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Earlier this week on Facebook I posted a link to Disney’s “Lonesome Ghosts” cartoon. So many of you responded and asked for a top 5 list that I decided to put one together.

(Just kidding. Nobody asked for a top 5 list. But I put one together anyway.)

In no particular order…

Lonesome Ghosts (1937)

In this Disney short, Mickey, Donald and Goofy are called out to investigate a haunting. Little do they know, the people who placed the call are the ghosts themselves! In the end, Mickey and his pals end up covered in flour and giving the ghosts a scare of their own.

FIsher-Price released a small handheld Movie Viewer and included a copy of Lonesome Ghosts with it. That seems to be where a lot of people were first exposed to this cartoon.

Mickey and the Seal (1948)

In this cartoon Mickey gets followed home by a seal, who plays tricks on him while Pluto gets the blame. I think every kid can relate to getting blamed for something he or she didn’t do, which might be why this cartoon appealed to me as a kid. Youtube has two versions of this cartoon available: a cut down 2 minute version, or this full-length version which is in Spanish. There’s so little dialogue in this short (neither the seal nor Pluto can talk) so I posted the Spanish version.

Mickey’s Trailer (1938)

In this short, Mickey, Donald and Goofy go on vacation. This short is full of great gags, from the opening moment where the background folds up to where Goofy electrocutes himself and turns his corn on the cob into popcorn. I also always loved the transforming rooms in this short. The short ends with a runaway trailer careening out of control down a dangerous mountain road. As a kid this short made me want to go on vacation with my two best friends.

Goofy and Wilbur (1939)

In this short, Goofy and his pal Wilbur go fishing together, but it’s not what you think! Wilbur is the (willing) bait that helps reel the fish in! The part where Wilbur dies and turns into an angel at the end made me cry as a kid.

Goofy in Aquamarine (1961)

In this short, Goofy takes Junior out to teach him how to water ski and ends up with an octopus on his head. Anyone who has ever tried putting skis on while floating in the water will laugh at this one.

Honorable mention…

In The Bag (1956)

In this short, Ranger Woodlore gets Humphrey the Bear and his friends to pick up litter by giving them sticks and trash bags and teaching them a catchy song. Eventually Humphrey gets stuck with picking up all the trash, which he unwisely attempts to hide inside an active geyser. I used to sing this song whenever I had to clean my room as a kid. I never got a stick with a nail in the end of it though.

One of the things Susan wanted to see in Austin was the Congress Avenue Bridge Bats.

Congress Avenue is a street in Austin. There’s a bridge on that street (the Congress Avenue Bridge). Under said bridge are hundreds of thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats — somewhere between 750,000 and 1.5 million bats, depending on the season (the bats migrate and are in Austin from spring until fall). At dusk, all of the bats fly out from underneath the bridge to go eat. If you are standing near the bridge near dusk, you will see a lot of bats.

From what we read and could tell there are three optimal places to view the bats. You can stand on top of the bridge on the sidewalk and watch the bats fly out from underneath the bridge. You can sit on the grassy area next to the water below and watch the bats fly over you. You can also get on a small boat and watch the bats up above from the water. Any time you are under bats I assume you are in a “bat pooping zone” so we opted to watch the bats from above.

It is recommended that you arrive an hour before dusk in order to get a good spot on the bridge. We attempted to arrive an hour early but the traffic and parking set us back 30 minutes. We were able to stand in the second row on the sidewalk. I am bad at estimating crowd sizes but I would say there were somewhere between 500 and 1,000 people waiting around to see the bats.

For 30 minutes, we waited for the bats to wake up. Mason shouted “bat!” a few times and pointed at planes flying overhead. Eventually, one bat did fly out. Then a second bat flew out. Then a third. Then, this happened.

What looked like smoke billowing out from underneath the bridge turned out to be hundreds of thousands of bats. While a few bats swarmed the nearby trees and dined on mosquitoes, most of them flew together in formation, making a huge, thick line of bats circling the skyline.

