The Awesome Thing that is DemoBase ST

I remember fairly well the days of old. In this case I mean the days near the end of July  2015, well not that old then perhaps, when within the space of two days I discovered GameBase 64, GameBase ST, Atari ST TOSEC and DemoBase ST. I could barely contain the intense feelings of nostalgic joy that coarsed through my veins, making my retro heart pulse and throb. In the days that followed I relived the even more ancient – and more authentically true – days of old, from the mid 80s to the mid 90s, playing all the games I used to like so much. “Jumpman Junior”, “Dino Eggs” and “Fort Apocalypse” were among the first, also the earliest games I had procured in my virtually virgin C64 days. And from there it went to many other fondly remembered C64 games, too many to list. I spent hours configuring stuff and trying to get a STelladapter to work. Next were equally endearingly memorized games and demos from the Atari ST era. Glorious days when the world I was in, and I myself, seemed both more innocent and more alive.

The GameBase efforts had been underway for years. I had been very slow to discover these gargantuan undertakings – a GUI offering a variety of good emulators that allowed for just about any title (whether game or demo or whatever) to be selected and smoothly run, all from within one convenient package. Similarly, various TOSEC endeavours had been created for just about every retro computer or console platform worth its salt (and, frankly, some so obscure they were perhaps not worth all that much salt). A bit of research revealed ready-made databases, whereas a bit of torrenting yielded vast collections of titles, ready to be merged with the GameBase files. The equivalent of years of collecting, all at one’s fingertips, running pretty smoothly and accurately on one’s own PC. GameBase 64 took up a little over 11 Gb, GameBase ST less than 5 Gb. Peanuts!

And DemoBase ST, although based on the same idea as GameBase, took things one step further: A step most convenient for the demo-loving Atari ST scener, whether former or current. As it happened, DemoBase ST strove to offer an as-complete-as-possible collection of individual (!) demo screens. The aim was to allow anyone to browse any screen by any demo crew, even individual ones from larger mega demos. You could then launch them, where DemoBase ST took care of the appropriate emulator launch parameters.
Version 2 of the DemoBase ST project, created and maintained by nigh-professional wild-mud-runner Dave Haylett, had been firmly underway since at least the beginning of 2007 with its release on http://dbst.atomas.com. That year saw a flurry of additions and improvements, until things started slowing down a bit in 2008 and grinding to an unfortunate halt during 2009. At a later date he also lost his source code (or at least thought he had).
I am immodestly pleased to say I may have had a bit of a hand in Dave’s finding the motivation and energy to pick up again where he had left off. In fact, he re-built version 3 from the ground up, bypassing the limits of the original version’s design decisions and adding a host of new bells and whistles.

The main features of DemoBase ST are:

  • One double-click launches you straight into a demoscreen – no disc images required, and no searching through main menus. Intros, Loading Screens, Main Menus, Hidden Screens and Reset Screens are also included;
  • Emulator settings, command-line switches (like -STFMBORDER) and correct TOS version are all pre-applied;
  • Over 3,200 demoscreens in the library so far;
  • Over 10,000 screenshots to help you find your favourite screens, or that one screen that you’ve been wanting to see for years;
  • Play custom slideshows of each screen in any megademo of your choice, or all screens by a particular coder, or any screens at random;
  • Mark your favourite demoscreens and play them from their own area, or even in a slideshow;
  • Play the music from any demo while you are browsing the archive, or add them to a jukebox feature;
  • Find demo screens based on title, crew name, megademo name or even which elements they contain (scroller, balls, 3D, STOS, interactivity, or 25 others)!

The whole thing is packaged in a very flexible and quite intuitive user interface that is utterly configurable. It even has many (dozens?) of little hidden demo effects that pop up left, right and centre (though, worry not, they can also be switched off). It is evident that Dave has delivered a labour of love, a respectful tribute to the world of ST demo screen creation. The new version of DemoBase ST, which started life somewhere in 2017, is now finally ready for a public release via its new online home at http://www.demobase.st. If you loved the world of ST demos, you owe it to yourself to check it out!

Towel Day

Today is Towel Day, a day to commemorate the life and works of the late great Douglas Adams (1952-2001). On this day, fans are supposed to openly carry a towel with them all day, on account of what “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” says about the importance of towels:

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you — daft as a brush, but very very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost.” What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in “Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.” (Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.)

