Morgan and I are attending a cookie decorating class this evening. We actually set out looking for a cake decorating class, but ’tis the season for cookies (and the class had openings) so that’s what we signed up for.
For the class Morgan and I have to bring over a dozen different things, everything from wax paper and toothpicks to sugar and, of course, cookies. Susan got up extra early this morning to whip up a batch of sugar cookies for us to take to class. The class only covers decorating them. Cooking them is a different class, I guess.
Now, we own a pretty nice mixer. I don’t remember where it came from, but for somebody who only occasionally makes icing and mashed potatoes, it seems pretty nice. That’s why I was surprised this morning to see Susan mixing up cookie dough using this thing.
I’m not sure how old this mixer is, but it comes from a time when appliances were off-brown in color. It was also noticeably having trouble mixing the thick dough, something our regular mixer would have powered right through. So I had to ask, “What gives?”
Susan told me she spent a lot of time as a kid in her grandma’s kitchen, watching her and learning how to cook. When Susan was young (twelve maybe?) both of her grandparents passed away on the same night. Her grandfather died from a heart attack; her grandmother died trying to resuscitate him. Susan said they emptied out their home and sold most of their things in order to pay for the funerals. Susan got to keep two things — a green storage trunk that sits at the end of our bed, and that brown mixer.
It took about an hour to make the required amount of cookies for tonight’s class. Most of them are Christmas shaped but there are a few Star Wars-shaped ones here and there (of course). Tonight Morgan and I will take them to class and decorate them and maybe begin our own Christmas tradition.
And someday when Susan and I are dead Morgan can inherit the mixer. Wow. That took a left turn at the end there.
In the late 90s, I unknowingly started a family tradition by creating a digital slideshow of pictures to show during our annual Christmas party. Back then it took a lot of technical wizardry to output computer video to a television — I think I had a PCMCIA card for my laptop that output composite video that did the truck. I also had a small directory full of Christmas mp3s that I randomly played in the background.
Each year it gets a little easier to pull off the slideshow. Wireless networking made things a lot simpler, allowing me to stream pictures and songs from my server. This year, in theory, I could run the audio from one of the digital cable Christmas channels and display pictures off a USB stick connected directly to my television. Things have changed a lot over the past 15 years.
After that first year, and back when Napster was all the rage, I set out to create a huge collection of Christmas music. And I did. The directory’s roughly 20gb in size and contains just over 5,000 songs. (It actually used to be slightly larger before I removed a bunch of “adult” Christmas songs from the directory. Nothing says “you didn’t screen these songs” like “I Saw Daddy Kissing Santa Claus” popping up during the evening’s festivities.) The directory contains rips of all of my old Christmas CDs, all of Susan’s, and lots and lots of random Christmas goodness — some of it great, a lot of it so/so, and a few of them, downright awful.
The problem with most novelty albums is that the joke wears out before the music does. This is certainly the case with those Christmas albums where dogs and cats respectively bark and meow their way through Christmas classics… but A Rubber Band Christmas might take the cake when it comes to “Worst Christmas Album Ever.”
A Rubber Band Christmas, which I’ve since read started out as a joke, contains fourteen Christmas classics, performed by twanging rubber bands. Anyone who has ever held one of a rubber band in their teeth and varied the tautness of it while boink-boink-boinking it with the other hand knows just how this sounds. It sounds a lot like boink-boink-boink renditions of Christmas tunes, usually almost partially in tune.
The album contains rubber band renditions of such classics as “Rubber Bells,” “Little Rubber Boy,” and “Rudolph the Rubber Nosed Reindeer.” I lightly chuckled as the rubber bands ploinked away at the notes of “Deck the Halls with Rubber,” but by the time I got to track six — “Feliz Rubberdad” — I was pretty much done with the joke. And there are 14 tracks.
After rounding out the stable of classics with “Rubber Claus Is Coming To Town,” “Rubber To The World,” and “Rubber Bell Rock,” the album concludes with “Rubber Night (Ode To Jimi),” a fuzzed-out version of Silent Night that will leave you wanting more (silence).
