Monthly Archives: August 2014

Toilet Art

There are vast places to play video games: at home, online, at an arcade in the mall or at a fair, where ever. Visiting the Santa Monica pier this summer brought me to an old-fashioned game venue that was “out of sight.” It was mind-blowing in décor, the variety of games, and the people! I mean the hair, the tattoos the clothes. Maybe I was there on some kind of cos play event day, I don’t know. It was pretty good people watching.

In any case, I joined in, wading through the crowd to get to my game of choice. I found myself in front of Dark Escape so I stayed, not wanted any further pushing and prodding to occur. I had downed a few drinks on the pier along with the local hotdog covered in deviled crab, and began a night of pure fun. I switched to a couple more games and the hours flew by.

Around 11:00 pm, duty called and I headed for the toilet at the back of the large building. I might have waited too long so I was impatient. Finally my turn came and I bolted in and locked the door. It was dark, only a single yellow gaping bulb to guide my way. I found another switch and with shock I saw the toilet light up—all neon and totally gaudy. The ceramic bowl itself had been painted in bright day-glo colors in full harmony with its surroundings. I stood wide-eyed. I thought I had seen it all before when it comes to arcades.

This bathroom was in a category all its own. I started to see that the walls were also painted in a similar theme with fantastic faces and creatures clawing at each other—at a very high level of drawing skill. I loved the toilet the best. Compared to the ones I’d seen before on Rate My Toilet, this was in a class of its own. The white paper looked purple in the artificial light. It was awesome. Was this a communal job, done by multiple participants over weeks, months, or years? What brainchild started it? There were no posted photos or signatures as you see in some public places for kids.

The painting was very good but clearly not done by one person, and they had all followed a theme. It is amazing that they would cooperate like that. People prefer to ruin others’ work if they can. They like to mar surfaces and cause visual havoc like errant taggers.

In essence, I loved it and stayed until I heard some angry raps at the door and a few shouts. Okay, okay, I said, and emerged, a smile on my face. I walked up and down the pier and tried every available restroom door. No more painted toilets, no personalized messages for those getting relief. Just plain ordinary somewhat disheveled rooms with stalls as plain as can be.

I wanted to go back but was late meeting a friend and had to rush off. Among my arcade experiences, this was indeed a time to remember – toilet art in its finest expression. Too good for Instagram, it’s only in my memories now.

Code in Cinema – Famous Hacker Movies

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Hacker movies have been around since 1968 believe it or not. There is something about these types of movies that are alluring to us computer, technology and gamer geeks alike. More often than not these movies feature a teenager who is smarter than average, an underdog who gets their own back, or a group of geeks saving the day (Hooray for the underdogs!) While a good chunk of these movies are chock full of inconsistencies, they are still fun and exciting to watch. The average person watching these movies will probably not notice the difference between improperly used source codes and real ones, but I have seen programmers go mental over coding misuse.

Let’s have a look at some of the most famous hacker movies out there:

War Games – An oldie but a goodie, War Games shows us an intelligent teen who knows how to hack into his school’s computer, amongst other places. He gets in trouble when he tries to hack into a gaming company and inadvertently finds a way into NORAD’s computers and nearly starts WW3. Interesting fact: in 1984 there was a video game version of the movie created for Commodore 64, Atari, and ColecoVision consoles (double points to those who actually have played on these).

Hackers – This is one of my favorites. A story about a teen who gets arrested for hacking into the NY Stock Exchange and crashing it. He gets banned from using computers until he hits 18 but before that happens a plot is discovered by him and his friends regarding a computer virus that is about to be spread globally. What’s great about this one is that it came out at a time when the internet was not so well known by the majority of the public.

Tron Legacy – While the original Tron movie is a classic in its own right, the 2010 creation of Tron Legacy gave the old movie concept a bit of “umph”. We are brought back to the digital world that was created in the original movie which has grown in ways never thought of.

The Matrix – This movie went on to make two sequels but who didn’t fall in love with the idea of a simulated world in our heads and a band of rebels on the outside trying to put an end to those trying to control the population. The binary patterns and codes from the movie are still used today in art, games, and other memorabilia.

Johnny Mnemonic – Keanu Reeves in another computer hacker movie. He is known as a “data courier” in a world where data is stored inside of a person’s head. He ends up with a file that is too large to hold for long and must find a way to get it out before it kills him. This requires the help of a hacker to get into his head and stop the madness.

These are just a scant few of the movies that have come out about hackers over the past 40 plus years. Some of these movies have inspired games, books, and new programs to be created and, while not always 100% realistic about the craft of hacking, it has its own huge following of us hacker loving geeks.

