Apple II Bits turns three!

April 29th, 2013 2:59 PM
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Today marks exactly three years since Apple II Bits' first blog post.

Holy crap, did that go quickly.

I once wrote a quarterly column for Juiced.GS entitled "A Word or II". It was a short piece, only half a page, and could be on any topic on which I had a personal opinion. Figuring out what to write about was never easy, but I did so sixteen times before editorial responsibilities shifted and Eric Shepherd took over the column. Now I write Juiced.GS's monthly editorial, "My Home Page", and have so far done so 29 times. It's still challenging.

So if three years ago you had asked me to write 263 columns about the Apple II, I would've laughed in your face.

Birthday cake

Happy birthday, blog!


And yet, Apple II Bits has done exactly that! It astonishes me. Although there's more effort required to produce online content than print due to the blog's capacity for embedded multimedia and researched hyperlinks, those same resources provide an almost infinite wealth of topics on which to opine.

Despite that, a year ago this month, I changed the blog's publication frequency from twice-weekly to weekly. I'm glad to have done so, as it's freed me up to produce content for other channels, such as YouTube and TechHive. But there's still plenty more to be said about the Apple II, and as one of the three pillars of my Apple II publishing empire — Juiced.GS and Open Apple being the others — it helps improve the discoverability of the entire network. So let's keep this outlet going, too

In the meantime, here are some random numbers about the blog.

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Live podcasting with RCR & Google+

December 24th, 2012 11:31 AM
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Yesterday I watched Retro Computing Roundtable #41. I've listened to the twice-monthly podcast since its 2010 debut, but this was my first time watching the live video recording, a medium they introduced a few months ago.

Although still an audio podcast, RCR's video aspect brings some additional features. When Carrington showed off his Fix-It Felix Jr. arcade cabinet — one of only a dozen in existence, of which only three exist "in the wild" — watching the camera pan to reveal his surprise acquisition was a real jaw-dropper.

As the chat was conducted via a Google+ Hangout, the three speakers were represented by dynamic thumbnails at the bottom of the window, with the main video window automatically switching to whoever was speaking. I liked this feature, as it was reminiscent of a live cameraman actively looking to capture reaction shots from the participants.

But for the rest of the show, the video component didn't add much — nor is it supposed to, lest primarily audio listeners such as myself miss out. The real draw isn't to watch some talking heads, but to be able to participate in the show live by inviting listeners to chat with the hosts while they record. Instead of a dedicated chat room, these conversations are held in the YouTube comments for the video. It's a bit awkward, as these comments persist even after the recording, without any indication of what part of the video they are in reference to. Producing the podcast in conjunction with SceneSat Radio would better synchronize the video and text while giving listeners a dedicated space in which to congregate.

Finally, there's the issue that has kept Open Apple from recording live: the lack of post-production opportunity. When you listen to a show as it's being recorded, you don't hear any of the background music or transitions that are usually later placed into the audio file. As a result, this episode of RCR felt rawer and less polished than I'm accustomed to, even though I know the version I'll eventually download from iTunes will be more typical.

To be clear, I have no reservations or complaints with the Retro Computing Roundtable or its hosts or content; this blog post is meant as a critique of the recording and delivery mechanisms offered by Google+ and YouTube. As a podcaster myself, I'm always curious to investigate alternative tools and processes, and I'm glad that RCR has branched out in this way that I might learn from the experience.

Two years of Apple II Bits

April 30th, 2012 11:36 AM
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Yesterday marked the two-year anniversary of Apple II Bits, where I have been publishing two posts per week without fail. Per my recent analysis of my time commitments, I shall reduce that rate to once per week, every Monday, starting today.

To mark that transition and the site's second birthday, here are some statistics about the site's growth since my last analytics breakdown:

  • • Apple II Bits received in its second year triple the pageviews it garnered in its first — and nine times as many mobile visitors, almost all of them on iPad or iPhone.
  • • In the past year, StumbleUpon, Facebook, and Twitter have continued to be the top social media referrers of traffic to this site. StumbleUpon is now the #1 referrer of any type; Computerworld, #1 in the site's first year, was #10 in the second.
  • • In particular, my coverage of ROFLCon 2010, a biennial convention last held the weekend Apple II Bits launched, is popular among StumbleUpon users. (I'll be attending ROFLCon 2012 this week.)
  • • Whereas search engines generated 25% of the site's traffic in its first year, in its second, they constituted 40%.
  • • The site's all-time busiest day was Nov 1, 2011, when the site got slashdotted. That's perhaps an exaggeration: my site was not the subject of the /. post, but when it mentioned Visicalc, its author linked not to creator Dan Bricklin's site, but to my post commemorating its public debut.
  • • The second most popular day ever has also been in the last year: my profile of Jeri Ellsworth.
  • • Throughout the site's life, 38% of visitors have used Firefox as their Web browser; 22.5% used Chrome; 20% used Safari; 13% used Internet Explorer (hi, Peter!).
  • • In the last year, Akismet blocked 56,120 spam comments (+44,169 since last April), with the busiest month being Apr 2012 with 7,919 spam. We're on track to block 67,635 spam comments in calendar year 2012, compared with 38,629 in 2011.
  • • As of today, the site contains 210 posts (+110), 1,237 tags (+515), 266 comments (+189) from 84 readers (+50), and 1 blogger.

