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Tired, the nolo dumpster

index cards

Spent an obscene amount of money yesterday on new car tires. That’s the exciting point of my month. I got the factory-stock Michelin tires and a full alignment job at a place in West Berkeley. The car had a horribly shimmy, the steering wheel vibrating and always pulling a bit. The whole thing took about two hours, and it now drives like new.

I think this was the first time I’d ever paid full price for an entire set of new tires with all the fixins. On my Yaris, I did get a set of four tires from this semi-shady place in West Oakland I used to go to every time I needed a tire patched. They were some oddball name of tires, and probably cost half as much. I think I traded in the car a year or so later, and the shop got arsoned for insurance money. Way back in Seattle, I had two blowouts in my old Escort, and bought one-off tires, but not a new set. And when I was a kid, I would go to Discount Tire or a gas station and buy used tires, try to find something with decent tread for five bucks each.

Actually I take that back, I did get new tires on my VW Rabbit back in 1997 or 1998. I went to a Sears auto center in West Seattle, which I’m sure is long gone. I remember this clearly because I pulled an all-nighter the night before and then left work early, in a near-hallucinatory state where nothing was real, but everything was forever burned in my brain.

So when I bought this Rabbit, the person before me had cut the springs to lower it (as if a Rabbit is not low enough), then put giant rims on it, maybe sixteen-inch and way too wide. The tires, some low-profile racing thing, were nearly bald, and getting the car above fifty on the highway was absolutely harrowing. I decided the car needed to go back to stock, and I had a bonus check hot in my pocket, so that’s what I did.

There was a junk yard in West Seattle that was nothing but VW and Audi parts. I always had lots of fun wandering around that place, looking at turbo motors cut out of Quattros. I’m sure it’s also gone, built up into condos. Anyway, I got a set of the steel thirteen-inch rims for ten bucks each, brought them to Sears, and got them to throw a set of stock-ish tires on for maybe forty bucks a tire. They mounted and balanced everything, then found out I didn’t have the right lug nuts (VW steel wheels use those tapered or flared-end ones) so I had to drive back to the junk yard. The dude at the counter reached in a bucket, pulled out about two dozen of the lugs, and said no problem, on the house. With the new tires, the car drove 100% better. I got back to Pill Hill, ate some lunch, and slept until dinner, when I got a quart of sweet and sour chicken in a plastic container from the Chinese restaurant on the roof of the giant new QFC in Cap Hill, and worked on my writing for the night.

* * *

Been trying to get some big writing underway, running into the usual problems. I don’t like to get into this stuff, but I’ve got a book that’s probably 100,000 words, and I’m very unhappy with it, and not sure how to land it. I had a big idea to shift around things a bit, and that kept me busy for about a week, but it’s fizzled out since then.

I keep thinking about Rumored, and the struggle to finish that one. I thought I finished the first draft of that thing in maybe 1996, and struggled to get it really swinging for the next six years. The photo in this post is a failed attempt in maybe 2001 to print summaries of each section, so I could rearrange them… or something. (This didn’t work.) This was when I wrote the whole thing as one giant text file in Emacs. Now in Scrivener, I’d just drag and drop the various pieces, but back then, it was an arduous task. The problem still remains though: the definition of done. I never know when the story makes enough sense to ship it. This current book is something I thought would be done in 2014 or 2015, and every year, I wasn’t sure if I was 80% done or 20%. I’m still not sure.

* * *

Took a long walk, maybe an hour and change, while they had the car up in the air yesterday. This was West Berkeley, and I decided to do the walk without headphones. It’s a very quiet area on the weekends, lots of pharma companies and art studios, with a few old houses that remind me of many of the off-campus houses in Bloomington, like the sixth street house where I finished up my last year in town. There’s always a nostalgia about those places, but many are vanishing, being replaced by a ten-unit condo crammed onto the same size lot.

One building that I didn’t know was a thing until it closed in 2018 is the old Fantasy Studios. This was “the house that Credence built,” a record studio where a ton of famous records were recorded. Journey’s albums Escape and Frontiers were both made there, as well as key releases from Green Day to Primus to Europe (yes, The Final Countdown was done there) and even Santana’s “Smooth” featuring Rob Thomas. It’s a fairly nondescript building, and is now mostly offices, although I guess a few floors of it still do film production.

An odd bit of reverberation here – although he didn’t record there, when Joe Satriani used to live in Berkeley back in the early 80s, he was in a pop trio band called The Squares, and they rehearsed at a building a block over from Fantasy. One time after practice, he was looking at a pile of remaindered books by a dumpster. Nolo books was in the building — they still are, actually — and in the pile of legal how-to books was one on how to start your own business. This was a period when he couldn’t get a record label to even answer his mails, so he decided screw it, paid the twelve bucks at the courthouse to register a business, and Rubina Records was born.

Anyway, it’s weird to me to think about how in 1987 or so, I was listening to a tape of his first album in my car a million miles away, and I imagined Berkeley as this mystical, mythical place that I didn’t even think was on the same plane of existence as my small Indiana town. And thirty-some years later, I’m walking around his old stomping ground, looking at the same gritty warehouse buildings he used to practice in when he was probably making less money than I used to pull in at Taco Bell back then.

* * *

Anyway. Day off today. I should probably leave the house and find something to do.

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general

I would rather read my old LiveJournal than look at code I wrote in 1999

I’ve been digging around my machine trying to find any fun old projects I could throw on my GitHub page. What I’m mostly finding is how I get grandiose ideas for programming projects and then abandon them in a week. Some of the programming I did in college is absolutely laughable, but it’s also amazing how many things I’ve started that I’ve completely forgotten about.

I wrote a while ago about Nuke ‘Em, which is a dumb idea for a turn-based strategy game that I’ve chased every time I’ve moved to a new language or platform. I think the closest I’ve gotten to something running is a Ruby on Rails attempt I played with in 2008. But last night, I was digging through some C source code I wrote in 1999, trying to get a web based version of this going, and it was… interesting reading.

