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.

The Appleworks of Harvard, Mass.

September 16th, 2019 11:27 AM
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I've lived my entire life in Massachusetts, having often driven or cycled the roads between Boston and my hometown to visit family. One particular path to my cousin's house has always brought a smile to this Apple II user's face.

AppleWorks is many things: it's a word processor; it's an environment in which I spent twenty years building my portfolio and honing my craft; it's a legendary Apple product that Quality Computers got the rights to upgrade; it's a program from a company with a complicated history; it's compiled from source code we'll almost certainly never see.

But in the small town of Harvard, Mass., it's also a company.

Appleworks post sign

Bold move, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off.

I've driven by this sign many times — you can see it from the road on Google Maps.

For decades, I've wondered how this company has retained its name, especially given how boldly it hangs its shingle. Apple is infamously litigatious, and any company that overlaps with the computer manufacturer's industry would be susceptible to a threat to change its name, which Steve Jobs would consider no big deal.

Has the AppleWorks business held the name since before the Apple II existed? Was it a publishing company or computer repair service? If not, why would the owners name it Appleworks? Were they taking inspiration from being two towns over from Johnny Appleseed's hometown?

After years of wondering these questions, it wasn't until I sat down to write this blog post last night that I finally got the answer: Appleworks isn't a business; it's a place. It's the name of the strip mall that houses the Siam Pepper Thai Cuisine restaurant whose website gave me the clue I needed, listing its address as "Appleworks Building, Harvard, MA".

At first, this revelation felt anti-climactic — but now I'm free to drive by this building, smile, and rest easy that it's an unlikely target for Apple legal.

BBS harassment

September 9th, 2019 11:12 AM
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My grade school was small, with only nineteen students in my junior high's graduating class. Not counting me, there were nine boys and nine girls, which was too small to foster diversity. There was no space for a nerd who didn't love sports.

So I sought community elsewhere, on CompuServe and dial-up bulletin board systems. At the end of eighth grade, desperate for others with whom to share my love for computer and video games, I launched my own BBS: The Playground!, exclamation mark and all.

The Playground! (or TPG for short) had message boards and file libraries focused on primarily on games for consoles and the Apple II. Since those were the machines available to me at the time, I wasn't interested in hosting discussions or files that I as the sysop couldn't verify (or enjoy). But TPG also hosted plenty of online games everyone could play, regardless of platform: door games like Triviamaster and Space Ship of Death.

Unfortunately, well before there was Twitter, there were online bullies. Users of my BBS were mostly young geeks and runts like me, using handles like Mr. Magoo and Scratchmouster. Whether they didn't like my BBS management style or they were just looking to exert control they didn't have elsewhere, some of these anonymous rapscallions were intent on causing me grief.

The most creative and damaging vandalism they undertook involved identity theft, though it took me awhile to figure that out. At first, all I knew was that users could not stay connected to my BBS. They would dial in and browse the forums like usual — then suddenly get booted. Since we had two Apple IIGS computers with two modems and two phone lines, I was able to call my BBS myself and verify my users' experience. I went through my Hayes modem settings, my BBS config, my phone connections, everything I could think of that would cause such errant behavior, but I found no culprit.

Finally, wanting to ensure other basic phone functions were operating, I tried calling my BBS while someone else was already connected. I expected a busy signal — but instead, the other user got booted.

My dedicated BBS line had been granted call waiting.

Maybe identity theft wasn't as rampant 25 years ago, and utility companies didn't require that customers prove they were who they said they were. But it was clear to me that one of my more mischievous members had called the phone company and asked that call waiting be added to my phone line. I called the phone company, had call waiting removed from our service, and my BBS's reliability was restored.

I still don't know who did this or why. And in the modern, larger context of online harassment, this ordeal was trivial: my BBS was not monetized, and neither my livelihood nor my safety were ever threatened. I chalk it up as an adolescent prank, but one that was at the time very stressful to a fellow adolescent who just wanted friends to play games with.

A crowdfunded clear case

September 2nd, 2019 8:27 AM
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Earlier this year, a company called MacEffects successfully crowdfunded a Kickstarter to create a clear case for the Mac SE/30. With delivery of that product due next month, MacEffects is ready to move on to their next project. This weekend, they launched a Kickstarter to create another transparent case — and this time, the platform is the Apple II.

The case models range in price from $150 to $450 — but all are for the Apple II and Apple II Plus. Other models of Apple II, including the IIe, IIc, and IIGS, are not included, though the project description promises that "If this Kickstarter is successfully funded, we will venture to open a new Kickstarter for the Apple IIe!" Unmentioned in the video is a stretch goal of $35,000, which will fund a clear case for the Disk II floppy drive.

The campaign seeks to raise $29,000 in two months. As of Sunday morning, the project has only 16 backers, but those backers have contributed an average of $277 each, for 15% of the project's total. Similarly, their Mac SE/30 campaign raised $25,674 from just 84 backers, averaging $305 each. Supporters are clearly willing to toss significant sums at these cases!

I wonder if this new case will enjoy similar success, though. The Apple II already has a top that's easy to remove, displaying the computer's internals to the world. A clear case doesn't make it easier to do so, though it does make it safer, since it doesn't expose the circuitry to as much air and dust. I also found this Kickstarter video's lighting, sound, and delivery underwhelming, which you could argue are to be expected from a low-budget retrocomputing company. Yet that didn't stop Nox Archaist from pulling out all the stops!

On the bright side, you won't ever have to worry about retrobriting this transparent case: "To avoid future yellowing of our custom case, we will NOT be adding fire-retardant additive. Therefore, it is recommended to not operate your computer with this custom case unattended."

No problem — unless you're mining Bitcoin, why would you ever tear yourself away from a running Apple II and leave it unattended?

