[Not Retro Related] An idea for a new business concept.

So while almost all of the things I write about here will be related to retrocomputing, occasionally I’ll post something here that doesn’t quite meet that criteria.

So the other day, while thinking about several different topics, including “Pen’n’Paper” RPGs (Specifically Cyberpunk), Music videos I had been watching, and the impact of Covid-19, particularly in the US, where they look unlikely to ever bring it properly under control, I had an idea for a new business concept.

It was the intersection of several ideas, that coalesced into one solid vision.

The technology for this is almost all available “off the shelf”, with only one or two “new” bits that probably can be sourced with minimal effort.

What I am envisioning is virtual, distributed concerts.

The key “new” technology would be a specialised screen and optic imager.

Let me explain.

Firstly, why do we need this? Well, with interstate / international travel curtailed for a large part of the population, but with some areas “safe” due to local immunisation efforts, there will be demand for local “live” entertainment.
Artists will want income, but don’t want to expose themselves to myriad potentially localised versions of Covid.
Finally, there’s a whole bunch of live music venues lying fallow, that need a boost.

So here’s the vision:

Take a venue, rip out booths / stages from the back of the space. Fit in a specialised Display at the back of the venue plugged into a central server (See below for details, as this is one of the clever bits). Add a suitable sound system and fit lights and LED systems that can be controlled from the central server.

Meanwhile, set up “studios” that match the size of the back of the venues. These will have a virtual LED background, similar to those being used in shows like “The Mandalorian”. The front of these stages will have the optic imager I’ll describe in more detail below.

This setup is then connected to 1 or more venues as a virtual concert. The artists perform on the stage and it’s transmitted to the venue, with venue lighting being controlled by the remote Studio, so that the illusion of it being in a single location is enhanced.

Onto the technology of the screens and the imager.

These two technologies are designed to be paired. They are both dependent on each other, but work in a 1 imager to many viewers arrangement.

The imager, which we’ll cover first, consists of a wall sized grid of tiny RGB sensors arranged around lenses to capture light with directionality, so that each “pixel” on the sensor can see straight ahead, a bit to the left and a bit to the right. Embedded between each imager pixel is a small RGB LED, shielded so it doesn’t interfere with the imager.

This is looking down from above on three Imager “Pixels” with 3 sensors each. Each cluster of 3 RGB sensors (Labelled “2”) are behind a lens at an angle to each other. The LED is in a channel (Labelled “1”)

The captured information from these is then transmitted to the Display in the Venue.

The screen is, similarly arranged with directionality, but has RGB LEDs set up to shine out the corresponding direction as the light was received by the imager. This gives a “pseudo 3D” effect that makes the stage look deeper than it really is in real life. From a few paces back, the illusion should be that of standing in the same room as the artists.

This is looking down from above on three Display “Pixels” with 3 RGB LEDs each. Each cluster of 3 RGB LEDs (Labelled “1”) are behind a lens at an angle to each other. The sensor is in a channel (Labelled “2”)

There are also simple RGB sensors in between each display element. These are sent back to the studio and displayed on the embedded LEDs. While not providing the pseudo 3D that the audience gets, it does mean the Artists aren’t performing to a black wall, as they will be able to see the output from a venue, presumably chosen by whoever is controlling the broadcast in the first place.

Some obvious advantages (Or disadvantages depending how you view things):

  1. A performer can perform from anywhere in the world that has a studio.
  2. A performer can simultaneously perform in multiple venues at once.
  3. A recording of the performance can be made, and played back later.
  4. Special effects can be overlaid either behind or in front of the performer with little to no effort.
  5. The producer has a great deal of control over the final appearance, as the venues are somewhat standardised.

Of course this leads to a terrible “One size fits nobody” generic feel to all the concerts, but if the alternative is no concerts at all, it’s a compromise that may have to be made.

Mac Woes, Creativision wins.

Macintosh SE/30

On Friday, another peripheral finally arrived, so I had hoped today’s post was going to be all about my experiences upgrading my Macintosh SE/30 into its final form. While I got a lot of upgrade done, unfortunately I hit a setback that will mean this system is out of action until I get a solid few days to fix a major fault.’

We’ll start at the beginning. On Friday, my much anticipated SCSI2SD adapter arrived. This is a magical device that allows you to use an SD card as a replacement for up to four SCSI hard disks. I sourced mine from the Eastern States, as there’s an authorised assembler / seller over there. (He also has a YouTube channel you might want to check out if you’re into classic Macintosh repairs.)

