06 Jul 2014 BASIC is Golden
 |  Category: Apple II, General  | Tags: , ,  | One Comment

One of the first things I did when I first had access to an Apple II Plus back in 1981 was to enter programs in Applesoft BASIC, typed from a listing in Nibble magazine. With time and the help of technical info I learned from All About Applesoft from Call-A.P.P.L.E. I learned how to play with this programming language on a deeper level. I was eventually able to redo a program for printing labels for IV meds at the hospital where I was training, and used that wonderful “&” extension to add assembly language routines to simplify parts of the program.

Though I had originally learned FORTRAN in college, I was able to extend this knowledge to BASIC, and had a lot of fun doing so. And it is all thanks to the original creation of this language fifty years ago (as of June of this year), I and all of the others who dove headlong into the microcomputer revolution had a way of creating programs.

When I heard of this golden anniversary, I was inspired to come up again with a parody song. Sorry that these songs are based on such an old pop tune, but hey, it was what I heard when I was in high school. Thanks Microsoft (for what became Applesoft), Apple (for selling the Apple II), and Steve Wozniak (for designing the Apple II, and incorporating his own BASIC into it)!

How many of these keywords did you use when you wrote programs in Applesoft??

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Me and You and Our Apple II
by Steven Weyhrich

(parody of Lobo’s, “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo“, from 1971)

I remember to this day
DIMensioning an array
And how it worked through the loop
Using FOR and NEXT
Dynamic RAM made that hardware go
The Woz design ensured that’s so
Oh how I wish I was
Back at the prompt again

Me and you and our Apple II
GOSUB, GOTO, INPUT, PRINT and END
Me and you and our Apple II
How I wished I could find some FRE mem …

Using STORE and RECALL
I managed variables and all
And created hi-res shapes
For a game that would win
That contract job, it gave me work
And then they paid me for what it was worth
Another box of disks and
Back at the prompt again

Me and you and our Apple II
OPEN, CLOSE, POSITION, WRITE, RENAME
Me and you and our Apple II
How I’d love to replay that great game

I’ll never forget that day
I saw that Mac with its cute display
The clicks and its icons
Were fascinatin’ to my brain
And though its been thirty years or so
That old II’s bugging me to go
I’ve gotta boot it up and get
Back to the prompt again

Me and you and our Apple II
READ, RESTORE, TRACE, NOTRACE and REM
Me and you and our Apple II
How I wished I could find some FRE mem …

Me and you and our Apple II
OPEN, CLOSE, POSITION, WRITE, RENAME
Me and you and our Apple II
How I’d love to replay that great game

Me and you and our Apple II
GOSUB, GOTO, INPUT, PRINT and END
Me and you and our Apple II
How I wished I could find some FRE mem …

11 Jun 2014 When The Apple II Was New
 |  Category: Apple II  | Tags: , ,  | 3 Comments

I’ve been so busy recovering from birthing my book (the stitches have come out, thank you) that I have not paid attention to anniversaries. I was reminded by the post on Cult of Mac yesterday (here) that it was on June 10, 1977 that the full Apple II system with case was first shipped.

Apple II, Panasonic RQ-2102 cassette, and TV

Apple II, Panasonic RQ-2102 cassette, and TV – Photo credit: Carl Knoblock, Phil Pfeiffer

This computer was nearly twice as expensive as the competitors that would be available for purchase later in the year (the Commodore PET 2001 in August, and the TRS-80 Model I in November), but offered expandability right out of the box that neither of those competitors could provide without a retrofit or redesign.

Okay, if you’ve read this blog in the past, you know of my opinion about the significance of this computer, but let me reiterate: It established Apple as a company, and turned on a fire-hose of cash that funded the next several years of stumbles with other products (the Apple III, Lisa, and original 128K Macintosh). It was such a significant player that the company had to intentionally hobble it in its later years, so it would not pull customers away from the Mac.

The Apple II also set the stage for the appearance of computers on desktops for years to come. The popularity of the beige color was copied endlessly by other competing products that were released, well into the 1990s, when the term “boring beige box” came into its own. Yes, the Apple II was indeed beige — but it was the first to be beige.

