Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

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

Juiced.GS ships early!

February 27th, 2017 1:00 PM
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As I write this blog post, I am simultaneously proud, relieved, and shocked. The reason: I just delivered the March 2017 issue of Juiced.GS to the printshop.

Note: it is not March.

On all 84 issues of Juiced.GS that have been published to date, every cover has displayed the date of publication. In the 44 issues I've edited, only four of the year's 12 months have been represented on the cover: March, June, September, and December, aligning with the end of each quarter.

I took those months to be the deadline by which I had to deliver the issue to the post office. Sometimes this meant mailing an issue on March 31, with it not arriving in readers' hands until April.

But if you look back at earlier issues of Juiced.GS, you'll see different dates on the cover: February, May, August, and November. Former editor-in-chief Ryan Suenaga published midway through each quarter so as to avoid conflicting with other crunch periods, such as the holidays. I tried to follow his example, but on my very first issue, I slipped a month and never regained it.

But this year, the first issue of 2017 presented the opportunity to get back on track. One article held back from December gave us a head start, but it wasn't just that. I don't normally assign articles until after the previous issue has shipped — but I was able to solicit the author of this month's cover story, Mike Whalen, last fall, and he diligently worked through the holidays so that his submission would be ready as soon as we began work on the March issue. Our other staff and freelance writers, including Chris Torrence and Ivan Drucker, were also very timely with their contributions.

It all added up to us being able to print the magazine with a February date: as long as I got the magazine to the post office before Wednesday, we could accurately say the magazine shipped in February. But it still wouldn't be delivered until March, and although I've cut it close before, this approach felt dishonest, somehow.

So we're sticking with our traditional March date by shipping the issue on March 1. Honestly, it seems the best of both worlds: for possibly the first time ever, every subscriber should receive the issue in the same calendar month, without the staff rushing to meet an end-of-month deadline, whatever month that is.

Will shipping on the first of the month become the new standard? I don't know. At the least, it presents our staff with some leeway — a one-month buffer with which to get the June issue published.

Regardless of what this spells for the future, it's a relief to look forward to a month that's full of conventions, vacations, presentations, and milestones, knowing that I've already given Juiced.GS my full attention.

An Apple II appearance in Beep!

February 13th, 2017 12:48 PM
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I have a growing collection of documentaries in my watch queue, many of them springing from Kickstarter. If I see a topic I like, I can't help but throw $15 at it — especially if it'll get me a digital copy of the movie, years down the road.

Such is the case with Beep: A Documentary History of Game Sound. This movie, crowdfunded in 2014, chronicles the evolution of audio composition technology in the interactive entertainment industry, featuring interviews with composers for such classic games as Marble Madness. A variety of hardware platforms and sound processors are featured, especially the Commodore 64 and its infamous SID chip — but disappointingly, at no point did I hear mention of the Apple II.

But I did see it! In two scenes, the narrators' commentary is overlaid with B-roll footage of convention-goers (perhaps at MAGFest?) using classic computers. At 25:19, the machine on-screen is very obviously an Apple IIGS, though the exact software being demoed is indeterminable; minutes later, at 32:44, an Apple RGB monitor — perhaps the same one previously featured, but from a different angle — can be seen in the background.

Playing an Apple IIGS in Beep documentary

Apple IIGS monitor in background of Beep documentary

Given the breadth and depth that Beep set out to cover, it's unsurprising that they wouldn't have the opportunity to focus on our favorite retrocomputer. But the Apple IIGS's Ensoniq chip was one of the platform's hallmark features, warranting acknowledgement right in the model's name — the 'S' stands for "sound", after all. At least it had its cameo.

For more opinion about Beep, read my review on Gamebits.

Canned food on the Oregon Trail

December 19th, 2016 8:36 AM
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I've seen Apple II software take a variety of forms: be it original, emulated, or interpreted, the computer's iconic palette and icons have shown up on televisions, subway murals, 404 pages, theatrical stages, and more.

But this one is new to me. Even though I've heard of programming "on the metal", I didn't know the metal could be aluminum:

Canstruction

This Rev. 0 Apple II playing Oregon Trail is the product of a recent fundraiser in Texas. From the event page:

Using only canned food items, Canstruction participants are challenged to create innovative structures that will be displayed in a giant art exhibition throughout the 2016 State Fair. Canstruction is a unique charity that hosts competitions across the nation to showcase colossal canned masterpieces. At the end of the competition, all canned food will be donated to the North Texas Food Bank.

