Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

Archive for January, 2009

Yes, Virginia, things will work out fine

Posted by Trixter on January 28, 2009

Our 12-yr-old son Sam is autistic, as I have written before.  While we are thankful he is somewhat high-functioning, it is a constant battle.  From (re)enforcing proper hygiene, to worrying about his future, even weathering the occasional act of violence, life with Sam is a constant adjustment, filled with stress.  Recently he has developed a verbal tic, a soft “hmm” that repeats once every two breaths on the exhale.  Since this is involuntary, and since increased involuntary tics can be the result of incorrect medication dosage or the sign of wonderful new symptoms to look forward to, this is usually cause for concern, and more worry.

But we’re not worried.  At least, not by this in the short term.  Why?

Melissa and I were talking about this new development tonight, and we usually discuss anything around Sam because 99.997% of the time he’s in his own world and not paying attention.  Melissa asked me, “Do you think we should bring this up to his doctor?”  To our utter shock, Sam replied out of nowhere with “It’s my autism, guys.  I just can’t help it.”

Sometimes you get what you need right when you need it.

As I type this, Sam is heartily laughing at the same 10 seconds of a Spongebob Squarepants episode he is replaying over and over.  I can’t help but laugh along with him.

Posted in Family | 1 Comment »

The Great Television Migration

Posted by Trixter on January 14, 2009

I ran across an interesting topic today in one of of the mailing lists I subscribe to:

Why have TV when you can stream anything you want any time you want from the internet?
Where is the place for it, and advertising when you can download shows for free, or close to it?

As a video content producer who has researched online distribution,  I feel somewhat qualified to answer.  You may disagree, but it makes for interesting speculation.

First of all, you can’t currently stream everything for free.  Less than 3% of all major networks’ shows are available online from the networks (ie. legally).

Secondly, TV won’t die any time soon, but is changing into a quasi-music-industry model.  Meaning, pop music artists today hardly make any money off of their CD/online store sales; instead, they make their living from live shows.  From the standpoint of the artist, all of the radio play and CD sales are “advertising” to go see the live shows.  (This is not the standpoint of the publishers, which I will tastefully not comment on in this post.)  So how is TV like that?  In the case of television, shows like Heroes, 30 Rock, and CSI are available online 1-7 days after the broadcast.  When you go to watch them online, you are treated to advertising — but unlike broadcast television, there is no way to skip the advertising, as the DRM’d player won’t let you.  (No doubt hackers will find a way around this, but for now, that’s the case.)  To broadcasters and advertisers, a single advertisement that you cannot skip is worth a dozen that you expect the user to skip with VCRs and DVRs.  In these shows’ cases, the broadcast brings in advertising dollars, sure, but more serves to drive the user online, where distribution can be audited (think Neilsen ratings with a much larger sample size) and other company offerings can be promoted (like DVD sets) without cutting into broadcast time.  There is a very large market for DVD sets of shows, and as long as the set contains extra materials (commentary is usually a requirement), the set can sell to a customer even if they have watched all of the shows online.

There is a tipping point, but we won’t get there until high-speed broadband becomes a utility in every home (ie. 6mbps or greater, enough to support picture quality identical or better than broadcast SDTV).  The only reason it is happening at all is because networks are trying to reclaim their user base.  Perform an inventory of all of the shows being offered online and you will find that, almost universally, they are shows that are followed by the technologically savvy.  Putting nerd-centric shows like 30 Rock and Heroes online makes sense because that is more of where those shows’ viewers are anyway (“I spend more time on the computer than on the couch”).  Conversely, putting shows online like talk shows or old reruns doesn’t make sense, since the viewership of those shows is primarily non-technical or lower-income and wouldn’t have broadband.  (One of the few exceptions to this are soap operas, because each show of a soap is broadcast only once and is not repeated/re-run.  Putting them online gives viewers a second chance to catch up on the story in missed shows, which gives the broadcasting company a second chance to earn advertising revenue.)

