Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Unearthed arcana, milestones, and anniversaries.

Sophistication & Simplicity shipping

December 2nd, 2013 10:15 AM
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Filed under History;
4 comments.

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;
2 comments.

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)

A computer history museum returns to Boston

September 2nd, 2013 6:41 PM
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Filed under History, Mainstream coverage;
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Eight years ago, I took Ryan Suenaga to the Boston Museum of Science, whose "ComputerPlace" exhibit featured an Apple II with a copy of VisiCalc. Although exciting to see, this one display was the extent of Boston's preservation of computer history. The Computer History Museum, now a Silicon Valley landmark, had its humble beginnings in Boston, where it lived for 15 years. Upon its relocation to Mountain View, California, no similar establishment remained in Boston.

Northeastern University lecturer Mary Hopper aims to rectify that. As the Boston Globe reports, when the Computer History Museum left Boston, Hopper started collecting computer artifacts (including an Apple II Plus), waiting for the day she could donate them to whatever local institution took the CHM's place. With that not having happened, she's now setting out to establish her own computer museum: the Digital Den. To do so, she's turned to crowdfunding site Indiegogo to raise $25,000 by September 23. She's presently at 6% of her goal.

How this project got so far under the radar baffles me. I asked local representatives of @party, the Artisan's Asylum, and KansasFest, and nobody had heard of this endeavor. I'm also concerned about how vast an enterprise Hopper is undertaking — there's more to starting a museum than having an inventory. However, a visit to the Den by local retrocomputing enthusiast Dave Ross resulted in an encouraging report:

Mary is every bit as impressive as her bio makes her out to be. She's done some impressive work and has been involved with making sure her work and the work of those around her were preserved well before they could be considered "history".

She's also been talking to lawyers and other museums to get a sense of what she can legally do for fundraising and what kind of donations she can accept. It's refreshing to see that kind of due diligence.

If Hopper can accomplish what no one else has tried in more than a decade, then I will do what I can to support her — and already have, thanks to Indiegogo. I look forward to visiting the Den for myself!

Quora asks: What was it like to use the Apple II?

August 26th, 2013 11:59 PM
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Filed under History, Musings;
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Social media offers the modern Apple II user multiple homes and sources of information. Popular destinations include Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and even LinkedIn.

But what about Quora?

Quora is a question-and-answer website akin to Yahoo! Answers, except with a more professional bent. The interface isn't the most intuitive: finding a specific topic isn't obvious, and it's hard to tell what questions and answers are new or old. But the wealth and variety of information makes it worthwhile. Questions can be career- and advice-oriented, such as "What do you wish you would have known before you became a consultant?" or more local and factual, such as "Why did the Shaws grocery store in Fairhaven, Mass., close?" Apple history is also evident, as in an exploration of how Keynote was developed for Mac OS X.

But Quora's coverage of Apple history goes back even further. Someone recently asked, "What was it like to use the Apple ][ computer?" The question's past tense alludes not just to the capabilities of the Apple II, but to the historical context and experience of encountering it. It's a question that warrants a thoughtful response — which is exactly what Oregon resident Doug Dingus has provided, with a 1,971-word essay on the subject, complete with screenshots. Some selected excerpts:

Early on, it was all like some puzzle. You learn a few commands by rote and those commands would perform specific tasks you might want to accomplish. You can see the cursor in the screen shot above as a solid green block. A command was typed in at the top, "CATALOG" and that command would give you a listing of what your floppy disk contained. Floppy disk? Yeah, those things we used to put data onto for longer term storage or for movement between computers.

It was possible to sit down and just write a program of your choosing and then ask the computer to run, or execute it. Back then, this was considered a normal and encouraged use of the computer and many computers were sold on their ability to offer up BASIC and other language programming in ways that people could understand and that were powerful, accessible, robust too.

The sense of learning and discovery isn't much different than we experience today, though the pressure to do it is. Back then, you really had to know some stuff to get the real magic out of the machine and often that meant writing your own programs to do it. Today, the magic largely happens, but the best is still from your own programs a lot of the time.

Today, it's difficult to think about computers that aren't connected to one another for communication and information transfer. Back then, it was difficult to think of computers as connected things due to the fact that we were just beginning to develop useful networks. Most people got their computer, got software and peripherals and proceeded to use it in whatever way they found useful with each machine being a little island.

Today it all seems archaic. To those of us who were there, it's ordinary and the computers of today seem simple and futuristic. Back then it was awesome! Every little advance was a big deal. Just getting a few more colors on the screen, or a faster CPU, or a new kind of interface card was huge! First mouse seemed like some expensive luxury where today it's hard to imagine running a computer without one.

It's a great answer to a great question. What was your first experience with the Apple II? Sign up for a free Quora account to add your response to Doug's!

(John Brownlee)

Preparing for the Jobs film

August 12th, 2013 7:36 PM
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Filed under History, Mainstream coverage, Steve Jobs;
2 comments.

Just a few weeks too late for a KansasFest outing, the Jobs movie finally debuts this week. To build hype, a second trailer has been released.

When I posted the video to Facebook, it received no replies — perhaps because the discussion was still active elsewhere in the group, where 35 comments reflected little enthusiasm for or faith in the film. "The clips I saw of how they portrayed Woz was enough for me to forget this film exists," wrote Paul Lipps. Similarly on Google+, Bill Loguidice wrote, "The poor Woz interpretation alone kills it for me." Added Brendan Robert, "I'll only see it if they don't screw up Woz." I agree — and so does Woz — that his character is poorly, stereotypically portrayed.

Yet I am inexplicably excited to see this film. Perhaps because it's a mass-media manifestation of the inventor whose most famous creation my fellow Apple II users and I have celebrated for decades. Too often I've been disappointed by people not knowing Steve Jobs co-founded Apple with "the other Steve". Even if our hero is poorly represented, won't it behoove us to educate the masses as to his existence?

Or maybe it's not just Woz but more broadly the history of Apple I'm interested in. I'm finally reading Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs, the biography released shortly after Jobs' death in October 2011 and which I received as a Christmas gift that year. I'll never complete the massive tome in time for the film's release, but it's already refreshing my memory with details that I hope to see evidenced on the silver screen.

Or maybe I relish seeing the film because I know it'll be terrible. On the subject of ancient computers, surely nothing could be worse than my experience wanting to walk out of last month's Computer Chess. It's all about having proper expectation — though Apple Insider user Enigmamatic warns even that may not be enough:

I got to see this movie at a pre-screening this week and I don't know why they are letting people see it early. It's worse than one thinks and I went in with very low expectations. It's poorly written with ridiculous dialogue and no exposition. Virtually the entire movie takes place with no explanation as to why anything in the movie happens. It's just a parade of scenes that the viewer has to accept. Truly a horrible movie that was obviously pushed through production to get it out first and take advantage of Jobs' death.

Soon we'll all be able to reach our own conclusions of whether this film surpasses its predecessor, Pirates of Silicon Valley, or if it warrants its own RiffTrax. I hope to see it in time to provide a review to Computerworld. Follow me on Twitter, or follow my film blog, for updates!