"Things are not what they used to be, missing one inside of me." -Metallica/Fade to Black

Back in December I wrote a blog post about trying to make one working Apple IIe out of four parts machines. The project hit a snag when none of the parts machines I had acquired had drive controller cards. For the past three months I’ve had a table out in my garage that looks like this:

While digging around in a “junk drawer” upstairs over the weekend, I found the missing piece: a drive controller.

That’s kind of how I work; a project that’s been dormant for months will suddenly leap to life. It’s the offspring of too many projects and a short attention span.

With the newly found card in hand I headed out to the garage Saturday night. I ended up using the case from one computer, the guts from a second, and the keyboard from a third. Once I got everything reassembled I inserted the drive controller card, attached two untested floppy drives I’ve been hanging on to for ten years, inserted an old floppy into one of the drives, flipped the power switch and stood back to see what would happen. Moments later, this happened:

She could use a little cleaning but, yup, she works. I already have a working Apple IIe up in my computer room so I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to do with this one yet, but having one working one is always better than having three parts machines tying up garage real estate. On to the next project!

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You could say I’ve been collecting “Star Wars stuff” my entire life. Some of the oldest toys and action figures in my collection are the ones I got Christmas morning, 1978. Throughout the 80s I acquired a lot of stuff, and in the mid-90s when Star Wars was re-released in theaters and they began making new toys, I began collecting those as well. But it wasn’t until the late 90s that I began collecting vintage toys. Up until that point in time, other than a few things friends had gifted me, my collection of vintage toys consisted of the vintage toys I owned as a child.

The main reason I hadn’t added many vintage toys to my collection back then was that they were difficult to find. Occasionally you would run across a loose figure or ship at a flea market or garage sale, but it wasn’t until the advent of the world wide web (and specifically, eBay) that finding vintage toys for sale became easy.

According to my account, I signed up for eBay in June of 1998, and one of the first things I bought was a vintage Star Wars Landspeeder in the box. This one:

I paid $25 for it (not a bad price) from a local seller, and actually picked it up instead of having it mailed to me. That picture is from the house before the house before the one I live in now. We moved into the house before this one in 2002, so that picture’s at least 12 years old. That Landspeeder prompted me to “go retro” and beginning filling holes in my original collection.

And now, I can’t find it.

The first and most logical place I looked was in “the Star Wars room,” where all (or most) of my Star Wars things are. It’s not there. The next place I looked was in the couple of yet-to-be-displayed 30 gallon tubs with Star Wars toys in them out in the garage. It’s not there, either. There was a time when I had dozens of tubs and boxes full of storage items, but the size of our current house has afforded me the luxury of unpacking almost everything and labeling the few storage tubs I still have out in the garage.

It’s gone.

Whenever I lose my keys, or my work badge, or my coat, or my Sam’s Club card (all of which happen regularly), I retrace my steps. I was here, I did this, I drove that car, I sat here… and eventually, things show up. Unfortunately, the last time I can say for sure I remember seeing thing thing was 12 years ago. When we moved from “the house before the last house” to “the last house,” Mason was less than a year old. Based on some good advice from a friend, I boxed up my Star Wars collection and stored it away until the kids were old enough to know the difference between “toys we play with” and “toys we don’t open.” Other than my loose figures, the majority of my collection remained boxed up at the last house (from 2002-2011), and I really didn’t get my Star Wars display set up here at the new house until 2012, meaning I haven’t thought about the whereabouts of this thing for over a decade.

A few other things from my collection are also missing, which leads me to believe a box of Star Wars stuff went missing at some point. Did it get lost at the last move? Did it get lost at the move before the last move? Hard to say. During our last move, we used a storage unit for several months. Did it get left there? I just don’t know.

If there’s an upside to this story it’s that this isn’t my original landspeeder. That one — the one I got for Christmas in 1978 — is sitting right here beside me. It’s open (just the way Santa delivered it to me) and shows a few scuffs here and there from being played with (just the way I like it).

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Mason wasn’t the only O’Hara with a winning basketball season this year!

Morgan decided she wanted to be like big brother and play basketball as well this year. Morgan’s team is more focused on the basics of basketball. They’ve been practicing twice a week, working on things like dribbling and passing. Most of the girls on Morgan’s team can’t hit the backboard from the free throw line, which (unsurprisingly) has led to some pretty low scoring games.

