Monday, May 7, 2018

That time I knew where in the world is Carmen Sandiego

I was in 9th grade at Hempfield High School, sitting in a chair infront of an old giant computer with a floppy disk drive.  And I wasn't sure if I could believe what I was seeing.

It was the old, old, OLD library before they renovated sometime around 1994.  24 years ago, my god has it been that long?  Just thinking about it now makes me think the design had to be straight out of the 1950s.   Because it was probably built in the 1950s.

I was playing Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego.  The game itself was pretty popular, but I bet most people would instead remember the game show version that aired on PBS.

Anyway, there was nothing better to do, especially if you've already read that week's copy of Baseball Digest two or three times.

I just sat down hoping to catch Carmen's henchman or henchwoman, have some fun and maybe improve my rank.  You never sat down and just expected to catch Carmen.  I had never even heard of anyone catching her.  It just didn't happen.

The first hint I got that this might not be an ordinary game came when one witness described the crook as a lady with brown hair.  I doubt you remember the game, but there were only 2 or maybe 3 female crooks with brown hair -- and Carmen was one of them.  So just the possibility that it was her was there and it created a buzz around the game.

So I continued to enter clues into the database, not really expecting it to be her.  Finally, I entered a clue and the computer popped back that I had enough for a warrant -- and it was for........Carmen Sandiego.  In 2017 you are laughing at me but in 1994 it was a very big deal.
A big deal indeed, but still I wasn't quite ready to call CNN.  If you recall, in that game you had to keep your clues to the identity of the crook straight.  If you didn't, you could end up, say -- arresting Eartha Brute with a warrant for Vic the Slick -- and then you would have to walk around the offices of Interpol with egg on your face.

So I knew I had a warrant for Carmen, but I wasn't 100% sure that she was the crook.  Like I said -- you just didn't expect to catch her.

I flew from city to city on the trail of the crook.  Tension was high.  Finally, I made it to one destination and the tell-tale graphic showing a disguised crook in a trenchcoat indicated that I had found the crook and the arrest was imminent.

With each landmark visit, I got closer to my potential date with destiny.  One stop, then a second, and finally the third...the chase was on.  The cloaked crook ran from one side of the screen to the other, with the 1950s London style police car in chase.  Finally we apprehended the international criminal.  The local police congratulated me on finally apprehending...Carmen Sandiego.

(Sure the graphics in this game are just north of Etch-a-Sketch in quality, but the tension was palpable.)

Interpol thanked me for my efforts in apprehending the most wanted crook in the world.  In recogition of my success, I was promoted to Master Detective.  Such honor!

Sitting alone in a corner of the library, I silently enjoyed the greatest accomplishment in my video game career.  I couldn't yell out, I couldn't celebrate.  I was left to enjoy my success in silent reflection.

Video Game Playing Career Highlights:
1.  Catching Carmen San Diego
2.  TKO'ing Mike Tyson in Punch Out
3.  Finding level 7 in Zelda  

Well, after that it was never the same.  I had reached the top of the mountain and attained the unattainable.  What more could I do?

Weeks later and bored, I figured I would sit down and just give the game another go for old times sake.  I entered the floppy and booted up -- but when I tried to log in with my detective name -- I was halted.  Detective Richard was recognized as the illustrious gumshoe that nabbed Carmen San Diego -- too famous to continue under that name and pursue electronic law enforcement.  With that type of unheralded recognition that could never be exceeded, I never played the game again.

Next time:  How we used to sink our rafts on purpose in Oregon Trail so we could write dirty epitaphs on the tombstones of the victims.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Greatest Movies Ever, Non-Negotiably Ranked

I think movies are the most important thing in America.  Movie stars make the most money.  People watch movies over and over again.  They aren't like television episodes where your favorite show has 50 to 100 episodes to sort through to find your favorite.  It's one and done.  Most of them stick with you your whole life like family or STDs.  Because they are so important, we have to list the best.  The following list is non-negotiable and final.

1.   Back to the Future
2.   Casablanca
3.   The Wizard of Oz
4.   Cast Away
5.   Wayne's World
6.   Ghostbusters
7.   JFK
8.   The 'burbs
9.   Bird on a Wire
10.  Lethal Weapon

1,072. A snuff film showing everyone that I hold dear, dying horrible deaths
1,073. Star Wars

Glad that's settled.

The greatest thing I can say about Back to the Future is that I wish I could see it again for the first time.  Time travel is my milieu, so this movie is right up my alley.

