Mar 20th

KansasFest After Dark .. A Look back to the Beginnings

For me, half the fun of KFest has always been getting to and from Kansas City. The other half is KFest itself, and the other half is what goes on after the day’s sessions and presentations are over with. Wait, that’s three halves! There can’t be three halves you say? Must be Reaganomics. Anyhow as for getting there,  just hopping on a commercial flight to get there just has never appealed to me.  On the other hand, flying myself there, now that’s a different adventure, for another installment.  Stay tuned for the upcoming A2-Airlines aviation related blog ..

Otherwise, getting to KFest and having access to transportation of your own while on site just makes things all the more interesting. There’s always some form of late night/early morning runs going on. Be it Denny’s, Wal*Mart, Steak ‘n Shake .. but it wasn’t always like that.  In the early years of the A2 Central Summer Developers Conference, when the outings were inbuilt by the event planners, which usually included a visit to Oceans of Fun or a Royal’s home game, a core group of us usually had other ideas … that usually resulted in just us hanging around back at the Halls of Avila and sharing stories. Stories A2 related antics of the 80′s, and such. Like the era of War Dialing to find things to dial into with the modem, or when I was looking for the dial in to the DEC mainframe at my high school because I thought it would be great to be able to do my homework … completely from home :)

Thus began another part of the KFest rituals, the sessions in the Halls, the roaming of rooms, and gatherings on the floors and couches in the commons that would last well into the evening, the night, and the wee hours of the morning. Thus began the Great Experience of Sleep Depravation. Back then vs. now, things were really different in the area. Like how here in California, even in the 80′s, there were ATM’s all over the place. However one day, one of the Apple IIgs System Software engineers attending KansasFest expressed a desire to get some cash from an ATM to buy some hardware and I said, “sure, I can take you … to the mall, where there just has to be an ATM.” We hopped in the car and went a lookin’, and the first place was over to Bannister Mall only to come up empty, and driving around, the few ATMs we did find didn’t share the same ATM network. We visited two malls that day, the other being Blue Ridge Mall, both of which now are long gone.  But all was not lost, eventually a bank was spotted along Holmes Rd at Red Bridge, and we decided to go to the Sun Fresh market that was nearby and on the way in I spotted the typical racks of free periodicals, community newspapers, and such.  One in particular caught my interest ..

Applied Engineering, the long time, fairly popular Apple II peripheral manufacturer  had long matured and in the process of branching out to the Macintosh and Amiga markets to supplement their business, as in 1991 it was fairly obvious that the Apple II marketplace was diminishing, it was not as strong as it used to be just even a year earlier. Applied Engineering was a trend setter, and had been around nearly as long as the Apple II, going on 12 years. Very early AE catalogs and advertisements made it known that they were available to take orders ANYTIME. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They wanted to be sure they caught all those impulse sales opportunities. Something that you wouldn’t see even in the booming x86 and Macintosh markets for years to come. Later on AE settled on 7AM to 11PM, 7 days a week for ordering. Tech support was always available just during the week. AE positioned itself as a staunch Apple II supporter, going so far as to include letters of protest in their products urging Apple II users to boycott AppleFest, and inCider Magazine because they started including Macintosh coverage.

Some people thought there was a bit of irony there because AE themselves marketed Macintosh and Amiga peripherals. But in their open letter to Apple, they clarified that they advertised the Macintosh products in Macintosh venues, Amiga products in Amiga venues and thought that the Apple II’s being pushed aside at regional and national events like AppleFest was not in the best interest to the Apple II platform. Imagine the surprise when AE took the Apple II community by storm when they migrated Apple II tech support to a 900 pay-per-minute service, even for products under warranty as they really made no effort to differentiate. Macintosh and Amiga users could continue to call the same standard 214 area code number.  Of course, this was long distance, but at an average of 1/8th of the price. For a company so dedicated to the Apple II, this certainly was a strange move.

