I want you back in my life, colawars.83p

Do you know how things you trea­sure from your past prob­a­bly would­n’t hold up if you tried to enjoy them again years later?

That does­n’t apply here, buddy.

Because there aren’t more impor­tant things to think about these days, nope, my mind recent­ly start­ed wan­der­ing back to a game I played on my graph­ing cal­cu­la­tor back in high school.

I did a lot of that back then, most­ly dur­ing class­es not nec­es­sar­i­ly math. And while there were def­i­nite­ly bet­ter games, more atmos­pher­ic games, more fun games, more Tetrisy games — and dozens of oth­er games I spent more time on — I’m not sure any cap­tured my imag­i­na­tion quite like this one did.

It was called Cola Wars and this game was absurd. You would buy and sell cans of Coke, Sprite, Moun­tain Dew, RC Cola and — because it was the late 90s — Jolt. You’d buy them on the street from a deal­er and try to re-sell them. Prices would go up and down. For some rea­son you had to avoid the cops.

I was struck by the sheer… I guess the word would be “ran­dom­ness” of the idea. It did­n’t cross my unso­phis­ti­cat­ed mind that it could have been a metaphor, an alle­go­ry or some­thing. I sin­cere­ly believed that some­one in the world just one day decid­ed that they would make a game about the risks and rewards of illic­it­ly sell­ing soft drinks on the sec­ondary market.

So when I lat­er dis­cov­ered that there was a game called Drug­wars, and that TI-83 was def­i­nite­ly not the first plat­form it was avail­able on, and that the weird drinks game was a rip-off — if not a sim­ple find-and-replace — it explained how this mys­te­ri­ous, supreme­ly odd duck came into existence.

And I guess it took away some of the appeal. But just a lit­tle. I’d love to find a copy and play it again, but the places I would nor­mal­ly look have failed me. And I’ve done some seri­ous Way­back Machine spelunking.

Help me, the Internet.

That time I sparked an international penis competition during the World Cup

Are you there, Inter­net? It’s me, Everett. Hey, so I actu­al­ly wrote this years ago, around World Cup 2014, and nev­er post­ed it. P.S. Warn­ing: there are car­toon dicks in this post. It is not rec­om­mend­ed for audi­ences of any kind.

There’s this Mia­mi park­ing garage I fre­quent, and in this garage recent­ly was this car that had­n’t been moved in a while.

At one point the car sim­ply bore an unimag­i­na­tive “wash me” traced into the dirt (but in Span­ish), and some for­mer finger-painting arteest lat­er added a penis to this. It had a pair of tes­ti­cles at the bot­tom and a shaft extend­ing upward — this is pret­ty much what you would expect if you asked any­one in the world to draw you the Pla­ton­ic ide­al car­toon dick.

Hel-lo, mid­dle school.1

I walked by it a few times — always cring­ing, not out of moral­i­ty but good taste — before it occurred to me that I could fix this; I’d not only make this total­ly safe-for-work, but I would make this awe­some. I start­ed by adding a few extra cir­cles to where the tes­ti­cles were at the bot­tom, cre­at­ing the appear­ance of a plume of smoke. And going up the side of the shaft, I sim­ply wrote “USA.”

I’d con­vert­ed this crude penis nobody wants to see into a total­ly sweet Space Shut­tle in the process of launch­ing. Or so I thought.

It turns out that at the time some­where in the world, some coun­tries were play­ing some soc­cer (foot­ball, what­ev­er, shut up) thing, and a small but ardent group of peo­ple were con­cerned with the out­come of this tournament.

International Penis Car

Crazy, right? Well, as it turns out, they all seemed to park in this garage. Over the course of a few weeks, in strange out­bursts of nation­al pride, new penis­es began fill­ing the wind­shield along­side the USA penis. Each of these bore the name of a coun­try that — I’m just assum­ing here — had teams that were com­pet­ing in that soc­cer (f.w.s.) thing. Some were big. Some were small. One was Belgium.

