7th October 2018 | Programming
With the advent of CD-ROM technology, the size of computer games in the 1990s were no longer constrained to a couple of megabytes delivered on a handful of floppy disks. Now, with several hundred megabytes available, improved graphics and audio were available, which included full voice acting.
However, the computers of the early half of the 90s still had relatively small hard drives, often smaller than what a CD contained. This led to game installations where the primary files were installed onto the computer's hard drive, but the bulk of the audio remained on the CD.
Moore's Law continued unabated for a number of years, and the features and capabilities of PCs increased dramatically. In comparison to more modern systems, optical drives are the bottleneck which slows down games by waiting for the CD to spin up to play an audio track. Even more telling with the progress of technology, optical drives are a rarity these days. On my main computer (an iMac) I have an external optical drive so I can still install games I purchased back in the 90s, but I'd prefer to not have to connect up the drive and insert a CD if I wanted to play a particular game. This post will detail how to install the Sierra On-Line game The Dagger of Amon Ra and configure it in DOSBox so the CD is not required when playing the game.
My copy of The Dagger of Amon Ra comes from the King's Quest Collection Series which contained the first seven King's Quest games, several early Sierra Apple ][ games, plus the two Laura Bow games — Colonel's Bequest and The Dagger of Amon Ra. If you have this game on an original game CD or are using a non-Mac system, adjust the instructions as necessary.
In DOSBox, mount the appropriate CD and install the game using the following commands:
mount d /Volumes/KQ_CD3 -t cdrom -usecd 0
Next, copy the file
RESOURCE.AUD from the CD into the LB2 folder on your computer. This should be a 355MB file. Then, a couple of edits need to be made to the
RESOURCE.CFG file so the game will search for the extra audio files on the computer and not on the CD. For Amon Ra, the value for
audioSize needs to be set to 32k, otherwise the speech will result in odd beeps, scratching noises, or cause the game to freeze up. Remove the
audio key-value pair and replace it with
resSFX and their associated values. The following is how I configured my
RESOURCE.CFG for The Dagger of Amon Ra.
videoDrv = VGA320.DRV
soundDrv = ADL.DRV
audioDrv = AUDBLAST.DRV
joyDrv = NO
kbdDrv = IBMKBD.DRV
mouseDrv = STDMOUSE.DRV
memoryDrv = ARM.DRV
directory = \SIERRA\LB2
audioSize = 32k
minHunk = 206K
cd = no
Setting Up Other Games
There are other mid-90s Sierra games (e.g. Quest For Glory IV or Space Quest 6) which can also be configured in a similar manner so the CD is not required to play the game. For other games, the
audioSize might be a larger value, such as 63K. For Amon Ra, I had initially tried setting the
audioSize to 63K, but that resulted in the audio glitches, possibly due to a different audio driver is used for Amon Ra (
AUDBLAST.DRV), versus what some of the other Sierra games used (
DACBLAST.DRV). Otherwise, the configuration process is pretty similar. Happy gaming!
17th September 2018 | Programming
In Part 1 of this blog series, I displayed some examples on how to parse out various data from a game that used Sierra's Adventure Game Interpreter (AGI). In this post, I will cover aspects from a more complex program that is used to extract the views from a game. The views represent pictures such as animations and inventory objects.
In an age where game sizes are measured in gigabytes instead of kilobytes, the effort to save a paltry byte here or there is hardly worth it, but in the 80s, every byte counted. This post will also cover a couple of the interesting techniques which were used to make the most out of the limited resources of the computers and media of the 1980s.
Due to the memory and space constraints of the 1980s, Sierra's programmers came up with some interesting techniques to optimize the size of their files. Some of their programming trickery, such as requiring the program to be decrypted against a key phrase or switching between using both big and little endian was likely employed to obfuscate the files so casual hackers could not easily take a peek under the covers to garner some hints about the game. However, a basic compression method called Run Length Encoding (RLE) is used to reduce the size of the views, which works fairly well, especially when the same color is repeated in a row. However, RLE does not work well if there is a lot of variance in the picture, such as random static on an old TV.
Big + Little Endian
If one peruses an old Sierra catalog, they will see that Sierra supported a multitude of different operating systems and computers in the mid to late 80s. AGI was built to support each of these different systems so the same game resources and logic could effectively be ported to many different systems (in theory, at least — applying this task was likely much trickier).
The following table lists the various systems which Sierra supported in the latter half of the 1980s.
As you can see from the table, Sierra supported a wide range of architectures, which included both big and little endian processors. In the programs I've written to parse out the data from the AGI files, they use an odd combination of reading data using both big and little endian methods. There seems to be little reason to do this other than to obfuscate the file format and less on the particular type of processor.
The endianness of a machine was a topic which was much more carefully observed in the 80s with a variety of systems available. It's one of those areas we probably learned about in school, but haven't actively had to worry about so much these days. This section will be a quick refresher for all of us.
