,200 bits/second, so 14,400 bytes/second, so we could spit out the ANSI-enhanced blocks in about a second.

At least one downside of doing it this way is that Apple II lores blocks are actually half-height, so we’d wind up with something that is twice too tall.

P O I N T S P E
P A D D L E L E
P O I N T S P E
P A D D L E L E
██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ██
██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ██
██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ██
██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ██
██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ██
██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ██
██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ██
██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ██
P O I N T S P E
P A D D L E L E

The only way I can see around this, if ANSI color is to be used, is to double the width, which would then result in 9 bytes per block, so now we’re up to 17280 bytes per screen (or 14470 with the doubled text). Plus, without any good way to do the text except to space it out as above. I suppose one alternative would be to have a client that receives the data stream from the Apple and knows how to switch into “lores mode” and accept the bytes as they come, which would then only take 960 bytes to communicate. But doing that does kind of reduce the charm of this, since then we’d be getting pretty close to just doing emulation.

Even that aside, without a client to accept the lores graphics, it is not clear what purpose it could be put to. What would trigger it to send a screenshot? I suppose maybe a driver command could trigger sending a clear screen command, the ANSI representation of (page 1) of lores blocks, and then leave you back on the text command line. It could even I suppose go in continuous mode, but I can’t imagine anything going at 1fps being acceptable in terms of animation, and it would be a major trick to allow input at the same time.

As I was thinking about this, one other possibility occurred to me: perhaps I could patch the Applesoft routines by using the upper 16k, so that any attempt by a BASIC program (or any program that made use of the Applesoft routines) to use the Applesoft GR, PLOT, HLIN, VLIN, COLOR commands would position the cursor on an ANSI terminal and output appropriate blocks. While this would be even more ANSI code overhead, it wouldn’t need to send entire screen shots, I wonder if the speed would be acceptable. Doubt it, but it’s another thing to think about.

Anyway, maybe dealing with graphics is not worthwhile. Probably it isn’t. But it still seems that getting to the text-based DOS 3.3 command line should be relatively straightforward, and indeed it should be quite possible to run a BBS pretty much unmodified in this way, with just a couple of tweaks to the driver code to make it address the SSC instead of the modem, and to make it be able to detect what would count as a “ring.”

Mar 282012
 

I managed to find a platinum Apple //e on eBay that looked pretty unyellowed, had a complete set of plastic back panels, the essential cards, and even a disk drive and joystick. It was fairly clearly from the bottom of someone’s closet, put up completely untested and at a surprisingly cheap price (particularly compared to what some of the quite beat-up bare-bones platinum //es often seem to fetch). It’s hard to predict eBay. But, bid, paid for, shipped, and now here it is:

Platiie above

Platiie label

It was packed in some carpet padding, and with the power cable still plugged into the back of the power supply. This didn’t seem great, and when I pulled the cable out, the receptacle was pretty badly cracked. No way to know whether it got that way during shipping or whether it had been like that for years.

Platiie cracked plug

I gathered up a monitor, plugged it and the power cable back in, and flipped the switch on.

Then off. Then on. Then off. Then on. Then I unplugged everything again. Nothing was happening. Although I doubt that the cracked power cable receptacle caused the failure, my first (and correct) guess was that the power supply was not supplying power. As it happens, I have no shortage of other power supplies inside my several other Apple II machines (and the power supply remained basically the same in specifications and connection throughout the entire run). So, I took the pan of the terrarium ][+ with its power supply attached, and hooked it up to the platinum //e to see if using a different power supply allowed the platinum //e to start.

Platiie aux power

And away we go. So, this one’s going to need a replacement power supply. It’s possible that I’ll be able to get the old power supply running again, but I don’t really know much about how they work, so it will take some research and surgery. In the meantime, I’ll get another, and if I revive the current one, I’ll swap it back and use the new one on something else (like the extra bare //e board I will soon have, for which I in fact already have the beginnings of a plan).

The keyboard, I discovered, also is not functioning as well as I’d like. There are a lot of spurious repeats with certain keys. The most apparent offenders are “K” and “W”—the last line on the monitor there was the result of me hitting “kwkwkw” repeatedly, one press per letter, but “w” almost invariably provided two and “k” sometimes did as well.

