Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

Archive for March, 2009

The Incredibly Shrinking Trixter

Posted by Jim Leonard on March 26, 2009

I am finally reducing my volume and mass, and all it took was a combination of several events that converged into a resonance cascade of motivation.  Let’s examine three big events in three small paragraphs.

One of my demoscene friends, RaD Man, went from being 30+ pounds overweight to running 10K races every weekend in about one year.  I know he got a new job in that time, and also got a Wii Fit, but his personal motivation isn’t really important:  He did it, and he looks fantastic.  He also recently got hit by a drunk driver while he was running — then got up and ran alongside the still-moving car, pounding on the door, until the lady stopped and police could arrive.  The twisted moral I take from that story:  Don’t get in shape so that you look good for the ladies; get in shape so you can survive getting hit by a fucking car.  (BTW, it’s looking like he didn’t break anything, thank goodness.)  While I don’t plan on getting hit by a car any time soon, it is an eye-opening reminder of why your health is usually the most important thing you should spend time on.

2009 is the year of my 20-year high school reunion.  I still carry emotional/mental/social baggage from high school.  Not all of the baggage is bad; a small portion of it is positive and wonderful.  But I still want to go to the reunion to gain some closure to that period in my life.  While it is unrealistic to think I can look younger than I am, I want to at least look recognizable.

One year ago, my friend Jason Scott took a moment to take a candid picture of me at a very happy moment in my life.  I had just arrived to Block Party 2008, and was very happy and excited to be there; I called Melissa to let her know that I had arrived safely and talk about how great the next few days were going to be.  Jason is a good photographer, and he had his digital SLR with him.  Here’s what he took:

Heavy Jim at Block Party 2008

By all measures, this should be a picture I cherish.  In reality, I am saddened and depressed every time I look at it.  I didn’t recognize this person, and even today I’m not sure I do.  I know that sounds melodramatic and stupid; I can see that even as I write the words!  But you have to understand that, until I saw that picture, my internal body image was that of me right out of college, fit and decent-looking.  It was a bit of a shock to realize that, yes, I was 60 pounds overweight, and my neck fat protruded farther than my chin.

The day I saw that picture (about a month after the event), I stopped gaining weight.  In December, I joined Weight Watchers.  Today, 3.5 months later, I have lost 20 pounds and continue to lose about one pound a week.  Assuming this rate continues, I will be under 190 pounds by the time my high school reunion rolls around, and I can live with that.

Posted in Lifehacks, Weight Loss | 6 Comments »

Learning to let go

Posted by Jim Leonard on March 16, 2009

There’s a happy ending in here, so don’t cry for me Argentina.  Also, it rambles a bit.  These conditions should come as no surprise to those who know me.

For many collectors, librarians, and historians in the field of computer preservation, there is a line between “productive” and “OCD hoarding complex”.  I wouldn’t call it a fine line — it’s pretty broad — but a couple of measured steps in one direction and you can easily travel from museumland to crazyville.  My collection, for example, takes up about seven bookshelves (software) and about 700 cubic feet of space (computers/hardware in the basement and crawlspace).  I usually have three or four projects around me at a time, and so my work area is usually always quite cluttered.  For my current state of project completion, I consider myself right on the line:  If I acquire more stuff, it will progress from “cute little stockpile” to “life-threatening”.  If I let go of some stuff, it will migrate down to the happy state of “collection”.  But as a collector, it is against the fiber of my being to let go of… well, anything.

There are several things that tug at the heartstrings of a computer historian.  The most common is the occasional report of a large collection that was junked because the owner (or widow) didn’t know what they had.  Those are frequent enough (and geographically distant enough) that it’s easy to develop a callus.  Less common are when collections are offered directly to you, but you don’t have the space/money/time/permission/health/etc. to accept them.  Even less common are reports of collections that have been lost not due to negligence, but rather some sort of unexpected disaster (ie. fire, flood, etc.).  All of these royally suck ass, for lack of a more eloquent colloquial euphemism.  But the absolute worst is when you’ve done everything right — found assets, stored them properly, tagged and cataloged them — and circumstances dictate that it is you who needs to give them up before they have been fully processed.  And that time finally arrived for me.

I decided to let go of arguably the golden nugget of my collection:  My cache of Central Point Option Boards.  The personal aftermath of this decision surprised the hell out of me, as I actually feel… better about the entire experience.  (I lack the psychological knowledge to self-analyze why that is; suggestions welcome.) Why did I let them go?  So I could attend a demoparty.

Let’s talk about demoparties.

One of the things I look forward to most in life (other than family events, of course) is attending demoparties.  Europe is maggoty with demoparties (if you look hard enough, you will find at least one every weekend), but here in North America they are few and far-between.  The most amount of major NA demoparties we have had in a single year is two, and that was last year!  (And that won’t be repeated in 2009 because NVision will not occur this year.)  And because NA is so big, it can be a significant financial investment to get to one if you don’t live nearby.  Luckily, Jason Scott — probably at significant personal detriment — has committed to putting on no less than five annual large demoparties, which he both organizes and hosts.  This year is the third one, and although it isn’t as big as some Euro parties, it definitely has the correct vibe, which is a major accomplishment for being so far away from the demoscene nexus.  It’s got a room away from the convention that hosts it all decked out for coding, watching demos, meeting with sceners, listening to demo tunes, etc.  There are compos (including a true wild compo) in front of an audience of at least 200 people.  There are many scene in-jokes floating around.  There is booze of exotic varieties, ranging from home brews to salmiakkikossu (salmari) and a lot inbetween.  About the only thing missing is a bonfire — which is admittedly very difficult, since most NA demoparties are inside convention centers, hotels, or schools.

