A visit to the Media Archaeology Lab

March 4th, 2019 6:16 AM
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I've gotten to explore some fantastic computer museums in the company of Apple II users: the Boston Museum of Science with Ryan Suenaga; the Computer History Museum with Martin Haye; Living Computers: Museum + Labs with Olivier Guinart; the Strong Museum of Play with Andy Molloy. Last month, I enjoyed another such adventure, this one to the Media Archaeology Lab with Chris Torrence.

The MAL is in Boulder, Colorado, a place I briefly lived and to which I was now returning on business. I work for Automattic, a completely distributed company whose employees all work remotely. Instead of a traditional office, where everyone works together for fifty weeks a year then gets two weeks of vacation apart, Automattic flips that model: we spend only two weeks together a year, at two week-long team meetups. My first meetup of 2019 was in Boulder, giving me the perfect excuse to extend my stay for a visit to the MAL.

Another convenient synchronicity was that, just two months earlier, I'd started selling Steve Weyhrich's book, Sophistication & Simplicity. Steve permitted me to donate a few copies of his book to libraries and museums, so I emailed some historians to ask what institutions I should target. Jason Scott suggested the MAL, a museum that I was vaguely aware of from Chris Torrence volunteering there. I pitched him a donation of S&S as well as a complete collection of Juiced.GS, and he enthusiastically accepted. Instead of mailing so much heavy Apple II literature, my Automattic trip would enable me to personally deliver it, followed by a tour of the MAL!

The MAL resides in the basement of a building near the local university campus. Three rooms are accessible to the public, with the main lobby hosting one long table of operational Apple computers, and another table filled with other brands and models. Like the Living Computers museum of Seattle, Washington, MAL's artifacts are meant to be used: shelves are filled to the ceiling with classic software, mainly games, waiting to be played. I booted up an Apple IIe for a round of Oregon Trail, naming my wagonmates after fellow Apple II users, while Chris fiddled with getting BattleChess to work on the IIGS.

The back room, the second-largest room in the MAL, holds a dozen or so game consoles, all connected to CRT televisions. Chris and I rotated through several two-player Nintendo games, including Super Dodge Ball and Double Dragon II. I also tried the Vectrex, an all-in-one game console and display unit released by Milton Bradley in late 1982 and discontinued in early 1984. I was familiar with the Vectrex but had never gotten hands-on experience with one before. Its vector graphics, similar to an Asteroids coin-op, were bright and vivid — though playing the Star Trek game reminded me that this console is from an era where gameplay was not intuitive, and a thorough reading of the manual was essential.

I enjoyed my time at the MAL and wish I'd been able to stay longer. The assortment of not just digital technology, but all media, was fascinating, from computers to record players to oscilloscopes. As much as I'm a retrocomputing enthusiast, there is plenty of history and media I've still to discover. There are few places better to do so than the MAL.

Negotiating deals at KansasFest

November 26th, 2018 3:36 PM
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It's Cyber Monday, and Juiced.GS is selling Sophistication & Simplicity, Dr. Steve Weyhrich's definitive history of the Apple II. I sang this book's praises upon its December 2013 release, even going so far as to shoot an unboxing video:

What brought this book to the Juiced.GS store five years later is a random confluence of events. This past summer marked my 21st time attending KansasFest, the annual Apple II expo held in Kansas City. But for the first time in over a decade, my traditional roommate of Andy Molloy was not in attendance. I asked Steve Weyhrich if I could crash in his dorm room instead.

It was during one evening of cohabitation that my roommate and I got to chatting, the conversation wandering among all aspects of the Apple II community. What I discovered that evening was that not only had Steve received a few complimentary copies of his book, as every author is owed; he also had several dozen extra copies in storage.

If this had come to light 4–5 years ago, I would not have been in a position to do anything about it. But in the last three years, Juiced.GS has become a publisher and reseller for other Apple II entities, such as The Byte Works and Kelvin Sherlock. When I asked Steve if he'd be interested in being the third person to engage in such a collaboration by allowing Juiced.GS to distribute his book, he happily agreed.

What followed were months of emails between Steve, me, publisher Variant Press, the Juiced.GS staff, and other parties. The result was our ability to bring autographed copies of this book to Juiced.GS customers at an all-time low price — all because Steve and I were KansasFest roommates.

The Apple II community at large has long benefitted from the fruits of KansasFest, with collaborative products such as Marinetti having been born there. I'm delighted that Steve and I are the latest instrument of such happenstance.

Sophistication & Simplicity shipping

December 2nd, 2013 10:15 AM
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Blatant plug alert!

I'm writing today to promote Sophistication & Simplicity: The Life & Times of the Apple II Computer, by Dr. Steven Weyhrich, long-time Apple II user. In just the past three years, Steve has become a member of the KansasFest committee, written for Juiced.GS, and been guest #4 on the Open Apple podcast. But much longer ago than that, he began chronicling the story of the Apple II, which today is available on his website, Apple II History. That site has served as the source for his book, a hardcover that began shipping yesterday.

Sophistication & SimplicityTurning a website into a book can be an easy feat: aggregate some blog posts into a PDF and ship it off to the Kindle store. Or download some Wikipedia entries and reformat them for sale under Creative Commons. But Steve has taken no such shortcuts with his opus. He has extensively researched and re-written significant portions of his history as well as created new chapters. I've been aware of this process not only as he pinged me for my professional perspective on various editing matters, but also through interviewing Steve for Juiced.GS:

I have a new chapter that is all about KansasFest; that is exclusive to the print book. There are some other places where I've added material that I did not also mirror to the Web site, but I did not keep close track of it. After a while, I stopped changing the Web site and the book material at the same time, because it became tedious to do both. All of my most recent changes have been book-specific.

The final stretch was the longest: some online stores still reference the book's original launch date of April 1, 2013!

Steve also revealed that this book has been a long time in coming:

I actually made an effort to make this a book some years ago and had some interest from Quality Computers in publishing it back in the 1990s. However, Quality had lots of things it was trying to do at the time and decided that publishing a book was not something it wanted to add to the list.

Now the book is finally a real thing — but not thanks to the democratization of self-publishing. Unlike many recent and excellent books about the Apple II, Sophistication & Simplicity is not self-published, instead having been picked up by Variant Press. You can buy the book today at Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble (ISBN 9780986832277).

Congratulations, Steve! Thank you for taking the time to preserve the history of our favorite computer in so permanent a medium. I look forward to getting ahold of my copy and getting you to sign it at KansasFest 2014. In the meantime, the hard part is behind you, so step away from the computer and take a breather — you've earned it.