A visit to the Media Archaeology Lab

March 4th, 2019 6:16 AM
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I've gotten to explore some fantastic computer museums in the company of Apple II users: the Boston Museum of Science with Ryan Suenaga; the Computer History Museum with Martin Haye; Living Computers: Museum + Labs with Olivier Guinart; the Strong Museum of Play with Andy Molloy. Last month, I enjoyed another such adventure, this one to the Media Archaeology Lab with Chris Torrence.

The MAL is in Boulder, Colorado, a place I briefly lived and to which I was now returning on business. I work for Automattic, a completely distributed company whose employees all work remotely. Instead of a traditional office, where everyone works together for fifty weeks a year then gets two weeks of vacation apart, Automattic flips that model: we spend only two weeks together a year, at two week-long team meetups. My first meetup of 2019 was in Boulder, giving me the perfect excuse to extend my stay for a visit to the MAL.

Another convenient synchronicity was that, just two months earlier, I'd started selling Steve Weyhrich's book, Sophistication & Simplicity. Steve permitted me to donate a few copies of his book to libraries and museums, so I emailed some historians to ask what institutions I should target. Jason Scott suggested the MAL, a museum that I was vaguely aware of from Chris Torrence volunteering there. I pitched him a donation of S&S as well as a complete collection of Juiced.GS, and he enthusiastically accepted. Instead of mailing so much heavy Apple II literature, my Automattic trip would enable me to personally deliver it, followed by a tour of the MAL!

The MAL resides in the basement of a building near the local university campus. Three rooms are accessible to the public, with the main lobby hosting one long table of operational Apple computers, and another table filled with other brands and models. Like the Living Computers museum of Seattle, Washington, MAL's artifacts are meant to be used: shelves are filled to the ceiling with classic software, mainly games, waiting to be played. I booted up an Apple IIe for a round of Oregon Trail, naming my wagonmates after fellow Apple II users, while Chris fiddled with getting BattleChess to work on the IIGS.

The back room, the second-largest room in the MAL, holds a dozen or so game consoles, all connected to CRT televisions. Chris and I rotated through several two-player Nintendo games, including Super Dodge Ball and Double Dragon II. I also tried the Vectrex, an all-in-one game console and display unit released by Milton Bradley in late 1982 and discontinued in early 1984. I was familiar with the Vectrex but had never gotten hands-on experience with one before. Its vector graphics, similar to an Asteroids coin-op, were bright and vivid — though playing the Star Trek game reminded me that this console is from an era where gameplay was not intuitive, and a thorough reading of the manual was essential.

I enjoyed my time at the MAL and wish I'd been able to stay longer. The assortment of not just digital technology, but all media, was fascinating, from computers to record players to oscilloscopes. As much as I'm a retrocomputing enthusiast, there is plenty of history and media I've still to discover. There are few places better to do so than the MAL.

Negotiating deals at KansasFest

November 26th, 2018 3:36 PM
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It's Cyber Monday, and Juiced.GS is selling Sophistication & Simplicity, Dr. Steve Weyhrich's definitive history of the Apple II. I sang this book's praises upon its December 2013 release, even going so far as to shoot an unboxing video:

What brought this book to the Juiced.GS store five years later is a random confluence of events. This past summer marked my 21st time attending KansasFest, the annual Apple II expo held in Kansas City. But for the first time in over a decade, my traditional roommate of Andy Molloy was not in attendance. I asked Steve Weyhrich if I could crash in his dorm room instead.

It was during one evening of cohabitation that my roommate and I got to chatting, the conversation wandering among all aspects of the Apple II community. What I discovered that evening was that not only had Steve received a few complimentary copies of his book, as every author is owed; he also had several dozen extra copies in storage.

If this had come to light 4–5 years ago, I would not have been in a position to do anything about it. But in the last three years, Juiced.GS has become a publisher and reseller for other Apple II entities, such as The Byte Works and Kelvin Sherlock. When I asked Steve if he'd be interested in being the third person to engage in such a collaboration by allowing Juiced.GS to distribute his book, he happily agreed.

What followed were months of emails between Steve, me, publisher Variant Press, the Juiced.GS staff, and other parties. The result was our ability to bring autographed copies of this book to Juiced.GS customers at an all-time low price — all because Steve and I were KansasFest roommates.

The Apple II community at large has long benefitted from the fruits of KansasFest, with collaborative products such as Marinetti having been born there. I'm delighted that Steve and I are the latest instrument of such happenstance.

Behind the scenes of Ninjaforce demo Kernkompetenz

September 24th, 2018 6:41 PM
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One of my favorite Juiced.GS articles series is "Behind the Scenes", in which a hardware or software developer writes in his own words how their product came to be. These articles can look at the hardware production, language selection, beta-testing process, or books read — anything that shows the reader how the author got from Point A to Point B. In the last 11 years, Juiced.GS has gone behind the scenes of 35 products, starting with Mark Percival's DiskMaker 8 and continuing to such releases as Slammer, 73H 0r3g0n 7r41L, Nox Archaist, and Lawless Legend's Outlaw.

Last year in Volume 22, Issue 2, Jesse Blue of Apple IIGS programming group Ninjaforce took us behind the scenes of Revision, an annual demoparty held in Germany. It was here in 2017 that Ninjaforce showcased the first demo they'd released in 20 years, Kernkompetenz. This article was classified in Juiced.GS as "Event Coverage", as it wasn't about the actual development of the demo. But shortly after the article's publication, Jesse published a complementary video that reveals the software's secrets.