Looking at the code, it’s amazing how many ways I was reinventing the wheel, or painting myself into a corner. A few observations:

  • The project was a bunch of C source that would compile into a half-dozen CGI files that would then go onto a web server. When a user went to /user/login or whatever, that would run the login CGI binary. Why didn’t I just write a bunch of Perl scripts or some PHP for this? Well, I guess I already knew C, no use in learning something new and relevant.
  • Actually, some of the pages were generated by shell scripts which had forms where the action was to hit one of the binaries.
  • I doubt anyone would try to do something like use cURL to download the actual login binary, open it in a binary editor, and mess with it, right?
  • There was no templating system for generating web pages in 1999  (that I knew of; there probably was) so I had a routine to glue a head.html and tail.html template at the start and end of each generated page.
  • Part of the decision to do things this way was based on the limitations of my hosting provider, and part of it was price. I’m sure MS FrontPage would have made this all easier, but I think I was unemployed when I was doing this.
  • There is what I think is my first attempt ever at writing a Makefile from scratch. It shows.
  • The whole thing used a series of ndbm databases to store everything, including users, passwords, the map, and pending user turns. This databases were created in the /tmp directory and were world-writeable files. Nobody would think of looking around the /tmp directory of a public web server, so this was totally secure.
  • ndbm (or its predecessor NDBM) was basically like the first NoSQL database ever, sort of. (I would think a garage full of punchcards in random order would be the actual first NoSQL database, but whatever.) Anyway, it wasn’t relational, and didn’t have tables, so each “table” was just another file in the /tmp directory.
  • When you set up the world by creating initial users and making a terrain map and such, you would just run another binary which spat out the configured db files. Only an administrator could do this, because the files were different executables not installed in the hosted web directory. It didn’t check in any way if an admin was running the scripts, but it’s not like someone other than the admin would compile and run the source themselves and overwrite the world-writable files in the /tmp directory, would they?
  • There is a whole science to map-building, how to algorithmically scallop out water and land edges and mountains in some pseudo-random way to make a cool map of a world on the fly. This randomly generated a single-digit number for every square on the map and put that terrain in place.
  • For everything, and especially in the login, parameters like username and password are passed in the URL, because nobody would screw around and pass a bunch of garbage in URL parameters. And there probably weren’t search engines crawling and permanently storing parameterized URLs to do things like delete all users.
  • Oh, that password parameter is sent plaintext. It’s got to match the password in the publicly-readable database in the /tmp directory, which is also plaintext.
  • Players each have money they spend to build armies and buy missiles and stuff. Guess where that number is stored.
  • There is a separate library file (a .c and .h) that is chock full of dumb stuff that isn’t in the standard library, but I’m sure there are 863 different public libraries that do it, and if this was NodeJS or Ruby or Python, it would either be a built-in or it would be an npm/gem/library away. Like why did I write a routine to convert encoded URL parameters into arrays? Why did I write my own routine to convert ASCII strings into integers? Why didn’t I write something to encapsulate database calls, instead of pasting the same dozen lines across multiple files?
  • I don’t know why I did this, but the maximum length of a URL is malloc’ed to a size determined by reading an environment label, and I have no idea where that was set. (!?)
  • Not sure what C unit testing framework existed in 1999, but mine consisted of a file called test.c that ran a bunch of code and printf’ed the results to the console.
  • I never got to the point of putting in the turn-based logic, but my loose notes showed that I wanted to have a cron job that would fire every ten minutes (or whatever) and run a program that evaluated all of the turn moves and calculated out the combat losses and money spent and all that stuff.
  • No source control, of course. Lots of ~ and # emacs files, and lots of files copied with a .backup extension.

Sigh. Okay, a few bits of advice to myself twenty-some years ago:

  • The first is to learn PHP (ugh) or wait a few years and do it all in Ruby on Rails. I know Rails isn’t cool anymore, but it would have been so much easier to build models for all of the basic data types, then scaffold the whole thing, implement controllers for the bits of logic, and take the scaffold views and make them pretty. Of course I still can’t deploy Rails apps on my hosting provider, so that’s another issue.
  • Find public libraries to do the nasty stuff. It wasn’t as much of an option then, but it is now. The rub here is it never feels like I’m building things anymore; I’m just connecting together things that other people have built, and then trying to keep up with when libraries change or break. Having a solid ORM library, a templating engine, and something to deal with session persistence would have saved me a ton of time. (See also using Rails for this.)
  • Break things up into smaller tasks, like as MVPs for each piece. I sort of did this, looking at my notes, but I probably would have went deeper if I had really planned this a bit. I usually do it all seat-of-the-pants, and then get overwhelmed when I have nine different problems going on at once.
  • Think about security first. I know my thought was to have it all use no passwords or plaintext, and I’d lock it down after I got it running. I should have thought about that earlier, so I didn’t paint myself into a corner.
  • Source control, dummy. RCS was a thing then, and I was already using it for my writing. Check in often. It’s free.

(PS, I’ll probably start writing this same dumb game as an Electron app the next time I get bored.)

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general

Bass work

Fender Jass BassI have this bass – a 2014 Fender Jazz Road Worn, which I got in 2014. The road worn/relic basses get a bad rap because “it’s like buying jeans with holes in them already,” but they’re also the cheapest way to get a lacquer finish bass from Fender. That and the fact that they kiln-dry the wood before assembly means the wood is dense and low-moisture, which gives you a deeper sound and a lighter weight. Anyway, I like the bass. But I haven’t played it lately because the neck went all psycho on me, and it had a ton of action. From the side, it looked more like a bow and arrow. And I couldn’t fix it with truss rod adjustments. So much like my retirement planning and general health, I ignored it and hoped someday I’d have a chance to figure it all out, but not now.

So then this music repair shop opens up about a block or two from my house. They are called Wood Street Guitar Repair. I brought the bass in to get a verdict on if the neck was completely destroyed or not. That’s when I saw what instantly sold me on the place: they had a brand new Plek machine, straight from Germany. I was in like flint.

A Plek machine is crazy. Basically, you strap a guitar into this thing that looks like a phone booth-sized 3-D printer. It scans the entire neck and loads the scan into a computer, which can then determine what frets are out of whack. The computer can then futz with this virtual model and simulate exactly what can be done to fix things. Once the operator picks a set of adjustments, a robot arm with a 50,000-RPM cutting tool buzzes away and files down high frets and does whatever other minor cutting and deburring and polishing needs to be done.

This whole process used to be done by hand, by sight. Now it’s done within a thousandth of an inch by a machine. Here’s a good video on how Gibson uses Plek now. I got a Lakland bass a few years ago, and they Plek every instrument they sell. That Lakland (a Skyline 44-01) has one of the best necks I have ever played, and it is their cheapest budget model. It’s truly revolutionary stuff.

