Charles Babbage Institute on Juiced.GS

May 29th, 2017 11:55 AM
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In the summer of 2011, I applied for Juiced.GS to receive an International Standard Serial Number. My goal in having an industry-standard reference number was to make this quarterly publication easier to accession into libraries and archives. Once the ISSN was issued, I contacted institutions around the world to ask if they would accept a complete collection of Juiced.GS.

One such organization that was at the top of my list was the Charles Babbage Institute at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Although perhaps not as well-known as the Computer History Museum in California or as geographically accessible as the Strong Museum of Play in New York, both of which have a tourist appeal to them, the CBI is nonetheless widely respected as a research center for history of information technology. It was an honor for Juiced.GS to be accepted into its archives.

Four years later, I was travelling en route to KansasFest 2015. I decided to fly from Boston to Fargo, North Dakota, to visit my friend Sabriel, who had been a guest on my podcast, Polygamer. Not only was I looking forward to spending time with her in a less harried environment than our usual gaming conferences, but North Dakota was one of the seven United States I'd never been to; checking it off would bring me closer to having visited all fifty.

From Fargo, there were a couple different routes to KansasFest, including driving. But the timing didn't work out to stop in Nebraska and carpool with any of the KFesters there, so I decided to fly. The only problem was that there were no direct flights from Fargo to… almost anywhere, including Kansas City. My flight would have a layover in Minneapolis.

J. Arvid Nelson, CBI curator and archivist, shows off the gem of the CBI collection.Minneapolis! That's the home of the Charles Babbage Institute! Instead of an indirect flight, Sabriel graciously drove me to Minneapolis the day before my flight. I emailed my contact there, Arvid Nelsen, to let him know we were coming, and he offered us an exclusive, behind-the-scenes tour. That visit is documented on the Juiced.GS blog.

During that tour, Arvid and I discovered that we both had an interest in the diversity of the tech industry, both modern and historical. I was only a year into my Polygamer podcast back then, but when I got home, I emailed him to see if he'd like to be a guest. It took awhile to coordinate, but two years later, that interview with Arvid and current CBI archivist Amanda Wick finally happened in last week's podcast.

It's not uncommon for my gaming interests to lead to Juiced.GS stories: my attendance at MAGFest resulted in a Juiced.GS cover story about Al Lowe, creator of Leisure Suit Larry; and my IndieSider podcast interview with the creator of Shadowgate similarly led an another cover story.

But this is the first time I can think of that the Apple II led to an episode of Polygamer. Having attended the last nineteen KansasFests, I've observed that we tend to be a fairly homogenous population, which wouldn't normally be a good fit for a podcast about diversity. I'm delighted that the Apple II and the Charles Babbage Institute nonetheless resulted in a fascinating conversation about history, diversity, and archiving. Please do visit the CBI, either online or in-person as I have, and listen to our podcast.

Building an Apple II games database

August 18th, 2014 6:48 PM
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Whenever I've blogged about Brian Picchi, it's been in the context of the games he's made, such as Retro Fever or Deadly Orbs. But his latest undertaking is more meta and Sisyphean: a database of every 8-bit Apple II game.

The list, most recently updated on August 12, 2014, currently indexes the title, publisher, developer(s), year of publication, and media for 2,160 titles. The data are culled from such sources as MobyGames, GameFAQs, YouTube, and wikis

"It started both as a project Alex Lee and I were talking about, and because I was just curious as to how many Apple II games there are," said Picchi in an email to Apple II Bits. "Every site I had seen had under 1,000 games listed, despite claims of several thousand by other sources, including Apple."

But the database's value is in more than just verifying or setting records. "I also thought it might be helpful because I hear lots of people asking questions like 'What was that game from my childhood I can't remember, I know it was in an issue of Microzine?' or 'How many games supported Mockingboard?' or 'How many games did Sierra release for the Apple II?'" continued Picchi. "The list is available to anyone who wants to use it for any purpose." Anyone who wants to contribute to the database may do so via Google Docs.

