Archive for the ‘Hacks & mods’ Category

Jury-rigging the Apple II, either in reality or concept.

A crowdfunded clear case

September 2nd, 2019 8:27 AM
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Earlier this year, a company called MacEffects successfully crowdfunded a Kickstarter to create a clear case for the Mac SE/30. With delivery of that product due next month, MacEffects is ready to move on to their next project. This weekend, they launched a Kickstarter to create another transparent case — and this time, the platform is the Apple II.

The case models range in price from $150 to $450 — but all are for the Apple II and Apple II Plus. Other models of Apple II, including the IIe, IIc, and IIGS, are not included, though the project description promises that "If this Kickstarter is successfully funded, we will venture to open a new Kickstarter for the Apple IIe!" Unmentioned in the video is a stretch goal of $35,000, which will fund a clear case for the Disk II floppy drive.

The campaign seeks to raise $29,000 in two months. As of Sunday morning, the project has only 16 backers, but those backers have contributed an average of $277 each, for 15% of the project's total. Similarly, their Mac SE/30 campaign raised $25,674 from just 84 backers, averaging $305 each. Supporters are clearly willing to toss significant sums at these cases!

I wonder if this new case will enjoy similar success, though. The Apple II already has a top that's easy to remove, displaying the computer's internals to the world. A clear case doesn't make it easier to do so, though it does make it safer, since it doesn't expose the circuitry to as much air and dust. I also found this Kickstarter video's lighting, sound, and delivery underwhelming, which you could argue are to be expected from a low-budget retrocomputing company. Yet that didn't stop Nox Archaist from pulling out all the stops!

On the bright side, you won't ever have to worry about retrobriting this transparent case: "To avoid future yellowing of our custom case, we will NOT be adding fire-retardant additive. Therefore, it is recommended to not operate your computer with this custom case unattended."

No problem — unless you're mining Bitcoin, why would you ever tear yourself away from a running Apple II and leave it unattended?

(Hat tip to Michael Mulhern)

Another look at the Apple II player piano

April 8th, 2019 6:44 AM
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I know some classical musicians who are quite up in arms over virtual orchestras. Why hire a violinist or flautist to interpret your sheet music when you can simply set your composition software to flawlessly perform your digital score?

This is not a new phenomenon: the player piano, invented in 1895, requires no human operator, either. The last time I saw such an instrument was at Hildene, the summer home of Abraham Lincoln's son, Robert. The estate's player organ boasts an extensive collection of vintage music scrolls, most of which are now too brittle to be used. But to keep the organ fed, it has been modified with a USB port through which the scrolls' digital equivalents can be loaded.

This isn't the first time player piano and computer technologies have been integrated. In the 1980s, the Apple II often played a critical role in creating music for these automated performers, as seen in this profile.

The Apple II has only a brief visual cameo and little mention in the narration. But fear not! A more exhaustive look at the Apple II can be seen in a similar video I shared here eight years ago.

Pianos don't need computers to make music; and, with the power of MIDI, computers don't need pianos. But no matter the era, the two together are an inimitable duet.

(Hat tip to rryland on reddit)

Puma shoes for the Apple II

December 17th, 2018 8:37 AM
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Activity trackers are all the rage, from Fitbit wristbands to Oura Rings to Apple's Health app. They all vary in what they record, from sleep to biorhythms to flights of stairs, but almost all measure one basic metric: steps — putting one foot in front of the other.

Why not get closer to the source of that data by moving the sensor off your hands and onto your feet? That's what Wired predicted six years ago:

The next generation of athletic shoes will feature radio frequency identification tags, motion sensors and accelerometers that will allow you to customize the look, fit and responsiveness of your kicks. The shoes of tomorrow also will transmit data to the cloud, allowing you to fine-tune your workout and brag about your accomplishments on Facebook or Twitter.

This is not a new idea: Puma took the first step in this direction more than three decades ago when it released the RS-Computer, a running shoe stuffed with tech that estimated your mileage and calories. Data could be downloaded off the shoe onto an Apple II or Commodore 64. You might think RS stands for Recommended Standard, as in the RS232 port, but RS was short for Running System.

Now those shoes have been revived with no ports at all, RS or otherwise. Last week, Puma released 86 pairs of a reimagined RS-Computer shoe, with Bluetooth connectivity and USB charging. It's not backward-compatible, unfortunately, and can't connect to the Apple II. But Puma hasn't entirely forgotten its roots: the accompanying iOS and Android app, listed as "PUMA RS Computer Shoe" still uses an 8-bit interface and even includes a free retro-themed game. The only downside to the app: Puma has chosen to model this UI after the C64.

I downloaded the iOS app but, with only 86 pairs of shoes in the world, there were none near enough to me to advance the app past the initial "Searching…" screen. I'm amazed that Puma would bother developing an app for such a niche audience… unless the shoes are to be mass-produced at a later date.

Still, these shoes and this app are an interesting piece of history revisited, and one that may spur further interest in and knowledge of Apple's role in their ancient origin.

