Archive for the ‘Mainstream coverage’ Category

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

Where is Carmen Sandiego? On Netflix!

January 28th, 2019 10:50 AM
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I like to say that I got my start as a professional writer in the print industry, working for such publications as The Boston Herald and various MediaNews daily papers. But even before then, my first freelance writing assignment was for the Gamers Forum on CompuServe, whose sysop gave me a review copy of a Carmen Sandiego game for the Apple II.

I was still a preteen and was utterly unschooled in how to conduct a professional review. All I knew was that I'd been given a computer game for free, which for a kid was like Christmas in July! The resulting review was gushing, which I thought was a fair exchange for this bounty I'd been given. Between my amateurish writing and my lack of context for the review — I'd never played any DOS / Windows games and didn't know how the Apple II compared — the editor ultimately killed the review. I was more embarrassed by the experience than I was grateful that I got to keep the game.

Nonetheless, Carmen Sandiego has a soft spot in my heart: whatever factors may've unduly influenced my review, I did sincerely enjoy the puzzle-solving and using the reference book the game came with to decipher the history and geography of our country and world. It was nerdy and neat and actually educational in a way that Oregon Trail rarely was.

So my interest was absolutely piqued when I discovered Netflix was premiering a new Carmen Sandiego animated series.

This is not the scarlet thief's first appearance on television. First was the 1991 game show Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?, perhaps most memorable for its Rockapella theme song, followed by the 1996 game show Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego? In between, there was the 1994 animated series Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?. Of the three, I'd seen only the original game show, and even that only in passing; once again, I'm lacking context.

But the biggest change seems to be that Carmen Sandiego is now the protagonist. Whereas the original cartoon had her defecting from ACME Detective Agency to work for the Villains' International League of Evil, Netflix's series flips that: this young, teenaged Carmen Sandiego has defected from V.I.L.E. and now travels the world stealing back that which her former colleagues have stolen from their rightful owners. In both, Carmen communicates with "Player" — but whereas the original Player was an invisible, live-action character, here, he's a white-hat hacker who remotely partners with Carmen to get her past security intended to keep her out.

I've watched the first two of eight episodes, and I've liked what I've seen: Sandiego is a moral character who values teammates and teamwork but will stand up to her friends to be true to herself. I'm told there are homages, actors, and recurring characters from other Carmen Sandiego media, but I've not yet seen anything that references her Apple II roots.

Even if the new cartoon doesn't directly acknowledge the character's origins, it's still great to see the our favorite retrocomputer's legacy continue to this day. Where on Earth would Carmen Sandiego be without the Apple II?

… Just don't ask me to review it.

(Hat tips to TV Guide and Mashable via Susan Arendt and Sabriel Mastin)

Lego Ideas floppy disk

January 14th, 2019 2:42 PM
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Like many kids, I grew up playing with Lego. I loved following the instructions and turning small bricks into large ideas that looked exactly as envisioned on the box. But I rarely went beyond that prescribed route and into the realm of possibility: I had no interest in modifying the castles and spaceships into something original. That way lay chaos, whereas what I needed to instill in my life was order.

Lego has since extended into such media as movies and video games, but the physical bricks are still as popular as ever. They've even learned to crowdsource their designs in a way that young Ken almost certainly would not have taken advantage of: submit your own design for consideration to be made into an official set!

A recent submission to this Lego Ideas process is "The Disk", a floppy disk composed of Lego pieces. It's the first creation from a seven-year-old account and was submitted on January 2, 2019. It received 100 votes by January 7, adding 365 days to its original voting period of 60 days — but will it meet its goal by the new deadline of March 2, 2020?

Lego floppy disk

Everything I know about the Lego Ideas crowdfunding site comes from my friend Maia Weinstock, who created the Women of NASA Lego set. From an interview with Maia on Space.com: "Each set submitted to the program first goes through a public vetting process, in which the set must receive 10,000 votes from the public before being considered by the company." Her set met that threshold, was positively received by the powers that be, and is now an official Lego set.

