Tag Archives: Ken Gagne

It’s Quiet… Yeah, too quiet…

I’m sure by now even the three semi-regular readers I had have stopped coming by here (at least if my Jetpack stats are to be believed).  Updates to my Apple II Scans site and this blog are no longer appearing in the A2RSS feed, which is affecting traffic, and not posting anything interesting probably has a lot to do with it as well. In keeping with that grand tradition, here’s more uninteresting content that won’t show up in your RSS reader.

I haven’t recently had a lot to say that I felt needed its own blog post – I have a podcast for that (several actually) and that platform has become a much more interesting content delivery system for me, if I’m being totally honest. Between Open Apple’s new co-host and the great things we have coming up for Drop /// Inches, I’ve found myself re-energized to focus my efforts in those projects rather than this.  When Ken left Open Apple, I was completely demoralized and unsure I’d be able to continue to produce the shows without him. Ken’s fastidious professionalism and organization made it possible for us to produce three years of quality Apple II audio programming, including being able to book great guests and keeping the topics interesting and the discussion lively.  Without getting into details you don’t care about, I can say that the working relationship I had with Ken had become increasingly unhealthy for both of us over the previous months and it was clear the end was nigh. Knowing it was coming though, didn’t make it any easier to face when it finally happened and it affected me much more deeply than I’d expected.

Making matters worse, during the ensuing hiatus I was unable to book any guests for a return show.  Word of Ken’s exit had gotten around and people were unwilling to participate without his presence – I can’t say that I blame them.  I was in a really dark place personally in those following weeks, and (are you sitting down for this?) I’m not the greatest co-host, even with talented people like Ken and Carrington to work with. Carrington’s that Canadian guy who co-hosts another show I do. You can tell he’s Canadian because he smells like syrup and hockey.  (Who even knew hockey had a smell?)  On the mic, I stutter. I’m nervous and unable to convey thoughts in an eloquent, direct manner.  Who would want to hang out with a mumbling, depressed mush-mouth for the hours it takes to complete a recording session?

Quinn Dunki, that’s who.  She agreed to be a guest on #37 and she was great.  She was relaxed and comfortable on the mic and her homebrew 6502 project ‘Veronica’ was something new and fascinating, and I like to think I was able to help her make up her mind to come to Rockhurst. (Hey, I’ll take credit for it even if I had nothing to do with it).  The show was published in July, just before KansasFest and the feedback I got was very positive.  Several listeners even suggested that she should be the new co-host. The outflowing of love was enough that I approached her to come back and sit in the co-host chair.  I guess she also heard a lot of things at KansasFest about it because, after successfully trolling me, she agreed and I have to say, I’m pleased with the results.  Quinn has brought a new technical depth to the show that was evident from the very first episode we did together – the Lawless Legends development team interview was a resounding success largely due to her being able to ask the right questions, and to respond to the answers with even better lines of inquiry.  That episode is not something the listeners would have been able to experience without her participation.

Behind the scenes, it has been great to see her just dive in and get involved with making decisions about the future of Open Apple and what we want to present to you, the listeners.  Maintaining a certain level of quality with every show we put out requires many hours of work – much of it tedious and time-consuming.  It would have been easy for Quinn to assume a passive role and simply sit back, show up once a month to record and not gotten involved in the production or planning aspects at all.  And truthfully, I’d have been happy with that – just being able to continue Open Apple was enough for me really, so to have her instead as an eager and enthusiastic partner has been nothing short of amazing and I wanted to take a minute to thank her publicly.  In short, Quinn is awesome. (Note to self: don’t let Quinn find out she doesn’t have to work as hard.  Second note to self: don’t post notes to self about Quinn in a place she’s likely to see them.)

