Archive for the ‘Hacks & mods’ Category

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

Eye of the Dot Matrix Tiger

March 2nd, 2014 10:49 PM
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We already know that storage media are musical instruments, with floppy disks playing the Star Wars theme and hard drives producing a rendition of the Imperial March. Now printers are getting in on the orchestral action. Behold as a dot matrix printer plays "Eye of the Tiger" from Rocky:

Such magic is a combination of custom hardware and software. Says the video's creator on how you too can produce this tune:

Learn about electronics, reverse engineering, embedded software development, maybe some hardware description language, the MIDI protocol and some music theory (how notes relate to frequencies). Then take your printer apart, find out how it works, disconnect the original processor from everything you need and add your custom built electronics…

The MIDI files have to be edited a bit to be played on the printer: some channels need to be disabled (percussion stuff), some are transposed to avoid exceeding the frequency limit. Also the volume of the individual instruments never fits when the original settings are used.

Get started with the MIDI file that was adapted to this purpose; it's available for download.

(Hat tip to Geekologie via Colin Druce-McFadden, Geeks Are Sexy, Brendan Robert, and Mark LaPlante)

The Iconic Apple coffee table book

October 7th, 2013 10:17 AM
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Filed under Hacks & mods, History;
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At some point in the last four years, you've probably come across the Shrine of Apple, where photographer Jonathan Zufi has set out to produce a gallery of every Apple product ever, from the Apple-1 to the iPad Mini. It's a gorgeous Web site with intuitive navigation and high-quality photos from multiple angles of all Apple hardware and packaging.

Now this artwork can be on display in your home with Iconic: A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation, a 350-page coffee table book, courtesy the author's self-publishing brand, Ridgewood Publishing.

Iconic features over 650 photos across six chapters: desktops (including the Apple II); portables; peripherals; iOS devices; prototypes (whether or not they went into production); packaging; and people. (For those counting, the video says there are six chapters but lists only fives — the narrator forgot about peripherals.)

The book is available in two hardcopy editions: a now-shipping $75 "classic"; and a yet-to-be-released special edition that comes in a slip sleeve that looks like an Apple IIe case. (There is, naturally, no coffee table e-book edition.) Shipping on the classic edition to my New England home is an extra $11.

Unlike a living Web site, a book immediately becomes a moment in time, a product of its publication date and unrepresentative of all the Apple products to come. Regardless, it's something I wouldn't mind as a holiday gift. It's nice to see a book like this become a reality without a Kickstarter project, especially since the book trailer could've just as easily served as a pitch video, which probably would've motivated me to by it on impulse, knowing I was contributing to moving the book from concept to coffee table.

Will you be putting Iconic on your table?

(Hat tip to Betsy McKay)

Remembering the Apple II

April 8th, 2013 9:28 AM
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Filed under Hacks & mods, History, Mainstream coverage;
2 comments.

A recent CNET story has popularized the unearthing of design schematics for the Disk ][ floppy drive and the contract that outsourced its operating system. This story has been a Big Deal, having been picked up by TUAW, Slashdot, A2Central.com, and others.

This story is also an opportunity to consider the scale and scope of computer history. We Apple II users have gobbled up this news, but I suspect it hasn't achieved awareness outside the small circles of retrocomputing enthusiasts and computer historians. After all, what relevancy does the Apple II have to the Apple Inc. of today, whose foundation lies not in desktop or even laptop computers, but in cell phones, tablets, and MP3 players?

It wouldn't be the first time the Apple II has failed to penetrate the public awareness. When I presented the history of the Apple II to the Denver Apple Pi users group, the audience was eager and receptive — with one exception. When one person learned the topic of my speech would be the computer that Apple made before the Macintosh, her response was, "Apple made computers before the Macintosh?" She didn't see the relevancy in this archaic machine and chose not to stay for the presentation.

Similarly, when I recruited Jason Scott as a guest speaker for my college course, he asked my students the loaded question, "How many of you would agree with me if I said Nintendo is thirty years old?" Nintendo was in fact founded in 1889 and dabbled in many industries, from playing cards to hotels to taxi services, before landing in electronic entertainment. Home video games are just a blip in the timeline of the company that set the standard.

These are just two examples of modern consumers being ignorant or uncaring of the lineage behind their everyday tech. I don't know that this oversight is necessarily evil so much as it is the product of irrelevance. Is it one we need to change? I would presume that awareness of the existence of pre-Macintosh computers has improved since the passing of Steve Jobs, but my experience is that just as many people as ever respond to my stories of the Apple II with a comment such as "That was my first Mac!"

