Keynote 1997



KansasFest 1997 – The Keynote Address


by David Kerwood


[This speech was given on opening day of KansasFest ’97, Avila College, MO on 31 July 1997]

Good morning! It’s nice to be here, and an honor. Truth to tell, I was taken aback when I was asked to do this – I certainly didn’t expect that my position in the Apple II community was enough to warrant my presence here today. I will tell you that when the KFest committee asked me to do this keynote address, they did so with the full knowledge that:

a) sometimes I get up and start mouthing off with the realization that I don’t always have a clue as to what I’m talking about, and

b) that in my day job I’m a speechwriter.

The committee originally gave me two hours to kill…I mean fill (!), and since I do write speeches for a living, then that is what you will get – a speech. There is a lot to talk about, and so little time – not that two hours is a little time, but that I have no intention of standing up here and talking for that long. So you have that to look forward to…

First things first – the biggest thing that many here are talking about (that’s not under a non-disclosure agreement) is what’s happening with the “new Genie”.

Last year, Gary Utter stood up here and told you that Genie is changing, and not for the better, as far as we were concerned. One thing that came out of the conversations and strategy sessions last year was that the Genie Service that many of us considered to be the online home of everything Apple II was facing a deadline. That deadline being that, in one year’s time, Genie had to be OFF the GEIS (General Electric Information Systems) hardware.

Well, the year is essentially up. And Genie will most certainly be off the GEIS hardware at the end of August. This means that the new owners of Genie, Yovelle Renaissance Corporation, have got to put up an equivalent system, running on their own hardware, in really short order.

You’ll note that I said “equivalent system.” That is not my definition, but Yovelle’s. They are promising to continue text-based access using a General Terminal program for the time being. But that will be with an entirely new BBS setup, not using the software that Genie users have been accustomed to for many years.

This has several dramatic ramifications for A2 users on Genie. Most importantly, scripting for off-line readers will die a miserable death. ALL off-line readers will almost certainly break very spectacularly when the new Genie hits. That means CoPilot, GEM, Aladdin, and all the other Genie front ends like Genie for Windows. This goes for all platforms, not just Apple II. The menuing will be VERY different, as will a number of other things.

Syndicomm has been told to begin the preparation for the massive undertaking of moving our libraries and archives to the new system. Right now it is still not clear if that action is even possible, practically speaking. It looks like much of this work would have to be done by brute force – manually transferring not just the files, but somehow getting the file descriptions over as well.

Looking at it, I’m not even sure it can physically be done without some superhuman effort on the part of the Genie staff, and even that is not a sure thing. And if the libraries can be recreated, there is no clear-cut plan from Yovelle on how to access them, though I would anticipate FTP access if nothing else.

RTCs will be gone. Yovelle does propose replacing the RTC with something based on Internet IRC, possibly with some command-compatibility with the old software. It’ll be interesting to see if anyone is up to creating an IRC client for the IIgs. I wouldn’t even begin to speculate how that could possibly be done for the 8-bitters.

Message boards will continue, but with a new face. They will use category/topic structures with the addition of something Yovelle is calling a “subject line.” To me that means it will be a threaded message system, like what currently exists on usenet and Delphi. There will still be things called “RoundTables,” but the menuing structure will be quite different, as you would expect.

It’s all apparently based on an off-the-shelf commercial BBS package they’ve purchased, and that they’re trying their best to customize so it looks something like the old Genie. I suppose that we could refer to that (old Genie) as “Genie Classic,” and the new Genie as “Genie Lite.”

Accessing the new Genie will take some doing, it looks like. When the transition takes place, the existing 800 number access will vanish, and it is not clear what will happen with SprintNet access. Yovelle is talking about using the existing infrastructure from their parent, IDT, to establish a new connectivity scheme using IDT nodes and numbers. But it appears that the emphasis will be on connecting via the Internet, which for text access means telnet.

What does this mean for Syndicomm?

