Wednesday, 27 May 2009

I never understood 'hacking' and I never will

When I was at puberty I made this insane thought: I had to become a great programmer to distinguish myself from the average joe operating a computer.

Maybe it was my lack of self-esteem and general feeling of misfit at school that forced me to take that decision. I believe this is one of the forces (and one of the curses) behind trying to become a master of any art there is. The quest for fame and honor.

At first I was bothered with school exams that were needed to be selected at a university, that didn't left me much time for seeking this dream. I didn't do much back then but the thought kept breeding in my mind. Later, as I became a student at the university and got an internet connection in the university lab I discovered the first traces of the demoscene community. I had already seen some demos from an old magazine CD several months ago but didn't know anyone near my place being involved in the community. It was the time I made my first attempts at democoding, spent a lot of hours in the computer rooms happily communicating with other people interested in demos and also managed to be absorbed so much that I totally fucked up my studies for the next eight years :)

I really don't remember much about the so called 'hacking' trend at the time, I actually don't remember that this thing ever attracted me. Maybe I have heard something about it even before I started having this dream of becoming a good programmer. Everyone knew about it from the movies. Even if I could not imagine at that time how one could possibly invade in a foreign computer without 'touching' it, this activity never inspired me. Maybe my initial interests were focused on graphics programming and not computer security penetrating.

For someone seeking fame and honor desperately, it should be a number one choice. Everybody said great words about 'hackers' and the whole thing had become a myth. Of course most of them were thinking of 'hackers' as portrayed by the mass media. But it never touched me! I am not sure why but one reason might be that at that time I found the actions and attitude of the so called 'hackers' quite dumb.

During that time (it was 1998-9) there existed a greek 'hacking' site, hack.gr (It's history now). I remember that I was posting a lot of ugly texts in it's forums concerning my view on this 'hacking' trend. Even then, when I was a lame programmer (making 2d stars and scrollers in quickbasic :P) and didn't know much about computers, I could not feel any respect or reason for what 'hackers' did. It was neither impressive nor creative. I still don't know why it never touched me, I still haven't answered to myself why I always hated it.

So, I knew about the so called 'hacking' community. I knew about their web pranks, their 133t attitude and the whole myth revolving around them. Fame and honor was also a factor that motivated me to start learning programming and make demos. But I never shifted my activities into 'hacking', the supposedly ultra-cool computer activity which would be ideal to gain fame and honor.

I was misunderstood. I tried to show several times that what can be accumulated in the term 'hacker' as people understand it today (security penetrating/malicious software/coolness, attitude, trends and the myth) is not to be respected. And they were replying that I am recycling the opinion of the mass-media or that the are good respected 'hackers' or that I am clueless. But all I wanted to blame was the modern so called 'hacking' community and it's false reasons. I didn't know that the term was also attributed to underground hobbyist and clever programmers who were the respected ones and had nothing to do with modern 'hacking'.

Later as I became more involved in the demoscene community I started an endless race of programming more and more demos with the wish to become famous in the scene. While it was a kind of attitude that became an obsession and almost destroyed the fun behind demomaking, it was also a motivating factor that brought me were I am today. But as long as I wrote the next line of code, as long as I coded a new effect or released yet another demo, it felt like I was putting my brain into creating something that I can later watch and be happy of my achievement. If I was given a magic lamp that would instantly create a great demo and make me famous in the scene then it would mean nothing to me. I wouldn't feel any honor, I wouldn't appreciate myself at all.

I had to put a great effort and create something, either it was a demo or a game or an application or anything. This was a bliss, especially if it involved some insane optimization techniques or a crazy idea of my own (later, I even dwelved into z80 assembly and coded some nice demos for the 8bit Amstrad CPC). There was hacking spirit (with the old meaning of programming cleverness) in it and I could totally perceive that feeling. I was inspired by unconventional coding tricks that could be used to optimize computer graphics in such old and slow computers. The same inspiration to find crazy tricks to optimize or code new 'impossible' effects could occure even in modern PC demos (It's not about the vast processing power but the spirit).

I mean, I have been involved in low level programming for years, wrote several lines of assembly and C code, I have created a lot of demos where many people wish they could do the same and even if initially I was struck by the same fame virus that you use to see in the people who wish they can be 'hackers', I loved programming and creativity and I could never understand the other side. I observed and lived the feeling of finishing another piece of code that does something clever, I have created a lot of demos to satisfy my need to be special, my road was somewhere between this obsession of becoming a well known good programmer and learning some real programming in a such creative and unknown community as the demoscene but I never understood the so called 'hackers'. They were just seeking ways to penetrate security so that they make cool internet pranks and become famous for nothing, while I was trying to create something because of my interest in become better at programming (even if one of my initial motivations was fame too). Such a gap between me and them..

