Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

Editorials and other thoughts about the Apple II and its community.

Reflecting on my past & do-overs

October 12th, 2015 10:23 AM
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After a six-month hiatus, I recently resumed guest-appearing on the Retro Computing Roundtable podcast. As always, this multi-platform show leaves this Apple II-only guy little to contribute, but I'm happy to listen and pipe up when called upon — as in episode #106, when host Earl Evans asked: what do you wish you'd done differently in your history with computers, and is it too late to do so now?

I really had to think about that one! There are so many things I don't regret that stretch back so far: going to KansasFest every year since 1998; being editor of Juiced.GS for a decade; subscribing to Softdisk GS until the end. I made some mistakes in those years, often surrounding business transactions that went foul, but the loss of a few dollars or some minor hardware didn't ultimately have any significant, long-term repercussions.

In the grand scheme of things, the only regret I may have is not pursuing a minor in computer science. I'd started my undergraduate career as a CS major, but after two years, I switched to technical, scientific, and professional communications (TSPC), or what the school now calls professional writing (PW). The only career I felt qualified to pursue with that degree was one in tech writing, which I believed meant documentation. In fact, I nearly got a contract to write the manual for a cell phone, and later interviewed for a documentation position at Mozilla, neither of which in hindsight would've been that scintillating.

It wasn't until I got to Computerworld that I married my TSPC degree with my concentration in CS. As a Computerworld editor (and then as a freelancer), I wrote about enterprise IT and other technical subjects for an audience that was focused on CIOs and CTOs but which could include software developers, helpdesk technicians, and curious consumers.

Still, at some point in my career, not having any formal degree or certificate in computer science felt like an oversight — and while my undergraduate school's name carries weight in the local IT industry, having the words "Computer Science" on my actual degree would help solidify my strength and in that area.

But, as Earl pointed out, its absence didn't stop me from ending up at Computerworld — and I now have a portfolio that speaks for itself. Perhaps a minor wouldn't add much to my credentials. Even at the time I switched majors all those years ago, I was so disillusioned with CS that I never wanted to take another course; pursuing a minor might've been intolerable at the time.

So maybe I did make the right decision, after all.

Thanks for helping me come to peace with my past, Earl and RCR!

Sean's Garage Giveaway on GoFundMe

September 28th, 2015 9:51 AM
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When I attended my first KansasFest in 1998, fellow attendee and Kansas resident Sean Fahey invited us to his nearby home, where we were welcome to any of the Apple II hardware and software he had amassed there. We were doing him a favor by helping clean out his garage.

But no matter how hard we tried, Sean's collection grew; for every floppy drive someone left with, two took its place. Sean suffers from the same problem I do: the pain of seeing perfectly good equipment being thrown away just because the owner didn't know of or couldn't look for a better home. Sean altruistically saved many such lots from the garbage, storing it in the short term so that he might find a home for it in the long term.

The collection grew to the point that salvaging equipment, storing it between KansasFests, and transporting it to Rockhurst became expensive. The handful of Apple II users who had the privilege of attending KansasFest contributed to defray the costs, but that wasn't enough — Sean and cohorts such as James Littlejohn were still saddled with the majority of the expenses.

But the value of Sean's service extends beyond KansasFest, and Sean has graciously given the wider community the opportunity to contribute by creating a GoFundMe campaign. Unlike Kickstarter, GoFundMe has no limits or deadlines, allowing its organizers to benefit from any and all fundraising. Any amount is appreciated — up to, including, and past the goal of $3,500. In the first four days, the crowdfunding campaign had already reached 55% of its goal. (Full disclosure: Juiced.GS contributed $100.)
Sean Fahey's GoFundMe
No new Apple II computers are being made, so it behooves us to save the ones we have — not just as historical artifacts, but as living entities for us to continue using and enjoying. Every computer Sean saves is one that may end up in the hands of a teacher, programmer, or hacker who could help create the next great Apple II user, emulator, or expansion. My thanks to the organizers of Sean's Garage Giveaway, and to everyone who's now ensuring it continues well into the future.

UPDATE (Oct 8, 2015): Thank you to everyone who helped put this campaign over its goal! Sean Fahey wrote on Facebook:

I want to thank everyone for their generosity. I hope the next 3 Garage Giveaways are worthy of the trust and investment you've placed in us. We've got enough to cover the next 2 years of storage ($2000+) and to also cover the expenses for an upcoming trip to Florida to acquire a large collection. We're flying down, renting a truck and driving it back — that trips budget is approximately $1350 for James Littlejohn and myself. It covers plane tickets, truck rental, gas, hotel and meals. Javier A. Rivera is planning to come up and help us with the loading. We may kidnap him and bring him back for the unloading part, but he's really fast on his feet and hard to catch. Again, a heartfelt thanks to my friends in the Apple II and KansasFest communities for your help. Apple II Forever!

