July 21st, 2015

KansasFest 2015 Saturday Report

Saturday’s report is brought to you by third year attendee Mike Whalen.

So, as I write this at 11:18pm on Saturday, July 18 2015. KansasFest is well and truly over. There no ifs, ands, or buts about it. It’s over, Johnny. It’s over!

NUTHIN IS OVUH! YOU CAN RELIVE THUH DAY!!

Well, okay, I suppose I could recount the day’s activities. That would delay things… a bit?

We all started in the morning.. and, uh, I ain’t gonna lie, I don’t remember it much. I think there was an egg or two. Maybe a bacon. I don’t know. What is breakfast.

But somehow I did wake up at some point because I do recall Kevin Savetz giving us a good explanation as to how we can preserve Apple history via interviews. Kevin’s been producing interviews for his Atari (boo) podcast, ANTIC for the last coupe of years. I think he has like one hundred interviews. Anyway, Kevin made a compelling argument over why it would be useful to produce more and more interviews for the various Apple II podcasts and that you can find interesting stories in some unusual places — technical support, third party companies, etc.

Next up, Peter gave us a detailed history of LOGO, the programming language originally designed to teach children programming fundamentals. In the early 80s, LOGO caught fire at schools and many a school-child learned how to move turtles around a screen. Unfortunately, the language fell into disuse fairly quickly. Peter recounted the reasons why and then launched a fascinating discussion into new horizons in the programming languages for children. This child programmer appreciated it!

John Linville came back! Yes, he wasn’t run out by A2 fans wielding pitchforks for the heresy that is a CoCo session. In fact, we wanted more! John detailed his game Farhfall which he recently released for the CoCo. It’s basically like a reverse Crazy Climber. A fire is descending down on you. You need to fall from platform to platform to keep clear from fiery doom.

Brian Wiser was up next with his annual update about all things A.P.P.L.E. He announced several exciting projects including a cleaned up and redesigned edition of the classic What’s Where in the Apple. Brian demoed several pages that showed the original version, a recently released cleaned-up version, and their own work. It looks quite amazing.

After lunch, Ian Johnson gave us his update on getting working and useful Japanese language support on the Apple IIGS. Ian has been demonstrating the leaps and bounds made for a couple of years now and they’re very close to having Japanese lanaguage support that can work as well as it could. This will give the Japanese Apple IIGS fans something to look forward to!

The second to last session was a smattering of new product announcements. Charles Mangin from RetroConnector showed off his new //e audio adapter. You plug it in between the speaker and speaker connector and then you have an earphone jack just like the IIc owners have.

And with that all the sessions were over. It was time for the swap meet and exhibition. Everyone brought down their equipment to show off what they had been working on the whole year while others sold their wares. I hovered over the //e and a Newton Messagepad but didn’t quite go for it. Oh, and I also wanted No-Slot Clock for my IIc Plus. Alas, things went very fast.

While the festivities took place, the Hackfest judges reviewed entries and made their decision. When they were done, the attendees got their own look at the entrants. Amazing stuff. Carrington Vanston demoed his Tic Tac Pro which was a grid of nine smaller tic-tac-toe games determining the outcome of one big tic-tac-toe game. Charles Mangin demoed a small utility that reads disk images and creates a graphic representing the data on-disk. You must see to understand. Forrest Lowe demonstrated adding a litle randomness to every boot. One one boot, maybe one program will load. The next? Maybe a different one. Jeremy Rand demonstrated his take on Sodoku with its own A.I. John Leake of the RetroMacCast demoed his OMG Zombies game in which every step you take brings the zombies closer. Kevin Savetz took Bob Bishop’s Li’l’ Red Bug and made it play itself. HE did something similar in 2013 with Structuris. Kevin prefers to let a computer do all the work, including winning games evidently. Kevin actually had two entries. The second one showed an script in which a disk already uploaded on the Internet Archive was opened, the file contents documented, and metadata created and re-uploaded to IA. It’s a very useful hack that will simply make it easier to find software on the IA. Martin, not one to be outdone, wrote an amazing enhancement for the Apple /// Monitor. He added disassembly and assembly. How does he do it? How? How I ask you? Lastly, Sarah showed a keen idea in which she edited the opening sequence of Olympic Decathalon to pay tribute to Caitlin Jenner.

The winner of the chicken dinner? CARRINGTON VANSTON with Tic-Tac-Pro.

Various groups went to several restaurants and/or the movies. I went to Eden Alley Cafe with several folks. Afterward, we all went to an extremely noisy and crowded Up Down barcade to play games. Back at Corcoran people began packing in earnest. Another KFest down. Another year until the next one. The good news? There will be a next one.