I mean, even at the beginning when I was a newbie in programming I still didn't understand their motives and attitude. The so called respect was about the programming ingenuity and hobbyist underground of the old definition which I later persued. When I present some of the demos I created to computer illiterate friends, many of them are not impressed and they ask me the dumb question: "That's boring. Can you 'hack' instead?". That says it all!

Good programmers and clever people with a conscience don't call themselves 'hackers'. I am sorry, the H-word has died for me. It's only used to denote something I cannot feel respect for.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Demoscenes and mainstream

After posting the previous article about the demoscene, I remember and rechecked something else and interesting or scary thoughts popped in my mind.

What happens if something like the demoscene reaches the mainstream? What could be the common misinterpretations from the average joe? Could there be some dangerous ones? Which elements worked out well as a connection bridge between the one who can understand it deeply and the common person who hasn't heard about it before?

Currently there is a kinda funny term misrepresentation floating around the web, which is most probably harmless (even though the idea that such a mistake can be passed so easilly by the majority without anyone inside the scene being able to correct this, scares me). Several people, are mistakenly calling the demos as 'demoscenes'. Phrases like these are floating around blogs and forums right now: "Hey, have you seen the demoscenes I sent you?", "The Debris demoscene is only 170k", "The demoscenes are wonderful graphical programms of small size".

Just for the records, the programms are called demos, people! Demoscene is the community of people creating them. There is no such a thing as 'demoscenes' (in plurar). Learn that!

Now, as long as the meaning of demos hasn't changed (people are still impressed by the realtime graphics and the small size of some of them) there is no alert that there will ever be a wrong interpretation of the essence of the scene as we know it. It's maybe not that important if people are calling them demoscenes or megascenes or whatever. It's just that chill on my spine when I think about the power of the mass especially through the internet. Even if the term 'demoscenes' is wrong, if I now visit every forum or blog that misuses the term and clearly state the mistake for all, there will still be people around the globe calling them demoscenes. I am powerless over the influence of several people using the wrong term.

Let's examine also some more facts. Why 'demoscenes'? I even remember the time several years backs when I met some other greek people interested in the scene, one of them being a good coder and knows the difference between the terms, although the very first time I explained him about demoscene and those wonderful programms called demos, he somehow used the wrong term and also called them 'demoscenes'. He even face-slapped himself then (lol, not exactly) for spreading the whole mistaken term to every other people in his village who never had heard about demos before. I never made this mistake when I explained demos to him or in some of my articles about the demoscene. Why was he confused the first time? What drives people to prefer 'demoscenes' over 'demos'?

A simple answer. When people speak of 'demos', a misunderstanding is happening because the same term exists as in demos of games or commercial software (limited, time-trial versions, etc). Maybe the people, not exactly intentionally, but to avoid confusion they have to speak of them with another similar term. And
'demoscenes' could be what jumped easier in their mind. I am not sure but I think that this is one important factor. Which of course was a problem even in the 80s but it's only recently when I saw the new lame term 'demoscenes' circulating around the internet. Maybe that's because the demoscene and it's productions became more known through the internet only recently. In this one, efforts for scene outreach (which one I am watching with a positive eye), big companies being interested in the demoscene and of course kkrieger helped it to happen. It's quite interesting for me to see where this path leads.

I once described this recent phenomenon as the good mainstream. Big companies, siggraph, software houses, conferences at demoparties, demos digged, game sites with a demoscene section, maybe this is something good for me when I mention my involvement in the demoscene on my CV and suddenly the computer world outside the scene appreciates it. But what about the scene itself? The good thing here is that demos are becoming mainstream to the computer literate outside the scene who is not exactly the average joe. The average joe speaks of hacking as seen in the movies and he is of course thinking of security breaking (which he finds ultracool), not programming (which he finds boring). The scene is about programming realtime graphics, pixeling/3d modelling, writting music and generally being purely creative with a computer instead of playing games or dreaming of hacking the pentagon :P. This is why even with this shift to the commercial computer world, the inner notion of demos and demomaking will never change.

At the moment, I am not sure whether this shift might change the scene in other ways (some people think it will miss it's underground spirit but I don't believe so). Nevertheless, I think I am exactly tripping at the point in time where such a shift could occure. And it is interesting to me to observe and analyze what happens. To see an important computer community dramatically changing (or possibly not) through history and make my own conclusions while living this history. I can stare and see how is it possible for something to change so much (if it ever does) as something similar happened with the 'hackers' notion but I wasn't there living in the historic times to actually observe the change. Interesting times for the demoscene.

