Archive for November, 2011

Computer Chronicles looks at the IIc Plus, GS/OS 4.0

November 28th, 2011 11:41 AM
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The Apple II was no stranger to the limelight of Computer Chronicles, a weekly television show that documented the rise of the personal computer industry, starting on PBS in 1981. The entire library of Computer Chronicles episodes is available online from The Internet Archive — no surprise, as when the show ended in 2002, its creator and host, Stewart Cheifet, took a position as director of the Archive.

One 1988 episode of Computer Chronicles coincided with the release of the Apple IIc Plus and GS/OS 4.0. Demonstrating these products on the show were Apple employees Anne Bachtold and Laura Kurihara, who struck me with two aspects of their presentation. First, they don't shy away from technical terminology and details. I suspect this show had a savvy audience that understood these terms, but given that personal computers were still in their infancy thirty years ago, I wonder how many non-techies tried tuning in but found this jargon impenetrable. Second, we all know the names of Apple II employees and alumni like Jef Raskin, Guy Kawasaki, and even Chris Espinosa. I marvel that there were so many more bigwigs like Bachtold and Kurihara whose contributions to the Apple II platform have been omitted from the annals of history. It demonstrates society's tendency to "celebritize" particular personalities to the point that their supporters get lost in their shadows.

Although he couldn't come to the studio for the interview, there's also a brief segment with John Sculley, who says that the Apple II provides users with "a real feel for the chips", likening it to a stick shift next to the Macintosh's automatic transmission. I think that's very true, as evidenced by how the Macintosh has grown increasingly graphics-oriented and closed. With the schematics and open nature of the Apple II, users can work much closer to the metal.

There's also a brief discussion of the possibility of an Apple II laptop, or even a computer that can run both Apple II and Macintosh software. What a world that would be!

Here's the full 28-minute episode. Feel free to skip time index 13:38 – 15:22, which focuses on the Mac IIx.

Hat tip to Steve Weyhrich!

Batman: Year One, Apple Two

November 24th, 2011 10:20 AM
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In its lifetime, the Apple II computer has a variety of unusual uses, from making piano player music to demonstrating motion-activated inputs. How about an ultrasound monitor?

That is the application to which the Apple II was put in last month's direct-to-DVD release of Batman: Year One. The tale is set at the dawn of Bruce Wayne's superhero career, reflect in the movie's slightly antiquated look. In one scene, Jim Gordon's wife visits the hospital for an ultrasound; in another, a trauma victim's vitals are monitored. Both times, an Apple II can be seen in the background.

Batman: Year One

According to the 1985 journal article "Mixing Apple microcomputer graphics for ultrasound scan measurement" in Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology, the official journal of the World Federation for Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology, Batman: Year One is not playing fast and loose with its historical fiction but is instead accurately portraying the technology of the era and its capabilities:

A modern microcomputer with high-resolution graphics can provide an inexpensive method for measurement on video images from a real-time ultrasound scanner. The problem which has to be overcome to allow the computer graphics to be superimposed on the ultrasound video image and permit subsequent analysis is that of synchronization. The video signals must be synchronized before they can be mixed, but neither microcomputers nor ultrasound scanners provide facilities for external synchronization of their video output. A mixer has been designed which uses a buffer memory and allows the graphics of an Apple II microcomputer to be synchronized and mixed with an external video image; we used a Hitachi EUB22 real-time ultrasound scanner. The resulting combination is a versatile instrument which permits a wide range of measurements on ultrasonic images.

Facebook user Herbert Fung first spotted these artifacts, reporting the sighting on October 22 and following up a day later with the above screen captures. Dave Miller provided the historical context.

License to vote

November 21st, 2011 9:18 AM
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I asked for your help, and you provided! This Apple II Bits blogger, Juiced.GS editor, Open Apple podcast co-host, and KansasFest organizer is interested in wearing his heart on his sleeve — or, more accurately, his car, a gray 2007 Toyota Prius. Massachusetts allows vanity plates under stringent guidelines that, when combined with those plates that are already in circulation, significantly limit the remaining options. Or so I thought: with your help, my original list of eight Apple II-themes plates has grown to 44!

