Archive for August, 2011

Woz on Jobs on Computerworld

August 29th, 2011 12:14 PM
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Filed under Mainstream coverage, Musings, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak;
1 comment.

Last week, I posted a blog to Computerworld that may be of interest to Apple II users: "Steve Wozniak on Steve Jobs' resignation". It started when Greg Nelson sent the KansasFest email list a link to the CNN's video interview with Woz. I thought to simply repurpose it for an Apple II Bits blog post — but the more I looked into it, the more I realized there was more to say here than found in a single embedded video.

The final blog post would've fit right at home on this site, but I decided to post it instead to my professional blog at my day job, Computerworld for several reasons:

  1. It was already Friday, and I post here on Mondays and Thursdays only. I wanted to get the post published in time for the weekend.
  2. Due to my own inconsistent publication schedule and a lack of focus in topics, I've not attracted an audience at Computerworld, which makes it rarely worth my time to blog there. But it's still in my best interests to demonstrate that I occasionally have something relevant to contribute to discussions in the IT sector.
  3. Even without a regular audience, the readership of Computerworld.com is, unsurprisingly, significantly larger than Apple II Bits. The details are company confidential, but I can say that putting the blog post there has earned it about a hundred-and-fifty times more pageviews than it would've gotten here.
  4. My Computerworld co-workers have little interest in my Apple II hobby, but they'll gladly promote any Computerworld content they find intriguing. As a result, my post got much more social media love on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus than it would've otherwise, contributing to the above pageviews. Heck, even Steve Wozniak had something to say about it on Facebook.
  5. I was able to include a link back to apl2bits.net. Since it was a link to relevant and timely information, it wasn't a conflict of interest or a blatant plug so much as a good opportunity to bring some new readers here.

I can't republish that blog post here, but I wanted to do more than just link to it and say "Today's Apple II Bits post is over here." I hope I've demonstrated some value in choosing to write for The Man instead of myself in this instance.

Bringing KFest to Denver Apple Pi

August 25th, 2011 9:00 AM
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Filed under History;
2 comments.

Being in Denver this summer, I've been eager to meet people and make friends. One way to do so is to seek out those with common interests, so I immediately took myself to the Denver Apple Pi user group's summer barbecue. As I introduced myself, they welcomed me into their fold — though I was surprised to discover for a few people, I needed no introduction. Tammy, the resident Apple II collector, recognized me by name as "the KansasFest guy", and Elissa, the group's secretary, knew of KansasFest, even though no one in the group had attended. In fact, since I would apparently be the group's sole honorary representative, would I be willing to come back from KansasFest and present to DAPi on everything they missed?

Wow! Only a few weeks in Denver, and already I was being invited to be a guest speaker!

The presentation occurred last Tuesday, immediately after Jeff Gamet of Mac Observer presented the new features of Mac OS X Lion. I chose to expand my topic to cover not just KansasFest, but the history of the Apple II, what its modern community is doing with it, and what additional resources exist for viewers interested in learning more. My media, as is my wont, was mostly a a slideshow, preferring images instead of text with which to complement my speech. I've compiled the many links I referenced into a document of show notes (PDF).

The quality of the facilities and equipment were surprisingly good. A lavaliere mic boosted my volume but didn't pick up the audience voices as well, which may be for the best. Although ClarisWorks and AppleWorks, for the Mac and Apple II respectively, were once simultaneously marketed by Apple, some audience members insisted that they were both Apple II programs. I found this a bit stunning, since their disagreement was with not only me, but fellow attendee Randy Brandt — who I think would know better!

The full video in which I present the Apple II to DAPi is available for viewing or download under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike Creative Commons license.

My thanks to Martin Haye, Peter Neubauer, Steve Weyhrich, and Andy Molloy for their help in preparing the slideshow. I hope I did my bit to evangelize the Apple II and spread awareness that it is alive and well. If nothing else, the presentation gave me an opportunity to connect with some of the kindest and coolest Mac users this side of the Continental Divide.

The art of the crack

August 22nd, 2011 3:29 PM
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Filed under Hacks & mods, Software showcase;
9 comments.

Piracy is as much an issue today as it was thirty years ago: gamers who pay for their software are often penalized for the actions of those who won't. But somewhere between the DRM and the theft is the actual hack. Today, that often amounts to little more than releasing a torrent of a disk image — once you've acquired and installed the warez, the experience is little different from a legitimate one. That wasn't the case with the Apple II.

When the hacking medium was not DVD but 5.25" floppy, hackers had to break a different copy protection scheme for each piece of software. They demanded acknowledgement for their hard work, often placing their byline in the opening splash screen, even if it meant removing the programmer's or publisher's credit. Some especially creative hackers went beyond that simple substitution by editing the screen at large, producing original works of art.

Arkanoid 2 cracked

Jason Scott has compiled an extensive collection of these crack screens. As far as I can see, there's 794 screens, though fewer total games are represented, as often the same image is displayed in both color and monochrome; I would estimate the gallery includes 572 unique games. It's fascinating to see both the art and the creative handles by which the pirates were known.

There's little I can say about the Apple II pirate scene that hasn't already been presented more exhaustively and eloquently by Scott in this presentation from Rubicon 2003.

However, there have been new developments since then. At KansasFest 2010, Martin Haye hacked Wizardry, producing his own splash screen for the occasion. With so much work being put into the crack itself, a programming genius such as Haye shouldn't have to work even harder to leave his visual mark.

