An Apprenticeship

From the very beginning, technology has played a large role in the relationship I have with Tkout. The picture of us on the left is from Astronomy Club Fall Campout 2009, a few days after we started dating officially in October. We were playing Left 4 Dead with our friend Maverick, part of whom you can see sitting on the top bunk. We put tapestries in front of the windows because we were playing during the day, and we played on the XBOX Tkout had just gotten for his birthday a few weeks prior.

What’s even funnier about all of this is that when Tkout and I met, we were at a LAN gaming party at my college. (LAN is a local area network. Basically a bunch of nerds hooked up to the same network to share files, game, and hang out in the same space. It’s super fun! Go if you have the chance!) I digress. Tkout and I had met originally at the LAN while playing a first person shooter game called F.E.A.R. In the game, you’re on one of two teams, and you’re running around killing the other players. Tkout and I hadn’t met formally until he decided to run a full round with our mutual friend Plastiqmanb with no weapons. Just kicking and punching. I was an easy target because I’m terrible at those kinds of video games, so Tkout kept finding me to raise his kill count. I finally looked up and yelled, “Who the f— keeps kicking me!?” A really handsome face with dark eyes and hair raised up over the computer and Tkout waved. Before anything else could be said, he made a few keystrokes, and my character fell dead. Again. From a terminal kick.

When we were first getting to know each other I used to play World of Warcraft on a beat-up laptop. (For those of you that aren’t familiar, World of Warcraft is an MMORPG, or massive multiplayer online role playing game). Tkout’s first grand gesture was to build me a really nice gaming computer. It’s a gesture he’s repeated several times, always making sure I have a really nice gaming rig and peripherals (mouse, keyboard, etc.). The picture to the right is my current rig, which has purple LED lighting. He knows I’m a sucker for color and light, so he bought me a mouse, keyboard, and mousepad that change colors. The colors are dictated by the software that comes with the peripherals.

I have always appreciated the computers, but I think only superficially. Until last night, I didn’t have a real appreciation for what he was doing for me. I didn’t see the computers for the gestures that they really were.

Most of the movies and TV shows we watch are on digital media on our PLEX server. That allows us to stream our content from our computers, and makes it easier to watch than trying to hunt down a physical copy. Tkout doesn’t like to leave his computer running constantly because of the wear and tear on the parts, but I don’t mind. I don’t play games as often as he does. Well, we decided to make a PLEX server together. Basically, a bare-bones computer setup that would house all of our digital media so that we could stream it. I wanted to build it with him because I have a job as a desktop technician, and it’s handy to know how to build a computer if you’re going to go about fixing one. I also am looking to get the CompTIA A+ certification, which is equivalent to a low-level college degree in computers. Fully one half of the test is geared towards the actual hardware. Building a computer and interacting with the hardware is a great way to learn what the parts are and their functions. Also how they work together.

Before he builds a computer, Tkout spends hours reading through tech articles and comparing components until he has exactly what he needs for his purpose. That’s why he bought the parts by himself. Eventually I hope to be able to pick out parts, but I don’t know enough just yet. Yesterday we sat down and he went over the parts of the motherboard. He explained about the history of the components, which doesn’t sound like much, until you know that he taught himself. From scratch. In a time when you couldn’t just go and YouTube or Google the answer. I’m in awe that he knows so much, but he takes it in stride. He’s been there for the explosion of the popularity of the home computer.

He referenced how computers used to be, in terms of where the chipset could be found, or what its function was. I knew a little because back when Microsoft ME (Millenium Edition) came out (in 2000) I had my first home computer that I could take apart and re-image and generally play with. My parents were worried I’d break it beyond repair, so my meddling stopped. But it gave me a small background from which I’m launching my current career.

Tkout is an absolute wizard. He works with such patience, attention to detail, and skill that I was literally in the presence of an artist. There’s a reason for everything he does, and every piece of equipment that he uses. He’s also patient with me, and answers all my questions without getting annoyed. That doesn’t seem like much, but I’m inquisitive to a fault, and wind up dragging him down a rabbit hole of questions.