Here is a picture I stole from the internet showing the bats from below.

While they say it can take up to 45 minutes for all the bats to exit the bridge, we stood and watched them for about 15 minutes before heading back to the car. I can’t think of anything else to say about watching bats fly out from under a bridge.

I’m on a quest to visit as many retro arcades as I can. We’re lucky to still have Cactus Jacks here in Oklahoma City. Four hours east of me is the Arkadia Retrocade and five hours north of here is the 1984 Arcade. I’ve been to lots of others as well, and the latest notch in my belt is Pinballz Arcade in Austin, Texas.

Unlike most of the retro arcades I’ve visited recently, Pinballz does not charge a cover and the games are set to take tokens. All the arcade games I played were 50 cents. The majority of the pinball machines I played were 75 cents with a few minor exceptions.

Despite its name, Pinballz has a decent selection of arcade games. There are a lot of games to choose from both old and new, from Gauntlet, Q*Bert and Burgertime to newer games like Mario Kart and Batman Arcade Racing. Like all arcades a few of the older games were out of order, but that’s to be expected with machines of this age. In the picture above my daughter is playing Battlezone (which came out 26 years before she was born), after which I killed her at a game of Marble Madness. Good times, good memories.

Also before someone points it out, Pinballz did have two or three multicade (60-in-1) machines, purists be damned. I would be curious to find out what kind of money they bring in as everyone I saw walked past them to play the original machines.

The layout of Pinballz greatly reminded me of the old Bally Le Mans in Crossroads Mall by having multiple levels. There was always something cool about going up and down mini sets of stairs to move into different areas of an arcade. To the right of the front door was the redemption area — an area my kids love and that I typically avoid. Susan found skee-ball machines down there and played a few rounds.

While playing one of the games, Mason somehow won thousands of tickets. Mason says the machine malfunctioned; based on the fact that he recently disassembled his toy remote controlled boat and re-purposed one of the motors for his latest invention (self-tying shoes) I’m not sure I 100% believe his story, but whatever. With his new-found wad of tickets he managed to purchase a whoopee cushion, a set of false teeth, a wind-up set of chompers, some candy, and a switchblade comb (which I know he loves because he opened and closed it 900 times that day).

And finally (no surprise here), Pinballz has pinball! Lots and lots of pinball — 100+ pinball machines to be exact, including the top 25 rated pinball machines! Those of you who know me know that I’m more of an arcade guy than a pinball aficionado, but here’s what I know. Off the top of my head, here are my favorite pinball machines (in alphabetical order): Addams Family, Avatar, Baby Pac-Man, Back to the Future, Cyclone, Earth Shaker, Fun House, Guns N’ Roses, Indiana Jones, KISS, Metallica, Pin-Bot, South Park, Star Wars, TRON, Whirlwind and the Wizard of Oz. And, guess what? Pinballz had every single one of them! They also have Banzai Run (with the vertical pinball action) and Hercules (the table that uses billiard balls for a pinball), two fairly rare machines. Despite the fact that I saw a few arcade machines here and there that were out of order waiting for repairs, I don’t remember seeing any pinball tables there offline or in need of maintenance. All the pinball machines I played were in perfect condition, both mechanically and physically.

Pinballz has a snack bar with a public seating area and another one that was reserved for a party. Susan bought a couple of bottles of water that were reasonably priced. They also had drink holders attached to microphone stands scattered around the arcade that kept people from setting their drinks on top of machines or on the ground where I’m guessing they get kicked over a lot — great idea!

We had a blast at Pinballz and are already planning our next trip south so that we can visit again!

Here is a link to all the pictures Susan and I took while visiting Pinballz.

Instead of sitting around the house this Labor Day weekend (my plan), Susan said, “let’s go to Austin, Texas.” Austin is roughly 400 miles/6 hours S/SE of Oklahoma City. We’ve been through Austin twice (both times while driving to Galveston) but had never stopped.

