How to Build a Cardboard-Box Raspberry Pi 2, Model B Computer with a 7″ Touchscreen LCD Display with Some Thoughts on Pedagogy

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My Cardboard Box Raspberry Pi 2, Model B with 7″ Touchscreen Display and wireless keyboard.

This guide demonstrates how to install Raspbian on a Raspberry Pi 2, Model B, connect the Raspberry Pi to a 7″ Touchscreen LCD, and integrate the computer and touchscreen in a cardboard box (which doubles as a case and storage for battery, keyboard, and cables).

I got interested in the Raspberry Pi, because it has many capabilities for learning: kitting out a computer, installing a Linux-based operating system, programming interactive software, and building with electronics. In particular, I am interested in how the Raspberry Pi can be used to create interactive software and be a platform for digital storytelling (which figures into one of the upcoming classes that I will be teaching at City Tech–ENG 3760 Digital Storytelling).

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My haul from Tinkersphere.

Instead of buying my kit online, I wanted to shop local to get started. Originally, I considered going to Microcenter, which is near where I live in Brooklyn. Unfortunately, they were sold out of the touchscreen display that I wanted. Instead, Y and I took a train into Manhattan and visited Tinkersphere where one of their helpful staff guided me to the things on my digital grocery list. I purchased Tinkersphere’s pre-made Raspberry Pi 2 kit, a 7″ Touchscreen LCD display, a battery pack (in retrospect, I should have purchased two of these, which I will discuss below), and a mono speaker with 1/8″ plug.

Tinkersphere's Raspberry Pi 2, Model B kit contents.

Contents of Tinkersphere’s Raspberry Pi 2, Model B kit.

Tinkersphere’s Raspberry Pi 2, Model B kit includes all of the basic equipment needed to begin working with this tiny computing platform. The kit is built around the Raspberry Pi 2, Model B computer with a 900MHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 CPU, 1GB RAM, 4 USB ports, 40 GPIO pins, HDMI port, ethernet port, combined 3.5mm audio jack and composite video, camera interface (CSI), display interface (DSI), micro SD card slot, and a VideoCore IV 3D graphics core. Additionally, the kit includes a wireless keyboard/trackpad, USB wifi adapter, 8GB micro SD card with NOOBS (the easy to use Raspbian installer), USB micro SD card reader, breadboard, wires, and 5v power supply.

To begin the setup, we should orient ourselves with the Raspberry Pi. This is the Raspberry Pi 2, Model B computer viewed from the top and the bottom:

Raspberry Pi 2, Model B, Top View.

Raspberry Pi 2, Model B, Top View.

 

Raspberry Pi 2, Model B, Bottom View.

Raspberry Pi 2, Model B, Bottom View.

The first thing that we need to do is insert the micro SD card with a copy of NOOBS pre-copied. If you need a copy of NOOBS for your own micro SD card, you can download it from here and follow the instructions here for formatting and copying the files from a Mac or PC to the micro SD card. The Raspberry Pi’s micro SD card slot is located on the bottom side of its circuit board. A micro SD card goes in only one way which allows you to press it in. If correct, the card should “click” and stay as seen in the photos below.

 

Insert the micro SD card like this.

Insert the micro SD card like this.

 

Press the micro SD card in and it will stay in place with a "click."

Press the micro SD card in and it will stay in place with a “click.”

 

The Raspberry Pi connected from left to right: micro USB power input from 5v power supply, HDMI, wireless keyboard/trackpad receiver, and wifi adapter.

The Raspberry Pi connected from left to right: micro USB power input from 5v power supply, HDMI, wireless keyboard/trackpad receiver, and wifi adapter.

Next, connect the Raspberry Pi to a display (such as a TV) with HDMI, and plug in the wifi adapter and wireless keyboard into two available USB ports. Alternatively, you can connect the Raspberry Pi to the Internet via ethernet and to a wired keyboard and mouse. Then, connect it to the 5v power supply. As soon as it is plugged in, the Raspberry Pi is turned on and operational. It will begin to boot from the micro SD card’s NOOBS installer, which will guide you through the process of installing Raspbian. See the images below to see what this looks like and what choices you should make for a basic installation.

NB: While we could have connected the 7″ Touchscreen Display to the Raspberry Pi before beginning the installation, the current version of NOOBS would not detect and use the touchscreen display. It is necessary for Raspbian to be installed and updated before the 7″ Touchscreen Display will be recognized and used as the Raspberry Pi 2’s primary display.

