Retrochallenge 2017/10 Entry – europlus Refurbapalooza Ep. 3

Retrochallenge time is almost upon us again, and, after two prior entries helping me move my europlus refurbishment project along, there’s no way I wasn’t going to enter again!

And so, for the third Retrochallenge in a row, I am entering my “continuing stooooooory” of a europlus Refurbapalooza into the mix for Retrochallenge 2017/10.

I’m now at the stage of chronologically aligning the base (with serial number) to power supply to motherboard – my intention is to troubleshoot the motherboards once attached to the bases and connected to the power supplies, but before affixing the top case – it will make swapping chips out that much easier, especially at the front and back of the motherboards.

I’ll also aim to replace any missing/damaged/moved rubber feet on the bases, and hopefully clean the top plastic cases.

My minimal aim is to have at least one extra fully operational unit by the end of October – given the glitches I saw when I quickly ran through all the machines, I think it’ll be a stretch to get them all working, but I will try.

If you’re vacillating about entering, or have never considered entering, I can highly recommend it as a way to help you move your retrocomputing project/s forward.

For anyone who does enter, whether for the first time or as a returning entrant, I wish a heartfelt “Good luck!”

Retrochallenge 2017/04 Recap – europlus Refurbapalooza Edges Along

I was right in my suspicion that I would not get as much done with my europlus refurbishment this time ’round, but I am actually happy with what I got done during April (and just outside the competition deadline) given my “real life” constraints.

During April, I tested the electrolytic capacitors on all seven of my europlus AA11040C power supplies, developed my capacitors “Spec & Check” sheet for that model PSU (which was definitely not on my original April agenda), and during WOzFest PR#6, I replaced the filter capacitor on one of my PSUs and tested it in a europlus.

On 1 May local time (after “tools down”), I found some time towards the end of the day to replace the necessary filter and electrolytic capacitors on the remaining six PSUs, and all but the last one are now working.

That last one is a bit of an oddball compared to the others – it had a large filter cap (which had blown) and resistor soldered directly across the Live and Neutral pins of the power cord socket on the PSU case. It’s also the highest serial number AA11040C I have.

Subsequent discussions on the local Apple ][ enthusiasts mailing list were held regarding this apparent modification – in fact, it looks like the PSU shipped from the factory with this modification. This is consistent with several such examples owned by local enthusiasts, and the cord socket being riveted to the case as with the other PSUs (although rotated 180° compared to my other AA11040Cs).

In the longer, later Apple //e PSUs (the AA11040C was used in the plus, europlus and //e), this larger filter cap and resistor were incorporated into the main circuit board of the PSU, further strengthening the evidence the capacitor and resistor on the socket were a modification made by Apple in-factory.

The PSU should work without them (it’s not working, so will need further investigation), but I will replace the blown filter cap and the resistor (which I removed when I removed the filter cap) once I’ve got the PSU working.

Anyway, it was an instructive April for me, and I’m pleased with having six refurbished PSUs and having created the “Spec & Check” sheet – roll on the next Retrochallenge!

WOzFest PR#6 Galleries

Below are my photos from WOzFest PR#6 and Andrew’s tweeted photos.

Jeremy has shared his photos as well.

Dressed appropriately

Dressed appropriately

The attendee gifts are ready

The attendee gifts are ready

The fun begins

The fun begins

In full swing

In full swing

The gift revealed

The gift revealed

So useful!

So useful!

Andrew’s disk sorting

Andrew’s disk sorting

One europlus PSU repaired

One europlus PSU repaired

Neville’s imaging continues

Neville’s imaging continues

That’s a wrap!

That’s a wrap!

The neglected book scanner

The neglected book scanner

WOzFest PR#6 Recap

I think WOzFest PR#6 was a great success.

As usual, things officially kicked off at midday – Jon (half of Manila Gear and WOzFest regular) was first to arrive just before starting time.

By the time of our first Skype at 13:00, we had about six or seven attendees – the Skype caller was Paul Hagstrom, of Yesterbits and the Retro Computing Roundtable. We had a good chat about his history collecting and preserving retrocomputers, and he had several impressively precarious-looking towers of computers all around him in his office.

