And Then You Die of Dysentery

December 24th, 2018 10:00 AM
by
Filed under Musings;
no comments yet.

I'm a weekly patron of my local library, often taking advantage of its interlibrary loans to borrow books that I might not otherwise get my hands on. That's how I came to find myself recently reading …And Then You Die of Dysentery: Lessons in Adulting from the Oregon Trail, a book by Lauren Reeves published this October by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (ISBN 9781328624390).

Similar to the Juiced.GS article I co-authored with Sheppy back in 2005, "Everything I ever really needed to know I learned from the Apple II", this book is a collection of bullet points and pithy sentences connecting 8-bit technology to modern life. But what was a single page in Juiced.GS has been stretched out to 100 pages here. Each individual piece of sage insight has its own dedicated page on the right, complemented on the left with an original pixel art drawing by Jude Buffum, for 50 witticisms in total.

Some of the images are plays on social media memes, such as "Distracted Boyfriend":

Jealous girlfriend meme

Or modern technology, like fitness trackers:

Fitbit tracker

Others are more of a stretch. This illustration of Angry Birds is meant to suggest that "It's important to play games along the trail to keep yourself entertainted." But I don't remember that happening when I played Oregon Trail. Other than hunting (which was essential for survival and not just a distraction), what mini-games abounded in Oregon Trail?

Angry Birds

The art is lovely and humorous, but most of the lessons are a stretch, being unrelated to Oregon Trail and thus failing to connect with the supposed target audience. There is also a political joke that could be funny, but it lacks context or intent — and as the only joke of that sort in the book, it seems out of place.

Having written stories similar to And Then You Die of Dysentery myself, I wasn't disappointed in the overall format of the book. But I think it would've been better as a series of short essays. Reeves' humor shines best in her introduction, where she's afforded the space to string sentences into full paragraphs. I don't doubt she has more substance to share about MECC's classic survival game — just not when limited to a single sentence per page.

For better or worse, the entire book can be read in 15 minutes. For a $15 book, that's an expensive investment, but a perfect fit for a library loan. I suggest giving …And Then You Die of Dysentery a flip and getting a few chuckles before reshelving.

(Hat tip to Chris Torrence)

KansasFest is the Greatest Show!

April 2nd, 2018 9:20 AM
by
Filed under Happenings;
Comments Off on KansasFest is the Greatest Show!

Registration for KansasFest 2018 is now open. I've now signed up for the 30th, and my 21st, annual Apple II expo.

A highlight of KansasFest used to be the celebrity roast, in which a member of the community was lovingly raked over the coals by his best friends and peers. That tradition has been replaced by the Apple II Forever awards, which let me off the hook for coordinating the annual roast.

But the awards themselves are not… entertaining. To make up for that, committee member Steve Weyhrich has taken to riffing on pop songs, creating original music videos and lyrics that are astounding displays of creativity and passion. There is no better representation of the enthusiasm and unique nature of the Apple II community and its annual convention than Dr. Steve's productions.

These videos usually debut at KansasFest, but this year, Steve has decided to leave his camera at home. We instead get to enjoy his video four months early, with the opening of this year's registration coinciding with the release of "The KFest Show", a parody of "The Greatest Show" from the Hugh Jackman movie The Greatest Showman:

Holy cow, Steve. Had I known you were capable of such impressive feats, I would've resigned from the committee sooner and given you my seat!

Computer Show returns, courtesy HP

March 13th, 2017 9:48 AM
by
Filed under Mainstream coverage;
Comments Off on Computer Show returns, courtesy HP

In October 2015, two episodes of the online talk show Computer Show debuted. A send-up of the classic 1980s show Computer Chronicle, this parody featured a socially awkward host with all the technological know-how of someone from thirty years ago interviewing guests from the modern computer industry. The interaction between the host and the guests was so awkward as to be delightfully painful to watch.

After a prolonged intermission, Computer Show is back with a new six-minute episode:

As always, the show is hilarious. Rob Baedeker as Gary Fabert is a brilliant combination of huge ego and low self-esteem, struggling with his bafflement at modern technology. In what I assume are some unscripted bits, the guests seem equally stunned at the treatment they're receiving from the host.

Co-starring in this episode is the HP PageWide printer in an obvious demonstration of product placement. But at least they're honest about the reason why: HP sponsored this episode of the show. That's why the video is hosted on HP's YouTube channel, and not Computer Show's own dedicated channel, as the first two episodes were.

What a brilliant form of marketing — one that gives us Computer Show fans something we want in a way that doesn't compromise the show's format or integrity. Here's hoping more companies take advantage of this opportunity. How about our hosts be introduced to a Raspberry Pi or CFFA3000 next?

