Apple tablets smackdown

August 16th, 2010 10:53 AM
by
Filed under Hacks & mods, History, Mainstream coverage;
3 comments.

Everyone has many roles, and I have two that I am constantly struggling to balance: marketing director for KansasFest, and associate online editor of Computerworld.com. I enjoy bringing retrocomputing coverage to the normally enterprise IT-focused Computerworld, but my involvement in the Apple II community creates a potential conflict of interest that prohibits me from providing a reporter's perspective on the annual Apple II convention. Fortunately, Computerworld's editors have worked with me to find ways to cover the event that don't allow much opportunity for bias. In 2007, I wrote a pair of blog posts; in 2008, several photos from KansasFest appeared on Computerworld.com while the event was in full-swing; and in 2009, over 250 pictures of Vince Briel's four-hour Replica I workshop were distilled into a photo gallery.

The Computerworld features team and I need to be creative to find ways to showcase KansasFest without conflict and without repeating past formulae. Fortunately, when the KansasFest committee announced that the Apple iPad would be at KFest 2010, the features team was enthusiastically receptive to my pitch: comparing and contrasting this revolutionary device to Apple's previous tablet device, the Apple Graphics Tablet. Though entirely different in function and purpose, the idea of putting these two "tablets" side-by-side was a fun and intriguing one. They gave me the go-ahead.

Apple Graphics Tablet and Apple iPad

An unlikely pairing approved by Computerworld.

The shoot took place at KansasFest late on Saturday, after we'd returned to Rockhurst University from a late-night showing of Inception. Loren Damewood provided the iPad, with Tony Diaz's graphics tablet nearby. Loren and I snapped several photos of the two that I then provided to features editor Val Potter. By the time I got home from KansasFest, her fresh eyes had revealed what my Inception-weary ones had failed to notice: I'd overlooked shooting several key features and angles. We had enough pictures for a photo gallery, but it would be a bit weak. Unfortunately, reuniting the two pieces of hardware for additional photos seemed impossible.

It took me awhile to realize the solution to this dilemma. Tony was making a week-long drive home from KansasFest with Mark Frischknecht, who had his own iPad. Maybe at one of their nightly hotel stops, they could do their own comparison? The pair were happy to oblige, and combined with some photos Tony had taken in March for an aborted Juiced.GS feature, and a few more pictures by Computerworld news editor and Mac aficionado Ken Mingis, we had everything we needed.

As with last year's Apple-1 image gallery, the final story was published on what is for enterprise IT news the slowest day of the week (Friday) of the slowest month of the year (August). As a result, "Face-off: 1979 Apple Graphics Tablet vs. 2010 Apple iPad" has been getting some generous traffic, further aided by Slashdot.

But both Computerworld and /. readers include a number of detractors among their commenters: "They really thought it was necessary to compare two technologies that were more than 30 years apart?" or "where can u see the fun in this article? compare a dolphin with a dinosaur next time. they both start with d." Fortunately, those who "get it" are more eloquent: "This is a quick 'then and now' look at how some things have changed and how others have remained similar, if not the same, in Apple's design philosophy, user interface design, packaging, and marketing. Even without those aspects, the article still has nostalgic interest and value to those of us involved in computing since the 70s."

The image gallery isn't your typical post-KansasFest wrap-up — there are plenty of traditional sources for that — but it accomplished my dual mission of providing Computerworld with great, original content, and putting the Apple II before a larger audience than is normally possible. I'm open to any ideas of how I might continue to do so, whether it be for KansasFest 2011 or at any other time of year!

Classic gaming inspirations

July 5th, 2010 11:25 AM
by
Filed under Game trail, Software showcase;
Comments Off

In January of last year, Darren Gladstone posted a blog to PCWorld.com entitled "Classic Apple II Games That Inspired Today's Greats", though it wasn't until three months later that I found it. Wanting to spread the word of the Apple II's influence, and under the content-sharing agreement between PCWorld and my own employer, I reposted the blog to Computerworld.com. For some reason, that republication got noticed more than the original, and sites like Virtual Apple experienced a noticeable increase in traffic.

That same blog post got me thinking not just about classic Apple II games, but also their modern analogues on the Mac or online. I started drawing mental comparisons, similar to the Life & Death / Trauma Center similarities I've already outlined here. As the list grew, I decided to present my findings at KansasFest 2009. To streamline the presentation by remaining within a single operating system, I downloaded YouTube videos demonstrating the gameplay of Apple II classics and had their Mac or online equivalents ready to show. I didn't have time to make all the comparisons I'd prepared, but here are those that were showcased:

Apple IIEquivalentMaciOSFlash
Montezuma's RevengeMidnight Mansion
Conan: Hall of VoltaMidnight Mansion
RobotronGrid Wars
Lode RunnerAndroid
Qixl1neum
ChoplifterChopper
SolsticeAlien8
ShadowgateMalstrum's Mansion
Oregon TrailThule Road Trip


Click on the checkmark in the appropriate column above to find that version of the game. Note that Grid Wars is listed but no longer available from its official source due to a potential copyright infringement with the popular video game Geometry Wars. Grid Wars' Wikipedia entry suggests alternatives.