Apple II Forever, y’all.

July 18th, 2015

KansasFest 2015 Friday Report

Friday’s report is brought to you by third year attendee Mike Whalen.

Friday (Day 3)

Friday is nearly always bittersweet for me, at least in the few years that I’ve attended the show. Why? Well, thoughts of returning to the Real World(tm) begin to intrude. Oh no! It’s almost over. What will I do? I stare at the ceiling from my bed.

Well. Hmmm.. Okay. Okay. Focus. Focus. Jump up out of bed and… okay, I’m really tired. There are many, many caffeine-hazed hours ahead. And today is ACTION PACKED.

Thanks to a generous donation from the Mark Frischknecht Black Blood of The Earth Foundation, the caffeine flowed and I could walk to breakfast. But this breakfast had to be quick! Because CoCos await.

WHAAA–? Cocos? Surely I mean Hot Cocoa right? Like, the drink? Er… uhm, no. Special Guest John Linville of The CoCo Crew podcast ran a succinct and informative session on the history of Tandy’s Color Computer series. Now, why would we dare have such a session? Simple. We love all things retro and John pointed out several instances where the CoCo and Apple II have shared heritage, whether it was technology or ideas or people. Of course, everyone’s interest was piqued and John found himself peppered with all manner of technical questions. John’s technical chops allowed him to answer all questions. The session was a welcome twist to the day! And it’s just beginning!

The second session was piled right atop the previous and whereas the previous session was a teensy bit outside the ][, the new one was HARDCORE APPLE. Quinn Dunki, who has really come on strong in the community in the last couple of years, unveiled her brand new artistic sandbox called WeeGUI. WeeGUI is straightforward. Quinn offers you a way to easily create MouseText screens. As a relative programming dummy, even I was able to create screens. And not only that, WeeGUI creates screens you can use a mouse to interact with. Yes, this means a mouse driver is included.

First-timer Javier Rivera gave a highly anticipated session. Javier has been Retrobriting browned and discolored Apple II shells from sun-drenched Miami for quite awhile. Today he dropped his Bomb of Knowledge on all the attendees. Javier showed examples of recent work — including work done in the two days Javier was on-site! Javier explained the mixture he had settled on and, when he was done showing off the examples, brought a number of the attendees outside to Retrobrite their treasures. It was a rare opportunity to get hands on with a RetroBrite master.

After a hearty lunch (urp), Michael Mahon and Charles Mangin blew everyone’s mind (mindblow.gif) when they demonstrated a sequence-controlled music synthesis for the Apple II. No, seriously. No, this was _not_ a beep and/or boop. Not only did Michael and Charles demonstrate the code and how it was developed, they totally had seven Apple IIs playing songs with each one taking up an instrument. Strings sounded like strings coming from one Apple II. Drums sounded like drums and they came from a different Apple II. And we even heard a new composition from Seth Sternberger of 8 Bit Weapon. I dare say I heard jaws hit the floor a few times. But, honestly? Those could have been deep bass drums.

Jan Saggiori recounted a fascinating story about the various actions (ethical and not) in the pay-tv industry around Europe, the UK, and elsewhere. Lawsuits, secret emails, industry titans in skivvies. This was quite a session.

Ken Gagne began his first of three sessions of the day. In this first one, he recounted his history on YouTube with his Let’s Play and Unboxing videos. Ken went into a bit of the trials and tribulations and demonstrated the technology that enables him to record an Apple II game for YouTube. Ken even did an impromptu Let’s Play of Dagen Brock’s Flapple Bird!

After that, it was time for the annual Juiced.GS Pizza Party. Thousands of Pizzas showed up. Hungry from all the thinking, we devoured while Ken Gagne (in his second of three sessions) gave the latest update on Juiced.GS showing the phenomenal growth that has happened over the last few years. That makes for some good news. Juiced.GS will continue! And subscriptions will be available for 2016! Afterwards, several awards and thanks were handed out. David Schmenk, Ivan Drucker, James Littlejohn, Henry Courbis, and Anthony Martino all won Apple ][ Forever awards for their work in the community. Charles Mangin won the best wacky tie. Finally, three people (!) won best door prize. Carrington Vanston won for his door-spanning Choose Your Own Adventure series in which several envelopes with index cards inside, ushered you along the game. Sarah won for her low-res screen pixel art tools which encouraged passers-by to create their own low-res screen right on her door. And last, but not least, Chris Torrence, who edited and released a new edition of Assembly Lines, put together a veritable Karateka game _on_his_door_. How, you ask? With paper cutouts. And they filmed a video showing the entire game in puppet show mode. So, yes, he won too.

