Stacks of books
Last week, I read two books: The Sun is Also a Star and The Amityville Horror.
The Sun is Also a Star was written in 2016 by Nicola Yoon. It is the story of Natasha and Daniel, two seventeen-year-olds living in New York who meet and fall in love.
The Amityville Horror was written in 1977 by Jay Anton. It is the (probably not) true story of George and Kathy Lutz, two thirty-somethings living in New York who move into the world’s most haunted house.
I mention them because these are the eighth and ninth books I’ve read so far this year. For some of you, that might not sound like a lot. For me, that’s a lot. According to my records, in 2016 I read nine books, total. Of those nine, seven were biographies. Of the nine I’ve read so far this year, only one has been a biography. Seven have been fiction.
The more I read the more I kick myself for not reading more, and not having read more. The list of books (especially classics) I want to read is growing. Most of what I’m reading right now is for school, but when May comes, I’ll have a fat queue waiting for me.
Thinking about all the time I spent not reading fills me with sadness. I hope I have enough time to catch up.
Many years ago when I began collecting vintage computer hardware, every acquisition got me excited. Each new computer, floppy drive, and box of assorted peripherals that came into the house made me absolutely giddy. But after you’ve tested, cleaned, and aligned your hundredth floppy drive, and installed additional shelving in your garage to hold all those old CRT monitors you might need someday, the elation of “yet another” old piece of hardware begins to wane.
What never gets old for me, however, is digging through other people’s software collections.
A year or two ago I acquired a(nother) complete Commodore system through Craigslist. If memory serves I gave the computer and disk drive to a friend, kept the monitor, threw the printer into the garbage, and put the box of disks onto a shelf to go through at some later date when I had some spare time.
Last weekend, I had some spare time.
According to a detached label I found floating around inside the box of disks, the original owner of this collection lived in Checotah, Oklahoma. I am immediately struck by the fact that I have never been to nor heard of Checotah, Oklahoma. When I began collecting old computers, it seems like I mostly acquired them from the original owners. Each purchase came with an oral history and testimonial, some of which were more interesting than the contents of disks themselves. When I acquire things today, it is usually not from the original owner. Often it’s from someone who inherited the items after the original owner passed away.
Unlike hardware, floppy disks are like snowflakes. Each diskette is a unique combination of its owner and the times, beginning with its label. The labels that document each disk’s contents are usually handwritten. There are different styles and colors; some are glossy and some are matte. Some contain the name of a single game while others list specific loading instructions. The one in my hands reads, “TRACK AND FIELD. LOADING SCREEN IS GARBLED. WAIT THREE MINUTES FOR GAME TO LOAD.”
By default only the top side of Commodore, Apple, or Atari floppy disks could be written to, but by using a cheap disk notcher, data could also be stored on the back side. While official disk notchers were available for $5 or less at most computer stores, some people opted for office-issue hole punches, leaving a signature half-circle on the left hand side of each disk. Others resorted to scissors or knives. A couple of the diskettes in this collection look like the owner let a squirrel gnaw on the edge for a while. Whatever works.
There was a time when converting these physical disks into digital disk images that can easily be accessed and stored on modern computers required a degree in geekery and a wizard’s bag full of magic cables perform. Not any more. Today I have two or three different methods of slurping the data up; the one I use depends on the contents of the disks. I usually start with a ZoomFloppy and a 1571 disk drive. For disks that need more love I move to a 1541 modified with a parallel port. Occasionally, I’ll resort to using my 1541 Ultimate with a 1541 acting as a slave. There’s no right way to do any of this, although there are plenty of people standing by to tell you you’re doing it wrong.
Not always, but often, I can tell how well a disk is going to transfer by the sound. Most of them emit a smooth, rotating sound. Others click loudly. Sometimes, one will squeal and creak like a parched door hinge desperate for oil. By and large, the more sound a disk makes, the more likely I won’t be able to read it.
There are more desperate methods of recovering lost data, although for most of the stuff I’m archiving, they’re rarely worth performing. If something looks really interesting I’ll clean the drive, clean the disk, and fiddle with the drive’s speed and alignment. If all that fails, the disk either makes its way to a rainy day stack or the trash, depending on the mood. I’ve put a lot of time and effort into saving things that I haven’t quite figured out why I’m saving, or who I’m saving them for.
