Digitized Decade: Wry

It’s hard to remember—in this world where every cell phone has a camera, you can have a face-to-face video conversation from a smart phone, and even Barbie is enhanced with more than just plastic breasts—that the whole digital photo thing didn’t hit the consumer world more than about ten years ago.

Digital cameras weren’t exactly new. Working in the printing business in the early 1990s I’d been around as the early professional models were having the kinks worked out of them. Those cost tens of thousands of dollars and most were tethered to a computer for storage. But it wasn’t until 1999-2000 that the first models broke the $1,000 price barrier. Being the good little digital consumer that I was I went out to buy one.

Barbara and I were heading to Hawaii just after Christmas, along with my parents and brother and neither of us had a camera that was in working order. I bought what was then a relatively low-end but decent-quality model: the Canon PowerShot S20.

The S20 had 3.3 megapixels of resolution, which was somewhat offset by the fact that the memory card that shipped with the camera held only 8MB. It being the beginnning of the digitized decade, extra memory chips weren’t in every Walgreen’s or corner grocery; you had to order them online or go to a photo shop and pay an outrageous price to expand to 16MB or—if you were packing a wad of cash—32MB. Or take a few shots and download them to your computer ASAP. I deleted a lot more shots directly from the camera back in those early days than I do now when I have the luxury of a memory chip with literally orders of magnitude more capacity.

The S20 got a lot of work in its first months. A slip on a path in Hawaii dropped it on lava rock, leaving a dent on the corner next to the flash. A couple of weeks later I was in San Francisco for a meeting at Macromedia of the “Director Advisory Council.” Back to San Francisco in February for one of a FlashForward conference (oddly, I don’t appear to have taken any photos of the last trip I made to NYC, in April for the Macromedia UCON). Then it was off across the country and the Atlantic for the wedding of my friends Eric Rewitzer and Annie Galvin in Ireland, followed by a stay with Director developer James Newton, and a week in Amsterdam where we met up with even more Director folks.

Eric, who was working in the middle of the digital media world at Apple at the time, told me in later years that I was one of the first people he knew with a digital camera and that the pictures I sent them of the wedding and surrounding events were the main digital record they had. That wouldn’t happen now.

The Canon’s sort of a brick compared to my iPhone or the svelte, higher-resolution cameras you can pick up for an eighth the price I paid a decade ago, but it still takes good photos and it’s been stolidly reliable. Below is a picture of an old friend of mine after work as we were getting ready to grab a beer. It’s the fourth picture I took with the S20. The first three photos were deleted long ago.

Brian Wry, 21 December 2000

The Digitized Decade is a look back at the first year of our entry into consumer digital photography.

Shining Critical Path

Kudos to Critical Path Software for getting gobbled up by eBay.

A dozen years ago, back when I had an office across from the then-under-construction Westin Hotel, Critical Path was in an adjacent building on the northwest corner of SW Broadway & Alder. My office partners, graphic designer Brad Hicks and Flash developer/animator Peter Sylwester collaborated on a web site for the Critical Path, with Brad designing the fish skeleton logo that they’ve used ever since and Peter helping to get the whole thing into shape.

A couple of times, Critical Path asked me to collaborate on bids when the projects they’d been asked to take on included Director content—most of their work at the time was Mac ports of software, from hardware drivers to CD-ROMs—but it wasn’t until they brought me the first of the UbiSoft CSI games (which included some Shockwave 3D content) to port to the mac that I actually was able to do anything for them. I managed to help out on a couple of other projects in the years since.

A number of the folks I play poker with have worked for (or are working once again for) Critical Path, and every time I’ve talked to CEO Steve Romero I’ve told him I need to invite him out to pay him back for having us over a party. That’s probably going to be a harder date to make now that he’s a vice president at eBay!

iPhone Workers of the World Unite!

Another day, another conference that I should be at. I got a LinkedIn request the other day from Dan Spirn, who was the other presenter on the panel of the first conference I spoke at, the 1997 Macromedia UCON, which brought up some old memories, but it ain’t happening any more.

