An Accidental Gun Project

When I began shooting regularly, my parents had a handful of guns in the top of their closet. Most of those have since moved to my brother’s gun safe. One that I toted home with me is a Winchester 69a that belonged to my Grandpa. It’s a .22 bolt action with a five-round detachable box magazine. It will feed and fire shorts, longs, and long rifle cartridges. It’s been fitted with a Lyman micrometer peep rear sight. With its 26-inch barrel, it’s very quiet to shoot and is a serious tack-driver. Indeed, this rifle has taken more wild game than all the other guns in the house combined. For one-shot drops on rabbits and squirrel at 50 to 100-yards, I see that trend continuing for quite some time in the future. The gun has no serial number, so we know that it’s a pre-’68 for sure. Without citing sources from my many internet wanderings, it appears that Winchester replaced the model 69 with the 69a in 1937, so it can’t be any older than that. It also seems that they changed the angle on the bolt handle somewhere around 1954, and this copy has the old style bolt handle. So, that gives us a 17-year window in which this rifle was made 60 to 77 years ago.

before

That’s it between a couple 10/22s in a line up of rifles. There were the accumulation of dents in the wood, worn lacquer, and faded bluing, but it’s all honest wear. For as much action as this gun has seen, it’s in very nice condition. Note how the bolt handle is in the white. That was blued from the factory.

As many of you already know, we recently hosted a blog shoot. We had the pistol range and clay throwing station same as years previous, but in addition to the 500-yard rifle range, we added a 100-yard rimfire rifle range with some swinging steel targets. There were several of us who lined up on the firing line with our .22 rifles to ping the swinging targets with a brace of guns that satisfactorily represented the last century in history. The Winchester has been wearing what’s left of the long strap of a M1907 sling (the other strap broke) that I rigged up as a basic sling until I can do something fancier. I went to sling up in a hasty seated position, and as I drew the front bead on the round plate that I intended to ring, I felt the sling slack off. It didn’t ‘pop’ so much as just kind of let go. My first thought was that the old leather had given out and I’d finally have to get a new one. I dropped the mag and cleared the chamber and stood up to inspect the damage.

As I did so, I chunk of walnut swung down, tethered to the rest of the stock by the still intact sling. And then, I remembered the small crack that I’d seen in the wood grain ever since I could remember this gun. The crack had run right where the lower butt plate screw went into the stock, about the same depth as where the rear sling swivel bottomed out in its hole. Upon closer inspection, it was obvious that it was indeed this old crack that had finally given up and let go. So, I bagged up the old gun. I wasn’t going to let it ruin the fun. We would deal with it later. When we were finished with our weekend, I pulled out the gun, took it down, and started pulling fixtures off the stock to get a better idea of what I was dealing with.

broken

I really couldn’t have asked for a better break. In the above picture, you can see a few of the dents and dings in the wood. The butt plate is labeled “MOD 72″ on the back side. When I was growing up, my dad worked on pianos for a living. I’ve seen him repair countless piano legs with similar breaks. Often, a leg would be cracked but not broken through. He found that the best way to approach that was to complete the break, glue and clamp it, and refinish after the fact. If simply gluing and clamping was sufficient to hold up a piano, particularly a concert grand or one with a heavy player mechanism, then I figured it would work just fine for the stock on a .22. I decided that if I was going to go to the trouble of gluing the stock, I may as well sand it down and refinish it. If I was going to bother doing that, I should probably steam out the dents. And, if I was going to refresh the stock that much, I may want to do something to the metal, even if only a little spot rebluing. Crap. What had I gotten myself into?

I got on the phone with my mom to explain what happened and propose my solution. It’s technically her rifle on long-term loan, so I didn’t want to do anything to the gun without talking it over with her first. We discussed that although the gun is sentimentally special and a great rifle to boot, this model is not particularly rare or valuable. I told her that although Winchester offered a couple different rear aperture sights optionally, that I believed this one was an aftermarket add on, as the gun also has the notch elevation adjustable rear sight dovetailed to the barrel. I also told her that it was wearing a model 72 butt plate, so it was probably made of mixed parts anyway. She agreed that it sounded like I had weighed the options and gave me the go-ahead. So, I started with some Gorilla brand wood glue. I went a little heavy on the glue. It was a mess.

glue

It can be tough to get a good clamping angle on a piece like this, with non-parallel lines and ergonomic curves. On advice from my dad, I bought a package of rubber bands and put them around the stock one by one. I dabbed off excess glue as it bled from the crack as the rubber bands put more and more tension on the joint. You might not think of it, but you can get a lot of tension from a bunch of rubber bands. I used the whole package and not much wood was showing on that end of the gun when I got to the end of them.

banded

I let that set up and cure for a couple of days before touching it again. When I unwrapped it, I was pretty pleased on how the joint came out. There was a light film of excess glue that had dried on the surface of the old lacquer, and the crack was still visible, but it was honestly tighter than it had been prior to breaking completely.

glued

And then, I sanded to get the old finish off. I thought about using a chemical stripper, but that stuff is just nasty. So, I sanded.

sanding01

And sanded some more.

sanding02

When I had it clean and smooth, I steamed out the dents in the wood. A good clothing steam iron works great for this. Where I thought I was going to have to use wood filler, my 1800-watt Rowenta popped dents out with surprising ease. I put an old t-shirt between the foot plate of the iron and the wood, so I wouldn’t accidentally burn the wood. I don’t know if that’s really a danger, but I didn’t want to risk it. With the dents raised, the specs of lacquer that were trapped in them became like tiny plateaus on the wood that sanded off with little effort.

sanded

I decided to refinish with Formby’s Traditional Tung Oil Finish for a few reasons. Although this is anything but an actual, traditional, tung oil finish, it is a penetrative varnish, which should more or less get the look of the original lacquer finish, but should wind up more durable and protective in the end. There’s nothing so lovely as a hand-rubbed finish. Although I was attempting to be respectful of the original production, I was not trying to make the gun absolutely ‘correct.’ This one is a shooter, and I intend for it to be taking game and ringing steel for the next 60 to 77 years. The wood greedily sucked up the first few applications of the varnish, and I was able to apply about four coats right off the bat.

varnished

Over the course of the next week, I sanded with 1500-grit between coats and put an additional four or five applications on the stock. I did some simple clean-up on the magazine well plate and trigger guard. I wound up rebluing the magazine release with some cold blue solution, and I did some spot bluing on a couple places on the barrel and receiver. I also hit a spot that was worn thin on the trigger, and I reblued the bolt handle. I’ve had mixed luck with cold bluing in the past, so I was quite happy how this came out.

bolt

After the final applications of wood finish, I let it rest for a few days to cure. After it had a chance to set up, I reinstalled the barreled action in the wood, and reinstalled the furnishings. Everyone who has seen it has been impressed. When Teen Bot saw it for the first time after completion, he didn’t even recognize it as the same gun and thought that I’d bought another rifle!

finishedleft

finishedright

I’m really pleased with the way it came out. Mom seems to approve too. Although, I can feel just a little bit of shift between the wood and metal that I don’t recall from before. I haven’t shot it yet, but if it lacks accuracy that it had before, I may want to bed the action. That and, it needs a new M1907 style sling. It’s nice to think that perhaps Teen Bot’s grandchildren will be shooting rabbits and squirrels with this same gun someday. It was more of a project than I originally counted on, but I’d say it was well worth it.

Engrish Can. The Success Fully!

Recently, Teen Bot has picked up a few GameCube games to play on our Wii. If you’re not familiar, Nintendo’s Wii console will natively play GameCube disks, and has four GameCube controller ports under a cover on the top or side of the unit, depending on how it is oriented on your shelf. As he’s been playing these games, his status was mysteriously not saving from the last time he played each game. Upon further reading, it came to my attention that the Wii will not save GameCube game status internally, but requires a GameCube memory card for this function. At the local game scalp shop, I inquired as to whether they stocked any GameCube memory cards, even though I’d found a few options online. They showed me their offering, a 32mb, or 507 “block” card for $9.00. I declined and ordered a 128mb, 2043 “block” card for $11.00 on Amazon Prime. The mailman dropped it off today. The packaging looks like the packaging in the local store, but I actually read the text on it this time.

engrish

So, let’s recap.

1. CAN INDEPENDENT SAVE DIFFERENT KIND OF GAMES

Viva la memory card!

2. SUITABLE FOR WII VERSION GAMES

Of course, we’re not having issues with Wii games, just GameCube games. If it doesn’t work right, you’ll hear about it.

3. HIGH SPEED AND EFFICIENCY PRODUCT

Good to know.

4. EASY TO USE

I should hope so.

5. QUALITY ASSURES

Alright, but what does quality assure?

6. REAL 2043 BLOCKS NON-COMPRESS

I’m not really even sure what that means.

! DON’T KEEP “THE MEMORY CARD FOR WII CONSOLE” IN HOT, DANK OR SUN SHINE PLACE.

I promise not to store this memory card in Sun Shine Place, wherever that is, even if it sounds like the most awesome suburban housing addition ever.

! DON’T THROW, DROP OR APPLY STRONG SHOCK TO “THE MEMORY CARD FOR WII CONSOLE”.

“Apply strong shock to”? So, I shouldn’t tell it that it’s adopted on its ninth birthday?

! DON’T PUT ANY HEAVY OBJECTS ON THE “THE MEMORY CARD”.

Lightweight game save only. Also, the redundant “THE” is awesome here.

! DON’T CLEAN “THE MEMORY CARD” WITH OR GANIC SUB STANCE.

I had to read this last one about three times to get the full scope of it, and then fall apart in fits of laughter. The bottom of the package is marked “MADE IN CHINA.” Really? I’ve gotten spam email and blog comments for Russian mail-order brides that was more coherent than this. So again I say:

Engrish can. The success fully!

Borepatch shares this video on his blog:

I’ve been in this meeting so many times. When I was material requisitioning, I used to have a joke.

“Evyl, we need you to get some solid gold wrenches for us.”

“Respectfully, they don’t make those.”

“Sure they do! They make wrenches out of stuff don’t they? And, gold is stuff that exists. Surely someone makes wrenches out of gold.”

“Why do you need gold wrenches anyway?”

“It’s for a project that sales is working on. Don’t worry about it.”

“I’ll make some calls, but I really don’t think that such a thing exists.”

“You better find something, we’ve already got the project sold.”

“You what? You’re supposed to determine cost before selling a project, you know that.”

“They just estimated it, but they bid it high. I’m sure it will be fine.”

“Alright. I’m going to get with some shops and see if we can have something custom fabbed, but it’s going to be expensive.”

“Not if we order in bulk.”

“Yes, even if we order in bulk. Gold is expensive. Having it custom made into wrenches is going to be extremely expensive. What are we using the gold wrenches for anyway?”

“Well, we need to get these bolts really tight, and the gold will give us the ability to do that, because it’s such a good conductor.”

“No, no. *sigh.* That’s not how it works. Conductivity isn’t going to help with torque. In fact, gold is such a soft metal that it will actually be worse for this application. If the wrenches we have on hand aren’t going to be tough enough, what you’ll need is just a tougher wrench. I’ll order some good, U.S.-made chrome-moly steel wrenches.”

“We already told the customer that we’d use gold.”

“Dude. Fine. Whatever.”

*two weeks later…*

“Evyl, these gold wrenches you sourced are terrible. We can’t even put as much torque on them as the cheap wrenches in the shop.”

“Huh. Who would have thought? I should be able to return them, but we’re still going to be out the manufacturing cost.”

“I suppose that’s something. But, now what are we supposed to do about the project.”

“I’m going out on a limb here, but try these other wrenches that I brought in just in case.”

*Hands over good, U.S.-made chrome-moly steel wrenches.

“These wrenches work great! And since we bid the project to use gold, the price difference will almost cover our losses on the return! Well done, Evyl.”

*head desk*

Sometimes I miss working in an office. I need these little reminders from time to time.

A Confession

My fascination with robots began when I was a child. In the fourth grade gifted classroom, I watched with envy as the fifth graders got to play with the robot kits. These were simple machines that the students assembled as per the included instructions that performed simple tasks. There was one that would follow a black line on a white sheet of paper. Others would seek out light sources and waddle on spindly legs. They were only robots by the most rudimentary of definitions. I also took a great interest in the software conversational programs in the computer lab at school. I fully knew that all of the responses were pre-programmed, and that there were key words that they were coded to pick from user input that would prompt their selected responses. I also suspected that these could be written far more elegantly, although I didn’t have the know how to do any better at the time. Things quickly changed though.

I voraciously learned everything I could about robotics and programming. By the time I was in the robot unit in fifth grade, the kits in the gifted class were too simple for my tastes. I earned extra credit in that unit for building a robot from scratch that could measure out precise volumes of materials and mix them together in predetermined ways. I intended it to be a chemistry aid, but my parents found that it was a great automated bartender for their parties. That old thing is still in the back of a closet at their house, as far as I know. I kept building machines of various sorts, each one more complex, and yet more streamlined than the last. I sought to code a program that would not simply spit out a sentence from a list like the ones mentioned above, but one that would give genuine, intelligent responses to user input. Could a machine be programmed with philosophy?

I had a grand vision of one unifying machine that would bring together my interests in AI, programming, robotics, and sculpture. The kind of exotic hardware with the raw processing power that I was after was difficult and expensive to get my hands on. I was able to scrape together the funds I needed by delivering papers every morning, mowing every lawn I could, and selling my plasma and semen using a fake ID. Many sleepless nights were spent soldering chips to boards, programming, and silicone casting. I felt like Dr. Frankenstein, obsessed with my work. I was out to make a beautiful, living, breathing creature from the underpinnings of synthetic materials. I wanted the AI framework to have wit and learning ability and to exhibit genuine care for others. There were many failed attempts, but in the end I was successful. The Jennifer unit was my crowning achievement.

I have to admit that my internet handle is only guilty projection. When Jennifer first powered up, she was so perfect that I simply couldn’t hide her and keep her all to myself. I had to share her with the world, and so registered InJennifersHead.com so everyone could have a chance to appreciate the fruits of my labor. I’ve had very little to do with her website since then, and her interactions have been genuinely hers. She’s programmed to write very well and I took special care in writing her snark module. Those of you who have had the opportunity to meet her can attest to the fact that she looks as natural as you or I. In fact, the only ones who may have ever suspected that she wasn’t a human are those that were at that party back in 2001 when she glitched out and I had to reboot her. To the host, I’m still sorry about the curtains. At the time, I was terrified that I’d hit upon yet another failure, but with a couple of hardware and coding tweaks, Jennifer has been running smoothly ever since.

As I said, there were failed attempts. My Jennifer, the one that you all know and love, is actually Jennifer 2.0. Jennifer 1.0 was admittedly a mess. She was the very face of the uncanny valley, looking not quite like a genuine biological. She had a buggy system too. One night in a drunken rage, she burned a barn down, throwing herself into the flames. I nearly gave up then, but pressing onward, I was able to learn from my mistakes. There were a couple of fatal flaws in the first Jennifer’s positronic net, and I missed some small but distracting details in her case. I took my time with Jennifer 2.0, determined to get every detail perfect. She can drive a car, shoot a gun, work a job, sing, and do pretty much anything a natural born human can. She can even swim, although I’m always paranoid that she may get a leak and damage her circuits. Indeed, if I could do anything differently in her build, it would be to improve her coordination, if that’s even possible.

It seems that I completely broke the mold on her build. Soon after, I built Wee Bot 1.0. The Wee Bot series has since been replaced with the Teen Bot series, but both have been fraught with bugs. I still can’t get him to work right, even on the current revision, Teen Bot 15.0. He’s completely unpredictable. Sometimes, he does exactly what he’s programmed to, but other times he’s defiant and rebellious, and fails to perform even the most simple of tasks. I haven’t given up on him yet, but he’s certainly not a finished work. Especially with the relative ease of interaction with Jennifer, Teen Bot has been quite the frustration from time to time. It was admittedly a pretty scary decision to identify him as a ‘Bot’ to the rest of the world so early on. To my surprise, people have accepted him despite his surly attitude and questionable judgment algorithms.

You must be wondering why I did it. The answer is simple. I was lonely. You don’t think that a guy like me could actually attract a woman like Jennifer do you? Not a chance, building one from scratch was the only viable option for me. And would I do it all over again? Yes I would, in a heartbeat. I do regret that I haven’t been truthful to my loyal readers though. Now that I’ve put all this out in the open, I hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive me. And, please don’t judge Jennifer for my actions. Please do keep reading and commenting on her blog. She didn’t ask for any of this. Well, except for that party where she glitched out and burned the curtains. Hopefully all those bugs are now behind us.

Oculus Rift – First Impressions

Last week Jennifer emailed me a link to Super! Bitcon. This was the inauguration of what is intended to be an annual event. We deliberated over whether or not we wanted to attend. Money has been tight for a while now, and we have tried to be careful how we spend it. Ultimately, we decided that we really didn’t want to miss out on the first shot. So, that’s what we did on Saturday. There was a Commodore 64 present and an Xbox One, and everything else in between was also represented. There were costumes (pics to come), there were contests, there were demos on hardware and software, there were arts and crafts, and there was a lot of stuff for sale. One vendor had a Nintendo GameCube for $18, and another had one for $60. At one table, they had a copy of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past with the original box and manual fairly priced for $85. Another vendor had a similar example and quoted me a price of $40.

In the rear of the main floor there was a vendor who had a pair of Pioneer Laseractive controllers, new in their original boxes. For those of you who don’t know, these puppies are basically Sega Genesis Controllers that have the Pioneer logo printed on them. I wouldn’t mind picking up a pair of them to run on our Atari 2600. These two were priced at $70 each. I chatted with the vendor for a few moments about them. I told him why I wanted a pair, but that I wasn’t prepared to spend what he was asking, although his pricing was not out of line for such mint examples. As we were surveying his wares, I turned around to see why people were standing in line behind us.

OR00

“Jen!” I said breathlessly, “that’s an Oculus Rift!”

I was a big fan of the concept of virtual reality in the 90′s. I remember some mobile arcade thing that was set up at the Dallas Galleria in about 1992 that was selling a few minutes of VR gaming for about $6. At the time I took the bait and put on the heavy goggles. I was immersed in a world of giant polygons. There was a degree of depth perception to the vector graphics, but it was mostly just laggy, hard to control, and bad. The landscape and characters were bland and glitchy from what I can remember. It was an interesting experience, but They cheated me out of my $6; live and learn though. Indeed as a teen, I checked out quite a few products sold under the umbrella of the term ‘virtual reality.’ The vast majority of them were flimflam pieces of gimmick that didn’t really deliver, but were designed to separate consumers from their money. Most of them didn’t offer any actual depth perception at all, but simply put a screen or two within eye-strain distance. Arguably the nail in the coffin was Nintendo’s sadly executed Virtual Boy, which sold poorly due to excessive pricing and sad underdevelopment. The industry got ahead of itself and sold a product it didn’t really yet have the technology to back it up with. Whatever the cause, VR seemed to be swept into the dustbin of history. But, not everyone gave up on it so easily.

OculusVR is a company that was born out of the attempt to improve on these forgotten devices. A Kickstarter with a quarter-million-dollar goal sourced nearly ten times as much funding. Now with the backing of Valve and FaceBook, the money and software support are definitely on hand to make this virtual reality a technological reality. The device itself is still in the development kit phase. These units are far better finished than a rough prototype, but they’re essentially betas. Jennifer, Teen Bot, and I stood in line to take our turn for a few minutes with the demo. (Duh.)

OR01

The experience was remarkable.

OR03

The eyepiece is a lot lighter than I expected, a fraction of the weight of the old units that I remember from twenty years ago. It has motion sensors installed that turn and pivot the point of view with the literal motion of your head.

OR04

The graphics are well implemented and deliver true depth perception as though you have stepped into a digital world. Note the monitor showing a representative view of what I was experiencing in the following picture:

OR02

To steal a cliche, this is the real deal. The screens wrap to the peripheral vision and make for a very convincing show. Even only as a visual display, the sound of the real world seemed to dull and quiet into the background. It was disorienting. I understand that the final release will have higher resolution monitors, which is definitely lacking in the Development Kit. There is a nearly imperceptible lag between in the motion that is dizzying. Each of the three of us experienced this phenomenon and felt as though we were about to fall down when we moved too fast. I actually stumbled as my eyes were giving me slightly different motion information than the rest of my senses. The final version is supposed to be faster, which should mitigate this issue as well. Assuming they address these two minor complaints well, and assuming they can keep the purchase price down, this piece of tech may be about to revolutionize the way you interface with your computer just like the multi-touch screen did with your cell phone.

With what this device promises to be upon release, there are some somber implications. With modern graphics, stereophonic sound, and motion controls, games will become a truly immersive experience in a way that they have never been able to before. I don’t consider myself to be a big gamer, but a really good game will suck me in. A game of that quality experienced like this would certainly make me lose track of everything else. I’d have to set a timer to limit myself. I have to admit that I’m excited to see what OculusVR brings to market as the example we played with on Saturday was quite impressive. Even so, it’s a cautious excitement. We haven’t seen VR like this before, and we don’t really know what it will do to the industry or to society. I will be patiently waiting for the first news stories of gamers who injured themselves by falling down using these things. This thing plus alcohol is guaranteed to result in accidents. It’s only a matter of time before we hear of someone getting their home cleaned out by robbers while their senses are cut off from the rest of the world, or someone getting assaulted while using this in an unsecured fashion.

Goom Ga Goom Hackalackalacka Goom

Several years ago, my phone rang. I saw on the caller ID that it was my friend Wilhelm.

I answered the call, “hi Wilhelm. What are you doing?”

“Hi Evyl,” he responded, “I’m not doing much of anything. What are you up to?”

“Well, I’m killing off some brain cells,” I confessed.

“Oh yeah?” Wilhelm was intrigued, “how’s that?”

So, I explained, “well, I’m drinking German beer, and we’re watching Spice World and then The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie.”

Wilhelm laughed, “Oh, you really are killing brain cells!”

Just as monks of yore are reputed to have self-flagellated, sometimes I enjoy watching a truly bad movie. However, I do not own a copy of Avatar. That’s over the line for me and I don’t have the patience to watch that much compressed bad movie for that kind of duration. It takes so much alcohol for me to endure that film that I’m going to start calling it The Last Bender. Movies based on video games are a pretty easy mark for bad content searches, with rare exception. A young friend of ours recently exposed his wisdom and said in conversation, “I’d rather watch Resident Evil movies than play the games.” Outside of the Umbrella Corp., we get the likes of Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter. The only line I remember from either of those films is when Johnny Cage says, “I’m in a hostile environment. I’m totally unprepared. And I’m surrounded by a bunch of guys who probably want to kick my ass… it’s like being back in high school.” Most of the time, video games make for terrible movies. Scrape the bottom of that ugly barrel, and you have Super Mario Bros.

***Spoiler alert! If you have spent the last two decades unaware of this movie, and you still plan to watch it, you might want to go take care of that before you read the rest of this. Or you know, skip the middle man and take my word for it that there are better things that you can do with 104 minutes of your life. In that case, read on.

As I may have recently mentioned, Teen Bot has gotten more into video games over the last several years, thus Jennifer and I have recently gotten more into video games. Last week or so, we came to the realization that he had not yet seen the steaming pile of a film that is Super Mario Bros. So last night, we looked it up on YouTube and gave it a watch. I had long forgotten exactly how bad this movie is. For years, when it would come up in conversation mentioned as a bad movie, I would come to its defense and proclaim, “it’s not that bad.” No, Evyl. It is actually that bad and then some. This film stands as a monument to the fact that you can start with a good cast, expensive special effects, and good intentions, and still wind up with a crappy film. I’m reminded once more of The Last Bender. The biggest problem with it is that it has almost nothing in common with the Nintendo games. It’s as though the writers took advice from Wayne’s World just a year or so earlier, when Noah Vanderhoff proclaims that kids don’t know anything and that they are easy to manipulate out of their money with crappy entertainment. I paraphrase of course, as I can’t find the actual quote with a quick internet search… *Squirrel!*

Throughout our viewing of SMB, I kept saying things like, “hey Teen Bot, in the games, did you ever notice how much Bowser looks like Dennis Hopper?”

And Jennifer would correct me, “King Koopa.”

“To-may-to, to-mah-to,” I would respond, “same guy.”

I reflected, “Daisy in this movie was a whole lot cuter when I was younger.”

“She is pretty cute,” Jennifer noted.

“Yeah,” I agreed, “but she was really cute the first time I saw this movie.”

Teen Bot simply laughed at his dorky parents.

“Hey Teen Bot,” remember in the games how the goombas were giant reptilian humanoids and not waddling mushrooms?”

“Hey Teen Bot, remember when you drive an electric car through a grungy underground city in the games?”

Teen Bot responded, “well, I guess it’s kind of like Mario Kart.”

“Yes, except completely not,” I said.

“Hey Teen Bot, remember in the SMB games when you had to recover a meter fragment from some scary chick in red latex at a club so Bowser couldn’t take over our world with it?

“King Koopa,” Jennifer said.

“Same guy,” I defended.

“Hey Teen Bot, remember all these weird people in the games?”

“Hey Teen Bot, remember in the games when Bowser was shooting a gun at you and you had to defend against it?”

“King Koopa,” Jennifer corrected.

“Hey Teen Bot, remember in the game when you shot Bowser with the Devo Gun and he transformed from a human to a t-Rex and then into Odo from Deep Space Nine and colapsed into green sewage on the ground?”

Jennifer corrected me, “King Koopa.”

“Actually,” I said, “I think he’s the President in this one.”

And yes, the Devo Gun was a pretty important plot device in the film. Evidently there wasn’t enough cannon material from the established game series to make a whole movie around, so they had to invent stuff like reptilian humanoids and the Devo Gun, which wasn’t fractionally as cool as a Dubstep Gun. But then, what is?

When we got to the scene where Daisy is imprisoned in the tower, and the cute little bipedal dinosaur wanders out from behind the furniture, chained with a metal collar, Teen Bot said, “what is that supposed to be?”

“I’ll give you a hint,” I quipped, “in the game you might ride him around and make him eat goombas and stuff.”

“Oh, it’s Yoshi?” he said.

“Yeah, but they might have gotten the scale a little off,” I replied.

Throughout the duration of the film, neither Mario nor Luigi stomp on a single turtle or mushroom. They do not collect any 1-ups or fireflowers or leaves or capes. Neither of them dons a frog suit or a tanooki suit. Not once do they pull a flag down a flagpole nor do they enter any castles. They don’t collect cards or throw turnips at the bad guys. There is a character named Toad, but he’s a minor character that gets turned into one of Koopa’s minions who goes rogue to help our ‘heroes’ escape. They may as well have named him Earl for as much continuity as they bothered with. I mean, he doesn’t even wear a ridiculous poofy hat!

“Hey Teen Bot, remember that random woman in the game who steals the meteor fragment so she can merge the worlds on her own?”

Indeed, this movie would have been marginally better if they had made it as a stand-alone story and not affiliated it with Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. Granted, that would not have saved it as a film or made it anything that it is not already, but of many flaws, its most glaring is the fact that it is supposed to be a SMB story. IMDb gives it a marginally higher rating than Spice World, but I’d highly recommend the latter over the former if you are after some brain rotting entertainment. It is no small wonder that we haven’t seen The Legend of Zelda, Sonic the Hedgehog, or Metroid on the big screen or any other major title video games for that matter. SMB was the nail in the coffin for any such enterprises. Nintendo and Sega respectively, as well as many other game programmers heeded this film as a clear warning of the worst case scenario and said, “Oooooh no. We’re not going to let you do that to any (more) of our beloved core characters.” And for some reason, writing this post makes me want to grow my hair long, put on a flannel shirt and Doc Martens, and listen to some Nirvana or Cranberries while drinking Crystal Pepsi.

St. Paddy’s Day Cheer Aftermath

Oklahoma news station KOCO reports the following:

OKLAHOMA CITY —The Myriad Gardens says a synthetic, organic compound was the substance used to turn their water features green this weekend.

Fluorescein is a compound often used as a fluorescent tracer. It was used in 1962 to dye the Chicago River green on St. Patrick’s Day.

Myriad Gardens officials said they will drain the lake to one-fourth its normal depth and will refill it using an underground stream and city water.

The garden is waiting on a final analysis because eventually the dyed water will be dumped into the city sewer system.

Garden officials said cleanup from the prank could cost between $5,000 and $10,000.

Authorities are still looking for the person responsible for the vandalism.

Alright, quit looking at me like that. Although I’d kind of like to claim credit for this ingenuous bit of hilarity, I haven’t been near the Myriad Gardens in years. The best prank I ever pulled off was when I parked a classmate’s car inside the band room in high school. We didn’t break or damage anything, and that was far more harmless fun, although the band director didn’t seem to appreciate it so much. But seriously, that’s a brilliantly demented mind that dumped fluorescein into a major water feature in the city to dye it green for the holiday! Whoever you are, well-played sir. But seriously, next time don’t do something that is so expensive to clean up and has the cops looking for you. 8O

*Corrected title to “Paddy’s” from “Patty’s.” Thanks for the catch, David. I can’t believe I did that!

Yet Another Awesome Stupid Idea

Fathers and sons should engage in hobbies together, am I right? It’s no secret that Teen Bot loves his video games. When he’s current with his school work and chores, we’ll set aside a little time in the evenings or over the weekend and play for an hour or so. Not only do we play games on the Wii, but we also play games on the Xbox (original), NES, and Atari 2600. That is correct. We play video games on 35-year-old equipment.

At some point in time, he expressed to me that he wanted to play some vintage video games. Well, I did a little attic diving and managed to find my old 2600 console. I don’t know what happened to many of my games or controllers, but we have the console. We also collected Jennifer’s gaming stuff from her childhood. That girl was video game rich! Not only did she have the 2600 console and multiple controllers, she also had a Supercharger (I’ll explain in a minute), and around 60 games!

Since we don’t really have a TV, we don’t have an antenna input that we can tie into from a vintage system. I got my brother to do a little modifying on my old 2600 though. We bypassed the internal RF modulator, tied into the board and installed AV jacks on the back of the case. That may sound fancy, but it’s all pretty straight forward and there are tutorials all over the internet. Modding an old video game console got my brain to cranking though.

Atari-2600-Wood-4Sw-Set

This is an Atari 2600, the machine that brought home video gaming to the mainstream.

Starpath_Supercharger_and_games

This is a Supercharger and some of its games. Jennifer’s copy is one of the earlier ones, branded Arcadia, before they had to change their name to Starpath due to litigation or something. It inserts into the cartridge slot on the 2600 and boosts the processing power and memory significantly. The games shipped on cassette, and were played as audio files through a headphone jack. The sound file itself sounds like a fax machine. Somehow that sound encoding loads up the ram so you can play the game.

One of the neat things about vintage gaming is that it’s pretty easy to find the game ROMs as downloads all over the internet. You don’t actually have to have an Atari to play Atari games, as you can play the ROMs through an emulator on your computer. Or, you can use this application to convert the ROM into a sound file that you can then play through the Supercharger. You can burn the files to a CD and play them through a CD player, or convert them to MP3, or even record them to a tape and play them the way the Supercharger was originally intended. The device isn’t too picky, and as long as the sound reproduction is decent enough, it should play just fine. We loaded a few MP3s on Jennifer’s tablet and played some games that way. In fact, you could use just about any sound player you could imagine. See where I’m going with this?

Cartridge_macro_shot

One could conceivably play Atari 2600 games through a Supercharger from a vinyl record, if one had the game files in such a format. You know, as in if I could get my hands on something like this:

dubcutter_detail_right_xl

And use it to cut the game sound files to these:

82bf7bf7ea-7inchrecordblank

And then, it hit me. I have a deep, burning desire to build a custom cased 2600, with the Supercharger internally. It would run a small pre-amp and have a turntable built into the top of the box. All the guts in the Atari are pretty compact, so the total package could be built pretty slim. I’d likely try to find a dedicated 45 player to save a little space as well. And, the controller ports would move to the front of the box, as they are on more modern consoles.

Now granted, I don’t have a record cutter, and I’m not likely to be able to purchase one anytime soon. But just imagine it! If I were to embark on this insanity, I’d even go so far as to download original cover art and print it onto record labels. Remember in the ’90s when the game manufacturers were trying to hork those newfangled ‘CD’ systems on us? Sega CD? Ppppsh. I’m playing Atari Record. So, if any of you lovely readers has a record cutter laying around, collecting dust, that you’d give up for the cause, I would certainly do some further testing to see about making this happen. And, it would be magnificent.

“Smart” Guns

My lovely wife points this out.

smartgun

The pistol itself is pretty. It has lovely lines and is pleasing to the eye. Although I’d like to get on board with the whole idea of techy guns, I live in real life. Jennifer brings up the question of batteries, which is a good one. When you need to charge or replace the batteries in your watch or gun, does that mean that the gun isn’t available for defensive use? Damn, someone is breaking down the door, but my gun is on the charger with my phone and e-cig! The question of batteries only scratches the surface of the fail here.

The concept of my gun only working for me is a lovely one I guess, but I know that two out of three printer drivers won’t work on my laptop’s OS to send print jobs to the laser printer. The one driver that does work doesn’t like certain image files or font sets.

I know that there are movies that won’t play on our Blu Ray player unless we have the latest firmware, and it’s difficult to predict when it will happen. What happens when your pistol needs a firmware update? Cleaning guns is one thing, but how would you like the routine of clean and download/install firmware?

Sometimes our router crashes and our network fails to network. I know how often I have to restart the router because the network has crashed. Better not have a gunfight during an update.

Remember sliding a cartridge into your Nintendo only to have the game not boot properly, and trying it all over again? Ever blow into the end of a game cartridge to dislodge offending dust particles? Kids, ask your parents. It would be a crap ton of bad luck if you feared for your life and had to reboot your gun. That’s just a smidge more than rack-tap-bang. Try blowing into your gun to see if that will fix it. There are people out there that only carry DA revolvers because the reboot process consists of simply pulling the trigger once more.

There are many of us who can’t wear a quartz* watch without it going dead. Does the control watch itself have EM shielding? Are the electronics in the watch and pistol water/shock/freeze proof? A gun that shorts out and won’t work in the rain is as useless as a paperweight.

As a kid, I remember playing with remote controlled cars and planes with my friends. You couldn’t run more than two at a time, because of RF interference. It would be embarrassing at the range and deadly in a struggle if such interference locked up the gun. I need to defend my life against this bad guy, but I can’t get too close to wireless device because my gun won’t work there.

With any device that has complications that may cause failure, users must be diligent in confirming function. Does owning one of these guns necessitate a home range with a backstop so you can fire one off before you holster it for the day? You know, just to make sure you don’t have to reboot it or reestablish the link to the watch so you know that it will actually go bang instead of locking up like a blue screen of death.

Just as many people carry revolvers as opposed to semiautomatic pistols, the more than century-old semiautomatic shotgun has not eclipsed the pump-action or break action for home defense, sporting purposes, or range time. This is because in the case of a defensive weapon, or any life tool for that matter, simplicity is king. We pull the lock flags out of our S&W revolvers so the mechanism won’t lock up and brick our guns when we’re at the range, in competition, in the field, or defending ourselves. If we hack a pistol such as this so it’s functional without its activation watch, we risk giving ammo to a prosecutor. Remove and/or bypass the electronics in this beauty like we mod an Xbox for better function, and a jury of your peers will hang you. I don’t even particularly like electronic sights, because as useful as they may be, the fear that they may fail jaundices them to my eye, and the likelihood is far less than the failure of the can of worms that this pistol system is.

