Monday, August 30, 2021

Thus far, I have found System 7 rather interesting.

On the PowerBook Duo 230 AKA 30 year old Mac, I've got 7.5 running off a BlueSCSI mounted internally. Tech by Androda has a PowerBook configuration that comes with a lovely 3D printed bracket, which was easily mounted using the rails bolted to the original Quantum drive. The only real problem that I had was initializing the drive, in the end I opted to download a prepared blank image. As far as I can tell the difference versus dd'ing my own is Apple Partition Map, Eventually I need to find a nice disk utilities package that fits on a floppy, as the Disk Utils disk offers me little value beyond it boots and has a system folder.

Installing was fairly straight forward since I was able to build floppies using the PowerBook G3 AKA 20 year old Mac. No idea of how, but disk one appears to be bootable but ha sno system folder visible like the Disk Utils disk. The installer however kind of sucks. Attempting an easy install takes about 20 - 40 minutes of swapping 7 floppies, and then dies and deletes the entire staging area off the disk. So I went about doing a custom install piece by piece and determined that its the Apple Guide on diskette 7 that causes this. Also for some reason it follows a pattern of eject disk 1, ask for disk n, eject and ask for disk 1, eject and ask for disk n; whenever I first start installing some item from custom install. Making this whole process a pain in the ass. Once in a while it decided to want to floppies at once. So, while I kind of love how easy it is to get classic Mac OS to boot: I think the 7.5 installer sucked. It is however quite simple and easy to use, if you can get it to work :P. At 7 floppies plus a Disk Utils, it's not too large a set either.

Beyond that however, it works superbly and for a machine old enough to have school aged children of its own, I find the Duo 230 quite snappy. The real pain was trying to get Stuffit Expander loaded, since getting the images to mount on my G3 was mostly an exercise in futility. Once I finally got the disk made, I both set the write protect tab and wrote a message about not losing the disk because it's a pain to build. When I was putzing with Basillisk II on my OpenBSD machine it was fairly painless because I could just mount the image directly. In System 9.2.2, I ended up using grabbing the Virtual DVD-ROM/CD Utility off Macintosh Garden. Disk Copy and ShrinkWrap told me to eff myself. Trying to mount in Toast just froze the G3 such that not even the mouse could move. Never liked Roxio on Windows, and don't think I care for it on Mac either. Needless to say I wasn't happy getting StuffIt Expander onto my Duo!

One thing that remains to be determined is whether or not I care to migrate to System 7.5.5, or a larger internal image.

Testing 7.5.3 -> 7.5.5 in the emulator was a fairly painless experience. Give or take that it takes forever to unstuff large files compared to my Duo. The StuffIt archive is 70~80 meg. More general stuff in the emulator seems to suggest 7.5.3 improved performance on 68k processors, not just on the younger PowerPC processors. But overall seems less important without a PPC based Mac. Given the size is something like net install + 19 floopies + 3 update floppies, I'll probably defer that until I have a working RaSCSI where I can just place the files rather than imaging a ton of diskettes.

Regarding the disk images, I'm less decided. I chose to setup BlueSCSI with a 250 MB image. Partly because I just wanted to see it work, and partly because I intend to have RaSCSI be an external drive to shuffle between systems. Considering the Duo came with a dead 160 MB drive and they apparently were sold in 80 MB and 120 MB configurations, I'd like to think 250 MB is a nice balance between the hardware's era and large enough not to care. Between system folder, basic software, and copies of the floppy loaded setup files, I'm only using about 30 MB. I plan for RaSCSI to present a large 4 GB volume, possibly several; but I could just as easily use that internally.

One oddity: the maximum date. Despite HFS having a limit of 2040 for its max date, I couldn't go past 2019 without the date wrapping around to 2019 in the control panel. Apparently this was a bug in the date/time control panel, and someone wrote a nifty control panel app that lets you set the date correctly.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

While I will admit that I didn’t have high expectations for a USB floppy drive, I had expected it’s life span to be measured weeks, or at least days of I/O time. Over the past 3 weeks I’ve probably had disks in use for less than 6 hours. The MTBF had been much poorer than I’m used to for floppies, but relatively effective.