As most of you know, Syndicomm is the online management company that maintains A2 on Genie, as well as many other RoundTables. Syndicomm is Gary Utter and Dean Esmay, and when it became very obvious last year that there were too many Apple II eggs in the Genie basket, decided to launch another venture, this time on a competing online service called Delphi.

The Delphi operation got started in earnest last fall, and has been growing in content and popularity on a daily basis ever since. It’s taking off and not looking back. But it has been hampered by one very important obstacle.

Nearly everyone who works in staff on A2 and A2Pro on Genie and Delphi is a volunteer. As such, nobody (and I mean nobody) is making a living in this business. So, as with any volunteer organization, you try and get as much as you can out of the people that are doing the work, but you can’t expect the same output as you would if they were full time employees.

Getting the Delphi operation up and running was, and continues to be, a demanding occupation on all the volunteers. From my perspective, I find the level of effort put forth by those in Delphi A2 and A2Pro to be nothing less than remarkable. I wish I could get the same level of effort from those who work for me in my day job. Still, it has been a taxing and stressful thing to build an entirely new system from scratch, and there have been prices to pay.

The biggest price has been one where Delphi A2 has not been able to move as fast as we would have liked in several key areas, especially with the libraries, building the web side of Delphi A2 (yes, you can access A2 on Delphi via the web, using Netscape, Explorer, or even Lynx), and with promoting our activities there. It’s a simple matter of having the available talent – these volunteers – being spread too thin in covering all the bases on Genie and Delphi. The recent merger of A2 and A2Pro on Genie is a case in point.

Here was a superhuman effort given by Charlie Hartley, Tony Ward, Dave Miller and others in bringing the two forums together without losing any of the irreplaceable archives, messages, and files in A2Pro. The deadline was short, very short, with A2Pro only having a few weeks to move the entire operation and have it merge as seamlessly as possible with A2.

They did it, though not without a few problems. Charles Hartley was exhausted enough by the ordeal that he physically had to stay away from his computer for a while. And now it looks like they might have to do it again, on a much larger scale, and in an even shorter timeframe.

Is it worth it? Syndicomm hasn’t come to a final decision on that one yet. I do have a statement from Syndicomm on these actions being taken by Genie. This comes from Dean Esmay, and is mostly directed towards the staff of A2 and A2Pro, on both Genie and Delphi. But because of its importance to the rest of the Apple II community, Dean said it would be okay to share it here, at KFest. And since this is a direct quote from The Dean, I’ll read it verbatim…

“It has long been clear to us that Genie is now run by people with less than sterling ethics who have no clear understanding of what made Genie great in its heyday. We have realized for quite some time that if we stayed with Genie as the only basket for our Apple II eggs, that in the end the Apple II online community we have worked so long for might well die a miserable and forgotten death. That’s why we opened up on Delphi. If nothing else it was a way to hedge our bets. But we also did it because Bill Louden was running Delphi.

This is the same Bill Louden who created the original Genie in the early 1980s and was in charge of it when it was a truly great, thriving, growing service. This is also the same Bill Louden that was fired from Genie for arguing too much with management. Our kinda guy, in other words.

There were other reasons to start up another operation on Delphi, of course. Their pricing structure was far better for customers than Genie. The fact that they were fully internet-accessible made the Delphi option very attractive as well. Making an online Apple II-oriented service available to people all around the world who couldn’t easily get on Genie was an exciting opportunity for us.

We knew that changes like those now in the works for Genie would come to pass sooner or later–it happened somewhat later than we were betting, but we figured it wouldn’t be more than a year or so after the last KFest at the outside, and that did turn out to be the case.

As far as the future of Genie goes, our commitment at Syndicomm is to continue on the “new Genie’ for as long as anyone currently on staff wants to continue there. We leave it up to you, the A2 and A2Pro staff. Those of you who want to stay, can stay, and we’ll do our best to support you.

We do honestly feel in our hearts that Delphi is more likely to hold our brightest future–but if we were always right about everything, Syndicomm would be bigger than Microsoft by now. So if some of you want to try to prove us wrong, even if only two or three of you wants to stay on the “new Genie,” we will continue there with you, and do our best to continue to support you.