Let's quickly review the difference between little and big endian. A brief overview from the web page Byte Order - Big and Little Endian:
If the hardware is built so that the lowest, least significant byte of a multi-byte scalar is stored "first", at the lowest memory address, then the hardware is said to be "little-endian"; the "little" end of the integer gets stored first, and the next bytes get stored in higher (increasing) memory locations. Little-Endian byte order is "littlest end goes first (to the littlest address)".
Machines such as the Intel/AMD x86, Digital VAX, and Digital Alpha, handle scalars in Little-Endian form.
If the hardware is built so that the highest, most significant byte of a multi-byte scalar is stored "first", at the lowest memory address, then the hardware is said to be "big-endian"; the "big" end of the integer gets stored first, and the next bytes get stored in higher (increasing) memory locations. Big-Endian byte order is "biggest end goes first (to the lowest address)".
Machines such as IBM mainframes, the Motorola 680x0, Sun SPARC, PowerPC, and most RISC machines, handle scalars in Big-Endian form.
Since an unsigned 8-byte integer can only go up to 255 (28 = 256 values which are 0 - 255), if a larger value is needed, such as an offset to find a resource in one of the AGI VOL files (which contain much of the game's resources), then two bytes are needed to save a larger number.
In this example, the decimal number 49619 will be stored as two 8-bit numbers, 193 and 211. This is calculated by multiplying the high byte by 256 and then adding the low byte to the result.
193*256 + 211 = 49619
In binary, the numbers 193, 211, and 49619 are represented in binary as follows:
For little endian systems, the least significant byte (the "little" end, which represents the value 1101 0011 in this example) would actually be stored first in memory, so it would be stored like 1101 0011 1100 0001.
193 = 1100 0001
211 = 1101 0011
49619 = 1100 0001 1101 0011
The example code is taken from export_view.m, which grabs two bytes from the file, and then calculates the value. In this instance, the low byte is first and the high byte is second.
// Little Endian : Low - High
int lowResByte = getc(volFile); // res len byte 1
int highResByte = getc(volFile); // res len byte 2
int reslen = highResByte*256 + lowResByte;
In contrast, there is big endian which stores the high and low bytes in memory which looks more "correct" and conventional to how we read numbers by placing the first part (the big end) in memory first.
The example code shows that the high byte is read first and the low byte read second.
// Big Endian : High - Low
int ms_byte = getc(volFile); // high byte, most significant
int ls_byte = getc(volFile); // low byte, least significant
long signature = ms_byte*256 + ls_byte;
Side note: Another way to calculate the high byte value is to left bit shift by 8, so
ms_byte*256 = ms_byte << 8.
1100 0001 = 193
1100 0001 << 8 = 1100 0001 0000 0000 = 49408
193*256 = 49408 = 193 << 8
Run Length Encoding
One crafty technique which is implemented to conserve space with the views is run length encoding. When retrieving the data for a view, a byte is read from the file, which cleverly holds both the color and the number of repeated pixels of that color. Since there is only a maximum of 16 colors which can be used with these games, only 4 bits (half a byte) are needed.
This leaves the remaining 4 bits to detail how many times to repeat that color across the row. This might seem limiting, but for each pixel that is read, two pixels are drawn to the screen, so 4 bits can theoretically represent up to 32 pixels on the screen. If you look closely at how pictures are drawn (take Graham's nose from King's Quest 1 or 2), one will notice that the pixels are fairly wide, but they can be fairly short in the vertical aspect. This is due to the typical AGI screen has a resolution of 160x200, which is stretched out horizontally to 320x200.
Going through a number of the exported views, few of them are ever overly wide. Many of the character sprites might only be 22 pixels in width, so 4 bits can hold enough data for a majority of the time.
But what about background images, which might have large swaths of the same color (such as the sky or ground)? Backgrounds are actually drawn with vectors. If one plays an early AGI game (such as King's Quest 1 on an Apple ][), one can see the backgrounds being slowly drawn. For a plethora of other examples of backgrounds being drawn, check out the slow motion drawings at the @agistuff Twitter account.
The following is a code snippet from export_view.m to read and parse the byte containing the pixel data. The color index is stored in the first half of the byte. The number of times (loop indicator) to display the color is in the latter half of the byte. The example data will be the byte:
int pixelByte = getc(volFile); // NOTE 1
int colorIndex = pixelByte >> 4; // NOTE 2
int numPixels = pixelByte & 0b00001111; // NOTE 3
NOTE 1: Grab one byte from the file and store it as an integer into the variable
pixelByte. In this example, the byte of data is represented as the decimal number 71 (
01000111). The first four bits of this byte is the number 4, which is represented as 0100 in binary. The latter half of the byte, 0111 represents the decimal number 7, which indicates how many times to repeat the color (times two, since the width of the screen is doubled).
