The europlus Retrocomputing Podcast Playlist

I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a retrocomputing enthusiast who does not listen to at least one podcast related to the hobby.

There are a large number of podcasts related to retrocomputing, and I have a set of them that I listen to. For whatever value my readers get from it, here’s a list of the currently active ones on my playlist:

Retro Computing Roundtable: For a general retrocomputing podcast it’s hard to go past RCR. Now approaching its sixth anniversary, a ragtag fugitive fleet of retro enthusiasts from around the world (including my veritable neighbour, Michael Mulhern) get together roughly weekly to discuss news, a host topic, eBay finds, and anything else relevant (and sometime irrelevant and/or irreverent). [Subscribe in iTunes]

Open Apple: current hosts Quinn Dunki and Mike Maginnis host this Apple ][-themed podcast now in its sixth year. It covers news, doesn’t officially cover eBay, and the hosts have interviewed some of the movers and shakers in the Apple scene both from the early days and currently. My What WOzFest Is…and Isn’t post is dedicated to the Open Apple Fact Checking Department. [Subscribe in iTunes]

RetroMacCast: one of the early podcasts for retrocomputer enthusiasts, still going and currently up to episode 415 and approaching its 10th anniversary in December. James and John look at eBay finds, news from the Mac arena both past and present (and sometimes the wider Apple retrocomputer sphere), sometimes dip into a historical issue of Mac magazines from decades past and generally shoot the breeze. [Subscribe in iTunes]

FloppyDays Vintage Computing Podcast: Randy Kindig hosts this general retrocomputing podcast I’ve only recently started listening to. Randy is roughly following a timeline of 8 bit retrocomputers, detailing their development and time on the market, and then the current resources and accessories available for them. Randy often gets movers and shakers relevant to the original or current development of the computer he covers on an episode. Special interview and event episodes are interspersed and give further insight into historical and current retrocomputer topics and events. [Subscribe in iTunes]

As with anything in life, sometimes things go awry and podcasts go on hiatus. Retrocomputer-related podcasts I’ve listened to in the past which haven’t been active in some time include:

1 MHz Apple II Podcast: What about that Carrington, eh? Carrington Vanston wore all the hats on this podcast which was active from 2006 till 2012 (if you’re loose in your definition of “active”). Carrington has a style all his own, and I’m pleased we’ve not lost it completely as he often co-hosts the RCR. [Subscribe in iTunes]

The Retrobits Podcast: Earl Evans’ general retrocomputing podcast had a good mix of info on current happenings in retrocomputing land and interviews, as well as Earl’s own projects. Earl also often co-hosts RCR. [Subscribe in iTunes]

A2Unplugged: active from 2006-2010, A2Unplugged was one of the first retrocomputing podcasts I listened to. Hosted by the late Ryan Suenaga, it had a yearly roundup roundtable, and discussed then current happenings in the Apple ][ world.

While inactive, the published episodes of Retrobits, 1 MHz and A2Unplugged are often still worth a listen, if only to get a glimpse of the retro-retrocomputing scene!

What have I missed?! If you enjoy a retrocomputing podcast I haven’t mentioned, let me know in the Comments below (and I’m aware of non-Apple platform-specific podcasts like Antic and Chicken Lips Radio – but I keep my own listening to Apple and general retrocomputing podcasts for the sake of time).

Re-emergence

If there’s one thing that can shake you out of a lull, it’s holding yourself accountable to your tribe.

These days, what with Facebook, newsgroups, Twitter, reddit, and the whole pantheon of online services, we all seem to have as many tribes as we feel we can handle. Meetups and conferences can help bring those tribes into the real world.

Without it being too much of a revelation to anyone, I belong to the Apple ][ Tribe, previously primarily online. But that changed significantly in 2015 with my attendance at OzKFest, Australia’s own Apple ][ conference, loosely based on the KansasFest model.

2015’s was the third OzKFest – so far, all of them have been held in towns strongly featuring “K” in their names to ensure we can stay “in the franchise”. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in a position to go to the first OzKFest held in Mt Kiera south of Sydney in 2009 or the second one held in Kurilpa (a suburb of Brisbane, Queensland) in 2013.

In 2015, I was finally able to attend and it was Keysborough, a Melbourne suburb quite away from the central hub, which was our host city for the third OzKFest. We were hosted by CompNow, an Apple reseller/service centre in a semi-industrial area – but what the heck, I was wasn’t there for the views, I was there for the ][s!

On the subject of the venue, a huge shout out to Jason Griffiths, who works at CompNow, and CompNow itself – the venue was phenomenal as far as space and facilities available, so thanks – you guys rock!

As anyone who has attended one of theses sorts of gatherings knows, it’s a great opportunity to re-invigorate your interest.

