A Five-Year Retrospective

Programming, DJing, blowing up stuff, building things, skiing and god knows what else has happened in the last while.

Let's roll back the clock.

TJ, as shown on the Armada site, May 2005 TJ Schiller on the Armada site, May 2005

Schillmania.com was registered on May 25th, 2000. What was going on around then?

I was a typical starving student working on my computer science degree, living with two roommates at a three-bedroom townhouse in Calgary, AB. I had just bought a turntable and was getting into the DJing thing, messing around with records. I was developing a web site for an IT firm back in the home town of Vernon, BC (which has since updated.) Of course, I was also doing things on my own web site, hosted firstly on Geocities and later Xoom.com (the latter because they were relatively ad-free and had no disk/bandwidth restrictions at the time.)

My brother TJ was working on his skiing, and I was also helping put together a ski site for him. Much unlike TJ's skiing career thus far, his site-to-be never really went anywhere, but showcased about 500 KB of his favourite photos collected from various "new school" ski sites at the time it was built.

Activities of the constructive kind ..

The dot-com bubble was just bursting at this point, and I was busy messing around with various web-related activities and fun personal projects. For a time I had a video camera mounted on some lazy susan hardware separating two pieces of plexiglas, driven by a stepper motor interfaced to a parallel port on a computer running PWS on a copy of Win98 SE; decidedly home-brew, and likely similarly insecure. The ASP-based web interface made system-level calls via exec() to a program written in either MS-BASIC or C (I think the former,) which would output a sequence over the parallel port to drive the motor connected to the camera.

Insecurities aside however, the project was fairly popular with friends who found they could pan the camera around our living room and kitchen. Its popularity lasted up until one less-geeky roommate tired of the thing following his movement from the hallway to the kitchen, and said it was creeping him out. We killed it shortly afterwards and didn't get around to hooking it back up, I guess.

.. And of the less-constructive kind.

"Blowing Up Shit", a highly-technical term for applying wall power (110 VAC) to the wrong random places on a circuit board. Warning: Vulgar profanity. "Blowing Up Shit", a highly technical term for applying 110 VAC to random places on circuit boards - with electrifying results. MPEG4/QuickTime video, 5.2 MB

Now of course, what teenage mind could resist the simple temptation and primitive male instinct to seek entertainment from mindlessly blowing up shit from time to time?

While tinkering with old office phones back in my early teenage years, trying to get them to talk to each other, I thought it would be fun to strip the ends off some extension cords and apply wall power directly to various IC pins on the phones' circuit boards. And why not? I had presumably accomplished my initial goal of connecting the phones to each other, or had failed miserably trying to do so (I suspect the latter) - so some wonton destruction sounded like a fun and self-rewarding idea at the time.

Maybe that's why I still do this once in a blue moon.

A piece of highly-technical apparatus used to apply 110 VAC to random pins on circuit boards. Highly-complex electrical apparatus.

The depicted video from the summer of 2000 demonstrates this so-called "pastime" fairly well. For the curious, that interesting and highly-complex apparatus is the upper half of a plastic box, two old-fashioned Christmas lights, a rocker switch and an industrial momentary push-button switch; the lights indicated the presence of a power source, providing a helpful hint when power was lost due to a circuit breaker bring tripped (which, not surprisingly enough, was often.) The throw switch would cut the main power line for when the leads were being set (avoiding accidental partial electrocutions,) and the momentary switch was the "go" button. If set up correctly, on hitting the momentary switch we'd hear a loud bzzzzzzzzt coming from the circuit board in question, usually accompanied by a shower of sparks and the occasional exploding capacitor (as demonstrated in this case by the video.)

Perhaps the curious mind wonders how or why this happens? This is unlikely to show up on How Stuff Works, so I'll briefly explain my limited Electronics Engineering background-level understanding:

Blowing up shit: Applying excessive energy to things designed to handle a mere fraction of that amount.

In this case, it's 110 Volts of AC ("wall power") straight from the outlet into the pins of ICs (microchips) designed to take TTL voltage (~5V), at very low current. Taking a water analogy, it'd be like trying to put the water required to flood the panama canal through a kitchen faucet - something's gotta give. In this case, the component can't handle the voltage nor current, and bursts out of its casing with a great amount of noise and light.

Entertaining? Yes. Dangerous? Possibly. Stupid? Perhaps. It was entertaining enough that I had a design which featured a number of pictures and video clips from this particular event. How this is done has been documented and explained mostly personal amusement and nostalgia; alternately, an explanation as to why this was done in the first place has craftily been omitted so as to be a venture into informed conclusion-drawing/boredom for the reader.

What's in a (domain) name?

That is a good question.

When a friend offered to set me up with a domain, I wasn't sure what name to go with. My youngest sister had "schillmania" as an e-mail alias and despite the name sounding rather egocentric, I couldn't think of a more creative one that would stay relevant in the future and yet still relate to me somehow - so it stuck. The domain was eventually registered, and I put up a temporary page. The design seemed fitting for the time, as I later opted to a more colourful layout; looking back, it seems that there's been a pattern in my choice of colours over the years. Shades of gray are preferred, secondary only to blue.

