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+.

A documentary of Woz's Us Festival

December 5th, 2016 9:00 AM
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Steve Wozniak is many things: a technical genius, an entertaining speaker, a movie character, a wax figure. But one of his many accomplishments is often overlooked: music festival organizer.

In 1982, Woz created the Us Festival, a counter to the previous decade's "me"generation. It was designed to bring people together and inspire them with some of the greatest musical names of that era, such as The Grateful Dead, Fleetwood Mac, The Police, The B-52's, and more. The event was even livestreamed to Russia, despite the ongoing Cold War. The event recurred just months later in 1983, archival footage of which is now available on iTunes.

But what prompted Woz, a known inventor and prankster, to bring his fame and fortune to bear on the music industry? Attending or watching the concerts won't tell you; for that, you need to go behind the scenes. And that's what filmmaker Glenn Aveni plans to do with his documentary, The US Festival 1982, now on Kickstarter.

This project is looking to crowdfund $60,000 by December 20, and it's on track to do so: at the time of this writing, it's more than halfway there. The funds will be used to procure rights to even more archival clips and finish production of the film, which includes interviews with many of the concert's surviving musicians.

I'll support almost anything Woz does. Not only is backing this documentary a way to belatedly support his concert, but Woz himself was interviewed for Aveni's movie. I look forward to hearing tales I haven't heard before about this side of Woz!

(Hat tip to Chris Torrence)

Holiday shopping on eBay

November 27th, 2016 10:14 AM
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My family never learned thrift; if something was old or worn, we'd replace it instead of repair it. And if used items weren't good enough for us, they were certainly not good enough to give as gifts. Every Christmas, we'd bestow and accept shiny, shrinkwrapped goods, representing the latest merchandise that retail had to offer.

That's a shame, because so many Apple II products can no longer be had new. There's a growing market of original or replicated hardware, to be sure — but if I want something vintage, the only way to affordably acquire it is used. As a result, no one from my family will ever think to shop for my Christmas gift on eBay.

The Retro Computing Roundtable podcast has a gift guide that they update with each biweekly episode. There's plenty of new and retro tech in there, but my favorite suggestion to come from this group was when the hosts collaborated on a Juiced.GS gift guide. In that article, Carrington Vanston had the brilliant idea to give someone a subscription to a classic Apple II magazine, such as Nibble or inCider/A+. Though those publications have been out of print for decades, old issues can be acquired from eBay or AbeBooks, then individually mailed to the gift's intended recipient on a monthly basis.

Apple II magazines, books, and periodicals

Used Apple II magazines, books, and periodicals abound, as seen at KansasFest 2016.

I love this idea. The first and only Apple II magazine I've ever subscribed to is Juiced.GS, which I haven't received in the mail since June 2007. I miss finding Apple II news, reviews, and interviews in my mailbox. The only way to make it happen is to plunder the bounty of years gone by, salvaging previously read issues from the stores of eBay.

That sounds better than finding anything new under my Christmas tree.

Quarterly work on Juiced.GS

November 21st, 2016 1:08 PM
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Juiced.GS is an Apple II print magazine that magically arrives in subscribers' mailboxes every quarter. The time in between each issue might seem restful before the staff makes a mad dash to the finish line. But the reality is that Juiced.GS production occurs in every month of the year.

Each issue gets three months, and each month gets put to good use:

  1. Write the articles.
  2. Edit and lay out the articles.
  3. Publish the magazine.

There is some overlap between issues — for example, assignments for the December issue are usually doled out in August or September, so that once the September issue ships, writers can immediately start working toward the next deadline.

For next month's issue, writers were given a deadline of Friday, November 11. I intended to read their submissions while on the ten-hour round-trip bus ride between Boston and New York City, where I was attending GaymerX East. Unfortunately, that mode of transit didn't prove conductive to editing, pushing my work out to the following weekend.

So, this past Saturday, I finally read six Juiced.GS articles. Each one took about an hour to undergo this process:

  1. Print the article in hardcopy.
  2. Read it once without touching my pen so that I can focus on large questions: Did the writer understand the assignment? Does he answer the questions the article set out to address? Does one section flow naturally into the next?
  3. Read it again with red pen, addressing mechanics (word choice, punctuation) and scribbling questions into the margins.
  4. Transcribe all annotations into Microsoft Word using Track Changes.
  5. If there are still questions or areas that need revision, send back to the author for a second draft, due one week later.
  6. Upon receiving the second draft, or if the first draft had no questions, send the article to Andy Molloy for a second edit.

Once I get Andy's revisions, I lay the content out in the Juiced.GS template using Pages v4.1. Once I have a few articles done, I send a PDF to the entire staff for review and commentary. After incorporating their feedback, I then send each article to its respective author for one last review, to ensure no errors were introduced during editing or layout.

Once all content is in place, it's off to the printshop. If I deliver the PDF by Tuesday morning, I can pick up my order Wednesday night. Some friends and I have a stuffing party, with the assembled magazines being mailed Thursday morning.

