Archive for the ‘Hacks & mods’ Category

Jury-rigging the Apple II, either in reality or concept.

Lon's Apple II yule log

December 26th, 2016 7:32 AM
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There are plenty of Apple II programs that demonstrate the holiday spirit, as amply showcased by Blake Patterson's impressive annual playlist. So while such software is commonplace, it's rare to find retrocomputing hardware that's seasonally appropriate.

Lon Seidman inadvertently has filled that gap. He's built a YouTube empire of over 122,000 subscribers with almost daily reviews of any tech he can get his hands on — from the Xbox One video game console to Lenovo laptops to Samsung hard drives. His latest video is of the Apple IIGS, of which he produced a 33-minute review:

Unfortunately, his shoot was not without fatalities. When his computer started smoking, he thought the monitor had fried a capacitor, so he quickly hustled the display outside while leaving the camera running. But the culprit proved to be the CPU itself, which continued to quietly smoke in front of the camera. Lon took his lemons and made lemonade, offering the following festive video:

There may not be any actual flame (thank goodness), but this is as close as I'd want to get to an actual Apple II yule log.

Merry Christmas and Hanukkah, Lon — I hope your IIGS was okay!

(Full disclosure: I back Lon Seidman on Patreon.)

The Apple IIGS turns 30

September 26th, 2016 8:56 AM
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September 15, 2016, marked the 30th anniversary of the release of the Apple IIGS, the last model of Apple II to be developed and produced by Apple Computer Inc. Released two years after the introduction of the Macintosh, the IIGS was the only 16-bit Apple II, offering an entirely new operating system and suite of software.

Happy 30th to the Apple IIɢs!

I was 9 years old when we got our first Apple IIGS. I'd already been weaned on a steady diet of Apple IIe software, from VisiCalc and AppleWriter to Castle Wolfenstein and Choplifter — so that's how we used the Apple IIGS: as an accelerated Apple IIe. It wasn't until I started plundering the games library of the Apple II Users Forum on CompuServe that I started exploring what the Apple IIGS was uniquely capable of. With advice from Scott Everts and Loren Damewood, we invested in some hardware upgrades from Quality Computers that made the Apple IIGS a far more powerful machine than the IIe we once owned.

It wasn't long before my gaming hours were being spent on Bouncin' Ferno, Milestones 2000, Copy Killers, DuelTris, Floortiles, GShisen, and Xenocide. For telecommunications, I moved from ProTERM to Spectrum and its infinitely scriptable environment, where I crafted many chatroom games for CompuServe and GEnie. This budding podcaster got his start manipulating people's voices in AudioZap. And for word processing — well, I stuck with AppleWorks, of course. But for the most part, I never looked back once I "upgraded" to the ultimate Apple II.

Yet today, it seems the vast majority of today's retrocomputing programmers are developing 8-bit software. Quinn Dunk is hacking the Apple IIc Plus ROM, Martin Haye and company are building the world of Lawless Legends, French Touch is crafting 8-bit demos… the quantity and quality of Apple II software seems to dwarf releases for the Apple IIGS.

I can think of two reasons why this may be true. Given its late arrival and relatively limited number of models, the Apple IIGS was never as popular as its predecessors nor as likely to be someone's first Apple II. Thirty years ago, there were more 8-bit users than there were 16-bit users, and the two communities have experienced attrition proportionately. And with more secondhand 8-bit Apple II computers available, it's more likely to be the gateway for new community members than the Apple IIGS is.

The second reason is that the 8-bit Apple II offers a greater programming challenge than the Apple IIGS, in that constraints breed creativity. Although the Apple IIGS has more software and hardware resources at its disposal, it's more of a challenge and an accomplishment to create a cool program when you have only 48 kilobytes of RAM and not 4.25 megabytes.

It's similar to what Eric Shepherd said at KansasFest 2013: the Apple is finite and capable of being entirely grokked by a single developer. That's more true for the Apple II than it is for the IIGS.

