Month: December 2013

The fun is back, oh yessiree… it’s the 2600 from Atari!

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December has been an exciting month for the memory of the long-beloved Atari 2600 console. First, a popular Atari 2600 homebrew game, Halo 2600, was added, along with Playstation 3’s Flower, to the Smithsonian American Art Museum exhibit, “The Art of Video Games.” Then, Microsoft announced that they were funding a documentary on the excavation of the lost Atari E.T. cartridges purportedly buried in the fabled New Mexico landfill, to be released on Xbox Live next year.

And then, today I learned that the Internet Archive, the nonprofit project busily attempting to store the history of the Web along with thousands of public domain books, songs, and videos, has opened up a website where you can play hundreds of classic Atari 2600 games, as well as games from other consoles of the early 1980s, appropriately titled the Console Living Room. The site has hundreds of games from the Atari 2600, Atari 7800, ColecoVision, Bally Astrocade, and Odyssey 2 systems, emulated in the browser via a Javascript-based emulator called JSMESS.

The Atari 2600 collection is surprisingly complete. There are hundreds of games for it alone. You have everything from Atari hits such as Asteroids, Centipede, and Defender, to the amazing Activision library of games (before Call of Duty, Activision programmers were making the Atari sing — case in point, the near-NES-quality Pitfall II and Kung Fu Master, which you would never be able to tell ran on a horrendously-crippled 1977 game console with only 128 bytes of RAM and which used two-thirds of its processor power just drawing the screen). They even have… let’s just say the bottom of the bargain bin (like the famously awful E.T. The Extra Terrestrial and the awfully famous Custer’s Revenge.) There are even homebrews (like the Smithsonian-approved work of art, Halo 2600), unreleased prototypes that never made it off the drawing board (such as Miss Piggy’s Wedding and Donald Duck’s Speedboat), and even the diagnostic cartridges used by Atari service technicians to fix broken consoles. You can even read scans of the original manuals (necessary to look at in the case of convoluted adventure games like Raiders of the Lost Ark, and pretty awesome to look at if you’re a fan of trippy late-seventies early-eighties commercial art.)

Even though this is the Internet Archive and not some flash-in-the-pan emu site hosted in Russia or China, I’m surprised the current owners of the Atari trademarks haven’t hit them with a cease and desist yet. Then again, even if they did, most of the companies that put these games out in the 1980’s no longer exist or care or (in the case of, say, Custer’s Revenge, have disavowed all knowledge of making these games.) So enjoy this while you can.

As informative and as exciting as this collection is, however, it’s not without its flaws. Sound isn’t implemented in the JSMESS emulator yet, unfortunately, but they say they’re working on it. And the emulator is rather slow and clunky, at least on my five-year-old Core 2 Duo laptop. But, if you want to witness for yourself a fascinating bit of video game history from the time before 3-d polygons, grim space marines, and hyperrealistic ultraviolence, or if you’re a nerdy Gen-Xer with a nostalgia for Yars Revenge like myself, the Console Living Room is worth spending some time in.

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Daily Prompt: You’re a Winner!

What would I do with a billion dollars? I can’t even imagine having that kind of money. I wouldn’t want that kind of power or responsibility. I think I would give about $900 million of it to charities that serve the poor, groups fighting for LGBT equality, and groups fighting for nerd causes and individual liberties like the Electronic Freedom Foundation, the Free Software Foundation, and the Child’s Play Charity. I think I might give a few million dollars to some open-source projects. How much more awesome would a desktop Linux distribution be if it had some real money behind it and the people developing it could afford to work full-time? Maybe they could finally develop a video driver that doesn’t give me terrible eyestrain.

With the remaining $100 million, I would put about $90 million in a series of diversified medium-risk investments. A lot of it I would want to put out as loans to people starting small businesses in low-income neighborhoods. That would provide my heirs with enough income to never work again, but they will have to prove they’re worthy of the money before they can inherit it. I’m thinking some kind of reality TV program where they have to debase and humiliate themselves in front of a national audience to pick up my table scraps. Or maybe it can only come out in matching funds (for every dollar that they earn, they will get a dollar of my inheritance.)

The rest of the money I will spend on a nice house (I’m thinking a hobbit hole) in the country where there’s a lot of green trees and wide open nature. My fiancee and I will work on our writing and not have to be bothered by crowds ever again. We might travel a bit too. My fiancee told me this story of this rich man who spent his summers on Isle Royale, where she worked, by paying to rent a hotel room there for three months. That would be pretty awesome too.

It would be nice to have the money and time to do whatever I wanted to. I just wouldn’t want to be a billionaire. Judging from the other billionaires out there in the world, it sounds like being that wealthy would make you a jerk.

On second thought…

When I posted my last post two days ago, some of my Facebook friends thought that I was leaving Facebook for good, and expressed genuine sorrow that I was leaving. I really don’t want to leave Facebook. I just don’t want to participate in the negativity that pervades that social network. So I’m still going to be on, and I’m still going to post, and I’m still going to talk to my friends on there. I just won’t be on there nearly as often. And when I see something that disturbs or offends me, I’m not going to jump into the fray. I’m not going to feed the trolls anymore.

