Ten years — time for a change

April 27th, 2020 12:05 PM
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Every spring brings new milestones. In the last month, I published the first issue of Juiced.GS's 25th volume. I published the 100th episode of my Polygamer podcast. Sabriel and I concluded another season of our Transporter Lock podcast. And this week, Apple II Bits turns ten years old.

Ten apples stacked in a pyramid

Can I stop counting yet?
(Photo courtesy Jaren Jai Wicklund / Shutterstock)

When Apple II Bits turned nine, I wondered if my energy and focus would support this blog beyond its tenth birthday. Now that we're here, I find I have the same passion for the Apple II and a wealth of topics to blog about now as I did then. But other changes, I could not have anticipated.

First, at KansasFest 2019, I received news that eventually led me to become a digital nomad. I now move to a different city every few months with whatever I can fit in my Prius — which doesn't include an Apple II. What it does include are new challenges that encourage me to be creative and reflective. How do I decide where to go next? How do I choose what to bring with me? What's off the beaten path? These are all unique questions that I'm excited to be discovering the answers to answering.

Many of those experiences and discoveries are shared on my digital nomad blog, Roadbits. I've been publishing stories about life on the road three times a week. These posts are directly relevant to my own life and are of interest to my friends, family, co-workers, and others interested in remote work. Before the first post ever went up, Roadbits had more subscribers than Apple II Bits accrued in a decade.

It's also a different kind of writing from what I'm used to: more personal and introspective. Without easy access to an Apple II, I often rely on sharing second-hand news that I found elsewhere. With Roadbits, I'm writing about what has been or will be directly applicable to my life, and what it means.

The second big change in the last year is coronavirus. The pandemic has threatened the wellbeing, economies, and routines of everyone I know. While the threat of COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on my nomadic itinerary, the more noticeable daily impact is on my mental health. The recent Onion story "Man Not Sure Why He Thought Most Psychologically Taxing Situation Of His Life Would Be The Thing To Make Him Productive" rings very true.

Although nomading and self-isolation have both given me more free time, coronavirus has created a higher "activation barrier", requiring more enthusiasm for me to accomplish something. And right now, new and exciting projects are more motivating than doing something routine.

Roadbits is new and exciting — but so is finding new ways for me to support the Apple II. Mark Simonsen of Beagle Bros once called himself a "serial entrepreneur": he starts or purchases new businesses, builds them up, and then sells them. Like him, I get a rush out of new projects. That's why I'm currently in the process of acquiring, repairing, redesigning, or resurrecting four different Apple II websites you've all heard of. Some of these efforts are one-and-done; if I do my job well, then you'll never know I had a hand in it. Others will be noticeable surprises with visible bylines. It's too soon to say which will come to fruition.

What does this mean for Apple II Bits? Nine years ago, friend and fellow Apple II user Sarah W lent me the book Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes, in which the author proposed an interesting model. Instead of viewing events in a chronological order from beginning to ending, we should consider the opposite: one thing must end before another thing can begin. While we may grieve the passing of an era, we can also welcome the reclaimed time and energy it brings us, and the new purpose we can give ourselves.

To that end, today is the end of my weekly commitment to Apple II Bits. I came to this decision a month ago, which is when I realized I still had a lot of personal stories left to tell and little time in which to tell them: the truth of Maxster. Beta-testing Wolfenstein 3D. My vanity license plate. Knowing today's deadline was looming gave me the incentive to finally tell these tales.

The good news is that this is not my last post! I have still more Apple II stories to tell, and I would do myself a disservice to cut myself off from this outlet. But from now on, I'm going to blog only when I have something to say and nowhere else to say it. (Some of those projects I'm working on may change the latter half of that equation.)

If you follow Apple II Bits, thank you — I hope you'll continue to do so. If you want regular new Apple II content, please subscribe to Juiced.GS.
If you are interested in following my personal adventures, both online and off, please consider subscribing to Roadbits.

Whichever road you take — Apple II Forever!
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Apple II Bits' ninth–and penultimate?–year

April 29th, 2019 9:00 AM
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It's a week of milestones: yesterday, I concluded the second season of my Transporter Lock podcast; this Friday, I finish my eighth semester of teaching; and today, April 29, marks exactly nine years since the launch of this blog.

Nine apples

And then there were nine.

Every Monday since 2010, I've shared something about the Apple II. Sometimes it's an anecdote from my own life that I somehow had never put in writing before, as with last week's tale about Rocky's Boots. Other posts look at the Apple II's influence on modern media, such as the state of Oregon's tourism marketing. Still others are commentary on current Apple II events, such as 4am's archiving efforts. Whether the source is my memory, my experiences, or my Google Alerts, I'm never wanting for content.

