ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Sandpapering Screenshots —

The collection I talked about yesterday was subjected to the Screen Shotgun, which does a really good job of playing the items, capturing screenshots, and uploading them into the item to allow people to easily see, visually, what they’re in for if they boot them up.

In general, the screen shotgun does the job well, but not perfectly. It doesn’t understand what it’s looking at, at all, and the method I use to decide the “canonical” screenshot is inherently shallow – I choose the largest filesize, because that tends to be the most “interesting”.

The bug in this is that if you have, say, these three screenshots:

…it’s going to choose the first one, because those middle-of-loading graphics for an animated title screen have tons of little artifacts, and the filesize is bigger. Additionally, the second is fine, but it’s not the “title”, the recognized “welcome to this program” image. So the best choice turns out to be the third.

I don’t know why I’d not done this sooner, but while waiting for 500 disks to screenshot, I finally wrote a program to show me all the screenshots taken for an item, and declare a replacement canonical title screenshot. The results have been way too much fun.

It turns out, doing this for Apple II programs in particular, where it’s removed the duplicates and is just showing you a gallery, is beautiful:

Again, the all-text “loading screen” in the middle, which is caused by blowing program data into screen memory, wins the “largest file” contest, but literally any other of the screens would be more appropriate.

This is happening all over the place: crack screens win over the actual main screen, the mid-loading noise of Apple II programs win over the final clean image, and so on.

Working with tens of thousands of software programs, primarily alone, means that I’m trying to find automation wherever I can. I can’t personally boot up each program and do the work needed to screenshot/describe it – if a machine can do anything, I’ll make the machine do it. People will come to me with fixes or changes if the results are particularly ugly, but it does leave a small amount that no amount of automation is likely to catch.

If you watch a show or documentary on factory setups and assembly lines, you’ll notice they can’t quite get rid of people along the entire line, especially the sign-off. Someone has to keep an eye to make sure it’s not going all wrong, or, even more interestingly, a table will come off the line and you see one person giving it a quick run-over with sandpaper, just to pare down the imperfections or missed spots of the machine. You still did an enormous amount of work with no human effort, but if you think that’s ready for the world with no final sign-off, you’re kidding yourself.

So while it does mean another hour or two looking at a few hundred screenshots, it’s nice to know I haven’t completely automated away the pleasure of seeing some vintage computer art, for my work, and for the joy of it.

Categorised as: computer history | Internet Archive

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