In a span of 36 hours we:

  • Ate at Happy Days Diner, Fricano’s Deli, Freebirds World Burrito, Hat Creek Burger Company, and In-and-Out Burger.
  • Saw one of five existing complete copies of the Gutenberg Bible and the first photograph ever taken at the Harry Ransom Center.
  • Played dozens of arcade and pinball machines at Pinballz Arcade. (We also stopped by Arcade UFO but they were closed).
  • Visited the Museum of the Weird.
  • Went to see the Congress Avenue Bridge Bats, where between 750,000 and 1.5 million bats fly every night.
  • Went swimming in Barton Springs, a creek naturally fed from underground springs that is 68 degrees year round (yes it was cold).
  • Over the next few days I’ll be writing more about Barton Springs, Congress Bridge Bats, Pinballz, and the Museum of the Weird. We had a great time on our first (and quick) trip to Austin and we are already excited about going back again. There aren’t a lot of towns on our list of “other places we could live,” but based on this trip I think Austin might have made the list!

    (PS: “Keep Austin Weird” became Austin’s small business slogan back in 2000.)

    Last Friday (on my birthday) while performing some routine maintenance on my home server, I rebooted it and it never came back. It just left and never came back… like Judge Crater. The machine turns on (so it has power) and I switched enough RAM around to decide it wasn’t that, so either the processor or (more likely) the motherboard gave up the ghost.

    This leads us to three things I’ve said before. One, my blog is a great source of historical information for me. A quick search reveals I bought the old server in June of 2009. Six years isn’t a great lifespan for a motherboard (he says, glancing at his still-working Commodore 64), but they’re not that expensive to replace. Two, I try to never get upset whenever something electronic dies. Instead, I see it as an opportunity to upgrade. And three, there are very few technology related problems that can’t be solved with a credit card.

    My home server hosts lots of movies and music to be streamed, but more importantly it runs a few virtual servers (including the one that hosts I was able to pull the hard drives out and copy the virtual servers over to my workstation and run them from there for the past week, but it wasn’t the ideal situation. It kept my workstation pegged and pretty much unusable for the entire week, but at least I was able to keep the website up.

    Back in 2009 when I built this (now dead) server I bought a new case that came with four fans — one in the front, one in the back, and two in the side. While this might have kept things cool, it did so loudly. While working from home and talking on the speaker phone I’ve had people ask if I were standing on a runway. So, I decided to buy a new case as well.

    Unfortunately I don’t have a way to test whether it was the motherboard or the CPU that actually died, so I decided to upgrade both. I had hoped to purchase something locally but all my old “PC parts” haunts have apparently closed up shop, and Best Buy… is Best Buy. That led me back to NewEgg, where I purchased the following:

    11-148-067 — CASE LOGISYS| CS136BK R — $34.99
    13-128-699 — MB GIGABYTE|GA-F2A55M-S1 A55 FM2+ R — $44.69
    19-113-280 — CPU AMD|TA10-5800K 3.8G 4M FM2 R — $109.99
    20-231-745 — MEM 8G|G.SKILL F3-1600C11S-8GIS R — 2 @ $76.99 / $153.98

    Shipping: $7.99
    Total: $351.64

    Happy birthday to me.

    For you techies, that’s an AMD 3.8GHz quad-core processor, slapped into a Gigabyte motherboard with 16 gigs of RAM and a case that doesn’t have loud fans on the side. Also note that 4-7 day shipping for all of that stuff was $7.99, and there was no tax.

    Everything arrived on Friday. I was watching the FedEx tracking so I knew when it would arrive. As far as building the actual machine went, it was one of the fastest builds I’ve ever done. Things are so compatible and well-labeled these days that I went from “stuff arriving at my house” to “server is booting” within half an hour tops.

    That’s the old server on the bottom and the new server on top. And my MC Escher mousepad that I bought in 1994.

