A brief history of my early digital life.

As far back as I can remember, Dad always got us into whatever the latest and greatest technology happened to be.

In 1980, we had a Tandy Color Computer (TRS-80) model one, with a whopping 4k. We even had a newfangled data cassette drive, so that we could record and play back programs off audiocassette. 

Back in the 1980s, there were computer magazines that had programs in the back that you could type in to make your computer do something. I’ll never forget the time that I was typing in a four-page BASIC program and I ran out of memory… Dad always said he meant to get the upgrade to 16k, but he never did get around to the upgrade.

1980 was also the year I talked Dad into getting us an Atari 2600 so I could play Berzerk. At least I think I talked him into it. It’s entirely possible he wanted it just as much as I did because I distinctly remember waking up from a sound sleep late one night to find Dad hunched over the controller, guiding Pac-Man through his dot-filled maze in the dim glow of the tv screen.

In the same time period, we also had a TI-994a, which had some program cartridges you could slide in on the right side. We had a couple of game cartridges and one or two other programs that I never paid much attention to.  There was one music program cartridge that played a jaunty little tune when you locked it into place, and I loved that thing even though all I ever did with it was slide it in to hear the song.

Dad also had a knack for getting us into trial services. Between the years of 1983 and 1986, Knight-Ridder and AT&T piloted an interconnected videotex machine called Viewtron in homes in South Florida. Dad was fascinated and immediately signed us up. This consisted of a box that you plugged into your tv with a little wireless chiclet keyboard (a big deal back then!,) and it dialed into a set of servers. There was weather, shopping, a digital dictionary and encyclopedia, and an early “CB Chat” system. I remember using it to research reports and projects for school, but the part I loved the most was the chat system.  Viewtron was ahead of its time, with all kinds of services that we take for granted now, and it folded after just a few years.

Flash forward to 1984, and Dad once again signed us up for something new and exciting- our family was charter subscribers to the new Prodigy dial-up service. Some of my earliest uses of something like e-mail were done in the message boards on this service, and I made my first “Internet friends” during this era. Alas, I lost touch with all of them when we left Prodigy a few years later, but it was still an interesting time.

In 1986, I got the first computer that was just mine- a Commodore 128. I used it for word processing, to write reports, and I dialed into BBSes with it, but mostly I used it to play games, and I loved that it used the same type of joystick as the Atari 2600. To this day, I still prefer one stick and one button for my gaming- the newer game consoles have far too many sticks and buttons and I can’t ever remember which one of the eight or ten buttons does which action.

My brother had an Atari computer in his room, an Atari 800 I think, and each of us spent time running a BBS on our respective machines for a while.  A BBS is a Bulletin Board System, and these were popular when computers used separate modems to dial out on a telephone line.  Most BBS setups had message boards, some games which were called Doors for some reason, and a few other things.  Some allowed the sharing of files, and some were set up as multi-node, which meant you could have multiple people connected and those people could talk to each other- this was an expensive setup because each node required its own phone line.  Another early feature of BBS life was FIDOnet, an early form of long distance messaging where the FIDOnet nodes would call one another and messages would be sent from node to node to reach users across long distances.   I loved running a BBS in the early 1980s, partly because I loved that sense of community, and partly because I loved being able to jump in and chat with whoever happened to be on my computer at the time.

Here we are, more than three decades (and dozens of new computer systems) later, on what would have been Dad’s 81st birthday. He used to say that he wished he would have paid more attention and learned more technology when we had all those computers in the house all those years ago, but I think he did just fine. 

I started a new job about two months ago, doing some pretty neat stuff with a great technology company, and I can’t help but wonder if my life would have taken a very different path if Dad hadn’t encouraged my fascination with technology so much over the years.  

What was your first computer?

Goodbye, Dad.

It’s been two weeks since we buried my Dad.

He passed away on Sunday, May 26th. It wasn’t a surprise to any of us- he had been sick for a long time, and his health declined noticeably over the last few years. At the end, he relied on a caretaker twenty-four hours a day- an aide cooked for him, fed him, dressed him. For the last ten months or so, he was bed-ridden, and for longer than that he was almost entirely non-verbal.

