ASCII: a harmless download?

Once long ago I was amazed to discover that all I needed for a downloadable file is just an HTML link reference like this: ASCII.EXE (Windows 95 version 110K). I never guessed! It’s like the day I noticed animated GIF files. ... Just click at it and at least my Internet Explorer 4 offered to save the file and I could. So the wonders never cease. The Windows 3.1 version is ASCII.ZIP (110K), a ZIP file because the Shrinker utility seems unable to shrink the 16-bit version good (I used the amazing UPX on the 32-bit version).

And what is ASCII, you ask musingly? It’s like the illustration (on the right! ... on the left is a charming 8mm movie camera that no-doubt frolicked its way through a relentlessly gay existence until it wound-up in a junk store). When I moved into the wonderful world of 32-bit computing, I weaned myself from my precious Sidekick 1.56 — which runs poorly in Windows anyway — graduating to SK95, Palm Pilot, ad astra. ... But I missed the ASCII chart! Of course Windows is beyond all that now, Unicoding, Kanji, ANSI something whatever, but I still write humble backward-looking code, and just the other day I wanted to know what an ACK was, for instance. So I finally broke down and wrote the program, which consists essentially of borrowed screens. PgUp, PgDown, ^X, ^E, ^R, and ^C move between the screens and, in Windows 95 or 98 or something, up and down arrows (Delphi 16 was too cheap). Home and End do the expected; and just for old time’s sake, ESC exits. It’s resizable if you, like me, are encountering more and more tiny screens these days; or press 2, 3, 4, 5 to magnify in whole amounts — but typing the letter “O” or numeral “1” or zero returns it to its startup size.... Of course, it will blow-up your computer, so don’t download it.... (And then by Thursday, July 19, 2001 10:47 am it turned-out SideKick runs fine in W98 — in a window by itself like Bill Gates intended — and I used it happily for many years that way, eventually wandering over to SideKick95, itself significantly obsolete these days; but I still run ASCII to find those codes....)

Owenview, The Working Shell ©?

Well it used to work pretty good; in the time of Clinton. Most likely it won’t work at all in any way on our beautiful 21st century 64-bit machines — whose intricate requirements forced our beloved Microsoft to totally abandon 16-bit software ~ après XP. And Owenview and its little friends are of the despised 16-bit tribe. I only saw it working recently in my delusional Vbox XP project....

... So if you really want to have a good time and are an afficiando of quaint obsolete machines like XP and Windows 98, you can still try downloading the labor of my life, the companion of my golden years, the astonishing dangerous antique still works-in-w98 (but never never in NT w2000 whoever — well, perhaps “hardly ever” — but, as noted, really never in ≥Win 7): OwenView — The Working Shell©. ... Yes it’s new it’s old it’s never been sold. ... Some time around the Korean War I may’ve thought I was going to make Big Bucks in the shareware game flogging OV as it’s known to its friend. ... But I used this thing practically every hour of every working day for years, and didn’t leave home without it. It’s highly unlikely you would have the same reaction but, still, if for some reason you’ve been beating yourself on the head trying to copy files around your aged dusty DOS/win3/w98 machine, feel free to download OV. There are zillions of shells — well, there used to be — but OV is special: its claim to fame is its reactionary backwardness, i.e. it is entirely proudly DOS - character - keyboard - based; it spits on mice. ... The screen shot shows the nouveaux enormous W9x names which OV does by default; but you can change to the old reliable 8.3 with a touch of ^F1, or configure it to start that way ... and so much more! ... My silly 32-bit OwenShow supercedes OV, but not on your treasured cranky antique Windows/DOS machines....

Actually OV looks something like Midnight Commander, the charming Linux/Unix file manager (without which, incidentally, Linux is even more annoying than otherwise) which, I gather, looks like Norton Commander or something. But then those guys probably got their ideas same place I did, the antediluvian PC Magazine utilities w/source D and CO, which I mutilated for several years (88-91) and then I went crazy and wrote OV, mostly to escape the assembly-language of D/CO.

So anyway, after you’ve downloaded the ridiculously tiny OV5.EXE (~1M) by right-clicking, “Save As”ing one of the links ...

