Computer Show returns, courtesy HP

March 13th, 2017 9:48 AM
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In October 2015, two episodes of the online talk show Computer Show debuted. A send-up of the classic 1980s show Computer Chronicle, this parody featured a socially awkward host with all the technological know-how of someone from thirty years ago interviewing guests from the modern computer industry. The interaction between the host and the guests was so awkward as to be delightfully painful to watch.

After a prolonged intermission, Computer Show is back with a new six-minute episode:

As always, the show is hilarious. Rob Baedeker as Gary Fabert is a brilliant combination of huge ego and low self-esteem, struggling with his bafflement at modern technology. In what I assume are some unscripted bits, the guests seem equally stunned at the treatment they're receiving from the host.

Co-starring in this episode is the HP PageWide printer in an obvious demonstration of product placement. But at least they're honest about the reason why: HP sponsored this episode of the show. That's why the video is hosted on HP's YouTube channel, and not Computer Show's own dedicated channel, as the first two episodes were.

What a brilliant form of marketing — one that gives us Computer Show fans something we want in a way that doesn't compromise the show's format or integrity. Here's hoping more companies take advantage of this opportunity. How about our hosts be introduced to a Raspberry Pi or CFFA3000 next?

(Hat tip to T.L. Stanley via Chris Harshman)

Computer Show

November 2nd, 2015 9:11 AM
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In the late 1970s and early 1980s — and, some would argue, well beyond then — computers were portrayed in the media as a novelty or fad. But one show took them seriously: Computer Chronicles, a PBS talk show created and co-hosted by Stewart Cheifet. Across nearly two decades of the show's run, technologies such as the Internet and guests such as Bill Budge were presented to a mainstream audience for the first time.

Computer Chronicles has been off the air for 13 years — but now, Computer Show picks up where it left off, serving as a parody that mimics the original show's format. Much as the underrated Brady Bunch Movie transposed the original characters, unaffected by the passage of time from their native 1970s, into a contemporary 1990s setting, Computer Show's hosts are firmly rooted in the early 1980s, baffled by their guests from modern-day Silicon Valley. The guests are actual luminaries playing themselves, from the founders of Lumi.com to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian.

To date, two episodes have been released, the first being about the intersection of art and technology:

and another about communities:

Computer Show is the product of Sandwich Video, a company that makes commercials for tech products. Their casting of Rob Baedeker as socially awkward Gary Fabert is perfect, creating one of those rare opportunities when it feels okay to laugh at someone instead of with them. Though I confess to being a little tired of Adam Lisagor, who shows up in practically every Sandwich commercial ever.

Computer Show is a brilliant amalgam of classic sensibilities and modern tech, with plenty of Apple II cameos. Check it out!

(Hat tip to Dan Frommer and Proma Khosla)

Computer Chronicles looks at the IIc Plus, GS/OS 4.0

November 28th, 2011 11:41 AM
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The Apple II was no stranger to the limelight of Computer Chronicles, a weekly television show that documented the rise of the personal computer industry, starting on PBS in 1981. The entire library of Computer Chronicles episodes is available online from The Internet Archive — no surprise, as when the show ended in 2002, its creator and host, Stewart Cheifet, took a position as director of the Archive.

One 1988 episode of Computer Chronicles coincided with the release of the Apple IIc Plus and GS/OS 4.0. Demonstrating these products on the show were Apple employees Anne Bachtold and Laura Kurihara, who struck me with two aspects of their presentation. First, they don't shy away from technical terminology and details. I suspect this show had a savvy audience that understood these terms, but given that personal computers were still in their infancy thirty years ago, I wonder how many non-techies tried tuning in but found this jargon impenetrable. Second, we all know the names of Apple II employees and alumni like Jef Raskin, Guy Kawasaki, and even Chris Espinosa. I marvel that there were so many more bigwigs like Bachtold and Kurihara whose contributions to the Apple II platform have been omitted from the annals of history. It demonstrates society's tendency to "celebritize" particular personalities to the point that their supporters get lost in their shadows.

Although he couldn't come to the studio for the interview, there's also a brief segment with John Sculley, who says that the Apple II provides users with "a real feel for the chips", likening it to a stick shift next to the Macintosh's automatic transmission. I think that's very true, as evidenced by how the Macintosh has grown increasingly graphics-oriented and closed. With the schematics and open nature of the Apple II, users can work much closer to the metal.

