Replaying the founding of Apple

June 2nd, 2014 9:35 AM
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Gender Inclusive Game Design by Sheri Granar RayAfter recently finishing the Austin Grossman novel You, which featured many references to classic computers such as the Apple II and Commodore 64, I moved onto the 1986 novel Replay, a time travel tale by Ken Grimwood. It’s a bit like Groundhog Day, except instead of the main character repeating the same day, he’s reliving the same 25 years. As in the 1989 film Back to the Future II, he naturally uses his future knowledge to ensure his financial security — except where Biff Tannen relied solely on sporting events, Jeff Winston also plays the stock market, making investments in companies he knows are bound to succeed.

At one point, his wife laments to him a recent business meeting:

"Hippies, that’s all they were. That tall boy was barefoot, for God’s sake, and the other one looked like a…a Neanderthal!"

"Their idea has a lot of potential; it doesn’t matter what they looked like."

"Well, somebody ought to tell them the sixties are over, if they want to do anything with that silly idea of theirs. I just don’t believe you fell for it, and gave them all that money!"

He couldn’t really blame her for the way she’d reacted; without benefit of foresight, the two young men and their garageful of secondhand electronic components would indeed seem unlikely candidates for a spot on the Fortune 500. But within five years that garage in Cupertino, California would be famous, and Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak would prove to be the soundest investment of 1976. Jeff had given them half a million dollars, insisted they follow the advice of a retired young marketing executive from Intel they had recently met, and told them to make whatever they wanted as long as they continued to call it "Apple." He had let them keep forty-nine percent of the new enterprise.

"Who in the world would want a computer in their house? And what makes you think those scruffy boys really know how to make one, anyway?"

The ability of Grimwood’s protagonist to meddle with history is inconsistent. In this particular 25-year bounce, all the hero’s investments accomplish is to funnel various companies’ profits into his bank account. But Steve Weyhrich of Sophistication & Simplicity points out how dramatically the above cash influx would alter Apple’s evolution: "This person who invested $500,000 in Apple before Mike Markkula came around would potentially have made it unnecessary for Markkula, regardless of this investor’s recommendation. Markkula’s personal involvement in the company would possibly have been diluted, since it was not his cash that was at risk. The outcome of the early days of Apple could have been quite different with a large, non-Markkula-based capital investment. Jobs would probably have decided he didn’’t need some old-school business person telling him what to do, which could have removed the adult supervision they needed in those early days."

However, Steve and I disagree over whether such startup capital would’ve even been welcome. Mike Markkula had invested $250,000 in Apple in exchange for becoming a one-third owner of Apple, this being after Ron Wayne had temporarily owned 10% of the company. In neither case did Jobs or Wozniak relinquish majority control of their fledgling company. Last summer’s Jobs film suggested Jobs was a shrewd businessman in his negotiations with Markkula, and while I suspect that particular scene was exaggerated, I absolutely believe Jobs as a man insisting on being in control. For him to settle for keeping only 49% of his company, even in exchange for a half-million dollars, is unbelievable.

But Steve points out, "Remember that before Markkula came along to invest, Jobs was willing to sell the Apple II to Chuck Peddle and Jack Tramiel of Commodore in exchange for jobs with that company and a specific salary. With an offer of $500,000, he would have probably been willing to [settle for a] 49% or less share."

What do you think? Would Woz and Jobs have taken this offer? And, if so, how would it have affected Apple’s development?

Sophistication & Simplicity shipping

December 2nd, 2013 10:15 AM
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Blatant plug alert!

I’m writing today to promote Sophistication & Simplicity: The Life & Times of the Apple II Computer, by Dr. Steven Weyhrich, long-time Apple II user. In just the past three years, Steve has become a member of the KansasFest committee, written for Juiced.GS, and been guest #4 on the Open Apple podcast. But much longer ago than that, he began chronicling the story of the Apple II, which today is available on his website, Apple II History. That site has served as the source for his book, a hardcover that began shipping yesterday.

Sophistication & SimplicityTurning a website into a book can be an easy feat: aggregate some blog posts into a PDF and ship it off to the Kindle store. Or download some Wikipedia entries and reformat them for sale under Creative Commons. But Steve has taken no such shortcuts with his opus. He has extensively researched and re-written significant portions of his history as well as created new chapters. I’ve been aware of this process not only as he pinged me for my professional perspective on various editing matters, but also through interviewing Steve for Juiced.GS:

I have a new chapter that is all about KansasFest; that is exclusive to the print book. There are some other places where I’ve added material that I did not also mirror to the Web site, but I did not keep close track of it. After a while, I stopped changing the Web site and the book material at the same time, because it became tedious to do both. All of my most recent changes have been book-specific.

The final stretch was the longest: some online stores still reference the book’s original launch date of April 1, 2013!

Steve also revealed that this book has been a long time in coming:

I actually made an effort to make this a book some years ago and had some interest from Quality Computers in publishing it back in the 1990s. However, Quality had lots of things it was trying to do at the time and decided that publishing a book was not something it wanted to add to the list.

