Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Parsing Life

Posted by Trixter on January 8, 2009

Not a lot of information from me lately, mainly because I’m working on The Next Big Thing (formal announcement in a few weeks, although if you’re familiar with some of my more public past work, you already know what it is) which is taking up all my hobby time, and also because I’m having a difficult time dealing with life at the moment.  Life itself is doing quite well — it’s me who is having trouble parsing the input properly.

I don’t have it in me this time to pick a single topic and expand on it, so here are loosely random thoughts and observations.  They’re personal, so at least I can say this is a true “log” entry.  Those with better things to do, leave now.

Block Party 2009 is all systems go, and I have tentatively scheduled a road trip with two ‘scene acquaintances.  If it works out, I will essentially be in a state of shock and awe the entire trip, as I idolize these guys.  Because of The Next Big Thing taking up my time, I was illogically concerned that there would be pressure on me to deliver something at the next Party even though I would have no time to prepare for it.  I have been reassured by various people that, yes, it really is okay to just sit back and enjoy the party.  I haven’t done that at any demoparty — every party I’ve been to, I’ve either given a talk, entered a compo, or helped run the thing (in one party’s case, done all three).

I may still set up a machine and start coding, but this time it will be to relax.  I suppose it is a sign of our times that true relaxation can be obtained creating technology, as opposed to merely interacting with it.

(topic change!)

I joined Weight Watchers December 1st 2008, and in the 5+ weeks that have gone by I’ve lost around eight pounds so far.  I am trying to lose 10% of my starting weight by the time Block Party rolls around, and another 10% by the time my 20th-year high school reunion rolls around.  I don’t know which god I pissed off to gain this double chin, but I hope to appease him/her/they/it before I have to venture out in public.

(topic change!)

My parents are currently on a trip to Egypt, their first time, and they have visited the pyramids, the Sphynx, and rode
camels.  This is a lifelong dream vacation destination for them, and while I have rolled my eyes at previous destinations (for example, middle-eastern destinations in the middle of, how should I put this, *uncertain political climate*), I have to say I’m really happy for them this time.  They’ve gone to more conventional places too (UK, Germany, France, Belgium, etc.) but this trip is the quintessential “I’ve always wanted to do that” vacation.

(topic change!)

I am, amongst other professions, a Solaris administrator.  Not to break my arm patting myself on the back, but I’m a pretty damn good one; I may not be ready for Sun’s kernel group, but I understand the big picture (of all *nixes, not just Solaris) and can pick stuff up pretty easily.  Not to break the other arm, but I am also a fairly nice guy who likes to help and teach people.  Most of the time this results in a clean conscience and no worry lines on my face.  Unfortunately, it also means I leave myself open to being the departmental crutch.

Case in point:  Yesterday a fellow Solaris administrator came up to me, handed me a CD with Solaris bits on it, and asked me to mount it somewhere so he could read it.  I stared for a few seconds and just blinked, suppresing the rising urge to say something caustic.  Let’s review:  He is a Solaris admin.  He administers Solaris servers.  Every Solaris server comes with a CD/DVD drive.  And yet he just barged into my area, and told me to mount a CD somewhere so that he could read it.  When I regained the ability to speak politely, I asked him why on earth he was coming to me with this request.  He replied, looking somewhat irritated, that he doesn’t have a sun workstation under his desk to read the CD with.  Ignoring the fact that I don’t either, let’s continue:

“You’re a Solaris admin.” I replied.  He stared blankly.

“You administer Solaris machines for a living.”  More blank stares.

“Walk to any of the nearly one hundred machines you administer and put the CD in.  Better yet, put it into the exact server that needs the data!”

This is one of the more egregious examples of simply not thinking.  Others (from multiple people, not just this admin)

  • Asking me what the syntax for a unix command is (online documentation has been standard on every unix system for decades)
  • Asking me about basic networking (ie. netmasks) or security (ie. ssh) concepts that should have been a requirement for them to obtain their job in the first place
  • Requesting older/unsupported versions of drivers/patches/utilities when updated/supported versions are freely available

I don’t understand this phenominon, if it is one.  I can’t believe it’s just laziness because, in most instances, taking five
seconds to use your brain and do things properly takes the least amount of time!

