Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

I’m right, you’re wrong, and it doesn’t matter

Posted by Trixter on December 5, 2016

I used to think that being an archivist automatically granted credentials to be a historian.  I’m not sure that’s true any more.  It’s not that I can’t perform the same job; I’m known for performing extensive dives into subjects I am considered an expert on.  Rather, I now think it is impossible for any historian to do an effective job, because history no longer matters.

Stop screaming and let me explain.  Of course the concept of “history” matters, but only as a concept.  The reality in recent years has turned out to be something else entirely: People simply don’t care to benefit from it.  Humans have a survival instinct that has evolved from protection of the body to protection of the mind, and people don’t want to be told anything that can upset or inconvenience them.  Mentally harmful information is rejected, and whichever population has greater numbers gets to define history.  Because the general population greatly outnumbers all professional historians worldwide, guess which group defines truth?  Not historians.

Facts no longer matter.  Everyone has an agenda.  Before written records, information was passed down orally from generation to generation.  Natural mutation of information inevitably occurred, but sometimes it was helped along by tribal leaders with ideologies to push.  When written record was invented, purging or alteration of records was invented shortly thereafter.  So, the modern era of perfect audio and video recording exists — will that save us?  No, because people will either claim what they are ingesting has been subjectively edited, or subjectively produced, or will choose their own interpretation of what the speaker said (or meant to say).  Facts have now become opinions; just like assholes, everyone has one.

Do you think written or digital archives will save history?  Will digitally-signed binary information solve arguments or advance the sciences?  Will it steer us away from war, mental illness, or famine?  It hasn’t, so far.  I think our ability to (mis-)interpret data is more powerful and widespread than we care to think about.  I have spent hundreds of man-hours extracting and creating metadata for various archival efforts, and I think most archivists have done the same.  How useful is that information if people are incapable of interpreting it, or worse, capable of doubting its authenticity despite indisputably-documented provenance?

Have you ever had an argument with someone online over certain facts about an object, something that is physical and present and obvious?  I have.  Writing about it, then taking photos of it, then shooting live video of it for the benefit of the other person still didn’t set them straight about the facts.  I resorted to physically sending them the object — surely this would clear up any misconception, yes?  They thought I sent them an altered version of said object.  I gave up.  I give up.

If you’ve read this far, and you’re familiar with the type of information I traffic in both above and below ground, you’re probably worried that this is my Raze Manifesto; that the last image anyone will ever see of me is of my silhouette walking away from a giant smoking hole in the ground as decades of archival work burn into ash.  If you’re concerned, don’t be.  I’ll continue to do what I do in the manner I’ve always done it.  But from now on, I’ll do so without any belief that the work is important or valid.  I will archive, document, research, and rescue for my own satisfaction and entertainment, not for the greater good — because there is no greater good to be had from this work.  If you want to charge that windmill, knock yourself out, but don’t pretend for a single second that you’re changing the world.  The world is changing every second without any regard to the past, as it always has, as it always will.  A mountain of data ignored is just as useful as a mountain of data destroyed.

I sometimes wish I were not a subject matter expert in the few, narrow fields I derive enjoyment from.  For once, I would love to enjoy something with the bliss that comes with ignorance.  I think this is why some people long to return to their youth, to return to a time when they lived in bliss.  That desire, I believe, is what creates archivists:  We are desperate to preserve everything that made us happy, in the hope that it will still make us happy; that interest in our time period and its products will matter somehow, and provide some form of validation.

I don’t seek validation much these days.  Seeking closure is probably more productive anyway.

I wonder if there is a specialized psychiatric discipline for treating disillusioned historians.

Posted in Sociology | 1 Comment »

Kidney Stones 1.0

Posted by Trixter on November 26, 2016

I was hospitalized recently for a kidney stone.  Kidney stones are small deposits of minerals that form inside the kidney when there is an unusually high concentration of certain chemicals that crystallize and then stick together.  Smaller stones migrate into the ureters, then into the bladder, then are expelled when you urinate.  Larger stones, however, don’t fit; they get lodged in the ureters, and prevent urine from draining out of a kidney.  This is obviously very bad for the kidney.  It is also very painful.

