Monday, November 11, 2002

Living in the Shadows

  Think of this bit of commentary as a sort of self-induced online psychotherapy.  I have to work through something.
    I'm feeling a bit reflective tonight.
    Not so much on the past, but more so on the future.  You see, I've been feeling sort of...lost, without any sense of purpose, I guess one could say.  Lately, it seems as if I'm living in the shadows of both my Dad and younger brother, both of whom have achieved some degree of fame and/or notoriety.
    My dad, Ray, aside from his day job at a tractor plant, is a very popular music man and Karaoke host.  He's well known and fairly well respected, and both he and my mom Sheila get to rub elbows with some fairly famous people in the local music industry, whether playing a show or just "attending".  It's always interesting to hear him talk about his famous friends and acquaintences, and it's cool because he gets pretty excited about it.  Both him and my mom are constantly busy, whether getting ready to play a wedding, social, or organizing the next big 50's & 60's show in town.
    My brother, Brad, aside from his day jobs as both a video store clerk and a music store clerk, is a radio DJ and host of his own radio show, Radio Creepsville.  He's living out all his insomniac fantasies on the air, and having a ton of fun in the process.  And to top it all off, he's recently started a band! (check the link to his web page in my "Pop Culture" page).
    Don't get me wrong, I'm not jealous or resentful of either of them, not in any way, shape, or form.  The fact is, I'm quite proud of both of them.  I guess what's bugging me then, is I'm feeling a little left out of the action...  I remember a few times I've been over to my parent's place for dinner parties and what-not.  My parents will have a few of their friends over, all of whom are tied into the music business in some respect, or at least have some sort of interest in it.  My dad will share his stories about people he's met, shows they've played or attended, and so on, while my brother will talk about old music, old B-movies with the others.  I just don't have anything in common with their friends, and it usually leaves me feeling like an outsider, almost like the boring, ORDINARY guy at the party.  I never thought I'd ever refer to myself as being "ordinary" before, but it seems lately that I am INDEED ordinary.
    What leads me to this conclusion, you ask? Well, I'm glad you asked...  It took me an entire afternoon of soul-searching to figure this all out.
    I'm rapidly approaching my Thirtieth birthday, and realized I've done NOTHING with my life.  Well, that's not true in any normal human sense.  I bought a house this year, I've got a full-time job managing a warehouse for an industrial hose & fittings company, I'm in a steady relationship with a girl I love a great deal, and I've got two cats.  I've pretty much become your typical middle-class suburbanite (I'm just a regular Joe, with a regular job...your average white suburbanite slob...*)!!! The fact is, I haven't done anything with my life that's on the same SCALE of what my Dad and brother have achieved. (and no, my time in alt.binaries.emulators.nintendo doesn't count)
    So, who's to blame?  Who's at fault for my almost total lack of fame?  My Dad? My Brother? Bronson Pinchot? Is the Pope somehow holding me back?

No, believe it or not, it's just me.
    You see, I too have a lot of things I'm passionate about.  I love video games.  I love to cook.  I love computers, art, philosophy, and pop culture.  I ESPECIALLY love music.  I like all sorts of music, from swing, latin rhythms, classical/baroque, to punk, goth, metal, and my fave, European electro-industrial.  I've got the talent, creativity, energy, and means to be as big as my Dad and brother. My problem, if you want to call it that, is that I have no drive, no focus, and I give up too easily.  I've got so many varied interests, and I've never really learned to bring some (or all) of them together in a coherent manner (as my brother has).  I tend to get into one thing for a couple of weeks, then lose interest and move onto another thing for another couple of weeks, and so on, whether it's music, video game consoles, even which computer I use to edit my page!  One day it's my Amiga 2000, the next it's my linux box, the next it's my Windoze based P166MMX.
    A prime example of this behaviour is this very web page.  When I first started it in February 2002, I dug out my "Art Gallery" (basically a duotang full of pictures and doodles I scribbled onto looseleaf over the years, mostly during high school twelve years ago) with the intent of scanning 'em and posting onto my site.  Never got around to it.  Then, I started drawing a Manga-style comic (in the Japanese Gekigan-style, like Go Nagai's super robot series') with myself as the central character, with the intent of serializing it with a chapter posted to my site every Sunday.  Never got past the character design phase.  Then, the one I've been asked about most frequently, the novella I was writing, supposedly a chapter a week.  My Tandy 286 laptop crashed and I lost the first chapter, and never brought it up again.  If it wasn't for a piece of "fan e-mail" I received a week ago from a girl who happened upon my site, I don't think I would have gone into this reflective state.  I won't mention her name, but I have to thank her.  She made my day, and showed me that people OTHER than myself (and my immediate circle of friends) read my page.
    It took me a total of two hours one Sunday afternoon to realize how I was holding myself back.  Well, I'm not content to sit on my ass any longer.  Time to turn my life around and DO SOMETHING with it!  I am Conceited Jerk! I don't have to settle for a humdrum, boring suburban existence!
Ahhhhh...I feel a lot better now that I've let it all out...  I've got a sense of purpose.  And a couple of ideas.