NOTE 2: To isolate the color index value, bit shift the value to the right by 4. As seen in the example below, each value in
01000111 is shifted to the right by four places. The four high bits are shifted to the lower section, which isolates the value. In this example, it leaves the binary value of
0100, which is 4 in decimal. This is the index used for a look up table to determine which color to use (in this case, a deep red). To see the list of predefined colors, look at the initialization of the
colorPalette array in export_view.m.
01000111 >> 4 = 00000100
NOTE 3: To determine the number of pixels to draw, we'll need to isolate the lower half of the byte. Perform a bitwise AND operation against
pixelByte with the value
0xFF in hexadecimal). Reviewing our truth tables, only 1 & 1 will result in 1, whereas all other combinations of 0 and 1 will result in 0. So, to null out any of the high bits, we perform a bitwise AND operator with the operand 0000 on the first four bits, and then
1111 on the lower four bits to ensure that those bits are preserved.
To isolate the concept of Run Length Encoding, I created a simple example program in Swift to further exemplify how to take a given string and perform run-length encoding on it.
Constructing + Saving an Image With NSBitmapImageRep
Once we finally get to the cel's data (that's not a typo — that's cel as in cel animation.), we need to take it and load it into an appropriate container object and then save it to disk. Since most of my examples are programmed in a mix of C and Objective-C, I use the Cocoa class
The initializer for
NSBitmapImageRep *bitmap = nil;
bitmap = [[NSBitmapImageRep alloc] initWithBitmapDataPlanes:NULL
bytesPerRow:4 * image_width
NSBitmapImageRep looks daunting at first, but it is not quite as bad as it first seems. The most important thing to keep in mind when constructing this image, that each pixel will be comprised of an
NSColor object, each which has four components (RGBA - Red, Green, Blue, Alpha), and each of these components (or samples) takes up one byte (8 bits). A bit of quick math then shows that 8 bits x 4 = 32 bits/pixel.
Setting the pixel data in the
NSBitmapImageRep is straightforward by only needing to set the color of the pixel at a given position. Since the
NSBitmapImageRep uses an
NSCalibratedRGBColorSpace for its
colorSpaceName, each of the
NSColors in the color palette use the
[NSColor colorWithCalibratedRed:green:blue:alpha] method.
An example color of bright green is defined by the following NSColor:
[NSColor colorWithCalibratedRed: 0.0 green: 1.0 blue: 80.0/255.0 alpha: 1.0]. As you can see, each component can have a fractional range from 0.0 to 1.0, where 0 is dark and 1 is light, so an RGBA value (0, 0, 0, 1) is black and (1, 1, 1, 1) is white.
When looping through the data, each pixel color is set easily with the method
[bitmap setColor: pixelColor atX: x y: y]; After reaching the end of the cel image data, the bitmap is saved out as an image. In this example, the image is being saved as a PNG, but it is possible to also save in a variety of other modern image formats, including JPG, GIF, TIFF, etc.
NSString *imagePath = [NSString stringWithFormat:@"%@/export_views/%@_%d_%d.png", agiDir, key, i, k];
NSData *data = [bitmap representationUsingType: NSPNGFileType properties: nil];
[data writeToFile: imagePath atomically: NO];
Much of the enjoyment I have derived from reverse engineering how the AGI engine works is due to the clever techniques used during an era where the computing power was still woefully underpowered, so the programmers of the day had to be inventive in how they could stretch out the capabilities of these early microcomputers. Concepts and techniques I might have casually brushed against in a computer science curriculum (bit shifting, bitwise operations, big vs. little endian, run length encoding) are actually practiced here. Today we enjoy far greater resources so we need not have to resort to methods to pinch and save every last spare bit and byte, but it does not dismiss the practice that we shouldn't be more mindful about out code and assets and consider ways we can always try and optimize what we are working on.
29th August 2018 | Programming
Recently at my job the macOS Calendar has been having problems properly syncing with the Exchange server, likely due to a corrupt attachment. I came across this post by Michael Kummer detailing the steps to resolve the problem I had encountered. I went through all of the listed steps and it corrected the problem. Calendar resynced itself and the annoying warning disappeared.
Well, for a little while, at least.
The problem popped up again. Unfortunately, I haven't determined which particular event is causing the conflict, but for the time being, I had to go through all of the steps again. But if this is liable to happen again, the situation invites itself as an opportunity for a little scripting to simplify the process.
I whipped up the following bash script which performs four steps:
- Quit the Calendar app
- Delete all of the Calendar cache files
- Kill all running processes related to the Calendar
- Restart the Calendar app
Remember to set the executable permission on the script via
chmod 755 clear_calendar_cache.sh. To make things even quicker, an alias can be set up in your shell so the script can be quickly run from anywhere in the Terminal.
12th July 2018 | Programming
Out of technical curiosity, I wanted to inspect the internals of an Android app. I'm well acquainted with being able to download and inspect iOS apps on the Mac, so I was interested in how I might be able to perform the same task with an Android app and a Mac. Finding the answer proved to be a little more convoluted than I initially expected.
