Author Archives: jrand

A Case for the Replica One

Replica OneI had already assembled my Replica One and powered it up to see that it worked. But, it was just a bare board. I had it connected to a power supply and a small USB keyboard. The Replica One didn’t have USB so I had it connected through a USB to PS2 adaptor. The whole thing sat on top of a piece of cardboard. It worked but it looked more like a bomb from a movie than a working computer. It needed a case.

Years ago, my dad and I build the Rand X computer together and that is where my hobby and my profession work in software began. I assembled the Replica One with help from Matthew. But I wanted a nice wooden case and for that, I wanted help from my dad.

We were planning a visit to Tillsonburg that summer so I prepared by drawing out a basic plan. I measured the key components. The motherboard is rectangular and I decided it would be best to have the long edge of the board run along the length of the case. The power supply would be to the left of the motherboard. Unfortunately, the power switch, serial port and video output would then have to come out the right hand side of the case. In the end, it seemed to be the best compromise so that is what we went with.

I arrived in Tillsonburg with some rough plans. It called for a shape which is more or less a rectangular box except the front, top slopes down where the keyboard is mounted. This approximated the shape of the Apple //. Also, I wanted the top of the case to be plexiglass so the board would be visible.

We sourced the plexi in London and went to pick up a piece. They cut it to the size we specified and when I asked, “how much?” they said not to worry about it. They had scraps bigger than that. We cut the panels to the appropriate sizes and shapes and screwed it together. We cut a large hole in the back panel for the power supply fan and power connector. We also cut a smaller opening on the right edge for the connectors on the motherboard.

We probably struggled the most with finding a good way to mount the board to our case. We ended up with small spacers which we screwed into the board and then screwed the spacers into the bottom of the case. It wouldn’t be too convenient to remove the board from the case but I didn’t plan to do that very often.

We drilled a small hole for the keyboard cable to pass through into the case so it could be connected to the board. Mom had some velcro which we often uses for their boat projects and we used to that connect the keyboard and the plexi to the case. After a couple of coats of varnish, we had a beautiful case for my Replica One.

Once I got the system home again after our trip, I remove the old piece of cardboard that everything used to sit on and cleared a spot for it on my desk. I hooked up the serial cable to the iMac and started loading programs onto it. I even got a C compiler working for the Replica One and I have coded a few things for it since then (more stories coming about that soon).

So, it sits beside me now in my computer room. I have many old computers here but it has a special place physically on my desk but also it means so much to me because of the work which went into it by Matthew, my dad and I.

Dance Recital

Samantha had a great time this past year in a ballet class. She attended weekly classes and was working towards a big dance recital at the end of the term. Before the recital, they did a dress rehearsal and parents were allows to attended the rehearsal and record the show. You can see some of that footage in the movie.

After the rehearsal, Samantha had two performances at Centrepoint Theatre. We got tickets for the first evening so we got the chance to watch most of the show. Samantha was enthralled with the music and dancing and thankfully there was enough room in the aisle for her to dance along. A couple of numbers before her performance, we escorted her backstage and then quickly returned to our seats to watch. She did really well and only fell down once.

Samantha Ballet - 3After her number, we picked her up from backstage and watched the rest of the show. Even though it finished up very late at night, she was still so excited to watch all of the dancers and loved the music.

The next day, she performed again. We didn’t have tickets that night so we waited backstage while she performed and then went home afterwards. Unfortunately we don’t have any footage of the actual performance yet because we weren’t allowed to take pictures or video but we are supposed to get a DVD of all acts soon. So, perhaps I can include a better quality video of her dancing soon.

Samantha is going to do ballet again this year and she is also keen on tap dancing also. So she may end up in two performances in next years recital.

Building The Replica One

IMG_0033One of the last things I did before we moved back to Canada was order a Replica One computer. The Replica One is a reproduction of the original Apple I computer designed by Steve Wozniak back in 1976. Shipping it to Canada would have been more expensive and more of a hassle and I always wanted one so I bought the kit. But with the move, I left everything in the box until I was ready to work on it.

Once we were settled, I was itching to start but I just didn’t have the room. I had my own room for my gadgets but I only had a tiny desk which had room for our iMac and printer but not much else. I really needed all new office furniture and a large desk to go with the large room.

