Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

Archive for August, 2011

to the last, I grapple with thee

Posted by Trixter on August 28, 2011

MindCandy 3 is 99.9% finished.  From January until now, it has crept along from about 98% done to 99.9% done.  Why the slow progress?

It is almost entirely Adobe Encore’s fault.  Encore is the only halfway decent solution to creating a Blu-ray, allowing Photoshop files for menu creation (very flexible and handy), multi-page menus, subtitles including a subtitle editor, and other fun stuff.  It also has a lot of help for the newbie if you need it, including encoding of assets, a library of themes and buttons, and most importantly a clear interface.  Coupled with the excellent Blustreak Tracer CMF, you can produce BDCMF output suitable for professional replication.  This is a lot of money (roughly $1800), but the nearest solution for BDCMF output upwards from this is Netblender’s DoStudio, which is nearly double the cost at $3000.  We are of a limited budget, and already familiar with Adobe’s tools, so we chose Encore+Tracer.

Encore’s blu-ray support, we have discovered, is extremely buggy and almost unusable.  Here’s a few fun showstoppers we’ve had to work around:

  1. You can have only 15 buttons per page of a multi-page menu.  Any more and they’re not guaranteed to show up on hardware players.
  2. You can have only 9 pages per multi-page menu.  Additional pages aren’t guaranteed to show up on hardware players.
  3. You can have around 90 buttons spread across your multi-page menu.  Any more and they’re not guaranteed to show up on hardware players.
  4. Subtitles closer than 5 frames together will choke the project.  (CS 5.5 has an option to fix this, but I refuse to pay $600 for a bugfix, so for CS 5.0 I had to write a Subtitle Workshop script to adjust the subtitles so this wouldn’t happen.)
  5. Any video asset used as a background to a multi-page menu will be transcoded whether it is in a compliant format or not.  This is especially idiotic when you consider that multi-page menus are just graphical overlays on whatever is playing in the background, so no transcoding is even necessary.  Even more hilarious, it forces a transcode to 30fps, even if your asset is 24fps ot 60fps.
  6. Using H.264 video with open GOPs (higher quality in a smaller space, perfectly valid for blu-ray) causes Encore to freak out and decode the entire asset once, causing near lock-up of your computer at 100% CPU across all cores while this is happening.  Working with any timeline greater than a few minutes is impractical because of this.
  7. Encore, for lack of a more eloquent term, fucks with blu-ray player registers it has no business fucking with.  As a result, subtitles turn on when they’re not supposed to.  BluStreak Tracer (mac) or BDEdit (PC) is required to fix this.
  8. There is no way to enable  “title” or “return” remote control button functionality.
  9. Trying to encode a 480i pop-up menu results in a garbled menu (720p and 1080p/i works fine).

Keep in mind that Adobe doesn’t disclose these issues.  (They disclose three of them in the CS5.5 release notes and claim to fix one of them, but like I said, I shouldn’t have to pay an extra $600 for a bugfix that restores advertised functionality.)  So my build process for the last two months has been something like this:

  1. Make changes to the blu-ray project in Encore to work around bugs (1 hour)
  2. Build the project (2 hours, thanks to bug #5 above)
  3. Burn and verify to a rewritable BD-RW50 (3 hours to burn, 2 hours to verify)
  4. Test in a PS3, as these bugs only affect hardware players.  Note bugs and issues.
  5. GOTO 1

This means it takes a minimum of 8 wallclock hours to test a change, and that’s if it happens on a weekend when I’m there to babysit the process and start one step as soon as the prior one finishes.  But, of course, that usually flushes out yet another bug that you need to fix.  I’ve been through at least 20 iterations of this when Encore should have just simply worked as advertised.

Looking back, we should have spent the $3000 for DoStudio.  It was significantly more expensive, and we would have had to probably borrow money to pay for it hoping that the sales of MC3 would repay the cost, but the time it would have saved would have been worth it.  We might have been done months ago.

I wouldn’t be so frustrated if Adobe publicly acknowledged bugs.  Hell, I’d be happy if they acknowledged bug reports, of which I’ve submitted 5 (they don’t even acknowledge if they’ve received a bug report!)  I could have designed MC3 around those bugs a year ago, saving all this time.

