An Apple II Tale Told Complete by the Late Tony Diaz

I’ve been an active IRC users for nearly 25 years now, and for many of those years I was a denizen of the #a2c.chat channel on the irc.a2central.com IRC server. (IRC stands for Internet Relay Chat, a channel-based internet text chat system that was introduced in 1988.) That’s where I met Tony Diaz. Long a key figure in the yearly KansasFest Apple II gathering and possessing of an enormous personal collection (there were palettes) of Apple II-related hardware including the extremely rare, Tony was a fervent Apple II enthusiast and an absolute font of knowledge regarding all things Apple II. Regrettably, Tony died unexpectedly on October 27th near his home in Oceanside, CA. As I write this post, we have been without Tony for exactly one year — a year that the Apple II community has been bereft of one of its brightest stars, a friendly figure quick to lend a hand.

I met Tony in person but once, when he stopped by my home on a larger trip in order to pick up a NeXT 21-inch Color Display I had offered him and gave me a tour of the unicorn-rare prototype “Mark Twain” Apple IIgs he had packed in his PT Cruiser. It is IRC where I knew Tony, and we had many conversations over the year about this or that obscure aspect of Apple II computing. Having not only been an extreme Apple II hobbyist buy also having worked in Apple II-related and general hardware capacities, Tony had many stories to share. Here, a year after his passing, I share the one I found the most fascinating.

One day in early 2014 on IRC, I DM’ed Tony asking if he had any 65C02 CPUs and the proper ROMs lying around to enable me to upgrade an Apple IIe I had just acquired from eBay to an Enhanced IIe. I mentioned that I couldn’t even boot the Copy II Plus 9 disk I had on hand (a very popular copy program / system utility for the Apple II from Central Point Software) on that machine in its current configuration. Tony quipped that C2P 9 was junk anyway, and that I should use C2P 8. I asked after this, and he explained that C2P 9 was buggy, a total rewrite from the ground up due to the fact that the source code for C2P 8 had been lost. I asked if he knew the story behind that and, unsurprisingly, he was one of the few people in the world that did, and he proceeded to tell me the whole story.

What follows is a tale involving several amazing and unlikely finds coupled with a good bit of luck that, in the end, explains how that source code came to be lost, necessitating Central Point to entirely rewrite a core product. The story takes place in the early ’90s, when Tony was working at Alltech, a tech clearinghouse of sorts that sold old / hard to find items, much of it for the Apple II.

[ @Tony ] One day, back about mid 90’s we are sorting junk. Our ‘tech area’ used to be six cubical-like stalls and they would place the pallets of stuff between us, two opposing rows of three each. Most of the time, I paid no attention to that stuff because it was x86 hardware.

One afternoon.. they are going through a gaylord box of stuff. Kid reaches in and is tossing stuff into other gaylords depending on what they are, i.e. metal, plastic, trash, etc. He’s not standing in the gaylord, I’m peering through the workbench between the upper shelf and the table surface, watching the ‘activity’ since it’s in front of me.

Well.. he’s just tossing stuff up in various directions toward where he wanted it to go. Then an Apple IIgs gets set on the side of the gaylord box, straddling a corner. He bends back over and continues, sort of like a dog digging and I’m seeing the rooster tail of dirt flying behind.. Noise stops, he stands up and has an Inner Drive in his hand, the controller card is dangling off the ribbon cable.. He’s about to shove it aside.. It had a big “BAD” sticker on it, I saw that. If it did not have the controller on it I’d have let him toss it.. In a split second I yelled, “give me that, don’t chuck it..” I went over and got it, took the IIgs too, and set it on the edge of my bench.

