Open Apple turns three

February 10th, 2014 12:44 PM
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Last week marked a significant milestone: the third anniversary of Open Apple. The monthly Apple II podcast launched on February 7, 2011, giving me pause to reflect how this adventure began.

Open AppleI first had the idea for an Apple II podcast on Sunday, April 12, 2009, while listening to the TrekCast. If there could be a podcast about Star Trek, a show that's been off the air for four years, why not one about a computer that's not been manufactured for 16? I had the topic, but no structure — I thought Juiced.GS associate editor Andy Molloy and I could just spitball news and memories for a few hours, break it up into some monthly episodes, and see what happened. But nothing did.

Fast forward to August 12, 2010, when I started compiling a list of domain names that would be attractive to an Apple II user. I shared that list with some fellow KansasFest attendees, prompting Mike Maginnis to identify himself as the owner of open-apple.net, a domain I'd investigated and found to be held by a private registrant. I asked him what he was planning to do with the domain, and he said he'd been thinking of launching a podcast — a marvelous synchronicity! Given my previous enthusiasm for the idea, I asked if I could could piggyback on his initiative. He, Andy, and I started brainstorming what the show would sound like. We chatted with the hosts of the RetroMacCast for technical suggestions, built a Web site, and recorded some practice sessions (there exists a complete, unaired "episode zero").

Finally, on February 5, 2011, Andy and I crowded into the Computerworld recording studio, called Mike on Skype, and recorded our first episode… twice, due to technical difficulties. Two days later, we put the first episode online. Until that day, only the three of us were aware Open Apple was launching; it came as a complete surprise to everyone else.

Now it's three years later, and we just aired our 35th episodeactually our 41st, due to some inconsistent episode numbering. In total, the show has produced 59 hours and 39 minutes of airtime about the Apple II. If Open Apple were a sitcom, it would've been running for 162 episodes, or eight seasons.

It's amazing how effective Mike and Andy have been at turning a concept into reality. Every month, they keep the show moving by scouring the Web for news and guests, booking recording times, and getting the word out that we are the only monthly Apple II podcast, and the only co-hosted podcast. Nothing occurs in a vacuum, of course — there are several other excellent retrocomputing podcasts out there. But just as the podcasts support each other, so too do the crew of Open Apple, making real what no one person could've done.

My thanks to everyone who's built and supported this wonderful community outlet, from the hosts to the guests to the listeners. Here's to many more years on the air!

Also read my co-host's more thoughtful and detailed reflection on our podcast's history.

Live podcasting with RCR & Google+

December 24th, 2012 11:31 AM
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Yesterday I watched Retro Computing Roundtable #41. I've listened to the twice-monthly podcast since its 2010 debut, but this was my first time watching the live video recording, a medium they introduced a few months ago.

Although still an audio podcast, RCR's video aspect brings some additional features. When Carrington showed off his Fix-It Felix Jr. arcade cabinet — one of only a dozen in existence, of which only three exist "in the wild" — watching the camera pan to reveal his surprise acquisition was a real jaw-dropper.

As the chat was conducted via a Google+ Hangout, the three speakers were represented by dynamic thumbnails at the bottom of the window, with the main video window automatically switching to whoever was speaking. I liked this feature, as it was reminiscent of a live cameraman actively looking to capture reaction shots from the participants.

But for the rest of the show, the video component didn't add much — nor is it supposed to, lest primarily audio listeners such as myself miss out. The real draw isn't to watch some talking heads, but to be able to participate in the show live by inviting listeners to chat with the hosts while they record. Instead of a dedicated chat room, these conversations are held in the YouTube comments for the video. It's a bit awkward, as these comments persist even after the recording, without any indication of what part of the video they are in reference to. Producing the podcast in conjunction with SceneSat Radio would better synchronize the video and text while giving listeners a dedicated space in which to congregate.

Finally, there's the issue that has kept Open Apple from recording live: the lack of post-production opportunity. When you listen to a show as it's being recorded, you don't hear any of the background music or transitions that are usually later placed into the audio file. As a result, this episode of RCR felt rawer and less polished than I'm accustomed to, even though I know the version I'll eventually download from iTunes will be more typical.

To be clear, I have no reservations or complaints with the Retro Computing Roundtable or its hosts or content; this blog post is meant as a critique of the recording and delivery mechanisms offered by Google+ and YouTube. As a podcaster myself, I'm always curious to investigate alternative tools and processes, and I'm glad that RCR has branched out in this way that I might learn from the experience.

Refocusing energies

April 23rd, 2012 12:00 AM
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Last month, I expressed concern about my ability to maintain my level of output in the Apple II community. As Brian Picchi commented to me on Open Apple: "Wow, Ken — you have basically no work/life balance!"

I sought advice from the readers of Apple II Bits, asking them to rank eleven activities in terms of their value to the community. The rest of this lengthy post offers the results of that poll, which received 28 votes before the one-week deadline (and one vote after, due to a security hole on my part). I could offer a more granular breakdown of how many votes each item received at each rank, complete with pie charts and line graphs — but more practical is the final ranking of each item from most to least valuable. I'll present them in that order, with a brief analysis of each.

