Reincarnated Retro Games

19.25.37 - Mark

Tetris, Super Mario Brothers, Minesweeper and Solitaire. Games like have reached a cultural status that's just shy of godliness. Play them or not they are referenced, rebuilt, or outright cloned to the point where if you're using a digital device with a keypad, there's probably some way of installing some version of those classic games. Those also aren't the games I'm writing about.

Rather I'm talking about the obscure off the map video games. Ones I played as a 7 year old kid on an Macintosh IIsi / Quadra 610 and the internet was AOL or CompuServe, not the World Wide Web and HTML. I spent hours playing games so it's no surprise I remember them after nearly 20 years. Many of the ones I downloaded from AOL's Mac Game Section were buried when AOL shut down it's closed community to cater to the need for national ISPs. Even games where the parent company still exists, like Freeverse's Enigma, have drifted off into the ethers be it Apple's move to OS X or the later move to Intel processors (which from the 90's would have been an unimaginable treachery).

Then there are the ones that while not buried, live only from fan support. I've spent weeks of my life playing Ambrosia Software's Escape Velocity (whose registration postcard I still have floating around) and it's later sequels. While the originals are still sold, there's little hope to see them running on a modern mac, but thanks to the fans there's a plug in to at least replay the it's arcs.

As you dig deeper in the history of Mac games, there are a few, from the smaller firms to the larger, where those classic games still exist, and some that are still being developed. One of my all time favorites was Spectre, who could only afford the demo version, as on release it cost something like $60. I know the price dropped over time, but like all games so did my intrest in it. However a few months ago I learned that it had being ported to the iOS, and at $1.99 I instantly paid for it.

Spectre isn't the only one either. Today I learned an old Mac classic, Glider is not only available as freeware for OS X but is being ported to the iOS by it's original author. [via toucharcade]

While I don't play video games as much as I did at a child, I love the fact that not only can I still download and play some of my favorite games on my laptop, but that I can enjoy them on my iPod when I have a spare minute. Plus, if nothing else, I can send a few dollars to the people who's demos, shareware and freeware helped keep me entertained as a child.

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Making Shortcuts

21.25.53 - Mark

Recently I've been helping on putting together a couple websites for a couple local businesses, one as a hired web developer, the other where I'm somewhere between being a website advisor and lowly website janitor (which is a needed site but has been a mess for 9 months and counting). So while I may or may not be the code monkey on both these sites, my skills as a decent photographer have been called on for content.

However both these projects piled up to a couple hundred images needing some tweaks or edits in photoshop, and generally not the changes that a batch process would do without mistakes. I didn't even have a problem with doing this work, 95% of those changes were easy, and the rest were fun little challenges. My problem was the lack of keyboard shortcuts for most of the tools I was using in Photoshop.

Some I could understand not having shortcuts (same tool in several places), others unused enough to not receive one, some merely annoying to a Mac user due to Adobe's universal standards, and on top of the fact that lots of people don't seem to use shortcuts other than copy, paste, print and save. So I just whispered curses over my lack of shortcuts.

What I missed however was being oblivious. I've tweaked Photoshop's preference settings for almost as long as I've used it, and never in it's preference setting area did it have anything about controlling shortcuts. However the other day I found a little link to one of Adobe's blogs about how they're Doing the right thing with Cmd-H for us Mac users. Mostly the write up talks about how CS5 will make Photoshop a little easier for the user to make it a bit more OS friendly. It also talks some about why it's been avoided for so long.

Since I'm still hacking away with CS3, the changes in CS4 and the upcoming CS5 don't matter a lot for me (at least not yet...), but within that write up a little gold nugget hit me just right (my emphasis):

With regard to Cmd-H, Photoshop's keyboard shortcut editor has long made it possible to assign Cmd-H to hiding the app. Doing so takes just a few seconds, yet many people are unaware of this or unwilling to invest the time.

While some of the shortcut combinations (both the ones given and the ones you can create ) can be a bit big and cumbersome, they're a hell of a lot nicer than reverting to nothing more than moving around the mouse and clicking like crazy.

