Letters from Somnolescent

 

Category: Show-and-Tell

The “other people’s stuff” section! When we didn’t make it, but we find it cool or important to us, it gets talked about here.


June 18, 2022

I don’t have a problem, I swear

caby

A recently discovered interest of mine is collecting enamel pins. Something about having a sturdy, shiny, and aesthetically pleasing pin attached to my backpack is very appealing to me, and I’ve ended up with a fair few of them. I’m not currently looking to buy anymore, though I have a fair few in my favourites on etsy,,,

o quell my urge to buy more, I’ll write about the ones I’ve already got instead, alongside a couple photos so you can see how neat and pretty they look too.

Tags: 70s, collection,

May 27, 2022

Welcoming the eMachines Netbook

mariteaux

eMachines EM250

For approaching two years now, I’ve had a big ol’ XP tower sitting under my desk. I call it the eMachines Box, a low-end eMachines W3507 from at least 2006, if not 2007. It needs a good cleaning and a ton of upgrades (RAM and a dedicated GPU being the big two), but even if it’s not ideal right now, it’s still a lot of fun to use on the occasion I bust it out.

Of course, you can’t just stop at one XP computer, can you? Suddenly having a job and seeing some numbers pile up in my bank account made me want to indulge a little. Through the lockdowns, I bought nearly nothing and asked for nearly nothing. I’m allowed a cool purchase or two, and a bit of longing got me thinking back to the netbooks of my (younger) youth.

I’ve now acquired one of them. Here’s my deep dive into the eMachines Netbook.

Tags: technology,

February 23, 2022

2600 Pac-Man: Was it That Bad?

mariteaux

VCS Pac-Man's attract screen

I’ve recently been really enjoying RetroAchievements. It’s a site where you can unlock Xbox Live-like achievements for older games, provided you’re using a hacked emulator logged into the site. It’s a novel concept, and it’s a nice excuse to dig back into some of my favorite Atari games and try “mastering” (getting all the achievements in) them.

When I covered Racing the Beam on this blog back in 2020, I mentioned one of the games covered in that book being Atari’s Pac-Man. It’s a great tale of disappointment, one of Atari’s programmers given a mere 4K of ROM to produce the flagship game of the 1981 Christmas season. The results were not pretty, and along with E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, became the poster children of the glut of low-quality games being produced at the time and later symbolized the “game burial” in the Sunnyvale desert where Atari famously dumped their excess stock.

Game reviews of VCS Pac-Man often don’t dissect it any further than “it’s ugly and plays like crap and you already knew that”. But how does it play like crap? What are the little details that make it such a below-average port? Is it playable on its own merits, despite how alien it is to the arcade version? That’s what I’m here to discuss. You might want to wear ear protection.


June 24, 2021

The Absurd Netherworld of Internet Archive Tape Transfers

mariteaux

A sampling of the Internet Archive's batch of cassette transfers

For a period of time after Sound of Dentage’s release, I was pretty keen on digging through archive.org’s Cassette Audio section to see what strange, forgotten things I can find. It’s ostensibly only non-copyrighted audio, but that’s a crock of shit. The flood of content makes policing it with anything other than automated bots a non-starter. And even then, I think the Internet Archive is too busy with me wgetting Somnolescent’s old sites to run them.

In any event, I found something rather fascinating, and the kind of collection that no one but me would be interested in: over 1,300 amateur-recorded cassette tapes, transferred and stored in lossless. We’re not simply talking releases (though there’s tons in there). We’re not just talking demos (though they’re in there too–everyone from Dave Grohl to Coheed and Cambria to Juicy J). In a lot of cases, we’re talking mixtapes. Often recorded off the radio mixtapes! (And nature sounds. That’s what 90s kids did for their ASMR.)

Now, invariably, a lot of this is probably just noise and ambient stuff, same sorta thing that has always flooded the avant-garde experimental underground scene, same stuff the netlabels put out now, and the same stuff I’m not really interested in. However, the hand-dubbed tapes? Are where, well, strangeness lies. I’ve picked out three amateur ones for us to go through, recorded from various sources by regular people on cheap equipment. Download links are provided for each.

Tags: 70s, music, technology,

May 31, 2021

Zip Drives!

mon

It’s time for a pretty short blog post from me, mon! Made from an outline that I’ve had sitting around since almost a YEAR ago.

It’s well-known that I own a good bit of old Apple computers at this point. But along with the large-ish collection that I own, I also own a small collection of peripherals and accessories. I think the most notable out of these would be my two Zip Drives…


October 27, 2020

The Clever Feat of PNG Optimization

mariteaux

A neat old PNG logo I found on the official PNG site

I’ve become mildly obsessed with how compression algorithms of various stripes work over the past year. They really do make every bit of our modern computing existence work so smoothly, from gzipping packet data to speed up slow connections to storing vast archives of high quality music on flash drives the size of a ChapStick. Some simply rearrange the data in clever ways, and others take advantage of our weak eyes and ears to throw out 90% of what was once there–and we hardly notice.

Of the lot, the humble PNG is so ubiquitous, it might not even warrant mentioning. Every format has some magic up its sleeve, however, and in the case of PNG, the way they’re encoded usually makes it possible to shrink them after the fact to the tune of up to a few megabytes with no loss in quality. If you make sites, you might wanna take notes.

I recently decided to run a battery of tests to determine just how well PNG works, on what, and what optimizes the best. I’ll give you the rundown on how it works (in-depth but no math, no worries), and then I’ll give you some hard data and lovely charts to peek at, and finally, show you how to get smaller, lighter PNGs at home, no tricks, no catches.

Tags: art, technology,

September 24, 2020

Ranking Spotify’s Top 50 Songs Named “Undone”

mariteaux

Song titles are funny. They’re usually hardly unique, and tons of bands from all across the music spectrum have songs with the exact same title. Spotify’s search is an absolutely useless landfill for this stuff; the song you want will invariably be so unpopular that 200 other identically-titled songs (and in some cases, artists and albums) will come before the one you want. Lovely.

The inspiration for this one came about when I realized I actually know three different songs with the title “Undone”: the Failure song, the Weezer song, and the Josh Joplin song. When I checked through Spotify search, it turned out to be a very popular song name indeed.

So in short, I got curious enough to add the 50 most popular ones to a playlist, listen through, and rank them. I originally wanted to do every single song on the platform named “Undone”, but that’s just not feasible. Even the top 50 was a solid three hours worth of music, and has been hell to put together.

Alas, the Joplin track didn’t make the top 50; if it did, it would’ve probably ranked at #2. Nonetheless, we’ve got a lovely mix of yeehaw music, white girl piano pop, boppy electronica, acoustic torment, Backstreet Boys, and even a few artists who might not even exist. We’re starting at the bottom here, so apologies for the rampant negativity at first. It does get better. Here we go…

Tags: music,

August 17, 2020

Vaders and Venetian Blinds: A Review of “Racing the Beam”

mariteaux

Racing the Beam cover art

I’ve said before that I don’t read a whole lot of books. Not to say I don’t have a few on my radar, it just takes me a while. Same goes for video games; I have plenty to play, but I’m usually too busy off in my own world to try them out. Given that it looks like the US will open back up some time after the heat death of the universe (read: plenty of time to myself), I’ve been trying to rectify that.

Today’s topic is one that combines both these worlds in a really curious way: meet Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost’s Racing the Beam.

Tags: 70s, technology,

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