(Hat tip to T.L. Stanley via Chris Harshman)

Computer Show

November 2nd, 2015 9:11 AM
by
Filed under Mainstream coverage;
Comments Off on Computer Show

In the late 1970s and early 1980s — and, some would argue, well beyond then — computers were portrayed in the media as a novelty or fad. But one show took them seriously: Computer Chronicles, a PBS talk show created and co-hosted by Stewart Cheifet. Across nearly two decades of the show's run, technologies such as the Internet and guests such as Bill Budge were presented to a mainstream audience for the first time.

Computer Chronicles has been off the air for 13 years — but now, Computer Show picks up where it left off, serving as a parody that mimics the original show's format. Much as the underrated Brady Bunch Movie transposed the original characters, unaffected by the passage of time from their native 1970s, into a contemporary 1990s setting, Computer Show's hosts are firmly rooted in the early 1980s, baffled by their guests from modern-day Silicon Valley. The guests are actual luminaries playing themselves, from the founders of Lumi.com to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian.

To date, two episodes have been released, the first being about the intersection of art and technology:

and another about communities:

Computer Show is the product of Sandwich Video, a company that makes commercials for tech products. Their casting of Rob Baedeker as socially awkward Gary Fabert is perfect, creating one of those rare opportunities when it feels okay to laugh at someone instead of with them. Though I confess to being a little tired of Adam Lisagor, who shows up in practically every Sandwich commercial ever.

Computer Show is a brilliant amalgam of classic sensibilities and modern tech, with plenty of Apple II cameos. Check it out!

(Hat tip to Dan Frommer and Proma Khosla)

KFest Funk

July 13th, 2015 12:40 PM
by
Filed under Happenings;
1 comment.

Today is the eve of KansasFest 2015, the annual gathering of Apple II enthusiasts in Kansas City, Missouri. This year's event marks a milestone: it's the first to feature a keynote speaker from the LGBT community and a code of conduct, and it marks half my life I've been attending KansasFest.

It's the attendees that make KansasFest such an exuberant event, and one of the people I most look forward to seeing is Steve Weyhrich. Author of the definitive history of the Apple II, Sophistication & Simplicity, Steve is also a KansasFest committee member who puts plenty of time and energy into making the event as fun and zany as possible. One year he did so by filming a series of on-site vignettes that he, parodying the role of CSI's David Caruso character, investigated, concluding with a series of silly zingers.

This year's addition to Steve's video repertoire is no less ridiculous. I'm not cool enough to be familiar with the song "Uptown Funk" by Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson — I was only the 789,569,005th person to discover it since its YouTube debut this past November. Steve, being the hip daddy-o he is, took that hit song and adapted it to be about KansasFest. Introducing the music video "KFest Funk":

My thanks to Steve, the committee, and all the attendees for making every KansasFest unique, special, and fun. I can't wait to see you all tomorrow!

Real-life King's Quest

July 15th, 2013 12:34 PM
by
Filed under Game trail;
Comments Off on Real-life King's Quest

In researching last week's blog post about the history of Sierra On-Line, I came across some underwhelming reviews of the new Leisure Suit Larry for hewing too closely to the original. Apparently, critics are not enjoying reliving what passed for puzzles in 1987.

Uh-oh! That's not good. Early adventure games could be devilishly obtuse and unforgiving, as Joe Keiser of Gameological recently demonstrated. As an example of a game that isn't fair, he chose King's Quest V:

Early in the game, a custard pie can be purchased. King’s Quest V then spends hours imploring you to eat it. It looks delicious, the game says. It is the best pie you have ever tasted, the game says. There is even a puzzle where you are starving, and eating the pie will solve it. And yet once you’ve eaten the pie, you have already lost. Oh, you can continue playing, but eventually you will reach a mountain, and there will be a yeti there, and it will kill you because you do not have a pie to throw at it. Now you have to start the game over, because you did what the game asked instead of saving a pie to throw at a yeti. No one could blame you if you’ve spent the last 23 years mad about this.

This particular installment in the King's Quest franchise was never released for the Apple II, yet it's the only King's Quest I've ever played, courtesy the Nintendo version. I can therefore empathize with Keiser's frustration — but I can also laugh at it, courtesy this brilliant real-life send-up:

Whatever our memories, adventure games are making a comeback, courtesy the combination of tablet gaming and Kickstarter funding. Let's hope as good as we remember and better than they actually were!

(Hat tip to Emily Kahm)