"Never allow someone to be your priority while allowing yourself to be their option." -Mark Twain
Posted at 7:00 am by Rob in Main
The first day Windows 10 was available for download, I upgraded my laptop from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10. On day two, I upgraded the laptop I use for recording podcasts. I didn’t realize it at the time, but these laptops spend most of their time accessing online content — social media sites, music streaming, Google Docs and casual web surfing. Although both of these upgrades proved that Windows 10 was able to pluck drivers out of the cloud and apply them as needed (I didn’t need to manually find or install a single driver for either machine), they weren’t a good overall test for two reasons: I had re-installed Windows 10 from scratch on both machines (instead of performing an upgrade), and neither machine has a lot of installed software to test.
And so, Saturday evening, I upgraded my primary workstation to Windows 10.
[UPGRADE VS. FRESH INSTALL]
Installing a fresh copy of Windows — that is, formatting your computer’s hard drive and starting over from scratch — will always give you the best performance. That also means you’ll have to back up all of your data, and reinstall all of your programs (including tracking down all those pesky installation CDs and drivers that came with your computer). When you upgrade Windows, all your programs and data stay in place and come along for the ride. Unfortunately, so do any problems you may have had in the past. If your computer is running slow because you have 100 things running in the taskbar at all times, you’ll have 100 things running in the taskbar in Windows 10 as well. While upgrading may not offer the best performance in the end, it is definitely the most convenient way to upgrade your computer.
[PERFORMING THE UPGRADE]
If you opted in, Microsoft is slowly rolling Windows 10 out to every internet-connected machine running Windows 7 or newer. If you want to cut to the front of the line, you can download it directly from Microsoft here.
If you’re downloading Windows 10 and want the free upgrade, you’ll need to download the same version of Windows you currently have installed on your machine. By right-clicking on “My Computer” or “Computer,” you can see if you are running Windows Home or Pro, and if your operating system is 32 or 64 bit. Download the corresponding version to a USB stick or burn it to DVD and you’re ready to begin. Using your computer, go to the USB or DVD, double-click setup, and watch it go.
You’ll only have a few sets of questions to answer along the way, one of which is the security-related questions I mentioned in my previous Windows 10 post. There were nine features in all — I turned seven of them off because they sounded like horrible ideas, and the other two out of spite. One new feature of Windows 10 is the ability to share your wireless router’s password with your social media friends. No thanks.
My desktop, an Acer Aspire Desktop with a 2.6GHz quad-core processor, 6 gigs of RAM, and a terabyte hard drive took just over an hour to upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10. Your mileage may vary.
[WHAT WENT WRONG]
My Matrox video card is apparently not supported by Windows 10. This isn’t really a Windows 10 issue, as apparently the card is also not supported by Windows 8. Had I upgraded from Windows 7 to Windows 8 three years ago, I would have run into the same problem. The manufacturer does not offer upgraded drivers for Windows 8 (or 10) — their solution is to “buy a newer card,” which I ultimately did.
[WHAT WENT RIGHT]
Pretty much everything else. All my programs came back. All my icons showed up where they previously were.
I run some old software — some sort of old and some really old. I run Photoshop CS2 (released in 2005) and it worked fine. I also still use LView Pro, an ancient graphic program released in 1996. It works fine, too. I have goofy batch files that launch goofy processes; those all worked. DOSBox and my Commodore 64 emulators work. Every single program I had running on Windows 7 Pro runs on Windows 10 Pro.
[WHAT WAS CONFUSING]
After I thought the installation was complete, my computer was running so slowly that I thought it had locked up. Turns out, updates still need to be downloaded and search indices still need to be built. That stuff takes time (and processing cycles). I would have been a lot less frustrated had I simply let the machine “cook” for 30 minutes or so before hopping in and trying to start working on things.
Not much more to say than that! For the techies in the bunch, below are the specs of the machines I upgraded to Windows 10:
Acer Aspire AS5732Z-4855 LX.PGU02.064 Laptop Computer – Intel Pentium Dual-Core T4300 2.1GHz, 4GB DDR2, 250GB HDD, DVDRW, 15.6″ Display, Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Acer M3300-U1332 PT.SBT02.002 Aspire Desktop PC – AMD Phenom II X4 810 2.6GHz, 6GB DDR3, 1TB HDD, ATI Radeon HD 3200, DVDRW, 300 Watt PSU, Windows 7 Home Premium 64-Bit
ASUS Q400A Laptop Computer – 3rd generation Intel Core i7-3632QM 2.2GHz, 8GB DDR3, 750GB HDD, DVDRW, 14 in. Display, Windows 8 64-bit
Posted at 8:45 am by Rob in Main
Windows 10, the latest version of Microsoft’s operating system, was released yesterday. I’ve already installed it on my laptop, and although I haven’t had time to dig through every nook and cranny yet, here are my initial impressions of Microsoft’s latest and greatest.
