Thursday, September 29, 2016

My Laptop, My... Wait. What?

Look different?
This is my laptop.  As you can tell from the missing duct tape and the still-worn keyboard, I had it fixed.  This is where things get weird.

A little history....

As I told you last week (You were reading, weren't you?  No?!  Yeah.  I know.  *SIGH*), I was having problems with it.  My laptop has been causing me trouble for years.  Maybe the problem is that I've used it 3x longer than its planned obsolescence date.  Maybe the problem is my children use it as a Frisbee.  Maybe the problem is...

Yeah, it's the Frisbee thing, isn't it?

Anyway, I went to pick it up at the repair place yesterday and was confused when they didn't bring my laptop out.  They then showed me this one.
Circle the differences in these two pictures.  Use a wax pencil; ballpoints will damage your screen.
"I put on a new cover because the old one had tape all over it," he said.

"Where did you get the new cover?" I asked.

"I bought a laptop for parts.  That way I don't have to order them the next time you come in."

He started it and I noticed a couple of new applications on my taskbar.  I asked why he'd installed them.

"I didn't.  Everything's the same.  I know it because of the desktop background."
"I like the logo," he said.
We talked about Maid Max, the game I'm (still) working on.  We talked about children, and the internet, and the impossibility of buying a 2-in-1 with a DVD drive.

"Always a pleasure when you drop by," he said as I left.  I almost said No offense, but I hope I never see you again.  I always think that.  Never works out.

When I got to Peet's to begin work, I noticed some strange things:

  • A missing piece of the fan's vent cover had reappeared.
  • My applications suddenly asked me to register.
  • The power cord didn't slip out at the slightest jiggle.
  • The fan was quiet.
  • There was a nick on the screen
  • Displays now pop up to show me the current brightness and volume levels.
  • A suspicious-looking extra moon.
I slowly came to realize that, other than the hard disk and the keyboard, there was nothing original about my computer.  They hadn't just replaced the motherboard and added a cable.  They had replaced the whole computer.

In a panic, I checked my Flash files.  They still ran.  Whew.

I'm  wonder what else was secretly replaced when I wasn't looking.  I'm going to have to watch my children very carefully from now on.

BTW, here's the two Flash games I made and, as I said last week, will have to redo in HTML 5.
  • Flux Warden
    $20 to the first one who wins.  A homemade pie to anyone who gets a full score.  A new pony if you can understand the story.
  • Default Adventure
    This one is easier, so...  A hug?  A nicely-worded letter?

Friday, September 23, 2016

My Laptop, My Novel, and Flash

This is my laptop.  As you can tell from the duct tape holding it together and the worn-out keyboard, it's not doing well.  If I hold it the wrong way, the graphics chip fails and crashes the machine.  The backlight flickers and I have to slap the screen to get it to work.

By now you're asking the obvious question:  This man is so frugal, why isn't he president?
Or you could be asking the other, obvious question:  Why doesn't he get rid of the f-ing thing?


In the late 70s, I tried to get into programming.  I was very enthusiastic about this new thing called video games and desperately wanted to make some.

I borrowed some of my brother's BASIC books (Hi Jon!) and got in front of our Osbourne 1.  I couldn't figure it out.

Later, I took a programming class in middle school.  I got in front of a TRS-80.  I couldn't figure it out.

Later, I took a Pascal programming class in college.  I got in front of a Mac.  I couldn't figure it out.

I got a copy of Visual BASIC.  I got a copy of Java.  I couldn't figure it out.

Later, I got a copy of Flash (Actionscript 2).  I sat in front of a PC.

I got it.

It clicked.  Everything suddenly worked.  It made sense.  I programmed like crazy.

I bought a new laptop.  Swelling with pride in my new skills, I got a shiny, red case.

Adobe switched to Actionscript 3.  I couldn't figure it out.

Still, I worked at it and worked at it and (eventually) got close to understanding it.  AS 3 didn't come as easily to me as before, but I was stuck with it.  No other language made sense.

