While the blog’s been more quiet than usual lately, I’ve recorded several podcasts over the past couple of weeks — two of which came out yesterday, in fact.
On the latest episode of You Don’t Know Flack I talk about the dedicated emulation PC I recently put together for our living room. It’s more of a high level look at such devices. I’m working on a more detailed article to go along with it that explains everything I did step by step.
My buddy Zerbinator and I recently started Rusted Metal, a podcast in which we discuss our favorite bands of the 80s. We’re going down the list alphabetically, so in episodes one and two we discussed AC/DC and Anthrax. We’ll be recording episode three this week in which we’ll be discussing Black Sabbath.
The WNUF Halloween Special is a copy of a copy of a VHS recording of a live news broadcast that took place on October 31, 1987. For those of you unfamiliar with the incident, during a live broadcast, news personality Frank Stewart along with acclaimed psychics Louis and Claire Berger and a Catholic priest (Father Joseph Matheson) were broadcasting live from the supposedly haunted Webber House (the site of a double murder) when they experienced paranormal activity. The live broadcast went dead, and none of the four were ever seen again.
The rest of this review is chock full of spoiler. If you plan on watching this movie, don’t read past the picture below. If you’re okay with spoilers, continue… if you dare.
If you’re wondering why you’ve never heard of the Webber murders, Frank Stewart, or WNUF for that matter, is because they’re not real. This film goes to great lengths to appear to be a VHS recording from the 1980s, but it was actually created and released in 2013. The filmmakers went as far as to record dozens of 80s-esque commercials which are sprinkled throughout the recording, and made multiple VHS copies of the movie to give it the look of a second-(or third or fourth)-hand tape that’s been copied and passed around among friends.
The film begins with a live news broadcast from October 31, 1987. After a few news stories presented by a couple of stereotypical broadcasters from the 80s, we get to Frank Stewart, who is doing a live remote broadcast from the Webber House. In the 1960s, Donald Webber, guided by a Ouija board, murdered his parents in the house and drug their decapitated bodies down into the basement. After the trial, the house was boarded up remained abandoned for 20 years. Twenty years later on Halloween night, the house is being unsealed (a’la “Geraldo and Al Capone’s Vault”) during a live broadcast. Joining Stewart during his broadcast are husband and wife psychics Louis and Claire Berger, their cat, and Catholic priest Father Joseph Matheson.
It’s pretty clear up front that Frank doesn’t believe the house is haunted, the psychics do, and the priest doesn’t know quite what to think. The psychics brought along their third partner, Shadow, a cat that is also psychic. Shadow quickly runs off which causes the four humans to go searching for him. They do eventually find Shadow — er, parts of Shadow, anyhow — which is one of our first signs that something is going on in the Webber house. During their search for the cat, the psychics’ EVM recording equipment is also smashed off screen.
Each of these segments are interrupted by commercials, which were created explicitly for this movie. As someone who grew up in the 80s I can tell you most of them are spot on. Some of them, like the ones for a local monster truck rally and the anti-drug ads (sponsored by “Parents Against Partying”) are spot on. The biggest giveaway that none of them are real is that none of them are for shows or products or businesses that you’ve ever heard of. Obviously the point is to add to the authenticity of the recording, and they certainly do that.
Anyone who has ever sat through an episode of Scooby-Doo should be able to predict the ending. While I won’t give everything away, the last five minutes contain more f-bombs than I was expecting. As viewers, we ultimately get to see footage that did not make it to the live broadcast, which makes one wonder just whose tape we are watching…
Part The Last Broadcast/Blair Witch, part retro-80s fun, the WNUF Halloween Special is better in theory than it is in production, but if you’re in to low budget thrillers and the 1980s, give it a watch. Expect it to become a Halloween cult classic in years to come.
Last month Susan decided to redecorate our front living room. I agreed, as long as the last step involved buying a new television and hanging it on the wall. We shook hands, and shortly after the new sectional, rug, and chaise lounge arrived, so did the new television.
This is the first television we’ve ever mounted to a wall. While that was relatively simple, it left us with a small stack of electronics piled on top of a TV tray.