I read the initial three volumes of these books in 1988, and to say they shaped my life is barely hyperbolic. Since then I believe I have read all Douglas Adams’ books, even including his non-fiction title “Last Chance to See”. Now I cannot let an everyday occurrence of the number 42 go by unheeded. The Atari ST scene gathering “ST NEWS International Christmas Coding Convention” had a 10th and 25th anniversary, and will next convene on its 42nd anniversary. I use the words “skoonsproot” and “affpuddle” in active conversation (though they are from his “The Meaning of Liff”). I regularly re-read the Hitchhiker’s series as well as the Dirk Gently books. And yesterday I finished binge-watching the second season of BBC America’s rather entertaining “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” (which are very very very loosely, in fact hardly, based on the books) with my wife. I set up the most insulting website ever at www.wowbagger.com. When I attempted to write funny stuff, I wore Adams’ influences on my sleeve (well, and a bit of Pterry). Douglas has really touched my life in a way otherwise only achieved by Tolkien and Orwell.

So here’s to the life and legacy of Douglas Adams. Have a great Towel Day!

The Good Side to Trump

When I still used Facebook, I used to get a lot of posts involving US president Donald Trump. I constantly saw memes, videos and Tweets that ranged from embarrassing to disgraceful. I lived through the 2016 elections as if I were an American, as if the outcome would affect my life. I rooted for Hillary – a flawed and unsympathetic person but anything is better than Trump – though I would have preferred to root for Bernie Sanders. My mind reeled at everything that became known about Trump (the pussy grabbing thing, the countless boasts and lies) even before the election. These are things that would have disqualified any presidential candidate…but not Trump, because “he says it like it is”. The entire sub-college-education electorate voted for him because this megalomaniacal turd who literally takes a shit on a gold toilet was going to “stick it to da man”. Add to that the countless lies and revelations after he had utterly unexpectedly won the election (Stormy Daniels, the inaugural speech attendance crowd size, his crazy-lying press secretaries, the list goes on and on). All the racist insects are crawling out from under the stones, scum comes to the surface. They feel emboldened now their bigot president is, like his followers, more in touch with the reptilian part of his brain. Breeding fear. Sowing dissent. Flaunting bigotry.

As a result, though, I have become more interested in politics. I have read my first non-linguistic non-fiction in the past year. Michael Wolff’s “Fire & Fury” and James Comey’s “A Higher Loyalty” are fascinating page-turners that showcase the ins and outs of American politics and, of course, this cluster-fuck of a current presidential situation. I say it is fascinating but it is also somehow dirty, kindof like wanting to know everything about the oddball eccentricities of Michael Jackson. The desire to know stuff about celebrities is, I guess, a human character trait that I don’t understand, don’t like, but am also somewhat  helpless to resist. And these books have an unmistakable message: With Trump at the helm, it’s only a matter of time until we (the US, maybe the world) hit some rocks. It’s not a question when it’ll happen, but how big the rocks will be.

I follow Trump on Twitter. At the moment he has nearly 52 million followers, who get a constant barrage of pro-Trump talk, tweets about how America is being made great again, and how For God’s Sakes Nothing Happened With Russia No Collusion! I have learned to treat those tweets as if generated by a lie machine. I don’t know why I read them – probably the same human character trait I mentioned above. If you want to know whether UFOs have ever landed on planet earth, all you need to do is wait until Trump tweets they never have. Then you know they did.

So why “The Good Side to Trump”, then? I guess, on a very small scale, it has caused me to become more interested in world politics. That might be a good side. Not that I really benefit from that, because world politics usually just fill me with a lurking feeling of dread. But Trump is also doing something good on a bigger scale. Like Comey writes in his epilogue, something better will come to replace this. Maybe this is something that needs to happen before big reforms and improvements can happen (I am paraphrasing him). It is always darkest before the dawn, right?

I am hoping for dawn to come as soon as possible. But while it’s still night, pick up those two books I mentioned, or at least Comey’s.

Ready Player One

 “Ready Player One” just has to be the best movie of the year (though I predict it might be second-best after “Jurassic World – Fallen Kingdom” as of June, despite that movie’s alleged narrative shortcomings). A cool story, convincing special effects, one of the most awesome car chases every imagined, a none-too-obtrusive love angle, and oodles of pop culture references. Even a good and positive message for today’s gamer generation. It’s a bit like “Pixels” for a more mature audience. And the 3D aspect of the film was quite convincing and engaging.
Steven Spielberg hasn’t lost his touch!

 Up next, I hope someone is going to do a film adaptation of Tad Williams’ “Otherworld” books!

Avengers Infinity War (4DX version)

 Now before you continue to read, I should add two disclaimers: a) I am biased against ‘new’ film technology, and b) There are going to be spoilers.

