This website moved to a new hosting provider last week; the old one shut down.
I've been feeling kinda weirdly melancholy about that, actually.
I'd been at that last hosting provider since 2007. And that hosting provider was my first Real Job -- the one where I moved out of my grandparents' house and got my own place.
It was a lousy job and the pay was shit -- I'm making more than three times as much now for a job that's nowhere near as stressful -- but my brain still associates it with a pivotal moment in my life.
And I was kinda off in the middle of North Bumfuck and didn't know anybody on that side of town, and it was lonely sometimes, but I had friends around the valley who'd come visit. So I also associate it with old friends. Including an old girlfriend.
It had its moments, y'know? It was my first real taste of adulting.
It's kinda funny, looking through my old posts and thinking about how I've changed. I used to variously refer to Halloween and New Year's Eve as "my favorite holiday". Now they just kind of go by without me paying too much attention to them.
I'm forty, I don't go to parties anymore, most of the friends I used to go to parties with moved out of town. I've mostly stayed within a few miles of where I was born. When I stay up late I get a headache, and my opinion of fireworks has changed significantly since I got a dog. And all that was before the once-in-a-century pandemic. Except for the being forty part; that's new.
It's not that I don't like nostalgia or looking back. Hell's bells, moving my website to a new server makes me nostalgic for a shitty job I quit 15 years ago. It doesn't take much. I don't need New Year's Eve to wax nostalgic, and what good is a three-day weekend if I spend a day of it with a headache from staying up too late?
Anyway, the website's been migrated to a new host. Hit up the contact page if you find anything that's not working. Unless it's the mobile sidebar; I already know about that. You know what I'm nostalgic for? WordPress 4.
As readers of this site (if any) are no doubt aware, there are a lot of things that make me feel nostalgic. Moving is one of those things.
It's a goodbye of sorts. "Beginnings and endings," as my high school drama teacher used to say on closing night.
I'm finally getting rid of the old Ikea furniture I bought when I moved into my first apartment in 2006. And I think about those times -- first apartment, first furniture, first flatscreen TV, first car, first full-time job --, and mostly they were lonely. I was out in north Phoenix, 25 miles away from anybody I knew, working a shit job and getting paid about a third of the fair market value of my work. The wonderful world of IT in the post-dotcom-crash era.
But, y'know, it wasn't all bad. It's not like I was completely isolated. I had friends who'd make that 25-mile drive, from Glendale or Scottsdale or Fountain Hills or wherever they happened to be. Other folks going through the same thing I was, twentysomething kids figuring out how to adult. Watching Firefly and Justice League and walking to the outdoor mall nextdoor to see Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters. We had some good times.
And y'know, what would nostalgia be without thinking about old girlfriends?
One of those friends I spent some time with, back at that old apartment, was a woman I used to date. We'd gotten reacquainted since. There's something about having somebody to talk to who knows you that well, but the both of you coming back older and, hopefully, wiser -- at least, wise enough not to do anything stupid like try to date again. At any rate, I think she was going through some similar stuff in those days; I don't know if she was as lonely as I was (she always had an easier time making friends), but she was probably even more miserable in her job. And we were there for each other.
And I'm looking through some of the other stuff I'm packing, or leaving, and my mind's moving on a few years, to another move, and another girlfriend. And that move was one of the most consequential decisions of my life, though it didn't seem like it at the time.
In 2009, I moved in with a woman I'd been dating for six months or so. I'm not sure we were entirely clear that that was what we were doing at the time; she still had her own apartment. But her brother was staying at her place, and she kept staying at my place, and eventually we realized my place was actually our place.
Our first home. And I'm putting stuff in boxes and bags and I think of the good times and the hard times we went through there. I pack meds and I think of nights we spent in hospitals, and I think those nights were what forged our relationship into something lasting. Even more than the wedding, I muse, as I take down the wedding photo hanging on the wall.
I pack my laptop and remember I bought it after the last one was stolen. I pack dog toys and I think of the puppy we brought home a few days later.
And then we moved again. Seven years ago, to the week -- I remember because it was the Fourth of July and it was pouring rain.
