Amy Kidd
What She Said

September 30, 2001
9:54 AM
Life is good. I finally got my Twin Peaks Pilot DVD. It's only made in Taiwan and I had to import it from Hong Kong, but it's Region 0 (meaning it plays on ALL DVD players) and it's the only way to get the original pilot episode of TP on any format, ever.

To explain, Twin Peaks (not the best link, but it does have a good FAQ) was a television show in the early 1990's. Described by some as "fucked up" and others as "brilliant", it often draws allusions to the Star Trek series in terms of cult-like followings and the sorts of people who found it intersting. It also more or less shared Trek's initial fate, if not it's ultimate one. TP's first episode opened with the discovery of a body on the shores of a lake wrapped in plastic. The High School girl, Laura Palmer, had been strangled and an FBI agent (Cooper, played by Kyle MacLachlan) was dispatched to help solve the case.

However, while TP started out as something of a murder mystery, it quickly changed to an evening soap opera on the caliber of Dallas - read: it got complicated really quickly. And it was initially quite popular, but its popularity (short of a devout following) waned over time as the murder mystery went unsolved. The brainchild of David Lynch, the original idea was to never reveal the murderer, but rather Cooper would slowly get enschonced in the town and the murder would just sort of be in the background. When the ratings declined, the producers decided to go ahead and reveal the murderer 14 episodes in. Of course, if you thought the whole point of the show was the murder mystery, then there was little point to watch after that and the show was cancelled after two seasons.

Like Trek, the idea after that was to do movies after that, and there was one TP movie, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, was a prequel. Due both to misunderstood demand and the fact that it took so long to make the movie due to MacLachlan's not wanting to play along, the movie bombed and there's been nothing in the way of TP ever since.

Of course, there's always been a small, devout following and there have been festivals, conferences, a magazine (called Wrapped in Plastic) ever since. And there have always been attempts to have the show and movie on the popular video formats. These attempts have been mostly successful, but marred by a simple fact revolving around rights issues. The prequel movie has been on video and laserdisc and will be on DVD soon (under the New Line Patinum Series), but the television episodes have been a different matter.

The television show consisted of 30 total episodes, a 2-hour pilot episode and 29 regular episodes, one of which was 2 hours, the rest were 1 hour (though the last two episodes were broadcast together). For a producer, it's standard practice to finance a pilot episode yourself (somehow) and to "sell" it to a network, which will fund the subsequent episodes. David Lynch and Mark Frost, however, had problems securing funding, so they decided to sell the video rights to the pilot episode to Warner Bros. to get the money they needed. WB had a proviso, however, in that they required that the producers film an alternate ending so that they could sell a self contained 2 hour movie version of the show (with no intention of making this version into a series) to networks in Europe. This version of the pilot is often referred to as the European Pilot or the Euro Pilot.

When the TV show was cancelled, Worldvision bought the rights to the episodes to put them on video. They acquired the rights to the 29 episodes, but they were unable to purchase the rights to the pilot because WB wanted too much for it - the cost of acquiring the episode would have offset any profit they could have made on it. They released the first seven episodes after the pilot on VHS. VHS, as you know, has three recording modes, SP (2 hours for a T-120 cassette), LP (4 hours) and EP (six hours). Almost any movie you purchase or rent on VHS is recorded in SP mode - it has the shortest recording time, but the best sound and picture quality. The first seven episodes were released in this manner on video. However, the episodes didn't sell as well as Worldvision had hoped (ironically the Laserdiscs fared better so far as percentage of owners was concerned) and the company didn't feel like releasing the rest of the episodes in sets this way. However, they didn't want to disappoint fans who wanted the entire show on video, so they released a second set of all 29 episodes on video on six VHS cassettes, recorded at the EP mode. While this did accomplish the goal, the episodes didn't look or sound very good.

Warner Bros., on the other hand, released the pilot episode a few times on VHS and Lasterdisc - but it was always the European Pilot with the alternate ending. While this has always been "better than nothing", it's always made an uneasy transition to the rest of the series, particularly as the orginal pilot has been unseen for nearly a decade.

Now it's 2001 and Artisan is trying it again. This fall they're releasing the first of a series of DVD sets of the Twin Peaks episodes on DVD. However, like Worldvision before it, they've been unsuccessful in getting the rights to the pilot from WB, so it won't be in the set.

However earlier this year a DVD started surfacing on eBay in mass numbers under the name HONG KONG TWIN PEAKS DVD. It was the original pilot episode, which has been unavailable on any format anywhere ever. Asia, particularly Southeast Asia, isn't exactly known for stringent enforcement of International Copyright Law, so most figured this was a DVD of dubious origin. Case in point, the Star Wars movies are officially unavailable on DVD, but that hasn't stopped them from trickling into this country on the format. In that case they're taken from a Laserdisc dub so while they're better looking than the VHS copies readily available, they still leave room for improvement, and they often have foreign subtitles burned in (i.e., can't be removed). Furthermore, since the last time anyone was able to see this was on ABC in 1990 the theory was it was taken from a bad VHS dub or possibly a stolen master tape. Another suspicous indicator was the fact that it was under the label "Republic Pictures", which has been defunct since the late 1990's.

However as it turns out, it's a legitimate disc. By a weird turn of events, WB's dominance doesn't extend to Taiwan, so Aaron Spelling, one of the original producers (really) went to Taiwan and made the DVD he wanted to make, making it Region 0 so all DVD players can play it. And I got one, so once they release the rest of the episodes on DVD and the movie I'll finally have them all.

The DVD itself is quite interesting - they chose to highlight the names Kyle MacLachlan and Sherylin Fenn. Not Lara Flynn "I'm skinny as a twig and banging Jack Nicholson" Boyle, but Fenn. OK. They also did it to where it's next to impossible to read what's on the label of the disc itself, but they did go so far as to include the "Welcome to Twin Peaks" sign itself and actually have the population in near microscopic print. The back has three pictures, two of which have the lone Asian character in the episode - though I don't think she speaks a line in the whole show. You don't buy a DVD like this for extras, but they do have two Bios - MacLachlan and that Asian woman. Bizarre. Also, the front of the disc case has "Silver Screen" which is odd since I don't think anyone is interested in this "line" of DVD's and this show was never a move in the silver screen.

