Archive for the ‘Mainstream coverage’ Category

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

Apple II cameo at Computerworld

September 8th, 2014 7:49 AM
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When I quit my job at Computerworld almost two years ago, I left the company on good terms. Though that's true of every job I've ever had, Computerworld is unique in allowing me to continue my professional relationship as a freelancer, contributing reviews, interviews, and feature stories. As a result, I've been more prolific since leaving than I was during my tenure there. As a salaried employee, writing was not in my job description, so my byline never affected by bottom line. Now, each successful pitch results in another paycheck, which is a powerful motivator.

The downside to that arrangement is that stories that would've been published when they were "free" (minus the time and effort of the professional editors I worked with) may get passed over when there's a fee associated with them. That's why you saw KansasFest coverage at Computerworld 2007–2013 but not in 2014 — the enterprise IT and Apple II crowds overlap only so much.

Nonetheless, I inadvertently work the Apple II into my latest story for Computerworld. This website is powered by the content management system WordPress, which I've been enthusiastically using and supporting for eight years. When WordPress 3.0 came out four years ago, I reviewed it for Computerworld — so it seemed a natural fit to revisit the topic in my new capacity as a freelancer for last week's release of WordPress 4.0.

My WordPress 4.0 review was submitted with screenshots of the WordPress backend taken while I composed the Apple II Bits blog post "Maniac Mansion design notes". I hadn't been thinking that, with Computerworld's own recent rollout of an entirely new design and more visual CMS, they'd need to use one of these images on the homepage. And so it was that a screenshot of LucasArts' 1987 classic point-and-click adventure game Maniac Mansion graced the homepage of Computerworld.com in 2014.

Maniac Mansion at Computerworld

IT LIVES

The image appears in the article itself but remained on the homepage for less than 24 hours, as screenshots are generally too busy to effectively advertise homepage content. The art director quickly crafted a more representative banner for WordPress and substituted that. But for a brief moment, the Apple II again had its place in the Computerworld sun.

Wade Clarke's Victris plays the Apple II

September 1st, 2014 9:27 AM
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Wade Clarke has long been unique in the intersection of musicians and Apple II programmers. Unlike chiptune musicians such as 8 Bit Weapon, who create music entirely from classic computers, Clarke is more free-range, drawing inspiration and instruments from synthesizers, real-world samples, video games, and more.

Since not all Clarke's music is based on the Apple II, it makes it all the more fun when the computer does pop up in his work. Recently, Clarke pointed me to the liner notes for his album, Victris, where he describes the song "Ai no kuni"

I play by ear, so most of my compositions from back then were only stored in my head. I did record some to cassette, but more often I transcribed them into music software on my family's Apple II computer … in the early 1990s using the Apple IIGS program The Music Studio. The synths I had playing these lines sounded bad, but in this case what I really valued was the composition itself.

These intersecting lines were good enough that even two decades later I didn't want or need to change a note when I had the idea to bring them into an Aeriae track. I'd just heard the riffs anew after rescuing my old Music Studio files from the decaying 3.5-inch floppy disk where they'd lived for twenty-something years.

The song "Heiress" also has ties to the Apple II, incorporating output from Paul Lutus' Electric Duet.

Victris is only the latest embodiment of Clarke's work in both digital and musical realms, as he's been fusing the Apple II with his musical pursuits for the better part of a decade. In 2007, he used Fantavision to create this music video for the song "Amay":

More recently, Clarke contributed his art to the Drift demo disk that was bundled with the June 2012 issue of Juiced.GS.

But even that disk was not Clarke's first appearance in the magazine. In Clarke's track notes for the Victric song "Nurse 2 Alyssa Type", he reflects on his experience with survival horror video games. It was this genre of game that inspired Clarke to develop Leadlight, the Eamon adventure that graced the cover of Juiced.GS's first color issue. Two years later, in Volume 17, Issue 2, he wrote a Juiced.GS article about his ensuing experience transitioning from Eamon to Inform for his interactive fiction exploits.

Survival horror, text adventures, synthesized music, journal articles — Clarke is truly a Renaissance man of the Apple II community! Catch him on tour in Australia later this year.

Halt and Catch Fire's take on 1983

July 14th, 2014 11:12 AM
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Last month, television channel AMC debuted the original series Halt and Catch Fire. Like their prior success, Mad Men, this show uses a specific industry and era as a backdrop — but instead of an advertising agency in the 1960s, it's a computer hardware company in 1983.

That was a magical time for Apple and the rest of the industry: IBM was making moves into consumer desktops, the Macintosh was in development, and the Apple II was riding high. Halt and Catch Fire tries to capture some of that energy and drama with its own versions of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, but with some additional variables, players, and catalysts thrown into the mix.

I reviewed the series for Computerworld.com, a former employer I'm always happy to collaborate with (and which last month went out of print). As a freelancer, I'd previously reviewed the films Jobs and Her, which were creative exercises in reminding me I was writing for Computerworld, not Cinemaworld — critiquing the cinematography and acting wouldn't cut it for this audience.

So for Halt and Catch Fire, my first professional television review, I dedicated some paragraphs to analyzing the show's tech props — details that geeks would pick up on but no one else would notice. Although it's atypical for a review to bring in outside voices, I nonetheless consulted with Dave Ross, a neighbor who happens to have also been the president of the South West Regional Association of Programmers, a Chicago-based Commodore 64 user group. Since in that era I was an Apple II user exclusively, Ross's perspective on the technology of the times was useful. Steve Weyhrich and Vince Briel also provided some insight, though without being directly quoted.

Halt and Catch Fire's Byte

A Byte from 1980? I don't think so.

