Saturday, May 2, 2009

Golden Oldies Radio

John and James interviewed me at the crack of dawn today. The caffeine was slow to take hold, but I was somewhat coherent.

Things we discussed: the lucky breaks that led me to Apple, the story behind the Trudeau/Newton easter egg, and working at Microsoft where the pen computing group knew more about Newton than I did.

Download it (and check out the others) and listen while you're on the treadmill (or during a root canal, debugging your code, or any other time you need some aural diversion)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Alice Has Unique And Perhaps Strange Legs

This reviewer likes Alice's legs: "I can see this game staying on my iPhone for quite some time" and says you will like it if you like "something unique and strange."

Alice is unique but I've never thought of her as strange. Lewis Carroll himself, now that's another matter.

Sales Risk (a.k.a. come on, Greenland!)

In the second week, I filled in a few missing pieces in Europe and Asia. Japan is still very strong; I wonder if this typical or because Japanese market is more nostalgic?

¿Porqué no hay nadie de España qui compra?

I should build the map with the countries where the iPhone is available, that might be interesting. Maybe Greenlanders just can't buy one.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Dali Dali In Come Free

A friend from waaaay back, Scott Warren, just released an iPhone App that's super-loosely based on an idea I programmed back in the 70s (boy I feel old) on the Xerox Alto. The Alto from PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) was the first "personal" computer that paved the way for many products that followed.

The basic gag of the Dali Clock is morphing numbers as the seconds tick off. This is nothing by today's CGI standards, but back then I had to write the inner loop in microcode for the 74481 chip (All you script kiddies are going to have to look that one up).

When I joined Apple, I realized the 68K processor could manage the problem in assembly language (a step up) so I coded it soon after joining. It was included on the Through the Looking Glass disk (the predecessor of AliceX). Over the years people have ported the idea to unix, Palm, etc. and it has a quite a bit of history out there.

After Scott told me about his program today, I searched iTunes and discovered Scott has the second program based on this golden oldie. Burt Sloane, a guy who worked @ Apple in 1985, has also written one. Burt was famous for writing a Mac version of MazeWars (another Alto original and the first networked Mac game), and a "bug INIT", which littered your screen with crawling bugs.

Scott is famous for implementing SmallTalk outside of Xerox and for writing major portions of Visi-on, an early GUI for DOS machines. Both were technical tour-de-forces, but way ahead of their time in terms of market viability and technical feasibility. Scott also was ahead of the pack and registered his domain,, back in 1987, one of the first 100 domains ever registered. At that time, most people inside the industry had never used nor heard of email, much less DNS, or HTTP or all the things we now use daily.

Scott's is a more artistic take on the idea whereas Burt's sticks closer to the original script. Both are available on iTunes if you click their names above.

BTW, the 3rd part of the original disk can be found here -- have patience, it's building a big image file.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Top Round II

People on the boards have asked about hidden features or easter eggs in AliceX. Nothing super cool, but as the instructions say, "The Eyes Have It".

The top mentioned in the previous post had a vanity easter egg hidden in it. We thought nobody would ever discover it because in order to trigger it, you had to repeat this 5 times: spin the top, but immediately stop it after the music starts. Then on the 6th time, BY NOISE TOYS (our toy design company) would appear as the message.

On the final week before production, after extensive testing by our licensee (Hasbro), I received an ominous phone call from the project manager. It turns out, he was idly playing with the top and he happened across the egg. I thought: "F**k, we screwed up," but I immediately explained how to reveal the egg, assured him it wouldn't normally happen, and swore there was nothing else hidden in the code. (It was a 4 bit micro with an incredibly small ROM so hiding one egg was a feat to begin with). Somehow, I persuaded him and he released the code to the factory.

I've found I rarely put good eggs in 1.0 releases because it's such a slog to get it done that little energy is left for having fun. In 2.0 Newton we had a lot of time and a lot of ROM so there were dozens hidden, most famously an original Doonesbury cartoon by Trudeau. The trick there was hiding it from the team who had access to the source. Only one engineer figured it out and I swore him to secrecy to maximize the impact of revealing it. (I should do a future post on that story, it's a good one)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Speaking of Patents

That recent patent that was granted reminded of a little Patent Office hacking we did a few years ago.

Ray DuFlon and I filed a patent for a toy top we invented. The top was a "Magic Eight Ball" in that it revealed a yes/no answer when you spun it. It's hard to capture in a photo, but at 1/16th of a second, you get a legible shot -- this says SEND NO REPLY.

