WOzFest S7,D2 Announcement – and a Bonus Sydney Gathering!

I’ll try and be a little more timely in my Oz KFest 2017 reminisces than I was with my WOzFest Slot 7: Your Card Recap, but in the meantime, I have great news: WOzFest S7,D2 is about to be held – details to follow after a short diversion…

As I recounted in Juiced.GS, the first gathering I held, before it was known as WOzFest, was in the afterglow of Oz KFest 2015, as Tony Diaz, who had attended all the way from the US, was in Sydney before flying back.

Seizing an opportunity to again see the items he had brought with him (and he had brought numerous supremely interesting items), and to hear his stories about them, I held a gathering for what I thought would be Sydney-siders who hadn’t been able to make it to Oz KFest.

We set a precedent that first gathering which is a bit of a WOzFest tradition now – there was an interstate attendee, Kim, who had made it all the way from Tasmania. So far, there has only been one WOzFest without an interstate attendee (WOzFest ][), and it is amazing to me that people are prepared to travel so far for what is, at its heart, a small enthusiast’s gathering in a small-population city (from a global perspective).

Well, Tony has again attended an Oz KFest, and again brought a metric shed-load of historical Apple-related items…and will again be in Sydney before heading back to the US – this time for two Saturdays.

So, over the next two Saturdays, 9 and 16 September, we’re having two gatherings in honour of Tony’s presence in Sydney!

And the first one will not even be a WOzFest!

Local enthusiast Adrian has offered space he has available for a short while at Mosman on Sydney’s Lower North Shore for the first gathering – Adrian has a staggeringly large Apple-related retrocomputer collection, and has promised some interesting items to complement Tony’s. Adrian was featured on Episode 81 of RetroMacCast (almost 10 years ago!), and I know he’s made some interesting acquisitions since then.

Start time on the 9th is 14:30 Sydney time, with an expected finish time of 21:00 – contact me for the address if you can make it.

And then, as indicated above, on 16 September we’ll hold WOzFest S7,D2. There are currently no Skype calls planned, and, given its short lead-time and the fact I’m reserving my 8-themed name for later this year, it has a name which reflects its “between 7 and 8” nature (and it ties in nicely with the “Slot 7” name for the most recent “full” WOzFest).

The usual schedule applies – start time is midday Sydney time, if people are still here at dinner time we’ll get some pizza, and we’ll aim to finish by about 21:30.

Holding two events gives Oz KFest non-attendees the maximum flexibility to attend and see Tony and his items – some couldn’t make 9th, and some couldn’t make the 16th, so I’m really pleased that between Adrian and I we’re able to cater to as many enthusiasts as possible.

I hope to see you on one or both of the coming Saturdays!

WOzFest Slot 7: Your Card Recap

Apologies for the delay getting this recap out – real life interferes with more than just my Retrochallenge entries! But given Oz KFest 2017 has started, I thought I’d better get a wriggle on! Photos are in a separate post as usual.

We had a pretty good turnout on the day, with around 12 attendees all up. Most attendees had to leave by about 17:00, so I didn’t end up leaving many attendees alone when I had to get ready for my night out, and those remaining had left before I left home myself.

Melody and April, authors of the Octalyzer, had driven up from Melbourne – they attended KansasFest last year and wanted to capture some of the KFest magic by being here for the Skype hookup to Kansas City. They discussed their work on the Octalyzer with attendees, who were impressed by its features such as 3D rendering of Apple ][ programs, rewind functionality, and online access to disk images.

Speaking of which, the hookup went pretty well with a reasonable number of KFest attendees hanging around in the basement to say “Hi!”. WOzFest regulars Michael and Jeremy were there, and another Aussie, Steve from Brisbane, also participated.

Audio was acceptable overall, but is always the weak link in the hookup – there were a couple of other groups of KFest attendees in the basement along with the Skypers, and I think that may have made the audio a little more challenging for Michael’s laptop to pickup properly.

That said, it’s great to check in with the KFesters and capture just a little bit of what it’s like to attend – Jeremy made that a little easier by providing a couple of 360° 3D pictures which we looked at in Sydney using Jon’s ViewMaster phone-holder. It was amazing to look around and feel like you were in Rockhurst. I’m sure nothing beats the real thing, though!

Craig worked on some custom ROMs for his //c+ which Leslie had burnt for him, and Mark discussed his IIgs port of Asteroids and checked out The Octalyzer.

Andrew worked on a few projects: he troubleshot a non-working Ensoniq chip in one of his IIgs’s; he changed the config of a Toshiba FlashAir SD card (which has built-in WiFi and HTTP POST-based access to contents) with the aim of updating it from an emulated IIgs build environment; he helped David check his //e PSU; and he helped Murray check the operation of his IIgs and IIgs PSU.

Look for an announcement soon on a mini-WOzFest in honour of Tony Diaz’s attendance at another Oz KFest – the gathering I held after Oz KFest 2015 before Tony flew back to the US became the seed that has germinated into WOzFest, so it seems appropriate to have another gathering with him in Sydney before he flies back this year.

WOzFest Slot 7: Your Card Announcement

I’m very happy to announce that the next WOzFest, WOzFest Slot 7: Your Card, will be held on Saturday 22 July 2017, starting around midday Sydney time (UTC+10:00).

The theme for the day will be “The IIgs”, and was requested/selected by attendees at WOzFest PR#6.

I’ll be taking a relative back seat on this one as I have a prior social engagement that evening, so I’ll have to leave my own gathering late afternoon and will be handing the evening into the capable hands of the attendees. The day really will be for attendees to fill, just like a IIgs slot assigned as “Your Card”.