My prediction is that the future of traditional broadcast television will ultimately be determined by the future of online/digital copyright law.  But that’s a topic for another day.

Posted in Digital Video, Entertainment | 1 Comment »

The Next Big Thing

Posted by Trixter on January 12, 2009

As some followers of a certain thread on pouet might have guessed, the MindCandy crew has started production on MindCandy 3.  This time around we’re mixing the familiar with the unfamiliar:  We’re revisiting the PC — specifically Windows  — but unlike any other demoscene project, we’re doing it all in HD.  That’s right:  MindCandy 3 will be Blu-Ray.

Oh, we’re going to make a DVD available as well, don’t worry.  In fact, we’re tossing around the idea of including the DVD in with the BD, so that there’s only one package to get and you can enjoy the BD when you eventually upgrade your hardware.  Nobody gets left in the cold, and the demos get the proper treatment they deserve.  And it’s one hell of a treatment; thanks to kkapture, we’re able to get clean and pure video from most demos, 60 frames per second, at 720p.  For those who hate interlacing artifacts, this is the fastest progressive video specification HD supports. For some demos (like Into The Pink), the video exceeds what most 2008 machines are capable of.

Work on MindCandy 3 actually began before MindCandy 2 was finished.  In mid-2003, a good friend of the project, Steinar H. Gunderson, worked with us to create “demorender”, which did exactly what it said it did:  Hooked DirectX 8 and 9 calls to grab the data from a frame, dump it through a VFW codec, and then continue, all the while faking the timer so that the demo would be fed a constant timebase.  We were able to capture around 50% of the demos out there when ryg announced kkapture in 2006 and we found that, right off the bat, kkapture did everything our tool did.  We weren’t ready to begin MC3 at that time — and farbrausch is, well, farbrausch — so Steinar contributed the source code of demorender to ryg to fill in a hole or two in kkapture (I believe it was in .wav writing or something but I’d have to check the sources to be sure).

Fast-forward to 2008, and we start to get the MindCandy bug again.  We were in the middle of tossing around ideas to cover, when Blu-Ray finally won the HD format war, and we took that as a sign that that’s what we should target.  The first MindCandy, which was in production from 2000 to 2002, came right at the cusp of the DVD revolution; it was the right product at the right time, and as a result, it did well and the demoscene gained some new converts.  We’re at another cusp:  HD video.  We’re excited to work in that medium and we hope that we can live up to the standards set by MC1 and 2.

While the www.demodvd.org website will remain and start to get updated as we get rolling, I’m moving the Developer’s Blog over here, because this space is an actual blog and not some Python code I slapped together.  I’ll tag them appropriately, for those who want to follow only MindCandy development.

Because part of capturing HD material is making sure you have an HD monitor, I have one now.  Unfortunately, I can’t stand how my 1920-wide window displays a 640-wide skinny little blog in the center, so I will be checking wordpress.com every week to see if they have a theme available with a flexible width that doesn’t royally suck.

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

Parsing Life

Posted by Trixter on January 8, 2009

Not a lot of information from me lately, mainly because I’m working on The Next Big Thing (formal announcement in a few weeks, although if you’re familiar with some of my more public past work, you already know what it is) which is taking up all my hobby time, and also because I’m having a difficult time dealing with life at the moment.  Life itself is doing quite well — it’s me who is having trouble parsing the input properly.

I don’t have it in me this time to pick a single topic and expand on it, so here are loosely random thoughts and observations.  They’re personal, so at least I can say this is a true “log” entry.  Those with better things to do, leave now.

Block Party 2009 is all systems go, and I have tentatively scheduled a road trip with two ‘scene acquaintances.  If it works out, I will essentially be in a state of shock and awe the entire trip, as I idolize these guys.  Because of The Next Big Thing taking up my time, I was illogically concerned that there would be pressure on me to deliver something at the next Party even though I would have no time to prepare for it.  I have been reassured by various people that, yes, it really is okay to just sit back and enjoy the party.  I haven’t done that at any demoparty — every party I’ve been to, I’ve either given a talk, entered a compo, or helped run the thing (in one party’s case, done all three).

