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Category Archives: Life

Can an 8-Bit Computer Run On Love? Or Is It Just A Desperate Bid For Attention?

Sure it looks cool and then you try to play Crysis on it

I try to show them I love them, but the love is on tape and takes forever to load…

Yesterday evening, the kiddos, most likely in a desperate attempt to get some attention from me, and having a vague understanding of my weird interests, entered my room and demanded I show them a computer restoration video.

Yes, demanded. Little foot stomping, little fist shaking demanded.

It turns out I had just noticed a 3-part Commodore 64C restoration series put out by YouTuber RetroManCave. Each episode was on the order or 20 minutes long, and much to my amazement, the kiddos not only stuck it out, but were genuinely interested.

You should have heard the excitement in their voices after the first video ended and I mentioned there were four more episodes.

And their annoyance when I later had to confess I was wrong and there were only three episodes.

I was tickled pink and moderately alarmed at the same time by their interest in such an arcane subject. But since I got to watch some “cool” videos and they were content to watch with me, it seemed prudent to refrain from rocking the boat about such an unlikely and convenient overlap in interests.

After all, it’s only going to be a few more years before the most I can get out of them is, “Whatever, Dad.” [bedroom door slam]

So imagine my shock this morning when they marched into my bedroom at 8:45am and woke me with loud demands that we buy a Commodore 64 to restore.

Yes, 8:45am. Don’t judge me! I like to sleep in on the weekends… I never get to anymore, but I sure would like to.

More specifically, my crack-o’-dawn awakening demon spawn wanted a C64 that we could retrobrite. They really, really want to retrobrite something.

For those of you not in the know, this is a process where you soak yellowed plastics in a mix of water and hydrogen peroxide for hours and hours in order to remove the yellowing. It’s not that far removed from watching paint peel and/or dry. And my kids wanted it. Bad.

I guess there are worse chemicals for them to crave and/or dabble with.

So bleary-eyed and in a mild state of shock, I started going through eBay listings with the kiddos, followed by a check of the types of TVs and monitors we had in the house to see if any had composite inputs (a couple do).

We didn’t bid on anything. The sheer volume of listings demonstrated, I explained to the kiddos, that there were plenty of the machines on the market and we could take our time to do proper research first.

They wilted. Visibly. And audibly.

Yes, when my kids wilt, they are not subtle or quiet about it. They sent the dogs scattering for cover at the furthest points of the house. Mirrors cracked. Wine glasses shattered. A filling shook loose from my tooth.

But I’m a firm, disciplined parent. I did not give in.

Did I waver? Hell, yes.

But did I give in?

No. I already told you that. Pay attention!

Instead, I partially caved and offered to let them help me “restore” my “vintage” Athlon 3200+ tower computer which has been sitting in my own man cave collecting dust.

Don’t think I’m unaware that some of you do view an Athlon 3200+ system as vintage. Screw you, Millennial scum!

Now there was no retrobriting because I don’t normally stock the necessary chemicals for such an undertaking. I have more than enough lye to dissolve a dead body, but peroxide? I love my hair the color it is.

But despite an inability to retrobrite (and admittedly, there was some need for it), there was still plenty of room for improvement when it came to this computer’s appearance, and the kiddos happily threw themselves into the project.

Well, up to a certain point.

First we took the disassembled casing and hosed all the parts off in the backyard. Both kids were up for that.

Then we used GooGone to remove sticker and tape residue. Still had two volunteers on board for that, though at this point my discipline with regards to photo documenting the process lagged considerably.

Then the off-brand Windex spraying and wipe-down commenced. At this point, we were down to one adult and one kiddo.

But give that one kiddo credit – he stuck with it through the Magic Eraser stage (he is now a born again convert to Magic Eraser). I didn’t lose him until the re-assembly stage started.

It was fun, the kids were really engaged with me and the project (for the most part), and when I put everything back together, the computer still worked. So yay!

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Posted by on 11 June 2018 in Life, Parenting

 

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Captain Kirk is (will be?) a terrible captain

Recently, in an attempt to escape the real world, I started watching Star Trek: The Original Series again.

