Saturday, June 30, 2012

Still gaming after all these years

June 1, 1982 was a landmark day in my life. It was the day I got my Atari VCS. Yes, we were probably the last house in town to get an Atari and the video game industry would collapse the following year. Up until then, all of my video game experience was with the Pac-Man machine at Kroger, the tabletop Galaga at Pizza Inn, and assorted other games at Barrel of Fun in the mall and Showbiz Pizza Place.

2600vcs

The VCS came with Combat and but my parents also bought me a copy of Pac-Man. We plugged into the old floor model RCA tv in the living room and I wasted an entire summer. It wasn’t long until I had a variety of games. Some were new, like Pitfall! and some were old like Night Driver and Breakout. The $9.99 games were just easier to come by than the $30 games like Defender.

I didn’t own another system until I got a Super Nintendo. For the better part of 10 years, my home gaming was all Atari except for the games I had on my wonderful dual disk Amstrad PC that ran DOS. It couldn’t handle Windows.

I think my decade with Atari molded me into a very casual gamer. I don’t play games for hours and hours. I don’t want to solve anything or make any leaderboards. I play games to escape from reality for a few minutes at a time. I play games when I want to do something completely mindless.

After Super Nintendo, we didn’t get another system until we got the Wii and that was mainly for the kids. I spent most of my time on Wii Sports Bowling and Tennis. Then, the kids got DS’s and then DSi’s. They were having so much fun with their DSi’s that I also got a used one but I neglected it over the last few months because the screen is just too small for my aging eyes.

Yes, I can play games on my iPod Touch and iPhone but it’s just not the same. A while back, I wrote that I thought iPod’s were the future of gaming but the more I play on touchscreens, the more I don’t like it. I’ve been missing the real games on the DS vs. flicking stuff at stuff on the iPod so I finally turned in my white DSi and traded up to a DSi XL.

dsi xl

The screen is fantastic. The kids borrow it and play it more than I do. It’s nice to have a dedicated game machine but I still question the longevity of the economics of basing a system on cartridges. Of course, if I get really bored, I always have all of my Atari VCS roms waiting for me on my laptop. Spending 20 minutes playing Yars’ Revenge is always a good way to clear the mind.

yars

Friday, June 29, 2012

New FM Radio : Tecsun PL-118

I have travelled with a lot of different radios over the years. Some were too big (Kaito KA-1103), some wore out too fast (Kaito KA-11, Grundig G8), and some just plain sucked (Grundig Mini 400). I’m not really looking for anything fancy but most radios have way too many features like hundreds of memories and shortwave. Shortwave isn’t going to work worth a flip in most hotels. I just wanted a digital FM tuner, automatic tuning (ATS or ETM) and a simple to use alarm clock.

I finally found the best of all worlds with two minor issues in the Tecsun PL-118:

radio1 

Unfortunately, you can’t just run over to Walmart and pick this up. I bought it directly from a seller in Hong Kong on eBay. It took about 2 weeks to get it and I paid right under $20 for the radio and the shipping combined. I bought mine from ANON-CO and was very happy with the transaction.

It runs on 2AAA batteries. It has one touch ETM (Easy Tuning Memory) which scans the FM band and automatically adds a preset for each station. Hold down the clock button to set the clock. Hold down the alarm button to set the alarm time. The display lights up while you are doing these things. Another plus for travel is the tiny size.

radio2

Is it a DX machine? No, but it pulls in everything that you want to listen to comfortably even in a hotel room. I want the local stations and that’s what I get. It also sounds quite pleasant for the tiny speaker it has. It has decent enough audio range that it doesn’t sound tinny (too much treble) compared with similarly sized radios.

The two very minor issues are:

  • There is no lock function so the radio could turn on if bumped in your luggage. It won’t come on easily since the button needs to be held in for a second to turn on. It has not happened to me yet.
  • The alarm turns on the radio but it only stays on for about 1 minute and then it turns itself off. I believe it will come back on again in a few minutes and do that again. This is to save battery. I find it annoying but I’m lucky that I wake up quick and have a hard time going back to sleep once I am up. Heavy sleepers might miss the alarm completely.

The radio is also available in black and orange. I was so close to choosing orange but changed to white just because of the contrast between the case and the display.

