The Death of Flash

I logged into my Mac the other day, and got a popup for Adobe Flash. Over the last few decades, I’m used to these coming up every other week to annoy me about updating to the latest version. This time, it was almost sad, because it told me to uninstall the Flash plug-in completely.

I always had a mixed relationship with Flash, long before it was bought by Adobe and it was still Macromedia Flash. I think part of it was that it seemed to suddenly become the cool new way to develop content for the Windows desktop, with suboptimal capability on the Mac, and dodgy support on Linux, all authored in a proprietary studio that cost too much. I was a Linux-only user, at least at home, from 1992-2005, so that covers most of the salad days of Flash, and pushed it pretty much off my radar.

I actually spent the first part of that timeframe avoiding graphical browsers as a whole, only using Lynx or Emacs/W3 from home, which seems ridiculous now, but I had a slow modem and an even slower machine back then. When I did finally upgrade to slow DSL and an actual Pentium, I was the type of contrarian who did not want to add plugins, downloads, players, and other overhead to my machine. Also, as an early adopter of the web, I was aghast that people wanted to use Flash as a UI replacement inside the browser. There were sites that simply loaded up a .SWF file and opened it across the entire web browser window, presenting all of their own navigation and UI within the app. It seems like every crappy metal band did this in about 2004. I’m sure if you visited the Queensrÿche web site back then, it would have had a “front page” Flash file that animated a bunch of burning flames or dragons or something, along with blocky icons of their logo you had to click to actually see anything. On my Linux web browser, it would be a giant blank page with a broken-document icon in the middle, which I’d hopefully be able to click to get to Page 2, but sometimes that didn’t work, either.

Jump to much later, and Flash became center stage in the mobile wars. I worked on Windows Mobile and Android phones, which both (sort of) supported Flash. But I owned an iPhone, which didn’t. This was always a point of derision for Android fans, who would pull up some random statistic about how the 24 million people playing Bubble Blaster 7 would never buy the iPhone. Steve Jobs wrote an infamous open letter about this in 2010, about why Apple refused to support Flash. At that time, it seemed almost unfathomable that in a distant universe, nobody would be using Flash. But it was a horrible battery hog, and didn’t have a great story for working on mobile devices with a touch screen. And a big reason for that Jobs manifesto was that an iPhone Flash player would always be second-class, compared to the native Apple UI. The Windows player would be faster, work best, and have the most updates. Go further down the hill, and the Apple version of the player would have some subset of functionality, and everyone would bitch at Apple because Marble Monster 3 didn’t work on the iPhone.

I think Flash quickly fell by the wayside a few years into the 2010s, although I don’t know when. At some point, Safari either didn’t come with the plug-in and you had to install it, or maybe it was there but not turned on by default, and you could turn it on per use. iOS had an app store and real apps, and that was that. Windows Mobile died. After two or three years of Android users saying the iPhone would fail for not supporting Flash, Adobe killed Flash on Android in 2012. I haven’t actively thought about Flash for years, until I heard about the EOL.

There’s one random memory about Flash that makes me miss it. In the summer of 2007, I was trying to figure out what to do with my life, attempting to maybe re-curve my career. The lack of tech writing jobs (in Denver, anyway) made me want to become a developer, but I couldn’t decide on a language or skill set. I was doing some Ruby on Rails for a friend’s company, but my wife worked for a marketing agency, and they doled out big chunks of cash to “interactive” firms who did web sites, usually with Flash. I can’t draw, but I knew enough JavaScript that I could figure out ActionScript, and assumed the rest of it was just finding the right book or tutorial or something.

I think I did buy the Dummies book at the Borders (RIP) in Stapleton and gave it a once-over with the 30-day trial of the software. The studio or whatever it was called was pretty straightforward, and I never developed any muscle memory for doing anything in Flash, but I was able to kick the tires and do the basic example projects. This quest pretty much ended at that point, and when I found a copy of Flash CS3 cost 700 bucks. But it was fun screwing around with a head-bouncing-around-the-screen demo and a pick-an-answer trivia game.