Back to the store visit, and KansasFest, so on the way into the store, the publication that caught my eye was a local singles newspaper entitled AE Singles. The part of it that was amusing was how the cover had ‘AE’ using the same Alpha Epsilon Latin diphthong logo as Applied Engineering, and it was even in purple. So I was like… huh, what the heck is something computer doing in the entry of the grocery store?  But upon  closer examination it wasn’t computer at all. :)

You see, when AE went to the 900 line, 900 lines were popular with, and widely associated with phone sex services. So of course, there were rumors afoot that AE was running a phone sex service after hours on their 900 service. Of course you’d have thought that we could just figure it out by calling it, right? D’oh! But no one wanted to call it and give them any satisfaction of getting any money. So .. the rumors just lived on, and on .. and on.. Besides, it was more fun that way. Just think of the logistics though, someone calling for RAMWorks support .. at a few minutes after and talking about RAM .. um, NOT that kind of RAM.

On the way out of the store I grabbed a thick stack of them. Figured they’d be fun items back at the Halls of Avila. Various KFest 1991 Related Paper items, publications, etc.I wanted to see if the purple AE that dominated the front above the fold would catch anyone else like it did me.. They got passed around for a few hours, every once in a while a new “group” would discover some sitting on the tables in the common area, some thought they were Applied Engineering sales propaganda sitting around. After several hours of that, the group now fairly laid back and relaxed decided to have a little fun at the suggestion of someone from GS+ that thought it would be a fun photo opportunity. As you can see, it certainly was. It ended up on the cover of the next issue with KFest coverage, with a description of “On the Cover – A group of Kansasfest attendees take a look at the latest offerings from AE. From left to right they are: Joe Wankerl, Brian Winn, Nory (in the background), Chris McKinsey, Nate Trost (kneeling), Derek Young, Jim Maricondo, Bill Heineman, and Jason Coleman.” .

..and of course, right here in the General Files section is a scan of the front page from that issue of , you can make your very own if you wish.. and as promised, when I’ve added a few other things to the General Files section, since we’re talking about Applied Engineering, I’ve added an , that has some inserts of early 1984, that quotes the 24/7 ordering ability on several pages, with a Dallas, TX PO Box address, which is different than a similar catalog that only has ordering until 11PM and a Carrolton, TX PO box address. In their first glossy print catalog offered in 1985 is where the familiar 214/241-6060 phone number was cited, though the address was the same PO Box. Another AE document is a  from July 1986

Until next time …

…end Of phile…

 

Mar 10th

The Spartans Invade Cupertino

CUPERTINO — 20525 Mariani Ave has been invaded by the Spartans, okay – not quite, but..  The Mimic Systems Spartan is not just an Apple II Clone, but it’s also an expansion chassis for the Commodore 64.  The Spartan plugs into the back of a C64 and takes up the space that a monitor occupies on most desktops. All of the C64′s ports are replicated to the perimeter of the Spartan.
Spartan and Commodore 64

Styled similarly to the far eastern clones of the day, but designed by ATG Electronics and manufactured by Mimic Systems of Victora, BC  Canada. Similar to the Rana 8086 and the Applied Engineering PC Transporter for the Apple II, that allowed MS-DOS to be used with an Apple II, these really were co-computing devices that used the host systems keyboard and display, presumably offering the user a “cheaper” way to have both platforms on their desktop. In reality, that was not always the case. With the Spartan being offered at $599.00, it cost a little more than the Laser 128 in 1985, but offered a lot more flexibility. The Spartan is really a “backplane” computer, in that the Apple II itself resides on a card inserted into the bus, and the Spartan motherboard works both for the C64 and the Apple II, adding expansion options to each. For the C64 an additional three cartridge slots are added, 1 external and 3 internal, that are software selectable. So you could leave the Epyx FastLoad cartridge in one of the internal slots, or one of the many “Utility” cartridges, with the little red button, with the button on a cable much like the Wild Card or Replay II for the Apple II.

Features shared between the Apple II and C64 are an 8 bit parallel port and the audio cassette connection, and an internal C64 compatible joystick connector that allows the same joystick to be used with either platform.  The audio cassette option is in addition to the C64′s edge connector that the Commodore Dataset 1530 connects to. An Apple II specific 16 pin game port is also available. Since the Apple II joystick is analog, and the C64 uses a digital (simple switches) joystick, using the C64 game port for the Apple II will work for games like Pac-Man, but not nearly as well for others like Pole Position.

