This Day In History: 02/13

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

After years of pretending that newer and better consoles didn't exist, Nintendo finally released the 16-bit Super Nintendo in 1991. With its launch title, Super Mario World, it was clear that music synthesis had evolved greatly since the NES. Gamers were treated music as complex as that found on the PC, but with sound quality better than any of the mass-market soundcards. Full orchestral scores were now possible, with no loss of tracks when the action became intense.

Actraiser, released in late 1991, set a new standard for video game music, and remains in my mind as the best soundtrack ever composed for the SNES. While most other games still employed cookie-cutter variations on old arcade standards, the music in Actraiser was a unique blend of rock, classical, and techno elements. One of the most attractive tunes was from a late stage in the game (MP3, 1.2MB). After multiple levels of constant arcade action and pumping beats, the music of the snowy wastes in Northwall is forlorn and wistful. At first, the music seems at odds and completely out of place with the action on-screen, but it ends up working better than any rock theme could have in the same setting.

The Super Nintendo was also responsible for creating the genre of music dubbed "Japanese Jazz" by some. These tunes tended to be upbeat caricatures of American styles and forms, as if Japanese developers were writing music that gamers would be familiar with, while not being completely comfortable with it themselves. It was like an English poet writing his first works directly in French; the music wasn't bad at all, just unique and not quite familiar. A good example of this is an overworld theme from Super Mario World, which is probably the only action game theme to employ faux ragtime played with a honky-tonk piano patch (MP3, 640KB).

In the PC world, gamers were confronted with a smorgasbord of proprietary standards and competing synthesis methods among different soundcards. Besides the MIDI standard used by Ad-Lib and Roland, which used note-by-note instructions on how to recreate a song (akin to sheet music for a computer), the Gravis Ultrasound entered the fray by supporting the Tracker standard, which focused on the quality of the sounds used. This resulted in better sounding music, but forced every song to also include all the sounds it needed to play. To add to the confusion, Creative Labs (which was now the dominant market force) would occasionally modify its architecture slightly, keeping competitors on their toes and preventing third-party soundcards from truly being "Sound Blaster compatible".

The biggest complaint about MIDI by game composers and electronic musicians was the lack of standards. A song written for a Roland MT-32 might sound horrible on another soundcard, because the ID numbers for each instrument could vary from card to card. For example, Instrument #1 on the MT-32 might be a grand piano, but the poor gamer who bought a lesser known soundcard might hear an accordian instead when he played the song.

The General MIDI standard solved many of these problems. Most important for game composers, the ordering of 128 main instruments were standardized across all cards. Although there was no control over the quality of the sound, or patch, used in a card, gamers could at least be ensured of a reasonable facsimile of the music, and the grand piano would always be instrument #1.

General MIDI really came out of its shell in 1993, at about the same time that double-speed CD-ROM drives were hitting the market. One of the first games to really take advantage of CD-ROM was the puzzlefest, 7th Guest, by Virgin Interactive. Though it wasn't necessarily the best game ever, it had great graphics and music, and sold CD-ROM drives by the hundreds. The music for the 7th Guest was composed by George Sanger, known as the "Fat Man" in the gaming world. His name is hidden in the credits of many games, including several from the Ultima series.

The amount of data that could fit on a CD was about 600 times greater than floppy disks. Budget-strapped companies who worried over whether their game would ship on 23 or 24 disks the year before now sought ways to fill up this extra leg-room. Usually this was accomplished by creating "shovelware", or shoveling tons of ancient games onto the CD and calling it a historical collection. With its game, Sam and Max Hit the Road, LucasArts decided to use that space to the advantage of the gamer.

Since one of the biggest limitations of soundcards was the great discrepancy in sound quality between Roland and the mass-market varieties, most gamers never really heard game themes as the composer heard them. LucasArts solved this problem by recording the game's major themes as played on a Roland module, and then storing them on the CD as extra tracks. (MP3, 657KB). When those themes arrived in the game, the CD would play, instead of the MIDI music. The jump in sound quality of this method would eventually lead to use of CD audio as a replacement for MIDI music. Sam and Max Hit the Road was also one of the funniest computer games of all time, but the topic of good games will probably fill up its own Special Week sometime in the future.

