"Well I'd rather be lost at sea than become part of this society." -Life of Agony/Lost at 22

A friend of mine tagged me with the following challenge on Facebook:

10 games that will always stay with you. Rules: Don’t take more then a few minutes. Don’t think too hard. They don’t have to be great works of the gaming industry, just games that have affected you in a positive way. Then tag 10 friends including me so I can see your list.

If you know me you know simply making a list isn’t enough, so I added some additional information and links to videos. Although many of these games appeared on many different platforms, I included the ones that my memories were most closely associated with. I also extended my list to 12 games, and you’re lucky I didn’t make it 50. Without further adieu…

01. Wizardry / Bard’s Tale (Apple II/C64)

Wizardry was one of the first dungeon crawlers to be released for home computers, and the first one I ever played for the Apple II. According to Wikipedia it was the first color dungeon crawler and the first true party-based Dungeons and Dragons-style game. Released in 1981, this was one of the first games I can remember my dad and I playing at the same time. He would play at night and make maps of the game’s dungeons on graph paper, maps I would use the next day to advance further in the game.

Just a few years later, my buddy Jeff and I would spend an entire summer playing Bard’s Tale in largely the same fashion. Although the graphics were slightly better, the gameplay of Bard’s Tale is largely identical to Wizardry. RPGs in the 80s got too large to keep my interest, but I greatly enjoyed (and miss) this era of dungeon roaming.

02. Lode Runner (Apple II)

The recent passing of Doug Smith has this game on my mind. Lode Runner was an early platform game with just enough tricks to keep it interesting. The goal was to collect all of the packages from each level while avoiding the “bunglings.” The game’s original gimmick came in the digging of holes, which could be used to bury your opponents or dig your way out of trouble. The original game only came with 50 levels, but there were sequels and also a level editor that allowed you to easily create your own levels. Lode Runner was fun in 1984 and it’s still fun in 2014, and I still play it occasionally.

03. Gauntlet (Arcade)

The first arcade games were one-player only. Then there were two-player games that required the players to take turns. Then came two-player head-to-head games. Gauntlet may have been the first four player game I ever played in an arcade, and unlike most games at that time, the goal of Gauntlet was for players to work together. Sure, occasionally Warrior would shoot Elf in the back while Wizard stole the food, but ultimately gamers learned they could get deeper into the dungeon (and more bang for their buck) by working together.

I have many wonderful memories of playing Gauntlet with my friends. Because of this, Gauntlet II was one of the first arcade games I purchased when I began collecting arcade games.

04. Dragon’s Lair (Arcade)

I will never forget the first time I saw Dragon’s Lair in an arcade. If you were there in the 80s, I doubt you have forgotten it either. Seemingly overnight we went from blips and bloops to actually controlling a cartoon. It was awesome! It was incredible! It was… not that much fun. And it was hard to play. Several laserdisc games (including Dragon’s Lair II and Space Ace) came and went over the next few years. Ultimately they did not change the gaming industry in the way they had hoped to, but it was still pretty awesome. The takeaway from Dragon’s Lair ultimately was that graphics aren’t everything; gameplay is king.

05. Doom II (PC)

While I had experimented with playing games online with other human beings, Doom II was the first game I ever played against other people on a local area network (LAN). I actually learned how to network computers together just so we could play Doom II. The graphics in the video below make me cringe a bit, but back them the gloomy dungeons and atmospheric sound effects set the tone for an amazing game. It took what worked from Doom (and Wolfenstein 3D before that), added multiplayer, and delivered an unforgettable gaming experience. Doom II was so good that the gaming industry has been applying new coats of paint to the concept and re-releasing it for 20 years now.

06. Donkey Kong (Arcade)

Donkey Kong is a light-hearted game starring a pre-Mario Mario in which he climbs ladders, jumps barrels, and saves his girlfriend level after level. It’s simple… or is it? Once you start to learn how to “control” the barrels, how to control where fireballs appear from and how to run up your score thanks to several glitches, it becomes and entirely different game. Adding to the pressure is the game’s infamous “kill screen,” a point where Mario dies for no apparent reason and the game ends. Suddenly the goal switches from “how high can you go?” to how many points can you score before the game crashes. For someone who doesn’t play a lot of Donkey Kong, a respectable score is in the 20-30k range. My high score is just over 100k. The current world’s record is 1.2 million. If you have a couple of hours, you can watch a recording of it below. Donkey Kong is an example of a seemingly simple game that is still revealing secrets 30 years after its release.

