Archive for August, 2010

Wozniak's memories of memory

August 30th, 2010 9:30 AM
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Steve Wozniak, who this month turned 60, recently spoke at the Flash Media Summit in Santa Clara, California, in his role as chief scientist of solid-state drive company Fusion-io. In his closing keynote speech, entitled "Driving Innovation with Solid-State Technologies", Wozniak reflected that hardware memory has played a pivotal role in all his designs, from the earliest to the latest. The IDG News Service reports:

"The biggest decision I made in most of the projects of my life was what memory to use that's the exact right, smallest, simplest, and more importantly, the cheapest there is," Wozniak told the audience in a packed auditorium.

Even the first major commercial product he designed with co-founder Steve Jobs, the Apple II, was defined largely by memory. Facing the problem of how to refresh the characters on the screen fast enough to keep up with a microprocessor that could do a million operations per second, he came up with the idea of devoting some of the computer's dynamic memory to the display, he said.

You know what my favorite part of that passage is? Not the technical details, or the acknowledgement of the Apple II, or even the genius of Woz. It's the "packed auditorium". Twenty-five years after he left the company he founded, Steve Wozniak is still a superstar. It's not just his appearance on Dancing with the Stars that has put him in the spotlight. Engineers, programmers, designers, and geeks across the globe recognize the brilliance and courage that has continuously allowed Woz to work magic.

Although he was no longer with Apple Computer Inc. by the time the "Think Different" campaign was unveiled, Woz is nonetheless the embodiment of that advertisement.

"When you're in school, you're always taught that the right answer is the same answer everyone else has," Wozniak said. It's a lesson he's learned several times in years of engineering. "Clear out your mind of the way the world is today," he said.

KansasFest 2011 dates announced

August 26th, 2010 7:48 AM
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A month later, I'm still experiencing the after-effects of KansasFest. I've been inspired with too many Apple II ideas than my free time can accommodate — keynote speakers, Juiced.GS articles, blog posts, and more.

The opportunity to implement at least some of those ideas became a bit more concrete today with the announcement of the dates of KansasFest 2011. Hordes of Apple II veterans and newcomers will descend upon Rockhurst University from July 19 to July 24 for six days and five nights of numerous technical sessions, programming and athletic competitions with fantastic prizes, and much after-hours camaraderie.

Martin Haye

This small monitor packed a huge wallop:
its user produced the winning HackFest entry.

As an attendee, I can think of a few things I'm going to do differently at my fourteenth KansasFest. I presented five sessions in 2010, which I think accounted for about 20% of the formal schedule. I don't regret a single one of them, as each was plenty of fun and well-received — but all that preparation may've kept me from hanging out with the other KFesters, who are the occasion's true foundation. Maybe the wealth of knowledge possessed by the other attendees will take more of the stage in 2011.

I'm also going to invest in a wireless external microphone, that the audio on my video recordings of the sessions might not suck so hard. If I can accomplish that, I'll be able to do some neat stuff that I've been limited in my ability to accomplish with the 2010 videos.

As a committee member, there are also a few changes I'd like to see made to the conference itself. KansasFest 2010 marked the first time since 2006 that the entire KansasFest committee was present at the event, which allowed us to gather behind closed doors and chat for an hour about past and future processes. In that discussion, at least one change for KansasFest 2011 was accepted that had me grinning ear-to-ear. (It's a logistical issue that will affect but probably not excite the average attendee like it does me.) Changes we made from 2009 to 2010, such as having me on-site days early to prepare welcome packets and t-shirts, went very well and should be easy to repeat.

Before we can start planning KansasFest 2011 in earnest, we need to solicit some feedback from past attendees. If you're not already on the mailing list, be sure to sign up to be kept abreast of news and invitations.

In the meantime, take Mike Maginnis's advice: saving just a dollar a day will cover your KansasFest registration fee. It's easily one of the most affordable vacations you can take — you can't afford not to come.

Doughnuts

KansasFest: Come for the Apple II — stay for the donuts.

