Fun Stuff

Road Tripping Part 4: Some Missed Memories and Good ‘Za in North Bay, ON

I have talked about how both my husband and I were born and raised in Sudbury, Ontario on this blog. Because we are both from Sudbury, some would assume that we met there. Not to sound like When Harry Met Sally, but, “we never met…” It’s true. We actually met in North Bay, Ontario at Canadore College where we were both in the same post-diploma program in Interactive Multimedia (now a defunct program; wow, technology moves at such a rapid pace!). North Bay is a town also considered northern, and about an hour and 10 minutes east of Sudbury.  So the story goes, we became friends, and by the end of the two-semester program, we were inseparable.

North Bay holds some fond memories for me, not only because it’s where I met my husband, but because the town has a certain small-town charm not replicated anywhere else. Located off the shores of Lake Nipissing, this place has grown quite a lot from when I lived there – in population and in what is offered commercially. The hubs and I love to travel through North Bay on our way in or out of Sudbury, as there are some great shops for those seeking gaming deals, as well as some great favourite eateries that have withstood the passage of time, and are still in business today. Unfortunately, as of late, anytime we’ve been in North Bay, we have basically breezed through…not spending any longer than an hour, perhaps long enough to rush into a gaming shop or stuff our faces with a fast lunch.

Last week, while on vacation visiting our families in Sudbury, we decided to take a day and spend some time in the place where we met and fell for each other. The day happened to be my birthday, and I felt there was no other place I’d rather spend my day than in North Bay, Ontario with my beloved, shopping for games and books, and having a nice lunch at one of our favourite pizza joints.

The trip to North Bay from Sudbury is basically in a straight line through farm land on Highway 17 East. It’s a trip down memory lane, that’s for sure…the excitement of traveling to the St. Charles turn-off to go to the hub’s Nona’s cottage…my childhood memory of going to Bible Camp every summer on Dear Lake…or always joking as we pass our “Dream Home,” a boarded-up shack perched on the edge of a hill along the highway that is STILL STANDING after all these years! Those jokes never get stale, and the stories of the past never get old.

Ronnie Coffee

Having had only one cup of coffee before taking off on our jaunt, we stopped in Sturgeon Falls, a tiny blip on the map along the way, for a McDonalds McCafe coffee. Now, I have not stepped foot into a McDonalds since 2003 for any reason, but the hubs wanted to try their coffee, and I obliged since I won’t eat their food (‘fee review is forthcoming!).

Canadore campus

Our first stop in North Bay was to our old stomping ground, Canadore College. Canadore is a small, but mighty school. I met some great friends there, and was taught by one of the best profs ever, Phil Cowcill. Phil taught me all I needed to know about how a computer works, and I went in with ZERO computer knowledge (really, it was “Windows. What’s that?”). Now, as I work in computers, I attribute a lot of what I know to that guy.

At any rate, Canadore was still standing…the road to it, however, had seen better days and was under some serious reconstruction, so we didn’t spend much time on campus. Still it was nice to check the place out and see if anything had changed.

Next stop was the Hock Shop on Main St, downtown. We can often find some good stuff there. I tackled the LP selection to see if I could find any KMA Master Grail list items (it was a bust…but plenty of duplicates for the John Cougar fan…). I almost made away with CDs from the Led Zeppelin Orange boxed set (I have the cassette version), but I was missing one of the four CDs. I passed on the rest of them as they were pretty scratched up. The hubs, however, made away with a pile of some decent games!

Next, we went all the way down to the Value Village. It was a bust.

Media Madness

It was the next stop that wound up being the goldmine for a girl who likes boxed hidden object games. We came upon this place by accident. The store, called This is MEDIA MADNESS, was one of those “Stop the Car!” type of places advertising games, DVDs and toys. What? Games? Turn in here!

About two years ago, we were traveling through North Bay on our way to Deep River, Ontario and came upon a store housed in an old Blockbuster Movie store. This place advertised a media blowout with games and dvds. That place was the SHIT. A whole back wall was taken up with PC adventure games for $5 and I had to hold myself back not to buy out the store. Unfortunately, that place closed down. My source for boxed PC games was gone, and as I have expressed on here, boxed PC adventure games are getting harder and harder to find!! That said, when we came upon This is MEDIA MADNESS, I got so excited. Could this be that old Blockbuster place??

NB games

The majesty of games!

This is MEDIA MADNESS is the perfect store for anyone who likes pop culture tchotchkis and whimwhams. Need a Beavis and Butt-head lanyard? Board Games like “Simpsons Monopoly”, KISS and AC/DC merch, and some Beatles novelty drinking glasses peppered the aisles. It wasn’t until I reached the back of the store where I found the mecca of hidden object adventure PC games and for only $5! This must be the place!