On the positive side thanks to 20 year old Mac and 30 year old Mac, I actually have points of reference without having to drive to work and borrow my “Old” machines internal IDE floppy drive. The Wallstreet series seems to have a really great floppy drive compared to the Tendak USB drive, even if the PowerBook’s drive is old enough to walk into a bar and buy a beer.

The real question I suppose, is do I want to try and get a replacement while the drive is within Amazon’s window (as well, as should be under warranty from the manufacturer). Or do I just want to take it apart and putz with it, since the replacement will probably be just as awesome.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Simple solutions to simple problems

When I moved, I ran two cables around the room. One to behind the headboard as a spare in case I re-arrange the room someday, and another to the corner my desk is on. My desk and bed being along the same wall with desk and headboard at opposite corners.

One of the things that has irked me all these years is how much of a tight fit this is. To pull my desktop forward to access the cables: I've had to yank the Ethernet. Very annoying. On the flipside when screwing with old computers, sometimes Ethernet is a better deal than Wi-Fi. Thus the cable under the headboard has been handy. Give or take that I usually end up wearing out my knees since the headboard isn't handy, and the dog takes my spot while I'm putzing with computers.

Finally I've caved in any decided there shall be a gigabit switch at my desk instead of a direct connection to my gateway across the room.

Since the $20 TP-Link 8-port gigabit switches I replaced some old HPs^, I opted for one of these TP-Link Lightwaves, It's rare that I need more than one port at my desk, and space is at a far greater premium than ports^^. Damned thing is tiny as can be. I envision its mounting place to be Velcro to the back of my monitor, but for now a simple picture hanger provides an immediate solution.

And for good measure of testing: Rimiru streaming Netflix from its 1 Gbit/s Ethernet while my PowerBook G3 runs off its 10 Mbit/s Ethernet for grabbing some floppy images for the 'ol Duo.

^ HP makes some good switches. These worked great as long as you didn't do a lot of multicast, but had a bigger problem. Turn off a computer and all ports would experience batshit packet loss until you turn that machine back on or unplug it from the switch. Weird.

^^Unlike at work where there's more space and far more equipment. My home is a more wireless network centric place :P.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Sometimes to fix a 30 year old computer, you're better off buying a 20 year old computer to help

A few months ago, I picked up a 12" iBook G4/800 MHz to use as an OpenBSD/macppc experiment. After the Duo's power supply went poof, I was rather hesitant to spend $30+ on a replacement that I would likely have to split open and re-cap to avoid a repeat of said smelly poof. Since the iBook G4s still used a 24 volt charger, and mine already had a replacement tip scarily attached. I decided to buy another G4 charger as a replacement, and attempt to graft the Duo's tip onto my G4's charger.

Sadly this proved unsuccessful, be it my limited soldering skills or the problem of figuring it how the old replacement tip's three wires were adapted to the G4's one wire and ground, it didn't work. So I decided to do a bit of research. Excluding a brief difference in the 500 series it seems that Apple largely kept 24 volt chargers from at least the early '90s PowerBooks up until the early Clamshell G3 models with the hockey puck, and swapped tips towards '99 or '01. It's kind of hard to find one of the hockey puck chargers, and much like the iBook G3, I really can't decide if the design was genius or silly.

In my efforts to dig up a replacement charger, I ended up buying a 20 year old mac to help me fix a 30 year old mac. Got a good price on a 14" PowerBook G3 series, which from the 233 MHz/512K/etc on the bottom I suspect may be a PDQ. Since this machine happens to have both 10BASE-T Ethernet and a floppy drive, it's made it really handy to try and deal with abusing software onto floppy diskette with disk copy. The machine even came with a CD-ROM module, user manual, emergency guide, and some spare floppies.

