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Category Archives: Angst

The Nostalgia Is A Lie OR What Was I Thinking???

I’ve been into retro computing for quite a while. I’m not hardcore, like some folks, but I have a few machines I’ve collected over the years.

The first computer I bought with my own money (after having worked an entire summer to save up enough) was a 286 desktop clone. So when I got into the retro habit, I started with the familiar x86 line: a 286 luggable. But that got old fast (pun only partially intended) and I felt the need to upgrade from 16 bits to 32. That lead to a 386 luggable. Of course, both of those had monochrome displays and I had a sudden hankering for low resolution color graphics, so naturally that led to a Compaq Pentium laptop.

Actually, in the cases of the 286 and Pentium, I bought two machines each, one to use and one for parts.

As a result of (and/or perhaps feeding) this interest, I’ve been enjoying some of the retro computing channels on YouTube – LGR, RMC, and the 8-Bit Guy to name three of the big ones I regularly watch.

But like with all drugs, eventually the initial hit isn’t enough and to get that high, I found I had to not get more of the same, but go further back.

All the way back, it turns out, to my very first computer. A Timex Sinclair 1000, which my parents bought me for Xmas one year.

The Sinclair range was built to be inexpensive and boy did they ever manage to do that. The computer was slow, unstable, and lacking in just about everything (color and sound and memory and a proper keyboard being just a few of the major shortcomings).

But there were peripherals you could get to improve them, along with games, and that’s what I started getting for Xmas( and birthdays. Well, one peripheral, the 16K RAM pack, and a lot of games on tape.

No, not IBM mainframe computer tape. Cassette tapes. The older among you know what I’m talking about.

The games took forever to load and often required more than one (or two or three) attempts before you got them running.

Good times!

One year I got two text adventure and one graphics game as gifts from my parents. The text adventures were Shark’s Treasure and Space Commando. The graphics game was Mazogs.

8-bit adventuring: just as violent as 16-. 32-, and 64-bit adventuring!

The monster is on the right. Or is it? After all, who’s the real monster here?

Mazogs was awesome. By Timex Sinclair standards, anyway. You ran around a maze, searching for treasure and trying to avoid the spider-like monsters. Past adventurers, imprisoned during their failed attempt, could be called upon to help you.

I really liked that game. And so did my kids, when I set it up on an emulator for them.

But I have a distinct memory of complaining to my parents about how crummy the two text adventure games were in comparison.

I think my expectations for computer games in those days were colored by the computers my friends had – Commodore VIC 20s and Commodore 64s, primarily, and the graphics-heavy games those came with. Text adventure just didn’t qualify as a game in my mind.

When my retro itch pushed me further back, I remembered those games and complaining to my parents and, well, I felt guilty. Guilty for dissing a gift from my parents.

So I got it into my head that I would unbox the old TS1000 from storage, hook it up, and finally, properly play those games.

This is where the Retro Computer Industrial Complex rears its ugly head.

First was the games. I went looking for Shark’s Treasure and found it on eBay, sealed in the original packaging, for $150.

WTF?

Turns out that retro games, especially in their original format, is part of a collectables racket and the Retro Computer Industrial Complex is there to cash in!

Now I wanted to play the game, but not part-with-$150-to-do-it wanted to play the game.

Paradoxically, seeing it on sale for $150 only made me want to play it more.

Fortunately, more searching found another seller with the game in a sealed package asking only $20. While still steep, all things considered, it seemed like a bargain compared to $150.

The past is prologue! The future is...a lot better and easier to use than the past, to be brutally honest.

I don’t remember so much cursing when I originally used this, but I’m pretty sure that’s just poor memory.

So I ordered it and turned my attention to the computer itself.

Funny thing about really old computers from the 70s and 80s that hooked up to your TV: they don’t work with modern monitors.

Not to worry! Big Retro is right there to cash in.

I bought an RCA-to-VGA adapter, $20, only to discover the TS1000 has an RF output, not RCA (despite the plugs being similar).

Returned that and ordered an RF-to-VGA adapter, $65. It arrived with the menu system defaulting to Chinese, the ‘manual’ a mish-mash of unrelated, oft-mispelled English words smooshed up against pictures of menu screen shots, and a steeper than expected learning curve.

It took me 5 minutes to figure out how to turn it on, and another hour of randomly changing configuration settings before I was able to get my TS1000 to display on the monitor.

At last, success! Time to load a game!

It's mint in box! At least, until I opened it...

My own personal ‘Rosebud’

Well, my Shark’s Treasure hadn’t arrived yet, but I had a big fat manila envelope containing a number of games I’d gotten as a kid. So I popped it open, dumped out the contents, and there, at the top of the pile?

Shark’s Treasure.

Oops. But it was just the tape and not the packaging or the picture card with instructions that came with it, so I’m still gonna come out ahead.

Right?

Ha! Because when I popped the tape into my Marantz PMD-430 portable tape recorder and hit play, I made another discovery.

The tape recorder didn’t work any more.

So that went off to the specialty repair shop ($85 for an assessment and, oh yeah, a 6-8 week wait time due to other vintage recording devices ahead of mine in the queue!).

I’m telling you, if there was a single stock I could buy to invest in Big Retro, I’d go all in, bet the family life savings.

At this point, I’m getting desperate. My hands are shaking, I’ve got a flop sweat that won’t quit, and I really, really need to play that game. Or any text adventure game for the TS1000.

They have emulators. I’ve used one before (to show my kids Mazogs). But that’s not running on actual hardware, it’s not the same thing.

