Dan Bricklin for President

January 20th, 2020 9:06 AM
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In a recent letter to the the Concord Monitor, the daily newspaper of Concord, New Hampshire, a reader submitted a letter about our country's upcoming presidential election. He compared two politicians, saying one was a "visionary", the first to present the ideas; but the other would be the "implementer", the one better suited to execute the ideas.

He then made an analogy using names Apple II users may recognize:

Do you know who Dan Bricklin is? Ever even heard of him? Dan Bricklin invented the spreadsheet. VisiCalc was the product that made the Apple II a viable business tool and the rest is history. Bricklin is a visionary and hero to software people like me.

But as often happens in software, first or even best doesn’t always win the game. First Lotus with 123 took the spreadsheet market and made it a real business game changer, followed by Microsoft Excel years later. Mitch Kapor (Lotus) and Bill Gates got the vision done.

This view of history rings false to me. Perhaps it's my Apple II bias, but Dan Bricklin did everything this reader says Mitch Kapor and Bill Gates did. VisiCalc was the first "killer app", demonstrating the value of personal computers and justifying their existence is offices and businesses across the country. Steve Jobs himself went on the record as saying that if it weren't for VisiCalc, there wouldn't've been an Apple Computer Inc.: "If Visicalc had been written for some other computer you'd be interviewing somebody else right now."

Did Lotus 1-2-3 improve upon VisiCalc? Certainly. According to Wikipedia, "1-2-3 quickly overtook VisiCalc, as well as Multiplan and SuperCalc, two VisiCalc competitors." But that's simply the nature of software development and evolution: any product that comes later will benefit from better hardware and development tools. Lotus 1-2-3's release in 1983 does not diminish the vision and implementation achieved by Bricklin in 1979.

As the Concord Monitor reader acknowledges, Bricklin is a hero and visionary — without whom we wouldn't have Lotus 1-2-3. Bricklin deserves credit not just for VisiCalc, but for helping the personal computer revolution succeed and for paving the way for visionaries to come.

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.