As a metadata junkie, I'm excited to see so much information being compiling and to consider how much more can be added. Data such as game genre, additional assets such as box art, and links to related resources, such as Virtual Apple II or the Internet Archive's Console Living Room implementation of JSMESS. Picchi agrees: "I'd love to see it built into something like http://www.c64.com/ where you search for the game, can view screenshots, download it directly, etc."
Games databaseCollecting so much information is only half of this vast undertaking, with organizing and presenting it being another. The database is currently implemented using TablePress, one of my all-time favorite WordPress plugins. It's a powerful tool, but one that is ultimately limited in how much data it can associate and present with a single software title. The database may be better served by creating a Content Post Type, which would allow the definition of fields and attachments unique to this database.

The end result would be exactly why I was briefly enrolled in a Master's of Library and Information Science (MLIS) program: I love collecting and organizing information but lack the programming skills necessary to structure and host such vast quantities of data in a useful, meaningful way. But one thing I've learned about Picchi from reading his Juiced.GS article is that he's constantly expanding his boundaries, mastering new languages and platforms. Could WordPress be next? If so, it will be to the benefit of Apple II gamers the world over!

Digital Den launch party

October 28th, 2013 10:59 AM
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Mary Hopper began making waves this August when she announced her intention to found a computer history museum in Boston. News of the Digital Den was picked up by Open Apple, the Retro Computing Roundtable, the Boston Globe, and Apple II Bits.

The museum continues to evolve into a extant institution, as evidenced by the launch party held on October 20. As a backer of the museum's Indiegogo campaign, I received an invitation to the event, where I was pleased to make the acquaintance of Dr. Hopper, Adam Rosen of the Vintage Mac Museum, and Ian S. King of the Living Computer Museum, as well as catch up with fellow retrocomputing enthusiast Dave Ross. On-hand were classic computers such as the Apple II, TI-99, and Nintendo Entertainment System, as well as newer tech like the Oculus Rift. It was an encouraging occasion for a museum that continues to seek a permanent home.

My photos from the event are posted below and are available under a CC-BY-NC license. The book featured below, Gordon Bell's Out of a Closet: The Early Years of The Computer [x]* Museum, is available online as a PDF. For more photos from the event, including a silly one of me by Rus Gant, see the Digital Den's first exhibit photos.

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Resurrecting Athletic Diabetic

September 9th, 2013 5:49 PM
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When Ryan Suenaga passed away in April 2011, I was made acutely aware of the need to have a digital proxy — that is, someone who can make decisions about the continued existence of my digital footprint, much as my healthcare proxy can decide whether or not to pull the plug on my organic life. More recently, Google also saw the wisdom of such a backup, having introduced the Inactive Account Manager — but my data extend well beyond Google, and I wanted such security years before Google thought to go there. That's why I established a secure contingency plan of someone who will acquire all my passwords and data in case of an emergency, but not before.

However, that doesn't help Ryan, who had no reason to expect he'd not be managing his own data for years to come. Tony Diaz stepped in and managed to acquire backups of several of Ryan's sites. I too picked up some of the pieces Ryan left behind, one of which was ryansuenaga.com, the registration of which Ryan had let lapse within his lifetime; paying that particular bill hadn't seemed a priority to him. With the help of the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine, I restored it.

Today, I'm relieved to bring another of Ryan's sites back to life. This past summer solstice, one of his former domains became available. I wasn't at my computer the moment it was released — fittingly enough, I was out for a bike ride that evening — but the domain was secured for me by proxy bidding service NameJet. I waited the requisite two months before transferring the registration to my preferred hosting company, DreamHost, then asked Tony if he had a backup of the original WordPress site. He did. After cleaning hacked files, updating plugins, disabling comments, and changing administrative contacts, Athletic Diabetic is once again available:

Athletic Diabetic

This blog is meant to share information from my personal experiences dealing with diabetes and exercise. I’m a medical social worker who not just works with diabetics, I am a Type II diabetic. I’ve lost over 80 pounds and counting since 2002 and have completed century (100 mile) bike rides and a marathon. I’ll be relating my experiences and research in both the diabetic and athletic arenas through this blog.

I hope you enjoy yourself here!

All 439 posts Ryan wrote between Apr 4, 2009, and April 19, 2011, have been restored to their original URLs.

In the grand scheme of life, what I've done doesn't amount to much — but the quality of the thing doesn't always matter. As Ryan would say: a site that exists is better than one that doesn't.

