A blog about tabletop hobby and or strategy games, with a side order of electronic turn based goodness here and there. Now with tons of retro gaming content both electronic and tabletop. Also with 20% more self loathing douchebaggery!

Friday, January 29, 2016

[Retrocomputing: Why Bother?] Machalla Part 3: SD Drive and Keyboard Double Team!

Last Thursday I ended up getting double teamed.  The keyboard and SD card drive emulator both showed up on the same day so it was time to GET.  THINGS.  DONE.

I place a couple cheap bids for some reading material.  And I have a few more books and tools I might need on watch list.  But these were about to go, so I hoped for the best.  And won.

Since Mini vMac is running roughly 9 times faster than the actual Mac Plus I use Disinfectant off of the D disk from System 6 Hell and quickly blaze through the virtual HD cleaning 4 files.  Oddly enough so far ONLY some System 6 Hell disks have infected files.

I update a copy of my 6.0.8 drive image to 7.1.  Sadly 7.1.1 won't take because its a Mac Plus.  And the sorely needed Stuffit Expander 5.5 needs 7.1.1 minimum.  And 8 megs of RAM.  So I will have to make a different environment just to unpack a huge number of programs that weren't saved as .img and .dsk files.

 For like 13 bucks I grab a pack of 4 gig SD cards to use.  Honestly if you can get them cheap and easy just grab a couple 2 gig ones and make 1 gig hard disks.  You do not need 2 gigs.  Especially without USB 3.0 transfer speeds when you swap hard disk images to try things out.  Oh.  And MAKE BACKUPS.  You never know when you might need extra copies of your hard disk image.

 I prepare my SD cards using the instructions as the hard disk firmware mode isn't set on the drive device on ship.

 And here is the drive!  It includes the cabling and a way to just plug it internally to replace an internal drive though using the device seems like it would be difficult...  One pause I do have is the connector board to the back of the computer's 19 pin D Sub port is open and bare.  Show a little caution with it!  Make sure you don't have that static build up and keep your animals away from it, just in case.

And the back of the board.  Nothing special really.

 And the laser cut acrylic case which sadly doesn't have a bit for said D 19 connector board.  Each side of each piece has a removable brown paper cover.  I merely removed the internal paper so I can possibly spraypaint it once it gets warm.  Outside of maybe a rubber band the case assembles tool free.

 And the keyboard an official Apple one.  Looks to be in very good shape overall.

 Some screws are missing and it has a bit of velcro on the bottom.  Nothing major but.. a bit of pause here.  

 While the drive and case came with a quick sheet of printed instructions that are also available on the website I didn't really need them all that much to assemble the case.  It looks nice as it is honestly.  Maybe even a little classier than if I went for the properly transparent look.

 And it lit up.  The rather cheap LCD screen is front lit, and there are left and right green power lights that are piped through bits of plastic.  The left is system power for the device, the right shows drive access which is a very handy visual aid to see if the otherwise silent drive is working.

 If you don't have one, get a USB card reader.  This one cost a couple bucks and I have had it for a year or two.  Does just about any type of flash memory card that had any sort of impact.  Just plug it in and the card looks like just another drive to Windows 7.

 And it being able to do both hard disk and floppy means programs that are self booting like Ultima 2 and Ogre work lovely.  And unlike the emulation they run at the speed they were designed for!  Also for system intensive programs that have system files on the disk this can let you load them up without all those nasty resources being hogged by the operating system.

 I also use Ultima 2 to check the keyboard.  While every key works, some require multiple presses to come up.  But the more I use the keyboard the more reliable the keys seem to be.  Maybe it just needed to "wake up" after years of disuse?

 You can also set the default mode here.  It seems to only work in one way at a time so no hot swapping or anything so again, use Mini vMac for the quick file work, then just use the programs with the device.

 Sadly and annoyingly, you must name your hard disk file HD20.dsk.  So no putting multiple hard disk images on the device that I can tell.  In a later update I will show another issue that can come up.