The use of General MIDI as a viable music format probably peaked with the music in Origin's Ultima VIII in 1994. Although much of the soundtrack was ambient sound effects, songs like the theme from Tenebrae capture the mood of the game perfectly (MP3, 344KB).

Tomorrow: Sampled Music, Commercialization, and Game Music as a Legitimate Art Form

tagged as music, games | permalink | 0 comments

Thursday, February 13, 2003

It's interesting to note how much aural recall can be affected by other sensory cues. I've been trying sharpen my cold pitch memory for kicks, by thinking about how a familiar song begins (on the way home from school, so there are no guides to cheat with). Invariably I'll get it completely wrong, right up until the instant that I load the MP3 or CD and am about to hit Play. As soon as I prep for that motion of pressing the button, I can anticipate and recognize the pitch that will result.

I've noticed this phenomenon with CDs that I play a lot as well (or mix CDs). If I've become used the song that follows the one just played, I can reconstruct it in my head, even if the CD is on random play. Some theorist should do a study on sensory cues and steal my diligent research.

Congratulations to Mike, who was the 6000th visitor to the URI! Domain yesterday. Mike was also the 5000th visitor back in November, so apparently he doesn't have a whole hell of a lot to do.

Gaming is good for you
O'Reilly values robust debate

tagged as teaching | permalink | 0 comments

Friday, February 13, 2004

I reread some Janny Wurts these past few weeks, specifically the bulk of the third book in the Wars of Light and Shadows series. The third book is peculiar because it's being published in four hardback chunks (otherwise the bindings would break). I read the first three chunks, Fugitive Prince, Grand Conspiracy, and Peril's Gate in rapid succession, which comes to about two thousand pages of incredibly arranged prose. You really have to apply yourself to read this series but the end result is well worth the effort. Many people find the text tedious and overdramatic, but it's really just a completely different style of writing from what most authors (fantasy in particular) churn out. I guess it's to be expected in a genre where two well-known authors (Tolkien and Feist) create shallow characterizations to further the action rather than really exploring things like motivations and thoughts.

The third chunk of this book teeters very close to the edge of melodramatic camp, but sets up the final chunk quite nicely (the final thousand pages is expected to be released at the beginning of next year). If you are a patient reader who enjoys the English language, and wants a book with no easy answers and no black and white heroes and villains, I would recommend this series over all others. Here is a sample of the prose, taken from Peril's Gate:

    Warned by a muffled, metallic ring, Arithon spun. He clamped the boy's wrist in a strangling grip that arrested the sword halfway pulled from the scabbard. "Nine hells of Sithaer, are you insane?"

    "I should kill you here!" Fionn Areth gasped through locked teeth. "There are widows across the five kingdoms who'd thank me."

    "They might," Arithon agreed, his annoyance turned acid. "But a blade in my back won't see you safe. The opposite in fact. My blood in the snow would act as a beacon for Koriani scryers. If you think you can manage to evade their spelled snares, Dakar still has the food and the horses. You aren't going to find him without my guidance. Better to salve your fool's craving for justice after we've scrambled to safety."

    Fionn Areth's murderous resistance failed to slacken under restraint. Darker truth eclipsed reason. He knew this creature who entreated in calm self-defense was unnatural, an unprincipled sorcerer whose guileful strategies had slaughtered three dedicated war hosts. Across the continent, men flocked to Lysaer's sunwheel standard and pledged to the Light to destroy him.

For fun, here is a sample from Feist's bestselling horrible book, Rise of a Merchant Prince:

    "What are you thinking?" asked Erik of Roo, his best friend since childhood.

    Roo said, "Just how funny families can be." He pointed to the group on the dock, listening carefully to Nicholas.

    Erik said, "Notice our Captain."

    Roo nodded. He knew Erik meant Calis. The elflike man stood off to one side, with just enough distance between himself and the others to be apart, yet close enough to answer questions when asked.

