RW121 - Pong Monopoly

This week, Dan and John talk about:

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The show title refers to John's dad having a concession for Pong machines in Anchorage and John being able to play for free on the machines they had in the garage.

Software updates (RW121)

John had difficulties with his computer. He wouldn’t say that he got it all working because all computers are broken to some percentage from the moment you open the box. The exact amount of broken is hidden from you and only reveals itself when you need the computer the most. John also has a spooky primitive religious feeling that computers are fixing themselves all the time, which is probably not true.

Their brokenness continues apace and as John was updating the software today, he assumed at first it would probably update all the broken permissions and other wonky stuff, but of course it didn't because those software teams are are two sides of the same computer business who never speak to each other, have different lunch rooms and are competing against one another for resources in the company.

John's computer is working but it is still full of digital cockroaches. There is also a thing called planned obsolescence that is ticking all the time like a James Bond bomb clock. John got notified in the corner that he needed to update his software, but he ignored it for a long time and it would pop up again and they would play this dance with each other every day for months and months, because John doesn’t want to update it because he worries.

John's iMac has 2.7 GHz Intel Core, it has 8 GB, 1600 Mhz DDR3s, NVidia GForce GT64M-256MB Graphics Card. It is running 10.13.6 High Sierra, which John didn’t want, but it insisted that he would get it. Dan embraces software updates, but he will let them mellow a few days if they are not straight up security updates. He has not installed High Sierra and will never install it, but he will wait until Mojave, because he heard so many nightmare stories.

When John put it on, he was horrified and terrified, because there is a certain failsafe point where if your DRM3 authenticators are blown up, you will not ever be able to talk to homebase again and it will brick the computer. John bricked an iPad one time by updating the software, but Dan says that you not really can brick a computer, but you can always attach some boot media and reformat it.

John remembers how great the first iPhone was: It was fast and fun, but then there was a software update that intentionally slowed everything down and made it work poorly and there was no way to go back! Apple lost so much of John’s trust that he now doesn’t trust them at all. High Sierra burbles along fine, but John is waiting for the day when he will do something, follow their instruction and they will have made his thing 1000 times worse because they don’t care about him.

There is no transparency, you don’t know what it does and they don’t keep legacy stuff running. There is one option: You either push the button or go die! There is never an opt-out. So John lumbers along with his iMac 21.5” late 2012 computer, waiting for the day! It is not that it smokes or burns up or something mechanical stops working, but somebody in Cupertino decides that they are going to add something to it that ruins it forever.

Dan will get a new computer every once in a while, but not as often as it was back in the hot times. He has a quite new computer, but he had his previous 13” MacBook Pro for almost 4 years and it is his son’s computer now. Dan sticks with laptops these days and has for a long time, but he plugs a 21” screen into it. He does not game on the computer, but has a Nintendo Switch for that, which is the latest Nintendo console that came out about 1,5 years ago and he and his kids absolutely love it.

The Switch is the favorite console Dan ever had since the Super Nintendo back in the old days. Nintendo should be paying him because he advocates for it and he just had a call earlier today with somebody who was thinking about getting one and he went off the rails and talked for about 20 minutes how much he loves it. His Mac is very boring and as stock as he can keep it. He installs as little software as he absolutely needs to and he is mainly sitting there with a black screen with text on it, writing code, and once in a while he is editing a show. It is a newer MacBook Pro 13” from 2017, the kind that has 4 Thunderbolt port and the horrible ridiculous touch bar.

John getting his computer from Jason Finn (RW121)

John had traded his computer with Jason Finn (see also RL262). There is a local radio station called KEXP that John has done live performances on that are available online. They supported John’s band The Long Winters from the very beginning and John attributes a lot of his success in their market place to KEXP patronage. They are a listener-supported station and twice a year they have a fund drive and if you donate at a certain level, you get a price like a mug or a toad bag.

They are a cool station and years ago they gave away a bright orange bike messenger bag that said KEXP on it. It wasn’t the best bike messenger bag, but it was exactly the size of a stack of 12” records and it could be used as a mediocre but good looking DJ bag. Jason had one of these as his signature bag and was still rocking it long after everybody else’s bag went away. Somehow he made it work for him, but something happened to it and it went away for some reason, which broke his heart and he could never replace it. Every subsequent bag he got was just a poor imitation.

At one point John went through the boxes of boxes he has in his house and inside of a box inside another box he found a bag that was full of bags and at the bottom of the bag of bags, there was a pristine orange KEXP bike messenger bag. He was just going to give it to Jason as a gift, but Jason doesn’t like to receive gifts nor praise but he had this computer stacked against the wall and John asked about it and they made a deal that they would meet at a steak restaurant and trade this iMac from 2012 for the KEXP bag and a steak dinner.

Computer games (RW121)

John has never before let Dan talk about Nintendo on the show even one single minute, but now he just got away with it and John sat there like a placid cow. He doesn’t have any idea, he is not a gamer and he doesn’t have the hand-eye-coordination to learn all the different key combinations. If John watches people play, he doesn’t understand what is going on at all.

