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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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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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!

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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