Apple forgets its history

For more than a decade, Apple's website has offered free downloads of legacy software, including a variety of Apple II Classic Mac OS operating systems and utilities. The URL was always the same:

http://www.info.apple.com/support/oldersoftwarelist.html

This page was referenced throughout the years in Juiced.GS, as recently as September 2014. It wasn't a resource that was often called upon, but it was often relied upon as a place where Apple acknowledged its history and provided some meager support for its legacy customers.

All good things must come to an 404: as Ivan Drucker reported this weekend, this directory has simply disappeared from Apple's website. Steve Weyhrich contacted support to ask where it went and was told simply that it's gone. And, thanks to the site's prohibitive robots.txt file, to Google's cache and the Wayback Machine, it's as if the page never existed.

Both Ivan and Dagen Brock pointed out a harsh reality: Apple doesn't care about anyone who hasn't bought anything from them in the last 36 months (the span of AppleCare). Whether this obsolescence is planned or not, Apple's business is in selling you new hardware and software. Support for older equipment is only a means to that end — or, in the case of Apple II software, a dead end.

It's sad to realize that Dan Budiac's Apple IIc registration card and David Greelish's petition for an Apple museum were both for naught.

Dan Budiac's Apple IIc registration card

Fortunately, the omnipresent Jason Scott has succeeded where Apple has failed: his byline is on a 2012 upload to the Internet Archive of Apple's complete older software list. And since we're dealing with decades-old software, this mirror being three years old is of no consequence — nothing's changed in that time.

Although it may not make any business sense to do so, it's a shame Apple doesn't better respect its history, especially when there's little cost to doing so. Thank goodness for the community of Apple II enthusiasts who still remember where we came from.

Codes that changed the world

Growing up with the Apple II, I learned to program in BASIC. Its line numbers, GOTOs and GOSUBs, and spaghetti code were unlike anything I would encounter later in my education. Perhaps for that reason, I never mastered a language like I did BASIC. While I was able to grasp Prolog and FORTRAN, the "pointers" of C++ were so incomprehensible to me that I eventually had to change majors to get away from it.

Had I continued down that programming path, I doubtless would've faced many other challenging concepts as I attempted to master yet more languages, like C Sharp, Perl, PHP, Ruby, and more. By some estimates, there are over 20,000 languages in existence, only a fraction of which I ever could've learned on the Apple II. Some are more practical than others, while others are of more historical significance.

The BBC attempts to scratch the surface of those historical languages in a recent limited-run podcast series, Codes that Changed the World, hosted by Aleks Krotoski.

Codes that Changed the World

The podcast, which debuted this month and ran for all of five episodes, covers four languages: FORTRAN, COBOL, BASIC, and Java, with a fifth episode discussing how so many different languages are able to coexist.

Of course, you can't discuss the rise of BASIC without the role the Apple II played, and vice versa:

BASIC enabled computing as we understand it today. When Apple was a two-man band building this thing called the Apple II, there were no other computers out there like it. So they had to put something on it that would allow individuals to program it themselves. Apple just wouldn't exist without BASIC. And Microsoft! The first thing that Microsoft did as a company was selling BASIC to run on other people's computers. The two biggest names in modern computing, Apple and Microsoft, both wouldn't've happened if it wasn't for BASIC.

BASIC celebrated its 50th birthday last year, earning it a cover story in Juiced.GS:
Juiced.GS Volume 19 Issue 2

While researching that story, author Steve Weyhrich (who also pointed me to this podcast) delved into the resources available at Dartmouth College, where BASIC was invented. As part of its "BASIC at 50" commemoration, Dartmouth produced a free 38-minute documentary, Birth of BASIC:

If you want to learn more about other programming languages, Codes that Changed the World is available in iTunes. While it's unreasonable to expect all 20,000 languages to be covered, I do lament that the podcast's scope was limited to only five episodes, as I rather enjoyed these 15-minute encapsulations of technical topics for a lay audience. If the BBC or Krotoski ever produce more, I'll be first in line to listen!

Kids can't wait

Education? I'm a fan. I taught at the high school level for several years and have been a college instructor for twice that. Teaching kids not what to think, but how to think, is the best investment I know to make in our future.

Turns out Steve Jobs was of a similar mindset. In a 1995 interview with Daniel Morrow of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, Jobs related his drive to ensure other kids had the same opportunities he did:

When I was ten or eleven I saw my first computer… I fell in love with it. And I thought, looking at these statistics in 1979, I thought if there was just one computer in every school, some of the kids would find it. It will change their life.