Another point. A primary element that currently is making the demos interesting in the eyes of non-scene people around the internet is that of size. Currently, the most blog/forum posts describing the demos (and even calling them wrongly 'demoscenes') give mostly as examples the small and tiny sized ones, namely 4k or 64k intros. Of course. People cannot be impressed by the realtime graphics notion. Demos are traditionally non-interactive and the big ones that weight several megabytes could be mistaken for videos so they would be just plain boring (even if video captures of such image clearness and resolution would need hundreds of megabytes, not only 10-20MBs). Only a tiny sized file of something less than 64k displaying smooth crystal clear visuals and sound would make the average joe being impressed. Most people keeps in mind only the <64k category when refering to demos. Another problem I see here is that year by year the size of the traditional demos is growing up. People are also posting demos at youtube. If the video capture (even as a low quality divx rather than the crystal clear realtime rendered frames) reaches the size of the executable demos then what's the point? Will there be a schism? Most probably not because sceners appreciate the traditional demo category as they can relate to the fact that it's still an executable producing realtime graphics. But what about the mainstream who just discovered demos as impressive tiny sized executables?

Only time will tell. It will be interesting to me to observe any possible (good or bad) transformation through the years. How will the scene be in 2020 or 2050?

Digital canvas

I have a cupboard with a lot of drawers in my sleeping room. On the top of it lies an old C64 monitor and the 1541 drive. Their cables are connected and the C64 lies inside one of the drawers. It's a funny thing, opening your drawers searching for clothes and finding the one with the C64 inside :)

I had a rare feeling one day I switched on my C64, ran a demo and stared at the pixels. Such a low res wide picture elements with only a very specific minimal color pallete, my eyes being able to separate them one by one and yet see the whole picture, lines of assembly code being able to say which of each to lit on with the specific color value, mathematical algorithms or few simple rules that describe what to draw for each picture element. I saw the whole image, I felt it, something that cannot be described by logic but it's a feeling of art and simplicity.

And then I understood. I understood why I can enjoy watching demos in even the slowest machine with the most minimalistic graphics. Why it doesn't make a difference to me whether it's 2bit in 160*200 or 32bit in 1024*768 resolution. I see the difference between how I feel and interact with a computer than the average joe who can't enjoy using or programming in his computer if it's not high tech.

I understand that for me the computer is like a digital canvas. I only need a framebuffer no matter how few the pixels and the colors and a simple programming language to speak with the computer and describe the minimal rules and basic algorithms needed to display something nice in the screen. I have a deep feeling of the connection of the mathematical input and the visual output and I could so much enjoy it even in a calculator.

I can also understand for another time what's so special with the demoscene. Why should I just do my thing and not cry out whether the scene is dead or whether I am not active enough. I have this feeling which cannot be described easilly. This total relation of the algorithmic simplicity and the computer screen, being provided with the least screen elements possible (the pixels) and just being creative and imaginative with them. I can understand demos.

Demoscene is something that will never became as destructively mainstream as what happening with the whole notion of hacking (it's meaning being transformed from pure programming leasure and ingenuity to the lame notion of security breaking). It just lacks the elements needed for the transformation pathway to reach the average joe. Most people find it meaningless and boring while also not ...illegal/cool enough (as in modern "hacking"). It's not for the many and it will never be. It is for those who can understand the inner magic and don't need high-tech and uber-trendy or destructively cool to appreciate.

Those who can also appreciate and actually enjoy oldschool demos, except from modern graphics that everyone can normally relate to, are meaned to get this special feeling. The demoscene is one of the greatest jewels of true mental/visual communication with a computer no matter how old. I can understand it when I watch another demo and I can actually "feel" the demo.

Friday, 15 May 2009

About this blog

I could explain what this blog is about. Even if it's just another blog. Some of the things I am writting here could be expressed in another blog of mine. It just popped up in my head to open this one in an instant. Hopefully it doesn't fail to the category of the blogs that after a while I feel compeled to close. I won't let this happen..

One of the things that I really hate is when some beliefs I feel they are wrong, become so popular through mouth to mouth, that when you try to debunk them nobody listens to you and you even sound like an outcast, you even feel it's a taboo to speak otherwise. Of course, I would sound like an idiot if I just claimed that MY idea is right and yours is wrong. I try to keep an open mind. But there are some ideas so flawed up that you think it's not possible that most people accept them and yet they are so blatantly wrong that you want to SCREAM! Such is the power of common opinion that anything, no matter how stupid, can be supported and finally be accepted as the sole truth by the mass. And then you hear the same ideas from even the experts. It doesn't matter if Einstein said it or the average Joe!