07. Paradroid (C64)

This game captured my interest back in the mid-80s and I still enjoy it today. In Paradroid you control a floating helmet and your job is to take over other robots by challenging them to a game of electronic switches which… eh, it makes more sense when you play it, I guess. This game has been ported to a few other machines including the Amiga and Windows, but the C64 original is still my favorite. There’s no other game like it.

08. 720 (Arcade)

In the futuristic Skate City, one must learn to “Skate or Die” and do it quickly. There are so many great things about this game: the boom box mounted to the top of the cabinet, the one-of-a-kind joystick, the awesome music, killer bees, exciting levels and challenging competitions. If you were into skateboarding in the 80s, this was the game to play.

I fell in love with this game in the 80s. When I began collecting arcade machines in the 90s, I put this on the top of my “must have” list. It took me fifteen years to track one down, but I finally found one. It’s still out in my garage today, calling me.

09. Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)

If I had a dime for ever minute — heck, every hour I spent playing Super Mario Bros. 3, I would be a rich man. Jeff, Andy and I played this game for so many hours that we could navigate some of the levels with our eyes closed. One of the greatest platform games of all time.

10. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 (PlayStation)

THPS2 did what no other game had done for me; it accurately portrayed skateboarding. I lost myself in this game for months, chaining together huge combos and pushing the points on every level to the max. There have been several sequels, but none of them captured my attention the way this one did. For years I owned two PlayStations and one had this game in it at all times.

In addition to gameplay, THPS2 had an incredible soundtrack, a new concept in games back then. It’s so good that I still have it on my phone today.

11. Impossible Mission (C64)

“Another visitor. Stay a while… staaaay forever!” This was one of the first (if not the first) game I ever saw for the Commodore 64, and what an introduction to the machine it was. Puzzles aside, the speech samples and smooth animation was enough to capture a kid’s imagination, and it did. For years I didn’t know what the goal of this game was and it really didn’t matter. We had fun running around, avoiding the robots and the “killer black ball” and couldn’t have cared less about “winning.” When it came to graphics and sound, this game set the Commodore 64 apart from the competition very early on.

12. Rogue (DOS)

Ever heard of a “rogue-like” game? This is where the term came from. Originally designed for mainframes, Rogue made its way to home computers in its original, ASCII format. The combat was rudimentary (you just ran into creatures to attack them) but the game offered a ton of things to discover, from magic scrolls and rings to cursed items. The game’s maps are randomly generated every game and items are randomly placed, so every game is different. You’ll need patience and skill to make it all the way through the dungeon, but you’ll also need a bit of luck; since all items are randomly placed, that includes food. Occasionally, through no fault of your own, you will die of starvation.

Rogue taught me three things: sometimes success depends on luck, a good game doesn’t need good graphics, and sometimes life isn’t fair.

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I have a folder on my computer called “Ideas for Books” that contains… well, ideas for books in it. Some of the books are fiction and some are non-fiction. Some of the files contain little more than a couple of sentences with a general idea about a book; some of the others have complete outlines, and a few have entire chapters written. I jump back and forth between the various books until one really grabs my interest. Then I write as much and as fast as I can on it before something else grabs my attention and drags me away.

A year ago in that folder I created a text file called “the Lapband family,” and in it I wrote, “document our experience with lapband surgery.” That file containing six words has sat on my computer for over a year. I mentioned the idea to Susan this year on September 1st. Two weeks later, between the two of us we had written 40,000 words.

I renamed the book Gastric Steps (He Said/She Said). “Gastric Steps” is obviously a play on the phrase “drastic steps,” which weight loss surgery certain is. The “He Said/She Said” aspect of the book is pretty interesting. Normally when I write a book the first thing I do is create a list of chapters and then fill them with stories. With this book, both Susan and I each wrote a chapter about each topic. She wrote a chapter about growing up overweight and so did I. Each of us wrote a chapter about gaining weight while working at fast food restaurants. Both of us wrote about our experiences with gastric band surgery — the before, during, and after. And as hard as it was, each of us wrote a chapter called “Why am I still fat?” where we discuss the obvious question many people are thinking.

I self-published both of my previous books, Commodork: Sordid Tales from a BBS Junkie (2006) and Invading Spaces: A Beginner’s Guide to Arcade Games (2008), a decision I stand behind today. The target audience for those books was too narrow for traditional publishing venues. Both books continue to sell modestly, the paperback editions less so than the electronic versions.

