Last week, a high school student was prevented from walking across the stage at his high school graduation ceremony because he had a beard. Before I got a chance to write about that, I read another story about a local Native American student was was prevented from wearing a beaded cap during graduation. Earlier in the year, a student was suspended for dying her hair a non-natural color.
I have a message for these and all oppressed youths who are being held back by the man and prevented from expressing themselves and doing whatever they want regardless of established rules: get used to it.
Back when I worked for Mazzio’s Pizza, the employee handbook explicitly forbid facial hair. If you showed up to work with a five o’clock shadow, there was a rusty community razor and bar of soap next to the sink that you could use to scrape your face with. If you weren’t willing to do that, you were sent home (without pay of course) and written up. On your third write up — not just for this, but any infraction — you were fired, and nobody wrote a newspaper article about it.
When I worked for Pizza Hut, I served as a shift supervisor on some nights and a delivery driver on others. Shift supervisors had to wear long black pants, while delivery drivers could wear black shorts. One day I showed up to work in shorts (thinking I was going to be delivering pizzas) but instead that night I was scheduled to be the shift supervisor. My manager, who knew I lived fifteen minutes away from the store, sent me home to go change into long pants.
Last month I attended an awards ceremony at Mason’s school, where Mason is one of 550+ eighth graders. For each subject, all the school’s teachers took the stage and handed out certificates to their star students — somewhere between five and ten students per teacher. Each student was called by name to walk up to the stage and accept his or her certificate. There were probably fifty kids on stage by the time all the math teachers had presented their awards. Then they moved on to science, history, English, Spanish, French, the vocal and drama departments, and so on before moving on to things like the Model UN, journalism, the academic bowl, and other school sponsored activities. Even if your kid hadn’t been on stage yet — no child left behind, right? — they still had a shot at the academic awards, in which every kid with a 3.5 average or better (A’s and B’s) received one. Toward the end, they hand out awards for going to school every day. Here’s a picture I took (from the back row, sorry) of some of our special snowflakes on stage:
I’ve told this story before, but one time when Mason was in grade school he come home and told me that it was Field Day. Field Day is an elementary school’s version of the Olympics, where kids compete in events like the high jump and races of varying lengths. For some reason as a kid I was pretty good at the long jump, but that was about it. If I was lucky I’d come home with a ribbon or two (at least one said “Participation” on it) and bide my time until the Spelling Bee rolled around. When I asked Mason if he won any ribbons on his Field Day, he looked at me with that same weird look kids give you when you try to explain to them what payphones were. Of course he got a ribbon, because everybody got a ribbon, because everybody always gets a ribbon. How can you give just one kid a ribbon? That’s favoritism.
That’s also why an 8th grade awards ceremony takes three hours to sit through — because at the end, we’re handing out awards for “coming to school.” The only thing stopping them from handing out certificates for simply being alive is the fact that the mother of some deceased child would probably sue them for discriminating against the dearly departed, and the next year they would have to give out awards to every child that passed away.
Back when I worked at Grandy’s, another cook and I discovered that the outside lighting wasn’t grounded properly, and every time you touched anything metal in the kitchen after dark it would shock the bejesus out of you. Any time you washed dishes, your arms tingled like when you stick your tongue to a nine volt battery. After complaining for weeks to management (who suggested we stand on plastic tubs while doing the dishes) we convinced another employee to call OSHA for us. Our manager told us if he ever found out who called them, he would fire us on the spot.
Look, high school sucks. You have to go, they make the rules, and you have to follow them. It is a card game in which students hold no cards and are forced to sit at the table. If you don’t like the school’s policy against facial hair, the way to fight it is before graduation. Talk to a teacher or an administrator. Go to a board meeting and voice your opinion. Start a newspaper or a petition (or, more likely, a Facebook page — whatever) and rally the troops. Disobeying the man is not the same as fighting him. That’s a hard concept to explain to a generation of kids with more awards than passion.
If nothing else, these kids were lucky to have learned life’s not fair early on. Start ignoring your company’s dress code or grooming policy and see how far that gets you. In the real world, which you are entering the day you graduate high school, you can’t simply break the rules you don’t agree with and not expect consequences. If anyone walks out of high school thinking otherwise, we have truly failed them.
Wearing Star Wars clothing is a fun way to tell people around you that you love the greatest trilogy of films ever. Or, perhaps it’s a way to tell them that you’re a giant dork. Either way, I have several Star Wars ties and shirts that I wear on occasion, but one item that gets more wear than any of them is this baseball cap.
