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28Jan/120

Chuck is gone, but it will leave a lasting impression (to modern nerds at least)

(Jeff Fulton)

The TV show Chuck had it last two episodes last night and while it never achieved a huge TV audience, it represents the type of modern,  innovative, quality TV programming that can exist if those involved use the same creativity with production as they do with writing, acting and directing.

Chuck premiered on NBC in the fall of 2007 and it's first glorious season was cut short because of the writers strike. It achieved a small but hardcore audience of people who enjoyed humor along with spy hi-jinks and nerd culture (with a little unrequited romance thrown in for good measure) .  Those original 9 Million viewers dropped with each of the show's 4 more seasons until it was no longer profitable (was it ever?) to keep the show on the air. To NBC's credit, as the show got better creatively (even as viewers were dropping off), they stayed with it and allowed the producers to find creative ways (like completely non-subliminal Subway and car commercials inserted into the scripts).

NBC had such a habit of throwing away good, but unprofitable shows that it was a miracle they stayed with Chuck for as long as they did. As the budgets started to get cut, quality wrinkles could be seen in many of the episodes, but all in all throughout its 5 seasons the show kept the quality of writing, humor and creativity high.

A good comparison to Chuck would be the Big Bang Theory (BBT).  It was another show about "nerds"  that premiered at the same time as a Chuck, but on CBS.   I have watched a few episodes of BBT and while it really is not my "cup of tea", I  do like it, and  I understand how it went from ratings "slow starter" to top 10 hit and why Chuck needed to find creative financing to even stay on the air. Both shows at their core are about "Nerds". The Chuck Lorre show (as with the strategy all of his shows employ) took "nerddom" and amplified it to be what the majority of people expected from nerds: Hyper-realistic, awkward, almost Aspergers style Bill-Gates characters that we could all laugh at (and sometimes with).

Chuck never went that route. While both shows include an attractive blond woman for the nerds to drool over, the Chuck writers and production team were able to realistically show Sarah slowing falling for Chuck because at his heart he was not a nerd, but just a hyper intelligent man-boy who loved real nerd culture (Star Wars, Raiders of The Lost Ark, Xbox, etc). Both Chuck and Morgan were supposedly nerds, but they were actually heroes and didn't fall into the stereo-type that most people looked for in their nerd humor.

Chuck is more of a show that modern nerds (such as myself) identify with.   The modern nerd likes nerd culture, but is also interested in  other pursuits (sports, music, cars, etc) that don't fit cleanly into the CBS style box that BBT has created for Nerds to exist in. Unfortunately, modern nerds don't watch TV when it is actually on. While they identify and love Chuck (for the most part), they probably were working, partying, making their own content, or doing other things when Chuck was actually on. Modern nerds don't rely on TV programming schedules, but work and watch at their own leisure. They would DVR it or watch it on-demand (a good reason why the product placement commercials helped keep the show alive).

This is one of the reasons why Chuck will leave a lasting impression. Aside from 5 seasons of funny, creative spy missions, retro nerd humor, great baddies, and an attractive (but quirky) cast, Chuck showed that a show can keep its quality high in the modern age of TV viewership without stooping (maybe the wrong word choice) to the CBS version of compartmentalizing its subjects into EXACTLY what CBS viewers want to see.  I don't know too many modern "nerds" who admit to watching anything on CBS other than Football and Letterman. That doesn't mean the shows on CBS are bad, because in reality, they are genius.  CBS understands its audience and is able to exploit their likes and dislikes into to a very profitable business.  They just don't have many shows that I will watch.

I might be wrong here, but I feel that shows such as Chuck and Fringe (another show perpetually on the bubble that has used similar production tactics to stay afloat) will eventually have a much more lasting appeal and become part of a more significant media and pop culture landscape  down the road as many more modern nerds discover them via re-runs, box-sets, and streaming.

