Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Unearthed arcana, milestones, and anniversaries.

Preparing for the Jobs film

August 12th, 2013 7:36 PM
by
Filed under History, Mainstream coverage, Steve Jobs;
2 comments.

Just a few weeks too late for a KansasFest outing, the Jobs movie finally debuts this week. To build hype, a second trailer has been released.

When I posted the video to Facebook, it received no replies — perhaps because the discussion was still active elsewhere in the group, where 35 comments reflected little enthusiasm for or faith in the film. "The clips I saw of how they portrayed Woz was enough for me to forget this film exists," wrote Paul Lipps. Similarly on Google+, Bill Loguidice wrote, "The poor Woz interpretation alone kills it for me." Added Brendan Robert, "I'll only see it if they don't screw up Woz." I agree — and so does Woz — that his character is poorly, stereotypically portrayed.

Yet I am inexplicably excited to see this film. Perhaps because it's a mass-media manifestation of the inventor whose most famous creation my fellow Apple II users and I have celebrated for decades. Too often I've been disappointed by people not knowing Steve Jobs co-founded Apple with "the other Steve". Even if our hero is poorly represented, won't it behoove us to educate the masses as to his existence?

Or maybe it's not just Woz but more broadly the history of Apple I'm interested in. I'm finally reading Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs, the biography released shortly after Jobs' death in October 2011 and which I received as a Christmas gift that year. I'll never complete the massive tome in time for the film's release, but it's already refreshing my memory with details that I hope to see evidenced on the silver screen.

Or maybe I relish seeing the film because I know it'll be terrible. On the subject of ancient computers, surely nothing could be worse than my experience wanting to walk out of last month's Computer Chess. It's all about having proper expectation — though Apple Insider user Enigmamatic warns even that may not be enough:

I got to see this movie at a pre-screening this week and I don't know why they are letting people see it early. It's worse than one thinks and I went in with very low expectations. It's poorly written with ridiculous dialogue and no exposition. Virtually the entire movie takes place with no explanation as to why anything in the movie happens. It's just a parade of scenes that the viewer has to accept. Truly a horrible movie that was obviously pushed through production to get it out first and take advantage of Jobs' death.

Soon we'll all be able to reach our own conclusions of whether this film surpasses its predecessor, Pirates of Silicon Valley, or if it warrants its own RiffTrax. I hope to see it in time to provide a review to Computerworld. Follow me on Twitter, or follow my film blog, for updates!

Game Informer interviews Steve Wozniak

July 22nd, 2013 10:34 AM
by
Filed under Game trail, History, Steve Wozniak;
Comments Off

Four months ago, Game Informer's print magazine featured an interview with Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computer Inc. and inventor of the Apple II. I shared on this blog what little of the print-only interview was also published online, that being Wozniak talking about his love for Tetris.

Game Informer has now released the entirety of that interview online, with a 2,000-word transcript and several additional videos. Appropriate to the magazine's scope, the conversation focuses largely on Woz's gaming history, from how he created Breakout for Atari to what he thinks of Apple's future in the gaming industry.

Reflecting on the early days of game programming, Woz demonstrates his usual humility: "Hardware games — I'm sorry, it's not like software… I was one of the greatest designers ever; I was working on the iPhone 5 of its day — the hottest gadget product in the world."

More important, the above video once again reaffirms that the Apple II was designed to feed its creator's gaming habit:

I built paddle hardware into the Apple II deliberately for the game of Breakout. I wanted everything in there. I put in a speaker with sound so I could have beeps like games need. So, a lot of the Apple II was designed to be a game machine as well as a computer. That is the way to get it to people, to get people to start buying these machines.

Why are games so important? Easy: "Your life is all about happiness — that's how you judge it. It's not how successful you are, or how many yachts you own, or that kind of stuff — it's how much you smile."

By that standard, I wonder how happy a life Woz would feel Steve Jobs had?

The full, 48-minute interview is available after the break.