I’d sparked an inter­na­tion­al cartoon-dick-measuring contest.

So was it my fault that every­body com­plete­ly missed what I was going for? Should I have drawn a launch tow­er? Sol­id rock­et boost­ers? Or would they have just seen these as penile enhance­ments? That’s like­ly, since the oth­er par­tic­i­pants took my smoke plume to mean that this was a six-testicled mon­ster cock. (Something-something… ani­me.)

The next time this hap­pens, I think I’m writ­ing “NASA.”

  1. Speak­ing of which, oh man, I have this great sto­ry involv­ing my friends Chris and David in 6th grade.

Is this going to be forever?

Let’s talk about me.

Super Smash Bros. Melee was­n’t released at a very good time for me. I was in col­lege, away from home and most of my gam­ing friends. Also, it was released for the Nin­ten­do Game­Cube, which his­to­ry has shown us was­n’t a ter­ri­bly suc­cess­ful con­sole. In fact, I don’t think any of my clos­est friends back then owned a GameCube.

But because I know peo­ple who know peo­ple, there was a hand­ful of oppor­tu­ni­ties to play Melee over the next few years.

I’d be at peo­ple’s hous­es and find mostly-young, mostly-male groups gath­ered around the TV trad­ing smash attacks between sig­na­ture Nin­ten­do char­ac­ters in the most won­der­ful­ly whim­si­cal car­toon fight­ing game imag­in­able. Mor­tal Kom­bat this is not. Up to four play­ers at a time would spend a few min­utes at a time bat­tling Links, Mar­ios, Kir­bys, Pikachus1 (and many oth­ers) in lev­els pulled from famil­iar Nin­ten­do games. They’d be talk­ing trash and throw­ing flow­ers and bombs and base­ball bats at each oth­er… much as my clos­est friends and I had spent lit­er­al­ly hun­dreds of hours doing a few years ear­li­er in the Nin­ten­do 64 Super Smash Bros., the orig­i­nal game in the series.

smash-bros-melee2001’s Melee, how­ev­er, was a very dif­fer­ent beast from ‘64,’ and is still held in high regard by many, and still a tournament-favorite — despite new install­ments of the series being released in 2008 and 2014.

Gosh, I’ve always hat­ed Melee.

Even today it’s still the fastest-paced and most bru­tal game of the series — the speed each game runs at is a design deci­sion made by the devel­op­ers — but Melee felt espe­cial­ly amped-up com­ing from the down­right glacially-paced 64, even today still the slowest-paced game in the series. That alone made it tough to get into Melee—imag­ine pick­ing up the con­troller and being mer­ci­less­ly pound­ed by up to three oth­er play­ers (who prob­a­bly play this all damn day), while you strug­gle to fig­ure out how to not acci­den­tal­ly fall off the edge of the level.

Seri­ous­ly you guys, when you’re ready to play a real game, I’ll kick your ass with Link in 64!” is a thing I prob­a­bly said every time I played Melee.

Speed was one prob­lem for me in Melee, but my oth­er one was the Game­Cube con­troller. Yeah, I know: the design is still held up as one of the best con­trollers ever, believed by many to rep­re­sent Nin­ten­do at their peak, right before their Wii-era fol­ly of appeal­ing to the dread­ed “casu­al” mar­ket with the waggle-motion-centric Wiimote. The clas­sic Game­Cube con­troller is still sup­port­ed in new­er Smash titles, and is still the choice among the hard­core Smash crowd… despite the half-dozen oth­er con­troller options that are also sup­port­ed at this point. How could I pos­si­bly not see what an amaz­ing gift Nin­ten­do had bestowed upon us with the Game­Cube controller?

gamecube-controller-smash-brosYeah, so I nev­er real­ly “got” the Game­Cube con­troller. I nev­er learned how to effec­tive­ly use the soft ana­log ‘shoul­der’ but­tons, nev­er became com­fy with the lay­out of the right-side ‘fire’ but­tons (X, Y, A, B) — the real meat of any con­troller. Com­ing from 64, I knew what the C‑stick was for, but it just was­n’t the same as the four yel­low but­tons of old. And I’m sor­ry, but the Z but­ton is just wrong—it goes on the bot­tom, you jerks.