(topic change!)

My wonderful wife Melissa just started her last semester in the radiography tech program she is in, and by mid-year, she will hopefully have her first job as an x-ray technician.  While she started down this path because we badly needed the money, she has found unexpected benefits in rejoining the workforce.  She has made new lifelong friends, gained
self-confidence, and generally reaffirmed her appreciation for life.  The last nine years of my career haven’t been that
rewarding in a while.  I’m envious, but very happy for her.

And hey, the extra money can’t hurt :-)  By this time next year, I hope to be going to demoparties under my own power for a change.

Posted in Demoscene, Family | 7 Comments »

A Rebuttal

Posted by Trixter on August 3, 2008

My son wanted the opportunity to rebut the rules I laid down for shooters, so here is his response:

Max’s Rebuttal

Posted in Family, Gaming | 1 Comment »

Birthday Frags

Posted by Trixter on August 1, 2008

Today I am 37. I am also 237. I’m working on the latter.

My youngest son Max will be 9 years old in November, but already he has been bugging (begging?) me to play some first-person shooters. I initially thought this was a good idea and let him play TimeShift with all of the blood/gore turned off. But something struck me as he played it: As he was gunning down the enemy, he was showing hardly any reaction as to what they were doing. In other words, he was shooting a fairly realistic gun at a fairly realistic enemy, who was yelling and dying in a fairly realistic way, and he simply was not reacting to this at all. That bothered me, so I uninstalled the game (actually I rar’d it up and moved it to another drive — I figure by the time he’s smart enough to figure out how to restore it, he’ll be old enough to play it :-).

While I relish the thought of nurturing the next Fatal1ty, I am bound by the morals/values/scruples that all parents (should) have. So I had to lay down the law last month about what he could and couldn’t play specifically regarding first-person shooters. Coming up with parenting-friendly rules was surprisingly easy (no realistic human targets, etc.). Coming up with the games that honor those rules was a little harder, given that the point of an FPS is to kill things :-) Here’s what Max can expect:

  • 8-9 years old: No human targets or scary environments. Acceptable FPS games: Serious Sam series, Tron 2.0, Shadowcaster
  • 10-11: Human targets okay only if they are zombies or possessed or otherwise completely unrealistic (ie. quite pixelated graphics or low polygon count). Acceptable games: Doom, Heretic/Hexen
  • 12-13: Any target or setting is fine as long as the game is rated ESRB “T” for teen
  • 14-15: Can play anything he wants as long as it’s not pointlessly sadistic (ie. games like Manhunt are not allowed)
  • 16+: Anything goes (I was sneaking into R-rated movies when I was 16 so I figure it would be hypocritical to not let him play anything he wants at 16)

(I’m probably forgetting some eligible games; let me know which ones and I’ll amend the above.)

Note that the above guidelines assume all games will have all gore and bad language set to “off” if the game allows it. Even if they don’t, Max and I have an understanding about bad language (when it is and isn’t appropriate) so I’m not worried about that, and blood coming from an obvious non-human enemy is fine too. Fantasy violence is clearly a game. Getting a headshot on a human soldier can also be a game, but only if you’re properly grounded, and I don’t think a 9-year-old is that grounded.

Max, of course, thinks these rules are completely unreasonable. I think they’re pretty damn lenient!

Posted in Family, Gaming | 6 Comments »

Faded memories

Posted by Trixter on June 23, 2008

No, I mean it — quite literally faded.  Check out the photo I found at the bottom of a box I was going to throw away:

WTF is that?  Some scanning and retouching later, and what do we see?

Why, it’s 12-year-old Trixter, petting the family pet, a gray Netherland Dwarf rabbit called Snicker.  How the hell did that get in the bottom of a box of software?  Oh, wait, never mind.