I've compiled a YouTube playlist demonstrating the gameplay of the above Apple II games:



The session was better received than I anticipated. I didn't think anyone would enjoy watching me play games, but the trip down memory lane paired with modern gaming somehow seemed to resonate. In hindsight, the only game I should not have included was Solstice, as it turned out to be for the Nintendo only and was never released for the Apple II — no wonder my audience didn't recognize it!

The positive feedback from my 2009 session has motivated me to revisit the topic later this month at KansasFest 2010. I have nearly a dozen more games to compare and contrast, but I welcome your suggestions. What Apple II entertainment software would you like to find an equivalent for on a modern platform?

HyperCard for the Apple II, but not the iPhone

June 7th, 2010 12:21 PM
by
Filed under Mainstream coverage;
Comments Off

The Escapist News Network is at it again. A recent episode of their satirical news show looked at motion-sensing input devices in video games and how the likes of Microsoft's Project Natal are replacing virtual hands with real ones, allowing users to manipulate digital environments with authentic gestures. At the video's 0:54 mark, ENN lamented the obsolescence with which this technology threatens traditional pointing devices:

ENN & Hypercard

Wave goodbye to the pointy hand.

It's not surprising to see such retro references in ENN, given that the show is produced by a troupe with a name like LoadingReadyRun:

LoadingReadyRun

Photo courtesy Gamebits.

More relevant to the Apple community is ENN's acknowledgement of HyperCard, which has recently been making the real news as well. Apple's capriciousness in allowing some third-party iPhone and iPad apps into the App Store and not others is well-known: One of my favorite podcasts spent several months jumping through Apple's whimsical hoops, while the infamous Baby Shaker app was approved (though later removed). But more damaging is Apple's curtailing of the iPhone as a creative tool. MIT's educational programming environment, Scratch, was denied admission to the App Store. HyperCard, the hypermedia software that originated on the Macintosh and was later ported to the Apple IIGS, is the most recent victim of Apple's barriers — even though earlier this year, Jobs himself pondered, "Something like HyperCard on the iPad? Yes, but someone would have to create it."

I can understand Apple's desire to keep the iPhone user-friendly and free of potential malware and other malicious code. Steve Jobs says that the only digital freedom he's destroying is "Freedom of programs that steal your data. Freedom from programs that trash your battery. Freedom from porn. Yep, freedom." But how realistic is this goal? I can't help but think that the more Jobs tightens his grip, the more star systems — er, apps — will slip through his fingers. As a result of the denial of the Scratch app one friend of mine has already sold his iPhone, calling prohibiting children access to educational software "morally reprehensible."

The solution? An Apple II far cheaper than an iPhone or iPad, and kids rarely care what CPU is powering their favorite software, so why not avoid these modern dilemmas by going back to HyperCard's roots? The Apple II version of the program is still available as both a free download and physical disks. Create a retro lab and teach your kids something about both programming and history for a fraction of the price.

In the meantime, check out the full ENN news report after the jump, which has other treats for retrocomputing enthusiasts. At time indices 1:30–2:25, Graham Stark relates the historical pains of being a Mac gamer, while neo-retro Atari commercials debut at 2:57–5:25.

Read the rest of this entry »

Jed's Beautiful iPad

May 13th, 2010 1:02 PM
by
Filed under Hacks & mods;
Comments Off

Panic is one of my favorite software developers. Besides making Transmit, an excellent FTP client for Mac OS X, they also have a great attitude. One of its founders ran the amusing Web comic Spamusement! He and his cohorts recently welcomed a new employee to Panic with a vegan cooking competition. And last year, they had a professional artist develop box art for their products as if they were Atari 2600 games — which led Jason Scott to hire that same artist to create the cover art for his upcoming documentary, Get Lamp.

Yesterday, Panic graciously accommodated a fan's request. Stewart Smith wrote to Panic with a link to an Apple II music video he had made in 2005, set to the song "Jed's Other Poem (Beautiful Ground" from the album The Sophtware Slump by Grandaddy:




Mr. Smith's request was simple: could the developers at Panic run this program on the Apple IIe they had in their office? Sure, they responded … but the source code was in the format of an AIF sound recording, as would be used by an Apple II's cassette tape storage device. Without a cassette tape deck, how would Panic load this file back onto an Apple II? Any modern device with an audio output jack could play the file into the Apple II's audio input — so Panic decided to use their iPad.



There's nothing technically impressive about this hardware collaboration, but it's still extremely awesome to witness. Kudos to Panic for acknowledging their roots and pleasing the fans by inventing the "JediPad".

(Hat tip to Jason Scott)