Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

Editorials and other thoughts about the Apple II and its community.

The needlepoint of Glenda Adams

October 15th, 2018 11:45 AM
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I've never been a particularly crafty person (except perhaps in the mwahaha sense). Knitting, crocheting, quilting, or even basic sewing are arts I've never taken the time to learn, let alone master. Even if I did grasp the basics, I doubt I would have the creativity to design anything terribly impressive — unless I had the right inspiration.

What inspires artist and iOS developer Glenda Adams is the Apple II. She's taken the 8-bit computer and used it as a basis for a impressive variety of needlework. From Karateka to Ultima and more, she has painstakingly adapted these iconic images into her own miniature tapestries, currently on display in her home and on her Twitter.

Adams, a games developer since 1988, has a savvy and relevant social media feed, tweeting on the occasion of KansasFest and demonstrating a wicked sense of humor in line with Apple Inc.'s latest developments.

Although her work is currently not for sale (nor is she accepting commissions), you can check out her #nerdstitch hashtag for more examples of her work, which expands beyond the Apple II to include Mac software and classic arcade games. Read more about her creative process at Cult of Mac.

The health savings of computer history

May 28th, 2018 8:39 AM
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My only visit to the Computer History Museum of Mountain View, California, occurred in December 2015, when Martin Haye and I squeezed in a visit after attending GaymerX in nearby San Jose. I was already familiar with the museum, both from its origin in my backyard of Boston and as an archive of Juiced.GS, and I was thrilled to finally step foot in the halls of such hallowed technology preservation. But it wasn't until years later that I'd learn this same museum could preserve so much more.

Shortly after that visit, I began teaching myself about finances and investments: 401(k), Roth IRA, socially responsible investing (SRI), and more. As part of this move toward fiscal maturity, I started using an FSA, or Flexible Spending Account. An FSA is a savings account you can contribute pre-tax dollars to from your paycheck; those monies can then be used to pay any medical expenses, from surgery to prescriptions to contact lens solution. If you spend $2,000 a year on healthcare, it's like getting a $2,000 tax credit.

An FSA is not without its downsides: it has an annual contribution cap of $2,600, and only $500 rolls over every calendar year; the rest of the account is "use it or lose it". As a result, you have to predict what your health expenses will be a year in advance, which is difficult to do accurately. And if you leave the participating employer, your FSA disappears.

But this year, I moved to an employer that instead offers an HSA, or Health Savings Account. An HSA has a maximum annual contribution of $3,450, and its value never expires, even if I switch jobs. As a result, I don't need to anticipate my expenses, instead using the HSA as a long-term investment account — especially since, unlike an FSA, an HSA gains interest!

I don't know why every employer doesn't offer an HSA, but the good news is that you don't need a generous boss: you can get your own HSA. Many banks offer them — but if yours doesn't, then check out First Tech Federal Credit Union of Beaverton, Oregon. They offer an HSA with no setup or maintenance fees and no minimum balance to qualified members.

What qualifies one to join First Tech? You can work for the State of Oregon, or any one of hundreds of participating employers. But my preferred route is to be a member of the Computer History Museum for either $15 or $75 a year. Simply donating to the museum makes you eligible to receive all the membership benefits of First Tech.

What better or more affordable way to preserve computer history and your own health?

(Disclaimer: I am not a financial advisor, nor am I a customer or affiliate of First Tech. I have historically donated to the Computer History Museum, but currently, my only contributions are the aforementioned issues of Juiced.GS.)

Apple II Bits' octal birthday

April 30th, 2018 7:46 AM
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This past weekend, I set up my Apple IIGS in my game room and connected it to my HDTV. I popped in some floppies and played a few classic games: Choplifter, Lode Runner, Karateka, and Conan. Each was as fun as I remembered.

The excuse for this occasion was research for a Juiced.GS article. As editor of that publication, most of my contributions and responsibilities don't require me to work on the metal, but this particular article called for the real thing.

But underpinning this academic exercise was unbridled enthusiasm for returning to my roots. I spend my days on a laptop with macOS and WordPress, all environments that I very much enjoy and which even inspire a degree of devotion. But nothing brings a smile to my face like the Apple II.

It was fitting that this game session coincided with the eighth anniversary of Apple II Bits: on April 29, 2010, I published my first blog post to this site. I've continued to write about the Apple II every Monday since. Whereas once such musings would constitute my quarterly "A Word or ][" column for Juiced.GS, I've now written 524 such columns for this website — enough to sustain 125 years of Juiced.GS.

Eight apples

Eight apple bits = one apple byte?

I'm never wanting for something to say about the Apple II, but some times are easier than others. One August, freshly home from KansasFest, I found myself bursting with ideas and wrote the next several months' worth of columns in advance. Other times, I come home from work on Monday night, knowing what to say but having only until midnight to say it.

