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In the spring of 1995, my sister and her boyfriend were engaged, set to be married on August 19th of that same year. Their wedding plans fell through, but Susan and I had been living together for a couple of years by then and since all of our family in Chicago had already made plans to come to Oklahoma on August 19th we decided to get married on that same date.

All of this happened before I officially proposed.

When I was a kid, my parents would hide our Easter eggs the night before Easter after my sister and I had gone to sleep, and would make a list detailing where each egg was hidden. It’s a good system, one that prevents a forgotten, smelly egg from being discovered later in the spring.

Or summer.

The night before Easter of 1995, Susan and I sat down and colored eggs. Later that night I hid them in really hard to find places around the house. I then made a list of fourteen clues to help Susan find them the following morning. The final clue ib the list suggested that she go back and read the first letter of each clue. The first letter of each clue spelled out W.I.L.L.Y.O.U.M.A.R.R.Y.M.E.

It was perhaps not the most romantic of proposals, but it was definitely my style.

Here we are twenty years later, still coloring and hiding eggs.

I’ve written about Photon (the original Arena Laser Tag game) on my blog multiple times. I talked about the culture of Photon, my excitement when I learned that a new Photon center was opening just outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma and all about Jeff and my visit there. I also recorded a podcast episode of You Don’t Know Flack where I talked about Photon.

One thing I’ve never talked about were the paperback series of Photon books.

Despite being a huge fan of Photon, until I visited Jim Strother’s Photon arena in Tulsa I had no idea there even were Photon paperbacks. In the lobby of his arena, in a display counter under some scratched up glass, Jim had all seven books.

Upon my return to Oklahoma City I checked a few used book stores for the books and came up empty handed. I couldn’t find any copies available for sale online either, so I wrote off ever tracking them down.

Last month a friend of mine (who is working on a Photon-themed project) reminded me of the books. I checked online again and this time was able to find them all for sale. Seven online purchases and a few weeks of waiting later and I am now the proud (?) owner of all seven books.

There were two different series of books, so it makes sense to talk about them separately.

The first is book is titled Thieves of Light. It was written by Michael Hudson and there’s no series name but it doesn’t much matter as this is the only book in the series. From what I’ve gathered from the back of the book the plot sounds strikingly similar to The Last Starfighter, only in this book it is Christopher Jarvis who is plucked from earth due to his amazing laser-blasting skills and whisked away to participate in intergalactic battles for real under his new Photon name, Bhodi Li. From what I understand the book ends implying there will be more books to follow, but that wasn’t the case.

The second series consists of six books, all of which have the phrase “A Photon Adventure Novel” printed on the front cover. While the other series was intended for young adults, this series appears to have been written with teens in mind. The Adventure Novel series consists of six books: For the Glory, High Stakes, In Search of Mom, This is Your Life Bhodi Li, Exile, and Skin Deep. All six books were written by the prolific writer Peter David under the alias David Peters.

I wasn’t planning on picking these books up until I read the summary on the back of the first book. (The bold that appears below is my own for emphasis:

“ON EARTH, PHOTON IS A GAME and Christopher Jarvis is one of its best players — wielding his laser gun with high-scoring precision and razor-sharp skill.

“BUT IN SPACE, PHOTON IS FOR REAL and Christopher Jarvis becomes Bhodi Li — Photon Warrior – the newest recruit in the elite fighting corps. Their mission: to stop the dark Warlord of Arr in his savage conquest of the universe.

“FOR THE GLORY. Crossing the barriers of time, the Warlord plans to enlist Adolf Hitler in his evil ranks. And Chrisopher, now Bhodi Li, must face the brutal treacheries of World War II to fight these two deadly does… or surrender forever to ultimate darkness!

“DON’T MISS THE OTHER LASER-BLASTING PHOTON ADVENTURES!”

In case you missed it, let me point it out again. The dark Warlord of Arr’s plan to win Photon in outer space is go TRAVEL THROUGH TIME AND BRING BACK MOTHER FLIPPIN’ HITLER.

Oh yes. I HAD to own these.

