Archive for the ‘People’ Category

Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, and other personalities of Apple II history.

Speech synthesis on the Apple II

July 23rd, 2018 9:16 AM
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Earlier this year, I interviewed Joseph Bein of Out of Sight Games. As a visually impaired gamer, Joseph finds some games more accessible than others; but as a game developer, he encounters other challenges I'd never even considered. Are game development tools themselves accessible? How do we make them so?

Interviewing Joseph made it apparent that computers can cause problems for those seeking easy access to technology and media — but another podcast showcased how they can also solve a lot of problems. The Apple II was one of the pioneers in that department, courtesy the Echo II speech synthesis expansion card. One early beneficiary of the Echo II was Dr. Robert Carter, a podcaster who himself was recently interviewed on the podcast Background Mode, a publication of The Mac Observer.

From the show notes:

Dr. Robert Carter is a Ph.D. Psychologist at Texas A&M, a long-time Apple enthusiast, and the co-host of the Tech Doctor podcast. He's very well versed in assistive technologies, having been blind since birth. Robert tells an amazing story about he's coped with his disability through the years. It started with using a portable typewriter in grade school, discovering the Apple II at age 18 and a speech synthesizer plug-in card, and ultimately using Apple's extraordinary VoiceOver technology on the Mac—and now iPhone.

The Apple II connections in this podcast extend to both sides of the mic: host John Martellaro was the editor and publisher of Peelings II, "The Magazine of Apple Software Evaluation", back in the early 1980s.

I'd love to examine the accessibility features of the Apple II — both historical and modern — in a future issue of Juiced.GS. After listening to this podcast, I'm adding Dr. Carter to my list of primary resources!

The legend of John Romero

February 26th, 2018 9:06 AM
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When I was on the KansasFest committee, I performed much of the outreach to parties outside what we commonly think of as the Apple II community. That included recruitment of keynote speakers, which was always one of the most important steps in organizing each annual convention. Once we had a keynote speaker to headline the event, we could open registration — which meant brainstorming and solicitation of speakers began very early.

While most candidates responded to our emails, not all of them were able to accept our invitations, for a variety of legitimate reasons: usually that they'd moved past the Apple II, or that we couldn't sufficiently compensate them for their time. When they did respond in the affirmative, it wasn't unusual for several rounds of questions and clarifications to occur before they'd agree to attend. None of this was unexpected or unfair; on the contrary, we recognized that an Apple II convention in the middle of the country at the height of vacation season was a hard sell.

All this made it all the more shocking when the keynote speaker we thought most likely to say no was the one whose enthusiastic acceptance arrived the fastest. Given that the sun has still not set on the legend of John Romero, I never expected such a luminary of the gaming industry to come to KansasFest. That preconceived notion served only to demonstrate how little I knew him. He was friendly, generous, timely, and delivered one of the best KansasFest keynote speeches I've ever witnessed.

More evidence of John's benevolence is apparent in the latest episode of Jason Scott's podcast, Jason Scott Talks His Way Out of It (which I back on Patreon). Over the course of Jason's 24-minute monologue, he recounts his own personal interactions with John as well as John's many contributions to gaming and the Apple II community.

I'm tempted to call John's appearance at KansasFest a homecoming. But John never left the Apple II community, celebrating it in 1998 by hosting his own reunion of renowned Apple II developers and publishers, as documented in this landmark ZDNet feature by Steven Kent. John recreated that event almost 20 years later when he and partner Brenda Romero, herself of Wizardry fame, hosted another Apple II reunion in 2015. Both events reunited John with his peers from the days well before his Doom and Quake fame, when he created such classic Softdisk and UpTime games for the Apple II as Dangerous Dave.

John Romero is one of my favorite people in the gaming industry, not only because of the software he's created but because of how he conducts himself as a person and the respect, enthusiasm, and support he shows others — such as by showing no hesitation about being an Apple II keynote speaker in Missouri in the middle of July.

