The death of childhood

October 31, 2012

I can see it now.


A warm sunny day in Orlando.  A family of four …. appreciative kids looking up at mom and dad in that breathless anticipation of something big about to happen.  the kids grateful to be treated to one of the great experiences a kid can have.  Parents thrilled that they have scrimped and saved to see those cherubic faces look up and mouth the words “thanks mom and dad!”  Small tears roll down everyone’s cheeks as the gates open.

There is Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse, and the entire ensemble of characters that have thrilled generations of kids and adults alike gathered around the statue of their creator, Walt, waving their hands in a gesture of follow us.  The family eagerly enters the Magic Kingdom.

Then, the collective of costume characters parts, and a new character steps forward.  What an incredible privilege to be present for the appearance of a new character!!  Who could it be???

The character speaks to the family:






Meesa welcomes you to ‘da happiest place on ‘da Earth.

pictured:  Walt Disney’s newest spokesperson


The Walt Disney company has announced the acquisition of LucasFilms for a little over $4 billion, and immediately announced, demonstrating that they have learned nothing from George Lucas, that the company will immediately embark upon making the sequel films to the original trilogy, complete with character cameos from the earlier films.


I can already hear the millions of childhoods crying out in terror, then suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible is about to happen.


Trying to find something positive to look at, perhaps Disneyland will soon have a Mos Eisley cantina, complete with hourly light saber battles … it can go right next to the Tony Stark rehab center.


Happy 35th Brithday: Atari 2600!

October 14, 2012

I didn’t even realize that today, October 14, marks the 35th anniversary of the launch of the Atari 2600.

Having read a few articles (I am sysnthesizing and adding my own memories here), I’m not shocked it didn’t get a ton of fanfare … the reports are that it initially was not a huge seller, and that it took some word of mouth to get around for sales to take off in the second year.  As a matter of fact, Atari was sure thing would take off, but did not have the capabilities to produce more, so licensed Sears to make their own version (Video Arcade System instead of Video Computer System) to get them out to the public faster in order to have them available (Atari could still make money on the games).  While my family did have the actual Atari 2600 (no clue where it is or what happened to it), our neighbors had the Sears clone.

Favorite game?  I seem to recall playing Asteroids and Adventure quite a bit.  Asteroids (along with Space Invaders) was one of the few arcade-to-home gaming games that transferred very well.  Adventure notably had the very first easter egg in video game history (Atari wouldn’t give credit to the programmers, so a programmer left a note claiming credit in the game … I never found it).

While Asteroids and Space Invaders were successful crossovers, Pac-Man was a notable bomb.  While the record holder for sales of a single 2600 game, Pac-Man was rushed because the licensing was acquired close to the time needed to get the game on the shelves for Christmas (they still ended up missing that window, but the game was still terrible when it hit the market a few months into 1982), and the result was an abomination.

Of course movies ended up spelling the end for Atari (sort of … if you spell “end”, “ET”).  Atari had in fact released the first movie cross-over video game based on Raiders of the Lost Ark (it was not a great game, but it did start a trend that continues today … hardly any big movie gets released without a video game tie in).  When E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial became a big hit, it was a natural to produce a video game, which they did, and really shouldn’t have .  The wanton destruction of the entire video game industry that this game caused even has a name which makes it sound like the Black Thursday, with hundreds of programmers leaping from the windows of their offices.  In this case, the urabn legend of many of those unsold 2600 cartridges ending up in a desert landfill outside of Alamogordo, New Mexico, appears to be true.

I never realized how long the 2600 was around, and its eventual game library.  Apparently, the system ended up with a library of over 400 games (for those of you who were Intellivision fans, that game system never got much beyond 150 games).  The last game for the 2600 to be released in the U.S. was Secret Quest, which was released in 1989 (much later than I thought).  The rarest video game among collectors is Air Raid, which was the one and only release for the 2600 by the software company Men-a-vision, and there were less than 20 copies released.  A few years ago, the only known complete (cartridge and box) version of the game was sold on e-bay for over $31,000.

Something I never realized was the fate of software maker Activision, which produced notable titles Fishing DerbyKaboom!, and their top seller Pitfall.  Activision is now combined with noted video game manufacturer Blizzard, and among the titles coming out of the Activision unit were Guitar Hero (about to go on hiatus) and the best seller Call of Duty (in addition to the James Bond related video games of the last ten years).

Atari itself, now a French company, continues to publish games …apparently a new version of Centipede and a new Dungeons and Dragons game are among the more recent games.  Looks like Activision made out better than Atari.

Are we seeing the last stand of the Republican Party?

October 9, 2012

As I’ve said before … I am apolitical.  I am not a fan of either major political party because frankly they do little to support the things that I consider important.  The loss of either political party would not be a major loss in my eyes (except maybe as a stabilizer to the other).

that said, I wonder if we are seeing the last stand of the Republican Party starting to take shape.

Don’t get me wrong  … the Republicans won’t be closing up shop in the coming ten years .. likely not even 20.  However, there are clear shifts in the American population that are taking place that do not favor the Republican Party being able to mount major national campaigns, and could see the Republicans becoming a regional power, downgraded from a national party.

The first change is demographics.  Republicans tend to be overwhelmingly white and older.  While old people are still going to be around in droves for a while, The United States is becoming less white.  The largest increase in the population is from south of the border and from across the Pacific.  The far right wing of American politics has actively been against more of these people coming into the country, and with these people allying themselves with the GOP, it is hard to attract new immigrants.

What prompted me to write this was a new report that just came out: The Pew Research Center has published a report on the religious mindset of the US, and this may be even more importantly dour for the Republicans:  The U.S. is getting less and less religious.  More than half the country still identifies with being religious, but at 58%, that number is much lower than in the past.  It should also be noted that 2012 marks the first time in American history that less than one-half of the nation identifies as being “Protestant”.  Given that Catholics have tended historically (though this has shifted a little) to vote Democrat, this seems to be a trend that, if it continues, is not good news for a Republican Party which is against changing its platform.

As the baby boomers start entering their 70s and start dying off, the Republican Party is going to be forced, I suspect, with the age old axiom that faces any organization:  change or die.  My guess is that unless the Republicans brush off the more extreme membership, it will be forced to stay a course that has an outcome that will see the party cease to have a strong national presence.

I suspect that the GOP leadership has been reading these tea leaves, and that they must be concerned about these changes in the nation’s population.  Yet, I see them taking very little action that seems to support those who will be the future of the nation.

captured for posterity …

October 8, 2012

Everyone who has read or seen Jurassic Park knows that you can find all kinds of neat things in amber of you only look hard enough through enough amber (the book makes it clear that the US government has in fact taken an interest in John Hammond because he has bought up access to a large percentage of the world’s amber supply).

But every so often you get that rarest of rare moments captured for eternity …

You can probably tell that this is a spider and a wasp.  The wasp became ensnared in the web (some of the individual strands of silk are still encased in the amber).  Locked in mortal combat as they became encased in sap, the pair was then discovered a hundred million years later, still stuck in their dance to the death.  The article notes that while these two species are extinct, the wasp is a parasitoid which has descendants which attack spiders.

IMO, really quite cool!

According to the accompanying article,