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By Samuel Stoddard


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Friday, June 11, 2004

A pretty terrific thing happened yesterday. Mostly it's terrific for personal reasons, but it does have intriguing relevance to RinkWorks.

I cut my teeth on programming and working with computers on the family's Apple IIe, purchased in January 1985. Three years and a month later, we added an Apple IIc to the mix. From 1985 to 1991, I tore into those computers, writing program after program and filling up over a hundred 140K floppy disks with programming efforts of all kinds. It's interesting (to me) to chart my progress: the early disks have programs that do things like print jokes to the screen, or simulate a conversation by asking the user simple questions. The later disks, by contrast, contain complex utilities and games, sometimes spanning multiple disks and frequently exploiting all manner of obscure and low-level features of the machine. You're not a real geek until you've done something equivalently tedious and user-unfriendly as constructing Apple II shape tables by stringing together triple binary digit vector commands together and poking the resulting decimal values into memory from a BASIC program.

By 1991, the Apple II was already phasing out, and my parents had already steered toward the PC world with the purchase of a 286, which had a then astounding 40 meg hard drive. The only computers I've ever purchased myself have been PC's running Windows, and half of what I do on them is use them as terminals into Linux machines, such as RinkWorks's server, where I do all my real work. I like UNIX variants, don't much like Windows, but don't really have any particularly personal feelings toward either. Modern computers are tools, now, wildly wonderful and amazing tools, but the Apple II is forever associated within me as the answer to the call of passions I never knew I had. It was what brought me to the realization of what I wanted to do with my life. I learned a lot on it, and my Apple II experiences handed me off neatly to the computer science program at the University of New Hampshire, which led into my career and RinkWorks.

This was the kind of legacy that was stranded on these dozens (hundreds, really, when one counts the games I used to play and the utilities I used to use) of Apple II floppy disks. Someday those disks would deteriorate, or the hardware would break, and just like that, a significant part of my childhood would be gone. Some are less concerned about preserving the past as I am. Dave Parker, with whom I collaborated on several RinkWorks features, hates to lose things from the past, but it weighs far less heavily on his mind, to the point where sometimes he's more likely to recover an old short story of his by asking me for it -- because he probably emailed it to me once upon a time -- than by trusting in the completeness of his own archives. Not so with me. When I've lost things in the past -- thankfully nothing yet of paramount importance despite close calls -- it's been tough to handle.

So it's been a recurring source of dread for ten or more years now about the inevitability of one day losing all my Apple II materials to the passage of time. To worsen matters, it seemed the longer I delayed, the harder it would be to bridge the gap between past and current technologies.

In 1994, I discovered the wonder of emulators. Imagine, a program for a PC that would mimic an Apple II! Looking back, it's amusing how much the emulators of the day thrilled me. They each seemed to use their own disk image format (a disk image is a single file that mirrors the whole contents of a disk); most of them wouldn't let you swap the "disks" in the "drives" without shutting down the emulator first; the most common ones used PC fonts instead of recreating the look of Apple II text; some of the most common Apple II graphics modes weren't supported; the joystick controls were unworkable; etc. Fortunately, emulators have drastically improved in the intervening years.

In any case, the discovery of emulators opened up a door. If I could somehow convert all my disks to disk images, my old computer work could live on! But how could they be converted? Apple II disks just can't be read by a PC floppy drive. The hardware is just plain incompatible. Could I send the disks away to be converted? Maybe, but I didn't know where, and it was bound to be expensive.

So I started looking into transmitting data through a null modem cable connecting the serial ports of the Apple II with the PC. It seemed to be possible, based on the information I was finding, but I didn't know how available the cable would be. All the documentation I saw gave instructions on how to make a cable, but I didn't know how to do that, or, at the time, how to get one made. I asked around a little bit, describing what kind of cable I needed, and all I ever heard was one of two things: either, "That's a weird kind of cable -- I've never heard of that one before!" or, "I don't know if they still make them anymore, but [someplace] used to sell it. The part number is [some number]." You'd think with such specific information like the latter case, I could have tracked it down, but no. It sure seemed to me like the cable in question was so old as to be impossible to find.

At some point I gave up, or just plain ran out of hope and patience. The problem wasn't solved, and it was weighing more heavily on me all the time. In the years since, dating right up to the turn of the century or so, I would renew my search, each time with the fresh resolve to keep at it until I had figured the problem out and solved it. I found Apple II newsgroups and so forth and posted a general plea for help. Where could I get the right cable? Where could I get the right software? How would I even get the software required for the Apple side onto an Apple disk for it? People answered my posts and offered their help, but for some reason I kept getting hung up on finding the right kind of cable.

