Apple II Bits' octal birthday

April 30th, 2018 7:46 AM
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This past weekend, I set up my Apple IIGS in my game room and connected it to my HDTV. I popped in some floppies and played a few classic games: Choplifter, Lode Runner, Karateka, and Conan. Each was as fun as I remembered.

The excuse for this occasion was research for a Juiced.GS article. As editor of that publication, most of my contributions and responsibilities don't require me to work on the metal, but this particular article called for the real thing.

But underpinning this academic exercise was unbridled enthusiasm for returning to my roots. I spend my days on a laptop with macOS and WordPress, all environments that I very much enjoy and which even inspire a degree of devotion. But nothing brings a smile to my face like the Apple II.

It was fitting that this game session coincided with the eighth anniversary of Apple II Bits: on April 29, 2010, I published my first blog post to this site. I've continued to write about the Apple II every Monday since. Whereas once such musings would constitute my quarterly "A Word or ][" column for Juiced.GS, I've now written 524 such columns for this website — enough to sustain 125 years of Juiced.GS.

Eight apples

Eight apple bits = one apple byte?

I'm never wanting for something to say about the Apple II, but some times are easier than others. One August, freshly home from KansasFest, I found myself bursting with ideas and wrote the next several months' worth of columns in advance. Other times, I come home from work on Monday night, knowing what to say but having only until midnight to say it.

Regardless of the volume or urgency, there's always a new chapter to write. Whenever Steve Wozniak is a speaker somewhere, he's introduced as the inventor of the Apple II. Anytime a "top games of all time" list is compiled, an Apple II game makes an appearance. And wherever Raspberry Pi and Arduino hacking occurs, it's often to connect Apple II equipment to modern environments.

I've always said of Juiced.GS that the magazine will publish as long as there are stories to tell, writers to tell them, and subscribers to read them. With Apple II Bits, I need only one of those three criteria: stories to tell.

At this rate, another eight years seems assured.

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Apple II Bits' seven-year itch

April 24th, 2017 10:00 AM
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The seven-year itch isn't just a classic Marilyn Monroe film; it's also a predictor for the shelf life of my own hobbies. It's after that period of time that I tend to find myself growing weary of a particular pursuit and begin looking for new interests. For seven years, 1997–2004, I wrote video game reviews; 2001–2008, I performed in community theater; 2004–2011, I taught at a high school or worked toward a master's degree, each satisfying my desire to be involved in education.

But I find the Apple II bucks this trend. This summer will make my twentieth consecutive KansasFest; this year makes my eleventh volume of Juiced.GS. And this month marks my seventh year of writing this weekly blog. I don't see myself discontinuing any of these pastimes anytime soon.

Seven apples

Each year kinda snuck up on me.

What is it about the Apple II computer and community that manages to hold my interest? Perhaps it's the nostalgia factor, dating back to my childhood in a way that writing, acting, and teaching do not. Maybe it's that it serves as a safe space in which to develop new talents — it was editing Juiced.GS that put me on the path to getting a master's degree in publishing, and Open Apple was where I honed the skills for my two current podcasts. It could be that, despite the discontinued nature of the Apple II, it continues to produce remarkably unique experiences: every KansasFest attracts a new crowd with whom to form new bonds and new memories.

While all those factors are true, perhaps the most compelling reason is the continued challenge. I lose interest in something when I find I can't get any better at it — not to say I've mastered it, but that I've reached the limits of my own ability to excel. After writing three hundred video game reviews, the process had become rote and formulaic; after 28 community theater productions, I no longer worried about forgetting my lines, any more than I believed myself capable of achieving a starring role.

But every issue of Juiced.GS is like none other, both in assembling the content and in marketing the publication. I've tried many new ideas to grow the magazine — some worked, some didn't. But the result is a net gain, with the subscriber base having quintupled in the last eleven years, and the magazine on the cusp of publishing its one thousandth piece of editorial content.

I have abandoned many hobbies after seven years. I don't have a fear of commitment; I have a fear of complacency. And the one place I don't have to worry about growing complacent is, ironically, the community and creations surrounding a 40-year-old computer.

So happy 40th birthday to the Apple II, and happy 7th birthday to Apple II Bits. Forget the seven-year itch — this is just the seventh-inning stretch!

Marilyn Monroe on subway grate

Here's to many more.

