Weeknote: 8 June 2024 – Autobots roll out edition


Published stuff

This week’s column is Google’s AI disasters are a warning shot for Apple’s iOS 18 AI plans, in which I explore Google’s gaffes, and how Apple can avoid the same. I also wrote about two celebrations of famous properties hitting 40: Tetris and Transformers

This week for TapSmart, I kicked off a new apps series, with a ‘deep dive’ into Snapseed.

Upcoming stuff

It’s WWDC next week, and I imagine I’ll be writing about whatever Apple churns out, assuming it doesn’t have a new AI system that rewrites my brain to repeatedly type I LOVE TIM COOK every other sentence. 

Honestly, I’d be quite happy if a senior exec rocked up on stage and said: “No new features this year – we’ve just fixed all the bugs, including that weird one where iCloud Photos won’t sync, even if your iPhone has 94% of its battery charge remaining.” Although I would like one new feature: for Apple to finally give us an off switch for the Home indicator.

Other stuff

After a week in Spain, I felt mentally happier than I had in a while, although physically knackered. (It’s surprising how much walking/swimming/being outside can take it out of you.) Natch, I now have a stinking headcold in a British June best described as ‘grey’.

It was also interesting in Spain to note in which ways they do some better specialist food than the UK. Their cheapest gluten-free bread was superior to even the most expensive I’ve bought here. And lactose-free products were readily available.

In the UK, it seems there’s a lot of ‘two birds, one stone’ going on. Instead of lactose-free, you get ‘vegan’ produce in free-from aisles. And even beer is going this way, increasingly twinning gluten-free and alcohol-free. I’d… just like a normal beer or yoghurt now and again, thanks, albeit one that doesn’t make me violently ill.

June 8, 2024. Read more in: News

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Weeknote: 20 April 2024 – it’s all about the games, boy

Published stuff

The big news in iPhone circles this week was the first release of ‘open’ emulators on the App Store. I covered this for TapSmart in Why an iPhone Game Boy emulator is a bigger deal than you think and for Stuff in I can now play stacks of Nintendo games on my iPhone – but I want more

I’m very happy for Delta creator Riley Testut. Frankly, his app should have been approved years ago. But in a roundabout way, Apple blocking it resulted in Testut creating AltStore, which is now the first proper third-party iPhone app store; and outside of the EU, Delta has topped the charts in the US and UK App Stores. Catharsis! 

Those “but no-one really wants emulators on iPhone anyway” takes are aging well…

Upcoming stuff

I have the possible go-ahead to write up a piece on Pico-8, which I very much hope happens, given how lovely it is. In many ways, it’s my favourite system right now, despite being a ‘fantasy’ console that never existed in the real world. Although with the magic of cheap Chinese handheld devices, you can sort of pretend it does today.

Other stuff

There’s a whiff of holier than thou about a chunk of the tech press pushing back against emulation, equating it solely with piracy, and backing Nintendo to the hilt. I find this strange. As I said on Mastodon, emulation is not illegal. And even though much emulation use infringes on IP rights, things aren’t that simple.

First, legal ROMs/disk images exist. Secondly, it’s curious certain people rally against emulation but not open video/audio players. Thirdly, while I’m not a piracy advocate, I’m very aware most games would be gone without pirates and emulators. Of course, that’s something few IP owners will ever admit – even when they sometimes use cracked games in commercial products. 

I’m not sure what the solution is. But we need something better than a tiny fraction of titles being re-sold time and time again and everything else being locked away – at least in a legal sense. Just imagine if other mediums were like gaming. 99% of music and film legally inaccessible unless you owned original hardware and original media, both slowly degrading and liable to die at any moment. It doesn’t bear thinking about.

Can bad reviews kill companies? That’s the question Marques Brownlee asked following the backlash over his Humane AI pin review.

It’s bad products that can kill companies. Bad reviewsmay impact on a company, depending on the sector, especially if the reviews are unanimous. But that’s not the fault of any one reviewer. 

