9/4/2015

My Dad has owned a flower shop for the past twenty five years. When he first opened, there wasn’t much else in the neighborhood. A greasy spoon breakfast cafe, a dry cleaner, and a dingy Chinese restaurant. That was about it. But over the years, 38th and Grand in South Minneapolis has really become a cool little intersection. That greasy spoon became a great little Cuban restaurant (featured on “Triple D”), and there’s now an art gallery, a chocolate shop, and one of my favorite restaurants in town. And a few months back, a record shop opened up in the back of one of the buildings, occupying a small store space. Because the owner keeps odd hours, I wasn’t able to get there until today. And man…what a place!

A hole in the wall with treasure inside.

A hole in the wall with treasure inside.

Simply called The Record Spot, this store is smaller than my living room. But I knew the moment I walked in that it would be my new favorite record store. The vibe of this place is fantastic. A tiny room lined with record bins and decorated with cool record covers pinned to the wall, The Record Spot has a selection better than stores ten times its size. Every bin had dozens of records that I want in my collection, and it was tough for me to walk out without dropping hundreds of dollars. In the end, I picked up two records by The Sound (for which I had been searching for years), some Haitian dance music (picked out by Ethan), Prince’s Batdance 12″, and some random 45rpm that Zach found in a box on the floor.

I am smitten by this store.

The owner, a thin guy with a shock of white hair, killer sunglasses, and a gap between his front teeth, is easily the coolest guy I’ve met in years. As I drooled over his collection, he chatted up my kids and told me how much he likes my Dad because he gave him a free Christmas tree last year. Then, when I found those records by The Sound, he became super friendly, giving me some history on the band and telling me how he came to find those records. This is a man after my own heart. I will be back. Soon.

-John

9/3/2015-Family Time

I just finished watching the Impractical Jokers live 100th episode special, where they each had to attempt to walk a tightrope five stories high. It was ridiculous, it was silly, and it was everything I love about that show.

Have you seen it?

If not, here’s the basic premise: four guys, who’ve been friends since they were kids, set up hidden cameras and try to get each other to do ridiculous, embarrassing stuff. Sometimes it’s as simple as “go up to this person and say this”. But it’s generally a bit more elaborate. In each episode, they have a certain number of challenges, and whomever loses the most challenges has to perform a punishment at the end of the show.

It sounds like it should be awful, right? Like an even less funny and more obnoxious version of Jackass. But the truth is that it’s the funniest show on television, week after week. It has a lot to do with the fact that the guys are kind of dopey, awkward, and completely self-depricating. They’re not at all the typical frat-boy or meathead types you would normally imagine on a show like this. And while it’s funny watching them completely humiliate themselves, the real reward comes when they just allow themselves to go for it. That’s usually when the best moments occur.

My favorite of the bunch is Q. And I admit that this is probably because he’s a member of the Tell ‘Em Steve Dave podcast, which is literally my favorite thing in all forms of media. For me, a new episode of TESD is practically a religious experience. But that’s a topic for another blog entry.

I’m very conscious of the fact that I’m existing within what is probably a very narrow window of time when my kids love hanging out with me and think I’m a pretty cool guy. My family right now is very close and we spend a lot of time together, playing games, watching TV, doing projects, and going places together. I know that in a couple years, they’re probably going to think I’m a total douche and will rather lock themselves in their bedrooms and listen to whatever sort of emo-rebellious shit-rock is popular than spend a second with Christine and me. But I’m enjoying this time while I can.

The one thing we love doing together, probably more than anything else, is watching Impractical Jokers. There are nights when we’ll just sit down and do a marathon of the show, laughing for hours. Impractical Jokers is a fairly safe show for kids. Only a few times have we had to gloss over a joke or explain what a certain word means. The rest of the time, the kids laugh until they can barely breathe. And ever since the cast of the show started going on tour, our kids have been constantly asking if we can go see them live. And though they’ve been through town a couple times, the timing was never right.

And then we saw this. The Impractical Jokers Cruise.

Honestly, the very idea of a cruise does not appeal to me. To be stuck on a boat with a few thousand strangers, ordering over-priced drinks and watching Branson-style shows? The whole thing just sounds tacky. Keeping in mind that I’ve never been on a cruise before, so I really have no frame of reference to legitimize being so judgmental. It’s just the vibe I get.

Hesitance aside, the moment I heard Q mention this cruise on an episode of Tell ‘Em Steve Dave, I knew we had to go. It would have been impossible for me to find a vacation more perfect for my kids. After all, it checks all the boxes for them:

-First time seeing the ocean.
-First time on a huge-ass boat.
-Getting the hell out of Minnesota in January. (Neither of them like winter).
-First time visiting another country – even if only for a day.
-Getting to meet the cast of their favorite show and see multiple performances.

