Commodore 128, top-12 dud? By what measure?

PC Magazine presented a list of 12 computer duds, and while I agree with most of them, my old friend the Commodore 128 makes an appearance. Commodore released several duds over the years, but calling the 128 one of them doesn’t seem fair.
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Review: GT Max Playstation-USB converter

After my disappointing experience with an inexpensive–perhaps I should just say cheapX-Kim USB gamepad, I decided to give the GT Max Playstation-USB converter a try. This inexpensive (under $5) adapter lets you use Playstation and Playstation 2 (PS2) controllers with a PC.

I’m just interested in being able to use it with emulators for older systems, so I can’t comment on its suitability for using Playstation dance pads with PC games, or using inexpensive PS2 controllers with PS3s. Other users report some degree of success for that.

I’m happy to report that I can now play five or six levels of Jumpman or 9 innings of Baseball Stars without my hands hurting.

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Review: X-Kim GPTL-00A

I think the last time I saw a halfway original idea for a game was around 1992. Everything I’ve seen since then has just been a re-hash of something old, with incrementally better graphics to make it prettier to look at, better AI to make the game harder to beat, and perhaps a new setting.

So I don’t play a lot of games. And when I do, I’d rather play an old game for an old system, which of convenience’s sake usually means running an emulator. But video games on a keyboard–even a really good keyboard–isn’t much fun, so I bought myself a cheap USB game controller.

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Ye Olde Nintendo 64

I fixed up a Nintendo 64 this past weekend. People of a certain age affectionately refer to it just as “the 64,” though to me, “the 64” refers to a computer with 64K of memory introduced in 1982. I have an inherent bias against almost anything that reminds me of 1997, but in spite of my biases, I found a number of things to like about the system after spending a few hours with it.

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Why piracy matters

Rob O’Hara offers an interesting perspective on piracy.

I agree with him. 20 years ago, copyrighted material offered presence. It was something special.

Computer software was mostly sold in specialty stores. And if you wanted something, the store might or might not have it. There was a bit of a hunt involved. I still have fond memories of going to Dolgin’s, Babbage’s, and other long-gone stores to buy Commodore software. Sure, I pirated some stuff (who didn’t?) but mostly confined myself to out-of-print stuff that you couldn’t otherwise get.

Believe it or not, I took pride in having a shelf of paid-for software.

Music was the same way. Back then, the average record store had a comparable selection to your local Target. If you decided you liked Joy Division or Sisters of Mercy, you had a long road ahead of you to collect all their stuff. Acquiring material that was far off the Top 40 path took time and effort, not just money.

Today it doesn’t matter what you want, you can probably find it in 30 minutes online. Legally, or, in most cases, illegally. Like a friend asked me about 10 years ago when broadband connections became attainable and this stuff started to change, “How can data be rare?”

The solution some people give is touring. That works for musicians, but not so well for everyone else. Book signings aren’t very profitable for most authors. There’s no close equivalent at all for software. Charging for service works for application software, but not at all for games.

The solution is to find other ways to make a living.

The loss? Culture, frankly. Music gets reduced to the lowest common denominator. Record labels can’t (or won’t) take a chance on promising young bands whose first few records don’t sell. Had U2 come on the scene in 1999 instead of 1979, it never would have made it. The Joshua Tree was a huge seller, but who’s ever heard of Boy and October? By today’s standards for first and second albums, they were flops.

The result is we see a lot more acts like Justin Timberlake, who can make a lot of money fast. If they fade from view, it doesn’t matter, because the record companies can always manufacture a replacement. Which leaves little reason to take a chance on someone who does things differently and takes a few years to really burst onto the scene. The environment doesn’t really favor the development of someone like Talking Heads, the Moody Blues, or much of anything else that deviates from the norm today. Or U2, for that matter, who may sound mainstream today, but they sure didn’t in 1980.

I see other arenas suffering too. Name me an innovative video game. There’s been very little innovation since Wolfenstein 3D came into being in 1992. Virtually everything since is just a variation on that same theme: Shoot everything that moves in a 3D environment. Yawn. That wasn’t even very innovative–it’s just that it happened in 3D. There were plenty of shoot-everything-that-moves games out there in the mid/late 1980s for the Nintendo NES. Wolfenstein itself was a remake of a 2D shooter from the early 80s for 8-bit computers called Castle Wolfenstein.

Creative people who want to have a house and a car and a few things to put in it find other ways to make a living. Like writing or doing graphic design for Pizza Today or another trade magazine. It’s steady work. It’s not glamorous and won’t make you famous, but it pays the bills. And it’s niche enough that it’s unlikely to be pirated.

Someone may find a way to make things work in this new reality. Odds are it won’t be someone in Washington. And it probably won’t happen tomorrow. Which is a shame.

Blister on my thumb…

So, I got my hands on a working Nintendo NES and Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out cartridge. I used to play that game at my cousin’s, about 20 years ago. It’s addictive.I think the nice thing about this game (and a lot of the older games) is that they’re easy to learn, and they’re challenging, but if you look closely enough there’s a definite pattern, so you can learn to play the game well and win.

I can’t remember exactly how far I used to be able to get in this game, but this time around I had a whole lot of trouble with Soda Popinski. Most of the advanced boxers have one big weakness and it’s the key to beating them. Soda Popinski doesn’t have one. What I figured out is that he’s predictable, and he’s fairly slow. So you beat him by anticipating and dodging his punches, throwing a whole bunch of punches yourself whenever you get the opening, and not worrying if it takes three rounds to get a KO or TKO.

Now if I can just get my timing right to beat Bald Bull in the next match…

Atari vs Nintendo

Atari vs Nintendo

Every time a major anniversary for either system comes along, discussion of how the NES saved the videogame industry after the disastrous Atari 2600 comes with it. Your opinion of Atari vs Nintendo probably depends on your age.

I have to admit I scratch my head as I read this stuff. Did the people who write it live through both of them? By what measure was the 2600 a disaster? I can’t help but speak out in defense of Atari a bit.

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Commodore’s back!

Long, long ago, I owned a computer that was so reliable that it only ever crashed on me and caused me to lose work once. I remember it well, and I was livid about it. So much so that I never used that word processor again. And the computer never crashed on me or caused me to lose work again.

That computer was a Commodore 128.It was slow, it didn’t multitask, and I could barely type on its awful keyboard, and it irritated me that MicroLeague Baseball took 15 minutes to load if I wanted to use its General Manager and its Stat Compiler add-ons (of course I did), but from a pure reliability standpoint, that simple machine was the best computer I’ve ever owned.

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Who was the most influential woman in your life?

My good friend Brad came to me with a question a couple of weeks ago: Who was the most influential woman in your life?
He wasn’t looking for my answer so much as he was looking for what I thought people’s answers would be. So I countered with a question: Married or single? He asked what difference that made. “Well, if you’re married, the right answer is your wife, whether it’s your mother or not,” I said. “And if you’re single, the right answer is your mother. Now the true answer could be something totally different.”

Brad laughed. I think he might have said I’ll be good at staying out of trouble with a wife someday, but I’m sure I’ll be very good at getting in trouble, or at least getting lots of dirty looks. Guys live for that.

Brad was looking to shoot another video together, with that as the theme. The pieces just didn’t come together this year so we had to shelve the project. But his question lingers on.

Who was the most influential woman in my life?

Certainly I learned more from my mom than anyone else. She taught me weird ways to remember how to spell tough words. Do you ever have trouble remembering how to spell “Wednesday?” It’s the day the Neses got married. wed-Nes-day. Got it? And how to remember the capital of Norway. Well, I knew Oslo was the capital of some Northern European country, but I couldn’t remember which. So she wrote “nOrway” on a slip of paper. I never lost the Oslo/Norway connection after that. (That’s probably not very impressive to my European readers, but Americans are notoriously bad at geography. I don’t know how many Americans know Norway is in Europe. Some Americans may not know what Europe is, for that matter.)

And yes, mom taught me how to tie my shoes and how to blow my nose and how to brush my teeth and lots of stuff like that. And when I didn’t understand girls (which was often… Who am I kidding? It is often) she was always there to listen.

But the question was who wasn’t that. It was: Who was the most influential woman in my life?

Well, there was this girl that I met right after college. I told her I loved her, she told me she loved me, she changed my life, and set me off in an unexpected and (mostly) better direction and…

AND she couldn’t hold a candle to my grandmother, my mom’s mom, so even though I was devastated at the time, in retrospect I’m really glad we broke up.

