Burning floppies

April 6th, 2015 6:26 PM
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Attending the Different Games conference in New York City this past weekend gave me plenty of opportunity to catch up with Juiced.GS staff writer (and frequent Apple II Bits blog subject) Ivan Drucker. While waiting for registration for KansasFest 2015 to open, we reminisced about our favorite moments of last year's event — Ivan's sixth KansasFest, and my 17th.

I was delighted to discover Ivan had not previously stumbled upon Kevin Savetz's video capture of a unique moment: Martin Haye, having just demoed 8-bit Western RPG Lawless Legends, burned the game to disk and declared it ready to ship.

For those archivists who thought it was too late to preserve floppies: Martin's making sure of that!

For an equally entertaining pyrotechnic display, try burning an actual compact disc:

Ken Gagne, Gamebits, Apple II Bits, and Martin Haye offer no assurances, guarantees, or warranties, express or implied, regarding the safety of you or your hardware, software, or other property or loved ones as a result of information received or linked to from this or any other website.

Happy burning!

Electronic publishing overview

February 9th, 2015 11:36 AM
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Filed under Musings;
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Last month, I began my fourth semester teaching an undergraduate course in electronic publishing. I always start with an overview of computer history — not for "you kids don't know how good you have it" reasons, like when I taught high school students to use Visicalc, but because I consider it valuable for students to have a basic understanding of how the machinery and environment they'll be working came into being, and the decisions that were made decades ago that will affect their workflows and livelihoods.

We start with what might be considered ancient history, reviewing key figures in computing's history: Charles Babbage, Paul Baran, Tim Berners Lee. I suspected this might be the first semester in which the name Alan Turing might prove familiar. I was right: Benedict Cumberbatch's turn in that role had drawn my students to see The Imitation Game. We had a brief but fun discussion about how Turing's already dramatic tale had been further dramatized for the silver screen, before returning to the topic at hand: learning to count in binary.

As part of this lecture, I employ plenty of props from my Apple II, including a 5.25" floppy disk and floppy disk notcher. It's always interesting to see how the students respond to these artifacts. Spring 2014 was the first semester where none of my students had used a 5.25" floppy before. I figured I'd passed a tipping point: students born in 1992 didn't grow up with this media. So I was pleasantly surprised when this year's students recognized the disk fondly. And I, of course, got a kick out of wondering, "Can you believe that we used to ship software on these things?" holding up the Lawless Legends demo I received from Martin Haye at KansasFest 2014.

My favorite exercise of the evening involves publishing — which is their major, after all, not computer science. It's 2015 and you want to distribute software to your print magazine's subscribers. How can you do so? A link, a QR code, a Steam code, even a CD — these are all viable delivery mechanisms… and none of them were applicable in 1986. Sure, you could maybe include a 5.25" disk in your magazine — but who does that? Instead I hand out an issue of Nibble magazine and let the students peruse it, until it finally registers what they're looking at — at which point their eyes get big and they ask, "Did they actually print the entire program in the magazine and ask people to type it in??"

Okay… so maybe I do want my students to know how good they have it.

Memories of floppy sleeves

May 28th, 2012 2:56 PM
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Jason Scott says it's too late to start saving floppy disks. But we can sure as heck remember them — and especially the sleeves they came in.

Just as a flash drive can be modeled after an Apple II, giving it a cool aesthetic without changing its functionality, so too were floppy disk brands identified by the colorful sleeves in which they arrived.

Kevin D. Clark assembled a small tribute to Elephant Memory Systems, a brand of floppy disk out of Westboro, Massachusetts, just a few miles from where Juiced.GS is now published. Its colorful packaging contributed it to it being one of the leading storage media in an otherwise staid, professional field. The site has not been updated in six years but still offers a dozen or so scans of sleeves, advertisements, and other unforgettable Elephant memories.

Elephant Memory Systems

Elephants never forget.

Up until recently, you could also get a floppy fix via the Twitter account FloppySleeve. Starting last November and lasting one month, the account tweeted 46 links to individual floppy sleeves. There was no Web site associated with the account, so following the links on Twitter was the only way to find the media.

More specific to the Apple II, who could forget Beagle Bros? Their warnings against all kinds of unlikely behavior ensured that their disks were never inserted into toasters or alligators. The Beagle Bros Software Repository, part of Call-A.P.P.L.E.'s archives, has a small collection of these sleeves' images.

