Review: Bytes of Wisdom #5

Written by Adok

Month of release: August'98
RAR-packed size: 681,960 bytes
Language(s): English
Related URL:
Main editor: minmax/septic/x-seed
Co-editors: kelvar, b.o.r.g.
Code: minmax/septic/x-seed
Design: anzee
Music: krokar
Text: minmax, dj-nova, demmas, zobo, ufo-girl, mass, klimax

General Information

Bytes of Wisdom is the largest Slovenian local scene diskmag. It has been existing since the April of 1997. Since issue 4, which was released in January 1998, the mag has got a graphical (i.e no ansi-styled) interface and has been released in English language.

BOW is released by the group Septic, a group that isn't well-known outside Slovenia. The main editor is MinMax, coder in this group. He also coded the interface of this mag.

BOW #5 was released in August 1998, i.e seven months have passed since the last issue. Let's take a look at what it contains.

Interface, Design

The Interface has been recoded completely. As I have already mentioned, it was made by MinMax and uses a VBE library by Bjt, the Midas sound-system version 1.1.2, a keyboard handler by Billy Zelsnack and the usual PMODE/W dos extender by Tran.

Now the interface is Public Domain. You can grab all the sources at

Unfortunately the interface contains some nasty bugs. There are actually three versions: a version for VBE 2.0 (using Linear Frame Buffering), another for VBE 1.2 and a text mode interface for the people with older graphic cards. When you start the mag with an empty command line, it tries to start the VBE 2.0 version. If VBE 2.0 wasn't found, the mag is supposed to switch to text mode, but it doesn't: only the music plays, and nothing else happens, i.e you have to reboot your computer.

I told MinMax about the bug and after taking a short look at the sourcecode, he has already found it: it was an obvious bug which caused that the mag still tried to set a VBE mode after no VBE adapter was found. If you are a coder you can easily fix that bug by moving the VBEsetmode() call into the {} parantheses in front of it.

For the non-coders, no bugfixed version has been released yet at the time when I write this article. You have to start the mag either with the -vbeold or the -text parameter. -vbeold causes the mag to run in a VBE 1.2 mode, which is supported by most modern graphic cards, and -text runs the mag in text mode.

Here, the next bug comes: -vbeold doesn't work for me. The mag still displays that no VBE 2.0 was found and then the same happens as if I had started BOW without any command line parameter.

-text, fortunately, works.

So if you want to run the mag in a graphical mode, you either have to buy a VBE-2-compatible graphic card or install UniVBE.

Let's come to the other command line parameter:
-h displays all available command line parameters
-sconfig leads to the MIDAS sound configuration menu
-sno disables sound output
-dinfo displays some debug info at startup, which might be useful for coders

In contrast to BOW #4, my soundcard (SB 16 PNP) doesn't get autodetected in DOS mode. That's a problem that occurs very often with programs that use newer versions of MIDAS. Running the Midas sound setup and configuring the soundcard manually always helps.

Now let's quit reporting all the bugs and let's come to the actual interface. When you start the interface in VBE 2 mode, the music (by Krokar) starts playing and two rather poor title pictures are displayed after another. The first title picture is the BOW logo, the second displays some kind of werewolf and the text "I may B l8 Butt I lOOk gOOd!".

Then you get into the mainmenu. On the top of the screen the title text "Bytes of Wisdom" and "Issue 5" is displayed in a Windows font. Below these texts there are the pictures of the Earth and the Moon and under the moon the headlines of the articles. You select an article by moving the cursor up or down and pressing Enter. You exit the mag by pushing Escape.

After selecting an article you get into the text viewer. Simple as possible, eh? The text viewer looks like text mode at the first glance but also runs in a VBE mode. It supports several customized fonts (in total, 4) which can be used in the articles, colorized text and also picture-in-text, which, however, is rarely used.

You can scroll line-wise and page-wise with the cursor keys. The scrolling is always smooth, but it flickers from time to time disturbingly. Like in ansi-styled interfaces the scrolling speed gets higher the longer you hold a cursor key pressed down, and when you get to the beginning or the end of an article it bumps back some lines higher depending on how fast the scrolling was.

That's all to say about the interface. There is nothing special to say! It's a diskmag interface that has everything what is needed but nothing more.

