Opus ][ and Juiced.GS

September 14th, 2015 8:43 AM
Filed under Musings, Software showcase;
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I attended my first KansasFest in 1998. It was the year that GSoft BASIC debuted from The Byte Works, and also the year that Eric Shepherd founded the HackFest contest. I married the two and attempted to write a Boggle game in GSoft BASIC while at KansasFest. It didn't go well, but I was encouraged by The Byte Works president and fellow attendee Mike Westerfield, who made changes to GSoft BASIC in response to my experience and feedback. It meant a lot to me, KansasFest 1998's youngest attendee, so receive that kind of support from a community luminary.

This past July, Mike posted to Facebook:

I know people have had trouble recently getting some of the old Byte Works products. I'm looking at a number of options, and wanted to gauge interest.

All of our products that were produced at the Byte Works, and thus the ones we have clear copyright to, are on a CD called Opus ][. This includes ORCA/C, ORCA/Pascal, ORCA/M, and all of the support programs and so forth, but not ORCA/Modula 2. There are two disks, one with the executables and another with the source. These have been selling for $99 each or $195 for the set.

I'm considering offering these as downloads. They would be one-off sales, which would take some of my time for each one, so I would need to charge for them. I was thinking $25 each or $40 for the pair. You would have to move the individual files to your Apple IIGS or Apple II yourself.

This would mean the only way to get an individual language would be to buy the entire CD, but then, the CD would cost no more than the individual languages do now, anyway.

So, is this interesting to anyone, or does it really matter anymore?

I emailed Mike that same day, offering the Juiced.GS online store as a vehicle for distributing Opus ][. It wouldn't be the magazine's first collaboration with The Byte Works: our December 1998 issue (Volume 3, Issue 4) included a 3.5" floppy disk containing a free trial version of GSoft BASIC, allowing readers to follow along with Eric Shepherd's six-part GSoft tutorial that debuted in that issue.

To my delight, Mike was enthusiastic about revisiting that collaboration. The only hesitation was on my end: how do we make this product a natural fit for the Juiced.GS store? The magazine had no history of selling software or other people's products. How could we make Opus ][ a good fit?

Our Concentrate line had the answer. These PDFs collect thematically related content from past issues of Juiced.GS into a single file. With transcription help from Ewen Wannop and Paul Zaleski, I'd begun producing out a PDF of Sheppy's six-part series back in 2011 — but the effort of laying out 49 pages of code was daunting… especially when The Byte Works' own Learn to Program in GSoft BASIC was available for free. The opportunity to work with Mike was the incentive I needed to revisit and finally finish that project, which is now available for free with the purchase of Opus ][: The Software or Opus ][: The Source.

Since releasing these products on September 1, sales have been strong, with dozens of customers buying the compilations in download, CD, and USB formats. The demand for these products is evidence of a vibrant and supportive Apple II community, even so many years after Opus' original release 15 years ago.

It's an honor to work with so esteemed and storied a developer as The Byte Works and to release a product desired by so many. Juiced.GS and I look forward to many more opportunities to serve the community!

Codes that changed the world

April 20th, 2015 10:40 AM
Filed under History;
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Growing up with the Apple II, I learned to program in BASIC. Its line numbers, GOTOs and GOSUBs, and spaghetti code were unlike anything I would encounter later in my education. Perhaps for that reason, I never mastered a language like I did BASIC. While I was able to grasp Prolog and FORTRAN, the "pointers" of C++ were so incomprehensible to me that I eventually had to change majors to get away from it.

Had I continued down that programming path, I doubtless would've faced many other challenging concepts as I attempted to master yet more languages, like C Sharp, Perl, PHP, Ruby, and more. By some estimates, there are over 20,000 languages in existence, only a fraction of which I ever could've learned on the Apple II. Some are more practical than others, while others are of more historical significance.

The BBC attempts to scratch the surface of those historical languages in a recent limited-run podcast series, Codes that Changed the World, hosted by Aleks Krotoski.

