ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

MAME 0.175 Arrives and the Emularity Follows —

Just a quick update on the whole “JSMESS is now just something MAME does and so we should theoretically be able to update the Internet Archive’s emulation quickly” front.

It works.

MAME, that lovely thing, went from version 0.174 to 0.175 yesterday. It was pointed out to me pretty soon after the program dropped. Taking notes for later instructions, I began a process of compiling the new versions of the in-browser emulators for the Internet Archive. I used a “weighted library” approach, where the emulator with the most individual items in it (that would be the ZX Spectrum, at a svelte 20,000 items) gets compiled first, and then the next largest set of emulated items, and so on. There are roughly 700 emulator drivers on the Emularity at the Archive, but only roughly 30 have more than 1 item.

So, what this means is that within about 90 minutes of being informed about MAME 0.175, the Emularity on the Internet Archive was upgraded to match for 99 percent of all the items. 

The other hundreds of emulator drivers look to take about 12 hours in total to compile and install, but it’s pretty much 100% automatic, so it’s not taking a lot of time.

So consider that process doing extremely well.

But more than that, it’s definitely going to be a case of pushing for more and more people to contribute to the MAME project, because as proven here, if someone makes wholesale improvements to emulation support for something, the Archive will reflect it within 30 days. If the word comes down that the new thing is so amazing it can’t wait, it’s possible to declare that driver to be done immediately and updated to an in-beta version. Really, this is when I hope the advancements come. I hope it’s just a case that really talented programmers looking to make the world better just don’t know how easy it is to contribute to MAME now, and that it’s in github and open licensed, and once they find out, amazing optimizations and expanded work will make itself known.

We can hope! But until then… upgrading is definitely a snap now. Enjoy the new versions of everything.


A Showcase for a Terrible Monitor —

arcade_crtdemo_screenshot

Some time ago, I wrote about the amazing efforts to bring a realm of accuracy to emulation, especially arcade machine emulation. The work was (and is) amazing, but one problematic aspect was that the main components for this work in MAME were for the Windows version only, with plans to make it more cross-platform down the line.

The fact that it is down the line and work has been done and we’ve improved the turnaround on the compile time from “new version of MAME released” to “the new version of MAME is running at the Internet Archive” meaning that we can finally put up a nice example of this wrinkle in emulating the vintage experience.

So, by visiting this item on the Archive, you can boot up an arcade machine that is blurry, has ghosting, is slightly curved, and has bleed through some of the pixels and an obvious set of scanlines and reflection….

hooray

Seriously, though, this is incredibly important news. It’s a living demonstration of the hurdles and considerations of ’emulating’ older technological experiences. It’s not all ultra high-definition happiness and razor-sharp graphics over surround sound blasted through bluetooth speaker bars. It’s about capturing components of these games that are coming from a different realm than just what the code had to say about it. Between 50 and 80 milliseconds after an emulation is working, people come out to say “it’s not the same, it doesn’t have _____” where _____ is an ever-more-picky set of attributes that makes the experience of the game “real” to them and which they think ruins the entire emulation if the attribute is not right there.

Bear in mind that the potential additional settings for these monitors being emulated are many times more complicated than in this demo, and that the higher the resolution, the better – because now you’re not just emulating the pixels themselves, but the actions and effects around those pixels.

Welcome to the cutting edge of the cutting edge of the blurry edge.

crazykongMarquee2

The game I chose for this particular demo is its own nutty story: Crazy Kong. As recounted in The Secret History of Donkey Kong article, and not in Wikipedia any more, Donkey Kong was actually programmed by an outside party for Nintendo. (It was designed by Nintendo, for sure.) This same outside company went on to do other games you might know, like Zaxxon and Congo Bongo. Part of this is that Crazy Kong is not a bootleg of Donkey Kong but a legit license.

It’s also terrible, and wasn’t supposed to be in the US, but then with the skyrocketing success of Donkey Kong, it ended up here in bootleg form.

So, for me personally, Crazy Kong brings back memories of being one of those games shoved into bowling alleys, pizza places, and in shifty locations where the purchase of drugs heavily overrode the quality of the arcade game experience. It seems only right, then, that the slightly crappy monitor panorama be bestowed upon this emulated game, brought up from the depths. I know that’s how I experienced it so many years ago, and you can experience it now.

Some notes: The resolution on this web-based emulation is much higher than the usual games in the Internet Arcade, mostly to really bring out the qualities of the monitor properties. This might slow on some machines, or annoy with some different setups out there. But setting the whole thing to fullscreen will probably make it better for you. As is still the case, Firefox tends to run it better than Chrome and both better than Microsoft Edge (for now) and Safari. You can also always go back to the non-CRT emulation on the site to compare.

