CaptionBot fails to recognize the Apple II

May 2nd, 2016 8:35 AM
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At KansasFest, you'll discover software and hardware you're unlikely to see anywhere else — yet diehard retrocomputing enthusiasts will no doubt recognize the floppy disks and circuit boards, identifiable by their unique schematics and labels. By contrast, a modern computer is more ubiquitous and even more powerful, but it's unlikely to be able to identify what makes the Apple II special… or even what the Apple II is.

That's a theory I put to the test with CaptionBot, Microsoft's online tool that accepts image uploads and attempts to describe their contents. Is it a group of people posing for a photo? Someone holding a book? CaptionBot is surprisingly good at recognizing people and their daily activities.

What it's not so good at is recognizing hardware and software. As a test, I threw at it some photos from the Apple II Enthusiasts group on Facebook and found the results laughably terrible. So for this blog post, I more extensively trolled my KansasFest 2002–2015 photo archives to see what other guesses CaptionBot might get wrong. Here's what it thought we see and do in Kansas City:

Computers may be able to defeat humans at chess — but we're still one up on visual recognition. Let's see what we can capture at KansasFest 2016 to stymy Microsoft's latest attempt to bring about the singularity.

(Hat tip to Andy Hartup at GamesRadar+ for the inspiration!)

Get your kicks in year six of Apple II Bits

April 25th, 2016 9:22 AM
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The best course I took in grad school was Jeff Seglin's column-writing class. The opening exercise was to go to the local bookstore, choose several magazines, and draft pitches for articles to each. Early in the semester, I found this assignment challenging — but when we revisited it a few months later, the ideas flowed. I'm not sure what potential Seglin tapped, but he somehow got me seeing stories everywhere. Since then, I've rarely been short of ideas for Apple II Bits, Juiced.GS, Polygamer, or The Moth.

KansasFest 2015 really got those creative juices flowing, though again, I can't pinpoint the inspirational moment. All I know is, when I got back from that annual convention, Apple II Bits blog posts were flowing fast and furious, until I had up to two months of weekly columns queued in advance. It was a great relief to be able to table that Sunday night scurry for an idea.

I sometimes wonder when I'll run out of ideas and have to stop writing this blog altogether. But with all the activity of the Apple II community to inspire me, and with Seglin having given me the tools to recognize the stories therein, I don't think it'll be a lack of ideas that will be as challenging as finding the time and energy to keep up with it all.

In the meantime, I've made it six years of writing Apple II Bits, with the first post having gone live on April 29, 2010. I wrote two posts a week for the first two years — 104 posts a year! — and once a week for the four years since then, for a total of 419 posts. If Seglin had sent me to the book store with the assignment to pick one magazine and come up with 419 pitches, I would've failed his course. Yet Apple II Bits continues chugging along.

Six apples in two rows

My thanks to everyone who has inspired this blog's articles and to all the readers who have taken the time to mull their words, publicly or privately. I still have a few more years in me; I hope you'll come along.

In the meantime, here are some numbers by which to quantify the site's content and evolution.

Read the rest of this entry »

Fallout 3 terminal emulator

April 18th, 2016 11:51 AM
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I'm a fan of both retro and modern video games, and I love to see the lines blur between the two — whether that's a new game like Plangman that has a classic feel, or a modern game like Halo that's ported to a classic console such as the Atari 2600.

Falling into the latter camp is the work of thewheelman282, a fan of the action-RPGs Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, released in 2008 and 2010, respectively. This franchise is set in the 21st century that arose after nuclear war broke out in the 1950s, impeding the advancement of technology beyond a Cold War state. In this fictional future, players use monochromatic computer terminals that wouldn't look out of place in an Apple II user's collection.

thewheelman282 brought that connection to its logical conclusion by porting the Fallout 3 terminal software to the Apple II. He gives a demo starting at 2:55 in this video, which uses the Agat emulator:

I've never played Fallout 3 so would have no idea how to use this program without the above tutorial, as the software comes with no documentation or inline help that I can find. However, it does appear to function quite similarly to the source material:

This program was written to perform a specific function and doesn't allow the input of new commands or programs, recreating a utility instead of an environment. I think it'd therefore be more accurate to call it a simulator instead of an emulator. Regardless, it's an impressive work of 958 lines of Applesoft BASIC code, which you can download in disk image format. I converted that source code to a text file, which is available here.

I originally thought thewheelman282 was going to demonstrate piping Fallout 3 output to an Apple II, similar to what Joshua Bell did with Second Life. While that too is an impressive hack, it's been done before, and eight years ago at that. To see something original and which is further available for us to download and play with is pretty cool. Thanks, thewheelman282!