This 23-minute narrated slideshow starts with a four-minute overview of the Apple IIGS's hardware capabilities, followed by a demo of the, uh, demo. Jesse then continues with tables and diagrams that explain how Kernkompetenz works its magic. Whether you're an experienced programmer or are just casually interested in the inner workings of this 16-bit machine, the video is an easy-to-follow guide to Ninjaforce's latest demo.

Still haven't tried Kernkompetenz yourself? You can download it from their website, or watch a video.

(Hat tip to Blake Patterson)

Choosing content for Juiced.GS

June 12th, 2017 5:50 PM
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Another Juiced.GS has been delivered to the printshop, though not without enduring some challenges. I once again had to struggle with a wonderful problem: too much content.

Each print issue of Juiced.GS has to be a number of pages divisible by 4. (That's what you get when you print on both sides of an 11" x 17" piece of paper then fold it in half.) We've decided that the minimum number of pages is 20, and the maximum (which we've achieved only once in our 86 issues) is 28. So most issues are either 20 or 24 pages.

The geography of the magazine is such that many pages are already spoken for: the front and back cover, my editorial, and DumplinGS, for example. That can account for as much as 25% of an issue, with the remainder filled with roughly six articles.

Some of those articles, I pitch to staff writers or freelancers; other articles are pitched to me. Unless it's something we've already covered, I rarely turn down a pitch. Some articles are short one-pagers; others require multiple diagrams that span five or six pages.

And that's what happened this issue: we had so many great pitches of substantial content that, by the time everything was loaded in, the issue was clocking in at 29 pages. I had to delete 1, 5, or 9 pages to get this issue to work.

Making that decision means asking, "What articles must run this issue?" Some topics are time-sensitive, whether they're reviews of new software, coverage of recent events, lead-ups to KansasFest, or series that need to conclude before year's end. Once I answered that question, it became apparent that we had six articles that had to be published in June, and four that could wait until September, resulting in a 24-page issue.

Of course, I could've run some of that "extra" content in June, making for another massive 28-page issue. But there are two downsides to doing so: it bumps the magazine into another postage class, requiring additional stamps; and it leaves less content for us to publish in the fall. By holding content back until September, there's that much less work to do in the short month between when KansasFest ends and when school begins.

There's one other consideration when making content decisions: the writers. How will they feel when their articles, which I gave them deadlines for, are not published when promised? Fortunately, I have never once encountered any tension or pushback. Every Juiced.GS contributor has attached no ego to their publication date, recognizing that these decisions in no way reflect the quality of their submissions. I am grateful for how fully they understand and cooperate.

I don't expect this issue to be the last time I have to make those decisions: with KansasFest 2017 being sold out, our community is growing, and with it, the number of helpers and contributors. I don't see a need to change our format or processes to compensate — to put it in KansasFest terms, we don't need a new venue with a bigger capacity. Instead, we can promise that we'll continue to be curators who work with writers of all experiences and skill levels to deliver the best content we can find.

Enjoy the issue — it hits the USPS on Wednesday!

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.

Juiced.GS ships early!

February 27th, 2017 1:00 PM
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As I write this blog post, I am simultaneously proud, relieved, and shocked. The reason: I just delivered the March 2017 issue of Juiced.GS to the printshop.

Note: it is not March.

On all 84 issues of Juiced.GS that have been published to date, every cover has displayed the date of publication. In the 44 issues I've edited, only four of the year's 12 months have been represented on the cover: March, June, September, and December, aligning with the end of each quarter.

I took those months to be the deadline by which I had to deliver the issue to the post office. Sometimes this meant mailing an issue on March 31, with it not arriving in readers' hands until April.

But if you look back at earlier issues of Juiced.GS, you'll see different dates on the cover: February, May, August, and November. Former editor-in-chief Ryan Suenaga published midway through each quarter so as to avoid conflicting with other crunch periods, such as the holidays. I tried to follow his example, but on my very first issue, I slipped a month and never regained it.

But this year, the first issue of 2017 presented the opportunity to get back on track. One article held back from December gave us a head start, but it wasn't just that. I don't normally assign articles until after the previous issue has shipped — but I was able to solicit the author of this month's cover story, Mike Whalen, last fall, and he diligently worked through the holidays so that his submission would be ready as soon as we began work on the March issue. Our other staff and freelance writers, including Chris Torrence and Ivan Drucker, were also very timely with their contributions.

It all added up to us being able to print the magazine with a February date: as long as I got the magazine to the post office before Wednesday, we could accurately say the magazine shipped in February. But it still wouldn't be delivered until March, and although I've cut it close before, this approach felt dishonest, somehow.

So we're sticking with our traditional March date by shipping the issue on March 1. Honestly, it seems the best of both worlds: for possibly the first time ever, every subscriber should receive the issue in the same calendar month, without the staff rushing to meet an end-of-month deadline, whatever month that is.

Will shipping on the first of the month become the new standard? I don't know. At the least, it presents our staff with some leeway — a one-month buffer with which to get the June issue published.

Regardless of what this spells for the future, it's a relief to look forward to a month that's full of conventions, vacations, presentations, and milestones, knowing that I've already given Juiced.GS my full attention.