Another Adobe MAX went by the other day without so much as my disembodied voice. And today Unite 2010 kicked off in Montreal for Unity developers. It would have been cool but the $30 I made from my Unity-developed iPhone game just didn’t put it in the picture (although I am wearing my 2004 MAX — New Orleans — shirt at this moment).

Have a great time in Montreal everybody. Get Tom Higgins to buy you some drinks. You know he will.

The Check Is in the Mail—Er, Bank

I went to balance my business checking account yesterday and saw that there was a $30 deposit on the last day of September that I certainly didn’t remember. A quick check into its origins showed that it was from Apple, of all places. And by signing into my iPhone developer account I was able to determine that it was, indeed, a disbursement from sales of Bedeviled, which has been out now for fifteen months (as of Sunday).

So I’ve finally made some money off the iPhone boom. Thanks to those of my friends and colleagues who bought a copy! Only a couple thousand dollars more and I’ll have broken even on the new computer, the copy of Unity, the iOS devices, the books and other stuff that made it possible!

The Surge

It’s been a very quiet month here at darrelplant.com. I know. I haven’t really had a lot to say on politics except in reaction to things, and I usually leave those in comments at other sites and blogs. I fire up Twitter only every couple of days, mostly just to see what other people are up to, although I did have a brief exchange with iPhone author @jeff_lamarche the other day about 1970s editions of Dungeons & Dragons boxed sets. And I’ve been checking in on Facebook to keep in touch with Director-Xtra-developer-turned-poker-pro Tomer Berda as he’s been playing in the European Poker Tour events in Estonia and Portugal this month.

But the main reason the blog’s been so quiet is that all of a sudden I have a handful of projects. Not just any projects but Director projects. And just to crank the bizarre to 11, they’re Director 8.5 projects. Technically, I guess that would be cranking the bizarre back from 11 (or 11.5). I’ve even had to buy a couple of Xtras (from Tomer, natch) for the first time in seven years.

I’m not chalking this up to some resurgence in Director, but the work is certainly welcome after several years of drought.

Bracelet Winner

Just over a month ago I posted an item about Tomer Berda, the DirectXtras developer who’s turned poker pro and who took fifth place (and $117K) in one of the early tournaments of the 2010 World Series of Poker, which has been running since Memorial Day weekend in Las Vegas.

After emailing congratulations to him, Tomer was gracious enough to offer me some time to talk over poker, so I flew down to have lunch with him a week or so after his win. We sat for four hours in his favorite Thai restaurant a mile from the din of the Rio, I watched him eat a couple of lunches, he gave me more tips about playing poker than I can remember, and he told me about his life as a professional poker player and expressed his hope that he could win a bracelet at this year’s WSOP (the bracelet being the award given to first-place finishers in addition to a hefty sum of money).

After his early win, it wqas a frustrating series for Tomer. There are about twenty general No Limit Hold’em tournaments during the series, and Tomer entered most of them, not making it past the first day of competition after his showing in Event 5 (the events tend to run three to five days depending on the number of entrants, which varies with the buy-ins of $1,000 to $5,000). The last tournament before the Main Event had a $2,500 buy-in, and 1,941 entrants. Big-name players like Daniel Negranu, Chris Moneymaker, and Phil Ivey fell by the wayside in the first day; an extra day had to be added to the schedule because of a late start, computer glitches, and a larger-than-expected field.

This event went better for Tomer, though, and just about midnight, after three hours of wild back-and-forth with Vladimir Kochelaevskiy over the chip lead, Tomer finally shut him down, winning his first WSOP bracelet and nearly $826,000. I would have loved to have seen it in person myself, but Tomer had some family there rooting for him, including his father (in the picture with Tomer).

WSOP Event 56 bracelet winner Tomer Berda and his father

Bedeviled: The Most Diabolical iPhone Game Sales Figures Ever!

Bedeviled: The Most Diabolical Sliding Puzzle Game Ever!

Today is the first anniversary of the release of my only items in the iPhone App Store: versions 0 and 1 (aka the free version and the paid version) of Bedeviled: The Most Diabolical Sliding Puzzle Game Ever!

