Halcyon Days

Columns and reflections by Terry Britt

Archive for March 2009

OS Memories

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Leave it to the folks at the UK’s PC Advisor to come up with a trip down operating system memory lane, posted on the magazine’s Web site over the weekend.

For those of us who have been around personal computers since they first hit the scene 30-something years ago, the article reads like a “greatest hits” record collection of how you used to get things done on a keyboard and monitor. I was able to recognize/remember most of the 10 OSes featured, but the one that really drew the “Oh, yeah, THAT!” reaction from me was something called GEOS.

In the 1980s, I was a happy and content Commodore 64 owner, but I didn’t like the way some of my hipper-than-thou computer geek friends would dismiss my system as nothing but a glorified video game machine with a keyboard. When GEOS came along, C64 fanboys like myself finally had something that could prove our computers could be productivity machines, too. Think of GEOS as a sort of early Microsoft Windows or MacOS overlay for the Commodore systems and you’ll get the picture. I think it initially retailed for $79.95 – a pricey piece of software for the C64 – but at that time it was really cool being able to manipulate files on a graphic desktop interface, use a font-rendering 80-column word processor and let your inner Picasso out with the paint program. You didn’t even need a mouse, as you could use the cheaper alternative of a standard nine-pin joystick controller to handle input functions.

Check out the article; you’ll be amazed at some of the facts it provides. Oh, and for the record, I remember the brief TV ad campaign for OS2 Warp in the mid ’90s and I can still operate a PC with MS-DOS command line structure.

Written by terrybritt

March 31, 2009 at 10:23 pm

Two Systems That Could Change The (Video) Game

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A couple of very interesting announcements I’ve run across this week, both coming out of the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco:

OnLive bills itself as “The Future of Video Games” with a device that essentially takes the video-on-demand (VOD) concept with movies and TV shows and applies it to video games. In this case, though, they aren’t talking about classic arcade and home console games a la Gametap (which is a good option for us “golden age” gamers) but current and upcoming new releases – titles that you would normally find for the Playstation 3, XBox 360 or Nintendo Wii.

The service, set to go live later this year, utilizes your home broadband connection to stream the games to a TV set (through a “microconsole”), PC or Mac…no discs, no long downloads, no installing to a hard drive. On the company Web site, I saw they are taking online apps for beta testers starting in the summer.

Then there is Zeebo, which is a gaming console in the traditional sense but which eschews physical game media and instead delivers the games through a 3G network, storing the software in 1GB of flash memory. The thing here is the system is targeting “emerging markets” like Brazil, Russia, India and China, according to its Web site, so I wouldn’t look for it on U.S. shelves anytime soon.

In both cases, though, it raises an interesting question if we may soon be seeing the curtains closing on the age of the disc-based home gaming console. If both of these systems really take off in their targeted markets and broadband and/or 3G networks improve and flourish, it could force the “Big Three” game console makers to give greater consideration to streaming or digital delivery on the next generation of systems.

Game On

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The Associated Press has a good article today about the state of the video game industry as the Game Developer’s Conference begins in San Francisco.

If you haven’t read about it lately, video game sales have been one of the few joyous retail sectors as the nation continues sliding into an economic pit. Video game consoles, software and accessories brought in $1.47 billion in February, according to an industry analyst, and that’s up from $1.34 billion in Feburary 2008 and the $1.33 billion reported in January.

As the article points out, though, it’s not all peaches and cream as video game companies have closed studios, offices and/or laid off employees, basically joining most other industries in that regard. On the other hand, if systems continue to sell like this, new games will continue to be in demand and you would think game designers and coders might have a little easier time finding a new job.

I don’t see a video game slowdown coming anytime soon. Stay-at-home entertainment options for families are all the rage right now and probably will be for quite some time.

Written by terrybritt

March 23, 2009 at 5:37 pm

Interview With Quiet Company

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The group’s name is Quiet Company, but their fans – a quickly growing number – are not keeping quiet about this Austin-based piano rock band.

In an interview before a recent show in Tyler, Texas, songwriter and vocalist Taylor Muse spoke about the band’s knack for instantly connecting with listeners.

“We don’t have a lot of fans in the grand scheme of things, but the ones we have are really, really big fans,” Muse said.