I may still set up a machine and start coding, but this time it will be to relax.  I suppose it is a sign of our times that true relaxation can be obtained creating technology, as opposed to merely interacting with it.

(topic change!)

I joined Weight Watchers December 1st 2008, and in the 5+ weeks that have gone by I’ve lost around eight pounds so far.  I am trying to lose 10% of my starting weight by the time Block Party rolls around, and another 10% by the time my 20th-year high school reunion rolls around.  I don’t know which god I pissed off to gain this double chin, but I hope to appease him/her/they/it before I have to venture out in public.

(topic change!)

My parents are currently on a trip to Egypt, their first time, and they have visited the pyramids, the Sphynx, and rode
camels.  This is a lifelong dream vacation destination for them, and while I have rolled my eyes at previous destinations (for example, middle-eastern destinations in the middle of, how should I put this, *uncertain political climate*), I have to say I’m really happy for them this time.  They’ve gone to more conventional places too (UK, Germany, France, Belgium, etc.) but this trip is the quintessential “I’ve always wanted to do that” vacation.

(topic change!)

I am, amongst other professions, a Solaris administrator.  Not to break my arm patting myself on the back, but I’m a pretty damn good one; I may not be ready for Sun’s kernel group, but I understand the big picture (of all *nixes, not just Solaris) and can pick stuff up pretty easily.  Not to break the other arm, but I am also a fairly nice guy who likes to help and teach people.  Most of the time this results in a clean conscience and no worry lines on my face.  Unfortunately, it also means I leave myself open to being the departmental crutch.

Case in point:  Yesterday a fellow Solaris administrator came up to me, handed me a CD with Solaris bits on it, and asked me to mount it somewhere so he could read it.  I stared for a few seconds and just blinked, suppresing the rising urge to say something caustic.  Let’s review:  He is a Solaris admin.  He administers Solaris servers.  Every Solaris server comes with a CD/DVD drive.  And yet he just barged into my area, and told me to mount a CD somewhere so that he could read it.  When I regained the ability to speak politely, I asked him why on earth he was coming to me with this request.  He replied, looking somewhat irritated, that he doesn’t have a sun workstation under his desk to read the CD with.  Ignoring the fact that I don’t either, let’s continue:

“You’re a Solaris admin.” I replied.  He stared blankly.

“You administer Solaris machines for a living.”  More blank stares.

“Walk to any of the nearly one hundred machines you administer and put the CD in.  Better yet, put it into the exact server that needs the data!”

This is one of the more egregious examples of simply not thinking.  Others (from multiple people, not just this admin)

  • Asking me what the syntax for a unix command is (online documentation has been standard on every unix system for decades)
  • Asking me about basic networking (ie. netmasks) or security (ie. ssh) concepts that should have been a requirement for them to obtain their job in the first place
  • Requesting older/unsupported versions of drivers/patches/utilities when updated/supported versions are freely available

I don’t understand this phenominon, if it is one.  I can’t believe it’s just laziness because, in most instances, taking five
seconds to use your brain and do things properly takes the least amount of time!

(topic change!)

My wonderful wife Melissa just started her last semester in the radiography tech program she is in, and by mid-year, she will hopefully have her first job as an x-ray technician.  While she started down this path because we badly needed the money, she has found unexpected benefits in rejoining the workforce.  She has made new lifelong friends, gained
self-confidence, and generally reaffirmed her appreciation for life.  The last nine years of my career haven’t been that
rewarding in a while.  I’m envious, but very happy for her.

And hey, the extra money can’t hurt :-)  By this time next year, I hope to be going to demoparties under my own power for a change.

Posted in Demoscene, Family | 7 Comments »