Category Archives: Misc

Yo ho, yo ho, a (video) pirate’s life for me…

The following is a reprint of an article I originally wrote around November 11, 2002 at 4:17:20 a.m. CST. Apparently.

From: Allen Huffman

Date: November 11, 2002 4:17:20 AM CST

Subject: Yo ho, yo ho, a (video) pirate’s life for me…

The 1990s.  You remember them, don’t you?  It was a time of amazing things such as the mainstream birth of “alternative” music. Records were being phased out with CDs in long boxes taking over. You remember long boxes, don’t you?  Blockbuster Video was gearing up to be the first movie rental store that would never be missing a title you wanted thanks to VideoCDs.  You remember VideoCDs, don’t you?

Ah yes, VideoCDs. If you are in Asia, you probably know exactly what a VideoCD is.  You may even have a collection of all the latest blockbuster movies in this format. But if you live in America, you may have only heard of VCDs from spam junk mail offering software to let you copy any DVD down to a CD.  A movie on a CD?  It’s true, honest, even if the spam offer isn’t.  Thanks to video piracy, a whole new generation is discovering the video format that could have (and probably should have) changed the way we watch movies.

Imagine this.  It’s the 1990s, and LPs have given way to a new digital format for audio: the CD.  A tiny disc is capable of storing an hour or more of excellent quality audio without any scratches, pops, wow or flutter. Die hard audio enthusiasts are about the only people not embracing this new format. Soon the expression “you sound like a broken record” is meaningless to an entire generation raised on digital audio.  Soon this technology was being applied to computers, allowing you to store entire encyclopedias on one disc!  Amazing. And, of course, we understood this was a read only format.  Writing your own CD was total fantasy. And besides, who in the world had 600 megabytes of stuff to store on one? Hard drives weren’t even that big yet!

Speaking of… Early multimedia computers were hardly impressive. One early attempt to bring multimedia to the masses was a machine made by Phillips called CD-i which stood for Compact Disc Interactive. Just as the audio CD had a standard (“red book”), so did CD-i.  The goal was to create a line of players that allowed you to insert a disc that contained multimedia — without needing a computer. The CD-i player shipped with an encyclopedia, and many games were available.  A player was about $1000 at first, and that still made it far cheaper than a home computer with CD multimedia support.  Sadly, CD-i never took off.  No one wanted a stand alone box to play games on CDs with. Imagine that.

Anyway, one of the CD-i standards is still found today — the Kodak Picture CD (back then under a slightly different name).  You could take a roll of film in for developing and get back a CD containing high resolution scans of your pictures. Over a decade later, this idea is actually starting to take off even though low cost digital cameras and scanners have greatly reduced market potential. But Picture CD not the important format — the important one was VideoCD: the VHS killer.

VideoCD would require a special hardware cartridge to be plugged in to the CD-i player.  This hardware allowed you to play up to 70 minutes of VHS-quality video from a standard CD.  (The cartridge handled something known as MPEG-1 video. Today almost everyone has heard of MPEG formats such as MP3s as well as DVD which uses MPEG-2.)  In a way, VideoCD is the father of DVD.  The DVD disc you see today has over 4 gigabytes of MPEG-2 video, while a VideoCD movie usually shipped on two discs with each holding up to 70 minutes of MPEG-1. But I digress.

A small selection of movies was available in VideoCD format in America.  Even as recently as 1996 you could still buy movies on VideoCD at Best Buy (as well as CD-i titles) but today the format is almost completely forgotten in America.  Why?  Because the thought of playing a movie on a CD was just silly.  Who wants that?  Ironically, a decade later a much more expensive technology (with “much better” rather than just “same or better” quality as VHS) did win the hearts of millions as DVDs became the fastest growing standard ever.  (Happy 5th birthday, DVD format!)

So was VideoCD just too early?  I think so.  Why did you mention Blockbuster at the start of this musing?  I was just about to get to that. Here is the part that makes me sad, folks. We lost out, big time, by VCD not taking off in America.  If consumers had embraced the format, we could have seen dedicated VCD players in the sub-$100 format long before low grade VCRs (with many more moving parts) ever made it there. Movies would have had instant access like an audio CD, and would never degrade.  And, here’s the fun part, companies like Blockbuster were talking about adding a satellite receiver to let them download and write (today we call it “burning”) your favorite movie to a VideoCD so you could rent any title you want. (Note: Later Blockbuster did experiment with making rental video games on programmable cartridges available this way.)