After the party and the annual KFest group photo, David Schmenk gave an update on his PLASMA programming language which is now blessed with a new moniker: PLASMA 1 ][ ///. David brought everyone through the most recent changes and demonstrated a number of examples that he encouraged the attendees to download from his Github. Again… programming dummy and I understood it. You will too.

Charles Mangin came back for his annual RetroConnector update. Charles showed off all his latest designs and detailed what was going to be available at Saturday’s show. Of course, all of these items are worth my dollars.

Ken was back AGAIN for the third and last session of the night, but this one was a show-stopper. Last year, Ken ran a live interactive “text” adventure. This year, he ran a new text adventure, Space Station! Over a dozen people worked together to get out of predicament the player found herself, stuck on a space station, dizzy, with a warship knocking on the doors with deadly torpedoes. Multiple tries were tried and forays forged but the good ending was never found sadly.

Brian Wiser wrapped up the night by highlighting the Firefly fan movies and even new games. Brian’s session has become a yearly tradition and there’s always newcomers for Brian to help usher into the Firefly universe. Brian is a great presenter and can make Firefly exciting for everyone.

And with that it was off to bed. Boo! The second to last day is over! :-( Why? Why??? Ok. Ok. There’s one more day. Breathe. Breathe.

July 17th, 2015

KansasFest 2015 Thursday Report

Thursday’s report is brought to you by fifth year attendee Mark LaPlante

Thursday (Day 2)

Today’s schedule was packed full of mostly technical sessions. Some were about software, some were about hardware, some a little of both, but what struck me most, and what I enjoy about KFest, is they were about collaboration.

Following breakfast Stephen Buggie explained the importance of EPROMs, creating them, preserving them, and sharing them with others. At least according to the session guide. I am not a morning person and, unfortunately, I missed both breakfast and that talk. My apologies.

Next, Quinn Dunki delved into the basics of mouse programming on 8-bit Apple IIs, a much more complex topic than I had imagined owing to the fact that different design approaches were taken on different machines. Quinn has generously provided a generic mouse driver and sample code at https://github.com/blondie7575/MouseII. During her talk she mentioned how her driver could not detect multiple mouse clicks between mouse movements. By this afternoon, she and Rebecca Heineman had teamed up to squash that bug!

Later in the day Charles Mangin of RetroConnector addressed the many versions of pre-ADB Apple II and Macintosh mouse hardware. Audience members speculated that a lack of collaboration between the Apple II and Macintosh teams (perhaps involuntary) may have led to early mice not always being compatible with both. Charles announced and demonstrated new products (pricing TBD) that will allow the mechanical mechanism to be replaced with an optical one (particularly useful if you have a broken or incomplete mouse), or going the other direction, allow a working Apple serial mouse to be used as a USB mouse.

Before lunch, Jay Graham taught us the history of Pascal, how it differs from AppleSoft, and gave a summary of several Pascal compilers for the Apple II. I am most interested in trying Kyan Pascal and it’s Unix-like shell, Kix. Surprisingly, even though he discussed using Turbo Pascal via a Z80 card, he did not go into Pascal for ARM processors installed in Apple IIs. Perhaps someone will take on that challenge next year.

After lunch, Javier Rivera showed us his techniques for converting CRT monitors to use LCDs. This often takes many months of research into finding panels of a suitable size. Results with LCDs are discussed pretty regularly on the Apple II Enthusiasts Facebook group, so keep an eye out there and share your results as well. You may learn of non-obvious solutions like Javier’s discovery of a visor-mounted display intended for use with a rearward-facing camera system for large trucks as a retrofit for the Apple IIc Flat Panel Display, finally making it usable, and in beautiful color.

Jason Scott entertained us with stories of at least five ways he and teammates at the Internet Archive have brought the Apple II into public view this past year. The Internet Archive web site has had a facelift and there are hundreds of Apple II software titles able to be run in a web browser. He and his request to be sent any and all CD-ROMs were featured on NPR and he has thanked them by outfitting their studio with an Apple II and three issues of Compute! magazine so they can experience the exhilaration of typing in programs.

Mark Pilgrim showed us a clever copy protection method involving intentionally getting the reading of data out of sync. This slowed down pirates over about 6 years as more and more publishers gradually adopted the technique. Rebecca Heineman pointed out that this had a side effect of making many very popular programs crackable all in pretty much the same way once a technique was discovered.