Platiie keybounce

This is not something I know how to fix (yet), but for a start I’ll probably disassemble and clean the keyboard and see if that doesn’t just fix it on its own. I also note that the left side of the keyboard seems to be riding a little bit low in the case, which may be entirely unrelated. I’ll keep you posted.

Do not discard

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Mar 282012
 

Today, a HUGE box arrived. In fact, it was the second of two boxes, which my sister had brilliantly shipped out to me from the other coast.

Sarahiiplus shipped

But the reason for the huge box is that, within it, was this!

Sarahiiplus donotdiscard

Sarahiiplus foam

Admittedly, to most, this looks like, well, trash. But it’s currently my most prized office decoration.

Sarahiiplus box

Mar 252012
 

The Softalk magazine (1980–1984) has become surprisingly rare. Surprising because it used to actually be given for free (at least for a while) to anyone who bought an Apple. And it was a good magazine too. But although many other computer magazines of the 80s have been scanned and made it into various online archives, Softalk is conspicuously absent.

Softalk 1980 09 cover Softalk 1981 11 cover

Scouring the net, I have managed to find a few. Yesterday I found a couple that were hosted in Switzerland and for me at least downloaded very slowly (by my estimate, at about 2400 baud), which prompts me to now host a mirror of those copies of those few that I have so far acquired. Someday I hope to physically have the magazines again, at which point I’ll attempt non-destructive color scans. I still may have some of those physical issues somewhere (I was a subscriber from 1982–1984), but I have not as of yet been able to find them.

So far, I have the following issues sourced in a couple of different places (but I suspect mostly the work of one person). They are not great. For one thing, they are mostly black and white, and (presumably on some kind of principle, possibly legal), the advertisements have been removed. (While I’m sure that it took a lot of time and effort to remove them, I also miss the ads, they’re interesting too, 30 years on.) The covers were also often not included. In at least one place I noticed, a page was duplicated. But, it’s better than nothing, for the moment.

[Addition: Steven Weyhrich has a page of images of many of the covers and column banners posted at his Apple II History site, and for a couple of years has been specifically scanning some of the ads from the pages of Softalk, organized by year and hardware/software.]

Mar 232012
 

I started moving some of the computers that are basically ready to go up into my office, since there’s little point in having them all tucked away in the downstairs lab space.

Office20120321

But, the thing is, old computers are big. I am clearly going to face a challenge trying to make the computers visible and individually usable while not at the same time leaving them looking crammed together. And there’s also the minor point that I can’t make my office itself difficult to use. I need to plan this out a bit better. The desk turns out to hold fewer computers than I anticipated.

Office20120322

This is just a start, but even if the iMacs, LC II, eMac, and //e are usable in these positions, I certainly have not solved the problem of not having them look crammed together.

I think my current plan will be to clear out the shelves (by scanning and recycling the non-bound paper, and actually organizing the books), and then put the whole set of 800MHz iMac G4s up there (five in all, but six with another one that I’m expecting to acquire within a couple of months), with the idea of using them in tandem, either as some kind of XGrid, or as a kind of unified display system to display something useful in big fonts (weather map, RSS feeds, IRC chats, twitter feeds, something like that). The G4 Cube setup will probably also go on those shelves, though I’m going to have to re-space them a bit. Not pictured here are a number of file cabinets on the opposite wall, currently supporting a few boring Linux servers with big CRTs, but soon I think to be supporting the G3 iMacs (graphite, ruby, snow, and bondi) and maybe the eMac as well. (I will need to see how it looks, though. The whole point, I think, of the iMac G3s is to be able to see them in profile, since that’s where they’re aesthetically interesting. Just seeing the front of them will not do.)

