Joey Ramone on my Atari!

When I was thirteen, me and my friends Jeff and Lonnie started a software company. Not Apple, Microsoft… we were Eclipse Software Productions, and we wrote software for Atari personal computers (not the game consoles, the 800, 800XL, ST, etc). We started by creating images for Broderbund Software’s The Print Shop, which let you print greeting cards, flyers, and so on, on your noisy dot matrix printer. By the end we were writing primitive Word Processing and Check Balancing programs for cheap, selling them all on a floppy disk for $10 when the professional versions cost $49.99 each.

We made a few hundred bucks over a year or so, but we didn’t stick with it, and went our separate ways. As I dive into ’80s nostalgia for a book project, this all came back to me, and one of my favorite memories as a computer nerd in that time was when my hero Joey Ramone appeared in K-Power magazine, a rag for Apple, Atari, TRS-80, and Commodore 64 users and programmers. He gave them an unrecorded demo called “S.L.U.G.” and the staff wrote a BASIC program that would play the tune in all its 8-bit glory, while the lyrics blinked in time to the music. I keyed it in and was overjoyed! The Ramones! on my Atari 800XL! Totally awesome! (that’s ’80s speak for “OMG”). The song is hilariously silly, a love song about a slug, in the ’50s doo-wop vein. It would go really well with a viewing of Slither.

Here are the pages from the magazine with an interview with Joey. If you want the programs to try out on an emulator, the whole issue of K-Power is archived here. Click to embiggen:

Listen to the 8-bit version. But what did it sound like, really? When the Ramones released their “All the Stuff, and More” collections in the late ’90s, the original demo of “S.L.U.G.” was included:

And here’s a video of Joey singing it live in 1998, a few years before he died.

Joey was a hero of mine, a gangly goof who became a legendary rock star by being true to himself and singing about what he wanted, not what was expected of him. And he’s buried in the same cemetery as my grandmother:

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Eccentricity: A Journey Through a Mind

eccentricity

It takes a brave person to bare all; we all wear layers of masks, and some people you never truly know. This is a glimpse into the mind of an artist with autism and synesthesia, and explains how she sees the world through frank writing and beautiful paintings and digital art. It explores what outsiders in our culture do to survive, how we learn to interact with people who tilt their heads and consider us as one might a strange dog.

Anie Knipping is my neighbor, and it took some time before we said more than the nervous hellos that pass for conversation in an apartment complex. I wore my Venture Bros. Order of the Triad t-shirt while doing laundry, she recognized it, and two pilgrims from the nerdworld began speaking their common tongue. I had known she was an artist, and that she led community projects such as the local garden for seniors in our building, but hadn’t struck up a conversation or seen her work before. I was very pleasantly surprised, and I’m glad she reached out.Despite the “Tommy Salami” web presence and boisterous demeanor, I am an extremely shy person who does not make friends easily.

So I found much of this book refreshingly familiar. She goes into detail about how she used online social games to adjust to society, and explore what selves she wanted to share. The art is truly gorgeous and unique, from the synesthesia overlays that mimic how she experiences the world, to the volcanic fantasy dreamworlds she puts to canvas from her imagination. It is not so much indulgent as deeply detailed, and I was delighted to learn that the book is used to help children with autistic spectrum disorders to understand that they are not alone in experiencing reality differently than the norm. Reading this will peel away the calluses you’ve formed that deaden your feelings to the wonderful and bizarre world we live in. You’ll understand what it is like to navigate the loud, bright and rambunctious world with a surplus of empathy, what it is like to be born at age 13, and how to taste the weather and see music.

Full color textbook-sized paperback

Kindle Edition

 

Conan: The Musical

Thanks to my friend, my dungeon master, Peter V. Dell’Orto for sharing this link. © 2012 Thomas Pluck

I wanted to grow up to be B.J. and the Bear

“I don’t feel tardy.” Ever notice that line in “Hot for Teacher” by Van Halen? When I was a kid I didn’t know it meant “late,” so when a teacher said I was “tardy” I thought she was saying I was retarded. Nowadays I say mentally disabled, but in the ’70s the R-word was still in wide use. I was always the kid with my head in the clouds- my sister still makes fun of how I’d walk home from school, daydreaming, making kapow! and kaboom noises as I defended the neighborhood from aliens in my laser tank- so I was teased, bullied and tortured for more years than the prisoners in Gitmo. I had some friends, but mostly I was sort of the class clown, because I’d pop out of a bored daydream and say such a non sequitur that they thought I was from another planet. So I made friends with anyone I could, and one of them was a boy named Mindy.