What can I say about Granny? She grew up in southern rural Missouri, in the Depression, one of about a dozen kids (my grandparents came from families of 12 and 13, and I can never keep straight which came from which, especially since both had siblings who didn’t live to adulthood). Now, she got in some trouble growing up, but I think that experience, along with having lived through the Depression, helped her learn how to do the right thing even when resources seemed limited. She moved to Kansas City during World War II and got a job at Pratt & Whitney, working on an assembly line making airplane engines. She married a Kansas Citian. On a truck driver’s salary, they managed to raise four kids.

I remember a lot of things about her. She always had time for her family. She never wanted anyone to make a big deal about anything she did. She really knew how to cook. She made the best quilts in the world. And before anyone starts complaining about her falling into female stereotypes, I’ll tell you this. She absolutely loved working in her yard, and one of the things that pained her the most was her deterriorating ability to take care of her yard as she got older. Besides, she built airplane engines! Have I ever done anything that manly? I’m doing well to change the spark plugs in my car.

But if I had to sum Granny’s life up in a sentence, I’d say this: When it came to doing more with less, she was one of the very best.

What am I known for? A book and a series of magazine articles about doing more with less.

So, who was the most influential woman in my life? I think it was Granny.

Granny died a little over six years ago. I miss her.

A lot.

I had a conversation with my mom a while back about my two grandmothers. Granny had nothing for most of her life. My other grandmother wasn’t like that. She was a successful doctor, a psychiatrist. She married a successful doctor. He was a general practitioner, and one of the best diagnosticians you’d ever see. I can say a lot about him, but I’ll say this and have my peace: His father spent a lot of time hanging out with tycoons, and must have learned a few things and passed them on to his son. The guy had money, but in a lot of ways he lived like my other grandmother, who had nothing. A good rule of thumb is that if you have money but live like you have none, you’ll end up with a lot more.

I’m talking a lot more about my dad’s father (he wasn’t a dad) than I am about his mother (she wasn’t a mom). Frankly I know more about him. I know she was brilliant. Yes, she was smarter than my mom’s mom. Granny didn’t always have all the answers. My other grandmother always had an answer. And it was usually right. It was also usually long. (I get that from somewhere.) I remember asking her once if Cooperstown, NY is close to New York City. It took her half an hour to answer that question.

But I never had much of a relationship with her. Neither did my dad. He’d talk about “my mother,” or “my father.” I heard him call his father “Dad” once. They were arguing. About me. As for her, well, I never heard him call her “Mom.”

I haven’t seen her or spoken with her since October 1990.

It’s hard for me to talk or write about this, because I don’t want to rag on my relatives. I always had a great deal of respect for them. I know what they were capable of, and I think that’s why I’m disappointed in them.

My dad grew up being told he’d be a failure all his life. He didn’t get good grades, and he was rebellious. I suspect a lot of that was because he had two absentee parents. But Dad was smart. It seems his biggest problem growing up was that he mostly used his great mind to figure out when he had to perform and when he could get by with slacking. He also couldn’t make up his mind what he wanted to do with his life. He had the same gifts his father had, but he wanted to be as different from his father as possible, and that posed a dilemma for him. He once told me his father didn’t know what to do with him. But that’s OK. Dad was only two years younger than I am now when he finally figured out what to do with himself.

The decision was made that my dad’s younger brother would carry my grandfather’s torch after he died. I don’t know what role she played in the decision, but she stood behind it. My dad watched as his brother made mistakes and both his brother and his mother paid for them. My dad tried to help. He didn’t want his help. She didn’t want his help. Finally my dad gave up. Dad had made himself a success; in his own mind, he’d proven them wrong. I don’t think he was interested in proving them wrong in their minds; he just didn’t want to see them struggle. Loyalty runs in the family.

I asked my mom which of my grandmothers really had more? Her mom thought she struggled all her life, but she was always able to provide for herself and others. Always. Had she been able to see that, I think she’d still be alive today.

When Granny died, she left enough for her four kids to fight over. But they didn’t fight over it. That wasn’t how she raised them.

I know one of my duties is to provide for my relatives, and in that regard, to be perfectly honest, I always let my dad’s mom down. But I guess I always assumed since she never wanted my dad’s help when he was alive, why would she want mine? To my knowledge, she never attempted to contact me after he died, so I had no way of knowing any different.

Dad’s mom died yesterday. All I have on her living conditions is hearsay, but I know poverty when I hear it described.

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