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Sunday, April 30, 2023

Muttart with Mely

Here's Mom, Sean, me, and Great Aunt Mely (short for "Amelia") at the Muttart Conservatory sometime during the early 1980s. I barely remember the occasion, but I assume Dad must have been there shooting the photo. 

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Shower Cat

Sean's first cat, Alexander the Great, or just Alex, had some interesting habits. For one, he liked to relax on top of the television, as seen here. He also liked lurking atop the refrigerator, and if you stuck a finger up over the edge, he'd bat at it playfully. I also remember playing a kind of soccer with him; we'd whack a bottlecap back and forth across the kitchen floor. He really loved sleeping on Dad, and sometimes he'd climb into bed with me, too, despite my allergies and my protests of "Go away, stupid cat! I'm allergic!" 

The behaviour I found enjoyed most, though, and found the most perplexing, was the way he'd join me in the basement shower. He didn't like getting wet, but for some reason the shower fascinated him, so he'd sit at the edge of the spray and look up at me. I'm not sure what he wanted, but it was strangely adorable. 

Anyway, I've never been much of a pet guy, but Alex was very cute. 

Friday, April 28, 2023

Doo Do Do Do Dee Do Do Do Doooo Dee

Blogger Paul Lefebvre dug up an old issue of the Atari Computer Enthusiasts newsletter and found an Atari BASIC program by Aaron Ness that if run causes your Atari 400 or 800 to play the theme from Star Wars. Pretty good job, and you can listen on Paul's site here

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Take a Virtual Tour of the Starships Enterprise

If you enjoy Star Trek, production design, or retro science fiction, lose yourself in the Roddenberry Archive's new virtual bridge tours of several starships Enterprise--including iterations never fully realized, including the enigmatic "ringship" version, the Phase II Enterprise, a live-action version of the animated series bridge, the Planet of the Titans version, and more. I've been playing around with this for hours tonight. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Atari 8-Bit Cartridge Inventory, Continued

(Ignore my incorrect voiceover; this was 1982, not 1980). 

Thanks to Sean, here are a few more Atari 8-bit cartridges we owned back in the day: 

Dig Dug
Tunnel through the earth and use your pump to blow up monsters! Another excellent arcade port. 

Astro Chase
This is one of the few Atari 8-bit games with a cinematic opening of a sort, along with a really decent, if repetitive, soundtrack. You flew around the earth, using your joystick to fire laser beams in four directions. Very fluid and fast moving. 

This was one of our favourites. Choplifter was a 2D side scroller; you flew your helicopter behind enemy lines to rescue hostages. By holding the joystick down for a second, you could rotate your chopper to face toward you and shoot missiles straight down, good for blowing up tanks, or, if you were sadistic, shooting the hostages you were supposed to rescue. 

Yet another arcade port, in this one you hopped around "painting" the tiles on a faux-3D pyramid while avoiding a purple snake and other hazards. Famous for "swearing" when Q-Bert dies. A fun, accurate adaptation.

Fight Night
I barely remember this one, and Sean thinks it may have been the last game he purchased for the Atari 8-bit (by that time, the 130XE). Here's a video:

Robotron: 2084
A fast-pace, frenetic shooter, the arcade version sported two joysticks: one to control your movement, and the other to fire in any direction. Rather than doing things the lazy way and combining those functions into one joystick, Atari packaged the Atari 8-bit version in a box that allowed you to sit two Atari joysticks side-by-side so you could replicate the way the arcade version played. Sean still has the box! 

Jungle Hunt
Swing through the jungle on vines without missing, swim through the crocodile-infested river, and run up the hill as boulders roll down at you, all so that you can rescue your beau from, well, a rather insensitive portrayal of jungle cannibals. Eek. Swinging on the vines was a lot of fun, though. 

Not a game but a programming language, Sean and I learned a lot about computers by fastidiously typing out programs from books and magazines and then experimenting with the commands we learned to create our own programs. 

Super Breakout
A game that's still fun to play today, bounce a ball against a slowly descending wall of colourful bricks in the hopes of smashing them all. 