WINDOWS 10 IS FREE FOR ONE YEAR
If you have Windows 7 or newer, upgrading to Windows 10 is free for one year. That will give you enough time for all the tech nerds to download it, install it, beta test it for Microsoft, and work out all the kinks before you upgrade. By offering it for free, Microsoft seems to both be apologizing for Windows 8 and suggesting that we’re all going to be running Windows 10 sooner or later, so you might as well get on board.
OBTAINING WINDOWS 10 IS SIMPLE
If you have Windows 7 or newer you may have seen a Windows icon pop up in your task bar. If you didn’t opt in there, you can simply download Windows 10 from Microsoft. If you use this link, you’re going to have to answer a few questions. The first is, what version of Windows 10 do you want: Home, or Professional? If you’re going the free upgrade you’ll want to pick the same edition you already have. Next you’ll have the option of selecting 32 bit, 64 bit, or both. Finally, the installer will ask if you will be installing from USB or want the DVD ISO. Note that if you combine the 32/64 bit versions, your download will be 6 gig (too large for a single-layer DVD). Also if you select the USB option you’ll need to provide the USB stick at that time.
INSTALLING WINDOWS 10 IS FAST AND SIMPLE
Over the past 20 years I can’t think of a Windows operating system that installed more quickly or painlessly. Pick your default language, the destination drive, put in a serial number and watch it go. Halfway through you’ll be prompted for a wireless connection, but that’s about it.
While the upgrade from Windows 8 to Windows 10 failed on my ASUS laptop, a fresh install went smoothly and quickly. Apparently, gone are the days of hunting down drivers from a manufacturer. Windows 10 just figured it out. Hopefully upgrades on my other machines go just as smoothly.
WINDOWS 10’S DEFAULT SECURITY SETTINGS ARE EGREGIOUSLY INVASIVE!
Toward the end of the installation process you’ll be asked if you want to accept the security defaults as suggested by Microsoft or choose your own answers in advanced mode. (Pro-tip: nerds always choose advance mode.) Here are the default settings for Windows 10:
01. Personalize your speech, typing, and inking input by sending contacts and calendar details, along with other associated input data to Microsoft: ON
02. Send typing and inking data to Microsoft to improve the recognition and suggestion platform: ON
03. Let apps use your advertising ID for experiences across apps: ON
04. Let Windows and apps request your location, including location history, and send Microsoft and trusted partners some location data to improve location services: ON
05: Use SmartScreen online services to help protect against malicious content and downloads in sites loaded by Windows browsers and Store apps: ON
06. Use page prediction to improve reading, speed up browsing, and make your overall experience better in Windows browsers. Your browsing data will be sent to Microsoft: ON
07. Automatically connect to suggested open hotspots. Not all networks are secure: ON
08. Automatically connect to networks shared by your contacts: ON
09 Send error and diagnostic information to Microsoft: ON
Wow. Wow wow wow.
Combined, this says “send everything you type, read, or do to Microsoft.” No thanks. I know we are headed to cloudville but … not today. And to be honest, normally I would select YES on sending error reports to Microsoft and the SmartScreen thing doesn’t sound like a bad idea but based on the invasive nature of all the others, I changed every one of them to NO. I’ll revisit this.
EVERY PROGRAM I HAVE WORKS
Again, I haven’t had days to go through everything, but so far every program I previously had still works.
WINDOWS 10 IS SMART AND FAST
First of all, it’s fast. Really fast. I haven’t turned on many of the bells and whistles yet, but right now, it’s fast. Everything feels streamlined.
The start menu is back. Clicking on it reminds me of the Windows 7 start menu with Windows 8 metro icons. I can live with that. Next to the start button is the search text box. Right from the desktop you can type “control panel” or “join a domain” or “uninstall something” and it comes up. Quickly. Nothing about Windows 8 made sense to me. Everything about Windows 10 so far makes sense. My initial impression is that I am really going to like it.
They also changed the icons on the taskbar. Now if you have an app open, it’s underlined. So smart. I love it.
SAY HELLO TO EDGE
Internet Explorer has been replaced by Internet Edge. Literally the first thing I did once I reached a desktop was install Google Chrome so I can’t tell you much about Edge yet, except it seems pretty fast and thin and was able to quickly download Google Chrome. ;) I’m sure I’ll mess around with Edge over the next few weeks just to make sure my websites render properly with it.
SHOULD I UPGRADE TODAY?
Probably not. There will be hurdles coming, I’m sure. Things will get tweaked and patched over the next few months. You have plenty of time to wait to upgrade. That being said, I’m upgrading every one of my Windows 8 machines today, and will probably do my Windows 7 desktop soon.
