Was I ready to go Mac only?

Ten whole Earth years ago, on this very blog, I asked myself the question: Am I ready to go Mac only? Today, I finally answer it.

Back then, I was certainly ready to try a Mac-only lifestyle. I already owned two, but my main computer was still a PC. I looked at the things I used regularly on it that might cause an issue if I were to move over to the Apple Ecosystem completely, and eventually took the plunge and spent an absurd amount of money on a shiny new iMac.

A shiny new iMac which is still going strong today, albeit at someone else’s house as I bought a replacement a couple of years ago. Yep, I’m all Apple now.

Looking back at my original post, I thought it interesting to see how I solved the issues I predicted facing, so I’ve listed them:

Hardware

I had a Dell printer/scanner at the time, which wouldn’t work on a Mac. Or so I thought! It turned out there was a way of making it work using a Lexmark driver. Unfortunately (or fortuitously?) it actually died soon afterwards, and I bought a very similar but supported Canon device, which is still working now.

I also had a Samsung laser printer, which I gave away. It turns out I rarely needed to laser print after all, as I never replaced it. In fact, I don’t do much printing of any kind, and the Canon printer/scanner is mainly for scanning.

At the time, my phone was a T-Mobile Vario II, running Windows Mobile or CE or something which I managed to get working with the Mac (to sync various things) with some cheap third-party software. I replaced it with a Vario III, which synced in the same way, but ultimately moved to an iPhone 3GS and I’ve been iPhone’d up since. So that inconvenience went away.

The last concerns I have were with my Game Boy and Game Boy Advance homebrew devices, which used parallel connectors not usable on Macs. I replaced the latter with a USB version, and have never actually needed the former again.

Software

Outlook 2003 was my mail client of choice back in 2008, but I moved over to Mail on the Mac reasonably easily. I even managed to bring all my mail over, albeit via an import into Thunderbird first. Calendars moved to iCal, contacts to Address Book.

I coded webpages in PHP using RapidPHP on the PC, but soon moved to Dreamweaver and now, mostly, it’s WordPress anyway so I’ve managed this changeover without hassle. Dreamweaver also negated the suspected need for a SitePublisher alternative, as it does that site upload/syncing job of that too.

I used Agent!, an ancient piece of software (and I was about 3 versions old at the time!) for Usenet access back on my PC. I’d intended to move to Thunderbird on the Mac, and did for a while, but then I discovered MacPorts and got the *nix mail and news client pine working. I’d used pine ten years prior to that at university, so understood it. Sure, it’s like a trip back to the Dark Ages even compared to Agent!, but it suited me fine. More recently, however, I discovered I could actually get Agent! running on a Mac under wine, so I do that now instead.

I survived!

However, I did cheat a little. On my original iMac, I actually managed to get a complete working replica of my old PC running in Parallels. For the few times I really needed Windows, I could pop into that. In reality, I rarely did so. A few times to run some games, the odd tool, to do some coding in VB for work, or to run Access, but that was it. Over the years the frequency of using it dropped too.

On my new iMac, I installed Windows 10 in Bootcamp, and I have to admit I’ve used that more than I did Parallels previously, but in reality only to play games in Steam. There’s Steam on the Mac of course, but half my Steam games are Windows only. Again though, booting into Windows is still a pretty rare occurrence. Not least because every time I do there’s hours of updates to install.

To answer my ten year old question then: yes. I was ready.

Addendum:

In the comments on my original post, I also discovered I’d lose Corel Draw and PhotoPaint – now replaced with InDesign and Photoshop – and PictureShark (which I used to watermark images), now replaced with Star Watermark.

foreword.doc

Murder he wrote?

Today, I found two files on my computer from long, long ago (well, 11 years ago anyway). One is called “foreword.doc” and the other is “beginning.doc”. I don’t know why I created them, but I thought I’d publish them here. If you have any ideas exactly what they’re for, please let me know.

foreword.doc

Computers are, almost certainly, the most important invention of the last hundred years or so.  Yes, you could argue that without machines or calculating devices or electric generators or whatever the computer would have never been born.  But that isn’t important.

What is important is they’re here, they rule our lives, and we need them more and more.

Unfortunately, many people are frightened of computers.  They don’t understand them as well as the “experts” (who in reality, probably don’t know nearly as much as they tell you), and they all know that computers will, variously, rot your brain, eat your thesis, cause your hands to drop off, and force you to watch hardcore pornography.  This is a Fact.

beginning.doc

“Computers” is such an all-encompassing term.  If someone tells you they “work with computers”, it could mean they’re a programmer.  Or it could mean they design websites.  Or run a large corporate network.  It could even mean they develop new computer hardware, or, conversely, that they work in a bank and spend eight hours a day typing numbers on a keyboard.

