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

WOzFest PR#6 Announcement

I’m exceedingly pleased to announce that the next WOzFest, WOzFest PR#6, will be held on Saturday, April 29 2017, starting around midday Sydney time (UTC+10:00).

The theme of the day will be “Preservation”, with a special emphasis on grass-roots preservation efforts.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say all retro-computer enthusiasts are preservationists of one kind or another – software, hardware, documentation, books: you name it, we preserve it!

With that in mind, I’ve lined up three Skype video chats with well-known grass-roots retro-computer preservationists from around the world – it will be great to hear their history, get their thoughts on preservation and just how far we can take these efforts, as well as generally celebrating keeping items available in one form or another for decades to come.

And in honour of the theme, I’m going to borrow the book scanner from Robos & Dinos (a local maker space I’m a member of) to non-destructively scan and (hopefully) post-process a previously unpreserved Apple ][-related book or manual throughout the day. The aim is to upload the resulting PDF on the Internet Archive for all to enjoy.

Let me know in the comments if you have any thoughts on other preservation-related projects for the day – I can’t promise we’ll get to them, but they can be food for thought for preservationists around the world.

Attendees, bring you preservation projects to work on, items from your collection for others to admire, your retro-computing stories, and anything else you feel is appropriate.

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 21:30-22:30.

No lunch provided, but nibbles, soft drinks and Apple cider will be available (I ask for a small contribution towards snacks), and we’ll all chip in for delivery pizza for dinner whenever we notice we’re hungry.

I hope to see you there!

 

Caverns of Mordia Re-released at WOzFest 5¼"

I’m very happy to announce that Australian-produced text adventure game, Caverns of Mordia, was officially re-released at WOzFest 5¼”.

Written by Hans Coster, it was originally released in 1980, and the game saw an update in 1982. Hans had further updates which were never released.

At the prompting of another WOzFest attendee, Hans attended WOzFest ///, and attempts were made to image an original game disk. Unfortunately, efforts to create an EDD image were unsuccessful, but a still protected .dsk disk image file was able to be provided to Hans.

A short while ago, prompted by a Comment on this blog seeking disk images for Caverns of Mordia, I began to consider releasing an update with Hans as I was aware he was working on deprotecting and updating it.

With WOzFest 5¼” being a celebration of the 5¼” disk it seemed a great thing to not only announce the re-release, but to prepare physical disks to give to attendees and participants.

Hans was keen, and his grandson Sebastiaan was already engaged in typing in the manual.

Once I had the manual text and a scan of the original, I began laying it out and tidying up the graphics (the original manual was printed on orange paper to make copying difficult, so the graphics needed some tidy up work).

There were 20 copies produced for WOzFest 5¼” – attendees and participants accounted for 17 copies.

What that means for you, dear reader, is that you have a couple of ways to secure your very own copy of this limited edition disk and manual.

Firstly, one lucky Juiced.GS subscriber will be randomly drawn from all subscribers (except those who already have one of the 17 distributed copies) to receive copy #10 with their December issue. The winner will not be pre-announced – we’ll all just have to wait for the lucky winner to crow about it online! Thanks, Ken Gagne, for being willing to be involved in the re-release.

The other way to score one of the remaining copies (copies #1 and #20) will be via eBay auctions for them. I’ll be posting the eBay auctions this coming Sunday, 27 November 2016, and making announcements everywhere I can. They’ll be 10 day auctions, so bid early, and bid often!

Proceeds from the auctions will offset the production costs of the physical disks and manuals, as well as some WOzFest-hosting incidentals, and the remainder will go to Hans.

For those unlucky enough to not score a WOzFest Special Edition physical copy, there is still one small consolation prize: I’ll be posting the disk image and manual PDF on the Internet Archive to play there or download (links to come).

To any potential bidders, and all Juiced.GS subscribers, I say: good luck!

UPDATE: I’ve now uploaded the disk image and manual PDF to the Internet Archive – you can find them here.