It’s the perfect form of escape, set not just in the far off future, but in distant, distant lands under the aegis of exploring for a utopian government. How much further from today’s reality could you possibly get?

A little further, it turns out.

I used to watch the show religiously on broadcast television when I was a kid, oddly enough for a similar reason I’m watching it now: to escape the terror of real life and the homework it entailed.

I still have homework, but as a husband and father, it is of a profoundly different nature than that assigned by my grade school teachers.

Oh, 20/20 hindsight, how I wish my life now could be as simple as it actually was back then, my contemporary prepubescent protestations to the contrary.

But I digress. As an adult, I found myself returning to the show every now and then, dialing up an old favorite and re-watching it just for nostalgia.

Tiny, single episode bites. Get the nostalgia hit but fail to see any overarching patterns.

But this is the first time I watched a sustained number of episodes in a small amount of time – about ten episodes in the last week.

And I discovered that Captain Kirk is a terrible captain.

I’m not talking about all the bad decisions he made that led to unnecessary loss of life, or even the sheer amount of loss of life that occurred under his command.

Those are real issues, but his incompetency is more basic than that.

Captain Kirk completely loses his head around women.

Episode after episode, he pursues one ill-advised romance after the next.

I mean, in one episode he even gets into a fight with another man over a sentient sex doll!

(Don’t believe me? Give Requiem for Methuselah another spin if you think you can handle the fully woke squick factor.)

And more often than not, he isn’t using his wily ways to save the ship. Requiem for Methuselah is a prime example of a recurring pattern of (bad) behavior: he meets a woman he finds attractive, becomes genuinely smitten (to the point that sometimes Spock has to use the Vulcan mind meld to erase the failed relationship from Kirk’s mind at the end of the episode), and chaos, heartbreak, and often a crew death or two ensues.

Pathetic.

This man is not just in command of not just an incredibly powerful military ship (yeah, yeah, I know, “ship of exploration” – how many ships and alien crews has he destroyed, how many planet surfaces has he severely damaged?). He is also responsible for the lives of his crew and, as a representative of the Federation, maintaining peace throughout the galaxy. But hey, that green-skinned, scantily clad lady over there is really hot, so the heck with duty.

That’s a commendable trait in a captain, right? A pretty face turning your head and causing everything else to go out the window is a vital skill in the enlightened future, yes?

Even worse, he flirts with his own crew members! You know, the women under his command? How is that not, well, to be perfectly blunt, rape-y?

(Not talking about Rand – watch the end of Mirror, Mirror and Kirk’s interaction with Lt. Marlena Moreau if you want to see just how creepy and unprofessional the “great” Captain Kirk is.)

This is your captain speaking. Commence to Phase I of creepiness: Manspreading

Due to heat transfer requiring air and space being mostly a vacuum, it’s harder for men to keep their junk cool, hence Manspreading…In…Spaaaace

Oh sure, I suppose you could argue that all the men on the Enterprise (and Starfleet in general?) have this problem, as McCoy, Scotty, Sulu, Chekov, and even Mr. Spock have their own unwise romantic escapades.

Or perhaps you’d claim that he’s a product of his time because the men on the show are constantly referring to women (including fellow officers!) as “girls”. Certainly don’t see any of them (male or female) routinely calling the men “boys”!

But isn’t the Captain supposed to be above that? *cough* *cough* Picard thank you very much *cough* *cough*

It makes you wonder why any woman would want to join Star Fleet to begin with.

Yes, I know, ST:TOS was ground-breaking at the time, had a diverse cast, a positive message about Humanity, blah blah blah. It’s true, I won’t argue it. But I’m not here to nitpick about that.

I’m just pointing out that Captain Kirk was a dude bro who always assumed that if the woman was beautiful, he automatically loved her, needed her, and was allowed to aggressively pursue her. To the point that he did, at best, inappropriate things, and at worst, endangered the ship, his crew, even the galaxy.

WTF, Jim? WTF?

Hark! What yonder noise is this? I believe a beautiful woman is approaching! I MUST HAVE HER!