With a couple more attendees having arrived, our second Skype at 14:00 was with another American, John Morris, who has come to prominence on the Facebook Apple II Enthusiasts group recently as he develops Applesauce, a USB interface for the Disk ][ 5¼″ floppy disk drive which allows that drive to be connected to modern computers. John recounted his programming history and the motivations behind the Applesauce.

It was exciting to hear about John’s plans for the device, and we got the lowdown on such issues as imaging speed (unprotected disks to .dsk file in under 11s!), his new file format and the rationale for it (bit copy with more information than an EDD file, but at about a quarter of the size!), and his discussions with developers of Apple ][ emulators and solid state disk drive emulators to support the new format. I think Applesauce is going to be in high demand – I know I certainly want one.

At 15:00 we got to Skype with Terry Stewart from New Zealand about his history with retrocomputers and preserving them, especially makes and models particular to the Australasian market. Terry’s site has extensive information for use by retrocomputer enthusiasts, and his videos are always informative.

Jon had organised our next Skype call as a product update – I didn’t have any direct knowledge of the content of the call, but I expected it to be with his Manila Gear partner, John Valdezco, and about their recently released No Slot Clock (NSC). It turned out, however, to be with John Brooks (so many Jo[h]ns!), along with Michael Guidero, and started just before 16:00.

John Brooks released a couple of ProDOS updates last year, the first in 30 years, adding new features and bringing a smile to Apple ][ enthusiasts’ faces around the world. He was able to tell WOzFest PR#6 attendees that he’s adding native support for any NSC (including the DClock)  to ProDOS – it will automatically determine which clock is present – as well as native support for the Ramworks and RamFactor memory expansion cards (which should include the Apple //c RAM expansion card).

Other exciting news is that John is working on Bitsy-Rip, which, as described by John, “will make a digital image of 5¼″ disks, including copy-protected and failing disks. Bitsy-Rip uses the built-in IWM (Integrated Woz Machine) chip of the Apple IIgs to make EDD-like ‘complete’ disk images, but with no additional slot cards or hardware required.” WOzFest PR#6 attendees were lucky to get the first public demonstration of Bitsy-Rip at work, and it it feels like we’re entering a golden age of disk preservation between Bitsy-Rip and Applesauce.

Michael Guidero has recently released new ROM versions for the Apple //c and //c+, which had been very favourably received by owners of those machines. Leslie had arrived at WOzFest PR#6 with some EEPROMs burnt with the new version for attending //c owners, so Michael’s update was well-known to them, and they were able to relay their enthusiasm, questions and observations to him directly.

We still had one final Skype call to receive – at 16:30, Jorma Honkanen, a well-known Finnish Apple ][ enthusiast, dialled in to have a chat about his own retrocomputing history and preservation efforts.

Jorma relayed the difficulties he’s had securing hardware and software in Finland, where the Apple ][ was never as prevalent as in other countries like Australia and the U.S. and he told us he’s only been an Apple ][ enthusiasts for a few years – all of which makes the material he has secured and preserved, and his efforts, all the more impressive!

My thanks go out to all the Skype callers, who took time out from their Friday nights or Saturdays to chat with a bunch of Apple ][ enthusiasts in Sydney.

That brought to a close the “organised” parts of WOzFest PR#6, and people returned to the projects they’d started, or started working through the projects they’d brought. We also snuck in a couple of pizzas a little later than usual as my wife had catered finger food snacks throughout the afternoon – the snacks were very enthusiastically received.

Michael from the RCR podcast received a sheet feed scanner brought up by Jeremy, who drove up from Canberra again (what a trooper!). They then proceeded to work together to preserve a couple of software packages and associated documentation.

One of those was Learning To Cope With Pressure by Sunburst Communications. The other title was Sandy’s Word Processor, which was an Australian Apple ][ title. Thanks Michael and Jeremy for your ongoing preservation efforts!

