Almost There

It has taken almost two years of travel to get to this point. I left my starting point in my packed up wagon of info about the Apple II, and slowly made my way west towards the new land of print media. Along the way, I spoke to some of the natives, who gave me additional information to add to my manuscript. I had to stop frequently and rest, sometimes hunting for food (clarification of facts) when my supplies ran low. Although sometimes there was little game available, sometimes I’d find a bison’s-worth of information. And, unlike others on the trail, I often found a way to drag back all 932 pounds of the carcass to supplement my writings.

After I reached the half-way point, I thought it would be all downhill from there. Oh, silly me. I was just entering the mountains, and some of the most treacherous ground was yet to be crossed. The weather had turned a bit more chilly than I had anticipated. Challenges like exhaustion, snake-bite, and yes, even dysentery had to be overcome. But yet, I persevered. The hunting now involved some dry spots where I could only catch squirrels, and sometimes crossed paths with bears. Thankfully, my ammunition did not run out.

Despite the difficulty of the trail, I still was able to speak to some of the others who were on or near the trail. They often were able to provide me with other stories that clarified what I already knew. Some of them were old, and sometimes their memory of events was fading. Still, most of them added to my supply of provisions to help me complete the journey. And although I frequently disagreed with my guide as to the correct path to take, we finally came out of the mountains and onto safer ground.

Oregon Trail 50 miles 2

And now, the Willamette Valley in Oregon is so close I can almost smell it. The final destination is within my grasp, and expect to arrive within the new 3-4 weeks.

Possibly sooner if I don’t get dysentery again.

Definitely Not Vaporware!

The book is in the final editing stage now, so it’s getting really close. Those who have pre-ordered it are probably getting messages from Amazon that say, “Are you sure you still want this? It’s still not available.” Please be sure to tell Amazon “yes” by clicking that “continue” button. It’s a Simple choice for the Sophisticated Apple II fan who wants to have the Time of his or her Life. (You see what I did there …)

You’ll be glad you did. The final result will be worth the extra wait.

Krazy KansasFest

If you have looked over the content on this site, you have found the various song parodies I have created over the years. This year, I am inspired to make one for the annual Apple II gathering, KansasFest.

Wigginton and Woz at KFest

This year has been outstanding! I didn’t have my book ready to distribute as I was hoping, but that’s actually a good thing. The keynote speaker, Randy Wigginton, provided some insight to events that I didn’t previously have. Additionally, Steve Wozniak attended and, like Wigginton, stayed to listen to some of the sessions, including mine. Very exciting!

Steve Wozniak after my presentation

Anyway, I felt ready to create a parody for KansasFest itself, and here is what I have to share. Enjoy!

[audio:lazyhazykfest.mp3]

Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of KFest
by Steven Weyhrich

(parody of Nat King Cole’s song, “Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer“, from 1963)

Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of KFest
Those days of ProDOS and BASIC and bytes
Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of KFest
Dust off the Apple IIGS, don’t sleep at night.

Just fill your luggage up with floppy disks and cables
Then buy your ticket, now you’re set
And at the dorm, you’ll see the hackers at their tables
Making their projects; I don’t think they’re finished yet!

Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of KFest
Bring out the II Plus and plug in your gear
Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of KFest
You’ll wish that KFest could always be here!

(key change)

Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of KFest
Plug in some slot cards, and flip on the switch
Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of KFest
Trace out that object code and try to find the glitch

Don’t need to tell a coding fella ’bout a RAM chip
Or some confusing address scheme
Why, from the moment that his file starts to unzip
You’ll see his winner of a program on the screen!

Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of KFest
Just get your IIc to plot out a sphere
Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of KFest
You’ll wish that KFest could always be here

You’ll wish that KFest could always be here
You’ll wish that KFest could always be here!

Still bookin’ along

book-clip-art-7For those who are wondering when this wondrous and highly informative chronology of the Apple II and its culture will actually be available for purchase, rest assured that progress continues on the editing and polishing process. It is later than I’d hoped, but I believe the extra time being taken will result in a final manuscript that will be better for the extra care being taken.

For those others who lived through the 1970s, remember these famous commercial phrases:

“We will sell no wine before its time.” (Orson Welles, for the Paul Masson Mountain Winery)

“Is it soup yet?” (Lipton soup)

And the best known phrase of all:

“Are we there yet?” (nearly every child waiting for the end of a car trip)

It will be ready when it is fully fermented, the water has boiled, and we’ll get there when we get there, so sit back and enjoy the scenery.

As for now, I am preparing to head to KansasFest, where I expect another amazing week of Apple II retrocomputing, things old and new revealed, surprises and fun with other similar-minded enthusiasts. Hope to see you there!

Scanapalooza!