At its core, Chuck was a story about friends and love.  It was a show that was about a lost  "nerd", man-boy who actually had friends, and a family but needed a "brain" in almost a Wizard Of Oz sense to become the man  he needed to be. Plus, Chuck kicked some major ass and also got the girl at the end. What more could a modern nerd ask for?

Now that all five seasons of Chuck are complete, my hope is that when the "complete" series hits Costco bins and Netflix later this year, it will become more of a cult favorite than it is now.

 

 

28Jan/120

When Social Media Fails

This week I found out that someone I know is in a very bad situation.  Actually, the situation is dire, really horrible, and honestly, unimaginable.    I went to school with this person, and for a couple of years we spent a good amount of time together.  This person is one of the nicest, sweetest, most genuine people I have ever known.  In fact, I cannot think of one negative thing to say about this person.

Several years ago,  this person wrote a fictionalized book about the place where we grew-up, and we connected again.  For a while we kept in touch, and then, as people do, I got distracted and did not return one of this person's emails, and that was that.   I did follow this person's career on their blog for a while, and when this person's second book came out last year, I planned to buy it (but never did).  We are connected via Facebook, but with so many updates flowing by, it was difficult to keep up.

Now, like I said, this person is in a dire, horrible, unimaginable situation.  In 2012, my first inclination is to jump on Facebook/Twitter/my blog, etc. and shout to the rafters about it.  I want to help in any way I can.  I want people to know about the situation this person is currently in, and I want to have an answer that I can blog, tweet, update, crowd source, kickstart,  flashmob and send virally so anyone who might be able to help out would see it and take action.

But I can't.

I can't do it because the people who have put this person in this very dire, horrible and unimaginable situation have access to the same social media that I do.    They can read  tweets, they can monitor posts to the person's Facebook page.   They can read news stories, and search Twitter feeds, and consume blog posts.  Every time they see a word written or mentioned about this dire, horrible and unimaginable  situation, it emboldens them to keep it going.   The very tools that I (and honestly, many other people who want to help but can't find a way either)  have access to, the tools we think could use to help make a difference, are the same ones that might prolong the situation, or change the outcome to something terrible.

This is where social media fails.  It's been said, "if we all have a voice, then none of us have one" (don't ask me who said it, but I'm sure someone has).   I've always though thought that cliché was bullsh*t.    Now starting to think otherwise.

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24Jan/120

Star Wars Uncut The Director's Cut Released : Another Sign Of The Apocalypse?

The current Mayan Countdown has us at 331 days left until the end of the world, so we here at 8bitrocket.com have decided to spend some time looking for stories that we think show that something weird is going on this year.

The next Sign Of Doomsday: Star Wars Uncut : The Directors Cut Released

The  movie (embedded at the end of the post) was created by fans around the world, each taking 15 seconds of the original Star Wars film, and recreating it any way they saw fit, and then uploading to  the fine people at Star Wars Uncut who put it all back together.  The process took 3 years, and it was worth the wait for many reasons.

I heard about this project a couple years ago, and I planned (for about 15 minutes until I was distracted and forgot about it) to add my own scene.  At the time I felt it was a cool little project, and nothing more.  However, after I viewed it today, I believe it is another sign of the apocalypse.

Why?

Well, for one simple reason: it is the culmination of everything the internet was created for, and everything the internet will ever be.  It is the best thing ever created on the internet, and, the best thing that will ever be created on the internet. We have reached the boiling point off fandom, the crossroads of crowd sourcing, the winking final nail in the coffin of intellectual property.   The quickening has gotten as quick as the speed of light.

19Jan/120

336 Days Left : The Next Sign Of The Apocalypse : Microsoft Adds Achievements For Coding Into Visual Studio

The current Mayan Countdown has us at 336 days left until the end of the world, so we here at 8bitrocket.com have decided to spend some time looking for stories that we think show that something weird is going on this year.

The next Sign Of Doomsday: Microsoft Adds Achievements For Coding Into Visual Studio

Here is what they say:

A software engineer's glory so often goes unnoticed. Attention seems to come either when there are bugs or when the final project ships. But rarely is a developer appreciated for all the nuances and subtleties of a piece of code--and all the heroics it took to write it.  With Visual Studio Achievements Beta, your talents are recognized as you perform various coding feats, unlock achievements and earn badges.