Tech luminaries we lost in 2017

January 1st, 2018 10:32 AM
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Five years ago this month, my tenure as an editor at Computerworld ended. But that wasn't the end of the story: the many colleagues I'd worked with extended an invitation to continue freelancing for the publication — an invitation I gladly accepted.

While Computerworld was happy to publish Apple II articles when it came for free from a staff writer, it's harder to justify paying a freelancer by the word to cover a 40-year-old computer. So my articles in the last five years explored other topics, including an annual tradition that I inadvertently began: a slideshow of tech luminaries we lost.

It was October 2011, and Steve Jobs had just passed away. I was on the features team — a group of editors who met biweekly to discuss big ideas for stories. Compared to the daily news grind, a feature could take at least a month to write and was almost always farmed out to a freelancer. Several websites were disgruntled that Steve Jobs' passing had gotten more publicity than that of Dennis Ritchie, who created the C programming language and co-created Unix. I thought this a good opportunity to shine the spotlight on other overlooked industry veterans, so I suggested we publish a feature in time for Halloween that asked the question: "Who's next?!" What other aging founders were we likely to soon lose?

The features team leader politely said, "Ken, that's a really terrible idea… but there may be a good idea we can get out of it."

Thus was born the annual end-of-year slideshow that looked back on tech luminaries we lost in that calendar year. For the next several years, including during my transition from editor to freelancer, I watched other writers assemble the slideshow. In 2014, I was honored to assigned the story, finally being given the opportunity to execute the concept I'd proposed years ago.

That first year, I included Bob Bishop, whom I'd had the pleasure to meet and photograph at KansasFest. I skipped 2015 but wrote the slideshow in 2016 and again just last week for 2017. This latest lineup was the first time I got to choose which luminaries to honor, instead of having them assigned to me. It made it much easier to ensure a diverse cast when that virtue was baked in from the beginning. It also allowed me to include luminaries who might not otherwise have made the cut at Computerworld, such as Keith Robinson of Intellivision fame.

Tech luminaries we lost in 2017

While there were no Apple II legends in this year's roundup, Apple Computer Inc. was doubtless influenced by the heroes we lost in 2017. It was Robert W. Taylor who conceived of the ARPAnet, which became the Internet — but he also worked at Xerox PARC, from which Steve Jobs got the ideas for GUI, mouse input devices, and more. Charles Thacker was another PARC alumnus who helped develop the Xerox Alto, the early computer that embodied these concepts.

Writing this slideshow is a morose way to lead up to the holiday season — but I take heart in my ability to carry the legacies of these early innovators and ensure their stories are known. For everything they did for the Apple II and its users, I salute them.

Wax Woz

April 4th, 2016 8:24 AM
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On April 1, Apple Inc. turned forty. From humble beginnings sprang an empire, born of the genius and passion of Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs. While the company and products have long been celebrated, and Steve Jobs' legacy has been lauded with books and movies, Steve Wozniak has not gotten his fair share of credit and attention.

Madame Tussauds, the famous wax museum, aims to fix that by adding Woz to the collection, alongside Jobs and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Over 350 measurements were taken by the Tussauds staff to create as accurate a representation of the Apple co-founder as possible.

The final figure was revealed last month at Silicon Valley Comic-Con:

The decision to create a wax Woz was made by fans. "Wozniak earned the highest number of votes when the public was asked to choose who among the Bay Area tech innovators should be the next figure to be immortalized in wax," reports Menchie Mendoza. "Other finalists in the voting include Elon Musk of Tesla and SpaceX, Edwin Catmull of Pixar, Marissa Mayer of Yahoo, Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, Larry Page of Google, George Lucas of Lucasfilm, Marc Benioff of Salesforce, Jane Metcalfe of Wired Magazine and Frank Oppenheimer of Exploratorium."

Meeting the Woz's waxy double is no substitute for the real thing — for that, you need to go to KansasFest and hope for the best. But it's good to see at least one medium grant the Woz the same recognition Jobs has earned.

