Floppy Drive Support in System Rescue CD

For obscure reasons, I’m kibitzing on a project to rehabilitate an ancient Brother industrial sewing machine. It has a floppy disk drive that stored various custom stitch patterns, but it now crashes / jams / stalls after loading any of the patterns.

I booted an old PC that had a floppy drive using System Rescue CD, only to discover that /dev/fd0 didn’t exist. A bit of search-fu revealed that the floppy kernel module isn’t automagically loaded: a simple modprobe floppy did the trick, after which mount -o ro /mnt/floppy worked fine (it’s in fstab, even if the kernel module isn’t loaded).

The floppy was in IBM PC-DOS format, as you might expect in a system with ICs date-coded in the early 90s and an 8085 CPU (not an 8088 or 8086). Applying dd bs=512 if=/dev/fd0 of=/tmp/floppy.bin produced a measly 12 kB file containing the boot sector, many binary zeos, a line or two of pinball panic, and more binary zeros up to the 0×3000 file size, where it ended due to a hard read error.

So now we know there’s no point in trying to run from the floppy, because there’s nothing to run. According to the instructions, the sewing machine can write to the floppy, so we can examine some of those results to see what the data structures should be.

A new-to-me off-lease Dell Optiplex 760 that I just picked up (for the M2′s LinuxCNC controller) has a floppy drive, so I can let that old hulk go to the recycler. I don’t see a big duty cycle for the floppy, but ya gotta have stuff…

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  1. #1 by Red County Pete on 2013-06-03 - 09:27

    My 2001 era Sony laptop (more of a netbook) skipped the floppy drive, so I bought a UBC FDD1 external drive. Both of my linux boxes have floppy drives (and we still have a box of blank discs), but the Dell 620 doesn’t. Win 7 apparently has a floppy driver handy, and the rather ancient copy of Drafix Cad was readable. (Not installable, but Drafix was intended for Win 3.1…)

    I’ll hang on to the floppy drive. Might have a use for it occasionally.

    • #2 by Ed on 2013-06-03 - 09:33

      Might have a use for it occasionally.

      Absent the sewing machine quasi-project, that use seems to be tailing off around here, although I still have boxes of NOS floppies…

  2. #3 by RonL on 2013-06-04 - 06:52

    What? No back-up floppy disk exists?

    • #4 by Ed on 2013-06-04 - 07:09

      Suffice it to say that they had other things on their mind… and the floppy (singular!) had always worked up to the point where it didn’t, so why worry?[sigh]

  3. #5 by dithermaster on 2013-06-07 - 18:57

    Note sure if it would be applicable, but a local fellow converted a Brother KH-930 knitting machine to hook directly to a computer and wrote a program to convert bitmaps to knitting patterns.

    I wonder if the floppy emulation would work with your industrial sewing machine?

    The floppy emulator he uses is here: http://www.antitronics.com/wiki/index.php?title=Electroknit_Technical_Information
    The pattern software is here: http://daviworks.com/knitting/1.4b1/

    • #6 by Ed on 2013-06-07 - 20:26

      The floppy emulator

      It’s a bone-stock 3.5 inch floppy drive with the usual ribbon cable, connected to an old-school floppy controller IC! I’ve seen adapters that turn USB drives into “floppy libraries”, but that won’t be needed until they get the machine running again…

      It is, however, made by Brother, so the data structures on the drive might be similar.

      The pattern software

      Now that might come in handy. I’m sure the knitting & sewing pattern definitions bear a family resemblance.

      Thanks for the pointers!