The Marriage of Figaro to the Apple II

September 21st, 2015 9:48 AM
Filed under Hacks & mods, Musings;
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Steve Jobs may be getting his own opera — but that's not the only connection opera has to the Apple II.

In June of 2007, I was in a production of The Marriage of Figaro. Among the 28 theatre productions I performed in during my seven years after undergraduate, this show was memorable for two backstage events: the breaking of my PowerBook; and meeting the lead actor. Unlike some shows I've been in, Figaro's stars and chorus mingled, disregarding any theatrical hierarchy. Given that it was June, I was probably spending my offstage time editing drafts of the year's second quarterly issue of Juiced.GS. I suspect the actor playing Figaro asked me what I was doing, and when I told him, he got excited, telling me he still had his original Apple IIGS! Although it was no longer his primary computer, he remembered quite fondly and accurately the software and hardware he'd added to it throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s.

As soon as the show was over, Figaro the actor was off to New York City for another role. When I joined Facebook a year later, we reconnected, allowing me to offer an annual wish for a happy birthday spent playing Apple II games. But other than that, our personal and theatrical lives did not cross again.

Until this month! I received an email from Figaro that he was moving to Europe and had plenty of material possessions he wished to neither move, keep, or store. Would I be willing to take his Apple II?

What an honor! Of course I would. Figaro drove to my house and dropped off three boxes of hardware and software — a collection he confessed used to be bigger but which had dwindled with each move over the years. I didn't find much rare or unique among his donation, but the opportunity to spend an hour chatting with him about the Apple II was fun. He prompted as much of the discussion as I did, as he'd kept abreast of the community enough to ask me how my recent trip to KansasFest went. I was happy for the opportunity to show him some of the products of today's lively Apple II community, such as the Replica 1 and a Raspberry Pi case, or to pull out artifacts he'd remember, such as issues of Nibble magazine.

I'm grateful to have received this bounty; although such salvage operations are the norm for likes of Sean Fahey and James Littlejohn, it's a rare occurrence for me. Here is a photo gallery of my new property:

What do I do with this IIGS now that I have it? It came gratis with no strings attached: I can keep it or find a good home for it, though I wouldn't allow myself to sell it. But I know what my inclination is. As Figaro and I chatted about the Apple II and he saw how much fun people were still having with it, I could see him beginning to regret having to let go of his childhood computer. I'd love to hold onto it until Figaro returns from Europe in 18 months; maybe then, he can be reunited with the machine and rediscover it, as so many of us have, after a long absence.

After a first act of introduction and a second act of separation, a third act with a happy reunion seems only fitting.

Opus ][ and Juiced.GS

September 14th, 2015 8:43 AM
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I attended my first KansasFest in 1998. It was the year that GSoft BASIC debuted from The Byte Works, and also the year that Eric Shepherd founded the HackFest contest. I married the two and attempted to write a Boggle game in GSoft BASIC while at KansasFest. It didn't go well, but I was encouraged by The Byte Works president and fellow attendee Mike Westerfield, who made changes to GSoft BASIC in response to my experience and feedback. It meant a lot to me, KansasFest 1998's youngest attendee, so receive that kind of support from a community luminary.

This past July, Mike posted to Facebook:

I know people have had trouble recently getting some of the old Byte Works products. I'm looking at a number of options, and wanted to gauge interest.

All of our products that were produced at the Byte Works, and thus the ones we have clear copyright to, are on a CD called Opus ][. This includes ORCA/C, ORCA/Pascal, ORCA/M, and all of the support programs and so forth, but not ORCA/Modula 2. There are two disks, one with the executables and another with the source. These have been selling for $99 each or $195 for the set.

I'm considering offering these as downloads. They would be one-off sales, which would take some of my time for each one, so I would need to charge for them. I was thinking $25 each or $40 for the pair. You would have to move the individual files to your Apple IIGS or Apple II yourself.

This would mean the only way to get an individual language would be to buy the entire CD, but then, the CD would cost no more than the individual languages do now, anyway.

So, is this interesting to anyone, or does it really matter anymore?

I emailed Mike that same day, offering the Juiced.GS online store as a vehicle for distributing Opus ][. It wouldn't be the magazine's first collaboration with The Byte Works: our December 1998 issue (Volume 3, Issue 4) included a 3.5" floppy disk containing a free trial version of GSoft BASIC, allowing readers to follow along with Eric Shepherd's six-part GSoft tutorial that debuted in that issue.

