Memorial Day Tribute To The Uncle I Never Knew : PFC John Fulton Jr. KIA 10/24/44

PFC John Fulton Jr.

PFC John Fulton Jr.

When I was little my dad told me a single story about World War II.  He told no stories about his time in the army other than this single story.

It was about the day he knew he was going to die.

He was in Italy in 1945 serving with 10th Mountain Division in the Army.  The next day his unit was going to be sent to the front.   At the time, the "front" in Italy was murder machine: mountain fighting against German 88 artillery.   His entire unit knew they were being sent into the abyss, so they thought there would be no real consequences from sneaking into to town  to visit the bar the night before to salute their final days on earth.

However, there were consequences.  The unit was caught, and my dad was singled out.  He was sent to the rear, and spent the rest of the war in a laundry unit.  He experienced no greater humiliation in his life than this event.   After that day, my dad never considered himself a veteran, and never once took advantage of any "veteran" benefit , gathering, or anything else that had to do with World War II.  He pretended like his time in the in WWII did not exist.

My dad's note written about his brother.

My dad's note written about his brother.

My dad's brother was named John Fulton Jr.    When the two were growing up, the two did not get along.  Their dad, a semi-famous illustrator named John Russell Fulton became violent as the boys grew older and money got tight in the depression.  In 1931, to save the boys from getting hurt,  their mom sent them to Manumit, a liberal co-op boarding school.  They both spent the majority of their childhoods scurried away at that school. They both hated it, and seemingly, John blamed his brother, my dad, for the situation.

While my dad loved to play "war" games like Cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers, kick the can and hide n' seek at Manumit, his brother never partook in any of them.  Instead, John was very quiet.   We loved big band music, and collected lobby cards from his favorite band leaders.  He was not a soldier in any way, but after high school John was drafted into the Army.

John was in  Company L in the 83rd.    Unlike my father, who lusted to fight the Germans ( my dad lied about his age when he was 17, so he could join-up as fast as possible), John begrudgingly fell into a combat as an ace shot bazookaman.   He was fighting in Belgium in October 1944, when his unit got pinned down by a German sniper.  John volunteered to use his weapon to clear the  barbed wire that was blocking his company from gaining ground.   During this act  John cleared the barbed wire,  but was shot and killed by the German sniper. PFC John Fulton Jr. was awarded the Silver Star for bravery for his action on the Battlefield in Belgium.


I heard this story many times growing up from my father.  My dad was as proud of his brother's  service as he was ashamed of his own.


Silver Star

However, my dad never told me the full story of why he was sent to laundry unit in World War II until we were hiking in Mammoth on one of our last camping trips in the late-1990's.  We had recently watched the movie Saving Private Ryan together and I noticed this movie affected him a lot more than the other WWII movies we watched together, but I did not understand the reason why.

By that time in my life, I was old enough to hear the full story of my dad's service in WWII and as we hiked, he finally let it out.    In Italy, his unit had gone indeed AWOL to visit the local town the night before being sent to the front.   However, they were not visiting the bar, they were visiting the local town whore.  There was a long line outside the door (and I assume my father was in it, he never said),  but before his unit made it "inside", they were caught by some MPs.   They all got in trouble, and things were not happy for them for some time.

However, this had nothing to do with why he was sent to the rear.  My dad was spared because of the Sole Survivor Policy that spared the last living son if a sibling had already been killed in combat.  My dad was just like the "Ryan" in "Saving Private Ryan".   This act weighed heavily on my dad's heart.   At the end of Saving Private Ryan, Tom Hanks character tells Ryan to "earn this"  in reference to his ticket home.  I'm sure my dad sent a lot of time calculating if he himself had "earned it" or not.

In the summer of 1998, my dad made  his first and only trek to the cemetary in Europe where his brother has rested since the end of World War II.   It took 53 years and my sister getting married in Germany to get him to face the reality of what had occurred so long ago.  When he returned he pieced together a memorial to his brother that adorned the wall outside his bedroom up until his death last year.    The images that accompany this story are from that memorial.   Photos and medals that my dad had hidden away for 1/2 a century greeted him every day as he woke up.  There was no hiding the truth any longer.

