John’s new book, imaginary PCs, shaking hands is disgusting, nostalgia garbage (as usual)

John Sheppard has a new book out called Needs Work. It’s a fun one, set in a bizarre, dystopian version of Cleveland, and is about a wounded soldier returning to his hometown after a bad divorce to live with his crazy dad. Lots of callbacks to his other stuff, and full disclosure, my old cough medicine brand makes a quick appearance, but this is a great standalone book in a new weird universe. Go check it out here. (It’s on kindle and print, but of course Amazon’s fucked up linking the two. Maybe it will be fixed by the time I post this.)

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Been sick most of the week, so nothing creative is going on. It’s weird, but every time I start thinking I need to delete this entire blog, unlist all of my books, and go back to stamp collecting, within 48 hours I’m sniffling and hacking. I keep thinking I need to build a gaming PC and an Oculus Rift, but I have no time for that, and I can’t justify paying two grand for something that will take away writing time. But I still keep going back to PCPartsPicker and looking up builds. I don’t even know where the hell I’d put another computer, or how I’d hook it into my monitor and whatnot*. But when I get sick, I go into this stupid comparison shopping mode, and I haven’t been playing bass or taking pictures, so it’s not musical or photo gear at the moment.

(* OK, so I have a monitor on my desk. I have one keyboard, one mouse. I have a Mac for home. I have a PC for work. So I run all of this crap into a KVM switch. For whatever reason, KVMs are barely supported anymore. I think the assumption is that you’re only supposed to use laptops on your lap, or anytime you get a second computer, you’re supposed to get another room in your house, a second desk, a second monitor, etc. The KVM is the greatest space-saving thing ever, and 100% of them on the market are garbage. They are slow, unreliable, and good luck getting one that supports two monitors. There are some, but they are insanely expensive, and require you to take a month off of work to research the entire history of digital video to get it to work, and chances are it won’t. Last week, I just went through some stupid exercise of changing a dongle on my Mac so it would properly pass through power, and Apple silently changed the dongle, so it supports 4K video, but doesn’t support my KVM. And the worst part of it is, when I went to return the dongle, the Apple Genius insisted on shaking my hand before and after the two-second return. Why the fuck does anyone shake hands in the twenty-first century, especially during cold season? You wipe your ass with that hand. Jesus fucking christ I hate everything sometimes, and think about how the Unabomber probably never had to return anything at an Apple store. He probably hasn’t had a respiratory infection in decades. Anyway.)

Also, I feel very guilty wasting time playing games. I know, people say games are the new movies and it’s not wasting time blah blah blah. But last week, I played through Smash TV in an emulator, which took like 90 minutes, and I felt guilty later that I lost 90 minutes of writing time, even though I played the game because I couldn’t write.

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I just checked and I’ve never written about Smash TV. Maybe I’ll do that next time. I keep thinking I need to document all these random nostalgia call-backs because I’m losing my memory and need everything cataloged. Half the time, I go back and search this site, and realize I did a complete dump on the topic in 2002. More evidence of the brain thing, I guess.

I should probably repost these URLs on Facebook as I think of them. There’s a plug-in that you can use to do this, but of course it costs money, something insane like $75 a month, and all WordPress plug-ins are just virus vectors and direct backdoors for Ukrainian hackers. I don’t even want to be running WordPress anymore, and my install is too slow from the plug-ins I do endure. You can always go to to see the ones I’ve remembered to mark as favorites. But that depends on me remembering to mark them, so caveat emptor. I should go back through the archives and tag more posts correctly. I should stop building imaginary PCs. I should eat dinner, actually.


The Death of Blockbuster

Here’s an interesting long read over at Retail Dive on the death of Blockbuster Video:

Who Really Killed Blockbuster?

A couple of interesting (to me) takeaways. First, I like that this article gives all the details other than just saying “Netflix, duh” because that’s not what happened. The thing that annoys the hell out of me in death-of-malls or death-of-<store dying this week> is that they always say it’s Amazon, and it almost never is just Amazon. (I.e. venture cap choke-out run by a fervent Ayn Rand acolyte; tax scam by REIT not paying off anymore; etc.)