I still threw it away, but hey, I hadn’t thought of that rabbit in two decades.  Thanks horribly-faded silver nitrate!

Posted in Family | 2 Comments »

When design was king

Posted by Trixter on January 21, 2008

A lot of old gamers continue to beat the dead horse of “The games were better when I was a kid!”  While there are a ton of reasons why this is just nostalgia rearing its ugly head, there is one very strong reason this is true in some cases:  Since the graphics and sound of early home computers were so terrible compared to arcades of the day, game designers had to focus on actual game design and not just excuses to blow shit up.

I bring this up because my eight-year-old son Max and I just finished playing Archon for the last 90 minutes.  We didn’t even play it on one of the “cool” platforms, like NES or Amiga, but rather on one of the ugliest ports: The IBM PC.  Terrible sound, horrible graphics, and yet none of that mattered.  In 3 minutes I was able to explain the basics, and then 90 minutes later we were still laughing at each other for some crazy battle.  The entire time, I couldn’t get over how basic game design still reigns supreme, 25 years later.

Posted in Family, Gaming, Vintage Computing | 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 »

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 »


Posted by Trixter on August 17, 2007

Can’t believe I forgot to post this:  Wednesday of last week, Max fell off his bike, landed directly on his right clavicle, and broke it completely in two.  Proof:


They don’t set bones like that unless they’re poking out through the skin.  It’s not a support structure (ie. he doesn’t need it to hold his shoulders up or anything) so he’s just walking around with it like that.  At least, somewhat like that — I’m hoping it heals properly.  He gets another xray next week, and we’ll see after that.

Poor guy!  I’m 36 and haven’t broken anything (yet)…

Posted in Family | 1 Comment »

Mom and dad I love you boath

Posted by Trixter on July 8, 2007

My son just sent his first email without any of us helping him.  Thanks to the wonderful world of spare parts, he has a computer in his bedroom, connected to the ‘net over the wireless LAN.  I set up email for him, showed him how to do it, then walked him through a few messages to his grandparents.

Completely unsolicited, hours later when he was supposed to be putting himself to bed, I received the above.  “Mom and dad   I love you boath”.  Needless to say, it brought a tear to my eye (even if he was avoiding going to bed).

Max is seven years old.  He can communicate to any other machine on the internet and search the knowledge of one million libraries in a few seconds.  He wears a device no larger than a few chiclets that plays music for 14+ hours.

No wonder they say kids are growing up faster.  I think it’s obvious they are.

Posted in Family | 1 Comment »

Computing Myth #2: Broadband only works with a new computer

Posted by Trixter on February 2, 2006

While this isn’t technically true, I can definitely see how this myth was formed. My father ran on a 486/66 with a modem from 1995-2001. In 2001 he got cable modem broadband, but his 486/66 was so slow that it couldn’t process complex web pages much quicker than it already was, so he saw no actual speed benefit. So he went back to the modem, at which point I almost lost it (“How can you want to go slower?!”)

Later he upgraded to a Pentium 3 @ 450MHz, and could finally perceive the modem as a bottleneck.

Ironically, two years later, I did the same type of thing (downgrade powerful hardware): Through a telephone conversation mix-up, I agreed to reserve and purchase a Yamaha snowblower — and when I got there, I had reserved the wrong one. What I thought was going to be a $600 18- or 24-inch blower was actually a $1300 36-inch semi-industrial model. I was coerced into buying it because renigging on the reservation meant I would be charged $50 because these things were in demand in the middle of winter. So I bought it to avoid the fee, took it home, opened the box, took one look at it and knew I could never use it for my tiny driveway without being embarrased (it wouldn’t even fit in my garage with both cars), and proceeded to box it up and return it. On that day, a snowstorm began. As I’m returning this monster snowblower, I get a goofy look from the kid helping me; when I inquire, he says, “I’ve just never seen anyone return a snowblower in the middle of a snow storm!”.

Posted in Family, Home Ownership, Technology | 5 Comments »