Friday, August 31, 2012

TGD Goes Back to (Virtual) School

Some time ago, I wrote that I was hoping to return to school and further my education.  Many months later, due to the overwhelming responsibilities of adulthood, financial constraints, a drastic change in my work schedule and an exceptional ability to make excuses for my own laziness, I have yet to even attempt to enroll in any sort of graduate program.

Apparently seeing through me, my brother recently sent me an email suggesting I enroll in a free online course in which he was also going to be participating.  I looked up the site and, feeling inspired by the thought of learning something new on my own schedule without any financial commitment and devoid of any penalties for giving up in the middle of it (a huge selling point for me), I decided what the hell and enrolled.

For the last few days, I have been watching neatly dissected portions of lectures on my laptop at my convenience.  I have learned more than a few things and, more importantly, have come to remember the exhilaration of being a student again.  I forgot how much I really enjoy learning.

I want to pass this site on to the rest of you.  Before I do, let me assure you, I am doing this of my own accord.  Nobody has asked me to publicize this program and I am not receiving any sort of monetary or any other sort of compensation.  I merely think this has a great deal of potential and think some, if not all, of you might be interested.

The site is called Coursera.  It currently offers 123 different online courses from 16 different, well known universities over 16 different categories.  The courses are all free and some will even provide you with a certificate of completion provided you perform adequately on the course work.

So go, fellow learners and peruse the Coursera course catalog.  You may not be receiving any college credit for any of these, but they are free classes and, if you're considering going back to school yourself, perhaps it could help get you back on the horse.  Who knows, maybe I'll even see you in the course I'm taking.  I'll let you carry my books.

TGD is Now Accepting Donations

With my Retro-Gaming Museum now fully functional (and fully awesome!), we here at Transformer Generation Dad just cannot get enough of the old school majesty that was.  My sons have held still to date for several history lessons and have even come to accept the realization that learning their times table via the Atari 2600 is a better option than flashcards.

Now I turn to my loyal readers for help.

Sure, I have collected a good number of classic video games, spanning five different consoles (Atari 2600, NES, SNES, N64 & Gamecube), but for history's sake I am constantly looking to amass even more titles.  I may even be willing to gather some other as yet unrepresented consoles.

Do you have any games you are looking to get rid of?  Would it pain you to think they may end up in a landfill?  How environmentally responsible of you.  Are you hoping to send them to a good home where they can be repurposed for the education of our youth, that they might learn to appreciate the games you used to play as a child?  Are you eager for your old game cartridges to be fired up again for the sake of enlightening future generations of their gaming roots?

The Transformer Generation Dad Retro-Gaming Museum (TGDRGM...yes, that is the official name henceforward) would be happy to accept your donation.  Let us dust off those cartridges, blow gently across their contact surfaces and install them in their rightful place: the reception port of their intended functioning consoles and the halls of gaming history.

Your donation would be greatly appreciated.  While the TGDRGM is not considered a charitable institution (yet), you will receive for your donation our undying gratitude and the promise that, if you are ever in our neck of the woods you might have the honor of watching your cartridge live the remainder of its golden years in a happy home and even partake of a few beers from the nearby fridge.  Who knows, if you donate a significant number of cartridges, perhaps a TGD t-shirt might be in order.  If you are interested, feel free to email me at and I would be happy to discuss the details regarding how to donate your piece of gaming history with you.

Here's to we gaming geeks working together to keep our history intact.  Do it for the all of us...but especially in me.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Secrets of My Man Cave

Living in a family with two growing boys, space in our home is already at a premium.  Thus, when the early onset of middle age came nipping at the back of my neck and caused me to desire a man cave of my own, I naturally thought outside the box.  By "the box" I mean our house because it is rather shaped like a box.  The unpredictability of Chicago weather caused me to scratch off the tent possibility and that left me with either the back of the minivan since we have pretty much removed the middle row of seats permanently (pay attention, this will be relevant later...oooh, foreshadowing) or the garage.  So, into the garage I went.

