Archive for the ‘Mainstream coverage’ Category

The Apple II is everywhere, as evidenced by these reports.

Trello for the Apple II

September 18th, 2017 10:08 AM
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When I started at my current day job two years ago, I asked my Apple II friends for some good team-based project management tools. My quest was made more difficult by me not knowing what I was looking for, as I'd never used any such software.

Still, even though Trello came highly recommended, I found it inscrutable: it seemed to be just a series of lists in which items could be dragged from one column to another. How was this not simply a cloud-based, collaborative spreadsheet — like Google Sheets? I didn't understand how to make it work for me and my team.

Maybe I should given Trello another try, as it's recently proven its heart is in the right place. Their latest commercial is bookended with homages to our favorite classic computer:

Whenever I see the Apple II appear in unexpected places, I wonder how it got there. Who on the Trello team decided that a callback to a 39-year-old Apple computer was the proper frame for their latest advertisement? Where did they get the hardware used in the video? And what's going to become of it?

It may not be a story for the next issue of Juiced.GS… but it's one that puts a smile on my face.

(Hat tip to Eric Shepherd)

Bento Lab vs. the Apple II

September 4th, 2017 10:01 AM
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Bento Lab, a portable DNA analysis kit that was funded on Kickstarter in 2015 and 2016, was recently profiled in The Boston Globe. At a tenth the cost of a traditional lab setup, Bento Lab kits "represent a cracking open of a once-cloistered field of knowledge" and a democratization of the life sciences. "What can be achieved with Bento Lab is largely limited by the user’s imagination and ability," writes reporter Linda Rodriguez McRobbie.

Like most readers of this blog, my scientific interests stray more toward the technological than the organic. But the article bridges that gap with this apt metaphor:

[Harvard University genetic biologist George] Church described Bento Lab as "an Apple II moment." The Apple II, among the first personal computers made for the masses, changed computing in ways that are so fundamental that we can hardly appreciate them. "There were computers before the Apple I or the Apple II, cheap computers, but they were really geeky, they had wires hanging out of them. They didn’t have the right form factor or ease of use," he explained. "This, I think, is that moment."

I'm reminded of seven years ago, when World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov declared the Apple II as "the last technology that could be thought of as revolutionary". Whether it's biology, artificial intelligence, or personal computing, the Apple II continues to be an era-defining invention, demarcating a line in history before or after which everything came.

While its place in history is unquestionable, the Apple II shouldn't be unique in being considered a technological revolution. There other innovations that have done as much, if not more, than the Apple II to increase access and affordability to technology. Bicycles greatly expanded access to resources and job opportunities and continue to do so even today in third-world countries. (Even Steve Jobs called the computer "a bicycle for the mind") Radio and the telephone allowed the verbal exchange of ideas across great distances. Airplanes opened up the world to travel and tourism, allowing unprecedented access to new peoples, cultures, and environments. (And yes, while air travel is expensive, it's no more so than the Apple II was when it was first released.) The World Wide Web democratized publishing, giving voice to everyone's opinions and expertise. I'm not talking life-saving technologies, but life-changing. Some of these creations came before the Apple II; others came after, built on its foundation. Yet would we feel silly comparing the Bento Lab to the World Wide Web, in that one is a tangible product and the other is not?

That metaphor may be flawed, but I'm emboldened to make it by the comparison of the Apple II to a portable DNA kit. The Apple II started as an esoteric hobby and went on to revolutionize multiple industries. The Bento Lab, with its much more specialized function, will likely be praised within certain circles but remain unheard-of otherwise. But a more apt comparison might be difficult to draw, as any product similar to the Bento Lab has, by its nature, not drawn attention outside its target audience — unlike the Apple II.

I'm always intrigued by the contexts in which the Apple II turns up. When I first read about the Bento Lab, I thought of Amazon.com and e-books, which made agents and editors into optional gatekeepers that anyone could bypass. Amazon didn't invent e-books any more than Apple invented computers, but both made these platforms more affordable and accessible. In that sense, Bento Lab has succeeded — but it's no more an Apple II than it is an airplane or the World Wide Web.