Opening up the PowerBook G3, I really, really, really hope that whoever designed the internals won an industry award or at least got a huge bonus. Eject the expansion bays, push the switches and pop goes the keyboard. Unscrew and yonk the heatsink and vola memory, hard drive, right there. Makes working on my old ThinkPad (and pretty much very laptop I've ever touched) look hard by comparison.

Not sure if anyone fathomed how useful the mix of old and new ports on the Wallstreet/PDQ would be for something like this. Having 10 Mbit/s Ethernet and a version of Internet Explorer 5 that's better than my first Pentium machines kind of made my chuckle, but is quite handy. While at the same time it has the same kind of ADB keyboard/mouse, HDI-30 external SCSI, and mdin serial ports my Duo has. Not sure what to make of the S-Video, other than to remember way back then we couldn't afford TVs now computers with that 😜. On the positive side looks like it also has a real VGA instead of the whatever-the-heck-Apple-dsubs were that my Duo has.

Duo 230 off G3 charger

More importantly the M4402/1998 charger works as a perfect replacement for my blown M7783/1992 charger ^_^.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

In some ways, I feel kind of bad about how modern devices are likely to age. Booting up my old Galaxy Tab S3 for the first time in literally a year and a month, I wanted to replace my old Kindle Fire HDX 7 as a spare clock. In doing so, I couldn't help but think about how much of the device will be rendered useless  in a few decades rather than obsoleted.

Software and Networks seal our fates

Software wise I've mostly found the death of old machines to be network centric. Things like being unable to run a modern TLS protocol for HTTPS, or the utter lack of a web browser capable of stripping down the modern web. That's what really kills a computer for most people. In the case of my project to fix up a 30 year old PowerBook, I suspect that finding software to study the system won't be too hard. Thanks to the Old Mac Software Archive. In the case of Android and iOS, I expect folks will simply be humbly screwed. That or websites like APKMirror will become more vital if you want to experience old 'droids in a few decades. Weirdos amongst us who like old computers aside, many people are simply stuck with obsolete equipment for years. Either by choice or need.

Over the past two decades we've seen a significant shift towards applications that rely upon remote services to function. Built on top of that the trend for The Network to be The Center of what we do has probably been building for the last four decades. By the time I first met Windows, and left Tandy DOS behind, it was already common for personal computers to be online via dial up modem, or if you lived in the right neighborhood: a broad banned modem. As a kid, most of my software came from the school supply stores which probably had more 5 1/2 floppies in the late 90s than anyone wants to admit. As an adult, many of us are reliant upon Networks rather than Applications.

Case in point: a large part of why I regard my tablet as my main computer: I do most of my common stuff on it. Surfing the web isn't really a desktop task for me: it's a lean back with a tablet kind of task.

Once applications like the web browser and news apps cease to function, most modern devices won't be so easily revisited. In twenty years, I'm not even sure that Android and iOS will have a means of getting past first power on when they are no longer able to phone home and login. The trend has been that strong for networks to matter more than the devices that use them.

I don't think that you should use an old computer to do all your stuff. It's kind of crazy to expect a decade plus old version of anything to securely sign into diddly squat. But it would be sad for such issues to prevent you from playing with an old piece of hardware. Whether that piece of hardware belongs in a museum or in a landfill.

Hardware ages and becomes brittle

One reason that I ended up choosing a PowerBook is because I don't really know the classic Mac operating system. Another reason is the hardware isn't totally kaput yet. Most of the 386/486 era laptops that were Super Expensive and Super Kool when I was a kid are basically gone, and it's kind of depressing even looking around for ones that are functional. Vintage Macintosh systems are pretty beat up as well, but you can actually find plenty of them, and if you're willing to pay and not to specific in model: can likely acquire one that works out of the box. Last time I looked for comparable PCs, I found myself amazed by just how many PC vendors don't even exist anymore!

I'm not sure how long plastic is meant to last. Pretty sure the result is somewhere between too darn short and holy crap long depending on whether you need it to hold up, or whether you're waiting for it to break down in a landfill. I've always found it kind of impressive how long "Stuff" lasts. Also perhaps depressing if you consider a typical Styrofoam cup will probably outlive us all. Perhaps that's actually a better reason to seek glass and aluminum than embrace plastic: devices fall apart with age and decompose with corrosion.

