ASCII by Jason Scott

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The Disks of Mister Keegan —

Throughout the production of the documentary, there have been a number of projects I have picked up, related yet not related, which have sat and waited for me to get to them. Some of these projects involve doing work with the possessions of others that I have been holding for (in some cases) upwards of two years. This has been understandably troubling to these folks, since even though they weren’t using them per se, they still liked having them around.

Such is the case with the Apple II disk collection secured for me from one Jeff Keegan, who was interviewed for the documentary a good while back and who still stands as one of my favorites. The reason he stands as a favorite was that Jeff was somehow able to channel his early BBS days almost perfectly, a rarer feat than you might think. The sound is good, the shots are interesting (with his two pinball machines in the background) and the subject matter is almost 100 percent about bulletin boards, another rare feat; 2 hours of clips and quotes.

He mentioned he had his old Apple II disks around at his parents’ house, and when I was invited some months later to a party (Jeff and I live near each other), he had a whole stack of disks for me to take with me. Months passed until recently, when I set up an Apple II transfer station to allow me to move the data from the disks to images in windows.

I will take a moment to explain this process, should anyone be interested and not have looked up how this is done. It’s actually pretty enjoyable to do and contains some cool aspects.

The best device for reading an Apple II disk is an Apple II, but then you lose a lot of the advantages of modern operating systems, such as internet connectivity, multi-window ease, and, oh, subdirectories. What would be an ideal situation is the use of these Apple II disks on your modern machine, but how do you make this happen?

There are a number of emulators out there that emulate Apple machines to various degrees of accuracy. On Windows, my personal front runner is the confusingly multi branched emulator AppleWin. But in fact there’s a bunch of them. There’s Apple II emulators for the Macintosh and Linux and a host of other platforms as well.

All of these emulators need disk images. That is, binary files that have the information that would normally be placed inside a 5 1/4″ floppy disk (or a later 3.5″ PRODOS disk) but sitting, quietly, inside a file on your hard drive. Because of the fact that early-adopted emulators were of arcade games, and those arcade games used ROM chips to store their programs, these disk images are now called “ROMs”. Fighting this lexigraphical mutation has been the source of a lot of lost energy.

So, the way that these images are transferred from Apple IIs to PCs is via a wonderful program called Apple Disk Transfer, or ADT. through a serial connection between the two machines. Through what I consider one of the coolest software maneuvers I have witnessed, you type in two commands on the Apple II (which aim all serial connection input as if it were being typed) and then it proceeds to enter in the Apple II client in machine language via the serial connection. It is very hard to describe how absolutely thrilling this is, to see an innocent Apple II taken control of and turned into a disk transfer station before your eyes. After it comes up as the client, of course, you can transfer disks to and from the Apple to your PC. the “and from” is very helpful because there is a disk image for making your Apple into a client from the get-go, from booting a floppy. It’s also cool because you can take your disk images and theoretically copy them to new floppies, getting pristine copies of your software back. I say theoretically because it’s very very difficult to buy compatible floppies; not the sort of thing you can go down to the store and do. Believe me, I have tried.

This is what my Apple II looks like when it’s functioning as a client:


All those white squares are bad blocks on the floppy; this is a particularly unhappy floppy. I found a lot of unhappy floppies in Jeff’s collection, worn out and nearly dead from years of disuse. This is the nature of things, when you have a material that depends on magnetism and is stored under anything but ideal conditions. However, for every dead sector I got a lot of completely fine disks, brimming with cool stuff.

All in all, 221 disks were rescued from oblivion by this process, turned from tiny artifacts to easily transferred files. Compressed, the whole collection is 9.75mb (expanding to 25 megabytes). Some of the disks are commercial games, cracked and made easy to copy (the client cannot transfer copy-protected software), others are interesting public domain disks and utlities that Jeff or his family downloaded. And, of course, some of the disks are his BBS, Xevious, that he ran for a while in the mid 1980′s.

Most interesting to me along my own lines, of course, are two types of files: straight textfiles downloaded from BBSes and ASCII Express lines, as well as “pirate utilities”, a small amazing sub-set of Apple II programs where people could create their own “crack screens” to put in the front of programs. These are great artifacts to me and the textfiles are on their way to my site.

Many people have taken their old collections and done this process. In fact, there are places you can go to get thousands of them. One can debate the morality or ideal situations regarding this occurence, but I am tired of doing so. More than likely, if there was a program you yourself did not write that you have in your memory, it’s somewhere in that collection. But if you made your own stuff, or downloaded your own messages or ran your own BBS, please consider transferring your data or arranging to send it to me. You’ll be glad you did.

Ironically, while I’m doing all this work and adding this entry, I am currently editing an interview with the Midwest Pirates’ Guild (an Apple II cracking group, also known as MPG) and Greg Schaefer, creator of GBBS and GBBS Pro, Apple II BBS programs that shaped a lot of BBS history. History? I’m soaking in it.

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One Comment

  1. gratte says:

    Y0 Mr. Scott-
    Just happened to be searching for a ProTERM disk image (can’t find it) and stumbled on your recent post mentioning Greg Schaefer. Funny funny.
    Where is he, what’s he doing? Why doesn’t he have some kinda ‘net presence?

    G. Ratte’/cDc