Schillmania.com, Version 21?

Over the years, I wrote endless pages of code and drank a lot of coffee while tinkering with ideas for fun stuff I could put on my site. It seems that ideas would sometimes come when I was occasionally idling in class, writing code on paper to later try out via Notepad. Schillmania.com has gone through numerous visual styles and has had at least twenty major facelifts over the five years since its inception. Some of the favourites are shown below, though links are not available for some of the older work.

"Slo-Jam Central", an imaginary record label/name I stole from an old Beck fan site 1998: "Slo-Jam Central"

An imaginary record label/name I stole from an old Beck fan site. Home for a menu-driven L3ENC (CLI-based MP3 encoder) program I was working on at the time, among other things.

Programming 'N' Hardware 1998: Programming 'N' Hardware

A page about some electronics hardware and related programming utilities. The "menu" was a real PCB that had been scanned, the LCD would change to show item descriptions.

Schill's Home On The Web 1999: Schill's Home On The Web

Abusing .innerHTML, onmousedown and web standards in general. More encoder work, some links to friends' sites and other stuff.

Circular Pipe 1999: Circular Pipe

The result of a photoshop tutorial, a desire for grey and what was effectively a glorified links page.. with cookied preferences.

Y2K 1999: Y2K

Lots of blue and .innerHTML abuse going on here again. Some animation effects, too. Highlight: A rant on Yahoo's advertising, and how to get around it.

Random Weirdness III 2000: Random Weirdness III

Pixelated imagery, interactive cubes, fading tooltips, christmas light smashing and sound effects. Got mentioned/linked on surfstation.lu.

Desktop interface 2001: Desktop Interface

An experimental "real world" design of sorts. A water fountain with a soundtrack, steel balls dropped into a pipe and other strangeness.

Summer 2001 2001: Summer 2001

Draggable windows a la Random Weirdness, but with tabs. User-submittable works are featured. Got a link from Three-oh.

Summer 2001 Idea Cubed IDE 2001: Summer 2001 Idea Cubed IDE

Drag/drop Tetris-like pieces to make and submit a creation.

Reconstruction 2001: Reconstruction

A virtual landscape; lightning strikes, rain and thunder, Bob Ross and happy little clouds.

Christmas Light Smashfest 2001 2001: Christmas Light Smashfest

Smash the lights as fast as possible for a record. Linked by about.com, mention in a "site of the day" e-mail by colonize.com resulted in 17,000+ hits, Dec. 26th, 2001.

Experimental: Trees 2001: Experimental: Trees

My first foray into Object-Oriented Javascript. Simulation of a 3D plane (a la "Black & White") and sound panning/volume via JS-to-Flash communication.

DHTML Arkanoid 2001: DHTML Arkanoid

A recreation of the classic arcade game entirely in Javascript. Users can play the arcade version, create, submit and play other user-submitted levels, and earn highscores.

Summer.02 2002: Environmental simulation

Driven by javascript, powered by coffee. The site is time-sensitive and visually changes from day to night if enough time passes.

Spring 2003 2003: Spring 2003

"Strictly XHTML." Various projects, links and miscellaneous events. Multiple skins and other experimental behaviours.

Schillmania 2004 2004: Schillmania 2004

XML/XSLT-driven template, DHTML animation, themes, sound effects, interactive behaviours/contextual banner images based on content being viewed

35mm Photo Viewer V5 2004: 35mm Photo Viewer V5

Interactive web-based app. XHTML codebase, varied skins, SFX, bookmarking and search-engine-like features. Downloadable for free use.

It has been neat going through old floppy disks, CDs, notes and print-outs of code and work related to all this stuff - and this was my personal, "for-fun" stuff; I think I had more fun building this than doing assignments and homework as a student. Looking back while writing this, I found myself saying, "Damn, I made a lot of stuff!" Unlike the TV shows I watched or video games I played (I rarely did either, actually,) the work I've done has tangible value that I can appreciate later on down the road. I think it will be neat to look at this stuff many years from now, remembering some of the goofy crap I built. In addition, I think this work also furthered my skills and career as a result.

What Motivates You?

Javascript ("DHTML") has arguably been my favourite development language ever since I got into the web thing; From my early years I was usually working on some program or script, typically a for-fun personal project. The web allows for the perfect mix of things I love: Technical knowledge (programming), media (images and sound,) and creativity.

What's the benefit, the motivation to write code? "Why do you do all this", one might ask?

Programming is challenging and can be a great creative vent. It forces you to apply structure, logic and rules which make you think critically, yet also allows for creativity in your approach. One of the benefits of the web is its visibility; you have the opportunity to share your work and passion with a potentially huge number of people on a massive platform. My career thus far, I think, has been largely supported by the internet, and specifically, the web. I don't think I'd be where I am today if it weren't for the medium that allows you to read these very words.

Love what you do, and do what you love. If you can find a career that allows you to do both of these things, be very thankful.

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