I waited a week and the items did not organize themselves, so I decided I was going to have to do it.
My plan was to build a box — a box that hung on the wall and held four items: a computer, cable box, blu-ray player, and wireless streaming box. The PC has the biggest footprint of the four at 16″ deep, but I played around with some measurements and figured that if it were a foot deep it would look okay. Based on that, I bought one piece of wood, 8′ long and 1′ deep. With that, I built this:
It’s 2′ wide and 1′ tall. I offset the middle shelf a bit (the box is upside-down in this picture) so that the bottom shelf could hold the PC and the cable box, with the smaller/thinner items going on the top.
I then applied what I thought was a thin coat of wood putty to all the box’s imperfections. It turned out to be joint compound. After waiting a day for that to dry, I sanded 90% of that off. Unfortunately, while sanding it down, big chunks fell out of the cracks I had filled.
I then sanded some more, and repaired some more, and then after three days of messing with this stupid box, I put it out by the trash.
Today I found this little end table at Target. It holds all of our stuff, matches the room, and most importantly, was already assembled.
If anyone wants a mostly assembled box/shelf with more than a few imperfections, it’ll be out by the trash Monday morning.
Six months ago I was contacted out of the blue by a friend-of-a-friend (I don’t even know his real name) who asked if I was able to archive some old Commodore diskettes for him. I told him I could. I asked him what type of data was on the disks and he told me they contained programs he had written in BASIC and custom levels for games he had created almost 30 years ago. I gladly obliged.
Unfortunately when the diskettes arrived in my mailbox the were unreadable. This happens. I don’t know if the disks were ruined from being stored in sub-optimal conditions (old floppy disks stored in attics and garages for two decades don’t seem to be faring well) or if something happened to them in transit, but none of the disks were readable. I tried multiple devices and multiple floppy disks and couldn’t retrieve any data from the disks. I felt bad about telling this guy his data was lost.
This same individual found another batch of floppies a few weeks ago and so we tried again. This time I suggested that he write “MAGNETIC MEDIA — DO NOT BEND!” on the outside of the package. I don’t know if that makes the post office treat the package any differently en route, but it made us both feel better. When the disks arrived last week, I crossed my fingers, inserted the first one, and gave it a shot. Success!
Out of eight double-sided disks I was able to archive fifteen of the sixteen sides with no errors. One of the disks contained some read errors; through cleaning and multiple retries I think I got a working copy of the diskette, but I’m not 100% sure. As you can see in the picture above, the first disk contained saved characters from the game Mail Order Monsters and a level created for the Electronic Arts game Demon Stalkers. All of the data on all of the diskettes consisted of user-generated content. The data on these disks exist nowhere else. Before last week the only copy of this data existed on these floppies. Now they exist in D64/G64 virtual disks and can be accessed and played through modern emulation.
I don’t know if this friend-of-a-friend plans on publicly sharing these disks or not. I hope he does just so others can see the types of things that we were creating on Commodore computers 30 years ago, but if he doesn’t that’s okay too. I was just glad to do my part in saving a few ones and zeros from disappearing forever.
I grew up with Bill Cosby. Not in Philadelphia of course, but on television. Bill Cosby appeared on both the first two seasons of The Electric Company and on Fat Albert, both of which I watched regularly as a kid.
How I really became familiar with Bill Cosby was through his comedy albums. My parents owned several of Cosby’s records, and I spent hour upon hour in my room as a kid listening to I Started Out as a Child, Why Is There Air? and Wonderfulness, among others. I memorized every word to every one of those comedy bits and recited them frequently to my friends.
In 1983, Bill Cosby: Himself aired on HBO. As far as I’m concerned, that special was, at least for my generation, one of the greatest stand up comedic performances of all time. I can’t imagine anyone who grew up in the 80s who hasn’t sung along to “Dad is great, give us the chocolate cake!” Within a few years I was exposed to the likes of Eddie Murphy, Sam Kinison, Andrew Dice Clay and Cheech and Chong — none of which I probably should have been listening to at that time — but Cosby always seemed like the master. Himself feels less like a performance and more like you’re watching your uncle tell stories about people you know. His stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end with a callback. The way he builds his stories and connects them together has long inspired me; anyone who has listened to both his comedy albums and listened to my podcasts will spot the similarities.
