Richard Garriott at The Moth

June 25th, 2018 8:06 AM
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What I love about The Moth storyslam is how relatable it is. Attendees throw their names in the hat for an opportunity to tell a true story from their own lives in which they feature as the protagonist. From falling in love to being lost to finding your way, the stories echo themes that resonate with their listeners, whether in a live audience or on the podcast.

But a select few Moth stories extend beyond the boundaries of everyday occurrences. The Moth Mainstage invites singers, actors, even astronauts to share their experiences — but these extraordinary lives still retain humble themes of humanity.

While I've come to expect the occasional mainstream celebrity to make an appearance at The Moth, I was surprised to find a superstar from our own niche Apple II community take the stage. As I queued the latest episode of The Moth podcast, a familiar name and voice were introduced: Richard Garriott, creator of the legendary role-playing game franchise Ultima.

In his story, "Reach For The Stars One Small Step At A Time", he reflects on how his perspective on the world changed as he grew up, from discovering a world beyond his neighborhood to one beyond the horizon, and the ensuing ambition that drove his career and his life.

As someone who's seen the documentary Man on a Mission: Richard Garriott's Road to the Stars, I still learned more about Garriott from this story: he was not a star academic student; he lost almost everything when the dot-com bubble burst; the vision issues that originally grounded him were part of the research he conducted in space.

I love how The Moth provides an outlet for us to be vulnerable. By sharing his weaknesses and how he overcame them, Richard Garriott spun a story that Apple II users and others can relate to.

Woz's TED talk on the early days

October 19th, 2015 10:22 AM
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I'm a fan of TED talks: the 18-minute presentations by experts in technology, entertainment, and design are both entertaining and educational, giving us opportunities to learn from industry leaders for free.

While participating in or attending official TED talks is an exclusive affair, smaller TEDx talks are more accessible, being hosted throughout the country and allowing community members to share their ideas. TEDxBerkeley held an event this past February, for which they invited one of their distinguished alumni to present: Rocky Clark, aka Steve Wozniak.

Woz shared his familiar formula for happiness, one seemingly inspired by a McDonald's commercial: Food + Fun + Friends. But his earlier iteration on this equation was even simpler: Happiness = Smiles – Frowns. It's a theory echoed by another TED talk by Jane McGonigal: "If you can manage to experience three positive emotions for every one negative emotion over the course of an hour, a day, a week, you dramatically improve your health and your ability to successfully tackle any problem you're facing. This is called the three-to-one positive emotion ratio."

I've heard Woz speak many times, including as at KansasFest 2003, but this TED talk was the first opportunity I've had to listen to him in the year or two that I've started performing at Moth StorySLAMs. One of the rules for a Moth story it that it must have a beginning, middle, and end. TED recommends a similar structure: in the TEDx Speaker Guide, they suggest outlining an introduction, body, and conclusion. Given the Moth and TEDx frameworks, I've finally realized that these storytelling qualities are something Woz lacks: his presentations usually consist of discrete anecdotes that aren't strung together into a cohesive whole. They might have a connective theme, as his TEDx talk did about his time at Berkeley and pranks he pulled there, but they don't build to a conclusion that ties it all together. Remove any one of his anecdotes, and you don't end up with a weaker thesis, just a shorter presentation.

Woz is a genius who applies technology to making the world a better place; he's in it for the philanthropy, not the profit. He's a hero to geeks and should be an example for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who are too often focused on getting the customer's money instead of giving the customer an experience. If Woz had the same genius for storytelling that he does with computers, I think he could be a powerful and visible role model not just for engineers, but for businessmen as well.

(Hat tip to Southgate Amateur Radio News)

Recording Let's Plays on the Apple II

July 20th, 2015 10:31 AM
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Filed under Game trail, Hacks & mods, Happenings;
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Last week I attended the 27th (and my 18th) annual KansasFest, a convention for Apple II users. I was thrilled to be among fellow retrocomputing enthusiasts, charging my batteries for another year of Juiced.GS and other hobby projects.

As an educator and public speaker, I love giving presentations at KansasFest. Most of the event's talks are technical in nature, whereas I tend to take what I've learned in the other areas of my life — podcasting, crowdfunding — and apply them to the Apple II. This year, I drew upon my experience developing a YouTube channel and demonstrated how to record a Let's Play video using the Elgato Game Capture HD hardware (but not the more expensive HD60, which lacks the necessary A/V input port).

This $150 device is normally used to capture HDMI audio and video, but with an included adapter, it can capture component video as well. By plugging the red component cable into an Apple II's composite video output, and then connecting the computer's headphone jack to a 3.5mm-to-RCA adapter, the audio and video from an Apple II will show up oon a PC or Mac in the Elgato's software — but with a delay. A monitor stills need to be connected to the Apple II, which is why I used Chris Torrence's Night Owl monitor plugged into the IIc's video port; an RGB monitor connected to a IIGS will work as well. Then I used a 3.5mm Y-splitter to connect headphones or speakers to the Apple II. (Note that the IIc Plus does not have a headphone jack; neither does the IIe, unless you add a RetroConnector adapter.) Finally, a USB headset allowed me to overlay my audio commentary over the recorded gameplay footage.

Prefer to learn these techniques visually? Mike Whalen streamed my KansasFest session and has made it available on YouTube:

Here's the Let's Play Flapple Bird video that I recorded during this session.

The capture process was not perfect, as I had to make two edits in Final Cut Pro X before uploading to YouTube: the height of Elgato's exported video was stretched (654 x 480), so I reduced the Y-scale to 85% (though ultimately I went with an X-scale of 147.79% and Y-scale of 125.62%, so as to occupy the full window); and the color was off, so I adjusted it per this screenshot.

Final Cut Pro X

Editing Flapple Bird in Final Cut Pro X.
I saved this setting as an "Apple II" preset.

Also, I should've disabled the KansasFest sound system, as I was close enough to the speaker for my USB headset to pick up my booming voice, resulting in poor audio quality.

Although my session focused primarily on Let's Play videos, I also gave a brief introduction to unboxing videos, the genre with which I launched my YouTube channel. I combined unboxing Let's Play, and the Apple II when I unboxed and played Retro Fever.

Not sure why anyone would watch someone else play a video game — or what my "I moth stories" shirt meant? Both are explained in this video from a monthly storyslam I attend in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

I hope this session was useful and that it inspired attendees to record and share their subjective experience with Apple II software. I look forward to your YouTube videos!