After dinner, Martin Haye spoke on behalf of the Lawless Legends team about their progress over the last year. Ivan Hogan has produced an amazing new font engine, David Schmenk’s PLASMA language has been enhanced and incorporated into much of the game code (PLASMA will be a topic of a session Friday evening), and the team has been working on fleshing out the game scenario. Lawless Legends is a labor of love for its creators, so when asked when it will be done the answer is simple — it will be done when it is ready. Martin is taking the request for an updated playable demo to be released back to the team. It seemed like that was a definite possibility; a good place to watch for news is their Facebook page.

Word has gotten out that Kansasfest is a friendly place for fans of other vintage computing platforms, and Kevin Savetz, Wade Ripkowski, and Rob McMullen compared the development of the Atari 8-bit computers with that of the Apple II. It seems there was quite a bit of collaboration between the two companies — well, at least some Atari engineers were working on the Apple II on the side — some contributed expertise, some likely contributed Atari hardware, and some outright left Atari to work for Apple. Kevin laid down a sort of gauntlet by showing an impressive game written in just 10 lines of BASIC — one contest at an Atari conference I won’t even pretend to remember the name of.

There were several parallel workshops in the evening. Some people worked on Briel Computers kits and Chris Torrence led folks through building a cable which allows feeding a Night Owl security monitor with video and power from a IIc monitor port. KFest is crawling with this monitor this year — a buying frenzy ensued a while ago after it was discussed on Facebook. Others helped repair keyboards, install oscillators and EPROMs, troubleshoot game controllers (a Flapple Bird and Lit’l Red Bug game tournament was taking place in an adjacent conference room). The smell of solder, flux, and Krispy Kreme donuts wafted throughout the building, and life was good.

Finally, I would like to discuss the session that brought the theme of collaboration to mind the most for me. Dagen Brock shared all the ways he has worked with Apple II enthusiasts from all around the world throughout the past year. Following an impromptu Programmer’s Roundtable at last year’s KFest, Dagen was inspired to register and create a web site dedicated to Apple IIGS programming at www.apple2.gs. He collected and linked to a library of IIGS reference books, created a series of YouTube videos, published demos old and new, presented remotely to OzKFest, and disassembled and enhanced Transwarp GS firmware. I am sure I have left something out, but it was the disassembly project that really drove home the importance of collaboration. After disassembling most of the binary with The Flaming Bird disassembler (including translating 30+ pages of documentation from French to English), Dagen got stuck and turned to the Facebook group for help. It was only then that he learned that Antoine Vignau had already disassembled the firmware a few years ago.

So, folks, when you can, share early and share often — you never know what someone else may be working on. There are many rewards to be had when playing with our favorite computer, and, I like to think, even more so when we are able to cooperate across geographical and cultural boundaries.

July 1st, 2015

Charles Mangin’s KansasFest Preview 5



This was too epic not to post.

June 20th, 2015

Tecnowarp 7MHz 512KB accelerator for Apple II, II+ //e available soon


tecnowarp

Tecnobytes has released a new demo video of their upcoming Tecnowarp accelerator card. It’s rated at 7MHz and has 512KB cache which puts it on par with the very rare Transwarp II card (which only had 256KB cache). Things we haven’t seen yet are adjustable slot configurations, diagnostics, adjustable speed settings, i.e. some of the standard features that were part of the Transwarp II and competing ZipChip products. We’re hoping to get our hands on a Tecnowarp as soon as they become available so we can test it out. In the meantime, here’s the video. The acceleration is impressive.


June 17th, 2015

Quinn Dunki gamepad project on Hackaday

Quinn Dunki has been featured (again) on Hackaday, this time for a gamepad she’s been working on. We’re posting links to the Hackaday post and to Quinn’s project page at Blondihacks. Something interesting is going on there!

May 25th, 2015

4am cracks featured at Internet Archive

4am is a well-known and gifted software cracker best known for releasing detailed step-by-step instructions for cracking commercial copy-protected programs for the Apple II series, and for also producing ‘clean’ cracks, which is to say the so-called ‘warez’ were free of any vanity crack screens (where the cracker usually takes credit for their exploits).

The Internet Archive (through the efforts of digital preservationist Jason Scott) are now hosting of over 300+ of 4am’s cracks online. You can download the disk image for transfer to your Apple II, or in many cases play the disk image online through your web browser. Many of these cracks are for titles that never got much love from the pirating community, primarily educational titles.