Rumor is that WB will probably release the pilot on DVD if the Artisan discs become popular and word is once again they'll whip out the European Pilot. If they're smart they'll do a branching thing with both endings - I'd kinda like to see the other, but if they don't I'm still happy I have this one on DVD.

It's kinda sad, though, the show was never really brought to a logical conclusion. The ending of the second season was something of a minor cliffhanger and the movie was a prequel, so it didn't tie up any loose ends (the original idea was for more movies, but that didn't happen) and some little part of me has always wondered what happened to these ficticious characters, but alas there's nothing more to tell. Oh well, it'll be fun rediscovering this little show and phonomenon over time again on DVD.

September 28, 2001
12:15 PM
I never knew that riven was really a word. I saw MSNBC's "Riven By Conflict" (referring to the middle east) and I thought they had mis-spelled "Driven", but nope. Turns out the Myst sequel Riven was in fact named after a real word.

8:23 AM
I guess this answers my question of how to save the chick in the ICO demo (for PlayStation 2).

8:20 AM
Hwua? Serious Sam on PalmOS? How? Why? NEED MORE INFO!

September 27, 2001
10:12 AM
The mighty gmax was finally released today, and Blue's News had a post on it buried within another post in a massive flurry of no hype at all. I of course only know of this profuct because I heard it mentioned a long time ago and I saw (and used) it at QuakeCon 2001. I like Discreet's enthusaism with this product, but when I almost missed its mention on Blue's, I was afraid that it would be completely overlooked. However, either Autodesk (Discreet's parent) is completely incompetent when it comes to FTP servers or they're getting totally hammered (more likely). I'll have more on gmax whenever my downloads get finished (like never).

7:23 AM
OK, there's nothing quite as embarrasing as shooting your mouth off about how much better you are beause you do X instead of Y only to learn later why it is people do Y to begin with, which is directly related to their experience and your inexperience.

Ao for that reason, I've put up a static SchnappleCam image for the time being. I realize now why people have static images - you only do something worth looking at a few times a day. Plus the cam software I have puts a small drain on my CPU I don't want at this point. I'm going to rig the page to only show the non-static image at certian times of the day, but in the meantime take a looky at what I got in the mail from Hong Kong yesterday...

September 26, 2001
12:31 PM
ClassicGaming.com has posted an interview with Andrew Davie, a fellow who has created a game for the Atari 2600 recently called QB. They prodded him for some details as to what it's like to program for the 2600 and he told them of the "synching with the electron gun" bit. I'd heard of this, but never seen it explained anywhere before. Here's what he had to say:

A typical TV picture is composed of many horzontal lines (have a close look at any TV image). When a TV is drawing the picture that you see, it draws it line by line, very quickly. There are 262 lines in a typical NTSC TV image, and each image ("frame") is displayed for just 1/60th of a second. So, in other words, the entire picture is redrawn 60 times per second. In all modern video game systems, there is a bit of hardware which "feeds" the correct picture to the TV, line by line, so that it draws the image you want. Typically, some memory on the console is used to contain the data for generating the TV image, and the hardware just looks at the memory to see what to send to the TV.

Now, in the Atari 2600, there is NO video memory. And there is NO hardware to tell the TV exactly what to display for the entire frame! All that the machine does have is a few registers (memory locations) to which you write single-bytes (8 pixels) of data. The hardware sends the contents of these registers to the TV. To get any meaningful pictures on the TV, you have to make your program write to these registers very very quickly, so that the changing pattern in the registers will draw the picture on your TV as the TV electron-beam sweeps line-by-line down the screen.

The only way to do this effectively is to know exactly how long it takes the TV to draw a single line, and exactly where the electron-beam is on the line, so that you can change the registers at exactly the right time. And the only way to be exactly sure of the time is to "cycle-count" your code. Basically, you have to know EXACTLY how long each instruction takes, and make sure that when you write data to the registers, you are "at" the correct place in the TV picture. In other words, not only does the code do all the drawing of the TV picture, it is actually totally in-synch with the So, Atari 2600 programmers are not just limited by the small amount of RAM (128 bytes) and ROM, but also by the need to do the work of a video-chip, by controlling the data that is sent to the TV for display. To get complex graphics on the screen, it is often necessary to change the registers in the MIDDLE of scan lines, at exactly the right point in time. It is quite challenging, and quite foreign most modern console programmers.

Holy shit! You have to give it the pixels as the TV is drawing them! How did anyone make a game for this console? Better yet, how did they make E.T. in 2 weeks, even as crappy as it was? No wonder people take up programming for the 2600 these days - if you can pull anything off on it you're worth your salt. I'll have to put this on my "to do" list - due date in the next five years or so...

11:42 AM
I've lucked out. Seems that TNN (formerly The Nashville Network but now The National Network now that country music is in the shitter) is now the new home for rerun episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Further, they're running a marathon starting October 1st of ST:TNG episodes and such, and it continues for a full week. The part I've lucked out on, however, is that they're not showing every episode and so therefore I don't feel an overwhelming urge to tape them all, 24-7. Phew, that was close. However, they are playing the episodes in order after that. Perhaps it's time to give up my NYPD Blue quest in order to persue better endevours...

10:47 AM
Must read Lord of the Rings by December 19. Must read Lord of the Rings by December 19. Must read Lord of the Rings by December 19. Must read...

September 25, 2001
1:37 PM
Okay folks, here's a head-scratcher. Remember the magazine Total Movie? I subscribed to this magazine for its initial doomed 4 issue run - a bimonthly issue and a DVD full of movie trailers and short films. It was pretty cool, I thought.

I think what happened to the remainder of money for the magazine went into my Next Generation subscription (along with the money applied to the failed Official Sega Dreamcast Magazine). However, now Total Movie has relaunched and it's a little more pricey this time. However, according to the relaunched website, the yearly subscription price of $39.99, you get 6 bi-monthly issues of Total Movie, 6 bi-monthly issues of Inside DVD (a second magazine that apparently doesn't even bother with a print medium - it's just a snapper case) and - here's the kicker - 40 DVD movies.

Here's what they say about that:

"The 40 movie bundle includes Classics, Westerns, Noir, Sci-Fi, Cult, Animation and even French New Wave; from directors including Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Francis Ford Coppola and Frank Capra; starring actors including Jack Nicholson, Marlon Brando, Cary Grant and contemporary fave John Travolta."

