TimeOut Spellcheck's 5L bug

February 11th, 2019 11:50 AM
Filed under Software showcase;

A few months ago, I detailed the "unliprobablyo" bug in AppleWorks Classic's TimeOut Grammar module. But there's another bug that's even more inscrutable. Although I've never personally encountered it, it is such a strange an inexplicable phenomenon that the revelation of its existence has stuck with me for decades.

For many, AppleWorks was their first access to a spellchecker. Although an imperfect tool that often lacked context and was unable to differentiate homonyms, it still introduced an unprecedented level of quality assurance to all writing, from simple to complex.

To this day, I've never encountered a spellcheck with a more efficient and intuitive interface, allowing me to select misspelled words from an alphabetical list instead of going through the document and forcing me to take action on each suspect word. This approach allows me to quickly skip over proper names, acronyms, and abbreviations.

But there was one abbreviation that, in a very specific context, could bring the whole house tumbling down. To the best of my knowledge, it was first reported by Tony Diaz on GEnie on November 1, 1996, as captured in GenieLamp:

I think I have stumbled on something here, and quite frankly, I for the life of me, just do not get it. Some history: I am starting to catagorize my Apple II Collection, I decided to start on paperwork. With the intention of eventually putting major portions of the list into an html table for posting on my Apple II Information web site. That is why I chose to just use the word processor instead of a data base file for this particular part of it, (some of you may say, why not use the database after I describe what lead me up to this.) I have my file boxes (Hanging folder cardboard boxes) labeled 1-12 at this point and the folders A-Z within. The stuff is in no particular order at this point which is why I just figured I'll make a quick list, save it as a TAB delimited format, import it into a database later and swap stuff around, alphabetize/catagorize it… I sure wish I started that way and then I would have had this mess.

Here is an example what I was doing.

 Name                                           What       Box/Folder
 Wico Joystick Dealer Kit                       Hardware           1A
 Titan Technologies Dealer Kit                  Hardware           3C
 Analytical Engines Saybrook 68000 Fliers/Kit   Hardware           4H
 Sweetmicro Systems Dealer Kit (Mockingboard)   Hardware           5L

I decided to spellcheck it so I could add some more words to my custom dictionary… and that was the end of that.

I after a long mess of 'WTF!?@@@>#$%' is going on here, I said.. ok, it's choking on something… Lord knows what, no disk access had happened yet. I ditched the (thank god for Macros) the Box/Folder catagory and it worked. To make a long story short, 5L Locked up AppleWorks.

What a completely and utterly SILLY and stupid bug.

Harold Hislop took up the investigation, responding with his own findings:

As far as I have been able to tell, after an extensive amount of trying different things, the lockup only occurs on IIgs machines, and only when a RamFast SCSI card is installed. . . and it does not seem to matter if any volume that is attached to the RamFast has been accessed or not. … I can find -NO- reason for the lockup in this firmware… I =strongly suspect= (but have NOT proved!) that the problem is really in AppleWorks itself, and most likely related to it's use of some 6502/65C02 opcode that does not execute in quite the same manner on a 65C816 processor.

I don't have the resources to test if this bug persists in that specific environment, or if later versions of AppleWorks or the RamFAST firmware resolved it.

RamFAST SCSI manual cover

Were you the culprit, RamFAST?… Or was it AppleWorks?

But I still remember around 2002, telling one programmer-type friend: "If you ran AppleWorks spellcheck on an Apple II with a RamFAST SCSI card installed, and the document contained '5L', it would crash."

I don't think I've ever seen that friend laugh so hard.

Quality Computers on Vimeo

December 13th, 2010 9:54 AM
Filed under History;
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Just a brief note today to point out that both the Quality Computers videos I previously digitized and made available via YouTube — those being the Q-Drive care & feeding video and the System 6.0.1 introduction — are now available on Vimeo.

Quality Computers Q-Drive care & feeding video from Ken Gagne on Vimeo.

Quality Computers System 6.0.1 video from Ken Gagne on Vimeo.