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Back when stuffit didn't suck...

23.44.07 - Mark

There's used to be a reason Mac software developers used to always archive their programs with stuffit. Back before OS X came to town with it's cool unix underpinnings, stuffit and .sit archives were the only effective game in town for bundling up Macintosh files. Back then you couldn't find a mac that didn't have some version of stuffit, and any power user usually had a few copies and a dozen aliases for it on their hard drive. It used to be a friendly reliable application that somehow, as soon as OS X came into town, turned into an absolute monster of a program.

The makers started nagging users for the software, begging them to download and pay for the latest version. They started introducing new archive formats into an already crowed (and long established) field. You can't even download it unless you give them permission to spam you with shitty software notices.

I don't remember the last time I didn't have to fight with stuff it to expand a file, let alone the last time I desired to make a stuffit archive.

Betweens zips and gzip, and tarballs in OS X's unix roots there's no need for sits anymore. Any remainging advantages sit files had could easily be passed off to an installer package or a very competent disk image file. yet, for some bizarre reason, people still release macintosh files as Sit archives, and every time I need those files, I end up fighting with stuff it to work.

Please, developers, give up on stuffit and stick to the standards. Apple's DMG, the cross platform ZIP, or the unix-y tar.gz etc. It's a real hassle when I have to install / run truly horrible software to install you software, and I'm getting to the point where the stuff it files aren't worth it

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Funny Pages

02.07.41 - Mark

It all started with a call from Global Frequency, well sort of. Like all good general purpose geeks I like comic books, but I had the misfortune of growing up in the speculator boom era of comics when they became $3 special edition collectibles, were 40% ads, and you had to decide which of the half dozen versions of a character you wanted to read. Not exactly the 10 silver age comics my dad used to collect. So mostly I grabbed some comics whenever the local comic store was clearing house, and attempted to find remnant's of my dad's old collection when ever we visited my grandparents (who despite being packrats threw out many of the comics)

But when global frequency came out so did my interest in comics, and I've been picking up a TPB or two every few months (currently more or less in sync with Ex Machina releases, which means I'm due for an Amazon order), getting the occasional graphic novel like The Watchmen or Maus, reading free web comics and using other means of getting comic book fixes. I've considered buying some of the phone book sided collections of classic comics, but they tend to be pretty bad. Black and white on cheap paper in the book the size of a dictionary, so I'm happy to hear about Marvel's Digital Comics. I may even try it out, but I have a tendency to read when I can't get online (or don't want to go online) so the web-only approach is a turn off. Offer a (DRM free) CBR or CBZ subscription based download service and let me load them into a reader of my choice, now I'd pay for that. It would probably boost my book buying too, since I've found a few series where the art is good enough that I only want dead tree editions.

Even if I read online, the flash interface they have would eventually drive me nuts. Compared to ComicBookLover (Mac) or Comix (Linux) it feels slow and cluttered.

Still, I may have to give it a try. While I'm not really into the superhero comics, I do like a lot of Marvel characters, and it would be nice to read up.

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10 years of waiting

04.39.19 - Mark

Starcraft is probably my all time favorite game - ever. If it isn't it's a close second. Unfortunately it's never gone as far as the warcraft series, but hopefully that's changing - if only a little. Today Blizzard publicly announced Starcraft II and it looks amazing. The graphics may be a bit cartoonish compared to the original, but it seems to keep with the same game style. SC2 isn't going to be a MMORPG, just a Real Time Strategy game like the original (I wouldn't like it any other way) but the initial reports suggest a lot more options in play. If it's half as good as the original I'll be quite happy.

The downside to all this is that between Starcraft II and Spore I may have to put together a real gaming box...

