Using an Apple IIgs in 2017

June 26th, 2017 10:19 AM
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When I started college twenty years ago this year, I bought my first non-Apple II computer. I desperately wanted to move my IIgs into the dorm, but at the time, that computer didn't have the networking capabilities or development environment necessary to enable my pursuit of a degree in computer science. I was frustrated, because outside that academic context, the IIgs could still do everything I needed from a computer.

If that was barely true in 1997, how true is it in 2017? Could I get by with only an Apple II as my primary computer? I don't know if I could, but Bryan Lunduke recently tried to find out if he could. Lunduke, a freelance blogger for Networkworld (sibling to Computerworld, which is my former employer and still occasional source for freelance work), hosts a YouTube series called The Lunduke Hour, where he investigates various Linux, open-source, and other non-mainstream technologies. In his May 2, 2017, episode, he asks, "What would it be like to use an Apple IIgs in 2017?"

The resulting video is primarily a tour of System 6.0.1 and some essential applications, such as AppleWorks, HyperCard, and Wolfenstein 3D. Although not too deep a dive, it's a surprisingly informed tour for being Lunduke's first day with the machine. With the possible exceptions of Marinetti and Contiki, he omits many of the community's developments in the past two decades, including unofficial updates to the operating system, though that may have been intentional if he's trying to recapture a classic experience. Despite that, thanks to emulating all his hardware and software, Lunduke doesn't suffer through unaccelerated load times like many of us have.

For those who already use the Apple IIgs on a daily basis, the Finder won't be foreign. But from the perspective of someone who's hasn't seen it before or in a long time, it's fun to realize how many GUI conventions were established on this machine, with Lunduke referring to the interface as "surprisingly modern".

For all that fun, why did Lunduke subject himself to this experiment (other than to produce channel content)? Says he:

I like to see what it was like; I like to reminisce about the 1980s, the 1990s, to see what it's like to live, computing-wise, in an environment that is totally different from what most of use day-in, day-out. Maybe that will, in some way, help me get a better understanding of where we've been, where we've come from, our computing history, and maybe just how not so far we've come. Maybe it will give me an idea of some cool features we've lost along the way.

Kudos to Lunduke for giving my favorite retrocomputer a try. I wonder how he's describe the results of his experiment?

The audio podcast version of The Lunduke Hour is available to Lunduke's Patreon supporters.

(Hat tip to Jesse Blue)

Chris Torrence reviews the AP40

January 23rd, 2017 11:28 AM
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In October, Hong Kong hardware developer 8bitdo launched a Kickstarter for a wireless Bluetooth controller for the Apple II. Although I originally backed the project, I eventually cancelled my pledge only out of personal dissatisfaction with the potential product and its management. That said, I was still glad to see the campaign succeed at 135% its crowdfunding goal.

One of the 313 backers is Assembly Lines editor and KansasFest alumnus Chris Torrence. He quickly produced an unboxing video, in which he rightly predicted my critical reception:

This video was followed by a more extensive testing session:

Between the two videos, Chris tested the AP40 controller with a variety of Apple II games, including Lode Runner, Choplifter, and Castle Wolfenstein. The verdict seems to be that it's a great device for games that require digital input — i.e., games that read only the direction, not the degree, to which you are pushing the controller. But since the Apple II can read 0–255 values on both the X and Y axes, games that rely on that analog input will not work as well.

Had I not cancelled my Kickstarter pledge, I would've reviewed the AP40 for Juiced.GS. But I don't think even I could've done as good a job as Chris, which is why I'm excited he'll be making his Juiced.GS debut when we publish his more comprehensive written review in the March 2017 issue!

(Full disclosure: I back Chris on Patreon.)

Lon's Apple II yule log

December 26th, 2016 7:32 AM
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There are plenty of Apple II programs that demonstrate the holiday spirit, as amply showcased by Blake Patterson's impressive annual playlist. So while such software is commonplace, it's rare to find retrocomputing hardware that's seasonally appropriate.

Lon Seidman inadvertently has filled that gap. He's built a YouTube empire of over 122,000 subscribers with almost daily reviews of any tech he can get his hands on — from the Xbox One video game console to Lenovo laptops to Samsung hard drives. His latest video is of the Apple IIGS, of which he produced a 33-minute review:

Unfortunately, his shoot was not without fatalities. When his computer started smoking, he thought the monitor had fried a capacitor, so he quickly hustled the display outside while leaving the camera running. But the culprit proved to be the CPU itself, which continued to quietly smoke in front of the camera. Lon took his lemons and made lemonade, offering the following festive video:

There may not be any actual flame (thank goodness), but this is as close as I'd want to get to an actual Apple II yule log.

Merry Christmas and Hanukkah, Lon — I hope your IIGS was okay!

(Full disclosure: I back Lon Seidman on Patreon.)

Leigh Alexander's Patreon for Lo-Fi Let's Play

September 19th, 2016 1:54 PM
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Two-and-a-half years ago, I pointed Apple II Bits readers to the YouTube videos of Leigh Alexander. This renown and accomplished journalist in the video games industry was creating Let's Play videos of classic Apple II games, recording her gameplay experiences combined with her personal commentary. It was a fun and original look at one player's history with her childhood computer.