  • IT WON’T WORK: If you foolishly download OV5.EXE to one of these tawdry nouveau 64-bit machine bought anytime since around 2011, it’ll refuse to run! ... Because Bill Gates is too fond of you to let you do that....

  • TO START OV IN W9X: (0.) OV is a DOS program. The following steps are typically executed in an MSDOS “box”; if you don’t know what that is, you won’t enjoy OV. (1.) So make a directory. If you don’t know how to make a directory, you definitely won’t enjoy OV — although a major feature of the program is making directory fiddling EZ. (2.) Execute the distribution file OV5.EXE from that directory, which will unzip the contents. (3.) Go “OVL -i”. After interminable churtling, OV came-up on at least one W98 machine here like that, out of the box!

  • W9X TIPS ’N’ TRICKS: You can make short-cuts to OV on the W9x desktop and on those program menus in the usual windowish ways, just browsing to the OVL.EXE executable when Windows wants a program. The resulting DOS box that starts when you click on the short-cut can have its properties amended in what I thought were useful ways (click on that piece of paper with a finger pointing at it on the top of the DOS box): (a.) Program tab: check “Close on exit” so you can just click the window away; (b.) Screen tab: set “initial size” to 50 lines; (c.) Misc. tab: check “Mouse/QuickEdit” (mouse is useless in OV anyway, and this way you can copy the text on the screen quickly); uncheck “Termination/Warn if still active”; again, so you can click the window away; so far I haven’t detected any resource wastage but your mileage etc.

  • W9X FONT SETTINGS: The pick-list in the upper left-hand corner of the DOS box probably defaults to “auto” which might be good, but I’ve found 6x8 (800x600 resolution) or 8x12 (1024x768) about right. With these settings, you understand, OV occupies a substantial portion of the screen, but smaller settings are hard to read. Of course I just minimize it when it gets in the way or let it drift to the back of the window pile; you could make a smaller OV by configuring it to 25-lines (“-b”).

  • TO START OV IN SOME PITIFUL OLD DOS MACHINE: Do steps (1) and (2) and above, and then go “OVL -i”. Oughtta work. For really pitiful old DOS machines, use “OV -i” — the small model of the program.

  • YOU CAN’T START OV IN WINDOWS NTbut maybe XP?or Russian imitation operating systems, Macs, Ataris etc. ... OVL and I pretty-much defeated the $400 T1090 XP emachine™ I had once; it got to the point where I could forget which machine I’m using — i.e., this one or the one on the mapped network drive — and make really stupid mistakes, hence the big drive letter as in the picture. Subsequently, numerous XP machines were gloriously hospitable to OV, although I of course neglected it for the glorious/dubious OS. ... But as noted, anything in the current decade probably won’t go....

  • HOW OV WORKS: Starts in the directory “tree” display (except on diskettes); press Enter to see the files in that directory; in the files display, press ESC to go back to the directory display. Arrow keys move around. See the terse cryptic help in the upper-right hand section of the screen, and/or read OV.TXT and commit it to memory. ... Actually the latest release has an all-new multi-screen informative prompt, like “OVL /?” — or “OVL >afile” will work too.

  • ALT -/+ COPYING: OV is too cheap to have split directory screens so it handles typical file copy/move tasks like (1.) in the current directory, press ALT MINUS; this “records” the directory on a status line in the upper-right hand section of the screen. (2.) Go to another directory. At that point, pressing ALT-PLUS “flips” between the two directories. (3.) File copy (F1) or move (F3) prompts include the option “alt-+” which inserts the other directory into the destination field. (4.) Note of course the whole point of shells is you can mark numerous files with the “+” key, and copy/move them all at once to another directory this way.

  • OV.TXT contains endless agonizing detail — much of it erroneous by now! — on everything in genuine ASCII text — which can be viewed with OV itself by finding the file and pressing Enter in the supplied simple text viewer/editor; which editor has valuable help at F1, a novelty in those dark days. (TDEx viewer exits with F3.) ... And now as a special treat, “OVL /?” or better “OVL >file” will produce a helpful summary of the all the options I could remember....

