Retrochallenge ’14: Considering…

A recent Twitter post from UrbanCamo reminded me that this year’s Retrochallenge is coming up in a month-and-a-half!

I really want to enter, but I’m leery of doing so.  The missus and I are busy packing up the house so we can renovate (then sell), and as such most of my computer equipment et cetera is boxed up and in storage.  There’s precious little left in the lab, mostly stuff I’ve never used, broken or damaged equipment, or things I’ve forgotten about.

Much of the equipment left over is of an appropriate vintage that they could be used in the Retrochallenge. Hmmm…

It’s tempting to enter the RC using “the mess” as my project.  The idea of using whatever’s in the pile, whatever I can salvage and throw together, and making it all work somehow really appeals to me.

Problem is, we don’t have any form of internet connectivity at home.  We cancelled our landline as well as our high speed internet earlier in the year because of our renovations, so I’ll have no immediate way of posting my progress.

Another challenge!  I’m liking this more and more!

Lastly, most (if not all) my disks and manuals are boxed up and in storage as well, limiting me to whatever stray disks are still lying around, and whatever is on the old hard drives of the machines still lingering in the lab.

OK, I’m sold.

I’m going to enter the Retrochallenge, my theme being “Working With Whatever’s Left”.



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Don’t Mess with Texas (Instruments)

I hit two of my favourite thrift stores on my lunch break today.  While I struck out at the first, the second yielded the following treasure!


Yes, I am the proud owner of a Texas Instruments TI-99/4A computer, complete with all the trimmings, including a Parsec game cart, joystick, and speech synthesis module!


I have no idea if it works, and no idea what I’m going to do with it, but I’m sure I’ll have some fun with it.

I’m still keeping my eyes open for an Atari 800-series computer…

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RCWW14: That’s a Wrap!

Well, that was fun…

Yet another Retrochallenge goes by with nothing to show for it.  I did use my Handspring Visor and Visorphone for the entire month, but that isn’t really a monumental challenge, as my main smartphone is my 2004-vintage Palm Treo 650, meaning most of the apps were the same.  All it meant was giving up mobile web access, but even that wasn’t a big deal as I can post to Twitter and Facebook (and receive important updates) via SMS.

I spent more time rummaging in my basement lab than I did doing anything constructive.  It wasn’t a waste of time, though, as I rediscovered a bunch of old Unix stuff I forgot I had.  This stuff will lay the foundation for my Summer Retrochallenge entry, wherein I will try to build a 386 running Xenix.  Not just a functional machine, but a useable one, one I can use for the entire month.

I may yet have time to play with my PC-1500, one of these days…


RCWW14: Homespun Archaeology

Imagine my surprise when I found the following in a box in my basement:


Excelan1 Excelan2 Excelan3 Excelan4 Excelan5 Excelan6

Excelan LAN Workplace was a TCP/IP stack for early versions of Xenix 386.   I have both this opened box and another sealed box in my possession (which I may sell sometime in the near future).

Unexpected finds like this are what I live for!  Whenever I feel as though my computer hobby is stagnating, I come across something like this that will rekindle the fire!

Finding floppy images for SCO Xenix 386 wasn’t a difficult task.  I have version 2.3.1 downloaded, but I think that includes TCP/IP capabilities.  If so, I’ll hunt for an even older release of Xenix so I can play around with LWP.

After which, I’ll have to look through the lab to see if I have a 386 on which to install Xenix.

Unfortunately, I won’t have time to play with this stuff during the Retrochallenge Winter Warmup, so consider this my entry into the 2014 Summer Retrochallenge!



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RCWW14: Shifting gears


I discovered a few interesting things while packing up my basement lab this evening… a few more boxes of Unix stuff I got when I bought out a failed dotcom’s equipment back in 2002.  Two versions of AIX, a version of HP-UX, a bunch of developers’ tools, manuals for things I don’t have, and one other thing that I’ll reveal tomorrow.

I am most excited about this last thing, as I’m going to plan my summer Retrochallenge around it.


RCWW14: Checking in

It’s been a busy couple of weeks around the Wheeler household.  Our SUV ended up dying again (main seals were leaking like a sieve), but with a little help we got it fixed.

Haven’t had any time for my entries, as is usually the case.  I’m looking forward to working on my PC-1500 on Sunday.  First thing I plan to do is figure out how to generate true random numbers (usually accomplished by using the value of the timer to seed the random number generator), after that my challenge will really begin.

My Visor and Visorphone combo is still going strong,  although I do miss having all the (comparitive) bells and whistles of my Palm Treo 650 (my usual cellphone).  I miss my iPhone 3G too, but that doesn’t see as much use as the Treo at the best of times.

In other news, I gave one of my unused PCs to my wife’s friend (an amateur graphics designer).  Her eMac had been showing its age, and she wanted something a lot faster, but couldn’t afford to pay much.  So, I grabbed the aforementioned PC and threw the latest Debian Linux on it, loaded it with graphics apps, and gave her a quick lesson in Linux.  She absolutely loved it!

Another successful convert!


RCWW14: Warming Up!

It’s comparatively balmy out today!


As it turns out, the block heater on our SUV was fine.  The battery, however, had frozen solid.  The sides were bulging out so much, it was hard to pull it out of its holder, let alone loosen the clamps holding it in place.

I had to delve into my secret retro-fund for a new battery, but once installed, the car started as if it were a summer day!  Guess my MSX flash cart (or replica Altair) can wait a few more weeks.

I’ll have a bit of free time this evening, and I’m looking forward to starting my PC-1500 projects tonight!



RCWW14: Frozen Solid

To say it’s cold here in Winnipeg this morning would be an understatement:


It was SO cold, our car wouldn’t start.  The cord for the block heater (which warms the engine oil) is broken (I forgot to unplug it before driving away a few months ago), and the battery couldn’t supply enough juice to turn the cold engine over… thus I get to spend my evening in the garage while they fix my block heater.

So, that’s another day lost for me. Hopefully I’m back in the groove tomorrow!

While we wait patiently for tomorrow, here’s something that came across my Twitter feed earlier that might interest retro Unix enthusiasts:  The long-lost Dell Unix has been found and virtualized!  I’m going to try this out myself in the next couple of months.


RCWW14: Winter Wonderland

The Visorphone finally ran out of juice at 6am today!

48 hours between charges… not bad!  It’s currently being charged (no pun intended) and will be for the next several hours.  Thankfully it won’t be seeing much use today, as the missus and I are doing our week’s shopping and such.  But first, we’ll have to dig our way out, as Winnipeg was hit by a winter storm yesterday and we’ve been blanketed in snow.

That said, I probably won’t be doing much in the way of retrocomputing today.

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RCWW14: Keeps On Ticking

I have to say, I am impressed with this Visorphone.

Its 14-year old battery still shows a 55% charge after 24+ hours of use! That’s 8 phone calls and several hundred text messages between Jill and I.   That’s a tad better than my Palm Treo 650, which is also on its original (2004) battery and needs to be charged every 24 hours or so under moderate use (and worlds better than my iPhone 3g, which needs to be charged every 8 hours under light use).



This just proves what us retro-enthusiasts already know: they don’t make ’em like they used to!

Regarding my other project, I still can’t find my CCR-81 cassette recorder for my PC-1500 project.  I’ll have to intensify my search.  If I don’t find it within the next couple of days, I may try using a PC-1500 emulator until the recorder is found.

 **EDIT 9:20AM**


My PocketType keyboard just stopped working.  As I didn’t bring my Stowaway folding keyboard, it looks as though I’ll be handwriting any texts to my wife today…