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.

Social Media Workshop on Professionalization and Pedagogy, May 12, 2015, 3:00-4:00PM

Twitter_logo_blueToday, I’m leading a workshop on social media as a tool for professionalization and as a tool for pedagogy. I am including some of the details from the workshop flyer below. You can download the flyer here: ellis-jason-socialmedia-workshop and my workshop notes here: ellis-jason-social-media-workshop.

Social Media Workshop on Professionalization and Pedagogy

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


Namm 321 Conference Room

Organizer: Jason W. Ellis | Email: jellis at citytech dot cuny dot edu | Twitter: @dynamicsubspace

Social media is an increasingly important communication tool for our students and us. We are integrating it into our daily practices, and it, like any new communication medium, is changing the way we think and connect with others.

As scholars, we can leverage social media to promote our research, share ideas with colleagues, and collaborate on projects and network building. As educators, we can guide and mentor our students in responsible and meaningful ways of using social media.

In this workshop, we will discuss several popular social media platforms that we can use in our professionalization and pedagogy, and develop rhetorically grounded strategies for using social media as scholars and educators.

Some of the professional strategies discussed will include: sharing and promoting our work, and establishing and maintaining professional networks. Some of the pedagogical areas addressed will include: composition, and professional and technical writing.

Please bring your questions, ideas, and experiences, or if you can’t make it, let’s continue the discussion online!

Discussion topics and other resources are listed on the reverse side.

Some Topics for Discussion:

  • Rhetoric and Multimodality (WOVEN: written, oral, visual, electronic, and nonverbal)
  • Audience(s)
  • Network Building (breadth versus depth)
  • Risk Assessment
  • Online Identity, Metadata, and Commodification of the Self
  • Managing an Emergent Online Identity
  • Social Media Assignments for Composition and Technical Communication
  • Personal versus Professional Spheres, or Is There a Division?
  • Assignment Ideas
  • Reflection Exercises

Some Social Media Platforms Discussed:

Resources Discussed:

Science Fiction, LMC3214: Final Paper Topics Were On a Broad Spectrum of SF Media

I just finished grading my students’ final paper projects. Their task was to use several definitions of SF from a list that I had prepared for them (or others that they found on their own and properly cited) to evaluate whether a work that we had not discussed in class was SF or not. Through this analysis, they would come up with their own definition/litmus test for SF.

I was very happy to read papers on a variety of SFnal works, including:

  • Joseph Kosinski’s film, TRON: Legacy (which I had reviewed for the SFRA Review before)
  • AMC’s production of The Walking Dead
  • H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness
  • Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game
  • Tommaso Landolfi’s Cancerqueen (Cancroregina)
  • Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower
  • Halo: Combat Evolved (and its supplementary material in print)
  • David Brin’s Startide Rising
  • Marc Forster’s film, World War Z
  • Ridley Scott’s film, Blade Runner
  • Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World
  • Richard Schenkman’s film, The Man from Earth
  • X-COM: UFO Defense

This list reveals that my students were interested in SF across a spectrum of media. There were papers on six literary works, four films, one television series, and two video games (this is further blurred by the video game/print crossover material).

For those students who talked with me about their papers, I am particularly happy with the way their papers turned out. Having had those conversations, I can see a snapshot along their paper’s developmental process, which gives me better insight into the work that they likely did to push their arguments further than what we had discussed in class. Reflecting on this, I will add conference time to my future SF classes that meet over a full semester, but I will do more to have these smaller conversations with students–perhaps before class or during our daily break time–to get a better sense of their research and developing argument.

Notes from the State of Black Science Fiction Film Festival 2013

State of Black Science Fiction Festival Poster
State of Black Science Fiction Festival Poster

Tonight, it was standing room only in Georgia Tech’s Hall Building Room 102 for the 2013 State of Black Science Fiction Film Festival. Co-presented by the School of Literature, Media, and Communication and the State of Black Science Fiction Collective, it presented a number of cutting edge and independent films and opened conversation between filmmakers, writers, and critics. Professor Lisa Yaszek introduced the festival and Georgia Tech’s long history with science fiction via her predecessor Bud Foote, and Milton Davis and Balogun Ojetade organized the festival, introduced the films, and lead the post-screening panel discussion.

All of the films were exceptionally great! I have listed the films shown below with links to the video or more information where available.

Clayton Ziga’s “I am Designer” imagines a world where adoptive children can be surgically and technologically redesigned to meet the wants of their adoptive parents. It is available on vimeo here.

Matthew Savage’s dieselpunk, noirish short film “Reign of Death,” pits a gumshoe against an allegedly murderous robot. I really liked the integration of the CGI robot with the Sin City-esque visual feel of the moving picture. You can watch it here.

