KansasFest 2016

Carrington Vanston in Rocky pose

It has been a long time since I made a post here (hello, August 2015!!), but life has been busy, and I have other things that draw my attention besides my old stalwart Apple II fun.

What brings me back to the blog again to mention the annual Apple II convention, KansasFest, which was held July 19-23, 2016, in Kansas City, Missouri at Rockhurst University. It was, I feel, another excellent gathering of the best and brightest in the Apple II world, and shows continued growth of the numbers of fans who find out what fun it is to get together with others who love this computer, to teach each other and learn from each other, and to press back the frontiers of what this old machine can do. While the following is not comprehensive, here are some things that stood out to me:

  • We were treated to updates to Lawless Legends, the new graphic role-playing game undergoing development, and a release of a smaller game, Ancient Legends, that runs using the same game engine as Lawless Legends (see the Legends web site for details on how to get that).
  • PERCOL-8, a networkable Apple II emulator that not only runs old Apple II software, but uses special graphics software to manipulate the old screens to you can get a 3D type of effect, or even have two different people help play the same game at the same time.
  • How the Internet Archive is making it even easier to run old Apple II software right in your web browser.
  • How Apple II software deprotector 4am (a great contributor to the Internet Archive collection) came up with a program to allow you to automatically remove copy protection from most old software (if you have any old uncopyable disks).
  • More and more about emulators than I’ve heard at KFest for years

and much more than I have time to discuss here. You can look for videos of many of the sessions on YouTube; here is the talk I gave about the history of online services here:

We had the privilege of a visit this year by David Pierini of Cult of Mac, who wrote five stories about the event:

And I was able to complete another parody video about the event, this year with lots of video from the event:

Not only this, but we will be having it again next year, July 18-23, 2017. Come next year, and celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Apple II !

 

Laine Nooney and Apple History

This entire web site is focused on preserving and telling the story of microcomputers, focused with insane depth on the Apple II. I’ve been telling it for 20 plus years, and have a book about it. So I know what I know quite well, and if any of you who have taken the time to either read the story on this web site or in the book also know what I know.

But I always enjoy learning more about the era of the Apple II and its competition and getting new information or new points of view. The Open Apple podcast, which focuses on news and interviews about the Apple II is often a source of stories that expand my knowledge, and episode #49 for July 2015 is a particularly fascinating listen. They have an extended conversation with Laine Nooney, a person who is way too young to have been involved with the Apple II when it was new and exciting. Her research for a dissertation brought her to look into Online Systems / Sierra Online, as well as with other software companies of the day, and the conversation they have drifts over into the impact of the computer on homes and families, and what she has learned about it.

When I think I know so much that there is not much more to learn, a gem like this interview comes along, and I realize levels of computer history that go beyond my extremely specific area of knowledge. It is well worth a listen.

Addendum: Here is a link to Nooney’s research on Sierra Online, as much as she has made publicly available at this time. Read it.

KFest, as seen by an outsider

While at KansasFest this year, we had two new people show up, for the purpose of doing a news story about the event. I had not heard of their publication, Motherboard, prior to this, and I will admit I was a little skeptical about how this would turn out. I have seen interviews and stories before that were done with a particular purpose in mind, and sometimes the final result is not flattering.

I must applaud the writer of the piece, Jason Koebler, for a job well done. He did capture the essence of the event, and did it as someone who has not been there before, and in fact someone who does not really know anything about the Apple II.

You can read the article here. The style reminds me of the audio stories I hear on NPR’s weekly program, This American Life, which I mean as a compliment, as I feel that most of those stories as well done, and good listens.

Changes Coming

The Apple II History web site is undergoing some changes in the near future, not only a change in appearance, but also a change as far as how to get these posts when I put them up.

If you are using an RSS reader to get these posts, change the feed address from “feeds.feedburner.com/apple2history” to “http://apple2history.org/feed/”. If you do not make the change, you will not see further updates in messages.

Thank you for your continued interest in this web site!

KFest 2015 is coming!

That annual Apple II conference is only a month away, and yes, I’ve got another music parody for it:

Come down and help me make it better with live action!

 

Elsewhere on the web…

Two podcasts caught my attention and enjoyment recently. There are a number of podcasts I enjoy, but these two were particularly interesting, from an Apple II history point of view.

First of all, Welcome to Macintosh (yes, I know, whaaaaaat?) done by Mark Bramhill is a podcast primarily about more modern Mac issues. But episode #3 “Trip to alphaSyntauri” from April 2, 2015, is all about the famous synthesizer made to work with the Mountain Hardware Sound Card for the original Apple II. The episode gives the history of how a keyboard synthesizer was built to use with this card, and became one of the first inexpensive synthesizers available to the public.

The podcast is well done, and actually sounds like something I would hear as a segment on a National Public Radio program.

The second podcast is from ANTIC, The Atari 8-Bit Podcast. I never had an Atari computer to play with, but this podcast makes me feel like I should have. The hosts do an amazing job of getting interviews with luminaries in the Atari world, and what I hear is usually interesting, despite the lack of Apple II connection. Episode 29 features David Cramer of the Western Design Center, which is still to this day manufacturing and selling the venerable 6502, 65c02, and 65816 microprocessors. The discussion does involve the Apple II and IIGS to some extent, and well worth a listen.

BASIC is Golden

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:meandyou.mp3]

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 …

When The Apple II Was New

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 !

Oriental Apples

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.

While in school in the 1980s, Wong 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.