Archive for the ‘Happenings’ Category

The Apple II isn't just a computer; it's a community. Conferences, conventions, and parties are where to meet your fratres in computatrum.

Mark Pelczarski & Spy's Demise

March 11th, 2019 2:07 PM
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From the IIe's release in 1983 to when I switched to the Apple IIGS in 1988, I used the Apple II primarily as a gaming machine. Many of our family's games were cracked, pirated copies, though I can't tell you where they came from — perhaps our local Apple retailer snuck them to my dad on the sly, or my older brothers were exchanging floppies on the playground. Regardless, it exposed me to many quirky titles that I may otherwise never have encountered.

One such game was Spy's Demise. As a kid growing up watching Inspector Gadget and reading Dungeons & Dragons novels such as Hero of Washington Square, I knew all about spies! (Mission: Impossible's 1988 revival and reruns of Get Smart! wouldn't come until later.) But demise? Not if I had anything to do about it!

Spy's Demise was an action game in which players navigated a spy across the horizontal floors of a building, avoiding a collision course with elevators as they vertically travel their shafts. It reminded me of Elevator Action, a Data East coin-op that my father and I would play together on family vacations.

I doubt I ever finished the game or even knew that there was an ending. Those who did get that far were presented with a hidden cryptogram and a phone number to call. What they got for their efforts, I don't know, but based on other prizes of the era offered by Nintendo or Atari, I'd guess it was a sew-on patch with the company logo.

It wasn't until researching this post that I also learned the game had a sequel, The Spy Strikes Back!, which offers a top-down view as the spy tries to avoid motion-sensing drones.

What brings these games to mind after so many years is last week's announcement of the KansasFest 2019 keynote speaker. Mark Pelczarski is the co-author of The Spy Strikes Back! and the founder of Penguin Software, the company that published both Spy games as well as many others, including Translyvania and The Coveted Mirror. Pelczarski was also a columnist for Softalk and, before that, a high-school math teacher and college instructor of computer science. His LinkedIn profile outlines his many contributions since then to education, democracy, and web development.

Today, his roles include "consulting regarding software, data mining and integrity, and web security". No doubt this expertise in online security and cryptography originated with leaving clues and secrets for early Apple II spies. I look forward to meeting the secret agent who sent me on so many missions!

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!

Can we get John Carmack to KansasFest?

July 30th, 2018 10:49 AM
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When John Romero was the keynote speaker for KansasFest 2012, an old friend was in the audience: Lane Roathe, KansasFest 2008 keynote speaker. The two had worked together at Softdisk and later founded Ideas from the Deep, or id.

But there was a third person in that original triumverate of founders: John Carmack. Like Romero and Roathe, Carmack has remained active in the games industry, currently serving as the CTO for Oculus, Facebook's virtual-reality company. And, also like Romero and Roathe, Carmack hasn't forgotten his roots.

In 2012, Carmack got an Apple IIc for Christmas; in 2015, he introduced it to his son. If he tweets about the Apple II every three years, then he maintained that tradition coinciding with this month's KansasFest:

He later reiterated his interest, reminiscing about the constraints of the Apple II that breed creativity:

Carmack is definitely a guy who knows what's up and isn't that many steps removed from our community: despite not following the @KansasFest account, Carmack even knew the hashtag to use — perhaps from following Jason Scott.

At least two KansasFest members acknowledged Carmack's tweets with replies, the first being frequent HackFest judge Quinn Dunki:

Followed by KansasFest committee member Andy Molloy:

How long before Carmack joins the ranks of KansasFest keynote speakers, with Romero and Roathe in the audience?

(Full disclosure: Although I was part of the committee that recruited Roathe and Romero, I am not currently a member of the KansasFest committee and do not have any insider knowledge about the current speaker selection process. This post is based solely on observation of public information and speculation.)

