Archive for May, 2010

Quality Computers Q-Drive tutorial video

May 31st, 2010 11:00 AM
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The Lost Classics project serves to reclassify formerly commercial Apple II software, preserving it for current and future users of the classic computer. But there exists a variety of other Apple II products that require not just reclassification, but digitization, as their original format was physical and prone to decay or destruction.

Of late, Antoine Vignau of Brutal Deluxe Software has made it his mission to convert various VHS recordings and upload them to YouTube, where anyone can see and share them. Inspired, I decided to follow suit. I rummaged through my modest tape collection and found one from Quality Computers covering the installation and maintenance of their Q-Drive external SCSI hard drive. Concerned about copyright, I recalled that Sean Fahey had recently contacted Joe Gleason, former president of Quality Computers, and had been granted permission to distribute these videos, putting my efforts in the clear.

To make the conversion, I used the Pinnacle Video Transfer tool, which takes A/V input on one end and outputs to a USB storage device on the other. My VCR is old (but then, aren't they all?) and lacks an S-Video jack, so I relied on composite, or RCA, cables. Although this limitation may've impacted the final product's quality, I don't think the potential improvement would've been great given the VHS source material.

Once I had a digital file, Eric Shepherd recommended I use the program JES Deinterlacer, but its powers were beyond my ken. The filter's multiple options and settings were not obvious to someone unfamiliar with video editing, and I found that running a file through the program took several hours to output a final product, which deterred experimentation. In the end, and with Antoine's seal of approval, I skipped this step and uploaded the result to YouTube. Due to the service's 10-minute limit on individual files, I broke the 30-minute video into thirds. You can now view parts one, two, and three online, or altogether in this playlist:



Q/Vision, a division of Quality Computers, presents this tutorial for installing and maintaining their Q-Drive external hard drive on your Apple IIGS computer. Starring QC employees Michael Heintz, Walker Archer, and Jerry Kindall, this 1992 video is posted here with permission from Joe Gleason.


Thank you to Sean, Antoine, and Sheppy for their help!

Jordan Mechner's Prince of Persia

May 27th, 2010 11:27 AM
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Tomorrow sees the release of the film Prince of Persia, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Although the latest of many video-game-to-movie adaptations, it marks perhaps the first time an Apple II game has been translated to the silver screen — an honor not yet bestowed upon Choplifter, Lode Runner, or even Castle Wolfenstein.

Despite not all video games making for great movie material, I've been encouraged by the constant presence of the original game's creator, Jordan Mechner, throughout this project. When interviewed in the December 2008 issue of Game Informer magazine, he reflected:

With Prince of Persia, I've had the opportunity and the challenge of recreating the character and story anew, not just once but several times, since the first Apple II version 20 years ago… Each of these projects gave me the chance to work with a great creative team in a new medium—a triple opportunity that in my Apple II days I could have only dreamed of.

Around that time, Mr. Mechner published a wealth of historical data about the evolution of his original vision and game. For a game designer to extensively document his creative process, retain that information for decades, and then make it available to the masses is ever historian's dream. In addition to his handwritten notes from the era, he also uploaded several videos of his younger brother David that he rotoscoped to serve as the animation for the titular prince. Observe this source material:



Now compare it to an early draft of the art that would appear in the final game:



For the Apple II to have played host to such a early depiction of realistic motion is an honor. It warrants at least a cameo by Jordan or David Mechner in the film. What better an Easter Egg could there be?

(Hat tip to Juiced.GS Volume 13, Issue 4 [Mar 2008], pages 18–19)

The history of Usenet

May 24th, 2010 1:34 PM
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Last month, I attended ROFLCon II, a conference that originated two years ago at MIT as an occasion to study and discuss the nature and propagation of Internet memes, such as LOLcats. The event afforded me the opportunity to meet many of my heroes, from Matt Harding to Jason Scott (who I'd next see giving the keynote speech at KansasFest 2009). At the first ROFLCon, Scott presented a session, "Before the LOL", on the history of digital communications. The full presentation is available online, as is a four-minute video summary.

