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
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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!

IndieSider goes French — sort of

January 26th, 2015 11:26 AM
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On July 2, 2014, I launched the IndieSider podcast. This biweekly show pairs gameplay footage with developer interviews. It's a unique combination that allows me to interview indie game developers while experiencing their creations. I try to focus on games that are doing something unusual, such as This War of Mine, which simulates the reality of being a civilian in a war-torn country; or developers working in uncommon situations, such as Dan Dujnic, who releases a new version of his twin-stick shooter, Breakers Yard, to the web every week.

Recently I discovered the puzzle game Cubot and was charmed by its calming aesthetic, uncomplicated gameplay, and challenging levels. I reached out to developer Nicolas Pierre-Loti-Viaud of Nicoplv Games for an interview. He liked the IndieSider format and wanted to participate, but his spoken English is as good as my French — which is to say, nonexistent. On those grounds, he regretfully declined.

Fortunately, I don't take "no" for an answer! I figured if I could just get a translator, then the interview could proceed. Who did I know who could serve as a bridge between these two languages?

I didn't have to look far.

Juiced.FR

Vive le Juiced.GS!

Antoine Vignau of Brutal Deluxe recently translated an entire issue of Juiced.GS into French. The resulting special edition was mailed for free to all the magazine's French-speaking subscribers. I asked Nicolas: may we conduct the interview via email in French? And Antoine: would you translate to English and provide me an audio recording of the translation?

All parties were game. The interview was on!

IndieSider #16 went live last week and is available in audio and video editions, with French and English transcripts. The voice you hear is Antoine's, but the words are Nicolas'. Antoine and I recorded our tracks separately, which made for a fun time editing, since he never heard the exact tone or phrasing of my questions and responses until after the show had aired!

While the content of this interview had nothing to do with the Apple II, it nonetheless would not have been possible without the Apple II community and this unique collaboration. My thanks to Antoine for lending his expertise and for being willing to play such an unusual role!

Appearing on RCR

October 20th, 2014 12:20 PM
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This past winter, I waxed nostalgically about the Open Apple podcast's third birthday, tracing the six-month gestation period of the Apple II community's first and only monthly and co-hosted podcast. Absent from that timeline was a significant milestone: the debut of the Retro Computing Roundtable. For another retrocomputing show to scoop Open Apple was discouraging, but I'm glad we persevered, as the two shows have evolved very different formats and content. Whereas Open Apple features a new guest every month in a polished, edited show that takes hours to produce, RCR rotates among a stable of familiar voices, producing a raw, more organic episode every two weeks.

With RCR turning four years old this month, I was honored to join the shows cast and crew for a guest appearance in episode #85. Although good friends and Juiced.GS contributors Carrington Vanston and Steve Weyhrich were absent from this episode, it was a pleasure to chat with fellow Boston resident Paul Hagstrom, Retrobits host Earl Evans, and fellow fundraising cyclist Michael Mulhern, with whom I'd previously communicated via email only.
Retro Computing Roundtable logoIt was also a bit intimidating! The first half-hour of the show was spent discussing the Atari 520ST, Commodore 128, and other computers of 1985. While I do not denigrate non-Apple II machines, neither do I have any interest in them, mostly due to lack of exposure at a time when I was still too young to appreciate them. Rather than open my mouth and prove myself a fool, I wisely kept quiet; if you were to tune in at any point in that discussion, you wouldn't even know I was there.

But perhaps I need to work on my conversational skills, as I've found, both in RCR and during my recent appearance on the Pixel Pizza podcast , that I tend to wait for a topic I'm passionate about to arise, then engage in a lengthy monologue on the subject. Perhaps the lack of a co-host on my three other podcasts — Polygamer, IndieSider, and The Pubcast — has trained me to fill the silence with my own voice, as I did on RCR in extended discourses about GEnie, feminism, and RadioShack. Maybe my ego needs to be reminded that other people have something to say, too.

Nonetheless, I had a good time on RCR, and I much appreciated their invitation and patience. I hope I added to their listeners' experience more than I detracted from it. Lest I wear out my welcome, I don't expect to be a frequent guest of this show, but it is comforting to know that my retrocomputer podcasting days aren't behind me.

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.

Gaming across the platforms

December 30th, 2013 11:35 AM
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I spent much of December overwhelmed by too many freelance commitments. Activities that are supposed to be fun, like writing articles and playing video games, adopt a different tone when a deadline is applied. But I kept my sanity in large part to the opportunities these pursuits gave me to interact with my fellow Apple II users outside our usual contexts of Juiced.GS, Open Apple, and KansasFest.

Specifically: we've been playing video games. Lots of them.

My YouTube channel, where I unboxed the Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One, gained the attention of prolific and accomplished media producer Lon Seidman, former guest of Open Apple. Although I lack the polish and equipment of his A/V setup, he invited me onto his show for a livestream first look at the Xbox One.

It was fun to see and work with Lon in real-time — a first! Who knows what other opportunities he and I may have to collaborate? Could an Apple II show be far off?

That same weekend, I was invited to be a guest on the weekly Internet radio show Pixel Pizza, hosted by Jared Ettinger, a student at Emerson College, where I'm on the adjunct faculty. I was concerned that I'd be outed for my lack of hardcore gaming experience, but I was able to turn the conversation to more technical details about the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 that I could expound upon. My confidence was further bolstered to know Steve Weyhrich of the Apple II History site was listening live. During sign-off, I thanked him on-air with a plug for his book, Sophistication & Simplicity.

Interviews and talk shows are all well and good — but video games are meant to be played, not discussed. So this past Friday evening, I switched on my Xbox 360, connected to Xbox Live, and met Dain Neater and Andy Molloy for some online gaming. Our weapons in this duel were high-performance speed demons, with us racing down the California coast trying to escape the police (or, sometimes, each other) as we duked it out in Need for Speed Hot Pursuit.

So thanks, Microsoft, for giving us Apple II users so many gaming platforms to discuss and play on. Any medium that serves to connect us retrocomputing enthusiasts is okay by me!