 

NOOBS boot screen with the Raspberry Pi logo.

NOOBS boot screen with the Raspberry Pi logo.

 

The NOOBS installer asks what you would like installed. Place a check next to Raspbian.

The NOOBS installer asks what you would like installed. Place a check next to Raspbian.

 

The NOOBS installer will ask that you confirm your choice. If you haven't already done so, choose US keyboard and locationalization at the bottom of the screen before proceeding. Then, confirm.

The NOOBS installer will ask that you confirm your choice. If you haven’t already done so, choose US keyboard and locationalization at the bottom of the screen before proceeding. Then, confirm.

 

The installation will proceed and complete. With the micro SD card that I have and without overclocking the Raspberry Pi, it took about 20-30 minutes for the installation to complete.

The installation will proceed and complete. With the micro SD card that I have and without overclocking the Raspberry Pi, it took about 20-30 minutes for the installation to complete.

After rebooting following the installation, the raspi-config tool launches. This program gives the user easy access to many configuration options for the Raspberry Pi including how it should boot (automatically login and load xwindows, or boot to a command prompt login), and if you would like to overclock the Raspberry Pi for additional performance (use this option with caution–you will likely want to add heat sinks and increased ventilation if you overclock the system). I configured my Raspberry Pi to operate at normal speed and to boot to the command line with login.

After booting into Raspbian, the first thing that you see is the login prompt.

After booting into Raspbian, the first thing that you see is the login prompt.


The default login for the Raspberry Pi is username “pi” and password “raspberry”. Type each of these credentials in when asked followed by pressing the Enter key. Then, you will find yourself at the command line interface (CLI).

Raspbian's CLI.

Raspbian’s CLI.

After logging in, you have a Linux command prompt (here is a list of helpful file system commands).

Before setting up the 7″ Touchscreen Display, we need to update Raspbian. To do this, first type: “sudo apt-get update”. If prompted to install anything because it will take a certain amount of space, simply type “y” and press “Enter”.

Entering a command at the prompt in Raspbian's CLI.

Entering a command at the prompt in Raspbian’s CLI.

To explain what this command means, “sudo” runs a command as superuser, or the user that is all powerful on a linux system. The command that you want to run as superuser is “apt-get,” which is a package manager, or a manager of software packages that run on your Raspberry Pi. “update” is a modifier for “apt-get,” and its purpose is to tell “apt-get” to update its index of available software packages with what is stored on the remote software repository (where your Raspberry Pi is downloading its software from).

After the update operation completes and you return to the command prompt, type: “sudo apt-get upgrade”. Similarly, agree to the prompts with “y” and “Enter”. The “upgrade” modifier to “apt-get” tells it to upgrade the software based on what it learned when updating its index with the previous command. Thus, when you run these two commands, you should run the update command first (learn) and the upgrade command second (act on what was learned).

To launch into Raspbian’s X11, type “startx”. Inside X11 or xwindows, you will find many of the GUI-based software that really makes the Raspberry Pi sing: Scratch, Python, Mathematica, and more. If you have never used X11, it works a lot like Windows 95/98 except that the Start Menu bar is at the top of the screen instead of at the bottom and “Start” is replaced by “Menu.” Some quick launch apps are directly available to be launched with a single click from the start bar (such as Terminal, the Epiphany web browser, and Wolfram Mathematica) while all of the installed X11 programs are available from the “Menu.” Below are images of the Raspbian desktop and navigating through some of the default programs available.

To easily install additional software, you can install the Synaptic Package Manager, which simplifies finding and installing software packages by wrapping package management in an easy-to-use GUI. From inside X11, open Terminal and type “sudo apt-get install synaptic”. This will install Synaptic, which you can open by clicking on Menu > Preferences > Synaptic Package Manager (more info on this and other Raspberry Pi stuff on Neil Black’s website).

When you done browsing around, you can click on the and choose to shut down. After a few moments, your display should show a blank screen and the activity lights on the back of the Raspberry Pi (red and green) should only be showing a solid red. At that point, unplug the micro USB 5v power adapter. If you are ready to install the 7″ Touchscreen Display, unplug the HDMI cable, too.

In the images below, I demonstrate how to assemble the 7″ Touchscreen Display and connect it to the Raspberry Pi. I followed the excellent instructions available on the official Raspberry Pi website, which also details how to install the Matchbox virtual keyboard for using the touchscreen without a keyboard.

To begin connecting the 7" Touchscreen Display to the Raspberry Pi, place the screen facing down.

