Category Archives: Peripherals

Supersize Your Apple II Experience by Adding a Hot Raspple Pi

Not so long ago, (at least as reckoned the retro-computing event time-scale), I saw a video that blew my mind. I really didn’t understand all of what was happening when I saw it, and in the name of full disclosure, I still don’t fully understand all the ramifications. I understood that this bit magic was new, and as such I should fear and loathe it, as is meet, right, and natural. But, I fought that feeling and you should too. So, open this link in another browser tab if you have the bandwidth or ability, and I will tell you this saga of high adventure.

It was Thursday, 25 JUL 13 and I was in Kansas City, MO when I first encountered a pairing of a Raspberry Pi with an Apple II. I witnessed a presentation by Ivan Drucker on the subject demonstrating the possibilities available using the Raspberry Pi Linux based OS, Raspbian, paired with A2SERVER (Network file server and network boot host for Apple IIgs and IIe computers) and A2Cloud (Mass storage, internet access, and floppy disk transfer for any Apple II computer via David Schmidt’s ADTPro and VSDRIVE). I remember after the talk that I needed to study this more, because there was no reason that the interface between a Pi and an Apple couldn’t yield a greater overall end user experience. Just a few months later, into the mix enters David Schmenk’s Apple Pi video. Watch it and study it. There is no explanation except what you can observe . Oh yeah, and an entire blog dedicated to explaining the Apple Pi.

This is your Apple II on the Raspple II!

This is your Apple II on the Raspple II!

I have to admit, I delayed getting a Raspberry Pi because it seemed I would need a HDMI connection which for me would mean a new monitor purchase for it to be meaningful, and I didn’t want to use that for a justification to buy a new monitor, apparently. So, I put off it off until Ivan Drucker started posting about the Raspple II  and I could see this metamorphosis taking place. That broke me and I purchased a Raspberry Pi not too long after.

I wanted to get to know the Raspberry Pi and play with it a little in my way. Looking around, I found that I could run a Linux based penetration testing distro on a Raspberry Pi, and thought, “How funny would it be to demonstrate to somebody how I could hack into my home network and own my network boxes with an Apple II?”

So I pieced some things together, The Pi, Charles Mangin’s Apple II keyboard to USB Arduino, an SD card with Kali Linux ARM pentesting OS and got it up and running. In an Apple IIe the parts are very storable, enough to evade a casual inspection under the hood. Too funny. I fired it up and tested it out. Nice! I could enumerate and test my home network from an Apple II looking base. Nobody wants to hear that their security could potentially be penetrated by an Apple II! Who’s got time for that? The set up worked well, was easy to convert to, and I can’t wait to spring that illusion sometime.

So while I was fiddling on that set up I remembered about using Putty and Xming. briefly, Xming is an X Server for Windows and I remembered that I could SSH into a Linux OS and have it serve up X Windows. I’ll explain more about this later on, but the big picture is that I would not be needing to purchase a new monitor.

Yesterday was the day that I had everything I needed to made a foray into this Raspple II adventure including the enthusiasm. I decided that the platform would be the Apple IIGS, I set about with the set up, picking the cards and what not. This setup will include a Uthernet card, a Drew ][ audio card to feed GS audio into my computer’s audio, and a hard drive of some type that I have not determined as of yet. Choices include a Focus card with a 500MB IDE hard drive, a Focus card with 256MB CF, a CFFA 3000 with USB support, and a MicroDrive CF. Currently I am using the 256MB CF Focus because it was the first one I loaded out and it had ProTerm on it.

One minor setback, but I am glad I found it: My second(fifth?)-hand Apple IIgs came with a corroded battery pre installed. I finally observed it and pulled it out for replacement. I was lucky in that the battery did not leak to badly, although there was a lot of corrosion, not so much to the to the battery holder terminals, so my afternoon was engaged in a clean up operation. I then discovered hoe amazingly sophisticated the Apple IIgs was designed: All of the major computer component fasteners are tabbed allowing easy access and replacement. I did not know that. When I was satisfied I moved on with the set-up.

Before and after battery maintenance.

Before and after battery maintenance.