What I am sometimes wanting for is time and energy. Back in 2012, I found myself dealing with too many commitments and family health issues that all contributed to the possibility of burnout. I've been approaching that edge again lately: a weekly blog, two podcasts, a teaching position, and more start to add up. While some of those commitments are over as of this week, I expect my time to soon be filled with cycling and getting a dog, neither of which are small undertakings.

That's nothing new, though, and I've always managed to juggle everything before. What's different is how taxing a year I've had, with three family funerals, a scary surgery, and other personal challenges. Some artists and therapists recommend journaling, and to the degree that Apple II Bits is a regular, creative outlet, it does bring me some relief. But it requires active energy and output — something that, as of January 2018, I now give to my day job, which is demanding and fulfilling in ways I've never experienced. Add all that up, and sometimes I just want to relax without having something to show for it when I'm done.

But I'm not ready to call it quits! Apple II Bits will continue for at least another year, for several reasons. First, the blog is in easy reach of one decade of publication — perhaps an arbitrary milestone, but one that I'd nonetheless be proud of. Second, Apple II Bits is often where articles are inspired or workshopped for Juiced.GS, a magazine that itself is nearing a milestone: 2020 will mark its 25th year in print. Now is not the time to kill a source of content that would make that landmark achievable.

Finally, I'm aware that dedication can ebb and flow, and you don't give up just because you're in a temporary lull. Once the days and my bike rides are longer, and last year's hardships have faded further into memory, I suspect I'll be gladder for the regularity of Apple II Bits. If I'm not, then I can reassess after hitting that ten-year mark.

I've had a lot of variables in my life, and very few constants. Apple II Bits is one of the latter. Someday, one of those variables may supplant it — but not today.

In the meantime, enjoy this annual roundup of statistics and analytics about the blog.
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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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Apple II Bits' seven-year itch

April 24th, 2017 10:00 AM
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The seven-year itch isn't just a classic Marilyn Monroe film; it's also a predictor for the shelf life of my own hobbies. It's after that period of time that I tend to find myself growing weary of a particular pursuit and begin looking for new interests. For seven years, 1997–2004, I wrote video game reviews; 2001–2008, I performed in community theater; 2004–2011, I taught at a high school or worked toward a master's degree, each satisfying my desire to be involved in education.

But I find the Apple II bucks this trend. This summer will make my twentieth consecutive KansasFest; this year makes my eleventh volume of Juiced.GS. And this month marks my seventh year of writing this weekly blog. I don't see myself discontinuing any of these pastimes anytime soon.

Seven apples

Each year kinda snuck up on me.

What is it about the Apple II computer and community that manages to hold my interest? Perhaps it's the nostalgia factor, dating back to my childhood in a way that writing, acting, and teaching do not. Maybe it's that it serves as a safe space in which to develop new talents — it was editing Juiced.GS that put me on the path to getting a master's degree in publishing, and Open Apple was where I honed the skills for my two current podcasts. It could be that, despite the discontinued nature of the Apple II, it continues to produce remarkably unique experiences: every KansasFest attracts a new crowd with whom to form new bonds and new memories.

While all those factors are true, perhaps the most compelling reason is the continued challenge. I lose interest in something when I find I can't get any better at it — not to say I've mastered it, but that I've reached the limits of my own ability to excel. After writing three hundred video game reviews, the process had become rote and formulaic; after 28 community theater productions, I no longer worried about forgetting my lines, any more than I believed myself capable of achieving a starring role.

But every issue of Juiced.GS is like none other, both in assembling the content and in marketing the publication. I've tried many new ideas to grow the magazine — some worked, some didn't. But the result is a net gain, with the subscriber base having quintupled in the last eleven years, and the magazine on the cusp of publishing its one thousandth piece of editorial content.

I have abandoned many hobbies after seven years. I don't have a fear of commitment; I have a fear of complacency. And the one place I don't have to worry about growing complacent is, ironically, the community and creations surrounding a 40-year-old computer.

So happy 40th birthday to the Apple II, and happy 7th birthday to Apple II Bits. Forget the seven-year itch — this is just the seventh-inning stretch!

Marilyn Monroe on subway grate

Here's to many more.

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The Apple IIGS turns 30

September 26th, 2016 8:56 AM
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September 15, 2016, marked the 30th anniversary of the release of the Apple IIGS, the last model of Apple II to be developed and produced by Apple Computer Inc. Released two years after the introduction of the Macintosh, the IIGS was the only 16-bit Apple II, offering an entirely new operating system and suite of software.

