Author Archive

I'm Ken Gagne, the editor-in-chief and publisher of Juiced.GS, the longest-running Apple II print publication, as well as co-founder of Open Apple, the Apple II community's first and only co-hosted podcast. I've been an active member of the Apple II online community for over two decades, including on CompuServe, GEnie, Delphi, and Syndicomm Online. Follow me on Twitter.

Dan Bricklin for President

January 20th, 2020 9:06 AM
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In a recent letter to the the Concord Monitor, the daily newspaper of Concord, New Hampshire, a reader submitted a letter about our country's upcoming presidential election. He compared two politicians, saying one was a "visionary", the first to present the ideas; but the other would be the "implementer", the one better suited to execute the ideas.

He then made an analogy using names Apple II users may recognize:

Do you know who Dan Bricklin is? Ever even heard of him? Dan Bricklin invented the spreadsheet. VisiCalc was the product that made the Apple II a viable business tool and the rest is history. Bricklin is a visionary and hero to software people like me.

But as often happens in software, first or even best doesn’t always win the game. First Lotus with 123 took the spreadsheet market and made it a real business game changer, followed by Microsoft Excel years later. Mitch Kapor (Lotus) and Bill Gates got the vision done.

This view of history rings false to me. Perhaps it's my Apple II bias, but Dan Bricklin did everything this reader says Mitch Kapor and Bill Gates did. VisiCalc was the first "killer app", demonstrating the value of personal computers and justifying their existence is offices and businesses across the country. Steve Jobs himself went on the record as saying that if it weren't for VisiCalc, there wouldn't've been an Apple Computer Inc.: "If Visicalc had been written for some other computer you'd be interviewing somebody else right now."

Did Lotus 1-2-3 improve upon VisiCalc? Certainly. According to Wikipedia, "1-2-3 quickly overtook VisiCalc, as well as Multiplan and SuperCalc, two VisiCalc competitors." But that's simply the nature of software development and evolution: any product that comes later will benefit from better hardware and development tools. Lotus 1-2-3's release in 1983 does not diminish the vision and implementation achieved by Bricklin in 1979.

As the Concord Monitor reader acknowledges, Bricklin is a hero and visionary — without whom we wouldn't have Lotus 1-2-3. Bricklin deserves credit not just for VisiCalc, but for helping the personal computer revolution succeed and for paving the way for visionaries to come.

1 MHz's surname pronunciation guide

January 13th, 2020 12:52 PM
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I spent some time this week listening to 1 MHz, the Apple II podcast you can read more about in my tribute post. No, there are no new episodes — I was digging through the archives, listening to classics from more than a decade ago.

As always, I found myself inspired by host Carrington Vanston's enthusiasm for Apple II games. I've never played the Wasteland or Fallout series, but Carrington's passion for the original game, its innovative and quirky gameplay features, and decent graphics make me want to explore it. Even his brief mention of Wizardry brought back my memories of playing Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord on the Nintendo Entertainment System and left me wondering if I would enjoy it today — or, better yet, if I should again tackle Silvern Castle, which I reviewed for Juiced.GS 21 years ago.

But the main reason I was spelunking the archives of 1 MHz was to find a particular piece of audio. I'd found it once before for Juiced.GS's 2017 April Fool's joke, but I had failed to cite the specific episode. So I started with episode #12 and worked my way backward.

As I did so, I heard Carrington mangle several Apple II users' surnames: Sean Fahey, Steve Weyhrich, and other people Carrington had not yet met at KansasFest. But one name he had no trouble with was my own. On the contrary, in 1 MHz episode #8, he made it clear that I am the one who has trouble pronouncing my own name.

I have some trouble with Ken's last name. Now, as longtime listeners to the show will know, I have some trouble pronouncing, everyone's last name but with Ken it's because us Canadians pronounce G–A–G–N–E as "gohn-yay" not "gag-knee". Then again, we say oh, yeah, instead of "foy-yay" instead of "foyer" and "fill–aye" instead of "fillet" and things like "Pardon me" and "I'm sorry" instead of "Give me your wallet." But it's a cultural thing.

I know that Carrington's jest in in good humor, and that he is otherwise a person who respects individuals' identities. He's also not wrong about the original pronunciation of my surname, and depending on the context and audience, I have used either the original Canadian pronunciation or the American one. Both are correct, and I accept either.

I remembered this jab from 2007 because that was still four years before my first time hosting a podcast. Open Apple debuted in February 2011, marking my first time behind the microphone. Up until then, I was an editor of Juiced.GS and Computerworld, where I told stories without being the story. I hadn't yet engaged in a medium that put my identity and personality front and center — so to hear a podcast I was an ardent listener of suddenly talking about me was quite the squee moment… even if it was to poke fun.

I'd say I'm less starstruck now and that Carrington's jabs have since lost their luster, except I know it would only motivate him to redouble his efforts. So I'll just say thanks for reminding me of my own heritage — and for a blog post 13 years in the making.

WPI's potpourri list

January 6th, 2020 2:04 PM
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My first salaried job out of college was teaching 11th-grade tech writing. The high school was run by my undergraduate alma mater, WPI (Worcester Polytechnic Institute), which gave me access to all the college's facilities and resources.

It also meant I had a wpi.edu email address that was subscribed to various internal mailing lists. Some of those lists were for the administration to make announcements that would affect all employees. Other lists — like all-staff — were not so moderated and were used liberally by anyone on campus for any purpose… especially to sell things.

