How wrong we were

I recently put a call out to the three Macintosh collectors I knew to see if any of them had accidently ended up with an Apple II 3½ Drive in their collection by accident. They’re easy enough to identify as they have an eject button, whereas the Mac version did not.

Greg (Who is pretty much the #1 patron of this whole blog with his kind gifts) turned one up in his collection and offered it to me. I gratefully collected and we discussed the drive.
We had no idea of the status of the drive and these are always an interesting thing to work on. Greg mentioned “It couldn’t be harder than a Macintosh Floppy Drive” (cue ominous thunder overhead).

I got the drive home, and decided to have a look inside the unit before I used it. As I opened it, I noticed rust. This is never a good sign. As I slowly disassembled it, I realised that inside, it consisted of two major sections. There was a daughterboard with the eject button and the drive LED plugged in, and plugged into the back of that was a drive I recognised almost immediately. It was a Macintosh style floppy disk drive, complete with eject motor!

“Ruh Roh”

First up, the drive motor section was rusted enough to be creating friction. I carefully removed the drive motor cover, removed the rust with fine sandpaper, vinegar and isopropyl alcohol, until it was a polished surface again. The drive was now spinning freely.
The mechanism was very sticky, so I carefully cleaned it with cotton buds soaked in more iso. This was followed by a careful re-greasing until the mechanism opened and closed reliably, using the eject lever.

But it won’t work. Plug it into the Apple IIgs and… nothing! The drive light lights up briefly and that’s it. No drive movement. No eject. The boards are monolithing surface mount, so there’s very little I can service on it. Next time I have the Mac apart, I might swap out the FDD from that, just to test, but for now, I’ve hit a dead end. Without a second unit, I can’t diagnose this one, let alone fix it.

Also, next week I’ll be getting my BMOW FloppyEmu, which will supercede this drive completely, so I won’t be pushing too hard on this one.

So you want to play Ultima II Macintosh…

This took me a while to work out, so here is how I managed to get Ultima II Mac running under Windows emulation.

  1. Get an image of Ultima II.
  2. Un stuff it. This is not as easy as it sounds. I needed to use BasiliskII under Linux to build a system 7.5 system, with Unstuffit running. I was then able to bring in the .sit file and uncompress it to a .dsk file
  3. Get PCE Mac and uncompress it locally.
  4. Copy your Ultima II image to your PCE Mac directory.
  5. Rename it to Ultima II.img from Ultima II.dsk
  6. Download these two files and save them in the PCE Mac directory/
  7. Run the batch file. Enjoy Ultima II.

This took a while and step 2 is a doozy. Sorry I can’t be more accurate with that one. I haven’t found any reliable way to unstuff .sit files of that vintage on modern Windows.

Carpet Hacking

I love my wife. She has a background in ICT too, and thus she “gets” things.

We have a small Home Theatre PC in the front room, and during the recent “Plague Events”, I plugged in a webcam and stuck it on top of our Telly in there. This is absolutely brilliant for video-conferencing with friends (Many of whom are in lockdown, other states / countries or both). For better audio I have a surface microphone on our coffee table.

She recently bought a BIG rug for the room. Today she asked if I could cut a discrete hole in the middle of it so we could run the USB cord for the microphone through, under and out of the rug. Brilliant!

One careful cut later (We didn’t even lose any strands) and we have a super neat, almost impossible to trip over USB mic in the lounge. (We can even plug other things into it as needed, or even a USB hub!)

