Thursday, March 3, 2016

Rediscovering exprezit!

Photo by Tod Allen, as seen on GasSigns.org (reduced resolution)

Recently, I discovered an interesting site, GasSigns.org and was pleased to find a good picture of exprezit!, a gas station brand I'm pretty sure has been defunct for a while now. I felt especially connected to it as December 2003 was when I first saw it and I'm pretty sure this is the right location too. December 2003 was one of my favorite Christmas vacations, a time with just about everything you could want from a vacation, from great sights on the road to visiting theme parks (Busch Gardens!) and of course, a nice Christmas. I got a DVD set of Back to the Future and the GBA port of Super Mario Bros. 3 (or, rather, Super Mario Advance 4).

At the time, I was really into gas stations (especially with food outlets connected), and noting color schemes used (Citgo favored an orange, white, and blue, Chevron and Exxon had red, white, and blue, Shell had red, yellow, and white) and it was definitely a cool thing to see the exprezit!, which featured not only a wild-looking exclamation point but an even more awesome red, yellow, and blue scheme, one of the many things that set Florida apart from where I lived, a comparatively dreary college town whose most defining features were a mish-mash of buildings in the university, most prominently structures from the 1970s and 1980s.

exprezit! seemed to gain traction in places beyond where it had full gas stations, as it was installed in several BP stations in Louisiana, and then...well, it kind of seemed to disappear. Now, there are still gas stations with the exprezit! name around (at least convenience stores), but even the gas station in Marianna is gone, now a run of the mill Valero and at least one name before that.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The 10 Games I'd Like to Play (Again)

One of my goals for the blog is to fit things in that just won't go on the website, including neat scans, ramblings, or other benign things. I like video games, but my current set-up and living situation have rendered several games unplayable or at least not to the extent I'd like to. Here's 10 of those titles that I wish I could play (again). I've picked out some thumbnails that will work should I (and I hope I will) write about them at some point.


1. WingNuts Temporal Navigator (2001)
Last Played: 2008

WingNuts is best associated with 2005 for me (even though it had been out for several years at that point) and had one of the best soundtracks for games ever. Sadly, an update for Mac OS X broke the game in that it only played the first level soundtrack for the rest of the game, and by that time, it was abandonware. Compounding this is a bad 640 x 480 resolution, so if I try to run it on my MacBook (which still runs Snow Leopard) with the external monitor attached, it refuses to run it in stretched (which the old iMac G5 did, interestingly), leaving it to run in its tiny native resolution. I hope the Windows version wasn't broken the same way the Mac one was, otherwise I'd better hope for a really good Mac OS 9 emulator (yes, it is THAT OLD).


2. The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (2000)
Last Played: It's been years now

The only pre-Skyward Sword Zelda title I yet to have had a real go with, I'd like to try to run it in an emulator only so I could experiment with different graphical filters and to use my own controllers (as well as a save-and-defrost, as Majora's Mask is notoriously stingy with save points). My current computer's set-up won't run that sort of thing correctly though. I'm looking forward to the storyline and diverse characters (such as the hand in the toilet, pictured).


3. Five Nights at Freddy's (2014)
Last Played: Never

This one came out last year of this writing and quickly gained a following. Unfortunately, this is one of those followings where the "fanbase is cancer", so I'd like to just give it a run and avoid really anything else. The inspiration from the creepy old style Chuck E. Cheese animatronics (and similar venues) is brilliant, as well as actually making the derided Night Trap-style gameplay viable again.


4. Minecraft (2009-2011)
Last Played: Probably 2011?

I'm afraid I may have missed the boat on this one, but Minecraft is one game that I missed out because by the time I had the opportunity to really buy it, my computer was not suited to play it and I was working. Now, I just hope the various updates (and it being owned by Microsoft) hasn't ruined it (if that hasn't already happened).


5. Bugdom (1999)
Last Played: It's been years now

I tend to be a bit nostalgic with games I haven't played in a while but Bugdom, one of the few games not runnable in a Mac emulator, is one that I'd like to play sometime. Unfortunately, I'll have to settle for the PC version, which is likely to have different controls than what I'm used to, but I guess it'll have to do, as it long as it looks, plays, and sounds like it should.


6. Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People (2008)
Last Played: 2009-ish (I believe)

I downloaded and played Episode 1 for this on the Wii, and recently bought the discounted full version on Steam, because on the Wii, things are never discounted, the mouse control scheme will be better, and it's higher resolution.


7. Portal 2 (2011)
Last Played: Probably early 2014 at the latest

The wildly successful Portal did get a sequel and I nabbed mine as soon as prices dropped to an acceptable level. Unfortunately, I never got to things like Wheatley or GlaDOS again because I was stuck, and then my system crashed. It's saved, but in semi-permanent stasis...just like Chell!


8. Riven: The Sequel to Myst (1997)
Last Played: It's been years now

For what it's worth, I did buy this on Steam, though I found the resolution was blown up (making it larger on monitors, though unfortunately making it visually worse), though I believe I should've been able to correct that. What may be harder, and I never did see if this was corrected or able to be corrected, was switching the L&R sound outputs.


9. SimCity 4 (2003)
Last Played: Just within the last few months

Ah, SimCity 4. The gift that keeps on giving. We've had our high times and low times together. I recommend my already long history with it instead of rambling on here.


10. Cities: Skylines (2015)
Last Played: Never

What many have declared to be the "successor" of SimCity 4, this one I'm most excited about. Not only is it the newest on the list, but it looks great (between mods) and from what I've heard plays pretty well also. There's some definite rough spots that could use improvement, but those problems smooth themselves out when you realize that it was only about 2005 when SimCity 4 really came of age in terms of mods, and that was AFTER EA had dropped it.

I realize I'm probably leaving out a lot more that's on the list, but these are the top 10...

Thursday, July 23, 2015

well, at least the waco aerial did its first update since '12

It's been a long, bad summer--chronically underemployed, and very little "fun" to be had. I haven't made a nice sangria yet. At least I'm drawing comics to find an outlet for bitterness and cynicism try to practice drawing and have fun. This is a follow-up to the Waco Clarion and its pool (which went up to 8 feet!)

The big skylights can be seen in the second picture of the previous post.


See that little rectangle there?

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Carbon-izer.com has updated again!

Carbon-izer.com has updated again, this time WITHOUT a major update to the Northwest Freeway page. Not even the Games got a significant update.
- The biggest new change is an updated framework with new retail page and content page. Frontlining that is a new page on Post Oak Mall.
- The fast food list has been updated. To differentiate from the Michigan list it was inspired off of, the Index of said page has received a new font. A few emergency formatting changes were made (particularly in Long John Silver's), with some new additions (Godfather's Pizza, Mr. Gatti's, Krispy Kreme). Of course, formatting issues still plague the list.
- The Games List has been updated with one new game (Osmos, a short review, and yes, I had it written for a while, just was meant to be combined with others, and no, I'm not phoning it in) with some minor fixes done to Zelda III, Blobbo, EVO, and Milestones 2000. All five plus the Index have been updated with a new visited link color (orange is going away), plus I've started to make the thumbnails clickable to the reviews. There's about 20-odd titles with orange links and non-clickable thumbnails, but expect that to change soon. There's also one early review with the old purple text I got from |tsr's nes archive. Can you guess which one it is?
- The Zachry page has been updated again, though no new videos. To note, there was an error in the previous version where in an effort to add several photos, I forgot the links. Sure, the photos were are there, and you could've just altered the URLs to see the images, but I don't want you to do that, see?

Future updates will focus on the Games list again plus some other stuff that wasn't part of this round (and no, this time, the Northwest Freeway page will not steal the show).

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Tracks of Hearne

This was originally published in December 7, 2010 on Brazos Buildings & Businesses with some changes made. As such, it may read differently than what I write today.

I used to make a lot of trips through Hearne, as part of going up from College Station to Waco. A lot of things along that route have been altered, built, or destroyed (steadily, of course, the passage of time, and not nearly as dramatic as the changes that US 290 went through). One of the more interesting things that happened sometime in the early 2000s or late 1990s was the fact that they outright got rid of several rails (I knew there used to be more when I was younger!)

