Capturing KansasFest

October 28th, 2010 1:46 PM
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I’m a moviegoer and a video gamer, but I generally enjoy those media as a consumer, not a producer. If I had to choose one medium as my all-around favorite, it’d be literature: as described in GET LAMP, there is no means of communication that speaks so directly to the imagination. Accordingly, most of the content I publish for the Apple II takes the form not of software or hardware, but the written word, as evidenced by my multiple blogs and by Juiced.GS.

But when Jason Scott gave his KansasFest 2009 keynote speech, I realized that his presentation could not have been delivered by anyone but him: the content and the delivery were inseparable. A historian, Scott usually records his own speeches, but his travel arrangements had left him without his recording devices. Fortunately, Sean Fahey grabbed his Flip camera and saved the day, but I determined then and there that a more conscious effort had to be made to preserve KansasFest 2010’s moments.

After consulting with my workplace’s multimedia guy, videoblogger Steve Garfield, and a professional photographer who happens to be my uncle, I had an idea of the hardware I’d need. I bought a Kodak Zi8 digital video camera, Manfrotto tripod, and two external microphones (the Audio Technica ATR3350 and Sony ECM-DS70P). I could’ve gotten much better, but only for much more money — and at this point, the Apple II is still a hobby with the appropriate budget.

Recording the sessions was rather effortless. The resulting files were trimmed in QuickTime 7 Pro. If the video needed further editing, it was imported into iMovie; for audio, Audacity. The files were then converted from MOV using MPEG Streamclip, per Vimeo’s guidelines, and uploaded them into a KansasFest 2010 album. I chose that video service instead of YouTube because of the ease with which high-definition movies longer than ten minutes can be posted and even made available for download. I bought a one-month premium account that could accommodate the multiple gigabytes I needed to upload in a short amount of time; when that month was up, I renewed for a year, lasting me through KansasFest 2011.

All was well and good — except that most of these videos are longer than the average viewer’s attention span. When I needed to rewatch Mark Simonsen’s keynote speech, I exported the audio to my iPod and listened to it in the car. Steve Weyhrich mentioned his wish for the same ability to listen to the speech en route to work, instead of sitting at his computer for 90 minutes straight, so I set out to make this option available to others.

Echoes of KFestAs I’d ended up using the Zi8’s inbuilt microphone instead of either of the external mics I’d brought to KFest 2010, the video’s audio captured the background noise of the complex in which the sessions were held. I used Audacity further to remove as much static as I could, via a combination of the noise removal, amplify, and bass boost functions. I then uploaded them to the KansasFest Web site and, upon the recommendation of the event’s former logo designer, used the Blubrry plugin for WordPress to make the files available for streaming and to iTunes. The latter, ironically, required an episode to be published before it would accept the podcast submission — but I wanted an iTunes subscription option to be available for the initial announcement of the podcast’s availability. I worked around this chicken-and-the-egg scenario by backdating an episode so that nobody but iTunes would notice its publication. The result is the Echoes of KFest — technically more an audio archive than a podcast, but still only the third podcast (after 1 MHz and A2Unplugged) to ever be dedicated to the Apple II.

Since Echoes of KFest was an afterthought not conceived of until after the recordings were made, the audio is one area that’s obvious to improve. For KansasFest 2011, I will be investing in a Azden WMS-PRO external microphone. I’ve also ordered the latest version of iLife for use with non-Apple II projects — experience which I hope will translate back to KansasFest.

I’ve learned much by stepping into the multimedia realm; now I can say confidently that I really do prefer text! The number of technical steps to get all this media merely presentable meant that further refinement to make it truly professional was beyond me. I don’t want to dismiss the flaws of this work by saying “It’s better than nothing,” but I do hope its audience (if any) will recognize that my methodology is a work in progress and is attempted with the best of intentions.

KansasFest 2011 dates announced

August 26th, 2010 7:48 AM
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A month later, I’m still experiencing the after-effects of KansasFest. I’ve been inspired with too many Apple II ideas than my free time can accommodate — keynote speakers, Juiced.GS articles, blog posts, and more.

The opportunity to implement at least some of those ideas became a bit more concrete today with the announcement of the dates of KansasFest 2011. Hordes of Apple II veterans and newcomers will descend upon Rockhurst University from July 19 to July 24 for six days and five nights of numerous technical sessions, programming and athletic competitions with fantastic prizes, and much after-hours camaraderie.

Martin Haye

This small monitor packed a huge wallop:
its user produced the winning HackFest entry.

As an attendee, I can think of a few things I’m going to do differently at my fourteenth KansasFest. I presented five sessions in 2010, which I think accounted for about 20% of the formal schedule. I don’t regret a single one of them, as each was plenty of fun and well-received — but all that preparation may’ve kept me from hanging out with the other KFesters, who are the occasion’s true foundation. Maybe the wealth of knowledge possessed by the other attendees will take more of the stage in 2011.

I’m also going to invest in a wireless external microphone, that the audio on my video recordings of the sessions might not suck so hard. If I can accomplish that, I’ll be able to do some neat stuff that I’ve been limited in my ability to accomplish with the 2010 videos.

