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!

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.


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

The Final Year of Resource Central

Looking through my archives of material, I found some items that I’ve never seen online anywhere else. The text of Open-Apple and A2-Central is available in a couple of places, but no one has posted PDFs of the newsletter Ahs that was released during 1994 as the organization tried to transition itself into the failing Apple II world.

AhsOn this page in my Files (downloads) section, there are five PDF files from this year. There is a single issue of the ICON Beacon from January 1994, introducing the organization; there are three issues of Ahs, for Spring, Summer, and Autumn 1994, and finally there is the Spring 1994 issue of the Resource Central catalog, which was advertising the new ICON organization.


In a separate section in the Files section I have also included a scan of the January 1989 issue of the GEnie Livewire magazine. This can be found here.

GEnie Livewire

Being Blue

A year ago, a KFest acquaintance named Stavros Karatsoridis gave me a printed copy of his version of the Apple II “Blue Book”, the first Applesoft manual. His was the version that was written in November 1977, for the January 1978 release of Cassette Applesoft. The version that I have already had available on this site for download was the August 1978 edition, which had the changes for Applesoft II, the revised edition of that language.

I’ve had the papers for about a year, and as I got ready to come to KFest this year I finally scanned them in, and have completed the work. It is now also available in the Apple II History downloads page here. Now you can get digital copies of both of these rare manuals.

What Is A Demoscene?

KansasFest Report:

Andy Molloy presented a session about the Demoscene of the 1980s. The “Demoscene” refers to programmers who created software that demonstrated the graphics and sound capabilities of various computers. Some of the original demos of this type appeared for the Commodore 64, but in essence it had its origins in the Apple II.

Interestingly, some of the impetus for this arose out of the method that published used to try and prevent piracy. The copy-protection methods motivated some to find ways to break or “krack” that protection. Many of these software crackers wanted to sign their work, and they took the startup screens and inserted their names (hacker names), or BBS phone numbers. This became more elaborate with time, with the inclusion of pictures, and even with time, simple animations.

These methods moved onto the Commodore 64, and with the better quality graphics and sound available they pushed the abilities of that machine to its limits, going beyond what it was thought was possible. And for the software crackers, their interests passed on to creating animated demos that were made just for the sake of showing them off to their friends. With the release of the Apple IIGS in 1986, interest rose in pushing the abilities of that machine. Going beyond the limits placed by Apple with their tools, these programmers worked “on the metal”, and groups like Ninja Force, FTA (Free Tools Association), and Brutal Deluxe created Demoscene-type displays for the IIGS.

Some of these were distributed online, via the major online services (CompuServe, GEnie, America Online, Delphi), and some were distributed on physical disk media, which was particularly necessary for those who did not pay the money for access to those services. Certainly in Europe (particularly in France, where some of those above-mentioned groups were based), phone access was more expensive, and it was more common to have “demo parties”, where crackers would get together and share and copy software with each other, sometimes mailing it back and forth to those who were further away.

One of the other points to make about the Demoscene is that it was an intersection between those who could write software and those who were also artistically capable. The video Moleman 2 shows a fascinating look at this world:


A recent entry in the Demoscene world for the Apple II was the Drift disk that was included in the latest issue of Juiced.GS. Created as a collaboration between Krue (music), Wade Clark (music), Antoine Vignau (code) and Melissa Barron (ascii art), Drift works on any Apple II — that is, it is not GS-specific. On Melissa’s Tumblr site (the link by her name) it tells about the process of creating some of the project.

Randy Brandt and AppleWorks

KansasFest Report:

Randy Brandt spoke to us about his history with programming and with AppleWorks. He discussed his personal history, and getting his start in programming in 1976, learning FORTRAN in high school. This set the foundation for the programming work he did in the rest of his life. He later got involved with the Apple II in 1981. He learned Applesoft from Nibble and Call-A.P.P.L.E. (particularly the All About Applesoft book). He started his company JEM Software while in college, before he had any products to sell, and named it after his girlfriend (and later wife — her initials). He wrote a program called Grade Aid to help with keeping track of grades for educators, selling it for $10.

After graduation, he taught in high school, but did not have access to an Apple II for several years. He met future programming collaborator Dan Verkade at an FM radio station, and with that job he was eventually able to purchase an Apple IIc when it was new. He purchased GPLE and Merlin Pro to use for programming. He began to write documentation for Beagle Bros and ultimately got involved doing programming there. He worked on Beagle products Extra K and Pro-Byter and documentation for those and other products, and came out with a product of his own, Big U.

He learned some information about how AppleWorks managed text input, and started on MacroWorks to allow the program to have the ability to record and playback keystrokes within the program. This worked with AppleWorks version 1.3. He later updated this to SuperMacroWorks, with enhancements that supported the new Apple IIGS in 1986. This competed somewhat with AutoWorks from the Software Touch (a company formed by former Beagle employees Alan Bird and Mark Simonsen), but still did well.

In 1987, Brandt created his own AppleWorks extensions, PathFinder and Patch Mania, sold under the JEM Software name, working out of his home while continuing to collect royalties on MacroWorks and  SuperMacroWorks. That same year Bert Kersey retired and sold Beagle Bros to Mark Simonsen. They created the engine for the TimeOut series of AppleWorks extensions, which led to a large number of useful things that could be done with AppleWorks, including the penultimate macro program there,  UltraMacros.

The TimeOut series made its debut at AppleFest in 1987 in San Francisco, and was a big hit. It was an exhausting time to work that show, and Brandt vowed to take a break from his TimeOut efforts; however, on the way home with Mark Simonsen he came up with ideas for three new TimeOut applications.

