The really really ridiculously good looking Apple //e Technical Reference Manual

Monitor ROM porn
Monitor ROM porn

Sorry for the long delay between posts. With weddings and honeymoons to plan, there’s not a lot of time left for writing about this hobby, let alone the hobby itself.

Earlier this year I picked up a swag of Apple //e manuals from eBay for an absolute steal. Previously I had been looking at buying a model correct Apple //e Owner’s Manual, namely what I think was the second edition, the manual that likely would have come with the //e Enhanced model.

I ended up purchasing three manuals altogether from a local eBay seller, reducing shipping costs and giving me more paper for my paper. The //e Owners Manual was great to finally have, as was A Touch of Applesoft BASIC, a small primer that I’ve actually been using as a programming reference.

But what I wasn’t counting on getting was the Apple //e Technical Reference Manual, a 400 page behemoth that laid out the entire //e system with ink and paper. This was the most expensive book of the lot, but it was still well below what many sellers were asking at the time. I had mostly written off owning this due to online extortion.

This version is copyright 1985 and describes features of the 65C02 microprocessor, meaning it was printed for use with the //e Enhanced.
This version is copyright 1985 and describes features of the 65C02 microprocessor, meaning it was printed for use with the //e Enhanced.

Despite the cover being a little beat up and stained, the inside pages are like-new, and I’m very pleased to have this as part of my tiny computer collection.

If you want to know anything about the //e hardware, this is your first stop.

Contents page
Contents page

While I’ll admit much of the data goes right over my head, I can appreciate the detail that this manual goes into. From IOU pinouts to moving data in the RAM, this manual will tell you how to do it all. When I want to learn it all, it’s all here.

It’s not for beginners, and it does gloss over some of the more basic points brought up in the //e Owners Manual. It’s unlikely that the home user in the 1980s would ever need this manual, but for anyone wanting to squeeze the most out their 65C02, it was an essential book – for lack of a better word, it’s a bible.

Apple’s simple red and black colour scheme for this manual is adequate – actually having any printed colour on the pages was a welcome surprise, especially across 400 pages from the 1980s. Information is clearly indexed and the page layouts are easy to read.

While I can’t understand a line of it, the included Monitor ROM Listing may as well be its own work of art.

Could frame this
Could frame this page

The listing reminds me of the pages and pages of handwritten notes that Mr Wozniak would have compiled for the original Apple I and perhaps the Apple II, I can’t remember offhand whether the original II Monitor was handwritten or not. But in any case, it’s all here, the most basic set of instructions to make the computer ‘compute’.

Owning this manual is no longer prerequisite to getting the most out of your //e. This, and many other manuals are now available online and free to download (at your own risk – copyright still applies). But why stop there, why not just emulate the //e on your Windows desktop machine, and be done with it? Just like owning the original hardware and software, owning these computer manuals is part of a complete authentic experience. Not essential, but for the right price, most welcome.

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The really really ridiculously good looking Apple //e Technical Reference Manual

Enjoying the old and the new

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There is something deeply satisfying about the fusion between old and new technology for me. So much so that I can see many bloggers wanting to spin this idea into a fully realised exploration (maybe me!)

The fusion here is purely visual – the Apple //e Enhanced glowing green, while the iPad Air 2 using my wireless internet connection to update to iOS 8.3. The iPad Air 2 sits in the groove just above the Apple //e keyboard, almost as if it were made to passively dock with its digital ancestor.

There’s little doubt that the newest line of tablets and computers available in 2015 eclipse the processing speed, memory and graphics of ‘the most personal computer’. Still, I do find some irony in this image – the 8.3 update locked me out of my new device for 30 minutes, while my Apple //e was available at the push of a button – and always has, since it was first assembled in 1984.

More to the point – it just makes for an interesting photograph.

Enjoying the old and the new

In fine form: Disk ][ versus DuoDisk

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An unfair comparison, if there ever was one. When it was packaged and sent to stores in 1984, the Apple //e and //e Enhanced models came with the DuoDisk, an update to the classic Disk ][ unit.