Oh, and to those few of you who have written to let me know that I only invited Quinn to be on Open Apple because she’s a girl and I’m somehow ‘kissing up’ or white-knighting (is that even a verb?), first I’d like to say that I appreciate you letting me know what I was thinking and what my real motivations were.  Apparently, I didn’t know this and it’s great to have you clear up my confusion.  Second, I’d ask that you listen to the shows she’s done with me objectively (because obviously you didn’t or you wouldn’t have sent those emails in the first place) and then let me know if you still think she’s a ‘fake nerd’ who’s getting things handed to her because she’s a girl (are we really still having this argument? Really?).  Actually, if you still believe that, don’t let me know.  I’d rather you didn’t listen to Open Apple at all and I certainly don’t care what you think.

Up next, we have Drop /// Inches, which has really become an interesting creature.  About three years ago, I decided it might be great to write a book about the Apple ///, focusing on the development of the machine and the people who were involved in it.  I’d read plenty of articles about Apple’s first business computer and they mostly focused on its failure in the marketplace and then repeated a few vague “facts” without really getting to the meat of the matter, so to speak.  Browsing through Google’s completely awesome archives of ComputerWorld and InfoWorld, it became clear that even the tech press of the day was more interested in vilifying Apple than present a clear accounting of the facts.  And so I started reaching out, finding and interviewing the people who were there, who experienced all of this first-hand.  I gathered several dozen hours of audio, as well as documents and other related information that I felt might go well into a book like this.  I even contacted a publisher that had previously released several highly regarded titles on various vintage computing platforms. It became evident that their vision for this project didn’t really align with what I knew I’d be able to provide them and nothing more came of it.  I was left with no clear plan on what I wanted to do with this archive of information about the /// and interviews with the developers, but I certainly didn’t expect what it seems like is going to happen.

I started Drop /// Inches with Paul Hagstrom earlier this year, almost as a laugh and certainly with tongue firmly planted in cheek.  The original goal was to provide an interactive forum for the two of us to get involved with other /// fans, and perhaps provide a valuable learning resource for new users who had just purchased one of these 26-lb beasts from eBay or recovered one from a dank basement/dusty attic somewhere.  The enthusiastic response we received was a complete surprise to us both.  More surprising though, was that we received messages from several people who were involved with the creation of the Apple /// on various levels, expressing their appreciation for what we were doing and wanted to contribute their own experiences and memories.  Of course we accepted.

As hilarious and charismatic as both Paul and I are naturally – we’re amazing and talented orators! I swear! – we realized we needed other voices to help tell this particular story and reached out to Dave Ottalini, former co-chair of the Washington Apple Pi’s /// SIG and keeper of the SARAsaur faith, to join us.  During the course of that interview we learned that while at the Phase /// Conference in 1987, Dave recorded many of the sessions and had saved the original tapes.  The session transcripts made it onto the WAP Apple /// DVD but due to space constraints, the audio was left out.  Dave made those files available to us and it’s been great fun plundering them for information about the /// and the Conference. You can hear the early fruits of our labors in show #6, a session by Don Williams about his experiences with the /// during his days at Apple.

As this was all happening, it occurred to me that those materials I’d been gathering weren’t going to end up in a book.  It’s Drop /// Inches, this weird little podcast about an obscure detour down a dark path on the highway of Apple’s history, chronicling the life and times of the Apple ///, where they would find a home.  I haven’t figured out the best way to integrate the collected research to the podcast in a way that makes sense, beyond the recorded interviews I did, but DTI is becoming this multimedia project to cover in-depth everything we know and can learn about the Apple ///.  Stuff we can scan will likely end up on the podcast’s web page and I know we’re going to eventually release all of Dave’s Phase /// audio files, first as cleaned-up segments for the show with the raw audio files eventually appearing on archive.org.

Through all of this, we’ve somehow ended up with so much material, we’re struggling to understand how to best present it to you.  I can’t go into all the details (don’t want to spoil any surprises!) but at the very least, I can tell you we’ve got some great interviews with developers coming up and I know their stories won’t be anything you could have Googled before.  I don’t exactly know what Drop /// Inches is going to become, but I’m very excited about the future of the show and it’s really great to be able to help tell the story of the Apple /// and write our own chapter at the same time.