The physical version of A Rubber Band Christmas has become somewhat of a collector’s item in recent years (no doubt due to low sales) with used copies currently selling for $10 on Amazon and new copies listed for $60+.
My opinion? Spend a few bucks on some booze and a package of rubber bands and make your own.
Even being two weeks prior to Christmas, Mason’s December birth date is a pain to schedule. Due to after school performances and Holiday gatherings, getting kids to show up for a mid-December birthday party can be tough. Occasionally that causes us to spread Mason’s birthdays out over multiple days, as was the case this year.
Mason’s birthday weekend began Thursday night at the Thunder/Cleveland game.
These are, by far, the best Thunder tickets we’ve ever purchased. We were just a few rows away from the court, directly behind the goal. Next time we may purchase some a few seats to the left or right, but they were still pretty darn good. Mason had a good time (despite the fact that LeBron James didn’t play), and our friend Howard who came along with us bought us dinner at Five Guys, drinks at the game, and hooked us up with a sweet parking spot.
Friday was Mason’s actual birthday, and we had breakfast for him at Jimmy’s Egg. Mason got his birthday present from his granny there, which he took to school and took a picture of. “It’s exactly the one I wanted,” he said.
Mason said three of his friends also had horse head masks and they were all going to bring them for Friday’s dodgeball tournament (The Four Horsemen?) The other three either chickened out or had more sensible parents than Mason. He told me later he only got punched twice while wearing it.
Mason’s birthday party was Saturday night, but Saturday day, had had a basketball game.
Mason missed two shots and made two, one of those being one of his monster 3’s. BUT — no time to celebrate! We drove directly from the YMCA to Laser Quest, where a dozen of Mason’s friends ate pizza, cake, and played laser tag for a couple of hours.
Sunday was the last of Mason’s festivities — a hamburger lunch with our family.
By the afternoon, everybody (including Mason) was tired of celebrating his birthday.
My sister Linda is the best Tetris player I have ever watched play in person. Tetris is simple. It consists of seven different rotating pieces (trivia fact: “Tetriminos”) that must be placed in rows to prevent them from reaching the top of the screen, thus ending the game. When the pieces are dropping slowly and you’re getting the ones you need, anyone can play the game; it’s when things start speeding up and you hit a “drought” (a long period of time in which players do not receive straight pieces) that separates the men from the boys — oh, and the women from the girls. If I’d had any since at all I would have pulled my sister out of school and driven her cross country, hustling Tetris players for cash in seedy 80s arcades.
Even at her prime, I’m not sure my sister could have out-Tetrised the players that appear in the 2011 documentary Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters, which follows Robin Mihara’s attempt to find the world’s best Tetris player by establishing a national tournament.
The documentary begins with Mihara tracking down the country’s best Tetris players, who have all declared the NES version to be the de facto version of the game. This is done by searching Twin Galaxies (not getting a quip from Walter Day seems like a glaring omission). Unsurprisingly, most of the country’s best Tetris players look and act exactly what one might imagine adults in their 30s and 40s who have dedicated their lives to mastering a Nintendo game might look like. Along the way we meet a guy who mastered solving Rubik’s Cubes “in order to pick up women,” a girl who often ignores her spouse while playing Tetris, and another girl who plans on wearing a sweatshirt that says “I > U” along with Nintendo-branded pajama bottoms to the tournament. None of the potential contestants come off as annoying, but none are particularly charismatic either.
The dark horse of the tournament is Thor Aackerlund, one of the winners from the 1990 Nintendo World Championships who became a spokesman for Nintendo before turning into a recluse and walking away from the industry. For a while the film teases a Billy Mitchell “will he or won’t he show up,” but eventually he does and although a bit hesitant to reenter the limelight, he turns out to be a nice guy.
Like the Donkey Kong kill screen from The King of Kong, Tetris too has its own mythical achievements: one involves maxing the game out at 999,999 and the other involves reaching level 30. Thor claims to have done both but doesn’t feel the need to take or share any photographic evidence of his achievements. A few of the other competitors timidly hint that they have their doubts about Thor’s achievements, but no one goes as far as to call him out. In fact, it turns out that for the most part people who spend 10-12 hours a day mastering a Nintendo game tend to like one another.
