An Apple in Christmas Vacation

January 9th, 2017 8:54 PM
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This holiday season, I revived a long-dormant tradition of watching one of my favorite Christmas movies: National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. There are at least six movies in this franchise, but I've seen only Christmas and Las Vegas, with Christmas being my favorite by far.

Even though I haven't seen the original film in the series, that being 1983's Vacation, I'm aware that it featured a computer contemporary to that era: the Apple II. Clark Griswold used the household computer to plot the family's trip to Wally World, establishing a route only slightly less harrowing than the Oregon Trail:

No classic computer was featured so prominently in the succeeding Vacation films — but, despite having seen Christmas Vacation dozens of times, it was nonetheless hiding an Easter egg I'd never discovered.

One of the highlights of the film comes near the end, when Clark Griswold finally loses his cool and flips out, unleashing a torrent of epithets at his boss:

But, hey — what's that in the background?

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

Enhance!

Apple Macintosh Plus

Why, it appears that, by 1989, the Griswold family had upgraded to an Apple Macintosh Plus! Having not been a Mac owner before 1997, I didn't recognize this model, but the reliable website Starring the Computer had the details. This must be the computer that many of my friends reference as their "first Apple II — you know, the one built into the monitor." (sigh)

I would've preferred to see that Clark had upgraded to an Apple IIGS… but still, knowing that he at least stuck with the Apple brand makes me appreciate one of my favorite films just a little bit more.

(Thanks to NMRJess's eagle eyes for spotting this!)

Erasing the Apple II

December 14th, 2015 11:31 AM
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We all know the history of Apple Computer Inc. (now Apple Inc.), and how its first products were the Apple-1 and Apple II, designed primarily by Steve Wozniak. The Apple II was the company's cash cow up to and well after the launch of the Macintosh in 1984, as has been documented in interviews with John Sculley and represented in films such as Steve Jobs.

While Woz laid the foundation for Apple, it was Steve Jobs who built upon it; now, so many generations of products removed from the Apple II, it's easier to think of Apple as Jobs' company more than Woz's. And apparently, that perception is not only just fine by Apple — the company is actively encouraging it. Starting with the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) on June 8, 2015, all Apple press releases close with this tagline:

"Apple revolutionized personal technology with the introduction of the Macintosh in 1984."

That's a true statement, and from a marketing perspective, it's sensible to reference a product that's still on the market. But it also starts in the middle of the story, ignoring the genius of "the other Steve" and the products that launched an enterprise.

It's not news that Apple abandoned the Apple II — in fact, the last Apple press release to mention the Apple II at all was June 22, 2010. But for this new tagline to eliminate seven years of its history from press releases seems deceptive. Should Apple take a step back and publicly acknowledge its heritage?

(Hat tips to Sam Varghese and Darrick Deel)

Happy anniversary, Mac

January 27th, 2014 10:31 AM
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January 24, 2014, marked the thirtieth anniversary of the release of the Apple Macintosh. Although Apple had by that point already developed multiple platforms with varying degrees of compatibility — the Apple-1, Apple II, Apple III, and Lisa, to name a few — the Mac would prove to be the machine on which they'd focus their efforts long after all its in-house competitors were cancelled. It was not an immediate success: the Apple IIGS, released in 1986, was more popularly received than the Mac. And it wasn't until 1997 that I made the switch.

My family purchased an Apple IIe shortly after its release in 1983 and kept it until we moved in 1988, outfitting the new house with a IIGS. We added a second GS in 1993, when I launched a dial-up BBS. When I started college a few years later, I shuttered the BBS, left the Apple II at home (until recently), and purchased my first Mac, a PowerBook 1400cs. It was around that time that Bernie ][ the Rescue, one of the first Apple II emulators for Mac OS, added the ability to print from AppleWorks. I was insistent on using the Apple II environment, if not the hardware, for as much as my college work as possible. For all four years of my undergraduate studies, almost all my papers were written and printed in the original AppleWorks.

