Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

Archive for the ‘Entertainment’ Category

Out, damned bug! out, I say!

Posted by Jim Leonard on July 29, 2014

The response to 8088 Domination was warm, wonderful, and widespread. To everyone who dropped me a note via twitter, email, or youtube — and there were thousands of you — I want to thank you for the kind and encouraging words.

Even before I finished the design, I knew that I was going to release all of the source, so that others could make their own videos for their own vintage systems. I was careful to design the system to be easy to understand, so that it could be easy to port to other languages or extend with new features. I have a lot of comments in the code, some fairly verbose, so that there is no confusion why something is designed a particular way, or why one operation happens before another. I want this to be representative of the quality of code I usually write.

So, why am I overdue in releasing the code? Bugs! Or, more accurately, edge cases. To ensure that the encoder works properly in the real world, I’ve been testing it with vastly different sources: Animations, music videos, cartoons, even a full-length movie. And almost every time, I encounter a new edge case that needs fixing. Oh, don’t worry — The code isn’t full of special cases or bubblegum-and-shoestring workarounds. It just takes time to address each issue that crops up, and determine if it’s a true bug that needs fixing, or an issue that can be safely ignored.

“Ignore issues in code? Impossabru!” Actually, here’s an example of what I mean: I discovered a few weeks ago that I could improve the efficiency of the output a few percent by re-running some optimization phases before final compilation. However, doing this will sometimes create a small “empty” 1-byte delta that actually isn’t a delta (ie. the locations contains the same data in the previous and next video frames). It’s a bug, but is it worth fixing? I could spend days rewriting the optimization phase into a gigantic, monolithic procedure where all parts coordinate… or, I can throw these 1-byte non-changes away at the end of the existing optimization phase. You can guess which path I chose.

Some bugs are indeed bugs, and they must be fixed before I put my name on the code. For example, the bug that forced the encoding loop into a deadlock, or the bug that randomly produces black flashes in the output (still working on this one), or the bug whose generated code forgot to set a single register which prevented videos from being played without a soundcard present.

So, I hope everyone understands why the code release is late. Well… one of the reasons it is late. The other reason is that making your own videos will require some documentation (some user-directed preprocessing of the source video is necessary — sorry!), and a video showing the steps involved couldn’t hurt either, so that will require a few days by itself.

While you’re waiting, why not help me decide what movie to convert and release with the final distribution? In keeping with the spirit of the time period, I’m going to convert an entire full-length movie using the system, and ensure that it will fit onto a single CD-ROM so that users without homebrew XTIDE controllers can hook up a SCSI CDROM drive and enjoy the flick (ironically). The defacto example for this kind of thing is Star Wars, although I’m partial to TRON, as it was released after the IBM PC itself was and has its own share of iconic sequences. But, I’ve already done TRON to death, so what would you like to see? Vote in this handy poll, and if the movie you want to see isn’t there, please write your choice in the comments.

Posted in Demoscene, Digital Video, Entertainment, Programming, Vintage Computing | 6 Comments »

PCjr Presentation Details

Posted by Jim Leonard on April 16, 2013

As previously mentioned, I’ll be giving my PCjr history/hacking talk “Admiring one of IBM’s Biggest Mistakes” this weekend in Cleveland, OH at NOTACON, but I didn’t know the exact details until a few days ago, so here they are:  My talk is at 1pm Saturday, plenty of time to wake up, find some lunch, and  settle in.  (I say this to reassure myself, not give instructions to potential audience members.  I will likely be freaking out about the PCjr-to-projector hookup, since the jr’s video output is not quite spec.)

Because they gave me a larger time slot, the talk has been expanded from 50 minutes to 90 minutes.  There will be some media to watch, as well as a real PCjr showing off its more unique features.

I’m not sure what to do with the extra time — I’ll have the room for 2.5 hours, and I can’t imagine people having more than 5 minutes’ worth of questions.  How to fill the time?  Boot up the original first version of King’s Quest (which has additional functionality on PCjr) on the projector and let people have at it?  Connect it to the internet and join an IRC channel?  Take game requests?  Show off additional software that supported the PCjr?  I’m open to suggestions.

