Brandon Hockle's Blog

A personal blog about computers, science, and culture…

Getting The Apple ][e on the web.


Got the Apple ][e onto the web to check out the nice Hackaday Retro edition today.

It is basically working with the serial interface I mentioned in a previous post here, a knock off of the famous Apple Super Serial Card from a time when serial interfaces were an option on a computer and not a standard part.

I’m Also using the great program for the Apple ][ called Modem MGR which runs on an un-enhanced Apple ][e in Prodos 8. Once it’s booted up you can hit control escape, enter the command option ‘:’ hit return select ‘V’ for VT220 emulation and you are set on the Apple ][ side of the world.

I am basically connecting via serial null modem cable to a snow leopard Macintosh with the semi-standard serial to USB interface, the Prolific PL2303. Oddly enough getting the drivers loaded for this ‘semi-standard’ interface on the Mac was the most arcane aspect of the configuration. There are tons of tutorials out there on that subject, I might put up a clearer one myself one of these days.

Once I had it running I snagged a copy of lynx for BSD and I was off to the races.

There are numerous ways to get cross communication going between the old Apple ][ and the Mac going but the easiest way I think is using the tried and true unix utility ‘screen’ and good old fashioned ‘getty’.

Basically the steps are:
Fire up a terminal on the Mac and at the prompt run screen with the argument of the device name of the USB to serial adapter.

For instance:
$ screen /dev/tty.PL2303-000023FA

Once inside screen you invoke ‘getty’ to get your screen session to an interactive login so you can login and run stuff on your Apple ][.

You do that from the Mac terminal session too. First off you probably should size the terminal to 80×23 so you get decent pagination on the Apple. Then inside screen you type ‘ctrl-A’ then shift and ‘:’ to get to screen’s command mode. Then you type ‘exec ::: /usr/libexec/getty std.9600’ and return to initiate a remote login on the apple ][e. If you are having flakey behavior at 9600 baud change the last argument to getty to ‘std.1200’ then switch over to the Apple ][ to login and you are ready to roll.

Now you can run all kinds of unix BSD commands from the Apple ][ and see the output there too! It’s pretty fun to surf the web in text mode on lynx and also to use irc and play text games. I frequently run ‘top’ so I can see what’s happening on while I compute on the Mac from lovely green screen of the Apple ][.

However the very first thing I did was fire up lynx and hit hackaday. How nice that they have a nice retro edition that looks great on this old green screen!

Down the road I’d like to get a proper TCPIP stack running on the Apple ][ or inside a home built card for the Apple and see it run contiki. It seems like someone should have figured out a way to emulate the uthernet card from retroactive using a cheaper arduino and Ethernet or wifi shield solution. I think that might be the next big retro project for me. Cheers until next post.

Posted from Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States.

Bringing an Apple IIe and Peripherals Back to Life. Part Two. Fun with the Apple II Super Serial Card!.

Super serial card

So after the fun and success of getting a drive system working for the old Apple IIe, I decided to see if I could increase the performance of the external i/o to the Macintosh I was using as a host computer, for disk image transfer, dumb terminaling, etc. At that point my only io to the Mac was been handled by the cassette ports to audio i/o method, which only works with cassette wavs and ADT Pro, the awesome disk transfer and boot-strapping utility. Since Ethernet would have been a just bit too late for the IIe, even though there are some really cool options for Ethernet on the II series like Uthernet and others, I decided to go the plain jane Super Serial Card RS-232c route and see how that worked out for me. One of the challenges is that old school serial communication is something that is just not as common on modern PCs as it was let’s say a decade or two ago. Back then modems were de rigueur for network communications. Now a days you need to buy some kind of USB to Serial adapter or USB Serial Controller if you want to do that sort of thing since the real estate for the db9 style pinouts is just not there anymore. Luckily I had one those lying around from some PIC programming projects I had been dabbling in. But even though this hardware was going to work on the Mac the drivers definitely weren’t so I had to scour the web looking for a driver set and some tweaking instructions to get the Serial Controller I had working with Leopard. With the ‘PL-2303’ chip set, I needed to hack the vendor code for my ‘Y.C. Cable, USA, Inc.’ branded cable so that it would work with the generic mac drivers. That proved to be a bit difficult, luckily I found an awesome german website: Planet RCS that had all the juicy details on how to hack that mofo up. Oddly enough it was the configuration of the 21st Century USB Serial Controller that took more effort than the 30 Year old Super Serial Card in this configuration. With the Macinotosh side all set it was time to move onto the Apple IIe and get some hardware.