Really?  For software development?  Maybe that's cool, but first, can they add badges to Outlook to award managers for not ignoring emails, or achievements to Project for PMs who don't under-estimate the time it will take to complete a software effort?

I can't decide if this is really cool, or just a way turn what I do for a living into social game where one day I will be working for Facebook credits.   If so then...

Is the Quickening, er Doomsday er Armageddon coming this year?   Is it just the Winter Solstice?* Is this another sign of the end times?  Did Ancient Aliens dictate the end of the world to people on Yucatán Peninsula 100′s of years ago or did some old Mayan guy just run out of space when trying  to mark upcoming birthdays on his stone calendar? Only 349 more days until we get the answer. What else will happen in the coming months?

Tune in to find out.

*yes.

18Jan/120

Stop SOPA and PIPA: To quote an old NRA slogan. If you OUTLAW web sites, only OUTLAWS will have Web Sites.

(Jeff Fulton)

Even our Book Publisher is against SOPA and PIPA

O'Reilly, (our book publisher) is one of the many companies with intellectual property that would supposedly be "saved" by massively under-thought and over-protective SOPA and PIPA online Intellectual property bills, is going dark today (along with Wikipedia, and many other web sites) in protest over the bills.  This means that we will lose an entire day of revenue from on-line book sales when HTML5 is at its hottest point. And guess what? It's worth to try and make a point to stop these bills.

These supposed protections would allow a nameless faceless government agency to kill any web site and take away all of its revenue if it is found to even have a single link to any site that might have some sort of copyright infringement.

This is NOT the way to stop piracy. Apple, Netflix, Amazon (and others) have shown great ways to stem the tide of piracy - by keeping prices reasonable, selection plentiful and not screwing customers (ok Netflix, I'm giving you a little credit from BEFORE summer 2011, but you seem to be coming around again).

STOP SOPA and PIPA!  This is coming from someone who makes his living off of his own intellectual property and the legal uses of other's (for contract development purposes).

To quote an old NRA slogan. "If you OUTLAW web sites, only OUTLAWS will have Web Sites."

13Jan/120

Common, Off-The-Shelf, Dad : Why My Dad Never Joined The Computer Revolution

Jeff and I loved computers as kids, and my dad supported that love as well as he possibly could.  He bought us a our first Atari 800 computer for Christmas 1983, a Gemini 10X printer and 850 interface for our birthday in 1984, a 300 bps Volksmodem for Christmas 1984.    He took us to a parking lot in 1987 to buy an Atari ST from Computer Games + in Orange, California and to buy a 24-pin printer for school in 1988. His efforts fueled our computer dreams, and I never forgot it.

In return, when Jeff and I were older with jobs and some cash, we tried to return that favor by buying him computers of his own.   We loved them so much, and we wanted to pass that love back to our dad.   All through the 90's we bought him PCs , each more powerful than the last.  In 1994 we bought him a 386-DX, in 1997 a 486-DX 66, and 1999 a Pentium 2.   Each time we upgraded his computing power, we seeded the computer with games and apps we thought he would love: Chess programs,  word processing, databases, Motocross Madness, soccer games, etc.

When the world wide web was just getting some speed behind it, I was sure my dad would catch-on quickly.   He collected all sorts things (i.e Civil War artifacts, stamps), loved tracing his family history, and was a fan of consiracy theories. I figured,   if he would have just logged on, he would have been in heaven.

But he never did.

No matter how many times we sat with him to show him how to use the computers, wrote instructions for him, and tried to make it easier and easier for him, the computers sat unused in his room. My dad never touched them. One day in the early 2000s, I went to visit him and I saw that the latest computer had been completely removed.

"What happened to the computer, dad?" I asked him.

"Oh, it was making my room dusty, so I put in the garage" He told me.