Late one night as we finished the patent application, we mentioned to our good friend, patent attorney, and all around great person, Robin Goldstein, that we should add a claim for an additional sensor to tell which direction the top was rotating. With that, we could reveal a different message depending on the spin direction. Of course we immediately started riffing on what hidden, satanic messages could appear when spun backwards.

Robin and I looked at each other and said why not? So there in patent #5791966 you'll find an extra claim:

16. The toy top, as claimed in claim 10, wherein said second predefined group comprises the characters "PAUL IS DEAD".

If you're too young to understand why this is funny, check wikipedia.

The Hell Freezes Over Tour

Someone I respect criticized AliceX saying 25 year old nostalgia doesn’t sell. There are a lot of 70s and 80s bands who would disagree (hi Rick Astley!). The Eagles Greatest Hits (1971-1975) is the 3rd best-selling album worldwide. I know, you’re thinking, “The Eagles. Really?” Yes, really. If nostalgia didn’t sell Frey&Henley wouldn’t do the Hell Freezes Over Tour because that’s when they claimed they would get back together again and tour. Ah, Money, Money, Money, how it changes one’s tune. So if you were young when you bought or saw the Mac and have fond memories, then buy AliceX for $1.99. Walk this Way over to iTunes and save yourself the $175 it costs to see Aerosmith.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Sales by Country

I wrote a little PHP script to take an sales file from iTunes Connect and turn it into a map courtesy of Google's charting APIs

Feel free to use it with appropriate attribution.

As you can see, Japan and US account for most of the sales. ¿España, donde está?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

It's Not Funny If I Have to Explain it

Is this Fake Steve Capps or Fake Steve Jobs? See the post re ghosting. You decide.

More reviews

It's interesting -- the easiest way to find new posts/reviews about AliceX is to look at my server logs.

Time - Alice. Remember Alice? This is an iPhone app about Alice...

MacWorld - ‘Through the Looking Glass’ game resurrected for iPhone

Touch Arcade - 'AliceX' - The Mac's First Game Comes to the iPhone

MacPlus - Le premier jeu Mac sur iPhone

iTrafik - Le premier jeu Mac désormais pour iPhone !

Brazilian MacWorld - Primeiro game para Mac chega ao iPhone - AliceX: il primo gioco Macintosh ora su iPhone

Mac Freak - Nostalgie: Alice op de iPhone

Arctic Ghetto -- AliceX

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I See Dead People

MAD and I are reviewing a whole bunch of books for names of people I’ve forgotten to send out the word about Alice. We’re scanning down the list of names in the bibliographies – she’s calling them out while we figure out whether either of us remember the person, whether the person likes me, or if I’m outside their six degrees of Kevin Bacon. Damn. I See Dead People. RIP, Jef Raskin and Douglas Adams. Adam Osborne died? Blatant plug for Andy Hertzfeld because he’s got a 3 page story about Alice (pg 104-107) in his book Revolution in the Valley and on

Everyone in the photo of Steve Capps Day on looks better than Steve Capps. I wish I still had that pirate flag; wonder how much that would fetch on ebay? I can’t wear my Vans any more because every teenager has got them and then I look like some old guy trying to recapture my youth. Steve Levy – why is there no biblio in Insanely Great?

Other books we looked at: The Macintosh Reader by Doug Clapp; Apple: The Inside Story by Jim Carlton, West of Eden by Frank Rose (one new copy for $214?); The Macintosh Way by Guy Kawasaki, Apple Confidential by Owen Linzmayer (although The Mac Bathroom Reader is more fun – how you can not love a book with a rubber duck and toilet paper on the cover?). Some others I forget because we start seeing dupes of names.
Finally, Steve Jobs, The Journey is the Reward by Jeff Young.

Is it really?


Sales in Japan are 4x US. Hmmm. Maybe I should revisit the Jam Session/Jaminator app idea.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A few reviews have trickled in

Maybe buyer #2 of the first three buyers is identified (and I heard the pirates always buy one of everything, so that may complete the set of the first 3 buyers yesterday)

Here's a nice one from perhaps customer #2

Somebody at that doesn't quite get the Fake Steve Capps joke. (Note: they changed the post a little bit after I pointed out Fakes can be real)

And I have no idea what this Japanese site says, but I hope it's positive. (Actually according to Google's translator, it says:
Lisa, Mac's Finder, Newton OS, and the man who created the JAMINATOR, Steve Capps. Internet Explorerのユーザーインタフェースにも貢献している、UIの偉人です。Internet Explorer is also contributing to the user interface, UI is a great man.