BTTF is the greatest adventure story of all time.  I dare you to find me a movie that is more fun to watch.  I read somewhere that nothing is said or done in the movie that doesn't become important later in the movie.  How great is that?  That all leads to my favorite movie scene ever, summed up by Doc's famous line:  "Dont long you hit that wire with the connecting hook, at precisely 88 mph, instant the lightning strikes the tower...everything will be fine!"  

I may be slightly over top in regard to the movie, but I'm just saying if I ever end up winning a Best Screenplay Oscar, I'm thanking Michael J. Fox, Lea Thompson and Robert Zemeckis before my Mom and Dad.

There might be other movies that were better 'made' but Back to the Future is my favorite.  It's the one movie that I can watch whenever it is on, at whatever part of the movie.  I never get tired of it.  It's been with me all of my life, along with my family and the Red Sox.

The Wizard of Oz is every kid's favorite movie.  And if it's not, it's because they haven't seen it yet.

Cast Away is Tom Hanks on an island with a volleyball for 90 minutes and it's absolutely terrific.  It makes me angry right now in 2016 that freaking Gladiator won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2000 and Cast Away wasn't even nominated!  The biggest mistake in the history of the Academy Awards.

Ghostbusters is a testament to the genius of Bill Murray.

You will never ever beat me in Wayne's World trivia, so don't try.

Because I am lazy, I typically spend my work vacation just sitting around the house.  In a perfect world, one of the weeks that I have off would end up like the plot to The 'burbs.  No, I don't necessarily wish that my neighbors were serial killers, but I'm just saying it help might break up the monotony of a boring summer.    

Back to the Future is my favorite movie, but Casablanca is the best movie, if that makes sense.

Casablanca has the best script, the best lines, the best story, the best characters, the best actors, the best final scene and the best final line of any movie ever made.  Good luck topping that any time soon.

The cast is gang-busters.  Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid are great and Claude Rains' Captain Renault is one of the 10 best characters of all time.  Even the bit players -- Sydney Greenstreet and Pete Lorre -- are legends in the film industry.

Humphrey Bogart's Rick Blaine is the best movie bad ass of all time.  Who else has the balls to run his own American-themed cafe/casino in German occupied France?  Who else is going take local police hostage, stand up to the Nazis and win World War 2 -- all in the name of love?  That's what makes his character and the movie so great, he's tough on the outside, but a jilted lover softie on the inside.

Finally, I just don't get Star Wars.  Darth Vader is the bad guy.  So, why does everyone love him?  Luke Skywalker is the hero, so why does everyone think he's just a dweeb?  Why is Empire Strikes Back the best movie of the franchise?  The bad guys win and it's basically a two hour commercial for Return of the Jedi!  Star Trek is better, there I said it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Greatest TV Programs Ever, Ranked One Time for All Time:

My greatest songs post drew the ire of most nearly all of my friends on Facebook.  People have strong opinions about music and it tends to create a divide.  Television doesn't create as much of schism, even if I didn't include anything with a zombie or a vampire.  But here are the best tv programs of all time.  By bizarre coincidence, the Top 10 is completely from the 1980s, 90s and the 00s.

1.  Cheers
2.  Unsolved Mysteries
3.  Seinfeld
4.  Married...with Children
5.  Quantum Leap
6.  The Office
7.  The Wonder Years
8.  Wings
9.  Jeopardy
10. Salute Your Shorts

7,901.  Live 9/11 coverage of the second plane crashing into the World Trade Center
7,902.  Super Bowl 42

Honorable Mention:  The Waltons, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Night Court, The Honeymooners and Perfect Strangers

Not Ranked:  Bobby's World, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Dexter and The George Lopez Show

Lets start with Cheers.  If you look at the writing, the characters, the actors and the setting, Cheers is the best of all time for each of them.   

The writing was top notch and didn't need poop jokes or general silliness like South Park or Family Guy.  It was smart but had broad comedic appeal.  For my money the cast is the best cast ever -- Woody Boyd and Norm Peterson are two of the best characters ever and Sam Malone is the best character of all time.  What show had a better ensemble cast?  The episode where Sam buy's the bar back is my favorite single television program of all time.  Incredibly, Cheers also has the best theme song of all time.  That's an impressive resume.

I have probably watched episodes of Unsolved Mysteries more than any other show in my life.  I watched it every week when it was first-run on NBC.  In the meantime, reruns were on Lifetime every night at 8pm and it was on two or three times on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.  I loved Robert Stack.   His voice and his intros were perfect -- they had the perfect mix of being entertaining and serious at the same time.  I watched these shows so many times that I naturally ended up being invested in the cases they were trying to solve.  Half the fun of this show was watching each week and hoping that they would burst into a story with an UPDATE! and maybe they caught the killer or found the missing person.