SC2 cinematic on youtube
SC2 game play on youtube

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Frets on Fire

18.35.03 - Mark

I'm not very musical. For a few years I played the cello - badly - but when I moved to NC and a high school where Orchestra got translated as marching band, and I more or less gave it up lacking both instrument and people to tell me what the hell I was doing wrong. Conversely my brothers are both very musical. One brother refurbished a baby grand piano (seen here) then a couple years ago bought a guitar that he doesn't play, but the other brother loves and plays almost daily.

A while back the guitarist (he's also the other gamer in the family) and I were talking about which video game system we'd love to have the most, and while we didn't come to an agreement, he made it clear he wanted Guitar Hero (personally I want to try out Katamari Damari) This has been floating around in my head for a while, but a couple nights ago I stumbled across Frets on Fire which is a cross platform, open source knockoff of Guitar Hero.

I like it, so does he. We've got it on my linux box, and after a little hunting on various torrent sites we've got it loaded up with a pile of songs. While we both suck, we both see the appeal in the game. That and we want guitar controllers (it's like DDR, if you're going to play, don't use a *&^%ing keyboard).

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Shall we play a game?

01.53.46 - Mark

If you've never seen WarGames, and you regularly read this blog - what the hell are you thinking? Stop reading and go watch WarGames, it's a lot more worth while than reading my ramblings.

For everyone left, don't feel bad I'll be sending you away in a minute too. Almost perfectly timed with my relapse into Ambrosia Software titles, they've gone and release another game - DEFCON. Like Uplink (which started the relapse a few weeks ago), the new offender is a Mac port of an Introversion game (read: there's a windows version). The basic premise of DEFCON (if you haven't guessed from the post title, the command to watch WarGames, and/or the name of the game) is the same as Global Thermonuclear War. Nuke the hell out of your enemy, while keeping your enemy from nuking the hell out of you, and like Joshua you want to play the game until you "win". Which of course you can't do (it is nuclear war after all...) but you can try - and it lends itself to my favorite gaming philosophy (Easy to learn, hard to master).

Aside from its various cinematic inspirations (WarGames, Dr. Strangelove, Failsafe) it reminds me of Desktop Tower Defense or Missle Command on steroids, with a bit of StarCraft like Realtime Strategy for good measure.

I really wish there were different difficulty levels for the single player mode (I'm not big on network games), although I may register so I can add extra AIs and add a pause feature (a single round only takes 30 minutes or so) Single player against single AI really can't invoke the same paranoia the developer's aim for. Anyways. Go forth and download.(Mac | Windows)

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Digital Crack.

23.24.23 - Mark

I know a couple people who suffer from a world of warcrack addiction, or at least did. I completly understand the addiction, Blizzard makes kick ass video games. I've been known to play Starcraft for insanly long periods of time, and the only reason I'm not nursing a WoW addiction is because I'm not a huge fan of MMORPGs.

I'm being reminded of what that addiction feels like tho'. I installed EV Nova on one of my Macs earlier this week, and I've sunk at least 24 hours of time into it (probably more, it doesn't have a game play clock and I've more or less lost track of what day it is). I've finished two of the six major plots, but because they're slightly evil, I need to start a new character for each plot, then get them a nice bank account and a decent ship while trying to navigate into the right story line (and I've covered the easiesst two.)

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Old games

23.04.23 - Mark

Rather than hunting out all the April Fool's jokes out there I've wasted most of today playing old video games (and moving a pile of 1970's reject carpet from the basement to the curb).

I don't know of anyone around my age who doesn't have fond memories of playing Oregon Trail. I almost forgot how long it takes to play, but after a couple hours I finished the trail with a score just shy of 12,000 (which on my copy was 3rd place.)

After that I had intended on playing the hyperaddictive Escape Velocity (my first shareware purchase, when they sent out registrations via postcard. Think I still have that one too) but didn't want to mess with getting it onto a working computer, so went off to download the sequel Escape Velocity: Nova and in the process got site tracked by Uplink and played that for several hours. If you couldn't tell, I'm addicted to Ambrosia Software products, and have been for over 10 years. Not that that's a bad thing

The nostalgia is almost enought to make me forget about moving carpet. Almost

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Xcast or the podcast client iTunes should be

19.39.12 - Mark

I've been trying to get back into podcast consumption, but the lack of a solid podcatcher has been a hindrance (see also Hurray for iTunes (Not) and Transistr). The closest I've come is a beta app called Xcast and now that I've finally got it working (sort of) I feel safe making some comments on it.