There are several tools and esoteric methods to try and download an APK to a Mac, but my initial cursory attempt did not meet with immediate success, so I investigated other routes. There are many options to transfer standard files (photos, documents, etc.) to and from an Android device using the venerable Android File Transfer app, but that did not allow the capability to transfer an app from the phone onto the computer.
I was already familiar with using
adb to sideload an app onto an Android device, so I figured that the reverse might be a feasible solution. Indeed, this is possible. This took a couple of steps from the command line to copy the apk (named
myapp in this example) onto the Mac.
- Get a list of all of the packages available on the device:
adb shell pm list packages
- Search for the identifier of the app you want and run the following command to get its path:
adb shell pm path com.example.myapp
- Finally, copy the apk file to the selected destination on your computer:
adb pull /data/app/com.example.myapp-1/base.apk path/to/destination/
Similar to how an iOS app's ipa file is just a loosely disguised zip file, the same applies to the apk file. One can use a simple command of
unzip myapp.apk to dump the contents of the apk file for further inspection. However, some of the files, such as the XML files, might be saved in a binary format, so it is not read as easily as an unencrypted text file. This was a good start, but some further work was needed to be able to more thoroughly explore the package's contents.
Android Studio can also be used to open up an APK, but since I did not have that installed on my laptop, I opted for the recommended tool apktool. However, if you have Android Studio already available, that is the ideal route to take.
I installed a current version of Java and the apktool. Once it was in place, I was able to extract the contents of the APK using the command
apktool d myapp-base.apk. This dumps the contents of the apk into a separate folder, making the xml files, assets and other support files readable.
I hope that this small tutorial proves useful for anyone else who is also interested in being able to take an app from an Android device, put it on a computer, and then inspect its contents to see how an app was constructed. Happy exploring!
3rd July 2018 | Programming
I've been thinking a lot about King's Quest lately.
My most recent bout of Sierra nostalgia is likely due to having met a merchant at a comic con selling
shadowboxes and prints of classic 8-bit games, such as this piece of desktop art of the opening screen from King's Quest 1. Now this scene of verdant greens and waving flags calls out to me on a daily basis, beckoning me to delve deeper and learn its most difficult of secrets. No, not the location of the three treasures or even the name of the gnome (ifnkovhgroghprm), but the secrets of unraveling the Adventure Game Interpreter (AGI).
When King's Quest was first released in 1984, it was quite a progressive game for the time. Although I do not recall the exact details, it is quite possible that the first Sierra game I ever played was the original King's Quest back in the mid-1980s. Even thirty-some years later, I am still ferreting out new secrets from this game (e.g. Zombie Goat, Walk On Water, Walk Through Walls), however my interests now delve deeper than finding interesting quirks and easter eggs.
A couple days ago I was curious if it was possible to reverse engineer AGI, the game engine which ran fourteen of Sierra On-line's games in the 80s. The original game (and its various remakes) have held up fairly well over the years, but there are still a number of fun "what-if" type of ideas I would love to implement in the AGI version of the game. While I am not interested in recreating the entire game, I think it would be a fun exercise to be able to hack the game and make some custom edits to further build upon the 8-bit realm of Daventry.
One quick Google search revealed that there are quite a few resources on creating your own AGI game or inspecting original game resources. Many of the references and tools date back to the late 90s, but some of the content is still quite useful. One of the most interesting things I came across was Barry Harmsen's presentation Reverse Engineering 80s Sierra AGI Games. You can see the results of Barry's magnificent digital spelunking at the Twitter account @agistuff. Barry has written a number of Python scripts which can extract the data from the common components found in AGI games. However, he is not even the first person to write a series of programs to extract AGI resources. If you look through the various pages of the AGI specifications, there are quite a few contributors, especially Peter Kelly who wrote several programs, mostly in Pascal.
It cannot be overstated how amazingly impressive the work is that has been put into figuring out how AGI worked. Inspired by the work previously done by Barry Harmsen and Peter Kelly, I wrote a small program in a mix of Objective-C and C which parses out the words in the
WORDS.TOK file and then saves the results into two files: a plain text file and a JSON-formatted file. I mostly followed Barry's Python example, but did take a couple bits of logic from Peter's Pascal code to get my own example working. The following is my code example I used to extract the words from the 1987 PC version of King's Quest 1.
This is just my initial dip into the AGI pool, and I hope to return to dive into it deeper. Many thanks go out to Barry Harmsen, Peter Kelly, Lance Ewing, Claudio Matsuoka, and everyone else in the AGI community. Another tip of the ol' adventuring cap goes out to the designers of AGI: Jeff Stephenson, Chris Iden, Sol Ackerman, Robert Heitman, and likely many more who had a hand in creating these Sierra classics. Some people programmed microcontrollers for traffic lights, others developed websites for now-defunct companies, but a few people have been lucky enough to have worked on a product which still garners people's attention even thirty years later. Well played. Well played, indeed.