 And we are LIVE!  

 The little LCD will show what is going on in case you are wondering.  File name being used and all!  Track and side reading for floppies.

 Finder shows us what is going on, and how much RAM and resources we have.  We see this machine has been upgraded to 2.5 megabytes of RAM.  Nice!  Sadly its really not enough for System 7 which runs both pokey and some games crash, due to RAM apparently.


 Want to know the Mac's video info?  Here you go!  I suppose in 1984-89 a 512 by 342 resolution screen is solid.  And the screen is very crisp and gorgeous for being black and white.  (Not even greyscale.  Black OR white.)

 Yes, we are a Macintosh Plus at a speed of 1. 

 Throwing in a floppy disk into the drive at least shows the drive kind of works.  Sadly for disks that are 800k or 400k only a single side can be formatted and it takes a lot of tries.  The drive needs a good cleaning.


 These are clearly 1.44 meg disks and won't work at all.

 However these old Amiga disks are 800K.

 And finally we get one formatted!  But only single sided.  Notice that like most storage on computers the maximum size is not what you get to actually use.  Generally a few percent is taken up by file system and other such things that let the disk be understood by the machine.

 A lot of times this is where the formatting would get before giving me the failure message.

And here we see the Control Panel where things like mouse tracking speed, speaker volume, and various things can be tweaked.  As I have 2.5 megs of RAM I give the Cache 128k to ideally speed up various actions.  I could also install Multifinder and get limited multitasking but this machine is probably too weak for it overall.  (Its automatic in System 7.)

  So now we have a generally operating Macintosh Plus.  Next time we organize and install tons of software, hoping most of it actually works!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

[Retrocomputing: Why Bother?] Machalla Part 2: Mousie and Mini vMac

  Well first up is that my mouse arrived ridiculously quick:

  It was a cheap third party mouse.  I am not showing the back because it simply has two check marks listing if its for the Apple II or the Mac.  (This one had neither listed.)

  Opening up there was merely this lovely whiter than this picture mouse in that pink bubble bag.  Yes it isn't original Mk1 or 2 Apple Mac Mouse but it is TWO buttons one of which may have built in uses.  And it is a lot more comfortable feeling than those bricky angled things Apple made then.  One of the buttons came stuck down, but pressing it made it pop back up good as new!  I plugged it into the Mac and tested it as far as I could, which at this point was merely to see the mouse cursor move about the screen smoothly.  This being an 80s mouse it uses a ball and roller setup as opposed to our modern rad laser mice.  I checked the rollers and they look crisp and clean.  This is probably NOS, aka NEW OLD STOCK.  Unused and unloved electronics that were never put to work for whatever reasons.  Hoarded?  Lost?  Late release that never got shipped?  Who knows?

  So far, so good!  While looking to see if just maybe I still had my old early 90s High School Mac floppies I failed to find them, merely finding the box I held them in all empty, yet finding a nice working PC power cable which is now supporting this Mac so I don't have to waste money on a replacement or hot swapping with other devices as needed.  Yes it isn't the beige or platinum grey of the Apple Mac line but.. free beats 13-20 bucks any day of the week!

  Checking my emails I find that the SD card drive emulator device is already shipped and due within a day or two!  So instead of a RUFUS' DAY OF DOING BUGGER ALL BUT VIDEOGAMES AND DVDS AND COMICS I see I gotta get off my keister and start working with Mini vMac so I can get my virtual 2 gigabyte hard drive up and running so it is just a matter of transferring the drive file to the SD card when it arrives.

  It was.. not the most pleasant thing.  Now as we will learn I would be better off installing a System 7.5.5 OS as to make many files work and archives de archive, but I am unsure exactly how much RAM my Mac Plus currently has inside it.  Once I get the drive and can check, I can see.  If it has 4 megs I can use 7.  If its the stock 1 or moderate upgrade 2.5 (due to how the memory sticks are placed) 6 is a MUCH better bet, especially with 1 megabyte.

