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Comment Computer things from my memory (Score 1) 615

The TRS-80 was the first computer I ever got my hands on, in our school library when I was in 5th grade. Taught myself BASIC on that.
My first home computer was the Atari 400. BYTE magazine would have programs in it I could type in, including ones consisting of many pages of just numbers - machine code. That membrane keyboard was tough on the knuckes after hours of typing!
My first "real computer" was a Sanyo MBC-550 - a clone of the IBM PC but it had a high-resolution mode (640x200) that could do 8 colors. Way better than CGA at the time! I wrote a music sequencer (in BASIC) on it and got it published in a magazine dedicated to that computer, when I was in 7th grade. The speaker could only be driven by a small bit of assembly which pulsed the speaker directly at whatever frequency you wanted, and for a specific amount of time (because it tied the CPU up completely - you couldn't abort it). To make a sequencer where you could "play" notes on the keyboard, I had to make musical notes as very short pulsed sounds, which created a sort of warbling effect. When you played back a recording, it would "compile" the short pulses into full notes of the appropriate duration, and play back without the warbling.
My first modem was 300 baud, but it wasn't an acoustic coupler. I'd log onto BBSs and could read the text as it came over the wire at 30cps.
In 1985, our school only taught Pascal, but I wanted to learn to program the Amiga computer which I heard was coming out soon. So I tought myself C in a directed study, using K&R and the Amiga ROM Kernel Manuals which were already available).
One of the most valuable programming lessons I ever learned was not to leak memory. The Amiga OS didn't have protected memory, and processes didn't keep track of memory use, so anything you wrote could leak and steal resources from the rest of the system. I'd have to reboot every now and then to get it back. The memory tracking tool "memtool" was my friend, and I'd run it before and after each run to see if I leaked anything.
My first real programming job was working on OCR of Russian books. We were using very high resolution 2 bit grayscale displays, which only had support for DOS. We wrote our own display library to draw lines, rectangles, and text, and I wrote my own windowing system with support for Unicode 1.0, which had just come out. But I had to make all my own fonts, which meant writing a tool in the windowing system I had made to make Unicode fonts for the windowing system.
Man, those were the days!

Comment Re:Stargate Lesson (Score 1) 304

I didn't work it on it directly (though I got to help out on some of the mecho-morph shots in Stargate), but my software was used a lot in Contact. That also was one of my favorite shots in the film, and a perfect example of something I noticed and people I was watching with didn't. "Did you SEE that? What? She opened the cabinet from the opposite side of the mirror! You're an idiot." That kind of stuff.

Another favorite scene was the long, "continuous" sequence where Ellie is driving in from the radio telescope array and then runs into the building, up the stairs, and into the control room and you can see the dishes out through the window. Since they couldn't shoot inside that building, there is an "invisible cut" when she opens the door and then they transition to a set, with the dishes composited in through the windows. Excellent! There are a bunch of effects shots like that, and Forrest Gump is FULL of them. I think my favorite effects shot in Gump was when Lt. Dan is on the floor on New Years Eve after falling out of his wheelchair. He shifts his legs around and gets back up in the chair, the entire time with that spool table in front of him. But when they shot that scene that table was never there, because his legs would have hit it. They did the same thing with the side of the boat when he swings around and jumps in. An entire section of the side of the boat was removed so he could do that in a "natural" way. Love that stuff!

Comment Re:Stargate Lesson (Score 5, Interesting) 304

I've been writing software for the visual effects industry since 1992, and software I've written was used extensively in both Stargate and Forrest Gump (among hundreds of others). Having gotten into digital film post production since the beginning, I've always had a keen eye for visual effects, especially the "invisible effects" that my software was used heavily for. I would go to movies with friends and occasionally exclaim "wow, did you SEE that?" when clearly they didn't think anything "special" had happened. I once overheard a lady complain during Forrest Gump that it was a shame they made that poor actor with no legs run around and stuff for most of the movie on fake legs - he must have been very uncomfortable. I'd routinely watch a movie twice in row - the first time to check out the effects and the second time to actually "watch the movie".

As the quality of visual effects has increased, especially their exponential use in invisible effects, it is quite a bit more difficult to "see" effects in most movies these days. I still keep an eye out for bad composites (matte edges, grade matching, DoF/angle matching, grain matching, etc) and unrealistic CG, but I'm always really happy at the end of many films where I forgot to look for effects at all and just get sucked into the movie. Sometimes I'll just say "that movie SUCKED. But the visual effects were AWESOME!". It's been fascinating to watch (and be involved with) the evolution of visual effects over the past 25 years.

Comment Re:You will pry my Sound Blaster (Score 1) 62

They did - I mentioned that they intercut code to do sound with other processing, so sound effects had somewhat "tinny" sounds because it could only "play" a few ms of sound at a time, then let the CPU do other things, then played more sound, etc. There was no threading or specialized sound hardware to do both simultaneously.

Comment Re:You will pry my Sound Blaster (Score 2) 62

Back in the era of the original IBM PC and its clones (I had a Sanyo MBC-550, which had upgraded graphics from the IBM and could do *8* colors at once, at 640x200, instead of just the usual 4), the PC speaker had to be pulsed directly by the CPU to make any noise. Pulse it at 440hz and you have middle A, etc. While it was making noise, the CPU couldn't do anything else. To make music or sound effects you kind of had to split up whatever sound you wanted so the CPU had a chance to "do stuff". There was a magazine for the Sanyo at the time where someone had written some assembler code (that you could call from BASIC) to make the CPU make any pitch for a specific duration. I wrote a sequencer based on that code that would call the function with .128s "pulses", leaving time to monitor for key-presses so you could change the pitch. Then I got an Amiga and everything changed!

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