A huge amount of applause to the MAME development team for this years-long effort to emulate this important aspect of the vintage experience, and a thanks to everyone who helped make it run at the Internet Archive.

Now get blurry.


The Fundamental Kickstarter Film Incompatibility —

(This is being crossposted between my weblog and my kickstarter campaign for my three documentaries currently in production.)

So, Kickstarters are now simply “part of the landscape” of filmmaking, just like it became part of the landscape of an awful lot of things out there which were previously cases of passing the hat, sinking personal cost, or otherwise having to squeeze blood out of the social network’s stone. I’ve heard countless rough plans that get a Kickstarter thrown into the mix like some sort of financial MSG that will paper over the small cracks here and there and get the intended show (or product, or event) on the road.

So, in the years hence, I’ve seen Kickstarter used for dozens of films, including a good bushel of ones that I’ve backed in some small or large way. And I have something entirely unhelpful to report:

Film Kickstarters almost always end in heartbreak.

Now, let me be clear, I don’t mean they don’t get finished. They most certainly do, to the vast majority. Before I switched over almost exclusively to the “digital download” option for kickstarters, I built up a pretty tidy set of Blu-Ray and DVD sets with the names of the documentaries I backed (I almost always back documentaries exclusively) and those things are done, done, done. And well made! Enjoyable.

But what almost always seems to happen is that down in the clutch, at that point where the films are somewhere in the twilight zone between final mixdown and the copies (digital or physical) fly out into the world, there’s a rapid breakdown of communication and happiness between the backers and the creators. Almost every time.

I don’t think I can solve this problem, per se, but I can mention it and mention what I’m doing, which is likely not going to work for anybody else in this situation.

Pulling my long-dormant mass communications degree from decades-old muck, I’ll say that films in the digital era are subject to a few properties that make them very different than, say, music albums or software programs. This especially comes into play with the concept of “release”.

It’s a given that in the digital world we live in, a thing that’s a bitstream that is somewhere in the Internet is officially all over the Internet. This is both delightful (the file can go everywhere) and to some, terrifying (the file can go everywhere). This property is out there and it is permanent – no amount of coming up with idiotic gatekeeping streams or anti-copying measures are going to stop a file in the wild from being a file in the wild everywhere. (Unless it’s boring or broken.)

With music albums, you can release what counts for “singles” now – single .mp3 files of one song on the album, maybe the one you want heavily rotated or available. You don’t have the full album out there, and you get to still choose when the whole thing goes online. (A couple album kickstarters I’ve backed have released singles before release, for example.) And with software, there’s always “demos” that you can put out, which let you play the first level or some aspect of the program without it all being out there. (Some entities can be lazy and just “tie off” the content, which means it’s trivial to unlock and get the full version, but that’s the lazy group’s fault, not the fault of the nature of what’s being done.)

But with films, you kind of have to do an all-or-nothing deal. You throw the movie out into the world, or you don’t. You can argue about the bonus features and the packaging, but the central X minutes of film are not something easily put out as a “single” or in a “demo mode”.

Oh, sure, you can have trailers, and selected scenes released, but that’s not the same as releasing the whole movie, at least to many backers. It’s out or it’s not.

Therefore, in that moment when the film is nearly done, and the backers who have so generously given money to see the film hit that point are waiting, the filmmakers find themselves seeking some level of professional distribution. And if you want old-school “waiting for this internet to go away”, you definitely are going to find a lot of that in professional distribution.

So right then, in that critical point which should be a celebration, is when there is awful heartbreak. All true examples:

  • The film is shown at a premiere of a major event relevant to the next step of getting distributed. The backers, not shown the film first, are furious.
  • The film is finished, but can’t be released for X amount of months while the distributors grind through their “process” which is like putting a ship in a bottle. Backers, furious.
  • Components of the film or the things that were previously available to see are taken down so the distributors can have all the control of how the film will be promoted. Backers. Furious.
  • Digital copies are available before physical copies, which are often backed at a higher rate. The backers who did physical copies are completely furious that the “deluxe” edition didn’t arrive before the casuals could watch it in digital form.

And so on, through many iterations and variations.

The thing is, I think the patient may be terminal – I think in that period between “oh man, we have a movie” and the movie hits hands, there’s so much going on in the way of ensuring the content is paid for, not duplicated, not out of the control of the people who want to get recompense for the finished effort. But at the same time, the number of folks who are expecting it at the first few seconds of availability can be significant and large.

I’ve seriously watched this so many times, it’s almost become an expected milestone for me when these projects wind down into “finished”. But for the backers who are only backing that particular film, it can seem a horrible shock that the film got shown at Maybe-Get-Your-Film-Sold Fest instead of online-debuted to the backers only. Or the aforementioned physical-comes-after-online orders. Or any of the other pitfalls.

