Christmas lights

December 25th, 2017 4:52 PM
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Merry Christmas! What better time of year to decorate your abode with gratuitous displays of light and sound. It's become tradition for creative homeowners to design increasingly elaborate audio/visual performances, synchronizing music with flashing luminescence.

Such showmanship has been around as long as personal computers have enabled them. A recent story in WIRED interviews the artists behind several such displays, including one who attributes the trend to the Apple II:

The craze began in the 1980s with pioneers like Chuck Smith of Franklin, Tennessee, who linked his Christmas lights to an Apple II in the garage. "I was on the bloody cutting edge of this and I didn’t even know it," he says.

Beyond this article, I can't find any online references to Chuck Smith or his Apple II-powered holiday displays, nor videos of same. I'm curious to know how author Graham Hacia, making his WIRED debut with this byline, tracked down this early adopter. In the meantime, if anyone has examples of other Christmas lights that connected to the Apple II, I'd love to hear about them — please share in the comments below!

Holiday shopping on eBay

November 27th, 2016 10:14 AM
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My family never learned thrift; if something was old or worn, we'd replace it instead of repair it. And if used items weren't good enough for us, they were certainly not good enough to give as gifts. Every Christmas, we'd bestow and accept shiny, shrinkwrapped goods, representing the latest merchandise that retail had to offer.

That's a shame, because so many Apple II products can no longer be had new. There's a growing market of original or replicated hardware, to be sure — but if I want something vintage, the only way to affordably acquire it is used. As a result, no one from my family will ever think to shop for my Christmas gift on eBay.

The Retro Computing Roundtable podcast has a gift guide that they update with each biweekly episode. There's plenty of new and retro tech in there, but my favorite suggestion to come from this group was when the hosts collaborated on a Juiced.GS gift guide. In that article, Carrington Vanston had the brilliant idea to give someone a subscription to a classic Apple II magazine, such as Nibble or inCider/A+. Though those publications have been out of print for decades, old issues can be acquired from eBay or AbeBooks, then individually mailed to the gift's intended recipient on a monthly basis.

Apple II magazines, books, and periodicals

Used Apple II magazines, books, and periodicals abound, as seen at KansasFest 2016.

I love this idea. The first and only Apple II magazine I've ever subscribed to is Juiced.GS, which I haven't received in the mail since June 2007. I miss finding Apple II news, reviews, and interviews in my mailbox. The only way to make it happen is to plunder the bounty of years gone by, salvaging previously read issues from the stores of eBay.

That sounds better than finding anything new under my Christmas tree.

A holiday snow demo

December 29th, 2014 8:13 AM
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Last year, inspired by Blake Patterson's annual Christmas playlist, I uploaded to YouTube a recording of the FTA's XMAS 1990 demo. While I'm glad to have contributed to the archive of holiday demos, it was nothing original I produced — not like what Dagen Brock has done.

Host of the GS Programmer's Home, Dagen recently released his own snow demo, writing:

It snowed this week and that reminded me of a simple snow routine I did for the Apple IIgs around this time last year. I had grand plans to add in music and sprites for a demo, but I've decided to just release the routine as-is.

The code for the snow animation is not the best, but it works. The image uses the lz4 source from Brutal Deluxe and I was also hoping to give a lesson on using that some day, but you can look at the disk image for now. I probably won't post the source anywhere else. Only because it's not of good quality and I will eventually post quality code examples for LZ4, NoiseTracker, Mr. Sprite, etc.

In a Facebook thread, Open Apple co-host Quinn Dunki suggested:

Love it, Dagen . I have the sudden urge to make two updates:

  1. Lower the disappearance coordinate for the snow. The dip on the ground isn't quite getting hit.
  2. Make the snow accumulate like it did in the FTA Xmas demo (one of my favorite parts of that demo- left it running for hours once :)

Dagen replied:

Sorry Quinn, I was hoping no one would notice. Flakes actually go to the bottom, I just hacked the VBlank in a weird way because I was too busy to optimize my code to run fully at 60FPS. You're seeing the undraw hit too early. I originally had planned this to be a big demo to show off loading lz4 images, Mr. Sprite, and Tool 219/220, but I have shelved that idea for now and just threw something out there for the sake of getting something out.

I applaud Dagen for not letting perfect be the enemy of done. That same "release it!" attitude is what led Martin Haye to finally publish Structris, which has since gone on to critical acclaim. As a friend of mine says: "Don't make art — just make something!"

