Bring it, 2018

By | Friday, January 5, 2018 at 5:03 pm

Here comes 2018. I’m looking forward to this year, but at the moment things are still bleak. We’ve been in a deep freeze for the past couple weeks. Too cold to walk anywhere, everything’s frozen solid. Fortunately we haven’t had any issues at home or with the cars….YET. Except for my windshield washers. They are either frozen or I blew a fuse or something… they won’t squirt anything, and this can cause serious issues when driving. Aside from that, so far we’re hanging in there this winter. Not even any falls (again, YET).

A very controversial book just came out today about the Trump White House, called Fire and Fury, and I’m kinda excited to read it. I’m not very political though, I try to stay quiet as I’m horrible at arguing, debating things and taking any kind of stand, even on my blog, so I won’t even say I’m in any particular political party, but I am very curious when it comes down to how things really work. I know many top officials, including Trump himself, have claimed everything (or most things) in this book are lies, so this book will be picked apart word-by-word. I’m very curious to see exactly what it’s all about.

I was in the middle of reading “The Woman in the Window”, a book Stephen King highly recommends, before I found out about Fire and Fury, and it was getting quite interesting itself, so I sure hope this one doesn’t turn out to be a waste of my time. But if it does, I’ll be back to The Woman in the Window in a heartbeat.

Low

By | Friday, November 10, 2017 at 5:30 am

There’s been a lot of depressing stuff going on lately. Our dear adopted mother, Rosemary Wood, passed away recently (nice Kenosha News article about her life here), then my brother-in-law Bob Brackney passed away suddenly, there’s my wife’s medical issues, mass shootings all over the place, President Trump gets more depressing with every one of his goofy un-president-like Tweets, and on top of all of that, Fall has arrived in force, and it’s freezing outside.

The weather, of course, is to be expected, but it’s still depressing every year at this time–at least for me. It’s beautiful, at least when the fall colors arrive in the trees and the temperature drops to the 50’s and 60’s, that part is actually my favorite time of year. Very comfortable for walking and spending time outdoors, having a nice fire going, I love it. But then, always much too soon the temperature drops down to the 20’s and 30’s and the snow and slush arrive, as well as my annual sinus issues and a cold that also settles in for the winter, and the days get shorter and shorter until I’m going to work in the dark and also coming home in the dark. Once that (this) happens I don’t feel right again until some time in the spring.

Socks gets so confused walking in the dark, so now our walks are limited to the weekends for several months. I think this depresses him as well. But this is all just part of the cycle. All we need to do is hang in there and things will eventually turn around again. Even with Trump. I am little reassured knowing our government has so many checks and balances in place that should prevent immediate catastrophe, but how much of that has really been put to the test? Trump is sure pushing that envelope. But I’m not political. so enough about that.  Except this:  I found this in a recent book I read:  “Voting is a lot like driving… ‘D’ takes you forward, ‘R’ takes you backward.”.  I got quite a kick out of that one.

On another note, my blog has clearly become a one-way outlet for me–Just a place for me to vent, post some notes, happenings, etc., so I’ll try (my famous last words, I know) to post more often, whether it’s news, reviews, complaining, or even just a little fiction I’ve written, I’ll try. But I know that this site has recently lost it’s #1 fan (Rosemary), and that saddens me even more.

Old Kenosha

By | Tuesday, April 11, 2017 at 9:25 am

This week’s Happenings magazine has a section called “It’s Your Hometown Memories”.  It includes a lot of old Kenosha photos and businesses from way back when.  It’s pretty surprising to know some of them have survived for so long!  I thought it would be interesting to list some of them along with a few of my related memories of them.  Unfortunately I can’t include photos from the magazine due to legal reasons, but I’ll try to describe anything I found interesting in them as best I can.

Brat Stop started up in 1958 as a tiny little place that looked like a drive-in restaurant.  It was located on Highway 41 long before I-94 even existed.  I saw Oceans at Brat Stop with Hans D long ago.

