Archive for September, 2011

Apple II licensing ideas needed

September 29th, 2011 4:39 PM
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Filed under Musings;
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It's rare, if not unprecedented, for me to write a blog post that doesn't offer information but instead requests it. Yet here I am, asking for advice from Apple II Bits readers.

This past summer, I pointed at Steve Wozniak's license plate and hoped it was actually his, since it read "APPLEII". Even if that was a theatrical conceit, there are other Apple II fans who wear their hearts on their sleeves — or, more accurately, their cars.

I'd like to join that elite and order myself a custom plate that clearly represents the Apple II and its community. Massachusetts offers vanity plates, but under strict conditions: "All vanity plates must begin with two letters. The plate can be no more than six characters, or a maximum of five characters for motorcycle plates. Vanity plates cannot have letters and numbers intermixed." That rules out several possibilities:

• APPLEII
• A2
• APL2GS
• APLIIGS
• GSROM01
• 6502
• MOS6502
• APL2BITS
• GAMEBITS
• OPENAPPLE
• JUICEDGS
• WOZNIAK

The obvious alternative is APPLE2 — but the online registry indicates that "'APPLE2' is not available." Neither are "WOZ", "APPLE", or "JUICED". So what else would work? Nothing I've found to be both legitimate and available is either obvious or appealing:

• KFEST
• IIGS
• APL2
• APLIIE
• APLEII
• ROM01
• JGS
• OPAPPL

Maybe you will be creative in ways I am not and think if something original. So please, leave a comment: What Massachusetts license plate would you like to see an Apple II Bits blogger, Juiced.GS editor, Open Apple podcast co-host, and KansasFest organizer sport?

History according to a sugar water salesman

September 26th, 2011 10:30 PM
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John SculleyAround this time last year, the Cult of Mac interviewed John Sculley, the businessman who Steve Jobs recruited away from selling "sugar water" (Pepsi) to run Apple. The company's board of directors would eventually side with Sculley and oust Jobs, initiating the next chapter in the soap opera that is Apple's turbulent past.

It must be something about autumn that brings Sculley to the minds of reporters, as Janet Guyon at the Wall Street Journal recently grilled the former CEO. You'd think that his and Apple's story, being the stuff of legend, would be well-known by now, but even in these latest reports, interesting tidbits surface.

The first was that Sculley had a history with Apple predating his professional involvement: he made his former employer one of Apple's biggest clients.

I had seen one of the first spreadsheets developed for an Apple II computer after being invited to Harvard Business School to talk to a class about the Pepsi Challenge. When that product was commercialized in the early 1980s, I bought every Pepsi bottler an Apple computer and told them they could have it for free as long as they sent us their sales reports on a floppy disk every week. This greatly condensed the time it took us to get sales reports.

Despite that intersection, Sculley's experience at Pepsi didn't make him a technical wizard. But it did help him develop the skills which Apple assessed themselves as lacking. Jobs' own Reality Distortion Field could bring in supporters for any new product — but what about for an old one?

I found the challenges of Apple particularly intriguing. What they needed was someone who could keep the Apple II computer, which was a cash machine, commercially alive for three more years because Steve Jobs was still a year away from introducing the Macintosh. In 1983, Apple was outsold by each Atari and Commodore by 2-to-1 … Keeping the Apple II alive didn't require someone to know much about computer technology, it required someone who knew something about how to market and sell a near end-of-life product.

Just like how Woz and Jobs complemented each other with technical and entrepreneurial know-how, so too did Sculley and Jobs learn from each other:

[Steve Jobs and I] were learning from each other. He was learning from me about "experience marketing," how to sell consumer products, how you run a much bigger company and how you recruit people from outside your industry.

Still, they had their differences, including one that could've significantly impacted the development of the Apple II. Some Apple II Bits readers have pinned the blame for the Apple II's demise on Jobs. Whether or not that's true, by process of elimination, the odds begin to favor that interpretation. Says Sculley:

We were still very dependent on the profits of Apple II. I felt we had to push profits of Apple II and Steve wanted to lower the price of the Mac to get sales up.

Whatever their past partnerships or antagonisms, the triangle between Sculley, Jobs, and Apple was unlike any that Sculley had ever encountered — in a way that does not bode well for the future of the company:

Apple is Steve Jobs and Steve Jobs is Apple. That was entirely different from anything I had experienced coming out of Pepsi.

Pepsi never had so public a leader or so identified a creator as Steve Jobs. Given the recent resignation of Sculley's former partner, what does this mean for the company the two have left behind?

A glitch for your tapestry

September 22nd, 2011 8:39 AM
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Jason Scott isn't the only Kickstarter user showing up on Apple II users' radars. Another project, one designed to fund a recurrence and propagation of a glitch-based conference held last year in Chicago, has a tangential connection to the Apple II.