Like one of the factors the article mentions that most people forget: VHS tapes were damn expensive, and that was partially hidden to the consumer. Yes, you could buy a priced-to-own copy of Wayne’s World for twenty bucks during a certain limited sales cycle. But if you’ve had the good fortune of losing a copy of Apocalypse Now from a rental place, it probably cost you eighty bucks to replace it. They ran this two-tier pricing scheme for decades, and then when DVDs came out, the studios decided to go with low daily prices across the board, plus they flooded the channel at Wal-Mart and Target with cheap five-buck releases and multi-packs of their back catalog. That’s only one of the nails in the coffin, but that’s an interesting one.

The other thing, and this came up in discussion when I posted this article on FB, is that Blockbuster wasn’t that great of a place for customers anyway. There are a lot of folks nostalgic for the Nineties who were born in like 1998 and don’t remember how crappy some of it was, and Blockbuster was a good example. Like they were borderline predatory about their late fees, and good luck if you got sent to their collections department. They drove a lot of mom-and-pop rental places out of business. And their prices weren’t always great, compared to the non-chain places.

One of the things that always bugged me about Blockbuster was their family-friendly video selection. They were big on promoting mediocre big-budget movies and avoiding cult or obscure cinema. And they were incredibly vocal on not carrying anything beyond an R rating, or controversial movies. I went on a semi-boycott of Blockbuster for years because they refused to carry The Last Temptation of Christ. If you wanted obscure, it’s Not at The Block. If you need a copy of Day For Night, forget it. But they’d have plenty of copies of that new Will Smith movie.

Blockbuster was occasionally a necessary evil when I was in a small town. I really loved local rental stores that had obscure stuff, and of course you had to go to one of those places for the best horror movies. The clerks were always cool, the prices were lower, they didn’t give you as much of a hassle about membership, and sometimes you’d find weird stuff. Like there was a video place in downtown Bloomington — I wish I could remember the name. They never recycled out their old stock. Me and Larry used to go every week and find the most bizarre stuff, faded boxes that were completely forgotten. Like I remember never ever being able to find a copy of Johnny Got His Gun (probably because Metallica bought the rights to it and sat on them) and of course they had it. And I remember renting Deranged: Confessions of a Necrophile, the (bad) Canadian horror movie loosely based on Ed Gein, and it also had the short documentary Ed Gein: American Maniac slapped on the end of the VHS. It was a weird homemade doc consisting of blurry found footage, narrated by some dude in a basement recording on a Bell and Howell mono tape recorder stolen from an elementary school or something. It was awesome. (And it’s on YouTube!) You’d never, ever find that at Blockbuster.

That puts Blockbuster nostalgia in a weird place for me, much like Barnes and Noble. I’m a bit sad B&N is on the verge of shuttering, but back in the day, they were the chain to hate, because they pushed mom-and-pop stores out of business. (And deep analysis that I’m too lazy to do might show a story that independent booksellers were pushed out by someone else in the 80s/90s, like the rise of Ingram or the changes in book printing after NAFTA, or some damn thing.)

I visited one of the last Blockbusters in Anchorage a year and a half ago. (Yes it was the one with the Gladiator jockstrap. No, it wasn’t there yet when I visited.) It gave me a strange and sad feeling, not specifically because it was Blockbuster, but because it was a video store, period. It was all DVD, but wandering the aisles reminded me of the weekly exercise of going from A to Z on a Friday night to find what I’d watch.

That entire era is gone, replaced with a button on my TV remote that lets me scroll through thousands of titles. But something’s missing, with the lack of the Tarantino-esque clerk telling me what I really need to watch, and the tactile experience of pacing the aisles. We now have great convenience and instant access, but it is at a cost that’s hard to quantify, and it’s definitely felt by those who do remember.


