How I came to have a UniDisk 3.5

Ever since I’d heard that the UniDisk 3.5 has within it a 65C02, I’ve wanted to get my hands on one. Not so I could read 3.5″ floppies, but so I could try to see if I could get any mileage out of doing parallel processing, dumping computing tasks to the disk drive while the computer itself did other things. Details of how this kind of thing can be done are buried in the IIgs Firmware Reference Manual in chapter 7, where one can find details of how to send programs to the drive. In principle, it appears that a SetAddress call (defining where the code will go), DownLoad (sending the code itself), Execute (to set the code in motion), and UniDiskStat (to find out what the result was) should be all that is needed. Since it’s just 65C02 code, too, I could handle that.

Of course, whatever time one gains by letting the drive compute stuff on its own, one trades in the time it takes to get data in and out. The only kind of thing that makes sense for something like this would be some kind of intense computation that doesn’t either need or return a lot of data. My first experiment with this will likely be something like a fractal drawing program.

The problem is, the UniDisk 3.5 is fairly rare. And for some reason, pretty much as soon as I decided I wanted one, the prices of these things on eBay skyrocketed. As I type this, there are three available on US eBay, one for $250, one for $305, and one with a starting bid of $88 (all calculated with shipping to me). I’m no longer able to see some of the completed auctions that I know I remember, but they have actually sold for prices like this too (the only completed one I could find just now was another $88 one). But at least while I was watching, $125-$150, or higher even, was not an unrealistic price to see these sell at. (Particularly if the sale involves the LIRON card you need to connect a pre-GS expandable II to a UniDisk 3.5.)

As I was browsing around with the Google search term A2M2053 (the model number of the UniDisk 3.5), daydreaming of parallel processing, I came across this, on an alternative commerce site called ecrater.

Reconstituted sale page

After doing a little bit of research, I’ve come to the conclusion that ecrater is a complete wild west of a marketplace, anyone can get a seller’s account, with very little in place by way of safeguards. Boy did this look too good to be true. Well, apart from the fact that this seller’s feedback score was negative 64%. It was four drives, two of them regular 3.5″ drives, one a 5.25″ drive, and one a UniDisk 3.5, all shipped to me for $47—which is less than any one of those units individually would be capable of fetching on eBay.

I sent a couple of cautious emails to the seller, and when I got what seemed to be sensible (if terse) responses, I decided to gamble. I crossed my fingers, hoped that PayPal’s own dispute resolution might be able to help me out in a pinch, resolved myself to the fact that I didn’t care all that much if I was just throwing away $47, and hit the button.

And then, the drives came!

And for some reason I didn’t take a picture of them that I can include here. But they all arrived, exactly as pictured in the ad, all of the drives look perfectly workable and intact. I cleaned up the UniDisk 3.5 so that it looks presentable, but I’m going to open it up and clean up the inside as well, at which point there will be pictures (and hopefully of fractals it helped to draw as well).

I’m not sure what the moral of this story is. Really, I just acted recklessly, I wouldn’t suggest anyone else do the same, certainly. But, weirdly enough, it all worked out perfectly well. And so now I have the UniDisk 3.5 that I was after, and I got it for essentially $12. It would be great if things like this happened often, but I think this was just a fluke. I have managed to score a couple of pretty outstanding deals even on eBay (at some point in the not so distant future, I’ll perhaps also tell the story of how I came to have two Titan /// plus //(e) board sets, for example), but really I’ve probably just been lucky. Perhaps it can restore a little bit of faith in humanity and the internet that this thing, which, honestly, seemed like it had “scam” plastered all over it, turned out well. Or, maybe, this is just the internet giving me the first one for free, so it can demolish me later once I start to trust it.

Graphics and Sound

Things keep pouring in that I need to clean up, set up, test, and document, but the day job continues to require most of my attention. I did manage to scan a couple of manuals, I’m not sure if they are already out there scanned somewhere, but here are mine. These are the first two programs I bought for the Apple II.

Both are early Apple II titles, one is The Graphics Magician by Penguin Software, and the other is The Voice by MUSE. Both are things I played around with quite a bit early on in my programming life.