I think my father finally realized that John's death allowed my him to live.  The army spared him, and my dad went on to become an college graduate,  actor, husband, father, motor-cross racer, soccer coach, illustrator, Civil War collector, amateur treasure hunter, and a grand father.  All things his brother never got the chance to become.  Instead, PFC John Fulton became an image.  The photo that leads this story is the last known image of PFC John Fulton.   It is a  photo of a serious looking young man.  A man who became an unlikely hero when people needed him most.     By giving his life for his country, he also  gave his life so my father would live, and in turn, his sacrifice allowed me to exist.   As far as I'm concerned, my dad  lived an amazing life to the fullest extent possible, and more than than "earned" his own ticket home.

And that is why I salute both of them  on this, and every other, Memorial Day.

Thanks again Dad and Uncle John,

Steve Fulton






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Having a awesome publisher has its little perks.

So, today, out of the blue, I receive two (one for Steve and one for me) packages in the mail. Inside each is a very nicely framed copy of the front cover of our HTML5 Canvas Book on O'Reilly Press.

Maybe they sent them because it is selling well (it is),or  maybe they do this for all of  their authors, but no matter the reason, I just have to say (and repeat) the O'Reilly is a class act and has been absolutely the best publisher we have ever worked with.


Things We’ve Learned The Hard Way #6: Fire Drills

Things We've Learned The Hard Way #6 : Fire Drills


Atari Pong Developer Challenge Inspiration: Pong In The Wild At The Redondo Beach Fun Factory

Redono Beach Fun Factory

Today I took my daughter to the last remaining arcade from my youth, the Redondo Beach Fun Factory.  I wanted to give her a chance to ride some of the vintage  electro-mechanical vehicles in the establishment before they all disappear.   While we were there, I went looking for an Atari Hercules p'inball machine that they had for many years, but it was no where to be found.   However, in the back corner,   I was surprised to find a genuine, working,  Atari Pong machine (circa 1973).

Atari Pong In The Wild

The machine was standing in cluster of vintage and vintage inspired machines.  However, in the position you can see just how small the machine looks next to a relative giant like Asteroids Deluxe.   I got closer to the machine because I wanted to see if it had the original instruction of "Avoid Missing Ball For High Score" and in fact, it did.

Avoid Missing Ball For High Score

I also noticed the original Atari logo etched into the metal control plate.  I had forgotten about this early version of the logo.  I think I need to incorporate it somehow into our Atari Pong Developer Challenge Entry

Vintage Atari Logo

I realize that people who go to vintage gaming shows see these machines all the time, but not me.  I've never been to any kind of classic gaming show, so for me this was quite a sight to see.  At the same time, this machine was in the wild.  It's not the kind of machine that is kept in bubble wrap and cleaned with baby diaper on Sunday afternoons.   The Redondo Beach Fun Factory is not exactly a museum.    It caters to hardcore  "L.A."crowd that does not exactly treat these games like antiques or collectibles.   For instance, the vintage Space Invaders machine had some nastly grafitti scratched into the front glass:

Grafitti Scratched into Space Invaders (click to see a bigger version)

So seeing a working, vintage Pong machine  at this place was kind of shocking.  Since the original Pong is a two player game only, I challenged my daughter to a game. This was the first time I actually put a quarter into a real Atari pong machine.  I've played Pong ion the past, but always knockoffs, never the original Atari version.

Atari Pong Game In Action

The controls were not very responsive (the original knobs were missing), and there was a video glitch on the screen (visible above), but it was still thrilling to play an original Atari Pong machine in a setting that has changed very little since the game was first released.   It came at a perfect time, and it gave me a couple ideas for our Pong game entry.


