October 13th, 2002

Enterprise Bridge

Busy, busy, busy...

It's damned nice feeling productive. I finally got my master bathroom painted and reopened. Two years and two and a half months after I had to shut it down due to a water leak in the attic above it, which destroyed the drywall ceiling. I took the opportunity to rout out the holes in the showerhead to increase the water flow--goddamned CA low-flow requirements leave you with a pittance of pressure. I can rinse off a lot faster now. The feed pipe for the showerhead looks funny dissassembled. :-)

Next, I got tired of the football stadium scoreboard at the high school looking like crap. I spent five of the hottest days of the year up on an extension ladder wielding kraft paper, masking tape, vinyl lettering, and spray paint. (Nobody told me it was gonna be that hot!) I like the end result.

And while this was going along... you see that message display atop the board? Well, it doesn't work. Not because it's broken, but because the (5 1/4" 360K) floppy disk with the control program for it disappeared. Its original control unit is a Compaq Portable--yes, Compaq's very first PC, circa 1983. It's portable by virtue of being a one-piece unit (the keyboard snaps onto the front of the machine, protecting the monitor and floppy drives,) and the handle on the side of it. It has no battery, and weighs thirty pounds. A Sony Vaio it's not, but it's more mobile than the original IBM PC.

Anyways, my mission for the last year was to get that message display working. Months of phone tag with its manufacturer (Spectrum Corp of Texas) went nowhere--they'd long since disposed of documentation on it, and the last copy of the software they found was on a blown disk, useless. All that was left to do was reverse-engineer the whole system. I pulled circuit cards out of the back of the display, and examined the ISA interface card from the Compaq. It's all 7400- and 4000-series digital logic chips. Finding small systems with ISA slots is kinda difficult these days (our press box is really cramped, I don't want to put a full-size system in there,) so I designed and built a parallel port interface to replace the ISA card. It's complete, I'll test it this week to see what falls out...
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