Like those albums, I probably watched Himself a hundred times. It seemed to always be playing on HBO, and like those albums, there wasn’t a bit on that special — from the dentist story to children having brain damage — that I couldn’t perform on the bus, word for word.
If you’ve never seen the special before, quit reading this article and go watch it instead:
If Bill Cosby hadn’t added another thing to the comedy lexicon his legendary status still would have been sealed, but he did. The year after Himself aired, The Cosby Show debuted. From 1984 to 1992 (and years after that, thanks to reruns), Americans followed the Huxtables through adventures that all of us — black, white, whatever — could relate to. As an eleven-year-old growing up in Oklahoma I didn’t have any African American friends, but I had the Huxtables — and through them I learned that black people weren’t all that different than white people. Cliff Huxtable was a doctor, his wife Clair was a lawyer, and his kids — Sondra, Denise, Theo, Vanessa, and Rudy — all went through things that I could relate to. Of course the show was funny, but in its own way it was also educational.
Bill Cosby changed not just my life but lots of people’s lives. He used comedy to show that people, regardless of race, are all the same. He changed the way white America saw African Americans — from “one of them” to “one of us.”
If there are truth to the accusations currently floating around, he did all of this while he was sexually assaulting women. And not just one or two; at least fifteen women (to date) have come forward to accuse Cosby of assaulting them. Most of them have similar stories involving being drugged and waking up later only to discover they had been assaulted.
So far all we have are accusations and allegations. It’s going to be very difficult to prove any of these accusations in a court of law; regardless, people have begun to turn on Cosby. “Innocent until proven guilty,” not so much. Across the country people are protesting Cosby’s current comedy tour. Several of his upcoming performances, along with two new television projects with NBC, have been cancelled. Netflix cancelled a Cosby special it had planned to run the day after Thanksgiving. TV Land has pulled The Cosby Show from its lineup.
I think sometimes we like watching people fall. Some part of us like knowing that celebrities aren’t perfect. We watch these reality shows in which celebrities lose their cool and we laugh. It feels good to know that they aren’t all that different from us. On Facebook we compare ourselves not to other people, but the parts of people’s lives they choose to present to us. Typically we only see celebrities with the perfect makeup and lighting, with handlers all around them ensuring that they don’t take a wrong step or say the wrong thing. Whether it’s a celebrity meltdown or a celebrity sex tape, we enjoy watching those people fall.
For some reason though, not this time. No part of me is enjoying the public beating Bill Cosby is taking and will continue to take. He’ll finish what he can of this round of scheduled performances, but that’ll be it. There will be no more television deals, no more college speaking engagements, and no more comedy tours. Like Mel Gibson and Michael Richards, Cosby’s best bet is to disappear from the public eye for ten years and try again; problem is, he’s 77 years old, and that’s not likely to happen.
When I think of Michael Jackson, I think of the guy that released Thriller, the cool moonwalking dude that everybody loved. People older than me probably remember him as the little kid from the Jackson 5. My kids will always remember him as the creepy looking guy that abused children.
I don’t know what really happened back then, and the accusations against him do seem damning. No matter whether the stories pan out or not, the damage to Bill Cosby’s legacy has already been done. It will be a shame if he and his name go down in history with a negative connotation after all the good he did and laughter he created. I hate to think that my kids may remember “Bill Cosby, the rapist” instead of “Bill Cosby, the comedian.”
By the time I began purchasing the seventh generation of video game consoles in the mid-2000s — the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Nintendo Wii — I already had a wiring nightmare on my hands. Even before I owned those three consoles I had at least twenty other gaming systems wired up to my television and ready to play.