When I checked in the bass, they asked me all the questions on how I like to play, what strings I wanted to use, etc. They also popped the neck and checked the truss rod, and it was still adjusting, so that looked okay. Unfortunately, when they got into it a couple of weeks later, they could not get the neck close to level, even with the truss rod bottomed out. So they heat-pressed the neck first. Basically, they put the neck in some clamps and use heat blankets to heat up the wood and slightly melt the glue. The neck is held straight and then dries overnight. They did this, then ran it through the Plek, and hand-filed the fret edges, which were a little too sharp.

Anyway, the verdict is that the bass now plays like butter. Super-low action, and it feels great. No high spots, just an incredible feel to it. I now have two great basses for slightly different purposes. The Lakland has active soapbar pickups and a very “fast” neck, a good combination for more modern metal or prog-rock. The Fender has passive 60s-style Fender pickups and a slightly chunkier neck, which feels great for old seventies rock. The guys at Wood Street Guitar did a great job – if you’re in the Bay Area, check them out.

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general

A Tale of Two Keyboards

About ten years ago, I had this keyboard obsession going on (see The Cult of Keyboards) mostly because everything started falling apart health-wise when I hit 40, especially all things chiropractic. After a few false starts, I decided to go whole hog and upgrade to a Kinesis split keyboard. Because it’s about time, I went ahead and upgraded to the newest iteration, the Kinesis Advantage 2.

The original Kinesis has been pretty decent, after a brief learning curve. Typing with my fingers in the two “bowls” and using my thumbs for a bunch of the modifier keys was an interesting transition, but it means I can type away without ever lifting my hands from the home row. There are some issues, though. In the top row of the thumb keys, there are only two switches, when there really should be three, for cmd/alt/ctrl (or whatever your OS calls them.) It’s also a bit more confusing, because I used to switch between a work PC running Windows, and my home computer, which is a Mac.

I mapped things so that in Windows, the modifier keys were Ctrl/Alt and Win/Ctrl. And then on the Mac, they were Cmd/Opt and Ctrl/Cmd. That means that on the Mac, Ctrl loses, and since I type modifiers with my left hand more, it makes emacs almost impossible to use. I also had to train myself to remember that when I switched to the Mac, my Ctrl key was really the Win key. Luckily, things like copy and paste would use the same key in both places. Also, when I switched jobs, the work computer switched to Mac, so this problem gets a bit more simple.

Another complaint about the original Advantage is that it had function keys that were those little rubber chicklet keys like the Mattel Aquarius or a bad 80s calculator. They’re also very narrow. And the Esc key is one of those, which really makes emacs bad. When I was heavy into FrameMaker at the job, I remapped the Home key in the left thumb cluster as a modifier so a Home-5 was F8, and a Home-6 was F9. (5 is right under F8, and 6 under F9.) I also mapped the End key to Esc, because FrameMaker had a ton of frequently-used shortcuts that nobody knows about anymore that begin with Esc, a leftover from its days on unix systems. I would map those only on the Windows system with AutoHotKey. I gave up on that a few work laptops ago, when Frame fell by the wayside.

Also, I had minor occasional problems with the USB firmware. It was designed probably right when USB 2.0 came out, and would sometimes freak out and require a reset. Also if you typed too fast with a modifier, the modifier would get stuck. (Hint: tap the shift key three or four times, and it unsticks.) I also had the usual wear and tear, a few keys losing their printing, and ten years of food and cat hair in the crevices.

The new Advantage 2 fixes a few things. First, the function keys are actual Cherry mechanical switches. They are, unfortunately, the same small size. The circuitry has also changed, and is allegedly better than the old controller. It now has two ways to remap keys: the old way, or you can mount the keyboard as a hard drive with a special key combo, and there will be an app to do complicated remappings, or a text file you can edit. You lose the two built-in USB jacks on the underside of the keyboard, but I never used those.

I wasn’t entirely happy with the upgrade. Although the keyboard uses the same key switches (MX Cherry Brown), typing on it feels very… cheap. The keys are not as glossy and seem to be made of a slightly different plastic. And the case feels a lot more hollow. There’s more of an echo-ey plastic feeling when typing. It feels like the unit was “cost-engineered” with cheaper materials or a more efficient mold to save a few pennies. It’s possible I’m imagining all of this, or the keyboard needs to break in or age a bit. But I’ve also seen a few people on the internet that felt the same, and have messed with putting DynaMat inside their keyboard to deaden it a bit. Maybe I should try that.

I also had a giant exercise to get the modifiers to work. You can swap them around at multiple levels: the keyboard has a Mac/Win setting; there’s an OS setting; and I think my KVM might be flipping the mapping, too. Plus you can physically swap the keycaps to get the labels right. I ended up putting the keycaps on as Cmd/Option and Ctrl/Cmd, swapping Cmd and Ctrl in the Mac system preferences, and setting the keyboard to Windows mode. That seems to mostly work. I also mapped the Home key to Ctrl. Maybe I’ll map End to Esc later.

So, we’ll see if I can put a few million more keystrokes through this one. I also need to avoid reading anything else about modifications, because there are people who burn serious time swapping out controllers, doing complex remapping, and changing keycaps and whatnot. I don’t have that much skill or energy, so I’ll stick to typing.

 

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general

KQED Article, other photo appearances

I had some pictures used in an article on KQED on Hilltop Mall. Check it out here. It’s a great overview of the mall, from someone who was actually around for the mall’s heyday, which I unfortunately missed. (See my last post on that.)

The reason these pictures got used is because I have everything on my Flickr account under a Creative Commons license. That means anyone can use my photos, as long as they give me credit. (It’s nice, but not required, for them to drop me a line, because then I’ll gladly link to their stuff, like I am here.)

I’ve mentioned this before, but if you ever need an image for a book cover, feel free to dig through my Flickr account. If you find something and ping me, I’ll even give you a high-res original if you need one. All I ask is that you credit me. (I did this for Ben Ditmars and his book Haiku in the Night. Who knew that me playing on my phone while waiting on my breakfast order in a Berlin hotel would be immortalized on the cover of a book.)

One weird result of this is that my photography pops up in weird places and I never find out about it unless I google my name, which I never like to do. Here’s a short list of some other oddball places where I have a photo credit:

Anyway, there’s more, but I’m bored of searching.

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blog

Death of the Hilltop Mall

Hilltop mallNot a shocker by any means, but it appears that Hilltop Mall in Richmond has finally met its fate. It was just announced that logistics giant Prologis purchased the mall, which has been more or less closed since last year (although anchors Walmart and Macy’s were mostly open during the pandemic.)