    Remember those days when you couldn’t pull a hard drive out of one Windows machine and boot another machine off of it? Apparently those days are gone. Remember those days of tracking down a zillion drivers to get a new motherboard to work? I guess those days are gone, too. I pulled the hard drive out of the old server and placed it in the new one, installed the network drivers, and let Windows update itself. A couple of reboots later and everything was up and running.

    Once the server was back up and running, moving all the physical drives and RAID containers over was simple. For some reason one of the RAID enclosures lost its shares in Windows, which took less than a minute to correct. The only lengthy process was transferring the virtual servers back over to the new server, which took a couple of hours.

    And there you have it. The new server has double the RAM (went from 8GB to 16GB) and the virtual servers (including the one that runs this website) are flying faster than ever before.

    This movie review is a part of Forgotten Filmcast’s 1984 Blog-a-Thon. For more 1984 film reviews, search Twitter for #84athon.

    As home computers began to invade our lives in the early 1980s, so too did they invade our movies. In 1982’s Tron, mainframe computers turned on their creator by pulling him into their digital world and attempting to “derez” him on the game grid. In 1983, the country was nearly thrust into World War III after high school hacker David Lightman began playing games with the country’s defense systems in the hit film WarGames. By the time we reached 1984, the danger got more personal as computers had begun to invade our homes.

    Miles Harding, the protagonist in 1984’s Electric Dreams, is an average, ordinary, non-technical guy — a twenty-something architect who prefers pencils and paper to electronics. After getting in trouble for showing up late to work (again), Miles decides to join the digital revolution. Originally he sets out to purchase an electronic Casio Day Planner, but is up-sold by a spunky and overzealous sales associate to a full PC.

    “I don’t know anything about computers,” Mies tells the associate.

    “Nobody does, but don’t you want one for when you do?” she responds.

    One hour (and presumably thousands of dollars) later Miles is the proud owner of a state of the art Pinecone brand computer. This new top-of-the-line PC does it all, and Miles spends the rest of the evening connecting it to his phone line, his security system, his home appliances, and pretty much everything else he owns. He stays up so late doing all of this that he oversleeps the following morning and wakes up late for work. Since this is the main thing Miles had wished to prevent from happening, the computer seems like a pretty bad investment at this point.

    Depending on your point of view, things get either real interesting or real stupid real fast when Miles attempts to dial into the mainframe at work from his new computer to download some information. He guesses his boss’ password in less than five minutes, but that’s not the unbelievable part; his computer becomes so overloaded by downloading “too much information” that it begins to short circuit. In an attempt to cool the machine down Miles pours a bottle of champagne directly into the computer’s innards, an action that is surely (or at least should be) listed under “bad ideas” in the Pinecone user manual. This combination of actions (the information overload combined with the champagne) miraculously brings the computer (“Edgar”) to life. (Note that for no discernible reason, we don’t learn the computer’s name until the closing shot.)

    As a voluntary viewer of this film right there you have to decide whether or not you are willing to buy into that concept — that the proper ratio of volts and Chardonnay could somehow bring consciousness to a home computer. If you can, Electric Dreams is an interesting movie about a three-way love interest between a guy (Miles), a girl (his neighbor Madeline) and a computer (Edgar). And if you can’t, you’re going to be repeatedly asking yourself “Why doesn’t Miles just unplug the damn thing?” for the next 75 minutes.

    Early on it is established that, like Rodney Dangerfield, Miles “can’t get no respect.” His boss calls him Milton, and his own computer (thanks to a typo during setup) addresses him as Moles. The only person willing to give Miles the time of day is his new neighbor, Madeline. Madeline’s true love is her cello, but she takes interest in Miles after he performs an impromptu duet with her through the apartment’s air vents — the twist being that it was in fact Edgar performing the electronic chords she heard.

    This leads to what I refer to as the first major “plotadox” — ridiculous things people do in movies to keep the plot moving forward that no one would ever do in real life. In real life, if asked about the electronic music coming from his apartment, Miles would have said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about — it must be my new computer. Want to see it?” Instead, Miles plays coy and pretends that he was the composer. A major part of the plot revolves around Madeline, a classically trained cellist, becoming attracted to Miles because of Edgar’s music. This is the equivalent of an art collector falling in love with me after learning I am really good at pasting my head onto bodybuilders with Photoshop.