That’s not who he was, though. My father was a loud, friendly person who would strike up conversations with just about anyone.  He was a pharmacist for decades, and he had a knack for learning about his customers. This habit led to one of Dad’s customers becoming our family’s go-to automotive mechanic for years. On another occasion, Dad set me up on a totally awful blind date with one of them.  We had nothing at all in common, but it was a perfect example of my father trying to do things to make his children happy.

They say vertical stripes make you look taller. I don’t think it helped me in this outfit.

My brothers and sister and I each said a few words at the funeral. I didn’t want to at first- in fact, only my oldest brother was going to speak initially. We all talked about it the night before the funeral though, and it became apparent very quickly that we all had very different perspectives about him. My sister is nine and a half years older than me, and my brothers are five and six years older, so we each had a very different relationship with Dad.  When we realized how different each of our remarks would be, we decided that it would be good for each of us to say something.

Speaking at the funeral was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.  When I stepped up to the podium, I actually couldn’t speak for a moment.  I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to speak at all.  When I finally started,  I had to force myself to slow down.  Staring down at the paper the entire time, this is more or less what I said:

My father was always larger than life, and growing up I thought he would live forever. When I was a kid, dad was a mythic giant. I used to call him The Ogre, after a stand-up comedy bit that I liked. He didn’t much care for the nickname, because he thought it was a mean sounding word, but I meant it fondly. He was my giant.

Dad was the guy who would surprise me with a trip to Disney, just the two of us. He took me to my first concert, the first of many, even though he didn’t really like the music. He would watch movies with me, and then he would annoy me endlessly by loudly and correctly guessing the second half of the plot halfway through the film.

He taught me all sorts of things about being a man. He had opinions about everything from my schoolwork to the checklist of things you wash when you take a shower to the sorts of things a man should wear. When it was time for me to buy a real suit, he went with me to the store and explained what to look for. He helped me to pick out the suit – this suit that I’m wearing now – but then he also made me get a sport coat for some reason.

When I had the chance to go live abroad for a while, his health had already started to turn and I told him that I was worried that I would miss important dad-time if I went. He told me to go, and that I shouldn’t miss a great opportunity just because of him.

He was like that- more than anything else, Dad wanted me to be happy. He wanted all his children to be happy. Above all else, he taught us that family was important, and happiness was important.

When I was a kid, I thought he would live forever. And as I look at all the people who have gathered here to see him off, and I think about the lessons he taught us, I realize now that in some ways, he will.

For a very long time, I thought I knew almost everything there was to know about my father, but I learned things about him all the way up to the very end that I didn’t know.  I learned less than a year ago that his sister called him “Hal” when they were kids.  I learned from his childhood friend at the funeral that he grew up in an apartment above a candy store.  (That totally explains the sweet tooth that I inherited from him.)

Not every memory is a pure and happy one, of course.   My parents divorced when I was in high school, and there was a bit in the middle of my childhood where he wasn’t around very much. He tried to make up for it though, and he did his best to spend time with me.  We took quite a few trips together, including one summer in high school when Dad loaded my brothers and me into his Honda and we drove up to Washington DC and upstate New York and New York City.  We walked through Central Park more than once because we were a little bit lost, but it was still fun.

It became apparent to me as I got older that he would do anything for his children.  I can think of countless times that he went out of his way to make sure that we were healthy or happy or successful.   On balance, he was a pretty great Dad, and I feel fortunate that I had him for as long as I did.

I’m going to miss him.

A Photo An Hour – March 23, 2019

Photo An Hour is a link-up that I’ve seen Bev do a bunch of times, and she always mentions linking up with Louise and Jane, who I don’t know.  The premise is simple-  you take a photo each hour and post it in real time.

I haven’t ever done a Photo An Hour before, but the March Photo An Hour happened to fall on the Saturday of Spooky Empire, which is a great little convention-  not as big as a ComicCon or MegaCon, but still with enough interesting stuff going on to warrant a day out of the apartment.  Spooky happens twice a year in Orlando, and while the predominant focus is horror, there’s plenty of sci-fi and other genre representation.  For example, last year they had an Animal House panel- screwball college comedy is hardly horror.  In accordance with tradition, I went to Spooky with my friend Lorrie.

