This Day In History: 02/10
And now for something a little bit different...
To break away from the tedium of updates about my real-life escapades, and to reach a balance between my computer-related and music-related news items, I'm devoting this week's News page to the music of video games and computer games. I'll trace the evolution of game music from the Atari to today's common PC games, with more emphasis on highlights from my own gaming past.
A Giant supermarket in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania recently put up an advertisement reading, "In honor of Black History Month, we at Giant are offering a special savings on fried chicken" . There's nothing appropriately relevant in the month of February to game music, but it's a topic that I've been meaning to write about for quite a while.
The original video games of the arcade scene and the first home entertainment consoles didn't place a great deal of emphasis on music in games. In an age where the Atari 2600 had "adult-themed" games with Neo-Cubist pixular phalluses, it was a struggle enough to create recognizable graphics without worrying about music as well. Primitive sound effects were usually generated from simple wave generators, so the shooting gun of one game would be the barking dog in another.
The first gaming system in our household was a later model of the Atari, which had a numeric keypad on its controllers. By this point, games usually featured a catchy tune at its startup screen or when your character died or won. Shigeru Miyamoto, the designer of Donkey Kong, composed the Donkey Kong theme on his own on an electronic keyboard. He would later become famous for the Mario and Zelda franchises which are still popular today.
PCs at this time were still monochromatic wonders in varying shades of ochre, magenta, and green-yellow. The most popular games were those that didn't require flashy media to enjoy, with Infocom's text adventures topping the list. Rather than try to convince players of an experience aurally and visually with such primitive tools, Infocom relied on what computers did easiest - text - and created compelling stories without mediums that would cause more hindrance than help. Those games that did use sound used the internal PC speaker for beeps, and music was still just a pipe dream.
There were musical innovations on minor platforms, like the Apple, Macintosh, and IBM PCjr, but I never had much interaction with those systems, so I can't pretend to know what they were. Know of anything I've missed here, or something you'd like reported on later in the week? Send me an e-mail with the icon on the upper right.
Tomorrow: Nintendo Entertainment System and Early PC Music
I watched two movies this weekend, Monster's Ball and Bourne Identity. The first didn't do a great job of getting its point across, and was filled with multiple plot-convenient coincidences, although the acting was good. The second had its fun points but was very quiet for an action movie, and occasionally the actors didn't seem quite sure of their motivations.
I had the first two of four meetings about my thesis preliminary draft today. It looks like things should be smooth sailing from here on out, since the only points that were discussed involved formatting and clearing up performance notes.
At work, I'm transitioning over to two projects involving AmberPoint and SalCentral, which I know very little about, beyond their uses for web service management. This means that, at least for the short term, I can stop using the developmental accident that is Weblogic Workshop. The progam is a proprietary rewrite of the Java development wheel for web applications deployed in Weblogic. It boasts such features as an auto-checker that runs so fast that it might crash when you're deleting bad code, a button to click that frees up 80 or 90 megabytes of its 200 megabyte footprint but which crashes the program with an "OutOfMemoryError" if you click it too much, and an app deployer that apparently runs over a 2 baud modem. The project we completed with it, though, was well received, with the ad copy phrase "1000% better than what was there before" pinned on for good measure by the company in charge of integrating.
No last minute issues have come up with the sellers or the mortgage, so everything is still on track for a closing two days from now. I'm taking Friday off from work to do some cleaning and some scrubbing. If you want to join in on the festivities, let me know.
Intrepid biker guy was back on the road this morning.
Yesterday's notable search terms:
put more blood at cs command, paige poythress, odd llama pictures, using beadgcf, the mightiest tree
Apparently someone is finally moving on the security clearance I submitted for a year ago -- my Florida friends are getting approached by watchful FBI investigators.
|K (3:52:03): Mike just called me because the guy just called him too (I gave him his number)|
K (3:52:11): So what new job are you trying to get?
Me (3:54:20): no new job
Me (3:54:23): just a govt security clearance -- it takes about a year
K (3:54:33): so you can do cool things in your current job?
Me (3:54:38): yup
K (3:54:39): ohhhh, I see
K (3:54:43): this guy was kind of shady
K (3:54:59): he wanted to meet in person and was asking if we could meet tomorrow and where
K (3:55:07): I was like, how do I know you're who you say you are?