My laptop decayed.  The backlight became unstable.  The repair guys said they couldn't permanently fix the problem; I needed a new computer.  I paid to keep it going for a few more months.  I just needed to finish my projects.

I began work on a real game, a game that could make money.  I decided to do it in Flash.  If anything went wrong, I could look into the code myself and help out.

My laptop decayed.  The DVD drive started making grunting noises instead of playing anything.  The battery wore out.  I paid to keep it going a few more months.  I just needed to finish the game.

The problem with Flash is you can't transfer files easily; they become corrupted.  I'd have to upgrade my copy to fix the problem, but I had a limited budget.  It could wait.

I got a programmer.  I got an artist.  I got a sound guy.

I got taken by the programmer.  I got a new programmer.

The artist stopped working.  I got a new artist.  That artist quit.  The programmer got bored and quit.  The other programmer got a job and quit.  I got a new artist.

I hit my budget limit.

I put the game aside.  Someday, I'd do it myself, but I decided to finish my novel first.  I wrote for 3 years.

My laptop decayed.  The hard drive failed.  All my Flash assets were on there.  I paid to keep it going a few more months.

I promised myself I'd finish the novel and then get back to Flash.  I'd get the new version and transfer files and start over.  I'd learn the code myself. I'd paid for the art and programming and I would figure them out.  Then I'd export to web and Android and iOS and even Windows Phone (dammit) and I'd be awesome.

Meanwhile, my laptop decayed.  Microsoft tried to force me to switch to Windows 10.  I paid to keep it going a few more months.

My novel became two novels.  My son started nagging me: he wanted to teach me how to program.  I told him to wait until I finished writing.

Meanwhile, my laptop decayed.  The CPU came loose and had to be "refloated" several times.  I paid to keep it going a few more months.

Flash died.

I'm not sure when it happened, but I just noticed Flash doesn't run on Android.  Remember how people ridiculed Steve Jobs for keeping it off the iPhone?  Remember the jokes about Android being better then iOS?

Meanwhile, my laptop is still decaying.  The graphics chip and motherboard are failing.  I have to turn it off and shake it every few hours to keep it from crashing and losing my work.

The novels are nearly done.  My expensive game art and code are stuck on my fragile computer.  And Flash is dead.  I have to figure out a way of moving them to HTML 5 (or Unity or Clickteam Fusion or...).  Oh, and my old games.  I have to save them, too.

With the amount of money I've spent on my laptop, I could have bought a couple new computers, but I paid to have it fixed again.

I just need it to last a few more months.


Saturday, September 17, 2016


This is a true story.

It happened in the 70s when I was a boy.  I'm not sure when, exactly.  Time is fuzzy when you're a child; it's squishy like a dream.  Instead of years, we measure our childhoods with pivotal events: graduations, the births of those we care for, the deaths of those who cared for us, first crushes, last enemies.

One of my pivotal events was Star Wars.  It's hard to explain what Star Wars meant before it was a franchise, back when there was going to be only one movie, back when your dad had to make your Darth Vader Halloween costume out of a plastic bowler hat, a dust mask, a Giant Tinker Toy, and a flashlight.

Star Wars lit the universe; it made me hunger for other films, other places, other futures.  I waited with trembling enthusiasm for Jodorowsky's Dune, Zelazny's Lord of Light theme park, and the space shuttle.  But Dune shattered into a million pieces, someone embezzled Lord of Light's funding, and the shuttle came and went with the same disappointing finality as my dalliance with my high school crush.

Another pivotal event was moving to a new home.  We left my world, away from friends I thought I'd never replace, away from a school I could walk to, and a window that looked down on the street.  In their place, I got a wilderness of uncertainty I blamed it for every adolescent stumble.  My bullies spit on me, attacked me, tagged me with cruel nicknames.  To this day, I have nightmares about moving from one ghost town to another.

