TimeOut Spellcheck's 5L bug

February 11th, 2019 11:50 AM
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A few months ago, I detailed the "unliprobablyo" bug in AppleWorks Classic's TimeOut Grammar module. But there's another bug that's even more inscrutable. Although I've never personally encountered it, it is such a strange an inexplicable phenomenon that the revelation of its existence has stuck with me for decades.

For many, AppleWorks was their first access to a spellchecker. Although an imperfect tool that often lacked context and was unable to differentiate homonyms, it still introduced an unprecedented level of quality assurance to all writing, from simple to complex.

To this day, I've never encountered a spellcheck with a more efficient and intuitive interface, allowing me to select misspelled words from an alphabetical list instead of going through the document and forcing me to take action on each suspect word. This approach allows me to quickly skip over proper names, acronyms, and abbreviations.

But there was one abbreviation that, in a very specific context, could bring the whole house tumbling down. To the best of my knowledge, it was first reported by Tony Diaz on GEnie on November 1, 1996, as captured in GenieLamp:

I think I have stumbled on something here, and quite frankly, I for the life of me, just do not get it. Some history: I am starting to catagorize my Apple II Collection, I decided to start on paperwork. With the intention of eventually putting major portions of the list into an html table for posting on my Apple II Information web site. That is why I chose to just use the word processor instead of a data base file for this particular part of it, (some of you may say, why not use the database after I describe what lead me up to this.) I have my file boxes (Hanging folder cardboard boxes) labeled 1-12 at this point and the folders A-Z within. The stuff is in no particular order at this point which is why I just figured I'll make a quick list, save it as a TAB delimited format, import it into a database later and swap stuff around, alphabetize/catagorize it… I sure wish I started that way and then I would have had this mess.

Here is an example what I was doing.

 Name                                           What       Box/Folder
 --------------------------------------------------------------------
 Wico Joystick Dealer Kit                       Hardware           1A
 Titan Technologies Dealer Kit                  Hardware           3C
 Analytical Engines Saybrook 68000 Fliers/Kit   Hardware           4H
 Sweetmicro Systems Dealer Kit (Mockingboard)   Hardware           5L

I decided to spellcheck it so I could add some more words to my custom dictionary… and that was the end of that.

I after a long mess of 'WTF!?@@@>#$%' is going on here, I said.. ok, it's choking on something… Lord knows what, no disk access had happened yet. I ditched the (thank god for Macros) the Box/Folder catagory and it worked. To make a long story short, 5L Locked up AppleWorks.

What a completely and utterly SILLY and stupid bug.

Harold Hislop took up the investigation, responding with his own findings:

As far as I have been able to tell, after an extensive amount of trying different things, the lockup only occurs on IIgs machines, and only when a RamFast SCSI card is installed. . . and it does not seem to matter if any volume that is attached to the RamFast has been accessed or not. … I can find -NO- reason for the lockup in this firmware… I =strongly suspect= (but have NOT proved!) that the problem is really in AppleWorks itself, and most likely related to it's use of some 6502/65C02 opcode that does not execute in quite the same manner on a 65C816 processor.

I don't have the resources to test if this bug persists in that specific environment, or if later versions of AppleWorks or the RamFAST firmware resolved it.

RamFAST SCSI manual cover

Were you the culprit, RamFAST?… Or was it AppleWorks?

But I still remember around 2002, telling one programmer-type friend: "If you ran AppleWorks spellcheck on an Apple II with a RamFAST SCSI card installed, and the document contained '5L', it would crash."

I don't think I've ever seen that friend laugh so hard.

AppleWorks & TimeOut Grammar

December 10th, 2018 11:46 AM
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I was working on a particularly complex Juiced.GS article recently, so I did something I hadn't done in awhile: I loaded it into AppleWorks Classic and ran it through TimeOut Grammar. It's a tool that has served me well for decades.

For much of my academic career starting in fourth grade and continuing at least through undergraduate, AppleWorks was my primary word processor. It wasn't just habit or nostalgia: its plain-text nature let me focus on the words and their meaning, and its spellcheck function's interface was more efficient than any I've seen to this day.

But just as important was TimeOut Grammar (copyright 1992 by Dan Verkade; published by Beagle Bros Inc. and Quality Computers). This add-on module was, like most grammar checkers even today, simply a dictionary of search/replace patterns: phrases that are often used incorrectly or which can be more succinctly replaced with other phrases. TimeOut Grammar rarely understood context: gender-specific pronouns could be decried as "sexist", even when I was writing about religions or eras that have very gender-specific roles. But more often than not, it helpfully taught me to be concise and accurate, avoiding language that was wordy ("in order to"), vague ("nice"), cliché ("the fact is"), and redundant ("very").

I learned to write so that TimeOut Grammar's first pass would find as few errors as possible. When I mentioned this habit to a fellow teacher, he laughed, "That's scary!" Perhaps a computer teaching someone to write didn't sit well with him — especially when the computer, as mentioned, lacked the nuance and frame of reference that a human writer or editor does.

