Thursday, December 6, 2012

My Life in Video Games: Pong (1972, Atari)

Recently, I've found myself looking rather closely at the video games I play these days, and contemplating how drastically they've changed in the last thirty or forty years, and what it was that I apparently spent hours upon hours playing back in the old days. Just thinking back and comparing some of them led me to the idea of tracking my life by the video games I have played over the years. Not just any video games appearing on the timeline since my birth, mind you, but specific ones that I have special memories of, or that consumed massive amounts of hours of my childhood (and adulthood) over the years. I'm not a gaming geek or a tech head, mind you. Just somebody that grew up in the culture of electronic entertainment, and was lucky enough to be born into the era of Video Games.

I'm so lucky, in fact (if you can call it that), that I can trace the beginning of my interest in video games back to the beginning of video games themselves. Or, more precisely, My first video game was the world's first video game: Pong.

That's right, I'm old enough to remember Pong. And the only thing that makes me feel old more than saying "I'm old enough to remember Pong" is when I say "I'm old enough to remember Pong," and somebody old enough to drive says "What in the hell is Pong?"

I was born the year after Pong hit the shelves, and my parents, young and married freshly out of High School, owned a Pong system. I remember playing it on a small, round, silver television with built-in rabbit ears on a rotating base; it looked like a robot head, and Google refuses to find a picture of it for me, no matter combination of search criteria I enter. The system had switches that allowed to change the size of the "paddles" and, I believe, the speed of the ball. I also recall that you could switch between two or three different Pong-related games, whatever the hell those were, but for the most part that switch stayed set to Pong. The controls, which we also called paddles, and which I also can't find a picture of, were hand grips with a big wheel on top that you would twist to move their namesakes on screen. Years after the pong system was defunct, the weird dial-topped hand grips served as props for many imaginary childhood games. I guess as far as controllers go, we've come full circle with the Wii.

I'm not sure how old I was, but I was definitely very young, since the new age of video gaming was right around the corner. But I do still remember playing for hours on end, entertained simply by the notion that I was controlling what was happening on the screen. There were even Easter Eggs in Pong, so to speak; there was a certain thrill in getting the paddles to line up just right, so that the ball would bounce back and forth on its own, stuck in loop produced by the low-rent electronic duplication of physics.

English: Atari Super Pong (model C-140) - Firs...
English: Atari Super Pong (model C-140) - First era console of 1976. It has 4 Pong games (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The mind reels at the lack of choice involved with setting up a game. These days, you can spend hours creating characters, sometimes worlds, before settling down to business. With Pong, the only decision you need to make with your gaming partner was who would be sitting on the left or right. There weren't even colors to choose from! That's right: challenging somebody to a game of checkers involved more decisions than squaring of on a Pong tournament.

Forget the minimalist black-and-white playing fields, what about the audio? Video games today have their own soundtracks, and ambient background noises can sound like they're coming from right behind you. What did you listen to while playing Pong? Just a steady, almost metronome rhythm of electronic beeps whenever the electronic ball bounced off a paddle or the walls of your television screen. They didn't even bother trying to make it a pleasant sound, they just through in an electronic bleating that almost sounded like an alarm clock trying to wake you up one beat at a time. Maybe it's because I was still too young to appreciate a good stereo system, but never even occurred to me to listen to music when I played. Just me and some other giddily tortured soul, staring intently at moving white dots and lines for hours on end, listening to the beeps as if they were an integral part of the game.

It's almost not fair to compare Pong with today's cornucopia of ultra-realistic video games. There are a lot of things from the seventies that seem completely ridiculous now (in fairness, some of them were), especially when it comes to electronics and entertainment media. It's easy to overlook the importance of the wheel's invention when today's concerns focus on miles per gallon (highway) or fossil fuel versus green energy. Then again, kids do tend to amuse easily, so maybe I'm making too much out of it. But yeah, I rocked the paddles big-time way back then. Thus was born the first generation of Video Gamers.

