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Posted by: The Mad Scientist

In my Foxee™ Animatronic Character 2005 Midwest Furfest Variety Show Act Proposal post to this blog I mentioned that one of my preliminary projects that I was going to do that was designed to help teach me the skills I would need to have in order to build my Foxee animatronic robot was to learn woodworking by building an authentic Apple I wood case for my Replica I clone microcomputer. The internal frame of Foxee is going to be made largely of plywood, and as a result I need to have some skill with a power jigsaw in order to construct this. Since a simple Apple I-style computer case is a lot easier to construct out of wood than a robot fox skeleton, I decided that constructing the wood computer case wood be excellent jigsaw practice before I tackled the more daring project. Unfortunately, there was one major thing that was keeping me from constructing my Apple I computer case-- the lack of an Apple-I compatible keyboard to mount into the case!

Steve Wozniak's 1976 Apple I Microcomputer used an ASCII-encoded keyboard with a STROBE line. Such keyboards were relatively inexpensive to find parts for and build in 1976, but in 2005 trying to find the parts to build such a keyboard became nearly impossible unless you were willing to shell out some serious money to a cutthroat obsolete electronics components dealer. There were two other easy ways to get an authentic looking ASCII Keyboard that was Apple I compatible and would as a result work with my Replica I kit computer. The first route is to be lucky enough to find an ASCII keyboard that was pulled out of either an original Apple II or Apple II+ computer, but these keyboards are scarce at best because the Apple II's and Apple II+'s are in themselves collector items now. Keyboards from an Apple IIe, which are as common as stink, will not work unmodified with a Apple I because Apple IIe computers use binary matrix encoded keyboards instead of ASCII-encoded keyboards.

Another solution is to take a matrix keyboard, like the one from the Apple IIe, and either hook it up to a custom hand-built ASCII encoder circuit board or hook it up to a microcontroller that would translate the values from the keyboard to their ASCII code equivalents. I decided to go with this seemingly easier second option. I thought that finding some new old stock keyboards from 1970's and 80's microcomputers would be the hardest components to find, but as it turns out they were fairly easy to come across and I very quickly acquired a keyboard from a Texas Instruments TI-99/4 microcomputer and a keyboard from an Apple IIe "Platinum Edition" microcomputer. Then the devastating truth hit me: I found out that the parts needed to build your own ASCII keyboard encoder board cost tons-- far more than I could afford-- because of all of the rare components that it used. In addition, using a microcontroller chip to translate keyboard values would also cost me quite a bit for parts and for purchasing a microcontroller programmer, and then I would have to figure out how to program the darn things. That would be completely time consuming, and I was very short on time.

Everything looked glum for my Apple I case project after that until I ran across a classified ad of all things for a rare Apple II ASCII keyboard! The rare keyboard cost me an arm an a leg, but it should be directly compatible with an Apple I more or less, however it looks like I may have to do a little bit of wiring to hook the keyboard and the computer together. The keyboard is from fairly early in the original Apple II computer's production run and has "Apple Computer Incorporated, ASSY NO 01-0341-01, MADE IN USA" silk-screened on the front of the PCB, "P C BD 02-2239-01 REV B" silk-screened on the back of the PCB, and "INSP. JUL 6 1977" stamped on the back of the PCB in black ink. You can see a photo of the Apple II keyboard here:

The Apple II keyboard that I purchased

As much as I wished that my ASCII keyboard troubles were over, I still have one more hurdle to go. The schematics I have that show how to hook an ASCII keyboard up to my Replica I kit computer show hooking an Apple II+ keyboard up to it. The Apple II and Apple II+ keyboards are noticeably different with different wiring going to their output connector, which means that I will have to find some schematics for my Apple II keyboard so that I can determine how to wire the two devices together. Hopefully such information will be easy to find, but if my past experiences hold true, it won't be. In any case, I will keep you posted on my progress, and if worse comes to worse there are always those two matrix keyboards that I now have laying around that I can mess with in a pinch!

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