I was so concerned about this, that during the summer of 1995, I set up the Apple IIc right next to my PC, loaded up the Apple word processor, and retyped the many dozen short stories I had written and saved to those disks. It would have been an impossibly enormous task to retype all my various Applesoft BASIC programs into the emulator by hand, but at the very least I could save my creative writing efforts. It took a good chunk of the summer, and it was only a fraction of the total data I needed to save, but at least that portion of it was safe.

Almost since I got married in 1998, the Apple IIc and my boxes of disks have been packed up in a box in some corner of our home, despite that we don't have a lot of space for it. Maybe two weeks ago, I was inspired to take another stab at tracking down a means for transferring the data. Again, I ran across the transfer programs I had run across before, some of which had been updated since, and the instructions for constructing the required cable. You need a this type connector on one end, and a that type connector on the other end, and it has to be a null modem cable (meaning, the send and receive lines are swapped) instead of a straight-through cable, unless you've got an Apple IIe with a Super Serial Card, in which case you can set a jumper on the card to 'terminal' and use a straight-through, and, and, and, and, and.

I still didn't know how to make a cable, but this time I was going to try and figure out what kind of cable was required, and if I had to have one made, I'd find out a company that could make them and do it.

But as it turned out, the more I read, it seemed like the kind of cable I needed was still quite commonly available at Radio Shack. A standard serial cable, with a female DB-9 connector on one end, and a male DB-25 connector on the other end, attached to a null modem adapter. come I had never found this out before? How come all the places I looked for this cable had never heard of it or had stopped selling it eons ago? It just didn't make sense. But I ducked out to Radio Shack and bought it anyway, and when I got it home, I figured out why. This was the kind of cable that would work with an Apple IIe with a Super Serial Card. I had an Apple IIe, but no Super Serial Card, and my assumption that the serial port built in to the Apple IIc was the same as the one on the Super Serial Card was, well, wrong. The Apple IIc's built-in serial ports took DIN-5 connectors, round plugs with five pins in a semicircle on one side. Well, if nothing else I could try to buy a used Super Serial Card somewhere, but the Apple IIe was packed up at my parents' house, and I wanted more immediate and reliable results.

So I tried my darnedest to figure out which ports on the Apple IIc were the serial ports, and I started scouring Google for web pages that might mention "cable" and "DIN-5" and "DB-9" or "DB-25" anywhere on them. Precious few results came up, but at some point I hit upon the right search term phrasing and landed here, which sold three different cables that seemed to have the right connectors, but I didn't know what the pinouts were. After still more research, I discovered that the Apple serial printer cables were basically the same thing as null modem cables, so I bought the "Apple IIc Serial Printer Cable," had it shipped as cheaply as possible, and spent the next full week anxiously awaiting the arrival of my cable. Never have I made use of the UPS tracking feature so fervently. It arrived on time, thank heaven, but it arrived at the very end of the scheduled arrival date (yesterday), well after I had gotten home from work and spent an hour resisting the urge to leap to the window every time I heard a vehicle go by outside. At the same time, I was trying not to get my hopes up, because it was entirely possible something just wouldn't work. My fear was that the computers just wouldn't do anything, or I'd get a cryptic error message and nothing -- something I wouldn't have the faintest idea how to diagnose or fix.

But the hardest part turned out to be figuring what stupid COM port my serial port was configured to on the PC side. Windows was unhelpful, and I don't even get instructions on how to enter the BIOS when I boot, which would have meant trying to find documentation on the computer to do that, and blah, and yuck. So I set up the Apple the way I was instructed to, and then I started hitting COM ports at random, hoping that sending data to one of them would suddenly start to work. Sure enough, it did. See, you can load the communications software on the Apple side by having it entered through the serial port. You can set up the Apple to treat input from the serial port as if it came from the keyboard. So once I got code pumping through that serial cable (the DB-9 to DB-25 I bought at Radio Shack, to a gender changer, to the DB-25 to DIN-5), it just started printing out on the Apple screen as if I had been typing it in right then.

I was actually quite shocked when it started doing that, because I didn't really expect it to work. I was just trying COM ports at random. But seeing that happen was such a huge rush of awesome. It meant that my ten year search to find a way to save my Apple data was over at last. And beyond the personal part of it, geek that I am, it was just cool to see a 1 Mhz Apple IIc from the eighties interfacing cleanly with an 1.4 GHz Athlon from the following century. Moreover, I had never done anything with serial communication on the Apple, so it was cool to see it doing something I'd never seen it doing before.