I’m not aware of any particular rules for the Photo An Hour, but I set one guideline for myself:  I would start at 9am and end at 9pm- twelve hours is enough of my noise.

9:00 AM – I started off the first hour with a quick nosh to get the day started.  I don’t usually get super hungry first thing in the morning, so I tend to go light until I’ve been up for a while.  Some cold sweet tea and a Zone Bar was enough to get me out the door.  Side note:  Sweet Leaf is my preferred caffeine infusion.  They recently changed their formula to reduce the sugar, and I was super relieved to not hate the new version.

10:00 AM – We arrived at Spooky Empire, and sifted our way through the lines of waiting people to find the table where we could pick up our wristbands for the day.  On our way back out, we spotted some really great cos-players.  I kinda want the Joker’s suit.

11:00 AM – Just before entering the merch room, we took advantage of a super silly photo cut-out.

12:00 Noon – We started off the noon hour in the autograph room with Carel Struycken, my favorite 80s/90s tall guy. He was in just about everything for a while, from Star Trek to Ewok adventures to Lurch from the Addams family.

1:00 PM – Frankenberry has obviously been hitting the gym.  Seriously, though, I applaud the creativity here.

2:00 PM – One of my favorite things at any convention is cosplayers who have done something out of the ordinary, something clever and creative.  This evil Wonder Woman, for example- her consort (not pictured) was a Marvel Zombies version of Captain America.

2:00 PM Alternate – I also snapped this picture in the 2:00 hour, but I posted the other one on March 23rd.  I wanted to include this one here though, because what other use could I possibly have for a Hellraiser-Deadmau5 crossover?  This costume was really amazing.  And kind of funny.  I wonder what you’d call him… Maybe Pinmau5?

3:00 PM – At 3, we attended the E.T. Panel featuring Dee Wallace, Henry Thomas, Robert MacNaughton, and Matthew DeMeritt who was in the E.T. costume.  See, I told you it wasn’t all horror at Spooky Empire.  Dee, Henry, and Robert are in the photo.  Matthew DeMeritt was a little too far off to the left, and I’m afraid my pictures of him aren’t nearly this clear.

Side note:  I love hearing stories of behind the scenes stuff from the filming of things I love.  I find it to be super entertaining and super interesting at the same time.  That’s why the panels are my favorite things at any convention. (Followed closely by the costumes and the merch rooms, naturally.)

4:00 PM – Back in the merchandise room, we accidentally stumbled into the Upside Down.  She’s got the Eleven glare down.

5:00 PM – Time for the Christina Ricci Q&A panel.  We had managed to see an Addam’s Family panel earlier in the day, which included Carel Struycken and Jimmy Workman (Pugsley,) but which did not include Christina Ricci or Christopher Lloyd, who were both in attendance that day.  I suspect they didn’t join for scheduling reasons, but maybe it was to prevent the panel from overcrowding, since both Christina and Christopher Lloyd had their own separate panels later.

6:00 PM – After Christina Ricci’s panel, we left the convention and schlepped over to Red Robin for dinner and some refreshments.

7:00 PM – I had to cheat for the 7:00 hour because I was mostly driving for the entire hour.  Instead of dangerous highway photos, here’s my dinner from the previous hour.  The burger was delicious and amazing.  The french fries were… lackluster.  The nicest thing I can say about the fries is that they were really large.

8:00 PM – After we got back to the apartment, I did a quick scan of the paper photos from the day’s photo ops so that we have a digital copy. This is the photo with both Christina Ricci and Christopher Lloyd, opened in Photoshop after scanning.

9:00 PM – I closed out my Photo An Hour day with dessert.  It was a long day, and my sweet tooth would brook no further delays.

The next Photo An Hour is on Saturday, April 27th, 2019.  If you want to play along, simply take one photo every hour and post to Twitter or Instagram using the #photoanhour hash tag.  Alternately, save your photos and write a blog post afterwards.  I may very well do the blog-later option, because I’ll be in Chicago that weekend!

Have you ever been to Spooky Empire? What was your favorite panel or cosplay?

That’s a wrap, 2018!

