Archive for the ‘Happenings’ Category

The Apple II isn't just a computer; it's a community. Conferences, conventions, and parties are where to meet your fratres in computatrum.

Apple II & feminism at PAX East 2014

March 17th, 2014 1:00 PM
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Two years ago today, I was at GameFest, the opening weekend of The Art of Video Games, an art exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. It was the performance of chiptune artists 8 Bit Weapon and ComputeHer that drew me there, but I went home with connections to the National Academy of Video Game Trade Reviewers.

A year later, that connection landed me on stage at Boston's PAX East gaming convention, moderating a panel on the best video games of the year. Having developed my moderation skills at KansasFest, I found PAX an exciting and encouraging venue in which to continue hosting discussions on some of my favorite hobbies.

Emboldened, I sought to return the PAX stage in 2014 with a panel of more critical social value. Inspired by the work of Anita Sarkeesian, whose work I discovered upon backing her Kickstarter, I started brainstorming with Juiced.GS associate editor Andy Molloy as far back as June 27 and finally submitted my proposal last month. With the official schedule for PAX East having been announced last week, I'm pleased to announce that my proposal has been accepted, and I will be moderating the panel "Sex, Sexy & Sexism: Fixing Gender Inequality in Gaming".

The Apple II connection? Not only would this panel never have developed without chiptune artists, Juiced.GS editors, and KansasFest sessions — I was also able to feature the Apple II itself at ten seconds into the above trailer.

The Apple II — it makes all things possible!

KansasFest 2014 teaser

February 17th, 2014 2:15 PM
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Today, the KansasFest committee released this image:
KansasFest 2014 teaser

The blog post had no title (-20 to SEO), no body (-10), no ALT or TITLE tags (-5), and no informative filename (kfest2014.png) or slug (kfest-2014-teaser) — that is to say, no hidden clues.

But that isn't to say we can't make some inferences. Today is not the first time the KansasFest committee issued a teaser in advance of announcing the keynote speaker. In 2012, they posted this image to their Web site:

Quake logo

Three guesses who's coming to KansasFest 2012 — and the first two don't count.


The image made no attempt at being obtuse: gamers quickly recognized it as the logo of Quake, a quintessential first-person shooter from id software, original creators of the Apple IIGS game Wolfenstein 3D. Early id employees included Softdisk alumni John Romero and John Carmack, as well as former KansasFest keynote speaker Lane Roathe. Carmack still has a streak of the retrocomputing enthusiast in him:


Given Carmack's commitments to id and Oculus, it seemed unlikely he was available to speak at an Apple II convention. That left only John Romero — who was confirmed only hours later with an official press release.

So what can we learn from this latest image out of KansasFest? It features an entirely different style from the logos used for KansasFests 2006–2013. Presuming this teaser image is in fact the 2014 logo, and that its departure from tradition is not merely for aesthetic purposes, we should investigate its influences.

Fortunately, the committee has made this part easy. The logo was posted to not only the KansasFest blog, but also various social media sites, including the Softalk Forever group on Facebook. There, KansasFest publicist Peter Neubauer confirmed that this logo was designed in collaboration with committee chair Tony Diaz, who "created a new font using letters captured from original issues."

Softalk #1

The debut issue of Softalk.


I'm not a former reader of Softalk, so I read Steve Weyhrich's history of the publication. Of the names that were associated with the magazine over the years, two stand out. According to Wikipedia, "Softalk along with founder/editor Margot Comstock and founder/publisher Al Tommervik are named as pioneers of the microcomputer industry in the Smithsonian Institution." Of the two, Comstock is an active participant in the Apple II Enthusiasts group on Facebook. She has also collaborated with Mike Maginnis on providing material to the Apple II Scans project.

Perhaps Comstock is too obvious a choice for this year's keynote speaker — after all, the committee has done an excellent job in recent years of bringing unexpected celebrities out of the woodwork, such as John Romero, Mark Simonsen, David Szetela, and Randy Wigginton. But who else associated with Softalk would fit in the impressive lineup of past speakers?

No matter what, I'll be at KansasFest 2014. But for an opening act? My money's on Comstock.