If there was one disk that disappointed me, it was this one. The original owner packed so many programs on this single disk that he needed two labels to list all the programs. Bingo! Banner! Dice Roll! Man, if these don’t sound like a good way to spend a Friday evening, what does? Unfortunately, this was one of those disks that hung up at the 5% mark. I tried all the tricks I know and still couldn’t get it to read. Considering that all of these disks are 30+ years old, the fact that any of them still work is somewhat amazing.
Most of the programs I archive fall under one of three categories: games I’ve seen a thousand times, BASIC programs that were either typed in from magazines or created by enterprising computing enthusiasts, and “other.” It’s the promise of that last category that keeps me doing this. Each time I find a disk of pictures that someone drew 30 years ago, or school newsletters, or someone’s school reports, those are the snapshots in time that make all of this interesting to me.
Someday when I get things organized I’ll zip everything up and post them online. Until then, I’ll just keep doing what I do.
“This is new,” says Morgan moments before she opens the GE washer to reveal a portal to another dimension. The inside of the washer is filled with blue, sparkling lights. The tunnel is too small for an adult to enter, but just the right size for a curious child. As I wonder where the tunnel leads, or how it relates to “the event,” Morgan simply says “goodbye” and dives in head first. We don’t see her again for almost an hour.
For the second time in two years, we returned to Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe, New Mexico. After our first visit to the art installation last year, my mind was so blown that I didn’t write much about it. It was difficult to whittle the experience down to less than several thousand words, or even make sense of the experience. My description of our trip to the house came off like the ravings of an insane person. I think I used to phrase “drug-fueled nightmare” multiple times while describing our visit.
Upon entering the House of Eternal Return (“the house”) you are entering a mystery, even though nobody tells you that. There’s a mailbox outside with some mail inside. One of the letters discusses “the event.” At that moment, you have a decision to make. You can spend the entire day enjoying the House for just what it is. It’s a weird, trippy, fun house kind of place. There are art displays and rooms to explore and lots of interactive “things” to discover. You will have a great time if all you do is walk and climb around and look at everything.
Or, you can spend the day trying to figure out what happened to the Pastore family.
Because the house feels so much like a real house, at least at first, it’s easy to forget to look at everything. Eventually you realize that everything inside the house is there for a reason. There are newspapers, family pictures, china cabinets, homework assignments stuck to the refrigerator with magnets, and more. Everything is there for a reason. It’s all part of the experience.
The house is so overwhelming that I think first-time visitors get distracted. While people were walking around yelling things like “the refrigerator leads to another dimension!” and “there’s a tiny man in the toilet!” Morgan and I sat down at the kitchen table and began digging through the history, and the mystery, of the home.
You could, in theory, spend days (weeks?) trying to put together the entire backstory. In one room there’s a computer with a dozen videos on a fake website. There are codes. There are papers. There are pictures. There are books — hundreds of books. There are potential clues everywhere… and again, you can have a blast the entire time and not even engage this level of the experience. Shortly after we lost Morgan to the clothes washer, Mason discovered that the fireplace led to a giant ice cave filled with a woolly mammoth’s skeleton, and off he went.
Along with day passes, Meow Wolf (the collective that built the House of Eternal Return) also sells year and lifetime passes. If I lived anywhere near Santa Fe I would definitely own one of those passes. I wanted to investigate every detail of every room, but there simply wasn’t time. And honestly, half of the enjoyment is watching other people enjoying some of the surprises for the first time. I could spend hours sitting in the fake kitchen, reading the fake newspaper and watching the look on people’s faces when they open the refrigerator…
If I’ve any complaint with the experience it’s that the house fills up quickly. There were things I wanted to contemplate and study that were simply impossible with excited kids running loose. I’d pay extra to attend an adults-only weekend, with more time to study each clue. There were a few puzzles and codes that we simply couldn’t tackle because too many people were waiting for their turn. If you go, go early.
Another thing we did this time was watch the videos. There are multiple video screens located throughout the experience. Some are longer than others. Some of them tell more of the story than others. None of them are numbered, so watching them in order is impossible.
If you do everything right, you’ll leave Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return with just enough information and curiosity to start forming new questions. The four of us compared notes during our ride back to the hotel. None of us saw exactly the same things. All of us have questions. None of us fully understand what happened in the house. All of us are ready to go back again.
My only other piece of advice — should you find yourself in a staring contest with a ten-foot-tall inter-dimensional snow owl, you might as well give up. That thing rarely blinks.