A Lesson for Life

Trips to the arcade are frequent in my life. As a matter of fact they are legion. Ok. I am a game addict and proud of it. But you have to have a sense of humor about it or it becomes a dangerous obsession like anything else you crave all the time. Gaming is social when you are out; at home it is a pleasure. I like the whimsy of it, of course, and the clever and creative continual innovations that appear with regularity. I think, however, that the process of playing games is deeply rooted in my psyche and not just a particular group of them.

When all is said and done, the art of gaming is a gift. You have to use it or lose it. It’s your attitude going in and coming out (win or lose). It could be at the adolescent level or gambling for real money stakes. I love the unknown, the temptation of risk, and the joy of conquest.

There are other joys to behold. One is friendship. I have a story that revolves around this subject and a common backpack. Sounds mundane, but it isn’t. I loaned my brand new laptop backpack to a close friend who lost it within days. This can happen, but oddly enough I didn’t get a replacement. It was someone pricey and very little used, so I was peeved. In spite of my nature, I didn’t want to play games and told him outright about it. Not much of a reaction, however.

A few weeks later, nothing. The friendship was on shaky ground. If it weren’t for a gaming tournament, I probably wouldn’t have seen him at all (by my choice). It really wasn’t about the money but the thoughtlessness. Guys aren’t that sensitive, but this wasn’t an old pair of sneakers or a borrowed DVD. It was a nice out-of-the-package item I was really looking forward to using to tote my laptop in style and indulge in my favorite games at will. I did have an old one, worn and tired, that had felt the strain of my hobby (or avocation) for years.
Right before my birthday some months later, my friend invited me out for a drink. We used to do this every so often so I didn’t give it much thought. We tossed back a few beers, discussed a new interactive game, and in general were having a pretty good time. Around 11:00 pm, he pulled out a paper bag from beneath his chair and handed it to me with a grin. I opened it with enthusiasm but didn’t really know its contents until a brand spanking new backpack emerged from the tissue paper covering.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. I had assumed that he had forgotten and that he was even darn rude. He explained that this special model was one that he’d backed on Kickstarter and had just arrived in time for my big day. I was nonplussed…and thrilled. I truly gained back my friend with a new standing in my estimation, a replacement top-of-the-line backpack, and a lesson for life.

Winning Prizes

At county fairs you can have a lot of fun throwing darts or hitting a hammer and dunking a poor sap sitting above a tub of water. At the circus, too, you can go for prizes like giant stuffed animals for tossing balls into tiny cups. You might like shooting galleries or other games of skill. The gifts are paltry but amusement is high.

I was at an arcade at a large regional expo one summer. It was upscale event and the crowd was decked out in finery. By that I mean expensive watches and pricey Italian leather shoes. That’s how you tell the in crowd from the riff raff. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised to see a game of chance that had an array of prizes that included various kitchen top-tier appliances. I am not talking about a budget mixer or a no-frills toaster like you get at bank give-a-ways for opening a new account. I am referring to really high-end top-of-the-line stuff.

Some gorgeous machines were sitting in a row above the arcade game opening, one after another as if beckoning to me. They were daring me to try my hand at a fast round of pitch ball. You had to aim well to make the target, which was pretty small. It was a hole painted with concentric brightly-colored circles. You couldn’t miss seeing it, but not many were able to get the ball in, or even get close. I guess it was just an investment in appliance PR – a come-on for the game. They were all still there glistening in the sun hours later.

If you made two in a row you could choose the one you wanted. I had my eye on the Cuisinart. This is one of the best hand mixers on the market and included all the necessary gadgets and attachments. (You have to want one even if you rarely cook.) I watched visitor after visitor try their unsteady hands.

A young man was standing near me. I think he had been there a while. He saw me drooling over the assortment of fine culinary treasures. He smiled and slowly grasped an idle ball. With a flick of the wrist, he had done the impossible. He slowly reached for a second. Luck was on his side. A brand new Cuisinart was now in his capable hands bedecked with a giant blue ribbon—a symbol of his success.

More startled than before, I took it from his outstretched arms. Was this romance, or even love? Was this kindness in disguise? “Don’t worry,” he said. “I am in the service and can’t take it with me.” I nodded with understanding. “I am an ace sharpshooter and also play darts for fun. I probably do it at least once a day.”

I would never have prevailed, not even once, not to mention twice. He had read my thoughts and stares. I thanked him profusely and promised to email soon. I trotted off in a daze of happiness and surprise.