For one thing: internal batteries. Given enough time just about any battery is likely to swell up, leak, or poof. My old Galaxy S5's true end was when the battery would heat and swell and pop the back cover off. In a more modern device like my Galaxy Tab S3: it'll simply spit the damn thing, probably like an egg going splat. I'm sure the glass of the screen won't survive tremendous battery swells. GOD only knows about leaking inside devices that aren't readily taken apart.

Old ass computers on the flip side, in contemporary definitions of oldness, at least hail from an era where machines were expected to be taken apart. Today increasingly machines are designed to be written off if damaged, or are so hard to take apart that it's better left to a technician than the regular consumer. Being designed to be taken apart, older machines are obviously easier to take apart and put back together again.

Which in some ways makes me glad that most laptops I've owned have removable batteries, both the main and an internal coin cell. Versus "Oh wow, is that keyboard sticking up at a funny angle and cracked the screen? Didn't know a lid could look like that..."; which is what I expect today's svelte laptops to look like if you leave them on a shelf for thirty or forty years.

Now here's a useful post on 68kmla, which also solves one of my curious questions.

When I mostly dismantled my Duo 230, one of the things I found odd was the lack of capacitors. Admittingly, while most of the interesting stuff on motherboards this side of my birthdate are implemented by ICs, it is kind of hard to make such a logic board without some capacitors :P.

Looks like they're mostly clustered near the DC power input socket and the serial port. Which is located underneath the northern end of the frame, where the hinge mounts. The square piece, looks like the serial port behind the flip down leg next to the power socket. Despite going far enough to remove the display panel, I didn't take that much of the frame apart in my efforts to inspect the insides. Honestly, I was just surprised by the lack of plastic disintegrating the moment I unscrewed the damned thing 🤣.

Note to self on the eradication of ants

Always go somewhere else and get the usual Amdro ant block or fire ant killer. Never buy the Amdro quick kill granules. The natives won't fall for that shit.

On the flipside whatever reason fire ant killer seems more enticing to the natives, at least the small black apartment invading ants we typically see in this part of Georgia aren't like the red fire ants I grew up with in Floridia. Those were the kind of fuckers you sit in the car, look down, go oh my fuck, and run screaming with legs full of ants wishing there were a canal nearby so you could make like a cartoon character.

By contrast the ones here tend to be highly persistent, but are only in it for the food. Not aggressive toward man and beast, so much as they will find clever ways to route themselves from across a yard to the other side of a building if they smell fooooood.


Friday, August 6, 2021

In picking up a Pi Zero W in prep' for project Power Book, I ended up buying a Raspberry Pi 4 while I was at Microcenter. Been wanting one for years, but every time I've talked myself into it, they didn't happen to have the one I wanted. Well this time they had a whole bushel of the newer variant with 8 GB of RAM.

Running the Raspberry Pi Diagnostics on my old card, basically made the tool shout "Hey, are you kidding me or is this made out of cardboard?"

pi@magic:~ $ cat rpdiags.txt

Raspberry Pi Diagnostics - version 0.9

Fri May  7 11:19:27 2021

Test : SD Card Speed Test

Run 1





Sequential write speed 7742 KB/sec (target 10000) - FAIL

Note that sequential write speed declines over time as a card is used - your card may require reformatting

Random write speed 263 IOPS (target 500) - FAIL

Random read speed 1205 IOPS (target 1500) - FAIL

Run 2





Sequential write speed 7514 KB/sec (target 10000) - FAIL

Note that sequential write speed declines over time as a card is used - your card may require reformatting

Random write speed 230 IOPS (target 500) - FAIL

Random read speed 1215 IOPS (target 1500) - FAIL

Run 3





Sequential write speed 8197 KB/sec (target 10000) - FAIL

Note that sequential write speed declines over time as a card is used - your card may require reformatting