Posted in MindCandy | 7 Comments »

Happy Birthday to the IBM PC (and MTV)

Posted by Trixter on August 12, 2011

Today, the IBM PC celebrates it’s 30th birthday.  11 days earlier, MTV did the same.  Both of those events changed the world and shaped my life, so I had a little fun with my own IBM PC to commemorate the event, which I call MTV Corruption:

Posted in Demoscene, Technology, Vintage Computing | 3 Comments »

Walking the road to dead

Posted by Trixter on August 1, 2011

As of this very minute, I am 40 years old.  Barring any unforeseen disease or accident, my life is essentially half over.

So, how’s my driving?

Directly after graduating high school, my senior class went to a party thrown by the school in a rented skating rink masquerading as a giant dance hall.  Despite being less than 5 miles away from the graduation ceremony, some teens were showing up drunk, something I hadn’t ever seen before.  Some arrived with JBF hair, something else I hadn’t seen before.  And when the party was over at 2am, everybody went to a Lake Michigan beach about 2 miles away where the party continued (under the watchful eye of police who had been given “incentive” by wealthy township parents to watch over the party without arresting anyone) with much alcohol and the occasional disappear into the bushes.  I imbibed of neither, being a completely sheltered and, at that moment, shocked virgin.  Midway through the second party, I asked a similarly-sheltered friend, “I thought only 10% of our class had sex and did drugs; what the hell is going on?”  “Where have YOU been?” he replied.  “Your percentages are inverted.” He then explained to me how some of our friends were able to convince www.vaporizervendor.com to provide some free drug paraphernalia.

I vowed a few things that morning:

  • I would stop contemplating suicide
  • If I was still a virgin by New Year’s Eve 1999, I would commit suicide
  • I would give alcohol a chance

I’m happy to report that I was no longer a virgin less than a year later, having met my soulmate in college.  21 years, 16 marriage anniversaries, and two children later, things simply couldn’t be better.  For anyone who thinks that there is nobody out there for them, I say this:  Get out more.  Someone, somewhere, really wants to meet you, and you really want to meet them.

What about that alcohol vow?  I’ve had so few drinks in my life that I can remember every single one of them, and to prove it, here goes:  A Miller Light at a party when I was 16, a small glass of everclear punch at a frat party when I was 19, rum and coke at my bachelor party, Malibu rum and coke at a company party, a Corona at a company outing, a Bud Light after a successful day of running the MobyGames booth at Classic Gaming Expo 2004, a glass of salmiakki at Pilgrimage 2004, another one at Block Party 2009, three different types of spirits at Whiskeyfest Chicago 2010, about 10 beers over an 18 month period at a recent company, two “rum barrels” at same said company’s outing, two shots of something unidentifiable yet quite strong while leaving said company, and a Malibu rum and coke at a recent wedding.  That’s everything.  I think that’s enough to say I’ve given alcohol a chance, and I still really fucking hate it.  Every one of them has burned on the way down.  Every single one.  I don’t understand the appeal of a substance that directly attacks you as you imbibe.  “Well, you didn’t drink enough!” I hear someone shout in the back of the room.  Maybe not, but if I wanted to get relaxed and/or euphoric, I would rather just go to a demoparty or get sleep-deprived (or, as is usual for demoparties, both simultaneously).  You know what really lifts me?  Watching something so goddamn funny that tears stream down my face from all the laughing.  I can’t believe being drunk is better than that.

As a physical specimen, I could have gone better.  I was born with one foot turned 80 degrees towards the other.  I inherited terrible eyes from both my parents; one was cross-eyed with astigmatism, and the other quite nearsighted, so naturally I got all three of those and am legally blind without my glasses.  My eyes are so bad, in fact, that I don’t qualify for LASIK (the best it could do for me is reduce my prescription, two eye doctors have told me; no point in doing it if I still have to wear glasses!).  I’ve never had any natural athletic ability.  Every September is hell thanks to hayfever allergies.  But it’s not all bad; innovative eye training at a young age almost completely cured my crossed eyes without surgery (and earned me a Speak’n’Spell as a reward), and a leg brace worn until I was three corrected the foot.  I shot up to 6 feet 2 inches by age 16, where I remain.  My weight is a problem, but I’ve started running again and it’s something I have control over and hope to be in good shape in four months.  Heck, I still have all my hair.  I could have turned out a lot worse.

