• laser,  vtech

    The Laser 3000, My First Computer [Updated]

    VTech Laser 3000 via Bytecellar.com

    Thomas Fuchs, @thomasfuchs on Mastodon, posed the question, “What was your first #computer?

    Seems like a good time as any to post my reply, both on my blog and to my Mastodon account.

    My first computer was the VTech Laser 3000. It was an Apple II “compatible”. I learned, by playing games, “Apple II compatible”, felt more like an Apple II or Apple II+ compatible rather than being an Apple //e compatible. This was likely due to the software that had to be reversed engineered to make the computer work. Interesting, the Laser 3000 manual has been scanned an uploaded to the Internet Archive if you are interested in that sort of thing. The Laser 3000 was followed up by the Apple IIc clone, the Laser 128.

    I remember getting the Laser 3000 for Christmas 1985. Or was it 1986? In any case, it was the “family” computer. Any preconceived notion about who’s computer it was were dispelled by the reality of who’s bedroom the computer ended up in. In addition to the computer itself, we also had an amber screen CRT monitor, the external floppy drive, and an Epson LX-86 dot matrix printer. I loved it. The Laser was a good machine to get started on. Cracks in compatibility started showing up as stores in the local mall started selling software. New software was being written and released for the Apple //e and I started noticing that the software that was being used at school wasn’t working. So before long, I started begging for an Apple //e. Which I eventually got. Second hand, but I took it.

    The Apple //e gave way to the Apple IIGS. And then, in 1990, the Macintosh Classic. The reset, as “they” say is history.

    Thanks, Mom and Dad. Your investment in the Laser 3000 has paid off well.

    Update

    A fine fellow on the Internet, replied to the Mastodon discussion, mentioned above, that the VTech Laser 3000 was also sold as “The Cat” from Australian reseller Dick Smith – similar to the now defunct Radio Shack chain here in the US. Below is a picture of the complete color system. In the picture, the Laser 3000 badge is replaced with a Dick Smith The Cat badge.

    The Cat image provided by Craig Bradley

  • apple,  apple //gs,  retro computing

    Welcoming Home an Apple IIGS from 1986

    Mac Pro (2013) helps welcome home my Apple IIGS (1986)

    I’m an Apple //e fan, but in the mid-1980s, with the introduction of the Lisa in 1983 and the Macintosh in 1984, it was becoming clear that the largely text input-based Apple II line of computers needed an innovative refresh.

    In 1986, Apple II fans got their new graphical interface upgrade in the form of the Apple IIGS.

    Developed under codenames such as “Phoenix”, “Columbia”, and “Cortland” the Apple IIGS was an attempt to modernize the Apple //e and the non-expandable Apple IIc into a modern computer. At the time, attempts to replace the venerable Apple //e with the Apple III and the Apple IIc did not go according to plan. The Apple III ended up being a commercial failure and customers favored the Apple //e over the IIc largely in part due to the //e’s expansion card bays.

    The Apple IIGS is a curios machie because it encapsulates both what has come before, the Apple II platform, while embracing a future with a graphical interface, a mouse, improved sound capabilities, and a 3.5-inch floppy drive – just like the Macintosh. Powering the Apple IIGS is the new 16-bit 65C816 chip running at 2.8MHz. The 65C816 is a 65C02 compatible processor, meaning that it can emulate the CPU used in prior Apple IIs. The 65C816 also has two run modes: the native 2.8MHz mode for running software written specifically for the graphical GS/OS operating sytem, and a 1MHz mode for running a customer’s older Apple II series software.

    In addition to the new CPU, the Apple IIGS also includes 256kb of system RAM, expandable out to a total of 8MB. The “GS” in the IIGS name stands for Graphics and Sound, and this Apple II is able to deliver. The new GUI interface was made possible due to a new super Hi-Res video mode capable of putting a 16-color palette up on a 200×320 screen. The included Ensoniq Mirage sound chip improved the audio features of the machine.

