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The long-rumored Apple console, free-to-play games, and the future of the living room

I've never worked in the games business, and I have no major reason to have opinions about it. But I've been thinking about this one for a really long time and I don't see it being fully explained anywhere. So here's my thesis about what's going to happen with console gaming.

One day, Apple will expand Apple TV into an iOS device that can support third-party apps, perhaps renaming it in the process. The biggest reason they have to take this step is the rise of free-to-play (F2P) games. F2P games have made major inroads in mobile and PC gaming, but nobody has taken them into the living room. Apple will be the company to do this, beating Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, and Valve to the punch. It will give the company a major footprint in the living room, strengthen its position as a distributor of streaming entertainment, and grow Apple TV into a massive new product line.

Free-to-play gaming is a tidal wave

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wallpaper_swipe.rb

wallpaper_swipe is a quick script that scrapes photos off of The Boston Globe’s “The Big Picture” site and downloads it for use as a desktop wallpaper. It’s geared towards OS X; if anybody wants to patch it for other OSes that’d be cool too.

http://github.com/fhwang/wallpaper_swipe/tree/master

Setup

1. Run the script once by hand. This will take a long time.

$ ruby wallpaper_swipe.rb

or:

$ LOGGING=true ruby wallpaper_swipe.rb # Lots of log messages
This will download every image it can find based on The Big Picture’s current RSS feed and download it into ~/Pictures/wallpaper_swipe. It will then open that directory in Finder and you can scan through (Cover Flow is great for this). Every image that you like should go into the subdirectory ~/Pictures/wallpaper_swipe/approved.

The reason there’s a manual approval process is that some of TBP’s photos are of, say, a dead child after a terrorist attack: Stirring photography, perhaps, but maybe not something you want as a desktop image. Or pictures of scantily clad people during Carnival, which might be NSFW, depending on where W is.

2. Set your System Preferences to use the “approved” folder for desktop images.

Open System Preferences and go to the Desktop & Screen Saver pane. Add the ~/Pictures/wallpaper_swipe/approved folder to the folder pane on the left (use the ”+” button, or just drag the folder into the folder pane). Select that folder and tweak your settings.

3. Setup a cron to download incremental updates.

After you’ve run the script once, running it again will only download new photos. I set this up to run every day at 4 a.m.:

0 4 * * * cd /Users/francis/Tech/ruby/wallpaper_swipe; /usr/local/bin/ruby wallpaper_swipe.rb

If it downloads any new photos, it will open the ~/Pictures/wallpaper_swipe folder in the Finder again. That way when I get on my computer in the morning I know if I have any new images to sort through.

Comments or patches welcome. And it would be great if nobody used this code to take credit for or profit from TBP’s photos. Most photographers work very hard for not much money, and deserve our consideration.

Powerbook deconstruction

So yesterday I gutted my laptop.

This is actually the second time I’ve done this: A few months ago, I upgraded the hard drive, then yesterday I replaced a faulty optical drive. Both times I bought my parts through iFixit, which sells you Powerbook parts along with extensive step-by-step instructions telling you how to install them.

Don’t think that I do this ‘cause I’m some sort of DIY-Nazi. I’m quite happy to pay people to solve my problems for me. But my local Mac shop told me they’d need about two weeks to swap out my optical drive. Two weeks without my laptop—what the hell am I supposed to do with myself in the meantime? Do I look like the sort of person with a healthy social life?

iFixit’s instructions are pretty thorough, but opening up your laptop isn’t quite for newbies. Yesterday’s operation took about four hours, and all that time bent over my desk, fiddling with tiny screws and wires, left me pretty worn out afterwards. The first time I did it, I lost some screws and badly stripped a few others.

But as a nice side effect I get to disarm the Apple design halo, if only for a few hours. Apple products offer the promise of a smooth, seamless, uncomplicated life. But open up a Powerbook, and inside it’s just another pile of earthbound, mechanical crap, like a carburetor or a toaster or (gasp) a Windows box. If you go slowly and make sure to tape the screws to a piece of paper as you go, it’s not hard to take it apart and put it back together again. My Powerbook’s working fine now, missing screws and all.

Bonafide art exhibit news

This September, Negativland is having a show at gigantic artspace in Tribeca, and they’ve been nice enough to invite me along. I’ll be installing a reprise of the Unauthorized iPod U2 vs. Negativland Special Edition—labeled “2G”, for the iPod cultists who know what that means—to serve as a listening station for Negativland’s music.

In preparing for the show, I’ve been spending some time in the SoHo Apple Store, trying to think of how to echo their retail design for a real-space presentation of what was originally a mostly virtual project. (Without paying for a glass staircase or anything like that, of course.) It might be perverse to admit how much I respect Apple’s design and marketing, but of course if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have done the iPod the first time ‘round.

The show runs from September 9 to October 22; read the full release here.

Adieu, iPod

Maybe it’s because Apple’s lawyers have had their hands full with other matters, who’s to say? All I know is that the three-week auction of the Unauthorized iPod U2 vs. Negativland Special Edition went off without a hitch. 20 people submitted 31 bids, with the winner being Francis Schmit, with a high bid of $667. Francis actually lives in Luxembourg, and tells me he heard about the auction from the article in the French newspaper Libération. Vive le France! Or, I suppose, Luxembourg.

After I got Francis’ money, I donated $217.50 of it—the final bid minus the $449.50 cost of materials—to Downhill Battle. Then I packed up the iPod, and shipped it off. Part of me feels wistful at sending it away, while the other part is glad to have the thing out of my bedroom. Now somebody else can have his hands on it. Whether Francis mounts it in a glass case or takes it on the metro is up to him.

Adieu, iPod

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Seven days left

With just seven days left, bidding for the Unauthorized iPod U2 vs. Negativland Special Edition is now up to $516. If you’re thinking about bidding, keep in mind that at this point, every extra dollar spent goes straight into Downhill Battle’s pockets!

This isn’t so closely related to the political issues behind the iPod, but it’s been interesting trying to run my own auction without relying on an intermediary like eBay. Beyond the general inconvenience of having to process bids and bid alerts by hand, I’ve also been trying to find a balance between making it easy for people to bid and being able to reassure bidders that all of the listed bids are serious. It brings up lots of questions about online identity and trust: I’ll have more to say about this when the auction is done.

If you want to follow conversations about this in the blogosphere, you could use the PubSub feed I created for the occasion. There have also been stories in Wired News and even Libération, which I’ve heard is one of the major newspapers in France. If I could read French, that would be even cooler.

U2 vs. Negativland vs. Apple vs. eBay vs. me, take 2

Here goes nothing: The Unauthorized iPod U2 vs. Negativland Special Edition, removed from eBay last December due to Apple’s objections, is now available for auction here on my own site. Bidding is open until March 14, 2005. This auction period is quite a bit more than what would be offered on eBay, because bid handling will be much less automated. Get your bids in now!