The Voice (asimov image, recently converted to copyable DOS 3.3 format by Hot Rod) is basically the program that was used to make the guards talk in Castle Wolfenstein (“Kommen Sie!”). It allowed you to record your own words, tweak them, and then use them within your own programs. This was what enabled me to record my 12-year-old opinions on livestock in the program I recently unearthed that produced the following: (Unfortunately, the conversion vimeo did cut off the end of the sound, but I do have the unconverted version as well.)

The Graphics Magician was a similar (and really rather more sophisticated) toolkit for producing graphics within your own programs, by providing a library of machine language routines that could be called from within Applesoft BASIC (or assembly language). (There are several images in the asimov graphics directory, I haven’t checked them to see what distinguishes them.) I played with this a lot, but I have to do some more archaeology to discover most of my creations. Here is one, though, a demo of a “game” (from a collection I wrote under the name of “The Rather Pointless Software Company”) entitled “Dodge the Weights.” (For quite a while my “alias” on BBSes was “Grimalkin”—I liked the kind of sound of it and the association with cats [due to my affinity for my Apple-Cat II modem] as well as with kind of witchcrafty stuff. I chose to ignore the fact that it’s also generally a female cat.)

Anyway, here are scanned and auto-OCRed versions of the manuals. The Graphics Magician came with a main manual and a separate programming tutorial, both are linked below. The version of The Graphics Magician that these manuals pertain to, it seems, is 5.82 (May 1982).

Graphics magician manual

Graphics magician tutorial

Muse the voice manual


I’m still here. But good grief! So, after KansasFest, I went on two further week-long trips, and since having gotten back to my office, I haven’t really had a chance to do much at all vintage-related. But things have been piling up, I have a really kind of ludicrously long list of projects to do here by now. Lots and lots of interesting things to try to get running, to learn about, and to document. But it’s going to take a while, because the summer seems to have vanished without having given me the time I was hoping to have, and with the academic year coming up now, things have kicked into high gear again.

First of all, I still intend to post KansasFest 2012 reflections, it having been my first (and likely not last) KansasFest. I did have a chance to talk (kind of incoherently) about it with Ken Gagne, Wayne Arthurton, and Jeremy Rand on the Open Apple podcast, show #18, which is likely to hit the pod waves soon. But I’ll try to do that sooner rather than later (despite the fact that there are all these interesting toys left to look at!).

Among the things that are KansasFest related, my HackFest project (which was to be a QR code generator for the Apple II) did not get finished, but got far enough along that it is probably not eligible for an entry next year, so I intend to finish that. And at least I want to put an epilogue on my RetroChallenge 2012 “entry.”

Also, things kept arriving while I was away. eBay opportunities do not stop just because I’m out of town, it turns out. My office looked kind of ridiculously full of boxes upon my return.

At KansasFest itself, I wound up acquiring an impressive load of Softalk magazines, a DuoDisk, and an extra new-style 5.25 disk controller. The Softalks were the real gems, I am particularly happy to have become reconnected with the issue containing the article pictured below, “Have an Apple Split” by Bob Bishop, in the October 1982 issue. I intend to write about that article itself later, I think it had a pretty profound effect on me when I read it originally. It is possible to read the text of the article online, but now I have the real article back. I do intend to do some scanning of these issues, as one of the many upcoming projects.


I also need to work a bit on setting up this site as well, right now things are not really very well tagged and categorized, and it looks kind of awful on an iPhone.

So, this is really a “I’m still alive” post. More to come, but it will probably take a little while before things start moving here again.

Suitcase-friendly, shameless //e

Turns out I have enough pieces to make a working //e sans case, so, I’ve gone as far as to pack it up in suitcase-friendly form.


Still not sure if it’s suitcase-friendly enough, but it looks like it should be quite packable.


In search of a working ][+

With KansasFest 2012 only a few days away by now, I started thinking seriously about whether I would try to bring a machine with slots along with me. I don’t want to travel with anything particularly rare, but I thought it might be worth it to bring a ][+ into working order for that purpose.

Easier said than done.

I have several ][+es as this point. The Bell & Howell ][+ and A2S2-10087 are both right out, they’re not traveling. But the ][+ we bought in 1982, or the ][+ I got in its box, or even the 8050 “terrarium” seemed like possible candidates. Except I know the terrarium has some kind of RAM problem that would require some diagnosis, so I turned to the other two, which have for a while been kind of disassembled in my lab space.