I’ve experienced a lot of heartache my first 40 years.  I’ve been beaten up on a regular basis, nearly got kicked out of high school for ditching class, was kicked out of college for the same thing, washed out of a physical labor job after only two days, and blew a shot at a potentially high-earning new career by screwing up a managerial position.  I’ve also CAUSED a lot of heartache, by being pretentious and rude to people who didn’t deserve it, treating every member of my immediate family badly or disrespectfully at least once, dumping my first girlfriend in a truly horrific way, acting unprofessionally in front of customers, and even stealing (in both the plagiarism and retail sense).  I’ve nearly doubled my high-school graduation weight.  Early in my career, I was known (and treated) as “the smartest kid in the room”, something I’ve lost due to age and time and has resulted in some depression.  I’ve even lost a few friendships along the way.  Deservedly, I am cursed with extremely detailed memories of every single one of these events.

Thankfully, I’ve had a lot of good things happen to me as well, some by chance, and others by my own doing.  I met my wonderful wife, who I somehow convinced to put up with me and gave me two wonderful children.  I made some considered and crafty career choices that kept me fulfilled with how I earn a living, something I’m especially proud of given that I never completed college.  I’ve personally witnessed the birth (and death, in some cases) of home computers, music videos, the space shuttle, digital media, the internet, the web, the fall of the Berlin wall, cell phones, the bicentennial, and of course video games.  The day I was born, astronauts from Apollo 15 first took the lunar rover out for a spin.  I’ve started a few projects that I am well-known for in certain small circles, including one that wildly outgrew what I could give it and continues to survive without me.  I even gained approval and acceptance from a small group of underground creative hackers, which tickles me.

If I had to go back and live my life again, I’d do it all exactly the same.  Cliché or not, I really would, since deviating from the course would put me somewhere else entirely today, and I’m not sure I want that.  If I hadn’t gotten picked on and beat up so much as a youth, I probably wouldn’t have turned to computers and music for solace and comfort.  (And believe me, computers pretty much saved my life.)  If I hadn’t done so poorly in high school, I wouldn’t have picked Monmouth College to attend (the only nice college that would take me based on my ACT scores and not my GPA) and I wouldn’t have met my wife, and consequently had our children.  If I hadn’t flunked out of college, I wouldn’t have had the career path that led to where I am today; I probably would have graduated with a liberal arts degree with a specialization in computer science, and gotten work in a local rural town doing mediocre application programming.  And so on.

No, really – I really would do it all over again.  Want one last example?  High school.  Most people never want to revisit high school.  Me, I wish I could do some of this stuff ten times over:

Today on the train ride into work, I sat across the aisle from a large mid-40’s guy with unkempt shaggy balding hair 2 inches too long, black sneakers worn with blue jeans, an 80’s hair-metal black t-shirt one size too small, and a dirty no-name mp3 player that he was using to listen to uncomfortably loud metal on his cheap earbuds.  Think Brian Posehn but without the personality and success.  His music was so loud that I could make out the lyrics, and my initial impulse was to ask him to turn it down.  But as I kept glancing over, I saw he was really rocking out to what he was listening to, in his confined sitting-in-a-train-seat way.  This loser had nothing but his cheap metal, which was enough.  I opted not to bother him; let him have his moment, something nice to sustain him for the rest of his inevitably crappy day at a crappy job.  I mention this to illustrate two things:  The first is this attitude I have, something I’ve gained with age and did not have 20 years ago — patience, forgiveness, empathy, consideration.  The second is how tiny changes early in life could have turned me into this guy.  It’s in these moments that I’m actually glad I’m older.

Every six months, one aspect of your life gets much easier, while something else gets much, much harder.  I can live with those odds for the second half.

Posted in Lifehacks, Sociology | 4 Comments »