Posted at 7:00 am by Rob in Main
When I was a kid, Star Wars belonged to Lucasfilm and Star Wars action figures were made by Kenner. Today, Star Wars is owned by Disney and Star Wars action figures are made by Hasbro (who purchased Kenner). Now we have a new line of big and bigger figures being produced by Jakks. Things change over time, but one thing that never changes is that Star Wars fans (including myself) will continue to buy the same figures over and over again.
Jakks Pacific is currently releasing figures in two sizes: large 18″ figures, and even larger 31″ figures. Over the weekend I found a four pack of 18″ figures at Toys ‘R’ Us and decided to pick them up. Because, you know… Star Wars.
In the store these figures looked small in comparison to the 31″ figures they were next to. Get them away from those giants however and you’ll see just how large these figures really are. Sometimes I like to keep things like this in the box (especially things that have an “open face” that allow you to clearly see and touch the figures), but once I got the thing home I realized I have nowhere left to display a box this size. The box is just a couple inches shy of being two-foot tall and three-foot wide.
The back of the box has pictures of all four characters along with brief descriptions. All the text on the back of the box is presented both in English and French. While the front of the box only mentions Star Wars and Disney, the back of the box includes the Jakks.com URL. You can also see here that all the figures are tied in with those child-proof ties. There were seven on the back and eight on the bottom, all covered in packing tape. You’ll either need to use the force (or something sharp) to remove them.
The packaging declares each figure has “seven points of articulation” — that’s arms, legs, head, and wrists. The Toys ‘R’ Us website mentions this fact four time, so the fact that their wrists move must be a pretty important selling point. As you can see in this picture, both Vader’s chest plate and belt contain quite a bit of detail, as does the Tusken Raider’s mask. Both of these figures come with cloth (Vader’s cape and the Tusken Raider’s waist-wrap).
The other two figures, Luke and a Stormtrooper, look pretty good too. The bottom half of Luke’s shirt (from his belt down) is also cloth. Those highly advertised seven points of articulation mean the Stormtrooper can hold his rifle straight up or down or rotated 90 degrees, but it’ll always be attached to a fully extended arm. Of the four included figures, Luke is probably my least favorite as he looks too tall and skinny and borderline emaciated.
While all of the figures look pretty good from the front, the backs of all of them are riddled with screw holes. Here’s what the backside of Luke looks like:
Both Luke and the Stormtrooper have 17 holes in their backs, while Darth Vader and the Tusken Raider have slightly less. The capes on some of the figures hide some of the holes on the legs of some of the figures, but all of them look like they met a gangster in a dark alley. And for those of you with sophomore senses of humor (like myself), the reason they all have odd numbers of screw holes is because they all have a screw right in the middle of their butt cracks.
I was disappointed with Luke and Vader’s lightsabers, which are simply lightsaber hilts — no blades. Adding a removable blade to these hilts couldn’t have cost more than a buck per figure, and who cares about seven points of articulation when all you can do is pose these guys with non-working lightsabers? That being said, the Tusken Raider’s Gaffi Stick is rubbery-plastic and pretty cool, and the Stormtrooper’s blaster is great (if not a bit large).
This Star Wars Four Pack of 18″ New Hope figures originally retailed for $79.99 (the MSRP for the other 18″ figures is $19.99), but has recently dropped to $69.99. These four particular figures are a Toys ‘R’ Us exclusive, which you can still find on store shelves and on the website.
According to the Jakks website, other 18″ figures include Greedo, Return of the Jedi Luke, Han Solo, Biker Scout Trooper, and Chewbacca. Under the Star Wars Rebels they also list Kanan, Ezra and the Inquisitor (all from the Star Wars Rebels television show) along with the all black Tie Pilot. In addition to Toys ‘R’ Us, these figures can also be purchased at Target, Walmart, or through Amazon.
I don’t know that I’ll pick up the rest of the 18″ figure line (or 31″, for that matter) for the simple fact that they take so much room to display. For now I’m pretty happy collecting the 6″ Star Wars Black figures. These are a fun novelty and might be a fun gift for a Star Wars fan’s birthday, but all I can think about at the moment is where I’m going to put them.
Links: Jakks.com Star Wars | Star Wars Rebels
Darth Vader: 31″ and 18″ Jakks figures, 12″ vintage, 6″ Black, 3 3/4″ vintage.
Posted at 10:00 am by Rob in Main
I’ve spent several years ripping my physical DVDs into files that can be streamed from my computer. Because I’ve been doing this for so long, I’ve ripped lots of different movies lots of different ways using lots of different programs. This leads to movies in lots of different formats.
