Behind the scenes of Ninjaforce demo Kernkompetenz

September 24th, 2018 6:41 PM
by
Filed under Software showcase;
leave a comment.

One of my favorite Juiced.GS articles series is "Behind the Scenes", in which a hardware or software developer writes in his own words how their product came to be. These articles can look at the hardware production, language selection, beta-testing process, or books read — anything that shows the reader how the author got from Point A to Point B. In the last 11 years, Juiced.GS has gone behind the scenes of 35 products, starting with Mark Percival's DiskMaker 8 and continuing to such releases as Slammer, 73H 0r3g0n 7r41L, Nox Archaist, and Lawless Legend's Outlaw.

Last year in Volume 22, Issue 2, Jesse Blue of Apple IIGS programming group Ninjaforce took us behind the scenes of Revision, an annual demoparty held in Germany. It was here in 2017 that Ninjaforce showcased the first demo they'd released in 20 years, Kernkompetenz. This article was classified in Juiced.GS as "Event Coverage", as it wasn't about the actual development of the demo. But shortly after the article's publication, Jesse published a complementary video that reveals the software's secrets.

This 23-minute narrated slideshow starts with a four-minute overview of the Apple IIGS's hardware capabilities, followed by a demo of the, uh, demo. Jesse then continues with tables and diagrams that explain how Kernkompetenz works its magic. Whether you're an experienced programmer or are just casually interested in the inner workings of this 16-bit machine, the video is an easy-to-follow guide to Ninjaforce's latest demo.

Still haven't tried Kernkompetenz yourself? You can download it from their website, or watch a video.

(Hat tip to Blake Patterson)

Without Me You're Nothing

September 17th, 2018 11:11 AM
by
Filed under History;
1 comment.

The spice must flow… as must the electrons. After Frank Herbert wrote the seminal science-fiction novel Dune in 1965, he shifted his sights from the far future to the near future, with the goal of demystifying a new technological arrival: the personal computer. The non-fiction result was Without Me You're Nothing: The Essential Guide to Home Computers.

Written by Herbert with assistance from Max Barnard, "a computer professional who handles both machines and programming and who designed Herbert's own home system", the book is a platform-agnostic guide to the basic functions of computer hardware, software, and programming. For example, the book breaks down the foreign vocabulary of information technology into more familiar concepts. Terms such as "input", "output", "CPU", and "memory" are instead referred to as "information", "action", "switching", and "storage", respectively. "Use the funny words if you must," says Herbert.

Without Me You're Nothing (is that Herbert talking to the computer — or to the readers?) was published in 1980 in hardcover (ISBN 0671412876) and a year later in paperback (ISBN 0671439642), both of which are readily available from libraries, Amazon.com, and eBay. Another paperback edition was released under the name The Home Computer Handbook in 1981 (ISBN 057503050X) and 1985 (ISBN 0450056317). These computer books form two of the six non-fiction books Herbert wrote in his lifetime.

Despite the multiple editions, I had never heard of this book until a friend introduced me to it. I was astonished that a science fiction author would branch out to something so practical and no-nonsense. William Touponce, author of the 1988 book Frank Herbert, made the connection:

[Herbert's] dominant intellectual impulse was not to mystify or set himself up as a prophet, but the opposite – to turn what powers of analysis he had (and they were considerable) over to his audience. And this impulse is as manifest in Dune… as it is in his computer book, Without Me You're Nothing.

Being nonspecific about what computers the reader uses, the book makes little to no reference about the Apple II specifically. The exception is a black-and-white photo of the Apple II opening Chapter 3: Meet Your New Machine — followed immediately by a photo of the Atari 400.

Of additional historical reference value are Appendix D, which includes the names and mailing addresses of the era's computer magazines (Byte in Peterborough, NH; Digital Design in Brookline, MA; ROM of Hampton, CT); and Appendix E: Microcomputer Accessories and Manufacturers, listing everything from Apple (770 Welch Road in Palo Alto) to Data General Corp (Southborough, MA) to Radio Shack (Fort Worth, TX).

