Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

Archive for November, 2008

People started dancing a long time ago

Posted by Jim Leonard on November 24, 2008

Back when I worked at Bank of America in the first few years of this century, I met Matt Hite.  Matt is something of an authority on mash-ups, and he inspired me to try my hand at creating some mixes.  Not mix tapes, that melodramatic lost art of the 1980s, but full-on beatmatched mixes that pay a passing respect to basic musicology.

Surprisingly, I turned out to be quite terrible at it.  I mean, I can beatmatch and match songs somewhat competently, but it turns out I just don’t have The Gift for this kind of thing that results in clever, listenable music.  After three strikes, I figured I was out.

For anyone with minutes to kill, I offer up my mutations for a post-mortem.

Attempt #1

Title: Memories of Medusa, Cuesheet (with track breaks and CD-TEXT info)

During my senior year of high-school (1988-1989), and during summers inbetween college, my friend Victor and I used to go to Chicago every Friday night to Medusa’s, a dance club in Chicago (it has since relocated to Elgin).  A converted two-story house, Medusa’s had two distinct components:  House/Dance on the giant lower floor, and a somewhat experimental upper floor that would alternate between rock, punk, experimental electronica (I remember watching Kraftwerk’s Music Non-Stop video up there), and anything else you could think of.  This was my first attempt at making a mix, and I unwisely chose to make a tribute to that time period at Medusa’s.  The choice was unwise because I was still in the “mixtape” mentality and the mix plays like someone walking up and down between the two floors, alternating between late 1980′s house music and… not 1980′s house music.  While that evokes great memories for me, it does not make the most listenable mix.  The first two songs in particular don’t belong in ANY mix, I think, but I had to include them because they were so representative of Chicago house music at the time I was going (including that damn ACIEEED house period).

Attempt #2

Title: Goth Chicks Dig It, Cuesheet (with track breaks and CD-TEXT info)

After realizing the mistake of my mixtape mentality, I decided to put together something modern that would be darker and more intense, with maybe the slightest new-wave influence.  Whether or not it turned out that way is up to you.  This one is listenable and flows well 60% of the time, if not very cleverly.  It’s quite self-titled; I figured it would be female-friendly electronica that goth chicks could tolerate.

Attempt #3

Title: Ultimate Tribal Dance, Cuesheet (with track breaks and CD-TEXT info)

Inspired by the MindCandy 2 easter egg hidden in the first five seconds of 9 Fingers, this was an intentionally silly challenge:  Mix together as many versions as possible of 2 Unlimited‘s Tribal Dance without losing my sanity.  The end result is a 24-minute ultra-mix of Tribal Dance, probably 16 minutes more than anyone should be subjected to in a single run.  And yet, this one is my favorite, mostly because it mixes together so damn well.  If it weren’t for the track breaks in the cuesheet, I’m not sure people could pick apart the individual sections.

When I knew that my silliest mix was also my favorite, I knew it was time to stop trying.  Enjoy these, if you can.

Posted in Entertainment | 9 Comments »

NVScene 2008 Seminars Online

Posted by Jim Leonard on November 19, 2008

After a few months of editing and collaboration with Temis / nVidia and Bunny / Demoscene.tv, I’m happy to announce that the footage I shot of the NVScene 2008 seminars is finally online.  Every one of them taught me new things about the demoscene and making demos, even though I’ve been following the scene on and off for nearly two decades.

Some of the highlights include Chaos and Navis debating whether or not scripting tools or pure code is better — in both Chaos’ talk and Navis’ talk! — and some of the “why didn’t I think of that!” forehead-smacking moments of iq’s talk on making 4ks.  There is a very high-quality showing + explanation + hidden parts of Linger in Shadows, the first interactive demo for PS3; and both pixtur and Preacher give interesting insight into how they design demos and where they get their ideas.

I’d like to thank many people for helping me accomplish all of this:

  • Jason Scott for getting me out there in the first place
  • Polaris and Radman for giving me places to sleep
  • iq for donating his Adobe CS3 prize to me (I edited the videos with it!)
  • Jeremy Williams for lending me his HD cam after it was clear my DV cam wasn’t going to cut it for the bigscreen presentations
  • Navis and the Demoscene.tv crew for both allowing and encouraging me to shoot in the partyplace
  • and OF COURSE temis, gargaj, gloom, steeler, and anyone else who had anything to do with creating NVScene in the first place — I will never forget it

My time at NVScene 2008 remains vivid in my brain and I don’t think I’ll forget it as long as I live.  I can’t thank everyone enough and I hope to see you all again, maybe even with a production of my own.

Posted in Demoscene | 3 Comments »

25 Years of Junior

Posted by Jim Leonard on November 6, 2008

25 years ago, IBM announced the IBM PCjr.  23 years ago, they killed it as swiftly as one would kill an attacking weasel.  IBM had good reason to bury it:  It misinterpreted its audience, didn’t forecast for the future properly, was too expensive, and most ironically, it wasn’t as IBM PC-compatible as some clones.  But just before it died, it managed to infect the industry with a few innovations that continue to this day.

