Notes: “The Future Was Here” by Jimmy Maher

A few notes on The Future Was Here: The Commodore Amiga by Jimmy Maher, part of MIT Press’ “platform studies” series:

+ I am fascinated by the idea of the institutional computer (ie: mainframe that one logs into as a shared resource) versus the personal computer (pg 6) – a distinction that might be obvious to someone who did not grow up around PCs.

+ Images we see on the computer screen “also exist within the memory of the computer itself.  The latter image is in fact the original of the image that is mirrored to the monitor” (page 23).

+ Early digital artist Rodney Chang (top) in 1989: “My work helps document the progress the software makes” (pg 79 – originally from Mindy Skelton’s article “Rodney Chang: Artist on the Edge” in Info #25, pg 45).

+ For old-school ray-tracing, the Maher suggests Principles of Three-Dimensional Computer Animation by Michael O’Rourke (pg 89).  O’Rourke breaks the 3d rendering process into six pieces: object geometry, the camera, the lights, the surface characteristics, the shading algorithm, and the rendering algorithm.

+ Another old-school rendering technique and alternative to the slower ray-tracing is the “scanline snapshot” method (pg 105).  Little information is available online, but a brief mention in a Spanish page about the Amiga also has some cool screenshots of Amiga art.

+ The Digi-View which captured video frames but could be used as a rudimentary scanner as well – for color, one must capture the same frame four times with “a set of colored filters, one each for red, green, and blue (pg 122).  Since most subjects can’t sit still for the 30-seconds or so required for each image (of three), images were often captured from printed photographs.

+ One of the first known computer viruses was called the “Elk Cloner”, which would incidentally be a fantastic band name (think high school sci-fi punk, if such a genre exists).  Created in 1982 by “a 15-year-old American high school student named Rich Skrenta [using] an Apple II… spread from floppy disk to floppy disk, displaying a mocking limerick on every fiftieth infection”.  The virus, intended as an inside joke among friends, but was eventually seen as “threatening enough to be the subject of a presentation by the Department of Defense/National Bureau of Standards Computer Security Conference that year” (page 171).  For a full digital version of Fred Cohen’s paper from that conference, see:

+ Finally, the 1984 game Elite, developed by David Braben and Ian Bell.  Fascinating because the designers were able to squeeze “eight galaxies, each of which houses 256 star systems… [each of which] has its own name, economy, even system of government” – all fitting into 32kb.  The game also featured algorithmically-created graphics, built in realtime to avoid being saved as assets (pg 216).

Manual Ray-Tracing

An idea for a manually ray-traced, reflective sphere:

Step 1: A large sphere made of small facets – the pole to the right would have a laser-pointer attached at the top as the “light source”

Step 2: The laser traces four lines, one from the source to each of the corners – the points that they meet the floor are noted

Step 3: The resulting square is the shadow cast by that facet; the process is repeated for each facet

Step 4: A mirror is affixed to the facet and the laser is pointed at the center, reflecting out into the room

Step 5: The spot that the reflected laser beam hits is photographed, printed, and affixed to the facet on the sphere; this process is repeated for each facet