Game tournaments at KansasFest 2015

May 25th, 2015 11:41 AM
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On the KansasFest email list, Michael Sternberg proposed to organize a third annual Apple II game tournament. This is Sternberg's forté, as he not only ran the Structris competition in 2013–2014, but modified Martin Haye's original game to create the tournament edition used in the event. I captured some of Sternberg's talent and passion in this video for Computerworld:

Sternberg has asked, what game should we play this year? Puzzle games seem a popular choice: GShisen is a KansasFest classic, having been featured in tournaments run first by Juiced.GS founder Max Jones, then by me. Structris, being inspired by Tetris, is also a puzzler, but with an action component that I enjoy. That hybrid nature also describes I classified in Juiced.GS as one of my favorite Apple II games of all-time. Its creator, Steve Chiang, is big in the modern gaming industry; and its artist, Dave Seah, recently made an appearance in the Apple II Enthusiasts group on Facebook. Maybe they'd sponsor a competition with some sort of promotion or giveaway!

But for those retrocomputing enthusiasts whose reaction times have not yet faded with age, there are plenty of action games to choose from, too. Retrobrite afficionado Javier Rivera, who this year will make his KansasFest debut, recently demonstrated two color LCD screens displaying the same video output simultaneously. His software for this test? Karateka.


It's a dual duel!

Charles Mangin proposed we hack this game to allow a second player to control the opponent. Head-to-head Karateka? I'm in!

Photos of KansasFests past

May 18th, 2015 9:15 AM
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I've been bringing a digital camera to KansasFest every year since 2002. Every year, I come home with dozens or hundreds of photos that require sorting, cropping, tagging, and uploading. And every year, as I take more photos, I fall further behind in doing so.

This problem is getting bigger.

This problem is getting bigger.

The biggest hangup is metadata — specifically, captions. I like to write captions for each photo that suggests what could be but isn't happening. Sometimes it's taking note of something happening in the background, or expressing what someone in the photo might be thinking. And the more photos I take, the longer this process.

I used to post the photos in August, shortly after I returned home from KansasFest; then, when I adopted an academic schedule, I'd wait until Christmas break; now my goal is simply to get them posted before the next KansasFest.

I'm relieved to say that KansasFest 2014's photos are finally online. I selected two hundred of my 266 photos to post, then chose eight to share on Facebook, Google+ and Flickr.

Why eight? If you look at my Facebook profile, you'll see I have hundreds of albums, but each one is limited to exactly eight photos. There are three reasons for this self-imposed restriction:

  1. Any photo uploaded to a social network grants a license to that network to use the photo as they see fit. Copyright is the lifeblood of a professional content creator, so I want to grant that license on only a representative sample of my work. The rest are hosted on my own server, where I can claim sole copyright — while knowing that anyone can still copy and distribute a photo as they see fit, at least I am not granting them permission to do so.
  2. As a content consumer, I know how little interest I have in browsing hundreds of other people's photos. I respect people's time by presenting them only a reasonable number of photos; those who wish to explore further may exercise the option of clicking the link to view the full gallery.
  3. As a writer, I've learned how necessary it can be to say something in as few words as possible. Choosing eight photos out of hundreds to best represent an event is the photographic equivalent of that economy of expression.

I doubt anyone was waiting for these photos to be released or even noticed their absence, but given my past involvement in the planning of KansasFest and the production of Juiced.GS, my photos have a tendency to show up in ads, flyers, videos, and more. I like to think that someone, somewhere, sometime, will take a moment to read some of the two hundred captions and enjoy my perspective on this unique event.

Bride of the Wizard King e-book on Kickstarter

May 11th, 2015 10:59 AM
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For artists and developers who feel constraints breed creativity, the Apple II is a perfect platform for their pursuits: games, music, even arts & crafts have been created on or inspired by the machine.

But what about books — and especially graphic novels? There are books about the Apple II — but how many were created on it?