Their music apparently has quite a bit of power in it, Muse mentioning that one man told him “Love Is A Shotgun,” from the group’s first album, “Shine Honesty,” saved the man’s marriage.

“That’s really awesome to me. We’ve had people use our stuff in their weddings and that’s a real big honor to me. Yeah, we’ve had a few people tell us things like that, we’re one of their new favorite bands…it’s really amazing to hear.”

The band’s new album, “Everyone You Love Will Be Happy Soon,” seems likely to keep the buzz going strong and the legion of Quiet Company fans swelling in number (click here for album review). It has already received many enthusiastic reviews, although Muse said it is quite different from “Shine Honesty” in one regard.

“The first record is really just me and one other guy (Alex Bhore). He recorded it and played all the drums on the record. Most of those songs were not really developed in a band setting…

“That record kind of came before Quiet Company was even a live band,” Muse continued. “Now that we’ve been a live band for a while, the new record sounds a lot more like a full band, more like a full sound, more of a developed sound. I think sonically the songs on ‘Shine Honesty’ are huge and the songs on ‘Everyone You Love’ are even bigger.”

“It definitely adds a new dynamic and character to something,” band drummer Jeff Weathers added. “You always get more perspectives out of a band setting instead of just a single songwriter, even when it’s ideas originally written by Taylor. They get translated differently by somebody actually having to play the exact rhythm and note he’s played, but it’s their touch on the instrument.”

It has all added up to a sound and songs that have a distinct mark of originality, and yet are very inviting to the listener. Muse said although he certainly has musical influences, presenting something unique is not a chore.

“I don’t find it terribly difficult to walk that line. But I think a lot of bands do, and it’s not that I am such a better songwriter than they are,” he said. “I don’t feel the need to be anybody except who I am.

“Our influences come through and they show, but I wouldn’t say that we sound like anybody. I remember when I was younger in early bands, trying to sing just like some other guy or trying to play guitar like somebody else. I just don’t do that anymore. I guess that’s part of maturity, growing up and finding out what you do.”

Weathers remarked that Quiet Company definitely is not what he termed one of the “mall bands.”

“They’re all interchangeable and kind of disposable. I wonder if they sit and go ‘Hey, this song we just wrote sounds exactly like this other band,’ or do they not notice it, or do they not mind it? I don’t really know.”

He added, “We run with a crowd of bands we can really respect. I feel like all of our friends do their own thing and nobody’s really ripping off anybody.”

The two band members also weighed in on the role of technology in today’s music industry. Muse said the world of MySpace and YouTube has its good and bad elements as it concerns bands and music distribution.

“I think it totally threw everybody into different corners of the room and now they’re just starting to come back together,” he said. “It (Internet presence) was a perk, and now people are realizing it’s a standard. It’s also now a new niche in that you see bands totally produced strictly virtual, just like you have companies that are virtual. They never set foot on stage and they’re building whole markets just on Web presence.

“The bad thing is now it’s too easy to be a band. In our general society, it’s too easy to do too many things virtually now. You have a lot of people trying to do things (and) they don’t have to go through the heartache, they don’t have to go through the actual getting into the band and putting out the work, they don’t have to get in the streets and actually put out the work,” Muse added. “Recording equipment has made it to the point where anybody and their dog can make a record, and it’s a decent sounding record.”

And on the other hand? “The good thing that comes out of things being more accessible, just like any commodity, is now we have more perfect information…people are more critical now, things are more transparent. We’re going to start to see through the hype, start to see through all these fake MySpace bands and out of that will rise better and stronger things due to competition,” Muse said.

“Metallica might have hated Napster, but I was very thankful for it because it let me find a ton of music you couldn’t find before,” he added. “The other good thing is it destroys the conglomerate music industry. It forces them to maybe be a little more creative or at least think a little more creatively, or just go out of business.”

The Novelist Who Helped Create A Band

If every musician and songwriter has a Damascus moment, Taylor Muse experienced his when he was a single-but-looking patron at a bookstore.

He said he never got to chat up the attractive girl he saw working behind the counter that day — an inquiry about a good novelist she could recommend only got him a referral to a male co-worker in the store who was more knowledgeable on that subject.

But it was there that Muse wound up buying three novels by Kurt Vonnegut “so I didn’t look like a total fool.”

