Author Archive

I'm Ken Gagne, the editor-in-chief and publisher of Juiced.GS, the longest-running Apple II print publication, as well as marketing director for annual Apple II convention KansasFest and and co-host of Open Apple, the Apple II community's first and only co-hosted podcast. I've been an active member of the Apple II online community for over two decades, including on CompuServe, GEnie, Delphi, and Syndicomm Online. Follow me on Twitter and Google+.

Carmack's Apple II inspires son — and reddit

March 9th, 2015 11:29 AM
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As reported by the Cult of Mac, id co-founder John Carmack recently tweeted a photo of his son learning to program on an Apple IIc:

This looks like the same IIc that Carmack received as a Christmas gift in 2012:

The Apple II and education go hand-in-glove — this post is the site's 18th to be tagged "education". However, the two sentences of the Cult of Mac's story that struck me have little to do with education. First is this detail of Carmack's origin story: "As a kid at Shawnee Mission East public school (one of the first in his family's part of Kansas to get a computer lab), Carmack taught himself BASIC on an Apple II." Shawnee Mission is only 12 miles from Rockhurst University, home of KansasFest; might it be a homecoming to invite Carmack to be the event's keynote speaker, joining his former colleague John Romero among the speaker alumni?

That paragraph's next sentence is a wonderful example of unintended consequences: "Later on, [Carmack] bought an Apple IIGS to start his game-making career, as revealed in the fantastic book Masters of Doom." And it was that 2003 book book by David Kushner that inspired the 2005 founding of social news website reddit, as detailed by co-founder Alexis Ohanian:

… this book convinced me to consider starting a company. It just seemed like so much damn fun. Granted, we didn't end up starting a gaming company (well, I guess we had 'gamification' before that was a buzzword: karma, leaderboards, awards, etc) but the idea a few friends could get together in a house and start building something the world had never seen before — having a lot of fun in the process — got me hooked.

Would reddit and its AMAs exist without Carmack and Romero — and thus without the Apple II? Likely not!

Who knows what the next generation of programmers will create and inspire, thanks to the Appl eII

(Hat tip to Steve Weyhrich)

Reboot Our Roots at PAX East 2015

March 2nd, 2015 8:38 AM
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This week marks Boston's sixth annual PAX East, and my sixth time attending the video game expo with Juiced.GS editor Andy Molloy. Inspired by our Apple II magazine's 2014 cover stories about Leisure Suit Larry and Shadowgate, we'll be bringing our retrogaming love to bear on the event.

On Sunday, March 8, at 1:30 PM EDT, I'll be moderating the panel "Reboot Our Roots: Bringing Our Favorite Genres Back to Life&quot:

Many of today's indie games are spiritual successors of yesteryear's hits, from King's Quest to Gabriel Knight to Quest for Glory — with some even being developed by the same teams that brought us the originals. What's it like to reboot a franchise or genre after 30 years? How do you update a classic while staying true to the original? Industry veterans share their stories of revisiting their roots, taking up their heroes' mantles, and what they've learned in the intervening years.

I'm excited to be hosting this panel with so many talented developers. Katie Hallahan of Phoenix Online Studios will be representing Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers, as well as the King's Quest fan sequel The Silver Lining, which I previously presented at KansasFest 2010. Steven Alexander will be on the panel discussing Quest for Infamy, a spiritual successor to Quest for Glory, while Dave Wadjet will present his original creation, the Blackwell series, a point-and-click adventure inspired by the games of yesteryear.

This will be my third year moderating panels at PAX East, and the third year the Apple II has influenced my contributions to PAX. In 2013, I coordinated the donation of an Apple II gaming rig to become a permanent part of the freeplay console room. And in 2014, I moderated a panel on gender equality in gaming, which was made possible through 8-bit connections.

If you're in Boston this weekend and have a ticket to this sold-out show, please stop by "Reboot Our Roots" on Sunday afternoon and say hello — it'll be great to meet fellow gamers who have been around long enough to appreciate these classic genres and franchises. If you can't make it ot the panel, it will be recorded by Travis Stewart of Broken CRT Productions and will be posted to Apple II Bits at a later date.