Gastric Steps, however, has a much larger audience. There are currently 127 million overweight adult Americans. 60 million of those people are classified as obese, and 9 million of those are morbidly obese. Millions of overweight Americans consider bariatric surgery, whether it’s gastric bypass, gastric band (Lap-Band), or another type. Because of that, I am currently sending query letters and proposals to agents. Ultimately if it doesn’t work out then I will consider self-publishing this book too, but I really feel like the message contained within this book needs to get out.

Without going into all the details, I believe that there are three distinct audiences for this book: people who are considering bariatric/weight loss surgery, those who have already had the surgery, and medical professionals associated with the surgery. I believe each of these groups would benefit from reading this book.

I know most of you come to RobOHara.com to read about technology and video games and old computers and my family, not about weight loss surgery. Because of that, here’s what I have done. I have set up another blog at GastricSteps.com, where Susan and I will be talking about weight loss, diet, exercise, and the book. I’ll be posting updates over there at least twice a week (on Tuesdays and Thursdays) and maybe more. If anything exciting updates happen in regards to the book being published then of course I’ll share that information here, but I’m not going to turn this website into a weight loss site.

If you want to find out more about the book and follow both our journey to getting it published and our journey toward health, check out GastricSteps.com. I’ve also set up a Facebook Page and a Twitter account for the project, so you can like or follow those if you want to be notified when new blog entries go live. Finally, the site will also have an e-mail mailing list for notifications if you prefer receiving them that way.

Life is crazy right now. Susan’s trying to build a Futuro UFO House and I’m trying to sell a book on top of everything else we have going on. If there’s a way to live other than hectic, I don’t know what it is.

WWW: GastricSteps.com
Twitter: Twitter.com/GastricSteps
Facebook: Facebook.com/GastricSteps

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Summary: My wife is bringing back the Futuro House and needs your support on Kickstarter to make it happen.

My interest in Futuro homes began a few years ago when my friend Steve W. was driving through the backwoods of Texas and ran across this:

Kickstarter Link: New Futuro House

We didn’t know it at the time, but Steve had unknowingly stumbled across one of the approximately 100 original Futuro Homes, of which less then 20 exist in the United States.

The Futuro House was designed by Matt Suuronen in Finland in the 1960s. The prefabricated homes were made of a combination of fiberglass and plastic and measured 13′ high and 26′ in diameter. The Futuro had many selling points. The prefabricated homes could be shipped anywhere and assembled on site in 48 hours. Their size, shape, and unique metal stands made them idea for ski or hunting lodges. The interior of the Futuro is highly configurable with movable partitions. Its many windows offer terrific views, and the small but comfortable space inside is easy to heat and cool.

According to Wikipedia, fewer than 100 Futuro Homes were built. “The oil crisis of 1973 tripled gasoline prices and made manufacture of plastic extremely expensive,” according to the site. Additionally, several cities and neighborhoods banned Futuro homes based on their appearance. It seems the world was not ready for a UFO-shaped home of the future.

We think the world is now ready for a UFO-shaped home of the future.

Me standing in front of a Futuro Home in Illinois (2012)

My wife and I would like to own a Futuro home, and we’ve found a lot of other people who say they would, too. Unfortunately, the “homes of tomorrow” built in the late 60s and early 70s aren’t doing so well today. Some of the plastics used are now degrading. Additionally, building codes today are (thankfully) more stringent than they were 45 years ago.

My wife has launched a Kickstarter Project in hopes of bringing back the Futuro Home. The goal of her Kickstarter is to end up with a new, prototype Futuro home. Building this requires several major hurdles, none of which are cheap. Some of the hurdles include:

  • Reverse engineering a Futuro to get its exact specifications and measurements
  • Updating the Futuro’s structure to ensure that it meets the strictest modern home-building standards
  • Work with modern architects to ensure the most durable, maintainable and cost-efficient materials are used
  • Create blueprints and make them available
  • Based off of those blueprints, create molds
  • Design assembly instructions
  • …and finally…

  • Build a complete proof-of-concept Futuro House
  • My wife is an expert project manager and has several certifications saying so. She is also an expert with budgets, and has already started contacting architects, engineers, mold fabricators, and other professionals essential to bringing back the Futuro Home. Her goal of raising $45,000 is essentially exactly what it will take to bring back the Futuro Home.

    Susan has added some neat and affordable rewards to her Kickstarter, things like 3D-Printed Futuro Homes and numbered prints. There are also some high end rewards: for $500 you can attend the the prototype assembly party here in Oklahoma, for example.