Yesterday's notable search terms:

    what jello does not have artificial flavoring, tarestesia, colon outburst, how complex or difficult is schoenberg's music

I have a house now. I'm housed.

Why not to lean against a chainsaw when it's cutting your bra off
Women over 40 biggest online gamers
Germans use sexism to promote Linux
Handfield said last month that it was difficult to imagine veteran detectives and prosecutors being fooled by three young girls.

tagged as reviews | permalink | 3 comments

Monday, February 13, 2006

24

Snowstorms are inherently positive surprises when travel is not involved. Besides the obvious perks, such as snow being pleasant to look at from indoors and fun to build forts in outside, and the snow-related foodstuffs like hot chocolate and yellow snow, you are finally allowed to use the excuse of "being snowbound" to become a worthless, unproductive member of society without any pangs of guilt while your neighbourhood is festooned with icicles.

Anna and I started watching the second season of 24 back in May of last year when she worked as an indentured servant in my house, and after doing that whole "getting married and moving in with some other guy" routine, our regular viewing dropped off to nothing. With eight inches of snow falling from the sky and all the other people I knew out of town or studying for physics exams, we decided to seize the day and finish off the end of season two over the weekend. This translates into the last six episodes of the season, or 252 minutes of productivity.

24 is a highly entertaining show, though it does have some flaws. On the good side, the main actors are riveting, and not just when they're disguised as welders. Anytime Jack Bauer (Keifer Sutherland) or David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert) are on the screen, you just can't look away. Strong acting is tied to well-written characters and this gives the main storyline the momentum it needs to keep you watching. These two characters, and occasional supporting characters like the President's wife make 24 worth watching. Now for the bad (there might be minor spoilers from the first two seasons):

Horrible female characters & actresses: Take, for example, Sarah "I have one acting expression where my brow is furled and my mouth is slightly open which I use to represent puzzled, upset, about to get angry, or needlessly slow" Wynter's portrayal of Kate Warner in season two. When you put someone from the Keanu Reeves School of Pretending to Act across from Keifer Sutherland, you get a lopsided lack of chemistry that's laughably bad. However, it doesn't help that almost all the supporting female characters have been poorly written. Generally, if you are a woman on the show, you cry a lot, get kidnapped, get indignant at stupid things, or get into bad situations with zero resourcefulness to get you out, forcing Jack Bauer to come to your aid. Jack's daughter, Kim, is a perfect example of this. In the course of season two, she gets arrested for murder, escapes from custody, wanders into a national forest, gets caught in a bear trap while mountain lions are chasing her, enters the home of a crazy man with a bunker, enters a liquor store alone after closing, and gets taken hostage in a robbery of that liquor store. Towards the end of season two, Kim and Kate are in a car together. Anna and I were rooting for the mountain lion to return to the scene and finish the job, putting both of them out of their misery.

CTU Junior High School: The Counter-Terrorist Unit of LA is apparently the place to be for special agents in puberty. They spend more time stabbing each other in the back, keeping an eye on who's smooching with who, and engaging in subterfuge so the head honcho doesn't suspect anything than they do catching terrorists. It's a wonder they catch anyone at all when every third camera cut in the agency focuses on an agent who spends all her time peeking through the avant-garde wire cubicles to spy on another agent, Michelle, who is now her boss but who used to work for her before she engaged in sexual relations with the guy who is now on the phone with Michelle.

No twenty-four hours is all that exciting: The main storyline of 24 is always well-done and suspenseful, and in episodes where this is the only thing happening, the writing is very strong. In every other episode, the writers couldn't come up with enough plot to fill every minute of the hour, so they introduce needless supporting characters in unfortunate bad plots to fill up screen time (see also, Kim Bauer and the Cougar of Doom). The writers also come up with a lot of plot twists for the sake of plot twists, like characters who just happen to hit their head and get amnesia. The plus and minus side of this is that some of these twists negate earlier plot points, so you can still enjoy the show if you missed the first half of the season (but it makes it very frustrating for viewers who like to put pieces together from the beginning). The show would be great if they called it 12 and then pared the plot down to just the major storyline.

