The Lenin Museum running on Apple II computers

The Soviet Union is long gone but Apple II computers still reside at the Lenin Museum, fully functioning and keeping the artifacts alive.

20 miles south of Moscow in Gorki Leninskiye lies the Lenin Museum (not to be confused with the Lenin Museum in Tampere, Finland).

Lenin died in the work settlement in 1924 and Gorki was renamed Gorki Leninskiye in his honour. But besides the homage to the former Communist leader, the Lenin Museum is home to a unique oddity: it runs on Apple II computers. That’s a remarkable feat for 2020 but Apple II’s were still a decade old when the museum opened in 1987 (they were discontinued in 1979).

The reason the museum uses Apple II computers at all was due to another technology: The Electrosonic ES4000. This from Atlas Obscura:

The Soviets were well-versed in the construction of impressive buildings, and the museum was designed by Leonid Pavlov, a constructivist architect who had already built several research and computing centers in a similar cuboid fashion. But creating machinery for a smaller-scale visual spectacle turned out to be a challenge. Lights, motors, and reel-to-reel players had to be synced to each other, each following a script to the second.

Fortunately, there was worldwide demand for equipment that could control such devices. In 1981, the British audiovisual company Electrosonic launched the ES4000. It was a set of computer accessories and software that helped technicians program the building blocks of multimedia exhibitions. The system was built into a computer Electrosonic was already using internally—the Apple II. (A 1987 copy of Apple User magazine spotlighted the ES4000.) The choice of an Apple machine simplified the distribution in many parts of the world. By sticking to a popular, off-the-shelf computer, the company could buy Apple computers locally and extend them with the ES4000 hardware later.

All rights reserved © Yuri Litvinenko
All rights reserved © Yuri Litvinenko

After working around a Soviet law that forbade trading directly with foreign companies, Electrosonic kept providing the hardware and the Lenin Museum is still fully functioning. However, according to Boris Vlasov, Deputy Director of Research at Gorki Leninskiye Museum-Reserve, maintenance of the Apple II’s are the responsibility of former staff, “who come out of retirement just to provide upkeep to the machines”.

The Version Museum

Relive the days of System 7, Photoshop 1.0, and Windows 95 with the Version Museum.

Ever wanted to see what the biggest websites and apps looked like in the 90s or 00s? You’ve got The Wayback Machine but with Version Museum, you get more than just sites:

Version Museum showcases the visual history of popular websites, operating systems, applications, and games that have shaped our lives. Much like walking through a real-life museum, this site focuses on the design changes of historic versions of technology, rather than just the written history behind it.

Version Museum launched in May 2019 and curated content is added regularly (without looting from nations in colonial wars).

Examples of sites, games, and interfaces include:

The Windows 95 welcome dialog box

If you need a trip down tech memory lane, I urge you to visit Version Museum. What’s more, entry is free and, by visiting, you’re automatically adhering to social distancing (but you should still use hand sanitiser if you don’t have access to soap and water).

Forgotten software: HyperCard

HyperCard influenced some of today’s most well known programming languages but most people today have never heard of it.

Last July, Samuel Arbesman wrote about forgotten software that inspired our modern world and told the story of Apple’s HyperCard. The software and dev kit was made for Apple Macintosh and Apple IIGS computers and predated the World Wide Web as a hypermedia system. Computer engineer and designer Bill Atkinson brought HyperCard to life in 1987, calling it “an erector set for building applications.”

Simply put, you could build your own software using HyperCard, with each program made up of “stacks” of “cards”. Each card could contain text and images, as well as interactive elements like buttons, with the ability to interconnect between other cards. Think of these stacks as rudimentary websites of sorts that exist entirely on a single machine, with each card as a page.

HyperCard used an object oriented language called HyperTalk for data manipulation and the interface and used syntax that was easy for beginners to understand. Lines of code read like human sentences, for example:

put the first card field into theValue
repeat with i = 1 to the number of card fields
    hide field i
end repeat

The concept paved the way for software that surpassed it such as wiki and Hopscotch.