I know that the anticipation of the event, participating in the event (I even presented a session!) and the headspace it put me in afterwards will have a lasting impact on my Apple ][ hobby.

Tony Diaz made it all the way from the U.S. and it was an opportunity for those of us who have never been to KansasFest to tap into his vast reserves of knowledge and experience in all things Apple ][ – and be shown a not insignificant portion of his vast collection of rarities and prototypes.

I met some great friends, the atmosphere was positive and generous, with information and bits and pieces being swapped and just outright given, and there’s just that certain buzz from sharing a passion with similarly-minded people. If you get the chance, watch the time lapse video Jason recorded during the event to get a feel for it.

A direct and lasting outcome of my attendance at OzKFest 2015 is WOzFest. After OzKFest 2015, Tony Diaz drove his way to Sydney, and I held the first WOzFest in his honour before he flew home. For those who had been unable to attend OzKFest, it was an opportunity to see Tony’s amazing collection of rare items, including one-of-a-kind prototypes. And those of us lucky enough to have been at both events still enjoyed the opportunity to see the items again, hear their stories again, and just be that much closer to them.

In regards to Apple ][s, 2015 was absolutely a year of re-emergence for me – right into the thick of the local Apple ][ community.

Feel free to share in the Comments what has launched you back into your retrocomputing community.

WOzFest 5¼" Announcement

I’m pleased to announce WOzFest 5¼" is going to be held on Saturday, 19 November 2016!

It is, as its name suggests, a celebration of that venerable storage medium, the 5¼" floppy disk.

The 5¼" floppy disk was critical to the Apple ][’s success in the market.

Woz’s engineering prowess and ethos permeates how floppy disks and drives were implemented in the Apple ][ – the controller card is considered one of his great engineering feats.

I have a few ideas for the night – nothing I can really go into yet, and I always like to have a surprise or two – but I’d be interested to hear attendees’ thoughts on projects or things to do throughout the event.

As things firm up I’ll post further details of what’s happening – as usual, arrival is from midday onwards, there’ll be snacks and apple cider and we’ll order in pizza for dinner. Wrap-up is likely by about 10:30pm (all times AEDT/UTC+11:00). Please let me know if you’re intending on attending.

Hope to see you there!

Retrochallenge preparations

One of the things I may need to do while engaged in my europlus Refurbapalooza is replace the CPU in one or more machines. I’m pretty sure at least one of my europluses has a dud 6502.

I bought some Rockwell 65C02s many years ago with a view of having them available for replacing dud CPUs – and then I found out that the 65C02 won’t work out of the box with anything before the enhanced //e. There’s some info online on what need to be done to get an older Apple ][ to work with a 65C02, but I’m not keen on modding my europluses like that.

So, if I’m going to be able to overcome that hurdle, I need some old school 6502s – and where do we all go to source such things these days? eBay, of course!

I was surprised by some eBay auctions when I did a search there – it seems to me possible that they have just reproduced old datestamps on newly-made 6502s. I may be wrong, it just seemed that was a possibility given the number of items (both number of auctions and quantity available) listed as “new” with datestamps from the 80s. Of course, they could have all been squirrelled away in the corner of some office or factory for all this time! Maybe I should stop being so suspicious!

Anyway, I settled on an auction for 11 Synertek 6502s with original Synertek-branded anti-static tube – in fact, I’ve organised a group buy of two tubes with other Australian Apple ][ enthusiasts. They should arrive just before the start of October, and that will give me the one/s I need for Retrochallenge and a few spares, supply some other enthusiasts’ needs now, and perhaps have some available to pass on in the future.

I have two Synertek 6502s which came from a couple of my Apple ][s stored in the Rockwell 65C02s’ anti-static tube (I hate throwing out anything!), so I’m pleased I’m finally replacing like with like.

Until I test other chips on non-functioning europlus motherboards, I won’t know which I might need to buy to get machines operational. But at least I hope to have a shopping list by the end of October!

I’d be interested to hear in the Comments below what prep you need to do for Retrochallenge (without doing any of the project itself, of course!).

Disk ][ refurbishment

One of the things that came out of WOzFest /// for me was that most, if not all, of my Disk ][s were no longer operational.

Given my desire to recreate the original Apple ][ setup we had when I was a teenager, operational Disk ][s are a must. Despite my infatuation with modern solid state storage solutions for retrocomputers, there’s just nothing quite like closing that door and hearing the mechanical symphony of a Disk ][.

So, in preparation for WOzFest $04, I decided to give my five Disk ][s a bit of TLC and try and get them all working (Figure 1).