I set up the Raspple II. The package is downloadable from Ivan’s site, and the instructions are very clear and easy as far as SD card set up and deploying the system. After I had the package set up and working, I disconnected everything on the Raspberry Pi board except the ethernet and the USB power. I then added a USB to serial connection. This was attached to my printer port on the Apple II gs.

That’s it so far, I do not even have the Uthernet connected as of yet.

My Putty SSH session and LinApple window.

My Putty SSH session and LinApple window.

I was able to connect to the Rasberry easily through the serial port using ProTerm 3.1 Just by going to Online => Parameters and choosing Baud Rate:4800/Emulate:DEC VT-100/Uncheck Status Bar?/Line Status:Online, I was now at the Raspberry Pi command line from the Apple IIgs’s screen. I am also able to log in to the Raspple II via ssh connection using Putty and issue the command “startldxe” to bring up the GUI on the windows machine. I can also use SFTP to transfer files between Windows and Raspbian. There’s a lot more that I can experiment with, but I am currently having an issue with KEGS deploying and want to work some more to figure this out. I will update soon when I make some more headway.

Raspberry Pi desktop served up with Xming.

Raspberry Pi desktop served up with Xming.

The RetroConnector

Whilst the annual Apple II celebratory activities were drawing to a close, I found myself wandering the vendor fair, my mind agog with the oddities and wonders that can only fascinate the Apple II eccentrics and their onlookers. It was during this experience, that I stumbled across the table manned by Charles Mangin, who had presented several variations of RetroConnector in an earlier presentation.

“What the hell is a RetroConnector“, you ask.  Hey, no need to get ill-tempered, my level-headed friend, just collect yourself and I’ll explain.  The RetroConnector that I own is an Arduino shield interface that turns the built-in keyboard of an Apple  //e into a standard USB keyboard that is recognized by any modern computer. There is also a version for the Apple //c.  “Why would I want to do that”, I can hear you thinking. Again I will tell you:  Because it is wonderful.

Charles Mangin's RetroConnector //e

Charles Mangin’s RetroConnector //e

I bought a RetroConnector for my IIe, stuck it in my cargo pocket and rode all the way home, through TSA, who seemingly unconcerned about the RetroConnector as a threat. Monday evening I hustled my desk area into a new configuration, wherein I deployed the Apple IIe as my main keyboard.  I simply grabbed my fully stocked Apple IIe, pulled the keyboard cable from the motherboard, popped the keyboard cable to the RetroConnector, and integrated the device betwixt the Apple IIe and my laptop with a USB Type-A to Mini-B connector.

At this frame in time, the universe paused for a moment, I saw a preternatural golden shimmer transverse the green hues of my motherboard circuitry and I think Slot 6 winked at me.

Immediately upon trying it out on my lappy, the tactile response was perfect.  It was exactly the subtile ingredient missing from hundreds of base station set ups I had tried over decades to get the feel right. For me this feel is right, as the Apple II is the keyboard that I learned to touch type on, and the keyboard that will always feel right to my sense of how a keyboard should function.  It is also the keyboard I have been writing this post with.

For the past 2 weeks or there a bouts, I have been using this Apple IIe keyboard as my daily rig and have been loving it.  The first thing I noticed is that the DELETE key functionality has been restored to the way I have learned it should work; as an erasing backspace instead of a cursor that eats letters to the right of it.  It took me years to retrain my brain and fingers to accept this lie when I started using a PC.  So, I’d like to thank Charles for showing up in the Nebuchadnezzar and pulling me out of the Matrix.  Of course, there is a quick firmware change to fix that functionality if you decide to take the blue pill and live the lie.

But what if I were to tell you that the RetroConnector could do more?

Well buckle up, Spanky, you going for a ride.  Check out this video that details the result of a RetroConnector experiment involving a Raspberry Pi and an Apple IIc.  Do it.  Do it even if you are not interested because the music is great.

And then get yourself one of these things!

Copy the Disk. Repeat.

Set it Up, Grab a Disk.

