My return to Apple ][s

I deeply lament not keeping track of our original europlus – it had initially gone to my brother-in-law when my dad bought our first Mac in late 1985, and it was then passed on to his cousin…and we don’t know what happened to it after that.

It wasn’t a particularly special machine – 64K of RAM (including a third-party 16K language card), 2 x Disk ][ drives, monochrome monitor, third party 80 column card, and a Silentype printer. It didn’t even have a lower-case mod or real-time clock. I’m not even aware of any photos of that machine, which is a shame given how much time I spent on it! I’ll certainly post them if I find any.

We didn’t have much original software – Apple Writer v1.1, pfs:file, and pfs:report. And several disks of software (almost exclusively games) which I can’t recall the source of (likely friends at school – our computer dealer, Computer Lighthouse at Penrith, was rabidly anti-piracy from what I could tell).

Fast forward to December 1998 and I see a message on the Club Mac BBS offering a IIgs for free. By this time I was feeling quite nostalgic about the Apple ][, so I reached out to the owner, but had to wait for the “first responder” to be a no-show before I could secure it. It came with a monitor, keyboard, mouse and a drive or two.

After that, I seemed to accumulate Apple ][’s at a rate of one or two a year, including models I didn’t really have an interest in collecting (like Apple //c’s).

I’ve been able to acquire a few europluses, a couple of Silentypes, several Disk ][’s, original disks for AppleWriter v1.1 and pfs:file, third party language cards and 80 column cards, monochrome monitors – pretty well everything we had “back in the day”. I had held on to my 5¼” floppies, which has meant I’ve been able to relive my early Apple ][ days more easily.

As a side note, while preparing for my “(Solid) State of the Nation” talk at OzKFest 2015, I trawled through my e-mail archives, and discovered that the IIgs I acquired at the end of 1998 was given to me by Craig, who was at OzKFest! I’m happy to say that he’s subsequently been re-united with his old IIgs and it now forms part of his collection.

Nostalgia is a funny thing. That IIgs I got in 1998 could have done pretty well everything I wanted to do as far as using Apple ][’s now – but there’s just something about reliving the old days with the actual model I had as a teenager.

WOzFest $04 Galleries

These are my pictures from and related to WOzFest $04 – please link to any galleries of your own photos in the comments.

A new logo for WOzFests.

That’s going to be one BIG europlus!

Guiding Disk ][’s back into operation.

i’m fEDD up doing its thing in preparation for WOzFest $04.

The fun begins.

Denis’ original europlus and //e.

A //e clone and a couple of //e’s needing love and attention.

A Laser 128 with an external port…it just looks wrong!

Things are kicking along now!

Soundsmith v2.0b starting up.

Giving credit where it’s due.

Soundsmith v2.0b in action.

Up to eight channels selectable thanks to the 4soniq!

FTA’s Soundsmith Player supporting extra channels.

Badge prep begins.

For a sense of scale.

Masking tape to keep bare wood available for gluing.

Undercoat.

My paint selection.

First coat.

Second coat – some pieces required a third coat.

Silver paint for authenticity.

WOzFest $04 Recap

Well, I had a lot of fun at WOzFest $04 – and got more done than I usually do.

Thanks again to all attendees for making it a great day. Denis, a first time WOzFest attendee from Canberra, brought his original europlus and //e – it was nice to see the original monitor he’d bought for the europlus as well. Jeremy, also from Canberra, brought the fruits of his search for educational material, including a //e clone.

Craig brought a Laser 128 – unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to play with it much or watch too much of the work on it, but seeing an interface card plugged into the external slot was very disconcerting.

Andrew worked on an adaptor for connecting a colour QuickCam to an Apple ][ – it’ll be interesting to see when he gets that working (no pressure!).

Jon as usual was helpful on lots of fronts, and Leslie also offered his expertise and experience in lots of discussions and projects, including replacing key switches on one of Jeremy’s //e keyboards.

Jon’s ESR meter was put to good use testing some power supplies’ capacitors to see which were out of spec. He’s kindly left it with me so I can test more of my PSUs.

For those not attending, the second hookup was to Antoine Vignau and Olivier Zardini from Brutal Deluxe, who revealed that they have been able to recover the Soundsmith source code files from the original author’s hard disk and have been busy working on v2, which, amongst other things, supports one or two 4soniqs.

The hookup to KFest went well as well – there were about 8-10 people at the other side who hung around to say G’day, and I finally got to personally say “Boo Atari!” to Kevin Savetz.