Release summary: Around 4/00: first web release. § 5/26/00: Fixed BUG052500A, complaint from removable media after OV visitation. 5/30/00: Oops more BUG052500a fix (complaint after F8 directory scan). § Tuesday, December 11, 2001 3:46 pm: new informative prompt (type “OVL /?”), various XP hacks. ... And now there is the genuine 32-bit all-new only about twice-as-slow OwenShow, which is happier in XP. ... “PATH=(null)” is what XP does when you shell-out to DOS and your path is too long! No no you can’t do that; you can fix it, as I found-out after endless toil, by invoking OVL in a batch file like

        set path=a carefully crafted short-enough path
        ovl

and it’s happy. Or actually it’d probably make more sense to edit the global path and make it shorter. ... Or of course you could always switch to the new improved larger-and-slower OwenShow. ... Tuesday, April 15, 2008. Some last-roundup changes/fixes....

OwenView ... Again!

And then in the golden years OwenView has risen again! In my glorious Virtual Box Adventures, I have resurrected MSDOS 6.22 and Windows 3.1 and, behold, I dutifully mutilated the path and I can type “o” and OwenView springs into a glorious full screen....

— the magical programmer
4/16

Why Your Beautiful New LCD TV Won’t Work

Because it won’t show those letter-boxed movies on cable and/or from your DVD correctly. At least if it’s like the Viewsonic we bought and returned this weekend (well, last weekend in 2008; see below for dismal updates).

Irritated Spiteful Discussion

We’d been imagining in our jejune innocence that when we got a new LCD TV, the ridiculously-enormous wide screen gadget would display beautiful full-screen renditions of those letterboxed movies on cable and DVD we’ve been generally-avoiding for the last five years or more. ... But no:

  1. The LCD TV you’re going to buy is probably designed to show high definition format shows, the wonderful incredibly-detailed new television/movie format that neither you nor I could identify at more than 3’ if they paid us all the gold of Croesus? ... That’s mostly called “HDMI TV” these days? ... The format that all the monitors at MicroCenter were set to, displaying a sports network program broadcast with sports-network-logo vertical borders left and right in HD, because the original show isn’t high def? ... Yes, that format. ... And perhaps, if you pay the cable company for the new format, and you buy a new DVD player and all-new DVDs at extortionate prices — except of course any old favorites they didn’t bother re-issuing — well, then maybe you can see them full screen (assuming the HDMI copy-protection works for the DVDs). ... But probably nothing you already have on cable/DVD will fill the screen.

  2. Digital TVs are so incredibly advanced over those old boring ridiculously-cheaper CRTs that, unlike the O.B.R.C CRT sets, the resolution cannot be arbitrarily adjusted: it’s difficult to get a good “zoom” without offensive “pixelation” effects — blobby ugly misshapen sickly pixels, with which many of us are familiar by now from various triumphs of computer science, particularly in laptops. ... And then again, if your old stuff looks awful, maybe you’ll pay more extra buck$ to get more new HD DVDs!...

  3. Consequently, all those idiotically letterboxed for-all-these-years movies you’d been expecting to see full screen will look like the picture over there: a small image in the middle of the screen, with a black border around it! ... On our Viewsonic set, the border was considerably larger. ... And of course, those black borders don’t “burn-in” to the screen like they used-to, how could they!?!?

I stole the beautiful illustration from CNET where there was a helpful discussion — although typically webishly overoptimistic, since CNET like everybody else wants to sell this junk so they can get precious advertising — but the article’s disappeared since then, presumably since everybody’s got an LCD TV now and they love them love them and that’s why TV and movies are doing so wonderfully! ... But in those antediluvian days CNET imagined you might use a “zoom” control to fix letterboxing, so you’d get a slightly blurry image — that is, not at the beautiful high definition resolution — that nevertheless correctly fills the screen. ... And maybe the set you buy will be able to do that! Ours wasn’t.

The Crux: Aspect Ratio is Not Enough

Actually, to summarize this stupid and annoying problem, the letterboxed movies on cable/DVD we’ve been squinting-at all these years are in the correct aspect ratio mostly: their vertical/horizontal proportions are correct to fit on the new giant wide screen — if they were the right size. ... But the cheap-s**t LCD TV technology is broken and cannot show them full screen. ... Presumably because of issue #2 above — and/or of course the old reliable naked greed and collusion.

