In conclusion…

OK, so, first things first, this years entry has been mostly crap. Secondly, what I actually did accomplish bore no relevance to my intentions. It's actually quite tricky if you're not in the 'mucking about with stuff' category to choose something that will fit nicely into the allotted one-month time frame.

It was clear, once again, with a week on the Isle of Man and then a holiday cutting out the final week, that whatever I was going to achieve had to be fairly modest in goals. Probably the most significant achievement for me has been finding one dry day to document my successes (and failures) with Retr0brite. I'd planned to get this done way before this summer's Retrochallenge, but at least I managed to get the right information down with lots of pictures, and quite a few compliments on the blog post. Feedback (especially being a software engineer by trade) is always nice…

By way of compensation for this final week I'd like to provide a little information about the printers I'd acquired in the run-up to Retrochallenge.

Ever since I owned a Commodore DPS-1101 back in the day I've had a fondness for daisywheel printers. The DPS-1101 is a re-housed Juki 6100 printer with a commodore serial interface. I think it's fair to say that you don't see many daisywheel printers around anymore. Certainly, given the number that were sold, I think they fall into the category of peripherals that people probably threw out when replaced, if mechanical or power-electronics failures didn't beset them beforehand. As a consequence of the relative obscurity of these devices I've found that a lot of people are completely oblivious of this printing technology.

There were a number of reasons why daisywheels were happily replaced:

  • They are noisy
  • They are slow
  • They have a limited set of characters
  • They generally required single sheets to be fed and aligned
  • They suffer from mechanically induced unreliablity

I could go on, but you get the idea. Of course ask any retro-enthusiast who is interested in printer technology of the era (and certainly before) and you will get a reply enthusing about several aspects of these devices which are in my list of weaknesses. When you don't have to use these devices the downsides are mitigated by the physical nature of the technology.

So to the printers themselves. Waiting for daisywheel printers to appear on eBay has proved to be a complete parallel to waiting for buses. I waited an age and then three came along at once.

The first was a Brother HR-10 which is a 10 cps narrow carriage, centronics daisywheel printer. Someone had listed it on ebay a couple of times but I wasn't prepared to pay the asking price. When I contacted the seller we agreed on a price but then I waited another six weeks for a reply. At this point I'd already bid and won a Juki 6100 and a Brother HR-15.

Brother HR-10 Daisywheel Printer

The Brother HR-10 is a narrow-carriage, 10 cps manual feed daisywheel printer

Out of the three the Brother HR-10 can be seen in my previous Retr0brite post. It was the subject of my first attempt at Retr0brite and proved that the technique produced excellent results.

The HR-10 worked initially when plugged in and in self-test mode but then after a couple of power cycles let out some magic smoke and quit on me. It turned out to be a 20 Volt Zener diode that had blown, used to protect the darlington driver array providing power to one of the stepper motors. The biggest problem replacing the component was finding out what part it was and a suitable replacement without any schematics for the printer. With a new Zener diode, a thorough internal clean and the Retr0brite treatment the printer now looks and works great. The nice thing about the HR-10 is that it has a carry handle and a purpose made black carry case. Although more luggable than portable it is possible to throw it in the back of a car and make use of it on another site without any major worries. The print mechanism, although clearly of an inferior quality to that of the Juki 6100, does produce remarkably nice looking text. The print wheel itself is housed permanently in a clear plastic cartridge. Replacing the wheel is a simple matter of pulling the green handle, removing the cartridge and replacing.

The Brother HR-15 I haven't tackled yet. Whilst in good condition initial tests indicate that the print hammer is making noises but isn't striking the daisywheel itself. This could be an issue with the coil-driven print head or the driving circuit. The HR-15 is a wide-carriage more business-like version of the HR-10. It includes additional control functionality (such as pitch selection) as separate buttons on the expanded control panel.

The final arrival, the Juki 6100, is a nice clean example of this well-built printer. The print mechanism wreaks of quality and this is transferred into the amazing sound that the printer generates when in operation.

Juki 6100 Daisywheel Printer

The Juki 6100. A wide-carriage, manual feed, 15 cps centronics parallel daisywheel printer


The 6100 emulates the venerable Diablo 630 which would appear to have captured the commercial market early on during the introduction of daisywheel technology which subsequently propelled it to be an industry standard.

One thing which I don't remember knowing at the time was that you can manually load a single sheet of paper in the Juki 6100 by loading the paper, pressing the pause button then pulling back fully on the bail release bar. This pulls the single sheet in to give a 1 inch top margin. The bail lever can then be dropped on the loaded paper and the pause button pressed again to bring the printer back online.

I tried the Juki 6100 from the Tandy WordProcessor WP-3 (using the 'pause between pages' option), directly connected to my AlphaServer 300 (using a newly defined VMS print queue). I've not yet tried it with the Unix version of WordPerfect that is working on both the Sun Ultra 5 and the SGI Indigo 2 but there is print driver support for it and given that both machines have parallel ports I don't anticipate any problems.

I also received three Axis parallel network print servers recently, so it would be possible (if however bizarre) to connect the Juki 6100 (or the Brother HR-10) using a network print queue.

As a service to the retro-computing community as I could not find an online copy of the Juki 6100 manual I scanned my rather tatty version and sent it to bitsavers for uploading to their archive.

Other videos of these printers in action can be found on my YouTube Channel.

I've enjoyed this years summer challenge as much as has been possible given the constraints on my time. I've learnt some of the tips and tricks of Retr0brite, learnt a lot about the Sun Ultra 5 (which now has a shiny new battery backed up NVRAM chip and also is now using a 9GB SCSI 50 pin hard drive running Solaris 9), acquainted myself with WordPerfect for Unix and had a lot of fun playing with a now functional SGI Indigo 2.

As far as blogging goes I have used WordPress for the first time both for the main Retrochallenge 2012 Summer Challenge web-site and my own personal Retrochallenge blog. I've also used the blogsy app on the iPad which is great for posts which originate from blogsy but not so hot when trying to edit an existing page created using the browser-based WordPress editor (which by the way is the best online-editor for a content management/blogging software application I've tried by far).

In unrelated news I've found the iPad to be an invaluable navigation aid here in Portugal. Trying to find our way out of Villamora was a complete nightmare, on a motorbike, at night. The Vodafone 3G coverage here has been excellent everywhere we've visited (including a trip to the old inland capital Silves). Buying a local micro-SIM for €15 with 750 MB data allowance has definitely been the most cost-effective approach to getting online.

Roll on the 2013 Winter Warmup.