Archive for the ‘Mainstream coverage’ Category

The Apple II is everywhere, as evidenced by these reports.

Halt and Catch Fire's take on 1983

July 14th, 2014 11:12 AM
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Last month, television channel AMC debuted the original series Halt and Catch Fire. Like their prior success, Mad Men, this show uses a specific industry and era as a backdrop — but instead of an advertising agency in the 1960s, it's a computer hardware company in 1983.

That was a magical time for Apple and the rest of the industry: IBM was making moves into consumer desktops, the Macintosh was in development, and the Apple II was riding high. Halt and Catch Fire tries to capture some of that energy and drama with its own versions of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, but with some additional variables, players, and catalysts thrown into the mix.

I reviewed the series for Computerworld.com, a former employer I'm always happy to collaborate with (and which last month went out of print). As a freelancer, I'd previously reviewed the films Jobs and Her, which were creative exercises in reminding me I was writing for Computerworld, not Cinemaworld — critiquing the cinematography and acting wouldn't cut it for this audience.

So for Halt and Catch Fire, my first professional television review, I dedicated some paragraphs to analyzing the show's tech props — details that geeks would pick up on but no one else would notice. Although it's atypical for a review to bring in outside voices, I nonetheless consulted with Dave Ross, a neighbor who happens to have also been the president of the South West Regional Association of Programmers, a Chicago-based Commodore 64 user group. Since in that era I was an Apple II user exclusively, Ross's perspective on the technology of the times was useful. Steve Weyhrich and Vince Briel also provided some insight, though without being directly quoted.

Halt and Catch Fire's Byte

A Byte from 1980? I don't think so.

I don't know if I'll continue watching the show beyond the first five episodes, but I did enjoy this assignment. On Google Plus, John Kocurek offers some projections for the show's future:

Episode 6 lays the groundwork for an interesting arc. It is set in August of 1983. Just a few months later, the Mac is introduced — which offers the possibility of the writers taking the series into a parallel universe where you have the easy-to-use Mac having an easy to use machine that also runs PC software. Assuming the writers are consistent, it would remember things about you, be able to make suggestions. Be an assistant. That would have been a game changer at the time.

Watch Halt and Catch Fire Sundays at 10 pm on AMC, or stream it live via Amazon Instant Video. For more details, read my review for Computerworld.

London's Digital Revolution exhibit

July 7th, 2014 9:35 AM
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I'm a fan of museums — their exhibits, their archives, their outreach all serve as a cornerstone to cultural preservation and education. America apparently agrees with that sentiment, as it was recently determined that the United States has more museums (35,000) than Starbucks (11,000) and McDonalds (14,000) restaurants combined.

From as far back as 2003, when Ryan Suenaga and I visited the Boston Museum of Science, I've toyed with the idea of a Juiced.GS article that marries these esteemed institutions with my favorite retrocomputer. Whether that story would've been simply an overview of the Apple II's appearances and contexts in such institutions, or something more meaningful about the history of the Apple II, I'm unsure. The closest we've come to that pitch was Peter Neubauer's December 2012 narrative of his experience at the newly opened Living Computer Museum.

If we ever do compile such an index, it won't stay current for long, as new exhibits feature the Apple II regularly. The latest, having opened just last week, is Digital Revolution at London's Barbican Centre, "a major new exhibition that explores the impact of technology on art over the past four decades", reports Aaron Souppouris for The Verge. Featured art forms include film, music, games, and more.

Pretty trippy, right? But in addition to the many interactive installation, various displays also let visitors walk the timeline of digital technology — including the Apple IIe.

Digital Revolution Installation At The Barbican Centre

A proud lineage. Photo copyrighted by the Verge.

It's not a significant portion of the Digital Revolution, but it doesn't have to be. It's enough for modern art to acknowledge that it is where it is today thanks to inventions such as the Apple II.

Now that's a good story.

The Apple II at IvanExpert

June 23rd, 2014 11:38 AM
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Ivan Drucker is a name known to many modern Apple II users. He's the networking genius behind A2SERVER and A2CLOUD and the programming savant responsible for Slammer and NuInput. He's on the staff of Juiced.GS and was Open Apple's first post-debut guest. He's an all-around nice guy.

But to the residents of New York City — yes, the Big Apple — he's the founder and chief technology expert of IvanExpert, an Apple consulting firm that's been providing superior Mac, iPhone, and iPad service for over ten years. The name he and his partner Caroline Green have developed for their company recently caught the attention of their local CBS station. When hackers discovered a way to lock users' iPhones remotely in exchange for ransom, CBS turned to IvanExpert for a video interview advising viewers how to avoid falling victim to this scam.

