Archive for April, 2011

Remembering Ryan

April 28th, 2011 10:04 AM
Filed under Musings;
1 comment.

It’s Thursday, and I need to write an Apple II Bits blog post. Never have I so wanted to avoid doing so.

I wish I could write about Ultima, or Steve Wozniak, or KansasFest, or interactive fiction, like I always do. I wish those were the only topics that were on my mind. But the only thing I’m thinking about is this strange world I now find myself in: one without Ryan Suenaga.

When Eric Shepherd emailed the KansasFest list on Monday morning to tell us that Ryan had passed away, too many disbelieving, conflicting, and illogical thoughts occurred to me. Surely he didn’t mean the Ryan Suenaga? Or maybe there was a word missing from the email. Ryan’s aunt had been ill; maybe Sheppy meant that Ryan’s AUNT had died. Or had Ryan, like Joe Kohn before him, been sick without letting anyone know? Or was this a sick joke? The hiker hadn’t been named in the original news story, after all. Was there any chance we were mistaken?

As time went on and more facts emerged, reality started to settle in. Friend and Apple II colleague Ryan Suenaga was gone. He had turned just 44 this January — an occasion I’d neglected to observe.

Ryan’s passing was a tragic, sudden, and freak accident that leaves his friends and family with little explanation. What happened on the Olomana Trail that would cause an experienced hiker like Ryan to fall to his death? Did he lose his footing? Was he so busy tweeting from the trail that he didn’t see where he was going? Did he somehow suspect this would happen? I even wondered, was the fall a consequence, a complication, from some other health issue, such as a diabetes-induced heart attack? (No.)

Ryan Suenaga plays DDRThis shock was made easier by the company of Apple II friends, courtesy IRC, the same support network I turned to the morning of 9/11. Before long, one of those friends, Sean Fahey, asked me to share the news on I was reluctant to do so, and I asked Sean to give me time to compose myself before I could compose anything else. In time, I wrote tributes for Juiced.GS,, and, in order. That’s three tributes too many — and there are more to come in the next issue of Juiced.GS, the next episode of Open Apple, and at KansasFest 2011.

These tributes are primarily to aid the grieving. How can we move beyond that into something constructive, so that Ryan can better the world in death as he did in life? Ryan himself suggested one idea; former KansasFest keynote speaker Jason Scott added another.

Our community is going to continue working through our feelings and taking actions as we’re able. We’ll do our best, just as Ryan always did. And if we ever falter, we’ll know that somewhere, he’ll be watching and telling us, “You suck.”

Aloha and mahalo, Ryan.

Superior artistry on the Commodore 64

April 25th, 2011 10:56 AM
Filed under Musings;

My recent blog post about Jeri Ellsworth produced an unexpected response on Facebook: it stoked the feud between Apple II and Commodore 64 users. “I didn’t know Jeri was also interested in Apple II computers as well. I thought she was just a Commodore girl,” wrote one of her friends. “I absolutely hated Apple systems when I was a kid. I thought they were so inferior to Commodore and overpriced. Plus they were ugly.” Although this particular fan matured to appreciate both platforms, it underscores the rivalry and intense passion that platforms of the Eighties (and Apple products today) inspire.

I’ve never used a C64 so don’t understand any antagonism that may have once existed or still does. But I have noticed what appears to be a difference in motivations among modern retrocomputing enthusiasts: Apple II users are more technically inclined, making their machines perform technological feats such as putting it on the Internet; whereas the output of C64 users is more artistically inclined. At least, that’s the conclusion I’ve come to after observing something as amazing as the C64’s own music video, courtesy Press Play on Tape:

There’s also a "Happy Computer" mashup that’s a bit stranger but still creative. More impressive is this gallery of pixel art, depicting amazing works of art recently drawn on a Commodore 64.

Even their sense of humor is remarkable, as demonstrated by this spoof of how Apple would market the C64:

I don’t mean to discount the Apple II’s impressive demo scene, but that is largely the work of decades past, with nothing recent to compete against the C64. I don’t know that I prefer C64 users’ approach to the more practical applications to which Apple II users dedicate themselves; each is its own kinds of art. But is there something about the Commodore 64 and its users that better lends themselves to these amazing visual and musical accomplishments? Will the Apple II ever have its own music video?