The first step I took was to re-assemble the ][+ I grew up with. There are a couple of known problems with the motherboard. First, when I got it, it was partly covered in a stubborn bunch of goop, which I eventually managed to get out via a shower. In the process, I’d damaged one of the 74LS194 chips in the lower left corner—it had gotten trapped in the goop and lost a pin when I extracted it. The pin was actually still there, in the lower right hole of the socket, though I’d kind of forgotten about that.


So, I knew I’d need to replace that. Also, the character generator ROM had been pretty well covered in goop as well, but I have a spare that I could put in its place. I took it out to look at it, and it didn’t seem as bad as I remembered, though, so as a first step, I just replaced the 74LS194 by taking it from the II+ with the box (similar era), and put a spare 4116 RAM chip in the place where the 16K language card would plug in. (As alluded to above, I actually forgot that the broken pin was still in the socket, but it didn’t seem to affect anything, and actually it also seems to be gone now, last I checked, so I guess it came out on its own.) Another problem that I am a bit more concerned about is that one of the RAM sockets came up a bit when I was cleaning the motherboard some time ago, and though it felt like I got it back down again, I may well have severed some important connections. What kills me about this is that I didn’t document which one that was! Don’t do that. It means that if there is a problem related to this, I’m going to have to check each socket with a voltmeter or something to find out where the connection is broken.

I crossed my fingers, though, plugged in the keyboard, and powered it on.


Two problems here. First, it crashes into the monitor, so something’s not right with the world. Second, the keyboard doesn’t do anything. I don’t actually remember whether the light came on, but certainly none of the keys worked.

Time not really being on my side, I moved to plan B. I tried plugging in the lid and keyboard from the box-II+, and the keyboard did respond. But it was dirty. Also, I didn’t have any standoffs in the box-II+ pan, because I’d stolen them to re-assemble the terrarium. Otherwise, I’d have taken the spare II+ board and just mounted it in the box-II+ pan (since there was known to be a problem with the box-II+ motherboard anyway). But without standoffs, I had to do this with my childhood II+’s pan instead. The standoffs from the childhood II+ were not transferrable, they are kind of square whereas the holes for the standoffs in the other pan were round. So, I mounted the spare II+ board into the box-II+ pan, and plugged the box-II+ keyboard into it, which, though it was dirty, seemed to work.

I start to see how motherboards, pans, and case tops can kind of get separated. I’m trying to document with little post-it notes (and here) everyplace where I’ve made a substitution, so that I might someday be able to reassemble them as they were.

One bit of troubleshooting I tried was to swap the keyboard encoder boards, too, to see if I could use the childhood II+’s keyboard with the box II+’s encoder board. That didn’t seem to help, so I swapped them back. I’ll address the childhood II+’s keyboard/encoder later. Now I needed to clean the box II+’s keyboard.

I went all-out. Not content to simply take up the keys and clean them and the area underneath, I took the entire keyboard all the way apart. They keys came off, to be individually cleaned, and I unscrewed the PCB from the keyswitches.


The PCB was a bit grimy. It has a plastic cover with holes in it that can also come up, so I took off the plastic and wiped down both sides with alcohol, then wiped down the PCB. All clean. Not a super complicated mechanism. The keys, when pressed, connect two pads on the PCB, through the window in the plastic.


Reassembling the thing turned out to be harder than I’d anticipated, though. Between the holes for the screws, there are little plastic pegs by the keyswitches that need to fit into the holes in the PCB. It took a few tries, and I actually kind of bent one of the keyswitch connectors because I hadn’t noticed that it had jumped off the peg, and so the peg bent the metal because it wasn’t aligned with the hole. It took some trying to unbend it and get it back over the hole, and maybe I succeeded ok, and maybe I didn’t. It’s also difficult to put these keyboards back together, because you can’t put much pressure on the key switch (on the would-be top of the keyboard) as you reassemble it, or else the keyswitch will jump out a bit and become kind of “permanently pressed.” So I re-assembled this keyboard probably about four times before I basically got everything lined up.

And then I plugged it in, and it worked much less well than before. Most of the second row of keys (ASDF etc.) didn’t do anything when pressed, and also some of the keys in the vicinity of “X” were not responding either.

It’s a simple mechanism, but it’s a fiddly, fiddly device. I don’t know if I broke anything seriously, I suspect it’s just that something in there is not aligned properly, so some of the keyswitches are not completing the connection they need to when pressed. But if I’m going to get this to work, I’m going to have to disasemble and reassemble yet again. I have yet to try this.