What I have organised is the usual Kansas Fest video hookup we try for each year – the Skype call is slated to start at around 14:00 local time (23:00 Friday Kansas City time). Frequent WOzFest and Kansas Fest attendee Michael, from the Retro Computing Roundtable, will reprise his role as host of the Kansas City end of the Skype call.

WOzFest PR#6 attendee Mark has already announced to the Apple IIoz mailing list his IIgs-related project, a port of Asteroids for the IIgs, which he’s hoping to demo on the day. I’m looking forward to seeing it, as well as other IIgs-related projects attendees will work on for the day.

As always, it will be held at my place at Wollstonecraft, on Sydney’s Lower North Shore – contact me for the address! Start time is 12:00(ish), with an expected finish time of around 21:30.

No lunch provided, but nibbles, soft drinks and Apple cider will be available (I ask for a small contribution towards snacks), and anyone here for dinner can chip in for delivery pizza whenever the mood strikes.

I hope to see you there!

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!

Retrochallenge meets WOzFest – Check Your Caps!

Retrochallenge 2017/04 is almost over!

WOzFest PR#6 has now started!

It’s time for the two parts of my retrocomputing life to collide in the most resourceful of ways…

My “europlus Refurbapalooza”, whereby I’m trying to get all my europluses operational, has been the thrust of my two Retrochallenge entries in 2016/10 and 2017/04. With the vagaries of “real life” impinging more the second time around (just that time of year, I think), I’ve gotten even less done this month…but that doesn’t mean I’ve been entirely unproductive.

I’ve been able to test the electrolytic capacitors in all seven of my europlus Astec AA11040C power supply units (PSUs). Despite 14 electrolytic capacitors per PSU (so 98 total) and the PSUs being at least 35 years old, I was pleased to find only four capacitors are exceeding (or almost exceeding) their maximum ESR (Electrical Series Resistance) value.

I’m also going to follow the general guideline to replace the C1 filter capacitor, even if the original hasn’t blown (two of the seven originals have definitely blown, and a further three or four are showing cracking in their plastic covering). I’ve bought all the replacement capacitors I need, and hope to install them all and test the PSUs during WOzFest PR#6.

While carrying out these ESR tests, I wanted a ready-reference to the capacitor specifications for determining the correct ESR value to be testing and for when I came to purchase replacement capacitors.

As a non-expert, I also wanted a reference to the position and polarity of the solder points for each capacitor on the underside of the PSU circuit board – I was testing the capacitors “in-circuit” rather than removing them for testing (while not ideal, I’m trying to keep the task manageable).

I had found online a scan of a 1982 document from Apple which provided a great start to what I wanted. It has schematics and circuit board layouts for several Apple PSUs, as well as a components list for each of the PSU models it includes.

Although it has info on the AA11040B (while I have AA11040Cs), upon inspection I believe the primary difference is the AA11040C is the 230V version of the AA11040B with the “115V Select” wire removed and a 250V/2A fuse replacing the 125V/2.75A fuse.

So I decided to prepare just the sort of ready-reference I would have liked to have started with. Over several iterations to refine the design and info included, and taking input from enthusiasts with more PSU repair experience than me, (thanks Mark, Martin, Jon, Geoff and John!), I’ve created the “WOzFest Labs Apple Astec Power Supply Unit AA11040B/C Electrolytic Capacitor ‘Spec & Check’ Sheet” (it just rolls of the tongue!) – and I’m pleased to announce the release of v1.0 of this “Spec & Check” sheet for use by other enthusiasts looking to test and refurbish their AA11040B/C PSUs.

This release is the major result of my Retrochallenge 2017/04 entry and in line with WOzFest PR#6’s theme of “Preservation”.

I’ve designed the sheet so that it can be printed at 100% on A4 (297✕210mm) or US Letter (8.5″✕11″) without any information being cropped. When printed at 100%, the picture of the underside of the PSU circuit board is “life size”, so it’s easy to correlate the highlighted solder points to a physical circuit board.

The sheet can be used as a checklist of capacitors that are in or out of spec, has the maximum ESR values listed for each capacitor (as well as other specs) in both tabular and “call out” forms, and the polarity of the solder points are annotated and colour-coded.

This is only v1.0, and suggestions/corrections from other enthusiasts will be included in updates. If I’m able, I’ll also release versions for other PSU models that Apple used in Apple ][s.

This is the first resource issued under the name “WOzFest Labs”, and hopefully there’ll be many more (I’ll probably re-release my Silentype Font under that name, too). I’d be interested in collaborating on other resources, too, so hit me up if you have any ideas you”d like to work on with me.

A few notes:

  • I’ve provided specs and solder points for the C1 filter cap to ease replacement of this component along with any out-of-spec electrolytic capacitors;
  • Capacitors C13 and C14 are in parallel on the circuit, so testing either one to half the usual maximum ESR is adequate when testing them “in-circuit” – if capacitors are removed for testing, double the stated maximum ESR value for these two capacitors;
  • Capacitors rated to 105°C are recommended;
  • The 1982 document from Apple has at least two errors in the components list for the AA11040B PSU, so check its information carefully if you’re using it as a reference.
  • If you’re wondering about the typewriter-like font I used, it’s Prestige Elite, which, by my reckoning, is the font used in early Apple spiral-bound manuals such as The Applesoft Tutorial. It’s my theory that these early manuals were “typeset” using material printed by the ubiquitous IBM Selectric typewriter.

So, other than some soldering, testing and writing a recap on my re-capping adventures, that’s pretty well it for my Retrochallenge entry this time around. I’m looking forward to getting to the meat of my europlus refurbishment – testing (and hopefully repairing) motherboards – next go ’round in October!

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