John could play games in a holodeck and make finger-guns that turn into real guns, but with a controller? He is supposed to be in this immersive environment with his eyes, but it is all happening with his little hands working on some badly shaped sputnik in his hands, a little ball with antennas coming off of it. It is a device you are not meant to look at, but get some muscle memory around it.

John admires people who can type 80 words a minute without looking at their hands, but he is unable to get over whatever hump you have to get over to feel that controller as an intuitive part of one’s anatomy. Younger people don’t remember a time before they had a controller in their hands, so what John is saying doesn’t make sense, but he has never held one!

Dan thinks that John might like those turn-based strategy war games, but John has never played those either. He does spend a lot of time playing computer games on his phone, but those are dumb old-people games like Mahjongg and not any kind of interesting and interactive games. John does not have a peer group, he is not on a message board about it, and he doesn’t know any tricks. The only game he ever played on a computer was Microsoft Minesweeper and even 15 years after he had his last Microsoft computer, he still misses it.

When John found out that you can get Minesweeper on an Apple he got it and played it a little bit, but it wasn’t the same as the old days and he could not get back to those halcyon early years when he and Minesweeper would spend 6 hours together sweeping mines. After a while you don’t even have to put flags on things that you think are mines, but you just know and you just get going really fast. Other than that, John does not have any computer game and doesn’t even know how to begin to play a game on his computer.

For a while John had some friends who worked at Xbox and it seemed like it would be an easy thing to get them to send him an Xbox. They offered it to him, but he doesn’t have a TV and would need to get a TV to play the Xbox and he would have needed a DVD player and it would have just been a bunch of wires that he would have to hook up. He never said no to an Xbox, but he just never said Yes to one either and he still feels that way.

John doesn’t not want a Nintendo Switch because he would need a week of coaching. He would need to hire a task rabbit to come over for 4 straight days and teach him how to play video games and why they are fun, and he doesn’t want to do that. Dan thinks it is the same as watching a concert on TV vs being there or even playing the concert yourself! John has played many shows in front of a big audience who love him and there is even a DVD of one of his shows.

There is this whole Twitch phenomenon and there is a huge industry about watching other people play video games, however for people like Dan and John there is a lot more fun in playing the game. Even if you played the game a lot, it can still be fun watching someone else play because you can learn from it. Dan and John are separated by about 4 years and today that is nothing, but in early days of video game years that was a lot. John did have an IntelliVision (see RW83).

By the time kids had video games in the house, like the original battleship-grey Nintendo with the two buttons on the front, it already felt like it belonged to a subculture John was not a member of, although he wasn’t that old! The first Nintendo was released in July of 1983 and John was 14 years old, which doesn’t seem that you would already be a crusty curmudgeon, but John thought it was for 12 year olds and Dan was 12. There is surely a huge difference between a 12 year old and a 14 year old, certainly when you are 14 years old, but there were still plenty of kids who enjoyed these games when they were 14 or 15! The most popular gaming systems today are just as popular with adults as they are with children.

John’s dad's concession for Pong machines (RW121)

John’s dad was an early video game pioneer who owned the concession for Pong in Anchorage in the mid-1970s, but John has no idea how his dad got into this at all! Early arcade games were classified by the taxing authorities as gambling devices. When Pong first arrived it was a wooden tabletop console with smoked glass tops where you could set your drink and you would play pong either against the computer or your opponent.

John’s dad's concession covered all bars in Anchorage including those on the military base and at one point they had 20 broken Pong games in their garage. It also had Aerial Combat where you would fly a biplane and shoot at other biplanes. It made John a little popular around his neighborhood because other kids could come over to his garage and they would plugin a bunch of different games until they found one that worked.

John had a key to the cash boxes so he could open the little door and push the reset button and play as much as they wanted. Sometimes he would open the door and the box would be full of quarters because his dad was not a very good business man and although he somehow was an early adopter of video games this was not what he was doing for a living. He was the lawyer for the Alaska Railroad and John has no idea how he got into this video game business.

Anything you put quarters in ended up being controlled by the mob one way or another. They had these video game consoles bouncing around in their garage until the mid-1980s long after his dad was out of the game, because by 1980 there were proper arcades. John has a list of 5 things he wished he would have asked his dad while he was still alive and he will add this to the list.

After his dad’s Pong Monopoly went away, those games always cost a quarter and because John didn’t have an infinite number of quarters he got into the habit of standing and watching other people play video games because it was social and it seemed like he was maybe getting 1/3 of the value of actually playing it himself. The experience of watching Dig Dug go around and blow up dragons is not as great as if you are doing it yourself, but if you are watching somebody who is better at it than you, you get to spend more time in the environment and blow up more dragons, instead of John being in the defender landscape using all his smart bombs in the first 3 minutes and then just running for his life.

There was something in him that didn’t like to go all the way into Moon Explorer or Saxon and just stay in there, primarily because those games represented quarters. How many quarters would he need to put into a Saxon before one quarter would produce 25 minutes of Saxon time? John would have had to spend a lot of money and he didn’t have the money and he was thrifty, which is maybe part of the problem of all of this and also the reason why he has a 2012 computer instead of a 2018 one.