With a decade-plus of hind­sight, it’s clear now that my prob­lems with Super Smash Bros. Melee, and with the Game­Cube con­troller in gen­er­al, were most­ly due to a lack of famil­iar­i­ty. I did­n’t have the chance to spend time alone learn­ing Melee at my own pace… or bar­ring that, hav­ing hours upon hours to spend com­pet­ing with close friends to sharp­en my skills, like I did in high school. And I’ve always felt a lit­tle hand­i­capped when it comes to pick­ing up steam at new games that favor play­ers with, you know, reflex­es. I did­n’t real­ly grow up with games at home when I was young — I def­i­nite­ly missed a lot of the for­ma­tive stuff that oth­er 1980s babies grew up on.

Any­way, although I essen­tial­ly sat out the entire Game­Cube era, busy with col­lege and oth­er life stuff, my inter­est in gam­ing was rein­vig­o­rat­ed with the release of the Nin­ten­do DS and lat­er the Wii. (Yes seri­ous­ly, the Wii.2) When the Wii-era Smash game, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, came out a cou­ple of years lat­er, there was no stop­ping me from pick­ing it up.

I enjoyed Brawl and played a lot of it. Hav­ing my own copy at home put me in a good posi­tion to get fair­ly good at it. It was very dif­fer­ent from 64—way more char­ac­ters and way more every­thing — and as a lot of the hard­core com­plain, way, way dif­fer­ent than Melee. “It’s so slow!” “It’s for noobs!” What­ev­er; the slow­er pace and the not-GameCube con­trols are prob­a­bly what I liked most about Brawl. Thank good­ness they cor­rect­ed their Melee mis­step, I thought.

My new­found enthu­si­asm for con­sole gam­ing died down a few years lat­er. I haven’t real­ly been keep­ing up with the new Nin­ten­do Wii U or 3DS stuff at all. But my orig­i­nal Wii remains below the TV, and I turn it on every cou­ple of months, usu­al­ly to play an old-timey 8- or 16-bit clas­sic.3

Some­thing hap­pened last week. An Ars Tech­ni­ca arti­cle about com­pet­i­tive Smash, and the endur­ing tour­na­ment lega­cy of Melee, showed up in my RSS. Before I had even fin­ished the arti­cle, I’d already been to Ama­zon and ‘Prime’d myself a Game­Cube con­troller and mem­o­ry card… and an over­priced used copy of Super Smash Bros. Melee.

My girl­friend was going to be out of town for the rest of the week. The time was right to dive in headfirst.

What hap­pened to me?

Look, I devel­oped this atti­tude as I grew clos­er to 30 a few years back. It goes a lit­tle like this:

So… is that it? Is this real­ly how it’s gonna be for the rest of your life?

As I read the Ars arti­cle through these attitude-tinted lens­es, I decid­ed that my hat­ing Melee was based on shaky rea­son­ing at best. The way I felt about it after my few tries may have been a gen­uine and rea­son­able reac­tion to get­ting pum­meled while flail­ing use­less­ly with this weird-ass con­troller, but let’s be hon­est: I nev­er gave the game a fair shot.

That, paired with the fact that Melee’s still so wide­ly held in such high regard almost 14 years lat­er — it’s def­i­nite­ly not just mind­less fan­boys trum­pet­ing the new hot thing — made me think hey-why-not? I essen­tial­ly have a Game­Cube just sit­ting there — it’s actu­al­ly built into the hard­ware of the orig­i­nal Wii.

A cou­ple of days lat­er, my lit­tle care pack­age from the past arrived. Pre­dictably, I still fuck­ing suck.

But I think it’s going to be fun this time.