Taking the Apple II online with Uthernet

April 21st, 2011 10:51 AM
Filed under Hacks & mods;

Ever since I set up my Apple II in my cubicle, I’ve wanted to put the classic computer on the workplace network. I’ve never had an Apple II with broadband Internet access, and it seemed the best way to demonstrate the machine’s usefulness in a modern work environment.

Doing so would require some additional hardware, which Sean Fahey of generously sold to me at KansasFest 2010: an Uthernet card, a somewhat hard-to-find Ethernet expansion card for the Apple II. I installed it as soon as I returned home from that event but encountered some challenges with configuring the card, the software, and more. The fault lied not in the stars: it had been too long since I’d added new hardware to my Apple II, and I’d forgotten some basic steps. It occurred to me later what else to try, but I never got around to making a second attempt.

I was recently motivated to do so after talking shop with Peter Neubauer during the Open Apple podcast. He informed me that the Uthernet significantly improved his floppy transfer rate using ADTPro. I’ve been working on a floppy preservation project for months and decided that some up-front investment in getting my Uthernet working would pay off in the long run.

Courtesy ADTPro developer David Schmidt’s excellent configuration walkthrough, I was able to get my machine online in no time flat. My first attempt at connecting my Apple II and MacBook directly failed, but putting it on the network was almost effortless. The speed improvement of transferring disk images over Ethernet compared to serial isn’t as jaw-dropping as I’d hoped, but Peter was right that it is significant and thus well worth my time to have set up — and also gave me the experience necessary to get Marinetti, the TCP/IP stack for the IIGS, working.

But putting an Apple II on the Internet isn’t just about being efficient; it’s also about being cool. The Uthernet has made available a range of applications, allowing me to do things with the Apple II that during its heyday I’d never have dreamed possible. What should I do with this machine next? As far as Internet-enabled, non-commercial programs go, I can think of four, off the top of my head:

  • • SAM2 email client
  • • SAFE2 FTP client
  • • SNAP news reader
  • • Samurai IRC client

The first three are, unsurprisingly, the brain children of Spectrum developer and telecommunications genius Ewen Wannop, while the last is courtesy Ninjaforce. Additional TCP/IP utilities are also available from Ryan Suenaga, though these NDAs seem primarily designed to complement an existing telecom suite.

How do you recommend an Apple II best be put to use at Computerworld?

Jeri Ellsworth, TWiT

April 18th, 2011 11:29 AM
Filed under Mainstream coverage;

KansasFest is by its nature attended by eclectic and fascinating people, without exception. But one of the most memorable people I’ve met in my years at the annual Apple II convention has been Jeri Ellsworth.

Jeri made her Apple II debut at KansasFest 2003, sufficiently impressing the then-editor of Juiced.GS enough with her homebrew hardware to earn her a cover story a few months later. She attended KFest again in 2004, when she and I were assigned to be roommates, inspiring her to decorate our door with the infamous Furbfish. (It was a pittance compared to the strangeness she brought into my home a week earlier, when we attended VCF East 2.0 with Ryan Suenaga, Andy Molloy, and Kelvin Sherlock.) At the last minute, she made her final KansasFest appearance in 2006, provoking a karaoke battle.

Roller Jeri at KansasFest 2006.Jeri’s interests have always been diverse, from computer shops to roller derby and race cars. She had her own Web series, The Fat Man and Circuit Girl, for more than a year; nowadays, her passion is pinball. Running in so many circles has earned her plenty of attention; she is, aside from Bill Martens, the only currently active Apple II user I know to have her own Wikipedia page.

Most recently, Jeri appeared on an hour-long episode of Triangulation, a subsidiary of Leo Laporte’s This Week in Tech (TWiT) podcast. The show was recorded on Jan 20, published on Feb 2, and mentioned on the KansasFest list by Dean Nichols on Apr 1. Notable segments include how her youth shaped her aspirations and passions, and the C64 DTV computer-in-a-joystick.