To begin connecting the 7″ Touchscreen Display to the Raspberry Pi, place the screen facing down.

 

Screw in the standoff posts to hold the display controller card to the display. Connect the display and touchscreen wires as described on the official installation guide.

Screw in the standoff posts to hold the display controller card to the display. Connect the display and touchscreen wires as described on the official installation guide.

 

Insert the display cable to the video input on the controller card.

Insert the display cable to the video input on the controller card.

 

Place the Raspberry Pi above the display controller card and attach with the supplied screws that screw into the top of the standoff posts.

Place the Raspberry Pi above the display controller card and attach with the supplied screws that screw into the top of the standoff posts.

 

Connect the other end of the display cable into the output connector on the Raspberry Pi.

Connect the other end of the display cable into the output connector on the Raspberry Pi.

 

Use the supplied jumper wires to connect connect the power input of the display controller card...

Use the supplied jumper wires to connect connect the power input of the display controller card…

 

...to the power output leads on the GPIO pins on the Raspberry Pi. This is one of three possible powering configurations--the other two involve USB.

…to the power output leads on the GPIO pins on the Raspberry Pi. This is one of three possible powering configurations–the other two involve USB.

 

This is the rear of the 7" Touchscreen Display assembled with the controller card and Raspberry Pi.

This is the rear of the 7″ Touchscreen Display assembled with the controller card and Raspberry Pi.

 

This is the front of the 7" Touchscreen Display with the power leads sticking out from behind.

This is the front of the 7″ Touchscreen Display with the power leads sticking out from behind.

 

This is the Raspberry Pi powered up again with the 7" Touchscreen Display.

This is the Raspberry Pi powered up again with the 7″ Touchscreen Display.

 

Mose and Miao had lost interest in the project by this point.

Mose and Miao had lost interest in the project by this point.

 

To complete the project, I cut a hole into a Suntory shipping box from Japan that is the exact same size as the 7" Touchscreen Display box, which would work well, too. It is works well for holding up the Raspberry Pi and storing its accessories when I go between home and work.

To complete the project, I cut a hole into a Suntory shipping box from Japan that is the exact same size as the 7″ Touchscreen Display box, which would work well, too. It is works well for holding up the Raspberry Pi and storing its accessories when I go between home and work.

Of course, you can use the Raspberry Pi with or without a case depending on your needs. I used the Suntory cardboard box from Japan for practical reasons (thinking: William Gibson: “the street finds its own use for things”–it’s a good size, on-hand, and looks cool) and research reasons (thinking about my work on proto-cyberpunk and the hidden nature of computing, which is an idea explored in my previous blog post about the poster that I created for the 13th annual City Tech Poster Session).

I have run the computer and touchscreen from the 5v battery that I purchased from Tinkersphere, but I get a graphics warning that the Raspberry Pi is under voltage (a rainbow pattern square persists in the upper right corner of the display whether in the CLI or xwindows). I might get a second battery to run the display alone, which would help me troubleshoot if the battery that I have now is actually outputting enough voltage and amperage needed by the Raspberry Pi alone. In the meantime, I am running everything at my desk with the 5v power adapter, which provides ample power for the Raspberry Pi and 7″ Touchscreen Display.

In the future, I would like to use the Raspberry Pi in a writing or technical communication course. There are many ways to leverage the technology: problem solving, writing about process, creating technical documents such as reports and instructions, using the Raspberry Pi as a writing/multimodal composing platform, digital storytelling with tools that come with the Raspberry Pi, and more. These ideas are built only around the Raspberry Pi and its software. A whole other universe of possibilities opens up when you begin building circuits and integrating the Raspberry Pi into a larger project.

The basic cost of entry with the platform is $30 for the Raspberry Pi 2, Model B and a few dollars for an 8GB micro SD card. If you have access to a display with HDMI, a USB keyboard and mouse, and ethernet-based Internet access, you can get started with Raspberry Pi almost immediately. For a future grant application, I am imagining a proposal to purchase the basic needed equipment to use Raspberry Pi in an existing computer lab. I can bring the kits to each class where students can use them on different assignments that meet the outcomes for that course but in an engaging and challenging way that I think they would enjoy and would be beneficial to them in ways beyond the immediate needs of the class.

On this last point, I am thinking of working with digital technology in an a way many of my students will not have had a chance to before, feeling a sense of accomplishment, learning from one another on team-based projects, experiencing a sense of discovery with a computing platform that they might not have used before, and of course, communicating through the process of discovery in different ways and to different audiences. This might be something that you’re interested in, too. Drop me a line if you are!

