What makes Rock Band rock?

November 23rd, 2015 10:13 AM
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Last month I quit my job at MIT, taking with me the Apple IIGS that had been in my office for nearly three years. I'm not yet settled enough at my new place of employment to inquire if it'd be appropriate to install a 30-year-old machine in my office — but it's only a matter of time.

Fortunately, my computer wasn't that employer's only connection to the Apple II. The MIT alumni association's podcast, Slice of MIT, recently aired an episode with Eran Egozy '95, who co-founded the video game developer Harmonix. In "What Makes Rock Band Rock?", Egozy gives credit to the Apple II for getting him his start: "When Eran was 15, his parents bought him an Apple II computer. He and a friend got together and decided to find a way to make the computer play back Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony," says the show's host. "This wasn't just one instrument of the symphony: the pair found the whole symphony score, complete with all of the different parts for the string instruments, the brass, and the woodwinds — and every day after school, they would translate the music into computer code. Every ten seconds of the score took 3–4 hours to code."

Here's the whole episode:

MIT and the Apple II: a winning combination!

(Hat tip to Kate Repantis)

Reflecting on my past & do-overs

October 12th, 2015 10:23 AM
Filed under Musings;
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After a six-month hiatus, I recently resumed guest-appearing on the Retro Computing Roundtable podcast. As always, this multi-platform show leaves this Apple II-only guy little to contribute, but I'm happy to listen and pipe up when called upon — as in episode #106, when host Earl Evans asked: what do you wish you'd done differently in your history with computers, and is it too late to do so now?

I really had to think about that one! There are so many things I don't regret that stretch back so far: going to KansasFest every year since 1998; being editor of Juiced.GS for a decade; subscribing to Softdisk GS until the end. I made some mistakes in those years, often surrounding business transactions that went foul, but the loss of a few dollars or some minor hardware didn't ultimately have any significant, long-term repercussions.

In the grand scheme of things, the only regret I may have is not pursuing a minor in computer science. I'd started my undergraduate career as a CS major, but after two years, I switched to technical, scientific, and professional communications (TSPC), or what the school now calls professional writing (PW). The only career I felt qualified to pursue with that degree was one in tech writing, which I believed meant documentation. In fact, I nearly got a contract to write the manual for a cell phone, and later interviewed for a documentation position at Mozilla, neither of which in hindsight would've been that scintillating.

It wasn't until I got to Computerworld that I married my TSPC degree with my concentration in CS. As a Computerworld editor (and then as a freelancer), I wrote about enterprise IT and other technical subjects for an audience that was focused on CIOs and CTOs but which could include software developers, helpdesk technicians, and curious consumers.

Still, at some point in my career, not having any formal degree or certificate in computer science felt like an oversight — and while my undergraduate school's name carries weight in the local IT industry, having the words "Computer Science" on my actual degree would help solidify my strength and in that area.

But, as Earl pointed out, its absence didn't stop me from ending up at Computerworld — and I now have a portfolio that speaks for itself. Perhaps a minor wouldn't add much to my credentials. Even at the time I switched majors all those years ago, I was so disillusioned with CS that I never wanted to take another course; pursuing a minor might've been intolerable at the time.

So maybe I did make the right decision, after all.

Thanks for helping me come to peace with my past, Earl and RCR!

Charlie Kellner of alphaSyntauri

October 5th, 2015 1:37 PM
Filed under Hacks & mods, History, Software showcase;
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Were it not for the Apple II, Apple would've made no other machines; consequently, when telling the story of the Macintosh, historians often include segments of interest to the Apple II user. Such was the case with the 2008 documentary Welcome to Macintosh, which showed enough interest in the Apple II (including an interview with Vince Briel) that it was reviewed in Apple II magazine Juiced.GS.

Now the identically named but unrelated podcast Welcome to Macintosh has another serving of Apple II goodness — one that ties in with one of my all-time favorite movies: TRON. I knew the Apple II had played a role in other films of the era, such as WarGames, but I didn't realize it'd also contributed to the soundtrack of TRON — or that the software with which it did so was played by its developer at Steve Wozniak's wedding.

It's all courtesy Charlie Kellner, inventor of alphaSyntauri, one of the first digital music synthesizers.

Welcome to Macintosh host Mark Bramhill interviewed Kellner about how he created the synthesizer not as a commercial product, but as something he wanted for himself. It nonetheless then caught the interest of Apple, musicians such as Stevie Wonder, the Dolphin Research Center, and more. At a time when personal computers were new and their functions not yet widely understood, Kellner successfully demonstrated the Apple II's utility to a diverse range of professionals in a variety of fields.

Although the interview focuses on this particular application, Kellner likely has many more stories from the dawn of personal computing. His résumé reads like a who's-who of developers and publishers: Apple, Lucasfilm, Epyx, and Isix in the 1980s; in later decades, Viacom, Microsoft, Wizards of the Coast, and Nintendo. But you can find out about his earliest success by downloading the interview in your favorite podcatcher, or streaming it below:

Interviewing Wade Clarke of Leadlight Gamma

August 10th, 2015 9:47 AM
Filed under Game trail, People;
1 comment.