Hilltop’s a weird one for me. I wrote about my first visit there in 2017, and covered the basics: built by Taubman in 1976; four anchors; a million square feet. Bought by Mills, it ended up in Simon’s hands in 2007, who completely ignored the property, and defaulted on their loans in 2012. It had a Walmart as an anchor, which is bizarre because it used to be a Macy’s, and it looks like Walmart spent fifteen minutes remodeling this mid-70s Macy’s into a Walmart by slapping on a set of signs they printed at Kinko’s and painting various trim blue.

Since I wrote that last post, the mall was purchased by a group that was going to do a full renovation and go with an Asian theme: stark white and chrome interiors, a Ranch 99 grocery store, a food court with various sushi restaurants and boba tea places and poke bowl vendors, etc etc. There were lots of fancy renderings with stock art pictures of white people walking around shopping, and lots of pretty landscaping and this futuristic space village look to it. They put up a ton of white-painted plywood with stickers and banners of the big planned reopening in 2018 2019 2020 late 2020. There were no signs of progress, except a constant hemorrhaging of stores. JCP closed, then almost every national chain (except Foot Locker) closed, and then the mom and pop places started quickly vanishing. I think when the pandemic hit, they were at something like 16% occupancy. I don’t know if they ever got money for this big remodel, and I think every store they said was going in never materialized. And then the pandemic hit.

I never knew Hilltop when it was alive and thriving, in the 80s/90s. It once had all the big national stores, and two movie theaters inside the mall, an ice skating rink, three toy stores, and lots of places to eat. All the various posts I’ve been seeing this week are filled with memories about this era, and I’m a bit jealous to never have seen this place in its full splendor.

I went to Hilltop maybe a couple times a month in the last few years. It was the closest indoor mall to my house, and I’m an old man mallwalker, so that’s what drew me. I had a fond relationship with the place because I love empty malls, love going walking in them in the middle of the day when nobody is around, and Hilltop was perfect for that. It also had that weird Taubman Logan’s Run-looking architecture I love, futurist-in-1976. It was like my secret spot, the place I could retreat when it was rainy out or the December weather went south and I wanted to hear loud holiday Muzak echo through a large, empty building.

There’s a nostalgia reverberation point for me with Hilltop that I can’t fully explain. It is a Taubman mall and has the same look as old Taubman malls like Woodfield in Schaumberg, Illinois, so it reminds me of the few times I visited in the late 80s and saw that astounding place. I remember going there with my friend Larry in 1989 and walking a lap around that place, which is double the size of Hilltop, and I think the biggest mall in the world back in that pre-Mall of America timeframe, and wondering when it would ever end. Hilltop looks exactly like Woodfield’s baby sibling, minus the stores and remodel.

But the thing Hilltop really reminds me of is Scottsdale Mall in South Bend, Indiana, the pre-remodel Scottsdale of the 80s. First, it’s a two-story mall, which was rare in Indiana, and had a second story with a balcony walkway that overlooked the courtyard on the ground floor. And before they redid Scottsdale in 1993 with bright whites and garish neon vaporwave colors, it still had this 1972 color scheme of brick and wood and hexagonal burnt umber floor tiles and a general dreariness, like a bad regional campus of a commuter college or an office park complex you went to make a car insurance payment or take a urinalysis test.

The 1990-1991 school year is a bad nostalgia point for me, because I attended and worked at a commuter college (IUSB) and only had a couple of friends there and really missed the main campus I went to the year before in Bloomington. Every payday, I would pick up my check at 9 AM, not have to be to work until noon, and would shuffle off to the largely empty Scottsdale to walk around, buy stuff I didn’t need at Target, and play Tetris at the Aladdin’s Castle. (I had a Tetris problem back then. Still do.) It had the same vapid, bleak feeling that Hilltop had, and I loved it, because it perfectly matched my emotional state. I had a lot of problems that school year, with money and dating and where I was going in life, and of course my brain goes back to those points in life more than those boring years when I didn’t have struggle. Since Hilltop was never changed, and still had that time machine back to 1990, that’s what I took from it.

(Scottsdale is long gone, demalled in 2004. I recently did some research on it, and I probably need to do a much longer article on it. Someday. These write-ups are getting more frequent and more redundant as the retail world implode. Maybe I need to stop writing this stuff.)

So, Prologis. They redeveloped the old Oakland Army Base a few thousand feet to my west, making it into logistics warehouses for the Port of Oakland. It was sort of amazing, because they tore down these old World War II-looking barracks buildings, and almost instantly, these large white and green warehouse buildings suddenly appeared. They would truck in giant concrete panels and put them together like Lego bricks. Seriously, it looked like a million square feet of brand new, modern warehouse would be teleported into place in like a week.

I know there’s a lot of talk about them redeveloping Hilltop with all the latest buzzwords people want to hear, and that they’ll have low-income vegan housing and live-work space and dog parks and a farmer’s market and whatever the hell else they can put in their fake renderings. I fully expect them to either completely demolish the mall and put in two million feet of generic warehouse space that looks exactly like every other Prologis warehouse. (Go do a google image search on “Prologis warehouse” and you’ll see hundreds of absolutely identical white buildings with green trim. It’s almost creepy.) If the building is structurally sound (it probably isn’t) maybe they will just paint the outside white, shut the entrances, gut the interior, and use that for storage. Or they’ll spend years in arguments with the Richmond city government, and end up bowing out in three years with nothing done.

Anyway. Fun while it lasted. I should probably buy a treadmill so I can walk during the rainy season. Here’s a Flickr album with a dump of my 2017-2020 photos: https://flic.kr/s/aHskQsQ4P1

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general

Fight club, family trees, newspapers, bass

Christ, it’s been a month since I updated. So much for the “blog more” thing. I started the new job, but first rule of fight club. Things have been much more sane, but the pessimist in me is always waiting for the other shoe to drop. And I still have these weird bureaucratic nightmares (usually when I take Benadryl, which is too much this allergy season) where I’m like endlessly trying to sort a giant spreadsheet or I have some problem where I ask person A what to do and they say “ask B” and B says “ask C” and C says “ask A or B” and repeat. This was much worse when this was my actual work environment for twelve hours. After I was free and clear from the last job, I thought about starting a thread about all of the stupid stuff that went down over the last ten years, and then I (coincidentally) got a boilerplate letter from their legal that they send to all former employees, reminding me of the employee agreement I signed in 2010 and how I can’t disclose trade secrets. So, next topic.