Revisiting Nibble

August 23rd, 2010 1:09 PM
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Filed under History;
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At KansasFest 2010, Stavros was kind enough to make several issues of Nibble magazine available to any attendees who would give them a good home. Despite Nibble's founding editor having been the KansasFest 2007 keynote speaker, I'd never actually read the magazine myself. I'd been an Apple II user since the early Eighties, but did not join the community in earnest until 1992. With Nibble having published 1981–1995, my opportunities to enjoy the platform's heyday of offline support were few.

Nibble magazine I picked up the twenty-year-old Vol. 11, No. 6 (June 1990) and found the 96-page, full-color issue an absolute delight to read. It was like being transported back in time to when enjoying the Apple II put you in the majority, not the minority. In 1990 in particular, the possibilities seemed limitless, despite the writing being on the wall, as evidenced by Mike Harvey's editorial in which he pounds the pulpit for Apple Computer Inc. to pay more attention to the platform that made them famous. It was a melancholy experience to read that article, knowing how that story would end.

This issue included a 168-line Applesoft BASIC program called Whodunit, a murder-mystery game by Constance Fairbanks. Program listings for users to input were something I remembered well from academic textbooks and even Mad Magazine. I wonder how many budding programmers learned their craft by familiaring themselves with these commands en route to seeing the final product — or did they just enter the lines by rote, with no comprehension of their function, as my class was taught to do in school? Fortunately, Nibble appears to have encouraged the former, as the listing is prefaced by a section subtitled "How the program works", which breaks down the program's routines.

Due to its breadth, depth, and budget, a single issue of Nibble probably contains more content than I could ever hope to fit into a full year of Juiced.GS. Although humbled, I am also inspired by the giants upon whose shoulders today's Apple II print publication stands. I will likely revisit this issue and this publication for more ideas of articles and blog posts.

Oh, and the issue's original owner? According to its mailing label, that would be one Jim Maricondo. The all-star connections never end at KansasFest.

Beyond GET LAMP

August 19th, 2010 12:55 PM
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If there was ever a year to attend KansasFest, 2010 was it. Besides a fantastic keynote by former Beagle Bros president Mark Simonsen and the triumphant return of Bite the Bag, every attendee received a free copy of Jason Scott's two-DVD text adventure documentary, GET LAMP. How cool is that?

Scott's work has made interactive fiction into a hot topic, with plenty of buzz around the net. Episode #8 of the video podcast Gameshelf (iTunes) looks briefly at modern incarnations of the genre, including where to play it online for free without needing an emulator or interpreter, with recommendations of specific beginner games, such as Dreamhold. In the Gameshelf episode, you can see an Apple II at 1:33, just after watching an awkward gameplay session of Action Castle, the live-action text adventure that was played at KansasFest 2010's Friday night banquet.

A melding of Scott's two interests, text adventures and dial-up BBSs, can be found in the game Digital: A Love Story, available for free on Mac, Windows, and Linux. The game tells a narrative in the form of a dial-up bulletin board, which was largely a lost medium in the life of the game's young creator, Christine Love. Scott interviewed her this summer about her work researching and creating the game.

There's more that can be said about text adventures than can fit in any one blog post or even one documentary, so expect this topic to be revisited time and again here and elsewhere. And if you still haven't seen GET LAMP, it may be coming to a city near you.

(Hat tip to Taking Inventory)

Apple tablets smackdown

August 16th, 2010 10:53 AM
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Filed under Hacks & mods, History, Mainstream coverage;
3 comments.

Everyone has many roles, and I have two that I am constantly struggling to balance: marketing director for KansasFest, and associate online editor of Computerworld.com. I enjoy bringing retrocomputing coverage to the normally enterprise IT-focused Computerworld, but my involvement in the Apple II community creates a potential conflict of interest that prohibits me from providing a reporter's perspective on the annual Apple II convention. Fortunately, Computerworld's editors have worked with me to find ways to cover the event that don't allow much opportunity for bias. In 2007, I wrote a pair of blog posts; in 2008, several photos from KansasFest appeared on Computerworld.com while the event was in full-swing; and in 2009, over 250 pictures of Vince Briel's four-hour Replica I workshop were distilled into a photo gallery.