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Get your kicks in year six of Apple II Bits

April 25th, 2016 9:22 AM
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The best course I took in grad school was Jeff Seglin's column-writing class. The opening exercise was to go to the local bookstore, choose several magazines, and draft pitches for articles to each. Early in the semester, I found this assignment challenging — but when we revisited it a few months later, the ideas flowed. I'm not sure what potential Seglin tapped, but he somehow got me seeing stories everywhere. Since then, I've rarely been short of ideas for Apple II Bits, Juiced.GS, Polygamer, or The Moth.

KansasFest 2015 really got those creative juices flowing, though again, I can't pinpoint the inspirational moment. All I know is, when I got back from that annual convention, Apple II Bits blog posts were flowing fast and furious, until I had up to two months of weekly columns queued in advance. It was a great relief to be able to table that Sunday night scurry for an idea.

I sometimes wonder when I'll run out of ideas and have to stop writing this blog altogether. But with all the activity of the Apple II community to inspire me, and with Seglin having given me the tools to recognize the stories therein, I don't think it'll be a lack of ideas that will be as challenging as finding the time and energy to keep up with it all.

In the meantime, I've made it six years of writing Apple II Bits, with the first post having gone live on April 29, 2010. I wrote two posts a week for the first two years — 104 posts a year! — and once a week for the four years since then, for a total of 419 posts. If Seglin had sent me to the book store with the assignment to pick one magazine and come up with 419 pitches, I would've failed his course. Yet Apple II Bits continues chugging along.

Six apples in two rows

My thanks to everyone who has inspired this blog's articles and to all the readers who have taken the time to mull their words, publicly or privately. I still have a few more years in me; I hope you'll come along.

In the meantime, here are some numbers by which to quantify the site's content and evolution.

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A half-decade of Apple II blogging

April 27th, 2015 7:49 AM
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When I joined the Juiced.GS staff in 2002 as associate editor, I was given a quarterly column in which to ruminate about whatever Apple II topic I wanted. Over the next 16 issues, I wrote about exploring Boston with Ryan Suenaga, the passing of Gary Utter, BASIC programming, and more. The freedom to write about whatever struck my fancy, combined with the structure of writing on a quarterly schedule, was enjoyable and inspiring.

Starting with volume 11, I become editor-in-chief of Juiced.GS and handed my column to Eric Shepherd. I still had my own column in the form of the quarterly editorial, but this one was a lengthier and a bit more formal and on-topic to the magazine. I've enjoyed writing it for ten years — but halfway through that run, I decided I wanted something more. I decided a blog would not only give me more options in what content to write and how to present it, such as the embedding of photos and video; it would also be timelier than a quarterly print pub could be, allowing pieces that were shorter but more relevant to everything that happens between issues of Juiced.GS.

Thus was born Apple II Bits, which turns five years old this Wednesday. A twice-weekly column for the first two years, and "only" weekly for the next three, it's now produced 367 posts — which, at Juiced.GS's publication rate, would've taken me 92 years to write.

Friends outside the retrocomputing community are baffled how I can find something new to say about the Apple II every week. While there are times that it can be challenging, finding a topic generally isn't all that hard: there's always someone releasing a new game, or developing hardware, or publishing a podcast to keep the Apple II alive and well. I enjoy this regular opportunity to be creative and hone my writing on the topic that made me a writer in the first place. My thanks to all the creators and readers that make this blog possible.

For a less fascinating and more quantitative look at this site's growth since last year, continue reading.

  • • As of today, the site hosts 367 posts (52 more than this time last year), 1823 tags (+186), 441 comments (+31) from 133 readers (+4), and 1 blogger. With the exception of the number of posts, each of these numbers is growing more slowly year-over-year.
  • • Year-to-year, our pageviews were down 8% and unique visitors down 8% in our fifth year. This is the second consecutive year of decline in traffic.
  • • Our busiest day was August 1, 2014. I have no idea what people were doing here that day.
  • • Our top posts three in the past year were all from 2011: "Selling to Pawn Stars", "Best computer games from the '80s", and "Taking the Apple II online with Uthernet". These were our top three posts the previous year, too. Correspondingly, the top search terms leading visitors to this site are "chris espinosa net worth" and "best apple ii games".
  • • Our top referrals were from A2Central.com, Twitter, and Facebook. This is the first time StumbleUpon did not break the top three and Facebook did.
  • • Traffic from mobile devices was up 10%, and from tablets, down 7%
  • • In the past year, we blocked 18,590 pieces of spam, down from 121,301 the previous year — WOW! More than half of all that spam came in October and November 2014 alone.

Keeping Stanford's football statistics

January 12th, 2015 10:34 AM
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Stanford University's athletics department recently produced a piece of investigative journalism that I'm jealous didn't appear in Juiced.GS. By focusing on a niche intersection of industries, author David Kiefer has made a bold claim: the Apple II was the first computer used to track football statistics.