Morgan’s team went 2-6 this season, which somehow qualified them for the state tournament. Everyone agreed that taking our girls to the state tournament this year would be like leading lambs to the slaughter so we celebrated the season with a round of medals and agreed to reconvene next year.

Morgan’s Coach was one of the most patient people I’ve ever met. The girls practiced twice a week and despite the fact that typically half the team members (or less) showed up to practice, Coach showed up for every one and worked with the girls regardless of the skill level they joined with. Just like Mason’s coaches, we really appreciate people donating their time to work with kids. Morgan’s skills improved exponentially throughout the year. Plus, at the beginning of the year she was crying 4 or 5 times per practice and near the end of the year it was down to 0 to 1 times.

Thanks to all the girls who showed up and played their hardest. It remains to be seen whether or not Morgan will play again next year.

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This was Mason’s second year to play basketball for the YMCA. Last year Mason played in the 10-and-under league, and this year he got bumped up to the 12-and-under league. The age cut off was September 1st of 2013, meaning Mason can play 12-and-under ball for one more year.

Mason’s team, which consisted of the same coaches and many of the same players as last year, went 7-1 this year (three of those games were forfeits), a record that was good enough to send them to state again. Last year state was in Weatherford (about an hour drive for us) but this year it was in Bethany which is much closer (it’s where Mason normally plays). Our team ended up consolidating into another team, building a powerhouse of sorts. The good news was that we ended up with a lot of good players; the bad news was, we only had two practices together with all the new players before we went to state.

Maybe it was nerves or maybe they simply didn’t mesh well together, but we lost our first game to a team we should have beaten. Our kids get intimidated anytime they face taller kids on the court and they did not play their best. Everyone who has seen these kids practice said the same thing. Our team looked awesome in practice, but it just didn’t translate to the court.

The tournament was double elimination and so we headed back to the tournament at 1:30pm for our 2pm game. Our 2pm opponent didn’t show, which game us an hour to regroup as a team. I had the opportunity to talk to a few of the kids and told them that we got beat by the best players at the tournament: ourselves. We didn’t pass, we didn’t run plays, and we didn’t play like normally play. We may have had the best players, but we certainly didn’t have the best team out there because we didn’t play like one.

When it was time for the 3pm game, our kids came alive. They ran, they shot, they played offense and defense, and they actually played like a team. Before long we were up by 20 points, a lead we held throughout the game. Mason hit one of his traditional 3-point shots and the crowd cheered. He played zone defense. He rebounded. He set picks. He did everything he was supposed to do and hustled as hard as he could. All the kids did, and it showed.

The kids were excited. We were on the rebound with a record of 2-1. We were in the losers bracket, sure, but we could dig our way out of this hole! Then our 4:30pm opponents showed up.

If that kid on the left is 12 years old, I’ll eat his size 15 show.

I don’t want to sound like I’m full of sour grapes, but note in this picture how those three kids are taller than the referee.

I tried to give the kids a pep talk before the game by telling them that the other team was in the losers bracket just like they were which meant someone else had already beaten them, but the kids weren’t having it.

Five minutes into the first half, the score was 0-20. (We were the 0.) Running one of our set plays, one of the kids kicked the ball out to Mason who got fouled on a three-point shot, sending him to the line. Mason hit the first one, making the score 1 to 20. That at least showed the kids that they could score, and that (I think) woke them up a bit. With the knowledge that it was actually possible to score against these giants, the kids turned it up.

Halfway through the second half, Mason (who was playing as hard as I’ve ever seen him play) got knocked to the ground while attempting to grab a rebound and was subsequently stepped on by one of his opponents. Mason laid on the ground holding his knee long enough that I ended up leaving the stands and walking out on to the court. Other than the outline of a giant Nike on the back of his calf, he was okay.

The final score was (I think) was 19-37. After the game the kids were frustrated and upset but they shouldn’t have been. They ran up against some monsters and that’s just the luck of the draw. I didn’t care if they won — I just cared that they tried. After the game I heard some bitter and critical complaints from parents about their kids not getting enough play time and that some of the “bad kids” got too much play time. And that’s unfortunate. I felt like both the kids and the coaches did a great job. Winning isn’t everything.

Thanks to Coach Charles and Coach Mike for a great season. I know Mason had a great time this year. He’s really developing as a player and really enjoys the game of basketball. Mason plans on spending the off season working on his shot and some of his other skills in preparation for next year’s season!