And I guess that’s kind of it for now.  I still intend to re-publish some of the old articles that used to live here.  That will be sometime this year, I hope. Apple II Scans is sort of in zombie-mode: scan, post, move on, repeat.

I’m no longer involved in any way with Juiced.GS or any of Ken’s current projects, so I can’t answer questions about that.  It’s great to see his creative efforts take shape in new directions and I wish him well in his future endeavors.

Why did I post this then?  Mostly because I needed to get it out.  No one reads anything here and certainly not this far into a 1900-word post, so I’m not worried about trying to sound grandiose or impress anyone.  The blog is still alive sort of and I’m still here.

Happy Birthday to us!

The final issue of Ryan Suenaga’s newsletter, A2 News and Notes appeared in December 2006. His Apple II online services “dirt sheet” The Lamp! survived longer, finally disappearing after the August 2007 issue.  In my view, the demise of these scions of computing publishing marked the end of a lineage of publications dedicated to chronicling Apple II history, stretching all the way back to the forums of GEnie, CompuServe, The Source and so many other online outlets. These were places where users so like myself dialed-up, reached out and found a wide world of like-minded people who shared an intense and occasionally unreasonable love of the products of Woz’s imagination.  Places to go to find technical help with that bug you just couldn’t solve at 3 AM, or share a joke and a laugh over a moment in a door game, or complain about Apple’s treatment of the II to people who understood exactly what you meant.  The cancellation of The Lamp was the end of a certain tradition of timely news updates, reviews and information about my favorite computing platform and the people who used it.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Juiced.GS.  In fact, I love it so much, I’ve written a dozen or so articles for it, and spent the better part of my free time one month converting original proofs of the first few years of its publication to a digital form, to ensure their preservation and availability to future generations of hobbyists and digital historians.  The rest of that free time was dedicated to building a spreadsheet to index the articles in those early tomes.  A web-based descendant of that catalog can now be perused here. But Juiced.GS is a quarterly publication, which means that it can’t maintain an effective focus on up-to-the-minute Apple II news.  Sure, notable items found a place in the “DumpinGS” column, but it wouldn’t make sense to try to print the many minor happenings and time-sensitive stories that still mark just how vibrant and exciting our little corner of the vintage computing hobby still is, months after they happened.

“Wait!” you cry, “Blogs like A2Central and Call-A.P.P.L.E. do exactly that!” I agree.  Believe me, there’s nothing more exciting than to see a post announcing a new run of CFFAs or Uthernet cards and rushing over to their respective digital stores to throw my dollars at them before they sell out.  But blogs are oriented to giving you the here and now, the current, the new and shiny and don’t always do a good job of making easily available a record of events as they slip further into our past.  Blogs go away, sometimes without notice, taking their histories with them into the nothing.  Databases become corrupt and entries are lost, or don’t survive a CMS upgrade.  Sites get hacked.  Sysops ragequit and delete everything.  And sometimes, their search engines just plain suck.  The information is as good as lost if it’s inaccessible.  Who has time to spend these days, clicking through page after page of blog entries trying to find something that may have happened in late 2007, or early 2008… or was it 2009?

Ryan’s newsletters were an immensely useful resource at the time of their publication, and remain so as an easily accessible, searchable historical record of that era.  And in September 2007, they were done.

It was with these thoughts that I registered open-apple.net, intending to find a collaborator and relaunch some sort of Apple II news service to provide timely information in a format that met my requirements.  I hadn’t thought much beyond this – who, how, where to get the information without just cribbing usenet posts and entries on A2Central – but I felt it needed to be done.  And if no one else was interested, I’d at least have my own record that I could reference, because as my wife will tell you, my memory is terrible.