In 1980, Stanford football statistician Ken Lorell was seeking a solution to a problem, and the result was a revolutionary way of keeping stats … on a computer. This had never been done before.

Apple Computer was founded in 1976 and a year later released the Apple II, the first successful mass-produced microcomputer. Lorell saw the computer’s value in statkeeping, especially as offenses became more complex — with passing attacks becoming more sophisticated and the run and shoot opening up the world of hurry-up attacks.

After the 1979 season, Lorell approached the Stanford athletic department about the idea of purchasing a personal computer for statistical purposes. It was a tough sell, especially because the Apple II was originally retailing for $1,298 with 4 KB of RAM, and $2,638 for the maximum 48 KB.

Lorell nonetheless got the funding and had the machine up and running in time for the next season. But a minor hardware glitch would delay its successful debut.

On Sept. 6, 1980, it was ready for a trial run. Stanford opened at Oregon and Lorell and the Cardinal stat crew gathered at Lorell's Palo Alto home. The team would assemble the stats as if it were a home game, with some of the crew acting as spotters while watching on television. The television was used for visuals only while the sound and descriptions were created by the radio commentary of Don Klein and Bob Murphy.

All was well until someone tripped over the power cord. The data for the entire first half was lost.

Fortunately, one of the crew had kept the play-by-play on paper as a backup. Because the stats did not have to be compiled in order, the data was reconstructed by the end of halftime. Later, the Oregon stats were discovered to have an error. The computerized stats were more accurate.

"We did it," Lorell said. "We were so happy this thing worked."

Computerized stats made their official debut on Sept. 13, 1980, in Stanford’s 19–13 victory over visiting Tulane. And they’ve been there ever since.

This means that the Apple II appeared in football well before football appeared on the Apple II — the popular John Madden video game franchise, which continues to this day, didn't debut until 1988.

Nor was this the last appearance of the Apple II at Stanford University. Not only did the school once offer a course called "History of Computer Game Design", which perforce includes the Apple II, but Apple co-founder Steve Jobs famously delivered their 2005 commencement speech.

But where has the Apple II been at Stanford since then — specifically, the one that made this groundbreaking appearance in sports statistics?

As for the Apple II, Lorell had to return it to the Stanford athletic department. No telling if it still exists.

"It literally is a museum piece," said Lorell, 70, who is now retired. "It is one of the historic, iconic products from the early days of Silicon Valley. The iPhones we have in our pockets are a thousand times more powerful."

At the time, it was a revolution that Lorell and Stanford played a role in. It may not be told in the annals of Silicon Valley innovation, but it remains an achievement with a lasting legacy – in every football stadium in the country.

Celebrating four years of Apple II blogging

April 28th, 2014 7:49 AM
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Four years ago today, on Wednesday, April 28, 2010, Jon Stewart briefly featured an Apple II on The Daily Show. I wanted to share that video with the Apple II community, but I didn't feel like I had a good outlet for it. Despite having been on Twitter for three years, I wasn't a prolific user (and, by some degrees, I'm still not); the Apple II Enthusiasts group on Facebook is easy to get lost in; and my only WordPress blog about the Apple II, launched a year earlier, was the Juiced.GS site, which didn't cover non-Juiced.GS aspects of the community.

I needed a platform, fast. Fortunately, I'd already built one: in August 2009, I'd built this site, with consultation from Peter Watson and Mike Maginnis. That Thursday, without knowing my focus or publication, I pushed out that first blog post and rushed off to attend ROFLCon II at MIT.

The next Monday, I posted a story about Charles Mangin's Mac Mini in a Disk II drive. So far, I'd happened to publish posts on Thursday and Monday. I decided to let that be my schedule. Two years later, I narrowed it down to Mondays only. And two years after that, here we are.

A lot's changed since then: I helped launch the Open Apple podcast, providing yet another community voice; Juiced.GS's subscriber base has grown by leaps and bounds; I've resigned from the KansasFest committee. With all those changing outlets, I've enjoyed the stability and reliability of knowing I had to come up with something to say about the Apple II every Monday — a frequency that surprises my friends outside the community, who would expect a monthly or quarterly post to suffice. (Ha!) It's a tradition I intend to continue.

Celebrating four years of apples at Apple II Bits.

Another tradition is the annual reflection of the site's demographics, analytics, and statistics. As I did in 2011, 2012, and 2013, here is a look at the site's scope and growth.

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