There’s several solutions. They’re all pretty crazy. I’m trying one myself.

As each of the documentaries I’m working on are finished, I’m releasing them online as pretty much fast as possible. I’ll make sure the backers have access to everything. I’m not going to play games with holding stuff back.

The physical, deluxe editions will have components of the physical products that will make them interesting and enjoyable on their own, but not controlled by being able to see or not see the movies and the content. I am working on them as separate, involved endeavors.

But I’m nuts. I don’t like the whole “sign your work away to a distributor” thing, and my particular project is so over-time that I feel very beholden to getting it into hands the second it’s out there. It’s also my 4th (through 6th) rodeo; I’m happy to change things up.

But my contention stands: Films are difficult things to not get through a kickstarter without broken hearts. I don’t know how to walk it back, and I don’t know what people can do, other than be super educating at the start of a campaign so backers (and creators) are not heartbroken at the end.

Thanks.


Atari and Arcade Kickstarters To Back —

I’m going to suggest two kickstarters you might consider backing.

The first is a consumer hardware thing: The folks at Dream Arcades, who I interviewed for my own documentary, have a new easy-to-use emulation station that they’re making available. As of this writing, the Kickstarter is at about 25%. It’s not for everyone – not everyone wants to spend a few hundred bucks on a professional-grade setup for playing old games. But if you think that it might be nice to have something that “just works”, then I can tell you I’ve toured this business, inspected the work they do, and interviewed the owner and employees about their outlook and approach to making something that sits in the home and office and works nicely. They make a nice thing, and this set of “Retro Consoles” is more of that. So back it if you’d not heard of it and decide you might want one, because they’re offering a nice discount via the Kickstarter.

(There’s a set of people who responded to this kickstarter by saying “I could do this so much cheaper using a [roll of toilet paper and a ham radio and a hacked Parker Brothers Merlin].” and yes, you probably could. You’re also the kind of person who does the oil change yourself and wouldn’t call Geek Squad if you were trapped under a boulder. I get that. It’s not something you want. But it’s a nicely made thing if you do.)

Nolan Bushnell
The second kickstarter warms my heart because it’s for episode 2 of a documentary that I was pleased even saw the light of day, much less start to achieve the road to being a mini-series: 8-Bit Generation Episode 2: Easy to Learn, Hard to Master.

With dozens of interviews conducted, many in-depth, I knew just from talking to the filmmakers over the past couple of years that they were hoping to have made the whole thing a mini-series, and now they were struggling to make just one episode. They decided to do just that episode on Commodore, and the resulting work definitely came out, and I saw it, and have a copy. It happened!

So the fact they’re moving on with an Episode 2 means that they are still trying to achieve the dream of a full miniseries, which is fantastic, because they have so much good material in it.

As of this writing, it’s at 50%, and that’s slightly troubling, because you think this would be a slam dunk. But there we are, and so if people want to see some truly unique historical interviews see the light of day as well-produced episodes, now’s your chance.

Anyway, there you go. I mention stuff like this on my twitter account, but it’s quite obvious that between non-linear timelines, spam, and who knows what else, something a person says on Twitter is no longer really guaranteed to reach an audience, so we’re back to weblog-land. And that reminds me: More entries to come!


Thousands More Hip-Hop Mixtapes, Why So —

A few more thoughts on this one.

A lot of people stopped by when the word about the Hip Hip Mixtape Collection got around. They stopped by this little site, and then hopped over to the main collection, and they’ve been having a great old time.

When tens of thousands of people swing through a new thing, you get variant opinion, and if you’re really super double-lucky, you get some discussions way down there that are rather interesting on a “well, few people were ever going to talk about that” way.

Here are those, based on what I read:

  • Why doesn’t this guy monetize this!
  • A bunch of these tapes are fakes/crap
  • Aw, man, it’s only post-2000 stuff

Let’s address those, plus a few other things.

Why doesn’t this guy monetize this! 

Because I work for a non-profit that’s a library and archive, and we don’t monetize stuff like this. We don’t put up ads and we don’t put up click-throughs or pop-ups or demands for cash. It’s actually heartening to get these sorts of comments, because it means they’ve probably never heard of the Internet Archive before, and woo-hoo, new patrons! The more people who hear about the Archive for the first time, the better the world is for everyone. So anyway, no monetization/financial schemes behind this, sorry. (Some wanted to invest.) I’ve learned there are sites that do ad-supported distribution of these mixtapes, and they have all sorts of barriers and clickthroughs to ensure you see the ads. We are not them, that’s not what we do over at the archive.