I’ve been asked by many of my like-aged friends what the procedures were like, what caused it, how I knew I had one, and how to prevent it.  Here are my thoughts on what happened.

The Basic Timeline

(For the purposes of this section, “The Event” is when I decided I needed medical treatment.)

Four days prior to the event, I’d had odd feelings in my pelvic region.  (I recognize this is particularly funny phrasing — go ahead and laugh; I did.)  It is hard to describe what I felt; all I can say is that it felt like I had a stomach located there, and that “stomach” was “rumbling” as if it were empty and I were hungry.  I wasn’t sure to make of these feelings, but they weren’t painful, so I just went on with my day.

Five hours before the event, I developed mild lower left back pain.  I’ve had back pain before, and it was 10pm, so I thought I’d take some ibuprofin and go to bed once it kicked in.  I also had what I thought was bad gas, so I voided both solid and liquid in an effort to fix that problem.

Three hours before the event, it still hurt, but I thought I could lie in bed, relax, and sleep it off.  For the next three hours, I tried unsuccessfully to go to sleep while the pain slowly grew from mild to acute pain, which I still wrote off as having wrenched my back or something.  Still unable to sleep, I decided to try voiding again, and when that didn’t fix anything, I woke Melissa and told her I probably needed to go to the hospital.

After driving to the emergency room, I was immediately given a hospital gown to change into and a bed to lie in.  Anticipating I would need fluids and pain medication, an IV was inserted:

dsc_0041

I was also hooked up to various monitors:

(My blood pressure was elevated likely because I was in a hospital for the first time since being born, worried about my condition, and in some pain.)  I was then examined by a doctor, who ordered a CT of my midsection, and the results showed a 7mm stone lodged just inside the beginning of my ureter, close to my kidney.

The size and placement of the stone dictated my treatment.  There are various ways to remove lodged stones:

  • Smaller stones can eventually migrate down and out.  These are managed with pain medication until they pass, which can take a day or more.
  • Larger stones must be removed, and are typically broken up so that they can be passed or extracted.  There are two ways to break them up:  Sound waves, or a tiny medical laser.
  • If the stones can’t be broken up, or are in a completely inaccessible location (which is rare but happens 5% of the time), then the final recourse is to cut open your back, then further surgery to remove them.

Luckily I didn’t fall into the rare category.  But because my stone was so close to the kidney, they couldn’t use sound waves, so I was scheduled for the frickin’ laser.

The actual procedure goes something like this:

  1. A stent is inserted into the affected ureter, with one end in the kidney and the other end in the bladder.  It is a thin hose with perforated holes near both ends so that urine can drain into the bladder around the lodged stone, which brings the kidney out of immediate danger.  You want this, because it isn’t always possible to get the stone out during the procedure, and you want to be able to pee semi-normally while waiting for the second attempt, which could be few days.
  2. The stone is located with a scope, then a medical laser blasts it into pieces.  Thank the gods of fiber-optics for that bit of medical technology.
  3. The pieces are then extracted, and sent off for analysis.  The analysis usually returns a few weeks later, to be discussed with you and your urologist; the mineral makeup of the stone can be used to determine what caused it and possibly how to prevent it.
  4. The stent is left in 2-3 days to facilitate healing, then removed either at home or at the doctor’s office.

You are, thankfully, knocked out for this.  Knowing the procedure — the stent is inserted exactly as you think it would be inserted — I would have insisted on it.

After I recovered (which didn’t go well; more on this later), I was sent home, where I rested for an additional day.  Two days after the procedure, my wife helped remove the stent, which, again, is done exactly how you think it is done.  It wasn’t painful, but it sure was unsettling!