I still have a copy of those SWF files and it’s oddly nostalgic and bittersweet to see them now. Not because they’re useful or I regret not entering a career of being an interactive designer (or whatever), but because it reminds me of that summer, my first months in Denver, and everything else that happened in 2007.

Anyway, RIP Flash. Hopefully someone comes out with a good emulator ten years from now so all of the GenZ kids can remember Gem Shooter or whatever they played as a kid.

general reviews

Oculus Rift Impressions

I stopped in Best Buy on Saturday, because I’ve been meaning to check out the Oculus Rift, and the demo people are only there a few days a week, and I keep missing them. Usual thoughts on the death of the Best Buy I used to know, although they did seem to be semi-busy. Anyway, I tried out the Rift. Impressions:

  • I was worried that the thing would not work with glasses. My glasses fit fine inside the headset, so no problems there. I had to take off my glasses, put them in the headset, then flip the whole assembly onto my head. It was a slightly tight fit, but worked fine for me. The focus was decent, but did make me think maybe it would work better with my reading glasses and not my dailies, which aren’t that great for close-up work.
  • I did not notice the headset weight, and did not experience any fogging.
  • The controllers are interesting. They each have a joystick and a few buttons on the top, but then you also have a trigger and a squeeze button. They are also tracked, so your hand movement goes into the system. The result is that you have a set of virtual hands in the game, which move around and can point at various things and tap around. There’s also a bit of haptic feedback in the controllers, which was nice.
  • You start in a room in a house. Your head movement tracks, so you can look around. You can even turn around, and then see there’s a Koi pond behind you, which makes it very immersive and cool. In front of you is a wall containing tiles or pictures of each available game or program.
  • The immersive feeling of head tracking is something overwhelmingly cool. Just the subtle movements of your head moving around inside this virtual room is amazing.
  • I tried a few things. One was the basic tutorial, how to move your hands and look at things. Then I went into a climbing game, where you put hand over hand as you moved up a rock wall. Once I got the hand of moving and gripping, I was able to move fast and I quickly forgot I was wearing a headset, and felt like I was inside the game.
  • The freaky part of the climbing game was that I was focused on finding the handholds, studying the rock face. At a certain point, the Oculus person told me to stop and look behind me. When I turned, I could see the full display of the terrain behind me. And below me – I looked down and saw how far up I was and had a sudden feeling of depth, from the height. It was amazing.
  • I also did some weird video thing, which was not interactive except for head tracking. It was basically a 360-degree movie, with some African tribe, various scenes where you are surrounded by tribespeople, throwing spears and talking and whatnot. It was a bit boring, but also showed off the video well.
  • The video – it depends on what you are doing. On the tribe thing, I could really discern the pixelation – it was like standing with your face right up to the surface of a standard-definition monitor, or looking through a screen door. For video game or cartoonish things, it was not as noticeable. I do not think I could watch a movie in it.
  • Surround sound was very good too. I noticed that in the circle of tribesmen, how I could hear one to my right, then swing around to look at him and he’d be in the center of the sound stage.
  • I did not have any issues with nausea or fatigue from having the thing on my head, but I was only in it for ten minutes or so.
  • The Rift is now about $400 with a set of controllers, which is pretty amazing for what you get. The real kicker is you absolutely need an all-out machine, a newer-gen i5 or i7, lots of RAM, and a high-end video card. And the video card is the real problem, because Bitcoin mining has created a GPU apocalypse right now. Since Christmas, most GPUs are running about double MSRP, sometimes more for the higher-end ones. And that’s if you can find one, which you cannot. They are sold out everywhere. And you absolutely can’t get it to work on a Mac. My MBP meets all specs by far, except for the video card. I can run an external video card, and an enclosure is maybe $250, but getting the card is the hard part.
  • There probably won’t be an update to the Rift this year, but the Vive has a Pro model with more resolution. (Pricing and availability unknown.) The rub here is that a higher resolution would probably drive back up the pricing, and would require a rig with much more video horsepower.