Damn. I really want this now. Of course this hits as all my magazine subscriptions need to be renewed and I have a hard enough time doing that - plus they're being delayed because the money is tight (as always). But still - even though I know that a lot of these movies won't be, say, A+ titles, it would be cool to suddenly have a much expanded DVD collection for cheap. My guess is these are probably a bunch of "never did sell" titles that perhaps would be nice to have on DVD but you would never get around to buying for various reasons If you only get to buy a DVD once in a blue moon, it's always something balls-out like Star Wars, but for those "eh, what the hell..." movies this may be just what you need. Kinda like when you flip to a Turner owned network and they're playing some movie you'd like to watch, but you don't want to pay $20 for.

Must... scrounge up.... change....

(having said that if they're all shit movies there's no way I'm getting it - someone's bound to put out a list of them soon)

9:07 AM
We computer junkies are a bitchy little bunch. Part of the impression of intelligence is the fear and paranaoia that comes along with the notion of someone telling you you're wrong, so the tendency is to lash out proactively against thosw who might oppose you. Case in point: I had a friend I worked with at one point, let's just call him the Microsoft Whore, who hated Leo from The Screen Savers, because the man was "stupid and always dead wrong." Translation: he's a Linux enthusaist and therefore a threat to Microsoft. While I have noticed Leo state things wrong in the past (or at least be misguiding about it, which is bad considering he's "here to help") and I do notice a bit of an anti-MS bias, I don't think there's really anything wrong with what he says or how he chooses to go about doing it - rather the fault probably lied with my Whore friend, as he felt his knowledge somehow undermined by a person on TV.

However, every morning on KTSR they have some recurring content, including the local news, the jokes made by Jon Stewart and Jay Leno the night before, and Lazlow's Underground Hard Drive. Let me tell you, this guy is a putz. This morning's little diatribe: "With all the Windows operating systems out there, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows ME, Windows NT, Windows 2000 and now Windows XP, consumers may feel a little bit overwhelmed..." Yes, Lazlow, do that. Play on the igorance of the masses to make Microsoft seem like an evil fuck. Nevermind the fact that Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows NT aren't even available anymore (as MS buys the copies back once a new version is out). Nevermind the fact that Windows 2000 is only found at certian places and even when it is it's so expensive as to ward off the average user. Nevermind the fact that once Windows XP hits shelves it will be the only OS MS will market anymore and the only one on shelves, just sit there and make a big deal out of nothing, fucktard.

Maybe my Whore friend was right after all.

September 24, 2001
9:46 AM
I guess now I'm officially an old fart. I participated in the Aggie Band reunion. It was interesting to see how I compared to the "real" old farts. This weekend was the Corps reunion - 125 years old (the Band only goes back to 1894). They did a presentation and some various events around campus - it was pretty cool.

Also this weekend, and perhaps more significantly, at the football game A&M did a little stunt called "Red, White and Blue Out". A little history - a few years ago (1998) seems we kept not only getting beat by Nebraska (where they breed their football players big apparently) but we kept getting annihilated by them. Everyone did - they had an undefeated record stretching back a year or so. So someone came up with idea to do "Maroon Out" - since the Nebraska game that year was at Kyle Field the idea was to print out tons of maroon T-shirts with "Maroon Out" on them (maroon and white are the A&M colors) and sell them as cheaply as possible - $5 (barely covering the $4+ price of printing the shirt) with the hopes of the football players' spirits being encouraged by seeing so much maroon in the stands and the opposing team being scared by the strong showing. When the Aggies won the game 28-21 the Maroon Out concept was given most of the credit. For that game 31,000 shirts were sold to the crowd of 68,000+ (remember that most A&M fans already own a maroon shirt of some sort). Now each year a game is designated the "Maroon Out" game (this year it's Notre Dame, next weekend), but there's always a ton of these shirts at the game.

In wake of the WTC incident someone came up with a concept to do "Red White and Blue Out" - only this time to infest the three different decks of Kyle Field - third (top) deck was red, second (middle) deck was white, first (bottom) deck was blue. And as you can see from this picture the effort was not only successful, but was an amazing success - 70,000 shirts were sold to the 82,601 people at the game. The section of khaki on the first deck is the Corps of Cadets and the splotches of orange on the other side of that deck are Oklahoma fans, but the second and third decks especially were more or less perfect in their participation. The $150,000 profit from the $5 shirt sales will go to the relief efforts.

The "USA" is being spelled out by the Aggie Band and somewhere in that cluster of maroon people on the top of the field is me - that's the Reunion Band and we had just left the field after playing "The Noble Men of Kyle". All in all it was pretty cool and it's futher evidence that I'm involved in something that will never die.

September 21, 2001
4:37 PM
If you didn't see The Daily Show last night, Jon Stewart's address is available for reading here.

2:57 PM
Here's a mind-blower. You know Shenmue the 16-chapter epic role playing game from Yu Suzuki on the Sega Dreamcast? Well since the DC is going the way of the Dodo, Shenmue III is of course going to come out on something like XBox, PS2 or GameCube. While some people believe that it's blasphemy for Shenmue to continue/finish its run on another console, others realize it's better than no conclusion at all (Shenmue was the first two chapters, Shenmue II will be the next four, leaving 10 to go and likely a fourth and fifth title before it's all done).

However, it turns out the Dreamcast-centricness is unwarranted - Shenmue began development for the Sega Saturn! Here's a video clip that proves it - it's apparently on one of the Japanese Shenmue II discs and it's unlocked when you finish the game.

What blows me away about it is how far along this title was in development for the Saturn before it was shifted to the DC. Also, it makes me do a double-take on that machine. I had always heard the Saturn thought in "quad"s (i.e., 2-D) and the PlayStation thought in "tri"s (i.e., 3-D) and that it was mainly luck that 3-D took off. I had also heard that it was akin to jumping through flaming hoops trying to get the Saturn to do 3-D environments - clearly AM2 is a very talented developer.

This really wants me to go home and finish the first game (never got past the "wandering around aimlessly" part - which is most of the game).

10:30 AM
Alrighty, here's a major complaint of mine. Two of them, actually.

There are these two words, digital and analog. Digital roughly means "ones and zeroes" and analog roughly means "not ones and zeroes". With me so far?