The first stage magic show I remember seeing was at Oklahoma’s Frontier City. Although almost every part of the theme park has a western motif, the magic show is just a magic show. I saw the magic show multiple times over the years, each year with a new magician, and the theater was always packed. Kids loved the show because they love magic; adults loved it, I suspect, because it was one of the few places in the park that had seats and air conditioning.
Each year, the magician on stage magically linked and unlinked metal rings and made rabbits appear from nowhere, but the trick that made the biggest impression on me is known as Metamorphosis. In Metamorphosis, the magician is placed inside a bag, and the bag is placed inside a trunk. The bag is bound, and so is the trunk. The assistant then climbs on top of the trunk and holds up a sheet. The sheet is raised, and when it drops, the assistant and the magician have magically changed places!
The reason why Metamorphosis is so impressive is because of all the parts of the trick our minds fill in. We see the magician placed inside a sealed bag. We see the trunk closed and locked! Sometimes we even see the magician’s hands bound in some fashion. But as my dad used to remind me, all of those props belong to the magician. We assume that the handcuffs are real, when in reality they can be opened with the press of a button. We assume the sack the magician is placed inside has a bottom. We assume that the top of the trunk is the only way in and out. All of those assumptions are incorrect. We also assume that the transformation is “instant,” but if you watch it a second time, it’s not. Curious, how long the magician stands at the front of the stage, soaking up all that applause…
(If you want to see how the trick is done, The Masked Magician will be happy to show you.)
Although early versions of the trick existed, Metamorphosis was perfected and popularized by Harry Houdini. Not long after seeing the trick performed at Frontier City, my dad loaned me a book about Houdini that explained how the trick worked. The book showed everything, from the fake bag to the trunk’s fake back. I felt betrayed. The magician at Frontier City had lied to us! Why would anyone watch a magician perform that trick, or any trick, once they knew the secret?
The answer, of course, is in the performance. It’s the appreciation of the art itself that keeps people coming back. Whenever I watch someone perform the cups and ball trick or palm a coin, it’s not less impressive because I know how it’s done, it’s actually more. Once your mind has been opened to what’s going on behind the scenes — the the psychology of misdirection and the hundreds or thousands of hours of practice it takes to look like you haven’t practiced a move — it becomes entertaining on a whole new level.
And now that my mind is beginning to open, I feel the same way about fiction.
When I began studying the art of telling stories I realized that everything in fiction happens for a reason. As a kid, I used to wonder what Luke Skywalker could have differently to save Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru from being torched by Stormtroopers in the original Star Wars. The moment Luke realizes his Aunt and Uncle are in danger, he zooms back home in his Landspeeder only to discover that they have already been killed. We are told that they were murdered because the Empire is in search of the Death Star plans stored inside R2-D2, but the real reason they die is because George Lucas needed to sever Luke’s ties with his home planet and add some motivation so that the young Jedi would agree to go with Obi-Wan “to learn the ways of the force, like [his] father.”
When people first begin writing fiction, they hear a lot about motivation. What is the protagonist’s motivation? What is the antagonist’s? The real question is, what is the author’s motivation? What point is the author trying to convey with his or her story?
Lots of beginning authors start out telling stories from their own life. I certainly did. Those stories can certainly be enjoyable, but they’re never going to become great fiction, because real life isn’t fiction, and fictional characters aren’t real. They are created to make us think they are real, and authors go to great lengths to make them seem real, but underneath their descriptions and actions and witty sayings they are all plot devices. Each character that appears on the page must do so for a reason. I recently had a professor tell me she is hesitant to write people she knows into her books, and I can understand why — because characters are our pawns, our loyal servants. It’s hard to be loyal to our friends when our characters must be loyal to our plots.
Throughout my life I’ve learned how lots of magic tricks work, and I’ve seen a lot of tricks performed that I already know the secret to how they are performed, but every now and then I’ll see a good magician do a good trick and the result is a great performance. It’s the combination of a good performer with a good gimmick that can take a trick to the next level. I’m starting to enjoy books and movies in the same way. When good writing mechanics combine with a good story, the result is a great book or movie. You can have a good movie by only understanding the character’s motivation, but when you understand both the character’s and the author’s motivations, you may find yourself enjoying stories on a new, deeper level.