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On February 9th, the water treatment plant outside Draper Lake experienced a power outage, causing low water pressure to roughly 30,000 people in the metro. That day, our water pressure dropped to 10% of our normal pressure. Our toilets were taking forever to fill up, it was taking a good 30 seconds to get a glass of drinking water, and the water coming out of the shower wasn’t spraying hard enough to hit the back wall of the shower. We figured they would fix it eventually.

Two takeaways here. The first is, Draper Lake is roughly 30 miles from me. There’s a really small chance that an outage there was affecting my water pressure. And second, had I followed up on the news story I would have found that they fixed the problem the same day.

Our problem did not go away that same day. Or the next day. In fact, for an entire week we’ve been taking showers under trickles of water and flushing the toilets sparingly, hoping our water pressure would magically return. It did not.

It’s been cold in Oklahoma. Like, really cold — cold enough to break water lines. We checked the faucets, both front and back. No water. I also checked inside the garage and in the bathrooms. No water. Something was going on.

This morning, Susan called the water department to come out and take a look. When the man pulled up in front of the house he waved at us and said, “I see the problem.” The entire side of our house had standing water, and water was shooting out from under a big, fake plastic rock — our sprinkler system. In our defense, the rock and sprinkler system is hidden by our pop-up camper. It’s also on a side of the house we rarely go, and where I park my truck blocks the view of the side yard. (Oddly, the city water guy had no trouble spotting the lake.)

When the fake rock was removed water began shooting into the air a few feet high. Fortunately the water guy was able to shut off the water to the sprinkler system without turning off water to the entire house.

So, for the time being, water pressure has been restored. I will be launching a donation site soon to cover both repair bills to the sprinkler system we never use, and our next water bill from the city.

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Whenever I start a new project it’s not uncommon for me to dump all of my spare time into it and neglect my other projects, at least temporarily. Whenever my blog and podcast output wanes, you can bet I’ve been sidetracked.

My latest project is a Facebook page called Vintage Videogame Ads. Even if you don’t have a Facebook account (who reading this does not have a Facebook account?) you can access the page here: www.facebook.com/VintageVideogameAds.

Back in the 8-bit days of computing, advertisements in computer and videogame magazines were a great way to discover new games. Each time my mom would take me to the supermarket with her I would hand out at the magazine rack, skimming through computer magazines to find the game reviews and the latest ads.

This project started several years ago with the purchase of a Plustek OpticBook scanner. The OpticBook scanner is specially designed for scanning in books. I have a couple dozen computer and videogame magazines from the 1980s, and this scanner allowed me to scan them all into the computer. I love reading the old articles and game reviews, but I found I loved looking at the old ads even more — so much so that I pulled all the ads out and placed them in their own folder.

After going through all the magazines I owned I ended up with around 400 ads. Roughly 200 of those were ads for games or game companies and the other 200 were ads for hardware or services. I’ve been wanting to share them for a while but hadn’t quite figured out the right venue. It hit me the other night that a Facebook album would be perfect, so that’s what I did.

If I made any mistake at all it’s that I uploaded all of them at once, dumping 300 new photos into the group at once. By doing that, I ran myself out of new material almost immediately. After searching the garage I found another half-dozen magazines. Now that the well is dry, I’ve begun phase two of the project. I have hundreds of old computer and videogame magazines in PDF format. I spent the past three evenings converting every issue of RUN Magazine from PDF to JPG and pulling all the ads out of that stack. I have runs of lots of other magazines too, so I should have source material to pull from for years to come. Because they’re coming from different sources the ads are of varying quality. If I find better scans I’ll replace them as time goes on; if I run across the actual magazines, I’ll scan in better copies myself. I’ve also throttled the number of pictures I’m uploading to 2 or 3 at a time. It’s a much more enjoyable way to appreciate the ads.

Along with the game ads, I’m also really enjoying the hardware ads. As you move through time you can watch prices drop. I have ads with Commodore 64s ranging in price from $299 to $99. There’s a series of ads selling Sanyo monitors that drops $10 in price every month. It’s one thing to tell someone you remember when hard drives cost thousands of dollars, but it’s another thing to see the advertisements for yourself. Technically these aren’t “videogame” ads but so far I haven’t received any complaints about posting them.

