My RSS Feed
My Facebook
My Twitter
My YouTube
My Pinterest

SUBSCRIBE to this blog



My ARCADE GAMES & INFO
SOFTWARE I've Written
My PHOTO ALBUMS
My WRITING ADVICE
Every CAR I'VE OWNED
Every STATE I'VE VISITED



My Book, COMMODORK
My Book, INVADING SPACES



You Don't Know Flack (Tech)
Sprite Castle (Commodore/C64)
Multiple Sadness (Bad Movies)
Throwback Reviews (Movies)

More Podcast Details
Combined Feed: iTunes / RSS




A New Audio Jack?

Rumors continue to fly as to whether or not the next generation of iPhone will contain a 3.5mm headphone jack or not. As the owner of both an iPhone and some pretty good headphones, I’m not thrilled about this.

The larger version of the headphone jack — the 1/4” or 2.5mm version — was invented in 1878 for telephone operators. You probably remember seeing them those old movies where operators were manually moving cords around to connect people’s phone calls. This same plug is still used today on things like microphones and guitar cables.

I couldn’t find an exact date and when the mini version of the connector (1/4” or 3.5mm) was invented. All the articles I found simply said that they became popular on transistor radios. It seems to me that, at least in the 1970s, electronic equipment that stayed at home (like console stereos) used the larger, original size while portable electronics adopted the mini version. As time went on, more and more items adopted the mini-standard. The first Macintosh computers (1984) used the mini ports for both microphones and headphones, as did my first home stereo, purchased circa 1985. The audio plug on the rear of my Amdek computer monitor also used the mini plug.

jack

My first handheld radio came with a 3.5mm plug and a single, mono earphone that looked like something you would stick into your ear to keep water out while swimming. Audio quality improved with radios, the Walkman, and the Discman, but the plug never changed. I could take my wife’s Bose noise cancelling headphones that she got for Christmas and plug them into any of those other things and they would work perfectly.

It wasn’t until I started messing around with audio recording that I discovered the wonderful world of audio adapters. In the mid-90s I purchased a small mixing board that used RCA connections for all its inputs and outputs. My guitar had a 1/4” jack, and my computer’s sound card had an 1/8” one. The solution to this problem was as close as the nearest Radio Shack. Years later, I now have a shoebox full of dozens of adapters — RCA-to-mini, ⅛-to-¼, two-to-one adapters, you name it. I didn’t purchase them all at one time but rather as they were needed, but over time I’ve needed them all.

Now, Apple has a history of nudging people along in the “right” direction (or at least what it considers the “right” direction to be). They were the first ones to release a computer without a floppy drive, for example. The difference, of course, was that by 1998, the writing was already on the wall for floppy disks. Yes, many of us still owned and used floppies on a regular basis, but there were alternatives available — namely, the USB memory stick. When the average mp3 is around 5 megabytes in size, a 1.44 megabyte storage container is relatively useless.

Unfortunately for me (and thousands of people like me), just because the industry says a storage medium is dead doesn’t mean it is. Underneath my computer desk is a set of plastic drawers that contain more than 1,000 5 1/4” floppy disks, containing Commodore, Apple and IBM-PC software. I also own an FC5025, a USB interface that allows me to connect an old IBM floppy drive to a modern PC. I also own a Zoom Floppy, which allows me to directly connect an old Commodore floppy drive to my PC via USB.

For accessing 3.5” floppy disks, I have a couple of USB floppy drives.

At my small writing desk here in the living room, I spy seven things with a 3.5mm audio adapter: this laptop, my iPhone, a tablet, my daughter’s ASUS Chromebook, a handset adapter that looks like an 80s phone handset, and two retired iPod Touches (one with a cracked screen). All of those items are within 1’ of my person, right now.

Apple claims two things — that the 3.5mm standard is old and analog (true) and that it’s preventing them from making thinner devices. I own an iPhone 6+. When it was released, some customers complained that they were bending in their pockets because they were so thin. I know that it’s difficult to see into the future when it comes to technology, but I just find it hard to believe that the future of cell phones is being slowed by the thickness of a 3.5mm jack. I suspect this is less about the thickness of their phones and more about greed. Apple’s new proposed audio jack will be proprietary, which means several things. It means new headphones will cost more because companies will have to pay money to Apple to license their audio plug. It also means, if Apple gets their way, that every pair of headphones I own — and I own many — will be obsolete.

