Rare, Old, Unusual

I am currently at the end of the week-long annual event known as KansasFest (or “KFest” to the old-timers), and have again been enjoying my time here. I especially enjoy the opportunity to learn something new about something old — the Apple II, of course.

One of my iTunes “radio” streaming feeds, in the “Oldies” category, is called “The Rare, The Old, And The Unusual”, and the station plays restored music from the 1940s through the 1970s. It’s worth a listen, and you can indeed hear some songs you may have heard, but probably didn’t.

What does that have to do with the Apple II? It is guaranteed that if you come to KFest you will see something that fits into all of these categories. The rare? An interface card that Apple apparently created, but did not sell commercially. The Apple II Fibernet card had fiberoptic connectors on it, to use for data transmission. There is very little information about the out on the Internet. However, Sean Fahey obtained the card recently. Apparently made in 1982, the card may have been made specifically for the U.S. government, for military use. In a comp.sys.apple2 message just last month, Sean points out that even prototype and pre-production products at Apple had a product prefix assigned, even if it never became a commercial product; this card has no such product code. Sean also says that a former co-worker once told him about Apple II computers that NORAD had used in some of their missile silos, for administrative and training purposes, and that these were connected via optic links back to NORAD. In any case, this item is the most unique Apple II item I’ve come across for quite a while.

The old? An original DOS 3.1 disk in pristine condition. This was the first version released of an operating system for Apple’s new Disk II drive back in 1978.

The unusual? Only the best door decoration that I’ve seen at KFest ever. Martin Haye took his Apple II Plus, wrote a program to accept entry of haiku poems, and display them two at a time on the screen, rotating every 20-30 seconds. After collecting a number of these poems, he took his Apple II Plus and hung it on his door, with a flat-screen TV as a display. This was not only my favorite decoration, it was also the favorite of the other KFest attendees, and he accordingly won the door decoration award for this year. Check it out:


Haiku-bot 2

Haiku-bot close-up

Bishop Enhanced

One of the earliest articles that I added to the History was back in 2002, a very brief discussion of Bob Bishop and his program, APPLE-VISION. It concluded by saying that he had written “a lot of programs” and “did many other things” (weasel words, if I’ve ever heard them).

Bob Bishop
Bob Bishop discusses his career at KansasFest 2011

Thanks to his keynote address to KansasFest 2011, I’ve been able to expand on his story and some of his contributions to the Apple II world. Additionally, it makes mention of some of his post-Apple II work and the programming language he created.

I’ve left the page in the Spotlight section of the web site, but you can get to the page about Bob Bishop here.

(Photo courtesy of www.kansasfest.org, used with permission).

Game On!

Check out Ken Gagne has posted a great list of classic Apple II and IIGS games in his post here on the Apple II Bits blog.

Apple Prognistication

Blake Patterson of the ByteCellar has Apple promotional DVDs that he obtained many years ago. These contained commercials and other videos about Apple products, primarily from the late 1980s and early 1990s. He uploaded these videos to YouTube, and his post here shows a number of them.

One that I like the best was made in 1987, at Apple’s tenth anniversary. It speculated how Apple would be doing at the time of its twentieth anniversary in 1997, under the leadership of CEO John Sculley. Interestingly enough, some of what was predicted (tongue-in-cheek) to be Apple’s dominance in computing was clearly not happening by 1997, but in reality was beginning to happen by 2007 (Apple’s thirtieth anniversary), and is even more correct by now, their thirty-fifth anniversary. And it is fun to see the younger, thinner Woz giving his thoughts about how Apple did during their second decade, as well as the mention of the Apple II V.S.O.P (very smooth old processor) that was predicted to be released in 1997 (a full four years after the actual discontinuation of the Apple II line).

Humorous things also include a Mac that you wore as glasses, and which was fed by a postage-stamp-sized floppy disk.

Take a trip over to Patterson’s ByteCellar, and enjoy a view of the past, and of their predicted future.

A Classic Illusion


Nuff said.

Bitten Apples

I often found it frustrating in my high school English classes when it was necessary to critique a piece of fiction that we were assigned as a class to read. What was the symbolism expressed by this character? What philosophy is being championed in this chapter? I, as a reader of the story, just wanted to read the story, follow the plot, and see what happened to the various people as the book progressed to its end. I suppose that is very simplistic, but that was how I viewed things.

Apple Computer logo

I am sure that some authors out there really wanted to write a story that symbolized the struggle of the working class, or illustrated some other philosophy. But some authors just wanted to tell a story. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in the preface to a new reprint of The Lord Of The Rings in the early 1970s that his story was definitely not symbolic of the struggle of the west against the east in Europe during or after World War II; it was just a fantasy story.

In this post on the Revert To Saved blog, we have an interview with Rob Janoff about the origins of the famous logo used by Apple Computer. I myself have been sent emails over the years asking about the symbolism of the bitten apple logo, and was asked, “Wasn’t this the real story??”

Reading this story makes me happy that the source from which I originally got the Apple logo origin had gotten the info from Rob Janoff correctly.