It isn’t a reviewer’s job to make a company feel good about itself or improve its chances of success. That’s PR. A reviewer is there to act as a guide and filter, using their experience and expertise to ascertain whether or not a product is worth people’s time and money. 

Molly White wrote a piece about AI/LLMs, which is well worth reading. She looks beyond the hype to explore genuine use cases for AI, and ask whether they balance the negatives. 

As a writer, I’d be foolish not to explore this tech myself, and I’ve been doing so for months. Having A/B tested a slew of text pieces and experimented with several LLMs across a range of tests, my opinion largely aligns with White’s.

To my mind, LLMs are currently dreadful for writing from scratch anything that has the slightest complexity. For research, they can be an aid, but are often inaccurate (even Perplexity, sadly). And for proofing, they are mediocre at best. ChatGPT will find errors in text I send to it, but will more often than not miss mistakes, and will make recommendations that would make a good production editor angrily hurl a thesaurus at a swan.

On the flip side, LLMs can be useful for iteration, which saves time. Although I’ve never yet used a draft an LLM has provided me as-is. And I have found ChatGPT excellent for remembering words that vanish from your brain a nanosecond before you were about to type them. Although it’s hard to argue that’s worth all the power and water LLMs consume.

Finally, Rob Fearon has been getting his art in gear with a range of retrogaming illustrations. I think they are superb. Do lob him a few bucks via Ko-Fi if you agree.

April 20, 2024. Read more in: News

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Weeknote: 16 March 2024 – game time

GameSir X2s, Ancipital character, icons for Classifier and Super Monsters Ate My Condo, and Canabalt in the background.

Published stuff

I had fun for this week’s Stuff column, transforming an iPad Pro and a GameSir X2s controller into a terrifying hybrid: I turned my massive iPad Pro into a handheld games console – and it’s every bit as weird as it sounds. Hey, Apple! If you want someone to lead your gaming efforts, you know who to call!

I also wrote Everything we know about the Lego and Nintendo Super Mario Kart collaboration, which could have been one line of copy, but needed to be at least 300 words. Hence unleashing the prediction parrot. And I added Canabalt to my best browser games feature.

Meanwhile, for TapSmart, I wrote about how to use your iPhone to help you declutter. We’ve also just released issue 297 of sister mag Swipe. If you’d like to support our indie iPhone writing, please consider downloading the app and checking out the free trial.

Upcoming stuff

I used to be a regular in Retro Gamer’s pages, but haven’t written for that publication in a long time. Mostly, that’s because it started to become increasingly tough to find people to talk to. (My main interest was – and remains – telling the stories of how games came to be.)

That’s now an itch I want to scratch again, and I’ve identified a few gaps in the magazine’s now extensive making-ofs library. Two articles have been approved, and one dev has agreed to an interview. I’m hoping the other will too, although they’ve so far connected with me on socials but not responded to messages. Fingers crossed!

Other stuff

Almost all my pictures are now on the wall, including my Oli Frey prints and framed Sinclair hardware. I quite like how I dealt with those. While I get the appeal of Grid frames, I like the notion I could take my Sinclairs down, plug them in, and actually use them again. Not that I likely ever will. (See also: my Wire EMI LPs that are the last things to yet go back up on the wall.)

Another slice of happy: Super Monsters Ate My Condo is returning to mobile. Whatever gripes I might have about Apple Arcade, I’m really glad to see a handful of old titles making their way back. Here’s hoping a few more titles lurking on my downgraded iPad Air get a second lease of life on the App Store.

Finally, it’s fantastic to see Digital Eclipse cover the story of Jeff Minter and Llamasoft in its latest release. Jeff’s Metagalactic Llamas Battle at the Edge of Time is seared into my memory as one of the earliest games I played. And I’ve long been a fan, from the VIC-20 days, through Llamatron on the ST, Tempest 2000 on the Jag, and Jeff’s unfortunately unrewarding time on mobile, to the present day. Here’s hoping his unique and compelling mix of arcade games and psychedelia finds favour with a wide range of modern-day gamers.