Instead, I want to fill the web with something positive. So I’m going to be filling up this blog with positive things about my life and experiences. I can’t really talk about work or the place I live without anonymizing and sanitizing everything beyond the point of recognition, so I’m going to talk about my nerd life. I am The Wandering Nerd, after all. I have the tendency to wander all over the place, as far as my interests go. I’ll find a new shiny interest and before I know it, I’ll be completely immersed in it. It will be all I think about and want to do. But then, a few weeks later, I’ll discover something new, and I’ll be totally into that, and the last awesome thing goes by the wayside.

This year alone, my “fascinations of the week” have ranged from Homestar Runner to Star Trek to Star Wars to Star Wars: The Clone Wars to ancient Stoic philosophy to getting my computer to run Linux to Super Mario Galaxy to Jules Verne novels to the Universal Monster Movies to trying to write a silly fantasy novel to back to Homestar Runner again. So I’m hoping that by writing about my interests, I can learn about what makes me tick, I can show my friends and the world about all the cool nerdy things I’m into, and maybe eventually I’ll come back to some of these things and pick up where I left off.

This isn’t world-changing journalism here. I just want to play in my own nerdy playground for a bit, without the politics and anger I see in so many other forums online.

Dear Facebook: I’m Done.

In 2007, I signed up for Facebook. At the time, it seemed like a cool way to find out what my friends were doing. The format was a lot nicer than MySpace and it had some good features. It was neat to find out what my friends were eating for breakfast that morning, and discover what awesome things they were doing in their lives. And it was a convenient way to message all of my friends at once. Facebook was also a way I could reach out to people when social anxiety and geographic isolation didn’t allow me to reach them in real life. If it weren’t for the reassurance of my friends during my hardest times, I don’t know where I would be.

Flash forward to 2013, however, and Facebook is a completely different place. I can’t log on to Facebook anymore without being bombarded with ads, idiotic memes, and constant dispatches from the “culture war.” I scroll down a bit and inevitably I’ll find something a friend forwarded about some right-wing idiot who hates gays, or some bigoted Republican congressman who wants to reduce women into nothing but baby-making machines who need their vaginas regulated by Congress, or some asshole in a restaurant who gave their server a shitty tip, and I will get outraged, and become fixated by the vile injustices being perpetrated by these jerks, and inevitably my anger over something I can’t control and didn’t actually witness will spill upon the Facebook page.

When I put my opinion into the Facebook machine, what happens? One of my commenters will start ranting about how I’m either evil or deluded by the mass media, and then another person will start attacking them and telling them how they’re either stupid or deluded by right-wing talk radio, and then before you know it, there’s a battle going on in my Facebook wall, when all I wanted to say was “Doesn’t it suck how people can be so mean sometimes?”

Our talk has become so politicized and polemicized and commercialized that we can’t even have a decent conversation without drawing battle lines in the sand. I don’t care if my friends are Democrats or Republicans, left-wing or right-wing, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist, or Cthulhuist. There are more than two sides to every argument, and even if there is a “right” way and a “wrong” way to do things, I would seriously hope that we could agree to disagree without resorting to name-calling and hurt feelings.

I still love to come on and read about the good things that are happening in my friends’ lives, but thanks to Facebook’s algorithms that somehow decide what is “most important” for me to see, I don’t even know if I am even reading all my friends’ posts or if they are reading all of mine. I never hear anything from half of the people on my friends list — I don’t know if this is because they’re not posting anything, or if Facebook is censoring their messages from me. And I have no clue who’s actually reading me. Lately people from work, who I didn’t even know were even on my Facebook, have been discussing things I’ve posted on my wall and jumping to conclusions about them, when they could have just asked me about them first.

I have other gripes towards Facebook, namely the whole information-gathering and selling our private data to the NSA and all, but I have no need to go into those now. The important thing is that my continued participation on this forum is detrimental to my emotional health and my real-life social relationships.

I am not deleting my Facebook profile just yet. I have too many friends here and I don’t have emails and phone numbers for all of them. For all its problems, Facebook is still the most convenient way to reach you guys. But I am not going to be posting much on here anymore. I’m going to be doing my blogging on http://thewanderingnerd.com from now on. (It links to https://thewanderingnerd.wordpress.com right now though, because I can’t for the life of me figure out how to run WordPress on my own web hosting provider.) I am also going to be reducing my Facebook friends list to close friends only, but if you find yourself cut out, don’t be too upset with me. You can still join me at http://thewanderingnerd.com.

And if you have some news you just *have* to tell me, don’t trust I will receive it through Facebook, as I will be checking Facebook but rarely from now on. My email is (my real first name) [at] thewanderingnerd [dot] com. If you want to send it encrypted, please contact me for my PGP public key. Anyway, thank you all for your love and friendship over the years, and may you all have a great holiday season.

Your friend,

Jackson (aka The Wandering Nerd)