    When and if this Kickstarter succeeds and we are able to complete production of the first new Futuro Home, we will be able to begin construction on new homes. Again, there are currently less than 20 Futuro homes in the United States, most of which are abandoned. It would cost you more to purchase an original Futuro home and repair it than it will to buy a new one. I truly hope Susan’s Kickstarter succeeds — one because I’d love to see Future Homes make a comeback, and two, because I’m pretty sure the prototype is going in my backyard. I can’t wait to sit in a UFO-shaped home and play Space Invaders all night long!

    Susan and I have already registered NewFuturoHouse.com and plan to document every step along the way of this exciting process.

    Thanks to Simon from TheFuturoHouse.com for allowing us to use his pictures on our Kickstarter page and in Susan’s Kickstarter video.

    Kickstarter Link: New Futuro House

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    In the spring of 1995 the band Tesla rolled into Oklahoma City. Most bands lumped together under the “hair metal” umbrella fought to separate themselves from that label, and Tesla was no exception. Even though the band was named after the Nikola Tesla, that did little to set them apart from the pack. Tesla had a few hits in the 80s and 90s and are best remembered for “Love Song” and their cover version of “Signs.”

    Tesla was in town to play a show at the Diamond Ballroom. The Diamond is where bands who can’t sell sell out the larger local venues play. Tesla was in town supporting their fourth album, Bust a Nut, an album with no radio singles. Still, there were plenty of people familiar with their earlier work who were willing to come out and see the band perform live.

    To drum up interest for the show, Tesla held an autograph signing at the Best Buy where I was working at the time. Prior to that we had held a few other music-related events, like midnight CD release parties for The Eagles and Van Halen, but this was the first time I can remember actually having a band live in the store.

    Toward the rear of the store we set up tables for the members of Tesla to sit at. Customers were encouraged to buy a Tesla CD for the band to autograph, but I’m pretty sure they would sign anything anyone brought. From the outside the life of a rock star seems pretty glamorous, but when you’re working an event like this it seems like anything but. The tables were in the back of the store because the band was hiding in the brown goods warehouse — a big concrete room full of broken electronics waiting to be put on pallets and sent back — until it was time for Tesla to “arrive.”

    While I knew people would line up for autographs, I had no idea how many people would show up and how many gifts they would bring. Before long the table began filling up with flowers and stuffed animals. It seemed like every girl who came through the line had something to give the band. For their part the band was very polite and accepted every one. My task quickly became carrying all of these gifts back into the warehouse and keeping the table clean and clear.

    I don’t remember how long the band was there — maybe an hour, I’m guessing — but soon it was time for them to leave. The band stood up, waved goodbye to their remaining fans, and made their escape back into the warehouse.

    I assumed my next task would be loading all of those teddy bears, stuffed animals and flowers into the band’s van, but that wasn’t the case. “Take that stuff home to your girlfriends,” the band told us. “We can’t take all that on tour with us!” After shaking hands with the band and watching them drive away, those of us remaining in the warehouse divvied up the loot into piles. That night all of our girlfriends got gifts of flowers and teddy bears and pillows that had been intended for Tesla.

    While everybody has good days and bad days, I remember the members of Tesla being extremely friendly and professional during their brief visit to Best Buy. Meeting them was one of the more exciting things that happened while I worked there.

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    I don’t remember what I ate last night before bed, but whatever it was, I need to eat more of it. Last night I had a bizarre dream.

    Last night I dreamed that Eddie Van Halen was having a meet and greet in the back of a restaurant in Florida. MTV had held a contest where people had to submit their dream vacation and in my entry I said I wanted to go on a cruise with Eddie Van Halen to Fiji and that I would write and blog about our adventures. MTV was announcing the winner at the meet and greet and you had to be present to win, so Susan, the kids and I had driven to Florida.

    When we got to Florida, outside the restaurant was a place named Alice’s Whorehouse. Susan and I thought it would be funny to take the kids in there and pretend like we thought it was an Alice in Wonderland-themed restaurant. We took the kids inside and played dumb while a naked manager came out and nervously tried to explain to us that this was not an Alice in Wonderland-themed restaurant, but instead a whorehouse. For some reason we found this hilarious.

    Then we went next door to the meet and greet. Eddie Van Halen was at a table in the back of the restaurant with two small kids. No one else was around so I sat down and we just started chatting. I told him I had entered the contest and he asked me about writing and playing the guitar.

