Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Halo 2600 -- A revolution in Vintage Computing Games

By Bill Martens

The Year is 2010, July to be specific. The world has seen some of the best games come and go. Halo is one such game. Many played it, many buy it, and many more have gone on to even more advanced games in the first person shooter genre.

But now imaging if the year was 1977 and you knew all the programming ideas you know now. Atari 2600 is brand new this year and being limited, you have to write the game in 4K. This would be daunting for most people to accomplish.

Ed "Eddy" Fries is not most people. He was one of the key people in Microsoft Game Studios, the game division of Microsoft for many years. While many of the games available for the Atari 2600 are quite simplistic with the usual video games including Pac-Man, Frogger, and Space Invaders being among the most popular titles, even the Adventure made on the Atari is no match for what Ed has accomplished in Halo 2600

Halo 2600 was created as a hobby project which allowed Ed to see firstly what he could do on the old platform with his knowledge and secondly to create something that would showcase a platform that has long been forgotten and thrown away by most folks.

Not only did he nail a winner with Halo 2600, but now many people around the country including the mass media are knocking at his door wondering how he could get away with producing this game while Microsoft is right on the door step of releasing "Halo Reach". However, Microsoft doesn't seem much interested in it, and according to a report in the Seattle Time, the MGS president laughed it off as some kind of joke.

The game play is controlled by the arrows for Up / Down / Left / Right and the spacebar controls the firing. You can only fire left or right which makes the game more challenging but once you put together the movements and the firing restrictions, then you will find that they fit right into the ideas of retro gaming.

While you , Master Chief, the super enhanced cybernetically enhanced soldier of the the future, go through the task of shooting the aliens, getting weapons upgrades, picking up keys to unlock passage ways, you will find the pay amazingingly familiar. But while it is not the simplistic pick up the spear and kill the dragon like adventure, many of the same concepts that appeared in Adventure for Atari 2600 also appear here.

If you are looking for the fancy graphics of the commercially released Halo games, then Halo 2600 is not the game for you. But if you are looking to enjoy 64 levels of tough, challenging, retro graphics fun, then you definitely need to check out the program.

The game has been offered as a free download from Atari Age at:

You can also join the Halo 2600 Facebook page at:

A flash based browser playable version of the game is available at:

If you dont have flash, then we have it up for users with Java at:

If you like Halo 2600 and think it is the best thing since sliced bread as we do, then be sure to leave a comment on Ed's Halo 2600 Facebook page.

(c) 2010 Virtual Atari (http://www.virtualatari.org). All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

iOS 4.0 First Looks

I had the unfortunate experience of actually falling for the iOS 4.0 update this morning. Released to great fanfare by Apple and supposedly compatible with my lowly iPhone 3Gs, the update has a number of glitches that I am extremely annoyed with.

Starting off, the update download took forever. Or it seemed like it did. Maybe that is because Apple just shoved it out to everyone at the same time, totally slamming their own servers. This seems like a plan of idiocy. Apple had advertised that the update was going to be on the 21st. For us here in Japan, the 21st came and went.

While the total update of my iPhone including download took about an hour, it seemed to take an extraordinary amount of time just to do the initial copy of the iOS 4.0 to the iPhone unit.

Now that the machine is updated, I am still not seeing what all the hoopla about new features is. I found myself playing one of my favorite time passing games and suddenly the browser started up and my game kept going in the back ground. It seems that the browser starts up without the usual tapping of browser link or an ad which would normally open it. I have had this happen on several occasions today and have been less than pleased.

Also, there seems to be a glitch that makes applications skip a beat. I only noticed it because it happened in the middle of a continuous screen game. Whether this is related to the new multitasking features of the phone or not, I am not sure but it would seem like the most likely culprit.

The cool screen updates, really are quite atrocious at best. Yes, you can change the background shot but I am not feeling it. The new default makes everything hard to see. Who ever created the color scheme should be fired for being the most annoying graphic artist in the world. (and for being color blind)

I still have yet to have figured out how to create the so called folders which Apple has hyped to no ends. It is not readily obvious in either iTunes or on the unit so i have basically given up on that feature until I find the instructions. (So much for the adage that we all ready know how to use the iPhone.)

