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Crapple II

I recently had to bring my iMac to the Apple Store for repair. Normally, I do computer upgrades and repairs myself; I’ve had a lot of experience in that area, and just like with working on cars and other things, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper if you do it yourself. Unfortunately, this time around the fix was beyond my skills; I needed a new hard drive as the stock one was dying, and after reading up on the replacement procedure, I just wasn’t comfortable doing it on my own. Fair enough, right?

Now, I knew I’d get charged an arm and a leg if I let the Apple Store technicians replace it, but it was either that or no computer. Costs came to a little over $200, just as I sadly expected. (Labor was $39, but they charge a premium on those drives, and of course they won’t let you bring in your own drive to install. Warranty reasons and all that.) The technician was helpful and explained everything, but we soon ran into a roadblock. I asked if I’d be getting my own drive back, and they said they don’t often do that unless there are extenuating circumstances; for example, a drive from a medical office might contain patient records, so that’s a potential HIPAA violation.

Anyway, to retrieve mine, there would be an extra charge…of $200. Two hundred dollars, just to get my own fucking drive back. That’s goddamned insane. And there was no guarantee I’d even be able to get the drive back in the first place, since I’m no doctor. (There’s paperwork you have to fill out in order to be eligible for the drive return.) I didn’t blame the technician for this ridiculous policy, nor did I blame the store managers I spoke with later. It’s clearly a corporate mandate, and the managers admitted that they didn’t like it very much, either.

I was not keen on leaving the drive with an unknown. Sure, the drive would likely be safe at Apple, and when they send it back to the manufacturer to be stripped for parts or refurbished, the manufacturer also erases the drive before working on it. My drive was encrypted, but that’s not the point. I don’t want someone else playing with it, and more importantly, why the hell should I have to pay to get my owned damned property back?!

After speaking with a friend of mine who used to work at an Apple Store a few years back, I discovered that the replacement drives they install there are usually refurbished themselves. That was the final nail in the coffin; no way am I paying $180 plus labor and tax for a drive that’s not even brand new, and giving up my original drive. Suffice it to say that I canceled the repair job at the Apple Store and ordered the parts myself. Better to take some risks by replacing the drive myself rather than paying out the ass for a refurb drive, and worse yet, leaving the old one in someone else’s hands. As it turns out, I was able to order a brand-new drive and a RAM upgrade for less than what Apple quoted me for just the drive replacement. And my original drive will be disposed of correctly by me and no one else. (By the time you read this, the whole process will already be done.)

This whole mess rubbed me the wrong way for a few reasons. The Apple Store debacle nonwithstanding, I’m also beginning to get rather annoyed with Apple’s computer designs over the past few years. I understand that they’re going for the seamless look, but that makes it a colossal pain in the ass to replace simple internal components like hard drives.

It gets worse. Newer iMacs have RAM soldered in, and opening the case is even more difficult if you want to get at the hard drive or other innards. When we replaced my ancient Power Mac at work with a new iMac (the new Mac Pro desktops weren’t out yet, curse them), we had to get a larger model just so we could upgrade the RAM at some point; the lower-end ones have that blasted soldered-in memory. When the hard drive eventually goes on the office machine, we’ll have no choice but to bring it to the Apple Store for repair, as I know I can’t do it at the office. (Even the Apple Store techs have grumbled about working on the newer iMacs.)

This has me thinking about my next home computer, which hopefully won’t be a necessary purchase until a few more years have gone by. I’d of course want to go the Mac route, but if Apple continues designing their iMacs to be so upgrade-unfriendly, then I’ll have no choice but to ditch the platform. Even the Mac Mini would be a reasonable alternative, if the design hadn’t been seemingly abandoned. The Mac Pros are way out of my price range, even at the most basic configuration. MacBooks are also way too expensive, and I require a desktop system, not a laptop. Coupled with Adobe’s preposterous Creative Suite subscription model, I may get priced right out of the platform and tools I’ve grown so fond of and accustomed to.

As painful as it would be to make the transition, building my own dual-boot Linux/Windows box would cost far less money, and I could put together a solid tower which would be a cinch to upgrade. Hell, we’ve got older IBM PCs at work with great hardware design; the top flips up like a car hood, and the parts just slide right out. You can literally upgrade the things in seconds.

I know I’m not the only one who has griped about Apple’s desktop designs as of late; we’ll just have to see if our voices aren’t drowned out by the massive piles of money the company gets from iPhone users. Otherwise, it’s goodbye Mac, after decades of fine service.