So, mostly good impressions, but probably not enough to dive in right now. I think I could probably buy a prebuilt that would be on the low end of usable for about $750, slap in some more memory and an SSD I have from my old machine that’s just sitting here. But then I’d just want to upgrade to an all-out gaming rig, and I couldn’t buy an affordable GPU, and ten minutes later, the Rift Pro would be announced. So I guess I’ll wait a minute on this one.



An extended rant about how I am too old to play video games

I have been wasting an inordinate amount of time playing X-Plane 11 on my Mac. I’m not very good at it. It’s a flight simulator and not an arcade game, so it’s much more about trying to flip every switch in a ten-page long takeoff checklist for a 737-800 and less about stick-and-rudder type antics. It’s honestly very boring and unrewarding. I still play it, though.

Probably the most boring thing I do is put a Cessna at the South Bend airport, then go through every air traffic step to take off, setting a flight plan to fly to Elkhart Municipal airport. This is an 18-mile drive if you’re in a car, and Google says it is a 31-minute trip on land, but if you speed and don’t run into an Elkhart County sheriff trying to make quota, it’s like twenty, twenty-five.

It takes like an hour to fly this at 120 knots. Part of that is that you have to taxi across the entire 9R/27L runway, a mile and a half, and then sit around while three other planes in front of you take off. Then, instead of flying eighteen miles straight east to the Elkhart airport, ATC will route you about five miles east of Elkhart and sixteen miles south, then you swing around the city in a big sixteen-mile box, waiting for everyone else to land. And I know for a fact that three planes have never landed in a row at KEKM since the airplane has been invented, but you still have to wait. When it’s clear, you can then do another big box to approach from the south and land on the north-south runway. (This runway doesn’t have ILS though, or maybe I keep missing it, so I always have landed manually, which sort of defeats the purpose of the ILS flight in the first place.) This all on autopilot, so all you’re doing is adjusting one knob every fifteen minutes and listening to the radio.

The real challenge with X-Plane is that even with the highest-end MacBook Pro currently available, it still looks like garbage. I see pictures from people with decked-out Windows machines, with thousand-dollar video cards and terabytes of photorealistic scenery, and it almost looks real. And then I start thinking, maybe I need to build another machine, a Windows machine with all gaming hardware, and then I realize I would waste hours and hours of time fucking with NVidia driver updates and blow three or four grand and still be flying from one regional airport to another. (And never mind that it’s currently impossible to buy a high-end GPU, because everyone is hoarding them to mine bitcoin. Seriously, a video card that cost $200 around Thanksgiving would probably fetch a grand on eBay, if you could even find one.)

I really want to play DCS World, which looks impressive in the trailers, but once again, it would require a PC I do not have and do not want to build. And keep in mind, I’m talking about spending thousands of dollars to build a machine that would prevent me from writing, so this is especially stupid.

Yesterday, I went on Steam because I heard about some new game that’s free to play where you fly planes, called War Thunder or War Kill or War Fucker or something, I forget what. It looked interesting, ran on the Mac, and it was free, so I clicked play, and it proceeded to download twenty gigs of installer to my machine. Twenty or forty minutes later, it started asking me to map 47 different buttons and axes on my joystick, which was overwhelming. Then it started me in a training thing, which was semi-impossible for me. Then it threw me into a battle.

I guess with this game, you can play as a plane or a tank, and there are these massive online battles where tanks mass at a border and shoot at each other, and then planes fly overhead, dogfighting. And I think tanks can shoot overhead, and planes can strafe ground objects. Because I was level 0, the game basically gave me a Wright Brothers biplane from 1903 with a pellet gun under the wing. I flew around slowly, in big turns, and there were tiny dots on the horizon, people barrel rolling and flying at almost the speed of sound in Mustangs and Messerschmitts. I fired my pellet gun at some microscopic things on the ground, and was immediately shot down.