Building the Desk

Monitors in Situ ©2020

So I have been on holidays for a few days, and my holiday project this break has been to build a desk for my study. Previously I used an old school table and a big chest full of LEGO. Neither of these were exactly comfortable or practical. Furthermore, a LOT of the desk was taken up by monitors. Finally there was a “dead” space that would fill up with cr@p at one end behind the guest bed.
(I find working on a project during my holidays helps my mental health. It gets me thinking about “not work” so it puts me in the right headspace)

Soon there will be desk here. ©2020

On Sunday afternoon me and the eldest child drove down to the local hardware warehouse and spend A LOT of money on wood. So much wood! I also grabbed extra screws (Just in case), some extruded aluminium designed for the edge of blinds and a piece of aluminium sheet.
(The exact total was more like 25 pieces of 1200 x 40mm x 20mm, 4 pieces of 1800mm x 40mm x 20mm, a giant sheet of 2400mm x 1200 x 18mm Marine ply that I couldn’t even move by myself and a sheet of 2400 x 1200 x 12mm construction ply. Also some cup hooks)

This won’t be my last trip to the hardware store.

Monday I started cutting up wood.
In the morning I had to do a quick run to the hardware store again as I needed a set square. Mine had gone missing and it had been pretty cruddy to begin with. The new one was so much better than the old one.
I quickly ran up the basic frame, consisting of 3 identical frames. and prepped the rest of the straight sections, ready for final assembly. Unfortunately I literally could not lift the big slab of ply by myself.
I used this as an opportunity to make the Aluminium sheet into a frame for holding monitors. I folded the edges over, then folded the top over, then bent the rest of it over into a hook. I then drilled VESA compliant holes to attach to the back of monitors.
I took a break until the kids got home from school and got them to help me get the big slabs on the sawhorses. Using a circ saw and some bits to brace the saw, I broke down the big slab into the right size for the desk top. With that cut down I could then get to cut the other slab of ply down as well.

One of three frames. Later I will realise an issue here. ©2020
A monitor hook, waiting to be drilled. ©2020
Frames complete leaning against a slab of wood too huge for me to move unaided. ©2020

Tuesday I started by finishing off the desk top. I cut a rounded corner in one corner, and cut an angle in the other corner, to give some clearance for the guest bed. The latter proved troublesome as I was trying to use my jig saw, and the blade I was using kept slipping and gouging the wood. Ended up going back to the circ saw and cleaning it up. Next came the router with a T moulding cutter inserted. This thing scares the bajeesus out of me. It’s an old fashioned unit with an on / off switch. With the T moulding cutter blade locked open, if you dropped it, there’s no safety “finger off the trigger”. It would just keep spinning with an exposed blade. I took this section very slowly and carefully. Still can count to ten. Happy with that result.
Next I cut some cable management holes at the back. Finally I dug out the sheet of antistatic mat that I had stashed away and cut it to fit the benchtop. It was too short, but I was able to recycle the piece I’d had on my old desk and join them together.
I used some offcut pieces of ply to make kickboards. these stop me kicking the wall and give a LOT of strength to stop everything trying to fold sideways.
This was now ready to assemble so I moved this benchtop and the other piece of pine into the study, ready to start assembling.
This is when I realised my first mistake. I’d made three identical sections. My actual space needed 2 long section and one short section. If I left it “as is”, the storage on the guest bed couldn’t open and the last leg would poke out from under the desk. Well cr@p! OK. Out to the garage and after carefully measuring, I cut one of the sections in half with my mitre saw. This was one of those cases where a hand saw was both easier, and more accurate. I remounted new legs to the two truncated sections. I used one to support the table section behind the guest bed.
(I also cut the top piece for this section from an offcut of the main bench at this point)
OK, pushing on, I added the kickboards to get the frame rigid., then added the cross bracing. I then put the benchtop on top and marked where the cross bracing was, remembering to also mark on the frame where the bench went. This would allow me to screw the benchtop to the frame later. I then pulled the whole assembly away from the wall, and with some assistance from the kids, marked where the back panel (The second piece of plywood) would need to be attached. I then removed both the pieces and drilled holes through for screws to be added later. I also did this for the bench piece behind the bed.
Now was assembly time. As these pieces weren’t going to be glued, I used quite a lot of screws. I then drilled two holes through the back panel and anchored it to the wall. (Drilling an oversized hole through the wood, then using a masonry bit into the brickwork, followed by a plug hammered in. Then finally a long screw, with a wide washer gets screwed into the plug)
Finally I carefully hammered in the T moulding to give a nice edge to the desk.
I now had a desk with the gross physical shell finished. Day two was now complete.