First, its a beta. It's a nice beta, but it has a handful of sharp edges, like for instance, a near total lack of documentation. Look at the website, the documentation link isn't and the closest thing the develop offers is a screencast (although a nice one, its video when a few lines of text and a pretty picture work perfectly). I ran across an excuse somewhere about not being a text guy, but I'm sorry, if you can piece together a nice chunk of software, you can damned well hack together enough documentation to help people get it up and running. This is important for at least one reason. There's some serious setup involved.

On the surface, Xcast looks nice and feels fairly fast intuitive, but there's a whole mess of non-obvious features you need to configure before it actually works on autopilot. It takes almost no time at all to add an RSS feed and download elements, its not even that hard to find the preferences and schedule automatic downloads, but global settings for moving files into iTunes is conspicuously absent, at least one you know to look for such a setting, and if I remember the defaults correctly, downloading enclosures is a manual process.

Of all the podcatchers I've tried, all of them either moved files into your media player of choice or were designed to play/manage files without use of an external player. Xcast is the only one I can remember using that requires you to set that up yourself. I'd shake this off as a beta issue, but the App prides itself on its iTunes integration. (Which once set up seems to do just fine, sort of - starting to find a few bugs)

I haven't really given feed import export a show yet, and with my previous iTunes podcast collection boned there's no real way of testing the cleaning/management features, but it feels solid.

A couple other of other minor gripes would be the lack of bittorrent support and the odd way it manages regular RSS information, but I think Xcast is the podcast client iTunes should be. Simple, but full featured. Full RSS reader, feed management (smart feeds good), feed import and export, and smart management tools for the podcasts themselves.

Its not the app I really want to be using, but I think it will work for now.

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Hurray for iTunes (Not)

02.02.21 - Mark

iTunes just completely choked on me. I've got a seriously corrupted library and while I've been able to save ratings and some playlists, its created a royal mess. I can deal with the screwy playlists (been needing to reorganize anyways) but in the process it ate my podcast subscriptions and I've got no way of removing those. Its not a matter of backing them up because there isn't anyway of backing up that information. Thank you Apple.

I was looking into other podcatchers before iTunes choked, but now I'm looking harder. The older iPodderX DMGs I have are corrupt, and Juice crashed on me before I managed to get five feeds entered in (not that it took me that long to remember the UI stinks). I'm trying out Xcast now, we'll see how it works. It looks nice and it feels quick, but it is a beta and there are some features I'd like that it doesn't seem to have (bittorrent support to name one).

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Adventures in Tech Support Land

23.59.28 - Mark

As a geek, there's some sort of unwritten law that dictates that to maintain geek status we have to respond to the technical woes of friends and family, especially when those individuals think that we have the technical knowledge of Bill Gates (which is wrong in several ways). Usually these are simple problems and can be resolved by running spyware and antivirus software, or reinstalling a couple applications.

Then there are the real problems, like massive catastrophic hardware failures, or today's gem - recovering and modernizing database files made with an application that's 16 years old.

Now, it can be a little challenging to recover a word processing file made with a program that old, but it wouldn't be to bad since text files are more or less standardized. Databases on the other hard are wildly incompatible, even different versions of the same software will change significantly. Microsoft Access won't deal with Filemaker Pro and neither plays nice with MySQL, while Filemaker 7 will damn near refuse to work with files made with Filemaker 6. Yet, that's to this user's decision not to keep the database software up-to-date I had the pleasure of getting the information from a Filemaker 1 (circa 1991) database file working in Filemaker Pro 8.5 (circa 2006). To make matters worse, the data structure was pretty bad (read: horrible)

