Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Unearthed arcana, milestones, and anniversaries.

Negotiating deals at KansasFest

November 26th, 2018 3:36 PM
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It's Cyber Monday, and Juiced.GS is selling Sophistication & Simplicity, Dr. Steve Weyhrich's definitive history of the Apple II. I sang this book's praises upon its December 2013 release, even going so far as to shoot an unboxing video:

What brought this book to the Juiced.GS store five years later is a random confluence of events. This past summer marked my 21st time attending KansasFest, the annual Apple II expo held in Kansas City. But for the first time in over a decade, my traditional roommate of Andy Molloy was not in attendance. I asked Steve Weyhrich if I could crash in his dorm room instead.

It was during one evening of cohabitation that my roommate and I got to chatting, the conversation wandering among all aspects of the Apple II community. What I discovered that evening was that not only had Steve received a few complimentary copies of his book, as every author is owed; he also had several dozen extra copies in storage.

If this had come to light 4–5 years ago, I would not have been in a position to do anything about it. But in the last three years, Juiced.GS has become a publisher and reseller for other Apple II entities, such as The Byte Works and Kelvin Sherlock. When I asked Steve if he'd be interested in being the third person to engage in such a collaboration by allowing Juiced.GS to distribute his book, he happily agreed.

What followed were months of emails between Steve, me, publisher Variant Press, the Juiced.GS staff, and other parties. The result was our ability to bring autographed copies of this book to Juiced.GS customers at an all-time low price — all because Steve and I were KansasFest roommates.

The Apple II community at large has long benefitted from the fruits of KansasFest, with collaborative products such as Marinetti having been born there. I'm delighted that Steve and I are the latest instrument of such happenstance.

Apple II in flight

November 12th, 2018 10:50 AM
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Once upon a time, before airlines had Wi-Fi, commercial flights were a disconnected oasis where passengers could not be reached by the outside world. It was the perfect time to put away the laptops and catch up on books, magazines, or even handheld games.

Now our computers are with us on every flight — a trend begun in 1983 by Jack McCornack, who put an Apple II on his ultralight aircraft.

"No brakes, no license, no parachute… What is there in this barebones aircraft to hang on to for even the least sense of security? It was designed with the help of an Apple II," writes Melissa Milich in Softalk Volume 3, Issue 5 (Jan 1983).

Jack McCornack of Pterodactyl in flight

Most of the article details how McCornack uses VisiCalc and Apple Writer to run his aviation company, much like any entrepreneur or businessperson might. But on page 125 is a sidebar in which Milich dives into the details of the above photo:

That's an Apple II Plus, monitor, disk drive, and Apple Juice power supply bolted to a wooden mount with foot-long bolts and protective pads. On the two-seater Pterodactyl pictured, the Apple sits where the passenger normally would. The control stick for the canard and winglets is managed with the right hand while the pilot reaches over with the left hand to type on the keyboard.

This sidebar is a fascinating look at the early integration between aviation and digital technology — not only to provide data that pilots and on-ground personnel can use to make decisions, but to actually control the flight mechanics themselves:

In a normal plane, ailerons are controlled by the stick and the rudders are controlled by foot pedals… McCornack is working toward a version of the two-seater in which you can control ailerons with a joystick hooked to the Apple. The computer would control servo motors that activate the ailerons.

Going for a theme, this same issue of Softalk has a similar article on pages 48–54: David Hunter's piece "Exec SubLogic: On Course and Flying High". It's a meandering piece about Bruce Artwick and Stu Moment, two other entrepreneurs who developed the early flight simulator A2-FS1 Flight Simulator (and, later, Night Mission Pinball).

SubLogic had many other innovations in development. Decades before Steel Battalion, they envisioned more complex interaction and input devices:

Not just another joystick, this multiplexed, seven-channel contraption will give a more realistic aspect to the flight simulator, possibly including foot pedals, a steering wheel, a separate throttle, and other features.

Softalk was a great magazine, and this issue in particular was a fun look at the Apple II in flight.