Apple II Raspberry Pi on TV

February 23rd, 2015 12:13 PM
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After appearing on the Retro Computing Roundtable #94, I ordered myself a Raspberry Pi 2. It'll be my first single-board computer since the Replica 1 in 2009 — and frankly, I'm not sure what to do with it.

What I do know is that I want its presence and utility to be as influenced by my Apple II heritage as possible — and that means buying one of Charles Mangin's 3D-printed cases. Demoed at KansasFest 2014 and detailed in Juiced.GS, these nifty, tiny replicas are a marvelous marriage of new and old tech.

Mangin can now add "As seen on TV!" to his marketing copy, courtesy Ivan Drucker. As founder of Apple consulting firm IvanExpert, Drucker is the resident go-to guy when New York City's cable news stations need a sound bite from a knowledgeable, articulate, and fashionable expert. That sometimes means a peek into Drucker's work environment, as happened last summer when we spotted an Apple II sitting on his office desk.

Drucker was in the news again last week for the CBS news story "Stolen iPhone Turns Up In China":

Don't blink or you'll miss it: there's Charles' Pi case!

Ivan Drucker on CBS (Feb 2015)

Meticulously freeze-framed to be as flattering as possible.

It makes me want one all the more. Ivan Drucker and CBS, you're earning your commission!

Raspberry Pi on CBS

(Hat tip to — who else? — Ivan Drucker)

Trekking the Orion Trail

February 16th, 2015 10:20 AM
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I could do an entire blog — not just a blog post, but a blog — on the many Kickstarter campaigns influenced by the 8-bit era of computers. We've seen the return of games, franchises, and styles such as Maniac Mansion, Ultima, Shadowgate, Leisure Suit Larry, Wasteland, and interactive fiction; documentaries on Sierra On-Line and the 6502; and concerts including 8 bit Weapon's.

Oregon Trail alone has prompted several Kickstarters, from the successful Organ Trail to the failed Dead Man's Trail. The latest game likely to join the camp of successful projects is Orion Trail, which combines the gameplay of Oregon Trail with the humor of Space Quest and Galaxy Quest.

The best Kickstarters are those that come to the table with not just a concept, but a prototype — and Orion Trail delivers. If you have the Unity browser plugin installed, you can play an early version of Orion Trail today. I went a few rounds and enjoyed the graphics and humor, but I was demoralized by some of the scenarios my crew encountered. Whether I was being boarded by aliens, encountering space merchants, analyzing an asteroid, or attacking a doomsday machine, I always had three choices, and each seemed equally likely to produce a satisfying solution. No matter my choice, the game spun a random number wheel that somehow determined the result. Perhaps it was this peek at the game's inner workings, but I didn't feet like it mattered what choice I made.

On the bright side, you'll notice some obvious homages to classic computing. "The music was made with the SID emulation engine on an Elektron Monomachine," says the project page. "You'll recognize the SID's distinctive sound from your fondest memories of gaming on a C64 back in the day." Wrong computer for the Apple II community, but admirable nonetheless!

Developer Schell Games looks to release Orion Trail for Mac, Windows, and Linux in December 2015. The game has been Greenlit on Steam, which means when and if Orion Trail is published, it has been approved for distribution on the Steam game platform. Early Access will occur around August.

Before all that happens, the project must obtain a minimum of $90,000 in crowdfunding by March 12. It's currently a third of the way there, which bodes well: in Kickstarter's history, 79% of projects that raised more than 20% of their goal were successfully funded. It's likely we will all be making a star trek along the Orion Trail later this year.

Orion Trail

(Hat tip to Jenna Hoffstein)

Electronic publishing overview

February 9th, 2015 11:36 AM
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Last month, I began my fourth semester teaching an undergraduate course in electronic publishing. I always start with an overview of computer history — not for "you kids don't know how good you have it" reasons, like when I taught high school students to use Visicalc, but because I consider it valuable for students to have a basic understanding of how the machinery and environment they'll be working came into being, and the decisions that were made decades ago that will affect their workflows and livelihoods.