Andrew worked on testing the capacitors in a Mac LC 630 PSU, and also sorted through a whole heap of 3½″ and 5¼″ floppy disks. On the manual labour front, he cut down plastic shells for the two ends of a IIgs VGA adaptor cable he’s been working on.

Andrew also told attendees about the release of AFPBridge, by Stephen Heumann. AFPBridge, to quote its own info pages, “is a tool that allows an Apple IIgs to connect to an AFP (Apple Filing Protocol) file server over TCP/IP. AFPBridge works by using the existing AppleShare FST, but redirecting its network traffic over TCP/IP rather than AppleTalk.” This will greatly simplify file server access for IIgs users with an Ethernet card in their machine.

Craig worked on a few things throughout the day. Firstly, he, Leslie and David installed the new //c and //c+ ROMs Leslie had brought. The testing of them included installing an A2Heaven Apple IIc RamExpress II expansion card – the goal was to use this card as a battery-backed up RAM disk with the new ROMs.

After a bit of work, David worked out the RAM card needed to be zeroed out using the new ROM’s tools before the RAM disk was then formatted by Copy II+. This then allowed the //c and //c+ to have a super-fast booting (2s), battery backed up 1MB RAM-based ProDOS disk.

Craig was also keen on getting a G4 Mac mini I’d passed on to to him tested, his goal being to get it booting into Mac OS 9. I think an iBook G4 I had also passed on to him provided a proof-of-concept boot via Firewire Target Disk Mode.

Jon worked on testing a pre-release copy John Brooks’ forthcoming ProDOS update with the Manila Gear NSC – this NSC will not only work with the Apple //e, but also the original Apple ][ and Apple ][ plus (and europlus, of course – my only currently operational europlus was used for testing this NSC) and the Apple //c and Apple //c+.

Leslie installed the new //c and //c+ ROMs he had brought, and helped out with advice and help on other projects as well.

Tim had brought an interesting collection of Apple ][ expansion cards with him from Canberra – I’m constantly amazed and thrilled that attendees would travel so far. David also made the trip down from the Blue Mountains via public transport.

Neville, who had provided the impetus to Hans Coster to re-release Caverns of Mordia, also attended – Neville had just that morning written about finding Caverns of Mordia, reaching out to Hans, and the resulting re-release of the software at WOzFest 5¼″ – it’s well worth the read for fans of preservation, digital archeology, and text adventure games.

Neville’s project was to check on his IIgs and associated equipment, which hadn’t been powered on for some 20-odd years. The IIgs powered up first go, but the monitor wasn’t faring so well. He was able to use another monitor to boot up, which allowed him to check his “Cutting Edge” brand 100MB SCSI drive.

After a bit of wrangling, Neville was able to image the four partitions on the SCSI drive to disk images via my CFFA3000 card. Each of the three main 32MB partitions took around half an hour to image! I believe there were a small number of disk errors while copying, but he’s since reported to me that the disk images have successfully loaded via the Sweet16 IIgs emulator. Throughout this project with his IIgs he was greatly helped by Jeremy, Leslie, and Jon.

I was able to get rid of some of my excess computers and associated bits: two //e’s, several Mac minis, several laptops, an old Airport Express or two – but I still have more material to shift, so hopefully the disposal doesn’t slow down.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get any scanning done with the book scanner, but I have it on extended loan for a month or so, so I’m hoping to get at least a few books scanned and I’ll post-process them later.

I was able to successfully replace the filter cap in one of my europlus PSUs and test it with my known-working motherboard – this as part of my Retrochallenge entry, and more details on that are in my wrap up blog post.

Because the neighbours most likely to be disturbed by noise were away on holiday, we were able to kick on a little later than usual, and the final six or so attendees finished up their projects for the day and headed off at about 23:00.

As usual, I’ve posted the WOzFest PR#6 photos galleries in a separate post.

I know I’ve missed projects and attendees, but I can’t keep track of everything! I know some attendees come to just enjoy the vibe, some to see other attendees’ interesting items, some for the Skypes, and some to work on other people’s projects and share their knowledge and skills. These various motivations for attending are what make WOzFest so much fun to host, and I can’t wait for the next one!