Perhaps not many &mdash and that's what Australian author Myles Stonecutter is looking to fix. His 90-page children's book The Bride of the Wizard King is illustrated entirely on an Apple IIe using the Blazing Paddles software. The book is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter:

Although a fascinating concept, two elements seem to be lacking from the Kickstarter pitch. First, it's not entirely clear what format the book will take. Two sizes of hardcovers as well as an e-book are listed among the rewards — but will the e-book be a PDF, ePub, Mobi, Kindle, iBook, or something else? If it's an app, will it feature any interactivity or other features not found in traditional printed books? Second, it's unclear what the funding — $9,386 USD, or $12,000 AUD — will be used for. "The creative work is completed," says the project description. "Thus far I have looked at Lulu, Blurb and Snapfish as likely online print-on-demand companies to get the initial printing done." Does the print-on-demand route require such a large up-front investment? I'm unsure.

Although the project still has more than three weeks to go, it seems unlikely that it will meet its goal, having achieved only 5% of its desired crowdfunding in the first week. Should the Kickstarter fall flat, I hope Stonecutter finds another way to get his completed work into the hands of the masses.

(Hat tip to Seth Sternberger)

Avengers Assemble: Steve Woz & Stan Lee

May 4th, 2015 8:43 AM
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Summer blockbuster season is here, as heralded by last week's release of The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Comic-book superheroes will be smashing across the screen all summer, with the likes of Ant-Man and The Fantastic Four soon to follow.

Many of these characters are the creation of Stan Lee, who has played as much a role in the development of the comic book medium as Steve Wozniak has in the creation of the personal computer. If Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, and the Hulk can team up, why can't these legends?

Geeks need wait only a year for that union to occur when Woz and Lee combine forces to bring us Silicon Valley Comic Con 2016.

Says Woz:

I want to give Silicon Valley it's very own kind of Comic Con where everyone can have fun enjoying what they love. Today we're lucky to have so many kinds of entertainment, from movies, TV shows, web series, music, video games, social media and more, and the lines between entertainment and the technology we love so much in Silicon Valley are getting blurrier every day. We're going to create a place where all these different kinds of interests can come together, and we can come together too.

The event will be held March 19–20, 2016, in San Jose, California — home to the Children's Discovery Museum that Woz founded. Although tickets are not yet on sale, you can register to receive information for attendees, exhibitors, or media.

The creators of Spider-Man and the Apple II will make an awesome team. Who knows what fun their fans will have at the inaugural Silicon Valley Comic Con!

(Hat tip to Conviron Altatis)

A half-decade of Apple II blogging

April 27th, 2015 7:49 AM
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When I joined the Juiced.GS staff in 2002 as associate editor, I was given a quarterly column in which to ruminate about whatever Apple II topic I wanted. Over the next 16 issues, I wrote about exploring Boston with Ryan Suenaga, the passing of Gary Utter, BASIC programming, and more. The freedom write about whatever struck my fancy, combined with the structure of writing on a quarterly schedule, was enjoyable and inspiring.

Starting with volume 11, I become editor-in-chief of Juiced.GS and handed my column to Eric Shepherd. I still had my own column in the form of the quarterly editorial, but this one was a lengthier and a bit more formal and on-topic to the magazine. I've enjoyed writing it for ten years — but halfway through that run, I decided I wanted something more. I decided a blog would not only give me more options in what content to write and how to present it, such as the embedding of photos and video; it would also be timelier than a quarterly print pub could be, allowing pieces that were shorter but more relevant to everything that happens between issues of Juiced.GS.

Thus was born Apple II Bits, which turns five years old this Wednesday. A twice-weekly column for the first two years, and "only" weekly for the next three, it's now produced 367 posts — which, at Juiced.GS's publication rate, would've taken me 92 years to write.