(Hat tip to Robert Rivard)

Apple II at the National Videogame Museum

April 11th, 2016 10:59 AM
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PAX East, the annual video game convention that attracts 70,000 gamers to my native Boston, is next week. While I'm eager to attend PAX's 2016 iteration with Juiced.GS associate editor Andy Molloy, I was recently surprised by the conclusion to a chain of events that prompted me to recall our time at PAX East 2013.

It started last week when I received a Kickstarter update from The Videogame History Museum. I'd backed this project to create a physical museum for video games, computers, and machines back in 2011; this update was the first peep I'd heard from the project since 2012. I'd honestly forgotten it was a thing, but here was news that the project had been realized, and the doors had opened on their space at 8004 Dallas Parkway, Frisco, Texas.

Texas is a long way from Boston, so rather than check the place out for myself, I sent the news to two KansasFest alumni from Texas: Mike Whalen and Michael Sternberg. I should've known they'd be on top of a museum opening in their own backyard, as sure enough, they were quick to respond that they'd attended the opening weekend. Whalen further sent along some photos that he hadn't found a place to host. I offered to publish them on Gamebits but recommended that, in the meantime, he share the photo of the museum's Apple II with the Apple II Enthusiasts group on Facebook.

Up went the photo… which looked familiar to fellow Bostonian Paul Hagstrom. "I think that's actually the very system that Wayne, Ken, and I put together," he remarked.

Apple II at the National Videogame Museum

Photo courtesy Mike Whalen.

Omigosh — he was correct! I didn't immediately recognize it, but that Apple II was donated by Wayne Arthurton, with joystick and monitor by Paul, physically transported to PAX East 2013 by T.J. Awrey, and coordinated by me as a donation to the Videogame History Museum. Look!

Donated

I'm awaiting official confirmation that this is indeed the same system, but given that it's the same organization at both PAX East 2013 and in Frisco, Texas, I believe it is. Three years ago, I wrote, "The Apple II was not just a temporary exhibit for PAX East; it has been permanently donated to the Videogame History Museum and will make appearances at conferences and conventions throughout the country, such as the Game Developers Conference, MAGFest, and PAX Prime." But I never imagined that it would become a literal museum piece. How amazing that a donation that was intended to benefit a single event will now be preserved for all time.

Now I know not to expect its appearance at next week's PAX East 2016, but in the meantime, you can read the original blog post from 2013:

Apple II at PAX East 2013

Wax Woz

April 4th, 2016 8:24 AM
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On April 1, Apple Inc. turned forty. From humble beginnings sprang an empire, born of the genius and passion of Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs. While the company and products have long been celebrated, and Steve Jobs' legacy has been lauded with books and movies, Steve Wozniak has not gotten his fair share of credit and attention.

Madame Tussauds, the famous wax museum, aims to fix that by adding Woz to the collection, alongside Jobs and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Over 350 measurements were taken by the Tussauds staff to create as accurate a representation of the Apple co-founder as possible.

The final figure was revealed last month at Silicon Valley Comic-Con:

The decision to create a wax Woz was made by fans. "Wozniak earned the highest number of votes when the public was asked to choose who among the Bay Area tech innovators should be the next figure to be immortalized in wax," reports Menchie Mendoza. "Other finalists in the voting include Elon Musk of Tesla and SpaceX, Edwin Catmull of Pixar, Marissa Mayer of Yahoo, Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, Larry Page of Google, George Lucas of Lucasfilm, Marc Benioff of Salesforce, Jane Metcalfe of Wired Magazine and Frank Oppenheimer of Exploratorium."

Meeting the Woz's waxy double is no substitute for the real thing — for that, you need to go to KansasFest and hope for the best. But it's good to see at least one medium grant the Woz the same recognition Jobs has earned.

40 years in 40 seconds

March 28th, 2016 9:16 AM
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Apple is the most profitable company in the world, based on its market cap of $672 billion. (That's more than half a trillion, folks.) The iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches, and Macs all started in the apocryphal garage, where Steve Wozniak invented and Steve Jobs designed the Apple II.

Given all the success that's sprung from those early innovations, we diehard enthusiasts sometimes feel that modern-day Apple Inc. doesn't give its roots the recognition it deserves, as evidenced by the Apple II being erased from press releases. But our favorite computer finally did get a nod in this commercial celebrating Apple's 40th birthday on April 1, 2016:

On Facebook, commenters were underwhelmed, with "Not enough Apple II" being a recurring theme. It's true that Apple's classic machines constitute only a few of the video's opening seconds, but I'm not sure we could expect more than that: even more than the computers themselves, programs and peripherals for the Apple II lack the modern recognition of more recent innovations, such as iWork, AirPort, or Mighty Mouse.

Sometimes it's nice just to be mentioned.

(Hat tip to Shona Ghosh)