Rumor has it I might have something silly to submit into the wild compo.  Maybe.

Posted in Entertainment, Vintage Computing | Leave a Comment »

I grow tired of the technologically ignorant

Posted by Jim Leonard on February 29, 2012

(This post is overly subjective, more opinionated than my usual efforts, and contains some cussing.  Consider yourself warned.)

I am sick and tired of people who shun technology and progress under the guise of “I’m an old tech veteran, I’ve been working with technology for 30 years, and the new stuff is crap compared to the old stuff.”  People who defend this viewpoint are idiots.  I’m not talking about audiophiles or other self-delusional “prosumers”; I’m talking about people who have worked a tech trade or had hands-on access to technology for many years and think that their perceptions trump reality.  It’s a perverse combination of technology and anti-intellectualism — a form of hipsterism for the over-40 set.

I was prompted to cover this by a recent post on why widescreen monitors are a rip-off (which I will not link to because I truly enjoy the other 99% of this person’s blog, and linking to it would imply that I don’t like him or his site), but the underlying irritation of the entire mindset has been percolating for many years.  Viewpoints that drive me crazy include:

Widescreen monitors don’t make any sense

People think that widescreen monitors are stupid on laptops because most people use laptops for text work, and since text is more comfortable to read in columns, wide columns are harder to read.  This mindset has had the doubly idiotic result of making people think that websites need to be column-limited.  I just love going to a website and having the text squished into a 640-pixel-wide column with 75% of the screen unused.  Don’t like how narrow columns look on a widescreen monitor?  Use the extra space however you want — put up two web pages side by side, or simply don’t look at the unused space.  It’s people like these that also complain that 4:3 video has black bars on either side of it when viewed on a widescreen TV.  It’s called pillarboxing, you idiot, and it’s there to prevent your movie from looking like a funhouse mirror.

Widescreen monitors have made modern laptops better.  A widescreen laptop monitor allows the keyboard to be wider without the depth of the laptop getting too high (to support the height of a 4:3 monitor).  Having a decent keyboard on a laptop used to be impossible without clever wacky engineering tricks; now it is.  Widescreen monitors made ultra-small netbooks possible, so if you’re reading this on a netbook but somehow still disagree with me, you’re a hypocrite.

Analog audio is better than digital

There are entire websites (and wikipedia pages) dedicated to this, usually under the guise of “vinyl is better than CD”.  Most opinions on this subject were formed when analog audio had several decades of mature mastering and production processes, and digital was brand-new (for example vinyl vs. CD in 1983).  Early efforts to put things on CD resulted in some less-than-stellar A/D conversion, which created a type of distortion that most people weren’t used to hearing.  People formed opinions then that have perservered more than 25 years later, even though the technology has gotten much better and all of the early mastering problems have long since been corrected.

People who think vinyl sounds better than CD have nostalgia blinders on.  They bought an album in their youth, played it endlessly, loved it.  Then they buy the same album on CD decades later and condemn the entire format as inferior because it sounds different.  Want to know why it sounds different?  It has a wider frequency range, lacks rumble, lacks hiss, sounds exactly the same after 10+ playbacks, and was remastered with better technology and mixing conditions under the guidance and approval of the original artist when he wasn’t coked or drunk or stoned out of his mind.  People like Pete Townsend, Neil Young and Geddy Lee not only approve of the latest digital technology but are actively utilizing it and going through great pains to remaster their classic albums with it.  People are missing the point that it is the mastering and digital compression that causes issues, not the technology itself.  Neil Young recently spoke at a conference where he damned digital music, but not because it is digital — rather, because it is delivered differently than the artists intended.  Neil Young would like nothing better than for everyone to be able to listen to his music at 24/192.  Can’t do that on vinyl, bitches.

