At iMore: Game Porting Toolkit won’t fix what’s broken with Mac games

Game Porting Toolkit is Apple’s latest developer-facing games effort introduced at WWDC. The new tool marries together Wine, the not-emulator, with some Apple Metal graphics API wizardry. Developers get a real-time look at their Windows game on the Mac to help speed the porting process. But getting games running on the Mac platform has never been the issue. I take a look at the historical and modern landscape of this in a guest oped for my alma mater, iMore.

The conventional narrative around Apple and games is that Steve Jobs didn’t like games, discouraging their development on the platform early in its existence, fearing that the Mac would be dismissed as a toy and unsuitable for business use. That original sin cascaded throughout the decades to leave the Mac a barren wasteland for games. Jobs has been dead since 2011, however, and Apple’s managed by living people making those decisions today.

That also conveniently ignores the fact that Microsoft weaponized DirectX to create the Xbox, making certain by result that Apple would always be an also-ran when it comes to games. Decades of Windows game dev tech debt means a developer culture that’s not Mac-friendly, along with a business culture that doesn’t see value in chasing the meager scraps of the Mac market when there are bigger fish to catch, like consoles and mobile.

Game Porting Toolkit tells developers that Apple has performant gaming hardware. But in some ways, Apple needs a Game Porting Toolkit for the rest of the game business. That’s a much taller order, and not something that Apple can fix with patches to Wine and Metal.

How to rescue your pictures from Flickr

At some point, I realized the only copy of some photos I have are on Flickr, the popular photo blogging service owned by Yahoo. That made me nervous for two reasons: Flickr is a single point of failure, and Yahoo has problems including massive user ID and password security breaches. So I decided to back up my Flickr library to my Mac. I took what I learned and put it in a new blog post over at Backblaze. I’ve outlined three ways that you can download your pics quickly.

I’ve been using Flickr for nigh on 13 years now – since before Yahoo bought it in 2005, I know that much – so I have a lot of photos there. Over 8,000, in fact. Many of the earlier ones I don’t have on my Mac or my iPhone.

Now, I know better, I do. But it’s been almost a decade and a half, and in the intervening years I’ve bought hard drives which have died and migrated data to more than half a dozen new computers, so I guess it shouldn’t be a total surprise that I have stuff on Flickr I don’t have anywhere else. Makes me wonder what else I’ve lost over the years, frankly.

The first method to back up your Flickr photos is built right into Flickr. Flickr has a download tool that enables you to select individual photos or galleries for download to a handy ZIP file. It works, but it’s kludgy if you want to back up your entire library, as I did.

Flickr Downloadr

I also tested out two free-to-download third-party backup tools. The first is Bulkr, an Adobe AIR-dependent app that is available in “Pro” trim for $29. The second is Flickr Downloadr, which doesn’t cost a cent but is, quite frankly, a bit kludgy in the UI department. Still, they both work.

Anyway, read on and if you have any questions, let me know.

How To Back Up Your Flickr Library

Also, sorry for the nonexistent posting since December. It’s been a busy winter.

Bauhaus Burger Brouhaha: The Devil Is In The Details

Angry Whopper

At the risk of making a mountain out of a molehill, I’d like to draw attention to an example of the media failing to do its job. I admit, the circumstances around this are completely trivial, but I think it’s important to recognize.

First, read this article in the Boston Globe, recounting the events of last week at the Middle East nightclub in Cambridge, Mass.:

Bouncer, singer almost got into a fight at Middle East because of a burger

Now compare it to an article posted on Vanyaland, a site that focuses on music:

Bela Lugosi’s Fed: Peter Murphy interrupts Cambridge gig as security guard eats dinner near stage

In broad strokes, the same story is told. The performer clearly wasn’t having a great night and stopped his performance to berate a staff member for eating his dinner close to the stage. Emotions escalated and the staff member was removed; the venue management ultimately fired the staff member for the infraction.

Vanyaland was able to provide additional detail which helps put this in context, however: The security guard at the center of this controversy used physically intimidating gestures and body language and attacked the performer’s expensive traveling gear in the process.

Let’s just stop there for a moment. That’s inexcusable for a security guard, and absolute cause for dismissal. I can’t think of any situation where I, as the owner or manager of a venue, would let someone work for me after that happened.

He escalated the situation dramatically and committed a cardinal sin for any security guard at any live music venue by jeopardizing the safety of the performer and the performer’s equipment. Regardless of what the singer said to him, that was unforgivable and should have been grounds for termination.

That and additional detail in Vanyaland’s article puts the event in a very different light than how the Globe chose to report this story. The Globe didn’t lie, didn’t distort, it just left out a lot of detail. I don’t get the print edition so I don’t know if this story even made it into the paper, but that could be one reason why it’s so heavily curtailed: A lack of column-inches. But for the web, which allows for longer-format content, there really isn’t a good reason why those details were cut.