And if that other house was our first home, this one was the first house that was our house. With the custom cabinetry, the closet space for my comic collection, the big shed where I have too much old shit that I've at least pared down a little now that we're moving.
I'll miss the place. It's been a great place to live these seven years. Hell, just in the past year we've hunkered down here during COVID-19 and dealt with the aforementioned puppy's recovery from hip surgery. (She likes to jump into our bed with us, so we broke down our bedframe and put the mattress right on the floor to stop her from jumping. It was hell on our backs, but she's recovered nicely.)
The places I've been, the people who've been there with me, even the furniture I've bought and all the assorted shit I've accumulated over the years -- well, at least I'm getting rid of some of it -- all that's part of the story. Most of it has a memory attached. Good ones, bad ones -- and on balance, I'd say mostly good.
I'll miss this place. But the new place is good too. Someday I'll be thinking back on all the memories I'll have made there. Beginnings and endings, huh? Yeah, I can see that.
In my previous post, I shared some memories of my old friend, Alex "Kazz" McDougall, in the wake of his recent death. I will share more about him in this post, and I will open once again by linking to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts, please, please call that number.
I wrote a post last week, examining the reasons why I still keep all my old stuff up here on this website -- even the stuff that's regrettable, embarrassing, or offensive. I gave a list of reasons, or maybe excuses, for why I don't just delete it.
Now I know another reason: because a day may come when someone is gone, and this is what we have to remember them by.
Kazz made this:
That is an MS Paint mashup of a video game reference and an inside joke. As ephemera go, it doesn't get any more ephemeral than that.
And now I look at it and I tear up. Because my friend made it, and I know that he will never make anything else again.
Sometimes you can't know what things will matter. The silliest, most inconsequential thing could mean everything someday.
Kazz was a major contributor to KateStory XIII and XIV (with a few posts to follow in XV and one-offs in XVII and XVIII). Those posts aren't all gold; there's some puerile look-at-me-being-edgy stuff in there. (Not as much as XII with its Hitler and bestiality jokes, but up there.) But some of them are. He gave us a new hero in hardboiled detective Gok Tinnik. He fleshed out Janey's backstory. And, when it all started to get too overwrought, he blew the whole thing up with magic pirates.
Kazz made things. He wrote, he drew, he made videos. I'd like to hang on to those memories, those things that my friend did -- or, at least, I'd like to hang on to some of them.
I can't recommend looking at the recent videos on his YouTube channel. They are videos of a man who is not well, a man who I can scarcely recognize. They are not the way I want to remember my friend.
But here's the oldest video in his feed, a video from happier times, from 2006, a time when YouTube was young -- and, god damn, I can't look at it without thinking "so were we":
That's Kazz. Kazz the goofball; Kazz the oddball. Kazz just as I remember him.
His videos, his pictures, his writing -- these have become a precious, all-too-finite resource. I'd like to find more of them, and share more of them. I've got some old hard drives to go through, some old threads on fossilized.brontoforum.us, and we'll see if I can coax archive.org into giving up any gems from the old Pyoko days.
These mementos -- they will never be the man. The man is gone. Those of us who knew him are shattered. We will each do the best we can to pick up the pieces, in our own way. My way is to be a packrat, to save everything, to try and look back to the old days for comfort. My way is to remember.
And I will never forget him. He was one-of-a-kind.
I knew a guy named Alex McDougall. But everyone just called him Kazz. Even when we met him in person.
If you knew Kazz too -- and, if you're reading this blog, there's a good chance you did -- then you know what this post is going to be about.
Kazz struggled with substance abuse and mental illness. And last weekend he took his own life.
I'm heartbroken. If you knew Kazz, I'm sure you are too.
So the first thing I'm going to do is talk about the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you have suicidal thoughts, please call 1-800-273-8255 and get help. I don't know who you are out there reading this right now. I just know that Kazz was somebody special, that the world was a better place with him in it, and whoever you are, there are people who feel the same way about you. Hell, there are total strangers, people who have never even met you, who feel that way about you, and they're on the other end of that phone call.
