I got this book from the kids for Christmas, but hadn’t started it yet because I honestly don’t have a lot of time to read and the few books that I have been going through lately have been audio books.

That said, I absolutely devoured this book!

I literally blew through it in five days because between the nostalgia factor and the intriguing insight from Sierra’s leader, I just couldn’t put it down. I was huge Sierra fanboy back in the height of their fame, but only being a kid in high school and with the Internet only just beginning to grow, I had no idea of the business happenings taking place that ultimately led to my favorite game company’s untimely demise.

I think what I loved the most about this book, and what made it such an easy read, was that Ken’s writing really flows like an old friend telling a story. Grab your favorite drink and pull up a chair by the fire, and watch the hours just melt away strolling down memory lane with all sorts of great details that only the co-founder of the company could have to share.

Plus, he’s an earnest storyteller and has no problem admitting his own faults along the way, which is a refreshing perspective from a former CEO after now having spent a couple of decades in the corporate world myself…

It’s really amazing to read through the entire story and fully realize just how many products Sierra released – there’s a timeline at the back of the book that’s literally 12 pages long, listing every single one from 1979 through 1999! And I had a lot of them on my own shelves growing up, from the usual favorites like King’s Quest and Space Quest and Leisure Suit Larry to more obscure titles like Rama and The Incredible Machine and even Mission: Asteroid that started it all for me before I even knew what Sierra was!

It was neat to read all of the insider stories behind these beloved games and the thought process for how Sierra grew to become the powerhouse that it once was. I’d like to think that if I wasn’t eight at the time, it would’ve been a really fun place for a guy like me to work. 😉

Always pushing the edge and never afraid to try new things, it’s hard to imagine a software shop today operating with the adventurous spirit that maybe comes from pioneering the genre of adventure games! It wasn’t until the bittersweet end that you saw that risk taking attitude and ambition give way to marketing projections and stock prices as the whole thing eventually came crumbling down.

By far I think my biggest takeaways from this book – what really made up the essence of Sierra – was their passion for making games and telling stories, and their commitment to quality, and how they set a standard that still today most don’t achieve of making the enjoyment of their customers the most important thing in their world.

To cobble together a few different quotes from Ken that embody this message…

“I wanted the customers to identify with the values of the company. Our reputation for quality and customer happiness were everything. We were running a giant fan club in which we listened to what customers want, found people who were passionate about it to build the product, and then delivered it to our friends (the customers).”

As someone who still hopes of running a creative company one day myself, there’s a lot to take away from Sierra’s story … and not just the part about selling it to a global conglomerate lead by a bunch of fraudsters! It’s so clear that for the 20 year journey of this icon, the people behind it were having the time of their lives. Sure, there were lots of ups and downs, but they explored lots of new avenues that nobody else had done before them, they prided themselves in creating vast, new worlds for other people to enjoy, and they built a brand around personal enjoyment during a time when personal computers were big and bulky and games were the last thing on the operators’ minds.

I can’t highly enough recommend this book for anyone else who grew up on Sierra’s legacy, and now I really want to find a computer that will still run some of these things to see if I can continue this fun trip down memory lane!

Number Portability, Revisited

January 6, 2021 11:58am
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Aside from maybe my email address, my home phone number has probably been the most consistent in my adult life.

Back when I first moved to Florida in 2003, I got a landline from Verizon because I figured that’s what you do when you’re an adult! Over the years, obviously, I used it less and less, to the point where eventually I ported it from Verizon to a VoIP provider to significantly reduce the cost and now for many years I haven’t even had a phone plugged into it and instead only used it as a voicemail number!

My reasoning has always been that I like having a phone number to give out to people and companies that isn’t my cell phone so if they spam it with sales calls, I don’t really care.

Plus, when I swapped my cell # over to a Florida number after moving, they were cool enough to let me pick the number so it matches with my home phone (e.g. 813-555-1234 and 813-666-1234), which I just think is kind of neat! 🙂

Still, it’s admittedly silly to pay for something that you hardly ever use, so a while back I decided that it made the most sense to eventually port my number over to Google Voice where it could live for free as a voicemail number and I’d stop getting sales emails from my provider every few months begging for me to “add two years of service for only $180” because they perpetually feel like they’re almost about to go out of business…

The trouble is, Google won’t port in landline numbers, but thankfully there’s a known workaround these days where you can first port your landline over to a prepaid cell phone and then Google will take it from there like it’s no big deal!