My personal life has had some curveballs thrown at it in Q1 2012, and I expect the rest of the year to be equally dynamic. I look forward to the stability this blog will offer me, but with a less demanding schedule. Thank you for reading!

The Minecraft-Apple II connection

February 2nd, 2012 2:06 PM
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There are plenty of places on the Internet to find people's stories of their introduction to the Apple II: blogs, podcasts, videos, and tweets. Though games are often early computer users' gateway to the platform, I don't expect to find their stories within a game.

Troy Cheek is the exception with his YouTube channel, which features a daily Minecraft video blog. As he explores the sandbox world from a first-person perspective, he records his musings, which meander through both the virtual world and his own history. On day 142, posted on New Year's Eve 2011, Troy tells the story of his first Apple II program and its unexpected longevity. The first mention is at the 2:00 mark, but the below video starts at 3:24 with the crux of the odd juxtaposition of Minecraft and Apple II.

At 3:55, Troy says that his school bought computers "not for computer science geeks, but for the business office — the vocational education people." That reminds me of Mark Simonsen, who said in his KansasFest 2010 keynote speech that he first encountered computers in his college accounting class. I wonder how many people were introduced to the Apple II almost by accident, as a tangent to some other professional endeavor, without anticipating the impact it could have on their lives?

At 14:34, Troy mentions that the school attendance program he developed employed the bubble sort algorithm, which he calls "the redheaded stepchild of the sorting family". It's true that it's not the most efficient way to sort a large data set, but it's also one of the easiest to implement and the best-known. Heck, even President Barack Obama is familiar with it:

Of course, Troy isn't the first person to intersect the Apple II with Minecraft. Steve Weyhrich did so nearly a year ago with his amazing and faithful re-creation of an Apple II using Minecraft building blocks. He later presented his work at KansasFest 2011, including a virtual Apple Store.

What other inspirations of the Apple II have you seen in your favorite games?

A chat with Bill Budge

October 13th, 2011 11:53 AM
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If a wave of nostalgia and retrocomputing enthusiasm has led to a resurgence in the popularity of the Apple II, then it's natural that a spillover would effect the platform's past and present celebrities. Bill Budge, for one, was honored with the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences's Pioneer Award, concurrent with an in-depth profile by Wired magazine.

You'd think that the popular press might have forgotten Budge since then, but you'd be wrong. Gamasutra recently ran Brandon Sheffield's lengthy interview with the programmer. In it, Budge talks about his evolution from programming games to tools for Electronic Arts 3DO, Sony, and Google — the seeds of which can be seen in his Apple II landmarks, Raster Blaster and Pinball Construction Set. The four-page, 4,383-word interview is somewhat technical as he reviews his favorite languages and the aspects that appeal to him. Fortunately, Apple II users tend to be a technical lot that's likely to find much of interest in this piece.

As a programming peon, I most appreciated Budge's closing remark:

At the end of the day, I think all that matters is what have you done. It doesn't matter how smart you are, or how brilliant do you sound, or whether you sound like an academic paper when you talk. What really impresses me is people who have built things, who made things that really worked, who did something that nobody else thought would work, or followed their vision and made it real. That, to me, is very admirable; the only thing that counts.

By his own measure, I'd say Budge has earned our admiration.

A hundred bits of Apple II

April 11th, 2011 11:29 AM
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This month marks the first anniversary of the launching of Apple II Bits. It went live with little fanfare and hardly any self-promotional message board posts or emails to friends. Although I hoped it would be of interest to the Apple II community, I primarily wanted to use this space to explore different topics about the Apple II, in formats and with a regularity that would not be possible in my other retrocomputing writing outlet, Juiced.GS.

To that end, I consider this experiment a success, and one worth continuing.

I've had a variety of positive experiences by engaging with this blog. The post "The return of interactive fiction" directly contributed to the cover story of the March issue of Juiced.GS. An unpublished post, written last September, was folded into another article in that same issue, while another post queued for September was instead printed almost verbatim in that month's issue. I guest-blogged for Apple II History and had some neat complementary posts with 6502 Lane. Three posts have each attracted seven comments — a small number, perhaps, but they represent conversations among friends within and without the Apple II community, as well as strangers whose insights I'd never have otherwise encountered.

The content has been as diverse as the results. Sometimes I report news that's of interest to me, especially gaming-related; in those cases, unlike the objective stance that befits a more news-oriented outlet like A2Central.com or Juiced.GS, I'm able to add my personal take. Other times, the entire blog post is more egocentric, offering reflections and reminiscences. And perhaps unnervingly frequently, the site serves to stalk Woz, the man who brought us together in the first place. Other than being about the Apple II, there's been little consistency to the topic or approach of my writing, which I hope has not been too frustrating for readers.

Rather than wait for Apple II Bits' actual first birthday, I thought I would use this, the site's 100th blog post, to share these musings. To quantify things a bit better, and because I'm a data junkie, here are some objective measurements:

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