King's Quest a Hall of Fame candidate

April 9th, 2018 7:48 AM
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Every year, the World Video Game Hall of Fame — a product of the International Center for the History of Electronic Games at the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, New York — conducts a poll of which video games deserve to be inducted into the annals of history. The criteria are not what games we had the most fun playing or are the most nostalgic for, but which games have "icon-status, longevity, geographic reach, and influence".

Given the substantial impact such games must've had on the industry, you'd think Apple II software would be a shoe-in. Sadly, this has not always been the case. Not a single Apple II game was inducted in 2017, and previous years overlooked such obvious candidates as Oregon Trail.

Video Game Hall of Fame 2018

This year's candidates—recognize any?

This year isn't looking to make a much stronger showing, unfortunately. From the following dozen finalists, three have been selected to be added to the Hall of Fame in 2018:

All 12 games are worthy candidates, but the Apple II can lay claim to only two of them: King's Quest and John Madden Football. Of the two, I'd much rather see King's Quest be inducted. But does Sierra On-Line's flagship title have the longevity, geographic reach, and influence to attain that status?

We'll find out soon enough — voting ended last Wednesday, and the winners will be announced on Thursday, May 3. Stay tuned!

(Hat tip to the AP)

KansasFest is the Greatest Show!

April 2nd, 2018 9:20 AM
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Registration for KansasFest 2018 is now open. I've now signed up for the 30th, and my 21st, annual Apple II expo.

A highlight of KansasFest used to be the celebrity roast, in which a member of the community was lovingly raked over the coals by his best friends and peers. That tradition has been replaced by the Apple II Forever awards, which let me off the hook for coordinating the annual roast.

But the awards themselves are not… entertaining. To make up for that, committee member Steve Weyhrich has taken to riffing on pop songs, creating original music videos and lyrics that are astounding displays of creativity and passion. There is no better representation of the enthusiasm and unique nature of the Apple II community and its annual convention than Dr. Steve's productions.

These videos usually debut at KansasFest, but this year, Steve has decided to leave his camera at home. We instead get to enjoy his video four months early, with the opening of this year's registration coinciding with the release of "The KFest Show", a parody of "The Greatest Show" from the Hugh Jackman movie The Greatest Showman:

Holy cow, Steve. Had I known you were capable of such impressive feats, I would've resigned from the committee sooner and given you my seat!

Roger Wagner to keynote KansasFest 2018

February 12th, 2018 10:32 AM
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Over the last twenty KansasFests, I've listened to many keynote speeches. Some have been elaborate affairs with thoughtfully designed slides; others have been more freewheeling strolls down memory lane. My favorites have been those delivered by Randy Wigginton (2013), John Romero (2012), and Jason Scott (2009). The alternating historical luminaries and modern historians has provided a variety of perspectives on the current and historical aspects of the Apple II and its community.

After hosting the long-running Apple II development team Brutal Deluxe in 2017, KansasFest returns to the past with Roger Wagner, whose last gave the keynotes in 1991 and 1995. Not only do those years predate my first attendance at KansasFest 1998, but it also predates my peak years as an Apple IIGS power user. Wagner is most famous for the invention of HyperStudio, which bore many functional similarities to the World Wide Web, which Sir Tim Berners-Lee would not invent until two years later. Sadly, I to this day have never used HyperStudio; in fact, I can't even find a reference in the Juiced.GS index to any article that has covered it specifically.

That's not to say I haven't felt Wagner's influence. Four years ago, Chris Torrence collaborated with Wagner to compile all 33 installments of his Softalk column, "Assembly Lines" into a book that he made available in print and for free online. Many Apple II developers have since cited it as an invaluable resource, not only in long-term projects such as Nox Archaist but also short sprints such as the HackFest project Kaverns of KFest.

So instead of being unimpressed by the committee's selection of keynote speaker, I'm instead eager to finally meet the visionary who laid the foundation for the World Wide Web and who continues to inspire generations of Apple II developers. Here's to Wagner's third and best keynote speech!