In praise of KansasFest's inclusiveness

January 20th, 2014 6:40 PM
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The year has just begun, and already it's been busy with conventions! Two weeks ago, I flew to Maryland for MAGFest, the Music and Gaming Festival. My full report is on Gamebits, where I mention checking out the dealer room:

Dozens of indie shops were selling used games, original art, posters, figurines, books, dice, and more. I desperately wanted to expunge all my cash on the awesome artwork and knick-knacks, but every time I stopped myself and asked, "What would I do with it?" That question guided me to buy Moviebob's book, Super Mario Bros. 3: Brick by Brick, from the Fangamer table, though absent from the table was Fangamer founder Reid Young, whom I'd interviewed a year earlier. The last day of MAGFest, I picked up some chiptune CDs at 50% off. That's all the swag I went home with.

Today, I attended a convention closer to home. Arisia bills itself as New England's largest and most diverse science fiction and fantasy convention. This time, I hung out in the dealer room almost exclusively, coming home with dice, hats, buttons, and other assorted knick-knacks.

Arisia 2014

Geekware everywhere!

To get into either of these marketplaces was not free; registration for all of the convention was required. MAGFest was a reasonable $45 for the entire four-day event, whereas Arisia charged that much to attend just the Saturday of show's four days. I found these practices very discouraging. I'd never attended either show and would've gone to MAGFest regardless, but my motivation to attend Arisia draw was not the costume contests or the panels and workshops but solely to support local artists. To charge $45 just for the privilege of looking at the merchandise made the event less accessible to those who have only a passing interest in the hobby.

KansasFest, by contrast, makes its vendor fair open to all. Anyone from the Kansas City area is welcome to come to Rockhurst University on Saturday afternoon to buy, sell, and trade with fellow geeks. It has been this way since my first time attending KansasFest in 1998, and it continues now that I myself am a merchant. Because of this policy, Juiced.GS has a demonstrably larger subscriber base. I appreciate the larger audience and increased opportunities to sell my product, and if I were a vendor at MAGFest or Arisia, I'd be disappointed at how exclusive the event was.

I appreciate that the organizers of these events are likely not meanies with no motivation other than greedily charging admission. Convention centers and hotels have maximum capacities, and especially in the case of Arisia, which had to close registration for Saturday after selling out, it would at best be awkward for the vendors' space to be so crowded; at worst, it would be against fire code. And with the event being so popular, it's not like they need to open any part of the show to the public for the vendors to do a brisk business. By contrast, KansasFest, whose attendance is only in the double digits, doesn't have any of these concerns; and with our hobby so niche, we can't afford to be exclusive.

And yet, it's an issue worth juggling. Having done my time on the KansasFest committee, I understand and appreciate the factors that convention organizers must consider. Few such cons are profitable, instead being held for the love of the community. But that's the very reason why these cons should also serve to embiggen the community by giving them a taste of what it offers. An open vendor space would serve as such outreach while also making it a profitable and attractive proposition for the artists.

The Apple II community in general and KansasFest in particular have not only survived but thrived due to the collaboration and openness of its contributors. The KansasFest vendor fair is one of many things we do right. When and where possible, other cons should look to us as an example of how to make its members feel welcome.

Digital Den launch party

October 28th, 2013 10:59 AM
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Mary Hopper began making waves this August when she announced her intention to found a computer history museum in Boston. News of the Digital Den was picked up by Open Apple, the Retro Computing Roundtable, the Boston Globe, and Apple II Bits.

The museum continues to evolve into a extant institution, as evidenced by the launch party held on October 20. As a backer of the museum's Indiegogo campaign, I received an invitation to the event, where I was pleased to make the acquaintance of Dr. Hopper, Adam Rosen of the Vintage Mac Museum, and Ian S. King of the Living Computer Museum, as well as catch up with fellow retrocomputing enthusiast Dave Ross. On-hand were classic computers such as the Apple II, TI-99, and Nintendo Entertainment System, as well as newer tech like the Oculus Rift. It was an encouraging occasion for a museum that continues to seek a permanent home.

My photos from the event are posted below and are available under a CC-BY-NC license. The book featured below, Gordon Bell's Out of a Closet: The Early Years of The Computer [x]* Museum, is available online as a PDF. For more photos from the event, including a silly one of me by Rus Gant, see the Digital Den's first exhibit photos.