21 July 2018 Update: I have added two more small programs to extract the directory structure and the inventory objects for AGI games. I am also compiling the extracted words and phrases from a number of the AGI games. The lists can be (*ahem*) interesting at times to see what words are recognized. In some games like KQ1 and SQ2, the programmers took the liberties to include their names as recognized phrases (Mikel Knight and Scott Murphy). KQ2 in particular has some unusual (and unusually naughty) terms, as the programmers took other liberties to slip in some not-so-innocent terms into the vernacular.
It is interesting to see how similar terms are grouped together so the game logic has an easier time understanding what is being intended. In King's Quest 2, a number of terms and names for female characters are grouped together. This means that Hagatha, Valanice, maiden, woman, grandma, mermaid, little red riding hood, girl, and hose bag are all equally recognized, even if the actual context in the game is not correct. So you can say
kiss valanice while in Hagatha's cave, or say
marry hag while in the Quartz Tower (probably not a good way to start off the marriage, Graham!).
9th June 2018 | 33 RPM
In this year's Platforms State of the Union at WWDC18, Apple reiterated that they are deprecating support for 32-bit Mac apps and frameworks and will fully stop supporting them after macOS Mojave. Apple explicitly showed on a presentation slide that their aging Quicktime framework is one of the casualties, which is a vital piece for 33 RPM to function.
Apple also hinted at something they are working on where they will bring over certain elements of the iOS UIKit framework to the Mac sometime next year, which might aid in the ability to more easily write apps which can run on both the iOS and Mac platforms. We have only been given a brief acknowledgement that this is in the works, but we likely won't have any concrete details for at least another year. Yet, it entices some interesting ideas.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I've entertained the idea of making an iOS version of 33 RPM to supplant the horrid native Music player, so if I do rewrite this app, it might be useful to wait and see what the Mac version of UIKit brings, so I might be able to support multiple platforms.
If the promise of the cross-platform UIKit does pan out, it still will require a heavy investment of time and effort to update 33 RPM to work with the modern frameworks. These are merely ideas I'm considering at this point, but for now, 33 RPM should continue to run on macOS for at least the next year without any major issues.
1st June 2018 | Permanent Eraser
Permanent 2.8.0 has been released, which features the ability to delete write-protected files, such as files owned by another user. The system will ask for administrator credentials to use this feature. Due to Mac App Store restrictions not allowing for granting administrator privileges, this version of the app will only be available for download from the Edenwaith website.
This is the version of Permanent Eraser I have been looking forward to for a long time. With this release and the recent addition of the Erase Free Space Automator action in Permanent Eraser 2.7.2, two long standing features I (and other users) have wanted have finally been added to this app. A lot of features and improvements have gone into Permanent Eraser over the years, and this is the culmination of all of the major features I wanted to include in Permanent Eraser 2.
The Future of Permanent Eraser
Aside from any patches, this is expected to be the last major release for the Permanent Eraser 2.x line. It's been a fourteen year long trek from the initial release of Permanent Eraser 2.0 in April 2004 to today's version. There have been numerous changes in the world of computing since then, but none of have affected Permanent Eraser as much as the change from mechanical hard drives to solid state drives (SSD). It's time for a change.
The first fledgling ideas for Permanent Eraser 3 emerged in 2007, and the next incarnation formed in 2014, so the ideas on how to reimagine Permanent Eraser have been floating around for a number of years. Permanent Eraser was made to securely erase files on hard drives, but that need has declined precipitously over the years, but it leaves open the possibility of solving some new, interesting problems which have arisen over the past few years. There are a number of intriguing ideas I'm eager to explore with the next version of Permanent Eraser.
Permanent Eraser 3 will be a massive rewrite and require an extensive amount of time and effort, so I do not expect the next version to be released for at least a year or more. Permanent Eraser has long maintained an extensive backwards compatibility with older versions of the Mac operating system (PE 2.8 is still works on PowerPC Macs!), but that legacy support will be dropped and PE 3 will likely require at least OS X Yosemite as it makes use of more modern features and capabilities in current hardware and software.
Permanent Eraser 2 has had an amazing run with thousands and thousands of users, and this has become one of my favorite projects I've developed. I look forward to see where I can take this app in the future.
21st May 2018 | Programming
After three years, I have finally been able to upgrade the system software on my HTC One M7 (HTC6500LVW) phone from Android 4.2.2 to 5.0.2. I had previously used a Google Play version of this same phone before at a previous job and had encountered no problems in upgrading the operating system to 4.4 KitKat (which was the most recent version of Android at the time). However, whenever I tried to upgrade my current phone from its stock 4.2.2, there was no response. I looked into what it would take to try and upgrade the phone to Lollipop manually, but directions were confusing and inconsistent, often reliant on which carrier the phone was tied to, as well. One thing might work for GSM phones, but not for CDMA phones, et cetera. It was beginning to look like I would need to bypass certain securities and then root the phone before being able to upgrade the software. It shouldn't have been so complicated.