HyperCard was a gateway to programming and was what first got me comfortable with the idea of coding. It’s probably not ridiculously hyperbolic to say that it inspired an entire generation of future software developers to think computationally. The developer of the original “wiki” software – the foundation for Wikipedia – was inspired by HyperCard. At least one of the current crop of Apple engineers also credit it for getting them into programming. And Samantha John, co-creator of children’s programming tool Hopscotch, says it inspired the software she’s helping to build.

Unfortunately, as many things do in tech, the HyperCard died out by 1998 when Apple stopped updating it and stopped selling it altogether in 2004. Arbesman called out some of the latest spiritual alternatives to HyperCard including Scratch, Glitch, and “bridging” tools like IFTTT and Zapier but, in his own words, “it’s time to go out and recapture that HyperCard feeling.”

macOS Big Sur public beta is out now

Apple says goodbye to OS 10 with Big Sur as it releases its public beta. But is it worth getting right away?

macOS fans rejoice! The public beta for macOS Big Sur is out as of 5th August and it’s a significant change for multiple reasons.

Firstly, it’s the first OS 11 version as a nod to Apple’s transition of the Mac line to Apple Silicon. The location naming convention continues (I had to look up what Big Sur was but Wikipedia tells me it’s a “rugged and mountainous section of the Central Coast of California between Carmel Highlands and San Simeon” so maybe the next one will be called San Simeon.)

In terms of aesthetics, Big Sur is a big step in the homogenisation of Apple’s device UIs. App icons and menus are more rounded with more padding around text (a style dubbed “neumorphism”), iOS’s Control Center is now included, and according to Apple, on Macs based on Apple silicon, macOS Big Sur will run iOS and iPad-specific apps natively and without any modifications for Macs.

Minimum system requirements

To use macOS Big Sur, you’ll need:

  • MacBook: Early 2015 or newer
  • MacBook Air: Mid 2013 or newer
  • MacBook Pro: Late 2013 or newer
  • Mac Mini: Late 2014 or newer
  • iMac: Mid 2014 or newer
  • iMac Pro
  • Mac Pro: Late 2013 or newer
  • Developer Transition Kit (2020)

Initial thoughts

I avoid updating to the newest macOS version (so I’m on Mojave and Catalina is the current stable version). My old university tutor taught me this to avoid any compatibility issues. That and it’s safer, avoids catching bugs and prevents me frantically backing up data or fearing I’ve lost any.

That’s why I won’t be getting Big Sur for another 18 months or so and I’m glad for that because I don’t like the homogeny with iOS/iPadOS’s UI. iPhones, iPads, and Macs exist to serve different purposes and by making them all look and feel the same, it’ll confuse people—what should I buy?

Of course, Apple don’t care as long as you buy something they’ve made and Apple enthusiasts will buy all their products regardless. But, as I write this article on a Macbook Pro with the shittiest keys I’ve ever used on a device, I won’t be falling for this trap. macOS Big Sur is for people who chase the future like it’s already happening.

My advice: wait a while.

You can watch a great review of it below.

The Verge releases its Tech Survey for 2020

The tech-news publication asks Americans about their trust in big tech companies like Apple and Facebook and much more.

Last year, I wrote about Google’s questionable status as a meritocracy and looked at a range of decisions made by the company. Alongside Facebook, there isn’t a lot of trust in them or big tech companies as a group.

But these feelings aren’t new. In 2016, The Verge conducted its first-ever national tech survey after POTUS #45 was elected to gauge how much Americans trusted tech giants. The results were unsurprising: they were “increasingly skeptical of Facebook” but that didn’t stop them from using the platform and its products. Feelings towards Amazon were the opposite.