Writes the AG&E Structural Engenuity team:

The iconic Apple IIe was the first computer experience for millions of students, educators and professionals. This canstructure aims to capture the style of the machine, along with the Oregon Trail software that made players think about issues that faced 19th century American settlers—including disease, extreme weather and hunger.

Although this particular team didn't raise any funds, their contribution nonetheless calls attention to an important issue. As these artists stated, "Society has come a long way [since the Oregon Trail], but hunger is still an age-old problem that we must continually address." Despite what some critics may say, food banks serve a vital function in our communities, especially during this cold holiday season. Find and support your local food bank — preferably with cash, not canned food.

(Hat tip to Bob Minteer via Open Apple)

Holiday shopping on eBay

November 27th, 2016 10:14 AM
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My family never learned thrift; if something was old or worn, we'd replace it instead of repair it. And if used items weren't good enough for us, they were certainly not good enough to give as gifts. Every Christmas, we'd bestow and accept shiny, shrinkwrapped goods, representing the latest merchandise that retail had to offer.

That's a shame, because so many Apple II products can no longer be had new. There's a growing market of original or replicated hardware, to be sure — but if I want something vintage, the only way to affordably acquire it is used. As a result, no one from my family will ever think to shop for my Christmas gift on eBay.

The Retro Computing Roundtable podcast has a gift guide that they update with each biweekly episode. There's plenty of new and retro tech in there, but my favorite suggestion to come from this group was when the hosts collaborated on a Juiced.GS gift guide. In that article, Carrington Vanston had the brilliant idea to give someone a subscription to a classic Apple II magazine, such as Nibble or inCider/A+. Though those publications have been out of print for decades, old issues can be acquired from eBay or AbeBooks, then individually mailed to the gift's intended recipient on a monthly basis.

Apple II magazines, books, and periodicals

Used Apple II magazines, books, and periodicals abound, as seen at KansasFest 2016.

I love this idea. The first and only Apple II magazine I've ever subscribed to is Juiced.GS, which I haven't received in the mail since June 2007. I miss finding Apple II news, reviews, and interviews in my mailbox. The only way to make it happen is to plunder the bounty of years gone by, salvaging previously read issues from the stores of eBay.

That sounds better than finding anything new under my Christmas tree.

Quarterly work on Juiced.GS

November 21st, 2016 1:08 PM
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Juiced.GS is an Apple II print magazine that magically arrives in subscribers' mailboxes every quarter. The time in between each issue might seem restful before the staff makes a mad dash to the finish line. But the reality is that Juiced.GS production occurs in every month of the year.

Each issue gets three months, and each month gets put to good use:

  1. Write the articles.
  2. Edit and lay out the articles.
  3. Publish the magazine.

There is some overlap between issues — for example, assignments for the December issue are usually doled out in August or September, so that once the September issue ships, writers can immediately start working toward the next deadline.

For next month's issue, writers were given a deadline of Friday, November 11. I intended to read their submissions while on the ten-hour round-trip bus ride between Boston and New York City, where I was attending GaymerX East. Unfortunately, that mode of transit didn't prove conductive to editing, pushing my work out to the following weekend.

So, this past Saturday, I finally read six Juiced.GS articles. Each one took about an hour to undergo this process:

  1. Print the article in hardcopy.
  2. Read it once without touching my pen so that I can focus on large questions: Did the writer understand the assignment? Does he answer the questions the article set out to address? Does one section flow naturally into the next?
  3. Read it again with red pen, addressing mechanics (word choice, punctuation) and scribbling questions into the margins.
  4. Transcribe all annotations into Microsoft Word using Track Changes.
  5. If there are still questions or areas that need revision, send back to the author for a second draft, due one week later.
  6. Upon receiving the second draft, or if the first draft had no questions, send the article to Andy Molloy for a second edit.

Once I get Andy's revisions, I lay the content out in the Juiced.GS template using Pages v4.1. Once I have a few articles done, I send a PDF to the entire staff for review and commentary. After incorporating their feedback, I then send each article to its respective author for one last review, to ensure no errors were introduced during editing or layout.

Once all content is in place, it's off to the printshop. If I deliver the PDF by Tuesday morning, I can pick up my order Wednesday night. Some friends and I have a stuffing party, with the assembled magazines being mailed Thursday morning.