We also got a few laughs out of building the computer. The picture to the left is part of the motherboard. If you look closely, you will see EATXPWR written in white letters. I asked him what “eat x power” was. He couldn’t stop laughing. I forgot exactly what it means, but I know it’s excellerated ATX something-something. Good thing he takes things in stride, because that’s just a taste of the questions I was asking.

Just because I can, I snagged a picture of Tkout as he was fitting the solid state drive into the computer. He’s wearing his t-shirt from MassiveLAN, which is a charity computer gaming event we attend twice a year. (If you’re interested in finding out more and attending, check out the website here.) The weird red stripes behind him are the red LED lights shining out the side of his computer.

We aren’t done building the computer, and we also have to get the hard drives ready with all of our digital media. I asked Tkout to wait for me, because I want to be involved in every step of this process. He’s very excited, because for years he’s wanted to share his passion with me. He has lived and breathed computers for over a decade. Truth be told, I am glad he’s taken me under his wing. I don’t think that any course or book could teach as in-depth and hands-on as he does.

Over the years I’ve had friends and family ask why I’m ok with him being a gamer. There are basic positives, like gamers tend to stay close to home. They also tend to introduce their friends to their wives and kids. We have several friends at MassiveLAN, which is a family event and has something to offer for almost every age. Now that I’ve had the time to sit down with him and watch him work, I appreciate Tkout’s skill for what it is. I also understand why he chose a career in computers, and I’m glad that I’ve made that move as well.

If you’re wondering why there’s a picture of Zelda snuggled under covers, it’s because even our family pets enjoy the gaming household. Zelda is comfortable snoozing on the futon in the basement with Chloe, our cat. They know we are near by for kisses and pets, and we are all home together.

I’m not sure if we are going to work on the rig tonight or this weekend, but rest assured, there will be another post detailing the progress of this journey. I can’t wait to see what mischief we get up to in the next round of the build!

 

The First Haunt of the Year…

Nine years ago, I met one of my closest friends, Steve, through the Astronomy Club at my college. He was an alumnus, and I was a current student. While on a camping trip, we discovered our mutual love for all things horror: movies, music, and most of all – haunts. We decided to start going haunting every October – during which we would visit every haunted attraction in our area. (That may seem like nothing much, but here in Western New York, there’s a large variety of things to do and see during Fall!) This came to the relief of our other friend, also named Steve, who was pretty much done with haunting. As our tradition is nearing it’s 10th year, we decided to start spicing things up by adding an out of town haunt per season. You see, we are in a great location in New York state, since we have attractions like the Haunted Horseman Hayride in the Hudson Valley, and we’re extremely close to both Pennsylvania and Canada.

Steve has been talking about Pittsburgh Scarehouse for the last few years. This year, we decided to go, since we’d be closer to Pennsylvania for our bi-scarehouseannual Astronomy Camp weekend. We left camp Sunday night, and within three hours were sitting in a Chinese restaurant in Pittsburgh waiting for our arrival time. The Scarehouse organizers came up with a really great way to field their traffic without jamming the narrow street in front of the Scarehouse, and jamming the neighboring streets. Visitors can only arrive via school bus shuttle, which leaves from the Pittsburgh zoo parking lot. When you buy tickets, they come in time slots, starting at 7:00, and going every half hour. The staff  is very efficient at getting people lined up, loaded, and off to the attraction. The bus ride takes less than 10 minutes, but when we arrived, we were thankful that we didn’t have to drive. It would have been awful! The Scarehouse is tucked away on the outskirts of a residential area, and the streets are narrow. The jam would have been colossal!

After leaving the shuttle, visitors walk around the building to a back entrance. While they wait in line, they are entertained by a man dressed as a woman, a man in a straightjacket, and a man in a bunny suit. Don’t start laughing yet. Bunny-man carries an axe, straight-jacket man pops up when you least expect it, and the last guy, well, he just taunts the crowd and draws your attention away so the others can get to you easier. The front of the building looks like something out of a Vincent Price film, which adds effortlessly to the atmosphere. You just know you’re in for it when you enter the building!