Most comprehensive is The Original Disc Sleeve Archive. The site and its blog feature 619 sleeves collected since 1997. There appears to be neither a search mechanism nor a structure other than alphabetical or chronological by submission, so finding a particular sleeve from your past may be challenging. But chances are, if it's anywhere, it's here.

What unique brands of floppy leap out of your collection or memories — or has the CFFA3000 banished any recollection of such limited media?

Recovering the code of Prince of Persia

March 29th, 2012 10:18 PM
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Filed under Game trail, History, Mainstream coverage, People;
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Jordan Mechner, rockstar programmer responsible for Prince of Persia and Karateka and keynote speaker of next week's PAX East convention, published a comprehensive journal of the making of Prince of Persia. In the book and on Mechner's Web site are notes, sketches, concept art, demo videos, and more — a wealth of information he preserved from decades ago.

Yet for all that time, there was one vital piece of data he was missing: the original source code. Whether it had been overwritten, lent or donated, mistakenly or purposely trashed, or simply lost remained unknown to Mechner, despite his best efforts.

This week, that long-lost treasure fell in his lap when his father mailed him a box of assorted unidentified floppies. Contained therein was Prince of Persia in its rawest form.

It never occurred to me that Mechner didn't already have PoP's source code. Given that PoP has appeared on platforms as recent as the Xbox 360, I wonder what version or fork they were basing that port on. It makes even more recent independent ports all the more impressive.

Source Code

Jake Gyllenhaal followed his role as Mechner's Prince of Persia
with the lead in
Source Code... coincidence?!

Mechner's next task is to verify the integrity of the floppies and migrate the data off them. New hardware like the FC5025 and Kyroflux are miracle workers in our ability to access vintage media via a modern operating system, but the fact remains that the floppy disk is a magnetic medium whose charge is dying. I started (but did not finish) my own floppy migration two years ago. It's easy to dismiss it as a low-priority project compared to ongoing and more demanding tasks, but it will be all too soon that I'll have put it off too long.

Once the code is recovered, I wonder what Mechner will do with it? It's still copyrighted material, so will he continue to keep it a secret — or will he publish it under Creative Commons, allowing a variety of variations and ports?

All this reminds me: David X. Cohen, co-creator of the television show Futurama, reported almost five years ago that he too had programmed an Apple II game that needed rescuing from floppies. I wonder what ever came of that?

UPDATE (Mar 30): Jason Scott tells me, "You'll be delighted to know I am leading this expedition."

(Hat tip to Sean Fahey)

Floppy preservation

July 8th, 2010 12:31 PM
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There seems to be an emerging number of technologies for salvaging old data — not only the recent FC5025, as reviewed in the latest issue of Juiced.GS, but other methods that continue to enjoy developer support, such as ADTPro. I first used ADTPro after setting up an Apple IIGS in my office and wanted to make backups of its aging hard drive. Having done so, it's now occurred to me that I have overlooked a trove of much older data.

Box of floppies

So much data, yearning to be preserved!

A brief perusal of the disks reveals several Apple Writer and Dazzle Draw data disks. Neither appears to be a format supported by MacLinkPlus, but the original Apple Writer is a free download courtesy the Lost Classics Project. In the worst case scenario, perhaps I can use Sweet16's text screen capture function to convert some of the text, and standard screenshots for the images.

My collection also contains several games that aren't exactly lost treasures. Every Apple II user seems familiar with the likes of Ultima or Tass Times in Tonetown, but I've never heard anyone sharing fond memories of Ardy the Aardvark — and I can find no online reference to Pylon Racer and Electra Laser. The clamshells for those latter games don't even have screen shots; I'll need to boot them in an emulator to stir my own memories.

Finally, my collection doubtless includes numerous pirated programs, as we were all younger and stupider at the dawn of the personal computer era. Though I cannot in good conscience enjoy these programs now, I am glad for the opportunity to preserve them for posterity, should legitimate copies prove extinct. With magnetic media subject to decay, now is the best time to save this data before it is too late — assuming it isn't already.

I expect to convert these programs into disk images over a period of several lunch breaks, with cataloging of their contents to come later. A disadvantage of ADTPro over the FC5025 is that it requires a working Apple II computer. But since I have that hardware, I appreciate the advantage of having access to both 3.5" and 5.25" drives connected ot the Apple II. Access to both formats from a Mac or PC is possible but require different approaches, whereas ADTPro can handle both with ease.

Who knows what lost classics of my own I might discover?