The Tékumel Foundation

News about the World of Tékumel® – the creation of Prof. M.A.R. Barker

Electronic Tekumel Part One

Editor’s Note: The following guest post is by Adam Thornton, a Tekumel fan from St. Louis with a particularly valuable background and skill set. When I encountered Adam at GaryCon III, I began talking with him about the conundrum of Prof. Barker’s electronic data. Adam expressed interest in helping us out, and in mid-July he was able to visit the Twin Cities. The following is his analysis of the situation – Victor Raymond PhD

When Professor Barker died, he left what a kindly chronicler might call a “robust collection of personal effects,” and what a less biased observer might call “a jumble” or perhaps “an unholy mess”.

The members of the Tekumel Foundation have done yeoman’s work in terms of sorting out the Tekumel from the probably-not-Tekumel stuff. Among the as-yet-uncategorized items, however, are multiple boxes full of floppy disks. Most of these have some sort of written label on them. Other than that their contents are a complete mystery to the Tekumel Foundation.

Victor Raymond had mentioned the existence of this trove to me back in 2012, and I had made loose plans to assist the Foundation with data recovery. This past Saturday (July 20, 2013), I was able to spend a few hours at the Foundation attempting two things: first, to put together a setup that would allow data to be extracted from the disk archives, and second, to teach Bob Alberti how to do that extraction, since he’s going to be present far more frequently than I am.

The diskettes appear to span the late 1970s to the late 1990s; in general, the 5-1/4″ diskettes are Apple ][ diskettes (all the ones I have so far found are DOS 3.3 rather than ProDOS), and the 3-1/2″ diskettes are Macintosh (so far I’ve found 800K HFS floppies rather than 400K MFS). I only examined a small fraction of the disks. The earliest I found was a (sadly not readable) 13-sector Apple DOS 3.2.1 master disk, which I’ve never seen in the wild before–it’s dated 1979.

There are also at least a few Zip disks. I don’t think I have a Zip drive; if any readers out there have one that’s been gathering dust for a couple decades, we sure could use it. Please get in touch with Victor or Bob if you have one the Foundation could borrow.

It obviously is going to be a fairly major undertaking to rescue the data from these disks. Time is not our friend here–floppies do not age particularly well, and it is evident that the box in which the 5-1/4″ diskettes were kept was water-damaged at some point. Fortunately, the diskettes themselves were in plastic cases inside that box and appear largely undamaged.

There are therefore two categories of disks we can do something about. The 3-1/2″ disks are actually pretty easy–I have lent the Foundation a a PowerMac 6150, which has the following lovely characteristics:
1) New enough to have a functional (although super-painfully-slow) Ethernet interface and TCP/IP stack (running Mac OS 8.6.1)
2) Old enough to have a floppy drive compatible all the way back to 400K MFS or ProDOS 8/16 3.5″ disks, but new enough to have a HD floppy drive (and the appropriate extension) so it can read 1.4 MB DOS disks as well.
3) Has one of those 9-pin-DIN to RJ-11 adapters to run Appletalk over phone wire if that should be useful.

It turns out that modern Macs aren’t actually happy with Appletalk-over-TCP/IP to that vintage OS, but MacSSH has a built-in (cleartext) FTP server, so (although we may have to reset file types, if we care) it’s actually quite easy to get files off the floppy disks and over the wire to a more modern machine.

That leaves the Apple ][ diskettes. In the next post, I’ll talk about the tools and techniques we will use to recover data from those diskettes, which are generally from 34 to 25 years old.

Asimov Apple II Archives:

Editor’s note: Part Two of “Electronic Tekumel” will appear in one week.

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2 thoughts on “Electronic Tekumel Part One

  1. Sally on said:

    As one whose computer knowledge is sub-zero, I can only say “Otulengba!”

  2. Jeff Dee on said:

    I’m sure we all feel the deepest appreciation for Adam’s work! I can’t wait to see some of the material that gets unearthed.

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