Ode to the ImageWriter & The Print Shop

June 13th, 2016 12:09 PM
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Someone at Motherboard loves the Apple II. Last summer, writer Jason Koebler attended KansasFest, resulting in a fantastic article and podcast.

Now Ernie Smith has taken a deep dive into dot-matrix printers and The Print Shop:

… in its original form, [The Print Shop] was an '80s-tastic program that redefined the parameters of print design into something that could literally be called child's play. Wanna make a greeting card? Follow these instructions, then print on your dot-matrix printer. Need a sign for your lemonade stand? No problem—you can even add a picture of the Easter Bunny on that sign, if you want. It was a bold redefinition of something that once required a whole boatload of specialized equipment.

The article is more about the business and legal ramifications of the article without capturing the user experience — which I'm happy to provide, as the Print Shop was a staple of my household. My three brothers and I used for everything from school essay cover sheets to birthday cards to banners. I remember campaigning for the elected position of seventh grade class treasurer using signs made in The Print Shop; when I defeated the most popular kid in the class in the election, he said it was because I did a better job advertising myself.

The vehicle by which The Print Shop outputted these creations was my family's ImageWriter II printer, complete with ink ribbons and pin-feed paper. Tearing the edges off the paper into long strips was practically an arts-and-crafts exercise, as they inevitably became loops, braids, and other figures.

But the time spent printing would occupy the computer, leaving it unavailable for other tasks. I remember when I discovered Quality Computers sold a 32K print buffer hardware accessory, I thought it was a ridiculous expense just to get back a few minutes of computer time. But as I discovered more that my Apple II could do and wanted to make the most of that time, it wasn't long before I decided the buffer was a worthwhile investment. Its installation coincided with my father having some computer issues, and conflating correlation with causation, he demanded I remove the buffer. I never did, and his unrelated issues eventually resolved themselves.

Printing

And let us note the role that desktop publishing (DTP) played in the development of Juiced.GS. Although the magazine was designed not in The Print Shop but in GraphicWriter III, an Apple IIGS program, early issues featured DTP heavily. Across six years and eleven issues, the late Dave Bennett penned a series creatively entitled "Desktop Publishing". And the final issue of Juiced.GS's first volume included M.H. "Buzz" Bester's hardware tutorial on ImageWriter maintenance.

My thanks to Smith for taking a moment not only to investigate how The Print Shop evolved, but also for prompting me to revisit these moments. ImageWriter printouts may long be faded, but these memories never will.

(Hat tip to Javier Rivera)

The music of the ImageWriter

December 2nd, 2010 7:16 PM
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Chiptune music — the use of retrocomputing hardware to synthesize original melodies — is not a new phenomenon … but the creativity of artists seeking to use classic computers to produce these tunes never ceases to amaze me.

An example I recently stumbled across is by Man or Astro-man?, a surf rock group founded in Alabama in 1992 and reunited in 2010. Their 2000 album A Spectrum of Infinite Scale features a track entitled "A Simple Text File". Although Man or Astro-man? is not a chiptune band, their music video for this piece is something any Apple II user can be proud of:

What makes this piece so imaginative is that it's essentially a self-playing piece of hardware; once initiated, it requires no software or human intervention. Granted, the hardware featured above received its print command from a piece of software, but the result is more reliant on the hardware than on user input, making it an entirely different kind of creativity from that of, say, 8 Bit Weapon, who acquired and remastered Michael J. Mahon's Apple II DMS music software to help them get the most out of their instruments. It's two equally dedicated approaches to delighting the retrocomputing enthusiast.

For a less Apple II-centric example of musical hardware, check out this rendition of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody", performed by an Adaptec 2940UW SCSI card, a TI-99/4A with tape drive, an HP ScanJet 3C, and an Eico oscilloscope, among other pieces of equipment:

Which of these performances would you buy tickets to see?

(Hat tip to Stavros Karatsoridis and Shark Bait)