[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Benj's Apple II Notes

February 1st, 2016 by Benj Edwards

Benj Edwards Apple II+ AppleSoft BASIC handwritten programming notes scan - circa 1990 or 1991An authentic, Coke-stained programming reference

I'm sure I've told this story somewhere else — probably about five times at this point, but here it goes again. When I was maybe 9 or 10 (in 1990 or 1991), my dad bought me a nice Apple II+ setup from someone at the local hamfest for about $100.

(I recently found the original handwritten price tag for that machine, which you can see here. I said about $100 because haggling was common, and he may have actually paid $70 or $90 for it. It's worth noting that $100 was a lot of money for an old computer back then, and it commanded that price because it was perceived as still being useful at the time. Later, used Apple II prices sunk, then went back up again as they became collectible.)

As I learned to program BASIC on the machine using Apple's fairly well-written AppleSoft programming manuals, I began to make a list of frequently-used programming techniques that I could easily reference.

It was my dad's idea — and he was very big into making notes, dating papers, and documenting things. However, I found that handwriting cramped my hand because I didn't hold a pencil properly, so I absolutely hated it. And yes, that gave me trouble in school. But I can still remember my dad's words now. It was a familiar conversation:

"Write this down: Initialize prepares a new disk."

"Ok, dad."


Obviously, I did as he instructed, then continued to add to the list over the following days. Not long after creating it, I taped the notes to my desk right beside my Apple II+. There they stayed for at least a few years as I continued to tinker with BASIC.

Eventually, that desk (made out of a hollow, uncut door laying across two shelf pillars) got so nasty with stickers and writing that it went to the dump. Just before it departed, I peeled my BASIC note off and stuck it in my files. There it stayed until I rediscovered it just last year in some old papers.

As dirty and Coke-stained as the note is today, I am glad I still have it. At the risk of stretching a metaphor, it's a little bit like rediscovering an old friend that helped me through a tricky period of my life. At the very least, I will always remember PR#6.

[ From Benj Edwards personal handwritten AppleSoft BASIC notes ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What was the first programming language you ever used? How old were you?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Thoughware JingleDisk

December 7th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Thoughtware JingleDisk Jingle Disk Animated musical computer christmas card animation artwork Xmas - 1985Jingle disk, jingle disk, jingle all the way

Throughout the ages, fans of Christmas have found new and varied ways to express their love for the holiday. In the 1980s, personal computer users joined in the fun, using their machines to host a new breed of animated Christmas greetings that were distributed through magazines, BBSes, or even sold on disk like Thoughtware's JingleDisk, seen here.

Upon inserting JingleDisk into your Commodore 64 or Apple II computer (It's a double-sided disk with data for the different platforms on each side) and booting it up, the user is presented with a Christmas-themed animation set to various holiday musical standards. It's fun to watch.

There is something about the warmth of the glow from a cathode ray tube screen that lends itself well to computerized Christmas celebrations — perhaps it echoes some primal link to prehistoric man sitting around the fire telling stories.

By the way, this JingleDisk came to me by way of a family friend who just turned 40 years old today. Happy Birthday, Chris!

[ From Thoughtware JingleDisk product packaging, 1985, front/back ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever programmed a Christmas-themed demo or sent a computerized Christmas card? Tell us about it.

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Laser 128 Family

November 23rd, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Laser 128 Apple II Compatible clone machine computer advertisement - 1987A family on the move

This Apple II-clone machine became popular in the mid-late 1980s as a low-cost alternative to the Apple IIc (almost half the price but twice the RAM — scratch that, Apple IIc had 128K too), especially for home use. I have a Laser 128 in nearly pristine condition in the box, and it feels nice to use. It echoes the integrated form factor of the IIc, which makes it convenient to setup in a pinch if you need to pull out an Apple II in an emergency. Or at least that's how I use it.

Happy Thanksgiving from VC&G

[ From Family and Home Office Computing, November 1987, p.69 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Do you have any Thanksgiving computer or gaming traditions? Tell us about them.

