Debbie Reynolds' Apple II for auction

October 2nd, 2017 10:21 AM
by
Filed under Mainstream coverage;
leave a comment.

Like the rest of the world, I was shocked when Carrie Fisher — Princess Leia, General Organa — died suddenly this past December. As much as the world loved her, no one loved her more than her mother, Debbie Reynolds, who died of a broken heart the next day. This double loss of celebrities, feminists, and icons who inspired generations was a terrible end to a terrible year.

We've not fully closed the chapter on their passing, as only now, nine months later, will their estates be auctioned off. The items that were not specifically outlined in their wills or which were not wanted by their beneficiaries will be sold by Profiles in Auction this weekend, October 7–9, 2017. On the first day of the auction is an item of interest to readers of this blog: Debbie Reynolds' Apple II.

481. One of the first Apple II computers – serial # A2S1-0082. First generation Apple II A2S1-0082, one of the first 100 case-designed computers built by the newly formed Apple Computer, Inc. and the model widely credited with launching the home computer market, with millions sold well into the 1980s (not to be confused with the Apple II Plus, the next generation Apple). [Reynolds' son] Todd Fisher took delivery of this computer directly from Steve Jobs in Los Altos. This computer faithfully served as an inventory database with Debbie Reynolds digitally archived her collection. It's been souped-up from the standard 8K all they [sic] way to 24K ram, many of the ROM chips have Apple logo stickers copyright 1978, a built-in speaker, cassette interface audio jacks, and video out on the rear panel. The power supply was replaced due to a faulty first run under warranty. The case exhibits soiling and slight discoloration (to be expected from so many years of use). Electronics untested. This very early Apple II represents a milestone in computing history that launched uninterrupted Apple brand loyalty from Debbie and her organization. $1,000 – $2,000

Debbie Reynolds is not a celebrity whom I would expect to have used an Apple II or to have kept it all these years. It's unknown how recently it was used, or what about it may be unique to its previous owner. Unlike Apple-1 auctions that seem to occur twice annually, this estate sale is perhaps the most unusual and unexpected Apple II auction since the TV show Lost's Apple II Plus.

Interested parties who wish to bid online may do so immediately at Invaluable.com.

Debbie Reynolds' Apple II

You were meant for me.

If I had more disposable income, I would certainly count myself among the bidders.

(Hat tip to Charles Mangin)

Minecraft Oregon Trail

September 25th, 2017 12:26 PM
by
Filed under Game trail;
leave a comment.

Steve Weyhrich has gone whole-hog on Minecraft, having used the construction game to develop multiple Apple II models. Now Microsoft, the owners of Minecraft, are getting in on the retro action by infusing their virtual world with the most emblematic of Apple II software: Oregon Trail.

Now available is an Oregon Trail world. Just download the free package, install it in Minecraft Education Edition, and you'll find yourself in the town of Independence, Missouri, deciding whether to be a farmer, banker, or carpenter — just like on the Apple II.

Said Caroline Fraser, senior vice president of Oregon Trail publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: "We are delighted to partner with Minecraft Education, giving students a new way to experience one of the most popular educational games of all time, The Oregon Trail. Through the unique magic of Minecraft, students will be drawn to discover the wonders and challenges that pioneers encountered on this famous journey."

However, this version of the Apple II classic comes saddled with limitations. First, the downloaded world does not change Minecraft's rules of game mechanics; it does not introduce new features. While there are signposts along the journey asking players how they want to ford the river, for example, this is more an opportunity for classroom discussion than it is part of an interactive branching narrative; the game doesn't require any action in response to these billboards.

Also, the world works exclusively in the educational version of Minecraft, which was released in 2016 to schools and educators. The average consumer will not have access to this version of the game, nor will the Oregon Trail world work in any other version of Minecraft.

What happens if you try installing the world in a non-educational edition of Minecraft? In an email, the Apple II community's resident Minecraft expert, Steve Weyhrich, suggests there are further differences under the hood:

The original Minecraft, written in Java, is what runs on Mac and Windows, and has it's own data structure and format. Microsoft is now calling this "Minecraft: Java Edition". The newer Minecraft, now just called "Minecraft", is written in some version of C, and they are trying to make all of the various platforms (pocket edition, Windows 10 edition, etc) use the same world structure… That Oregon Trail world in that download you linked does not work on the Java edition.

It's a rare case of the Apple II version actually seeming more accessible and educational by comparison!

(Hat tip to Stephen Noonoo)

Trello for the Apple II

September 18th, 2017 10:08 AM
by
Filed under Mainstream coverage;
leave a comment.

When I started at my current day job two years ago, I asked my Apple II friends for some good team-based project management tools. My quest was made more difficult by me not knowing what I was looking for, as I'd never used any such software.

