Still an Apple fanboy after all these years at

The Apple IIe with two 5-1/4 inch floppy disks, just like my first setup

I read a magazine article in the late 1970s about a couple of young Californians who built a new stand-alone computer in the garage of a Cupertino, Calif. home.

They started a company called Apple Computer to sell their innovation.

I had never used a computer at that point in life. As a journalism student at Abilene Christian University, we did all of our writing either on our own antiquated typewriters or on IBM Selectric typewriters in the newsroom of ACU’s student newspaper.

Anyway, the more I read about Apple and its Apple II computer, the more fascinated I became with both the company and the concept. Like most people, when I thought of computers, IBM and its massive room-sized mainframes came to mind.

After graduating from ACU, I went to work at the Southwest Times Record in Fort Smith, Ark. We worked on typewriters when I arrived in late August 1978, but by the Spring of 1979 the paper had installed its first computer terminals for reporters and editors to use.

They were so-called “dumb” terminals that were tied to a mainframe computer. They crashed a lot, usually right at deadline.

Meanwhile, I was still keeping up with Apple and its computer, but thought it was way beyond what I could afford.

Besides, who ever thought of having a computer in your house?

Fast forward about seven years. I was working at The Oklahoman when J.T. Goold, one of my co-workers, said he had a used Apple IIe for sale. It had been his father’s,

So, I ponied up about $500 and bought the Apple IIe, which came with a green monitor and two 5-1/4 inch floppy disks.

That Apple IIe sealed my love of all things Apple. I learned to use word-processing software on that computer, as well as a spreadsheet, a simple database and a page-design program.

In a few months, I added a 1,200-baud modem, which opened up a whole new online world of what were then known as bulletin boards. Then came AppleLink.

I tried my hand at learning some BASIC programming skills, but never got much further than making a little routine that filled the screen with a single sentence.

I’ve written all of this because I’m deep into Steven Levy’s book, “Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution.” The Apple II and its creator, Steve Wozniak, play a huge role.

In Hackers, Levy detailed the founding and growth in the early 1970s of the Homebrew Computer Club in the San Francisco Bay Area. The club attracted scores of computer hackers who shared a vision of a future where everyone had a stand-alone computer of their own.

Levy wrote: “These were people intensely interested in getting computers into their homes to study, to play with, to create with … and the fact that they would have to build the computers was no deterrent.”

Steve Wozniak attended the very first Homebrew Club meeting, but it was a few years before he actually built his first computer. His friend Steve Jobs convinced him to create a company as partners and sell his computer invention.

So they began building computers in the garage of the home of Jobs’ parents. The Apple II became a runaway bestseller, bringing computers to millions of people.

I became an Apple fanboy after reading that early magazine article in the 1970s. The used Apple IIe that J.T. Goold sold me in the mid-1980s ensured it would last.

And here we are today.  I’m writing this on an Apple MacBook Air while the my Apple iPhone keeps buzzing with text alerts and notifications.  I’m reading Levy’s excellent “Hackers” on an Apple iPad Mini.

It’s been a long-term relationship, to say the least.  Still an Apple fanboy after all these years.

The ‘first’ video game, Pong turns 50 this summer

Atari logo screenSomewhere in the early 1970s, I stumbled upon a video game called “Pong,” and was immediately infatuated. I couldn’t get enough, playing the game against my cousin on an old black and white television.

If you remember Pong, you know it was a simple game that featured two paddles and a sort of ball-like squarish blip that made a cool sound when it connected with the paddle. You connected Pong to your television and used simple controls to move the paddles to return the “ball” to your competitor in a crude table tennis simulation.

That’s all Pong could do, but the world had really never seen a game like this that could be played on your TV. Pong even kept score for you at the top of the screen.

Pong screenTurns out, Pong is hailed as the world’s first video game and it was released 50 years ago this summer. It was created by a young inventor and entrepreneur named Nolan Bushnell, who founded Atari to market Pong and other games.

I recently saw a Q&A published with Bushnell on the Daring Fireball website. The Q&A caught my eye because I had the opportunity to interview Bushnell during an appearance at the Oklahoma History Center in 2006.

Click here to read the story I wrote for The Oklahoman from that event. 

