Mark Pelczarski & Spy's Demise

March 11th, 2019 2:07 PM
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From the IIe's release in 1983 to when I switched to the Apple IIGS in 1988, I used the Apple II primarily as a gaming machine. Many of our family's games were cracked, pirated copies, though I can't tell you where they came from — perhaps our local Apple retailer snuck them to my dad on the sly, or my older brothers were exchanging floppies on the playground. Regardless, it exposed me to many quirky titles that I may otherwise never have encountered.

One such game was Spy's Demise. As a kid growing up watching Inspector Gadget and reading Dungeons & Dragons novels such as Hero of Washington Square, I knew all about spies! (Mission: Impossible's 1988 revival and reruns of Get Smart! wouldn't come until later.) But demise? Not if I had anything to do about it!

Spy's Demise was an action game in which players navigated a spy across the horizontal floors of a building, avoiding a collision course with elevators as they vertically travel their shafts. It reminded me of Elevator Action, a Data East coin-op that my father and I would play together on family vacations.

I doubt I ever finished the game or even knew that there was an ending. Those who did get that far were presented with a hidden cryptogram and a phone number to call. What they got for their efforts, I don't know, but based on other prizes of the era offered by Nintendo or Atari, I'd guess it was a sew-on patch with the company logo.

It wasn't until researching this post that I also learned the game had a sequel, The Spy Strikes Back!, which offers a top-down view as the spy tries to avoid motion-sensing drones.

What brings these games to mind after so many years is last week's announcement of the KansasFest 2019 keynote speaker. Mark Pelczarski is the co-author of The Spy Strikes Back! and the founder of Penguin Software, the company that published both Spy games as well as many others, including Translyvania and The Coveted Mirror. Pelczarski was also a columnist for Softalk and, before that, a high-school math teacher and college instructor of computer science. His LinkedIn profile outlines his many contributions since then to education, democracy, and web development.

Today, his roles include "consulting regarding software, data mining and integrity, and web security". No doubt this expertise in online security and cryptography originated with leaving clues and secrets for early Apple II spies. I look forward to meeting the secret agent who sent me on so many missions!

Can we get John Carmack to KansasFest?

July 30th, 2018 10:49 AM
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When John Romero was the keynote speaker for KansasFest 2012, an old friend was in the audience: Lane Roathe, KansasFest 2008 keynote speaker. The two had worked together at Softdisk and later founded Ideas from the Deep, or id.

But there was a third person in that original triumverate of founders: John Carmack. Like Romero and Roathe, Carmack has remained active in the games industry, currently serving as the CTO for Oculus, Facebook's virtual-reality company. And, also like Romero and Roathe, Carmack hasn't forgotten his roots.

In 2012, Carmack got an Apple IIc for Christmas; in 2015, he introduced it to his son. If he tweets about the Apple II every three years, then he maintained that tradition coinciding with this month's KansasFest:

He later reiterated his interest, reminiscing about the constraints of the Apple II that breed creativity:

Carmack is definitely a guy who knows what's up and isn't that many steps removed from our community: despite not following the @KansasFest account, Carmack even knew the hashtag to use — perhaps from following Jason Scott.

At least two KansasFest members acknowledged Carmack's tweets with replies, the first being frequent HackFest judge Quinn Dunki:

Followed by KansasFest committee member Andy Molloy:

How long before Carmack joins the ranks of KansasFest keynote speakers, with Romero and Roathe in the audience?

(Full disclosure: Although I was part of the committee that recruited Roathe and Romero, I am not currently a member of the KansasFest committee and do not have any insider knowledge about the current speaker selection process. This post is based solely on observation of public information and speculation.)

Roger Wagner to keynote KansasFest 2018

February 12th, 2018 10:32 AM
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Over the last twenty KansasFests, I've listened to many keynote speeches. Some have been elaborate affairs with thoughtfully designed slides; others have been more freewheeling strolls down memory lane. My favorites have been those delivered by Randy Wigginton (2013), John Romero (2012), and Jason Scott (2009). The alternating historical luminaries and modern historians has provided a variety of perspectives on the current and historical aspects of the Apple II and its community.

After hosting the long-running Apple II development team Brutal Deluxe in 2017, KansasFest returns to the past with Roger Wagner, whose last gave the keynotes in 1991 and 1995. Not only do those years predate my first attendance at KansasFest 1998, but it also predates my peak years as an Apple IIGS power user. Wagner is most famous for the invention of HyperStudio, which bore many functional similarities to the World Wide Web, which Sir Tim Berners-Lee would not invent until two years later. Sadly, I to this day have never used HyperStudio; in fact, I can't even find a reference in the Juiced.GS index to any article that has covered it specifically.