For every case there is someone, somewhere who knows the truth.'s you?  

If you have any information, please call our toll free hotline, 1-800-876-5353

They run the show to this day, but with Dennis Farina as the host and the original footage chopped to hell.  I would pay real hard earned money for copies of the original NBC broadcasts, just to hear Robert Stack again.

The thing about Unsolved Mysteries -- I loved that show so much, but it scared the freaking living daylights out of me.    I would watch that show at night and be constantly afraid that any noise I heard was someone breaking in to kill me.  It was quite harrowing for a 13 year old.  I miss it so much.

Al Bundy is one of the all-time greatest characters and Married...with Children was revolutionary for it's time.  That show might have more memorable episodes than any other show on the list.  So many stick out but I think I'd have to lean towards the episode where they 'moved' into the grocery store to take advantage of the air conditioning during a heat wave or the Labor Day episode where the ashes of Marcy's dead aunt end up in Al's grill.  Picking my favorite episode of MWC is like asking me to pick between my kids.

I am so torn on Quantum Leap.  That show was so fun to watch but it never got a chance to be as good as it could have been and never got full resolution.  Which is saying something, because it was really good.  I was always big on time travel stories so it was right up my alley.  I spent half my formidable years wishing I could turn blue and white and leap around like Sam Beckett and I actually made a copy of Al's hand link out of legos! 

They recently started replaying it Saturday nights on one of the local stations and it drew me right back in.  I don't know if I 'cared' more about a character than I did Sam Beckett.

I hate, HATE when TV shows end without resolution.  That's why you will never find the Sopranos or Dexter on any favorites list.  And that makes it so hard to reconcile the final episode of Quantum Leap, Mirror Image.  That episode was on it's way to being the most interesting episode of a television show I've ever seen.  Hell, it still might be.

Sam leaps into himself (sorry, if you never saw the show it won't make sense but that's not the point) and all of the previous episodes from the series were tied into one final story.  But instead of sending him home, which is what Sam seemingly wanted along with entire viewing audience, they just ended the episode and ran tile cards explaining that Sam just went on leaping and never returned home.  Later, I found that the producers were tasked with coming up with an episode that could be used as a cliffhanger and a series finale, because NBC hadn't decided if they were bringing it back.  I guess with that backstory, they did about as well as they could have.  Great episode, great show, but it's a tough pill to swallow when you don't get the resolution you were hoping for after five seasons.

I cant' really say much about the other shows that you don't already know.  Seinfeld is an all-timer.  Jeopardy is the greatest game show of all time and Salute Your Shorts was the best program designed for kids, ever.  I was definitely network loyal to NBC.

So those are my favorite shows, and when I say favorite I mean greatest of all time.  But don't fret, if your show is not listed, just know it still ranks higher than Super Bowl 42.  Even if it involves Zombies.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Greatest Songs Ever, Definitively Ranked

1. The Long Run, Eagles
2. Daydream Believer, Monkees
3. December 1963, Four Seasons...
4. Be My Lover, Alice Cooper
5. Beast of Burden, Rolling Stones
6. Standing on the Moon, Grateful Dead
7. Still Doin' Time, George Jones
8. I Wish a Buck Was Still Silver, Merle Haggard
9. He Stopped Loving Her Today, George Jones
10. I Just Called to Say I Love You, Stevie Wonder

652. 10 minutes of an alarm clock going off
653. The Complete Michael Jackson Collection

That's it, that's the list!

Not Ranked: 'Brickhouse' by The Commodores, and 'Keep on Dancing' by The Gentrys and anything by Journey, Foreigner and Hall & Oates.

I had never heard of The Long Run by the Eagles until I started giving Ben baths at night.  While trying to wrangle him into the tub, I would listen to 96.1's 70s at 7 and that song would come up every so often.  In the past I had enjoyed Desperado and Take It Easy, but I was never a major fan of their work.  Well that all changed with The Long Run.  The music, the sound, the message of the song was right up my alley.  So of course, that pushed me to the rest of their music and eventually the History of the Eagles documentary that aired on Showtime.  That was clearly my favorite 3 hour documentary on the history of a single band that I've ever seen, and now the Eagles have edged out the Rolling Stones as my favorite musician(s).  All that, even with the band sharing a name with the shitty football team.

The Monkees were my first favorite band.  My mom likes to tell stories about me walking up and down the driveway listening to a Monkees tape on my old brown Fisher Price cassette player.  Later, my cousin Peg gave me a Monkees greatest hits vinyl record that I wore down to nothing.  They have a lot of great songs that I remember playing but none were better than Daydream Believer.

