Archive for December, 2013

Gaming across the platforms

December 30th, 2013 11:35 AM
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I spent much of December overwhelmed by too many freelance commitments. Activities that are supposed to be fun, like writing articles and playing video games, adopt a different tone when a deadline is applied. But I kept my sanity in large part to the opportunities these pursuits gave me to interact with my fellow Apple II users outside our usual contexts of Juiced.GS, Open Apple, and KansasFest.

Specifically: we've been playing video games. Lots of them.

My YouTube channel, where I unboxed the Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One, gained the attention of prolific and accomplished media producer Lon Seidman, former guest of Open Apple. Although I lack the polish and equipment of his A/V setup, he invited me onto his show for a livestream first look at the Xbox One.

It was fun to see and work with Lon in real-time — a first! Who knows what other opportunities he and I may have to collaborate? Could an Apple II show be far off?

That same weekend, I was invited to be a guest on the weekly Internet radio show Pixel Pizza, hosted by Jared Ettinger, a student at Emerson College, where I'm on the adjunct faculty. I was concerned that I'd be outed for my lack of hardcore gaming experience, but I was able to turn the conversation to more technical details about the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 that I could expound upon. My confidence was further bolstered to know Steve Weyhrich of the Apple II History site was listening live. During sign-off, I thanked him on-air with a plug for his book, Sophistication & Simplicity.

Interviews and talk shows are all well and good — but video games are meant to be played, not discussed. So this past Friday evening, I switched on my Xbox 360, connected to Xbox Live, and met Dain Neater and Andy Molloy for some online gaming. Our weapons in this duel were high-performance speed demons, with us racing down the California coast trying to escape the police (or, sometimes, each other) as we duked it out in Need for Speed Hot Pursuit.

So thanks, Microsoft, for giving us Apple II users so many gaming platforms to discuss and play on. Any medium that serves to connect us retrocomputing enthusiasts is okay by me!

Holiday demos from the Apple II

December 23rd, 2013 5:34 PM
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It's Christmas week and, since the recent solstice, officially winter — all signs point to it being the season to break out your favorite holiday software. For retrocomputers, that often means demos, self-running demonstrations of a system's audio and visual capabilities.

Blake Patterson of the Byte Cellar has amassed an impressive collection of YouTube videos of demos for all manner of older platforms, from from Commodore 64 to Atari ST to even the Sega Saturn. However, the compilation features only one representative from the Apple II, that being MUSE's Santa demo, uploaded to YouTube just this month by Paul Hagstrom:

I figured I'd boost the number of Apple II holiday videos on YouTube and uploaded a capture of the Free Tools Association's XMAS Demo from 1990:

You can also play it right in your Web browser on their site.

But by far one of the most fun and modern retrocomputing music videos I've seen comes from the Glasgow School of Art in this live-action music video:

True, it features not a single Apple II — but oh what fun it is to see so many classic computers celebrating the season!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

(Hat tip to Andrew Roughan)

A matter of style at Computerworld

December 16th, 2013 12:36 PM
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Filed under Mainstream coverage, Musings;
2 comments.

The longest I've ever stayed at one job was six years at Computerworld, during which time I saw the publication's transition from a magazine with a Web site to a Web site with a magazine. Through it all, we had copyeditors to ensure the continued quality of all our content, checking articles for clarity and consistency issues that may've escaped the news editors who worked directly with reporters on assignments and story structure.

As with most publications, Computerworld maintained a style guide — a shared document that all copyeditors referenced to verify whether the magazine presented quotations are in the past tense or present, if it was "Web site" or "website", and other common questions. My own first need to consult this guide came in March 2008 when contributing to the anthology, "Tales from the crypt: Our first computers". I was unsure if I should write my model of Apple as IIGS, IIgs, or something else.

This is what the style guide had to say on the matter:

Computerworld style guide

Ancient microcomputers from Apple?!
Click to enlarge.

As Computerworld's resident Apple II fanboy expert, I long wondered if this style guide entry was not written with me in mind as a sort of gentle ribbing. Although most of my co-workers had been in the industry long enough to remember and appreciate the elegance of the Apple II — heck, one of my colleagues was none other than the former editor-in-chief of inCider/A+, Dan Muse — it is nonetheless difficult to explain why one would carry that torch into the 21st century. Easier to poke fun at it, right?