I’ve fallen down the genealogy k-hole again, which is largely John’s fault, but it’s also something I do every few years. It’s ironic because it is something that obsesses me, even though I pretty much don’t talk to most of my family anymore. I debated using Ancestry versus MyHeritage and heard the latter was better for European records, so I signed up and then found out that it isn’t. I found out some rudimentary things that were wrong, like incorrect years and an incorrect last name that was throwing off all previous attempts to go back more than three generations. So it’s interesting, but it’s gotten boring, and like I said, it’s not like I’m going to suddenly find long-lost seventh cousins fourteen times removed that I’m really interested in talking to.

The other thing I did which I am obsessed with but probably need to quit is I got a full-on subscription to Newspapers dot com. (They have a variety of tiers: useless, mostly useless, and expensive.) I know I’ve bitched constantly about the bait-and-switch with newspaper archives: you used to be able to hit everything on Google, and then in the media landscape consolidation/race-to-the-bottom, everything went paywall. Well, I didn’t know this, but if you get the full-blown Newspapers account, there is a ton of old information on there.

What’s problematic with my family research is that the Elkhart Truth (sic) does not participate in this program. But the South Bend Tribune does. When I grew up, the SBT was a “real” newspaper, and the Truth was sort of half-ass, but way more local information. Anyway, most obituaries and so on are covered there. My dad’s side of the family lived in Edwardsburg, which is covered well under the Herald-Palladium paper (and its four pre-merger papers) so there’s a lot there. The other side of the family is in Chicago, and the Tribune has an extensive archive, but that family has an extremely common last name, and apparently some genetic predisposition for not even knowing how to spell their own kids’ names, according to census papers I found. Anyway.

The family stuff – I won’t go into it, but I found a lot there. And then I started plugging in various dead malls, and holy shit.

I wrote this big thing about Pierre Moran Mall recently, and really had to scrape to find even the most basic dates. I plugged this into the search for the South Bend Tribune, and found a ton of stuff, including pictures, store open and close dates, articles about events at the mall, the expansion and enclosing of the mall, the failed attempt to turn the old Target into a Christian event hall… way too much to process.

I want to someday write an article on the Scottsdale Mall in South Bend like the one I wrote on PMM. I didn’t spend as much time there as a kid, but I spent a lot of time there in 1990-1991 when I went to IUSB. Anyway, I started searching, and the South Bend Tribune did an entire section on the grand opening of the mall, with an article per store, and in most cases an ad from the same store (probably why they did this, to gin up future ad sales) and of course a ton of pictures. When I mean every store, they even did a piece on the local pretzel stand in the mall.

On to Concord Mall: I found articles going back to years before the mall opened, when they planned on plowing up the farmland in Dunlap and putting some bridges across the Yellow River to get things started. They also did a similar send-up with plenty of articles about the stores moving from downtown to the new shopping center. It looked like the article about Wards was largely boilerplate – I think corporate sent the same copy to the paper for both the South Bend and Elkhart stores, which both opened the same year.

Other interesting things I found out: one is that the original plan for Concord was to include 200 apartments on the property. That would have been a fun little futuristic utopia, living and working in the same building, eating Karmelkorn for dinner every night, going on dates in the JC Penney.

Another weird one was there was a study and a plan done on building yet another mall in Goshen. That area was over-malled with four malls in the seventies already. Goshen was decimated by Concord going in, because almost all of their downtown shops fled, and that place was a ghost town for decades. Building a fifth mall in a city of maybe 15,000 back then was a real hail mary to try to keep shopping dollars in the city, and someone probably ran the numbers and decided it wasn’t worth giving the developer a fat tax break on it. So nothing happened, and then of course Wal-Mart came in and built two super-stores and completely finished off the downtown. (The good news is that it’s become somewhat hipster-gentrified, which is good to see, actually.)

The newspaper thing was a real problem, scraping up the serotonin and eating up my time. It was like when Google first came out and I spent weeks searching on everything I could think of, wasting way too much time reading dumb articles about abandoned military bases or ghost towns in Colorado or whatever I was into at that point. It is amazing, and totally hit the nostalgia nerve, and I should probably cancel my subscription soon. Luckily, there aren’t any Bloomington newspapers on there.

The Panera by my house closed. Like I think I ate there a week ago, and on Friday, it was completely stripped down, all the signs and lights and awnings gone. I’m currently in food jail, so that’s probably a good thing; I got into a bad habit of ordering from there every week or so. You can probably eat healthy there, but the bread part kills me. Anyway, it’s become this dumb inside joke/meme, and like all of my dumb inside joke/memes, I’m hopelessly sick of it, but the same three people that make the same dumb jokes on every single thing I post on Facebook won’t let it go. I really need to delete my Facebook.

No progress whatsoever on writing these days. After the overwhelming non-success of the last book, I think maybe I should buy the next PlayStation and just work on that for the next ten years, like I did from 2001-2010. Good thing I can’t actually find one. I’m trying to get back into playing bass again, so that’s good. I bought a Palmer Bass Pocket Amp which is a great piece of kit for practicing with headphones. Now I just need to get back up to speed on it.

Categories
general

End of an era

Last day at the old job was Wednesday. I had two early calls, and then was done by nine. I spent about two hours cleaning up after myself, and by eleven, I was done done, and couldn’t think of anything else to do except look at really old wiki pages and make myself depressed. By that time, everyone in India was asleep, and I don’t work with too many people in the US anymore, so I did one last look, then shut everything down, threw my two computers in a bag, and drove straight to FedEx. I gave them the company’s account number, bought two computer boxes, filled them up with obsolete laptops and my name badge, and that was that. End of an era.

Like I said last post, no cake, no dragging me to Chotchkie’s and telling the server it’s my birthday so the whole kitchen staff comes out and sings. This job did Agile (sort of), and that means you work with everyone, and you work with nobody. If I wanted to tell everyone I was leaving, I would have had to hit 79 different slack channels. And I’ve been in our Palo Alto office maybe a dozen times in twelve years, and I currently know exactly one person who still works there. And physically, he doesn’t, until the pandemic is over. So the goodbye situation was a bit weird.