  But many Stuffit Expander archives are in a version that can only be expanded in System 7+, and a number of programs the same.  And HFVExplorer is a very annoying and unintuitive program to get to do what I wish for it to do.  Not to mention installing another virtual hard disk as a System 7.5.5.  How much effort and time do I want to put to all of this?  I waste enough time and money as it is!

After finding an archive with the Mac Plus System Rom in it to set up, I had to find the mostly allowed by Apple OS disk images to mount.  Sadly vMac only really likes to acknowledge one drive at a time kind of.  Sorta.

Sadly the issue here is making the damned virtual hard disk image, especially the 1-2 gigabyte one these earlier Mac OSes can handle.  So basically what we have to do is either accept whatever oddball reason HFVExplorer will only make 1 gig drives, or use a program that makes dummy files such as This one  and make it an .img title of 2 gigs.

Then as we mount it (OH BABY YEAH MOUNT IT HAAARD!!), our startup disk in OS6 will want to initialize it.

Then it begins the great work which as we are doing in an emulated environment goes by super fast.
Customizing allows us to select stuff or to make smaller installs.  You see in most early Mac software a bit of the disk is basically taken up with a miniature version of the OS that will get you by, though it takes up valuable space on each 400 (and then for the Plus era) 800k floppy.  Or you can swap disk and swap and swap some more.  That way lies madness.
Easy Install is probably the best bet but you can go deeper and cut the fat out if you want or need to given at best a hard disk Apple would have sold in this timeframe would have had 20 or 40 megabytes for 1000s of dollars in 1986 money.

System Additions is needed to be installed as well.  Maybe other versions you can find of System 6 online as well to get things working right.

A super heavy install of OS 6.  Almost 2 megabytes in space.  You understand it all now don't you?  

Now the Control Panel will let us tweak things a bit.  And at least here in vMac Mini land it has our real time clock being real.  As opposed to the Plus which needs a 4.5 volt battery that is almost exactly the same shape as a AA.

For files that are in an "img" type that Mac emulators know by heart you can just insert it as a virtual disk, and just drag the disk over to the hard disk to install most of the time.  But note that even if modern Stuffit Expander type files expand on PC some of them are not in formats the emulator will understand and in fact, cannot be brought over to the emulator at all!  They will just make folders of junk files.

You would think bringing over said Stuffit's OS 6 incarnation would help eh?  (And note our OS install is solid as we can read the various readme type files.  Many programs come with text type files in other formats.)  

Like this .sit file that unlike so many classic Mac Stuffit archives is actually accepted by this edition of Stuffit.  Except sadly this program which is NEEDED as many old Mac programs to be found online have viruses on them doesn't work in OS 6.

Yet how do we get them on the machine as its not an image file the emulator likes?

 Using Import F1, its export version Export F1 (I guess if you want to play shenanigans with OS 7 and it's Stuffit Expander then bring em back over to 6 for us lower RAM old Mac machine folk you can do this.  I haven't messed with Export yet!), and BinUnpk or the other one you see here, Debinhex Drop Tool (which doesn't seem to work on OS 6 as it gives me errors).

 And thankfully I find a few programs to bring over, starting my Mac up with some workness and fun.  I renamed a few of these folders so their title names don't run into others.  You can also go with small icons and lists and all but in general with the size of the screen and all, normal icons are the way to go.  Some programs basically require you to make a folder and copy the files over to the disk, while a few have a built in installer.  And note my mention of system files on the disks.  You don't need them anymore thanks to having a lovely hard disk full of OS goodness.  (At least it seems to be working SO FAR DUN DUN DUNNNNNN!)

  Hopefully my Mac has beyond the stock level RAM in it because frankly OS 6 has a bit of a limit in what I can do with it and I honestly don't like the idea of having to constantly drag and drop things with Import/Export F1, and use various versions of Stuffit to transfer things over.  OS7 takes up more RAM than the more compact 6 but it can do just that little bit MORE that makes it what we want.  Ideally I would say a Mac SE is possibly a superior original style Mac system and experience given it's higher RAM inclusions and there being versions of that model with faster CPUs.