In reality what I think it’ll mean is that we (iPhone users) will all end up buying an adapter — probably $20 — that converts “old-style” headphones (read: the ones that have been working fine for the past 50 years) to Apple’s new jack. We’ll all need one and we’ll all grumble about buying them and we’ll all own them, or we’ll all buy different phones. And I’ll have to buy four, one for each iPhone in the house.

For someone who has seen this before and has been buying adapters for decades now, this is nothing new.

300 Keyboards

I’ve scanned in 99% of my old photographs, but every now and then I run across one that slipped through the cracks. This is one of those.

Scan0002

I’ve told this story before, but right around the year 2000, a co-worker of mine and I attended a local auction for a computer store that was going out of business. At the auction there were large cardboard boxes full of computer keyboards. The opening bid was crazy — something like $20 per box. My friend Don and I chuckled at the price and stopped paying attention. The auctioneer tried restarting the auction at ten dollars per box. Then five. Then, a dollar.

When bidding got down to 50 cents per box, I decided to bid on one. No one else bid and I won (or lost, depending on your point of view). What I didn’t realize was that the auctioneer had changed the auction to a “times the money” format, meaning I had just purchased thirteen cardboard boxes full of monitors for a total of $6.50.

Without a dolly at our disposal, Don and I searched the parking lot and appropriated a shopping cart. The two of us spent the next hour carting keyboards from the store out to Don’s extended-length van. In the end there were something like 350 keyboards, although once I had tossed out all the ones with missing keys and unknown connectors, the number was closer to 300. At some point we called Susan, who arrived just in time to cram the remaining keyboards into the trunk and passenger seat of her car.

The keyboards were all relocated to my garage. They were stacked down the right hand side up against the wall. The stack was roughly four-foot tall and ran the entire length of the garage.

I sold one keyboard to a co-worker for $10, turning an instant profit. I pulled out a few heavy-duty old-school IBM keyboards from the collection, which were heavy and loud and my favorites, and used them for a few years. I tried giving keyboards away to everybody I knew. After everyone I knew was sick of hearing about or seeing keyboards, Susan and I hauled them over to my dad’s house and set them out in a giant pile for big trash pickup.

For another year or so, occasionally we would find a random key from a keyboard in the garage or in Susan’s car.

NBA 2015-16 Rundown

The 2015-16 NBA season was a good one for Oklahoma City Thunder fans. With first year NBA coach Billy Donovan at the helm, the Thunder finished the regular season with 55 wins and 27 losses, placing them third in the Western Conference. In the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Thunder muscled their way past two aging but solid Texas teams: the Dallas Mavericks and the San Antonio Spurs. In best of seven contests, the Thunder beat the Mavericks in five games and San Antonio in six to make their way to the Western Conference Finals to face the Golden State Warriors.

The Golden State Warriors finished the 2015-16 regular season 73-9, besting the previous record held by Michael Jordan’s 1995-96 Chicago Bulls and claiming the best NBA regular season record of all time. The Warriors shattered the previous best undefeated streak of 15 wins by going 24-0 in the beginning of the season. Golden State shattered dozens of records this season, mostly in part to the “Splash Brothers,” Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Curry made 402 3-pointers in the regular season, smashing the previous season record of 286 (he held it). Thompson made 276 three-pointers (the second most in the league) and won the three-point contest held during the All-Star Weekend. This season Curry tied the record for the most three-pointers made in a single game (12) while Thompson broke the record for the most made in a playoff game (11).

Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and the rest of the Oklahoma City Thunder surprised sports fans by going up on the Warriors three games to one. When presented with the odds of coming back from being down 1 games to 3 in the conference finals, Warriors coach Steve Kerr replied, “I don’t think most of those teams were the defending champions.” He was right. Over the next three games, the Thunder imploded spectacularly on the world’s biggest basketball stage, losing three games in a row to end their season and send the defending champs back to the finals.

1463458603996[1]

Believe it or not, the biggest implosion of the finals was yet to come.

