Top Ten Lists Of The Past

Back in the days of GEnieLamp A2 and A2-Central-On-Disk, Doug Cuff was the editor and I was a contributing writer. On one occasion, we had some fun mimicking David Letterman’s Top 10 Lists, applying it to the Apple II. And, having dug this out of the archives, I decided to share it today.

From the April 1995 edition of GEnieLamp A2, reprinted from its original appearance in the December 1994 edition of A2-Central-On-Disk, here are two top 10 lists. If you understand all of the points listed here, you are a true Apple II fan!

Copyright 1994 by ICON.
Reprinted in GEnieLamp A2 by special permission.
From Overland Park, Kansas, "I don't think we're in Oz anymore", 
it's the A2-Central Show, with Doug and Steve!
And now, from the home office in London, Ontario:
9. Looks so much like the original machine Woz designed
   that we don't need to put his name on the case.
8. Don't have to deal with cretins who ask "What kind of Mac is that?"
7. The Running Man.
6. Typing "IIe" takes one fewer key-press than "IIgs".
5. The mouse is optional.
4. Friends don't mistake Reset key for rewind button.
3. Most IIe's labelled with cool original corporate Apple font,
   not some wimpy version of Garamond.
2. Can't lose keyboard.
1. An adequate disk operating system will actually fit into 16K of RAM.
And the Number 0 reason the Apple IIe is better than the IIgs...
0. Power light doubles as finger-warmer.
But wait! There's more!! That's right, an A2-Central Show exclusive;
not one but two Top Ten lists!!!
Again, from the home office in London, Ontario:
9. Provides practical use for lonely monophonic cassette recorder
   gathering dust on shelf.
8. FlAsHiNg TeXt Is LoTs cOoLeR tHaN mOuSeTeXt.
7. Get to make up entertaining lies to explain the REPT key to youngsters.
6. Only two graphics modes to keep track of.
5. If the original 6502 was good enough for Woz, it's good enough for me!
4. Slot 0 sure to impress the babes.
3. Freed from worry of clothes washer mangling disks left in shirt pocket.
2. Can afford one for every room in the house.
1. Reset key conveniently located just above Return key, making word
   processor double as a game of skill.
And the Number 0 reason that the Apple II Plus is better than
the IIe or IIgs... whoa, we have a tie!
0. Spouse can't yell at you for leaving the Caps Lock key down.


Steve Jobs, The Book

I’ve just finished the new book about Steve Jobs, written by Walter Isaacson (I listened to the CD audiobook version). I was not sure what to expect as I started it; there had been much said about this book when it was first released last fall. Isaacson’s account was reputed to be very negative in his presentation of Jobs; some comments I read felt that it was too negative.

For my part, I really found no surprises, as regards his behavior. I have enjoyed learning about the inside story of Apple Computer through other books I’ve read about Apple in the past, and they have always prominently featured recounts of Jobs and his famous temper, his poor social skills in dealing with people, and his maddening perfectionism. The Little Kingdom by Michael Moritz (1984), West Of Eden by Frank Rose (1989), and The Second Coming Of Steve Jobs by Alan Deutschman (2000) are all in agreement about how hard Jobs was to deal with. The first two books deal with him before he left Apple, and the third takes the story up through his rejoining the company and bringing it out of near-bankruptcy.

This newest book, Steve Jobs, bares his conduct no less graphically than any of the previous ones. It adds details of his personal life that I have not previously seen in print. The stories of the creation and introduction of the Apple II and the Macintosh were already familiar to me, though in this book they were naturally more Jobs-focused than others. Personally, I found some of the most interesting and satisfying parts were those about the creation of the wildly successful products Apple has released during Jobs’ second tenure at the company: The iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad. Certainly, during this segment it appeared that Jobs had his head together better than he had previously – he had focus and a sensibility that he did not seem to demonstrate in his past efforts at leading his company. (An example of his previous lack of common sense was his demands that the assembly-line robotic equipment at the factory making the original Mac be painted different colors than they way they were designed, thus causing them to malfunction.)