So that’s what I did just before the new year – I went into Walmart and asked for the cheapest prepaid phone that they had. which is apparently “Walmart Family Mobile” aka TracFone. I submitted my port request via their website the next day and got a response surprisingly fast. The first request got rejected for an “invalid account number” because their form forced me to populate one that I didn’t have, so I just entered my phone number again instead. After confirming with my old provider that I didn’t have one, I asked TracFone to resubmit it without one and it got confirmed right away.

Fun Fact – For my first couple of years in Florida, I worked support for the number portability process and it was much clunkier than it is today! Wireless to wireless ports were fairly seamless, but porting from a landline could literally take weeks … some carriers wouldn’t even talk to us until they’d had a request for upwards of a week, only to then reject it back for something mundane! Thankfully, it seems that now most of the wireline process is automated as well…

The only real hiccup that I ran into was my TracFone didn’t fully provision after the port-in completed, so it would only intermittently receive calls and/or text messages. This was a problem because Google Voice makes a test call to confirm ownership of the number before you can port it, so I ended up spending about an hour on the phone with a poor girl from tech support trying to figure out what was wrong. I’m still not entirely convinced that she actually did anything because she was just as surprised as I was when it magically started working, but half an hour later I submitted my second port request through Google and a day after that!

I’m still working on fine tuning the settings – voicemails are coming to my email as expected, but I’d love to have it ignore messages that are only a second or two long because they were clearly hang-ups. And I need to build up a new list of spam numbers because I didn’t bother trying to carry that over from my old provider.

I did think it was funny when I canceled my old VoIP service that their portal said that my number had been active with them for 3,732 days, or a little over 10 years!

Should be interesting to see if that thing is still hanging around another ten years from now… 😉


August 4, 2020 3:16pm
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I’ve been listening to this song in the car a lot lately. It’s a nice, peaceful song – written about a highway in Northern Michigan that I used to drive quite a bit. In fact, I actually saw The Verve Pipe live back when I was in college … they were playing at a school that a friend went to and we played one of their albums on repeat the entire ride back, ironically, as we drove down US-131 to take another friend back to his own school.

They were a great live band and admittedly I’ve been enjoying a bit of nostalgia in listening to them during my quick, 10-15 minute drives around town. A great mix of both hard rock and melodious music, here’s a selection of my all-time favorites of theirs…

  • Hero (from The Verve Pipe – 1990)
  • Headlines (from The Verve Pipe – 1990)
  • Half a Mind (from The Verve Pipe – 1990)
  • Ominous Man (from Villains – 1996)
  • Villains (from Villains – 1996)
  • Cup of Tea (from Villains – 1996)
  • Colorful (from Underneath – 2001)
  • Veneer (from Villains – 1996)

Pay the Writer

September 27, 2019 11:03am
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I’ve really been enjoying this thread by Heidi Moore over on Twitter about writers getting exploited through low rates…

This morning it got me thinking about the days long ago when I ran Just Laugh because some smaller publications are starting to give her pushback for being called out because “they don’t have the budget to afford to pay writers any more.”

And I sort of get that to a point, however that point lies in a time almost 20 years ago when the publishing landscape was much different … and it’s for this same reason why when I tried to relaunch the site a few years ago, I just didn’t have the guts to ask people to write for free anymore…

When I first created Just Laugh back in 1999, I had just graduated from high school and was still living in my Mom’s basement. I worked the same job I had in school that paid me about $9/hour, and I built Just Laugh in my spare time to help distract myself from not having gone off to college right away like the rest of my friends had.

The Internet was still pretty new then, so Adsense and Amazon affiliates and all of these revenue options for small publishers just didn’t exist yet. I don’t know if we all just happened to be in the right mindset at the right time, but when I emailed writers asking to syndicate their work or publish something new for them, it worked for everyone at the time.

In fact, the site always had a slot for a 468×60 banner ad in the header, but it was perpetually filled by either house ads for our various projects or ads for random sites that I liked.

I never made a dime from it, and by the time advertising had become a thing, the site was basically defunct and the only place I ran anything was in our Joke Database which still never made enough to cover the $14.95 a month I spent on hosting.

I actually remember being surprised when I looked at the account years later and found that it had accumulated a couple hundred bucks in it, quite literally by making $1-2 a month for years and years on end! 😯

Anyways, I wanted to share this because I feel like today online publishing is very different.

Today it’s so much easier to build a website, and a following of your own through social media, and even earn financial support whether it’s through ads or merch or directly from fans via sites like Patreon.

Most creators don’t need a publisher anymore, and I can’t tell you the number of times during that attempted relaunch when I would come across writers and artists who I would’ve loved to work with, only to think two things…

  1. But I can’t afford to pay them.
  2. And their following is bigger than mine to the point that they don’t need me anyways!