Steve Wozniak's Formative AMA

March 21st, 2016 11:39 AM
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Steve Wozniak may be a rambling storyteller, but he still has stories to tell. All he needs is structure and editing — which social news site reddit recently provided when Woz participated in their original video series:

FORMATIVE aims to explore one defining moment in a person’s life. We’ll sit down with eight creators utilizing technology: travel back in time to when that moment occurred, hear about the circumstances surrounding it in their own words, then return to present day and see how it has influenced their lives.

As part of a series of origin stories, Formative focuses on Woz's early partnership with Steve Jobs, debunking the myth that Apple was founded in a garage but also relating the passion and enthusiasm he had for digital computing. I never knew that Woz didn't see his future in this field — not due to lack of interest or confidence, but because the field was so new, he didn't know it could be anything more than a hobby. It was inspiring to know that one of our heroes found his passion before it became his career.

Complementing the release of the video, Woz hosted an Ask Me Anything (AMA), which uses the reddit message board as a live chat wherein anyone can submit questions for the host. Over the course of a few hours, Woz answered nearly two dozen questions, ranging from the FBI-Apple encryption dispute to "Outback vs In-n-out?" Two of my favorites:

Q: Even though you left in 1985, what was your relationship with the company like after, and how has that changed compared to now? Are you, for example, allowed to go and visit any colleagues that still work there or are you simply another outsider?

A: … I always was on good terms with Apple and they always liked me, I'm always welcome. I could come by, Steve Jobs would always make sure I had a badge that could get me into any building. I didn't use it much, but I can go there. The only trouble is I'll get mobbed.

Q: Who was the first person to call you 'Woz'?

A: … I found out later in life that almost every Wozniak gets the nickname Woz over time. Their friends just start calling them that. My uncle is Uncle Woz. My son, his friends call him Woz, and I turn to my kid and I realize they’re talking to Gary instead. So it goes back. It's just nice.

Among the more fun answers were also some meatier ones open to analysis. Minda Zetlin of Inc. interpreted one of Woz's responses as him being out of touch with what makes modern-day Apple. Inc so great: "Woz is an uber-geek, and there's a common mistake most geeks make: They think technological capability is all that matters. They don't care about design, usability, or marketing — three areas where Steve Jobs's genius really shone through."

No wonder Woz is a hero to the Apple II community: design is important, but we're more hackers than consumers, interested on what's inside than in how it looks.

Between the video and the AMA, there's a lot of insightful, focused, original commentary from Apple's legendary co-founder. As much as we think we know everything about Woz, he always has something new to share.

Dinner with Woz

March 7th, 2016 12:22 PM
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Steve Wozniak is a helluva nice guy. He'll share the same anecdotes in a stream of consciousness, but he'll rarely say a bad word about anyone or anything. He is also, as you know, a complete and utter genius, without whom there'd be no Apple Inc., Apple-1, Apple II, KansasFest, or Juiced.GS.

How much would you pay to spend an hour in the company of such a person — not just to hear him speak on stage at a conference, but to have his ear and his wisdom for an hour?

The current bid is $5,100 in this eBay auction for dinner with Woz. If you can get yourself and three friends to Silicon Valley, you can have the opportunity to dine with the co-founder of Apple.

It's not unusual for celebrities to donate their time and talent to charities. In this case, Woz is doing it as a favor for his friend, Matt Spergel: "The proceeds of this auction will benefit East Bay Live Music, a new type of live music promotional service which aspires to provide musicians with an easier way to make a living doing what they love. Once funds are raised, it will be taken to market."

But wait — there's more!

ChampagneWinning bidder will also receive a one-of-a-kind unopened bottle of wine from the Apple IPO party which can be signed at dinner by Woz. This bottle was originally given to Marty Spergel by Steve Jobs, a business partner of Apple Computer in its early history. Winner must be at least 21 years of age to receive this bottle.

This auction is a bit rich for my blood — it's already more than twice than what the Castle Wolfenstein painting, which I bid on, went for. But I hope whoever wins makes it an evening to remember!

(Hat tip to David Pierini)