Up to this point, I’d been kind of a snob about keeping original pieces together, looking upon eBay auctions with disapproval where the pan and the motherboard don’t match. But I’m really starting to see how that can happen very easily in the attempts to just get a machine working. If the motherboard doesn’t work, just set it aside for later, swap in a known-working one for now.

So, this was not a particularly successful attempt. I still don’t have a combination made with these machines that resulted in a working one. The closest is the spare motherboard in the pan of my childhood II+, with the box-II+’s top and keyboard attached, but the keyboard does’t work and I haven’t gotten further in the troubleshooting than that. I think at this point, I’ve pretty much decided that I won’t be bringing a II+ with me to KFest, there’s not really sufficient time to get one working (and it would be complicated to bring anyway).

Drive Knox

One of the things I’d had on my list for a while is to clean up all of my floppy drives. I have a lot of floppy drives. I have a lot of the old style (A2M0003) Disk ][ drives.


Those are pretty straightforward to take apart and clean. They’re actually quite similar inside to the Apple /// drives, though perhaps even a little bit simpler to deal with.

I also have 3-4 of the newer A9M0107 drives. I intended to clean those up today, but instead I cleaned one. They’re really much more of a challenge to work with than the A2M0003s.



(Update: The smarter thing to have done here would have been to watch Tony Diaz’s 2010 KansasFest presentation on disk drive maintenance before having undertaken this. Turns out, for example, that you don’t need to take the bottom [or front] off if you’re only looking to clean the drive head. I was kind of after a total cleanup, but a couple of steps can be skipped for more frequent drive head cleaning. Of course, figuring it out as I went, at least given that I didn’t break anything in the process, was instructive too.)

Unfortunately, I didn’t take a lot of photos as I was doing this, but it’s quite difficult to get at the drive head. The first thing you do is remove the four screws from the underside, visible in the picture above. Then you need to get the top, bottom, and front plastic off. You can kind of angle out the bottom from the front, once you’ve disengaged the power cord, but it requires a little bit more force than one would like to exert. Getting the top casing off requires sliding it horizontally a bit, because it has little tabs that hold it on (it can slide once the screws from the back have been removed, inside the recesses on each side).


Once the plastic casing is off, you are confronted by a metal shield. A serious metal shield. I don’t have a picture of it on, but you can see it in the background a couple of pictures down from here. You have to remove the ground wire screw to free it. The shield is on really tightly, I actually had to get out pliers to pull it off. It is not connected by anything but friction (though note that it has a couple of little hooks on the front end that go into slots, so it has to be slid forward a bit before it can be lifted off). With the shield removed, you can see the analog board.


Two further screws to remove, and then you really need to disconnect all three of the disconnectable wires, because they are strung so tightly that you won’t really be able to get the analog board out without doing that. Once the analog board is out, you are confronted by a little cardboard cover. In the background you can see the metal shield from a couple of steps ago.


The cardboard cover lifts out, after which you need to disconnect the other grounding wire and remove the metal shield that was under the cardboard cover. Almost there. With these removed, you can finally see, and clean, the drive head.


Let’s hope it was dirty, so all of this was worth it. Reassembling is no picnic either, but it’s pretty much all of that in reverse. Just remember all the steps. It took quite a lot of convincing to get the power cord and its associated donut to sit close enough in to allow me to get the bottom plastic case back on, but eventually I managed it. I also somehow managed to yank out the drive light cable once everything was fully assembled. Fortunately, it was possible to squeeze it in the very small space and guide it toward its pins with a screwdriver, so I did get it re-secured, but it was an anxious minute as I contemplated the possibility that I’d have to get it all the way back down to the analog board again.

I’ll clean the rest of these some other day.

Why are things so heavy in the future?

I do not intend to get into video game collecting, but the Atari 2600 was a significant enough machine that it seems like I can make an exception for that one. I saw one going by on eBay at one point, and my interest was piqued enough to look into it. And today, my specimen arrived, which is actually a pretty nice one.

There were a lot of Atari 2600s, and they vary in their collectibility and rarity. The trick is that people who have them and sell them on eBay rarely know what they’ve got. Some people know that there are different models, but even still many people seem to get it wrong. Although I can’t guarantee I haven’t missed something somewhere, I think I basically have it now.