K (3:55:19): so I told him I'd rather do the interview over the phone
K (3:55:45): hard to explain - just the way he was speaking
K (3:55:55): but anyway, there literally was nothing bad I could say about you
Me (3:55:57): they are supposed to be trained to not display emotion in asking questions
K (3:56:04): YES! he definitely did that
K (3:56:16): zero emotion, even when I told him funny things
K (3:56:55): he wanted to know who you worked for here, professor-wise
K (3:57:34): when he asked me if you'd ever done illegal drugs or sold them, I almost started laughing
K (3:57:51): he wanted to know if you were friends with any foreign nationals
Me (3:57:57): Marta
K (3:58:04): and if you belonged to any anti-american organizations
Me (3:58:10): SCI at FSU
K (3:58:14): and what your general patriotic mood was
K (3:58:18): lol
K (3:59:31): all kinds of stuff, 12 minutes of stuff
Me (3:59:38): they should pay you
K (3:59:56): he told me at the end of the interview that this is public record and that you can see it if you request to
K (4:00:39): he asked about your financial stability
Me (4:00:51): yeah, so no foreign govt can entice me to spy for money
K (4:00:54): I told him you never took out loans because you lived off of your FGM summer fortune
K (4:01:13): and that you shopped once a week in the early morning at Walmart to avoid the crowds
K (4:02:25): it's hard to lie about you because there's nothing to lie about
K (4:02:49): Mike and I were just saying that there's no person we can think of on this earth who we would trust more with govt security clearance than you
Me (4:03:17): I actually post govt secrets daily, encoded on my website
K (4:03:28): oooooooooh
Me (4:03:37): if you enlarge the periods, it's a really tiny font with words in it
K (4:03:45): Mike's next question was "how are we going to get Brian to tell us all the govt secrets?"
I just make the fragments. It's your job to combine them into the Optimus Prime of the English language
I was originally going to spend today examining the Senate stimulus compromise and using my common sense superpower to veto the ideas that were obviously a waste of my fifty dollars. However, the bill is several hundred pages long, and I definitely don't have the inclination to waste a portion of my life doing that when I could just as easily be online watching videos of cats riding Roombas.
Instead, I will completely ignore the existing stimulus compromise and present my own less expensive plan that will more effectively jumpstart our economy.
Clean, Efficient, American Energy
Transforming our Economy with Science and Technology
Modernizing Roads, Bridges, Transit and Waterways
Education for the 21st Century
Tax Cuts to Make Work Pay and Create Jobs
Lowering Healthcare Costs
Helping Workers Hurt by the Economy
Saving Public Sector Jobs and Protect Vital Services
Grand Total: $174 billion
Beat that, you elected yahoos.Deer Crack Dealer
There are no major spoilers in these reviews.
The Kids Are All Right (R):
I like to call this type of movie a "terrarium" movie (and have been doing so for minutes now) -- the plot (a family with two moms is thrown into chaos when their sperm donor reappears) is much less important than the family dynamics and character studies, as if the writer just wanted to mix some interesting ingredients together to watch what happens. The movie's not bad or good, it just IS. It's also better than Gosford Park.
Final Grade: C+
The Google Way by Bernard Girard (Kindle Edition):
This is an easy-to-digest look at how Google was able to become so succesful in the academic and technology climate of its time, and the first sections are pretty interesting. The later sections devolve into a series of "what might make Google fail" topics -- although the author makes it clear that everything is pure conjecture, it felt more like a sequence of unanswered questions without answers, rather than a solid forecast.
Final Grade: B-
Crane 2.3 Gallon Cool Mist Humidifier:
After becoming domesticated a couple years ago, and learning that a house is not supposed to have 20% humidity in the winter, I purchased a giant Honeywell humidifier with HUGE JUGS that only needed refilling weekly, and the bane of all humidifiers: a filter. Although this lasted for quite some time, I eventually abandoned it as hard to clean, hard to find replacement filters, and hard to not have it smell like mildew even when clean. This new humidifier only holds about a gallon of water (the 2.3 is misleading because it's throughput not volume) but is filterless and very easy to transport or clean. The tank fits under a regular sink faucet for refilling, and the humidity comes out in a pleasant visible mist. The only negative to it is the sound of the motor, which is too variable to be white noise -- it took a couple weeks to get acclimated to it. It's not that the motor is particularly loud, it's just that it changes timbre enough while running that it doesn't blend into the ambient environment very well. If you have any trouble sleeping in nonquiet environments, this isn't the humidifier you're looking for, and your parents probably raised you incorrectly.