To my delight, Mike was enthusiastic about revisiting that collaboration. The only hesitation was on my end: how do we make this product a natural fit for the Juiced.GS store? The magazine had no history of selling software or other people's products. How could we make Opus ][ a good fit?

Our Concentrate line had the answer. These PDFs collect thematically related content from past issues of Juiced.GS into a single file. With transcription help from Ewen Wannop and Paul Zaleski, I'd begun producing out a PDF of Sheppy's six-part series back in 2011 — but the effort of laying out 49 pages of code was daunting… especially when The Byte Works' own Learn to Program in GSoft BASIC was available for free. The opportunity to work with Mike was the incentive I needed to revisit and finally finish that project, which is now available for free with the purchase of Opus ][: The Software or Opus ][: The Source.

Since releasing these products on September 1, sales have been strong, with dozens of customers buying the compilations in download, CD, and USB formats. The demand for these products is evidence of a vibrant and supportive Apple II community, even so many years after Opus' original release 15 years ago.

It's an honor to work with so esteemed and storied a developer as The Byte Works and to release a product desired by so many. Juiced.GS and I look forward to many more opportunities to serve the community!

In ten years I'll be cool

August 24th, 2015 9:07 AM
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I don't remember ever not having an Apple II in my house — and our early acquaintance made for a rough childhood. My very small elementary school class was composed primarily of jocks who didn't take kindly to bookworms and computer nerds, producing an unwelcoming environment, to say the least. I often wondered, would it ever get better?

I didn't have to wait long to find out. Ten years after middle school, I was in a college where computer prowess was lauded; ten years after that, the things I was into as a kid were mainstream and cool.

So if you ever wonder if things get better, just wait ten years — that's the time in which geeks become hip, as detailed in H.P. Mendoza's music video, "In Ten Years", off the 2004 album Everything Is Pop:

And yep, that's an Apple II in the first shot — or at least, it appears to be. Says Charles Mangin, "It looks like a II or II Plus with the badge on the cover removed, or a close clone. The drive certainly looks like a Disk II with the Apple logo removed or covered." The first game of the video being King's Quest (with Sir Graham later getting jiggy) seems to cement the theory.

We shouldn't be surprised. Of course Apple II users are cool! Wil Wheaton would agree: it's awesome to be a nerd.

(Hat tip to Infamous Quests, with whom I appeared on a panel this past spring about point-and-click adventure games!)

The personal touch

June 15th, 2015 8:35 AM
Filed under Musings, Steve Wozniak;
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I love the Internet and social media: email, Twitter, and Facebook have made it possible to reach people who'd never otherwise be accessible, and easier than ever to remain in contact with friends and family near and far.

But there's still something to be said for taking our communications offline. KansasFest is the most obvious example, when we get to welcome new users to our community and catch up with long-time attendees. Newcomers who think this event is a one-time affair to check off their bucket list are often discover the energy and camaraderie they find there is addicting, requiring the event become an annual staple in their calendar.

But for those who can't make it to KansasFest, it doesn't take much to let them know they're remembered. Eight years ago in the September 2007 issue of Juiced.GS, Peter Watson of MUG! fame wrote:

In 1992, I was fortunate enough to attend KansasFest in its heyday when it was still run by Tom Weishaar at Avila College… Unfortunately I haven't been able to make it back since… But every year I read all the plans and wish I could win a lottery so I could attend…

Today that vicarious KFest experience came a little closer and a little less "imaginary" when a postcard from Kansas City arrived in the mail … I read the greetings from many of the other attendees at KFest as well, and I can honestly say I was touched. Heck, "blown away" might be a better description!

I'd just like to say "Thank you!" to the people who took the time to sign the card. It would have taken seconds of your time, but it's created a memory for me that will last much, much longer!

The Apple II was and is a special computer partly because of the people that were attracted to it, and who stayed. I've seen another example of those people today.

I'm reminded of this gesture by Steve Wozniak, who recently spoke at the University of Buffalo. Despite his affinity for technology, Woz was once reminded of the power of not letting machines express express his gratitude for him:

When Wozniak was on Dancing with the Stars in 2009, he figured he would be voted off the show right away, so he should buy gifts for all the cast early on. He made gifts for all the cast with joke books, $2 bills, business cards and computerized letters about what a great time had and how to contact him.

"And then I thought, like education when I was giving computers to schools, it you have a lot of money, it's easy to give money away but not to give yourself," Wozniak said. "That's why I started teaching. If you really have it in your heart, it's got to be more than words."

He decided to just write handwritten letters to all 26 members of the celebrity and professional dance crew.

Woz gave us the tools and infrastructure that brought us together and keeps us together; we should never discount their utility. But let us remember the significance of occasionally disconnecting and using other means to let our fellow community members know they are thought of and appreciated.