Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Unearthed arcana, milestones, and anniversaries.

Triumph of the mod

March 31st, 2014 2:52 PM
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Although improved access to tools and funding are allowing more people to become developers of full-fledged games like Dead Man's Trail, in the days of the Apple II — when almost everyone perforce had some programming ability — the best most of us could do was work within the games others had already created. Usually, this hacking took the form of copy deprotection (and their accompanying crack screens). But sometimes, it was more creative.

In "Triumph of the Mod" a 2002 article by Wagner James Au for Salon.com, Tom Hall, a co-founder of id Software, says he recalls the first mod — "a fan-made modification to a pre-existing game" — as being Castle Smurfenstein, Andrew Johnson and Preston Nevins' hack of Silas Warner's Castle Wolfenstein for the Apple II. Writes Johnson:

The nazi guards became Smurfs, the mostly uninteligible German voices became mostly unintelligible Smurf voices. We created a new title screen, new ending screen, new opening narration, and an opening theme, and changed the setting from Germany to Canada. (I'm still not too sure why we had this Canadian fixation, but then growing up near Detroit does expose one to a fair degree of Canadian culture.)

The conversion was pretty straightforward, needing only a paint program, a sector editor, and Muse Software's very own 'the Voice' to add in the new audio. I think we did this during the summer of 1983 but I'm not completely sure.

As indicated, the hack involved the game's audio, visuals, and text. A deafening WAV demonstrates the Smurf's trademark chant as digitized for an 8-bit computer, and screenshots show the hack's new splash screen. (Oddly, I could find no YouTube videos of Castle Smurfenstein, but Johnson does offer a disk image that works with most any emulator.)

Castle Smurfenstein

Despite the fame of this hack, it was likely not the first-ever mod, since Johnson and Nevins both document an earlier Smurf-inspired hack: Dino Eggs became Dino Smurf. A proposed third hack would've turned Sky Fox into Sky Smurf, completing the trilogy. "Unfortunately the third game only got as far as the new plot and a partial title screen before college beckoned," laments Johnson.

Still, modding has become a lucrative industry and backdoor into the gaming industry. Would it be a stretch to say the Apple II led the way?

Happy anniversary, Mac

January 27th, 2014 10:31 AM
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Filed under History, Musings;
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January 24, 2014, marked the thirtieth anniversary of the release of the Apple Macintosh. Although Apple had by that point already developed multiple platforms with varying degrees of compatibility — the Apple-1, Apple II, Apple III, and Lisa, to name a few — the Mac would prove to be the machine on which they'd focus their efforts long after all its in-house competitors were cancelled. It was not an immediate success: the Apple IIGS, released in 1986, was more popularly received than the Mac. And it wasn't until 1997 that I made the switch.

My family purchased an Apple IIe shortly after its release in 1983 and kept it until we moved in 1988, outfitting the new house with a IIGS. We added a second GS in 1993, when I launched a dial-up BBS. When I started college a few years later, I shuttered the BBS, left the Apple II at home (until recently), and purchased my first Mac, a PowerBook 1400cs. It was around that time that Bernie ][ the Rescue, one of the first Apple II emulators for Mac OS, added the ability to print from AppleWorks. I was insistent on using the Apple II environment, if not the hardware, for as much as my college work as possible. For all four years of my undergraduate studies, almost all my papers were written and printed in the original AppleWorks.

One year into college, I traded the 1400cs for a Wall Street, which Ryan Suenaga considered the perfect Mac with which to emulate the Apple II. It was one of the last models of laptop Mac to feature ADB and SCSI support, offering compatibility with a wide range of Apple II storage and input devices. I used this Mac for five years, until late 2003, when I bought a new laptop that came with Mac OS X. That computer's successor came in 2007, which was then replaced by Apple (under warranty) in 2009, which lasted until my 2013 Retina purchase.

