Bill Atkinson Back in the Game, Sort of

Posted by: Ben Dover

Bill Atkinson Back in the Game, Sort of - 10/24/10 10:26 AM

Mac pioneer Bill Atkinson returns to programming with PhotoCard app

Got my girl a cool little Lumix for November, so naturally am pre-loading an iPad I've gotten her for Christmas. The iPad, supposedly a connected device, a mobile device, lacks basic connectivity and is a friggin dock-tethered anchor, pretty crippled standalone out of the box for getting photos onto it, but after laying out more scheckels and jumping through hoops it's doable. Thank God there's a Flickr Uploader app for it.

The iPad is like Steve's liver - If you got money, there are no problems ( well, it's still an anchor - money won't fix that ).

Anyway, found this cool PhotoCard app, tres cool - My girl will love it - And lo and behold, this morning's Mercury News has this article on the app maker, who turns out to be the legendary Bill Atkinson ( who is also a photographer with serious chops ).

Quote:
Bill Atkinson, a Silicon Valley software savant, is back in the game.

The man who helped develop the original Macintosh has been gone for a while, concentrating for the past 15 years on his rich and vivid nature photos. But there I was recently talking with Atkinson at his house on a hill in Portola Valley about his latest software creation -- an iPhone app that lets you design and send an honest-to-god, snail-mail postcard from your mobile device.

"I thought, 'Well, how hard could it be to write an iPhone app?' " says Atkinson, 59. "It was harder than I thought -- by quite a bit."

But it was worth every trial and error and error message. After two years of work, he and his wife, Sioux, released PhotoCard, an app that they believe will help people connect with each other in ways that are fast fading.

"It's about a tangible artifact and a lasting memory," Atkinson says of his postcards, "neither of which we're getting with our e-mails, texts, phone calls or Facebook or Twitter."

But sitting with Bill and Sioux Atkinson at their kitchen table, it's hard not to think that maybe it's about more than that. PhotoCard was a chance for Bill Atkinson to work with the love of his life on a project that combined two art forms -- photography and programming -- to which he's dedicated himself.

And the app represents the logical extension of an audacious vision he and others began work on 20 years ago with the launch of General Magic, a Silicon Valley startup that shone brilliantly and briefly before going the way of a company before its time.

General Magic came up with software for a personal communicator that would serve as calendar, memo pad and an e-mail device. It relied on radio waves to send "telecards," messages including text, sound and animations. It is the telecards feature that Atkinson says his postcard app most closely resembles.

"We thought of them as digital postcards," Atkinson says of the 1990 vision. "We couldn't really make that happen 20 years ago.''

In fact, it was after his General Magic experience that Atkinson said he was burned out on programming and that he doubted whether he would ever work as a software programmer again. But today, the $4.99 PhotoCard app allows iPhone, iPad and iPod touch users to select from 150 of Atkinson's nature photos or to use their own photos to create postcards. Once the person sending the card types a message, it can be sent in virtual form to an e-mail address (in a nod to telecards, senders can add an audio message) or in real form to a postal address. Digital cards are free. Real cards cost $1.50 to $2 to send.

The delivery process is its own bit of engineering. The postcards are uploaded to a server. Atkinson provides quality control through a system that is becoming increasingly automated. He ships them digitally to a printer in Santa Clara, who prints hundreds of cards at a time. Then the printer drives the cards to San Jose's main post office where they are mailed out using special postage that allows them to bypass sorting machines that can bend, fold and mutilate.

True, PhotoCard pales in comparison to Atkinson's earlier achievements like HyperCard, a groundbreaking software tool that allows novices to create programs and work in multimedia. But Atkinson is clearly thrilled with what he's done.

And those who know his work are thrilled for him. Andy Hertzfeld, a friend and colleague at Apple and General Magic, says Atkinson's programming legacy has long been established.

"He was the key person behind the Mac user interface," Hertzfeld says, "which made, for the very first time, computers accessible for ordinary people -- which was a monumental achievement."

Now Hertzfeld is happy to see his friend taking such joy in his latest creation.

So far, the joy must serve as the return on investment in PhotoCard, which launched late last year. With about 35,000 users, the app is not profitable, Atkinson says. He says he is struggling to be heard above the noise created by a market of 300,000 apps clamoring for attention. It's a change from his Apple days, when the company would ship his programs and the computers they ran on to millions around the world.

"Being an app developer isn't at all like working at Apple," Atkinson says. "There is this huge haystack of apps and even a very shiny needle can get lost in that haystack."

Here's hoping a few more spot the glimmer.


Ed
Posted by: polymerase

Re: Bill Atkinson Back in the Game, Sort of - 10/24/10 11:51 AM

Got to check that one out. I met Bill Atkinson in 1985 or 6 at Boston MacWorld Expo. I think I might have stuttered being in the presence of the guy who made MacDraw and Hypercard.

