Archive for the ‘Macintosh’ Tag

The Phantom Itch of Potential

Monday, October 28th, 2013

Yesterday, I junked the two most expensive pieces of metal I ever bought — a 2001 Volvo S40, and a Macintosh G5 I purchased in 2005. Even though we got them new, both proved to be problematic from the get-go, especially the S40, which almost qualified to be returned under the state’s lemon law. The Mac died a couple of years ago and was being used as a stand for the computer that replaced it.

prod_powermac_g5I won’t miss them, and, given the trouble they gave me over the years, I should have been happy to be free of both. Instead, I found myself wistful. I got the Mac when I quit the Herald-Sun and struck out as a full-time freelancer; it was The Big Purchase, the keystone of an exciting new venture. I had three big clients and work lined up for a year. Two days after I ordered it, Apple announced a whole new line of computers, but for those two days — and for the first and only time in my life — I possessed the cutting edge in technology.

Within a month, my primary client imploded, the result of an internal feud between partners. By spring it became clear a second client had promised more than they could deliver, and in short order I realized I could no longer work with the third. Luckily I landed at the Independent, but less than a year after it launched, my big adventure cratered.

As for the car, we got that when my wife was working in Raleigh and feared for her life every time she got on I-40. She wanted to feel safe commuting, so we got her a Volvo. Thanks to her new job we were actually in a position to afford it so … you probably know where this is going. Of course she got laid off a few months later. No problem, we thought, Volvos are still great cars and a great investment!


It seemed when Volvo was bought by Ford, they didn’t have a smooth integration: the 2000s and 2001s turned out to be the most unreliable cars they ever produced. When we’d bring it into the dealership for repairs you could see the guys’ shoulders sag from the parking lot. “What is it this time?” the mechanics would sigh. Usually it was the electrical system or the onboard computer. (I always wanted a car from the Year 2001: just my luck I got HAL.) They kept fixing it, nursing it along until they were clear of the cut-off date for the lemon law, at which point they washed their hands of us. Our S40 limped along for the next decade, literally falling apart around us — sometimes ON us, as when the sunroof fell in and hit me while I was driving — until it finally failed to pass inspection this year.

Again, I should have been happy when it was towed away.

Neither prospect ever delivered on their promise, but I couldn’t entirely write them off, disappointing though they were — I could still feel all that potential I felt when we bought these centerpiece items. If we had done things differently? — things still would have failed. Even with this knowledge, I could still see the plans we made, the goals we were hoping to reach. Failure somehow didn’t erase these when it took the rest.

Does that echo ever dissipate? I had a project once, a big one that took years to complete, and I needed a certain item from a certain store that happened to be on the way to a friend’s house in another state. Turns out they didn’t have it, and it forced me to find a different — and in the end, better — solution. Except…

That project has been done for over a decade now, but every time I drive down that highway I think, “don’t forget to stop and check.” Hell, not only is that store gone, the store that replaced it is gone, yet I can’t drive past it without thinking of getting off the exit and seeing if they have that part.

Unrealized potential, it seems, doesn’t have a half-life.

[50/50] Computer Games: Cute Overload

Sunday, October 13th, 2013

Computer Game #6: “Lemmings” (1991)
Computer Game #7: “Glider” (1990)

lemmingLittle known fact, but in the late ’80s I worked on developing a comic strip called “Lemmings.” It was based loosely on the squirrels in my college paper strip “Potatohead U” and followed the adventures of a biology major who, while on a field trip, had saved a herd of lemmings from throwing themselves off a cliff and brought them back home to live with him on campus. Hilarity, the plan was, ensued. Or not — the strip got to the pitch phase. The lemmings I drew, however, were pretty damn cute, with big floppy hair that bounced when they walked. You can image my shock (and delight) then when, a few years later, a computer game came out for the Amiga staring lemmings with big floppy hair that bounced when they walked. I at least got the satisfaction that I might have been on the right path.

Lemmings was a huge smash, and quickly ported to PCs, Macs, and every platform available. In it, you guided your lemmings through vast underground caverns, using a limited number of tools to help them find the one way out of each level. If time ran out, your lemmings went nuclear — literally — blowing up the cave in a spectacularly cute explosion.

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I’ll keep harping on Steve Jobs’ failure to embrace games as a major selling point for the Machintosh, mostly because his lack of support ensured that Mac users rarely got to play the great computer games of the day (or, if they did, the ports came years later, long after interest and support in the titles had waned.) I’ll settle for the fact that so many people proved him wrong by designing brilliant games for the Mac in spite of Jobs’ attitude. One of these hits was Glider, a game where you played … a paper airplane. Gliding from room to room, trying to find an open window to escape, you could catch lifts on errant drafts from air ducts, fans, or heat from candles (don’t get too close or you’ll burst into flames!). It was simple, fun and highly addictive.

Glider was a big hit, with a huge fan base, and after its designer got the rights back some years later, he decided to release it to the public for free. So you too can play Glider right now, online, here.

[50/50] Computer Game #11: “Myst”

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

Computer Game #11: “Myst” (1993)

MystCoverOne of Steve Jobs biggest mistakes was downplaying games on the Macintosh. He and Apple wanted the Mac to be a “serious” machine, and because games were for kids, they poo-pooed add-ons like joysticks, or aggressive support for game programmers. Mac’s superior graphics were supposed to be for important things like art & business, not silly games.

Of course games, as it turned out, would become one of THE biggest businesses, and the driving force for PC hardware and software development. That was driven home when Myst — originally a Mac-only release — became the biggest selling computer game of its time. CD-ROMs had been available for computers for years, but high prices and slow speeds made them unappealing to consumers; “Myst” actually helped drive sales of CD readers and became the ‘killer app’ the industry had been looking for.

On top of that, it truly was a new genre of game — the interactive puzzle mystery. It’s ambiance and logistical challenges could pull you in for hours, as you are given a strange book that can transport you to any time or age — but only if you first solve the mystery of the abandoned island you find yourself on. There are no missions, no levels, no blowing anything up: exploring the island and figuring out how everything works (and what happened to the people there) was the whole game.

Myst is so popular it outlived the CD-ROM (and the compact disc!) and is now available for smart phones and tablets. There are even animated 3-D updates of the original, but part of the charm is the (now) simple yet beautifully rendered graphics. And no matter which version or platform you choose, be sure to wear headphones while playing — the moody sounds and music that surround you are key to getting lost in this imaginary realm.

“Myst” really is all that, and 20 years after its release, it is still an almost mystical experience worth pursuing.