With the formation of Claris Corporation, the new company realized that they had none of the customer registration information that had been collected over the years from buyers of AppleWorks (they had actually been discarded). Partly to update AppleWorks, but mostly to regain that data, Claris came out with version 2.1 of the program to try to rebuild that database. Although Claris wanted an update to a version 3.0, the original author Lissner was not interested. Claris turned to Beagle Bros to do the new version. Code-named “Spike”, it was not very good pay, but it ultimately gave control of AppleWorks to Beagle (since they would now know the entire code base).

AppleWorks 3.0 was released in 1989. Brandt released other products to enhance AppleWorks, though ultimately he broke away from Beagle Bros to do his own work. Beagle licensed all of the Apple II products to Quality Computers, and Brandt released other enhancements through JEM Software. In 1993 he began to envision a major rewrite to AppleWorks, a version 4. They negotiated with Claris, and convinced them to allow the program to be released. He later came up with version 5 of AppleWorks, which came out in 1994.

Today, Brandt is working on iOS versions of some old software, such as the game IO Silver.


The Apple II Was About Games

KansasFest 2012 Report:

In John Romero’s keynote speech at KansasFest this year, he pointed out the significant contribution to gaming that has been made by programmers over the years. It “forged the future”, by teaching these pioneers how to write tight, fast code that worked well on the Apple II, but also laid the foundation for the work they did later on game consoles like the Nintendo, and even games of today that are played on Facebook.

  • Akalabeth (1980) set the foundation for Ultima and even World of Warcraft
  • Dungeons of Despair (circa 1981, limited release) preceded Wizardry (1981), created the RPG genre on computers
  • Beneath Apple Manor (1978) was a predecessor to Rogue, but Rogue worked much like the older game, and set up that genre, and even set up the basics for Minecraft today.
  • Castle Wolfenstein (1981) led to Wolfenstein 3D, one of the earliest examples of a first-person shooter. Castle Wolfenstein also was the original stealth game, of trying to get through an enemy-infested area without being caught (not necessarily shooting everything in sight).
  • Bilestoad (1982) inspired games like Mortal Kombat, the one-on-one fighting games.
  • Oregon Trail (1978, though origins earlier) let to Where In The World Is Carmen San Diego? and many other educational games.
  • Wasteland (1988) led to many other post-apocolyptic games, including Fallout

He discussed the process in creating Wolfenstein 3D, then Doom, then Quake, which themselves have spawned other similar shooters over the years.

Despite his later work on other platforms, Romero stated that his origins of programming on the Apple II have defined his career.

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What’s Where?

Robert Tripp sent me this message (and I’ve seen this mentioned elsewhere), and I thought it should be reproduced here:

What’s Where in the Apple? is in the process of being readied for release as an electronic book. I am the publisher and copyright holder that published this and other microcomputer books back in the late 1970s and early 1980s as part of MICRO — The 6502 Journal.  If you go to our web site (or you will find lots of good information.  It also includes Chapter 1 from the Guide, page 2 from the Atlas and page 3 from the Gazetteer as samples of what the totally upgraded book will look like.

The site also contains the Adobe PDF version of the original William F. Luebbert article from the August 1979 issue of MICRO.

The plan is to release the PDF book by Sept 1, 2012 priced at $19.95.  The web site has an offer for people who pre-order now who will be notified when the book is released and then have ten days to purchase through PayPal for $15.00.

What's Where In The Apple II

The New Apple II User’s Guide

I mentioned about this back in April, about a new book about the Apple II that was coming out soon. It is now available, and from the preview info I have seen on the author, David Finnigan’s web page about it, it looks like this could be a very handy reference.

What is so great about a new reference guide on this very old computer? After all, there are many old used books out there (if you can find them) that deal with this computer, right? The problem with any of those old books (if they can be obtained) is that it was not uncommon to write a book of that type just as the new model (Apple IIe, IIc, or IIGS) was being released, which meant it was based on pre-release information. Furthermore, it assumes that you can just walk right down to your computer store and buy one. Those books were written for Apple II owners in the 1970s or 1980s. But that doesn’t necessarily work for the present. You pick up an Apple II at a garage sail, thrift shop, or eBay, and then you have to dig to find out how to use it.

What Finnigan’s Apple II User’s Guide offers is an intro to any model of the Apple II, from the oldest Integer BASIC models up through the Apple IIGS. He has an appendix that deals with the use of ADT to create disks out of downloaded disk images. He talks about enhancements like GNO/ME for the Apple IIGS. He even deals with getting an Apple II onto the Internet, something that I believe no printed book about the Apple II explains.

I find this book to be interesting enough, based on the Table of Contents pages that he has available to peruse that I plan to own a copy myself. I recommend that anyone else out there who wants a modern, up-to-date starting (or re-starting) reference to do the same. Buy this book

Happy Anniversary, Apple II !

Back in April, Harry McCracken of Technologizer and’s Techland wrote up a nice spread (photos and an article) about the 35th anniversary of the Apple II. He chose April as the month for this, as it was 35 years since the First West Coast Computer Faire, when Apple first introduced Steve Wozniak’s updated computer to the world. I didn’t post about it at the time, because for me it seems more appropriate to use June as the appropriate month to commemorate this event. It was in June 1977 that Apple shipped the first complete Apple II computers (motherboard, case, power supply, and keyboard) to customers (in May they had started selling the motherboard-only versions).

In 1992, the late great Resource Central had made up T-shirts for the 4th A2-Central Summer Conference that remembered the 15th anniversary of the Apple II. With the help of a scanner and a local artist, I can offer an updated version of that picture, again available on a T-shirt through CafePress. Click the link to my Apple II History Store, and find something you like!

35th Anniversary of the Apple II