I once wrote a quarterly column for Juiced.GS entitled "A Word or II". It was a short piece, only half a page, and could be on any topic on which I had a personal opinion. Figuring out what to write about was never easy, but I did so sixteen times before editorial responsibilities shifted and Eric Shepherd took over the column. Now I write Juiced.GS's monthly editorial, "My Home Page", and have so far done so 29 times. It's still challenging.
So if three years ago you had asked me to write 263 columns about the Apple II, I would've laughed in your face.
Happy birthday, blog!
And yet, Apple II Bits has done exactly that! It astonishes me. Although there's more effort required to produce online content than print due to the blog's capacity for embedded multimedia and researched hyperlinks, those same resources provide an almost infinite wealth of topics on which to opine.
Despite that, a year ago this month, I changed the blog's publication frequency from twice-weekly to weekly. I'm glad to have done so, as it's freed me up to produce content for other channels, such as YouTube and TechHive. But there's still plenty more to be said about the Apple II, and as one of the three pillars of my Apple II publishing empire — Juiced.GS and Open Apple being the others — it helps improve the discoverability of the entire network. So let's keep this outlet going, too
In the meantime, here are some random numbers about the blog.
Computers play an important role in education, be it in programming or game design. Retrocomputers like the Apple II can be especially valuable in any of these disciplines, especially programming. The finite, knowable universe of an 8-bit machine provides the perfect canvas on which budding programmers can craft their first algorithms.
But in many schools, the question isn't with what computers should programming be taught, but whether programming should be taught at all. Demand for programmers has never been higher, with the number of positions growing at twice the national rate. Yet ninety percent of schools offer no programming courses at all, leading to colleges graduating fewer computer science majors than they were a decade ago.
The non-profit Code.org is bringing attention to the need for more programming education in this country with a public service announcement (PSA). For this five-minute video, they have recruited the likes of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and will.i.am, as well as some less likely suspects.
When I was in high school, a required course was geometry. I found it a challenging course, but reasonably so. The theorems and corollaries about alternate interior angles and their kin weren't intended to train me to be an architect; rather, they were lessons in logic, teaching me how to think and solve.
Programming is the modern geometry, offering similar value to students, whether or not they seek careers in computer programming. I do not consider myself a programmer, yet I have benefitted immensely from the languages I taught myself outside of school. I have occasionally tried to pass on these lessons to friends, showing them some (literally) BASIC concepts on the Apple II, such as variables and FOR loops. They remain completely mystified, with one going so far as to marvel at my own capacity to grasp programming: "You're a creative person, Ken, yet you can program. I've never met anyone whose mind can switch between those two modes so effortlessly."
But programming is creative. A relative who doesn't realize that basic tenet recently characterized programming to me as "Doing the same thing, over and over". How he confused programming with data entry is beyond me. But the fusion of creativity and logic is perhaps best found on this digital landscape, and students would benefit from being introduced to that sandbox — whether or not it's on an Apple II.
It's been almost two months since my Apple IIgs and I left Computerworld. It's been almost as long that I've been in my new position — the first one ever to afford me an office with windows. As much as I love the view, it seems empty without a certain rainbow Apple logo somewhere in the room.
I wasn't sure how long I should be at the new place before making a request to move in my own personal desktop computer. But my easygoing boss had no problems with such a setup, as long as I ran it past our IT department, to be politic. All that accomplished was a remark about how "that Mac must be older than you, Ken!" — two false statements in one, both designed to set me on edge. But I focused on the fact that they had no objections and thus visited my office on a weekend to set up my machine.
My Apple II seems quite happy in its new home. Other than turning the IIgs on to ensure it survived the disassembly and setup processes, I've not had the opportunity to use it — nor have I determined if this institution's network will accommodate my Uthernet interface, which is my preferred configuration for ADTPro.
Although that functionality is essential for certain projects, for now, I'm just happy that my office is beginning to feel like mine.
I am not an artist — at least, not in the sense of having skill at design, drawing, or painting. I can write elegantly, exhibit comic timing in a British farce, even sing a tune or two. But being able to draw something that is immediately recognizable is a skill I have not yet acquired.
I thus have difficulty expressing myself on the Wii U. Nintendo's latest video game system combines traditional and tablet gaming by using a controller that features a touch screen. Gamers can use the included stylus to draw black-and-white art that is then shared with other denizens of the "Miiverse". Nintendo must approve every drawing, ensuring a family-friendly art exhibit.