The game is playable in your browser, or you can download for use on a real Apple ][ or via an emulator.

The manual is worth a quick read through before playing, and it has a command reference you’ll want as well. Enjoy!

[On a side note, there was a printing error I noticed on the night {page 2 reprinted in place of page 4}, and I corrected all manuals…except three whose owners declined the update {I’m not sure if this is some sort of rarity speculation}. I’ve also made a slight modification to the Preface in the posted version compared to the printed manual: I was made aware that a non-EDD disk image was able to be made at WOzFest ///, so I’ve changed the Preface to reflect that. Three versions in three days! Who’s going to collect them all?!]

UPDATE #2: Copies #1 and #20 of 20 are now on eBay.

WOzFest 5¼" Galleries

These are my pictures (and Michael’s) from and related to WOzFest 5¼" – please link to any galleries of your own photos in the Comments below.

I used this teaser of the Caverns of Mordia Special Edition manual in the days leading up to WOzFest 5¼".

I used this teaser of the Caverns of Mordia Special Edition manual in the days leading up to WOzFest 5¼".

The label for the WOzFest 5¼" Apple Cider my son brewed.

The label for the WOzFest 5¼" Apple Cider my son brewed.

Attendees drew a number which determined which copy of Caverns of Mordia they were given.

Attendees drew a number which determined which copy of Caverns of Mordia they were given.

That's about as clean as I could get the Man Cave before WOzFest started.

That’s about as clean as I could get the Man Cave before WOzFest started.

Projects started getting worked on pretty quickly.

Projects started getting worked on pretty quickly.

Our Skype call to 4am.

Our Skype call to 4am.

Michael very much enjoyed the home-brewed cider. [Credit: Michael Mulhern]

Michael very much enjoyed the home-brewed cider. [Credit: Michael Mulhern]

Michael's µ-Sci Havac clone – the most loveable, most ugly clone there is. [Credit: Michael Mulhern]

Michael’s µ-Sci Havac clone – the most loveable, most ugly clone there is. [Credit: Michael Mulhern]

The Havac boot screen. [Credit: Michael Mulhern]

The Havac boot screen. [Credit: Michael Mulhern]

Our Skype call with Jason Scott. [Credit: Michael Mulhern]

Our Skype call with Jason Scott. [Credit: Michael Mulhern]

Our Skype call with Jason Scott. [Credit: Michael Mulhern]

Our Skype call with Jason Scott. [Credit: Michael Mulhern]

Our Skype call to John Valdezco of Manila Gear. [Credit: Michael Mulhern]

Our Skype call to John Valdezco of Manila Gear. [Credit: Michael Mulhern]

The Special Limited Edition disk and manual for Caverns of Mordia’s re-release. [Credit: Michael Mulhern]

The Special Limited Edition disk and manual for Caverns of Mordia’s re-release. [Credit: Michael Mulhern]

WOzFest 5¼" Recap

Well, WOzFest 5¼" seems to have been a successful last hurrah for my Apple ][ events this year, and a great celebration of the 5¼" floppy disk.

Including myself, we had 12 attendees, which I think is a good size for these gatherings. The Man Cave was not bursting at the seams the way it did for WOzFest ///.

Jeremy was our furthest flung attendee, driving up from Canberra again – he really does put in the hard yards (and many kilometres) to attend, and his enthusiasm is a great addition to the WOzFest vibe.

As a special treat, my son Cal (who has been brewing up a storm at home) provided 12 bottles of apple cider for the event. Low fizz, super-dry, and packing a punch (at 8-9% alcohol), it was a big hit with some attendees (and me, who got to test a few bottles beforehand [QA is very important to me]).

It wasn’t quite to some attendees’ taste, and others couldn’t indulge due to needing to drive home – but that just meant there were more bottles for those of us able to enjoy it! I made a special numbered label for them, check out the WOzFest 5¼" Photo Galleries post for the pics.

