Archive for the ‘People’ Category

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

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!

The needlepoint of Glenda Adams

October 15th, 2018 11:45 AM
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I've never been a particularly crafty person (except perhaps in the mwahaha sense). Knitting, crocheting, quilting, or even basic sewing are arts I've never taken the time to learn, let alone master. Even if I did grasp the basics, I doubt I would have the creativity to design anything terribly impressive — unless I had the right inspiration.

What inspires artist and iOS developer Glenda Adams is the Apple II. She's taken the 8-bit computer and used it as a basis for a impressive variety of needlework. From Karateka to Ultima and more, she has painstakingly adapted these iconic images into her own miniature tapestries, currently on display in her home and on her Twitter.

Adams, a games developer since 1988, has a savvy and relevant social media feed, tweeting on the occasion of KansasFest and demonstrating a wicked sense of humor in line with Apple Inc.'s latest developments.

Although her work is currently not for sale (nor is she accepting commissions), you can check out her #nerdstitch hashtag for more examples of her work, which expands beyond the Apple II to include Mac software and classic arcade games. Read more about her creative process at Cult of Mac.

Steve Wozniak interviewed in 1982

October 8th, 2018 10:33 AM
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Steve Wozniak has given many interviews about the old days of inventing the Apple II and working with Steve Jobs. But back when the old days weren't yet old, Woz was interviewed by Michael Harrison, who hosted the Harrison's Mic talk radio show on KMET in Los Angeles, 1975–1986. Harrison has since transitioned from radio to podcast, and he's now re-aired this 1982 interview as an episode of his podcast, The Michael Harrison Interview. The episode is 33 minutes long, with the 1982 interview beginning at 4:49. It's a fascinating opportunity to draw parallels between Woz's observations and predictions, and the culture that eventually arose.

The Michael Harrison Interview on PodcastOne

Woz wastes no time in sharing his insights into how the Apple II created a new generation of entrepreneurs:

It's really amazing to find how many 16-year-olds in high school right now are making more money than even anybody's parents in the schools are making… They've gone and written a program for a personal computer, like a game, a popular game, or a Rubik's cube program, or a chess program, and they'll market it through some of the companies that have sprung up to sell these programs, and good ones sell like hotcake… I don't know a single one that's as old as I. I'm 32. All the very popular names that are coming up, they're almost all 16, 18.

This echoes Tim Enwall at Misty Robotics, who recently attributed the success of the Apple II to this third-party innovation:

Apple didn't create or find VisiCalc. Based on the Apple II providing a relatively affordable, sufficiently powerful, and easily enough programmed platform, VisiCalc found it.

Woz also predicted the ubiquity of personal computers:

Harrison: Do you see that spreading to all of society in 10–20 years, where we're all going to become electronics freaks?

Woz: Oh, no. No. Not at all… We all have TVs. We all have Hi-Fis. And we're not TV freaks or Hi-Fi freaks or car freaks. But there's going to be a lot more exposure to it. It'll be commonplace.

This is the same thing Leigh Alexander meant during GamerGate when she wrote, "'Gamers' don't have to be your audience. 'Gamers' are over." — not that an audience or culture was dead, but that it had become so pervasive as to be meaningless. We can all enjoy a good game, computer, or recipe without being a programmer, engineer, or chef; you don't have to understand what's happening under the hood to appreciate the results.

Speaking of electronic games, Woz expressed some concerns about this emerging medium:

It's great when it's fun and it's a game, but you can get very intense into it, just like some people get into football very intensely and wind up hitting the TV set. When you take a game very seriously, it can be very addicting and result in a lot of negative behavior… We don't have any evidence, but we know it. We know that it's a problem.

I was surprised and disappointed to hear Woz take such a strong stance while admitting there's no evidence to support it. We live in a society that often ignores or contradicts scientific evidence when it contradicts our "common sense". Of course, at the dawn of personal computing, there was little evidence one way or the other; nowadays, I hope any opinion Woz has now was arrived after reviewing the available resources.

Did you learn anything new in this interview? Was the Woz of 1982 much different from the Woz of today? Leave a comment with your reactions below!

(Hat tip to Talkers)