There’s another element to the Globe’s reporting on this which really bothers me too. It’s how they used social media to get the story out. On Twitter, their headline read: “Former Bauhaus lead singer Peter Murphy got a bouncer at the Middle East nightclub fired — for eating a hamburger.” That’s just inaccurate. He got himself fired for being a jerk.

This isn’t just about the reportage, though, or lack thereof, or for ham-handed social media management. It’s about the public reaction to the story. If you check the comments to the Globe’s article, the absence of context has given many of the commenters the impression that the venue acted capriciously by giving the bouncer his walking papers. Vanyalnd’s comments are decided more balanced.

Bottom line, The Globe left out important details from its article on Peter Murphy acting like a prima donna which ended up misinforming its readers and guided them to draw wrong conclusions. Which leads me, in all seriousness, to wonder what other important details the Boston Globe has been leaving out from other stories that actually matter.

Two years and more than 100 pounds later

I’ve lost a lot of weight since 2014. I’ve been pretty open about what’s happened to anyone who asks, but this weekend marks a date with special meaning: It’s my second “surgiversary” – the date I had gastric bypass surgery. Here are two photos; one from about that time and one I took last month.

2014 vs 2015

I had a procedure called Roux-En-Y done in November 2014. You can read up on it if you’re interested. It’s a bit different than the popular sleeve you hear about: My stomach was fashioned into a small pouch which then bypasses the first portion and part of the second portion of my small intestine (hence, bypass). It restricts the amount of food I can eat, but it also restricts nutrient absorption – so I don’t get the full caloric benefit of what I’m eating, either.

Heading towards death

The story starts In 2012. That June, I got horribly sick on the drive back from a weekend getaway with the kids. My left foot began to swell as I was driving home; by the time we got back, it was ugly and purple. I hadn’t noticed at first because I have peripheral neuropathy in my feet. It’s a side effect of diabetes – I’d been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes in the late 90s. I’m also a typical guy – really good at ignoring problems you should deal with straight up until they turn into full-blown crises.

My wife certainly understood the emergency. She insisted on taking me to the hospital, where I spent the next week and a half. Within hours a surgeon had been summoned to cut open and drain my foot: I’d gotten blood poisoning. Whether I’d actually get to keep my foot was a mystery until later that year. Ultimately I would need months of specialized wound care and nearly round-the-clock intravenous antibiotic injections (self-injected through a central catheter line in my arm).

I realized after that experience that I was going to die from being fat and that it was my own fault.
I’d already caused my wife and kids enormous pain and suffering with my hospital stay and recovery. I couldn’t bear the idea of becoming an invalid or worse. I was on three different meds to control blood sugar, and they were doing a losing job. I was taking a pill to control high blood pressure. I used a machine strapped to my face to help overcome the effects of sleep apnea. I had to inject myself with hormone replacement because fat can kill hormone production, too. I was also gobbling down antidepressants, partly to deal with some of the side effects of the drugs I was taking.

Finding a solution

I’d struggled with weight loss for years. And I’d finally come to understand that without doing something different, this was how I was going to die. I didn’t want that to happen.
In June of 2014 I enrolled in a gastric bypass surgery program. The place I went to requires patients to go through a psychological screening process and meetings with nutritionists so you understand what to eat, and more importantly, why you want to eat in the first place – and what to do about it when “head-hunger” is speaking to you.

From start to finish it was a six-month program. I went to meetings and appointments, had blood drawn and X-Rays done, drank lots of water, exercised, watched what I ate. Mostly. And then, on Thursday morning, November 13th, I went into the operating room for the Roux-En-Y procedure. I walked out of the hospital less than 48 hours, on Friday night.

All told, my initial recuperation only took a few weeks. The surgery is done laparoscopically so I had only about six abdominal incisions to care for. I had to stick to a liquid diet for several weeks – I still can’t eat jello or pudding very often without dropping into an existential funk.

At the time I enrolled in the weight loss surgery program I weighed about 325 pounds. I wore 3X shirts and had a size 48 waist. I had to lose some weight prior to the surgery: I was about 300 pounds when they wheeled me into the OR.

Since then I’ve lost well over 100 pounds. Jokes about “being half the man I used to be” are a bit off – I’m actually only about two-thirds the man I used to be. I’m down to an L or XL depending on the cut and a 36 waist. So I’ve lost a foot around my waist. I didn’t take measurements on my arms, legs or neck, but those are all a lot thinner too.

I don’t take medicine for blood pressure or diabetes anymore (my latest A1C came back in normal range), don’t use a CPAP for sleep apnea and my hormone levels are fine now. I only take a pill for cholesterol, plus a handful of supplements as required by the digestive changes I’ve undergone. I also walk, run and do some light strength training to exercise – things I never did before. The Apple Watch has made it a lot easier to keep track of when I’m supposed to take supplements, and is handy for tracking activity too.

Not the easy way

The common fallacy is that getting gastric bypass surgery is an easy fix. It isn’t. I’m going to be living with the ramifications of this for the rest of my life.