Back Panel and Desk Top. ©2020
Frame work in progress. This is after i’d fixed the third frame.
Desk assembled. ©2020
Another view. ©2020

Wednesday was mostly spent getting the desk from the shell to the final stages.
Firstly I got my extruded aluminium and cut it it to slightly shorter than the length of the desk. I proceeded to drill about a million holes into the extrusion and then bolted it to the back panel of the desk. A quick test showed it worked as intended. I could hang my monitors off the rail, remove them and move them around with ease.
Next I clambered under the desk and started adding cuphooks to the underside along the back. These work as very effective cable management, and once done, I then started running power leads around.
I had purchased a powerboard with switched outputs and 2 USB charging ports. I’d made sure it supported enough juice to run a Raspberry Pi 3 if needed. I also had an existing powerboard with simple switched outputs. Using a piece of paper to make a template, I bolted these to the front of the back panel, making sure I had clearance for my monitors.
After a bit of mucking around I had all the power routed around the desk as needed.
I also, at this point, added press stud points for antistatic connections (Two) so that I could attach my wrist strap from either side. Both of these are connected by a discrete conductor run under the desk, and then out to the earth point in the room. (There’s resistors in various places to stop dangerous conditions if there’s ever an earth leak in the house)
Now I began putting my tools up. I drilled holes and inserted nails, added the tool then traced the outline. For some tools (Screwdrivers and similar) I simply drilled through a block of wood and screwed that to the board. I also added a strip of thin tin, allowing me to clip tools with clips directly to the board. Eyelets were useful for holding things like Sharpie markers, which precipitated yet another trip to the hardware store after I ran out on the second marker. I added some small containers left over from a previous project and by Thursday morning all the tools were in!
This includes a toothbrush (Used for cleaning cases. I use ESD safe brushes for PCBs), a hard plastic straw (Great for blowing dust out. I can’t quite justify canned air), a bulldog clip (Used to help crack open the Mac SE/30), a haemostat (Holds things tight. Too many uses. Can even be used as a heatsink) and a purple laser (It is shiney and will enhance my nest).

Test fit of the monitor on the rail. Note a bazillion screws. ©2020
The back of one of the monitors, showing the mounting hook thingy. ©2020
Both monitors in on a test fit. ©2020
Some tools in place. ©2020
All tools in place. ©2020
Close up of some of the tools. ©2020
the blue curly wire is an antistatic wrist strap connected to the antistatic mat via a press stud under the black earth conductor. ©2020

All in all, while a LOT of work (My legs hate ne now) I personally think it will make my project work a LOT easier. I have two discrete workspaces so while working on one I can either refer to notes on the other or even play games on one retro system while working on another.

Heh. for a blog about retro computers, I get to use the “woodworking” tag a lot!

Cleaning my ADB Keyboard

Keyboard Grime ©2020

I’m still waiting on bits-n-pieces for my Macintosh and my Apple IIs. That hasn’t stopped me doing minor works. The other day, for instance, I finally got around to cleaning my ADB keyboard.

This keyboard is used with both my Apple IIgs and my Mac SE/30 and it was filthy. Time for a quick clean and scrub. I tackled the outer shell with Isopropyl alcohol. A good scrub with an old towel and lots of Isopropyl and all but the most stubborn stains were gone.

Next was time for the keys and, more importantly, under the keys. I have a handy dandy “key puller” that I purchased cheap from China that does an excellent job of safely removing keys. It consists of two wire “loops” that slide over the keycap and spring underneath, allowing you to provide even pressure for key removal.
Before removing the keys, I took a photo in case I had problems working out where any of the “special” Apple keys went back. With the key puller in hand I carefully removed all the keys. The space bar had an extra spring I put aside, and I was also careful around any of the “long” keys like the Shift or Enter keys as they tended to have stabiliser wires. Thankfully it was an easy job in this case, as the stabilisers slid in and out of channels, as opposed to being clipped in, like I have seen in some of my keyboards.