After establishing the fact that there’s going to be a tournament, Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters spends the next 45 minutes introducing us to the contestants. During this part of the film you’ll be exposed to a lot of people who play a lot of Tetris, and also a lot of Tetris. Along the filmmaker’s journey he got to watch a lot of Tetris footage, and you’ll get to see some of it, too. Some of the footage is impressive and a lot of it goes by too fast to tell what’s going on. All the footage made me think (a) all these people deserve to be in a Tetris tournament, and (b) I hope it happens soon.
The final third of the film covers the tournament itself. Some of the players do well and some don’t go as well as they had hoped. Will one of our new friends win the tournament or will Thor reclaim his former title?
During one of the film’s interviews, Thor explains that shortly after winning the 1990 Nintendo tournament, his house burned down and his family became essentially homeless, their only income being his endorsements and paid appearances. “In one way life is a lot like Tetris,” he says. “It throws random things at you, but what you do with them is up to you.” For me, this was the film’s takeaway moment.
While The King of Kong transcended Donkey Kong and perhaps video games in general in its simplified (and in many cases, forced) “good vs. evil” theme, I don’t think Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters does the same. While it’s a good film, I’m not sure it would appeal to those not interested in Tetris or at least video game tournaments. If you’ve ever played Tetris so long that you’ve dreamed about the game or attended a classic video game expo, no doubt you’ll enjoy this film.
In 10 minutes I’m about to go wake my sister up, get her out of bed, and start her Tetris training regimen for the inevitable sequel.
I didn’t have a phone line in the first apartment I lived in, which cut my BBS/modeming habit when I moved in drastically down from “many hours a day” to “nothing” very quickly. In regards to computers, it was a transitional time for me. When I first moved into that apartment, my primary computer was a Commodore 64. When I moved out of the apartment and in with Susan I bought my first PC, a 386/25 PC that my friend Josh helped me assemble.
The minute I moved in with Susan and got that PC I plugged it into the phone line and pretty much monopolized it around the clock. When that became a problem, we purchased a second phone line. When I set up my own BBS, we added a third. That’s true. We had three phone lines in a mobile home. Two of them were used exclusively by computers and sometimes I used the third, too. I spent a lot of time connecting to people and things electronically (still do).
One of the big differences between the Commodore and PC worlds was that there weren’t a lot of good shareware software titles for the Commodore 64 (and for the most part, the free stuff sucked). The PC was different though. It was the era of “shareware” — try before you buy software. Most shareware titles included a few levels you could play for free with the option of buying the full version to get all the levels. This worked great for me because I was getting new games every day. I’d play the shareware versions of these games and long before I tired of playing them the next shareware game would come along and off I’d go. One of the gifts of ADD is that you’re never in the same place for long.
Doom (the original) was released on December 10, 1993 — 21 years ago, today. Computer bulletin boards didn’t operate at the speed of light like the internet does today and I’m sure it took a while for Doom to make its way across phone lines to the BBSes in Oklahoma that I called. Weeks or months, likely, but it did eventually arrive and I did eventually play it. And I was amazed.
I tend to think about first person shooters (FPS) in the following eras: there was Wolfenstein 3D, which was a game, and then there was Doom, which was a franchise. Then there was Quake, and everything else since then has been a rip off of Quake. That’s my opinion. It’s no secret that I’m not a huge fan of the FPS genre, partially because they give me motion sickness headaches, and partially because they all have that “been there, done that” feeling.
Around that time my friend Josh had introduced me to Laplink, a piece of software that allowed you to copy files between PCs through the use of a Laplink cable. As it turned out and as I learned at Best Buy, you could also use those same cables to connect two computers for the purpose of playing games. And that’s what we did for months. Every night after the doors closed, someone would connect the two fastest display computers via a Laplink cable, load Doom up on them, and blast away at one another until everyone else was done restocking shelves and vacuuming.