Tommy Bottoms showed off his webseries, “Eternal.” It was billed as “True Blood meets The Wire,” and it combines the gritty reality of life with action and humor. In the episodes that we saw, I have to say that my favorite line of the whole night came when the main character Josh Davis, not understanding how the vampires around him seemingly vanish in thin air, exclaims, “Fucking magic tricks!” You can watch it here.

We caught a glimpse of Teresa Dowell-Vest’s “Genesis: New American Superheroes,” which is about a couple who survived the Tuskeegee Experiment, went on to become scientists, and bestow science-derived gifts to their their five children: Tage/Power of Earth, Xavier/Power of Water, Xander/Power of Fire, Jordan/Power of Wind, and Quincey/Power of Technology and Knowledge. You can watch the sneak peak here, too.

Bree Newsome treated the audience to her Southern tale of horror titled, “Wake.” A woman gets more than she bargains for when she conjures a man to marry after ridding herself of her controlling father. Besides being creepy, disturbing, and occasionally funny, I enjoyed its playful use of language. You can watch it online here.

Balogun Ojetade showed the audience an excerpt from the larger steamfunk project titled, “Rite of Passage: Initiation.” In the scene, Harriet Tubman challenges her student Dorthy to a martial arts contest. You can watch it on Youtube here.

Finally, Donnie Leapheart presented two episodes of his action-packed webseries Osiris. This SF thriller is about a seemingly immortal man fighting back against corporate interests who want to commoditize and sell his ability to live forever. The two episodes that we saw were slick and clever. I was also impressed by the high production value of this series made for the web. Watch it online and learn more about the series here.

Audience and panelists at the State of Black SF Film Festival.
Audience and panelists at the State of Black SF Film Festival.

After the screening, Davis and Ojetade lead a panel discussion with Teresa Dowell-Vest, Donnie Leapheart, Tommy Bottoms, Bree Newsome, and Steve Barnes (writer, critic, and martial artist). What follows are my notes and paraphrasing from the conversation.

Question: What makes something black SF?

Bottoms: It can be the production side, actors, or story. However, anyone should be able to enjoy these films, not necessarily an exclusive black audience.

Dowell-Vest: She aims to create a body of work that transcends race and is enjoyable to a broad audience.

Leapheart: He embraces the idea of black SF, because he knows that there are black nerds, but they don’t get represented. Since SF is the biggest grossing genre for a broad audience, why are not more black filmmakers putting their voice out there in SF to reach that audience?

Barnes: He breaks down the definitions of SF, fantasy, and horror to help develop the terminology of the discussion. Broadly speaking, all fiction is fantasy, because fiction is not real. However, what we think of as fantasy involves a world that is unlike our own and operates by a set of rules significantly different than our own. SF is a subset of fantasy that must follow the rules of science, but it can be allowed to break one rule–such as time travel–to produce stories around: what if, if only, and if this goes on. Horror is another subset of fantasy in which the dominant mode is fear and it generates dread in the audience. There are many different kinds of horror: SF horror, fantasy horror, psychological horror, etc.

Question: How and why are black people portrayed negatively in the media?

Newsome: Where do we start!?

Bottoms: Right now, our culture embraces this as entertainment. At least in the past with Blaxploitation, social consciousness and positive endings were an integral part of the early wave of these films.

Newsome: We are fighting and combating stereotypes. Media is not separate from the social world.

Barnes: Negative portrayals are likely not something done with conscious intent, but are the way people actually thought. Put another way, they are not trying to make a group look negative. Instead, they are simply presenting their internalized beliefs. Furthermore, it has a lot to do with one group in a superior position defining itself against others.

Leapheart: We can blame the media, whites, etc., but if you look online there are many negative videos produced by blacks with loads of views and other positive videos with very few views. Is art imitating life or life imitating art? Should we give people what they want (or think that they want), or do we keep doing our own thing?

Dowell-Vest: She is concerned about the declining representation on television. At one point, we had a menu of options (e.g., Cosby, A Different World, In Living Color, etc.), but now it seems to be all on the shoulders of the character Olivia Pope in the show Scandal. If she were played by a white woman, would we be having this conversation? She sees a cycle of fight-struggle-complacency, and she worries that we are now in a period of complacency. True art and storytelling come from bucking the status quo.

Barnes: In the history of network television, there have only been four successful black-starring hour-long dramas. This is why so much rides on Olivia Pope and Scandal. He also mentioned the TV series Deception.

Newsome: Waits for a time when we don’t have to rely on only one show to represent all black people.

Question: What is the future of black film (while considering Quintin Tarantino’s Django Unchained)?

Bottoms: Don’t tell someone that they can’t make a film. If you think that you can do it better, then you go out and make it. He enjoyed Django Unchained despite the problems that some people had with its language–how else could you do it, he asked?