“I feel pretty!”

Captain Kirk couldn’t keep it in his pants, and as an adult only now seeing this for what it is, the eight-year old fanboy (yes, I said “boy” – go ahead and call me on it) in me is having a hard time reconciling my childhood hero-worship with the reality I now see in these old episodes.

Remember that every time someone whines about how horrible things are today and can’t we just go back (forward?) to the “good ol’ days”.

Because the past’s vision of a future utopia reveals a lot about said good ol’ days. And sadly it’s often this:

They’ve fallen a little short.

 

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I am NOT addicted to Q-tips!

First let me just say that I am a calm, rational, logical person who is definitely not addicted to Q-tips.

Or their generic cotton swab brethren either.

Yes, I admit, I used to regularly clear my ear canals of wax using the those handy, tiny tufts of cotton on a stick. It was effective and felt…satisfying. So effective and satisfying (but not addictive!) that it became a daily duty.

If you haven’t cleaned your ears with a Q-tip or the generic equivalent, you can’t understand. The scrubbing sensation, the rustling, up-close sound, the joy when the cotton comes back yellow and your inner ear feels…pure.

Unblemished.

Born anew.

It’s simply amazing (but not addictive!).

I’m pretty sure there are a ton of ASMR ear cleaning videos that can give you a sense of it. A pale, shadow-of-reality sense of it.

(That said, don’t blame me if you get lost down that particular ASMR rabbit hole. I recommend a viewing of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan as an antidote.)

But ear wax, its nature…waxes and wanes.

Some days it’s moist and clingy and easy to remove.

Some days it isn’t.

Some days it’s dry and brittle and swab-phobic. It’s an entrenched army of bitter angry wax, stretched too thin and unwilling to cede its hard-won inner ear-land.

On those days, the spinning and twirling and rubbing of cottony goodness inside your ear has to be…more vigorous.

More determined.

More ruthless.

And on one of those days, I drew blood.

A lot of blood.

An eliciting from the Missus an “Oh my gawd are you having an aneurysm!?” amount of blood.

The Emergency Room doctor, of course, told me that sticking something deep in your ear and spinning, twirling, and rubbing it is stupid.

That’s the actual medical term for it: stupid. I kid you not.

She’s probably right.

So I stopped.

(See, not addicted. Told you!)

She also explained that the ear has its own way of cleaning itself and getting rid of excess wax. She gave more details, but at that point I had a wad of gauze, a large scab, and no doubt some surplus ear wax clogging things up and making it difficult for me to hear. I got the gist of the message and left it at that.

What my doctor said may be true, but she failed to mention (or perhaps I just didn’t hear) that as you get old (not older, but old, like me), the body’s mechanism for self-cleaning the ears becomes less…pleasant, shall we say?

When I was little and before I had access to cotton swabs, I never thought about the wax in my ears. Whatever self-cleaning was going on went on seamlessly and quietly.

Not so now.

Now I can feel small pieces of wax fall into the bottom of my ear canal, hear the slight rustling sound as it lands, sense when it’s actually falling out of my ear (usually when I’m trying to make a good impression on someone – nothing says “Hey I’m a classy cool, hip and with-it dude” like flakes of wax fluttering out of your ear).

I couldn't find a picture with the right sort of ants. These are fire ants and when they climb into your ear, it's A LOT less subtle than other ants (and therefore flakes of ear wax) sound

The pitter-patter of tiny feet never sounded more horrifying

And not itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow flakes of ear wax.

Dime-sized.

And not bright yellow.

Scab-brown.

Not to mention the itchiness that accompanies this self-purging. Did I mention the itchiness?

It’s like having chicken pox in your ears.

Or an army of microscopic ants marching in and out of the ol’ sound canals.

It’s enough to make an old man want to head to an NRA-approved Death Camp™ (also known as a ‘school’) and end it all.

But instead I find myself reaching for the box of Q-tips again. Not because I’m addicted, but because the bugs are in my ears and I need to get them out.

Fortunately, they get stuck in the ear wax and I can spin, twirl, and scrub them out before they cause any brain damage.