Final Grade: B+
I'm in a race against time and I'm barefoot.
Look, an update!Why Best Buy is going out of business gradually
I worked on a proposal this weekend (as I did all of last week), so the weekend wasn't very interesting. However, we did get a lot of conversational snow that temporarily made Sterling just a little bit whiter.
On Friday afternoon, I picked up Rebecca's parents from the airport, freshly returned from their three weeks in South Africa and its environs. We watched the Olympic opening ceremonies and were mostly underwhelmed. It would seem that Russia cannot out-Cirque Cirque du Soleil, even with their funny little alphabet.
On Saturday morning, Rebecca set up her new iPhone, which means that her overall technology quotient is probably slightly higher than mine now -- I win the computer department, and she wins the phone, tablet, and music player departments.
On Saturday night, we met my sister and her husband for dinner at Mokomandy (which we learned means "Modern Korean" plus the name of the owner's mom). The place was Fairfax-levels of crowded and reservations were defintely handy. Dinner had a very high deliciousness factor coupled with a very poor deliciousness-to-cost ratio. Thankfully, we had a gift card to fall back upon.
Sunday was quiet. I alternated between proposal editing and playing the new Hearthstone beta when waiting for documents to edit. In the evening, we watched more of the Winter Olympics and decided upon a new rule: companies should only be allowed to run the same commercial for two days in a row during future broadcasts, and then they have to show a new one.
How was your weekend?
Based on readers' topic suggestions
Why do many people refuse to drive with their lights on in the rain?
It's a phenomenon that most drivers have experienced at least once -- driving in moderate to heavy rain and coming up quickly on a driver whose bland-coloured car (often a Toyota) is nearly invisible against the backdrop of muted daylight and scattered raindrops. Since cloaking technology (and the hoverboard) is still at least eight months away from fruition1, there must be a more mundane reason behind these drivers' decision to place you at risk by making their car harder to spot.
In today's lecture, we will explore the social and physical roots of this behaviour. Why do people do this?
Is it political? No.
Turning on your lights and making your car visible to other drivers in the rain is a recognized and useful safety practice, as evinced by the 19 forward-thinking states who have some variant of "wipers on, lights on" in their law books. Our intial hypothesis was that those states with laws might fall along political divisions, but as you can see from the map below, there is a statistically insignificant2 difference between red and blue states with "lights on" laws. (The lawless states are solid colors, while the lawful states look like glass ornaments from a 1980s Make It and Bake It oven).
In spite of this lack of conclusion, overlaying various data sets onto a map is a critical activity in big data and trend detection, so we also compared the data against maps of average US rainfall, Nielsen ratings for The Bachelor, day length, and headlight pricing data for the past 50 years. No discernable correlations were discovered, although we did determine that this is mostly an Eastern practice3. (The data from California can be discarded because hippies).
Is it science? Partly.
As cars evolve over time to be more curvy and less boxy, the geometric slope of the windshield has decreased. This is a shady trick by car companies to simultaneously increase the advertised volume of the cabin (albeit with completely useless space) while also making it a pain in the ass to remove your tax and inspection stickers every year.
When rain falls against a more modern windshield, it bounces further towards the front of the car. If headlights are on in this situation, the errant raindrops will diffuse, reflect, and / or refract the potentially blinding light back at the driver, putting them in a dangerous situation comparable to driving through the Windows 3.1 Starfield screensaver4. Surely some drivers opt to leave their headlights off to avoid this, at the expense of all other drivers.
Is it cultural? Yes.
The cultural reason for why people don't turn on their lights in the rain is actually the same as the dearth of turn signal usage -- it's not that people are assholes (most are), so much as they are just completely oblivious to the impact of their actions on the people around them. Daytime headlights, like gift cards to Applebees, are really intended for other people, not yourself.