But I needed my fix so bad I swallowed my pride and downloaded an emulator.

Of course, without a functioning tape player, I couldn’t translate the tapes I had into .wav files that I could ‘play’ into the virtual TS1000.

But no worries. People have already converted a lot of these tapes to a file format that can be loaded by emulators.

Huzzah! I’m saved.

Except no one bothered to do this with Shark’s Treasure.

I looked.

I really, really looked.

Let’s just say that the problem is so bad that once this blog goes live, if someone types “sinclair shark’s treasure” into Google, my site will most likely make the first page.

(Leave out the “sinclair” and you’ll get a bunch of hits about some B movie.)

Think this is hard to read? This is from the emulator, which allows you to turn OFF the RF distortions.

Even the opening screen has a bug in it!

I did, however, find Space Commando. Since I have that tape too, I didn’t feel too guilty downloading a copy of a nearly 40 year old tape-based game published by a long defunct game company.

And I played it.

And that’s how I discovered that the nostalgia is a lie.

The big, fat, back-stabbing mother of all lies.

Now I still enjoy the YouTube channels and playing on my other, slightly more modern vintage computers (because unlike the TS1000, you can actually do things on them).

But the Timex Sinclair 1000 experience? It’s terrible.

Don’t get me wrong. I knew that going in. I remembered how horrible the membrane keyboard was, and the constant crashes when you bumped the computer and the 16K RAM pack slipped, and hunting for the right volume on the tape player when trying to load a game (which took ~5 minutes each try).

I remembered that.

But it seems nostalgia and time take the edge off all bad memories, and I had forgotten just how terrible the experience of using the computer was.

Even when I set the emulator to run at 32x the speed of an actual TS1000, it was glacially slow. The whole screen flashes with each key press, and the computer cannot handle a typing speed greater than about 20 characters per minute.

(This typing speed limitation isn’t quite as apparent when using the original membrane keyboard because three quarters of the time it wouldn’t register the key press.)

But worst of all? The game sucked.

All that guilt about complaining to my parents decades ago?

Totally justified. The game was unplayable. No proper instructions. Horrible text parser. Glaringly obvious bugs. Minimal description…IN A TEXT ADVENTURE GAME! Not to mention the very linear game play: given a choice of two directions in each room, the wrong choice always leads to immediate death. When you could figure out the correct command, you couldn’t help but feel shepherded.

And, in retrospect, all of these shortcomings were entirely predictable. This machine was cheap, so it’s functionality was severely limited. The real miracle is that there were games available at all.

Which doesn’t explain why I still kinda sorta wish I could play Shark’s Treasure…

So I’m over the Timex Sinclair ‘reboot’ though not, sadly, before I ordered a replacement ‘cheapo’ vintage tape recorder while waiting for my original unit to be repaired. And now I’m stuck with an RF-to-VGA converter that I’ll probably never use.

But that’s OK. I’ve been reminiscing about the first printer I ever used, a dot matrix machine that made a lovely grinding sound as it printed, and I’m watching a couple of them on eBay.

The nostalgia may be a lie, but it is extremely addictive.

 
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Posted by on 27 September 2021 in Angst, Life, Retro Computing, Technopocalypse

 

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Of all the times to be happily married!

I just discovered the secret to dating, and damn if I can’t take advantage of it.

Yes, I have learned the key to meeting women, but the Missus will do me grievous bodily harm if I try to take advantage of this knowledge.

Which isn’t to say I want to! I’m quite happy with my current matrimonial state, thank you very much.

But boy is it galling to know this now and not, say, when I was in my late teen / early twenties, miserably lonely, and terrified of (meeting) women.

Now I could turn this into a best-selling self-help book for lonely hearts, but that sounds like a lot of work and frankly, I have enough unfinished writing projects on my plate right now.

So instead, I’ll just tell you for free. If this technique leads to a happily ever after for you, all I ask is you drop me a note thanking me for my advice and maybe put me in your will?

If getting a lawyer involved is too much trouble, I also take cash.

What exactly is this ground-breaking miracle approach to attracting women?

(Sorry, don’t know if this works on men, but if I had to guess, given men are all heartless jerks, probably not.)

Four words:

Wheels on your dog.

Carrying the jack around in case of a flat gets really old

Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. Better…stronger…faster.

Unfortunately, I paid a steep price for this knowledge, a discovery precipitated by very personal, very bad news.

My dog can’t walk any more unassisted.

The vet says he’s not in any pain but hobbling along on three legs wasn’t working out too well so we got my ol’ buddy a set of wheels.

To make them cooler, I tried to paint flames on the sides of the frame. But that didn’t work out: my cowardly dog is deathly afraid of fire.

The jerk.

Let me tell you, dorky looking or not, every time I take my dog and his training wheels for a walk, I get stopped at least once by a passing, cooing over how cute he is and asking what’s wrong with him.

Sometimes it’s even, get this, a group of women!

And then I get the watery, sympathetic eyes look.

If ever there was a moment to get all weepy and in-touch-with-your-emotional-side and confess how hard it’s been to deal with your best friend’s failing health and if only you had someone to commiserate with over a coffee at the nearby Starbucks (there’s always one nearby) say this Friday at 7, this is it.

What can I say? He can’t help himself – this bewheeled pooch is a chick magnet.

Now to be clear, I’m not saying that getting a puppy whose breed is predisposed to joint issues in their old age and then waiting for nature to take its course is a winning dating strategy.

Unless you like playing the long game.