Long before the thought of high speed broadband internet access (and downloading illegal copies of the latest theatrical release) was even imagined, the rental industry had already found a way to embrace a new technology and make money off of it.  It was perfect.  Better than VHS quality, never needed cleaning, cheaper players (eventually) and movies that would cost less to produce than VHS (just look at the price of a blank CD today versus even the cheapest blank video tapes).  A missed opportunity.

So here I sit, wading through tons of junk mail and always finding an offer to “copy any DVD to CD” somewhere in the stack. The pirates have discovered a way to use something everyone else has forgotten. It seems it always works this way. After all, it was the pornography industry that had the most to do with the success of VHS in the first place, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

The next time you sit down to enjoy the latest blockbuster movie on DVD, pause for a moment as you realize you could have been doing this a decade ago. The next time you go to rent your favorite title and it’s out of stock, think about the video store that could have been if only CD writers had existed and pirates were making use of the them to make the format popular…

Speaking of popular, you realize that CDs are now older than most cars, right? Twenty years is a very long time for any technology, so soon, when talking about how you used to rip tunes from CD, you may find yourself asking:

“You remember CDs, don’t you?”

Jolt Cola is back!

The legendary soda with “all the sugar, and twice the caffeine” is back! The soda, which first became available in 1985, went off the market around 2009. By that time, it had evolved away from the original cola, and was being sold as an energy drink in large cans that resembled AA batteries.

You can currently only find Jolt Cola at Dollar General Stores, or on Amazon. At Dollar General, it will be in the “valley of values” aisle, rather than with the other sodas or energy drinks. The best part is, the price for the larger 16 ounce cans is just $1. You can find out if your local Dollar General has them by visiting the map at:

Http://www.joltcola.com

On Amazon, you will be paying around $3 a can, shipped right to your doorstep.

Exciting news for 2018! More details later…

Commodore Amiga documentary

I just found this Commodore Amiga documentary on HULU and watched it last night. You can find more information on the official website:

Home

For those too young to remember, the Amiga was the most advanced home computer ever sold. It was incredibly ahead of its time, especially compared to any of the competing systems that were sold when it was released in 1985.

Us old timers recall the early days of home computer with systems like the Apple 2, Commodore PET, Atari 400/800, and TRS-80. There were many other systems, like the Timex Sinclair ZX81, Texas Instruments TI99, VIC-20 and then the massively popular Commodore 64 (and later less successful 128). Thanks to the internet, I have learned about dozens of other competing systems that I never even heard of back then.

The next generation of computers were things like the 1984 Apple Macintosh and the Atari ST. The Commodore Amiga blew everything out of the water. It had multitasking and amazing color graphics (back when a PC produced only 4 awful colors on a “high resolution” screen). It had 4-channel STEREO digital sound. It was just amazing.

I recall seeing an Atari ST in a shop in Houston, and really wanting one, but it was just too expensive. Sure, my CoCo setup ended up costing way more as I added more and more components, but I could do all of that gradually. The entry level cost of an Atari ST (or Amiga) and the required monitor was simply out of my price range.

But I had Commodore 64 friends that moved on to the Amiga, and I remember getting to see one of the first time (probably in late 1987). The bouncing ball demo brought tears to my eye. I had simply never seen anything like that on a home computer screen.

This documentary gives some of the background of the creation of the Amiga, and how it ended up at Commodore (and almost ended up at Atari).

It’s a fascinating look at what was truly an amazing piece of hardware.

The movie is streaming on HULU if you have a subscription, and can be rented or bought on many other services. I recommend it, though I wish it were about 10-15 minutes longer so it could give a more complete timeline of the various models that came out and why they were created (especially things like the CDTV and CD32).

Enjoy…

Apparently I can’t trust anything I remember.

I have a few dozen different websites, but none for a subject like this, so I’ll just post it here. Maybe you will find it interesting.

Since a big portion of this site is topics from my 8-bit computer days in the 1980s, I now find myself wondering if I remember any of the stories I tell correctly. Most of the things I think I recall, I think I recall correctly … but now I am wondering if anything I say here is accurate. Join me on a quick detour and let’s have some fun with memories…

On December 22, 2015, an e-mail newsletter I receive from DIGG had a subject that caught my attention. It said:

Your Memories Aren’t Real

The newsletter usually contains around a dozen links to articles on other sites, but the first one was titled “The Movie That Doesen’t Exist And The Redditors Who Think It Does“.  The description talked about hundreds of people remembering a cheesy 1990’s movie called “Shazaam” and that no such movie exists. I initially shrugged this off because I was well aware of a movie called “Kazaam” that started the basketball player Shaquille O’Neal.