* * *

Actually, not to get too into it, but the main office at this place was a bit abnormal. I mean it was, at its peak, four different two-story buildings with the distinct architectural style known as “Silicon Valley, 2002.” They were nice enough buildings, but almost everyone had an office with a door, and it was incredibly quiet there. I’d wander the halls after lunch, and it felt absolutely dead. The only people I’d see were people I didn’t know. It always felt like when I have a dream that’s set in a generic tech office building that’s an amalgam of every place I’ve worked and a bunch of office sets from TV or movies. It never felt like my office. It’s also weird that I haven’t been there since maybe December 2019, and I’ll likely never go there again. And the company is in the process of downsizing to another office somewhere else, so I definitely won’t be back.

The place reminded me of when I worked at Samsung and had to visit developers at other companies, or when I worked for Frankov and tagged along when he pitched his start-up. In both situations, I’d go to these random tech companies, and they would look like this, like if you were making a movie about a tech company. Like they always reminded me of the office to Playtronic Toys in the movie Sneakers. It was like a strange sense of deja vu, like you could tell just by looking at the chairs and cubicles and white boards and Polycom speaker phones in every meeting room that it was a tech company, and if you grabbed a random individual (one not wearing a shirt with a collar) you could probably ask them how to back out a change in git and they could tell you. Almost all tech companies look like this, although ones that are in big cities and not in office park sprawl usually also have one wall that’s exposed brick, which tells you that they are Disruptors and Think Outside The Box.

* * *

Come to think of it, we had an exposed brick wall when I was a kid, like behind our wood burning stove. Not much Disruption or Synergy went on there. No stand-up comedy, either.

* * *

Walking away from that job was more depressing than I thought. I spent the day in a funk, which wasn’t helped by the rain storm we got. (Oddly enough, it rained on my last day at Samsung.) It was much more about leaving behind the first half of that job, all of the people I worked with on the old New York team. All of them left in 2015 or so, and that was depressing then, but it all sort of hit me again, all at once. I wallowed in that for the afternoon, but then made the decision to move on. I have a real problem with nostalgia like this, and I can either simmer in it forever, or try to do something else. So, I went to the mall, and stopped thinking about it.

I was also looking for patterns and coincidences, like how I left Samsung at about the same time in 2010, and also how I left Denver in late February 2008. And we moved to Denver around then in 2007, so my original departure from DataSynapse and New York was at almost the same time of year as the end of my second tour. Another one that popped out at me was how in March 1999, I’d left my last Seattle job and was spending a few weeks of voluntary unemployment packing and mailing boxes all day, and writing on Summer Rain at night. I probably should have spent my four days of unemployment this week frantically writing, but I spent much of it digging around the back of my desk, which I will talk about now.

* * *

I’ve been getting ready for the new job, which I start tomorrow. I spent the weekend rewiring everything on my desk, swapping things out, managing cables, getting things ready for two Macs on the same workspace. The process started with the addition of an LG 4K 27-inch monitor. It’s maybe two inches wider, and about the same height, but with smaller bezels all around. The native resolution is twice as much in each direction. That means I can keep it at 1920×1080 and have the same size as before, but incredibly clear. Or I can crank it up to like 3360×1890 on my Mac, which is roughly four times as big, but would make me go blind after an hour of reading the tiny text. Mousing across the screen also takes like a day, and I’m sure the fan will start blowing like a jet engine running at combat power. Setting it to like 2560×1440 is a good compromise, I guess. The monitor has much more rich colors and all that stuff, and a set of built-in speakers I will never use. There’s also the Thunderbolt cable thing, where I can plug one cable from my computer to the monitor, then plug my mouse and keyboard into the monitor, and the peripherals and the charging and video will all work over the one cord. I haven’t messed with that one, and just use a single HDMI.

I also bought a new KVM switch, which was a huge pain. This is the third one I’ve bought in 2021, and it luckily seems to work. Nobody even knows what a KVM is or does anymore, and when you mention running two computers in a computer forum or subreddit, everyone tells you that you should just get a second bedroom and set up another desk and monitor in there, or just use your phone for everything, who needs two computers, you’re holding it wrong, etc. Most KVM switches on the market were designed in like 1947 and don’t support monitors from ten years ago, let alone all of the crazy ultra-wide, XDR, 4K, Retina-whatever stuff out there. Don’t even try to find one supporting multiple monitors.

Anyway, after days of research, I got this KVM. It supports 4K resolution over HDMI, and supports EDID, which basically tricks your computer into thinking it still has a monitor attached when you switch to the other computer, so the first computer doesn’t freak out, uninstall the drivers to your mouse and keyboard, go to sleep, move all of the windows, and so on. So now I can run two Macs into that switch, and hook up my monitor, keyboard, and mouse to it. I then can use a remote or the button on the thing and switch back and forth between computers. It doesn’t appear to have any delay or weirdness with the computers falling asleep randomly or whatever. Famous last words.

The DST shift messed with me last night, mostly because half of our various time sources changed, but half didn’t. I had an early appointment today, and was almost late because I didn’t know if I should be looking at my desk clock (which doesn’t change) or my watch (which does). So, maybe I need a nap now.

Categories
general

The Deal (2021 edition)

So. It’s time to write another post like this one from 2010. It’s not LinkedIn official yet, but I’m leaving my current job, and going to a new one. And that’s always a good way to rustle the various nostalgic bits of the brain, especially when as much time has passed as it has with the current employer.

I don’t like to cross the streams and won’t discuss the specifics of either job here. But the old gig is the one I started in September of 2010. And I did a previous tour with this company from 2001 to 2007. So that’s a grand total of almost sixteen and a half years of service between the two, which is insane.

This job started almost on a lark. I was working in Silicon Valley and doing the big commute and wasn’t entirely into my gig. Joel, my old boss, asked me if I wanted to come back. I said nah, I owned a house out here, wasn’t about to move back to New York. He said I could work remote. I said, okay let’s do this, and I was officially a full-time work-from-home worker, ten years before everyone else did the same.

There are two distinct eras to the job, and the nostalgia for the first half is much heavier. I really liked working on my old products, and loved working with Joel and the old crew. All of us who were there from the start-up days had basically gone to war together, and had an entire vocabulary of our own, plus total knowledge of what was where, how things worked, how to get stuff done. We were all introverts, and a decade before Slack became a thing, we all used an internal IRC server for air traffic control and general water cooler bullshitting. Nobody ever used the phone. I didn’t even have a phone; the company gave me one in the Palo Alto office, and then promptly gave my cube to someone else when I never came in. There was a lot of general insanity, a small company running within a giant one, but I really enjoyed that five year chunk of time.

