The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

20 September 2005

Modern marvels

The JPEG compression algorithm — and who knew Al Gore had rhythm? — is, according to Sean Gleeson's students, not cool.

Maybe I've been fortunate enough to hang on to bits and pieces of Young and Impressionable, but I think it's pretty swift.

Obligatory story: Many of you once owned the Commodore 64 doorstop computer, which ruled the low end of the marketplace in the middle 1980s. Its VIC chip could handle 16 colors at 320 x 200 resolution, which was pretty remarkable for a piece of hardware seemingly hewn out of a chunk of flint. And its architecture was open enough (okay, there wasn't enough to hide) that all sorts of people did all kinds of gee-whiz things with it that it wasn't supposed to be able to do.

One day someone handed me a 170k floppy, most of its 664 blocks filled with a mere two files: some sort of graphics-rendering tool, and a GIF. (Choosy dweebs choose GIF.) "Two hundred fifty-six colors," he said, and warned: "This will take a while."

Indeed, it took almost all night for the computer to crunch all those numbers — actually, it sort of just brushed against them — and fool the video display into producing sixteen times as many colors. (Gripe if you want about your slow machine: we were running at a breakneck 1.02 MHz.) But the results were simply incredible. I hate to think how long a C-64 would have to labor to cough up a JPEG (though it can be done), but I assure you, I have an appreciation for how these everyday things work; after all, I got to see them before they were everyday things.

Footnote of sorts: Before the last firm selling C-64 enhancements backed away from what was left of the market, you could have your little beige box running at 16 MHz, with user-port support for 56k modems, SCSI hard disks in the multi-gigabyte range, and scads of RAM. And there exists an 8-bit Web browser (no graphics or Javascript) for the 64, the Apple II (or, as some insisted, the ][), and the Atari 800. I'm not surprised: I had a COBOL compiler (!) for the 64, and somebody thinks it's possible to port Java to the 64.

Let me know when this stops being cool.

Posted at 6:23 AM to PEBKAC

But PNGs can have alpha channels, with semi-transparency! Now that's cool.

Posted by: Sean Gleson at 3:45 PM on 20 September 2005

If I want semi-transparency, I'll look at Susan Storm. :)

Posted by: CGHill at 4:14 PM on 20 September 2005

Let me know when this stops being cool.

NEVER! You can have my C64s when you pry them from my arthritic, RSI afflicted fingers!

Of course, I can have them when the Wife lets me get them out of mini storage and bring them back in the house. She seems to think that four computers is somehow "enough".

Just wait til I bring the TRS-80 Color Computer II back in from the cold. All glorious 4 KB of it.

Posted by: Matt Navarre at 2:25 AM on 21 September 2005