A documentary of Woz's Us Festival

December 5th, 2016 9:00 AM
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Steve Wozniak is many things: a technical genius, an entertaining speaker, a movie character, a wax figure. But one of his many accomplishments is often overlooked: music festival organizer.

In 1982, Woz created the Us Festival, a counter to the previous decade's "me"generation. It was designed to bring people together and inspire them with some of the greatest musical names of that era, such as The Grateful Dead, Fleetwood Mac, The Police, The B-52's, and more. The event was even livestreamed to Russia, despite the ongoing Cold War. The event recurred just months later in 1983, archival footage of which is now available on iTunes.

But what prompted Woz, a known inventor and prankster, to bring his fame and fortune to bear on the music industry? Attending or watching the concerts won't tell you; for that, you need to go behind the scenes. And that's what filmmaker Glenn Aveni plans to do with his documentary, The US Festival 1982, now on Kickstarter.

This project is looking to crowdfund $60,000 by December 20, and it's on track to do so: at the time of this writing, it's more than halfway there. The funds will be used to procure rights to even more archival clips and finish production of the film, which includes interviews with many of the concert's surviving musicians.

I'll support almost anything Woz does. Not only is backing this documentary a way to belatedly support his concert, but Woz himself was interviewed for Aveni's movie. I look forward to hearing tales I haven't heard before about this side of Woz!

(Hat tip to Chris Torrence)

Apple II companies are people

November 14th, 2016 3:15 PM
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I engage in as much online commerce as I do offline. Whether I'm buying a hot chocolate at the local coffee shop or going to the movies to see the latest Marvel movie, or I'm buying a book on Amazon.com or a mobile app from Apple, I don't personally know the people handling my transaction. We're polite to each other and treat each other with respect — as any decent human being should — but we don't take the time to address each other by name or inquire as to each other's wellbeing. Once the transaction is complete, the interaction is concluded and the relationship ends.

The Apple II industry is different. The size of each company is proportionate to the size of the community — that is, small. While my credit card receipts may show me to have patronized such companies as RetroConnector, a2RetroSystems, and Manila Gear (to name a few), I never saw it that way. Rather, I was supporting Charles Mangin, Glenn Jones, and Jon Co & John Valdezco. Each of these technical geniuses have long been members of the Apple II community, supporting it not just with their inventions (off which they rarely, if ever, profit), but with their camaraderie on IRC and Twitter and at KansasFest. Through their long commitment to the platform and their people, they've earned our trust, friendship, and patronage.

This reputation isn't reserved to the privileged few who are able to make their way to KansasFest and meet these vendors; for example, Glenn Jones and Jon Co have yet to make their way from Canada and Australia to our Midwest convention. Given our geographic diversity, a lot of community-building is instead accomplished online. For my part, it's not enough to let the Juiced.GS store's automatic receipts be a new customer's first impression. I personally email each new subscriber to ask them how they came to our publication and what their history with the Apple II is. You can say that I'm doing so to build customer retention or to scout potential content contributors — and you wouldn't be wrong. But that alone would not be enough. I cherish my quarterly mailing parties where I get to see the name on each mailing label and recall the stories of each person this community has introduced me to.

I've grown so accustomed to these personal interactions that, when I have the opposite experience within the Apple II community, it's noticeable and jarring. Such is the case with 8bitdo's recent Kickstarter to create the AP40, an Apple II-themed game controller with Apple II-compatible wireless receiver. While I was excited by the prospects of the hardware, I was surprised to see it come from an organization our community had never heard of. I've since exchanged several emails with the AP40's creators, but I never once had my inquisitiveness or enthusiasm reciprocated. When I mentioned possibly reviewing their hardware for Juiced.GS, they glossed over it; their emails are always signed with their company's name, not an individual's; the campaign had few progress updates; and the pitch video featured none of the talent responsible for the product. They seem utterly uninterested in the Apple II community or being a part of it.

If this were Amazon.com, a coffee shop, or Apple, I wouldn't bat an eye at such behavior; it'd be expected. But in the Apple II community, AP40's outsider status and indifference is unmistakeable. I was so disappointed and dissatisfied that I ultimately requested that my Kickstarter pledge be cancelled [see comments below for more details]. Maybe I'm a snob for refusing to associate with those outside some Apple II "inner circle". But I was always taught to "support those who support the Apple II" — and support takes many forms.

