Pete Perkins' Apple II clone

September 23rd, 2019 1:13 PM
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As proprietary as Apple likes to make their products, given enough effort, even Apple's hardware and software can be copied. Some Apple II clones were broadly distributed commercial products, such as the Franklin Ace 100; others were region-specific, such as the Bulgaria's Pravetz computers. There were enough other clones and manufacturers to fill an entire Wikipedia page.

But not all clones end up being historical footnotes in Wikipedia; some were commercially available but produced in such small quantities that they flew under Apple's radar. Pete Perkins, proprietor of Honda Computers in Tokyo, was such an entrepreneur, using his technical wizardry to build on and profit off Apple's innovations by implementing expansion ports for networking and selling his creation for half of Apple's.

We might never have known about this early hacker and pirate if not for Thames Television, the production company behind the British television series Database, which IMDb describes as "an early series for computer addicts". For the episode that aired July 6, 1984, host Tony Bastable traveled to Japan, where he interviewed Perkins about his homebrew machine.

I love how guileless Perkins is in this interview. He claims he didn't copy the Apple II, since it looks different — a defense that leads to a knowing grin that such an argument would never hold up in court. Later he goes on record as saying it might be illegal — he just hasn't gotten caught yet!

Where are they now? Bastable passed away in 2007. Perkins later ran the CortNet BBS and Janis II; in 1996, he was running a combination Internet caf√© and classroom. Where he's gone since then, I don't know — though I remain hopeful he escaped Apple's wrath.

An Arduino keyboard for the Apple II

November 20th, 2017 7:50 AM
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My first computer was an Apple IIe that my father purchased to help manage the family business. Given the wealth of games that were also available for the Apple II, it was inevitable that its use spread to his four sons. All was going well until one of us reached for a box of floppies on the shelf above the computer and dropped it on the keyboard, busting a keycap. My father angrily decreed his expensive business computer was henceforth off-limits to us kids — a restriction that I don't recall lasting more than a week.

With the exception of that mishap, our keyboard always performed admirably, without failures or flaws. I don't recall the Apple IIe showing any other signs of wear, tear, or distress in the five years we owned it.

The same can't be said for Max Breedon, who recently unearthed his Epson AP-200 an Apple IIe clone he acquired from a pawn shop twenty years ago. The keyboard decoder chip, a C35224E, was non-functional — but that didn't stop Breedon. After consulting Mike Willegal's keyboard page and doing some testing of his own, Breedon put an Arduino on a daughterboard that connects the keyboard to the motherboard. His solution is actually better than the original, since it speeds data entry of program listings found on the Internet — something the clone's manufacturers never anticipated:

[T]he Arduino can not only decode the keyboard but also you can upload text directly into the Apple as if you typed it in. This is achieved through serial communication from your PC to the Arduino: the Arduino is listening for serial data and any that it receives it converts into keypresses and pipes it into the Apple. This means that you can cut and paste basic programs directly off the internet and upload them into the apple as if you typed it in on the actual keyboard!

Arduino keyboard

That's a neat trick! I've never used an Arduino, so I wouldn't be able to duplicate this functionality — but it could be the underpinnings for a product I'd purchase for an official Apple II. There's more technical information on Breedon's website, should anyone else wish to investigate or re-create his work.

(Hat tip to John Baichtal)