It didn’t take long for Christine and I to make the decision. And when we told Ethan and Zach that we were going, they lost their friggin’ minds. It really was a sight to behold.

So even if I wind up getting some sort of explosive diarrhea from the all-you-can-eat food, or if I get an VD just by lounging in the pool, it’ll all be worth it to know that the kids are going to have an amazing time.

-John

9/2/2015-The Magic Box

Let’s talk about these things:

IMG_3815

What we’re looking at are two Raspberry Pi computers. I included the thumb drive for scale.

Inspiration comes from the strangest places. Several months ago, my son Ethan began expressing an interest in computer programming and technology in general. He’s becoming a very curious kid, and enjoys math and science subjects far more than I ever did as a kid. It just goes to show that you can never really plan what your kids are going to gravitate toward.

I think it’s important to indulge your kids’ whimsies as you never know where it could take you. Sure, the average eight year-old probably picks up and drops hobbies more often than he changes his underwear, but it’s fun to see what sticks. And this interest in coding and creating seems to have stuck for a while now.

When Ethan started asking questions about how games, apps, and computer programs were made, I did my best to explain with the limited knowledge that I had. But it soon became apparent that he wanted to know more than I could tell him. To the internet! It didn’t take long for me to discover the Raspberry Pi. First, I found Scratch. I had heard of it before, but Ethan’s math teacher recommended that we give it a try, since it’s designed specifically to teach kids the fundamentals of coding.

Scratch held his interest for quite some time, and he still tinkers with it every so often. But this soon led to questions about how computers worked. And that’s where the Raspberry Pi came in. I thought it would be cool if he could build his own PC from scratch. But, as I did some research, the Pi completely fascinated me. It’s a computer on a board that’s the size of a credit card. Four USB ports, HDMI and audio outputs, an ethernet port, a mini-USB port for power, and a microSD slot. That’s it. And it’s amazing. There are a few other touches, like the GPIO inputs and the camera add-on, but the simplicity of the Pi is what makes it so brilliant for kids and hobbyists.

Let’s get back to inspiration. Just by perusing the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s website for a few moments, I was floored by what this thing is capable of and what people have done with it. In the “Make” page, there are dozens of projects, complete with step-by-step instructions, ready for you to create. Music boxes, robots, web servers. Hell, there’s even a fart detector. And what kid wouldn’t want to make one of those? But beyond that, there are tons of practical resources for things like learning to code with Python.

But there’s so much more to do with the Pi, and this is where I’m really interested. Ethan and are currently working on building an arcade table using RetroPie and a bunch of parts we bought from Focus Attack. The fact that we’ve been able to fit over 2,000 arcade games on a memory card smaller than my fingernail and run them on a computer that fits in my pocket is insanity.

Then there’s this GoBox project. I’ve had my eye on GoPiGo for a while, as both of my kids are becoming interested in robotics. But to have a new robot project delivered to our door every month? Awesome.

One last Pi-related resource: MagPi. This is it. This is the source of a lot of inspiration. MagPi is a monthly magazine about Raspberry Pi that you can get in print or as a free PDF. Every month, there’s an entire section showing projects that people have created, along with articles on how to design games, build robots, create connected-home devices, and even use Python to turn Minecraft into Splatoon. It’s almost overwhelming.

I’m an absolute novice at this stuff. My programming skills are very slim, and I know next to nothing about using breadboards, HATs, and other computing gadgets. But learning this stuff along with my kids has been one of the most enjoyable and rewarding things I’ve done in a long time. Hell, just seeing them giggle like idiots as we use Python to program Minecraft so flowers come out of Steve’s butt when he walks has been worth it.

-John

9/1/2015-Sloppy Snake

Metal Gear Solid 5 is out today, and yeah…I’m caught up in the hype. Reading all the tweets, reviews, and breathless comments about how amazing this game is has me pretty excited to pick up my preorder tonight, though I won’t get time to play it until tomorrow.

Beyond the hype, there’s another reason I pick up all the “main” entries in the Metal Gear series. Story time…

I’ve talked endlessly about the year in college when I lived with Moe and Hilden at the house on Fremont. And for good reason. That was probably the most formative year of my life, having met two guys who would go on to very quickly become my best friends. That year really helped shape who I am today. However, the year after was a complete 180. Moe and Hilden would go off to graduate and do their student teaching, while I – due to the fact that I changed majors twice – had one more full year of school.