Read the rest of this entry »

Kickstarting the history of Sierra On-Line

July 8th, 2013 2:00 PM
by
Filed under Game trail, History;
Comments Off

We retrocomputing enthusiasts have seen Kickstarter used for books (The First Apple, What's Where), games (Shadowgate, Ultima), and documentaries (GET LAMP, 6502). Now it's time to open your wallets again, as the latest project to warrant an Apple II user's investment is a documentary of Sierra On-Line.

Sierra On-Line was the developer and publisher of such classic point-and-click adventure games as the noble King's Quest, comedic Space Quest, avaricious Gold Rush!, and lascivious Leisure Suit Larry (a modern remake of which was published just last month, courtesy Kickstarter). Many of these franchises got their start on the Apple II, so naturally we should be keen to back this project, right?

I bid caution: Kickstarter is an investment platform, and you'd do well to research this project. In this case, this project already toured the Kickstarter circuit in 2012, when the creators asked for $40,000; they received $1,312. Their pitch video at the time consisted entirely of gameplay footage and title cards — no interviews, no introductions, no voiceovers. To their credit, that initial fundraising failure didn't deter the film crew, as their new pitch video demonstrates they've spent the past year conducting interviews with Sierra On-Line luminaries. Having that in their pocket may justify their new request for $125,000. (Makes you wonder what they were hoping to accomplish with just a third that sum!) They have thus far received $10,367, or nine times more than their last effort — but it's a slow start, an still a long ways from their goal.

One thing missing from their new video is the talent behind the camera. I'd like to know that the documentarians dedicating themselves to this project are as passionate about adventure gaming as they need their backers to be. The enthusiasm that Dave Kellett and Fred Schroeder brought to their comic strip documentary, Stripped, was contagious and, I suspect, a large part of why it raised double its goal on its first Kickstarter and its second Kickstarter. Between the lack of personality in the video and the relatively terse text write-up, the drive behind the Sierra On-Line film is not as explicit.

The Sierra On-Line documentary is entitled Heroes, an improvement over the original name, So You Want To Be A Hero? One backer suggested, why not call it Quests? I like the ring of that, since it abstracts and plays upon the King's/Space/Police Quest series. The project creators acknowledged and thoughtfully responded to that suggestion:

We chose the title Heroes for the film for a variety of reasons. Chief among them, the term "Hero" was a theme rooted in the adventure games. From the perspective of all of us who played the games, we had the opportunity to be a hero. We also felt that this was an appropriate term that serves as an homage to all of those at Sierra who worked tirelessly to create the games we all know and love a success.

Will this Kickstarter meet or even exceed its fundraising? Will the final film, scheduled for a March 2014 release, reveal anything new about this storied game company, or will it cater more to nostalgic fans? We'll begin to have the answers when the Kickstarter campaign closes on the evening of August 5.

In the meantime, digital antiquarian Jimmy Maher, whom we interviewed this year on Open Apple, has written extensively about the history of Sierra. Although he's not collected his works on this particular subject into a book, I encourage you to scroll through his posts and read them in the order in which they were published; the detail and accuracy of his narratives are remarkable.

UPDATE: This project has failed, having raised only $28,872, or 23% of its goal.

First reactions to Jobs movie trailer

June 24th, 2013 2:59 PM
by
Filed under History, Mainstream coverage, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak;
2 comments.

There was an occasion last year where I wrote a blog post for Apple II Bits but, prior to clicking "publish", realized the subject had a broader appeal. The same thing happened today when I started writing about the new trailer for the Steve Jobs film. Previously we saw only a clip of the movie, resulting in mixed receptions. Now that a two-minute trailer garnered two million views over the weekend, has public reception to the movie changed?

Find out by reading my Computerworld blog — but you can watch the trailer here, or see the film in theaters on August 16.

The Apple events of June 10

June 10th, 2013 8:25 PM
by
Filed under History;
Comments Off

Today is a big day for Apple — and not just because iOS 7 was announced this afternoon (with an oddly familiar rainbow logo, at that!). Although Apple's future will be determined by the announcements and decisions made today, it is their past, and thus their existence, that is defined by the events of June 10.