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Posted in City Tech, Computers, Pedagogy, Technology

Before Cyberpunk: Science Fiction and Early Personal Computing (for the 13th City Tech Poster Session)

ellis-40x31_poster-template-landscape

For the New York City College of Technology, CUNY’s 13th Annual Research Poster Session, I created the poster embedded above to illustrate my current research on pre-cyberpunk science fiction (SF) about computing and personal computing. The poster discusses my focus and provides a timeline with SF about computing matched with key technological innovations that made the personal computing revolution in the late-1970s possible.

What I am interested in is the fact that William Gibson’s “cyberspace” captured the popular imagination about the metaphorical place where computing, processing, navigating, interacting, and communicating occurs, but some of the very good SF about computing that predates Gibson’s coining the term cyberspace failed to leave an indelible impression. Certainly, these stories were read and circulated, but the reach of their images and metaphors seem to have been limited in scope as compared to Gibson’s writing.

One of the ideas that I have had since creating the poster is that the idea of hidden computing or outlaw computing is something central to Vernor Vinge’s “True Names.” This, of course, features large in Gibson’s fictions, and it is the image that I am looking for in other SF of this transitional era.

At the poster session, I will carry my Raspberry Pi-based touchscreen-computer-in-a-Suntory-box-from-Japan to demonstrate the idea of hidden computing. I will post a step-by-step instruction post soon about assembling the Raspberry Pi-based computer and offer some additional thoughts about how I would like to use them in my technical communication classes.

In this post, I want to provide some of my notes and links to relevant resources as a record of the initial research that I did in preparation of this poster. It is my hope that it might lead to conversations and collaborations in the future.

 

Fiction Sources

Murray Leinster’s “A Logic Named Joe” (1946): Home computers connected to a large scale network. [Couldn’t fit within poster dimensions, but a significant work that needs mentioning.]

Isaac Asimov’s “The Fun They Had” (1951): Children discovering a print book are agog at what it represents while their classroom/desktop teaching computers flash mathematical fractions at them. [Couldn’t fit within poster dimensions, but another important work in this genealogy.]

Poul Anderson’s “Kings Who Die” (1962): Human-computer interface, according to Asimov and Greenberg in The Great SF Stories #24, “one of the first stories to address this question” (69).

Daniel F. Galouye’s Simulacron-3 (1964): Also published as Counterfeit World. Adapted as Welt am Draht/World on a Wire (1973). Simulated reality for artificial beings programmed to believe (except in the case of one character) that they are real and living in the “real world.”

Philip K. Dick’s A Maze of Death (1970): A crew in a disabled spacecraft while awhile their remaining lives in a computer generated virtual world.

John Brunner’s The Shockwave Rider (1975): Computer programming and hacking. First use of the term “worm” to describe a type of self-propagating computer program set loose on the computer network. Protagonist as outlaw.

[Five year gap during the personal computing revolution. Were the SF writers playing with their new personal computers?]

John M. Ford’s Web of Angels (1980): The “Web” is a communication and computing network connecting humanity. “Webspinners” are an elite group of programmers who can manipulate the Web in unique and unexpected ways. Protagonist as outlaw.

Vernor Vinge’s “True Names” (1981): Computing power hidden from view of a watchful government–literally under the floor boards. Early MMORPG/virtual reality experience of what was later called cyberspace. Protagonist as outlaw.

Damien Broderick’s The Judas Mandala (1982): First SF to use the terms “virtual reality” and “virtual matrix.” Protagonist as conspirator/outlaw?

 

Nonfiction Sources

Cavallaro, Dani. Cyberpunk and Cyberculture: Science Fiction and the Work of William Gibson. New Brunswick, NJ: Athlone Press, 2000. Print.

Ferro, David L. and Eric G. Swedin. Eds. Science Fiction and Computing: Essays on Interlinked Domains. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011. Print.

Kay, Alan C. “A Personal Computer for Children of All Ages.” ACM ’72 Proceedings of the ACM Annual Conference – Volume 1. New York: ACM, 1972. n.p. Web. 18 Nov. 2015.

Mowshowitz, Abbe. Inside Information: Computers in Fiction. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1977. Print.

Murphy, Graham J. and Sherryl Vint. Beyond Cyberpunk: New Critical Perspectives. New York: Routledge, 2010. Print.

