Archive for June, 2012

VisiCalc review

June 25th, 2012 8:30 PM
by
Filed under Software showcase;
3 comments.

I have a soft spot in my heart for VisiCalc, though perhaps more as an idea than a piece of software. I don't advocate using the world's first-ever electronic spreadsheet in modern times, except perhaps as a learning tool or torture device. But with this the software that cemented the Apple II's place in business having been invented practically in my own backyard (Massachusetts) by Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston, I can't help but have a sense of pride and nostalgia for the little productivity tool.

YouTube artist Brian Picchi is apparently also a fan, as he's recently deviated from his usual computer game reviews to spend five minutes with VisiCalc:

Half historical narrative and half review, Picchi's video is an effective summary of the key points of VisiCalc's significance and function. I didn't remember VisiCalc's formulae for equations, so it was interesting to see that they aren't much different from the syntax used in AppleWorks or Excel.

I could've interviewed Brian for more details about his video, but since he often reads this blog, I'll ask him to leave a comment: Where did you get your v1.37 VisiCalc, Brian?

For more non-gaming critiques from Picchi, check out his top ten television shows cancelled after one season.

Apple-1 sells for record-breaking $374K

June 18th, 2012 4:13 PM
by
Filed under Mainstream coverage;
2 comments.

It started simply enough: three years ago, an Apple-1 was estimated to be worth around $15,000.

Shortly thereafter, an Apple-1 sold on eBay (auction #320451173813) for $50,000.

A year later, that same Apple-1 sold at Christie's of London for $213,000.

The latest Apple-1 to appear on the auction block, this one at Sotheby's in New York, had a more modest estimated value of $120,000 – $180,000. Yet it set a new record when it sold for $374,500.

Sotheby's Apple-1

And worth every penny!

Addressing that staggering price tag, Vintage Computer Festival East organizer Evan Koblentz made a brief appearance in this CNN.com story about the auction:

It's not surprising that mainstream media would attribute the auction's high fetching price to "the cult of Apple". But that inaccurately identifies a working Apple-1 as an illogical object of geek lust, instead of the rare and significant historical relic it is.

But even geeks sometimes buy into the hype. The CNN video recommends viewers hold onto their old iPod or first-generation iPad: "Some day, it might be a precious artifact." Although those devices were revolutionary (or at least evolutionary), they don't signify the humble beginnings of an empire like the Apple-1 does. More important, possibly no Apple product has ever been manufactured in as low a quantity as the Apple-1. As much as we may complain about the current going rates for an Apple II on eBay, the machine isn't exactly rare, despite the newest model being 19 years old. Given the proliferation of iOS devices, it is unlikely we will ever see them in the scarcity that now drives the Apple-1's auctions.

On the bright side, events such as this auction have the potential to bring attention to the value and significance of classic computing. Besides Koblentz, other familiar retrocomputing enthusiasts got some nice press as a result of this event: after appearing in my previous coverage of this topic, Mike Willegal was interviewed for the run-up to this auction.

(Hat tip to Christian)

Apple II at @party demoparty

June 11th, 2012 7:26 PM
by
Filed under Happenings;
2 comments.

What are you doing next weekend? If you're in the Boston area and want to meet some fellow Apple II users, or learn more about this machine that's developed such a rabid community, then consider coming to @party.

A demoparty founded in 2010, @party is all about squeezing the most impressive graphics, sound, and functionality out of the oldest machines. Think of it like HackFest, except for all retrocomputers and lasting all weekend. But you don't need to be a programmer to compete — there are music, graphics, ASCII art, and other competitions, or "compos". If you just want to attend, there's still plenty for you, including chiptune concerts, text adventure tutorials, and more.

For the first time in @party's history, "more" includes me! I'll be the weekend's first last official speaker, with a presentation on Saturday at 1:30 5:00 PM EDT entitled "The Apple II lives! KansasFest and beyond". Likely to be an adaptation of last summer's presentation to the Denver Apple Pi users' group, I'll deliver an overview of the Apple II history, hardware, community, events, outlets, and more.

At least one other KansasFest alumnus will be there: krüe, an award-winning demo artist. Krüe is a demoparty fiend and will be sure to show you the ropes.

@party demoparty

Hackers hacking their hacks at @party 2010.

Registration ends TONIGHT (June 11) at midnight. Tickets are only $56.02 — not bad for a weekend of camaraderie and retro-fun. Come enjoy your first demoparty!

ABC & inThirty talk to Woz

June 4th, 2012 12:32 PM
by
Filed under Mainstream coverage, Steve Wozniak;
1 comment.

Steve Wozniak's star continues to shine brightly, with media appearances all over the world and the Internet.

In May, Woz spoke with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) of Sydney. The MP3 of the interview is short, clocking in at fewer than ten minutes. The only new piece of information I gleaned was that (if I understand correctly) the Apple-1 was designed not with a personal computer in mind, but an Internet terminal. That's unsurprisingly prescient of Woz.

More interesting yet less publicized was Woz's Leap Day interview with tech podcast inThirty, hosted by Justin Freid. Part one (iTunes) and part two (iTunes) each run about 30 minutes, for one hour total. These interviews are much meatier, conducted as they are by a tech guru and not a mainstream media anchor, even though both inThirty and ABC want to know about Woz's relationship with the late Steve Jobs.

inThirty's exchange most relevant to Apple II Bits readers was prompted by the question: "How much of the Apple II do you see in the iPhone and iPad? Is that philosophy of Apple being an engineering company still prevalent?" Woz's answer:

It's very hard to see any similarity between the Apple II that I designed and the iPhones and iPads today in terms of the product features… I built the Apple II for myself, and Steve Jobs wasn't around — he was up in Oregon, he wasn't talking to me… Here's what's similar … the Apple II, I just built them because I wanted a computer to do my work at Hewlett-Packard… I wanted to play games and have a machine for fun… that was all I ever wanted out of the thing, and as such, I was building it for myself… It's very important to know who you're building something for, so that it comes out good and consistent for that person, and the person was only one person, which was myself. I like things simple, clean — I don't want them full of stuff that nobody understands. That's a beauty to me.

Woz likes things simple and clean, yet he pushed for the Apple II to have seven expansion slots, against Steve Jobs' wishes. Is the sleek, streamline form factor and interface of today's iOS devices therefore not the antithesis of Woz's philosophy, as commonly believed, but rather its realization?