By September, I had found the furniture collection I wanted and ordered it online. But months later, it was still back ordered. Someone didn’t want me to work on my computer project.

By November everything arrived and in a couple of evenings of work, I had the furniture all assembled. With desk space, I decided to bring out some of my other old hardware. Like the Apple //GS I used throughout university and have completely customized in a tall tower case. Or my uncles old Apple //e which needed a bit of cleaning but still works great. My BeBox which replaced my Apple //GS as my main computer when I started working life. The BeBox is probably the rarest machine I own and the model I have is thought to be one of about 800 ever sold.

But, while waiting for room to work on my project, I also started collecting some other old systems. I found an original Mac 128k on eBay and bought it. I have a video of Samantha using it in the kitchen. Now it has a permanent spot next to our iMac which is many orders of magnitude faster. It works well and Samantha often asks to use it. She loves MacPaint.

I also got a Apple MessagePad 2000 on eBay. These devices are often called “Newtons” although it is the software on them that is branded Newton. The hardware is MessagePad. It is a strange device and ahead of its time in many ways. The Palm Pilot which followed it is definitely a refinement and simplification of the MessagePad and it succeeded because it was a better compromise for size, battery life and cost. But it is a pretty neat machine and in some ways is a predecessor of the much more successful iPod and iPhone mobile devices which Apple would make much later.

The final machine I bought off eBay recently was an Apple Lisa 2. This is quite a rare machine and is a predecessor of the Mac and is one of the first machines with a graphical user interface. The model I have has a single 400k floppy drive and a 10M internal hard drive. The hard drive is physically huge. Given that 3TB hard drives exist today, you can probably have about 12TB of disk space in the same physical dimensions as this 10M drive. That is about 1,250,000x more capacity in the same physical space. The machine itself was in Ottawa so I was able to inspect it before bidding on it and once I had won it, I didn’t have to pay shipping costs since I just had to pick it up. It was missing a keyboard but I found one in another auction. The system does power up but it doesn’t boot. There is definitely an error booting to the hard drive but I am not sure what the problem is yet. It could be that the OS isn’t loaded on the hard drive which means I have to find some way to write some floppies. That alone will be an interesting challenge.

The only other machine I am tempted to try to find is a Next Cube but they are rare enough that they tend to go for $1000 or more. I just can’t justify that much money for something that old, regardless of how cool the hardware is (or was).

But what I really wanted to work on was the Replica One. I setup the desk and put some of my old machines together in the corner of the L where I could work with them but they also wouldn’t be in the way too much. The iMac sat on on end of the L leaving the other side empty. Also before moving, I bought a very good soldering iron at Fry’s so I set that up. I put a nice bright desk lamp there also to help me get enough light.

I was bit nervous to start since it had been years since I did any soldering and never really did anything this intricate. I watched a bunch of YouTube videos on soldering technique just to review and prepare. One night a couple of weeks ago, I opened up the box and organized all of the parts. The instructions suggested starting with the resistors and there were only a dozen or so to mount so I dove in.

In a short time, I had all of the resistors mounted. The next day, I soldered all of the sockets. Then, the capacitors. A day or so later I was soldering on the connectors and other devices. Every day, I would show Matthew the progress and demonstrated soldering for him. But once all of the soldering was done, Matthew would help me out more.

First, we needed to make sure that the connections were good. Without inserting any chips into the sockets, I hooked the board up to the power supply and turned it on. We got a red light from the LED which was a good sign. Using the voltmeter, Matthew and I checked +5 and ground on all of the key pins. Everything looked good. Time to power it off and move to the next step.

With bedtime fast approaching, we started mounting the chips into their sockets. There were only 10 chips to insert (versus the dozens of chips found on the original Apple 1) but it was slow going because we didn’t want to bend any pins. With all of the chips mounted and Cynthia ready with the video camera, it was time to power it up. And it worked! A quick reset and I was in the monitor. A quick instruction in the monitor and I was in Apple basic. A quick command in Apple basic and I was running a program. We had built a computer!

In many ways, this project was a way to relive the building of the Rand X computer my dad I built nearly thirty years ago. The Replica One is actually less powerful than the Rand X. My Replica One has 32k of memory versus the 64k we had in the Rand X. But my Replica One is also built to interface better with technologies of today. It has a PS/2 port for a standard PC keyboard. It has a serial port which you can use to send it programs. I am currently waiting for a USB to serial cable so I can hook the iMac up to the Replica One and downloads some programs to it.