The Last Jedi trailer

July 10th, 2017 11:49 AM
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Like most people reading this blog, I'm a Star Wars fan. Not obsessively so — I reserve that level of dedication for Star Trek. But I'm definitely one of the first people to see any new Star Wars movie, which includes Episode VIII, releasing this December 15, 2017. My enthusiasm's been especially high after the first official trailer released this past February.

Another fan who resides at the intersection of Apple II and Star Wars fandoms is Wahyu "Pinot" Ichwandardi, and his dedication to that combination outshines us all. Using an Apple IIc, KoalaPad graphics tablet, the Dazzle Draw paint program, 44 floppy disks, and Steve Chamberlin's Floppy Emu, Ichwandardi recreated the above trailer as 288 monochromatic 8-bit frames.

By pressing "Play" on the above two videos simultaneously, you can see how closely Ichwandardi's work follows the original. A follow-up tweet detailed the process and equipment Ichwandardi used in this three-week endeavor.

This masterpiece isn't simply the result of a modern artist deciding to be bohemian by incorporating retro technology into his craft. Rather, it's a return to form for Ichwandardi: 33 years ago, as an elementary school student, he worked the same magic on Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. While that original work no longer exists, the skills he honed on his Apple II have aged well, it seems.

My hope is that Ichwandardi will find other impressive ways to use his Apple IIc, and that we'll see even more art coming from him soon — lest The Last Jedi be the last!

(Hat tip to Yvette Tan via Charles Pulliam-Moore and Brendan Robert)

Using an Apple IIgs in 2017

June 26th, 2017 10:19 AM
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When I started college twenty years ago this year, I bought my first non-Apple II computer. I desperately wanted to move my IIgs into the dorm, but at the time, that computer didn't have the networking capabilities or development environment necessary to enable my pursuit of a degree in computer science. I was frustrated, because outside that academic context, the IIgs could still do everything I needed from a computer.

If that was barely true in 1997, how true is it in 2017? Could I get by with only an Apple II as my primary computer? I don't know if I could, but Bryan Lunduke recently tried to find out if he could. Lunduke, a freelance blogger for Networkworld (sibling to Computerworld, which is my former employer and still occasional source for freelance work), hosts a YouTube series called The Lunduke Hour, where he investigates various Linux, open-source, and other non-mainstream technologies. In his May 2, 2017, episode, he asks, "What would it be like to use an Apple IIgs in 2017?"

The resulting video is primarily a tour of System 6.0.1 and some essential applications, such as AppleWorks, HyperCard, and Wolfenstein 3D. Although not too deep a dive, it's a surprisingly informed tour for being Lunduke's first day with the machine. With the possible exceptions of Marinetti and Contiki, he omits many of the community's developments in the past two decades, including unofficial updates to the operating system, though that may have been intentional if he's trying to recapture a classic experience. Despite that, thanks to emulating all his hardware and software, Lunduke doesn't suffer through unaccelerated load times like many of us have.

For those who already use the Apple IIgs on a daily basis, the Finder won't be foreign. But from the perspective of someone who's hasn't seen it before or in a long time, it's fun to realize how many GUI conventions were established on this machine, with Lunduke referring to the interface as "surprisingly modern".

For all that fun, why did Lunduke subject himself to this experiment (other than to produce channel content)? Says he:

I like to see what it was like; I like to reminisce about the 1980s, the 1990s, to see what it's like to live, computing-wise, in an environment that is totally different from what most of use day-in, day-out. Maybe that will, in some way, help me get a better understanding of where we've been, where we've come from, our computing history, and maybe just how not so far we've come. Maybe it will give me an idea of some cool features we've lost along the way.

Kudos to Lunduke for giving my favorite retrocomputer a try. I wonder how he's describe the results of his experiment?