Oddly enough, it was when I was trying to restore an iPhone 5S back to factory settings did I stumble across the solution to be able to upgrade my Android phone, as well. I was erasing and then restoring an older iPhone for testing purposes, but one glitch I encountered was a SIM card needed to be in the device to properly finish the setup process. This iPhone was originally set up on AT&T, but I had a Verizon SIM card available for a similar model of phone, but that did not work, unfortunately. However, I did have a number of other older phones which had originated on AT&T. I first tried the SIM card from an iPhone 4S, but it was larger than the SIM card found on the iPhone 5/C/S models, but I then noticed it was the same size as the SIM card required in the HTC One, which did not have a SIM card since I had purchased the phone from a fire sale clearance.
Curious, I put the AT&T SIM card into my Android phone, which was set up for Verizon. Considering the earlier failure trying to set up the AT&T iPhone 5S with a Verizon SIM card, there were no expectations that this would work, but it was worth trying, at least.
Previous attempts to check for available software upgrades had always failed. I was pleasantly surprised to find that once the phone had a SIM card present that it was able to find software updates. The entire process took several hours since the phone had to upgrade to each to each iteration (Android 4.3, 4.4, 5.0) before stepping to the next version, plus updating any new software that was made available with each update.
All these years I had investigated convoluted methods to upgrade the software and the ability had been available to me all of these years. (sigh). All I needed to do was add the SIM card and it was ready to go.
19th May 2018 | Edenwaith
Welcome to the fifth iteration of the Edenwaith blog. The original incarnation started as a development log with many small updates (micro-blogging years before Twitter was even started) with a couple of longer form posts interspersed. The second version of this blog was a short lived WordPress blog. I did not care for the lack of the visual customization so it would properly match appearance of the rest of the Edenwaith site, and the performance was horrendously slow, so I quickly replaced the WP blog with my own custom solution, which mixed PHP and RSS. In 2011, the blog migrated from using an XML file to a database to help correct several issues.
Which brings us to today. In the efforts to revamp the entire Edenwaith website, the blog has been relocated to a more memorable
www.edenwaith.com/blog URL, improved responsiveness for different screen sizes, and pagination so the entire blog isn't crammed into a single page. In determining the best way to go about implementing pagination, it was nice to see that my ideas were pretty much spot on with what others have recommended in their own approach. It's encouraging to see that after 20+ years of programming that I'm getting the hang of this from time to time.*
* This is intended as a very tongue-in-cheek statement with an included sly wink and grin. Programming can be a very rewarding and daunting endeavor, but it is notoriously difficult and frustrating at times, so programmers love to celebrate their victories, no matter how minor or major.
7th May 2018 | Tutorial
Last year, I took on the arduous task of archiving around 200 old floppy disks. The last time I had done an archive was back in the late 90s, so it was a good idea to go through this process while there was still the necessary hardware available to back up these old relics of digital storage.
Most of my floppy disks were 720K or 1.44MB disks for the PC, with a handful of 800K Mac formatted disks. Since I haven't owned a computer with a floppy drive in it for many years, I went in search of an external floppy drive that would be able to read both 720K and 1.44MB disks. I found a number of products like this which claimed to work with 1.44MB disks, but most products were not very clear if they did or did not work with the older 720K format. Buying a drive off the internet and hoping that it would work with 720K disks was a bit of a gamble. User comments were varied in how reliable these drives would be with the disks.
I visited a Micro Center and they had two types of external USB floppy drives available. One of the drives was in a nondescript, tan cardboard box that was easy to open up. This drive is similar to the package I picked up at Micro Center for around $15 USD (just without the IBM logo). Disk Utility identifies this as the Y-E DATA USB-FDU (USB floppy disk drive). The back of the drive identifies as a Model: FD-05PUB.
The Micro Center staff was accommodating to let me try it out and see if my 1.44MB and 720K disks worked on Mac and/or PC. The Mac didn't initially seem to have any luck with the 720K disk (I later discovered that particular disk was probably dead, since Windows couldn't read it either). But Disk Utility did see the 1.44MB disk appear. When I went over to a PC (running Windows 7), it was able to see both the 1.44MB and another 720K disk which did work.