  Yesterday I experienced my first 4DX movie. This is, basically, where you can watch a movie with augmented environmental effects such as scent, rain, fog, seat movement and wind. After having witnessed this nearly two decades ago in “Honey I shrunk the audience” in Disneyland Paris (back then I think it was still called Euro Disney) I thought it was enjoyable but a gimmick, really, nothing more than a gimmick. So when the cinema my wife and I most often frequent built a 4DX hall, I was not all that keen on trying it out. My non-keenness had probably been caused by my overall disappointment when it comes to another ‘new’ movie technology: 3D. Although a few movies did have an added sense of realism in 3D (computer-animated Pixar flicks, “Avatar”, “Gravity” and “Life of Pi”), most of them were souped-up versions of 2D movies (“Alice in Wonderland”, anyone?). When I have the choice to see 2D or 3D, I always opt for 2D. This is partly caused by cinema tickets being expensive enough as it is, and 3D movies being even more so.

 So I had eyed that 4DX hall with scepsis ever since it was finished about half a year ago. But yesterday my 4DX cherry was popped. The movie I wanted to see, “Avengers Infinity War”, was only being shown in 4DX at the time when it was most opportune for me. So I considered my hand somewhat forced. And, to be honest, I was a bit curious.
I love superhero movies, though I used to be one of those people who thinks you should have one superhero per movie. Granted, “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Avengers Unite” were good examples of the current trend to have as many heroes in a movie as possible. It’s like superhero porn, really, and I’ll be damned if it isn’t becoming my guilty pleasure. It must be quite a challenge for filmmakers to have someone like Captain America in a movie also featuring The Hulk and Iron Man, and actually make Captain America appear like a genuine superhero. Or Hawkeye, or Black Widow for that matter (if you forget she is played by an apparently ever more breast-augmented Scarlett Johansson, you might forget all about her).
“Infinity War” has the regular Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Dr Strange, Black Panther, Spiderman and a bunch of lesser known heroes (but thankfully not Deadpool, who should only be in his own movies) fighting the apparently not-even-beatable-by-The-Hulk bad guy Thanos and his also pretty unbeatable sidekicks. They are on the lookout for the six Infinity Stones which, when combined, will allow him to provide mercy to the entire galaxy by allowing there to be more resources per person. His way of attaining this is decimating the entire galaxy’s inhabitants by half. Needless to say, the Avengers and their friends rather don’t appreciate this intended genocide of billions or perhaps trillions of citizens.
The movie is a long thrill ride of various well-orchestrated battles which definitely capture the imagination. Slowly but surely the viewer can but realise that Thanos is winning. The odds against the good guys are tremendous. And by the time all the stones have been collected and half the inhabitants of the galaxy turn to dramatic dust in the wind you have seen Groot die, and Dr Strange, Spiderman, Starlord, and too many other good superheroes to even want to remember (also because the pain is still too near).
And then the end credits roll.
The whole movie thus leaves me with a bit of a hangover. It’s not even an open ending, it is simply no ending at all – like “Titanic” ending when it hit the iceberg, or “Alien” at the moment the thing bursts out of John Hurt’s chest. I’ll just have to go and see the next one – which is probably what the Marvel people want.
And Black Widow as a blonde? Preferably not. I don’t even remember if her character survived or not.

 But the 4DX, now.
I could be nice and capture the whole experience in a positive word. That word would be “interesting”. But I could, and perhaps should, also describe it as “distracting”. I didn’t really realise there were going to be scents and at a certain pretty random moment in the movie I smelled something that was the nasal equivalent of one of those bad-tasting Beanboozled Jelly Beans. And the wind, oh, the wind. Whenever something ran or flew there was wind. I was slightly overdressed with a pretty warm hoody and T-shirt but it was quite chilly. Noisy, too! And unless there was pretty static dialog (this happened only a few times in this particular movie, which was to be expected) the seat was constantly shaking and throbbing. With loud noise the bottom of the back vibrated, and when someone got stabbed there was a sort of stab in the collective audience’s backs as well. It made me think of one of those automated massage chairs, and I have not done one of those anymore after my first trial. Thankfully I could disable the water/fog effects because these would not be too convenient for wearers of glasses (as this was a 3D movie, everyone wore glasses).
I found myself trying to determine when certain effects were being used, looking at it perhaps like the programmers of such devices might, and sometimes came up empty. The lightning effects happened quite randomly, really, and, like I said before, the scents were pretty unrelated to the movie. The chairs were also much less comfortable, as you kinda have to continuously sit upright in a certain way to prevent yourself from gently being slither-shaken out of it. About halfway through the movie I had a seriously sore bum.
So, all in all, I hope 4DX is not here to stay. Wikipedia says it’s been around for over a decade already. I was hoping 3D was not here to stay, either, but I guess I will just have to consign myself to being disappointed there.

