Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

Crushed under the weight of my own fun

Posted by Trixter on June 11, 2008

I find myself, routinely, in the odd position of having so many fun things to work on that all I can do is sit motionless, trying to pick one. Most of the time I look forward to it; other times I feel confused or overwhelmed, watch TV for four hours, go to bed, then watch more TV in bed.

But still: Most of the time I look forward to it.

So, what is running around in Trixter’s head at any given time? What is the nerd nectar he drinks to keep him going? What electronic dreams keep him awake?

Here is a list of projects that I am working on. Some you already know about, some I have hinted about, and others I haven’t mentioned yet until now. Some have very close completion dates; others I am scheduling to start in 2009 and 2010. No, I’m not going to tell you which ones have which dates! You’ll just have to wait until I announce their start… or completion. (Hint: I’m not even sure when some will start.) And lest you think me a monster, I only work on these after the kids are in bed (and usually after the wife is in bed too).

MONOTONE V1. Most people know about this, but probably haven’t heard much about it since Block Party. I’m still working on finishing up my original milestones for the project, which were PC speaker and IBM PCjr/Tandy 1000 support, a serviceable interface, and an open architecture. Of all my projects, this one really is close to completion (mostly because I want to move on).

MONOTONE V2: Volume control, more device support, more effects, more capable file format. While I’m mostly happy with MONOTONE, the interface was the most irritating to program, especially since I was patently aware of how much wheel reinventing was going on. Since I’ve always wanted to give Turbo Vision a whirl, MONOTONE V2 will probably be converted over to Turbo Vision (if the memory requirements aren’t rediculous).

Halving my collection. I have too much hardware and software, period. I’m holding onto a lot of it needlessly, so I need to pick my priorities and sell/donate at least half of it. Some of the machines will be easy to give up: I have a few 1984-era Macs because I wanted to show my kids what the dawn of personal graphical computing looked like; they’ve seen them, so I don’t need them any more (the Macs, not the children).

Soundcard Museum. The aspect of personal computing that has fascinated me the most during the first decade of my hobby was the multitude of ways you could produce audio with a computer. While I’ve had my share of Apple IIgs and C64 gawking, the history of the IBM PC’s awkward attempts to produce audio holds a special place in my heart because there were so many different ways to do it. Some were flawed (CMS), some odd (msound), some ahead of their time (IBM Music Feature). So, I would like to open up a Soundcard Museum, with history, pictures, audio clips (recorded with a much better card than the one producing the audio, obviously!), programming information, example programs that can really show off what the card(s) can do, etc.

An oldskool PC demo. While there have been tens of thousands of demos released for the C64, Atari ST, Amiga, 386-era DOS, and Windows platforms, I can count the total number of 4.77MHz 8088/CGA demos ever released on one hand. I can count the total number of Tandy 1000 demos on one finger (hi Joe Snow!). There has never been an IBM PCjr demo. That’s where I come in.

Oldskool PC Profiler. I love DOSBox but am frustrated by how it isn’t anywhere close to being cycle-exact, for any CPU that ever supported DOS. I also love my fellow vintage computing community, but am frustrated by how they rely on benchmarks like Landmark CPU Speed and Norton SI to compare machines, which are just plain buggy and inaccurate. I feel it’s time for a utility that can serve two purposes: 1. Accurately determine what hardware a machine is made of (8086? NEC V30? 80386? etc.) and profile CPU, memory, and video adapter to come up with a metric, and 2. Provide a continuous display of how fast DOSBox is running by doing said benchmarks realtime and outputting what machine the reported metric is closest to. By running this utility on your classic machines, you can compare like machines to see how fast they are. By running this utility inside DOSBox, you can “dial” the speed of DOSBox up and down by hitting the emulator keys F11/F12 so you can FINALLY get DOSBox to closely match, a 386sx-16, or 486-33, or 80286-12.

Convert oldskool.org to a real content management system. I built oldskool.org in Zope almost a decade ago. I never quite liked python programming (not because python sucks, but because I suck) so I think it’s time I ditch my nice little code (it automatically builds the navigation tree, puts headers/footers on stuff, etc.) and commit to something like Plone.

Convert all my high-school era cassette tapes to CD. This is more than just every nostalgic adult’s hobby. I hit my darkest time as a human around my junior year of high school, where I was deeply depressed, contemplated suicide on a weekly basis, and attempted it once (which I somehow managed to hide from my parents — hope they don’t read this) I credit three things for keeping me alive during that time: Royally screwing up the dosage, gaming and programming on my AT&T PC 6300, and The Wave. I made many recordings of music I heard on my local Wave affiliate (106.7 here in Chicago until around 1990 when it got switched to Christian talk), and I really want to preserve them. (Plus, they had cute little station IDs, where the time was announced with a little sketch, which I’d like to make available.)

