Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

Archive for October, 2007

My favorite Casio product…

Posted by Trixter on October 31, 2007

…is not any of their keyboards (although I have very fond memories of playing with my Casio VL-Tone and SK-1). It’s their first digital camera; in fact, the first consumer 3MP digital camera, the QV-3000 EX.

Mine broke a while ago. I finally found a replacement at a reasonable price (ie. under $20). I am taking pictures again. I am happy.

Why so happy over a dumb 3MP consumer camera? Because I am not a professional photographer and I don’t take pro pictures. The QV-3000 EX has just enough control for a noob like me to take manual-focus close-ups:

…without looking like a complete beginner. And it’s night mode surprised the hell out of me:


That picture was taken at midnight with the flash and the two house lights providing the only illumination. I wasn’t even using a tripod and it’s not blurry! That’s insane.

Posted in Technology | 1 Comment »

Trixter Gets Pwned By Son; Film At 11

Posted by Trixter on October 30, 2007

To gear up for finally playing Half-Life 2 (and all the other goodies in the Orange Box), I’ve registered my original Half-Life with Steam and started playing through the original HL, moving on to Opposing Force, and finally Blue Shift. I wanted to get reacquainted with the setting and atmosphere before I took the plunge. Yes, I am that thorough. While such practices always result in much good-natured mocking from my friends, I doubt any of them are surprised.

To try to bone my skills back up to where they were a decade ago, I occasionally take a break and play Half-Life Deathmatch. It was during one of these sessions that Max, my 8-yr-old, saw me playing. After the requisite talk about “the blood and gibs aren’t real, it’s just a game, you would never do this in real life, right?” etc., he watched me get into a particularly hilarious crowbar fight with an evenly-matched opponent. We were both howling, and then he asked the inevitable question, “Can I play?”

Could he? It’s a mouse-and-keyboard FPS with an ESRB rating of “M”. The required skill level and content are years beyond him. And yet, he’s a pretty well-adjusted kid; whenever he sees something in a movie he can’t handle, he knows to close his eyes and/or cover his ears until it’s over. He knows when things are fake and when they’re real. He’s intellectually curious; all this last week I’ve been teaching him chess because he saw a set-up board somewhere and wanted to learn. Not bad for an eight-year-old.

Hell, he’s the son of the co-founder of MobyGames. Why not?

I installed Steam on his machine and registered my copy of Blue Shift to his account; like Half-Life, everything popped up as being registered and in ten minutes he was going through the Hazard Training Course. 20 minutes after that, we were playing HL Deathmatch against each other, in a private local LAN server hosted on his machine. And about 30 minutes after that, he pulled something so clever and so beyond his sum of experiences that it completely floored me. I’m still in awe over it. It’s why I’m posting this entry. See if you can follow along:

One of the sneakiest weapons in Half-Life Deathmatch are tripmines. You stick one to a surface (usually a wall), and a few seconds later a laser comes out of it, sensing the other side of the room. If anything crosses its path, the mine blows up, usually taking the offender with it. On our first map, I was cheerfully placing these all over the place, and he quickly learned what they are and how to use them.

That’s not the cool part. The cool part is, on the second map we played, there is a large area with munitions you can get to by swimming in a small canal with a very strong current. The water in the canal is murky and you can’t see into it until you’re actually down there swimming in the water. The current gets stronger along the way, to a point where you can’t fight it and are swept into the giant room with the munitions. About ten minutes after starting the map, I dove into the canal to get to the bigger room. I swam until the current started to sweep me towards the room… and it was at this point I saw a tripmine placed in the canal, unavoidably in my path. He had not only hidden a tripmine in murky water that you can’t see into until you’re already in it… but had placed it after the point where it still might have been possible to swim out of the way. I had about 1.5 seconds to take that in before it blew me to bits.

Let’s review: Eight-year-old, with no past history of playing any FPS, online or not, accomplishes in less than an hour something so sneaky and clever it takes most young adults a few days of playing, against many other people, to pick up.

I was pwned by my eight-year-old son. In a clever way, not a young-kid reflex twitch way. Holy mother of crap!

Posted in Family, Gaming | 5 Comments »

You, sir, are no hero

Posted by Trixter on October 9, 2007

I loved the first season of Heroes, the X-Men-style soap opera that ran on NBC from 2006-2007 — that is, I tried to love it, but threw my hands up in despair at the last episode of the season. As a fan of comics and sci-fi, I grew increasingly disappointed that, throughout the run of the season, there were more and more moments of missed opportunities and direction. Sylar, a truly creepy villain with a streak of vulnerability, grew increasingly powerful; for example, he could stop bullets using telekinesis. Yet in the final episode of the season, he is killed by a slow-moving weak individual who runs at him for at least 3 full seconds before impaling him with a sword. He didn’t even have his back turned. How do you go from stopping bullets to being unable to stop a chubby nerd running at you from a distance of 18 feet? I’m not a hollywood writer; I’m just a fan.  But even I thought that killing Sylar using the chubby nerd’s power (the ability to stop time, and also teleport) would have been much more believable and satisfying. What about stopping time, wrestling with the decision to kill a human being, slowly and tearfully doing it after much deliberation, and then resuming time to see what must be his victim’s incredibly surprised reaction? Or hell, go the dumbass route and teleport Sylar into a brick wall or something? I know I’m just an amateur, but surely something better could have been done as a finale to the character.