I also liked that it was a strange virtual conduit back to my old life in New York. At that point, half of the team was still at our old office at Bleecker and Broadway, and the other half was up in Boston. But I worked in New York, from Oakland. I time-shifted three hours earlier to match their hours, and kept up with all of the gossip and the general zeitgeist of working for a New York company, even though I technically worked for a Palo Alto company. I went back to New York three times during that first few years, which was always a bizarre deja vu experience. Like the first time, I came into the office at 632, went right back to my old desk, and it had been vacant for the last three years. All of my old files were still in the filing cabinet. It was like I’d never left. And on another trip, I stayed at a hotel a few blocks from my last apartment. I’d walk the same exact route from the Lower East Side to the office, and it felt like I had traveled time back to 2006.

The parent company got bought out by venture cap, and everything shifted after that. Pretty much the entire team left. I got moved to another team in Palo Alto, and a new product, but I still had the old product. But we went through a big “push to cloud” where the old product was put out to pasture, and I spent much less time on it. I also started managing people, and working on this new cloud thing. I really missed my old team, and 2015 was an extremely depressing year for me.

I probably shouldn’t go into any details of the second half of my tenure. I started managing people, and loved doing that, up until the point when I had to start doing layoffs. That’s brutal, and the only thing worse than firing people who have been very loyal is getting invited to random meetings with HR and not knowing if it’s to fire people or to get fired yourself.

Anyway, don’t want to get into that stuff.

One of the things I have liked about my work situation is that the time-shifting means I have a few hours in the afternoon to write. And I pretty much floundered and was not consistent in my writing in the 00s, and figured I needed to focus and get more regular writing done after I took this gig. I’ve published twelve books in that time, and 30-some articles, plus everything written here and in other random places. I’m not sure what my work schedule will be like in the future, and I think I’m done with this constant grind of trying to publish a book every year.

The new job is in San Francisco, but given the situation, I’ll still be home until at least the fall, and I don’t think any of us are ever going to be back to five days a week in the office. (Famous last words.) The big weird thing about this job will be that I don’t switch desks. I’ll still be in my home office, have the same chair, same monitor, same keyboard. I’ll just be swapping out my old Lenovo for a new Mac. And what’s weird about that is it’s identical to the Mac I have at home.

What’s also strange is that in the pandemic, there’s no goodbye. I mean, no cake, no lunch, or anything else. I’m not big on goodbyes, and I’ve hated that I’ve have to force myself to end conversations this last week without saying “talk to you later.” But my boss is in the UK. My workers are in the midwest, the east, and India. My teams are scattered. There would be no lunch at Chotchkie’s and gift card to Starbucks, even if we were allowed to eat in restaurants. I just realized the other day that I have never physically met any of the people I currently manage. Sarah said the other day, “I feel so bad you talk about N__ and A__ every day and I never got to meet them!” And I said, “well, neither did I.”

Anyway. Old job ends on the 10th, and new one on the 15th. So I get a four-day weekend to FedEx computers back and clean out behind my desk to redo the cables and maybe sleep a bit. Then on to the next era. Should be fun.

Categories
general

The age of adapters

Two disparate conversations got intermingled in my head this week. One was a long discussion about the days of AM radio and only AM radio in cars, and the other was a day where multiple people asked about various dongle issues, USB-C vs. USB3 vs. Thunderbolt or Thunderbird or whatever the hell Apple calls USB-C now. Anyway, both of these things make me think of how in general, we’re so adapter-free now, and can generally shoot music and videos and photos straight through the air at each other, at the cloud, at machines like TVs and printers and coffee machines. I promise this isn’t the usual “these damn kids don’t know what it’s like to hunt for the right DB-9 to DB-25 RS232 cable” old man rant, but these two things made me think of the ubiquity of adapters in the seventies and eighties as the landscape of tech rapidly changed.

* * *

Example one: car stereos. For decades, the standard was AM radio, and that’s it. In the US, the AOR FM stations started their reign in the late 60s, but it wasn’t until 1978 that there were more FM stations than AM, and a lot of them were simulcast stations of the same programming. I think by the time I was sentient enough to have my own radio and listen to my own music, the top-40 stations in my area were FM, but FM radios were still an upgrade option for most cars back then.

I remember my former stepdad had an old Buick, maybe a 71 or 72, and it had the stock AM radio. But he’d upgraded this for the bold new future of AOR programming by buying a little Radio Shack box, a Realistic FM tuner. It sat below the all-metal skull-crusher dashboard of this giant beast of a car, somehow spliced into the old wiring, so it would pump high-fidelity FM stereo sound into a single three-inch paper speaker. Seems like it would have been easier to rip out the stock radio and slap in a Krako tape deck with an AM/FM tuner, but maybe that cost an extra ten dollars. Also, leaving in the old radio wouldn’t lower the value of the vintage $500 vehicle, I guess.

Another big thing was that in the late sixties/early seventies, nobody could decide on what physical media format was the king of mobile applications. Spoiler alert: the cassette won, and there were suddenly millions of vehicles on the road that couldn’t play them. One “adapter” approach was to go to Radio Shack or K-Mart and pick up an under-dash tape player, much like the external FM tuner, and wire that up so you could play your Barry Manilow cassettes through your stock sound system.

What I always found funny, although I never saw one in person (I did read a lot of Radio Shack and JC Whitney catalogs as a kid, so I knew of them) were the 8-Track to cassette adapters. If you were an early adopter of the bigger and quickly obsoleted tape system, you could buy a plug-in adapter, which looked like a really long 8-Track tape, but the part that stuck out of the dash had a cassette player mounted horizontally in it.

(For a quick look at all of these options, take a gander at this 1976 Radio Shack catalog.)

I never really bought into this adapter madness — I either went to the junk yard and bought a tape deck out of a junked car for twenty bucks, or just brought a jambox and put it in the passenger seat. But that was when I was still spry enough to crawl around under the dashboard of a subcompact. Maybe I’d think differently now that my back is out, who knows.

* * *

Much later, the cassette was dethroned from the top of the heap of the physical media world, and then the argument resurfaced on how you get your various iPods and DiscMans and whatever to talk to your tape-only car stereo.

The very first time I bought a portable CD player in 1992, it actually shipped with the solution in the box: a little fake cassette with a cord dangling out of it that plugged in the headphone jack of the CD player. I used a system like this for years, first for that CD player, but later for the MiniDisc and iPod. I didn’t have a car during the heyday of in-car CD players in the early 00s, but I rented cars quite a bit on vacation. And of course, I’d always forget that damn adapter and would have to buy another one for twice as much at an airport. So I have a big collection of those things in storage somewhere.

