Archive for June, 2010

HyperCard for the Apple II, but not the iPhone

June 7th, 2010 12:21 PM
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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.

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8 Bit Weapon's Disko Apocalypse Tour

June 3rd, 2010 10:28 AM
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Advances in technology have made the creation of music easier, but it hasn't necessarily made the music itself better. Sometimes, you have to step backward to achieve true artistry.

That's the philosophy of chiptune music, which employs retrocomputers, from the Nintendo Game Boy to the Apple II, to create original tunes with a classic sound. Perhaps my favorite group in this genre is 8 Bit Weapon, which has been rocking the chiptune scene for over a decade, including on national and international tours, video game soundtracks, and exclusive events.

I'm fortunate to have interacted not just with 8BW's music, but with the musicians themselves. I interviewed Seth Sternberger of 8BW for the December 2007 issue of Juiced.GS, two years after I'd first heard Alon Waisman, an old friend of mine from the days of CompuServe, interview Seth on his ChatterBox Video Game Radio Show. In preparation for my interview, I'd listened to the music group's free downloads, but it wasn't until 2009 that I voted with my wallet. I purchased and reviewed 8 Bit Weapon's Electric High EP album in Juiced.GS Volume 14, Issue 3 (September 2009). I dug most of the CD's six tracks, but the first feature anyone is likely to notice is the packaging:

The CD is found in an eviscerated 5.25" floppy disk that's been slit open and the disc inserted, right alongside the original floppy media, then placed in a disk sleeve. It may seem cruel to cannibalize the format that brought us so many fond memories, but it's also encouraging to see them be given new life as a home to music that's representative of the era.

Several of their songs, and even some full albums, are available for download from their online discography, but this summer, you can do one better and hear them perform live. The Disko Apocalypse Tour is currently underway, with their next performance is tonight at San Francisco's DNA Lounge, followed later this year with shows in Las Vegas and Portland, Oregon. Their full tour schedule is still TBD. I invited them to perform at KansasFest 2010, an Apple II convention occurring in Kansas City this July; maybe the Power & Light District would be an attractive venue? Unfortunately, neither 8BW nor KFest could coordinate this event. Both parties look forward to a future opportunity; in the meantime, the band will be represented as a prize at this year's KFest.

If you happen to be flush with cash and want 8 Bit Weapon to come to your town, you can invite them for the cool sum of $5,000 via Kickstarter, an entrepreneurial site that accepts pledges to support independent projects by offering personalized rewards to potential investors. I first became aware of Kickstarter through Jason Scott's successful venture to finish GET LAMP. I've since become a supporter of the open-source social networking software Diaspora as well as the 8 Bit Weapon tour that I myself will not get to attend. I debated whether to make that investment — shouldn't it be the band's responsibility to conduct a tour that is financially solvent? I decided that there is little chance for any band operating in the chiptune genre to be profitable, and that it's up to us other little guys to support causes that we believe in.

Music deserves to be made and heard — especially good music.

Enjoy the tour!