その彼が、iPhoneアプリをリリースしました。That he, iPhone apps has been released.といってもリメイクでありますが。However we have a remake. 彼が開発し、Appleから1985年にリリースされた相当に変わったチェスゲーム「 Alice〜Through the Looking Glass 」。 He developed, Apple has changed considerably from the 1985 chess game that was released in "Alice Through The Looking Glass ~". これをリメイクしたものが、「AliceX」( 公式サイトへのリンク )なのです。 This is a remake, "AliceX" (link to official site) is. 価格は230円( App Storeへのリンク )。 Price 230 yen (App Store link to).

Interesting Stats

Let's see, Through The Looking Glass was $19.95 for one 400KB diskette and a sexy package -- This included a system and finder, Dali -- the melting clock I did at Xerox in microcode, and Amazing, so probably 100K of Alice.

I'm thinking 1/10 the price ($1.99) is about right and it weighs in at 8MB.

So TTLG was $0.000049875 per byte and AliceX is $0.00000024875 per byte -- what a deal!

3 sales, 19997 to go

Actually since one was Emma, I guess I need 19998 more.

(I told myself if I sold 20K I'd consider it a worthwhile experiment. Actually if 100 people buy it and get their money's worth I'd be happy)

Monday, April 13, 2009

gBus gDownload guffaws

Just got an email from Apple that the app is ready for sale. Shit. I was going to work on a marketing plan before it hit the store (not that I know anything about marketing - JJ, call me). Should have done that. Still hasn't shown up in the store. Have to head up to SF to take ETC's BFF home. On 101 we spy a gBus. Wait, there are two of them with a dozen cars in between. The traffic at 92 needs its usual ex-lax, so it's impossible to get close enough to the busses. We're weaving in around lans and ETC is yelling, “papa, hurry up!” from the backseat as she’s desperately trying to get a connection. Traffic picks up past 3rd Ave in San Mateo and quickly gets to 70+. I have to push it a little past that to catch up and I position the car next the first bus. Still can't get a connection. We're in some google version of Cannonball Run. ETC finally convinces the iPod to connect to the gBus and excitedly announces, "It's here!"

I tell her to buy it (after the short discussion explaining why I would want to buy something I wrote. She only gets $5/wk allowance so $2 is a lot to her.

She starts downloading it, but it's 7.9MB so this isn't destined for quick success for a 12 year old. She gets enough bandwidth to post a review and says she's going to write it like a "teenager." She's got one year till she hits that.

So in the sense of fair play, yes, the first review on iTunes by Fiona Jackson is indeed biased. (However, a real unsolicited review on was nice to see)

We say gDay to the gBus and get off 101. Dad of BFF: no, I wouldn't drive like that with your kid in the car.

Apple Accepts Alice

Apple accepts Alice. I was worried about the political aspect because I'd heard a few comments that some other apps with political references weren't accepted. But it's a parody so I figured it was okay. At least that's what legal tells me. I don't know nothing about no stinkin' parodies. I didn't even know that was a reference to some movie (yes, now I know it's Blazing Saddles) until a year ago. Actually, I do know what's a parody because White & Nerdy never gets old but I like to use that line now that I know what it means.

C'mon, who couldn't love whack-a-Bush?

It's not visible at the store, guess it takes a few more minutes (hours?) to squeeze through the final tube. Nobody likes delayed gratification.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Marley and Scrooge

The ghost blogger is laughing a bit too much. I think I'm gonna write some of these entries myself. I'll be the ghost of my own ghost. I'll be Marley haunting Scrooge. Wait, is that the correct Dickens analogy? I don't think I ever read him, but I worked at Renaissance Faires. But I had cool handmade boots. My wife (let's just call her MAD) threw them out in disgust. She never really liked the Jeremiah Johnson look.

Ghost Busting

I don’t want to tweet or blog about Alice. But if Guy Kawasaki, bless his heart (and I mean that literally, he’s very religious) can have a ghost tweeter, I decided I can have a ghost blogger. The ghost sees my development of Alice so the facts are probably correct but the ghost has a tendency to exaggerate. So take it with a grain or a ton of salt. I don’t know. I didn’t write this.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Apple Ponders Alice's fate

Exactly a week after submitting it, I get the "Needs further review" email. No more no less.