Now the book is finally a real thing — but not thanks to the democratization of self-publishing. Unlike many recent and excellent books about the Apple II, Sophistication & Simplicity is not self-published, instead having been picked up by Variant Press. You can buy the book today at Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble (ISBN 9780986832277).

Congratulations, Steve! Thank you for taking the time to preserve the history of our favorite computer in so permanent a medium. I look forward to getting ahold of my copy and getting you to sign it at KansasFest 2014. In the meantime, the hard part is behind you, so step away from the computer and take a breather — you’ve earned it.

A new wave of Apple II books

November 11th, 2013 11:21 AM
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Self-publishing has paved the way for scores of books about computer history and retrocomputing to be published. Niche markets can now economically demand a small printing of a book, giving authors with stories to tell a means to reach their audience. Juiced.GS has been reviewing many of these books as part of its "Cover ][ Cover" series, but new books are hitting the shelves faster than we can read them, as evidenced by the pending release of Dr. Steve Weyhrich’s Sophistication & Simplicity.

It therefore seemed a good time to compile a list of all the books that have been released in the past decade or so that would appeal to the Apple II user. Andy Molloy already has an exhaustive list of vintage Apple II books, so with his permission and with contributions from Bill Loguidice and Mike Maginnis, I’ve compiled this spreadsheet of recent books:

Anyone can edit or copy the information in this Google Drive spreadsheet, should they choose to adapt it its scope. For example, this revision doesn’t focus on books about the history of Apple Computer Inc. or its most famous founder, Steve Jobs. It tries to list all books whether they be print, digital, or audio; you may wish to narrow the list to just one medium.

Regardless, I hope this compilation is a useful starting point for anyone looking to expand their Apple II library or provide such a resource to our fellow retrocomputing enthusiasts.

The Iconic Apple coffee table book

October 7th, 2013 10:17 AM
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At some point in the last four years, you’ve probably come across the Shrine of Apple, where photographer Jonathan Zufi has set out to produce a gallery of every Apple product ever, from the Apple-1 to the iPad Mini. It’s a gorgeous Web site with intuitive navigation and high-quality photos from multiple angles of all Apple hardware and packaging.

Now this artwork can be on display in your home with Iconic: A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation, a 350-page coffee table book, courtesy the author’s self-publishing brand, Ridgewood Publishing.

Iconic features over 650 photos across six chapters: desktops (including the Apple II); portables; peripherals; iOS devices; prototypes (whether or not they went into production); packaging; and people. (For those counting, the video says there are six chapters but lists only fives — the narrator forgot about peripherals.)

The book is available in two hardcopy editions: a now-shipping $75 "classic"; and a yet-to-be-released special edition that comes in a slip sleeve that looks like an Apple IIe case. (There is, naturally, no coffee table e-book edition.) Shipping on the classic edition to my New England home is an extra $11.

Unlike a living Web site, a book immediately becomes a moment in time, a product of its publication date and unrepresentative of all the Apple products to come. Regardless, it’s something I wouldn’t mind as a holiday gift. It’s nice to see a book like this become a reality without a Kickstarter project, especially since the book trailer could’ve just as easily served as a pitch video, which probably would’ve motivated me to by it on impulse, knowing I was contributing to moving the book from concept to coffee table.

Will you be putting Iconic on your table?

(Hat tip to Betsy McKay)

Historically rebrewed

July 14th, 2011 12:59 PM
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Many computing publications have risen and fell with the computers they covered, their shining moments squelched and historical literature lost. But every now and then, one gets a second chance at live. This week, it’s Historically Brewed, published 1993–1997 by David Greelish, host of the Retro Computing Roundtable podcast.

David’s goal is ambitious: he wants to take the nine roughly annual issues that were published in HB‘s lifetime and reproduce them not in their original format, but as a paperback book. The final product, including David’s computer-related autobiography, will be 195 pages, with "a detailed listing of contents [coming] soon.&quot.

It’s an uncommon approach to revisiting a defunct hardcopy publication. The more popular alternative has been to scan or otherwise recreate the original issues digitally, as Mike Maginnis has done with Computist, Mike Harvey with his Nibble CD-ROMs, and, more recently, Dale Goodfellow and Simon Williams with 300 Baud. But I can empathize with David’s love for print, seeing as how it’s the same motivation that has kept Juiced.GS from going all-digital.

To accomplish his goal, David is using Kickstarter, a crowdsourcing alternative to fundraising that has been successfully used by other retrocomputing enthusiasts, such as Jason Scott and 8 Bit Weapon. David’s fundraising page features a video that showcases some of the issues, where you can see some familiar bylines, such as Steve Weyhrich.

The self-published book will have an ISBN, meaning it will be obtainable (if not necessarily stocked) by major retailers such as Barnes & Noble. However, some distribution issues remain to be resolved, so the best way to guarantee your copy is by buying it directly from the publisher, done by pledging $25 or more. For $100, you’ll even get a page dedicated to you in the book!

After just a few days, David has already reached more than half of his modest goal of $1,200. Pledges will continue to be accepted until August 15, meaning you can preorder the book even after the minimum fundraising goal is met.