John had his Vespa for 34 years (RW121)

The other day, two of John’s motorcycle buddies from Oregon visited him. His friend Ben, who is an architect in Portland and his friend Gregor, who is a photographer both find relaxation in fixing machines and working with machines, tools, gizmos and gears. They share a lot of similar interests with John, like guitars and guns and stereo equipment, but their interest is coming from the other side, like ”How does this work? I took it apart and put it back together!” and the precision of the instruments, which is stuff that John appreciates, but he comes at it from the other spooky voodoo side, like these two guitars look the same and they were made the same day, but this one has got voodoo energy, but that one is cold.

John has had his Vespa for 34 years and over the years he went through periods where he rode it all the time every day and then it would start to rain and he would put it away for the winter. In the spring he would forget to get the Vespa going again because he was doing something else and pretty soon it was the end of the summer and he never got the Vespa out. All of a sudden he hadn’t used it in a couple of years and the spooky voodoo got onto it.

People like Ben and Gregor look at the Vespa and say that it is a machine and getting it running is a question of getting fuel in it and spark to it and if that doesn’t work figure out why, but for John, if he hasn’t run it in 2,5 years, there has got to be something desperately wrong with it now. The ghost is either upon it or has gone out of it. Now when he looks at the Vespa under its cover in the barn he shutters a little because he feels like he has done it a disservice and it is judging him from under its blanket and yet he wouldn’t begin to know how to make up the damage to it and how to make amends, and so a third and a fourth year goes by. This has happened several times during the 34 years they have been together.

This year marked the third year since the Vespa had run and John felt the doom upon him again, like it will never run again and maybe he should give it a Viking funeral. Should he go out there and apologize to it? When Ben and Gregor heard this, they said that they will just come up to John and get it running. They looked at it for a minute, kicked the tire, put the key in it, kicked it a couple of times and it started right up just as though 3 years had not passed. Something had happened to it in the interim though and now it wouldn’t stop running. You turn the key and the kill-switch off and it would just keep running, meaning it was Christine now.

They have another friend called Gino who lives in New York and owns an Italian restaurant down there on Ludlow Street. He is from Napoli, he is John’s age and he has all these stories from when he was a kid, wheeling Vespas through the streets of Naples and because he is Italian, at least 1/3 of the stories you can’t possibly believe, but you could say that about Alaskans, too. They called Gino and told him that the Vespa won’t stop, and he said that he never had a key for a Vespa, but in Italy they stop it by stalling it, just pop the clutch and hold on to the break, which is something that never occurred to them with all their combined brain power.

Now John has an Italian style Vespa where all the electronics have bypassed themselves. Last night John took her out at around 5pm and got home about 1:30am. He drove all over town, riding through Downtown in the middle of the night with no cars and no busses. There is something about it that is deeply threaded into who John is. This Vespa was his first motor vehicle. To be motivated to get one of those when you are 15 seems in some ways contraindicated to a desire to have a Nintendo NES console when you are 15. The Venn diagrams probably don’t overlap that much.

Dan was working at Publix when he was 14 or 15 and he had saved up to buy one of these scooters, but his mom said ”No! Absolutely not, you are not getting one!” John’s mom would have said no, too. This was the first time for Dan that it wasn’t a negotiation or a conversation. There were no conditions, but it was flat-out ”No!”, even tough Dan’s friend had one. This was the only time in his life when Dan had a shouting-kind of fight with his mom where he left saying ”This is not fair!” She was always very cool and very agreeable and she knew that Dan was responsible, but she was just unreasonably saying ”No!” to him.

Her argument was that in 2 years he would be 16 and he would be able to drive a car and those scooters are too dangerous. Of course a month or two later, Dan’s friend got into a car accident with his scooter, broke his pelvis and spent weeks in the hospital, so she was kind of right and Dan never got to have one of those things. Maybe that is why he spent his money on Nintendo stuff instead. If he had been given the choice at the time, he knew he wouldn’t have picked Nintendo over the Scooter, but he would definitely have gotten the Scooter.

If John would have asked his mom, she also would have said ”Absolutely not in a million years!”, but John bought the Vespa in partnership with a friend (Kevin Horning) who told his parents that John was buying it and John told his parents that his friend was buying it. The jig was up at a certain point when his friend’s dad called them together and said that he knows enough about boys to know that if John bought this scooter, Kevin would not be riding it every single day. He was a very wise man and they didn’t have an answer, but Dr. Horning said ”No!” When it was discovered that Kevin had purchased this Vespa without telling his dad, he forced Kevin to sell his half of it to John for $1.

When Kevin handed John that dollar, he glared at him and said ”This changes nothing!”, but when they bought it they had signed a little contract, which John still has, where Kevin had agreed that the only condition was that he would never let Chris Gills ride it. At one point Kevin let him ride it because Chris wouldn’t take no for an answer and said something cool to him, like ”Why? Is John your mom?”, flipped him some shit, and Chris rode it and wrecked it. Then Kevin tried to pull his ”this dollar doesn’t change anything”, except he had violated the contract and therefore John held him to his father’s promise. John’s mom was not excited that he had a Vespa, but those were Laissez-faire times in Alaska and she was just glad John wasn’t into guns.


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