    While we were chatting, Valerie Bertinelli (Eddie Van Halen’s ex-wife in real life) arrived with bags of groceries. Eddie introduced me to her and she said, “Oh, I have something for you!” She handed me a piece of paper that looked like a map and said it was a puzzle. When I looked at it, the paper said to “connect the x’s” and there were two x’s, one on Florida and the other on Fiji. I got pretty excited and figured they were telling me I had won the contest. Then Valerie told me that they loved the idea so much that she and Eddie Van Halen were going on the cruise alone without me. Bummer.

    I got up to leave the table and was greeted by a robot guy? He was wearing a trenchcoat and a hat and had a shiny, smooth piece of metal for a face with no features. He told me he was a truther-bot and that he wanted to show me something. We went to the corner of the room and he showed me that the walls and floor didn’t fit together exactly right. Where they didn’t line up you could see white light shining through. He told me it was because this was a dream and that in dreams the buildings are never put together exactly right.

    Right after that, I woke up. The first thing I did was check the corner of my bedroom to make sure no light was leaking in from outside. Whew.

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    A couple of homes were recently broken into in our neighborhood. We were informed at our last Home Owner’s Association meeting that the MO for all the robberies has been the same. The thieves knocked on people’s doors and rang their doorbells to see if anyone was home. When nobody answered, they went around behind the house and kicked the back door in.

    Yesterday, at 8:15 a.m., someone rang our doorbell, knocked on our front door, and then walked around behind our house.

    The reason I know this is because Susan and I were both home yesterday. I was upstairs working from home, and Susan had a 9 a.m. doctor’s appointment that she was getting ready for. I just assumed a FedEx or UPS guy had rung the doorbell. I didn’t realize Susan had just got out of the shower until I heard her yell, “Somebody just rang our doorbell and now they’re in the backyard!!!”

    This is one of two reasons I own a gun. I don’t carry my gun with me to the mall or while I’m out shopping, but if someone were to break into my home while I was there, it would be a bad day for everybody. (The other reason I own one is for road trips.)

    By the time I made it downstairs and to the backdoor, the person was gone. I told Susan to pre-dial 911 as I headed toward the front door. When I opened the door I saw… a pest control guy out by the street, packing his tools into his truck.

    I stood on my front porch for a full five minutes in my best Ice Cube “Do we have a problem here?” pose until he left.

    The pest control guy drove off in one direction, did a u-turn, drove back the other direction, and did another u-turn before stopping in front of the next door neighbor’s house. I’m guessing he checked the address on his paperwork a bit more closely the second time. Susan was already on the phone with our neighbors, confirming that the had indeed called asked a pest control guy to visit their house. They had.

    The guy was still out by his truck when Susan left for her doctor’s appointment. As she drove by she rolled down her window, explained the situation, and cautioned the guy (who was obviously startled) that it might be best to make sure he had the right address before he opened people’s gates and began messing around in their backyards at 8:15 a.m. on a work day. He agreed.

    When I got my concealed/open carry license a few years ago, our instructor warned us that you may never know if you are capable of shooting someone that means you harm until the time comes. As I stood there on my front porch with my hand wrapped around the grip of that gun, I knew the answer.

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    Tucked away in the heart of Austin, Texas is the Museum of the Weird. Susan found this museum while searching for things to do in Austin and I’m so glad she did. While it’s a little rough around the edges, it is definitely worth stopping by if you like weird things.

    The Museum of the Weird is divided into three parts. The first part is a self-guided tour through a collection of oddities. The second portion of the tour is a sideshow performance. The final portion, if you pay extra for it (more on that later), is a viewing of the original Minnesota Iceman.

    The first section of the museum, the self-guided tour, has lots of real and not-so-real items on display. By real, I mean things like a stuffed two-faced calf…

    …and by not real I mean things like this fur-bearing trout.

    (The fur-bearing trout was of particular interest to me as that is one of the cryptids featured prominently in Robb Shewwin’s game Cryptozookeeper!)

    This portion of the museum is very small. If you were to read every placard on every item it might take you ten minutes. If you are into weird things then you will love this stuff. There’s a “real” (?) skeleton, some wax dummies, and a few movie props to look at while you’re here.

    At this point we experienced a bit of a traffic jam. Apparently we showed up right as the sideshow performers were changing shifts, which left us stuck in the first part of the museum for roughly 20 minutes. In that amount of time you can see everything in the museum roughly five times. Unfortunately because the space is so small, as other people began entering the museum we were literally trapped and had to stand shoulder-to-shoulder until we were eventually met by our tour guide and escorted to the next portion of the tour.