An integral component of Kickstarter are the incentives that projects offer their backers — a physical reward or honored acknowledgement of each person's financial support. For the Glitch project, Melissa Barron — KansasFest alumna, exhibit hall award recipient, and Juiced.GS contributor — has donated two of her famous glitch weavings, produced on a Jacquard loom. For the same price you paid for your Apple-1, you can support the cause and receive your own tapestry. Only two were originally offered, with one already spoken for at the time of this posting, so get yours today! The project ends the evening of Tuesday, September 27.

(Hat tip to Daniel Kruszyna)

A new generation of programmer

September 19th, 2011 1:30 PM
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Filed under Mainstream coverage;
1 comment.

The first in a new Cult of Mac series makes the title, "Me and My Mac", a bit of a misnomer. Their featured Apple user is Lim Xin Mei, who's learning to program Applesoft BASIC on the Apple IIGS. The six-year-old is dubbed "the world's youngest programmer", which may be familiar to retrocomputing enthusiasts: it was just a few years ago that her brother had a similar title.

"I have always wanted to teach my son [Lim Ding Wen] programming when he was a kid," wrote his father, Lim Thye Chean, in 2008. "When he was only 2 years old, he had already know how to insert a disk and boot up a computer, then used the mouse to find the program he wanted, double clicked to run it and have fun. He asked how to write a game when he was in primary one (7 years old), and I promised to teach him programming if he had done well in school, and he did."

Ding Wen and Xin Mei used to appear in a YouTube video series called The Apple IIGS Show, episodes of which are still available online.

Knowing that there are children being raised to be not just computer literate but technically proficient is a refreshing change from Canadian youth who couldn't identify a floppy disk.

How would you ensure your progeny becomes the next generation of Apple II user?

Jason Scott's three-pack Kickstarter

September 15th, 2011 8:42 AM
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It seems you can't turn around these days without bumping into Jason Scott. Because putting Apple II magazines into the Internet Archive, donating documentaries to Apple II users, or compiling collections of Apple II crack screens isn't enough to keep a guy busy, he's decided to tackle his greatest project yet.

Having produced both BBS: The Documentary and GET LAMP in the last five years, Scott now wants to more than double his filmography. His goal is to publish not one, not two, but THREE more documentaries in the next four years — one each about the 6502 processor, tape as a medium, and arcades as places. The 6502 documentary should be of particular interest to Apple II users, since it was on that chip that Woz based our favorite machine.

Scott's last Kickstarter project set out to raise $25,000 with which to complete GET LAMP, which he had mostly already filmed. This time, Scott wants $100,000 to pursue three films simultaneously. I found the project less than a day after its debut, at which point he had already raised $12,000. By the end of the first day, he'd broken the $30,000 mark. Will the project maintain the momentum enough to cross the Kickstarter's all-or-nothing threshold by the November 12 deadline?

It's easy to imagine not contributing to that inertia: commercial products should be financially solvent, funding themselves through their own sales. But for niche topics like this, especially those that are independently produced and don't have big-time backers, the truth is that these films won't exist unless fans like us support them. So I've tossed him a few dollars (as a belated birthday gift — Scott turned 41 this past Tuesday) as a deposit toward these films, at least two of which interest me. There is little variety to the affordable funding options, but you can donate any value you want — the tiers are only for the rewards. So pick a sum that fits your budget and help Scott meet his.

A cracked screensaver

September 12th, 2011 9:56 AM
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Filed under Software showcase;
1 comment.

As I drove home last night from Cape Cod, I caught up on the latest episode of the Retro Computing Roundtable, an excellent podcast hosted by David Greelish, Earl Evans, and Carrington Vanston. It was another fantastic 90 minutes of retrocomputing goodness, and as an editor for enterprise IT publication Computerworld, I especially enjoyed the discussion of the HP TouchPad — though I'm unsure how it connected to the show's retro theme.

This month's guest was Kevin Savetz, master of more than eighty Web sites, many of them of interest to Apple II enthusiasts. (KansasFest alumni may recognize his college-ruled paper.) Kevin shared with RCR listeners a simple yet great idea. Having recently discovered the same archive of Apple II crack screens I blogged about, Kevin downloaded the entire collection of images to use as a slideshow screensaver. Brilliant! You can do the same with a Firefox plugin like DownThemAll! and saving the images into a single folder. Then, in Mac OS X's System Preferences, go to "Desktop & Screen Saver", choose "Add Folder of Pictures", and add your collection. You can then set various preferences regarding how the screens are displayed displayed. (These instructions are based on the Snow Leopard operating system; YMMV.)

Thanks, Kevin!