Back in the 70s and 80s, software was also sold on cassettes because files could be transferred to computers using sounds. It was a pretty ingenious method, but it came with its own problems.
Volume, for example, played a significant role in the process of saving or retrieving software. Too loud or too low would cause errors, meaning that we would have to press stop on the tape deck, rewind, and go through the process all over again trying a different volume. And we are talking about unreliable physical nobs, not the precise digital control we we currently have on our phones and computers.
Fast-forward to today, and it’s still possible to do it thanks to the headphone port that endures in many devices. If all you want to do is send files to a vintage computer like the Apple IIe, the audio connector on some phones, tablets, computers, or even an iPod will suffice.
However, if both parts (the old and new computers) have to exchange information with each other, there have to be two audio cables connecting the output of one to the input of the other, and a modern software like ADTPro is needed to manage the communication.
What you need
In the video below, you can learn how it works, how to set it up, and some tips that will help you with the audio settings. But, you should also read the blog post because there is valuable information there as well.
Unlocking the volume level
Recently, I wrote about the challenges of bringing my 2012 MacBook Air back to life. When I finally did that, I unlocked another level of the Apple IIe restoration project saga. My plan was to use that computer to transfer files to the IIe. However, like everything else in this project, that was easier said than done.
The MacBook has only one audio port, and I needed two. That’s easy, right? A USB dongle will do it, and thanks to Apple’s insane relationship with computer ports, I happen to have many of them lying around.
Well, that simple task quickly turned into days of swapping dongles and tweaking the in and out volumes on the MacBook. As evident, this restoration project is increasingly resembling an 80s adventure game.
Fun fact: the IIe doesn’t have a volume control, and that was a big problem when I was a kid and wanted to stay awake until late at night playing games.
Fortunately, thanks to an error message appearing on both computers, it is relatively easy to quickly know that a file transfer is not working. Naturally, I knew about the volume problem from experience, but I decided to first make sure audio was coming out of all the ports. It was.
Next, I started moving up and down the in and out volumes, until I finally found the correct spot. Putting it like that makes it look so easy, but, believe me, it was a painful process of trial and error that involved restarting the file transfer several times. It took me hours, but it was so gratifying when I finally did it.
Of course, I saved that information on Evernote. And to help others with the same problem, the settings below are the the ones working for me.
ADTPro not saving to disk
When I finally figured out the audio settings, everything was always working fine with the smaller software. But the process would not finish when transferring larger images. At the final stages, a loud noise would come from the drive, and the process would be aborted.
Unlocking the disk drive level
What I didn’t tell you so far is that transferring a file is just part of the process. These computers didn’t come with a hard drive. All they have is an internal memory that is wiped as soon as the power is turned off. So, the next logical step is to start saving all transferred files to disks. And if you prefer an era-appropriate word, here are some options: floppy, floppy disk, or diskette.
Since my recently purchased Disk II (the device that reads and writes to diskettes) arrived last week, and a couple of days later so did the the box of disks, it was all set for the big day.
I opened ADTPro on the MacBook Air, typed the commands on the IIe, then went back to the Air and started playing the tunes. I knew that the transfer would go smoothly because, at that point, I had already thoroughly tested it. It was finally time to record the first file onto a disk. If you have never done this before, I need to stop here for a moment and set the tone.
The transfer and recording take a few minutes and happen in several steps. The first part of the data is sent to the vintage computer’s memory (the one that is wiped if the IIe is turned off). Then the transfer is paused while the computer saves that part to the disk. Next, the IIe cleans that first block from the memory and ‘tells’ the MacBook to send the next block. That’s why the cables going in and out on both sides are needed.
This process is repeated many times, and the first program I was trying to save to disk was the Apple IIe side of ADTPro which so far I had to always send to the IIe to actually start transferring any other software. This would save me some time in the future because loading software from disk is many times faster than using audio.
I now had my first disk and was eager to copy the next one. XPS Diagnostics is a software that can help me test several of the IIe components, including the disk drive itself. So, here we go again…
This is a much larger piece of software, meaning that there are more of those send to memory and save to disk steps. Everything was going fine as before, but on the very last ‘save to disk’ step, a loud noise came from the drive, and the process was aborted.
I tried it again a couple of other times, only to end up with the same results. That was so frustrating. At that moment, it was clear to me that I would need to start working on the Disk II level of the IIe Saga.
Spoiler: I did unlock it and managed to move to the next level, but this is a story for another day.