The audio podcast version of The Lunduke Hour is available to Lunduke's Patreon supporters.

(Hat tip to Jesse Blue)

Video Game Hall of Fame overlooks the Apple II in 2017

May 22nd, 2017 8:45 AM
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Every spring, the World Video Game Hall of Fame expands its list of inductees. This virtual recognition, hosted by the International Center for the History of Electronic Games at the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, New York, acknowledges games that "have significantly affected the video game industry, popular culture, and society in general".

Since the games are assessed not for their cutting-edge graphics, replayability, or "fun factor", it makes sense that many inductees would be older titles. Despite being constrained by the technology of the era, these early games were foundational in creating an industry and its franchises. And few machines were as elemental in that process as the Apple II.

However, The Strong rarely recognizes native Apple II games. The first class of inductees, announced in 2015, passed over Oregon Trail in favor of Doom, Pac-Man, Pong, Super Mario Bros., Tetris, and World of Warcraft. Oregon Trail finally got its due in 2016, but at the same time that John Madden Football got sacked to make room for The Sims, Sonic The Hedgehog, Space Invaders, The Legend of Zelda, and Grand Theft Auto III.

Now it's 2017. Another class has been accepted into the Hall of Fame, and for the first time, no Apple II game was even nominated. Nominated but not accepted this year were Microsoft Windows Solitaire, Mortal Kombat, Myst, Portal, Tomb Raider, and Wii Sports; the winners were Donkey Kong, Halo: Combat Evolved, Pokémon Red and Green, and Street Fighter II. While Donkey Kong and Solitaire originated in the 1980s and had Apple II iterations, none of these titles and franchises were made popular by the Apple II, like Oregon Trail and John Madden were.

Rather than feel slighted in 2017, Let's ensure the 2018 ballot doesn't similarly overlook our favorite retrocomputer. What games should we nominate for consideration in next year's class — again, taking into account not how much time we spent playing these games, but their lasting impact on the industry and genre?

So as to not spread ourselves thin and divide our votes among too many choices, I have only two suggestions: Ultima and King's Quest. Both games created fully realized worlds and new ways to interact with them, introducing both franchises and gameplay mechanics that continue to this day. What more could the World Video Game Hall of Fame ask for?

Let's get the Apple II the recognition it deserves. In the meantime, as a platform-agnostic gamer, I offer my congratulations to all the non-Apple II titles that received this honor in 2017 — many of which made lasting impressions on both gaming culture and my own childhood.

Hard Hat Mack in Taiwan

March 20th, 2017 11:22 AM
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Although the Apple II was invented and was popular in the United States, it's fun to see all the other places our favorite retrocomputer has popped up. We know the Apple II community has active contingents in Australia and France, but we've also seen the Apple II in more far-flung locations such as from Russia to Korea.

Thanks to a recent YouTube video, I've now seen the Apple II somewhere I hadn't before: Taiwan. It was the focus of a short segment on a television show in which the host introduced several girls to the 1983 game Hard Hat Mack on an Apple IIc:

I don't have many details about the show seen here: the Chinese caption translates only to "old game era Apple II". But I wonder what the standard format of the show is, that the host didn't seem to let his audience get their hands on the game.

I can commiserate, though: I too have never gotten my hands on Hard Hat Mack. As a young gamer, my attention was evenly divided between consoles and computers, which may've caused me to miss several classic computer games: not only Hard Hat Mack, but Tass Times in Tone Town, King's Quest, Ultima, and others. It looks like the kind of game I would enjoy, since Donkey Kong always earns my quarter on any visit to Funspot. As one of the first games (if not the first) to be published by Electronic Arts, Hard Hat Mack is a piece of history deserving an experience.

I don't have much excuse now, though, since Hard Hat Mack can be played online:

There's no need to go on a Taiwanese talk show to discover the classics — Hard Hat Mack is alive and well!

(Hat tip to Luke Hsu via Jorma Honkanen)