And I bought a compact flash reader for the Replica One. This lets me store programs on a compact flash card. The Apple 1 never had a disk drive. All it supported for storage was cassette tape. Compact flash is a much more convenient solution. However, it was difficult finding a good flash card to buy. The problem is that regardless of the size of the flash memory, the reader will only give you access to the first 32M of space. In the store, the smallest and cheapest I could find was 4G. So, I now have a 4G compact flash card inserted into a device with 32k of main memory. Of that 4G, I can use only 128th of it and of that 128th, I will be hard pressed to use even a megabyte of space.

Matthew has shown some interest in learning more about the Replica One also. I showed him just a bit of Basic and how he could use it to write programs which can do his math homework for him. That seemed to get his attention. I often wonder what the best route is to get a child into programming today. Making a program which counts from 1 to 100 on today’s machines just seems so anti-climatic. But to get a machine which is nothing more than a bare circuit board hooked up to a keyboard and monitor to count to 100 just seems like more of an accomplishment. At least I think so. We will see whether Matthew thinks so too.

The next step is to build a case for it. Today it is sitting on a piece of cardboard but my plan is to build something out of plexiglass. I also need to find a keyboard which is a bit smaller and more appropriate to mount into the case.

So my Replica One joins my museum of old technology. But unlike the other ones, this one is just a bit more unique because we assembled it ourselves.

Samantha’s First Haircut

IMG_0421Although Samantha is more than three years old, she actually never had a haircut before. But, the time came that it really needed to be trimmed. More than that though, she got some really nice braids in her hair. Check out the pictures.

Samantha’s Third Birthday

P1050787Samantha had her third birthday a little while ago. We threw a birthday party for her at Samantha’s best friend’s house. We played with their cat who seemed to enjoy sitting in gift bags. We had a Dora piƱata but instead of hitting it, you were supposed to pull on a string to open it up so the goodies could fall out. After breaking a piece of trim off the doorway where we had tied it, Cynthia realized that she overstuffed it and nothing was going to come out. Matthew came to the rescue and used some of his karate moves to break it open. Instead of cake, we had cupcakes laid out to form the number 3. Samantha had a great time and we stayed late visiting with good friends.

But that happened several days before her actual birthday. On her actual birthday, the four of us went out to dinner at East Side Marios. After dinner, they brought ice cream cones with a sparkler in it with several staff singing a birthday wish. Samantha was a bit overwhelmed but loved it. With dinner done, we gathered on our bed where Samantha opened gifts from and cards from family. We have some video of that.

Thanks everyone for your birthday wishes.

WWDC 2010

IMG_0068Since Apple announced the ability to write your own applications for the iPhone, I have been working on different things. I even have an app up on the store right now (see www.halcyontouch.com for more details). Every year, Apple holds a developer conference in San Francisco and I hoped to attend before we moved back. Sure enough, when the dates were announced, it was a couple weeks before our move so I bought myself a pass.

Everyday, I caught a Caltrain at 7:13 AM which is a bit early for me. And I often wouldn’t be back home until 10:00 or later after attending different parties in the evening. I was there for the announcement of the iPhone 4 but more important were the technical sessions and the labs. At the labs, I could show my app to an Apple engineer and get assistance on something I was having trouble with. Sometimes I learned I was doing this correctly but often I would leave with a longer list of things to improve.

The different evening events were great. On Tuesday night, there was a “Stump The Experts” event where the audience and about 20 Apple employees tried to out do each other with arcane technical and Apple history trivia.

Wednesday night, I got to see and touch some of that Apple history. At this party, they had several old machines like a Lisa, a Macintosh 512 and even an Apple I owned by Apple employee number 16 who was there to demo it. I snapped a bunch of pictures and chatted with people about what machines the we had used. I told several people that I had bought an Apple I replica kit so soon I would assemble my own reproduction of history.

Thursday night was the big party put on by Apple. It was pretty crazy. I met several people like Bill Atkinson who are as close as it comes to celebrities in the Apple community. Later, Ok Go came out to perform. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay to the end but I had a train to catch and by then, the weeks activities had me pretty exhausted.

