Somebody Who Is Somebody

Have I mentioned that I once met Pete Seeger?

Three times in the last week I’ve noticed myself dropping into casual conversations the names of famous people that I (or, in some cases, my parents) encountered. It’s a bad habit. It’s an ego thing. But underlying the ego boost is, I think, a layer of existential fear — the fear of anonymity, the fear that one’s life is, after all, meaningless. The fear of not existing.

Have I told you about the time Glenn Gould phoned me to read me something he had written?

The habit runs in my family. Could be a genetic twitch, could be a learned habit on my part. My father once played golf with Bob Hope. (This would have been in about 1930. Hope was not yet famous; he was a young comedian working the vaudeville circuit. My father painted posters in the local theatre.) In his later years, I remember my father wondering aloud, somewhat wistfully, Read more

Live Axiom

Finding multitrack recorder software that meshes with how you like to work is not guaranteed to be a stroll in the park. I feel for musicians who have to pay for the software they use. If you pay $500 for a program and then it drives you crazy … no fun at all. I have the preposterous luxury that the manufacturers give me their software. I have Cubase, FL Studio, Ableton Live, Reason, Sonar, and probably a couple of other recording programs I’ve entirely forgotten about.

Each of them drives me crazy in a slightly different way.

I’ve been using Cubase for 20 years, and I’m fast on it. But it has to be said, the built-in synthesizers are inferior. Also, the management at Steinberg/Yamaha has decided that I have to renew my NFR license every 90 days. I’m not willing to take that extra step. If I’m going to do any actual creative work in a program, it had darn well better stay installed and running, at least for as long as I own this computer.

FL Studio is packed with terrific features, but its MIDI input routing is for the birds. You can assign the mod wheel to control vibrato in your software synth plug-in, play some notes and hear them, but when you push the mod wheel on your hardware keyboard controller … the wheel does nothing. FL Studio makes you go through an extra step to connect the MIDI input to the parameter. There’s a certain twisted logic to the way they do it, but it’s a constant annoyance. Also, the timeline in the multitrack arrangement window doesn’t know about Read more

Mom Was a Shutterbug

This weekend I broke out the shovel and started scooping up mounds of memorabilia, which have been gathering dust in the back bedroom since my mother passed away in March.

Mom was a shutterbug.

There are lots of family photos, which I’m putting in a shoebox. I may even have enough to fill two shoeboxes. I also have photos of cats — cats rolling on the lawn and strolling on the roof. Photos of trees and horses, of picturesque buildings in the Gold Country, of ships and boats, of the Christmas display my father put in our front window in Bloomington, Illinois, in 1958. Out-of-focus shots of Read more

A Little Box Full of Shiny Gears

For the past few months I’ve been pretty much ignoring interactive fiction, but that may be changing.

My dissatisfaction with IF has several roots. First, it’s very much a marginal field of creative endeavor: The number of people who care about it (or have even heard of it) is tiny, and not likely to grow. If I’m indulging in some sort of grandiose idea that I want my creative work to be appreciated by an audience of any appreciable size, IF is not going to be my first choice, nor even my second or third.

More important, perhaps: Although I’ve written half a dozen IF games, I don’t get much pleasure from playing the games written by others. I enjoyed playing “Zork” back in the ’80s — but there were several other things that floated my boat back in the ’80s that I no longer indulge in (and no, you’re not going to get any details).

I try dutifully. I played some of the Comp games last year, or at least started some of them. Sometimes I volunteer to beta-test other authors’ work because it gives me an excuse to sit down and put a game through its paces even if I’m not really enjoying it. But mostly I get bored pretty quickly. This is not necessarily a criticism of other authors’ work; it’s more a criticism of the medium itself. Interactive fiction is a medium that, by design, frustrates its audience. This is not a good thing.

There’s also a rankling and contagious dissatisfaction in the fact that I just plain don’t like Inform 7. Inform 7 is far and away the most popular authoring system for IF. I’ve written two complete games using it, one short and one long. I’ve even written a couple of extensions, which you can download from the I7 website. In spite of all that, I7 is a poor fit for me. I may write about that another time; at the moment it’s just a data point.

Last week, though, I read a comment (I wish I could remember where) to the effect that what’s fun about being a hobbyist programmer is Read more