Have a Helping of 8-bit Holiday Cheer! (2014 Edition)

I’ve been a computer guy for a long time now, but I’ve been enjoying Christmas even longer.

I got my first computer, a TI-99/4A, on Christmas morning, 1982. I was 10 years old, and from that Christmas on, it was games and hardware I wanted Santa to leave me under the tree. On through my teenage years, part of my ritual for getting into the Christmas spirit and enjoying the holidays was downloading and watching Christmas demos on whatever system I had at the time (and every platform out there had a few of them).

Enjoying these demos is a personal tradition that I had, sadly, long left behind until last Christmas when I was inspired to seek out one of the demos I remember best, Audio Light’s 1985 musical slideshow for the Atari ST. With the help of an emulator, I captured it to share online with readers.

Here, a year later, I recently brought it up and watched it run through it’s pixellated images and 3-voice musical holiday greeting. As I watched, it occurred to me that it might be nice to gather a few of the other demos I remember from those good ole’ days and present them here, in order to perhaps share some of the holiday cheer that they used to inspire within me.

The following list of demos ranges across a number of platforms of olde. I’ll start with the Atari ST demo I presented last year. Happy holidays, and I hope you enjoy the shows!

Atari ST: Audio Light Christmas demo (1985)

C64: Seasons Greetings from Commodore (1982)

DOS PC: Sierra On-Line’s A Computer Christmas (1986)

Continue reading

Posted in Multi-Platform | 1 Comment

An Apple II Anecdote: Fun with the AST RamStakPlus

Here’s a quick little little anecdote from my Apple II past that I thought I would share.

I was trying to mentally sort a bit of the computer chronology of my past in the shower this morning (no waterproof serial terminal in there to check The List) and I got to thinking about the Apple IIgs. It’s one of the two systems I had the most fun with way back when (the other is the Amiga 2000).

While I attended the Apple IIgs launch event in the fall of ’86 at the local Chaney Computer / Connecting Point in Newport News, VA (it took place at dealers all over the place), I didn’t get my first GS system until a year later. Over the next few years I loaded it up with hardware. I added an MDIdeas SuperSonic stereo card, a Central Point Software / VTech Universal Disk Controller, a Prometheus ProModem 1200A internal modem, an AST Vision Plus, a ThunderScan — I even threw in an Alaska (copy) Card, but it wasn’t GS-friendly, as it turned out.

Of course, the first peripheral to go in was a memory card, which I purchased along with the GS and monitor from a pleasant fellow named Dennis Long at local dealer Next Generation Computers (Williamsburg, VA). I had, of course, researched what was out there in the way of memory cards and the one that stood out to me was the AST RamStakPlus. The RamStakPlus would accept up to 1MB of RAM via standard 16-pin DIPs, but it had a rather unique feature. It sported four 28-pin EPROM / EEPROM sockets, allowing the user to setup a ROM disk. I chose the AST card for this reason and ended up eventually populating it with EEPROMS, which could be programmed right on the board (while EPROMS had to be programmed externally with a burner). The maximum EEPROM capacity was a whopping 32K, while EPROMS could take you to 64K of ROM storage. I filled that capacious 32K with a few crucial utils, such as CTYPE. The standard GS RAM disk was Slot 7, Drive 1. I think the ROM disk was at Slot 7, Drive 2—but it’s a little hazy after all these years.

I never had a hard drive on that first GS I owned and the little ROM disk pocket of utils did make things a bit easier. I will say, however, that even back in 1987/88, 32K felt pretty small.

So, there you have it. I’ve never burned an EPROM in all my years of computing, and so there’s a badge of geek cred I may never wear. I did, however, load up a few EEPROMs and put them to good use once. The Apple IIgs was (and is) a fun system to tinker with.

Posted in Apple II | 4 Comments

A Few Words About a Kare Package I Received Last Christmas

A digital tapestryLast year I received in the mail a Christmas gift from a person I greatly admire, and that’s what this post is about. But, let me back up a little.

As regular readers may be aware, I have a few tech / “geek” tattoos that I’m quite proud of. The most recent, I was motivated to have inked after the death of Steve Jobs on that woeful Wednesday back in October 2011. As a tribute of sorts, I had what I felt was the singular, perfect representation of what I was trying to both capture and express inked on my right forearm. The image in question is the 32 x 32 pixel icon portrait of (a 28 year old) Steve Jobs that designer Susan Kare created back in 1983. It’s the tattoo I’m most proud of.