Anyway, Atari became a huge hit after it licensed Pong to Sears and the national retailer sold 150,000 units of the game. That led to other popular Atari games.

Bushnell eventually sold Atari in 1976 to Warner Communications for a reported $28 million.

Pong was such a ground-breaking innovation that today Bushnell is known as the “Father of the Video Game” and was named to Newsweek magazine’s list of “50 Men Who Changed America.”

Bushnell
Nolan Bushnell in 2006 (Oklahoman photo)

In his Oklahoma City appearance back in 2006, Bushnell talked about how Pong was created and designed on the circuit board to do only one thing.

“What I did was create the video game out of digital building blocks,” Bushnell said. “But it was architected in such a way that this board was designed to play Pong and that was all that it would ever do.”

Atari released many other game titles, including Breakout and Combat, after its success with Pong and eventually produced a popular personal computer. The Atari 2600 game console is considered one of the most successful game platforms in history.

An aside: I’m also a Steve Jobs fan, and discovered a connection between Jobs and Bushnell from reading the Walter Isaacson biography of Jobs published in 2011. Bushnell hired a 19-year-old Steve Jobs to work at Atari to develop another game known as “Breakout.” Read more on the Bushnell-Jobs relationship here. 

So, Nolan Bushnell created Pong, founded Atari and single-handedly launched a multi-billion dollar industry. But I can’t forgive him for one thing.

He also founded the Chuck E. Cheese restaurant chain.

BONUS:  Read this fascinating Wired magazine story about the creation of Pong and how Bushnell scammed a young software engineer to come to work for him to make the game a reality. https://www.wired.com/story/inside-story-of-pong-excerpt/

Atari system

I’m a Mac (fanboy): Apple ads across the years

Imamac
John Hodgman (left) as PC and Justin Long as Mac (Apple photo)

It’s no secret that I’ve been an Apple fanboy ever since I first read about the company and how it was founded in the 1970s in a Cupertino, Calif., garage by two guys named Steve.

In fact, my first computer was the Apple II, which brought personal computers to millions of people back in the day.

I’ve also been a fan of its advertising campaigns across the decades. Along with its groundbreaking technology, Apple has always taken a different and memorable approach to advertising its products.

But it gained notoriety in 1984 with the debut of the Macintosh.

Apple’s 1984 Super Bowl ad, which skewered IBM while introducing the Mac, is hailed as perhaps the most groundbreaking ad ever. It only aired one time. In case you missed it or it’s been a while, you can play it below.

Then, co-founder Steve Jobs left the company when he was fired by John Scully, the CEO he hired. Apple wandered in the wilderness for a decade before Jobs returned, first as interim CEO and then with the full title.

One of Jobs first and most memorable acts upon his return was to launch Apple’s Think Different campaign. I loved it, and apparently millions of other people did, as well. The company’s sales began to soar. Watch the ultimate Think Different ad here, that celebrates The Crazy Ones.

Another well received Apple ad campaign was known as the Switcher ads, featuring regular people who had switched from PCs to Macs.

My favorite Apple ad campaign of all time was the I’m a Mac campaign that ran from 2006 to 2009. I’m a Mac was actually a series of short vignettes starring Justin Long as the Mac and John Hodgman as the PC.

Long was one cool dude, while Hodgman was hopelessly uncool, out of date and out of touch with popular culture.

But mostly, the ads were funny, which hooked me immediately.

Although it’s been 12 years since the ads were aired, you can easily find them on YouTube. Here’s my favorite I’m a Mac ad of them all, featuring Patrick Warburton, who also played “Puddy” on Seinfeld.

Enjoy the comedy.

BREAKING NEWS: Just saw this from the Wall Street Journal about Apple Inc.

Apple Inc. became the first U.S. company to reach $3 trillion in market value, the latest milestone in a pandemic-era surge that carried shares of the iPhone maker and other large technology companies to unprecedented highs.

Apple shares crossed the milestone when they topped $182.856 Monday. The share price has more than tripled since the pandemic lows of March 2020, adding around $2 trillion in market capitalization.

My 2007 test drive with the original iPhone

Steve Jobs holds an original iPhone at the Apple launch event in 2007.

