Letters from Somnolescent

 

Author: mariteaux


September 24, 2022

Protecting and Surviving Against the AI Art Menace

mariteaux

AI-generated buildings

It’s a controversial topic. AI-generated art, “this does not exist” sites, and the possibility that robots with the ability to “draw” will make artists obsolete, or at least, ruin the market for gigging artists who need that attention to live and pay bills.

Thankfully, I see it more optimistically than most. It is a menace, and you should take action if it affects you–but don’t let it discourage you. If you’re browsing around DeviantART or suchlike, here’s how to spot it and how to combat it.

Since I’m mostly involved in character design and character art, that’s what I’ll be focusing on. Apply to your medium of landscapes or photography or suchlike as applicable.

Tags: art, technology,

September 7, 2022

Cammy Revisits the PhotoCam

mariteaux

A recreation of my old artsy photo of the PhotoCam...using a PhotoCam as the camera

Longtime blog readers will remember a post I did in July 2019 called “Cammy vs. the PhotoCam”. It was a cute little lark into trying to score some retro tech on eBay and failing miserably. I didn’t have a job or a lot of money to spend on impractical hobby stuff back then, and the entire thing left a sour enough taste in my mouth that I didn’t bother looking for a working unit.

We’re in September 2022 now, I have a job now, and I figured it was time to go hunting again. I got a lot more than I bargained for. On offer today: storytelling! Burning hot batteries! A showdown between three similarly-spec’ed cameras! But first, we start with…


August 15, 2022

Revisiting the Official MP3.com Guide to MP3s

mariteaux

The front and back covers of the MP3.com Official Guide to MP3s

I don’t think it’s a stretch to call myself an MP3.com historian at this point. From my initial essay two-and-a-half years ago, to digging deep into how the service worked, to previewing some of the music that MP3.com were promoting their service with, I’m part of that small group who have been trying to keep the memory of one of the most forward-thinking dot-com startups alive after it was all but forgotten post-closure in 2004.

I was effectively honor-bound to pick up the last copy of The Official MP3.com Guide to MP3s from Amazon after all that work, and I was not disappointed for my $6.29! We’ve got late 90s MP3 hype, forgotten MP3 and MP3.com competitors, and even some screenshots of the backend of MP3.com, far away from where any web spider could’ve gone. It’s a trip.

Tags: music, technology,

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,

April 20, 2022

The Great Somnolescent Time Machine

mariteaux

As I mentioned in the final recap, one thing occupying me over the past few months has been the pursuit of classic website restoration. We already have car restoration and computer restoration, but despite websites being similarly satisfying and full of moving parts, I don’t see anyone trying to rebuild old websites and return them to their original browsable condition. With the Somnolescent Archives, I have the perfect reason to do just that.

I wanna ramble about that for a bit, tell you my working methods for getting assets (from the Wayback Machine or otherwise), reassembling them, cleaning things up, and why I find it so enjoyable. Hopefully, you do as well!


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.


December 21, 2021

How to Reconcile Your Friends at the End of the World

mariteaux

I often think of Somnolescent as an island, but we’re a rather interconnected bunch. We span the United States through Eastern Europe, and so, what goes on in a big chunk of the world is likely to affect at least one of us. Given the past two years, it goes without saying that Somnolescent didn’t make it out unscathed, though better than most, thankfully.

Though the world’s in a weird, precarious, unstable spot right now, given the 20th marked three years of Somnolescent (I wasn’t able to get this done in time, but I started it in time at least…), I figured I would write about a bit of an epiphany I had, and something of a silver lining while everyone heals: how social stress can cause good friendships to sour, and how pushing forward with that in mind can help mitigate the damage.

Tags: Somnolescent,

July 29, 2021

Nostalgia vs. Wistfulness vs. A Productive View of the Past

mariteaux

I’m not really a nostalgic person. I don’t tend to look back at the things I’ve been through or the experiences I’ve had very positively. I’m a much happier person than I used to be. I have better friends now. I have the skills to take on what I want to now, or I’m rapidly developing them. I’ve taken my first stabs at proper digital art recently. I don’t have much reason to be properly nostalgic.

Of course, when you’re dealing in the kinds of things Somnolescent does–hand-built websites, vintage computers, analog aesthetics, 90’s period pieces–there comes with it the assumption that this is all based on nostalgia, or more often “false” nostalgia. It’s not hard to find 14-year-olds who fixate on cassettes, fixate on VHS tapes, or in its most artificial form, are in love with the “vaporwave” thing. Of course, they weren’t around to see those things when they were in vogue, and overall, it can be a bit of a joke.

False nostalgia is misguided, but I don’t think misplaced. Here’s a bit of a meditation on where nostalgia ends, wistfulness begins, why the young folks get swept up in it, and the more practical side of bringing the past with you.

Tags:

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,

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