Our three Skype hookups started with a 45 minute video chat with Apple ][ disk cracking legend, 4am. 4am’s cracks are “clean”, meaning they only defeat the copy protection scheme without affecting the operation (or contents) of the programs themselves (unlike pirated software “back in the day” which often had parts removed to allow multiple titles to fit on a single pirated disk, and also often included “crack screens” singing the praises of the pirates and dissing their rivals).

In only a few short years, 4am has not only cracked hundreds of copy-protected floppy disks, but he’s also released an automatic cracking tool called Passport which has programmed into it his knowledge of copy protection schemes. With this knowledge programmatically built in, anyone is able to use Passport to crack disks using schemes it knows about.

For example, Jeremy from Canberra has been sourcing and cracking (mostly local) educational titles which may share protection schemes with their American sibling titles, but would never have made the journey across the Pacific and be caught in 4am’s efforts to gather as many physical Apple ][ disks for cracking as possible.

This distributed preservation effort therefore gets us closer to the aim of capturing and preserving as close as possible to all the released Apple ][ 5¼” software titles.

Another luminary in this field is Jason Scott, noted documentarian of digital history and Software Curator at the Internet Archive – we were lucky for Jason to be our second Skype video chat for the night, and he gave us over an hour of his late Friday night.

Jason’s and the Archive’s goal is to capture everything, and the archive has a truly impressive collection of digital media and website archives. Jason has been instrumental in having uploaded software titles run directly in Web browsers via a Javascript port of emulators. This allows people to discover (and re-discover) titles of old simply by following a link to a website.

We discussed with 4am and Jason the challenges they face in their quest for software preservation, and discussed their successes so far, as well as other issues and topics related to preservation in general and specifically of software.

I’m exceedingly grateful for the time these two gentlemen took out of their Friday evenings to chat with a bunch of Apple ][ enthusiasts half a world away – both 4am and Jason have attended and presented at KansasFest, and so for those of us who have been unable to attend KFest, it was great to hear their stories.

Before we ordered pizza in, I announced the big surprise for attendees: Hans Coster (author of Caverns of Mordia) had deprotected and updated the adventure game, and attendees received a limited edition physical disk and printed manual (see this post for more details).

Once we’d eaten, we had our third Skype video call with John Valdezco of Manila Gear – he and his business partner, Jon Co (who was in attendance), announced they are developing a new No Slot Clock product for the Apple ][ line of computers.

With easily replaceable batteries, suitability for both 24 and 28 pin ROM sockets (both active high and active low chip enable pins), and an interesting “skateboard” form factor (the batteries are mounted at each end – one or both can be snapped off the main board and a lead run from the now separate batteries to the board), I think this will fill a niche in the Apple ][ market. It can also be run with one or two batteries.

Jon is still working on the driver software, but Manila Gear is hoping to have the board available by December this year.

As always, attendees worked on their own projects – or the projects others brought along – throughout the event.

New WOzFest attendee Phil brought a malfunctioning Apple //e and a few other attendees helped to check what might be wrong with it. Jon worked on the keyboard to get several non-functioning keys up and running.

Jeremy got some imaging done, including an original Caverns of Mordia disk (EDD disk image and Passport crack), two DLM software titles (which Passport was able to crack), and “How about a game of Chess!” (EDD format for 4am to look at as Passport didn’t crack it).

Leslie, as is often the case, provided invaluable support for various projects, both on the knowledge and soldering fronts – I’d say I only invite him because he’s so handy at the soldering station, except I also happen to actually like the guy as well!

Andrew (who brought some apple cider, aged double Brie and crackers – thanks!) worked on his Transwarp GS using the scalable oscillator from Craig’s to determine its fastest stable speed. It topped out at 16.25MHz (thanks in part to recently installed high-speed GALs).

Speaking of Craig, he brought along two Cortland IIgs prototypes he’s trying to resurrect (and a pile of other gear). Although “all” that was achieved was to get the keyboards and power supplies working, it was great to see these early IIgs’s. Hopefully this ongoing project will reach fruition soon.