Picture a vinyl record player (for you children of the '80's, ask your parents). You take your needle and you place it in the groove. The vibrations of the needle cause the sound you would hear from the record. This is an "analog" method of sound reproduction at its very basic definition. Now picture a Compact Disc player. The CD spins and a laser bounces off the little microscopic pits on the disc. The pits are either there or they're not there. When there is a pit there, it's considered a "1", and when there's not a pit there it's a "0" (or vice versa, I can't remember which). The 1's and 0's are collected together to create a sample, a very quick "burst" of sound. The music you hear is comprised of lots and lots of these samples. 44,100 per second to be exact (double that if you count the left and right channels separately). This is "digital" sound reproduction.

So what's better? The quick answer is the CD. If you count a sample per second as a hertz (the common method of doing so) then a CD has a "sampling rate" of 44.1KHz. This is pretty much adequate - no one complains that a CD sounds subpar when they hear it. However, what is the "sampling rate" of a vinyl record? Well, as the record doesn't consist of data but rather of a single groove, the sampling ratre paradigm doesn't really apply, but if you were to force it to apply the rate would be infinity. Now compare infinity to 44,100. Which one comes out bigger?

Of course, this doesn't take into account real world concerns. Vinyl records are prone to scratches and dust - their storage is "naked" or "exposed" - as opposed to the plastic coating on a CD. You can, of course, scratch a CD so bad it screws up, but it's harder to do than a record. The data error correction is such that the laser can usually neglect minor scratches (unless it's so bad as to act as a "prisim") and dust. Also, a vinyl record is prone to wear due to simple friction - the grooves wear down over time and over excessive use. Finally, the vinyl record usually has to have a cushioned, staticless surface to spin on and a $1000 tonearm to perform at optimum conditions - the $50 boom box you can get at Target produces similar results to the $300 CD stereo component. Plus there's aesthetic concerns as well - more CD's can fit in a store and consumers decided they liked the smaller discs as well - you can take them in your car without having to convert them to cassette.

So the official answer to the question is that the vinyl record has the potential to sound better. However, the CD is more practical. It doesn't have the pops or scratches a record has and it doesn't have the "tape hiss" which plagues analog cassettes. For all practical purposes it's superior, but here's the rub: it's not an absolute superiority.

Why is this important? Well because an absolute superiority implies that it wins hands down and that, ipso facto, the characteristics which make it what it is make it a superior medium. Translation: the CD is better because it's digital.

Step in the wayback machine to 1986. You're sitting there playing Nintendo (once again, ask your parents if you're not sure). You have your little crappy controller that came with it. Now look down at it - there's a "D-pad" - the official name for the directional portion of the controller resembling a "+" sign. You hit left, Mario goes left. You hit right, Mario goes right. Now if you want him to go to the right faster, you don't hit to D-pad harder, you actually have to hold down a different button in addition to the direction. Why is that? Because it's a digital pad - the directions have values of either "1" (you pressed it) or "0" (you didn't).

Now it's a decade later and you're playing your Nintendo 64. You see two direction pads - one looking like a "+" and one looking like a tiny joystick. You're playing Super Mario 64. You move the little stick a little bit in one direction, Mario moves in that direction. If you move it all the way, Mario runs in that direction. The little joystick is an analog controller, and the Nintendo 64 was the first to bother with it. Later PlayStation models (the "Dual Shock" ones) had it and every console since does, but Nintendo was the first to innovate it. In this case analog once again means "not ones and zeroes" - the stick had a number of points to it. The PlayStation 2's Dual Shock 2 controller has analog buttons - they're pressure sensitive to 256 degrees (though I don't know if anything takes advantage of them yet).

This pretty much cinched the fact that digital was not absolutely better than analog, until Microsoft unveiled a new force feedback joystick with the tagline of using "advanced digital technology!".

Now think back to the mediums in which video is delivered. In the late 1970's to early 1980's, there were two different paradigms being pushed, the magnetic tape based mediums of VHS and Betamax, and the large compact disc like medim of Laserdisc. Since VHS and Betamax were based on the same principles as the analog audio cassette, calling them "analog" mediums seems an easy fit. Laserdisc, then, as it was a larger parallel of the compact disc (stored movies in terms of ones and zeroes) was a digital medium. Laserdiscs never took off beyond devout movie buffs for various reasons, none of which singly doomed the format - the fact that they were more expensive than VHS, the fact that it was a non-recordable medium, the fact that movies often spanned multiple sides, the fact that the public was being sold on the CD with the tagline of "smaller is better" and here was a LD the size of a vinyl record - the list goes on.

Today we have DVD. DVD is superior to LD in nearly every way - the discs are smaller, movies often fit on one side, the picture and sound is better than LD due to the latest technology, etc. DVD also winds up being a slap in the face of everyone who supported LD all these years. However, DVD employs something known as MPEG-2 compression to work its magic. A movie is still too big to fit on a DVD untouched, so people figured out that if you only draw the portions of a screen which change from frame to frame you can save space. Foe example, if you watch CNN you'll notice the little CNN logo in the corner never goes anywhere. Were this to be compressed on a DVD, the little CNN logo would only get drawn once (it works a little differently due to the use of "key frames", but you get the idea). A laserdisc never used any sort of compression, the frames were just presented one after another (which is why, even with a larger disc, movies often spread to two sides - the Star Wars movies spread to four sides each). As a result, for some reason Laserdisc is now seen as an "analog" medium - DVD is now the new "digital" medium.

This is wrong in my opinion - both mediums are digital.

Which brings us to the reason I made this post. There are cell phones out there, and there are a number of different methods of "doing" cell phones. Apparently in the last couple of years there's been a new type of phone network manufactured, so once again this new type of communication method is called "digital", and the older method is known as "analog". I know this because my wife had a cell phone, and then she was lured into trading her phone in for a new digital one. I never knew there was a difference (read: there wasn't one before they came up with the new ones). But what I started to notice in subsequent cell phone conversations was that there was a "lag" - a fraction of a second passed between the time she would say something and when I would hear it. Also, anything I said took a little while to get to her. This was annoying but tolerable.

Now I have a cell phone and of coure it's a digital one. The lag is now twice as bad - maybe even worse, since the phones are on different providers. As a result, a cell phone conversation is not entirely unlike a walkie-talkie conversation. I miss half of what my wife says and she misses half of what I say because we're talking over each other because what we're saying is not heard instantaneously, so what I'm talking over isn't being spoken at the moment and vice versa, and the minutes are drained on asking each other to repeat ourselves. Also when the other person stops talking you have to wait for a second or two to see if they really are done talking - a pause which can be easily misconstrued as an awkard or pissed off one.