The right side of the Spartan cabinet has the external C64 memory/cartridge slot and three reset switches. The rear has the 488 (Drive), A/V, Parallel (DIN), and Audio Cassette (DIN), and the the tape and user expansions from the back of the C64 in the similar position. The left side does not have any external connectors as there is an Apple II type power supply installed inside on that side.

The Apple II side of the Spartan actually contains 9 slots, since one is meant to be occupied by the CPU card which is the heart of the Apple II side of things. The Apple II part of the Spartan is an Apple II Plus compatible feature set with 64K inbuilt. The ability to install a tethered language card in Slot 0 is still there as well.  The Apple II CPU card has a 16 pin II/II Plus (ASCII) compatible keyboard connector, and 16 pin game port. The 6502 is onboard, hence, the ‘CPU Card’, along with two additional custom chips that allow the whole thing to work together, but separately.

Both the C64 and the Apple II can be used in parallel with just a keypress to switch between them, and in some ways they can be used together, though neither platforms software capabilities are available to the other. The only things shared are hardware as mentioned previously.

The Computer on a Card concept was not new as many far eastern Apple II clones employed this concept as well. Partially as a dodge against the copyright/infringement claims, as the computer chassis would be sold at one vendor, and the CPU cards would be sold at another, often located right next door, if not in the same place. That is if they didn’t offer it all in the same box.  But the ATG/Mimic setup is probably the best implementation of the whole concept for the Apple II.

The Spartan was designed for the power user and programmer as there 24 jumpers that can be used to setup everything from the power up modes, the integration of peripherals, and such.  The Apple II compatibility is among the better implementations though there’s some debate if it’s a “Clean Room” implementation or not, depending on viewpoints taken.

Another option is an additional PCB that would install inside the Commodore 1541 allowing it to be used ‘directly’ by the Spartan as an Apple II compatible disk drive, with just a key press. This was accomplished fairly easily because the 1541 uses Group Code Encoding (GCR), the same method employed by the Apple Disk II. This probably caused a lot of headaches for people :) But it also allowed files to be moved between the platforms directly, without serial cable voodoo.

In closing, the Spartan can also be used as a stand alone Apple II by configuring the jumpers and attaching a 16 pin keyboard internally.  View some photos of this unique Apple II clone system in our photo gallery.

Mar 8th

the Albert Computer, a unique Apple II Clone

The Albert Computer Company in Thousand Oaks, California saw a good thing and tried to ride the wave, and make it better. Unfortunately for them, they probably did too good of a job and that got them a little too much attention. Apple Computer, Inc. came down hard on them and it didn’t last long. Their goal out the door was to offer a complete system for just a little over what the basic Apple //e cost. While a bare-bones Apple //e included just upper/lower case and 64K, over what the Apple II Plus shipped with, the Albert Computer included that and a whole host of other things.

With a feature set that includes serial and parallel ports, an A to D converter, useful to scientists and hardware hobbyists. Enhanced graphics modes and Analog RGB support right out of the box,  and an AppleWorks-featureset like package, all for just $1,595.00, they clearly were aiming for the heart of the consumer. For just $50 more you could even get a battery backup option that integrated with the computer. If you were using the A to D capabilities for an alarm system, you would not be unprotected during a power outage.

Albert Computer said theirs was not a copy, but an improvement. The courts on the other hand, were not convinced and they ended up retreating. Despite their soft-boot method, perhaps they were just a few years too early as Video Technology (Laser Computer) managed to finally figure out how to do it and launch a product a year later.

No extra cards to buy! With the most commonly needed cards inbuilt, purchase decisions were easy. Just pick your choice of printer and head for home! Voice Recognition? Albert’s got it! Your wish is my command. Just say it and it’s done. As long as your name isn’t Dave .. they claimed that it even could be configured to work with only certain voices. Turn on the lights, turn off the TV.

Digitized audio in 1983, for the masses? Surely, you can’t be serious. Right? If anyone ever told you back then, that you’d be playing with 5 second pieces of sound from various movies you’d probably have laughed, and imagined yourself still laughing about it years into the future. Well? … think about some of those system alert sounds, ring tones and such that we’ve been hearing for many years now. I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley.