Moon Patrol
Whimsical but repetitive, in this one you drive a dune buggy--or rather, a moon buggy--across the moon's surface, avoiding craters and the like. Not terribly memorable. 

As in the arcade version, you control a little ship at the bottom of the screen, shooting at the centipede winding its way toward you. Mushrooms get in the way, and spiders complicate matters. Fast-paced and entertaining. 

Jumbo Jet Pilot
A very, very primitive flight simulator with terrible graphics. Not very good at all--a waste of money at the time, I remember thinking. 

This game was almost like impressionist  abstract painting--create squares on the playing field by drawing enclosures with lines while avoiding "sparx" and the Qix itself, a floating bundle of neon-coloured sticks. Great game. 

Why did the frog cross the road? To earn some quarters. Another excellent arcade port. 

Protector II
A Defender rip-off, but I remember it being almost as good as the original arcade classic. Fly your ship horizontally over a cityscape and rescue people from alien invaders.

Speedway Blast
A driving game where you drive a race car through a small town while avoiding a really creepy giant snake-like thing with a quasi-human head. 

Ms. Pac-Man
Even better than Pac-Man, in terms of gameplay and fidelity to the arcade version. House of fun. 

Desert Falcon
This might have been the last XE cartridge I purchased; it was a diagonal side-scroller aircraft shooter with a vaguely Egyptian theme. 

Another side scroller, with good 3D fakery (you could move up and down and side to side to avoid obstacles) and a science fiction theme. 

You're a shamus slinging shivs in an endless labyrinth, dodging robots and looking for clues to escape. Sean and I both really enjoyed this one, despite never winning. I don't think you could, really - there weren't a lot of games you could win in those days. 

Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator
It wasn't the greatest port of the arcade version, mainly because once again the original used vector graphics, but it was still a lot of fun tooling around the galaxy blowing up Klingons and Nomad. 

Monday, April 24, 2023

Atari 8-Bit Cartridge Inventory

Sean and I were wondering last night, over text, if we still had any of our old Atari 8-bit cartridges. I don't think they're here, and I believe (or hope) that Sean has them. He's not sure either. 

That conversation has made me wonder if I can remember all the cartridge we had. Here's a list of what I remember: 

One of the two games Mom and Dad gave us along with the Atari 400 for Christmas back in, I think, 1982 or so. A very faithful adaptation of the massively popular arcade game, plenty of fun.

The second cartridge we received that Christmas, another faithful, colourful adaptation of the space shooter. 

Donkey Kong
Sean bought this in Seattle, I think. Another excellent arcade-to-Atari translation. Excellent graphics and sound effects that stand the test of time.

Donkey Kong Jr. 
A few years later, one of us picked up (or was gifted) this charming sequel, in which you, as Donkey Kong Jr., climb vines to save Donkey Kong from Mario, a clever reversal of the original game's objective. 

Missile Command
A very faithful adaptation of the famous arcade game in which you have three missile silos to shoot down wave after wave of nuclear warheads plummeting toward you. You always lose in the end, just like in real nuclear war. 

Claim Jumper
Unlike Atari's plain brown cartridges, Claim Jumper was a semi-translucent red. The game itself was an original, not an arcade adaptation; it was a two-player wild west shoot 'em up. Each player controlled a cowboy and had to avoid tumbleweeds or snakes, and the other cowboy's bullets, while collecting gold and depositing it in the bank. While the gameplay sounds simple, it was utterly chaotic in practice in the best way; the cries of frustration were glorious, whether you were shot just before depositing your gold in the bank or zapped by a tumbleweed or snake at a crucial moment. 

Players control a knight riding a flying ostrich (?) and attempt to well, joust in midair while collecting eggs and avoiding lava, among other hazards. This is another arcade translation, and an excellent one. 