Underneath the keys was a horrific layer of dust-bunnies so thick they’d become a felt layer in places. I brushed them out, initially with a coarse anti-static brush, then a toothbrush with Isopropyl and finally some cotton buds for the exceptionally resistant patches.

I grabbed all the keys and soaked them in hot, soapy water before individually removing them and scrubbing all 4 sides with a nail brush. Once clean (and that took a long time) I patted them all dry, have them another spray with Isopropyl on the underside to assist with drying and left them overnight to dry on a towel.

Next morning it was a simple job to reassemble my much nicer, neater keyboard.

While I wait for parts…

One day it will arrive…

So the bits and pieces I need to work on my next piece of retrocomputing are stuck on a (very) slow boat from China, I have been doing a lot less retro stuff recently.

So for now, I have a plan to spend my upcoming holidays working on a new desk for my retro room. Currently I’m working off an old school desk of unknown provenance, with a particularly funky melamine finish, and a toy chest full of Lego.
What I want from the project is:

  • Contiguous space. The current setup has a step down in the middle, and no leg room under the toy chest. I look forward to being able to have two retrocomputers set up at once.
  • Built in cable management. I need this. A lot.
  • Built in Power Boards, including USB power. Also needed, especially if I play with Raspberry Pi setups, like Pi1541.
  • Built in Monitor Management. I’m putting in some special railing that will allow me to “suspend” monitors from the back panel of the desk. This will get me MUCH more desk space (no stands) and make rearranging a lot easier
  • Contiguous anti-static workbench. I’ll cover the entire desk in anti-static material, which will let me work anywhere down the length. I’ll also put the clip points at the back this time, rather than at the front. This will be more useful.
  • Space for key tools. Yes I’m looking at you, multimeter and soldering station. I pull these out all the time but they don’t have a permanent spot on my desk. They should.
  • More storage. Because I just always need more storage.
  • Built in scaler. I have a really top scaler. If it’s built into the desk, I will actually use it more often. This will help when debugging outputs from retrocomputers.

As you can see, I have very grand designs for this workspace. The current plan involves a plywood top, a plywood back wall (For tools, monitors etc etc) and a simple pine frame for legs.

Once done, I’ll post pictures.

Things I have learned

So, while not a whole lot of retrocomputing has been going on, I have still been pottering along.

I have identified that one of my three SCSI HDDs is bad. As it was given to me in a “Unknown, most likely dead” state, I didn’t shed too many tears.

I have discovered it’s really hard to crimp on 50 way IDC connectors. Use a vise and a vise liner. It’s just easier.

I’m still waiting on a bunch of “stuff” from China to arrive. Once it does, I’ll be able to play with some more SCSI goodies.

It turns out that Apple IIgs games came (As far as anyone can determine) exclusively on 3½” floppy disks, so no games for me until I get my Floppy Disk emulator.

Serial (A quick update)

So I think I may have worked out what was going on with that serial cable. I think I had the pins in the fixture backwards. Oops!

I bought a new Mini Din 8 today and soldered it up. Took a little longer than planned as I got to pin 3, looked down at my workbench and realised I hadn’t slid the back cover on before I started so I needed to desolder then resolder those pins. As usual I “toned” it out with a multimeter and made sure it was “sane”. After that it was a matter of plugging it in, firing up a terminal at both ends and… success! What I typed on one appeared on the other. Two computers communicating despite around a 20 year gap between them.

Next step was a bit harder. I wanted to set up the serial port on my Linux box as a true “Terminal” so I could connect to it via serial directly from the Mac. My ‘Google-Fu’ was weak today, as I couldn’t work out how to ask for the right instructions. My usual group of tech heads also were not sure exactly what I should be doing. Eventually I hit the right combo of search terms that brought me to this Stack Exchange article.

Sure enough it worked. I had the command prompt showing on the Mac terminal application. Next stop: ZModem!

