Electronic publishing overview

February 9th, 2015 11:36 AM
by
Filed under Musings;
2 comments.

Last month, I began my fourth semester teaching an undergraduate course in electronic publishing. I always start with an overview of computer history — not for "you kids don't know how good you have it" reasons, like when I taught high school students to use Visicalc, but because I consider it valuable for students to have a basic understanding of how the machinery and environment they'll be working came into being, and the decisions that were made decades ago that will affect their workflows and livelihoods.

We start with what might be considered ancient history, reviewing key figures in computing's history: Charles Babbage, Paul Baran, Tim Berners Lee. I suspected this might be the first semester in which the name Alan Turing might prove familiar. I was right: Benedict Cumberbatch's turn in that role had drawn my students to see The Imitation Game. We had a brief but fun discussion about how Turing's already dramatic tale had been further dramatized for the silver screen, before returning to the topic at hand: learning to count in binary.

As part of this lecture, I employ plenty of props from my Apple II, including a 5.25" floppy disk and floppy disk notcher. It's always interesting to see how the students respond to these artifacts. Spring 2014 was the first semester where none of my students had used a 5.25" floppy before. I figured I'd passed a tipping point: students born in 1992 didn't grow up with this media. So I was pleasantly surprised when this year's students recognized the disk fondly. And I, of course, got a kick out of wondering, "Can you believe that we used to ship software on these things?" holding up the Lawless Legends demo I received from Martin Haye at KansasFest 2014.

My favorite exercise of the evening involves publishing — which is their major, after all, not computer science. It's 2015 and you want to distribute software to your print magazine's subscribers. How can you do so? A link, a QR code, a Steam code, even a CD — these are all viable delivery mechanisms… and none of them were applicable in 1986. Sure, you could maybe include a 5.25" disk in your magazine — but who does that? Instead I hand out an issue of Nibble magazine and let the students peruse it, until it finally registers what they're looking at — at which point their eyes get big and they ask, "Did they actually print the entire program in the magazine and ask people to type it in??"

Okay… so maybe I do want my students to know how good they have it.

Revisiting Nibble

August 23rd, 2010 1:09 PM
by
Filed under History;
3 comments.

At KansasFest 2010, Stavros was kind enough to make several issues of Nibble magazine available to any attendees who would give them a good home. Despite Nibble's founding editor having been the KansasFest 2007 keynote speaker, I'd never actually read the magazine myself. I'd been an Apple II user since the early Eighties, but did not join the community in earnest until 1992. With Nibble having published 1981–1995, my opportunities to enjoy the platform's heyday of offline support were few.

Nibble magazine I picked up the twenty-year-old Vol. 11, No. 6 (June 1990) and found the 96-page, full-color issue an absolute delight to read. It was like being transported back in time to when enjoying the Apple II put you in the majority, not the minority. In 1990 in particular, the possibilities seemed limitless, despite the writing being on the wall, as evidenced by Mike Harvey's editorial in which he pounds the pulpit for Apple Computer Inc. to pay more attention to the platform that made them famous. It was a melancholy experience to read that article, knowing how that story would end.

This issue included a 168-line Applesoft BASIC program called Whodunit, a murder-mystery game by Constance Fairbanks. Program listings for users to input were something I remembered well from academic textbooks and even Mad Magazine. I wonder how many budding programmers learned their craft by familiaring themselves with these commands en route to seeing the final product — or did they just enter the lines by rote, with no comprehension of their function, as my class was taught to do in school? Fortunately, Nibble appears to have encouraged the former, as the listing is prefaced by a section subtitled "How the program works", which breaks down the program's routines.

Due to its breadth, depth, and budget, a single issue of Nibble probably contains more content than I could ever hope to fit into a full year of Juiced.GS. Although humbled, I am also inspired by the giants upon whose shoulders today's Apple II print publication stands. I will likely revisit this issue and this publication for more ideas of articles and blog posts.

Oh, and the issue's original owner? According to its mailing label, that would be one Jim Maricondo. The all-star connections never end at KansasFest.