Two weeks without Facebook

It is almost exactly two weeks ago that I quit Facebook. I have really barely missed it, and my habit of surfing to facebook.com barely rears its head any more. In fact, I wouldn’t have posted this if it weren’t for the particular significance of the “two weeks” marker: In a few hours from now, Facebook should no longer allow me to login to recover my account. My account should then be deleted and unrecoverable.

I am now officially and practically without Facebook. Looking forward to the rest of my life.

Nuraphone Headphones – a Review (updated)

Music is an important – if passive – hobby of mine. I remember very well when I went to live on my own in the summer of 1988. I made sure I had good stereo equipment, and after the move I immediately set up my awesome new Pioneer stereo tower so that I could listen to my favourite music as soon as possible.
That has pretty much been the same way every time I moved. Always. The. Stereo. Tower. First. Next I would listen to some classic Jarre or Vangelis or Jason Becker or Metallica until all other boxes had been unpacked, every knick-knack given its place.

My neighbours never necessarily appreciated me moving in next to them.

Through the past 15 years circumstances have forced me to become headphone- rather than loudspeaker-centric when it comes to audio enjoyment. The circumstances included presence of a baby in the house, or neighbours one perhaps-too-thin wall away, and the past 10 years of my laptop being my own personal media server. I have about 1 terabyte containing everything recorded so far that I might conceivable ever want to listen to.
I tried a variety of in-ear, over-ear, on-ear, wired and bluetooth headphones. They each had their rather individual set of (dis-)advantages. In-ear headphones (Sennheiser CX300) tended to gently dislodge themselves and disabled me from humming along to music if I was alone (I heard myself ‘from the inside’). On-ear headphones (Creative Labs Sound Blaster Jam and Sennheiser HD 407) were generally quite audible to other people present. Over-ear headphones (a Sennheiser I forgot the type of) didn’t fit properly over my rather large ears and were rather stuffy. And even a rather pricey on-ear headphone like my latest Sennheiser, the iUrbanite, just lacked any oomph. The music, in fact, sounded too distant and trebley. With bombastic synth or metal like I prefer to listen to, it didn’t satisfy. The last earphones I had been satisfied with were the Sennheiser HD 455 (on-ear). After a while the foam earpads had dried out, though.
From 2000 on I have used at least 9 pairs of headphones as far as I can remember. When I noticed the coating of the iUrbanite ear pads disintegrating a mere 5 months after the purchase I wanted to get, for once and for all, a decent pair of headphones.

One of the last things that Facebook successfully advertised to me, before I deleted my account, was the Nuraphone (www.nuraphone.com). The Nuraphone was Kickstarted a while ago, at which time I thought it was too expensive to get – though cheaper than what it ended up at in the end, at a rather hefty € 399.
The Nuraphone is a combination of in-ear and over-ear headphones. Sound isolation is very efficient and sound quality is high. The thing that makes it stand out from all other headphones I had listened to in the B.N.* part of my life is that it can adapt itself to your individual hearing.
After putting it on first the first time, and connecting it to your iOS or Android device via Bluetooth, it examines what your hearing is like: The speakers have very sensitive microphones built in that detect the echo from sounds projecting back from your ear. It takes about a minute of fine-tuning while listening to various sounds, after which the app will have deduced your unique personal hearing profile. After that, you can also specify an “immersion” level which tells the phones how close to the sound source (“the stage”) you want the sound to be. This can range from pleasant to pretty intense, at which instant you will feel your very ears vibrating. My frustration at not being able to get good headphones online, coupled with Nuraphone’s no-questions-asked 30-day-money-back guarantee, made me close my eyes and take the plunge.

I ordered the headphones on a Sunday and had them in my hands that Thursday. And let me tell you, just unpacking the phones already filled me with expectation. Everything felt and looked luxurious, from the magnetic latch to the feeling of the enclosed USB cable. Everything literally radiated luxuriousness. It’s what you’d expect at such a pice tag, though. I wasn’t convinced yet.
I downloaded the app, connected Bluetooth and allowed it to determine my hearing profile. That took about a minute, as promised. From then on, the headphone always welcomes me back when I put it on – “Welcome back, Richard”. A very cool touch. I like it! (In case you want to know, the headphones recognise whose head they are on, and it can store three people’s hearing profiles.)

