VCF East: The Swyft Card


Ninety five percent of the population will say Apple computers is the brainchild of [Steve Jobs]. The other five percent will be right, but what nearly no one knows is that the Macintosh project was originally conceived by [Jef Raskin]. He holds the honor of turning the Mac into an, ‘information appliance’ and being one of the first people to seriously consider how millions of people would interact with computers.

The Mac wasn’t [Jef]‘s first project at Apple, though. Before the Mac project he was working on something called Swyft – an easy to use command line system that was first implemented as a firmware card for the Apple IIe. [Mike Willegal] was kind enough to bring one of these Swyft cards to the Vintage Computer Fest this weekend, and did a demo of it for us.

The basic idea behind the Swyft card was to have an integrated word processor, calculator, and access to Applesoft Basic. Holding down a ‘leap’ key – in the case of the Apple IIe add-on, the open apple key – allowed the user to search for text and perform operations on any result. It’s odd, but it just makes sense in some strange way.

[Mike] is doing a build class at the VCF today where anyone attending can build their own Swyft card. He also has instructions for building your own, should you want to experiment with one of the ‘could have beens’ of user interface design.

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Hackaday Links: January 26, 2014


The automotive industry is rolling more and more tech into their offerings. This is great for us because replacement or salvaged parts are great for projects. Here’s one component to look for. [MikesElectricStuff] tears apart the thermal imaging camera form an Audi. [via Hacked Gadgets]

Give your valentine an analog love note on the big day. [Tom's] LED heart chaser design does it without any coding. It’s a 555 timer with CD4017 decade counter. The nice thing about the setup is a trimpot adjusts the chaser speed.

[Jan] is overclocking his Arduino to 32 MHz. For us that’s kind of an “eh” sort of thing. But his statement that you need to use a clock generator because the chip won’t work with an oscillator at that frequency raised an eyebrow. We saw an AVR chip running from a 32MHz crystal oscillator in the RetroWiz project from yesterday. So do we have it wrong or does [Jan]? Share your opinion in the comments.

Download a copy of the Apple II DOS source code… legally. Yay for releasing old code into the wild! The Computer History Museum has the DOS source code and a bunch of interesting history about it. [via Dangerous Prototypes]

While we were prowling around DP for the last link we came across [Ian's] post on a new version of Bus Pirate cables. We’ve got the old rainbow cables which are pretty convenient. But if you’ve used them you’ll agree, hunting for the correct color for each connection isn’t anywhere near a fool-proof method. The new cable uses shrink tube printed with probe labels. They sound like a huge pain to manufacture. But this makes connections a lot easier. In our experience, when it doesn’t work its always a hardware problem! Hopefully this will mean fewer botched connections.

Make your tiny LiPo cells last longer. Not capacity wise, but physically. The delicate connections to the monitor PCB break easily, and the plug is really hard to connect and disconnect. [Sean] shows how he uses electrical tape for strain relief, and a bit of filing to loosen up the connector.

KerbalEdu: Kerbal Space Program for education. That’s right, you can play Kerbal as part of school now. Some may shake their heads at this, but school should be fun. And done right, we think gaming is a perfect way to educate. These initiatives must be the precursor to A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer method of education. Right?

Apple And Raspberry Pis


Deep in the bowels of the Internet there are some crazy people who have a wish list for what the next Apple II should look like. The capabilities of this dream machine of 80s retrocomputing is generally said to be something with a 32-bit CPU, a UNIX OS, modern graphics, and networking. This sounds a lot like a Raspberry Pi, so [Dave] built an Apple II to Raspberry Pi adapter card.

Having a Pi talk to an Apple II over a serial connection doesn’t really give either machine the full capabilities of the other. To fix this issue, [Dave] wrote two pieces of software. The first is a UNIX daemon that listens to the Apple II on a serial port connection, handling the Apple II keyboard connection. The second piece of software is a ProDOS disk image file running on the Apple II. With these two pieces of software, [Dave] can run the Apple on the Raspi, or run the Raspi on the Apple, sending files and data back and forth with no problem.

Aside from providing a strange and awesome Apple II to UNIX interface, the Apple II Pi also has a lot of advantages that might not be readily apparent. An Apple II compact flash adapter can be used as an internal hard drive for these pieces of classic apple hardware, and the Uthernet Ethernet card for the AII brings networking. Both of these devices are absurdly expensive compared to the component cost of the Apple II Pi, and what they bring to the table can be easily copied by the Apple II Pi.

The Apple II Pi is just a simple double-sided board with a few resistors, a cap, header, a 7404 inverter, and a communications chip that’s $5 for quantity one. If you already have a Raspi hanging around your workbench and want to soup up an Apple II with some crazy hardware capabilities, you really can’t do better than getting one of these Apple II Pi boards. Now if we could only find the board files…

Video of the Apple II Pi below, showing off all the awesome capabilities of a Pi-powered Apple. Thanks [Itay] for sending this one in.