8bitdo brings Bluetooth connectivity to Apple II

October 17th, 2016 8:18 AM
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Games are my favorite genre of Apple II application, so anything that makes it easier to play my favorite Apple II games is something I'll line up for. It's why I just bought Alex Lukacz's 4play card (reviewed in the September 2016 issue of Juiced.GS) and am now awaiting the AP40 controller, currently on Kickstarter.

The AP40 is a Bluetooth controller with an aesthetic reminiscent of the classic Apple logo. Its name is both an evolution of the developer's previous model, the AP30, as well as an acknowledgement of 2017 being the 40th anniversary of the Apple II.

By itself, this play on nostalgia is nothing special — skins and themes for Bluetooth controllers are not hard to come by. The killer app aspect of the AP40 is that it comes with a wireless receiver that plugs into the Apple II, enabling the use of any Bluetooth controller. Although the project description cites compatibility with the Apple IIc specifically, I emailed the developers and confirmed that any model of Apple II will work.

If you're interested, there are a couple purchasing options to consider. The AP40 gamepad alone costs $49, but if you have another Bluetooth controller you're happy with, you can get just the receiver for $49; or buy both for $85. A limited-edition controller with mini-Apple II stand costs $69, but there is no turnkey package that includes both this special edition and a wireless receiver.

The AP40 has made headlines like few other pieces of retrocomputing tech has, having been featured in Forbes, Gizmodo, TechCrunch, Cult of Mac, and more. For all that, there may nonetheless be a marketing issue, because the controller seems to be getting more press coverage than its Apple II compatibility; when I mentioned the Kickstarter on the Retro Computing Roundtable episode #138, one of the other hosts who'd seen these headlines was flabbergasted to discover the controller worked on actual Apple II hardware.

For personal use, I wanted just the receiver, for use with my PlayStation 4's DualShock controller — but for the purposes of a proper review in the pages of Juiced.GS, I've emailed 8bitdo and assembled a package of limited-edition controller complete with receiver. The Kickstarter currently has nine days to go but has already exceeded its crowdfunding goal of $16,111 USD; given the developer's track record, I'm confident the products will ship on or near the promised delivery date of January 2017, in time for the March 2017 issue of Juiced.GS.

Documentary crowdfunding frustration

July 4th, 2016 7:18 AM
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The Kickstarter for 8 bit generation succeeded, leading to the imminent release of a documentary about 8-bit computers. It was a long road, as the film was marked as "Missing In Action" back in 2012, well after I'd already paid for the DVD.

The Kickstarter promised an unlikely turnaround time: the campaign closed on September 25, 2015, with DVDs to ship just five months later in February 2016. That hasn't yet happened — but while we wait, the producers have launched a second Kickstarter for a second documentary.

"The story of Atari is two-thirds the story of Nolan Bushnell, founder and visionary," says the project description, "and one-third the first and probably biggest boom and bust of the new economy some 20 years before the new economy even existed."

The story of Atari is also the origin story of Apple: Steve Jobs got his first job there; Steve Wozniak developed their Breakout game; and together, before they founded Apple Computer Inc., the Steves tried selling the Apple II to Atari.

But how did the filmmakers spin the Atari content out from the original documentary without detracting from it? Turns out there was a marketing miscommunication: the first film was only the first part of a series, with each installment focusing on a different computer and company. What I thought was a broader overview of the 8-bit generation, and which I backed based on its interviews with Steve Wozniak, turned out to be subtitled The Commodore Wars.

Admittedly, I should've read the project's description more closely: "We resolved to release a single long run episode by the working title of Growing The 8 Bit Generation, focused on the home computer explosion and Commodore role in the personal computer revolution." But I usually count on a Kickstarter's campaign video to detail a project — and this project had no video.

That's not the only reason I feel conflicted about their second Kickstarter. I understand that, logistically, launching another crowdfunding campaign while the first remains unfulfilled makes perfect sense: the first documentary is already content-locked and is in the final stages of production, freeing the directors to begin work on editing another film. But emotionally and politically, it's a gamble, as Comcept discovered with the Mighty No. 9 and Red Ash campaigns. It feels like the directors are asking us to double down.