But wait — what was that?!

IvanExpert's office

Computer, magnify sector B2!

IvanExpert's Apple II

This isn't the first time Ivan's Apple II have been featured in video. When he got back from KansasFest 2011, IvanExpert's YouTube channel spotlighted the convention and why Ivan attends, with the Apple II prominently in the background.

Kudos to Ivan and the rest of the team at IvanExpert for keeping the Apple II in the forefront of their workplace and CBS's television coverage!

(Hat tip to Caroline Green)

Kids react to the Apple II

May 26th, 2014 10:40 AM
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Our standards and expectations for computers have changed a great deal since the Apple II arrived on the scene. Internet access, graphic user interfaces, and mass storage are all basic features of any modern hardware and operating system. Those of us who grew up in simpler, yet less intuitive, times can mentally switch between the eras… but what about the next generation of users?

Watch as teen and pre-teen kids react to their first encounter with an Apple II:

"Kids React" is a popular and ongoing series by The Fine Bros, whose YouTube channel has over 8 million subscribers and 1.6 billion views. I suspect some of that popularity has gone to the kids' head, with the younger ones preciously overreacting for the camera. One of my favorite comments was a kid saying that the Apple II is at least better than Flappy Bird, an irritating iOS game; good thing he wasn't forced to play the Commodore 64 version! Another kid said the Apple II is good only as a footstool. Better that than an aquarium, I suppose.

But their reactions nonetheless have merit. It's reasonable for a computer to assume that, if you turn it on or insert a disk, you want it to react to that action somehow. Obtuse commands like PR#6 are not welcoming to a new user. The Apple II was a blank canvas, and we were patient enough to learn its language and idiosyncrasies; but were we more accustomed to being catered to, I don't think we would've taken to the Apple like we did.

Still, I wish the video hadn't been edited to be quite so down on the computer. Apple II games are not all that different in style from modern mobile games, and I think the kids would've had fun with titles like Lode Runner, Cannonball Blitz, or even Oregon Trail. Certainly the featured action game from Keypunch Software, D-Day, was a better choice than VisiCalc, to which I exposed my own students a decade ago. But we hardly saw any of their engagement with the game, instead watching them struggle with the interface and OS and getting none of the reward — though we do get a bit more footage in the bonus video:

Exposing a younger generation to its predecessor's technology is not a new concept. The Fine Bros. have previously given kids rotary phones and Walkmans to play with, and I've posted several other such videos to this blog before: French students playing with a variety of old technology, four Americans playing with a C64 and Atari 2600, and British students encountering a C64.

It's great to finally see the Apple II specifically be the focus of such a video. But I suspect any reader of this blog who exposed their own children to an Apple II would be greeted with far more fascination and enthusiasm. We're just a different breed.

(Hat tip to Adam Clark Estes via Kirk Millwood)

Fictional references

May 5th, 2014 11:01 AM
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Books about Apple and the Apple II and its founders and inventors are innumerable — history has woken up to the importance of these industries and innovators. But the Apple II plays an important role not just in fact, but also in fiction. A voracious reader of sci-fi and fantasy, I've recently come across references to our favorite computer in a number of novels.

First was in Ready Player One, a novel by Ernest Cline and the best book I read in 2011. The main character spends most of his time plugged into a virtual-reality MMORPG designed by a "a god among geeks, a nerd ueber-deity on the level of Gygax, Garriott, and Gates." In his quest to unearth an Easter egg, our hero, having received a clue pertaining to Captain Crunch, researches interstellar maps for a relevant planet. "I found a few worlds named after famous hackers, like Woz and Mitnick, but none named after John Draper."

Any book with an entire celestial body named after Steve Wozniak is okay by me!

Last year, I read my second-ever e-book: These Days, a novel by Jack Cheng that I picked up through its Kickstarter. This book's main character, Connor, is a graphic designer for a company called Pseudo. At one point, he is asked: "Do you know who Doug Engelbart is?"