For the record, six of the seven books can be picked up for a penny each plus shipping on Amazon. Roughly, that equated to four bucks per book. The last book of the series, Skin Deep… well, good look. The cheapest copy currently on Amazon is $150, and there are copies listed for $999. Apparently the series didn’t sell well and this last book may have been produced in lower numbers than the other. I didn’t pay $150 for my copy but I paid more than someone should pay for a paperback book about a bunch of laser-wielding kids battling Hitler in outer space. Fortunately by book six, Hitler is long gone (again). In Skin Deep, Baethan (a half-man, half-machine cyborg) is captured, cloned, and “reduced to a wimp,” so his friends must rally to help him regain his courage.

As I told my friend Jeff, every one of these books are bat-shit insane.

And now I own them. Thanks, Visa.

For what it’s worth, the cover artwork on the books also makes a great background for my phone.

Now I have to get to reading. Hitler awaits!

I first heard NBC’s Parks and Recreation described as “The Office set in a parks department.” I wasn’t done watching The Office when Parks began airing and I didn’t feel like watching two similar shows at the same time so I put Parks on the back burner. Because the show has almost been cancelled multiple times, I decided to wait until the series finally ended to begin marching through it. With the final episode airing just last month (February, 2015) I decided to sit down and binge watch all seven seasons (125 episodes) of the show.

In the pilot episode of Parks and Recreation we are introduced to Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), deputy director of the Department of Parks and Recreation in fictional Pawnee, Indiana, and many of her co-workers, including Tom, Donna, Jerry, Mark, April, and office manager Ron Swanson. In that episode, Leslie meets Ann Perkins and her boyfriend Andy Dwyer, who accidentally (while drunk) fell into a large pit left over from an abandoned construction project. Leslie and Ann make a pinky promise to turn the pit into a park, the primary story arc of the first season. Other than Mark (who was written out in the second season), all of these characters made it through the series and appear in the show finale. In the second season we stopped to pick up Chris (Rob Lowe) and Ben, auditors who arrive to slash the department’s budget but ultimately end up staying along for the ride.

I liked the bureaucracy and roadblocks the office constantly ran into when trying to get things accomplished within the government (let’s just say I could relate to it) and in fact, even though those roadblocks were often played for comedic effect, I often felt like they didn’t go far enough. Where the show lost me a bit was during the multiple romances. Within just a few seasons we had Ann dating Andy (and breaking up), Leslie dating Mark, Ann dating Mark, Ann dating Chris, Ann dating Tom, Tom divorcing Wendy, Ron dating Wendy, Leslie dating Dave, Leslie dating Ben, and Andy dating April — not to mention all the relationships the main characters had with non-starring characters (Ron’s ex-wives, the Tammys, and later his marriage, for example).

Like most shows there were large story arcs (the absorption of Pawnee’s rival city Eagleton, the Harvest Festival and Li’l Sebastian, Leslie Knope running for (and later removal from) City Council, with lots of small single-episode plots along the way. Season six concluded with an hour long, cameo filled episode focusing on the Unity Concert (designed to unite Pawnee and Eagleton) and felt like a show’s finale. In the last two minutes of the episode we leap forward 3 years (from 2014 to 2017), where we spend the show’s final season (7). In 2017, Knope is now the Regional Director of National Park Service. Although only some of the show regulars still work for the Park service, even those who have left (like Ron who started the Very Good Building Company and Tom who is busy running his new Bistro) still find themselves featured in each episode.

In the series finale (spoilers), we jump even further into the future (sometimes years, sometimes decades) and see the final fates of all our favorite characters. Due to the nature of sitcoms, none of them developed cancer or fell on hard times; instead, they all end up happy and successful and in many cases rich and famous. There must be something in Pawnee’s water supply. (Oh yeah: T-DAZZLE and H2Flow).

Fortunately the series stepped out from shadow of The Office and was ultimately able to stand on its own. I enjoyed following most of the characters throughout their collective journeys.

And now, to get back to the real world of government work. Please and thank you.

Susan, the kids and I spent spring break driving northeast and seeing awesome things!

The weekend before last we drove to Louisville, Kentucky. There we visited the Louisville Slugger Factory Tour, the Topps Card Museum (inside the Louisville Slugger Factory), the Churchill Downs Museum and Tour, and the Big Four Pedestrian Bridge.

