Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Unearthed arcana, milestones, and anniversaries.

Apple Museum of Prague

August 7th, 2017 9:49 AM
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In the past few years, I've had the pleasure of seeing the Apple II in museums across the country: the Computer History Museum, the Strong Museum of Play, the Living Computer Museum, and Charles Babbage Institute, to name a few. And there are still others I've yet to explore, including the National Videogame Museum, as featured in the March 2017 issue of Juiced.GS.

But there are many more museums I've yet to visit, and the latest one to pop up on my radar is in the first foreign country I ever visited: the Czech Republic. My former Computerworld manager Sharon Machlis was recently in Prague on vacation, much as I was in March 1998. What's new in the two decades in between our visits is the creatively named Apple Museum. This institution "includes the most valuable and the most complex collection of computers from 1976 till 2012 and other Apple, Pixar and Next products."

Apple Museum entrance

Photo by Sharon Machlis.

While Sharon didn't pop into this museum, there are plenty of reviews of the venue online. On reddit, where a photo album can be found, reports indicate the museum shows the evolution and contrast from old to new technologies, but without being hands-on. The inventory coming from a private collection instead of donors likely accounts for the 472 exhibits being behind glass.

Also found here is an unusual offering among museums: a raw vegan bistro and smoothie bar.

The range of products is in line with favorite foods and beverages of Steve Jobs. This eccentric but likeable man with an infectious enthusiasm and passion for his cause, favored organic fruits and vegetables and totally rejected meat. As time went on, he progressed from vegetarianism to veganism and the most common foods were just salads, juices and fruit smoothies. Complete your visit with a unique culinary experience!

Hey, why not? Museums have to innovate, and anyway, it's for a good cause — all the proceeds go to charity, to help relieve traumatic brain injuries and muscular dystrophy.

Can't make it to Prague? The museum website, available in both English and Česky, has a Google Street View-like 3D tour, complete with support for Google Cardboard and other VR-like devices.

I'm not likely to get to the museum anytime soon — I'm just 19 years too late. But it's encouraging to know the history of our favorite platform is being preserved and exhibited around the world!

Charles Babbage Institute on Juiced.GS

May 29th, 2017 11:55 AM
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In the summer of 2011, I applied for Juiced.GS to receive an International Standard Serial Number. My goal in having an industry-standard reference number was to make this quarterly publication easier to accession into libraries and archives. Once the ISSN was issued, I contacted institutions around the world to ask if they would accept a complete collection of Juiced.GS.

One such organization that was at the top of my list was the Charles Babbage Institute at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Although perhaps not as well-known as the Computer History Museum in California or as geographically accessible as the Strong Museum of Play in New York, both of which have a tourist appeal to them, the CBI is nonetheless widely respected as a research center for history of information technology. It was an honor for Juiced.GS to be accepted into its archives.

Four years later, I was travelling en route to KansasFest 2015. I decided to fly from Boston to Fargo, North Dakota, to visit my friend Sabriel, who had been a guest on my podcast, Polygamer. Not only was I looking forward to spending time with her in a less harried environment than our usual gaming conferences, but North Dakota was one of the seven United States I'd never been to; checking it off would bring me closer to having visited all fifty.

From Fargo, there were a couple different routes to KansasFest, including driving. But the timing didn't work out to stop in Nebraska and carpool with any of the KFesters there, so I decided to fly. The only problem was that there were no direct flights from Fargo to… almost anywhere, including Kansas City. My flight would have a layover in Minneapolis.

J. Arvid Nelson, CBI curator and archivist, shows off the gem of the CBI collection.Minneapolis! That's the home of the Charles Babbage Institute! Instead of an indirect flight, Sabriel graciously drove me to Minneapolis the day before my flight. I emailed my contact there, Arvid Nelsen, to let him know we were coming, and he offered us an exclusive, behind-the-scenes tour. That visit is documented on the Juiced.GS blog.

During that tour, Arvid and I discovered that we both had an interest in the diversity of the tech industry, both modern and historical. I was only a year into my Polygamer podcast back then, but when I got home, I emailed him to see if he'd like to be a guest. It took awhile to coordinate, but two years later, that interview with Arvid and current CBI archivist Amanda Wick finally happened in last week's podcast.

It's not uncommon for my gaming interests to lead to Juiced.GS stories: my attendance at MAGFest resulted in a Juiced.GS cover story about Al Lowe, creator of Leisure Suit Larry; and my IndieSider podcast interview with the creator of Shadowgate similarly led an another cover story.

But this is the first time I can think of that the Apple II led to an episode of Polygamer. Having attended the last nineteen KansasFests, I've observed that we tend to be a fairly homogenous population, which wouldn't normally be a good fit for a podcast about diversity. I'm delighted that the Apple II and the Charles Babbage Institute nonetheless resulted in a fascinating conversation about history, diversity, and archiving. Please do visit the CBI, either online or in-person as I have, and listen to our podcast.

