Electronic publishing overview

February 9th, 2015 11:36 AM
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Last month, I began my fourth semester teaching an undergraduate course in electronic publishing. I always start with an overview of computer history — not for "you kids don't know how good you have it" reasons, like when I taught high school students to use Visicalc, but because I consider it valuable for students to have a basic understanding of how the machinery and environment they'll be working came into being, and the decisions that were made decades ago that will affect their workflows and livelihoods.

We start with what might be considered ancient history, reviewing key figures in computing's history: Charles Babbage, Paul Baran, Tim Berners Lee. I suspected this might be the first semester in which the name Alan Turing might prove familiar. I was right: Benedict Cumberbatch's turn in that role had drawn my students to see The Imitation Game. We had a brief but fun discussion about how Turing's already dramatic tale had been further dramatized for the silver screen, before returning to the topic at hand: learning to count in binary.

As part of this lecture, I employ plenty of props from my Apple II, including a 5.25" floppy disk and floppy disk notcher. It's always interesting to see how the students respond to these artifacts. Spring 2014 was the first semester where none of my students had used a 5.25" floppy before. I figured I'd passed a tipping point: students born in 1992 didn't grow up with this media. So I was pleasantly surprised when this year's students recognized the disk fondly. And I, of course, got a kick out of wondering, "Can you believe that we used to ship software on these things?" holding up the Lawless Legends demo I received from Martin Haye at KansasFest 2014.

My favorite exercise of the evening involves publishing — which is their major, after all, not computer science. It's 2015 and you want to distribute software to your print magazine's subscribers. How can you do so? A link, a QR code, a Steam code, even a CD — these are all viable delivery mechanisms… and none of them were applicable in 1986. Sure, you could maybe include a 5.25" disk in your magazine — but who does that? Instead I hand out an issue of Nibble magazine and let the students peruse it, until it finally registers what they're looking at — at which point their eyes get big and they ask, "Did they actually print the entire program in the magazine and ask people to type it in??"

Okay… so maybe I do want my students to know how good they have it.

Preserving Bob Bishop's legacy

February 2nd, 2015 9:26 AM
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In mid-November, John Romero shared with the Apple II community some sad news: Bob Bishop, co-founder of Apple's R&D department and KansasFest 2011 keynote speaker, had passed away. The news came in time for me to include Bishop in my Computerworld slideshow of tech luminaries we lost in 2014; along with Patrick McGovern and Ralph Baer, Bishop was one of three luminaries I'd had the honor of meeting among the 23 in the article.

It is all well and good to honor the legacy of those who have gone before, but it takes more than mere platitudes to ensure their contributions are not buried with them. Thankfully, Romero was more than the bearer of bad news, as this past weekend, after a tip from on a tip from Gary Koffler, Romero had an encouraging update to share on Facebook:

Prepare for a mindblast. Today my wife and I went to the late Bob Bishop's estate to rescue whatever we could from the giant dumpster outside the house — everything will be thrown away today (Saturday). We were able to save all historical items of note.

One of the items we got was this black Apple II+ which you will note is NOT a Bell & Howell. We believe it is the prototype for that edition. The lid easily pops off like normal, and the date is 1979. Bob also had an Apple II serial number 13. The family will be auctioning that one off.

We filled our van full of stuff. I can't believe the amazing amount of stuff we got that's collectible.

… To clarify, there was no dumpster diving involved. The dumpster sat silent and empty, waiting for today when everything left in Bob's houses would be tossed in. We went through all the rooms of his houses and picked everything of value we could find.

Bob Bishop's Bell & Howell

The resulting thread is extensive, with postulations as to the nature and origin of some of Bishop's rarer hardware, and questions of where similar collections might be found or donated. The Computer History Museum of Mountain View, California, and the Strong Museum of Rochester, New York, were frequently cited, with a representative of the latter chiming into the thread. I can vouch for both institutions, as both are actively archiving Juiced.GS for scholars and future generations of retrocomputing enthusiasts to reference.

There are many components to preserving our digital legacies: ensuring software for legacy computers can still be executed; preserving the original hardware; making our personal digital data collections accessible. I'm grateful that we have people like John Romero and Jason Scott, and institutions like the CHM and the Strong, actively working to keep alive the memory and accomplishments of heroes like Bob Bishop.

IndieSider goes French — sort of

January 26th, 2015 11:26 AM
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On July 2, 2014, I launched the IndieSider podcast. This biweekly show pairs gameplay footage with developer interviews. It's a unique combination that allows me to interview indie game developers while experiencing their creations. I try to focus on games that are doing something unusual, such as This War of Mine, which simulates the reality of being a civilian in a war-torn country; or developers working in uncommon situations, such as Dan Dujnic, who releases a new version of his twin-stick shooter, Breakers Yard, to the web every week.

Recently I discovered the puzzle game Cubot and was charmed by its calming aesthetic, uncomplicated gameplay, and challenging levels. I reached out to developer Nicolas Pierre-Loti-Viaud of Nicoplv Games for an interview. He liked the IndieSider format and wanted to participate, but his spoken English is as good as my French — which is to say, nonexistent. On those grounds, he regretfully declined.

Fortunately, I don't take "no" for an answer! I figured if I could just get a translator, then the interview could proceed. Who did I know who could serve as a bridge between these two languages?

I didn't have to look far.

Juiced.FR

Vive le Juiced.GS!