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Friday, November 2, 2012

11/2/12: Are You Better Off Now?: An Election Response

It's a question that Romney supporters are fond of throwing around smugly, one of those supposedly undeniable truth statements that are supposed to stop you in your tracks because there is no way to answer it without admitting that the person asking is correct in their assumptions. In this case, the assumption is that Obama hasn't made anything better in America. It's a weird about-face, as it is usually the incumbent asking the question as way of underlining how good they've been at their job.

Since we are only days away from the 2012 Presidential Elections, I'm feeling rather motivated to actually answer this question. The last four years haven't been especially easy for anybody not in the top 10% (you know, the people who own the country, it seems), but I think it's fair to answer the question on an individual bases, considering that the question is meant to motivate my individual vote.

Anyway, comparing November 2008 with November 2012, am I better off now than I was four years ago?

Four years ago, I was:

*Laid off after fifteen years with the same company, because the sudden economic downturn crippled the entire industry in a matter of months.

*Subsequently laid up with the Swine Flu for a month (Happy Holidays!) with no medical insurance.

*Suddenly stuck with not being able to afford classes after having started attending college night classes again the previous year.

*Living in a house suddenly worth $30,000 less than it was two years ago.

Today, I am:

*Working for a new small business owner that isn't squeamish about hiring new employees during an Obama presidency, despite all Right Wing claims to the contrary.

*Still in possession of my house, thanks in part to extended federal unemployment benefits that helped me to stay afloat for the year and a half I was unemployed, and helped me stay financially intact enough so that I was prepared to survive the year and a half I was forced to work for an exploitative business owner who denied his employees federally-protected overtime pay and made Labor Day a non-payed holiday.

*One class away from obtaining my degree, thanks to Obama's improvements to the Pell Grant system, including allowing Unemployment benefits to be disregarded when calculating Pell Grant eligibility.

*Living in a state that was ravaged by a hurricane (ironically sharing the name of the employer that laid me off four years ago), and seeing my state survive and recover from the disaster with the help of immediately received support from FEMA, the organization that Romney has gleefully contemplated defunding in past interviews.

Is everything 100% better or back to normal four years later? Of course not. I'm still without medical insurance, and the medical insurance I will be eligible for soon will undoubtedly cost me more than it did when I last had it. Also, I love my new job, but I'm still not close to restoring my financial situation to what it once was, and real estate values still haven't recovered enough for my mortgage lose its underwater status.

But am I better off than I was four years ago, unemployed at the beginning of the worst recession since the Great Depression, licked to the curb by my career occupation at a time in which College Graduates and Six-Figure-Salary professionals were already begging for entry-level positions, sick with an as-of-yet undiagnosed pig disease as I watched Obama being sworn into office?

You bet your ass I am.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Preconceived Notions and Police Brutality

Yesterday, I wrote a bit about how a growing number of people these are more and more inclined to dig their heels in and defend core beliefs defiantly, regardless of any facts or situations presented to them. Not that people are using their beliefs to inform their judgement, but are doubling down on their belief systems as the only contributing factor that matters. This morning, I find this in my news feed:

In the social media dominated culture that we find ourselves increasingly immersed in, my immediate reaction is to share this with other people. This need to share it isn't just about internet Memes or Viral Videos: it is part of our natural human need to bond with others by giving them the opportunity to share in our emotional response. But in doing so, I am also assuming that those I share this video with are going to share my emotional response. Which brings me back to beliefs informing opinions, instead of the other way around.

I have the great misfortune of having a large group of online friends with diverse philosophical backgrounds. I say misfortune because I often find myself dragged into social, political, theological or ideological debates when either making posts or commenting on the posts of others. Don't get me wrong - I enjoy the debates, and actually have an unnatural inclination for intellectual head-butting. But an overabundance of unplanned online arguments can be time consuming and exhausting.
A silhouette showing a police officer striking...

But that's neither here nor there. However, when I consider posting this video, I do so with the clear knowledge that I am able to fully predict the responses this video is going to illicit from a decent number of my online posse. There are those I know will express outage at an obvious example of police brutality, and there are others that will gladly support the actions of a law enforcement veteran doing what needs to be done in order to quell an unruly mob. Without even exposing them to the video, to the actual physical evidence of the topic at hand, I can safely predict their responses.