The Computerworld features team and I need to be creative to find ways to showcase KansasFest without conflict and without repeating past formulae. Fortunately, when the KansasFest committee announced that the Apple iPad would be at KFest 2010, the features team was enthusiastically receptive to my pitch: comparing and contrasting this revolutionary device to Apple's previous tablet device, the Apple Graphics Tablet. Though entirely different in function and purpose, the idea of putting these two "tablets" side-by-side was a fun and intriguing one. They gave me the go-ahead.

Apple Graphics Tablet and Apple iPad

An unlikely pairing approved by Computerworld.

The shoot took place at KansasFest late on Saturday, after we'd returned to Rockhurst University from a late-night showing of Inception. Loren Damewood provided the iPad, with Tony Diaz's graphics tablet nearby. Loren and I snapped several photos of the two that I then provided to features editor Val Potter. By the time I got home from KansasFest, her fresh eyes had revealed what my Inception-weary ones had failed to notice: I'd overlooked shooting several key features and angles. We had enough pictures for a photo gallery, but it would be a bit weak. Unfortunately, reuniting the two pieces of hardware for additional photos seemed impossible.

It took me awhile to realize the solution to this dilemma. Tony was making a week-long drive home from KansasFest with Mark Frischknecht, who had his own iPad. Maybe at one of their nightly hotel stops, they could do their own comparison? The pair were happy to oblige, and combined with some photos Tony had taken in March for an aborted Juiced.GS feature, and a few more pictures by Computerworld news editor and Mac aficionado Ken Mingis, we had everything we needed.

As with last year's Apple-1 image gallery, the final story was published on what is for enterprise IT news the slowest day of the week (Friday) of the slowest month of the year (August). As a result, "Face-off: 1979 Apple Graphics Tablet vs. 2010 Apple iPad" has been getting some generous traffic, further aided by Slashdot.

But both Computerworld and /. readers include a number of detractors among their commenters: "They really thought it was necessary to compare two technologies that were more than 30 years apart?" or "where can u see the fun in this article? compare a dolphin with a dinosaur next time. they both start with d." Fortunately, those who "get it" are more eloquent: "This is a quick 'then and now' look at how some things have changed and how others have remained similar, if not the same, in Apple's design philosophy, user interface design, packaging, and marketing. Even without those aspects, the article still has nostalgic interest and value to those of us involved in computing since the 70s."

The image gallery isn't your typical post-KansasFest wrap-up — there are plenty of traditional sources for that — but it accomplished my dual mission of providing Computerworld with great, original content, and putting the Apple II before a larger audience than is normally possible. I'm open to any ideas of how I might continue to do so, whether it be for KansasFest 2011 or at any other time of year!

Classic gaming inspirations, part deux

August 12th, 2010 9:38 AM
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Filed under Game trail, Software showcase;
4 comments.

Last month I blogged about classic gaming inspirations, a session I presented at KansasFest 2009. It's a pretty simple setup: I present to the audience a self-running YouTube video of an Apple II game, after which they watch me play a few minutes of a Mac game that's similar, with my narration consisting of comparisons and contrasts. Each year, I prepare to draw far more parallels than the time allows, which is great, because it gives me fodder to revisit the topic next year.

This year gave me the opportunity to address many of the games I'd planned for 2009 as well as add several new ones that have been released since then. I still focused on Macintosh gaming, but this year also listed at least one PC-exclusive game and presented no online Flash equivalents. Click the checkmark to visit the Web site that offers that game for download.

Apple IIEquivalentMacPCiOS
Lemonade StandLemonade Stand
ArkanoidPhoenix Ball
ArkanoidRicochet Infinity
AsteroidsMaelstrom
AsteroidsArgonaut 2149
RampartCastle Combat
Ultima IIIUltima III
Ultima IVxu4
Ultima VUltima V: Lazarus
AkalabethAkalabethApp
AdventureAdventure
Bubble BobbleBub & Bob
Dark CastleReturn to Dark Castle
King's QuestThe Silver Lining

As before, I ran the session without Internet connectivity or emulation; all Apple II games were represented using previously downloaded YouTube .FLV video files. Those files are compiled into this playlist:

I also captured a video of the session itself. It's available on Vimeo, but the sound isn't great — especially when the audience's enthusiasm for my topic requires me to ask if I can have my session back!


I still have more games to present next year, if anyone is interested. If you enjoy these sessions or have titles you'd like to see demonstrated, please comment here!