I started programming in Hypercard the day after I had a beta version in my hands. That first week of creating hypercard stacks for everything that was not glued down in my lab was about as cool as it gets. Then some added language and it could go out and grab info from databases at NIH. It didn't seem legal. That became DNA HyperBlast which I can find in my blog from September 1994. That was cool stuff. The internet existed long before dot com and it was the wild west.
Posted by: Ben Dover

Re: Bill Atkinson Back in the Game, Sort of - 10/24/10 12:06 PM

Great, glad to be of service.

Couldn't figure out where to post this, though. iPad, Apple ( The iPad is like Steve's liver ), politics/religion ( Thank God there's a Flickr Uploader app ), Lounge, gadgets ( Lumix ).

Oh well, the Lounge is a great little clearinghouse with all those cute little 'post has been moved' things to make it even more of a warren/maze.

It's all about attitude - The beatings cease when your attitude improves smile

Ed
Posted by: polymerase

Re: Bill Atkinson Back in the Game, Sort of - 10/24/10 12:11 PM

Reminiscing about Apple so the lounge is the best spot but likely we will find it in Apple/Appleworld/MacworldExpo/Hypercard really soon.

But if I say that I am really glad I am an atheist this will be safely moved to the soapbox where we can easily find it.
Posted by: MacBozo

Re: Bill Atkinson Back in the Game, Sort of - 10/24/10 12:12 PM

Shoot! I thought you were the Head Jack@ss! laugh
Posted by: polymerase

Re: Bill Atkinson Back in the Game, Sort of - 10/24/10 12:16 PM

Originally Posted By: MacBozo
Shoot! I thought you were the Head Jack@ss! laugh
Why yes I am, you're point? wink
Posted by: MrB

Re: Bill Atkinson Back in the Game, Sort of - 10/24/10 03:25 PM

Thought the name sounded familiar but when Hypercard was mentioned, I thought,"oh yeah."

Bringing back memories

Dave
Posted by: Ben Dover

Re: Bill Atkinson Back in the Game, Sort of - 10/24/10 03:36 PM

I like this astute recognition of his:

After two years of work, he and his wife, Sioux, released PhotoCard, an app that they believe will help people connect with each other in ways that are fast fading.

"It's about a tangible artifact and a lasting memory," Atkinson says of his postcards, "neither of which we're getting with our e-mails, texts, phone calls or Facebook or Twitter."

Ed
Posted by: polymerase

Re: Bill Atkinson Back in the Game, Sort of - 10/24/10 04:51 PM

Went to Bill's website here and after reading the first paragraph I'm buying this just because it's Bill and I know the 49 bucks I spent for HyperCard wasn't nearly enough.

In retrospect it was worth about 50K to me. I still think in hypercard when I code.

Thanks for the heads up.
Posted by: Ben Dover

Re: Bill Atkinson Back in the Game, Sort of - 10/24/10 08:11 PM

Later, man.

It's been real, and it's been fun, but it hasn't been real fun lately.

You're in a conversation, then later you have to ferret it out and chase it down some damned obscure rabbit hole.

I can't keep up with Alice in FUBARland.

Time is money, anyway, and the ROI sucks.

Ed

One last thing, though - This is funny ( involves masturbation ). Apple approved a masturbating Chuck app for 9YOs smile

Here's Dave Winer's Flickr link of his video of Chuck masturbating on his iPhone
Posted by: NucleusG4

Re: Bill Atkinson Back in the Game, Sort of - 10/25/10 04:42 AM

And Ben Dover bows out??/ wow!

You guys are taking this way too far.


Posted by: MacBozo

Re: Bill Atkinson Back in the Game, Sort of - 10/25/10 05:08 AM

Obviously found the thread here easily. I guess I don't consider myself to be that important to get upset over threads being moved.
Posted by: Ben Dover

Re: Bill Atkinson Back in the Game, Sort of - 10/26/10 07:05 AM

Oh come one, Michael. Way too much drama here over trivia. This is nothing. Some nobody bails - Big frickin deal.

You know, the CIA 'friends' people. They reckon it's a good way to round out stuff on people. One of the basis for this is a reckoning that people are needy, have to cast this net of friends, real or not/virtual or not, whatever - That sort of stuff to dreary to get into and articulate correctly.

They're probably right - I know it starts early - In school, it's often a popularity contest. In other places, for example, the norm is quite different. I've lived in places where it takes years of acquaintance to get a 'friendship' to the point where it's somewhat formally recognized as such in a little ritual 'friendship' ceremony ( toast, drink, etc ). Friendship is a little more serious business elsewhere.

Anyway, aside from that rambling, whatever, the fact of the matter is that this is a busy time of year. There's the holidays, etc, to ready for, as well as making a living.

This unnecessary drama is a waste of time, making such big deals of insignificant stuff. What a joke. There's better things to do. Time on junk like that is time wasted.

This is a great time of year. Aim to enjoy it.

