Friday, June 27, 2008

20 Years Before - 1988

When I had attended a course for GW BASIC. I already had a computer at home, and it was called the ZX Spectrum with, wait for it, 48k memory. Before formally learning the BASIC, I had restricted myself to a few prints and beeps and meticulously typing out program listings off computer books which eventually resulted in a star walled winding road with a car in the middle. The beeps always allowed you to specify the frequency and duration to compose a simple tune of your own.

The I/O was innovative with the ability to use standard audio cassette tapes to record your programs and load it back. Hmmm. The good old sequential storage medium. And mostly, I was using it for playing games. There was one called DLAN, a space simulator which I had spent countless hours trying to save the Earth and solar system from menacing alien fighters which featured a 3D environment along with a full solar system map, portholes and docking to a planet to refuel and carry out simple maintenance activities.

Later, I upgraded to a 128k machine with only one game that utilized the full memory which required to tap two keys as soon as possible to increase the power for some athletic activities like a 100 meter sprint or a tug-of-war against the computer counter part.

Bah, now a days, each game occupies more that a GB of disk and memory and provides the same level of experience.

The 128k also gave me an opportunity to learn about machine code language where I had to painstakingly type out hex byte-codes which resulted in a simple editor to allow you to directly program your computer using machine code. That was the time when I learned about machine instructions like move or registers.

We have come a long way until then...

FLACkey MP3s

Happened to buy a set that promised over 100 songs in a single CD. Should have looked at the small print or made some mental calculations on what bit-rate the songs might have been compiled. But, those were the moments where you have the 'urge' to buy (like shopping for food when you are hungry!). After buying, I realized all songs to be compiled at the rate of 128kb which usually sounds bad using the laptop speakers!

The collection that I maintain through legal CDs purchased over the last ten years were meticulously encoded at 192kbps and when VBR (variable bit rate) came into play, the ranges that I supplied were 32 to 320 kbps which sounded quite good. But with diskspace available for a few rupees / MB, no, infact much less than a rupee, I have moved to using FLAC.

Most encoding techniques are lossy, which means that you loose some information from the original music which cannot be recovered at any cost. FLAC is a loseless compression technique where, if you were to decode a FLAC file, the contents will be equal to the orignal.

Though most media players do play FLAC files, I found minor issues on some of them. But, FLAC being an open source project guarantees that you get the source which you can port to a machine of your choice or convert to a format that could be readable by the platform with ease.

The other popular format is WMA lossless which comes preinstalled with your windows media player. But, then, you do not get the source and possibly will find it difficult to playback on a non-windows box.

So, until then, I am slowly converting my collection to FLAC.