At home I tried another experiment and hooked the drive up to an older iMac running Snow Leopard. It was able to see any functioning disk I used (both 1.44MB and 720K). I was able to create a disk image off of a floppy, as well. One sad reminder about this relic of a technology — it's slow! Fortunately, even though some of these disks were well over 25 years old, they were of a higher quality than the floppies made in the late 90s (which tended to be a whole lot less unreliable). Of the 200 disks I archived, only about 1 in 10 had any major issues (compared to the Zip disks I also tried to back up, and nearly every one of them was dead or in the process of dying). Of those few floppies which had some bad sectors, I was still able to recover some of the contents by using the command line utility
sudo dd bs=512 if=/dev/rdiskXX# of=/path/to/foo.dmg conv=noerror,sync
In this example,
rdiskXX# represents the path to the floppy disk, and it then scrapes the drive and dumps the readable content to a disk image. Use Disk Utility to get the
/dev/rdisk path for the floppy drive. This was a welcome workaround to try and partially recover some files, versus having to throw away the entire disk.
800K Mac Floppies
This USB floppy drive did a great job in reading the PC-formatted disks, however it was not able to read the 800K Mac-formatted disks I had. Unfortunately, the Macs of the 80s and 90s which wrote out to 400K and 800K disks used a variable speed head, which allowed a little more data to be written to the disks, versus a PC-formatted disk. This also leads to that PC floppy drives cannot read these disks. The SuperDrive was introduced in 1988, which could also work with high-density 1.4MB floppies. I have a Macintosh SE, but it is the 1987 model, which predated the addition of the SuperDrive (which didn't happen until 1989). If my Mac had been equipped with a SuperDrive, backing up and archiving the Mac floppies would have been relatively simple by copying the contents of the original Mac floppies to the Mac and then copying the contents to a 1.4MB disk and then carrying that over to a modern system for backup. No such luck here, so I needed to find another way to be able to transfer the data from the 800K floppies to a modern computer.
One option to extract the data off of an old floppy is to use a service like RetroFloppy. This is a good option if you have some old floppy disks, but don't have a way to read them. RetroFloppy can handle pretty much any old type of magnetic storage, including Atari, Amiga, Commodore, TRS-80, CP/M, IBM-PC, Apple II, etc.
Some people have taken the route to purchase networking equipment and connect an old Mac up to an AppleTalk network, which might involve a not-quite-as-old Mac, and then transfer the files that way. I did make use of extra hardware, not by networking, but by emulating a floppy drive.
The route I took was to purchase a Floppy Emu from Big Mess O Wires, which acts as an emulated floppy drive. You can buy just the hardware, or get a bundled kit, which includes an clear acrylic enclosure. The acrylic has a paper adhesive on it which can be peeled off, but I was too impatient to try and peel off the paper and just assembled the kit as-is.
Configure for Mac
Once I had assembled the Floppy Emu, I still had one more step to perform to get it to work with my Mac SE by downloading the Macintosh firmware (version hd20-0.7H-F14.5 as of this writing). If you are working with an Apple II or Lisa, other firmware needs to be installed. The following are the instructions on how to install the firmware for the Floppy Emu:
See https://youtu.be/Gqpn9ugO1_U for a video demo of the firmware update process.
This update consists of two parts. You need to install both parts! If you see a warning message about "wrong CPLD", it means you haven't installed both parts.
PART 1 (CPLD firmware):
- Copy the files firmware.xvf and femu.bin to the root directory of your SD card
- Insert the card into your Floppy Emu, and turn on your computer.
At this point, you may see a "wrong CPLD" warning. This is normal.
- Hold down the NEXT and PREV buttons.
- Press and release the RESET button.
- Continue holding NEXT and PREV until the firmware update process begins (about 3 seconds).
- Wait 10-15 seconds for the process to complete. Status LED will be flashing.
- When finished, the LCD will display "RESULT: SUCCESS"
PART 2 (AVR microcontroller firmware):
Confirm the new firmware version number is displayed on the self-test/info screen during startup.
- Hold down the SELECT and PREV buttons. Note these are not the same buttons as for part 1.
- Press and release the RESET button.
- Continue holding SELECT and PREV until the firmware update process begins (about 1 second).
- Wait 5 seconds for the process to complete. Status LED will be flashing.
- When finished, the LCD will display self-test information, and the main menu.
Load up blank disks and software
The Floppy Emu comes with a variety of software titles preloaded and it also includes a couple of "blank" disks in several sizes (400K, 800K, and 1.4MB). Since the Mac SE does not know how to handle high-density disks (1.4MB), I could only make use of the 400K and 800K disks. By mounting these disks, I was able to copy my original files to these blank disks, which are then stored on the Floppy Emu's SD card. If one needs additional blank disks, they can be downloaded and then copied onto the SD card for additional spare "disks".