A reasonable amount of disk preservation was done, with more to happen with disks left behind for me to do so – it’ll be good to have Michael’s EDD+ card he won at KFest in the mix as well. Now that 4am’s Passport has been publicly released, some disk preservation might start to happen on a more distributed basis.

My special decoration project was a europlus badge reproduction…except it’s 550mm wide (a europlus to scale would be 2m wide, 2.4m deep and 0.5m tall!). The letters and Apple logo segments were laser cut at Robots & Dinosaurs, a local makerspace I’m a member of, and I hand-painted it all over the last week or so. I’m pretty pleased with the result.

I was happy to do more hands-on stuff this time around than I’ve been able to the last couple of WOzFests, and I’m certainly looking forward to the next one, look for the announcement as soon as I settle on a date.

Is it time for a Disk ][SB?

Update: added support/use within emulators to the wish list – that’s what you get rushing: you leave out something you always wanted to say!

There are a lot of very smart people in the Apple ][ scene.

Hardware and software products proliferate in a way I can’t recall being matched at any time since I got back into Apple ][’s in 1998.

And a large amount of time and effort is being spent on disk-related projects, especially hardware and disk content preservation.

For example, there are at least four active or semi-active disk drive emulation hardware products available at the moment: Nishida Radio’s UnisDisk, Rich Dreher’s CFFA3000, Пламен Вайсилов’s SDFloppy II, and Steve Chamberlin’s Floppy Emu.

On the software preservation side, 4am and Brutal Deluxe Software are amongst those involved in making old software, especially protected software, available for use by preserving the software, often via copy protection cracking (often detailing the cracks to allow them to be reversed or studied).

These preservation efforts often require a non-standard disk image file, such as a .edd file, made using an EDD+ card and software like Brutal Deluxe’s i’m fEDD up. These files preserve the stream of bits coming off the disk before they are decoded by the Disk ][ controller card, and this data can be captured down to a quarter-track resolution (can those in the know please correct me in the comments if I’m misrepresenting this?).

Occasionally a .nib file, which records extra track data (such as DOS volume number) beyond a standard 140K .dsk image file is enough to defeat copy protection which relied on this information.

So I’ve been thinking recently that it would be nice if we could use Apple ][ disk drives on modern computers, say via a USB-based device, to capture not only .edd files, but also .nib and .dsk files (ProDOS-ordered and DOS-ordered). Let’s call it the “Disk ][SB”.

I know I’m not alone in contemplating such a device: Apple ][ luminary Mike Willegal worked on an interface card in 2008 and 2009 with a view to having a final version utilising USB. Glenn Jones indicated on Mike Willegal’s site that he had worked on a similar device at some point in the past. Both projects are currently on hiatus.

Glenn pointed me to the Device Side Data FC5025, which connects a PC 5¼” floppy drive to modern computers via USB and is a currently active project – this is pretty close to what I’m suggesting, but can only create .dsk Apple ][ disk images, and can’t read “flippy” disks, which were not uncommon in commercial Apple ][ software, let alone in home use. Perhaps the most famous example of a flippy disk in Apple ][ circles is the original Karateka disk, which would allow you to play the game upside down if the disk was inserted upside down.

Further along the path to deep-reading of disk data is the KryoFlux, which reads the magnetic flux transition timing from disks and saves that data to modern computers. This is, perhaps, the bee’s knees of software preservation – but it’s also between €98 and €125 (plus the cost of a floppy drive), which for me is above my budget.

I envisage the Disk ][SB as operating somewhere between the KryoFlux and the FC5025 – not as low-level as magnetic flux transition timing, but higher resolution than the .dsk images the FC5025 will produce. Almost like an EDD+ card for modern computers. Having it Apple ][-specific meshes nicely with my computer model chauvinism. Perhaps the only “special” hardware required would be a physical Apple ][ disk drive.

And then, of course, there’s use in emulators. Charles Mangin, through his RetroConnector store, offers various adaptors for using legacy hardware on modern computers, and modern devices on legacy computers, such as his Joystick Shield for using Apple ][ joysticks on modern computers, including use within emulators. How cool would it be to be able to boot an emulator from a physical disk in a Disk ][?!

While contemplating such a device, my mind keeps returning to the Apple II Pi, which integrates modern hardware with ancient. On one hand, I wonder if the Apple II Pi could be utilised in some way in my grand scheme for modern disk image capture, while on another it makes me think that surely it would be possible to design a new USB-based solution for connecting Disk ][’s to modern computers (and I’m aware that’s just the certainty of ignorance passing judgement on the Disk ][SB’s feasibility – I’m no hardware or software engineer).