A Bunch of these Tapes are Fakes/Crap. 

So, I came into this thing like I do a lot of things – go out and acquire whatever I can find and pump it basically automatically into thousands of items (you don’t think I’ve listened to these things in any great amount, do you?). As a result, it’s been a learning curve to find what’s in there. And what I learned is that there’s a wide spectrum of tapes out there, and that Sturgeon’s Law applies quite readily.

There are tapes that are cool amateur productions (created by a small crew or by someone trying to break into the business or get their voice heard), tapes that are kind of promotional items (like, they drop them into the world so word about the artist gets far and wide, usually done by some professional organization) and then there’s DJ mixes, where they do intense remixes of music to showcase their talents. Oh, and then there’s DJ mixes that are basically just a bunch of mp3s thrown together. As we’re finding those or get told about them, they go down. There’s nothing creative or new there (except maybe the cover art). The world is not bettered by them – I won’t miss them. So it’ll take a little while for this all to wring out, but it’ll happen.

Aw Man, it’s Only Post-2000 Stuff.

There’s definitely a lean towards the present with these mixtapes, probably a function of how I’m getting them, from online collections. There’s a few that predate 2000, but those are going to be from cassette tapes, and I’ve not yet stumbled on the Elephant Graveyard of old hiphop mixtapes from cassette. (I’ve got collections of rave tapes, and other 1980s and 1990s artifacts, of course.) I think it’s just a matter of time – after this current pipeline dries up, I’ll start trying to get us to host older and older stuff. How well that goes is up to the people out there – like everything else on the archive, it’s a matter of folks reaching out or giving good pointers or suggestions. I might stumble on things myself but it’s not guaranteed. As it is, the current collection is low-hanging fruit, and some of it is rotten and some of it is very fresh. But I definitely am not sitting on some hidden pile of pre-2000 stuff and going “nah, too historic”.

A few other thoughts

The most intense part of this whole thing was that I had to write this crazy ecosystem of around 15 scripts that deal with a whole pile of contingencies with the tapes. These scripts will fix ingested files, verify they’re what they say they are, reconfigure cover images so they’re in the right order, and add automatic metadata where possible. I actually have directories that drain into other directories that then drain into other directories, and then scripts do automatic evaluations all the way around, and then upload. It’s a terrible contraption but the results are generally OK. I then have to write scripts that crawl through the stuff and clean up what went there, and the result is what you see.

The result of this scriptology is that I’ve learned even more about dealing with odd ingestions that will be reflected on other collections as I go, i.e. the console demos collection I’ve been adding, which does all sorts of crazy robot stuff on combination .zip/.rar/whatever stuff from all sorts of sources. It sort of works! It’ll make things easier in the future! Everyone wins!

And finally – I realize that I am just stumbling backwards into this mixtape thing. It got along quite well without me or the Internet Archive for decades. It doesn’t “need” us anymore than many subcultures “need” us – but my hope is that the appearance and ease-of-access of these tapes will foster both spread of the best of what’s out there, and bring more people to the site to check out all the other things we’re hosting. I’m due someone to come in and lecture me on the “right” way to do all this and what it all “means”, and I’m up for that conversation. What I do know is that tens of thousands of listens are already on the site, with a few thousand more listens every day so whatever it is we’re doing, we’re doing it right for somebody out there. Let’s keep doing that.

And finally.

If you only have one album from this whole collection you want to be told to listen to, if you want just one single tape to somehow magically consolidate all the thousands and thousands of works on the site into one single item, well, ladies and gentlemen, your humble curator must point you in a single direction:

Yes, that’s right, I’m betting the house on Hamburger Helper: Watch The Stove, a 5-song EP mixtape of rap and hiphop, even sort of a ballad, about Hamburger Helper. Hey come back

Sure, you’re going to scoff, but over the course of this mixtape, you will have your eyes open to the myriad feelings and deep emotions of Hamburger Helper, and you too will sympathize with Helper as he explains how the world simply can’t do without this delicious mix. And if there’s one caveat, one life motto you will walk away, it’s to never take someone’s Helper. Just… don’t do it.

Enjoy the tapes. And yes, if you have leads on good additions to the collection, hit me up.

 


Breaking the Dragon’s Back (What 2016 Is, Update) —

On the first of this year, I posted an entry about my plans for 2016 with cutting back and getting healthy. I’ll be travelling on June 1st and probably won’t have time for a half-year update, so let’s do this now.

On the personal health front, which was important and more so than anything else, there have been great strides. I looked like this in December 2016:

ss+(2016-05-05+at+09.42.48)

Well, I looked very lucky as well as overweight. Probably 240-245 in that shot.