Barnes: Loved Django Unchained. He went to see it with one of Louis Farrakhan’s body guards, who laughed his ass off. Only five directors could have pulled off this film, and four didn’t want to do it. Taratino grew up around black people, and he represented what he knew from his perspective. Anyone can write about others’ experiences, and we have a right to disagree with their perspective. A good thing about Django Unchained is that it proved that a movie with central black characters can sell to an international audience. He asked the audience a pointed question: When was the last time that you saw a film with slaves? Amistad? No, it debated their freedom. Beloved? They were ex-slaves. This is the third rail of cinema, and Taratino is crazy enough to go there and he made people laugh doing it. The film is not a perfect thing, but it is a good thing.

Dowell-Vest: She is from Virginia, and for her, Nat Turner is very real history. There is something significant about that moment when the oppressed have their time or their revenge. It can be soul serving or spiritually serving. She felt that Taratino had given her what she needed.

Newsome: You can’t say he can’t make something because of his race, because then, you say that I can’t make a kind of film due to my race.

Leapheart: Concerned that despite the high a film like this might give us now, it is likely not the beginning of a new wave. Instead, its momentum will dissipate.

Barnes: Yet, a film like this sets the ground for the future: experience, learning, jobs. It is up to you guys (the filmmakers on the panel) to make the future.

Bottoms: There is this thing that I’ve heard about called the Internet, and it gives us new options, choices, and a chance for change. However, change takes time.

Unfortunately, at that point, we had to close it down for the evening. This was an exciting event that reminded me it was very good to be back in Atlanta at Georgia Tech.

The conversation continues at the State of Black Science Fiction group on Facebook here. See you there!

Prepping MacBook for Digital Pedagogy Seminar

I’m prepping my MacBook for this evening’s Brittain Fellow Digital Pedagogy seminar. As you can see above, we are going to be running simultaneous backchannels–one on Twitter and one on Besides looking at how these technologies work, we will do other things with the words that we write with Wordle and Storify. Details of the meeting including readings and technologies are available on TechStyle here. I will see my fellow Britts in Skiles 302 shortly.


Archive of Kent State University Digital Composition Workshops, Fall 2011

This is an archival blog post of a previously posted page on I am glad to have had the experience of teaching graduate students and faculty about using technology in the composition classroom, because these instructional/reflective workshops inform the teaching that I am now doing as a Brittain Fellow at Georgia Tech. The original page is included below.

For Fall 2011, I am the Office of Digital Composition Coordinator at Kent State University, Department of English. As part of this assignment, I provide assistance to instructors and faculty in the use of digital technology in their writing classes and I facilitate workshops on specific digital writing technologies.

During fall semester, I offered workshops on the following three topics:

  • Using the Vista8 Blackboard Content Management System [pre-semester workshop, notes]
  • Blogging in the Classroom and Profession [see poster above, notes]
  • Multimodal Assignments and Assessment [see poster above, notes]

I am developing two more workshops that will be led by Professor Derek Van Ittersum during spring semester while I am completing my dissertation on a Pringle Fellowship:

  • Social Media and the Writing Class [read on Google Docs here]
  • Writing Collaboration Using Online Writing Tools [read on Google Docs here]

Co-Hosting Digital Pedagogy Seminar on 9/12 about New Media

There are some exciting things going on in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication at Georgia Tech. On 9/12/2012, Peter A. Fontaine, James R. Gregory, Patrick McHenry, and I will be hosting a seminar for the Brittain Fellows on using new media in the classroom. While discussing the theory and praxis behind new and social media in the composition classroom, we will specifically focus on technologies by Twitter, LinkedIn, WordPress, TodaysMeet, Storify, and Wordle. Learn more about what we will cover by visiting TechStyle here.

Science Fiction Research Association Now on Google+, Also Connect with Us on Facebook and Twitter

Yesterday, I launched the Science Fiction Research Association’s (SFRA) Google+ page, which you can find here. Like the organization’s Facebook Page and Twitter Feed, the SFRA Google+ page is another way that we can circulate information about the organization and our annual conference (in Detroit in 2012) while also facilitating engaged discussions about research and teaching science fiction and fantasy across all media.

Electronic Literature Collection Vol 2 Now Live

Mark Marino, Director of Communication for the Electronic Literature Organization, sent out the following announcement earlier today for the second volume of the Electronic Literature Collection:

The Electronic Literature Organization has just released:

The Electronic Literature Collection, Volume 2:

Containing over 60 works from artists around the world, this second anthology of e-lit published by the Electronic Literature Organization offers a wide array of digital texts from traditional e-lit forms, such as literary hypertext, to newer genres using social media tools and new literary environments.

These works offer a glimpse of emerging writing forms employed in literary pursuits.

The works from ELC1 and some from ELC2 have become the subject of SLSA presentations and articles from our community.  The new collection presents both veteran authors and newcomers with an increased presence of non-English works and contributions from beyond the US.

Read more about the collection here:


Go here to ‘read’ the collection online. You can also find the first volume of the Electronic Literature Collection here.