The Apple II was sold for 16 years, 1977–1993. Sixteen years ago this year, Steve Jobs returned to Apple. That second era has achieved historical notoriety, both for the metaphoric prodigal son's return and for the reinvention of Apple Computer Inc. as a profitable company. Yet what was long the flagship product of the company's first 16 years seems to have fallen from public consciousness. Is all tech history susceptible to the vagaries of time? Or is the popularity of computer history directly proportionate the penetration of that era's computers? Since 1970s computers were not widely adopted by the mass market, is their history similarly of limited appeal? Do we need to improve the Apple II's public image — not just for the health of our retrocomputing hobby, but for the annals of time? If so, how?

I welcome your historical perspective on this matter!

Building a Lego Apple

April 1st, 2013 2:26 PM
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Creativity in one discipline does not necessarily lend itself to others. My tenures at Computerworld and Juiced.GS have developed my imagination such that I have no trouble pulling ideas for feature stories from thin air. But one area in which I have always gone strictly by the book, doing exactly what I'm told without deviation or desire for variance — is Legos. The lethally edged gouging objects taught me to follow step-by-step instructions, a skill that, as an adult, has proven handy in the kitchen. But it was always the picture on the box, not in my mind, that I was driving to make a reality.

So I'm all the more impressed by Chiukeung (CK Tsang), who used the Lego building blocks to create a model Apple II.

2013_LEGO_APPLEII01e2

Just like Woz intended, you can even open the machine for direct access to its motherboard and expansion slots.

2013_LEGO_APPLEII04e

CPU, lid, keyboard, floppy drive, monitor — this machine has it all! Everything except for scale, actually — there's nothing to compare its size to, though I suspect it's smaller than Steve Weyhrich's virtual Minecraft Apple.

The Apple II is not the first computer CK has rendered in blocks. Check out his model Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), aka the Famicom, which coincidentally also uses a 6502 chip.

(Hat tip to Kelly Hodgkins)

The Apple II goes to work

March 4th, 2013 11:27 AM
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Filed under Hacks & mods, Musings;
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It's been almost two months since my Apple IIgs and I left Computerworld. It's been almost as long that I've been in my new position — the first one ever to afford me an office with windows. As much as I love the view, it seems empty without a certain rainbow Apple logo somewhere in the room.

I wasn't sure how long I should be at the new place before making a request to move in my own personal desktop computer. But my easygoing boss had no problems with such a setup, as long as I ran it past our IT department, to be politic. All that accomplished was a remark about how "that Mac must be older than you, Ken!" — two false statements in one, both designed to set me on edge. But I focused on the fact that they had no objections and thus visited my office on a weekend to set up my machine.

My Apple II seems quite happy in its new home. Other than turning the IIgs on to ensure it survived the disassembly and setup processes, I've not had the opportunity to use it — nor have I determined if this institution's network will accommodate my Uthernet interface, which is my preferred configuration for ADTPro.

Although that functionality is essential for certain projects, for now, I'm just happy that my office is beginning to feel like mine.

Literal abandonware

February 25th, 2013 1:03 PM
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Old hardware doesn't die, it just … well, yes, it does die. But before our vintage machines break down, we often abandon them. Though the retrocomputing community has demonstrated that, given the proper maintenance, thirty-year-old Apple II computers can run just fine, machines are more often disposed of when circumstances dictate — which can mean not only a move to a new computer, but sometimes a move to a new office or home, leaving behind any physical reminder of now failed ventures.

Freelancer and friend to the retrocomputing community Benj Edwards has compiled a photo gallery of abandoned Apples discovered by urban explorers who, through questionably legal means, found themselves in neglected environs. Taking photos and nothing else, these trespassers show us Macs and iPods, but also Apple II hardware and software, that have barely endured the passage of time.

Apple IIe and Imagewriter II

Outcries of the wanton waste represented by these photos would not fall on deaf ears; I don't disagree that computers should be cared for or disposed of properly. But I'm more curious as to the stories behind these artifacts, especially the tales their innards can tell. What led to these machines being left behind? What data might their storage devices still hold? Nothing paramount, I'm sure — just common business or educational programs or records. But just as how the salvation of GeoCities holds information of value to someone, past or future, I wonder what meaning these machines may've once had to their operators.

APPLE II - ARNE'S ROYAL HAWIIAN MOTEL - BAKER

Edwards did not take any of the photos himself: of the 12 photos, 10 are originally from Flickr; of those, 5 are available under one Creative Commons license or another.

What did you do with your old computers, Apple II or otherwise? Have you ever left a machine behind?

(Hat tip to Mark Munz)