My loot

My loot

It was amazing! Again, I had to pick and choose what games to buy, and tried to filter through some of what I thought might be crap games. But, surprisingly, other well-known titles were available – Torchlight, Mass Effect and Borderlands were all there, and only for a fiver! I was so happy to find this little store again.

Inside Grecos
Stoked by my latest find, I got hungry for lunch! Pizza and Caesar salad were on the menu as we hit up our old haunt, Greco’s Pizza. This place saw us as regulars when we lived in town. Not much had changed…the pizza was still delicious, with its thick crust, bubbling cheese and cornmeal base… Mmm.

Grecos Pizza

Sorry, I’m reliving that moment! The wait staff was still friendly and the decor hadn’t changed either, but all is overlooked when the food rocks!

Allison

After lunch, we took a stroll through downtown North Bay to one of the most prolific used bookstores in the north, Allison the Bookman. Back in College, I would tour its aisles for that next great read. The aisles seem to go on forever, covering books from any subject imaginable. Alas, I didn’t buy any books on this trip (maybe my commitment to the #TBR20 Challenge had something to do with it?) but it was fun to be back in one of the places I loved to spend time in.

2:30 rolled up fast, and a prior family commitment had us wrap up the trip and head back to Sudbury. Where did the time go? So it goes. Hope you enjoyed reading about our little trip. It was nice to spend some time together in North Bay again, and I look forward to our return, hopefully soon.

Walking a Long Walk With the Walkman

My history with portable music is a long one, predominantly since my generation saw the evolution of such a music player in the Walkman.

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When I was about 8, I got my first tape player. It was a brown Fisher-Price mono cassette player with big buttons and it came with its own cassette, encouraging you to “Record Your World of Sounds” on Side 2.  My sis and I would record skits on tape and make plop-plop jokes. Toilets flushing would also be a favourite. We’d kill ourselves laughing listening to that…oh man. But I digress…

Behold THE MAJESTY

Behold THE MAJESTY

I’d also use the Fisher-Price tape player to listen to music. One of the first cassettes I ever got was the Mini-Pops. Much to the chagrin of everyone in my household, including my sis who was three years older, I would listen to that cassette constantly. Unfortunately, the player had no headphones jack, so everyone got to listen to “Green Door,” “Stupid Cupid” and “Baggy Trousers” on repeat, through a tinny mono speaker.  Soon thereafter, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Lionel Richie’s “Can’t Slow Down” were given to me as gifts…along with my first real ghetto blaster. But, this method of listening to music could only sustain the peace in my household for so long. My sis and I would often fight for airtime. We had developed similar musical tastes as we got older, and we each had our own ghetto blasters we could listen to music with. But it was the advent of the personal portable cassette player that got me wanting one of those Yellow Walkmen that all the cool kids were getting.

Before I continue, “Walkman” is being used as any personal portable cassette player here. There were several companies in the 80s that were manufacturing these – Sanyo, Panasonic, and of course, Sony – but where I’m from, it was ALL Walkman.

In around 1984, my sis and I wanted a Sony Walkman for Christmas. The bright yellow portable device was something every school kid wanted, but that only the rich kids could afford. Luckily for us, we were a bit spoiled by my aunt, who had disposable income (no kids, no husband), but who was also reasonable with the finances. She bought us each a portable cassette player that year, but we didn’t get a Sony Walkman. Our first was a Sanyo Sportster AM/FM portable cassette player.

Sanyo Sportster

Let me tell you about the Sportster if you’ve never seen one; the thing was a BEAST! It took 4 AA batteries, and man, that thing ate batteries for breakfast! We were always running to the store searching for fresh Duracels! There was nothing fancy about this player – there were buttons for play, stop, rewind and fast forward…there was a radio. No auto-reverse.

Here’s something sexy: this Walkman came with its own removable protective vinyl sheath that had straps so you could transport your personal portable cassette player over-the-shoulder like a purse. This was so you could do sports with it, like jog. But why would you want to? The thing was so damn heavy…and hefty! I remember my sis and I would joke around with it by trying to fit it in our pants pockets, and our pants would sag down as we walked around. I remember wrecking a pair of pants doing this exact thing, and catching my Mom’s ire. That Walkman weighed a ton!

I wouldn’t say this player wasn’t without problems. The headphone jack constantly had a bad connection to my headphones, which often caused the music to only come out of one ear (admittedly, this could have had a lot to do with the earphones…that’s another blogpost!). The Sanyo Sportster remained in my life until Christmas 1988. It is unfathomable to me today that I lasted with it for at least four years, from road trips to Florida, to an exchange trip to France. Overall it wasn’t bad for a kid who just wanted to listen to her Duran Duran and INXS cassettes.