Overall, the show is still addictive and entertaining, and easily worth watching if you enjoy pulp TV. We'll probably end up getting into the third season as well, since it's better than a lot of shows out there, and doesn't require much brain power to enjoy. This show might actually be better on TV than on DVD, because it's harder to notice all the plot holes when you only see it once a week.

Harry was in the line of fire and got peppered pretty good. Then I salted him up and had him for dinner.
A deputy used his dashboard-mounted video camera at public beaches to zoom in on bikini-clad females
Bus driver tosses complaining rider into traffic

tagged as reviews | permalink | 4 comments

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Chad Darnell's 12 of 12

5:28 AM: In this month's edition of Foggy Mirror Photo Shoot, I am wearing a top hat.

5:41 AM: My morning commute doesn't normally look like a scene out of The Gruesome Murder of a Hitchhiker.

5:52 AM: In the parking lot, gazing up at the company logo on the sixth floor. When it's dark, you don't notice that the building is completely dwarfed by buildings twice as big, sporting more familiar names like Microsoft and Oracle.

5:56 AM: At my desk with free hot chocolate and no missed calls. Not bad for a week away from the office!

6:45 AM: The 12th of the month is the only time I ever use my whiteboard.

7:13 AM: A little tech-company humour.

10:14 AM: Taking a quick break for a mid-morning snack.

1:12 PM: Internally debating whether to wash the road salt off the car, when the forecast calls for more snow on Tuesday (I ultimately did).

3:15 PM: After repainting and recarpeting, the study is now the guest room and the guest room is now the study.

4:02 PM: It's time, once again, for the yearly file cabinet clean-out!

5:58 PM: In the study formerly known as the guest room, getting a little bit of telecommuting in, with the help of Amber in a basket.

6:56 PM: After dinner, all the good seats for watching TV are already taken, so I went and uploaded all my pictures instead. Should something shocking happen in the next four hours before bedtime, the world will never know.

Bonus Picture "Love": A plate of mildly stale but still edible heart cookies left by Anna a couple weeks ago.

See more 12 of 12ers at Chad's site!

ESP lab to close, but maybe you already knew that
40 tons of cow intestines
'Lost' and Found (no spoilers, some hints)

tagged as 12 of 12 | permalink | 8 comments

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Memory Day: Saturday Mornings

The Saturday Morning Routine was an aspect of life instilled by my Dad, who saw every weekend as an opportunity to do extra work for the Home. We would wake up every Saturday between 6:30 and 7 and eat some cereal while perusing the Washington Post. At the time, I limited my reading to the comics and the NASDAQ stock exchange, where I could keep tabs on my shares in Babbage's and Sierra On-Line (both of which ultimately went out of business).

Around 7:30 we would load up the Nissan Stanza (license plate XVX-881) and travel to the Shoppers Food Warehouse on Little River Turnpike. This store was built in a converted Safeway and had a high domed ceiling and classic 70s architecture. The polarity of the aisles was reversed -- you came in on the far left for produce, and finished shopping in the freezer aisles on the far right.

We would hit the same aisles every trip with my sister and I in the cart or running along side, avoiding the aisles with too many tantalizing treats. The trip through the entire store usually took less than fifteen minutes, and culminated in an aisle run where our pleas to get some Juicy Fruit gum were denied because it's "not cost-effective to buy anything in the checkout line". If there were any major sales with the classic fine print "LIMIT 6 PLEASE", our shopping expeditionary force would divvy up the stack of 18 chicken pot pies (or pizzas) into thirds and we would get to pay for our purchases separately. Particularly huge sales would result in a second trip back in after we had loaded up the trunk.

After the grocery run, my Dad would wake up my Mom (who tended to sleep in like normal folks) and the pair would head off to BJs or Costco (née Price Club) for a bulk shopping extravaganza. Meanwhile, my sister and I would get tasked with cleaning the house, which involved dusting everything and vacuuming from top to bottom. Being kids, we apparently didn't do a very good job, since most of it would get redone anyhow. However, this taught us to work smarter, since we learned which areas got inspected without fail and spent our efforts there, while making all the other areas just look clean.