The DuoDisk was a no brainer. Rather than stacking two Disk ][ drives to the side of the computer, or sandwiching them precariously between the CRT monitor and flexible plastic computer cover, the DuoDisk was designed to blend seamlessly into the existing physical presence of the Apple //e, sitting perfectly between the monitor and the computer.

It took up less space than two Disk ][ units, leaving the user with more room on their desktop (the real desktop – no Windows here).

Then why did I pay almost $80 to ‘downgrade’ my Apple //e from the magnificent DuoDisk to a single Disk ][?

I don’t really know. Something something nostalgia.

So far, it’s been impractical. Without forking out for yet another Disk ][ drive, it’s left me with just the one, which means more manual handling when it comes to swapping floppy disks during ADTPro sessions. It has also put a brief end to my attempts at setting up an anachronistic BBS, with most software out there requiring at least two disk drives.

The single Disk ][ unit is also massive, relatively speaking. It takes up precious space on my already crowded desk.

Despite all this, I don’t regret switching to the Disk ][, and barring an unexpected hardware failure, I’ll be leaving my //e in this configuration for many years to come.

The purchase of the Disk ][ drive and interface card was the pursuit of nostalgia. My childhood //e featured two of these black monolithic drives, and it seemed only natural that my machine in 2015 should look somewhat the same. We did have DuoDisk units at school for use with the //e Platinum, but that had slipped my mind until recently.

The Disk ][ Interface Card also holds the notorious honour of being the oldest component in the //e system, having been originally produced in 1978. The Disk ][ unit itself was likely produced in the early 1980s, perhaps as early as 1979. It has a grey ribbon cable which was synonymous with the later model ][ Europlus and //e machines (as far as I know, drives with the rainbow ribbon were produced alongside the earliest machines, including the original Apple ][ and early ][+ models).

For some reason, much to my surprise, the Disk ][ is much, much quieter than the DuoDisk. Granted, I did service it on its arrival, due to the age of the mechanisms. The ‘clunk clunk clunk’ which was so loud on the DuoDisk is very soft on the Disk ][. It took me a few days to get used to this, but after briefly installing the DuoDisk once again for a quick test, I definitely prefer the noise of the Disk ][.

Related or not, the Disk ][ is also having an easier time at reading some of the original disks that I’ve since collected, including original Apple II Prodos and Apple II System Utilities. These would not read on the DuoDisk (potentially indicating that I need to service the DuoDisk, as I have since with the Disk ][).

And finally, it’s nice to be able to feature a system component that was almost exclusively designed, streamlined and tested by the Woz. It is the granddaddy of Apple floppy disk drives, bringing medium-density storage to the masses at a time when floppy disks were mostly unaffordable for the home or small business. The lineage of removable media can be traced back to the floppy disk (if we ignore cassette tape storage), and like the //e itself, it’s a part of computing history.

In fine form: Disk ][ versus DuoDisk

Colossus Chess on the Apple //e

Sounds sarcastic, no?
Sounds sarcastic, no?

This was one of the first games brought over to the Apple //e using the ADTPro software. It took about twenty minutes to transfer via audio cables, as I hadn’t yet purchased the Super Serial Card to make my life easier.

Let me be upfront here – the computer is hard as nails. I’m sure there’s many professional and even amateur chess players that could fight their way through this, but I’m not one of them. To this day, I’ve lost every match to the computer.

I’m not a terrible chess player either, but I won’t ever claim to be a very good one. The Shredder chess app on the iPad is a little more forgiving with what I would call a ‘scaling’ artificial intelligence, that dumbs itself down for my puny human brain.

Colossus vs Shredder coming soon!
Colossus vs Shredder coming soon!

Colossus is, however, entertaining. Despite not having won a game, playing against the computer is just enough of a challenge to remain engaging. I have the feeling that with a decent amount of practice, I would be able to at least force the computer into a draw, if not an outright checkmate. It seems like it’s on the horizon, which is why I keep coming back to playing it.

And apart from Shredder on the iPad, I haven’t found an equivalent chess computer program that I enjoy. I’m sure there’s plenty of options on the PC, including versing real opponents. But as I’ve mentioned many times already on this blog, there’s something deeply satisfying about the Apple //e and its software.

I don't get tired of taking these.
I don’t get tired of taking these.