A lot has happened to gaming and to Alexander since that April 2014 blog post. In August 2014, GamerGate broke. In December 2014, Juiced.GS reviewed Alexander's e-book, Breathing Machine. In April 2015, Alexander became editor-in-chief of Offworld, a BoingBoing-run video game journalism website with a focus on publishing marginalized voices. In February 2016, Alexander departed Offworld and the gaming industry entirely.

I was concerned we'd heard the last of this powerful and important voice — so I was delighted this month when she launched a Patreon to support her latest initiative: the return of her Lo-Fi Let's Play video series.

"What started as a fun outlet for me to recapture some of the sense of mystery and wonder I once felt about games became much more popular than I expected," writes Alexander:

Rediscovering and sharing these charming old works was a great source of comfort and joy toward the end of my time in the game industry. They had a sort of innocence I had missed, and a pioneer spirit I felt warmly toward, and they reminded me in an essential way why playing computer games was once a source of uncomplicated joy and imagination for me. The simplicity of their infrastructure, the severity of their limitations, and their earnestness in the face of those limitations is still a touchstone of inspiration for me in the age of modern high-end hardware and noisy social media. I can't tell you how thrilled I am that there are folks out there that share these feelings with me.

Alexander is asking for contributions on a per-video basis of an amount of your choosing. At $5, you get a newsletter with behind-the-scenes storytelling; at $20 and $200, Alexander sacrifices some degree of editorial control to let you help pick what games she plays next.

You may wonder why one should contribute anything; after all, "Thanks to the magic of emulation and the tireless work of archivists, the videos cost me nothing but time and love to make, and they are and will always be ad-free and available to all on YouTube," acknowledges Alexander. "But sadly, life as a freelancer means that the things I get paid for need to come first, leaving passion projects to languish."

I don't tend to watch Let's Play videos myself, but I acknowledge their value and importance in capturing the experience the Apple II invokes. I'm contributing to Alexander's campaign and encourage you to do so, too — but even if you don't, I hope you'll check out her videos and share in her joy for the gaming heritage of the Apple II.

If this is your first Patreon, don't let it be your last — these other Apple II creators are also seeking your support:

Pittsburgh Dad plays Oregon Trail

September 5th, 2016 10:51 AM
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Members of the Apple II community can at times express a certain "get off my lawn!" mentality, railing against today's youth and their new-fangled computers. Fortunately, this behavior is often in good fun: while a reasoned critique comparing old and new computers and enthusiasts can be well-founded, any actual castigation against a younger generation is often more self-effacing, tinged with a note of jealousy of how much better and easier things are now.

Actor Curt Wootton has made such parody his entire schtick with his YouTube series, "Pittsburgh Dad". His one-man, five-minute episodes offer a crotchety perspective on modern media and conveniences, including Pokémon GO, iPhones, and Captain America.

In the latest episode, Pittsburgh Dad plays Oregon Trail:

It's funny to see this behavior from someone just four months older than me. And yet, it's hard to imagine anyone I know from KansasFest playing Oregon Trail with this attitude. We tend to be enthusiastic evangelists for our niche hobby, and beating someone else over the head with it isn't going to convert them to our cause. I suppose that's why it's parody, eh?

(Also, I wonder if Dad knew that the malapropistic floppy label "Organ Trail" represents an actual game?)

For more of Pittsburgh Dad's takes on retro technology, check out the episode where he replaced his kids' Grand Theft Auto game with E.T. for the Atari 2600.

(Hat tip to Cat Morgan)

Week of the KFest

July 25th, 2016 9:38 AM
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Today is the first day after KansasFest 2016. It's a day when I, like all 83 of this year's attendees — the largest turnout in my 19 consecutive years of attendance — am in a delirious stupor from too much excitement and too little sleep. I have unpacking to do, software to test, publications to read, photos to process, and memories to cherish. It's an event that will stay with me for a long time — at least until KansasFest 2017, scheduled for July 18–23 at Rockhurst University.

In the meantime, I admire all the contributions made by the attendees and the committee, from organizing the event to giving presentations to livestreaming the videos. But as a YouTube content creator, one of the KansasFest creations I admire the most comes once again from Steve Weyhrich. Just prior to KansasFest 2015, Steve — who once built an entire Apple II in Minecraft — debuted the music video "KFest Funk", an inspired parody of the 2014 tune "Uptown Funk". For KansasFest 2016, Steve decided to kick it old school by reimagining the 1982 classic "Eye of the Tiger". The result is the music video "Week of the KFest":

Many of the photos Steve used in each of his last two music videos are my own, yet he puts them in a far more imaginative context than I could ever imagine. Not only that, but his audio and video production qualities are significantly higher than my own, despite his use of iMovie compared to Final Cut Pro. Why isn't this creative genius a YouTube star?

My thanks to Steve for this fun memento that we can share with our friends and family who don't quite understand what KansasFest is all about!