Javelin Restaurant was located on the corner of 22nd Avenue and 60th Street, was started in the 1980’s when AMC was the big manufacturing giant in Kenosha, and was obviously named after the AMC Javelin.  I don’t recall ever going to this restaurant, but it was fairly close to our family’s home, which was 6611 20th Avenue, very close to uptown Kenosha.  It was owned by Vasilios (Bill) Anastopoulos, who apparently later moved on to build the successful Anastos Motors car dealership in Kenosha.  I’ve watched this high-traffic corner location change hands many times over the years

Bernacci’s Drug Store was located uptown where Fire Station #3 is today, at 63rd Street and 22nd Avenue.  This business wasn’t mentioned in Happenings at all, I just remembered it when I was thinking about Javelin Restaurant (those darned “member berries” again…)  I remember, as a kid, the huge fire that occurred there, burning the store to the ground.  Since it was only a couple blocks from home, my friends and I all ran and biked there and watch the firefighting & chaos as it unfolded.  My attempts to find more information about Bernacci’s on the web have failed.  Am I spelling it wrong, maybe?

The Music Center, now located on Green Bay Road, opened up in the 1940’s.  I had no idea it had been around so long.  Where it was originally located, I have no idea.

Happenings Magazine has been around for 40 years – since 1977.  It’s a free local magazine we usually pick up at local restaurants and gas stations.  It is currently located in the old American Brass Administration Building, 1420 63rd Street.  Gotta include a little self-promotion in their own magazine, so there it is.  It’s funny how the entire section is mostly ads (as the magazine always is), but a lot of the ad content for each business contains their historical significance, and Most pages of ads “interconnect” with each other and the photos in the pages near them, making it more like one big article you’re reading.  Nice work, I enjoyed it.

Chester Electronics was located next to the train tracks on 60th Street, and I remember going there many times with my dad (both of us were gadget geeks) as a kid, buying CBs, police scanners, crystals–one crystal was need for each scanner frequency you wanted to listen to, so they had to be hand-made (or tuned) for that frequency.  This took a week or two after ordering, then you could come in and pick up that crystal and install it in your scanner.  This was way before today’s scanners, which provide entire bands and you just electronically tune in (or scan entire bands) to listen to them.  Chester’s eventually moved to it’s current location, where National Foods once was–7709 Sheridan Road.  Chester Minkowski is the owner.  I’m not sure what year it opened, or whether Chester is still alive, as that information wasn’t included.  Oh, and do you want to see the worst website ever?  Check it out: http://chesterelectronics.com/

Lou Perrine’s gas station (aka “One Stop Shop”) has been around for 62 years – Since 1954.  It is now located on 52nd Street and Sheridan Road.  I noticed a YouTube logo next to this one, so out of curiosity I had to check.  Very nice!  It contains video ads, as expected, and they’re interesting… I had no idea they even did home delivery…$5 delivery charge, but they insist on NO TIPS!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jppVnBhbVik

Thomas B. Jeffery Company was founded in 1902.  It evolved into Nash Motors in 1916, American Motors in 1954, and Chrysler in 1987.  Later it was reduced to just the Chrysler Engine Plant.  It closed in October 2010 and was demolished in 2013.  I worked there for 5 years–1985 to 1989–as a Security Guard.  Looking back on it, those were some interesting and fun times, I must say.  I was hired at $4.50/hr and worked my way up to the maximun $6.50/hr by the time I left.  I was hired after a bunch of restructuring of the Security department and mass-layoffs of the “old guard” who were still unionized and paid much more money as a result.  The restructuring ended up with most of those guard either quitting or retiring and the wages being more than cut in half.  I wasn’t looked upon very favorably by most for taking the job, but for me I had just graduated from Tech College and had been looking for work, and figured any job is better than no job.  I was surprised it lasted as long as it did.  I was looking for PC Tech work (and doing side PC work) pretty much the entire 5 years…though not very aggressively.  I was laid off during another of the many cutbacks they did in those days leading up to the final closing.

Guttormsen’s Recreation Center, now located on Green Bay Road and 52nd Street, began in 1919 on 6th Avenue downtown, where the KVNA building now stands, across the street to the North of the Municipal Building.  As a kid I remember a friend working there as a pinsetter.  And I also remember “someone” obtaining a large quantity of soap and dumping it into the large Municipal Fountain located on 6th Avenue one evening, and watching as the fountain overflowed with soap suds!