I haven't read the book in-depth — to be honest, I wasn't a big fan of Dune — but it's nonetheless a fascinating artifact of how early computers were perceived and deciphered by early users, grounding even someone accustomed to looking among the stars.

Throwboy's 1977 pillow on Kickstarter

September 10th, 2018 10:20 AM
by
Filed under Mainstream coverage;
1 comment.

The Apple II is a great discussion piece: when people see it somewhere they weren't expecting it, it often halts all other conversation and immediately begins a new one. "Wow, what is that?!" "I remember those!" "Does it still work?"

But it's not always feasible to have the Apple II on display where others will see it. Such real estate is often reserved for something more applicable to one's daily life and which can be more easily and broadly enjoyed, even by those without arcane technical knowledge.

But what if you still have that conversation piece but on the form of something small, useful — and soft? Something like… a pillow?

Introducing "The Iconic Pillow Collection", a Kickstarter from Throwboy that is a "cuddly tribute to the tech that changed our lives."

This five-piece collection offers throw pillows based on five landmark Apple products: the Apple IIe, the Macintosh, the iMac, the iPod, and the iPhone. Its creator chose these five computers for the milestones they represent:

  • • 1977 shook up the industry
  • • 1984 started a revolution
  • • 1998 was the ultimate comeback
  • • 2001 ignited a musical odyssey
  • • 2007 changed everything

I'd argue that Throwboy got those two descriptors backward — but it hasn't stopped the campaign's growth: seeking a minimum of $10,000, it's so far accrued nearly $70,000 in pledges, guaranteeing its success when it closes this Friday, September 14, 2018. A single pillow can be preordered for $39 including shipping, a 35% savings off the $60 retail value when it actually ships in February 2019. Happy Mac and rainbow pinwheel pillows are also available for $20 each.

1977 Apple II Throwboy pillow

Hug it. Play it. Nap on it. Just like a real Apple II.

The Apple II pillow not only looks soft and cuddly, but also detailed, from the rubber feet on the bottom to the ports on the back.

I've already preordered my Apple II pillow. It'll be a great counterpart to my handmade, one-of-a-kind floppy pillow:

Floppy disk pillow case

(Hat tip to David Pierini)

US Fest documentary trailer

September 3rd, 2018 10:43 AM
by
Filed under Mainstream coverage;
leave a comment.

Almost two years ago, filmmaker Glenn Aveni concluded a successful Kickstarter to produce a documentary about the Us Festival, a concert held today in 1982 and organized by Steve Wozniak. The final DVD was ambitiously scheduled for production for just seven months later, in July 2017. But Kickstarters rarely run on schedule, as good art takes time. So it's just this summer, a year later than planned, that we're seeing the first trailer for the documentary.

While the main attraction for readers of this blog may be Woz, the focus of the documentary is on the festival, not its organizers. While Woz makes appearances in original interviews conducted for this film, the musicians and concert appear to take center stage. That's not surprising — the event was called the Us Festival, not the Woz Festival, after all.

But Kickstarter backers have not received an update since November 2017, and I can't find a website or release date for the film. It's being distributed by MVD Entertainment Group, whose website says the film was released on August 10, 2018 — but they've not responded to emails or tweets indicating where the movie can be seen or purchased.

I'm hopeful the trailer is evidence that the movie is not vaporware and that we will soon have our glimpses of the musical, event-organizing sides of Woz.

(Hat tip to Martin Kielty)

Blogging techniques at KansasFest 2018

August 27th, 2018 9:30 AM
by
Filed under Happenings;
leave a comment.

Attending conventions is, for me, a balancing act. As much as I appreciate being in the audience of so many amazing panels and presentations, I don't want to be exclusively a passive observer; I like being involved and having something to give back. But if I overcommit myself, I end up being so busy that I don't find myself being present and enjoying the convention.