Just as I wouldn't've been led to the Mac without the Apple II, others trod a similar path. Jeff Gamet, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at Denver Apple Pi and CoMUG meetings, wrote for The Mac Observer about his own inventory's evolution, and the excellent reasons it took him so long to come to the Mac:

In high school I got my first taste of Apple computers thanks to the Apple ][+ lab. My parents bought me a Franklin Ace 1000 my senior year, and that computer served me well through college. It was an Apple //e clone with 46KB RAM, upper and lower case text support, built-in 80-column text support, and a 5 1/4-inch floppy drive.

When I had the chance to really get to work on a 512K Mac, things changed and suddenly I could do so much more. And yet I still didn't buy one. Instead, I bought an Apple //GS because it came with a powerful 68C816 processor, color graphics, great sound, a graphical interface that looked just like the Mac (but color!), and — best of all — could run all of my Apple //e programs as well as GS-native titles. At the time it felt like I was getting so much more for my money compared to the Mac.

It's not just the users who the Apple II brought to the Mac; the latter platform simply would not have existed without the former. Ross Rubin writes for CNET not only about how the Mac experience has informed iOS, but also how the Apple II inspired the Mac, both in similarities and differences:

When Apple introduced the Mac 30 years ago, it was already a successful computer company with the Apple II, a product that would continue to be successful for years after the launch of Apple's new darling. If it had taken the approach Microsoft had with Windows 1.0, and later Windows 8 and Surface, it would have grafted a graphical interface onto the Apple II — something that actually eventually happened toward the line's decline with the Apple IIGS — and perhaps provided a more limited number of expansion slots.

Instead, the Mac was almost a complete break from Apple's first hit. It had an integrated monitor, eschewed color, said farewell to its ProDOS interface, and seemed to offer a keyboard only reluctantly, omitting cursor keys to push people toward the mouse.

Pessimist Steve Weyhrich predicts the computers may be more alike than different in their ultimate fate. Weyhrich takes exceptions with Jason Snell and Phil Schiller who extol "The Mac keeps going forever". The same was once said of the Apple II, which proved a promise Apple couldn't keep. Any number of scenarios could toll a similar death knell for the Mac: Apple goes bankrupt, the Mac is outmoded, or Apple's growing divide between programmers and users means that Mac OS X is supplanted by the more mobile and restricted iOS.

However we got here, and wherever we're going, I'm grateful for all the fruits produced from that initial union of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. On the occasion of this thirtieth anniversary, I offer the company a platform-agnostic wish: Apple Forever!

An elementary Apple museum

January 6th, 2014 11:25 AM
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Filed under History, Musings;
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Fifteen miles north of downtown Chicago, Illinois, is an Apple museum you've never heard of. It's not open to the public, but it is nonetheless being put to good use: students of Kenilworth's Joseph Sears School are learning what computers of yesteryear were capable of and how they evolved into the machines we use today.

In the Wilmette Sun-Times article "Apple display both time travel and education for Sears students", library technology services director Elisabeth LeBris and former school computer coordinator Matt Brackett discuss how they "agreed to keep one of each Apple computer model used in the school (which has a long history of Apple use) even as each made way for successor machines". Students then use these artifacts to research how they compare to today's machines as part of their expository writing classes. The students' work is exhibited as a series of narrated slideshows summarizing the models' capabilities and places in history.

Several of the students' findings will bring a smile to an Apple II user's face: "[The Apple II] could not reach the Internet, because the Internet was not invented until WAY after the Apple II's time", for example. It's true the World Wide Web, which is often confused for the Internet, wasn't developed until a few years after the last model of Apple II was released in 1989, but the Internet was certainly something early Apple II users were connecting to — more so now, thanks to the Uthernet card. I'm also intrigued to know the calculations that led to statements such as this: "A modern 16-gigabyte smart phone has as much computing capability as 3.4 million Apple IIe computers." Despite being dwarfed by modern processors, one student admitted, "I was surprised at how much [the IIGS] could do, and how many parts there were." It's another great example of how classic technology, from Ultima to the BBC Micro, can be used in a modern education environment.

I emailed RJ Bialk, technology facilitator at Kenilworth School District #38, to ask if the video slideshows could be made available in an embeddable, shareable format, such as YouTube. There's been no response to that email of December 10, but I'm hopeful once the holidays are past and school is back in session, something might come of it. In the meantime, check out the article and videos for yourself and see what today's students are learning.