All of these machines can in principle be either controlled from the modern iMac via teleport or some form of VNC screen sharing. I was planning on leaving at least the G4 Cube in Mac OS 9, and probably one or more of the iMac G3s as well, so I need to find an appropriate remote control solution for those. The monster CRT to the right of the modern iMac will probably go, with the 1GHz iMac G4 in its place, for use in meetings. Behind the modern iMac right now is a big pile of hard drives (four Drobos, two homebrew RAID enclosures, two Seagate FreeAgents), which I’d like to try to reduce the footprint of. This will mainly leave the desktop itself open for the Apples II, since those are not remotely controllable and are too big for the shelves (and not usable atop the file cabinets). But I have a lot of them (the //e shown, but also a IIgs, 1-3 Apple ][+es, a platinum //e, a clone ][+, 1-3 //cs, and possibly a //c+). Even with the desk space reserved for Apples II, they aren’t all going to fit there. Plus, the LC II kind of belongs there as well, being an honorary //e by virtue of its PDS card. Also, I’m not all that keen on putting them all right up to the window (since it is the Apples II that are susceptible to yellowing, although it is not clear that sunlight is the culprit, and this window doesn’t admit all that much sunlight anyway), but I think that’s how it has to happen. Maybe I need to tier them somehow? I also have to get one or more SE/30s in here somewhere, once their capacitors have been attended to, an ImageWriter II in a position that it can be used by the Apples II (as well as over an AppleTalk network), and probably an iMac G5.

There are also some towers and beige boxes (several Yikes! G3s not currently functioning, a MDD G4, a Performa 6116CD, three Power Macintosh beige desktops and a beige Power Macintosh tower). These could all in principle be on the shelves facing sideways, but it’ll be tricky to keep the badge visible and the drives accessible. And I think those will require flatscreen monitors that I have yet to acquire if they’re going to be happy on the shelves.

Given what has turned into more of a space crunch than I had previously managed to comprehend, I think apart from the iMac G4s, I will limit myself to one instance of any given kind of machine in my office, and leave the duplicates out of sight in the lab or at home. I do after all need to use this as an office, though I think I will like being surrounded by this mini Apple museum more than I like the way it’s been for years, where I’ve been surrounded by piles of papers and randomly placed books.

There’s still a ways to go yet.

Mar 222012
 

Here are some scans I just did of a couple of reviews from Microcomputing magazine in 1983 on the Epson QX-10.

Microcomputing 1983apr Microcomputing 1983may

The quintessential computer? Epson’s QX-10 hits the high-end micro market.” Jim Hansen, Microcomputing, April 1983.

Vive la difference! Valdocs: While the Epson QX-10 offers impressive features, it’s the software—particularly the Valdocs operating system—that puts it a step ahead of its competitors.” Jim Hansen, Microcomputing, May 1983.

I have scanned (but not processed) the entire April 1983 issue, and I’ll probably do the same with the May 1983 issue. Maybe I’ll also fix one page on the scan above that got too close to the edge. I don’t have the following issue (which should contained the third installment of the QX-10 review), but I do have a miscellaneous later issue. Scanning these is a bit tedious, so it’ll be slow going, but I intend to scan most of the documents I have at some point.

Mar 192012
 

I moved the 1GHz iMac G4 upstairs and installed Leopard on it today.

Imacg41ghz osx install

Not much going on there yet, and it is on the network via DHCP (so doesn’t have a stable IP address), but I can screen share into it from my office iMac, which I can screen share into from home.

Imacg41ghz double share

Mar 192012
 

A small batch of color ImageWriter ribbons arrived, which were indeed still wrapped in their plastic, just as the auction had indicated. However, the plastic had holes in various places. So these were not after all the still-sealed ribbons I’d thought they’d be. I picked one and opened it, and it looked nice enough.

Iwii color ribbon

Then tried a print test. The ribbon worked I think, but the printer, not so much.

Iwii color test

Now I think I may need to actually replace the print head, though I’ll need to do a little bit more research on what can cause this. This looks kind of familiar, in a vague sort of way. Maybe I just need to clean it? I’ll see.

Mar 182012
 

I also don’t approve of this:

Apple G4 CUBE Tissue Box

[Photo credit: macgeek on instructables.com, hosted here.]

But it is mitigated (slightly) by the fact that one of the people responsible for doing this to a G4 Cube at least put the (working!) parts up on eBay.

Cube carcass ebay

Cube carcass ebay 2

Here, incidentally, is my new-to-me G4 Cube. Just waiting for the (annoyingly non-standard) power supply to arrive before I can set it up, but I’ve seen it boot up.

Cube shelved

Cube from above

(The G4 Cube is, of course, in the design collection at the NYC Museum of Modern Art.)