For KansasFest, I've struck this balance by submitting just one talk a year. It can be challenging for me to find topics to present, as I am not a software developer or hardware hacker. I've given many talks about Apple II games, but I can do so only so many times before I've drained that well dry. And I don't like talking about Juiced.GS (unless I'm also feeding everyone pizza), lest I come across as a shill.

For KansasFest 2018, it took me eight years to realize another niche I can share with the Apple II community: this blog. I've written over 500 weekly posts for this site; I teach online publishing at a local college; and I work for Automattic, developers of WordPress.com. Maybe I know something about online content creation and distribution?

So, last month at KansasFest 2018, I gave a talk, "Blogging II Infinitum".

More than 40 years after its debut, how is it there's still so much to say about the Apple II? How do we find what's new, and how do we spin it to make it interesting? After eight years and 500+ weekly blog posts, Ken still has plenty of new material about his favorite computer. He'll reveal the secrets of his sources, blogging and distribution platforms, and audience engagement techniques in this session.

A video of the talk has been speedily reposted online:

A technique I deduced from experience then had reaffirmed by the book Presentation Zen is that presentations should consist of three delivery media: the speaker; the slides; and the handout. The above video includes the speaker and slides but omits the handout. KansasFest attendees received a PDF that not only compiles the resources mentioned in the talk but also outlines an invaluable writing exercise taught in college graduate programs.

That free PDF is now available to subscribers to this blog's email newsletter. Just sign up today and, once you've confirmed your subscription, you'll receive a download link. You can unsubscribe at any time. (If you're already a subscriber, you've received your download link in a separate email.)

I love being involved — but not too involved — in the Apple II community. I hope these resources help you explore further ways to contribute, too!

Chris McVeigh's LEGO Apple II

August 20th, 2018 8:48 AM
by
Filed under Hacks & mods;
leave a comment.

Last week, I wrote about Charles Mangin, who's known for his 3D-printed miniature Apple computers. But polymer resin and filaments aren't the only building blocks of computer models: long before 3D printers, we had LEGO. And just as Charles Mangin is to 3D printers, so too is Chris McVeigh to LEGO.

McVeigh made headlines four years ago with his portfolio of LEGO constructs, including TIE fighters, televisions, and Atari consoles. Favoriting our favorite retrocomputer, his offerings also included an Apple IIe and Apple IIc — or as they're known by names less likely to incur copyright infringement, My First Computer: Binary Edition and Seed Edition, respectively. Each model has a free online guide for assembling your own LEGO Apple II.

My First Computer: Binary Edition

1 computer. 8 bits. 353 blocks.

McVeigh introduced the IIe model in 2014 and released v2.0 in October 2016. I emailed him recently to ask what the differences were. He explained:

I usually revise a product for one of two reasons: (1) I am no longer able to source an important part (for example, if the part has gone out of production) or (2) newly available parts allow me to improve upon the original design.

The revision of My First Computer: Binary Edition was prompted by the reintroduction of large flat tiles in tan, but I took the opportunity to give it a full overhaul. The most obvious changes are to the computer’s internals (in the original design, they were more abstract) and the external disk drives (which were completely redesigned).

McVeigh isn't the first or only one to interpret the Apple II as a LEGO construct; in 2013, CK Tsang built his own model retrocomputer. But unlike many online creators, McVeigh doesn't just show you how he did it — he'll also provide you with everything you need to do it yourself. If you don't have all 353 LEGO pieces necessary to assemble the IIe, you can order them from McVeigh. This kit is currently sold out but is expected to be back in stock this Wednesday, August 22, for the cost of $87.50 + $15 shipping within the USA. That's only 29¢ per LEGO piece!

I love that there are so many artistic interpretations of the Apple II — though this one is perhaps the blockiest, stealing the award from Minecraft. What other Apple II products and peripherals do you think McVeigh should design next?

(Hat tips to Michael Mulhern and Derek Ngai)