I waited for Saturday morning before starting as working on the SE/30 is always an adventure. The integrated CRT means there are some excitingly high voltages in there, and the shell is part of the structure.

I started by mounting the SCSI2SD in a 2½” to 3½” bracket, choosing to mount it inverted so the overall profile was much lower. I then grabbed a 2GB MicroSD card and an SD to MicroSD adapter. From there I plugged the SD into the SCSI2SD, and connected the SCSI2SD to my PC via a micro USB cable. I booted up the configuration software and started carving up the MicroSD into chunks. My plan is to run System 6.08, 7.1 and 7.51 from different virtual drives, so I carved out 4 temporary drives as a test.

Mounting hardware
That looks very neat

The software was VERY choppy, which should have been a warning.

Once done, I pulled out the 40MB HDD from the Mac and screwed in the SCSI2SD. While in there, I also gave the board a bit more TLC. This board has been recapped, but I’m not 100% sure I got rid of all the nastiness so I give it an inspect each time and a scrub with isopropanol in any bits that seem dodgy.

I also inserted my BMOW ROM-inator. This has been sitting pretty in it’s original anti-static bag for months as I really didn’t want to have to open the Mac more than absolutely needed. This seemed like a good opportunity.

There’s the ROM-inator, tucked inside. BTW, that battery is less than 6 months old. It’s not going to corrode itself yet.

With both in, I did a partial refit and the system booted up with the ROM-inator “one eyed Mac” logo, and offered for me to boot to ROM if I wanted. I did want, as this is a super fast way to get the Mac up to the point where I could run SCSI tools, before buttoning up everything. Once up I ran SCSI Probe and could see the extra drives. Yay!

(A quick aside here. I made the disks SCSI ID 1,2,4 and 5, leaving SCSI ID 3 free for a CD ROM at a later date.)

I screwed everything back together, plugged in my FloppyEmu and booted to System 6.08. From there I ran the installer and…
“No disk found.”
Okay then! Run the disk initialiser.
“Drive selection failed. Unable to locate a suitable drive connected to the SCSI port.”

Computer says “No”

Yay! Not!

I had a suspicion what the problem was, so a quick trip down to the local supermarket and I had a full sized SD card from a semi-reputable brand in my hot little hands. I unbolted the SCSI2SD and swapped in the new SD card. This time when I ran the configuration software it was blazing fast! Clearly the MicroSD wasn’t up to snuff. It was also amazingly quiet. (I understand why people swap out the fans. It’s the only source of noise. Maybe I should look at a nice Noctua fan or the like). I divided up the card and reinstalled.

I had a little problem reseating the case this time. The Analog board has a nasty habit of jumping out of its rails, at which point the case won’t close properly. I was also noticing a bit of electrical noise on turning on the switch. I put it down to a dirty switch.

This time the disk initialiser worked and formatted the drive…
Do you know how long it takes to initialise a 2GB HDD? I do. It takes about 2 hours.

Firing up the FloppyEmu again, start the installer and several disk swaps and I have a booting System 6 install. Yay! We’re making progress! I was also able to determine that the SCSI2SD will happily run off SCSI temination power, so I didn’t even need the

The FloppyEmu hard at work.

I formatted up the next two disk drives and rebooted the computer and then disaster struck.

Turning on the computer again from cold, I got an angry buzzing crackling from the back left corner. Whoah! I quickly turned it off and unplugged.

A visual inspection showed nothing, so the next step will be to pull out the power supply and inspect that. As that’s a major job (You need to pull the Analog board to get to the power supply, so remember all those scary voltages? You’re right in the middle of them).

I figure this will be a multiple day project so I have put the Macintosh aside until then.

(As an aside, I’d love to see a version of the BMOW FloppyEmu designed to replace the internal Mac Floppy disk. It could have a connector poking through the FDD slot to mount the OLED onto, and a couple of long tactile buttons poking out through the drive slot.)

Creativision / Dick Smith Wizzard

Meanwhile, back with the DSW, I have been busy finishing off the keyboard. I’d already done the schematic in KiCAD, so the next logical step was to fix the mistake with the key footprint and actually lay the keyboard out.