Pass that along to anybody who you think needs to hear it.
And now I'm going to talk about Kazz.
I'd known Kazz since 2002, a time when people still used messageboards, and "Internet celebrity" meant guys like Scott Sharkey. Sharkey had a community built around him, in the #finalfight IRC channel; one of the admins there, who went by Terra in those days and goes by Maou in these ones, started a messageboard at boards.pyoko.org.
Kazz signed up in the early days. He posted a GIF called Man Gun.
He started a thread called "Pretend It's a Restaurant" (subtitle: "Pretending is fun!").
We didn't know what to make of this guy at first. He wasn't always funny. But he was always weird. Off-kilter.
In time, he and I became friends. Though anyone who remembers those days will tell you that sometimes, we had a funny way of showing it.
Kazz and I fought, a lot, over trivial nonsense that I mostly don't even remember. We were a couple of opinionated, egotistical guys in our early twenties, and we pushed each other's buttons -- sometimes by accident, and sometimes on purpose. We weren't always friendly -- but we were always friends. When push came to shove, we had each other's backs. We gave each other plenty of shit, but if anyone else gave one of us shit, the other one would come to his defense.
We'd joke about it, too; about how we were always at loggerheads. Remember when The Colbert Report first started, and there was a recurring segment with the On-Notice Board? There was a fan site at the time that allowed you to make your own On-Notice Board. Here are a couple of iterations of mine:
Anyway, we outgrew all that nonsense by our mid-twenties.
In fact, I'm pretty sure I remember our last fight. Not the fight itself; I have no idea what it was about. But how it ended.
It was 2007. I don't remember the particular details; we were mad at each other about some damn thing or another again. Arc, who was the guy in charge of the Pyoko boards at the time, said he'd had enough, and laid down the law: we were no longer allowed to speak to each other, or even mention each other, or he would ban us.
To this day I don't know if that was administrative overreach or a deft bit of psychology. But it wasn't long before Kazz was IMing me with, essentially, "Can you believe this shit? Who does Arc think he is?"
Arc united us -- against him. We never fought again.
Anyway, that rule went by the wayside when Sharkey quit the Pyoko boards and started a new messageboard (then called the Worst Forums Ever, now called Brontoforumus). He kicked it off with this banner:
That's Sharkey on the left, me in the middle, and Kazz on the right.
I'd like to say that Sharkey chose the two of us because we were such valued leaders in the community, but the truth is, as best I recall, he chose us because we'd posted recent photos that made good reference for the whole Communist propaganda poster motif he was going for: Kazz with his head raised, looking at something off in the distance, and me with facial hair of the sort every Communist propaganda poster needs. (Kazz and I did end up being pretty much the two guys running WFE for awhile after that, though.)
We all met once, the three of us, Sharkey and Kazz and me. It was in the summer of 2004; a bunch of the Pyoko gang gathered in San Diego.
The most memorable moment of that trip -- to me, anyway -- is that Kazz kicked a beer can into the back of my head.
I told the story on the Pyoko boards at the time, and maybe someday I'll be able to find that post on archive.org. In the meantime, here's how I remember it fourteen years later:
We'd been looking for a karaoke bar -- Terra's idea -- and had utterly failed to find one. We were walking through the parking lot of a non-karaoke bar, and I heard my friend Jon (not a member of the Pyoko boards, but a San Diego native we'd invited along) call out "Thad, look out!"
I didn't have time to turn my head before a half-empty can of Keystone collided with it.
I turned around and tried to read the riot act to whoever had done that -- my exact words were "What the fuck is wrong with you people?" -- but you can only have so much success chewing somebody out when you're trying not to laugh. It was funny, God damn it, and I knew it.
Kazz later explained that he'd seen the half-empty beer can on the ground and had the bright idea that he would kick it up into the air and it would get beer on everyone. He had not, of course, meant to kick it into the back of my head; there's no way he could have done that on purpose.
I referenced that event in the fifteenth (and, it's probably fair to say fourteen years later, final) installment of The Mighty Trinity, which ends with Kazz showing up to kick a beer can into a monster's head.