You’re probably familiar with those old manual RCA switch boxes that allowed you to hook four different things up to a single television. To wire up that many televisions, I had eight 4-way switch boxes connected to a big 8-way switch box. All of these switch boxes were numbered and I had a cheat sheet mapping out all the connections next to the television. To play the Nintendo, switch box 1 needed to be on 2 and the big 8-way switchbox needed to be on 3 (2-3). The Super Nintendo was on 3-3; the Commodore, 4-1. The 8th 4-way switch box was reserved to those all-in-one joysticks. I had quite a few at the time and was constantly unplugging and replugging different ones in.
The only way to power this monstrosity was by daisy chaining power strips. I had a plug in the outlet that split the two existing sockets into six, all six of those had power strips plugged into them, and a few of the power strips had additional power strips connected. There’s no part of this configuration that would have passed any kind of safety inspection. Every time I left the room I was worried something was going to spontaneously combust in the middle of the night and burn the house down.
Unhooking all that stuff was a lot simpler than hooking it up, I assure you. After we sold our last house and bought our current one, all of those consoles, controllers, power supplies, power strips, wires, and switch boxes went into big plastic tubs.
That’s where most of them remain today.
The PS3, Wii, and 360 are all still hooked up. In another area I have a Retron 3 (that plays NES, SNES, and Genesis cartridges) and my Atari 2600 hooked up. To be honest, most of them are collecting dust (if it weren’t for Mason, all of them would be). Upstairs I also have my Commodore 64 and Apple II hooked up, but to be honest most of my retrogaming these days is done through emulation. Between the Raspberry Pi, the MiST, the emulators on my PC and the 60-in-1 arcade cabinet downstairs, most of the games I enjoy playing are just a click or two away. I never said emulation was better, but it darn sure is convenient.
I don’t know what to do with those tubs of consoles, so for now, they sit. I paid too much money to get rid of them, but lack the space or interest to hook them all back up. So, in the tubs they’ll stay for now until I can figure out what to do with them.
It finally happened. Someone — not on the internet, but in real life — asked my opinion of Gamergate.
Gamergate began this past August and I only know the slightest of details, but I will try and summarize this nonsense as quickly and generically as I can. The way I understand it, a young woman wrote and released a new video game that got some attention on a few popular online gaming news sites. It was soon revealed that one of the online journalists (a young man) who had given the game a positive review had previously had a relationship with the young lady who developed the game. This came to light when another young man discovered that he was not the only young man in this woman’s life. The whole thing should have been classified as “jilted lover seeks revenge” and ended there, but it didn’t.
Instead, the young woman who developed the game was “doxed.” Doxing is the act of releasing someone’s personal information (anything from their real name to their home address, phone number, social security number, and more) to the general public. After all of this young lady’s personal information was leaked began calling her (and other family members) on the phone and making death threats for some inexplicable reason. And then some people started doxing other women involved in gaming too, I guess because some people are mean.
All of this has led to a lot of conversation on the internet, like how gamergate is terrorism, but more importantly, it has instigated a lot of conversation defining what gamers are, how gamers should act, what gamers should think and what they should be doing.
All that has led me to a conclusion: I am not a gamer.
Not in that sense, anyhow.
I’ve been playing electronic games just about as long as anybody. If you’ve read Commodork you know that we owned a Pong clone in 1977. Over the next couple of years we purchased an Odyssey 2 and Atari 2600 before moving on to owning home computers. We first owned a TRS-80 Model III, and by the mid-80s we owned an Apple II clone (the Franklin Ace 1000), an IBM PC Jr., a Commodore 64, and our own computer store — Yukon Software.
I’ve never been comfortable with labels. I enjoy photography, but I do not call myself a photographer. I enjoy occasionally playing and recording music, but I don’t refer to myself as a musician. There are lots of things I enjoy doing, and that right there is the key — lots of things. I don’t have time to be pigeonholed by a single label. I’ve got too much going on for that.
I suppose by the simplest of definitions, I’m a gamer because I play games. Then again, aren’t most of us gamers? Don’t all those cell phone and Facebook applications like Candy Crush and Farmville count as games? You can delve into semantics real quick when it comes to definitions. Are gamers people who enjoy playing games as their primary source of entertainment? That leads us into multiple categories: there are casual gamers, classic gamers, modern gamers, and hardcore gamers.