It’s one of the only examples I could find from the Apple //e chess program library where direct manipulation of the chess pieces was possible. That is to say, you need not look at anything else in this program besides the GUI. Simply move the crosshairs over the chess piece using the keyboard, move it, place it down, and that’s it.

As soon as you insert the disk into the drive, it loads up a match. Instant chess satisfaction.

Not sure what I was thinking here.
Not sure what I was thinking here.

That being said, there’s an extensive amount of information that can be brought up with the space bar. While the Apple //e does not have a real time clock available (normally), Colossus Chess does a halfway decent job of estimating the time elapsed.

It’s also fascinating to watch the computer’s mind tick over while it’s analysing its next move. Looking at the ‘Current line’ and ‘Positions’ fields gives you a sense of futility. An impressive amount of work has gone into this program to make it one of the leading chess playing machines of its day, and it will be interesting to try and match it against other machine opponents in the future.

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By far, this is one of my favourite applications on the Apple //e thus far. While I didn’t play this growing up, it gives me a level of interaction with the //e that many other games do not. In every respect this is the classic versus match, pitting human and machine together.

At it’s core, Colossus Chess 4.0 is a no-nonsense chess playing computer program that should definitely be a part of any //e software collection.

Thank you M. Bryant!

Colossus Chess on the Apple //e

Preview: The Commodore 128

Not sure about the yellow.
Not sure about the yellow.

My fiancee’s relatives were extremely generous in a recent donation of old computer goodness. I’ve actually had this sitting on my desk for a while now, but haven’t had the time to complete a proper write-up of everything that was included.

In short, I’m now the proud owner of a Commodore 128 Personal Computer, including the 1201 yellow monochrome monitor and even a MPS1200 Dot Matrix Printer.

The boxes and boxes that I managed to sneak home were full of other interesting items. Hundreds of diskettes, most of them for Commodore 64 computers but there were quite a few there for Apple computers, and even MS-DOS.

This was all eventually heading to the tip.
This was all eventually heading to the tip.

There were some incredible originals, which I’ll have to share at some point. The previous owners did the right thing and backed up all their originals, so there are a few duplicates. Original manuals for pretty much everything, a lot of documentation, means that I’ll have plenty to reference as I try to breathe some life into the 128.

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Preview: The Commodore 128

Vent radioactive gas Y/N?

Don't forget, you're here forever.
Don’t forget, you’re here forever.

I’m always a sucker for a simulator, especially those in phosphorous green.

Nuclear Power Plant puts you at the controls of a circa 1985 nuclear power station. Your mission – produce power, and don’t cause a meltdown.

Y
Y

So surely this couldn’t be all that hard, right? The game does have a handful of instructions that I (briefly) went through, but in essence it’s a matter of balancing control rod position and coolant levels.

Day one went well, and day two we were producing plenty of power with a temperature overhead. With careful balancing of coolant and control rods, this didn’t seem too difficult.

It felt like it was time to sit back with a box of doughnuts, put my feet up on the keyboard, and let the plant run itself. Skip a day. Relax.

Then it all started to fall apart.

This could be a problem.
This could be a problem.

Turbine Overloaded. No problem, the temperature was rising but surely reducing the control rod position to ‘5’ and coolant to max would solve the issue?

So I adjusted the values, and skipped ahead to the next day.

Nope. Nope nope nope.

Quick! Where's the any key?!
Quick! Where’s the any key?!

This wasn’t good. Control rods to zero, coolant to max. Don’t use the emergency coolant, we will be all right, the reactor will start to cool with the control rods removed.

The start of the nuclear apocalypse.
The start of the nuclear apocalypse.

Claxons and sirens, along with ‘MELTDOWN!’ alert me to the fact that I’ve failed. Looks like I didn’t have what it takes after all.

All in all, the game was strangely immersive. In much the same way as Uplink on modern PCs put you at the helm of a computer hacking terminal, it didn’t take much imagination to put yourself in the chair of a nuclear power plant operator, hunched over the computer terminal and forever balancing temperatures and power output.

Meltdown in five days. Highly recommend, 10/10.

Vent radioactive gas Y/N?