Prompted by an opportunity to help out a  comrade with some disk archiving , I dusted off the Apple II’s that I had put into storage whilst I updated the home a bit.  I pulled out what has become my main rig, a smart clock enabled zip chip accelerated Apple IIe Platinum.  I took the opportunity to clean it a bit, and ensure everything is in good working order.  I fired it up with a CF MicroDrive that acts as a hard disk and has a PROSel text interface that I am addicted to. And this set up really shows off the abilities of my Kensington track ball.  I attempted to connect to ADTPro via my Uthernet and home network, but I did not.  I needed to configure my home network, and as an exercise I wondered if there might be another way to rig for mass floppy duplication.

I love ADTPro.  It is a fast way to duplicate disks when used in conjunction with a Uthernet card, I am still in awe of the speed of 8-bit information transmission.  I initially duplicated my home library from the 80′s using this method and had no qualms. I recently updated some of my home network components, operating systems and failed initially to make ADTPro connect.  I knew that it would be easy to change the configuration, but I wondered if I it were possible another way.  So now I wanted to look at other possible means.

I knew that I could copy from disk to the CF drive in my CF MicroDrive using standard disk copy software, but then something occurred to me.

Disk Nox Notes

My disk box was the ultimate document filing system.

A New Level of  Disk Copy Power.

Did I mention that I received a CFFA 3000 some time ago?  Probably not, because I have never used it.  I received and put it away a number of long months ago. It was right about the time I took down my Apple II installation to revamp the home a bit. So, I pulled that card from storage and in it went. It only took me a few minutes of experimentation and reading the manual to decide that this was just the thing. By interacting with the firmware n the card, I could store the image of the physical floppy directly to USB, but better yet, it was automated to name them DISK001.DSK, DISK002.DSK, etc., so that was a part of the process I no longer had devote time to.

This simple difference in pre-designating the image file name numerically was a huge difference when I started to copy the same images the second time around. When I made file images the first time, I relied on the image name to remind me what was on the disk, and I found that this method was terribly inefficient when I was looking for specific files, programs, and graphics. With disk image files being numerically named, I could reserve less mental processing power to naming the files and more to concurrently updating the spreadsheet I had open. Now when I copy a disk, the spreadsheet has a column for a disk number, a column for image number (there’s 2 image numbers per disk number in most of my collection), the floppy disk brand, if the disk side copied, if not did the disk boot, notes about track errors during the copy. All in all the process is still fast and a million more times desirable for data sorting purposes. The floppies, once copied, are placed in order of processing in a disk box where I should be able to revisit them for further documentation. Best of all, when the imaging is done, I will have them on a USB that I can then transfer to many storage locations. I am very pleased about how simple this process is.

The way the copy process works with the CFFA 3000 is well suited to my preferences as well.  When the CFFA 3000 does come along a problem sector in a track, it tries to read each sector in the track, and repeats the process quite a umber of times until it succeeds in copying the information or it fails and moves to the next sector.  I was surprised quite a number of times when I heard the drive re-calibrating to find disk information and was sure that the disk would fail only to be amazed when it did not.

After a few hours I had imaged 434 floppy disk sides.  In the end, about 16% failed to copy correctly, typically with a single problem track.  But even though all the disks didn’t copy correctly, some of the files were still readable using CiderPress software.  Also, some of the files are directly replaceable right down to the crack screen on some from on-line archives.  All in all about 5% of the disk library was not copyable.  I made appropriate notes in a spreadsheet and tried to keep my documentation tight. I should, for the most part be able to recreate my classic disk line up.

Having a systematic way of looking at these images also has allowed me to examine some of my teen history.  I can see that a majority of the titles were brought to me by The Midwest Pirates Guild, High Society, and The 1200 Club.   That being said…


                       Thanx to:  The Freeze
                                  Dr. Micro
                                  The Burglar
                                  Apple Bandit
                                  Mini Appler
                                  Sinbad Sailor

                       Special Thanx:   Hot Rod
                      CALL THE ADVENTURERS TAVERN

Joystick Restoration Video

When I did my joystick restoration, I also wanted to try to document it.  I am finding the video part challenging as I have little experience in this and am trying to find a method that is not too time consuming and give me a modicum of experience.  SO I guess, the video is also part of the experiment.  I also plan to do this for the other Apple II restorations that are upcoming.