  1. By the way — just sayin’ — f Pikachu.
  2. The con­sole was cheap enough, the motion con­trols seemed inter­est­ing enough, and the poten­tial for amaz­ing first-party Nin­ten­do games (Mario, Zel­da, etc.) made me take the plunge. I camped out on release night in 2006. Also, I had a job, some mon­ey, etc. And despite the tons of shov­el­ware, there were more than enough good Wii games.
  3. There’s a good chance it’s Dusty Dia­mond’s All-Star Soft­ball. Got­ta stay sharp.

Not everyone’s a critic

As a kid, I hat­ed “crit­i­cal think­ing” questions.

I did­n’t know what the term even meant, but what I did know was that about a third of the ques­tions at the end of each chap­ter in my school text­books were “crit­i­cal think­ing” ques­tions. I’d read the assigned text — well, usu­al­ly — but skim­ming the chap­ter for key words would mag­i­cal­ly reveal the answers… at least for all the nor­mal questions.

In what year did Napolean what­ev­er? I knew the hack for that: scan the text for numbers.

My goal was to get my work done as quick­ly as pos­si­ble, because the draw of TV time at home, and “free time” in class was strong. Crit­i­cal think­ing was an annoy­ing road­block to very impor­tant leisure. I just want­ed to get done.

As an adult, I take my time when I work — I just try not to com­plete­ly Dou­glas Adams my dead­lines, if you catch my drift. Qual­i­ty is impor­tant (although it’s only job two), and if I fin­ish some­thing ear­ly, odds are it could use some more thought, anoth­er look tomor­row with fresh eyes, or some­thing like that.

There real­ly is no prize for fin­ish­ing first.

I real­ize now that the crit­i­cal think­ing ques­tions were the only ones that ever real­ly mat­tered. Teach­ers prob­a­bly told us that, but it did­n’t mean any­thing at the time. And when I look around today, I get the sense that to a lot of my peers, it still doesn’t.

Derechos, am I right(s)?

Span­ish is a lan­guage I’ve stud­ied on and off through­out my life, but nev­er hard enough, it seems. See­ing a pam­phlet recent­ly, titled Declaración de los dere­chos, made me feel that way. The actu­al mean­ing (“dec­la­ra­tion of rights”) was easy enough for me to fig­ure out, but I was sur­prised when I real­ized that the Span­ish word for “rights” is dere­chos.

Whether or not you under­stand Span­ish, you may be won­der­ing why I found this so strange.

Well, a word in Span­ish I cer­tain­ly know is derecha (which means “right”… as in, the direc­tion that isn’t “left”) — it’s one of the first words any­one learns in Span­ish. And despite that word and dere­chos hav­ing dif­fer­ent gen­ders, it can’t be a coin­ci­dence that the two words are almost the same in both Eng­lish and Spanish.

What’s so weird about that? Why should­n’t these Eng­lish homo­phones be sim­i­lar in Spanish?

I’d explain it like this: I most­ly feel this way because of how it works with anoth­er pair of Span­ish words — in Eng­lish, the word free has dif­fer­ent mean­ings that each trans­late dif­fer­ent­ly. Most of the time we prob­a­bly think of it in the “cost­ing zero dol­lars” sense… but there’s also the arguably higher-minded def­i­n­i­tion “exist­ing with­out restric­tion.” In Span­ish, they’re two very dif­fer­ent words, the for­mer being gratis and the lat­ter being libre.

In the English-speaking world, I see the dif­fer­ence between the two “frees” most often come up in the Free Soft­ware1 com­mu­ni­ty. When dis­cussing Free Soft­ware phi­los­o­phy, peo­ple will wax elo­quent about the dif­fer­ent mean­ings of free, using phras­es like “free as in beer” and “free as in free­dom” to help con­trast the two. They’ll also occa­sion­al­ly veer into expla­na­tions of Span­ish vocab­u­lary to high­light the dif­fer­ence, point­ing out that gratis and libre are more pre­cise ways to describe two kinds of soft­ware, both of which are “free,” but in sig­nif­i­cant­ly dif­fer­ent sens­es of the word.

