Apple-inspired Emerson education

November 25th, 2013 10:59 PM
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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.

The music of interactive fiction

July 29th, 2013 10:40 AM
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Juiced.GS has just shipped a PDF on the subject of interactive fiction. At 14 pages long, it's a digestible yet diverse tour of the various aspects of modern IF. Once you've loaded the file onto your e-reader of choice and settled into your study's reading chair, the only component missing is some background music to set the mood.

Enter Tony Longworth. The musician whose work has previously appeared in such documentaries as Get Lamp and Going Cardboard has released a new album, Memories of Infocom. "These pieces of music will transport you from ancient empires, to crime scenes, to outer space and beyond", the album's description states. "This album captures the magic of those heady days of Interactive Fiction, so sit back and let yourself be transported to the 80s when text was king." The dozen tracks can be purchased for a dollar each or $9.99 for the lot, which clocks in at 57:55.

Memories of Infocom

Despite having often written about text adventures for Juiced.GS and this blog, I am not personally acquainted with many Infocom games, sadly. So although the songs have titled such as "Enchanter" and "Planetfall", I can't say how those games may have inspired these tunes, or how pairing them might prove a complementary experience. But if you like ambient/background/electronic music and want to support a fellow retrogaming enthusiast, then check out these tunes.

(Hat tip to Lorien Green)

Rescuing the Prince of Persia from the sands of time

October 15th, 2012 2:17 PM
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Jordan Mechner is a hot ticket these days. I don't know exactly when that happened — in 2003 when his Apple II classic Prince of Persia got rebooted for a modern gaming audience, or 2010 when the franchise was adapted to film, or 2012 when he was the PAX East keynote speaker. Regardless, he and his properties seem to be popping up everywhere these days, with The Last Express coming out for iOS this month and a new Karateka due out real soon now.

The Mechner story that was perhaps of most relevance to Apple II users occurred earlier this year, when the source code for his original Prince of Persia was found and salvaged. The effort was 95% Tony Diaz, with the other 5% being Jason Scott knowing to bring Diaz into the equation. As the connective tissue, Scott observed the entire experience and gave a presentation about it on Friday, September 28, 2012, at Derbycon. The entire 52-minute session is now available online (note: contains NSFW language):

Remove the foul language and the tendency toward eccentric clothing, and Scott is still an entertaining speaker who knows his material and has a good delivery style. I recommend this and any other presentation of his you have the opportunity to attend.

What's next for Jordan Mechner? At PAX East, he commented that computer gaming was essentially a sidequest toward his goal of becoming a Hollywood scriptwriter. Yet gaming seems to be where he's known best, and he continues to return to that scene. Whichever one makes him happy, I look forward to his continued works.

Bill Budge & John Romero on the 6502

March 19th, 2012 9:10 AM
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Bill Budge has been a programmer extraordinaire, from the early days of his Pinball Construction Set to his more recent work with Sony and Google. Now he gets to pontificate upon those experiences to Jason Scott as part of 6502: The Documentary.

This preview joins the previous footage of Joe Grand, as well as this video of KansasFest 2012 keynote speaker John Romero:

Jason the documentarian explains:

These are untouched clips … right out of the camera and rendered out for you. I will probably tweak, push and pull for the final works, but I wanted you to see, clearly, the quality of image and sound you helped me achieve, and maybe even start to see how these subjects might play out. I have a very long way to go, but it's happening, for real, and you're seeing it. Thanks so much.

Did you not preorder your copy of 6502? Jason will be at KansasFest 2012; maybe he'll take your money then… or just put you in front of the camera for his next film!

The Jason Scott Adventure

March 1st, 2012 10:34 AM
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In July 2010, Jason Scott interviewed Christine Love, creator of Digital: A Love Story. This game, available for Mac, Windows, and Linux, emulates meeting people via a dial-up BBS, an experience that predates Love; she used Scott's textfiles.com as a reference by which she recreated this digital environment. I'm sure Scott was honored that his work proved the foundation for a game.