That came a lot quicker. that was a simple install of the lrzsz package. (sudo apt-get install lrzsz)

It’s currently copying a 5MB file via ZModem. This is glorious!

(Best of all, I can use the cable with the Apple IIgs for ADTPro as well)

(I also did some woodworking today. Made a stand for my Wife’s laptop and some monitor stands for some of the old LCDs lying around the house.)

The Battle (Part 2)

You can NEVER have too many of these. ©2020

The battle against the SE/30 continues…

So since Part 1, I have made progress, mostly forward, some backwards.

Digging for “Gold”

First up, I went looking for some “easy” upgrades. Specifically I remembered I had an old SPARCStation IPC I wasn’t currently using in a cupboard. I grabbed it out, hoping to “pillage” the SCSI hard disk for something a bit bigger than the 40MB currently in the SE/30.

It did indeed have a “bigger” hard disk. Bigger in capacity as well as height. There was no way I was going to fit that inside the Mac.

But wait! What’s that underneath the drive? Are those 30 pin SIMMs? Yes, yes they are! There were no less than TWELVE in there. 8 were 1MB SIIMs and 4 were 4MB SIMMs. My Se/30 suddenly went from having 2MB to 20MB. A tenfold increase in one step. This opened up vistas!
I also used this oppurtunity to clean and lube the Floppy Drive, which gave me 100% read and write from it. I also cleaned the drive heads while I was at it. Things are looking up.

Clean and Lube ©2020

Looking for SCSI

Next I went to increase my SCSI capacity. An old friend an work colleague invited me over for a glass of red and a raid on his stash of old SCSI gear. While the red was much appreciated, unfortunately his employees had been cleaning out his gear and had ditched all the SCSI CD ROMs, cables and Drives. D’oh!

When I got home I found an online store in Australia selling the much needed 25 DSub to 50 way Centronics cable that would allow me to connect external SCSI devices to the Mac. I also ordered an external SCSI terminator from them.
I also discovered I could order 50 pin Centronics IDC connectors from AliExpress. These would allow me to make up a SCSI enclosure out of any old PC.
Next were some SCA 80 pin to IDC 50 pin adapters. SCA 80 drives are very easy to come by as they come out of mid age SANs in the hundreds. I can get some of the drives for next to nothing.
Finally I ordered a SCSI CD ROM (Super cheap, should have been a warning) as New Old Stock from EBay.

This is not a happy message. ©2020

System 7 Blues

My next move, now all my orders were running was to start burning disks for a new OS. Now the FDD was fixed, I could move on to larger OSs over multiple disks.
I started with System 7.01. I burned the disks to Floppy disks directly from Windows 10 using WinImage, which works fine to burn out the image files that System 7.01 came on. It took a while to burn the 6 disks, but I got there, and was able to install System 7.01 no worries.

I’d also worked out that if you run Basilisk II on Linux as root (In this case using ‘sudo’) and remember to start it with a floppy drive in the drive already, you can reliably read floppy disks with it. (Note to anyone trying to follow my trail here, it’s not well documented, but if you stick a disk in the drive and press “Ctrl+F1” in Basilisk II, it reads this as a “Disk has been inserted” event in the emulator, allowing you to work with the disk.)

I was able to start moving software across. The Basilisk II had OS 7.5.3 installed on it, which gave me a good launching point, and allowed me to install UnstuffIt 5, which many many archives used as their “baseline”, but I was still unable to run it on the SE/30 so I decided to “punt up” and upgrade to System 7.1.4.
Several disk writes, followed by a lot of swapping and…
  An error occurred while trying to
  complete the installation. Installation
  was cancelled, leaving your disk
That’s no good…

My first thought was that the HDD had somehow died, but running the disk tools disk over it showed no obvious issues.

OK. Let’s try System 7.5.3 instead. This was going to be a challenge.

First up it came on 18 floppy disks. Eighteen!
I cracked open the box of floppy disks I’d found in an Op Shop while on holiday and got cracking. I also had a box of disks left over from cleaning out cupboards at work.
Between the lot I had 33 disks. 2 were double density not high density. 5 were bad. I just managed to get the 18 disks I needed.