Moving showed me that life was no more secure than the faded construction paper teachers tacked to classroom walls to make displays about the alphabet, numbers, ants' tunnels. Once, a teacher put up a paper solar system, but put Saturn closer to the sun than Jupiter.  To this day, the universe feels wrong.

This happened between those events, after the flush of Star Wars and before the pang of moving away.  It is (as I said) a true story, but the details have faded to the weak colors of 8mm home movies transferred from medium to medium to save them.  Sometimes it's best to lose clarity.

Back then, I kept to my street and the one where my school and best friend lived.  Those two streets were safe.  There were enemies, of course, but I knew them; I knew the limits of what they'd do.  As I got older, my world shrank; I lived on a cramped island off the coast of a dark continent rumbling with mystery.  I yearned for something more.

I wanted to find The Store: my El Dorado, my Lost Dutchman.  Somewhere in the unexplored wilderness was a convenience store where I could exchange my dearly collected dimes and quarters for candy.  They sold Laffy Taffy (banana was the best kind) and Nik-L-Nips (sweet liquids encased in squishy, flavorless wax).

I only had a vague idea which direction it was in, but I was determined to find it.  I would leave my street and wander until I found it.

Half a block off my street was where safety ended.  The boundary of my safe zone was the door to a neighbor's chain link fence.  The ground must have shifted under the sidewalk; the pavement was cracked.  It's been 40 years, but I still remember those cracks.

I still hesitate when I walk over cracked pavement.  Step on a crack, break your mother's back.

I reached the corner and stopped, losing my nerve.  The houses were different.  I already felt uncertainty's vertigo, but didn't want to just turn back.  I turned and headed towards more familiar territory; at the next corner was my school.  One block of exploration would be a fine first excursion.

That's where I met the boys.  Again, my memory is fuzzy.  I remember there were two of them; I remember one was older, bigger than me; I remember they were both white.  I don't remember their faces, their clothes, their names, their ages, or their voices.  I remember what they did; I don't remember why.

If there was a reason.

They grabbed me.  I fought.  They held me down.  I cried.

Nobody came to help me.  Any adults watching would have shrugged and smiled.  A little wrestling never hurt anyone.  Boys have to learn to take care of themselves.

They laughed and held me face down.  They pulled my shirt up and told me they were cutting me with knives while they drew on my back with shards of plastic.

Then they let me go with a parting threat, a last gesture of dominance: I had to walk away slowly, not looking at them.  I couldn't do it.  They chased me down and grabbed me.  They pushed me to the ground, and it started over. This time I walked slowly.  This time I didn't look.

I walked back around the corner.  I walked back over the cracked sidewalk.  I walked back to my street.  I walked back into my house.  That's when I was finally safe enough run.

I never said anything.  I never explored again.  I never saw the candy store.

I still don't go far from home.  Cities merely twenty miles away are dark unknowns.  I never travel on my own.  My teeth clench when I'm anywhere new.

Whenever I see someone in a film head into danger with a curt "I can take care of myself," I give an involuntary snort of derision.  No you can't, I think.  But he always can.  He's the hero, after all.  It's just a movie; it's not real.

Thirty years later, travelling from one safe city to another, I drove near my old home.  My father was with me, or I wouldn't have stopped.

He followed me as I walked to our old house.

I remembered the new front door I broke after being told to be careful with it -- the glass shattered, and I ran to hide behind a tree, then trudged back at the angry call of my mother.  That was when I learned you can't hide from the inevitable repercussions of your actions.

I remembered the garage behind our back yard.  We had a car with a retractable roof that barely retracted, and white paint that formed bubbles you could crush to reveal rust.  That was where I learned there was a quiet joy in a musty room with old license plates nailed to the wall.

He followed me as I walked to my old school.

I remembered the time in P.E. the teacher told us to run to a distant tree and back.  I was last, gasping to a walk while she waited, shouting encouragement dripping with scorn.  That was when I learned I had deficiencies others didn't.

I remembered the time I rescued the red-haired girl (whom I'd pined for since kindergarten) from a boy who wouldn't let her go; she later told me she "liked" me, and I blew milk at her through a straw at her.  I didn't know what else to do.  That was when I learned my emotions could bubble up out of control and ruin things I desperately desired.

I remembered sitting on a playground structure shaped like a shoe and listening to the older boys talking (conspicuously loudly) about reaching their hands into the cage in a zoo to pet a tiger.  I remember how sweet they said Bengal tigers were.  That was when I learned there were people who knew me who thought the world would be better if I wasn't in it.

My father asked if there was anything else I wanted to see.  He'd been incredibly patient of my self-indulgent nostalgia.  As have you.

I told him there was one more thing I wanted to see.  I wanted to find that store.  I wanted to buy the banana Laffy Taffy and Nik-L-Nips I'd promised myself.  Old quests never die; you just have to complete them.

I turned off my street and walked in that same vague direction, not even knowing if the store would still be there.  About a quarter of the way down the block, I stopped and looked down.  The pavement was still cracked in the same place.

"I thought they'd have fixed that by now," I said.

We turned back and drove away.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Amazon's Wishenpoof

My family gets a lot of things from Amazon.  A lot.  We give Amazon gift cards, we get food from Amazon Fresh, we've nicknamed our children "Kindle" and "Jeff Bezos Single-Handedly Destroyed the Publishing Industry."

Hardly a day goes by without United Parcel Smashers (UPS) leaving a box on our doorstop.  Frequently, those boxes are nearly empty.  Just this morning, for example, Amazon Fresh delivered a giant box filled with 3 lbs of dry ice, insulation, a cardboard holder and one small package of precooked sausage.  But, hey, convenience, right?

It was no surprise when a nearly empty box arrived at our house (One of three boxes delivered that afternoon.  Is there a 12-step program for Amazon?).  What did surprise me was that the box was lavender.
Lavender! Also I need a manicure and to reduce my water consumption.

I resisted the urge to open it.  I opened a strange box in front of my son, once, and it turned out to be a gift for him.  Instead, I called my wife.

Her: I told you never to call me at work.
Me: This is important.
Her: They'd fire me if they found out I married into Team Mystic.
Me: It's about Amazon!
Her: (audible gasp)  What is it?!
Me: I got a lavender box.
Her: Lavender?
Me: Lavender.  It's a color.  Kinda between light blue and pink.
Her: I know what lavender is.  I'm just surprised you do.  You're a guy.
Me: What's in it?
Her: I didn't order it.  What does the label say?
Has a disturbing similarity to The Oogieloves.
Me: It says Wishenpoof.  What the fuck is Wishenpoof?
Her: Sounds like an intestinal disorder.  Like "Wishing I could poop."
Me: Maybe it's a gift.  Or a freebie from Amazon.
Her: (squeals with delight) Amazon loves us back!

I left the box in my son's room.  When he got home, he disappeared into his room with a pair of scissors.  Then he let out a yelp of anger and brought the box to me.  It wasn't a gift.  It was a box of yogurt starter we ordered.
Surprise! I got you bacteria.
Amazon just sent it to us in a big, nearly empty, lavender box. It was just some marketing thing.  A creepy, creepy marketing thing.  I noticed these instructions on the inside flap:

Note the inconsistent use of the period (.) and ampersand (&). Everyone needs a good editor.  Or every good editor needs to take a Ritalin.
It says:

  1. Draw your own wish want & wings on the box
  2. Ask a grown up to help cut out the wand & wings you drew.
  3. Color your wish wand and wings and go play.
Wow!  What a fun and exciting craft/game for my kids to enjoy/play!  I couldn't wait for my kids to get home and try it out.  No, really, I couldn't wait, so I did it myself.

Sorry, kids.  Daddy couldn't keep the magic in anymore.
Wow, I really have the "Wish I could poop" spirit, now.  Thanks, Amazon!