Step one is to crack them open with a view to cleaning the read/write heads and possibly lubricating the rails. Luckily, they’re pretty simple devices to get into – four screws on the underside (Figure 2) and the upper case slides off the drive mechanism, showing the bare drive mechanism and the analog card that drives it (Figure 3).

To get to the read/write head, another two screws holding the analog card need to be removed and the card can be slid out of two slotted guides towards the rear of the drive (near the “D”s at the rear corners of the analog card). The analog card has two cable connections – for quick and simple work, only the one closest to the front of the drive (with a molex connector) needs to be disconnected to allow the analog card to be flipped upside down over the rear of the drive (Figure 4). This cable’s connector is “keyed” with a missing hole for the missing pin on the header to aid alignment and orientation.

Some Disk ][s have a plate covering the read-write head – this is simply clipped into place and easy to remove (Figure 5). You can then (gently) raise the sprung component (not too high!) of the drive head (which holds the disk against the read/write head) to clean the actual read/write head itself (Figure 6).

I’m leaving the outer covers off and the analog card unsecured in the drives I’m going to be using for disk imaging – this allows easy access to the drive head for cleaning. It’s amazing how quickly gunk builds up on the read/write head. I’m using isopropyl alcohol and cotton tips to clean the heads.

I had to lubricate the rails the head mechanism travels along in one drive – I used white lithium lubricant applied liberally with a cotton tip, then wiped off the visible excess with a paper towel after moving the head mechanism up and down the rails a few times.

Unfortunately, while working on my drives, I connected one to the interface card in the Apple ][ incorrectly – while I had it properly aligned along the length of the connector, I only plugged it into the outer row of pins, rather than to both rows (Figure 7). Snap, crackle, pop! I’d burnt out something on the drive’s analog card.

I was pretty sure the next drive I connected to the Disk ][ interface card I was using was connected correctly, but it also popped and was no longer working. I wondered if maybe something on the interface card had blown as well?

Visually, I could tell that the 74LS125 logic chips on the Disk ][ analog cards had blown (Figure 3 and Figure 8). By this point I had some confirmed working drives, so I swapped in a 74LS125 from a working drive’s analog card – the drives still didn’t work (I was using a different interface card in case the one I’d been using was also now a dud).

At this point I swapped a known good analog card into both drives in turn just to make sure that’s where the problem was and both drives worked, so I went back to swapping other chips from a known good analog card. Luckily, there aren’t many chips and I quickly determined both analog cards’ MC3470 chips were also faulty, even though there was no visible damage.

I was able to buy 74LS125s from my local Jaycar electronics store (for AU$1.75 each), and I bought replacement MC3470s from eBay (for about AU$2.50 each including delivery) – I bought enough of both chips to test a repaired drive with the suspect interface card. If the drive blew again I would be able to replace those two chips again.

As it turns out, that interface card didn’t blow up a repaired analog card, so I think it’s OK and I must have connected the second drive incorrectly as well. I vow: never again!

So, after all that, I now have five operational Disk ][s, and a bit more experience and confidence in doing my own retro repairs (which bodes well for my Retrochallenge entry).

Feel free to share your own Disk ][ damage and repair stories in the Comments section.

What WOzFest Is…and Isn’t

There seems to be a lingering confusion in the international Apple ][ community about what WOzFest is, and what it isn’t.

If you had told me a year ago that I would ever write that sentence, I’d have had you committed – there was no way I expected the international Apple ][ community to care one iota enough about WOzFest to get confused by it.

The most common misunderstanding is that WOzFest is Australia’s version of KansasFest and is an annual Apple ][-related gathering, when, in fact, Australia’s version of KansasFest is OzKFest.

I know I’ve brought about this confusion to some degree myself with the choice of name – keeping the “Oz” and “Fest” in the name does make it look similar to OzKFest, but with the fact I live in Wollstonecraft giving me the opportunity to make the ultimate Apple ][-related name pun possible when abbreviated and paired with “Oz”, it was too tempting not to.

The events are also viscerally different in other ways – WOzFest’s informal nature vs OzKFest’s set session schedule; WOzFest is a frequently-held one day gathering vs OzKFest being less frequent and held over several days; WOzFest is always held at my home while OzKFest is held in different locations around Australia.

So, when your international Apple ][ buddies mix up WOzFest and OzKFest, point them to this handy comparison chart:

Attribute WOzFest OzKFest
Frequency Several a year Every 1-3 years
Static addressing Yes1 No2
Formal program of events No Yes
Length One day Several days
Pizza Yes Yes
Chaotic nature Yes Variable
Comparison Chart Notes:
1. WOzFest is always held at my home in Wollstonecraft, NSW, Australia.
2. Each OzKFest is held in a different location throughout Australia.

europlus Refurbapalooza

I’ve watched from the far sidelines (maybe from the carpark?) as previous Retrochallenges have been held, always wishing I had the time to dedicate within one month to try and achieve something pre-planned, documented and tangible related to my retrocomputer interests.