Ten years ago, I received an email from a gentleman named Moses Weitzman. He wanted to know if I was interested in some old Apple II manuals and other materials that he had, but wanted to get rid of. He preferred to not just throw them away, and wanted to pass them on to someone who would appreciate them. I replied that sure, I’d be glad to take them off his hands. He shipped out a box that was not very big, but had some nice items in it, including a copy of the Red Book reference manual, and also the Blue Book Applesoft Reference Manual from August 1978.
I kept this box safely on a shelf and then later in my basement, and other than being happy in my ownership of the Red Book and Blue Book, had not really paid detailed attention to the other materials in the box.
And then, during the past few months I found myself making additional edits to my History in preparation for publication (real soon now!) I went digging on the Asimov FTP site, and found a number of old manuals and other documents that had been uploaded in the past. One of them, called Apple The Personal Computer Magazine & Catalog, Volume 1, Number 2, from 1979, made mention of the Apple II Euromod and Apple II Europlus, which took me on an investigative tour of Apple’s early years in selling the Apple II outside of the United States. And I thought to myself, “I wonder what was in Volume 1, Number 1 of that magazine that Apple published back in 1979?”
In a recent email from Andreas Siegenthaler of Switzerland, he told me that Apple DOS 3.0 actually was released to the public, bugs and all, though it was promptly replaced by DOS 3.1. He mentioned to me that he had a copy of the preliminary manual that was released, as well as the printed one for DOS 3.1 that eventually came out. I replied that I thought I had one of the printed manuals in that box in the basement sent to me years ago by Mr. Weitzman. In the interim since I received his box of materials in 2003 I have learned a bit more about scanning and how to create a PDF (thanks to Preview in Mac OS X). It occurred to me that I should get my DOS manual scanned and posted.
And then, upon opening up that box again, I found that there was not a DOS 3.1 manual. Instead, it included the photocopied pages of the DOS 3 manual that shipped with the Disk II when it came out in June 1978, plus some tech notes about the Disk II and DOS that were released a month later.
Plus, there was all of this other great stuff (which can be found here):
  • Appalogue, Volume 1, June/July 1982 – a catalog of Apple II software and hardware, apparently part of a planned magazine that I do not believe went beyond that single issue. It looks like this catalog was created in anticipation of Applefest ’82, and was probably distributed at that event.
  • Apple II Plus registration materials – You just bought a new Apple II Plus? Here is your registration card and other miscellaneous papers.
  • Apple Orchard introductory brochure, 1982 – a trifold introducing Apple Orchard to potential subscribers.
  • Apple The Personal Computer Magazine & Catalog, Volume 1, Number 1, 1979 – Yes, here is that issue #1 that was not on the Asimov FTP site. This issue focused on Apples in education. It was released before the II Plus came out in mid 1979, as there is no mention of it in the list of products available from Apple. It makes mention of PAL/SECAM versions of the Apple II for the European market, essentially the Apple II Euromod before it was called a Euromod. Also featured is the Apple Graphics Tablet without its familiar color grid (the same as the original Bit Pad from Summagraphics, which Apple adapted and sold for its own use), and the Modem IIA bundle (an Apple Communications Card and a Novation CAT acoustic modem).
  • Apple The Personal Computer Magazine & Catalog, Volume 1, Number 2, 1979 – This is the same magazine that can be found on the Asimov FTP site, but I think my scan has better colors than the one found there. This issue focused on business use of the Apple II (yes, Apple actually did promote the Apple II for business once upon a time). In the catalog section the Apple II Plus is mentioned, as well as the Apple II Euromod and Apple II Europlus. The Modem IIA package was now renamed as Modem IIB, but seems to be the same product (no explanation as to what is the difference). One of the accessories offered was a clock/calendar card, although I do not recall Apple ever selling its own such product for the Apple II series.
  • Disk II Application Note, July 30, 1978 – As mentioned above, this is basically a list of bug fixes for the recently released Disk II and DOS 3.0/3.1.
  • DOS 3 Manual (preliminary), June 1978 – The very first “manual” for Apple DOS.
  • Parallel Printer Interface Card manual, 1978 – It was this manual that I had, not the book one for DOS. Includes source code for the firmware on the card.
  • Special Delivery Software catalog, Fall 1980 – Catalog of software written by third-party developers and offered via national distribution through Apple’s own software arm. Something like the Mac App store, but 33 years ago, and without downloadable automatic updates.
  • Special Delivery Software, Spring 1981 – An update to the previous catalog. Interestingly, it mentioned Apple III software also, but I don’t think I found anything in the catalog that was for the Apple III.
  • Super Disk Copy III manual – This was not a product from Apple, but rather from Sensible Software. Written by Charles Hartley, it was primarily a more robust set of disk utilities than those offered by Apple’s FID program, even to the point of being able to recover some information from damaged disks.
  • What Is Apple Pascal? brochure, 1979 – An introductory trifold brochure about Pascal and its benefits.