I got the job done, but it makes me all the more thankful for comma-delineated text files and TextWrangler

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23.59.29 - Mark

It's occurred to me that Transistr the renamed and upgraded version of iPodderX was supposed to be released in March 2006 (Look at the source code on the homepage). It's been over a year now and while I stopped listening to podcasts for a few months last year (not by choice, a dead iPod and a near dead iBook will do that to you) I've started up again using iTunes. Unfortunately, Apple's idiot proof user interface makes it a pain to manage, and lacks all of the more powerful features I was using before. I don't know of a podcatching client that suits my needs better than iPodderX did, unfortunately they stopped selling iPodderX before I started using it.

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The Nuclear Option

01.01.49 - Mark

After a couple days of fighting on and off with the ClampBook and its mysteriously screwed up OS I called in the nuclear option. Reformat and reinstall.

While it is a pain in the ass no matter what, the reinstall is giving me the chance to do a few things right. I've partitioned the internal drive (something I should have done when I got it nearly 2 years ago) and I'm slowly installing all the software that makes my life easier. The other thing will be updating some of the older software on the system.

Fortunately there wasn't that much critical stuff lost to the formatting because of the full backup I did when the motherboard started acting up back in February/March. Plus pretty much everything I've done since then was dropped onto the external drive rather than the primary drive. For a complete reinstall this really isn't that big a deal.

The lesson. Have a backup. Also, know what software you really use. Here's my reinstall shopping list (in no particular order). There's some other stuff, like Photoshop and some Apple software I'll need to reinstall but the list below is most of the freeware /shareware goodies that make my life easier

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Partaking of WINE

18.07.07 - Mark

A while back I added Wine to my Ubuntu box, and I'm just blown away. I'm running native Windows applications on my Linux box with only minor glitches (been playing Starcraft with off and on sound problems) While it's not as cool as the idea of tribooting a new Apple Laptop, I am sufficiently thrilled. Linux still has many flaws, but the longer I'm without my 'book and the more updates and patches I intall, the more and more imporessed I'm becoming with this OS.

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Mark Wiki

17.31.58 - Mark

I've known for a while that I needed to start moving my mess of local files onto the web - basically since I started using a Linux box in addition to my iBook and the computers at school, and that idea has become more ingrained in me since the great iBook crash.

Despite that personal tradigity, I'm getting a lot out of it - as among other things its been the swift kick in the ass I needed to start trying some of the very cool technologies out there, like the iPod Shuffle DB tool, Portable Firefox, and even Wikis.

Being able to email and network my files is one thing, but I finally bit the bullet and installed a copy of MediaWiki onto my server (same software as wikipedia). I've used various wikis before, but its amazing at how simple it is. I need to find and study some of the formatting commands for it, but I know enought that I can start adding info to the wiki. As I get more comforatble with it I might open it up to collaborate on various projects.

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Linux for Human Beings, Even Easier

20.44.48 - Mark

I really like Ubuntu Linux, I've used other linux distros like Fedora and Knompix, unfortunatly even Ubuntu's developers haven't made it easy enough for non-geeks to setup and use enought for it to be functional.

However today I accidentially came across this utility (for Ubuntu) that, while it still doesn't make it as easy as a Mac or Windows, makes it easy to take a default Ubuntu install and make it functional.

The tool is called Automatix, and it automates the process of adding extra applications, drivers, utilities, and codecs.

If you have to install a copy of Ubuntu for something other that a server, go out and get Automatix.

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Ouch, stupid overhead

00.52.30 - Mark

I'm really growing attached to Fireant, and can see why the vlogging community has latched onto it. Like any software there's a learning curve to it (something I keep forgetting), and while there are a couple things I'm still getting used to, like some of the playback controls and the lack of an easy way to go to the site in a real browser, most of the time its quick, easy to use, and extremely easy to manage files (iTunes Delete file functions leave something to be desired).