Once we had learned how to beat the system on cleaning the house, we were left with a good hour or so with the parents gone. We usually spent this time doing one of our two weekend "mandatory extracurricular activities": reading a book for 2 hours per weekend or practicing our musical instruments once we got older. Doing these things while the parents were out of the house meant that we could do them our way (i.e. playing through the fun songs for a half hour instead of practicing scales and fingering exercises, or rereading a Beverly Cleary book for the eighteenth time instead of branching out).

As an adult, my Saturday Morning Routine still persists out of forced habit and necessity (since shopping in the region becomes irritating after about 10 AM). I have two routines that I follow: either Shoppers Food Warehouse at 7:30 followed by a leisurely breakfast and a Costco run at 9:30, or an extended sleep cycle that ends in a shower at 10:00 or whenever I get up. The latter case is preferred.

Happy Birthday to Sarah Hurt and Catherine Hicks!

Dolly Parton blames breasts for postponed tour
Introducing "Looking Good for Jesus"
Teaching gorillas the missionary position

tagged as memories | permalink | 0 comments

Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday Fragments

the sixth Friday the Thirteenth since Friday Fragments began

♥ Sometime in the past week, the twelve families living in the house on the corner finally packed up and moved away. I have nothing against group housing (as I've taking in a few homeless music majors in my day), but this house was the epitome of a bad neighbour -- 6 cars clogging the street with 1 SUV always parked on the lawn, an open air trash pit because they couldn't afford trash service, multiple carpools that honked when they arrived instead of walking up to the door, and people sitting outside on the stoop at all hours of the night.

♥ Last month when their power was turned off for a few days, they bought a gas generator and ran it nonstop on the front porch. Last week as I was driving by, they were grilling on a propane grill underneath the eaves of their porch, right up against the house (because apparently fire safety is no longer a common sense trait). Unfortunately the house was still standing when I arrived home later that night. So, if anyone wants to be my neighbour and live on the corner in Sterling, we have a vacancy.

♥ The house on the corner has seen so many different residents since I moved in that the city of Sterling might as well turn it into a motel. Travelers from all walks of life could enjoy the hybrid white-trash-meets-day-laborer-meets-government-yuppies feeling of our county.

♥ When I was a Computer Science major, I recall various boring lectures about the Traveling Salesman problem. It was not, as I initially believed, about where a salesman should pee when he's always on the road -- it was a theoretical problem about the shortest path to travel while visiting every city exactly once.

♥ I bet that Computer Science majors today have it much easier than I did -- the correct solution would probably involve some sort of Internet connection and eBay.

♥ I have never bought or bid on a single item from eBay. And while we're confessing things, I have also never seen a single episode of The A-Team (although I have arranged it for marching band twice).

♥ I made the second arrangement after Paige complained about the mellophone part being too melodically jagged. However, I was just following the time-honored tradition of writing for horns by giving them whichever note in the chord was missing and couldn't be heard anyhow. This is also how you write for a quintet when someone sucks.

♥ I haven't played in a brass quintet since the Pinnacle Brass days with Philip, although I did play a high D on my trumpet last year for giggles, and then put it back in the closet. If the economy continues to tank, maybe I can make a little extra cash by playing the Hindemith outside of the Foggy Bottom Metro.

♥ Foggy Bottom is easily the funniest name in our Metro system, although it's no Cockfosters. The story behind it (low elevation causes fog) could use some PR improvement though. I recommend a story about an ass so large that it has its own weather systems.

♥ Plans for the weekend include birthdays and valentines (hence the girly hearts denoting this week's fragments). I may also begin working on the new Name-That-Tune contest which will come out this month or next, which unfortunately will not be accessible to blind people.

♥ Have a great weekend!

Death Cab's autotune campaign
Google Earth leads to buried treasure
India to launch cow urine as soft drink

tagged as fragments | permalink | 4 comments

Monday, February 13, 2012

Chad Darnell's 12 of 12


5:37 AM: Rise and shine!