Kazz himself did not contribute anything to that particular story, except the stick figure body that I affixed his head to. It was part of a cartoon he drew called "Meat Man", after he ate chili that was too spicy for him.
I had always hoped that he would come out of all this okay, and someday we would see each other again and I would buy him a Coke and we would laugh about the old days -- the good times, the bad times, the what-the-hell-were-we-thinking times.
Sometimes, life deals you a soul-crushing disappointment. Knowing that Kazz will never get the chance to sit down and laugh about the old days, not with me and not with anyone else -- it's a hard, hard thing to take.
There's a line from Watership Down that's been bouncing through my head: "My heart has joined the Thousand, for my friend stopped running today."
I don't know if Kazz was a Watership Down fan. I do, however, know that he was a Flight of the Conchords fan, and so if he were with us today, he'd probably respond with, "Women love that sensitive nautical shit."
Goodbye, old friend.
Update 2021-06-28: Added Man Gun and Meat Man images.
I think about Wizardry sometimes. I first played it on the Mac.
If you pull up the original Wizardry on archive.org, or if you go looking for screenshots, here's the kind of thing you can expect to see:
You can get more detailed maze graphics by maximizing the window, but at 512x342 that comes at the cost of having to move other windows on top of each other to fit:
Of course, if you want to get fancy, you can try emulating a later version of MacOS with a higher resolution, and then you'll have plenty of room. Like these madmen here:
At any rate, I've gone back and tried some of the other versions of Wizardry, but I still think the Mac version is the best, with its GUI and its more detailed graphics. It's not perfect -- look how small the maze window is, even at its larger size; and why does the Castle window need to be visible when you're in the maze? -- but the game is well-suited for a point-and-click, drag-and-drop interface.
The first five Wizardry games aren't currently sold for modern systems, but GOG and Steam both sell Wizardry 6 bundled with DOSbox. So why not sell the Mac versions of the earlier games and bundle them with Mini vMac? I guess I'm not sure what the legality is of distributing old versions of the MacOS; they might need a license from Apple in addition to getting one from whatever company owns Wizardry these days.
I've also often wondered why nobody's ever remade the original Wizardry for modern computers, taking the Mac version as a base and adding quality-of-life improvements. The closest thing I've ever seen is a Japanese remake of the first three games called Wizardry: Llylgamyn Saga that was released for Windows (as well as PlayStation and Saturn) in 1998.
Llylgamyn Saga is not quite what I'm talking about; I tried it a few years back and my impression was that it was a Windows port of a console game and its interface felt like it. It simply didn't handle as smoothly with a mouse as the Mac version.
What I'd like to see? Remake the original game. Use touchscreen devices as the primary platform. Copy Etrian Odyssey's mechanic of using the touchscreen to map the dungeon as you go, the way we had to use graph paper in the old days.
Using half a phone screen wouldn't be so different from EO using the DS/3DS touchscreen. The biggest immediate hurdle I can think of is fat fingers: Etrian Odyssey is designed for a stylus; drawing with a finger would mean the grid squares would have to be larger. Pinch-to-zoom would be a good idea, or just a toggle to zoom the map in or out. Build to accommodate different resolutions; there's no reason a tablet user should be stuck with a map that's sized for a phone. Of course you could hide the map during combat, menu navigation, in town -- anywhere where it's not necessary. Use a point-and-click, drag-and-drop interface similar to the Mac version; when you go into town, you can drag-and-drop characters between the active party and the reserves.
Add some modern quality-of-life improvements, too. Obviously the weapons shop should behave like it would in a modern RPG: compare a highlighted weapon to the weapon a character currently has equipped. (If it'll fit onscreen, show how it compares to the weapons every character has equipped.)
And allow users to toggle the oldschool rules. Let them play with original inscrutable spell names, or with simple, plain-English ones. Allow them to disable characters aging on a class change, or the possibility of a teleport spell going wrong and permakilling the entire party. Hell, allow a mode where players can navigate through the maps they've made and point to the square they want to teleport to, or even set waypoints so they don't have to do that every time. Maybe even allow them the option of seeing monsters, treasure chests, and other points of interest before walking into them.