    There is a lot going on under the hood of this Apple II and that’s because the designers needed to address two project goals. First, make it compatible with the older generation of Apple II hardware and software. Second, bring the technology advancements from the Apple III, the Lisa, and the Macintosh to the Apple II line. In short, the IIGS ended up becoming a bridge from the Apple II line to the Macintosh line.1 This feat was made possible by Apple’s new custom integrated circuit (IC) the Mega II. The Mega II included the functionality of several of the ICs from the Apple //e and the IIc into the IIGS motherboard. In the end, the IIGS was able to run at least 90% of the titles in the Apple II software library. With the use of an optional disk controller card and floppy disk drive, the Apple IIGS could also read and write 5.25-inch disks created for earlier Apple IIs.

    The Apple IIGS was forward looking too. For example, the graphical GS/OS environment used 114 of the same QuickDraw calls as was found on the Macintosh. The graphical interface program used to access disks, draw windows, and work with menus and files is called the Finder and is modeled after the Macintosh desktop program of the same name. The Apple IIGS also has an Apple Desktop Bus (ADB) port for connecting up to 16 daisy-chained devices. The same ADB technology that is used on the Macintosh, allowing keyboards and mice to be interchangeable. And, finally, the IIGS is the first Apple II computer to include built in support for AppleTalk networking. Yes, the Apple IIGS and the Macintosh could talk to each other and share files over an AppleTalk network.

    The Apple IIGS was released in September 1986 with a base price of $999. Customers would then need to add one or more disk drives, a color monitor, and possibly a printer, easily raising the price of the machine to the $2,499 – $3,199 range.

    The Apple IIGS did succeed in delivering on it’s promise to be true (and compatible) to it’s Apple II roots and simultaneously embrace a graphical interface future. And for Apple II fans, that was a positive point. However, in terms of the state of technology in 1986, many journalists coving technology at the time considered the Apple IIGS to be too slow and too expensive when compared with contemporary machines of the day, including the Macintosh, the Amiga 500, and the Atari ST.

    In 1988, waiting for my back ordered Apple IIGS to be delivered by ComputerLand, I was excited to this new computer. For me, I could leverage everything that I had learned about my Apple //e with the IIGS and share hardware and software between the two machines. I will admit that my cousin’s Amiga 500 had way better looking games, but I loved my Apple IIGS. Unlike the closed case Amiga 500, the Apple IIGS could be easily opened allowing me to tinker around inside and add new expansion cards, foreshadowing my career in Information Technology. Today, I still tinker around inside PCs and servers thanks, in no small part, to the openness of the Apple II platform.

    Apple II Forever!

  • apple //e,  apple //gs,  lifestyle

    Byte Magazine Archive Available

    Byte magazine Feb. 1983 Cover

    While doing some research into the Apple IIe (1983) and the Apple IIGS (1986), I came across a large Byte magazine archive that is available on the Internet Archive.

    The magazine archive is labeled as “complete” and has issues from Sept. 1975 through Apr. 1989. And while I can’t vouch for the entire archive, the three issues that I looked at had clean and easy to read articles from the issues that I wanted to read. Here are the links to the articles I was reading earlier this week.

    Feb. 1983 – Apple IIe Review by Robin Moore pg 68

    Oct. 1986 – Apple IIGS Preview by Gregg Williams and Richard Greham pg 84

    Apr. 1987 – Apple IIGS Review by Philip Chien pg 223

    I really appreciate that these archives exist. Reading computer magazines before I started my professional IT career was a fun way that I learned about computers. A+ and inCider were two of my favorites. Once I started working in IT, I loved to read Windows NT Magazine, PCWeek/eWeek, MacWeek, and Information Week.

  • lifestyle,  social,  twitter

    Archive Your Twitter Account in Case You Get Hit with a Ban

    If you are like me and have no patients for Elon Musk’s jackassery, you might be looking to move to another smaller social media community. I have opened a Mastodon account and am reconnecting with other retro computing fans.

    Under Musk’s “leadership”, Twitter has gone from a stable mismanaged platform to a mismanaged platform under constant churn. Take last night’s unforced error. In a now deleted tweet, Twitter Support posted a notice that the company would begin removing accounts promoting or linking to other social networks. You can read The New York Times and CNN coverage of the latest dust up if you can stomach it.

    Since I have a pinned tweet redirecting folks to my Mastodon account, I was expecting that either the tweet would be deleted, or that I would end up being banned from Twitter. So, I decided to request an archive of my account.

    Here’s how to request your own archive.

    Step 1: Login to your account.