Random write speed 75 IOPS (target 500) - FAIL

Random read speed 1262 IOPS (target 1500) - FAIL


Since my old MicroSD card is literally crap, and always has been crap. And I can't remember how far back that particular SanDisk goes, except at the time 8 GB was a fair price to capacity rating. I decided to splurge on a nice new Samsung card.

pi@victory:~ $ cat rpdiags.txt

Raspberry Pi Diagnostics - version 0.9

Fri Aug  6 20:15:09 2021

Test : SD Card Speed Test

Run 1





Sequential write speed 28248 KB/sec (target 10000) - PASS

Random write speed 1044 IOPS (target 500) - PASS

Random read speed 3686 IOPS (target 1500) - PASS


So much nicer 😜.

Here is the Crystal Disk Mark on the Samsung when I first plugged it into my PC.


CrystalDiskMark 8.0.4 x64 (C) 2007-2021 hiyohiyo

                                  Crystal Dew World:


* MB/s = 1,000,000 bytes/s [SATA/600 = 600,000,000 bytes/s]

* KB = 1000 bytes, KiB = 1024 bytes


  SEQ    1MiB (Q=  8, T= 1):    95.913 MB/s [     91.5 IOPS] < 86494.56 us>

  SEQ    1MiB (Q=  1, T= 1):    94.791 MB/s [     90.4 IOPS] < 11043.40 us>

  RND    4KiB (Q= 32, T= 1):     9.103 MB/s [   2222.4 IOPS] < 14370.86 us>

  RND    4KiB (Q=  1, T= 1):     7.239 MB/s [   1767.3 IOPS] <   564.70 us>


  SEQ    1MiB (Q=  8, T= 1):    67.578 MB/s [     64.4 IOPS] <122501.70 us>

  SEQ    1MiB (Q=  1, T= 1):    68.031 MB/s [     64.9 IOPS] < 15374.68 us>

  RND    4KiB (Q= 32, T= 1):     3.327 MB/s [    812.3 IOPS] < 39199.31 us>

  RND    4KiB (Q=  1, T= 1):     2.873 MB/s [    701.4 IOPS] <  1423.66 us>

Profile: Default

   Test: 1 GiB (x5) [E: 0% (0/60GiB)]


   Time: Measure 5 sec / Interval 5 sec 

   Date: 2021/08/06 20:02:47

     OS: Windows 10 Professional [10.0 Build 19043] (x64)

I've actually owned hard drives slower :P.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

There as a thing my mother used to mention every now and then, I loosely remember it as 

They're coming to take me away,
Haha, they're coming to take me away,
Ho ho, hee hee, ha ha,
To the Happy Home with Trees and Flowers
And Chirping Birds, ...

I always figured this was a poem or a limerick from her youth. Except I could swear there was a mention of cows and chickens somewhere. In looking it up, I'm just going to guess she had a LP of Napoleon XIV somewhere.

Actually, that would make some sense if its circa '66. Perhaps in more ways than one.

PowerBook Duo 230

So, I kind of lost my marbles and decided to work on a nearly 30 year old computer as a project. Growing up in a PC family: my knowledge of the classic Mac operating system is quite limited compared to modern anything, or even ye ol' MS-DOS. I've also never been as fond of emulators as actual hardware.

Bits & Pieces
From different sources:
  • PowerBook Duo 230 /w charger and dead battery
  • MiniDock with the modem, HDI and mDIN connectors
  • External HDI-20 floppy
  • 20 MB RAM module (not pictured)
The laptop is known to have a dead SCIS drive, so it's a bit of a project out the barn door. One that I hope to solve with a RaSCSI in the long run. Powering it on stand alone with the charger for a quick test, I've actually never heard a drive sound that so bad. I'm guessing the head must be glued wherever it is parked. 

But it still booted to the old GUI BIOS like ROM with its floppy icon of sadness, as expected. Trying to connect it to the dock and power up, I was only able to get an odd chime and then couldn't get anything to power on.

Partial disassembly

Unfortunately while I was getting some tools to begin disassembly: the charger went POOF and lovely smoke. I'm going to take a guess that it blew a capacitor, and trying to power the dock was the final nail in its coffin. Fortunately it was only plugged into the wall at the time, and didn't scorch my secondary desk -- which is conveniently located near windows.