I also remember watching Jeopardy sometime around 1985 and the Final Jeopardy question was about music.  Literally all I knew was the Monkees and I yelled it out.  My mom thought I was just being cute, but it ended up being the answer.  I'll never forget it, I was so excited.  I've also never stopped watching Jeopardy since.

Be My Lover by Alice Cooper always reminds me of driving back our home town New Castle, Pennsylvania to visit family.  My dad has a habit of listening to the same songs on trips home over the years, so that one always pops up.  I might have issue with listening to most of the songs 1000 times, but never with that one. 

If you would have told me 10 or even five years ago that I would enjoy the Grateful Dead or any country musician like George Jones or Merle Haggard I would have strongly urged you to quit doing drugs/alcohol.  But one day I thumbed up a Johnny Cash song on Pandora and here we find ourselves.  Jones' He Stopped Loving Her Today is the greatest sung song of all time, if that makes sense.  No one is ever going to do a better job singing a song than he did with that.  And the Possum was probably drunk off his ass doing it at that.

The Grateful Dead is another anomaly.  All I ever heard was how great it was to hear them jam live.  I still don't think they sound all that great live, but I love the studio versions of certain songs.  That's sure to get me ostracized from the Dead Heads but it works for me. 

The Complete Michael Jackson collection can be completely panned in my mind and Brick House and I Keep On Dancing are my least favorite songs of all time, without question. 

If I can excise them from the catalogs of each and every radio station in perpetuity, the world can be a better place.

So that is the list of my favorite songs, and when I say my favorite, I mean the Greatest Songs Ever.  Even if my bozo friends on Facebook were universally horrified. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Home Ownership Horror Stories

So the house we bought last year is 65 years old.  The previous owners were very old.  I don't think they took many pains to update the house in their twilight years. 

When we moved in, the carpet was easily 30 years old.  My dad is an electrician and he guessed the original wiring and outlets remained from when it was built in 1950.  I don't doubt it. 

The appliances are also ancient.  The previous owners wrote the installation dates on the back of each of them.  The Kelvinator clothes dryer was put in back in the Spring of 1972.  And it still works!  The washing machine is a spring chicken from 1989.  The undated Kelvinator fridge is also a monument to what I am sure is peak electrical efficiency (I say undated--but considering I have never ever heard of a Kelvinator fridge, and the name itself sounds like a fictional company name from a 1950s sitcom, I'm guessing mid-1980s at the latest).

So the topic for this post is plumbing problems and how much they suck and how much they cost to repair and dammit if it didn't happen at 10:00pm, I might have been able to fix it myself and save $200 if Lowe's was just open 24 hours like it should be. 

Last night, around 10pm I took Hondo out for a walk.  While I am fruitlessly trying to get him to go, I hear a vibrating noise followed by a splash of water.  I turn over to the sump pump outlet and see a gush of water.  Balls!  I quickly let Hondo loose and headed for the basement.  Not really figuring what could cause the sump to kick on, I open the basement door and find two solid streams of water heading for the drain in the middle of the floor.  F!

I come down the steps and it's painfully obvious that there is a broken pipe.  Now I have done enough simple drain pipe fixes in this damned house to somewhat understand plumbing.  But this is my first joyful experience with pressure pipes coming in from the main water source. 

As I watch water spray with high velocity over the walls, wires and furnace, I quickly realize I need to get the water to the house shut off immediately, like it cannot wait for a plumber immediately.  What I also quickly realize is that I have absolutely no idea how to do that. 

I walk over to the main water inlet to the house and gaze at the variety of knobs.  Like some bozo from a movie who is standing in front console of buttons, needing desperately to push the correct button to save the day, I blindly select one knob and start turning.  To my amazement, it was the correct knob.  The water stops and I can call a plumber. 

The thing about plumbers...they know what they are doing and it's a valuable service.  But dammit, it's almost too easy to fix plumbing problems yourself.  Since we bought this dinosaur of a house, I have done enough repairs to drain lines coming down from the sink or from the waste line on the washing machine.  Those are non-pressure lines and simple to handle. 

What I wasn't comfortable with was the pressure lines.  In this museum to the 1950s house, they are also old style, obsolete copper pipe lines.  I had no tools for copper and Lowe's is conveniently closed. 

Side Note:  Why wouldn't Lowe's or Home Depot be open overnight?  That's when all the bad stuff happens and seems to be the wise thing to do?

