Category Archives: Projects

Paring Down

Is it ever possible to have too much Apple II gear?  Well, if shows like A&E’s Hoarders and Hoarding: Buried Alive on TLC are any indication, the answer is an obvious ‘yes’.  Any self-help guide or program designed to get you organized will emphasize reducing “stuff”, “clutter”, whatever you want to call it, to help you focus.

As I look around my overflowing office space,  I find myself recalling my recent trip to the Funspot Arcade in New Hampshire.  Spread across three spacious floors of gaming fun, the facility is stuffed with every manner of arcade game, from the original Pong to the latest fighters and shooters.  While it was great to get to play games I hadn’t touched since the early 80s (MAME doesn’t count, kids), I was somewhat disappointed to see the poor condition of some of my old favorites.  Broken Fire buttons, flaky controls, and CRTs with excessive burn-in or failing color guns were plentiful.  Other games were out on the floor adorned with “Out of Order” signs, or just plain turned off.  This got me wondering if Funspot’s abundance is also their curse.  Perhaps reducing the number of cabinets in their inventory would allow them to better service  the games they chose to keep.

Later that same day, I found myself at another gaming establishment nearby, the Pinball Wizard Arcade.  PWA’s floor space is less than one third of Funspot’s and they don’t come close to matching the number of games.  They do have all the classics though, and a superior selection of pinball tables.  When I entered the place, I thought I’d be disappointed but that turned out not to be the case.  PWA’s games were all 100% functional, clean and in better shape overall than Funspot’s, and if I’m ever in that area of the country again, I’ll probably return to Pinball Wizard Arcade rather than Funspot if I’m forced to choose.

The Funspot / PWA comparison may be an example of what a non-profit’s presentation will be versus that of a for-profit venture, but there’s still a valuable lesson to be learned here, and that is that less is often more.

With all this in mind, I take a quick inventory of my office: in addition to the two tables’ worth of working machines, there are stacks of Apple IIe’s, IIGS’s, DuoDisk Drive units and more piling up everywhere I look.

Collecting dust

Stacks of Apple II gear collecting dust in my office.

More stuff building up under desks and in every corner.

And there’s more in the basement:

Piles building up in the basement

More Apple II and III stuff in the basement

I don't even know if these IIGS machines work

It’s clear to me what I need to do.  How to go about it, as well as finding the motivation to try to build some momentum around it are different problems entirely.

Like many collectors, I have a hard time letting go of anything.  I have this deep-seated fear that if I unload that pile of Apple IIe’s sitting there that haven’t been booted up in years, I’ll someday find myself in a situation where I need a part for repairs and it will no longer be available to me.  For me, this is largely unreasonable.  I’m active in an Apple II community that is open and willing to share; I’ve rarely been in a position where no one is willing to lend or sell me whatever I’m looking for at below-eBay prices (color me grateful!)

When I first started collecting, around 1997 or so, I got everything I could get my hands on.  I didn’t even limit myself to Apple II stuff.  As a result, I ended up with a crawl-space full of Commodore and early Macintosh computers I didn’t care about (among other things).  A few years back, I loaded up the Commodores in my car and drove them down to a Commie collector in Colorado Springs.  The haul included PETs, SX-64s and a bunch of other stuff in which I had little interest.  The recipient was ecstatic.  I’m still looking for a home for the Macs.  This is the same thing I’m going to have to do with most of my Apple IIs.  It’s just going to be harder.  As I try to make a mental list of what can go, I find myself making up reasons to keep each of them.

The Apple Lisa 2/10 which has been upgraded to a Mac/XL is a good example.  I know little about the Lisa and this particular model doesn’t have any software loaded.  I have no convenient way to get applications from their native disk image format onto media the Lisa can recognize and I’m not sure what I would do with the thing if I did.  I haven’t turned it on in more than a year at least and I have no real sentimental attachment.  It didn’t figure significantly into my childhood and holds no special interest for me.  As I look at it, I can come up with only one reason I still have it: it’s a Lisa.  Not a good reason to keep something around, is it?  And yet, I struggle with the thought of letting it go.

And there’s another catch.  I despise the USPS with a passion that burns hotter than a thousand suns and I welcome its impending demise.  I’m not wild about the other major shippers either and the tedium of properly packing gear for mailing is even worse, which rules out eBay as a possible outlet.  So, someone would either need to come to me to get it, or show up at the next KansasFest.

