Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Name a candy mentioned in a Husker Du song

The hardest part about not writing here for a long period of time is that when I come back, it can take me days or even weeks to type the first paragraph or even the first sentence in an entry, because I get that writer’s block/paranoia that comes from constantly re-evaluating why I do this.  And then last night – I’m a bachelor for the week, because Sarah went back to Milwaukee to see a sick relative, so you’d think I would be doing something exciting, but in reality, I’m watching episodes of Larry Sanders on the Netflix box and playing some stupid tower defense game on the iPad and talking to the cats too much.

So I’m up too late on a school night, and feeling oddly nostalgic, and go to this page and start digging through old entries.  One of the hazards of having 14 years of old entries online is when I go down this nostalgia k-hole, it’s very easy to play the “so what was I doing in 2004?” game, and spend hours of heat-induced insomnia reading old stuff I wrote.  And I guess that’s one of the reasons I do write here, to trap in amber these states of emotion and experience in some way so I can look back and ultimately think that I was writing a lot more in [insert year here] even though I probably at that time felt I did a lot more writing in some other era of my life.

The rest of the country is in an insane heatwave.  It’s dropped down to 64 here, but we’re west-facing and without central air, so it feels like more.  But I think I have either a touch of food poisoning or stomach flu, and have felt nauseous for the last couple of days, which is exactly what you don’t want when it’s hotter than normal out.  So it’s lots of crackers and diet 7-Up and junior mints, which are named after a Broadway musical based on a bunch of short stories written by the screenwriter who wrote Viva Las Vegas.  And they’re mentioned in the Husker Du song “Eiffel Tower High”.  And I guess there’s a Seinfeld episode too.  But junior mints are one of those strange shouldn’t-work cures that probably make things worse, but I take some comfort in.  And of course food poisoning reminds me of Denver, since I had at least a couple of cases of it there.  And that makes me click on those links to the right in the 2007 range to go back and read about all of my medical maladies and realize I’ve got it easy these days.

Do you remember SOH CAH TOA?  I actually had to use trig the other day to figure something out, which was phenomenal.  I still have not been writing, and have been spending all of my spare time trying to learn enough Cocoa to write a decent game for the iPad.  It’s clicking for me, but it also makes me realize I don’t know how to draw and really need some artwork to make a decent game.   Anyway, I was dicking around with a tank game, where you drive a little tank around a 2D map and shoot stuff, and I needed to figure out some crap having to do with angles and whatnot.  SOH CAH TOA – Sin = opposite/hypotenuse; cos = adjacent/hypotenuse; tangent = opposite/hypotenuse.  I must have learned that 25 years ago, maybe in Mr. Martin’s class.  Trig was my downfall in my computer science career in college.  I barely learned it in high school, and totally forgot it.  I think a guidance counselor told me I should take M126 and I didn’t, so when I got to the second year of calculus, M216, it was a solid wall of trig, and I completely fell apart.  That was 1991, and now it’s 2001, and I’m trying to write a game for a computer I couldn’t even imagine in 1991, and it all comes back to me.  Fucking trig.

Somewhere, in one of my storage boxes, I have an old relic from my attempt to pass M216: a Casio fx-7000g calculator.  I got this thing for Christmas of 1990, I think in some hopes of graphing out trig functions for this calculus class.  I spent the whole break memorizing the damn manual, astonished by this beast of a calculator.  I grew up with the standard 4-function thing, the kind where you would type in 37047734 and flip it upside down so it said HELLHOLE.  And I had a slightly more advanced Radio Shack number that did some scientific notation and basic trig stuff, with ten digits instead of eight.  But this 7000g, it had a 96×64 bitmap display.  You could even program the damn thing in BASIC, if you had the patience to type in all of the tokenized keywords on the chicklet keys.

I didn’t have a computer at that point, and went to IUSB, so the closest one I could use was a 45-minute drive away.  I so desperately wanted to build a junk PC or buy an Amiga, but both were so far out of my reach.  I made something like $100 a week before taxes, and the cheapest, shittiest Amiga was like $500, and I was putting at least a tank of gas in my car every few days just to make enough money to stay broke, so it never happened.  But I had this “computer” in my hands, a whopping 422 bytes of memory.  I spent a chunk of the vacation in Toledo, at my girlfriend’s parents’ place, and I whittled away the entire trip writing a chess game in my head, using BASIC, trying to find a way to smash it all down into 422 bytes, which is absolutely asinine.  I think I gave up on that and went back to pseudocode and pseudo-pascal and eventually got a program on the VAX that drew a pretty chess board and all of the pieces before I got bored of the whole mess and went back to reading Phrack magazine and downloading crap DOS programs from anonymous FTP sites.

That calculator cost $100 in 1991.  That’s maybe $150 in today’s dollars, which could maybe get you a junk laptop on eBay, one that could barely boot Windows 98, but it would still have like 256MB of RAM, which is over 500 times what this thing had.  I had one of those Timex data watches in the late 90s that I think had like twice as much memory.  (Crap, totally forgot about that thing.  I wonder if I still have that in a box somewhere.  I actually had two of them; the original one with a light sensor you held up to your monitor to program, and the USB model.  They were both cool and lacking.)

It’s past my bedtime and it’s still hot, and I’ve got two cats staring at me wondering if their human pillow is going to stop this writing nonsense anytime soon.


3 responses to “Name a candy mentioned in a Husker Du song”

  1. Mr. Bracken had some memory trick for secant and cosecant etc beyond old Chief SohCahToa. I never knew why anyone would want to bother with the secants etc when you could just turn them over and to sohcahtoa, at least when dealing in 2 dimensions on a flat plane. Could be why I don't work with math now.

  2. I don't think I've ever had a Junior Mint. I can't even picture them. Do they also come in Senior?

    I first learned trig in England, and we did the far superior The Old American Sat On His Coat And Hat.

    I have moved. The new place is orders of magnitude nicer. Come on out when you're feeling better.