Monday, July 22, 2002

eBay and the Den of Thieves

  I hate to admit it, but I've been ripped off on eBay again.  For the same type of item, no less.  It all started back in January 2002, when I won the "Complete Sailor Moon collection" on VCD! Now, I've never been the show's BIGGEST fan, I have to admit I did enjoy the series.  The prospect of owning the entire series, the entire Sailor Stars series, and all movies for $120 CDN was appealing.  I knew for a fact that my DVD player could play VCDs, so I went for it.

  I don't think I've been more disappointed in my life.  The entire series (and I DID get everything) was NOT on VCD, but on computer CDRs, and in RealMedia format.  Completely unusable on my DVD player.  The eBay ad said explicitly "These are NOT the video clips you download off the net".  Well, yeah, they were... and therefore of little use to me.
Why? I'll tell you.  I don't normally watch anime alone, I usually have a few friends over to watch with me, and do you know how hard it is to cram several people into my office to watch bad quality video in a 300x300 Realplayer window on a 17 inch monitor??  Maybe the moron who sold them to me ASSUMED I knew that they were in Realmedia format, that I spent my life in front of my computer screen like some fat, friendless, bespectacled loser with no social skills, but in all cases, his assumptions were incorrect (heh, I'm a tall, muscular, sociable loser with contact lenses).  When I read VCD, I ASSUMED they were in VCD format, as would anyone with half a brain...
   You think I woulda learned... I have since bought several VCDs from people off eBay and actually RECEIVED VCDs.  So it came as quite a shock when, two months ago,  I won the entire Martian Successor Nadesico series on VCD, only to have it arrive on two CDRs, in Realmedia format.
   Pride got the better of me, and I kept them.  I can honestly say I've been watching them, now that I have a bit of time to spare.  It would have been better if they'd actually BEEN on VCDs, so I could be sitting in my living room, watching one of my favourite series' on my home theatre center.
   So, my advice to anyone reading this is: Don't trust ANYONE selling movies on eBay!  A real VCD (that's Video CD, for those of you who aren't in the know) can hold at MOST an HOUR's worth of when someone claims to have the entire 26 episode series of Slayers Try on two VCDs, chances are good they're in RealMedia format, or low quality mpeg or AVI clips...So make DAMN sure you ASK if the individual is selling true VCDs or CDRs filled with Realmedia clips....

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

HTML and H4RDC0R3 Coding

Anyone who knows me well (or THINKS they know me well) will know that if there's one thing I don't like, it's being outdone.  Especially, ESPECIALLY, when it comes to being weird.  I remember overhearing a conversation between some teens (bless their geeky hearts) on the bus one day.  The two boys were making fun of a compatriot in absentia, because he uses Microsoft Frontpage Express to do his website.  Apparently, the one kid used the Windows notepad program to do HIS page (OOOO!!! AAAAHHHH!!!), while the other used a program called DreamWeaver.  The Notepad accused the Dreamweaver of taking the easy way out, and the argument soon turned into a name-calling session (in good fun, of course).
This sort of one-upmanship (or would it be one-DOWNmanship??) would have fit right in with some of the petty-albeit-good-natured rivalry I had with some of my buddies in grade 12 Computer Science class back in 1990.  So I started to imagine the argument as if it had taken place in my circle the way we were back then...