Just over six months ago, my Apple IIe blew up. The smoke was impressive; the smell, even more so. As I mentioned in my post from last year, and as you can see in the following picture, I paid $1.98 for this particular Apple IIe computer.
The most frequently suggested solution I received was to replace the failed vintage power supply with a modern one, which runs $100. I simply couldn’t justify spending $100 to repair a computer I spent less than $2 on, so I began looking for alternative solutions. Jimmy, a co-worker who reads my blog and listens to my podcasts, offered to take a look at the computer for me. I handed Jimmy the machine, now disassembled and stored in a cardboard box, to see what he could do. After replacing all the capacitors in the power supply, Jimmy fired it up and within five minutes, the power supply had short circuited again. I then resorted to buying a new old-stock power supply for the computer (still less than half the price of a new one) and Jimmy installed that for me as well. It blew up, too, but between the two power supplies, he was able to assemble one good one.
The last disk image I had mounted on my CFFA3000 card was Law of the West. After reconnecting the computer to my television and turning everything back on, the game fired right back up. We’re in business!
This whole ordeal has made me think about how these old machines are aging. I often think of them as limited in terms of graphics and power, but before this, I didn’t think of them as being fragile. As these machines and their components continue to age, I can only assume that they will being to break down more and more. If that’s the case, I see guys like Jimmy being pretty busy in the future!
By and large I’m not a fan of reality television, but every now and then a new show grabs my attention. On Hunted, a new television show this season on CBS, nine pairs of people go on the run from a team of the country’s best hunters. Any pair that is able to avoid being captured for 28 days wins $250,000.
Upon hearing the premise, I think most people’s natural reaction is, “I could do that!” I know mine was. Before you buy a month’s worth of protein bars and build yourself a nest in your attic, here are the show’s official rules:
Fugitives must stay within a 100,000 square mile “Hunt Zone.” This will be set in the southeast.
Fugitives will be given a one hour head start before the Hunters are alerted.
Fugitives are provided limited funds ($500 in $100 bursts on an ATM card).
Command Center is given only a name, photo, and last known location.
Fugitives that evade capture for 28 days win $250,000 per team.
Capture requires physical contact between the Hunters and Hunted.
In addition to those rules, former contestants have revealed the following rules that are not explicitly made known on the show:
Fugitives must move every 48 hours and travel at least 5 miles.
Fugitives can not return to the same spot more than once or use the same resource/person more than once.
Fugitives must access the ATM at least twice and it can’t be in the same day.
Fugitives can not receive money.
Most of those rules ruined my initial escape plans. Hiding in a neighbor’s basement for a month was out, as was borrowing money from friends and family to avoid those pesky ATM cameras. The producers say that these rules were put in place to “simulate real people on the run,” but some of them feel like they were put in place to make things run like a game show — which, ultimately, Hunted is.
Another rule not listed above is that contestants give up all rights to privacy to the investigators. An hour after contestants are notified and told to go on the run, the investigators can be seen raiding their homes. Computers are searched, papers are rifled through, and trash cans are dumped. The invasion of privacy doesn’t stop until the contestants are caught. Phone records are obtained. Cell phones are triangulated. Known acquaintances are interviewed. License plates are tracked. Videos from closed-circuit security systems are acquired. Hunters are notified instantly when ATM transactions take place. Rewards are offered. Wanted posters are distributed. In some cases, social media and email accounts are hacked.
Some of the techniques, like cell phone triangulation, are very real. Some of techniques shown seemed simulated and, shall we say, “suspect.” Because of the logistics of filming a reality show, it stands to reason that many of the show’s events are recreated. Some of the techniques shown, like obtaining pictures of every piece of U.S. mail sent, seem like things that would be limited to fugitives on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.
Week by week, the teams have been taken down. In some cases, the investigators got lucky. Once, a contact accidentally butt-dialed the investigators. In another case, someone tipped off investigators in exchange for a $500 reward. Contestant mistakes and weaknesses were shown time and time again. If your plan is to use burner phones to call immediate family members, that’s not going to work.