It was pretty expensive but doing it after our move back to Ottawa would have costed much more. It was a great chance to learn more about my iPhone development hobby and indulge my love of all things Apple.

My Empire Tribute

Thirty years ago, The Empire Strikes Back opened in theatres. I saw the original Star Wars but I was a bit young then. But, for Empire I was a bit older and it was just an incredible movie for me. Like most kids my age, I had my share of action figures from the movies and space ships. I also watched all of the special “making of” TV shows which gave you some idea of the amount of work which went into each film. So, I took our Super 8 camera and some of my toys and made my own version of the movie or at least part of it.

In honour of a movie which was very important to me when I grew up and its 30th anniversary, I thought I would put my movie online today. There is no sound because our camera didn’t record sound. Also, it has gone through a number of conversions which explains its sorry state and is not a reflection of the film maker himself. It was converted from film to a VCR tape years ago by my parents along with a number of other home movies. A while ago, I used our DVD recorder to burn the VCR tape to a DVD. More recently, I ripped that DVD to a MP4 file on our computer. So, it has been converted a number of times and maybe needs the wizards at ILM to return it to its former glory (or whatever it was originally).

Happy Birthday to The Empire Strikes Back.

Welcome to James Eric Rand

Baby James030My brother Steve and his wife Katherine have a new arrival in their home. Their son, James Eric Rand was born earlier this month. You can see some pictures of him here. My mom was in St. Thomas to help out for a few days also. We happened to be in Ottawa at the time but busy with other things and couldn’t get a chance to see him (see the other story for what we were up to). We will definitely be visiting this summer when we get back to Ontario.

Welcome to another member of the Rand family.

Samantha and Matthew Home Again

Samantha had her IV’s removed by late morning today. Her blood sugar and pH levels had stabilized. She was still coughing and had a bit of a fever still but otherwise was much improved. I setup her insulin pump and was back in control of her medication which honestly was reassuring. I guess after doing it for a year, it actually isn’t pleasurable to have that burdened removed. It is just something we do now.

In fact, just after I setup her pump, I gave her half a unit to cover the carbs she had recently eaten with breakfast. About an hour after that, the nurse came in with half a unit in a syringe. She was there and we discussed the insulin when I delivered it and she wasn’t convinced that we should give her more. But, the doctors issued the order and she couldn’t just ignore it. With her support, we talked to the doctors. I showed them the insulin history on our device and that she already had the insulin some time ago. After a quick demonstration of our pump which they hadn’t seen (we were in the ICU so these were not endocrinologists who would necessarily see all the latest tech), everyone agreed that the extra insulin was not appropriate.

So, I had successfully wrestled medicating Samantha from the hospital and from then, I did the blood glucose tests and delivered the insulin. I just had to report to the nurse so the chart was updated.

The next question was when would we be headed home. The consensus was either today or possibly tomorrow. The big concern was that Samantha just did not look too alert or active. My argument was that they interrupted her sleep every hour last night to draw blood for a pH test. Combined with the low grade fever and cough, she was just exhausted. I think everyone agreed and that the best thing for Samantha was to be back at home in comfortable surroundings. By 4:30, we were pulling into our driveway.

I called Randi on the way and asked if we could stop by and pick up Matthew. But, he wanted to stay for dinner and watch a movie with them. She offered to drop him off at 7:00 and he was eager to take her up on that offer. Although Samantha really wanted to see her brother again, I decided to let Matthew stay a bit longer. That worked out well. Samantha really was tired. She wanted to sit on my lap for a little while and watch TV. I tried to offer her some food and she took little bits here and there but not too much. By 6:00, she was asleep in my arms and I took her to her bed.

She has slept very soundly since then. I have tested her blood glucose a couple of times and unlike in the hospital where she would start and cry out, she slept right through it as she used to. Hopefully she will sleep soundly all night and be her usual self tomorrow.

Thanks again everyone for your support. Cynthia is back tomorrow and I may have some more news about house hunting in Ottawa then.

Samantha Improving

Samantha’s blood sugar and acid level are both back to normal. The doctors want to see if she can keep food down so we are going to try some clear fluids soon. Rather than move her out of ICU they hope to release her this afternoon if all goes well.

As I was writing this update the Popsicle she wanted arrived and she is sitting up in her bed enjoying it while watching some tv. So far so good.