My initial attempt went well, but then I decided I really needed to refactor the whole thing. I’d laid it out as a grid as per the original controller. I decided that was actually a really bad idea, and proceeded to lay it out as a proper staggered row keyboard, similar to a “real” keyboard. I also moved the “arrow” keys around so that the left arrow was in the “backspace” key position and the right arrow was in the “tab” position.
I also added a Shift to both sides, made more room for the Return, and two Space keys at the bottom, so I could join them up and have something much closer to a “real” keyboard size.

I then began the grand routing exercise.

People kept wandering through and asking me what game I was playing. I’d reply by explaining the “rules” of the game, and pretending it was a game made it more fun.

Eventually after about 2 hours, I had it fully routed, without too many long traces and, more importantly, no Vias at all! The trick seems to be to change sides regularly for long routes, which allows other routes to go past. There are plenty of through hole components, so really, there should be no need for Vias. I was just glad I was able to complete it.

The final result is tiny! It’s so cute! It’s not really suitable in this form for “real” typing work, but as this is a prototype, that’s not really the point, is it?

Respect out to the original keyboard designers who did all this without the aid of CAD tools

I’ve uploaded it to my GitHub page.

Working on various systems with varying success

Another “this and that” post.

Atari 800

I finally got a replacement screen for my SDrive MAX, which has allowed me to actually use it reliably. It’s been great! It looks like, while the compatibility of the memory upgrade isn’t perfect, it’s good enough for many things. This has, however, allowed me to run the vast majority of titles for this platform.

SDrive Max in the foreground.

I do, however, find the 8 character display incredibly frustrating. There’s no reason it should be limited to 8 characters. In fact, once you scroll over a title it shows you the full title rather than it ending in something that looks like “teleng~1.xex”. Why not just show as many characters across as the display will support? Drop the extension if it’s a supported disk format or just let it flow off the edge of the screen?
I’d rather see 3 to 4 “wizard of wa” entries (12 characters) that I can then scroll over for more information rather than the extremely unhelpful “wizard~1.xex”. Is it Wizard of Wor? Wizardry? There’s dozens of titles where I have to drill in and scroll around one by one.
For now I have hand shortened all file names to 8 characters. It’s a horrible kludge but it’s easier than tilde followed by number.

Creativision / Dick Smith Wizzard

It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster on the old DSW. Now I have the beast reasonably under control, I looked at repairing my right controller. This controller is suffering from a damaged membrane (Who builds a joystick with a bloody membrane?) that I damaged even further while trying to repair it.

Rather than getting all depressed, I’ve been mostly working on whether I can build a replacement for it. I did, however, try conductive paint to sse if it would help.

Conductive paint connecting across a break in the membrane

Turns out the answer is “no, no it did not help” so for now I have put that controller aside. I’ll look at whether I can “hack” it into something useable later, or whether I just build a brand new controller, possibly something you simply plug a Megadrive controller into and it translates it into something the Creativision understands.

However, this spurred me on in my attempts to build the replacement keyboard and with this I did make a breakthrough. Having finally worked out that the entire keyboard is implemented, not as a keyboard matrix, as I’d expected, but instead as a series of “three contact” switches in the membrane, I was completely stumped for a while as to how I was going to implement this as a “real” (eg physical) keyboard. Most keyboards rely on a Momentary, or “Single Pole, Single Throw” pushbutton. What I needed was a “Double Pole, Single Throw” pushbutton. The vast majority that I found were completely unsuitable. I could buy something I could test my design with, but my chances of being able to build anything were slim, until I accidently stumbled on these switches over at Mouser. While not exactly free, they were cheap enough for what I needed.

Now I knew I could actually source a switch suitable for inclusion, it was now worth my time to build up a prototype to test my design.
Behold! The most user unfriendly keyboard in the world!

There’s a photocppy of the original keyboard membrane visible behind the Wizzard. The schematic for the final keyboard is under the pencil.

It consists of a ribbon cable connected to the pins on the controller port on one end, and to a breadboard on the other. I can then jumper a three way switch (Actually a “Double Pole, Single Throw, with one of the poles bridged to the third wire) between the tracks on the breadboard and check if my understanding of the circuit was correct.

After much uncertainty (And discovering I had my pin order reversed on the connector) I was able to test my first key press. It printed “7” on the screen. I was so overjoyed I pressed it a whole bunch more times. It printed “ERROR 06” on the screen. I didn’t care!

