Documentary crowdfunding frustration

July 4th, 2016 7:18 AM
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The Kickstarter for 8 bit generation succeeded, leading to the imminent release of a documentary about 8-bit computers. It was a long road, as the film was marked as "Missing In Action" back in 2012, well after I'd already paid for the DVD.

The Kickstarter promised an unlikely turnaround time: the campaign closed on September 25, 2015, with DVDs to ship just five months later in February 2016. That hasn't yet happened — but while we wait, the producers have launched a second Kickstarter for a second documentary.

"The story of Atari is two-thirds the story of Nolan Bushnell, founder and visionary," says the project description, "and one-third the first and probably biggest boom and bust of the new economy some 20 years before the new economy even existed."

The story of Atari is also the origin story of Apple: Steve Jobs got his first job there; Steve Wozniak developed their Breakout game; and together, before they founded Apple Computer Inc., the Steves tried selling the Apple II to Atari.

But how did the filmmakers spin the Atari content out from the original documentary without detracting from it? Turns out there was a marketing miscommunication: the first film was only the first part of a series, with each installment focusing on a different computer and company. What I thought was a broader overview of the 8-bit generation, and which I backed based on its interviews with Steve Wozniak, turned out to be subtitled The Commodore Wars.

Admittedly, I should've read the project's description more closely: "We resolved to release a single long run episode by the working title of Growing The 8 Bit Generation, focused on the home computer explosion and Commodore role in the personal computer revolution." But I usually count on a Kickstarter's campaign video to detail a project — and this project had no video.

That's not the only reason I feel conflicted about their second Kickstarter. I understand that, logistically, launching another crowdfunding campaign while the first remains unfulfilled makes perfect sense: the first documentary is already content-locked and is in the final stages of production, freeing the directors to begin work on editing another film. But emotionally and politically, it's a gamble, as Comcept discovered with the Mighty No. 9 and Red Ash campaigns. It feels like the directors are asking us to double down.

For almost half a decade now, I've been expecting a DVD of a documentary about Apple and its contemporaries. Such a thing may exist as future installments in this DVD series are produced — but it's not what I've been promised, it's not what I paid for, and I find myself a skeptical customer to be asking for more money and faith from.

Reviving the 8-Bit Generation

January 4th, 2016 3:04 PM
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In February 2012, I heard of an upcoming computer documentary called 8-Bit Generation. As it was scheduled to ship imminently, I paid to preordered a copy to review in Juiced.GS. But the ship date came and went, no DVDs shipped, and emails to the director went unanswered. I learned that October that some customers had received refunds, but I was not one of the lucky ones.

Jason Scott saw the bigger picture: what we'd lost was not just a few preorders, but an impressive collection of documentary footage with industry founders and luminaries that may now never see the light of day. As a director himself of such invaluable productions as GET LAMP and BBS: The Documentary, Scott understood the trials of creating such a product and the value of seeing it through to the end.

Thanks in no small part to Scott's empathy and support, the film's producers came out of hiding and sought to finally finish what they'd begun. A successful Kickstarter this past fall produced the necessary funds to see the film through to completion. An email from the project manager assured me that those who have not yet received refunds from the original preorder will eventually receive the documentary. So instead of backing the project at a level that would get me the DVD, I backed the Kickstarter for $1 to get access to any backer-only updates.

The film still isn't done, and the last Kickstarter update is from two months ago, but I've seen enough to now believe that this film exists and will become a finished product. Bil Herd, a former Commodore engineer, will be the narrator, and interviews with the elusive (and now deceased) Jack Tramiel will be donated to the Internet Archive and the Computer History Museum.

Here's an example of a familiar story told in stunning HD quality:

I've never had the ambition or talent to create a documentary and don't envy those who would tackle such a challenge. I believe this time, they'll prove worthy of the faith that's been shown in them.

Batman: Year One, Apple Two

November 24th, 2011 10:20 AM
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In its lifetime, the Apple II computer has a variety of unusual uses, from making piano player music to demonstrating motion-activated inputs. How about an ultrasound monitor?

That is the application to which the Apple II was put in last month's direct-to-DVD release of Batman: Year One. The tale is set at the dawn of Bruce Wayne's superhero career, reflect in the movie's slightly antiquated look. In one scene, Jim Gordon's wife visits the hospital for an ultrasound; in another, a trauma victim's vitals are monitored. Both times, an Apple II can be seen in the background.

