Monday, February 22, 2021

Beautiful World


I made a vow this year to be less cynical, and dammit, I'm going to assume the best in people!


Today my brother started work at a certain famous tech company, with many cheers from me and everyone who knows him. He had been a database software engineering guy for a certain academic library for years before. I think it'll be a smooth transition as he likes that stuff a lot. It's a win for our family in the honor department.

Amidst these years of great change (the germ, calamity, reinvention), his transition has given me thought about the potential for change for me, too.

Thinking about the old rusty knife still in my side, what happened to this "career" I had envisioned? Let's see, I was going to be a structural engineer, no, then physics! Let's settle with math. Okay, more specifically math teacher, because what does one do with math? No, I don't like this school's undergrad program, so let us get general coursework out of the way at city college. Now back to state college.

Was college just "finding myself"?

Ten years later...

I departed college like a constipated turd at the end of the line. The conditions were right for expulsion, and, like a turd, ended up in the toilet, perhaps a little bloody. Sure, I had the degree. But all for what? To be like so many in my age bracket who were told when applying to college "do something general because it will make you more marketable to employers." What employers were these, Miss Counselor?

We like to blame anyone but ourselves. I had no idea what to do for a career going into college, and that was my first mistake. My second mistake was never having a taste of what work actually was until after college.

The toilet in which I, the turd, am currently swimming is retail. This means I cashier, help customers, answer phones, clean, assist Bob in placing orders, and all of the critical functions of running a retail pet shop. My next priority is managing 4 employees, whom I wish did not have to exist, but are for the most part pleasant and give me some time off. I am greatly thankful for the little placeholders that they are.

It's retail burnout that's getting me. You burn out when you stop caring. Some days, you go, "Why bother opening? People are treating us like a charity case anyway."

There's also the cynicism... let's see... depression, family turmoil, back pain. These experiences in adulting form the compost that maybe I just haven't bloomed from yet. My mom, for one, blossomed later in life, in her late 50s. She changed careers, traveled, took up art, died. Maybe I will, too. Maybe I have to hit rock-bottom first. Maybe I'm there now.

Can't go below this level. (Minecraft)

One step above rock-bottom is living in your car on the street. Let's say I'm more than couple steps above rock-bottom, and that would be working a retail job. Granted, I own (by virtue of marriage to the owner) the business and, hence, my own job. Granted, this job pays enough for us to have a home and support my father in his home. Barely, but not really. I am quite thankful that I have even this.

Bob, my guardian angel, touched me with his magic wand 10 years ago (a wand of promise and XXX enchantment), and I became a worker bee for his company. Now I run the company. Sort of. Bob is still my safety net. If I had a complete meltdown and couldn't do things anymore, he would grab the reins and keep things going.

Maybe I'm looking to do something white-collar now, so I can at least say that I tried it and hated it, just like ricotta cheese. (Blech! Ack!)

Sunday, November 4, 2018


I just finished the final episode of Highlander: The Animated Series. Now I never need to see this again. But I think it would make a great reboot. If you've never heard of it, the story is loosely based on the 1986 film Highlander, in which immortals do battle for the prize of being the last immortal. Several sequels and live action series came afterward, but I particularly liked the animated version's premise. It takes place in the far future after a huge meteor hits Earth--a post-apocalyptic adventure!

First, I'd like to give credit to its format as a kids' show. The movies were fairly violent, what with the beheadings. But the animated version basically has the same signature each episode: the main character, Quentin is being chased by the immortal tyrant's army, the Hunters. They meet some people, sometimes another immortal who passes his knowledge to Quentin in a ritual called the Quickening. Each immortal has a different scholarly discipline.

After a while, each episode feels like a merit badge: atomic energy, weaponry, electricity, martial arts. Sometimes they shake it up and add in some real conflict or twist, but it's essentially the same ending each time: Quentin, Ramirez, and Clyde escape and ride off into the sunset laughing.

My criticisms: the cost of constantly keeping all of the Quentin/Ramirez party alive is expensive. It affords little in the way of conflict. Clyde, the little sister, would have been killed in the first few episodes under normal circumstances. Next, I ding the series for excessive animation recycling. Yes, I understand it was done using traditional cel animation, but recycling in the same episode is just wrong. I will say the animation quality is mid-range, but doesn't diminish through the 40 episodes. I really like the background artwork: the City of Mogonda has a particular original futuristic look to it, with bleak landscapes of destroyed cities all around.

It has many logical problems, too. For one, why does everybody look built, like a professional wrestler? I would think in a post-apocalyptic landscape, it would be difficult to maintain that physique with the scarcity of food. Next, there are at least two occasions where the antagonist Kortan is knocked unconscious. Why doesn't Quentin behead him right then and there? Next is the found technologies. Almost every other episode has the Quentin party stumbling across still-functioning electronic devices: satellite base, missile base, submarine, hydroelectric dam. How would these places still have power after 700 years? How would the electronic components even be working? Electrolytic capacitors explode after 40+ years, used or not. There's also the issue of travel. The Star Wars don-don ripoffs couldn't take them to Japan. Yet there they are!