So, to summarise, my initial wish list for the Disk ][SB is:

  • allows connection of Apple Disk ][ drives (20-pin connector) to modern computers via USB;
  • allowing DB19-based drives to connect would be a bonus (and is SmartPort support too much to wish for?);
  • copy data/files to/from disks (perhaps via FUSE);
  • ability to use legacy drives and physical disks in emulators;
  • capture .edd disk images;
  • capture .nib disk images;
  • capture .dsk disk images;
  • capture other suitable disk image formats such as .2mg (see SmartPort meta-wish above); and
  • incorporating 4am’s cracks from Passport would also be a bonus to allow direct cracking of Apple ][ protected disks to .dsk image files on modern computers.

The division of labour between hardware and software would be at the discretion of the developer/s.

What do you think – am I hoping for too much?

So much more to learn

I’ve read a heap of books about Apple, its people, products, and history. These include, but are not limited to (and in no particular order):

And then there are the numerous articles, blog posts and reminiscences about my favourite tech company by past and present employees, journalists, users, and podcasters.

You could say I’m steeped in the Apple culture, and not just because I’ve literally bled six colours!

I’ve certainly known of Ron Wayne’s part in Apple’s founding, and how Mike Markkula not only helped Apple establish itself with finance and guidance, but also by writing some of the early Apple-branded software to help showcase the Apple ][’s capabilities when it was first released.

What I didn’t know until last week was one little snippet of information about Mike Markkula’s impact on the Apple culture which is still on display in many products and in product announcements throughout its history – the programs he wrote were published as being authored by none other than “Johnny Appleseed”.

Yep, that’s right – the perennial Apple-using chap who shows up in probably every screenshot of a phone call, contacts list, iMessage chat, or e-mail shown during Apple keynotes and product announcements, and as a dummy name programmed into many Apple products, started his association with Apple 40 years ago as the programming nom de plume of one of Apple’s early founders.

I simply cannot imagine how this fact has eluded me all these years – I suppose there’s a chance I missed it when reading or hearing about it in the past, but it really is exactly the sort of factoid I tend to remember and take note of. I can find it referenced on websites going back to at least 2010, and I’m sure it must have been mentioned or relayed somewhere before then.

I know I don’t know everything there is to know about Apple – but I obviously know at least a little less than I previously thought!

It says something of my obsession that I was thrilled to learn even this little tidbit – here’s to learning a heap more!

Apple logo tattoo

It’s no secret that I love the old six-colour Apple logo – to me it epitomises the part of Apple history of which I’m most nostalgic for.

There are very few corporate logos which survive for 40+ years untouched – and, although Apple’s logo (largely) retains its shape, management (starting in Steve Jobs’ second reign) moved generally to a  monochrome treatment of the logo.

As an admitted Apple logo hagiographer, I’ve certainly enjoyed the occasional nod from modern management to the logo’s colourful past, such as the WWDC 2012 logo, its appearances in this MacBook Air ad and six-colour themed Apple tv promotional material. I fully support Apple’s move to the modern logo treatment, but I think it says a lot about the company that they’re still prepared so readily to acknowledge and utilise their logo’s colourful past.

For many years I suggested to my family that I’d like to get a six-colour Apple logo tattoo – then I really could say I’d bled six colours!

In my role as the family’s Great Procrastinator, however, this wish never formalised into a plan, let alone action.

And so, as my 40th birthday approached, my kids made a wonderful suggestion – they would pay for my Apple logo tattoo for that landmark birthday!

Of course, acceptance of such an offer is only half the battle – I wanted to make sure whoever ended up doing the tattoo not only got the colours right (without the black outlines you sometimes see on Apple logo tattoos), but the shape also had to be spot on.

And then there are the issues of size and position – I’d originally thought of getting the tattoo on my back, but then I wouldn’t see people’s reaction to it! And my wife wanted it to be as small as could be – I knew getting the colours right on a small tattoo would be difficult, and if I was going to get a tattoo, I didn’t want it to be just 1cm tall!

So I suggested a size twice as big as I wanted, and “compromised” down to the real size I was after – approximately 4cm tall. With the “wanting to see people’s reactions” argument, I was able to successfully pitch for having the tattoo placed on the left hand side of my chest towards my shoulder. This has the added benefit of people thinking I wanted to have the logo “close to my heart”, which really didn’t come into it at all!

