Electronic publishing overview

February 9th, 2015 11:36 AM
by
Filed under Musings;
2 comments.

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.

Apple-inspired Emerson education

November 25th, 2013 10:59 PM
by
Filed under Musings, People;
1 comment.

Here in the States, it's Thanksgiving week, for which I'm thankful for a break from school. Even us teachers need time off now and then.

My undergraduate course in electronic publishing has completed 12 of its 14 weeks, with the remaining two dedicated to lab work and presentations. As I look back over this, my second semester teaching the course, I smile to consider how influenced it's been by my Apple II connections.

I always open the first night of class with a lecture on the history of the Internet — not because I want my students, born in 1992, to appreciate how good they have it, but because it's important to recognize that we didn't just wake up one day and the Internet existed: it evolved for reasons, to serve specific purposes. Props for the evening include punch cards and a Replica-1.

Almost every week of class includes a different guest lecturer, so continuing the theme of history, I brought in Jason Scott, an alumnus of both KansasFest and the school at which I teach. Rather than any prepared material, Jason hosted 90 minutes of Q&A about Wikipedia, Archive.org, Sockington, and more. His Mythapedia presentation was required listening, and the first chapter of BBS: The Documentary was optional viewing.

In the following weeks, the students had their first remote presenter: Kevin Savetz, another KansasFest alumnus, video chatting with us from his home on the West Coast. In another hour of Q&A, he shared with students his transition from writer to publisher (as also detailed in his memoir, Terrible Nerd), how Amazon.com has democratized print publishing in much the way the Web opened up online publishing, and how Kickstarter is doing the same thing for artists and inventors. I was intrigued that my students were most fascinated by Kevin's work archiving classic computer magazines. I discovered several of my students are considering careers in library science!

Another guest speaker was Chris Lackey, who is not an Apple II user but who designed the foundation for the modern KansasFest logo and appeared on one of the first episodes of Open Apple — a show that likely inspired me to incorporate podcasting as an exercise in my class. You can hear my students' work on The Pubcast, a weekly interview series.

The guest speaker lineup concluded on a high note with a detailed overview of how to use social media to promote and humanize a product or brand. The presenter, Annie Lynsen, has no Apple II connection — except I was introduced to her at a festival I was attending to hear chiptune artist 8 Bit Weapon perform.

The first wave of survivors of an Apple II educator.

The first wave of survivors of an Apple II educator.

Although graduates of my class will not have used an actual Apple II or done any research into vintage computers, they will nonetheless have indirectly been educated by the experiences and lessons that this early personal computer conferred upon a generation of the intellectually curious. My thanks to the many talented professionals who volunteer their time and expertise to my class, and for the Apple II that introduced us to make such academic collaborations possible.

Presenting the Apple II

May 5th, 2011 5:55 AM
by
Filed under Musings;
6 comments.

Last Wednesday, I delivered the final presentation of my graduate student career. The course was in the theater education department of Emerson College, and the subject was non-profit grant-writing. Most of my classmates knew as much about theater as I do about computers, so I enjoyed the opportunity to be the most technically literate person in the crowd. Nonetheless, it also made me constantly mindful of my audience when presenting information.

My presentation was on the need to preserve the history of KansasFest. I started off with a brief overview of how Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs founded the company in their garage in 1977, with titles such as Oregon Trail and Visicalc making the machine a success in educational and business markets alike. I then traced the lineage that modern software owes to the Apple II by putting up a slide of the first-person shooter Call of Duty, which is derived from Wolfenstein 3D, which in turn was based on the Apple II game Castle Wolfenstein.

Most of the students recognized at least one of these titles, so by playing to their familiarity, I was able to keep them engaged — though one student seemed more enraptured than even I expected, with a face-splitting grin on her face at the screenshot of Castle Wolfenstein. I asked her later if she'd played that game. "No, but I grew up with King's Quest, so to see an old game like that was great," she enthusiastically replied. Ah! A retrogamer in the crowd. I followed up by emailing her a link to AGD Interactive.

KansasFest 2006 presentation

Watch as Ken presents the hell out of the Apple II.

The rest of the presentation went smoothly, due I believe in part to my M.O. when planning such events: I use as little text as possible. More often, my presentations could be better described as slideshows. Besides the fact that I'm a visual learner, I also didn't want to bore people by reading text off slides or by burying them with facts, statistics, and graphs that I may find interesting but which they do not. With a photo or screenshot, they can quickly absorb a visual complement to my speech without distracting them as they try to interpret the media.

The Q&A section was brief. One person asked if Apple Inc. still has an involvement in the Apple II and would be interested in participating in the preservation and continuation of KansasFest. Without trying to explain the Apple II downloads page of Apple.com, I told her that yes, Apple used to come to this event, but they hadn't been seen since my first year attending in 1998. Another student asked a question tangential to my proposal: have we figured out a way to put the Apple II online? In this, I momentarily forgot my audience by replying, "Sure — we've had dial-up modems since they were 300 baud." A few shrugs indicated that this reference was lost to them, so I moved on: "There is an Ethernet card for the Apple II, and just last week, I put the Apple II in my cubicle on the company network. Now I just need to install the Twitter client … It's pretty slick," I added, to their laughter.

Overall, it was a fun evening, especially since I was presenting on a topic I'm both knowledgeable and passionate about. I don't get many chances to present about the Apple II outside KansasFest, so to let my inner geek proudly shine — and, I hope, get an 'A' for it — was a great sendoff to my time at Emerson.