Not so quietly in the east, a legacy was brewing. In the summer of 2010, during a news broadcast so infamous it has its own Wikipedia entry, LeBron James left Cleveland and signed with the Miami Heat. While Cleveland fans were busy burning his jerseys, James won two titles with Miami before returning to Cleveland out of either remorse or obligation. James promised Cleveland fans a championship. “Get on my back,” he said, “and I will carry you.”

The Splash Brothers made early work of the Cavaliers, putting them in the same 1-3 position they themselves had been in against the Thunder. And then… Cleveland — and specifically, LeBron James — came to life.

Winning NBA teams have deep rosters these days. The days of winning a championship with only one superstar are over. Now, it takes two or three to get deep in the playoffs. Golden State’s bench is particularly deep with multiple guys they can count on to score, but one they didn’t count on was LeBron James and his promise to his city and the country.

The 2015-16 finals were strange in regards to fouls. At times it seems almost nothing was called; at others, the slightest grabs made by superstars were whistled. At the end of game six, Curry got so frustrated after fouling out that he threw his mouthpiece and hit a fan, which got him ejected (after he had already fouled out — the first time I can remember that happening). When the three-pointers were dropping, Curry and Thompson looked (to quote the Beastie Boys) “as cool as cucumbers in a bowl of hot sauce.” When they weren’t, the two pouted on the bench, unsure of what to do next.

No team has ever come back from a 1-3 game deficit in the NBA finals… until last night. With the game tied with less than a minute to do, a three-point shot by Kyrie Irving combined with a single free throw point by James put the Cavaliers up by 4 points. The Splash Brothers were helpless to come back, making only six three-pointers combined, tying Draymond Green’s own six from downtown.

As the buzzer sounded the end of the game and LeBron hit the floor crying, it was the shot of Curry sulking on the bench that told the story. After avoiding elimination three times in the Oklahoma City match-up, the Golden State Warriors — a team that broke records by raining down three-pointers and beating every other team in the league at least once during the regular season — couldn’t get it done.

The story this morning is the spectacular demise of Golden State. Soon, it will be the legacy of LeBron James, and how one man was able to lead a team into victory.

In ten days, the story for Oklahoma City Thunder fans will quickly become “is Kevin Durant staying in Oklahoma City?” We’ll find out around the time all the confetti has settled in Cleveland.

103680893-GettyImages-477178804.530x298[1]

Father’s Day, 2016

I stand firmly grounded in middle age, inasmuch as when I look back over my shoulder at the starting line and up ahead toward to the finish, the distances appear to be about the same.

To my left stand friends who never became parents — some by choice, others by circumstance. To my right are those who either won’t or can’t be with their fathers today.

And it doesn’t escape me for a moment how lucky I am to be here, in the middle. Today I had lunch with my dad and my children at the same table. (And Susan of course, who made our Melting Pot reservations!)

I’ve seen a lot of sad posts on Facebook today, advising others to appreciate the time they have with their kids and their dad.

I am, and I do.

471951_3652201351033_1986661275_o

Star Wednesday: The Mystery of the Rebellious Robot

I have lots and lots of books in my Star Wars collection, both fiction and non-fiction for young and adult readers alike.

2016-06-15 11.38.04

Star Wars: The Mystery of the Rebellious Robot was published by Random House in 1979. I remember checking his book out from our school’s library. This copy also came from a school library, although not my school.

Unsurprisingly the story begins with Han Solo piloting the Millennium Falcon, Chewbacca and R2-D2 playing Planetary Poker, and C-3P0 running around like a maniac.

2016-06-15 11.39.08

First it’s R2-D2 that begins acting rebellious, although soon many of the droids, robots and machines down on Tatooine begin malfunctioning as well. We learn that Luke Skywalker is working with a crew of scientists and engineers to build a super-vaporator because Tatooine was suffering from a severe drought. I hate to break it to them, but George Lucas only builds planets with one climate. Tatooine’s going to be a desert for a long, long time.

2016-06-15 11.39.27

After our heroes safely land on Tatooine, they attend a meeting to discuss the rebellious droids. The meeting is led by Captain Egoreg, leader of the vaporator project. (“Egoreg” is suspiciously similar to “George” spelled backwards.) During the meeting, the conference room explodes. Everyone was unharmed except for C-3PO, who was wheeled out on a dolly for repairs.

Ultimately the source of the robot rebellion turns out to be tainted oil, provided by Jawas who were hoping the malfunctioning droids would be donated to them. Instead, Chewbacca scooped up all the Jawas and bonked them on the head.