ROFLCon: Before the LOL

ROFLCon: Before the LOL

In 2010, Scott returned to ROFLCon and was part of a panel on the history and heroes of the Usenet. His panel consisted of celebrities both lauded and loathed, from Brad Templeton, former chairman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, to Laurence Canter, the Internet's first commercial spammer. Despite the variety of backgrounds and reputations, it was an enjoyable and revealing session for all present.

ROFLCon II: Heroes of Usenet

ROFLCon II: Heroes of Usenet

I covered ROFLCon II for Bostonist.com, but with 13 pages of notes from 11 different sessions, I was able to summarize only a fraction of what I learned that weekend. My writeup unfortunately did not touch upon the Usenet session, which brought back memories of using my Apple IIgs, a 2400-baud modem, and ProTERM to dial into my local ISP and access a variety of newsgroups. Although I was not active in comp.sys.apple2 (aka csa2), I made regular use of the other resources Usenet provided, and I lament its unpopularity today.

I'm talking about the sense of an intimate community that existed before everyone and their mother got onto the Internet. Usenet was also a valuable reference for anyone looking to discuss shared interests. Today, if you had a modern Mac support question, where would you go to ask it — discussions.info.apple.com maybe? For cooking advice, you might think allrecipes.com — but there are no message boards there, only recipes and comments on same. The Grateful Dead? I wouldn't even know where to start. For more esoteric topics, like the Apple II, you have several options, from Applefritter forums to the Low End Mac mailing list — but which one do you choose?

I'm not against diversification of resources or even multiple communities, but there is no standard today. By contrast, with Usenet, you could take a single identity to multiple newsgroups and find all the information you needed. The tools for reading these boards made it effortless to keep track of as many as you wanted — something that modern message boards still have difficulty reproducing. (As a community manager for Computerworld.com, I still long for the powers I had as a CLI sysop.) Scott's session had me yearning to return to the days of the text-based reader tin. (Unfortunately, I can't get the Mac OS X installation instructions to work.)

When I graduated from college and lost my shell access, I never explored how else I might access Usenet. It wasn't until a few years ago, when I discovered Google Groups offers Usenet messages via RSS, that I again started lurking in csa2. RSS is my preferred method of content delivery, and depending on your ISP, you too may need to look into such alternatives, as fewer of them are offering their own news servers to which to connect your NNTP client. Even Duke University, which originated Usenet in 1979, is shuttering its newsgroups.

Regardless of your access method, Usenet is still available, and csa2 has shed its former reputation as a flame pit and has become a cordial environment in which to ask questions, pose problems, and suggest solutions, from the esoteric to the mundane. As long as people keep using it, there will be those dedicated to keeping it alive. Usenet isn't going anywhere — heck, if we're lucky, it could even be the basis of Wikipedia's successor.

Lode Runner: One of the best games ever

May 20th, 2010 10:47 AM
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When Game Informer magazine published its 100th issue in August 2001, it presented the staff's top 100 games of all times. At number #52 was a piece of software every reader of this blog should recognize:

Appearing first on the Apple ][E, Lode Runner wasn't a platformer, didn't have a proper maze, and was levels above any simple shoot 'em up title. With only two abilities, digging or climbing, you had to make your way through over 100 boards — some with mind-boggling configurations. Featuring set traps and loads of strategy, yet imbued with a fast pace, Lode Runner was a true challenge in the early era of games

Nearly ten years later, Game Informer revisited the topic with their top 200 games in issue #200, published in November 2009. A decade of impressive entertainment software was sure to have an impact on the old standings, but Lode Runner held on, slipping to #173 yet remaining on the chart:

My next door neighbor when I was growing up was the only kid on the block with an Apple IIe, so I bugged this kid mercilessly all the time to go over to his house and play games on it. Poor ***. We spent hours and hours in the summer cooped up in his room playing Lode Runner, Karateka, The Bilestoad, Zork, and a bunch of other stuff. I have a feeling he doesn't look back at this time as fondly as I do.

