Woz's modern optimization of the Apple II

November 17th, 2014 10:58 AM
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Filed under Hacks & mods, Steve Wozniak;
1 comment.

I've never been a hardware hacker, but I have enough programming experience to appreciate optimized code. I've written some programs that were serviceable but kludgy; had they been meant for widespread distribution and deployment, I would've taken more time to reduce the number of lines and variables, and hence, the execution time. It's one of the challenges I love most about the Apple II: doing as much as possible with as little as possible.

Nowhere is that principle more effectively demonstrated than in the designs of Steve Wozniak. Before he co-founded Apple, he took Atari's BREAKOUT coin-op and reduced the number of chips by fifty. The brain that mastered this design is still at work, as evidenced by a recent email exchange.

Apple-1 cloner and Vintage Computer Festival East alumnus Mike Willegal recently had some questions about the Apple-1 power supply — so he emailed Woz. Tacked onto the end of Woz's reply was this remark:

I awoke one night in Quito, Ecuador, this year and came up with a way to save a chip or two from the Apple II, and a trivial way to have the 2 grays of the Apple II be different (light gray and dark gray) but it's 38 years too late. It did give me a good smile, since I know how hard it is to improve on that design.

How much different a world would the Apple II community be, if this minor change had been made? Probably not very. But it's good to know that, while many of us are preoccupied grafting modern USB and Ethernet ports onto the Apple II, the original genius is still contemplating how he could've laid for us a stronger foundation.

(Hat tips to Luke Dormehl and Greg Kumparak)

Apple-1 sells for record-breaking $374K

June 18th, 2012 4:13 PM
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Filed under Mainstream coverage;
2 comments.

It started simply enough: three years ago, an Apple-1 was estimated to be worth around $15,000.

Shortly thereafter, an Apple-1 sold on eBay (auction #320451173813) for $50,000.

A year later, that same Apple-1 sold at Christie's of London for $213,000.

The latest Apple-1 to appear on the auction block, this one at Sotheby's in New York, had a more modest estimated value of $120,000 – $180,000. Yet it set a new record when it sold for $374,500.

Sotheby's Apple-1

And worth every penny!

Addressing that staggering price tag, Vintage Computer Festival East organizer Evan Koblentz made a brief appearance in this CNN.com story about the auction:

It's not surprising that mainstream media would attribute the auction's high fetching price to "the cult of Apple". But that inaccurately identifies a working Apple-1 as an illogical object of geek lust, instead of the rare and significant historical relic it is.

But even geeks sometimes buy into the hype. The CNN video recommends viewers hold onto their old iPod or first-generation iPad: "Some day, it might be a precious artifact." Although those devices were revolutionary (or at least evolutionary), they don't signify the humble beginnings of an empire like the Apple-1 does. More important, possibly no Apple product has ever been manufactured in as low a quantity as the Apple-1. As much as we may complain about the current going rates for an Apple II on eBay, the machine isn't exactly rare, despite the newest model being 19 years old. Given the proliferation of iOS devices, it is unlikely we will ever see them in the scarcity that now drives the Apple-1's auctions.

On the bright side, events such as this auction have the potential to bring attention to the value and significance of classic computing. Besides Koblentz, other familiar retrocomputing enthusiasts got some nice press as a result of this event: after appearing in my previous coverage of this topic, Mike Willegal was interviewed for the run-up to this auction.

(Hat tip to Christian)

Apple II users on Computerworld.com

July 25th, 2011 1:40 PM
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KansasFest 2011 is over — and thus begins my annual coverage of the event for Computerworld.com. Each year, I find a way to bring the Apple II to this enterprise IT site, giving both our retrocomputer a wider audience and Computerworld some diverse and fun content.

But the Apple II has been represented in many other articles during my four-plus years at Computerworld. Members of our community are IT professionals with staggering amounts of institutional knowledge, and as helpful as they are in-person at KansasFest, they have always been willing to be a resource during my research into related topics. I thought it'd be fun to index who has appeared as a source, or who has provided content, to Computerworld.com:

I look forward to other opportunities to put Apple II users' names in lights!

Sold at Christie's: Apple-1 #82 for $213K

November 25th, 2010 11:00 AM
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Last week, I belatedly reported that Christie's auction house would be selling an Apple-1 on Nov. 23. On that date, by the time I remembered what day it was, the lot had already sold and Christie's had closed. I was at work at Computerworld and mentioned the occasion to the news chief, who suggested I write about it, as the reporter responsible for Computerworld's auction's pre-event coverage was on holiday. I was already planning on blogging about it for this site but didn't have any details about where the computer had gone, so I questioned the potential for my article to be newsworthy.

But thanks to a blog comment by Eric Rucker, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at KansasFest 2010, I was able to take the story in the opposite direction by examining where this particular Apple-1 had come from. A quick trip to IRC, and I had the retrocomputing expert on the line, helping me get my facts straight.

The resulting article, which got some love on Google News, is now posted on Computerworld.com:

Christie's auction house in London today sold an Apple-1 computer for £133,250, or $213,600.

The lot, which went up for auction at 9:30 a.m. ET today, had an estimated value of between $160,300 and $240,450.

Two hundred Apple-1 computers are estimated to have been created and sold for $666.66 before Apple Computer Inc. was founded in 1977. Once the Apple II, the company's first official product, was released, many of the Apple-1 models were reclaimed as trade-ins. Only about 50 are still known to exist, many of them indexed by hardware developer Mike Willegal.

Read the rest of this story at Computerworld.com »