If I were to ask you to name a story
about an academic institution for trainee wizards, I wonder what you’d
say? Let me give you another clue. The tale I am thinking
of concerns a young bespectacled apprentice sorcerer who
has to go to lots of wizardry classes and learn one-word
spells in order to battle against evil forces and….
‘Aha!’ you cry, ‘That could only be
Well, no, actually, it couldn’t….
The apprentice sorcerer I have in mind is one Ernie Eaglebeak.
Instead of Hogwarts, he attends the Sorcerer’s University
of Peloria; and instead of finding the philosopher’s
stone (or the ‘sorcerer’s stone’ as it’s
called in American release of the Harry Potter film and
book), he must find the sorcerer’s appliance.
Now, maybe you think that the Eaglebeak yarn sounds a
bit too close to Harry Potter for comfort; perhaps Ms Rowling
should consult her copyright lawyer at her earliest opportunity
in order to put an end to this blatant plagiarism. Nope,
not a chance. The Eaglebeak adventures pre-date Harry Potter
by almost a decade. The first episode, ‘Spellcasting
101: Sorcerers Get All The Girls’, appeared in 1990
(oh yes, that’s another difference - unlike Harry
Potter, Ernie Eaglebeak wasn’t slow to discover sex)
and this was quickly followed by ‘Spellcasting
201: The Sorcerer’s Appliance’ and ‘Spellcasting
301: Spring Break’.
And there is one other important difference. The Ernie
Eaglebeak stories were computer games rather than novels….
Can that really be Harry Potter?
Nope! That's his seedier rival, Ernie Eaglebeak
The Spellcasting series was produced by Legend Software
and written by one Steve Meretzky. Prior to this Meretzky
had written a whole load of games for the great text adventure
company, Infocom. These included an adaptation of The
Guide To The Galaxy, a weird little yarn called The
Leather Godesses of Phobos and another game about student sorcerers
called, pithily enough, Sorcerer.
Sorcerer was itself the second part of a trilogy which
began with Enchanter and concluded with Spellbreaker. Once
again this series has some surprising similarities to the
Harry Potter saga. It all begins with a student of wizardry
who at one moment finds himself sitting through boring
lessons all about spells and potions and at the next moment
has to battle against the powers of an evil wizard in a
fight for life. The third game, Spellbreaker, even comes
with a colour catalogue of magical goods that wouldn’t
be out of place in Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley….
“Back By Popular demand!” one advert says, “We
brought back good, old-fashioned brooms, just like great-grandmother
used to fly.” Another ad promises: “No
more sticky spell residue with our rejection-coated cauldrons.” There
are yet more ads for wands in all styles, wizards’ hats “reinforced
to counteract atmospheric interference”, vellum scrolls
for better spells and “tropical
in our world-renowned, temperature controlled newtpaks
to ensure freshness.”
I have no idea whether or not J K Rowling was a keen
adventure gamer in her younger days. The parallels between
the worlds of the Enchanter and Spellcasting series are,
in all probability, entirely coincidental. But I have to
say that, as an enthusiastic text-adventure gamer myself
I would like to think that maybe Harry Potter is, at least,
somewhat distantly related to Ernie Eaglebeak….
I’m fortunate enough to have these games lovingly
preserved in their original packaging. I see, however,
that Spellcasting 101 (the game but not the packaging)
is available for free download from Abandonia, a repository
of ‘abandoned’ games: http://www.abandonia.com/games/423/download/Spellcasting_101.htm
It’s amazing what you find out about people when
you run a web site. For example, I would never have guessed
how many people are fascinated by Pete Burns’ plastic
surgery. Burns is the singer with the group, Dead Or Alive,
who were big in the UK during the ‘80s and have,
apparently, been bigger in Japan ever since. I did an interview
with Pete Burns at the height of his fame, some twenty
or so years ago when I was a fresh-faced pop music journalist.
Although he dabbled with make-up and fishnet tights Pete
Burns was, at that time, unscathed by the cosmetic surgeon’s
scalpel. So when he told me that his ambition, in later
life was to have face lifts and plastic surgery because “I
want to look like Mae West,” I frankly thought he
was pulling my leg.
Not so! As good as his word, Pete has had extensive facial
reconstruction in recent years. The skin is tight, the
eyes are singularly lacking in bags and the lips are as
full and juicy as two halves of a grapefruit. You can see
the before, during and after pictures here:
(warning: this is
not suitable for people of a nervous disposition).
But to get back to the point…. I only know that
people are fascinated by “Pete Burns” and “plastic
surgery” because these precise terms rank highly
among the Google searches which people use in order to
find the ‘80s music web site containing my interview
with Pete Burns (www.darkneon.com).