Can’t be all work and no fun – though this fun was a lot of work! See what it’s like to walk around inside of an Apple II:


After I originally posted this, I decided that it needed a little more explanation. (I also wanted those unfamiliar with the game to appreciate the work involved in making that Apple II stuff; walking to school uphill in the snow both ways was easy compared to this!) You can read about Minecraft at the entry discussing it on Wikipedia, or if you want a lot of detail you can read the Minecraft Wiki.

In brief, Minecraft is, in my opinion, like Legos on steroids. It’s like Legos because you can build things; the “on steroids” part comes in because you can actually be that little Lego guy or gal and walk around on or in your creations. It is also somewhat reminiscent of 8-bit games; it is gloriously pixellated, and does not do its best to be realistic. Everything is squarish, from the sun moving across the sky, to the smoke rising from torches you can use to keep the darkness at bay.

The game runs on Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux. You can even play it in a browser window, as long as you have Java installed on your system; it is a Java game, with little add-ons made to be compatible with whichever operating system on which you are using it. The game is still in Beta, which means that there are bugs, but they are fairly minor most of the time.

It plays in two modes: Survival and Peaceful. In Peaceful mode, your only problem at “night” is being able to see what you are trying to look at. In Survival mode, nighttime becomes dangerous, because various lethal creatures spawn and will attack you if you encounter them. If you don’t have a safe place to stay the night, you will die.

Unlike Legos, in which you simply open the package and start building, Minecraft requires you to create tools to use to make better tools, and ultimately use those tools to get better stuff that can be used to do the actual building. So, the first thing you have to do is break up a tree to get wood, use that wood to create boards, and then use the boards to create a workbench. The workbench helps you create a wooden spade and pick. These will help you dig a shelter for that first night. With the wooden pick you can mine stone, which can be used to make a stone pick and spade, which lasts longer, and makes it possible to find the next important resource: Coal. With coal you can make torches to help your underground mining (or cave exploring), as you search for iron ore to make the next level of tools out of iron. And if you dig deeply, you can find diamonds (the best material for tools and weapons), or gold (only good for making a clock at this time), or redstone (used for various switching devices and simple circuits).

There are animals all over the place: Pigs that are only good for food to regain health; cows, which can be milked or you can use their hides to make simple armor; chickens, which have feathers that can be used to make arrows; and sheep, whose wool can be used as a building material, especially if you want colored blocks. It was prolonged sessions searching for and harvesting wool from sheep that made it possible to create the Apple logo in its rainbow colors, and the various non-stone items in my giant Apple II, its monitor and its disk drives.

There is more to the game than this brief explanation provides. You can see it in action on the numerous YouTube videos about Minecraft; search for ones that explain how to get started. And although I doubt that the electric circuits the game allows the user to create will not get much more sophisticated than they are, if that ever happens, I’ve got the framework to create a computer to go with my case.

And if it becomes possible to change the color of stone to something besides gray, or more easily find sandstone (which is beige), I’ll have to try making this Apple II look less like a faded Bell & Howell Apple II, and even more like the Real Thing.

Cassette Security

My first introduction to a microcomputer was a North Star back in 1980, and soon after had my first contact with the Apple II Plus. In both cases, I experienced the benefits of the latest and greatest in data storage and retrieval: The power of the floppy disk. I did not go through any of the trials and travails of those who had to load and save programs and data using cassettes (or, prior to that, paper tape).

Because of the time when I entered the Apple II scene, the whole topic of software cassettes was unknown to me, beyond a vague knowledge that they existed for a short time. In “computer years”, however, a short time can be a very long time. For a full year after the introduction of the Apple II in mid-1977, cassettes were the only way to do data and program storage and retrieval. And even after the Disk II became available in June 1978, at $495 it was not something that all Apple II users immediately purchased and began to use. For the first several years of the life of the Apple II and II Plus, cassettes were used by many, many of those early owners.

Surprisingly, Apple, Inc. still has a page on its support web site that outlines the details of the Apple II cassette interface (part 1 about the format of data on the tape and part 2 about use of the read and write routines from the Monitor, assembly language, and Integer and Applesoft BASIC). Brutal Deluxe, a software company that got its start in the days of the Apple IIGS, has created a web page documenting a collection of as many Apple II programs on cassette as can be discovered. Many of those listed have actually been digitized and are there available for download and execution on an appropriate emulator (such as Gerard Putter’s excellent Virtual ][) or transfer back to a cassette to run on a real Apple II.

Finally, I just discovered Andy McFadden’s excellent technical and programming discussion about the obscure topic of copy protection for cassette software on the Apple II. Everyone who knows about the Disk II on the Apple II and software that was distributed on it is aware of the many software protections schemes that made use of the flexibility that Wozniak built into that device. What I had not previously known was that with some clever programming hacks, early software companies made it difficult for the casual user to copy and share program tapes with others, while retaining the ability to load and run those programs. Some of the programs would not only load but also automatically run without further intervention from the user beyond entering the Monitor command to read data from the cassette!

Again, I am impressed with the power and flexibility that Wozniak built into that wonderful Apple II !

