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!

John Romero and Craig Johnston's Apple II podcast

November 4th, 2013 7:47 PM
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The Open Apple podcast launched to complement the existing podcasts dedicated to the Apple II — but with the hiatus of 1 MHz and the cessation of A2Unplugged, the community's first and second ever podcasts respectively, Open Apple has become the Apple II podcast. Other shows such as the Retro Computing Roundtable, RetroMacCast, and Floppy Days are all excellent shows that feature the Apple II, but it's not their focus. It leaves me a bit uncomfortable to have no podcast besides our own offering a dedicated, unique perspective on the machine.

Finally, we are in good company. Last week saw the launch of Apple Time Warp, a podcast hosted by KansasFest 2012 keynote speaker John Romero and blogger Craig Johnston:

John Romero and Craig Johnston talk about the early days of games on the Apple ][, interview Apple ][ game programmers, and generally cover topics relating to Apple ][ games and history.

The pilot episode (also available on iTunes) clocks in at 49 minutes of Romero — creator of Dangerous Dave, Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake — reminiscing about the launch of his game programming career on the Apple II and the celebrities he met along the way, such as Nasir Gebelli. The tales may be familiar to the audience of his excellent KansasFest keynote speech, for which he interviewed Jordan Mechner, Will Wright, Bill Budge, and more.

As I discovered in this podcast, those interviews may've been part of a larger project I'd never heard of: The Romero Archives. Founded in 2009, it is a collection "dedicated to preserving the work of game designers and the history of game design… The Romero Archives is currently in the proposal stage with plans to launch in 2015. Online archiving is in progress." Those archiving efforts can thus far be seen in video interviews Romero recorded in 2010 with Gebelli, Ralph Baer, and more.

With only one episode published thus far, Apple Time Warp is too young to indicate if it will be a permanent addition to the Apple II airwaves. But the first episode is a promising and enjoyable interview that has already broadened the community's horizons. I wish my fellow podcasters the best of luck!

Lon Seidman's Apple IIGS on TWiT

May 20th, 2013 11:19 AM
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Unless the subject is video games, I don't listen to any modern technology podcasts. Perhaps as a result of having been a Computerworld editor for six years, I feel sufficiently connected to the state of modern IT without spending my spare time consuming audio or video content on the subject. As a result, I'm largely unfamiliar with Leo Laporte and his expansive This Week in Tech broadcasting empire. What little I've been exposed to has left me underwhelmed. When the stars of his shows are Apple II heroes such as Dan Bricklin or Jeri Ellsworth, then I always walk away satisfied and enlightened. But without those outside personalities, I find Laporte and his cronies to be pretentious and bombastic.

I recently made an exception for The Giz Wiz #1377, which aired all the way back on August 14, 2012. I'd added the episode to my queue long enough ago that I'd forgotten my motivation for doing so. But I trusted my past self and listened to the entire episode. It wasn't until time indices 52:39–58:16, after nearly an hour of listening to Laporte and co-host Dick DeBartolo discuss SkyMall's catalog, that I found the show's relevancy to this retrocomputing enthusiast:

To this episode, Lon Seidman submitted a video tour of his Apple IIGS. Enhancements include not only an overclocked Transwarp GS but also the Uthernet networking card and Rich Dreher's CFFA3000. We don't get to see much of the software or unique uses Seidman has for his Apple II, and that which we do see will be familiar to members of the modern Apple II community — but the segment was short and focused enough to get picked up by TWiT, making for excellent publicity for our hobby. Way to go, Lon!

For other video reviews and tours of Apple II hardware, check out the work of Brian Picchi and Terry Stewart.

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.

A cracked screensaver

September 12th, 2011 9:56 AM
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As I drove home last night from Cape Cod, I caught up on the latest episode of the Retro Computing Roundtable, an excellent podcast hosted by David Greelish, Earl Evans, and Carrington Vanston. It was another fantastic 90 minutes of retrocomputing goodness, and as an editor for enterprise IT publication Computerworld, I especially enjoyed the discussion of the HP TouchPad — though I'm unsure how it connected to the show's retro theme.

This month's guest was Kevin Savetz, master of more than eighty Web sites, many of them of interest to Apple II enthusiasts. (KansasFest alumni may recognize his college-ruled paper.) Kevin shared with RCR listeners a simple yet great idea. Having recently discovered the same archive of Apple II crack screens I blogged about, Kevin downloaded the entire collection of images to use as a slideshow screensaver. Brilliant! You can do the same with a Firefox plugin like DownThemAll! and saving the images into a single folder. Then, in Mac OS X's System Preferences, go to "Desktop & Screen Saver", choose "Add Folder of Pictures", and add your collection. You can then set various preferences regarding how the screens are displayed displayed. (These instructions are based on the Snow Leopard operating system; YMMV.)

Thanks, Kevin!