WPI's potpourri list

January 6th, 2020 2:04 PM
by
Filed under Musings;
2 comments.

My first salaried job out of college was teaching 11th-grade tech writing. The high school was run by my undergraduate alma mater, WPI (Worcester Polytechnic Institute), which gave me access to all the college's facilities and resources.

It also meant I had a wpi.edu email address that was subscribed to various internal mailing lists. Some of those lists were for the administration to make announcements that would affect all employees. Other lists — like all-staff — were not so moderated and were used liberally by anyone on campus for any purpose… especially to sell things.

This was 2004, almost a decade after Craigslist was founded, yet employees of WPI found it easier to use the campus as their marketplace. Anytime anyone had anything to sell, from cars to Red Sox tickets, they would broadcast an email to all faculty and staff. Waves and waves of employees hawking their goods — and interested parties accidentally clicking "reply all" — were inescapable.

For me, the final straw was the email offering pellets for a pellet stove. I'd already scheduled a meeting with the school's IT department, so I tacked onto the agenda a brief discussion about what I saw as abuse of this email list. It was a friendly conversation, as I recall the IT staff being as exasperated as I was. But they pointed out that the volume of for-sale emails demonstrated interest in using the list in this fashion, and they didn't want to shut down that tradition without providing an alternative outlet. Would it be another email list? Would it be opt-in or opt-out? Would it be reasonable to point WPI's less tech-savvy employees to the school's Usenet newsgroup dedicated to this purpose? These questions went unanswered in my two years as an employee.

That was 14 years ago. At some point since then, WPI finally solved this problem. Their news office recently published this reflection on their solution:

It needs no introduction (but we’re giving it one anyway). It’s an automated legend, known for flooding email inboxes from Goddard to Gateway and beyond. It’s where you can find an antique record player, a pasta roller, vintage video games, and hot tubs, all in the course of a single afternoon. You know it, you love it, or you just might want to be unsubscribed from it.

It’s Potpourri.

The news article goes on to describe the sort of things you can find on the Potpourri list:

here’s nothing quite like logging into your email on a Monday morning and sifting through the latest Potpourri offers. You never know what you’ll find: some days it’s bat boxes, bikes, and weighted blankets; others feature requests for graphing calculators, Commodore or Apple II computers, or mercury (this is WPI, after all).

It's unlikely a school as cutting edge as WPI still owns or operates Apple II computers, but given the interests and longevity of its employees, I'm not surprised that their personal retrocomputers might pop up on Potpourri.

If only I'd been around to see it! Even I could've tolerated the occasional stove pellet if it meant some rare Apple II gear. I hope WPI's current employees appreciate the growing pains that led them to this opt-in bounty.

The Marriage of Figaro to the Apple II

September 21st, 2015 9:48 AM
by
Filed under Hacks & mods, Musings;
1 comment.

Steve Jobs may be getting his own opera — but that's not the only connection opera has to the Apple II.

In June of 2007, I was in a production of The Marriage of Figaro. Among the 28 theatre productions I performed in during my seven years after undergraduate, this show was memorable for two backstage events: the breaking of my PowerBook; and meeting the lead actor. Unlike some shows I've been in, Figaro's stars and chorus mingled, disregarding any theatrical hierarchy. Given that it was June, I was probably spending my offstage time editing drafts of the year's second quarterly issue of Juiced.GS. I suspect the actor playing Figaro asked me what I was doing, and when I told him, he got excited, telling me he still had his original Apple IIGS! Although it was no longer his primary computer, he remembered quite fondly and accurately the software and hardware he'd added to it throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s.

As soon as the show was over, Figaro the actor was off to New York City for another role. When I joined Facebook a year later, we reconnected, allowing me to offer an annual wish for a happy birthday spent playing Apple II games. But other than that, our personal and theatrical lives did not cross again.

Until this month! I received an email from Figaro that he was moving to Europe and had plenty of material possessions he wished to neither move, keep, or store. Would I be willing to take his Apple II?

What an honor! Of course I would. Figaro drove to my house and dropped off three boxes of hardware and software — a collection he confessed used to be bigger but which had dwindled with each move over the years. I didn't find much rare or unique among his donation, but the opportunity to spend an hour chatting with him about the Apple II was fun. He prompted as much of the discussion as I did, as he'd kept abreast of the community enough to ask me how my recent trip to KansasFest went. I was happy for the opportunity to show him some of the products of today's lively Apple II community, such as the Replica 1 and a Raspberry Pi case, or to pull out artifacts he'd remember, such as issues of Nibble magazine.

I'm grateful to have received this bounty; although such salvage operations are the norm for likes of Sean Fahey and James Littlejohn, it's a rare occurrence for me. Here is a photo gallery of my new property:

What do I do with this IIGS now that I have it? It came gratis with no strings attached: I can keep it or find a good home for it, though I wouldn't allow myself to sell it. But I know what my inclination is. As Figaro and I chatted about the Apple II and he saw how much fun people were still having with it, I could see him beginning to regret having to let go of his childhood computer. I'd love to hold onto it until Figaro returns from Europe in 18 months; maybe then, he can be reunited with the machine and rediscover it, as so many of us have, after a long absence.

After a first act of introduction and a second act of separation, a third act with a happy reunion seems only fitting.

All Apple II roads lead to Boston

April 4th, 2011 12:47 PM
by
Filed under Musings;
Comments Off on All Apple II roads lead to Boston

With the apparent demise of the user group, there are no geographically oriented pockets of Apple II users anymore. But I have the good fortune of living in Central Massachusetts, which has somehow become a destination for many Apple II users over the years.

Juiced.GS associate editor Andy Molloy has regularly made the trip from New York to enjoy the retrocomputing goodness my area has to offer, from Funspot to PAX. The same site where we recently attended PAX also once hosted Steve Weyhrich, who took time out of his professional development in the medical field to share a dinner with me. Even other continents send representatives to Boston, where Australian programmer Peter Watson and I went to the pub that inspired the television sitcom Cheers.

The Watsons in Boston

Carol, Andre, Lynne, Peter, Kahm, and Ken — Apple II users forever!

This weekend alone, I visited with multiple Apple II users. Thomas Compter, who once hosted me and Kelvin Sherlock for a Lord of the Rings marathon, was in town to attend the annual Havoc game convention. His and his wife Jeannie's availability coincided with a local vegan pop-up restaurant's monthly offering. I enjoyed spending an evening with these two KansasFest alumni, talking about everything but the Apple II, from WordPress to to dice towers to living in Germany.

Thomas and Jeannie moved a few years ago from Oklahoma to Vermont and then to Western Massachusetts, but the Panhandle State still has its share of Apple II users. Fewer than 24 hours later, I picked one up from the airport: KansasFest committee member, logo designer, and former HackFest winner Peter Neubauer. Peter's diverse Apple II résumé was recently expanded by his interview of Alan Floeter for Juiced.GS, which landed in subscriber mailboxes just last week. In contrast to the previous evening, the Apple II was practically all we talked about. We caught up on reactions to Juiced.GS and plans for KansasFest 2011 before getting on the horn with Mike Maginnis for another few hours.

I consider myself very lucky to live somewhere through which so many esteemed Apple II users pass, and I appreciate them making time to connect with a member of their community. It's like a series of mini-KFests to keep us going until the big one!