Developing Retro Roundup

September 11th, 2017 12:11 PM
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Last week, I officially launched Retro Roundup, a curated RSS aggregator of retrocomputing news.
Retro Roundup banner
Or rather, re-launched: Retro Roundup was founded in 2005 by Kevin Savetz, who approached me this past February about taking over the site. While keeping the same purpose and logo, I rebuilt the site in WordPress, adding taxonomies, email subscriptions, and more. After several months in development, it was finally ready to demo during the KansasFest 2017 lightning talks.

Those talks were two months ago, yet the press release announcing Retro Roundup was published just last week. What took so long?

The problem was that Retro Roundup didn't have a defined end state. Unlike Juiced.GS, which has concrete deadlines resulting in a finished quarterly product, Retro Roundup will never stop growing. The more RSS feeds I add to it, the more content it will publish. How many feeds and how much content are enough to launch a website?

I was reminded of the development of Duke Nukem Forever, a video game that took 15 years to publish. The developers didn't have a roadmap for what the game would look like when it was done; as a result, they kept adding new levels and features and scrapping old ones to be current with the latest technology, which was advancing apace with the game. But every product is outdated by the time it launches — at some point, you just have to declare that it's met its goal and release it.

In my case, I thought I was done Retro Roundup in April — until I showed it to my librarian friend, Michele DeFilippo. She suggested I add "facet searches", which was not a term I'd ever heard, though I was familiar with the functionality: almost every e-commerce website offers parameters and filters to narrow search results. Adding this feature to Retro Roundup made the site infinitely more useful and usable.

Then I thought I was done — until a month later, when I attended WordCamp Portland, and met Scott Tirrell, a fan of the Retro Computing Roundtable podcast, on which I'm an occasional guest. I showed him the site, and he enthusiastically offered many more suggestions — from adding a search box to including YouTube channels among the site's feeds.

With such great feedback, I could've kept working on Retro Roundup indefinitely. What pushed me to finally release the site was Kevin plugging it on episode #45 of the ANTIC podcast (38:51–41:53). Listeners of that podcast immediately flocked to Retro Roundup and began submitting RSS feeds. Even before I knew how they'd discovered the site, I realized that I couldn't keep this cat in the bag any longer. So I spent a day off from work adding dozens more feeds to the site, many of which I'd solicited months ago on Facebook, before deciding I'd met some arbitrary, minimum quantity of content.

Despite this milestone, there are still more feeds and features to add. Mark Lemmert of 6502 Workshop was the first to use the "submit an advertisement" form, which I'd somehow overlooked in my testing. I was appalled by the results; an hour of my Friday night was spent bringing it up to spec. And a developer who contributed essential functionality to the a2.click tool is even now working on code that will make Retro Roundup even more usable.

Before last week, I had only two retrocomputing websites: Apple II Bits and Juiced.GS. I hope the former entertains its readers, but it's primarily a personal outlet; while the latter is in support of an offline product. Retro Roundup is the first retrocomputing website I've built that I would call a resource for the community. I've learned scads about WordPress and project management during its development. I hope it is found equally rewarding for its users, who will discover new sources for retrocomputing content, and for publishers, who will see new visitors being sent to their site from Retro Roundup.

Burning floppies

April 6th, 2015 6:26 PM
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Attending the Different Games conference in New York City this past weekend gave me plenty of opportunity to catch up with Juiced.GS staff writer (and frequent Apple II Bits blog subject) Ivan Drucker. While waiting for registration for KansasFest 2015 to open, we reminisced about our favorite moments of last year's event — Ivan's sixth KansasFest, and my 17th.

I was delighted to discover Ivan had not previously stumbled upon Kevin Savetz's video capture of a unique moment: Martin Haye, having just demoed 8-bit Western RPG Lawless Legends, burned the game to disk and declared it ready to ship.

For those archivists who thought it was too late to preserve floppies: Martin's making sure of that!

For an equally entertaining pyrotechnic display, try burning an actual compact disc:

Ken Gagne, Gamebits, Apple II Bits, and Martin Haye offer no assurances, guarantees, or warranties, express or implied, regarding the safety of you or your hardware, software, or other property or loved ones as a result of information received or linked to from this or any other website.

Happy burning!

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.

Meet the geeks at KansasFest

August 19th, 2013 1:18 PM
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From 2007 through 2012, I covered KansasFest for Computerworld, a magazine and website of which I was an editor. When I left that position in early 2013, I did so on good terms, leaving open the possibility of freelance work. I solicited suggestions from other Apple II users for how I might pitch coverage of this year's KansasFest in a way that Computerworld hadn't done before. Eric Shepherd proposed a series of attendee profiles, in the style of my previous coverage of BostonFIG. My editor loved the idea but asked that, instead of photos and writeups, I produce short video interviews.

I'd long wanted to shoot video at KansasFest, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so. Andy Molloy helped me vet a list of attendees with unique, discrete roles who would exemplify the Apple II community. Throughout the week of KansasFest, I cornered a dozen people: programmers, historians, artists, gamers, and more.

Computerworld published eight of the videos in the slideshow, "Who goes to an Apple II convention in 2013?", which went live last Friday. This morning, KansasFest's official YouTube channel published an additional three. That makes eleven — the unpublished 12th video was one I shot of myself, as a proof of concept. No one needs to see that.

My thanks to all who contributed to this project! I hope the below videos serve as an example of the wonderful friends you can make at KansasFest. Click the thumbnails for an introduction!

Melissa Barron

The Artist

Steve Wozniak

The Founder

Randy Wigginton

The Speaker

Steve Weyhrich

The Historian

Carrington Vanston

The Podcaster

Michael Sternberg

The Gamer

Eric Shepherd

The Emulator

Kevin Savetz

The Rebel

Charles Mangin

The Inventor

Carl Knoblock

The Old-Timer

Ken Gagne

The Profiler

The Programmer

The Programmer

A cracked screensaver

September 12th, 2011 9:56 AM
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As I drove home last night from Cape Cod, I caught up on the latest episode of the Retro Computing Roundtable, an excellent podcast hosted by David Greelish, Earl Evans, and Carrington Vanston. It was another fantastic 90 minutes of retrocomputing goodness, and as an editor for enterprise IT publication Computerworld, I especially enjoyed the discussion of the HP TouchPad — though I'm unsure how it connected to the show's retro theme.

This month's guest was Kevin Savetz, master of more than eighty Web sites, many of them of interest to Apple II enthusiasts. (KansasFest alumni may recognize his college-ruled paper.) Kevin shared with RCR listeners a simple yet great idea. Having recently discovered the same archive of Apple II crack screens I blogged about, Kevin downloaded the entire collection of images to use as a slideshow screensaver. Brilliant! You can do the same with a Firefox plugin like DownThemAll! and saving the images into a single folder. Then, in Mac OS X's System Preferences, go to "Desktop & Screen Saver", choose "Add Folder of Pictures", and add your collection. You can then set various preferences regarding how the screens are displayed displayed. (These instructions are based on the Snow Leopard operating system; YMMV.)

Thanks, Kevin!