Moving forward with retro goals

May 23rd, 2011 12:21 PM
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Filed under Musings;
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Earlier this month, Mike Maginnis outlined some of his Apple II goals. It was an excellent call to action for Apple II users to outline what they want to accomplish with or contribute to the Apple II. It was a reminder for me to look at the bigger picture, as I otherwise find it easy to get lost in the day-to-day concerns of my neverending goals:

  • • Write one blog post every Monday and Thursday for Apple II Bits
  • • Produce one episode a month of the Open Apple podcast
  • • Publish one issue per quarter of the last remaining Apple II publication in print, Juiced.GS
  • • Help organize (and, ideally, present at) Apple II convention KansasFest annually

Having recently completed a master's degree, I should now find myself with copious free time, right? For the moment, let's assume there's some truth to that theory. My ambitions should thus fill it with the following goals, listed in order of their relevance to the Apple II:

Convert the Juiced.GS index to Zoho
Last July saw the online release of a comprehensive index of Juiced.GS's back issues, with every volume, issue, article, and author cataloged by Mike Maginnis. The tool used to present this data is wonderfully powerful and versatile, but it was not designed to handle this quantity of data and is already straining under the issues published thus far.

As we move forward, it will become more important to migrate this index to something like Zoho Creator, a free tool that I've experienced expertly handling Computerworld's review database. Unfortunately, the interface for designing such a database is arcane and has resisted my initial attempts at deciphering.

Learn PHP
I enjoyed programming on the Apple II but rarely since; languages such as C++ and JavaScript just haven't proven as fun or accessible as Applesoft. I still retain knowledge of programming concepts and structures, though, which has proven useful, especially in my blogging career.

I currently run sixteen WordPress sites, not counting various testbeds, all of which are built in PHP. I've been able to modify that code as necessary, but to actually understand the language and even write original code and plugins would prove immensely useful, allowing me to publish about the Apple II and other topics with more freedom and rigor.

Besides, PHP is a useful, modern asset to have in one's portfolio. Through my participation in the Boston WordPress Meetup group, grad school, and even community theater, I've been offered multiple Web design projects in the last three months, despite having never marketed my services in that area. It could be potentially lucrative to professionally develop those skills further.

Learn Inform 7
Text adventures are in vogue these days, spurred in part by Jason Scott's documentary on the subject, Get Lamp. More directly, I enjoyed presenting a Parsely adventure at KanasFest 2011, and then attending a PAX East session on programming in interactive fiction. The presenters of the latter, Jason McIntosh and Andrew Plotkin, made the language of Inform 7 seem an easy an intuitive way to write original text adventures, so I picked up a book on the subject. Even if I don't learn the language well enough, or lack the creativity, to write the next award-winning IF, I hope to at least be able to knowledgeably present on the subject at KansasFest 2012.

That's my to-do list. What's yours?

Livescribe Zork

January 27th, 2011 9:53 AM
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Filed under Software showcase;
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As people like Andrew Plotkin and Wade Clarke and games like A House in California demonstrate, text adventures and their cousins are still capable of innovative gameplay, decades after the genre's emergence. Such creativity usually takes the form of unique software features and storytelling techniques — but let's not overlook the role of hardware.

I first became aware of the Livescribe Echo pen in Major Nelson's podcast, when co-host Laura Massey demonstrated a small portion of its features. This traditional ink pen includes modern electronic features to remember what you wrote and even interact with those writings. For example, by drawing a picture of a piano keyboard, one can then use the pen to tap on the keys of the piano illustration, and the pen will emit the corresponding tones, as if it were a real piano.

Apparently the pen is also programmable, allowing the implementation of original functions. One hacker took advantage of this opening to create two games for his writing implement. The first, Tic-Tac-Toe, is not of specific interest to readers of this blog, but I'm including it in the embedded video to provide a simple demonstration of how the pen works. But the second game, Zork, seems beyond what any pen should be capable of.

Infocom games have long been ported from their original platforms, with a move to portable devices being especially popular these past few years. But the above example is an entirely new medium in which to play interactive fiction. Practical? Not especially. But it showcases the outside-the-box thinking that has made text adventures popular in the first place. Who knows where they'll go next?

If you prefer a classic interface for this classic game, try Good Old Games, which is currently selling six Zork games for six dollars.

(Hat tips to Eric Neustadter and Jason Scott)