Bell & Howell: Power test, and the outlines of a crazy plan

On the Bell & Howell front, I have now cleaned it all up, and reassembled it. In the process, I found this stamped under the keyboard, which pretty definitively indicates that I was right about this being an August, 1981, machine. (Further evidence that the “8138” really does mean “38th week of 1981,” corresponding to September 14–18, 1981. So, I guess they built the case on Monday, August 10th, and put it in a pile for five weeks, then built up the motherboard and assembled it.)

Bhiiplus keyboard date

When I plugged it in, frayed cord and all, and hit the power switch, I got nothing. No response. This means one of two things to me: either the power supply in the machine is dead, or I plugged in the leads from the backpack to the power supply wrong (which, I suppose, might also mean that the power supply is now dead as a result). I have not tested the power supply separately, but I did plug in the terrarium power supply to the Bell & Howell and got this:

Bhiiplus side powered

All keys working, power light on, everything at least initially appears A-OK. The video is running on my composite amber monitor, out of the backpack, courtesy of a BNC-RCA adapter I picked up today as well.

Bhiiplus keytest

This also rectifies the oversight from before, as I now have a picture of the game I/O port on my own machine. Here it is close up, for your viewing pleasure.

Bhiiplus gameio

Now I just need to decide what cards go in it, replace the feet with some authentic spares I have coming to me in the mail, replace the power supply (with something authentic I hope), and set up the backpack in some useful way.

My current semi-crazy but interesting plan is this, for the record: I will install a language card (to bring it up to 64K), a Super Serial card (to allow it to connect to other computers), and a Disk ][ card (with one or two drives connected). Here is an “artist’s” rendition of that, courtesy of Penultimate on my iPad:

Bhiiplus art slots

And here is my similarly skillful rendition of the AV connections I intend to make with the backpack.

Bhiiplus art av

The features of the diagrams above are as follows:

  • I will bring audio in from one or two nearby machines, to allow them to be mixed by the backpack (just to give the mixing knobs in the backpack something to do, I can’t think of any real practical use for this).
  • One video out goes to a monitor atop the machine.
  • The second video out goes to a capture card, probably the Wings personality card in the Power Mac G3. Caveat here: I need to put some kind of surge suppression mechanism in there, because otherwise the power surge over that cable when the Apple is turned on will likely kill the G3. I don’t know if I have to build this myself, or if there is something out there that can accomplish this for me.
  • The speaker out also goes to the capture card, right channel.
  • The cassette out goes to the capture card, left channel.
  • The cassette in comes from the G3, left channel.
  • The Power Mac G3 streams the video/audio to the internet for remote consumption.
  • A webcam is also placed facing the Apple so that it can be viewed that way, too, and not just through the straight video out.
  • The Super Serial Card in the Apple will be connected to some Mac capable of communicating with it and with the internet (maybe the Power Mac G3 again, maybe the Performa 6116CD).

What I will have accomplished here is, I think, the following. Presuming that I write the Super Serial Card modification to the modem driver that I discussed in an earlier post, and presuming that the Apple is set to start that up automatically upon power up, I will be able to control the Apple’s command line over the internet. I will be able to see what I’m doing both through the webcam stream and through the AV stream. I will be able to send programs not already on the machine through the cassette port, which I can get on the internet. If desired, I can also save data via the cassette port into one channel of the AV stream (though for both loading and saving, I could do this over the serial port if I made a slightly more sophisticated driver). Et voilà. Mostly controllable Apple ][ plus over the internet. Better still, using the backpack for what it adds to the machine, since the “speaker out” function wouldn’t have been available in a regular Apple ][ plus, and none of this requires additional line splitting.

Further, if I can get the Apple Cat ][ set up with X10 modules on a different Apple II that I can communicate with over the internet, I can use that to power the Bell & Howell off and on if it ever freezes or gets into a state where it needs local input that I can’t provide.

There are a lot of moving parts to this plan, but if it works, it would be very cool. And it seems like it should be technically feasible.

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