From Louisville we headed to Washington DC. While in DC we visited the Smithsonian American History Museum, National History Museum, Air and Space Museum, and National Archives. We also visited the Spy Museum and took a side road trip to Pennsylvania to visit the Stoogeum, the official Three Stooges Museum.

After Susan and the kids hit the road toward Oklahoma, I stayed behind and continued up to Buffalo, New York to meet my buddy Sean and his family. Sean and his family were excellent hosts and not only did I get a complete tour of their town (Tonawanda) but I also got to sample many of their favorite restaurants.

By the time we pulled back into our driveway we had added another 3,450 miles to Susan’s car and visited Missouri, Kentucky (for the first time), Illinois, Indiana, West Virginia, Washington DC, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York. I just finished updating my States I’ve Visited page. I have four states left and expect to hit them all in 2015.

I’ll be posting a few pictures and recounting some of the museums over the next few days. For now… I rest.

Here’s the last entry in my “getting things to work in a DOS machine running in VMWare Player” series: how to get a DOS machine running inside VMWare Player to recognize a USB flash drive.

Before starting, here’s a quick DOS refresher: natively, DOS will not read FAT32 drive partitions, and FAT16 partitions (also simply known as FAT) had a 2 GB partition limit size. If you plan on reading/writing to a USB stick and/or external hard drive, you’ll need to make sure that it meets the above requirements (FAT16 and less than 2 GB in size).

I was able to get everything working with an 8 GB USB stick, using the instructions found at the following site (http://superuser.com/questions/202160/how-do-i-format-my-8-gb-usb-drive-to-fat-fat16-in-windows-7). If you’re doing this from a Windows machine, you’ll need to use DISKPART to blow away the current partition on the USB stick and create a smaller one. Note that I don’t believe Windows supports multiple partitions on a USB stick, so if you use a large USB stick for this you may end up with a lot of wasted space. In the below list of commands I created a 500 MB partition on my USB stick. From a DOS prompt:

DISKPART
DISKPART> list disk
DISKPART> select disk 1 (*)
DISKPART> list part
DISKPART> clean
DISKPART> create part primary size=500
DISKPART> active
DISKPART> format fs=fat quick
DiskPart successfully formatted the volume.
DISKPART> assign

Before we begin, I am assuming you have already have a MS-DOS machine running in VMWare and have followed the steps above to create a compatible USB stick. Note that I could NOT get this to work on my laptop using a USB 3.0 port, but that it seemed to work fine using a USB 1.1/2.0 port (YMMV).

Next, you’ll need to download the necessary USB DOS files. I needed three files to get everything working: USBASPI.SYS, USBCD.SYS, and DI1000DD.SYS. I have created a floppy disk image containing these three files, which you can download here: network.zip. Download, extract, and mount as a floppy disk image in VMWare Player.

Next, on your virtual DOS machine, add the following 3 lines (under USB Support) to your CONFIG.SYS file and the one line to your AUTOEXEC.BAT file. Note that in my example I have a few extra lines as I have added CD-ROM support to my MS-DOS VM Machine as well.


For what it’s worth, on this FreeDOS page I found the following USBASPI switches:

/e EHCI spec (USB 2.0)
/o OHCI spec (newer USB 1.x)
/u UHCI spec (older USB 1.x)

/w Wait, displays text message for attaching or swapping USB devices
/v Verbose, shows status messages – recommended
/l[=n] LUN, specifies highest LUN # to be attached to device ID (default=0)

Next, reboot the DOS VM. Because we used the /w switch, the machine will prompt us when it is time to attach the USB device to the VM. When prompted, connect the USB stick to the VM through the menu system (see below).

The machine will continue to boot and, if everything worked properly, you should now be able to access your USB stick from the DOS VM. Note that every single time I did this, the first time I tried accessing the drive, I got an “Invalid media type” error when accessing the drive. When I tried it a second time, it worked.

Using EDIT, I created DOSFILE.TXT while inside the DOS VM and saved it to the USB stick. I created WINFILE.TXT using Notepad in Windows 7 and was able to access it from the DOS VM.