Wozniak’s design was also unique in being the ideal hacker’s platform. Here I do not mean “hacker” in the sense of one who maliciously breaks into other computer systems with the intent of stealing or vandalizing. Rather, this refers to “hacker” in its original sense, that of one who could create new things, be it software or hardware, that brought functionality to the Apple II that went beyond what Woz originally envisioned. The eight slots allowed hardware expandability that other platforms did not as easily offer, and many of those add-ons were accessible by amateur programmers through its built-in BASIC and powerful 6502 assembly language.

All said, the release of this computer was a significant event in computing history. Happy 37th birthday, Apple II !

22 Feb 2014 Oriental Apples
 |  Category: Apple II Plus  | Leave a Comment

In part 13 of the History on this web site (and in Chapter 15 of Sophistication & Simplicity, available at fine booksellers everywhere), there is a short section discussing Apple’s first foray into sales targeting the Far East. The Apple II j-Plus was a slightly redesigned Apple II Plus, with a character ROM chip modified to display Japanese Katakana characters with the appropriate POKE to $C05C to activate them.

A reader of this web site who lives in Hong Kong, Wyatt Wong, recently sent me an email asking why I didn’t mention anything about a Chinese “language card” for the Apple II in this part of the History. I had not heard of it before, and so he helped educate me about this hack that let Chinese-speaking (and writing) individuals use an Apple II in years past. Further information came from Lim Thye Chean of Singapore.

Wong lived in Taiwan in the 1980s, and while he was in school he was exposed to a Far Eastern Apple II clone. Like those from Japan, the use of this Apple II required some knowledge of English to do programming or to use the large library of software available from the United States. Yet, there was desire to make it work for the numerous Chinese logograms used in that written language, and hackers in that part of the world worked to create a solution that would work for this computer. The result was referred to as the Chinese language card.

The Giantek Technology Corporation of Taiwan was founded in 1982, and produced English-Chinese terminals for Taiwan and mainland China. In 1983 the company came out with the Giantek Chinese Interface Card for the Apple II, officially called  the Zon Ding Chinese System, or simply Han Card (Han means “Chinese”). Despite the “Chinese language card” name used to refer to it, this was not a RAM card like the 16K Apple Language Card. It was much more complicated.

Giantek Chinese Interface Card, photo credit ubb.frostplace.com

Giantek Chinese Interface Card, photo credit ubb.frostplace.com

According to a discussion about it on comp.sys.apple2 back in 2002, at least one version of this system involved a pair of cards connected together by a 14-pin ribbon cable. One of the cards was equipped with its own Z80A CPU, and most commonly was installed in slot 3 or 4. This card held six EPROM chips labeled ROM-1 through ROM-6, and in the discussion, it was speculated that the card was actually its own computer (just as the Microsoft SoftCard was a computer on a card to run CP/M), and that the ROM chips were used to store the Chinese characters to be displayed. 

The card utilized the Apple II hi-res screen to display the Chinese characters. Wong recalls that it required either a modified version of Apple DOS, or another application that ran on top of DOS. This was necessary to make it possible to allow entry of the Chinese characters from the keyboard. This Giantek card used traditional Chinese, specifically either Cangjei or Simplified Cangjei (not to be confused with simplified Chinese, which was most commonly used in mainland China).

To enter a traditional Chinese character, the typical method was to type a QWERTY character, then type up to five additional characters from the keyboard to create the desired Chinese character. The twenty-four Roman letters A through W, plus Y on the keyboard were used in the Cangjei method. Z was not used at all, and X was reserved for entry of difficult Chinese characters.

Other non-US versions of the Apple II dealt with languages that had a limited alphabet, and so were more suitable to map to a standard US keyboard. It is not surprising that Apple did not at that time specifically service the Chinese market, as the language was considerably more complicated than other places in the world. I do find it interesting to see how Wozniak’s open design on the Apple II made it possible to work with the Chinese language long before there was any graphic-interface computers available to do the job.

29 Jan 2014 Point To Point

At a recent gathering to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the introduction of the Macintosh, a video recording was taken of a conversation between Dan Kottke, Rod Holt, and Steve Wozniak discussing the preparation of the original Apple II prototype. In the video, Kottke expresses his surprise that Holt, a photographer, never took any pictures of the Apple II prototypes, and neither did Steve Jobs.  There are apparently no photos of the Apple II during its design process.

Woz also clarifies that his prototyping method in those days was to use point-to-point soldering, rather than the more commonly used wire-wrapping technique. In the latter part of the video, he discusses how he put the pieces together and soldered them, on both the Apple-1 and the Apple II.