For the past couple of years I’ve been using WinX DVD Ripper, but unfortunately on a lot of longer movies the audio and video kept getting out of sync. Because of this, I switched to HandBrake. Not only does HandBrake work faster and doesn’t have audio sync issues, but it’s also free. Another big, big advantage is that HandBrake has the ability to include multiple audio tracks in an mp4 file. Finally, I can start including both the original audio AND the commentary track in a single file!
The only problem I’ve had with HandBrake is that WinX DVD Ripper automatically put the file name in the Title metadata field, and HandBrake doesn’t. This seems like a very minor detail, and it kind of is, but unfortunately my media server (Twonky) sorts movies by the Title Field first and filename second. Because of this very minor difference in ripping programs, my movies no longer show up in alphabetical order. All the ones I ripped with HandBrake show up first, followed by all the ones I ripped with WinX DVD Ripper. No bueno!
This set me off on one of those random Google adventures. “How do I…” followed by a hundred different combinations of words. Eventually I stumbled on AtomicParsley, a command line utility that is capable of changing the tags in mp4 files. Perfect!
After placing AtomicParsley.exe in my Windows path, I ended up writing two batch files: Process-File.bat and Process-Directory.bat. In HandBrake under Tools > Options > General I put Process-File.bat in the “Send File To” field so that it will run automatically after every single movie is converted. Process-Directory.bat can be used to update all the mp4 files in a directory.
For Process-File.bat to work you will need AtomicParsley.exe somewhere in your Windows path (i.e.: c:\windows\system32) and the c:\dvd directory should be wherever your movies get saved.
AtomicParsley.exe “c:\dvd\%~n1.mp4” –title “%~n1” –overWrite
For Process-Directory to work, simply place the batch file in the same directory as your movie files and then run it from a command prompt.
for %%i in (*.mp4) do (
AtomicParsley “%%i” –title “%%i” –overWrite
Again, all this does is take the file name and inject it back into the title field in the metadata which things like iTunes (or view properties) can see.
Posted at 6:00 pm by Rob in Main
Last month the computer speakers I keep connected to my laptop died. I paid $5 for the speakers back in the mid-90s. In 1996, I connected a power supply with too much voltage to the speakers, which caused a loud POP which was followed by smoke. (Yes, I let the smoke out of them.) Without a power supply connected, the speakers continued to work for another 19 years. I feel like I got my money’s worth out of them — no complaints there.
While in Texas on vacation I stopped by Fry’s to pick up a replacement, and I was surprised to find so many inexpensive pairs to choose from! I settled on an $8 pair of speakers that looked really good on the box. They contained a subwoofer and two satellite speakers. When I got them home and took them out of the box I was amazed at how cheap and light the speakers were. Each speaker weighs less than a deck of cards. I feel like I could crush them by squeezing them, or possibly simply by touching them.
Cyclops Man is not impressed, and neither was Morgan. My daughter, whose concept of high-fidelity is listening to music through the speaker on her iPod, described the speakers as “horrible crap.”
I decided to take a different approach by heading to Amazon and increasing my budget a bit. This time I ordered a $50 pair of speakers. My plan here was to take the so-so speakers from my computer, move them to the laptop, and then put the new $50 speakers on my main workstation.
The new speakers arrived in a big brown Amazon shipping box that looked great. When I opened the box, this is what the box inside that box looked like:
The Cryptkeeper is laughing at this. Here’s another picture of the outside of the box:
And when I opened the box, this is what the inside looked like.
The cardboard was as wet and soggy as it appears to be in these pictures, and the speakers inside the box were as wet as the cardboard. I’m really not that picky and so after letting the speakers dry off I hooked them up and… they rattle. I don’t know if it’s from the water or if they were dropped, but they definitely rattle.
I have never returned anything to Amazon but the process was quick and simple — in fact, they cross shipped me a new pair of speakers before I even returned the first pair. How’s that for service!
Centaur Man is impressed with the service… but not the speakers. This time, the right speaker doesn’t work. By moving the cable around I can tell it’s a loose connecting inside the “master” speaker. I haven’t decided if I’m going to open them up and fix it (and void the warranty) or if I’m just going to ship them all back.
I’ve had nothing but great luck with Amazon for many years now so I hope this is all a coincidence.
Posted at 7:00 am by Rob in Main
In what was once described as the most disgusting episode of Hoarders to ever air, viewers met Terry, a woman so in love with cats that she began hoarding them. On the day a television crew arrived at her house Terry had 49 cats — 31 of which were so unhealthy that they had to be euthanized. Equally disturbing, Terry also had a collection of dead cats stored in her freezer and at least one (which had “liquefied”) inside a baggie in her closet.
There was a time in my life when I was Terry — not with cats fortunately, but with arcade games. I took in every one I could afford, regardless of condition. If a machine needed a home, it was welcome in mine.