I have a physical DOS machine that I have set up to dual boot with Windows 98 so I can connect it to my local network and transfer files to and from the machine. With this now working, I may repurpose the machine as a dedicated DOS machine and simply use a USB stick to transfer software to and from the machine.

The irony of this information is that it’s not new, just forgotten. There was a time when many of us ran DOS as our primary operating system, used CD-Rom drives, and thought nothing of it. Most CD-Rom drives came with an installation disk that copied over the specific drivers needed and added the appropriate lines to your config.sys and autoexec.bat files. Unfortunately when building a DOS virtual machine, those drivers and configuration tweaks are not included by default. Here’s how to quickly add CD-Rom support to a DOS VMWare machine.

01. Start DOS virtual machine.
02/ After machine has booted, connect “cd-install.flp” to the floppy drive.
(Note: to release the mouse from the DOS window, press CTRL and ALT)
03. Type A:\INSTALL.BAT and press ENTER.
04. Reboot the DOS virtual machine.

You can download the floppy disk image I created (cd-install.flp) HERE (unzip).

If you would like to manually install the drivers, do the following:

01. Mount the CD-Install.flp floppy disk image.
02. Copy OAKCDROM.SYS from a:\ to c:\dos
03. Add the following line to AUTOEXEC.BAT:

LH C:\DOS\MSCDEX.EXE /D:MSCD001 /L:D

04. Add the following lines to CONFIG.SYS:

DEVICE=C:\DOS\HIMEM.SYS
DEVICEHIGH=C:\DOS\OAKCDROM.SYS /D:MSCD001

[Note that some examples also add LASTDRIVE=Z. This is not necessary until you are connecting to a network, and actually uses more RAM. If you are not connecting your DOS VM to a network don’t bother with this line. DOS by default allocates 5 drives (A-E).[

Once you reboot the machine you should see the CD-Rom drivers successfully load. You can now attach to the physical CD-Rom in your host machine to read physical CDs, or mount virtual CD-Rom ISO files and use those. I used Free WinISO Maker 5.3 (which is totally free; registration information is included in the download) to create an ISO file of a directory which the DOS machine was able to read.

This configuration appears to be stable and works well for running business applications. I tried running two games on this VM (Prince of Persia and Pinball Fantasies) both ran slowly and eventually crashed the system. DosBOX is still must more compatible and stable for gaming IMHO.

If you are trying to set up TCP/IP in a FreeDOS machine running in VMWare and connect it to a network, this is the post for you. If you are not trying to do that, this is not the post for you. See you tomorrow.

Also, I don’t know why you’re trying to build a virtual machine using VMWare, installing FreeDOS on that virtual machine, and trying to get TCP/IP working. It’s not for me to ask. If you’re here, I’m assuming that for whatever reason DOSBox didn’t meet your needs and you need to set this up. I’m sure you have your reasons.

Things you’re going to need:

01. VMWare Player (Free Download)
02. FreeDOS ISO (Free Download)
03. Command-line networking files (*1)
04. DOS network drivers for VMWare (*1)
05. mTCP (*2)

*1: I have created a floppy disk image with all these files: protman.zip
*2: I have created a floppy disk image with all mTCP files: mTCP.zip

With all of those files you are ready to begin.

Step one: Install VMWare Player

Step two: Create a new virtual machine. Select installer disc image and use the FreeDOS ISO image.

(We are now assuming you have a working FreeDOS virtual machine running in VMWare Player.)

Step three: On the VM, create a directory called C:\NETWORK

Step four: Inside C:\NETWORK, use EDIT to create a text file called PROTOCOL.INI. Put the following information in PROTOCOL.INI:

[protman]
DriverName=PROTMAN$

[PCNTND]
DriverName=PCNTND$

[PKTDRV]
drivername=PKTDRV$
bindings=PCNTND
intvec=0x60
chainvec=0x68

Step five: Mount the protman.flp floppy disk image. Copy all the files into C:\NETWORK on the VM.

