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The Programming Board

Behold the Floppy Emu programming board! Normally when you read “programming board” on this web site, you’d think of some circuitry on a PCB, but this time it’s a 3/4 inch thick plank of poplar wood. Ah, that kind of programming board!

Sometimes I need to reprogram a large number of Floppy Emus, and this tool makes the job much easier. My old method was to connect the Emus one at a time to an Apple IIgs, turn on the computer, push buttons to begin a firmware update, and then wait ~30 seconds for the update to finish. It was a slow and inconvenient process when dozens or hundreds of Emus needed reprogramming. With the programming board, I can slap down one Floppy Emu into a bracket, start the firmware update going, and then rotate to the next Floppy Emu. Everything is powered from a USB supply, and I use a hub with individual lighted switches to turn on power for each Emu bracket.

Updating three Floppy Emus in parallel is a big improvement, but there’s also another trick here that makes the process even better. With the old method on the IIgs, some fiddling with cables was necessary every time I connected or disconnected a Floppy Emu. Things would slide around on my desk, and I’d waste time getting the connectors lined up. The programming board uses metal pegs at each bracket to hold the Floppy Emu centered, so a short 4-inch ribbon cable can drop down perfectly aligned with the connector every time. Here’s a close-up of the alignment pegs:

If you’re wondering about those green lights on the bottom two power adapters, they’re not status indicators, but just simple power lights. I accidentally bought some high-brightness LEDs, and even with under 10 mA current they’re so bright that it’s irritating. They’re dazzling to the point of being blinding. Fortunately the LED in the top-most power adapter didn’t work due to my lousy soldering job. I covered the bottom two with 5 layers of paper, which cuts down and diffuses the brightness enough to be tolerable.

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Snow White Case for Floppy Emu

The Snow White case for Floppy Emu is back in stock. This is my personal favorite: a matte white acrylic with a slightly textured surface, following Apple’s vintage Snow White design style, and with the looks of a miniature external floppy drive. It’s available with just the case, or as part of the Floppy Emu deluxe bundle.

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Bootstrapping Apple //c with Floppy Emu

Thanks to Floppy Emu fan Andru Luvisi for contributing a great trick for bootstrapping an Apple //c with Floppy Emu. The Apple II family computers can normally only boot from Disk 1, but when Floppy Emu is connected externally to a //c and configured in 5.25 inch emulation mode, it becomes a non-bootable Disk 2. Until now, the options for making Floppy Emu bootable on a //c were:

  • Switch the Emu’s emulation mode to Smartport hard disk, which is bootable
  • Boot from a real 5.25 floppy in Drive 1, and then access the Emu as Drive 2
  • Connect the Emu internally, in place of the real 5.25 inch floppy drive
  • Use an A/B switch cable to connect the Emu and the real 5.25 inch floppy drive internally

Andru has devised a method for booting the //c from the Floppy Emu while it’s connected externally and configured in 5.25 inch emulation mode. In other words, it’s a method for booting from Disk 2 – something that’s normally impossible. This is great for the scenario where you want to make a bootable ProDOS floppy, and you’ve got a Floppy Emu, but no real floppies with a bootable DOS. Now it’s possible to boot from the Emu externally, then put a blank floppy in the //c’s internal drive and copy ProDOS to it.

  1. Connect Floppy Emu to the //c’s external disk port, and turn on the computer.
  2. The //c will display a CHECK DISK DRIVE error.
  3. Select ProDOS v1.9 from the Floppy Emu’s disk selection menu.
  4. Press CTRL+RESET on the //c keyboard to get a BASIC prompt
  5. At the ] prompt, type CALL -151 and press RETURN
  6. At the * prompt, press CTRL+E, then press RETURN
  7. You’ll see a line of text like M=00 A=08 X=00 Y=00 P=00 S=B7.
    If the line of text begins with M, then type
    :0 E0 60 1 and press RETURN
    Else if the line of text begins with A, then type
    :E0 60 1 and press RETURN
  8. Type C60BG and press RETURN

The //c will immediately begin booting ProDOS from Drive 2!

Andru developed this method by examining code from Apple //c ROM version 255, which includes this feature natively as PR#7. The above monitor hacking makes it possible to do the same thing on other ROM versions of the Apple //c.

I was successful using this method with ProDOS v1.9, as well as with a few other utilities and games. Unfortunately most games won’t work using this method. They’re hard-coded to expect booting from Drive 1, so if you try this method they’ll start to boot from Drive 2, but then you’ll hear Drive 1 suddenly begin to grind away, and the game will freeze or display an error. Despite this limitation, booting 5.25 inch disk images from Floppy Emu as Drive 2 is still a very handy trick!

