Archive for December, 2011

Floppy disk Star Wars

December 29th, 2011 3:29 PM
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Filed under Hacks & mods;
1 comment.

Chiptune music is the art of using classic computing hardware to make original tunes. Usually, there's software involved, such as DMS Drummer, and the result is emitted from the device's inbuilt speakers.

Such is not always the case. Over the past few years, I've posted several videos of hard drives and printers making music, from Bohemian Rhapsody to "A Simple Text File". I also once posted a hard drive playing the "Imperial March", which proved popular enough on Digg to shut down my site. I don't think that'll happen this time, though, so please enjoy a floppy disk rendition of the march:

The artist's Web site describes the method for producing this video:

The sound comes from a magnetic head moved by stepper motor. To make a specific sound, head must be moved with appropriate frequency… To move the head you need to activate the drive by pulling the DRVSB0 or 1 (depends on the cable you have and the connector – notice the crossover on the FDD ribbon cable) pin low and then falling edge on STEP pin makes the head move one step in direction dependent on DIR pin state. An ATMega microcontroller is generating those frequencies and it makes the drives play music.

Another variation is demonstrated on the Amiga using a seemingly different method:

Listen to Amiga floppy drive playing a simple music, however, not with the step motor which moves the head, but with the motor which spins the disk. This means that disk must be inserted to hear music. And there is no fear that floppy will break like with the step motor music!

I've yet to find any such musical demonstrations that feature an Apple II floppy disk. Do you have some? Let me know!

(Hat tip to Paul DeFilippo)

The superior businessman: Jobs or Woz?

December 26th, 2011 10:56 AM
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Filed under History, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak;
2 comments.

The current state of the economy presents unique challenges, but also unique opportunities. As larger companies fold under the weight of their own bulk, new enterprises are small, nimble, and innovate enough to fill new niches and needs. What what better innovator and businessman to inspire budding entrepreneurs than Apple's greatest Steve?

Jobs? No — Wozniak.

So says Trevor Owen, founder of the Lean Startup Machine. In his essay, "Why Founders Should Emulate Wozniak, Not Jobs" he makes several arguments:

  • • Steve Jobs played a minor role in Apple’s early success with the Apple II
  • • When Steve Jobs created the breakthrough Macintosh he had immense resources & clout
  • • The Macintosh underperformed against the Apple II, essentially was a flop
  • • NeXT Computers released a series of product flops
  • • Jobs’s later success (as a CEO) is due to his failures

It's not unusual to question Steve Jobs' role in the design and success of Apple's products, but this is the first time I've seen his business acumen also fall under scrutiny. Unsurprisingly, not everyone is convinced. Over at Forbes, E.D. Kain has some objections:

… if Wozniak had been in charge, it’s doubtful Apple would have been much of a company at all. Wozniak wanted to open the whole project up to all-comers. His enormous skill was in making things tick – not in building a company from the ground up…

… it really helps to couple visionary businessmen with brilliant engineers. So what if Jobs got ahead of himself in the early years? Start-ups today shouldn’t just look at the early careers of tech businessmen; they should pay attention to the entire package.

What do you think? Could Woz have built the Apple empire without Jobs? Could Jobs, without Woz?

Ron Wayne's document cache

December 22nd, 2011 3:43 PM
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Filed under History, Mainstream coverage;
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Earlier this month, Apple's founding contact was auctioned from the estate of Wade Saadi by Sotheby's. Its estimated value was in the range of $100,000 to $150,000 USD.

It went for $1,350,500 — almost ten times more than expected. For comparison, an actual Apple-1 computer went for $213,600, or 15% as much as the contract.

It's hard to see this sale as yet another unfortunate transaction in which Apple co-founder Ron Wayne was involved. He sold this same contract in 1994 ago for $500 (although some reports indicate it was several thousand dollars); if he'd held onto it, he could've sold it for 2,701 times more than what he got for it. Of course, that's nothing compared to the $800 for which he sold his 10% share of Apple stock in 1976. Today, it'd be worth $35 billion, or 43,750,000 times more.

But there may be hope yet. That contract was one of several documents that Wayne has kept in his possession all these years. Brian Heater of Engadget recently rifled through Wayne's archives:

The documents, stashed in a USPS mailer kept by the door of his office, were a veritable treasure trove of information, including pages of pages of plans and pencils drawings of an Apple I enclosure Jobs asked Wayne to build — his creation was ultimately rejected by Apple and lost to history as the company gained steam.