Dan Bricklin & VisiCalc at TEDx

February 20th, 2017 10:58 AM
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When Steve Wozniak gave a TED Talk, it was a disjointed series of anecdotes that gave us a glimpse into the early days of Apple. It was fun, but it wasn't a story.

Other veterans of that era have a more natural flair storytelling. Enter Dan Bricklin, who in November 2016 gave a TED Talk on the origins of his industry-redefining application, VisiCalc.

It's a familiar story, and one I mostly already knew, having learned it when I taught my high-school students how to use VisiCalc (as detailed in Juiced.GS Volume 10, Issue 1), though a few details I got wrong: I thought the plaque commemorating VisiCalc's conception was at Bricklin's undergrad of MIT, not his graduate school of Harvard.

But what really underscores this talk is just how revolutionary VisiCalc was. While I knew it was the first electronic spreadsheet, I assumed more of it was derived from analog counterparts: the grid-based patterns, the naming of cells, and the syntax of formulae are all so intuitive, I didn't realize that it all had to be created from scratch.

My thanks to my Massachusetts neighbors Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston for making Apple the company it was. For more of the story, this time from Frankston, watch Kevin Savetz's interview from August 2016.

(Hat tip to Dagen Brock)

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.

RCR at the Living Computer Museum

July 11th, 2016 9:17 AM
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Last summer, en route to KansasFest 2015, I stopped in Minneapolis at the Charles Babbage Institute, one of ten archives with a complete collection of Juiced.GS.

Behind the scenes at the Charles Babbage Institute

This past December, I made my first visit to another such institution, the Computer History Museum of Mountain View, California. And this week, again en route to KansasFest, I'll visit the Living Computer Museum in Seattle, Washington, whose 2012 opening was also covered by Juiced.GS.

As it turns out, Michael Mulhern, frequent co-host of the Retro Computing Roundtable podcast, had the same idea. To make the lengthy trip from his native Australia to the United States worthwhile, he's hitting up all the sights on his way to KansasFest 2016. He asked me to tweet an invitation for RCR listeners to join him on his tour of the LCM on a Thursday night, at a time when the museum was offering free admission. At the last minute, I realized we had an opportunity to extend the invitation to even those who couldn't join him: would Michael be interested in live-tweeting his event? I hurriedly set him up with access to the official RCR Twitter account, resulting in many great tweets that solicited responses from fans, enthusiasts, and even the LCM itself.

The entire Twitter exchange is archived in this Storify:

Now I know what to look for when I'm there myself, just a week later. Thanks, Michael!

Documentary crowdfunding frustration

July 4th, 2016 7:18 AM
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The Kickstarter for 8 bit generation succeeded, leading to the imminent release of a documentary about 8-bit computers. It was a long road, as the film was marked as "Missing In Action" back in 2012, well after I'd already paid for the DVD.

The Kickstarter promised an unlikely turnaround time: the campaign closed on September 25, 2015, with DVDs to ship just five months later in February 2016. That hasn't yet happened — but while we wait, the producers have launched a second Kickstarter for a second documentary.

"The story of Atari is two-thirds the story of Nolan Bushnell, founder and visionary," says the project description, "and one-third the first and probably biggest boom and bust of the new economy some 20 years before the new economy even existed."

The story of Atari is also the origin story of Apple: Steve Jobs got his first job there; Steve Wozniak developed their Breakout game; and together, before they founded Apple Computer Inc., the Steves tried selling the Apple II to Atari.

But how did the filmmakers spin the Atari content out from the original documentary without detracting from it? Turns out there was a marketing miscommunication: the first film was only the first part of a series, with each installment focusing on a different computer and company. What I thought was a broader overview of the 8-bit generation, and which I backed based on its interviews with Steve Wozniak, turned out to be subtitled The Commodore Wars.

Admittedly, I should've read the project's description more closely: "We resolved to release a single long run episode by the working title of Growing The 8 Bit Generation, focused on the home computer explosion and Commodore role in the personal computer revolution." But I usually count on a Kickstarter's campaign video to detail a project — and this project had no video.

That's not the only reason I feel conflicted about their second Kickstarter. I understand that, logistically, launching another crowdfunding campaign while the first remains unfulfilled makes perfect sense: the first documentary is already content-locked and is in the final stages of production, freeing the directors to begin work on editing another film. But emotionally and politically, it's a gamble, as Comcept discovered with the Mighty No. 9 and Red Ash campaigns. It feels like the directors are asking us to double down.

For almost half a decade now, I've been expecting a DVD of a documentary about Apple and its contemporaries. Such a thing may exist as future installments in this DVD series are produced — but it's not what I've been promised, it's not what I paid for, and I find myself a skeptical customer to be asking for more money and faith from.