The final irony is that I can't tell what's better - the sound quality is basically the same as the old "analog" phone. For that matter, if this is a digital phone, what was the old phone recieving - a cassette from the sky? This is the final straw for me in the whole "digital = better" debate - a clear "no".

So, to summize - I hate the fact that there is a misconception that "digital = better", I hate the way "digital" and "analog" are thrown around as buzzwords instead of useful terms, and I hate the fact that because of these facts a cell phone conversation more than a minute or two long is an excercise in pain.

8:32 AM
Quick note. Although the mere fact that you are reading this page means that you are smatrer than the average person, I still think it bears mentioning that there is a widespread misconception that Pong was the first video game. It wasn't. A game called Spacewar was the first, and it celebrated its 40th anniversary this year. Pong's claim to fame was that it was the first successful video game. Spacewar was deemed "too complicated" for the average user. However, if you've never played Spacewar, a Java version of the game has been created for you to try.

September 20, 2001
8:53 AM

September 18, 2001
8:59 PM
So for the next little bit (not sure how long) I'll have SchnappleCam. It's the video camera my parents loaned me, so they may want it back soon. If they do, I plan to get one of those little logitech dealies and do that instead. Not that my little office here is that interesting, but the image is live (which is more than I can say for some webcams). Of course this means I can't pick my nose or scratch indiscriminantly, but maybe that's for the best.

And yes, I stole that one line of JavaScript from Moe.

4:19 PM
So, these latest viruses (like Nimda) spread through email - sending itself to address book entries. Yet I've never gotten one. Should I feel relieved or offended?

12:25 PM
One of these days I hope to make posts without having to mention the WTC tragedy, but Stephen King has a blurb in the New York Times (registration required) which has encouraging and discouraging things to day about the incident. Not sure if he's completely right about the Columbine bit, though - I had heard they wanted to hold the Principal at gunpoint and have him call an assembly at which the shooters would unload or explode a bomb. When I heard that I figured it was pretty far fetched - but nothing's far fetched anymore.

9:27 AM
History repeats itself. Way back in the day Intel made chips with model numbers like 8086, 80286, 80386 and 80486. Since the first two numbers were the same, they decided to drop them and name the chips the 286, the 386 and the 486. They placed a math coprocessor on the 386, making it faster but more expensive. They did this for the 486 as well. Then they found that people wanted lower priced chips, so they unveiled the 386/486SX (which somehow stood for "single precision") and the 386/486DX ("double precision"). The SX lines were literally identical to the DX lines, but the math coprocessor was broken (literally physically broken). They would then happily sell you a math coprocessor chip - to replace the one they broke for you. Sneaky? Yes, but it worked - if you weren't concerned with speed you could save some money and then upgrade later.

When the 286 came out demand was so high Intel farmed out some production of it to a startup chip maker named AMD. After the demand settled they told AMD their services were no longer needed. Imagine Intel's surprise when AMD started coming out with chips whose architecture mimmicked the x86 architecture. Obviously being privvy to special Intel documents gave them the knowledge needed to be able to make these cloned chips. Interestingly enough their case held up in court - the judge figured they could have made the cloned chips even without the Intel knowledge (it just might have taken longer).

AMD even named their chips the 386, 486, etc., for which they were sued again. Intel claimed they owned the copyrights for those names, but of course they didn't have a case - you can't very well copyright a number. Intel quickly tried to rename their chips the i386 abd i486 ("i" for Intel - this was long before the iMac) but those names never took (and wouldn't have helped them in court anyway). Intel made the argument that the numbers were conjured from thin air and that the sequential-ness of them all was coincidence. They also made the argument that SX and DX were similarly conjured from thin air, that they didn't stand for anything, and that the DX2 was not a "clock doubled double precision" chip. This went so far that the clock tripled 486DX chip went under the name 486DX4, not the logical 486DX3, so that they could help the name argument (and make a quick buck off those who assumed it was a quadruple speed chip).

It didn't work - what Intel needed to do was to put their money where their mouth was and conjure up a new name for the 586, so they dubbed it Pentium - a made up word whose root was "penta-" (five). This worked - Pentium took off as a strong brand name. AMD's 586 chip, which they dubbed the K5, looked puny in comparison. Even their quick follow-up, the K6, bombed.

AMD's fallacy was that their chips were never as fast as Intel chips, even at the same clock speeds. This was less relevant, since AMD entries never debuted at a clock speed as high as their Intel counterparts.

Intel, meanwhile, unveiled the Pentium successor, Pentium II. They had pretty good ties to the strong "Pentium" brand, and since the greek prefix for six was "sexta-" (a "Sextium" wouldn't have worked, they sumised), and since sequential naming got them in trouble in the past, they kept the Pentium name, following up the Pentium II with the Pentium III and Pentium IV. They also came out with another "budget" chip, the Celeron (whose name became originally became synonymous with "celery") which was a Pentium II without cache. This was in response to a fad notion of the Network Computer - that people en masse would give up their desires to own pricey machines and instead all make do with dumb terminals. Woefully slow, they eventually gave it a limited cache and it became an attractive option for low priced computing.

Then just after the introduction of the Pentium III, AMD finally released their Athlon chip (what would have been the K7). Finally, they released a chip with a higher clock speed than an Intel chip and one who could benchmark faster as well. In addition to being marginally faster on real-world applications, it was also less expensive. Ever since then Intel and AMD have been waging a war on clock speed and price.

The other half of hating Microsoft is hating Intel, since the "Wintel" architecture is the market beast. Therefore, those who love to hate Microsoft love to love AMD and their Athlon. Me personally I went with Intel's Pentium III two years ago when I made my system, since Athlon was untested in the market. The added cost of locating an Athlon motherboard (at the time) negated any price difference the chip provided. And I think that while Athlon has proved itself (more or less) in the marketplace, I'll probably stick with Intel, but as my next processor purchase is down the road some, I'll keep and eye out on both.

One of the things that would happen with the Microsoft/Intel cozy alliance was that Microsoft would find something that they thought it would be great if the processor could perform as an operation, so they would phone up Intel and suggest it. Intel would agree and place it in their next chip. Now Microsoft is happy since they have software that uses the new operation (and they are the only ones so far that know how to use it) and Intel would be happy since now the most popular software code in the world ran better on their chips. This is why in the end they let AMD do whatever without further litigation - they just figured that they could do one better next time and AMD would just keep playing catchup.