The IIGS is the youngest Apple II, just as for many years, I was the youngest of the Apple II community. It'll always hold a special place in my heart. Now I'm curious to know why you think this technically superior machine doesn't hold that place in the hearts of more Apple II users. Share your theories in the comment belows or on Facebook or Twitter!

Dust cover

September 12th, 2016 8:49 AM
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I'm someone who likes to keep his Apple II at the ready: you never know when you'll need to convert a disk image, access an old document, or just chill with a round of Oregon Trail. At my last two day jobs, I had easy access to my IIGS, with it occupying a position of prominence on my office desk, right next to my work-supplied machine. It was a great diversion, conversation piece, and point of pride.

Sadly, my current workplace has not yet been graced by my favorite retrocomputer. Bringing outside, unmanaged machines into a HIPAA-compliant environment is always frowned upon; that and other factors have compounded to leave my Apple IIGS at home, where it's kept in storage.

Fortunately, I recently cleaned and reorganized my unfinished basement such that my Apple II gear now has a dedicated workspace. It's not convenient, but at least it's neat, visible, and easy to find.

Still, a basement is a basement, and all the dust and other particles from elsewhere in the house will eventually settle there. Wanting to keep my Apple II clean from falling particulates but lacking the rolltop desk of my childhood, I asked on Facebook's Apple II Enthusiasts group, "Any recommendations for a dust cover?"

I was surprised by many of the answers I received, which included Saran wrap, garbage bags, and pillow cases. All these affordable, makeshift approaches were offered sincerely, but they didn't strike me as particularly retro or especially classy — an Apple II doesn't deserve to ever be placed in a garbage bag!!

Sean Fahey of A2Central.com to the rescue: he pointed me to an eBay listing for a "Heavy Duty Clear Vinyl Waterproof Desktop Computer Monitor & Keyboard Dust Cover". The well-rated seller has hundreds of the item available for only $14.90 each with free shipping within the USA. The product arrived 48 hours after I ordered it and came with two separate covers: one each for the computer and the keyboard. The computer case is clear, sturdy, and spacious rather than form-fitting (measuring 19" tall, 17" wide and 16" deep). In this photo, you can see it enveloping the Apple II with room to spare:

Dust cover

Bubble computer.

Since the cover is hardly touching the Apple II itself, it comes off easy, making for easy access to the machine, which might not have been the case with a garbage bag or plastic wrap. (While those would be good for a computer in storage, I can't imagine them facilitating use of the protected Apple II.)

So thanks, Sean, for steering me to a product that meets both my functional and aesthetic needs!

Ode to the ImageWriter & The Print Shop

June 13th, 2016 12:09 PM
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Someone at Motherboard loves the Apple II. Last summer, writer Jason Koebler attended KansasFest, resulting in a fantastic article and podcast.

Now Ernie Smith has taken a deep dive into dot-matrix printers and The Print Shop:

… in its original form, [The Print Shop] was an '80s-tastic program that redefined the parameters of print design into something that could literally be called child's play. Wanna make a greeting card? Follow these instructions, then print on your dot-matrix printer. Need a sign for your lemonade stand? No problem—you can even add a picture of the Easter Bunny on that sign, if you want. It was a bold redefinition of something that once required a whole boatload of specialized equipment.

The article is more about the business and legal ramifications of the article without capturing the user experience — which I'm happy to provide, as the Print Shop was a staple of my household. My three brothers and I used for everything from school essay cover sheets to birthday cards to banners. I remember campaigning for the elected position of seventh grade class treasurer using signs made in The Print Shop; when I defeated the most popular kid in the class in the election, he said it was because I did a better job advertising myself.

The vehicle by which The Print Shop outputted these creations was my family's ImageWriter II printer, complete with ink ribbons and pin-feed paper. Tearing the edges off the paper into long strips was practically an arts-and-crafts exercise, as they inevitably became loops, braids, and other figures.

But the time spent printing would occupy the computer, leaving it unavailable for other tasks. I remember when I discovered Quality Computers sold a 32K print buffer hardware accessory, I thought it was a ridiculous expense just to get back a few minutes of computer time. But as I discovered more that my Apple II could do and wanted to make the most of that time, it wasn't long before I decided the buffer was a worthwhile investment. Its installation coincided with my father having some computer issues, and conflating correlation with causation, he demanded I remove the buffer. I never did, and his unrelated issues eventually resolved themselves.