So I call the plumber and he comes out and fixes the problem and collects his $200.  And that's with a service contract.  Bing bang boom!  He wasn't there for more than 20 minutes and he rakes in the cash.

Naturally, afterwards I did the research and found that once I got the water off, it was an easy fix.  I just needed an open hardware store and time.  Damn straight I'm going to pick up some parts along the way and fix it myself next time.  Benjamin Franklin was a great Founding Father, but he never had anything to do with Punctual Plumbing or even Moderately Priced Plumbing Repair, for sure.   

Once the plumbing problem was fixed, we were off to bed.  All was fine and dandy once more...until I woke up this morning and the hot water wasn't working.  Yes, Electrical Problems suck just as much as plumbing problems.

Next time:  Why you should only buy a house in the spring or summer, because you can't test the air conditioner to see if it works in the winter.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Annoying Things About Breakfast vol. 156

In our ongoing series of things that alternately perplex and annoy me about breakfast, let's discuss the way things are packaged. 

Why do waffles...from Giant grocery store brand, to Eggo's to Kashi's 7-Grain...all come in a bag that is impossible to open?  After fiddling with the bag for several seconds, I eventually end up marring the bag by pulling has hard as I can and tearing it 3 inches down the side, forever ruining any chance of sealing the bag again, inevitably dooming each remaining waffle to freezer burn.

Why are the bags sealed with Gorilla Glue?  And why is that an industry standard??  And while we are there, why are the bags and boxes as small as possible to just contain the contents???  Once you open the bag, it's impossible to wrap it shut again. 

Also related:  cereals that use a foil bag.  Those are guaranteed to split 6 inches down the side.  If OJ can get away with murder, we can figure this out.

Previous Series Entry:  Why the lid to your non-dairy creamer can double as a surgical scalpel.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Hondo the Hound

Hondo didn't quite mind the bath...but he had a problem with getting dried off.

It took 34 years, but I finally got my first dog.  My parents never liked pets.  They seemed to think they would make the house smell and/or go to the bathroom indoors.  One time, my sister and I tried to sneak in two stray cats that we found outside.  That was met with much anger by my Dad.  Consequently, we never had a dog or a cat, or a fish or a bird for that matter.

Now that we have three kids that are starting to grow up a little, I want to make sure they enjoy that idyllic American childhood that includes baseball, sports, camping and having their own dog.  I missed out, so I want to make sure they don't.

Melissa and I already have two cats.  Our middle child Alexander wants to love them so much.  Our male cat Corgan does not share the love.  Alexander still tries to sneak in some hugs or head rubs here and there, but Corgan's hissing and occasional paw swipes don't make it a good fit.  He still tries with our female cat Sophie, and because she is more relaxed he is able to sneak in some hugs and carries before she scatters away.

Since the cats were not an option, the next logical choice was to look for a dog.  A Labrador retriever seemed like a good fit temperament wise, but after checking on two of them, it seemed like their size and energetic disposition was a little much for the young age of the kids.  So we moved onto a beagle.  Smaller and size and energetic but relaxed, it seemed a good fit. 

We initially had trouble finding one.  Most rescues have a serious list of requirements, including no kids under the age of five.  So that disqualified us from most.  It left us with the Humane League and Lancaster SPCA.   One day, they posted two new beagles on their website, but someone swooped and in and took them before we could make it down town. 

We had sort of given up on finding one for a week or two before they posted two more on their site.  Not wanting to waste any time, we went down on my lunch break to check them out.  I was thinking that we would just look them over and make a decision later, never thinking that we would end up adopting him before we left. 

At first glance he wasn't all that enamored with us.  I guess you can chalk that up to the stray/shelter process.  But he wasn't outright angry or mean and he seemed to at least tolerate us.  Not wanting to miss out again, we just took the dive and said we would take him. 

With our last two kids, while we were in total agreement over their names, they were technically Melissa's choices.  So I wasn't going to be denied with naming the dog.  Much like the kids, we had a ton of girl names that we liked but never had more than a few boy names. 

I always liked the name Hondo.  It came from the old John Wayne western movie of the same name and there was also a guy that played for the Celtics back in the day named John Havlicek that went by the nickname Hondo.  Al Bundy from Married...with Children also loved the movie.  It seemed to me to be a good old western style tough guy nickname and I loved it.  Thankfully, Melissa relented and that's his name. 

Hopefully he will grow on us and we will grow on him.  He already follows us around the house from the kitchen to the living room and back and forth again, never wanting to leave our side.  I think that's a good sign.  Now the boys (and girl, if she wants), have a dog of their very own they can grow up with.