Digging Into The 6502

The 6502 holds a place of honor amongst the Apple II faithful only slightly lower than that occupied by Steve Wozniak. Apple likes to conclude their press releases with a brief company history that begins with the phrase, “Apple ignited the personal computer revolution in the 1970s with the Apple II”. Well, whether or not the personal computer revolution was truly ignited by Apple may be up for dispute amongst retro computing enthusiasts, but there is no doubt that it was the 6502 from MOS Technology that ignited the imagination of Woz to create the first Apple-1, and later the Apple II. It was as important to Apple as the internal combustion engine was to Henry Ford.

According to an article on Techworld (and reprinted on MacUser), digital archeologists Greg James, Barry Silverman, and Brian Silverman have literally taken the 6502 processor apart, layer by layer. Using this information, they have created a Javascript animation of the function of the 6502, which shows what is happening within the chip as a short machine language program is executed. You can view this animation here at visual6502.org.

Screen shot of part of the visual 6502

Addendum: Thanks to Ken Gagne’s quick eye, here are two more articles about this:



Apple Lang Syne

The end of one year and the start of a next has traditionally made us think of the past, present, and future. Perhaps that was where Dickens got the idea to use ghosts of those persuasions in order to tell his Christmas Carol story. In any case, the inspiration for today’s post comes from Dan Fogelberg’s 1981 song, Same Old Lang Syne. The story told by his song is of meeting an old girlfriend unexpectedly at the grocery story, and their conversation together afterwards. It is about the present and past, and contains the bittersweet feelings of sadness as she leaves.

The phrase “Auld Lang Syne” is loosely translated as “for the sake of old times”. It implies a remembrance of days past. As I listened to Fogelberg’s song again this year, it occurred to me that it could be adapted to re-discovering that old Apple II, in the basement or a closet.

Apple Lang Syne
by Steven Weyhrich

(parody of Dan Fogelberg’s song, “Same Old Lang Syne“)

Was in the basement where I’ve stored my past
Looking for boxes Christmas Eve
Knocked over one containing floppy disks
When I caught it on my sleeve

Beneath there sat my trusty Apple II
So neatly boxed and packed away
I thought of all the fun I’d had with it
And the many games I’d played

(instrumental verse)

I pulled it out and plugged the wires in
Opened the software I had bagged
It made its “beep” as then it powered up
But the disk performance lagged

I started AppleWorks and VisiCalc
Ran Ultima[1] and RobotWar[2]
With my old joystick I ran Hard Hat Mack[3]
As I sat there on the floor

I coded some in Integer[4]
I played some Serpentine[5]
I browsed Softalk and GS+
And my other magazines

Yes, I had bought myself a MacBook Pro
That helps me work and game and buy
I’d like to say it was simplicity
But I wouldn’t want to lie

I saw the years had been a friend to this,
My Apple II I knew so well
I gazed with fondness at its faded beige
And its missing letter “L”

I saw the ads in all the magazines
Back when this friend was on the top
All the exciting things I’d hoped to buy
But my mother made me stop

I played a game of Snack Attack[6]
Lode Runner, Zork, and Drol[7],
Plus Wizardry[8] and Sourceror[9],
A.E.[10] and Apple Bowl[11]

I tried GraFORTH[12] and DoubleStuff[13]
Some Castle Wolfenstein[14]
Reliving early elegance
Another “auld lang syne” …

The box was empty and my hands were tired
Was running out of things to play
Unplugged the monitor and floppy drive
Picked up and put away

I saw an early ad for Macintosh –
And felt that old familiar pain … [15]
And as I turned to make my way upstairs
Heard echoes in my brain …

  1. [1]written by Richard Garriott (Lord British), was one of a series of fantasy and adventure games
  2. [2]game by Silas Warner and published by Muse in 1980, RobotWar allowed you to program robots to battle each other
  3. [3]game by Michael Abbot and Matthew Alexander, and published by Electronic Arts in 1983, it played much like Donkey Kong
  4. [4]Integer BASIC, of course
  5. [5]a snake-tail-chasing game published by Brøderbund and released in 1982
  6. [6]game by Dan Illowsky and published by Datamost in 1981, was one of many Pac-Man clones for microcomputers
  7. [7]game published by Brøderbund in 1983
  8. [8]game created by Andrew Greenberg and Robert Woodhead, published in 1981 by Sir-Tech
  9. [9]text adventure game written by Steve Meretzky, published in 1984 by Infocom
  10. [10]shoot-em-up game in space published by Brøderbund in 1983
  11. [11]old Integer BASIC game simulating bowling
  12. [12]graphic-based implementation of the FORTH language by Paul Lutus, published by Insoft in 1981
  13. [13]programming language made to work on double hi-res graphics on revision B Apple IIe with extended RAM
  14. [14]game by Silas Warner, published by Muse in 1981
  15. [15]this “old familiar pain” refers back to the days when, although the Apple II was carrying the company, Apple was virtually ignoring it while trying to get Macintosh sales to pick up and thrive. It was frustrating to be an Apple II user in those days, and for some, mention of the Mac evoked feelings of disgust and annoyance.