Even people who write about the loudness war get it wrong, despite that it’s an easy concept to understand.  Massive dynamic compression drowns out subtle details and can add distortion, which is horrible — but it is not exclusive to digital audio, nor caused by it.  One author correctly notes that massive dynamic compression butchers mixes, but then subtlety implies that all CDs that “clip” have distorted audio.  Digital audio “clips” only if you drive the signal beyond its digital limits.  If you took an audio waveform and normalized it such that the highest peak reached exactly the highest value, it is “positioned at maximum volume”, not clipped.  Nothing is lost (to be fair, nothing is gained either).

The problem is the mastering and production process, not the technology.  Which segues nicely into:

“I will never buy Blu-ray”

The only valid argument against Blu-ray is that it is harder to make a backup copy of the content.  It is indeed harder than it is for DVD, or laserdisc, or videotape.  That is it.  All other arguments are beyond moronic.  Even the cheapest possible 1080p HDTV viewing setup has five times the resolution of DVD and lacks signal degradation in the output path.  If you view a Blu-ray and can’t tell the difference between it and DVD, you have either a shitty viewing setup, a shitty Blu-ray, or a shitty visual cortex.

Someone recently tried to argue with me that DVDs have the same or better picture than Blu-ray and used Robocop as an example.  The comparison was weighted, as they were comparing the $9 Blu-ray that MGM belched out when Blu-ray was only a year old to the Criterion DVD treatment.  I own both, so I checked them out and I agree that the DVD has better color tonality throughout the film.  However, the Blu-ray thoroughly stomped the DVD in every single other area, most obviously resolution.  So much picture detail is added by the increase in resolution that I actually prefer it despite the lack of Criterion oversight.

The real problem, as previously stated, is how the mastering and preproduction process was handled.  Even with new 2012 DVD releases, you can still see the “loudness war” video equivalent of digital ringing, which used to be an accident but was later introduced on purpose as part of a misguided “sharpening” step.  Listen up:  Any sharpening filter added to any signal doesn’t make things sharper; it makes them appear sharper by overlaying a high-frequency permutation signal over the original content, which increases the acutance.  Quality is actually lost when you do this, as the high-frequency info obscures actual picture detail.

This is another example of perception vs. reality, which not coincidentally also segues into:

“Computing was better in the old days”

I love retrocomputing as a hobby.  I think about it nearly every day; this blog was partially created to talk about vintage computing.  But even I wouldn’t say that things were better in the old days.  People who say this don’t realize they are really trying to say something else.  For example, people who say that “BBSes were better than web forums are today” are actually referring to the sociological fact that, when you communicated with people on a BBS, you were communicating with people who met a minimum level of technical competence — because, if they hadn’t, they would have been too stupid to access a BBS, let alone be proficient with a computer.  The overall technological quality level of everyone you met on a BBS in the 1980s was higher than other places, like a laundromat or a bar.  What such people fail to consider is that modern web boards, while having a higher quotient of trolls and B1FFs, are open to the entire world.  The massive scale of humanity you can encounter on even a tiny niche topic is levels of magnitude higher than it used to be.  The sheer scale of information and interaction you can now achieve is staggering, and completely outweighs any minor niggle that you have to deal with 3 or 4 more asshats per day now.

Here’s another example:  “Computer games were better back in the old days.”  This is wrong.  The proper thing to say is that “Some computer game genres were better back in the old days.”  I can get behind that.  For example, graphics were so terrible (or non-existent!) at the birth of computer gaming that entire industries sprang up focusing on narrative.  For such genres (mainly adventure games), several times more effort was put into the story than other genres.  As technology and audiences changed over time, such genres morphed and combined until they no longer resembled their origins.  That doesn’t mean modern games are terrible; it just means that you need to shop around to get what you’re looking for your entertainment.  Don’t play Uncharted 2 expecting a fantastic story with engaging narrative.  (Dialog, maybe, not not narrative.)  Heck, some genres are genuinely awesome today compared to 30 years ago.  For example, Portal and Portal 2 are technically puzzle games, but the storytelling in them — despite never interacting directly with a human — is among the very best I’ve ever encountered.