Now he's gotten even closer to that medium by being the direct inspiration for The Jason Scott Adventure. Dezro created this game for Pirate Kart V: The 2012-in-One Glorious Developers Conference, a game-making competition funded by Kickstarter and occurring in conjunction with next month's Game Developers Conference, of which Jason Scott is the digital historian. Pirate Kart V ran February 25–27 and included this… interesting production. With 256-color graphics and two modes of gameplay, The Jason Scott Adventure takes only a few minutes to play and has low replay value — yet it's a bizarrely awesome experience that succinctly encapsulates what it means to be Jason Scott as he fights the evil Yahoo!

The Jason Scott Adventure

To run The Jason Scott Adventure on my Mac, I opened Terminal, navigated to the game's folder, and typed ./JasonScottAdventure.sh

Be forewarned: this game includes photos of many cute kittens but also less welcome images. The resolution is such that you're unlikely to be scarred, but try not to look too closely.

(Hat tip to — who else? — Jason Scott)

My personal contribution to preventive archiving

February 27th, 2012 11:45 AM
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People like Mike Maginnis and Jason Scott have done a great deal to preserve the history of the Apple II. I got a taste for what it's like to contribute to that effort when I recorded KansasFest 2010, publishing dozens of videos of otherwise ephemeral experiences — but it wasn't until we lost Ryan Suenaga nearly a year ago that I realized the urgency of this work.

Ryan's passing was unexpected, and he left many people lost without him. The consequences to his friends and family make everything else seem trivial by comparison, but I had to contribute what little I could to aspects of Ryan's legacy that may otherwise go overlooked. I reconstituted RyanSuenaga.com, a domain that had expired during Ryan's lifetime but which he was too busy to maintain. Similarly, Tony Diaz purchased A2Unplugged.com, ensuring that episodes of the A2Unplugged podcast — still the most prolific Apple II podcast to date, despite not having published a new episode in nearly two years — will remain available.

In a way, it's too little, too late. We need to think about these worst-case scenarios before they happen. What does that mean for me? I don't arrogantly assume my original work will be missed, but I recognize that my primary role in the Apple II community is as a channel for other people's talents: I solicit and publish writers in Juiced.GS; I help bring people and luminaries together for KansasFest; and, with my co-host, I interview community members on Open Apple. Out of respect for the many volunteers who contribute to these outlets, I want this work to be tamper-proof while I'm alive — and continued when I'm not.

Last year, I devised a method for my digital assets to be accessed by a designated individual in the event of an emergency. It is a convoluted strategy that involves sealed envelopes, cross-country phone calls to strangers, and clues to decipher. Why I didn't simply put my passwords in a bank deposit box to which a relative has the key, I don't know. Perhaps I've watched National Treasure too many times.

But more immediately, I wanted to get data that is already publicly available into more hands, to ensure it doesn't suffer from a single point of failure. I'm relieved to have finally gotten to a point where I believe I have accomplished that goal. With help from Mike Maginnis, Steve Weyhrich, Ewen Wannop, Jeff Kaplan, and more, today marks a series of coordinated announcements:

Distribution and preservation: The benefits of an ISSN
Juiced.GS receives an ISSN from the Library of Congress and is archived by ten museums and universities around the world.
Preserving KansasFest videos: Internet Archive, iTunes, YouTube
KansasFest videos from 2009 and beyond to be made available in the Internet Archive, via an iTunes video podcast, and on YouTube.
Open Apple on the Internet Archive
Episodes of the Apple II community's only co-hosted podcast now permanently available from a 501(c)(3) online library.

Some of these developments were easily accomplished; others required hours of busy work and calling in personal favors. Some were free but for our time and energy; others cost hundreds of dollars. All were group efforts that require ongoing commitments.

The work to ensure our Apple II heritage remains available to current and future generations never ends. Let's make sure that which is unique is never lost.