I shared this photo last week on Facebook. It’s how I like to remember my little personal backyard arcade: thirty machines all humming along, glowing in the dark while emitting the digital sounds of explosions and engines and punches. It looks like a fun place! Of course that’s one of the great things about the internet — we can project the impression we want.
Here’s the same room from a different angle, one I don’t share as often. In the back corner of my little game room you can see the pile of non-working boards and monitors beginning to grow, a pile that grew with time. At one point in time ten of my thirty machines were broken. It happened all the time. When I got into the hobby I literally had no idea that the guts inside these massive wooden giants would be so fragile. Of course when you own one arcade machine and it breaks, you fix it — but when you own ten broken machines, sometimes it’s hard to know where to begin. My solution was to simply play the other twenty.
Similar to that cat-hoarding lady, my machines began to multiply. Some of them were already dead when they came in through the door while others passed away under my watch. Very rarely did any of them escape in better shape than they had arrived.
Here’s another angle you don’t get to see too often.
In 2011 when we moved from our old house, the machines had nowhere to go. I sold a few of them before we moved, moved a few of them into our new garage, and stored the rest of them in a storage unit. When I first began selling machines I had people offering me half of what I had paid for them. No way! Instead, I moved them all to a storage unit, paid $700 for several months worth of storage fees, and then sold them for half of what I had paid for them. I guess I showed them!
When the dust settled four machines remained standing: 720, Commando, Rampart, and a Multi-Williams machine. For three years, these four monoliths gathered dust in my garage, like tombstones marking the death of my hobby. For three years I didn’t turn them on or even dust them. They just sat there. And the worst part was, each time I saw them I was reminded of all the other games I used to own.
Over the past few months I’ve been talking with the guys over at the Arkadia Retrocade in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The guys over there started with somewhere around 60 machines — now they have double that amount, and are about to double their physical space as well. The guys and I worked out a deal, and now they have four more machines in their collection.
Last Friday I loaded the four machines onto dad’s trailer and headed east. (As long as I live, I won’t miss moving arcade games again.) Mason was my co-pilot, and in just over four hours we were illegally parked in front of Arkadia, unloading machines. Along with the machines I took pretty much everything else I had that went along with the hobby. Save for the machine we have in our dining room and the carcass I have out in the garage that might maybe someday become a MAME cabinet, my hands are washed.
People have asked me if I’ll miss those machines. Of course I will. The good news is, I know where I can go to play them. And not only that, but I know other people will be playing and enjoying them as well, which is what they were always intended to be used for. Plus, there are some awfully sharp guys over at Arkadia that I know will be able to keep these machines up and running and in tip-top shape, but better than I was ever able to do.
Posted at 8:15 am by Rob in Main
(This has been sitting in my draft folder, unfinished, for over a year. I am posting it today for no particular reason.)
“Wanna go cruise?” I asked Mason from my recliner.
“Okay,” he said, grabbing his Nintendo hat. “Where are we cruising to?”
“Around,” I said, shrugging my shoulders. It was 8:30pm. Twilight. Outside, the sun was low and red and reflected perfectly off my car. Once inside the car the two of us rolled the windows down, turned the radio up, and headed toward Yukon.
Back in the glory days I wore out many sets of tires doing laps around Yukon on Friday nights, hoping to see people and be seen. During my senior year (1991) the price of gasoline dropped to below a dollar per gallon, the only thing that made driving around in a Formula Firebird with no particular destination in mind remotely affordable.
“People used to hang out there, and there,” I said, pointing at the empty parking lots we passed.
“Where is everybody?” Mason asked.
Probably at home playing video games, I thought to myself.
The two of us pulled in to Sonic and ordered a couple of drinks. Back in the day it wasn’t uncommon for me to spot friends and classmates hanging out there, sipping on Route 44oz drinks. The thought crossed my mind that I might possibly be parked next to some of their children.
With drinks in our laps we doubled back and headed down Route 66 toward Oklahoma City. “We used drive up and down this street all night long,” I told Mason. He politely sipped on his diet Dr. Pepper.
“Why?” he asked.
At the first red light I pulled up to a car full of girls in a Kia. I looked over at them and gently revved my engine. They rolled their windows up. All I could make out through the tinted windows was the glow of multiple cell phones.
Mason and I made a left on Rockwell as I began heading back home. Even with the windows down and the radio up, it was quiet in the car. I drove past the ghosts of old friends in Camaros and Z-28s 280-ZXs and Grand Ams. I learned to drive in the era of 808 kick drums pumping out of Pyle Driver subwoofers.
Other than the occasional rattle from a battered Honda Civic’s muffler, the streets were silent.
Posted at 12:00 pm by Rob in Main
I never saw any roaches or mice in my first apartment, not that I didn’t deserve them.
