davidn: (prince)
[personal profile] davidn
Inspired by [personal profile] kjorteo, I decided to try rescuing my old ZZT folder by reviving my laptop from 1997!

The Slimnote VX is an optimistically-named machine at best, being about as slim and streamlined as a square bleeping rhinoceros - but this is what passed for portable in the late 90s. Even towards the end of the time I actively used it, it was not the most reliable computer in the world - sometimes the monitor would just display stripes when you turned it on due to some sort of loose connection inside, but you could usually cure this by turning it off, raising it a couple of inches off the desk and allowing it to drop, then trying again.

I'd left it to rot in a drawer, but I couldn't find the lost files I was looking for on my current computer, so I suspected they must have been stranded on there - so I dug it out again and rifled through the drawer of power cables. The actual original cable had a UK plug on the end and I have no idea where it went anyway, but eventually I found a transformer that fit the socket and allowed enough volts through it to power the machine up.

Last time I tried a few years ago, I couldn't get the monitor working no matter what I did, so I found a VGA cable and connected it up to one of my desktop monitors. After skipping a CMOS failure message, I got this anachronistic spectacle!

Miraculously there seemed to be absolutely nothing wrong with the memory, processor or hard drive despite the computer's long life - it booted up with no issues and presented me with the login screen. I racked my brain for passwords I might have used at the time, but none of them did the trick - the process wasn't helped by the fact that I'd customized the keyboard in an abandoned attempt to learn Dvorak some years before.

In the end I hit the Cancel button, and, er... the computer decided it just didn't care? The environment was fully functional, even looking at the user folder and Program Files, so I'm not sure what the password was meant to do.

The startup sound was still set to Zeus from Altered Beast shouting an approximation of "Rise from your grave!", a sound effect that has never been more appropriate. Even the actual laptop's monitor had miraculously come back to life at this stage, even if it occasionally displayed snow if I leaned on the trackpad too hard. After looking around a bit, I discovered the ZZT folder with the files I wanted still preserved there.

The puzzle now was in how to get anything off the computer - it's sort of incredible how inconvenient this was in general was in the late 90s, and somehow we just didn't notice how we got to where we are today because the change was so gradual. The Slimnote's entire onboard networking capabilities are a telephone port for a modem, and an infrared bulb on the right hand side that presumably could be used to transmit files by flickering it really fast at a similar machine. It has no wireless capability and no ethernet port (I had a PCMCIA expansion card for it when it was my main university computer in 2002 but I have no idea what happened to it). It has a CD drive, but it's non-writable. It has a floppy drive, which was looking like the most viable option at this stage, but I would have had to first find out how to acquire a diskette and then either get a USB floppy drive or drag the files through a second, slightly less old computer.

Just when it was looking like the easiest option was to open up the files in Notepad and spend a month or two dictating them to the other computer, I saw the USB port on the back. This is another thing that disappeared without me noticing - having a 256MB USB drive was nothing short of incredible when I first bought one for £50, and they kept on increasing in capacity for about ten years before they suddenly all vanished because everything's now networked to everything else. I happened to have two lying around, but my fears about using them were proved right - Windows 98's collection of drivers is not fantastic, and I remembered having to install them from a mini-CD even for a device as simple as a flash drive. Without the drivers, they weren't recognized as drives - so I needed to find something that had been connected to this computer before. Then I suddenly remembered...

My first MP3 player! This is a Creative Labs Nomad Muvo, and is a Flash drive with a couple of buttons on it that you can connect to a battery pack to form a portable music player. It holds a whopping 128MB, and was almost full when I put it in the drive, so I had to tarnish the time capsule and delete a few things that I knew I had elsewhere in order to fit my refugee files on. For posterity, these were its contents, frozen in time at the moment I was given an iPod for Christmas.

Then came an obstacle that I hadn't anticipated - getting a modern computer to read the thing. Though I was under the impression that a USB drive was just a USB drive in today's world, it seems that support and drivers for the Muvo ended with Windows XP. Therefore, I dragged my slightly newer but equally decrepit Lenovo Thinkpad out from the drawer - this was my work computer for my first job in Boston, a tiny content management system company that I'd left when we sort of ran out of money. It had survived four years with multiple repairs, including a stack of Post-It notes wedged between the inner case and the graphics card to cure a known issue with the series where the graphics card would come unstuck from the motherboard. On my last day at that job I remembered out loud to the boss that I'd better clear the laptop off and give it back, and he replied that I should probably just keep it.

I turned out not to need it at the last minute, though, because even though my Windows 7 computer and my wife's Mac couldn't recognize it at all, my current laptop with Windows 10 did it on the second attempt with no additional drivers needed! So it's a useful operating system for something other than randomly shutting down to update and losing your work. With that last connection made, I was able to get the files off the lifeboat and submit them to the Museum.

Therefore! Please feel free to take a look at the introduction boards for a hastily abandoned sequel to The Mercenary, and a room I put together for a community project that never got off the ground. I'll talk more about them later on.

Date: 2017-12-09 04:49 am (UTC)
xyzzysqrl: (Message for you!)
From: [personal profile] xyzzysqrl
That is some strong digital archaeology work. Nice job!

Date: 2017-12-09 07:32 am (UTC)
xaq_the_aereon: I caught it...now what? (Default)
From: [personal profile] xaq_the_aereon
I am genuinely impressed that you managed to perform such an act of electronic salvage. Well done indeed.

Date: 2017-12-09 12:28 pm (UTC)
tamakun: (Default)
From: [personal profile] tamakun
Wow, my first thought would have been to go the floppy route, myself. I think I finally abandoned a floppy disk drive only a couple of years ago when I bought a whole new PC.

Looking forward to hearing more about what you unearthed!

(I've since found an entire banker's box full of 3.5" floppies that I really want to skim through.)

Date: 2017-12-12 01:09 am (UTC)
chalcedony_starlings: Two scribbled waveforms, one off-black and one off-white, overlapping, on a flat darkish purpleish background. (scribble twins)
From: [personal profile] chalcedony_starlings

We have a USB 3.5″ floppy drive sitting unused somewhere in this giant mess, but not a 5.25″ one sadly.

Date: 2017-12-10 12:39 am (UTC)
chalcedony_starlings: Two scribbled waveforms, one off-black and one off-white, overlapping, on a flat darkish purpleish background. (scribble twins)
From: [personal profile] chalcedony_starlings

We shall await your talking more about them later on (and feel somewhat bad that we still haven't pulled out the few forgotten boards from the second era, they're easier to get to than that but there's just so much life otherwise).

Date: 2017-12-10 03:57 pm (UTC)
kjorteo: Portrait of a happy, hopeful, wide-eyed Bulbasaur from a doujin. (Bulbasaur: Hopeful)
From: [personal profile] kjorteo
A heroic effort with a happy ending :D This is just about the best thing I've read all week, and I can't wait to see whatever further writing comes of it :) Congratulations, and thank you for going through all the trouble for this! "This inspired me to go dig up and rescue my dying ZZT folder" is the highest praise my article could ever receive.
(reply from suspended user)

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