Archive for March, 2013

Kotaku's Emulation Fear Mongering

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

Ouya Console

Over at Kotaku, Tina Amini recently wrote a piece titled "Ouya Tries To Dispel Fears That The Console's Nintendo Emulators Will Promote Piracy." It's not a good piece.

First of all, the author isn't clear whose fears Ouya is trying to dispel. By my reading, it is only the author herself who "fears" what may happen if Ouya allows Nintendo emulators on its console, and only because she wants to drum up controversy for a blog post. Fear mongering bullshit.

Tina, don't use fear over emulation or piracy as your traffic-boosting media pawn. It doesn't help anybody.

Emulation isn't the enemy. Piracy isn't even the enemy. They're bogeymen that help preserve a system where media companies overcharge and re-charge for their works over and over and over again. (I'm talking all media here, not just video games.)

The never-ending war against piracy isn't a war against pirates. It's a war against consumers. The content industry has dressed it up to look like a battle of good vs. evil when it's really just a battle to keep your wallet pried open while dollars pour out.

That war has real casualties for everyone that are far worse than piracy: things like consumers' fair-use rights over products they have rightfully purchased or licensed, free speech, security research, and our historical legacy.

Piracy, if left completely unchecked, would definitely hurt publishers. But it's not unchecked. It's illegal.

Let people do what they want with open platforms. Let the law be the law, and let the people decide if it's in their best interest to respect it or break it.

You could always put people in straitjacket if you didn't want them to break any laws, but it wouldn't allow them to be free, would it?

DRM is a digital straitjacket, and a "walled garden" is a fancy name for a comfortable prison. If a company like Ouya is brave enough to let their console be used for whatever purpose, that should be commended, not discouraged.

P.S. Fix the DMCA

Predicting the Smartphone in 1989 — as the Smartwatch

Monday, March 25th, 2013

Seiko UC-2000 Semi-Smartwatch

While researching my slideshow on smartwatch history for TechHive last month, I came across an interesting 1989 letter to Computerworld magazine. It was a response to an earlier article in the publication about the inevitability of a wearable watch-sized microcomputer.

I find the letter prescient because its author imagines the consequences of walking around with a full-blown networked computer on your wrist. And he was right about his predictions in every regard except one: instead of computers on our wrists, we're walking around with computers in our pockets. In other words, smartphones.

But that's the nature of predicting the future. You can often get the general trends correct without knowing the details. Nobody in 1989 had any idea that the cell phone, instead of the watch, would first become the vehicle through which we'd wear tiny networked computers on our persons almost every hour of the day.

[ Continue reading Predicting the Smartphone in 1989 — as the Smartwatch » ]

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Apple II Box for C64

Monday, March 25th, 2013

Mimic Systems Spartan Commodore 64 Apple II+ expansion box advertisement ad - 1985A scene from one of Benj's recent nightmares.

Hey mime! Yeah, you! Stop stealing my $599 Mimic Spartan Apple II+ compatibility box for the Commodore 64. I need it to open up a whole new world of hardware and software.

Just for a second, imagine if I could add these features to my Commodore 64: Apple II+ hardware and software capabilities, 64K RAM expansion, four software selectable Commodore 64 cartridge slots, non-dedicated 8-bit parallel port, and standard audio cassette deck capabilities for my C-64. Yep, all of that!

The suggested retail value of comparable products offering only these capabilities is over $2,200.00*. But the Spartan gives me much, much more, mime! Oh yes. By building on my investment in my Commodore 64 — an excellent introductory computer — I create a whole new system with both C-64 an Apple II+ capabilities.

There is a whole other world out there! And if you'd just give it back, a huge selection of Apple II+ hardware and software would be mine to explore. Call toll free for the Spartan dealer nearest you.

* Burp.

[ From Compute, November 1985, p.29 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Open Discussion: Whoever posts a question first gets to decide what we'll talk about this week.

See Also: MacCharlie's FrankenMac (2013)

Benj's Macworld and TechHive History Roundup

Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

Macworld Logo
TechHive Logo

I last updated you on my Macworld work back in January. Since then, I've been busy writing more historically-minded pieces for the site as well as its sister site, TechHive. Below you'll find a list of the ones I haven't mentioned yet on this blog in convenient digest form.

Phew. I've been busy! Of those eight pieces, the Apple Lisa one can't be missed. Plenty of interesting little-known history there. The Mac Color Classic and Abandoned Apples pieces are some of my favorites as well.

I'm not sure, but I get the feeling from the lack of comments on my Apple-related posts that not many Apple or Mac fans visit VC&G. Not quite sure why that is, but if you're out there, let me know.

Remembering VCR Games

Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

Remembering VCR Games on TechHive

Does anybody out there remember VCR games? They were typically board games that integrated a pseudo-interactive VHS video tape into the game play. The first two to be released were the Clue VCR Mystery Game and Rich Little's VCR Charades Game, both by Parker Brothers in 1985.

