Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

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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:


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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.

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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:

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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.

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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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See you at the Vintage Computer Festival Midwest 2015!

Posted by Trixter on August 27, 2015

The tenth edition of VCF Midwest takes place this weekend! ¬†Admission is free, so if you’re west of Chicago or anywhere near Elk Grove Village, IL, please join¬†us as we once again coax vintage electrons into motion! ¬†For full information, consult www.vcfmw.org.

My contribution this year is¬†a vintage IBM set up running 8088 MPH on continuous loop, and I’m also giving a talk on how 8088 MPH came together. ¬†It’s less of a technical talk and more of a “how did you guys find each other and decide to work on a demo?” talk. ¬†If the video stream works, I’ll publish a link to the stream and the slide deck after the show.

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Rave Movie Rundown

Posted by Trixter on August 14, 2015

I was a clubber in Chicago from 1988-1990. ¬†(Medusa’s on Sheffield, anyone?) ¬†I exited right when rave music was overtaking house music, but I caught the first wave for a tragically brief period and loved it: The transition from Kraftwerk to New Beat to Acid to Techno to EDM; chillout rooms; bringing the DJ from behind the booth to front and center… it was a great time to lack¬†responsibilities. ¬†(Before you ask: ¬†No drugs. ¬†The whole ecstasy movement was primarily a UK thing that wasn’t very prevalent in the USA.)

Rave culture peaked at the end of the 1990s.  There were a lot of films made for and about raves back then (and one recently) that try to capture what that period was like.  Unfortunately, most of them use raves as a backdrop instead of a character, but there are two notable standouts that are worth your time if you have any interest in raves:

  • Pump Up The Volume: The History Of House Music, 2001: ¬†A BBC 3-part documentary that takes great pains to interview everyone involved in the birth and growth of House, which obvious had a lot of overlap with raves. ¬†An excellent piece of research with tons of interviews and stock footage. ¬†Out of all factual pieces that try to cover this period, this documentary gets just about everything right.
  • Groove, 2000: A¬†fairly predictable story of¬†several people trying to get to a rave, what happens when they get there, and how their lives intertwine… but unlike most fictional films that feature raves, Groove gets the feel of rave culture almost exactly right. ¬†People aren’t dressed like¬†caricatures, the music is great, raves are busted by the police, only to spring up somewhere else the same night, the light drug use is portrayed accurately, etc. ¬†Most importantly, the DJs are played by actual local DJs who spin their own music (Digweed shows up at the end to drop the entire place¬†to the ground with Heaven Scent). ¬†The characters are¬†a little cliched, but is the most accurate (fictional) portrayal of American Rave culture I’ve seen.

If you want entertainment, see Groove; if you want historical accuracy, see Pump Up The Volume.  I highly recommend both.

There are other rave culture movies.  They range from interesting to mostly bad.  Here is a partial list, in descending order of quality, with my subjective comments:

  • Weekender, 2011: ¬†A fictional account of the early 1990s rave scene as rave migrated from Ibiza to the UK. ¬†This particular movie centers around the Manchester scene as two friends try to turn raves into a business. ¬†While this movie got bad reviews, I actually enjoyed it. ¬†More importantly,¬†the early 1990s house music choices are mostly period-correct.
  • A Midsummer Night’s Rave, 2002: ¬†An attempt to tell Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream via rave culture. ¬†The rave sections are fairly true, but the sound mixing is somewhat awful and a little distracting: The music mix isn’t loud enough during the dance scenes, so you hear their voices echo off the walls; just as distracting, the music is completely non-existent in the chillout room (there is always a dull thoom-thoom-thoom in the chillout room). ¬†The actual storytelling is competent, being copied from Shakespeare. ¬†An acquired taste.
  • Rave, 2000: ¬†An amateur effort. ¬†Plot and characterization are cringe-worthy, as is most of the acting. ¬†Despite the title, the rave is essentially a club with bouncers. ¬†Avoid this one.

Stark Raving Mad, Human Traffic, Sample People, and One Perfect Day¬†were initially on the list, but I took them off¬†because they portray clubs instead of traditional raves. ¬†Go is not on the list because I haven’t seen it yet.

Did I miss any?  Disagree with my picks?  Leave me a comment.

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Final version of 8088 MPH released

Posted by Trixter on August 2, 2015

The crew is happy to announce a final version of 8088 MPH. Primary changes are improved compatibility with hardware, and some effects have vastly improved graphics.

And yes, it still breaks all your emulators.

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The Great Irony

Posted by Trixter on July 26, 2015

I am very active in one area of the electronic entertainment digital archival¬†movement. ¬†Prior to that, I co-founded MobyGames, and prior to that, I was a major factor in getting abandonware off the ground. ¬†For¬†two decades, I’ve spent more time handling games than playing them. ¬†This is the great irony of working in this field, like the composer who is so busy writing music that he doesn’t have time to listen to¬†any new music. ¬†It is a quick way to become myopic.

When my team won the oldskool compo at Revision, I felt like I could finally¬†exhale and relax in my hobby time. ¬†So, what happens when you’ve been putting off games for several years while you work on other projects? ¬†This happens:

capture_26072015_221547 capture_26072015_221557 capture_26072015_221606 capture_26072015_221610

The game archivist finally spent 210 hours of free time playing games.  Felt really good to use those muscles again.

Now that that is out of my system, time to return to more traditional projects!  (At least, until Fallout 4 is released.)

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Aftershocks and future plans

Posted by Trixter on June 23, 2015

After dropping the mic in April, I’ve been suspiciously quiet, haven’t I? ¬†Truth be told, I got a little burnt out. ¬†Winning Revision was a dream come true, but afterwards my free time and I really needed a break. ¬†I ended up playing a LOT of games on the bucket list (Skyrim, Broken Age, replayed Fallout a 7th time) and generally caught¬†up on movies. ¬†So, sorry I’ve been quiet.

Some random interesting things that happened between then and now:

  • The youtube video for 8088 MPH surpassed 150K views, the most of any video I’ve posted. ¬†Neat. ¬†(I still like the live version better.)
  • I was a featured creator on The Setup.
  • I was offered a third¬†job interview from¬†a company I would love to work for if my family wasn’t more important than my career whims.

Since 8088 MPH, the crew has been working slowly but steadily on a final version that improves the sound and video quality a little, but more importantly, works on a wider range of hardware (ie. you should be able to use any CGA card instead of the first IBM revision). ¬†Clone 6845 chips might also¬†be compatible with the final version; we’re working on it.

As for me specifically: Before the end of the summer, you will see at least one of the following three things from me:

  1. An article series exploring the PC speaker and how to thoroughly abuse it (has information relevant for other platforms too, most notably lightweight compression/decompression schemes)
  2. A method to much more easily enjoy vintage games on vintage systems
  3. A vintage PC podcast (I’m still flabbergasted there aren’t any!)

Suggestions welcome if you’d like to nudge me in a particular direction.

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