Now I knew the principal was correct I was able to test all the different key combinations. This allowed me to find a handful of errors, but overall, it wasn’t too bad. I had two keys switched and a missing line on another one. Overall it was pretty easy.

I’ve updated my KiCAD schematic and started PCB work. I’ve designed up the chosen button as a footprint, but having converted one entire side into a design I realised I’d numbered my pins on the footprint incorrectly :-/

After that I’ll need to order the switches and a PCB. Exciting times.

Amstrad CPC 464

Only a small update on this one. I took a cheap third party megadrive controller apart, bypassed its control chip (with a sharp blade) and used some wire wrapping wire to re-wire the connections to be Amstrad compatible.

The “guts” of the clone Megadrive controller.
I’ve cut the tracks with a knife and a screwdriver here
Here’s a shot of the board before I reassembled.

Button 1 is the default button (Oddly, this is button 2 on the Amstrad).
Button 2 is mapped to “up” on the joystick. Great for games that use the up direction for “jump”.
Button 3 is mapped to the secondary button (Button 1 on the Amstrad)
Button Z is mapped to “down”. This is for Starquake, which uses it for “jump”.

The wire wrapping wire (Aka “Kynar” wire) is really nice for doing traces like this. I’m tempted to buy a bunch of rolls of it in different colours. It’s both stiff enough to hold a shape you bend into it, yet flexible enough to be easily routed, and has a heatproof sheath so you can “dunk” it into molten solder and it won’t shrink off the wire. Lovely stuff.

Unbreaking things

So having thoroughly broken both my Atari 800xl and my CreatiVision, I decided to spend some of my long weekend fixing them.

Atari 800xl

I started working on the Atari 800 first. This was actually several days work in the evenings as it got out of hand, as the Atari forums people got involved with helping me determine exactly what was going on with the RAM extender.

Before I started fixing. ROM Tower is the grey board on the right hand side.

The first thing I did, and the thing I suspect most contributed to the stability of the system, was to remove the ROM tower. It had the original rom and 3 Machine Code Monitors. I’m never going to do anything other than play games and run demos on this system, so out comes the ROM tower. Unfortunately that didn’t help as much as I’d hoped and it became obvious why pretty quickly. The socket was bent so badly from having the tower plugged into it that the original ROM just popped out. The tower used square pins to connect, so had pushed it out of shape. It was also a point of weakness as the whole tower board acted as a lever.

My desoldering station made quick work of the pins without lifting a single trace and I dropped in a nice turned pin socket in it’s place. The old socket disintegrated as it came out so I’m quite confident about my “root cause analysis” here.

Socket removed.
New socket in place with ROM reinserted.

It booted up fine, which is always a good sign, but I wasn’t happy with the RAM expansion sitting like a dirty spider web in the middle of the system. By this point, people were getting involved with working out what was going on so I desoldered the board completely and started tracing and documenting the board.

Ewww! This took a LONG time to remove.

The board was held in with double sided tape which took a long time to clean off both the motherboard and the RAM board. Once out, I tried desoldering the chips to assist in the tracing, but the board had been constructed in a peculiar fashion, with all the components soldered in from the top side of the board, making easy removal with my desoldering gun basically impossible, and after accidentally removing a trace I gave up and started tracing visually and with a Multimeter.

This is still sticky from my attempt to remove the top soldered chips. I think I would need a hot air rework station to remove these.

After getting it most of the way there (I have two more links that I need to correct) I decided it was time to put it back into the Atari. I started by carefully cutting some insulation sheet (Clear plastic sheet designed for use in binding documents). I then fixed up the capacitors on the back of the board. Two of them had failed as I cleaned up the board so I grabbed some similarly specced ceramics and dropped them across the rails in the same place. Once done I attached the insulation sheet with double sided adhesive foam, attached in the corners so as to not impinge on any of the underside components or soldered points.

First wire in.

I decided to make the rejoining of all the wires as clean as possible, so starting with the innermost wires, and routing and trimming as I went, I rerouted the board back in. Once it was all in, I cable tied some of the bunches of wires, applied shrink wrap to add mechanical stability to the “enable/disable” switch and even taped some wires down with polyimide tape.

Wires trimmed to size, routed, soldered and with heatshrink around the ends.
MUCH neater.
Over a meter of excess wire removed.