The best part of the show by far has been all the conversation it has sparked around our house. Susan said her original escape plan would be to take a sleeping bag with a backpack filled with minimal food and water and head off to the woods for a month. Mine involved spending a month in my car, driving circles around the city and confusing investigators with digital red herrings. My dad had a great idea about sleeping in hospital waiting rooms. Then we put our heads together and came up with a great idea… that I can’t share in case we are ever picked to be on the show. ;)
On the season finale, the show introduced a new set of rules that seemed heavily tipped in the hunter’s favor. To win the game, teams were required to withdraw their money from a bank (notifying the hunters immediately of their location) and then travel on foot to their final escape vehicle. The previous 27 days of thinking turned into a physical race between contestants (on foot) and hunters (in suburbans).
The show is not without issues, but I’m willing to give it another chance next season to see if they can right the ship.
All a father wants, I think, is to be a hero in the eyes of his children. I’ve tried to do this with varying degrees of success, but this week, I think I finally succeeded.
We upgraded the kids’ phone plans to unlimited data.
I didn’t get my first cell phone until I was twenty-five years old, in the spring of 1999. The reason I got one is because I had recently been hit by a truck on the side of the interstate after our car broke down. Before then I had got by just fine using payphones and land lines, which I just realized makes me sound really old. So I bought a Nokia 5160 (selling points included “three built-in games” and “clock with alarm”), tracked my monthly minutes on a piece of paper, and constantly checked AT&Ts map to see which states I had coverage in.
Ten years later in 2009, I got my first iPhone. The following year, Susan got one. Before the time Mason was out of grade school, he had one. Morgan’s in sixth grade now. She’s owned three.
I don’t remember how much my first monthly cell phone plan cost, but it’s done nothing but go up. When Susan got a cell phone, it went up. When we traded in our simple cell phones for smartphones, it went up. When Mason got a phone, it went up. When Morgan got a phone, it went up.
As of February, our base cell phone bill was $250/month, but that doesn’t include overage charges. With that plan, Mason only gets 3GB/month and Morgan gets a paltry 1GB. Each time they go over their limit, AT&T charges us an additional $10 and I do a lot of yelling. Last month our bill came to $310, and my throat hurt.
Enter Verizon, who last month announced a new four-phone unlimited plan. By the time I noticed it, AT&T decided to match the deal — four phones, unlimited minutes, unlimited data, for $180/month. They also expanded our coverage to include all of North America, including Canada and Mexico. All of that, and we’re saving $70-$130 per month.
And my kids think I’m a hero.
I’ve spent the past couple of weeks diving into several of the “how to write” books, podcasts, and tutorials I’ve picked up and/or bookmarked over the past year. I read Scene and Structure by Jack Bickham, and Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell, and referenced Deborah Chester’s The Fantasy Fiction Formula for a novel I’m working on. I finished Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, and read a few chapters of Stephen King’s Dance Macabre (I’ve read King’s On Writing multiple times). I started reading Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat, and despite its tagline (“the last book on screenwriting that you’ll ever need”), I just ordered its two sequels.
I often compare writing to computers. To some people computers are simply magical boxes, but after you’ve worked on them for a while (and especially after you’ve assembled your first one), you quit seeing computers as a single unit and more as the collection of parts they really are. An empty computer case is little more than a paperweight, but once you’ve mounted a motherboard, added a processor and some RAM, connected a hard drive and run power to everything, you truly get a feel for how a computer works — how the components work together, and why each one is important.
And so it goes with writing, be it a novel or a screenplay. I’ve spent the past two years looking at stories, tearing them apart, and studying the pieces. One of the things we touched on again this week is the Hero’s Journey, a series of steps (or beats) that people have been using to tell stories for literally thousands of years. By studying centuries of stories, Joseph Campbell (in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces) gave each of those steps a name:
- Ordinary World
- Call to Adventure
- Refusal of the Call
- Meeting with the Mentor
- Crossing the First Threshold
- Tests, Allies, Enemies
- The Road Back
- Resurrection Hero
- Return with Elixir
And while some of the titles for each part may sound a little dated, it’s not difficult to take a movie like Star Wars, or The Wizard of Oz, or The Matrix and just go down the list and check each one off. Cross the threshold, Neo, and pick one of these pills.