You've submitted your suggestions to me; now I submit them to you. Choose your five favorite license plates from the below choices. The poll closes at 12:00 AM on December 1st, 2011, after which I'll present the results here. If there are ties, a semifinalist round of voting may be necessary. Note that I am not beholden to public opinion and may elect a different custom plate or none at all. But your guidance in coming to one of many possible decisions is much appreciated. Vote early and often using the below poll!

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Apple office blueprints

November 17th, 2011 1:31 PM
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Apple II Bits reader Kurt Geisel recently pointed me to a nifty historical artifact. Chris Espinosa, Apple's most veteran employee (#8!), has unearthed and published a document he drew by hand on January 30, 1978.

Blueprint of Apple's offices at 10260 Bandley Drive

Who sat where in 1978?


This blueprint shows the floorplan for Apple's offices at 10260 Bandley Drive, Cupertino, California 95014. In his blog post, which offers a PDF scan of the drawing, Chris identifies the employees whose offices are marked on the graph, as well as the meaning behind areas marked "Advent" and "Tennis courts?"

Apple quickly outgrew Bandley 1, just as the company is now outgrowing its current digs at 1 Infinite Loop. A new hundred-acre campus is currently being designed to expand Apple's Cupertino presence. It's comforting to know that Chris will continue to be a source of continuity throughout Apple's many homes and epochs.

On death and dying on the Apple II

November 14th, 2011 1:00 PM
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Filed under Game trail, Software showcase;
1 comment.

There's a saying among gamers: if a video game is unreasonably challenging, especially as a result of unfair tactics that rely on luck or manipulating arbitrary rules to overcome, that game is "Nintendo hard" — a reference to the 8-bit era of the Nintendo Entertainment System and its ridiculously difficult games.

That term must've originated among those unfamiliar with the computer games of the era, as anyone who's played Sierra On-Line's adventure titles or even a classic text adventure knows how inscrutable those puzzles and answers can be. Lately, those old-school computer gamers have risen to represent their memories in video format, spurred first by this compilation of arcade deaths, posted by Rob Beschizza:

Inspired, Blake Patterson followed up with his own montage of deaths specifically from Apple II games, but set to Commodore 64 music:

Since then, a YouTube user named MrWhitman has become fixated on such fatalistic experiences, documenting them in his video channel. His 263 videos, many of them falling under the "Ways to Lose" or "Ways to Die" categories, showcase a variety of ways to not play your favorite adventure games. Although many of the videos, such as those of the original Police Quest, capture the 8-bit glory of early computer gaming, others, such as Space Quest, rely on various remakes with updated graphics.

I don't remember any Apple II game being so challenging that I would throw the joystick in anger, though maybe I was just accustomed to the illogic of the burgeoning genre. Are classic games more difficult by comparison to today's entertainment? Would we find ourselves less patient with a classic game today? What has your experience with retrogaming been?

(Hat tips to Open Apple and Seth Sternberger)

Another World for iOS

November 10th, 2011 10:54 AM
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Filed under Game trail, Software showcase;
3 comments.

I don't mean for this to be "iOS Gaming Week" here on Apple II Bits — the impressive Touch Arcade already has the corner on that market. But I do want to follow up on a post from last March, in which I eagerly anticipated Out of this World (OotW) coming to iOS. I greatly enjoyed this creative (albeit brief) game on the Super NES, which shared the same processor as the IIGS, making a port to the Apple II a no-brainer. A more accessible rendition of this classic game would be welcome.

Since I don't actually own an iOS device, the port fell off my radar, replaced by news and reviews of From Dust, an Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) game released this past July by OotW creator Éric Chahi. Great, I thought — has he been so swamped with this new title that he's forgotten his roots?

Nope! Out of this World for iOS was released last month under the name Another World for $4.99.

Out of this World

Can you bring scientist Lester Knight Chaykin home?

If Out of this World leaves you hungry for more, there's no news on a similar port of the much rarer sequel, Heart of the Alien. But you can play OotW's spiritual successor, Flashback, on iOS for $1.99.

(Hat tip to Carrington Vanston of the Retro Computing Roundtable)