Thankfully it fired up and passed all tests. It seems stable and I lost about an hour to playing an old classic game.

I’m still waiting for a replacement screen for my SDrive Max, as my current one is marginally incompatible and shrinks the image and mirrors it, which is not pretty 🙂
It’s functional, but not something I’d want to use for any length of time.

CreatiVision AKA the Dick Smith Wizzard

Next I needed to work on the Dick Smith Wizzard (Henceforth DSW for simplicity) and while I fixed one issue, I promptly introduced another.

The first fix I almost tripped over by accident. The DSW has been exhibiting an issue of distorted screen output and a tap is usually enough to fix it. I had stripped the machine down to bare and was checking it when I realised the place I needed to tap was the on/off button. It was corroded, which, considering the system’s age, should not have been a surprise. I sprayed some Deoxit in the switch, and worked it back and forth a bunch of times. It’s been rock solid since… right up to the point where I broke it completely with my next “fix”.

So this system uses a 7805 regulator to generate the 5v rail, and I’ve had success replacing them with 78E5s in some machines, which are embedded switchmode drop in replacements. Noting the very large heatsink attached to both the 7805 and the 7812 regulators (The latter being for 12v) I thought I’d swap out the 7805 so the system doesn’t run as hot. I grabbed out a 78E5, carefully desoldered the 7805 and… it wouldn’t fit! The legs on the 7805 had been bent into an angle to allow it to clear the 7812.


No problem. I just extended the legs of the 78E5 so it was raised over the top of the 7812 and gave enough clearance. I used some pins I’d got in an electronic grab baggie and extended it up and above. I made sure there was no contact with the heatsink or the 7812 and it all looked good.

Except the system wouldn’t power up. It wouldn’t even begin generating video.

With a sinking feeling I measured to see if there was a hot chip. Nope. Next I started probing voltages around the 4116 RAM chips (These use +5, -5 and 12v, and thus are a good spot to check for problems). Sure enough the +5 rail was sitting down around 2.5v. Odd. I checked on the underside at the output of the 78E5 and it was delivering 5v so it was slumping across the board.

I was quite confused by this point, and in desperation, I soldered back in the original 7805, making sure I put in the mica insulator and fired it up. Worked first go. I can only assume that the 78E5 can’t generate enough current to support all the chips at full voltage and was thus causing the slump.

Oh Well.

I refitted everything and it’s been fine since.

Conveniently Clockmeister had also sent me a new version of the ROM image he developed for the MultiCart, that fills the last 5 banks, so I decided to write that out to the ROM chip in my cart.
I have burned ROMs in the past, but not with much success, so I approached this with some trepidation. I removed the ROM from the cartridge, peeled off the silver sticker over the UV window, (Which turned out to be a “void if removed” sticker. Thankfully I was able to remove the residue with some Orange Power goo remover) and stuck it in my UV eraser for a 4 minute erase cycle.

Once done I simply dropped it in my TL866 II+, told it which chip I had, told it to ignore the internal chip check (Mine is not exactly the same chip as they list, but it’s usually safe to pick something of the same family) and burned it across. After a few minutes, it was done, and verified OK so that was hopeful! Back in the cartridge, and back in the DSW and it powered up first go. Yay!

I covered up the UV Erase window with a little square of aluminium foil covered with black electrical tape. Not as “permanent as the “void” sticker, but I can at least safely and cleanly remove this.

That grid paper makes an excellent backdrop.

I’m still working on a replacement keyboard solution for the DSW. I finally managed to locate a suitable key that, while expensive, won’t entirely break the bank. I’ll probably order one to begin with and, once I’m happy, order a bag of 100. I’ll also need to find some way to get keycaps to go with the switches.

This is going to be a VERY expensive keyboard 😀

Apple II Joystick

I now found myself with some spare time. I figured the time had come to make a joystick for my Apple II systems, learning from everything I’d picked up making the BBC Master Joystick.

This wasn’t actually a terribly difficult project, but it had one gotcha.

I was basing it on the design by Quinn of Blondihacks, which is an excellent design. I added a variable trimpot to allow a small amount of fine tuning, and I used an “off the shelf” box to contain it, the same as the one I used on the BBC Joystick.