2016-06-15 11.39.57

On the final page of the book, Princess Leia awards Chewbacca with a reward while the others look on and C-3P0 photobombs the picture.

2016-06-15 11.40.23

Star Wars: The Mystery of the Rebellious Robot was ghost-written by Eleanor Ehrhardt and illustrated by Mark Corcoran. A great interview with Mark about his memories of the book on its 30th anniversary can be found here.

When this book came out, I’m not sure if I was aware that The Empire Strikes Back was coming out the following year or not. As a kid, these books were a great way to peer into the daily lives of those Star Wars characters. The events captured in the Star Wars films were just a small part of what these characters went through during their lives. Books like these reminded us that there was lots of adventures and stories to be told.

The Toll of Roads

In 1981’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Marion Ravenwood becomes frustrated with Indiana Jones when he complains that it hurts everywhere she touches him. “Where doesn’t it hurt?” she asks, and the infamous archeologist is able to come up with four locations: his elbow, his right temple, his eyeball, and finally, his lips.

I’m in worse shape than Dr. Jones. In addition to my feet, ankles, thighs, butt, abdomen, ribs, back, shoulders, and neck all hurting, my eyes aren’t all that good, my elbow is aching, and my lips are chapped — and I didn’t even get chased by a giant boulder or a tribe of angry natives. All I did was walk around Washington D.C. for a few days with bunch of electronics strapped to my back, and drive 1,400 miles in two days to get back home.

What hurts the most are my shoulders, both from carrying around my backpack and holding on to a steering wheel for two days straight. On Friday, I left D.C. and drove to Hurricane, West Virginia, where I met up with John and Aaron from the Amigos Podcast and hung out for several hours before continuing on toward Lexington, Kentucky. The good news was I covered around 500 miles on Friday; the bad news was, if I wanted to complete the drive in two days (which I did), that left me approximately 900 miles on Saturday to drive.

Ugh.

I had loosely planned on stopping by the 1984 Arcade in Springfield, Missouri and Arkadia Retrocade in Fayetteville, Arkansas, but as the miles piled on my will to do anything but continue moving closer to home waned.

Both the padding in my ten year old driver’s seat and my forty-two-year-old booty aren’t what they used to be. Halfway through day two I found myself making more and more stops at highway truck stops, adding gas to the tank when it was still half full and stretching those muscles that weren’t cramping. My shoulder ached so much that I could no longer raise my arm above my head. My neck creaked and popped no matter which way it turned. My tailbone begged for mercy as I piled pillows under my bum to make the pain bearable. At each stop I began to hobble like a penguin as I tried to make things stop hurting. The single step up back into my truck seemed higher after each brief break.

I pulled into my driveway around 10pm on Saturday and left my truck full of clothes, empty cans of Monster energy drink, and fast food garbage. Even though I did little more than sit around and moan on Sunday, as of this morning, I’m still not feeling great. The muscles in my shoulder continue to pop every time I raise my left arm to rub my temples. My thighs hurt when I stand and more when I sit. Every time I turn my head, my neck sounds like aluminum foil crinkling. It’s going to take me a few more days to get over this one, and I am wondering if my days of 12+ hours in a car driving across America aren’t limited (or over).

Steve’s Llama Farm

It turns out, llama farms are located pretty far outside the confines of the city — at least the one we visited was. After thirty minutes of navigating gravel roads so narrow that we honestly didn’t know what we would do if we encountered a car coming toward us, we arrived.

There wasn’t anything at the llama farm I wasn’t expecting. There were two barns, a four-wheeler, a motorcycle, a pickup truck, a small cabin — and, in the middle of it all, a fenced-in pen containing roughly a dozen llamas. Except for an all-white one.

“He’s a jumper,” said Steve, sole owner of Smoky Mountain Llama Treks. After deciding he had had enough of the corporate life, Steve quit his IT job in Detroit and moved to the mountains of Tennessee. He traded his daily commute for daily hikes into the Smoky Mountains. His customers are no longers users needing computer assistance, but weekend warriors looking to get away and see the backwoods of Tennessee.

