It was another late night (they all are at KFest) hanging out with other attendees. I wandered by to see what Henry Courbis and Anthony Martino were doing. Earlier they were hunkered down in their room, soldering circuits onto cards, using a makeshift ventilation system that they had duct-taped to the dormitory window. I had to stop by and see if they were still alive. Instead, I found a small crowd of enthusiastic hardware hackers talking shop.

Besides crunching to roll out new products in time for Saturday’s vendor fair, the guys were working with James Littlejohn on an ambitious new product; something Anthony has dubbed “The Huck Finn Project”.

James, Geoff and Anthony checking out the Huck Finn Project

Some background: most Apple II diehards know all about the Mark Twain Apple IIGS, aka the “ROM 04” that Apple chose not to produce. It featured an internal 3.5 FDHD “superdrive” and 40MB SCSI hard drive (each with their own integrated controllers on the motherboard), 2MB RAM soldered onboard, plus 2 additional SIMM sockets supporting 4MB of RAM (or 6MB, unofficially) and true stereo in/output. At 2.8MHz, it wasn’t any faster, but it was still an Apple II at heart and could use the same peripherals as the previous IIGS models. This included accelerators, RAM cards, etc.

[Pictures of Tony Diaz’s “Mark Twain” Apple IIGS courtesy Matt Maginnis (, taken at KansasFest 2006.]

All these built-in goodies would have put the Apple IIGS on par with the lower-end Mac offerings of the time. Apple didn’t want anything cannibalizing Mac sales or confusing customers, so they killed off further development and the rest is history.

Fortunately, a few prototype Mark Twain units survived and found their way into the hands of lucky collectors where they’re rarely seen in public outside of venues such as KansasFest. Sadly, I am not one of those lucky collectors. I know you feel my pain. ?

Testing parts to make Huck Finn a reality

Which brings us back to the Huck Finn. Anthony’s plan is to create a “ROM 05” of sorts. By supercharging an existing ROM 03 machine, Martino thinks he can recreate what the Mark Twain was to have been, and even improve on it.

The first step was to fabricate a new, larger lid for the IIGS, so no one would have to hack up their original plastic. The extra space is neccessary because the new case will integrate cooling fans and openings for additional hardware. What extra hardware? One or two floppy drives, compact flash slot, the internal hard disk and an internal CD-ROM drive. Yeah, seriously — all that *inside* the IIGS lid.

Anthony holding prototype Apple IIGS cover made by James Littlejohn

So that’s what I found the guys working on. James Littlejohn was spec’ing out the fabrication details for the prototype lids and Anthony was testing prospective electronics for the kit.

The Huck Finn is still an early work in progress. Nothing specific has been settled on, so it will be some time before final specifications or pricing are established. When I find out more, I’ll post it to A2Central.

Henry and Anthony's solder station exhaust system -- is this up to code?

Close up of Henry and Anthony's exhaust system -- looks like something the Borg would make

More good news from Anthony Martino: he’s been working on a clone of the Apple 3.5 Drive Controller, aka the “SuperDrive” controller for some time now. Early on, there were glitches, but now Anthony says the kinks are worked out and the controller is 100% ready. The current production run of 6 units are being sold on eBay. Later runs will be sold through the Reactivemicro and UltimateApple2 stores for $125 USD.

As good as the real thing? We'll get one and test it.

Also coming up, a clone of the Essential Data Duplicator card to help you backup those old copy-protected titles of yesteryear. So, between the VGA interfaces, the controllers and the Huck Finn, it’s been a very busy KFest for Anthony and Henry.

Paul Zaleski is repairing and upgrading accelerators for people this year. Dang, I should have brought a couple of mine with me… Paul, hope you’re coming next year! Bring your solder station!

Paul taking a break from soldering stuff.

It was getting late even by KFest standards, and I hadn’t touched my RetroChallenge in over 24 hours. I headed back to my room for some quality Apple II time. It had dawned on me earlier that if I couldn’t get the USB serial adapters to in OS X, maybe they’d work in

Windows XP. I do keep an XP VM on my MacBook using Fusion (for work and other reasons). Sure enough, XP recognized the adapter and I was off and running.

I downloaded a couple of disk images and was able to make a few disks using ADTPro. It wasn’t a perfect experience though — a few of my attempts to generate a disk failed even after tweaking and double-checking settings. I’m assuming that something about running ADTPro, on XP, from within Fusion, on a MacBook using a no-name USB serial adapter might have introduced and unknown dynamic. In the end, converting floppies was a less than reliable experience but I at least made *some* progress. More or less content with that, I went to bed.

…and I overslept.

I missed Ken Gagne’s Juiced.GS session. Later, I learned that Juiced.GS will continue to be published into 2010. That’s an awesome bit of news.

I missed Martin Hayes session on Hacking the System Monitor. I really wanted to go to that one too. Fail.

…and then my work called me. Good thing, because I might have slept even later, and missed Sheppy’s Apple Programming Q&A. Oh, wait — I missed that one too because I had to perform emergency maintenance on a remote server. That lasted a few hours; right through Bruce Baker’s annual session exploring Softdisk games and Geoff Weiss’s Sun Virtual Box demo.

By the time I was finished and got over to the activity center where the sessions were being held, Stavros Karatsoridis was wrapping up his SUPERPilot session. I like SuperPilot. I think it’s a fascinating and underrated programming language that deserves more attention.

I was fuming a little because I’d missed so much… but I was also relieved that I had wrapped up the server problem at work. There was no way I was going to miss the next session. Vince Briel, the man who brought us the Replica-1, had something new and interesting to show us and he wanted to get our opinion on it.

KansasFest 2009 Vince Briel’s MP3 Card from Sean Fahey on Vimeo.

Wow is an understatement. A real MP3 player for the Apple II… and not just that, a *USB* interface for the Apple II! The buzz this announcement generated got pretty intense — it seemed like everyone had a different take on how this card could be utilized, and not just for MP3 playback. I think Vince was pretty happy with the reception the card received.

Vince then said he wanted to open the device up for anyone to develop on; that he wanted to find someone who could take over the software development for it. Several people expressed interest, but I think Eric “Sheppy” Shepherd will be the person in charge of that. He seemed to be the most enthusiastic about the project and Sheppy definately has the coding chops to pull it off.

Vince and his new MP3 player/USB interface

The card is a prototype and doesn’t have a name yet as far as I know, but Vince said he expected it to cost around $100 USD when it becomes available.

After that bombshell session, it was time for the KFest Dinner Banquet. Ken “MC For Life” Gagne entertained us with “AppleCatz”. If you’ve seen LOLCATS, imagine that, but set to pictures from prior KFests.

Vince Briel won the tie contest with an illuminated Apple ][ LED circuit board tie and Mark Frischknecht won the door decoration contest.

After that, some of us went out to the Apple Store in Leawood. There was a short period of intense temptation to prank the Genius Bar by dropping a //c on the table and asking for support (but it was decided by consensus the joke would be just too lame).

That’s it for today. I’m going to get a snack and make the rounds again and then try to get a decent night’s sleep. I’m building a Replica-1 in the morning. I haven’t soldered on a board in years and I want to be rested and alert for that.