Printing

And let us note the role that desktop publishing (DTP) played in the development of Juiced.GS. Although the magazine was designed not in The Print Shop but in GraphicWriter III, an Apple IIGS program, early issues featured DTP heavily. Across six years and eleven issues, the late Dave Bennett penned a series creatively entitled "Desktop Publishing". And the final issue of Juiced.GS's first volume included M.H. "Buzz" Bester's hardware tutorial on ImageWriter maintenance.

My thanks to Smith for taking a moment not only to investigate how The Print Shop evolved, but also for prompting me to revisit these moments. ImageWriter printouts may long be faded, but these memories never will.

(Hat tip to Javier Rivera)

Retro-style iMac

May 9th, 2016 10:35 AM
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Apple makes it hard to associate their current products with their legacy products: from abandoning the rainbow logo to rewriting history in their press releases, Apple Inc. rarely wants to acknowledge the Apple II. But some new after-market modifications make it easier to draw a direct line from our favorite retrocomputer to its modern descendant.

Marketing and branding company ColorWare specializes in a variety of cosmetic alterations to consumer electronics, from iPhones to Xboxes to PlayStation controllers. But instead of sending your own hardware to be modified, you buy it originally from ColorWare. Following the success of their iPhone mods, they've now set their sights on Apple's desktop, introducing retro-themed Macintosh computers and peripherals. Each replaces the default aluminum color with beige, in the style of the original Apple IIe.

Expect to pay more for these devices than you would an unmodified original. The keyboard and mouse combo go for $399, or get them with a 27-inch iMac (3.3GHz processor, 8GB 1867MHz DDR3 SDRAM, 2TB Fusion Drive, AMD Radeon R9 M395 with 2GB) for $3,799. That may sound like a lot of money — and it is: the same iMac direct from Apple is $2,299, representing a $1,500 markup, or 65% more than the MSRP. Further, it looks like there'll be only a limited run of 25 of these retro machines, with both the price and the quantity marking it as exclusive.

When we have our original Apple II computers prominently displayed and regularly used, it's hard to justify spending this much money on a faux Apple II.

Still, it is pretty.

ColorWare iMac

(Hat tip to Julie Lasky via Tim Locke)

Charlie Kellner of alphaSyntauri

October 5th, 2015 1:37 PM
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Were it not for the Apple II, Apple would've made no other machines; consequently, when telling the story of the Macintosh, historians often include segments of interest to the Apple II user. Such was the case with the 2008 documentary Welcome to Macintosh, which showed enough interest in the Apple II (including an interview with Vince Briel) that it was reviewed in Apple II magazine Juiced.GS.

Now the identically named but unrelated podcast Welcome to Macintosh has another serving of Apple II goodness — one that ties in with one of my all-time favorite movies: TRON. I knew the Apple II had played a role in other films of the era, such as WarGames, but I didn't realize it'd also contributed to the soundtrack of TRON — or that the software with which it did so was played by its developer at Steve Wozniak's wedding.

It's all courtesy Charlie Kellner, inventor of alphaSyntauri, one of the first digital music synthesizers.

Welcome to Macintosh host Mark Bramhill interviewed Kellner about how he created the synthesizer not as a commercial product, but as something he wanted for himself. It nonetheless then caught the interest of Apple, musicians such as Stevie Wonder, the Dolphin Research Center, and more. At a time when personal computers were new and their functions not yet widely understood, Kellner successfully demonstrated the Apple II's utility to a diverse range of professionals in a variety of fields.

Although the interview focuses on this particular application, Kellner likely has many more stories from the dawn of personal computing. His résumé reads like a who's-who of developers and publishers: Apple, Lucasfilm, Epyx, and Isix in the 1980s; in later decades, Viacom, Microsoft, Wizards of the Coast, and Nintendo. But you can find out about his earliest success by downloading the interview in your favorite podcatcher, or streaming it below: