Weeknote: 6 April 2024 – death is not the end

Published stuff

My Stuff column this week is: Google Podcasts is dead – as is my trust in the survival of any Google service. Not that I’ve trusted Google for years at this point. I don’t think anything is truly safe – and, yes, that includes Gmail, YouTube and Docs. (Also, I do hope people enjoy the pictures I made for this one.)

A busy week over at TapSmart, where I explored ways Apple could shake up iPhone home screens, built a social media toolkit, and added excellent podcasting app Ferrite to my classic app series.

Upcoming stuff

Having recently filed a piece on Sinclair, I’m now writing about Commodore. And the CPC’s 40th is on its way too, and so I’ll be writing about that for sure.

Other stuff

Graham Cluley discovered what can happen when Amazon claims it’s delivered an expensive item but hasn’t, decides it has and refuses to do anything about it. Honestly, I find it surprising this doesn’t happen more. Locally, most couriers now abandon packages regardless of provided instructions. But quite how Amazon can avoid refunding someone when a signed-for package was not signed for, I have no idea. I imagine it’s all explained in line 24,467 of the terms and conditions, which state “we can do whatever we please”.

More App Store changes are on the way. The latest is a long-time personal bugbear of mine: blocking emulation. As 9to5Mac reports, game emulators will now be permissible. I look forward to certain US commentators now deciding emulation is evil, that the EU forced Apple to allow emulators on to the App Store (it didn’t) and predicting this will destroy the games industry (it won’t). What it will do is fill a hole in the iPhone’s gaming arsenal.

Note: I’m aware emulators have long existed on the App Store in strictly limited fashion. But Apple long ago blocked being able to load anything into them. So every emulator, such as this lovely ZX81 one, has had to bundle the titles you can play on it. Which is a bit like allowing music players – but only if they pre-load every album you can listen to.

April 6, 2024. Read more in: Weeknotes

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Weeknote: 30 March 2024 – the fight to save old games

Published stuff

My Stuff column this week explores the new Atari 400 Mini from multiple angles – including that of 1970s home decor: The Atari 400 Mini is now my favourite mini-console for scratching my retro-gaming itch.

For this blog, I wrote To Affinity and beyond: what does the Canva buyout means for the future of Serif? Canva has since pledged to not wreck what people love about Affinity. A positive move, and although there’s wiggle room in the language, there’s far less than there was before. Not that any pledge would stop a company later saying it had to make a “difficult choice”, natch.

Over at TapSmart, I explored Messages alternatives for iPhone. Issue 298 of iPhone sister magazine, Swipe is available now too, if you’d like to support our little indie mag with actual cash.

Upcoming stuff

Hilariously, I’m about to dig (pun possibly intended) into gardening apps. A joke because the UK weather has more or less turned our garden into a swamp.

I’ve also signed back up to Amazon Prime for precisely one month, in order to write about it and doubtless grumble about the new, ridiculous ads tier.

Beyond that, I’ve been commissioned to mull over what Apple will look like in 2030. Quite the ask, given that right now various legislators are creating conditions that make it hard to predict what Apple will even look like in 2024.

Other stuff

On Threads, Joan Westernberg said AI is not democratising film making. I largely agree. Some folks countered that gen-AI is “just a tool”. But that’s not how it’s being pitched. Tech bros are arguing that now anyone with half an idea can churn out a film, album, book or essay from a text prompt. But without having expertise in a field, how can you really know whether what you’re creating does the job? (Note, I am not talking about people being paid to be a film-maker, or whatever. I’m talking about anyone who has taken the time and made the effort to gain a skill.)

On Mastodon, Scott Jenson’s post on writing without worrying about traffic really clicked with me. My approach has always been that you have to write for yourself, because when you don’t, you may skew what makes you you. But also: numbers don’t tell the whole story.

I’ve always joked that ‘literally several people’ read this blog. It’s never been – and never will be – a Six Colors or a Daring Fireball. And that’s OK. Because you never know who will be reading. For me, that’s always been way more important than raw numbers.

Over the years, I’ve made a number of contacts through this blog, through interesting folks presumably landing here by chance and sticking around. The most notable example got me my gig at Stuff.

I received an email out of the blue from the publisher, inviting me to the then Stuff HQ. I soon learned the editor was a fan and had recommended me. I’ve been a regular contributor ever since. 

And that links back to the first point. Because I’ll bet if I’d not been writing for me and having fun with my personal blog, it wouldn’t have kept the attention of that editor in the first place.

Finally, I have a lot of time for The Verge, but the publication managed to set my teeth on edge with The fight to save old games. That podcast episode looked into the murky world of game preservation and emulation, and had a lot of good stuff to say.

But. Along with at one point saying ROMs are illegal (without any qualifier or nuance), the podcast hosts banged on for a big chunk of runtime about how they wished a Spotify or Netflix for old games existed, but how that would be impossible – due to rights issues – or simply non-viable. I was stomping along on my morning walking loudly muttering “Antstream”, which I’m sure endeared me to anyone in earshot.