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VC&G Anthology Interview: Trip Hawkins on 30 Years of Electronic Arts (2012)

November 9th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Trip Hawkins Interview on EDGE-online.com

[ This interview I conducted was originally published on Edge.com in June 2012 to roughly coincide with Electronic Arts' 30th Anniversary. Since then, the interview has disappeared from the web. A few people have asked me to make it available again, and since I retained the rights to the interview, I am free to publish it on VC&G for everyone to enjoy. ]

Originally Published on Edge.com in June 2012:

VC&G Anthology BadgeElectronic Arts is 30 years old, and there is no denying that the behemoth game publisher casts a long shadow of influence over the entire industry. The company, founded in May 1982, pioneered a business model that treated game designers like rock stars and software publishers like record labels. It pushed the use of big names and big licenses in sports (think Madden, NFL) and soon grew to gobble up many renowned development studios to become a massive entertainment conglomerate.

These days, that conglomerate catches lots of flack from gamers on various issues including employee treatment, content milking, premature server termination, and more. Whether or not those criticisms have any merit, there is no denying that Electronic Arts was once revered as a top corporate impresario for identifying and cultivating the world's best game design talent (although one would have to admit that time was very long ago).

The man behind the early, creatively-rich image of EA is Trip Hawkins, an Apple veteran who founded the company with a simple dream: to bring his sports simulations to life. Hawkins, now 58, left EA in 1991 to start The 3DO Company, which folded in 2003. He then launched mobile game developer Digital Chocolate that same year. Just recently, Hawkins announced he was stepping down as CEO of Digital Chocolate to face an as-yet unrevealed future.

In late May of this year [2012 — Ed.], on the occasion of EA's 30th anniversary, I spoke with Hawkins over the telephone and via email about the creation of Electronic Arts, the design of its early games, and at some length about the negative criticism the company tends to attract today. Along the way, we touched on the personal source of his creative spirit and about heady days as a close friend of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

[ Continue reading VC&G Anthology Interview: Trip Hawkins on 30 Years of Electronic Arts (2012) » ]

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Dad's Halloween Card

October 26th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Personalized custom homemade Print Shop Halloween greeting card - circa 1984-85Happy Halloween from 1984

My family has this way of saving everything. Not through conscious, organized preservation, but by virtue of never throwing anything away.

In that vein, I was digging through some old papers at my mom's house after my father passed away in 2013, and I came across this homemade Halloween greeting card.

From the looks of it, my dad made the card for me and my brother using Broderbund's Print Shop on the family's Apple IIc. It is printed on a single sheet of 8.5″ x 11″ paper; one is supposed to fold it in half twice to achieve a gatefold design with a front, inside, and back. Click the image above to see the whole thing unfolded — the other side is blank.

As for who colored it with crayons, I'm guessing I did (perhaps my dad or brother did it neatly, then I gave it a once-over with a brown squiggly line). What a great momento from the home PC era. Happy Halloween!

[ From Personal scan of homemade Halloween card, ca.1984-85]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever made a personalized greeting card using your computer? Tell us about it.

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Metadata and The Well-Loved Floppy Disk

October 12th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Apple IIe Floppy Disk Label front and back elephant computer systems Never forget hand labeled floppy disk 5.25 diskAn elephant never forgets. [Front]

Apple IIe Floppy Disk Label back and back Elephant Computer Systems Never forget hand labeled floppy disk 5.25 diskNot a September 11th floppy slogan. [Back]

There's a lot of information crammed onto this Elephant Computer Systems floppy disk, and I don't mean the digital data. It's overflowing with external, physical clues and markings that show how it has been handled and used over its lifespan. Archivists call this "metadata" — that is, data about the data — and it is often lost when things are digitized.

The most obvious pieces of metadata from the labeling on the disk are about who manufactured it ("Elephant Computer Systems"), its optimal capacity ("single-sided, single-density") and intended usage ("soft sector"). If you familiarized yourself with the technical specs of the floppy drives of computers available in the 5.25″ floppy era, you could rule out a few systems. That could be useful if other platform-betraying clues were absent on the disk.

Another obvious set of metadata comes from the presumed contents of the disk, which we can infer from the printed file directories taped to the disk jacket. Again, if one were familiar with the program names in the listing, one could point to a specific computer platform. (In this case, the printout looks like a DOS 3.3 "CATALOG" listing from the Apple II.)

Let's take a step deeper into the less obvious metadata presented to us by this artifact. From visually inspecting the disk, we can tell (among other things):

[ Continue reading [ Retro Scan of the Week ] Metadata and The Well-Loved Floppy Disk » ]

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Musician Shooter Jennings Launches New BBS Door Game

September 28th, 2015 by Josh Renaud

[ After hearing exciting news about a new BBS door game, I invited BBS door historian Josh Renaud of Break Into Chat to write up a post about it for VC&G. — Benj]

My name is Josh Renaud, and I run a BBS wiki and retrocomputing blog called "Break Into Chat." I love old BBS door games, and I'm also fascinated by the ways today's sysops are doing new things with old technology.

