Archive for August, 2018

Blogging techniques at KansasFest 2018

August 27th, 2018 9:30 AM
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Attending conventions is, for me, a balancing act. As much as I appreciate being in the audience of so many amazing panels and presentations, I don't want to be exclusively a passive observer; I like being involved and having something to give back. But if I overcommit myself, I end up being so busy that I don't find myself being present and enjoying the convention.

For KansasFest, I've struck this balance by submitting just one talk a year. It can be challenging for me to find topics to present, as I am not a software developer or hardware hacker. I've given many talks about Apple II games, but I can do so only so many times before I've drained that well dry. And I don't like talking about Juiced.GS (unless I'm also feeding everyone pizza), lest I come across as a shill.

For KansasFest 2018, it took me eight years to realize another niche I can share with the Apple II community: this blog. I've written over 500 weekly posts for this site; I teach online publishing at a local college; and I work for Automattic, developers of WordPress.com. Maybe I know something about online content creation and distribution?

So, last month at KansasFest 2018, I gave a talk, "Blogging II Infinitum".

More than 40 years after its debut, how is it there's still so much to say about the Apple II? How do we find what's new, and how do we spin it to make it interesting? After eight years and 500+ weekly blog posts, Ken still has plenty of new material about his favorite computer. He'll reveal the secrets of his sources, blogging and distribution platforms, and audience engagement techniques in this session.

A video of the talk has been speedily reposted online:

A technique I deduced from experience then had reaffirmed by the book Presentation Zen is that presentations should consist of three delivery media: the speaker; the slides; and the handout. The above video includes the speaker and slides but omits the handout. KansasFest attendees received a PDF that not only compiles the resources mentioned in the talk but also outlines an invaluable writing exercise taught in college graduate programs.

That free PDF is now available to subscribers to this blog's email newsletter. Just sign up today and, once you've confirmed your subscription, you'll receive a download link. You can unsubscribe at any time. (If you're already a subscriber, you've received your download link in a separate email.)

I love being involved — but not too involved — in the Apple II community. I hope these resources help you explore further ways to contribute, too!

Chris McVeigh's LEGO Apple II

August 20th, 2018 8:48 AM
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Last week, I wrote about Charles Mangin, who's known for his 3D-printed miniature Apple computers. But polymer resin and filaments aren't the only building blocks of computer models: long before 3D printers, we had LEGO. And just as Charles Mangin is to 3D printers, so too is Chris McVeigh to LEGO.

McVeigh made headlines four years ago with his portfolio of LEGO constructs, including TIE fighters, televisions, and Atari consoles. Favoriting our favorite retrocomputer, his offerings also included an Apple IIe and Apple IIc — or as they're known by names less likely to incur copyright infringement, My First Computer: Binary Edition and Seed Edition, respectively. Each model has a free online guide for assembling your own LEGO Apple II.

My First Computer: Binary Edition

1 computer. 8 bits. 353 blocks.

McVeigh introduced the IIe model in 2014 and released v2.0 in October 2016. I emailed him recently to ask what the differences were. He explained:

I usually revise a product for one of two reasons: (1) I am no longer able to source an important part (for example, if the part has gone out of production) or (2) newly available parts allow me to improve upon the original design.

The revision of My First Computer: Binary Edition was prompted by the reintroduction of large flat tiles in tan, but I took the opportunity to give it a full overhaul. The most obvious changes are to the computer’s internals (in the original design, they were more abstract) and the external disk drives (which were completely redesigned).

McVeigh isn't the first or only one to interpret the Apple II as a LEGO construct; in 2013, CK Tsang built his own model retrocomputer. But unlike many online creators, McVeigh doesn't just show you how he did it — he'll also provide you with everything you need to do it yourself. If you don't have all 353 LEGO pieces necessary to assemble the IIe, you can order them from McVeigh. This kit is currently sold out but is expected to be back in stock this Wednesday, August 22, for the cost of $87.50 + $15 shipping within the USA. That's only 29¢ per LEGO piece!

I love that there are so many artistic interpretations of the Apple II — though this one is perhaps the blockiest, stealing the award from Minecraft. What other Apple II products and peripherals do you think McVeigh should design next?

(Hat tips to Michael Mulhern and Derek Ngai)

Two-player Karateka

August 13th, 2018 8:22 AM
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I thought I knew Charles Mangin: hardware guru extraordinaire, maker of connectors, adapters and miniature models. His RetroConnector brand has enabled Apple II keyboards to talk to USB-enabled machines, modern joysticks to be played on Apple II computers, and other interactions that span the eras. With a 3D printer, he's created miniature working monitors and Raspberry Pi cases shaped like a IIe. Well before I ever met him at KansasFest, I was blogging about Charles putting computers in Apple II peripherals. Creating intergenerational hybrids is Charles' niche.

Or so I thought. First, he started sharing his hardware knowledge in a video podcast series, How II. Then he was giving KansasFest sessions about music synthesizers. No 3D printers to be seen, but these topics could still be broadly categorized as hardware projects.

But now Charles is making a name for himself in a wholly new realm: software development. After tackling the significant task of teaching himself 6502 assembly, he released his first game, a Minesweeper clone. Then he innovated with an original title, Jumpy Guy. These are fun, simple games that demonstrate Charles' growth in this new role.

Now Charles is punching his way through one of the most famous games of all time: Karateka. No longer the tale of a lone gamer storming Akuma's fortress, Jordan Mechner's first published title has been patched to enable a second player to control Akuma's foot soldiers, putting some actual intelligence behind the hero's adversaries and making it more akin to the Apple II arcade port Karate Champ.

I would ask Charles to detail his patch in an issue of Juiced.GS, but he has already been thoroughly transparent on his website, detailing the mere 42 bytes that constitute the efficient patch. The updated game is playable online on the Internet Archive:

In the course of reinventing himself, Charles has reinvented Karateka. But gamers are a hungry lot, and some are already clamoring for more features, including joystick input and network play. I'd rather wait and see what Charles does of his own volition: like Apple Inc., he has an uncanny sense for giving us what we didn't know we've always wanted. Who knows where he'll take us — and himself — next?

Apple II-inspired ice cream

August 6th, 2018 11:53 AM
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On July 15, we celebrated National Ice Cream Day, followed last Thursday by National Ice Cream Sandwich Day. But we haven't been able to celebrate our favorite dessert and our favorite retrocomputer together — until now. Finally, these two great tastes go great together thanks to Not Your Mother, a vegan ice cream parlor that just opened in Toronto.

As if the dairy-free menu options weren't niche enough, the restaurant has chosen a 1970s-themed naming convention — and one particular menu item caught my eye. What Kat Smith described as a "vegan vanilla soft serve topped with flaky, dairy-free pie crumbles, apple pie sauce, caramel, and meatless bacon bits" features two apples… so it is aptly named the Apple II.

Not Your Mother's Apple II ice cream

Fruity, vegan computing deliciousness.

In keeping with an Apple II theme, I propose these other menu items:

  • • Super Serial Card: A waffle wafer sundae topped with mint chocolate chip ice cream and Lucky Charms.
  • • Zip GSX: Espresso-flavored ice cream with hot fudge sauce.
  • • 4am: Cinnamon ice cream with marshmallows and graham-cracker crumbs.
  • • csa2: Jalapeño ice cream with pecans, almonds, and walnuts.
  • • Juiced.GS: A fruit-punch smoothie.

What other Apple-themed treats would Not Your Mother have to serve to get you to road-trip to Toronto?