The good news is that car makers have been phasing in daytime-running lights for many years now. Ten years from now, everyone's lights will be on all of the time (with the exception of that Ford Escort your redneck friend has been replacing the engine in since 1981).
1 Source: Back to the Future II.
2 Source: Did some math on Windows Calculator in Scientific mode.
3 Work not shown. You only show work when you are not confident in your final answer.
4 Source: That guy in your dorm that often took interstate road trips while on acid.
Twenty years ago today, on February 10, 1996, it was a low-profile Saturday between major bouts of snow. In the morning, my dad upgraded the family computer with a brand new Pentium Pro P6 60MHz chip and I immediately put that raw processing power to work playing Warcraft II over the modem with Jack for most of the morning.
When he finally got kicked off of the landline (sisters, am I right?), I switched gears to composing using Finale 3.2 (long before they started bleeding their customers for money through yearly releases). I was working on Bubba's Fried Chicken Stand, a song that would go on to be the most-performed song in my portfolio despite its absence of any serious musical thought.
In the evening, I drove out to the Masonic Temple in Alexandria for my sporadic side-job: stage foreman for the Alexandria Symphony. Concerts at the Temple were really easy to manage, as we didn't have to tear the chairs and stands down each night like we would at a school. We also got to poke around the creepy halls in search of kidnapped transients and human sacrifices (none were ever found though).
On this particular night, my job was even easier, albeit a bit dull. I was in charge of instrument room security, which meant that I stood in front of a room with a single door in and out to ensure that no one stole any musicians' empty case during the concert. Time passed very slowly, although I was greeted by former Mayor Kerry Donley during intermission, wondering why I was standing alone so far from the main event.
For the next day's matinee concert, I was "cue person", which meant that I had to give the Maestro 15, 10, and 5 minute warnings before the concert, while making sure not to open the door after knocking because his wife was also in the dressing room "helping him prepare".
This letter was written over twenty one years, in September 1995, by my former band director and sometime-trumpet teacher, George Randall.
I had just returned from Governor's School interested in music composition and had two whole songs to my name, Scintillation and Glossalalia March. His thoughtful comments kept me enthused about writing more music and, unlike my undergraduate professor, he never asked me to "add some wrong notes to the score so it's more exciting".
We also used tape recorders back then, as those high-quality copper-based cassette tapes were the Minidisc of their era.
On Friday afternoon, I replaced our 9-year-old ice maker water line that was making Rebecca's iced drinks taste skunky. It took 2.5 hours and several newly bored holes behind the kitchen cabinets to remove the old line and just a half hour to install the new line. The operation was a success and our new ice since then is completely tasteless.
Maia had her first stomach bug on Friday, honking twice -- once at the end of naptime and once in the middle of the night. It was the first, but probably not the last, 3 AM laundry done in our house.
On Saturday, I cleaned out the basement crawlspace to get ready for finishing. I plan to seal up the holes the mice are using to get in a poop on our Christmas decorations and make the space slightly friendlier for future use as a Maia fort. In the afternoon, the family went to Inner Power Yoga for Rebecca's 3rd Lil Yogis class. Attendance was high and popularity soaring. We finished the evening with dinner at Red Robin to use up a coupon.
We did our normal Sunday morning routine of yoga followed by McDonald's hash browns. In the afternoon, we went across the street for Jax's 3rd Birthday Party (dinosaur-themed). Maia did unexpectedly well at Pin the Tail, so there may have been peeking involved.
We might have considered watching the Oscars in the evening had ABC not become completely unfriendly to cable-cutters in its streaming options.
How was your weekend?
These pictures were taken thirty years ago, in January 1991.
To fulfill the requirements of the Photography merit badge (which I was working on in parallel with the Safety merit badge and the Coin Collecting merit badge), I had to take a variety of black and white pictures demonstrating different photographic techniques. These two, featuring my 9th grade sister who obviously did not want to be sitting here, demonstrated that it's better to have a light in front of your subject than behind them (this is hard-hitting stuff).
In the background, you can see our original Nintendo as well as the brown accordion folder containing all of the instruction manuals and Nintendo Power strategy guides. In the adjoining room, you can see the exercise bike which I don't think anyone ever actually used.
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