“I bought Slaughterhouse Five and two other books. I read the other two first and I almost didn’t read Slaughterhouse Five. But finally, I read it and I instantly fell in love with his (Vonnegut’s) voice…A lot of his ideas really connected with me and it was a whole different perspective of the world that I just really never had considered.”

He remains a passionate fan of the late author. “The weird thing about Vonnegut is, if I just sat here and told you the plot of his books they would not sound interesting at all. They would sound like the most boring, worthless books of all time. He (Vonnegut) kind of knew that,” Muse said.

“Everyone You Love Will Be Happy Soon” is speckled throughout with references to Vonnegut’s 1961 novel Mother Night, starting with the first track, “A Nation of Two.” The title is borrowed from a play written by the novel’s protagonist, Howard W. Campbell, Jr., for his wife.

“They’re the only two in the nation and their nation has no room for politics or religion or society. It’s just them and that’s all they need,” Muse said. “They are totally sovereign and totally substantial, just being that for each other and whatever else happens, if they’ve got each other, the whole world can burn away but their nation of two remains.”

Weathers expressed admiration for his bandmate’s ability to pose deep and sometimes troubling questions in his songs without alienating the listener.

“I think what’s good about Taylor’s lyrics in that regard is he does a good job of keeping you guessing. I know where Taylor stands on a lot of religious things, but it’s like lyrically I don’t know where he stands,” Weathers said. “That’s the way to try to get people thinking on a subject without making them on the defensive. It’s letting people think on their own time and grow as themselves.”

Muse said he is continually amazed at the power of music and the potential of every song he writes.

“Kurt Vonnegut wrote, ‘Any work of art is one half of the conversation between two people,'” he said. “It’s my part of the conversation.”

Four Bands Quiet Company Thinks You Should Give A Listen
The Rocketboys – http://www.rocketboyband.com/
Jets Under Fire – http://www.jetsunderfire.com/
Dignan – www.myspace.com/dignan
Roy G and the Biv – www.myspace.com/roygandthebiv

Written by terrybritt

March 23, 2009 at 1:28 am

Sound Of Madness Past

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With the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament under way, I couldn’t help but make this little observation:

While listening to my fave radio station, WEVL in Memphis, earlier this week, I heard a song entitled “Tiger High ’85” by a band called The Coach and Four. It’s an indie pop ode to the 1985 Memphis State University basketball team that made it to the Final Four but lost to eventual national champion Villanova – a game I covered in person in Lexington, Ky., for the Memphis State campus newspaper, the Daily Helmsman.

I like the song, but you know you’re getting old when local bands are writing songs about your college days.

Go Tigers, Go!

The Coach and Four: www.myspace.com/thecoachandfour


On Twitter Remorse

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In the last 24 hours, I’ve seen the following online tales of how Tweets aren’t always so sweet:
http://bhc3.wordpress.com/2009/03/17/how-to-tweet-your-way-out-of-a-job/

http://shankman.com/be-careful-what-you-post/

http://msn.foxsports.com/nba/story/9347162/Skiles-calls-foul-on-Villanueva%27s-Twitter-habit&MSNHPHCP&GT1=39002

Plus one tech blog post questioning the point behind a political interview wearing Tweet’s clothing:

http://techblog.dallasnews.com/archives/2009/03/george-stephanopoulos-intervie.html

All of which only serve to remind us that for everything – even Twitter usage – there is a proper time and place.

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March 18, 2009 at 10:41 am

Wireless Woes

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Gigaom has a fairly condemning post about AT&T and its data network troubles handling 3G-based iPhone traffic, highlighted by the initial snags (and iPhone users’ snarls, I’m sure) at SXSW in Austin. That’s been solved, apparently, but you wonder when these wireless carriers are going to finally get the idea that a proactive stance is way better for PR and customer satisfaction than a reactive stance when it comes to bandwidth.

I don’t own an iPhone, but I must add here I haven’t been very impressed with AT&T Wireless’ regular voice/data network to this point. I was a Cingular Wireless adoptee into the AT&T network a couple of years ago and I’ve noticed far more dropped calls and inability to connect to the GPRS to shop for ringtones, graphics, etc.

If data usage is the new cash cow for wireless companies, I’d like to believe the barns will start being built to an appropriate size.

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March 17, 2009 at 2:50 pm