Now history is repeating itself in a few ways. The Register is reporting that AMD is naming their next athlon the Athlon XP and had curiously delayed it to hit at the same time as Windows XP. They're also doing away with megahertz as a method of naming chips. the 1.3GHz model will be named the Athlon XP 1500+, the 1.4GHz model is named the Athlon XP 1600+, and so on. This gives the consumer the illusion of added speed, and the name change gets them all chummy with Microsoft, who probably doesn't have a problem burning bridges with Intel. Will it work? Who knows - the economy is going to shit as we speak (both before and because of the WTC incident) and so clinging to someone who you think is going to come out alive isn't unheard of, but this does put another fun wrinkle on which chip I should go for.

September 17, 2001
9:12 AM
I love my Handspring Visor. It runs PalmOS and does all the neat crap I need it to do. For $150 it's one of the more useful things I have. It's also sturdy enough to be durable, which is more confidence than the Palm models inspire in me. And I like Handspring as a company. They make a Visor called Platinum which is a faster Visor with more memory, and a Visor called Prism which is a Platinum with color. Were I to buy a new one I would get the Prism. The other selling point to a Visor (though unused so far on my model) is the springboard - a cartridge slot with which you can expand the unit to do any number of things.

However, Handspring decided to come out with a Visor called Edge. Its gimmick was that it was slimmer than a standard Visor - so much so that you couldn't use the springboards - the main gimmick of the Handspring line - without an adapter. It sold disasterously, most (including Handpring) believing it had to do with the fact that it wasn't color.

Now Handspring is coming out with two new Visors, the Pro and Neo. Neo is basically the Platinum repriced and with three diffrerent translucent cases. Pro is Platinum but with 16MB of RAM, unprecedented on a PalmOS device (PalmOS can't address more than 8MB simultaneously, so either it's a modified PalmOS or there's a switching trick involved). Neat, but they'e still not color. Not that I'm in the market for a new PDA anytime soon - I still hold to the notion that they're only for organizing and my bottom-rung PDA does just fine with that - but whenever I buy a new PDA it's going to have color. I hope Handspring figures that out and these things get affordable soon.

8:23 AM
Got me again. I thought this Flight Simulator stuff was going too far. It is, but I didn't know what "too far" was until now.

September 15, 2001
11:07 AM
Oh yeah, in all the confusion I forgot. There's a store here called "Big Lots". Their gimmick is that they carry closeout items. They sent us an ad recently and in it they advertised the aforementioned (a long while back) Logitech iFeel MouseMan for $22. When I got this for X-Mas they were selling for $50-$60, so if you want one and you have a Big Lots anywhwere near, give them a look. I just hope this doesn't mean that Logitech/Immersion are screwed or anything.

10:13 AM
I guess this answers my question.

September 14, 2001
8:42 AM
Ah shit. Yes, we know the terrorists could have trained on a flight simulator. Yes, the flight simulators have very realistic representations of major cities (which isn't "shocking" or "chilling" at all). But are flight simulators a "problem"? I of course say no. This aforementioned article, however, implies that they could be. It also implies that flight simulators may be responsible for the WTC attack.

I'm afraid I don't follow. Is he insisting that the terrorists got training on the program and then just re-did what they played in the game? If so, is he implying that were the computer program never to exist that Tuesday would have never happened? If so, the man is an idiot. Perhaps they would not have hit the World Trade Center, but they would have done something. The first time I ever took off in Flight Simulator 5.0 (way back in 1993 or so), I slammed my plane into the World Trade Center the first time. And the Eiffel Tower. And the Sears Tower. It's really not that hard - pick the biggest thing around and hit it.

Dr. Bob Arnot, who is a doctor (or not), even insists that the only way the terrorists knew to hit the WTC is because it was in the game. Oh please - it couldn't be because the WTC is the biggest landmark on the NYC skyline. By that logic he should be prosecuting postcard manufacturers. Also by that logic the press should be prosecuting the people who gave the terrorists flight training. Oh wait, they already are. Next they'll go after the manufacturers of box cutters. At least ABC News had the intelligence to question the logic of allowing knives up to 4" on board and not having a bullet proof door to the cockpit.

Arnot also goes on to be shocked that anyone who can afford $34.95 can learn such deadly skills. I wonder if the terrorists actually bought the software. Like with the Columbine Lawsuit, I wonder if it makes a difference if they pirated the software.

What also bugs me about the article is what Arnot won't say. He never mentions a partuicular piece of PC software. He also never comes right out and says "they should not have made this software", but he implies it. What he does in the article is to play on the fears and ignorance of the masses.

The final irony of all of this is that, for example, Flight Simulator is a non-violent game. Like I mentioned before the crashes in the game are unspectacular. It is literally intended to be a clinical simulation of flying a plane - which is why most gamers don't bother with it, it's too boring for them. Flight Simulator is also 23 years old It's not some "new piece of software" - it started its life on the Apple ][. It didn't even start its life under Microsoft. Flight Simulator is even used over in the Trigon at A&M to help Navy cadets learn to fly (any "real" training they need comes later). By Arnot's line of reasoning, it could be responsible for any number of plane crashes over the years.

While Flight Simulator could have taught the pilots how to crash into the WTC, it couldn't teach them how to hijack a plane, smuggle weapons, fake their identification, or kill people with box cutters. Neither will Counter-Strike, BTW.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised. People want easy answers and the ratings go to the network that can give them. And while I appreciate the Penny Arcade response, it's not going to dispel the myth that gamers have such a violent, knee-jerk reaction to criticism because we spend all day on murder simulators.

September 13, 2001
8:57 PM
I guess that leads to another question - Microsoft is coming out with Flight Simulator 2002 soon. Will they take out the WTC towers? On the one hand they should - FS2002 is supposed to be as realistic as possible. However, that's a somewhat cold way of handling it - just removing them from the game. But if they leave them in the game then it's kinda morbid - plus it makes them more likely to suffer criticism for allowing a new version of the game to re-enact the events.