On a positive side: I managed to disassemble the Duo without breaking the tabs on the upper frame nor miraculously the ones on the center clutch cover. I found the 250 video at Jason's Macintosh Museum a superb example of the process. I've no interest in complete tear down, so I stopped at detaching the screen and hard drive.

Forgot how much the smell of rubbing alcohol sucks, but with plenty of that and some gauging with a take out plastic knife, I removed the turned-to-goo rubber feet from the bottom frame and screen bezel. At first I didn't care, since it was just sticking a bit. Then I noticed the grey goo was coming off on my desk, and then they had to die.

Aside from Apple's fondness for little plastic bezels, the Duo 200 series is actually easier to take apart than my old ThinkPad X61/T61 series. The Duo's plastic seems a little less terrifying than I expected, but to my understanding how brittle the plastic has become is a major problem in such old PowerBooks. Therefore, I am taking great care.

Much to my surprise it looks like the unit has a memory module installed. Size unknown, can't find enough indications on the chips to tell. In any case, if I get her operational whichever module is larger will be the one fitted.

Problems to be solved:
  1. Power
  2. Storage
  3. Software
Not sure that any third party replacement chargers exist at this point. It's old enough that it's hard to even look for a replacement. Best plan is probably take the charger to work, crack it open, and see what can be done with the remains of the adapter. As far as I can tell the 24V chargers from the old G3/G4 models have a smaller tip. May be better off digging up a suitable 24V charger, cutting the tips, splicing the old one to a younger adapter, and borrowing some heat shrink.

I assume it's possible to split and replace the cells in the NiMH battery pack, but that's not really a priority to me. I've heard that Battery's Plus does that, but the ones near me don't.

Storage wise I would like to fit a RaSCSI with a Pi Zero in place of the internal drive if possible. By being careful not to fubar the ribbon cable to the old 320M Quantum drive, I think that should be fairly painless aside from making sure the headers are on the right side of the board. Pre-emptively, I've resurrected my old Pi 2 Model B. When kits or assembled boards are available, RaSCSI is my plan.

I just don't see a point to buying a 30 year old hard drive. They're expensive time bombs, and it's probably cheaper to buy a few PowerBook 100/200 series for parts than acquire a drive on its own. No one has made this kind of drive since the mid '90s or so.

Software is fairly easier a solution. My plan is a boot floppy, but it may be possible to just setup an image in an emulator and load it on a RaSCSI. The hardware pickles need solving first. I'd like to get System 7.5.x or 7.6 operational. Preferably on something NOT a 30-year old hard drive. On my OpenBSD machine, I've setup Basilisk II but had no luck installing system 7.x there. Hopefully, I'll have the opportunity to try on the Duo itself.

Also, I should probably try and crack open that floppy drive and see what parts may need lubrication.

Monday, August 2, 2021

In getting ready for a project that involves a ~30 year old computer, I found myself working through a heap of old 3.5" diskettes. Simple mount it, make sure it's blank, and do a trivial I/O test; repeat that a few times on several and do a heavy I/O test on a few. To make the process go faster, I wrote a quick shell script so I could cycle through the heap.

Signs that I am getting old may include:

  1. Finding 720 K diskettes mixed in with the 1440 K floppies.
  2. Remembering what Double Density (DD) and High Density (HD) means.
  3. Finding unlabeled MS-DOS 5.0 upgrade disks among the 720 K collection.
  4. Wondering if I'm the only one who used to label their damn disks.
  5. Wondering how much a pack of floppy disk labels costs nowadays.
Oh, and did I mention being sad that at least one looks like it failed? That's not counting the ones I chucked in the "Not sure I wanna test this" bin for the quality of tape for fear they'll muck up the drive head. Nor another that I suspect is either failed, or that someone did cpio > floppy off a SCO or Xenix box and don't care to determine which.

Yeah, there's something clearly wrong with this picture.