(Hat tips to Jon Fingas, Andrew Liszewski, and Ivan Jovin)

Apple IIc at BostonFIG

October 1st, 2018 7:03 AM
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One of my favorite annual traditions is the Boston Festival of Indie Games, or BostonFIG. Currently in its seventh year, this one-day event held at MIT is an opportunity for independent game developers to exhibit their works in progress and new releases. I love the creativity on display, where game designers who are not beholden to major studios can demonstrate original game ideas and concepts, be they commercially viable or simply interesting.

Interactive fiction has made appearances at BostonFIG before, and this year's festival was no exception. The Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation is based out of Boston, and their booth this year showed off everything from Infocom games (perhaps not indie, but Boston-based!) to the more recent Hadean Lands (whose Kickstarter I supported way back in 2010!). The IFTF is such a staple of BostonFIG that I was chatting with its organizers for a minute before I realized something new right in front of me.

Apple IIc at BostonFIG

An Apple IIc… at BostonFIG!

I always thought it would be fun to bring an indie game like Lawless Legends to BostonFIG, but the IFTF beat me to it by using an Apple IIc to show off classic Infocom games. They were running off the original floppies, as opposed to 4am's newer Pitch Dark GUI. The table was manned by Andrew Plotkin, who I interviewed for Juiced.GS's cover story about interactive fiction seven years ago; and the Apple IIc was provided by Nick Montfort, an MIT professor whose book, Twisty Little Passages, Juiced.GS reviewed nine years ago.

So as to not block the table from interested festival-goers who might not already have heard the good word of interactive fiction, I didn't linger at the table. But I was very glad to see this precedent set, and I hope to see the Apple II at future BostonFIGs.

Chris McVeigh's LEGO Apple II

August 20th, 2018 8:48 AM
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Last week, I wrote about Charles Mangin, who's known for his 3D-printed miniature Apple computers. But polymer resin and filaments aren't the only building blocks of computer models: long before 3D printers, we had LEGO. And just as Charles Mangin is to 3D printers, so too is Chris McVeigh to LEGO.

McVeigh made headlines four years ago with his portfolio of LEGO constructs, including TIE fighters, televisions, and Atari consoles. Favoriting our favorite retrocomputer, his offerings also included an Apple IIe and Apple IIc — or as they're known by names less likely to incur copyright infringement, My First Computer: Binary Edition and Seed Edition, respectively. Each model has a free online guide for assembling your own LEGO Apple II.

My First Computer: Binary Edition

1 computer. 8 bits. 353 blocks.

McVeigh introduced the IIe model in 2014 and released v2.0 in October 2016. I emailed him recently to ask what the differences were. He explained:

I usually revise a product for one of two reasons: (1) I am no longer able to source an important part (for example, if the part has gone out of production) or (2) newly available parts allow me to improve upon the original design.

The revision of My First Computer: Binary Edition was prompted by the reintroduction of large flat tiles in tan, but I took the opportunity to give it a full overhaul. The most obvious changes are to the computer’s internals (in the original design, they were more abstract) and the external disk drives (which were completely redesigned).

McVeigh isn't the first or only one to interpret the Apple II as a LEGO construct; in 2013, CK Tsang built his own model retrocomputer. But unlike many online creators, McVeigh doesn't just show you how he did it — he'll also provide you with everything you need to do it yourself. If you don't have all 353 LEGO pieces necessary to assemble the IIe, you can order them from McVeigh. This kit is currently sold out but is expected to be back in stock this Wednesday, August 22, for the cost of $87.50 + $15 shipping within the USA. That's only 29¢ per LEGO piece!

I love that there are so many artistic interpretations of the Apple II — though this one is perhaps the blockiest, stealing the award from Minecraft. What other Apple II products and peripherals do you think McVeigh should design next?

(Hat tips to Michael Mulhern and Derek Ngai)

Speech synthesis on the Apple II

July 23rd, 2018 9:16 AM
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Earlier this year, I interviewed Joseph Bein of Out of Sight Games. As a visually impaired gamer, Joseph finds some games more accessible than others; but as a game developer, he encounters other challenges I'd never even considered. Are game development tools themselves accessible? How do we make them so?

Interviewing Joseph made it apparent that computers can cause problems for those seeking easy access to technology and media — but another podcast showcased how they can also solve a lot of problems. The Apple II was one of the pioneers in that department, courtesy the Echo II speech synthesis expansion card. One early beneficiary of the Echo II was Dr. Robert Carter, a podcaster who himself was recently interviewed on the podcast Background Mode, a publication of The Mac Observer.

From the show notes:

Dr. Robert Carter is a Ph.D. Psychologist at Texas A&M, a long-time Apple enthusiast, and the co-host of the Tech Doctor podcast. He's very well versed in assistive technologies, having been blind since birth. Robert tells an amazing story about he's coped with his disability through the years. It started with using a portable typewriter in grade school, discovering the Apple II at age 18 and a speech synthesizer plug-in card, and ultimately using Apple's extraordinary VoiceOver technology on the Mac—and now iPhone.

The Apple II connections in this podcast extend to both sides of the mic: host John Martellaro was the editor and publisher of Peelings II, "The Magazine of Apple Software Evaluation", back in the early 1980s.

I'd love to examine the accessibility features of the Apple II — both historical and modern — in a future issue of Juiced.GS. After listening to this podcast, I'm adding Dr. Carter to my list of primary resources!