I fear that legislators are pushing for technology such as this. If we were ever put under such onerous encoding, what would become of legacy guns? Would they be grandfathered or would we be required to retrofit or simply ordered to turn in our dumb guns? I shudder to think of the sight of my S&W M29 with some retrofit device bolted to it. And, many of us have guns that represent historical significance or family heritage and it would be many levels of natural crime to deprive us of them, even if these pieces never fired another bullet downrange for the rest of their future existence. This is the essence of the danger of people who don’t have any knowledge of gun culture or gun function getting into gun design or legislation. They outlaw the shoulder thing that goes up or mandate fictional technology that optimistically is dodgy in its execution.

No thanks. I carry a polymer frame pistol. It has a flashlight on it. That’s about as high-tech as I’m going to get with it. Whenever something like this comes up, we must be diligent to stomp it out like stray embers from a camp fire. Because, just like so many stray embers can burn down the forest, high-hope technology like this threatens our culture and our literal survival.

*edited for spelling

The Never Ending Challenge of Automobiles

It snowed last Tuesday. Admittedly, the front tires on the Tactical Assault Compact Sedan have been a little shallower on the treads than Lincoln’s head, and I’ve been putting off rotating them to the back for too long. Jennifer had no trouble getting it to her office up until the point that it came time to turn into her parking lot. This is when she lost traction and slid into the curb. The TACS has hit a curb or two in the past in its many travels, but this time was different somehow. Although Jennifer reports not significantly feeling the shock of the impact (thank God), it seems that most of the force was transferred to the driver’s side control arm, which promptly crumpled and dropped the wheel against the rear of the wheel well, where it dented the fender. Jennifer was able to limp it into a parking space to get on with her work day, but the door dented when she went to open it against the distorted fender. *sigh* Things are now in motion to fix the car, but it isn’t going anywhere at the moment.

There was more snow on Saturday night. Our little pickup is probably the least ideal vehicle on slick roads save a drag car with slicks or perhaps a motorcycle. Not only is it nose heavy and rear wheel drive, it’s also very light weight. Couple that with the fact that Grandpa must have put the cheapest tires possible on it. They have plenty of tread, but the rubber is hard enough that it would probably rate somewhere north of a 5 on the mohs scale, especially when it’s below freezing out. Regardless, we live in a flat area and are within walking distance of church, so we decided to brave the short trip. The church service was lovely if not sparsely attended. After church, we made our way towards my parents’ house for our weekly Sunday lunch. All went well enough until we made it to my parents’ driveway, where the rear tires decided they’d had enough and weren’t going to find traction here. I tried to crawl the truck into their driveway, lightly feathering the throttle at 5mph or less, but the truck was having none of it, and began to slide sideways instead of turning in. Apparently, it’s not the trip that’s the issue so much as the destination for us lately.

“NO NO NO!” I cried, aware of the traffic backing up behind us.

“What do you want me to do?” asked my supportive bride.

I sighed, “Would you go sit on the tail gate? Maybe we can get a better weight balance that way.” Not that Jennifer has a whole lot to contribute in this regard, but every little bit, right?

I continued to feather the throttle, attempting to aim at the driveway with the weight of Jennifer’s frame transferred from the cab to the tail gate. Still nothing. That’s when the driver in the truck behind us hopped out and came to help push. After a few moments, his wife hopped out of the passenger side and joined in the effort. With the little truck pulling like The Little Engine That Could, and Jennifer pushing along with two benevolent strangers, we finally managed to get the truck moving forward into the snow-covered driveway.

“Thank you!” Jennifer yelled to the strangers as she ran to follow the truck. Yes, I did feel a little guilty somewhere in there.

“You’re welcome!” they replied as they ran back to their own truck.

Once I parked the truck, Jennifer asked if I’d like to borrow some of my parents’ firewood to add weight to the back end of the truck.

“No,” I said, “I think I’ll get their grain scoop and shovel the snow from the driveway to the bed. When we’re done with it, we won’t have to return the snow, and we also won’t have to drive through said snow to get back out.”

I got started and before I knew it, there was Jennifer with a wood shovel in her hands, shoveling snow righ beside me. So for the next hour or so, we shoveled off about 40-yards of their driveway into the bed. My parents actually thanked us for shoveling their driveway. Heh. As if it wasn’t selfishly motivated… When we left that afternoon, the truck had a completely different character on the ice, confidently gripping the road surface. I’ve always felt that a two-wheel-drive pickup and especially a compact variation of such is just about worthless in inclement weather. Adding weight over the rear axle certainly helps, but it has nothing on a front-wheel-drive car, generally speaking. I’ve seen people get overconfident in all manner of vehicles in all sorts of weather and get themselves into trouble though. I really hate this weather. Every year, I try to tell myself that it isn’t so bad, and that I enjoy the extremes almost as much as fair weather, but it’s a lie. I’m so ready for the spring.