Expect the unexpected

The above sounds very routine, which it mostly was.  The surprises for me came after the procedure itself.  Here is a list of things that surprised me:

  • I did not come out of anesthesia very well.  Some people wake up slowly and act drunk, crack jokes, act silly, etc.  Others wake up normally as if nothing had happened.  I fell into the relatively uncommon category of people who wake up atypical; in my case, I was panicking.  I felt very anxious, like my brain was racing without a limiter, and my heartrate was elevated.  Melissa described my actions as if my body were trying to process trauma signals, but the actual pain itself was being blocked by medication, so my body wasn’t sure how to process everything else.  I tried to sit up and walk it off, but I was on a lot of pain medication that made me very dizzy and nauseous, so I couldn’t get up.  For at least 8 hours afterwards, I oscillated between this state and sleep.
  • Pain medication has enough goofy side effects that I will consider going on much less of it if this ever happens again.  For example, my urine was discolored a bright orange color for days.  The pain meds also gave me constipation; I had my first normal movement four days after being admitted to the hospital.  Then, the constipation turned into diarrhea for a day after that.  What fun!
  • I was extremely tired for up to a week afterwards, despite getting plenty of sleep every night, and never actually having been cut open.  It felt similar to recovering from a bout of the flu, where you are tired all the time and slightly short of breath.  I took this as evidence that my body had some healing to do even though I was never cut open, which goes to show you that any invasive procedure usually incurs some trauma that the body has to spend time and energy healing.
  • The IV insertion point stays with you for a while.  Over a week later, I still had a bruise and marks from the surgical tape.  Nearly two weeks later, I still have the marks from the tape, and scrubbing doesn’t seem to remove them:

dsc_0052

Moving forward

Statistics show that people who get one stone have a 50% chance of developing another in the next 5 years.  (That is why this article is somewhat negatively titled “1.0”.)  Lifestyle changes (mostly dietary) can help reduce this.  While I haven’t yet gone over analysis results with the urologist that performed my procedure, he told me after the procedure that he had quickly examined a piece and was fairly certain it was the most common type of stone (calcium).  To reduce the changes of another occurrence, I was advised to:

  • Drink more water to dilute the amount of uric acid produced
  • Eat less salt
  • Avoid “dark” sodas (coke, pepsi, dr. pepper, etc.) as these contain phosphoric acid as a flavor additive.  (Phosphoric acid has been shown in some studies to assist stone production.)

As I only enjoy dark soda, I’ve essentially given it up completely, and replaced it with water, sports drinks, and tea.  I have to be careful about the tea, as some processed teas also adds phosphoric acid.  Read your food labels, kids.  Also: I’m not fond of tea.

I was sad to give up pop.  It was my only vice; I don’t drink alcohol or coffee, smoke, or do pharmaceuticals.  I drank it every day, and I am really going to miss it.  I may still have once a month or so; perhaps as a treat at a restaurant.

I still think it’s really cool that a medical laser was fired inside my body

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Leaving the main grid for a while

Posted by Trixter on July 31, 2016

This is my 32nd year online.  I used CompuServe and DDials in 1984, sent and received email on BBSes for the next 8 years, and switched to an internet-connected unix shell account in 1992.  I’ve seen the birth of the web, the rise and fall of Usenet, the widespread adoption of online commerce, and the rise of social media.

I’m overwhelmed.  Global communication has been one of the most transformative technologies ever created, giving voices to those who have none, and bringing people together.  It has also become the new Eternal September.  When everyone has a voice, the end result is cacophony.  Social injustice, political blathering, personal melodrama — I’ve had enough.  I can’t selectively filter any more.  I can’t “just ignore” what’s in my feeds because 90% of it just makes me feel bad about the world, myself, or both.  (Even from well-intentioned people who are just trying to post good news about their family or achievements; it’s not their fault, but their good news reminds me of what I haven’t accomplished.)

In an act of self-preservation, I’m going off the grid for a while.  My online communication will be limited to email for the forseeable future.  I’m uninstalling facebook, twitter, youtube, instant messaging, and newsfeeds from my phone, and likely won’t reinstall them before the end of the year.  Some of my most proudest accomplishments were achieved before all of this noise existed; I’m hoping reducing the noise will increase the signal.

If you need to reach me, contact me.  Email, phone, or texting is all fine.  (I also highly encourage you to come see me in person at this year’s Vintage Computer Festival Midwest, September 9-11th.)  Just don’t expect me to be scanning the entire world listening for your voice; it’s a drop in the ocean, and I’m drowning.