They weren't video games, per se, but you could call them "video tape games," or VCR games, as I preferred in the recent slideshow of 1980s and '90s VCR game classics I assembled for TechHive. Here's an excerpt from the intro:

The rise of the home VCR in the early 1980s brought about that last innovation, which resulted in dozens of board games (and eventually toys as well) that shipped with VHS tapes designed to be played at certain points in the game. Players had to follow cues in the game in order to call up the right segment to play on the videocassette—all in all, a tedious business.

Personally, I remember playing the Clue VCR game at a friend's house as a kid not long after it came out. It seemed pretty amazing at the time. I also vaguely remember playing some beach-themed game, and maybe one based on Trivial Pursuit.

Oh, and I also had the white Captain Power ship and some tapes. Loved that stuff.

The same sort of pseudo-interactive game format later made its way to DVDs, but the rise of multimedia video games (and ever-better graphics) essentially killed whatever chance they had of becoming a classic game genre.

Where Have the Comments Gone?

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Vintage Computing and Gaming LogoI just noticed recently that the volume of reader comments on this blog has gone way down in the past year or so.

Does anybody have any theories about why that is? (Ironically, you'll have to comment to tell me.)

It's unfortunate, because reader feedback is the currency that makes this site run. I like hearing from readers; it encourages me to keep updating this blog, as I have been doing since 2005 — almost 8 years now.

Traffic seems to be just about as strong as it has ever been. Is there some change in modern reader behavior that is discouraging people from commenting on this old style blog? Are people are moving away from RSS feed readers? Do I need a Twitter feed that tweets every new post onto there? Do people just hate filling out forms with email addresses, etc. every time they comment?

Maybe I'm just not posting stuff that people are interested in commenting on. Perhaps it's time to retire the 'ole beast. If I only get 2 responses to this, I think I will.

[ Retro Scan Special ] Buying from Epic Games in 1996

Monday, March 18th, 2013

Epic MegaGames Shareware Registration Invoice - 1996Epic MegaGames purchase invoice in January 1996.

You're looking at a rare physical artifact from the twilight of shareware's golden age.

Way back in 1996, when Gears of War maker Epic Games still went by "Epic MegaGames," I ordered a few registered copies of its shareware games through CompuServe.

Since it was a special buy-and-download deal (very unusual in 1996), I didn't receive copies of the games themselves on disk. Instead, Epic mailed an invoice, copies of the games' instruction manuals (which have been displaced from this set, or else I would have scanned them too) and a shareware demo disk from Epic partner Safari Software.

[ Continue reading [ Retro Scan Special ] Buying from Epic Games in 1996 » ]

Fix the DMCA to Preseve our Cultural Heritage

Friday, March 15th, 2013

Mickey Mouse Copyright Blur

Just up on The Atlantic.com is an op-ed I wrote that argues for repealing the anti-circumvention section of the DMCA because it threatens the preservation of our cultural heritage.

Perhaps by now you've heard about the campaign to repeal the anti-circumvention section (1201) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. This most recent challenge to the DMCA arose from a recent decision by the Librarian of Congress to discontinue a three-year exemption that made cell phone unlocking legal.

Opponents of the DMCA anti-circumvention provision claim that the law threatens consumer control over the electronic devices we buy, and they're right. But the stakes are much higher than that. Our cultural history is in jeopardy. If the DMCA remains unaltered, cultural scholarship will soon be conducted only at the behest of corporations, and public libraries may disappear entirely.

That's because the DMCA attacks one of the of the fundamental pillars of human civilization: the sharing of knowledge and culture between generations. Under the DMCA, manmade mechanisms that prevent the sharing of information are backed with the force of law. And sharing is vital for the survival of information. Take that away, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Share my article. Spread the word. It's time to fix the DMCA.

"DRM is a problem like mold is a problem, like fire is a problem. What distinguishes it, of course, is that it's a man-made construct, which makes it seem really sad." - Jason Scott, Archivist at The Internet Archive

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Lord of the Rings

Monday, March 11th, 2013

Interplay Lord of the Rings PC Game Advertisement - 1990"'The Tolkien estate finally made the right choice with Interplay.'"

[ From Video Games and Computer Entertainment, October 1990, p.155 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's the best Lord of the Rings- or Hobbit-themed video/computer game ever made?

[ Retro GIF of the Week ] X-Men's Colossus BBS Ad

Friday, March 8th, 2013

Colossus X-Men Retro GIFClick to see other views of this image: [ Original Size ] [ 2X Zoom ]

In ye olden days, BBS sysops often tagged image files that came within their possession with makeshift ads for their BBSes, as can be seen here on this image of Marvel's Colossus. The BBS in this case is "The Users's Choice BBS," which sysop Martin Scolero ran in Indianapolis, Indiana between 1990 and 1996. (That info is courtesy a historical BBS list created by Jason Scott.)

[ Continue reading [ Retro GIF of the Week ] X-Men's Colossus BBS Ad » ]