JVC CX-F7K

It was Christmas 1988 when I was able to retire my Sanyo Sportster and move up to something lighter with more features. I had a friend who had gotten a JVC portable cassette player, and that thing was funky – one battery, light touch controls, AUTO-REVERSE! And that thing was so small, you could fit it in your pocket. I wanted one the instant I saw one. So, I approached my aunt about this sensitive topic, and she complied. (She was / is so good to me. Really, I was very lucky. ox). We drove over to Bianco’s in New Sudbury and she bought me the JVC CX-57K portable cassette player as a gift. It was expensive to buy, but I got one, and I was SO HAPPY with it…for about a year right at the point when the warranty wore off…and it wound up being one of the most frustrating and expensive piece-of-shit electronics I ever owned.

For all intents, this player had EVERYTHING you could want. But, there were some flaws in its design. Using only one battery meant I was changing them them out frequently. If the battery was dying, you would know it. The player would ssssllooowww dowwwwn the pllllaaayyybaaaaakkk. At this point, I was listening to old skool New Order, so the warped and disturbing sound of the playback didn’t bother me as much, but more upbeat songs from bands like INXS was certainly noticed. If a cassette was wound too tightly, it would not play in the JVC, completely stopping its playback, which would then prompt the auto-reverse feature to kick in. Sooner or later, I could not play a single cassette all the way through without it getting caught in this quandary of flipping from side A to side B; That drove me crazy! It was returned to JVC three times to be fixed, never really fixing the problem. In all, repairs to the player cost $200 over 4 years. Sooner or later, the JVC player quit working altogether.

sony walkman wmfx

In 1992, my Step-Dad surprised me with a legit Sony Walkman that he got on the cheap from a sale at Bianco’s. This one, I have to say was my FAVOURITE portable cassette player EVER. It had all the elements of my JVC CX-57K, but it actually WORKED!! The Sony Walkman WM-FX50. Lightweight, the size of a cassette, auto-reverse, and only one battery. It also had Mega Bass technology. It was a sturdy little player that never screwed up. I could fit it in my pocket, exercise with it, even listen to the radio on the go. It was great…until Spring 1996 when I left it in a bathroom stall at University College at Western University. Five minutes after I realized what I had done, I returned to find it gone. I hope whoever got it enjoyed my Smiths mix. 😦

Sony_Sports_Walkman

My next Sony Walkman was acquired later in 1996, soon after I lost my favourite Walkman, and I believe this was a gift from my sister. Things came full-circle as I finally got the Sports Walkman I always wanted. It looked very similar to the ubiquitous bright yellow Walkman we are all familiar with, only this time, mine was dark green. I’ve been looking online for a picture of it, with little success, almost making me believe I dreamt it. The dark green is so the Walkman is the same colour as a turtle – my favourite animal, so I know green Walkmans existed. Anyway, it was a sturdy bugger – a little heftier than my past Walkman, but still got the job done. Sadly, it broke a few years later when my husband took it for a run on the treadmill; he dropped it and it hit the wall behind him shattering the device in a million pieces. Weather-proof, not shatter-proof!

Years pass, and my desire for cassette players waned in a large way. Pretty much any player I owned capable of playing cassettes broke. I had no ghetto blaster any more, and no Walkman. However, this has not been a problem for me, as I have moved on to CDs and MP3. My preferred device is an old iPod Touch that Apple abandoned a few years ago, but it still works. It’s lightweight, fits in my pocket, and it’s not like I have to carry anything else with me to listen to music. It’s pretty amazing how far these devices have come. Here I had this big heavy brick in the Sanyo Sportster that I used to listen to cassettes, and it was supposed to be the most portable player! Now I have an iTouch that weighs 88 grams.

CODA

Last Christmas, my father-in-law found an old Panasonic Walkman at  a rummage sale and gave it to me. It was in great condition, and still worked! I couldn’t believe how excited I was to have a Walkman back in my life! Amazing how this medium often caused me so much frustration – in the cassette itself, and the portable player I was using that would often break down. Although I only have about a dozen cassettes left from my old collection, it was still cool to pop an old tape into the Panasonic and listen to those old recordings my sis and I made over 30 years ago – toilet flushes and all. Even though I have moved on to a different platform, I still allow that wave of nostalgia wash over me from time to time…fresh batteries on stand-by.