With my mind steeped in this soft­ware salon cul­ture of the back-alley forums of the Inter­net, I became so keen­ly aware of the extra mean­ing words can pick up when trans­lat­ed into oth­er languages.

And that’s why I find it so hard to believe that, en Español, “rights” are sim­ply dere­chos. The trans­la­tion should be some­thing more abstract… more libre-like. I would­n’t have guessed that when trans­lat­ed, my rights become “not lefts.”

  1. You may also know this as “Open Source,” although there are folks who will tell you that they’re not the same thing. These folks have beards.

No Ovaltine please — we’re cool

As a kid, I did­n’t know any­thing about Oval­tine aside from their com­mer­cials, so I had­n’t seen it as a spon­sor of clas­sic radio and tele­vi­sion, as a joke on Sein­feld, or as a big fat liar in A Christ­mas Sto­ry. I can’t remem­ber any of my friends hav­ing any­thing to say about it, either.

I was total­ly unbiased.

But from the com­pa­ny’s mar­ket­ing alone, I could tell that rich choco­late Oval­tine was uncool. I had nev­er drunk any — and decades lat­er, I still haven’t — but if I ever had, I cer­tain­ly would­n’t have told any­one about it.

I’m not exact­ly sure why the stuff made my lame-sense tin­gle as a kid. Maybe because Oval­tine was named after a shape (and shapes are for lit­tle kids), or that its mar­ket­ing proud­ly pro­claimed that it was full of vit­a­mins (like every­thing par­ents love, and kids don’t), but what I sus­pect it was… was a lit­tle more basic than that.

Watched the ad above? Note the end­ing. “More Oval­tine, please!” closed all Oval­tine ads of my child­hood. My present-day cyn­i­cal, works-in-marketing self can imag­ine some agency sell­ing this con­cept to the Oval­tine com­pa­ny with “Look, these kids not only love this vitamin-filled drink, but they love it so much they’ll devel­op man­ners and ask for it polite­ly! Par­ents will eat this up!”

But my kid self saw things a lit­tle dif­fer­ent­ly. “Wow, these kids are super-polite. That’s total­ly uncool.1 I don’t want this. Where’s the Nestlé Quik? That rab­bit is cool.”

There’s a mar­ket­ing mes­sage here, and it prob­a­bly goes a lit­tle some­thing like this:

If you have dif­fer­ent tar­gets, your mes­sag­ing needs to speak dif­fer­ent­ly (use “code-switching”) when speak­ing to dif­fer­ent tar­gets — there’s per­il to face when one tar­get receives a mes­sage tai­lored to anoth­er. It may fall on deaf ears, or maybe turn them off, entire­ly. Tell my mom about the vit­a­mins — tell me about the chocolate.

And so on. But there’s also a human mes­sage here:

Look, as you grow you’re encour­aged to “act your age” and as part of that, cast aside things and behav­iors asso­ci­at­ed with peo­ple younger than you, and instead do things that are more becom­ing for some­one as grown as you are. Soci­ety beats the kid out of you.

To be able to act your age is won­der­ful and arguably nec­es­sary… as long as you can still, as they say, “walk a mile” in small­er shoes when the sit­u­a­tion calls for it. And, of course, rec­og­nize why a kid — this kid, kind of grown up now — may not be inter­est­ed in your vit­a­min drink, how­ev­er how rich and choco­latey it might be.

 

  1. Full dis­clo­sure: I was kind of a polite kid, and I def­i­nite­ly thought I was uncool. Shoe fits.

Interchangeable Parts: Double-edge safety razors

This is the first in a series of posts about cool things with inter­change­able parts. What?

The first time I shaved, I used a cheap dis­pos­able razor that I hap­pened to find in the bath­room. I was 15.

These were dread­ful, by the way.

I did­n’t know any bet­ter at the time, and I did­n’t learn any bet­ter for a while. It was easy to just keep using pro­gres­sive­ly bladier multi-blade car­tridge mod­els. Two blades to start, then four after a cou­ple of years. I stuck with four long after the world had moved ahead, but I soon caught up with the whole five blade deal.