After a very brief search for my first apartment I settled on Country Club Apartments, mostly due to their proximity to Pizza Inn. My former boss at Grandy’s migrated from the chicken business to the pizza business, and for a titillating offer of $5/hour, I did as well. After suffering a panic attack by seeing just how small a studio apartment really was, I was up-sold a one-bedroom model for $300/month, exactly one half of my new monthly salary. Back then, half my monthly salary covered rent, electricity, A/C, and basic cable. The other half went toward car insurance, gas, and Taco Bell.
It was an upstairs apartment. My downstairs neighbor was a little old lady who lived alone. Sometimes when I was coming or going I would see her standing outside on her porch, watering her hanging plants. She gave me a pie once. I can’t remember what she looked like, but I remember the pie was pretty good. I don’t remember ever seeing our next door neighbor.
The apartment had a living room, dining room, kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom.
I only mention the kitchen and dining room first because I have the least to say about them. The kitchen was home to a refrigerator full of condiments and cookie dough. We also had a donated microwave with a broken door latch. While cooking, the microwave’s door was held closed with a piece of duct tape. On the stove sat a deep dish pizza pan on permanent loan from Pizza Hut that was perfect for cooking Ramen noodles if you smashed them up into a million little pieces first. I don’t remember the dining room at all. I don’t even remember if I had a dining room table. If I did, it was only used as a place to stack empty pizza boxes.
The living room was mostly functional and practical with only two things hanging on the wall: a big clock I stole from a school, and a framed poster of a soap bubble on a fork by Julius Friedman acquired from a trash dumpster. Against the back wall sat a couch that folded out into a bed and faced the front window. The front window was blocked by an entertainment center built from planks of wood and randomly colored milk crates stolen from convenience stores before they all had cameras ’round back. The entertainment center was home to a 13″ color television, a VCR, and an original Nintendo. In the corner of the living room was my computer desk. We broke the side off the desk moving it in and it creaked and cracked every time you walked past it. Eventually my friend Andy came over with his drill and, like a killer in a bad horror movie, drove screws into its side until it refused to talk.
Speaking of Andy, after living in the apartment alone for two or three months he moved in with me. He slept on the fold out couch while I slept on the mattress on the floor of the bedroom. Andy worked the day shift at Pizza Hut and I worked the evening shift at Pizza Inn so sometimes we didn’t see one another until midnight. If I didn’t bring home pizza for dinner the two of us would go to the Kettle for eggs and bacon and nachos. Then Andy would leave for UPS (he loaded trucks there from 3am-6pm) and we would do it again the next day.
The day Andy moved in I told him not to bother setting his car alarm. Gangs of kids on bicycles would ride through the parking lot, kicking every car just to see which ones made noise. If you reset the alarm, they would do it again. Eventually I quit setting my alarm. After someone stole my stereo, I quit locking the doors altogether.
Jeff, being friends with both myself and Andy, visited a lot during those days. The three of us would often wander over to Kaleidoscope video next door and rent movies or Nintendo games. The three of us would watch bad kung-fu and horror movies and play Nintendo games until it was time for Andy to go to UPS at 3am, and sometimes Jeff and I would still be up playing games when the sun came up and Andy came back home at 6am. Sometimes we would go out for breakfast and sometimes we wouldn’t. Mostly it depended on whether or not there were any slices of pizza left in the fridge. Or on the floor.
Country Club Apartments were two minutes away from where I worked. A few months later I got transferred to the Pizza Inn off of 48th and MacArthur, a twenty minute drive from the apartment. Later I moved to the store off of 23rd and Villa, fifteen minutes away. My gasoline expenses went up and the whole point of renting an apartment near 59th and May dissolved.
Eventually we decided to give up the apartment. Andy moved his stuff back home and I did the same. I left two or three moving boxes full of stuff in the apartment over the weekend as our lease didn’t expire until Monday. When I showed up Monday morning to retrieve them, the locks to the apartment had already been changed. The landlord eventually let me in to look around but the boxes were long gone. The landlord told me to talk to the maintenance man. The maintenance man told me to talk to the cleaning company. Nobody at the cleaning company spoke English. Then the apartment complex kept my deposit. They literally charged me to throw my own stuff away. What upsets me the most is I know one of those assholes probably has that framed picture of a soap bubble on a fork hanging in their home.
That old apartment’s not ten minutes from where I work now. Occasionally while out to lunch I would drive my co-workers past that old apartment and show them where I used to live. The last time I did it I was afraid for my life. Half of the apartment windows have been busted out and replaced with cardboard, wood, or tape. Tenants, like prisoners patrolling their cell block, looked down on us from above like the outsiders we were. And make no mistake, we did not belong there; my car’s lack of dents and broken glass gave us away.
In February of this year, several suspects were involved in five separate beatings and robberies. The suspects were tracked down and arrested at Country Club Apartments. A week later, another resident was randomly stabbed. Last month, a cab driver was shot to death on the corner of 59th and Agnew. Last month, a twelve-year-old boy was shot while riding his bike in a drive by at 59th and May.