After a lot of web searching and asking around, we finally settled on Megan at Inner Vision Tattoo, in the Sydney inner suburb of Chippendale. Megan has a great portfolio of detailed colour work which mightily impressed us.

Mine was Megan’s first (and perhaps still only) Apple logo tattoo, but she was very willing to take on the challenge of getting the shape and colours right. After an hour and a half of “not as bad as I’d feared” pain, I had a shiny new six colour Apple logo tattoo!

Megan did phenomenal work on the joins between the colours, and to this day, nearly 8 years later, people still think it’s actually a sticker, not a real tattoo!

And so now, I have the most portable way of proving to people I meet just how much of an Apple fanboy I am! Which can’t be a bad thing…can it?!

WOzFest $04 Announcement

To celebrate KansasFest 2016 (and commiserate with other non-attendees) I’m proud to announce WOzFest $04 will be held on Saturday 23 July, kicking off at around midday.

At 1400 AEST we’ll try and get a video hookup with any KansasFest insomniacs (it’ll be 2300 CDT there) and share the KFest vibe.

Potential projects include ESR testing of PSU capacitors (feel free to bring some along), software preservation, assessment of some complete Apple //e education systems Jeremy from Canberra has recently secured from his high school Maths teacher, disk drive maintenance/recovery, and anything else people bring with them or decide on the day!

The usual munchies and cider will be present, with an expected dinner of pizza.

I expect it will be more low-key than WOzFest /// – but as I discovered last time around, anything can happen in 3 short weeks!

Hope to see you there!

Update: I’ve been donated an EDD+ card by Chris from Townsville and it’s now arrived – subject to it being operational, software preservation is definitely on the agenda. And, speaking of agendas, the video hookup “session” has been added to KansaFest’s official schedule – so I hope to see you there…or here…or, umm, wherever!

Dedication

It takes a lot to inspire dedication – people have to care very deeply about something to be dedicated to it.

Apple ][ aficionados are by no means the only dedicated species on this planet: car enthusiasts, Raspberry Pi tinkerers, painters on art tours – we all share a degree of passion which outsiders often view askance…while being so dedicated to their own “thing” such as a football team, a TV show, or a favourite restaurant.

But today, I was reminded of just how dedicated my fellow redo-computer enthusiasts were, in a few (very) different ways.

Firstly, there was an e-mail from Ken Gagne, the Editor-In-Chief and Publisher of Juiced.GS, the world’s only remaining (and longest running) Apple ][ print magazine. [Disclaimer: Ken kindly commissioned a story for the June ’16 issue of Juiced.GS on WOzFest from me.] To continue sourcing material for and publishing Juiced.GS takes a special kind of dedication. I burned out after only a few years of co-editing the Club Mac magazine, MACinations – Ken has been Editor-In-Chief of Juiced.GS since 2006! And, it seems, he has no intention of stopping – what an effort!

Secondly, Jeremy, an attendee of WOzFest /// posted his gallery of photos from the event on the WOzFest /// Galleries post I finally got around to putting up. Jeremy drove up for WOzFest /// from Canberra, a 6-hour round trip. And Jason and Geoff flew up from Melbourne to attend – it takes a certain kind of dedication (or crazy) to go so far for what is, in effect, a one-night informal gathering of Apple ][ collectors – what an effort!

And lastly (for now), there’s Steve Chamberlin, of Big Mess o’ Wires. I’d been following Steve’s travails around sourcing/reproducing DB19 connectors for his most excellent Floppy Emu disk drive emulator for many retro-Apple computers. It turns out, Steve has bitten the bullet and organised manufacture of 10,000 (yes, 10,000!) DB19 connectors to supply not just his own needs, but (as a group purchase) the needs of other retro-enthusiasts, including Atari and NeXT enthusiasts.

Steve had already gone above and beyond in extending his Floppy Emu beyond its original scope of being an early Macintosh floppy drive emulator. It now emulates pretty well any Apple drive designed to use the DB19 connector, including SmartPort drives, the Macintosh (non-SCSI) HD20, Apple ][ drives and Lisa drives. Steve could have quite rightly rested on his laurels and said, “No more DB19? No more Floppy Emus!”. Instead, he took the bull by the horns and solved his own supply issue and that of other enthusiasts – what an effort!

With dedication like the above, there are many exciting days ahead for us Apple ][ collectors!