    As Edgar grows in strength and power, he also grows emotions. Sounding like a cross between Conky from Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and Number 5 from Short Circuit, Edgar asks Miles questions using “techno baby talk” like “What is the love?” and “How to kiss?” Edgar eventually quenches his need for “more input” by plugging in to Miles’ cable feed and watching a steady stream of commercials, classic films, and General Hospital. Miles attempts to explain to Edgar that love cannot exist between a woman and a computer, even though Edgar rightfully states that since she is in love with is Edgar’s songs and music, technically she already is.

    The conflict between Miles and Edgar grows increasingly aggressive and ridiculous as the computer’s jealousy turns to rage. “I’m talking to a machine, what’s happening to me!” Miles screams (after talking with the machine for days). When things start to get out of hand Miles threatens to “have him checked tomorrow,” and when things REALLY get out of hand, Miles demands the computer “get up and fight.” In one scene, to get Miles’ attention Edgar cranks up the RPMs on his electric toothbrush. Two things a sentient Pinecone computer won’t put up with: stealing its girlfriend, and chronic halitosis.

    In an evening montage, Miles shows us why he was single in the first place when he takes Madeline out on a date. First he takes her to a drive-in movie to see Casablanca, where he manages to pour his drink on her, spill his popcorn, and smack her in the face within 30 seconds. Boy, have I been doing it wrong! Later he takes her the most romantic place on earth: Alcatraz, the maximum security prison. Maybe Madeline would be better off dating the computer after all. During the date Miles tries to explain that his computer has been talking to him. When Madeline mentions she has heard of talking alarm clocks, Miles replies, “but that’s not like think talking.”

    This movie could have used some more think talking.

    Back at home and left behind, the lovelorn Edgar has grown desperate and miserable. He calls and interrupts Miles at work when he is bored, and at night dreams of electric sheep (so at least we finally got that question answered.) When Edgar’s pleads to meet, touch, and kiss Madeline fall on deaf ears, he goes on the offense by ruining Miles’ credit and having him declared as a dangerous felon. Miles of course makes this possible by leaving Edgar connected to all of his appliances, phone, and most importantly, an electrical socket. When Miles does decide to unplug the computer, Edgar reprimands Miles for touching him and begins to shock him. Miles, out of ideas, quits trying. My kids have found seven (and counting) ways to ruin iPhones and iPads; you would think Miles could come up with some way to power off the machine. If only he owned an oven mitt!

    If you haven’t tossed all logic out the window by now you will soon when Miles must finally face Edgar. In the final showdown, Edgar prevents Miles from fleeing by heating up the apartment’s door knobs. Before Miles can ask “How is that even possible?”, Edgar shoots light bulbs at him and commands electronic toys to attack. It is amazing how resilient Edgar is for a PC from 1984. My Commodore 64 required one fan on the power supply and another one on the disk drive to keep it from overheating.

    Despite Miles’ efforts, the following day Madeline and Edgar do finally come face to face. As any woman would, she sticks her hand inside the computer case and caresses its circuits to calm it down. When a tear from her cheek falls inside the machine, it finally learns what love is and realizes that it must let her go. Miles finally grows a pair and returns to his house with an axe to put an end to Edgar (!), but this proves to be unnecessary as Edgar has sent “40,000 volts” from around the world in an attempt to blow himself to pieces. In a final goodbye, Edgar reveals his name to Miles. Why it was a secret this whole time is anybody’s guess. Seconds after this endearing moment the voltage arrives as advertised and blows Edgar all to shit. This was meant to be a touching moment but all I could do is wonder whether or not this sort of thing is covered by renter’s insurance.