Oh, and don’t forget “real” gamers. That’s my favorite, when someone tells you what a “real” gamer should or shouldn’t do.
I don’t know where I fit in to all of that and to be honest I don’t care. I don’t mean that smugly; I mean, matter-of-factly, I do not care one bit what you think about the games I play. Mostly because, I play games for me. I don’t care whether or not you approve of emulation. I don’t care what old system you liked the most (or the least). I don’t care if you don’t enjoy the same types of games I like. I don’t care if you don’t think I’m a hardcore (or worse, a “real”) gamer. It just doesn’t matter to me.
I play the games I play for my own enjoyment. Occasionally I run into people online who enjoy the game things I do, and when that happens that’s great. But when I run into people that don’t enjoy the same types of games that I do and want to convince me to change… I just can’t convey what a dumb concept that is to me. Go play what you enjoy. I don’t need your approval to like what I like.
Y’all go back to arguing about what gamers are and what they should be doing. As for me, I’ve got games to play.
Huey Lewis and the News released their third album Sports in September, 1983. The album’s first two singles, “Heart and Soul” and “I Want a New Drug,” both cracked the top ten.
The third single, “The Heart of Rock and Roll,” was a tribute to rock and roll. The song consists of three verses. The first two are each dedicated to specific cities while the third verse mentions ten more (one of which is Oklahoma City). That’s one of the things that caught my attention as a kid. I thought it was really cool that I lived in a city mentioned in the song and dreamed about visiting all the other cities mentioned.
I recently heard the song on the radio and realized that I actually have been to them all.
For what it’s worth I visited New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Baton Rouge for work purposes and L.A./Hollywood, Tulsa, Austin, San Francisco on personal vacation. I’ve been to Washington D.C., San Antonio, and Seattle for both business and pleasure. A fairly even mix.
As the song trails off we get two final cities: Cleveland and Detroit. Last year we drove through Cleveland on our way to Niagara Falls and visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Detroit is the one “stretch” (I went through it on a train). The next time we are up north I will make a point of doing something there.
Here’s a picture of Morgan and I standing outside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Best we could tell, the heart of rock and roll was still beating.
I try my hardest to ignore suggesting advertising. “If you bought that, you might also like this!” Sometimes they are right and sometimes they are wrong and that’s not the point. I would like to think that I am capable of purchasing what I want and only what I want. (Notice that I said “want” and not “need.” I didn’t “need” a life-size skeleton, I just wanted one.)
i bought some things online last year and as I checked out I got the prompt. I think it said, “other people who purchased this item also bought these.” Below that was a link to a 32 gigabyte USB thumb drive. Two things caught my attention: the thumb drive’s size (which is tiny) and the price (which was $10). I bought two of them.
Here’s one of the thumb drives, next to a quarter.
On the upper right-hand side of the thumb drive is a small plastic loop. Both thumb drives came with a lanyard that you could attach to the loop to prevent you from losing it. Both plastic loops broke almost immediately. In another example of “you get what you pay for,” the “metal USB part” fell out of the “blue plastic part” on both drives. In both cases I had to figure out how to reassemble the drives and get the innards oriented in the right direction. A drop of super glue has prevented that from reoccurring.
I use one of these drives in my drone. I can record video directly to USB. I use the other to move files to and from computers. I have a lot of stuff on it.
About a month ago, I lost it. That’s something I hadn’t considered about buying a USB thumb drive this small. I’ve been checking pants pockets, backpack flaps, and clutter piles everywhere. It just disappeared. With a bunch of “stuff” on it. Depending on your point of view, 32 gigs of data is either “almost nothing” or “a ton of space.” I suppose the size is less important than the contents.
While cleaning out some drawers last night, the drive turned up. When I plugged it into the computer I found that it contained nothing important — a few mp3s and some files I had moved from one machine to another. Still, the thought of losing it has had me searching high and low for the stupid thing for a month now, wondering what its fate was. (I was pretty sure it had fallen behind something, never to be seen again.)