I struggle to find more to say about it than “it’s a baseball cap that looks like a stormtrooper’s helmet,” but I’ll try. I bought this hat several years ago at the mall. I’ve had it long enough that we’ve had to wash it multiple times to try and keep it white. Based on the above picture, it’s due another round.
There’s nothing on the back of the hat, so when you wear it backwards (like I normally do) it just looks like a white hat.
The inside has a pretty cool pattern, although nobody except things living on my scalp ever sees it. I have another hat of the same brand that looks like Boba Fett’s helmet. I have a green shirt and a pair of matching Nike shoes that makes it more of an outfit.
I occasionally get comments from people when I wear it, which is exactly why I wear it.
I don’t really consider Star Wars branded clothing to be part of my collection proper, but it’s a fun way to find other fans of the franchise and perhaps strike up a conversation while out of the house and away from the computer.
Over the holiday weekend Susan and I stopped by a thrift store, where I ran across this disgustingly dirty Nintendo Wii for $20. Usually when I find a cheap Wii for sale it means the optical (DVD) drive has died, but I had other plans for one so I decided to take a gamble. The bundle had a power supply, Wiibar, and video cable, but no Wiimotes.
Ten minutes later after a quick coating of Fantastik, we were in business.
With everything connected (and a borrowed Wiimote from the other Wii) I fired it up with my fingers crossed.
So, it booted right up. You can see the previous owner had Netflix installed and a few other apps. The next test was to insert a game and see if the internal optical drive was any good or not.
No dice. The error reads, “An error has occurred. Press the Eject Button and remove the disc, then turn the Wii console off and refer to the Wii Operations Manual for help troubleshooting.”
This is unfortunately a common fate for Nintendo Wii consoles. The internal optical drive dies, and when it does, most people toss them into the trash. Nintendo will (or at least would) replace the internal drive for $90, but you can buy refurbished consoles at GameStop for $60, so replacing the drive doesn’t make much sense. In some cases it is possible to replace only the drive’s lens, but… good luck with that operation.
There is an alternative, however — the soft mod. This only works on the original-style Wii (not the newer “Wii-Mini”). I modded my first Wii in 2010 and things have only got easier since then. Once the machine is soft modded, you’ll be able to do all sorts of cool things — including loading game ISOs from a connected USB hard drive.
But first, a hurdle. The original owner had set a security PIN code, which prevented me from formatting the Wii and/or modifying it. I tried “1111” and “1234” with no luck before resorting to Google. The first website I found, Nintendo’s, said they could reset it for 50 cents. Seriously. Nintendo wants 50 cents for the reset code! Fortunately, the second link Google returned was to this page, which will generate a parental control password reset code for you (for free). With the console unlocked, I was able to format the machine and move forward.
With the machine formatted, I grabbed an SD card and followed the instructions on this page. Unlocking the Wii took about 5-10 minutes, once I had everything downloaded. Note that for the original style Wii, as long as the firmware isn’t too new, you don’t need to open the unit to mod it. It’s all done through a package which installs from the SD card slot. Clever!
And that’s really all there is to it. I went into more detail in this post from 2010, but now that the Wii has been modded it can read games directly from an external USB hard drive. I used Wii Backup Manager to backup my original Wii games. What you will do is connect an external USB hard drive to your PC, insert a Wii disc into your PC’s DVD drive, and use Wii Backup Manager to copy your games (one at a time) over to the external hard drive. Once you have finished, you connect the USB drive to the Wii’s USB port and with help from another program (I use USBLoaderGX), you can play your Wii games right off the external hard drive. No optical drive or discs required!
I know that this workaround is used more for piracy than anything else, but as I mentioned on that previous entry I wrote, this was a great way for me to let my kids play the Wii without having to worry about them scratching up my original games. Now, six years later, I’ve found another use for it — an inexpensive way to breath life back into a Nintendo Wii someone else had tossed away.
Mason had one of his friends spend the night last night. While I was driving them to 7-11 to buy some party snacks at 10 p.m. (because that’s what cool dads do), the boys had a discussion about whether they should learn to play guitar or the drums.
“Drums are louder, but guitars sound cooler,” said Mason’s friend.
