Random Thoughts

Tech, words and musings from an Englishman in Seattle

You Did What?

So today we bought a new house. Or at least we put in an offer on one that was accepted!

We're only moving one block away from where we currently live and some people consider that as odd, but I consider it as “Hey, we love this area, dumshit, we just need some more room”.

And now we start the process of moving into a new home, improving our current place for sale, selling it and being happy…

Anyone want to buy a wonderful home in Kirkland?

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The Seven Deadly Fins - Fish!

This year will be the 20th anniversary of the release of Fish! from Magnetic Scrolls.

Fish! was the first game and first real live commercial software project that I worked on and the first product that I really argued for the inclusion of an exclamation point in it's name :-) Somehow the exclamation point disappeared from the packaging for the US release…

Released towards the end of 1988 was Fish!, a more light-hearted, surreal adventure game, where the player assumed the role of a dimension-jumping goldfish. Written by John Molloy, Pete Kemp, Phil South and edited by Rob Steggles, Fish! would prove to be the last of Magnetic Scrolls' traditional commercial releases.

I loved Fish! It was weird, different and totally odd. I also loved working for Magnetic Scrolls which was Unix-centric - everything was developed on a MicroVax and cross-compiled and the guys were way overboard on the intelligence level which led to very interesting pub discussions.

Stories around working there mostly involve great coding, fun problems and south London pubs. In fact I remember that when the UK went to all day licensing hours (i.e. the pubs were open all day), we decided to “extend” our lunch hour. We all came back to the office fairly “happy” to the chagrin of our boss, Anita Sinclair, who'd been schmoozing a potential investor who'd been hoping to meet the team :-)

Alumni from the company are pretty well known in the computer graphics space - two of the guys, Doug Rabson and Servan Keondjian (both now at Qube), went on to form RenderMorphics, which I joined in 1995 shortly before it's acquisition by Microsoft and Richard Huddy went on to work for ATI and NVidia.

Ahhh, reminiscing… I am, indeed, an old fart.

Update: Oh, and yes, I know the quote and US reviews say 1998, but it went out in 1997 to the world at large…

ZX Spectum - 25 Years On…

Has it really been 25 years since the ZX Spectrum came out? I cut my programming teeth on that thing…

Anyhow, the Beeb has a nice little retrospective which includes an interesting video.

Man, I'm having flashbacks.

Many of today's video game luminaries cut their teeth on Sinclair computers, among them Dave Perry, who runs Shiny Entertainment, and Tim and Chris Stamper, who founded Rare.

In 1967 Sir Cive Sinclair pioneered the miniature TV

“Sir Clive Sinclair gave so many British people an incredible step up into the videogame industry, which in a few more years will be bigger than the music industry,” said Mr Perry, who began writing games as a school child on the ZX81 and became a professional programmer thanks to the Spectrum.

“Clive is a national hero,” said Mr Dickinson.

“He loved looking for technology ideas and often had an idea and had to wait for the technology to catch up.”

I completely agree with this.

The fact that the three 3D graphics API outfits (RenderMorphics, Argonaut and Criterion) were based in London and that so many of the games companies in the eighties were from the UK (e.g. Rare) is completely due to the fact that as kids, we had access to a bunch of cool, low cost tech that other countries missed out on.

BloggerView: Everyone Has A Story

Who'd a thought it? Me. Interviewed!

A new blog called BloggerView has just started up by my new mate Pete from down-under, him of the incredibly amusing blog Chocolate Makes It Better.

Anyhow, my interview is the first! 001! Does that make me a secret agent?

BV: It seems like you have spent a large proportion of your life developing software or games and even some other interesting projects that we will get into a little later. Can you tell us a little about the type of kid you were and where the drive for this area of your particular passion came from?

I was the typical geek kid at school - generally ignored by all; especially by members of the fairer sex. I couldn't kick a football for toffee, so I generally just did well at the academic stuff. My parents were pretty encouraging and I guess I got into it all through a friend whose dad bought him all the computer toys. We're talking KIM-1, PET, Apple IIe, etc… Then my dad bought me a ZX81 and a Spectrum and I was hooked. I learnt Z80 assembly 'cos BASIC was boring, and then helped out a computer science teacher of mine with a book of computer games he was writing. This was at the time when you could buy magazines and books with printed listings of games in them that you'd type in.

BloggerView - Highly recommended.