But I’m also not telling you to slap a pair of wheels on a healthy dog and then drag him or her around the neighborhood looking for phone numbers. Because if a serious relationship develops from that, well, she’s gonna find out about the fake wheels at some point or you’re going have to start bribing your vet.

Which I guess means you do have to play the long game.

Well crap. I guess my dating secret isn’t all that practical after all, and certainly isn’t going to move a lot of paper in book form.

At least I’m already in a happy, healthy relationship. I guess that’s the silver lining?

Look, I’m not some creepy guy trying to take advantage of his dog’s failing health to meet women.

And I’m not some creepy guy trying to live vicariously through you as you do the above.

No. I’m a good guy. Really, I am.

You see, I’m just trying to be relevant and provide useful advice to folks. It just turns out I’m terrible at it.

So just forget about this post. The sooner, the better.

Unless…

Unless you do already have a dog.

A dog that needs wheels.

That you haven’t been walking regularly.

If that’s the case and you’re looking for love, well…now you know what to do.

I take tips, mentions in wills, and five-star reviews on Amazon.

 
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Posted by on 13 September 2021 in Angst, Life

 

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Treading Carefully: Social media is more mine than field lately

This bellows, like the internet, is filled with a lot of hot air. Rancid, putrid, toxic hot air.

I wouldn’t put my lips on that mouth either

Like political party affiliations, social media isn’t all evil.

However, what evil does exist is hardcore and overwhelming. The amount of good I’ve encountered online has been dwarfed by the deluge of anger, hatred, sanctimony, vigilantism, arrogance, and presumption, to name but a few.

Along with irony. Such as the irony that some will interpret my above view about people on social media as itself being angry, sanctimonious, arrogant, and presumptive. And probably bigoted too.

Most of these people will also be the source of my problem with social media. Eff ’em.

You can no longer have an opinion online unless it’s the ‘right’ opinion. And one person’s ‘right’ opinion is sure as shootin’ another person’s ‘wrong’ opinion.

Where once disagreement was tolerated and maybe even vigorously (but respectfully) debated, now the vast majority of disagreements are treated as proof you’re evil by many who disagree (the “How dare you!” crowd).

Say the ‘wrong’ thing and you can lose friends. If a large enough audience sees it (or is made aware of it via screen cap), you’re barraged with distributed messages of hate. You can end up run off social media (with many smugly saying, “Good riddance”) or, in what are becoming less and less extreme cases, threatened with rape or murder and being doxxed or even swatted.

When did people’s closely held, ‘undeniably true’ beliefs become so fragile they couldn’t withstand frank discussion?

When did a difference of opinion become a hate crime? When did the words “I disagree and here’s why” become hate speech?

When did civility become verböten?

When did “You’re wrong!” literally become equated with “You deserve to die!”?

No matter what I say, I know that speaking my mind will upset someone.

So for a long time now I’ve been keeping my head down and my mouth shut about certain topics because I have no idea who might be offended or how they’ll react.

But lurking on social media doesn’t protect you from seeing what’s happening to others.

People piled onto. Bullied. Threatened. Even driven to suicide.

Angry mobs jumping onto the latest outrage bandwagon without knowing all the facts because the perceived transgression is so antithetical to their belief system that even checking the facts is considered giving too much ground to that damned dirty other side.

It is shockingly easy to think this is OK at first, when your beliefs and the mob’s are aligned.

Until the mob moves into territory you think is hallowed ground, or at least neutral territory.

Then you begin to perceive the danger to yourself. Or possibly experience it directly.

It’s exhausting and disturbing to witness, even when I don’t support the attacked belief or statement.

So I’m stepping back from social media. Have already, in fact. I’ve gone cold turkey for a week now, and so far, my hands are steady and I don’t miss it.

The lunatics are running the asylum. They can have it.

 

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I Have No Life, and I Must Scream

Thanks to the power of image editing, I not only have all my teeth, but they're shiny white too!
The Missus, kiddos, and neighbors 
don’t like it when I scream. 

I burn for something.

Crave it.

Got a fever for it.

But no, not for more cowbell.

It would be easier if I knew exactly what it is I need. But I don’t.

Instead I’ve read at least twelve books in the last month, with another currently in progress.

Binge-watched multiple shows on various streaming services.

Logged into work on off hours and days.

Taken the family on long hikes through the Redwoods.

And done other…more shameful…things to fill the void within me.

(Like stoop to writing…gasp…a radio play, to name but one.)

I think the pandemic has finally gotten to me.

Spending more time at home, enclosed within the same encroaching walls, dealing with exactly the same pets and identical family members day in and day out, I’ve struggled to feel …productive.

Whole.

Relevant.

I started with the streaming services, the gateway vice into maddness. Looking back, I can’t even tell you everything I watched. Despite being within the last thirty days, it’s all faded into a blur.

I mean, yeah, it’s a pandemic month and therefore technically longer than that, but still.

I do remember some Classic Doctor Who, snippets of Marvel movies and shows, and the first season of True Detective (good, but I really wish that was one of the programs I can no longer remember!). There was more, I just know it, but my memories of them remain hidden behind a facemask of inordinate size and opacity.

And I can count off twelve of the books I read (the last four Murderbot books, a Jasper Fforde fantasy series, some on-offs not worth mentioning), but I’m pretty sure there was more than twelve and I just can’t remember the earliest ones.

Like the radio play, the hiking, and working during my time off, they have all been ways to fill the void. Maybe escapism?

Though if the world of True Detective, Season 1, is an escape, how bad must reality be?

Turns out, pretty bad.

I’ve watched as people around me sank lower and lower as the pandemic stretched on and on.