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My Month-Long Earworm: Autotuning the News

It all started with my hubs saying, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” and me mistaking the expression for something Keenan Thompson performed on Saturday Night Live. I wasn’t aware that it was from a 2012 news report on a fire that broke out in an apartment building, and that some creative guys took the interview of the woman affected, Sweet Brown, and autotuned it to create the smash hit, “Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That”. It was an instant hit on iTunes! …In 2012?! Begs the question: Where the hell have I been?

I don’t wanna go to rehab, people, but I just might have to if I can’t stop singing, “Lord Jesus, it’s a fire!” Over and over again. The song is so catchy, I hear it in my sleep!

I got up to get me a cold pop, and I thought someone was barbequein’…
I said, Lord Jesus, it’s a fire, and I ran out, I didn’t grab no shoes or nothin’ Jesus,
I ran for my life!

Not exactly profound lyrics, but I could see myself saying these exact words in a similar situation. The video is pretty funny too.

Anyway, thanks again to my hubs, I have been directed to the netherworld of autotuned news reports on YouTube, including Antoine Dodson’s Bed Intruder song, and Charles Ramsey’s Dead Giveaway. These songs are not Grammy worthy, but they are seriously catchy. I am in the throes of a serious looped earworm where I find myself singing “Hide yo kids hide yo wife hide yo kids hide yo wife” and “We ate ribs with that dude, but we didn’t have a clue...” in the shower, while I cook dinner, clean the fish tank, pump gas…

Hot damn, I think I need help. Do yourself a favour and do not listen to any of these. You’ll have to go to Earworm Rehab too, and ain’t nobody got time for that!

Visiting and Reminiscing Over a Box of Stuff

Greetings from Sudbury: The frozen snow-covered Nickel Belt of Northeastern Ontario!

Visiting family and friends feeds and recharges the soul. There was plenty of reminiscing about the “good ol’ days” which included visiting with my sis. Alot of laughs. Good times! Going home and receiving boomerang gifts also keeps visits interesting… You know, the stuff you left behind when you moved out, but that now that you are out of the house and established in your own place, the parents seem to find tchotchkies and wimwams that were once yours, and BOOMerang! they hand you a box full of random crap to take home with you so you can pitch it. It had been awhile since I got one of these from my parents…I haven’t lived at home in 21 years. I’ve been married 14 years. What could possibly be left? Dust bunnies from 1991?

Visiting my parents is always a good time. They’re elderly, and have been retired for years. My mom looks great and is in generally good health in comparison to other women her age. My Step-Dad is near-deaf and has an infectious sense of humour. Between the two of them, it’s fun to engage in an innocent story with them, that easily degrades into a yelling match because my Step-Dad can’t hear you. Hilarious! We always have a good time with them. I’ve known him most of my life and sometimes I think he still sees me as a 10 year old. He was present pretty much during the awkward formative and gawky teen years. He always takes an opportunity to remind my older sis and I of some of the old times we had as kids. Embarrassing and not. This visit, he was full of surprises.

To start, I used to have a huge Archie comic collection. When my Step-Dad heard that Archie Andrews was going to die in a up-and-coming comic book, he presented me at Christmas with the Death of Archie comic edition! He made a point of going to the local comic book store to pick up that edition for me. What a surprise; I’ll be cherishing it!

He then found my sister’s Game and Watch handheld Mario Bros. game in a random drawer. My sister bought the little video game in France in 1984 when she was on an exchange, so its instructions are in French. This arcade game has Mario and Luigi in a bottle factory, and I remember it being a ton of fun. My sister gave her blessing to gift the game to the hubs, the big retro game collector, which was generous and awesome! Thank you, Sis!

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Then, my Step-Dad surprised me with a box full of my 21-plus year old crap. BOOMerang!

Here – he said. You’ll want to take this home.

It was a shoebox full of cassettes – full albums and cassette singles, to be exact! 22 in total.

Paula Abdul’s Straight Up, Milli Vanilli’s Girl, You Know It’s True, even Zappacosta’s Letter Back, a song I have no memory what it sounds like, nor do I recall buying. I know some of these are my sister’s. Some albums include my sister’s copy of Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual, Canadian 80s sensation Candi’s album and Power Station’s self-titled album (that wound up being sans cassette, liner notes only).

I also got returned to me Linda Ronstadt’s Lush Life, a BeeGees cassette, and the soundtrack to the Travolta / Newton-John classic film, Two of a Kind. Runner up for greatest cassette re-gift goes to Hooked On Classics! which was my mom’s go-to jazzercise musack in the 80s. Some of these albums were obvious re-gifts to us as unsuspecting kids by adults who didn’t want The Merrymen of Barbados stinking up their collections. Most of those were never listened to, or maybe my kid self made it past the first song; otherwise rotting away in our cassette case rack.  I don’t know what I’ll do with any of these (except some gems). I honestly thought I had thrown these away. I mean, Milli Vanilli? Eh.