I have great respect for Susan Kare and have written about her in a number of posts on this blog over the years (which I will link at the end of this post). She was a member of the original Macintosh team, coming to Apple in 1982 after receiving a phone call from high school friend Andy Hertzfeld, a chief architect of the Macintosh operating system. Kare created the full set of icons and fonts that made up the graphical user interface of the early Macs. She played a truly critical role, given that the Macintosh was the first consumer-oriented computer in the world featuring a GUI. (The Xerox Star and Apple Lisa that came before were priced well beyond the consumer bracket). Since then she has done a great deal of work in the field, some of which she discusses in her excellent EG 2014 talk (which featured my aforementioned tattoo in the closing slide!).

Now, back to the gift. Not long after I got the tattoo, Susan Kare saw my post and shared it on the Kare Prints Facebook page. And, then, a little before Christmas last year, I received an email from Kare Prints saying that Susan had something she wanted to drop in the mail  for me, and a week later this arrived at my door.

A gift from Susan Kare

Upon opening this carmine curiosity, I discovered a folded black cotton bandanna, 22 x 22 inches in size, featuring a lovely and complex design comprised of a wide array of images from Kare’s past works woven together with a wonderful variety of new shapes and patterns. And all of it is beautifully pixellated.

I’ve been waiting until I had the piece properly mounted and framed before writing about it. I recently got it back from the frame shop and now have it hanging on the wall of my office in D.C. I think it fits in quite nicely. It is a work, and a gift, that I shall always cherish.

Office wall

Thanks again, Susan!


Posted in Just Rambling, Macintosh | 5 Comments

After Thirty Years, Macworld Fades into the Night

Yesterday Apple unveiled the iPhone 6 line along with the Apple Watch. This latest iPhone brings the largest number of enhancements of any new model ever released, while the Apple Watch might just be the beginning of the proliferation of an entirely new type of personal electronic device that finds its way onto the wrists of hundreds of millions. Alongside all of this, the Macintosh line — both desktop and portable — are thin, sexy, fast, and selling quite well. Apple has never been more popular or relevant than it is right now.

And yet, today, Macworld magazine, which has been with us since day one way back in 1984 when the Macintosh first came to market…basically fell apart.

The tweets started rolling in just after 1pm.

I vividly remember the roll-out of the original Macintosh in 1984, when I was 11, and the degree to which I lusted after it for months. I had an Apple //c at the time, but I really wanted a Mac, and Macworld was better than a Playboy for me until I got my wish in late 1985.

I have many copies of Macworld on my shelves and I love to sit down and flip through them from time to time — especially the early issues, they really take me back. I recall my father and I building a wooden desk for the original Macintosh in 1985 — months before I had one — based on plans published in one of the first issues. (I am actively searching for the issue in question, so I can do a post on that long-ago particular.)

On the one hand, it seems amazing that with Apple at the top of their game such a magazine is not sustainable. On the other, a magazine covering time-sensitive tech news is set up to flag in the face of real-time web reporting. It’s great that the plan is for Macworld to at least live on in web form, but one has to wonder how that will work out, given that basically the entire writing staff was let go today.

Macworld was an institution. I feel it most critically went a long way towards spreading the faith in the early days but, really, it has always been a true friend to those within the Apple fold.

Today is a sad day.

Posted in Macintosh | 3 Comments

A Rare Glimpse of a Memorial Apple Prototype Display at frog

This morning I was chatting with folks in one of my long-time IRC hang-outs, DALnet’s #macintosh channel, as I have done most days over the past 15 years. While there, another regular, Dan Lieberman, revealed to me that he used to work at frog (formerly Frog Design) and asked me if I had ever seen his photos of the memorial setup in the legendary design firm’s San Francisco headquarters to honor Steve Jobs at the time of his death.

I hadn’t, and was eager to do so, and I told him as much.

frog Apple prototypes

Click the image to see the full gallery.

Dan shared with me an impressive display of design prototypes and made-it-to-market product designs the firm had created for Apple across the years. As eager as I was to see them for myself, so I am to share them with readers, and Dan was gracious in letting me do so. I have a number of books on my shelf highlighting the Apple prototypes of olde, but there are a few here that I’ve never before encountered.