The Elk’s Club, located at 5706 8th Avenue, is now The Heritage House, and is a historic Kenosha building.  I don’t think this one was was even mentioned in the Happenings section, but I just remembered it now, having worked at the Elk’s Club as a dishwasher for two years, part-time, while I was in high school.  Here’s the history: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenosha_Elks_Club

I think that’s about half of the section so far.  I’m finding it pretty interesting myself.  I’ll probably post the other half soon, if time permits.  Thanks for visiting!

Lego Worlds – A review

By | Saturday, March 18, 2017 at 8:30 am

Hello, my name is Jim and I’m an addict. Yeah, I’m a grown-up… And still I play with toys. Legos are all the rage these days–even in the movies. So when Lego Worlds was recently released for the PS4, I jumped on it almost immediately. I’ve had the Early Release version for the PC on Steam for quite some time, but I only played it once in awhile. It was a really cool open world system, and you just dove in and started playing around with objects and characters, building and breaking things, etc., etc., much like Minecraft. I find many games a bit difficult to play on the PC unless I have my Steam controller optimally configured for that particular game, and in the case of Lego Worlds on Steam, I just wasn’t able to get it working to my liking, and often gave up trying to get it to work properly for me. So when the PS4 version was released, I knew that, finally, it must have a controller configuration good enough to work with on the PS4, so I gave it a shot.

I don’t know if the Steam version ever received the same treatment that the PS4 version now has, but there certainly wasn’t Tutorial levels and gameplay like there is on the PS4 version when I was playing it on Steam! My initial experience with the PS4 version was totally new, and it’s really interesting how it first teaches you the basics, giving you lessons along the way, and as you progress through the tutorial levels you learn more and more about how everything works, more items are given to you, and you basically (at least in my case) become addicted and want more and more eye candy, game candy, object builds, blocks, gold bricks… The tutorials end after 3 or 4 different worlds are “completed”, then you unlock the main “game” that in-turn unlocks everything else. The ultimate goal being to reach 100 Gold Bricks, which unlocks the ability to create NEW worlds of your very own. So this is all sort of a huge “training ground”, or a giant tutorial if you will, to prepare you for the open world creation freedom that is to come–which then, I imagine, works somewhat like Minecraft, where you can either start with a blank world, scarcely populated or completely blank, and build upon it whatever you will. Except that with THIS game, the tools at your disposal are far beyond anything I’ve ever seen in Minecraft!

But getting that far (100 Gold Bricks) is still on my horizon, so I can’t really say for sure how that part of the experience is yet (hence the “incomplete review” title). I’m at 71 Gold Bricks as of this writing, and climbing daily. The pace at which you gain bricks varies quite a bit, from what I’ve seen though. What happens after the tutorials is the ability for you to generate random worlds, then travel to them, explore and plunder them, all in an effort to gather everything you can from the world. This includes completing quests the characters on that world ask of you, finding chests filled with objects (including Gold Bricks), exploring, tackling troublemakers (who will come up to you and taunt you with the game piece they’re holding, then run from you as you try to tackle them to get the piece) and just plain trashing everything you can to gain studs (every Lego game’s currency). When you “Discover” an object in the game it gets added to your inventory, but you can’t actually “use” the object until you purchase it in the game using some studs. The value of each object in the game is pre-defined–for example it might cost 2,500 studs for a particular in-game vehicle–so if you pay that to unlock it, you can then deploy that vehicle anywhere, on any world, and use it in whatever way suits you. Or, perhaps an object is needed to complete a quest, and you have it… Use it and get rewarded with even more studs to use in the game. Added to all of this is the expansion of world sizes you can play in. You start out with just small worlds (as if that doesn’t overwhelm you enough), but after obtaining so many Gold Bricks you unlock Medium-sized worlds and everything is a lot bigger. Then, further on you unlock Large-sized worlds, and then, finally, Huge-sized worlds.