And, yes, Antstream has its issues. The streaming can be glitchy, and its catalogue of 1300 games is a small slice of gaming history. But that slice includes many classic arcade games and a slew of curiosities from the dawn of home gaming. Moreover, it exists. So it isn’t impossible. And given that it’s not dead, it’s viable too. 

It certainly warranted a mention in the podcast – unlike the suggestion that the best bet for most folks wanting to play old games is to buy a knock-off hard drive stuffed full of dodgy ROMs from Amazon. (Don’t do that. There are far better options.)

March 30, 2024. Read more in: Weeknotes

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Weeknote: 23 March 2024 – tech fights, AI and 1970s wallpaper

Published stuff

For TapSmart this week, I outlined why it doesn’t matter there are no folding iPhones and iPads yet. Naturally, lots of folks think Apple is behind the curve, but I’m not sure it is. These devices are fragile and insanely expensive. They might be the future – or at least a future – but right now I don’t think Apple desperately needs to enter the folding device market. Also for TapSmart this week, my lightning fast Mac buyer’s guide 2024.

Over at Stuff, I ask: Would a Gemini AI iPhone 16 be Awfully Impressive or Annoyingly Insidious? As ever, this is a meticulously researched, very grounded, and entirely sensible take on the subject. Cough.

Also for Stuff, I explore a Dungeons & Dragons Lego set you need a dragon’s hoard to afford, along with remembering the excellent Nokia 3210 at 25.

Finally, something a bit more serious for this blog: some brief personal thoughts on Apple and regulatory fights.

Upcoming stuff

A couple of goodies arrived this week for articles I’m working on. One was a GameSir G8, which is reportedly the best stretchy controller for mobile. I’ll be digging into that for a piece on AAA mobile gaming. 

I also received an Atari 400 Mini, in a rather lovely box. It recalled 1970s wallpaper, but unfortunately had the weakest magnetic catch ever. So the first thing my review unit did was tumble out of said box, skid across the floor and end up under some shelves. Fortunately, these mini consoles are bulletproof, and so I’ll be exploring this one for my Stuff column next weekend. 

Other stuff

My social feeds have been full of people grumbling about daylight savings, and that’s set to kick off again next week when UK clocks change. But I love it. (The clocks changing – not the grumbling.) In an instant, we’ll go from sunset around 18:30 to 19:30, meaning I’ll be able to start playing football in the street with my daughter after dinner again. I’m half surprised the Brexit mob didn’t force us on to GMT all year, but that possible future still nags at me, not least because DST is being attacked everywhere. Hopefully it will never happen.

Political commentator Ian Dunt recently wrote about writing. It’s an interesting piece, which itself remarks that everything is interesting. And also that writing is weird. Good points.

I’ve been writing professionally for almost 25 years. I’ve written for newspapers, magazines, corporates and book publishers. And while it’s something that can come naturally, the act of writing ranges from effortless to the typing equivalent of pulling teeth. And you never quite know what you’re going to face.

Ian offers interesting tips, not least the importance of curiosity and boredom. If you’re bored writing, your audience will feel that. So find what’s in your subject that sparks curiosity. I also commented on the piece to add a few things I’ve found useful in my own writing, which I’ll share here. (Hopefully you’re at this point still curious rather than bored to the point of slapping yourself repeatedly, to stay awake.)

First, making no assumptions can be beneficial. It doesn’t hurt to add brief notes or outward links to get a reader up to speed on a subject. But omit those vital sentences and your work might be impenetrable – or at least harder to read than it should have been.

Next, find what you love and do as much of that as you can, because your passion will shine through. For me, that’s storytelling. If I could, I’d spend my work life interviewing people, especially in the world of apps and video games, to make sure creators’ stories aren’t lost. Alas, few pay for that. But when they do, I’m very happy.

Finally, don’t allow anyone to tell you how you should write. Advice and ideas are fine, but being prescriptive is not. I once had someone sternly argue that you should always write an entire piece from start to finish, and only then go back and edit, as if writing tools have never moved beyond the typewriter. They believed this helped avoid distraction. That’s great if it works for you. My writing style is more like sculpture – I often start with a big mess of words, ideas and research I smash into shape in Scrivener or iA Writer, shifting things around, hacking off chunks that don’t work, and hopefully ending up with something suitable for the words equivalent of an art gallery. Or at least not a skip.

Sometimes, people even read my stuff too. If you’re one of them, thanks for stopping by. This blog’s never exactly been high traffic, but I do appreciate each and every person spending some of their time here.

March 23, 2024. Read more in: Weeknotes

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Weeknote: 2 March 2024 – playing the game

Apple Car, Apple Arcade, and Jeff Minter graphics

Published stuff

This week’s Stuff column is This is the Apple Car keynote that we’ll never get to see, which is perhaps not the most serious take on Project Titan being cancelled, but hopefully one of the most fun to read. The year’s best Lego also got an update.