I mention the demoscene stuff because it is one of my first loves — and the Option Board is another.  In fact, my involvement with the Option Board (is this starting to sound dirty?) goes as far back as 1987.  I became so intimate with it (yeah, this is starting to sound dirty; my apologies) that I began to develop a sense for what settings to give the software based on the publisher of the game I was trying to copy before I even looked at the disk.  Even today, I use Option Boards in my hobby work, sometimes even transferring difficult disk images to overseas colleages who are more adept at cracking than I am, so that they can be dismantled and released into the wild.

So.  I love demoparties and I love my collection of Option Boards.  I lacked the money to go to Block Party this year.  I could sell the Option Boards, to get the money, but I hadn’t properly archived them yet (meaning, put up a web page about them, describe them and their usage, trivia, etc.), which is something I usually spend months doing — because I am anal about stuff like that.  I was stuck.

So how did I resolve these two diametrically-opposed objectives?  I cheated. I decided to perform a best effort at a quick documentation and archival process, and then sell them.  For a single weekend, every spare moment of time was spent scanning manuals and other materials, copying software, taking photos, and writing up a small history of the boards and how to use them.  All of this was organized into the Option Board Archive, which is now available for your leeching pleasure.  In an age where the DMCA is used for repeated abuse, the Option Board is a historical curiousity: A product marketed specifically to break the law (if you used it inappropriately), so I am glad to have had the chance to make my contribution to the world of Option Board history.  And as for the boards themselves, they are on their way to their new owners.  Two of them are going to a computer history museum in Germany; another is going to the KEEP project in France; the other three are going to private collectors with an active interest in using them to further their vintage computing hobby.

I can’t see a downside to this:

  • I get to go to Block Party, on my own terms (I’m paying my own way — my attendance is not conditional on any obligations.  That means a lot to me.)
  • I got the damn things archived and documented
  • I get to see other vintage computing hobbyists enjoying the boards
  • My family gets to see some more clutter go out the door

Life is good.

So does this mean I’m going to start liquidating everything I have, to achieve a zen-like state of higher conciousness?  Um, hell no — at least, not before I’ve had a chance to archive it all properly.  2010 will be the year of the soundcard museum, mark my words.  Now where did I put those Interwave cards…

PS:  I saved two boards for myself.  I’m not that crazy.

Posted in Demoscene, Software Piracy, Vintage Computing | 6 Comments »

Editing HD On a Budget: Cost of Entry

Posted by Jim Leonard on March 3, 2009

Blu-Ray Disc (BD) is expensive to produce.  As previously ranted by a good friend of mine, the minimum cost to produce a BD is a whopping $4600 — $3000 for some licensing cost that goes who-knows-where, and $1600 for a sanity-defying mandatory AACS encryption procedure.  And this is before you press a single disc.  (If you’re wondering why content producers were rooting for HD-DVD to win the format war, it’s partially because of licensing fees like this, plus lower manufacturing costs.  The cost of entry was much lower compared to BD.)  Needless to say, we have to be very careful how we produce MindCandy 3, because these licensing costs automatically take a giant chunk out of the resources we have available.

And what are those resources?  I’ll describe our budget thusly:  Dan and myself put up the initial capital in 2000, with the hope that we would at least make it back, as well as some extra that would fund a second volume.  That second volume would sell, which would make just enough for the third volume, etc.  The goal from the beginning was to try to have the project generate the money it needed to keep going for as many volumes as possible.  When we found ourselves with a little extra, we donated it to scene.org, or sponsored some demoparties.  When we found ourselves a little short, we did everything we could to keep costs down.  This is no different than the reasons why people organize demoparties, really;  for example, Scamp wants Breakpoint to be successful enough so that, instead of losing 10,000 euros, he can break even and put on another party next year.  The goal is equilibrium.  For the first two volumes, we achieved it.   Now, with BD having such a giant up-front cost, that equilibrium is in jeopardy and forces us to look at alternative ways of producing volume 3 so that we don’t run out of money before it’s ready!

There are many places where money goes in the production of any end-user product, but they tend to fall into the following buckets:

  1. Development
  2. Pre-Production
  3. Production
  4. Post-Production
  5. Distribution

Luckily for us, some of these buckets have no cost other than our personal time.  Development and Pre-Production are all organizing and research, which we do for free because we like doing it.  Thanks to the demoscene community, Production also has no cost as long as we get permission from the authors.  Post-Production involves a hardware and software cost (storing, editing, mastering, and authoring the footage onto media), and Distribution is a setup fee, a per-item manufacturing cost, and shipping costs.  (We also budget for the free copies we set aside to everyone who authorized their demo to be included, provided commentary, donated time or materials, or helped us out in some other way.)

The Distribution cost, thanks to the ass-tastic licensing I mentioned previously, is relatively fixed.  The Post-Production costs, however, are not, and this is where demoscene sensibility comes into play:  How can we make the best of what we’ve got?  What can we pull off, given the limited resources available to us?  It’s time to make a demo — using budgets!  A budgetro, if you will.

In a later post, I’ll start diving into the gritty details of how we’re able to edit HD footage at less than 1/100th the cost of how production companies normally edit HD footage.  Stay tuned.

Posted in Digital Video, MindCandy | 12 Comments »

 
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