Luckily, I found a clone of the Apple II Super Serial Card on eBay for $14.00 bucks. I actually could have purchased a brand new $40 card from a vendor with a 20th century website design: MC Price Breakers or from a guarenteed vendor on eBay but I am feeling cheap these days so I went with the lowest cost unit on eBay. In a few days it would arrive in the mail. So in the interim I decided to documentation up myself. First off you I needed the Holy Bible of serial comms on the Apple II the venerable Apple II – Super Serial Card Installation and Operating Manual It’s where many of the secrets are kept. Like writing great rock songs if you want to configure Apple II hardware you have got to know where the Hobbits dwell. In this case my Hobbit was a weird IC block with a triangle on it and two banks of dip switches:
Like opinions on Modern Art it’s hard to find two opinions on what constitutes a ‘Standard’ configuration for Serial Comms on the Apple II. Some people have luck with the settings set way down low then having the modem software on the Apple soft configure the real settings. Following the instuctions on the awesome ADT Pro page I wasn’t getting much love from the card even doing really basic dumb terminal communications with a terminal program on the Macintosh ( ZTerm ). I decided to mostly follow their configuration only I used a higher baud rate ( 9600 ) for the settings on the card. That also seemed to work poorly in the dumb terminal mode in AppleSoft basic. I fiddled with handshaking and baud rates and finally got data going in both directions from Zterm to the Apple. Unfortunately I could get bootstrapping going in ADTPro over serial. But not disktransfers, I finally came to the conclusion that the Java COMM package rxtx just doesn’t like leopard and my chipset for the USB serial controller. It works ok for Rx but craps out on Tx. Oh well that will be a bigger fish to sort out.
Anyhow using audio ADT I made a copy of Modem Manager, a tried and true comm app for the Apple which includes vt220 emulation. After seeing a few websites talking about using the Apple as a Dumb Terminal with Linux, I thought it might be fun to get it going with BSD Unix on the Mac. Using the virtual terminal application ‘screen’ I was able to get the old Apple IIe talking to the Macintosh via getty. I was able to login and run a wide variety of terminal applications on the mac from the Apple IIe. It was weird running lynx and surfing the web and equally strange using irc to real time chat on the Apple IIe keyboard. The web and irc were about a half decade away from the time I last used the Apple for serious work. Back them the serial card would have been attached to a modem and was used to download software from CompuServe and bulletin board applications and also for email. The only chatting I would have been doing was with BBS sysops or other users for high hourly charges on CompuServe’s CB simulator.

Posted from Somerville, Massachusetts, United States.

Bringing an Apple IIe and Peripherals Back to Life. Part One.

Apple IIe

Apple IIe

For my birthday this year my awesome wife Ash bought me an 128k Apple IIe, Apple Monochrome Monitor, a Disk II System, a box of 10 5.25″ diskettes, and a parallel printer card. It looked like the set was in pretty nice condition. It had no significant signs of abuse, no missing keys, and the drive that came with it was marked disk 2. That seemed pretty cool since it probably didn’t get as much use as a primary drive. The nice guy at the MIT Flea ( aka MIT HAM Swapfest) who sold it to us was asking $100 and Ash got him to down to $80 USD and an extra box of disks. So it seemed like a bargin to me, seeing as how it even came with the original box. I was pretty psyched to get some 8-bit hardware at home again after getting having so much fun restoring a couple of Classic Macintoshes a few weeks prior. Every single one of these refurbish projects transports me right back to another era in my youth. With the Macs it was the late 80s, early 90s. With this Apple IIe I was setting the wayback machine to the late 70s early 80s.