Naturally, it was a railroad town, long since the glory days that ended long ago, when Southern Pacific loaded and unloaded cargo. Today trains stop here and move around ("switcher" engines are still active), but while it still has a lot of tracks, almost 12 in the downtown area. As you can see in these 2010 and 1995 images (which you can click for full resolution!), you can see that in the heart of downtown, there are so many tracks, there are no at-grade crossings.





But they did remove a lot of tracks between them in the late 1990s or early 2000s. The white part (in 2010) is where tracks were removed:





The most obvious part is the bridge you go over when you enter Hearne from the south. A railroad goes under it. If you kept following this track, becomes the "MoPac Highway" railroad in Austin. But prior to the early 2000s, it was a true "Y" like split with the tracks leading into the distance (I recall it did look pretty neat). Look at the difference between these. One of the "arms" from the "MoPac Highway railroad" is completely gone. You can't go southeast anymore. This could be from the way the trains function nowadays, after all, there is Valley Junction to the west...




...and there's probably this change in Downtown Bryan as well. Here, you can see the 2003 and 2010 pictures.




The railroad splits from a single track further south, but it's the railroad that skews northeast that goes to Hearne.

Finally, Google Earth spies an interesting railyard that seems to have literally gone to junk.




Wow, they had a turntable! My six-year-old self would've loved to see to that...too bad it was never visible from Highway 6.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Previously unpublished Batman stuff / new carbon-izer updates

Back last fall, I took advantage of my now-defunct Amazon Prime account to watch some classic Batman: The Animated Series episodes, which I had not seen in many years. Yeah, there was something about curling up in my bed in that funky-smelling rental house, watching the great theme before the show started. Well, I did watch most of them, and for a lot of them I wrote down mini summaries/thoughts.

The series was in the early 1990s, but I saw them more toward the late 1990s, because at that time, eventually the original series was discontinued and replaced with Superman: The Animated Series briefly before The New Adventures of Batman & Superman which did include at least one crossover episode, but mostly added in new Batman adventures (drawn in Superman's crisper art style, which unfortunately I was not a fan of because they mangled the art of the villains, especially the Joker, who even lost his trademark white grin), while repackaging the Batman series. It was for the cartoon blocks, but the creative team made it great with stellar writing, great art (pre-Superman, at least), and pushing the boundaries of what was allowed to be shown (in censorship, there was a Spider-Man show in the 1990s that had some ridiculous limits of what was allowed). Eventually, after both were cancelled in favor of Batman Beyond which was a series where a new Batman took over in a futuristic Gotham City, and then Justice League/Justice League Unlimited which I think didn't work to its potential. While it did finish up a hanging arc from Superman, instead of an anthology series full of backdoor pilots, it ended up making Batman Beyond canon, which in addition to mucking up continuity in an episode where Superman was in Batman Beyond, and also ensuring a miserable ending for Bruce Wayne and Tim Drake.

Otherwise, it was a bright spot in the Batman mythos while the comics had Batman replaced with a doppelganger that actually killed people, and Joel Schumacher was making a laughingstock out of the Dark Knight, culminating in a point where no Batman movies were made in nearly a decade.

So without further delay, here's what I wrote down back in October. Keep in mind that although I never finished all the episodes, I did watch most of them.

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The Last Laugh - This was a great Joker episode with a great soundtrack (here), and includes Batman's battle with Joker's robotic henchman, Captain Clown. Captain Clown meets his end when "he" is crushed, but it begs the question--where did the Joker get a nigh-invulnerable, highly-advanced looking (when Batman rips off the "face") robot that can be programmed? Clearly someone is making this technology--if it's the Joker, why would he ever need to commit a crime again?

The Underdwellers - This was kind of a weird episode, since it used a one-shot villain with no origin story or real introduction. Just as well, since the episode referenced child abuse/slavery, and to make the Sewer King as repulsive a creep as possible, there wasn't any backstory to how he came to be. Most of Batman's enemies have a rather sympathetic backstory--an actor with an addiction to an untested compound, a district attorney with a bunch of repressed anger issues, a scientist trying to save his wife...but nope, none of that for the Sewer King.

Beware the Gray Ghost - This episode is one of the better ones, as it involves Bruce Wayne meeting one of his childhood heroes, a washed-up actor who played "The Gray Ghost" a long time ago, and was not able to get serious acting jobs later because of that association with the Gray Ghost. Of course, I was reminded of Adam West (the "original" Batman), which is exactly who cameoed as the Gray Ghost.

Dreams in Darkness - They actually showed a real gun with what is obviously supposed to be blood coming out of it! That's STILL hard to get away with in kids' shows today.

Mad as a Hatter - Up until the third act, the Hatter actually did nothing wrong except cheat a few people out of some money (the chef creating a spectacular meal on the house, for instance), what got Batman interested in investigating was the thugs that tried to commit suicide, and even that, the Hatter wasn't actually scheming for them to kill themselves, he was just trying to impress his date and avoid getting robbed.

Harley & Ivy - Ah, this episode. Much like "Beware the Creeper" later, they got away with a lot in this episode that normally wouldn't fly, namely some very, very light references that Harley and Ivy were, um, more than friends.

Vendetta - As much of this build-up of this episode suggests, I feel the pay-off just isn't worth it. Maybe if Killer Croc had an introduction (heck, I don't even think they gave him a real name), it might be better.

Perchance to Dream - With a device that will artificially create dreams, it's a wonder why the Hatter won't just market this and make money.

Appointment in Crime Alley - This episode ends in kind of an "aww, isn't that sweet" way, but Daggett gets away with extortion, kidnapping, and a bunch more things--as if he hasn't already ruined Matt Hagen's life.

Moon of the Wolf - This one annoyed me, partially because the werewolf in question never gets cured and simply disappears, or because Batman doesn't believe at first it's an actual werewolf and needs convincing. While this is perfectly reasonable, keep in mind that at this point, he's battled the Man-Bat, meeting Catwoman who literally became a cat woman, and others.

Almost Got 'Im - Batman can do a lot, but surviving an electric chair (shortly before it EXPLODES from too much electricity) AND pulling off a great Killer Croc imitation seems too high a bar for the Caped Crusader to actually do.

The Man Who Killed Batman - This is another episode that I enjoyed. Whether it's Harley playing "Amazing Grace" on a kazoo, or the line "I think I served you a subpoena once. It was a small subpoena", this episode was great.

Beware the Creeper - This was a fun episode. It definitely had some parts that normally wouldn't fly with children's TV (TVTropes' "Getting Crap Past the Radar" lists at least three incidents in this episode alone), but it feels like the script started out as a Freakazoid! crossover, especially since F! was by the same creative duo.

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In other news, Carbon-izer.com has gotten an update! This mostly concerns the Former Fast Food index, but also includes a new title for the Games Index, an obscure Apple IIGS title called Milestones 2000.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Better cafeteria food and other musings


So recently, I got some old film turned into photos. Walmart still has a photo center, but they don't process photos there, so it went to some facility and I paid out the nose for it (little prints and one roll, and still $10). The quality was junk, either from sitting in the camera for 7 years or bad transfers, but they did have some memories intact. [The photo above, in case you're thinking "Hey that doesn't look too bad", I did some partial digital restoration on that.]

One memory in particular was visiting the Midway High School in Hewitt, Texas for a fine arts competition (which fine arts did I do? Well, I won't share that) in late 2007, so here's that photo. It was a Subway in a school cafeteria, which I had never seen before. Unfortunately, due to the fact that it wasn't a school day, I didn't actually see it in operation. The only other indication that it was ever there was a Subway there was a mention in this review, and that indicates that despite draconian federal and state rules, there is still Pizza Hut available sometimes (the price at my high school on pizza days was high too, probably because they actually need to turn a profit and it's not subsidized). I'm surprised they mentioned Chick-fil-a too, because they only had that stuff in college, and even then it wasn't nearly as good as a real Chick-fil-a. (Later on in college, I moved to a neighborhood where a Chick-fil-a was less than a mile away but was perpetually crowded not just because it was a Chick-fil-a off a major thoroughfare but also close to a bunch of sorority houses)