Terminally fun Friday

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For today’s Friday tip installment, I’ve actually got two non-tips.

Neither of the following ‘tips’ will help you work faster, make you smarter, increase your net worth, eliminate global warming, or otherwise prove useful in the long run. However, that doesn’t mean they’re not fun, and every so often, we all need just a bit of fun, right?

The first ‘tip’ is one man’s amazingly intricate tribute to Star Wars Episode IV - A New Hope…done completely in animated ASCII text in your Terminal window.

Simon Jansen has been working on this, bit by bit, since July of 1997. The movie isn’t complete yet, but there’s an amazing amount of work that has been done. You could go watch it on his website, but where’s the geekiness in that? Instead, fire up Terminal and type:

telnet towel.blinkenlights.nl

Press Return, then sit back and enjoy the show.

If you (gasp!) tire of the performance before it ends, just hit Control-C to break the connection, then close the Terminal window.

And if you’d rather not type the command directly in Terminal, you can actually launch it via most web browsers—just use this URL: telnet://towel.blinkenlights.nl.

The second tip also plays movies in Terminal, but in a much different sense.

In this case, it’s QuickTime movies, translated on the fly into a best-guess ASCII representation by an Apple-created program. Before we get to the how-to, here’s a little snippet of what you’ll see:

In case you can’t tell, that’s Yao Ming and Verne Troyer (aka Mini Me) pitching the then-new 12” and 17” PowerBooks. And though it’s really not clear in the video, it’s all made up of nothing more than letters, numbers, characters, and empty space. Amazed? Want to amaze your friends, too? It’s quite simple; here’s what you need to do:

  1. Download ASCIIMoviePlayer from Apple’s Developer Connection site (either download linked there will work). This a Terminal-only application; it has no user interface.
  2. If you’re Unix-experienced, install the ASCIIMoviePlayer somewhere on your path. If you just want to see how this works, probably the easiest thing to do is to move ASCIIMoviePlayer into the same folder as your QuickTime movies.
  3. Launch Terminal (in Applications -> Utilities), and then type cd, then press the Space Bar. Now switch back to the Finder, and drag the folder containing your movies and the ASCIIMoviePlayer application into the open Terminal window, then drop the dragged folder. You’ll see the path to that folder appear after your cd; press Return to change into that directory. Unix experienced folks, of course, can cd however you please.
  4. Now all you need to do is launch the player with the full name of a movie in that folder. For instance, ASCIIMoviePlayer “Super cool Superbowl Ad.mov”. Enclose the movie’s name in double-quotes to protect any spaces in the name, and you must include the extension.

With that, the movie will be playing. But you may find it far from ideal, depending on your Terminal window settings. So here’s how to improve the experience:

  • Press Command-T to bring up the Font dialog, and set the size to 9 or 10 or something similarly small.
  • Now widen the Terminal window so that it’s just wider and taller than the playing movie.
  • Select Terminal -> Window Settings, then click the pop-up menu and select Color. On that screen, use the Standard color selections pop-up menu to choose white on black.

You should now have a movie that appears much as did the above demo. To stop a playing movie, just hit Control-C; if you choose to view another movie, you may have to resize the Terminal window again to fit its dimensions. Now, go and amaze your friends with your retro coolness and marvel at OS X’s ability to do all this on the fly…

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