There's also a brief discussion of the possibility of an Apple II laptop, or even a computer that can run both Apple II and Macintosh software. What a world that would be!

Here's the full 28-minute episode. Feel free to skip time index 13:38 – 15:22, which focuses on the Mac IIx.

Hat tip to Steve Weyhrich!

Honoring Bill Budge

February 10th, 2011 10:36 PM
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Earlier today, Bill Budge was honored by the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences with the Pioneer Award, making him only the second recipient of the award. The first was David Crane, co-founder of Activision and creator of Pitfall!, putting Budge in good company.

In conjunction with this award, Wired magazine published an elegant and insightful profile of Budge, creator of the Apple II pinball programs Raster Blaster and Pinball Construction Set. But other media have given us additional looks at Budge over the years — most notably in the early 1980s, when he first achieved fame, and then in the late 1990s, when he came out of semi-retirement and returned to the electronic entertainment industry.

First was his appearance on the Computer Chronicles, a PBS show that ran 1981–2002. Watch time indices 12:46–22:21 of this episode from September 28, 1984:

I was intrigued by Budge's belief that a programmer can't ask a gamer what kind of game he wants to play; a programmer has to have an "inner conviction" about what kind of game to make. Such a sentiment echoes Steve Jobs' own successful design philosophy.

Budge also participated in an eloquent interview with James Hague for a 1997 e-book called Halcyon Days, now available for free online. Here, Budge talked about his transition from programmer to entrepreneur to early retiree:

I realized I could do what my "publisher" was doing. In other words, put the program in a Ziploc bag with a sheet of instructions and sell them a thousand at a time to a distributor like Softsel, which was big in those days. So my sister and I started BudgeCo. I wrote the programs–"Raster Blaster" and "Pinball Construction Set"–and she ran the business. But it was getting harder to sell software. Before, it had sold itself. By 1983, you needed reps and a whole sales organization. We continued until the industry grew, and we either had to grow or ally with someone bigger. I didn't want to be an entrepreneur, so when EA approached me I was ready to sign …

[But] I [got] burned out from trying to constantly out-do myself. This was after spending a lot of time thinking what to do after "Pinball Construction Set." … I filled a lot of notebooks with design ideas. I spent a few summers in Maui windsurfing. I did some programming for Apple that got bundled with the Apple II mouse … I realized that what I loved to do is build things and that I wasn't happy unless I was excited about my work. So I decided that even if I was only programming video games, I could be happy as long as I was trying to do the best video game.

In the first episode of the Open Apple podcast, I recalled Budge's ambition to follow the Pinball Construction Set with Construction Set Construction Set, which would allow users to design their own games. It was too complex a concept for the hardware of the era, though it eventually saw fruition with tools now in use in freshman courses in game design programs at colleges across the country. Budge didn't think he'd live to see the day:

I think the construction set construction set is kind of a doomed concept. Construction sets are an exciting category, and I wish there were more of them. It's not easy to design them.

In a rather rudimentary interview with Sam Gabrielsson published in late 1998, made another prediction that might've required some re-evaluation, in light of technologies such as the Nintendo Wii and Microsoft Kinect:

Some areas of technology like computing cost and speed are advancing rapidly. But other technologies, like true 3D displays and tactile feedback are in their infancies and may face insurmountable obstacles. For example, feedback to simulate a solid object requires force powerful enough to rip your arm off. I could be wrong, but I think computer pinball should strive to exploit its special advantages, rather than just be a copy of real pinball machines.

Budge also talked about how Electronic Arts tried to make a star out of him:

Yeah, they sent me out on a kind of celebrity rock star tour. But it became obvious pretty quickly that programmers aren't quite rock stars. But it was a fun experience. I don't have a scanned autograph yet!

Even if he didn't achieve rockstar status, Budge is one of the few programmers to have created and maintained a reputation that has spanned the decades. Besides Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Bill Gates, the only other name that comes to my mind is Jordan Mechner. As Open Apple co-host Mike Maginnis said on the show, "I sometimes tend to forget that [people like Bill Budge] went on to do other things in the industry. When I see Bill Budges name, I go, 'Oh, he's that Apple II guy from way back when!' But he's been in the industry this whole time."

Congratulations, Mr. Budge, on your accomplishment. You've earned it!

UPDATE: GameSpot and G4tv have post-event wrap-ups of the award ceremony.