I need to take supplements throughout the day to maintain my health. I absorb vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients poorly compared to before. That’s the “bypass” in “gastric bypass.”

I can’t eat bread, rice or pasta most of the time without getting horribly sick.

My tolerance to certain seasonings has changed. I used to love spicy and aromatic foods, and still do, but can’t tolerate some of them nearly as well as I used to. I’ll eat something that smells delicious, it hits my stomach and I’m running to the bathroom. What’s worse, I still can’t predict when that will happen. I’m still learning how my body works. Some foods that I used to love, including some animal proteins (beef and pork, for the most part), are undigestible to me now and make me horribly ill.

What’s more, what’s fine one day may not be the next. I’ve gotten three days of heartburn eating the same turkey meatballs I’d made the night before and eaten with no problem.

There are also physical problems caused by  the sudden and dramatic loss of weight following gastric bypass surgery. I’ve lost muscle mass in addition to fat. I have loose, hanging skin. My nails became brittle and tore easily until I started taking a biotin supplement (yet another supplement).

I wouldn’t trade it, though. I feel like a new person most days. I feel better.

Every so often I talk with someone about the surgery. They’ll often tell me about their friend or relative who had gastric bypass, and how they gained some or all of the weight back.

First, most patients will regain some lost weight, that’s simply a matter of fact: The human body is nothing if not adaptable.

Second, it’s not helpful or supportive, even as a negative example. I don’t know anything about that person or their journey – what they did to lose weigh, what surgery they had, and what they’ve done to keep it off.

Stomach surgery != brain surgery

The most important lesson I’ve learned along the way is that having your stomach operated on doesn’t change how you think one whit. And when it comes to food, how we think is at least as important as what we do. I used food as a coping mechanism, for masking feelings, for soothing myself, for comfort. I ate calorie-dense foods with little nutritional value, and would rather pound down quick carbs over proteins and fresh produce – especially if salt or crunch was involved.

I still find myself tempted around what we call “slider foods:” crackers, pretzels, chips and other foods that slide down easily but offer little or no nutritional value. I often find myself in front of the kitchen cabinets, looking for something to graze on. That’s when I have to ask myself if I’m feeding my stomach or feeding my head. If it’s the latter, I try to get a glass of water and move on.

Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I eat those chips, or that slice of pizza, or something else I know I’m not supposed to have. And it’s okay. Because I can stop myself before it’s an entire pizza that I’ve eaten, or an entire bag of chips.

To that end, nothing changes after you have gastric bypass surgery. If you have problems with food, you’ll still have problems with food. That’s why it’s so vitally important for most of us to combine weight loss surgery with effective therapy and group support after the fact.

Gastric bypass surgery has been a life-changing, life-altering experience for me. It’s given me a very important tool to help maintain my overall health.

Every day, what I choose to do with that tool is up to me.

MacBook branding is messy

Macbook select gold 201501

Apple’s branding of the MacBook is a hot mess, and I hope they clean it up. Let me explain.

For the last several years, Apple has bifurcated its laptop sales into two brands: The MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro with Retina Display. It differentiated them by offering the MacBook Air as being less expensive, having lighter weight, and sporting all-day battery life. The MacBook Pro offered a superior screen, faster performance and more expansion options.

That changed in March of 2015, when the company resurrected the MacBook brand, dormant since the discontinuation of the polycarbonate-clad MacBook in 2010. In its previous incarnation, the MacBook was positioned as Apple’s entry-level model, a step down from the MacBook Air, but a system better suited for students and others looking for a value-priced, reasonably durable Mac laptop.

The 2015 MacBook flips that on its head. The new MacBook is positioned as the laptop of tomorrow. It sports twice the memory and twice the storage capacity of the Air, with a (smaller) Retina display like the MacBook Pro. It’s also a showcase for new technology like a different keyboard mechanism and Force Touch trackpad.

By making it even lighter and thinner than other Mac laptops, Apple also eliminated every external interface except a USB-C connector (shared by data and power) and a headphone jack. Otherwise, the assumption is that whatever you need to do can be done wirelessly either using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

The MacBook is also the first Mac laptop to follow Apple’s aesthetic direction for iPhones, iPads and Apple Watches: It’s available in different finishes like Space Gray, Silver and Gold.

All of this adds up to a very enigmatic product in Apple’s Mac line. The MacBook stands alone from the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. When looking at them side-by-side, buyers unfamiliar with the Mac line are often confused — why is the thinnest, lightest MacBook not a MacBook Air. After all, doesn’t “Air” mean it should be light?

So what’s the right answer? I don’t know. My expectation is that over time the lines between the products will blur as Apple incorporates more of the MacBook’s design and aesthetic into its other products. Maybe there won’t be a meaningful difference. Or maybe the MacBook Air will go away entirely. But right now, the MacBook sticks out like a sore thumb.