Although there is some disagreement as to the exact date, the authorities of the Computer History Museum and Steve Weyhrich's Apple II History site indicate it was today in 1977 that the first Apple II computer shipped. The Apple II, of course, was the first official product of the newly minted Apple Computer Inc. Its success enabled the company to survive and thrive, going on to innovate, create new products, and redefine entire industries.

If not for today, we wouldn't have iOS, or iPhones, or iPads, or Macs — or the many creations, connections, conventions, and collaborations they have made possible.

Happy birthday to Apple's greatest success. May there be many more to come!

May 25 - Retirement

(Hat tip to ThinkGeek)

My elementary education with the Apple II

June 3rd, 2013 12:36 PM
by
Filed under History;
2 comments.

My household was an early adopter of personal computers, at least compared to the rest of my grade school. Whereas I had access to the family Apple IIe whenever I wanted, for most of my classmates, their only exposure to that computer came from our weekly computer lab, which was not what I would call rigorous. The instructor was Sister Theresa, and she didn't know the first thing about programming or educational software. Too many classes would start this way: "Turn on the computer. Type NEW, return, RUN, return, HOME return, GR, return. Now draw the Nativity." And that was it: we'd be left to our own devices for the rest of class. Since our work was never checked, no one attempted the project she'd assigned us. On rare occasions, we'd be given textbooks of BASIC program listings and could type one in, but neither instruction nor comprehension occurred regarding what these commands did or how they resulted in the program we'd run.

Instead, my mastery of the Apple II occurred at home. I would pull apart Applesoft programs to see how they worked, then I'd modify them or write my own, sometimes recreating the work during class to show off to my classmates. (The result could be seen less in their admiration and more in their bullying.) I later wondered why the class couldn't be more productive. Did the administration think Sr. Theresa was the best person for this job? Or was the convent looking for a position for this old nun, and this was all that was available? Was it worth it to make her feel useful at the expense of all those computers being wasted? Having now been an educator myself, I'd be keen to see what the mission statement, classroom goals, or rubric were for that class. I suspect the syllabus was blank.

Regardless, I did enjoy these classes and the special permission Sr. Theresa gave me to borrow from her archive of Scholastic Microzine on Friday afternoons to bring home for the weekend. I would wake up early every Saturday to play this trove of new games I'd been bequeathed, both before my three older brothers would wake up and before the Microzine would have to go back to school on Monday morning. I was likely the only student who ever went to see Sr. Theresa outside our designated lab time, and we grew friendly. But my education had taught me to never question authority, so despite our relationship, it never occurred to me to suggest that her class could be run in any other way.

St. Leo's SchoolI don't know how much that aspect of the school has changed since then. I remember hearing in the early- to mid-nineties that they were "upgrading" all their IIe computers to IIc's. Whatever expert they hired for that advice steered them wrong, as the Apple II line was nearing the end of its official support by then, and switching to Macs or PCs would've been a more long-term investment. I wonder what came of their Apple IIe or IIc labs — no one called me when they disposed of either. Maybe they're still there, teaching modern students the fine art of retrocomputing.

Can a quick Google search tell us for sure? Visiting the St. Leo's School Web site — which is running on a five-year-old version of Joomla — I see that "computer" is one of the required classes, and that "Computers are incorporated into daily classes, starting in Pre-Kindergarten." Not the most detailed curriculum outline.

Granted, this is a grade school in suburban Leominster, Massachusetts. At that age and with the resources available, it may be more reasonable to expect the students to focus on the basics: "Religion, Mathematics, Reading — Literature, Language Arts". But computers can be tools by which to inspire creativity in all those areas and more. Think of all the lessons, exercises, and tools that computers could be bringing to the classroom: Programming! Applesoft BASIC! iBooks! Game-playing! Game design! And more!

The issue, in many ways, is academic, as it will be a long time before a grade school's curriculum again has direct influence on my family. But whenever I do evaluate a school's academic rigor for its ability to inspire a generation of creative and competitive professionals, I'll be sure of three things: that computer literacy is as much a priority as other "core" areas; that there is a passionate, knowledgeable teacher in charge of executing that mission; and that she be willing to share her library of Microzines.