Once you've rebuilt the first game in this new engine, it wouldn't be hard to do the second and third. 4-7 would require more work but would be possible. Probably not 8, as it abandons the grid format in favor of free movement.
Hell, open it up. Since I'm dreaming anyway, I might as well say open-source the whole thing -- but failing that, at least release a level editor.
Maybe the best way to go about this would be for a fan group to start by creating a game that's Wizardry-like but noninfringing -- similar D&D-style rules, similar generic fantasy races, classes, and monsters, but different maps, spells, enemy behaviors, etc. -- and then, once they've released a finished game, make an offer to whoever it is who owns the Wizardry copyrights these days to port the original games to the new engine.
As part of my policy of updating the photo at the top of the homepage at least once a decade, I've updated the photo at the top of the homepage. It's cropped from this one:
That's me on the left. I grew a beard again. So for those of you who read this site for the Shaving tag and have spent the past nine months awaiting my next shaving post with bated breath, I'm afraid I'm going to have to disappoint you.
I don't usually dress that fancily. I am dressed fancily because I am at a wedding in that photograph. Specifically, Jim's wedding. Jim is the guy in the middle, and David (right) and I went to his wedding a few weeks back.
The three of us went to NAU together. I see David a few times a year, but hadn't seen Jim in years; it was nice to have a chance to catch up. Nice wedding, nice vacation, and his new wife Liz is a lovely person as well.
If you want some idea of the kind of wild party animals the three of us were in college, I leave you with this: when David and I introduced ourselves to Jim's mom, her response was, "Oh. Mystery Science Theater 3000."
In 1996, I moved back to my hometown and started high school. I met some new friends and started hanging out with them at lunchtime.
One day, one of them handed me his Walkman and his headphones and told me I had to listen to this song.
The tape was Bad Hair Day. I was something of a casual Weird Al fan by that point; I'd heard Amish Paradise and Gump. I may even have bought the Gump single by that point; I'm not sure. But I don't think I'd heard any of the other songs on the album, and I'd certainly never heard the one my friend played for me that day.
It was I Remember Larry and my friend was right: it was funny. It's one of Al's cheerful, upbeat songs that ends in murder (I don't think I'd heard Good Old Days yet at that point, but it's certainly reminiscent of that earlier song, albeit bouncier and featuring a much more relatable protagonist).
Some sixteen and a half years later, the kid who played I Remember Larry for me on his Walkman performed my wedding.
Now, I'm not saying there's a clear path from point A to point B here. I'm not saying that Brad and I became and remained close friends because of I Remember Larry. But I suspect our mutual appreciation for pitch-black humor wrapped in an ironically cheerful veneer is a big part of why we clicked.
He had me keep listening through Phony Calls and The Night Santa Went Crazy, too.
Papago Plaza -- the entire complex where the tap room was located -- is being demolished to put up condos. They've expressed hope for finding a new home, but no news yet.
My good friend Brad -- himself a brewery owner these days -- came in from Riverside to pay his respects, and so we got a Lyft van-full of the old gang together and headed up there for the last day.
There are pictures. I don't have them yet. Hopefully I'll get them later and be able to post them.
It was bittersweet. The fridge was mostly empty; most of the items on the menu, food or drink, were sold out. The life-size monk statue had already gone, as had one of the two dartboards.
The writing was literally on the wall; people had been saying their goodbyes in silver Sharpie for months (if one message, dated March, is anything to go on).
We had a few rounds, and then we walked a block south to McFate -- that's my regular watering hole these days. My friends hadn't been there yet, but they were interested in checking it out. There was a nice bit of symmetry: saying goodbye to the old spot, and hello to the new one.
The details of the day are a little hazy. I remember we told old stories, and I laughed some belly laughs.
I'm pretty sure I only drank five beers, and I paced myself, with a glass of water after each. But I do have a tendency to make a beeline for the highest-alcohol beer on the menu when I don't have to drive. (I can recommend the beers I drank at McFate, but can't remember their names. There was an IPA called Hazy something, and a Scotch-aged something or other.)