They say Doom sold over a million copies, which is an amazing number considering that most people (including myself) just played the free shareware version. I never bought Doom, but when everything in the world got released on CD-ROM in the mid-90s, I picked this up out of a bargain bin:
This CD is not special. There were a million collections of WADs (custom Doom levels), skins, graphics, sounds, maps… you name it. These were created by people all over the country (world?) and then loaded to BBSes. Every now and then some company would download them, organize them, and release them on CD. Each CD included the shareware version of Doom so that you could play all of these things. Doom was much more than just a game. It was an infrastructure that let you create your own games.
When I think back to those old ID games, I tend to think of Wolfenstein 3D as single-player, Doom as introducing player-vs-player, Doom 2 as introducing LAN (local area network) gaming, and Quake as introducing internet gaming. That’s not technically correct, but that’s how I mentally sort those games out.
In the summer of 1995, I think, I held a computer gathering in the guest area at our trailer park. Several of my friends brought their computers and, using a stack of old 10 megabit network cards and hubs, we wired them all together and played Doom, Doom II, and a bunch of other games.
The one thing that will always stick with me in regards to Doom was that feeling of “I’ve been here before” you got after playing the game for so long. In 2D games you might recognize a level you had previously encountered, but in FPS, I got the feeling that I had been to that physical place before. It was a weird feeling, to think of video game levels as real places.
So, happy birthday to Doom. Now that you’re finally 21, let’s go get a drink and talk about being Knee Deep in Hell while everyone else watches this video.
Wrathchild America’s “Climbin’ the Walls” debuted on Headbanger’s Ball in the fall of 1989, which is where I discovered the band. I soon bought the album and shared it with my friends Jeff and Andy. When the three of us heard Wrathchild America would be playing in an nearby club in the fall of 1990, we bought tickets and went to the show. Wrathchild America put on an awesome show, but they were somewhat upstaged by the opening band, four maniacs from Texas named Pantera who were supporting their just released album “Cowboys from Hell.”
I bought “Cowboys from Hell” (on cassette) at that show and listened to it on the way home. “Guys,” I told my friends, “this band is going to be huge.”
In May of 1991, we saw the two bands perform together again. This time, it was Wrathchild America who opened for Pantera.
While Wrathchild America faded into obscurity (which is too bad; they were a great band), Pantera took off. It took two years for their first major label album to chart, but it eventually did. (“Cowboys from Hell” was eventually certified Platinum, with over a millions sales.) But it was the band’s next album, 1992’s “Vulgar Display of Power,” that helped set their place in rock history and create a new genre, “groove metal.” The album has been described as “one of the most influential heavy metal albums of the 1990s,” thanks in large part to the over-the-top and innovative guitar work of “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott.
The band’s third album “Far Beyond Driven” was released in March of 1994. “Far Beyond Driven” is one of two albums (Metallica’s “Black” album being the other) that I actually went and stood in line for. To be honest there was no line for Pantera’s album in Weatherford, Oklahoma, but there must have been in other parts of the country as the album debuted at number one on the charts. By the time the band’s third album “Far Beyond Driven” was released, Dimebag Darrell was quickly becoming a guitar legend. His inimitable licks and unique style made him stand out both on and off the stage.
There were two more albums, a nearly fatal heroin overdose, and a bunch of other drama before the band finally split in 2003. Lead singer Phil Anselmo already had multiple side projects going (Down, Superjoint Ritual, and others), while the Abbott brothers (Dimebag and his brother/drummer Vinnie Paul) formed DamagePlan.
The Pantera split was anything but amicable, with all parties running to music magazines, radio shows, MTV, and anyone else who would listen to tell their side of the story. It was exciting to find out what was going to happen next with the feud.
No one could have predicted what would happen next.
On December 8th, 2004 (10 years ago today), DamagePlan was performing live in Columbus, Ohio when 25-year-old Nathan Gale entered the club, hopped on stage, and shot and killed Dimebag Darrell, along with three other people at the show and injuring two others.
I grew up listening to my parents’ music. I don’t remember when Janis Joplin or Jimi Hendrix died. I vaguely remember John Lennon’s death, and I do remember when Freddy Mercury died although it didn’t make a huge impact on me. But when my generation’s musicians started dying, like Kurt Cobain, it really sucked. And when Dimebag Darrell got shot on stage, I think collectively we all said, “Oh shit, that can happen?”
