You've probably been wondering where I've been since my last update in the latter half of April. I mean, where would I reasonably go right now when most of the country is locked down and only a relatively small number of people with more memes running inside their heads than conscious processes are running around with mall ninja gear and weapons (some props, most unfortunately not) doing their damndest to cut the population by infecting everyone around them with covid-19? Well.. when I haven't been working (as one does) I've been reconditioning my old Commodore-64 computer, the first computer I ever used as a kid. I've been carrying it around with me just about everywhere I've moved but it's only recently that I've had the time to really do any messing around with it (for obvious reasons). It has been a learning experience if nothing else, because much of my knowledge of how to do stuff on a 40 year old computer has faded and been overwritten as technology has progressed. It's also given me a lot of appreciation for how much things have changed for the better since the days of LOAD "$",8 and LIST. Computers may not come with their own programming languages anymore, but the ones we have are significantly more featureful, significantly cheaper (I vaguely recall seeing an advertisement for a C compiler in 1986 for the Commodore 64 for the low, low price of $275us or therabouts), and way more accessible thanks to the Web and open source software.
This was not a quick process. I worked on this project in my spare time, in between working from home, going on supply runs for my family (and decontaminating afterward), taking care of stuff around the house, and waiting for orders of components, cleaning materials, and sundry things to arrive so I could proceed. What with supply lines being all screwed up by the coronavirus quarantine, sometimes an order from Los Angeles would take two weeks to get to northern California but an order from Massachusetts would show up two days later due to unexpected overnight shipping. It was also a labor of considerable monetary investment; I think my parents bought my C64 for something like $500us back in 1984.ev, and I easily sank that much money over the course of a couple of weeks into this effort. Not that it's been in vain.
The first thing I had to do was clean everything up. 40 years of use, dust, and gunk can wreak havoc on any kind of electronics and I figured that I'd have my work cut out for me. The first step, and arguably the most fun was taking the whole thing apart layer by layer. I used old pill bottles and some tiny test tubes to sort all of the screws by purpose (hold the case together, hold the keyboard on, hold the keyboard together, and so forth) to make it easier to put everything back together later. I also took copious photographs every step of the way, of which I will put up a gallery a little bit later. It never hurts to know how things were put together before you started messing with them, right? Working on the keyboard involved dismantling it into its constituent layers. Popping all of the keys off required just a flathead screwdriver inserted under the key and using the shaft of same to pop them loose like a lever. The springs and screws I soaked in vinegar for 24 hours to dissolve the rust; only one spring was rusted enough to break but that was near one of the ends, so it wasn't as bad as it could have been. The sheer amount of crap under the keys, however, was nothing short of hair raising. A can of compressed air didn't really accomplish much. I wound up putting the plastic body of the keyboard into the kitchen sink and working it over with dishwashing detergent and a pot scrubber to remove decades of cat hair, dust, dry skin, and crumbs. The keys went into baggies full of warm water and hand soap overnight, agitated every two or three hours to get most of the gunk loose. Afterward I scrubbed them in the sink with an old toothbrush to get them looking nice again.