Archive for the Category ◊ General ◊

07 Nov 2013 Clarification
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In the process of announcing my book, I made mention about this web site that I guess was unclear. I have had some concerned emails sent my way asking about it, and so I decided that I had better explain what I meant.

When this Apple II History web site first went online, all it consisted of were the various chapters of the original History as it was posted on GEnie back in 1991 and 1992. Then I added some links to other web sites (remember those? no one seems to do that any more!), and then I added in my Song Parodies, and then some pictures I found, and then some more articles. And then when I moved it to WordPress, I started including blog posts about topics that interested me.

So what I ended up with was The History as the core of the site, and then all of this other stuff that I’ve created or collected after I wrote The History. With time, I think The History part makes up about 50 or 60 percent of the entire content hosted here.  Oh, and I added some material to The History as I learned more that filled in gaps, or corrected mistakes, or whatnot.

clarificationThen I decided to make The History into a print book. I looked for and found a publisher who was willing to take the risk to make this into a real book (thank you Variant Press), and we entered into negotiations about the book. And one of the stipulations of our agreement was that when The Book came out, The History content would be taken off the web site.

What that means is I am not taking down the Apple II History web site. What I am doing (at least for the present) is I will be taking the various chapters of The History off the web site. Everything else (the pictures in the Museum, and the Song Parodies, and the other add-on material) will remain in place as it has been. I’m also working on a redesign of the web site that will look a bit more modern than this current WordPress theme.

And who knows? If the book does well enough I may be able to convince the publisher to let me restore at least the current History as it stands. But rest assured, the rest of the Apple II History site will still be here for as long as I am around.

14 Oct 2013 Micro-design Can Give Mega-results
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I’ve had the opportunity in the past couple of weeks to listen to two podcasts in which game designers were interviewed. (I recommend you listen, also – ANTIC, The Atari 8-Bit Podcast #4 has an interview with Chris Crawford, who wrote games for the Atari 2600, Commodore PET, and Atari 400/800; No Quarter classic arcade podcast #52 has an interview with Brian Collin, who helped create the arcade game Rampage.) It brought back to mind similar stories like the making of Wolfenstein 3D for the Apple IIGS. In all of these situations the programmers had a limited space in which to do their work. They were limited in graphics abilities or limited in memory, or both, and yet they managed to create (or duplicate) games that were considered to be state-of-the-art in their day.

It brings to mind the problem on modern computers with what has been called “bloatware” – code that is large, takes up a lot of space in memory or storage or both, and often does only a little more than its predecessors.

The advantage of the small memory footprint and simpler processors in the micros of the 1970s and 1980s is that it was necessary to write compact, efficient code. The graphics had specific limitations that had to be honored. These programmers had to come up with tricks to get around those limitations, to push the boundaries to achieve the desired effect.

The programmers mentioned in the above three examples sometimes had to buck the accepted knowledge that said what they wanted to do was not possible. Brian Collin overcame memory limitations on Rampage by re-using the graphics layout for one of his monsters to create another one. Eric Shepherd had to almost re-invent how the graphics of Wolfenstein 3D were implemented in the Apple IIGS, in order to make it work. And Chris Crawford, like all who made games for the Atari 2600, had a tiny memory footprint in which to put the game itself as well as its graphics.

This limitation did not only apply to games. AppleWorks’ creator Rupert Lissner created memory management techniques that made a 64K or 128K computer and made it look like a much larger computer.

With modern computers, the programmer has exponentially more power available in which to implement his vision. The advantage is the ability to create things that could not happen in a classic microcomputer or game system. The disadvantage can be wasted resources and processor cycles. The programmer does not necessarily have to be efficient; he has a lot of space in which to work, and the operating system can take up the slack.

I have always maintained that Apple’s neglect of the Apple II platform actually resulted in the hardware being pushed to its full limits in ways that would not have been possible if they had taken the proper approach and evolved it, rather than continuing to invent successors. I admire and applaud the programmers who found their way around the limitations of the Apple II and were able to bend it to their will.

12 May 2013 Bell & Howell: Not Just Black
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Every so often, a new bit of Apple II trivia comes my way. I was recently sent a message asking about whether Bell & Howell had made a beige version of its computer. David Bohrman had pictures of this, and informed me so. I asked for some clarification, and he kindly sent me several pictures (which I have placed in the photo Museum here).

With further photos, Bohrman discovered that what he had was a product made by Bell & Howell for their black Apple II computer that made it more useful for schools, but one that had been made to match the color of a standard beige Apple II.

Beige Bell & Howell backpack: in place on an Apple IIe

This backpack was actually a great add-on to the Apple II, and would have been a good device for Apple to have included as an option to sell to customers. As uncommon as this item is, I suspect that Bell & Howell did not sell too many.

Beige Bell & Howell backpack: media plugins

This shows the media plugins on the left (as seen from the back).

Beige Bell & Howell backpack: power controls

And this is the power center on the right side.

See the entry in the Museum for a couple more pictures. Thanks to Mr. Bohrman for this interesting bit of history!

20 Feb 2013 Retrocomputing Mania!

The year 2013 is shaping up to be one in which there will be a bumper crop of retrocomputing goodness happening. The event I am most familiar with is KansasFest 2013, the 25th annual such event. Our keynote speaker will be Randy Wigginton, one of Apple’s early employees and significant in the early improvements to the Apple II. The committee has released the logo for the event, and will hopefully be open for registration soon.

kfest-2013-logo

But wait! There’s more!

If you live in the southeastern part of the United States (or even if you don’t and you don’t mind a bit of travel), the Vintage Computer Festival Southeast 1.0 (VCFSE) will be held in the Atlanta area on April 20 and 21, 2013. This event is hosted by the Atlanta Historical Computing Society and the Computer Museum of America. One of the featured speakers is Robert Tinney, who created the cover illustrations for many issues of BYTE magazine. Also at the VCFSE will be the Apple Popup Museum, an exhibit tracing the history of Apple Computer and its products, from the days of the Apple-1 to the present.

If you can make it, this event will be well worth it!

VCFSE 1.0 small