January is never a good month, with birthdays and new year’s really putting a spoiler on doing anything solid.

Similarly, July has always seemed challenging as well, even though I can’t specify exactly what it is about that month that would preclude my involvement.

However, with the revitalisation of my Apple ][ efforts since attending Oz Fest 2015 (which has included holding WOzFests, sorting through my collection, holding more WOzFests, and getting back into this blog after rehoming it to self-hosting) and the move of Retrochallenge to October, I’ve decided to finally enter that worthy competition.

As per my “official entry” (read “e-mail to John W. Linville, who will be running Retrochallenge 16/10”) my project:

[…]is an Apple ][ europlus refurbapalooza as I have several europluses (europli?!) in various states of disrepair. Most have blown PSU capacitors, and at least one has other non-PSU-related issues. Most of them have also been rigged up with other PSUs at one time or another.

So I’m planning on doing a census and re-uniting the europluses with model- and date-appropriate PSUs, replacing the blown capacitors, and trying to identify any other issues. General cleanup, keyboard testing, etc., will also feature.

And on the subject of John being involved in Retrochallenge 16/10, may I just extend publicly my gratitude to him and the other Retrochallenge organisers past, present and future – such a tangible effort on behalf of the retro community helps to make it a richer environment for us all.

So, what’s your Retrochallenge 16/10 project going to be?

Derailed

It’s annoying that a little hiccup can lead to a lengthy hiatus in my Apple ][-related projects and this blog.

I had been trying to maintain a weekly posting schedule, and also keep various tasks on my Apples moving along, but I lost access to the Man Cave for a short couple of weeks, and everything just fell by the wayside!

However, this post marks the reboot of my generally successful period of moving retro things forward, I promise!

I’ve already started planning for the next WOzFest, with an expected timing of November – I have some very particular ideas about the name and theme, and I intend to provide attendees with a very real memento of their participation! Look for the announcement over the next several weeks.

I have full access to the Man Cave again, which will allow me to finalise my disk ][ refurbishment project I began before WOzFest $04 – I’ll do a write up on that shortly, including discussing my “only make it once” ribbon alignment mistake, and how I identified and rectified the resulting damage.

I’ve decided on a surefire path to move another major project forward, which will be the topic of my next post, and hopefully several more during the month of October (hint, hint!).

All in all, I’m excited at the prospect of “getting back into it” in very tangible ways! I hope your retro projects have not been as neglected as mine have been recently.

My return to Apple ][s

I deeply lament not keeping track of our original europlus – it had initially gone to my brother-in-law when my dad bought our first Mac in late 1985, and it was then passed on to his cousin…and we don’t know what happened to it after that.

It wasn’t a particularly special machine – 64K of RAM (including a third-party 16K language card), 2 x Disk ][ drives, monochrome monitor, third party 80 column card, and a Silentype printer. It didn’t even have a lower-case mod or real-time clock. I’m not even aware of any photos of that machine, which is a shame given how much time I spent on it! I’ll certainly post them if I find any.

We didn’t have much original software – Apple Writer v1.1, pfs:file, and pfs:report. And several disks of software (almost exclusively games) which I can’t recall the source of (likely friends at school – our computer dealer, Computer Lighthouse at Penrith, was rabidly anti-piracy from what I could tell).

Fast forward to December 1998 and I see a message on the Club Mac BBS offering a IIgs for free. By this time I was feeling quite nostalgic about the Apple ][, so I reached out to the owner, but had to wait for the “first responder” to be a no-show before I could secure it. It came with a monitor, keyboard, mouse and a drive or two.

After that, I seemed to accumulate Apple ][’s at a rate of one or two a year, including models I didn’t really have an interest in collecting (like Apple //c’s).

I’ve been able to acquire a few europluses, a couple of Silentypes, several Disk ][’s, original disks for AppleWriter v1.1 and pfs:file, third party language cards and 80 column cards, monochrome monitors – pretty well everything we had “back in the day”. I had held on to my 5¼” floppies, which has meant I’ve been able to relive my early Apple ][ days more easily.

As a side note, while preparing for my “(Solid) State of the Nation” talk at OzKFest 2015, I trawled through my e-mail archives, and discovered that the IIgs I acquired at the end of 1998 was given to me by Craig, who was at OzKFest! I’m happy to say that he’s subsequently been re-united with his old IIgs and it now forms part of his collection.

Nostalgia is a funny thing. That IIgs I got in 1998 could have done pretty well everything I wanted to do as far as using Apple ][’s now – but there’s just something about reliving the old days with the actual model I had as a teenager.