That was until Wii U inhabitant OverNiven sent me this message:
As stunning as the art is that I've seen on the Wii U, none has made me happier than this confident expression: an old friend who hasn't been in KansasFest in years, if not decades, will finally return.
A month ago, I announced on this blog that I had quit my job. Since then, I've started two new ones. It's too soon to assess the full-time job, but I think it will be a decent fit. The part-time job, on the other hand, is unbelievably awesome. I'm teaching an undergraduate course in electronic publishing, which ties into almost everything I've ever learned and loved doing. There are times that its workload is overwhelming — on a per-hour basis, I'm almost certainly being underpaid. But the longer I do it, the better I'll get at it.
Although my experiences in the Apple II community are directly informing my career path, there's still something missing from my professional life: an actual Apple II. I've not been at my new job(s) long enough to feel comfortable inquiring about bringing such a behemoth into the office. But my workplace seems pretty supportive of BYOD, so I don't think it will be an issue.
In the meantime, I was pleased as punch that the Apple II was the source of my first official congratulation on this transition I've undergone. Shortly after my last blog post on the subject, I received an envelope in the mail with a return address from a Juiced.GS subscriber. Forgetting that he'd already renewed his subscription for 2013, I thought I'd find a check inside. But what I found instead was even better!
The card was printed on single side of a single 8.5" x 11" piece of paper and folded into quarters. A personal message, not seen here, was handwritten on the inside. The production is courtesy Broderbund's PrintShop GS. Although I didn't ask, I suspect no emulators were used in the creation of this card.
I appreciate the goodwill the Apple II community has extended to me and my endeavors through this thoughtful member and his gesture!
Computerworld also put me in touch with several folks who became KansasFest keynote speakers: when I liveblogged from KansasFest 2007, Lane Roathe left a comment to the effect of, "That event is still going on??" Using my administrative rights, I pulled the contact info from his comment and got in touch. A year later, he was our keynote speaker — an attendance he repeated in 2012, putting him back in touch with his id Software co-founder, John Romero.
The effect of these connections is long-lasting, and for as long as Computerworld maintains a persistent online archive, those stories will remain — and possibly grow, as the invitation to freelance has been extended. So though I'm not concerned about the state of this body of work, I am nonetheless saddened as I clean out my cubicle to realize the Apple II's presence is not long for this office.
My cubicle has sported an Apple IIGS since December 2008, when I came into the office over Christmas break to set it up for the first time in 11 years. Seven months later, Computerworld moved to a new office building, and the IIGS came with me. It then started making annual appearances in various media. It first showed up in this 2010 photo gallery:
My Apple II hasn't seen a ton of use in its days at Computerworld, but the tasks it performed were essential. With ADTPro, it saved my brother's college papers, my friend's childhood memories, and the source code of PublishIt! It was the occasional lunchtime diversion as I would boot up Lode Runner, Oregon Trail, or Microzine. And it was a talking point for any new employee, whose eyes would widen slightly at the sight of such an ancient computer — yet not as ancient still as its host, with Computerworld having been founded in 1967.
Given my employer's history, it's no surprise that I'm not the only Apple II alumnus in the building: Computerworld all-star reporter Gregg Keizer is formerly of Softdisk, and CIO.com executive editor Dan Muse was editor-in-chief of inCider/A+, which employed many folk who are still with IDG, Computerworld's publisher. But I've not seen any of these esteemed colleagues, all authorities in modern enterprise IT, cling to their old tech and bridge it into their modern careers. After my Apple II, the next oldest computer I've seen here is a 2006-era Mac mini.
So my departure from Computerworld invokes not only the usual regret when bidding adieu to such wonderful co-workers, many of whom have become friends for life. It also means the end of the Apple II's official relationship with a storied institution. I've been invited to freelance for this and other IDG publications, but though some of my Apple II stories were occasionally the top-read stories in their months of publication, in general, I doubt the free pitches of computer nostalgia that the editors were happy to entertain from a passionate in-house writer will warrant tapping their limited freelance budget.
So yeah: I'm wistful. Nostalgic. Melancholy. The Apple II will come with me to my new workplace. But that will be a smaller team, in a less social environment, with stricter network regulations and fewer media opportunities. It won't be the same. Nothing ever is. But it's time to move on.
I've been cleaning out my cubicle for the past week. I thought it would be an appropriate bookend to this blog post to share a photo of my cubicle, sans Apple II. But that's not how I want to remember this small space that, for a few years, was a corporate gateway to the retrocomputing community.
The Apple II will be the last thing I pack up. That's when the heart has gone out from the building.