Codes that Changed the World

The podcast, which debuted this month and ran for all of five episodes, covers four languages: FORTRAN, COBOL, BASIC, and Java, with a fifth episode discussing how so many different languages are able to coexist.

Of course, you can't discuss the rise of BASIC without the role the Apple II played, and vice versa:

BASIC enabled computing as we understand it today. When Apple was a two-man band building this thing called the Apple II, there were no other computers out there like it. So they had to put something on it that would allow individuals to program it themselves. Apple just wouldn't exist without BASIC. And Microsoft! The first thing that Microsoft did as a company was selling BASIC to run on other people's computers. The two biggest names in modern computing, Apple and Microsoft, both wouldn't've happened if it wasn't for BASIC.

BASIC celebrated its 50th birthday last year, earning it a cover story in Juiced.GS:
Juiced.GS Volume 19 Issue 2

While researching that story, author Steve Weyhrich (who also pointed me to this podcast) delved into the resources available at Dartmouth College, where BASIC was invented. As part of its "BASIC at 50" commemoration, Dartmouth produced a free 38-minute documentary, Birth of BASIC:

If you want to learn more about other programming languages, Codes that Changed the World is available in iTunes. While it's unreasonable to expect all 20,000 languages to be covered, I do lament that the podcast's scope was limited to only five episodes, as I rather enjoyed these 15-minute encapsulations of technical topics for a lay audience. If the BBC or Krotoski ever produce more, I'll be first in line to listen!

Internationalizing Juiced.GS

October 13th, 2014 10:09 AM
Filed under Musings;

This past weekend, a handful of Juiced.GS subscribers received a surprise in the mail: a French language edition of the September 2014 issue. The content was translated from the original English not by Google Translate, but by Antoine Vignau of Brutal Deluxe, a polyglot contributor to the magazine.

This collaboration was inspired by Andrés Lozano, who travelled from France to attend KansasFest 2014. While there, he hosted a live Google Hangout so that his fellow patriots could attend KansasFest virtually.

It was during that video chat that I spoke with Antoine Vignau, who I'd previously interviewed for an audio podcast but had never spoken to in video before. Seeing him, Andrés, and many other attendees in the chat reminded me what a presence the Apple II has in France. A few hours later, I emailed Antoine with this unsolicited proposal: "If you're willing to translate the entire September 2014 issue of Juiced.GS, I'll see about publishing it in French. Just as a one-time special — not every issue!"

The result is Juiced.FR, which shipped a week after Juiced.GS. The timing was tricky, as I had to wait until the English edition was done in its entirety before handing it to Antoine to translate. While an issue may be assembled piecemeal, it isn't until every article is laid out that the staff really pulls apart the draft, looking for typos or clarifications. I wanted to have that level of quality in place before Antoine began translating. Even then, Antoine had his work cut out for him; given the technical nature of some of the pieces, it seemed some of the content might be "untranslatable"! But Antoine persevered, producing an issue that I can't read but which I assume is excellent.

While Juiced.GS again met its deadline of shipping in the month listed on the cover, French subscribers' issues were not mailed until a week later, in October. I felt bad about delaying the receipt of their product, but the feedback I've gotten so far is that it was worth the wait.

I don't expect to repeat this promotion in French or other languages — it was a fun but unique experiment, akin to the 5.25" demo disk of Drift that we shipped two years back. It might be fun to translate each issue of a volume into a different language and then package it as the "Babel Bundle", but the audience for such a product would be small.

If you are a French speaker who isn't a subscriber to Juiced.GS, or you're someone who just wants to practice a foreign tongue, you can buy this individual issue of Juiced.FR. We've never sold single issues before, and I expect this one will never be back in print after the original run is sold out, making it a truly limited edition. Show Antoine your appreciation by making sure we sell out!

