Tag Archives: Childhood

Digitizing Old LEGOmation Movies


Elgato EyeTV Hybrid
Elgato EyeTV Hybrid

I recently got my hands on an Elgato EyeTV Hybrid which lets me connect my MacBook Pro to a VHS player.  After a relatively easy setup, I am now able to play the tapes on the VHS player and save them to the MacBook in a digital format.  Finally, all of my old home videos can be brought into the digital age.  As exciting as this is, it also scares me.  Most of my home videos are completely ridiculous.  I would be embarrassed if the internet bore evidence to what kind of a weird kid I was.

Really though, these videos are already part of the public domain in a limited sense.  That’s because when I was ten years old, my sister, my cousin, and I had our own Public Access TV Show.  For those too young to remember, Public Access was a local TV station in most cities that aired shows created by anyone who wanted to pay for one.  The way it worked was that you would send in your content (on VHS tape) and it would be aired at whatever time slot you had received from the station.  The idea seems almost paleolithic compared to today where anyone can create a YouTube channel and share videos with the entire world in literally a matter of seconds.

Monk and Moo
Monk and Moo

Our TV show was called Monk and Moo.  Monk (short for Monkey) was my cousin.  She was the camera person and director.  My sister was Moo, the lead actress, host, and producer.  My role on the show was as more of an extra, filling in when necessary and doing small sketches (my name didn’t make it to the title of the show either).  My major contributions to Monk and Moo were my animation shorts.  I made several of these kinds of clips where I would use my LEGO’s and do a kind of animation called stop motion animation.  The master of this style is, of course, Ray Harryhausen.

Ray Harryhausen and the Medusa
Ray Harryhausen and the Medusa

The premise of stop motion animation is simple.  First, you place the objects being animated in a position.  Then you film that frame of the scene for a split second and stop the video.  Rinse and repeat.  The result is a jerky but consistent sequence of film where your object appears to move around.  Granted I wasn’t a master of this technique.  Most my videos feature at least one second of footage where you can see my hand placing a LEGO guy because I didn’t correctly stop or start the film.

Another stumbling block I had when doing stop motion animation was that I could only have dialog and music if I left the camera filming.  If I kept the music playing while starting and stopping the film, the result was a choppy garbled mess of a sound track.  Such was the result of my first attempt at LEGO-mation.

Some samples of my LEGO-mation movies are below:

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A Trip Down Memory Lane with the Macintosh Plus


The Macintosh Plus
The Macintosh Plus

An online friend of mine recently brought to my attention PCE.js, a browser-based emulator of the Macintosh Plus.  Click the link and experience it for yourself.  This emulator is solid gold.  The machine it is emulating is solid gold.  It’s a throwback to a world of computing almost 25 years ago.  Those were the days of System 7 (which, in my opinion, is still a more intuitive interface than every other Mac OS since then).  At the time, I was three years old.  The Macintosh Plus was the first computer my family owned and it will always have a dear place in my heart.  Between the ages of three and seven, I was inseparable from the Macintosh Plus.  I fondly remember playing games like Dark Castle, Dungeons of Doom, Rogue, StuntCopter, and more.  By the way, for anyone who saw the Angry Video Game Nerd’s review of Dark Castle for CDi, the Macintosh version was much easier to control with a mouse and keyboard.

Firstly, when you open the emulator you might be astonished by the specs of the machine.  It has 4MB of memory and about 20MB of disk space.  Really powerful stuff for 1986.  Now I can run System 7 in a web browser on my computer while I simultaneously listen to music and write this blog post in another window.  And my computer is still only using 12% of its CPU.  I know it’s not a fair comparison, but I always have two feelings when I reflect on this.  One feeling is, “How did I think that was so awesome back then?”  The other feeling is, “What if I could see then how powerful the computer I use now is?”  There is also a third follow-on feeling, “How awesome are computers going to be thirty years from now?”

Erase Disk next to Empty Trash
Erase Disk next to Empty Trash

Now for a little side lesson in Human Machine Interaction.  Open the PCE.js emulator.  If you go to the Special Menu of the Finder, you will see it has some familiar options: restart, shut down, empty trash, and… erase disk?  Wait a second, are we sure we want to put that potentially disastrous functionality next to all these other innocent ones?  Well why not?  Every computer user can read the options can’t they?  Not if you are three-year old Daniel Bank who likes computing even though he can’t read.  Three-year old Daniel memorizes where things are physically on the screen and clicks OK until dialog windows go away.  Maybe you can see where this is going (hint: I was trying to empty the trash and I accidentally reformatted my dad’s external hard drive… he was not happy).

Lastly, this post wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t talk about HyperCard.  Essentially, it was a stack of “cards” that you could add scripting to.  You could save your stack as a file and share it with others who could then open it with a HyperCard viewer.  The scripting really made things interesting because you could transition to different cards when a part of one card was clicked, you could prompt the user for input, you could keep track of variables, and so on.  Sadly, you won’t be able to experience HyperCard in the emulator because it only has a viewer.

Clock Tower in Dark Castle
Clock Tower in Dark Castle

HyperCard actually represented probably 80% of my play time on the Macintosh Plus.  Sometimes I played other people’s stacks, but mostly I was creating my own.  I created dozens of HyperCard games and finished maybe a handful of them.  Mostly my stacks consisted of just a title screen and maybe the first few cards of an actual game.  I was learning the fine art of creating VaporWare.  The first words that I actually wrote with a pencil were go next, a command from the HyperCard scripting language to move to the next card.  This was the start of a mad desire to create my own software gaming studio that lives on to this day.

So ends my nostalgic reflection on the Macintosh Plus as experienced through PCE.js.  Tremendous kudos to James Friend for making this emulator.  I have no idea how he did it but it is an awesome example of running a virtual machine in a browser.

The Cave of the Man Who Got Really Out


The Cave of the Man Who Got Really Out
The Cave of the Man Who Got Really Out

He ran into the cave…

And took out some matches.

He shared one with his friend.

They hold hands so they don’t have to get lost.  A man was trying to get out to kill them.

They ran down the path…

And fell into a pit when his torch dropped.

When his torch fell to the bottom it hit the magic ground and turned into a monster.

The guy who was chasing them got eaten and the monster can’t walk anymore because they gave him poison to drink.

He accidentally touched the button by purpose and he got wine to drink.

A door was closed.  Nobody gets the treasure forever because they forget the key.

He climbed a rope which leads up to a secret door in the ceiling.  Now he’s got a way out!

The end of this great book.

Download this great book.