One of the most inexplicable features of the new OS is the so called exact location services. I noticed that my navigation software which before the update was off by 1/4 mile is now off by almost a mile of my location. I am sure Apple will try to say it is the software developers fault, however, it is interesting that it mostly worked before the update and now is so bloody slow that I cant even use the navigation software for any actual navigation. The maps now take about 10 times as long to load. One other not so cool feature is the fact that on the navigation software, my location changes by almost 2 miles with me sitting at my desk writing this review!

Funniest of all was the fact that Google maps asked to use my location and then couldn't even activate the maps within the app. So much for the usefulness of the Google maps application.

Initially, I figured I must have done something wrong with the setup of my iPhone or that I had missed something. Then I started reading online and found that it was no phenomena, but instead seems more like a firestorm of criticism that is not limited to any particular section of the world.

For the amount of hype that went into this update, perhaps Apple should have put far more effort into solving the issues with the OS before they shoved it out to the world. Sadly, this is the first real OS issues I have had with Apple related products and it does not make me happy to write this. But alas, it must be said quite frankly this time around. "Fix the darned iOS Apple!!!" And yes, you can print that I said that!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Building iPhone Apps for Free (Or nearly Free)

Over the past several months, I have seen one post after another proclaiming that a particular site or app would allow you to build an iPhone App for free. What I found instead was a bunch of B.S. artists who allowed users to build the apps for free and then charged an arm and a leg or a monthly fee for the actual production and sales. Many others too more than 40 percent of the profits of the app.

I have a list here of the only Apps or frameworks that are truly free for use. While Apple charges $99.00 for the iPhone Developers license, every thing else on this list is free for use or open source.

1. iWebkit

This framework is one of the only truly iPhone compliant frameworks that allows you to build an iPhone website in minutes instead of hours. Featuring all of the snazzy menus in their sample website, the sample can be modified to produce a website that is totally specific to you with only HTML.

Our magazine which takes 3-5 days to layout was completely produced in a matter of 3 hours from start to finish. You can check it out here:

The iWebkit framework is downloadable from the iWebkit website at:

If you like their work, be sure and support their fund raising efforts by sending them a donation.

2. Phonegap

This is the framework which makes the entire App creation process a matter of building a website, copying the code into the XTools www directory of the Phonegap framework and then compiling. The resulting App works on the iPhone and is ready for sending to the Apple store. If you are seriously short of time in the development realm, we highly recommend this application framework.

The other absolutely cool part of this Framework is that iWebkit fits right into the Phonegap Framework allowing you to create a really nice looking app and get it ready for the Apple Store without killing yourself on the development portion.

Phonegap is available from the Phonegap webite at:

There are also a ton of tutorials and information for iPhone development on the Phonegap wiki as well. Also, you are not limited to just the iPhone but since we are writing about iPhone development, we chose to focus on that aspect of Phonegap.

3. iPhone RSS Reader App

At first glance, it looks like we are promoting an App here. However, this is an app with a serious twist for those wanting to create their own apps on the fly. This App comes with the full source code, making it easy for you to modify it and produce your own app.

While the iPhone RSS Reader App is a one shot pony, for those of you with your own blog or news site that you want to have an app for, using your RSS feed with this App is a breeze. Change the code and the items in the App you want to change, color scheme, etc., and then re-compile in X-Tools.

Luckily, this is the one App that is free to build. Just add your Apple Dev code to it and go!.

You can download the program and full source code at

While there are a ton of other development platforms, frameworks and examples out there, so far the only ones that we have found were worth the time and remained free are the ones we have listed. Short list but then they should be all you should need other than a good graphic designer.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A New Era for an Old Machine

In 1984 during my freshman year of college, I drew a computer in my English Comp class in about 10 minutes. The Disktran/W1 computer was a total redesign of the Apple //e computer, however, The design of that computer seemed to me to be more of a boom box than a computer and being as it was inspired by the Kaypro series of computers, it would have taken a miracle to build the thing and actually have it work. However, my design incorporated an Apple //e motherboard and Disk II floppy drives. The design never was built but was stored in my college papers.

As you know, the laptop computers began to appear not long after that with the Mac series and ancient looking 386 machines being the norm. There were still the portables such as those built by Compaq, Commodore and the IIgs portable produced by Tony Diaz, however, none of them were of much consequence in the overall computer world.