A computer history museum returns to Boston

September 2nd, 2013 6:41 PM
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Eight years ago, I took Ryan Suenaga to the Boston Museum of Science, whose "ComputerPlace" exhibit featured an Apple II with a copy of VisiCalc. Although exciting to see, this one display was the extent of Boston's preservation of computer history. The Computer History Museum, now a Silicon Valley landmark, had its humble beginnings in Boston, where it lived for 15 years. Upon its relocation to Mountain View, California, no similar establishment remained in Boston.

Northeastern University lecturer Mary Hopper aims to rectify that. As the Boston Globe reports, when the Computer History Museum left Boston, Hopper started collecting computer artifacts (including an Apple II Plus), waiting for the day she could donate them to whatever local institution took the CHM's place. With that not having happened, she's now setting out to establish her own computer museum: the Digital Den. To do so, she's turned to crowdfunding site Indiegogo to raise $25,000 by September 23. She's presently at 6% of her goal.

How this project got so far under the radar baffles me. I asked local representatives of @party, the Artisan's Asylum, and KansasFest, and nobody had heard of this endeavor. I'm also concerned about how vast an enterprise Hopper is undertaking — there's more to starting a museum than having an inventory. However, a visit to the Den by local retrocomputing enthusiast Dave Ross resulted in an encouraging report:

Mary is every bit as impressive as her bio makes her out to be. She's done some impressive work and has been involved with making sure her work and the work of those around her were preserved well before they could be considered "history".

She's also been talking to lawyers and other museums to get a sense of what she can legally do for fundraising and what kind of donations she can accept. It's refreshing to see that kind of due diligence.

If Hopper can accomplish what no one else has tried in more than a decade, then I will do what I can to support her — and already have, thanks to Indiegogo. I look forward to visiting the Den for myself!

Public libraries aren't archives

April 22nd, 2013 12:25 PM
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I ardently support public libraries: I consciously opt to get my movies from their collections rather than Netflix, so as to increase their circulation numbers and thus their budget; I've written letters to the editor in support of these democratic institutions; I even dabbled in the education necessary to work in the field. There's little that public libraries aren't good for.

Once upon a time, libraries were even a source of Apple II software. In those days, there were so many computing platforms that it was unlikely an underfunded library would support any one, especially since computers in general were still so limited in their accessibility and penetration. But with educational institutions being one of the few that could afford such an investment, the software you were likely to find at libraries were edutainment titles such as Microzine. Even more rarely, you might find software of a more diversionary nature.

I thought that's what recently happened to me as I prepared the March issue of Juiced.GS, for which Andy Molloy submitted a review of Jordan Mechner's The Making of Prince of Persia. Curious as to the availability of this book to our readers, I did a quick search for all materials by Mechner in any public library that's recognized by the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC). Though I was looking for paperbacks, I was stunned to find a copy of Karateka, right here in Massachusetts!

Recycled library card catalogEver think to look for computer games at your local library?
TOO LATE NOW.

Unfortunately, though this title was listed in OCLC's WorldCat, I could not find a matching listing in the catalog specific to the holding library system, the North of Boston Library Exchange (NOBLE). I emailed a librarian to ask about the discrepancy. Assuming I didn't realize the lateness of my request, she replied:

If you look closely at the record copied below, you will see that it is a 5 1/4 disk for computer (Apple II+)! I do not believe that a library today would have any equipment able to use one of these now "prehistoric" disks!

It's disappointing but unsurprising that the library would not have kept its Apple II software on file. With the limited budget and space afforded to public libraries, they must dispose of those items with limited circulation to make room for new materials. It's doubtful anyone had requested an 8-bit 5.25" floppy disk in years, if not decades, so away it went. To where, we may never know — a good home, I hope.

Interested in locating libraries in your area that may be holding onto these artifacts? OCLC lets you conduct a search for computer files published 1977–1992, which reveals 17,759 hits. But without a means to sort by location or vicinity, finding the disks near you is hopeless. It was only by chance that I thought I'd found Karateka in my own backyard.

Libraries make available materials that the general population may never otherwise have access to. But libraries are not archives or museums. As I discovered when I archived hardcopies of Juiced.GS, there are organizations around the world who will accept such materials, from academic institutions to the Computer History Museum. These non-profits are the proper places to consider donating your historical hardware and software. But Apple II software in public libraries? It's time not to check in, but to check out.