[Over the course of a few weeks, this blog is presenting written profiles and vignettes from KansasFest 2010, written from that year’s perspective. These excerpts compose a larger feature story written for a general audience looking to be introduced to the Apple II and KansasFest, while also offering community members and alumni a memorable retrospective of the event. Enjoy!]
The Apple II once represented a thriving industry to programmers and businessmen who have since moved on, plying their trade elsewhere or having moved into different fields entirely. But those for whom the Apple II was never more than a hobby or a tool still have a small budget and enough interest in which to engage in a micromarket. On the last day of the event, the community’s merchants set up shop at the annual vendor fair.
Eric Shepherd operates Syndicomm, a one-man show that publishes utilities by several programmers, including “Sheppy” himself. Syndicomm is also a clearinghouse for software abandoned by their original publishers who have sold Syndicomm the distribution rights, saving the products from abandonment. For Sheppy, it’s easy to see KansasFest as a business venture: the sales of one new product, released at each year’s vendor fair, pays for the trip to Kansas City. The rest of the year, Sheppy pays the bills as the developer documentation lead for Mozilla, creators of the popular Firefox Web browser.
Henry Courbis of ReactiveMicro.com has a more challenging lot. Whereas Sheppy can easily burn CDs to meet demand, Courbis must build each of his products by hand. Although the Apple II is easier to program than modern machines, the only way to expand its capabilities and make it interface with today’s world is through hardware. Developers like Courbis fulfill that need with expansion cards that put the Apple II on high-speed Internet networks, or read the same high-capacity memory cards used by digital cameras and cell phones. Other items in Courbis’s catalog are clones or replicas of original Apple II parts, meant to replace failed hardware.
A vibrant community also needs good literature; that too was at KansasFest. In one corner of the vendor fair was a stack of back issues of Nibble, an Apple II magazine that was published from 1980 to 1992. The issues were free for the taking, courtesy of attendee Stavros Karatsoridis, a doctor of internal medicine who has driven to Kansas City from Defiance, Ohio, and is unloading duplicates from his collection. Near this offering was another magazine, one that was still taking subscriptions: Juiced.GS, a black-and-white quarterly that looks more like a hobbyist newsletter next to the slicker, fatter Nibble. But whereas Nibble was published in the heyday of the Apple II, Juiced.GS has been published continuously since 1995, making it the longest-running Apple II publication ever, and the only one still in print. At KansasFest, its publisher announced that Juiced.GS will be kicking around for another year and is taking orders for the 2011 volume. Later, he asked Melissa Barron to contribute an article about Oregon Trail.
After a week together, the KansasFest attendees were familiar to each other, but it wasn’t too late to welcome a newcomer. The vendor fair prompted one gentleman from St. Louis to make a day trip to the conference with a box full of 5.25-in. floppy disks, containing documents unreadable for decades. Having long ago parted with his Apple II in favor of a modern computer, he hoped to find something at KansasFest that would make it possible to once again read these archaic media. Neither Sheppy’s nor Courbis’s inventory suited that need, and Juiced.GS‘s how-to on the subject was not immediate enough for the visitor. But the event’s many expert attendees, loving a challenge, were quick to break out their own computers and custom hardware. Ten minutes later, the floppies of AppleWorks files become a CD-ROM of Microsoft Word documents.
History comes alive at KansasFest.
After six days and five sleepless nights, the geeks were geeked out. Classic computers were carefully disassembled, cars and suitcases packed to the brim, and fond farewells exchanged.
For the next 359 days, these living artifacts would walk and work among people who have never known anything but the graphic user interfaces and fast processing speeds of today’s computers. The beneficiaries of these developments recognize Apple’s early computers for only their historical value, not as a modern hobby. In early November 2010, former World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov, who for years battled IBM’s supercomputers in the ancient strategy game, cited the Apple II as America’s last significant technological revolution. A few weeks later, one of the computer’s predecessors, an original Apple-1, was auctioned at Christie’s of London for $213,600.
When these computers were new, they attracted people of a certain mindset and spirit. These pioneers were inspired with a creativity, resilience, dedication, history and non-conformity that is often lacking among today’s increasingly technocentric society.
There’s no returning Silicon Valley to those early days, but for a week in Kansas City, oldtimers and newcomers alike can remember the excitement that spurred a technological revolution — one that, to them, has not yet ended with the Apple II. Their batteries recharged, they will keep the Apple II alive.