Finish at least one text adventure game. I have started at least 15, but the only one I’ve ever finished was Tass Times in Tonetown, and that was kind of a hybrid, and it took me 11 years (I got stuck from 1986 until 1997 — seriously). So I guess the real goal is Finish at least one Infocom game. Any suggestions?

Convert my rare videotapes to DVD. I have some rare tapes, like some Missing Persons concerts, Urgh! A Music War, The Best of Sex and Violence, and Gadget, that will probably never see release on DVD due to rights wars and lack of interest. I want to give these the full video noise-removal inverse-telecine enhancment treatment.

MindCandy 3. Well, you knew this had to be on the list somewhere. While I dearly love the work our team has done, and I love all of the admiration of fans, I simply don’t have the motivation to think about volume 3 right now. Hint: Cheaper technology will probably raise this motivation.

BLAZE. I have written what I believe to be the very fastest LZSS decompressor for 8086, utilizing all segment and offset registers and using 1-byte opcodes without any segment override prefixes. My decompressor is less complex than LZO and should significantly outperform it on 808x. I just need to write the compressor…  I call this system BLAZE, because I am pretentious to think that I have created the very fastest decompressor and the project should have a similarly pretentious name :-).

8088 Domination.  I have some more animation systems I’d like to pursue.  I have thought of a compression mechanism for the 8088 Corruption video system that guarantees realtime decompression (mainly because REP STOSW is faster than REP MOVSW, and REP nothing is fastest of all of course).  I would also like to adapt the concept of compiled sprites into compiled differential sprites (like Autodesk Animator FLICs but compiled) to see if graphical animation is possible at high speeds.

I think I’ll go watch some TV now.

7 Responses to “Crushed under the weight of my own fun”

  1. qkumba said

    Finish at least one Infocom game… it depends vey much on your mood at the time. I always loved the Infocom games. I still play them. Most recently was Spellbreaker to find out what happens if you take all of the cubes and then leave the room (you’ll understand if you play it). There’s also a funny feature in Suspended that I never revisited (search xyzzy if you’re curious).
    Infocom games can be social commentary – A Mind Forever Voyaging; happy but sad – Planetfall, Stationfall; frustrating – Bureaucracy; and of course very lots of fun – many titles here.
    Recommended: Zork 3, Enchanter, Starcross.
    I do them an injustice here with such a short list, but this post is already really long. We can always talk privately. You have my email.

  2. Servo said

    I’m really looking forward to a PC soundcard museum, as that’s an area that has also endlessly fascinated me for the wide variety of hardware types as well as how games actually used them (both poorly and quite well). I still think the CMS card rates pretty highly on the under utilized scale, it wasn’t very great for sure but it was capable of much better sound than what most games provided. I still think the original Sound Blaster could have been outstanding by utilizing both the FM sound and CMS sound at the same time.

    I need to work on reducing my collection as well, I’m moving in July and would like my new living room to be more living room than museum (just for a change of pace…).

  3. JasonT said

    I’ve got a Roland SCC-1 and probably other old sound cards to donate when the museum gets off the ground :)

  4. Chris said

    Of course you gawk at the C64 and the Apple IIgs. Both have great soundchips designed by the famed Bob Yannes. The Ensoniq 5503 DOC in the IIgs is the predecessor to the 5506 found on the Gravis Ultrasound, a demoscene favorite.

    As for getting rid of stuff, I had to do it. It wasn’t pretty, I had to pitch a mint Tandy 1000SX setup (it wasn’t yellowed at all), along with some classic Macs. Most of the Mac stuff landed up at a friend’s house, so if I need anything I can likely get it back. My XT class PC stuff (along with a strange mess of MCA PS/2s) is gone, I foolishly got rid of a classic gaming friendly 486 though. My Apple II stuff remains however.

  5. Matthew said

    Hi Trixter,
    Happened to stop by tonight and noticed you had updated the Tandy 1000 shrine recently. I always forget about the Internet Archive – neat how it can recover lost sites. I didn’t think it could save files also.
    I’ve been playing old games in DOSBOX, fun for a little while at least. If you want to finish an Infocom game, try Hitchhiker’s Guide. Once you get the Babel Fish it’s pretty easy.
    After 12 years in South Dakota, I return to Aurora IL in early July. Maybe see you around some day in Naperville?
    And I agree with the other guy: whenever you get depressed about things you haven’t done, take some time to really appreciate all the things you HAVE DONE. Never think about one without the other.

  6. jl said

    Hey Jim, that Best of Sex and Violence is mine and I asked you to put it on DVD about 5 years ago!

  7. Trixter said

    I know! Read the parent post and you’ll see why I’m behind…

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