WOzFest PR#6 Approaches

It’s now less than two weeks to WOzFest PR#6 and I’ve barely begun prepping.

The re-organisation of the Man Cave has begun, and I’m hoping to have that much further along before the big day.

I’ve had to pare back my Retrochallenge ambitions as I’ve just had too much real life stuff to find much free time anywhere.

That may also mean I pare back my book scanning ambitions – I still aim to have a book scanner at WOzFest PR#6 (subject to its availability), but I may not get to the post-processing stage, so it might be primarily for basic demonstration purposes.

Despite this, I think attendees are in for a treat with the four Skype sessions I’ve teed up with well-known retrocomputer enthusiasts/preservationists from around the world, and, although I’m not aware of any new product announcements happening on the day, there will be a timely update on a product announced during a previous WOzFest.

The usual schedule applies: start from around midday (Sydney time, UTC+10:00), I’ll pepper the Skype calls and product update throughout the event, dinner (pizza) will likely be around the 18:00-19:00 mark, and a wrap-up by sometime between 21:30 and 22:30 (depending on attendee energy and sound levels).

I hope to see you there – please let me know if you’re planning on attending.

Jason Scott Puts Call Out for Apple ][ Software Collections

Are you, or someone you know, sitting on a horde of unpreserved Apple ][ software?

Jason Scott has put out the call for such collections which might still be “in the wild”.

In his capacity as Software Collections Curator at the Internet Archive, Jason has been instrumental in garnering preserved titles for that site and making them playable, in-browser(!).

The summary in Jason’s post says:

Conditions are very, very good right now for easy, top-quality, final ingestion of original commercial Apple II Software and if you know people sitting on a pile of it or even if you have a small handful of boxes, please get in touch with me to arrange the disks to be imaged.

I don’t really need to add anything to what Jason has already said in that summary, or in the detail Jason adds in his post – if you have (or know of) such a collection, reach out to Jason (or me) to find out how you might be able to preserve it.

Maybe we can get some disk preservation done at WOzFest PR#6 – with newer versions of i’m fEDD up and Passport available (and other products in the pipeline) it might be a good time to redouble our Apple ][ preservation efforts!

Your only other job is to spread the word!

Thoughts on Book Preservation

I’ve been giving lots of time recently to thinking about the preservation of retrocomputer-related print media, such as books, manuals, etc.

These thoughts have primarily revolved around “destructive” vs. “non-destructive” digitisation of these items, and how those digitisation methods fit into the broader sphere of “preservation” in retrocomputing.

Bound items such as books introduce physical complexities to the digitisation effort as they are not readily scannable on a flatbed or sheet-fed scanner – one way to speed the process is to remove the spine, most often by way of a guillotine, leaving loose sheets which can be quickly scanned in a sheet-feed scanner. This method is used with saddle-stitched (aka “staple-bound”) publications (including magazines) as well as perfect-bound or case-bound books.

This, of course, has irreversibly altered the physical nature of the item, and is accordingly described as “destructive” scanning – its opposite, “non-destructive” scanning (appropriately), leaves the physical item intact during the scanning process.

(As a side note, it is possible with some “mechanically-bound” and saddle-stitched items to remove the binding to allow sheet-fed scanning – the binding is then replaced, restoring the item to its former state. I consider such re-binding as a non-destructive process if the item is, for all intents and purposes, returned to its original condition. It can be difficult, however, to re-create the binding as originally applied without the right equipment for the method used.)

Several years ago I destructively digitised the three editions of Lon Poole’s original Apple II User’s Guide. Once scanned, I intended to recreate the books in InDesign, replicating fonts, layout, images, etc. – a true re-creation.

Guillotining the spines off and sheet-feeding seemed the quickest and easiest way to get undistorted scans of all the pages (to be used as page templates during replication), and I used the worst-condition copy I owned of each of the editions (I had bought multiple copies of the editions for just this purpose).

