Patience and Persistence Pave the Road to Success
The search was on for software that would convert Bill Laux’s ClarisWorks files into Word documents. For information I visited Apple and MS Word forums. Some offered very lame solutions: Load the file into word processor X, wade through the first 4 pages through a jungle of gibberish, delete it and you are left with just the text. I decided against this odd solution, which may be fine for just a few files, but with hundreds of files that would have turned into a nightmare.
Batik by Artist Bill Laux
There were a lot of complaints against the Apple Company, which did not produce a single program that was backward compatible with their old product. But many forum contributors were also unhappy with MicroSoft Word not being able to read files with the cwk extension. In other words there was a real dearth of information on the Internet. Someone suggested downloading the open source software Abiword, whose claim to fame is that it can read all kinds of text files without any gibberish on the screen. I tried it with no success, but learned on the side that it is otherwise a very powerful word processor that can easily read and write Word document files. It is free and but accepts donations for further development.
The Castle that Bill Laux built – Photo Taken in 1977
Then by mere luck – and we need it when we do work like this on the Internet – I stumbled across a comment made in a users forum to the effect that a program with the promising title docXConverter by Panergy might just do the trick. It was supposed be free. I eagerly downloaded the software and tried it out immediately. After the installation you simply drop the file into its window on the screen and voilà it works! Yet there was another fly in the ointment. After being mesmerized by the first couple of pages directly decoded and translated into Word format, I was confronted with another message, this time by the Panergy company to pay to get the full version. Being enticed to bite the bullet and pay the reasonable amount, I finally experienced the ultimate success in my quest to unearth Bill`s mystery files.
Tiny Portion of a Bill’s First Document Decoded and Revealed
So my plan for the New Year is to collect as many text files from Bill`s research and publish some on my blog, but also donate them to the Arrow Lakes Historical Society. Of course, I will do this on the shaky assumption that MS Word will be around for a few more years or with any luck even decades.
If you would like to read the previous posts on Breaking the Code, click on the following links (part I, part II, part III)
The Unholy Union of Success and Failure
The Unicorn by Batik Artist Bill Laux
The new external disk drive arrived. Hooray, it worked! I was able to retrieve one floppy after another. The feeling of success after such a long wait almost created a sense of euphoria. After checking some fifty disks with all those enticing file names, I came across only one disk that the floppy disk drive could not read. Some contained images, but most had text files all carefully numbered by chapters indicating that massive amounts of research were hidden on these archaic storage devices. That was exactly what I was hoping to find. I randomly picked one disk and transferred its content onto my harddrive. In our era abounding in giga- and terabytes, we easily forget the times when we had to struggle to make do with 3.5 kilobytes, with which the Vic-20, the dinosaur of ancient computer world, came so equipped. Still if the content was merely text and NOT the byte gobbling images and videos, then an entire novel of 800 pages would easily fit on a floppy disk.
One of the Dozens of Floppy Disks with Bill Laux’s Writing
Now came that long expected moment to get a first look at Bill’s writing. From the first list of titles I could tell that their content dealt mostly with the political wrangling over the building of the great Canadian transcontinental railway, whose purpose was to unite the second largest country in the world.
Bill Laux Working on his Castle at the Arrow Lake in 1977
Full of anticipation, I double-clicked on chapter1.cwk. Like a lightning bolt out of the blue sky, I was struck by the ominous computer message on the screen, “Windows cannot open this file”. Upon further investigation, I discovered that the file extension cwk comes from the extinct word processor Clarisworks, which the Apple company had acquired in 1998, renamed it AppleWorks, but later on abandoned it after its final upgrade in 2004. Owning 4 different word processors, I was almost certain that at least one of them would be capable of decoding those archaic files. Having thus recovered from my disappointment, I loaded one text file into the queen of all word processors (of course, I am referring to Word by Microsoft). But its performance was a total disaster. All it could produce was a whole pile of gobbledygook on the screen. Similar results surfaced, when I tried the other three word processors. Great was my disappointment, but I was not yet ready to give up. How the story ends will be revealed in next week’s post on Bill Laux and his mysterious collection. So stay tuned.
Finding the Drive to Unearth Bill’s Files
One evening last spring I spent some time at the Fauquier Communication Center. More precisely, I stood in awe at the section dedicated to the late writer and artist Bill Laux of Fauquier, BC. There in the archives I discovered a wealth of books from Bill’s private library, complete manuscripts of mostly unpublished plays, short stories, and even novels, research papers on the 19th century railroad and mining industries of the Pacific Northwest. As already mentioned in Part I of this series, what fascinated me the most were the many floppy disks that I had found on the side shelves of the archive. What mysterious files would they contain on those poorly labeled plastic squares?
Batik by Bill Laux
The oldest working computer, which my wife once used, is a Toshiba laptop. Unfortunately, it does not have a floppy disk drive. Searching the world wide web, I found that there are two ways to get to the files locked away in outdated storage systems.
- 1) mail the disk to floppytransfer.com, a company in California, which downloads the files and transfers them onto a USB flashdrive. That would have been OK, if I had only a few disks to copy. But with such a great number to copy I rejected this option. It would have demanded an exorbitant price tag.
- 2) Buy an external drive that connects to a USB port on my computer.
Full of joyful anticipation, I ordered such a device from China for as little as 10 dollars shipping and handling included. Two weeks later the item arrived in the mail. Imagine my utter disappointment, when – no matter which of Bill’s disks I inserted into the machine – I got the same horrible message. ‘This disk must be formatted before it can be used.’could For those not familiar with technical jargon, formatting is the death sentence for any files residing on the disk. For they will permanently erased.
Artist, Writer, and Castle Builder Bill Laux
Starting a search on the Internet all over again, I stumbled on a great deal at amazon.ca (for our American neighbors I guess you could use amazon,com with similar results). I decided to give it one more shot and buy a floppy disk drive that came with the guarantee of being capable of reading all the files. After another anxiety ridden waiting period I experienced a most peculiar sequence of initial euphoria followed by a free fall into utter frustration.
To be continued next week in Part III