And speaking of early IIgs’s, Adrian ducked out at some point to grab his IIgs in a //e case (an upgrade of this form was offered in the early days of the IIgs). It seems odd to see the badge on an old-style case like that.

Adrian had already brought his Apple ///+, which isn’t operational, and when he picked up the IIgs in a //e case, he also picked up his working Apple /// to bring back and play with.

A big hit with attendees was the µ-Sci Havac clone (the “missing” picture on that page is a working link to another picture) which Michael from the RCR recently scored off eBay. He’s nicknamed it “Fuglie” (which is a really apt description) but I think everyone fell in love with this ugliest of ducklings. While Caverns of Mordia wouldn’t boot on it, I’m sure Hans will do whatever’s necessary to support this market of one!

Michael also brought his recently acquired Ultima V package (including “tea towel” map), which was a nice eBay score, and some Night Owl composite video mini-LCD monitors which work well with the Apple ][ (and the Havac!) for distribution to their new owners.

I’ve no doubt missed out on some stuff that was done on the day – it always seemed pretty hectic, and, from what I can tell, everyone had a great time. Attendees, feel free to add any other details in the Comments below.

I can’t wait for the next one – I still love organising and holding them. Look for the announcement next year!

More europlus Census Info!

Hold the presses! OK, so this is too late to count towards my Retrochallenge entry, given that October is so well and truly over, but I have a little bit of extra info for my europlus census…

This is an object lesson in revisiting assumptions, or at least periodically checking on things you were told when your knowledge base meant you took that information on face value.

I was gifted a motherboard at WOzFest ][, and was told at that time is was an Apple ][ motherboard, not a Apple ][ plus/europlus motherboard. I was intending on using it to replace a clone motherboard in a lidless case I had and trying to get a pre-plus system going.

Some time was spent at WOzFest /// trying to get it running without success – but we didn’t have the time and resources on the night for this project. It ended up being a “some day” project and the board has been shuffled around the Man Cave while I’ve been doing other things, and without any close attention paid to it.

Fast forward to last night and while chatting in the Man Cave with Jon from Manila Gear about troubleshooting my a2heaven VGA Scaler Card, we got to talking about motherboard revisions and layout. The board was out so I looked at it to see how different an Apple ][ board was to the various europlus boards…

…and noticed the (not so) minor fact that it’s another RFI europlus motherboard date stamped 1882! If I’d even just looked at the date stamp previously I would have realised this wasn’t a pre-plus motherboard.

Given it’s case-less, that means I have more spare europlus parts than I thought, but we can never have too many of those as our systems age, can we?

So I need to make a minor addition to my europlus census as follows:

Serial number Date Code CPU Notes
IA2S2-669150 no date code 65C02 wrong (apple ][plus) lid
IA2S2-667843 5182 65C02 no speaker or joystick socket
IA2S2-700105 4182 65C02
IA2S2-671330 8118 6502
IA2S2-614494 8237 6502 previously no label
IA2S2-653677 8131 6502
IA2S2-676433 8109 6502 no PSU
1882 6502 bare board

As previously mentioned, the mix of serial number vs motherboard vs PSU will change once I’ve gotten six boards working (for the six complete europlus cases I now have) – having eight europlus motherboards will make the task of getting six working that much easier. And I still have a clone motherboard or two for chips as well.

So I’m hoping I now pay a little bit of extra attention to my collection as I sort it, in case there are any other gems in there.

Let me know in the Comments below if you’ve ever “discovered” something hiding in plain sight in your collection you wish you had noticed earlier.

WOzFest 5¼" Approaches

Not long to go now till WOzFest 5¼" (November 19), and, as previously mentioned, it will be a celebration of that venerable storage medium, the 5¼" diskette.

I hoping to deliver a couple of surprises to attendees, and adventurous types will get a kick out of one of them – the other surprise is a bit fluid at this point.

