Computer Show returns, courtesy HP

March 13th, 2017 9:48 AM
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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)

Ode to the ImageWriter & The Print Shop

June 13th, 2016 12:09 PM
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Someone at Motherboard loves the Apple II. Last summer, writer Jason Koebler attended KansasFest, resulting in a fantastic article and podcast.

Now Ernie Smith has taken a deep dive into dot-matrix printers and The Print Shop:

… in its original form, [The Print Shop] was an '80s-tastic program that redefined the parameters of print design into something that could literally be called child's play. Wanna make a greeting card? Follow these instructions, then print on your dot-matrix printer. Need a sign for your lemonade stand? No problem—you can even add a picture of the Easter Bunny on that sign, if you want. It was a bold redefinition of something that once required a whole boatload of specialized equipment.

The article is more about the business and legal ramifications of the article without capturing the user experience — which I'm happy to provide, as the Print Shop was a staple of my household. My three brothers and I used for everything from school essay cover sheets to birthday cards to banners. I remember campaigning for the elected position of seventh grade class treasurer using signs made in The Print Shop; when I defeated the most popular kid in the class in the election, he said it was because I did a better job advertising myself.

The vehicle by which The Print Shop outputted these creations was my family's ImageWriter II printer, complete with ink ribbons and pin-feed paper. Tearing the edges off the paper into long strips was practically an arts-and-crafts exercise, as they inevitably became loops, braids, and other figures.

But the time spent printing would occupy the computer, leaving it unavailable for other tasks. I remember when I discovered Quality Computers sold a 32K print buffer hardware accessory, I thought it was a ridiculous expense just to get back a few minutes of computer time. But as I discovered more that my Apple II could do and wanted to make the most of that time, it wasn't long before I decided the buffer was a worthwhile investment. Its installation coincided with my father having some computer issues, and conflating correlation with causation, he demanded I remove the buffer. I never did, and his unrelated issues eventually resolved themselves.

Printing

And let us note the role that desktop publishing (DTP) played in the development of Juiced.GS. Although the magazine was designed not in The Print Shop but in GraphicWriter III, an Apple IIGS program, early issues featured DTP heavily. Across six years and eleven issues, the late Dave Bennett penned a series creatively entitled "Desktop Publishing". And the final issue of Juiced.GS's first volume included M.H. "Buzz" Bester's hardware tutorial on ImageWriter maintenance.

My thanks to Smith for taking a moment not only to investigate how The Print Shop evolved, but also for prompting me to revisit these moments. ImageWriter printouts may long be faded, but these memories never will.

(Hat tip to Javier Rivera)

Eye of the Dot Matrix Tiger

March 3rd, 2014 12:01 AM
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We already know that storage media are musical instruments, with floppy disks playing the Star Wars theme and hard drives producing a rendition of the Imperial March. Now printers are getting in on the orchestral action. Behold as a dot matrix printer plays "Eye of the Tiger" from Rocky:

Such magic is a combination of custom hardware and software. Says the video's creator on how you too can produce this tune:

Learn about electronics, reverse engineering, embedded software development, maybe some hardware description language, the MIDI protocol and some music theory (how notes relate to frequencies). Then take your printer apart, find out how it works, disconnect the original processor from everything you need and add your custom built electronics…

The MIDI files have to be edited a bit to be played on the printer: some channels need to be disabled (percussion stuff), some are transposed to avoid exceeding the frequency limit. Also the volume of the individual instruments never fits when the original settings are used.

Get started with the MIDI file that was adapted to this purpose; it's available for download.

(Hat tip to Geekologie via Colin Druce-McFadden, Geeks Are Sexy, Brendan Robert, and Mark LaPlante)

The music of the ImageWriter

December 2nd, 2010 7:16 PM
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Chiptune music — the use of retrocomputing hardware to synthesize original melodies — is not a new phenomenon … but the creativity of artists seeking to use classic computers to produce these tunes never ceases to amaze me.

An example I recently stumbled across is by Man or Astro-man?, a surf rock group founded in Alabama in 1992 and reunited in 2010. Their 2000 album A Spectrum of Infinite Scale features a track entitled "A Simple Text File". Although Man or Astro-man? is not a chiptune band, their music video for this piece is something any Apple II user can be proud of:

What makes this piece so imaginative is that it's essentially a self-playing piece of hardware; once initiated, it requires no software or human intervention. Granted, the hardware featured above received its print command from a piece of software, but the result is more reliant on the hardware than on user input, making it an entirely different kind of creativity from that of, say, 8 Bit Weapon, who acquired and remastered Michael J. Mahon's Apple II DMS music software to help them get the most out of their instruments. It's two equally dedicated approaches to delighting the retrocomputing enthusiast.

For a less Apple II-centric example of musical hardware, check out this rendition of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody", performed by an Adaptec 2940UW SCSI card, a TI-99/4A with tape drive, an HP ScanJet 3C, and an Eico oscilloscope, among other pieces of equipment:

Which of these performances would you buy tickets to see?

(Hat tip to Stavros Karatsoridis and Shark Bait)