Separated from Moe and Hilden, I went on to rent a room in a house that can be generously described as an absolute shithole, with four mostly-strangers. When I moved in, I was hopeful that this year would be similar to the Fremont year. After all, I didn’t really know anyone that year and I walked away with two lifelong friends. Unfortunately, history wouldn’t repeat itself. The guys I lived with were just fine, but mostly kept to themselves, either confined in their rooms or stoned on the couch with their girlfriends. So instead of loud, late-night sessions of Diddy Kong or gathering every night to watch Seinfeld together, almost all of my time was spent alone in my bedroom watching scrambled porn.

But I digress. There was the occasional bright spot. The year was 1998, and Metal Gear Solid came out for the Playstation in September. I didn’t have a Playstation yet, but had seen previews of the game in EGM and was fascinated. I remembered Metal Gear on the NES, but never got too far past the guy who famously said, “I feel asleep” just before he passed out.

One night, as I sat on my bed, probably squinting as I tried to catch a glimpse of a boob, one of my roommates knocked on my bedroom door and said, “Hey, there’s someone at the door for you.” I wasn’t expecting any visitors, but I went downstairs to see who was there, figuring it was probably my girlfriend making a surprise visit. Instead, standing at the back doorstep, completely unannounced, was Hilden, who happened to be in town taking care of some school business. In his hand was a Playstation, an unopened copy of Metal Gear Solid, and 1.75 liters of Captain Morgan. We spend the next few hours sneaking around Shadow Moses and drinking until we couldn’t see. Literally. My only hazy memories are of me vomiting violently in the toilet, and then crawling back, like Solid Snake, to my room where I found Hilden passed out on my bed. I said, “Hilden, get out of my bed!” To which he muttered, “I got nowhere else to go…” I said, “Alright…but don’t get any ideas” and then passed out next to him.

Until the end of time, Metal Gear Solid will be associated with that night, which was the rare beacon of happiness in my otherwise dismal last year of college.

Cheers.

-John

8/31/2015 – The Ol’ College Try

I used to write a lot. Every day, multiple times per day. And, somehow, I used to get a lot of satisfaction from writing. But, as time went on and “real life” began to occupy more of that time, writing fell off for me. As a result, I’ve begun to notice that the act of sitting down to write has become difficult for me, and I’ve gotten a lot sloppier. Not that I was some sort of literary maestro whose words leaped off the page. I’ve always been mediocre-at-best. Nonetheless, as I said, I’ve gotten sloppy and the act of writing has become laborious for me. Hell, just writing the last few sentences has been a complete pain in my ass, making me seriously contemplate abandoning this project before I’ve really begun.

But I press on…

A bit of background: the first website I ever really wrote for was called GamingWorldX. Check out the way-back machine. The site is a marvel to behold with today’s eyes. The early 2000s was a wondrous time to start out a gaming website; the fucking wild west. Indie basement operations, run by anyone who could afford a domain name (or a free GeoCities account), cobbled together by eager fans with not only fantasies of parlaying their hobby into a profession, but also incredible amounts of passion for what they were doing. Sure, 99.9% of the output sucked, but it sure was a fun time. Anyway, GamingWorldX was a middling site that was (mostly) a lot of fun for me to work on. Because it was working with that site that I practiced writing every single day, mostly through a blog that I called “Cooking with John”. If you were a reader of TeamFremont or RobotPanic, you may remember that name as I carried it with me after leaving GWX. I just enjoyed it so damn much; and not necessarily because I thought anybody was reading my pointless blather. That blog also served as a journal of my time during those years. And every now and then, I’d have a few drinks and scroll through the archives, reliving things that I had forgotten about, laughing at jokes that I thought were funny at the time, and relearning the lessons of those experiences.

Bringing me to my point: I’d like to try to do a bit of writing again. Now that we’re buttoning up the movie, there are some other projects we would like to work on, some of which involve writing. I had tried getting a head start on one of those projects several months ago and was frustrated to learn how difficult it was for me to sit down and just fucking type. If we’re going to move on and do new things, I don’t want my lack of ability/patience to hinder our progress. So that means: practice.

Here’s my goal: from now until the end of 2015, I’d like to add at least five different entries per week. These entries can be as long or as short as I want. The point is to write something.

As with Cooking with John, I don’t expect anyone to read this stuff. This is really for my own personal growth. (Puke). But if you do read, I’d appreciate any feedback or contributions. One of the fun things about CWJ was getting letters and discussion topics from people. It provided a tremendous amount of incentive for me to keep going. I fully intend to slog along on my own, regardless, but I’ll drop a conversation topic in the forums just in case.

Here we go!

-John

 

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