Read the rest of this entry »

My personal contribution to preventive archiving

February 27th, 2012 11:45 AM
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People like Mike Maginnis and Jason Scott have done a great deal to preserve the history of the Apple II. I got a taste for what it's like to contribute to that effort when I recorded KansasFest 2010, publishing dozens of videos of otherwise ephemeral experiences — but it wasn't until we lost Ryan Suenaga nearly a year ago that I realized the urgency of this work.

Ryan's passing was unexpected, and he left many people lost without him. The consequences to his friends and family make everything else seem trivial by comparison, but I had to contribute what little I could to aspects of Ryan's legacy that may otherwise go overlooked. I reconstituted RyanSuenaga.com, a domain that had expired during Ryan's lifetime but which he was too busy to maintain. Similarly, Tony Diaz purchased A2Unplugged.com, ensuring that episodes of the A2Unplugged podcast — still the most prolific Apple II podcast to date, despite not having published a new episode in nearly two years — will remain available.

In a way, it's too little, too late. We need to think about these worst-case scenarios before they happen. What does that mean for me? I don't arrogantly assume my original work will be missed, but I recognize that my primary role in the Apple II community is as a channel for other people's talents: I solicit and publish writers in Juiced.GS; I help bring people and luminaries together for KansasFest; and, with my co-host, I interview community members on Open Apple. Out of respect for the many volunteers who contribute to these outlets, I want this work to be tamper-proof while I'm alive — and continued when I'm not.

Last year, I devised a method for my digital assets to be accessed by a designated individual in the event of an emergency. It is a convoluted strategy that involves sealed envelopes, cross-country phone calls to strangers, and clues to decipher. Why I didn't simply put my passwords in a bank deposit box to which a relative has the key, I don't know. Perhaps I've watched National Treasure too many times.

But more immediately, I wanted to get data that is already publicly available into more hands, to ensure it doesn't suffer from a single point of failure. I'm relieved to have finally gotten to a point where I believe I have accomplished that goal. With help from Mike Maginnis, Steve Weyhrich, Ewen Wannop, Jeff Kaplan, and more, today marks a series of coordinated announcements:

Distribution and preservation: The benefits of an ISSN
Juiced.GS receives an ISSN from the Library of Congress and is archived by ten museums and universities around the world.
Preserving KansasFest videos: Internet Archive, iTunes, YouTube
KansasFest videos from 2009 and beyond to be made available in the Internet Archive, via an iTunes video podcast, and on YouTube.
Open Apple on the Internet Archive
Episodes of the Apple II community's only co-hosted podcast now permanently available from a 501(c)(3) online library.

Some of these developments were easily accomplished; others required hours of busy work and calling in personal favors. Some were free but for our time and energy; others cost hundreds of dollars. All were group efforts that require ongoing commitments.

The work to ensure our Apple II heritage remains available to current and future generations never ends. Let's make sure that which is unique is never lost.

On editing Juiced.GS and Open Apple

June 6th, 2011 11:17 AM
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As I spent this weekend writing and editing both Juiced.GS and Open Apple, it occurred to me how different the processes are.

When I write for Juiced.GS, I edit as I go: words are substituted, sentences experimented with, entire paragraphs moved or scrapped. By the time I finish my first draft, it's often very close to a final draft.

But with Open Apple, there's no going back. Once I click "Record" on the computer, the first take attains as much permanency as the second and third, with no distinction between garbage and eloquence. It's more akin to brainstorming, where we just keep talking to get the ideas down to be sifted through later. There's an editing process, for sure, but it's entirely distinct from the content production phase.

But then I thought, isn't that similar to the relationship between writers and editors? Writers may edit as they go, but their work isn't truly edited until it's fallen under the scalpel of a separate editor who prepares it for publication. In recording an episode of Open Apple, I'm more akin to a writer who then submits his work to an editor. Everything that doesn't fit the vision of the final product is sloughed at a later date and time.

It's a challenging distinction, but that's how I like it. I've enjoyed every stage of Open Apple production because it's so new to me. My first professional experience with audio editing came as the post-production editor for the now-defunct Computerworld Editorial podcast, which opened with one of the same songs heard in Open Apple. The Apple II podcast marks the first time I've also participated in outlining and then producing the content. Being involved in a project from beginning to end is the best way to learn what goes into a finished piece and what parts are enjoyable, as I discovered when I became editor and then publisher of Juiced.GS.

I feel right now like I'm at the same point of educational experimentation with Open Apple that I was six years ago with Juiced.GS. Neither will ever be perfect, and both provide unique and ample opportunities to innovate — but Open Apple's learning curve is currently much steeper, and I couldn't be happier.

A weekend with the Apple II

May 9th, 2011 4:52 PM
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Given the number of friends I've made through the Apple II, and my involvement with Apple II magazines, podcasts, and conventions, it's a rare day that I'm not thinking or doing something with or about the computer or community. Sometimes, that means a relaxing weekend proves exhausting, leaving me no time to write the blog post I owe Apple II Bits every Monday. So today, I thought I'd outline in roughly chronological order what I've done from sundown Friday to sunup Monday that kept me from smithing anything remotely engaging for this blog:

Is it any wonder I'm tired? Despite needing to edit Open Apple this evening, I think I need to disconnect for a bit and enjoy a bike ride. Too many apples a day is not good for one's health!