It took 2 years, countless emails and dedication.
- A booklet titled ‘Programmable Turtle’ sparks my imagination to contact the authors
- Advertisment placed in NSW Teaching Federation journal
- John Hill makes contact, has Australian published Apple II software on floppy and more
- Disk images are made and now ready to publish
On the 28th of October 2014 my usual eBay searches turned up a ‘SuperMac PCI video card’ located in 2605, Canberra. Finding something for vintage Macintosh computers in Canberra was special and I emailed the seller to ask if they had more gear available. I didn’t need the video card at that stage as the collection was just getting started. A quick reply came from David who creatively spelt out his email address (eBay filter messages out if they contact direct contact details). I introduced myself as looking for Apple memorabilia and System Software 6 era machines (e.g. Macintosh SE, Macintosh II). David confirmed he had good prices on gear I was interested in (Apple CD300e SCSI CD ROM) but needed time to go through his items.
1st of November I visited David at his home to find a garage with a beautiful older Porsche car and Mac gear dotted around the shelves. He had brought out some machines from a second room in the garage to show me, which at the time caught my interest as my imagination pondered what else could be in there but I didn’t dare assume I could just walk in. So we had a look at the gear put aside and talked about the issues a collector faces when electrolytic capacitors are turning Apples into time bombs. He suggested earlier Macs such as the 512K and Plus were stable and showed me in sunlight a Mac Plus analogue board that looked brand new. David showed me an SE/30 with no sound and couldn’t boot from a Hard Drive but booted immediately from a Norton emergency boot floppy.
I came home with a Portrait display, Macintosh Iici, SE/30, Apple CD300e and ADB keyboard and mouse device. I emailed him back with notes on each as I had cleaned them up and tried to get them working. David replied with some suggestions like buying a 3.6V PRAM battery to suit the IIci (hoping to get Video out).
16th of November 2014 I emailed again asking if he would consider selling more gear as I was having such a nice time tinkering. David confirmed he would but needed more time.
Fast forward to the 23rd of July 2015 where I next heard back with an apology but an offer of good prices on computers and time to come by. I went over on the 30th of July to pickup more computers and tinker.
Now for some context to my vintage computer collecting. Early joyful memories are of an Apple IIe system at Macquarie Primary School, Canberra. I think it was year 5 primary that MPS had a huge school fete where they were clearing out all of their old electronic gear. I remember the day clearly, and walking around the tables setup with computer packages. I convinced my dad to buy a complete IIe system (Colour Composite monitor, DuoDrive, IIe Platinum), IIc System (IIc and matching green phosphor monitor) plus a milk crate full of software.
My parents had separated well before then but it was decided the IIe was for Mums house and the IIc to stay at Dads. I remember playing ‘Carmen Sandigeo’ games on the IIc and wondering why the graphics were very sharp but only green and black. Taking my favourite floppy disks back and forth I had the colour on the IIe to remind me of what I thought the graphics should look like.
The IIe was sold at a garage sale as we planned to move interstate and the IIc no one remembers where it went but I sure remember missing that little computer.
It would have been great to find an Apple II system again but I had to focus collecting on Macintosh simply because nothing Apple II existed. I didn’t have any of the connections that I do today and relied on searching eBay and gumtree. Those Apple II systems that did come up were at priced at a minimum of $400 and often were the machine only, I was looking for the games I remembered.
How I further focused on Macintosh collecting will be another post! Back to David and the Apple II link!
Another year later and 20th of March 2016 I contact David mentioning I found a group called ‘Apple ][ Australia’ that had a users group meeting come up and wondered if he had anything Apple II around. To my true surprise he replied “OK- I’ll see what I can find- probably an Apple ][ e, monitor, and duodisk- sound ok?”. I was floored as not only had I failed to ask back in 2014 about the II gear but he described exactly the IIe setup at Mums house back in the day. His one line reply sent me into Apple II research mode where I read many articles, book extracts etc. on the various models and how one can service them to get them working again.
One particular thread that proved invaluable was a posting to Overclockers Australia by Dean Claxton on how he restored an Apple II power supply that had capacitors leaking. The journey to finding someone who was able and had time to fix ‘leaky caps’ is again worthy of another post. Quick read is Dean has become the go to guy for both Macintosh and Apple II repairs. I’ve referred friends and online contacts to him as I am assured I’m not the only one with power supplies blowing smoke.