Additionally, there may also be a product announced on the day – and it’s about time this product hit the markets!

We may even have a Skype hookup or two – it’s always nice to surprise attendees with a virtual visit or two.

Michael from RCR has suggested he’ll bring his newly arrived Havac Apple ][ clone – I’ve never seen anything like it, so that’ll be another treat for attendees.

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 21:30-22:30.

No lunch provided, but nibbles, beer and cider will be available (I ask for a small contribution towards snacks), and we’ll all chip in for delivery pizza for dinner whenever we notice we’re hungry.

Hope to see you there!

europlus Refurbapalittle – Retrochallenge 2016/10 Recap

OK, it’s “Tools Down” for Retrochallenge 2016/10!

As previously mentioned, this was my first Retrochallenge entry.

I’d noticed the frequent lament of Retrochallenge entrants about real life impacting on significant progress on entries, so I feel I entered with my eyes wide open on that front.

Whether that meant I didn’t work as hard as I might otherwise have, or that I had realistic expectations of what I might achieve, I’m not quite sure. With ongoing renovations, I like to think the latter is the case.

The bottom line is I did not complete the tasks I originally envisaged for refurbishing all of my europluses…but this month has been anything but a wasted effort, and I’ve certainly achieved a lot more than if I hadn’t entered.

For example, I likely wouldn’t have spent a day driving to our national capital to pick up two extra europluses if I wasn’t documenting the ones that I had. The chance to secure an extra two machines to go towards my collection and refurbishing efforts (well, one complete machine and one for spare parts) was an opportunity I felt I couldn’t pass up.

I almost certainly wouldn’t have paid so much attention so soon to the look of the motherboards and noticed my new favourite europlus, a motherboard from very early in the europlus’ production run. And, of course, I now have a good idea of the vintages of all my europlus motherboards, which will help me align them with their base plate serial numbers and PSU serial numbers.

Speaking of PSUs, I have now brought together all six gold Astec PSUs I have after removing them from the cases they were in (or grabbing them from my shelves if they were already removed) and I’ve opened them all up in preparation for testing their capacitors. I’ve also discovered that 110V PSU cases were repurposed/relabelled for use in europluses – I’m hoping one day to get more info on this.

While testing the PSU capacitors was a part of my original entry scope, I decided to wait until I had all six in the same open state before even considering testing them as I can then test all PSUs’ capacitors at the same time.

If it weren’t for my entry, I wouldn’t have refurbished my Disk ][ drives when I did. This was in preparation for hooking them up to my newly operational europluses at the end of Retrochallenge – I’m obviously not at that stage yet, but it’s nice to know the drives are all operational.

I don’t think I would have bought 6502s nor rubber feet yet – I now have enough of both for all my europluses for when I need them. And I also know the best solvent for removing the gunk left behind by the original adhesive for the rubber feet.

While I don’t have a comprehensive list of which machines are non-functional (nor what their problems are), I now know I have at least one working motherboard (8237). This gives me a good test base for other tasks, such as checking PSUs after testing/recapping, and possibly as a source of known good ICs and ROMs. I’ve also downloaded a copy of a diagnostics disk I can use when I continue my refurbishing work.

Overall, I’m pleased with what I have been able to achieve this month. Yes, I would have liked to be further along, but I am realistic about how much time I can dedicate to what is a hobby while work and renovation commitments are present.

I’m hoping to do a bit more work on my entry scope before WOzFest 5¼", but I also have a heap of work to turn my attention to for that as I have some very special things lined up for it and it’s less than three weeks away!

Good luck to all Retrochallenge 2016/10 entrants as we enter judging!

To-Dones

Well, at least I was able to follow through with my final list of to-dos!