Well the the machine included no boot disk, no software of any kind actually! That fact was going to serious limit my exploration on this machine. I was stuck just playing with the BASIC interpreter and rocking the video hardware. It was nice that the IIe included an 80 column card and the text looked awesome on the green mono monitor for sure, also poking around the sound registers made some neat beeps. But without long term I/O of any kind it seemed like this would be the extent of my Apple II fun.

It wasn’t until I discovered the amazing program Apple Disk Transfer ProDOS that things got a bit more serious and I could start to experience what this system was all about. What’s great about this program is that it will allow you to bootstrap your Apple IIe without even having to have some kind of a serial interface or working boot disk. It can do its work right over the audio input/output ports of your PC or Mac through standard 1/8″ audio cables to the cassette input and output ports of the Apple IIe.

Fantastic! I was in business. So I configured the Apple IIe and Mac and ran through the bootstrap process. I was all ready to write on one of my 20 year old, but fresh from the box, 5.25″ diskettes. I transferred the ProDOS and ADT Pro Client software through some arcane Apple IIe calls and monitor commands. Everything looked good with the audio transfer, only my disk drive wasn’t appearing in the ADT Pro client’s list of drives! Bummer! So this would be the next hurdle to cross. Figuring out what in the heck was wrong with the disk system.

So I powered it all down and opened the Apple IIe case and looked at what was there. Inside was a 1970’s era Disk II Interface Card and cable. It looks like this:

Apple Disk II Interface Card

I made sure the cable was seated properly on the disk one side of the card. ( Definitely need to do this right or the poor analog card in the drive or components on the interface itself would be toasted. This machine came before the kinds of fault tolerance modern hardware enjoys. ) I then reseated the card into the Apple IIe. Same result in ADT Pro. Grrr. This kind of failure happens because one of two things: bad components on the Disk II interface card or bad components on the Disk II Analog card inside the drive itself. All kinds of stuff can fail on these guys. Bad caps, Bad ICs, Bad IC connections. But the drive would spin on boot so I new I at least had some good motors in the Disk II. I opened the Disk II and removed the Disk II Analog card which looks like this:

Disk II Analog Card

Disk II Analog Card

Which brings me to a brief aside. These two components: the interface and analog card are a work of 1970s electronic fine art. The two card drive system was a first for Apple and an absolutely amazing example of the brilliance of Steve Wozniak. Electronics designers always strive for the perfect balance between form and function. This solution is so beautiful in its simplicity and economy of parts in the design. The brilliance of Woz is that he took a complex multi component solution to the problem of reading and writing floppies which previous engineers deployed with an insane amount of expensive parts and boiled it down to less ICs than you can count on two hands. Technically and economically brilliant. Since the Apple II and related peripherals are the longest lived products in Apple’s history I beleive that this design solution for the disk was perhaps the greatest single contribution to the economic viability of Apple Computers. Steve Jobs may have been a smart man but I don’t think he ever made this kind of real economic engineering contribution to Apple.

Anyhow my own beautiful disk solution was somehow broken. The first thing I tried was to pull all of the ICs on both cards and to clean them of black tarnish with Tarn X and Isopropyl alcohol then I carefully reseated them. Still I had no success with seeing the drive in the ADT Pro client. Hrmm. I looked on ebay and found prices for new disks and they were more than the whole kit we got from the MIT Flea. I also couldn’t find the Apple Disk II analog card for less than $40 bucks, still too much for a refurbish. I did however find this little beauty:

Franklin Disk Analog Card compatible with Apple Disk II.

Franklin Disk Analog Card

Which from extensive internet research is supposed to be a near criminal copy of the functionality of the Wozniak original, and for $14 dollars was less than the replacement ICs for the original Disk II Analog Card. This seemed to be the lowest common denominator for failure and my next option to try. After a few weeks it arrived from eBay. The first thing I noticed was that the connector was on the opposite side of the card from the original and that it had fewer connection points than the Apple version. Suspicious. That seemed to be a bad omen, but to my surprise after I installed it into the Disk II enclosure, moved around the disk cable to fit the new location, and connected everything back up, it actually worked! The ADT Pro client now was able to see the drive, format a floppy, and transfer the ADT Pro client to disk.