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Photo by ViTalko on Pexels.com

As the year winds down to a close, I wanted to look back at last year’s wrap-up post in which I set some goals for 2018.  I realized a few years back that I need to set goals, and not resolutions.  Resolutions get dumped after thirty days like a CBS All-Access trial, but goals tend to stick more because I get annoyed with myself when I fail.

How did I do on last year’s goals?  Let’s find out.

My goal from last year: Write more.
How I actually did:  Just terrible.  I managed all of five posts in twelve months, not including this one.   I need to do better.  I even fell behind on travel posts in 2018.  I still haven’t written about most of my trips from this year.

My goal from last year: Traveling more.  At the very least, I wanted to see local places I haven’t seen like Bok Tower Gardens, the Citrus Tower, or the Orlando Cat Cafe.
How I actually did:  I failed to see any of the places around Central Florida that I listed above, but I did see Boston and Hartford for the first time, and Washington DC for the third-ish time.  I had some in-state travel, including a family wedding in Naples and visits to friends in Sarasota, Tampa, and South Florida.  I also took a longish trip back to Germany and Austria near the end of the summer, including a quick detour to a city I had never seen before.

I went out of state a total of four times this year, so I’m calling this a definite win.  Now I just need to post blog entries about all of the trips!

My goal from last year: Reading more. I set a Goodreads Challenge in 2018 to try to read at least 52 books-  one a week.
How I actually did:  Success!  Sort of.  About two thirds of the way through the year, I realized I was going to fall horribly short, so I changed my goal from 52 to 24.  Instead of one a week, I shot for two a month.   And I hit the middle-  a total of 34 books read this year.    It’s more than double the number I read in 2017, so I’m counting this as a win despite my dodgy adjustment of the goal.

My goal from last year:   Change my concert-going selections to be more about quality than quantity.
How I actually did:  Well, this has just been the longest year ever.  Looking back at my ticket stubs, I am astonished to realize that some of these were this year when I thought they were actually last year.

In 2018, I saw Book of Love, They Might Be Giants, Vice President Joe Biden, Randy Rainbow, Erasure, Owl City, 4U: A Symphonic Celebration of Prince, VNV Nation, and Mannheim Steamroller.  Five of those I had seen before and enjoyed enough to repeat.

On the musicals front, I saw the 30th anniversary celebration of Rent, a Central Florida local production of Xanadu, and the Washington DC preview of Beetlejuice: The Musical.   All of these were really great.

All in all, this was a slower year for concerts but I definitely boosted the quality, mostly.  I say mostly, because Mannheim Steamroller was kind of disappointing- Chip Davis doesn’t tour with the group any more, and the whole thing just kind of felt like a  Mannheim Steamroller cover band made up of indentured slave musicians.  There was no interaction with the audience, and no joy on the stage.

Beetlejuice: The Musical made up for that by being amazing and I’m considering trying to see it again after it opens on Broadway in late March.

My goal from last year:   Work out more regularly.  More time on the treadmill, especially.
How I actually did:  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.  I am terrible at getting to the gym!   It’s much easier to get to the gym from my new apartment than it was from the old one, but it’s also much easier to justify just sitting on the couch with the remote control and a bowl of Chocolate Moose Tracks ice cream.

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My goal from last year:  Get better sleep.  Turn off the screens a little earlier each night.
How I actually did:  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.  My sleep is… not good.  According to the sleep tracking that I get from my FitBit,  I usually get somewhere between six and seven hours of sleep per night, and the quality of that sleep is just so-so.   Getting more than eight hours of restful sleep is really uncommon for me.  I know many of the reasons for my poor sleep, and I’m trying to fix them.

My goal from last year:  Eat fewer cookies and less sweets in general!
How I actually did: My results on this one are mixed.  I do keep fewer sweets in the house, and I’ve been eating better overall, but I could still improve this.   Right after I eat this chocolate chip cookie dough.

To sum up,  I did terribly on meeting my 2018 goals.   For 2019, my goals are more or less the same as they were last year, with a few simplifications, and a few significant additions.

The 2019 Goals-

Be healthier:  Eat better, sleep more, and get some damn exercise.  This isn’t complicated, I just have to pay attention to it and put in the effort.

Travel more:  I’ve decided on a try to make at least three out of state trips and at least one International trip for the year.  If I can do more, that’s awesome.