Now, is this necessarily a bad thing? Maybe not. Obviously, those inclined to side with law enforcement are more likely to give police the benefit of the doubt, while those more fearful of government restriction are going to be less understanding. But how reality-based can either position be if the conclusions are drawn beforehand? I'm not questioning the validity of either argument, but rather, the validity of an argument that might possibly be impervious to outside influences. If our minds are made up before even approaching a situation, how objective can we truly consider ourselves? And if our initial reaction is always to accuse the other side of doing just this, how sure can we be that our own judgement is just as clouded?

I'm not saying we shouldn't trust our own opinions. What I'm suggesting is that we be more aware of what is informing them.
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Monday, October 1, 2012

You Can't Fix Stupid

I just turned a year older recently. I won't underscore the actual age, but I will say that I've reached that sad point in an individual's life in which the act of documenting birthdays becomes less an exercise in counting up and more an act of counting down. The "Best" of my years may not necessarily be behind me, but it is now becoming painfully possible that the majority of them are definitely accounted for.

Dare to Be Stupid
Dare to Be Stupid (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This isn't meant to gripe about aging, even though that is still rather high on my list of pet peeves. But age tends to bring with it some modicum of wisdom or insight, and I've been debating with one that I have difficulty coming to terms with. I've always been of the mind that you can't change a person's firmly held beliefs, as belief usually defies logic, and stands firmly on the unshakable foundation of moral or ideological stubbornness. A person doesn't believe in something because they think it is true. They believe in something because they need it to be true, and need will win out almost every time. But again, I've always believed that, and have never had trouble with that realization. Lately, however, I find myself vexed by a continuation of this thought:

You can't make stupid people smarter.

Let me clarify. You can educate the uneducated. You can inform the uninformed. And you can most certainly convince the unconvinced, if their lack of belief can be traced to a sincere deficit or error in logic. But there are a large number of people in the world today who are beyond the point of no return intellectually, where no thought processes or information will no longer take hold. Now, I'm not going to claim that this is news to me, but where I find myself at odds with myself is the line where I'm willing to allow that beliefs stop and stupidity starts.

Yes, political and religious differences tend to be a common source of this concern, but the line didn't start shifting until I realized that stupid people are more prone to regard their own ignorance as belief, hence blurring the lines even further. The phrases "That's your opinion," and "I'm entitled to my opinion," for example, seem to pop up more and more often in defense of otherwise idiotic or indefensible stances taken. Whereas this reply usually makes the most sense when used after all logical debate still results in an intellectual stalemate, it now tends to be thrown out haphazardly whenever an argument is countered by a fact not readily refutable. There is no consideration, there is no weighing of points and counterpoints, there is simply "This is what I think!" No more ground will be given, regardless of the argument presented.

Maybe it's a good thing that people are becoming more and more willing to stand up for what they believe in. Then again, if their belief is earned by nothing more than convenience, then what is the true value of the belief being fought over? What good is defending a political or religious belief when the motivation of the conviction has more to do with your comfort level than it does philosophical analysis. Americans continue to praise belief and morality, causes and ideologies, while at the same time rejecting education or higher learning as just an intellectually elitist way to obscure the truth rather than reveal it. We've embraced the life of the mind, but rejected the notion of developing or nurturing its usage.

I'm not going to give into typical middle-aged paranoia and claim that the number of these people is on the rise. But there is a large number of them out there, enough so that they not only manage to have an effect on popular culture and social norms, but in public and civil policy as well. And this, as they say, is where we're screwed. Polarization between portions of the country along religious and political lines becomes more and more commonplace as information sources cater more and more to these clashing factions, producing selective information meant to pacify and coddle, and not inform or improve.

I hate reducing some of the world's problems to such a simplistic viewpoint, but everyday I interact with people and observe the world around me, I see less willingness to turn to reason or logic, and more importantly, even less demonstrated ability. And if reading this leads you to believe that I am just stroking my ego by including myself in the rational minority my world-view has assembled against a see of slack-jawed imbeciles, and this is just another case of an elitist jerk looking down of those he disagrees with, well... feel free to dismiss this as my opinion.
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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

6/25: Judges, Tech, Glee,

English: Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice of...
English: Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Am I out of line for saying that the Supreme Court is a little more than a sad joke? A group of judges that vote almost exclusively along ideological political lines, yet are supposed to be the final arbiters of law and justice in our country based not on which political party gave them their position, but their expert interpretation of the law. Every five-four decision they hand down is a bitch slap in the face of every American who is impacted by their decisions.