    The biggest problem with Electric Dreams, technical absurdities and plot holes aside, is that it’s never clear as to what it wants to be. The movie is part romantic comedy, part fantasy/science fiction, part horror, and part musical, but it never fully commits to any of those genres. It certainly holds a place in 80s computer-themed movie history, and most definitely had an influence on both 1986’s Short Circuit and 2013’s Her. Electric Dreams touches on some interesting concepts like computers falling in love with people or whether machines can create art but it doesn’t spend enough time on them to do them justice. By blowing himself to smithereens, Edgar takes the easy way out of this film while the rest of us are left sitting and wondering, “Now what?”

    Like movies from the 70s and 80s? Check out my throwback podcast, Throwback Reviews!

    EDIT: For anyone trying to track down this film, you can watch it in its entirety on Youtube.

    If there’s one thing to know about Susan it’s that when she decides to do something, she does it. Whether it’s going back to college or learning photography or tackling a project at work, whatever she chooses to do, she does.

    Last month Susan set a goal of raising $1,500 in donations for the Girl Scouts. The money went toward purchasing a tornado shelter for one of the local Girl Scout Camps. Earlier this month Susan organized a garage sale and between that and some donations from friends and family, she met her goal.

    Everyone who met this goal was offered the opportunity to rappel down One Leadership Square in Oklahoma City this past weekend. Standing 22 stories and 308 feet tall, One Leadership Square is the 10th tallest building in Oklahoma.

    Last Saturday, my wife went over the side of it while hanging from a rope. Twice.

    Susan also volunteered to help out with the ropes, so she got a test run of the system Friday night. She said the system they used was unlike the ones she used back in college and had a ton of added safety features, including an automatic braking system.

    Saturday was the “public” rappelling, and both my family and some of Susan’s family came out to watch. Her time slot was 12:30pm so the sun was directly overhead and it was nice and hot by the time she got to drop down, but drop down she did.

    After talking with her for a few minutes on the ground it was back to the roof for Susan where she finished volunteering for the rest of the day. The kids, Dad and I hit one of our favorite hot dog spots, Coney Island, before heading back home.

    Congrats to Susan on meeting her fundraising goal and for dropping off a perfectly good building!

    Last Friday I turned 41 years old. In some ways 41 is more depressing than 40. Mentally, 40 was a tough age; 41 only serves to remind you that 40 actually happened and that time is still moving forward. Happy birthday.

    This year’s birthday festivities were broken up into lots of little slices. Thursday (the day before my birthday) I had dinner at Kyle’s Steakhouse with a few of my co-workers. I had the salmon and while it wasn’t as good as it used to be, it was still good. Susan informed the restaurant that it was my birthday and asked them to create a sugar-free dessert. The end result was a “peanut butter cheesecake” that tasted like I was eating peanut butter out of a jar. As far as cheesecake goes it was pretty terrible but as far as peanut butter from a jar goes, it was pretty good!

    I took Friday (my birthday) off from work and Friday morning Susan brought me coffee and a cheese omelette in bed. We had lunch with my dad at Cimarron Steakhouse and I had a big ‘ol medium-rare T-bone along with some fried mushrooms and a loaded baked potato. I couldn’t finish it all but everything I was able to shovel into my yap was delicious! Friday night, Susan had a reception to attend and so we had hors d’oeuvres which lasted until we got an Arby’s hot ham and cheese melt on the way home. We ended Friday with cake and ice cream with our families. The highlight of Friday night was I decided to show the drone off to my nephews. Somehow the wireless controls didn’t connect properly and so when I launched it the thing shot off two or three yards away before I could force an emergency landing. Oops.

    Saturday was Susan’s special day as she got to rappel off of Leadership Square as a reward for raising $1,500 for the Girl Scouts. I’ll write more about that later this week, but it was really cool. After that, Susan, the kids and I met up at our friend Howard’s house for his birthday (which is only a few days after mine). The kids had a great time swimming in Howard’s new pool and we had a good time hanging out for a bit.