As I plan the reduction, I have to remind myself: I don’t need five of everything. I don’t even need two of everything. Many of these, I don’t care enough about to even keep one.  So where does that leave me today?  I already have an extensive database of all my vintage computing stuff to use as a starting point.  The next step is to look with a critical eye at what I really want and begin sorting and marking what goes, what stays.

This will be a slow process I think, but I’m hopeful that the results will be worth the effort.  I’ll keep you posted.  In the meantime, anybody willing to give a good home to a Mac/XL?

Installing the Apple IIe Card on a Macintosh Color Classic

I finally had some time this past week to play with the IIe Card.  What began as a simple install ended up stretching over several evenings as I struggled to get the card to boot a floppy disk (more on that in a minute).

I started with a Macintosh Color Classic that had been upgraded to 10 MB of RAM and a 240 MB SCSI hard drive sometime in its past.  Conveniently, the Color Classic was already running System 7.5.5, the highest version you can run with the IIe Card.


The IIe Card was still sealed in its factory-new cellophane when I opened it.  I’ve never been of one those, “Don’t open that!” collectors.  I get this stuff because I want to play with and use it, and seeing a neat piece of hardware like this sitting on the shelf unused bothers me.

The box contained two 3.5″ diskettes, a user manual, the standard Apple warranty and reference materials, the Y-cable for connecting up floppy drives and a joystick, and the Apple IIe Card.


The manual contains basic set up and use information, but no instructions for installing the card itself.  This is because Apple expected you to have a dealer install it for you and serves as evidence of Steve Jobs’ lasting influence on Apple’s philosophies of the day, even though he was long gone by the time the IIe Card and the Color Classic were released: the computer should be an appliance and users shouldn’t be poking around in the interesting bits.  You wouldn’t want them to let the magic smoke out, right?  Fortunately, Apple took a different view of its dealers and wanted to make repairs and parts replacement as simple as possible.

Here. the back panel comes off and the motherboard is an all-in-one affair that slides in and out of the case and seats easily in its socket.


Installing the IIe card is an idiot-proof process – simply line it up with the PDS slot and plug it in.

2011-03-09_20-10-58_231 2011-03-09_20-12-38_361

Slide the motherboard back in, replace the back panel and you’re done with mucking about in the Mac.  Next, the Y-Cable is attached and the Apple 5.25″ drive and joystick are plugged in.

2011-03-09_20-24-22_223 2011-03-09_20-34-06_312

And that’s it for the hardware.  Easy, no?  Getting the software installed was just as simple and I was ready to boot up my Macintosh-shaped Apple IIe.

And this is where I encountered my first problem.  The floppy drive came to life and made that reassuring clunking that Apple II drives are supposed to make and then…. nothing.  The drive just spun, and I could hear that the arm wasn’t moving at all.  I put the diskette into a real Apple IIe and it started up just fine.  Back in the drive attached to the IIe Card again and no activity.

Like most retrocomputing enthusiasts, I have acquired a number of things related to my hobby over the years, including a seemingly ever-growing stack of Apple II floppy drives.  For the life of me, I can’t remember every buying one and yet they seem to be multiplying.  Perhaps they’re breeding down in the basement…

By the way, if you’re following along at home with your own Apple IIe Card, the only 5.25″ drive that will work is the Platinum Apple 5.25″, model A9M0107.  The older beige UniDisk, model A9M0104 won’t do the trick, as the IIe Card doesn’t supply the proper voltage required by the ‘0104.  I found that I actually had to check the model number on each drive, as yellowing has made it hard to distinguish the two models at a glance.

At any rate, I ended up going through several hours of troubleshooting with assistance from a couple of Apple II fans more knowledgeable than myself, and the tedious process of swapping out drive after drive before finding one that still works.


Well, now I know what I’m going to be doing with at least some of my time at KansasFest this July: drive cleaning and alignment.  Maybe I’ll do it as a session, so other people can sit and watch and keep me company…

Finally, though, I have a working card set up in the Color Classic:


One minor annoyance I noted with the card is that the Control-Command-Escape sequence to get into the IIe Card Control Panel more often than not caused the Color Classic to reboot itself.  It didn’t seem to be a genuine crash, but an actual proper restart sequence.  Odd…

For more pictures of the IIe Card installation and set up, visit my PicasaWeb Album.