    Step 2: Click or tap on More > Settings and Support > Settings and Privacy

    Step 3: Then, click or tap on Your Account > Download an Archive of Your Data

    Step 4: Click or tap the Request Archive button.

    Assuming that Twitter.com is still functioning at a basic level, within 24 hours you will receive an email with a download link to your archive download.

    I’m not a prolific social media user and do not have any regrets about deleting my Facebook account years ago. As it stands now, I am fine if I get banned or suspended because I am reconnecting to other retro computing enthusiasts, as I said, on Mastodon. I am also supporting my favorite creators on Patreon. When a paid subscription also includes a Discord server, I also occasionally stop in there to hang out with other like-minded nerds. It’s nice to not be bombarded by ads and accounts that just want to cause chaos.

    So, will I delete my Twitter account? I honestly don’t know. As it stands now, I probably won’t delete it yet. I am spending less time on Twitter these days. Just like discussion boards gave way to blogs which stepped aside for Twitter, I’m ready for the next thing. If Musk speeds up that transition to the next thing, so be it. Buckle up!

  • apple,  iphone

    iPhone 3G Motherboard

    2008 iPhone 3G Motherboard

    What better way to spend a cold and grey Sunday afternoon in December than sorting through your spare parts bin and deciding to teardown an iPhone 3G. Don’t worry, this iPhone 3G was broken long before it came my way.

    iPhone 3G (A1241) is the second iPhone to have been released. It started shipping to customers on July 11, 2008. The US model was only available on the AT&T Wireless network. 2008’s color options where Black and White. The Black model was available in 8GB or 16GB configurations, while the White iPhone 3G was only available in the 16GB configuration.

    Powering the iPhone 3G is the Samsung ARM-based System on a Chip (SoC) that contains the 412MHz CPU and 128MB LPDDR memory. In the photo, above, the SoC is the large chip on the left with the Apple logo printed on it.

    If you want to see a graphic with each chip labeled, visit the iFixit.com iPhone 3G Teardown page.

  • apple,  iphone 7,  repair

    Welcoming Home a Rescued (PRODUCT)Red iPhone 7

    (PRODUCT)Red iPhone 7…wow, that’s red!

    I have been looking for a reasonably priced used (PRODUCT)Red iPhone for a while now. First introduced as part of 2016 iPhone product line, the (PRODUCT)Red iPhones, in my opinion, have a strikingly bold color that makes them standout against the other colors in the line up.

    Being a nerd who has to have all of the latest iPhone features, I gravitate toward the Pro model iPhones. Apparently, Pro iPhones are not allowed to have cool color choices, so I had never purchased a (PRODUCT)Red iPhone as my daily device.

    About three weeks ago, I purchased a batch of broken iPhones from seller from eBay. All the iPhones were listed “as-is” and not tested. This is eBay code for broken and/or iCloud Locked. One device, for example, a GSM iPhone 6, was in great condition, but was iCloud Locked.

    One device in the listing caught my eye: a (PRODUCT)Red iPhone. No mention was made of which model it was. All I could tell from the photos was that it had a shattered display.

    Broken iPhone 7 screen with packing tape

    Once the shipment arrived, I zeroed in on the (PRODUCT)Red iPhone. It had a 4-digit PIN code. I tried entering my picks from a list of commonly used PIN codes. Eventually, I reached the limit for failed PIN code attempts, and the iPhone disabled itself.

    An Apple Store won’t service an iCloud Locked iPhone, so I put the iPhone into DFU (Device Firmware Update) mode, erased the device, loaded a fresh copy of iOS 15.7.1, and rebooted the iPhone.

    To my surprise, the previous owner had not enabled the Find My iPhone feature. Without the Find My iPhone security feature enabled, the DFU mode iOS 15 install had the effect of erasing the previous owner’s data and reset the iPhone so I could make it my own. To test this out, I logged into iCloud with a test Apple ID and sure enough, I was able to login and assert ownership of the iPhone.

    The final step, now that I was certain that the iPhone 7 wasn’t iCloud locked, was to setup a Genius Bar appointment at my local Apple Store and have the screen repaired. Thankfully, the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus models still have a “Supported” status, meaning that Apple will still service them.