RIP Dimebag Darrell Abbott. August 20, 1966 -- December 8, 2004.
Thanksgiving morning, I decided to take a temporary break from Facebook. No big feud or particular drama proceeded this decision. I just woke up one day and decided I had seen enough pictures of other people’s pets for a while.
Like Number 5 from Short Circuit, I love input. I’m an information junkie. I regularly find myself meandering through Wikipedia, one click after the next. I can no longer watch a movie without having IMDB open while I’m watching it. I love listening to podcasts on a multitude of subjects and I love watching documentaries on Netflix, pretty much regardless of the topic. As I type this, our television is tuned to CNN.
But not all input is equal. Recently I’ve found myself distracted and overwhelmed by an onslaught of noise. On my computer, tablet, and phone, I’m constantly being fed information: how many miles people I barely know jog, links to urban myths that were debunked a decade ago, and pictures of other people’s dinner. I finally had to call a time out.
To its credit, Facebook does not make itself easy to walk away from. The Facebook icon on my phone has a small red number that tells me just how many things I’ve missed. It’s quantifiable. “Today, you missed 27 things.” Those things range from “someone you know sent you a message” to “someone you barely know liked a picture of sushi you posted two years ago.” When that little red number hits three digits (about every 48 hours) I launch the app, click “updates” (which clears the number, and close the app.
With Facebook messenger, not only do you get that little red number, but you also get a pleasant little “ding,” not unlike the sound one might hear if they got a question right on a gameshow. “Someone has messaged you, and you’re a winner!” I still check those.
From a completely narcissistic point of view, I miss sharing things with people. My neighbor put up a lot of Christmas lights. We ate Mexican food with some friends. I took the kids to basketball practice. We ate at a food truck. None of these topics warrant longer blog posts; at best, they’re minor points of conversation. By the time I encounter real people to tell these things too, most of them have been flushed from my cache.
For that matter, why is it that telling people I’m eating a hotdog seems perfectly normal, while telling someone “I ate a hotdog two weeks ago” seems at best awkward. Borderline creepy, really.
Approximately 42 times this week Susan has mentioned things to me about other people. Each of these factoids either begins or ends with the phrase “on Facebook.” “On Facebook, I saw Amy went on vacation.” “I saw Amy got a new car on Facebook.” Obviously Facebook is a convenient and rapid way of keeping tabs on what’s going on with people. I suppose if I had seen Amy in person in the past 20 years, the fact that she had purchased a 4 year old Kia would have affected me more.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not personally contributing much to the greater good either with my own updates. Skimming through my last few Facebook updates: I ate some pie, I hung a television on the wall, and I had a cat stand on my head.
Today at Morgan’s basketball game, my dad told me his mother is in the hospital. He heard via Facebook; I hadn’t heard at all. The side effect to excusing yourself to the world’s biggest social media site is you also excuse yourself from the primary way many people share information.
I don’t know how long I’ll steer clear of Facebook. There is peace in balance. Plus, my phone is quickly filling up with stupid pictures that I have nowhere else to share.
While the blog’s been more quiet than usual lately, I’ve recorded several podcasts over the past couple of weeks — two of which came out yesterday, in fact.
On the latest episode of You Don’t Know Flack I talk about the dedicated emulation PC I recently put together for our living room. It’s more of a high level look at such devices. I’m working on a more detailed article to go along with it that explains everything I did step by step.
My buddy Zerbinator and I recently started Rusted Metal, a podcast in which we discuss our favorite bands of the 80s. We’re going down the list alphabetically, so in episodes one and two we discussed AC/DC and Anthrax. We’ll be recording episode three this week in which we’ll be discussing Black Sabbath.
The WNUF Halloween Special is a copy of a copy of a VHS recording of a live news broadcast that took place on October 31, 1987. For those of you unfamiliar with the incident, during a live broadcast, news personality Frank Stewart along with acclaimed psychics Louis and Claire Berger and a Catholic priest (Father Joseph Matheson) were broadcasting live from the supposedly haunted Webber House (the site of a double murder) when they experienced paranormal activity. The live broadcast went dead, and none of the four were ever seen again.