So next I wanted to listen to some music using these headphones. I had recently listened to the new Cradle of Filth album rather a lot. It now sounded so much heavier and full-bodied than when I used other headphones. Next I put on a Vangelis album, “Mask”. I was utterly blown away by that! The crescendos were stupefying, sounding full-bodied and alive, three-dimensional. I don’t recall ever having heard anything on my ears with such detail and dynamics. Existing music I’ve had for ages suddenly seems more preciously subtle and at the same time copiously overwhelming. Oodles of oomph! In fact I think I will be spending the next few weeks re-discovering some Vangelis, Jarre and Gandalf albums. “Antarctica” next! And then some metal/shred classics…

For more information, check out www.nuraphone.com (this link may give you a 20% discount, but I couldn’t verify that). When ordering, also try discount code “welcomeship” for free shipping (which may save you quite a bit, as it’s fast shipping from Hong Kong).

* B.N. = Before Nuraphone

The G2 Update (added 20 July 2018)

A few days ago I received an unexpected mail from the Nuraphone people (as I suppose all registered owners did) with information about a firmware update for the already quite wonderful Nuraphone, the so-called “G2 Update”. I waited a few days, during which I read Tweets about how wonderful the update was. I was already very satisfied with this pair of headphones so I wanted to wait until potential bad news about adverse effects of this update became available. Well, it didn’t, because these Nuraphone people appear to be right on the money.

The update includes features that make this high-end pair of headphones even more high-end, the most awesome of which is Active Noise Cancellation (outside noise is automatically compensated for by the headphones). The disadvantage of this is that people wanting to communicate with you while you’re in the audio zone will have even more of a challenge (which usually irritates them no end, well at least I know it does hugely irritate my wife). The nice people behind the update must have realised this very fact, so they added so-called “Social Mode”. This mode uses the built-in microphones to pass outside sounds on to your ears, which feels almost like you’re eavesdropping on your direct surroundings. Peculiar but very effective.
Other features that have been added – less major but enhancing userfriendliness by leaps and bounds, include the touch buttons being programmable (immersion on/off, volume up, volume down, social mode on/off, as well as others), spoken battery level indication and easier switch between different Bluetooth devices to pair with.

The Nuraphone is the best set of headphones I have ever had the fortune to listen to music with, and it just got better. I am a well chuffed camper.

One Week without Facebook

One week without Facebook – no tempting adverts on the phone version, no constant world misery Trump shit. I might actually be happier now (though I grant that ‘oblivious’ is probably a better description). Previously I constantly got mad and frustrated about Brexit and the Republicans and LGBT rights being trampled upon and not being able to influence all that by one iota, but now I don’t. I am back in my own bubble, without my personal tastes constantly being pandered by carefully selected posts and ads on my wall.

O wait, I did notice something I really miss: I had recently discovered a page where recordings of all recent Metallica shows were posted, only a few days after their release on livemetallica.com. I miss that. Now I have to go on Soulseek again and wait for someone to share it there.
So I guess I do miss a certain specific aspect of Facebook for now. But it’s still very much something I can cope with.

Three Days without Facebook

So, three days without Facebook. I am not missing it as much as I thought I would. Twice today I wanted to check into a restaurant…but I also realised that is just basically vain and/or hedonistic. It was one of the weirder things on Facebook, and I had joined it quite enthusiastically.
And three of my closer friends have had birthdays since I quit (hi Ingrid, Ronny and Stefan!). I sent them personal emails instead of just a quick “Congratulations!” on their FB walls. I got nice and personal messages back instead of the FB alternative – a Like or, at best, a Like and a “Thanks!”
I do regularly sit at my laptop and find myself wanting to visit facebook.com. But it’s an easy habit to kick. I am kicking it. At this rate, I can’t imagine missing Facebook until STNICCC 2032 is around the corner. And who knows what’ll happen to me, or Facebook, or the world, before then?
It has not saved me a as much time as I had expected, not yet. I am binge-watching series on Netflix more now (“Modern Family” a.t.m.). Or watching deskcam crash compilation on Youtube. Playing my new black Explorer clone guitar (see the “G.A.S.” gallery on this site).
No regrets so far.

My Final Facebook Post

Facebook has allowed me to connect to a great many people past and present. Without it I would probably not have been able to organise STNICCC 2015, and many of my technical questions would have remained unanswered. But the inability of Facebook to sufficiently protect my data, coupled with the fact that they are keeping track of rather a whole lot more than what I voluntarily share, has caused me to make this decision. The fact that the mere thought of quitting Facebook made me feel like someone had died also strengthened my resolve – I do not want to be dependent on (perhaps even addicted to) any company this much. Life will not become easier because of this choice (rather the opposite), but it will likely become less stressful.

If you ever need to contact me for whatever reason, do so here. I also sometimes (re-)tweet @CronosWarchild.

#deletefacebook #byebyefacebook #hellodarknessmyoldfriend 🙂