But we do urge all staffers, on both services, to make a choice: Genie or Delphi. We think everyone ought to make a final decision as to which system they want to be on, and leave the other system behind. That’s not to say the decision is irrevocable, or that someone on one system will be unwelcome on the other. It’s just that no one should work on both.

Providing support and customer service is what we are really going to need in a big way after next month. Those subscribers who continue on Genie are going to be floundering around quite a bit in the new system, assuming they can connect at all. And those that decide to make the switch to Delphi will be faced with trying to learn a new system as well.

There will be a huge need for hand-holding and support, a service the sysops in the Syndicomm universe have always been better than any other group of sysops in the world. But for this big changeover we need you at your best.

Besides, some of you are clearly working far too hard, and Gary and I are getting worried about your health. Sysops are supposed to be insane–stable, healthy individuals are always suspect at Syndicomm–but there comes a point when even Sysops from Hell start looking burnt out beyond reason.

There’s no reason anyone should have to decide this immediately of course. We’ve got another month in which we can all look closely at the new Genie and evaluate it. But within the next month or so we want every person AS AN INDIVIDUAL to decide which of the two systems he or she wants to devote their time and energy to.

We’ll still be one family, and at Syndicomm we’ll do our best to give everyone full support for whatever decision they make. But we do want everyone to make a choice between the two by the time the “new Genie” is fully operational, so we can end the conflicts and the burnout that so many people have been experiencing. It’s not fair to you, it doesn’t do us any good, and certainly does not serve our customers well.”

END OF QUOTE

I’ll give you my own personal opinion – not Syndicomm’s, but mine alone. My recommendation, for what it’s worth, is a definite NO. It is not worth it. I think it is time for some business sense to prevail on this one. A2 needs to focus its energy and resources on an operation that is growing.

The new Genie is referring to those wanting text-based access as their “legacy base.” They’ve come right out and said that they will actively solicit business from their existing customer base of IDT subscribers. I have heard of no effort being made to retain the features that are so important to A2 users, such as off-line readers and bulletin board organization by categories and topics.

Delphi, on the other hand, has gone out of their way to ensure that the development of the web-based interface works seamlessly with the text interface. Delphi has developed a very attractive and inexpensive pricing plan for all methods of access, and is not averse to taking risks.

Delphi has just done something unparalleled in the industry by making all of the forum content, including A2, available via the web side _for free_. They can do that because accessing Delphi via the web creates its own revenue stream by the use of advertising, and they don’t have to rely on subscriber fees to make money via that route.

To me (and I’ll remind you that I’m speaking as an individual, not as Syndicomm), this is a no-brainer. I want to be where the company regards me as a customer, not as a legacy. Again, to me, when I hear the word “legacy systems,” that sounds like “liability.” I don’t like to be thought of that way.

Okay. Enough with the news. Let me do a paradigm shift and completely change directions here. Are you ready? Here we go…

To paraphrase Admiral Stockdale, “Who are we? Why are we here?”

Next week in Boston is MACWORLD EXPO. It’s quite likely that there will be upwards of 15-18,000 people attending this exposition in one form or another. The giants in the industry will be there – hardware manufacturers such as Apple, of course, and the other clone makers like Power Computing, Power Tools, Motorola, Daystar Digital, etc. The peripheral industry – printers, drives, accessories, yadda yadda yadda – they will be there in force as well. But most importantly, the customers will be there.

These people come from all backgrounds, all disciplines, but most of them will have one very important thing in common. They will all, by and large, be Mac OS users by necessity. They will be using the Macintosh operating system, and looking very carefully at next generation OSs like Rhapsody and the BeOS, so they can do their job.

They are magazine publishers, web publishers, graphic artists and designers, and for those types of work that Mac has no equal. There will be educators, game designers, software programmers, and even a few writers. The bottom line? Most everyone that will be attending MACEXPO use their Macs and clones at work.