Then in 2001, I began to look at the possibility of building and Apple IIgs into a laptop form factor that would not only operate as a laptop but would have the capabilities of the desktop, including allowing external components, expandability, and ease of use. But the display had to be of the sort that would not only impress those people who were involved in the original Apple IIgs era but also a new era of hobbyists. In other words, according to Jim Maricondo, "It has to have Graphics and Sound!". Thus was born the A2GS-L01. While the plan incorporated many technologies that existed, many did not and the project was shelved.

Then in 2007, a hack named Ben Heckendorn produced an Apple IIgs laptop complete with specialty case. It was a sight for sore eyes and proved that the concept was not far fetched. However, even with as many obstacles that had been overcome with Ben's project, there were still many things missing.

Jim Maricondo and I talked about the project once again and we decided that the time was right to pull the project out. James Littlejohn, a well known hardware engineer also began his own laptop project about the same time and we began sharing notes. By November 2009, we all began to pull the resources together and place all the efforts into one house rather than several.

We had purchased the A2GS.com domain several years ago in preparation for the project but it seemed like it was never going to happen. But since we were suddenly presented with the opportunity early this year, the A2GS.com domain was pulled out of the mothball state that it had been in and it is now the live update site for the A2GS-L01 project. The team now has reached a total of 7 people, with the three of us in Tokyo and 4 vendors around the world. The prototype of our machine will be available by New Years with full production beginning in February or March of 2010. Orders for the machine will be taken starting 15 February 2010 and all machines will be available in one of two flavors. Fully stacked and Bare Bones.

For those people who still own a IIgs and have cards for the machine, those cards will work in the new laptops as well as long as they run on a ROM01 machine. There is a movement towards the ROM03 at some point within the year but the initial run will run ROM01's due to the availability of certain technology for it.

If you would like to find out more, then I suggest you follow along on the blog at A2GS.com. If you would like to see the machine in action, be sure to see our demo and sales booth at KFest 2010.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Twitter...a few hints for new followers

Every day, I get a dozen new followers. I have had some very enjoyable conversations and even arguments with many good people on Twitter. They make each day very fun and I look forward to their input.

However, While I appreciate most of the new followers, there are a few practices by some of those in the twitter community that really get my gourd. In no particular order, they are:

1. After welcoming a new follower, they DM spam me with Mass following spam. I dont welcome new followers because I want any mass following tricks or my inbox filled with spam. This applies to those followers who send a message saying check out my new website and it turns out that it is another get rich quick scheme. Both of these are grounds for instant deletion and addition to the Twitspam website.

2. Followers who have thousands of follows and followers, yet have only 1 update or in several cases, no updates. I dont care to have followers or follow people who dont care enough about the community to post updates that are at least readable. The people I follow are interesting which is why I follow them. If you have no posts on one post, dont follow me as you will get blocked and added to the Twitspam website.

3. Twitter is NOT a popularity contest. Unfortunately, Ashton Kucher and CNN screwed that idea to heck and now Oprah and all these other A List celebs are doing the same thing. while they did it for a good cause, the only thing these people have done in my book is screw up and slow down Twitter for the rest of us. Get over yourselves already.

4. People who post every minute with the only thing in the post is the URL for their website. This is not enjoyable and in fact can be quite annoying. Twitter is not a place for you to takeover. It is a community and if you practice this type of twittering, you will find yourself deleted in very short order and on the Twitspam website.

While this list is short, I am sure that there are a dozen other things I could post here. But in closing, I would like to say to my Twitter friends, thanks for following and I look forward to talking with you. But to the spammers I say, please dont follow me unless you enjoy being blocked and added to spammer lists.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Superduper 2.5 -- An A.P.P.L.E. Review

Product Name: Superduper
Version: 2.5
Cost: Free for Basic, $27/95 for Pro
Publisher: Shirt Pocket
Website: http://www.shirt-pocket.com

It finally happened! That's right, that weird noise that signals the end of the lifetime of my hard drive. The one these the Shirt Pocket crew talks about in their reasons for their program. But then, the noise might not have been the hard drive. It may have just been the internal fan gone awry. But of course, I wasn't taking any chances. I got on the net and looked for a simple backup solution which would backup an entire drive.