    I explained to the Genius who was helping me that I was the second-hand owner of the iPhone and wanted to have the screen repaired. I mentioned that I hadn’t opened the iPhone but couldn’t definitively state that someone else may have gone inside. The Genius ran the iPhone through a suite of diagnostic tests to confirm that there was nothing else wrong with the iPhone.

    iPhone 7 with a new screen

    After confirming that no other defects were present, I handed the iPhone over to be serviced. It would be ready later that day. A few hours later, I picked up the repaired (PRODUCT)Red iPhone and brought it home.

    Thankfully, even when you consider the repair cost of the new screen, I was able to find a relatively inexpensive (PRODUCT)Red iPhone 7. This was not the way I was expecting this story to turn out. I was expecting the iPhone to be iCloud locked, indicating that the iPhone was possibly stolen. If you plan on buying a used iPhone from eBay, be sure that the seller shows pictures of the unlocked home screen and the Settings app showing that the iCloud account is logged out. Logging out of iCloud on an iPhone will disable the Find My iPhone security feature.

    In this particular case, this repair story has a positive ending, allowing me to welcome home a (PRODUCT)Red iPhone 7!

  • lifestyle

    Happy Thanksgiving

    This year, I am thankful for everyone who reads my blog. I do appreciate it.

    I am also thankful for the many things that I have, including my family and our healthy, and my job.

    I am also thankful that, finally, COVID-19 is starting to shift into the background of everyday life. Don’t get me wrong, COVID-19 is still a global pandemic and we should still continue to get vaccinated and wear high quality masks where appropriate.

    Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

    -Alan

  • apple,  mac pro,  macintosh

    2013 Mac Pro Homecoming and Retrospective

    The 2013 Mac Pro (left) joins the Museum “Pro” Family

    In the summer of 2013, at that year’s Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple executive, Phil Schiller, previewed the then all-new Mac Pro that would go on sale in December of that year. The boxy “Cheese Grater” design was swept away and a new sexy Space Grey polished aluminum housing for its cylindrical body was ushered in.

    While looking at old computers on eBay, I came across several 9-year-old Mac Pro towers at a fraction of their retail cost. Most were B stock equipment. Banged up, scratched, and for some of the used computers, broken USB ports. I started watching several of them, getting outbid on many of them. On eBay, $200 looks like a great price, until the final few minutes where the real bidding happens. Eventually, I was able to find a Mac Pro with all of it’s ports working and in good condition. I received my new to me Mac Pro earlier this month.

    2013 Mac Pro’s ports (left) compared with 2006 Mac Pro’s ports (right)

    The 2013 Mac Pro was a radical departure from previous models in the Mac Pro line. Stripped of all of the internal expansion bays, the 2013 was reduced to the essence of the computer: CPU, memory, disk, video, and networking. For everything else, users would have to connect external wired peripherals. Unlike the front-to-back air flow of the physically larger Mac Pro towers, nicknamed “Cheese Graters”, the cylindrical “Trash Can” Mac Pro relied on a triangular system board arrangement that radiated heat into the core of the machine to be drawn up and out the top by a single large fan. The 2013 Mac Pro runs dead silent unless pushed very hard. The only way I know that it is turned on is because the monitor wakes up when I tap the space bar on my keyboard.

    2013 Mac Pro with case removed, showing CPU board

    The 2013 Mac Pro went on sale for online orders starting on December 19, 2013. The base model Mac Pro shipped with a single quad-core 3.7GHz Intel Xeon E5 CPU, 12GB of ECC DDR3, dual AMD FirePro 300 GPUs, and 256GB of SSD storage. Six Thunderbolt 2 and four USB-A 3.0 ports round out peripheral connections. The external expansion ports being intended to take on the load of the internal card slots of earlier Mac Pro systems. The Mac Pro also includes dual 10Gbps Ethernet RJ-45 NIC ports for high-speed networking to things like network attacked NAS storage arrays. The base model retailed for $2,999 with a six-core configuration selling for $3,999. Unlike most other products, the 2013 Mac Pro was both designed and built in the United States. A trend, in my opinion, that I would like to see more of in the future now that the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 has been signed into law.

    The 2013 Mac Pro originally shipped with Mac OS 10.9 Mavericks. While it would have been nice for Mac Pro owners if Apple chose to release 2022’s Mac OS 13 Venture for the Mac Pro, Mac OS 12 Monterey will be the last official upgrade for the 2013 Mac Pro.