Ok, so it's fantasy. It has a lot of cool themes and ideas. I love the idea of immortals fighting each other in this future world. I think it would reboot well, but perhaps done in a more anime style with modern animation systems, better voice actors, and more conflict twists that carry through the series story thread.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Little Pile of S—

Zach and I don’t often watch movies together, but tonight he wanted to see this pic on Netflix called Little Monsters. It’s a Fred Savage film from 1989, that must have put him right in the midst of his Wonder Years stretch. In fact, he was basically the same character. Within minutes of it starting, I could tell this was going to be garbage.

In a strange casting overlap with Home Alone, the actors seemed to bellow, “We’re New York: deal with it West Coast.” But that wasn’t as bad as the characterizations. For one, they were all ill-defined, what with character development being nonexistent. Fred Savage was, well, Fred Savage in his adult-spoken way, and unbelievably well-adjusted.

Now for Howie Mandel. Jesus H. Christ, why did you take this role? Mandel as the monster has to be the most obnoxious part of the whole trainwreck. He’s absolutely nuts, never once remaining still for a shot. It makes you wonder if he isn’t on angel dust the whole time.

Then there’s the continuity/logic problems glaring right at you the whole time. The kids just magically appearing in their school at night to break into a supply closet? Do you know how hard it is to even break into a school? Even in the ‘80s? Hard. Then within five minutes they’re back home jumping down the portal to Hell.

Putting aside the bad makeup, the bad direction, the bad acting, here is when you know that you’ve really gone to Hell: when you realize a studio focus-group has taken you for a ride. Every decision on the film deleted the target audience until nobody was left. They didn’t even know it.

The PG-13 language rating killed off the kid audience. The boring “humor” killed off the adult audience. It was honestly the first movie Zach has actually said, “Ugh. That was a bad movie. But I made good popcorn, didnt’t I?” How sweet.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Logo is Back

LCSI Microworlds 2.0 on Macintosh

Part I

Kids were learning the Logo computer programming language before I was even born. It's an easy language to learn, and it's an easy language to convert into other world languages. Some versions of Logo have such large vocabularies they can be used for professional program development. I have been using Logo, in some form, since 1997 when it was an integral part of the HyperStudio scripting language. Basically, if you wanted a button to do anything incredible, you spoke Logo.

In later years, a college course for educators introduced me to Microworlds, which heavily emphasizes the Logo procedural programming context. This version of Logo is quite kid-friendly, much as the way KidPix was, but you can delve into the actual language and mathematical constructs of a program because it's all right there.

You type commands in the command window.
You type procedures in the procedure window.
You draw with the tools or write a procedure to draw.
You can insert variable text into a story to create a Mad-Libs story.
You can map three dimensional coordinates onto a 2D plane.
There are nearly endless possibilities with Logo.... depending on the version.

LCSI LogoWriter on IBM-PC (MS-DOS)

Lego TC Logo on IBM, also by LCSI, to drive Lego motors and cars.

What seems universal among the incarnations of Logo is the Turtle. This is a visual indicator telling you where you are on the graphics screen. Sometimes the turtle is the shape of a turtle, sometimes it's a triangle. Most versions let you change the shape of the turtle, such as into a racecar or alien, or an angry bird, but these functions concern the simple graphics you can affect without programming them. It's a feature that makes the language and interface far more approachable to kids than languages like C, Pascal, or Python, which happen to have very steep learning curves, and where the results of a procedure aren't immediately apparent to the user.

Part II

So Zachary needs some more challenge to his academic life. He's 7 years old now, and he's ready to start programming. I hope to accomplish a few things with this: improve his literacy and concept of what language is, and to plan things in chunks. The mathematics of it all can sit on the back burner for all I care.

Logo is a rope from the real world to the virtual and I hope to have him realize the analogues of objects, actions, and effects in the real world modelled in discrete fashion in Logo, and vice versa.

I struggled so much with algebra in middle school and later in high school, then I discovered BASIC programming on my Apple. The guts of a program is algebra—variables, constants, coordinate plotting, algorithm, and most importantly, technique. BASIC taught me that there are many ways to solve a problem. Some are more efficient than others, but as long as they are rigorously infinitely valid, who cares? (I guess only programmers working with 32K of memory.)

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Teaching Zach

Bob and I pulled our kid from public school. Things weren't working out in 1st grade, and by Christmas Break, it was a disaster.

The principal wanted him to attend a special-ed campus, the classroom aides were ineffectual and inattentive, and we got the feeling his teacher did not want him in her class. I can't even imagine how that affected Zach's self-esteem, but the dismal outlook on his academic progress prompted us to act.