Now I look like this:

13086707_10153734219844527_2806251356023920681_o

I now weigh roughly 210-213 depending on weigh-in time. So, I’ve lost 25-30 pounds or thereabouts. Make it 30 or make it 20 if you prefer. So let’s call it a qualified success.

The difference is palpable. The last time I weighed 210 pounds, I was 36, so that’s about a decade ago. I feel the different walking, I can feel it on my face, and I have slightly more energy. My waist size has gone from 40 to 36.

As promised, I can wear more and more flamboyant clothing with no tightness:

13133220_10153750001324527_1260083597010933082_n

I snore less, and I definitely have somewhat lower blood pressure, although I still need the drugs that keep it in check. So, at the half-year mark, the strides are really on schedule where it comes to weight.

As I mentioned, a lot of this is I’ve cut every drink out of my life but water and seltzer. I went pretty low carb, avoiding everything for which sugar is the main ingredient. A lot of meat. A lot of cheese, and then I stopped eating cheese except as an occasional part of some meat I was eating. No bread, obviously. And then, after a while, I started getting away from massive portions. Snacking dropping down. Occasionally having something off this regimen, although seriously avoiding anything non-seltzer and non-water-only, because I no longer believe Diet anything is anywhere further than some sort of lie. And as for water/seltzer, drinking a lot of it – gallons a week, probably.

I’ve held up on this, and went through it in stages, until it became part of me. I do not miss anything except maybe ice cream and I don’t attempt to build mountains of food when I do eat. I also am mentioning all this here but don’t really bring it up unrequested in conversation. (Some people wonder what happened, which is the best question to ask.)

This is not my goal weight. My goal weight is likely around 190-195. I don’t think my body type can sustain anything lower without using some pretty radical methods/approaches, and I’m not prepared to do that. I was 200 in college, so 195 is probably it.

I’ve also not started a significant physical fitness regimen, because I didn’t want to do that until I was hauling a lot less weight. So walking will increase, and I intend to keep the numbers way up on that. In other words, I expect the second half of this year to have slightly greater difficulty over the first half. But the first half has been very satisfying.

Cg7zA4UUYAA-Pgn

The other part of all this has been divesting myself of materials, both from the Cube and from my office, into homes and warehouses and groups it should be. To this extent, let me say that I have given away or sent away a third of everything I own. I have, and continue to have, too much stuff, but it’s going along well. What you see above is me setting up a scanning and ingestion station to blow through materials and get rid of them. Here it is a while later:

CheqqlxWMAIn4Cn

Lots gone, lots scanned, and more to come. I’m just trying to get through everything as absolutely fast as possible, get it online, handled and out of my life. I want it on the Internet in some way or another, and the materials stored in proper homes. This is going slower than I’d like, but it’s because I didn’t really understand exactly how much stuff I had. I had way too much.

So many boxes are going in many directions. For example, I sent 750 POUNDS of Wired magazine to a group. I’ve sent about 10 boxes of videogame systems to another. I’m sending t-shirts to another. And so it goes. This will take the rest of the year, done right. I’d love to be rid of the cube as soon as it makes sense to try.

Finally, after a trip I’m taking in June, I’m going back to the documentaries, renewed and with a lightened load, both personally and physically. It’s time to finish those up.

So yes, I’d say 2016 is going along well so far, regarding these factors at least.

Onward.

Why_an_Atari_02

 


A Demoparty in a Browser —

I am a huge fan of the demoscene, and have been for many years now.

demo_awaken_sigflup_2012_screenshot

If you’ve not heard of the “Demoscene” or the “Demos” within the realms of computer experience, it’s worth it, heavily, to check it all out. For decades, majestically talented programmers, artists and musicians have created top-notch experiences on a massive range of computers and then gave this hard work, sometimes weeks or months or even years of effort, away for free.

Nine years ago (!) I was entranced enough about it to try to explain it in a week of postings here: 1 2 3 4 5 6 – and if you don’t have the time to read them all, I’ll summarize thus: The Demoscene is an incredible artistic subculture that creates unique and amazing things, also subject to behind-the-scenes drama and cattiness that all thriving creative cultures do. And the result of their efforts are amazing displays you can enjoy online or in person around the world.

The side effect of this work, however, is how much intense processing and power a system showing a demo might need to have. And demos can be brutal when it comes to system requirements on modern systems. They’re not subject to the requirements of, say, a game that has to play on as wide a set of machines as possible to ensure biggest sales. They’ll come right out and demand top of the line bleeding edge acid dogfood specs, because they can. When parties, held around the world to show off these works, are showing these programs, they have machines that might as well eat meat.