Editor’s note:  In honor of Apple’s special product event today, I’m reprinting a column I wrote as technology reporter at The Oklahoman in 2007 after using the original iPhone for a week at the invitation of AT&T.  I’ve been an iPhone user now for almost a dozen years. However, in the months after the iPhone debuted in 2007, I had only a lowly flip-phone and some serious iPhone envy. 

I was seated prominently in a popular lunch spot along Western Avenue on Monday afternoon talking on the new iPhone that AT&T provided me for a one-week tryout.

I was there to show it off.

Parked at a table in the center of the busy restaurant, I whipped out the shiny new high-tech toy and proceeded to flaunt it for 45 minutes.

Important e-mails were read and sent, using the iPhone’s virtual keyboard that magically appears when any typing is needed. Web sites were accessed, appearing just as they do on a desktop or laptop computer. Tunes were cataloged on the device’s iPod. Photos were taken with the camera phone.

Nobody seemed to notice or even look my way.

Obviously, the crowd was suffering from a serious case of iPhone envy.  Their jealousy caused them to look the other way, even as I held it up to input an important appointment on the calendar.

So, I stepped it up a notch and took a very important phone call. I let the telephone ring several times before answering it. Loudly.

People continued their conversations at neighboring tables. I’m sure they were seething because they had no iPhone like the one that was providing me with such child-like wonder.

Meanwhile, I was seething at their ignorance. Or was it apathy?

Of course, they had no way of knowing that the very important phone call I took came from a coworker whom I had asked to call me at that time so I could make a show of taking a very important phone call.

I was engaged in animated conversation on the iPhone for several minutes when I looked around and noticed that the entire section of the restaurant was empty save for me.

I gave up, inserted the phone back into my shirt pocket and quietly walked to the car. Lunch was a bust.

When I walked back into the newsroom, my mood brightened. At least I had a captive audience who couldn’t run when I whipped the iPhone out. I could show off its many great features, from the easy YouTube access right on the main screen to the Google Maps button that let me see a great close-up satellite view of my house.

So, I walked into an editor’s office and pulled it out of my pocket. He was armed only with a Blackberry, which was suddenly relegated to old school technology status. The editor wanted to see the iPhone’s Web browser in action.

We had no WiFi network for the device to automatically find and use, so I called up a page using AT&T’s wireless network. We waited. And waited. Finally, we both had to go back to work.

“I’ll bring it back in when it’s feeling better,” I said, walking out.

On the way back to my desk I passed a co-worker I’ll call “Paul” and sprung the iPhone on him.

Just as I was about to list some bragging points of the device, he reached in his pocket and pulled out … an iPhone.

Paul had had it for a week and never told anyone until that moment. I almost quit on the spot.

Instead, I put the phone away and slinked back to my cubicle. An editor shouted some instructions from her desk.

“Write something about your experiences with the iPhone.”

Oh, great. Well, at least my wife liked the device until I told her about the $600 price tag. She made me put it in a drawer for safekeeping until I could give it back to AT&T.

iPhone, I hardly knew you.

Don’t criticize me! Steve Jobs shows how to respond to criticism

 

I’ve never responded particularly well to criticism.  I tend to have an instant reaction and lash out at the person providing the critique with words that I regret.  It’s something that I’m aware of and have to guard against constantly.

But it seems that I never handle it as well as I should. Call it a character flaw (among many).

Anyway, I saw this clip of Steve Jobs responding to an insulting question from an audience member at a 1997 developers conference. The guy wanted to show that Jobs didn’t know what he was talking about as far as software programming, along with a second question on what he had been doing the past seven years.

Jobs’ response blows me away. Instead of becoming angry and hurling an insult back at the guy (as I almost certainly would have), he sat and thought for several seconds. You can see that the wheels are turning as he formulates his answer and responds initially with a cliche about pleasing some of the people some of the time.  His long answer actually provided insight into why Apple developed products as it did.

Finally, he responds directly to the insult by admitting that he sometimes doesn’t know what he’s talking about and that mistakes will be made. At least someone is making some decisions for the company, he told the audience.  

Jobs’ response seems heartfelt and honest. It’s something I hope I can emulate in the future.  

I invite you to click on the video and watch Jobs respond to the insult.  I hope you find it as inspiring as I do.