That's not to say I haven't felt Wagner's influence. Four years ago, Chris Torrence collaborated with Wagner to compile all 33 installments of his Softalk column, "Assembly Lines" into a book that he made available in print and for free online. Many Apple II developers have since cited it as an invaluable resource, not only in long-term projects such as Nox Archaist but also short sprints such as the HackFest project Kaverns of KFest.

So instead of being unimpressed by the committee's selection of keynote speaker, I'm instead eager to finally meet the visionary who laid the foundation for the World Wide Web and who continues to inspire generations of Apple II developers. Here's to Wagner's third and best keynote speech!

The Apple II leaves Computerworld

January 7th, 2013 4:01 PM
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My New Year's resolution?

New Year's Resolution 2013

Done.

After six years as an editor at Computerworld magazine, I've given my notice. It's time to try something new.

Although I'm looking forward to new opportunities, I'm also reflective of all I've accomplished here since my first day on February 5, 2007. I was not hired as a features writer yet nonetheless managed to produce more than three dozen stories. Many of my articles were influenced by my experiences in the Apple II community, such as "CompuServe, Prodigy et al.: What Web 2.0 can learn from Online 1.0" (I was the APPUSER Forum's Member of the Month [MOTM] — October 1992, I think) and "Ben Heckendorn takes a mad-scientist approach to game console design" (which also became Juiced.GS's December 2008 cover story). Even more articles were directly about the Apple II itself, including "Sold on eBay: New-in-box Apple II, never opened" (Juiced.GS's March 2008's cover story), interviews with Apple II users who are experts in their field, and coverage of KansasFest every year from 2007 through 2012.

Computerworld also put me in touch with several folks who became KansasFest keynote speakers: when I liveblogged from KansasFest 2007, Lane Roathe left a comment to the effect of, "That event is still going on??" Using my administrative rights, I pulled the contact info from his comment and got in touch. A year later, he was our keynote speaker — an attendance he repeated in 2012, putting him back in touch with his id Software co-founder, John Romero.

The effect of these connections is long-lasting, and for as long as Computerworld maintains a persistent online archive, those stories will remain — and possibly grow, as the invitation to freelance has been extended. So though I'm not concerned about the state of this body of work, I am nonetheless saddened as I clean out my cubicle to realize the Apple II's presence is not long for this office.

My cubicle has sported an Apple IIGS since December 2008, when I came into the office over Christmas break to set it up for the first time in 11 years. Seven months later, Computerworld moved to a new office building, and the IIGS came with me. It then started making annual appearances in various media. It first showed up in this 2010 photo gallery:

It then served as a backdrop to this YouTube video commemorating Steve Jobs:

Finally, it showed up on the summer 2012 cover of Juiced.GS:

My Apple II hasn't seen a ton of use in its days at Computerworld, but the tasks it performed were essential. With ADTPro, it saved my brother's college papers, my friend's childhood memories, and the source code of PublishIt! It was the occasional lunchtime diversion as I would boot up Lode Runner, Oregon Trail, or Microzine. And it was a talking point for any new employee, whose eyes would widen slightly at the sight of such an ancient computer — yet not as ancient still as its host, with Computerworld having been founded in 1967.

Given my employer's history, it's no surprise that I'm not the only Apple II alumnus in the building: Computerworld all-star reporter Gregg Keizer is formerly of Softdisk, and CIO.com executive editor Dan Muse was editor-in-chief of inCider/A+, which employed many folk who are still with IDG, Computerworld's publisher. But I've not seen any of these esteemed colleagues, all authorities in modern enterprise IT, cling to their old tech and bridge it into their modern careers. After my Apple II, the next oldest computer I've seen here is a 2006-era Mac mini.

So my departure from Computerworld invokes not only the usual regret when bidding adieu to such wonderful co-workers, many of whom have become friends for life. It also means the end of the Apple II's official relationship with a storied institution. I've been invited to freelance for this and other IDG publications, but though some of my Apple II stories were occasionally the top-read stories in their months of publication, in general, I doubt the free pitches of computer nostalgia that the editors were happy to entertain from a passionate in-house writer will warrant tapping their limited freelance budget.

So yeah: I'm wistful. Nostalgic. Melancholy. The Apple II will come with me to my new workplace. But that will be a smaller team, in a less social environment, with stricter network regulations and fewer media opportunities. It won't be the same. Nothing ever is. But it's time to move on.

I've been cleaning out my cubicle for the past week. I thought it would be an appropriate bookend to this blog post to share a photo of my cubicle, sans Apple II. But that's not how I want to remember this small space that, for a few years, was a corporate gateway to the retrocomputing community.

The Apple II will be the last thing I pack up. That's when the heart has gone out from the building.

The Apple II is a part of me. When it goes, I go.