Feed my inner introvert:  Spend more time with books and less with little screens, whether they be my phone or my television.  And, contradicting the little screens rule, write more in this blog.  I used to be so prolific, and it’s been nearly dead for a while.

…but also see friends more often.   I also mentioned in my year end recap last year that I wasn’t very good at feeding my friendships, and I’ve tried to improve that this year.  This is actually a pretty big deal, because I work from home and I can easily go for four or five days at a stretch without leaving the apartment.  I did well, though- I definitely spent more time around other people this year.  I even made a lot of new friends, and I’ve kept a regular social schedule that gets me out of the house at least a couple of times a week.

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Listen to more music,  live or otherwise:  I figured out a long time ago that if I don’t listen to music, I get cranky.  It changes my mood, it lowers my stress, and it’s as vital to me as breathing.    I hadn’t been able to listen to music as much as I like to for a variety of unimportant reasons.

To fix this, I went out a few weeks ago and bought myself a new sound system for my apartment.  The new speaker integrates with streaming services like Spotify and Pandora, and it’s the best purchase I’ve made literally all year.  I even figured out how to stream Antenne Bayern to it, which is wonderful because it’s better than any local radio.  (Sorry, WOMX, I’ll always cherish my time with you guys but German radio is just better.)

Let go of rage.  Here’s something that most people who know me will probably be surprised by-  I am full of anger.   I am Steven’s livid inner monologue.

I have been carrying more stress and anger this past year than any in recent memory.    Carrying this stress, resentment, and bile into the new year would be the least healthy thing I could possibly do.   I am trying to follow the sage words of Elsa, to just let the damn thing go.   I am trying to forgive and mellow, to chillax and be more zen.  It ain’t easy, but I’m trying to let go of rage and negativity in the new year.

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I am trying to incorporate three things into the way I react to stress and conflict:

  1. The Polish phrase, “Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy.”  Translated to English, it means “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”  I’ve been trying to stop myself from butting into other people’s stuff. My tendency is to try to correct people’s errors.  In short, I have become a buttinski.  I can’t even begin to quantify how often I start to write a comment on social media, then pull back because I realize there’s nothing to be gained by injecting myself into the conversation.  Not my circus…
  2. You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm.  During my last relationship,  I changed a great deal of who I am in order to better suit my partner. While she never explicitly asked me to do this, I noticed pretty quickly that she was happier when I behaved in certain ways. Subconsciously, I started to act differently in order to feed the relationship.  It started small, but it built up to massive changes in me over time.  It was subtle, and I didn’t notice myself changing at first.  By the end of the relationship, I barely recognized myself.  Changing who you are to make another person happy is incredibly unhealthy, and I hate how long it took me to recognize what was happening.
  3. Not everything needs to be fixed.  I scraped up my car a while back in the parking garage of my old apartment-  the right rear quarter panel is bent and is starting to rust.  I spent months thinking that I either needed to fix it or replace the car.   Because of crappy design decisions by Mazda, the estimate for repairing this one tiny blemish is more than half the remaining loan on the car.   The damage doesn’t affect how the car runs and it doesn’t make it any less functional.  Once I realized that the car is perfectly fine, I let go of the notion that I need to fix or replace it, and that obsession stopped spinning out in my mind.

A lot of the things that have caused me stress and anger this year are things that I have brought on myself.   While I need to accept that some of my stressors must be endured, I realize now that I can cut many of them loose.

You’re allowed to take back a little of your own time, and a new year is a great time to take stock of your life and make those changes for the better.

I wish all of you a happy and healthy new year.  And, because this joke never, ever gets old for me, I’ll see you next year!  Do you have any goals for 2019?

So long, 2017. Hello, 2018!

My friend Jade posted her year in review  a few days ago, and it made me realize that my year has actually been quite a bit less busy than some of my previous years.    Some things haven’t changed at all-  things are still great with Amelie, and nothing major has changed for either my family or hers.

I only had two major life changes this year-  We moved to Orlando in May, and I spent the last two months of the year completely unemployed and job hunting like a fiend.  I should have a job starting on 08 January, assuming nothing goes wrong with the paperwork, so I’m looking forward to that.