Jared:  Yeah, I just finished updating my web page again.  Man, I love Dreamweaver!

Karl: Dreamweaver? That's for beginners!  For my money, nothing beats Notepad for simple editing of the HTML code!

Kevin: Yeah, but you need Windows for that!  My laptop's only got a 40 meg hard drive!  So I just use MS-DOS "edit" program to update my site, then copy it to floppy so I can upload it from my main system at home!

CJ: Pffft! Who needs a hard drive!

Others: What?  What do you mean?

CJ: My Tandy 1500 laptop only has a FLOPPY drive!  I can't use EDIT!
Karl: So what do YOU use?

Jared & Kevin: Yeah, Wheeler! What DO you use?

CJ: HA! I use the COPY command in DOS 3.3 to write it, and EDLIN to edit it when I need to update!!!

Others: (faint)

So it got me thinking...could it be done? Well, yeah, it could be done!  The only problem is you'd have to write the page from scratch each time, as it has NO loading or editing capabilities.  And it's impossible to fix a mistake once you've hit ENTER to go to the next line...The ultimate in Hardc0re HTML coding.  All I'd need on my boot floppy, aside from my system files and ANSI.sys, would be the EDLIN program and maybe RAT, the Resident ASCII table, for looking up ASCII codes for foreign characters (like ü, ç, ß) or currency symbols like the cent sign ¢, the Yen sign ¥, etc...

It'd go something like this...Imagine you're at the dos prompt. You DO know what DOS is, right? 


c:>  copy con: mental.htm
I'm a 29 year old man who should know better

I've got too much time on my hands

What kind of person would write the HTML code for his web page using Copy Con:?  Well, ME!

Yeah, you'd have to be a few peasants short of a fiefdom to pull something like that...
I'll start tomorrow.

Piracy vs. Pride of Ownership

Sharing?! HA!!! Don't make me laugh!  Do you own the album? NO?!! Then you're stealing.  No, don't try to justify your petty thieving with "moral implications" or that the music industry has been ripping people off for years.  You may feel you're right in a moral sense, but it's what's right LEGALLY that you have to worry about.  Don't like the Copyright laws? Then change 'em.  Lobby, protest, do whatever.  Too lazy?  Well, don't bitch when the governments of the world start cracking down on pirates.

   No, I'm NOT a hypocrite.  I was a software pirate for a LONG time.  I KNEW what I was doing was wrong, but I didn't care.  I didn't try to justify my actions, I KNEW they were illegal!  Of course, I can honestly say I've "seen the light", in a sense.  I now BUY my software, even stuff that's readily available on pirate networks  (Like the Voyager web browser for the Amiga. Man, I felt a sense of ownership after having registered it).  Hell, I would have registered Miami (Internet dialup software for the Amiga) the same day, if their damned registration servers were up!

   In my case, I turned over a new leaf for a few reasons.  Pride of ownership is first and foremost.  There's something to be said about owning a legit copy of something.  I like seeing "Registered to Shaun Wheeler.  Thanks for your support" on programs.  I like having people over to  the apartment and hearing them say, "Geez, you've got a lot of CDs".  Programmers and artists can only survive with our support.

   The second reason I've taken to registering shareware and buying legit copies of software and music is simply because I've started programming again.  I wrote a little script for Yam, the email client I use on my Amigas.  I call it "CJ's Quote-o-matic", and all it does is read from a data file containing quotes from songs, and adds it as a tagline to outgoing mail messages.  It's not an overly complex program, but it took me a few hours to write, and a few days to debug and improve.  I can understand and appreciate the effort that goes into writing large, complex programs, and I have to say I'd be right pissed if people were ripping me off by pirating my work.  I'm also starting to write songs in my head again, and may well eventually get around to arranging them and recording.  And if I ever decide to release these songs, they'd all be self-produced, self-recorded, and self-distributed.  No Big-Name Major Label, just me.  And if I found out people were pirating my stuff on KaZaa, Morpheus, the Usenet, IRC, whatever... I'd be pissed enough to put some of my internet know-how to good use! Heh heh heh...

But enough of that.  I just bought a couple of new CDs I wanna listen to.