For almost half a decade now, I've been expecting a DVD of a documentary about Apple and its contemporaries. Such a thing may exist as future installments in this DVD series are produced — but it's not what I've been promised, it's not what I paid for, and I find myself a skeptical customer to be asking for more money and faith from.

Reviving the 8-Bit Generation

January 4th, 2016 3:04 PM
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In February 2012, I heard of an upcoming computer documentary called 8-Bit Generation. As it was scheduled to ship imminently, I paid to preordered a copy to review in Juiced.GS. But the ship date came and went, no DVDs shipped, and emails to the director went unanswered. I learned that October that some customers had received refunds, but I was not one of the lucky ones.

Jason Scott saw the bigger picture: what we'd lost was not just a few preorders, but an impressive collection of documentary footage with industry founders and luminaries that may now never see the light of day. As a director himself of such invaluable productions as GET LAMP and BBS: The Documentary, Scott understood the trials of creating such a product and the value of seeing it through to the end.

Thanks in no small part to Scott's empathy and support, the film's producers came out of hiding and sought to finally finish what they'd begun. A successful Kickstarter this past fall produced the necessary funds to see the film through to completion. An email from the project manager assured me that those who have not yet received refunds from the original preorder will eventually receive the documentary. So instead of backing the project at a level that would get me the DVD, I backed the Kickstarter for $1 to get access to any backer-only updates.

The film still isn't done, and the last Kickstarter update is from two months ago, but I've seen enough to now believe that this film exists and will become a finished product. Bil Herd, a former Commodore engineer, will be the narrator, and interviews with the elusive (and now deceased) Jack Tramiel will be donated to the Internet Archive and the Computer History Museum.

Here's an example of a familiar story told in stunning HD quality:

I've never had the ambition or talent to create a documentary and don't envy those who would tackle such a challenge. I believe this time, they'll prove worthy of the faith that's been shown in them.

Cinnamon II hits Kickstarter

August 3rd, 2015 7:13 AM
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Smart watches have a way of setting a precedent and establishing a trend: rumors of the Apple Watch started almost as soon as the first Pebble raised over $10 million on Kickstarter in 2012. Shortly before the Apple Watch was finally released in 2015, we saw the Apple II adapted to that form factor with the Apple II Watch, DJ Harrigan's 3D-printed hack that simulates the hardware and software aesthetics of the Apple II.

Now, entrepreneur Damian Peckett is taking it a step further by putting an actual Apple II inside a watch. Introducing the Cinnamon II:

Although Kickstarters are more effective when they have a pitch video, this campaign lacks one, though it does offer this 12-second demo:

The hardware specs roughly mirror an Apple II Plus, with a "virtualized 6502 clocked at a blistering 1 Megahertz and a whopping 32K of memory… binary compatible with the original 1977's microcomputer. Complete video / sound / keyboard emulation is provided. The Cinnamon II also features a Micro SD socket that offers disk drive emulation." However, the resolution is 160×128, compared to the original Apple II's 280×192, so things are going to be a bit squished.

The dimensions also bring challenges for interacting with such a small Apple II. The available options are limited: "One button brings up a smart onscreen keyboard that allows you to scroll through various keyboard options. The other two buttons are available to user mode applications mapped to the up/down keys. Gesture control is provided via an on board accelerometer that is user programmable. It can be used to interact with user interface elements."

There is only one reward level: $159 AUD will get you the watch. Limited production runs are expensive, so Peckett has set the minimum at roughly 850 watches — hence the crowdfunding goal of $150,000 AUD ($114,842 USD) by August 13, 2015.

Unfortunately, like Bride of the Wizard King before it, this campaign lacks several important components: not only a pitch video, but a breakdown of expenses and different reward levels. The first Pebble offered 11 rewards starting at a mere $1, which 2,615 backers selected — raising more money at that level alone than the Cinnamon II is likely to.

Nonetheless, the Cinnamon II is a cool idea, and I'd like to see it developed further and perhaps open-sourced — I'm sure its ideas can be refined further and its production made more affordable and accessible.