Slusser, George Edgar and TA Shippey. Eds. Fiction 2000: Cyberpunk and the Future of Narrative. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1992. Print.

Stableford, Brian. Science Fact and Science Fiction: An Encyclopedia. New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.

Timeline of Computer History. Computer History Museum, 2015. Web. 18 Nov. 2015.

Warrick, Patricia. The Cybernetic Imagination in Science Fiction. Cambridge: MIT, 1980. Print.

 

 

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Posted in City Tech, Computers, Science Fiction

Collaborative, Vintage Computing Writing Project for ENG 1133 Specialized Communication for Technology Students at City Tech

R to L: Commodore 64, TRS-80, TI-99/4A, and Atari 800.

R to L: Commodore 64, TRS-80, TI-99/4A, and Atari 800.

In ENG 1133 Specialized Communication for Technology Students at City Tech this semester, I am rolling out a new major project focusing on creating documents based on a specific vintage computer. This project is an offshoot of my archival retrocomputing research (latest update here).

As in my other technical communication-based classes, I prefer students have an opportunity to learn how to write certain kinds of technical and business documents in a collaborative setting. They obtain the double benefit of learning the document genre and conventions while also negotiating collaborative writing practices that they will encounter in the workplace.

For this project, in teams of 4-5 students, they will create agendas, minutes, a research report, a bid/proposal, single-sourced documents (tri-fold brochure and owner’s manual), a document testing report, and a presentation. The documents that each team creates will be based on what they learn about a specific vintage computer. I assigned teams to one of four vintage computers that I obtained from Stan Kaplan at City Tech: Commodore 64, Radio Shack TRS-80, Atari 800, and Texas Instruments TI-99/4A (using a double integer sequence from random.org in front of the class). A copy of the assignment can be downloaded here: ellis-jason-eng1133-project2-2015-fall, and the class syllabus can be downloaded here: ellis-jason-eng1133-syllabus-2015-fall.

In addition to using library resources, students are encouraged to use Archive.org’s vast retrocomputing resources, holdings, and interactive features.

I am looking forward to learning from my students’ research and seeing their documents emerge from their collaborations.

Posted in City Tech, Computers, Pedagogy

CFP: Media Fails: What Flops, Fiascos, and Bungles Tell us About Media History, edited by Phoebe Bronstein and Carol Stabile

This edited collection sounds exciting and interesting. I am writing an abstract now to submit. You should, too!

Media Fails: What Flops, Fiascos, and Bungles Tell us About Media History

Ed. By Phoebe Bronstein and Carol Stabile

Media histories are generally told from the standpoint of industrial successes: the VHS and DVDs rather than the failure of Betamax and LaserDiscs; Skype and Facetime rather than videophones; the Nintendo Entertainment System rather than the Nintendo Virtual Boy; the iPhone rather than the Newton; and so on. Market successes, however, tell only one side of much more complicated stories about technological, industrial, and cultural change and innovation.

Alternative technologies and programs that were never introduced, introduced only to fail, that failed during the period in which they were introduced, but, like Arrested DevelopmentFirefly, and Veronica Mars, had second lives, provide rich counter-narratives that allow us to understand media history as a site of struggle and tension. This history is one built on epic failures, failures that later became successes, and failures that speak of untimely aspirations. In this collection, we hope to consider the role that failure plays in creating conditions for what ultimately succeeds, as well as failure’s potential as a site of imagination, innovation, and despair.

This collection sees failure as a productive site of inquiry for media studies in and of itself. Defining mediastudies broadly, the essays we seek will address what media failures can tell us about a given cultural, political, economic, and/or industrial moment. This volume is interested in the extent to which failure can be valuable in and of itself, as an analytic framework or way into considering the limits of specific historical moments. While we are asking that all contributions address the role of failure (whether economically, culturally, or politically) in the twentieth or twenty-first centuries, the editors are soliciting articles that address a wide range of topics for this collection, including, but not limited to, the following:

Television shows that were never produced or that ran for less than one season;

  • Television pilots that were never produced;
  • Films that flopped or were never produced;
  • Technological devices like the videophone or Google Glass;
  • Massively multiplayer online games that tanked;
  • Films or television shows that flopped;
  • Films or television shows that were never produced;
  • Social media that did not really take off (Napster, MySpace, Friendster, Google Plus).

Completed essays should be no more than 5,000 words in length, inclusive of notes and bibliographies. Please send 500 word abstracts and short bios to cstabile at uoregon.edu and phoebe.bronstein at lmc.gatech.edu by Dec. 1, 2015.