Not that people generally tell you they work with computers.  This is partly due to the reason above, but it is mainly because people who work with computers are considered nerds or geeks, and nerds and geeks are sad, lonely individuals who spend all of their lives indoors with the curtains drawn, watching Star Wars and discussing the finer points of lightsabre battles with other nerds and geeks on the internet.  This is a Fact.

Interestingly, there is (in my mind at least) a distinction between nerds and geeks.  In terms of their perceived stereotypes, at least.

That time I could have been Dave Gorman before Dave Gorman

Are You Dave Gorman? I almost was.

Dave Gorman arguably started his career with the success of his show and book based on the now famous drunken bet he had with Danny Wallace. Ultimately, what happened, was that he met lots of other people called Dave Gorman, and humourously retold the story. From that, his fame drastically increased and now he has his own TV show and all sorts.

That could have been me.

Back in 1997, a couple of years before Dave Gorman went on his worldwide tour of other Dave Gormans, I thought it’d be fun to try and contact as many people who shared my name as I could. I brought up Yahoo! and did a search for my name on the internet.

A few matches came up, some of which were me. Back then, far fewer people were online and current repositories of names like Facebook and LinkedIn didn’t exist in 1997, so usually people only appeared on the internet if they had their own website, or were mentioned as a member of staff at a company.

The first not-me me that I found, with any sort of contact details, lived in New England, and was a “realtor”. I didn’t know what this non-word meant at the time, but I’ve since learned it’s what Americans use instead of “estate agent” for no legitimate reason. I emailed him.

Hi <my name>!
I thought it would be funny to try and contact everyone on the internet who shared the same name as me, and when I searched, I found you!

I’m also called <my name>, and I’m <my age> and a chemistry student. Tell me about yourself!

A few days later, I got a reply. It was odd seeing an email in my inbox (I used pine for email back then, incidentally) that appeared to be both from me and to me. Excitedly, I opened it.

<my name> – you’re an idiot. Don’t contact me again.

<my name>

And with that response, I never contacted anyone else with my name ever again 1. So thanks to that guy in America, I never got to be Dave Gorman before Dave Gorman.

Notes:

  1. Although I did have a policeman turn up on my doorstep to arrest me once, but he had the wrong <my name>.

ECTS 2001: The Old New

May contain boobs. Apologies for the poor quality of the photos. And the boobs.

Way back when, before we had the Eurogamer Expo (or EGX or whatever it is called now), there was an annual show in that there London called ECTS. I think the initials stood for European Computer Trade Show or something.

ects 2001
Just look at all that technology! No, you need to squint. And imagine.

Although it was trade only, it was laughably easy to get tickets anyway. I just made up a company name and applied, and lo – tickets arrived in the post. Nobody questioned me or my friend (who was also my company’s “R&D Lead”) as we entered the ExCeL and illegitimately revelled in touching the as-yet unreleased Nintendo Gamecube and were overwhelmed with the glut of steering wheel controllers and incredibly realistic guns used in strange Vietnamese shooting games.

ects 2001
My first glimpse of a real live Gamecube

There was a stall selling brand new Atari liquidation stock, with piles of Jaguars and Lynxes up the wazoo. At one point they were selling for £5 each, but when I tried to purchase a couple, I was told there was a minimum order of 100 units. How disappointing!

Also disappointing was the lack of actual games on show. The Game Boy Advance, Gamecube and Xbox 1 (no, the original Xbox 1) were all brand spanking new so there was little see there, and the original PlayStation, the Saturn and the N64 were pretty much gone by then. Steering wheels though? Sorted.

ects 2001
Quality shot of a Shrek game. Remember Shrek? Shrek was quite a thing in 2001. Shrek.

Oh yes. And boobs. So. Many. Boobs.

These days, “Booth Babes” are generally frowned upon at such shows. Indeed, when I went to the Eurogamer show in 2011 there were very few, apart from a couple at a Russian shootmans game stand, and a tiny woman busting out of a skintight catsuit at the PlayStation Vita area. In 2001’s ECTS however, pretty much every company had boobs trying to promote their steering wheels, boobs you could deploy Hoverhands and pose with, and/or boobs handing out freebies.

ects 2001
The one on the right is only slightly less real than the other two.

ECTS didn’t last long after 2001. They tried something different with it for a couple of years, making it more publicly accessible (and allowed children to attend), but by then the big names had stopped attending and with them gone, what was the point?