As much as I enjoyed these parts, the chronicle of Apple’s ascendancy from a computer company to a media company, it was painful to hear the story of his cancer, his choices to ignore medical advice, and the tragic consequences of those choices. The entire book is, in a way, another rise and fall story (with a number of rises and falls happening along the way). The fall of Steve Jobs was a personal choice that was as much a part of him as were any of his successes. The book illustrates how he was able to accomplish so much by almost literally willing it to happen (his so-called “reality distortion field”), and how that personal disbelief in his illness was his undoing.

His complex personality, with its binary view of everything (good/bad, winner/loser, brilliant/sucky) was a part of him from his earliest days, was molded by adherence to Zen Buddhism, by his experimentation with mind-altering drugs, and by the era in which he grew up. Certainly, if Jobs had been a “nice guy” like his co-founder Steve Wozniak, he would have been unable to build the company that Apple became. He would not have been able to push so strongly for the various advancements that appeared under his leadership: a home computer that looked good in the home (the Apple II), the commercialization and distribution of the concept of the graphic user interface, a personal music player that was light-years beyond Sony’s original Walkman, a phone that was unlike anything else that came before it, and a tablet computer that really worked well and was usable by anyone. Not only did Jobs have the ability to push to create these great products, he also had the power and influence to push for changes in related businesses (consider the difference in the music industry today compared with where it was in the 1990s). A “nice guy” might have wanted such things to exist, but would not have had the demanding perfectionism that would enable them to appear, and to appear in the perfect minimalistic way in which they did.

Issacson’s book is a great read for anyone who wants to know the whole story of where these great inventions came from, and how they were conceived. I would hesitate to recommend it as a model for anyone to use as a lifestyle; Jobs had many faults, and the world would not be a better place if more people acted like he did. But he did what his “Think Different” commercial talked about – he pushed forward the human race. And the world without Jobs would have not advanced technologically as fast as it did with him. Despite his idiosyncrasies, our world is lessened by his passing.


Open Apple #11

I’ve not mentioned it much before this, but one of the ways in which the retrocomputing community is telling the world about their interests and “what’s new about what’s old” is via web sites and podcasts. There are several retrocomputing podcasts to which I regularly listen, and one of my favorites is the Open Apple podcast, hosted by Ken Gagne and Mike Maginnis. I had the opportunity to be a guest on the Open Apple podcast #4 back in May 2011, and again was asked to be on the most recent episode, #11, released on 1/11/12. The guest on this episode was David Greelish, who was mentioned in my last post with regard to his interview with former Apple Computer CEO, John Sculley. During the Retroviews segment, Greelish and I discussed more about John Sculley and his role at Apple, particularly in relation to the Apple II. It was fun to discuss it “live” with others!

You can listen to this podcast episode via iTunes at this link, or go to the Open Apple website to listen online.

Retrocomputing News

Per Evan Koblanz of the Mid-Atlantic Retrocomputing Hobbyists (MARCH), the 2012 edition of the Vintage Computer Festival East (“8.0”) will be held on May 5-6 at the InfoAge Science Center in Wall, New Jersey. Keynote speakers will include Thomas Kurtz, who helped invent the BASIC language at Dartmouth in 1964, and Dan Kottke, Apple Computer employee #12. An early friend of Steve Jobs, Kottke helped with Apple’s early products, including the Apple-1, the Apple II, the Apple III, and the Macintosh.

You can find out more about the Vintage Computer Festival (VCF) East at their web site or their Facebook page.

John Sculley Was Our Friend

During the years when I was in the heyday of my use of the Apple II, my primary community was initially via Softalk magazine. Softalk treated all of Apple’s products with equal enthusiasm, whether the Apple II, the Apple III, or the Mac’ n Lisa, and so I had a neutral attitude toward those products. And, since most of what Softalk featured dealt with the Apple II anyway, those bits that did not were simply educational to me.