Clear­ly my razor was­n’t the only tool in the bathroom.

I’d hear mum­blings from oth­er men about bet­ter ways to shave, but the thought of my moth­er scold­ing me because I cut my throat open because I was using a dan­ger­ous razor still loomed large in my otherwise-independent adult brain. I was in my mid-20s by that point, but I’ll nev­er out­grow that sort of thing because she’ll nev­er out­grow not let­ting me hear the end of it if some­thing goes wrong.

It’s a good thing I did­n’t lis­ten to hypothetical-her (sor­ry, mom) because if I had, I would­n’t have picked up my first double-edge razor a cou­ple of years ago.

My what?

Double-edge razors are also known as “safe­ty razors” because they were a heck of a lot safer than those big, scary straight razors that were com­mon before them.

It may seem iron­ic today, because it’s def­i­nite­ly eas­i­er to cut your­self with a double-edge than with a car­tridge razor, but you know what else is eas­i­er to cut with a double-edge? The hair on your face. Which is what matters.

Shav­ing with one of these sharp thin­gies requires you to take it slow, but that’s alright.

Seriously though, they’re actually good

I use a double-edge razor because1 I find them to be more effec­tive, lead to less skin irri­ta­tion and few­er ingrown hairs, and over the long run, actu­al­ly be cheap­er. It’s also nice that shav­ing this way leads to a lot less waste to be thrown away.

It was only after I began shav­ing with one for the rea­sons above, that I real­ized anoth­er ben­e­fit: I’m shav­ing with an open sys­tem of inter­change­able parts.

Fuck yeah, interchangeable parts

Since safe­ty razors have been around since the very ear­ly 1900s, any patents on the sys­tem have long-since expired. That means that any­one can cre­ate han­dles or blades that are com­pat­i­ble with every­thing else avail­able for the sys­tem, which leads to a wealth of choice for both han­dles and blades… which of course means low prices.

What excites me much more than the poten­tial for sav­ing mon­ey (sor­ry again, mom) is the poten­tial for cus­tomiza­tion that such an open sys­tem allows. Basi­cal­ly, I can pair any razor designed for this stan­dard—fat han­dles, skin­ny han­dles, short han­dles, shiny onesdouchebag ones, ones from the future, uh, this one—with any blade that I want. This means I can sep­a­rate the style from the sub­stance; I can pair my favorite han­dle with my favorite blade and have what is, to me, the ulti­mate shav­ing machine.

Also, cheap

Ever heard some­one com­plain about how expen­sive it is to shave, or more specif­i­cal­ly, to buy refills for a car­tridge razor? I prob­a­bly don’t need to explain the razor and blades busi­ness mod­el that car­tridge razors fol­low. (If you like pay­ing a lot of mon­ey for the rest of for­ev­er, you’ll love it.)

If you perused those Ama­zon links above, you’re prob­a­bly won­der­ing what’s wrong with my idea of “cheap.” Well, the double-edge razor turns the razor and blades mod­el on its head; in this world, the han­dle is the more expen­sive item, with $30 US not being unusu­al for the more com­mon brands. How­ev­er, this buys a qual­i­ty met­al instru­ment that will like­ly out­live you… and you def­i­nite­ly make up for it with the blades — 10¢ or 20¢ blades are common!

The future

The double-edge shav­ing sys­tem isn’t going anywhere.

While it’s obvi­ous­ly less pop­u­lar now than it was in its hey­day (but so were fedo­ras, and cool guys still wear those), we know how the Inter­net changes things; retail­ers can use it to sell obscure prod­ucts to weirdos every­where, the kind of things mass-market brick-and-mortar loca­tions would nev­er both­er stock­ing on their shelves. I don’t mind buy­ing online and wait­ing a few days, so I can have any blade I want deliv­ered to my door.

Cheap­er, bet­ter and ulti­mate­ly, more inter­change­able. That’s why I shave like this.

  1. I don’t use them for the same rea­sons these strange shav­ing gear fetishists do.