9:56 AM
I hate to say it, but I've personally done this several times. I always crash my plane into buildings in Flight Simulator - it's just easier than having to land them (which I can't do and wind up crashing them anyway). Gamers have complained over the years that Microsoft didn't have any "cool crashes" in the game - whenever you crash you just see your plane sitting there and the words "you have crashed" appear in the screen. Now I'm glad they made the crashes so clinical. The other thing I am glad about is that this story is not "blaming" a computer game - no more than the media is "blaming" the flight school they think the terrorists took lessons from. I'm hoping they don't try to draw a parallel to Counter-Strike next.

September 11, 2001
7:08 PM
Well on the one hand I don't really have any insight or anything to say really concerning the whole terrorist bit that happened today, other than to say that I was completely terrified earlier today once more and more information came forward, feeling a sickness I haven't experienced since the Bonfire collapse. However, I don't want to leave the matter completely unaddressed, since that's kinda shallow.

Therefore, I will say this much. I take great pride in the fact that here in America, when we want to, we will get you. Whenever you download an illegal MP3 or copy a video you rent, you don't "get away" with it because you're too good or smart to be caught, you get away with it because the authorites let you. Period. When America wants you, they get you. When the WTC was bombed back in 1993 all they had was part of the axle of the truck that exploded and they had an arrest in three days. They had Timothy McVeigh arrested within 48 hours, and dead six years later. Sometimes it takes a while, like with the Unabomber, but we will find you and we will get you.

And this is why I am thankful we have a Republican Texan in the White House who is not afraid to use force and the military to extract justice.

September 10, 2001
2:15 PM
I just discovered that the "bug" wasn't with the code I wrote or modified - it was with the way the data type was laid out (alphanumeric instead of date) and that it was my Boss' fault. Frustrated at the wasted time, relieved that it wasn't my fault, amused that it was my boss' fault. Oh, and relieved that the deadline has been pushed back to whenever we get the stinking thing done (which will be soon but not tomorrow night).

Also, at the end of last week lots of press members were invited out to the Skywalker Ranch in LA to view/partake in the DVD for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Apparently the deal is that once midnight Tuesday rolls around on the west coast (2 AM for you Texas types) websites are allowed to post their reviews of the 2-disc set, so check on The Force or DVDFile if you're up. On the one hand the reviews should be good - early word is that this is one fantastic transfer of the film and one hell of an offering on DVD. On the other hand, the websites are likely to criticize the film (again) and lament that it's too little too late. In either event, it doesn't really matter - myself and millions of others will be purchasing the DVD no matter what for the simple fact that this is freaking Star Wars on DVD - something we were always told wouldn't be forthcoming in any way shape or form until 2006. One sixth of the way to a full set!

12:52 PM

So let me get this straight. I've been working on one COBOL bug for a week now (and I just know it's something lame like a period out of place) and some facko out there has programmed a Lego Mindstorms robot that solves Rubik's Cubes. Apparently he got the little cameras to discern what colors were on the cube and then feed that info into an algorithm that gets the thing solved in 40 moves or less. This is such a phonemenal achievement that it looks like Lego might buy the idea off of him. I just want my date to look like 09/10/01 instead of 20/01/10, dammit.

Looks like the V12 engine is getting a name change since no one noticed before now that the name "V12 engine" as it pertains to computer games, was taken already. How lame. They're soliciting ideas for a new name but they seem to like SpankDog, the name of a local microbrewery (or maybe it's the beer). No thanks - I'd rather have masturbation as far away from my game programming as possible.

In the meantime I feel like shit warmed over for some reason and I just know this aforementioned bug and the few others I tripped over will keep me here into the late hours because they're "supposed" to be done by Tuesday night. Oh well, this project has been taking all my time for the last few weeks here at work, perhaps the next project won't be a bullet in the head.

Oh, and apparently the webmaster of DCEmulation.com is having a bit of a problem with his staff. It stems from the fact that the webmaster is around 13 years old, and his staff is either of approximately equal age or younger, and he decided to make some demands of them, like acknowledging their existence. Now these staff members, who probably don't even know the real names of each other or the webmaster, are rebelling for some reason , deleting the forums and hacking the site up. This morning no one could even get in. Apparently the webmaster mistakenly believed that he could expect accountability and professionalism from a bunch of unpaid, uncollected children. I like DCEmulation and all, especially the Bleemcast forum, as it's the only one Rand Linden (lead programmer of all things Bleem!) frequents, even if most of the comments are of the "Hey! Do a Spice World pack!" or "You guys suck for not doing the 100 game pack!" variety.

Finally, the NYPD Blue streak didn't last - I've forgotten to record the last three episodes. Whoops. Guess I'll have to re-tape season five when it comes back around.

September 6, 2001
4:24 PM
This made me laugh. If you get it you're a total dork.

September 4, 2001
3:19 PM
It must completely suck when a console has a huge user base, even as it dies away. Witness the Sony PlayStation. While I don't know how many are in a given geographic region, I do know that there are 85 million of them out there, not counting PS2 units, making it the most popular console ever, hands down. As a result, there's still a ton of games coming out for it including, get this Black & White. Yep, the beautiful PC game that's a work of art is headed to the PSX, where it looks like shit warmed over. I can't even pretend that this game doesn't look like ass on the PSX. It had been in development for the Sega Dreamcast, but when Sega dropped publishing the port (right before dropping the Dreamcast) that port died, since the game's PC publisher, EA, is on the take from Sony not to make that happen. Therefore, it's headed to the PSX. It's coming to the PS2 and XBox as well, but on the PSX even completely lackluster sales will outdo sales on the PS2. Black & White is also headed to the Game Boy Color, of all things, but that's more of a joke than a port.

This all leads back to what may be the big problem with the PS2 - backwards compatibility. Back when the Commodore 128 came out, Commodore figured people didn't want to chuck their old Commodore 64 software, so they made the computer compatible with the C64 through an emulation mode. However, developers didn't initially want to write for the C128 since it would hurt sales, and then consumers wouldn't buy the C128 because it didn't have any software and was more expensive than the C64, which was cheaper anyway. This is the problem the PS2 is experiencing right now. Now granted, Sony does have more control than Commodore did - the PSX is a closed platform, so they could state tommorow that December 31, 2001 would be the last day of PSX games, since Sony has final say. The question/problem is, whenever they finally do do that (if they do that), will it be enough?