I'm here to tell you about a new BBS door game launching today. Its author is none other than Shooter Jennings, son of country music legend Waylon Jennings.

Shooter's new game is called From Here to Eternity, and for the last several weeks, he has been beta-testing it on his BBS, which is called "Bit Sunrise."

I first encountered Jennings when I came across his question on Reddit's /r/bbs: "If I made a door game for money would you play it?"

I'm not into country music, so the username "ShooterJennings" didn't mean anything to me. But his question grabbed my attention. I wanted to know what he had in mind. A "freemium" pay-to-play model? A registration fee for sysops like the old days? No. Jennings wanted users to pay a small fee to join his game. Then they would compete to win a jackpot.

We had some back and forth. He told me he had come across Break Into Chat, and had been blown away by one of my ANSI game demos. So I looked him up. It was my turn to be blown away. Jennings has a successful music career. He's appeared in movies and on TV.

I wanted to know why he was spending time writing a new BBS door game, so I interviewed him at length about From Here to Eternity. Jennings explained how writing the game helped him through the loss of a close friend, and how important retrocomputing is to him (he started with an Apple IIe as a kid).

It's a fascinating story. And his game is pretty cool too.

To play it, you can access Bit Sunrise BBS and play the game over the web using a browser-based client at bitsunrise.com. Or if you want a slightly more authentic experience, then fire up a terminal program like SyncTerm, and telnet to bitsunrise.com.

In an email announcing the game's launch, Jennings promised that "the first player to pass through The Coil (the final gate) with all 20 artifacts will receive 1 Bitcoin (~$240) sent directly to their Bitcoin wallet!"

The game will last for 30 days, or until someone wins the game.

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Zork

May 18th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Personal Software Infocom Zork advertisement - 1981A scene from "Zork: Brick Collector"

This is it, folks: an early ad (maybe the first) for the original commercial release of Zork, the famous Infocom text adventure, published by Personal Software ca. 1980 for the TRS-80 Model I and III home computers.

(This site has some wonderful background history on this release.)

I love the artwork featured in this ad. It is excised from the full cover art for the Personal Software version, which captures a great deal of the majesty and wonder of the seminal adventure title — plus a hefty dose of out-of-place machismo.

The mere mention of Zork takes me back to the mid-1980s when my older brother delved into the Great Underground Empire with the aid of photocopied maps and worn out InvisiClues on our family's Atari 800. Warm, fuzzy memories. Of course, by then, Infocom published the title directly.

[ From Byte, February 1981, p.31]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's your favorite text adventure game of all time? (Modern ones count.)

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Microsoft Multiplan

April 13th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Microsoft Multiplan Apple II advertisement  - Personal Computing - 1983Leeloo Dallas Multiplan

[ From Personal Computing, October 1983, p.160 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What was the first electronic spreadsheet program you ever used?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Apple II SwyftCard

March 30th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Jef Raskin Steve Wozniak Information Appliance Swyft Card SwyftCard Apple II advertisement  - Personal Computing - March 1986Paid for by SwyftCard Veterans for Truth

From the land of exotic Apple II accessories comes the Information Appliance SwyftCard, a plug-in peripheral card that gave the Apple IIe a built-in suite of ROM-based productivity tools, all unified around a novel scroll-based [PDF] user environment called SWYFT.

SWYFT was the brainchild of former Apple employee Jef Raskin, who originally spearheaded the Macintosh project. After disagreements with Steve Jobs over the direction of that project, Raskin left Apple and founded Information Appliance, Inc. (consequently, Jobs took the Mac project in a completely new direction).

The SwyftCard originated as an Apple IIe-based prototype for a dedicated machine centered around Raskin's SWYFT environment, but it proved so effective and compelling that it became its own product. The dedicated concept would later emerge as the Canon Cat in 1987.

SwyftCards are very rare (I've never seen one in person over 20 years of collecting Apple II hardware), so Apple enthusiast Mike Willegal has provided instructions for building your own. Pretty neat!

P.S. I emailed this ad to Steve Wozniak (who is featured in the ad) and he said, "Cool reminder!"

[ From Personal Computing, March 1986, p.163 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Jef Raskin vs. Steve Jobs: Who do you identify with the most?

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