The Apple II powering the Lenin Museum

December 2nd, 2019 1:50 PM
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While the Apple II enjoyed broad success in the United States, it was not widely available in many other geographic regions due to distribution and trade regulations. Russia. Instead, the USSR had the Agat, a 6502-based computer with limited compatibility with the Apple II. Any actual Apple II computers in Russia are more likely to be found in museums as part of modern exhibits about historical computers.

So imagine my surprise when Apple II recently turned up in Russia’s Lenin Museum, but not as a recent addition: it’s been there for decades, powering one of their long-running installations. The software is the Electrosonic System 4000 (ES4000), which was once also used at the United Kingdom’s National Science and Media Museum. When the Lenin Museum’s curators discovered the ES4000, they recognized its potential for their institution. But:

Soviet law barred them from trading directly with foreign companies, and Agat-7, a Soviet Apple II clone, was unlikely to do the job. It required an external card to run software made in the West, and its 60-pin slots would not fit the 50-pin cards used by the ES4000… That meant the company would need to bring their own Apple computers to the Soviet Union.

To get around Soviet regulations, the deal was signed with a specialized economic body, Technointorg, and carried over through Beech Compix, a British front for the Soviet Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Foreign staff traveled to the USSR, too—but Cascade, a Russian company, took credit for their job, seemingly to preserve the impression that Soviet technology could not be beat.

The Apple II that the museum procured 32 years ago continues to run the exhibit to this day.

A remote control for the Lenin Museum's Apple II.

Photo by Yuri Litvinenko of Atlas Obscura.

Yuri Litvinenko’s story at Atlas Obscura continues to detail Apple’s official efforts to penetrate the Russian market with the Macintosh. Given the failure of that initiative, this Apple II remains one of the few Apple II computers to have made its way to the USSR in the computer’s original lifespan.

More Tetris and Not Tetris

October 29th, 2012 6:33 AM
Filed under Game trail, Software showcase;

Two years ago, I discovered Not Tetris, a physics-based puzzle game inspired by the classic that so addicted the Woz. It was a cute variation on the original, but since the trademark line-clearing mechanic of Tetris was absent, it offered little replay value.

The creatively named sequel, Not Tetris 2, resolves that issue:

Not Tetris 2 is the spiritual successor of the classic Tetris mixed with physics. The result is a fun spinoff in which blocks are no longer bound to the usual grid. Blocks can be rotated and placed at any angle, resulting in a complete mess if not careful. And with the newest cutting edge technology, Not Tetris 2 allows line clears when the lines are sufficiently filled. The old mode is still available for play and is now called Stack.

Stack mode simulates the original Not Tetris, making it obsolete in the face of the sequel. The implementation of the line-clearing function is strange, though. It seems to clear individual lines of pixels, not blocks, and can occur well below where the current piece has been placed, as if the pile were being jostled into completion.

A typical Not Tetris 2 playing field,
after some lines have been cleared.
The results of my first round of
Not Tetris 2.

But it’s still a fun game with all the familiar graphics and tunes, including one I recognized from a Tetris-themed video on the history of the USSR — a popular Russian folk song, perhaps?

Not Tetris 2 is available for Windows, Linux, and OS X, with the separate Löve extension no longer needed for the Windows and Mac versions. The game is courtesy of Maurice Guegan of (which describes itself as “Commodore 64 compatible”), creator of the Mario / Portal mashup Mari0.

If you prefer your Tetris a bit more hardcore and unadulterated, check out Ecstasy of Order, a documentary about Tetris champions that I caught at last month’s BostonFIG:

Or, if you want to kick it old school, watch hard floppy drives play the Tetris theme song. (Hey, if they can do Star Wars, why not Tetris?)

It’s good to see a game that’s survived long enough to have had an official Apple II incarnation continue to be enjoyed and innovated!

Apple’s history comes to Russia

November 3rd, 2011 9:27 AM
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1 comment.

When an Apple-1 sold for $213,600 almost a year ago, it was a business expense: the new owner, Marco Boglione, intends to feature it in a computer museum in his hometown of Turin, Italy. Reported one media outlet:

Turin, a northern Italian city, already has a television museum, a radio museum and a museum of cinema. Computers, and aesthetically-driven Apple in particular, would be a good fit in fashion-conscious Turin.

“It’s big money,” says Boglione, who says that he “couldn’t care less whether tomorrow a machine like this goes for more or less. I think it’s good in Italy that there is such a historical piece, one of the best, in good condition.”