And yet I have become so good in feeling that aura, that essence of when someone transfers a meme and says the phrase "Isn't that so?" and the other person is compelled to just nod his head because he is not left of any choice or there is a feeling of common connection, that he agrees with what all agree and that only makes the thoughts expressed to sound as true facts while they aren't always so. That feeling of common consceous. I can't explain that yet. But I can feel the power that makes even not exactly the right ideas dominate. But who can define what is right and what is wrong anyways?

I can't. Not only I am not so confident but I also try to be a little openminded. Or is openminded another excuse for the real fact that I don't want to be such a wuss? I like it when people are brave enough to say what even myself can't sometimes say. When the political correctness or politeness don't stop their way. Does it mean that they are always right? No. But they have to say something because usually nobody says something like that, because it is taboo or nobody should say so. Their opinion is more interesting to me because it's rare, because it's something you are not used to hear around you.

Normally, the things about human society or popular and taboo ideas on various subject would make it to my old blog. This one is more about the things I want to say having to do with computers and the community. These ones that nobody says or it's a taboo to say. Or to show up some popular opinions on computing which in my opinions are kinda wrong yet widely accepted.

One of them is for example the whole confusion/myth behind hackers (as portrayed on tv) and how much confusing it gets. I have written a lot of articles about it in the past. And there are a lot more that I want to write. Some people do seem to say something, like that hackers are creative and not destructive, that they should be called crackers, etc. but there is a point that even their sayings are not enough or they are still making some mistakes or their words are still not the same as what they might be thinking. It's such a confusing yet challenging subject for my constant struggle with the power of such common beliefs. Expect a lot of articles on this one.

Sometimes I feel like a hermit. But then I imagine a lonely guy in the corner feeling the same things as me and yet he thinks I am a dumbass just like the rest. I know. Maybe I am looking like the same people I speak about to the eyes of other hermits. But nobody is perfect.

Everyone hates the phone

It seems to me that everyone hates the phone. Not just at work. But even here, why do they? I should ask them. I get a little anxious with phones but nobody else says this is the reason. But maybe nobody confirms that because it sounds a little wousy.

Do you remember the time when mobile phones were not in everyone's possesion? I can't remember this one. It feels strange. How the hell would someone reach me if I was out in the city? How did I managed to meet my friends? Maybe I don't remember that because I didn't have any friends at that age or I didn't went to the cafeteria or something. But it feels strange. What if I reached a particular point of meet and my friend didn't arrived? Phonebooths? Not sure..

Doesn't it annoy you when you don't want to be interrupted and you are interrupted? When there is no moment of silence? Sometimes I just close my phone and others expect me to have it switched on all the time. It might even sound strange to them. But they never asked me about it.

I might be in great pleasure closing the damn thing! But sometimes in anxiety in case someone calls me for something important. But I know I can, I know I can simply ignore the important thing. It might prove not that important or if it is sooooo important then he might reach me through other means. Or he might call again.

Should I throw the 300 baud modem away? No connection to the outside world? But I do somehow want it. Maybe only the good sites. Maybe the old usenet. Maybe the places where other people with old computers meet. Not the crap popular majority.

But you see, we are slaves of ourselves. I would throw the damn phone if I could. I would stay offline if I really wanted. Maybe this needs a different zen of thought.

My dream

I become a hermit.
I travel to the mountains.
I am living in an old woden house.
I grow up my own food.

I have there an old XT.
With 8 inch disks.
And a 300 baud modem.
And a hercules graphics adapter.
And a green computer screen.

And I forget about the shitty mainstream world of computers.
Of pseudohackers.
Of gadgetmasters.
Of computer superstars and wannabees.
And politically correct computer heros.

I have a dream.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Not coding

I am not coding a line these days. I wanted to start making a game. I am occupied by some other things I need to finish this week and I also got a job. Also, when not doing these, I am watching tv series or lame UFO documentaries or even playing eye of the beholder. I am not going to code any time soon. Even though I get abstract ideas of things I'd like to code while I get bored at job.

The spikeball below looks very ugly. It's not much better in my demo. I didn't liked my demo. I don't care.

Who knows when I am going to code a new demo and what would that be (I am thinking of some oldschool platforms again). Although I am doing this for ten years. I just figured this out. And the game or other abstract ideas I'd like to try coding..

I am waiting for the summer. I'll be a little more free and have fun. Maybe with coding, maybe with just gaming and being lazy. Whatever..

Eye of the Beholder 1 - Speedrun

If you have played the game (I have finished it several times), this is an amazing and very funny speed run!