Or maybe it was Mandy. Either way, he had a girl’s name and was mentally disabled, and was old enough to have a wispy mustache in grade school. He wasn’t as disabled as Robbie, the ursine, lumbering behemoth with a real mustache who’d run up to you, make a gun with his thumb and forefinger, and spray you with saliva as he gave you the Bronx cheer. But he wasn’t as developed as the Rooster- the gangly, hyper kid who was in our regular classes until one day he was disappeared. Was never sure where he went, but Facebook tells me he graduated from NJIT in ’88, so it looks like he jumped a few grades after he stopped running in circles on the playground and yelping like a turkey. I probably forced friendship on Mindy because I was a huge fan of the TV show “Mork & Mindy.” For the same reason in 2nd grade I suddenly began signing my school papers as “B.J.,” because I liked the TV show “B.J. and the Bear,” about a trucker with a pet chimpanzee, pursued by the nefarious Sheriff Lobo. This was later immortalized in the web comic Pathetic Geek Stories:

My young life immortalized in “Pathetic Geek Stories

But back to Mindy. We’d hang around during recess, and one day a teacher came up and told me to “play with the other children.” I’m guessing they were afraid I’d catch the “special ed” from him or something. It was briefly traumatizing for a little nerdo like myself, who had trouble making friends, and I always wondered what happened to him. I never knew his last name, and I never saw him around town after that. Part of me dramatizes this, as if he was dragged away by the Special Ed Gestapo and I clawed Washington School’s chain link fence and howled in the face of fascist bureaucracy, but in reality he probably just moved. Later, in high school, I joined the Human Relations Club, because the cute hippie and nerd girls were in it, and my Coin Collector’s Club was dissolved after middle school. I wish we’d made badges for that club so I could pin it to my lapel for special occasions, but no such luck. The Human Relations Club- which is a pretty insipid name, really- had awkward high school kids visit the elderly at the assisted living home next to our school, and the Special Young Adults school across from the Burger King. Kids used to joke that we needed a “Tard Crossing” sign there, and I’ll admit it, I laughed at that cruel joke.

I had a great time visiting the Special Young Adults. As we all know, they generally tend toward cheeriness, when most people we meet look like they’d kill us with a plastic fork if it would shave five minutes off their morning commute. I had a great time telling silly stories, playing games, and reliving my playground days. And I still get random hugs from special kids at malls- most recently at a food court- probably because I look like a giant hairy muppet. The kid’s father was apologetic, but I took it stride, smiled and told him not to worry about it. Me and special kids go way back, bro.

© 2010 Tommy Salami

80’s Trash of the Week: Electric Dreams

If the movie sounds like it’s dubbed into English when it isn’t, because the acting is that bad, you might be watching trash. I got that feeling a few minutes into Electric Dreams, a movie I had fond memories of as a little computer nerdling in the ’80s. It’s a movie about a PC that goes haywire and falls in love with its owner’s girlfriend, which was ridiculous even back then; no one who played with computers in the early ’80s had a girlfriend!

His computer eventually beats the crap out of him with Pac-Mania.

Like many computer movies of the time, it was both the best commercial for, and the most hilariously contrived warning against the technology onslaught of Apple ][e’s and IBM PC/XT’s in the home. We didn’t care; anything with computer graphics, as primitive as they were, we’d gobble up. And Electric Dreams fed that vibe. It’s too cute to be truly trash, but it’s one of those ridiculous and pandering films that can only come from the ’80s. It’s the rom-com version of Weird Science (full review).
We meet nerdy hero Miles (Lenny von Dohlen, Twin Peaks) as he’s beset by technology at San Francisco Airport. He’s off to a meeting with his boss, where he tells how he’s trying to design an earthquake-proof building. He has trouble with the ticket machine, the ATM, and thinks he’s talking to a woman who’s actually listening to her Walkman. Despite all this, he decides to buy a computer to help him organize his life and design his earthquake-proof brick, and takes home the latest and greatest by Pinecone systems. The computer can run the whole house by connecting to the phone with an acoustic coupler (how i lusted for this primitive modem back then- it looked cooler than faster ones) and special electric plugs.

Earthquake-proof M.C. Escher jigsaw building. Genius!