In the Tech Survey, conducted in December 2019, things were a little different. Taken from the results:

  • 56% said the government should “break up tech companies if they control too much of the economy”
  • 72% said that Facebook has “too much power”
  • 51% said Google and YouTube should “be split into separate companies”

But the respondents also thought Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Netflix, and YouTube had an “overall positive effect on society” while Twitter and Facebook had the opposite effect.

What it tells me is despite all the news about Facebook’s lack of care for news and accurate information during the 2016 election and beyond, people don’t care that much because they like the platform. They want Google and YouTube to be separate but they think they’re good for society. Basically, until anything bad happens to them, they’re okay.

The Apple Archive Is An Advert Treasure Trove

If you love marketing, you’ll love The Apple Archive, home to decades of Apple’s ads and branding.

If you love marketing, you’ll love The Apple Archive, home to decades of Apple’s ads and branding.

I’ve been working in digital marketing for nearly a year now and Apple’s marketing over the last few decades has been inspirational. Whether their marketing has outweighed the quality or moral implications of their products is another story but it’s helped the company reached a market value of $1 trillion in 2018.

But do you remember all those ads from the 80s, 90s, 00s, and beyond? Whether you do or you’ve never seen them before, The Apple Archive has you covered. The unofficial project is lead by Sam Henri Gold, a digital archivist, marketer, and graphic designer (pretty much covering all the jobs I’ve ever wanted to do in the last 15 years).

He calls The Apple Archive a dedication to “the unsung studio designers, copywriters, producers, ADs [artistic directors], CDs [creative directors], and everyone else who creates wonderful things”. But it’s not just ads and branding. The site also features over event videos, press photos, documentation, and so much more. You can even find the SE/30 in there.

The good news is The Apple Archive is regularly updated and Rogue Ameoba has kindly contributed to the costs of running the site.

So, if you want to see the evolution of Apple’s Macintosh line from beige plastic to clear plastic to space grey aluminium, you can. And if you’re a digital marketer like me (and Sam), and you need a masterclass in copywriting brevity, look no further.

rhyal.com is website hosted on a Macintosh SE/30

In an era of solid-state drives and cloud computing, rhyal.com is a relic of the past. But the website tells an important story.

My first ever website was on Geocities and most of the hyperlinks didn’t go anywhere. It was half-finished but I was desperate to get it online. I was 11 at the time and I didn’t even have full access to the internet.

It’s incredible knowing I’ve been active on the Web for 20 years. Some of the biggest sites around are much younger than that. And some are even older. rhyal.com is by no means the oldest but the technology running it is as old as me.

As it says on the site, rhyal.com is being hosted and served by a Macintosh SE/30 running MacOS 7.5.5. Because of that, all you get is a dithered GIF image, lots of unstyled text, and an archaic guestbook. Remember those? Before commenting systems like Disqus, there were guestbooks.

Tech specs for Rhyal.com

But anyone who knows about computing will understand you can’t just put a website on 30-year-old computer and hook up and ethernet cable. So, to ensure it runs smoothly, the webmaster upgraded the Macintosh SE/30 with:

  • A custom 32-bit ROM
  • 68MB of RAM (previously 2MB)
  • 4GB SSD (previously a 8MB internal SCSI hard drive)

There were other modifications too, including adding ethernet capabilities (as seen in this Imgur collection). The project is the creation of sales engineer Huxley Dunsany who said he just wanted to see if it could be done.

Rhyal.com in all its glory

What is a Macintosh SE/30?

As you can see above, it looks pretty old. Apple sold the PC for two years between 1989-1991.

The SE/30 was the first compact Mac to come with a 1.44 MB high-density floppy disk drive. It was powerful enough to produce This Week Newspaper, the first colour UK tabloid to use a desktop in this way.

It retailed for $4,369 in 1989 (over £7,000 in today’s money) but you can pick up a Macintosh SE/30 on eBay for around £200.

