Holiday shopping on eBay

November 27th, 2016 10:14 AM
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My family never learned thrift; if something was old or worn, we'd replace it instead of repair it. And if used items weren't good enough for us, they were certainly not good enough to give as gifts. Every Christmas, we'd bestow and accept shiny, shrinkwrapped goods, representing the latest merchandise that retail had to offer.

That's a shame, because so many Apple II products can no longer be had new. There's a growing market of original or replicated hardware, to be sure — but if I want something vintage, the only way to affordably acquire it is used. As a result, no one from my family will ever think to shop for my Christmas gift on eBay.

The Retro Computing Roundtable podcast has a gift guide that they update with each biweekly episode. There's plenty of new and retro tech in there, but my favorite suggestion to come from this group was when the hosts collaborated on a Juiced.GS gift guide. In that article, Carrington Vanston had the brilliant idea to give someone a subscription to a classic Apple II magazine, such as Nibble or inCider/A+. Though those publications have been out of print for decades, old issues can be acquired from eBay or AbeBooks, then individually mailed to the gift's intended recipient on a monthly basis.

Apple II magazines, books, and periodicals

Used Apple II magazines, books, and periodicals abound, as seen at KansasFest 2016.

I love this idea. The first and only Apple II magazine I've ever subscribed to is Juiced.GS, which I haven't received in the mail since June 2007. I miss finding Apple II news, reviews, and interviews in my mailbox. The only way to make it happen is to plunder the bounty of years gone by, salvaging previously read issues from the stores of eBay.

That sounds better than finding anything new under my Christmas tree.

RCR at the Living Computer Museum

July 11th, 2016 9:17 AM
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Last summer, en route to KansasFest 2015, I stopped in Minneapolis at the Charles Babbage Institute, one of ten archives with a complete collection of Juiced.GS.

Behind the scenes at the Charles Babbage Institute

This past December, I made my first visit to another such institution, the Computer History Museum of Mountain View, California. And this week, again en route to KansasFest, I'll visit the Living Computer Museum in Seattle, Washington, whose 2012 opening was also covered by Juiced.GS.

As it turns out, Michael Mulhern, frequent co-host of the Retro Computing Roundtable podcast, had the same idea. To make the lengthy trip from his native Australia to the United States worthwhile, he's hitting up all the sights on his way to KansasFest 2016. He asked me to tweet an invitation for RCR listeners to join him on his tour of the LCM on a Thursday night, at a time when the museum was offering free admission. At the last minute, I realized we had an opportunity to extend the invitation to even those who couldn't join him: would Michael be interested in live-tweeting his event? I hurriedly set him up with access to the official RCR Twitter account, resulting in many great tweets that solicited responses from fans, enthusiasts, and even the LCM itself.

The entire Twitter exchange is archived in this Storify:

Now I know what to look for when I'm there myself, just a week later. Thanks, Michael!

Reflecting on my past & do-overs

October 12th, 2015 10:23 AM
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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!

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, launched just months before Open Apple. 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 show's 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.

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!