Of course you want to pester them and say "why", but it's almost more fun to think about what's causing the delay.

Obama stomping all over the Bush cabinet?
The terror alert pawns (Nico's great idea)
The samples I used in the background music?
Some bug I didn't catch?
Or, are they too busying reviewing TurboFart2000?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Submitted to Apple


You finally build the project with your left nut, the distribution provisioning, and the juice of a shriveled goji berry (kind of redundant with the first item in the list), upload it to iTunes Connect and it rejects it with the dreaded "doesn't validate."

They say I can’t use the name Alice because they have something named Alice. What? Where? Please. You think I didn't check ahead of time? I’m sure they’re not saving the name Alice for some super secret pre-MacWorld product. 25 years ago Apple said they couldn’t use the name Alice because some database company already had it. Thus the Through the Looking Glass name. Maybe they’re thinking of that? Nah, that can’t be. There aren’t that many people at Apple who remember anything from 1984. They know there was some commercial with some woman in a tight tee-shirt throwing something at a screen but only because they saw the parody on The Simpsons.

Please get some better error messages. This is like having a Q&A with Socrates (or should I say a Q& with Socrates.

Oh Apple. I only say these things because I love you. You know that, right?

Some combination finally works and it takes, but then I realize I didn't incorporate all of the legal department's input. Well, I'll just withdraw it after my crack legal department checks in. Trust me, do not mess with my legal.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Doctor Who?

Added a Cheney sound of Darth Vader. I didn’t like that idea at first but everyone else does. I’m not a big Star Wars fan or sci-fi fan. MAD and ETC are huge Doctor Who fans. For ETC’s birthday in February, as a surprise we took her to a Doctor Who convention in LA. That was weird. Going to a convention about a tv show I’ve never watched. 10 is their favorite doctor. Apparently he regenerates soon into some other actor and they're already getting out the tissues.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Nico to the Rescue

Nico Berry fixing up the Bush pieces. He came up with the idea of the threat level as opposed to the helmet pawns. Ghost blogger is having an even harder time remembering dates.

This logo is part of his portfolio and the fact it says 1984 seemed cool.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Full Metal Helmets

A few people don’t like the soldier helmets as pawns in the Bush Memorial Pieces – potentially a dig at the military, although I don’t mean it that way at all. Need to figure out something else.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Sharp Dressed Man

I've asked a bunch of people to test Alice but am only getting vague "great" comments. An old friend of MAD, Scott Warren, wrote a long detailed review. He's not only a great guy but cool (and also looks like a member of ZZ Top). Nice guys get a thank you post.

Hip Hoppity Success

Nico’s hip hop set is amazing. Big hit with everyone.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Yes, We Can

Hearing Obama say “Yes we can!” never gets old. Slamming the Bush people never gets old either. Not sure if people will recognize Alberto Gonzalez or Rumsfeld. In November, ETC had made a cool Obama sign and placed it high over our garage but some neighbor complained to the city of San Carlos that it was bigger than the regs and made us take it down. The young kid from the city seemed embarrassed to ask us to do it. We put regulation Obama signs along the driveway. Touche.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Skateboarders are cool

The husband (Nico Berry) of ETC’s writing mentor does great work and is a skateboarder. He has these cool hip hop figures so I’m going to pay him to do a set for Alice. Actually, this might have happened a few weeks back but my ghost blogger didn’t keep a diary and is having a hard time remembering dates.

It's Good to be the Queen

I was going to have the Queen in the Bush set be Laura Bush but Cheney is way better.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Don't Tread on Me

Some people think I shouldn’t use the US flag as background on the chessboard set. Never stomp on the US flag apparently. I’ve changed the squares to red states and blue states and that looks better.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Are you sure you want to be an iPhone developer?

So I applied to the developer program on the same day I started the software (1/1). Part of the process asks for your iTunes Store ID which I've had for years. I give it and notice after clicking through a few screens that it thinks my name is Steve D'Amico, but in other places I had entered my real name (without the Fake prefix, of course).

I "Edit Profile" to fix this error which was caused by (I assume) the fact that both my wife and I order from the Apple store. (I also wonder why they keep accepting the credit card with the wrong name, but that's their problem not mine) Oddly, one's name in the developer site is not editable (so woe to those like JJ who runs XMarks née FoxMarks).