The season had brilliant moments, such as properly resolving the Peter/Nathan storyline (brothers at odds), and also having the courage to show — graphically — what happens when you transmute your fist inside someone’s head. But as it dragged on, the number of missed opportunities started to outweigh the number of cool moments.  I am still waiting for the scene where Sylar picks up Claire using telekinesis and starts slamming her into everything, only to become more and more frustrated as she quickly regenerates.  I can dream.

Hey, it was a first season. Many first seasons suck; for example, we simply do not speak of the first season of ST:TNG in my household. So it was with high hopes that I started watching the 2nd season, the first episode of which I just now saw (thank you ReplayTV). In it, we see that the spectacular explosion of Peter (more powerful than Sylar; he absorbed everyone’s powers automatically) was survived by his brother Nathan, who could fly and flew him out of harm’s way before he (Peter) exploded as a result of being unable to contain one of his powers. Peter is assumed to be dead, as one would normally be from a crazy powerful explosion. Nathan, depressed and drinking in a bar, looks at himself in the mirror and for a split second sees not his own face but the face of his brother Peter, charred and melted (presumably from the explosion). He looks away, looks back, and his face appears normal in the mirror.

At this point I got really excited, because what that scene hinted at was that Nathan was actually Peter in disguise. Why would that make sense? Because Peter had absorbed a regeneration power, which would account for him surviving the explosion. He had also absorbed a power that allowed him to disguise his appearance. Masquerading as Nathan would be Peter’s way of dealing with the enormous guilt he must feel at being the cause of his brother’s death, as his brother gave his own life to fly Peter out of New York to go explode harmlessly over the ocean. It’s one of those brilliant MY GOD IT ALL FITS moments, and would make for one incredibly kick-ass storyline. I told Melissa what I was thinking, and, for a moment, we were in awe of how clever such a storyline would be.

And then ten minutes later, Peter is found, alive and well somewhere. So much for being clever. My hopes dashed, I kept watching, only to find that Peter has…wait for it… amnesia! Yes, amnesia. Most episodes of Full House have deeper revelations than that. Hell, I’ve seen Teletubbies episodes with more cunning and insight. So it’s now obvious that Heroes is pretty much a soap opera that appeals to nerds without them realizing it’s a soap opera, because nerds don’t (normally) watch soap operas.

I don’t hold much hope for the series. I would probably ditch it if it weren’t for the fact that my wife enjoys it, which is the closest I will ever get to her sitting down and watching Sci-Fi with me on a regular basis. But personally, at this point it’s just something that is keeping me from catching up on my Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica, and Farscape.

PS: The best show you all missed the last three months was Burn Notice on the USA network. Torrent it, catch reruns, whatever — it’s clever, it gets better with every episode, and I’m thankful USA is giving it a second season.

Posted in Entertainment | Leave a Comment »

The Window

Posted by Trixter on October 2, 2007

My eldest son Sam, you’ll recall, is autistic. (Technically, it’s PDDNOS, which is a fancy way of saying “we don’t know” in an official-sounding capacity.) He has many issues, such as being lost in his own world for periods of time so long that he’s simply unavailable. Up to about a year ago, he would spend between 50% and 80% of his time in his own world, which makes it difficult to teach him how to read, how to write, how to behave… anything, really. Especially since, when you try to pull him out of his world and back into ours, he gets frustrated and angry. So naturally he’s fallen way behind his peers in school by several grade levels, and will most likely live with us for a few decades instead of going to college. I’m ok with this; I came to terms with it many years ago.

Once in a great while, there are moments that can floor you. For some unknown reason we haven’t discovered yet, there are a few times each week when something happens and he’s running at full capacity, for just a few seconds or so. For that brief time, when all synapses are firing, a mental window opens up and you can see that, yes, there really is a regular kid trapped in there. Sometimes they’re subtle, like using a slang phrase with perfect intonation at an appropriate time (autistic kids can’t empathize, so this is major); other times, it’s a fleeting moment of understanding, usually unspoken, about something you both saw or heard. (Laughing at the same slapstick routine at the same moments is a personal favorite.) You can never see those moments coming — there’s no warning or triggers we can notice — but for a parent, they are worth everything in the world. If I could sell every piece of software and hardware I own to predict when that window will open up, I’d do it without hesitation. If I could live completely without technology to force that window to last longer, I would start the Amish pilgrimage this very second.

About a year ago we were able to find a medication dosage that finally started to make some progress; it keeps him just a little bit more in the here and now, about 30 more minutes a day, with less consequences (for us) when we try to pull him into our world. This is just enough extra time to get him reading at a 1st or 2nd grade level. His reading is stilted, spotty, full of 5-second pauses, and doesn’t flow well. But it’s reading, and when he’s not frustrated, it is functional.

After a lengthy battle with the children to get them to bed, I was about to retire for the day when I heard noises coming from their bedroom area. Thinking it was Max, our younger son who has a motormouth stuck at 8500 RPM, I went over to tell Max to pipe down and get to sleep. I froze when I realized it was Sam. He was reading a 1st-grade level book, out loud, to himself, in bed. This act alone is a monumental first. But what knocked the wind out of me was that he was reading when his mental window was open, and what came out was a perfect understanding and command of the meaning of the sentences, their tone, their inflection, cadence, everything. The delivery was stilted, but the comprehension was easily a few years beyond his peers (who usually read aloud in near monotone).

He eventually noticed me standing in the doorway, and asked me why I was crying. I told him I had forgotten how beautiful the view through his window was.

Posted in Family | 5 Comments »