A timeline of monitors and displays

April 10th, 2017 11:18 AM
by
Filed under Hacks & mods;
leave a comment.

There are as many ways to connect an Apple II to a display as there have been display types across the decades. Each machine had its own protocols, standards, and benefits. Although the Apple II was designed for color — hence the six-color Apple logo — most people remember a monochromatic experience, due to the black-and-green monitors to which many early computers were connected. The first laptop Macintosh I ever used had a black-and-white display, which was great for playing Crystal Quest but not much else.

A new interactive infographic, "The Evolution of Computer Screens", attempts to chronicle the different ways computers have visually presented data to us over the eras, inviting us: "Take a trip through time and experience the most noteworthy achievements in computer screens, from little known discoveries way back in 1968, to the heated battles between Apple and PC and beyond."

Naturally, such a timeline would be remiss to overlook the Apple II:

Monitor timeline

There are a couple problems with this artistic rendition, though. First, that looks like a mockup, not an actual screenshot, of VisiCalc — the font just seems odd to me. Second, the accompanying text offers the prompt A>dir, which would never be valid on an Apple II unless it had a PC Transporter running MS-DOS, or a Microsoft Z-80 SoftCard running CP/M — a more representative prompt would've been ProDOS or DOS 3.3's native ]CATALOG. Third, the text doesn't actually say anything about the monitor or the display — there's no explanation justifying the Apple II's inclusion on this timeline.

This timeline is produced by AT&T with no individual bylines attached to it. I don't believe corporate sponsorship of a product is inherently suspicious, but not knowing the pedigree of the creators leaves me wondering what their familiarity with or interest in the topic was.

Fortunately, the timeline includes citations to resources referenced during their research. One such link is to Benj Edwards' 2010 feature for PCWorld, "A Brief History of Computer Displays". As a slideshow, it may lack the pizazz of the above timeline, but Edwards' content is, as always, top-notch. Spanning 1951–2010, the twenty slides cover a range of technologies and applications, including both the Apple-1 and Apple II, with technical explanations for what made each innovation a milestone.

Any acknowledgement of the Apple II in mainstream media is one I appreciate; early Apple's flagship product is otherwise too often overlooked. But clarity of audience, intention, and detail do the Apple II justice and ensure that the reference will be understood and appreciated by those familiar with the topic.

(Thanks to Paul Hagstrom for added details.)

Cliff Spohn's Art of Apple

April 3rd, 2017 9:47 AM
by
Filed under Musings;
1 comment.

Like many of my generation, I got my start in gaming on an Atari console. The Atari 2600 was home to countless classic games, from Adventure to Indiana Jones to the notorious E.T. Whereas my Apple II had games that came on unremarkably labeled floppy disks, Atari's games sported works of art on their boxes and labels, evoking worlds of excitement and intrigue far beyond the console's ability to render.

The history, process, and impact of this art is detailed in a new book, The Art of Atari, released in October 2016. This hardcover coffee-table book features gorgeous blow-ups of published Atari creations, as well as concept art and early drafts. Many of the original artists were interviewed about their inspirations and workflows.

One such artist is Cliff Spohn, who gets a two-page profile on pages 70–71. Accompanying this spread is a piece of art that is decidedly un-Atari. Its caption: "Spohn's illustration for an early Apple Computer manual. His artwork was personally commissioned by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs."

I'm unsure where this art would've originally been published; the only references to it that I can find on Google refer back to this very book. According to Spohn's website, he "also did Apple's first one or two instruction booklet covers", but I don't recall having seen this artwork before, either.

UPDATE: Will Scullin cites this art as appearing on Jef Raskin's Apple II BASIC Programming Manual, and Sean McNamara has proof:

Nonetheless, Spohn's legacy could be felt even in recent years of Apple media. Spohn writes that "demand for my kind of illustration was and is slowly disappearing". But Apple II enthusiasts may remember that the style of Spohn and his contemporaries inspired the art for the Jason Scott documentary GET LAMP, as illustrated by Lukas Ketner.

GET LAMP art by Lukas Ketner

GET LAMP art by Lukas Ketner

Atari was the proving ground for many early computer pioneers, including Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Let's remember the geniuses like Cliff Spohn that made them look good, too.

(Hat tip to Susan Arendt)

Connecting to an Apple Cinema Display

March 27th, 2017 10:07 AM
by
Filed under Hacks & mods;
1 comment.

It sometimes feels like display technology has outpaced the Apple II's evolution: connecting to a modern display, such as via VGA, often requires expansion cards that are rare or still in development. I'm hopeful a future Juiced.GS article will outline all the possibilities for bridging these technologies.

In the meantime, Matthew Pearce has demonstrated how to connect the Apple II to a relatively modern and high-quality monitor: the Apple Cinema Display.

This setup has its own hardware requirements and challenges: used in this video are a Portta AV/CVBS RCA composite-to-HDMI mini-converter ($18.99), a Kanex XD HDMI-to-Mini-Displayport converter ($71.49) — and, of course, an Apple Cinema Display, which was discontinued six years ago, in 2011. With Matt's video having been produced in 2015, that means he was showing us how to connect two equally unsupported Apple products.

