Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Mac68K Sings! "The Peter & Ians Sing! Acoustic Renditions of the Lost Songs of Die Klammern"

Back before Mac68K released its Experimental Apple album, Peter and I experimented with Apple's HyperCard program to see how it could handle audio and the different directions we could take with this project. We recorded an unreleased album under a slightly different band name, Mac68K Experience. Full of opaque melodies that annoy most people, to paraphrase Captain Beefheart, it remains unreleased because it would probably annoy most people. But it showed Peter and I what HyperCard was capable of doing with audio and gave us an opportunity to experiment with different compositions and for me, the possibility of using randomness as a component in music composition on a computer.

Peter emailed me to let me know that he sorted through a bunch of stuff and came across a track we recorded during this Mac68K Experience session that was a cover of a Peter & Ians song, "Tapir." The Mac68K Experience version, "HyperTapir," is a great example of Peter's early experiments with using HyperCard to actually compose structured, formal pieces. You can buy The Peter and Ians album from their MySpace page, but I'm going to hip you to the unreleased Mac68K Experience version here! Dig it!

Monday, April 28, 2008

See You at ILC 2008!

I have been accepted to present at The Innovative Learning Conference 2008 in San Jose, CA! I will be teaching an hour long workshop on Scratch a constructivist-learning programming environment produced by MIT's Media Lab. I've been using Scratch with students for a couple of years now since Dr. Margaret Riel gave me an invitation to participate in the beta testing of the program. I have worked with several students as they produced different Scratch Projects.

In my presentation I will show educators just how fun and flexible Scratch can be as a learning tool. I will show off several different projects that Tech Club students have worked on to demonstrate just how flexible the software is. Then we'll look at programming a Scratch project right then and there to demonstrate how easy programming can be. Finally, I will use a Scratch Board, which can be used to get your Scratch projects interacting with the real world. Im going to hook mine up to a puppet and have a multimedia puppet show!

I hope to see you at ILC 2008: this is going to be a fun and informative presentation!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Rhapsodizing Nostalgically

I dusted off my Power Mac 8600/200 today and fired up the external drive onto which I installed Rhapsody DR1 a year and a half ago. Rhapsody was the result of Apple Computer buying NeXT and incorporating an Apple-inspired GUI into the NeXTStep/OpenStep operating system. Developer's Release 1 looks like the Frankenchild of NeXTStep and Mac OS 8. It's limited in its functionality but still fun to play with. I never got networking going when I first set up the machine, so I thought I'd try it again today. A Rhapsody DR1 box expects that it is connected to a NetInfo network and acts persnickety if it determines otherwise. I ended up hosing the system trying to get the network going the first time but I just reinstalled it since there was nothing important on the drive. In the photo above you can see the list of processes I have running and the system information once I got it reinstalled. It only takes about half an hour from start to finish on this Mac.

The File Manager looks like it was lifted directly from NeXTStep:

"Homescratch" is an HFS+ formatted internal Mac OS drive running OS 9.1. Under Rhapsody it is a read-only file system and you don't see any of your Macintosh files. Rhapsody also includes a few sample apps as well as the development environment, if you choose to install it.

One of the coolest apps, in my opinion, is a Mandelbrot application:

Even on this 200 MHz machine the Mandelbrot app runs beautifully: you can select an area of the fractal, click Run, and it repaints the screen with the detail of the fractal in just a few seconds. Nerdy!