 

 

Posted in Lifehacks | 3 Comments »

Milestones

Posted by Trixter on July 21, 2016

2016 holds some interesting anniversaries for me, of events that have defined my hobbies, my persona, or both.  Some fun and notable ones:

  • 45th anniversary of me being on this planet.
  • 35th anniversary of the IBM PC, MTV, and the Space Shuttle.
  • 30th anniversary of my adoption of the online handle “Trixter”, which I initially used for illicit activities but now use For The Greater Good(tm).
  • 20th anniversary of the Abandonware movement, something I’m not totally thrilled about how it turned out, but is notable regardless.  My involvement in the birth of Abandonware eventually led to the birth of MobyGames, so there’s a happy ending.  I should probably write about my involvement someday.
  • 15th anniversary of the MindCandy series, which was a fun experiment in the days where creating an indie DVD or Blu-ray was uncharted waters.  I’m proud of each of them for different reasons.

Much less notable: 10th anniversary of starting this blog.

I got the idea for Trixter looking at some subway graffiti.  That graffiti is long gone, but thanks to qkumba and a another demoscene friend (whose name escapes me, sorry!), we have some lifelike simulations:

trixter_grafittitrixter_grafitti_second_small

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

We’ll take it

Posted by Trixter on July 10, 2016

I am the father of an autistic son, Sam.  One of the challenges of helping an autistic person get through life is the unknown:  How functional will they be?  Will they be able to communicate?  Will they be able to socialize?  Will they be able to live independently once my wife and I are gone?  A few times in our lives, we’ve gotten some answers to these questions.  Even if the answer has been negative, it still feels like a great weight has been lifted — not knowing is always worse than bad news, so we’ll take bad news over no news.

Every 5 years or so, we get some good news.  I’d like to share some examples with you.

When Sam was 20 months old, he started talking.  Two months later, he started losing his words, until he spoke “cat” on his 2nd birthday and then stopped talking completely.  By age 4, he started performing echolalia.  (This is something all children do when learning a language, but for an autistic child, it is usually the harbinger of bad news, a sign that the child is going to be low-functioning and unable to communicate effectively — think “Rain Man” repeating the station call ID.)  Six months later, Sam was repeating dialog on a Spot program playing in the basement:  “Where’s Spot?  Where’s Spot?  Where’s Spot?”.  My wife Melissa was in the kitchen when she heard, “Where’s Spot?  Where’s… Mom?”  Then again, urgently:  “Where’s Mom?”  Melissa flew downstairs and found Sam looking directly at her, and motioned for her to do something.  That one-word change signaled the beginning of Sam learning functional communication.

When Sam was nearly 9, he and his little brother Max were riding in the back seat while we ran some errands.  For a treat, we decided to run through a Dunkin Donuts drive-through to get some donuts, and we made a mistake while ordering and got a dozen instead of half a dozen.  When Sam saw the large box come into the car, he turned to his brother and said, “Max, we’re rich!  RICH IN DONUTS!”

Sam is currently 19 years old.  Tonight, my wife and I were watching a show in the basement when Sam called down the stairs to ask if we had gotten him some cream soda, something he mentioned to me before I went shopping.  I’d forgotten to get some, but as I apologized, I had the idea to turn this into a life skills exercise:  I told him that maybe we could walk down to Casey’s together, a local grocery store located about a 15-minute walk away with some other stores, like a drugstore, barber shop, Trader Joe’s, etc.  We could practice navigating there, going through a store, making choices, and paying for our order.  I told him we could practice that two days from now, my next opportunity to get home from work early and go over everything with him.  He agreed, and left us to our show.  45 minutes later, as our show was ending, he called down the stairs again:  “Casey’s was closed, so I went to Trader Joe’s instead.”

Being impulsive, he bought only snacks.  But we’ll take it.

Posted in Family, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

I hear it!

Posted by Trixter on April 7, 2016

 

The full category where we were nominated is below, although I recommend you watch the entire ceremony to get a feel for the demoscene itself:

Posted in Demoscene, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

It was an honor just to be nominated

Posted by Trixter on March 27, 2016

It was even better to win.  I’m happy to announce that 8088 MPH, the winning demo from Revision’s 2015 oldskool compo, won the Meteorik 2016 award in the category of “That’s not possible on this platform!”.  A big thanks to reenigne, Scali, VileR, Phoenix, Puppeh, coda, and virt for making this happen.  If that was my last year in the demoscene, what a way to go out!