I’ve been a guitar guy my whole life. When I was five or six years old, I used to practice my guitar skills by “playing” baseball bats and tennis rackets. When I was in second grade, Santa brought me my first guitar, a red, acoustic one that got more use as a prop in home videos than it did anywhere else.
That’s my buddy Andy on the “drums,” a set of brown pillows.
That red guitar made appearances in lots of home movies.
Decked out in sunglasses, a trucker hat, and a Chicago Bears vest, in this video I bang on the guitar for several minutes while shouting “look out, Mick Jagger!” for some unknown reason.
I actually did get a set of drums, when I was ten years old. I remember them being in my room for a little bit and then I remember them being in the garage for a little bit and then I remember them being gone. I don’t remember what happened to them but my daughter had this little electronic toy that never stopped making noise and one night while she was sleeping I took the batteries out of it and threw it into the garbage. I suspect my drums might have met a similar fate.
This is me in the mid-90s, still playing guitar and acting like a fool in front of the video camera…
…and here I am a year or two later, doing the same thing with Mr. Moonpie.
These days, my guitars spend more time hanging on the wall than they do hooked up to amplifiers. The world has enough bad versions of “Iron Man” out there without my contributions.
When I tell my friends that my writing professor (Deborah Chester) wrote the book on writing genre fiction, I’m being quite literal. Okay, so maybe she didn’t write the book on writing genre fiction, but she wrote a book on the subject, and a darned good one too. It’s called The Fantasy Fiction Formula, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. In 264 pages, Chester walks you step-by-step through the process of writing a fiction novel.
If you have stared at a blank computer screen wondering where to start, or started writing a novel only to hit a dead end and wonder what to do next, this is the book you are looking for. This book walks you through the entire process of writing a fictional novel from beginning to end, from creating characters and plots to writing dramatic openings and grand climaxes. This book won’t tell you what to write about, but if you have an idea and don’t know how to begin (or end), this book will help you, guaranteed. As someone who has both read the book and attended Ms. Chester’s novel writing class, I can tell you that this book and her class are very similar. I would never trade the opportunity of having a published author read my work and offer me feedback and advice in person, but if taking a graduate level course on writing in Norman, Oklahoma isn’t in the cards for you, this book is the next best thing.
As I stated in my review of the book on Amazon.com, my only minor quibble is with the book’s name. From my Amazon review:
My only (very minor) complaint with the book is with its title — specifically, the word “fantasy.” While most of Deborah Chester’s books are works of fantasy and science-fiction, the techniques included here apply to every genre of fiction writing. If you’re not specifically writing fantasy, don’t let the title scare you away. No matter what type of genre fiction you are writing, the formulas presented here will work for you!
Deborah Chester recently did a six-part podcast interview with the Manchester University Press, who (for some unknown reason) has buried the links to the podcast deep within the bowels of their website. Here are the links:
Fantasy Fiction Formula interview with Deborah Chester: Part 1
Fantasy Fiction Formula interview with Deborah Chester: Part 2
Fantasy Fiction Formula interview with Deborah Chester: Part 3
Fantasy Fiction Formula interview with Deborah Chester: Part 4
Fantasy Fiction Formula interview with Deborah Chester: Part 5
Fantasy Fiction Formula interview with Deborah Chester: Part 6
Each episode is about ten minutes long and touches on one of the subjects covered in the book. They’re not a substitute for reading the book, but they’ll give you an idea as to whether or not the book is right for you.
Congratulations to my professor on her book and the podcast interviews! I know that in a few years after I have forgotten everything I learned in class, I will still have this book for reference material!
Back in January at the beginning of last semester, I created a side blog (write.robohara.com) to track the creation of my novel. The semester’s over and my work on the novel is done, so yesterday afternoon I exported all the posts, deleted the blog, and imported them over here into the Writing category if you want to read them. If you subscribe to email updates for this blog, it’s possible you received a flurry of emails from my website when I imported them. Sorry about that.
I got the grade for my novel’s rough draft back last week. I got an A-. I also got some valuable feedback on ways to improve things from my professor. This time around I didn’t take the critiques as personal criticism. I framed them as, “here are things you could do to make your novel better.” That helped take a lot of the sting out of them. In fact, I didn’t feel any sting at all this time. Instead, I feel motivated to retool the novel a bit and possibly shop it around. It’s not really the genre or style of novel I plan on writing long term, but it might be worth shopping around just for the experience.