There was also a much worse adapter for cars that didn’t have tape decks. It was basically a Mr. Microphone but it took the signal from a headphone cable and broadcast it over channel 88.1 with like a milliwatt of power, so you could tune in a car radio and magically listen to your CDs.

I got stuck with one of these when I was Hawaii in 2003. It was basically like this scene in Spinal Tap. I’d be driving around the island, happily listening to an album on MiniDisc, and I’d zip by some volcano park or whatever the hell that would blast out weather advisories at a million megawatts on the same exact channel as the adapter, interrupting my song for the next few minutes. I finally gave up and bought a Skynard CD at a gas station and listened to that for the rest of the trip.

* * *

The adapter thing was also big in the beginning of personal computers. Both Atari and Mattel had popular game systems, and then Apple and Commodore came out with home computers. The popular thinking of parents at that time was that kids needed to learn about computers so that by like 1995 when paper was obsolete and the world was run by artificially-intelligent mainframes, the kids would be able to get good jobs to afford flying cars and robot butlers. So why buy a gaming system and later buy a home computer, when you could take your existing gaming system and magically turn it into a home computer with a plug-in box like that FM radio tuner?

Atari had a few different approaches. They came out with a BASIC cartridge, which was laughably bad, given it could only use 64 characters of memory for programs, and you had to type in programs with gamepads. Next they tried to release the Atari Graduate for the 2600/VCS gaming console. It plugged into the cartridge port and had a membrane keyboard that sat on top of the 2600, adding 8K of RAM and the ability to hook up peripherals like a tape deck, a modem, and a printer. This was supposed to be a $79 add-on, but never shipped because (allegedly) of some arguments between Atari management and the third-party team developing it. There was also a third-party thing called the CompuMate that shipped, but didn’t take the world by storm, probably because you can’t do much with a 10×12 character screen.

Mattel was a bit more infamous about this, because they promised a computer add-on and never delivered, which got the FTC to slap a $10,000 a day fine on them, and lit the fire to for them to come out with anything that could legally be called a computer and dumped on a small test market at a loss, which is exactly what happened.

The Entertainment Computer System was an add-on home computer for the Intellivision, which was a small external chicklet keyboard and a box that plugged into the side of the Intellivision, and was probably 75% the size of the actual Intellivision, and had its own power supply. The thing added BASIC, 2K of RAM (but you couldn’t use all 2K for your programs), another sound chip, extra controller ports, and the interface for a cassette recorder. They also came out with an add-on synthesizer keyboard — this was the heyday of Mattel’s Synsonics instruments. The whole thing got the FTC off their backs, but didn’t entirely catch on, and then Mattel imploded a year later.

Coleco also did this with the Adam computer, which was available as a standalone or as an adapter that plugged into the ColecoVision console. I don’t know the architecture of the add-on or how well it worked, because the only things I ever heard about were the Adam’s other major shortcomings, like the gunfire-loud printer; the fact that the power supply was in the printer so when the printer died, the whole system died; and the slow cassette system built into the main unit, and a burst of EMF at start-up would nuke any tape in the drive, even though the instructions told you to put the BASIC tape in the drive when you booted.

The more interesting one was that Coleco came out with an adapter that would enable your ColecoVision to play Atari 2600 games. This wasn’t some kind of sophisticated emulator or anything; it was functionally an entire reverse-engineered Atari 2600 that hooked onto the front of the ColecoVision and used nothing more than the video connection and power from the ColecoVision. The expander has a 6507 CPU, memory, and the whole deal. You had to unplug your Coleco joysticks and plug them into the expander (or I guess buy some Atari sticks, if you wanted the same feel.) Coleco got sued by Atari about this and Atari lost.

Likewise, Mattel also had an Atari compatibility “adapter” that was also a near-complete 2600 that plugged into an Intellivision. And Atari did the same thing themselves with a near-complete Atari 2600 that plugged into the Atari 5200. These were major marketing coups in that they radically increased the other systems’ library size. The downside was they increased their libraries with really bad games. I don’t think people remember how bad Atari 2600 games were, even compared to the 5200 or Intellivision.

The whole thing is bizarre though. It reminds me of in the 1950s, the Air Force built this giant B-36 bomber, and when they decided there was no way to bolt enough guns onto the 200-ton behemoth, they thought, “hey, let’s just hang entire fighter planes on the big plane and have the best of both worlds.” (That never really worked out, BTW.)

* * *

Now we’ve solved the upgradeability problem: everything is sealed shut with glue, and when you want a better version with newer features, you throw the old one in a landfill. Sometimes I wonder if this adapter fetish of last century was some holdout to the days when a TV or a radio was a piece of furniture you kept forever and serviced with in-home repairmen, like a furnace or a car. Maybe people thought they would invest in a system and then it would slowly grow and evolve over time.

(Oddly enough, Apple embraced this for a time, and you could upgrade early Apple machines with an upgrade kit that replaced the logic board, but kept the old case. For example an Apple IIe could be upgraded to a IIgs, or a Mac 128 could be upgraded to a Mac Plus. I don’t know who did this, and you were basically replacing the entire machine but keeping the old yellowed case, so why not just pay more and get the whole thing. Maybe schools did it. I could see a school administration making a bone-headed investment like that. I bet I’m still paying off tax bonds from when my local school did this in 1977.)

I think these various false starts caused the adapter appeal to dwindle. The last one I really remember is the Sega 32X, which was a stopgap measure to put two high-speed CPUs, a GPU, and more memory onto the 16-bit Genesis, which allowed it to run… well, virtually no games, because nobody supported it. Anyway, it seems like now the thing is to own one of every console, or just run the things on your phone. People aren’t as up in arms about o “teaching computers” to kids like they did when they thought “computer technician” was a vocational skill like a cabinet maker or TV repair person. Everyone seems to know how to use a computer off the bat, or instinctively know how to move a mouse or swipe a screen. And our homes are filled with computers, whether we know it or not. The webcam sitting on my monitor probably has a CPU orders of magnitude faster than some of the mainframes I used in college. Just let the kid screw with the old iPad, and they’ll figure it out, I guess.

* * *

Anyway. Dongles: USB-C is a subset of Thunderbolt 3. They use the same size connector, but TB3 can be twice as fast and use half the power, depending on the device and the cable. That’s all. Enjoy not having to buy another device that costs 90% of your first device to play another manufacturer’s games.