Those of us here, both physically and following the proceedings online, are here for a different reason. Very few of us use the Apple II for business, though there are a few holdouts (like Joe Kohn, and most of those people still rely on AppleWorks). In many ways, the Apple II community is like the ham radio community. There are dozens of different ways to communicate around the world, and none of them are as esoteric and technically challenging as ham radio. So why does ham radio continue to exist? Why are hamfests still such a big deal?

It’s very simple – the people who still call themselves “Hams” do it because they love it. They are hobbyists and tinkerers, for the most part. But they also have a tremendous sense of community, of family.

Most of us here are proud to call ourselves Apple II users. There are many things which hold us together, and I’ll speak to two of them today. All of us in this room enjoy computing, of any stripe, and darn near everyone in this room has a particular affection for the Apple II. Most of us here also enjoy taking our machines to the edge, pushing the technological envelope – making these wonderful machines do things their original designers never thought possible.

Many of us still pay cash money for the latest and greatest software written for the ][, something that still comes as a shock to many. That’s why we still have people creating – and supporting – such outstanding products. That’s why we still have a wonderful 8 bit communications program like ProTERM that continues to be commercially viable, and whose users continue to rely on Intrec for technical support that would put to shame many other much larger software developers.

But consider the general direction that new product development has been taking the Apple II. What kind of product continues to be what I called “commercially viable?” Telecommunications. This is an area where the Apple II continues to be on track with the rest of the industry. And telecommunications technologies are going nova over the entire computing universe, for Macs, for PCs, even for Ataris and Commodores.

Before I go any further, I’d like to see a show of hands here – is there anyone out there that does not use email? OK. Is there anyone here that is not connected to the Internet is some form or another? This can be by an online service like Delphi, Genie, AOL , or direct through an Internet Service Provider, or even through their work. And who out there isn’t connected to the Web? I thought so.

So here’s a pretty straightforward commonality. We all like computing, whether we are hobbyists, like the hams I mentioned earlier, or serious users who rely on computers to make our living. And darn near everyone here is online, in one form or another.

I would put to you that the fact that many of us do enjoy communicating with each other online has become a more important fiber in the fabric of our community than any other single reason – more important than what machine we use to do this with. Speaking for myself, I will connect online using whatever method I have at my disposal – it doesn’t matter to me whether I’m using a Mac, a PC, a Newton, any of my Apple II machines, or even a dumb terminal on a creaky old VAX machine. If I can telnet, I’m happy. And I know a lot of you are the same way.

Telecommunications are the ties that bind. Again, with the ham community, who by definition are communicators, it is the constant electronic interaction with each other that knits them together. And with our community, the same holds true. But – and this is a very important but – there is a huge disparity in the sheer numbers of people that say, go to hamfests, and those that go to KFests.

I would imagine that the numbers of people that still use Apple II computers outnumber the few hundred thousand hams around the world, and vastly outnumber those hams that have appropriated the Internet for TCP/IP packet radio. Why is that?

Because…there is a huge disparity amongst Apple II users that are online, and those that are not. It is my belief that many of us in this room, and reading this speech online, tend to forget this very basic fact. I would put to you that, for every Apple II user online and participating in Apple II-related communication, there are at least a hundred others that are not.

Most people look at their Apple II machines with a mixture of satisfaction and disappointment. They like their machines, and they continue to use them, but they hear the siren song of Packard Bell in every advertisement they see from Sears, right beside the toaster ovens and washing machines…

This must change. Otherwise our community will end up like the Shakers, whose numbers have plummeted over the past 200 years from tens of thousands of believers to one remaining community at Sabbathday Lake, Maine. The Shakers (more properly called the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing) did not concern themselves with what was happening in the outside world, and did not seek to change anything outside of their own community.

But they also did not seek to grow or proselytize either. If you wanted to join the community, you were accepted, but no encouragement was given either. So their numbers dwindled as the elders passed on, and now they are down to a handful of individuals. They accept that outcome.

We should not. In contrast to the Shakers, and like the hams, we should proselytize. Apple Computer calls this “evangelism,” and it has been tremendously successful in keeping the rabble roused.