... So aren’t you glad you waited all these years to get your new giant wide screen won’t-work with anything you used-to-watch LCD TV? ... I know we are; we’re extremely gratified to know we’ve been dodging the bullet all these years in complete ignorance! ... And we only went on this amazing adventure when our ancient boring cheap TV finally failed the smoke test a few mornings ago while we were pretending to exercise in the basement watching Nancy Drew! ... She was just about to discover the secret door in her basement and, puff!, away it went; darkness and a bad smell. ... Little scorch marks on the antique amplifier I use to make the sound audible over the exercise machines....

So we’ve reverted to an ancient Trinitron I was using for the old computers.... (But see below.)

Your Mileage May Vary

Since I am almost totally ignorant in this area — and proud of it! — there might well be LCD TVs that’ll have the correct zoom control to show these letterboxed movies correctly. The Viewsonic had a zoom menu item that would show the movie too big, with cut-off corners and unnecessary blurriness. ... I suspect clever software — aka $ — could produce a variable zoom that’d show anything kind-of acceptably, but I really have no idea: whether clever software could do that, and whether it does, and if so, how much you’d have to pay these shameless hustlers to get to watch your old movies....

Viewsonic “Support”

During our minor travails, we called the Viewsonic 800 number and talked to what I’m pretty sure was a rent-a-support person. It reminded me of the days a time ago, when I came across the generic computer card manual: vendors felt the cheap computer junk we used to buy should come with a manual, but of course you’d have to get someone who could read/write and think to do that, so they took to just including a generic manual that would cover any board, no matter what its function! So much more efficient....

I don’t really mean to dis Viewsonic; it’s their funeral. ... But I’m pretty sure when a purchaser calls-up about “why don’t letterboxed movies display right?” they are well aware of the problem, and are just hoping you’re stupid-enough to bamboozle with ridiculous delays and endless procedures into thinking somehow you’re at fault. ... We weren’t. ... And I hasten to add that since then I’ve bought several Viewsonic LCD “HD” 1920x1080 monitors for the computer herd, and they’ve all been very nice. But computers must and do adjust their resolution for the screen....

The Glorious History of Planned Obsolescence

And I have wondered-about the LCD TVs. ... MicroCenter and Best Buy are filled to the rafters with these things, and yet I had a long time on the web finding anything about this minor little aspect ratio/letterboxed difficulty — as the LOL points-out, any little problem you have with an Ipod, for instance, will be chittered-about endlessly on numerous forums. ... So the stores are presumably filled with these things because they’re so costly aka “high markup” — the store makes a lot of money when they sell one of them.

And they don’t sell old CRT TVs anymore. ... That, of course, wouldn’t be because CRT TVs are ridiculously cheaper and have better color? ... Oh no no there would never be industry-wide collusion to force a bogus new format on us just so they could sell expensive high-markup new gadgets? ... No matter how unsuccessfully? ... Or that even ConsumerReports in their 12/08 issue featuring “LCD & plasma TVs”, which mentioned nothing about this obvious problem, would be part of such a shameful and saddening conspiracy?

... No I mustn’t believe that. ... Or that the American automobile industry colluded for years on “planned obsolescence” until a bunch of competitive Japanese cars showed-up and, with General Motors officially seeking protection these days — now resolved via nationalization? ... No no that couldn’t happen....

Similarly, it couldn’t be possible that Microsoft and computer hardware manufacturers have colluded for years on producing / adopting ever more powerful versions of Windows which, mysteriously, will never run adequately on the previous generation of computer hardware? ... No no that couldn’t be.

... Personally, I am looking forward to the end of analog TV, due 2/17/09! ... But I can’t believe that’s just Congressional participation in this pitiful format collusion. ... And indeed, for most of us who get TV over cable, it’ll probably just be the usual incompetent snafus for a few months or years. ... But for some large portion of the population, it’ll be the end of broadcast TV. ... Just another nail in the coffin; people will be ever less-inclined to make the traditional distinction between the dreary “lower” network channels and the vast sea of dreary “cable” offerings, already a mushy difference that only geezers tend to notice. ... Not to mention the internet....

The TV networks think there’re big bucks in new broadcast services they can sell after the digital switch. ... We shall see. ... But what channel is Katy Couric on @ YouTube? (Actually @ 4/16 she serves as Yahoo! Global News Anchor.)

Back to the Future!