We start with what might be considered ancient history, reviewing key figures in computing's history: Charles Babbage, Paul Baran, Tim Berners Lee. I suspected this might be the first semester in which the name Alan Turing might prove familiar. I was right: Benedict Cumberbatch's turn in that role had drawn my students to see The Imitation Game. We had a brief but fun discussion about how Turing's already dramatic tale had been further dramatized for the silver screen, before returning to the topic at hand: learning to count in binary.

As part of this lecture, I employ plenty of props from my Apple II, including a 5.25" floppy disk and floppy disk notcher. It's always interesting to see how the students respond to these artifacts. Spring 2014 was the first semester where none of my students had used a 5.25" floppy before. I figured I'd passed a tipping point: students born in 1992 didn't grow up with this media. So I was pleasantly surprised when this year's students recognized the disk fondly. And I, of course, got a kick out of wondering, "Can you believe that we used to ship software on these things?" holding up the Lawless Legends demo I received from Martin Haye at KansasFest 2014.

My favorite exercise of the evening involves publishing — which is their major, after all, not computer science. It's 2015 and you want to distribute software to your print magazine's subscribers. How can you do so? A link, a QR code, a Steam code, even a CD — these are all viable delivery mechanisms… and none of them were applicable in 1986. Sure, you could maybe include a 5.25" disk in your magazine — but who does that? Instead I hand out an issue of Nibble magazine and let the students peruse it, until it finally registers what they're looking at — at which point their eyes get big and they ask, "Did they actually print the entire program in the magazine and ask people to type it in??"

Okay… so maybe I do want my students to know how good they have it.

Preserving Bob Bishop's legacy

February 2nd, 2015 9:26 AM
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In mid-November, John Romero shared with the Apple II community some sad news: Bob Bishop, co-founder of Apple's R&D department and KansasFest 2011 keynote speaker, had passed away. The news came in time for me to include Bishop in my Computerworld slideshow of tech luminaries we lost in 2014; along with Patrick McGovern and Ralph Baer, Bishop was one of three luminaries I'd had the honor of meeting among the 23 in the article.

It is all well and good to honor the legacy of those who have gone before, but it takes more than mere platitudes to ensure their contributions are not buried with them. Thankfully, Romero was more than the bearer of bad news, as this past weekend, after a tip from on a tip from Gary Koffler, Romero had an encouraging update to share on Facebook:

Prepare for a mindblast. Today my wife and I went to the late Bob Bishop's estate to rescue whatever we could from the giant dumpster outside the house — everything will be thrown away today (Saturday). We were able to save all historical items of note.

One of the items we got was this black Apple II+ which you will note is NOT a Bell & Howell. We believe it is the prototype for that edition. The lid easily pops off like normal, and the date is 1979. Bob also had an Apple II serial number 13. The family will be auctioning that one off.

We filled our van full of stuff. I can't believe the amazing amount of stuff we got that's collectible.

… To clarify, there was no dumpster diving involved. The dumpster sat silent and empty, waiting for today when everything left in Bob's houses would be tossed in. We went through all the rooms of his houses and picked everything of value we could find.

Bob Bishop's Bell & Howell

The resulting thread is extensive, with postulations as to the nature and origin of some of Bishop's rarer hardware, and questions of where similar collections might be found or donated. The Computer History Museum of Mountain View, California, and the Strong Museum of Rochester, New York, were frequently cited, with a representative of the latter chiming into the thread. I can vouch for both institutions, as both are actively archiving Juiced.GS for scholars and future generations of retrocomputing enthusiasts to reference.

There are many components to preserving our digital legacies: ensuring software for legacy computers can still be executed; preserving the original hardware; making our personal digital data collections accessible. I'm grateful that we have people like John Romero and Jason Scott, and institutions like the CHM and the Strong, actively working to keep alive the memory and accomplishments of heroes like Bob Bishop.