(If you feel compelled to leave any comments, please use ALL CAPS as I’m having a hard time hearing right now.)

 
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Posted by on 26 February 2018 in Angst, Life

 

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It’s my childhood all over again

Exciting news here on the family front! I’m pleased to announce a new addition to the family!

Yes, that’s right, the Missus and I are grandparents!

Now I can see you there, scratching your heads, thinking “One of those little scamps is a father?” and asking aloud, “Hold on just a moment there, fellas, aren’t his kids pre-adolescents?”

To which I respond, “Never underestimate the power of technology!”

That’s right. While there are couples out there occasionally making the news due to their attempts to conceive and carry a baby post-menopause, our family has used the miracles of modern science to not just buck the trend, but reverse it!

So it is with great pride that I present to you Rocky, our grandstone and newest addition to the family!

In a pinch, you can use your grandchild to beat back home intruders.

When the kiddo asked if he could keep him, I stared into those big, sad eyes and couldn’t say no.

It's not abuse! He doesn't need a blanket! He's a rock! A rock with eyes, dammit! Eyes that bore into your soul.

If I rotate the bed 180 degrees, I can pretend the eyes are closed and get some sleep myself.

Yes, with the latest in super glue and googly eye technology, my son was able to conceive (of) and create a pet rock.

I tried wood glue first, with disasterous results. Rocky came down with a bad case of termites.

Despite the abundance of eyes, and no visible mouths present, when I look at this I think “SCREAM!”

He has his father’s eyes. Literally. We bought them at the craft store. Whole bag, $1.99.

But not just any pet rock. As my son said once the glue was dry enough for him to carry Rocky around:

“If I’m his dad, that makes you (to the Missus) his grandmother and you (to me) his grandfather!”

I have to say, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Look at those chiseled good looks. He’s got a face that should be carved into a cliff face.

To be honest, neither the Missus nor I are sure we’re ready to be grandparents. I always assumed I had at least another ten years before that became a possibility, let alone a reality. And here we are, still struggling with the responsibilities of being parents: helping with homework, wiping noses, comforting and bandaging, teaching them how to fence.

And now add to that the need to teach them (well, just the one, really) how to be a good parent.

A good single parent. Yikes, how did we screw up raising them to the point that he’s a single dad?

Should the sex talk have come earlier? Would it have done any good given that the sex talk was not going to include anything about pet rocks?

I can feel the panic setting in. What have we done?! How can they be parents already, with so much still to learn?

How can we be grandparents, with so much still to teach?

While do I feel a sudden burning need for Visine?

I only have eyes for you. Seriously. The bag of googly eyes have been designated as spare parts for you, Rocky.

On the other hand, I have the cutest, most adorable, most perfect grandchild ever. I could stare at him for hours (just as he can, and does, stare at me for hours).

Strangely, the sleepless nights have not fallen on the single dad, but instead, somehow, the Missus and I have gotten screwed, yet again, on that aspect of having a newborn in the family.

And don’t get the Missus started on the breastfeeding!

 

 
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Posted by on 18 September 2017 in Life, Parenting

 

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For Whom Does the Doorbell Toll? It Tolls For Thee, Fool Using a Vintage Word Processor

My next sign will read

This is the nice warning sign. Before the cops made me take it down, I had a rig that dumped concentrated skunk venom on you. It wasn’t the dumping on salespeople the cops objected to, it was the unavoidably omnipresent smell.

“Hello, my name is Ian and I’m a vintage-aholic. My last purchase of vintage electronics was three days ago. But on the positive side, it was an old Brother word processor with a working built-in CRT and printer!”

Now if you’re anything like my wife, you’re rolling your eyes and snickering about my tendency to lust after (and occasionally buy) electronics from the 80s and 90s. But when the apocalypse comes and the only thing that will save you is a 1987 Compaq Portable III connected via null modem to a 1989 IBM PS/2 P70 running an old DOS program that controls a weather satellite, well, we’ll see who’s laughing then.

(And enjoying the blistering hot sun, jerk. You won’t be getting rain any time soon once I control the weather!)