I started using Vimeo in conjunction with KansasFest 2010, which marked the first official effort to create a video record of the event. Having previously uploaded Quality Computers videos to YouTube, I knew that the service's ten-minute maximum movie length imposed on standard users would be a significant barrier to publishing multiple and lengthy KansasFest videos. Vimeo has no such limits, and its premium service offers high-definition videos and downloadable source files. True, it's easy enough to download YouTube videos with Safari, but Vimeo makes the process that much more transparent.

So although the content of each Quality Computers video is unchanged from YouTube to Vimeo, you can now watch each in one segment instead of seven, and you can download it at such for your own archives as well — making the history of the Apple II all that much easier to access and preserve.

Quality Computers System 6.0.1 video

July 12th, 2010 11:48 AM
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Two months ago, I digitized and uploaded a Quality Computers VHS video. Permission to do so was provided in a csa2 post started by Donald Jordan, who was looking to convert and preserve Quality Computer's video about the System 6.0.1 operating system. Though his quest had opened the door for all Quality Computers videos to be converted, I was curious if he'd achieved that goal with the specific video he had in mind.

I emailed Donald and learned that he had indeed converted his video — from VHS to DVD, using the Sony RDR-VXD655 VHS/DVD combo unit. His needs were met, but I was interested in distributing the video to a larger audience. Donald graciously donated a copy of his DVD to me for that purpose.

Once I had the DVD, I used MacTheRipper to save it to my hard drive; then, per Tony Diaz's suggestion, I used HandBrake to convert the DVD format to an MPEG-4 video file. Then, using QuickTime Player 7 Pro, I chopped the 57-minute video into seven separate MOV files that would accommodate YouTube's ten-minute upload limit. Here is the resulting playlist:

Q/Vision, a division of Quality Computers, presents this introduction to System 6.0.1, the last official Apple IIGS operating system released by Apple Computer Inc. This video was originally presented in six parts: previews of other Quality Computers products; an overview of System 6.0.1 and the Bonus Pack; preparation; installation; the Apple desktop; and the IIGS Finder. Starring QC employee Walker Archer, this 1992 video was converted from VHS to DVD by Donald Jordan and is posted here with his permission and cooperation, as well as that of copyright holder Joe Gleason.

Quality Computers Q-Drive tutorial video

May 31st, 2010 11:00 AM
Filed under Hacks & mods, History;
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The Lost Classics project serves to reclassify formerly commercial Apple II software, preserving it for current and future users of the classic computer. But there exists a variety of other Apple II products that require not just reclassification, but digitization, as their original format was physical and prone to decay or destruction.

Of late, Antoine Vignau of Brutal Deluxe Software has made it his mission to convert various VHS recordings and upload them to YouTube, where anyone can see and share them. Inspired, I decided to follow suit. I rummaged through my modest tape collection and found one from Quality Computers covering the installation and maintenance of their Q-Drive external SCSI hard drive. Concerned about copyright, I recalled that Sean Fahey had recently contacted Joe Gleason, former president of Quality Computers, and had been granted permission to distribute these videos, putting my efforts in the clear.

To make the conversion, I used the Pinnacle Video Transfer tool, which takes A/V input on one end and outputs to a USB storage device on the other. My VCR is old (but then, aren't they all?) and lacks an S-Video jack, so I relied on composite, or RCA, cables. Although this limitation may've impacted the final product's quality, I don't think the potential improvement would've been great given the VHS source material.

Once I had a digital file, Eric Shepherd recommended I use the program JES Deinterlacer, but its powers were beyond my ken. The filter's multiple options and settings were not obvious to someone unfamiliar with video editing, and I found that running a file through the program took several hours to output a final product, which deterred experimentation. In the end, and with Antoine's seal of approval, I skipped this step and uploaded the result to YouTube. Due to the service's 10-minute limit on individual files, I broke the 30-minute video into thirds. You can now view parts one, two, and three online, or altogether in this playlist:

Q/Vision, a division of Quality Computers, presents this tutorial for installing and maintaining their Q-Drive external hard drive on your Apple IIGS computer. Starring QC employees Michael Heintz, Walker Archer, and Jerry Kindall, this 1992 video is posted here with permission from Joe Gleason.

Thank you to Sean, Antoine, and Sheppy for their help!