There’s another class of demo, which attempts to put the most amount of power in as tiny a space as possible. We’re talking executable sizes of 256 bytes, or 1024, or 8k, or 64k and so on. It allows a limit on the programming side that favors efficiency and skill in compactness. Let’s set those aside for the purposes of this entry.

And then there are console demos.

demo_noice_liquid_candy_2012_screenshot

Not only do we have demos that are exercising the latest and greatest. We also have demos that are written to use the most basic hardware out there: game consoles. The limited platforms that are machines like the Atari 2600 or Sega Genesis provide a level playing field for artists making a mark within the demoscene. Make these limited machines do something out of the ordinary, and you will get lots of positive attention from your contemporaries, because you obviously worked hard to squeeze this performance out of these things.

To get that special performance, you often have to do insane coding to the console, so that it does things it was never designed to do, and to find weird explosive bugs or undocumented behavior that you can bring to the forefront. It’s obscure, strange magic and it’s as intense as possible for the hardware.

You might see where this is going.

consoledemos

As of this writing I have put 120 console-based demos into the Internet Archive and gotten them emulated in the browser.

Because not everyone has a ROM burner for an old console (or even the old console) at their fingertips, the ROM files made for these demos are either left up languishing, or are often loaded into emulators, or even just turned into YouTube videos to give people an idea of what they’re looking at. It’s generally accepted that playing videos in lieu of getting stuff executed on actual hardware is a necessary but sad evil. And of course emulators have been there for some time, although with many of the same problems that Emularity/JSMESS was meant to address (taking a while to assemble, no one-click referencing for your friends, etc.)

What we have here is instantaneous demos in your browser. You click on these, and it boots up an emulated console playing the demo.

On one level, that’s all you need to know. Go forth and try them out. Every entry has a link back to a page about the given demo so you can see them under other circumstances or fall into a hole seeing all the amazing demos there are out there.

But I wanted to cover a few more things.

demo_stella_cream_2006_05_screenshot

With the integration of JSMESS’s aspects into MAME, comes near-instant turnaround for upgrading the emulation on the Internet Archive. If someone patches or improves a platform supported in MAME, we can have it running on the Archive, and all the programs that use that supported platform running the updated code… in about 10 minutes. Before, it was a little more involved, so if someone did the work, we might still lag on the repair for days or weeks or even in a few cases, years. So that is gone, and with it, any hesitation to encourage people to join development of MAME to make emulation on it as accurate as possible.

You see, these demos I’ve thrown in, and more coming, will likely not be 100% accurate on the browser emulation system. These are tough little nuts when it comes to undocumented tricks and traps to make things go. It’s not a surprise the emulators will fall down. But that’s great. It means there’s a demonstrable, viewable program that will show the problem at hand and encourage improvements.

MAME is open-source in the proper licensed sense now. There’s no reason for people to not be porting over compatible code or improvements into it. The changes will be reflected on the browser emulation as well as MAME’s many other platforms. It’d be excellent work to do. And the reward will be to make things run even more accurately for other, non-demo items.

These two factors are why I’m pushing for this now. I want to see the loop close and for us to see improvements in emulation with a large range of talent joining into this great cause. MAME is a fantastic emulator. It needs more people to do the very intense grunt work of making pixel/speed-perfect emulations of these platforms, before we have no platforms to reference.

And for everyone else…. there’s some damned fine work in these demos, and if I can cause hundreds or thousands more to see and respect these works than had seen them up to this point… that’s a pretty nice day all around.

Enjoy!

ISO


Thousands of Hip Hop Mix Tapes, Why Not —

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been uploading thousands of Hip-hop Mixtapes into the archive. The resulting collection still has a way to go before it’s everything I have acquired at arm’s reach (limited by bandwidth and a few other technical factors), but now that it’s past 150 solid days of music on there, it’s quite enough to browse and “get the idea”, should you be so inclined.

A quick note: If women in scant bikinis, lionization of drug use and violence, and endless intense profanity is not your bag, this is a whole lot of that. Probably don’t visit.

CoverI’m sure this is entirely old knowledge for some people, but it’s new to me, so I’ll describe the situation and the thinking.

Instead of The Part Where Jason Tries to Describe a Basic Thing, there’s some excellent introductions and writeups about mixtapes in Hip-Hop culture at these articles:

So, in quick summary, there have been mixtapes of many varieties for many years, going back to the 1970s to the dawn of what we call Hip-Hop, and throughout the time since the “tapes” have become CDs and ZIP files and are now still being released out into “the internet” to be spread around. The goal is to gain traction and attention for your musical act, or for your skills as a DJ, or who knows what else.

