January 1, 1998
By Scott Lewis
Actually this month's column could just be called Birthdays, since Christmas is the celebration of Christ's Birthday. Anyway, I had the pleasure of celebrating two birthdays during December. My son turned 3, and I turned 34. His birthday is Dec. 10th and mine the 12th. Oh yeah, and Christ's is the 25th, in case you forgot.
My son made out like a bandit. He got more toys for his birthday than he can play with. It would be great to be a kid again. This year really is the year that his toys are fun for me to play with. He got a remote control Batmobile, and quite a few Hot Wheels cars and track. He got a number of other toys, but these two will be the most fun for me.
As far as my birthday goes, I did pretty good. As far as toys, I got You Don't Know Jack TV and Age of Empires. Two great games. Buy them. Jack TV is a little harder than the usual Jacks (Volumes 1 - 3) mainly because you have to know a lot of TV. Many questions are before my time (I told you I am 34, right). To give you a frame of reference for my knowledge of TV, I have not gotten one question wrong based on the TV sitcom "The Courtship of Eddie's Father." This stared Bill Bixby as a single parent in the late sixties (maybe early seventies). This is the first prime time TV show I can remember watching regularly (at 6 years old). Age of Empires is great, and you can read more about it in this months Game Central.
Christmas was very good this year. My son got a train set from Santa. It is similar to the trains sold under the BRIO name. However, Santa was able to save a lot of money getting 2 train sets from Playschool (they look just like the BRIO ones), and build a 5' x 3' table for it. This is a 3 year old's dream come true. My son got many other toys as well. Now he has more toys than he and I can play with.
As for myself, I got a Sony 200 Disc CD changer. I call it The JukeBox. I haven't had time yet to start loading my entire CD collection into it. I am doing a lot of planning. I can tell you this... It is big. If you are considering getting one of these units, measure your entertainment center carefully (see more on that below). I recommend them, but not for everyone. I was mislead by the salesperson about this unit. I was told that I could program it with all my favorite songs, as long as the discs stayed in the same slot. This is only partially true. You can program your favorite songs, and they are related to the slot the disc is in. But you can only program 32 "steps." A step is a song, a pause (I don't know why either), or an entire disc. Since I have very few CDs that I like every song on them, I am disappointed that I can only program 32 out of more than 2000 songs (assuming I fully loading The JukeBox, and each disc had at least 10 songs).
Being a computer programmer by trade, I find it absurd that they would only allow 32 songs to be programmed. Look at it this way. to store one song would require at least one byte to store the disc number (a byte can hold up to 256 values, so one byte would be required to store any number from 1 - 200), and another byte for the track number. Lets be generous and assume they use an integer (a number that can hold a value up to +/-32, 678). An integer needs two bytes of storage space. If we use an integer to store the disc number, and an integer to store the track number, then 4 bytes are used for each song. 32 songs would require 128 bytes of memory. Look at this table:
Looking at it this way, The JukeBox would only need 8,192 bytes of storage space to program over 2000 songs. That's only 8K. How cheap do they have to be. Before you say anything, lets look at the next model up from mine. It has text entry as its main feature. Text entry allows you to enter in the title of the CD, the artist, and (I think) the title of the songs. That information has to be stored. It takes one byte to store a letter. Assume for the moment 20 characters for each CD title, artist, and song title. We will also assume 10 songs per disc. This means the machine must store 240 bytes per disc, for a total of 48,000 Bytes (48K). Yet this model is also limited to only programming a maximum of 32 songs.
I thought memory was cheap these days. I have seen 8MB memory modules for as little as $15. That would allow over 2 million songs. By the way, I almost returned the unit, but then I check all the CD changers, and could not find any brand that went over 36 songs, uh "steps." Text entry models made no difference. Come on electronics companies.
My oldest brother-in-law gave us his entertainment center. He recently got a projection TV, and no longer had use for the center. It was designed for a 27 inch television. Conveniently that is the size of my TV. It sticks out the back about an inch, but the backing accounts for it nicely.
Earlier I mentioned the size of The JukeBox. It is big. Since the discs are installed vertically in a carousel, that makes it tall and deep. It was necessary for me to notch the back of the entertainment center in three places (the power cord, the RCA jacks, and a little black square 2" x 2"). The unit is almost twice as tall as my receiver. I just removed one of the shelves, so it sits where two components would sit. This is not a problem for me as I am only using three of seven shelves (Now six). If you are thinking of getting one of these I recommend you measure carefully. And be prepare to make modifications. Once the holes were cut, and the shelf removed, The JukeBox fit with about 1/4 inch clearance at the front door. In other words, perfect.
I finally got Windows 98 up and running on my test machine. However, this happened one day before I went on vacation. So I have not had time to pound on it yet. January is a slow month, so I expect to give it a good looking over. I had better, since the beta copy of Win 98 I have says it expires after Jan. 31. More next month. Look forward to an in depth review in a couple of months for The Feature. I can tell you this... I runs my client server application flawlessly. At least I don't have to program any work-arounds for Win 98 support in my application.
Game of the Month
This will be a surprise if you regularly read this site. The game of the month is You Don't Know Jack. Not Age of Empires, not Jack TV, not Jack Vol. 3. That's right... Jack Volume 1. I got this last year, and it is still doing well. My wife finds the questions in Jack TV a little to hard. A lot of questions are from before her time (see above). So we have relied mostly on Jack XL. This is Volume 1 and the extra questions disc for Volume one. Basically 1200 questions on one disc. It came in my Jack XXL. We started playing Jack Vol. 2, also in the XXL version. I am starting to see questions repeated in Jack 1. I am please that it took this long. The game does a great job with their index, since I have seen remarkably few repeat questions. But that is coming to an end. It looks like Jack 2 will start getting used more now. I will probably wait for the price to drop to get Jack 3. If you haven't gotten any of them yet, get Jack HUGE (XXXL). It contains Vol. 1, 2, & 3. Highly Recommended.
Site of the Month
The month's Scott's Site Award goes to Goofiness (dot) com. I stumbled across this site accidentally. I don't even remember how. I just had to give it the award when I looked at the recipients of the Ball of Goof Awards. Check it out.
That does it for this month. I would love to write more, but I don't have the time. I spent so much time off, and away from maintaining this site in December, that I am surprised that I got this edition out on time. Next month should be a good one for this site. I am planning on writing about the post Christmas Blues; more on The JukeBox and how I got around the programming limitation... uh, feature; and more on the toys that actually get played with after the Christmas tree comes down. Finally, some coverage of Windows 98. Some feelings toward my Camaro as it approaches pay off day (or is that paid off day?). More on AoE, and maybe something on Starcraft if it ever ships. I am also thinking about Wing Commander Prophecy. I have played all the previous WC games, and this one has multi-player capabilities. I am having so much fun in the real-time strategy genre that I don't know if I will want to go back to a space/flight shooter. We'll see.
Happy New Year!