I elected not to purchase the speed pass when I purchased the tickets, because I was against the $34.99 price tag. If I’m spending that amount, I want more than a chance to be a line-skipper. In any event, we paid the standard $19.99, waited in line for a half an hour, and then were led in. (The line inside the building is a little claustrophobic, but at least there’s a barker for entertainment and some interesting displays). Visitors were led into the Scarehouse in groups of four, though the groups quickly caught up with one another. Within a few moments of entering, the groups had become a conga-line of terrified lambs. One house bleeds into another, and all you can hear are sound effects and people screaming and shrieking.

THE SCAREHOUSE BUNNYScarehouse definitely lived up to the hype! Visitors went from house to interconnected house, encountering all sorts of nasty costumes and props. This year’s haunts were Creepo’s Christmas in 3-D, Pittsburgh Zombies, and The Foresaken. All were phenomenal! Below are brief descriptions of each house, as well as the lobby, but not in the order in which the visitor encounters them. Not afraid of Mister Bunny (pictured at left)? Meet him in person. It’s terrifying!

  • The Lobby: While visitors wait to enter the house, they are treated to an old-school stage show, with a creepy barker. He handed Steve a nail to verify that it was real, and Steve did. Then, the barker stuck it into his nose through a hole that I can only assume was a pre-existing piercing. I thought Steve was going to throw up, knowing he’d touched the nail. In retrospect, we were one of the first groups, so chances are it was relatively clean. There were also all sorts of creepy showcases with old props. The whole atmosphere was Art Deco – think “Great Gatsby in Hell”. Very cool!
  • Creeop’s Christmas in 3-D: The only clown-house that I’ve ever enjoyed in a haunt. Most of the time, clown houses feel like a rubble pile covered in black light reactive paint, and built haphazardly. This house didn’t have many actors, but that was alright, since there was enough detail to make it interesting. The painted scenes on the walls predominately featured gingerbread men in a variety of terrifying situations. Gingerbread as victims and murderers, and even a horde of them being consumed by crazed Christmas trees. It also contained the usual tunnel, which I almost fell out of at the end. Good ole’ Creepo Claus himself is pictured below, for all of your clown-filled nightmares.
  • The Foresaken: This house was a dollhouse from hell! I don’t like dolls, I don’t like people dressed as dolls, and I really really don’t like dark places with dolls! In short, this house was terrifying. Dolls were dismembered, watching my every move, and apparently peeling themselves off the walls and talking to me. Thank goodness the guys behind me in the conga-line had a sense of humor – that house was creepy!
  • Pittsburgh Zombies: To be fair, there were a bunch of stationary zombies, hanging out of windows, scrunched into corners, and  generally waiting around for people. However, these were some of the best zombie performers I’ve ever seen. In most haunted attractions, the zombies stumble around like over-sugared children playing with a pinata. These zoms, however, were of the Danny Boyle type. You could almost feel them retching up the contagion as their bodies jerked spasmodically. As a friend of mine would say, “Gold”.
  • The Basement: The last house is below the other three, but you have to pay another $19.99 fee for access, and sign a waiver. The actors are allowedcreepo to push you and restrain you, which is not something I’m up for. Those who know me in real life know that I’m not too good on my feet, so I didn’t like the idea of being pushed off-balance. After we left the Scarehouse, we ran into people we had met in line that went to The Basement. Steve was a little disappointed that we didn’t go, but we both agreed that with not knowing total time, or the lines, we would have been hard-pressed to make it back on time. As it was, we arrived back home around 12:30 am.

At the end of the haunt, visitors can either purchase merchandise, line up for The Basement, or take a shuttle back to the parking lot. We opted for the parking lot. Pittsburgh Scarehouse was a great attraction, but I recommend that any potential visitors spend $19.99 on the ticket, arrive early, and make sure they’re at the parking lot about an hour before their time slot. The attraction is great, but it’s better if you can get in, get scared, and get out like Steve and I.

Have you ever been to The Scarehouse? What did you think? Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments below!