Happy 30th to the Apple IIɢs!

I was 9 years old when we got our first Apple IIGS. I'd already been weaned on a steady diet of Apple IIe software, from VisiCalc and AppleWriter to Castle Wolfenstein and Choplifter — so that's how we used the Apple IIGS: as an accelerated Apple IIe. It wasn't until I started plundering the games library of the Apple II Users Forum on CompuServe that I started exploring what the Apple IIGS was uniquely capable of. With advice from Scott Everts and Loren Damewood, we invested in some hardware upgrades from Quality Computers that made the Apple IIGS a far more powerful machine than the IIe we once owned.

It wasn't long before my gaming hours were being spent on Bouncin' Ferno, Milestones 2000, Copy Killers, DuelTris, Floortiles, GShisen, and Xenocide. For telecommunications, I moved from ProTERM to Spectrum and its infinitely scriptable environment, where I crafted many chatroom games for CompuServe and GEnie. This budding podcaster got his start manipulating people's voices in AudioZap. And for word processing — well, I stuck with AppleWorks, of course. But for the most part, I never looked back once I "upgraded" to the ultimate Apple II.

Yet today, it seems the vast majority of today's retrocomputing programmers are developing 8-bit software. Quinn Dunk is hacking the Apple IIc Plus ROM, Martin Haye and company are building the world of Lawless Legends, French Touch is crafting 8-bit demos… the quantity and quality of Apple II software seems to dwarf releases for the Apple IIGS.

I can think of two reasons why this may be true. Given its late arrival and relatively limited number of models, the Apple IIGS was never as popular as its predecessors nor as likely to be someone's first Apple II. Thirty years ago, there were more 8-bit users than there were 16-bit users, and the two communities have experienced attrition proportionately. And with more secondhand 8-bit Apple II computers available, it's more likely to be the gateway for new community members than the Apple IIGS is.

The second reason is that the 8-bit Apple II offers a greater programming challenge than the Apple IIGS, in that constraints breed creativity. Although the Apple IIGS has more software and hardware resources at its disposal, it's more of a challenge and an accomplishment to create a cool program when you have only 48 kilobytes of RAM and not 4.25 megabytes.

It's similar to what Eric Shepherd said at KansasFest 2013: the Apple is finite and capable of being entirely grokked by a single developer. That's more true for the Apple II than it is for the IIGS.

The IIGS is the youngest Apple II, just as for many years, I was the youngest of the Apple II community. It'll always hold a special place in my heart. Now I'm curious to know why you think this technically superior machine doesn't hold that place in the hearts of more Apple II users. Share your theories in the comment belows or on Facebook or Twitter!

Get your kicks in year six of Apple II Bits

April 25th, 2016 9:22 AM
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The best course I took in grad school was Jeff Seglin's column-writing class. The opening exercise was to go to the local bookstore, choose several magazines, and draft pitches for articles to each. Early in the semester, I found this assignment challenging — but when we revisited it a few months later, the ideas flowed. I'm not sure what potential Seglin tapped, but he somehow got me seeing stories everywhere. Since then, I've rarely been short of ideas for Apple II Bits, Juiced.GS, Polygamer, or The Moth.

KansasFest 2015 really got those creative juices flowing, though again, I can't pinpoint the inspirational moment. All I know is, when I got back from that annual convention, Apple II Bits blog posts were flowing fast and furious, until I had up to two months of weekly columns queued in advance. It was a great relief to be able to table that Sunday night scurry for an idea.

I sometimes wonder when I'll run out of ideas and have to stop writing this blog altogether. But with all the activity of the Apple II community to inspire me, and with Seglin having given me the tools to recognize the stories therein, I don't think it'll be a lack of ideas that will be as challenging as finding the time and energy to keep up with it all.

In the meantime, I've made it six years of writing Apple II Bits, with the first post having gone live on April 29, 2010. I wrote two posts a week for the first two years — 104 posts a year! — and once a week for the four years since then, for a total of 419 posts. If Seglin had sent me to the book store with the assignment to pick one magazine and come up with 419 pitches, I would've failed his course. Yet Apple II Bits continues chugging along.

Six apples in two rows

My thanks to everyone who has inspired this blog's articles and to all the readers who have taken the time to mull their words, publicly or privately. I still have a few more years in me; I hope you'll come along.

In the meantime, here are some numbers by which to quantify the site's content and evolution.

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