Escape clause

Those of you who live within driving distance of me have likely noticed that I’m often reluctant to leave home and/or go out with friends. The brutally cold winter we had didn’t help; I wanted to stay buried under a blanket for the season. But beyond that, I still I have a hard time leaving home for social activities.

Money is sometimes a reason, as days out always seem to come around after I’ve paid some heavy bills or something like that. Plus, whenever I go out, I always end up spending more than I had planned. I’m not being pressured by friends or anything like that; it’s just that food, travel, and related costs add up very quickly and tend to blow my budget in no time.

Another issue is that almost all of my friends live at least a half hour away. At my old place, they were much closer by; now, I’ve got to dump more miles on my car, account for travel time, et cetera. Normally this wouldn’t be too big of a deal, but as my car nears the hundred thousand mile mark, I have to be cautious.

But those seem to be minor concerns in the grand scheme of things. Trying to find the true root of this odd behavior has thus far eluded me. My only theory is that it’s a mixture of misplaced paranoia (with no logical target) and just not wanting to leave the house. I like figuratively barricading myself in my home, amongst my hobbies and such. Maybe my antisocial childhood and adolescence turned me into a homebody, but even that seems a bit suspect. Being bullied over twenty years ago making me want to do nothing but sprawl out on the couch and watch Star Trek now? Unlikely to be the only cause.

I’ll just have to keep pondering, obsessing, and likely overthinking about this until I can come up with a solution. In the meantime, I’ll just relax at home, and sink further into my pit.

At least there’s death metal and robots in there.

What’s a “rainy day activity”?

It’s time for another cranky old man post! (To paraphrase George Carlin, I was wired like an old man even in my twenties. So this type of grumbling should be nothing new to you.)

Folks in my generation and those who came before surely remember that when we were growing up, if it rained during recess, after school, or (heaven forbid) on weekends…it sucked. You were stuck inside watching reruns on television, reading books (which got old after a while, even for avid readers like myself), or doing chores if you whined and complained.

However, if you were lucky or planned ahead a bit, you had “rainy day activities” stashed away someplace. These could be coloring books, puzzles, kits, or other random fun stuff that helped pass the time for hours on end and kept us out of our parents’ hair.

Not so anymore.

I have many friends and family members who either have or work with children, and while rainy days still put a crimp in their schedules, many kids don’t seem to notice…because all of their favorite activities are already inside. They’ve got it easy. This isn’t the usual “in my day, things were different!” bullshit, because the sea change of the Internet combined with wireless devices really shakes things up more than previous generations.

Is there even a such thing as rainy day activities nowadays? Kids are glued to Internet-enabled devices to a staggering degree. Do you realize how many kids I’ve seen with goddamned smartphones? Not teenagers. Young children. Single digit ages. What the fuck is wrong with their parents?

On a related note, the old “go to your room” punishment lacks teeth. Kids have all sorts of cool stuff in their rooms, from computers to televisions to game consoles. Sending them up there sounds like a reward, not a punishment. Unless, y’know, their parents cut the power to their rooms and disable wifi access. (Note: If you’re a parent, and you actually do this to your bratty children, you are awesome.)

But I digress.

As much as we might’ve grumbled as kids when it rained, spending time working on a kit or some other creative activity — that’s how it ran in my house, anyway; the TV was shut off after an hour or two despite our complaints — was pretty cool. It got us outside of our comfort zones, opened up new avenues of creativity, and taught us to adapt to adverse situations. (Hey, when you’re eight years old, having a weekend rained out is pretty damned adverse.)

I’ve got a feeling that if you sat most modern kids down with some arts and crafts stuff or other similar activity, they’d bitch and moan and wonder where their iPads are. To a degree, some parents are to blame; in today’s busy-all-the-time society, they’re wont to just dump the kids in front of the TV and throw on a movie rather than giving them something engaging to do. But is it really so hard to draw the line somewhere? It won’t kill ‘em.

But I don’t have kids, nor do I plan to, and according to most parents in my age group, I don’t know shit. Guess this rant was rather pointless, then?

The Game Boy days

Longtime readers of these scribblings know that the Game Boy was the first video game console I ever owned, and remained so for many years. I didn’t own another system until the fall of 1997, when I bought a used NES. (You know me; always on the cutting edge.) As such, all of my console gaming at home during the mid-1990s was squarely focused on Nintendo’s little handheld that could. This post is most appropriate given the console’s 25th anniversary this year, as well!

I amassed a small collection of my own Game Boy games over the years, but I think I spent most of my time borrowing games from friends. I ended up playing games from all over the Game Boy spectrum that way, from some impressive feats of gaming design to total piles of shit. I’d play just about any game that came my way, and in the process learned a lot about game design and engineering just as much as which games were fun or not. (And, of course, I had a notebook absolutely filled with passwords.)