It was only when researching this blog post that I confirmed this particular entry in the style guide well predates my tenure at Computerworld. It figures that a publication that had been around since 1967 would've addressed this issue long before my arrival. I should've checked my ego at the door!

Computerworld was a great source for Apple II news during my time there, and they continue to entertain the topic with coverage such as video profiles of KansasFest 2013 attendees. Given this support, readers should be glad to know the Apple II has earned a place at Computerworld, both behind the scenes and on the front page.

(Screenshot used with permission.)

Apple II, King of the Desert Bus

December 9th, 2013 8:50 AM
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LoadingReadyRun, a comedy troupe named after the Commodore 64 but which has avowed Apple II users among its ranks, is in this business for more than just giggles. They're also here to make a difference with the Desert Bus for Hope, an annual video game marathon to raise money for Child's Play, a non-profit that provides toys to children's hospitals around the globe.

The seventh annual Desert Bus kicked off on November 16 and ran for more than six days, all of which was streamed live over the Internet. The event featured many special guests, among them Penn and Teller, Paul and Storm, and Bill Corbett — but none as special as the Apple II.

Audience participation is a key factor of Desert Bus, and one challenge invited viewers to create a six-second looping Vine video that somehow commemorated Desert Bus. Apple II community member Lady Sephiroth submitted this entry:

Lady Sephiroth tells me that the featured Apple IIe was in fact connected to the Internet at the time of the video. So this was no academic exercise: she truly was navigating to DesertBus.org, using the IIe as a terminal to access the event's IRC channel.

Desert Bus to IIe

Connecting to the Desert Bus IRC channel via an Apple IIe. Photo by Lady Sephiroth.

An Apple II being featured in a live event is neat, but the real win? Desert Bus for Hope raised $521,450 — more than half a million dollars — for a lifetime total of $1,790,133.57.

For the children.

UPDATE (2-Jan-13): The total raised by Child's Play Charity in 2013 is $7.6 million.

Sophistication & Simplicity shipping

December 2nd, 2013 10:15 AM
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Filed under History;
4 comments.

Blatant plug alert!

I'm writing today to promote Sophistication & Simplicity: The Life & Times of the Apple II Computer, by Dr. Steven Weyhrich, long-time Apple II user. In just the past three years, Steve has become a member of the KansasFest committee, written for Juiced.GS, and been guest #4 on the Open Apple podcast. But much longer ago than that, he began chronicling the story of the Apple II, which today is available on his website, Apple II History. That site has served as the source for his book, a hardcover that began shipping yesterday.

Sophistication & SimplicityTurning a website into a book can be an easy feat: aggregate some blog posts into a PDF and ship it off to the Kindle store. Or download some Wikipedia entries and reformat them for sale under Creative Commons. But Steve has taken no such shortcuts with his opus. He has extensively researched and re-written significant portions of his history as well as created new chapters. I've been aware of this process not only as he pinged me for my professional perspective on various editing matters, but also through interviewing Steve for Juiced.GS:

I have a new chapter that is all about KansasFest; that is exclusive to the print book. There are some other places where I've added material that I did not also mirror to the Web site, but I did not keep close track of it. After a while, I stopped changing the Web site and the book material at the same time, because it became tedious to do both. All of my most recent changes have been book-specific.

The final stretch was the longest: some online stores still reference the book's original launch date of April 1, 2013!

Steve also revealed that this book has been a long time in coming:

I actually made an effort to make this a book some years ago and had some interest from Quality Computers in publishing it back in the 1990s. However, Quality had lots of things it was trying to do at the time and decided that publishing a book was not something it wanted to add to the list.

Now the book is finally a real thing — but not thanks to the democratization of self-publishing. Unlike many recent and excellent books about the Apple II, Sophistication & Simplicity is not self-published, instead having been picked up by Variant Press. You can buy the book today at Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble (ISBN 9780986832277).

Congratulations, Steve! Thank you for taking the time to preserve the history of our favorite computer in so permanent a medium. I look forward to getting ahold of my copy and getting you to sign it at KansasFest 2014. In the meantime, the hard part is behind you, so step away from the computer and take a breather — you've earned it.