It took a moment for Connor to place the name. One of the few entertainment projects Pseudo had been able to land was a series called ArpaNet, a failed attempt at capitalizing on old-school detective shows and eighties nostalgia. Every episode, the show's protagonist, Frank Arpa, a university professor who moonlighted as a private investigator, would log on to the bulletin board systems of the early internet to hunt for new leads. Whenever progress on a case stalled, a mysterious informant who went by the handle of Lick would steer Arpa and his team in the right direction. The network had shelved the series after four episodes, but Connor had had a blast working on the project while it lasted. It was probably the most fun he'd had in all his years at the company. He'd been tasked with recreating the text-only interfaces of the era and spent hours upon hours digging into command prompts on old computer history websites. He watched YouTube videos of ancient operating systems. He bought a working Apple II off Craigslist and experimented with text-only ASCII banners and graphics on the green monochrome screen. In the course of his research, he'd come across a particular black-and-white video shot in the late sixties. In the video, a silver-haired man talked into an operator's headset as he stared at a monitor off camera. The text on the monitor was superimposed onto his own image as he spoke, and every once in a while the video would cut to a view of his hands. He operated a blocky wooden mouse and a keyboard, and a second pad that looked like a section of piano keys, and all the while the computer made strange, abrupt noises that sounded like bursts of a high-pitched electric razor, or the first half of a dog's bark. "The Mother of All Demos," said the caption beneath the video. And the man in it was Doug Engelbart, the head of a group of scientists at a Stanford research lab. In the video, Engelbart and his team publicly demonstrated for the first time NLS—an early ancestor of the internet—along with hyperlinks, the computer mouse, and videoconferencing, all in an hour and a half.

Now I'm amid a novel by Austin Grossman. I really enjoyed his 2007 debut novel, Soon I Will Be Invincible, about the antagonist of a Justice League-like team of superheroes. His April 2013 novel is You, a book that is, inexplicably, set less than two miles where I live outside of Boston. The main character was born in 1969 (the same year as the author, and a decade before me), and the book is set in 1997 as he enters the computer game industry as a designer. Several flashbacks to his childhood trace the path of his experiences with personal computers. On page 13:

One summer in middle school I finally got an Apple IIe, a beige plastic wedge with computer and keyboard in one piece, along with its own nine-inch monochrome monitor. I discovered the delinquent thrill of using copy programs like Locksmith to duplicate copy-protected games on a 5.25-inch floppy disk and the trick of double-siding a disk by clipping a half-moon out of it with a hole puncher.

Austin Grossman's YouOn page 66, digging through the archives of his employer, Black Arts, for their earlier titles: "I was sure a few dozen copies were out there lying in basements in cardboard boxes, filed away with cracked copies of The Bilestoad and Lode Runner… [but here] there wasn't much from 1983 apart from an incomplete set of blue-and-white Ultima III: Exodus floppies."

And on page 81, he lists more games he grew up playing: "Silly 2-D games, little guys jumping around on platforms — Sammy Lightfoot, Hard Hat Mack, cheap Mario Bros. rip-offs. Adventures — Escape from Rungistan, Mystery Mansion.

I've not yet finished You, but I'm sure there will be even more references to growing up digital. So far, I find myself agreeing with one review: "You is a brilliantly written piece of fiction from author Austin Grossman. If you enjoy video games, fantasy, science-fiction — grew up in the 70s, owned an Apple II and spent many nights lit by the glow of a monitor screen — if you don't know who you are or what you want to be, You is a book you can’t miss."

Since none of these books are about the Apple II, it makes it all the more fun to unexpectedly encounter our old friend in these new contexts.

What book would you write to feature the Apple II?

UPDATE (May 15, 2014): DOS is good enough for George R. R. Martin!

Steve Wozniak delivers an iMac

April 21st, 2014 12:37 PM
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Steve Wozniak is a man of the people. Whereas many celebrities elevate themselves above the consumers upon which they built their empires — or, unsure how to handle their unexpected fame, become recluses — Woz has never shied from his fans and friends. Whether it's insisting he pay to attend KansasFest 2013, or waiting in line with everyone else for the new iPhone, he's the most down-to-earth living legend you could ever meet.

A good example of Woz's nature can be seen in a video recorded a few years ago but published just recently. Emma, an Australian pre-teen whose parents were buying her a new iMac, was astonished to find the Apple representative who made the home delivery was none other than Steve Wozniak himself! Despite being younger than the Apple II, Emma had the good sense to recognize whose presence she was in, yet the wherewithal to not completely freak out.

I don't know how her father arranged this delivery, but he opens the video with the observation, "This is like having your lightbulbs delivered by Thomas Edison." It reminds me of something I believe Eric Shepherd said in 2003, when Woz was announced as the KansasFest keynote speaker: "It's like having Jesus Christ come to Easter dinner."

Who knows where Woz will pop up next?

(Hat tip to Jesus Diaz)