To get these screenshots off the 8600 and onto my PowerBook took a bit of work. Floppies are read-only filesystems under Rhapsody DR1, so that didn't work. I ended up turning on FTP on my PowerBook running OS X 10.5.2 by editing /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/ftp.plist and enabling it, then issuing launchctl load ftp.plist. Once the service was running I was able to ftp from the Rhapsody box to the PowerBook. Interestingly, in the Rhapsody Terminal you can drag and drop files to get an expanded path. From there it was simply an ftp put to move the tiff files, created with Rhapsody's Grab.app, to my PowerBook.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Future of Cellphones is Being Designed in the Markets of Accra

photo by Jan Chipchase

Jan Chipchase has the fascinating role as a "user anthropologist" for Nokia, traveling the world talking to target audiences and gathering data for a human-centered design attempt to design a "$5" phone that can be sold to the last remaining demographic who remain without cellphones: the poor. The NYTimes profiles Chipchase and the fascinating and prescient observations and ideas he has about how mobile phones will be used in the near and long future. I wrote about Kenya's M-PESA program, where mobile phones are used to transfer money between rural and urban areas. The article cites this program as well as others where cellphones are literally determining our one fixed identity in an increasingly fluid and mobile world. Chipchase likes to note:

Having a call-back number, Chipchase likes to say, is having a fixed identity point, which, inside of populations that are constantly on the move — displaced by war, floods, drought or faltering economies — can be immensely valuable both as a means of keeping in touch with home communities and as a business tool.

Chipchase and his Nokia team traveled to Buduburam, an hour west of Accra, Ghana, to show off some new designs, like in the picture from Nima above (the cellphone design is purposefully obscured in the photo). What is really compelling, however, is that the Nokia team set up an office and solicitied next-generation dream designs from the very people they hope to one day sell phones to.

Chipchase's on-the-ground approach to market research is fascinating, and the Times' article is well worth the read for the wealth of ideas that are discussed. Make sure you check out Jan Chipchase's blog as well, which includes many on-the-scene photos of research in action.

As a bonus, here is Jan Chipchase presenting "Connections and Consequences" in March 2007 at the TED Talks:

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Run Some Old Web Browsers Day

March 31 was designated by jwz as Run Some Old Web Browsers Day, during which we were encouraged to download and run an old version of the Netscape web browser. Jwz, evidently well connected to the early Mozilla development team, had pulled a bunch of strings to get the "featured content" buttons working on the old browsers, get old domain names properly resolving, and other hijinks that he chronicles on his blog. In the end you have a cool walk down Internet memory lane.

I decided to run Netscape v0.93ß for Macintosh on a Quadra 610. This wasn't too huge a feat because that computer has ethernet. It was running a really old version of MacTCP, Apple's earliest TCP stack implementation for early Macs, which turned out to be a major timesink for me in this project. In 2003 I was able to get a Color Classic working on the Internet using MacTCP 2.0.6, so I figured I would just follow the directions I wrote back then and have the Mac on the internet in minutes. Evidently time caught up and MacTCP 2.0.6 no longer worked. MacTCP 2.0.6 is the final version released by Apple. However, this version was susceptible to all sorts of idiocy that occurs on the modern Internet and it was trivial to crash the TCP stack. In 2001 MacTCP quit working for many people because of changes made in the way larger networks were configured. However, a brave soul in New Zealand patched MacTCP and got it working. At first I battled issues with DNS, then Netscape would claim the server was not responding. I thought it was the Access Control List on the AirPort, so I turned that off. Nothing worked until I patched a clean copy of MacTCP 2.0.6 to version 2.1; subsequently it worked perfectly!

Here is the About screen once I had everything working:

I loved the "What's New" page, which works again thanks to jwz's efforts. It is fascinating to look through and see who was putting web servers online in the early 1990s. Some of the servers are still online!

Finally, I stopped by my Newton web server to complete a strange retrocomputing loop of old web browser contacting old web server:

It was fascinating to give 0.93ß a run on the Internet. As jwz cautioned, most sites failed to load in 0.93ß because the old browsers do not send the required Host post to declare what they are looking for. So for giggles I ran Netscape 3.01, which with Java disabled actually worked on a number of sites!

A exercise in total pointlessness, it was a great way to finish up spring break away from work and take a walk down memory lane. Along the way I learned how to find the ethernet MAC address in MacTCP, found out about this new Internet thing that is available on computers, and looked at the internet through a ten year old lens.