So, this past weekend I went nuts with the scanner, and got all of these scanned in (other than the Red Book and Blue Book, which had already been done in the past).  I have packaged them together into the Weiztman Collection, available in the Files section of this web site at this link. The “heaviest” files are the two magazines, each 100-120 MB in size, and the “lightest” is the Disk II Application Notes, at 3.7 MB.

(I’m open to suggestions on how to fix page one of the Parallel Printer Card manual; I had a version with the sticker that says “Mo” removed (digitally), but when I tried to put it back into the PDF with the tools I have to use (Preview on my Mac) it is a different size than all of the other pages.)

Bell & Howell: Not Just Black

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!

A Tale of the Disk II

Disk IILast year was noteworthy as the 35th anniversary of the release of the original Apple II. This year, 2013, has its own significant anniversary to commemorate. It was 35 years ago this coming July that the Disk II floppy drive was made available for the Apple II. As much as the Apple II was itself groundbreaking, the release of the Disk II was a similar watershed event in the history of Apple as a company and specifically for the Apple II. It is noteworthy that the keynote speaker at KansasFest for 2013 is Randy Wigginton, an important figure in the foundation of the Disk II and Apple DOS.

As with most such events, there is back story that often does not get repeated. And though tech news usually does not pay attention to history, the Disk II was recently a topic of blog posts. CNET News posted a story about the origins of Apple’s first disk operating system, specifically the original DOS for the Apple II. The story came to light because of a donation made to the DigiBarn Computer Museum in Boulder Creek, California. Though Randy Wigginton created the core RWTS (read/write/track/sector) routines that interfaced with the disk drive, it was Paul Laughton who was the primary author of Apple DOS. Laughton recently donated some of his original papers about the project to DigiBarn. Specifically, he gave them copies of the letters between Apple and Shepardson Microsystems, for whom he worked, and also source code listings for the original versions of DOS that were delivered to Apple in June 1978.

IBM logoAccording to the story Laughton tells on his web site, he had a background working at IBM for a number of years, where he worked on all aspects of the operating system on the IBM 360 computer. This gave him a deep understanding of a how a computer should interact with various devices (telecommunications, disks, printers, and more).

One of the first jobs Laughton did for Shepardson was to work on writing a BASIC interpreter for a computer that Apple was designing in early 1978, code named “Annie”. Though this project was eventually canceled, it did bring Laughton into contact with Steve Wozniak.

The system on which Laughton did his work was a minicomputer that used punched cards for input of source code. This was compiled on a 6502 cross assembler, which produced 6502 object code that could be output to punched tape. What Laughton needed from Wozniak was a way to connect a paper tape reader to an Apple II, in order to get the code for his BASIC interpreter into an Apple II for testing.

Disk II controller card prototype - Photo courtesy of Lonnie Mimms
Disk II controller card prototype – Photo courtesy of Lonnie Mimms

When Laughton and Wozniak got together to work on the paper tape reader, he noticed that Woz seemed discouraged. Laughton asked him about it, and Woz told him of the disk controller and floppy drive project he had completed during his Christmas vacation in 1977 and had demonstrated at the Computer Electronics Show the following month. Now he had what he felt was an impossible to meet deadline for getting a fully functional disk operating system written and ready to go, in addition to the need for finishing up work on some aspects of the hardware design.

Hearing this, Laughton told him that he could create a disk operating system for Apple in a relatively short period of time. Woz was happy to hear this, and arranged for a meeting to make it happen.

(I recently asked Laughton about this by email, as it seemed to me that creating a disk operating system would be a very large task. He told me that his background in working with IBM systems made the whole process very clear in his mind. He said, “When looking at the task of writing the DOS, I knew the structure of the sub components needed and the magnitude of each of the sub components. I had, if you will, the Blueprint, in my head from day one. Actually, Apple DOS was not a major project when compared to some of the other tasks I had been assigned at IBM. It was a very simple system.”)

Section of Shepardson contract with Apple
Section of Shepardson contract with Apple

Apple and Shepardson negotiated a contract, which is summarized in the letter of April 10, 1978 donated to DigiBarn. Laughton would write and deliver to Apple a file manager, an interface with BASIC (both Integer and the Applesoft BASIC that was in development), utilities to backup and copy a disk, and “disk recovery” (the details about what that meant are not explained. The agreed upon price for this work was $13,000 ($5,200 immediately, and $7,800 on delivery). The promised delivery date was May 15, just thirty-five days later.

