Author Topic: How not to send a letter  (Read 1503 times)

Offline Atariangamer

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How not to send a letter
« on: July 20, 2016, 12:53:55 AM »
Hey all, just felt like writing up this thing. I love using classic technology to do things that could be done so easily, but are more fun to figure out how to make them work in the modern environment. In this installment: I send a letter in the most awkward of ways.


So, I'm a retro/vintage/classic tech enthusiast. While its hard for me to get my hands on truly vintage technology (Like Altair, PDP machines, and other 'minicomputers'), I usually take what typically came afterwards, at the end of the 80s and into my realm of memory starting in the late 90s. And like several people I know, if they get something older and cool, they want to mess with it! I especially like seeing things run that haven't been used for years. This extends to cars, musical instruments and equipment, and other electronics... but I'm a computer guy, and love to see older computers run (even if it's for the last time).

I won't get into how I acquired them because it's a long, boring story (like this one!). But I ended up with a small collection of 90s era Apple devices. I picked them all up for various reasons, but my most loved computer... is the PowerBook 180 from 1992.

Powerful 68030 processor, including a math coprocessor, 14MB of RAM and a 120MB hard disk, topped off with a greyscale, active matrix display in a very portable package. And why is it my favorite? It's compact keyboard, while not mechanical, manages to mimic the feel in a way only bested by mid 90s IBM ThinkPads... well, at least to me. I know people who think chiclet keyboards are comfortable and wonderful to use... that's not my idea of good typing. This laptop is so amazing to type on... So when I get a letter via eMail that I feel requires a good, long response? I want to take my time and write it well. Lets break out this old sucker!

I had spent some time a few months prior pulling apart a spare in order to rebuild mine. The only defect in the device was a common one: poor LCD manufacturing means that as the computer heats up, the crystal will begin to oxidize and stop responding, fading the entire screen to black until it cools down. This limits my writing sessions to about an hour, but that's a good thing. It means I'm not spending too much time wasting away at a computer...

After some time, I manage to write out a good response letter on Microsoft Word. I'm pretty excited, can't wait to send it off... but how? I had walked into the other room to grab one of my floppy disks before remembering that the last floppy drive computer I had died a year ago, other than this laptop. Not good... I looked at the back to see what I could do. Serial ports, possibly order an adapter for AppleTalk over Ethernet, and run it on the same network as my PowerBook G3... but that was an expensive adapter that would take time to arrive, and I knew nothing about AppleTalk. What about direct null modem? Would still require a cable I didn't have, and thinking back, I have no other computer with the old Mac serial ports. Scratch those... There's a modem, perhaps I could dial up to a free service provider an- wait, I don't have a dialer, a web browser, or an email client on the local machine. Well, I didn't put this software on here with a floppy disk, so how did I?

ZIP Disk! There is a SCSI port on the back for external devices, and I just so happened to have a ZIP 100 drive that still worked at my old place. So I ran over there and copied it off. But what reads ZIP disks? I didn't have any other computer with SCSI left, either... Enter the PowerMac G4 from the Y2K. A zip drive was a factory installed option on my machine, so I just had to boot into Mac OS 9.2.1 and be golden! While the G4 tower had Airport wireless built in, it was 802.11b only... and nobody runs those networks anymore. I sadly don't have a compatible Airport base station, so my network solution... is a wireless bridge! An old Linksys Access Point from 2005, flashed with open source firmware to be a mindless client on our home network. All I have to do is take the ethernet from the back, plug it into the computer... and the gigabit network card on this machine takes over as if nothing was wrong. Now that the computer has internet access, I can just email her the letter!

Wait... I don't have Microsoft Office on this computer? No, I only had the AppleWorks 6 suite from ~2003, which had some good features, but was not perfectly M$ compatible. It couldn't read my document... which was written on software from 1989, so maybe I can forgive it. I decided that perhaps my modern Windows machine could manage to decode it. A little easier than tracking down Office 98 for Mac. But now I have to get to the internet, and my current mail account with Google. Thankfully, this part is easy. A small project that was very active until a few months ago has developed the original Mozilla core browser to a very fine point on this old operating system, giving it enough compatibility to run the older, HTML + Javascript sites that many places still have hanging around. Google still manages to host their old inbox, allowing me access! Success! I could have also used a mail client (like Outlook, or one of a good handful of clients), but again, time was short, and even with a great repository of apps like the Macintosh Garden, it would take awhile to get running. This would have to do...

So I tried to send it as an attachment. It'll open, right? ... No. It didn't. Decades old Mac encoding proved too foreign. On my newest Windows machine, I managed to open it up and pull out the raw text, moving that to a new message and sending it off!

Finally! This 1992 laptop wrote me a letter... but now my mind is wondering what's next. Dialing into a server and sending the email directly from the PowerBook sounds amazing, if not a little crazy. I know of someone who still has free long-distance calls on their landline, and it shouldn't be too hard to get that going. Finding compatible software, though... may prove challenging. Another idea that should be a little bit easier is the Apple Newton. I have both a modem and an ethernet card for it, and connection software, a mail client, and the keyboard accessory for faster input. While it's best feature is it's handwriting recognition, I write many letters and numbers incorrectly, which confuse it. Typing is the quickest way...

I could also be boring and use one of my better laptops (a PowerBook G3 with a G4 upgrade, a PowerBook G4 Titanium, and an iBook G4) to connect to the internet and just write it directly... both of the G4s run OS X, which still support quasi-modern browsers. The G3 would need alternate methods, as it still runs OS 9, and very outdated software. And, coming in at 'most boring'... PowerMac G5 Dual from 2003, running a very up to date version of OS X with a browser last updated a year ago. It would have no issues handling any internet stuff outside of Flash Player.


You may wonder, "What's with all the Apple stuff?" Well, I'll tell you... Ever since I used a Performa 5300 CD in school when I was younger, I was always curious about Macs. They were, in fact, different. Nobody really had them, but I always thought they looked and worked great. I wanted to mess with them so badly, but a kid can't afford an iMac. So, years later, when I passed an iMac G3 in a second hand computer shop, I bought it. And the fun challenges in getting it working and the admiration at the design and software just kept pulling me in. Its why, when I finally consolidated my computer collection, I got rid of all but one old PC, and kept most of the Apple stuff. It was different, and still kinda is.
Don't remember me as I was...I was an idiot.

Offline noob1234

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Re: How not to send a letter
« Reply #1 on: July 20, 2016, 01:05:59 PM »
This was a good read :D thanks for sharing it!

Offline xbolt

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Re: How not to send a letter
« Reply #2 on: July 20, 2016, 05:52:50 PM »


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