The original run of Atari 2600s lasted a year, and they were produced in 1977 (and I believe a little bit into 1978; they were introduced in October 1977 and the first model was only produced for a year). These first ones were manufactured in Sunnyvale, CA, and featured six switches on the top. After the first year, the case was redesigned a little bit, reducing the weight of the bottom of the case, and most of the manufacturing was moved to Hong Kong. After that, a further redesign reduced the number of switches on the top to four, with the player difficulty switches being moved to the back of the case. So, the distinctions among the early models are between 6-switch and 4-switch varieties, and, among the 6-switch varieties, between the heavy case and the lighter case. So, the first model, produced in the first year, is known among collectors as a “heavy sixer” and the next model, with the lighter case, is known as a “light sixer”. In general, the most collectible ones are the heavy sixers, which are produced in Sunnyvale. Light sixers are generally not produced in Sunnyvale, but there do seem to be quite a number of them that were, usually some kind of promotional models (although not really all that rare). The heavy sixers are still the rarest of the models as I understand it. Sears also marketed its own branded version of the 2600, which also came in at least heavy and light sixer varieties.

Some who know that the six-switch models are more collectible, but yet not understanding the difference between the heavy and light sixers, will refer to what they have as “heavy sixers” even when they’re really “light sixers”—searching around on eBay is likely to yield several examples of that. So, first of all, if you want to get one of those first year models, do not trust what the seller says it is. Trust the pictures. They will at least tell you what kind of case it is. Unless the seller is fairly sophisticated in the ways of the Atari collector (in which case you’re likely to find that the asking price is high), you won’t be able to be sure that the internals are original, but it’s pretty easy to see the difference between the light and heavy sixers’ cases. The most telling place to look is right next to the Atari logo in the front right of the machine, where you’ll be able to see either that the side is thin and with a more angled curve (a light sixer) or thick and with a more even curve (a heavy sixer). And of course, there need to be six switches on the top.

Armed with this information, I started looking around at auctions on eBay, because it’s relatively common for people to sell them indiscriminately, so even though the heavy sixers are rare, they do appear. I was fortunate enough to find one before much time had elapsed, unmarked as being such (being sold at the same price as 2-3 other light sixer systems, without any differentiation between them). So, here is mine.


Mine’s actually got a pretty low serial number as well. I don’t completely understand the serial numbering scheme, but my impression is that the “E” series was the first one, and predates the others, which can end in various letters.


There are various points of differentiation between machines, again I don’t really know exactly what drives them. One is that quite a number of early machines have a slot in the case for “channel select” (which is intended to distinguish between channels 3 and 4 I believe, although the options are labeled “A” and “B”) but without any switch inside. Some don’t even have the hole. Mine has the hole but not the switch.


As usual, my first priority was to take everything apart and clean it up. There are six screws to remove from the back (four of which are kind of at an angle), and then the top comes off. Here’s the CX-2600, topless.


Affixed to the case containing the motherboard was a piece of paper with a cryptic number affixed to it. I don’t think there is a consensus about what these numbers mean. But mine says “99 3390057. #”.


Elsewhere, floating around in the case, was a green sticker that says “118152”—again, I don’t think there’s a consensus on what these numbers mean, but these stickers are not unusual. And the numbers probably do mean something.


One more number I found in there was on a sticker on the RF modulator. This says “7807”—and I suspect that this might be the “build date”, in which case it was built at the end of February, 1978. Which, I might add, is a bit later than I’d expected. This is the only reference to 1978 I saw inside, although at least one of the chips we’ll see later was marked “7752” which would indicate a production date (for the chip) at the very, very end of 1977. So, it’s highly unlikely that this machine was built in 1977, we already knew from that that it must have been assembled in 1978.


Opening up the casing to get at the motherboard, here’s the bottom of it. And yet another receipt-like piece of paper sticking out from underneath, which we’ll see in a moment. One note about the screws here: the one in the rear-right corner (when you hold it with the screws on top and the ribbon cable coming out the side furthest from you) is significantly longer than the other three, so it’s worth keeping track of which screw came out from where.


The motherboard says “Rev 8 C010433”:


Flipping over the motherboard now, we see the receipt paper taped to one of the chips. The paper reads “9913800152.#” and it is taped to a chip that says “7747” on it (47th week of 1977).


