|Apple I Replica Creation: Back to the Garage|
|author||Tom Owad, John Greco|
|summary||A confused book that is thin on details.|
I read the Foreword and was put off -- it had no discussion about what to expect in the book, nothing about Tom Owad, or even Vince Briel; it seemed to be a letter from Steve Wozniak discussing the Apple I and its place in history.
Moving on into the book, in the first chapter I read about several people that own (or have owned) genuine Apple I -- and while this was interesting, and helped to get me in the mindset of mid-seventies computing, I felt this too had little to do with the stated purpose of the book -- building an Apple I replica. Personally, I would have put this chapter in the back of the book, most likely as an Appendix, since the reader must have some knowledge of the Apple I before they picked up the book, and these stories do little to describe the hardware we are going to build.
The next two chapters -- "Tools and Materials" and "Digital Logic" -- provide thin overviews on building electronics projects in general, and an overview of Digital Logic. I contend that if you've never picked up a soldering iron, you shouldn't make your first effort a computer, no matter how "simple" this one is (and it is pretty straightforward, just a handful of chips with no tricky analog "adjustments" to make), and if you want to learn about Digital Logic, you'd be well served to focus on the material as covered in Charles Petzold's classic tome Code.
Next we have a chapter on building the Replica I -- there are no real insights provided, no hints or tips that relate to the reader that the author even built his own Replica I. In fact, the author includes a quote from someone who built his own Replica I, but by the end of the included story, this person hasn't gotten it working yet. Since this story was (apparently) written well in advance of the book being published, why not include an update indicating that Vince was able to get his Apple I replica up and running? (By all accounts, Vince is very helpful to those that buy his kits.)
There are almost 4 pages dedicated to the McCAD program included with the book on CD-ROM, but unless you are familiar with CAD/circuit design software, you will finish the four pages with precious little understanding of how to actually use the software, or how to turn the circuits you designed into actual printed circuit boards.
Moving on, we have a chapter on programming the Replica I in BASIC -- this chapter provides only the barest minimum information on the BASIC included with the Replica I. This BASIC is Integer only, and was written by Steve Wozniak personally. While BASIC once was a very common language (it used to be included in ROM on almost all consumer and business personal computers, before Disk Drives became commonplace), it merits a better overview than the author provides. The original Apple I BASIC Manual (available from Vince Briel's website) does a better job describing the language. The author includes an extensive dissection of a larger BASIC program (a simple text-based role-playing game), but gets lost in describing how the program works. I was left with the feeling that the larger BASIC program was included to pad the section on BASIC programming.
Then we move on to programming the Replica I in Assembler -- here the author cuts so many corners (he even reduces the now-obligatory "Hello, World" program to a much shorter text message "H W" to save space) that the reader is left with only a hint of what can be done with the Replica I in assembler. Again, material appears to be added to the book to pad out the chapter, including one of three separate ASCII Character charts, all the Op Codes of the 6502 CPU listed in several different ways (both in this chapter and in the Appendices), and the thinnest of details in the "detailed" views of each Op Code (Op Codes are the instructions used to build a program in assembler).
Next we come to a chapter entitled "Understanding the Apple I" -- what this chapter is doing in the back of the book is beyond me, since understanding the Apple I is, you know, the whole point of this book, right? The information provided is fairly technical, but does little to provide the reader with the information needed to actually design/build anything based on the Apple I design. Note that while this book is about building an Apple I replica, it is not a "clone" -- where the original had 8K of RAM, this unit has 32K of RAM, provided by one chip instead of the original 16 chips on the Apple I. This unit is functionally identical to the Apple I, but the circuit design is greatly simplified over Woz's original design (based on about 30 years of progress in the computer industry). As a concession to the realities of the current computer market, the Replica I also uses an "AT" power supply, and can use a PS/2 keyboard in place of the ASCII keyboards popular in the mid-seventies. These changes make the Replica I a more convenient project to attempt, while retaining the original programming environment of the Apple I.
Now we enter into the Appendices -- we have another ASCII Character Chart as Appendix 1 (there are three total, if memory serves me correctly), then three appendices which simply list all the Op Codes of the 6502 processor three different ways. Again, these appear to be added simply as filler material to add heft to the book -- the author adds nothing to these sections, and they repeat information covered elsewhere in the book.
Next we have an Appendix on "Hacking Macintosh": this is the clearest case of padding a book I've ever seen -- the author describes how to take a Macintosh SE and replace the case with "Lego-type" blocks -- a trivial hack, unrelated to the Apple I in any way, and a potentially dangerous activity, because you are exposing high voltage electronics by removing the manufacturer's original case with its shielding and protection. Then we have a slightly more technical hack in the "UFO Mouse" hack -- adding an LED to the original iMac UFO mouse. Then we have our final Mac Hack -- wrapping the interior case of a Mac Cube system with decorative wrapping paper and placing the now "beautiful" system back in the clear plastic case. This is a hack? How does this relate to the Apple I?
The final appendix is titled "Electrical Engineering Basics" -- and while it does a reasonable job of describing what various components do (like resistors, capacitors, diodes and transistors), there is no reference to take the reader to a place where they can learn to build things of any sophistication (like, say, a computer, perhaps?). I was left asking the question, if this material is needed by the target reader, why are they attempting to build a Replica I computer? If the target reader doesn't need it, why is it included? We also are treated to our second set of instructions on how to solder -- again, why was this included in the book?
In the end, I have no idea who the target audience market is for this book, and I felt the book had no central theme -- it seemed to be a bunch of material culled (I can only assume) from the author's Apple Fritter web site. This book was too "light" to be of any real use to an experienced electronics person looking to design an "Apple I-inspired" system, and there is precious little material for the electronics novice who wants to build Vince Briel's Replica I kit that isn't provided by Vince either on his site or in the included assembly instructions and original Apple I documentation.
I noted numerous errors in the book, and attempted to forward them to the publisher for inclusion in the next printing of the book, but after finishing the book, I suspect there will be no need for a reprinting. I say attempted, because my email to the publisher bounced, but I was able to send my notes to the technical reviewer of the book, and I have sent my notes to Vince as well, for his reference.
I found this book to be confused (no clear narrative/theme/idea), cluttered (why three ASCII charts? Why Mac Hacks?), and to contain many typos/errors. In the final analysis, unless you simply have to have this book because it is about the Apple I, I'd say save yourself the cost of the book, and simply order a pre-assembled Replica I from Vince Briel -- the money you save by not buying the book ($39.95 Suggested retail price) will almost exactly cover the price difference between the unassembled Replica I and the the assembled version (currently $40 US).
You can purchase Apple I Replica Creation: Back to the Garage from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.