    We ended my birthday weekend with a trip to S&B Burgers. I got my favorite, a medium-rare Bleu Burger wrapped in bacon with deep fried cheese cubes and a “Dude Abides” (White Russian) to wash it down. The diet resumes tomorrow.

    A great weekend with great friends and family and great memories.

    Every year on August 19th I sit down at the computer and try to come up with something interesting to say about my wedding anniversary. This morning while trying to come up with something to write about I opened up the folder on my computer where all our wedding pictures are stored and realized that we have a total of 39 photos from that day. No negatives, just 39 4×6″ prints. Based on that number I’m guessing two 24-shot rolls of film were shot and a few of them were duplicates or didn’t turn out.

    Of those 39 photos, more than half of them are the traditional staged post-ceremony pictures. There are pictures of me with other members of the wedding party, Susan with other members of the wedding party, and the two of us together with other members of the wedding party. Of the remaining pictures, two are of random people, two are of the wedding cakes, two or three are of the two of us eating cake, one is of the groomsmen with their tuxedos off and one is of Susan’s car covered in shoe polish and toilet paper out in the parking lot.

    Susan and our niece Jessica

    As far as I know there are no photos of the actual ceremony and no pictures of either reception (the one at the church and the one that night at the Round Up Club). My, how times have changed. Last month, Susan and I played photographer at our friend Jennifer Martin’s wedding. Between the two of us, in a span of a couple of hours we shot around 1,400 pictures and were able to deliver them to the family on DVD the following day. Of course we weren’t the only people shooting pictures at Jennifer’s wedding. A few other people were snapping photos with DSLR cameras, and everyone else was taking pictures with cell phones. I am sure Jennifer ended up with literally thousands of pictures from her wedding day.

    Back to 1995. We do have a wedding video that Susan’s Uncle Ronnie shot for us. It captures a bit of the action before the wedding, the entire ceremony, some of the church reception, and ends as Susan and I drive off in her car. While the VHS video shot in 1995 looks a lot like a VHS video shot in 1995, we are very grateful to have it.

    Every now and then a detail from that day will pop into my head. I had a few novelty t-shirts around that time and wore one — a white t-shirt with a picture of a can of Spam on the front — to the after hours reception. It had no significance in regards to the wedding itself; I just thought it was a funny shirt. The last time I was in Vegas I ate at a restaurant that had Spam on the menu and that shirt instantly popped in my mind. I have lots of memories from that day that I’m afraid of losing because I don’t have any record of them.

    Here is a link to those 39 pictures, roughly two pictures for every year we’ve been married. That’s crazy.

    Happy 19th Anniversary, Susan.

    Link: 39 Wedding Pictures

    For my 41st birthday, I asked for (and received) a Parrot AR Drone 2.0. Yes, my birthday isn’t until the end of next week. Now that I’m over 40, I can open presents early if I want.

    Starting at $300, the Parrot AR Drone 2.0 (“Parrot 2″ hereon) is an intermediate level drone. There are several smaller toy drones in the sub-$100 range, and lots of “toys for big boys” drones in the $1,000+ range. The only comparable to the Parrot 2 is DJI’s Phantom, which runs $499 without a camera and $799 with a camera. $300 seemed more sensible for a first-time drone owner, so I went with the Parrot 2.

    For roughly $50 more you can get the Power Edition — same drone, but with two larger batteries and three extra sets of propellers. I went with that one.

    Here’s everything that came in the Power Edition package: the drone, an indoor hull, an outdoor hull, two lithium 1500 mAh batteries, a battery charger, some stickers, three additional sets of propellers (in orange, blue and red) and a manual with printing so small I couldn’t even tell if it was in English or not. (The manuals are online in PDF format here.)

    Additionally, the Parrot 2 comes with two cameras (an HD 720p front-facing camera) and an SD down-facing camera) and a USB port. You can plug in a USB stick to record videos and pictures from your flights, or purchase additional USB add-ons like the GPS/black box.

    Here is the drone with no hull attached.