Then in the fullness of a few weeks, I found a $40 (!) 32“ CRT TV at our local ”Northern Thrift“ emporium of all things — on sale! 50% off $80! — and now our world of basement television is complete! ... Sharp apparently manufactured this beautiful device (model 32NS350) around the year 2000, and it looks great! ... Still letter-boxed stupid cable movies DVDs etc., but (1.) cheap, (2.) fills more of the screen, and (3.) black bars won’t burn into the CRT that much. ... Of course, they don’t burn into the LCD/Plasma screens. ... No, of course not. ... I mean, I haven’t seen reports of flat screen burn-in for at least a few minutes. ... Well I just googled ”flat screen burnin“ and there they are, still; somebody says it’s just plasmas that do that; but then someone else says just the opposite. ... So, you guess; ... I’m assuming they burn-in....

There’s a low-rent audio-out on the Sharp which doesn’t emit signal unless the main volume is up. ... But my cruddy noise-overcoming HI-FI isn’t that great anyway, and I turn it up and get adequate volume from the HI-FI and good presence from the not-shoddy Sharp TV speakers; maybe I’ll turn up the bass on the amplifier, and get four-channel sound! ... And yes; the set was monstrously heavy; I sustained a finger injury, when it bit me!...

I encountered many happy internet criminals selling an “original remote control” for my giant set, which scurrilous offering wasn’t of course just a general-purpose programmable control that might work with your TV or any TV or who knows? ... In any event, I had two programmable controls in the basement which I managed to setup so they’d run the thing. ... Also widely available on the internet were “service manuals” for the set, which couldn’t have possibly been three sheets of mimeographed paper rendered in a pdf — and why weren’t there “user” manuals? ... I’d guess because the pitiful suckers for these obvious scams want to fix their broken TVs. ... And I noted that the “driver” subscription guys apparently have run out of gullible idiots for “Windows drivers” and are joyously promoting service manuals....

So I figure the Sharp’ll last at least a few more years, through the digital changeover and the seemingly-inevitable collapse of the flat screen market as more purchasers figure-out you can’t watch anything but some stupid premium HDMI — and eventually the flat screens’ll go for $39.95, which would be much less annoying when they don’t display my movies right, and/or burn-in black bars. ... Actually I’m not sure HDMI will render OK on these things; or at least I see occasional letter-boxing and other aberrations in the stores, where they presumably have the wherewithal to get the right program material — well except for the ever-menacing stupidity syndrome....

— The Nancy Drew fan
Monday, December 22, 2008

P.S. Late news: even today Tuesday, June 11, 2013 letter boxing is still an active menace; it never got fixed. The 27’’ super Macintosh monitors for instance can’t, apparently, show “regular” dumb cinemascope super-wide movies without a letterbox around them; and there are numerous other sightings. ... I get the feeling the idiot-geek class considers the letter boxes a kind of mark of superiority. But it seems the wonderful digital age will never have a screen that can adjust to the content you want to see on it as well as the obsolete discarded super-bad boring CRT. ... But I must admit, the collapse of the giant flat screen market did not occur on schedule. ... Then again, Best Buy is ramping-up to going out of business, so maybe it did? I mean, a giant store is the obvious place to buy a giant LCD, as opposed to the ephemeral if otherwise-all-conquering amazon....

P.P.S. Thu 2/20/14. Our 32’’ Sharp worked to the bitter end, when we left it in the basement for the cleanout crew and moved on to a better world in Florida, where the seller there left us a monstrous internal projection TV which seemed to solve the letter-boxing problem with typical “sqush-o-vision”, where everything is shown mysteriously fat so the image fills the wide screen no matter what. Which failing the modern LCDs still share as far as I can bother to notice. Oh but wait, here’s a modern link what claims at least some TVs today are better than that; googling for “lcd tv format button” will probably find more. ... And in my annoyance and despair I missed ...

Later News: The Beautiful Antique “Format” Button

We moved to paradise and our house “came” with a 64’’! ~2005 rear-projection TV — apparently the seller couldn’t give it away, the screen being relatively dim and not viewable in bright sunlight like the kleig-light-style LCD TVs. It's probably CRT-based, at least they used to be, but anyway the remote control has a working anti-squshovision “format” button, the existence of which I’ve entirely forgotten at least once (I subsequently outlined it with gold marker to avoid that), but last night we could watch my precious beloved colorized Casablanca and see Rick and Captain Renault wander off into the mists in the right aspect ratio! ... Just nice gray bars on either side of the screen as the Great Nullity intended, which will doubtless burn into the tiny projection CRT if we do that a lot, which we won't.... 