Sophistication & Simplicity shipping

December 2nd, 2013 10:15 AM
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Filed under History;
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Blatant plug alert!

I'm writing today to promote Sophistication & Simplicity: The Life & Times of the Apple II Computer, by Dr. Steven Weyhrich, long-time Apple II user. In just the past three years, Steve has become a member of the KansasFest committee, written for Juiced.GS, and been guest #4 on the Open Apple podcast. But much longer ago than that, he began chronicling the story of the Apple II, which today is available on his website, Apple II History. That site has served as the source for his book, a hardcover that began shipping yesterday.

Sophistication & SimplicityTurning a website into a book can be an easy feat: aggregate some blog posts into a PDF and ship it off to the Kindle store. Or download some Wikipedia entries and reformat them for sale under Creative Commons. But Steve has taken no such shortcuts with his opus. He has extensively researched and re-written significant portions of his history as well as created new chapters. I've been aware of this process not only as he pinged me for my professional perspective on various editing matters, but also through interviewing Steve for Juiced.GS:

I have a new chapter that is all about KansasFest; that is exclusive to the print book. There are some other places where I've added material that I did not also mirror to the Web site, but I did not keep close track of it. After a while, I stopped changing the Web site and the book material at the same time, because it became tedious to do both. All of my most recent changes have been book-specific.

The final stretch was the longest: some online stores still reference the book's original launch date of April 1, 2013!

Steve also revealed that this book has been a long time in coming:

I actually made an effort to make this a book some years ago and had some interest from Quality Computers in publishing it back in the 1990s. However, Quality had lots of things it was trying to do at the time and decided that publishing a book was not something it wanted to add to the list.

Now the book is finally a real thing — but not thanks to the democratization of self-publishing. Unlike many recent and excellent books about the Apple II, Sophistication & Simplicity is not self-published, instead having been picked up by Variant Press. You can buy the book today at Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble (ISBN 9780986832277).

Congratulations, Steve! Thank you for taking the time to preserve the history of our favorite computer in so permanent a medium. I look forward to getting ahold of my copy and getting you to sign it at KansasFest 2014. In the meantime, the hard part is behind you, so step away from the computer and take a breather — you've earned it.

Why is Apple DOS source code release important?

November 18th, 2013 12:09 PM
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Filed under History, Mainstream coverage;
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Last week, the Computer History Museum released the source code to Apple DOS 3.1:

With thanks to Paul Laughton, in collaboration with Dr. Bruce Damer, founder and curator of the Digibarn Computer Museum, and with the permission of Apple Inc., [the Computer History Museum is] pleased to make available the 1978 source code of Apple II DOS for non-commercial use. This material is Copyright © 1978 Apple Inc., and may not be reproduced without permission from Apple.

This disk operating system has been previously decompiled and the notes published online, which you'd think would make the Computer History Museum's release unimportant. And yet it's been reported far and wide — not just the usual vintage computing sites, but Apple news sites and broader IT outlets as well. Why all the commotion over old news for a 30-year-old machine?

It's not the product, but the process, that's significant. "What is interesting is Apple's agreement to release it," said Dr. Steve Weyhrich of Apple II History. "They never release stuff like this to the world." Agreed David Schmidt: "That is the only thing that is interesting about this: Apple's actual permission to leak any kind of intellectual capital."

However, there is also some original material in this particular offering of the source code. Weyhrich continued: "The code that was released also has that advantage of being scanned from actual printouts of Paul Laughton’s work in progress, with his comments on how the different parts of the system work… I've seen some of these [documents] before, but there are some that not even David Craig has gotten his hands on over the years. Historically, it’s quite interesting, and the Museum has comments from Laughton on the process of the creation of Apple DOS that give details that I didn’t get out of him when [I interviewed him — I guess] I didn’t ask the right questions!"

Click past the jump for an index of sites that have reported the source code's release.

Read the rest of this entry »

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)