But not only did TimeOut Grammar never force a rewrite; it also occasionally reminded me just how smart it wasn't. My favorite idiosyncrasy is one I previously related on Syndicomm Online, as captured in the March 2005 issue of The Lamp!:

Appleworks SPEAKS SPANISH?
""""""""""""""""""""""""""
One of my favorite AppleWorks quirks: try grammar checking "not likely to", and accept all suggested corrections. The result will be "unliprobablyo".

I didn't know AppleWorks knew Spanish! :-)

-Ken

(KGAGNE, Cat 9, Top 20, Msg 18)

TimeOut Grammar must've stored a copy of the original document in its memory — a copy that wasn't aware of the module's own substitutions. So when "not likely" got replaced by "unlikely", it didn't stop Grammar from continuing to see the original "likely" and wanting to replace it with "probably".

Writing is quirky and creative — something you don't necessarily want your computer programs to be. But when used in moderation and with discretion, TimeOut Grammar was a wonderful tool that helped me along my way.

The gift of AfterWork

August 21st, 2017 9:38 AM
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Last week was my dad's birthday, and someone asked me: had I ever gotten him a gift for the Apple II?

In fact, I had! It was one Christmas in the 1990s, and Dad was in his second decade of using AppleWorks on the Apple II to run the family business. We'd just upgraded our version of AppleWorks — one of many purchases we'd made from Quality Computers. Although I was still a minor at the time, it was not unusual for me to receive a QC catalog in the mail, call them to order something, and tell them to charge it to dad's credit card, which they had on file. If the purchase was a game or something else that couldn't be written off as a business expense, I would reimburse my parents from my allowance.

Even at that age, I'd already caught up to and surpassed my father's familiarity with the Apple II and its capabilities. I thought I should use that experience to benefit his AppleWorks experience, so I bought AfterWork, a screen saver specifically for AppleWorks.

Screen savers are still ubiquitous, but primarily as an artifact of an earlier time when they served a necessary purpose. Today's LCD monitors don't run the risk of burn-in, but on a CRT monitor like the AppleColor RGB monitor on our IIGS, my dad stepping away from work for an hour to play Tetris could have disastrous results. AppleWorks 4.0 would blank the screen, but with AfterWork, fun animations would flood his display until he came back to his spreadsheets.

I don't know that my dad appreciated receiving the gift as much as I did giving it. Most of my family see computers much like I see cars: a vehicle to get you from point A to point B. They don't enjoy tinkering or playing with it or making it do fun, cool things for the sake of it. But I was nonetheless proud to give my dad something that integrated seamlessly into his workflow. I wasn't trying to get him to use the Apple II in a different or "better" way — I just wanted his work day to be a little more amusing, and to give back to him a small part of the wonder and joy he'd given me by getting me into the Apple II in the fist place.

It's been decades since I've seen AfterWork in action: I don't have it installed in Sweet16, and there appear to be no screenshots or YouTube videos of it. What I can find online is a 1995 review of AppleWorks 5.0 by now-Juiced.GS staff writer Andrew Roughan, in which he states, "AppleWorks now includes the AfterWork screen saver and five sample modules. The full AfterWork package which has 21 modules is available separately." I'm left uncertain which Christmas I bought AfterWork or for what version of AppleWorks. But I'll always remember it as a gift that represented something my dad and I had in common.

Enhancing AppleWorks 4

February 6th, 2012 11:12 AM
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Last summer, I found my copy of the 1993 VHS tape Enhancing AppleWorks 4, a 26-minute video in which software developers Randy Brandt and Dan Verkade discuss the program's origin and the optional enhancements one can make to Quality Computers' 1993 update to the classic word processor, spreadsheet, and database productivity suite.

I recently decided to part with the video (before finding out that the intended party didn't want it), so I finally digitized it so that everyone could enjoy it. It seemed especially timely to do so, given Randy's recent reappearance in the Apple II community. Though it's true this video is already available on YouTube courtesy the generous Antoine Vignau, he writes, "My VCR is NTSC compatible on output to a TV screen, but my Plextor digitizer sees the flow as black & white only." I knew from my previous conversions of Quality Computer videos that my setup was capable of color, so I now offer a more picturesque alternative in this single Vimeo video:

Q/Vision, a division of Quality Computers, presents this introduction to AppleWorks 4 and the Apple II programmers behind it. Starring QC employees Randy Brandt, Dan Verkade, Katherine Hempton, and Walker Archer, written by Jerry Kindall, and produced and directed by Sam Mannino, this 1993 video was converted from VHS and is posted here with permission from copyright holder Joe Gleason.

I am not skilled at editing video and so did not run the above MP4 file through free utilities such as JES Deinterlacer and JES Video Cleaner. If anyone wishes to do so, the video file can be freely downloaded from Vimeo for further processing. Please let me know of your results, and I can replace the Vimeo file with a superior quality version without changing the URL.