It’s been a really sore spot as I’ve learned more about publishing in general over these years how lopsided the equation actually is for most creators, and how messed up it is for someone to take the lion’s share of your revenue and also not do as much for your own work as you could just do yourself.

You hear about it all of the time from people on the NYT bestsellers list, and yet people still scramble to make it there despite knowing that getting actual support from a big publisher like JK Rowling or John Green might is the equivalent of winning the lottery.

So it was interesting to read about several smaller publications fighting in support of their lower wages because they were doing the best that they could, and writers were grateful for their voice. 

One actually noted in its “expense report” that their expenses had gone up “because they had to pay for health insurance for their staff” … which is kind of the point that the whole thread is trying to make because a writer shouldn’t have to work for pennies so that their editor can have health insurance!!!

The thing is, I get passion projects. I really do.

Just Laugh was always very much a passion project for me, and I sincerely hope that the other people who helped contribute to what we did looked at it in the same way.

In hindsight, I actually had one squabble with a writer who thought that I was just using his work to sell merch, and despite having only sold I think one single mousepad the entire time, now as an almost-40 writer I can see a little better where he was coming from, and I would’ve been pissed thinking some cocky, 20-something was profiting off of my work and not paying me for it, too!

It’s for that reason why I think that it would be really hard to run a publication like that today because just like any other field, if you can’t afford to pay your writers a decent wage, you don’t deserve to take one yourself, either. Maybe if everyone is onboard with your mission, or it’s a close-knit group chasing a dream, but if you’ve got a budget of any sorts, there’s really no excuse to not be fairly compensating the folks who are literally putting the words on the page for your cause.

To put it another way…

Funko Mania!

February 26, 2019 11:37am
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I just realized how many pre-orders I have right now for upcoming Funko Pops … this is getting kind of ridiculous!

music thoughts … Weezer (The Teal Album)

January 29, 2019 3:26pm
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I’m gonna be honest – I don’t really listen to modern music anymore, and maybe that’s why I ended up really liking this album!

I don’t think that I’ve actually listened to Weezer since The Blue Album, which I think was their first one??? That one was pretty influential to my growing up – my band played songs off of it and everything – but the rest of their albums just never really clicked with me.

I stumbled across this very randomly on social media, and when I looked it up and saw that A) it was only $8, and B) it had some great 80’s songs that I love, I decided to give it a try…

That said – it’s kind of a weird selection of songs.

Most of them I really like, but No Scrubs and Stand by Me and even Paranoid don’t really feel like they belong here. That said, my favorites are…

  1. Africa
  2. Everybody Wants to Rule the World
  3. Billie Jean
  4. Mr. Blue Sky
  5. Take On Me

There are definitely places in a few – Billie Jean, for example – where I wish there was a little more heavy guitar … I’m not crazy how it amps up for the bridge in that one, then dies back off just in time for the chorus, but it’s still a fun take on a great song.

Everybody Wants to Rule the World takes me back to when I first encountered that song as the intro for Dennis Miller’s show on HBO (back before he became a conservative), and Africa is really just a fantastic song to boot!

If they had swapped out a handful of the others for maybe Jungle Boy and Eye of the Tigers and Don’t You (Forget About Me), this album would be just about perfect.

Still, it’s something a little funky and different to listen to in the car, and even old farts like me need that every now and then! 😉

I’ve been kind of geeking out on Pete & Pete nostalgia lately after learning that the actors that played the brothers – Danny Tamberelli and Mike Maronna – not only still hang out and in fact do a podcast together, but they also tour and are coming to Florida this spring and I have tickets to go see them!

Nonetheless, after watching this great series of retrospective videos that Nickelodeon did a couple of years ago with Danny and Mike, it naturally got me thinking about the rest of the cast and what they’re up to these days…

And for a brief moment, I got spooked.

Ellen was always one of my favorite characters on the show, particularly for her bond with Big Pete. What can I say? I was just reaching my teenage years when this show came out, so it was girls like Ellen and Clarissa and Melody and Z.Z. who served as my first crushes on my favorite TV shows that I watched during those years. And yet like much of the rest of the Pete & Pete cast, I couldn’t really recall seeing much Ellen represented in more recent shows, so I decided to google the name of the actress who played her…

…and I got a fairly convincing profile of someone who is apparently very into Donald Trump and conservatism and generally just being an awful human being.

Could that be the same crush from my own boyhood who was a girl, and Pete’s friend, but was she a girlfriend???

Well, thank god – no, she wasn’t!

I’m not going to post the name here because there’s no need to attract unwanted attention, but I will say that her picture was close enough that 25 years later you might say, “Sure, I suppose that could be her.” It wasn’t until listening to a couple of interviews – one with Ellen herself – that it came to light that she’s mostly stepped away from Hollywood and instead is a doctor now! And the other lady was apparently just being born at the time Pete & Pete was airing, so that’s a pretty good indicator that they were definitely different people, too. 😉

Relieved is the right word, that’s for sure. I remember how shocked I was to find that an old friend from high school had gone hardcore conservative, complete with gay bashing on Facebook and the whole nine yards. And I recall me and my friends absolutely loving Dennis Miller and his rants on HBO back in our teenage years, despite his bizarre political flip to the dark side that came a decade later. But not someone from the cast of Pete & Pete.

All of the Blue Tornado Bars in the world couldn’t produce a brain freeze capable of that level of mental shutdown… 😀

Magic for Sale

January 6, 2019 10:10pm
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Some bittersweet news – last week I sent a bunch of Magic cards to Card Kingdom and today they confirmed that they’ll give me over $500 for them!

It’s a little sad because I spent a lot of time as a kid trying to collect a full set and many are barely worth pennies now, but on the upside, I’m going to use the money to start college funds for David and Matthew, which at the end of the day is probably better than them just collecting dust in the closet.

For what it’s worth, at least they priced a bit higher than when I had done this same exercise a couple of years ago, but never got around to mailing them off – apparently back in 2015, the dual lands that I had (Underground Sea and Plateau, revised edition) were running $180 and $40, respectively, whereas three years later they were offering $295 and $65 for them!

It was definitely a little unsettling adding cards to the cart that I thought should’ve been worth more, but came in at only a few bucks or less. I basically set my limit at $1 or more, and then added in a handful where they were offering pocket change, but I happened to have a handful of them.

It’s not like they’ve been doing anything at all sitting in my closet for the last umpteen years…

And honestly, I was really impressed by the turnaround – I believe I shipped them Thursday via priority mail, Card Kingdom received them yesterday, and then this evening they had already graded them and confirmed the final selling price.

Their value if everything had been perfect was $595 and I ended up with $514, so I guess that’s not too bad for a stack of playing cards that I literally have had since the mid-90s! Granted, there were a ton that they didn’t even want – anything common or uncommon, plus some rares that they’d only take in bulk which probably would’ve cost me more to ship than I’d have made back.

Thanks again to Card Kingdom for making the entire process surprisingly easy! I think I’d actually heard about them years ago when they were featured on an episode of Kris and Scott’s Scott and Kris Show, so when they showed up on my search for places buying cards via mail and their website was super simple to work with, I was sold.

It makes me wonder what kind of a total I’d have gotten if I’d held onto more of those dual lands that I used to have because back before I started selling off my cards to buy music stuff instead, I’m pretty sure I had a full set of them! Oh well. 😛

My Top 10 NES Games

April 25, 2018 8:23pm
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Inspired by this video from Billy of The Game Chasers citing his top 20 favorite NES games, I thought it might be fun to compile my own top 10 list.

…which was honestly hard for such a nostalgic system because there were just so many games that I wanted to include in the list just because they were classics – almost merely out of obligation!

But I tried to limit that wherever possible and instead focus on the games that I built up such incredible memories playing as a kid because I can still fire up just about any of these games today and be instantly transported back to my elementary school days where weekends were spent playing whatever NES game I had picked out to rent for $2 while my Mom went grocery shopping. 🙂

10. Megan Man 2
Admittedly this is one game that I’m just terrible at today, I was the master of this when I was, like, 8 years old! MM3 had more unique bosses and built on MM2, but this was the game that I cut my teeth on, for sure.

9. Base Wars
I’m not a sports fan at all, but baseball played by robots with guns and rocket launchers?! I would play entire leagues of this game set to two player with the second player empty just so that I could earn tons of money and build a team of the best robots available. The whole baseball part was just a backdrop. 😉

8. Excitebike
When I worked at summer camp, for some reason Excitebike was the go to game played in our cabin whenever any of us had five minutes of free time. It’s such a simple game, and it’s honestly not even that good, yet somehow that’s also what made it GREAT!

7. Battletoads
As Billy mentioned in his own video, Battletoads was ridiculously hard, but I loved how in the very first level there were little secrets like being able to ride the fire-breathing pigs. Plus, it was an added challenge to be able to hurt the other player whereas most other two player games before it had you invulnerable. Also – they’re toads, and they fight! It was by far one of the most unique, creative games of its time!!!

6. Super Mario Bros 3
This was kind of one of those classics, but it was also amazing and revolutionary and the commercial was beyond exciting. I remember we got the game by a friend of my Dad picking it up at a Toys ‘R Us downstate and mailing it to us because this was before video games were available everywhere. The game itself, of course … wow. Giant World. Cloud World. Bowser’s Kingdom. So many rich levels to explore – it’s really no surprise that it’s the #1 game by almost any standard … I honestly just threw it anywhere here to give the rest of my top 10 a fighting chance!

5. Final Fantasy
Final Fantasy 2 (IV) for the SNES is probably my favorite game of all-time, but the original Final Fantasy was one of my first introductions to RPGs. The grind was always tough trying to earn enough money for all of the weapons and armor and spells that you wanted/needed, but I loved as you got farther in the game and started getting items that keyed into special traits like Ice Armor vs fire creatures, etc… Plus, the class change was pretty cool.

4. Life Force
It’s like Contra, but in space! I was introduced to this game by one of my older cousins and it was cool because we could play together … plus, the Konami code made it a little easier when you didn’t know what you were doing. I’ve never really gotten into the rest of the Gradius series that this game technically fits into, but this is a personal classic for sure.

3. River City Ransom
I wasn’t big on beat ’em ups, but the way this game combined fighting + RPG elements was intriguing to me. I loved trying all of the different foods to see what they did to your stats, and the fighting power ups learned via lore were neat, too!

2. Crystalis
This is a fantastic game! Rich, expansive maps with a bunch of towns to explore, weapons and armor that have different abilities, and even the four elemental swords have their own power-ups. Even the soundtrack is really good – I remember getting chills as I would approach bosses or key story points because they would cue changes in the music. Crystalis was one of the more complex games that I played as a kid, but it really offered a great world to explore.

1. The Legend of Zelda
THE NES classic, at least for me! I still play this game on a whim all of the time – it’s great to play through while we’re sitting watching TV in the evening because I have most of the game memorized at this point, though admittedly I still need help once I finally get to Death Mountain. One of these days I want to try a swordless run or Zelda randomizer because I think either one would add a neat, new challenge to a game that I first played 30 years ago! Regardless, I can pick this game up just about any time and get lost in Hyrule all over again… 🙂


Honorable Mention – Super Mario Bros
And last but certainly not least … I can’t make a list of great NES games without including the very first NES game that I ever played.

The original Super Mario Bros is the game that started it all for so many retro gamers, and despite the levels being repetitious for the most part, it was still an incredible introduction to this new medium of entertainment on the TV.

Atari and the even more primitive consoles were a little before my time, but this plumber’s quest through the Mushroom Kingdom to rescue the princess kicked off a lifelong adoration for video games. I honestly don’t play this one very much anymore because I still don’t think I’ve ever beat it 100%, but it’s fun to play for a few levels here and there to warm up the old chops before moving on to something else! 😀

Remembering Toys ‘R Us…

March 22, 2018 9:36pm
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It makes me really sad to think that the store responsible for suppling some of the best toys of my youth, and also my adulthood!, is closing.

Even today, it’s hard for me not to just wander around a Toys ‘R Us and take it all in – the toy sections at Walmart and Target can’t compare to their selection, and searching on Amazon just isn’t quite the same as browsing aisle after aisle after aisle of nothing but toys like Toys ‘R Us has offered us in person. I love the vast variety that can have you one minute looking at toddler toys and singing Elmos, then Power Wheels and scooters, then almost every Lego set currently in production!

I guess the thing that really bothers me is that unlike other types of stores, there really aren’t any alternatives that we can go to aside from those inferior options at other big box retailers for toys and nothing but toys. I mean, it’s bothered me for a while how toy stores have basically disappeared from our malls, except maybe at Christmastime in one of those odd, pop-up stores or kiosks that you know will be long gone come the new year. 

Disney used to have a decent toy store over at Disney Springs at Walt Disney World, but it was recently downsized to make room for a bigger Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, I think?

Toys ‘R Us was fantastic, to steal the phrase from Chuck E. Cheese’s, at truly being the one and only place where a kid could be a kid. It was a totally immersive experience to be surrounded by toys from every veritable direction, and so it makes me sad that I won’t be able to treat my own kids to a visit after they get good report cards or we just feel like picking up some new Lego sets.

Not to mention, Toys ‘R Us has been the only local store that’s regularly had Collectible Lego Minifigs when I wanted them because Target and Walmart consistency fall short… :<

I think I might write a little more about this later, once I’ve had a chance to visit my local store and better soak it all in, but in the meantime The Game Chasers just posted a pretty great video looking back at their own memories from growing up as Toys ‘R Us kids. So many memories, so many video games, so many toys… 🙁

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