The answer made no sense at all, but I had learned from experience to not question him very much.    This was just after 9-11, and my dad was a nervous wreck about the world. Most days he would lay under the covers of his bed, listening to poisonous voices of talk radio, scaring him into his little corner.   There were days that he never left his room.   The world was suddenly a much scarier place, and my dad unplugged from it.   Soon, his brain followed, unplugging from his healthy body, wasting away until the day I found him last year, completely stiff, sitting up slightly, staring into nothing, the heat of life draining away from him.

I had not thought about my dad and computers until last week.  I've been working on a less game-like, more "engineering" oriented project lately.  Something my dad would have done as a draftsman at Hughes Aircraft.  One of the aspects of this new project is a collection of COTS parts to help engineers create new system designs.  COTS parts mean "Common, Off The Shelf" parts.  Most engineering projects these days need to have a good percentage of COTS parts if they are going to be cost effective.  Having a bunch of COTS parts means you don't need to engineer as many  specific components for a job, which in turn means the project is less costly to manufacture.   COTS parts are common place theses days, a situation that is helped by computer based CAD design programs and computerized manufacturing systems.

While working on the project, I thought about what my dad did at Hughes Aircraft in the 70's and 80's.  He was a draftsman, and he designed all sorts of small parts for military projects.   With a degree in fine art from Syracuse, he sat at a huge draftsman's table and drew things on a daily basis.  My dad loved to draw, and even though the things he was drawing were probably not his ideal subjects, he still got do what he loved every day.   Many of the things he drew were connectors and fittings that would attach one huge, secret classified black box, to another huge, secret, classified black box.  He rarely drew what was inside the huge secret classified black box (or at least, he could not tell us about it).  When he finished, he would take his drawings down to the basement where they would be test fabricated by hand, on the spot, by the wizards in the machine shop.  He often relayed to us stories about his friends in the machine shop, the stuff they made, the jokes they played on each other.  One of those guys even fabricated the frame for the bike my dad made for me when I was 8 years old. While it didn't  sound like a perfect job, it certainly sounded like a great place to make a living with great people to do it with.

I recall that sometime in the mid-1980s, my dad came home with a computer manual from work.   Hughes was trying to train all of their draftsman to start using software-based CAD programs, and they asked him to take classes on using one.    He came home often, and complained that the computer he was using "did not have backspace."    In fact, he repeated this so often, that I now think it was a proxy complaint for everything he hated about his job, or at least, how it was changing.  Hughes did not want him to draw on paper any longer.  Instead he had become a cyborg, augmented with a machine to help him do the job he had always been perfectly capable of doing on his own.   He took night classes to try to learn new things, but he was pushing 60 years old, and it was difficult for him to take it all in.

In 1990 my dad got the word that his Golden Handshake had come through, and he was eligible for "early retirement."   By then, he was drafting exclusively on a computer.  He had long since stopped sending his designs to the machine shop for fabrication.  Along with computerized design came computerized testing that allowed him to test the parts he designed without the need to create a physical version.   This meant the machine shop, and the guys in it, has become mostly obsolete.  However, something else was happening at the same time.   The parts and fittings my dad had designed for decades were becoming common-place.  Another offshoot of computer aided design was standardization.  Instead of customizing everything, project managers could find previously built parts to aid development.   Just like the guys in the machine shop, my dad's skills were rendered obsolete too, replaced by common, off the shelf software and common, off the shelf parts.    For all intents and purposes, he,  himself had become common, off the shelf.  What once made him special was now easily replicated and replaceable.

However, to me,  my dad was anything but common or off-the-shelf.  He grew-up on an ultra-liberal "for the people" style farm boarding school,  his dad was a semi-famous illustrator, he ran track in high school, he lied about his age to join the Army in WWII, he worked in a coal-mine, he studied acting in San Francisco and New York and appeared in several television shows, he started racing motorcycles in the 70's, he could fix anything, he took up soccer at the age of 50, and taught himself to coach his own boys, and played until he was 72,  he started collecting Civil War artifacts before it was in and out of vogueness, and prospected for gold and hidden treasure, just to name the things I can recall off the top of my head.

