Chris McVeigh's LEGO Apple II

August 20th, 2018 8:48 AM
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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)

Two-player Karateka

August 13th, 2018 8:22 AM
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I thought I knew Charles Mangin: hardware guru extraordinaire, maker of connectors, adapters and miniature models. His RetroConnector brand has enabled Apple II keyboards to talk to USB-enabled machines, modern joysticks to be played on Apple II computers, and other interactions that span the eras. With a 3D printer, he's created miniature working monitors and Raspberry Pi cases shaped like a IIe. Well before I ever met him at KansasFest, I was blogging about Charles putting computers in Apple II peripherals. Creating intergenerational hybrids is Charles' niche.

Or so I thought. First, he started sharing his hardware knowledge in a video podcast series, How II. Then he was giving KansasFest sessions about music synthesizers. No 3D printers to be seen, but these topics could still be broadly categorized as hardware projects.

But now Charles is making a name for himself in a wholly new realm: software development. After tackling the significant task of teaching himself 6502 assembly, he released his first game, a Minesweeper clone. Then he innovated with an original title, Jumpy Guy. These are fun, simple games that demonstrate Charles' growth in this new role.

Now Charles is punching his way through one of the most famous games of all time: Karateka. No longer the tale of a lone gamer storming Akuma's fortress, Jordan Mechner's first published title has been patched to enable a second player to control Akuma's foot soldiers, putting some actual intelligence behind the hero's adversaries and making it more akin to the Apple II arcade port Karate Champ.

I would ask Charles to detail his patch in an issue of Juiced.GS, but he has already been thoroughly transparent on his website, detailing the mere 42 bytes that constitute the efficient patch. The updated game is playable online on the Internet Archive:

In the course of reinventing himself, Charles has reinvented Karateka. But gamers are a hungry lot, and some are already clamoring for more features, including joystick input and network play. I'd rather wait and see what Charles does of his own volition: like Apple Inc., he has an uncanny sense for giving us what we didn't know we've always wanted. Who knows where he'll take us — and himself — next?

Apple II-inspired ice cream

August 6th, 2018 11:53 AM
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On July 15, we celebrated National Ice Cream Day, followed last Thursday by National Ice Cream Sandwich Day. But we haven't been able to celebrate our favorite dessert and our favorite retrocomputer together — until now. Finally, these two great tastes go great together thanks to Not Your Mother, a vegan ice cream parlor that just opened in Toronto.

As if the dairy-free menu options weren't niche enough, the restaurant has chosen a 1970s-themed naming convention — and one particular menu item caught my eye. What Kat Smith described as a "vegan vanilla soft serve topped with flaky, dairy-free pie crumbles, apple pie sauce, caramel, and meatless bacon bits" features two apples… so it is aptly named the Apple II.

Not Your Mother's Apple II ice cream

Fruity, vegan computing deliciousness.

In keeping with an Apple II theme, I propose these other menu items:

  • • Super Serial Card: A waffle wafer sundae topped with mint chocolate chip ice cream and Lucky Charms.
  • • Zip GSX: Espresso-flavored ice cream with hot fudge sauce.
  • • 4am: Cinnamon ice cream with marshmallows and graham-cracker crumbs.
  • • csa2: Jalapeño ice cream with pecans, almonds, and walnuts.
  • • Juiced.GS: A fruit-punch smoothie.

What other Apple-themed treats would Not Your Mother have to serve to get you to road-trip to Toronto?

Can we get John Carmack to KansasFest?

July 30th, 2018 10:49 AM
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When John Romero was the keynote speaker for KansasFest 2012, an old friend was in the audience: Lane Roathe, KansasFest 2008 keynote speaker. The two had worked together at Softdisk and later founded Ideas from the Deep, or id.

But there was a third person in that original triumverate of founders: John Carmack. Like Romero and Roathe, Carmack has remained active in the games industry, currently serving as the CTO for Oculus, Facebook's virtual-reality company. And, also like Romero and Roathe, Carmack hasn't forgotten his roots.