Let's come to the text mode interface. Basically, it's the same as the VBE interface but of course with some restrictions: you get into the main menu immediately. The main menu works like in the graphical interface, but of course with no graphical Windows-font BOW logo and no Earth and Moon pictures. ;)

The text viewer looks very much like the VBE text viewer, too. It also scrolls smoothly and uses about the same colors as the graphical textviewer. Of course the spaces where the graphical textviewer would display the embedded pictures are empty here, and the text is displayed in the BIOS font.

What disturbs in the text mode interface is that the blinking text cursor gets displayed. It would be easy for MinMax to disable it with less than five lines of code.

What is better about the text mode interface than about the graphical one, however, is that the smooth scrolling doesn't flicker.

The articles are stored in an HTML-like format. Unfortunately, the colour of every single character is stored in the article data files, which doubles the size of these files.

About the text design: Some articles contain Windows-ascii characters, which aren't displayed correctly, of course. Furthermore, the articles are mostly left-bound. That doesn't look too nice in my opinion. But a lot of colours are used in the text, which improves the outer look of the articles. The same positive effect applies to the pictures that were embedded into the text. However, this feature wasn't used too often.


Slovenia's largest local diskmag, seven months of delay since the last issue - how many articles will this mag have, do you think?

Well, the cruel truth is: It has only 55 kbytes of articles! (That's only three times as much as the length of this review!)

But on the other hand, these articles are mostly in beyond-average quality. Here's the list of the article headlines:

                Editorial                               by MinMax
                Is that art?                            by Nova
                Interview with Black Shadow             by MinMax
                The secret of tracking blockades        by Demmas
                How to change the behaviour of Quake    by Zobo
                Quake 2 party report                    by Zobo
                When Life Sux                           by MinMax
                UFO-girl speaks about the scene         by UFO-girl
                Old school Hardcore - Gabber music      by Mass
                Computer Freaks                         by MinMax
                Takeover '98 party report               by Klimax

That means: All in all this BOW issue contains 11 articles, which is an average of 5 kbyte per article. That's the usual average size of articles in diskmags.

In the Editorial, MinMax explains the delay of this BOW issue. He tells us about some reorganizations in Septic (the leader, Markoff, has retired) and the Slovenian scene, which is "sleepy" except of Twilight Connection. Therefore he decided to interview Black Shadow, one of the founders of this group. The interview can be read in this issue of BOW. Also, another member of Twilight Connection wrote a party report about the Dutch/international party Takeover '98. MinMax goes on by explaining the new PD concept of the interface. The Editorial ends with greetings and acknowledgements to people without whose help BOW #5 would have not been born before 1999 or 2000.

The first real article is "Is that art?" by Nova of Septic Productions, Klub K4, SkyLined, and KLONArt. It deals with a short chat on the Slovenian scene IRC-channel The basic question which is asked in this article is "Is making artwork just a waste of time or is it an important form of expression?". About 3.5 kbyte of explanation follow until Nova comes to the conclusion that every piece of art you make expresses your thoughts, feelings etc. and therefore is a way of communication, which is important.

The next article is the already mentioned interview with Black Shadow of Twilight Connection (not NoLogic ;). This interview was made by MinMax over IRC. We learn that Twilight Connection, or, for short, TWC is going to celebrate its first anniversary soon. It's the most active group in the Slovenian scene and, in fact, the only one that has released a demo so far this year. Moreover, Black Shadow and two other TWC members were the only representatives of the Slovenian scene at Takeover '98, where they made the 4th place at the demo compo out of 9 possible with the demo "Gamma State". We also learn about Black Shadow's personal scene history and his and his group's future plans. All in all the length of this interview is about 6 kbyte.

In "The secret of tracking blockades", Demmas, a musician in X-SeeD and Sound Devotion, summarizes an article he has recently read in the United Trackers Newsletter. It says that trackers often don't finish their work on the same day they started with it. When they get to finish their song after some break, they have lost their inspiration and don't know where the music they composed the day before leads to.

Neither is it good to track when you are bored or tired. You will most likely produce a mess then or continue a song that has started good in a bad way.

Demmas adds some personal experiences to his summarization.

The same as regards tracking also applies e.g. to writing articles. From my experience I can tell that when I have made a break while working on an article, I often have great problems to continue the article. The inspiration you had on starting writing is missing and you might have different thoughts now which simply do not fit to the line of the article.

As regards coding it's slightly different because you can always get to your code and optimize or bug-fix routines without changing the 'mood' of your code.