Still, even though Trello came highly recommended, I found it inscrutable: it seemed to be just a series of lists in which items could be dragged from one column to another. How was this not simply a cloud-based, collaborative spreadsheet — like Google Sheets? I didn't understand how to make it work for me and my team.

Maybe I should given Trello another try, as it's recently proven its heart is in the right place. Their latest commercial is bookended with homages to our favorite classic computer:

Whenever I see the Apple II appear in unexpected places, I wonder how it got there. Who on the Trello team decided that a callback to a 39-year-old Apple computer was the proper frame for their latest advertisement? Where did they get the hardware used in the video? And what's going to become of it?

It may not be a story for the next issue of Juiced.GS… but it's one that puts a smile on my face.

(Hat tip to Eric Shepherd)

Developing Retro Roundup

September 11th, 2017 12:11 PM
by
Filed under Musings;
1 comment.

Last week, I officially launched Retro Roundup, a curated RSS aggregator of retrocomputing news.
Retro Roundup banner
Or rather, re-launched: Retro Roundup was founded in 2005 by Kevin Savetz, who approached me this past February about taking over the site. While keeping the same purpose and logo, I rebuilt the site in WordPress, adding taxonomies, email subscriptions, and more. After several months in development, it was finally ready to demo during the KansasFest 2017 lightning talks.

Those talks were two months ago, yet the press release announcing Retro Roundup was published just last week. What took so long?

The problem was that Retro Roundup didn't have a defined end state. Unlike Juiced.GS, which has concrete deadlines resulting in a finished quarterly product, Retro Roundup will never stop growing. The more RSS feeds I add to it, the more content it will publish. How many feeds and how much content are enough to launch a website?

I was reminded of the development of Duke Nukem Forever, a video game that took 15 years to publish. The developers didn't have a roadmap for what the game would look like when it was done; as a result, they kept adding new levels and features and scrapping old ones to be current with the latest technology, which was advancing apace with the game. But every product is outdated by the time it launches — at some point, you just have to declare that it's met its goal and release it.

In my case, I thought I was done Retro Roundup in April — until I showed it to my librarian friend, Michele DeFilippo. She suggested I add "facet searches", which was not a term I'd ever heard, though I was familiar with the functionality: almost every e-commerce website offers parameters and filters to narrow search results. Adding this feature to Retro Roundup made the site infinitely more useful and usable.

Then I thought I was done — until a month later, when I attended WordCamp Portland, and met Scott Tirrell, a fan of the Retro Computing Roundtable podcast, on which I'm an occasional guest. I showed him the site, and he enthusiastically offered many more suggestions — from adding a search box to including YouTube channels among the site's feeds.

With such great feedback, I could've kept working on Retro Roundup indefinitely. What pushed me to finally release the site was Kevin plugging it on episode #45 of the ANTIC podcast (38:51–41:53). Listeners of that podcast immediately flocked to Retro Roundup and began submitting RSS feeds. Even before I knew how they'd discovered the site, I realized that I couldn't keep this cat in the bag any longer. So I spent a day off from work adding dozens more feeds to the site, many of which I'd solicited months ago on Facebook, before deciding I'd met some arbitrary, minimum quantity of content.

Despite this milestone, there are still more feeds and features to add. Mark Lemmert of 6502 Workshop was the first to use the "submit an advertisement" form, which I'd somehow overlooked in my testing. I was appalled by the results; an hour of my Friday night was spent bringing it up to spec. And a developer who contributed essential functionality to the a2.click tool is even now working on code that will make Retro Roundup even more usable.

Before last week, I had only two retrocomputing websites: Apple II Bits and Juiced.GS. I hope the former entertains its readers, but it's primarily a personal outlet; while the latter is in support of an offline product. Retro Roundup is the first retrocomputing website I've built that I would call a resource for the community. I've learned scads about WordPress and project management during its development. I hope it is found equally rewarding for its users, who will discover new sources for retrocomputing content, and for publishers, who will see new visitors being sent to their site from Retro Roundup.

Bento Lab vs. the Apple II

September 4th, 2017 10:01 AM
by
Filed under Mainstream coverage;
leave a comment.

Bento Lab, a portable DNA analysis kit that was funded on Kickstarter in 2015 and 2016, was recently profiled in The Boston Globe. At a tenth the cost of a traditional lab setup, Bento Lab kits "represent a cracking open of a once-cloistered field of knowledge" and a democratization of the life sciences. "What can be achieved with Bento Lab is largely limited by the user’s imagination and ability," writes reporter Linda Rodriguez McRobbie.