Regardless of the volume or urgency, there's always a new chapter to write. Whenever Steve Wozniak is a speaker somewhere, he's introduced as the inventor of the Apple II. Anytime a "top games of all time" list is compiled, an Apple II game makes an appearance. And wherever Raspberry Pi and Arduino hacking occurs, it's often to connect Apple II equipment to modern environments.

I've always said of Juiced.GS that the magazine will publish as long as there are stories to tell, writers to tell them, and subscribers to read them. With Apple II Bits, I need only one of those three criteria: stories to tell.

At this rate, another eight years seems assured.

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Dungeons & Microzine

April 23rd, 2018 11:45 AM
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Earlier this month, I attended my ninth annual PAX East, a video game convention held here in Boston, Massachusetts. The event offers panels, game demos, competitions, and merchandise. That's roughly the order in which the parts of PAX appeal to me, as I try to save my money and avoid the merch table. But there's one kind of merch I can never resist: dice.

When my age was in the single digits, I found my older brother's Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set, complete with polyhedral dice. I'd never before encountered dice with more than six pipped sides and was fascinated to discover dice could have any number of sides: four, eight, ten, twelve, and twenty! I eventually saved my pennies and bought a one-hundred-sided die from the TSR Hobby Shop.

Dice

A fraction of my collection.

These days, every trip to PAX East includes a stop by the Chessex booth, where I pore over dice of different shapes, colors, and materials. Even though I no longer play D&D, I usually go home from PAX East with a few additions to my dice collection.

I want my nephews to experience some of the same awe and fantasy I did as a kid. When I saw one of them randomly rolling dice last month, I decided to expand his horizons with more dice acquired at PAX East.

But what was he to do with these dice? Rolling them at random without purpose or structure would be entertain for only so long. So I set out to find some games he could play.
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An Apple II standing desk

March 26th, 2018 8:02 AM
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As part of starting a new job, my employer bought a standing/sitting desk for my home office. I moved my filing cabinets of Juiced.GS back issues to make room and set up the new furniture. To get a sense for its range, I then adjusted it to its maximum height.

Uplift's Bamboo Stand Up Desk, raised

A giant desk.

When I examined what I'd wrought, I didn't see a desk. What I instead pictured was this:

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California Typewriter

February 19th, 2018 8:18 PM
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This weekend, I watched California Typewriter, a 2016 documentary about the professional and hobbyist communities surrounding typewriters. A narrative thread weaves through the titular California Typewriter, a family-owned shop in Berkeley, California — but the film's scope encompasses many other typewriter enthusiasts, including Tom Hanks, who's collected over 250 typewriters and who has lent his name to the typewriter-inspired iOS app Hanx Writer.

Typewriters were an essential step in the evolutionary history of personal computers, establishing such standards as the QWERTY keyboard. As a retrocomputing enthusiast, I appreciated the veneration these collectors feel for these classic machines. Offering a dedicated environment in which to focus on one's writing, free from distraction, notifications, or multitasking, is something typewriters and the Apple II have in common.

But I must disagree with a few qualities of the typewriter that were touted as strengths compared to personal computers. I didn't take notes during my viewing, so I'll paraphrase Tom Hanks who said that a personal, typed letter is more likely to survive the ravages of time. He cited an example of a thank-you note that playwright Noel Coward sent in the 1940s and which is now framed and preserved. Hanks pointed out that it's easy to delete an email, and if Coward had been able to send something via that medium, it would've been unlikely to have survived to present day.

But the best way to preserve something isn't to put it in one medium over another — it's to put it in as many hands as possible. Coward's letter is unique and singular; should anything happen to it, there are no copies or means by which to reproduce it. By contrast, something that is digital in origin or which is scanned into a digital format will almost always exist somewhere. Observe the history of Hewlett-Packard, meticulously recorded in hardcopy only and then lost in a fire this past October. Those documents were as irreplaceable as Coward's letter; had they been digitized, they likely would've lasted as long as that letter, too.

The movie also featured musician John Mayer's multiple complaints against electronic documents. First, that they showed no record of how something was created; apparently he's never heard of version control and incremental backups. Second, while he acknowledged that digital files will last forever, he likened it to a trash pile: yes, the files exist, but no one ever goes through them or sees them again.

His statement is likely based on personal experience and is likely true for most individuals: I still have every email I sent in college but haven't looked at them in twenty years. But when it comes to famous individuals or archaelogical artifacts — as both are the case with Ted Nelson — such "trash piles" hold at least as much historical value as a playwright's thank-you note.

I appreciate typewriters and those who admire them, and the California Typewriter documentary drove home their kinship with retrocomputing enthusiasts. Both typewriters and personal computers such as the Apple II have unique strengths that needn't come at each other's weaknesses.

As a bonus, I learned that, just as floppy drives and ImageWriters can be played as musical instruments, so too can typewriters! Witness the Boston Typewriter Orchestra: