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Listening

I remember writer Ray Bradbury’s past television series, The Ray Bradbury Theater, in which, at the beginning of each episode, Mr. Bradbury ascends to his studio in a rickety elevator, unlocks a door, and steps into his mysterious writing chamber. The room is filled with curiosities of all sorts; knickknack items crowd every square inch of shelf space and windowsills. While the TV show’s credit music dies down, Mr. Bradbury peers around the room through his thick glasses while he tells us he’s waiting for inspiration. That broken clock over there or that odd piece of jigsaw puzzle here; or perhaps the cracked African voodoo mask in the corner sitting next to a mirror in whose reflection dangles a Cupie Doll hanging from the ceiling. He feels a story in that one, he tells us. A story waiting to be written if he but listens.

Well, I’m listening right now, searching for a thread of inspiration or direction, but all I hear is my computer’s cooling fan and a strange thumping outside my window. I get up from my chair and press my face against the glass. A shadow brushes the window pane one-eighth of an inch from my eyes. A dark hand thrusts through the dirty glass, grabs me, pulls me through the tiny window without my body even breaking it. Cold air fills up my lungs and – – shivering in an unexplainable chill and surrounded by a musky odor like damp wolf hair – – I am whisked effortlessly up into a treetop. From there I see a light shining from my bedroom-office window. Is that me looking through it?

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Ray Bradbury passed away in 2012. He was not only one of my favorite writers but an inspirational figure to thousands of young writers everywhere. I am grateful he left behind such a rich legacy for us to enjoy for centuries to come.

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FRIDAY FOOD THING

I am a bacon aficionado. I have no scruples opening up those cardboard sample windows on every package of bacon in the grocery store cooler until I find one that has a conspicuous absence of fat. Or, carving away the fat from within purchased packages and returning it (the fat) to the store from which I purchased the bacon. “See this?” I pleasantly explain at the Customer Service counter while dangling my Ziplock bag of pork fat . “Six ounces of FAT in a sixteen-ounce package of premium bacon!”

Since I rarely get an acceptable response other than personal agreement, I have come up with my own explanation as to what’s really going on with bacon:

  1. Pigs are getting  fatter.
  2. Packaging technologies are getting better at displaying only what manufacturers want us to see.

Browsing the processed meats display cooler (one of the most heavily trafficked areas in any grocery store) for a great-looking package of lean bacon is difficult. There are so many different types of bacon, hot dogs, sausage, scrapple and assorted meats shoved into the same display area that’s it difficult to tell which item tag belongs to which item. Bad design: time consuming, frustrating and confusing within a crowd of people vying for space while checking out the goods, especially when I am not the only one peeking through the clear plastic window of each and every one to make sure that the particular package does indeed contain bacon rather than pork fat.

Sometimes, a line of shopping carts pile up such that the patrons trapped in-between cannot even move, moreover browse the bologna labeling. As a result, savvy shopping cart drivers often park their carts in nearby aisles in an attempt to avoid the gridlock, resulting in mini-traffic jams all over the store.

I think it would make sense for bacon manufactures to package bacon with a representational slice clearly visible through the front window of the packaging and to remove the cardboard flaps altogether from the rear side of the packaging. Who wants to buy a package of bacon with an already torn open cardboard window pane anyhow?

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One of my favorite songs is Against the Wind, by Bob Seger. The song was released in 1980 at a time in my life when I was young and foolish and free and impressionable and just beginning to travel down a path that eventually delivered me to where I am now. Hell, yes. Against the Wind was kick-ass back then. The song was so popular and so much air time was given to it that it captured a Grammy Award that same year and embedded itself into the hearts and minds and consciousness of millions of people. Me included.

Changing our points of view is what good art, literature, music and poetry is all about: a glimpse, a sound, a special light or shadow, a hint, the glimmer of something forgotten or sensed for the first time, a recollection or fleeting scent; when it happens we may not even be aware that something amazing has melded with our souls. Bob Seger songs are good at doing that. “Wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then” is a line from Against the Wind that has stuck with me through the years. Although the words refer to an obvious love affair gone wrong, as I grew older and less foolish and less impressionable, the lyric’s interpretation took on various and more ominous undertones.

Mom passed away in April of this year. She was 95 years old. She once mentioned to me during one of our daily early morning coffee break telephone chats that she had been puzzling over how the things that we learn to do better as we grow older would have helped us so much more if we had known about them when we were young enough to appreciate them better. Wish I didn’t know now what I should have known then.

I can live with that. Mom, I will miss you.

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copyright© 2015 by Simply Tim’s Blog Spot

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I am about to become a hypocrite, so let me get that out of the way right up front. I’m a hypocrite because many years ago, when I was a PM Magazine story producer for WBRZ TV in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, I produced a “Hot Chile Pepper Eating Contest” feature story sponsored by WBRZ. The contest took place in a steamy Cajun bayou bar on a Friday night. A hot steamy night. The story was so entertaining it was included on PM Magazine’s national reel. I enjoyed writing the script and editing the story, and although the contestants were some of the craziest people I had ever met, I enjoyed being at the event and even thought it somewhat socially redeeming.

How does that make me a hypocrite?

I recently watched several minutes of the 2015 Nathan’s Famous 2015 Hot Dog Eating Contest before switching channels. Unlike my Hot Chile Pepper Eating Contest, I found the hot dog eating contest a disgusting display of gluttony and uncomplimentary commentary indicative of why the American lifestyle is often perceived as it is by many global communities. What I saw was… embarrassing.

The 2015 Nathan’s Famous 2015 Hot Dog Eating Contest winner consumed an incredible sixty-two hot dogs and buns in ten minutes. Consuming a hot dog was a two-step process. To speed things up a bit, the contestants were allowed to “dip” each hot dog bun in water for several seconds to make them mushy and *easier to shove down the contestant’s throats. The bun-mush mixture was then swallowed separately from the hot dogs themselves, which were crammed into the mouth 2 at a time in a kind of plunger motion.

I suspect my hypocritical perspective change from the perceived humor of teary-eyed contestants plopping hot peppers into one’s mouths compared to the repugnant ingurgitating of beloved all-American hot dogs is as much a matter of being 30-something then vs 60-something now.

“I can eat fifty eggs.”

*I wonder how many eggs Paul Newman’s character could have eaten in the movie, Cool Hand Luke had he been allowed to eat them scrambled instead of hard boiled?

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copyright© 2015 by Simply Tim’s Blog Spot

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In case you have never tested a battery by licking the ends of the *terminals, a 9-volt battery can pack quite a wallop, even ones you think may be dead. The following link was submitted to my sister blog site, Recipe du Jour by long-time subscriber, Joan, through my good friend and blog’s owner, Rich.

Common sense should tell us that all metal-encased batteries — fresh or otherwise — should never be stored alongside other metal batteries for obvious reasons. (Think of loose batteries as a jumble of (+) and (-) thingies enthusiastically waiting to rub their tiny, orgyastic nubs together.) With the holiday season approaching, I thought this video might help us think twice before tossing a handful of batteries into a space (with Christmas decorations, for instance) without first considering the possible repercussions. As someone who has experienced a house fire first-hand, I can tell you there are very few ways to ruin your day faster or more completely than a rampant inferno at home.

Thank you, Joan and Rich.

(*of course I have never tried this, nor recommend anyone doing so…)

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I bet I’m not the only one noticing how television programming has recently begun messing with us big time. Probably in retaliation for our recording more and more programs and later fast-forwarding through the commercials. Yeah. I’m talking about those start and end times that mysteriously add or subtract a minute or three to a television show’s runtime for no other reason than disrupting our viewing habits by snipping off a recorded program’s last couple of scenes.

Now, THAT’S some serious messing with us.

In my mind, there is absolutely nothing worse than losing the last 45 seconds of a “Longmire” or “Elementary” or “Castle” or “Da Vinci’s Demons” or a “Vikings” episode just before the whodunnit is revealed or some inconceivable secret is about to be disclosed or unspeakable act committed or a weapon is pointed directly at a major character’s heart.

Which is why I have begun a grass roots and strategic first-level counterattack campaign using my provider’s recording/Timer options to extend an end time by tagging on an extra 2 or 3 minutes of recording time to the scheduled end of a favorite program. Unfortunately, my counter attack has been short lived and I gotta tell you that television networks have already begun counter-counterattacking my devious counterattack, and satellite providers absolutely love it: by increasing the number of late-ending programming, standard satellite receivers can’t always record more than one popular program at the same time if program start and end times overlap by those silly 2 or 3 minutes.

Most cable/satellite companies don’t give a hoot how television programming messes with us or how frustrated we get trying to record our programming choices in their entirety. That’s because most of these satellite providers have come up with an expensive solution:

“ATTENTION VIEWERS: if your older receivers allow you to only record 2 programs at the same time, simply purchase our new “super-dooper” receiver package. Sure, it costs WAY more than your current obsolete receiver box, but it allows you to arbitrarily record up to SEVEN shows simultaneously — and, with over TWO THOUSAND hours of recording time!”

There are additional tricks lurking in the television programming arsenal of weaponry which affect us viewers, too. Here are only a few of them:

  • Miniaturized unreadable credits from the previous show running half-screen at a ka-zillion miles per hour and parallel to the new and current program’s miniaturized opening half-screen scene, making both the credits and the new opening scenes impossibly too small to see. What the hell is the point in having credits if we can’t read them — isn’t that the point of having credits?
  • Extremely large, cutesy and obnoxious animated teases that interrupt the program we are watching and inform us what shows will be airing later on in the evening. What — we are smart enough to reprogram DishNetwork or Direct TV’s start and end times but we’re too stupid to know which programs we want to watch?
  • The quickie flashback synopses at the beginning of new episodes that begin, “previously on…” yet rarely, EVER show us the closing scenes from the previous week’s show. You know the ones I mean — the same scenes that were clipped the first time because television programming was “messing with us”.
  • Inane informational pop-ups, TV station logos, and screen-crawlers that completely cover up CC Closed Captioning but only during critical scenes.

GOOD NEWS:

Thankfully, I have come up with a 100% sure-fire and fail-proof solution to resolve all start and end time recording issues. All you have to do is take out a small wire snip, carefully open your receiver’s hidden contro

“ATTENTION READERS: this blog post has been clipped due to arbitrary word-count programming changes.”

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(1953 – 1982)

For me, it all began in the 1950s, when I was a 5 year-old kid living in small town Freelandville, Indiana. Freelandville was quintessential Small Town U.S.A. where everybody knew everybody and crank-telephones still connected you to a town operator who knew everything about everybody. The town’s main street intersection contained a stone-faced bank, a creaky-floored hardware store, an OshKosh B’gosh general store filled with farmer overalls and assortments of straw hats. Catty-cornered from the dry-goods store was a drugstore and soda shop. Real milkshakes cost 10 cents, hotdogs were 15 cents or thereabouts.

PINBALL

South Pacific Pinball Machine

That soda shop was where my love for gaming began. I recall the day clearly. I was sitting on a red Naugahyde counter stool with my little kid feet dangling in the air. I was sipping a 5-cent cherry Coke, watching a red pickup truck pull up to the front door. That was when a man wearing coveralls delivered a game that would change my life forever, a “South Pacific” pinball machine.

The deliveryman set it up while I watched, goggle-eyed. Then he played a few test games. My mouth dropped open. The sound that jangled into my ears was exactly what every good sound that ever was or ever would be was supposed to be. The accompanying light show was hypnotic. If I had died at that moment my short life would have been complete.

When the man was gone — leaving behind not only a flashing and glittering machine, but one loaded with…  free games! — the mystery box continued to blink like Christmas tree lights beckoning me closer.

Standing on my tip-toes, I flipped and flapped the flippers with so much ferocity the soda shop lady took pity on me and dragged a wooden Coca-Cola crate over so I could step up on it to see what I was doing.”Push that button,” she instructed. “Then pull that knob and let it go to launch the ball.”

So much for 10 cent shakes and 15 cent hot dogs. From that moment on I was a nickel-pinball-machine-gamer-addict.

PERISCOPE & PONG

Periscope & Pong

For the next 20 years I played pinball games every chance I got. Then, in 1972, while attending college in Norfolk, Virginia, and doing homework in an off-campus coffee house, another red pickup truck pulled up to the front door and, I swear, the same man in coveralls delivered yet another machine that would change my life all over again: PONG.

I can still hear that dock-Dock-DOCKING sound effect and see a phosphorescent-green pixelated blip making fuzzy contact with a PONG paddle. I became so good at PONG I began playing for beers in-between bouts of studying and drinking coffee.

PONG — although not the first commercialized video game (that honor goes to Sega with the release of the “electro-mechanical” “Periscope” in 1968) — PONG’s shear simplistic popularity set the stage for yet another evolutionary nudge into the future of gaming; PONG’s monitor-based delivery system eventually opened a tiny crack in the video game universe, and the bigger, badder, faster color arcade games wasted little time leaping through the cosmic rift.

ARCADE GAMES’ GOLDEN YEARS

The late 1970s – early 1980s marked the nearly exponential expansion and popularity of what came to be known as Arcade games — IMO, direct descendants of pinball machines in that the guts of the games were encased in fancy wooden cabinets showcasing electronic bells and whistles and intoxicating video monitor-based light shows. Keywords here are monitor-based.

Although today’s gamers enjoy stunning graphics, unimaginable HD-quality imaging resolutions, and monster-sized monitors, it was not always that way. Back in the 1980s display sophistication was limited to CGA (1981, Color Graphics Adaptor — 4 colors), EGA (1984, Enhanced Graphics Adapter — 16 colors), VGA (1987, Video Graphics Array — 256 simultaneous colors), and 13-inch or smaller monitor screens. Think about that the next time you jack in to a modern FPS game boasting millions of colors.

CGA, EGA, & VGA Comparison

(For copyright consideration, click image to visit Jordan Mechner’s site. He did a very good job of combining 3 generations of gaming screen-resolution examples into a single image.  CGA on left, EGA center, VGA right.

I have never much enjoyed playing Arcade Games in a true Arcade setting kind of way. Too noisy, too hectic for me. Back then, I worked hard for a living; when I got off work I preferred to blow off steam in dark barrooms stocked with cold beer, a few top-ranked games, wild women and friends. We played for rowdy companionship, swag and bragging rights, and cold beer. LOTS of cold beer.

MOUSER’S FAVORITE 1970-1980s ARCADE GAMES

Space Invaders & Pac-Man

SPACE INVADERS by Taito 1978

Alien monster-thingies drop down from the sky and you have to shoot at them through rapidly disintegrating barriers before they land on your head and kill you. Upper level aliens get progressively smaller, faster, and increase in point value. I was fascinated by Space Invaders for several months. Space Invaders was a big hit world wide, expanding gaming awareness and opening up the marketplace for many more “get them before they get you” game development thinking.

PAC-MAN by Namco 1980

Everyone — even you young guys — are familiar with this one. Clear all the dots without being eaten. When I was a PM Magazine TV story producer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, we shot a 6-minute feature story on a dude who claimed he could “break” a Pac-Man machine by maxing out his score without dying. If I recall correctly, it took him about 6 hours. And — yes, he broke the machine. He refused to drink anything because a pee-break would cause instant death. Poor guy. “It’s all about memorizing patterns,” he said. Right. I got that. After the first hour — while my bored crew continued to video-tape  blinky, inky, pinky, and sue chasing Pac-Man around the screen, I was in the back room sipping beer and playing Defender, one of my all-time favorite games.

Defender & Joust: Man, oh, man — great games!

DEFENDER by Williams Electronics 1981

Defender absolutely and unequivocally kicked butt with a capital B, and IMO was the best 2-D starship-type shooter game of all time. I spent hours and hours perfecting my moves. In the Cotton Club lounge in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where I hung out nearly every night after work, it was standing room only around this machine. Back then, a “multi-player game” meant that you played as player #1, and then player #2 got his chance. The game consisted of 3 rounds. The winner of the 3 rounds accepted a beer from the disgruntled loser, and the next player in line became the winner’s next opponent. Mediocre players had very long waits in-between defeats. Watching the Defender Video link I’ve provided here is a must do: the person playing the game is a Pro. Watch the DEFENDER video below and you will understand.

JOUST by Williams Electronics 1982

Williams Electronics took the gaming community by storm all over again when “Joust” was released in 1982. All stops were pulled: like Defender, sound effects were outstanding. Besides, how can you possibly be disappointed while mounted on top of a flying ostrich, searching for treasure-eggs while wearing armor, wielding a lance, killing bad guys and hunting for flying dragons?

It doesn’t get any better than that.

PAINTBALL: THE ROOTS OF FPS GAMING

One evening in 1982, while playing Defender for beers, I noticed a large lump smack dab in the center of my friend’s forehead. “How’d you get that lump?” I asked. It was an innocent enough question.

“Paintball,” he said.

“What’s THAT?” I asked.

“Playing WAR in the woods,” he said. “War with air rifles and plastic balls filled with paint instead of bullets. You wanna play?”

Dumb question. That weekend I hopped in the back of yet another red pickup truck with a bunch of serious-looking paintball warriors. It was about an hour before sunrise. Some of the guys had flashlights, and all were dressed in paint-covered camouflage fatigues. Did I mention serious-looking-warriors?  An hour later — the sun was just beginning to come up — we turned off the highway onto a private dirt road. As we neared our destination, I  glimpsed paint-splattered trees along the side of the road, illuminated by the flashlights. Spooky stuff. Several guys hooted and hollered and fired their weapons out of the back of the truck, a very loud cracking sound, followed by even louder pops as the plastic-coated paint balls slammed into tree bark.

The ensuing Paintball war was intense: running and hopping through poison ivy-ringed swamps, zig-zagging and sweating and swearing and slapping at mosquitoes, my heart pounding a ka-ZILLION times a minute. Shooting at real people. And man, oh, man, those paint balls hurt like hell! Come sunset, everyone was covered with blue and red splotches of paint, and — lots of welts. I had a killer lump poking out from my forehead.

I loved it.

DAWNING OF COMPUTER GAMES

Very few households could afford computers in the 1980s. They were too expensive for normal people. Besides — why would anyone ever need a home computer? Didn’t matter. I bought my first one in 1983. It was a $2,000 Tandy TRSDOS Radio Shack Model 4. The Model 410 Daisywheel printer cost $1,700 (you had to change the font wheel to type an italicized word, then change it back to the regular font wheel to continue), the 300-baud modem, $400. My Model 4 came with 64K of memory. And two, 5 1/4-inch floppy diskettes.

I thought I was ready for anything. But ZORK took me by surprise.

ZORK I: THE GREAT UNDERGROUND EMPIRE 1982

Zork was created in the late 1970s by Tim Anderson, Marc Blank, Bruce Daniels, and Dave Lebling — students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. When Zork was released 12 years later, I was hooked within minutes. I called in sick, holed myself up for a week in my darkened living room with lots of junk food and black coffee.

ZORK I wOw wOw wOw! Click for actual ZORK I screen captures and more information.

There were no graphics within Zork, no color other than a black and white and greenish screen, a TEXT-only fantasy game; you were presented a descriptive paragraph to which you typed in an appropriate response. Your response directed you to another descriptive paragraph of text. For instance (from memory):

“You are standing in a mountain field. To the East is a stone farmhouse. To the South is a meandering brook. To the West you can barely make out a pathway that leads to a dark forest.” Wherein you type: “GO EAST”, and hit the <Enter> key. “You walk down a path lined with flowers. A rusty gate bars your way to a two-story farmhouse. Just inside the gate on a cobblestone walkway you notice a paper bag.” You type: “Pick up paper bag.” You can’t do that. A rusty gate bars your way…”

By that afternoon my desk was overflowing with hand drawn map sketches, because it wasn’t until later that commercial maps became available. I was fighting Trolls with text, draining hydroelectric dams from within an underground control room, and floating down an enchanting river in a bicycle pump-inflated rubber raft in search of treasure.

“You are in a dark cave. A vampire bat swoops down from nowhere. Stinky bat-tails are wriggling up your nostrils. It grabs hold of your tongue…” I type: “THROW CLOVE OF GARLIC AT BAT!” “It is dark. You can’t find the garlic. You are — DEAD!” I type in something like: “Screw you!” and hit <ENTER>. The floppy drive’s busy light flickers. Computer byte-brains are flying out of the floppy disk bay door. The mighty ZORK responds: “I am sorry, but I do not understand the word ‘YOU’.”

Not only were those MIT programmers good storytellers, they also had a wonderful sense of humor. Do yourself a favor, search “Zork.” It is still available.

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This Mouser’s History of Gaming, Part I (1953 – 1982) is by no means complete, as it was written from my own unique perspective using games I played and loved. Many other games were set aside in this post for space considerations rather than lack of enthusiasm or importance. Today’s generation of gamers often take for granted the amazing parade of past technologies that were necessary in delivering us to where we are today.

I recall when TV consisted of 3 channels and when remote controls were science fiction. Back then, we had to get off the couch to change the channel! The gaming changes I have witnessed these past fifty years have often left me speechless. What games will YOU be playing fifty years from now?

You younger players certainly have a lot to look forward to just like I did when I was 5 years old standing at the edge of a pinball machine and seeing just a glimpse at the brink of a new universe.

Mouser’s History of Gaming, Part II will delve into the early 80s and beyond, quite possibly setting up a “Part III” along the way. Not sure. Time to play a bit. There are soooo many new games out there.

And for those of you who may be a bit confused about this “Gray Mouser” guy, he is my main in-game identity.

–Mouser/Simply Tim

© Copyright 2014 by Simply Tim  All rights reserved worldwide.

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