Antoine Vignau of Brutal Deluxe agrees and, at the request of Daniel Kruszyna, has created T40, a 40-column text-based editor. Itself a 24-hour hack job, T40 runs on any Apple II and offers an impressive array of keyboard commands with which to design and save ASCII art.

"Krüe" has started compiling images created in this program and welcomes your submissions via email. The collection thus far can be seen online, where you can also download an Applesoft BASIC self-running slideshow to display the artwork natively on your Apple II.

I make no commentary on the legality of ethicality of piracy — but the ones who engage in it are capable of amazing works of genius and artistry, which have just been made a bit easier.

(Hat tip to Mark Pilgrim)

Laboratory origins of the Apple II

August 18th, 2011 4:02 PM
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Filed under History;
1 comment.

The past week has been one of milestones: the IBM PC turned 30, just days before the Web itself turned 20. Of course, both are still whippersnappers compared to the Apple II, but it's timely to consider the birthplace of that and other innovations.

Of course, Steve Wozniak was the genius behind the Apple II, but many of the ideas found in the Apple II and other computers were devised in collaborative environments. A recent story looks at six computer labs that gave birth to the digital world. The penultimate page is dedicated to the many innovations to come out of Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and how they influenced Apple's products:

These inventions culminated in 1973 with the Xerox Alto, the first GUI-driven personal computer (check out the three-button mouse!) Sadly the Alto was never sold commercially, and only 2,000 units were built — but don’t worry, its legacy lived on with the 1977 Apple II, the first mouse-and-GUI-driven home computer, and the 1984 Macintosh.

Although the Apple II did indeed have a mouse, I (as some article's readers do) think the author intended to reference the Apple Lisa. Steve Weyhrich's history of the Apple II supports that reading:

Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) develops the “Alto”, a breakthrough computer which used a pointing device called a “mouse”, a bit-mapped graphic screen, and icons to represent documents. Also, it had a 2.5 megabyte removable disk cartridge and the first implementation of Ethernet. It cost $15,000 just to build it, and only 1,200 were ever produced. This computer and the Xerox Star were the inspirations within a decade for the Lisa and the Macintosh.

Readers also take exception to a statement on the preceding page that "in 1981, IBM released the Personal Computer, the first home computer made from off-the-shelf parts". Was not the Apple II that machine? At least one reader says yes:

The Apple II was all off the shelf parts 6502 processor, 4K memory (8102 DRAM?), etc. There were no custom IC's. The only "non off the shelf" were things like the power supply, keyboard, paddles, etc. The same was true for other microcomputers sold before IBM played catch up with the 5150 (including the Altair 8800). On all of the microcomputers, (including the IBM 5150) the design, circuit board, case, keyboard, expansion slots, power supply, were custom as well as the BIOS. The IBM 5150 helped to mainstream microcomputers (outside the classroom) because "No one ever got fired for recommending IBM" — a common quote from that era.

What say you, dedicated retrocomputing enthusiasts? Did the author of this gallery do his homework, or are a few of his facts a wee bit off?

Ancient DOS games

August 15th, 2011 11:11 AM
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Filed under Game trail, Software showcase;
Comments Off on Ancient DOS games

Thirty years ago, when multiple incompatible computer formats vied for dominance, there were as many cross-platform games as there were exclusives. Companies who could afford to port their software benefitted from a larger potential audience, resulting in Mac, DOS, and Apple II users having similar yet disparate experiences of games such as the Ultima series.

The modern benefit to such historical cross-pollination is that many classic Apple II games can still be enjoyed, albeit in alternative formats. For example, in the July episode of Open Apple, I mentioned a free version of Ultima IV that requires DOSBox. (Several listeners recommended I instead run the game using Boxer, a DOS emulator specifically for the Macintosh.)

For a more turnkey approach to reliving the classics, I recommend two online distributors who have made games such as Ultima and Zork available again: Steam, and Good Old Games (GOG). Unlike the remake of Ultima IV (or even ADG's non-profit remakes of King's Quest), Steam's and GOG's offerings are not free for the taking — but these commercial products are designed to be run from a modern operating system, usually Windows XP or higher but occasionally for the Mac as well. How else can you easily and legally enjoy the Zork anthology for just $3.59, or four classic LucasArts point-and-click adventures for $9.97, in a native, offline environment?

If you're not sure which of these games to start with, you don't need to delve into old issues of Nibble to find what critics of the age had to say. Modern reviews are still being published at Web site Pixelmusement under the title Ancient DOS Games (ADG). Here's their review of King's Quest II:

They may not be identical with the Apple II games you remember, but these games are legitimate originals that have taken straight from the past to be enjoyed in the present. So… enjoy!

Happy birthday to Steve Wozniak and Bill Budge

August 11th, 2011 2:36 PM
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Filed under Happenings, Steve Wozniak;
2 comments.

As A2Central.com and Open Apple both recently acknowledged, today is Steve Wozniak's birthday. The creator of the 34-year-old Apple II turns 61 today.

But today is also Bill Budge's birthday! After Woz practically invented personal computers, Mr. Budge was one of the first to see their limitless potential, using the Apple II to create the popular pinball game Raster Blaster and, later, the DIY tool Pinball Construction Set. Mr. Budge's name often received higher billing than the title of the software, a rare status in an era when Warren Robinett had to resort to inventing the Easter Egg to get his name into a game.

Though he may not be as famous as Steve Wozniak, Bill Budge is nonetheless an important person in the computer industry and its history, and I'm glad he's still around to celebrate his 57th birthday.

Happy birthday, gentlemen!