One thought that I kept coming back to was that a podcast might fit my designs nicely and would carry on the torch of Apple II journalism in a relatively new and interesting format.  Instead of just text, I could incorporate music, interviews, soundbites – things Apple II fans could get into and enjoy.

But here’s the thing.  I’m not very interesting.  I don’t have much personality and my voice is sort of nasal and pinched.  There was no way I could do by myself what amounted to an internet radio program that anyone would want to listen to.  And so I pushed all this to the back of my mind to percolate for a while.

And that’s about when Ken reached out to me as he was compiling his list of Apple II-related domains.  We started brainstorming how an Apple II news service would be defined, and as we did, it became clear that podcasting was the future of my dream.  Details started to emerge in the flow of conversation.  Neither of us had the time to do a weekly show and back then, we were …. well, okay, I was inexperienced at the painstaking time-suck that is editing audio, so it took much longer than it does these days.  We weren’t always the lean, mean podcasting machine we are today.  The streamlined, efficient Apple II media empire that is the Open Apple podcast did indeed have humble beginnings.  We wanted a structured format because so many podcasts that go the route of open-ended conversation lose focus and listener interest.  We wanted a rotating guest chair as our third host because that’s automatically at least a few minutes of fresh material each show. (I’m lazy and I work hard to minimize the amount of creative effort I have to put into a project.)  Not all of those big ideas worked out, though.  I recall that we wanted to keep it under an hour or so.  You can see how well that worked out.

And from there, we started to assemble the pieces.  Ken recorded a Rockhurst student reading a variety of scripts and samples (to often-hilarious effect) and we had our voice-overs.  He conscripted Peter Neubauer to handle our artwork.  He found us some great music we could cut up for bumpers between segments.  He got started building the website… Hm.  Come to mention it, I don’t remember doing all that much.

Ken had been collaborating with Andy Molloy on a number of Apple II projects over the years and so it seemed a natural choice to have him join us for our first recording.  That first session was difficult and uncomfortable and after we wrapped on that cold January afternoon, I discovered that my audio track was corrupt.  And so we did it all again.  There were problems with my audio.  None of us really sounded like we were having fun.  I remember being particularly nervous, a thing you can probably detect in the way my voice gets high and I talk faster than normal.  I don’t honestly know how I sound though.  I haven’t listened to those first shows since they were published.  Frankly, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t either but they’re still out there, if you must.

The funny thing though is despite how rough that first episode sounds, the response from the community was very positive.  So much so that we decided to do another. And another. And…

And that was three years ago this month.  Our little show has continued to grow and mature and improve over the 36 months we’ve done it, right in step with the life of the community we chronicle.

This podcast has given me so many things.

The hardware geniuses continue to blow us away with new stuff that takes the Apple II to places we’d never dreamed, and they come on the show to share that with us.

Software wizards like Sheppy and the guys at Brutal Deluxe still dazzle with their creativity and we get to report on it.

When Steve Jobs died, Open Apple was “on the air” hours after I first heard the news on the radio as I was driving home from work, and we shared some very real emotional moments.

Closer to home we were able to process our common grief when a respected member of our community died an untimely death.

An attempt to get Woz to join us for an episode of Open Apple lead directly to his surprise appearance at KansasFest last year.  I got to hang out with Woz!

The past three years have been filled with so many moments like these that I’d not have been able to otherwise experience, and I will always cherish them.

Through Open Apple, I’ve made new friends and strengthened my bond with others.

There were times when my frustration and anger got the best of me and all I wanted to do was quit the hobby and push my Apple II’s off a roof top.  My commitment to Open Apple kept me coming back and allowed me to move past those dark moments.

I’ve been honored to be a part of all this and despite some behind-the-scenes tantrums and wavering by a certain host who lives in Denver, I can’t wait to see what the next three years hold for the Apple II, for its amazing community of users, hobbyists and fans, and for Open Apple.

You can find Ken’s better-written, shorter story about the rest of the story here. (Maybe I should have opened with that… Good on you if you’ve read this far.)