It was laying on the pavers beneath a park bench outside of the weird little multi-level shoulda-been-a-strip-mall downtown. I suspect at one time this was a pretty hopping little corner of Bellevue. But thereʼs a bunch of empty storefronts in it now, probably from the real estate recession. Hopefully it comes back to life some day.
Iʼm not going to introduce a random USB drive found on a random slice of concrete under a random bench in a random city on a randomly nice day to my computer. At least not my main computer. But I do have my wifeʼs old banger Linux machine that I can re-image from ROM to pave over anything that might crawl out of this drive. The drive is, after all, lime green.
Looking at the files on the drive reveals… code. Not nuclear missile launch codes, but computer code for what looks like a video game. I learned ray tracing in C back in college, so I recognize a good chunk of whatʼs going on; but clearly C has evolved quite a bit since the days when I used to have to reserve time on a machine in the university computer lab in order to compile my homework. What I can figure out is this:
Itʼs a childrenʼs game called iPlayDough.
It seems to be about building objects, and having those objects interact with other objects using real-world physics.
The game was written for Microsoft Windows using CryENGINE 2, and versions were under development for OS X and for iPhones.
The game was written on a Windows machine using Microsoft Visual Studio Code.
This thumb drive was lost by someone named Aleks.
I surmise that Aleks lost this thumb drive late last year, as the newest timestamp is October 9, 2009. Aleks seems to be involved in the gameʼs graphics. His TODO list is brief:
Edit with vertex normals
Render with face normals
Aleks has been to a number of graphics-related tech conferences around the West Coast, and keeps videos, audio recordings, and slideshows from those conferences on the thumb drive next to his game code for reference.
Iʼm not sure how I would track down Aleks to return this drive to him. I thought about giving it to the police department. When I was a little kid I turned in a wallet I found to the local cops, and they reunited it with the owner, who rewarded me with five bucks (which was pretty lame, since the wallet had a couple of hundred in it). But Bellevue tells me that unless the item has a minimum value of $50, itʼs not interested.
I suppose I could just knock on the doors of the various game companies in town. But there are a lot of game companies in Bellevue, and I donʼt want to turn the drive over to a competitor. So I guess itʼs better to just let this drive remain “lost” forever. The drive was probably a backup of files from his desktop machine, so no harm done. Itʼs not like people build code on a thumb drive.
For the second time in two years, Iʼm in a computer magazine.
Not on the cover this time, and itʼs only for scoring an honorable mention in a contest, not as part of an editorial spread, but itʼs something.
Back in February, I saw a note on the ARB BBS down in South Amboy that Commodore Magazine was having a computer painting contest that actually included art made on a Commodore 64. These days, when people talk about computer graphics, itʼs all about the Amiga. But this contest actually took entries from us 64 people. Itʼs probably the last one that will. I wonder if this is how VIC-20 people felt in 1983.
Since I had luck getting my art published in Run magazine last year, I chose a picture from my files, bought a floppy disk mailer from the Post Office, and sent it out. Yesterday, I got a copy of the magazine in the mail, along with a check for $100. The magazine should be on newsstands in a few weeks. The check will be converted into gas money for the Summer.
Whatʼs nice about it this time around is that the magazine lists what software each artist used to create their picture. Iʼm an Advanced OCP Art Studio user these days, but the picture I submitted is rather old, so itʼs listed correctly as being done in Koala Painter. Iʼve also moved from using a Koala Pad for input to an Atari Trak-Ball. I adore my Pad, but itʼs nice to sit back with my feet up on the desk and a finger on each button while moving the ball around with one thumb. Very comfortable for long painting sessions.
Iʼd gratified to see that so many other C-64 artists also use the same programs I do — Koala Painter and OCP. Thereʼs also a couple of programs listed that I donʼt know: MicroIllustrator, and Artist. And itʼs nice to see people are still creating wonderful things with Doodle!. That was my first painting program, and the only reason I donʼt use it anymore is because I prefer the extra colors available in the low-resolution 160x200 mode, while Doodle! only works in the high-resolution 320x200 mode.
Thatʼs not to say that you canʼt do incredible things with Doodle!; you absolutely can. Jim Sachs works in 320x200x2, and he is the best of the best. But it requires a lot of thought and planning. High resolution mode is best used by analytical minds who can think far ahead of their creative side. When I started out, that appealed to me a lot. Getting a block of colors to line up the way I wanted was like winning a chess match against a VIC-Ⅱ chip. But now the challenge is different. Now itʼs about using color and shadows to overcome the limits of the 4x8x3 color cell.
Itʼs Friday, so my parents should come home tonight, and Iʼll show it to them then. Hopefully they see more in it than the check. I tried to show it to my friends this morning, but none of them seemed to care. Theyʼre very wrapped up in the prom that Iʼm not going to. Susan was a little supportive, but I think she was just being polite. Sheʼs that way. Everyone else dismissed it as playing with a computer toy.
Something I notice is that the subject matter of most of the art is very traditional. This struck me when I saw Anne Coleʼs Bison. I thought to myself, “Iʼve seen this somewhere before.” And then I realized that what Iʼve seen before is a photo of a bison with snow on its face. And Iʼve seen it maybe a hundred times.
These artists — including Ms. Cole, who is using DeluxePaint on an Amiga — have access to the best technology that money can buy. And instead of creating something new with their imaginations, theyʼre re-creating the art of yesteryear. I, too, am guilty of this with my digital painting of the Twin Towers. Itʼs something Iʼve seen a thousand times, and something thatʼs been photographed by other people millions of times. But can it be considered good, if itʼs something that could be done better with a camera, or even a paint brush?
