Archive for January, 2013

Conflicting personalities in jOBS movie

January 28th, 2013 10:33 AM
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Filed under History, Mainstream coverage, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak;
1 comment.

Last week, Gizmodo posted a clip from jOBS, a biopic of the life of Steve Jobs. In this scene, we see Ashton Kutcher of That '70s Show as Steve Jobs and Josh Gad of The Book of Mormon at Steve Wozniak.

Like Gizmodo reporter Jesus Diaz, I had an initially positive reaction to this clip. I liked his disparate the personalities were, with Woz taking the time to greet a co-worker while Jobs is more interested in furthering an agenda. I liked that only one of them had an inkling of the revolution they were about to launch. And I liked that Jobs appeared to be taking advantage of Woz, which struck me as consistent with what I know of Jobs.

With that in mind, I shared the post on Facebook. It wasn't long before other Apple II enthusiasts shared observations I'd overlooked. "Kutcher isn't trying to pick up any vocal mannerisms… I'm sure the script is great, I liked the dialogue I heard in the clip above. I just think the actors they got are sub par in their delivery," wrote Marty Goldberg of the Electronic Entertainment Museum. Added Atari historian Curt Vendel, "If they are going to do something based on real characters, then they should actually try to nail it down better… I think iJobs is going to crash and burn because of the lacking of strong character portrayal." Even Apple II veterans Mark Simonsen and Don Worth were unimpressed.

One of my favorite comments came from Apple II game reviewer and programmer Brian Picchi, who suggested the best person to play the role of Woz is Woz. Gizmodo must've agreed that Woz would have some insight into Gad's character, as they published a follow-up with Woz's thoughts on this one clip. He was quick to point out that the scene featured in this clip never happened, though he points out such factual accuracy is unnecessary — the film is a dramatization, after all. More important is how untruthful the personalities are:

Personalities and where the ideas of computers affecting society did not come from Jobs… A more accurate portrayal would be myself in the Homebrew Computer Club (with Steve Jobs up in another state and not aware of it) being inspired by liberal humanist academics from Berkeley and Stanford and other places speaking of these high social goals. I decided then and there to help them reach those goals by designing a computer that was affordable. I gave it away to members of this club to help them. My goal was not money or power. In fact, when Steve came down and came to the club and saw the interest, he did not propose making a computer.

Will the film fail as fully as Vendel suggests? Probably not, I think. As Jason Scott added in the Facebook thread, "Spoiler Alert: This movie is not for vintage computing nerds."

jOBS — which has official presences online, on Facebook, and on Twitter — comes out April 19 from Open Road Films. It is not to be confused with Sony Pictures' bigger-budget adaptation of Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs.

Playing Lode Runner on iOS

January 21st, 2013 1:22 PM
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Filed under Game trail;
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Last summer, I wrote a convoluted blog post about how Lode Runner Classic, featuring all the levels and original graphics of the Apple II game from 1983, were coming to iOS and Android. I'm happy to report that last Thursday, nearly a half-year after its announcement and three decades since the franchise's debut, Lode Runner Classic has finally landed on these mobile platforms.

Title screen

Welcome to Lode Runner Classic.

I picked up the Apple version for $2.99, played the first dozen levels in both expedition and time attack modes, and was pleased by how little the gameplay has changed. Developer Tozai Games has not added power-ups, extra enemies, boss battles, or other unnecessary flair: the game looks, sounds, and plays in a fashion befitting of its titular adjective. Any additional features are entirely optional, such as a soundtrack that can be disabled separately from the sound effects, a customizable color palette, and speed settings. That last one is especially attractive to me, for as I once wrote for Computerworld:

Over the years, [my family] tricked it [our Apple IIGS] with the usual upgrades: SCSI card, sound card, handheld scanner, modem, joystick, 4MB of RAM. An accelerator boosted the CPU to 10 MHz, which may not sound like much, but it was quadruple the stock speed — making Lode Runner quite a challenge to play. (The enemies moved four times faster; my brain and reactions didn't.)

Options screen

More options than you can shake a stick at!

However, I'm finding Lode Runner Classic challenging even without that increase in speed, due primarily to the interface. There are three ways to control your digger: a tilt mechanism that employs the iOS device's accelerometer and gyroscope; a swipe interface that makes no sense to me (I continuously die while figuring out how to get my guy to move, even after reading the instructions); and an on-screen joypad. The last one is the most intuitive, but it shrinks the gameplay screen to create margins in which to display the controls. Even with this option, I find the "dig" buttons are too large, requiring me to reach too far into the center of the iPad to reach them.

The on-screen controls mode is also the only one in which the "magnification" option is unavailable. This setting keeps the entire gamefield visible while focusing on the action, squishing the parts of the screen where the player isn't and expanding them as the digger moves left and right, up and down. Oddly, since the interfaces that support this feature are the ones where the game already fills the entire screen, they are the ones that are least in need of magnification!

On-screen controls

Here's what the virtual D-pad controls look like.

Despite the limitations (or at least learning curve) inherent to the platform, this is the Lode Runner you grew up with. I didn't hesitate to drop $3 on this game, and neither should you.

If you prefer a desktop version, you can get ZX Games' unauthorized Windows clone, subtitled Classicwards, which offers 75 levels for $9.95. Want an actual sequel with update graphics and gameplay? Check out Lode Runner X, available for Xbox 360 and Android.