I spent the rest of the evening transferring disk after disk after disk. It takes a couple minutes each, transferring at 19200 baud, which is pretty impressive for a machine that old. I've transferred dozens so far -- most of my personal disks -- but I'm not even close to done yet. That's how I'll be spending my weekend, most likely. But except for a couple of fixable hiccups, the disks all work beautifully in the AppleWin emulator.

I don't know why the cable was so hard to find throughout the years. I'm not so surprised that companies that I called, asking for it, didn't know what I was talking about. If they didn't get that "null modem cable connecting an Apple II to a PC" is basically the same thing as an "Apple serial printer cable," ok. But I'm astonished that the people in the Apple II online forums I asked questions couldn't quite tell me everything I needed to know.

But it's all moot now.

Way back at the beginning of this, I mentioned that this has some relevance to RinkWorks. RinkWorks enthusiasts may know from the RinkWorks Timeline that the RinkWorks feature with the earliest significant roots is Enchanted Forest, which began, as I have misremembered for a long time, as a program I wrote in GW-BASIC for the PC during unneeded work time in the introductory computer class I took in 11th grade. The version of Enchanted Forest found here is based on this GW-BASIC version, containing some minor improvements, the most significant being the introduction of level boosters. (The BASIC version had you progress through five levels by clearing five different forests, but this was unworkable as a web game where the delay between moves is slow.)

Apparently, the GW-BASIC version is not the original. On one of my many disks, I ran across an Applesoft BASIC version of Enchanted Forest. Since running across that, my memories have been slowly fixing themselves. I hadn't written the game in my computer class; I had brought in a print-out of the Applesoft source and retyped it, converting to GW-BASIC as I went. Then, as the other members of the small, six-person class got to playing it, I made gameplay improvements and additions from there.

What does this mean for you, the reader? Perhaps not much. But if you're a RinkWorks subscriber, you will soon be able to download both the Apple and PC versions of the original Enchanted Forest, along with the software you need to play them. It will be a while, because my first order of business is to finish securing all my Apple data, but I hope to have downloadable versions of the Enchanted Forest games up within the month. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, for all those who may follow in my tracks and want to know how to transfer data from Apple disks to a PC, as I have, here is what I know. If you've got a Mac, rather than a PC, I can't be as specific for what you need, but I might be able to point you in the right direction.

Transferring Apple II Disks To a PC

You're going to need a working Apple II computer with a serial port. If you don't have one, try to find one on eBay or somewhere. It's just not possible to get another kind of computer to read Apple disks, at least not without special, rare, and expensive hardware.

Which Apple II's have serial ports? The Apple II+/IIe did not have a serial port, but you could buy a Super Serial Card (SSC) for it, which essentially added a serial port to the machine. The Super Serial Card's serial port was a 10-pin header, but it came with a cable that served as an adapter from this to a female DB-25 connector. Click here for more information.

The Apple IIc had two built-in SSC-compatible serial ports. They're the two female circular ports on the back, probably one on each side and probably marked with a "1" and a "2." These are DIN-5 (or DN-5, or DN05) connectors and have five pins arranged in a semicircle on the bottom.

The Apple IIGS also had built-in serial ports, but they weren't SSC-compatible. You could, however, put a Super Serial Card into the thing if you can't get anything to work with the IIGS's native serial ports.

If you don't have any serial ports on your Apple II, it's possible to transfer disks via the game port, as strange as that sounds. I haven't tried it this way, but Ap2222pc is a program you can download for the PC that will. You don't need any software on the Apple side, but you do have to type in a short machine language program and a blank floppy to get started. You can find that in several places by doing a Google search on "".

Otherwise, the way to go is a program called ADT. (Look for "".) The documentation inside spells out more details about the type of cable you need and how to get disks transferred. ADT is a beautifully clean solution, easily transferring disks to disk images (and vice versa, if need be).

Also, note the PDF guide here. I didn't use it, but it seems very orderly and detailed, except that it seems to lack information about the IIc, and I wouldn't trust that hitting ctrl-a will always cause an SSC: prompt to be displayed -- my IIc did almost nothing at all in response to a ctrl-a, but it worked nonetheless.