Superduper was the one program that seemed to to prevalent. It came up in several forums as the program to have. And at a 2.7mb free download for the basic backup utility, it is perfect for the job. It loaded right up with its installer and was running within seconds

User Experience
The hard drive I was forced to use was a dual partition hard disk drive with Leopard on a separate partition for installing from HDD. Obviously I didn't want to lose that and was afraid the program would delete all the partitions. However, my fears were soon laid to rest when the program told me it was only going to wipe out the one partition that I wanted to use.

And true to form, it did and soon the drive in my machine was being backed up like a champ. Now I cant tell you enough that doing a backup like this is time consuming, so dont wait until your drive completely dies before doing something about it. In my case, I was wanting to upgrade to a larger drive anyways, so with 500gb hard drives at barely $100, it is now time to do that in coordination with everything else.

Good Points
Everything about this program is great as far as we can see. Not only does it backup your drive to an external HDD, but it also makes that backup bootable. This is a key factor in dealing with HDD failures and replacements. It allows you to back up the drive, tear out the old one from your machine, install a new one and then backs up the external right back to the new internal disk. It all is quite simple and elegant.

Also the fact that the programs integral components are as the site says, "free -- forever!", plays heavily in the fact that this program is great. You don't really need all the pro features to make your hard drive copy but if you do, the cost is not out of this world.

The one feature that is in the Pro version that is a nice to have item is the ability to schedule backups, allowing a bootable image to be stored on the Time Machine drive. The problem with Time Machine is that it only copies files and thus any installed apps are useless and the only good point of having it is to backup your files. Superduper goes beyond that allowing complete recovery.

The best point of the software is the learning curve. There is practically none. It just does what it says it will do. It even gives the warnings about how it will deal with the partition and the fact that if you have any information on it, it will be gone.

Bad Points
The only bad point we could find is one that is not even related to this software. it is about backing up HDD's in general and that one point is the amount of time it takes. Be prepared to do something else while the program is performing its magic. Our drive only took 4.5 hours but that is for 160gb. Larger drives will obviously take more time. You can figure just over an hour of time for every 30 gb of hard disk space. Even the cost for the pro version is not out of reach.

Our experience with this program has been wonderful. The best part is now I can replace my drive without worrying about the fact that my machines internal drive is on its last leg. It certainly allows me to sleep much better at night since it was 5am in the morning when the machine's drive started making enough noise to wake me out of a sound sleep.

5 out of 5 Apples

Universal Binary

Microsoft closes Aces and kills FS World in one swat

Over the past thirty or so years, the Flight Simulator has been the center of the universe for most wanna be pilots and even real world pilots. Even I have the latest versions of the program along with all the goodies from CH Products and multiple screens, etc. But now that world has become somewhat confused thanks to Microsoft closing down the Aces Productions where the program was made.

Flight Simulator X was an advancement in the technology of the flight simulation systems with many new ideas and clarity of graphics and objects being added to the program. Supposedly the version that was being worked on for the next release of the product series was even more advanced. Of course we will never know due to the fact that when Microsoft laid off 5,000 people, they had all signed the Non-Disclosure agreements with the company meaning they cant even talk about the company or the product.

I guess that means the 14 million dollar question is "Will Microsoft ever sell Flight Simulator again?" My only answer to that is hopefully someone else will take it off Microsoft's hands and continue the hard work that was put into it.

If you are wondering where I came up with the number 14 Million dollars, that is the amount of money that Microsoft made from the release of Flight Simulator X. Not huge money by today's standards but it is still a sizable sum. And it means that there were a lot of people out there willing to plunk down the 70$ for the simulator and then a lot more who bought the other items that went with it.

Now an entire industry hangs in the balance. From those companies like CH Products who make controllers and joysticks for Flight Simulation systems to those companies that sell skins for the airplanes and enhancements for the scenery and flight control. Even Jeppesen stands to lose from this closure.

If you want to follow the conversation on this closure, you can check out some of the community sites at:


So far what I am seeing is not pretty and many people are angry. This is a small fish but it just goes to show how intertwined many of the computing companies are.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Apple Users Groups -- Where are they?

One of the interesting items of talk over the years has been the Apple Users Groups and their relevance in today's computing world. For many years, I was a member of the largest users group of its time, Apple Pugetsound Program Library Exchange or A.P.P.L.E. for short. It was just one of thousands of groups in the US at the time.