And curious people from Oklahoma.

llama1

Llamas are a lot like cats. They’re curious and not aggressive at all. When we arrived, I wondered just how close we would get to the llamas. Five minutes later after a very brief list of instructions (“don’t touch their ears of heads”), all four of us were standing inside the pen with the llamas. Steve rattles off the llamas’ names and you can probably imagine what Curly, Peanut Butter, and Black Jack look like.

In the center of the pen is a large and impressive pile of llama poop. “They all go in one place,” says Steve, stating the obvious. The grass downhill from the pen is plush and green. Apparently, it really does flow downhill.

The draw of the llama farm isn’t really the llamas — it’s Steve. In the half an hour we were there we heard how Steve made it from Detroit to Tennessee, his hike down the Appalachian Trail, the time the transmission went out on his truck, his neighbor (“he’s a Navy Seal”), and his ultimate dream.

“I’d like to meet Chuck Norris,” says Steve. “I think one day I will come out here and find him standing there, waiting to go on a hike with my llamas.” It’s a crazy thought, and yet after hearing half an hour of Steve’s stories, I have no doubt someday that it will happen.

As the kids fed bananas (“they love the peels”) and graham crackers to the llamas, I thought a lot about Steve. He’s quick to point out that his salary went from $200k a year in Detroit to $20k a year in Tennessee, and he couldn’t be happier. The guy has a grin on his face from ear to ear, even as the llamas get possessive over the last bowl of food and begin spitting at one another. And us.

The next morning, Susan and the kids got in a rental car and drove back to Oklahoma while I continued on to Washington D.C. I’ve spent the past week dealing with a Metro under construction, horrible traffic, and crowds of rude people. As I hang up my suit jacket and crawl into bed listening to jack hammers, blasting car horns and kids stomping around upstairs, the thought of living in the backwoods and even dealing with llama poop doesn’t sound all that bad.

llama2

Link: SmokyMountainLlamaTreks.com

The Titanic, Go-Karts, and Llamas.

The last time I spent time in Pigeon Forge, TN, I was nine years old. My family and I went to Knoxville in 1982 to attend the World’s Fair, and stayed in Pigeon Forge.

World's Fair 1982 (182)

My father once described Pigeon Forge as “a sideshow without a circus” back in 1982. Not much has changed.

2016-06-04 14.09.55

Susan got a good deal on this cabin for the weekend just off the beaten path. It was overkill for only four of us, but it was cheaper than the hotel I’m in tonight in Washington D.C.

One of the main things Morgan wanted to see in Pigeon Forge was the Titanic Museum.

2016-06-04 09.46.59

The museum has more than 400 items on display that were on board when the ship went down, the most valuable of which was the actual violin that the band leader played while the ship went down. He didn’t survive, but the violin did.

2016-06-05 10.46.01

Mason wasn’t as interested in the Titanic Museum, but had a good time racing go-karts just down the street.

Then we were off to see what Susan wanted to see. A llama farm.

2016-06-05 15.16.50

I’ll write more about the llamas later this week, but suffice it to say this was the only picture I took while we were outside the pen. The rest of the time we were inside the fence, petting llamas and occasionally dodging llama spit.

Special Snowflakes

Last week, a high school student was prevented from walking across the stage at his high school graduation ceremony because he had a beard. Before I got a chance to write about that, I read another story about a local Native American student was was prevented from wearing a beaded cap during graduation. Earlier in the year, a student was suspended for dying her hair a non-natural color.

I have a message for these and all oppressed youths who are being held back by the man and prevented from expressing themselves and doing whatever they want regardless of established rules: get used to it.

Back when I worked for Mazzio’s Pizza, the employee handbook explicitly forbid facial hair. If you showed up to work with a five o’clock shadow, there was a rusty community razor and bar of soap next to the sink that you could use to scrape your face with. If you weren’t willing to do that, you were sent home (without pay of course) and written up. On your third write up — not just for this, but any infraction — you were fired, and nobody wrote a newspaper article about it.

When I worked for Pizza Hut, I served as a shift supervisor on some nights and a delivery driver on others. Shift supervisors had to wear long black pants, while delivery drivers could wear black shorts. One day I showed up to work in shorts (thinking I was going to be delivering pizzas) but instead that night I was scheduled to be the shift supervisor. My manager, who knew I lived fifteen minutes away from the store, sent me home to go change into long pants.