It wasn't easy for Maia to reach that goal, nor was it her first attempt. Her first Lego proposal was the Legal Justice League, later revised to the Legal Justice Team, which earned 4,026 votes. Her media blitz to get out the vote included recruiting me and my podcast co-host Sabriel Mastin to stage a photo shoot:

Even with that effort, 4,026 votes still fell shy of the necessary 10,000. I suspect more people are familiar with the Supreme Court than they are floppy disks, so by comparison, "The Disk" seems too niche to reach the voting minimum and then be approved by Lego. Both floppy disks and the Women of NASA are broadly in the category of tech history, but I see more cultural, historical value in the Women of NASA. Until floppy disks get their own Hidden Figures moment, it seems likely that children playing with Lego today will know floppy disks only as the save icon in Microsoft Word; to build their own, they'll have to get creative and see what's possible.

(Hat tip to Michael Mulhern)

Steves manga on Kickstarter

December 3rd, 2018 9:45 AM
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Movie, documentary, graphic novel, opera — the story of Steve Jobs has been adapted to multiple media. Rarely does his counterpart, Steve Wozniak, share that top billing, despite having played as essential a role (if not more so) in the founding and success of Apple. But in 2014, one publication not only corrected that oversight; they also brought Apple's story to an entirely new format.

Steves is a six-volume manga, introducing us to the founders of Apple in a quintessentially Japanese style. The author, Keiichi Matsunaga, has a long history with the Apple brand: "I was pulled into this world when I saw the beautiful computer, the Apple II, in Akihabara when I was a student," he writes. His version of the Apple story is based on true events but is highly fictionalized and dramatized, as is typical of anime and manga.

A page from volume 1

Remember, manga is read right-to-left.

The only problem for us Western readers: the book was published in Japanese. Fortunately, there's now a Kickstarter to translate Steves into English.

All eight chapters of the first volume, which spans the invention of the Apple II through the introduction of Mike Markkula, have already been translated and are available online for free through December 18. I read the first chapter and enjoyed the dramatic retelling of various historical anecdotes, chuckling aloud at Woz's brilliance and Jobs' arrogance.

Getting the remaining volumes in English is no cheap affair: the Kickstarter offers no physical editions, and the entry point for getting them digitally starts at $60. The most affordable reward is $10 for the first digital volume, which, as mentioned, is already free. In the creators' reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything), they were asked, "Do you have any plan of hard copy option for this Kickstarter project?" Their answer: "Most unfortunately, we do not at this time. If you know any publishers who might be interested in printing it please give us a shout!"

At the time of this blog post, the Kickstarter campaign has raised about 28% of its goal and has less than half its fundraising period left. The website Kicktraq says the project is trending toward only 47% of its goal by the December 17 deadline. I hope this project succeeds, but if they don't, I encourage them to research alternative publication and distribution methods and return to Kickstarter with more attractive rewards.

Woz and Jobs walk into the sunset

(Hat tip to Anime News Network)

Apple IIc at BostonFIG

October 1st, 2018 7:03 AM
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One of my favorite annual traditions is the Boston Festival of Indie Games, or BostonFIG. Currently in its seventh year, this one-day event held at MIT is an opportunity for independent game developers to exhibit their works in progress and new releases. I love the creativity on display, where game designers who are not beholden to major studios can demonstrate original game ideas and concepts, be they commercially viable or simply interesting.

Interactive fiction has made appearances at BostonFIG before, and this year's festival was no exception. The Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation is based out of Boston, and their booth this year showed off everything from Infocom games (perhaps not indie, but Boston-based!) to the more recent Hadean Lands (whose Kickstarter I supported way back in 2010!). The IFTF is such a staple of BostonFIG that I was chatting with its organizers for a minute before I realized something new right in front of me.