I was doing OK until recently, or so I thought. I chalked up my resilience to being an introvert. Assumed I was handling things so well because I didn’t need or miss the social interaction suddenly yanked from all of us.

And the people I yelled at at home and work? They deserved it. Or so I told myself.

But I was wrong.

I have a problem. I crave input. Stories with, if not happy, at least satisfying endings.

Hello, my name is Ian and I’m a content addict.

A baleen whale trawls for krill and zooplankton by opening its mouth, swimming forward, and hoping. I think I’m doing the same thing, only my mouth is open to scream and my version of moving forward is taking advantage of Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and thriftbooks.com.

My biggest problem, of course, is that unlike this pandemic, books, TV shows, movies, and even hikes all come to an end. And while my vices soothe me in the moment, I’m painfully hollow after they conclude.

Leaving me dangerously vulnerable and looking for the next hit. And in that moment, during that profound, bottomless low, I’ll take anything to fill the void and feel whole again.

Cat memes.

Opinion pieces.

Reddit threads.

Anti-vaxxer websites.

Even…[shudder]…fan fic.

So I’m ready to get vaccinated. Ready for herd immunity and parties and writing in coffee shops again. Ready for things to return to some semblance of normal.

Ready to have more in my life than just books.

Read that last sentence again.

One more time, slowly. Really let those words sink in.

Ready to have more in my life than just books.

The fact that I just wrote that sentence speaks volumes (no pun intended) as to the condition of not just my mental state, but our entire world right now.

We need help. All of us.

Though I suppose all of this could be down to flat panel displays. No, really, I read a thread online about this. WFH and binge-watching has resulted in me spending a lot more time in front of screens and the unnatural amount of blue light they expose us to. Maybe the 450-490nm wavelength emissions are what’s leaving me empty inside.

Perhaps the solution to all my woes isn’t a vaccine and hanging with people and coffee shops. Maybe it’s as simple as taping a sheet of transparent red plastic to my monitor and filing a class action lawsuit against the manufacturers of said displays.

If nothing else, a lawsuit gives me something to do.

Hmm…

OK, maybe I need just a little bit more help than the rest of you.

 

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Are those nylons pulled over your face or my old underwear?

Trigger warning: you will learn things about my underwear you can never unlearn.

A few days ago, I was putting on a pair of underwear when part of it tore at the seam.

This got me to thinking, because this particular pair of underwear is less than six months old.

Most of my underwear is a lot older.

A lot.

Let’s just say when I casually mentioned how old my underwear was at a doctor’s appointment, the doctor laughed, assuming I was joking, and said, “I hope not…please tell me that’s not true.”

I pretended I’d been joking all along.

But I wasn’t.

This appointment was about six months ago, and the reason I now possess underwear less than six months old.

And what I was thinking was this:

Sure my old underwear was so worn you could see through it, but in all its (many) years of service, it had never split at the seams.

And as an added bonus, it got a “RRrarr!” from the Missus whenever I changed in front of her.

Sadly (for both my tear-free lifestyle and my love life), at my doctor’s urging, I threw them all away. I didn’t even save a pair for special, romantic occasions. 😦

I also have relatively new socks (as young or younger than the new underwear). They developed holes within a couple of months of wearing them.

My old socks? That predate these new socks by years? Worn thin in a few spots (forming more than one window to my sole), but no actual, stick-a-finger-or-toe-through-them holes.

WTF?

I wore an XL cardigan back then because I find loose clothing comfortable

What, you were expecting a picture of my underwear??

And I have a cardigan sweater that is over THIRTY YEARS OLD. It came from Mervyn’s and has a few stains, but no frayed cuffs or split seams!

In comparison, I have jackets and coats that are a few years old that have holes, frays, splits, and even missing buttons.

My trusty cardigan? Original buttons all fully intact and never sewn back on.

I tried to find out who exactly made that cardigan, so I could favor them with my custom again. Clearly I need a better tailor than Hanes. But good look figuring that out for something made before the internet was really a thing. As best I can tell, my only options are eBay and thrift shops.

And based on the prices I’ve seen, those folks know what they’ve got and what it’s worth.

So much for affordable…

And to add to my indignation, they weren’t afraid to use material back in those days. Twenty years ago, a Large fit me just fine. Then ten years ago or so, I guess they decided to cut some corners on fabric usage and I had to start wearing “Xtra Large” to be comfortable. And now they’re skimping so much on material I have wear XXL. All to save what, a few cents?

Outrageous!

All of this has left me wondering what has happened to the quality of affordable, overseas-manufactured clothing. A couple of decades ago, they knew how to make textiles. But now, now the imports seem to be designed and built to require replacement within a year. Or less!

Like a lot of our consumer electronics. Hmm…

This is both wasteful and a shame. As much as it pains me to say something I never thought would cross my lips, I guess it’s true:

They really don’t make underwear like they used to.

 
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Posted by on 26 January 2021 in Angst, Conspiracies Out To Get Me, Life

 

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The Marital Bed…Of Shame!

Every night, the Missus likes to spoon me and whisper sweet nothings in my ear as I drift off to sleep.

OK, maybe not every night, per se, but most nights.

Well, a lot of the time anyway.

Fine. Occasionally.

When she’s drunk.

The frequency isn’t really the point here, just know it’s more often than you get the same treatment.

From my Missus, anyway.

She’s always here with me.

That’s one of the benefits of the lock-down: I always know where she is and the lawyers can’t call it stalking.

Anymore.

But I digress.

The thing is, recently this whole “turn around so I can spoon you and quietly praise you” went from “Aw yeah, AWESOME” to “Oh crap, no!”