  • I gathered together like screws into ziplock bags! An easy win for progress!
  • I cracked open the remaining three PSUs! “Pro” Tip*: after drilling the head off the rivet, be sure to push the remaining rivet body into the case so the PSU baseplate can be removed (I found a Torx 8 screwdriver head worked well for this) – once the base is removed you can easily pop the rivet bodies all the way through the rest of the case sides (T8 to the rescue again) to remove them. *If you hadn’t noticed, I’m not really a “Pro”.
  • There’s a very clear winner in the “Solvent Most Likely to Clean Off Apple ][ europlus Rubber Foot Adhesive Gunk After 35+ Years Stakes”, and that winner is methylated spirits (locally known as “metho” [“Australia: the land of nicknames for everything” should be our national slogan]). Isopropyl alcohol didn’t do anything, and I worried that the gunk would get the best of me and my alcohol-fuelled (well, “alcohol-based”, anyway) attempts to rid myself of it – see the pictures below for some before and afters. This is especially happy news as I have a 20L drum of methylated spirits in the Man Cave, so I shouldn’t run out when it comes to cleaning all the gunk off all the bases!
  • My second retro-themed Bulgarian purchase, which arrived last Friday, was a2heaven’s Apple II VGA Scaler – an Apple ][ interface card which provides VGA output for the Apple ][, the Apple ][+, the Apple ][ europlus (yay!), and the Apple //e. It supports both PAL (yay again!) and NTSC systems. I’ll write up a separate post on this card as I work through setting it up – I’ve got it basically working on my known good 8237 motherboard, but I have a glitch or two to sort out and I don’t want to get distracted so close to The Finish Line.
  • I went back to my original test monitor setup with my known good 8237 motherboard – it all worked and booted into the Dealer Diagnostics disk. So something else was wrong when I tested the next few machines which I’ll leave to another day to try and nail down.
  • I’ve returned the donor ROMs and ICs I used while testing motherboards (as reported in my Half Time Report and Little Ray of (Retrochallenge) Sunshine posts). When I do finally get to test my motherboards and swap in components to try and get non-functioning motherboards working, I’ll do a much better job of keeping track of which components I swap to and from where.
  • I’ve not had time to think of anything else to add to my to-do list tonight, and it’s uncertain what I’ll get time to do in the morning beyond my final entry post – but at least I got to do tonight what I wanted to get done, so I’m happy about that.

Boy! Do I wish I was able to dedicate many more such sessions of time to my first Retrochallenge 2016/10 entry.

Well, I’ll leave my (not quite) post mortem to my final Retrochallenge post tomorrow morning.

On the ]HOME Stretch

Well, we’re definitely heading towards the Retrochallenge Finish Line – only 18 hours to go!

I’m hoping to get a few things done tonight and in the morning before the Midnight UTC deadline (we’re UTC+11:00 at the moment). This is partially justifiable as I got more renovations work done over the weekend than I expected, so I’m taking a little time off from those for this last-day push.

I have a few (mostly minor) tasks I’m hoping to get done:

  • Gather together like screws from the europlus disassemblies – they’re all over the place at the moment and I’m just going to use ziplock bags for the moment;
  • Crack open the remaining PSUs – I need to drill out two rivets on each (unfortunately I’m exceedingly unlikely to get to test any of the capacitors in the PSUs);
  • Test solvents to remove rubber foot adhesive from the baseplate – the baseplate is painted, so I’m hoping methylated spirits or isopropyl alcohol will do the trick;
  • Try out my second Bulgarian delivery, which arrived on Friday (details to follow on what should be my penultimate Retrochallenge 2016/10 post);
  • Check what’s going on with my test monitor setup, although that may be less important now my second Bulgarian delivery has arrived (hint, hint);
  • Put back the ROMs and ICs I’ve moved from spare machines – I’ve decided to be more methodical about swapping chips, including documenting what I’ve tested on each motherboard (this will take it outside the scope of this Retrochallenge); and
  • Anything else I can think of that I have time for while I work on the above!

I’m currently reasonably confident of doing all but the last item on that list before the official close of Retrochallenge 2016/10 – let me know in the Comments what’s on your home straight to-do list.