He also did not hold anything against his boys, even if they were so interested in the very same thing that ended his career: computers.  Far from being the stereotypical dad (the one that only exists in moves or tv shows I suppose) that would get drunk and rail against a world that had in turn turned against him, he was very quiet about it all.  He supported my brother and I in every way possible.   He was able to look past his own experiences and see that the way forward for us was to embrace the future, even if the future had left him behind.     However, he simply could not bring himself to enter our world.   He had no need for it.  He read books and newspapers, used the post office to mail letters, paid for everything with cash, and left the computers we gave to him, sitting unused in the corner of his room.   I suppose this was not because he hated technology, but because, like a good father, he passed the future to his children, and found joy in the success he made possible, even if it meant the end of his own.

He was not a "Common Off The Shelf Dad" after all.

Not by a long-shot.

By the way, today is my dad's birthday.  He would have been 86 years old.

 

 

9Jan/120

346 Days Left : Next Sign Of The Apocalypse : The Kindle Fire Holding It's Own Against The Apple iPad

The current Mayan Countdown has us at 346 days left until the end of the world, so we here at 8bitrocket.com have decided to spend some time looking for stories that we think show that something weird is going on this year.

The next Sign Of Doomsday: The Kindle Fire Holding It's Own Against The Apple iPad

It looks like the Kindle fire sold about 5 million units over the holidays, while the iPad sales dropped year over year from 15 million to 12 million.  That's still a lot of iPads. However, things are looking good for the Kindle Fire...and for app developers.   It would be great to have a real alternative to iTunes to sell apps, and it looks like the Kindle Store might become that alternative.

At the same time, development tool vendors like Ansca Mobile  ate now providing tools to specifically target the Kindle Fire.   This  year could be the turning point where we start seeing Apple dominance start to fade...or this could just be a weird year.

Now, if they would just make the iCade or Atari arcade for the Kindle Fire.  Then things would really heat up! (hint: please hardware gods, let's do this).

Is the Quickening, er Doomsday er Armageddon coming this year?   Is it just the Winter Solstice?* Is this another sign of the end times?  Did Ancient Aliens dictate the end of the world to people on Yucatán Peninsula 100′s of years ago or did some old Mayan guy just run out of space when trying  to mark upcoming birthdays on his stone calendar? Only 349 more days until we get the answer. What else will happen in the coming months?

Tune in to find out.

*yes.

9Jan/120

Where is the Point Blank Remake?

(Jeff Fulton)

Point Blank and Point Blank 2 were 2 of the best party style games for the original Playstation. You needed a "gun controller" that oddly hooked up to the video "in" on your TV and to the controller port to make it work. I have both still on an old PSX, but the game will not function because LCD/Plasma TVs don't work the same as the old tube TVs so the video "in" for the extra gun data is useless.

The games were very successful and were both in the arcade. I remember playing these a lot friends in 1997-2000 and they were an absolute "blast" (pun intended of course).

The games would have been perfect on  the Wii, but now that every console has the some sort of mechanism to simulate a gun controller, they could be wireless wonders on all three major consoles. So, why have they never been remade?

There was a DS version, but that game makes no sense.  So, Namco, what gives?

 

 

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7Jan/120

348 Days Left : Next Sign Of The Apocalypse : Tom Chick Goes Solo

The current Mayan Countdown has us at 348 days left until the end of the world, so we here at 8bitrocket.com have decided to spend some time looking for stories that we think show that something weird is going on this year.

The next Sign Of Doomsday: Tom Chick goes solo

Tom Chick is an independent video game critic.  He has been writing since about 1994.  I discovered his writing in 1998, when he was the only guy I could find who wrote a positive review of Roller Coaster Tycoon.  Why?  Because he was the only guy to actually play the game.  Roller Coaster Tycoon was a great game that came out when only RTS and FPS games were allowed to exist on the PC.  Mr. Chick saw this, and his review helped make the game a top seller for several years.