But back to the cable, which is the part I had such trouble with. If you're connecting a Super Serial Card (female DB-25) to a PC's serial port, first figure out what kind of serial port your PC has. It's probably either a female DB-25 socket or a male DB-9 socket. In either case, the appropriate cable (male DB-25 to male DB-25, or male DB-25 to female DB-9) is commonly available at stores such as Radio Shack and online. Unless you set your Super Serial Card to "terminal" instead of "modem," you're going to need a null modem adapter, also commonly available. (I bought a female DB-25 to female DB-25 null modem adapter.)

But if you're connecting to an Apple IIc serial port, what you need for a connector on the Apple side is less commonly available. You basically need an Apple IIc to ImageWriter I cable. It's a DIN-5 to DB-25; the DB-25 can be hooked up directly to a DB-25 serial port, or to a DB-25 to DB-9 cable (possibly by way of a gender changer), which can be hooked up to a DB-9 serial port. You don't need the null modem adapter in this case, although if you mistakenly pick up a "straight-through" DB-25 to DIN-5 cable, a null modem adapter will fix the problem. Finding the DB-25 to DIN-5 cable is going to be easier if you search for an "Apple IIc Serial Printer" cable, rather than an Apple IIc null modem cable. This is the one I bought, and it worked beautifully. Other vendors are listed in Apple II FAQs, such as here.

With ADT, the disk image files are formatted in 143,360 byte DSK files, a common format used by emulators. There are others, such as SHK (used primarily by emulators for the Macintosh) and NIB (nibble-by-nibble disk images, which can store non-standard disk formats frequently used by copy protected programs). You can convert between them with various utilities. For information about these and Apple II emulators available for your platform, check the Apple II Emulator Resources Guide, which also has information on transferring disk images in the first place. CiderPress is a slick little Windows utility for converting between disk image formats as well as inserting and extracting files from disk images, although registration is required after 30 days of use.

For Windows, I cannot recommend AppleWin enough. It recreates the look of the original Apple IIe beautifully; the sound is not quite as faithfully recreated, but it's surprisingly close. The only tricky part is figuring out what the latest version is. There are a couple different strains, maintained by different people, for example, and the version numbers aren't always consecutive: v1.40, for example, is older than v1.12. I've had the best luck with the v1.12 strain (1.12.3, at the time of this writing, but the author said a new revision will be out in a month or so).

Good luck!

Monday, March 1, 2004

It was strange. In one of the most insightful, broad-minded nomination slates in recent years, the actual winners of the Academy Awards, presented last night, were among the least inspired. I did terribly at predicting the winners this year, after doing well predicting the nominees. Usually I err on the side of safe choices, but this time I credited the Academy with too much, predicting such awards as Shohreh Aghdashloo for Best Supporting Actress over Renee Zellweger and occasionally voting against The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World picked up the two technical awards that The Return of the King was not up for. It felt pretty mechanical. No Best Editing for City of God. No Best Cinematography for Girl With a Pearl Earring. No Best Song for The Triplets of Belleville. My biggest disappointment of the night was Sean Penn winning for Best Actor over Bill Murray and Johnny Depp. Sean Penn turned in a good performance, but it's nothing new: the Academy has rewarded numerous performances like it in its history. Penn was such a safe choice. Bill Murray (my pick) and Johnny Depp turned in performances that were more original, more nuanced, more inspired, and more fun.

The streak The Return of the King had last night was unprecedented in Oscar history. Its 11 wins ties Ben-Hur and Titanic for most Oscars going to a single film, both of which had more nominations to pull those 11 wins from. Previously, the record for most wins by a film that won everything it was nominated for was shared jointly by Gigi and The Last Emperor, which each did 9 for 9. (My favorite member of this exclusive group of Best Picture winners is Grand Hotel, which pulled 1 for 1: it took Best Picture without being nominated for anything else.)

I welcome the winning streak of The Return of the King -- it's a relief, actually, to see that this amazing, unique accomplishment in film has finally been recognized by the Academy. But I would quibble with four of its 11 wins. I thought The Last Samurai should have taken Best Costume Design by a nose. Best Original Song should have gone to The Triplets of Belleville, which had the only nominated song that wasn't weepy or melancholy. I haven't seen City of God, so I can't say definitively that it deserves Best Editing, but was the editing in The Return of the King really that revolutionary? Weirdest of all was it winning Best Adapted Screenplay over the brilliantly written Mystic River. I admired Mystic River more than I liked it, but its screenplay was outstanding, and I'm not sure the screenplay was The Return of the King's best asset.