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The Apple IIe Becomes a Lisp Machine


Way back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a few very awesome people around MIT were working on Lisp machines. These computers were designed specifically to run Lisp as their main programming language. Around the same time, a few [Steves] in California were working on the Apple II, which would soon become one of the most popular computers of all time. The Apple II ran BASIC as its main programming language, fine for the time, but surely not as elegant as Lisp. It took more than 30 years, but [Alex] and [Martin] figured out a way to turn the lowly Apple IIe into a Lisp machine.

Developing Lisp for the Apple IIe was surprisingly easy for these guys – they simply wrote a Lisp interpreter in C and used a 6502 compiler to generate some machine code. The main problem of porting Lisp to an Apple II was simply getting the code onto the Apple. We’re assuming this would have been easier had the same project been attempted in the 80s.

To get their interpreter onto the Apple, they used the very awesome ADTPro library that allows data to be loaded onto an Apple II via the cassette port and a modern computer’s microphone and speaker jack. After a solid minute of loading analog data onto this digital dinosaur, [Alex] and [Martin] had a Lisp interpreter running on ancient yet elegant hardware.

The source for the 6502 Lisp interpreter can be found on the GitHub along with all the necessary tools to load it via a modern computer. That’ll give you all the ancient lambdas and parens you could ever want. One warning, though: backspace doesn’t exactly work, so be prepared for a lot of frustration.

You can check out the demo video below.

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Anachronistic Hard Drive for the Apple II


Not wanting too many disks lying around his Apple II battlestation, [NeXT] started looking into hard drive solutions. There is the old-time solution – a ProFile hard drive initially designed for the Apple /// and Lisa, but those are rare as hen’s teeth, and just as expensive as newer Compact Flash adapters. [NeXT] had another option – SCSI, with an adapter card, but most of the SCSI devices of the era didn’t fit in with the cool ‘stackable’ aesthetic of AII peripherals.

With a bit of Bondo and some paint, [NeXT] modded an old dual disk drive into a retro-looking hard drive perfect for storing and running hundreds of old games.

[NeXT] began his build by taking an old Apple DuoDisk (the two-disk drive seen above) and Bondoing over the holes in the front. A drive activity light was added above the Apple logo, and the old drives saved for another day. Inside the new enclosure, an old 40MB hard drive, tested on a Macintosh SE/30, was installed along with a small power supply for the drive. With a few custom SCSI cables, the drive will be ready for it’s grand debut. We think it looks awesome just sitting there, and is sure to be the pride of [NeXT]‘s collection.

Animated GIFs on an Apple II


Before the Internet, computer enthusiasts needed to get their cat pictures, image macros, and animated gifs somehow. If only [Nate] was writing code back in the 80s: he created a video player for the Apple II, essentially turning the classic computer into a machine that can play one or two animated gifs.

Vintage microcomputers aren’t especially noted for a huge amount of RAM, or being very fast, so [Nate] needed to bring in some extra hardware to give his recently acquired Apple II+ a 64k RAM disk to store the gifs.

The gifs are loaded off the floppy drive after being converted on a PC with a Python script, reducing the resolution and colors to 280 x 192 pixels and an amazing rainbow of four colors. For some gifs, seen below, it’s actually slightly impressive an Apple II can pull off this trick. It’s amazing  [Nate] got this thing to work, as well.

If you have an Apple II set up, you’re awesome. You should go peruse [Nate]‘s git and make your own animated gifs for your awesome classic computer.

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USB Apple ][ disk emulator


One of the most commonly frustrating things about having an old Apple ][ lying around in your basement or attic is the lack of software. While at one time in the late 80s you may have had your own copy of Oregon Trail, that disk is either lost or non-functional, and it's pretty hard to get new disk images onto 5 1/4" disks.

To solve this problem for himself, [Eric] came up with an Apple disk emulator. A project like this has been done many, many times over the last few decades, but [Eric] put his own twist on it: he doesn’t use a microcontroller. Instead, he used a simple USB FTDI device to talk to the Apple disk drive.

The FTDI device in question is a UM232H chip that takes a USB connection and turns it into an SPI bus. Of course the Apple ][ disk doesn't speak SPI, so [Eric] needed to do a little logic conversion with a 74LS251 multiplexer and a 74LS161 counter.

In the video after the break, you can see [Eric] loading Apple disk images on a IIc from his new Intel Mac. It’s a neat build, but it’s not done yet: [Eric] plans on adding a microcontroller with an SD card, allowing just about every Apple ][ game every made to fit in your pocket. Yes, [Eric]‘s project is quite similar to the A][ pocket serial host we saw just a bit ago, but this will hopefully have a lower component count.

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