Over the weekend, a 22-year-old man beat his girlfriend to death in Country Club Apartments.
Country Club Apartments currently has a one star rating on ApartmentFinder.com.
Posted at 7:00 am by Rob in Main
I’ve tried explaining what Colorforms were to my kids before, and I’ll admit, in a world full of PlayStations and iPads, they sound pretty boring. Recently I ran across a still-sealed Dick Tracy Colorforms set for a couple of bucks and decided to open it up and show my kids just how fun Colorforms were!
This picture is only here to show that this truly was a “mint in box” set of Colorforms. This included piece of paper includes instructions — as if “stick things wherever you want” needed explaining — and also lists some of the developmental benefits of Colorforms, including “finger dexterity” and “sense of neatness and order.” It’s odd that it doesn’t mention anything about gun safety. I wonder why?
Here’s the backdrop onto which kids can place their Colorforms. The first thing Morgan said was, “it looks like a back lot.” Last year we toured the Universal Studios backlot. According to Wikipedia, much of the 1990 Dick Tracy movie was filmed “using sound stages and backlots at Universal Studios in Universal City, California.” Good eye, kid!
Here are the actual Colorforms included in the set. There’s Dick Tracy and Pruneface and Monkey Head and Madonna and… okay, I don’t know all of their names. Each one does say “(C) Disney” next to them though, in case you forget.
And here’s the fun we had, placing the Colorforms onto the backdrop. I felt a little bad placing that kid directly in front of a machine gun. The kids were underwhelmed with the process. I remember this being a lot more fun. Mason said they should make a Colorforms app. Morgan said they should make a Dick Tracy movie. I told her they did and asked her if she wanted to watch it. She said no thanks.
Posted at 7:00 am by Rob in Main
I’ve collected lots and lots of things throughout my life — little things like little plastic monsters and big things like full-size arcade cabinets — but all of my collecting roots can all be traced back to my first true love: Star Wars.
I saw Star Wars for the first time in 1977 at the age of four. I’ve always said that the opening scene of Star Wars (in which we see Princess Leia’s ship being chased by an Imperial Star Destroyer) ultimately cost me thousands of dollars in collectables over the years. And if that scene hooked me, the cantina scene, with all its monsters and weirdness, reeled me in.
Lucasfilm and Kenner were caught off guard by the box office success of Star Wars; as a result no official toys or action figures were ready by the Christmas of 1977. That didn’t stop kids like me from clamoring for anything related to Star Wars. The first thing I can remember collecting were Star Wars trading cards included in packages of Wonderbread. Long before I had the toys I had posters and stickers and picture books.
In 1978, the floodgates were opened. Manufacturing ramped up and Star Wars figures began filtering into stores. For the Christmas of 1978, I got… everything. Santa filled my stocking to the top with all the available figures at that time, and I got a Landspeeder, a TIE Fighter, and an X-Wing Fighter to go with them.
And it wasn’t just me — all the kids in my neighborhood had Star Wars toys. The action figures were like currency for kids, traded among friends. Kids gave them as presents at birthday parties. You could usually talk your parents out of one when visiting the store. I got a new figure every time I brought home a good report card.
Three years after Star Wars was released came Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi was released three years after that. Every year from 1978 to 1984 I received Star Wars items for my birthday, for Christmas, and any other time I went to the store and could talk my parents out of a couple of bucks. Along with the toys I also had shirts, hats, school folders, pencils, alarm clocks, toothbrushes, and more. If they could slap the Star Wars logo on it, I wanted one of them.
Of course back then I don’t think we referred to any of this as collecting — in other words, I never asked for anything that I didn’t intend on using or playing with. The thought of buying a new Star Wars item and leaving it unopened in the box was inconceivable. We played the heck out of these things! Wadded up white sheets became the icy planet of Hoth, while the sandbox and rocks off our front porch became the desolate desert of Tatooine.
Before long many of my Star Wars friends began to defect, moving on to G. I. Joe, He-Man, Hot Wheels, Thundercats, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and whatever else came along. I was the last of the neighborhood loyalists. I turned twelve the summer of ’85 and by then, almost all of us had outgrown our little plastic friends. We began to spend more time riding our bikes and swimming and playing in the creek. We moved on to home computers, playing video games and hanging out at arcades. As my friends left Star Wars behind they got rid of their toys, but for some reason I never did. My sizable Star Wars collection went into boxes and put away in the closet. Some went out in the garage or in the shed. There they stayed for the next decade.
A few years after graduating high school I moved in with Susan, my future wife.