Jobs investigated what it would cost to donate a single Apple II computer to every K-12 school in the United States. The cost was prohibitive for such a fledging company, but made economical and affordable with various tax incentives and deductions. Jobs lobbied for even more flexibility, getting as far as landing the Computer Equipment Contribution Act of 1982 on the floor of the Senate, after sailing it through Congress. Alas, it never made it past that point. In the end, Jobs' outreach was limited to California, where each of over 9,000 schools benefitted from Apple's generosity.

Audrey Watters over at Hack Education has more details and links, including to InfoWorld's and Creative Computing's reports of that era. It's a fascinating look at the marketing and financial strategy by which Apple came to dominate the classroom.

9 myths about the Oregon Trail

At a recent PAX East 2015 panel on empathy games, I asked: "Since empathy games are often based in reality, do developers of such games hold themselves to a higher standard in terms of being authentic — as opposed to a more fictional game world, which doesn't purport to represent a real-life situation?"

Perhaps it was unfair of me to suggest empathy games are alone in this higher standard, as games have been founded in reality for as long as there have been games. Oregon Trail was based on a 2,200-mile route travelled by 400,000 settlers in 1846–1869. No work of fiction, the game is the product of some serious research and was widely used in classrooms as an early form of edutainment.

But, like many grade-school history lessons, some of the details weren't quite right. Phil Edwards recently did some historical research of his own and determined 9 myths you learned from playing Oregon Trail. The article is a fun and fascinating read, with far more details than these succinct headlines:

  1. Not everyone used oxen. Some people used handcarts.
  2. Traveling at a "grueling" pace was less fun than it sounds
  3. You wouldn't have randomly forded a 40-foot-deep river
  4. You couldn't kill thousands of pounds of buffalo
  5. Dysentery was much, much worse than a punchline
  6. No one got a funny headstone with curse words when they died
  7. Native Americans didn't really want your sweaters
  8. The rafting trip at the end of the game was insane
  9. Starting out as a banker was even better than you realized

References to a rafting trip don't ring a bell for me, so I suspect the article is based on a version of the game that didn't appear on the Apple II — likely the 1990 MS-DOS edition. Still, it's fun to see where fiction diverges from fact.

But what if it went the other way, and instead of a game or book based on reality, we had reality based on a game? It'd probably end up looking like the Oregon Trail movie trailer (Oregon Trailer?), which I originally shared on this blog five (!) years ago:

Fortunately, fan films aren't the only media we have to rely on. Any armchair historian can learn more about this unique expansion of early American settlements in The California and Oregon trail, a 1901 book by Trail veteran Francis Parkman.

Or you can just play the game.

(Hat tip to Inside.com via VideoGames)

Preserving Bob Bishop's legacy

In mid-November, John Romero shared with the Apple II community some sad news: Bob Bishop, co-founder of Apple's R&D department and KansasFest 2011 keynote speaker, had passed away. The news came in time for me to include Bishop in my Computerworld slideshow of tech luminaries we lost in 2014; along with Patrick McGovern and Ralph Baer, Bishop was one of three luminaries I'd had the honor of meeting among the 23 in the article.

It is all well and good to honor the legacy of those who have gone before, but it takes more than mere platitudes to ensure their contributions are not buried with them. Thankfully, Romero was more than the bearer of bad news, as this past weekend, after a tip from on a tip from Gary Koffler, Romero had an encouraging update to share on Facebook:

Prepare for a mindblast. Today my wife and I went to the late Bob Bishop's estate to rescue whatever we could from the giant dumpster outside the house — everything will be thrown away today (Saturday). We were able to save all historical items of note.

One of the items we got was this black Apple II+ which you will note is NOT a Bell & Howell. We believe it is the prototype for that edition. The lid easily pops off like normal, and the date is 1979. Bob also had an Apple II serial number 13. The family will be auctioning that one off.

We filled our van full of stuff. I can't believe the amazing amount of stuff we got that's collectible.

… To clarify, there was no dumpster diving involved. The dumpster sat silent and empty, waiting for today when everything left in Bob's houses would be tossed in. We went through all the rooms of his houses and picked everything of value we could find.

Bob Bishop's Bell & Howell

The resulting thread is extensive, with postulations as to the nature and origin of some of Bishop's rarer hardware, and questions of where similar collections might be found or donated. The Computer History Museum of Mountain View, California, and the Strong Museum of Rochester, New York, were frequently cited, with a representative of the latter chiming into the thread. I can vouch for both institutions, as both are actively archiving Juiced.GS for scholars and future generations of retrocomputing enthusiasts to reference.

There are many components to preserving our digital legacies: ensuring software for legacy computers can still be executed; preserving the original hardware; making our personal digital data collections accessible. I'm grateful that we have people like John Romero and Jason Scott, and institutions like the CHM and the Strong, actively working to keep alive the memory and accomplishments of heroes like Bob Bishop.