why the sci li, why tetris?

i don't remember when i came up with the idea, though i don't necessarily claim to be the only one who came up with it. the concept mainly has to do with hallucination from excessive video gaming.

for anyone who has ever played way too much tetris, and looked at squareish buildings, it is easy to start hallucinating tetris blocks in them. people joked about it, i think there was even a BDH cartoon at one point. lack of sleep helps invoke such hallucinations, and it happenned to me once or twice. (n.b. briefly :) tetris and the sci li are like q-bert and the CIT.

so there are 3 ways to look at it. if you want a philosophical take on it, you can say that actually putting the game on the scili is a little nod to video game addicts everywhere. if you want a more technical take on it, it's a challenge in hardware, software and resource management. if you want a more geeky take on it, it's a hack.

Photo Credit: Christopher Chin

project VOLT

it wasn't until techhouse 97-98 that the project status changed from "pipe dream" to "doable". VOLT stood for "Very Obscenely Large Tetris". i presented it to techhouse, and there was some enthusiasm; we even had a meeting or two, and drew a bunch of diagrams for how the thing would work. aram berlandi had ideas about how the types of systems used in theatres to control lighting might be usable for this project. MIDI was also discussed.

in the end, enthusiasm petered out, perhaps for a few reasons. first, a project like this is clearly influenced by MIT-style hacks, and in the spirit of those hacks, i was adamant about having the project be anonymous. however, for the amount of resources necessary to get it done, most of techhouse was not content to do it anonymously. second, it was prohibitively expensive, and not enough progress was made to justify any large-scale purchases, especially since that year, much of techhouse's equipment was stolen. third, many people in the house were not that excited about it; the techhouse population gets better and better every year, so that has constantly improved since.

project unnamed

the project was occasionally mentioned in jest in meetings for 98-99, but i was more worried about graduating than doing it. techhouse purchased a basic stamp, and soren spies wrote up some notes on how to use it to drive tetris. that is, how to store all the data you need for tetris in 24 bytes.

the context it was generally mentioned in at those meetings was "this is the type of project we could do if we set our minds on it", but that year some smaller techhouse projects got done, such as the magnetic poetry board, work bench, and the techgrrl mural. scott frazier suggested a weekly "techtime", and suddenly techhouse was getting projects done as never before. it was said that the first week of that year, techhouse got more projects done than it had in its entire previous history.

project bastille

in 99-00, people were finally starting to think that this project was doable, though i had turned cynical and told them to give it up. :) donald engel, at one point, fried his cpu trying to get it to drive a serial port, but this provided some much needed inspiration to look at the project realistically. brett heath-wlaz constructed a key component: a switch for digitally controlling 120V. we decided x-10 was too slow for our needs.

though opinions on the real origin of the name "bastille" vary, i am pretty sure that the sci li was the bastille, and we were going to "storm la bastille" by breaking into it after hours. it clearly follows that the people working on the project were to be called "la resistance".

though an MIT-style hack would probably involve breaking into the library after hours, we decided the project was too big to do it surreptitiously, plus most people didn't want to risk expulsion. in january 2000, nik lochmatow ran the idea by some art professors, who told him who to talk to in order to be able to get it done with permission. some of them even suggested that it could be done for credit, or that funding might be available.

at this point, techhouse had a good population of people who were excited about it, and nik, soren and brett pretty much took the project over with infectious enthusiasm. there haven't really been other projects this semester, other than recruiting, so techhouse as a whole has been pretty focused on this. i wish i had a bigger part in the final product, but it's enough to look up at the scili and see this hallucination made manifest.

Keith Dreibelbis