So, I Guess I'm a Vampire, Now

Wed 13 December 2023 by R.L. Dane

As anyone who knows me on the Fediverse can tell you, I've been a bit of a light-theme snob. (If you're not sure what I'm referring to, I'm talking about whether text on a screen (computer or otherwise) is chiefly light colors on dark colors (dark theme) or dark colors on light colors (light theme, like a printed page.)

My rationale was always pretty straightforward: growing up, cheap machines (DOS computers, "dummy" terminals) were dark, fancy machines (Macintoshes, UNIX workstations) were light. On a dos machine or a terminal, you were staring at white, amber, green, or (if you were lucky) multi-colored text on a completely back background. Because that's what looked better on cheaper displays.

If you were so lucky as to have access to an early Macintosh or a UNIX machine (like a Sun SPARCstation), instead of seeing this artificial bright text on a black background, you saw a crisp black and white or color display where the background was white and the text was black — just like any newspaper — and in the mid 1980s, that was a big deal.

So, how did I become a vampire? (People who love dark themes on their systems are sometimes called vampires, because, well, it's dark!)

Actually, it starts with music. I've always been a huge fan of synth music: it was the Hot New Thing when I was growing up in the 80s, and my love for it only grew in the early 90s when I was introduced to likes of Jean-Michel Jarre and Giorgio Moroder (and a little later, Vangelis!).

The other day, I was watching a Kerbal Space Program video on YouTube, and the video's author had a really nice synth track on a part of the video. The video's creator was good enough to put both credits and links to the musician on the video, so I found myself hopping over to the musician's channel to listen to "Space Exploration Music."

I was transfixed! Not only was this exactly the kind of synth sound I always liked when I was younger, it had a certain repetitive quality that I absolutely love when doing repetitive tasks, or going through work that requires concentration but not heavy thought.

I was enjoying that instrumental so much that I brought it into the Audacity sound editor in order to repeat the main part of the piece twice for a longer runtime. I was really "vibing" to this song.

As I explored recommended songs based on that one song, I started seeing the term "Synthwave" a lot in the song descriptions. It's not a new term to me — I noticed it a few years ago as an aesthetic style (deep magenta, blues and cyans, faux 3d landscapes, Blade Runner-ish visuals) and also a musical style (80s-ish synths and drum machines). I thought it was interesting before, but it never appealed to me that much — I grew up in the 80s, The real 80s. It wasn't nearly that cool growing up, but I did like the sci-fi throwbacks and the faux-retro vibe.

But this time around, I got hit by the Synthwave/retrowave/vaporwave aesthetic bug pretty hard, to the point that I was listening to a lot of Synthwave on my phone as I was powering through a pretty dull task at work. As my appreciation for the musical genre grew, so did my curiosity for the visual style.

At first, I wasn't that impressed — this is a very 2010s/2020s vision of what the 80s was. The visual style didn't even remind me that much of Blade Runner, which was one of my favorite movies. Still, there was a strange confluence between the musical and visual aesthetic. The combination of both gave me a powerful feeling of being at ease, relaxed, and in the flow at work.
My brain was being hacked by Synthwave!

One of my first exercises was to create 4-color images from some Synthwave pictures I found online. The reason for the 4-color nature of the images is another topic entirely that I'm looking forward to discussing in a later article.

As I spent time in The GIMP editing the images, I got more of that sense of ease and calm viewing the pictures. Something about the neon colors and swooping shapes really drew me in, and I wanted to explore Synthwave environments in computing further.

Well, today, the hacking of my brain was finally completed, and I converted my entire work setup to dark mode: I took my wallpaper and (spending way too much time), I painstakingly converted it in GIMP from a pretty run-of-the-mill photo of a starship to a wild, high-contrast photo of a starship in a streaky, neon starfield illuminated with Synthwave colors.
I carefully constructed a Synthwave profile for my terminal emulators (foot and konsole), so that instead of the prized, high contrast black-on-white text I had championed for years, it was a groovy lilac-on-lavender Synthwave-colored terminal which looked amazing. It was as if the terminal was glowing with an eerie CRT-like light, even though it was the same crisp LCD as always, with no text effects of any kind.

So, yes, I am now a vampire. Thankfully for you, the only deep reds I will be consuming will be with my eyes.