Read the rest of this entry »

Meet the geeks at KansasFest

August 19th, 2013 1:18 PM
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From 2007 through 2012, I covered KansasFest for Computerworld, a magazine and website of which I was an editor. When I left that position in early 2013, I did so on good terms, leaving open the possibility of freelance work. I solicited suggestions from other Apple II users for how I might pitch coverage of this year's KansasFest in a way that Computerworld hadn't done before, Eric Shepherd proposed a series of attendee profiles, in the style of my previous coverage of BostonFIG. My editor loved the idea but asked that, instead of photos and writeups, I produce short video interviews.

I'd long wanted to shoot video at KansasFest, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so. Andy Molloy helped me vet a list of attendees with unique, discrete roles who would exemplify the Apple II community. Throughout the week of KansasFest, I cornered a dozen people: programmers, historians, artists, gamers, and more.

Computerworld published eight of the videos in the slideshow, "Who goes to an Apple II convention in 2013?", which went live last Friday. This morning, KansasFest's official YouTube channel published an additional three. That makes eleven — the unpublished 12th video was one I shot of myself, as a proof of concept. No one needs to see that.

My thanks to all who contributed to this project! I hope the below videos serve as an example of the wonderful friends you can make at KansasFest. Click the thumbnails for an introduction!

Melissa Barron

The Artist

Steve Wozniak

The Founder

Randy Wigginton

The Speaker

Steve Weyhrich

The Historian

Carrington Vanston

The Podcaster

Michael Sternberg

The Gamer

Eric Shepherd

The Emulator

Kevin Savetz

The Rebel

Charles Mangin

The Inventor

Carl Knoblock

The Old-Timer

Ken Gagne

The Profiler

The Programmer

The Programmer

Computer literacy begins at home

August 5th, 2013 4:59 PM
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KansasFest 2013 is now a week behind us, and I'm still absorbing everything I saw, learned, and experienced. Moments such as interviewing Steve Wozniak and other unscripted events are memories that will last a lifetime. But of those events that stuck to the schedule — that is, the daytime presentations and official sessions — but one that really caught my attention was "Teach U.S. Kids to Program" by attendee Matt Hellinger.

Hellinger's talk was prompted by "Teach U.S. kids to write computer code", a December 2012 article by Douglas Rushkoff, digital literacy advocate for Codecademy.com, a tool I use in my own classroom. Rushkoff outlined ten reasons why programming must be an essential part of any student's curriculum, given how pervasive computers have become in modern culture and industry. The article focused on how we passively use computers, allowing ourselves to be the passenger to tools that drive our lives. Hellinger in turn reflected on the golden age of the Apple II, when users and programmers were one in the same, putting us in the driver's seat. Can that experience be replicated for today's youth?

His proposal stems from more than some nostalgic desire for his kids to grow up the same way he did. Hellinger made a compelling argument that computers have become so powerful and complex as to be impenetrable, transforming them from tool to crutch. He suggested bringing them down a notch to again make them accessible to students, providing them with an environment where they can write original programs in fifty lines of code instead of a thousand. The Apple II is just such a machine.

But there's more to that equation than the classroom. Hellinger and I approach the topic from very different perspectives: he as an IT professional and parent; I as childfree educator. Although I'll happily expose other people's children to retroprogramming, as is already happening in Milton Keynes, those lessons have to be reinforced in the home. To that end, Hellinger proposed taking away the tablet, replacing or completing the desktop with a Raspberry Pi, and limiting Internet access.

I challenged Hellinger on these potentially draconian measures — not out of opposition but curiosity, to better assess the rigor of the stance. I asked what Johnny should do when he comes home from playing Xbox 360 and surfing Facebook at his classmates' homes. Hellinger said those exceptions are no different from expecting a child to obey other house rules: different parents make different allowances for their kids. Later I followed up via email: what about when the disagreement isn't between homes, but between home and classroom? What if the student is using an iPad at school and needs one to complete his homework? Again, Hellinger made it a simpler matter than I imagined, pointing back to his basic tenets. "I would definitely recommend restricting usage (as if the kid had brought home a video game to research)," he wrote. "Disabling Wi-Fi in the house would go a long way toward resolving unfettered use."

Overall, I was pleased and intrigued by Hellinger's proposal. I hope for opportunities to test and practice his ideas in the classroom, just as he is doing so in his own household. If you want to see his theories for yourself, he has generously allowed me to embed his original slides in this blog. Watch for them to eventually be added to the KansasFest file archive.