Old Dog, Old Tricks

wp-2While I am not sure I understand the appeal, I am a sucker for old technology. There’s just something about old 8 and 16 bit computers I have a hard time walking away from, or getting rid of. I still have a couple of old 8 bit Atari computers in storage, as well as an old Tandy Model 100. So when I saw this old Tandy portable word processor at the Salvation Army for $8.99, I knew I’d be taking it home. Yes, I needed it like I need another hole in my head, but that’s never stopped me before, and it certainly wasn’t going to stop me that night either. I left the store with $9 less in my bank account and a big smile on my face.

For those of you who remember the old Model 100s, the WP-2 will look very familiar. It has the same look and feel as its predecessor, but doesn’t have the programmability of the 100. It does, however, have connections that allow it to print directly to a printer, or connect an external disk drive. Like the 100, the WP- 2 can also communicate with a PC through a null modem cable.

Of course, its not as easy as all that. The WP-2 is designed to communicate through its RS-232 port, a feature not included on a lot of modern PCs, including my laptop. It also needs a DOS based comm program running on the PC, which doesn’t like 64 bit operating systems like Windows 10. Still, it should work in theory. It’s just a question of how many hoops I have to jump through.

Today is February 27th, 2017, and I am writing this on the sweet feeling keyboard of my WP-2. As of today, the machine is operational. I just replaced the dead CR2430 battery that allows me to save files for later, and I have also acquired a RS-232 to USB cable. Form here on out, its up to me. My challenge is to get this file out of the WP-2 and up to my blog as soon as possible. The clock is ticking, and the challenge is accepted. Let’s see what I can do.

DAY 1: Doesn’t anyone have a null modem cable anymore?

IMG_20170301_145128006
The WP-2’s window to the world: the RS-232 port.

As I said earlier, I have a trusty USB to RS232 cable ready to roll. Unfortunately, it isn’t a null modem cable, so it will not do what I need it to do. No problem, I’ll just go down to Radio Shack and pick one up, right? Yeah, not so much. While the Radio Shack of a few years ago would’ve had a truck load of them, that’s not the case today. When I asked the one lonely employee at the last RS in Des Moines if he had one, he gave me that deer in the headlights look that showed he had no clue what I was talking about. I somewhat politely thanked him, cased the joint looking for one, and then split.

Fortunately, I remembered Mid-State Distribution, a local place that specializes in electronic parts and components. Sure enough they had one, but it was male t o male, whereas I need a female to female. No problem though, I grabbed a couple of female to female adapters and I was on my way. Once I got back to the office though, I realized that one of the adapters is 15 pin, and not a 9.

Rats.

So off to Amazon I went, and ordered a couple of cables. One is a USB to db9 null modem cable (I double checked this time), and one is an old school, female to female db9 null modem cable. Thanks to prime shipping, they should be here in a couple of days.

Now all I have to do is wait.

March 1: Let the Frustration… Begin!

For those of you not old enough to remember com ports, let me clue you in on something: they suck. No, not like Windows Vista suck, but they still suck in their own way. They can be finicky beasts, and are as silent as a sphinx when it come s to giving you a clue as to what the problem could be. This proved to be a problem once the Big Brown Truck (BBT) arrived today with a couple of flavors of null modem cables.

There are several ways to get the data out of the WP-2 and onto a PC, but I have chosen to focus on two of them. The first is to use a program called WP2DOC, which makes the WP-2 think its saving the data to an external drive rather than a PC. This is pretty cool, but the program isn’t compatible with 64 bit operating systems like Windows 10. That means you’ll need to run it in a DOS emulator like DosBox, which will also require some com port mapping. At this point, that’s an additional level of complexity that I don’t need, so that’s on the back burner.

The other method is to use a good old fashioned terminal program to receive the data. There’s lots of free ones out there, and I initially settled on one called Termite. It’s pretty straightforward, simple to use, and easy to configure. Hey , what’s not to like, right? With my new null modem cable connected, I fired up Termite, pointed it to com1 at 300 baud and started the upload.

Nothing.

I tried the DB9 to USB with the port set to com5. Still no luck. The modem light s in Termite could see that something was on the other end of the cable, but I w as still not getting any data. A check of the owner’s manual for the WP-2 said t hat I should try converting the file to ascii, but that didn’t work either. What gives?

And then Success!

RealTerm doing its thing.
RealTerm doing its thing.

Finally, I resorted to the last refuge of all scoundrels: another Google search. This time, I found a forum post on vcfed.org about extracting data from the Tandy portables, including the WP-2, where he happened to mention a terminal program called RealTerm. While one terminal program should be the same as another (or so I thought), I decided to give it a shot, and quickly downloaded it from SourceForge. I immediately started receiving data as soon as I set com1 to 300 baud. Garbled data mind you, but still data nonetheless. After a little futzing with the settings (I think the port needed to be closed and reopened before the baud settings took effect), I was receiving the text I’d written on the terminal screen.

Success!

Undaunted, I doubled down with the DB9 to USB cable. Switching the port setting to com 5 and 300 baud, I was again rewarded with clear text from the WP-2 on my terminal screen. A quick cut and paste and a little formatting here and there (ok, make that a LOT of formatting. I’ve got some carriage return issues to figure out) and I have a blog post to share with the world. So two days and a few cables later, I am in business. The 28 year old word processor has found new life, and I have succeeded in my little project with minimal teeth gnashing and a few streams of obscenities.

Not bad.