I realize that a significant portion of the country is eagerly awaiting the Supreme Court's ruling on Obama's Health Care plan, especially the media outlets, which are quickly running out of clever headlines. There was a point where I was following the whole Health Care debate issue myself. But now that the ultimate decision on whether or not Obamacare will stay or go rests in the hands of this collection of assholes, my interest has fled almost as rapidly as my hope.


What's that? Samsung is releasing a potent iPhone rival, and Microsoft has developed a new tablet to compete with the iPad? Hold on a second while I don't give a shit.

There. All done.


Glenn Beck is apparently in the works to fix the damage done to the American culture by the hit show Glee (he doesn't go into detail, but I'm assuming he's referring to the promotion of "The Gays") by producing his own right-wing version.

Hate to break it to Beck, but there already was a right-wing version of Glee. It was called Cop Rock.

Personally, I'm looking forward to the revival. Should be interesting.

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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Comcast Joins the WTF List (Transcript Enclosed)

Image representing Comcast as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase
During all the recent bullshit issues with Verizon's crappy service, I thought I would check for other local internet providers. This is a fruitless endeavor that I undergo every year or so to fight of the realization that, due to my proximity to Pennsyltuckey, the only internet options available to me are Verizon Suck-Ass DSL (that's actually the package plan name) and Service Electric, a company that you've never heard of because it is a rinky-dink local cable service staffed by mentally unstable howler monkeys with a service radius that doesn't exceed the distance that the owners can travel on a full tank of gas in their '78 Dodge Dart.

It appeared that luck was indeed a lady tonight, as an availability check of my address on the Comcast website resulted in a positive result and, after confirming the availability of service at my address with two separate chat room service reps, an order request for immediate installation.

Lady Luck turned out to be a heartless bitch, however, when a call to confirm receipt of my order resulted in an unrealistically smug Comcast operator inform my that Comcast is not available in my area after all, and that the mistake must have been mine, not theirs. No transcript exists for this phone call, but you can easily recreate it in your head by simply imagining a volley of angry shouting with MOTHERFUCKER used as punctuation.

However, two days later, an email arrived from Comcast asking me if I would be so kind as to finish placing my order for internet service. How could I possibly refuse?

On a side note, my current ticket number is 010435819.

analyst Ankit has entered room

Ankit: Hello Scott, Thank you for contacting Comcast Live Chat Support. My name is Ankit. Please give me one moment to review your information.

Ankit: Welcome to Comcast. We appreciate the time you are taking to contact us, I will be assisting you from here on out. Before anything else, I would like to ask, how are you doing today?

Scott: Awesome.

Ankit: I am good to know that you are doing Awesome.

Scott: I am not "doing" Awesome. I "am" Awesome. But I can understand your confusion.

Ankit: May I ask you if you are an existing customer with Comcast?

Scott: No.

Scott: I mean No, I am not an existing customer, not No, you can not ask a question. Just to clarify.

Ankit:  We are glad to have your business. Thank you for taking interest in Comcast services.

Scott: Taking AN interest. Which I have.

Ankit: Please verify the following details:

Ankit: (Ankit lists my address information here, which you don't need to know, but he certainly does. I happily confirm the information.)

Ankit: Please give me 2 minutes to locate your address in our system. Is that fine with you?

Scott: Certainly. But I will be timing you.

Ankit: Thanks.

Scott: The pleasure is all mine, one hundred and seven seconds.

Ankit: Did you call Comcast for the registration of your address in our database Scott?

Scott: Yes I did. They told me that Comcast was not available at my address.

Ankit: I see Scott.

Scott: Really? Than what am I wearing?

Scott: Oh, never mind. I get it.

Ankit: Thank you very much for being so cooperative, nice and patient. I would like to inform you that I have double checked our system, unfortunately, I am unable to find a match for you address It could be that the address never had our services and has not been registered with us yet.