But I do not suggest that we should be evangelizing the Apple II. This isn’t going to go anywhere, if only for the simple reason that no one is manufacturing the ][ anymore. What we should be evangelizing is being online with the ][. The mere fact that getting people to realize that you can connect to the World Wide Web with the Apple II is an eye-opener, even for those who have only used Apple IIs for all their computing life.

I have seen this time and again, whether with individuals at my own house, or at user group meetings. A few months ago I had the pleasure of demonstrating the Spectrum Internet Suite at a user group meeting in New England, and after the demo, several individuals expressed dissatisfaction on why they couldn’t have something like that for their Apple IIc’s.

They did have a modem for their machines, but hadn’t done anything with it. I asked them why, and one gave the response that America OnLine doesn’t have any software for the IIc. The other nodded vigorously in agreement…

These were not idiots – they were educated people who simply hadn’t a clue as to what was out there, at the end of their phone wire. I fired up ProTERM on the IIgs I was using for the demo, changed it to a green screen so it would look their IIc, and connected to the Rhode Island Ocean State Free-Net. I chose this particular connection because it would come up with a nice menu which said, in plain English, “WWW Lynx.”

Did you ever see the cartoons by Gary Larson called “The Far Side?” Do you remember the favorite expression he used on the faces of cavemen every time they saw something wonderful and technologically advanced, like fire? Their eyes would bug out, and they’d go “ooooh.” That was the expression on the faces of these people. Ooooh.

So you already can guess what I did. Connected to the web, and then to www.syndicomm.com/a2web. And from the telnet link on A2-Web, went directly to Delphi. And the Apple II universe unfolded before them…

Amazing. Simply amazing.

This is the evangelism we all need to do. Simple education. Show everyone you know what’s out there. Let them know that you can indeed use an Apple II to get online, and you can do it very well. Don’t forget for a second that the vast majority of Apple II owners will use the phrase so often quoted by our own Joe Kohn – “I didn’t know you could do that with an Apple II!”

I’ll end this with a story that I heard some time ago, that will also point up one other commonality all of us share here today.

Some years ago, a school system in southern California was facing a crisis. The students in one particular district were failing at an alarming rate, discipline was non-existant, and academic standards, what few there were, were a sham. In an effort to turn things around, many experiments were tried, with varying degrees of success. But one tactic that was tried met with stunning success.

Computers were provided to a junior high school, not just in isolated labs, but everywhere in the building. The intention was for any student to have access to a computer for as much as they could handle. This particular school was chosen because its students scored in the lowest statewide percentiles in every subject.

Incredibly, in just one semester, many of these kids were knocking down test results they have never earned before, and demonstrating that they had learned more in that past semester than they had learned in the preceding ten years. The local news media picked up on this as one of those ‘good news’ type stories that are so uncommon nowadays.

One boy in particular was trotted out to meet the press. This lad was named Raymond, and he had every problem in the book – a dysfunctional home, acute shyness, bad eyesight, and zero academic performance. A complete loser, in other words. But in the one semester he had with the computer, Raymond caught up seven years of math. They got him in front of the camera for an interview and asked him how it was that he blossomed so magnificently.

“Well,” he replied, “the kids here call me a ‘retard.’ But the computer calls me Raymond.”

I said in the beginning that I would speak of two of the things that we all hold in common. The first thing was our ability to communicate and interact online. This, the story of Raymond, is the other thread of the ties that bind us all together. This is part of the magic of computing that has touched each and every one of us. And it is magical, and wonderful, and we have all experienced it in one form or another in our lives. If we hadn’t, our favorite machines would be gathering dust in a closet somewhere. We need to share the wonder with the world.

The future of Apple II computing is online – whether it is on a commercial service like Delphi, which I would recommend without hesitation, or even just with connecting to a Free Net to do email and cruise the web. The home port for the Apple II is the serial port.

It doesn’t matter how they do it, but all Apple II users need to be connected, and I mean that in every sense of the word. Evangelize. Tell your friends, tell your neighbors – plug that modem in, and tell them to come home.