Archive for the ‘People’ Category

Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, and other personalities of Apple II history.

A profile of Wolfenstein's Silas Warner

March 16th, 2020 12:30 PM
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Long before John Romero and company produced their 3D adaptation, Castle Wolfenstein was a 2D stealth game for the Apple II. It was the brainchild of one man: Silas Warner.

While I've long known about his most famous game, I knew little about the man himself, other than that he was also a musician and had died in 2004 at the age of 54.

Polygon journalist Colin Campbell set out to learn even more, interviewing Warner's widow, Kari Ann Owen. The resulting profile, "The man who made Wolfenstein", is a fascinating look at Warner, Muse Software, Wolfenstein, Robot Wars, and more.

Castle Wolfenstein
Campbell drew on a variety of sources for his research, from memorial pages to Silas Warner to previous interviews in now-defunct magazines. One such source was Silas Warner himself: he spoke at KansasFest 1992, and an audio recording of that presentation is available. I'm glad Campbell found this piece of history and was able to incorporate it into the profile.

But what if he hadn't? After all, audio is not indexed by Google, so depending on how Campbell has searched, he might not have found it. And once he found it, he had to put in the time to listen to the recording to find the facts and quotations needed for his article.

I thought we should make it easier for future historians to find and reference Warner's presentation, so I had it transcribed. The full text of 6,827 words is now available on the KansasFest website in HTML and text formats.

My thanks to Campbell for spotlighting this important figure in Apple II and gaming history, and to KansasFest for hosting these files for Campbell and others who wish to remember Silas Warner.

The legacy of Adam Rosen

February 3rd, 2020 9:22 AM
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A Massachusetts-based Apple II user recently reached out to me to ask where he could locally donate some aging software and documentation. I came up with a short list of potential recipients, including Adam Rosen of the Vintage Mac Museum, home to over a hundred classic Apple devices.

It was then that I belatedly learned that Adam had passed away on August 31, 2019, from pancreatic cancer; he was 53.

I'd met Adam only once, at a launch party for a proposed Boston-based retrocomputing museum known as the Digital Den, where I snapped photos of Adam and his many machines. We had both known of each other — he of his museum, me of Juiced.GS — and we were pleased to finally make each other's acquaintance. I didn't know that would be the first and last time we'd meet.

David Pierini of Cult of Mac called Adam "one of the biggest Mac fans ever". "Apple museums have popped up all over the world, but none with the quirky love that filled the rooms of Adam Rosen’s Massachusetts home," wrote Pierini. "Adam Rosen was happiest standing over an old Mac computer, all pulled apart with wires sticking out and components scattered across his kitchen table." You can hear that happiness from Adam himself, when the Retro Computing Roundtable interviewed him way back in episode #33 (September 2012).

Adam is gone before his time, but his computers live on. His collection has been donated to the American Computer and Robotics Museum of Bozeman, Montana. In Massachusetts, these machines were privately stored and visible only online; in Montana, they will be available to the public, starting in the fall of 2020.

I'm glad that a home has been found for these Macs — but the collection will be incomplete without Adam. His passion is what brought it together and kept it alive. I'm sorry I didn't have the opportunity to know him better.

Dan Bricklin for President

January 20th, 2020 9:06 AM
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In a recent letter to the the Concord Monitor, the daily newspaper of Concord, New Hampshire, a reader submitted a letter about our country's upcoming presidential election. He compared two politicians, saying one was a "visionary", the first to present the ideas; but the other would be the "implementer", the one better suited to execute the ideas.

He then made an analogy using names Apple II users may recognize:

Do you know who Dan Bricklin is? Ever even heard of him? Dan Bricklin invented the spreadsheet. VisiCalc was the product that made the Apple II a viable business tool and the rest is history. Bricklin is a visionary and hero to software people like me.

But as often happens in software, first or even best doesn’t always win the game. First Lotus with 123 took the spreadsheet market and made it a real business game changer, followed by Microsoft Excel years later. Mitch Kapor (Lotus) and Bill Gates got the vision done.

This view of history rings false to me. Perhaps it's my Apple II bias, but Dan Bricklin did everything this reader says Mitch Kapor and Bill Gates did. VisiCalc was the first "killer app", demonstrating the value of personal computers and justifying their existence is offices and businesses across the country. Steve Jobs himself went on the record as saying that if it weren't for VisiCalc, there wouldn't've been an Apple Computer Inc.: "If Visicalc had been written for some other computer you'd be interviewing somebody else right now."

Did Lotus 1-2-3 improve upon VisiCalc? Certainly. According to Wikipedia, "1-2-3 quickly overtook VisiCalc, as well as Multiplan and SuperCalc, two VisiCalc competitors." But that's simply the nature of software development and evolution: any product that comes later will benefit from better hardware and development tools. Lotus 1-2-3's release in 1983 does not diminish the vision and implementation achieved by Bricklin in 1979.