Friends outside the retrocomputing community are baffled how I can find something new to say about the Apple II every week. While there are times that it can be challenging, finding a topic generally isn't all that hard: there's always someone releasing a new game, or developing hardware, or publishing a podcast to keep the Apple II alive and well. I enjoy this regular opportunity to be creative and hone my writing on the topic that made me a writer in the first place. My thanks to all the creators and readers that make this blog possible.

For a less fascinating and more quantitative look at this site's growth since last year, continue reading.

  • • As of today, the site hosts 367 posts (52 more than this time last year), 1823 tags (+186), 441 comments (+31) from 133 readers (+4), and 1 blogger. With the exception of the number of posts, each of these numbers is growing more slowly year-over-year.
  • • Year-to-year, our pageviews were down 8% and unique visitors down 8% in our fifth year. This is the second consecutive year of decline in traffic.
  • • Our busiest day was August 1, 2014. I have no idea what people were doing here that day.
  • • Our top posts three in the past year were all from 2011:"Selling to Pawn Stars", "Best computer games from the '80s", and "Taking the Apple II online with Uthernet". These were our top three posts the previous year, too. Correspondingly, the top search terms leading visitors to this site are "chris espinosa net worth" and "best apple ii games".
  • • Our top referrals were from A2Central.com, Twitter, and Facebook. This is the first time StumbleUpon did not break the top three and Facebook did.
  • • Traffic from mobile devices was up 10%, and from tablets, down 7%
  • • In the past year, we blocked 18,590 pieces of spam, down from 121,301 the previous year — WOW! More than half of all that spam came in October and November 2014 alone.

Codes that changed the world

April 20th, 2015 10:40 AM
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Growing up with the Apple II, I learned to program in BASIC. Its line numbers, GOTOs and GOSUBs, and spaghetti code were unlike anything I would encounter later in my education. Perhaps for that reason, I never mastered a language like I did BASIC. While I was able to grasp Prolog and FORTRAN, the "pointers" of C++ were so incomprehensible to me that I eventually had to change majors to get away from it.

Had I continued down that programming path, I doubtless would've faced many other challenging concepts as I attempted to master yet more languages, like C Sharp, Perl, PHP, Ruby, and more. By some estimates, there are over 20,000 languages in existence, only a fraction of which I ever could've learned on the Apple II. Some are more practical than others, while others are of more historical significance.

The BBC attempts to scratch the surface of those historical languages in a recent limited-run podcast series, Codes that Changed the World, hosted by Aleks Krotoski.

Codes that Changed the World

The podcast, which debuted this month and ran for all of five episodes, covers four languages: FORTRAN, COBOL, BASIC, and Java, with a fifth episode discussing how so many different languages are able to coexist.

Of course, you can't discuss the rise of BASIC without the role the Apple II played, and vice versa:

BASIC enabled computing as we understand it today. When Apple was a two-man band building this thing called the Apple II, there were no other computers out there like it. So they had to put something on it that would allow individuals to program it themselves. Apple just wouldn't exist without BASIC. And Microsoft! The first thing that Microsoft did as a company was selling BASIC to run on other people's computers. The two biggest names in modern computing, Apple and Microsoft, both wouldn't've happened if it wasn't for BASIC.

BASIC celebrated its 50th birthday last year, earning it a cover story in Juiced.GS:
Juiced.GS Volume 19 Issue 2

While researching that story, author Steve Weyhrich (who also pointed me to this podcast) delved into the resources available at Dartmouth College, where BASIC was invented. As part of its "BASIC at 50" commemoration, Dartmouth produced a free 38-minute documentary, Birth of BASIC:

If you want to learn more about other programming languages, Codes that Changed the World is available in iTunes. While it's unreasonable to expect all 20,000 languages to be covered, I do lament that the podcast's scope was limited to only five episodes, as I rather enjoyed these 15-minute encapsulations of technical topics for a lay audience. If the BBC or Krotoski ever produce more, I'll be first in line to listen!