An Apple II emulator for Dick Tracy's watch

January 14th, 2013 10:19 AM
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Filed under History;
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Apple II emulators are most broadly used on modern platforms, such as Sweet16 for Mac OS X or AppleWin for Windows. But the Apple II inspires a hacker's "can-do" spirit, and for the novelty if no other reason, the Apple II has been emulated in a variety of non-standard environments.

Video game consoles are likely targets for emulation, as unintuitive as that may seem. WiiApple was released for the Nintendo Wii back in 2009. It unfortunately hasn't been updated. It supports a USB keyboard as well as GameCube and Wii controllers as a substitute for a standard Apple II joystick. Similarly, Soul Captor for the now-defunct Sega Dreamcast was released in 2002. It too requires a physical keyboard — no iOS-style virtual keyboards here.

But perhaps most interesting is this Apple II emulator for the Fossil Wrist, a Palm OS-based PDA that was sold 2003–2005. This Dick Tracy watch featured a 160×160 B&W touchscreen and could run most Palm software. Using the program Appalm ][ (formerly PalmApple), the wristwatch could could be turned into a portable Apple II.

Fossil Watch emulator

Karateka is everywhere!
Photo by Don Dula.

There are many more details about the Fossil Wrist on DonDula's blog post. And, of course, there are many other unusual emulators out there, which I cannot begin to attempt to catalog here. Suffice to say that, chances are, if it's a computer, you can upgrade it to an Apple II.

(Hat tips to Sayt and Javster)

The Apple II leaves Computerworld

January 7th, 2013 4:01 PM
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Filed under Musings;
5 comments.

My New Year's resolution?

New Year's Resolution 2013

Done.

After six years as an editor at Computerworld magazine, I've given my notice. It's time to try something new.

Although I'm looking forward to new opportunities, I'm also reflective of all I've accomplished here since my first day on February 5, 2007. I was not hired as a features writer yet nonetheless managed to produce more than three dozen stories. Many of my articles were influenced by my experiences in the Apple II community, such as "CompuServe, Prodigy et al.: What Web 2.0 can learn from Online 1.0" (I was the APPUSER Forum's Member of the Month [MOTM] — October 1992, I think) and "Ben Heckendorn takes a mad-scientist approach to game console design" (which also became Juiced.GS's December 2008 cover story). Even more articles were directly about the Apple II itself, including "Sold on eBay: New-in-box Apple II, never opened" (Juiced.GS's March 2008's cover story), interviews with Apple II users who are experts in their field, and coverage of KansasFest every year from 2007 through 2012.

Computerworld also put me in touch with several folks who became KansasFest keynote speakers: when I liveblogged from KansasFest 2007, Lane Roathe left a comment to the effect of, "That event is still going on??" Using my administrative rights, I pulled the contact info from his comment and got in touch. A year later, he was our keynote speaker — an attendance he repeated in 2012, putting him back in touch with his id Software co-founder, John Romero.

The effect of these connections is long-lasting, and for as long as Computerworld maintains a persistent online archive, those stories will remain — and possibly grow, as the invitation to freelance has been extended. So though I'm not concerned about the state of this body of work, I am nonetheless saddened as I clean out my cubicle to realize the Apple II's presence is not long for this office.

My cubicle has sported an Apple IIGS since December 2008, when I came into the office over Christmas break to set it up for the first time in 11 years. Seven months later, Computerworld moved to a new office building, and the IIGS came with me. It then started making annual appearances in various media. It first showed up in this 2010 photo gallery:

It then served as a backdrop to this YouTube video commemorating Steve Jobs:

Finally, it showed up on the summer 2012 cover of Juiced.GS:

My Apple II hasn't seen a ton of use in its days at Computerworld, but the tasks it performed were essential. With ADTPro, it saved my brother's college papers, my friend's childhood memories, and the source code of PublishIt! It was the occasional lunchtime diversion as I would boot up Lode Runner, Oregon Trail, or Microzine. And it was a talking point for any new employee, whose eyes would widen slightly at the sight of such an ancient computer — yet not as ancient still as its host, with Computerworld having been founded in 1967.

Given my employer's history, it's no surprise that I'm not the only Apple II alumnus in the building: Computerworld all-star reporter Gregg Keizer is formerly of Softdisk, and CIO.com executive editor Dan Muse was editor-in-chief of inCider/A+, which employed many folk who are still with IDG, Computerworld's publisher. But I've not seen any of these esteemed colleagues, all authorities in modern enterprise IT, cling to their old tech and bridge it into their modern careers. After my Apple II, the next oldest computer I've seen here is a 2006-era Mac mini.

So my departure from Computerworld invokes not only the usual regret when bidding adieu to such wonderful co-workers, many of whom have become friends for life. It also means the end of the Apple II's official relationship with a storied institution. I've been invited to freelance for this and other IDG publications, but though some of my Apple II stories were occasionally the top-read stories in their months of publication, in general, I doubt the free pitches of computer nostalgia that the editors were happy to entertain from a passionate in-house writer will warrant tapping their limited freelance budget.

So yeah: I'm wistful. Nostalgic. Melancholy. The Apple II will come with me to my new workplace. But that will be a smaller team, in a less social environment, with stricter network regulations and fewer media opportunities. It won't be the same. Nothing ever is. But it's time to move on.

I've been cleaning out my cubicle for the past week. I thought it would be an appropriate bookend to this blog post to share a photo of my cubicle, sans Apple II. But that's not how I want to remember this small space that, for a few years, was a corporate gateway to the retrocomputing community.

The Apple II will be the last thing I pack up. That's when the heart has gone out from the building.

The Apple II is a part of me. When it goes, I go.