There is an entire ecosystem of mixtape distribution and access. There are easily tens of thousands of known mixtapes that have existed. This is a huge, already-extant environment out there, that was doing pretty well.

So naturally, I stuck my big fat face into it.

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The code I had to write to pull in these tapes (which are often distributed via torrents, because the albums generally range between 80-200mb), then to clean up the resulting downloads, and make sure the right cover is the “official” cover in the collection, took me a while. It’s “human/machine augmented” stuff, because there’s massive variation in how the files come in. Let’s not pretend it’s real work – the real work is even keeping track of all this stuff.

I have a list of 17,000 tapes to access at the exact moment, and so something close to that number might end up at the Archive across the next couple months. Keeping track of new releases will have to be automated, I suppose. I’ll probably need help.

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There’s a lot coded into the covers of these mixtapes (not to even mention the stuff coded into the lyrics themselves) – there’s stressing of riches, drug use, sexual drive, and oppression. I’m personally fascinated at the amount of reference to codeine and the purple color of “Purple Drank”, which, if you’ve missed that subject matter up to now… good for you.

There’s parody, there’s aggrandizement, and there’s every attempt to draw in the listeners in what is a pretty large pile of material floating around. I can listen to some of it, but not really much before I “get it”.

But it’s not about my personal preferences in music – it’s about the fact this whole set of material has meaning, reality and relevance to many, many people.

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How do I know this has relevance? Within 24 hours of the first set of mixtapes going onto the Archive, many of the albums already had hundreds of viewers, and one of them broke a thousand views. As of this moment, one has passed 14,000 viewers, and has only been up for 5 days. Somebody wants this stuff, that’s for sure.

And that’s fundamentally what the Archive is about – bringing access to things. I’m sure when Brewster set the place up 20 years ago, his big dream wasn’t that a guy like me was going to show up and go “Video Games and Hip-Hop!!!” but here we are.

The end goal here, like all the things I do in this realm, is simple: Providing free access to huge amounts of culture, so people can reference, contextualize, enjoy and delight over material in an easy-to-reach, linkable, usable manner. Apparently it’s already taken off, but here you go too.

Get your drank on here.

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The Manual Rescue: Take Two, And Please Help —

Short Story: An attempt to finish off this phase of the manuals (move from three storage units to a storage space down the road that costs 1/10th the price) is going to happen this Saturday, April 2nd, in Westminster, MD. I invite people to make the trip, and if reporters/students want to come to learn some of what the items are, they are welcome too. email me at jason@textfiles.com. The added costs are still here, so if if you send donations to jason@textfiles.com it helps a lot too.

I’ll make this one all text. You can read the previous entry if you want pictures – it all looks the same right now. (And if this is 100% new to you, you could read all the old entries about this.)

So, I had to call it on Tuesday, return the truck and pallet jack, lock everything up, and drive home. (It took six hours, because of crazy construction work on I-95.) I’d have liked to have emptied one of the three storage units, but it was just not going to happen. Three pallets of boxes are sitting in one unit, so they’re ready to be put on a truck, but it was down to just me being available on the Tuesday, and I saw an incredible safety and health risk, so I dropped it.

Let’s be clear; this one is on me. I had to spend a lot of time on other projects this year (and a lot of materials have gone out my door, as well as work over at the Internet Archive in general) but cutting things so close to the end of the month was a huge mistake – now I have to pay for these three storage units for another month, a significant cost. People who think I am taking on too much can definitely point to this project, although I still think it’s a matter of the learning curve more than the task at hand.

We learned a lot on the loadout this week so far – how to properly pack the stacks, wrap them, and get them onto the truck. We also know the job is at least one ofthreer people helping get the pallets onto the truck (relatively) safely and then two moving the pallets from the truck into the storage space. We learned that the boxes can go between 30-35 a pallet, That means that we will probably end up with having to hand-load additional boxes into the filled storage room and there might, still, be a small storage unit in use, but it would be really small (and frankly I’d like to avoid that). The cost savings will be enormous when these are in their new spot.

And again, I’ve got a home for about half of the manuals – the Internet Archive will take them, and then we’ll see about scanning them. The rest are likely to go to some candidate archives I’ve been in contact with – they move really slow and that’s been a problem too.

Therefore, the new plan is this Saturday, a weekend, when I hope I can get a bunch of people to show up. A dozen or more would be fantastic – one group setting up and wrapping the pallets to get them ready to go, while a second group is driving over the truck and moving the items into the storage. This could go really fast – the boxes are all ready to go, so they’re fine, and it’s just a matter of putting the stack of boxes into a room. No sorting, taping, labeling, nothing. Just move and move.

I’m open to reporters or students or studying archivists to come to the event – they can look through a few things to see examples of the materials, and hopefully lend a hand? Just a few boxes. That’s all I ask.