The only odd thing was that the drive light was now always on. Anyone reading this that has thoughts on making it work correctly please feel free to comment. But at least I could INIT and write new disks with ADT Pro which allowed me to boot from the disk. The second diskette I created was a copy of the venerable Copy II Plus. Which has within it a disk speed verification utility. The fact that I could write disks was great but without a ‘calibrated’ drive I would only be able to read and write disks I created myself. I could not give someone a disk that would work nor receive one. So this utility was invaluable. I booted it up and ran the utility and sure enough my drive had a speed of around 210ms which is 5ms too fast for the upper end of ‘calibrated’ and 10ms too fast for being optimally calibrated. I opened up the Disk II and found the speed calibration screw inside and with a jeweler’s screwdriver carefully fiddled and tuned the drive to a perfect 200ms operating speed. Proof that this was necessary was the fact that two disks I wrote previously were no longer readable by the drive after adjustment. However, after a reformat of those disks and a rewrite of the contents everything worked perfectly. I had myself a fully functional Apple IIe and disk system!

With my Mac and ADT Pro I began to create diskette versions of classic Apple II games and programs of the 80s. Ultima, Conan, Archon, and a copy of Modem Manager. The last program and a $10 dollar Super Serial Card clone will be the subject of my next installment of retro computing on the Apple IIe…

Posted from Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States.

Fixing expensive stuff designed to fail.

I finally broke down and let Ash convince me to send my Optima dv10 projector off to a legitimate repair place. If only I would have listened to her before I refurbished the broken power supply inside it.
When it first broke it went through some death throws before complete failure. All of the initial problems seemed due to power related issues. So I decided to rip that baby apart and fix it myself. After some puzzle box level problems getting all of the components *safely* disconnected in order to get at the power supply I was greeted with the most pathetic example of power supply design I have ever encountered, sorry about the blurry photo:


This thing was literally designed to fail. The engineer, I am reluctant to use that term, decided that the best place to locate the cheapest electrolytic capacitors they could find was touching the power transistors. This guaranteed that they would literally bake in the waste heat and live the shortest life possible. Sure enough all of them were popped like full beer can on a campfire.


So repair seemed pretty straight forward replace all those caps and maybe for 20 or so usd I would have a working projector power supply and thus a working projector. I pulled them:


cleaned the board of the electrolytic goo and then soldered in new ones. Bench tested the supply and found it was working again!



Yea, I then put everything back together and viola! Nothing worked. Sigh, well at least the power supply will be working for the bench tech that ultimately will attempt repair… Lesson learned, I know my limits now and thankfully I didn’t damage any thing else in my repair. :-/

Nintendo Hooked 3DS Owners Up Today

Today the Nintendo 3DS Ambassador program went into effect for lucky 3DS early adopters. Hidden away under ‘Your Downloads’ under the ‘Settings / Other’ section of the Nintendo eShop are your cool new NES downloads and a program called ‘Ambassador Certificate.’ Under that obscure eShop location you can eh hem ‘re-download’ your new titles. So far as I can see: ‘Metroid’, ‘Yoshi’, ‘Zelda’, ‘Zelda II’, ‘Wrecking Crew’, ‘NES Open Golf’, ‘Donkey Kong Jr.’, ‘Balloon Fight’, ‘Ice Climber’, and most importantly ‘Super Mario Bros.’ are there for the taking. But only for folks who purchased the 3DS before August 2011 and connected to the eShop and updated their 3DS. Fun times.

Hello world!

Titan 2009

Titan 2009

Thought I’d give installing WordPress 3.2.1 a shot and try out it’s feature set. So far, so good. Installation was pretty easy, and there are some really cool themes out there. Here is a map of Titan circa 2009 just to test out the image handling.