Laughton stated that his task was helped by Wigginton’s contributions to the project. Not only did he create the RWTS code, but Wigginton came up with the method used in allowing either BASIC to interact with DOS (specifically, watching printed output from a BASIC program for a Ctrl-D following a Ctrl-M; code after that would be a command for DOS). Using this trick made it unnecessary to create a new ROM version of BASIC that included custom disk commands; BASIC required no changes at all!

As far as the CNET story was concerned, that was the end of the story of the creation of Apple DOS, and the author of that story went on to discuss the impact of the Disk II to Apple. However, on reading the rest of the letters that were donated, there were necessary adjustments to the DOS specifications that required Apple to come back to Shepardson and negotiate further work to be done:

  • May 10, 1978 – $4,000 to include a utility disk control program, written in Integer BASIC, to relocate DOS to the highest available location in memory (recall that many early Apple II systems were only 16K or less due to the high cost of RAM; although 16K would be the smallest RAM size that would run DOS, they had to allow for variable sizes from 16K through the full 48K). Also needed a FORMAT command that would put DOS on the disk. Delivery was promised by May 26.
  • June 16, 1978 – $3,500 for additional changes to DOS, not specified in the donated letters.
  • due by June 20, 1978 – $1,500 for adding changes to switch from Applesoft to Integer (FP and INT commands), remove listing of free sectors on CATALOG (an unfortunate choice), and changes to how the Volumes parameter were to be used
  • due by June 23, 1978 – (no cost specified) allow hex parameters on BRUN, BLOAD, and BSAVE commands, added the BRUN command, add a write protection error message, and using the APPLESOFT program on the disk to run RAM APPLESOFT, with proper startup done by using the FP command.
  • June 26, 1978 – $500 contract for additional changes (probably those listed on the notes for June 23).
  • October 5, 1978 – contract for bug fixes, cost not addressed.

This would bring the apparent full costs to Apple for DOS to $22,500, not the $13,000 number that CNET reported.

DOS 3.1When one considers the few updates that were applied to DOS, from its original DOS 3.1 release, to DOS 3.2, 3.2.1, and through to 3.3, it is indeed impressive how well designed it was from the very beginning. It was not a perfect system; it transferred buffers around three times during certain disk operations (which was the foundation of later disk enhancement packages sold, including Diversi-DOSDavid DOS, and Pronto-DOS). But like Wozniak’s Integer BASIC, it did an amazing amount of work in its small 10K footprint, with a small number of eventually identified bugs.

I would agree with CNET that Laughton’s work was immensely beneficial to Apple. It took the Apple II, which actually struggled in its sales compared to the other two members of the 1977 Trinity (the Commodore PET and Radio Shack TRS-80), and made it a more attractive option. According to sales numbers compiled by Jeremy Reimer in his December 2005 post on Ars Technica, during 1977 (the year in which each of those computers was released, Radio Shack sold one hundred sixty times as many units as did Apple, and Commodore sold six times as many as Apple. Clearly, the high entry fee of the Apple II ($1,298 for a 4K machine, compared to $495 for a PET and $599 for the TRS-80) was a damper on its first year of sales. Even in 1978, the sales of Apple’s competitors were significantly higher.

When one looks at the sales numbers in 1979, however, it is a different story. The increasing availability of the Disk II, falling RAM prices (making 16K and even 48K systems more affordable), and the introduction of the Apple II Plus raised Apple’s sales by 360% compared to 1978. Even though both competitors came out with their own floppy disk solutions (August 1978 for the TRS-80, and spring 1978 for the PET) at a similar price point as the Disk II, Apple’s disk drive was faster and more reliable. Though still ahead in terms of volume, the TRS-80 units sold in 1979 increased by only 30%, and the PET by 50% over the same time period. And sales of the Apple II continued to grow over the next several years, peaking in 1984.

Without a doubt, the reason we have iPhones, iPads and Macintosh computers today is because Apple became a highly successful and profitable company starting in 1979, due to the success of the Apple II in those early years. And the Apple II owes its success in a large part to thirty-five-plus days of work by a former IBM employee. Bravo, Paul Laughton; we salute you!

 

A Cover Up

We have a penultimate (possibly ultimate) cover for the book. I think this is looking pretty nice!

Sophistication & Simplicity cover

Polishing Apples

I haven’t said much about the upcoming book for a while, primarily because I’ve been busily at work making corrections, revisions, and in some cases additions to the material. The editor going over the material is not an Apple II person, which is actually a Really Good Thing. He has questions about things that were obvious to me (and to my generation of Apple II users), things which are less obvious to a potential present-day audience.

It is likely that the revisions and polishing are going to push back the potential release date from April 1st to a later date (and no, that date was not selected as an anniversary of the founding of Apple). But the final product will actually be better than what I had originally envisioned, so hang in there!

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