I'll miss Papago. I hope it reopens someplace. At any rate, it was good to get the band back together for a day, and talk about the good old days.
I was looking for something to post about, and then Jeremy Parish posted a mail call for HyperCard comments over on Retronauts.
And I've got a few things to say about HyperCard, because there's a straight line between HyperCard and what I do for a living (and for a hobby) today.
HyperCard was my first development environment. I was 7 or 8 years old and I wanted to make games. Today we've got Kodu and Super Mario Maker. In 1990, we had HyperCard.
HyperCard's interface bore a certain resemblance to PowerPoint, with drawing tools that looked a lot like MacPaint. You could show slides -- or "cards" -- in order, as in PowerPoint, but you could also use buttons to link to cards out of order. So it was a useful language for making Choose Your Own Adventure-style games. "If you want to examine the sound coming from the next room, turn to page 38. If you want to see what's going on outside, turn to page 44." That kind of thing, but with buttons to click.
My game, SEKR's Awesome Adventures, was mostly that sort of thing. (It's pronounced "Seeker", and it was my grandpa's dog's name.) There were a few roundabout ways to get to where you were going, some of which would result in your untimely death. The most complex sequence involved selecting two tools from a list that you'd be allowed to use later on -- and keeping track of your selection required just a bit of actual programming.
I mostly built SEKR through the simple point-and-click frontend, but HyperCard also came with its own programming language, HyperTalk. I used HyperTalk to track what weapons/tools the user selected, and the endgame would adjust accordingly: you're in a pit; did you bring the grappling hook? It's pitch-black; did you bring the night-vision goggles? Store a variable and test a conditional; this is absolutely as simple as programming gets. It was a pretty good place to start.
And that's more or less how the Web works: fundamentally, it's a set of pages, and users navigate between them using hyperlinks. For more complicated stuff than just moving between pages, your browser has built-in support for a scripting language.
HyperCard is where I started programming. And while I never did make a career of game development, I'm still programming, and there's a more-than-passing resemblance between developing for HyperCard and developing for the Web.
My grandmother's been cleaning old stuff out of her house, and a few weeks ago she gave me a bunch of old 3.5" floppies. SEKR's Awesome Adventures is probably in there somewhere -- the original graphical HyperCard version, the text-only remake I put together in QBasic a few years later, and maybe even the unfinished Turbo Pascal port with PC speaker music (which played fine on the 286 I wrote it on but way too fast on a 486; you had to turn off Turbo to slow it down. Remember Turbo buttons?).
I really should buy a USB floppy drive and see if I can get any data off those disks.
In 2004, in the summer before my last year at NAU, I worked at USGS, on the Astrogeology Team. What I did there was nothing special, but it was a pretty special place to be, especially at that time.
I worked on a package called ISIS, Integrated Software for Imagers and Spectrometers. It was software for processing high-resolution photos we received from sources including the Lunar Orbiter, the Mars Rover...and Cassini.
Cassini entered Saturn orbit shortly after I started working there. It was an exciting time. I got to spend a lot of time looking at images that looked a lot like these:
I grabbed this image from FiveThirtyEight. Original source is, obviously, NASA.
My work on ISIS wasn't anything high-level or complicated. I edited makefiles, so that the ISIS source code (a mix of C and FORTRAN) would compile for different platforms. If memory serves, we supported Windows, OSX, Solaris, and x86 GNU/Linux.
My work wasn't glamorous, and I'm sure it's all long-gone for the codebase. But I was thrilled just to be on the team, to be part of something like that -- getting photos back from Saturn.
It's been more than thirteen years, and I've had nearly that many jobs, since my time at USGS. But I still feel that connection to the work and to the project. In all that time, every time I've see a headline about Cassini or Saturn, I've checked out the article. My favorite part is always the pictures.
Today, Cassini concludes its journey, burning up on entry into Saturn's atmosphere, transmitting data back for as long as it can.
It's been a good run. And I'll never forget the small part I played in it.