This is my favorite travel radio now. The value for $20 is amazing.

radio3

Almost 4 months after the storm, the repairs are complete

On March 2nd, our house ended up in the path of a tornado-producing thunderstorm. The funnel cloud went right over the house and ended up touching down two counties away. The wind (estimated by the Weather Service) at 70 mph was bad enough but the hail it drove into the back of the house and the roof was what caused all of the damage.

hail_1

They don’t look that bad, right? Consider standing outside as thousands of golf balls fall from the sky. In a windstorm last year, an area of shingles was ripped off the roof. This storm was far worse. Not only did more shingles get ripped away, but I also had holes and cracks (that you really can’t see in the picture) all over the back of the house. It’s odd but none of the other sides had any damage because the wind was blowing straight back to front. Also, everything that was sitting outside (including the poor Ford Contour) was dinged up.

Right after the storm:

hail_3

Today:

DSCF1434

Right after the storm:

hail_4

Today:

DSCF1435

It looks like a new house thanks to Mid-Tenn Exteriors.

Severe weather season arrives again in September so we’ll see how that goes.

Songs of Summer

My iPod is filled mostly with music from about 1975 to 1990. I can’t help it. I’ve turned into Harold from “The Big Chill”.

Michael: Harold, don't you have any other music , you know, from this century?
Harold: There is no other music, not in my house.
Michael: There's been a lot of terrific music in the last ten years.
Harold: Like what?

Even I need to hear new music from time to time.

So, where do I hear new music? I hear most of it on a local station here in Nashville - Lightning 100. I highly recommend them.

l100

Here are some of my latest iTunes purchases that I am enjoying as we bake this summer. One note – I never see videos anymore so the first time I have seen these is while writing this:

1) It’s Time – Imagine Dragons

What a cool song. This is my favorite song right now. I’m just not sure why they were inspired to set the video in some sort of end of the world wasteland. Odd.

2) Tongue Tied – Grouplove

Finally–a video that captures the mood of the song–but it’s backwards and it makes no real sense plus there appears to be some 3-D thrown in there for good measure. Still a good driving too fast song.

3) Cough Syrup – Young the Giant

Glitter! Swimming! The video has it all. Seriously, I know people who say they never listen to the lyrics in songs–they just hear the beat and never really think of the words. I’m not sure how this is possible. I think this song has fantastic lyrics.

4) Lights – Ellie Goulding

A few years ago I was on the road a lot. I kept getting 6AM flights out to places so I would be driving to the airport at 4 or 4:30AM. The Fear by Lily Allen was popular at the time and was a perfect song for hauling down the interstate when hardly anyone else was out. Lights has that same driving really late/really early quality about it. It’s probably responsible for a few speeding tickets.

5) Time is Love – Josh Turner

I’m from Nashville so there has to be some country music on this list. I really like Josh Turner and I really like this song. The video reminds me of how much better life was before text messaging. It also gives me the impression that poor Josh has no love and no life while all of his friends have these things and are sort of flaunting it in his face. Josh might go on a killing spree at some point when he snaps from the loneliness and abuse. I guess that will be the next video.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Lights Out! (or the lengths I’ll go to trying to beat the heat)

If I ever buy another house, I am going to remember two things. First, I need a dining room and not an “eating area” that is part of the kitchen and way too small. Second, I need to consider the amount of shade around the house (hardly none here) and which way the sun will be coming in the windows at which time of the day.

The sun comes in directly through the back of the house I did buy in the late afternoon during the hottest part of the day. This turns our kitchen and living room into a toaster oven due to the higher ceilings. Another part of the problem was the $4.50 blinds I put up in a rush when we bought the house. We moved in very fast considering that we were renting and had a short window to move. This was also while I was travelling all of the time for work. And, I was cheap.

I have replaced many of those cheap blinds with newer, still cheap, blinds over the years. I’ve also resorted to using newspaper to cover the kitchen windows on 100+ degree days so that the AC does not have to work over time. Due to our huge stretch of hot weather this year, I was getting desperate. I was about to buy these things to get us through temporarily:

blinds1

But, instead of that, we chose to invest in decent blinds (as we’ve been discussing for years) and I ripped down all the cheapies. It took me 8 hours (until 2 in the morning) to do the whole house, but I did it and the difference is amazing.

blinds3

These are fake (faux) wooden blinds and they are not blackout blinds but they still keep out the majority of light and heat. Our old cheapies let everything through. When I want light, the slats are so much bigger that the room seems a lot more open and brighter.

blinds2

I don’t know – these give the whole house a more “cottage-like” feeling. I can’t really describe why. They are just – nice. But, I didn’t stop there.