The Albert Computer has inbuilt graphics features that it took Apple another two years to offer with the Apple IIgs. Instead of the 16 color option that the Apple II has, the Albert Computer offered 256 colors and color worked across text and graphics modes combined. Something that no other Apple II offered until the IIgs, and that isn’t quite the same. Sounds great doesn’t it? ..and probably looks great too, if only .. but wait. The Albert Computer also included an RGB interface.  Similar to the inbuilt graphics display capabilities of the Apple ///, the standard configuration included Analog RGB support for a 140 x 192 pixel display. The Apple //e has double high-res, at 280 x 192, and at a premium price as the Apple Extended 80 Column RGB card and AppleColor 100 monitor were a pretty penny back in the day.

The other unique feature included with the Albert Computer was a graphics digitizer tablet, much like a CAD (Computer Assisted Design) operator would use, but included with the base package, again ready to go when you get home.

Some years ago I came across one of these systems in a thrift store. What caught my eye was the disk drive unit. I recognized the Super 5 logo, but it was green instead of red, and when I picked up the unit  I saw ribbon cables hanging out of it. “Neat, a dual drive cabinet”.. here in the thrift store. Then I saw the other two pieces that were the same color and realized it was a set, as the price tag was marked “X3″ which meant there’s there pieces to this set. So I put them all in the cart.

It did not have a power supply, and I’ve never tried to do anything else with it all these years. The computer was designed to use a DC power supply, presumably as it was simpler to make a world-compatible product by just substituting the proper wall-wart style brick.

When I went to the Apple II Enthusiasts group on Facebook to post the announcement of the opening of the General Files section, I saw a blurb asking about the Albert Computer, and said “I have one of those… ” and got it out yesterday and took some pictures. I’m not exactly sure which model it is, they’re not really labeled. I knew it needed a pre-boot floppy, and since I didn’t find any in the thrift store with it, and I scoured the place, the book shelves, and such for any more stuff that might have gotten separated from it. Floppy disks were not an uncommon sight at this particular store, either. So it wouldn’t have been out of place. You just had to sort through them like records, books and tapes, and they were sold for a quarter each, or a fistful for a sawbuck.

So, here it is.. if the disk is around, I’ll setup a switching power supply for the unit, as I’ve heard that using the OEM power board isn’t a good idea :)

The photos are among the first to be added to the Reset Vector Retro-computing Image Gallery, and there will be plenty more coming. They can be found under the Apple II – A2 Clones sub-heading.

Mar 6th

The General Files Section

In an ode to the BBS era, the General Files section was where you could find files that were other than programs or graphic images. the Reset Vector’s new General Files section aims to pay tribute to this, and serve as a hub of memories, flashbacks and information for newcomers to the Apple II platform, and other things of the era of the Apple II.

Instead of ASCII text files, in a modern twist, the GFiles section will mostly be PDF, Additions will come periodically, and be whatever shows up in front of the scanner next.  Along with the additions will be a blog entry about the item, it’s use, compatibility, trivia, or whatever relevant information we can present along side the release.

The General Files Section will be a part of the Reset Vector and the content here will be mostly coming from my archives of literature, pamphlets, handouts, documentation, and general paraphernalia of the era, as well as submissions from others. Blog entries will introduce both newly added items and the initially seeded items, both of which will include a little about the items themselves, the manufacture, author, etc.

The organization will be mostly just by manufacture/vendor/author or some easily identifiable mark, and where attributable to an individual, the person’s last name will be the first part of the file names as to provide grouping in the directory listings. The directory listings will be browsable, and some content will be blogged about individually,  others would be compiled in a new post just for the mention of posting.

A little about the compilation, and the site contents.

Of course the idea is to disseminate information to the masses for preservation, and of course there are those who feel that they just have to download everything. That’s fine. I’m even guilty of that. Of course, resistance is futile. I’d spend more than an average lifetime of hours tracking stuff down and policing it. It’s just not worth the hassle. If something has attributions to it’s source, creator, author or such, please leave these attributions in place and reference them in a like manner where the items are placed. Therefore, where applicable among this collection, the compilation, descriptions, presentation is being released under a Creative Commons Attribution – Non-Commmercial, No Derivatives License.

Of course I retain all rights to my created content.

…end Of phile…
Creative Commons License
The Reset Vector General Files Section by Tony Diaz (tdiaz(-at-)apple2()org) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.