This was 2004, almost a decade after Craigslist was founded, yet employees of WPI found it easier to use the campus as their marketplace. Anytime anyone had anything to sell, from cars to Red Sox tickets, they would broadcast an email to all faculty and staff. Waves and waves of employees hawking their goods — and interested parties accidentally clicking "reply all" — were inescapable.

For me, the final straw was the email offering pellets for a pellet stove. I'd already scheduled a meeting with the school's IT department, so I tacked onto the agenda a brief discussion about what I saw as abuse of this email list. It was a friendly conversation, as I recall the IT staff being as exasperated as I was. But they pointed out that the volume of for-sale emails demonstrated interest in using the list in this fashion, and they didn't want to shut down that tradition without providing an alternative outlet. Would it be another email list? Would it be opt-in or opt-out? Would it be reasonable to point WPI's less tech-savvy employees to the school's Usenet newsgroup dedicated to this purpose? These questions went unanswered in my two years as an employee.

That was 14 years ago. At some point since then, WPI finally solved this problem. Their news office recently published this reflection on their solution:

It needs no introduction (but we’re giving it one anyway). It’s an automated legend, known for flooding email inboxes from Goddard to Gateway and beyond. It’s where you can find an antique record player, a pasta roller, vintage video games, and hot tubs, all in the course of a single afternoon. You know it, you love it, or you just might want to be unsubscribed from it.

It’s Potpourri.

The news article goes on to describe the sort of things you can find on the Potpourri list:

here’s nothing quite like logging into your email on a Monday morning and sifting through the latest Potpourri offers. You never know what you’ll find: some days it’s bat boxes, bikes, and weighted blankets; others feature requests for graphing calculators, Commodore or Apple II computers, or mercury (this is WPI, after all).

It's unlikely a school as cutting edge as WPI still owns or operates Apple II computers, but given the interests and longevity of its employees, I'm not surprised that their personal retrocomputers might pop up on Potpourri.

If only I'd been around to see it! Even I could've tolerated the occasional stove pellet if it meant some rare Apple II gear. I hope WPI's current employees appreciate the growing pains that led them to this opt-in bounty.

Apple II at The Strong Museum of Play

December 30th, 2019 12:00 PM
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I love visiting computer museums, be it the Computer History Museum of Mountain View, California; the Living Computers: Museum & Labs of Seattle, Washington; or the InfoAge Museum of Wall Township, New Jersey. But the only museum I've visited repeatedly is The Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, New York. I stopped by there twice in 2011, just a year after the museum expanded to include the International Center for the History of Electronic Games. As a former member of the gaming press, I've been able to donate a variety of video game rarities to the ICHEG.

This past weekend marked my third visit to The Strong, and as always, I was drawn to its Apple II artifacts. The history of gaming exhibit is diverse, if not comprehensive, and includes names and equipment familiar to retrocomputing enthusiasts. Several new artifacts had been added since my last visit eight years ago, including the original Apple II computers of Bill Budge and John Romero, as seen in these photos.

While other computers made multiple appearances, including the TRS-80, the Apple II is the only machine I saw in triplicate. While The Strong often inadvertently snubs the Apple II in its annual nominations to the World Video Game Hall of Fame, it's great to see the institution give the computer — and its developers — the recognition they deserve.

For my photos from the Women in Games exhibit, visit the Juiced.GS website. For yet more Strong photos, visit Gamebits!

Woz works Christmas

December 23rd, 2019 10:28 AM
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Filed under History, Steve Wozniak;
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Christmas is this week, and whether or not you have friends and family to spend it with, ideally you're not spending it with co-workers: the holidays are a vacation from our day jobs, if any.

Unless you're Steve Wozniak.

Forty-two years ago, Woz spent Christmas developing the a 5.25" floppy disk drive for the Apple II. It was 1977 — Apple's first year in business — and the first Consumer Electronics Show (CES) to be held in Las Vegas was just a week or two away. For Woz, there would be no yule logs or holiday shopping or Christmas lights or Christmas vacation — only floppy toil.

Woz's labor paid off, as the resulting Disk II drive propelled the success of the Apple II. "It cost just $140 in components, but sold for $595", reports Cult of Mac — that's $552 and $2,347 in 2019 dollars. Yet it was still "the cheapest floppy disk system ever sold up to that point", states Wikipedia.

CC BY-SA 3.0 All About Apple


Like a Jelly of the Month Club subscription, Woz's work is the gift that keeps on giving. Disks produced for the Apple II floppy drive continue to be imaged to this day, ensuring that classic software is preserved for Christmases to come.

Jimmy Grewal's Dubai collection

December 16th, 2019 10:32 PM
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There are Apple II collections all around the world — most densely in the United States, but also in Italy, Russia, the Czech Republic, and more.

Now we can add one more global destination to that list: the United Arab Emirates.

Reporter Cody Combs of The National (the UAE's premier news source) recently profiled Jimmy Grewal, a former Microsoft employee who now serves as executive director of a maritime technology company in Dubai. He's collected nearly a hundred Apple desktops, laptops, and PDAs, including an Apple-1 and eleven Apple II computers. One of them can be seen — and overlooked — in this video.

Fortunately, the article itself does not overlook our favorite Apple, mentioning:

As he points toward what first appears to be yet another Apple II, he explains why it’s different. “This is actually one of the rarest computers I have because it doesn’t have any vents,” he says, pointing out the completely solid casing in contrast to the other Apple II in the room with small gaps to allow for air flow.

Jimmy is active on Twitter and YouTube; the latter includes a video documentary of his Apple-1 restoration.

While Grewal's collection is not open to the public, he is planning for the day when these artifacts can be housed somewhere that everyone can enjoy them. On that day, add Dubai to your international retrocomputing itinerary.