As seems to invariably happen around the retrocomputing hobby, however, real life got in the way and the scans are sitting on my computer pretty much untouched, and not much re-creating has happened.

I now deeply regret guillotining even these extra, not-the-best-condition copies and believe destructive digitisation should be avoided in all but the most extreme of circumstances. If there’s no need to remove the spine, it shouldn’t be removed.

So, what’s changed in the four and a half years since I guillotined those books? Basically, scanner technology has changed, and there are now viable alternatives which allow undistorted digitising of bound print items without spine removal.

These viable alternatives do not in my view include flat-bed scanning systems such as the Zeutschel zeta scanner system. I know of a local Apple ][ enthusiast/preservationist who has had extensive experience with that system and he reports that the software deskewing/distortion removal never lived up to the promise his then employer had been sold on by Zeutschel representatives.

Those disappointing results really don’t surprise me – although such distortion removal is “only” a mathematical problem, real life is rarely as neat as mathematics would suggest. But that sort of flat-bed system isn’t the only non-destructive book scanning technology available, and I’d suggest will never work as well as the sort of system I’m thinking of.

What has changed my mind forever on destructive digitisation is exemplified by the Scribe book scanner from the Internet Archive.

Systems such as the Scribe non-destructively scan bound books while avoiding any skewing or distortion in the captured image. They do this by sitting the books in a V-shaped bed, having clear perspex or glass sheets press gently down on the pages to flatten them, and taking photos of the pages using two cameras, each mounted perpendicularly to the page they’re capturing.

The zeta system the local enthusiast had experience with cost AU$15,000, and before I saw the pricing for the Scribe I thought it would be similar – at US$13,000, it’s currently a little over the money (at today’s exchange rates, that’s AU$17,000).

However, DIY systems based on this concept are already becoming available via makerspaces (such as Robos and Dinos here in Sydney, of which I’m a member), and hobbyist versions are already available in kit form, much as kit-form 3D printers can be purchased.

At US$1,620 (including cameras), this seems like a relatively inexpensive way to go down the non-destructive digitisation path. I do appreciate, however, “relatively inexpensive” does not automatically mean “affordable”: I know I can’t afford to buy one of these scanner kits at the moment, much as I’d like to.

I’ll be demoing the Robos and Dinos book scanner at WOzFest PR#6 – my aim is to choose a title on the day (not too large, maybe 100-200 pages) and scan and post-process it throughout the event. I’m hoping to have the resulting digitised book uploaded to the Internet Archive by the time everyone leaves.

A major disadvantage of these book scanners is limited availability, which is likely to be true for some time to come. However, although these scanners are not yet as readily available as sheet feed scanners such as the Fujitsu ScanSnap, I believe print material preservation has less urgency than software preservation as books don’t suffer bit-rot like disks inevitably will.

We can afford to wait for an Internet Archive partner centre to open up here in Australia, or for a local makerspace to get such a scanner, or for a community member to make one themselves, or for a community member to be in a position to scan items in this way on behalf of the community.

A disadvantage of these scanners is the need to turn the pages manually, which increases the time to scan an item. The Robos and Dinos scanner has a counter-weighted system to hold the perspex down. This is easily lifted to turn the page, which reduces the time between scans, but this system is still not as fast as an automatic sheet-feeding scanner.

Post-processing is another area where the kit and DIY book scanners currently fall behind commercial sheet-fed scanners. They often rely on open source software for not only capturing the page scans, but also for cropping and doing other necessary adjustments to make them into easily distributable and good quality PDFs.

But, as with most areas of computing, progress is swift, and I believe there is no longer any need to remove the spines of items being digitised – they can be digitised and physically preserved, which is surely a win-win.

With the removal of the need to destructively digitise print items, I believe physical preservation of items being digitised should be as high a priority as the digitisation itself.