(Hat tip to Dagen Brock)

Holiday demos from the Apple II

December 23rd, 2013 5:34 PM
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It's Christmas week and, since the recent solstice, officially winter — all signs point to it being the season to break out your favorite holiday software. For retrocomputers, that often means demos, self-running demonstrations of a system's audio and visual capabilities.

Blake Patterson of the Byte Cellar has amassed an impressive collection of YouTube videos of demos for all manner of older platforms, from from Commodore 64 to Atari ST to even the Sega Saturn. However, the compilation features only one representative from the Apple II, that being MUSE's Santa demo, uploaded to YouTube just this month by Paul Hagstrom:

I figured I'd boost the number of Apple II holiday videos on YouTube and uploaded a capture of the Free Tools Association's XMAS Demo from 1990:

You can also play it right in your Web browser on their site.

But by far one of the most fun and modern retrocomputing music videos I've seen comes from the Glasgow School of Art in this live-action music video:

True, it features not a single Apple II — but oh what fun it is to see so many classic computers celebrating the season!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

(Hat tip to Andrew Roughan)

Halloween pirates abound!

November 26th, 2012 1:43 PM
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The recent observance of American Thanksgiving and Black Friday has commenced the holiday season in the United States. Tis the season for dieters to feel guilt and shame as we indulge ourselves on a bevy of feasts and treats. Yet the gluttonous assault on our waistlines did not begin with this past week's mounds of potatoes, gravy, and pumpkin pie. No, the gastronomical festivities truly began with Halloween.

October 31st doesn't mean much to my sweet tooth, which I lost a few years ago due to overindulgence. But I do enjoy Halloween much as I did in my youth: dressing up in costume. It's not much different from my former hobby in community theater, except there, I was in company where strange attire was the norm, and nobody gave each other a second glance. On Halloween, everyone stops to look and marvel at various abnormal accoutrements.

Halloween is an opportunity not just to be funny or strange, but also to uniquely express oneself. It's an opportunity I didn't pass up, taking a traditional nautical costume and adding my own 8-bit flair.

Arr! I be a software pirate!

This isn't the first time I've donned this costume; although I wore it in 2012, the above photos are from 2011, and I debuted it in 2005. I'm sure the idea isn't original and I got it from somewhere else, but the source escapes me after all this time.

I've found I get more enjoyment from the costume the less explanation it requires. Walking across the campus of my science and engineering-oriented alma mater, people just laughed and shook their heads. Strolling through Harvard Square, I would get either quizzical looks or a generic "Hey, look — a pirate!"

Curiously, there's one comment I received multiple times in 2012 that was unheard of in 2005: "Where did you find floppy disks?"

Organ Trail: Director's cut

January 5th, 2012 11:57 AM
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I spent this past Halloween playing and blogging about Organ Trail, The Men Who Wear Many Hats' zombie-themed rendition of the classic Apple II edutainment title, MECC's Oregon Trail. Now that modern update is going the Kickstarter route to get funded for Mac, PC, iOS, and Android ports. Check out the trailer (contains one swear word near the end):

The campaign even comes with its own fake backstory, which includes an unfortunate and gratuitous slam:

Originally developed many years ago as a teaching tool for students, schools across America used the game to prepare children for the impending zombie apocalypse, and dysentery. But what the public doesn't know is that the released version does not follow the program director's original design. Before they tried to have him killed, he stole all the code and it has taken him 40 years to program the game in his own vision. Unfortunately no one uses the Apple-II anymore, so he's putting it on those newfangled phones.

In addition to the ports, the game will also include new features, such as a day/night cycle, the ability to converse with NPC survivors, as well as a new soundtrack.

The project ends after thirty days on Thursday, January 19, at 1:20 PM EST, but by the time I discovered it on Facebook, it already had 91 backers and $4,417 of the requested $3,000.

I've nonetheless pledged $20, though what they'll do with these excess funds, I'm unsure; their promise of "If we reach $5k, we will add an Android and iPad version of the game to the preorder options" seems a sure bet. So I offer this challenge — and incentive: I will multiply my donation 12.5-fold if The Men Who Wear Many Hats offer a reward of an Apple II version of their game. Their fundraising video states that they're making Organ Trail to look like an Apple II game. Why not go the extra step and port it?