My first battle is with the editing software I am using to piece together my splices.  The second battle I have is searching for a plugin that works well for self hosting video and at some point I would like to display as well, but I think I am getting into a can of worms supporting OS and browser variations.  Third, I am still struggling with my methods of rendering video and need good way to host the video and or stream the video as the Quick time movie below is lengthy to download, but for those who do I applaud and thank you for your patience.

Apple Joystick Restoration

Seeing the World with ComputerEyes

As I entered my abode this evening I saw on the stairs a freshly delivered package in a stale cardboard box from Subway.  A-ha! An eBay delivery, recognized it right off from the overzealous use of packing tape that was clearly not intended to just keep the box from opening, but a wholehearted attempt to keep the box together entirely. I waited until after supper to inspect further. Upon closer examination, the inspection revealed: An incredible amount of packing material, much more than what I suspected the tape/box/package-thing could hold and . . . an ComputerEyes digitizer that I have been chasing for the Apple IIe.  I had been wanting one for quite some time, at least since 11/26/09 and came into a low dollar auction for one.  Ten bucks was all it took to walk away with one, this time.

Skull goes here.

A sweet skull I digitized with ComputerEyes and a Panasonic video camera circa 1985.

I unpackaged my trophy, nay, my Major Award, and took a look at the contents.  This was an awesome package with some real life “feelies” and I will put some pics/scans up at some point soon.  What I found instide was the manual for ComputerEyes, and for the Print Shop companion software, two envelopes with the Digital Vision logo, coming out of Dedham, MA, multiple pieces of correspondence from the company, a invoice from the company, listing the ComputerEyes Digitizer for $399.95, the Print Shop Compatibility Software at $15 and a free Demo Disk plus shipping $11, totalling $425.95, paid in full.  I was very excited about this extra documentation and now considered my 8-bit Apple II ComputerEyes problem solved.

But there was another problem, one I wasn’t proud about.

Sometime after the ComputerEyes system entered my conscientiousness, and I decided I was going to make one mine, it was to the internet I trod in search of this magical device.  There was a problem though, and the problem was a serious dearth of information about the original system that I knew.  I could find no pictures, I seemed to remember a card being associated with the device, but this later proved to be false.  I couldn’t find any supporting documentation, and I was acting on a feverish impulse to buy one and in the end I ended up with a ComputerEyes card for an Apple IIgs.  I think at the time I mentioned this Twitter, got in to a short exchange with one of my favorite Retro pundits, @blakespot from The Bytecellar.  We made some chatter about my auction foibles and I am sure he went away from that dialog thinking “What is your deal, Ding-Dong?”

It was a rookie mistake.

Well I am stubborn and I held on to the card, knowing I couldn’t be beaten if I didn’t give up.  I put it away until I started noodling with this IIgs and wanted to see what it could do.  As I blogged earlier, I believed the card to be failed, D.O.A, a write off, and at that point I conceded that I was beaten but this card, on all fronts.  This 16 bit card from hell had crushed my dreams of digitization, and a new mission I was on to take a 10 MegaPixel video image and take it back to it’s 16 bit heritage.  And it was somewhere in this miasma of self-doubt that I noticed what was in the other half of the documentation.

Also arriving for the 8-bit version of the ComputerEyes module, I found the manual and software that supported ComputerEyes for the Apple IIgs.  This was too good to be true.  I now had full documentation for both devices.  This made me check myself, I opened the chassis on the GS and pulled the ComputerEyes card and gave it an quick visual inspection to look for wear on the contacts, or any tell tale signs of a fault.  Nothing.  I decided to reseat the card in slot #4 and as I did so, I noticed how tight the fit was.  I made a very dedicated effort to ensure the card seated properly, brought up the software and I had a sweet success! I hooked up the Nikon camera composite video out and captured the image with the Digitizer.  Awesome!

I have to tell you haw thrilled I was at this little success, and embarrassed again at not planting that card with the deft hand that I should have.  ComputerEyes IIgs, you have been a hard task master, but my stubbornness has paid off, and my 16 bit experiments in imagery can begin.  Victory will be mine, ComputerEyes, even if I have to conquer each of your 16 dithered colors.