A light interlude of Yak Shaving

Foreshadowing – Copyright 2020

So here I am again, and yes, it’s been a while since I had any real progress with any retro projects.

I’ve been working on the Commodore C128D and it now reads disks, which is good, but it doesn’t read them reliably, which is bad. I also don’t currently trust the unit, as some C128 demos seem to crash. Unfortunately to get a test cart for it will cost some considerable $$$ that, right now, I’d rather be putting elsewhere.

Tonight, however, I finally got a second Disk II card for my Apple IIs. I’d traded this for a pair of joystick adapters (See last post). I thought this was a good deal and the kind soul I traded with also thought it was a good deal. They did warn me that there was a possible issue with the card, but they were happy to send parts to fix if needed.

So I got it home and launched into an epic evening of Yak Shaving.
For those of you not familiar with the term, it refers to that process you sometimes undergo where you start out to complete a task, but get severely derailed by the tasks you need to complete BEFORE your initial goal. The story goes something like this:
You decide to fix a component in your computer, so you go looking for a specialist tool, but when you find it, the battery is flat, so you go to find the special charger, but it only has a US plug so you start looking for an Aus to US adapter…
…and then twelve hours later, halfway through shaving a Yak, you find yourself wondering “What was I doing this for again?”

Tonight was one of THOSE nights.

It started with the Disk II card at about 6 and I hadn’t yet finished by 9:45 when I stopped.

So the first thing I had to do was find the desk. It was under there somewhere. 10 minutes of cleaning, the huge stacks of cables were gone and the C128D had gone back to the cubbyhole of shame (Where it will live for the next 6 months)

OK so now I can get to the desk. I then pulled out the card and gave it a visual inspection, and the P5 PROM was an interesting colour and texture.

Grime – Copyright 2020

YUM! Doesn’t that look delish!
I got out my sand eraser (A really excellent tool for cleaning contacts like this) and cleaned it and every other last chip on the card, making sure to seat them back the way I got them.

Once I was happy with that I had to dig out my original Disk II drives. I had stashed them deep in the tech pile as I wasn’t going to be able to use them until I got the Disk II card.

Now I had the card and the drives. Time to pull out my known good Apple IIe. Crossing fingers, I carefully plugged in the card and the drives, inserted my test software and turned it on… Some whirring and grinding and… it booted! First go! OMG!

This led to the NEXT thing. You see, the Disk II card was merely part of a long chain of steps. What I really wanted to do is get my Apple II europlus working. (There’s lots of posts about me trying to fix this system)

Now I had to lube up the disks and carefully clean the drive heads. I opened up both disks, carefully making sure that I did things like mark polarity on all cables and connectors. (Silver markers are excellent for this) then carefully clean with isopropyl alcohol and grease up the drive rails with a suitable lubricant. The drives were as ready as they ever were going to be.

Now I had recently swapped out the 16k “Language” card from one of my Clone Apple IIs for the one that was originally in the europlus and it seemed much more stable. Now I had a Disk II card I could try the system with working disk drives.

I dug out the europlus from under the clones and carefully plugged in the Disk II card and drives and turned it on… Et Volia! I was booting my test app. It all works.

EuroPlus – Copyright 2020

Except, I’m still in black and white 🙁

I then spend thirty minutes looking for my PAL card (Apple II and II+s need an additional card to display PAL colour.), finding the loaner I had from a friend before finding it stuffed away in a dark corner.

One of the things I do find, however, is the Language card I’d picked up at the last Commodore User’s meet. Hmm. Let’s test that, shall we? I unplug the existing Language card, carefully disconnecting the fragile ribbon cable (Foreshadowing) and plug in the new one. The computer… sort of works. It boots up with an odd “Super ][” startup and doesn’t get much further. At this point I decide to move on. I carefully remove the card and grab the “known good” card to put back in. I’m about to connect the ribbon cable when I notice there are two bent pins.
I grab a pair of needle nose pliers and gently start straightening the pins. The first one forms properly and then “plink!” the second one snaps clean off. I swore loudly at this, as I was being careful. (It’s actually the picture in the header of the article, with the broken pin to the lower left)
Thankfully I was able to salvage the cable from the other Language card and I was back and operating in a few minutes.

I grab the PAL card and in it goes… except no colour. I can see it trying to do colour but it’s not encoding properly. The screen background (black) is blue, and white is yellow, with severe colour artifacting everywhere. As my test suite loads, the blue gets replaced by black, but there is only shades of grey, and some of the screen is still banded in blue / yellow rather than black / white.

So I grab the loaner. This only appears to have RF out, terminating, oddly, in an RCA connector.

Now I need to make an RCA to PAL Antenna cable. I go into my cable bin and find an unused RCA lead. Off to my garage parts bin to find an unused PAL Antenna end, and I think I’m ready to go. (Spoilers! I’m not)
While I’m here, I quickly grab a spare RCA end, “just in case”, and head back to my work bench. I get ready to assemble when I notice the inner core of the PAL Antenna connector is missing. This sucks because that means I can’t get away without having to break out the soldering iron. I dig through my cables and find an unused male to male PAL cable. I carefully cut it in half, and solder on the RCA end I’d (thankfully) grabbed while in the shed.

A quick bit of routing later and the cable is plugged into the antenna port on my TV and I’m ready to start tuning in the TV. Luckily my TV supports Analog RF stations. Unfortunately after 20 minutes of fiddling, I have been unable to get a stable TV signal out of the card and there I will need to finish for now.

On the one hand, the Apple II europlus is now booting to the point where I can happily work with it. On the other hand, I still need to resolve the PAL card issue, or live with Black and White. You know? It’s a secondary system. I might just live with Black and White. 😀





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