Happy birthday, 1 MHz

May 7th, 2018 9:46 AM
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When Ryan Suenaga launched the A2Unplugged podcast on August 8, 2006, he declared it the world's first Apple II podcast. He quickly discovered that someone who'd never been to KansasFest, subscribed to GEnie, or read Juiced.GS had beaten him to the punch by only three months and a day: on May 7 of that year, Carrington Vanston debuted 1 MHz — originally "the Apple II podcast", soon "an Apple II podcast".

1 MHz podcast

Free as in beer, and free as in freedom.

Over six years and sixteen episodes, Carrington played 8-bit Apple II games both popular and obscure: Wasteland, Bureaucracy, Archon, Apple Panic, and more. Almost a decade before podcasts like New Game Plus and Do You Want to Keep Playing? made "retro game of the week" their schtick, 1 MHz was plumbing the depths of classic adventures, putting them in historical context and gushing over their feelies, exhibiting an enthusiasm normally reserved for someone discovering these games for the first time.

What Carrington had in quality, he made up for in lack of quantity. Sixteen episodes over 75 months is not frequent — it's roughly one every five months. The shortest span between episodes was four weeks; and the longest was two years, eight months. At that rate, it became an event when a new episode debuted, with my friends hurriedly texting me, "Did you hear? A new episode of 1 MHz is out!!"

1 MHz is not the only show to have fluctuated the Apple II airwaves. After four years of broadcasting, A2Unplugged aired its 36th and final episode in July 2010; host Ryan Suenaga passed away nine months later, in April 2011. But he lived to hear the debut of Open Apple, a show Mike Maginnis and I created to do what no other Apple II podcast was doing: interviewing the voices that constitute this amazing community. I departed that show after three years, but despite occasional hiatuses, Open Apple continues to this day, with Juiced.GS associate editor Andy Molloy and I guest-appearing on the latest episode, #76.

Meanwhile, in the last four years, traditional episodes of 1 MHz have been absent — but Carrington has not been silent. His rambunctious style of podcasting can be heard today not only on the Retro Computing Roundtable but on Eaten by a Grue, a game review podcast in the style of 1 MHz that Carrington co-hosts with Kevin Savetz. Last month, episode #17 aired, making it a more prolific podcast than 1 MHz.

But the great thing about retrocomputing podcasts is that they're never outdated: by covering topics that aren't contemporary, the podcasts themselves become timeless. So to celebrate the 12th anniversary of 1 MHz's premiere, I've ensured that Carrington's show will never be lost to the tides of time, and I've uploaded it to the Internet Archive.

Here's to ensuring a long life for the first — and one of the best — Apple II podcasts!

KansasFest goes to Funspot

October 31st, 2016 9:41 AM
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At KansasFest, Apple II users from around the world meet and share a unique experience. The games we play there — be it computer games like Structris and KABOOM!, board games such as Lode Runner, or the card game Oregon Trail — forge friendships that are often revisited only once a year at KansasFest.

But sometimes, the stars align to reunite those friends in new and unusual venues. That happened this past weekend, when Juiced.GS associate editor Andy Molloy, staff writer Ivan Drucker, Retro Computing Roundtable co-host Carrington Vanston, and I made the trek to the American Classic Arcade Museum at Funspot in Laconia, New Hampshire, USA.

ACAM is the world's largest video game arcade, as determined by Guinness World Records. With over 300 machines from the 1970s and 1980s, the arcade is home to coin-ops both classic and rare — all still just a token each. I first discovered this arcade thirty years ago, when its games were new. I returned every summer for over a decade, then relegated it to a childhood memory for another ten years. I finally started going back in 2006 and recruited Andy in 2007. Having now been making an annual pilgrimage to Funspot for nearly a decade, we decided it was time to evangelize and spread the good word to Carrington and Ivan, who'd never been there.

Carrington, who co-founded the podcast No Quarter, was of course familiar with many of Funspot's games, but Ivan knew few beyond his favorites. He schooled us all in Donkey Kong but then proved vulnerable to the first shrubbery he encountered in Paper Boy. We each sought out individual rounds of Marble Madness, Frogger, Asteroids, and Robotron 2064, but the most fun was had when we went head-to-head. Ivan, Andy, and I lost to the computer in Super Sprint. Carrington, Andy, and I then demolished cities in Rampage, after which Carrington, Andy, and Ivan launched bombs at Sinistar; we all four finally teamed up to play to the eleventh dungeon of Gauntlet II.

There were two surprising discoveries of the day. The first was Donkey Kong II, which looked and played like a sequel to the Nintendo classic — except Ivan had never heard of it. Was it possible for a game with such storied lineage to have escaped his notice for so long?

Donkey Kong 2 at Funspot

The answer is no: Donkey Kong II is an unofficial ROM hack consisting of the original game's four levels and four new levels. It made its arcade debut at Funspot in 2006 but is more easily playable online.