Read more about it at http://ascii.textfiles.com/archives/4630, as well as see 4am’s impressive array of cracked software at https://archive.org/details/apple_ii_library_4am.

April 18th, 2015

Tecnobytes new Tecnowarp accelerator demo

Finally we can reveal Tecnobytes new product is an accelerator based on the original Applied Engineering Transwarp. Behold, the Tecnowarp!



April 14th, 2015

New French Touch demo: IBIZA II



This demo and others available for download here.

April 5th, 2015

Scalable Oscillator for TranswarpGS

We’re big fans of the Apple IIGS (well, duh) but for all its cool graphics and sound capabilities, it’s kinda pokey when running its native GSOS GUI and compatible applications. That’s why accelerators are always in demand. They replace the stock 2.8MHz processor with a faster 65c816 on a card, usually 7MHz or faster, and give the IIGS a much needed kick in the pants. Thankfully, accelerators are about to become more plentiful.

For some people though, 7MHz isn’t good enough. The TranswarpGS accelerator itself can be made better, stronger, faster. We have the technology in the form of improved 65c816 processor, newer cache RAM, active cooling and an overall better understanding of the TranswarpGS board layout and GAL logic. Through upgrades, the TranswarpGS can be reliably overclocked beyond its original specifications.

Now we get to the figurative heart of the matter, the oscillator crystal that determines the speed of the accelerator. Like most accelerators for the Apple IIGS, the speed of a TranswarpGS is derived by dividing the oscillator’s frequency by 4. So a 28MHz oscillator results in a 7MHz operation, 32MHz equals an 8MHz board and so on. But even with upgrades, we can only push our 80’s technology accelerator so far before it balks and begins to malfunction. Not all TranswarpGS boards are equal either. Some boards upgrade more easily and go faster than others. To find out, you’ll need to keep a variety of oscillators on hand. Maybe several.

If only there was a way to easily and conveniently overclock the oscillator’s frequency until the optimal speed for reliable operation could be determined.

Now there is. From UltimateApple2 and ReactiveMicro, we have the new Scalable Oscillator, a small augmented oscillator replacement that works with your TranswarpGS accelerator (and probably ZipGS).


photo 3
Scalable Oscillator front and back

The Scalable Oscillator (aka SO) replaces the fixed-frequency oscillator on your TranswarpGS. A series of DIP switches determines what speed the SO runs at, from 28MHz through to a maximum 80MHz in .25MHz increments — that’s 7MHz through 20MHz in system speed.

The DIP switches from top to bottom are labeled 1-8. Switches 1-7 control the oscillator frequency using binary code, while switch 8 enables/disables the SO. You can piggyback your original oscillator into the SO for normal operation (by setting DIP 8 to off) but… we’re here to GO FASTER! AM I RIGHT?

The binary code used for DIPs 1-7 is determined by taking the desired oscillator speed and subtracting 8 from it. For example, to run your SO-enabled TranswarpGS at 10MHz, you need a 40MHz oscillator frequency signal — subtract 8 from 40, you get 32. 32 in binary is 0100000 or off, on, off, off, off, off, off. Simple, right? Don’t worry, a handy chart will be included with all (53!) possible DIP settings for the binary challenged.

A2Central and Mike Maginnis of the Open Apple podcast were allowed a sneak peek to play with this new tweaker toy. We discussed some of our hands-on experiences in OA Episode #45 but I’ll also post some of my perceptions here.

First off, the SO works as advertised. It was relatively painless to set the SO output frequency per the included chart (which you will *not* want to lose). You might be one of those set it and forget it types, but for anyone who likes to tweak their hardware, printing the chart out and taping it to your power supply or the underside of your IIGS lid might be a good idea. That way, its always there when you need it. BTW, this is *that moment* your middle school teacher said you’d need to know binary for someday.

The SO is pretty small. I had to remove it from the TWGS whenever I set the DIPs but that’s because my TWGS also has a fan upgrade installed (another fine option from ReactiveMicro). It could be tricky removing and installing the SO (but not impossible) while under the fan… but with the fan left in place setting the DIPs with a toothpick was equally tricky. That might be attributable to my excessive (i.e. obsessive) care (i.e. paranoia) over electrostatic discharge during the handling of all the components. I’m kind of a klutz.

I have to say, I very much like the Scalable Oscillator. For me, it beats keeping a drawer full of miscellaneous oscillators around.

The anticipated price of the Scalable Oscillator is a reasonable $35 USD and will be available in quantity within a few weeks.

« Previous Entries | Next Page »