I was then given opportunities to spam my Facebook friends to get coins or gold or bucks or something, which if I collected like a thousand and got some daily bonus, I could upgrade my pellet gun from .177 caliber to .22 caliber. I think if I did this seven days in a row, it moved up to a ten-pump BB gun. I would basically have to quit my job and play full time to get up to the worst US fighter from the beginning of the war with no guns, maybe by the end of 2018. And I’d have to buy some loot boxes or gold chests or whatever else.

After a minute, I got thrown into the game. I think my pellet gun hit a tank once, then I was immediately shot down. A fourteen-year-old popped open a chat window and offered several slurs related to my possible choice of a sexual partner, in which I would assume the role of the woman. I got back in long enough to run out of pellet gun ammunition and then crash into a tree. I was then returned to a hanger, which offered more opportunities to buy doubloons or upgrades or something, at which point I disconnected and deleted the game. My carpal tunnel wrist is still killing me, and I still have books to write. I’ll probably reinstall it next weekend.


New Glass

I bought a new monitor recently, mostly because I was able to partially subsidize it with points from my Amazon card, which I now use to pay for absolutely everything in this mortal world, except for the couple of things I can’t pay using a Visa card.  I’ve been using the same ViewSonic monitor since 2003.  It was this 20″ LCD, my first flat-screen, which at the time was radical, but now you can’t find a CRT monitor unless you visit a museum or a landfill.  I don’t remember how much I paid for that monitor, but I think it was something insane, like just under a grand.  And aside from being monstrously huge, it worked well, functioning as my main display for my next four computers plus a score of other assorted laptops and work computers.  If you look at all of the pictures in this post, about half of them are with that monitor, from the monster tower PC in my old Astoria apartment to the Mac Mini sitting on my desk overlooking the big Denver parking lot to my white Macbook and the view of the playa in LA to the newest MBP and the loft in Oakland.

The new monitor is another ViewSonic, my third one, if you include the gigantic CRT I bought way back in Seattle.  I wanted to hold out and buy an Apple display, although everyone always bitches that Dell makes the same exact monitor for hundreds of dollars cheaper, which is true, except for the fact that they don’t, and their 27″ LED costs the same exact price as an Apple 27″ LED Cinema display.  So instead of spending a grand on a 27″ screen, I spent just under $200 on a 24″ screen.  And although it’s 4″ bigger than the old one, it seems tiny, because it weighs about a third as much as the old one, and it has very little frame around it.  And instead of a stand suitable for mounting an AT-4 antitank missile, I can use a thin little pole-mount thing and rid my desk of the huge pile of books and dictionaries I was using to raise my screen to the correct height.

The new screen runs at 1920×1080; the old one was 1600×1200.  So I lose a few pixels of height, but gain more in width.  I don’t know if that’s ideal; I think if I do any long, protracted amount of editing on a book-style manuscript, I’ll turn the thing sideways to have a nice 1920-pixel Kerouac scroll of an editor window on my screen.  I spend most of my creative writing time sitting on the couch with the laptop, like I am right now, so I can spend those few minutes of freedom typing away in the bright sunlight that streams through the loft’s giant west-facing windows.  For work stuff, it’s nice to have multiple side-by-side windows open, although I’ve recently moved to FrameMaker 10, which has a whole slew of “pods” and docked palettes and other useless Adobe crap I can’t seem to turn off polluting the left and right sides of my editor window.

Probably the most disappointing part of the upgrade is that my KVM switch seems to be noticeably slower on the kick from system to system.  And of course, the upgrade was flawless on my Mac; plug in the new monitor, pull down the Display Preferences doodad, and select the new resolution.  Windows 7?  Not so much.  It took three reboots and an afternoon of fucking around with driver disks and updates and having to google the entire history of the DVI format until I figured out how to make a custom display size and click through 17 warnings that I was about to explode my monitor and are you really sure you want to do this.  Windows hardware may be cheaper, but not if you value your time.