It is impressive both as a display and a gesture from the design firm that shaped Apple in the early days. I hope you enjoy the look.

Posted in Apple II, Macintosh | 2 Comments

The Apple //c Makes It to the Office…Again

The //c in its new homePanorama of the //c in its new settingAfter three years of working for myself at home, I’ve returned to the world of enterprise web development. I’m back in an office these days (starting this past December, actually), working as the Senior Front End Developer for the NCTA in the district. I’ve been here about eight months and, so, it felt like it was time to transplant my Apple //c to the new office.

I acquired this //c back in 2005 with the intention of putting it in my office, then at the AFL-CIO. I had a lot of fun with it there, and when I left that organization, I brought it home and set it up in my basement office, and there it has lived these three and a half years. The series of links that follows covers my past adventures with this //c:

And, now, the Apple //c occupies a corner of my desktop in DC, the oldest computer in the building, certainly. I put together a quick little video of the transport and setup of the //c and its peripherals for those who may be interested.

This //c is still in very good shape, though it has yellowed a bit during its stay at home in “the Byte Cellar,” which seems a little odd to me as it’s quite dark down there (though, indeed, yellowing isn’t caused only by light). At any rate, the 30 year old Apple //c system is one of the loveliest works of industrial design ever created, and it’s nice to have it sitting here, ready to boot up programs, help out as a serial terminal, and simply be a conversation piece.

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It Was More Fun When Stores Had Arcade Games

I don’t mean arcades, I’m talking about retail stores like grocery stores, drug stores, 7-11 and other mini-marts. Yea, back in the ’80s they basically all hosted a couple of arcade cabinets. As a kid being dragged around from store to store by my mother way back when, it was great to be able to count on a little video game fun for a quarter at every stop. It was quite a different scene than today.

I had my first encounter with many of history’s most notable games in stores rather than arcades. To try and share a glimpse of how things were when I was a kid, I thought I would share a list of stores and the games that I got to know in each. I grew up in southeastern Virginia (the Hampton Roads area), so readers will surely not have heard of several of the places in the list. Here we go.

Wornom’s Drugs in Grafton Shopping Center (Grafton, VA)

  • Satan’s Hollow

Rite Aid drugs (I think…) in Newport Square Plaza (Newport News, VA)

  • Gyruss

Safeway grocery store in Newport Square Plaza (Newport News, VA)

  • Moon Patrol
  • Donkey Kong Jr.
  • Centipede

Giant grocery store (I think…) in Heritage Square (York County, VA)

  • Robotron: 2048
  • Defender

BJ’s Ice Cream in York Square (York County, VA)

  • Pole Position

Pizza Hut in Heritage Square (York County, VA)

  • Ms. PAC-MAN (cocktail table)

Plaza Roller Rink (Hampton, VA)

  • Tempest

Every time I play any of these games or see them referenced in the retro media, I think of these locales where I played them first. Every time. As for the rest, it was pretty much standard mall arcades.

Got any similar stories? I’d love to hear them in the comments.

Posted in Gaming, Just Rambling | 9 Comments

Apple Shows Its True Colors in Recent Mac Video

Upon returning to Apple in 1997, Steve Jobs set forth to pull the company back from the brink and turn it into the most influential company in the world. And in the course of his 14 year (second) reign, he did just that. Along the way he made lots of hard decisions, cut products, brought forth new products (some highly successful, some less so), and took the company into entirely new markets. And, all the while, he held firmly onto his “we don’t look back” mentality.

After Jobs’ passing, the company continued to hold tight to that notion, as demonstrated by Apple Senior VP of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller’s response to computer historian David Greelish’s call to Apple to create a small museum of sorts in its forthcoming, futuristic headquarters to showcase the company’s roots to the public.

“We’re focused on inventing the future, not celebrating the past…It is not who we are or who we want to be,” Schiller replied.

As time passed Apple continued to prosper under the leadership of Tim Cook and company, at first by strictly following the Jobs plan but, more recently, by hitting a new and promising stride, making certain moves that seem right in today’s landscape, but that might be hard to envision under Jobs’ command. I think this recent evolution at Apple is summed up perfectly by Josh Topolsky over at The Verge.