Lode RunnerI grew up playing Lode Runner, one of the first computer games to be ported to the arcade instead of vice versa. Since then, I've bought versions of the game for the Nintendo and Xbox 360, and Juiced.GS reviewed the iPhone version. The added features of these updates — online play, leaderboards, portability, and more — keep the franchise fresh and fun, but the series progenitor had a certain novelty that hasn't been beat: was it an action game? A puzzler? What were the possibilities of the unprecedented level editor it came bundled with? And once I've beaten the game, can I do it again — with the accelerator card enabled?

Lode Runner is a fantastic concept worth exploring on any platform, but especially the Apple II. To enjoy the game vicariously, check out podcast 1 MHz's review of Lode Runner, and visit Tozai Games' Web site for the full history of Doug E. Smith's franchise.

Demoparty at the @party

May 17th, 2010 12:47 PM
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So there's a party coming to town — a demoparty. These gatherings of hackers and crackers date back more than three decades, when they were closely tied to the pirate community. Today, demoparties seem more artistically oriented as opportunities for programmers to show off self-running demonstrations of the graphical and audio capabilities of a computer, often a retrocomputer. Though entries must be registered ahead of time, their creators need not be present, creating a global competition with personalized starting points and a common deadline.

I've never attended a demoparty but must've become aware of them as a result of following digital archivist and demoparty coordinator Jason Scott on Twitter. Several Apple II users I spoke with were unfamiliar with demoparties, but they should be familiar with its content, as the IIGS has hosted many fantastic demos of its own — most notably those of the Free Tools Association, or FTA. Modulae, Bulla, DELTA, and others showed off that which "can't be done on an Apple II".

Given this opportunity to experience an aspect of history I've previously missed, I've registered for @party. The event will be held June 18–20 in Harvard, Mass., at a retreat center run by a friend of mine (who to this day maintains the facility's Web site with Claris Home Page v1.0. Talk about retro! The last version of this WYSIWYG HTML editor, v3.0, was released in 1998). The event's coordinator, Valerie Grimm, confirmed that there will be an appropriate opportunity for me to hand out Juiced.GS sample issues and KansasFest flyers to @party attendees. That's hardly the only reason I'm going — I'll take community over commerciality anyday — but it's good to know that, even if I don't benefit from my own attendance, someone else will.

There are no guarantees there will be any Apple II computers present, but if there are, it could make for a short article for Juiced.GS. In lieu of that, my interest in retrogaming (as documented by my video game blog) should keep me entertained. As an example, the country's longest-running demoparty, Blockparty, was held last month and produced its first-ever Colecovision demo, "Waterline":

See you at the party!

Jed's Beautiful iPad

May 13th, 2010 1:02 PM
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Panic is one of my favorite software developers. Besides making Transmit, an excellent FTP client for Mac OS X, they also have a great attitude. One of its founders ran the amusing Web comic Spamusement! He and his cohorts recently welcomed a new employee to Panic with a vegan cooking competition. And last year, they had a professional artist develop box art for their products as if they were Atari 2600 games — which led Jason Scott to hire that same artist to create the cover art for his upcoming documentary, Get Lamp.

Yesterday, Panic graciously accommodated a fan's request. Stewart Smith wrote to Panic with a link to an Apple II music video he had made in 2005, set to the song "Jed's Other Poem (Beautiful Ground" from the album The Sophtware Slump by Grandaddy:

Mr. Smith's request was simple: could the developers at Panic run this program on the Apple IIe they had in their office? Sure, they responded … but the source code was in the format of an AIF sound recording, as would be used by an Apple II's cassette tape storage device. Without a cassette tape deck, how would Panic load this file back onto an Apple II? Any modern device with an audio output jack could play the file into the Apple II's audio input — so Panic decided to use their iPad.

There's nothing technically impressive about this hardware collaboration, but it's still extremely awesome to witness. Kudos to Panic for acknowledging their roots and pleasing the fans by inventing the "JediPad".

(Hat tip to Jason Scott)