But then the membership started to wane in about 1987 as did many other groups. But then where membership in our group waned, other groups popped up. One such group was the Willamette Apple Connection or WAC, Inc. as it became known. A small group in southern Oregon, it grew to about 30-40 members and stayed at that number for the duration of its life span.

What is interesting is that the group was successful in spanning the timeframe of the first Internet usage and the closing down of the Apple ][ series production in Cupertino. What spelled a death knell for most groups even before this time, did not spell the end of WAC, Inc. for almost a year and a half. But in time the end did come, primarily because no one wanted to take over the work of doing the newsletter for the group.

But even though they are long gone, the materials the group produced are still alive thanks to the materials being preserved by the owner of the group for more than ten years. Now they are available online for all to see at:


It will be really interesting to go back 50 years past the time frame of the Apple ][ computers and look back at this material and be able to see what the inner workings of the groups were like.

Are We At The Cold Reality Now?

Is this the year where all of the predictions of the abnormal weather patterns comes back to haunt to world full force? So far, in Europe and parts of the United States, this has been the case. Originally from Seattle, our family has never seen weather like this years.

I personally can recall 13 inches of snow in 24 hours on Thanksgiving Day 1987 but that was just a freak storm. Not two weeks of snow and now it is happening again. Snow in Seattle and then ice storms in the mid west stretching from Texas to New Hampshire. It is almost ironic that this is not the only place we have seen the weird weather.

Two weeks ago, 90% of Europe was facing snow including the traditional hot spots in Spain. You can just imagine going to Europe for the vacation and having to walk through 6 inches of snow. But that was no dream, it was reality. And now this week, heavy wind storms. This is not normal and the fact that it lasted so long made it unbearable for many people.

For many years the scientists have been talking about the repercussions of the global warming problem and the massive pollution issues that have been wrecking havoc in countries like China and the US. But no one listened until this year or so. Now everyone is talking about it and there aren't too many folks with any solutions that are viable or even being funded now that the global economy has sank to the point where there is no money or even concern for it.

But we must get back to being concerned about it. We all stand around with our hands in our pockets saying that these things are not our problem or that we are already making an effort or buying so called Carbon Credits. But this is all malarkey and really does not solve the root issue of the problem.

The real problem is that no one person can buy off their carbon imprint or footprint as it is called. You have to make an effort in your own home, life and work place in order to change what is going on.

The first area is the automobile. We have been societies that have traveled by car and truck for just over a hundred years now and we are still using very similar technology to the very first fume spewing jalopies of the the automotive awakening. To answer this, many people are recommending Hybrid cars that run on both gas and electricity. But Hybrid cars are just the start. Hopefully,we can switch totally to hydrogen or electric vehicles sometime in the next 10 years. That will kill a large percentage of the pollution problem especially if countries like India and China get on board with making it a requirement to have electric vehicles instead of gas driven ones.

If we can go to electric vehicles, then the next generation of self driving car would also come along quicker making the full circle of the automotive pollution evaporate because the car would be efficient, electric and would not be crashing like humans do.

The next issue is the deforestation of the world. The removal of forests all over the world has contributed to this weather and pollution problem as well. Having looked at satellite photos of my home state, I can tell you that there are large tracts of land right around my home that have been clear cut. Now this is not unusual activity in the Pacific Northwest, but when it happens in the largest forests in south America at a pace that is unseen since the dawn of mankind, it will definitely change the the world weather patterns. We need not just concerted efforts in the re-greening of massive areas of the world but also we need efforts on the parts of individuals to stop this crazy pattern of weather and the associated pollution.

But as I said earlier, the resolution to the real issues rest not at the corporate level or even the town or city level but with each individual. Re-cycling, not wasting as much or using as much natural resources, using paper instead of plastic, and things like riding your bicycle or walking instead of driving are great places to start. Even mass transit can be better than driving your own vehicle in the pollution arena. Car pooling is the one thing that needs to occur more and more.

But will these things change the weather? Not likely until every person, company, city, and country on this planet makes the effort. Will that ever happen? Well maybe not everyone but the ones that start will be seen as the forerunners of the effort and will wield great influence on those that do not. So just like our new president has called for civic responsibility, so am I. We all need to make the effort. It is up to all of us!