We were also nominated for Best Low-End Demo, but lost to We Were @ by Oxygene.

Posted in Demoscene | Leave a Comment »

Beyond Economic Recovery

Posted by Trixter on January 11, 2016

The phrase “Beyond Economic Recovery” is one of my favorite phrases because it succinctly describes how to determine if you can safely share an old program, manual, game, etc. online.  Please note that safe != legal.  It is always illegal to share things you don’t own and you are responsible for any repercussions if you break your country’s laws.  This post isn’t about whether it is legal.  This post is about whether or not you should be overly worried that you will be pursued by some IP holder’s legal department and sued into the ground.

This would be a good time to mention that I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice.

Unless you are a large-scale pirating operation already under government investigation, what usually happens when infringement is discovered is that the infringing party is notified through a cease and desist letter.  Quick compliance with the terms of the letter is almost always enough to avoid further action.  But what if you are on a Quixote-like mission to share this rare vintage content with the world and really, REALLY want it to stay publicly available?  That’s when you apply The Phrase.

“Beyond Economic Recovery” isn’t my phrase; it was uttered to me in more than one interview I’ve had with lawyers on this specific subject.  Here’s how to use it:  Let’s say you want to share a 30-year-old game on the web for others to grab.  If you’re worried about legal repercussions, perform some due diligence and research if the company is actively using the work (the code, its trademarks, its intellectual property, etc.) to earn money, or has immediate or announced plans to do so. If so, such as in the case of Super Mario Brothers, don’t share it. But if not, as in the case of something like Space Strike, you have almost nothing to worry about.  When a company is made aware of infringement (usually discovered via automated google searches and machine learning), they perform a quick check of whether or not they would lose money sending the infringing party a cease and desist letter.  The average cost of a C&D letter, accounting for all time and services rendered, is roughly $4000.  If the company has an internal legal department or prepares communication in batches (or both), that number can be a little less, but it’s still thousands of dollars. So the mental check is essentially “Can we make more than $4000 on the asset or intellectual property this person is threatening to dilute by giving it away for free?” If the answer is “no”, they don’t bother sending a C&D letter.

The Internet Archive enjoys both non-profit status and various DMCA exemptions, which allows them to make various historically-relevant software works available online — but a DMCA exemption doesn’t prevent companies from sending them C&D letters to protect their trademarks or intellectual property.  (It also doesn’t succinctly define what is covered under the exemption, as it uses words like “obsolete” without defining what time period “obsolete” refers to.)  Some works that used to be public on the IA have since been hidden at the request of the IP holder.  For everything else that is still public there, The Phrase is the principle that “protects” those software portions of The Internet Archive; they are simply Beyond Economic Recovery.

Posted in Gaming, Software Piracy, Vintage Computing | 1 Comment »

Jack of all trades, master of one

Posted by Trixter on December 31, 2015

I’m sure there’s a famous quote that, paraphrased, reads “I’d rather be an expert in one thing than dabble in many things.”

2016 is the year I put that into practice with the start of a year-long experiment.  I’ll post more details in January, but the short answer is that I’m going to focus on mostly one thing in 2016 and see what happens.  It will involve audio production, light video production, and seeing if I’m still relevant in one of my preferred hobbies.  I also plan on taking monthly metrics for what I’m doing and will make those metrics available at the end of 2016.

Posted in Uncategorized, Vintage Computing | Leave a Comment »

An experiment: Should I put on a show?

Posted by Trixter on October 11, 2015

I’m trying to gauge whether it would be worthwhile to produce a podcast dedicated to the IBM PC and other compatibles of the 1980s. (The actual date range may slip slightly later than 1989 on rare occasions for special topics.) Rather than go into a long diatribe of what I’m looking for and what would be covered, I’ve created a short survey you can take instead. The data collection is anonymous (no logins/accounts or personally-identifiable information is required), and you also get to see the aggregated results after you complete the survey. For anyone who knows me and my work who is interested in both vintage IBM PCs and podcasts or YouTube channels/videos, it would help me out if you took a minute to give me your opinion via the survey.

The survey link is: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/RK6Q25S

If you’d rather just give me your thoughts in the comments below, that’s fine too, although it may help to glance at the survey text first to see what I’m going on about.

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