Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

Archive for November, 2012

Living with autism

Posted by Trixter on November 28, 2012

Sam, my eldest son, is autistic.  We are fortunate that he is high-functioning, but it is something that the entire family will deal with for the rest of our lives as we try to find a pocket of the world for him.

When people ask me what autism is like, my one-shot answer used to be, “Ever seen Rain Man?  It’s kind-of like that, but without a 25 million-dollar budget.”  After last night, however, I have a new answer:  Living with an autistic child or sibling is damn near exactly as portrayed in The Black Balloon, a movie written and directed by a filmmaker who grew up with two autistic brothers.  The movie is full of insights and situations that come from that real place, such as what meltdowns are and what prompts them, reward systems, and how society reacts to something it doesn’t understand.

I highly recommend The Black Balloon if you want a quick introduction to what families with autism go through.  Although it can be hard to watch at times for those already familiar with autism, I recommend they watch it as well, because it reminds you how you’re not alone, and that life on all spectrum levels can be fulfilling.  The Black Balloon is available for Instant Play streaming on Netflix and on ShowboxA trailer for it is on YouTube.

A few times a year, I hear this from people learning for the first time about some of the difficulties our family has been through: “How brave!  Where do you find the strength?  How do you do it?”  The answer should be obvious — because we have to!  Spoken with a smile and a laugh, of course.  And that is the feeling perfectly portrayed in The Black Balloon.

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MindCandy Black Friday Deal

Posted by Trixter on November 23, 2012

A year ago, myself and a few friends completed our demoscene video trilogy with MindCandy Volume 3.  This was the first volume to be rendered at 60 frames per second for Blu-ray; it makes for a great home theater showcase.  Like all MindCandy volumes, most of the demos contain commentary from the original authors, so you can get some insight as to how they got their ideas and programmed the effects.

We still have some left, so we’ve lowered the price for Black Friday (and the rest of the holiday buying season) down to $17 for the US and $19 for Canada.  (If overseas, you can try Maz Sound, CSW Verlag, and Amazon UK for the best deals.)

Posted in Demoscene, MindCandy | Leave a Comment »

Reverse-engineering an old wound

Posted by Trixter on November 8, 2012

Nearly two decades ago on the usenet newsgroups comp.sys.ibm.pc.demos and comp.sys.ibm.pc.soundcard, there were some accusations flung around that Josh Jensen (Cyberstrike of Renaissance, for those who still remember the PC demoscene) had copied entire chunks of Mark J. Cox‘s MODPLAY to use in his own modplayer SuperProPlay (and later MASI sound system). Just as time has a way of healing old wounds, advances in technology has a way of ripping them open again, and a chance encounter with some familiar assembly code in October got me thinking about the accusations against Jensen all those years ago. I didn’t give it much attention back then, but I’m a different person now, with much more skill than I had 20 years ago. With decades of x86 assembler, reverse-engineering, and programming skills under my belt, I decided to take another look at this issue to see if it could be answered definitively. I armed myself with much better RE tools (IDA) as well as Josh’s released Protracker Playing Source (PPS) v1.10 source code (PPS110.ZIP) and spent about an hour looking at them both.

My verdict: Josh quite absolutely copied entire chunks of MODPLAY for use in his own code.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Demoscene, Programming | 2 Comments »

Internet Detox Addendum

Posted by Trixter on November 3, 2012

While on my internet sabbatical, I watched most of the new season of The Outer Limits and was pleased to discover an episode that illustrated one of the concerns that led to my sabbatical in the first place.  Titled Stream of Consciousness, it explores some possible downsides of being able to access all information all the time.  It’s a little lightweight; no issues are ever explored in great depth.  But I still recommend giving it a view.

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November Lifehacking: The Walking Dad

Posted by Trixter on November 1, 2012

November’s lifehacking experiment is inspired by three things:

  1. I gained weight during last month’s experiment.
  2. I am winded going up stairs.
  3. My kids have never known me without a roll of fat around my neck.

I am 41 years old, 6’2″, and weight 247 pounds. That’s at least 45 pounds too much, and about 65 pounds away from looking normal. I have tried very many things, but lost the willpower to follow through with all of them: A gym membership, home calisthenics (even computer-aided), and the Couch-to-5K program. All have failed, save for a wonderful 3-month period in 2004 where I successfully trained for the Run Hit Wonder and got a front-row position at the following Devo concert.

As I discovered last month just how much anxiety I keep at bay, I was reminded of The Walking Man. Walking Man is a former neighbor of ours who used to go for several walks a day. He was a retired nuclear physicist  and had the unofficial reputation of being quite brilliant. Once or twice a day, you could look outside and see him either coming or going. However, as the years went by, I started seeing him in more places around town: The park at the end of the subdivision; the Trader Joes 10 blocks away; the bike trail near the river. It wasn’t until I saw him walking downtown, several miles away, that I realized what he was doing: He wasn’t taking several walks per day, but rather taking one massive walk that lasted hours per day. Downtown is 5 miles away, so he walked a minimum of three hours every day. Not surprisingly, he was a little on the thin side.

I hold no illusion that I am like a brilliant nuclear physicist, but I can identify with him on some level. Some neighbors told me his walking was a way for him to think and sort out whatever was going on in his life; the physical fitness was just a side benefit. I am inspired, and am going to emulate The Walking Man so that I can kill two birds with one stone (anxiety and exercise). However, to make it as easy as possible to perform, I will be doing it indoors on a level treadmill. The treadmill is in front of the television, so I will have some entertainment while I walk. Finally, I’ll be walking in whatever clothes I am currently wearing. All of the previous excuses with other methods — driving to gym, changing into special clothes, dealing with the elements — are gone. I really have no other excuses!

So what’s the plan?

  • On day 1, perform my treadmill’s fitness test with the aid of a heart monitor. Record result.
  • Walk 5K (3.1 miles) every single day for 30 days. Initial walking speed will be 3.1 miles per hour, but after the first week I will increase the speed slightly to match the duration of the TV series I plan to watch while walking. Apply “body glide” strategically to prevent chafing and welts.
  • Weight and percentage body fat will be recorded every single morning before my first meal.
  • On day 30, perform fitness test again and compare result with day 1.

What do I hope will happen?

  • More effective sleep
  • Less anxious
  • Higher performance at my day job
  • Weight loss
  • Better mood/less depression

This is a lot less pressure than Couch-to-5k and I can’t honestly see any downsides (except possibly blisters).  I start tomorrow morning with the fitness test.

Posted in Lifehacks | 9 Comments »