  Because if we need to get to it we will see how.. special...  installing RAM into a Plus (the first Mac that even makes such a thing possible actually.  Honestly the 128K and 512K Macs have almost zero use nowadays unless you enjoy pain,) can be.  Mainly because you can cause serious bodily injury if you poke around on the wrong thing inside these machines.

  Hopefully we won't have to deal with that.  Hopefully.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

[Retrocomputing: Why Bother?] Witness Me On My Way to Machalla, Turtlenecked and Beige!

(Part 1 of ahh.. we will see!)

Well a thing happened on a week where it was very handy for me to have extra money.

  I got a mysterious box in the mail.  A large box.  A massive box.  A Something Awful Goon/Facebook Friend/IRC pal messaged me just as I got up to check my email that there was a box on my back porch.  And that I could guess who it was from.

  So after opening a box to open another box and pulled it out, what was in the box?  (Not Gyneth's head.)

A gift unasked for but sent nonetheless!  No cables or peripherals or software but.. its a 68000 series black and white Macintosh. Otherwise known as the bane of my high school vocational electronics course existence.  I swear I spent more time writing and making diagrams of the course projects than I did actually doing said projects.  It was very frustrating!

Let's see who it was from, eh?
Ah.  The infamous insane woman known and feared by Something Awful goons who really want their retro stuff NOW as Acid Police amongst other nom de plumes.  Anyone who has ever gotten anything from this mad pot fueled retrofan knows many wonderful if somewhat frightening things can be found within her packages.  And somehow she remembered my appreciation for the mother of one of the main characters from the first Gundam Build Fighters series.  DAWWW!  :3

The top shows this was owned by a Massachusetts company.  Also some minor crack damage to one of the top vents.  No big deal.  It was free and possibly free to Acid originally.  Outside of retro computer dorks who would want a 1986-87 made computer that while 2600 bucks in that era's money, is still merely a single 800K floppy drive 68000 CPU 9" black and white screened computer with nothing to actually make it do anything?  And it is one of the early models being beige and not the light grey the later releases and follow up SE models used.  That or it just got really dirty and yellowed either at the company it was at or an electronics recycling place.

One side has a pair of "programmer buttons" that let said people do development type work on the machine.  Interrupt what is going on, or Reset.

The other side has what is presumably the company's information code they put on to protect their expensive computer from being stolen easily.  And below it is an 8 dollars shipped pickup for my retro computer game collection.  

The back shows us we have what is presumably a 1 megabyte of RAM machine.  The battery compartment which I presume is for a clock/calendar function is nice and empty so no exploded battery goop like a number of my Robotix building kits have.  On the bottom we have our SCSI Hard Disk port, mouse, modem, printer, and all that malarkey.  Thankfully it uses normal modern PC power plugs so a quick rummage found my extra one so I can test it and at least see if it powers up!
(Otherwise it would be 13 bucks at Staples, or 20!!! at Wal Mart for another one.  20 bucks would get me some fun toys or a DVD or something.)

 In the words of Sinistar: I LIVE.  I HUNGER.  

Screen seems to work fine, it seems to want a disk to eat, it seems to want a mouse.  It makes noise so the speaker works.  I gave the screen a little microfiber screen wipe cleaning so it will be pretty.

  Well BALLS.  I guess its time to research and ebay hunt!

  For this generation of Mac I need one of the earliest styled keyboards which used a phone jack styled connector, and a serial port mouse.  

Some talk on IRC and ebay hunting netted me shipped what should solve the input deficiencies.  All for about the same price as a Star Wars Millennium Falcon kit I have been wanting for months.  (Snap tite with core painting done.  Big. Would be great for tabletop gaming!)  Or 15 bucks less than a different place had for a big construct your own Robot kit with motors and app driven programming.  (On sale!  Half off!  If it is still there in a week or two it will be mine dammit!  IT MUST BE MIIIINE!)