Kitchen, Commodore, Spider-Man, Dead JCP

Kitchen is done. Four weeks took seven, but it looks good, and everything works. I posted an album over on Flickr if you’re really interested. I’m just glad to not have the plastic walls anymore, although if we ever make it out of second summer, it might be nice to have my office twenty degrees warmer than the rest of the house.

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In a fit of dumb nostalgia, I bought a C-64 Mini. It’s a cute idea, although it seemed a bit silly at the original price point of ~$100. But now they’re going for $40, so I bit. It is a tiny machine about half the size of an old-school Commodore 64, containing an ARM processor system-on-a-chip that runs the VICE emulator. There’s HDMI video output, two USB ports for joysticks, keyboards, and memory sticks, and a USB power in. No legacy ports, no cartridge slot, not sure if anyone’s found a way to hack that stuff on. Also, the keyboard is a dummy non-functional thing, although you can use a modern USB keyboard .

I like the idea of these modern all-in-one game machines, in theory. One of the shortcomings of the various Atari/Genesis/Nintendo ones is you get what you get, and the packaged game assortment can be hit-or-miss. And the C-64 mini comes with fifty games, but maybe only a dozen I’ve played, and only half of that are games I’d really want to play again. (For example, Winter Games is cool, but I’ve already got RSI, thanks.) But, the cool thing about the mini is if you update to the newest firmware, you can fill a USB stick with .D64 files downloaded from the internet, and play nearly anything out there. So I loaded up a stick with a dozen or two games I fondly remembered, and tried it out.

The biggest shortcoming of C-64 gaming is that the controls were all over the place. So when I first plugged in a joystick and no keyboard, I suddenly found games wanted me to press F1 or Return or Space or type my name or whatever. And there are two USB ports, and I’ve got a joystick in one, a USB stick in another… time to get a hub. Also, the Commodore keyboard had all those weird keys like Run-Stop and Restore and the C= key and whatnot, so I wasted a lot of time trying to remember how that’s mapped. Also, the joystick that came with the unit is really sub-par, and there’s a limited number of USB joysticks that work with it, and my Logitech is not one of them. So, I’d have to go buy some other gamepads that would probably cost as much as I spent.

…Or, I could just run an emulator on my real computer. Or I could dig my real C-64 out of storage. So, I’m bored of this already.

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I was driving on 580 to Pleasanton today, and this junker truck pulled up next to me from an on-ramp. I looked over, and the driver was wearing a Spider-Man costume, including the mask. And it didn’t look like an official Marvel-licensed costume, like the eyes were off, too big or something. It looked like the costume you’d see in one of those weird Mexican Spider-Man knock-off movies on YouTube. Not sure what was going on there.

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There is this weird strip mall next to Stoneridge mall that is called Stoneridge Annex or Stoneridge South or whatever. It’s an outdoor strip that looks all Sixties with poured concrete painted brown and stuff. I always like walking there because it’s half-abandoned, and had a big Chinese seafood restaurant with the fish tanks in the dining room that looked like it would never close, and an old karate school, and a bunch of other half-baked dying businesses that dropped out one-by-one. Like there was a Taco Bell that looked like 2004 that died and I got some pictures of the labelscar and abandoned interior before they turned it into another random taco place which has since failed also.

The big anchor of this strip was a JC Penney home store. It always fascinated me, because it was two stories tall, and sold pretty much everything they do not sell in malls anymore: appliances, draperies, rugs, linens, and so on. Walking through it always reminded me of walking through a Lazarus or LS Ayres store in like 1993. Plus the place had funky tile floors and stairs and looked totally Nineties. It was in stark contrast to the main Stoneridge mall, which is pretty normal and somewhat boring modern Simon mall blandness.

Anyway, I walked there today, and of course it is closed. Almost everything in the strip is closed, except for a hearing aid store and a Cost Plus that never has anyone in it. So that’s a bit sad, but expected. I really should stop mall walking, because it’s so depressing. But, there’s always parking, and they have restrooms.

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Not much else. Still in food jail. My cats are not fans of the Blue Angels. I’ve been reading all of Don DeLillo’s books, but paused to read a Ronnie James Dio biography. That’s about it.