At the end of the day, I decided, lets check this stuff.. The IIgs had a prototype Apple High Speed SCSI card [PDF] in it. No power supply. Gee, that Inner Drive must have been in here.. I reach over for a power cord end that’s always hanging, plug in the Inner Drive. (The Inner Drive usually used Tandon and Western Digital drives.) I switch it on and the fan spins, so I know the power supply is good — well, the 12V anyway. No hard drive spin, though. So I grab a IIgs motherboard and plug it in, and stick the RGB on it from the bench monitor. The power supply fully works, so I put the controller in, and the drive still isn’t spinning. (This is all second nature to me, FWIW — the steps.) I put the card in, because some drives wouldn’t spin up until there was a bus connected to them. But I don’t just fire up everything when checking stuff, either, i.e., the controller could be a motherboard killer, etc. So I go look at $C700 and see that there is firmware present. I turn it off, pick up the drive and look in through the holes.. “Western Digital” .. and think to myself, “these are usually ‘stuck’ heads.” So, I turn it on and smack it on the desk. No spin up. I take the top off, reach down with the needle nose to the counterbalance on the stepper motor.. It’s ‘stuck’, but breaks free as expected. I usually have a piece of wax string that I wrap around those by lowering it in with a coil in it, and pulling it, then I can work it back and forth by pulling the string ends. So I do that, and that’s got the head moving across the platter — it’s smooth, no binding. I plug it back in, put the card back in, and turn it on.. Drive spins, IIgs boots.

ProDOS 8, BASIC, simple stupid ass menu comes up. BASIC program, four options. ProSEL PrintShop, Merlin, BASIC.. And I’m thinking, “Merlin? .. Printshop? There’s a really ODD set of stuff.. Is that ‘the’ Merlin?” So, I do BASIC.. CAT and I see.. Printshop, Appleworks, etc. and the blocks/free/used add up to 20 meg.. But it’s a 40 meg Western Digital. So I CAT,D2. Buncha stuff goes by.. The one that catches my eye is a directory titled C2P.S. Kinda funny, as I immediately thought, “‘C2P’.. Copy II Plus?” I do a PREFIX C2P.S .. CAT, and among the stuff going by.. UTIL.SYSTEM.s.. The guy next to me was wondering what the hell I found.. “Holy shit!” Thats it! “BYE” and then.. I three finger the thing and reboot it ’cause it’s that crappy-assed old ProDOS and I was figuring it would give me the Birds Better Bye.. It reboots, I pick “Merlin” and change to the C2P.S directory on drive 2, load the thing.. It’s the freaking source code to Copy II Plus 8.4 .. and it’s not disassembled. It’s the source code. It’s got comments all in it. Proper labels, etc. None of this Hxxxx crap. So I start loading other portions, echo “Holy shit!” a few more times. Then I start looking at the rest of the directories that I saw.. That was only the beginning.

The ROM for the Laser 128, the ROM for the Universal Disk Controller card, the BASIC that Video Technology licensed from Microsoft.. Oh, and the “The Print Shop” also interested me, but I forgot about that.. Remember, this was a hard drive. :) The dude had disassembled Print Shop and made it work off a hard drive, ProDOS.. Now here’s the rest of it — remember how the UDC, Laser 128, etc all came with Copy II Plus and basically VideoTech was really involved with Central Point? Alltech bought the “AMR SCSI card” from the guy that used to sell those other clone floppy drives. The VideoTech 3.5″ drives sucked, they required that card and would not do everything quite right. They didn’t work on the built-in port. The AMR (American Micro Research), which was created from the assets of MicroSci — we bought that stuff from that guy. A guy in the inland L.A. area was the programmer. He programmed the utility and did the GALs on that AMR card. That AMR card was very similar to the CMS SCSI card, with elimination of jumpers. I put this all together later on..

When we bought the AMR card, the guy said he didn’t have the boolean for the GALs, or the source to the utility because … the guy that did them, died. (This was two years later, that I found this hard drive.) I found the AMR SCSI utility on there. The AMR guy also told me that the same guy “wrote Copy II Plus”, so he knew what he was doing.. And I remember that Copy II Plus 9.0 had come out a couple of years earlier and my thought to myself was, “he must have forgot, because it sucked ass and was stupid because they lost the source code.” That rumor got around, that the reason for 9.0 was the source was lost for 8.x. So fast forward two years, and I find this drive.. It collaborated the whole deal. The guy did the firmware for VideoTech, Copy II Plus, etc. What was also really odd is that no name is anywhere in the code — no (C) anywhere. What I figured happened was the stuff ended up in probate. There was a lot of electronic ‘junque’ in that gaylord. It all came from Riverside County. So, that ‘lost’ source code was because the guy vanished. It must have been that he died and the county ended up with the assets. Alltech was, among other things, a scrap dealer. :)

[ blakespot] what did you do with that drive, that code?

[ @Tony ] Well, for one, I took it home that day. It was now mine. Had that controller card not been dangling off of that IIgs, I would have probably not said a word, because that was in the day when those, and IIgs power supplies, were plentiful. And after all, someone wrote “BAD” on it.