Posted in Science Fiction

Emanations 2+2=5 Published! Includes art, literature, criticism, and the surreal.

Emanations5Carter Kaplan’s unique blend of art, literature, criticism, and the surreal in his edited Emanations collections has achieved its fifth incarnation as Emanations 2+2=5. Information about the collection and the recent International Authors meeting in New York City (I’m happy to report that I was there), is included below:

Emanations: 2 + 2 = 5 edited by Carter Kaplan and International Authors

Two past lives plus two past lives equals five past lives. Two hand grenades plus two hand grenades equals five hand grenades. Two votes plus two votes equals five votes. Two speech crimes plus two speech crimes equals five speech crimes. Two laurel wreaths plus two laurel wreaths equals five laurel wreaths. Two genetically modified organisms plus two genetically modified organisms equals five genetically modified organisms. Two celebrities plus two celebrities equals five celebrities. Two political parties plus two political parties equals five political parties. Two decapitations plus two decapitations equals five decapitations. Two pandemics plus two pandemics equals five pandemics. Two financial crises plus two financial crises equals five financial crises. But two volumes of Emanations plus two volumes of Emanations equals FOUR volumes of Emanations. The addition of the fifth fake integer is embodied in this volume, and all it contains are real emanations.

International Authors’ fifth collection of fiction, poetry and essays, Emanations: 2 + 2 = 5 presents the work of sixty writers and artists from around the world.

Carter reports on recent International Authors’ meetings and events here:

In May of this year International Authors had a display table at the American Literature Association Conference in Boston.  I also reported on our operation in a conference session in which I related many of our participants’ views on the question of “The Place of American Literature in Emerging Global Anglophone Culture.”  Pictures and report here:

http://carterkaplan.blogspot.com/2015/05/international-authors-display-at.html

In August, International Authors hosted a meeting in New York City.  Pictures and report here:

http://carterkaplan.blogspot.com/2015/08/international-authors-meeting-in-ibm.html

Now, I have to get back to essay that I am going to submit for Emanations VI!

Posted in Science Fiction

Site Update: Course Syllabi and Assignments Added Under Teaching Section

Over the weekend, I added new pages under the Teaching menu option for the courses that I have taught, am teaching, and will teach. Each course page includes descriptions, syllabi, and assignments arranged chronologically by school:

If any of these materials might be useful to your course and assignment design, please feel free to adopt or modify as needed.

While assembling these pages, I discovered that some assignments and supporting materials were missing. Of course, it is best pedagogical practice to reflect and archive these kinds of materials for reference, improvement, and growth.

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Posted in City Tech, Georgia Tech, Kent State, Pedagogy, Science Fiction

The Debut of the Apple Disk II, Ambiguous Terminology, and the Effects of Memory: Digging Deeper into an Anecdote from Kirschenbaum’s Mechanisms

The first Apple Disk II and controller card hand wired by Wozniak. Photo taken at the Apple Pop-Up Museum in Roswell, GA.

The first Apple Disk II and controller card hand wired by Wozniak. Photo taken at the Apple Pop-Up Museum in Roswell, GA.

Matthew Kirschenbaum constructs a compelling and interesting argument in his book Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination (2008). He argues that while new media and computer software might seem ephemeral and intangible, it has in fact physicality, a many-layered history, and emerging archaeological protocols (developed by Kirschenbaum and many others).

However, one section titled “Coda: CTRL-D, CTRL-Z” attracted my attention, because its use of the term “recover” in a story about the debut of the Apple Disk II seemed to imply computer disk data recovery instead of what historically happened, which was the manual rewriting of the software that had been accidentally overwritten during a botched disk copy operation.

Kirschenbaum uses the story of Steve Wozniak and Randy Wigginton’s development of software to control the reading and writing of data to Apple’s Disk II, which was based on Shugart’s 5 1/4″ floppy disk drive, before its unveiling at the 1978 CES in Las Vegas to establish an analogy: “Nowadays we toggle the CTRL-D and CTRL-Z shortcuts, deleting content and undoing the act at a whim. Gone and then back again, the keyboard-chorded Fort and Da of contemporary knowledge work” (Kirschenbaum 69). The idea is that computer facilitate a kind of gone and back again play as described by Freud. Of course, the keyboard shortcuts that he refers to are not universal across platforms or software, but the concept is pervasive. Nevertheless, my focus is not on that concept per se but instead on the Apple Disk II debut anecdote, the terminology surrounding what actually happened, and how that relates to the kinds of work that we do in new media archaeology.