Aside from the resolution, the difference between LED and LCD is amazing.  When I was at the big S, the main building where we ate lunch had a bunch of their product displays, and for a while, there was a comparison of the old LCD TV and the new LED TV, and it was night and day on the brightness and clarity of the LED.  This was a year ago, and prices on LED TV were ludicrous, absolutely unjustifiable, if you’re in the situation where tech purchases require spousal approval.  Now, in mid-2011, this monitor cost basically nothing.  It’s amazing how fast prices fall on stuff like this.

Why does any of this matter to you?  It doesn’t.  But I used to write about this stuff all the time, the computer upgrades that made up my tool chain, the things I used on a daily basis to carve out these books.  And now, with a decade or two of space between me and them, I look back and wonder exactly when I did swap out that giant CRT that I hauled across the country with a somewhat smaller LCD, and I’m happy that I did manage to capture it in an entry here.  And some other random thing enters my head – like a blind date I had once with a graphic designer, some time before 9/11, when we walked in the shadows of the World Trade Center after dinner, and I wonder what her name was or when we went out for that dinner, and I realize I didn’t keep a journal then, and I lost all of my email from that entire year in a stupid rsync backup mistake, and now I have no fucking idea on any of it except I definitely know it happened before September of 2001, but that’s about it.

It’s just like everything from the 90s.  I’ve been kicking around this book idea, a bunch of stories that take place between 1990 and 1999, and the other day I realized I don’t have one single god damned digital photo from that era, because I bought my first digital camera at the end of 2000.  And I didn’t keep any kind of journal until the mid-90s, and I always wish I would have written everything down, and taken pictures of everything, so I could relive those eras just enough to capture the details in a story.  So, maybe I need to write down more.  And here we are.


Computer inventory, fall ’10 edition

Okay, so I mentioned my computer count had grown over on my Facebook page, and Bill asked me a bunch of questions about what’s what, so here’s a quick rundown, in reverse order of age:

  1. Lenovo ThinkPad T410 – the new work machine, running Windows 7.  Maybe this doesn’t count because it’s not mine, but it’s here 100% of the time now.  The hardware is pretty nice, with a lot of extras: 3G modem, DVD burner, 4 GB memory, a million ports I’ll never use.  But man, Windows 7 sucks.  I’ve spent far more time trying to figure out why the hell some 32-bit software won’t work, or why you can’t install 64-bit Visio and 32-bit Office at the same time, and why they insist on you installing 32-bit office on a 64-bit machine, and so on.
  2. MacBook Pro – My main machine, a 17″ 2010 Unibody with the fastest i7 CPU, 8 GB memory, and a half-terabyte of disk.  I absolutely love this machine, and it’s an example of how to move from 32 to 64 bit without turning your entire life sideways.  Other than reinstalling all of my MacPorts stuff, it Just Worked.  This machine is home to my iTunes library, my pictures, my writing, and pretty much everything else.
  3. MacBook Pro – Sarah has the 2009 17″ model.  Not sure of the processor, but it’s not the fastest one, and it has 4GB.
  4. Samsung NC10 – A tiny netbook, with a tiny screen and almost no memory, still running XP.  It’s next to the bed, and I mostly use it when I’m sitting in bed reading.  It’s also a nice travel machine, because it’s so light, gets incredible battery life, and if it gets stolen, the bag it’s in is probably worth more.
  5. MacBook – My old 15″ white 2007 model.  I don’t use this much anymore, but maybe every few weeks, I find something that I need on it or that won’t work in Snow Leopard.  For example, I still use it to import video, because I’m too cheap to go buy a different FireWire cable.  And until a week ago, I couldn’t get our scanner to work with the new Macs.  (Turns out if you swear at it enough, you can get Preview to scan stuff.)
  6. Toshiba Portege Tablet – This is a 2005 model that has convinced me that as long as it runs Windows, Microsoft will never get a tablet to work.  (A Windows Phone tablet?  Maybe that would work.)  It’s no longer running XP Tablet, because it needed an XP reinstall, and the included media won’t work.  It’s sitting next to my couch downstairs, and it’s a dedicated IMDB and baseball score machine.