I May Have Found The Perfect GTD App

I've been on and off the GTD (Getting Things Done) bandwagon and my excuse, at least to myself, has been that I've yet to find a good tool that works for me.

I've tried ResultsManager which I liked on the PC, but unfortunately has no Mac version (btw, I love MindManager the application it is built upon), GTDinbox, Tracks and a few others.

Last week I found iGTD, a native Mac application that appears to do everything right. An uncluttered yet functional UI; keyboard shortcuts for everything; integration with QuickSilver hierarchical projects; notes and everything you could wish for..

But most of all, it just works.

Highly recommended for you list-makers, GTD faithful and everyone who wants some sanity in their cluttered lives.


Guitar Hero 2 Ate My Hamster

Well, maybe it didn't eat my hamster, but Guitar Hero 2 for the Xbox 360 certainly ate up five hours of my life last night.

From Wikipedia

Guitar Hero II features many popular real world Gibson, Epiphone, and Kramer guitars, including the Gibson Les Paul, Gibson SG, and Gibson Explorer. Oddities such as the double necked Gibson EDS-1275 and unusual looking Gibson Corvus also make an appearance. Several available finishes are also recognizable from popular guitarists, including Zakk Wylde's bullseye Les Paul. As play progresses, several custom shaped guitars become available, although some are notable in the real world such as the USA and Battle Axe (a similar looking bass was played by Gene Simmons). Basses, such as the Music Man StingRay, Gibson Thunderbird, and the Hofner bass are also available for co-op play.

I plugged the cool guitar controller in at around 9pm last night, and it wouldn't let me put it down until 2am this morning. This game absolutely and completely, err, rocks!

I played through six of the eight sections on easy before switching to medium and playing through the first two sections before my right hand literally started locking up. The music selection is great as is the gameplay.

Getting a power boost and then activating it by rotating the guitar so the neck is vertical is just genius - you guitar players out there know what I'm talking about!

A great game and I can't wait to get in some more shredding tonight.

CJ, you need to get this now so we can indulge in some multiplayer action!

Casual Games And Me

Right now, my Xbox gamercard shows that the last five games I played were Xbox Live Arcarde games:

  • Small Arms
  • Jetpac Refulled
  • Cloning Clyde
  • Zuma
  • Astropop

That means something, although I'm not sure what. Either casual games rock, core games suck, or I really am an old fart.

I'm hoping for the former, though I expect the later. I own the original Jetpac (on cassette tape) for the ZX Spectrum and loved it as a kid.

I also think that Rare sold out when they changed their name from “Ultimate Play The Game”.

Bah humbug!

Don Dodge Responds To My “Peak Pitch” Post

I thought I'd raise a comment from Microsoft's Don Dodge to a post as it deserves more exposure.

I still maintain that these manufactured events are more actual work, expense and stress on the entrepreneurs than they seem at face value, but Don's points are good.

Steve, The Peak Pitch event is actually a great deal for start-up entrepreneurs. Where else can you pitch 5 to 8 different VCs in the morning, have lunch with them and fellow entrepreneurs, and then have the afternoon to follow up with the VCs that show interest? In most cases it would take months to accomplish the same thing.

I understand your point about VCs being arrogant…some of the are, but most of them are just realistic and pragmatic. A typical VC makes one or two investments a year, and looks at about 100 companies. They know they will have to say “no” 99% of the time because the company doesn't fit their investment criteria.

I know Brad Feld and Rick Segal personally. They are great guys. But the fact is they say “no” 99% of the time too, perhaps more since they take NHNF meetings that other VCs don't.

Don Dodge

Point taken, but I still feel that Rick and Brad's approaches are the model that all VCs should follow: Offering an ear and constructive advise to all-comers.

Upcoming: Seattle Ignite - Ever Been In Prison?

Colleague and guy that sits next to me at work, Bruce Leban, is giving a talk on Thursday at Seattle Ignite.

Yes, I spent time in not one but two Massachusetts prisons and it was an educational experience in many ways. Find out why I went to prison and if I would do it again. Learn about the differences between “minimum” and “medium” security and how this applies to computer security. Learn what “good time,” “man trap” and “code 100” mean, why khaki pants were the required dress code, and other equally practical information. Don’t ask about the dogs.

Should be a good one. So Bruce, why exactly were you in prison? :-)

© 2001 to present, Steve Lacey.