Interestingly, because of the order the awards were presented, The Return of the King's streak was telegraphed by its first two wins. When it took Best Art Direction, that pointed at a sweep to me, and Best Costume Design, immediately following, cinched it. Those two were the technical awards I thought were most competitive. When it won Best Editing, I started thinking about a perfect score, or at least 10 wins, because I still couldn't imagine it taking Adapted Screenplay.

The biggest surprise of the night -- and this is saying something -- was Harvey Krumpet taking Best Animated Short from Destino. Best Documentary Feature was a close one, but my guess, A Fog of War, took it. Never bet against an anti-war documentary by an outspokenly liberal filmmaker.

By the end, I had struck out on six awards, four of them because I credited the Academy with broader thinking than I should have, and only one of the remaining being a modest surprise. So I struck out on my guesses and have problems with several of the awards, but there's a scintillating bright side to it all: this year marks the first year of the 2000s to have a truly deserving Best Picture winner and the first year since 2000 itself to have a truly deserving Best Director winner. I have a soft spot for Lost In Translation, which I consider to be one of the most beautiful films of the decade so far, but it had the misfortune of going up against a landmark in cinema history. But Lost In Translation took Original Screenplay, arguably the third most important award, so it did, after all, get a measure of just recognition.

Friday, February 13, 2004

One of the most belabored entertainment news stories of the past few weeks has been whether or not Mel Gibson's upcoming film The Passion of the Christ is or is not anti-Semitic in its portrayal of the last twelve hours of Jesus Christ's life. I have not seen the film. I don't know if it's anti-Semitic or not. This article isn't about condoning or condemning the film but taking issue with the arguments frequently used to do one or the other.

The core of the debate is about whether or not the film depicts Jews as being responsible for Christ's crucifixion. Historically, this has been a source of anti-Semitism in the past. But, at least so it seems to me, few hold this view today, and it seems unlikely that viewers will come out of Gibson's film having freshly adopted it, even if the film truly holds it. Not that racial prejudice must be effectual to be wrong.

The point I wish to make is that Christians crying "You killed our Savior!" belies an understanding of even the simplest of the tenets of Christianity. The most basic precept of Christianity is that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world. That there is none righteous, no, not one (Rom. 3:10). That all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Yes, the Jews killed Jesus. So did the Romans. So did you. For a Christian to cast blame upon Jews -- worse, all Jews instead of individual Jews -- is hypocritical, and, worse, contrary to the very thing the Bible teaches us to do to be saved from the punishment our sins have earned us: namely, to believe and actively accept that Jesus died for our sins. Not just the sins of the world, but our own personal sins (Rom. 10:9-10). No one who has taken that step can rationally take the next step pointing fingers.

Let's face it. If one is to accept that Christ was who he said he was, God incarnate, he wasn't going to get crucified without his own cooperation. Christ was intended to die for the sins of the world long before he was born in human form. The Old Testament books of Isaiah and the Psalms are all about this: how Christ will come, what he'll do, and why. The attitude (held by some but probably wrongly perceived to be held by more) that Christians should be angry because somebody else crucified the Savior misses the point that this was the plan all along. The cross is not Christianity's great defeat but rather part of Christ's great triumph, culminating in his resurrection three days later. True, the act of crucifying Christ was one of the sins he died to forgive, but it was far from the only one.

I wasn't there when Christ was crucified, but I pounded in the nails as surely as if I had been holding the hammer in my hand. Any true Christian would say the same. Anyone interested in pointing fingers of blame may point them at me. It makes more sense than pointing them at a whole people and excluding others from the same responsibility.

Whether we acknowledge that responsibility or not, we are all responsible for the necessity of Christ's death. The Bible says that if there were only one sinner in the world, he would still have gone through it all, to provide the opportunity for that one sinner to be redeemed through belief and acceptance of that gift.

The irony of it all is that a professing Christian doesn't want to be blameless for Christ's death. If you're not partly responsible for Christ's crucifixion, you must not be one of the reasons Christ came here to be crucified. If Christ didn't die for you, you don't benefit from the gift of salvation that his crucifixion gave humanity. Given the biblical tenets that all men are sinners and need to be redeemed to be blameless in God's sight, and that there is no way to do so except through Jesus, who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6), well, paradoxical as it is to say so, I wouldn't want to be free of responsibility for Christ's death.

Christian or otherwise, when we discuss, therefore, whether The Passion of the Christ is anti-Semitic, let us not make this determination based on whether it depicts Jews as being responsible for Christ's death but whether it withholds that same blame from everyone else. Should this be the case, anti-Semitism wouldn't even be the worst of the film's moral problems.

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