Posts Tagged ‘start here’

Where to start?

The eternal question when embarking on a new quest: where to start?

I personally wanted to resurrect one of my old BBS programs. Fearing that some of these 30 year-old disks’ protective film would soon be wearing off I set out to preserve them which was not a minor nor inexpensive task. First I needed the same disk drives I used when I ran the system, which were:

  • Commodore 1571 dual-sided drive
  • Commodore 1581 drive

Prior to my last BBS going up in flames (literally, the 1581 drive running it caught fire) it was running on what appears to be this configuration, which I have deduced from previous setup files:

  • Commodore 128
  • 1750 Ram Expansion Unit
  • Hayes 2400 baud modem
  • Commodore 1581 drive – drive #8, for system and games files
  • Commodore 1581 drive – drive #10, for transfers, public messages and text files
  • Commodore 1571 dual-sided drive – drive #9, for help files and private messages

The nice thing about 1581 drives was – at the time – pretty radical in that you could partition a disk. So we had uploads and downloads in a “xfers” folder and public messages in a “text” folder. This surprised me when I first loaded a disk with a directory.cbm:

 

Commodore Partition on a 1581 disk

But first I had to get the files from the actual media onto a PC. The 1571 5.25″ floppies were not a problem; the 1581s were.

I recalled that in 2015 I ordered a gizmo that would allow me to copy my old floppies onto any PC or Mac. It’s a little logic board with a serial connector and USB connector called a XU1541/SMD sold by a guy named Spiro.

XU1541 – for copying your actual floppy floppies

 

I’m a Mac guy so I ordered it, hooked it up to my 1581 and not a thing happened. It didn’t recognize the drive and I thought it was junk. Something else caught my attention at the time so I moved along for 3 more years. When I got interested in doing this again I fired it up to discover (drumroll, please) the XU1541 can’t copy files from a 1581 drive. You can view the contents of them but you can’t copy from it.

There is this notice on Spiro’s web site:

This project is still under development. It works with a variety of CBM disc drives (1541, 1541-II, 1570, 1571, 1581, SX-64’s internal floppy). There have been also some tests on different brands and types of PC, running on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X.

However, the xu1541 is currently only recommended for people who are willing to cope with glitches and will perhaps even do some testing and bug hunting. For example, you should be able to flash a new firmware on your own.

So I tried something else, ZoomFloppy. Look upon this magnificent beast (tire pressure gauge for scale):

Just look at that sumabitch. Plug it into a desktop PC and you can connect whatever you want to it via serial or CBM cable.

Now, during the time I was waiting for the ZoomFloppy to get back in stock I RTFM for the XU1541 and learned the proper way to use it.

I originally started out tinkering with some command line tools such as OpenCBM, a collection of programs that allow you to traverse directories and look around. Nice and all but not what I was looking for. I wanted to able to archive my disks quickly.

But there was a problem. Like I said, 1581 disks could not be copied using the XU1541. The utilities available indicated that only 1581 floppies could be read from a machine with a floppy drive mounted directly to the motherboard – not a USB-connected floppy drive. Also running Windows XP.

Yeah, good luck finding that dinosaur in a small city.

I went to every Goodwill and computer repair shop I could find and came up with zero. Well, Goodwill did have a Pentium 3 Dell for sale for $199. (Hell to the no.)

Luckily I found a local computer shop and a guy who wanted to make some space. So for $40 I walked away with a “new” Pentium 4 with 512MB or RAM and an 80 GB hard drive and a built-in floppy drive.

Next I had to get the files off. I found these two tools:

CBM-Transfer

DirMaster

These two apps are saviors. First, CBM-Transfer allows you to make quick images of any disk. It has a GUI so it’s easy to use. Just insert your 3.5″ disk in the drive and it reads it. Select no files and click the green arrow to copy and it creates an image. Perfection.

And check that out – it has an option for X-Cable so it recognizes when you connect a 1541 or 1571 drive.

It also has a ton of powerful features such a program viewer, sequential files viewer and a lot more. I highly recommend using it.

Second is DirMaster, another Windows-only program but it allows you to quickly open a .d64, .71 or .81 file and read the file contents. You can also drag and drop the contents between disks!

The screenshot does not do it justice. Get it and fire it up. It’s amazing.

I used DirMaster to create a 1581 disk to hold all of the Color 64 BBS files. I then simply dragged the files from the original Color 64 BBS disk over and hit save. I also added a few more programs such as “super xfer” and Basic Aid 64 (“Baid64”) which I will be using.

(Let me interrupt to apologize for not providing actual screenshots for these programs. They are on Windows XP which I have running on a modern monitor so everything is stretched too wide. I also don’t remember how to take a screenshot and transferring these images anywhere via drag-and-drop makes the machine sound like it’s going to explode. I may get back around to it but for now, sorry.)

Unfortunately my fears were realized as several of my disks were just rotten. The film had broken down the data was literally falling off of them. I managed to salvage maybe half of them.

Except for the MacBook Air this is a good idea of how my bedroom looked in the late 80’s: lots of disks spread everywhere, headphones and not a hint of a girl anywhere in sight.

I am not giving up on them. I hope to try to rip the content from them again at some point. But I am afraid of doing damage to them.

All in all the rip was a success. I managed to salvage enough to do some forensics to see exactly what I was doing at the time. What I found:

  • I experimented with a lot of crap between 1986 and 1987 such as DMBBS (Dungeon Matter BBS), The Ivory Tower, All American BBS (not bad, actually), Xavian (weird; required a hardware dongle in a joystick port) and C-Net 64. C-Net… what an absolute BEAST. Not for poors; HEAVY hardware requirements.
  • I ran Color 64 early on from 1987-1990 and was an annoying as hell teenager
  • I transitioned to Network 64 around 1990/91
  • I then transitioned to Supra 128 from mid-1991 to late 1992 when things burned

So, here are my goals for this experiment:

  • Get a stock Color 64 BBS up and running on a real Commodore 64
  • Get the Color 64 BBS connected to the internet so you can telnet into it
  • Restore my modifications (mods) to Color 64 and this time document them along the way and SHARE THEM with the community
  • Get Network 64 back up and running so we can communicate between Color 64 installations (more on this later)
  • Document, document, document EVERYTHING and share that knowledge with fellow SysOps.

In my next post I will go into installing Color 64 using VICE and cover some of the new Commodore toys available today.