Step six: Add the following lines to fdconfig.sys:

DEVICE=C:\NETWORK\PROTMAN.DOS /I:C:\NETWORK
DEVICE=C:\NETWORK\PCNTND.DOS
DEVICE=C:\NETWORK\DIS_PKT.DOS

(Note: If you are using MS-DOS instead of FreeDOS, put the lines in config.sys instead.)

Step seven: Add the following line to autoexec.bat:

C:\NETWORK\NETBIND.COM

Step eight: Create a folder called C:\MTCP. Mount the MTCP.FLP floppy disk image. Copy all the files from that image to C:\MTCP.

Step nine: Reboot the machine (In FreeDOS, simply type REBOOT)

Step ten: Once the machine has rebooted, the network drivers should be properly loaded.

Step eleven: Change to the MCTP directory. Type DHCP to obtain a DHCP address.

(Note: If you would prefer to use a static IP address, you’ll need to do the following:

– Create a file called TCP.CFG (mine is under C:\NETWORK) and put the following lines in the file:

PACKETINT 0x60
IPADDR 192.168.1.x
NETMASK 255.255.255.0
GATEWAY 192.168.1.1
NAMESERVER 192.168.1.x
MTU 1500
HOSTNAME DOSMachine

– Add the following line to autoexec.bat:

set MTCPCFG=C:\NETWORK\TCP.CFG

This will set your machine up to use a static IP instead of DHCP.

Step twelve: You should now have an IP address and be connected to the network. You can use the MTCP tools to ping, telnet, use FTP, or connect to websites.

That should be everything you need to get up and running! Tomorrow I’ll talk a little bit about getting USB devices to work in on a virtual DOS machine.

NOTE (3/7/15): I have NOT been able to get NET commands (net share, net view, etc) to work with this build. NET gives me a “file not found” error. I have pulled the net files (net.exe, net.hlp, etc) from WFW311 and continue to get prompted to turn the networking service on. Right now, the easiest ways to move files to/from the VM are to use floppy disk images, ISO images, or to launch ftpd.exe from the mTCP tools and connect to the VM using an FTP client (anonymous) and move files to/from the machine that way.

Recently a fellow writer told me he was considering self-publishing his next book because he was “tired of all the crap that goes along with writing that’s not writing.” Specifically, he told me he just wanted to wear his “writing hat” for a while.

I had bad news for my friend. Self-publishing requires wearing a lot more hats than just your “writing” one.

The minute you’re done with your writer’s hat you’ll be putting on your editing hat. Editing your own writing (I mean really editing it) is hard — too hard for most people, in fact. Oh, fixing spelling and grammar mistakes is the easy stuff. It’s those big edits that make it hard (gut wrenching at times). I’m not talking about removing paragraphs, I’m talking about removing entire chapters. Or characters. As a writer your job is to create stories; as an editor, your job is to tear them apart and rebuild them. If it seems as if the two hats have conflicting agendas, many times they do. I’ve read that an author’s job is to write as many words as needed and an editor’s job is to cut as many words as possible. It’s a difficult thing to do, especially to your own babies.

In this day and age you’ll need a technical support hat. Chances are you already know your way around a word processor, and that’s great, but that’s just the beginning. Even before I finished writing my latest book (Gastric Steps) I had registered the GastricSteps.com domain and set up a related Facebook Group and Twitter Account. I set up WordPress on the website and linked it to the social media accounts so they all share information.

To sell Commodork and Invading Spaces as eBooks I had to convert the original source files to PDF, set up PayPal merchant links, and automatic downloads. I’m in the process of recording and releasing all of my books as audio books, which requires a whole new set of skills. None of this stuff was impossible to figure out, but if any of this sounds like techno-jumble you should consider finding the biggest computer nerd you know and purchasing them a cake, or some cookies, or a gift certificate to Thinkgeek.com.

I also find myself wearing my artistic hat from time to time. I designed the front and back covers to both of my books. At a minimum, you’ll need to know how to layout any photos if your book contains any. If your book requires drawings or illustrations, you may find yourself creating those, too. The artistic guy works a lot with the technical guy when designing website logos, banners, and advertisements.

The hat I like wearing the least is the one that’s most important when it comes to selling your work: your public relations hat. You know those friends of yours on Facebook and Twitter who won’t stop posting about their latest Kickstarter, or those co-workers who are constantly trying to get you to buy something to support their kid’s fundraiser? Congratulations; you’re about to become one (if you plan on selling anything, that is).