About the only argument that does work involves the complexity of older computers — they were simpler, and you could study them intensely until you could very nearly understand every single circuit of the board, nuance of the video hardware, and opcode of the CPU.  Today, a complete understanding of a computer is no longer possible, which probably explains why Arduino sets and Raspberry Pi are getting so much attention.


I have no conclusion.  Stop being an old-fogey anti-intellectual technophobe, you ignorant hipster fuck.

Posted in Digital Video, Entertainment, Sociology, Technology, Vintage Computing | 10 Comments »

MindCandy Volume 3’s First Review

Posted by Jim Leonard on November 30, 2011

Blu-ray.com gave MindCandy Volume 3 a Recommended rating with 4 out of 5 stars, and I couldn’t be happier.  I really respect blu-ray.com’s reviews for their specific coverage of picture quality, sound quality, and extras — the things that blu-ray massively improves on over DVD — so getting a good rating from them means a lot to me.  Picture Quality got a 5 out of 5, of course :-)

One of the things we got dinged on was the audio rating (3 out of 5), not because the sound was bad, but because the audio tracks weren’t lossless.  I agree lossless audio would have been best, but we couldn’t use lossless because of a technical limitation in Adobe Encore.  Encore had trouble dealing with .wav files over 2gig, which was the original RIFF .WAV format’s limitation (the W64 and RF64 extensions to .wav have overcome this, but Encore doesn’t support them).  At 3.5 hours of stereo audio @ 48KHz @ 24-bit resolution, a lossless track is 3.6gig.  I ran into odd random problems trying to use lossless 24-bit audio, but had no problems at all using Dolby AC3 audio.  So I chose the devil I knew.

Posted in Demoscene, Digital Video, Entertainment, MindCandy | 6 Comments »

MindCandy Volume 3 Is Now Available

Posted by Jim Leonard on November 22, 2011

After 4 years of hard work and many setbacks, I’m very pleased to announce that MindCandy Volume 3 is finally available.

The official launch date is December 6th, however the first shipments will be going out to people who pre-ordered as early as Friday of this week.  You can order directly from us, from a reseller in your hemisphere, or from Amazon.

I’d like to thank the entire MindCandy crew past and present for getting “that  demodvd project” to this point.  From capturing some clips of a Capacala demo in 1996, to a professional Blu-ray in 2011 with over 3.5 hours of demos and 7 hours of extras, it’s been a long great ride.

And special thanks to my family, for putting up with me and my hobby :-)

Posted in Demoscene, Digital Video, Entertainment, MindCandy | 12 Comments »

MindCandy Volume 3 sent to replicators

Posted by Jim Leonard on October 14, 2011

After 3+ years of setbacks, MindCandy 3 was sent to the replicators ths morning.  Assuming there are no further issues, we should be shipping at the end of the month!

Update: As corrected by Dan, pre-orders before Black Friday and launch in December.  Assuming no problems at the replicator, of course.

Posted in Demoscene, Digital Video, Entertainment, MindCandy | 6 Comments »

MindCandy: What’s taking so damn long?

Posted by Jim Leonard on May 24, 2011

Work on MindCandy 3 continues, and I wouldn’t be posting something if the end wasn’t firmly in sight.  After three years, it is 99% finished and the end really is in sight.  Here’s the status:

  • All the demos, intros, NVScene footage, production notes, and easter eggs are completely finished and through production.  (And the blu-ray footage looks absolutely stunning.)
  • All the group commentary is in, except for the very last one which I hope will come through because it’s pretty important in my opinion, but I’m not going to wait until MekkaSymposiumBreakpointRevision 2018 to get it.  (edit: we got it!)
  • Our cover is done, another masterpiece from fthr.  Our booklet is 95% done.
  • I dusted the cobwebs off my Cinema 4D knowledge and put together an intro animation for the disc.  (Just a 15-second abstract thing, mind you, but it’s better than being dumped unceremoniously into the main menu without so much as a how-do-you-do.)  I also did some background drone and foley for it — shocking, I know!  Don’t be too impressed; I used loops.
  • The blu-ray is finished authoring, which was an arduous process because Adobe Encore is so damn buggy.  Phoenix did some great menus given the limitations we had to work with.  I had to start over from scratch a few times, and even then there are some bugs which will just have to stay in.