And this colorized Casablanca is on a DVDR I burned from a VHS colorized commercial tape and, as it turned-out, would only play adequately on the Walmart/RCA “convert your old VHS collection” DVD/VHS gadget I burned it on, which is so nice to know (but, fortunately, untrue). Although in the RCA's defense, I suspect this was more true than not of any of those stolen movies recorded onto DVDRs; actual movies were stamped in giant machines, like CDs, none of this phase-change heat 'n' cool recordable nonsense. ... Apparently I’ve archived an unopened copy of the colorized Casablanca VHS tape, just so when the DVD becomes unplayable I could use the RCA gadget to make some more; presumably the original VHS was deteriorating, as they do. ... No doubt the "archive" will itself turn to mud 'n' dust in all likelihood in a little while....

Casablanca is one of the few videos I can bear to watch; the communist commercials are only a harmless tender amusement. Although I did at last realize the reason Rick’s American exile was so “obscure” was because he was a commie, which of course the Nazi Strasser would’ve known all about, but the movie's projected obscurity is a ridiculously-inappropriate reflection of the social norms of Hollywood during the great patriotic war....

Fascists

And let us rant a bit about the fascist pretentious supposed intellectuals who destroyed the colorized versions of these popular films because their slimy little big-city provincial tyrant class prejudices knew those dumb hicks didn't know any better and should be protected from such unspeakable ugliness — and yet are perfectly content that the same films should be shown in relentless squashovsion everywhere electronics are sold. ... I guess they really just wanted to keep their masturbatory art house monopoly so only they could savor their treasures, and outsiders need not apply; a lot like the ridiculous pipe organists. ... But I'm still waiting for the colorized Seventh Seal....

Format?

Right. ... So googling reveals that apparently some LCD TVs also have a “format” button — our cheapo ~2008 unit certainly didn’t — but that might be something to look for, although of course it’ll never work as well as our newly-beloved antique, which you will pry from my cold dead fingers, presumably with a forklift....

VLC, Fallen Idol

VLC-2.2.1 (latest @ 11/15) won't play Casablanca, nor will my beloved older version. It kind-of works a while, if I poke it a lot — pokes a little better on a newer machine — but it reliably hangs-up near the beginning, when the rat Ugarte is hiding the letters of transit with Rick. The screen freezes, and the fast-forward won't, nor the play play, and occasionally artifacts of time balloons are strewn across the surface.

Casablanca Files Work!

This is the Casablanca I created with my RCA machine which has, at last, retired to the landfill, so I couldn't play Casablanca on it, and I thought it was the only magical machine that could. ... So I took the precious colorized Casablanca DVD, which I apparently recorded on some kind of brand X DVD-R, and copied its files to a hard drive directory, which directory I then copied to numerous other places, and numerous DVD+Rs. But VLC freezes-up at Ugarte, DVD or directory.

But Funai's OK!

I of course bought a replacement DVD player, a "Funai" brand DVD/VHS player @ amazon (~$100; not a DVDR recorder). But I just assumed my carefully reproduced files on my DVD+Rs wouldn't play, since VLC spat so reliably at them, and my memory of the past was that every other DVD player was similarly contemptuous. So I was certain it wouldn't work. ... But no; the DVD+R played good on the Funai DVD player. All the way through. The sacred text is safe.

Cluelessness

And I am, as usual, without clue. I mean, the Funai DVD player apparently has error-recovery better than the revered VLC's! How could that be? ... But Casablanca does not lie. ... And then again the "Arcsoft ShowBiz" brandx software which came with a $20 (amazon) video capture gadget — part of my presumably-aborted strategery to backup, yet again, the archived Casablanca to DVDR — it played Casablanca better; and also the Sourceforge SMplayer — I had to tell SMplayer it was a folder (with "Open / Disc / DVD from folder") while the noble Funai just plays without such stage direction. But all of these approximately randomly-selected players do it better than VLC. ... So sic transit gloria mundi....

— the programmer aesthete
4/16