As the Concord Monitor reader acknowledges, Bricklin is a hero and visionary — without whom we wouldn't have Lotus 1-2-3. Bricklin deserves credit not just for VisiCalc, but for helping the personal computer revolution succeed and for paving the way for visionaries to come.

Woz works Christmas

December 23rd, 2019 10:28 AM
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Christmas is this week, and whether or not you have friends and family to spend it with, ideally you're not spending it with co-workers: the holidays are a vacation from our day jobs, if any.

Unless you're Steve Wozniak.

Forty-two years ago, Woz spent Christmas developing the a 5.25" floppy disk drive for the Apple II. It was 1977 — Apple's first year in business — and the first Consumer Electronics Show (CES) to be held in Las Vegas was just a week or two away. For Woz, there would be no yule logs or holiday shopping or Christmas lights or Christmas vacation — only floppy toil.

Woz's labor paid off, as the resulting Disk II drive propelled the success of the Apple II. "It cost just $140 in components, but sold for $595", reports Cult of Mac — that's $552 and $2,347 in 2019 dollars. Yet it was still "the cheapest floppy disk system ever sold up to that point", states Wikipedia.

CC BY-SA 3.0 All About Apple


Like a Jelly of the Month Club subscription, Woz's work is the gift that keeps on giving. Disks produced for the Apple II floppy drive continue to be imaged to this day, ensuring that classic software is preserved for Christmases to come.

Jean Armour Polly put computers in libraries

October 21st, 2019 7:00 AM
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Last month, the Internet Hall of Fame inducted a new class. Among its members was Jean Armour Polly, who pioneered free Internet access in public libraries.

And she did so with an Apple II, according to Syracuse.com. While the Internet and the Apple II were not exactly contemporaries, Polly was an advocate for computers in libraries well before they were put online.

It was 1981 and this was groundbreaking. They set up the computer, a black Apple 2 Plus, in a spot where everyone could use it. The American Legion raised money to buy the printer. At the time, Liverpool was one of two libraries in the country with a computer, said Polly, a Syracuse University alumna.

That's not Polly's only contribution to computer literacy and Internet lore: she also popularized the term "surfing" for Internet activity.

While Polly popularized the phrase, she didn't coin it. The first use of "surfing the Internet" was by Mark McCahill on the Usenet newsgroup alt.gopher on February 25, 1992:

There is a lot to be said for surfing the internet with gopher from anywhere that you can find a phone jack.

I'm a big fan of public libraries, making weekly visits to mine to get free movies, books, and video games (and to look for Apple II software). While I haven't needed to use a library's computers, I realize that making this resource available to the community is an invaluable service with a high return on investment.

Our thanks to Polly for being among those who got the ball rolling with an Apple II Plus!

(Hat tip to Andy Molloy)

Jeri Ellsworth of Tilt Five

October 14th, 2019 8:51 AM
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Sometimes, Apple II users have ambitions bigger than their humble retrocomputers. Steve Chiang went to work at Zynga and Warner Bros. Richard Garriott flew into space.

And now, Jeri Ellsworth is setting out to redefine reality with Tilt Five.

Jeri's mixed reality rig is impressive in its own right. But it's all the cooler due to Jeri being an Apple II rockstar, too… Well, maybe more Commodore 64.

But she was a cover story for Juiced.GS, too!

Jeri Ellsworth on cover of Juiced.GS

Doug Cuff's interview with Jeri opens:

She's a self-confessed hardware nerd, and she has a mission. She wants to rebuild one of the most popular and beloved microcomputers of the 1980s: the Commodore 64.

On the way, she's going to be a big help to the Apple II. But even if she wasn't, you would still want to pay homage to Jeri Ellsworth.

When she was 16, Jeri Ellsworth was playing with her Commodore 64, and she wanted it to have more colors. (Just as with the Apple II, people mentally dismissed the C-64 long before production stopped. The last C-64 rolled off the production line in 1992.)

By the time she had explored the idea of improving on the C-64's hardware, Jeri wanted to create a C-64 on a single chip. She liked the idea of a C-64 palmtop. And she was still being driven by forces that most of us can understand: she wanted to play all her old games, and at the same time, she wanted them to have better graphics.

Jeri is also an alumna of KansasFest, Vintage Computer Festival East, and the JoCoCruise, at all of which our paths have crossed.

Tilt Five's Kickstarter was the latest opportunity for me to intersect with Jeri, as her project was a perfect fit for my monthly gaming podcast, Polygamer. Our hour-long chat (with a few opening and closing remarks about the Apple II) aired last week.

It was a pleasure to catch up with Jeri. It was also completely unsurprising to discovery she is as much an ambitious yet humble geek as ever. I didn't feel like I was talking to someone who had outgrown the Apple II; rather, it was two old friends picking up right where we left off.

Jeri asked that I not air the video of us singing karaoke. In truth, no such video exists —  but there is video of her beating me badly at arm wrestling. So really, even if I did have any dirt on Jeri, I'd be highly incentivized to keep it to myself!