After clearing space of all things hoarded, I assessed the remaining half of the garage and imagined how I might use the space.  The one thing I had known for some time the cave must include was a collection of retro video games.  I procured my old systems dating back to my childhood and gathered as many games as I could.  The result was a functioning NES, Super NES, Nintendo 64, Gamecube and, the flagship of the museum (because that's what I considered it, a museum to the history of gaming) my old Atari 2600 as well as several boxes full of game cartridges.  I also took back an old 32-inch tube television from my brother-in-law, which was much heavier than I ever remembered it being, and received an old 20-inch tube TV from my parents.  I then found the original DVD player and found that both that and my old college stereo were still working like champs.  Things were shaping up nicely.

The problem that I faced was a lack of shelving to display my old video games.  I imagined those slick looking metal shelving units you see in the Sears tool catalogs lining my garage walls.  You know, the ones with the exposed riveting and the textured shelves that make your testosterone levels sky rocket just looking at them.  Yes, your testosterone levels too ladies, that's how manly they are.  This was pondered for about a minute, then I came to my senses.  Such a major overhaul costs a pretty penny and I was short on money.  The money I did have could certainly not be earmarked for man cave renovations.

So, my eye became more analytical.  I started searching for possibilities where others might not see them.  I scrounged.  I considered all things old and discarded that could find both new life and purpose in a new place, like a washed up Cubs' pitching prospect traded to another team.

That was when I noticed the old beat up under the garage patio's overhanging roof.  They stood there patiently holding my sons' long overlooked outdoor toys.  Buckets and sand shovels, wooden blocks and dry-rotted water guns were removed from them and I quickly found the perfect space for them to fit in.  They would do nicely, but they were in terrible shape.

That's when a stroke of genius hit me: Duct tape.

Wordless Wednesday: Duct Tape. Is There Anything It Cannot Do?

These old bookcases became part of  a project to furnish my garage/man cave with what I am referring to as a retro video game museum.  They were outdoors and badly weathered as you can see from the one on the left.  Another post will be up later today detailing the project, including suggestions to others interested in doing anything similar and displaying the end results.  So much for a Wordless Wednesday.

Stay Tuned!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Space and Math: Both Daunting Frontiers

I was saddened to learn over the weekend of Neil Armstrong's death.  The legendary American astronaut took his fateful steps upon our moon's surface nearly a decade before I was born.  This may explain why, during the first several years of my life, I believed him to be the slightly less amazing brother of Stretch.  Once I reached school age, however, Neil Armstrong was a hero in my mind, even if his arms couldn't be pulled between myself and my brothers to cover the expanse of our basement.

In fact, Neil Armstrong was to me, as a child, what many children need to get through their schoolwork: inspiration.

Self described as a "nerdy engineer," Neil Armstrong was a role model.  His life and accomplishments were goals I kept in mind when faced with challenging lessons.  I didn't know if I would ever have an opportunity to walk on the moon.  If lucky enough to be faced with the opportunity, I realized I might very well shake my head, hold on to the nearest fixed object and loudly protest, "I'm not going out there!"  Nevertheless, the embodiment of hard work, dedication and persistent study habits lived for me in Neil Armstrong and during the tougher moments of my education I often thought to myself, "If I am ever going to do something amazing and groundbreaking like that I had better learn this s***."

Whether it be the direct result of the inspiration of Mr. Armstrong, fear of disappointing my parents, plain old luck or, most likely, a combination of those, I did well in school.  I haven't done anything particularly amazing or groundbreaking (yet) but I certainly think that my studies were not in vain.  I feel I use my education on a daily basis, though few would recognize it, and I want to encourage my sons to work as hard as I did in school, if not harder.

The first few days of their new school year having passed, I see already that my sons need a real world example of where their hard work might lead.  As they struggle to begin and/or perfect their times tables they protest extra practice and would give up if the option were presented to them.  In fact they already show a great deal of dedication and persistence toward getting the option of giving up to be made available.

Over the coming weeks as math drills abound and many a tear of frustration will no doubt be shed (by me and maybe even my sons), I plan to tell them more about Neil Armstrong.  With the unprecedented speed at which technology is progressing, they may very well have the opportunity to achieve something amazing as he did.  Perhaps one or both of them (Pioneer astronaut brothers? Be still, my heart.) will be featured in historic footage much like the nerdy engineer was so many years ago.