Atari Announces Intriguing “Circus Atari” App for iOS

Atari announced that tomorrow, a free iOS app named Circus Atari" will be available in the App Store. The original Circus Atari for the Atari 2600 was compelling game that blended physics and Breakout.  It was one of the best 2600 games of all time.

The new Circus Atari looks different, but still like a cool little game.  We are very happy to see Atari continue to mine their back cataloge for gaming goodness.

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Things We’ve Learned The Hard Way #5: The Logic Of Mac Snobbery


Atari Pong Developer Challenge Diary: What The Radio Shack “TV Scoreboard” Taught Me About Game Design.

One day, back in 1978 my dad came home with this:

A Radio Shack, TV Scoreboard console.   We had been begging my dad to let us play the Atari 2600 console in the TV department at Fedmart on every visit, so he knew we liked video games.  However my dad, a notorious cheapskate, was not about to plunk down $169.99 on anything.  $19.99 price-point of the TV Scoreboard was more his speed.  However, even $19.99 was probably too much.  i'm sure this came from the dirt-cheap bargain bin from Radio Shack.

At first, my 8 year old twin brother brother and I were really excited.    The idea of having a video game of my own to play was enough to rocket me out of bed in the morning and into the living room to try it out.

Of course, this taught me my first lesson about video games.  If no one else was awake, there was no one to play with.   The TV Scoreboard had a "Squash" option that let a single player hit a ball against the wall, but I never found that game very interesting.  I wanted to play "pong", and if no one was around, no dice.

When my brother was awake, and we actually played the unit, the second major issue reared its' head: sound.  Like most dedicated "pong" consoles, the limited sound of the TV Scoreboard   came from the unit itself, not from the TV.  This made the already lo-fi beeps and boops even more annoying than I thought possible.  We very quickly learned to shut the sound off, and play in silence.   While the "pong" style game play of the unit was solid, nuances (like bad sound) ruined the experience.

The third thing I learned from the TV scoreboard was that "ping pong" games were not really all that much fun.  Maybe six years earlier, when Pong first arrived, the game was thrilling, but in 1978, with Space Invaders filling the local arcades, the "ping pong" game play of the "TV Score-bored" (as it came to be known) was just not compelling enough.

Those three lessons: the need for  compelling single player game play, the importance of nuances in games, and the need for evolving game play, have colored the design for the Pong game we are making for the Atari Pong Developer Challenge.  I hope we can do those hard learned rules some justice with our entry.

By the way, the "TV Score-bored" stopped displaying video after a few weeks, but since the sound came out of the unit and not the TV,  I could still "play" it by starting a game and listening for the sounds and moving the paddles.  If I managed to "hit" a ball,a distinctive beep would sound, and I felt totally victorious for few seconds.  On the other hand, my dad felt "taken" by the "cheap-o" device after it failed do quickly.   It would be several years before another video game system entered our house.



Not Flash! : The Angsty Zeitgeist Of HTML5 Technology Burnout

More than two years ago we started taking a close look at the HTML5.  To us, the  HTML5 features like <canvas>, <audio>, and <video> were the most compelling part of the HTML5 spec because they were poised to be a true replacements for Flash.   Flash had been our tool of choice for over a decade because it worked....most of the time.   For the corporate web, 'entertainment, media, gaming web sites, it was second to none.  Sure, it had issues: security flaws, proprietary API walls, performance hang-ups, etc. but it was also a simple platform.  Write your AS3, marry it to assets created by designers in .fla, export .swf, done.    A simple process for a powerful technology.

All was right with the world.

Up until last November, it is our firm belief that most Flash Web developers were holding out for Flash support on mobile iOS browsers.     "Apple will come around" we thought, "Flash will run in the iPad 3 and the iPhone 5" we fantasized.  Not because we thought Flash was perfect, or because we did not like the idea of HTML5, but because, for more than decade we had tasted what a real "standard" might be like.    We've heard about "web standards" for years, and they are a beautiful,  poetic, amazing concept that never quite came to fruition because OS, browser and platform companies had their own ideas on what was standard and what was not.  However, with Flash, we truly had ate from the "write once, run nearly everywhere" table we had been hearing about for so many years.