Additionally, Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat book proposes that there are, in fact, only ten different movie genres:
- MONSTER IN THE HOUSE: (Jurassic Park, the Nightmare On Elm Street, Friday the 13th )
- THE GOLDEN FLEECE: (Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, Back to the Future, Finding Nemo, Saving Private Ryan)
- OUT OF THE BOTTLE: (Bruce Almighty, The Mask, Groundhog Day, Aladdin)
- DUDE WITH A PROBLEM: (Die Hard, The Hunger Games, Titanic, The Terminator, Bourne Identity)
- RITES OF PASSAGE: (Bridesmaids, Trainspotting, 28 Days, When a Man Loves a Woman)
- BUDDY LOVE: (Starsky and Hutch, Pretty Woman, Mr & Mrs Smith, Finding Nemo, Thelma & Louise)
- WHYDUNIT: (Citizen Kane, Chinatown, Despicable Me, JFK, Mystic River)
- THE FOOL TRIUMPHANT: (Elf, Forrest Gump, Amadeus, The King’s Speech, The Pink Panther)
- INSTITUTIONALIZED: (Full Metal Jacket, Nine to Five, Godfather, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest)
- SUPERHERO: (Harry Potter, The Matrix, Gladiator, X-Men, Spider-Man, Frankenstein)
Since Snyder published his original list, JD Scruggs added five subgenres for each genre.
If you’re wondering if this overload of knowledge makes it more difficult to enjoy books and movies, the answer is… “kind of”. Today I read a book or watch a movie, I can’t help but peek under the hood and look for the parts. When will the protagonist accept the call and cross the threshold? What will be the major setback that occurs right before Act III begins? While the right side of my brain may be enjoying the narrative story that’s being told, the left, analytical side is always looking at the underlying structure.
Wednesday evening, my Theories of Professional Writing class (along with approximately 1,000 other people) got the opportunity to hear Mr. Harry Belafonte speak about his life and thoughts about equal rights and the current state of politics.
I know Harry Belafonte largely as a singer and an actor, and for his work on 1985’s “We Are the World,” but I must admit, I wasn’t familiar with all the humanitarian and civil rights work Belafonte has been involved with. The 90-year-old Belafonte shared anecdotes about both John F. and Bobby Kennedy, and about the first time he met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Belafonte shared several stories about his time as an entertainer, but to keep things in perspective, he also reminded the audience that he returned home from World War II to a country where he was not allowed to vote.
In regards to President Trump, Belafonte said that while much of the country sees the proverbial glass as “half empty,” he sees the fact that many topics that were once only talked about behind closed doors are now being brought out into the open, the “half full” view. In regards to voting, Belafonte said those who don’t vote are only oppressing themselves. About education, Belafonte said “Reading is a gift. Knowledge is a defense against oppression. Make it your business to know.”
Despite the largely (I thought) positive message of Mr. Belafonte’s words, his appearance was not without controversy. The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs referred to Mr. Belafonte as a radical leftist and released a press release protesting the event. Fortunately there were no protests at the actual event (it was cold outside).
Logistically it would be a lot simpler for me to complete my degree online, but by physically attending classes on campus opportunities such as this one occasionally present themselves. After doing more reading I can’t say I agree with everything Mr. Belafonte says and believes, but his message Wednesday night was one of education, equality and peace, three things I think the world could use more of right now.
One of the more interesting and occasionally frustrating things about Star Wars collecting is that sometimes you run across something that is as mysterious as it is enjoyable.
A few years back, a friend of mine who buys, fixes, and sells arcade games found this sign in a warehouse and gave it to me. He didn’t know anything about the sign’s history, and neither do I.
The sign is not actually blue. I took the above picture with the sign resting on the hood of my car. It’s actually clear plexiglass. Inspection of the artwork reveals halftone dots in a few places, so I know it was printed rather than hand painted. That being said, the yellow lettering across the bottom was obviously hand-drawn. The “O” in “FORCE” doesn’t match the “O” in “YOU” for example, and there are tiny mistakes inside several of the letters.
The appearance of a TIE Interceptor (rather than a normal TIE Fighter) leads me to believe this was made after Return of the Jedi was released in 1983. Other than that, it’s tough to date.
Seven holes have been drilled through the sign. It was mounted to something — what, exactly, I have no idea. The whole thing has been cut out. There are no stress or fracture marks around any of the angled cuts. It has all the hallmarks of being mass produced, except I can’t find anyone else who has one. Or has even seen one.
After a while, the wonder of “who made this?” and “what was it for?” goes away. The sign currently hangs on a wall above one of my computers, with tacks stuck through the pre-existing holes to hold it there. Thousands and thousands of different Star Wars products have been made throughout the years, so I’m always surprised when I run across something that someone felt the need to make. I enjoy the mystery of this sign as much as I enjoy the sign itself.