5:52 AM: Showered and shaved.

6:00 AM: Buckling down to get some work done.

6:58 AM: Bagel and newspaper break near the front window.

7:45 AM: Booty sits right there when I work, but still cannot understand XML.

11:04 AM: Laundry folding break.

11:30 AM: The only solution to not eating bananas fast enough is to make banana muffins with the black ones.

2:25 PM: Taking a nap on the couch with Booty.

2:53 PM: Playing Rayman Origins with Booty.

3:32 PM: Exercising on the treadmill with Jack Bauer.

7:02 PM: Pizza for dinner with young Jack Bauer.

8:40 PM: Cats getting prematurely excited for dinner.
Zynga's Dream Zoo is pretty gay
Plainclothes policeman chases himself after being confused as a burglar

tagged as 12 of 12 | permalink | 2 comments

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Time-lapsed Blogography Day

On February 13, 1996, I was a high school senior at the awards ceremony for writing this short story in the Reflections Contest. With 2nd Place in the bag, I got to shake the hand of Alexandria Councilman Bill Cleveland. This might have been a big deal at some point, but I feel like I was shaking this guy's hand every other week with all of the crappy awards I kept winning throughout my childhood.

On February 13, 2002, I went to the theaters with Kathy to watch Gosford Park. Luckily, our friendship survived.

On February 13, 2003, all of my ear-training students descended upon me en masse to ask for letters of recommendation which would snag them a spot in the high-tech music dorm. Of course, all of the letters were due on the 17th, because musicians don't care about planning ahead.

On February 13, 2004, I had been a home-o(wner) for exactly 1 day. I took off work and spent the day scrubbing the crayon off the basement walls while listening to a Tower of Power anthology CD set. I guess this means that I've lived in Sterling for 9 years today!

On February 13, 2007, Rebecca fired a warning shot across the bow of my online dating profile. I then tantalized her with the pun in this post which eventually led to our first date at Chili's over President's Day weekend. I guess this means that I've known Rebecca for 6 years today!

tagged as memories | permalink | 5 comments

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Snow Day!

Today's post is cancelled because I cannot get to my computer through all of the snow.

Update: 13.5" as of 9 AM!

tagged as day-to-day | permalink | 5 comments

Friday, February 13, 2015

Memory Day: Snapshots Follow-up

Here is the companion photo to the one from Wednesday, taken 31 years later, in 2013. Less ivy, more statue, and a goofier looking stroller (containing nephew #2 of 2).

tagged as memories | permalink | 0 comments

Monday, February 13, 2017

Chad Darnell's 12 of 12

5:38 AM: Up early to get some work done.
5:46 AM: In the home office.
10:04 AM: Cats waiting for me to finish working so they can eat.
11:00 AM: Early lunch of Safeway fried chicken.
11:24 AM: Trying to keep the faucet from slowly closing when we wash the dishes.
12:31 PM: Cat nap on the couch.
1:32 PM: Level 506 in Overwatch.
3:49 PM: We decide to go for a walk.
4:13 PM: Walking through Sugarland.
6:35 PM: Early dinner at Singh Thai with Michelle and Sara.
7:06 PM: Updating the grading policy of the Ormond Stone Middle School Band.
8:00 PM: Couch time with Booty and You're the Worst.

tagged as 12 of 12 | permalink | 3 comments

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Chad Darnell's 12 of 12

12 pictures of your day on the 12th of every month

4:58 AM: Showered and ready for 13 hours of proposal writing.
5:10 AM: Relocated to the basement guest room to reduce the intersection between loud breakfast cat and sleeping family.
7:34 AM: Breakfast break.
8:58 AM: Back to work.
9:29 AM: Good morning!
10:18 AM: Reading while I work.
11:25 AM: Off to a gym class.
12:25 PM: Unhealthy working lunch.
1:44 PM: Messy lunch.
2:09 PM: Stealing my slippers to avoid a nap.
5:47 PM: Family dinner at Cafesano.
7:57 PM: Making Valentines while I work.

tagged as 12 of 12 | permalink | 1 comment

 

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