While I watched Apple’s WWDC 2014 opening keynote on Monday morning, I couldn’t stop thinking about the infectious mixture of fun and confidence everyone onstage seemed to be exuding. It was something new for this era of Apple, and it felt like a mirror image of the announcements being made. The message was loud and resonant from where I sat: We’re back, we’re ready to play, and we know who we are.

And, now, to the point of this post. Apple has been prolific of late with it’s iOS video ad campaign, but it is a recent Mac ad that has me writing. The video in question is entitled “Stickers” and it highlights the way many users have been personalizing their MacBook Airs with stickers of all shapes and sizes. (I, myself, keep it fairly simple and to the point.) The spot showcases well over 100 eclectic designs, and one of them shows a pixellated rendering of the original six-color Apple logo amid a field of Galaxian space insects — just for an instant. As I watched the video, that jolted me and had me smiling wide as the rest of the sticker parade flashed quickly by. What happened next, however, blew my mind. As the ad wrapped up, the MacBook Air rotated and then closed. “The notebook people love.” “MacBook Air” And then, as expected, came the black Apple logo on an empty white field.

And then it winked at me. The modern, monochrome Apple logo winked out every one of its beautiful, original six colors — green, yellow, orange, red, purple, blue — laid out right there in the classic horizontal stripe configuration, in the designated logo spot. I saw the pixellated bit earlier in the video, and that was great, but this was in the official logo spot. At the end of that video Apple took the symbol that represents all that they are, and they winked at us. They winked (and, I think, nodded) to the past.

This is, indeed, The New Apple, the Fun Apple. And I like where it’s going.

Posted in Apple II, Macintosh | 5 Comments

NeXTstation Turbo Color Battery Swap

I recently rearranged the computer room a bit to bring the NeXTstation Turbo Color (which I picked up from a refurb outfit in Frederick, MD back in 2000) to the fore, having spent a good bit of time with NEXTSTEP on my HP 712/100 over the past few weeks. I swapped out the 21-inch NeXT MegaPixel Color Display for a 19-inch LCD (hanging off of a 13W3 to VGA adapter), and with that 75 lb CRT out of the way, I took the opportunity to change the ancient motherboard battery.

I have undertaken more exciting projects in my time, but I filmed it. And here it is. Enjoy, if you can.

Posted in NeXT | 1 Comment

Susan Kare’s EG 2014 Talk – I Spy Something Familiar…

The other day I was listening to my favorite podcast, RetroMacCast, during lunch at my office desk (which is my routine) when John & John made me aware of a 20-minute presentation given at EG 2014 by legendary digital artist Susan Kare who, as a key member of the Macintosh software design team, created the icons and fonts for the original Mac, worked as Creative Director at NeXT for Steve Jobs, and has been involved with countless projects since.

The presentation, as expected, is excellent and informative, but it’s the final slide that I enjoyed most.

Let me step back and share a bit of history. Soon after joining the Macintosh team, Kare began to create portrait icons for team members using the same 32×32 Jobs: Pixel and fleshpixel grid as the original Mac desktop icons, just for fun. Everyone wanted one of themselves except, of course, Steve Jobs. But, she drew one anyway (and he ended up liking it).

As one who has, for decades, appreciate Kare’s work, it was this 1024-pixel rendering that I looked to, upon the Apple co-founder’s untimely death, to mark the passing of the visionary who had, in no small part, helped shape my life. I had Kare’s grid of pixels inked upon my right forearm (by Dave Waugh of Jinx Proof in Georgetown), in a location that would keep it frequently in view.

After getting the tattoo of the icon, I sent a photo to Kare who, I’m happy to report, responded with amusement and enthusiasm and even added it to her Kare Prints Facebook page. And then, this past Christmas, she was kind enough to send me a rather lovely present, which I will reveal and write up (after framing) very soon, I promise.

The Last Slide

Now, back to the presentation. Towards the end of her talk, Kare presents a few slides showing her work found out in the wild—Space Invader street art, murals, Lego renderings, and…tattoos. Her final slide shows three examples of her work put to flesh, and Steve and my forearm are among them.

In closing her talk, Kare says that she considers people choosing to honor her work with tattoos and the like, “such a nice compliment.” That’s a nice thing to hear from this amazing woman.

My other blog posts to do with Susan Kare:

Posted in Just Rambling, Macintosh, NeXT | 2 Comments