But this time, the backdrop may be a rusty red instead of gray.

Back to Weekly Features

It was a busy weekend for us here at Transformer Generation Dad.  Work happened, then happened some more, time got wasted in front of some old video games (and some new ones) and then there was the whole getting the kids ready for school business.  But, at long last we are back from those pesky distractions and prepared to update the weekly features.

This week’s top five list consists of things that make the first day of school more stressful for me than for my sons:

5. Parking – I swear that on the first day of school there are two cars per enrolled child.

4. My snooze alarm – Perhaps the worst possible invention in the history of mankind, it allows one to circumvent a far more useful invention that was purposely devised to get your lazy ass out of bed on time and not make your children late for their first day.

3. Crowds – Braving the masses for a cool event like the premier of The Avengers is one thing, but being cramped up with a bunch of other sweaty people just to take you kid to school causes some serious panic on my part.

2. Flashbacks – All of the uncomfortable and stressful moments from my school career inevitably come rushing back to me on that fateful morning and I find myself trying to impart nuggets of fatherly wisdom on the short drive to school.  “Try your best.  Don’t be afraid to raise your hand if you know the answer.  No trading at lunch.  Stand up to bullies.  You put on some deodorant, right?”

1. Trying to remember other parents’ names – Since the last time I saw them at the beginning of June, so very much information has flown from my head.  I likely remember who their kid is, because of the incessant stories heard from my sons.  It doesn’t matter that I’m pretty sure they don’t remember mine either.  I try to hold myself to a higher standard.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Simpler Times

I have spent the last two weeks creating a space in my garage dedicated to retro video games.  There were several steps to this project which I will let you in on over the next week or so (watch out next Wordless Wednesday) but the culmination came two days ago when I finally acquired all of the assorted cables and adapters to make all the archaic devices function on more modern televisions.

And so it was, with great fanfare, that I ushered my sons out to the garage Wednesday night, when they probably should have already been in bed (especially with their impending return to school), sat them down on the old recliners and fired up the Atari 2600.  And so it was with quite the exact opposite of great fanfare, my sons' reaction to the awesomeness that was old school games came with a resounding, "Meh."

Surprise and disappointment would not even begin to describe my feelings at the moment.  I was hit square in the jaw by the disheartening, soul-crushing reality that the detail and immersive nature of modern video games left my boys completely devoid of appreciation for something that had absolutely floored me at their ages.  I sat dumbfounded by the fact that their ability to move a blob of blocks around the screen did not completely set their imaginations aflame.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Third Person Thursday: A Familiar Threat

“Please, tell Agent Hooper what you told me.”

He nervously glanced from the uniformed police officer to the man in the dark suit with the tightly combed hair.  There was an obvious connection between the two, but the new man seemed much more serious and less likely to believe his startling account.

“It’s alright,” encouraged the officer.  “I already told him a little.  I want him to hear it coming from you.”

The man in the dark suit nodded silently and so he began speaking.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Post-Olympalyptic Features

It is long past due to update the weekly features (which have been anything but weekly…maybe weakly?) and without a running theme to base them all this week, let’s just dive right into them.

Life has its share of embarrassing moments, not the least of which is when you try to let a fart slip out silently and it makes a noise and somebody unexpectedly turns a corner.  You know they heard it and at that moment you have to make a split second decision.  Do you act like it was something else that made the noise or do you own up to it.  Assuming you choose the latter, here are a few one-liners to help defuse the tension of the awkward moment:

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Happy Birthday, Gene Roddenberry

Gene Roddenberry holds a special place in the sacred halls of sci-fi fame and fandom.  Millions upon millions of nerds would have had to obsess over and absolutely pick apart ad nauseum episode by episode some other television show for the past fifty-six years had he not created the space epic that boldly went where no man had gone before, Star Trek.

Roddenberry is one of the elite when it comes to sci-fi and fantasy.  He cooked up an entire universe in his head and told the story of it.  Too often, our imaginations are stifled by the real world.  We conform to societal pressures and don't let the vivid images that swim through our imaginations take flight (I think a fish just became a bird in that analogy, but you understand).  Had he, Tolkien or Lovecraft listened to the mainstream, the people who ridicule those who continue to dream and wonder at the possibilities of the universe even as they grow older, the world would be a darker and far less awesome place.