Then last October, Abobe gave up the mobile web, and all hell broke loose.

Web standard guys applauded it, and Flash guys continued the hand wringing operations they started back in 2010 when Apple announced the iPad would not have Flash support.    Not too long after, It seemed, all at once, the rush was on for HTML5.   Flash developers knew they needed to move on, and web standards people had their last stumbling block removed.  The plug-in-less HTML Renaissance had begun.

But then something weird happened.  Even though, when we said the phrase  "HTML5" we were talking about <canvas>,<audio><video>, local storage, geolocation, and new mark-up standards,   we noticed that when customers asked for HTML5, they had no idea what was part of the actual HTML5 spec.  When we talked to other game developers about HTML5, some had never used any specific HTML5 features.   They were using traditional web technologies like HTML, JavaScript, DOM, CSS.   In fact, in many cases the only true "HTML5" they were incorporating was the <audio> tag, and most of the time, it wasn't doing what they wanted it to do.   While features like the HTML5 Canvas are growing in use as mobile browsers get more powerful, it turned out that HTML5 meant many things  to many developers, and that did not always include the actual features of HTML5 once outlined by the W3C.

So then what *is* HTML5?  The W3C HTML5 FAQ  says this about HTML5:

HTML5 is an open platform developed under royalty free licensing terms. People use the term HTML5 in two ways:

What we have learned through conversations and project work in the past few months is that, to the common person who does not follow this closely, (or more likely, the common customer who needs something done right away) it's all HTML5, and therefore they are really referring to the "Open Web Platform".  In this way, HTML5 is just as much and "idea" as it  is a strict specification, and that "idea" of the "Open Web Platform"  has caught-on like wildfire, even if the borders that define what is actually included in "HTML5"  have never been fuzzier.  However, the one thing we do know is that at the kickoff party for the "Open Web Platform", the one technology that was definitely left of the invite list was Adobe Flash.

But who was invited to this "Open Web Platform Party?"  Well of course  HTML5,  CSS and DOM plus  SVGWeb WorkersWeb Storage, Geolocation,  and Web Sockets.  Then experimental stuff like the  Web Audio API,  and Media Capture...and that just scratches the surface at the W3C.   We also need to add  JavaScript and WebGLWebKit, which are run by other organizations but are just as important.  Then we have  Modernizr  and the king of JavaScript APIs, JQuery.  JQuery is so popular, in fact, there appear to be entire religions formed around it.  JQuery adds  JQuery UI and  JQuery Mobile . In fact, Some people have told us that we will never need any thing  else, if we just decide use the JQuery suite.    Really?  That would leave out  all these other technologies we keep hearing about like  MooTools, ExtJS, Sencha Touch, Ripple,  JQMobi, Jo JoshFire, Inuit,  LungoJS  and the Dojo toolkit.  Those seem pretty cool too and they all claim to solve the same  HTML5 cross-platform issues.   But then, so do  DOM/CSS tools and templates like   HTML5Boilerplate,  Initializr, BootstrapCrafty.DOM, LESS, 960, Blueprint, 52 Framework, Gravity Gridless, Skeleton, G5 and many others.    At the same time, if you want to make,  "HTML5 games" there are a whole different set of technologies to consider  like Construct 2CreateJS (now with more Adobe), Game MakerKineticJSProcessing.jsImpactJSLimeJS, JawsBox2SJS, CasualJS,  Cocos2DEntityJSGameJS, GMPIsogenicPlayNPropulsionJSMibbu, Sprite.js and many more plus WebGL libraries like SpiderGL, GLGE, Copperlicht andSceneJS.   Then there are JavaScript media libraries like VideoJS, MediaElementJS,  Kaltura HTML5 Media Library, Jukebox,  Buzz audio library, and Popcorn.js,   Plus other tools like RGraph for graphing,  Mashi for timeline animation, BakerFramework for ebooks  or  Pixtastic for real-time image filters. And we can't forget the HTML5 app hosting and development platforms like AppMobi, Spaceport.io, FunSockets, Turbulenz and Pixie Engine or the fact that we can package up all this stuff and make them into mobile apps with  phoneGap,  or Appcelerator, or Apache Cordova.   And if you want to take your JavaScript all the way to the server-side, well then node.js  and Kinvey are just for you!  A lot of these technologies claim to be "only" way to go, so which do we choose?