Working on Juiced.GS's deadline

September 30th, 2013 6:15 PM
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The latest issue of Juiced.GS shipped this weekend, and it's already arriving in subscribers' mailboxes on both coasts, as reported on Facebook and Google+. It's gratifying to know all the last-minute work is now being enjoyed. I was at the printshop as soon as they opened on Saturday morning to collect the quarterly bounty. I then hauled the issues to a corner of the USPS, combined them with the stamped and labeled catalog envelopes I had with me, and handed the set to the clerk.

Juiced.GS envelopes

The postmaster was nearly crushed by the avalanche of Apple II magazines.

This issue marks my 23rd as publisher of Juiced.GS. In that time, the magazine has always been mailed in the month printed on the cover; not once has that deadline been missed. But sometimes it's been close, and I wonder why I do it to myself — why couldn't I have built more leeway into the schedule?

To be fair, sometimes it's not me doing it — writers have been known to miss their deadlines, leaving the layout to the last minute! But planning starts at the top, and I hold myself responsible for delays or conflicts. For example, this fall was my first juggling both the annual MS Challenge Walk and teaching at Emerson College. With both events commencing within days of each other, there were two straight weeks when almost all the content for this issue of Juiced.GS had been submitted to me and I did nothing with it. Surely I could've seen that coming — both were scheduled at least six months out.

But I wonder if things would turn out better, or even any different, if Juiced.GS were prepared further in advance. Sometimes the best work is done under pressure, and it isn't until all the pieces come together that the issue can be evaluated as a whole. That's when the entire Juiced.GS staff pores over the pages, knowing that if we don't all pitch in now, the readers won't get the quality publication that we all put our names on.

Whatever our standards, even if Juiced.GS is the best Apple II publication currently in print, I'm always looking for ways to make it and its workflows serve its constituents better. Each issue is a new opportunity, and I'm already looking forward to December — and beyond!

The music of interactive fiction

July 29th, 2013 10:40 AM
Filed under Game trail;
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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)

Unboxing Zéphyr

May 13th, 2013 9:53 AM
Filed under Game trail;
1 comment.

Back in November, with no scripting and little forethought, I shot an unboxing video. Those outside the tech world may be unfamiliar with the genre, which is essentially a step-by-step documentary of the opening and unpacking of a new product. My product was the Nintendo Wii U, a video game system released on November 18. Much to my surprise, viewers were enthralled with the product and my stream-of-consciousness narration — that, or I had really good SEO. Either way, the video is now nearing a staggering one million views. Despite being only 1.4% of the videos on my YouTube channel, this single video accounts for 78% of my channel's total views.

Not that popularity makes me an expert, but I decided to revisit the genre when I purchased Zéphyr, a new, physical game for the Apple II. Once my copy arrived via international mail from Brutal Deluxe, I touted it, my Canon Rebel T2i DSLR, and my tripod to my office, where resides my Apple IIGS, and recorded my experience with the game. The camera is good for only ten minutes of consecutive video, which was more than enough for the six cuts I shot, which when edited together happened to add up to exactly ten minutes.

It'd be disingenuous for me to not acknowledge the influence of Brian Picchi, aka TanRu Nomad, who has produced dozens of excellent video reviews of Apple II hardware and software. His reviews are more stylish and edited than my "start rolling and see what happens" approach, so there really is no comparison between the two — otherwise, I'd lose! (Horribly.) But the idea that one could produce a video about the Apple II and have fun doing it was enough of a precedent for me to try. (Now if only I could get the hundreds of views he does!)

Although the Zéphyr video was openly posted to YouTube, it was primarily promoted on Facebook, where users were invited to "like" Juiced.GS's Facebook page to view the video. I don't know if anyone found that "fan gate" cumbersome or pretentious, but I received no complaints. Nonetheless, I figured two weeks later, the promotion has run its course, and I won't be cutting into the page's appeal by sharing the video here.

There aren't many opportunities to shoot unboxing videos of new Apple II products, especially one of a sort that aligns with my YouTube channel's other gaming content. I enjoyed this experience, even if there won't be another one like it. I hope the Internet enjoyed it, too!