And for this blog, I wrote up a quick piece in response to reports about Apple Arcade’s future: Game over for Apple Arcade?

Upcoming stuff

I’m still working on a piece on Sinclair, delving into the depths of the company’s output. That should be in Stuff before the summer. Meanwhile, my earlier piece on Atari is slated for the issue out in a few weeks.

Elsewhere, I’m digging into music discovery on mobile, and excited about writing up a piece on a very different type of mobile games controller. Or at least a very different use for one.

Other stuff

It’s quite a time for tech companies that should know better doing bad things. HP’s going all-in on the subscription printer game, which charges $7 per month for 20 printed pages. Don’t worry, because you can top that up! And you ‘only’ have to ensure the printer is always online. And sign up for two years. Although you can cancel – by paying HP more than the cost of a new printer. Bargain.

Automattic, which was supposed to be one of the good companies, has decided to sell Tumblr and WordPress (not, note, self-installed) content to AI companies to help them train their models. But don’t worry, because you can opt out and hope those companies actually care about your request, even though there’s no evidence I can see that they’re legally obliged to. Way to detonate years of goodwill, Automattic! (Docusign of all companies is also doing this. Which is quite something, given that the content you feed into it often comprises contracts and NDAs.)

Apple has performed a screeching U-turn on killing web apps, perhaps because the European Commission publicly stated there was no need for Apple to scrap them in the first place. Oh dear. I look forward to certain (mostly US) commentators retracting their “the bad and evil EU is forcing our beloved Apple to do a bad thing” stance and replacing it with a “the bad and evil EU is making it impossible for Apple to know what it should do and that is a bad thing” stance. Fun!

Right, that’s enough negative stuff. How about some positives? Three things, in fact, all about games. First, Kimmo Lahtinen has celebrated a decade of making games. The story is bittersweet regarding sales (as in, several of his games didn’t sell well), but he still seems happy with his lot. Also, if you’ve an iPhone or iPad, I would strongly recommend you buy some of his games. Drift’n’Drive is an absurdly fun racer for a buck, and I adored Day Repeat Day’s clever mix of match-three and social commentary. Get them all.

Elsewhere, having documented and even bug-fixed the original Elite, Mark Moxon has now reconstructed Lander– or, for people of a certain age in the UK, that insanely difficult 3D game on the school’s expensive Acorn Archimedes computers where you attempted to control a spaceship with a mouse and inevitably crashed after approx 0.3 seconds.

Finally, Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story is out in a couple of weeks. Alas, not for Mac, because reasons. But almost every other platform will get a combination of games and stories revolving around one of the most standout game makers from the UK. 

I wrote about Space Invaders for Stuff, and how that’s lodged in my mind as a very early gaming memory. Minter’s work is there too. The two very old home computing games I remember from my early childhood are Bowling and Metagalactic Llamas: Battle at the Edge of Time. Needless to say, they were two very different games. And I only feel compelled to revisit one of them today.

March 2, 2024. Read more in: Weeknotes

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Weeknote: 24 February 2024 – things that make you feel good

Published stuff

For Stuff, I say old games consoles aren’t redundant – I think they’re a must-buy. This in response to commentators griping about the Switch 2’s delay, and one of my Stuff colleagues buying a PS5 recently and fretting he made an error. 

Hey, I bought a Dreamcast in 2002 and had a C64 until the mid-1990s, and I had loads of fun with them. You don’t always need the shiny new thing – consoles and games systems that have proven themselves can often be a better buy.

I also updated my best iPhone/iPad apps list with an interesting app called Presets that lets you stash and reuse edit stacks in Apple Photos.

Over at TapSmart, I throw in my 2p on Apple’s headset with Apple Vision Pro’s limitations may define it – or kill it. I also ask if you can be tempted back to the ‘grid of apps’ on Apple’s little black box in a new piece on the best Apple TV apps. Finally, leapy endless runner Canabalt has been added to my classics series. If you’d like more insight into that game, I wrote a long-read for Stuff about it some time ago that digs into the game’s origins and eventually its induction into the MOMA permanent videogame collection.

Upcoming stuff

I recently filed a piece for Stuff on Atari’s best hardware – at least as I see it. Next up, I’m tackling Sinclair and Commodore. Please do comment if there’s something you feel I should absolutely not omit.

Other stuff

Medium and Substack spam is becoming a big problem. I’m not sure quite what’s going on, but I’m now very regularly getting confirmations of subscriptions to writers I’ve never heard of. 

In better news, we took the 9yo to her first proper gig last weekend – and our first in several years: Slowdive at the Apollo. (Not my video.) Slowdive is one of my absolute favourite bands. Star Roving has for years been my favourite song, and there’s something about Slowdive live that eclipses even the studio versions.

Anyway, I’ve been having a pretty rough year mentally. I’m not sure why. But for a short while at that gig – and especially during that song – everything bad faded away and I felt ridiculously happy. So, thank you, Slowdive. And, I think, more of this kind of thing throughout the year.

February 24, 2024. Read more in: Weeknotes

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