    Mac Pro’s OEM 1TB M.2 nVME SSD

    My 2013 Mac Pro has a slightly different configuration that I cannot fully account for. It arrived with the stock quad-core E5 Xeon CPU, and it still has its OEM 1TB SSD. However, the machine only had 8GB (2 x 4GB) of non-OEM non-ECC RAM. The DIMMS in my Mac were matte black and locked like stock RAM, but they weren’t. For high-end use cases, like those the Mac Pro is intended for, Error Correcting Code (ECC) memory should be used due to its ability to detect and correct minor data errors that can lead to data integrity problems and file corruption. I decided to purchase and install an OWC 32GB (2 x 16GB) RAM upgrade kit using DDR3 ECC-R 1866GHz RAM. The OWC upgrade kit was about $60 USD. Apple has a KB article on the 2013 Mac Pro memory specifications if you want to choose a different memory vendor.

    Two RAM bays, one on each side, pop open so you to install 64GB (4 x 16GB) of RAM

    Since I plan on using my Mac Pro, with its 3.7GHz Xeon CPU for running my Intel-based VMware Fusion (aka Workstation in PC parlance) virtual machines. 32GB of RAM should be fine for this use case. If I need more RAM, I can add another 32GB upgrade kit and install the modules into the remaining two memory slots. If you want to tinker with a 2013 Mac Pro of your own, you are in good luck. It is possible to upgrade the Intel Xeon CPU, SSD via an adapter bridge board, and the aforementioned RAM. For an extensive list of hardware and software upgrades that can be performed on the 2013 Mac Pro, also known as MacPro6,1 (Late 2013), check out Greg Gant’s excellent upgrade guide.

    The Mac Pro launch was greeted with fanfare from hungry professional customers who had been worried that the Apple was about to abandon the high-end workstation market and focus solely on consumer hardware, like the iMac. However, once the new Mac Pro started shipping to customers things started to turn bad for Apple and customers alike. Apple, in a rare misstep, chose to build the 2013 Mac Pro around dual AMD FirePro video cards. While this configuration worked well for Apple software, like video editing Final Cut Pro, third-party software needed to be updated to support dual video cards. The rest of the industry, focused on single powerful GPU cards.

    Mac Pro: designed and assembled in the USA

    Apple needed to face the fact that they were not going to be able to upgrade the GPU support in the 2013 case design. The dual GPU bet not paying off resulted in four years of not being able to deliver any significant system upgrades, resulting in the 2017 Mac Roundtable discussion with a small number of tech journalists. During that meeting, Apple executives talked about their plans to completely revamp the professional’s Macintosh by returning to a modular design with an Apple external monitor, reversing a decision to cancel the Cinema Display line of first-party monitors.

    It would be another two years before Apple introduced the 2019 Intel-based Mac Pro desktop computer and Apple Pro Display XDR. The 2019 Mac Pro was everything that professionals wanted – a large Cheese Grater design that they could stuff full of disk drives, RAM modules, and expansion cards. Everything they wanted, except maybe, the $5,999 starting price. Anyone seriously considering the 2019 Mac Pro would almost certainly want to bump up some of the base model specs, pushing the price of the machine well beyond the starting price. And that was before considering the purchase of the $4,999 Pro Display XDR monitor with Pro Stand, a $999 option.

    Today, the complicated Mac Pro story continues as the Mac Pro is one of two remaining Apple computer that have not yet made the transition to the in-house designed M-series Apple Silicon ARM-based CPU designs. In my option, 2022’s Mac Studio and Studio Display was meant as a partial stopgap release for a heavily rumored 2023 Apple Silicon rumored Mac Pro. That has left customers and fans to wonder if the next Mac Pro will be another Cheese Grater like the 2019 model, a compact Mac Studio design, or something else entirely. While I would like to see another “big iron” Cheese Grater design myself, I feel that we are going to end up with something more like the Mac Pro, with limited to no internal card slots and locked down RAM and primary storage like we have seen with M1 and M2-based Mac configurations.

    For now, I am happy to have gotten a 2013 Mac Pro. It has an innovative design that will be an interesting talking point in a collection of boxy Macs from yesteryear. And, while Apple may no longer be supporting the 2013 Mac Pro hardware or releasing new versions of Mac OS for it, my new Mac Pro has a long second life ahead of it running my Windows virtual machines. Nice.