Scott: Two support techs on your site in chats like this have told me that this is available at my address.

Scott: So I'd really like to know why I am getting different answers from the same company...

Scott: And if it isn't available at my address, why the website and online support is telling me that it is.

Ankit: Scott, please allow me few moments o cross check.

Ankit: to**

Scott: It's a little late to start correcting typos, isn't it?

Scott: If my address is not registered with you, why is the website allowing me to order service?

Scott: And why after the first attempt at subscribing didn't go through, that the website keeps sending me emails asking me to complete my purchase.

Ankit: Scott, website will allow the any address that is an actual address.

Ankit: Even if the address will not be registered with us yet, I will send your request personally for the same.

Ankit: Let me send your request right away.

Scott: No... the website asks to enter the address to see if service is available to me. I didn't just fill out a "Request" form, I filled out an "Order" form.

Scott: If the website accepts any address, than why would it ask to check if service is available to me?

Scott: Either way, somebody is lying and wasting my time.

Ankit: Scott, website is connected with USPS that is why website is accepting your address.

Scott: THE website, and a comma after USPS, and THE website again. Oh, and bullshit.

Ankit: I apologize for the inconvenience this has caused you. I can certainly understand your frustration, please allow me to raise a request for you.

Scott: Ankit, the sight asks for the address in order to search for availability of the service.

Scott: Which means I am being lied to.

Scott: And my time is being wasted. 

Scott: And why would you encourage people unable to subscribe to your service to go through the ordering process and tie up finite labor hours following through on nonexistent service orders?

Ankit: I understand, I am continously searching your address, I apologize for the inconvenience this has caused you.

Ankit: Please give me a chance to set things up perfectly.

Scott: At this point I'd settle for half-assed.

Ankit: I will raise a request only for you.

Scott: Only for me? I feel so special now.

Ankit: Comcast will call you within 24 hours and will register your address.

Ankit: I will send your request personally for the same.

Ankit: eanwhile, May I get your preferred date for installation please?

Scott: If it's actually available in my area, as soon as possible.

Ankit: Thank you very much for being so cooperative, and nice.

Ankit: Let me send your request right away.

Scott: I'm still trying to figure out how service was not available to me, but all of a sudden it is.

Scott: And as for me being cooperative and nice, try mastering the English language first, and then we can work on sarcasm.

Ankit: I will surely consider your advice.

Scott: I should hope so. It is sage and profound.

Ankit: This has been escalated to our support team who will further investigate this for a resolution. They will contact you for further information within 24 hours. Address registration is something which is only possible by call, however, I took this exception just for you. They will register your address+will set the installation date if possible + will provide you the new Comcast account as well as order number + you will also receive an e-mail confirmation. I took this exception just for you.

Scott: We can start with the sentence "I am good to know that you are doing Awesome."

Scott: "It is" good to know makes grammatical sense, and you can BE awesome, but you cannot BE DOING awesome.

Ankit: I am really sorry for this, I will surely try and take care of it future,

Scott: Just trying to help.

Scott: If you are representing a communications company, it makes sense to have adequate communication skills.

Ankit: Thanks for your help, I really appreciate it.

Ankit: I apologize for that once again and I will surely take care of that in future.

Scott: Again, let's hammer down the grammar before wading through the sarcasm. You and I both know I'm being a dick.

Scott: But that's to be expected from potential customers when they're forced to deal with a support network that has no logical thread of accountability.

Ankit: Scott, I really appreciate your help.

Scott: It's not you, Ankit. You're just a cog. I understand.

Ankit: My apologies, Scott.

Ankit: Trust me I will take care of it in future.

Scott: THE future.

Ankit: Sorry again.

Ankit: I have raised your request to our support team.

Ankit: Comcast will call you within 24 hours and will register your address.

Scott: Thanks, Ankit. Have a good weekend, wherever you are.

Ankit: You are welcome. You too have a good weekend.

Scott: Thanks. Fight the power! Occupy Bangladesh!

Ankit: Take Care of yourslef and have a wonderful time and smiling moments ahead!!! See you!!!
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