I got sick of this. ©2020

<Insert disk swapping montage>

  An error occurred while trying to
  complete the installation. Installation
  was cancelled, leaving your disk

OK. Let’s have a look. Google was not helping. I tried removing the RAM and “dumbing” it down to 8MB in case it was something to do with the SE/30 ROMs. (They’re a bit notorious for being not exactly the best set of ROMs as some of the code in them wasn’t “32 bit clean”, harking back to the older 16 bit “first generation” Macs like the Plus).
Nope. Back in goes the 20MB.
Could it be the missing battery I’d pulled? (One of the infamous “Varta” style 1/2 AA batteries.)
Nope. At least the clock is now right.

Forums weren’t much better but someone suggested I check if the Disk was actually bad by going back to 7.01.

Guess what? It worked perfectly.

By now I’d perfected using Basilisk II to open .sit files I couldn’t open locally, so I decided to just “live with it” for now.

I’ve managed to get all the software that I could want that actually works on this model across and running fine.

About that SCSI CD Rom..

Turns out it wasn’t a SCSI CD ROM. It was an IDE CD ROM. The seller was confused. I accepted the blame as they had included the model number, and I hadn’t checked.

One Final Hurdle

The final piece of my Mac SE/30 battles was getting serial communications going between the SE 30 and my Linux box. That would allow me to simply “ZModem” across files from the Linux box directly to the Mac. I could use Basilisk to prepare files and simply shunt them across as .sit files of any size, rather than being limited to 1.4Mb.

It’s a well documented cable, also used on later Apple models like the //c and the IIgs.

I ordered the parts and soldered it up. I was quite proud of how it came out, especially in the light of soldering to the super fine pitch onside the connector. I toned it out to make sure it was all correct and…

It turns out there are two versions of the 8 pin Mini DIN. I had the wrong one. They even look the same except one pin is shifted. It wouldn’t plug in.


(I think the other local electronics shop might have the other one so I’ll check them out tomorrow.)

Overall I’m in a good place with this project.

In Other News

This is VARTAAA! ©2020

A friend has offered me a SCSI CD Rom, and I have taken up on their extremely kind offer.
I also finished and tested the shell for the videocable for the IIgs.
I replaced the soldered in 1/2AA “Varta” style battery in the IIgs with a battery holder. It also has a new battery.
I have ordered both a BMOW FloppyEmu and ROM-inator II. These are now my Christmas / Birthday present. Sorry to anyone hoping so see me try and build a Harlequin 128. You’ll have to wait another year 😀

IIgs Videocable in the raw.©2020
Backplanes. Did you know that Epoxy doesn’t stick to baking paper? Neither did I. ©2020

Very Quick Post on a Very Quick Modification

So today I had a bit of time and a pile of parts. As a result I made up a very simple adapter for the Apple IIgs allowing me to connect the D15 RGB connector to a VGA monitor.

It’s a pretty easy job. A straight “connect green to green” affair. So of course I managed to screw it up. Unfortunately I misread the pin-out, and got it left-right inverted.

Thankfully the middle pins on a VGA connector are enough that at least the blue video signal gets through, so I was immediately able to see my mistake. After a bit of cursing, and breaking out the soldering iron, I’d flipped the remaining pins and, yay I had full colour.

I was a little concerned initially about whether my monitor would cope. The Apple IIgs puts out a 15KHz vertical signal, and most monitors don’t like that. Now my monitor does support 15KHz (it’s why I purchased it in the first place, mostly so I could use it with my Amiga, but it’s also worked well with my Atari ST) but I’d read that it did “Non Standard” signalling. Thankfully the picture was fine.

The next thing to do is make a plastic shell that will make it neat. I’ll buy the bits for that when I get a chance. I’m figuring I’ll buy a shell for a 15 pin connector, and one for a 9 pin connector and epoxy the two together to make a nice “all in one” shell.

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