Also stored in the envelope were a facsimile of the contract signed by Wayne, Woz and Jobs, which recently sold on auction for more than $1 million — in fact, it was Wayne's original copy that hit the auction block. He had parted ways with it for far, far less some time ago. Wayne's Statement of Withdrawal is in the pile as well — the document effectively ended his term with the company, filed for a $5 fee. Also inside are an Apple I operation manual, with the company's original logo, designed by Wayne himself and an Apple II order form.

Will one of these documents end up on the auction block next? Will Wayne's brushes with fortune ever bear fruit? Or will he forever earn nothing more than a footnote in Apple's history?

(Hat tip to Jon Brooks and Bloomberg, both via Mike Maginnis)

Generational hardware gap deux

December 19th, 2011 7:36 PM
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Filed under History;
2 comments.

Remember those modern kids confronted with ancient technology? They were, for the most part, baffled by archaic storage media and entertainment devices. It was an amusing demonstration of the changes in interfaces and expectations across the generations.

Here's another example of the clash between new and old. Four American kids, all siblings, are given three devices from their mother's attic: a tape deck, a Commodore Plus/4, and an Atari 2600.

It's great fun to see the girl's delight at getting the Commodore to work. Today's computers may be more elegant and inviting, but there's a far greater sense of accomplishment at mastering the rudimentary commands of yesterday's machines.

By contrast, it's challenging to believe the young man couldn't figure out how to fire in a game that has one button, it's not surprising that he and his brother would find the Atari games challenging. In 2009, I brought a 22-year-old to the American Classic Arcade Museum at Funspot. Bred into being a multitasker by today's complex and staccato media, she was confused by the simplicity of the coin-ops of the 1980s. Surely there was more to it than that?

I'm glad there are retro enthusiasts out there who are not only holding onto their tech but are willing to share it with their kids. May we always remember the way things were — the better to appreciate the way things are!

(Hat tip to ComputeHer, 8 Bit Weapon)

CFFA3000 video review

December 15th, 2011 1:42 PM
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Filed under Hacks & mods;
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As mentioned on the latest episode of the Open Apple podcast, Brian Picchi has lately been putting out some remarkable YouTube videos. He started this time a year ago with a review of the IIGS itself. Lately he's cast a wider net, highlighting a variety of Apple II products from games to NDAs. One of his latest is a review of the CFFA3000, the CompactFlash and USB card from Rich Dreher. It's a card I had the opportunity to purchase in-person at KansasFest 2011. I passed at the time, as I was still months and thousands of miles away from my Apple II. Now I'm kicking myself, as not only does the card have scads more features than I realized, but the first batch sold out like hotcakes, with no more expected until 2012.

Brian's video is a good overview of what will have you too lining up for the second batch:

If you're looking for other ways to expand the hardware capabilities of your Apple IIGS, Brian's overview of several peripherals is also worth a watch. And be sure to read the comments on this and his other videos — unlike most YouTube comments, these are quite knowledgeable and constructive, suggesting yet more ways to improve your retrocomputing experience.

Keep up the great work, sir!

Apple II license plate poll results

December 12th, 2011 1:18 PM
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Filed under Musings;
1 comment.

Thank you to everyone who voted in the poll to help me choose a Massachusetts license plate that best invokes the Apple II! The path toward the most popular choice has now concluded.

In the first round, I proposed eight candidates, and from reader comments added 36 more. I put those 44 up for vote, allowing each person to choose their favorite five. Eighty votes were cast, narrowing the pool from 44 to nine that had received five votes or more each:

  • AAPL2
  • APLIIE
  • APLTWO
  • ATEBIT
  • IIGS
  • JUCDGS
  • KFEST
  • ONEMHZ
  • PRODOS

ATEBIT was actually too late a submission to make it into this final round, but I included it for what I saw as its broad appeal. I grew up playing games more on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) than on the Apple II, and I still consider myself something of a retrogamer, with frequent visits to the American Classic Arcade Museum. ATEBIT can apply as much to that interest as it does to the Apple II, making it more of a proud label and less of an inside joke.

I put those nine options up and asked you to choose just one. I didn't vote, but I would've been quite comfortable ruling out options like AAPL2 (where's the extra 'A' come from, other than Apple's stock ticker?), APLIIE (I'm more of a GS man myself), and ONEMHZ (better for Carrington's show than my own.

I didn't vote in this round, leaving it to you, the readers, to decide. Thirty-eight votes later, here are the results…

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