Were he alive, today would have been Gene Roddenberry's 91st birthday.  So, I decided to celebrate his life the way I hope people might do after I have been released of my mortal coils.  I looked up his Wikipedia page.

Perhaps the most interesting thing I found (and I'm not sure how this fact escaped me up to this point) is that he was a police officer and sergeant with the Los Angeles Police Department for just over seven years.  According to the site, his letter of resignation read:

  • I find myself unable to support my family at present on anticipated police salary levels in a manner we consider necessary. Having spent slightly more than seven years on this job, during all of which fair treatment and enjoyable working conditions were received, this decision is made with considerable and genuine regret.

Being a police officer is, of course, a noble profession.  But I respect Roddenberry even more having decided he wanted better for himself and his family.  I respect the hell out of ol' Gene for wanting to following his dream, a dream we should all keep a hold of, to live long and prosper.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

About Last Night...

While I was frantically typing a post regarding Lego team-ups last night to get something done while it was technically still Friday, a post existed on another fabulous blog.  A bit of research would have easily led me to discover it and thus bolstered the credibility of my rantings (not that credibility has ever been something I cared about).

It takes a big man to admit he's made a mistake.  I happen to wear size 14 shoes (you know what they say about a guy with big shoes?...big feet) so I suppose that qualifies me as being rather large and gives me the ability to admit my lack of preparation and try to make it up to you now.

In last night's post, I referenced "rumor" that a Lego Lord of the Rings video game was being developed.  Little did I know in my haste that not one but two different trailers for said game had actually been posted earlier in the same day over at the Brothers Brick.  I link to them below for your enjoyment.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Two Great Things That Go Great Together

It doesn't happen very often, but every now and then, Lego makes a product I'm not entirely excited about.

Take, for instance, the whole line of Ninjago sets.  I readily accept that they are popular.  They continue producing sets, adding new ninjas (or the same ninjas in new outfits) and have a successful cartoon based upon them currently on television.  When the minifigures were first released and it looked to be more of a card/role-playing game where you could construct your own ninja weaponry, I thought it had potential.  Fast forward several months to ninja jets, tanks and motorcycles and you've lost me.

Occasional flops aside, Lego does a pretty stellar job of choosing wisely which products make it to the toy store shelves.  Today, while checking out the Lego CUUSOO site for the first time in a while, I was reminded of just how savvy the world's greatest toy company is at selecting other franchises with which to affiliate itself.

Lego Star Wars might very well be the greatest sequence of three words every uttered.  The sets are phenomenal with all the overwhelming down-to-the-last-detail of the original Star Wars toys from the seventies and eighties (remember thinking "Was that character even in the movie?" when you saw the blister pack with the action figure on the rack and always finding out that, yes, he was in the movie?).  The video games have been some of the best produced I have ever seen, not to mention the closest things you can get to actually playing through the two trilogies.  They even make Episodes I-III relevant.

The Lego superhero lines have also been a success.  The DC versions are heavy on Batman, but I'm not complaining (stick with the date that brought you to the dance, I say).  The Marvel sets have some of the best minifigures in recent memory.  I'm waiting for the Lego Avengers video game to be developed.

Lego Lord of the Rings sets have already hit the stores and each trip I make to Target allows me to claim I'm letting my sons take a stroll through the toy aisle when really I just want another opportunity to linger in front of the Battle of Helm's Deep (#9474) set for a few moments and drool.  I secretly wonder if there is a handle on the Gimli minifig so that minifig Aragorn can throw him at the Uruk-hai.  Speaking of waiting for a video game, I've heard rumor this one is already in the works (fingers crossed).

And today I realized that the long awaited Lego Minecraft Micro-world set has already been released.  When I first heard about this, I thought it was a great idea, but my sons and I had not had the luxury of becoming completely and hopelessly addicted to Minecraft yet.  Now that we have traveled down that very shaft in what has resulted in a much more indoor summer than I originally planned, we are all just waiting for the set to become available again.  Wouldn't you know, it's sold out.

