Without Me You're Nothing

September 17th, 2018 11:11 AM
Filed under History;
1 comment.

The spice must flow… as must the electrons. After Frank Herbert wrote the seminal science-fiction novel Dune in 1965, he shifted his sights from the far future to the near future, with the goal of demystifying a new technological arrival: the personal computer. The non-fiction result was Without Me You're Nothing: The Essential Guide to Home Computers.

Written by Herbert with assistance from Max Barnard, "a computer professional who handles both machines and programming and who designed Herbert's own home system", the book is a platform-agnostic guide to the basic functions of computer hardware, software, and programming. For example, the book breaks down the foreign vocabulary of information technology into more familiar concepts. Terms such as "input", "output", "CPU", and "memory" are instead referred to as "information", "action", "switching", and "storage", respectively. "Use the funny words if you must," says Herbert.

Without Me You're Nothing (is that Herbert talking to the computer — or to the readers?) was published in 1980 in hardcover (ISBN 0671412876) and a year later in paperback (ISBN 0671439642), both of which are readily available from libraries, Amazon.com, and eBay. Another paperback edition was released under the name The Home Computer Handbook in 1981 (ISBN 057503050X) and 1985 (ISBN 0450056317). These computer books form two of the six non-fiction books Herbert wrote in his lifetime.

Despite the multiple editions, I had never heard of this book until a friend introduced me to it. I was astonished that a science fiction author would branch out to something so practical and no-nonsense. William Touponce, author of the 1988 book Frank Herbert, made the connection:

[Herbert's] dominant intellectual impulse was not to mystify or set himself up as a prophet, but the opposite – to turn what powers of analysis he had (and they were considerable) over to his audience. And this impulse is as manifest in Dune… as it is in his computer book, Without Me You're Nothing.

Being nonspecific about what computers the reader uses, the book makes little to no reference about the Apple II specifically. The exception is a black-and-white photo of the Apple II opening Chapter 3: Meet Your New Machine — followed immediately by a photo of the Atari 400.

Of additional historical reference value are Appendix D, which includes the names and mailing addresses of the era's computer magazines (Byte in Peterborough, NH; Digital Design in Brookline, MA; ROM of Hampton, CT); and Appendix E: Microcomputer Accessories and Manufacturers, listing everything from Apple (770 Welch Road in Palo Alto) to Data General Corp (Southborough, MA) to Radio Shack (Fort Worth, TX).

I haven't read the book in-depth — to be honest, I wasn't a big fan of Dune — but it's nonetheless a fascinating artifact of how early computers were perceived and deciphered by early users, grounding even someone accustomed to looking among the stars.

Sophistication & Simplicity shipping

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

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.

A new wave of Apple II books

November 11th, 2013 11:21 AM
Filed under Musings;
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Self-publishing has paved the way for scores of books about computer history and retrocomputing to be published. Niche markets can now economically demand a small printing of a book, giving authors with stories to tell a means to reach their audience. Juiced.GS has been reviewing many of these books as part of its "Cover ][ Cover" series, but new books are hitting the shelves faster than we can read them, as evidenced by the pending release of Dr. Steve Weyhrich's Sophistication & Simplicity.

It therefore seemed a good time to compile a list of all the books that have been released in the past decade or so that would appeal to the Apple II user. Andy Molloy already has an exhaustive list of vintage Apple II books, so with his permission and with contributions from Bill Loguidice and Mike Maginnis, I've compiled this spreadsheet of recent books:

Anyone can edit or copy the information in this Google Drive spreadsheet, should they choose to adapt it its scope. For example, this revision doesn't focus on books about the history of Apple Computer Inc. or its most famous founder, Steve Jobs. It tries to list all books whether they be print, digital, or audio; you may wish to narrow the list to just one medium.

Regardless, I hope this compilation is a useful starting point for anyone looking to expand their Apple II library or provide such a resource to our fellow retrocomputing enthusiasts.

Historically rebrewed

July 14th, 2011 12:59 PM
Filed under Happenings;
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Many computing publications have risen and fell with the computers they covered, their shining moments squelched and historical literature lost. But every now and then, one gets a second chance at live. This week, it's Historically Brewed, published 1993–1997 by David Greelish, host of the Retro Computing Roundtable podcast.

David's goal is ambitious: he wants to take the nine roughly annual issues that were published in HB's lifetime and reproduce them not in their original format, but as a paperback book. The final product, including David's computer-related autobiography, will be 195 pages, with "a detailed listing of contents [coming] soon.&quot.

It's an uncommon approach to revisiting a defunct hardcopy publication. The more popular alternative has been to scan or otherwise recreate the original issues digitally, as Mike Maginnis has done with Computist, Mike Harvey with his Nibble CD-ROMs, and, more recently, Dale Goodfellow and Simon Williams with 300 Baud. But I can empathize with David's love for print, seeing as how it's the same motivation that has kept Juiced.GS from going all-digital.

To accomplish his goal, David is using Kickstarter, a crowdsourcing alternative to fundraising that has been successfully used by other retrocomputing enthusiasts, such as Jason Scott and 8 Bit Weapon. David's fundraising page features a video that showcases some of the issues, where you can see some familiar bylines, such as Steve Weyhrich.

The self-published book will have an ISBN, meaning it will be obtainable (if not necessarily stocked) by major retailers such as Barnes & Noble. However, some distribution issues remain to be resolved, so the best way to guarantee your copy is by buying it directly from the publisher, done by pledging $25 or more. For $100, you'll even get a page dedicated to you in the book!

After just a few days, David has already reached more than half of his modest goal of $1,200. Pledges will continue to be accepted until August 15, meaning you can preorder the book even after the minimum fundraising goal is met.