After introducing the story of the Apple Disk II’s debut at CES, Kirschenbaum cites a passage from Steven Weyhrich’s Apple II History website:

“When they got to Las Vegas they helped to set up the booth, and then returned to working on the disk drive. They stayed up all night, and by six in the morning they had a functioning demonstration disk. Randy suggested making a copy of the disk, so they would have a backup if something went wrong. They copied the disk, track by track. When they were done, they found that they had copied the blank disk on top of their working demo! By 7:30 am they had recovered the lost information and went on to display the new disk drive at the show.” (Weyhrich par. 13, qtd. in Kirschenbaum 69).

First, it should be noted that Weyhrich uses the term “recovered” to describe the way that the “lost information” was brought back from the brink of the overwritten disk. Then, Kirschenbaum reads Weyhrich’s account above in the following way:

“Thus the disk handling routines that took the nascent personal computer industry by storm were accidentally overwritten on the very morning of their public debut–but recovered and restored again almost as quickly by those who had intimate knowledge of the disk’s low-level formatting and geometry” (Kirschenbaum 69).

Weyhrich uses the term “recovered” to refer to the software Wozniak and Wigginton had lost during the bad copy operation. Kirschenbaum borrows Weyhrich’s “recovered” and adds “restored” to describe the final state of the software on Wozniak and Wigginton’s floppy disks for use on the CES show floor. When I first read Kirschenbaum’s book, his reading seemed unncessarily ambiguous. On the one hand, Kirschenbaum does not directly say that the two Apple engineers used their knowledge of controlling the disk drive and reading low-level information on the floppy disks to “recover” the lost data–i.e., use the drive and disk technology to salvage, rescue, or retrieve what remains on the disk but otherwise might seem lost to someone with less advanced knowledge. On the other hand, Kirschenbaum’s reading of the incident–“recovered and restored again almost as quickly”–is implicitly aligned with his own project of the physicality of data stored on new media storage devices. One could mistakenly believe that Wozniak and Wigginton had restored the lost data from the overwritten floppy disk.

Steven Wozniak writes about this episode in his autobiography, iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon (2006). Before turning to Wozniak’s later recall of this event in 1978, I would like to look at the two sources that Weyhrich cites on the passage that Kirschenbaum cites in his argument.

Weyhrich’s first of two footnotes on his passage points to page 168 of Gregg Williams and Rob Moore’s 1985 interview with Steve Wozniak titled, “The Apple Story, Part 2: More History And The Apple III” in the January 1985 issue of Byte magazine. In the interview, Wozniak tells them:

“We worked all night the day before we had to show it [the disk drive] at CES. At about six in the morning it was ready to demonstrate. Randy thought we ought to back it up, so we copied the disk, track by track. When we were done, he looked down at them in his hands and said, “Oh, no! I wrote on the wrong one!” We managed to recover it and actually demonstrated it at CES” (Williams and Moore 168).

In this primary source, we see Wozniak using  the term “recover” to indicate that they were able to get the demonstration operational in time for CES that day, but what form the “recovery” took place is not explained. Was it data recovery in the technical sense or data recovery in the hard work sense of re-writing the code?

Weyrich’s second footnote on his passage points to Paul Freiberger and Michael Swaine’s “Fire In The Valley, Part Two (Book Excerpt)” in the January 1985 issue of A+ Magazine. While I have been unable to find a copy of this magazine, I did refer to the book that this excerpt was taken from: Freiberger and Swaine’s Fire in the Valley (1984). On page 286, they write in regard to Wozniak and Wigginton’s disk dilemma at CES:

“Wigginton and Woz arrived in Las Vegas the evening before the event. They helped set up the booth that night and went back to work on the drive and the demo program. They planned to have it done when the show opened in the morning even if they had to go without sleep. Staying up all night is no novelty in Las Vegas, and that’s what they did, taking periodic breaks from programming to inspect the craps tables. Wigginton, 17, was elated when he won $35 at craps, but a little later back in the room, his spirits were dashed when he accidentally erased a disk they had been working on. Woz patiently helped him reconstruct all the information. They tried to take a nap at 7:30 that morning, but both were too keyed up” (Freiberger and Swaine 286).