Why, you ask?

Three words:

Home brewed coffee.

I was never a huge coffee drinker before the lock-down. And to be perfectly honest, I’m still not a fan of the stuff. But lock-down, well, this may come as a shock to you, but it’s led to some problems.

The whole not having to drive into work, toil myself down to the bone, and then drive home from work an exhausted, broken, former shadow of a man thing kinda sorta disrupted my sleep schedule.

Oh sure, avoiding the daily commute and a demoralizing work day seems like a good thing, but

1) I still have to be demoralized, I just do it from home now with the added benefit of laggy internet, and

2) I somehow got the idea in my head that since I didn’t have to drive to work, I could stay up later and just roll out of bed right before the start of the workday.

Big mistake, that second one.

I end up staying up WAY too late, rolling out of bed just a hair too close to the start of my first meeting, struggling to make my way to the home office with eyes sealed shut by sleep crust, and desperately trying not to snore during said meeting.

(The Missus says I snore so loud I’m afraid my coworkers will hear even if I’m on mute.)

There was only one solution to this problem.

Coffee.

No, not going to bed earlier and setting a proper alarm.

Coffee.

And for awhile it was going great. The coffee boosted my awareness / consciousness, I got through the day without my soul completely sucked away, and, having stayed awake all day, I was able to go to bed at a reasonable(ish) hour where I would (occasionally) drift off to the dulcet tones of the Missus telling me how wonderful I am while ensconced in her warm, warm embrace.

Except not.

Because now when I crawl into bed, I deliberately face towards the Missus and secretly dread the singsong request to turn around and prepare to be, as the Tick might put it, “Spooned!”

(Spooooooned!)

“Who’s my yummy bummy sweeteekins,” she asks.

“Oh God, not tonight,” I scream (in my head, because I’m not so foolish as to diss the Missus right before entering the helpless sleep state…RIGHT NEXT TO HER FUMING SOUL).

“Who’s a wonder-thunder-dunderkin awesome-sauce tubby hubby,” she breathes into my ear.

“Can’t you just go to sleep and leave me alone, and also, I’m working on the gut!” I retort back (again, just in my head).

“Are you a special, amazing, wonderful human being who is perfect in every way I could possibly hope,” she gushes throatily.

“Not tonight, woman! But yes, yes I am,” I whine back in a pitch carefully calibrated to be inaudible to her ears.

What’s the problem, many of you are asking just about now. Especially those of you who’ve been married as long as the Missus and I have – this sort of fawning attention is UNHEARD OF this many years into marriage.

I’ve already told you the problem:

Home. Brewed. Coffee.

More specifically, home brewed coffee that causes stomach distress such that you desperately, feverishly need to but don’t want to let loose a barrage of avalanche-inducing farts while your beloved Missus is clamped to your back.

(Also, I’m convinced my coworkers will hear these bursts of gas even if I’m on mute and the meeting doesn’t start for hours. They. Are. That. Powerful.)

Think how far back THAT might set your matrimonial relationship!

So I am forced to mumble something about being SOOOO tired, throw in a few fake snores, and then “toss and turn” until the business end of my digestive system is pointed away from the ol’ Missus and then, finally, blissfully, happily, I can safely set the blankets a-flapping.

Unless, like that one time, the Missus is feeling romantic and has sprinkled rose petals all over the floor and bed and covered every non-cushy horizontal surface with lit candles.

Egads, woman! Don’t you know the bedroom is not the place for romance!?

Yeah, that was an interesting insurance claim.

Now, I know it’s been a rough year. I know people are looking for good news instead of bad. And given it’s nearly the end of 2020, I simply can’t go out on such a negative note, leaving you all worried about the status of my marriage and my sensitive digestive system.

That’s right, I actually have some good news, a sense of hope I can impart after this tale of (quite literally) nauseating woe!

J'accuse!

There’s a fish! In the percolator!

It turns out the coffee maker we used to make our home brewed coffee had mold in it.

Yes, if you have one of those single-serving coffee machines with a reusable brew basket and you leave the wet grinds in it, mold starts to grow!

I had no idea.

But once we took the mold out of the equation, the digestive system more active than the volcanoes on Io went into remission.

That’s right. I can now be safely spooned and nuzzled and sweet-nothing’ed every night.

OK, maybe not every night, per se, but most of the time.

Well, a lot of the time anyway.

Fine. Occasionally.

When the Missus is drunk.

Which reminds me. I need to restock the liquor cabinet.

 

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And So, As A Last Resort, We Threw A Farewell Dance Party

2020 has been, to put it mildly, a somewhat sub-optimal year.

A lot of bad things have happened this year, but the worst, as astute readers of my blog would have noticed in my last posting, is that rats have moved into the crawl spaces of my house.

Speaking of bad things – Trigger Warning: Flashing Lights ahead

I tried all the usual remedies:

  • Stomping on the floors, thumping on the ceilings
  • Calmly sitting outside one of the crawlspace vents, patiently and rationally explaining to the rats why they need to let go of their Rodentia Fragilitatem and inclinatum implicita habitant and just vacate the premises, please
  • Installing a high frequency noise generator
  • Yelling obscenities in the hopes of offending their sensibilities (it worked, but just on my kids)
  • Crawling under the house with a fistful of rubber bands and shooting at the little bastards (might have worked, but my aim needs improving (I blame the constrained space))
  • Drenching the crawlspaces with peppermint oil rodent repellent (this did result in a a frenzy of movement the first night, but mostly on the part of the Missus, kiddos, and dogs)

But no matter what I did, they either wouldn’t leave or kept coming back.