The other surprise was Chiller, a disturbing lightgun game. Developed by Exidy of Death Race infamy, Chiller challenges players to shoot as many human prisoners as possible in a short amount of time. These living targets are found in torture chambers, ensconced in guillotines, racks, and other vehicles of pain, waiting for the player to deliver the fatal blow. While it sounds perverse, my gaming buds excused it by how cartoonish its artwork was, saying they'd never play a modern game with motion-capture video that featured such ghoulish, gratuitous violence. Still, I enjoyed playing the role of the disapproving prude, sternly frowning and shaking my head in their direction with each playthrough, while in the back of my mind wondering how I could excuse my ownership of the NES port.

Due to how far our far-flung party had to travel to return home, we did not have time to cap the evening at Pinball Wizard, another excellent arcade in southern New Hampshire. We were also left with a heavy cupful of leftover tokens from Funspot. With this many games, there is never enough time to play them all.

Fortunately, Funspot — much like KansasFest and the friendships it forms — is forever.

Meet the geeks at KansasFest

August 19th, 2013 1:18 PM
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From 2007 through 2012, I covered KansasFest for Computerworld, a magazine and website of which I was an editor. When I left that position in early 2013, I did so on good terms, leaving open the possibility of freelance work. I solicited suggestions from other Apple II users for how I might pitch coverage of this year's KansasFest in a way that Computerworld hadn't done before. Eric Shepherd proposed a series of attendee profiles, in the style of my previous coverage of BostonFIG. My editor loved the idea but asked that, instead of photos and writeups, I produce short video interviews.

I'd long wanted to shoot video at KansasFest, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so. Andy Molloy helped me vet a list of attendees with unique, discrete roles who would exemplify the Apple II community. Throughout the week of KansasFest, I cornered a dozen people: programmers, historians, artists, gamers, and more.

Computerworld published eight of the videos in the slideshow, "Who goes to an Apple II convention in 2013?", which went live last Friday. This morning, KansasFest's official YouTube channel published an additional three. That makes eleven — the unpublished 12th video was one I shot of myself, as a proof of concept. No one needs to see that.

My thanks to all who contributed to this project! I hope the below videos serve as an example of the wonderful friends you can make at KansasFest. Click the thumbnails for an introduction!

Melissa Barron

The Artist

Steve Wozniak

The Founder

Randy Wigginton

The Speaker

Steve Weyhrich

The Historian

Carrington Vanston

The Podcaster

Michael Sternberg

The Gamer

Eric Shepherd

The Emulator

Kevin Savetz

The Rebel

Charles Mangin

The Inventor

Carl Knoblock

The Old-Timer

Ken Gagne

The Profiler

The Programmer

The Programmer

Apple airwaves

November 8th, 2010 1:47 PM
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In May 2006, Apple II coverage gained a new channel: the podcast. This popular form of timeshifted radio finally gained its own broadcast dedicated to our favorite desktop computer when Carrington Vanston, a Canadian previously unknown to our community, debuted 1 MHz!, offering "8-bit Apple news and 2-bit Apple reviews."

Later in 2006, the show was joined by Ryan Suenaga's A2Unplugged, which took a different tact with its regular programming coverage and celebrity interviews.

A2Unplugged continues publication to this day, though sporadically, with its 36th and most recent episode having been published five months ago. 1 MHz, on the other hand, published only a dozen episodes in its first two years before going silent in February 2008.

iTunes podcast iconNot all was lost: the Apple II was still a frequent guest of general retrocomputing shows of the weekly RetroMacCast, as well as Earl Evans once-weekly, now-sporadic Retrobits. Along with A2Unplugged and the archival Echoes of KFest, these were our best and only radio shows.

David Greelish of Classic Computing recently decided to complement those sparse offerings with his own show, and his debut is a knockout. The Retro Computing Roundtable has published its first episode with lively chatter and insightful discussion among a star-studded panel consisting of David, Earl Evans, VintageComputer.net's Bill Degnan … and Carrington Vanston.

I guess I should take it personally that the Canadian never answered my emails, as David somehow got him back onto the retro scene. Not only that, but in the RCR podcast, Carrington off-handedly dropped a bombshell: 1 MHz would be back.

And it is. Last Friday, for the first time in 2.5 years, a new episode of the 1 MHz podcast was published. With little mention of his absence, Carrington launches right into his usual fare of news and reviews:

Krüe releases the TreeHugger GS/OS Printer Port driver, but will you dare to install version 0.0? The daredevilry continues as you risk blowing your mind when you view the Visual 6502 emulator. For less risky but no less enjoyable online ogling, check out Dr. Matt Barton's book excerpt about LucasArts adventure games called The Maniac in the Mansion. And then come with me on a journey to the post apocalyptic world of Wasteland where we'll fight mutants, build robots and learn to repair toasts. Finally, I track down the rare and elusive Wasteland Survival Guide for the Apple II, which just makes me want to play Wasteland one more time.

It's a great episode, filled with Carrington's usual zany humor and mile-a-minute gushing (does he ever breathe?). The episode is apparently made possible (or motivated by) corporate sponsorship, though it remains to be seen whether that will prove enough for future episodes.

We can hope so.

Find all these shows on iTunes:

• 1 MHz
• A2Unplugged
• Echoes of KFest
• Retro Computing Roundtable
• RetroMacCast
• Retrobits