Parts were:

  1. Joystick – It’s cheaper to buy it mounted on a board than it is to buy it as a standalone.
  2. DE9 M connector. (I accidently got DE9 F because every other system uses this not the male)
  3. A suitable case. I always use this case for these kind of joysticks, as it’s an affordable case. I wish it didn’t have the battery holder as I just end up cutting into that.
  4. A DE9 Hood. I had one lying around. Actually I had 2, which was lucky because I ruined the first one.
  5. 6 x 100nF and 2 x 10nF ceramic caps. (I had some spare which was lucky as I missed 2 when I bought them)
  6. 2 x 1MΩ trimpots. I add these in series with one of the 100nF capacitors to allow me to tune the capacitance.
  7. 2 x 470Ω resistors. (Forgot these. Luckily I had some in my stash)
  8. Some 6 strand cable. (I used leftovers. I think the cable is actually off a Polycom microphone extension. It’s really nice 8 core, untwisted in rainbow colours)
  9. Some experimenters board. I had some left over from the BBC Joystick.
  10. A DPDT switch. I had one I’d bought because they fit as drop in replacements for C64 power switches, so I’d bought lots.
  11. 2 x momentary buttons. I bought the wrong ones (Too deep for the case) so I scrounged some from my stash.
  12. Various standoffs, fasteners, cable ties and other things to make it all look neat.

Assembly went fairly well, but took a few hours.

I started by drilling a hole in the top of the case for the joystick to poke through. Last time I mounted the joystick then made a hole. This turned out to be a bad idea as drilling a hole that big introduces a lot of variability, so this time I added the hole first.

I then positioned the joystick by sticking it down with some blu tack, sliding it to the “right” location, then drilling through holes into the base for the mounting screws.

I drilled a hole for the cable exit and for the DPDT switch. This switch is wired so that it flips the left and right fire buttons, just in case you need them flipped.

Out came the experimenters board and I simply soldered up everything. I crimped on a dupont connector for the connection to the joystick, just in case I had to make changes.

Ready to button up

I had to drill through the integrated battery compartment to fit the pushbuttons.

Once I had it all assembled, I tested it, only to discover that X and Y were both inverted. Simple to fix, I just rotated the joystick 180° and screwed it back in. Oddly I’d initially had it this way round, but rotated it because I thought I might have flipped it when mounting it.

In situ.

Once that was done, I did some important testing.

All in all, a productive long weekend.

A Small Change

A minor change to the Apple IIgs. I purchased a USB Extension cable, with a USB A plug on one end and a USB A socket on the other, complete with mounting holes.

This allows me to route the Booti USB port to the outside of the IIgs. It takes standard M2.5 screws, aka “Floppy drive” screws. Unfortunately there were no suitably sized holes for the bracket to screw to. They were either too large or too small. In the end I grabbed some left over “Meccano” knockoff left over from a kid’s toy that they’d abandoned unfinished, and used that as a bridge. It fitted perfectly and ended up looking like it was designed to be used that way. Nice!

Finally I moved all my Booti files over to a pre-prepared “low profile” USB drive and installed that in the back of the machine. It’s quite discrete. It is, however, a bit of a “culture shock” to see it poking out of the back of a computer of this vintage.

Stuff Falls Over

So one of the “joys” of working on all this retro-tech is that you never know if it’s going to work when you turn it on. Two of my systems, despite previously working, have developed faults and will need repairs.

Atari 800xl

This machine has always had me very wary, as it has been hacked, and not exactly neatly or well. I’ve already had to resolder several wires and I am guessing I’ll need to resolder many more.

The symptoms seem to be memory related. Randomly garbage characters start appearing on the screen while I use the machine. I’m assuming something in there is loose.

My planned course of action is to clean up and simplify where possible. The ROM tower is definitely coming out. I don’t do any machine code development, so having 3 different Machine Code Monitors is overkill. I’ll pull it out and leave only the original rom in the socket. I may need to replace the socket, but we’ll see. if the ROM tower has been in there a long time, the contacts on the socket may be damaged.

I’ll then give it another soak test and give the memory expansion a good hard look-over. I’m wondering if it’d be worth my time replacing it with a modern one? The current one is 192k and a lot of “expanded Atari” software seems to want 256k. Maybe desolder everything and install an Ultimate 1MB? I might put it on the list for near the end of the year.