So I did what any rational, red-blooded Europhile would do:

The neighbors keep muttering under their breath about what sorcery is afoot at the Dudley abode and whining how it's causing all the nearby house values to depreciate.

The System. Is Down.

I threw a rave.

A 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, silent rave.

I achieved this by installing strobe lights in my crawlspaces. And testing them before installation gave me, the Missus, and the kiddos immediate nausea and stabbing headaches.

The rats don’t stand a chance.

And I have to admit, the nightly noises the rats make now are markedly more frenetic and, dare I say it, irritated, than before. I can’t help but beam with glee (pun absolutely, utterly intended) and derive incalculable pleasure and satisfaction from the skittering sounds that I wholeheartedly choose to interpret as anguished.

It’s the only thing keeping me sane right now.

 

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Working from home is the bee’s knees

An angry bee, full of ennui due to arthritis in the knee

He’s most upset by the fact he’s missing the rest of his legs.

I don’t know the provenance of the phrase The bee’s knees, and I’m too lazy to use an online search engine to find out, but if my work from home experience is any indication, it obviously is some sort of super villain origin story.

That is, to say I’ve been stung by WfH would be an understatement.

Sure, on paper there’s lots to love:

  • You don’t have to roll out of bed until just before your first meeting
  • You don’t have to shower or get dressed…ever
  • No dealing with traffic
  • Reduced mileage / insurance costs on your commuter vehicle
  • No more being ambushed by colleagues at your desk / in the hall when you’re trying to get actual, real work done
  • Reduced risk of catching/spreading a potentially fatal disease

But like the iPhone, looks aside, you actually have to use it. And like the iPhone, it turns out working from home has significant, painful drawbacks:

  • Your recent lack of good hygiene has left you…less attractive…to your significant other
  • Your commuter vehicle, having sat idle for months, has become home to a colony of wire- and hose-chewing rats that, to be honest, scare the bejeezus out of you what with their sharp needle-like teeth and glowing red eyes and tiny, skittering claws and that glare of intelligent hatred they seem to be directing at you
  • When sleeping at night, you discover that the above-mentioned colony of rats likes to take field trips after dark where they march up and down the crawlspaces directly above and below the room you sleep in
  • When moving to another room in order to escape the sounds of the rats, you discover the field trip isn’t limited to the spaces above and below your bedroom
  • Your kiddos, no matter how far along in brain development, simply don’t understand that you’re working and they aren’t supposed to even look at the door leading to your home office, let alone barge in and start expounding on the virtues of their most recent Minecraft mod, speaking at a volume and speed that prevents you from getting a word in edgewise and leads the leader of your Zoom meeting to mute you
  • Your dogs, no matter how far along in obedience training, simply don’t understand that you’re working and they aren’t supposed to even look at the door leading to your home office, let alone start scratching at the door while barking vociferously just because a fly (or maybe… a bee!?) landed on the tip of the radio aerial on the (idle) commuter vehicle in the driveway, leading the leader of your Zoom meeting to curse the day you were born before muting you
  • No matter how fast and ‘premium’ your internet service is, it isn’t fast or premium enough. Not. Even. Close
  • You are invariably home and have to directly deal with a pipe breaking, a child getting injured, a spouse discovering something bad you did, a fever-impaired driver crashing their car into your home office (warning: that fever-impaired driver just might be you) instead of having a phone and physical distance to serve as a bit of a protective buffer from the tr/drama
  • All the stuff your spouse complains about the house (bad pipes, terrible temperature control, leaky roof, rotting floors, rampant crime in the immediate neighborhood, feverish drivers crashing into things, etc.) that you used to just shrug off and say, “I don’t think it’s as bad as all that” turns out, now that you are directly experiencing it, to oh yes, be all that bad
  • You discover that the people you live with and used to love unconditionally have become around-the-clock irritants who just need to leave you the eff alone for a few hours a day, dammit!
  • The barrier between work time / hours and home time / hours is GONE; you’ve gone from working 40 hours per week to 168 hours per week
  • And by far the worst aspect, you now have plenty of time to follow, in excruciating detail, just how disastrously the election is unfolding

Scientists keep telling me that we need to save the bees. Well, I say, “Screw the bees and the knees they came in on!” Perhaps the dog’s bollocks would be a more accurate descriptor, but this is a family blog…

Though I hear tell traffic isn’t nearly as bad these days as it was in the pre-pandemic days

 

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Let’s Be Honest: There Were Distractions Along The Way

It was a dark and stormy night

The panacea that was, then wasn’t, then was again.

So not that long ago (though with all this sheltering in place and working from home, November sure feels like a previous epoch), I talked about my search for the perfect distraction-free writing instrument. At the time, I announced the results of my search: after much soul-searching, and even more web browsing, I had procured myself a New Old Stock Psion Netbook Pro.

(Fascinating side note: Psion trademarked the Netbook name years before the Eee PC and other makers came out with their generically named “netbooks” and there were several years of litigation involving who owned the name and whether trademark was being infringed upon. But I’ll leave those distracting details for you to look up yourself, should you be so inclined.)

At the time I wrote that blog post of discovery, I had yet to heavily use the PNP. But once I started, I came to calling it the Pain in the Neck Pro. Because, you see, the keyboard fell short of my expectations.

To be clear, I knew it would sport a less-than-standard layout and, given the form factor, would be cramped compared to my IBM Model M. I accepted those…compromises. If fact, it turns out (as will be seen shortly) that I was able to adapt to those particular idiosyncrasies.