Maybe thatʼs why my friends were unimpressed. Being immersed in technology, Iʼm overcome by the notion of imagined possibilities turned into reality. But the actual reality that my friends saw is that weʼre just a bunch of geeks frittering away with blocky finger paints. Maybe people who are not into computers see the results, not the method, and so are able to judge the results, not the effort.
What I showed them was my proud technological achievement. What they saw was less good than a three-year-old attacking the wainscoting with a pack of blunt Crayolas. It hurts to think of it, but they must be right. It wouldnʼt hurt otherwise. Strip away the artifice of the method, and the art that remains is poor. Nobody cares how hard it was for you to climb the mountain. All they care about is that you planted a flag on the summit.
One of the biggest computer magazines in the country has put me on its cover.
Tonight a U.P.S. truck pulled into the driveway and gave me a long cardboard tube with next monthʼs issue of Run magazine in it. On the cover is one of my pictures, and thereʼs another one inside, with a short biography about me.
I remember someone contacting me on QCS about my computer pictures, but didnʼt think much about it. That was months ago. Now, here I am in living printed color.
And itʼs not just the magazine, there was also a check from IDG Publications for two hundred United States greenbacks inside. Thatʼs more money than I make in a month stuffing coupons into Sunday New Jersey Heralds from 7pm to midnight every Friday and Saturday night.
The picture on the cover is called Knight, and is based on a chess piece on my shelf. My sister went to Mexico and brought back a coral chess set. The Commodore 64 doesnʼt have the right colors to paint chess pieces so they look like coral, so I painted it in shades of blue so it looks like itʼs made of ice.
The 64 has a lot of colors for a computer, but theyʼre in an order that someone decided would be most needed, and not necessarily what an artist might use. The closest you can get to a range of colors is by using various blues, grays, greens, or reds:
The colors arenʼt arranged in groups, so you have to play with them to get an understanding of how they fit together. I like to use color changing to create a fade-in-fade-out effect when I write demos, or for cursors when I write games. If you change the colors quickly enough, people donʼt notice if theyʼre not quite right. Like going from brown to orange to pink and back. Do it fast enough and it passes for glowing monster eyes, and not just a kludge.
Inside the magazine is another picture of mine called Sunrise, which depicts the sun rising over Upper Highland Lake West with a little Sunfish sailing in the foreground.
I included stars in the dawning sky because it reminds me of the times that Scott and I would swim across the lake in the middle of the night, with the water black ink around us, and a cold, distant moon directly above showing us the way to shore.
I donʼt know how wide the lake is, especially on the route that we would take. My guess is itʼs a mile or two. We steered far away from the earthen dam near Breakneck Road because of all the rusted metal barrels leaking orange goo at its base, and away from the island and Turtle Rock because it gets shallow there. I donʼt like touching the bottom.
Iʼve heard it said that Turtle Rock is part of an underwater rock wall that once divided a farm that was flooded when they made the lake. Who knows if thatʼs true. But I can tell you that thereʼs an awful lot of catfish in that lake, and that they love American cheese.
The picture of Sunrise is accompanied by a little biography about me:
The part about “pursuing a B.A. In computer graphics” is a bit of wishful thinking. I told them that so they wouldn't think I was 16. Hopefully I can eventually get into the Rochester Institute of Technology to do that.
Also in the article are a few of my friends from QuantumLink: Joe Ekaitis, Peter and Paul Hughes, and James Hastings-Trew.
I donʼt know James very well. Heʼs far above me in both technique and skill. The Hughes brothers everyone knows because they put out so much quality work.
Joe I know better than the rest. Iʼve actually spoken with him on the phone. My BBS, The Nowhere BBS, has carried his comic strip T.H.E. Fox almost since it was first published back in 1986. From The Nowhere BBS, it gets relayed over the ARB network to dozens of other systems up and down the East Coast.
The “T.H.E.” in T.H.E. Fox stands for Thaddeus Horatio Eberhart, so the main characterʼs full name is Thaddeus Horatio Eberhart Fox. Naturally, heʼs a fox, and like most cartoon foxes gets into all kinds of trouble.
Also in the strip is Rapid T. Rabbit. The “T” stands for “Transit.” Joe is a big fan of buses, and seems to know everything there is to know about how big bus lines run.
Once we were on the phone and he asked me to give him a pair of cities. I donʼt remember what pair I chose, but letʼs say it was something like “New York and Denver.” He was able to instantly quote me a list of the buses Iʼd need to get from New York to Denver, including departure and arrival times. It went something like this:
He must have had all of the timetables memorized because thereʼs no way he could have looked all of that up instantly while I was sitting there on the phone with him. Rapid Transit Rabbit, indeed!
He told me that heʼs going to try to get a TV show on cable. We donʼt have cable here, but they do where he is, and he thinks they may give him some time. I donʼt know if itʼs going to be animated like The SuperFriends, or if heʼs going to dress up in a costume, or what. Some day Iʼll have to go visit him to watch cable TV and see what he does.
When I told my fellow overnight paper-stuffers at the New Jersey Herald how much I made, they didnʼt believe it. Not in a “Wow, thatʼs really cool!” way, but in a “Youʼre a fucking lair!” way. They donʼt think anyone will ever make any money with computers.
When I countered with “What about IBM?” they had no idea what I was talking about. And thatʼs why in a couple of years when Iʼm off at college in Rochester making computers do amazing things, theyʼll still be surrounded by stacks of crumpled newsprint at midnight trying to fix the coupon insertion machine.