Recently I've been watching clips from Apollo Pony ("Rocketboom's Newsroom"). I had it in my subscriptions, but I accidentally downloaded all of the clips (which happened to me with RB as well). I hate to waste that bandwidth so I've been watching what I download, and there are some real gems in there. No regrets.

Since my post (and correction) on pod-catcher clients, I've also been playing with iPodderX Lite, and I'm starting to get the religion. There's a whole lot to be said for set it and forget it downloading but one things iPodder Lemon had going for it was that it was extremely easy to see download queues, progress, and failures. So far I haven't seen that type of functionality in there, but that could be pro, or something coming out in Transistr. Furthermore its only ever a problem when I max out my iBooks HD (which unfortunately I do a lot, especially when I'm collecting video)

Between the two clients there are a few problems, nothing serious, and nothing on the scale of my iPodder pains. More like transition pains (which are always unpleasant)

Anyways, back to watching, deleting, and downloading.

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Podcast Woes

00.18.43 - Mark

I'm officially fed up with iPodder Lemon / Juice/ whatever they hell they're calling it, and NetNewsWire, while its a great RSS read is barely a solution for podcasts (at least to me), don't even think of suggesting I use iTunes, and who the hell knows where iPodderX/Transistr is (or if the new release will have bittorrent support?*). I originally didn't like FireAnt, but now that I'm subscribed to a few video blogs I'm going to see about using it some. It seems to have a much better interface for video than the iPodder / iTunes solution I'd using now, but even then looks like its a little lacking.

But that still leave me struggling for a decent pod-catcher. I'll willing to set up plenty of half baked, gum and bailing wire solutions, but enough is enough. After a year and a half someone should have come up with a solid solution, and even with as much praise as I've heard for the iPodderX/Transistr, I have a preference for shipping software (which throughout this name change, isn't)

I might be shooting my mouth off a little soon, but with the exception of iPodderX, I'm using all of the clients I mentioned (even if fireant is relatively new to my software heap)

*Edit : Oops. I guess iPodderX/Transistr has bittorrent support. I'm not sure where I got the idea that it doesn't, since it looks like its been in there since before I even started listening to podcasts. I'm going to take a better look at it, but I should probably buy a copy just because Ray took the time to correct me. Small developers rock, and I feel bad about my college student budget not allowing me to support more of them.

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Twisted Video

00.19.09 - Mark

A few months ago I was in an Art Appreciation class with a not so great teacher (too much lecture and exceptionally bad powerpoint presentations, not enough discussion), and a worse than usual class (single camera /room teleconferencing on low bandwidth connections run by technophobes does not make for a good classroom discussion) Towards the end of the semester we were each assigned an Artist to do a presentation on. With a last name starting with W I got last pick of artists, and ended up with Nam Juke Paik.

Turns out it was a really good pick for me because I love electronics and I've been dinking around in computers forever, and I've got a long standing side interest in video. The main part of the project was research and write a report, but we had at one point been told to prepare a presentation, and after researching Paik some I though it would be neat to make a video rather than to put slides (did I mention we sat though a lot of bad powerpoint presentations in that class?)

Nothing came of it at the time, because his slow repeating lectures and technical inability to control the teleconference gear (did I mention technophobe?) and teach he had to commandeer the time he had set aside for presentations so he could finish the curriculum.

Anyways, Paik died a few days ago, and considering he predicted a freely distributed video market in the 60's I'm reinvestigating the idea of making a Paik mini-documentry. I've already got a report, and I saved most of my presentation materials, so the big thing becomes making a movie that looks good. I'll see about serious editing later, but I've been looking at iMovie plug-ins.

Wow. There are some amazing looking plugins out there that are either free or cheap (most are under $5 a piece, some more complex ones like video stabilization are more)

Part of me wants to go out and binge, the rest of me knows I've got that money earmarked for other purposes, but one thing I'm noticing is that the plug-in developers are very cool about providing product demos, both preprocessed videos as well as installable and usable plugins.

Maybe I won't go on a shopping spree, but I might have a lot of watermarked video on my hard drive...

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