But what about software?  Well some research lead me to the obvious, especially given the age of old computers and how even my beloved Atari 800's 1050 drive is beginning to act up:  FLASH SOLUTIONS.

There are various solutions available for nearly every old computer and the old Macintosh machines are no different!  And while in most cases I am totally cool with just buying my games legit and playing on an emulator, the EXPERIENCE of playing on an actual Macintosh is one of those things that matters, a lot like the mighty Vectrex game console.  And given how much of a pain and expense getting an actual SCSI Hard Disk for the machine would be and how rare Mac software is a flash solution is probably the only sane way.  And in the long run as disks and the machinery starts dying maybe the ONLY way.

http://www.bigmessowires.com/floppy-emu/  I am lead here and well?  As I have no genuine need for Apple II family compatibility (Or at this point space for more computers anyhow!  As is I am thinking about putting Frankenstein away and just doing some tweaks to make my Windows 98SE rig properly run whatever DOS I don't feel like just running in DOSBOX.  http://www.philscomputerlab.com/ms-dos-mode-tutorials.html  has some solid instructions for this.) so I get the cheaper Model A version and the acrylic enclosure so it looks classy.

Oh wallet.  One day we will save money.  But we don't go into debt and we possibly have a 20,000 dollar lot of land once two town probate courts and other town halls explain and get their act together.  But until that day the courage of 41 year old manchildren who still buy Transformers and who watch pastel horsie cartoons shall not go into debt for crap.  Like not touching sweets and pastries and candies since one final piece of cheesecake on Christmas day.  WE ARE STRONG.  (Though exceptions shall be made for a single box of conversation hearts and either jelly beans or a Cadbury Cream Egg.  Only one of each though.)  Also luckily there hasn't been a lot of hobby gaming or toys I have genuinely wanted.  (Or ebay offers accepted. It and holiday pay is the ONLY reason I can do this so fast!)

  Obviously I can buy some low storage SD cards myself and I have a card reader already.  I even found some DOS formatted lower density floppy disks I could possibly use on the Mac as well.  Now I haven't opened the machine up yet to give it a dusting and to see if it is just 1 megabyte of RAM or if it has been upgraded with more of said RAM or a CPU upgrade but I will check it over the next week or so as I await the components I need to actually make use of the machine.  (And given the gifter, the possibility of there being marijuana or anime porn hidden within it.  Acid is.. SPECIAL.  Kind of like the retrogeek version of Tara Strong.  And she is so getting a gift or two from GOG or Steam sooner rather than later!)

  Besides, it is always good to give it a good compressed air dusting internally and check for solder or capacitor issues anyhow.  Plus I can then give the dirty case a good Magic Eraser scrubbing and not have to worry about water and muck getting onto old and sensitive electronics.  And part of me wants to maybe even repaint the case instead of Retr0brighting it.  I don't have any UV lights nor the massively strong hydrogen peroxide cream one needs to restore old plastics.

  So whenever I update this little project again we will see if the new components work, if their interfaces to the computer work, or what is in this little box of Jobsian 1.0 joy.  (Or was his douchey ass kicked out by then?  Don't really know.  Don't really care.  Steve Jobs was a tool.  One incredibly good at marketing and getting people to do what he wanted them to, but still a tool.  Unless you held stock from the 90s when the company was in the toilet.  Then he came back and made you stupid money and is your lord and savior you 1%er you! )

 Until then imagine me as Megatron and the Mac as the Orson Welles voiced planet that eats planets:

  The oblivion is of course my wallet.  Oh well, its a butt ton better than all the money idiots wasted on Powerball!  Worse comes to worse I can probably make 50 bucks over all the cash spent via eBay flipping.  But we all know me.  I want to play GAMES on this bugger!  In all their black and white 9" screened glory!


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Southeastern CT, United States
I like to play nerd games! I am a nerd! Join our nerd ways at https://www.facebook.com/groups/112040385527428/