Archive for March, 2016

40 years in 40 seconds

March 28th, 2016 9:16 AM
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Apple is the most profitable company in the world, based on its market cap of $672 billion. (That's more than half a trillion, folks.) The iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches, and Macs all started in the apocryphal garage, where Steve Wozniak invented and Steve Jobs designed the Apple II.

Given all the success that's sprung from those early innovations, we diehard enthusiasts sometimes feel that modern-day Apple Inc. doesn't give its roots the recognition it deserves, as evidenced by the Apple II being erased from press releases. But our favorite computer finally did get a nod in this commercial celebrating Apple's 40th birthday on April 1, 2016:

On Facebook, commenters were underwhelmed, with "Not enough Apple II" being a recurring theme. It's true that Apple's classic machines constitute only a few of the video's opening seconds, but I'm not sure we could expect more than that: even more than the computers themselves, programs and peripherals for the Apple II lack the modern recognition of more recent innovations, such as iWork, AirPort, or Mighty Mouse.

Sometimes it's nice just to be mentioned.

(Hat tip to Shona Ghosh)

Steve Wozniak's Formative AMA

March 21st, 2016 11:39 AM
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Steve Wozniak may be a rambling storyteller, but he still has stories to tell. All he needs is structure and editing — which social news site reddit recently provided when Woz participated in their original video series:

FORMATIVE aims to explore one defining moment in a person’s life. We’ll sit down with eight creators utilizing technology: travel back in time to when that moment occurred, hear about the circumstances surrounding it in their own words, then return to present day and see how it has influenced their lives.

As part of a series of origin stories, Formative focuses on Woz's early partnership with Steve Jobs, debunking the myth that Apple was founded in a garage but also relating the passion and enthusiasm he had for digital computing. I never knew that Woz didn't see his future in this field — not due to lack of interest or confidence, but because the field was so new, he didn't know it could be anything more than a hobby. It was inspiring to know that one of our heroes found his passion before it became his career.

Complementing the release of the video, Woz hosted an Ask Me Anything (AMA), which uses the reddit message board as a live chat wherein anyone can submit questions for the host. Over the course of a few hours, Woz answered nearly two dozen questions, ranging from the FBI-Apple encryption dispute to "Outback vs In-n-out?" Two of my favorites:

Q: Even though you left in 1985, what was your relationship with the company like after, and how has that changed compared to now? Are you, for example, allowed to go and visit any colleagues that still work there or are you simply another outsider?

A: … I always was on good terms with Apple and they always liked me, I'm always welcome. I could come by, Steve Jobs would always make sure I had a badge that could get me into any building. I didn't use it much, but I can go there. The only trouble is I'll get mobbed.

Q: Who was the first person to call you 'Woz'?

A: … I found out later in life that almost every Wozniak gets the nickname Woz over time. Their friends just start calling them that. My uncle is Uncle Woz. My son, his friends call him Woz, and I turn to my kid and I realize they’re talking to Gary instead. So it goes back. It's just nice.

Among the more fun answers were also some meatier ones open to analysis. Minda Zetlin of Inc. interpreted one of Woz's responses as him being out of touch with what makes modern-day Apple. Inc so great: "Woz is an uber-geek, and there's a common mistake most geeks make: They think technological capability is all that matters. They don't care about design, usability, or marketing — three areas where Steve Jobs's genius really shone through."

No wonder Woz is a hero to the Apple II community: design is important, but we're more hackers than consumers, interested on what's inside than in how it looks.

Between the video and the AMA, there's a lot of insightful, focused, original commentary from Apple's legendary co-founder. As much as we think we know everything about Woz, he always has something new to share.

Plangman on IndieSider

March 14th, 2016 11:03 AM
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Candidates for my biweekly IndieSider podcast can be difficult to come by. The show looks behind the scenes at the development of indie (self-published) computer and video games, of which there are many — the indie tag on software distribution platform Steam currently lists 7,391 titles, with more being added every day.

But I limit IndieSider to games that I like, so as to avoid an awkward conversation with a developer of "Why does your game suck?" I instead look for games that offer original experiences and progressive gameplay in genres that I like: action, adventure, puzzle, narrative. There's then an evaluation period where I test a game to determine if it'll be a good fit for the show.

The latest episode of IndieSider features a game that bypassed that evaluation entirely. No game has hit my sweet spot as neatly as Plangman, which caught my attention in the first two seconds of its trailer:

A platform game with the puzzle elements of Hangman and featuring what appeared to be the runner from Microsoft's Olympic Decathlon as the protagonist? Was this game somehow made for me?!

I was quick to get developer Ehren von Lehe on the phone for episode #39 of IndieSider. Through Facebook and Juiced.GS, I thought I knew almost all the major Apple II players out there. I was pleasantly surprised to discover Ehren's interest in the Apple II is as alive and well as any retrocomputing enthusiast. Plangman was inspired by watching his daughter play with his own Apple II, recently taken out of mothballs. The playable character is based on Captain Goodnight, not the Olympic decathlete. Ehren mentioned an Infocom documentary also played a role. Aha! Another fan of Jason Scott's GET LAMP. When I added that Jason had been the keynote speaker at an annual Apple II convention, Ehren asked, "Is that KansasFest?" It was almost as if Ehren and I had been members of the same community for years and had never met!

The resulting conversation can be heard in this audio podcast:

or this video

It's not unusual for my gaming pursuits to introduce me to people who got their start on the Apple II and who remember the platform fondly. It's unprecedented for me to encounter in that course someone who's actively keeping the Apple II alive through modern software development. If you want a retro aesthetic in a new game, I highly recommend you check out Plangman.

(Hat tip to Javy Gwaltney)

Dinner with Woz

March 7th, 2016 12:22 PM
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Steve Wozniak is a helluva nice guy. He'll share the same anecdotes in a stream of consciousness, but he'll rarely say a bad word about anyone or anything. He is also, as you know, a complete and utter genius, without whom there'd be no Apple Inc., Apple-1, Apple II, KansasFest, or Juiced.GS.

How much would you pay to spend an hour in the company of such a person — not just to hear him speak on stage at a conference, but to have his ear and his wisdom for an hour?

The current bid is $5,100 in this eBay auction for dinner with Woz. If you can get yourself and three friends to Silicon Valley, you can have the opportunity to dine with the co-founder of Apple.

It's not unusual for celebrities to donate their time and talent to charities. In this case, Woz is doing it as a favor for his friend, Matt Spergel: "The proceeds of this auction will benefit East Bay Live Music, a new type of live music promotional service which aspires to provide musicians with an easier way to make a living doing what they love. Once funds are raised, it will be taken to market."

But wait — there's more!

ChampagneWinning bidder will also receive a one-of-a-kind unopened bottle of wine from the Apple IPO party which can be signed at dinner by Woz. This bottle was originally given to Marty Spergel by Steve Jobs, a business partner of Apple Computer in its early history. Winner must be at least 21 years of age to receive this bottle.

This auction is a bit rich for my blood — it's already more than twice than what the Castle Wolfenstein painting, which I bid on, went for. But I hope whoever wins makes it an evening to remember!

(Hat tip to David Pierini)