I also was gifted a sh*te photie of myself swimming in 1991. In panorama. Eh.

Included was a couple of keychains – one emblazened with my real name, and one that says, “This girl really knows how to party!” (Not). Hello, Sudbury landfill.

Anyway, the shoebox ensued a lot of laughs and reminiscing which is never a bad thing. Thanks, Step-Dad! Some good times spent with family on Christmas.

Hope you all had a great Christmas Day with your family!

Glassbrick: Giving Sight to Gamers’ Sore Eyes

Hands up – who plays their video games on a computer that is hooked up to a large-screen TV?

I do!

glassb vantage1

My vantage point playing casual PC games

I admit, this set-up has posed some gaming challenges. I’d hazard a majority of the PC casual games I play just don’t port well at all onto the big screen, particularly hidden object games that force you to search for teeny tiny items. You would think playing on a flat-screen TV would somehow enlarge what you see, when in actual fact it can make things appear even smaller. Even changing the screen resolution on your computer doesn’t help. If you’re near-sighted like me, this can create a frustrating gaming experience!

It’s true that for the most part, casual PC games are meant to be played seated at a desk on a 15-inch monitor. This is how I used to get my game on, but my preferred way lately is couch-side on my big TV. I spend enough time seated at a desk, damn it!

How do I work around my dilemma and enjoy gaming on my TV? Today I thought I would share with you a piece of technology that has helped me immensely when playing PC computer games; casual hidden object adventure games, specifically. It’s software that is meant to help those with visual impairments, and although my vision problem is not severe, I have found this aid invaluable when gaming. This software is called Glassbrick.

 

Glassbrick is a lightweight screen magnifier. A screen magnifier is assistive technology software that enlarges everything that is shown on computer monitor. There are various screen magnifiers on the market that range in price from free to “break the bank”. Glassbrick is the best free screen magnifier of its kind that I have found. To further support its usefulness Glassbrick was created by Australian video game developer, Sierra Asher, best known as the sole artist behind Jetpack Joyride. Asher himself is visually impaired.

Glassbrick is easy to use and customizable. With a keystroke of your choice, you can enlarge the screen in increments of 50%, and then easily reduce the size down to its normal resolution. Glassbrick runs in the background so it’s ready to enlarge when you need it.

But how does it work with hidden object games on a 47 inch TV? I think it works pretty well!

Below is a screenshot of my game on my TV desktop. Here I am playing Escape Rosecliff Island, a hidden object game notorious for its teeny tiny items to find. Note that my game is in windowed mode, not fullscreen mode (I’ll get into the reason for windowed mode further down).

beforeglassbrick1
I know you’re probably thinking that no one could see anything in that screen to find any hidden object items, and this is true. Playing a casual game in a small window is difficult. BUT! The magic of Glassbrick allows me to see!

Below is a screenshot of my game, enlarged 200% using Glassbrick. It enlarges with little pixelation so you can actually see what you need to find. I think it’s brilliant!

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Enlarged to 200%

You can blow up the screen even more and it still doesn’t look too bad.

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Blown up to 600%

For those really tough-to-find items, I can enlarge the screen even more, but I find you do lose detail the more you zoom in.

Now some caveats: Glassbrick is only available for PCs. It will only work with games that are in windowed mode, not fullscreen. If you try using it in fullscreen, your game will go haywire, either by freakishly contorting the graphics to a psychedelic level, or by weirdly doubling your mouse pointer (??!!). The compromise seems to be playing your games in windowed mode.

Overall, Glassbrick is a great tool to have at your disposal, for games, or even having it to read while writing your blogpost! I highly recommend it. You can downlaod it here: http://www.glassbrick.org/

 

The Cupface Phenomenon

It all started with one photo I posted; my face half covered with an extra large Tim Hortons cup (my avatar). It was a way to keep my face hidden for privacy until I felt more comfortable putting my face “out there.”

Then this past Canada Day, I posted a selfie with my maple leaf mug, just to celebrate. I wasn’t intending to create a phenomenon but, since then the tag “Cupface” has multiplied in the WP reader, growing into a challenge among my blogger friends and fellow Caught Me Gaming readers, goading each other to post pics of themselves with a cup to the face. The results have been nothing less than hilarious!

It started with Mike Ladano, then Aaron at Keeps Me Alive, Geoff at 1001 Albums and finally, Mr. 1537 jumped in. Thanks, guys, for making me laugh out loud! 🙂

I know there are others out there hoping to join in – and I encourage you to get in on the fun!