I was getting so tired of all of the little flashing lights in the bedroom at night coming off all of the electronics. The television, the cable modem, the monitor on my desk – everything has an annoying little light to remind us “I’m on!” or “There is data coming through!”. Ugh!!! I went around with the electrical tape and covered ALL of them up. I even covered the lights on the surge protectors.

tape1

I sleep so much better in total darkness as I’ve noticed in hotel rooms. Returning home from the road meant returning to all of the LED’s until now. I do recommend touching each light and making sure that nothing is hot before doing this. The difference is incredible.

tape2

The difference is amazing. Electrical tape is cheap. Do it – you won’t be sorry.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

It might be time to move north

weather

I wouldn’t mind it if summer hadn’t started in February this year or if it had rained in the last month. At least I no longer have any grass to mow. It’s strange having to water the trees every night. I’m too lazy to set up sprinklers and do the whole yard but I might do that right ahead of the 4th so the neighborhood hoodlums don’t burn down the house with fireworks.

The good news is that relief is in sight. We’ll be back down to 99 on Tuesday if the forecast holds up.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Blog Vacation!

Remember when I was on actual vacation and blogged everyday through it?
on-vacation
Now I’m not on vacation but I am taking a break from the blog for a few days. The last week was a real energy drainer so I am taking some time to NOT THINK!

I should be back by the end of the week unless we all melt before then.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Mid-Week Report

If you’re expecting an exciting tale from the pages of my life, it’s not going to happen. The highlight of my week was when my office chair suddenly imploded on Tuesday. After three years of propping up my doughnut-filled rear end, it gave out. It now sits on the deck awaiting its trip to the recycling station.

chair
Oddly, I had felt like I had been leaning to the left most of the day. I found myself leaning more to the right to offset it and had just started to accept this as normal behavior when – BAM! – the left side gave out and I was suddenly at an angle.

I can’t blame the chair. It had enough torture.

There is not much other news. The week after vacation always drags and this week has been no different.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The secret thing you must do to have a good vacation

The best thing about this vacation is that I totally dropped off “the grid” for the first time in years. In past vacations, I did my best to ignore work emails but it never worked. They never stop coming in and, even though I turned off the alerts, I always gave in and checked those emails from time to time. This caused the normal frustrations of work to actually leak into my time off.

Not this time.

mailpic
I am betting there will be around 1000 to sift through on Monday morning when I return between the direct ones (important) and all of the ones I am copied on (some important, some not, some resolved in my absence). This always on connectivity has brainwashed us into feeling weird about letting them pile up unchecked. That’s totally unhealthy.

I’ve had a “smart” phone for so long now (from Treo to Blackberry to iPhone) that being connected all of the time seems routine. As dumb as it sounds (and it does sound dumb as I am writing it but it’s still oddly true), it’s also hard to get out the thought out of your mind that you are getting further and further behind as each email piles up even when you are on vacation.

I can only imagine what it’s like for people who have grown up in “the internet age”. They are always connected. My kids are part of that.

When I started working, we backed up files on old 8 track tapes and the only connectivity was sending reports via an old modem. When you left work, you actually left work. There was a total and complete separation from work from the moment you left until the moment you returned there.

Those were the days.

Thanks to the ever present tether of the data plan that we carry around with us, work is as close as our pockets 24 hours a day. We have to make a decision to not let it control our entire lives. We have to set boundaries and we have to work to make our families a priority once the work day ends and especially during our vacations.

You would think that this is common sense but when Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg said that she leaves work every day at 5:30PM, it actually made the news. Our culture is so screwed up that we applaud productivity at work over having marriages that last and raising kids that don’t end up in therapy. For a lot of people (I’ve worked with my fair share), staying at the office 12 to 15 hours a day and having thousands of hotel points and airline miles is like a badge of honor. It’s insane.

One thing I have been good about is being protective of my family time but it’s taken me too long to realize that turning off the email is what has to be done sometimes. That final piece of distraction has to be removed. Thanks to the off switch, this week off has been my best week off in years.

When I have my next week off in just a month (another weird thing for me – I have never taken two vacation weeks during the summer before), turning my email off will be the first thing that happens.