(Hat tip to Michael Mulhern)

Bitcoin on the Apple II

August 26th, 2019 11:27 AM
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Every April 1st, Juiced.GS publishes an April Fool's joke, such as that we'd be encrypting all print issues, or cryogenically freezing our staff. Most readers find it amusing; some find it confusing ("Is this real?"); one found it so offensive that they cancelled their subscription.

To avoid a repeat of any extreme reactions, I aimed for this year's to be so absurd that no one would ever believe it or feel betrayed by it: Juiced.GS was introducing JuicyBits™, an 8-bit cryptocurrency. How ridiculous! The processing power of the Apple II, while impressive for its time, was nowhere near the minimum to compute modern blockchains. Clearly the impossibility of anyone attempting such a thing made the press release an obvious joke.

Charles Mangin didn't get the memo.

As detailed in his thorough blog post, Mangin was inspired not by Juiced.GS, but by last month's KansasFest, to mine Bitcoin on the Apple II for real. With plenty of time on the ride home from Kansas City to theorize his approach, followed by some insightful assistance from Peter Ferrie, it wasn't long before Mangin had an actual, working algorithm for computing cryptocurrency on his Apple II. Not only that, but he rigged a setup that outputs the computer's video to Twitch, the popular streaming network, allowing us to watch the computations in real-time.

Watch live video from 8BTC on www.twitch.tv

Don't sit on the edge of your seat waiting for that magic moment when a Bitcoin is mined, though:

… mining Bitcoin successfully at 3.8 hashes per second will happen, on average, once in 256 trillion years. But it could happen tomorrow. It's a lottery, after all.

At this point, I'm not sure if the joke is on Charles or on Juiced.GS.

The Oregon Trail Card Game

August 19th, 2019 12:21 PM
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I spend my workdays at Workbar, a co-working space that lets me host a monthly game session. This month, I volunteered my copy of Oregon Trail: The Card Game.

I'd picked up the game from Target when it was released in the summer of 2016, but I never got around to playing it or its expansion pack. Finally, five of us gathered into a covered wagon to collaboratively make our way through a round.

Before departing, I read the enclosed instructions but found them lacking clarity. This complementary video helped clarify a few things.

Then the five of us departed Missouri. We didn't choose our roles (farmer, banker, carpenter), nor did we elect how to spend our allowance — supply cards were randomly distributed to us.

Four adults playing a card game

An unlikely family of pioneers.

We each had a hand of trail cards that we played to span the distance between the starting card of Independence and the ending card of Willamette Valley. The trail cards fell broadly into three categories: no effect; ford a river; or calamity strikes. The latter two cards occasionally left room for interpretation, which confused our merry band. For example, "Roll an even number to cross the river; roll a 1 and die!" But what about 3 or 5? What I should've done before playing was read the Pressman Toys website for "Oregon Trail Rules Updates", whose three bullet points address some of these concerns.

Even with that added knowledge, the game relied mostly on luck of the draw. The rules imply there's some strategy, such as "Sometimes you may want to let one of your friends die", rather than expend a supply card. But we didn't encounter such a scenario, nor could I imagine one. Now I understand what Kate Szkotnicki meant when she reviewed this game for Juiced.GS:

Some people may also be put off by the amount of luck the game is based on—players looking for a game where they can finesse the rules, manage their cards and play well against their opponents may be disappointed.

A complete round, including occasional pauses to consult the instructions, took about a half-hour. Now that we better understand how to live and die on the Oregon Trail, I expect future games will be faster, and that the expansion pack might introduce additional options and choices. Still, it's not a game I recommend rushing to Chimney Rock to buy.

A card saying 'You have died of dysentery.`

A noble (and notorious) death.

Traveling with Agent USA

August 12th, 2019 1:41 PM
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My grade school had an Apple II computer lab filled with educational software from Scholastic. As one of the few students with an Apple II at home, I was allowed to borrow from this collection over the weekends. While issues of Microzine attracted most of my attention, I fondly remember another title: Agent USA, from Tom Snyder Productions.

This game takes the horror of a pandemic (think a cross between Dustin Hoffman's Outbreak and the Borg) and makes it fun! Players control a government agent (represented as a hat with feet) in a United States whose population is being slowly converted to mindless drones. The only thing that can save them is a self-replicating crystal in the agent's possession. A single crystal can turn a drone back into a citizen, but a hundred of them can defeat the brains of the operation, the Fuzzbomb. If Agent USA can cultivate the crystals, read the train schedules, buy train tickets, and adjust to time zones, he just might save the day.

Wikipedia says this game teaches "spelling, US geography, time zones, and state capitals", though I'm unsure how much of that I absorbed. For example, with many cities to be explored, capital cities were distinguished by an info booth where players could see projections of the Fuzzbomb's spread — but I don't recall memorizing which cities had these maps. Learning how cities connect to each other has transferred to understanding which airlines fly to which cities and where their hubs are, but reading train schedules might've proved more useful had I lived in a city that had good public transit.

What I remember most fondly about the game was not the moral lesson my Catholic school wanted me to learn! Trains left the station every thirty seconds, and if you tried to board without a ticket, you'd be summarily ejected. There was little reason to encounter this scenario, since tickets were free (provided you could spell the destination's name). But if you were strapped not for cash, but for time, you could bypass the ticket booth entirely. Trains would call all-aboard moments before departing, and in that brief window, boarding the train would not leave enough time for the player to be returned to the platform; the train would leave with player in tow.

Having only ever borrowed this game as a kid and wanting it for myself as an adult, I bought a copy of this game five years ago on eBay from Ian Baronofsky, whom I would later meet at KansasFest. I didn't get around to opening it until just last month. It's not the clamshell-edition packaging I remember, but inside is the same train-jumping adventure I grew up with.