Apple IIc at BostonFIG

An Apple IIc… at BostonFIG!

I always thought it would be fun to bring an indie game like Lawless Legends to BostonFIG, but the IFTF beat me to it by using an Apple IIc to show off classic Infocom games. They were running off the original floppies, as opposed to 4am's newer Pitch Dark GUI. The table was manned by Andrew Plotkin, who I interviewed for Juiced.GS's cover story about interactive fiction seven years ago; and the Apple IIc was provided by Nick Montfort, an MIT professor whose book, Twisty Little Passages, Juiced.GS reviewed nine years ago.

So as to not block the table from interested festival-goers who might not already have heard the good word of interactive fiction, I didn't linger at the table. But I was very glad to see this precedent set, and I hope to see the Apple II at future BostonFIGs.

Throwboy's 1977 pillow on Kickstarter

September 10th, 2018 10:20 AM
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The Apple II is a great discussion piece: when people see it somewhere they weren't expecting it, it often halts all other conversation and immediately begins a new one. "Wow, what is that?!" "I remember those!" "Does it still work?"

But it's not always feasible to have the Apple II on display where others will see it. Such real estate is often reserved for something more applicable to one's daily life and which can be more easily and broadly enjoyed, even by those without arcane technical knowledge.

But what if you still have that conversation piece but on the form of something small, useful — and soft? Something like… a pillow?

Introducing "The Iconic Pillow Collection", a Kickstarter from Throwboy that is a "cuddly tribute to the tech that changed our lives."

This five-piece collection offers throw pillows based on five landmark Apple products: the Apple IIe, the Macintosh, the iMac, the iPod, and the iPhone. Its creator chose these five computers for the milestones they represent:

  • • 1977 shook up the industry
  • • 1984 started a revolution
  • • 1998 was the ultimate comeback
  • • 2001 ignited a musical odyssey
  • • 2007 changed everything

I'd argue that Throwboy got those two descriptors backward — but it hasn't stopped the campaign's growth: seeking a minimum of $10,000, it's so far accrued nearly $70,000 in pledges, guaranteeing its success when it closes this Friday, September 14, 2018. A single pillow can be preordered for $39 including shipping, a 35% savings off the $60 retail value when it actually ships in February 2019. Happy Mac and rainbow pinwheel pillows are also available for $20 each.

1977 Apple II Throwboy pillow

Hug it. Play it. Nap on it. Just like a real Apple II.

The Apple II pillow not only looks soft and cuddly, but also detailed, from the rubber feet on the bottom to the ports on the back.

I've already preordered my Apple II pillow. It'll be a great counterpart to my handmade, one-of-a-kind floppy pillow:

Floppy disk pillow case

(Hat tip to David Pierini)

US Fest documentary trailer

September 3rd, 2018 10:43 AM
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Almost two years ago, filmmaker Glenn Aveni concluded a successful Kickstarter to produce a documentary about the Us Festival, a concert held today in 1982 and organized by Steve Wozniak. The final DVD was ambitiously scheduled for production for just seven months later, in July 2017. But Kickstarters rarely run on schedule, as good art takes time. So it's just this summer, a year later than planned, that we're seeing the first trailer for the documentary.

While the main attraction for readers of this blog may be Woz, the focus of the documentary is on the festival, not its organizers. While Woz makes appearances in original interviews conducted for this film, the musicians and concert appear to take center stage. That's not surprising — the event was called the Us Festival, not the Woz Festival, after all.

But Kickstarter backers have not received an update since November 2017, and I can't find a website or release date for the film. It's being distributed by MVD Entertainment Group, whose website says the film was released on August 10, 2018 — but they've not responded to emails or tweets indicating where the movie can be seen or purchased.

I'm hopeful the trailer is evidence that the movie is not vaporware and that we will soon have our glimpses of the musical, event-organizing sides of Woz.

(Hat tip to Martin Kielty)