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Now Available – New Enclosure Styles

After several months of experiments and refinements, two new enclosure styles for Floppy Emu are finally available for sale. First up is a Snow White case with the looks of a miniature external floppy drive. The grooved white laser-cut case mimics Apple’s vintage Snow White design style, made famous by machines like the Apple IIc. This case uses a matte finished acrylic that’s slightly textured, and will look at home alongside your other retro computer hardware. The buttons in bright blue provide an attractive visual contrast, adding an extra touch of class.

The second new style is frosted ice, and it’s replacing clear acrylic as the default case style for the deluxe bundle. The frosted ice case has a matte finish that resists fingerprints, and allows some light through without being totally transparent. It retains the “happy computer” etched logo from the earlier case style. Frosted ice has a retro-futuristic vibe like a 1960’s sci-fi drama. Danger Will Robinson!

Both new case designs incorporate a small but significant change to the button stalks, which are 0.3 mm taller than before. This should help minimize button slippage caused by variations in the acrylic material thickness.

You can find the new cases in the BMOW Store.

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Snow White Case Experiments

It’s been a few months since I experimented with some alternative laser-cut and 3D printed case designs for the Floppy Emu disk emulator. The most popular case concept was the Snow White design, intended to complement the design style and color of mid-1980’s Apple computers. I’ve continued to experiment with the Snow White design as time permitted, and have finally arrived at a laser-cut Snow White case that I’m mostly happy with.

The laser-cut case is constructed from the same matte white acrylic that I used in the last prototype, which is about as close to vintage Apple coloring as I can get. But instead of subtle engraving for the case lines and other details, they’re now cut-outs that go all the way through. It’s hard to see in the photos, but the matte acrylic also has a slight texture to it. This creates a look that’s quite different from the smooth gloss normally associated with acrylic. I like it a lot.

With this prototype, I also tweaked the button plunger size very slightly, which should help give the buttons a tighter feel.

A question to readers: What do you think about the single grooves on the lower part of the sides? Good or bad? I was trying to echo the design of the top plate’s lines, but I’m not sure if plain solid sides would be better.

   

   

   

Working with a friend, I also did a few more experiments with 3D printed cases. These look attractive and are quick to assemble, but I concluded they’re just too slow and expensive to manufacture. I won’t be making any more 3D printed cases, but the remaining 3D printed prototype cases are available for sale if anyone would like one.

   

My goal is to create a polished Snow White case option that I can offer as an alternative for people who prefer this style. Meanwhile, I’m also working on some refinements to the standard case… more on that soon!

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New Firmware for Floppy Emu

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After a long period of hibernation, today I’ve released a set of firmware updates for the Floppy Emu disk emulator. These updates provide a few user interface improvements taken from customer suggestions over the past year, and also fix a couple of small bugs. Enjoy!

Ellipses in Long File Names – Don’t you hate it when you’ve got several disk images with very similar names, like Operating System Install Disk 1.dsk, Operating System Install Disk 2.dsk, and Operating System Install Disk 3.dsk? On the Floppy Emu’s built-in display, while browsing the contents of your SD card, the end of those long filenames were all cut off. You couldn’t tell which one was which when selecting a disk image from the menu. With today’s firmware update, the middle of those long filenames will now be replaced with an ellipsis, retaining the beginning and end of the name. Several people have been asking me for this feature for at least a year, so here you go.

Obvious Errors for Unsupported Disk Image Types – The Floppy Emu is always running in a specific emulation mode, like Apple II 5.25 Inch mode or Macintosh HD20 Hard Disk mode. When you’re browsing the contents of your SD card, the Emu knows which disk images are supported by the current mode, and which aren’t. The old behavior was to only display supported disk images and hide the others, but this seems to have confused everybody and left them wondering why their files disappeared. The new behavior is to list (mostly) all the files on the SD card, then show an error if the user selects something that isn’t a disk image supported by the current mode. In this case, you’ll see “disk image type is not supported in the current emu mode”.

Emulation Mode Highlight – Speaking of emulation modes, many people didn’t seem to realize that they exist, resulting in confusion when using the wrong mode or not knowing how to change modes. I can ask them to RTFM, but it would be nice if the UI made it more obvious. I’ve changed the Emu’s startup screen to display the current emulation mode right at the top, in inverse text, so hopefully it will now be impossible to overlook. I also fixed a subtle problem that affected people who switched from the Apple II firmware to the Mac/Lisa firmware: the Emu was defaulting to Lisa 3.5 Floppy mode after the firmware update. Quite a few people didn’t notice, and then couldn’t understand why floppy emulation didn’t work with their Macintosh. I’ve changed the behavior so it will now default to Macintosh 3.5 Floppy mode after the firmware update.

 
Get the new firmware here:

Macintosh and Lisa, for all Floppy Emu models: hd20-0.7G-F14.5
Apple II firmware, for Floppy Emu Model B: apple-ii-0.1R-F8
Apple II firmware, for Floppy Emu Model A: apple-ii-0.1R-F6

With any firmware update, there’s always a chance that I’ll accidentally break something, so please give me your feedback on whether these new versions work for you.

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