He mistypes his name during the setup, which makes the computer address him as “Moles.” Soon his PC is making him coffee, running the security system and even running the blender, though I have no idea why you’d want that. Like any of us with a new toy, he wants to play with it; he hooks up a microphone, and connects to his boss’s mainframe at work over the phone line one night. He accidentally spills champagne all over the keyboard, and that’s when the problems start. His new neighbor Madeline (Virginia Madsen) moves in upstairs, and when she plays the cello, the computer starts playing along with her. The dog from next door starts barking, and the computer mimics it.

Madeline tells him he plays really well, but he hasn’t got a clue; when he goes to see her in concert, the computer starts playing to her through his beeper. These oddities lure Madeline to nerdy Miles, and one night they take her powder blue ’65 Mustang to a drive-in to see Casablanca, and Bogey and Ingrid are too much for their raging hormones to take. In the meanwhile, the computer is watching TV and learning English. When Miles gets home, it starts talking to him in his sleep, repeating his words. Like any good nerd, he’s almost more excited about his computer than he is about Madeline.

Yo yo mamasita!

He asks the computer for help, and it writes a song for her. Unfortunately for us, it’s sung by Boy George, but in 1984 that would even get a computer some poontang. From here, the story begins to resemble Cyrano and Frankenstein, as Madeline falls for “Moles,” not knowing that the computer is wooing her with songs. And “Edgar,” the computer, is pissed off at Miles for not introducing them. Miles told him about love, see. Bad move.

The Groucho glasses are ’cause Bud Cort idolizes him and bought his mansion.

Was this the first “cancelled by computer” movie? I’m not sure. Wargames didn’t really do that stuff. But Edgar sure does, cancelling Miles’s credit cards, flagging his checkbook so he’s listed as dangerous, calling the restaurant to rudely cancel reservations. His night out with Madeline thus ruined, he heads home to fight it out with Edgar, who has full control of the house. Much like The Demon Seed (full review), when Miles tries to tear the motherboards out, he get shocked and his whole house turns against him, while the computer screen shows a funky 3-D version of Pac-Man devouring him.

This was pretty sharp for ’84.

Can Miles beat the computer and get the girl? The ending isn’t what you expect. Maybe I should ask if a computer can understand love. In a reverse of 2001, the computer commits suicide because it cannot love, instead of killing because it is forced to lie. And in tribute to the two lovers, it blasts the movie’s theme song, “Together in Electric Dreams” across radios all over the world. I have to say I was a little hard on this movie for the first half; as the opening credits say, it really is a fairy tale for computers, and reminded me of cult classics like Twice Upon a Time and The Wizard of Space and Time in its tone, which makes it difficult to slam.

The best parts of the movie are the computer animated sequences set to music, and the director made many music videos after this. They get more complex as the story unfolds, beginning with colorful dots and patterns, then an animated sequence of girl dancing on a snowflake, and finally a crumbling building as it incorporates Miles’ architectural programs. All set to the music of Heaven 17, UB40, Culture Club, Phil Collins, and Giorgio Moroder, the sought-after soundtrack captures the era perfectly. Most memorable is Edgar’s voice- supplied by none other than Bud Cort, most famous for Harold & Maude. In 1979 he got into a terrible car accident that wrecked his career, and I had no idea it was him. It’s filtered of course, but he manages to give the computer a living voice and jealous, childlike personality.

It’s a light bit of fantasy, and we all tittered when the computer-generated voice said “fuck.” The actors left a bit to be desired, but for a computer nerd the animation sequences were top notch and worth the price of admission. It’s sad that this isn’t on Region 1 DVD, but it is worth tracking down if you like ’80s trash.

Beers Required to Enjoy: 2
Could it be remade today? Apparently yes. Nathan Fillion would be a good lead.
Quotability Rating: does not compute
Cheese Factor: 2.8 velveetahertz!
High Points: soundtrack, computer animation
Low Point: bad acting
Gratuitous Boobies: Not even pixels:

Hello ladies

Watchmen: New and Improved

As a fan of the comics, and of Zack Snyder’s previous 300 and Dawn of the Dead, I decided to go to a midnight showing of Watchmen last night. And let me get this out of the way- I’m no purist, and I think it is an excellent adaptation of some difficult material. Clocking in at 2 hours 45 minutes, Snyder and company have put Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ paragon of graphic novels into film format, and it is an incredible cinema experience.
From the opening scene, where an old washed-up attack dog for the government is assassinated- seen in the trailer so no spoilers- to the credit roll where we’re introduced to the story’s alternate 1985 where Richard Nixon is still President, superheroes helped us win Vietnam, and were eventually outlawed in the wake of public protest- makes the tale accessible to those unfamiliar with the graphic novel. From then on, we’re with Rorschach- the masked, trenchcoated vigilante who refuses to drop his mask and give up fighting crime. He begins investigating the murder- the victim turns out to be a supposedly retired hero named The Comedian- and unravels a plot that might culminate in World War 3.
Rorshach (Jackie Earle Haley, Little Children) warns his retired associates, because he thinks “someone is murdering masks.” They include the reclusive, nerdy tinkerer Dan (Patrick Wilson, Hard Candy), who was once a Batman-esque vigilante called Nite Owl, patrolling the city in a hovering ship; Sally Jupiter (Malin Akerman, 27 Dresses), a slinky martial artist who took up the mask after her mother retired as the Silk Spectre; Adrian Veidt, “the smartest man in the world,” a billionaire who seeks to elevate humanity, but once fought crime as Ozymandias. Then there’s the one who’s not like the others- Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), a nuclear scientist who after a tragic accident, became a blue-hued living god, able to see and control the world on the quantum level.
As Rorschach follows the clues, the Doomsday Clock is ticking. The world is on the brink of nuclear war, and the United States has been very cocky with Dr. Manhattan as its ally. He can disassemble nukes in flight, and survive a blast. He’s both not there, and everywhere at once. We see him and the Comedian in flashback, winning Vietnam, as a maniac with a flamethrower and a towering blue giant dissolving enemies into atoms. Sally and Dan bond over missing the old days, and we learn that they both wear the mantles of the first generation of superheroes. As Rorschach homes in, the plot is bigger than they first imagined, and soon they are all drawn in to fight as the world teeters on the brink of apocalypse- with its blue savior in self-imposed exile.
The movie, like the comics, deftly melds the dark brutality of Rorschach’s world as Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver in a mask and The Comedian with a shotgun, with the “good clean fun” of Nite Owl and Silk Spectre in form-fitting suits kicking criminal butt, and the otherworldly godlike powers of Dr. Manhattan. They are archetypes for superheroes we all know- Batman, Silver Surfer, the Punisher, The Question. Alan Moore’s story is as much about the history of comics as it is about its plot, and the bones are still there. Snyder perhaps lingers a bit too much on the sex and violence- there’s a hilarious yet kinky sex scene, as true to the comics as possible- but the film looks incredible, even without IMAX. And Dr. Manhattan’s blue dingus is there in every scene, wagging hypnotically and causing titters among the nerds.
The story is big, about whether it is necessary to destroy the world in order to save it; if humanity’s penchant for destruction can ever be tamed, or if our genetic destiny must lead us toward apocalypse. Dr. Manhattan’s musings on the nature of the universe, and what constitutes a miracle when he can turn air to gold if he so wishes, are poetic and transcend the material. This is a great story born to be sequential comic art, but translated to 24 frames per second with aplomb. The Dark Knight took the superhero story to epic thriller levels worthy of Michael Mann; Watchmen is an even bigger story, asking us why we think we need superheroes: To save us from ourselves.
The casting and acting is across the board excellent. I had many reservations with some of the choices, especially of Malin Akerman and Matthew Goode, but I as never brought of the spell the movie casts. Jackie Earle Haley, between this and his polar opposite playing a child molester in Little Children, will hopefully continue to rise as a late star. He is Rorschach, and when finally unmasked, is even better. Billy Crudup takes an incredible subtle, emotionless character and makes him enthralling. Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Comedian embodies the complex, vicious character to the core; you hate him, but you can’t stop watching him, and Carla Gugino (American Gangster) plays the older Silk Spectre with perfection, young and old- she’s a somewhat creepy aged starlet who demands a lot from her daughter and made some decisions she refuses to regret.
You’ll hear the usual nerd rage from the basements of America decrying the changes made to the story- one big one at the end- but honestly, I think it’s an improvement. Discussing it without spoilers, I think it was wise to change the villain, to remove humanity’s crutch. And even Alan Moore should agree it was an inspired choice, if he stops picking bones out of his beard between rants long enough. It lives up to the hype, and while it may demand complete attention from neophytes on first viewing, it is a rich tapestry that will reward future viewings.

5 Hrrms out of 5

Lord of the Rings Extended internet nerd nitpicks

I love The Lord of the Rings trilogy, don’t get me wrong. Don’t revoke my geek cred. I still think the first movie, The Fellowship of the Ring, is the best of them, and that Peter Jackson created as nearly a perfect adaptation as possible for the times. He had to abide by certain Hollywood blockbuster rules, yet managed to stretch them enough to get his vision across. The extended edition of Fellowship is excellent and worth the immense running time. Return of the King is depending on how much you like the first two, but we’ll get to that later. I revisited all 3 films with Milky, belly-slapper general, to keep me from dozing during the slow bits (12 hours of walking!).

