(Ab)using ASCII in the Apple IIe

Monday, March 17th, 2014 by kylebickoff

I wanted to talk about the layering of text in Zelevansky’s Swallows. Although this was a work we covered a bit ago, I wanted to be sure that I concurrently make sure I study physical objects in the lab for the course. Moreover, I wanted to take this chance to work with a piece of software which runs on a computer that existed pre-WWW. What I noticed when interacting with this text was the ‘layering’ inherently embedded, and nested, in the media. I want to consider this text on multiple levels, engaging in a critical course of study that avoids the fallacies inherent in ‘screen essentialism.’ If we consider Niebisch’s Media Parasites In the Early Avant-Garde: On The Abuse of Technology and Communication in relation to Zelevansky’s Swallows, we might consider how exactly, beneath the surface level  of the screen, Swallows is able to subvert traditional uses of Apple II systems.

Niebisch notes that the ‘abuse of media’ requires one to “(ab)use media technologies … in the system in a way note intended by hegemonic powers.” In the history of computing on Apple systems, the Apple IIe is released in 1983, while the apple Macintosh is released in 1984. If the Apple II line represents the open, DIY intent of computing, the Apple Macintosh line represents the blackboxed, proprietary, worst option for Apple (aka Jobs vs. the Woz). In Swallows, what Zelevansky engages in is a non-traditional representation of text and image for the system. Specifically, text represented alone typically makes use of the ASCII character-set on the Apple II, using text in Applesoft (Microsoft BASIC for Apple computers). When image is represented on the top portion of the screen, and text is represented below (like a caption), the text is also displayed with the Applesoft character-set. But, when text is represented atop (layered over) an image, then text is represented in a non-Applesoft ASCII character set. In this case, the words are represented either through an undefined font, or in a font intended to imitate ASCII font through image. In such imitations, the borders of the characters lose their sharpness and some of their contrast, becoming slightly blurry. Whether intentional or unintentional, I notice that the text repeatedly follows such a pattern. Would the author (and programmer) have embedded text differently if Applesoft supported alternative character-sets and character displays? I suspect font would have been used differently. In this case, image indeed subverts the ‘hegemonic power’s’ desire to define how a user will both enter and display text. This work is quite early in using the Apple II in this unintended way, but I would argue, indeed, subverts the intentions of text display on the Apple II line of computers. My further notations on subversion are go on, but I shall stop here.

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