"How to change the behaviour of Quake" by Zobo of Septic Productions introduces the reader to the basics of QuakeC. Useful for the intelligenter ones among the Quake-addicts. After this article a report about a large Quake tournament in Slovenia follows, again written by Zobo.

"When Life Sux" describes a typical day in the life of MinMax in an inner monologue. This might be a little exaggerated, as MinMax says at the beginning of the article, but in general it describes the 'life' of a true computer freak and IRC addict lively and not too unrealistically. The main message is: Does a computer freak have a real life?

Afterwards, UFO-girl speaks about the scene. Not too long ago, she came to the channel by accidence and was surprised that the chatters didn't seem to take notice of her because usually when a girls turns up on an IRC channel, everyone cares only about her. So she got the impression that these guys were really different.

One day UFO-girl got Impulse Tracker and some songs by Kroaker and started to get to know the Slovenian scene. She is amazed by the scene but is still surprised why the Slovenian scene is that unknown, people only vote for eachother at the charts at the Slovenian Demo Scene Site etc. Maybe someone from the outer world has come accross the Slovenian Demo Scene Site by chance and downloaded some stuff, she wonders. But "since these psychos aren't concerned about being known out there", she "won't be either".

In "Old school Hardcore", Mass of Members of Progress and Septic talks about the history of gabber music which has evolved into several music styles and life-styles. This article also features a nice picture. Too bad that BOW uses only so few pictures in the articles - they would really improve the reading atmosphere.

"Computer Freaks" by MinMax consists of the "Top eight things computer freak wishes the most in his life" and "How do you recognize computer freak in real life?". A joke article like we know them from former BOW issues.

Finally the mag closes with a pretty short report about Takeover '98 (less than 3 kbyte), which mainly describes how they finished the last 3D scenes for their demo. We hardly learn anything about the party itself.

Let's come to the level of the English in BOW: It's okay. There are quite a few spelling and some grammatical mistakes as well as ugly constructions, but at least you can read and easily understand the articles. Some mistakes were corrected by Kelvar and B.O.R.G. I suppose I don't want to know what the articles had looked like before they corrected them... ;)

Overall Impression

When I started Bytes of Wisdom #5 the first time, I was shocked. My first thought was: "But the 4th issue was better!" I immediately unzipped BOW #4 and started it. Well, from the interface and the content BOW #5 is a step back indeed:

BOW #4 features slightly more articles, an interface where the automatical soundcard-detection worked and better title/mainmenu graphics. The main menu in BOW #4 looked closer to the standard of diskmags.

The text-viewer of BOW #5 looks as if it was in text-mode, at the first glance. However, in reality the difference between the viewers in BOW #4 and BOW #5 isn't that big. In fact, the viewers use about the same technology, from the outer appearance. But the colours and the fonts in BOW #5 are more standard text-mode like. That's why the mag appeared as if it was in text-mode at the first glance. Moreover, the picture-in-text-embedding function was used in BOW #4 more often.

In general, the interface of BOW #5 is simpler. Whereas BOW #4 features some ending graphics from the Slovenian party Abort'97, BOW #5 exits to the DOS prompt at once. That's actually not a big step backwards because the quality of the BOW #4 ending graphics wasn't that high, either. The faces of the persons were faked, but in a simple way which looks childish and lame.

Moreover, the directory of BOW #4 looked more clean because all data was in one single data file. In contrast to that, in BOW #5 the data is even sorted into the sub-directories ARTICLES, FONTS, PICS.

Well, that probably has a simple reason: The interface is PD now, and for the coders it's easier if they have all data in separate files than in one single file.

Why is the interface Public Domain? We find one explanation in the Editorial: the source code is written in a way so that it can be ported over to other platforms very easily, e.g. the textmode port was written within two days only. In this way the coders could adapt the interface to other platforms easily.

People could also make their own diskmags very easily out of the Public Domain source of BOW. There is nothing that would prohibit that, and it's a great help for the beginning.

Moreover, MinMax won't have to code everything in the future alone because every coder will be able to add his features himself. Nice solution, huh? Let's see in what direction it will develop.

As regards the content of BOW #5, it's simply disappointing. For a weekly mag 55 kbyte of articles might be okay, but for mag that has been under development for seven months?

With a little effort, you could get 2 mbyte of articles within seven months! Which is about 35 times as much as the text-amount of BOW #5 - or 105 times as much as this review, which I wrote in two hours.

- adok^hugi