And then we need to mention the platforms and devices.  Just a few years ago, we all wrote apps for Firefox, I.E. and maybe Safari, but only if you were a glutton for punishment.     Now we have to consider multiple versions of Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari, Mobile Safari, Firefox, Opera,Silk,  the 30 or so combinations of iOS devices and operating systems, and 1000's of Android device and OS combinations.   To further complicate matters the general consensus, at least among customers,  is  that web apps made with  "HTML5 open Web Platform"   should run perfectly across all of them.

In the past couple weeks, an angsty zeitgeist has appeared to form like a cloud around the "HTML5 Open Web Platform".    It's the feeling of technology burnout for developers, while at the same time they try to manage the expectations of customers who are clamoring for a one-size-fits-all solution to their web development needs. Our own cartoon on the subject was a minor hit for us:

And the feeling might be spreading. Just a couple days ago, the hilarious parody technology site HTML9ResponsiveBoilerStrapJS  appears to captures the feeling of HTML5 technology burnout perfectly and scored a sizable hit via twitter:

"H9RBS.js (v0.0001) is a flexible, dependency-free, lightweight, device-agnostic, modular, baked-in, component framework MVC library shoelacestrap to help you kickstart your responsive CSS-based app architecture backbone kitchensink tweetybirds."

To us, the buzzwords are flying left and right, and everyone seems to be trying to solve  similar problems by creating multiple new technologies and tools.    On one side, this is a very cool development.  It's a evolution and revolution, and we are happy to be part of this mini-tech bubble that has moved-in to fill the gulf left by Adobe when they abandoned the mobile web. On the other had,  the sheer amount of "new" around HTML5, be it ways to describe code, templates, technologies and platforms is dizzyingly overwhelming.  The situation is confusing at best, and confounding at the worst.   Furthermore, most " tech bubbles" are inevitably followed by a shake-out where dozens of also-rans fall by the way side (Remember when Flash put DHTML, Silverlight, Applets, JavaFX, VRML, Realplayer and Shockwave, off the map?). For developers, this means being very careful to choose technologies that we believe will be around for the long-haul, or we run the risk of investing our limited time and resources into something we will never use again.

All we really know right now, is that when people ask for "HTML5", they don't always have a specific technology in mind and they probably have not read the W3C spec of what is actually in "HTML5".   They might know a bit about things they perceive to be HTML5 like  CSS3 or Webkit,  Canvas or <video>, but that's not really important.  What's important is the translation of the question.  When they ask for HTML5, they are probably saying they want a single web site that runs on all devices, mobile or others and that then translates into:

"Not Flash"

And to developers who were once comfortable using Flash as a cross platform silver bullet, that could mean wading through a whole lot of specs, tools, APIs of the "Open Web Platform" before the proper solution is found for the project.

So when you call us now and ask for a game, site, app, etc. in HTML5, and there is slight pause in the conversation before we give you an answer, it's not because we are bored,  disinterested or distracted, it's because we have a few extra things to consider these days before we can  formulate a proper response.   If you give us a few minutes to catch our breath, we promise, the end result will be awesome. We appreciate your patience.


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Things We Learned The Hard Way #4: The HTML5 Capabilities Meeting


Atari Pong Developer Challenge Inspiration Video #1

Here is a video we created to help inspire our team while we work on our entry for the semi-final round of the Atari Pong Developer Challenge.   We used a classic Atari color cycling Fuji symbol (of our own design) with images of some of Atari's early Pong coin operated games.  The music is a quick track made with Sony Acid.


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