(Hat tip to Paulo Alves via Garrett Meiers, with help from Laine Nooney)

Without Me You're Nothing

September 17th, 2018 11:11 AM
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The spice must flow… as must the electrons. After Frank Herbert wrote the seminal science-fiction novel Dune in 1965, he shifted his sights from the far future to the near future, with the goal of demystifying a new technological arrival: the personal computer. The non-fiction result was Without Me You're Nothing: The Essential Guide to Home Computers.

Written by Herbert with assistance from Max Barnard, "a computer professional who handles both machines and programming and who designed Herbert's own home system", the book is a platform-agnostic guide to the basic functions of computer hardware, software, and programming. For example, the book breaks down the foreign vocabulary of information technology into more familiar concepts. Terms such as "input", "output", "CPU", and "memory" are instead referred to as "information", "action", "switching", and "storage", respectively. "Use the funny words if you must," says Herbert.

Without Me You're Nothing (is that Herbert talking to the computer — or to the readers?) was published in 1980 in hardcover (ISBN 0671412876) and a year later in paperback (ISBN 0671439642), both of which are readily available from libraries, Amazon.com, and eBay. Another paperback edition was released under the name The Home Computer Handbook in 1981 (ISBN 057503050X) and 1985 (ISBN 0450056317). These computer books form two of the six non-fiction books Herbert wrote in his lifetime.

Despite the multiple editions, I had never heard of this book until a friend introduced me to it. I was astonished that a science fiction author would branch out to something so practical and no-nonsense. William Touponce, author of the 1988 book Frank Herbert, made the connection:

[Herbert's] dominant intellectual impulse was not to mystify or set himself up as a prophet, but the opposite – to turn what powers of analysis he had (and they were considerable) over to his audience. And this impulse is as manifest in Dune… as it is in his computer book, Without Me You're Nothing.

Being nonspecific about what computers the reader uses, the book makes little to no reference about the Apple II specifically. The exception is a black-and-white photo of the Apple II opening Chapter 3: Meet Your New Machine — followed immediately by a photo of the Atari 400.

Of additional historical reference value are Appendix D, which includes the names and mailing addresses of the era's computer magazines (Byte in Peterborough, NH; Digital Design in Brookline, MA; ROM of Hampton, CT); and Appendix E: Microcomputer Accessories and Manufacturers, listing everything from Apple (770 Welch Road in Palo Alto) to Data General Corp (Southborough, MA) to Radio Shack (Fort Worth, TX).

I haven't read the book in-depth — to be honest, I wasn't a big fan of Dune — but it's nonetheless a fascinating artifact of how early computers were perceived and deciphered by early users, grounding even someone accustomed to looking among the stars.

Happy birthday, 1 MHz

May 7th, 2018 9:46 AM
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When Ryan Suenaga launched the A2Unplugged podcast on August 8, 2006, he declared it the world's first Apple II podcast. He quickly discovered that someone who'd never been to KansasFest, subscribed to GEnie, or read Juiced.GS had beaten him to the punch by only three months and a day: on May 7 of that year, Carrington Vanston debuted 1 MHz — originally "the Apple II podcast", soon "an Apple II podcast".

1 MHz podcast

Free as in beer, and free as in freedom.

Over six years and sixteen episodes, Carrington played 8-bit Apple II games both popular and obscure: Wasteland, Bureaucracy, Archon, Apple Panic, and more. Almost a decade before podcasts like New Game Plus and Do You Want to Keep Playing? made "retro game of the week" their schtick, 1 MHz was plumbing the depths of classic adventures, putting them in historical context and gushing over their feelies, exhibiting an enthusiasm normally reserved for someone discovering these games for the first time.

What Carrington had in quality, he made up for in lack of quantity. Sixteen episodes over 75 months is not frequent — it's roughly one every five months. The shortest span between episodes was four weeks; and the longest was two years, eight months. At that rate, it became an event when a new episode debuted, with my friends hurriedly texting me, "Did you hear? A new episode of 1 MHz is out!!"