I don't know if I'll continue watching the show beyond the first five episodes, but I did enjoy this assignment. On Google Plus, John Kocurek offers some projections for the show's future:

Episode 6 lays the groundwork for an interesting arc. It is set in August of 1983. Just a few months later, the Mac is introduced — which offers the possibility of the writers taking the series into a parallel universe where you have the easy-to-use Mac having an easy to use machine that also runs PC software. Assuming the writers are consistent, it would remember things about you, be able to make suggestions. Be an assistant. That would have been a game changer at the time.

Watch Halt and Catch Fire Sundays at 10 pm on AMC, or stream it live via Amazon Instant Video. For more details, read my review for Computerworld.

London's Digital Revolution exhibit

July 7th, 2014 9:35 AM
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I'm a fan of museums — their exhibits, their archives, their outreach all serve as a cornerstone to cultural preservation and education. America apparently agrees with that sentiment, as it was recently determined that the United States has more museums (35,000) than Starbucks (11,000) and McDonalds (14,000) restaurants combined.

From as far back as 2003, when Ryan Suenaga and I visited the Boston Museum of Science, I've toyed with the idea of a Juiced.GS article that marries these esteemed institutions with my favorite retrocomputer. Whether that story would've been simply an overview of the Apple II's appearances and contexts in such institutions, or something more meaningful about the history of the Apple II, I'm unsure. The closest we've come to that pitch was Peter Neubauer's December 2012 narrative of his experience at the newly opened Living Computer Museum.

If we ever do compile such an index, it won't stay current for long, as new exhibits feature the Apple II regularly. The latest, having opened just last week, is Digital Revolution at London's Barbican Centre, "a major new exhibition that explores the impact of technology on art over the past four decades", reports Aaron Souppouris for The Verge. Featured art forms include film, music, games, and more.

Pretty trippy, right? But in addition to the many interactive installation, various displays also let visitors walk the timeline of digital technology — including the Apple IIe.

Digital Revolution Installation At The Barbican Centre

A proud lineage. Photo copyrighted by the Verge.

It's not a significant portion of the Digital Revolution, but it doesn't have to be. It's enough for modern art to acknowledge that it is where it is today thanks to inventions such as the Apple II.

Now that's a good story.

The Apple II at IvanExpert

June 23rd, 2014 11:38 AM
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Ivan Drucker is a name known to many modern Apple II users. He's the networking genius behind A2SERVER and A2CLOUD and the programming savant responsible for Slammer and NuInput. He's on the staff of Juiced.GS and was Open Apple's first post-debut guest. He's an all-around nice guy.

But to the residents of New York City — yes, the Big Apple — he's the founder and chief technology expert of IvanExpert, an Apple consulting firm that's been providing superior Mac, iPhone, and iPad service for over ten years. The name he and his partner Caroline Green have developed for their company recently caught the attention of their local CBS station. When hackers discovered a way to lock users' iPhones remotely in exchange for ransom, CBS turned to IvanExpert for a video interview advising viewers how to avoid falling victim to this scam.

But wait — what was that?!

IvanExpert's office

Computer, magnify sector B2!

IvanExpert's Apple II

This isn't the first time Ivan's Apple II have been featured in video. When he got back from KansasFest 2011, IvanExpert's YouTube channel spotlighted the convention and why Ivan attends, with the Apple II prominently in the background.

Kudos to Ivan and the rest of the team at IvanExpert for keeping the Apple II in the forefront of their workplace and CBS's television coverage!

(Hat tip to Caroline Green)

Kids react to the Apple II

May 26th, 2014 10:40 AM
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Our standards and expectations for computers have changed a great deal since the Apple II arrived on the scene. Internet access, graphic user interfaces, and mass storage are all basic features of any modern hardware and operating system. Those of us who grew up in simpler, yet less intuitive, times can mentally switch between the eras… but what about the next generation of users?

Watch as teen and pre-teen kids react to their first encounter with an Apple II:

"Kids React" is a popular and ongoing series by The Fine Bros, whose YouTube channel has over 8 million subscribers and 1.6 billion views. I suspect some of that popularity has gone to the kids' head, with the younger ones preciously overreacting for the camera. One of my favorite comments was a kid saying that the Apple II is at least better than Flappy Bird, an irritating iOS game; good thing he wasn't forced to play the Commodore 64 version! Another kid said the Apple II is good only as a footstool. Better that than an aquarium, I suppose.

But their reactions nonetheless have merit. It's reasonable for a computer to assume that, if you turn it on or insert a disk, you want it to react to that action somehow. Obtuse commands like PR#6 are not welcoming to a new user. The Apple II was a blank canvas, and we were patient enough to learn its language and idiosyncrasies; but were we more accustomed to being catered to, I don't think we would've taken to the Apple like we did.

Still, I wish the video hadn't been edited to be quite so down on the computer. Apple II games are not all that different in style from modern mobile games, and I think the kids would've had fun with titles like Lode Runner, Cannonball Blitz, or even Oregon Trail. Certainly the featured action game from Keypunch Software, D-Day, was a better choice than VisiCalc, to which I exposed my own students a decade ago. But we hardly saw any of their engagement with the game, instead watching them struggle with the interface and OS and getting none of the reward — though we do get a bit more footage in the bonus video:

Exposing a younger generation to its predecessor's technology is not a new concept. The Fine Bros. have previously given kids rotary phones and Walkmans to play with, and I've posted several other such videos to this blog before: French students playing with a variety of old technology, four Americans playing with a C64 and Atari 2600, and British students encountering a C64.

It's great to finally see the Apple II specifically be the focus of such a video. But I suspect any reader of this blog who exposed their own children to an Apple II would be greeted with far more fascination and enthusiasm. We're just a different breed.

(Hat tip to Adam Clark Estes via Kirk Millwood)