Antoine Vignau of Brutal Deluxe recently translated an entire issue of Juiced.GS into French. The resulting special edition was mailed for free to all the magazine's French-speaking subscribers. I asked Nicolas: may we conduct the interview via email in French? And Antoine: would you translate to English and provide me an audio recording of the translation?

All parties were game. The interview was on!

IndieSider #16 went live last week and is available in audio and video editions, with French and English transcripts. The voice you hear is Antoine's, but the words are Nicolas'. Antoine and I recorded our tracks separately, which made for a fun time editing, since he never heard the exact tone or phrasing of my questions and responses until after the show had aired!

While the content of this interview had nothing to do with the Apple II, it nonetheless would not have been possible without the Apple II community and this unique collaboration. My thanks to Antoine for lending his expertise and for being willing to play such an unusual role!

French Touch's Scroll Scroll Scroll

January 19th, 2015 11:10 PM
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Arnaud Cocquière and the team at French Touch have released a new 8-bit demo: Scroll Scroll Scroll. Below is a YouTube video of the program, which you can download and run as a disk image.

Although I'd not previously heard of French Touch, this demo is not their debut: previous demos include Unlimited Bobs and Ibiza, among others.

The demo scene is more fascinating and storied than I can detail here: it already has its own documentary and deserves a complementary Juiced.GS feature. While I do that digging, enjoy Scroll Scroll Scroll.

(Hat tip to Antoine Vignau)

Keeping Stanford's football statistics

January 12th, 2015 10:34 AM
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Stanford University's athletics department recently produced a piece of investigative journalism that I'm jealous didn't appear in Juiced.GS. By focusing on a niche intersection of industries, author David Kiefer has made a bold claim: the Apple II was the first computer used to track football statistics.

In 1980, Stanford football statistician Ken Lorell was seeking a solution to a problem, and the result was a revolutionary way of keeping stats … on a computer. This had never been done before.

Apple Computer was founded in 1976 and a year later released the Apple II, the first successful mass-produced microcomputer. Lorell saw the computer’s value in statkeeping, especially as offenses became more complex — with passing attacks becoming more sophisticated and the run and shoot opening up the world of hurry-up attacks.

After the 1979 season, Lorell approached the Stanford athletic department about the idea of purchasing a personal computer for statistical purposes. It was a tough sell, especially because the Apple II was originally retailing for $1,298 with 4 KB of RAM, and $2,638 for the maximum 48 KB.

Lorell nonetheless got the funding and had the machine up and running in time for the next season. But a minor hardware glitch would delay its successful debut.

On Sept. 6, 1980, it was ready for a trial run. Stanford opened at Oregon and Lorell and the Cardinal stat crew gathered at Lorell's Palo Alto home. The team would assemble the stats as if it were a home game, with some of the crew acting as spotters while watching on television. The television was used for visuals only while the sound and descriptions were created by the radio commentary of Don Klein and Bob Murphy.

All was well until someone tripped over the power cord. The data for the entire first half was lost.

Fortunately, one of the crew had kept the play-by-play on paper as a backup. Because the stats did not have to be compiled in order, the data was reconstructed by the end of halftime. Later, the Oregon stats were discovered to have an error. The computerized stats were more accurate.

"We did it," Lorell said. "We were so happy this thing worked."

Computerized stats made their official debut on Sept. 13, 1980, in Stanford’s 19–13 victory over visiting Tulane. And they’ve been there ever since.

This means that the Apple II appeared in football well before football appeared on the Apple II — the popular John Madden video game franchise, which continues to this day, didn't debut until 1988.

Nor was this the last appearance of the Apple II at Stanford University. Not only did the school once offer a course called "History of Computer Game Design", which perforce includes the Apple II, but Apple co-founder Steve Jobs famously delivered their 2005 commencement speech.

But where has the Apple II been at Stanford since then — specifically, the one that made this groundbreaking appearance in sports statistics?

As for the Apple II, Lorell had to return it to the Stanford athletic department. No telling if it still exists.

"It literally is a museum piece," said Lorell, 70, who is now retired. "It is one of the historic, iconic products from the early days of Silicon Valley. The iPhones we have in our pockets are a thousand times more powerful."

At the time, it was a revolution that Lorell and Stanford played a role in. It may not be told in the annals of Silicon Valley innovation, but it remains an achievement with a lasting legacy – in every football stadium in the country.

Lazily revisiting Retro Fever

January 5th, 2015 11:25 AM
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Last March, I followed up my unboxing and Let's Play of Zéphyr with a video about Retro Fever. This game by Brian Picchi might be better called a metagame, as players assume the role of a retrocomputing enthusiast charged with adding as many classic computers to their collection as possible — a game most of us already play every day.

I'm no Internet celebrity, and my video did little to bring attention to Picchi's work. Finally, Retro Fever is getting the spotlight it deserves: Lazy Game Reviews (whose website looks quite familiar!) has nearly a quarter million YouTube users who were recently exposed to founder Clint Basinger's own unboxing and Let's Play of Retro Fever.

Amazing what someone with actual talent can do, no? For more Apple II goodness from Basinger, catch his Moon Patrol unboxing.

Want to learn how Picchi makes such great software? He took Juiced.GS readers behind the scenes of Retro Fever and his previous game, Lamb Chops, in Volume 19, Issue 1. Or you can download the Lamb Chops source code, released just last week.

(Hat tip to Tony DiCola)