Other computers-that-aren’t would include two iPhone 3Gs, a PlayStation 3, a Kindle, and maybe you could count the NAS I have in the closet.  (It takes up an IP address, anyway.)

The tablet is on its last legs, and the MacBook will eventually get fully retired.  I sometimes wonder if I just used an iPad for casual web browsing and travel, if I could get rid of everything but the MBP and work laptop.  But as I become more convinced an iPad would be an okay purchase, I get more in the hole with this move.


Making the Mac switch

This is my first entry from my new machine, which is a Mac Mini. I already wrote about the big switch over on LiveJournal, so read there for the political puling. I’m mostly concerned with getting everything over to the new machine and working. I think web updates are fine, I’m reading mail here, and I’ve got the music collection into iTunes, so that’s good. I still have a lot of adjusting to my workflow, but it’s working well so far. For example, instead of having a bunch of directories with photos flung into them and some half-ass scripts generating galleries, I’m moving everything over to iPhoto. That will make things prettier and easier to deal with, but it’s still a lot of work.

I think the next project might be a print book of the glossary. I am reading this book on the history of Apple computer, and it’s similar in a folklore sense, plus it’s that 8-inch square format that lulu just added to their roster, and I’d really like to do a book like that. I know absolutely nobody will buy a copy, but I mostly want one for myself. So I’ve been picking at the entries a bit. Some will go away – Ray is still convinced I wrote the entire project just to spite him, and so I will have to trim a few things. I also have a lot of ideas for new entries, and those are percolating. I now generally dislike the ones about people and like the ones more about concepts, or old stores or restaurants or whatever that have vanished. Lots of work ahead, I guess. Take a look at the site – I am making edits and syncing them to the head, so to speak, so they are all viewable. I’m also nervous I horridly fucked some pages when I moved the computer, so if you see anything weird, let me know.

OK, back to playing with iPhoto…


Computer upgrade disasters

I think most of the computer upgrade disaster is over. I now have a new monitor, a new video card, and a new Linux installation. It took me about six hours to get everything installed with Linux and Windows 2000, most of that being Linux. I had to back up 9 gigs of personal info and work onto CD-R, then install RH8 three times, then I was stuck for an hour because networking didn’t work, and it turns out it was because I entered the wrong thing for the fucking gateway. Now, all is mostly well, except I have to undo all of the stupid Red Hat bells and whistles and get back to an actual functional operating environment. And as I say this, emacs looks deranged with all of these stupid banners and widgets and extra bullshit they have affixed to every side of my text window. They should put Richard Stallman on a hidden government installation hidden in the middle of the Nevada desert somewhere and do the world a load of good.

So now I have this monstrous screen – 21.1″ actual viewable size, with a resolution of 1600×1200. It’s big enough that I can have a browser window opened to the maximum size and still have a fuckload of space. Text is very tiny, but I am too greedy to set it to a larger size. We’ll see how it works when I get some real writing underway.

Anyway, the monitor is cool. Also, the router fuckup let me figure out what was wrong with the Navy Seals game, and I got to play that online for a bit tonight. I totally got my ass kicked, but it’s pretty fun. And my iPod is on the way – it should be here tomorrow. It was back-ordered, so I slapped down another $200 to upgrade to the 20 Gig version, and it is in stock. So I’ll be all set there.

Very tired, and feeling a bit sick. Computer upgrades always stress me out, but at least it’s a short week next week…