September 3, 2001
11:28 AM
One of my all-time favorite shows is NYPD Blue. I've been taping them off ABC in recent years, but what I really want is to get them all on tape. A daunting task, given that the show has been on for years now. If nothing else, having them on TV on a regular basis would be nice. FX, the Fox cable cash-in channel, has been airing them for some time but my cable provider doesn't carry that channel. A short while back I heard that TNT would start carrying the show, so I got all excited. I just checked the TNT Page, however, and they say that the episodes they're airing tommorow feature Bobby Simone, so they're not beginning the series from episode one. However, this FAQ entry tells me that what happened is that FX's rights expired in August and so TNT and CourtTV (?) started bidding on the rights, and they both won. Both channels will show two episodes per day, one in the morning and one in the evening. Court TV's morning episode will begin the rotation at season one, the evening rotation with season two. TNT's morning episode starts at season five, the evening starts with season six. Apaprently once they get to the end of the syndicated seasons they're going to start over, so once season 12 or so ends on TNT they'll start with season one again. I'd rather start watching/taping them from season one, but of course I don't get Court TV.

Am I crazy enough to attempt to tape them all? Will I remember to set the VCR every day? Will my wife ever let me purchase enough videotapes? Stay tuned...

10:25 AM
Moe has a new quip up wherein she complains about the confusion over the word "download". I.e., customer calls in and says "I downloaded the Internet off your site" or "It won't download" when they can't send email. While I try to make this site something other than a retort site to other people's ramblings, I'm going to make an exception in this case. Here are some more postulations on the word "download"

For starters, while the phrase "I downloaded the Internet" is daunting beyond imagination, I can't really tell you what the word "download" really means, because it has such a broad definition that technically its usage isn't wrong per se, but its overuse has run into misuse. For example, the game developer Volition has released a game demo for the upcoming title Red Faction. The demo is over 100MB in size. I go to a webpage that allows me to download it and I click on it. Since it's not a web page (.html) I've clicked on, and is instead an executable file (.exe) it does not "open" the file automatically, it asks me if I want to open it from the current location or save it to a disk. Of course I save it to my hard drive - it's 100MB and I may want to install it later, or install it a second time. In fact, because I know this already, I don't even bother to let the web browser ask me the question - I right-click on the file and tell the web browser to save it to begin with. That is downloading.

Right now I'm listening to KTSR, a local College Station radio station. I open up Windows Media Player and tell it to open a particular URL. However, I am not saving the audio of the radio station to my hard drive - it's streaming off of the Internet. It's buffered to a memory and then played through the player, then it's purged from memory. This is not downloading.

However, these definitions of downloading are my own personal ones. I guess the real difference is that you keep the first kind of activity, whereas the second one you don't. However, past web browsers and email and e-commerce and whatever, there really are only two things you can do on the Internet - send and recieve. Some call these upload and download, but all it is is sending and recieving. When you type in www.bluesnews.com, your web browser sends a request to the Internet, and then it recieves the information that constitutes Blue's News - the text, the links, the annoying "shock the monkey" ad, everything. So, you recieve Blue's News, but by the "upload/download" definition, you're downloading Blue's News.

Now here's the fun part - Blue's News doesn't know whether you are in fact viewing their web page or saving it to your hard drive. Why you would want to save it is anyone's guess, but the Blue's News server doesn't know the difference one way or another. This becomes important in a minute.

There is a woman named Cindy Margolis. She is a very attractive blonde with breast implants who currently holds the Guinness World Record for "most downloaded woman" on the Internet. Of course, Guinness draws the line right there and never defines what "downloading" is. According to my definition, this would mean that she's the woman whose picture is saved to people's hard drives most often, which I seriously doubt is the case (since like I mentioned earlier the web server can't tell the difference). No, the definition of downloading that they're using is the one where any downstream traffic (anything you've recieved) is a "download". By that logic, if you go to her site and hit "refresh" five times, you've "downloaded" her five times.

But it gets better. There's another woman named Danni Ashe (three guesses on what her site is called) who has taken issue with Cindy Margolis' claim and counter-claims that she is the most downloaded woman on the web. She even started her own site to extoll the virtues of her own numbers and placing Cindy Margolis much further down the list. So why did Guinness not give her the title instead? Well, Danni Ashe's site which has given her all the popularity in the first place is a porn site. (that's not a porn link, BTW).

Not to get on a tangent here but the hell of it is, while many (including Guinness) will shun Ashe for being a porn queen, the difference between her and Margolis is that Ashe actually did something to achieve her fame, granted that something was pornography. Margolis is pretty and that's about it. She has had professional photography done of her and she places said pics on her website and that's it. She has her own web-based talk show and it's expanding to a televised one in syndication soon, and she's had guest spots on Ally McBeal and other shows. Her past jobs include a stint as a fembot and brief appearance on The Price is Right. However, while she calls herself a model, she doesn't do anything. She's not on the cover of Cosmopolitan, she doesn't pimp makeup, she isn't in music videos or walking down runways, she just looks pretty. The sad part is, that appears to be enough.

The problem with both of these notions, however, is not that they're fighting over who has downloaded more, but rather two other things. First, the aforementioned problems of the term "download", and the fact that the numbers are frivolous at best. For starters, these two women attempt to lay claim to the title of "most downloaded woman on the Internet", but that's assuming that every time someone "downloads" them from the web it's from their site. I'd be willing to bet that Britney Spears is probably not only viewed over the Internet more often, but saved to hard drives more often - in various states of Photoshop-induced undress.

Blue's News used to have a web hit counter on their site. They still have it - if you go to the bottom of the page and highlight it you can see it. A short while back it hit 100,000,000 hits, and they decided to mention it. However, the counter has been broken several times through server moves and CGI difficulties, so 100,000,000 hits were probably hit some time before that, but it was still significant, mainly because it was the next base ten round number. Web statistics do not have a central agency - they are not like a fishing competition where there's a judge who weighs them at the end and disqualifies those who use little BB pellets - so these numbers are probably not accurate and could very well have been made up. Danni Ashe is not the only woman getting nekkid at her site, but she's probably counting every photo on her page as a "download". For that matter, web pages are not merely text and photographs - web pages have hundreds of graphics on them. Perhaps each individual picture is getting counted.

If I look at your webpage, I have downloaded nothing. Period. If I save you picture to a hard drive I have downloaded it. Period. Don't go telling me I downloaded your picture when in 20 days it won't even be in my cache anymore.

Next week, I'll tackle the concept of "logging on" to a website with no actual content to "log on" to (i.e., "Log on to mcdonalds.com!").

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