Retrochallenge 2017/04

Greetings, fellow retronauts!

My project this time is called “Tapestore.”  It’s a small database containing large objects like operating systems, system images, video tapes, audio recordings, and photographs that are stored on a variety of media ranging from punch cards to 9-track tapes to various obsolete disk storage systems.  My goal is to put all this digital detritus into a form that can be stored and selectively retrieved on modern large-capacity hard drives but still be accessible to both archaic computer systems and modern emulators.

Vintage gear supported by this endeavor will include the Digital Equipment Corp. PDP-11, the Apple II+, Apple Macintosh, and Vintage PeeCee Type Equipment.  Work product will include source code, blog entries, and hopefully some video.

Recently, I was asked to provide a machine-readable copy of some documentation I wrote back in the late 1980’s.  The document was a set of programming specifications and a list of tone frequencies for the Zetron Model 25 encoder used at West County Fire Control in Girard, PA.  I knew right where it was and found it within a few minutes — wonderfully intact after all this time on a ProDOS data disk for the Apple IIe.  Sadly, I couldn’t find any quick methods for getting that data from a vintage Apple over to the Linux laptop for editing and transmission.  Yes, I have an Apple II emulator on the Linux box, but very little of the data I kept on floppy disks back in the day ever made it to the “new” computer.  Based on how you count the generations, I’ve had at least four generations of Apple computer, a few PeeCees, and three generations of Unix / Linux since that time.

The rest of the library isn’t in much better shape; there are punched paper tapes, C-Format Videotapes, Kodachrome slides, vinyl records, and DVD’s scattered all over the place and a host of different machines required to access the data.  What I really need to do is consolidate my stuff into a set of sustainable, current media formats that I can quickly locate and make use of without digging out the vintage Apple II or the Ampex VPR-80 and associated equipment.  Hopefully, TapeStore will be the answer.

The plan right now is to find some way of getting all this “stuff” into a format that can be stored on a current PC for safe, long-term storage, and ease of access.

In terms of video alone, I’m looking at several Terabytes of information, so while the number of entries in a “card catalog” might not be excessive, the actual content may prove to be rather enormous.  The first set of videotapes to digitize will be my Digital-8 “Home Movies” shot over the last 15 years.

These tapes were once the cutting-edge in home video production, with relatively high resolution NTSC video and good quality stereo sound.  The camera was also “computer” friendly with both USB and Firewire output as well as S-VHS and Composite Video connectors.


The chief disadvantage to this camera is its age and the likelihood that a malfunction will render the tapes useless since I have no other device that can read the tapes.  The battery is also starting to show the limits of the “Infolithium” system favored by Sony in the first few years of the 21st century.

All told, I have perhaps thirty tapes in this format representing perhaps 25 hours of usable video.  Getting the video online isn’t much of a challenge, since the Firewire connection allows for rapid hi-quality transfer of raw data from the camera without need for extensive processing.  Storing the camera data in “AVI” format (Audio – Video Interleave) is relatively lossless but not very space efficient.   At around 13 GB per hour, I’m looking at around 325 GB for my Digital-8 Home Videos.