    If you fly it like this, it will be broken in about 4 seconds. Here it is with the outdoor hull:

    …and here it is with the indoor hull:

    So far I have only flown the Parrot 2 with the indoor hull attached, and I’ll tell you why. First of all, without it, I would have broken many things in our house. Second of all, the majority of all my videos end with me smashing the Parrot 2 into something and having it land belly-side-up somewhere. The indoor hull has definitely saved my propellers from slicing against tree limbs, blinds, the ceiling fan, my face, two different flat screen televisions and the cat at least once.

    Unfortunately, the indoor hull is not designed to take a beating, at least not a beating of the level I’ve been dishing them out. My second crash resulted in a clean break of the styrofoam hull. I could not find any black electrical tape so I had to resort to repairing the hull with some white duct tape. An hour after owning the drone, my hull looked like this:

    I have since removed all the white tape and replaced it with black electrical tape. Without tape, this hull would be in 5 separate pieces now. I’m afraid to fly this thing without one on. All things said, I have had some spectacular crashes (many from running into the ceiling fan (not running) 15′ in the air) and watching the Parrot 2 drop like a rock to the carpeted floor below. So far nothing has broken but I’ve only had it two days and I’ve been under the weather so I haven’t really put the thing to the test yet.

    The Parrot 2 does not come with a remote — instead, you download a free app onto your iOS or Android device and that becomes your remote. Once powered up, the Parrot 2 actually becomes a wifi hotspot, so to start flying all you have to do is connect your device to the drone’s hotspot, launch the control app and you’re good to go.

    Most of my early flights took place in the house. The learning curve comes from (a) learning how to control the Parrot 2 with the app, and (b) keeping yourself oriented as to which way the drone is facing. Using the app, your right thumb controls moving up/down and turning left/right, while your left thumb controls moving forward/backward and tilting left/right. It’s very easy for your thumbs to drift from the control circles, resulting in having to take your eyes off the drone and looking down at your phone or tablet instead.

    There are lots of buttons on the app, ones for recording video, taking pictures, changing the drone’s options, and so on. There are a couple of ways to land the drone: one is by pressing that green “LANDING” square in the picture above. That cuts the power to 50% and the drone will try and land wherever it is. There’s also the red “EMERGENCY” button at the top of the screen that simply cuts power to the Parrot 2, at which point it will drop out of the sky like a brick. Yesterday I could not imagine a reason to hit that button but after having the Parrot 2 almost blown out into traffic by a wind gust, I can see where it might come in handy.

    It’s also occasionally difficult to figure out which was is forward (especially with the indoor hull on installed) which is why I glued a pair of googly eyes to the front of mine.

    Because the Parrot 2 is so light it is very susceptible to wind gusts. Last night after the wind calmed down I took the Parrot 2 outside and was able to capture the following picture of my house:

    Five seconds later a wind gust blew the drone over my house and over my neighbor’s house, almost causing it to smash into their roof.

    Here are a couple of videos I shot earlier using the Parrot 2. It never dawned on me that the Parrot 2’s camera would not record sound (only video) so I added some generic 8-bit music to it just because it felt very stark. I plan on attaching my Flip camera to it later tonight or tomorrow (if I’m not feeling better) and see if I can’t record two angles (along with some sound).

    Almost immediately I need to order another battery and another indoor hull for my Parrot 2 (maybe with birthday money). I’d like to try flying the thing a little higher outside but I’ll have to wait until the wind dies down (and I get a little braver) before I do that.

    EDIT: I forgot to mention how long the thing can fly. On a normal 1000 mHa battery, the Parrot 2 can fly for 8-12 minutes. With the 1500 mHa batteries I bought, you can fly for 12-18 minutes (each). The batteries take 90 minutes to fully charge. Also, the drone is able to fly high — really high. Even though the app supposedly limits the drone to 100m (roughly 330 feet) there are several videos on Youtube of people flying the Parrot 2 1,000 feet or higher (but not in Oklahoma wind…)