Unfortunately, she doesn’t get in a word about her Apple II history — in fact, there’s nary a single reference to the computer in the entire episode. I’m hoping this is not indicative of her future involvement in the community. I have done my best to lure her back to KanasFest, including by promising a private tour of the Electric Theatre retro arcade, scheduled to open in nearby Independence, Missouri, later this year.

KansasFest is filled with colorful people, and I hope Jeri will again bring her distinctive hue to the event.

The King’s Quest continues

April 14th, 2011 2:50 PM
Filed under Game trail, Software showcase;
1 comment.

As mentioned on this week’s episode of Open Apple, remakes of Sierra’s first three King’s Quest point-and-click adventures are now available as free downloads from developer AGD Interactive. The only game in that series I’d previously encountered was the fifth, courtesy its Nintendo adaptation. I wouldn’t think earlier incarnations of such a crude game would age well, but I’ve briefly played AGD’s version of King’s Quest III, released just this year, and found it a superb and enjoyable title that is competitive with today’s games.

If you’ve never played King’s Quest and are wondering what all the hubbub is, Clint puts the original game in context, recollecting how groundbreaking the interface was compared to predecessors such as Mystery House:

To our modern gaming world, King’s Quest is hopelessly antiquated in both look and play, but it still stands as one of our most important relics of computer gaming. And back in the day, I was as mesmerized as anyone by the amazing magic it represented. King’s Quest … was nothing less than revolutionary, and I don’t think it’s too much to say every graphical adventure game that followed owes it (and, I guess, IBM’s money) at least a nod of respect.

As Clint alludes to, King’s Quest did not emerge in a vacuum, nor did it prove to be an anomaly. The entire lifespan of the genre that Sierra redefined is reviewed in Ars Technica’s in-depth look at the 25-year rise and fall of a beloved genre. The piece encompasses all variety of graphic adventures, from the Macintosh classic Shadowgate to LucasArts’ many SCUMM titles to Telltale Games’ recent episodic ventures, such as Sam & Max.

It’s a lengthy piece of journalism — nearly 7,000 words. In about as much time as it’ll take you to read, you could play through the entire King’s Quest game, as demonstrated in this speed run:

If you ask me, such experiences are meant to be savored, indicative as they are of a more thoughtful era in computer gaming. My thanks to AGD Interactive for bringing the past into the present, and for Sarien for suggesting that touch interfaces such as the iPad offers are ripe for a resurgence in the genre’s popularity.

(Hat tip to Blake Patterson)

UPDATE: Want to see the full King’s Quest played in real-time? Spend 98 minutes watching this video!

A hundred bits of Apple II

April 11th, 2011 11:29 AM
Filed under Musings;
1 comment.

This month marks the first anniversary of the launching of Apple II Bits. It went live with little fanfare and hardly any self-promotional message board posts or emails to friends. Although I hoped it would be of interest to the Apple II community, I primarily wanted to use this space to explore different topics about the Apple II, in formats and with a regularity that would not be possible in my other retrocomputing writing outlet, Juiced.GS.

To that end, I consider this experiment a success, and one worth continuing.

I’ve had a variety of positive experiences by engaging with this blog. The post “The return of interactive fiction” directly contributed to the cover story of the March issue of Juiced.GS. An unpublished post, written last September, was folded into another article in that same issue, while another post queued for September was instead printed almost verbatim in that month’s issue. I guest-blogged for Apple II History and had some neat complementary posts with 6502 Lane. Three posts have each attracted seven comments — a small number, perhaps, but they represent conversations among friends within and without the Apple II community, as well as strangers whose insights I’d never have otherwise encountered.

The content has been as diverse as the results. Sometimes I report news that’s of interest to me, especially gaming-related; in those cases, unlike the objective stance that befits a more news-oriented outlet like or Juiced.GS, I’m able to add my personal take. Other times, the entire blog post is more egocentric, offering reflections and reminiscences. And perhaps unnervingly frequently, the site serves to stalk Woz, the man who brought us together in the first place. Other than being about the Apple II, there’s been little consistency to the topic or approach of my writing, which I hope has not been too frustrating for readers.

Rather than wait for Apple II Bits’ actual first birthday, I thought I would use this, the site’s 100th blog post, to share these musings. To quantify things a bit better, and because I’m a data junkie, here are some objective measurements:

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