Let me hit you up with some PCjr 101.  Your time is valuable, so I’m going to ditch the long boring history lesson and get right to the juicy stuff. Here are main features that set the PCjr apart from the PC — along with the good, the bad, and the ugly:

Feature The Good The Bad The Ugly
Used “sidecars” instead of slots Very easy to expand the machine without opening it Locked you into IBM proprietary expansions You could quite literally double the width of the machine with a crapload of sidecars attached to it
No DMA capability Kept the cost down for consumers CPU was required to transfer data from floppy disk The entire machine ground to a complete halt every time the floppy disk was accessed, which made downloading from BBSes an exercise in frustration
Memory-mapped video Use as many video pages as you need; no more CGA “snow” All of main memory was now display memory, which needed slow wait states to be compatible with the video hardware Because of the wait states, the PCjr was the only PC ever created that was slower than the original IBM PC
Initially limited to 128KB Kept the cost down for consumers Because of memory-mapped video, any decent PCjr graphics mode with two video pages meant there was no memory left for programs 128KB machine was only fully usable via BASIC, since BASIC was in ROM and didn’t take up system RAM. Memory expansion sidecars were required to approach rudimentary compatibility with most PC programs.
16-color graphics All 16 text colors could be used up to 320×200, and 4 colors in 640×200 More colors = more memory to sling around = slower screen updates More colors = less main memory for apps, so most third-party games required an additional 128KB to use PCjr modes
3-voice sound 3 individual tones plus noise channel Noise channel inflexible unless you were willing to give up one of the frequency channels; clock divider meant frequencies couldn’t go lower than 110Hz Thanks to the idiotic clock divider locking you out of lower octaves, most audio on the PCjr was one octave higher than usual making everything sound like a kid’s music box
PCjr-specific monitor Was cheaper than other RGB monitors and had a speaker built-in; matched dimensions and style of system unit Image quality was substantially fuzzier than most RGB monitors; had proprietary connector that could only be used by the PCjr PC Speaker sound could not be routed to the external monitor speaker, which means the monitor’s speaker was useless unless 3-voice sound was playing
Keyboard used rubber keys Spaces between the keys meant that custom application overlays could cover the entire keyboard Keys had zero tactile feedback (although you could enable an audio keyclick) Touch-typing on the rubber “chiclet” keyboard was impossible unless you were willing to live with nerve damage.  A few months after the PCjr launch, IBM provided a free replacement keyboard with more typical keys.
Keyboard was wireless Could sit on the living room couch and use PCjr Infra-red technology limited use to line-of-sight at six feet or less A lot of people ended up buying the keyboard cord
Cartridge slots Cartridges boot instantly; larger programs like Lotus 1-2-3 could be put into cart ROM, making them usable with only 128KB RAM Carts were limited to 64K; hardly any software came out in cartridge form The space the cartridge slots took up could have been used better as space for a second disk drive, something IBM never offered for the PCjr.  Quirk: PCjr forcibly rebooted when a cartridge was inserted or removed.

The Bad outweighed The Good just enough for consumers to buy other machines, so IBM discontinued the PCjr 18 months after it had launched it. Even the release of several third-party addons that tried to bolt on necessary functionality (memory beyond 128KB, 2nd disk drives, hard drive, faster processor, etc.) could not save it.  Poor PCjr never had a chance to make an impression…

…or did it?  Tandy, in the creation of their Tandy 1000, had chosen the PCjr as the machine to clone+enhance.  When the Tandy 1000 was released in 1985, it had all of the good stuff of the PC (DMA, ISA slots, hard drive capability, memory up to 640K) as well as the PCjr (16-color graphics, 3-voice sound).  Even better: Sierra, through their prior agreement with IBM, already had games both published and in development with full support for PCjr Tandy graphics and sound.  The Tandy was cheap, you could buy it at any Radio Shack, and — most importantly — get face-to-face support for it at any Radio Shack, which appealed to first-time home computer buyers.  It was a runaway success, and little PCjr’s graphics and sound legacy got dragged along for the ride, forever changing how the PC was perceived as a gaming platform.

There is a small corner of my heart reserved for the PCjr (and the Tandy 1000 as well), but by far the sweetest love letter you will find for the PCjr is Mike Brutman’s PCjr Page.  Head on over.

Posted in Vintage Computing | 28 Comments »

Voter’s Remorse

Posted by Jim Leonard on November 3, 2008

Nothing upsets me more than political discourse.  And, with that sentence, I have immediately alienated approximately half of my readership — which naturally upsets me more.

Every four years, Americans put themselves through hell trying to elect someone whom they can come to terms with.  There is no perfect candidate; there is no best match (even Mondale got six electoral votes).  I am reminded of Robin Williams appearing on Letterman in 1988 shortly before the election, trying to decide who to vote for:  He likened Bush and Dukakis to a Ford Pinto and a Suzuki Samurai:  One blows up; the other rolls over — so which car do you feel comfortable driving?  I would rather walk, thank you.  But stating that publically gets you treated like a terrorist.  Celebrities mocking you into voting does not help.

This year’s election has many facets, but the most dividing issue in my neck of the woods is war: Defense spending, the Iraq war, the military, etc.  You either believe that attacking threats abroad is necessary, or you believe that it is wrong to pre-emptively strike first.  That’s pretty much it; there’s no gray area.  I mean, sure, there is a gray area, and it’s okay to put yourself in it, but you’d never know it from listening to both sides.

It doesn’t upset me that people choose opposite from me on issues; everyone is free to believe what they want.  What upsets me is how intolerant they are of my position.  In the last week, I have heard some of the most spiteful, pretentious, and downright sarcastic language regarding any political position I may or may not hold; from coworkers, random strangers, even members of my family.  Some of it is motivated by fear — biologically, a great motivator; intellectually, a terrible motivator.  Much of it is motivated by wealth.  Unfortunately, some of it is motivated by race.  It’s all terrible.  If voting for our government is such a gift, why are we made to feel worthless for expressing what direction we want to cast ours?

From now on, I’m keeping my political opinions to myself.  Never before have I been so maliciously scarred for exercising a basic right.

Posted in Sociology, Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

 
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