I hadn’t expected to get rich on Bedeviled. For one thing, after fifteen years in the freelance programming business, I have no illusions of getting rich off of anything I’m likely to do. After having to get a new laptop (my circa-2003 “Windtunnel” G4 desktop doesn’t have one of them newfangled Intel chips) and an iPod touch just to develop for the iPhone OS, I was hoping to maybe break even. After deciding to invest in Unity for the development of Bedeviled (back when you had to pay for the base product and the iPhone addon), I wasn’t expecting to do even that.

Being one of those people who likes to share information, though, I was anticipating sharing my sales figures with other developers, especially my colleagues in the Director community, particularly those who had made or were contemplating the iPhone market. I was especially impressed by the openness of other iPhone game developers, like Australia’s Firemint, who put together a 16-page PDF report of sales figures covering the period from just before their Flight Control game took off to become one of the biggest hits of 2009. I thought it would be rather amusing to put together a similarly-formatted report for Bedeviled, just because the contrast was going to be huge. But I do love statistics.

I regret to inform everyone that I have failed to do so. Bedeviled came out on the Friday before July 4 weekend last year, amid a flurry of iOS 3 applications that were launched following the update’s mid-June release date. For that and whatever other reasons (poor marketing?), not only did Bedeviled fail to sell but people didn’t even download the free version in any significant numbers. And by significant, I mean that in the first month about 250 people had downloaded the free version and 20 (most of whom I knew) had spent 99¢ to buy a copy. Needless to say, the numbers didn’t pick up after the first month. After a certain point, I stopped bothering to download the reports from iTunes Connect; it was quite apparent that without some infusion of advertising (and that’s no guarantee) I wasn’t going to see a penny from that particular project. Currently, Apple only sends you a check if the amount you’ve earned in a particular territory (US, Canada, Europe, Japan, etc.) is greater than an equivalent to $150, and since you only get 70¢ of each $1 in sales, you need to sell about $215 worth of product in a territory to get paid. 20 copies in the first month wasn’t going to do it.

So here’s the rundown: 1 sale in Europe (thank you Czech Republic!) in July 2009. 2 copies in Canada, one last July, one in January. 39 copies in the US, with most of them in the first month and no sales since April. That’s what I have to share. It’s kind of bleak but make of it what you will.

I’ve got plans for Bedeviled 2.

Cross Your Fingers

All you Director poker aficionados out there send a little luck off in the direction of Las Vegas. Tomer Berda, the brains behind DirectXtras has been out there since Memorial Day when he came in fifth in one of the early events at the World Series of Poker, and he’s got another shot at moving into the money (and a winner’s bracelet he’d really like to take down) in the next-to-last tournament of the series. He’s currently 47th in a second day field of 585, but that can be pretty much meaningless in a poker tournament. Only 198 people will get any money at all (smallest prizes are a little over twice the $2,500 buy-in) but top prize is $825,000. And the bracelet.


Tomer Berda at Event #5 of the 2010 World Series of Poker (photo from official WSOP site)

Tomer Berda at the WSOP, photo via wsop.com

Back in the day, one of the great sources for Director Xtras was DirectXtras, and the man behind it was Tomer Berda. Tomer had a suite of custom transition Xtras, a fast image manipulation Xtra, tools for FTP and email, communication Xtras that could talk to USB, serial, and parallel ports, even an SMS messaging Xtra. He was always a helpful voice on forums but I haven’t had any correspondence with him for a number of years.

But I did a double-take when I was reading some of the news coming out of the World Series of Poker, which started last weekend. In the recap of one of the early events, a No-Limit Hold’em tournament with a $1,500 buy-in that drew more than 2,000 entrants, there was a list of big-name players who went out in places from 51st to 216th. But the name in fifth place, winning $117,416, was: Tomer Berda. According to PokerPages, the Tomer who won the WSOP event lives in Menlo Park, California, which is where DirectXtras is based. How many Tomer Berdas can there be in Menlo Park?

Either way, Tomer deserves praise for all he did with DirectXtras in the past. And the Tomer who did incredibly well at poker? He deserves praise even if he’s not the same guy. But I’m going to believe he is, either way. [UPDATE] I emailed DirectXtras Tomer to conditionally congratulate him and he confirmed that he is, indeed, Poker Tomer.