As a committee member, there are also a few changes I’d like to see made to the conference itself. KansasFest 2010 marked the first time since 2006 that the entire KansasFest committee was present at the event, which allowed us to gather behind closed doors and chat for an hour about past and future processes. In that discussion, at least one change for KansasFest 2011 was accepted that had me grinning ear-to-ear. (It’s a logistical issue that will affect but probably not excite the average attendee like it does me.) Changes we made from 2009 to 2010, such as having me on-site days early to prepare welcome packets and t-shirts, went very well and should be easy to repeat.

Before we can start planning KansasFest 2011 in earnest, we need to solicit some feedback from past attendees. If you’re not already on the mailing list, be sure to sign up to be kept abreast of news and invitations.

In the meantime, take Mike Maginnis’s advice: saving just a dollar a day will cover your KansasFest registration fee. It’s easily one of the most affordable vacations you can take — you can’t afford not to come.


KansasFest: Come for the Apple II — stay for the donuts.

Guitar Hero for the Apple II

June 10th, 2010 10:43 AM
Filed under Hacks & mods, Software showcase;

This week at the WWDC, the iPhone 4.0 was unveiled, and with it, several new apps, including Activision’s own Guitar Hero, a music rhythm game that first debuted on the PlayStation 2 and allows players to use a plastic guitar to strum along to on-screen color-coded symbols. Games in the Guitar Hero franchises have sold over 40 million copies, warranting its first appearance on an Apple platform.

It’s encouraging that an entire genre has sprung up around a game’s audio component. Game soundtracks have often taken the backseat to visuals, which is unfortunate; years after we last play a game, it’s the melodies that we remember best, rising unbidden to our whistling lips. Apple IIGS users are especially fortunate to have enjoyed this element of the gaming experience, as the machine’s Ensoniq sound chip performed far better than stock IBM clones of the era. I have a Soundmeister sound card in my IIGS, though I don’t recall exactly what benefits it bequeathed; all I remember is that, even prior to that upgrade, my DOS-based friends were jealous of my computer’s capabilities.

With all that aural processing power, I can’t help but wonder why the iPhone has Guitar Hero but the Apple II doesn’t? Turns out, we do:

Guitar Hero for the Apple II

Guitar Hero for the Apple II!
Image courtesy Mac-TV.

This advertisement is for a sound card that Steve Weyhrich’s Apple II History site describes: “ALF Music Card (ALF Products, Inc.) was strictly a music synthesizer, with some included software to aid in producing the music.” This card, released in the early 1980s, was outclassed a few years later by the Apple IIGS. But in theory, both 8- and 16-bit model of Apple II should be capable of a Guitar Hero-like game, sans peripherals. It requires playing music and accepting input simultaneously, but also matching the accuracy of the input with the time of the music. That too shouldn’t be difficult: the input routine doesn’t need to be aware of the music, so long as it has its own counter by which to judge input. (Five seconds into the game, it looks for the letter ‘A’; six seconds in, it’ll accept only ‘F’. etc.) If the keyboard input and sound output routines were in fact separate, then the former wouldn’t even be complicated by the latter using Vince Briel’s MP3 peripheral. Even barring that, there are so many chiptune artists who use the Apple II to create original or remix songs that assembling a sweet soundtrack should be trivial. On the visual side, it’s already been proven that the Apple II can produce music videos in time with external audio, so such a game could truly be a complete package.

Has anything like this been done before? Since music rhythm did not emerge as its own genre until the 1990s, I can’t think of any software titles that predate that label which would nonetheless suit it. Are there Apple II games that rely predominantly on sound to prompt user input? If not, why not?

(Hat tip to dangerman and Mac-TV)

Jed’s Beautiful iPad

May 13th, 2010 1:02 PM
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Panic is one of my favorite software developers. Besides making Transmit, an excellent FTP client for Mac OS X, they also have a great attitude. One of its founders ran the amusing Web comic Spamusement! He and his cohorts recently welcomed a new employee to Panic with a vegan cooking competition. And last year, they had a professional artist develop box art for their products as if they were Atari 2600 games — which led Jason Scott to hire that same artist to create the cover art for his upcoming documentary, Get Lamp.

Yesterday, Panic graciously accommodated a fan’s request. Stewart Smith wrote to Panic with a link to an Apple II music video he had made in 2005, set to the song “Jed’s Other Poem (Beautiful Ground” from the album The Sophtware Slump by Grandaddy:

Mr. Smith’s request was simple: could the developers at Panic run this program on the Apple IIe they had in their office? Sure, they responded … but the source code was in the format of an AIF sound recording, as would be used by an Apple II’s cassette tape storage device. Without a cassette tape deck, how would Panic load this file back onto an Apple II? Any modern device with an audio output jack could play the file into the Apple II’s audio input — so Panic decided to use their iPad.

There’s nothing technically impressive about this hardware collaboration, but it’s still extremely awesome to witness. Kudos to Panic for acknowledging their roots and pleasing the fans by inventing the “JediPad”.

(Hat tip to Jason Scott)