The other two major chips read “7752” and “7748”


So what to conclude from all of this? Well, I think the best guess is that it was assembled in early 1978 (probably at the end of Feburary), and so would seem to have been relatively late in the production of the heavy sixers. Nevertheless, it does seem to have a relatively low serial number on the case. Perhaps the case and the internals don’t entirely go together, too, although they are not separated by much time.

Onward, to the cleaning. One thing that I found somewhat surprising was the fact that the painted panel behind the switches is actually a separate piece. So it is in principle possible to replace (or clean) the panel separately from the rest of the top.


The paint on mine is not perfect—actually, I’ve really almost never seen one that doesn’t have the same kind of paint wear this one does.

With everything cleaned and reassembled, I tried out a couple of cartridges. I plugged the 2600 into a set-top DVD recorder (so I could tune to channel 3), which sends its output into the Wings personality card in my Power Mac G3. Lo and behold, I was playing Pac-Man and Pitfall!. Badly.



The setup I got was pretty complete. It came with two joysticks, two paddles, and quite a pile of cartridges. The cartridges I got are: Atari: Combat, Video Olympics, Warlords, Pac-Man, Missile Command, Defender, Human Cannonball, Video Pinball, Asteroids, Surround, Big Bird’s Egg Catch. Sears (Tele-Games): Adventure, Night Driver. Activision: Skiing, Fishing Derby, Pitfall!. Imagic: Atlantis. M Network: Astroblast. Sega: Buck Rogers—Planet of Zoom. Parker Bros: Return of the Jedi—Death Star Battle, Spider-Man, Q*Bert. Again, some cartridges are collectible, some cartridges are super-common, and going into this I had no idea which was which (nor did it really inform much my bidding on this machine). It is possible to get at least an idea of how common these things are from the AtariAge Atari 2600 Rarity Guide, though. For the most part, unsurprisingly, the cartridges I got are pretty common. A couple turned out to be “scarce” or “scarce+”, although they’re not in great condition.

Apparently these are “scarce” in the versions I have: Adventure (though mine has writing all over it and is missing the label from the end), Fishing Derby, Spider-Man (label fell off).




And these are “scarce+”: Atlantis, Big Bird’s Egg Catch (has something affixed to the label), Sega Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom, Star Wars: Death Star Battle (label fell off).





Still, a pretty decent acquisition, I think. I’m confident this is basically the first generation machine and I have a few somewhat hard-to-find cartridges, as well as some of the ones I actually remember playing in the distant past.

I also think that’s the last of my Atari acquisitions, but the 2600 was important enough in history to justify having this one.

Virtual ProFiling

The last thing I needed to embark on the mission to put my X/ProFile into the Lisa 2/10 arrived today, a bunch of blank CF cards. I mail ordered them because it turns out nobody local seems to sell them this small anymore.


The reason I was waiting for those is that I didn’t want to do anything on the original CF cards that came with the X/ProFile without having a pristine backup first. With these in hand, I was set. Here’s the X/ProFile by itself, prior to attaching the mounting hardware.


The default place to mount the X/ProFile in a Lisa 2/10 is to the side of the drive cage, above the disk drive. It fits there, though only just barely.



I then attached my separate IDE-to-CF adapter, which I had lying around anyway, to the primary IDE connector on the X/ProFile. The X/ProFile allows two devices to be connected at once. One device is the CF card on the board, and the second (actually, primary) device is the IDE drive connected to the standard IDE connector. Once two CF cards are plugged in this way, the X/ProFile can be set to copy them. It’s a pretty straightforward process, it didn’t take me long to make backups of all of them and one more of the Lisa Office CF card as well, to use as a working drive.


While I had the Lisa open, I took another go at trying to make the disk drive work as well. I’m not sure what the problem with the drive was/is, but it wasn’t reading disks. It (surprisingly?) did seem to accept and eject disks ok, but it wasn’t doing anything with them. I did have a spare 400K external Mac drive, however, and the internals of the two drives are almost identical. They aren’t, as I understand it, exactly identical, having to do with how ejecting is handled, but I thought I might be able to do some kind of substitutions anyway.

I took my usual approach, which is to just completely disassemble, observe, and clean, to see if I got any ideas. So, out came the Lisa drive, and off came the eject mechanism.