On the 20th of April 2016 I came home with a car full of treasures including books, software and Apple II computers. Tucked away a tub of David’s was a book ‘Programmable Turtle’ which was a teachers guide on lessons using LOGO to draw shapes on an Apple computer screen. Note: Affixed to the back of the booklet is the matching software disk which us unfortunatly unreadable.
The booklet struck me as seriously important as it was the first Australian publication on using the Apple II had seen and it listed author’s names.
I started contacting people listed in the booklet on the 20th of May. Using the Whitepages and all kinds of search phrases in Google, I was able to find:
Chris Bakon; Ted Duffy; John Messing and Greg Preston.
I’ll admit to some nerves in calling these guys out of the blue – what would I say? Was it possible they had software or even Apple hardware after all these years? Programmable turtle was published in 1985, 31 years ago! Call me fashionably late.
I should mention that all four names above gave me time out of their day to talk and make suggestions as to next look as they no longer had Apple II items. Ted was spot on when he suggested a specific journal to place an advertisement in. I had to think this one over – was my target audience still reading this journal? Was it worth the cost?
Andrew Ganesan of the NSW Teachers Federation charges $16 per ten words, I agreed for this to be published for I think $35 “80s Apple computer collection needs contributions, I save resources+hardware used in schools,focus on Apple2, firstname.lastname@example.org 0410586345”.
With the advertisement out there I continued on practically hunting down more Apple connections in my spare time. Honestly it could be just the initial of a first name and last name plus a suburb to get me started. My strategies of going through 80s advertisements and contacting businesses took time for little reward as the businesses had closed well and truly.
1st of July 2016 an email comes through titled ‘Apple resources’ by John Hill. He found my advertisement in the NSW TF journal. I replied with my fingers gliding over the keyboard quickly to organise a time to pick them up, facing a 6.5hr drive return. My partner and I happened to be taking a holiday to New Zealand and would be driving back to Canberra, almost going right past John’s suburb on the way. John and I agreed on pickup after arriving back to Australia.
9th of July my partner and I are in the Volkswagen golf, boot half full with skis, luggage and more. We found John’s house easily, and I was met at the door with a welcome and invitation to come in. Neatly set out was a Macintosh LCII, Apple IIe Platinum, Clone Apple IIe, software, manuals and more. We loaded the car and sent on our ways back to Canberra with a promise to keep John informed of my work to archive the software and maintain the equipment.
This past week (today is the 16th of July) has been stressful at time due to my lease expiring at my Unit where all the collection is housed and I had a 5.25” box of wonderful software staring back at me.
I set about ‘imaging’ the disks, a task I had no idea would be as challenging as it was.
An outline of duties without the time written down spent on each step!:
- Catalogue disks given to my John
- Service the floppy drive by cleaning the heads and lubricating mechanisms
- Researching imaging methods such as ADTPro and EDD+
- Contact the Apple ][ group for feedback on my proposed imaging workflow
- Contact an infamous Apple II software archivist ‘4am’ in America for discussion on my workflow
- Configure ADTPro which included tracking down ‘the one’ cable that I needed but didn’t have to connect the Apple II to my MacBook. For reference the Apple Super Serial Card came out in 1981 and my MacBook is the early 2011 model. Exactly 30 years of hardware evolution
- Debug why ADTPro couldn’t see the Apple IIe – my cable was no good so I had to get another one
- Cable arrives and the connection works first go – finally the Apple IIe and MacBook are talking to each other at 115200 baud via terminal emulation.
- Start with the first disk, Apple IIe crashes a few seconds into the file transfer, debug, turns out the disk has mould which has affected the drive head.
- Clean the drive and move on, all other disks are mould free which is interesting
- Documenting everything as I go into the catalogue, which is now online as a ‘Google Sheet’ so it can be shared via link to anyone to view
- Develop mild RSI from swapping floppies
- Configure an Apple II emulator on the MacBook for testing the transferred files
- Celebrate as I made it through a total of 66 floppies with only 8 not working.
Going through the software using an Apple II emulator allows me to quickly check the images are working, make screenshots and add details such as the year and publisher to my spreadsheet.
The next step is to upload the disk images to Archive.org and take on scanning the manuals.
I plan to contact more people after I move house and see what else I can find – John Hill’s software is mainly Australian written and published software that for the first time can live on thanks to my efforts. Not only can the disk images be written back to real floppies but they can be used in emulation in a web browser requiring no configuration.