I’m not taking any classes this semester, so I plan to use the extra time developing another novel for next semester along with keeping my skills sharp with a few short story ideas I have floating around.
Thanks to everyone who supported me along the way. I’m excited about what the future might hold.
Earlier this week, (geeky) news outlets reported that Wes Copeland has achieved a “perfect” game of Donkey Kong with a score of 1,218,000. While the truth of the matter is a bit more complicated than that, it is true that we are not likely to see a higher score on Donkey Kong any time soon.
If you’re into classic arcade games, you probably know that Donkey Kong has what is known as a “kill screen” — a point where the game simply crashes. Several other classic 8-bit arcade games (including Pac-Man and Dig Dug) also have kill screens, typically the result of poor variable handling.
In some games, this leads to a finite score ceiling. For example, the highest possible score in Pac-Man is 3,333,360. I am ashamed that I didn’t have to look that up. In Pac-Man, the player’s current level is stored in a single eight-bit binary register. That means level 0 is represented as 00000000 in binary, level 1 is 00000001, level 2 is 00000010, and so on. The largest number you can store here is 255, which is represented as 11111111. When the player beats level 255, the machines tries to increase the level to 256. Since 256 can’t be stored in a single 8-bit memory location, this is what happens:
Every level in Pac-Man contains a finite number of points. Each level has 240 dots, 4 power pellets, and 4 ghosts than can be eaten a total of 4 times. If you eat everything possible (all the dots, power pellets, ghosts and fruit) on every single level without dying, congratulations — that’s a perfect game of Pac-Man. Your score will be 3,333,360.
Donkey Kong is different. In Pac-Man, there’s a maximum number of points that can be achieved on each level. In Donkey Kong, there’s not, because many of the scoring events are random. For example, if you jump over a single barrel in Donkey Kong you’ll earn 100 points, but if you jump two at a time you’ll earn 300 points (three will get you 500). There are techniques that can help you group barrels together in order to maximize your score, but in some cases it just comes down to luck. Occasionally you’ll jump a barrel and get no points at all. It’s not fair, but it happens.
The goal of Donkey Kong is to score as many points as possible before the game crashes. In King of Kong, Steve Wiebe scored 1,064,500 points in Donkey Kong before reaching the kill screen. A year later, Hank Chien was able to score 1,064,500, but since then, people have found additional methods of “point pushing,” or intentionally running up the score. At one point it was thought that 1,100,000 was the game’s ceiling. In September of 2015, Wes Copeland scored 1,170,500 points. Six hours later, Robbie Lakeman scored 1,172,100.
The reason for these tiny increases in score is that it takes roughly three hours to reach the kill screen in Donkey Kong. For three hours, players must not only avoid dying, play an essentially perfect game and squeeze every single point possible out of the game, but also be lucky. In the case of Copeland and Lakeman’s scores, a difference of 1,600 points is literally collecting two additional 800 point items over the three-hour game’s play time.
Wes Copeland’s current score of 1,218,000 represents all of that — a game in which Copeland not only didn’t die (which allowed him to use his extra men to play the level prior to the last level multiple times and gain extra points), but every single lucky coin flip went his way. For someone to beat Copeland’s latest score, someone would have to play another perfect game of Donkey Kong and somehow get even luckier than Copeland. It doesn’t seem likely or possible for this to happen.
When it does, I’ll let you know. ;)
If you have three hours to spare and would like to watch a quintessentially perfect game of Donkey Kong, here is a video of Copeland’s recording breaking game.
The year my best friend moved away, I was forced to make some new ones to fill the void. Riding the bus home from school one day, I found one. Duane and I didn’t have a whole lot in common, but when you’re in third grade, you don’t need to. We both had bicycles and liked playing in the creek. When you’re eight years old, sometimes that’s enough to base a friendship on.
It’s been so long that I don’t remember much about Duane. He grew up in Mississippi, and had the accent to prove it. His toys were low-tech compared to mine. In 1983, my days were filled with video and computer games. At Duane’s, we played with green army men and Playmobil figures. To be honest I don’t remember spending too much time in his house, or him in mine. Mostly, we just spent the summer riding our bikes and playing in the creek.
One day I rode my bike over to Duane’s house and discovered he had moved away.
I haven’t thought about Duane in more than thirty years. A couple of weekends ago, I went to a garage sale at his old house. The driveway leading up to the house is unique, and looks just how it did back in 1983 when the two of us set up a ramp and jumped our bikes off of it into the ditch below.