One year into college, I traded the 1400cs for a Wall Street, which Ryan Suenaga considered the perfect Mac with which to emulate the Apple II. It was one of the last models of laptop Mac to feature ADB and SCSI support, offering compatibility with a wide range of Apple II storage and input devices. I used this Mac for five years, until late 2003, when I bought a new laptop that came with Mac OS X. That computer's successor came in 2007, which was then replaced by Apple (under warranty) in 2009, which lasted until my 2013 Retina purchase.

Just as I wouldn't've been led to the Mac without the Apple II, others trod a similar path. Jeff Gamet, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at Denver Apple Pi and CoMUG meetings, wrote for The Mac Observer about his own inventory's evolution, and the excellent reasons it took him so long to come to the Mac:

In high school I got my first taste of Apple computers thanks to the Apple ][+ lab. My parents bought me a Franklin Ace 1000 my senior year, and that computer served me well through college. It was an Apple //e clone with 46KB RAM, upper and lower case text support, built-in 80-column text support, and a 5 1/4-inch floppy drive.

When I had the chance to really get to work on a 512K Mac, things changed and suddenly I could do so much more. And yet I still didn't buy one. Instead, I bought an Apple //GS because it came with a powerful 68C816 processor, color graphics, great sound, a graphical interface that looked just like the Mac (but color!), and — best of all — could run all of my Apple //e programs as well as GS-native titles. At the time it felt like I was getting so much more for my money compared to the Mac.

It's not just the users who the Apple II brought to the Mac; the latter platform simply would not have existed without the former. Ross Rubin writes for CNET not only about how the Mac experience has informed iOS, but also how the Apple II inspired the Mac, both in similarities and differences:

When Apple introduced the Mac 30 years ago, it was already a successful computer company with the Apple II, a product that would continue to be successful for years after the launch of Apple's new darling. If it had taken the approach Microsoft had with Windows 1.0, and later Windows 8 and Surface, it would have grafted a graphical interface onto the Apple II — something that actually eventually happened toward the line's decline with the Apple IIGS — and perhaps provided a more limited number of expansion slots.

Instead, the Mac was almost a complete break from Apple's first hit. It had an integrated monitor, eschewed color, said farewell to its ProDOS interface, and seemed to offer a keyboard only reluctantly, omitting cursor keys to push people toward the mouse.

Pessimist Steve Weyhrich predicts the computers may be more alike than different in their ultimate fate. Weyhrich takes exceptions with Jason Snell and Phil Schiller who extol "The Mac keeps going forever". The same was once said of the Apple II, which proved a promise Apple couldn't keep. Any number of scenarios could toll a similar death knell for the Mac: Apple goes bankrupt, the Mac is outmoded, or Apple's growing divide between programmers and users means that Mac OS X is supplanted by the more mobile and restricted iOS.

However we got here, and wherever we're going, I'm grateful for all the fruits produced from that initial union of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. On the occasion of this thirtieth anniversary, I offer the company a platform-agnostic wish: Apple Forever!

FS: One Mac Mini inside a Disk II floppy case

September 24th, 2012 1:45 PM
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You may not know Charles Mangin's name, but you know his work. Almost six years ago, he put a Mac G4 inside a Mac Plus. Two years later, he put a 2006-era Mac mini inside a Disk II floppy drive case. He's like a cat who just loves being inside things.

cat cpu DarkOne of Mangin's early failed hybrids.

Having recently completed his Kickstarter-funded PressurePen project, which brought a pressure-sensitive stylus to the iPad and other tablets, Mangin is now returning his attention to his retrocomputing hobby. He's privately shown me some ideas he's working on, and they have the potential to be killer. But instead of using Kickstarter to fund the development, Mangin is turning to eBay. Specifically, he is selling the aforementioned Mac mini.

Mac Mini II

But does it still make that grinding noise at boot-up?

The auction, which ends on Monday, October 1, 2012, does not yet have a taker on an opening bid of $500 or a Buy It Now price of a cool $1,000. Either one is a significant investment, and one I'll unfortunately have to pass on — but only because I'm waiting for Mangin's G4 IIc to go on sale.