 

What I was playing 10 years ago

Spoilers: Sean Bean dies. Again.

I’ve been keeping a gaming diary for a long time now. More than ten years, in fact. I’m not really sure why I started it up but I’m glad I did because I often refer back to it when I can’t remember the name of a game, or to see if I’ve actually played something before. Or even just to check if I thought it was any good or not.

Every so often I look back and see what sort of stuff I used to play, so here’s what I was up to in June 2006. It’s clear that three games took up most of the month: Oblivion on the Xbox 360, Animal Crossing: Wild World on the Nintendo DS, and Brain Age (also on the Nintendo DS).

Brain AgeBrain Age was the US import version of what most of you will know as Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training: How Old is Your Brain?, and like most DS owners at the time I was hooked on the daily challenges which tried to improve how your brain worked and gave you an estimate of what age of brain your brain was performing like. If that makes sense.

These challenges took the form of quick-fire sums, having to remember words from a list, counting, or saying what colour a word is, without saying the actual word itself. This final “Stroop test” is probably the most memorable exercise in the game. You’re given a series of colours all written as words (so “blue” or “yellow”), but each word is also coloured and the colour doesn’t necessarily match the word. For example, the word “blue” might be red. The aim is to say (into the microphone) the colour of the word, not the word itself.

The reason it was most memorable is, in part, due to the fallout from people in the UK when the game refused to recognise how many people pronounced the word “blue” (and, to a lesser extent, “black”) without resorting to a ridiculous American accent. I seemed to be in the minority that didn’t have any problems, but then I don’t have a discernible regional accent so perhaps that’s why. I do remember some Scottish people were completely unable to play and Nintendo was branded massively racist as a result. Maybe if they’d held the Scottish referendum back in 2006 it may have had a different outcome.

Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing: Wild World lasted me months, so it’s not surprising I was playing it in June. You could pick any month over a year period and I’d probably be posting about it. It was superficially very similar to the Gamecube game that came before it, but did allow you to visit other people’s towns over the internet instead of needing their saved game locally on a memory card. This made the Turnip Stalk Market tremendously exciting as friends on the internet checked their prices daily and contacted everyone if they had a high price. Everyone would queue up to visit them and sell all their turnips, often needing multiple trips to carry everything, all the while hoping the notoriously flakey Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection didn’t cause the game to crash and you’d lose everything.

Being a handheld title meant it was much easier to get a quick game in each day, and as great as the Gamecube version was, the DS sequel was much better in almost every way bar the downgraded graphics and lower resolution. Of course, it has been completely superseded by the 3DS New Leaf game now, but back then it was fantastic.

Oblivion

Finally, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. The only earlier game in the series I’d heard of back in 2006 was Morrowind and although it had very positive reviews and appealed to me, the only thing I could play it on was the (original) Xbox. Unfortunately, reports of the loading times on that version showed them to be so long I never bothered with it. When Oblivion came out, it pushed me into buying an Xbox 360 – with a sad irony that when I walked up to the counter in Gamestation clutching a new Xbox 360 and a copy of the game, I was told the game was actually out of stock (it’d only been out a day!). I bought the console anyway and went to get Oblivion from Game. Of course, they’d sold out too. And the other branch of Game. And HMV. And Argos. Everywhere in fact.

I ended up getting a copy of the Australian Special Edition from eBay, and in the three weeks it took to arrive I only had a few demos, Hexic, and Geometry Wars to play. Still, it was worth the wait as it was incredible.

In many ways, I enjoyed it more than Skyrim many years later, even though that game is technically superior in almost every category. I think it was that Oblivion was my first game like that. So much more freedom than the likes of Knights of the Old Republic, which is perhaps the closest experience I’d had beforehand. I loved the world, the characters, the ludicrous number of quests, the crafting, the way you improved your stats (I jumped everywhere, picked all the flowers and mushrooms and stole everything). It lasted me months and months, and even longer when the DLC came out. And yes, it gave us horse armour. Imagine a world without that.

Personal Archeology: Ancient Internet Purchases #2

Spinny Spinny Spinstick

I used to love importing stuff, as I’ve mentioned before. I don’t do it nearly so much now for various reasons like I’ve reigned in my spending, it’s less necessary for some platforms, it’s not possible for others (3DS region locking, for example), and it’s not as cheap as it used to be.

At least, I thought it used to be cheap until I found this receipt from 2001:

Divineo

More than £30 for a Game Boy Advance game? That’s more than full price for a western release back then, not that Kuru Kuru Kururin was available as a western release at the time of course. I must have shopped around to get that price too, as I only bought the cheapest I could. Also: remember VAT at 17.5%? Good times.