March 16, 2024. Read more in: News

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Weeknote: 9 March 2024 – And Their Law, Etc.

Two columns over at Stuff this week. First, The Prodigy’s Wind It Up vanishing from music streaming makes me want to buy CDs again. Which given my previous articles on physical vs digital is perhaps cementing my position as Old Man Shakes Fist At Cloud on the site. Oh well.

Elsewhere, I dipped a toe into the Apple vs EU scrap and surprised myself with this conclusion: Apple and the EU’s browser fight will only have one winner – and it won’t be you. As per the article, I do think the EU has a point, but with browsers I’m not sure it’s thought through the likely unintended consequence of its actions.

Over at TapSmart, three pieces this week. First up, Apollo is added to my classic app series. Then I grump about the need for a Screen Time kill switch. And finally there’s a round-up of the best music discovery apps for iPhone.

Finally, on Mastodon, my daily retro game series hit 250 entries, with Snare (for Thalamus, created by Rob Stevens).

Other stuff

Given all the legal fights going on, you have to wonder if there’s something in the water right now. Apple vs the EU – often completely misunderstood by commentators, especially those from the US – is skilfully covered by Baldur Bjarnason. I also recommend Dan Moren’s piece for Six Colors, because it’s good and also to highlight that some smart folks in the US do get it.

Elsewhere, The Verge explores the consequences of Nintendo kicking Yuzu to death in a back alley. Personally, I’m not in favour of current-gen systems being emulated, but I’m also against Nintendo’s known position that all emulation should be wiped out.

Without emulation, most games would be lost – in a literal sense (it’s the pirates who’ve rescued most games from oblivion, after all) and also in an access sense, since gaming companies are keen to sell you the same old suspects over and over again, and in locked formats that mean you cannot take a legally bought ROM or disk image and do with it as you please.

There should be a middle ground, but there probably won’t ever be one. And that Verge article doesn’t explore all of the fallout, given that I’m now reading about people behind multi-emulator frameworks wondering how much Nintendo stuff they have to remove, not because Nintendo has threatened legal action, but because they’re fearful Nintendo will. 

And this isn’t me dumping on Nintendo. Others in this space (hello, Sony, eg) have acted similarly multiple times. If they all got their way, playing old games would be like streaming music if the likes of Spotify and Apple Music were replaced by label-specific services, which never gave you more than a handful of greatest hits albums, and pretended 99% of music history just didn’t exist. Bah.

Let’s end on a happier note. Or at least something that made me happy. I finally got a bunch of pictures up on the office wall, which gave me a lift. Now for the rest…

March 9, 2024. Read more in: News

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A tribute to Adam Banks

I heard last night that my friend and sometimes colleague Adam Banks had passed away. Maybe a week ago, I swapped some silly tweets with him about PETSCII art. (He and I were both C64 kids.) I last talked with him… I don’t know, but it was too long ago. Time is weird: you seem to have so much of it, and then you have none at all.

But time was something that Adam in his working life could bend like a sorcerer, given how much he could get done on any given day. During his second stint on MacUser, he was a combination of editor and designer that made the magazine truly his; us contributors clung on for the ride, like grinning passengers on an F1 car majestically zigzagging through the grid. The finished article was always brilliant and beautiful — a unique mix of words and visuals that felt like nothing else out there. I was gutted when it closed. I can only imagine how Adam felt.

After that point, Adam and I never regularly worked together again, but we’d communicate often, snarking about tech and chatting about random design and gaming things. I’d frequently dip into his Twitter feed, always full of sagely advice and wise thinking. I keep hoping this has all been a mistake and his Twitter feed will update. It never will.

Adam was a great person and my favourite editor, and I wish it hadn’t been so long since we’d last spoken. The world is a poorer place without him in it. Wherever you are, Adam, I hope you are at peace. Sleep well, my friend.

More tributes from Ian Betteridge, Chris Brennan, Mike Hirschkorn and Carrie Marshall. And here’s the PPA obituary, by Ian Betteridge and Steve Caplin.

November 27, 2020. Read more in: News

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