If you can’t make it, and want to help, paypal would really help. It’s jason@textfiles.com and the costs have been rather tough on me, personally. (Although folks have been helping a lot, let’s make that very clear.) The three storage units were $1000/month, and doing this into April means that it’s going to be another $1000 that way, as well as the $900 paid for the new space for six months (which is very good!) and renting a pallet jack and staying in a hotel near it all, and driving 500 miles round trip to be there and…. you see what I mean.

But it would really help if people could make it out there this Saturday, early, so we can get this thing stable and not costing so much. It would really help a lot. Please contact me at jason@textfiles.com if you can do it or need to put someone into contact with me.

Thanks.

Let’s put this thing to bed.

 

 


The Manual Rescue: A High and Low Day —

Short form is that I thought I’d be out of all three storage units with the manuals and in the new space, but we only had four people show, so at best I drop to one storage unit and possibly two. Anybody able to help by coming to Westminster MD on the 29th would be appreciated; otherwise, you could paypal to jason@textfiles.com if you want to throw money at doing another month.

Today went well, but it probably could have gone better.

imageWe had a rented 26 foot truck with liftgate, a pallet jack, and a bunch of pallets. I got to the mall early, and we signed all the papers and the contract so that there is now a 1,300sq ft. space in the mall I have for 6 months. It all went very fast, and as I was shown where the pallet jack could move stacks of manual boxes and where they’d go, I was very happy indeed.

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But.

We had a total of 5 people involved, not all of them all day, and as a result, we have bundled up one of the three storage units, but only got 9 of the 12 pallets of manual boxes out and on the truck and in the new space in one day. It’s just too much for such a small crowd. With luck, tomorrow, the other three will definitely get out of there and in the new home.

This is good! One storage unit down means no more $300/mo storage for that set. But if we can’t get rid of the other two units, that’s still piles and piles of material left to go, still being rented by the month.

I’ve already determined that getting all three will be impossible by tomorrow. It’s just not realistic. So I’m hopefully shooting for two of the three being empty, which will radically cut down the per-month cost of storing these. (The price on the mall storage is very, very low, which makes me happy.)

imageimageI had a meeting with Brewster at the Internet Archive about storing the manuals that are not HP and Tektronix (those are very common). He agreed! All the non-HP/Tektronix manuals have a home! I will have to deal with scanning and storage, but that will happen.

But meanwhile, it is costing $1000/month in the current location and about a tenth of that in the new. It’s really important to get as much over to the new location. That’s why a truck was rented, pallets acquired, and incredibly involved moving work was being done.

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This was not pleasant work, to be sure – heavy sets of pallets of boxes plastic-wrapped into towers of documents and loaded on a lift gate. We had to be very careful with them, which took quite a bit of time to get right. Eric and I were there all day, Matt was there a bunch of the day, and Elaine and her son helped. But that’s all we got.

It’s a Monday. Not everyone has a flexible schedule, obviously. And of course the worst that happens is that I or someone who helps me pays a little more money to keep the manuals somewhere for a month. That’s definitely not as compelling as them being thrown into a dumpster. So it just wasn’t possible to rile up the Corps to come.

imageTomorrow, pretty sore from today’s work, I’ll do my best from about the middle morning until the late afternoon to move as much of these things as possible, with whoever can show up. It’s what I do, it’s what has to be done.

Do I despair? Oh, sure I despair. It’s a lot of work to save some very old manuals, and when money gets spent this way instead of many other ways, it can feel like bad priority. I definitely feel that once in a while.

But I also know that once these items are in a safe place, and they begin becoming reference material and digital material, a whole host of information and culture will become available again that in no way is guaranteed to have otherwise survived. A lot is out there, of course… this is just one pile. But it’s a pretty big pile.

I’ve learned a ton overseeing this project. I definitely will come into others with wider eyes and background. There’s a bunch of stuff I’d do differently. And I know that spending a whole day doing this is not ultimately what I’d always be preferring to do.

But I’m in this. I’m big on follow-through. Follow-through will happen.

Since I am positive the third unit will not be emptying, I’m going to have to pay for it – and if people want to send money via paypal (jason@textfiles.com) noting it’s for that, it’ll help a lot. And it would be great if people came tomorrow – but I can’t count on it, not on a Tuesday.

But maybe soon I’ll arrange this for a weekend, and we can have more people involved as the boxes are sorted for final ship to the multiple homes I’m now negotiating for them to have. We can have a nice Saturday of it. We’ll picnic.

Until then, I’m going to go to bed and remember why I got into this all in the first place – because I refused to sit still and throw up my hands. And so much more is to come.

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