I flipped it over and took off the controller board, and cleaned up a bit inside, though it wasn’t particularly dirty.


I looked on the underside of the controller board, and it seemed to be mostly in order.


There was, however, a certain amount of goop on the board. Although I’m still not an expert at looking for this, it seemed like it was at least possible that C120 and C119 had leaked. It’s not too clear on the picture. But on the back of the board, the area around IC101 did look pretty dodgy.


I thought, ok, maybe something has gotten corroded or shorted out here. So, I opened up the Mac 400K drive to compare it. The area around IC101 was much cleaner on that one.


However, inside, the Mac 400K drive was much goopier around IC102. Really, very goopy. It didn’t look so much like a leak as something intentional.


I decided there wasn’t much to lose, so I cleaned off the area on the Mac 400K drive board around IC102 to get rid of whatever that was, and then reassembled the Lisa drive with the Mac board in it. I know that if the drive worked but didn’t eject properly, then it would probably be due to whatever it is that differentiates Mac and Lisa 400K drives. The Lisa board did have a number of things wired together after the fact, and the Mac board (which was a revision or two more recent) didn’t. And maybe some of that wiring had to do with how the eject works. But, first things first.

The other thing I did, while I was dealing with the Lisa, is get out the RAM board that was giving me trouble and try to fix (temporarily) the bad RAM chip. As you might recall, I believe that I’d isolated the chip that was at fault on one of the RAM boards (which I’d removed altogether), and I in the meantime got a few replacement chips. I thought I’d at least try “piggybacking” the believed-to-be-good RAM chip over the believed-to-be-bad RAM chip, in case that would work and show that it was indeed that chip at fault and that replacing it would help.


And: test time. As for the RAM, no, the piggybacked good RAM didn’t help.


Faulty RAM card back out, restart. And:




Desktop! Ok, now the disk:

IMG 3145




Nope! Ok, the problem with the disk hasn’t really been solved.


The rest will need to wait for another day, but it looks like: the X/ProFile works and the Lisa now boots ok, the RAM failure is not solved, and the disk failure is not solved. Still, progress!

[Added notes: The next step with the 400K drive will be to put the Lisa board back in the Lisa drive and see if adjusting the read/write-head distance helps any. Also, I’m wondering if maybe the goop that was floating around on these boards was some kind of thermal dissipator. Do these chips get hot? Pondering whether there is something I should replace it with once I’ve cleaned it off.]

QX-10 ComMunication

Lots to catch up on here, but here’s one thing that I got fairly recently that I’m pretty pleased about. For some reason the Epson QX-10 seems to have faded into obscurity quite a bit more dramatically than some of the other machines of its time. As I’d mentioned before here a couple of times, I had an Epson QX-10 (not strictly speaking mine, but borrowed from work) in the mid ’80s. Ostensibly, I had it so I could work on dBase II programming at home. But, really what I used it for was modem communication. Most notably, I’d written a BBS system for it, which I still plan to try to resurrect.

I was happy to be able to get my hands on a pretty complete QX-10 system some time ago, but it had no cards in it at all. In particular, it didn’t have a modem card, and though I had searched for it for a while, I had pretty much resolved myself to never being able to put that system I had before back together.

However, my luck changed not too long ago. Someone was selling a couple of old QX-10 items on eBay. Fortunately for me, even though these things are super-rare, nobody really wants them either. It didn’t cost me much. And now I have, once again, a Comrex ComMunicator CR-103.

CR103 manual cover

IMG 2714

Of course, at this point, I still don’t have the QX-10 really working entirely, insofar as I only have one working disk drive. But we’re getting there.

Along with the CR-103, I also got an acoustic modem (an Epson CX-20) and a QX-10 RS232 serial card, which could in principle provide me with a second modem to use, although I don’t know if I can find a phone that will fit in the cradle anymore.

epson cx-20

I suspect that this will really just be decorative, but it is a nice looking modem.

The RS232 card was even in its original box, pretty much untouched.





The RS232 card also opens the possibility that I might be able to connect with other devices in the outside world, too, I’ll have to think about this more to see if I can do something creative with it.

Though, of course, there is also the possibility that one or more of these things simply don’t work. However I am optimistic, they all look to be in great shape, and as far as I understand it, the previous owner hadn’t even really used them.

The manual that came with the RS232 card is extremely technical, and I have scanned that as well.

Manual scans: