The Farce Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released on Blu-Ray and DVD today. Naturally, I stopped by my local Target to pick up a copy for myself.

Immediately upon entering Target you are assured that THIS is the place to scratch your Star Wars itch. If a product even bears passing resemblance to something (anything!) in the Star Wars Universe it has received a Force Awakens treatment. For example, Target will happily sell you C3PO coffee creamer and BB8 oranges.

Nevermind that, after this particular orange has been removed from its clever packaging (BB8 is cute, round, and orange… just like an orange!) it’s just an ordinary piece of citrus fruit. Unless you plan to drag that netted bag around with you – proudly displaying your on-trend styles – what you’ve got is an everyday, run of the mill, coated with food-grade lac-resin based wax, naval orange. Just like all those poor schlubs who bought the unhip non-licensed fruit.

On that note I will segue into the real topic of today’s blog entry.

Target is currently offering two versions of the Force Awakens Blu-Ray.

The model on the left will set you back twenty dollars; while the option on the right sells for $25. The difference? The packaging.

In truth, in addition to this “exclusive collectible package” Target’s version of the Blu-Ray claims to have “Over twenty minutes of bonus content”… which was already available on the [free] Star Wars mobile phone app. If these interviews and making-of featurettes aren’t already all over YouTube – be patient – they will be (likely before you can rush home and watch/re-watch this summer’s biggest blockbuster with your ultra-chic BB8 orange at your side).

By all means, feel free to spend an extra $5 on 20 minutes of video you weren’t going to watch anyway. When comparing the price-per-minute seeing the entire movie opening day in IMAX 3D cost less but don’t let that stop you.

And I’m totally sure you had HUGE plans for that exclusive collectible package – like, you were going to have it framed (behind archival UV-resistant glass) so you could properly show it off. There’s no way you were going to shove that box to the back of your entertainment center or let it gather dust on a media tower. Who even has those anymore, anyway?! Um, 1992 called and it wants its nestable disc organizer back. No, you’re hip and forward thinking. You plan on downloading the movie to your networked media server and safely storing (ie: shoving in a box under the stairs) the physical disc as a back-up in the unlikely event your entertainment drive would fail.

Either way – let’s face it – you’re never looking at that Blu-Ray clamshell ever again.

And I take particular offense with Target’s desperate use of the word collectible. These Blu-Rays are just about as collectible as the glut of comic books released during mid-90s. When everyone owns something the perceived value falls – because you can obtain another one literally anywhere. If these discs were numbered and limited to a very small print run (like Disney’s Treasures DVD sets) that would be one thing, but they’re not; making Target’s “exclusive” package the equivalent of DC’s Death of Superman. Worthless.

Target’s not the only retailer offering “exclusive” versions of this highly anticipated Blu-Ray. Best Buy, Walmart, and Disney all have their own over-priced versions… but Target is the only retailer offering extra content on the disc (the aforementioned 20 minutes).

Please, don’t let the hype fool you into paying extra for worthless extras.


An Open Letter to Target

Regarding Target’s insistence on pressuring me to open a Target Red Card account.

Dear Target,

Each and every time I find myself in the check-out lane of any Target store I am asked if I want to open a Target Red Card. If your goal is to break the record for overwhelming and exasperating your customer base then you are, by all measures, doing a remarkable job.

First off, the very last thing Americans need is another line of credit – or another way to make paying for impulse items quicker and easier. It’s all too evident that Target management disagrees with this first point; opting instead to believe this is exactly what the American consumer needs.

It’s also very obvious that Target cashiers, already famous for their subtle body language that indicates “I wish I was anywhere else and I blame you for the fact that I’m here in the first place”, are growing weary of soullessly droning on about a product they clearly don’t believe in.

Their insistence on unceasingly asking me to sign up for your card puts them on par with that annoying Facebook notification that repeatedly tells me something ridiculous like “your friend Nick has a kangaroo in his pumpkin patch” – thinking that, by some small miracle, this will entice me to play their silly game.

I’m not playing.

Remind me: which retail chain had a major debacle over a credit card security breach just last year? It was right after Black Friday; but the retailer didn’t reveal the details of this damning issue until December 19. Somewhere north of 40 million credit card numbers were stolen; resulting in banks and credit unions reissuing more than 22 million cards (at an estimated cost of $200 million).

Oh, that’s right. It was Target.

Forgive me, but I’m sure you understand why I refuse to hand over my actual banking information and routing numbers to you just so you can avoid paying credit card service charges and fees. I guess I’m not feeling overly charitable.

Why don’t you accept ApplePay? The NFC technology already exists in your stores – all you need to do is accept Apple’s terms.

ApplePay ensures customer security by never actually handing over any sensitive information to the retailer. Apple’s payment app simply provides a randomized number that is later linked up to the customer’s account information at the bank. Not even the customer’s name is transferred to the retailer during the transaction. Everything is kept confidential between the customer and their bank of choice.

But Target doesn’t actually care about customer security – which is why Target has refused to accept ApplePay. Target is far more interested in obtaining all of the customer’s data (account information, name, address, spending habits, etc) which it can then sell for profit and/or use for pinpoint marketing strategies. How will Target send the customer circulars and coupons for items Target knows the customer will buy if Target can’t gain access to the customer’s personal information with each swipe of the credit/debit card?

No thank you, Target. I will not today, tomorrow, nor ever sign up for your Red Card. Stop asking.

From a former employee and frustrated shopper,

-Parker Monroe

P.S. While I’ve got your attention: who’s the person in charge of buying shoes for Target stores? The shoe purchasing agent. That guy. Fire him! Apparently he thinks “if if goes on the end of your leg it’s considered a shoe“. With that logic, the toilet paper stuck to the bottom of my shoe after emerging from your disgusting bathrooms could be marketed as a stylish summer flip-flop.

Target’s shoes are epically deplorable. They are wretched quality and dreadful to look at. They even smell cheap. Truly, there are people in third-world countries repurposing old tires as sandals that are better quality than the crap you’re selling.

Would it kill you to sell something that won’t fall apart after two months? You must be making one heckuva profit on these things because, at $29.99, I can’t imagine you paid more than about 12 cents for each pair.

Do all of your competitors have some sort of exclusive rights to middling quality foot wear? If not, get with the program!

Apple, and Me

There’s one thing that bothers me more than the Apple Fanboy; and grates on me even more those that are anti-Apple. It’s the people who deem themselves resident expert but had purchased their first Apple product (typically an iPod or iPhone) only within the last year. Suddenly they have a religious devotion to all of Apple’s newest products… and brag about it. “Oh, you only own the iPhone 4? Not even the 4S, huh? Tsk. I submitted an online reservation for a chance to camp out overnight just so I can be the first in line for the iPhone 5.”

Apple Hipsters, if you will. They’re no longer discussing the iPad mini (let’s not get crazy, they’re still going to buy one); they’ve moved on to discussing made up products that Apple doesn’t even know about. “Yeah, the iPhone Shuffle. It’ll accept any incoming call, but also randomly dials people. You probably haven’t heard of it… it’s pretty underground”.

I remember when being a fan of Apple’s products took courage – and was almost like work! Now everyone’s on board.

I’m totally going to date myself here… but, my first exposure to Apple computers was the Apple II in the private elementary school I attended (1981 – 1985). Naturally, we used it for playing simple games but it left an indelible mark on me. Shortly thereafter, my uncle purchased an Apple II and I watched my cousin code games from computer magazines.

Then came the Macs in the public elementary school – where I fondly remember using LOGO Syntax (1985 – 1987); a program for drawing vector shapes using simple keyboard commands.

The computer lab in middle school (1987 – 1990) had a mixed assortment of PC’s and Apple computers.  Mostly, I used these computers for Oregon Trail, Number Munchers, and some sort of typing tutor. It should be known, I have never learned proper keyboarding. I would always “hunt-and-peck”, but became pretty proficient at it! Good enough that, by the time I got to college, I tested out of keyboarding (I found out you only had to type something like 30 words per minute… and I can do that with my toes!).

There were both Macs and PCs in the library at the first High School I attended. Then, in 1991 we moved and I was enrolled in a new High School that had only Windows based computers. Thus began a dark age; with the minor exception of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego (which I found to be very fun). Oddly enough, I learned proper tabbing on an old version of MS Word; running on an Intel 80386SX.

Finally, in 1993, the dry-spell was broken after I began classes for Graphic Design at the local Technical Center and I was introduced to the Macintosh IIfx.

I purchased my very first Apple computer shortly before graduating from High School (1995) – an Apple Performa 631CD. Keep in mind, this was during the Sculley-Splindler era at Apple Computer. A difficult time to admit you were a fan.

In 1997 I purchased a Motorola StarMax 3000/160… because the clones offered more Mac for your money. I was deep into learning Adobe Photoshop and needed a fast, reliable, and (most importantly) cheap machine.

I remember where I was the day I first saw the iMac. I dropped everything I was doing just to watch the associate pull the display model out of its box and set it up. Instantly impressed. In early 2000 I became the very proud owner of a lime green iMac DV.

Short on cash, but in desperate need of a replacement computer I purchased a G4 eMac in March of 2004. That computer turned out to be quite the little work horse – it lasted me seven years.

When I could no longer put up with the failing speeds of my rapidly aging eMac, and enticed by the oncoming Post-PC era, I purchased my first MacBook in February 2011.

For the record, there have also been a few Apple printers (remember the StyleWriter?), four or five iPods, and an iPad.

Our next Apple purchase? The iPad mini, of course… but I refuse to call it that. For me, it shall be the lil’Pad. Mostly, because I’ve grown seriously tired of the overused “i”.

Persona – Geek Out

In a case of true serendipity I found that one of my most favorite, and obscure, series of video games is coming to PS3!

Japan has ten times more video games than any other country. Some of these games are really fantastic and developers immediately localize them for American and European markets. Other games take a while before someone convinces enough people to snatch up the rights and import them. Guitar Freaks and Beat Mania, for example, were originally released into the Japanese market in 1998; but weren’t brought to American audiences until RedOctane and Harmonix produced Guitar Hero in 2005 and Rockband in 2007.

Sometimes other titles, often deemed too Japanese for western audiences, amazingly get a green-light for English localization.

In 2009, Red Entertainment licensed Sakura Wars V (a Sega developed, Nippon Ichi Software title); releasing it in North America as Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love. The game can best be described as a tactical role-playing game that’s also a dating simulator. It’s set in an alternate, steam-punk, reality of 1920’s New York City. You play as a Japanese naval officer who fights alongside (and attempts to woo) beautiful American female warriors who also pilot giant robots but disguise themselves as a musical troupe. It was actually a lot of fun! It was short, for an RPG, but it had a lot of replay-ability due to how building different relationships changed the story.

Atlus USA is an American company that specializes in importing and localizing these niche Japanese games – obscure games that larger (read: safer) game companies steer clear of (read: avoid). In 2007 they released a one-year old Japanese RPG titled Persona 3 – which received generally favorable reviews. The story involves a group of students investigating something called the Dark Hour; which turns out to be the brief period of time between one day and the next. During the Dark Hour, one can enter a parallel universe which is populated with creatures that feed on the minds of humans. In order to defeat the creatures the player is able to summon a manifestation of their inner self (a Persona) by firing a gun-like object (called an Evoker) at their head. How Atlus convinced the ESRB that this particular Japanese title would be safe for the fragile American teenager… I’ll never know.

In 2009, Atlus released the critically acclaimed Persona 4which was actually the first Persona title that I played. This game centers around a student who moves to the small town of Inaba for one year. During this time he becomes involved in investigating mysterious murders that involve people getting sucked into their television sets via the Midnight Chanel – but only on foggy nights. I don’t want to give too much away… but through some clever twists and turns the story ends up being about a Japanese folklore, mythological goddess, attempting to obliterate the world.

The Persona games had well designed characters that were both fun and powerful… and now they’re going head-to-head in something called Persona 4 Arena.

As if the concept of this fighting game wasn’t cool enough I found out the game is being co-developed by Atlus and Arc Systems (the team behind the spectacular Guilty Gear series).

Total. Geek. Moment.

With the singular exception of Tecmo’s DOA games, I’ve never been very good at this genre – and that’s putting it mildly. Either I can’t master or memorize all the move combinations or I can’t keep up with the lightning-fast game play. Regardless, I would buy this game. In a heartbeat.

August 7 is when this comes out. Anybody else as excited as me?

Personal History of Video Games

My first exposure to video games was during the end of the second generation of home consoles (1977 – 1983) and the middle of the golden age of arcade gaming (1978 – 1986). Thanks to the second crash of the video game industry video computer systems were relatively cheap between 1983 and 1985. It was a great time to be a nerdy little kid.

Officially, the Coleco Telestar Colortron was my very first video game console (I’m pretty sure I was about 7 or 8 years old). Truth be told, it was really my Dad’s. I’m not sure when he bought it but I do remember it occasionally hooked up to our color JC Penny television; but only if we first disconnected our top-loading VHS player (with wired remote). Can you imagine not having your console plugged into a dedicated input all the time? There were only four games – tennis, hockey, handball, and jai alai – which were all just simple variations of Pong.

Next up was the Commodore 64 – the machine that would truly impress upon me the importance of video games. I’m sure it was considered the family computer but, based solely on the hours I spent in front of it, the computer sure felt like mine. My elementary school friends and I used to swap and trade games, copy them, and amass our collections. Soon we owned two or three cases of 5-1/4” floppy discs; some loaded with as many games as they could hold. Spanning only three of four of these discs (a total of maybe 2MB) we had copies of nearly every Golden Age of Arcade port. Other game discs included Kickstart 2, Archon, California Games, Gyruss, Karate Champ, Wizard, and many, many more. It was eventually handed down to my sister and me after our Dad bought his Commodore Colt; a 4.77 Mhz Intel 8088 with ten times more RAM than the C64.

Finally, for Christmas 1990, we got a Nintendo from my grandparents. Many happy hours were spent hunkered down in my parent’s basement; conquering seemingly endless armies of 8-bit foes. I became absorbed after some friends lent me back-issues of Nintendo Power Magazine and a Funcoland had opened nearby. Notable games (besides the Super Mario series) include Ninja Gaiden 2, Metal Gear, Contra, Battletoads, and The Immortal.

Remember when consoles used to come with two controllers and a game? I purchased the SNES for myself sometime around 1996; but didn’t own it for very long because it was quickly replaced by the games I was buying for my new Apple Performa and, eventually, the Sony PlayStation. Notable games include Super Mario World and Chrono Trigger.

The Apple Performa 631CDmy very first personal computerpurchased shortly before High School graduation (1995) and financed through my very first line of credit. My main reason for buying the computer was my interest in graphic design. I became aware of the computer’s awesome gaming potential after a teacher introduced me to Myst. Notable games include Lemmings, Star Wars Rebel Assault, The Dig, Sam & Max Hit the Road, and Wolfenstein 3D.

I was working at Target in December 1994 when Sony released the PlayStation. As soon as I saw the in-store demo unit I knew I had to have one; but $300 was a steep price to pay – especially considering it wasn’t bundled with any game! I waited patiently, but ended up buying a SNES at a newly reduced $129 price instead. Once I actually rented a unit, about two years later, I fully committed to owning one. Notable games include Final Fantasy VIII, Metal Gear: Solid, Need for Speed 2, Metal of Honor, Syphon Filter, and Bust-a-Move.

After Sony won me over with their original console I actually found myself standing in line to purchase a PlayStation 2 (PS2) the day it came out. This was right around the same time I became acquainted with eBay; which meant there was always a steady stream of games running through our home. As fast as I could beat (or grow tired of) a certain game I was selling it and buying another online. Notable games include Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3, Final Fantasy X, SOCOM, Frequency, DOA2, and the SSX series.

I ended up buying an XBox only so I could modify it to work just like an Apple TV (using XBMC); so I purchased very few actual XBox games. My few notables were Halo and Fable; but I also owned multiple software ROMs for emulating a ridiculous number of Atari, NES, SNES games and early Arcade titles (I had over 5,200). Looking back, it’s actually pretty funny that I mostly used the XBox to play old classics and stream pirated movies.

I never did buy one of the current-generation consoles but do intend to purchase a PS3 very soon. I already own Metal Gear Solid 4 and will absolutely buy the Uncharted trilogy. Any other recommendations?

How Do You Pronounce Skagen?

I fancy myself a bit of a watch connoisseur. I don’t own any Tag Heuer or Movado (yet) but I certainly have plans to someday. I’m pretty sure the next watch I purchase will either be a Bulova or a Citizen EcoDrive (ironically, both brands are owned by the same company). My current lineup includes an Invicta, an automatic Akribos XXIV, a vintage mechanical Hamilton with original Speidel band, and a Skagen.

I first became aware of the Skagen brand while aboard a Caribbean cruise in January 1999. If there’s one thing all island ports have, besides gaudy t-shirt shops, it’s jewelry – and I was instantly attracted to the brand’s stainless steel mesh bands and ultra-thin design.

Naturally, most Americans would see the name and incorrectly pronounce it Skaw-ghen.

One of the real benefits of finding a foreign product while on a cruise is that the staff (largely western-Europeans) all know exactly how to pronounce the odd looking names.

In 1986 Henrik Jorst, a sales manager from the Carlsberg brewery, moved from Denmark to New York. By 1989 Henrik had tired of the beer business and became a representative for the Danish-made Jacob Jensen brand of designer watches. In time, Henrik began designing a few of his own watches (using another Danish manufacturer, Comtech) and eventually showed them professionally at a 1991 New York gift fair. His designes proved very popular and Henrik was encouraged to market the watches under his own brand name – Skagen Designs, Ltd (taking the name from his Danish fishing village).

In Dutch the word Skagen is correctly pronounced Skay-en (the “g” is silent and the “a” is long). I have found that most Europeans will shorten what looks like a two syllable word into the single syllable Skein; rhyming with vein.

So, the next time you’re at Macy’s, Zales, or even JB Hudon do what I do. Walk up to the display case, point, and ask “may I see one of these”. Refrain from saying the brand name; instead, allowing the sales associate a chance to present their own pronunciation. No matter how they end up pronouncing it (right or wrong) it always makes for a great conversation starter.