I was curious about how this could be “a thing” so I read the article. Here it is:

http://www.newstatesman.com/science-tech/internet/2016/12/movie-doesn-t-exist-and-redditors-who-think-it-does

This article discusses something called the Mandela Effect, named after groups of people who incorrectly remember Nelson Mandela dying in prison in the 1980s. Some news or event must have happened back then that confused many people the same way.

I had previously heard references to Mandela Effect on Free Talk Live, a liberty-minded syndicated talk radio program. They occasionally brought it up, using the example of how the children’s book is Berenstain Bears and not Berenstein Bears like many recall. I always heard it as “stein” so I had repeated it incorrectly my entire life.

This led me to do some quick web searches to see if there was anything more to it than that, and I found all kinds of amusing posts and YouTube videos. Most of them are in the same league as “misheard song lyrics” and made me think of a book a former coworker friend of mine, James, had pointed me to ages ago. A quick search right now shows that there is even a website dedicated to this:

http://kissthisguy.com/

(That’s a reference to the Jimi Hendrix song, which some mishear as “Excuse me while I kiss this guy!”)

I went through various lists of movie quotes everyone seems to get wrong (“NO, I am your father!”, “Life WAS like a box of chocolates”, “MAGIC mirror on the wall”) and even TV items most of us heard hundreds of times if we grew up in the 70s (“It’s a beautiful day in THIS neighborhood”). I was stunned at how many I was wrong about.

The Mandela Effect folks say this could be a sign of parallel worlds/dimensions/etc. and folks slipping between them, noticing something is off in a product logo, or song lyric or something they swear they remember and know.

It’s quite entertaining.

One actually hit me pretty hard. When I was first getting involved with Renaissance Festivals in the late 1990s, I had some smart friends that would often explain some of the historical inaccuracies these events propagate. (No, pirates like you recognize don’t belong at a typical Renaissance festival – they are closer to the Wild West era than medieval times.) One of these items was turkey legs and how turkeys were from the New World and didn’t even exist in Europe until they were brought over at a much later time (1500s?).

So how did turkey legs become so popular? I was pointed to a painting (which I always thought was of one of the King Henrys). It showed him holding up something that looked like a turkey leg. My friend explained it was likely some other type of meat. I remember looking the picture up (a color painting) back in those dial-up internet days.

Over the years, I’ve mentioned this to other festival newbies, and you can certainly find tons of references to such a painting, as well as find the pose parodied all over the place.

But there is no such painting. At least, not of King Henry.

I am confident such a painting exists, tho for all I know it was painted in the 1960s (the first Renaissance festival started around 1963 in California). It may have even been a parody painting, making fun of the King’s gluttony.

One this is for sure … it apparently was not King Henry.

And although there’s alot of science theory lately about parallel dimensions, I somehow think it’s just that my memory is crap.

Here’s a fun graphic showing various product logos and names. How many of them are you wrong about?

Enjoy!

Drobo 5C for $279 on Amazon

(Cross posting from my Appleause.com website. Over there, I post things related to Apple, Mac, iOS, etc.)

The Drobo 5C was introduced in October 2016 for $349. There has already been a $50 discount code ($299) and a one-day Amazon.com sale (also $299). Yesterday, the price tracking site, Camel Camel Camel, alerted me of a $279 price on Amazon:

http://camelcamelcamel.com/Drobo-5-Drive-Attached-Storage-DDR4A21/product/B01LWNHFBR?context=tracker

By the time you see this posting, the price may no longer be valid, but you might consider activating a Camel Camel Camel account to do your own tracking. You will receive an e-mail alert when the desired item (anything on Amazon) reaches the price you want. It also shows a historic graph of the price the item has been since tracking began.

Merry Christmas.

SPAM LITE

According to a bunch of tech news stories today (all echoing the same news from the same Symantec source), less than 50% of all e-mail is now spam. This is the lowest level of spam since September 2003.

istr-monthly-threat-report-spam-rate-lightbox

Keep that in mind when you complain about junk mail that makes it to your inbox… You should be seeing every other message as junk mail. Sadly, spam filters are also filtering out mail you want on a regular basis. I routinely log in to my spam filters and every day there are a few e-mails I manually release so I can read them that would otherwise never make it to me.

E-mail is broken, but like a car that needs a tune-up, it at least gets us to work most of the time…