G4 IIc system, completeMac OS X has never looked better.

Want to save a buck and try to create your own thing-inside-a-thing? Get more details on how to perform the Disk II hack from the RetroMacCast forum, the RetroMacCast podcast, or on Flickr — or follow John Bumstead's video tutorial.

Mac Mini in a Disk II video tutorial

March 28th, 2011 12:47 PM
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One of the first blog posts to Apple II Bits was old news even when it was published: a hardware hacker had gutted a Disk II drive and replaced its innards with a Mac mini. It was a creative marriage of new and old tech, reminiscent of the many unnatural monstrosities of Ben Heck.

More recently, John Bumstead has decided to make his own go at such a conversion. Due to not wanting to permanently damage his hardware, he aborted the process halfway through, but his video tour of the Disk II still provides some insight into how one would go about inserting a Mac mini inside this Apple II peripheral's case.

What other combinations of new tech with a retro look — or vice versa! — can you imagine?

Leaping into the Lion's den

October 25th, 2010 2:35 PM
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Those who learn history may help us avoid it, but sometimes, the details escape prediction. When I interviewed Jason Scott for Computerworld, I asked him about closed systems like Facebook and the iPad. His response:

People think Facebook is an unstoppable juggernaut … and we have to fight, because if we don't, it'll always be like this … It's really bad to flip out, as if this were life and death. We're doing the same thing with the iPad, all this crapola of closed system vs open system, with people rooting for companies like they're sports teams. At the same time there was the Altair and the Atari 800 and the Apple II, we still had the Atari 2600 and the NES — two completely closed systems that worked dependably. We lived with it, it was fine, and now they're gone and there are other things. So yeah, Facebook is pretty terrible with privacy, and I'm bothered by the number of people who happily defend ease over freedom, but Facebook won't survive more than another five years in their current form. You won't recognize them in five years, they'll be something completely different. They can't survive as they are. Look at MySpace or Friendster or Orkut. There's a lot of space in the ecosystem. I'm not too worried. We won't even be thinking about it by October.

If Scott was referring to Facebook, then he may've been right, as there hasn't been nearly as much discussion about the social network's privacy controls lately as there was in the spring. But if he meant the iPad, well — I guess he didn't see Lion coming.

Apple's next Macintosh operating system will feature an inbuilt App Store, similar to what iTunes already offers for iOS devices. Already, alarmists are asking: is this the end of the Mac as an open platform?

I don't believe it is, but Apple isn't alone in moving toward more closed architectures — almost everything today's consumer uses is meant to be used as its designer intended. This approach may be more elegant for the end user, but it's also more restrictive, prohibiting innovative workflows and custom solutions to individual problems. At KansasFest 2010, I moderated a panel on this very topic, after being inspired by an article Ivan Drucker wrote for Juiced.GS.

Closed systems aren't just frustrating for end users. Such proprietary natures discourage curiosity and learning — essential skills for any future programmer or artist, as recently noted by Wil Wheaton in a Geek a Week podcast interview (time indices 16:21–19:36). The former Star Trek star reminisced about fiddling with shortwave radios and how easy it was for kids to take things apart and learn how they worked. "It's a shame that so many things are so closed down and locked down these days," said Wheaton. "That kid that 25 years ago would be inspired by reverse-engineering a game on their Apple IIe is going to have a lot more difficult time doing the same thing today."

The emergent popularity of computer science has given many more students and at many more ages the opportunity to learn computer programming, but those formal structures are far different from the self-taught programmers of a previous generation who could LIST their favorite software, study it, and even modify it. Doing so on a modern Mac is already nearly impossible, and I don't see the Mac App Store worsening the situation. But it does suggest a continuing formalization of the relationship between vendor and user, and a further demarcation between user and programmer.

The year 2010 began with the unveiling of the Apple iPad and ended with the potential diminishment of the Mac as an open platform. Neither digital historian nor Starfleet ensign can see the future these announcements will usher.