1 MHz is not the only show to have fluctuated the Apple II airwaves. After four years of broadcasting, A2Unplugged aired its 36th and final episode in July 2010; host Ryan Suenaga passed away nine months later, in April 2011. But he lived to hear the debut of Open Apple, a show Mike Maginnis and I created to do what no other Apple II podcast was doing: interviewing the voices that constitute this amazing community. I departed that show after three years, but despite occasional hiatuses, Open Apple continues to this day, with Juiced.GS associate editor Andy Molloy and I guest-appearing on the latest episode, #76.

Meanwhile, in the last four years, traditional episodes of 1 MHz have been absent — but Carrington has not been silent. His rambunctious style of podcasting can be heard today not only on the Retro Computing Roundtable but on Eaten by a Grue, a game review podcast in the style of 1 MHz that Carrington co-hosts with Kevin Savetz. Last month, episode #17 aired, making it a more prolific podcast than 1 MHz.

But the great thing about retrocomputing podcasts is that they're never outdated: by covering topics that aren't contemporary, the podcasts themselves become timeless. So to celebrate the 12th anniversary of 1 MHz's premiere, I've ensured that Carrington's show will never be lost to the tides of time, and I've uploaded it to the Internet Archive.

Here's to ensuring a long life for the first — and one of the best — Apple II podcasts!

King's Quest a Hall of Fame candidate

April 9th, 2018 7:48 AM
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Every year, the World Video Game Hall of Fame — a product of the International Center for the History of Electronic Games at the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, New York — conducts a poll of which video games deserve to be inducted into the annals of history. The criteria are not what games we had the most fun playing or are the most nostalgic for, but which games have "icon-status, longevity, geographic reach, and influence".

Given the substantial impact such games must've had on the industry, you'd think Apple II software would be a shoe-in. Sadly, this has not always been the case. Not a single Apple II game was inducted in 2017, and previous years overlooked such obvious candidates as Oregon Trail.

Video Game Hall of Fame 2018

This year's candidates—recognize any?

This year isn't looking to make a much stronger showing, unfortunately. From the following dozen finalists, three have been selected to be added to the Hall of Fame in 2018:

All 12 games are worthy candidates, but the Apple II can lay claim to only two of them: King's Quest and John Madden Football. Of the two, I'd much rather see King's Quest be inducted. But does Sierra On-Line's flagship title have the longevity, geographic reach, and influence to attain that status?

We'll find out soon enough — voting ended last Wednesday, and the winners will be announced on Thursday, May 3. Stay tuned!

(Hat tip to the AP)

Lisa operating system source code

January 8th, 2018 8:52 AM
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Last week, I wrote about Robert Taylor and Charles Thacker, whose work at Xerox PARC inspired such Apple innovations as the graphic-user interface (GUI) and the mouse. Soon, we'll get to see under the hood of how Apple introduced those technologies with the Apple Lisa.

Just as the Computer History Museum did five years ago when it released the source code for Apple DOS, the CHM will now be distributing the source code for the Apple Lisa's operating system. Museum curator Al Kossow made the announcement on Google Groups, writing, "the sources to the OS and applications were recovered… and they are with Apple for review. After that's done, CHM will do an @CHM blog post about the historical significance of the software and the code that is cleared for release by Apple will be made available in 2018."

Apple Lisa

I'm curious where the source code was "recovered" from. Did the CHM collaborate with Apple to retrieve the code from an archaic floppy disk, much as Tony Diaz and Jason Scott helped Jordan Mechner recover the Prince of Persia source code? Or did some third party, perhaps a former Apple employee, bequeath the code to the CHM?

Regardless of the source, the importance of this release cannot be understated. Rhett Jones at Gizmodo reported, "Lisa was a cutting-edge machine and one of the first to offer consumers a GUI, mouse, and file system, but it was prohibitively expensive and didn’t catch on." To see the origin of these features is to look back at the ancestors of computing staples that are still with us today.

Further, such releases are extremely rare, as Apple is known to be possessive of their intellectual property. In this case Apple has little incentive to make such a release, whether or not there is historical value or modern applications for the Lisa operating system.

Whatever the origin or motivation of both this release and that of Apple DOS before it, the precedents continue to be set, with many implications for the Apple II community. Who knows what other classic software we'll see released from Apple Inc. next?

(Hat tip to Christopher Baugh via Paul Wilson)