Sometimes, popularity needs a reboot

After rhyal.com was featured on Slashdot, the site grew to over 20,000 visits. But not even Dunsany’s mods can handle large visitor counts. Apparently, the computer manually reboots once the “sequential visitors count runs past ~1000” likely due to an overflow issue with the software running the site.

And the URL? Rhyal is Dunsany’s son’s name. He said he felt he might have wanted his own domain name when he was older. Almost cooler than a trust fund.

Rhyal.com and the bare necessities

But Huxley Dunsany’s mini-project tells an important story about the Web as a whole and what you actually need to create technology in our post-Information Age. Websites are disappearing from the Internet due to obsoletion and deletion. It’s upgrade or die in so many ways, so it seems remarkable to see someone in 2019 make a few adjustments to an Apple computer from 1989 and get a website live.

But not only is it live – people are visiting regularly and leaving comments using rhyal.com’s guestbook. So many web services tell us what the present is and what the future will be. But sites like rhyal.com show that ingenuity and imagination can see past capitalism buzzwords and ideology and get consumers to use the most basic of technology to communicate.

Billions of tweets, Instagram comments, and Facebook statuses are left every day and people have no trouble visiting a site that wouldn’t look out of place when I was a baby. And leave comments in Times New Roman. Rhyal.com also shows that you don’t need to spend a lot on top-of-the-range hardware and software to just get a site on the internet. That’s all this is. Fundamentally, it’s another node on the World Wide Web.

Consumers SHOCKED That Expensive iPhone Still Breaks

I don’t know what people expected from a device made of plastic and glass but here we are. Videos and tweets have been published showing the fragility of the iPhone X. Apple claimed their iPhone X was “the most durable glass ever in a smartphone”, but SquareTrade put that to the test and it didn’t work out so well. After a few 6ft “drop and tumble tests” they concluded it was “the most breakable, highest-priced, most expensive to repair iPhone ever”. Well, colour me surprised! These tests seem redundant; of course, if you drop your phone it’ll break. But the thought is it shouldn’t break so easily. If you’re prepared to pay £1000 on a mobile phone (that figure still blows my mind), you’ll be hoping it can survive a drop without malfunctioning. Water damage used to be the main avoidance for iPhones as many insurance companies didn’t pay out if it went for a swim in your toilet bowl. Now you have to beat the power of gravity in all its 20mph speed.

Or you could get a Nokia.

(via The Guardian)

Apps – The Real iPhone Killer

There are countless articles asking whether the latest phone is an “iPhone killer.” Android phones are more globally abundant than iPhones but that hasn’t impeded their dominance. Apple has created a cult around their products for years, and the iPhone is no exception. But you can’t “kill” anything Apple makes. The iPhone will be ever popular until Apple decides to bring in a new product. It’s about co-existence.
 
The closest thing we have to an “iPhone killer” is the software on the iPhone itself. Wired published an article on 10th October discussing whether Apple makes their own iPhones “obsolete”. This would create a demand for their expensive supply. The truth is, they don’t. At least not through reduced capability. That’s the fault of the apps.
 
Apps need more resources from your phone as time goes on. They demand more CPU, GPU power, RAM, battery power, permissions. We also want more from the apps themselves and developers try to answer those questions. Apple – and other phone manufacturers – cater for this with increased power and newer devices. Android devices are said to “suffer more from a related but different problem. Developers rarely optimize for all devices and some older smartphones don’t even receive OS updates.
 
Does that mean you should never download apps to preserve your phone? No. That’s not workable anyway. Like us all, your phone is going to die at some point or become obsolete beyond repair. Are you still using Windows 95? Or a rotary telephone (unironically)? Question whether you need so many apps. Reduce your phone usage. Turn your phone off at night or turn airplane mode on. Battery life is a major concern for phones as they grow old. Don’t forget, these devices are about the size of your PALM. They compute millions of calculations every second. They can only last so long with the demand we put on them.