But I need to prepare more than just the magazine for that party; the mailing envelopes are their own beast. So this weekend, I checked my supply of catalog envelopes and Avery labels; if I was short on either, I'd order more from Amazon.com. If I needed more return address labels, I'd order those, too. All this needs to be done a month in advance, to allow time for shipping to my house.

I also need to get stamps. At the time of this writing, an issue mailed within the USA costs $1.36, or two 68¢ stamps; to Canada or Mexico, it's $2.71, which is $2 + 68¢ + 3¢; everywhere else, it's $4.16, or $2 + $2 + 10¢ + 5¢ + 1¢. I need so many of each that many post offices don't appreciate me clearing out their supply, sometimes outright refusing to fulfill my shopping list, despite having the stock with which to do so. This weekend, for the first time, I ordered the stamps online. (Except the 5¢ stamps, for which the online minimum order is 10,000 stamps. Juiced.GS's subscriber base is somewhere south of that.)

Once all that's assembled, I recruit friends or relatives to a labeling party, where we combine the envelopes, address labels, return address labels, stamps, and "DO NOT BEND" rubber stamp.

And all that is just what's happening on the editing and publishing side; it doesn't take into account the research and wordsmithing that all the writers, both staff and freelance, do.

But it's all worth it. This past September, I took a draft of Juiced.GS with me on a weekend getaway. As I read the brilliance that so many community members had volunteered to share in our magazine's pages, I stopped and said aloud: "I'm so lucky I get to do this."

Juiced.GS is a lot of work — and a lot of fun.

Apple II companies are people

November 14th, 2016 3:15 PM
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I engage in as much online commerce as I do offline. Whether I'm buying a hot chocolate at the local coffee shop or going to the movies to see the latest Marvel movie, or I'm buying a book on Amazon.com or a mobile app from Apple, I don't personally know the people handling my transaction. We're polite to each other and treat each other with respect — as any decent human being should — but we don't take the time to address each other by name or inquire as to each other's wellbeing. Once the transaction is complete, the interaction is concluded and the relationship ends.

The Apple II industry is different. The size of each company is proportionate to the size of the community — that is, small. While my credit card receipts may show me to have patronized such companies as RetroConnector, a2RetroSystems, and Manila Gear (to name a few), I never saw it that way. Rather, I was supporting Charles Mangin, Glenn Jones, and Jon Co & John Valdezco. Each of these technical geniuses have long been members of the Apple II community, supporting it not just with their inventions (off which they rarely, if ever, profit), but with their camaraderie on IRC and Twitter and at KansasFest. Through their long commitment to the platform and their people, they've earned our trust, friendship, and patronage.

This reputation isn't reserved to the privileged few who are able to make their way to KansasFest and meet these vendors; for example, Glenn Jones and Jon Co have yet to make their way from Canada and Australia to our Midwest convention. Given our geographic diversity, a lot of community-building is instead accomplished online. For my part, it's not enough to let the Juiced.GS store's automatic receipts be a new customer's first impression. I personally email each new subscriber to ask them how they came to our publication and what their history with the Apple II is. You can say that I'm doing so to build customer retention or to scout potential content contributors — and you wouldn't be wrong. But that alone would not be enough. I cherish my quarterly mailing parties where I get to see the name on each mailing label and recall the stories of each person this community has introduced me to.

I've grown so accustomed to these personal interactions that, when I have the opposite experience within the Apple II community, it's noticeable and jarring. Such is the case with 8bitdo's recent Kickstarter to create the AP40, an Apple II-themed game controller with Apple II-compatible wireless receiver. While I was excited by the prospects of the hardware, I was surprised to see it come from an organization our community had never heard of. I've since exchanged several emails with the AP40's creators, but I never once had my inquisitiveness or enthusiasm reciprocated. When I mentioned possibly reviewing their hardware for Juiced.GS, they glossed over it; their emails are always signed with their company's name, not an individual's; the campaign had few progress updates; and the pitch video featured none of the talent responsible for the product. They seem utterly uninterested in the Apple II community or being a part of it.

If this were Amazon.com, a coffee shop, or Apple, I wouldn't bat an eye at such behavior; it'd be expected. But in the Apple II community, AP40's outsider status and indifference is unmistakeable. I was so disappointed and dissatisfied that I ultimately requested that my Kickstarter pledge be cancelled [see comments below for more details]. Maybe I'm a snob for refusing to associate with those outside some Apple II "inner circle". But I was always taught to "support those who support the Apple II" — and support takes many forms.