Last month I attended an awards ceremony at Mason’s school, where Mason is one of 550+ eighth graders. For each subject, all the school’s teachers took the stage and handed out certificates to their star students — somewhere between five and ten students per teacher. Each student was called by name to walk up to the stage and accept his or her certificate. There were probably fifty kids on stage by the time all the math teachers had presented their awards. Then they moved on to science, history, English, Spanish, French, the vocal and drama departments, and so on before moving on to things like the Model UN, journalism, the academic bowl, and other school sponsored activities. Even if your kid hadn’t been on stage yet — no child left behind, right? — they still had a shot at the academic awards, in which every kid with a 3.5 average or better (A’s and B’s) received one. Toward the end, they hand out awards for going to school every day. Here’s a picture I took (from the back row, sorry) of some of our special snowflakes on stage:

outstanding

I’ve told this story before, but one time when Mason was in grade school he come home and told me that it was Field Day. Field Day is an elementary school’s version of the Olympics, where kids compete in events like the high jump and races of varying lengths. For some reason as a kid I was pretty good at the long jump, but that was about it. If I was lucky I’d come home with a ribbon or two (at least one said “Participation” on it) and bide my time until the Spelling Bee rolled around. When I asked Mason if he won any ribbons on his Field Day, he looked at me with that same weird look kids give you when you try to explain to them what payphones were. Of course he got a ribbon, because everybody got a ribbon, because everybody always gets a ribbon. How can you give just one kid a ribbon? That’s favoritism.

That’s also why an 8th grade awards ceremony takes three hours to sit through — because at the end, we’re handing out awards for “coming to school.” The only thing stopping them from handing out certificates for simply being alive is the fact that the mother of some deceased child would probably sue them for discriminating against the dearly departed, and the next year they would have to give out awards to every child that passed away.

Back when I worked at Grandy’s, another cook and I discovered that the outside lighting wasn’t grounded properly, and every time you touched anything metal in the kitchen after dark it would shock the bejesus out of you. Any time you washed dishes, your arms tingled like when you stick your tongue to a nine volt battery. After complaining for weeks to management (who suggested we stand on plastic tubs while doing the dishes) we convinced another employee to call OSHA for us. Our manager told us if he ever found out who called them, he would fire us on the spot.

Look, high school sucks. You have to go, they make the rules, and you have to follow them. It is a card game in which students hold no cards and are forced to sit at the table. If you don’t like the school’s policy against facial hair, the way to fight it is before graduation. Talk to a teacher or an administrator. Go to a board meeting and voice your opinion. Start a newspaper or a petition (or, more likely, a Facebook page — whatever) and rally the troops. Disobeying the man is not the same as fighting him. That’s a hard concept to explain to a generation of kids with more awards than passion.

If nothing else, these kids were lucky to have learned life’s not fair early on. Start ignoring your company’s dress code or grooming policy and see how far that gets you. In the real world, which you are entering the day you graduate high school, you can’t simply break the rules you don’t agree with and not expect consequences. If anyone walks out of high school thinking otherwise, we have truly failed them.

Star Wednesday: Stormtrooper Hat

Wearing Star Wars clothing is a fun way to tell people around you that you love the greatest trilogy of films ever. Or, perhaps it’s a way to tell them that you’re a giant dork. Either way, I have several Star Wars ties and shirts that I wear on occasion, but one item that gets more wear than any of them is this baseball cap.

2016-06-01 16.47.59

I struggle to find more to say about it than “it’s a baseball cap that looks like a stormtrooper’s helmet,” but I’ll try. I bought this hat several years ago at the mall. I’ve had it long enough that we’ve had to wash it multiple times to try and keep it white. Based on the above picture, it’s due another round.

There’s nothing on the back of the hat, so when you wear it backwards (like I normally do) it just looks like a white hat.

2016-06-01 16.48.14

The inside has a pretty cool pattern, although nobody except things living on my scalp ever sees it. I have another hat of the same brand that looks like Boba Fett’s helmet. I have a green shirt and a pair of matching Nike shoes that makes it more of an outfit.

I occasionally get comments from people when I wear it, which is exactly why I wear it.

I don’t really consider Star Wars branded clothing to be part of my collection proper, but it’s a fun way to find other fans of the franchise and perhaps strike up a conversation while out of the house and away from the computer.