It also comes with a built-in printer, only adding 10 pounds to the weight!

All right, you primitive screwheads, listen up. See this? This is my WORDSTICK! It’s a 5″ x 9″ amber CRT with a built-in spelling and grammar checker, Brother’s top-of-the-line.

But until such time, I have to prove to myself (and, to a (much) larger extent, the Missus) that the cash outlay for said type of machines is worth it. Which means, in the case of my Brother WP-95 word processor, I need to use it.

At least once.

My sponsor has asked for photographic evidence of its use. I think this is because she wants proof it works before she steals it from me. (Yes, vintage-aholic sponsors are quite cutthroat when they fall off the wagon. If it wasn’t for eBay, the streets would be awash in blood. Awash!)

So sure, modern computers can do a lot more than a single-function device like this word processor.

And yes, modern displays are brighter, crisper, and larger.

To be sure, a modern laptop weighs only a fraction of the 22 pounds this thing weighs. And can run on a battery. And can save files, do fancy formatting, get you on the internet, and allow you to email yourself a backup of your file.

But where’s the fun in that? When you lug a 22 pound dedicated word processor like this to a coffee shop, plug the electric cord into an extension cord so you can reach the wall outlet, and then write something, you feel a sense of accomplishment!

When’s the last time you felt a sense of accomplishment writing something on a mamby-pamby modern computer using software that practically writes the story for you?

(I’m looking at you, Scrivener users!)

Trenchcoats are surprisingly comfortable when worn en masse

What kind of fashion statement is this?

But not only do you get a cardio workout along with that satisfaction, you also get the added bonus of irritating all those bloody hipsters sipping espressos when you hit the PRINT button. Because when this thing prints out, you are magically transported back to a news room with a teletype in a time that predates decibel-levels-in-the-workplace regulations.

Fireworks freak out your dog? Nothing compared to this printer.

So I recommend getting your butt to the coffee shop, plugging this thing in, and if the line for coffee is too long, fire off a page to the printer. Those beatniks in line will flee in terror, convinced North Korea has finally made good on its threats, and you won’t have to wait in line for coffee.

It’s a win-win.

(If you need a vintage word processor, the Missus informs me that I would be happy to sell you mine…)

Here’s my justification for spending $40. Was it worth it? Let me know in the comments.

This was going to be an actual episode of Murder: She Wrote, but then the producers served me with a cease and desist letter regarding unsolicited manuscripts.

If you think this is tt;dr (too tiny, didn’t read), you should know I modified the word processor to print for microfiche.

 
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Posted by on 20 August 2017 in Art!, Life, Technopocalypse, Writing

 

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I’m dying, and it’s all NPR’s fault

The Missus and I recently celebrated another marriage anniversary, having destroyed the divorce pool our friends had going by quite a few years (if I can hold out for a couple more years I’ll win the jackpot, and I am totally going to win that jackpot).

As a reward for endur surviv enjoying so many years of agon horror blissful wedded matrimony, we decided to get ourselves FitBits.

(OK, the Missus is convinced I’m going to drop dead if I don’t get more exercise, and this was supposed to help put off that outcome. Which is strange considering the strychnine I’m pretty sure she’s been lacing my morning tea with (she has her own jackpot date in the pool, and I suspect it’s considerably earlier than mine…)).

The FitBits are great, once you get past all the data they are sucking up and phoning home to the manufacturer. So yeah, if you enjoy tinfoil hats as much as I do, then maybe “great” is a bit strong of a word to describe it.

But there are upsides. And one of those is the feature that is saving my life: the step tracking and daily goals associated with that walking. If I hit 10k steps a day, according to the FibtBit manual, I will live forever.

Immortality (and on top of that, looking pretty good too) is a pretty effective incentive, assuming most of that time is spent being single and looking fit (because you can be single and lonely or single and not lonely, and let’s face it, this culture is all about how good you look), so I’ve been pretty diligent in getting those steps in because when I hit that divorce pool jackpot I am gonna be rich AND look good!

Which is why I’m so upset that NPR has taken it upon itself to kill me.