It's important to remember that physical media have additional aspects that can be lost in a straight conversion, so I have also scanned all pertinent materials associated with this VHS tape into a PDF.

NAUG's AppleWorks Forum

July 4th, 2011 10:58 PM
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I recently came into temporary possession of a complete collection of the AppleWorks Forum, a monthly publication of the National AppleWorks Users Group (NAUG). As the only Apple II periodical I've ever subscribed to during its lifetime has been Juiced.GS, to suddenly have in my hands thousands of pages of retrocomputing resources was eye-opening.

NAUG's newsletter was published every month for ten years, 1986–1995. Each issue covered everything about AppleWorks, from how to create templates for business and greeting cards to how to write macros. It was only a year after this wealth of information stopped publishing that Juiced.GS launched, putting out 20 pages per quarter. I'm humbled to know that there were those who produced that many articles three times more often. Juiced.GS may have lasted longer — but in NAUG's ten years of publishing, they produced ten times more issues than Juiced.GS has in sixteen.

Pawing through the tenth and final volume, I saw such legendary bylines as Randy Brandt and Mark Munz, as well as several other familiar names. I wonder what had become of these authors. I'm tempted to run a Google or LinkedIn search on their names and reach out to them and see if they're aware of the longevity of their work and the Apple II community at large. Similarly, an index of vendors provided now-defunct GEnie email addresses but also phone numbers; what would a reverse lookup reveal about who has those numbers now?

I handed the volume to Andy Molloy, who maintains a Web page on the emulator II in a Mac. That page states of the developer, "The company also released a product called II-in-a-PC that allowed Apple II software to run on a PC. I haven't been able to locate any info on this product." Understandably, Andy was quite excited to find an AppleWorks Forum cover story on this rare piece of software, complete with screenshots.

Fortunately, such resources are not limited to the binders I was given. Mike Maginnis, with the permission of the original NAUG head honchos, has scanned the AppleWorks Forum and made the collection available as a free download. Reading PDFs may not create the same sense of awe that a stack of magazines might incite, but the information contained therein is identical and no less valuable.

Mike's collection is currently incomplete. I suspect that will not be the case for long.

Courier's reign

January 17th, 2011 12:04 PM
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Farhad Manjoo is pretty worked up over a trivial matter. For Slate Magazine, he ranted why you should never, ever use two spaces after a period. This 1,486-word typographical diatribe is rampant with the same form of sure-mindedness its author finds so belligerent in his opposition: "What galls me about two-spacers isn't just their numbers. It's their certainty that they're right."

The difference is that Mr. Manjoo claims to have history on his side:

Monospaced type gives you text that looks "loose" and uneven; there's a lot of white space between characters and words, so it's more difficult to spot the spaces between sentences immediately. Hence the adoption of the two-space rule—on a typewriter, an extra space after a sentence makes text easier to read. Here's the thing, though: Monospaced fonts went out in the 1970s. First electric typewriters and then computers began to offer people ways to create text using proportional fonts. Today nearly every font on your PC is proportional. (Courier is the one major exception.) Because we've all switched to modern fonts, adding two spaces after a period no longer enhances readability, typographers say. It diminishes it.

With this evolution to support him, Manjoo insists that anyone still using two spaces is a prehistoric troglodyte still reliant on ancient technology to string words into sentences.

But wait! Manjoo does provide some allowance: the Courier font. Although rarely seen on modern computing platforms, Courier was the default (and, in fact, only) font offered by AppleWorks Classic on the Apple II. In such an environment, it makes sense to distinguish a non-sentence-ending period from another.

Those who have migrated to other platforms may have since adapted their style to the variety of fonts the Macintosh made standard a quarter-century ago. Obstinate authors weaned on the Apple II who insist on computers adapting to their users and not vice versa have instead customized their environments to maintain a continuity that began with the Apple II.

For me, this means changing Apple Mail's default font to Courier — and I don't think it took any editing for my blogging tool, MarsEdit, to default to Menlo, also a non-proportional font. Once published, my blog posts appear in a proportional font, but WordPress, which powers this site, automatically displays those double spaces as a single. I can therefore preserve my workflow while presenting content that's appropriate to its context.

MarsEdit supports my monospace fixation.


MarsEdit supports my monospace fixation.

Every writer has his or her own quirks, from spaces after a period, to "built-in" or "inbuilt", to whether or not punctuation goes within or without quotation marks. It's the writer's responsibility to offer writing that is consistent with the style of the intended publication, if one is to be both employable and likable as a writer.

But to go on a moralistic rampage about the sins of extraneous whitespace is unnecessary … though perhaps good for page views: over one thousand responses have furthered this controversy thus far.

Do you think the Apple II has played a role in perpetuating this archaic typeset pattern?