If things are looking so rosy, why are there still about 8 weeks left before you can hold this masterpiece in your hands?  One word:


At my most maximum speed, typing between 90-100 wpm with a clear understanding of what is being said, it takes at best 4x realtime to subtitle what people are saying on the commentary.  Because there is a mixture of accents and varying degrees of being able to speak English, this can take as much as 10x realtime.  And you can only do about an hour of it before your hands start to cramp up.  So let’s do some math:  If it takes, say, 7x realtime on average to subtitle, and we have 4 hours to subtitle (main feature+intro featurette+production notes), it would take one person about 28 solid hours to complete the subtitling.  I have about 90 minutes a day to do subtitling, from my train ride back home from work where I can get a good seat and fall into a groove, to free time during evenings.  Still, that means the soonest I can get done is about 18 days (2.5 weeks!) from now.

Luckily, I have some weekend time too, and other members of the group are taking chunks, so hopefully we’ll be done in less than 2 weeks.

I hate subtitling.  I really, really hate it, especially since you are creating subtitles for something that should never be watched without audio in the first place (these are demos for goodness sakes!).  But because we have an international audience, and that audience may not understand English all that well, we are going through this ordeal for you, the customer.  All praise attention to detail!  All hail the customer!

I haven’t thought about who is going to do the translation of the subtitles, which is unfortunately going to extend time even further.  Maybe we’ll only offer English subtitles.  I really don’t want to delay MindCandy 3 beyond Assembly — I want it to be ready by Assembly.  Which is also the reason I’m not going to subtitle the additional TEN HOURS of NVScene 2008 footage, even though it is hard to understand sometimes.  I’m sorry, but really, do you want MindCandy 3 to be delayed until the end of the year for subtitling?

Enjoy a frame from the opening anim:

Posted in Demoscene, Digital Video, Entertainment, MindCandy | 3 Comments »


Posted by Jim Leonard on February 13, 2011

I have free time to work on a single project at a time, and that project this weekend has been MindCandy.  (We’re very close to a test disc (yay!) — minus subtitles.  Subtitling 4 hours of multi-speaker dialog is a massive chore, multiplied by the number of languages you want to have, so we’re strongly considering not doing subtitles.)  But if I had time to work on multiple projects simultaneously?  I’ve always wanted to produce videos about classic hardware and games, 99% centered on the PC/DOS platforms of the 1980s.  Imagine how happy I am to have discovered the following people:

Lazy Game Reviews – Produces 10-minute reviews on both hardware and games, with a touch of humor and lots of footage captured from the real hardware whenever possible.  The Carmageddon review in particular is perfection, having been captured from a real 3Dfx card and with meaningful illustrations of gameplay, including some accurate history of the development of the game.  His Youtube channel is easier to navigate past shows, but the blip.tv channel earns him a modicum of cash and has better quality video, so… choose.

Ancient DOS Games – While LGR covers the gamut of classic personal computers and gaming, Ancient DOS Games covers only DOS games, and the thoroughness and attention to detail is astounding.  Features like tips and tricks on how to play the game, recommending the best graphics mode or DOSBOX settings per game, noticing what the framerate of the game is and how it affects gameplay, and even a comparison of dithering methods in Thexder and whether or not they were effective — these are all OCD traits that I would have put into my own coverage of the material.  His fly-outs are pixel-art amusing.

Those guys are doing such an amazing job that I really don’t see the need for me to do so.  The both of them combined equals a quality of work that I can’t see myself improving upon, which not only makes me very happy, but frees me up to work on other projects.  Check them out, dammit!