In 1993, two years after graduating high school, I moved in with Susan (my future wife). The two of us lived in a three-bedroom mobile home for a couple of years. In the corner of my computer room I set up some metal shelves and, for the first time in almost ten years, pulled out my old Star Wars toys and put them on display. I loved looking at them and I loved it when people would see them and say, “I remember those!”
I had a Star Wars cake at my wedding.
I loved the feeling so much that when I got my first desk job at the Federal Aviation Administration just a few years later, I took some of my toys to work with me. Some of my co-workers saw my collection and actually added to it! Keep in mind this was ten years after the last Star Wars movie had been released, so most people were “over it” by then. It was not uncommon at that time to find Star Wars toys at thrift stores, antique shops and garage sales. These were the days before eBay, back when old and used toys were often classified as junk rather than family heirlooms.
The same year I began working for the FAA, Kenner began selling Star Wars figures again. This new Power of the Force line of figures got off to a rocky start with overly buff versions of male characters and some questionable facial sculpts (see: “monkey-faced Leia”), but soon levelled out and took off. The difference this time around was that these figures were being scooped up and hoarded by collectors rather than kids.
The combination of new Star Wars figures on shelves and a well-paying job turned out to be a bad combination for me! Every payday I found myself scouring the shelves of Walmart, Target and Toys R Us, looking for any figures I didn’t already have in my collection. This was the point where Star Wars collecting changed for me. Prior to the Power of the Force line, everything I had owned or collected had come from the vintage line — things I had seen or played with as a kid. Suddenly I was buying things not to open and play with, but to display.
I suppose the best thing about that era was that Star Wars toys were literally everywhere, thanks to the Special Editions of the original trilogy films in theaters released in 1997. Where only a few years prior one had to search garage sales and thrift stores for Star Wars items, suddenly you could find Star Wars drink toppers on your drink at Pizza Hut, Star Wars toys in your Taco Bell combo and Star Wars toys inside your kid’s McDonald’s Happy Meal. The ten year drought quickly turned into a flood with Star Wars school supplies back in stores and Star Wars party supplies in local bargain stores.
And I bought one of everything I could get my hands on.
All of this was building toward the release of the first new Star Wars movie in fifteen years. Episode One: The Phantom Menace, released in 1999, reintroduced Star Wars to an entire new generation of kids.
Soon there were so many Star Wars items available on the market that I had to pick and choose just what subset of Star Wars items I was going to collect, as collecting everything became impossible. I collected Star Wars helmets and masks for a while. I have several Star Wars lunch boxes. For a while I focused on the 12″ line of figures. Then I went after Pez dispensers. No matter what microcosm of collecting you were drawn to, the Star Wars marketing machine made sure there was something available for you to purchase.
My son Mason was born in 2001; my daughter Morgan, 2005. Priorities change, and with two kids at home, spending all my spare time and money buying toys for myself didn’t seem quite so important. Eventually we needed the space inside our home for kids instead of toys. By the time the kids began crawling, my Star Wars collection was boxed up into plastic tubs and put into storage. There it remained for half a decade.
In 2011 my family and I purchased a monster of a new house, one we could never outgrow with five bedrooms, three living areas, two home offices, and lots and lots of space — again, more space than we needed, but the house was such a good deal that we bought it anyway. With all the newfound space we ended up with a couple of spare bedrooms, one of which I quickly claimed and declared as the new Star Wars room.
Starting with store-bought shelves and adding custom shelves around them, I filled the room floor-to-ceiling with shelves and filled the shelves with my Star Wars collection. Like the most amazing Christmas ever, I opened up tub after tub and pulled each toy out one out one at a time, finding a spot for each one on a shelf. I probably spent a week arranging and rearranging things, organizing them this way and that.
The whole collection didn’t end up in the Star Wars room. A small bookshelf at the top of the stairs holds my collection of 6″ Black Star Wars figures. A separate bookshelf in the hallway outside the room displays my collection of vintage Star Wars toys still in the original packaging. A few Star Wars helmets and stuffed animals adorn the movie room. For the most part though, everything related to Star Wars ends up in the Star Wars room.
And that’s where they remain today — the figures and the spaceships and the playsets and the stuffed animals and the trading cards and the books and the video games and the boxes of cereal and the DVDs and the VHS tapes and the cassettes and records and everything else that has the Star Wars logo emblazoned on it. Each time a new item enters the room, things get scooched a little closer together to make room.
Recently I added a sheet of peg board to hold all my carded figures. Well, most of them.
Through the internet I’ve been able to both show off my collection as well as meet other collectors. There are some super collectors out there I’ve had the privilege of meeting, guys like Tom Berges from iGrewUpStarWars and Steve Sansweet (author, collector, and proprietor of Rancho Obi-Wan who have actual artifacts from the movies and one-of-a-kind items, things I could never dream of owning. Then again, I own things those guys could never own — those same action figures I had as a kid.