Which browser, which OS, which country, which search terms,
what colour underpants... yup, my web site control panel
tells me more about you than you'd ever want me to know!
The Control Panel also provides all kinds of other interesting
statistics such as the percentage of visitors using specific
web browsers. Champions of Firefox will no doubt be heartened
to know that, to date, no less than 34.1% of visitors to
the Bitwise site use Firefox (51.7% use Internet Explorer).
However, compare this with the statistics for my ‘80s
music site. Here only 8.2% of visitors have Firefox while
Internet Explorer is used by 84.6%.
However, I seem to have wandered from the topic which
I had intended to discuss - which was... ah yes, stumbleupon.
I stumbled upon stumbleupon while browsing through the
part of the Bitwise control panel which shows the numbers
of visitors who have arrived at the site via links from
external web pages. Most of the links shown in the control
panel are familiar to me. I know, for example, that Bob
Swart has a link on www.drbob42.com and that the good folks
at Remote Exploit (new.remote-exploit.org) have also linked
to Bitwise, as have various other programming and technical-type
sites. However, I was surprised to find that Bitwise is
also getting a substantial number of links from www.stumbleupon.com.
Not only had I never heard of that site but the name certainly
didn’t sound as though it was likely to be about
computing. Fired up with curiosity, I decided to stumble
across to stumbleupon and find out what was going on.
Stumbleupon (www.stumbleupon.com) turns out to be a simple
idea wonderfully executed. It is a web exploration tool
which is also a terrifically entertaining way to waste
time. To put it baldly, stumbleupon is a database of recommended
web sites. So far, so dull, you may think. Stay with me
though - it gets better.
In order to be able to recommend (or discommend) a web
site you have to join the stumbleupon community. You do
this by downloading a bar for your browser. The stumbleupon
browser bar is a bit like other browser addins such as
the Google bar. It attaches a new bar of buttons to the
top of your web browser (IE or Mozilla/Firefox). Now when
you see a web site you like, you can press a thumbs up
(or down) icon to add it to the stumbleupon database, with
or without a few descriptive comments. If the site is already
known to stumbleupon, you can click an icon to view other
people’s comments about it.
This is the stumbleupon brower bar. One click of the Stumble!
button can set you off on a voyage of adventure...
But the fun really starts when you start browsing around
web sites which have been added to the database by other
stumbleupon users. First you can optionally pick a subset
of your interests such as ‘Computer Science’, ‘Dogs’ and ‘Bizarre/Oddities’ say.
Then you click the ‘Stumble!’ button in the
browser bar to go to randomly selected sites fitting these
categories. With the above categories selected, these are
the sites I’ve just found:
a site about big dogs such as St Bernards, Newfoundlands
of Pyrenean Mountain Dogs (as regular readers will know,
the latter breed has a special place in the Collingbourne
a site of ‘true
Did you know that The chameleon has a tongue that is one
and a half times the length of his body? Or that Beethoven
dipped his head in cold water before he composed?
want to know when you are going to die? Find out here!
Me, I think I’ll just
stumble quickly onto a different site…
http://www.fincher.org/Misc/Pennies/ - photographs of stacks of pennies to illustrate clever
civil engineering type stuff, um, I think….?
Anyway, you get the picture. In the hours I spend clicking
the Stumble! button I like to tell myself that this really
is a great way to expand my intellectual horizons. Then
again, maybe I should just get out more….?
Borland's David Intersimone braces himself for the Collingbourne
interview (ah, but can he take the pace....?)
I did at least get out last Monday. All the way out to
London which, travelling by a mix of road and rail from
my remote hideaway on the North coast of Devon in the south-west
of England, is not a trivial journey. In fact, it takes
about five hours each way. Still, the man I had come to
see had travelled from San Francisco via India and Japan
so I probably shouldn’t grumble….
David Intersimone is Borland’s Vice President of
Developer Relations and an all round decent chap. I first
met him about fifteen or so years ago and our paths have
continued to cross at fairly regular intervals ever since.
I went to London to video an interview with David in which
he told me about forthcoming developments in Borland’s
Delphi, Java and C++ products. I got the distinct impression
that David found this to be one of the most stimulating
ever done. You don’t believe
me? Then click HERE for
the evidence (you’ll need
the Windows Media Player).
The full video interview will be going online on the
main Bitwise site shortly. I promise you, it does get a
lot more lively later on!
p.s. Sorry, David, but I really
couldn't resist :-)
My video interview with David Intersimone will be available
from the Bitwise site shortly. To receive an alert to let
you know when it’s online, you may want to subscribe
to the RSS feed on the Bitwise front page. In the meantime,
catch up on David’s musings on life, the universe
and programming on his blog at http://blogs.borland.com/davidi/