Everybody who self-publishes can sell 50 or so copies of their book to family members and co-workers who will gladly fork over a few bucks to own a copy of your vampire-themed romance novel simply because it has your name on the cover. When those sales dry up, the real work begins. A recent article on TechCrunch.com noted that Amazon currently has 3.4 million books for sale and is adding a new one every five minutes. That’s a lot of books. To not get lost in the crowd you’ll need to use those social media accounts your tech guy set up for you. (That was you with a different hat on, by the way.)

When I released Commodork I purchased table space at multiple video game conventions where I sold and signed books and stood around talking about old computers with strangers until I was hoarse and my feet hurt. I set up interviews with magazines, pestered website owners, launched a related podcast, and purchased advertisements. Two years later when I released Invading Spaces I did it all over again. I gave speeches at Defcon and Notacon about self-publishing, and one at the Oklahoma Electronic Gaming Expo where I talked about collecting arcade games. I wrote press releases about my books and sent them to the local newspaper. My wife printed up business cards for me and I handed them out. If you hate talking about yourself and your books, you’ll hate wearing this hat.

As much as I dislike it, occasionally I write articles about self-publishing and add links to my books Commodork and Invading Spaces (grumble).

When those sales start rolling in you’ll need to put on your shipping hat. When you put this hat on it’s time to roll up your sleeves.

I order my books 50 copies at a time through Lulu.com. When they arrive I unbox them and place them in stacks in my garage. As people order them I autograph them, place them inside priority mail flat rate envelopes ($5.75), and drop them off at the post office. Because my local post office is only open when I am at work, I spend a lot of time at the self-service machine. It takes me roughly three minutes per package to swipe all the required screens and punch in the address (required, even though I have it hand-written on the package as well). When my books were first released and sales were higher, multiple sales each week meant multiple trips to the post office each week. I understand you can print postage from your home now. I really should look into that.

Finally, while not limited to self-publishers, you’ll want to keep your accounting hat close by. I sell my books electronically through Amazon; in turn, at the end of each year, they send me tax forms. They also direct deposit my monthly earnings into my bank account and sometimes things get confusing. I didn’t keep good records of how many books I actually sold throughout the years, something I regret now.

It goes without saying that some or all of these hats can be outsourced. Outsourcing typically equates to money, so if you’re looking to hire an editor, a tech-support guy, or a publicist, shop around and make sure you’re getting your money’s worth. So far I’ve worn all of these hats myself, but I can tell you there are times when I wish I hadn’t.

In the end I suppose that’s why they call it self-publishing and not self-writing.

Metadata is defined as “a set of data that describes and gives information about other data.”

Most people associate metadata with digital photos. When you take a picture with your iPhone for example, a lot of additional information is saved along with your photo. EXIF metadata includes the settings of your camera, like the shutter speed, whether or not you used a flash, and the focal length. GPS metadata includes the latitude, longitude, and altitude of where you took the picture. TIFF metadata stores information about the make and model of your camera, the picture’s original resolution, and any software used to edit the picture. (Some websites, like Facebook and Twitter, strip the metadata out of your photos when you upload them. This prevents people from downloading your photos and determining where you live.)

EXIF, GPS and TIFF are examples of automatic metadata. They are automatically generated and stored inside your pictures. There’s also manual metadata that can be added to photos. Using different programs you can do things like rate your photos, add locations and categories or tag who is in each one. This becomes very handy if you have a large digital photo collection that you would like to be able to sort or query very quickly. Given the right tags, you would be able to search for all pictures taken on beaches, for example. Like anything, manual metadata is only as good as the data and effort you are willing to input.

While standing in my grandmother’s kitchen the day of her funeral, it hit me that the physical items we own — our “stuff” — has metadata, too. The vast majority of this metadata is stored in our heads.

I don’t even have to move for an example.

On my writer’s desk in the living room are three mannequin dolls used by artists: a small one, a medium-sized one, and a large one. As for data, you could measure how tall they are, what kind of wood they are made of, and what position they are currently in.