The only bad thing about projects like these is that there’s no end, ever. My biggest hurdle at the moment is making sure that all of my scans are named properly to ensure that I don’t end up with tons of duplicates. That will come with time I suppose. What I have the most problem with are ads from game companies that feature multiple games. For example, I have “Heroes of the Lance (AD&D, SSI).jpg” along with “SSI (3 AD&D Games).jpg”. I’m trying to include enough information in the file names to be able to search and find similar ads (all SSI ads, for example) and that may take a little work — but that’s work on my end, not yours. All you need to do to enjoy the ads is to head over to the Facebook page where you can browse through the photos or “like” the page to receive updates whenever I post new ones. Feel free to post any you have as well!

Link: www.facebook.com/VintageVideogameAds

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Earlier today, I helped Susan set up her new temporary bed.

Susan has been put in charge of a high profile project for the next two weeks. When I was a kid I dreamed of someday being put in charge of high profile projects. Who knew working on high profile projects potentially involved sleeping on an inflatable mattress in a corner of your office?

Along with a camping cot and the inflatable mattress, we also took food, bottles of water, and my dorm-sized fridge up to her office today. For at least the next 48 hours, beginning tonight at 10pm, Susan will remain on site. She’ll be eating breakfast, lunch and dinner at work. She’ll be running hourly reports and monitoring the health of the system around the clock, a system that you’ll most likely never hear about unless it fails. Then, you’ll hear about it on the news.

As the kids run around the house and I watch the Olympics and type this, Susan is taking a load of blankets, pillows, and her laptop bag to the car. She’s got an extra jacket since heat to our building was turned off over the weekend, and a box of granola bars in case tomorrow’s incoming snow prevents us from getting dinner to her. We’re hoping that other than the first two days and the last two days she’ll be able to come home at night, but we’ll have to wait and see how things play out. If not, she’s prepared to stay there for the long haul.

I wish the same people who were trashing government employees during last year’s furlough could see this side of the job.

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Shortly before Christmas, the 48-in-1 multicade arcade machine I had set up in the kitchen died. I didn’t even get the satisfaction of letting the smoke out of the thing. It just quit working.

Whenever troubleshooting an arcade machine, start at the beginning — power. My machine plugs into a power strip that plugs into the wall. I knew the wall outlet was good, so I tested the power strip using my multimeter.

116 volts — perfect. The next place to check power is at the power supply itself. Most switching power supplies put out +5, -5, and +12 volts. The board runs off of the +5v, so I checked that first.

For you math nerds, +2.28 is less than +5. I checked the +12v lead and it was putting out just under +6v. This power supply was toast. Fortunately, out in the garage, I had a spare.

With the new power supply connected to the wall, I checked the +5v rail. +5.07 — perfect! The +12v also looked great. With the two power supplies side by side, I transferred each connection (one by one) from the old power supply to the new one. After all the wires were connected to the new power supply, I removed the old one and mounted the new one into the machine.

Success! While I was inside the cabinet I took the opportunity to clean out the bottom of it.

Those are some of the tokens and coins I found lying around. I also found the cabinet’s original serial number.

Originally, this cabinet was a Williams Robotron, serial number 567487.

While I was in the mood, I did one other cheap upgrade as well.

The bezel around the monitor doesn’t match up very well. The original monitor had died and I replaced it with a computer monitor.

Susan found these sheets of poster board that fade between colors. She picked up two sheets: yellow-to-pink, and blue-to-green. Either one would match the color scheme on this cabinet’s marquee and control panel, so I decided to go with the yellow-to-pink one. I spent five minutes cutting the square out of the middle using a ruler and a razor blade and trimming the edges down with a pair of scissors. If I upgrade to a larger monitor, I’ll make the hole bigger.

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Years before I registered robohara.com, I used a free forwarding service with the address of http://welcome.to/theoharas. The earliest working snapshot the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine has of the site is from “>November, 2001.

Back then, before WordPress, I ran my own “blog” software (“blog” was barely a word in 2000) that I had written in ASP and later converted to PHP. It certainly wasn’t as fancy or robust as WordPress — in fact, all it really allowed me to do was update my webpage remotely by inserting entries into the top of a text file that was displayed on the main page. Things have come a long way since then.