My peers laughed at my Game Boy-only existence, but it was well worth it. I found so many great games that way, from The Sword of Hope to the Kirby series to portable adventures of my favorite video game heroes, like Mega Man and Link. (Fun facts: the first Mega Man game I played on the Game Boy was my friend‘s copy of Mega Man in Dr. Wily’s Revenge, and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening remains my favorite Zelda game of all time.) The dated hardware and grayscale (greenscale?) screen didn’t matter; if a game was good, I lost myself in it and just enjoyed it.

The fact that I could just hide in my room (which I did a lot during high school) and play games with no one to bother me was a definite plus, and if I really wanted to be away from people, the portability of the system meant I could escape into the woods behind our house during the warmer months. (Yes, I know that completely misses the point of going outside…but I was angsty. Leave me alone.) I’ve got many fond memories of playing Final Fantasy Legend II while leaning against a tree.

My brother got a Game Boy of his own for Christmas after I got mine, so of course we immediately secured a link cable for some multiplayer action. He used to beat my ass at R. C. Pro-Am, but the odds were even with Mortal Kombat II. (Which is odd, because I sucked at the arcade and console versions.)

Looking back, I believe all those good times with the Game Boy were the foundation of why I’m such a big proponent of portable gaming. Nowadays folks are more apt to play games on tablets and cellphones, but I’ve bought every Nintendo handheld system released, as well as some of their competition (which, except for the Sony products, sadly didn’t have a chance). There’s a lot of great gaming to be had on those tiny screens, and my history with a monochrome, 160×160 pixel system is the source of my appreciation.

There are quite a few classic Game Boy games that I’ll still play over and over again. I think only the NES can claim the same number of must-have replays. For everyone’s modern focus on 3D shooters and online play, there’s robust gaming goodness on a system now considered to be incredibly primitive. I don’t own my original Game Boy anymore, as I upgraded to a Game Boy Color in 1999, which in turn was replaced with a Game Boy Advance two years later. However, I did get a super-cheap Game Boy Pocket about six or seven years ago to scratch the ol’ monochrome gaming itch.

Who’s up for some Tetris?

Randomly accessed memory

This is a bit of a weird post, I guess, but today I want to talk about a specific block of memories from my childhood. Namely, when my family took a weekend vacation to Vermont nearly thirty years ago. This post was spurred by my going through some old family photographs, and finding a picture of my brother and I sitting on a couch, buried under some pillows. That couch was from a house we stayed in during that summer weekend. You know, one of those joints owned by wealthy folks that would rent it out to middle-class tourists like us. Anyway, it was in a wooded area that had easy access to sporting facilities, a lake, hiking trails, and all of that good stuff. I can recall the layout of the house in oddly specific detail. I’ve always had clear memories of that house; it’s not like the photo referenced earlier brought them flooding back out of nowhere.

The first floor was for the most part one big open area; the kitchen, dining room, and living room were not separated by walls. This coupled with the generous windows made the place appear much larger than it actually was (not that it was a tiny house to begin with). I seem to remember vaulted high ceilings, too. The living room had couches on three sides, and I think there was a big round low table in the middle. The space might’ve also been sunken into the floor a bit. As for the kitchen and dining area, it had a counter area with barstools as well as a dining room table, and I seem to recall granite countertops, but those aren’t uncommon.

The bedroom my brother and I stayed in had slanted ceilings, due to the room being right under the eaves of the roof on that side of the house. We laid there in our twin beds one night, unable to sleep for quite a while due to the thunder and lightning. That shit was loud. See, we got hit with a torrential downpour one day, so many of the planned outdoor activities were out the window. To keep myself and my younger brother occupied, my father had wisely brought along a new LEGO kit, just in case.

I had brought along some comic books to read. I don’t remember which series, specifically, but I do know they were Marvel ones, as they had the classic advertisement for a personalized G.I. Joe action figure in them. I practically begged my folks for that thing, a mission that ended in failure.

All of this is well and good, but the question (and the point of this post) is: why do I remember this particular vacation with such clarity? Did anything mindblowing happen? Nope. It’s clearly not a side effect of any repressed memories, either, else I wouldn’t actually remember this stuff. The only thing that really separated it from other vacations is that we rented a house, rather than staying with relatives or getting a cottage. But even that doesn’t seem important enough to warrant such a special place in my brain.

It’s all very, very strange. But at least it’s a bunch of happy memories, and more importantly, they’re happy ones that aren’t tied to any shitty ones by association. (Which is far too common.)