No, the problem was the spacebar.

The physical-single-switch-only-at-the-exact-center-of-the-spacebar spacebar, otherwise known as the doesn’t-register-your-keystroke-unless-you-hit-the-dead-center-of-the-spacebar spacebar.

Now as you might suspect, it turns out that most typing of stuff, at least in the English language, makes heavy use of the ‘a’ key, the ‘i’ key, the ‘e’ key, the ‘t’ key, and, oh yeah, the effin’ spacebar!

I was constantly having to arrow back several characters to put in the space that I had typed but which had not registered. This was about 80% of the time I tried to use the spacebar.

If you let your fingers do the walking, have them skip over the spacebar

It’s a QUIRKY layout, not QWERTY.

(But hey, unlike the Freewrite and the Freewrite Traveler, at least the Psion has arrow keys!)

It was more than a little frustrating and after a few false starts, I gave up. I wrote it off as a close to $200 learning experience, but one I was too embarrassed to talk about on my blog because, well, it cost me close to $200.

Actually, significantly more than $200 if you factor in the next thing I did: I didn’t just kinda sorta give up, I whole hog gave up and bought a brand new Windows 10 convertible laptop. The one with all the distractions built in (the horrible OS itself, the web browser you feel compelled to use to look up things like the history of the word “netbook” and all the litigation surrounding it in the early ’00s, the music player you are unable to resist using to listen to the ballads about those “netbook” lawsuits, and the video depositions taken as a part of those lawsuits that you simply must watch on YouTube).

Yes, I had fallen off the wagon of focus and leapt, belly-first (and fully extended), into the packed, unsanitary public pool of distraction.

The Missus was so disgusted she took the kids and moved back in with her parents. For a couple of weeks. While it’s possible she was just visiting them, given the scope of my relapse, that seems unlikely.

Anyway, yes, I had ditched the old laptop running Linux for a fresh piece of kit.

Well, that’s not true – the old Linux machine went into the pile of old computers I’ve irrationally held onto since 1981 (“Why hello there, Timex Sinclair 1000”) because someday, maybe, I will need one of them as a backup when my main computer is hit by a super virus and the only thing preventing the evil villain who wrote said virus from taking over the world is a putty ssh connection into his mainframe from an old computer viewed so obsolete that he failed to make sure the virus could infect it.

This is also the excuse I give for why I have an old 33.6K external modem and parallel port cable.

Hey! It’s a legit excuse!

Now where was I? Oh yes, my new and shamefully distracting computer. With a stylus and touch screen and name-brand speakers and a cool, cool look that draws my attention away from the task at hand even when it is off. It was by using that shiny shiny computer that I may have accidentally searched about the Psion Netbook Pro spacebar problem and found out you can just cut out a piece of card stack, place it directly over the rubber dome under the spacebar, and solve that whole problem.

Well sh*t.

So, because I had so totally given up on and boxed up the ratty-keyboarded Psion and put it in storage and gone ahead and spent even more money on a brand new laptop…well, two things happened:

One, I was super annoyed with myself because if I had stumbled on this bit of info about the spacebar sooner, I either could have fixed the issue or, even better, avoided it entirely by buying my second runner up HPC candidate, the NEC MobilePro 900C. No matter how you looked at it, that would have been WAAAY cheaper than the new laptop.

Two, because I had the new laptop and didn’t care about the Psion anymore, I was willing to take the Psion apart and try to fix it. If I break the keyboard in the process (something I’ve done in the past when removing spacebars from keyboards), who cares? This particular HPC is already junk as far as I’m concerned.

But the spacebar came off fine, the square of card stock went in with little difficulty, and when I was done, the spacebar worked great no matter where on the key you actually struck it.

Which means I finally have my distraction-free writing tool!

And along with it, no more excuses.

Well dr*t.

Of course, the irony that I had to go down a rabbit hole (yet again) to learn about the relatively straightforward fix for my distraction-free writer is not lost on me. A fine $200 learning experience indeed!

I threw a bone up in the air and when it came back down it was a space station. It hit me on the head and knocked me out. When I woke up, this was next to me.

The USB port is on the other side. Allegedly.


This post (and the previous one) was written and edited on a Psion Netbook Pro using TextMaker for Windows CE. I will say this much: it works.

 

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Here’s Looking At Your Privilege, Kid

“Hey, you! Check your privilege!”

Occasionally clients would leave the club with a slab of beef instead of their privilege. It sometimes took a few days for them to notice.

“Don’t leave me!”

I was over the limit that allowed me to hold onto it, so I pulled my privilege from my shoulder holster and plopped it down on the sill of the check booth with a wet thwap. It eyed me reproachfully, a mottled blob of stumpy vestigial appendages shaking anxiously at the unexpected separation. Sure, it was punier than the other privilege already checked, but I still felt a pang of emptiness and sorrow at the parting.

The check person pulled down a meat hook on a tether, twisted it into the quivering mass, and let go with more flourish and relish than was strictly necessary, in my opinion. My privilege whip-snapped at the end of the tether and flew into the darkness of the check booth.

Even with my eyes down at the appropriate angle of obsequience, I could see the check person staring dourly at me presented as a strikingly attractive woman: youthful, flashing eyes, a nose you could only get from a skilled surgeon, and perfectly haphazard hair that telegraphed the impression it always looked this good, even when she had just gotten out of bed.

If I hadn’t been to the club on business, and if I was suicidally clueless, I would have tried to pick her up. Instead, I apologized. “Sorry, forgot I had that.”