That’s right, National Public Radio, you are really making me consider the possibility that Trump is right to want to cut off all your funding and redirect it to the Brown Shirts of America organization (welovehate.org, a 501c non-profit charity where, for tax purposes, you can write off your bigotry!).

Wait, I can hear you shouting, with more than a little surprise in your tone, NPR is good, how can you say it wants to kill you?

Two words, my loyal reader:

Pledge breaks.

What, that isn’t sufficient explanation? Seriously, it’s not obvious from just those two words?

Fine. I’ll spend more time sitting at a keyboard typing instead of getting in my steps, which means I’m adding you, loyal reader, to the list of things trying to kill me.

NPR is killing me with its pledge breaks.

Here’s how it works. I drive to and from work in a car. With a radio. And since I get incredibly anxious when there isn’t noise around me, I listen to the radio. And because I need to feel somewhat anxious in order to be motivated to move around and do things (also sometimes referred to as “functioning”), I counteract the soothing effects of radio noise by tuning into the news. That is, NPR.

It works great. The lizard portion of my brain is lulled by the cacophony spit out by the radio, but the sleep center is constantly stabbed awake by the onslaught of stories about all the terrible things happening in the world. And NPR strikes just the right balance of bad news and unbiased, level-headed commentary to keep me functional but not in a state. Unlike some other radio news sources.

(I’m looking at you, KCBS!)

But right now NPR is in the middle of a pledge drive, which means they’re going on and on about how important we the listeners are, how easy and affordable it is to pledge, how vile and guilt-ridden we should feel if we haven’t pledged yet, and matching funds and the like.

Which means I’m not listening to NPR.

I know, I know, they’ve got this thing called Pledge Free Streaming, which allows me to listen without the pledge breaks during the pledge drive, but I only listen in the car on my way to and from work, and I don’t have an unlimited data plan on my phone, and my state has a hands-free law, so risk of impending death aside, that just isn’t a workable option for me.

So because of pledge breaks you’ve stopped listening to NPR and now you’re suffering from a spike in anxiety that you’re afraid will kill you, you ask?

No. That is not how NPR is killing me. That’s far too obvious a play for an evil, left-wing liberal media outlet to use when trying to silence its own constituency.

No, their plan is far more insidious.

I have an AED strapped to my other wrist.

According to my FibBit and reports on NPR, my heart has stopped beating. Also, before pledge drive season, my arms were as smooth and hairless as a baby’s butt. Anxious Hair Growth syndrome strikes again, dammit. Also also, those 1980 steps? I haven’t gotten out of bed yet. Thanks, Obama, I mean, NPR.

You see, when I tune out NPR, I don’t turn off the radio.

I switch stations.

And because all the other news stations make me too anxious, and because the lack of NPR dials up my existing anxiety to 11, I turn to soothing, relaxing music.

Classical music.

The kind of music you swing your arm to, as if holding a baton and conducting the orchestra.

The arm your FitBit is on.

The FitBit that reads this ‘conducting’ as steps taken, therefore falsely incrementing your step counter so you think, at the end of the day, that you have attained those 10k steps when, in fact, YOU HAVEN’T!

That, that is how NPR is killing me. With pledge breaks.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get in some more steps. I think.

Would you like to support NPR and end its pledge drive early so Ian can drive to and from work at a relatively familiar level of anxiety? If so, click here to donate. Ian would appreciate it and NPR probably wouldn’t mind either. Just put “Give Ian some peace!!!” in the comment section so they know I sent you.

Better yet, don’t leave a comment. That might be seen as violating the restraining order they had issued against me after all the letters I sent and calls I made asking them to stop the pledge breaks…

I’m also thinking of a Walk-A-Thon sort of event where people can sponsor me. You know, hit x number of steps and you’ll buy a copy of my book. Or, conversely, if I don’t hit x number of steps you will return my book for a refund. If there’s enough interest, I’ll put together a cool sign-up sheet (that is, xerox the kiddos’ most recent walk-a-thon form from school with the school name crossed out) and let you, my loyal reader, make a pledge.

Call now, operators are standing by!

 
 

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