Eastern Front (1941) 
Another original, this is an abstract, strategic wargame where you control Nazi units invading the Soviet Union during World War II. You control infantry, armour, and air support in the drive to Moscow, but you have to pay attention to supply lines, morale, the dangers of being flanked or encircled, and other complexities of war. The game was tremendously difficult, but on the upside, it's never a bad thing when Nazis lose, which I think they always did . . . at the very least, I don't remember winning the game on anything other than the ridiculously simple Novice level, which pits one German unit against one Soviet unit. 

The arcade version of Asteroids used vector graphics, so the raster graphics of the Atari 400 couldn't possibly support a visually authentic adaptation. Still, it was fun flying around in a little white triangle while blasting space rocks in rainbow colours. 

Pitfall II: Lost Caverns
"Finding the golden rope is Pitfall Harry's only hope." Sean and I spent hours on this underground exploration game, rescuing Quickclaw and Rhonda more than once, but never quite finding the correct route to the golden rope and escape. We had a lot of fun trying, though. 

Miner 2049er
One of the classic original creations for the Atari 8-bit computers, in Miner 2049er players lead Bounty Bob through four levels of treacherous mines, "painting" the floors by walking across them while avoiding radioactive mutants. The level design was great, as were the death animations; you could die by touching a mutant, falling, or using too much dynamite in the cannon level and blowing yourself to kingdom come instead of the top of the screen. 

Caverns of Mars
In this vertical scroller, you control a spaceship flying through the titular caverns, avoiding the walls and rockets while shooting fuel tanks to keep you flying. Once you set the reactor at the bottom of each cavern to explode, you have to fly out safely again before the big boom. Simple and highly entertaining.

Even though Atari's Basketball supported only a maximum of four players shooting hoops, Sean and I still had great fun running around the 8-bit court, fighting over the ball. I don't remember ever playing with four players, maybe because we rarely had four joysticks working at the same time. 

Blue Max
This was a diagonally-scrolling, World War I-themed shooter. Dad was a big fan of the George Peppard-led movie. 

Star Raiders
Possibly the best game ever released for the Atari 8-bit line, or at the very least the best game not based on an arcade title. It's a first-person spaceship simulator with a galactic map to navigate, front and rear views and torpedoes, a variety of enemy spaceships to hunt, and space stations for repair and refuel. A wonderful game. 

Star Raiders II
A few years later we picked up Atari's sequel to Star Raiders, which I recall as also fun, but not as compelling as the original. In this one, you're bombing targets on a planet. 

RealSports Tennis
I don't know how they did it, but Atari found a way to make it really feel like you were in control of the ball, even though you were wielding a joystick instead of a racket. Mom and Dad liked this one, too. 

Pole Position
8-bit port of the arcade game, faithful and fun, very colourful. Doesn't quite hold up today, though, unlike a lot of other games on this list. 

Rally Speedway
Now this was a racing game! It supported two players racing against each other, with a top-down view of the treacherous curves. If you crashed, sometimes your driver would burst into flames and stop, drop and roll to put himself out. 

We had more games than this, and I feel like I must have missed a few. Perhaps more tomorrow? 

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Reviving the Atari 800XL

Photos from Revive Machines. 

Here's a crazy idea that might appeal to GenXers with fond memories of the Atari 8-bit line of computers: a Polish company called Revive Machines is working on a brand-new 800XL. Here's the twist: This 800XL may look almost exactly like the original, but it comes with connectivity for legacy Atari AND present-day peripherals and monitors. You can even plug in your classic Atari joysticks (or modern controllers)! 

In other words, if you have old Atari peripherals, you could use this as a replacement for your ancient Atari XL; but if not, you can still enjoy the 8-bit magic by using the modern USB and HDMI connections. Anyone who has kept their old 8-bit Atari game cartridges might find this too tempting to resist . . . 

No word on the price or release date yet, so this could be vapourware in the end. But boy, what an exciting possibility! 