The strength of my belief does vary (very slightly) according to the nature of the item:

  • I think one-off or rare items should be physically preserved during digitisation;
  • I think books which are known to have several or many surviving copies are potential candidates for destructive digitisation, but I still strongly prefer all copies remain physically preserved;
  • I think more widely disseminated items such as user group magazines are the ones I feel least strongly about – as long as there are confirmed multiple extant copies (or they can be dismantled and re-bound as mentioned above);
  • I think there are some items which cannot be easily digitised either way – books with large fold out leaves, for example: a per-item judgement call would need to be made by the owner of such items and/or the community the digitised copy is meant for (NB: the Scribe system does have a large image capture accessory which I think can cater to at least some of these edge cases).

The actual condition of the item itself does not enter the equation for me – while I sacrificed the “worst condition” copies of Lon Poole’s books I owned, I still deeply regret even this “lesser” sacrifice. If I only had one copy of an item which was in poor, but still bound, condition, I would only non-destructively scan it, rather than having its spine removed just to make digitisation easier.

The Internet Archive is taking the time and spending the money to digitise and physically preserve print items – that fact alone was what got me started adjusting my attitude. Seeing the non-destructive book scanner at Robos and Dinos cemented this form of digitisation as the preferred default in my mind.

When researching others’ views for this post, I found a blog post written by Internet Archive preservationist, Jason Scott (who was one of the Skype video callers during WOzFest 5¼″). Jason makes the case that something is lost when an item is physically altered for the sake of digitisation, and that really struck home with me.

After reading that post and giving it more thought, I came to realise how much binding can tell you about an object or its producers – it’s a form of physical metadata:

  • Did a usergroup skimp on production costs and only use one staple?
  • Did user groups or software publishers who staple-bound print items guillotine it after stapling to avoid pages extending past the cover (which would speak to having extra money to spend on appearances)?
  • Did publishers or software houses change their binding methods according to the whim of their business performance or prospects? An example would be small software or book publishing houses moving from staple-bound to perfect-bound titles as their business grew.
  • Did page elements extend into the inner margin, and, if so, how carefully were the elements on facing pages made to line up (which speaks to paying printers more for such alignment and “quality assurance”)?

Of course, much of this information is secondary to the goal of digitisation and dissemination of the content of these books – but we don’t know today what will interest researchers or enthusiasts in the future.

While dissemination of information is important to a vibrant retrocomputer community, I strongly believe physical preservation of items is equally important for historical context – physical preservation along with digitisation gives the widest view of the past to future enthusiasts and researchers, and, I believe, should be a goal we all strive for.

This sort of “physical metadata” is potentially lost to future researchers if “only copies” of items have had their spines removed – and it’s sometimes hard for an owner to know if a particular edition or print run survives in only one copy, while other editions may have several surviving copies.

Is my recently acquired (and prized) early copy of the First Edition Apple II User’s Guide with apples of layered colours (as opposed to other Editions having single colour apples on the cover, see below) the only extant copy with that design? It may or may not be, but I’d not seen it before, despite a 15 year interest in that title and its variants. I wouldn’t want to damage it physically only to subsequently find out it was!

Additionally, what might pass as an acceptable scan today may be found wanting in 1, 2, 5…maybe even 10 or more years. Having undamaged physical items available for rescanning with better technology in the future allows that better technology to be utilised to its fullest extent.

On this point, I’ve noticed several preservationists have revisited their earlier scanning efforts to re-scan items at higher resolution and/or to post-process them with newer tools – it will always be better to have an unaltered original for such rescanning efforts.

Another important consideration is that while scanning technologies for non-destructive digitisation will only improve, they will also continue to get cheaper – since Jason Scott wrote the above-linked post, the Scribe system has reduced in price from US$25,000 to US$13,000, just shy of a 50% price drop in three years!

Reduced cost and improved post-processing will see non-destructive digitisation be within the reach of more and more retrocomputing enthusiasts as time goes by, and I’m hoping that destructive scanning will fall by the wayside. As far as I’m concerned, this can’t happen fast enough!

Be sure to let me know your thoughts in the Comments below.

Apple II User's Guide 1st Edition Comparison

Apple II User’s Guide 1st Edition Comparison