As host of the IndieSider podcast, I'm constantly on the prowl for new indie (self-published) computer and video games. I like to help my listeners discover obscure titles that represent a variety of genres and themes whose developers are available for podcast interviews about the game development process.

Last month, I found my biweekly guest within the Apple II community with Wade Clarke, creator of Leadlight, a text adventure released in 2010 for the Apple II. The game was featured on the cover of Juiced.GS Volume 16, Issue 1, and Wade declared his intention to translate the game from Eamon to Inform in Volume 17, Issue 2. That project was completed earlier this year with the release of Leadlight Gamma, a game that runs natively on Windows and Mac and is one of the first products under Wade's new label, Heiress Software.

Since Juiced.GS has already covered interactive fiction at length — we have an entire themed PDF on the subject — associate editor Andy Molloy and I decided to give the genre some love in another outlet — namely, the IndieSider podcast. And since I'd already asked Wade about the genesis and influences of Leadlight, I focused this conversation on its transition from the Apple II to modern platforms. The result is episode #26 of IndieSider:

In addition to subscribing to the show in iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, or your podcatcher of choice, you can also listen to the above audio interview paired with video of the game being played on YouTube:

Text adventures may not lend themselves to a visual medium like YouTube, but that's exactly why I did it: there are far fewer examples of interactive fiction on YouTube than there are other genres of games. Wrote one of my regular viewers, "I've never seen this type of game in life."

Getting the word out about games, genres, and developers that mainstream gamers may otherwise overlook? Mission accomplished!

Getting to know my father

June 29th, 2015 10:22 AM
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Last spring, I interviewed my father. The eight-minute video was to live on my YouTube channel, the focus of which is video games, so that's what my dad and I talked about: his history with pinball, choosing to have Atari and Nintendo in a house where he raised four boys, and more. It was a fun opportunity to get to know my father better.

For Father's Day 2015, I decided to revisit the topic but more in-depth. In the time since the original video, I launched the Polygamer podcast, which interviews marginalized voices in the gaming industry. My father, being a straight, white, cisgendered male, doesn't sound like he'd fit that demographic — but when viewed as someone older than the average gamer, and who juggled gaming with parenting decades before the former became mainstream, he certainly represents an unusual perspective.

Since Polygamer is an audio podcast, it was easier to produce a longer interview than the video format allows. The range of topics my dad and I discussed thus expanded to include not only video games, but science fiction, Star Trek, and the Applel II. I was surprised to learn that Dad brought home an Apple II not as an accounting tool for use in the family business, but because he saw it as a curiosity that had the potential to reshape the world, and he wanted his sons to get in on the ground floor. This and other tales of the diversions and entertainments he's enjoyed over the last seven decades made for a fun and fascinating conversation.

The entire episode can be found on Polygamer.net; subscribed to in iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, or your podcatcher of choice; or streamed below.

My thanks to my dad not only for taking the time to speak with me, but for making me the geek I am today!

Codes that changed the world

April 20th, 2015 10:40 AM
Filed under History;
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Growing up with the Apple II, I learned to program in BASIC. Its line numbers, GOTOs and GOSUBs, and spaghetti code were unlike anything I would encounter later in my education. Perhaps for that reason, I never mastered a language like I did BASIC. While I was able to grasp Prolog and FORTRAN, the "pointers" of C++ were so incomprehensible to me that I eventually had to change majors to get away from it.

Had I continued down that programming path, I doubtless would've faced many other challenging concepts as I attempted to master yet more languages, like C Sharp, Perl, PHP, Ruby, and more. By some estimates, there are over 20,000 languages in existence, only a fraction of which I ever could've learned on the Apple II. Some are more practical than others, while others are of more historical significance.

The BBC attempts to scratch the surface of those historical languages in a recent limited-run podcast series, Codes that Changed the World, hosted by Aleks Krotoski.

Codes that Changed the World

The podcast, which debuted this month and ran for all of five episodes, covers four languages: FORTRAN, COBOL, BASIC, and Java, with a fifth episode discussing how so many different languages are able to coexist.

Of course, you can't discuss the rise of BASIC without the role the Apple II played, and vice versa:

BASIC enabled computing as we understand it today. When Apple was a two-man band building this thing called the Apple II, there were no other computers out there like it. So they had to put something on it that would allow individuals to program it themselves. Apple just wouldn't exist without BASIC. And Microsoft! The first thing that Microsoft did as a company was selling BASIC to run on other people's computers. The two biggest names in modern computing, Apple and Microsoft, both wouldn't've happened if it wasn't for BASIC.

BASIC celebrated its 50th birthday last year, earning it a cover story in Juiced.GS:
Juiced.GS Volume 19 Issue 2

While researching that story, author Steve Weyhrich (who also pointed me to this podcast) delved into the resources available at Dartmouth College, where BASIC was invented. As part of its "BASIC at 50" commemoration, Dartmouth produced a free 38-minute documentary, Birth of BASIC:

If you want to learn more about other programming languages, Codes that Changed the World is available in iTunes. While it's unreasonable to expect all 20,000 languages to be covered, I do lament that the podcast's scope was limited to only five episodes, as I rather enjoyed these 15-minute encapsulations of technical topics for a lay audience. If the BBC or Krotoski ever produce more, I'll be first in line to listen!