[ blakespot] do you still have it or copies of the code?

[ @Tony ] Oh of course I do. I even tried to contact Central Point over the years so I could legally distribute it, etc. Because by then, they had largely abandoned it all.

Shortly after our lengthy conversation, I converted the running IRC chat into paragraph form for easier digestion (omitting very little) and shared it with Tony, asking if he would mind my posting it to my blog. He asked me to hold for now, saying he may want to eventually share it himself and that he also had mild concerns regarding potential copyright issues that may arise from the publication of the story.

Given where we are today, I feel that Tony wouldn’t mind my now sharing this tale with the vintage computing community.

I spoke, earlier, of A2central IRC in the past tense, and that is because Tony maintained the backend of the server. With his passing, it is gone. Regulars in on the network have created a new Apple II gathering place at Libera.Chat in the ##apple2 channel. There are certainly fewer of us there, but we welcome company. Please consider stopping by.

So, that is the end of this story. I do hope you found this testament of Tony Diaz’s extensive Apple II knowledge of interest. I heard Tony share quite a few other of stories, but there are many more that I missed. And that is part of what was lost in his passing.

Tributes to Tony:

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7 Responses to An Apple II Tale Told Complete by the Late Tony Diaz

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  2. europlus says:

    Thanks Blake – I heard Tony tell this story at Oz KFest 2017 – we’ve certainly lost an enthusiastic and knowledgeable storyteller.

    Tony’s visit to Oz KFest 2015 was instrumental in the start of me hosting small gatherings, which became WOzFests – see https://europlus.zone/community/remembering-tony-diaz/

    I was also honoured to be asked to contribute to Juiced.GS’s memorial piece.

    I still feel the loss of a good friend.

    Sean (europlus)

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  5. Nate says:

    Sorry to hear you lost a friend. Did the source code get archived somewhere? Is someone helping find good homes for Tony’s items & data?

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  7. Tom Bailey says:

    I was a good friend of Tony’s for several years. Actually many years. Going back to when he was just out of high school. He was wonderful and so was his mother, who he lived with, when I met him. They lived in a rather old, somewhat run down home. It was in Oceanside, California, about 40-miles north of San Diego.

    I think it was one story with a basement that I think was maybe 40′ x 40′, but probably more like 50′ x 50′. This basement was stacked full of Apple II stuff. There might have been 20 Apple II computers of various types. There were boxes and boxes of various accessories for Apple II computers. Plus many discs of various sorts containing various sorts of software. Tony didn’t ever seem to care, he just kept it all.

    Over the years I owned about 10 Apple II computers, which may have seemed weirdly obsessive to many Apple II enthusiasts, but to Tony it was a small heap. But! One time I had two cards, which contained small hard drives attached to the cards. Tony had seen many such cards all from the same manufacturer, but these two had radically different and apparently newer serial numbers.

    He said I could have almost anything in his collection for them. That I would never be able to make good use of them, bla, bla, bla. Finally I said to Tony, he could keep them for 6-weeks. Figure out all the parts and copy all the software, then return them to me and explain what they are, and what they are worth. He agreed.

    Well he never did. I asked him maybe 3 or 4 times. He always agreed, but he never returned them. A mutual friend told me that Tony had managed to make a copy of the card and software, and planned to make many more copies to sell in one of his online stores. Somehow all this did not irritate me. Tony was such a nice guy and wonderful friend, I just let it go.

    Over a period of several years, I went to several meeting of the local San Diego Apple II Users Group. At least half of those meetings featured Tony with a couple of boxes of hardware. He’d pull each piece out of the box, and talk for several minutes about minutes the interesting details about that version of that piece of equipment or package with software.

    Then someone in the audience would bring up another piece of hardware or software. Tony would sometimes say, “Wow, I’ve only ever seen one of these before.” or “Wow, I’ve never even seen one of these before …” Then he’d talk about it for a while, and try to surmise what was going on in the manufacture’s company, when that product was being sold.

    I could never remember any of the details. But watching Tony and gleaning a little bit of what he knew, and what he could surmise from what he knew, was amazing. I really liked him. Sometimes we would talk for hours. He never ran out of steam, and neither did I while under his influence.

    The Apple II has an amazing history. Tony was it’s main collector and enthusiast. I am, of course, very sad to learn about his death.

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