Overall, Lego has their stuff together when it comes to choosing their relationships.  They pick winners to collaborate with.  In fact I believe that Lego's official press release regarding such projects reads something like, "We are awesome and we know it.  Still we recognize that there are other awesome things out there and if you want to make sweet corporate love with us and see what our offspring look like, give us a call."

Of course, I'm sure that while every company with any kind of toy product out there is salivating over the chance to get in Lego's corporate pants (I know the anology is getting a little racy, but stay with me, I'm almost done), it must be pretty intimidating to think you might have a shot with the brick giant.  Which is why the rest of the statement reads, "But, again, we know just how awesome we are, so if you think you can hang, hot shot, you had better be sure that you are awesome.  And we don't just mean awesome, we mean really f***ing awesome."

Of course, I'm paraphrasing, but you get the picture.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Third Person Thursday Throwback Edition: The Lost Tribe of Algenia

It took many generations before they saw their effort rewarded. The people of the Algenian race had suffered through great hardship. Their god had given them a land that was harsh and merciless.

Yet they had managed to survive.

Despite infertile crops, wave after wave of unexplained plagues and severe weather, their people had managed to prevail. Each time their race was near extinction, the Algenian people would make sacrifices to their god and pray not for good fortune or happiness, but merely for survival.

Time after time it had been granted.

Never had the Algenians questioned their god. Never had they wondered why they were not blessed with more or why they were made to worry that their children may be the last of their kind. They simply worked and thanked their god for the mercy he had decided to show them.They worked long days and nights to prepare for the days when their god may not be so merciful.

And so, with The Great Flourishing came much rejoicing. The Algenians were certain that their hard work and their tireless faith had finally paid off.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Third Person Thursday: Curiosity Lands

Ten kilometers below the planet’s surface, Kylgax-3 sat in silence and awaited word about the events above.  One hand supported his double-cleft chin while the second rapped its two fingers and both opposable thumbs against the desktop.  His other two hands were folded in front of him over his stomach.

Soon, he heard the patting footsteps of someone approaching down the dusty tunnel.  Hypheron-27 appeared at the tunnel’s opening where he abruptly stiffened and remained standing with all four arms rigid at his side, waiting for permission to speak.

“I assume you bring word,” Kylgax-3 said.  “Relax your posture and let me have it, please.”

Hypheron-27 sighed and his straightened form bent into one resembling a question mark.  “It has not gone as expected, sir.  It landed safely.”

Kylgax-3 opened his nostrils wide and snorted as each of his tongues poked out of the corners of his mouths as was their species customary method of showing displeasure.  “That shall prove to be quite a nuisance,” he spoke.  “And what about the quality of the surveillance equipment?  Has there been any analysis on its range?”

“We only know that there are a great many lenses and the quality is higher than the previous versions.  The observers are in the process of attempting to intercept transmitted images to try and determine the distance.”

“So that is to say that images are already being transmitted?”

Hypheron-27 stiffened again, apparently concerned that he had let too much information slip to his superior.  “Unfortunately, yes sir.”

All four of Kylgax-3’s hands went to his head.  “Be sure that the protocol remains in place that there are to be no excursions to the surface without clearance from an authority of my level or higher.”

Saturday, August 4, 2012

I'm Getting Ahead of Myself with August's Poll

Last month's poll question has been decided and, by the narrowest of margins, our readership has declared that they prefer Spider-Man's web shooters to be part of his resulting spider-like physiology rather than of his own invention.  The picture to celebrate the poll result is forthcoming.

In the meantime I began pondering what it was I wanted to ask of our loyal readers this month.  Every time August rolls around, I think of school but as I tried to decide on a poll question that was not overly contrived, the sound of zombies being pelted with vegetables and chomping on plants rang in my ears as my sons played Plants vs. Zombies nearby.

Now, my kids won't go back to school until the end of the month and the zombie apocalypse is probably a ways off but, to be sure, both are going to happen whether we like it or not.  Thus, in the true spirit of mash-up-ness (?) I decided to combine my fear of both things that shamble toward us and spell our doom, school and zombies.

So vote all this month on which school supply you would find most useful to engage in pitched combat against the undead.  Perhaps we can get our voices heard and instill a little zombie survival tactics into the standard school curriculum.  At least during P.E., right?