The rest of this review is chock full of spoiler. If you plan on watching this movie, don’t read past the picture below. If you’re okay with spoilers, continue… if you dare.
If you’re wondering why you’ve never heard of the Webber murders, Frank Stewart, or WNUF for that matter, is because they’re not real. This film goes to great lengths to appear to be a VHS recording from the 1980s, but it was actually created and released in 2013. The filmmakers went as far as to record dozens of 80s-esque commercials which are sprinkled throughout the recording, and made multiple VHS copies of the movie to give it the look of a second-(or third or fourth)-hand tape that’s been copied and passed around among friends.
The film begins with a live news broadcast from October 31, 1987. After a few news stories presented by a couple of stereotypical broadcasters from the 80s, we get to Frank Stewart, who is doing a live remote broadcast from the Webber House. In the 1960s, Donald Webber, guided by a Ouija board, murdered his parents in the house and drug their decapitated bodies down into the basement. After the trial, the house was boarded up remained abandoned for 20 years. Twenty years later on Halloween night, the house is being unsealed (a’la “Geraldo and Al Capone’s Vault”) during a live broadcast. Joining Stewart during his broadcast are husband and wife psychics Louis and Claire Berger, their cat, and Catholic priest Father Joseph Matheson.
It’s pretty clear up front that Frank doesn’t believe the house is haunted, the psychics do, and the priest doesn’t know quite what to think. The psychics brought along their third partner, Shadow, a cat that is also psychic. Shadow quickly runs off which causes the four humans to go searching for him. They do eventually find Shadow — er, parts of Shadow, anyhow — which is one of our first signs that something is going on in the Webber house. During their search for the cat, the psychics’ EVM recording equipment is also smashed off screen.
Each of these segments are interrupted by commercials, which were created explicitly for this movie. As someone who grew up in the 80s I can tell you most of them are spot on. Some of them, like the ones for a local monster truck rally and the anti-drug ads (sponsored by “Parents Against Partying”) are spot on. The biggest giveaway that none of them are real is that none of them are for shows or products or businesses that you’ve ever heard of. Obviously the point is to add to the authenticity of the recording, and they certainly do that.
Anyone who has ever sat through an episode of Scooby-Doo should be able to predict the ending. While I won’t give everything away, the last five minutes contain more f-bombs than I was expecting. As viewers, we ultimately get to see footage that did not make it to the live broadcast, which makes one wonder just whose tape we are watching…
Part The Last Broadcast/Blair Witch, part retro-80s fun, the WNUF Halloween Special is better in theory than it is in production, but if you’re in to low budget thrillers and the 1980s, give it a watch. Expect it to become a Halloween cult classic in years to come.
Last month Susan decided to redecorate our front living room. I agreed, as long as the last step involved buying a new television and hanging it on the wall. We shook hands, and shortly after the new sectional, rug, and chaise lounge arrived, so did the new television.
This is the first television we’ve ever mounted to a wall. While that was relatively simple, it left us with a small stack of electronics piled on top of a TV tray.
I waited a week and the items did not organize themselves, so I decided I was going to have to do it.
My plan was to build a box — a box that hung on the wall and held four items: a computer, cable box, blu-ray player, and wireless streaming box. The PC has the biggest footprint of the four at 16″ deep, but I played around with some measurements and figured that if it were a foot deep it would look okay. Based on that, I bought one piece of wood, 8′ long and 1′ deep. With that, I built this:
It’s 2′ wide and 1′ tall. I offset the middle shelf a bit (the box is upside-down in this picture) so that the bottom shelf could hold the PC and the cable box, with the smaller/thinner items going on the top.
I then applied what I thought was a thin coat of wood putty to all the box’s imperfections. It turned out to be joint compound. After waiting a day for that to dry, I sanded 90% of that off. Unfortunately, while sanding it down, big chunks fell out of the cracks I had filled.
I then sanded some more, and repaired some more, and then after three days of messing with this stupid box, I put it out by the trash.
Today I found this little end table at Target. It holds all of our stuff, matches the room, and most importantly, was already assembled.
If anyone wants a mostly assembled box/shelf with more than a few imperfections, it’ll be out by the trash Monday morning.