But I need to prepare more than just the magazine for that party; the mailing envelopes are their own beast. So this weekend, I checked my supply of catalog envelopes and Avery labels; if I was short on either, I'd order more from Amazon.com. If I needed more return address labels, I'd order those, too. All this needs to be done a month in advance, to allow time for shipping to my house.

I also need to get stamps. At the time of this writing, an issue mailed within the USA costs $1.36, or two 68¢ stamps; to Canada or Mexico, it's $2.71, which is $2 + 68¢ + 3¢; everywhere else, it's $4.16, or $2 + $2 + 10¢ + 5¢ + 1¢. I need so many of each that many post offices don't appreciate me clearing out their supply, sometimes outright refusing to fulfill my shopping list, despite having the stock with which to do so. This weekend, for the first time, I ordered the stamps online. (Except the 5¢ stamps, for which the online minimum order is 10,000 stamps. Juiced.GS's subscriber base is somewhere south of that.)

Once all that's assembled, I recruit friends or relatives to a labeling party, where we combine the envelopes, address labels, return address labels, stamps, and "DO NOT BEND" rubber stamp.

And all that is just what's happening on the editing and publishing side; it doesn't take into account the research and wordsmithing that all the writers, both staff and freelance, do.

But it's all worth it. This past September, I took a draft of Juiced.GS with me on a weekend getaway. As I read the brilliance that so many community members had volunteered to share in our magazine's pages, I stopped and said aloud: "I'm so lucky I get to do this."

Juiced.GS is a lot of work — and a lot of fun.

Apple II companies are people

November 14th, 2016 3:15 PM
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I engage in as much online commerce as I do offline. Whether I'm buying a hot chocolate at the local coffee shop or going to the movies to see the latest Marvel movie, or I'm buying a book on Amazon.com or a mobile app from Apple, I don't personally know the people handling my transaction. We're polite to each other and treat each other with respect — as any decent human being should — but we don't take the time to address each other by name or inquire as to each other's wellbeing. Once the transaction is complete, the interaction is concluded and the relationship ends.

The Apple II industry is different. The size of each company is proportionate to the size of the community — that is, small. While my credit card receipts may show me to have patronized such companies as RetroConnector, a2RetroSystems, and Manila Gear (to name a few), I never saw it that way. Rather, I was supporting Charles Mangin, Glenn Jones, and Jon Co & John Valdezco. Each of these technical geniuses have long been members of the Apple II community, supporting it not just with their inventions (off which they rarely, if ever, profit), but with their camaraderie on IRC and Twitter and at KansasFest. Through their long commitment to the platform and their people, they've earned our trust, friendship, and patronage.

This reputation isn't reserved to the privileged few who are able to make their way to KansasFest and meet these vendors; for example, Glenn Jones and Jon Co have yet to make their way from Canada and Australia to our Midwest convention. Given our geographic diversity, a lot of community-building is instead accomplished online. For my part, it's not enough to let the Juiced.GS store's automatic receipts be a new customer's first impression. I personally email each new subscriber to ask them how they came to our publication and what their history with the Apple II is. You can say that I'm doing so to build customer retention or to scout potential content contributors — and you wouldn't be wrong. But that alone would not be enough. I cherish my quarterly mailing parties where I get to see the name on each mailing label and recall the stories of each person this community has introduced me to.

I've grown so accustomed to these personal interactions that, when I have the opposite experience within the Apple II community, it's noticeable and jarring. Such is the case with 8bitdo's recent Kickstarter to create the AP40, an Apple II-themed game controller with Apple II-compatible wireless receiver. While I was excited by the prospects of the hardware, I was surprised to see it come from an organization our community had never heard of. I've since exchanged several emails with the AP40's creators, but I never once had my inquisitiveness or enthusiasm reciprocated. When I mentioned possibly reviewing their hardware for Juiced.GS, they glossed over it; their emails are always signed with their company's name, not an individual's; the campaign had few progress updates; and the pitch video featured none of the talent responsible for the product. They seem utterly uninterested in the Apple II community or being a part of it.

If this were Amazon.com, a coffee shop, or Apple, I wouldn't bat an eye at such behavior; it'd be expected. But in the Apple II community, AP40's outsider status and indifference is unmistakeable. I was so disappointed and dissatisfied that I ultimately requested that my Kickstarter pledge be cancelled [see comments below for more details]. Maybe I'm a snob for refusing to associate with those outside some Apple II "inner circle". But I was always taught to "support those who support the Apple II" — and support takes many forms.

The Korea Computer Museum

November 7th, 2016 11:06 AM
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Apple II history is celebrated everywhere, with museums from California to Italy to Russia. The latest country to recognize the historical significance of the Apple II: South Korea.

The Korea Computer Museum, located in a warehouse in Guri, Gyeonggi, is the work of 48-year-old Kim Kwon-tae. His collection of 420 computers was amassed over the last ten years, mostly via eBay. He recently gave a tour of the museum to Korea JoonAng Daily reporter Chun Kwon-Pil, who wrote:

Carefully browsing through the collection, Kim announced that he had something interesting to show a reporter. He took out a floppy disk, one of the early storage devices for computers.