Connect and transfer
The Floppy Emu uses an SD card, which makes it possible to transfer data between an old Apple computer and a more modern machine. I connected the Floppy Emu to the back of the Macintosh SE. Once the Mac had started up, I selected a "blank" disk from the Macintosh section on the Floppy Emu, which then displays either a 400K or 800K emulated floppy disk on the Mac SE (the 1.4MB blank disk will not load on an older Mac SE). From this point, I was able to copy the files stored on the Mac over to the emulated disks. The Floppy Emu comes with a couple of these blank disks, but if more are needed, then download the blank disks and load them onto the SD card on a modern computer. Once the files have been copied over, eject the Untitled disk by dragging it to the Trash. Shut down the Mac and then move the SD card over to a modern computer. Unfortunately, the blank disks are stored as a DSK image, which cannot be natively ready by a modern Mac, so additional steps are needed to access these stored files from a modern Mac.
macOS and DSK Images
While modern versions of the Macintosh operating system (macOS High Sierra as of this writing) cannot open DSK images, there is an easy work around. Rename the
DSK extension to
img, and macOS should be able to open the renamed disk image. If you just want to get the files off of a DSK image, this is the simple method. If you want more complex ways of working with DSK images, you'll need to make use of another program such as Mini vMac or HFVExplorer for Windows.
Thanks go out to Steve from Big Mess O Wires for this tip.
Set Up Mini vMac
- Download Mini vMac. For a new Mac, download the x86-64 build for Macintosh.
- Mini vMac is not code signed, so right-click on the app and select Open. At the dialog box, click the Open button.
- Get a ROM image and place it in the same folder as Mini vMac (vMac.ROM). This is one of those sticky legal issues where you should have an old Mac and then extract the ROM image from it to make a legitimate copy of the ROM. Or you can search the internet. This part is left as an exercise for the reader.
- Once vMac.ROM is in the same folder as the Mini vMac app, start Mini vMac. You will get a start up screen with a disk bearing a flashing question mark. You will need a bootable disk image. Download the file MinivMacBoot.dsk and drop it on the screen to “launch” vMac.
Transfer Files from Mac to Mini vMac
It would be great if there was a straightforward method to open up the old DSK images and transfer files to and fro, but it is not nearly that simple. This is where Mini vMac comes in. Take out the SD card from the Floppy Emu and bring it over to a modern computer to access the DSK images.
Export Files From Mini vMac
Even once I had my files loaded up on the Floppy Emu's SD card, I had to find a way to get those files transferred to a modern computer. When the SD card is plugged into a modern computer, it displays a bunch of DSK images, which are not natively handled by macOS. This is where Mini vMac is necessary. Start up vMac and then load the DSK image with the files to mount the disk in vMac. I was able to see the files in vMac, but how would I extract the files from the DSK and loaded onto my Mac? This is where ExportFl comes in, which can take these files in vMac and export them one at a time to the host system. Since I had a quite a few files, I just archived them using StuffIt Lite 3.5 in vMac and then exported the .sit files to my Mac.
To use ExportFl, download it, then mount the ExportFL DSK into vMac, which appears as a disk. Launch the ExportFL application, then select File > Open. Select the file to export and then you will be prompted with a native file dialog window to tell vMac where to export the file.
Import Files To Mini vMac
We've now learned how to export files out of Mini vMac, but what if we have some files we want to import and save onto a DSK image or use directly within Mini vMac? There is ImportFl, very similar to ExportFl, except it allows Mini vMac to import files from a modern Mac. Download, ImportFL, unzip the file, mount the ImportFl DSK in Mini vMac, start the app up, and once the dialog box is on the screen, drag and drop files onto Mini vMac's window. This can be useful if one wants to take some files from a modern computer and move them to an older Apple computer.
Reading Old Files
The original documents were likely created with Word 6.0. Trying to open these documents using a more recent version of Word (in this case, Word 2011), a warning dialog appears about opening old files, but they can still be opened by selecting File > Open. For such an old file, Word was able to read them properly. If you are using an older version of Word (e.g. Word 2004), no such alert dialog will appear.
For any old ClarisWorks documents, AppleWorks can open and read those. If you have a Mac OS X installer of AppleWorks 6.2.9, it is possible to read these old documents on a not-completely-ancient Mac. I have a PowerBook G4 (running Mac OS X Tiger and Leopard) which has applications such as AppleWorks and Word 2004 on them.
Other Formats (HomeWord II, etc.)
For those file formats which have not persevered over the decades, some can only be opened with equally ancient programs, but sometimes they can be converted to a more modern or universal format. Many of the original documents I wrote on a Tandy 1000 HX computer were created with either DeskMate or Sierra's word processor Homework II. HomeWord II has a mode to export its files to ASCII, but it is also possible to open up the original files using a text editor of your choice. There is a lot of interspersed formatting, but it is legible, whereas if the file had been saved as a binary blob, the file might not be so easily translated/read.
Learning how to back up and transfer the data from some old 800K Mac floppy disks has been an interesting process, which had the additional benefit of getting a little extra use out of a 30 year old Mac by playing a couple of old Sierra games such as the original King's Quest and Space Quest games. I hope that this proves to be useful for someone who might be encountering a similar issue or just might want to get a little more life out of some beloved dinosaur technology. Many thanks go out to Big Mess O' Wires and Grphyel for all of the work put into developing Floppy Emu and Mini vMac.