It was purchased from a company called Divineo, and back then they were actually UK based, although I suspect they were a UK company trading under the Hong Kong parent of the same name. Technically, they were doing the importing, not me. I don’t think I ever ordered anything else from them, and a quick poke around the internet suggests that even up to 2014 they were still trading – selling modchips, perhaps, which may explain where they are now…

The parent company is still about, although sadly don’t sell Game Boy Advance games any more.

Personal Archeology: Ancient Internet Purchases

Buy all the things.

I was recently looking through my old emails trying to find a hotel booking confirmation from 2003 1, and in the process of doing so stumbled across lots of old orders for things I’d bought online. Most of them from companies that don’t exist any more. Many of them from Hong Kong. Some of them from Hong Kong companies that don’t exist any more.

Like this one from almost exactly 16 years ago:

Item:
Name: Bust A Move Pocket
Code:
Measurement Unit:
Quantity: 1.00
Unit Price: HK$ 225.00
Amount: HK$ 225.00

Item:
Name: ?®±????????
Code:
Measurement Unit:
Quantity: 1.00
Unit Price: HK$ 165.00
Amount: HK$ 165.00

Item:
Name: WonderSwan(translucent green)
Code:
Measurement Unit:
Quantity: 1.00
Unit Price: HK$ 415.00
Amount: HK$ 415.00

Subtotal: HK$ 805.00
Shipping Method:
Shipping Cost: HK$ 0.00
Tax:

Total: HK$ 805.00

That order from the very wonderful Bung. Ah, how we miss Bung. One of the casualties of Sony’s Hong Kong Hissy Fit, I think, which later claimed the other HK great, Lik Sang. Different times.

I ordered a lot from Bung and Lik Sang. Mainly Game Boy, NeoGeo Pocket and WonderSwan games and accessories, but the odd Dreamcast peripheral or console controller too. Back in the days when being hit for a trillion pound inport tax was unusual, and you were never quite sure what you’d ordered would 1) turn up, and 2) be anything like what you paid for.

WonderSwanTake the above order as an example. There are three things listed, the third one obviously being an actual WonderSwan (for around £30! Twas a bargain machine, that one). The first item on the order appears to be “Bust-A-Move Pocket”, although was actually the alternatively named version “Puzzle Bobble Mini” for the NeoGeo Pocket (another awesome handheld). The middle item? Who knows.

The email doesn’t contain any Chinese (or Japanese) characters – it’s literally just what is shown above. However, some deduction leads me to believe it’s actually a copy of “Tekken Card Fighters”:

Tekken Card Fighters

I remember buying this at the same time as my WonderSwan, and indeed it was the only game I owned for it for quite a long time. It was totally incomprehensible for several reasons: it was all in Japanese, it was on an alien system, and I’d never played any sort of card battling game before aside from Top Trumps. Still, I loved it and somehow managed to figure it all out, eventually completing it.

Later Hong Kong imports would include both my Game Boy Advance and a Nintendo DS, but by 2006-ish, with both Bung and Lik Sang gone and most games then seeing worldwide release, I imported far less. I still pick up the odd game from Play Asia, and the likes of Deal Extreme provide occasion wacky Asian gaming gadgetry, but I kind of miss the import scene of the early 2000s.

Notes:

  1. Because of course I was.

Personal Archeology: AMOS Programming

The most BASIC of text adventures

When the Amiga was my main home computer, sometime from 1995 to 2000-ish, I used to program in various languages on it. Nothing fantastic, certainly nothing I could sell, and in fact very little I ever finished.

One of the languages I programmed in was AMOS. It was a form of BASIC designed for easy development of games, having a load of built-in sprite and sound routines. Some commercial games were written in it, and until Blitz BASIC became a thing it was probably the best beginners programming toolkit on the Amiga.

With all that power, I of course decided to create something that had no graphics or sound at all – a text adventure. It started as a single room, taking inspiration from the likes of Behind Closed Doors, but once I’d completed that first room I expanded it. I recall planning out all the puzzles in a little exercise book, with all the item logic and locations described. I spent a long time writing the parsing engine to chop up the user instructions into verbs and nouns. Looking at it now, it’s so very terrible on many levels – coding, grammar, spelling, humour – but despite it being incomplete (I only finished three rooms and started a fourth) I was still very proud of it.

Below is a video of me playing it after all this time. I don’t even remember the third room, and so was amazed there was even a room after that, unfinished as it is. I even put load and save routines in there? Who needs PAW or The Quill, eh?

If you’re interested in the actual code for this, which of course you are not, you can read it here.