    After leaving the museum we were led past a big monitor lizard (so lethargic that we were never quite sure if it was alive or not), past a small apartment where Johnny Depp stayed while filming What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, and into the sideshow performance room. While waiting for the performance to begin, we were encouraged to take pictures with the props placed around the room.

    Next, our tour guide took the stage and began talking about sideshow performances. He mentioned the “blockhead” trick which instantly perked my ears as I know exactly what that is. Based on the first part of the tour I was not sure whether to expect a real performance or a trick, but sure enough, within a few minutes the performer (Eric) had pulled out a hammer and a six inch penny nail and proceeded to hammer it up his nostril directly into his sinus cavity!

    Once he was done with that he asked for a volunteer from the audience to help him remove it. I’ll give you three guesses as to who ended up on stage…

    After giving her some specific instructions (mainly, “don’t wiggle the nail”), Morgan pulled the nail straight out of Eric’s face.

    “You might think that’s brains on that nail, but it’s not (snot),” he said. The kids loved that joke.

    Over a span of ten minutes Eric hammered a nail up his nose, stuck his hand into a fox trap, attempted to lift a concrete block with his beard (the rubber bands snapped), and finished the show by allowing an audience member to staple a tip to his chest using a staple gun. Did we get our money’s worth or what?

    After Eric’s performance ended we were led back down the stairs and into a another room which held THE MINNESOTA ICEMAN. (Cue music.)

    I remember reading about the Minnesota Iceman when I was a kid. According to the legend, a hunter accidentally shot and killed what appeared to be… well, an iceman. And it ended up in Minnesota. (Keep up with me here.) The Minnesota Iceman was encased in ice and displayed at carnivals and sideshows across the country for many decades. At one point the FBI examined it due to concerns that a real human being might be encased in the ice but they determined it to not be real. If you’re into cryptids and Bigfoot and tales about such things, the Minnesota Iceman was semi-legendary.

    In 2013, the Iceman was sold on eBay. It was purchased by the Museum of the Weird. It was featured on an episode of Shipping Wars, where the Iceman was shipped from Minnesota to Austin, Texas.

    The Museum of the Weird does not allow photos to be taken of the Iceman, although a quick Google search turns up thousands to choose from. Compared to older pictures of the Iceman, the ice he is encased in now is much cloudier, making the iceman’s features much more difficult to see. There are pictures online of the Iceman when he was thawed out a few years ago, if you really want to see the details.

    To this day people argue whether or not the Minnesota Iceman is “real” or not. To me, that’s not the point. This is the actual box that was toted around the country for decades that people paid money to see. I read about it in books when I was a kid. Seeing the actual signs that were displayed along with the Iceman was super exciting for me.

    This is a picture of the Minnesota Iceman that I found on the internet. The ice was nowhere near this clear when we saw it.

    Our trip to the museum got off to a rocky start in regards to the admission price. While the website says admission is $8 for adults and $5 for kids, we didn’t read the fine print. It was actually $12 for adults and $9 for kids if you wanted to see the Iceman. We also learned that our kids, ages 9 and 12, are actually adults (the kid prices only apply to children under 8). So, we showed up expecting to spend $26 on and ended up spending $48. To be honest, we were going to let the kids buy souvenirs and we ended up not letting them to balance out the price.

    I’ve already had one person ask me if I thought the Museum of the Weird was kid appropriate. My answer would be, “it depends on your kids.” My kids love scary stuff and were fine with all the horror movie props, the sideshow performance, and and the Minnesota Iceman. Know that our sideshow performer let someone from the audience staple a $20 bill to his chest with a staple gun, and it bled. It’s not a place for everybody; I suspect you’ll know if it’s a place for you and yours to visit.

    If you’re the type of kid who used to watch (or read) Ripley’s Believe it or Not, stay up late reading horror comic books under the covers with a flashlight, or paid a dollar at the fair to see the “Man Eating Chicken,” then run (don’t walk) to the Museum of the Weird in Austin, Texas. If the thought of seeing a cyclops pig in a jar of formaldehyde or watching a guy stick his hand into a fox trap, this might not be the vacation destination for you.

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

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

    In no particular order…

    Lonesome Ghosts (1937)

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

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

    Mickey and the Seal (1948)

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

    Mickey’s Trailer (1938)

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

    Goofy and Wilbur (1939)

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

    Goofy in Aquamarine (1961)

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

    Honorable mention…

    In The Bag (1956)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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