Argh! This machine has become the bane of my existence. Firstly the right controller developed a fault and I have been unable to source a replacement. I have tried building a replacement, only to be foiled by a lack of documentation and some very strange design decisions on the part of the keyboard manufacturers. The joystick innards consist of a long plastic membrane, folded upon itself several times. The conductive ink wears away with general use and the whole thing is a maintenance nightmare. Also, most of the buttons seem to be connected to 3 lines, not 2. I haven’t seen this anywhere else, and I’m hoping it’s just redundancy…

…and then the bug with the video / audio distortion crept back in. I was sure I’d fixed that one too!

My current plan, going forward for this system is to throw it in the bin. Only joking! I’ll strip it down, replace both the 5v and 12 regulators with more modern, low temp replacements. I’ll check for more dry joints and see if I can get it stable enough to boot reliably. the fact that a “bump” fixes the problem still points to it being a dry joint somewhere.

After that I’ll start working on the replacement keyboard again. If I can get the rest of the system stable, I’ll just short out pins until I’ve mapped out the full range of the keyboard matrix and then I should be able to build a drop in replacement. After that I’ll probably look at building a full joystick / keyboard replacement using low profile buttons. These systems have a limited life, so being able to offer a permanent replacement will make life easier for everyone.

Plotting out the upgrades

As 2021 is “the year of the peripheral” for me, I thought I’d put down my Month by Month plan for upgrades.

JanuaryRAMIIgs (Apple IIgs, already fitted)
FebruaryZ80 Card for Apple II (Apple IIe, second hand, on it’s way)
MarchDDI 5 (Amstrad CPC 464. Sorry Greg!)
AprilNothing. I’ll be at SwanCon so will save for that
MaySCSI2SD (Mac Se/30. I’ll also add a cable to route it outside the case)
JuneAVGCart (Atari 800xl)
JulydivMMC Future (ZX Spectrum, a system that needs more love here)
AugI’ll probably make the case for the Amiga 1200
SeptMockingboard (Apple IIe)
OctSome sort of Amiga Accelerator? If I can find one…
NovHarlequin 128 (So it arrives for Christmas)
DecChristmas! Save my $$$

Why no upgrades for the BBC Master? Because it’s pretty much fully upgraded. Atari STfm? These are notoriously difficult to upgrade. Commodore 64? Fully upgraded. CreatVision? Urgh, it’s playing up again.

Upgrading The Apple IIgs

As the IIgs has become my primary system for experiencing Apple II software, I’ve installed a few upgrades for “quality of life” improvements

The first of these is a Booti card. This emulates a Apple II HDD. It’s a rather nifty device that allows me to run hard disk “images” directly from a USB drive. It simply plugs into the “highest numbered” slot and even provides a useful menu to manage what images you are managing.
Some nice features are the ability to skip the boot sequence by pressing “N” (for next boot device) which allows me to use it with my FloppyEmu. (I’m starting to understand why some people have two FloppyEmus too.)
You can also have up to 8 devices that you can simply choose at boot time, by pressing the associated number.

This has dramatically simplified playing with images on this system! I still have two things ordered to complement this. Firstly is a USB flylead to take the USB port from INSIDE the Apple to outside. This’ll allow me to more easily update the contents of the USB stick. Secondly is a tiny little USB stick I purchased off e-bay so that it won’t stick out too much.

Next up is a Ram Upgrade from Garrett’s Workshop. This gives me up to 8MB of RAM on the system. Turns out the base 128k of the IIgs really isn’t enough to play almost anything written specifically for the IIgs. It still meant I could play the immense back catalog of Apple II / IIe games but I wanted to sample the improved sound and graphics of this beast of an apple.

With the addition of this I have indeed been able to play the improved games.

I have a Z80 card coming, but I think I’ll stick that in the Apple IIe for completeness sake. Then I’ll be able to run CP/M on yet another system.
(For those counting at home, I can run CP/M on the Commodore 128D and the BBC Master right now. With the next card I’ll be able to run it on the Apple II and down the track, once I get a DDI 5 for the Amstrad CPC, I should be able to ad another two more systems to my “army” of CP/M systems. If only there was something I needed to run on CP/M other than Zork.)

Still debating what March’s upgrade will be. Will I get a DDI 5 for the Amstrad or a SD2SCSI for the Mac SE/30? I’m leaning towards the SE/30 upgrade, but leave comments below if you think I should do something else.

†(edited to correct by a factor of 1024 the amount of RAM I had fitted to the Apple IIgs)