So let’s pick them apart!
1. Deus ex machina airlines

Whenever there’s trouble, the eagles show up. There are more Eagles in Tolkien’s books than on a ’70s light rock station. They save them in The Hobbit, they save Gandalf from Saruman, they save Frodo and Sam. Why didn’t they just have the eagles fly the ring into Mordor and drop it into Mount Doom, and drop bird dookie on Sauron’s Cadillac? I stole the “airlines” from Mark E. Rogers, The Adventures of Samurai Cat, a very funny spoof of Tolkien, Lovecraft, Kurosawa, Conan, and more.

2. no little people!
All those hobbits done with CG and perspective. The only “dwarf” was Gimli, the six foot plus John Rhys Davies. The CG does give the hobbits an other-worldly look, unlike the dwarfs in Prince Caspian, played by little people Peter Dinklage and Warwick Davis. It’s unfortunate. Maybe if there were more dwarfs in the story, they could have upscaled little people to be bigger than the hobbits. I’m hoping that for Guillermo del Toro’s version of The Hobbit, they do something like that for the dozen dwarfs. Let’s hope CG doesn’t make it harder for little actors to get a job, dammit. Prince Caspian may have sucked, but it wasn’t because of the little people.

3. Saying the titles

Actually this was probably an in-joke, and is sort of funny that way. Remember when movies felt like they had to say the title in the dialogue, if it was high concept, so people would “get it?” Man, I’m getting tired of all these star wars! Riggs, you’re acting like a lethal weapon of some sort! And we shall call you, the fellowship… of the ring!

4. Frodo’s slo-mo agony face

Hilarious TBS commercial, “Sucks to be Frodo!”

I think Elijah Wood is a good actor. Not great, but a good one. But Peter Jackson sure loved doing slow-motion whenever he suffered his myriad injuries, such as the Morgul blade, the spear from the cave troll, Shelob’s stinger, and when Gollum cavity-searched him for his precious. Watch the movies all in a row, and it will be burned onto your retinas.

5. Surfin’ Legolas


Charlie (and Legolas) don’t surf!

Seriously, what the flying orc was Legolas doing surfing all the time? First he surfs on a shield down the steps at the Battle of Balls Deep, and then again down an Olyphant’s trunk during the final battle. I mean, just because he has long blond hair doesn’t mean he’s one of the Beach Boys. It was silly and unnecessary- we knew he was the paragon of Elven agility when he stood on the snow everyone else was sunk in, or climbed the arrows he shot into the Olyphant’s hide. Maybe the surfing was to sidestep the obvious “light in the loafers” joke about him not sinking in the snow?

6. “Swords are no more use here”

Except for killing the Balrog, of course. At the end of Fellowship, Gandalfini tells the gang to “fly, you fucks!” when the Balrog from the depths of the earth bars their way, because “swords are no more use here.” Then in Two Towers, we get an awesome battle with the Balrog, and Gandalf kills it with Glamdring (a sword). This is probably an in-joke meant to catch over-analytic nerds, but it amuses me. Of course, Gandalf can come back from the dead, so he can probably kill balrogs with a sword up the ying-yang where anyone else would be stomped into something resembling a wet prune.

7. Goofball Gimli

It’s much funnier sped up.

Did we really need Gimli to be comic relief most of the time? He’s actually pretty bad-ass in battle. I like when he snaps the orc’s neck in Two Towers, and the battle with the cave troll remains one of my favorite fantasy combats in film. But stuff like the drinking contest was just a bit much. I know that he and Legolas really did try to kill more orcs than the other, and the movie handled their rivalry and eventual friendship really well. The rest of the stuff- “nobody tosses a dwarf!” and its payoff in the second movie, and boring Eowyn to tears when he tells her about dwarven women- is good, but the drinking contest always brings me out of the movie.

Well, those are the 7 things that bother me. What do I love best? Taters. They really handled the Sam-Frodo-Gollum substory well, including the parts like Stewed Rabbit that I thought might be left out. Sean Astin did a great job as Samwise Gamgee, but will forever be known as “Hell Bent for Taters” in my memory.

Oh, the Extended Editions are all out of print by the way; probably in prep for a big Blu-Ray release.
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