This very open-ended random-world generation makes things pretty interesting, and definitely a one-of-a-kind experience for everyone, and your own personality and tendencies come into play quite a bit. For example, there’s some really neat dungeons in the game, which are filled with traps, puzzles and monsters… Get through those successfully and you’re rewarded with many huge piles of studs! This is all really fun to play around with, but a smart kid just in a hurry to reach the end-game knows that with all of the tools available at that point in the game, one could simply pull out the landscaping tool and level the entire dungeon in one fell swoop.. or use to bazooka to blast right through the walls to the treasure. I considered this myself, briefly, before deciding to take the high road and experience the dungeon like I assume it was intended. Maybe later on I’ll come back and play around with leveling it, even if only to see how it was built and to possibly use some of it’s traps in the free world-building part of the game that I haven’t gotten to yet.

The game isn’t without it’s little quirks and bugs though. But I’d expect as much for a project this vast. There will no-doubt be updates to fix it up, I’m sure. One complaint I have might be a bug, but I’m not really sure. Right now it’s just an annoyance for me. Another family member found an awesome random world and wanted me to try it out. There’s an option to enter a random world “seed” on the main world selection screen, so I assumed this would allow me to enter the number he provided and I could then play that same world. So I entered the number, it appeared to show it in the mini map, but when I travel to the world, it’s a completely different random world! I can’t seem to get it to accept that exact number sequence, though it does allow me to see a preview of it. Very annoying. I can’t find a solution (or others even complaining about the same thing) on the web yet, so I think it’s just a bug that hasn’t been discussed yet.

So that’s the game, in a nutshell. I’ve been through the desert, the old west, a few very hot lava-filled planets, a few made of candy, some desert islands with interesting surprises, many caves containing buried treasure among other creepy things like spiders, scorpions and even zombies and swamp monsters, cloud cities and have even found many underwater treasures–including sunken shipwrecks, sharks, fish and even a few underwater cities. I can tell that the creators sure spent a lot of time either manually building whole areas brick by brick or wrote one heck of a procedural engine to generate worlds! It seems they are endless in their quantity, somehow. Like Minecraft, it boggles the mind. And, in the process, it feels like by the time I’m up to the 100 Gold Bricks needed I will have amassed hundreds of “discoveries” consisting of vehicles, characters, animals, insects, weapons, objects, and even whole “brick builds” (one-click mass-builds of large objects that assemble themselves before your eyes, instantly), and I will have learned quite a bit about the Lego world and what I am capable of as a “Master Builder”. I can see there’s also a lot of artistic skill needed as well, so for me things are going to take a lot longer to get right if I’m going to create any Lego Worlds of my very own. I’m sure going to want to, after spending this much time working through the entire game.

I’ll be sure to come back and complete this review or write a completely new one after I have completed the 100-Gold-Brick goal and am able to create entirely new worlds in the game. At that point I’m sure I’ll know even more about it and have much more to say. Now I’m going to head back into this Atlantis-looking underwater world I just found… I sure wish I could hold my breath for longer though… maybe I’ll find a or earn some scuba gear soon.

The Finish Line – Update added 3/24/2017

I made it. Last night, after sitting at 98 Gold Bricks for a day, I jumped in and made the push to 100 and made it. I saved the last 7 minutes of my gameplay if you’d like to watch it: https://youtu.be/NFaPjYGQ39c. As a subtext to the video: I had a trapped, frightened gingerbread person stuck on a rooftop. He/She had a gold brick, and if I could save them I would get my 100th brick. I had previously tamed several pigs, so they were following me around at this time. After some playing around with the landscape tool I managed to get the character to drop to the ground. As the gingerbread character pulled out its gold brick to throw it to me, he was attacked by my pigs and killed! NO BRICK FOR ME! Nazi Soup Pigs. But soon it happened again–another frightened gingerbread person in the same area… So I immediately took action, usied my scimitar, and sliced me up some tasty bacon to get that elusive last gold brick!

Obtaining 100 gold bricks gives you the rank of “Master Builder” and also unlocks the option to “Create custom worlds” in the game. So I played around with that option for the rest of the evening (and this morning before work) and I must say, the options are nice. I was a little disappointed at first when I couldn’t find an option to just start with a completely “clean slate” – just a blank, empty world, flat, with nothing in it – but I soon found that this was probably not an oversight, it was most likely done on purpose. You can, as they say, “create the Lego world of your dreams”, and if you desire a blank, flat world, well… go for it! It’s doable. Just do it.