PS: I found I have a true doppleganger over on tumblr.  We have very much in common — moreso were I lesbian.

Posted in Digital Video, Entertainment, Gaming, MindCandy, Vintage Computing | 3 Comments »

A box of nostalgia

Posted by Jim Leonard on April 21, 2010

When I was three years old, my parents moved to the house they would spend the next 36 years in, which was not coincidentally the house I spent my youth and teen years in (minus a stint in New Jersey from age 6 to 11).  For almost two decades I have not lived in that house, but during a recent visit I was told I still had a box of stuff to take away.  It took a few minutes, but I found this mythical box of memories and took it home.

For those who are curious what a slice of the mid 1980s looks like, this box of my crap contained, in no particular order:

  • A Rolf muppet doll that I got for Christmas 1978
  • A folder of my entire 8th grade English assignments (Steve Littel, for those who attended Washburne Junior High and are keeping score), some handwritten in cursive and some typed on a typewriter, but most  printed in 9-pin dot matrix.  The standout?  An analysis of Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin In The Sun”, critiquing how Mama both was and was not a constructive influence on the family.  I was thirteen.  (I only got a 78% on that paper, but it begs the question:  Is it better to get straight “A”s in a normal English class, or mediocre grades in an advanced class?)
  • Three Bloom County anthology books
  • My eight-grade Washburne Junior High yearbook of 1985, complete with lots of signed notes for me to “keep practicing my nerd powers” and “keep on breaking” (breakdancing).
  • The supplement “10 Starter Programs from Family Computing” by Joey Latimer.  (I learned about a decade ago that nearly every single BASIC program ever to appear in Family Computing was written by Latimer — and that his primary hobby was music, not programming.)  All programs were written in Applesoft BASIC with additional pages translating them to the built-in BASICs for Atari, C64 and VIC-20, TI 99/4a, Timex Sinclair 1000, and TRS-80.  I guess IBM owners were out of luck.
  • An Atari 2600 Star Raiders cartridge
  • Mattel Electronics Basketball (with missing battery cover, of course)
  • King’s Quest II hint book, with every single “invisiclue” answer visible.  The fun part?  I only uncovered a few answers back then.  So I guess we know what happens to invisiclues if you never make them visible:  They fade to visibility after a few decades.

The only downside to this onrush of nostalgia is that I have Paul McCartney’s “Spies Like Us” song running around in my head, as it was one memory dredged up during the process.  Spies Like Us is not only the worst song McCartney has ever written or performed, it is probably the worst song of 1986.  And that was a year that graced us with Eddie Murphy’s “Party All The Time”, Dream Academy’s “Life in a Northern Town”, and Sly Fox’s “Let’s Go All The Way”.

Once I get something stuck in my head, it can last for a few days or a few weeks.  Heaven help me if I get Lady Gaga stuck in my head again; I was fighting the urge to dive for a gun after only a few minutes.  Imagine three weeks of that shit.

Posted in Entertainment, Family, Vintage Computing | 7 Comments »

Attempt #4

Posted by Jim Leonard on February 1, 2010

Despite what I wrote earlier, I decided to give it another go during a period of depression (you’ve been warned).

Attempt #4

Title: I Remember Howard, Cuesheet (with track breaks and CD-TEXT info)

People tell me this is Progressive Trance. I’m not sure any more. All I know is that this music reflects how I feel when I’m at rest. Wistfully hopeful (if one can make an adverb of wistful).

It’s beatmixed, and I tried to group things harmonically. Transitions in the middle are weaker than the ends, but at least it starts and ends strong.  I tried a different beatmixing approach in this one; earlier attempts adjusted BPM during the transitions, which was noticeable, and later mixes forced everything to the same BPM, which affected some music adversely. I decided this time around to very very slowly adjust the BPM throughout the entire mix, sometimes over several minutes, between 128 and 135. The goal was for the listener to not notice BPM differences if they listen to it all the way through.

Posted in Entertainment, Uncategorized | 5 Comments »


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