And besides, this aint family and friends. You guys can think that - It's your life, you're free men. This is just a URL - There's been some good times here, but it's just the internet, where occasionally strangers come together. It aint family. That's just ridiculous.

Ed
Posted by: Jim_

Re: Bill Atkinson Back in the Game, Sort of - 10/26/10 08:34 AM

Originally Posted By: Ben Dover
And besides, this aint family and friends. You guys can think that - It's your life, you're free men. This is just a URL - There's been some good times here, but it's just the internet, where occasionally strangers come together. It aint family. That's just ridiculous.
Well aren't you a little ray of sunshine today. Glad you came back to get it off your chest.
Quote:
This unnecessary drama is a waste of time, making such big deals of insignificant stuff.
I'll say, so why are you making such a big deal of it?

Holidays to get ready for? Christmas is 2 months away, have you succumbed to the corporate mindset of what the holidays are supposed to be? HST would not be proud.
Posted by: polymerase

Re: Bill Atkinson Back in the Game, Sort of - 10/26/10 08:47 AM

I would call it a little ray of common sense and reality.
Posted by: Ben Dover

Re: Bill Atkinson Back in the Game, Sort of - 10/26/10 12:25 PM

Well, really, since I'm on the internet anyway, I suppose a few minutes doesn't hurt. Was just sketching off Google images for a characters styleguide for animated cartoons, to make stuff much simpler in the whip it and ship it production part - If need be, should just be able to offload to anyone with the chops, and maintain consistency and nuance ( facial expression, gestural expression, etc ) - So, it's a big deal - Need to get it done, and need to whip it and ship it. Female central character is ridiculous, so basing her features off Madonna because it's obvious ( recognizable ridiculous figure - now, to be clear, I'm not one of those dudes who dislikes Madonna because she's an accomplished powerful woman - in fact I don't know her, so don't dislike her - I think she's ridiculous, though smile ). Basing off is simpler, too, instead of the aggravation of reinventing/inventing original new features, whatever - Well, the recognizability, I think, is more an asset than a liability. The central character's gal pal is just a generic lump - No big deal - Needed a gal pal, though, to make stuff work. Decided there had to be a guy pal, too - So, Michael Richards ( Cosmo Kramer ) seemed a natural for basing features off of. Interesting, expressive face and bones. Ridiculous recognizable figure.

This stuff isn't as easy as you'd think. There's identifying and delineating features for expressiveness, graphicalizing them. Then further refinement to quick and easy templated calligraphy ( term for reduction to interesting interplay of thick and thin strokes, easily wrought by any talented enough hand, with proper tools, in this case, long elongated marker tips that render according to subtle pressure - and direction of stroke makes a difference, too ). There's stuff to this stuff.

So, that's what I was doing when I just now hopped on here.

Besides, I like to enjoy myself at this time of year. It just quickens me perhaps. Gives an urgency to other stuff besides a keyboard. Time away from the keyboard is a lot better than time on it - Well, I guess unless you're doing something productive, perhaps, resolving something, researching, transacting something useful, etc.

No big thing. Just wasting too much time here. That's basically it. I was up in the mountains yesterday ( well, what Californians call mountains - A Northwesterner wouldn't call them that smile ).

Anyway, later. Busy, busy,

Ed

Oh yeah, this is that time of year, too, where people hit me up for portraits. Gazillions of portraits to bang out. We're taking four days around Palo Alto and San Francisco, entertaining, some opera my girls and wife want to see ( but not me, thank God ), carrying on with friends, couple nights in hotel, shopping, dinners, etc - That's mid-November, some holiday break, then there's Thanksgiving to prepare for, down in Goleta/Santa Barbara. If you fail to plan, well, the results can be more fun and better if you plan.

Nothing personal - There's just stuff to do, is all.

Lots of stuff to do.
Posted by: MacBozo

Re: Bill Atkinson Back in the Game, Sort of - 10/26/10 02:59 PM

Tried to reply earlier, but the servers went wonky and I had to get out the door to work. Now, I've forgotten what it was I wanted to say. laugh
Posted by: polymerase

Re: Bill Atkinson Back in the Game, Sort of - 10/26/10 04:15 PM

Originally Posted By: Reboot

Holidays to get ready for? Christmas is 2 months away, have you succumbed to the corporate mindset of what the holidays are supposed to be? HST would not be proud.


My holiday prep started this past week with the thanksgiving invites and now the juggling of traditional foodstuffs and who brings what. It won't stop until I kick out all the guests after Christmas.

The planning is the fun part. I let my sisters do it all my life now I am in charge and it's great fun but you gotta start early.
Posted by: Acumowchek

Re: Bill Atkinson Back in the Game, Sort of - 10/26/10 09:28 PM

Hi Ed.
Glad you came back to say your piece.
Can't think of a better reason to take a break.
Work hard.. and remember to play hard.
Please post when you feel like it.

-Curtis