Technically, you can’t actually “Create a new world”, as the voiceover announcer describes it at the end of obtaining 100 gold bricks (as you hear him say in my saved video). That’s deceiving, and I think it was actually a mistake. the game itself shows the option as “Create a custom world”. This is a bit more accurate, because you can only choose the individual Biomes, Animals, Characters, Vehicles and the world size you would like, then click the “create” button, and what it does is give you a world seed of that size, with those options set. It’s still a pre-defined world, with a seed you can share with any other Lego Worlds player. Your version of it might be just initially populated a little differently than anyone else’s, based on your preferences.

But this was a very interesting design choice for the game, as you’ll see. I set out, then, so create what I just mentioned above: A flat world, like a clean slate to start with–no animals, objects, or anything–sort of a complete beginning–so I know exactly what’s in that world, and everything in it I know came from me. The various tools available in the game are very fun to learn and use, so it’s not a problem at all. I chose the smallest world size, and just one “open prairie” biome, so the world would be as easy to flatten as possible, with the least number of objects to have to destroy and clean up. I used the “flatten” landscaping tool to level everything down (or up) to the same level, making it all flat. I guess I should say “am using”, as I’m still actively working on this world as I write this. My initial world came with many vehicles, animals and characters spread all over it, including a quest area or two, so I have plenty of work to do. As I level the landscape, animals on it will shift up or down to meet the ground and keep travelling on it, and I’ll select them and “remove” them to pop them out of existence. Sometimes I’ll run into a character or animal I haven’t discovered yet, requiring me to complete a quest first, before I can work with that particular animal or character. This is a fun side-objective, and it also provides you with more characters, objects and animals to use in the game. It even makes the dullness of simply flattening everything on the entire map much less so.

So create the Lego world of your dreams is fun, and there’s plenty to do along the way, so get busy. There are even plenty more gold bricks I can obtain as well as secret “Legendary” puzzle pieces which can be assembled to reveal even larger “Legendary Gold Bricks”, as well as many other things. It also seems like I will never have every single object, animal, character or vehicle in the game, so opening chests and completing quests can always earn me something new and unexpected along the way–especially with the possibility of downloadable content and add-ons that are sure to come later on. So I’m heading back in now, gotta keep flattening. Haylie wants an empty landscape to build her dream world on the next time she visits. This concludes my review.  I really like this game.

Oooh…shiny!

By | Wednesday, February 22, 2017 at 7:59 pm

Wow, really enjoying the new phones and services so far on Verizon!  Who knew we’d ever be able to get voicemails in TEXT format and even receive faxes on our regular cell phone numbers!?!  I feel like I’ve been missing out.  Not that I use faxing a lot, but we use it at work, and I sometimes need it for personal business, so maybe it’ll come in handy.  Sure would have come in handy a few years back when I had my small business.  It’s interesting how it works:  When someone sends a fax to your cell phone number (I didn’t believe this would even work until I tried it myself) you get a voicemail that tells you there’s a fax for you.  The voicemail system gives you the option of immediately printing the fax if you’re checking your voicemail from a fax machine, or you can enter an “alternate destination”, which can be the number of ANY fax machine.  So I entered the number the fax machine I was near and in comes the fax!  Why I, of all people, am surprised by this, I don’t know.  I guess I just never conceived of a solution like this.  Could be pretty handy.  Now if it could just take that one extra step of converting that fax to a PDF and actually placing it ON my phone, now THAT would blow my mind.

Verizon also just started their “Unlimited” plan at the same time I was in the middle of switching to them.  I looked at the details though–particularly how they throttle down your speed after you hit so many Gigs of usage, and also the price bump of $40 more than their highest non-Unlimited plan (which is what we have) for our 3 lines.  I could see it being pretty popular, especially for families, but I don’t think we’ll have any problems with the 8GB+2GB+2GB+2GB we get per month (2GB bonus per line for life) without the throttling.  With that, and the unlimited full-sized photo and video storage capacity for as long as we keep using our Google Pixels, we’ll stay put for now.