In 2012, Carmack got an Apple IIc for Christmas; in 2015, he introduced it to his son. If he tweets about the Apple II every three years, then he maintained that tradition coinciding with this month's KansasFest:

He later reiterated his interest, reminiscing about the constraints of the Apple II that breed creativity:

Carmack is definitely a guy who knows what's up and isn't that many steps removed from our community: despite not following the @KansasFest account, Carmack even knew the hashtag to use — perhaps from following Jason Scott.

At least two KansasFest members acknowledged Carmack's tweets with replies, the first being frequent HackFest judge Quinn Dunki:

Followed by KansasFest committee member Andy Molloy:

How long before Carmack joins the ranks of KansasFest keynote speakers, with Romero and Roathe in the audience?

(Full disclosure: Although I was part of the committee that recruited Roathe and Romero, I am not currently a member of the KansasFest committee and do not have any insider knowledge about the current speaker selection process. This post is based solely on observation of public information and speculation.)

Speech synthesis on the Apple II

July 23rd, 2018 9:16 AM
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Earlier this year, I interviewed Joseph Bein of Out of Sight Games. As a visually impaired gamer, Joseph finds some games more accessible than others; but as a game developer, he encounters other challenges I'd never even considered. Are game development tools themselves accessible? How do we make them so?

Interviewing Joseph made it apparent that computers can cause problems for those seeking easy access to technology and media — but another podcast showcased how they can also solve a lot of problems. The Apple II was one of the pioneers in that department, courtesy the Echo II speech synthesis expansion card. One early beneficiary of the Echo II was Dr. Robert Carter, a podcaster who himself was recently interviewed on the podcast Background Mode, a publication of The Mac Observer.

From the show notes:

Dr. Robert Carter is a Ph.D. Psychologist at Texas A&M, a long-time Apple enthusiast, and the co-host of the Tech Doctor podcast. He's very well versed in assistive technologies, having been blind since birth. Robert tells an amazing story about he's coped with his disability through the years. It started with using a portable typewriter in grade school, discovering the Apple II at age 18 and a speech synthesizer plug-in card, and ultimately using Apple's extraordinary VoiceOver technology on the Mac—and now iPhone.

The Apple II connections in this podcast extend to both sides of the mic: host John Martellaro was the editor and publisher of Peelings II, "The Magazine of Apple Software Evaluation", back in the early 1980s.

I'd love to examine the accessibility features of the Apple II — both historical and modern — in a future issue of Juiced.GS. After listening to this podcast, I'm adding Dr. Carter to my list of primary resources!

Apple II Wii

July 16th, 2018 9:12 AM
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I'm not one to hack, crack, or jailbreak; I tend to use products as they were designed. One notable exception was the Nintendo Wii, a video game console released in 2006. Its innovative point-and-click interface made possible a variety of console game genres and experiences that were previously impossible. I wanted to see what hobbyists and enthusiasts could do with these tools, so I installed the Homebrew Channel.

Ironically, my favorite use of the channel was the SCUMM emulator: once this tool was installed, I could play classic LucasArts games. I owned a legal copy of Day of the Tentacle, but it required a version of Classic Mac OS that I didn't have. By copying its files to an SD card, I was able to play it on the Wii's ScummVM. It remains the only way I've ever played this game, despite its 2016 remastering and release for modern systems such as Mac OS X, iOS, and PlayStation 4.

I deleted the Homebrew Channel before migrating my data to the Wii U in 2012, and it's only now that I realize what an opportunity I missed: the original Wii could emulate not only SCUMM, but also the Apple II. Christian Simpson explores this feature on a recent episode of his YouTube series, Retro Recipes:

The video is more an overview of the Wii's many emulation modes; we don't get to see the Apple II until 5:36 into the video. At that point, we discover the emulator, WiiApple, is a port of AppleWin/LinApple — neat! But the only game we see it play is Frogger — not more popular or original games like Choplifter, Lode Runner, Prince of Persia, or King's Quest.

WiiApple is a nine-year-old emulator running on a twelve-year-old console. Nintendo has since released the Wii U (2012) and Switch (2017), but Apple II emulators for either have not yet surfaced. If you want to emulate the Apple II on a home game console, Simpson's video shows you what's still the best way.

(Hat tip to Christian on Google+)