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Sylvia Selfie Rap

Wee Sylvia Boucher
Taking a selfie
Looking so cute I get bats in my belfry

Aphrodite herself
Can't match her big googly eyes
Or the adorable cuteness
Of her wee little size

Wee Sylvia Boucher
Her feet are size 2
With her in my life
I cannot be blue

Friday, April 21, 2023

Cheap Hill

I saved some vaguely rock-shaped packaging and covered it in orange texture paint, followed by a crybrushed coat of red to form a cheap but reasonably believable alien hill. On the left, the other half of the saved packaging, primed but not yet painted. I might try to make that one into an Earth-like grassy hill. 

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Some Good Things Return: Initial thoughts on Star Trek: Picard series finale

Gates McFadden as Dr. Beverly Crusher--Paramount+ publicity photo.

Re: Star Trek: Picard series finale--I am verklempt. While this third and final season wasn't perfect, in terms of overall story, scripting, characterization, and execution, it stands far above the show's first two seasons. Much of this final outing's success is, certainly, based in nostalgia; but given my love of Star Trek: The Next Generation, I fully admit my objectivity could be somewhat compromised. 

MVP for this season: Gates McFadden. She was underused in TNG and the TNG films, and I'm so glad she had a meatier part this season. Beverly was a badass in season three, and McFadden gave the character all she had. It was lovely to see. Honourable mention goes to Jonathan Frakes, for being so warm and genuine. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

John the Baptist as an Action Figure

I asked Stable Diffusion to imagine John the Baptist with ten points of articulation and accessories, but I did NOT ask for a half-naked version. Definitely not what I was expecting. He does have godly abs, though. 

Monday, April 17, 2023

Cedar Floor

Cellar door, cellar door
A phrase you may have heard before
Euphonious harmonies, simplest of pleasures
Vowel sounds and consonants in equal measures
Part of Tolkien's famous lore

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Smithsonian Open Access


This beautiful image of civil rights hero Frederick Douglass is just one of millions of files now freely available to the public at Smithsonian Open Access! What a wonderful resource for artists, historians, graphic designers, or anyone who has the urge to create. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Stretching Abilities

If I had stretching abilities like Mr. Fantastic or the Elongated Man, I'd definitely use them to help Sylvia reach things because she's even shorter than me, but I'd ALSO tease her with silly antics such as inflating my eyeballs or stretching my neck up high so I could look over people taller than us in public. "Stop making a scene," she'd say. Hee hee! 

I'd probably entertain some fantasies about fighting crime, but in the real world I think it would be pretty hard to find a crime in progress, and interfering without any training might do more harm than good. Also, crime can be better addressed by reducing income inequality, providing better social supports, improving public education, and creating affordable housing, among other measures. Sure, I might be able to wrap my body around bank robbers and hold them until the police arrive, but how much does that really benefit society? 

I'd definitely entertain myself by rolling down mountains, though. Or maybe jumping out of airplanes and seeing how high I bounce. Wheeee! 

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

A Heavenly Jest

One day, Saint Peter admitted an audiophile to heaven. The blissful audiophile spent much of their time enjoying the majestic harmonies of angelic choirs, but noted that all the chosen pieces seemed to favour bass tones. Puzzled, the audiophile approached Jesus and asked: 

"Jesus, why do the angels sing so low?" 

"Well, my friend," Jesus said with a teasing smile, "There's no treble in paradise." 

Monday, April 10, 2023

Squelch Knob

Backward along the arrow of time there is a CB radio sitting on a desk
The child that was me reached out for the squelch knob
Cranked it clockwise
And in doing so, stilled the multitude of voices
That drowned understanding

Forward along the arrow of time, there is a keyboard sitting on a desk
The man that is me has no squelch knob to reach for
The multitude shrieks out its ignorance
And understanding gasps for oxygen

Saturday, April 08, 2023

The Mystery of the Arctic Cat

For a few years in the 1970s, during our time in Leaf Rapids, we had an Arctic Cat snowmobile. I don't have any photos of our Arctic Cat, but I do remember it having some purple highlights, so perhaps it was a model much like the one above. 

Leaf Rapids was a great place for snowmobiling. There was plenty of snow for nine or ten months per year, and exploring the dense forest on the back of a snowmobile gave me a great sense of adventure, even if I was just a passenger.