I have formed a deep respect for reading his reviews because I know they will be honest.   Mr, Chick does not care about ruffling the feathers of giant franchises, and he takes the time to play indie strategy and RPGs with an eye for innovation and promise.  I don't always agree with him, but that's not the point.  He's a great writer, and great writing is worth reading. Today Mr. Chick announced they he was no longer going to spread his reviews around the internet, but instead, keep them all in one neat and tidy place: Quarter To Three Dot Com .

The funny thing is, I found Mr. Chick's site about 10 years ago, looking for exactly that: a place where I  could find links to all his reviews.  At the time, that was a preposterous idea (I'm not sure why), but this year...it's not.  Why?  I think we are know the answer.

Is the Quickening, er Doomsday er Armageddon coming this year?   Is it just the Winter Solstice?* Is this another sign of the end times?  Did Ancient Aliens dictate the end of the world to people on Yucatán Peninsula 100′s of years ago or did some old Mayan guy just run out of space when trying  to mark upcoming birthdays on his stone calendar? Only 349 more days until we get the answer. What else will happen in the coming months?

Tune in to find out.

*Maybe.

6Jan/120

349 Days Left To Code: Next Sign Of Doomsday : Bob Cringley Quits Writing About Technology

The current Mayan Countdown has us at 349 days left until the end of the world, so we here at 8bitrocket.com have decided to spend some time looking for stories that we think show that something weird is going on this year.

The next Sign Of Doomsday: Bob Cringley Quits Writing About Technology

Like a human planet Nibiru, Bob Cringley has been making silent comebacks for the past 25 years.   His real name is Mark Stephens, but he has been using the "Cringley" name ever since 1987 when he began authoring a column on technology rumors in Infoworld Magazine (ah, magazines, remember those?).

He left Infoworld in 1995, and wrote Accidental Empires, still one of the best books ever written about the computer revolution in the Silicon Valley.   He was also partly responsible for the documentary Triumph Of The Nerds (watch it on youtbe.com)  based on his writings.  He started a blog sometime around 1998, and that is when I began reading his work, weekly.   He has been updating it ever since (although he has moved it around a couple times unexpectedly and I've had the search for it).   For the past 14 years I have enjoyed his work and marveled at accuracy of his predictions for the industry.

Cringely has always been kind of an enigma.  He personally knows nearly everyone who ever had anything to do with the computer revolution (he recently promoted a personal interview he did with Steve Jobs),  has a huge web  following, yet he himself goes by a fake name, and according to Wikipedia, once lied about his education credentials.   In a way, Mark Stephens (Cringley)  is a reflection of the industry he chose to dive into and be a part of for the past 25 years.   He is like flash swirled with substance, sprinkled with magic dust. He has been a constant voice, supporter, sounding board, and town crier for the technology sector, while at the same time operating his very own (albeit tiny) reality distortion field that he very well may have learned to operate from Steve Jobs himself.  That is, until now.

Yesterday Cringley announced that he is quitting his weekly column.    His reason was interesting:

"That’s 1300 consecutive weeks without a break. Honest to God, I haven’t missed a week since 1987...I’m not saying exactly when the end will come, just that it will be this year sometime after September...I’d like to make some changes in my life, like build a boat with my kids and maybe walk the Earth."

Spending time with his kids is a legit reason.  I feel the same all the time. I wonder though, did the death of Steve Jobs last year affect Cringley enough to give him this idea?  Maybe, or maybe it's because Doomsday is approaching...

Is the Quickening, er Doomsday er Armageddon coming this year?   Is it just the Winter Solstice?* Is this another sign of the end times?  Did Ancient Aliens dictate the end of the world to people on Yucatan Peninsula 100's of years ago or did some old Mayan guy just run out of space when trying  to mark upcoming birthdays on his stone calendar? Only 349 more days until we get the answer. What else will happen in the coming months?

Tune in to find out.

*Yes.

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