“Of course you did,” she snorted, her thin, flawless nostrils flaring as she handed over my ticket. I took it from her and carefully secured it in a hip pocket. Privilege had a shockingly high tendency to wind up with a new and often less deserving owner at places like this. Mine was hardly a tempting target, but it paid to be cautious. When confronted, the clubs always claimed this was the legitimate transfer of debt, that gambling was the great equalizer. I had my doubts.

The good news, given I carried a couple kilos less privilege than the average patron at this particular club, was that checking it actually boosted my standing. Relatively speaking. While still technically part of the hard-working, unwashed masses, I was now entitled to the same treatment as everyone else here.

Which meant the staff still treated me like crap, but they did that to all the patrons.

It was currently quite the thing among the well-off and well-educated to be treated with disdain, but I gave the trend another six months before these clubs found their clientele had migrated elsewhere and demanded a government bail out. Even from the entrance, I could spot the occasional bored yawn from the murmuring crowd.

Of course, the guilty rich, looking to assuage their slightly less guilty consciences, weren’t the only high class people availing themselves of facilities like these. You also had individuals like the one I’d been hired to find, trying to lose themselves in the anonymity of the pseudo-privilegeless.

My mark was Lawrence Peabody, a New Roman Presbyterian on the lam with the not inconsiderable wealth that his church hierarchy had deemed to belong to his now ex-spouse. According to the Senior Bishop overseeing his divorce case, Peabody had seen the writing on the wall and liquidated his assets. Literally. By purchasing an extremely rare bottle of vintage schnapps that was worth just over one hundred percent of the (former) Peabody couple’s net worth and then pulling a runner, he got off smelling like peppermint while the ex-missus got left holding the residual debt.

Your standard booze bail scenario, and my bread and butter. You see, I’m not just a private eye. I’m also a board certified sommelier. Lapsed, but you know what they say: once a sommelier, always a sommelier. If there’s any alcohol within fifty meters, I can smell it. And identify the vintage. I have my parents to thank for that. Family money got me the education and certification, but after a couple of years sniffing and spitting fine wines and the like, I felt I wasn’t contributing to society enough. I switched to the far less lucrative but more guilt-assuaging sniffing out of mysteries.

I haven’t been invited to a Thanksgiving dinner since. Which is fine. The family has fallen on hard times, and the wine they serve is no longer up to snuff.

Now a 1897 (Big Fed calendar) Pimpernel Kuiper Peppermint Schnapps has a distinctive, minty odor that I could normally suss out faster than you can say, “Wager saugt Fledermausbälle!” But Peabody was no pea brain – he’d selected The Virtuous Signal, a club renowned for its cheap yet extremely, overpoweringly fragrant hangover-inducers. My nose didn’t so much recoil at the olfactory assault as go gibberingly insane.

Sammy’s sense of smell wasn’t going to help me today. Instead, I turned the peepers loose on the room, trying to spy anyone who wouldn’t be happy to see me and had a half liter bottle of vintage booze in their pocket.

With all of their privilege checked at the door, the crowd looked decidedly unimpressive. Their designer clothes had a manufactured shabbiness about them, their teeth looked just ever so slightly not quite straight, and their aristocratic accents lacked a sense of…authenticity. All arranged beforehand, no doubt, with the best tailors, dentists, and voice coaches money could buy. Not permanent, of course, just to blend in at the club. They wouldn’t have any work done that couldn’t be reversed with the flash of a Beryllium Card. But not until after they left, because these sorts of clubs only took cash, and only in small denominations and with lacerating looks of disapproval upon receipt.

The job should have been made easier by the fact that there weren’t a lot of people who qualified for this type of club’s services, so the crowd was fairly thin. But they all looked the same to me: mostly old and male, with the occasional glass-ceiling-busting female with, it seemed to me, surprisingly large hands.

The women were easy to dismiss, and not just because the big hands made me oddly uncomfortable. Per the ex, Peabody was and always had been male, so I could safely ignore the women. It was a habit I found came easy. But that still left a crowd of paunchy phallus-bearers to sift through, and I couldn’t be one hundred percent certain Peabody was even at this particular club.

My guess was Lawrence (no doubt ‘Larry’ inside these walls) would try and walk out with someone else’s privilege, hopefully a gob with enough to get him a berth out of town. Maybe to Happyville, Beet City, or if he was truly desperate, Trenton. Talk about checking your privilege: word on the street was that the denizens of Trenton couldn’t afford the vaccine for the latest pandemic! All this meant I needed to add to my search criteria: a down-on-his-luck on-the-lam bounder with half a liter of schnapps on him and trying to pickpocket people’s priv check tickets.

That made the task considerably simpler. With the new parameters, I spotted my mark in a jiffy.

Larry was making nice with a group of geriatrics at the craps table. Smart move, targeting the octagenarians. They, having lived longer, were more likely to have accumulated large amounts of privilege, assuming they hadn’t squandered it all on their offspring. Larry was playing the odds like a professional, and clearly was no dummy. They were having a spirited conversation about equality. It largely involved who could most magnanimously apologize for his success, but in such roundabout terms that it didn’t flag a reprimand from the staff.

I didn’t know which type was worse in these clubs, the sincere grovelers, the insincere grovelers, or the smug staff witnessing the display of self-flagellation. I found all three irritating and for the fleetest of moments, felt sympathy for Peabody, trapped in this no-win social circle. But then I remembered the cover charge to get in.

I put on my most determined (yet privilege-neutral) face and made my way to the craps table. I needed a drink, and it was going to be peppermint schnapps.

 

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