Batman: Year One

According to the 1985 journal article "Mixing Apple microcomputer graphics for ultrasound scan measurement" in Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology, the official journal of the World Federation for Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology, Batman: Year One is not playing fast and loose with its historical fiction but is instead accurately portraying the technology of the era and its capabilities:

A modern microcomputer with high-resolution graphics can provide an inexpensive method for measurement on video images from a real-time ultrasound scanner. The problem which has to be overcome to allow the computer graphics to be superimposed on the ultrasound video image and permit subsequent analysis is that of synchronization. The video signals must be synchronized before they can be mixed, but neither microcomputers nor ultrasound scanners provide facilities for external synchronization of their video output. A mixer has been designed which uses a buffer memory and allows the graphics of an Apple II microcomputer to be synchronized and mixed with an external video image; we used a Hitachi EUB22 real-time ultrasound scanner. The resulting combination is a versatile instrument which permits a wide range of measurements on ultrasonic images.

Facebook user Herbert Fung first spotted these artifacts, reporting the sighting on October 22 and following up a day later with the above screen captures. Dave Miller provided the historical context.

Jason Scott's three-pack Kickstarter

September 15th, 2011 8:42 AM
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It seems you can't turn around these days without bumping into Jason Scott. Because putting Apple II magazines into the Internet Archive, donating documentaries to Apple II users, or compiling collections of Apple II crack screens isn't enough to keep a guy busy, he's decided to tackle his greatest project yet.

Having produced both BBS: The Documentary and GET LAMP in the last five years, Scott now wants to more than double his filmography. His goal is to publish not one, not two, but THREE more documentaries in the next four years — one each about the 6502 processor, tape as a medium, and arcades as places. The 6502 documentary should be of particular interest to Apple II users, since it was on that chip that Woz based our favorite machine.

Scott's last Kickstarter project set out to raise $25,000 with which to complete GET LAMP, which he had mostly already filmed. This time, Scott wants $100,000 to pursue three films simultaneously. I found the project less than a day after its debut, at which point he had already raised $12,000. By the end of the first day, he'd broken the $30,000 mark. Will the project maintain the momentum enough to cross the Kickstarter's all-or-nothing threshold by the November 12 deadline?

It's easy to imagine not contributing to that inertia: commercial products should be financially solvent, funding themselves through their own sales. But for niche topics like this, especially those that are independently produced and don't have big-time backers, the truth is that these films won't exist unless fans like us support them. So I've tossed him a few dollars (as a belated birthday gift — Scott turned 41 this past Tuesday) as a deposit toward these films, at least two of which interest me. There is little variety to the affordable funding options, but you can donate any value you want — the tiers are only for the rewards. So pick a sum that fits your budget and help Scott meet his.

Quality Computers System 6.0.1 video

July 12th, 2010 11:48 AM
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Two months ago, I digitized and uploaded a Quality Computers VHS video. Permission to do so was provided in a csa2 post started by Donald Jordan, who was looking to convert and preserve Quality Computer's video about the System 6.0.1 operating system. Though his quest had opened the door for all Quality Computers videos to be converted, I was curious if he'd achieved that goal with the specific video he had in mind.

I emailed Donald and learned that he had indeed converted his video — from VHS to DVD, using the Sony RDR-VXD655 VHS/DVD combo unit. His needs were met, but I was interested in distributing the video to a larger audience. Donald graciously donated a copy of his DVD to me for that purpose.

Once I had the DVD, I used MacTheRipper to save it to my hard drive; then, per Tony Diaz's suggestion, I used HandBrake to convert the DVD format to an MPEG-4 video file. Then, using QuickTime Player 7 Pro, I chopped the 57-minute video into seven separate MOV files that would accommodate YouTube's ten-minute upload limit. Here is the resulting playlist:


Q/Vision, a division of Quality Computers, presents this introduction to System 6.0.1, the last official Apple IIGS operating system released by Apple Computer Inc. This video was originally presented in six parts: previews of other Quality Computers products; an overview of System 6.0.1 and the Bonus Pack; preparation; installation; the Apple desktop; and the IIGS Finder. Starring QC employee Walker Archer, this 1992 video was converted from VHS to DVD by Donald Jordan and is posted here with his permission and cooperation, as well as that of copyright holder Joe Gleason.