We submitted letters of withdrawal to the school, and got into home school social groups. It was hard for us to say goodbye, but we had to keep it on the downlow, as school districts can file lawsuits against families for doing this.

So far, the pull-out has worked well. Zach is back on the tracks with reading, and this was our biggest concern. Just not having him around 29 other children has realized remarkable gains—he's on-task most of the time. He actually gets work done.

What's incredible, is our social encounters with other children have been positive. Instead of these gangs of kids on the playground at public school, everyone's parent is there. "Your kid has a problem? Let's solve it."

I remember public school recesses could be quite brutal. Kids would say and do emotionally-destructive things to their "friends" as early as 1st or 2nd grade. The playground monitors really couldn't do much, unless somebody complained or if parents later complained. I witnessed Zach joining a gang the moment he hit the playground asphalt. It was a literal descent into Lord of the Flies because even the most level-headed kids will be aggressive toward others when in their tribes.

NPR radio hour once described this as relational aggression, which isn't always necessarily bullying, but more like group-bonding in a very negative sense that excludes other children from play or relationships with the group. It can also be bullying by every definition and can have a terrible impact on victims' social functionality and self-esteem.

Zach, sadly, did not have the tools to function well in these groups and was constantly getting reprimanded by nearly every adult around him. His sense said, Stop, but his impulse said, Go. Without a functional student aide with him, he couldn't function, and we knew this was only a patch to the bigger problem. The problem wasn't just him.

There is a tendency for some children to exhibit transient sociopathic behaviors without it being immediately identified. Some kids are excellent at hiding these behaviors, much like Rhoda in the Bad Seed. "Sociopath" is not really an accurate description, as either you're constantly a sociopath or you're not under the DSM-V guidebook. Nevertheless, some children can be these reserved calculating monsters that know how to push buttons to get your kid to blow up, then watch the discipline show afterwards. It's entertaining for them.

If we can keep our train on the tracks with home schooling, I think Zach can be insulated from most of this disturbing, yet normal and encouraged, psycho playground party.

As someone who was formally going into teaching, I am not disparaging public school. It works great for most kids, but not all. The 2 ½ years we spent in public school did not work. Now we are trying this.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Gushing Blood for Ron Cobb

I'm nuts for Alien.

Not Aliens.
Not Alien 3.
Not Alien Resurrection.
Not Alien vs. Predator.
Not Prometheus.
Not Alien Covenant.

Just Alien. Copyright 1979, Twentieth Century Fox.

It's my favorite film, and one I consider a paragon of mainstream blockbuster films over the decades. It continues to have wide appeal, particularly the artwork and design aspects. I would have awarded Giger multiple Oscars for his work on this film alone, had I not seen concept art by futurist, Ron Cobb.

Director Ridley Scott, with writers Dan O'Bannon and Ron Shusett, collaborated with Cobb's vision of what the interior of the spacecraft Nostromo should look like. It was terrifying. It was beautiful. It looked like what a leftover well-used piece of equipment in the dystopian future should look like. It looked like an old city bus.

A new form of entertainment out now, the video game movie, has brought Ron Cobb's future back. Okay, yes, I'm late to the punch, as Alien Isolation has been out for several years now. When I saw previews of this game, it was Ron Cobb in a blender. It was breathtaking.

A few years later, I secured a copy of Isolation, and played through the first few levels. I had to get Zachary out the room to do this, so I was mainly playing at night for a few days. Finally, I had to stop. This game is way too scary. I didn't want to have a heart attack.

It's rather impossible to play, too, especially for an infrequent gamer like me. I just don't have the time to hide from the alien 1,000 times and die 999 times over a period of months.

Still, Alien Isolation is just gorgeous. It's no wonder that it took 3 years to develop. The androids have that very disturbing THX 1138 quality, that gives you no glimmer of their intent for human preservation. I would have loved to see an actual Alien franchise film with these Seegson defective androids.

The designers also made a Nostromo mission you can add on, so you can play as in the original 1979 film. They even brought in the original actors for voice, and just in time, too. (Rest in peace John Hurt.)

I experienced the rest of the game as a movie though video walkthroughs. It's all my heart could take.

Let me just say Ripley is up shit creek without a paddle more than 600 times over than any Ripley in any previous film to date or will be in any future film, absolutely to the point of total implausible survival.

Future humans just don't burst into flames in the presence of gamma rays like they used to.
She falls, a lot. Gets hit by trains, ejected into space at least 3 times, exposed to radiation, strangled, shot, and a host of other fatal events. But don't worry, Ripley, you have a circuit card and a wall phone.

I would actually love to play this game all the through with it only being mildly fatal, like Portal. But since this will be the last game I play for a while, at least the storyline can be put to rest. Plus, if I see one more Ron Cobb bulkhead, I'm going to puke rainbows.