Years ago, that would have been the end of the story. Today, I found Duane online (thanks to a fairly unique last name) in about two minutes. Based on his Facebook profile, he was in the military, and now lives in Texas. I didn’t send him a note or anything (what would I say?) but it was nice to see that Duane is doing okay. If he ever comes back to Oklahoma, we can go ride bikes together again.
They paved the creek.
Earlier this week I turned in my novel.
Not just an electronic copy, but a printed one as well. 261 pages. It felt weird to print something that large and think, “I wrote all of those words.” I don’t think I ever printed out either of my first two books. Even though 52,500 words puts this book closer to a novella in size than a true novel, I’m still pretty happy with the length. It took me two years to write Commodork, which has 59,000 words, and another two years to write Invading Spaces, which has just over 63,000 words. 52,500 in roughly three months isn’t bad.
I’ve been working on this post off and on for
two three days now because I’m having a hard time summarizing everything I’m feeling. As far as my school is concerned, the novel is done. In a week or two I will get my grade back, but the work has been done. I don’t know if I will do more work on it or not in the future. I don’t feel like this is “the” novel for me. It started off as an idea that I plugged a couple of characters into to make it work. I didn’t love the characters, and I think the final product shows. I’ve learned a lot over the past four months while working on this project, and I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is, it’s important to create characters that the reader cares about.
After kicking things around for a couple of days, I think I’ll be closing down this mini-blog after I get my final grade. If the novel’s done, I should stop talking about it. Right now I kind of don’t want to stop talking about it. I suspect this is what empty nest syndrome feels like. I’ll export all of these posts and import them over on my main blog, RobOHara.com.
I’m supposed to get my grade back next Thursday, so I’ll probably do one final post after that and then close things down over here. Thank you to everybody who joined me on this journey and gave feedback along the way. For everyone who subscribed to the mailing list, I’ll be sending out copies of the draft later this afternoon.
I spent a couple of hours upgrading my WordPress theme today. I’ve been running the Mandingo theme for several years and I really like the way it looks, but it’s limited to 1024 pixels wide. I plan on adding some new things to my website soon, and to prepare for that I wanted to change from a two-column to a three-column design. Mandingo’s fixed width squeezed the center column so much that things started breaking and I knew it wasn’t going to work. I did some searching this morning and discovered another theme that met my needs: Atahualpa. I am literally amazed at how far themes and theme configuration has come. When I first installed WordPress, any theme customization had to be performed by hand-hacking the html, modifying PHP code, and manually editing the CSS files. None of that, anymore! It’s all point-and-click now! These kids, what will they think of next!? In an hour or two I was able to get things looking mostly like (or close enough to) the old theme. The header at the top of the page (those blue flames with the Wizard of Wor guy to the left) is only a placeholder until I can slap something else together.
I also spent a bit of time organizing my WordPress categories. I don’t think most people use that feature, but I hope to better organize my posts so that people can follow what they want to follow and read what they want to read. I deleted some of the old categories that only had one or two posts in them. Don’t worry, the posts just default back to the Main category (which contains every post). I’m not sure why I thought Mick Rib needed his own category at one time, but he had one. With one post in it.
Now that the rough draft for my first novel has been turned in, I’ll be closing down write.robohara.com shortly. I’ll be exporting those posts and moving them over here into the “writing” category. As I continue to write about my writing (how’s that for meta?), or writing in general, I’ll add them to that category.
When I first launched RobOHara.com, there was no “theme” — I just wrote about whatever topic I wanted to write about. One day I might write a post about some diet I was on and the next day I might write about some goofy computer project I was working on. For some reason I convinced myself that I was driving people crazy (or away) by writing about things they weren’t interested in. I worried about it so much that I launched multiple other blogs. I had one just for my tech posts, another just for my reviews, and so on. I think I ended up with half a dozen different blogs — maybe more at one time. Anyway, the end result was that I split my audience into little pieces, people had to follow multiple blogs to read all of my posts, and some of the blogs got abandoned. I recently found myself doing that again, but I’m making an attempt to reign things back in. Instead of having a different blog for my writing and a different blog for this and for that, I’ll try to keep most of my ramblings here. For now my podcasts will remain separate (although you can find links to them from this page on the left hand side), but other than that, I’ll try not to lead you guys all over the place just to see what I’m working on and writing about. Scope crawl’s a bitch sometimes.