Unlike Wozniak’s “recover” in the Williams and Moore interview above, Freiberger and Swaine use the term “reconstruct” in their narrative about the pre-CES development of the Disk II demonstration software. Unlike the term recover, which means to regain what is lost, reconstruct means to build something again that has been destroyed. Freiberger and Swaine’s selection of this term seems more accurate when considering what Wozniak says about this episode in his autobiography:

“We set up in our booth and worked until about 6 a.m., finally getting everything working. At that point I did one very smart thing. I was so tired and wanted some sleep but knew it was worth backing up our one good floppy disk, with all the right data. . . . But when I finished this backup, I looked at the two unlabeled floppy disks and got a sinking feeling that I’d followed a rote pattern but accidentally copied the bad floppy to the good one, erasing all the good data. A quick test determined that this is what happened. You do things like that when you are extremely tired. So my smart idea had led to a dumb and unfortunate result. . . . We went back to the Villa Roma motel and slept. At about 10 a.m. I woke up and got to work. I wanted to try to rebuild the whole thing. The code was all in my head, anyways. I managed to get the good program reestablished by noon and took it to our booth. There we attached the floppy and started showing it” (Wozniak and Smith 218-219).

In this account, Wozniak says that he is responsible for overwriting the good disk with the bad (as opposed to what he said to Williams and Moore for the 1985 Byte magazine interview), but most important is the terms that he uses to describe how he made things right: “I wanted to try to rebuild the whole thing.” He “reestablished” the program by reentering “the code . . . in [his] head” into the computer that they had on-hand. Wozniak’s word choice and description makes it clearer than in his earlier interview that he had to remake the program from memory instead of attempting to “recover” it from the overwritten media itself. While, it might have been theoretically possible for someone as well versed in the mechanism that by that point he had had a significant hand in redesigning from the original Shugart drive mechanism and controller card and of course his development with Wigginton of the software that controlled the hardware to read and write floppy disks in the Apple Disk II system (computer-controller card-disk drive), Wozniak, who reports throughout his autobiography as an engineer who works things out in head meticulously before putting his designs into hardware or software, took the easiest path to the solution of this new media problem: write out the software again from memory.

Memory, of course, is another tricky element of this story. It was my memory of Wozniak’s exploits that drew me to this passage in Kirschenbaum’s book. My memory of Kirschenbaum’s argument informed the way that I interpreted what I thought Kirschenbaum meant by using this episode as a way of making his Fort-Da computer analogy. Kirschenbaum’s memory of the episode as it had been interpreted secondhand in Weyhrich’s history of the Apple II informed how he applied it to his argument. Wozniak’s own memory is illustrated as pliable through the subtle differences in his story as evidenced in the 1985 Byte magazine interview and twenty-one years later in his 2006 autobiography.

Ultimately, the episode as I read it in Kirschenbaum’s Mechanisms was caught in an ambiguous use of language. The use of certain terms to describe the work that we do in new media–in its development, implementation, or daily use–relies on the terminology that we use to describe the work that is done to others–lay audience or otherwise. Due to the kind of ambiguity illustrated here, we have to strive to select terms that accurately and explicitly describe what it is we are talking about. Of course, primary and secondary accounts contribute to the possibility of ambiguity, confusion, or inaccuracy. Sometimes, we have to dig more deeply through the layers of new media history to uncover the fact that illuminates the other layers or triangulate between differing accounts to establish a best educated guess about the topic at hand.

Works Cited

Freiberger, Paul and Michael Swaine. Fire in the Valley: The Making of the Personal Computer. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1984. Print.

Kirschenbaum, Matthew G. Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008. Print.

Weyhrich, Steven. “The Disk II.” Apple II History. Apple II History, n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2015.

Williams, Gregg, and Rob Moore. “The Apple Story, Part 2: More History And The Apple III”, Byte, Jan 1985: 167-180. Web. 13 Sept. 2015.

Wozniak, Steve and Gina Smith. iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2006. Print.

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Posted in Apple, Computers, New Media, Technology
Who is Dynamic Subspace?

Dr. Jason W. Ellis shares his interdisciplinary research and pedagogy on DynamicSubspace.net. Its focus includes the exploration of science, technology, and cultural issues through science fiction and neuroscientific approaches. It includes vintage computing, LEGO, and other wonderful things, too.

He is an Assistant Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY (City Tech) where he teaches college writing and technical communication.

He holds a Ph.D. in English from Kent State University, M.A. in Science Fiction Studies from the University of Liverpool, and B.S. in Science, Technology, and Culture from Georgia Tech.

He welcomes questions, comments, and inquiries for collaboration via email at jellis at citytech dot cuny dot edu or Twitter @dynamicsubspace.

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