Over the weekend while doing some digital cleanup I found some of my old blog entries from my pre-Wordpress days, mostly from 2004 to 2006. Some of the entries covered my first NBA game, my use of a PalmPilot as a flashlight, and that time I saw the Blessed Virgin Mary Grilled Cheese Sandwich at the state fair, all from 2005.

Before work this morning I wrote a script to parse these old entries, break them into chunks, and import them into WordPress. I thought I had disabled email notifications from the site, but after one of my subscribers informed me that he had received 41 email notifications from my webpage so far, I quickly logged back in and shut it down. I didn’t have time to look at it after work today so I’ll have to take a look at it later this week or maybe this weekend. It will be nice to have all my old posts and memories together in one place again. It was fun to see the posts from June 27th, 2005, announcing that Susan was having contractions and that we were on the way to the hospital to have Morgan!

Note that WordPress just reminded me that this isn’t the first time I’ve done this. I found an earlier stash of posts back in 2007 which I imported back then. As I keep finding old piles of posts, I’ll keep stuffing them in wherever they fit.

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Two feet to my right is a toy Gizmo figure (from the movie Gremlins), standing on top of a model of Speed Racer’s car (the Mach 5), which itself sits next to a giant pile of unopened Star Wars Pez dispensers. On my left is a USB powered lightsaber, a toy Minotaur, a taco-shaped pouch for storing my USB thumb drives, and a boxed copy of Win, Lose, or Draw for the Nintendo Entertainment System. I have a room in my house dedicated to Star Wars toys, a bubble gum vending machine, a working payphone, and once bought a convertible dune buggy (as in, it came with no top and no windows) as my primary mode of transportation one winter.

For me to declare something as the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever purchased really says a lot.

This story begins with a girl named Christine. I don’t personally know Christine too well, but I know that she lives in Melbourne, Australia and that she listens to some of the same podcasts I listen to. One of the podcasts we both listen to (The Adventure Club Podcast) had Christine on as a guest, and I think it was during that episode that I learned Christine owns a skeleton named Boney T, which I think is just about the funniest thing I’ve ever heard. Occasionally Christine posts pictures of Boney T on her Twitter feed and I laugh every time I see one.

Boney T at Christmas

One thing I’ve learned in life is that with access to the internet and a credit card you can pretty much make anything happen. Literally. You can buy movie tickets. You can buy cars. For $20, you can get Lou Ferrigno to call you and wish you happy birthday. And, for what it’s worth, you can also find medical supply shops that will send you a skeleton.

Because I thought it would be interesting, I checked into buying a real skeleton. The first price I found was $5,000, which put a real quick end to that. Fortunately, medical supply shops sell realistic human skeletons that have been cast from real skeletons that sell for a fraction of the price. Turns out, with a coupon and on free shipping week, you can have a skeleton shipped to the middle of Oklahoma for about $250. It I wasn’t already on any government watch lists (which I’m pretty sure I already was), I definitely am now.

Yesterday I was talking on my phone with my ear buds in when Morgan delivered me the following hand-written note:

Yes, I am setting money aside for my children’s therapy fund.

Once inside, the cat took an immediate interest in the box.

One thing that scared me was the note on the side of the box: “some assembly required”. The box was obviously not 6′ long and so while it was obvious some assembly would be required, I was hoping that the skeleton didn’t come in 206 individual pieces.

Inside the big box was a smaller box. Inside the smaller box was this:

Well, at least that looked pre-assembled. With the head unboxed I began removing the rest of the skeleton. The base was the first thing I had to put together. The entire torso came assembled. All I really had to do was attach the arms and legs, which are held in place by cotter pins.

The skeleton came with a single piece of paper for instructions with no words on it and about five pictures. I guess they assume that since you already have a skeleton, you should be able to figure out how to assemble one.

Figuring out which leg was which threw us for a bit until Morgan remembered that knee caps go in the front. With that bit of information, putting everything else together was a breeze. The final piece of the puzzle was the skull, which slides down over a metal rail and is locked into place with a long metal spike. It should also be noted that the jaw is mounted with springs, so it should only take a modicum of work to turn this into a really creepy ventriloquist doll.

One of the things I think is funniest about Christine’s skeleton is his name, “Boney T”. I knew he needed a good punny name with some reference to skeleton or bones or Halloween. One look at those ribs and his name instantly came to me.

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce Mick Rib.

Rob and Mick. ‘Til death do us part.

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