If you’re interested (and if you’ve read this far, it probably safe to assume that you are), Ivan Drucker of IvanExpert (and recent Open Apple podcast guest) put together a nice presentation at KansasFest 2009 on the Apple IIe Card.  You can read it yourself here.

My New Apple IIe Project for a Friday Night

I’m posting this mainly because it’s been a while since I’ve updated the blog.  Getting the Apple II Scans site up and running, and producing content for it, as well as prepping for the next Open Apple podcast have kept me from doing as much here as I’d hoped over the last month.

I recently acquired a Macintosh Color Classic to go along with my as yet unopened Apple IIe Card.  It’s still factory sealed, and yes, I will be opening it tonight and installing it in the Color Classic.  I know it’s nothing new – people have been installing this card for years in various flavors of compatible Macintosh.  That’s what it was designed for, after all.  But I’ve never done it before, so I’m going to do it and take some pictures.  If it turns out to be interesting, I might even write another blog entry on the subject.


Apple III: Plugging in the ProFile

What better way to spend a snowy day off than playing with your Apple III?  I can’t think of any.  I installed the ProFile interface card, connected it up to the drive, said a prayer (I do that a lot with these things) and powered it up.  Considering the age and sensitivity often attributed to Seagate’s ST-506 hard disk, I was pleasantly surprised to see (and hear – wow, it’s loud!) the drive spin up and the red Ready light glowing steadily.  It took more than a minute to grind its way through its start up diagnostics, but it does get there.

ProFile I/O card in slot 4

ProFile I/O card in slot 4, UPIC on the right in slot 1

ProFile card mounted in the Apple III

ProFile card mounted in the Apple III

The next step was to check whether the Apple III could see and communicate with the drive.  Booting up the System Utilities brought me more good news.  Not only did I not have to go through the driver patching process required to load new drivers into the System disk, but the drive happily supplied its contents to the screen when requested.

Profile in the Device list

Profile in the Device list

Profile file listing

Profile file listing

It appears that the Catalyst program has been installed on the ProFile (along with a ton of other software), so I think that’s my next step.  The Apple III can’t actually boot to the ProFile, so I have to learn how to access the programs.  I’m sure its an easy procedure (in fact most of this restoration has gone surprisingly well), but I don’t know how… yet.

Apple III with Sider

Apple III with ProFile

Apple III: Next Step, Mass Storage

The ProFile was Apple’s first external hard drive and was developed for the business-class Apple III line. After the failure of the Apple III to catch on, Apple re-released the ProFile in 5 and 10 megabyte versions for their next big business flop, the Apple Lisa.

ProFile 5MB Hard Drive

ProFile 5MB Hard Drive

Given the outlandish prices Apple III hardware and software fetch on eBay these days, I was quite happy to snatch up this ProFile I/O controller for a song – well, okay, the Buy It Now was $19.99.  I’ve had a 5MB ProFile drive in storage for quite some time now, as I didn’t have a matching controller, so I was looking forward to firing it up.   Unfortunately, I discovered I’ve misplaced (or perhaps never had in the first place), the cable to connect the drive.

ProFile Controller Card

ProFile Controller Card

Based on the information in this Apple tech note, I think I can use a “standard” parallel cable, but I’ll need one with male DB-25 connectors at each end.  There are plenty of places online that will sell me one for cheap, but sometimes I prefer the friendly face-to-face service (and occasional comical expression when I explain what I want) I get from my local custom cable place.  They’ve always been great in the past, so I’ll pay them a visit tomorrow…

As you can see, this particular unit isn’t in very good cosmetic condition: improper case reassembly has resulted in stress cracks, and the oxidation on the metal components leads me to believe it was stored somewhere humid for a time before I got it.  Additionally, the “silvering” has worn off the badges.   The important thing, though is whether it works, and though I can’t yet plug it in to my Apple III for testing, it at least powers up successfully and I can hear the massive 5.25″ Seagate ST-506 drive chugging away inside.

Stress Cracks

Stress Cracks



Worn badges

Worn badges