November 16th, 2009

Apple3.org returns

David Schmidt wrote in to tell us that the Apple3.org portal is back online. If you’re a die-hard Apple III user (aren’t they all?) then you’ll likely find something of interest there; manuals, software and helpful resources abound.

November 6th, 2009

A2Central Interviews: Vladimir Ivanov of bootZero

I’m often intrigued by people’s Apple II stories. I enjoy hearing how they discovered the Apple II in their own unique way and the impact it’s made in their life. I’m curious why after all these years and advancements in computing technology, they still choose to spend time hacking on a supposedly obsolete computer. I suppose I enjoy it because I can relate. I can share in their sense of Apple II nostalgia and find a kindred hacker spirit.

Recently, I had the opportunity to send a few questions off to Vladimir Ivanov of bootZero.com and get his story. Vlad lives in Bulgaria, which was a communist country during the years when the Apple II platform was at the heyday of it’s popularity.

A2C: First off, can you tell us about yourself… and when you started the HDDD/A2, did you always plan to go into business?

Once in my childhood I read a short story about the “Real Programmer” and there was this paragraph:

Generally, the Real Programmer plays the same way he works– with computers. He is constantly amazed that his employer actually pays him to do what he would be doing for fun anyway (although he is careful not to express this opinion out loud).

Most of the astonishment came a decade later when I slowly realized this is actually true. For a decade more I was paid to play with computers, until one day I decided to go self-employed for a change. But since this last state hasn’t lasted a whole decade yet, I can’t make any wise conclusions so far.

Now, the business side of BootZero is handled by my partner, Valio. Up to now the investments and expenses slightly exceed the incomes (about 400 times), but it’s great fun nonetheless. Valio is owner of one of the largest computer hardware and components distribution company in Bulgaria and he always says he wants someday to sell something made by us and not imported from China. :-) About our going into business .. with BootZero we’re not going into business. We’re actually hiding from the business.

How did you become involved with the Apple II?

My father, being wise enough to predict the future, introduced me to Pravetz-82 around 1983, when these clones started popping up in administration. Still diskless then, I remember my first experience and the first games played – short introduction to Sargon II and then lots of action with Rear Guard. Both loaded from tape. The rest of the story is pretty obvious.

Bulgaria is (famously, in some places) known for the IMKO and especially for the Pravetz line of Apple II compatibles. What was it like to use these machines during Bulgaria’s communist period?

It was more or less the only option. There were very limited numbers of Apple II and clones imported. So limited that I saw original Apple II for the first time just year or two ago, thanks to my eBaying friends.

Pravetz-82 and Pravetz-8M were the mass computers for very long time, but they were always state (like administration, schools, etc) and priced impossible for households. The first and only Apple II compatible computer targeted at households was Pravetz-8C.

Were western programs and games allowed or smuggled in, or was most software developed domestically?

Western software was smuggled in then copied freely and broadly, as software copyright was nonexistent at that time here. There was some software developed domestically, and it’s pity most of it is probably lost – there were some real gems, including disk protection schemes. The funny part was numerous western software just translated and localised – from games like PacMan to business titles like AppleWorks.

Here’s a fun trivia for you – initially, a diskette with a single translated game was sold for 6.50 local currency. Compare this to an average monthly salary of about 120 local currency. I bought my first diskette for 6.50 – it was a companion disk for a good book about AppleSoft BASIC programming. I still keep them.

What is the Apple II scene like today in Bulgaria and the surrounding regions? Are real Apple II machines easily obtainable? What about the Pravetz?

I don’t know about the surrounding regions, really. There are many people keeping fond memories of the 8-bit Pravetz in Bulgaria, but as far as I know only small groups (like us) here and there continue using them.

Original Apple II machines and accessories are obtainable only through eBay and similar, e.g. through import. Very costly adventure and totally opposite to “easy”.

Most if not all Pravetz-8 models were dumped from schools and organisations, so the surviving units are generally in the hands of the collectors.

What about retro-computing today in general? Are there very many people into vintage computers?

Can’t estimate, but since I know some, at least the number is non-zero.

On the bootZero site, there is a picture of the BZ Vault. Is that impressive collection yours?

That’s about 60% of Valio’s collection, not counting everything non-Apple. Compared, mine is very very limited.

What inspired you to develop a product like the HDDD A2?

It was originally a request from Valio and friends to utilise modern floppy on the Oric Atmos clone produced here as Pravetz-8D. After the initial experiments showed poor compatibility of modern 3.5” HD drives in DD mode, we decided to try HD mode. Results were good, so HDDD A2 was born.

Some people have said they don’t understand what a product like the HDDD A2 is intended for. Can you explain it?

Probably not any better. :-) I will leave that to some native speaker, and during that time I hope BootZero site is informative enough.

Do you have any other projects or plans you’d care to share with A2Central’s readers?

Well, HDDD A2 Deluxe is almost finished. There are many interesting things planned ahead, but due to Real Life ™ I’d like to have working prototypes before stirring up any interest. Stay tuned for announcements on BZ and A2Central!

Thanks Vlad — we’ll look forward to those.

November 2nd, 2009

iDisk for Apple II update

The developers of the iDisk for Apple II card have posted an update. In summary, they’ve responded to feedback from the Apple II Community and relocated the USB ports from the rear of the iDisk card to the front (so hacking your case is no longer necessary). They’ve also lowered the price (always welcome) and made ordering easier by offering a PayPal option.

Dear all, the following is an update for iDisk for Apple 2

1. New mod is done, no chassis cutting required (but one or two USB extension cable(s) is required to get USB port out)

iDisk for Apple II

2. Price reduction. With great amount of hard work during the past weeks, the price is redcued A LOT. However, the penalty is that it will take much longer for us to make one card and it will take few weeks longer for customers to receive it.

3. One more model is provided, without Bluetooth function so the cost can be reduced further for some one who does not want to use Bluetooth or may not be able to use Bluetooth (Mac/Linux users).

4. Paypal payment method is added in addition to credit card.

5. Several people emailed us asking what else iDisk can do? First, we have been working on USB keyboard and USB paddle. Second, we have also ported an Embedded Linux (Applinux) to iDisk (iDisk is ARM7 based ), so that you can have dual boot system (Apple ][/Linux), turn your Apple][ to Linux machine and that will open up oppertunities for many applications with only software effort. So far, we were able to run few apps (mp3/jpeg/web browsing…), it is still very very primitive though. However, the above developments will not be continued.

Cheers

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