I bought the medium-sized one during a trip to Hobby Lobby when I was convinced I was going to become an artist. I bought roughly $100 worth of markers at the same time. The medium-sized one ended up not being as articulate as I had hoped for so I went back and bought the large one a few days later. For a while the medium-sized one sat on our entry table. Each time Susan or I passed it we would arrange him in a new goofy position. Around Christmas, Morgan went into a store and purchased the smallest one for me. It’s a keychain. He doesn’t up very well on his own but he’s probably my favorite because Morgan bought him for me as a gift.

That’s metadata, and everything physical thing I own has it. Attached to almost everything I own is how I acquired it, what I paid for it, and the last thing I did with it. The skeleton finger puppet sitting on my desk came from my mom’s house on Halloween. The videogame-themed coasters on my desk were made by my children; if I close my eyes, I can still see them making them. The marshmallow scented candle on my desk was purchased by Susan for me. We spotted it together in Big Lots once and I told her the scent made me imagine cooking s’mores with her in a lakeside cabin.

Gah, I really need to clean my desk off.

Sitting on top of my tape deck upstairs are a stack of cassette tapes. Most of them are cassettes I purchased from local bands at concerts. The stack contains cassettes from Eternal Decision, Forte’, Pitch Black, Cotton Mouth, Hollow Kriez, and several others. Another pile contains cassettes full of songs I recorded off the radio in the 1980s. Listening to them takes me back to my childhood bedroom.

Someday, when I die, someone will walk into my computer room, spy those cassette tapes, and either toss them in a donate pile or, more likely, into a trash can. To me, they are irreplaceable treasures. To somebody else, without that metadata, they’re garbage — anonymous music stored on outdated media.

Sitting on my bookshelf is a book titled “Maybe You Should Write a Book” by Ralph Daigh. It’s a compilation of articles written by authors and editors. It was published in 1979 and, as such, contains no reference to the internet or word processors or even computers for that matter. Then again, this book isn’t about the mechanics of writing. It’s more of an motivational book.

I purchased the book in 2004 from a used book store in Tulsa. I had already begun piecing together a document titled “The Jack Flack Manifesto” which would eventually evolve into Commodork. For months I didn’t even read “Maybe You Should Write a Book.” I just put it on the shelf above my computer and looked at the cover each day before I sat down to write. Eventually I did read it. I’ve read it a few times now. Daigh’s book is intertwined with the memories of writing my own. It empowered me.

You can buy a copy off of Amazon for a penny, plus shipping. The book is literally not worth the paper it’s written on.

When I look at my shelves of Star Wars action figures, I can tell which ones Santa brought me in 1978 and which ones I’ve picked up over the years to add to the collection. In my garage I have t-shirts I wore on dates, the old computer I used to run my BBS on, and my old Dungeons and Dragons dice. I have handwritten notes from high school girlfriends, concert ticket stubs, hats I bought on vacation, a shelf full of Donkey Kong figures and over a thousand old 5 1/4″ floppy disks.

All of it priceless.

All of it worthless.

That’s metadata for you.

We spent most of the past weekend indoors, snowed in. A wintery storm delivered snow on the roads and piled ice on top of that. It wasn’t an end-of-the-world snowpocalypse by any stretch, but the roads were slick and we decided to listen to the news and stay at home off the roads as much as possible.

Susan came up with the idea of having a movie-making competition between the four of us. She came up with this idea around 10am and declared a 2pm cut off time. After the video were done we decided to post them on Facebook and let people “vote” for their favorite by clicking “like” on the ones they liked the best. Here are the videos:


Mason’s “Snowball Fight”


Morgan’s “Ted the Spider”


Susan’s “Beauty in the Snow”


Rob’s “Snow”

Everybody came up with their own movie ideas. Mason and Morgan shot their entries with their phones and edited them using iMovie. Susan shot hers with her camera, and edited it with Windows Movie Maker. I shot mine with my Flipcam and edited it with Sony Vegas.

In the end the contest was too close to call so we declared a four-way tie for first place. I guess the next time it snows we will have to make more movies!

PS: My friend Bruce made the following video, which we all loved!