R. I. P., Friend

I could hear the motor whirring on his mobility scooter as he approached, a black flag flying behind him. At a glance, it looked like a Jolly Roger. On closer inspection, it was a Dia De Los Muertos styled skull, adorned with The Legend of Zelda imagery. He didn’t pause for pleasantries, as was his custom, but went right to the point.

“I started on your pen,” he said, rocking his head side to side, as was his characteristic, signature body language.

Probably about a year before, I’d admired some hand-turned pens he was displaying for sale. They were all very nice roller balls, beautifully finished exotic woods. I asked if he did any fountain pens, and he said that he could do a fountain pen, but he’d need to order the kit. He asked me about material, and I told him that I wasn’t picky. He had a good eye for that sort of thing. I offered him some pink ivory pen blanks that I wound up with, and he encouraged me to get a pen lathe and try my hand at it instead.

“It’s not that hard, and the lathes are cheap,” he said, “but, I’ll still make one for you. I’ll make it special.”

So here, a year later, I responded, “Oh yeah?

“I just didn’t want you to think that I’ve forgotten about you. Yeah,” he said, “you’re getting antler.”

I exclaimed, “oh, cool!”

He started explaining, “it’s taking some time because I had to rough cut the material and resin impregnate it…”

I interrupted, “because it’s so porous. That stuff is like bone sponge.”

“Exactly,” he nodded.

That was the weekend that my last thirteen posts have addressed. I’m pretty sure it was Sunday, April 30, because the lights were on in the building at the fairgrounds. It may have been that awful Friday though. The time stream kind of blurs in there. And, that was the last weekend we saw him.

Michael Logan was the kind of man that didn’t know a stranger. He would talk your ear off, and just when you thought you couldn’t take any more, he’d buzz off on his scooter, other people to talk up, other things to do. We were friends from the first time we met. I usually distrust people who are so friendly on first meeting, and I’ve been working on that. The back of my mind asks “what’s your angle; what are you trying to get from me?” I’ve since come to learn that some people just really are that friendly. Michael didn’t know a stranger. He was a cancer survivor, and despite his broken body, he would show up to the party anywhere his mobility scooter would allow. He was a very special person, and more alive than most people I’ve known ambulating on their own two legs. He would send me a message every now and then, at random, reading, “Good Lord, man! Go back to bed!” Most of the time, this had absolutely no context, night or day, but became a beloved surprise when he sent it. I’m sad that I’ll be receiving no more of those.

I met Michael through the Oklahoma Retro Gamers Society. Whoever says that video games have no redemptive quality has clearly never met in a room with like minded folks to communally enjoy the fandom. I feel loved by these people, and I love them in return. They’ve seen me at my worst, and maybe near my best, but they have always accepted me. If it weren’t for video games, I would have probably never met him.

I kind of always knew that I’d outlive him, but I could never be prepared. I found out last night via FaceBook that he had passed from this mortal coil. I was shocked. Numb. Of course, I was sad, but I couldn’t even fully feel that, if that makes any sense at all. He’ll be missed by many. He’ll be missed by me. The mutual friend who shared the news asked if we had any pictures of the two of them getting into “wheel chair races.” Regrettably, we do not. He actually wrote up a piece about Michael on his own blog here, which is quite touching. Said friend is not relegated to a wheel chair, but there was one available, and he likes to clown around like that. Michael was the kind of guy that saw the good time in such shenanigans. I’d love to have some pictures of that kind of silliness. Please do go and read Jennifer’s write up, if you haven’t already.

I don’t know what finally took him, but his health was poor, so I don’t even care to make conjecture. Still, I don’t even get my damned pen. My Michael Logan, antler, fountain pen. Not that the pen itself matters at all, but he was making it special for me. I guess I’ll have to pick up a pen lathe after all. As a tribute. R. I. P., friend.

The Day My Life Changed – Part 8: The Weekend

If you didn’t get to read about my visit to the ER, you can catch up on Part 7.

Before it was even bright and early, on Saturday, April 29, 2017, we loaded up our photo gear in a friend’s pickup. He drove us as well as one of our neighbors, whom we’d drafted to the team, and we all headed out to the fairgrounds. A tornado had hit the venue overnight. Trees were torn asunder. There was an arch that was a miniaturized version of the famous one in St. Louis. Was. For half a century that thing was a landmark there. Nature decided to flatten it. There are pics. The building had quite a bit of water in it, and an overhead door next to our main stage had been blown off its tracks. We had no power. Vendors and exhibitors had set up the day before, but they wandered around in the dark and hovered over their wares, guarding against looters in the dark; not a bad idea, but we didn’t have looters present. Local law enforcement was blocking con-goers from the grounds. It took some doing, some creative detouring for even we, officials, to get in. We got some interesting pics in the dark arena. When your cam rig is rocking clean ISO 12,800 and lenses ranging from f1.4 to 2.0, they don’t care that it’s dark. We weren’t there for very long. There was no point in it. Some plucky con-attendees made it to the building, but we were obviously turning them away at the door. It was heart-breaking. “Evyl, why do you carry a flashlight?” Um, this. This is why. Why don’t YOU have a flashlight in your pocket? We went home. The rest of Saturday is fuzzy. We got the car home and secured gear. I assume we ate something and went to bed. There was a party Saturday night, but we didn’t go.

When I crossed paths with our friend, she kissed me on the cheek, squeezed me and said, “loves you!”

I hugged her in return, “loves you!”

The con on Sunday was awesome, if also trying. The crowd of attendees was amazing. The vendors were out in full-force and having a great time. I admit that I purchased some really wonderful items, as did Jennifer. I didn’t get the quantity nor quality of photos that I wanted to, but I’ll fairly give myself a pass there. As you can imagine, I was feeling slightly less than perfectly steady. Playing ‘make up for lost time’ went well. I’d patched together a camera tripod dolly out of an old lady walker and some random hardware store parts that I broke out for a little while for some time lapse work. It did feel good to finally be shooting with a camera setup that I was confident with, Jennifer with her twin to mine, and our son with his upgraded DSLR as well. I put my hands in there. As with years previous, I visually documented, but I also got in and did the labor required of the volunteer group. Every time I bumped into the ball pit kid, who was there when I went down, he looked like he was looking at a ghost. At some point over the weekend, Jennifer told me that she had to wipe blood and bile off my face and ear before I came to, and that it was like I was trying to hit myself. Later, there was a nasty, blue and green bruise that blossomed on the inside of my right thigh shaped like knuckles. Yeah.
It had been a lot worse than I had realized.

Over the weekend, I didn’t feel that bad, but I felt like someone had beat me up. It wasn’t just a feeling. I had beat me up. My tongue hurt where I’d bitten it. Nobody would have blamed me for sitting out the weekend, but it was important for me to be there. For one, these friends of mine needed to see that it didn’t take me down. For two, I wasn’t going to miss out on the weekend. I have no regrets. I had a fight with my brain. And, I won.

Tomorrow, I’ll start getting into follow up medical appointments in Part 9.

The Day My Life Changed – Part 1: Background

I’ve been actively taking first responder training for my whole life. I was in first-aid classes as a child. in my adult life, I’ve taken classes in CPR, AED, etc… For that matter, I know how to properly apply a tourniquet or chest seal. I’ve been taught how to respond to someone having a seizure. Jennifer and I have had opportunity to respond to other individuals seizing on two separate occasions. Thinking back, we could have responded better, but to my knowledge, both individuals made through it just fine. Any landing you can walk away from is a good one, right? So, I’ve seen seizures, but I had no idea what recovery was like.

Also, I’ve been healthy my entire life. I’m 39. I once had a baby tooth extracted, but I’ve never had surgery. I had a green stick fracture in a finger as a small child, when my finger got slammed in the back side of a door at church, but I’ve never broken a bone. I’ve had cuts and scrapes, but I’ve never had stitches. I’m not on any medications, and I have no significant allergies. Any time I’ve filled out a medical screening, it’s been “no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no….”

I’m redacting and/or changing names here, as I’ve asked no permissions, with the exception of my lovely wife, with whom I’ve been discussing this post for quite some time. Also, I won’t swear that any of this is perfectly accurate, but my memory and perception of events.

About four years ago, our teenage son asked about “vintage or retro video games, you know, the old ones…” So, Jennifer and I dug through our parents’ attics and got out our Atari 2600s, her original Nintendo NES, my original XBOX, and whatever other goodies we could find. The three of us got to playing the oldies. I went on a mission to the junk shops and garage sales, and wound up expanding the collection of stuff. It was good times. Jennifer forwarded me an email from work, in which they mentioned Super! BitCon, an upstart, local video game convention. Ticket prices were cheap, and they advertised an emphasis on older video games. We had to go. We spent entirely too much money. If memory serves me correctly, the first SNES game I ever purchased was “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past,” in 2014. It was wonderful. After the event, I did a little social digging and we wound up involved with the Okc chapter of Retro Gamer’s Society (which is the original chapter, IIRC).

By the second year of Super! BitCon, Jennifer and I were the official leads of the Photography Team for the convention. That first (second) year, I didn’t have my own DSLR, so I borrowed my Dad’s first or second generation Canon Rebel with its kit lenses. The building was dark, and I felt totally outclassed, watching other photographers with their bleeding-edge Nikon and Canon gear. Regardless, I worked the aging gear and captured some beautiful and compelling images. There was already a spark telling me that I needed to pursue professional imagery work. This pretty well ignited the fire that pushed me down that rabbit hole.

So, for the last three years of Super! BitCon, we have been not only Photography Lead, but regular, workhorse volunteers for the convention. Fast forward to Saturday, April 22, 2017. We attended the final preparation meeting for the con. We had assembled our photography team. We were pensively ready. I was confident in the members of our team, but we were rag-tag. There were people that I wanted to get for the (fully volunteer) team that couldn’t make it, and one or two that I hadn’t initially counted on that jumped into the fray. We were good to go, though. As the other volunteers were shuffling out of the conference room to enjoy what was left of their Saturday, one of the club’s founding members caught my attention.

“What are you doing at six in the morning on Friday?” he asked me.

I laughed, “sleeping. That was my plan, anyway. Why? What do you have in mind?”

He tipped his head and said, “I wouldn’t not want you to be at the storage unit to help load the truck.”

“Hmmm…” I sighed, “I think we can probably work that out.”

Please do come back tomorrow, and I’ll tell you about how that morning played out, in Part 2.

Guns, Games, and… …Misogyny?

My attention was recently brought to one Anita Sarkeesian. Thank you, JB! She’s a YouTube personality, a video gamer, and apparently a vocal feminist. Watch her whole video if you care to, but this link should take you straight to the money line. In case you don’t feel like clicking over, allow me to quote Miss Sarkeesian:

The belief that women are somehow a naturally weaker gender is a deeply engrained, socially constructed myth, which of course is completely false.

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAHHA! I like her. She’s funny. Did you catch that, Jennifer? You have no excuses anymore. That I can do more sit-ups or push-ups than you is not actually a fact, but merely a social construct. You can’t draw my bow? Not so, that’s a myth! And, if I’m carrying more firewood than you? The idea that you can’t carry as much is completely false. In fact, when they’ve had to dumb down the standards for a woman to get into the military, that’s just the patriarchy in action. Granted, I’ve met a few gals that could mop the floor with my happy ass same as I’ve met a few guys that my lovely and girly wife could pound into hamburger meat, but these are the exceptions to the overarching rule that men are naturally stronger than women. Attempting to relabel that fact as a “socially constructed myth” simply does not make it not so.

I don’t want to be too hard on Sarkeesian because between her platitudes and stale talking points she does manage a couple of valid points, and every now and then even teases at even-handedness. However, one could probably make a blogging career tearing apart her screeds line by line. Without doing a full analysis of all her videos, I’ll spitball a summary and call her one of the tragic cases that could be quite the powerful egalitarian if she’d simply drop the stale talking points, buzzwords, and made up BS that’s so popular among modern feminism. Men and women are in fact different and that’s okay. It doesn’t make girls better than boys or boys better than girls. If I thought that women were inferior, I wouldn’t have married one. In fact, women have great power that they derive from sources other than their physical strength. And, I do love me some powerful women!

In the dating world, the shrinking violets never really kept my interest. It sounds mean for me to say that I got bored of them, but facts are facts. One of the big reasons that I was attracted to Jennifer in the first place, and one of the reasons that it’s been working so well for like seventeen years now and I’m still attracted to her is that she’s a powerful woman. Indeed, I’ve been known to say that when the zombies come, I would prefer to be back to back with her over anyone else. In the above linked video, Sarkeesian bitches about the recurring theme of the damsel in distress in video games. Let’s be real though. We men have an inborn desire to save the girl, stemming from eons ago in less civilized times when it was necessary for the survival of the species for the stronger to protect the weaker, and video game designers have been cashing in on that survival drive since there have been video games. Cheap trick? Perhaps. If you dramatized my life into a game, sometimes I’d save Jennifer but other times she’d save me. Most of the time, we’d be working through our challenges together. The thing is, video games aren’t supposed to be realistic. Games play off of fantasy because mundane games would be boring. If you don’t believe me, click that last link and I dare you to enjoy.

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!

Super! BitCon – Little Cosplayers

As we’ve said before, we spent part of last Saturday at Super! BitCon, a show put on by our local chapter of Retro Gamer’s Society. Jennifer already posted about some of the costumes we saw wandering around the event. I’d like to focus on three of the younger ones, two brothers and their sister. Of course, the contest winner and show stopper was little Ash.

Ash

He was standing right next to me while I was inspecting wares on a vendor table. I didn’t even notice him until Jennifer pointed him out. They did a fantastic job on his costume. I had to say to him and his dad, “well done, sirs!” And, his brother…

Mario

The gaming icon himself, “Jumpman” Mario. Obviously, his costume was also well-executed. And then, there was their sister.

Cheetahmen

I was drawing a blank. She excitedly proclaimed, “I’m a *unintelligible*” She actually said it twice, and I felt really bad for not understanding that last word.

Then her dad said, “are you familiar with the game ‘Cheetahmen’?”

I laughed out loud, “of course, she’s a Cheetahman!” Then I said to her, “are you going to jump twice and glitch out and float in the air?”

“Yesssss!” her dad said.

If you, gentle reader, aren’t fully with me here, the following video will shed some light on the subject, although take it with NSFW and foul language warnings:

Again I say, well done.

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.