Friday, June 15, 2012

St. Louis– Day 4

Today was mostly about driving. We did visit the Butterfly House that was pretty close to our hotel before we left.
1_butterflies

The drive was long and pretty boring. Most of it looked just like this.
2_driving

I have to admit that I was pretty happy when I saw this sign. Unfortunately, we were still hours from home.
3_signs

We did make a special excursion off of the interstate to visit Metropolis, Illinois. It’s the home of the world’s tallest man carrying groceries.
4_groceries

Metropolis is prepared for the fallout from the atomic wars that Dr. Emmett Brown warned us all about.
6_fallout

Of course, our main reason for driving into Metropolis was to get this picture:
5_superman

It was a good way to end the vacation. Too bad we had to jump back in the car and drive another 3 and a half hours. The real end of the vacation was coming home, unpacking, washing all of the bug bodies off the car, and then washing all of the dirty clothes.

It was a good trip but it’s good to be home.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

St. Louis – Day 3

We started out at the City Museum. It’s basically a gigantic playground for kids. A big part of the playground is on the roof.
27_roof top stuff

See that bus up there? You can walk onto that bus and look down and try not to lose your breakfast.
3_bus

Lindsay went right to the drivers seat. Not me.
4_lindsay bus

There is also a lot of stuff inside – like the world’s largest underwear.
8_me underware

The kids also managed to get me on to this gigantic slide. I had to climb all the way up to the top before I could come down. I can’t really show how high it is (maybe 5 stories?). At the very top you crawl over to the slide in this tube and can see clearly all the way down. I DID NOT LOOK DOWN AT ALL. It was bad enough not looking down. I would probably still be up there refusing to budge if I had looked.
16_crazy high kids

The kids went two more times. I stayed safely on the ground.
25_big ramp

We also walked a million blocks over to the City Garden.
24_kids_city_park

We walked another 50 miles (at least it felt like 50 miles) to Union Station where the mall is pretty much deserted but we had excellent seafood.
22_landrys

Tomorrow is it. We visit the Butterfly House before we depart. We’re stopping in Metropolis, Illinois for a picture in front of Superman. And then we return home to our nice soft beds and obnoxious dogs.

The Blog-i-versary: 5 years

It all began five years ago.
garfield
I never thought it would last. I had tried and failed with two other blogs on two other sites before arriving at Blogger and giving it one more try. I guess the third time really is the charm.

The blog now reads as an autobiography of sorts. There is a lot of ground covered here and a lot of events. It’s hard for me to believe that it has been five whole years.

I’ve been lucky enough to ‘virtually’ meet a lot of people over the years who have also tackled this writing thing quite nicely. They have kept me going with their perseverance when I’ve been tempted to fold this thing up. A list of those blogs are on the right side of this page.

I’ve also been lucky enough to have a few thousand people stop by from all over the world. They end up here because of Google mostly but it’s their fault for Googling some weird search terms. “Toilet paper” brings people here a lot even though it’s been quite a while since I wrote about TP (until now).
Whatever reason you made it here – thanks for stopping by. Now, go over to the main page at Blogger or Wordpress or Tumblr and get to sharing and creating. It’s a fantastic way to keep growing and thinking and you should do it for YOU and no one else.

Once you get started, you’ll be amazed at how fast five years will fly on by.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

St. Louis – Day 2

I took 140 pictures at the Zoo. That might be a low number for some people but it’s quite a feat for me.
1_entrance

We stayed there for almost 7 hours. I can’t even being to describe everything we saw. It was a bit overwhelming. And, it was a bit hot. Just ask our new friend Al. I can’t remember his last name.
12_al

I told the elephant a few old jokes that he seemed to enjoy.
3_laughing elephant

We ended up being swarmed by butterflies at the butterfly house.
5_butterfly

The penguin thought we had fish in our pockets. Sadly, we didn’t. He also wouldn’t fit in my backpack so he won’t be coming home with us.
13_penguin

This owl freaked me out. I think he stared into my soul. I blinked first, of course.
8_owl

We topped off the evening with another fattening and totally excellent meal. It’s going to be difficult when we have to go back to Krystals and Waffle House.
17_supper

We’ll spend most of the day indoors tomorrow as we start off at the City Museum downtown.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

St. Louis – Day 1

The drive ended up being 7 hours thanks to the numerous coffee and bathroom breaks but it was a great day for a drive.
tues_1

There is a museum at the Arch where they have the 1899 Ford Contour on display.
tues_2

The view from the top of the arch is impressive and nauseating.
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If you lean over, you can look almost straight down 630 feet. Ugh.
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tues_5

We ate at a historical area near the arch called Laclede’s Landing.
tues_6
We finished up with Ted Drewes famous Frozen Custard.
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Tomorrow is the Zoo and who knows what else. We have a GPS and a full tank of gas so anything is possible.
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