Now it looks like there’s another computer history museum in the making. The BBC UK reports that Andrei Antonov is assembling Apple’s lineage with which to found a museum in Moscow, Russia, by the end of 2011. The gallery will include the portable Apple II (the IIc), the Bandai Pippin, and other rare and aging artifacts.

Is a museum dedicated to Apple products too focused, compared to the comprehensiveness of the Computer History Museum? Does it need to reach further back in its focus, as the Vintage Computer Festival does? Or, like the recent rebranding of Macworld Expo, does an Apple museum capitalize on a brand that invokes passion and dedication like none other?

UPDATE (29-Feb-12): Here’s the latest on the Russian museum.

Garry Kasparov: Apple II was last technological revolution

November 4th, 2010 10:31 AM
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In fewer than 70 years, the twentieth century went from debuting the horseless carriage to putting a man on the moon. Such rapid development was made possible by many new technologies that were not so much refinements on previous inventions but were wholly new creations.

In the decades since then, we have continued to refine those technologies, making them smaller, faster, and cheaper. In doing so, have we lost the ability to create and innovate?

One chess grandmaster thinks so. Garry Kasparov, who held the title of World Chess Champion from 1985 to 1993, recently pointed to the Apple II as the last technological revolution, marking our country’s technological developments since then as indicative of a “culture of optimization.” Wrote Oliver Chiang of Forbes:

… humans are still using many of the same fundamental technologies invented in the past couple of centuries, like the internal combustion engine or the airplane. “Call it lack of courage or complacency, but to a certain degree we lost this passion for the sweeping changes,” Kasparov said.


I agree with Mr. Kasparov. In 1977, the Apple II was a machine heretofore inaccessible to the average consumer. It was not only a new medium in which to perform existing tasks, such as painting and accounting; the personal computer represented a new way of working and playing. Since then, the function of the personal computer has greatly expanded in scope, thanks in no small part to both the Internet and multimedia capabilities, which have revolutionized such concepts as communications and filmmaking. But the computer itself has not changed much in the last thirty years. Computers have gotten smaller, from mainframes to desktops to laptops to netbooks to smartphones — but they’re still counting in ones and zeroes, just more of them than before. When are we going to stop working within the limitation of bits and start tapping the potential of quantum computers and qubits?

Maybe these developments aren’t just in the future; perhaps we already had the right idea but got sidetracked. Is it a coincidence that Mr. Kasparov’s reign ended the same year the last Apple II rolled off the production line?

The physics of Tetris

September 6th, 2010 11:18 AM
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It wasn’t until 1989 that I first encountered what I identified as a puzzle game: Adventures of Lolo on the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System. That was the same year as the release of the Nintendo Game Boy, whose pack-in title, Tetris, was a far more common introduction to the genre for most American gamers. And it was this game that the legendary Steve Wozniak became a master of, to the point of his high scores being printed in Nintendo Power magazine.

Though it was Nintendo’s handheld system that popularized the Russian puzzler, the software had already been making the rounds on various computer platforms. In 1988, Spectrum Holobyte (1983–1998) released the Apple II version, which actually came on three disks, one for each operating system: DOS 3.3, ProDOS, and GS/OS. No matter what version you played or what system you played it on, Tetris was an addictive experience, due in part to a variety of subtle yet effective psychological qualities that perfectly complement humans’ natural capabilities and limitations. Not only did gamers start seeing tetrads everywhere they looked, but the game had actual, physiological, positive impact on the human brain.

A game with so many scientific implications cries out for further study and applications. Software developer Maurice Guegan has answered that call with a fascinating and hilarious variation that he has dubbed Not Tetris. The game, a free download for Windows (and, when paired with a utility called LÖVE, for Mac and Linux), applies some degree of real-world physics to the falling blocks. Not only does this newfound inertia make it more difficult to rotate the pieces, but gravity makes it nearly impossible to form complete lines. In fact, Guegan has completely disabled that functionality, replacing it with a new goal of seeing how many game pieces you can stack before the inevitable game over.

Having a hard time visualizing this new spin on the classic formula? Here’s some gameplay footage.

Not Tetris is worth a play for its original and innovative take on Tetris. For more standard gameplay, the GNO Apple II Archive has entire folders in both its Apple II and Apple IIGS games directories dedicated to Tetris clones, including Dreamworld’s most excellent two-player DuelTris.

If that’s not quite retro enough for you, check out Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov’s original Tetris. For more about Tetris’s tangled history, see the chapter “From Russia With Love” in David Sheff’s excellent history of Nintendo, Game Over: Press Start to Continue.

(Hat tip to Nintendo Life: Retro)