He slipped it into an Apple 2e, the third model of the Apple's II series. After a few seconds of a familiar machine melody, Pac-Man popped up on the screen, an early computer game with flat graphics and rudimentary rules.

"I regularly turn them on and off to make sure they don’t go out of order," Kim said. "It's like feeding them with electricity."

The museum opened in 2012 but has recently been in the news for featuring a Steve Jobs exhibit, commemorating the fifth anniversary of the Apple co-founder's passing. The exhibit is running through November 27 and is available by appointment only.

Kim Kwon-Tae, operator of the Korea Computer Museum

Kim Kwon-Tae, operator of the Korea Computer Museum.
Photo by Jang Jin-Young.

There's plenty more to see in South Korea. Writes Luke Dormehl for Cult of Mac:

If, for some reason, you are planning to visit South Korea for an Apple-themed holiday, the Korea Computer Museum isn't the only place that should be on your list. The country's Nexon Computer Museum also owns one of a tiny number of Apple I computers that are still fully operational. It was purchased from Sotheby's on June 15, 2012 for $374,500.

Apple, meanwhile, was recently rumored to be planning a new Apple store — the first in South Korea — directly across the street from Samsung’s headquarters in Seoul, South Korea.

I'm unfamiliar with the popularity of the Apple II in South Korea when it was still commercially available, but I'm glad to see its global significance being recognized throughout the world. Kim hopes that his collection will "provoke the imagination of children", just as it did for so many Westerners thirty years ago. May its legacy of inspiration continue.

KansasFest goes to Funspot

October 31st, 2016 9:41 AM
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At KansasFest, Apple II users from around the world meet and share a unique experience. The games we play there — be it computer games like Structris and KABOOM!, board games such as Lode Runner, or the card game Oregon Trail — forge friendships that are often revisited only once a year at KansasFest.

But sometimes, the stars align to reunite those friends in new and unusual venues. That happened this past weekend, when Juiced.GS associate editor Andy Molloy, staff writer Ivan Drucker, Retro Computing Roundtable co-host Carrington Vanston, and I made the trek to the American Classic Arcade Museum at Funspot in Laconia, New Hampshire, USA.

ACAM is the world's largest video game arcade, as determined by Guinness World Records. With over 300 machines from the 1970s and 1980s, the arcade is home to coin-ops both classic and rare — all still just a token each. I first discovered this arcade thirty years ago, when its games were new. I returned every summer for over a decade, then relegated it to a childhood memory for another ten years. I finally started going back in 2006 and recruited Andy in 2007. Having now been making an annual pilgrimage to Funspot for nearly a decade, we decided it was time to evangelize and spread the good word to Carrington and Ivan, who'd never been there.

Carrington, who co-founded the podcast No Quarter, was of course familiar with many of Funspot's games, but Ivan knew few beyond his favorites. He schooled us all in Donkey Kong but then proved vulnerable to the first shrubbery he encountered in Paper Boy. We each sought out individual rounds of Marble Madness, Frogger, Asteroids, and Robotron 2064, but the most fun was had when we went head-to-head. Ivan, Andy, and I lost to the computer in Super Sprint. Carrington, Andy, and I then demolished cities in Rampage, after which Carrington, Andy, and Ivan launched bombs at Sinistar; we all four finally teamed up to play to the eleventh dungeon of Gauntlet II.

There were two surprising discoveries of the day. The first was Donkey Kong II, which looked and played like a sequel to the Nintendo classic — except Ivan had never heard of it. Was it possible for a game with such storied lineage to have escaped his notice for so long?

Donkey Kong 2 at Funspot

The answer is no: Donkey Kong II is an unofficial ROM hack consisting of the original game's four levels and four new levels. It made its arcade debut at Funspot in 2006 but is more easily playable online.

The other surprise was Chiller, a disturbing lightgun game. Developed by Exidy of Death Race infamy, Chiller challenges players to shoot as many human prisoners as possible in a short amount of time. These living targets are found in torture chambers, ensconced in guillotines, racks, and other vehicles of pain, waiting for the player to deliver the fatal blow. While it sounds perverse, my gaming buds excused it by how cartoonish its artwork was, saying they'd never play a modern game with motion-capture video that featured such ghoulish, gratuitous violence. Still, I enjoyed playing the role of the disapproving prude, sternly frowning and shaking my head in their direction with each playthrough, while in the back of my mind wondering how I could excuse my ownership of the NES port.

Due to how far our far-flung party had to travel to return home, we did not have time to cap the evening at Pinball Wizard, another excellent arcade in southern New Hampshire. We were also left with a heavy cupful of leftover tokens from Funspot. With this many games, there is never enough time to play them all.

Fortunately, Funspot — much like KansasFest and the friendships it forms — is forever.