Archive for the ‘Hacks & mods’ Category

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

A clear case for the IIGS

February 24th, 2020 8:47 AM
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Last fall, MacEffects launched a Kickstarter campaign for an injection-molded clear case for the Apple II and II Plus. Its 68 backers pledged $21,171, falling short of the $29,000 goal.

Deciding that the fatal flaw of their campaign was the limited audience of Apple II and II Plus owners, MacEffects has returned to Kickstarter with a new crowdfunding project. This time, it's to create a clear case for the more popular IIe and IIGS models.

But despite the project title of "Injection Molded Clear Case for Apple IIe and IIGS", you don't get to pick whether you want a IIe case or a IIGS case. Instead, only the IIe case is available, which the IIGS board can be adapted to fit using a kit included in certain reward tiers, such as "Clear Case Kit for Apple IIe > IIGS" ($350) and "Kitchen Sink" ($675). These options are proving quite popular, as evidenced by the first 32 backers raising $12,855. That's an average of $402 per donor, higher than their previous campaign's average of $311 per donor.

Even though MacEffects' previous campaign was unsuccessful, they've upped the ante this round with a goal of $35,000. At the current rate, they'll need a total of 87 backers to reach their goal.

I'm tempted to splurging on one of these cases for my own IIGS. But I recently transitioned to a nomadic lifestyle, putting most of my possessions in storage. It's motivated me to buy fewer things that I won't immediately use, including Apple II peripherals, sadly.

But that's a unique situation and one that shouldn't keep others from considering this project, which ends on April 19!

Pete Perkins' Apple II clone

September 23rd, 2019 1:13 PM
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As proprietary as Apple likes to make their products, given enough effort, even Apple's hardware and software can be copied. Some Apple II clones were broadly distributed commercial products, such as the Franklin Ace 100; others were region-specific, such as the Bulgaria's Pravetz computers. There were enough other clones and manufacturers to fill an entire Wikipedia page.

But not all clones end up being historical footnotes in Wikipedia; some were commercially available but produced in such small quantities that they flew under Apple's radar. Pete Perkins, proprietor of Honda Computers in Tokyo, was such an entrepreneur, using his technical wizardry to build on and profit off Apple's innovations by implementing expansion ports for networking and selling his creation for half of Apple's.

We might never have known about this early hacker and pirate if not for Thames Television, the production company behind the British television series Database, which IMDb describes as "an early series for computer addicts". For the episode that aired July 6, 1984, host Tony Bastable traveled to Japan, where he interviewed Perkins about his homebrew machine.

I love how guileless Perkins is in this interview. He claims he didn't copy the Apple II, since it looks different — a defense that leads to a knowing grin that such an argument would never hold up in court. Later he goes on record as saying it might be illegal — he just hasn't gotten caught yet!

Where are they now? Bastable passed away in 2007. Perkins later ran the CortNet BBS and Janis II; in 1996, he was running a combination Internet café and classroom. Where he's gone since then, I don't know — though I remain hopeful he escaped Apple's wrath.

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.