I don’t do “resolutions” any more, because they fall through way too quickly, but I will give myself a list of suggested “goals” based on the areas that I feel like I was a little bit stagnant this year.

I wrote 21 blog posts in 2017, not counting this one.  If not for my travel posts, it would have been far fewer.    Goal for 2018: Write more.  Even if it’s only one post a week, that’d be better than this year.

I read fourteen books in 2017.  Goal for 2018:  I plan on doing a Goodreads Challenge in 2018 to drastically increase that number.  I’m thinking 52 books is a good goal-  one a week.

We only took two trips out of Florida this year- Los Angeles in June, and New York City in July.  I can’t do much on this one for a little while, because first I need a regular paycheck and the accrual of vacation days.  I’d like to travel some more, but time and money are at a premium.   Goal for 2018:  At the very least, we should do some little trips around here on weekends.  For example, I’ve never been to Bok Tower Gardens, the Citrus Tower, or the Orlando Cat Cafe.  These are all places that I’d like to see, and that don’t require an overnight stay somewhere.

The one area where I feel like we did a lot in 2017 was concerts and show attendance.  During this calendar year, we saw all of the following:   Cabaret, Alan Cumming, The Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience featuring Ramin Djawadi, The Flaming Lips, Panic! At the Disco, Neil Diamond, Bastille, The Head and the Heart, The Birthday Massacre, Bob’s Burgers Live In Concert, Queen with Adam Lambert, Kinky Boots, Green Day, Arcade Fire, An Evening with Neil deGrasse Tyson, Love Never Dies, La Nouba, and The Blue Man Group.   Goal for 2018:   Change my concert-going methodology to be more about quality than quantity.  Last year, we grabbed a bunch of show tickets that we didn’t end up using because the event came up and we realized we just didn’t care enough to deal with the crowds-  concerts should be a delight and a treat, not a chore to get through.  I forgot that at some point.

I was crappy at going to the gym this year.  I was strong early in the year, but then we came to Orlando, and I never wanted to leave the apartment.  My parking space is on the sixth floor of the parking structure, and leaving the apartment means I have to loop down all six levels.  It takes a minimum of five minutes just to go from my parking space to the street, and I hate it!  Goal for 2018:   Work out more regularly.  More time on the treadmill, especially.   I’ll be moving to a new apartment in May, so I’ll keep the parking lot nuisance in mind as I search for the next place.

I also slept really poorly in 2017.   I have lost all sense of what day it is, or what time it is.  My apartment has poor sound insulation, so every emergency vehicle, every small-dicked jackhole with more engine noise than brains, every drunken sidewalk fight-  they all keep me awake.  Goal for 2018:  Get better sleep.  Turn off the screens a little earlier each night.  If I do well with the exercise goal, that will help with the sleep goal.

I’ve been trying to eat healthier overall, and I’m better than I used to be.  However, I am terrible about cookies.  If they’re in my house, they’re in my mouth.  The leftover Halloween candy was especially bad-  I ultimately had to put it in a sealed box on a high shelf in the closet, because I would just grab a handful any time I walked past the bowl on the counter.  It’s too easy to snack.  Even worse,   I’ve noticed a definite trend between my sweet tooth and my mood.  It turns out this is not just me- there were lots of articles this year about how there is a link between sugar and depression in men.  This tracks from my own experience- if I have a lot of sugary stuff, such as cookies or candy, then I feel terrible later.  Emotionally, too, not just physically.  Goal for 2018:  Eat fewer cookies and less sweets in general!  I’ve started this already by simply not purchasing them in large amounts.  I try to keep them out of my kitchen, so the temptation isn’t there.

While this isn’t a goal as such, I need to spend more time on my friends.  I have more friends in Orlando than I had in South Florida, but we never see each other because most of them are incredibly busy.  Friendships need to be fed!   Some of my Orlando friends haven’t even met Amelie because the busyness has taken hold.   This shall not stand!

That’s all of the things that I can think of for a general recap of 2017.   I wish all of you a happy and healthy new year.  And, because this joke never, ever gets old for me, I’ll see you next year!

Do you want to change anything in the new year?  What goals have you set for yourself to do so?