It's not a perfect solution, and one that we saw Matt demo in 8-bit mode only with Oregon Trail; Herbert Fung warns it won't look great with the 640 x 200 mode of the Apple IIGS. But as a proof of concept, it's a pretty cool configuration — and one that could have applications for other HDMI or MiniDP devices. For lack of turnkey alternatives, this hardware combination is a good one to add to your bag of tricks.

For more from Matt, check out his factual overview video of the Apple II.

(Hat tip to Buster Hein)

Hard Hat Mack in Taiwan

March 20th, 2017 11:22 AM
by
Filed under Game trail, Mainstream coverage;
leave a comment.

Although the Apple II was invented and was popular in the United States, it's fun to see all the other places our favorite retrocomputer has popped up. We know the Apple II community has active contingents in Australia and France, but we've also seen the Apple II in more far-flung locations such as from Russia to Korea.

Thanks to a recent YouTube video, I've now seen the Apple II somewhere I hadn't before: Taiwan. It was the focus of a short segment on a television show in which the host introduced several girls to the 1983 game Hard Hat Mack on an Apple IIc:

I don't have many details about the show seen here: the Chinese caption translates only to "old game era Apple II". But I wonder what the standard format of the show is, that the host didn't seem to let his audience get their hands on the game.

I can commiserate, though: I too have never gotten my hands on Hard Hat Mack. As a young gamer, my attention was evenly divided between consoles and computers, which may've caused me to miss several classic computer games: not only Hard Hat Mack, but Tass Times in Tone Town, King's Quest, Ultima, and others. It looks like the kind of game I would enjoy, since Donkey Kong always earns my quarter on any visit to Funspot. As one of the first games (if not the first) to be published by Electronic Arts, Hard Hat Mack is a piece of history deserving an experience.

I don't have much excuse now, though, since Hard Hat Mack can be played online:

There's no need to go on a Taiwanese talk show to discover the classics — Hard Hat Mack is alive and well!

(Hat tip to Luke Hsu via Jorma Honkanen)

Computer Show returns, courtesy HP

March 13th, 2017 9:48 AM
by
Filed under Mainstream coverage;
leave a comment.

In October 2015, two episodes of the online talk show Computer Show debuted. A send-up of the classic 1980s show Computer Chronicle, this parody featured a socially awkward host with all the technological know-how of someone from thirty years ago interviewing guests from the modern computer industry. The interaction between the host and the guests was so awkward as to be delightfully painful to watch.

After a prolonged intermission, Computer Show is back with a new six-minute episode:

As always, the show is hilarious. Rob Baedeker as Gary Fabert is a brilliant combination of huge ego and low self-esteem, struggling with his bafflement at modern technology. In what I assume are some unscripted bits, the guests seem equally stunned at the treatment they're receiving from the host.

Co-starring in this episode is the HP PageWide printer in an obvious demonstration of product placement. But at least they're honest about the reason why: HP sponsored this episode of the show. That's why the video is hosted on HP's YouTube channel, and not Computer Show's own dedicated channel, as the first two episodes were.

What a brilliant form of marketing — one that gives us Computer Show fans something we want in a way that doesn't compromise the show's format or integrity. Here's hoping more companies take advantage of this opportunity. How about our hosts be introduced to a Raspberry Pi or CFFA3000 next?

(Hat tip to T.L. Stanley via Chris Harshman)

Apple II on Retronauts podcast

March 6th, 2017 12:29 PM
by
Filed under Mainstream coverage;
1 comment.

There are a lot of great podcasts about the Apple II where you can get a weekly, biweekly, or monthly fix of classic computing news and camaraderie. But there are many other shows that cover retrocomputing more broadly, where the Apple II is only an occasional guest.

Such is the case with episode #87 of Retronauts. This weekly show focuses on console and handheld platforms, such as Nintendo and Game Boy, and their games, such as Mario and Castlevania. But this past week, they invited retrocomputing scribe Benj Edwards to review the milestones of the Apple II's gaming history.

Familiar titles such as Choplifter and Castle Wolfenstein got plenty of mentions, but what most caught my attention was the glowing praise for Temple of Apshai. The Retronauts crew elevated this game to the same pantheon shared by ADVENT and Akalabeth — yet I'd never heard of it. The first a trilogy that was later released as part of the Dunjonquest bundle, Temple of Apshai was awarded "Best Computer Game of 1980", being notable for its graphics and complexity upon its original release in August 1979.

I can't find any YouTube footage of the Apple II version of Temple of Apshai, but it is playable on the Internet Archive.

The rest of the podcast serves as an introduction to the Apple II for listeners who aren't accustomed to hearing about it in their other podcasts. As such, it doesn't cover a lot of ground that readers of this blog would consider new. But it is a fun listen and an opportunity to hear the voices of writers whose bylines you may recognize.

As a bonus, if you choose to support Retronauts on Patreon for at least $3/month, you'll get an exclusive Apple II-themed wallpaper.

Thanks for covering the Apple II, Retronauts! I hope to hear more topics and guests from our community in future episodes.

Full disclosure: I support Benj Edwards on Patreon.