Like most readers of this blog, my scientific interests stray more toward the technological than the organic. But the article bridges that gap with this apt metaphor:

[Harvard University genetic biologist George] Church described Bento Lab as "an Apple II moment." The Apple II, among the first personal computers made for the masses, changed computing in ways that are so fundamental that we can hardly appreciate them. "There were computers before the Apple I or the Apple II, cheap computers, but they were really geeky, they had wires hanging out of them. They didn’t have the right form factor or ease of use," he explained. "This, I think, is that moment."

I'm reminded of seven years ago, when World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov declared the Apple II as "the last technology that could be thought of as revolutionary". Whether it's biology, artificial intelligence, or personal computing, the Apple II continues to be an era-defining invention, demarcating a line in history before or after which everything came.

While its place in history is unquestionable, the Apple II shouldn't be unique in being considered a technological revolution. There other innovations that have done as much, if not more, than the Apple II to increase access and affordability to technology. Bicycles greatly expanded access to resources and job opportunities and continue to do so even today in third-world countries. (Even Steve Jobs called the computer "a bicycle for the mind") Radio and the telephone allowed the verbal exchange of ideas across great distances. Airplanes opened up the world to travel and tourism, allowing unprecedented access to new peoples, cultures, and environments. (And yes, while air travel is expensive, it's no more so than the Apple II was when it was first released.) The World Wide Web democratized publishing, giving voice to everyone's opinions and expertise. I'm not talking life-saving technologies, but life-changing. Some of these creations came before the Apple II; others came after, built on its foundation. Yet would we feel silly comparing the Bento Lab to the World Wide Web, in that one is a tangible product and the other is not?

That metaphor may be flawed, but I'm emboldened to make it by the comparison of the Apple II to a portable DNA kit. The Apple II started as an esoteric hobby and went on to revolutionize multiple industries. The Bento Lab, with its much more specialized function, will likely be praised within certain circles but remain unheard-of otherwise. But a more apt comparison might be difficult to draw, as any product similar to the Bento Lab has, by its nature, not drawn attention outside its target audience — unlike the Apple II.

I'm always intrigued by the contexts in which the Apple II turns up. When I first read about the Bento Lab, I thought of Amazon.com and e-books, which made agents and editors into optional gatekeepers that anyone could bypass. Amazon didn't invent e-books any more than Apple invented computers, but both made these platforms more affordable and accessible. In that sense, Bento Lab has succeeded — but it's no more an Apple II than it is an airplane or the World Wide Web.

The first game I ever played

August 28th, 2017 10:23 AM
by
Filed under Game trail;
8 comments.

While VisiCalc and AppleWorks may've been system-sellers that established the Apple II in the business marketplace, they're not the programs we have fondest memories of. What really got us hooked on these machines and which built communities, demo parties, and more, were the games.

Tapping that trove of memories, the staff of PC Gamer recently asked each other: "What was the first PC game you played?" The answers are fun and diverse: Full Throttle, Rogue, Lemmings, X-Wings, and more, on such systems as the Atari ST, Magnavox Odyssey II, and Windows 95. Only one Apple II game made the list, that being Choplifter.

I don't remember the first Apple II game I ever played. There were so many in that era: not only Choplifter, but also Conan, Castle Wolfenstein, Microzine, Spy's Demise, and many others.

But the game I wrote about in a similar fashion to PC Gamer was Lode Runner. In 2008, when I was still on staff at Computerworld magazine, my fellow editors and I were asked the question: "What was the first personal computer you ever owned?" I answered:

1983: Growing up Apple

I don't remember ever not having the Apple IIe that I grew up with; it must've been delivered about the same time I was.

My family upgraded to an Apple IIgs in 1988. We still have that machine, as well as another IIgs that ran a dial-up BBS for four years.

Over the years, we tricked it out with the usual upgrades: SCSI card, sound card, handheld scanner, modem, joystick, 4MB of RAM. An accelerator boosted the CPU to 10 MHz, which may not sound like much, but it was quadruple the stock speed — making Lode Runner quite a challenge to play. (The enemies moved four times faster; my brain and reactions didn't.)

The original IIgs machine is still at my father's house, where he occasionally depends on it for the family business accounting. Though my current computer is a MacBook Pro, it has all the Apple II programs and files I accumulated over the years. I access them with the Sweet16 emulator, which turns my Macintosh into an Apple II laptop.

Emulating has allowed me to have used the same word-processing software, AppleWorks Classic, for the past 20 years, for everything from a 4th grade science paper on the whooping crane to my 100-page college thesis to all my Computerworld articles. All this history fills up only 3MB of my hard drive. Most recently, I created a quick-and-dirty Apple II program to convert 700 blog posts for importing into WordPress — a huge timesaver over doing it manually.

I just wrote a story about Dan Budiac, a guy who paid $2,600 on eBay to get back an old Apple IIc. Why not do what I did and just never stop using it in the first place?

These are just a few of my memories of the Apple II. What about you — what was your first game? Do you even remember?