When you apply as a company, Apple needs your articles of incorporation or your business license, a lock of hair from your second born child (luckily I was exempt on that one), and the results of your most recent illicit drug test. In the fax cover sheet with my corp. papers I mentioned the fact the name wasn't open for changes and asked them to please change it.

Two weeks later I get an email from Apple rejecting my developer program application because I used a fake name (yes the irony is there). I wrote back (including the magic case number) explaining again the problem and asked them to change it.

A few days later I get a phone call from Apple telling me they can't change (well then who can?) She suggests I start the whole process over and when I get done, send her the application number and the case number and she'll immediately approve the new application without the need for the above-mentioned requirements, and discard the wrongly named old one.

I promptly (though painfully) refill out all the forms and get a new application and email her the stuff.

A week later I get another email and a new case number rejecting the second application.

I email them back with both case numbers and the whole story (and probably a little too much attitude).


I write back again with the same stuff minus the attitude.

Another week later I get a phone call saying it's all been fixed up and I was good to go.

So they succeeded in making the process for becoming a developer take five weeks for an app that took me four weeks to write. Sigh.

(And thanks to Mike for letting use his developer ID for that month so I could build the thing in the first place)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Carpool Round Two

While waiting for artwork and music to be finished by my friends, I started a musical game loosely based on Jam Session/Jaminator ideas. As is my habit, I threw together something with no artwork just to make sure the basic finger interaction was right.

I spent a Saturday morning on it writing the SW and recording a guitar track. Needless to say, neither the code or music was very well tuned.

Still, I turned it loose on the carpool full of eager testers.

The major gamer of the car twiddles with it for a few seconds and says:

"It feels like a free game."

(ouch, stab me with a stylus)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Carpool Testers

So the carpool to school consists of two 5th graders, my daughter ETC (6th), and one 7th grader They are all pretty familiar with iPhone apps and one, especially, takes his iPhone apps seriously to the max.

Well they were the first to actually use the app and it made interesting listening to overhear their comments as I drove the 25 minutes to school. It was an unfulfilled challenge to actually have them play the game the whole trip -- sadly an 11 year-old doesn't have that same nostalgic pull to Alice that I hope the 45 year-olds will.

It's great to be driving at 65 MPH and hear a tester gleefully announce they froze the app. All you can do is ask them to verbally describe what the screen looks like and see if they remember what they were doing. You try to make mental notes because you know their response to this is to reset the game and launch that dang fishing game or something.

Turns out it was Apple's sound library that kept killing me. Once I replaced that, my crashes were orders of magnitude less.

The day before I submitted it to Apple, the mondo-game-player tapped ahead about 200 times which slows the game down and then it eventually died. Of course I tried to reproduce this and never could. So for all you users that can tap at 200 TPS(taps per second), you may find a bug.


Checked in the first version of the game into Perforce. In other words, there's something worth backing up.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Mac Party on the 24th

Good goal: the Mac 25th anniversary party on the 24th will be a great place to show off the game and get some feedback. I have to remind myself not to listen too much because making the original Alice insanely hard to play wasn't too great for sales. Yes, Joanna, you can play it for 100 hours but no, I won't make it harder. Everyone at the party is too busy with their lives to play it for 100 hours anyway.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Oh, so that's how triangle texture mapping works. Doh.


I hope whoever wrote this sample realized this code would be duplicated a zillion times. Just search for snippets as literal strings in google.

Seems pretty easy to build a sprite package based on OpenGL. Coco3D and others are out there, but it's easier to write something from scratch than plow through a stack of documentation. Also, the tendency for "platform" writers to throw in kitchen sinks is too great (actually Walter has always pointed out that platform writers have a tendency to ship an API that minimally fulfils the requirements of the sample apps and nothing more, therefore signing up pre-alpha developers is super, super important)

Lean, mean, and clean code.

Translating from Javascript is trivial so far; after a while is just getting the syntactical sugar right (le's see, dollar signs for varuiables....nope..., + for concatenation or period or space...luckily the compiler tells me when I'm too slow to type it right.

Ground Zero

Got a macbook pro loaner unit from Michael and started learning objective-c, cocoa, and all that stuff. Sure seems like there are a lot of duplicate interfaces to do the same thing (e.g. just how many ways do you want to create sound -- oops, with 2.2. there's another one)

As is my wont, I'll just learn enough to bootstrap my own world.