After Softalk ceased publication, I quickly jumped on board with former DOSTalk columnist Tom Weishaar and his new Open-Apple newsletter. Weishaar was more opinionated on the subjects that were dear to his heart, specifically his passion for the Apple II. His newsletter also introduced me to the A2 Roundtable on GEnie, which he began to manage in the late 1980s. During those years, the hot topics both in Open-Apple and on the A2RT were the increasing feeling of having to battle Apple’s perceived indifference towards the Apple II. We complained to each other of the unfairness of Apple’s focus and its love toward the underpowered Macintosh (whether 128K or 512K), instead of the Apple II, with which you could actually do something useful and do it quickly. Weishaar seemed to have access to people within the Apple II division in the company, and occasionally stories about the inequities between the Mac/Lisa group and the Apple II group appeared in Open-Apple. Between these two communities, I adopted the prevailing attitude that criticized Apple’s management, and blamed them for the dwindling population of Apple II users.

Steve Jobs, John Sculley, and Steve Wozniak at the Apple IIc introduction. Photo credit: Sal Veder/AP

After Jobs left the company in 1985, CEO John Sculley remained in charge of Apple. As far as we were all concerned, all of the decisions made there were, naturally, his fault. Despite great products like AppleWorks, ProDOS, GS/OS and the amount of processing efficiency they manage to squeeze out of a 10+ year old product, Apple basically ignored the Apple II. Stories repeatedly appeared in computer publications predicting the soon demise of the Apple II line, and we were frustrated because Apple would not challenge them. As with the rest of my Apple II peer group, I resented Apple, I resented the Macintosh, and I resented John Sculley for what was being done to my favorite computer. I went so far as to put his name in my American Pie parody, Apple II Pie, replacing the name “Satan” in one of the verses with “Sculley”. It implied that he joyfully presided over the destruction of the Apple II.

Because of my attitude towards Sculley, I never was interested in reading his own book, Odyssey, or any other story about him. However, David Greelish of the Classic Computing and Retrocomputing Roundtable podcasts has just released a two-part interview he conducted with John Sculley. In that interview, Sculley points out that when he arrived at Apple, Steve Jobs was so focused on promotion of the Macintosh that he was fully prepared to pull the plug on the old, clunky Apple II line immediately. Sculley, a more experienced businessman, realized that killing Apple’s primary source of revenue in 1983 would have been disastrous for the company. Neither the Macintosh nor the Lisa had gained sufficient traction in the marketplace to make them profitable enough to carry the company.

Sculley asserts that one of his major efforts at the company in his early days was to keep the Apple II line profitable long enough to give time for the Macintosh to grow and itself become profitable. To give support to the Apple II division, Sculley placed his office initially in the Triangle Building, off campus, where they had been relegated. He gave his attention to that group, recruited Bill Campbell for marketing and Del Yocam to lead the division. Under his leadership that the company released the Apple IIc, the Apple IIGS, the Apple IIc Plus, and the Enhanced Apple IIe, as well as the various versions of ProDOS 16 and then GS/OS for the IIGS. In the process, the company actually increased its cash flow, and regained some of what had been lost to IBM PC and the MS-DOS operating system.

Because of these points that I had not well considered before, I must revise my opinion of Mr. Sculley, and I want to publicly apologize for anything that I may written in the past that was disparaging to him. Yes, the company as led by Sculley did eventually discontinue the Apple II line, first the Apple IIGS and later the Apple IIe, But as painful and disappointing as this was at the time, history has proven that these decisions ultimately were the right decisions. From the perspective of twenty years later, I can see that this was the right business decision. As was said in The Godfather, it was not personal, it was strictly business. And unfortunately, we all took it very, very personally.

Sorry, Mr. Sculley. You really were our friend, even though we didn’t know it.