About Lamont

Video gamer who loves the classics.

Caution on Craigslist

As a child, my mother and grandmother warned me about the dangers of deals that looked too good to be true. Initially, the inexperience of youth prevented from understanding their wise words, but as I aged, that advice never left me.

During my junior year of high school, I began building a computer as a replacement for the Acer desktop (our family’s first personal computer) my mother purchased several years earlier. As I neared the end of my PC building project, I searched for the final remaining piece of the electronic puzzle: a video card. I desired a 3dfx video graphic card for years, but ironically, 3dfx went out of business the same year of my computer build, making it difficult to find one of its cards in brick-and-mortar stores.

With few affordable options left in the brick-and-mortar retail market, I tried something new: eBay. Mind you, this was back in the early days of the eBay and eCommerce in general, so there were plenty of folks green like me. The words of mom and grandmother echoed in my head as I searched the website for deals, and sure enough, I caught wind of a scam. Someone who seemingly sold 3dfx cards for a dollar was only selling information on how to buy said cards. Thankfully, I avoided that seller’s nonsense and eventually found a good deal on a Voodoo card. However,that experience soured me on eBay, and it took almost a decade before I purchased something again on the site.

Since returning to eBay, most of my transactions go smoothly but problems do occasionally occur, mostly the result of poor descriptions or bad packaging. Fortunately, eBay does feature policies that make it easier for refunds in such cases. Sometimes these policies do get abused by unscrupulous people, but I’m glad eBay keeps these policies in place. Last year, however, I broadened my eCommerce horizon by searching Craigslist for some potential deals. Outside of one decent yard sale, the pickings often remain slim by my (cheap) standards, but one type of ad constantly caught my eye:

Beware.

Rarely do I browse Craigslist without seeing these types of ads. All of them promise video game products for incredibly cheap prices, and many of them say the seller is located in downtown Chicago. Initially, I almost fell victim to these ads, but on the advice of my parents (yes, I still consult them) I backed off and am glad I did. After doing some research, I found a 2016 Reddit post on the matter, in which user “illegalsandwiches” discovered how these ad scams work by using a decoy email address when contacting the poster of one these listings. What follows is illegalsandwiches’ account of the experience:

Ignore the “cash only” portion of the sale, the verbage is usually taken from another ad (as well as the picture). When you reply to the email address, they will tell you that they are too far away from you and they can ship the item next day if you Paypal them. You pay them, and just never get the item. I had replied to one a long time ago that said that they only take MoneyPak cards for payment. One of them replied with some type of form that I needed to fill out with my name, age, birthday, SSN, “as he was selling this for his business” and needed this information for his records.

Sound shady enough? Upon reading Craigslist’s tips on avoiding scams, the first thing appears on the list in bold letters is “Deal locally, face-to-face.” Immediately following that tip (also in bold type) is “Don’t extend payment to anyone you haven’t met in person.” Obviously, the requests of both posters violate Craigslist tips, so common sense is key here. No matter how good a deal looks, if it seemingly asks too much of you, pass.

Upon seeing these ads, do yourself and others a favor by flagging these listings and admonishing anyone you know who comes across them. Hopefully, we can dissuade people from posting these dubious listings and avoid future scams. Until next time.

Peace & Pixels

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International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day, a celebration of women and their accomplishments across the globe. I was going to write an article about exemplary female characters in video games in observance of the occasion, but ultimately decided against it (for now). Instead, I’ll discuss the two most important women of my real life: my mother and grandmother.

Although I don’t have one of my own, I imagine raising a child is an exercise in expenditure. Not only is it taxing monetarily, the mental cost of making sure a child has just the basic needs can be a giant task in itself. As a youth, I often didn’t appreciate the price things, and when I look back I realize how blessed I was to have two people who were willing to buy me the things that I desired, even when money wasn’t ready available. No matter how hard times became, I never wanted for anything. A picture of me next to the word “privilege” in a dictionary honestly describes my good fortune.

My video game fandom began in my youth, most likely after I played the original Nintendo Entertainment System at a cousins’ place. I instantly fell in love, and all I wanted for Christmas that year was the gift of Mario. My mother and grandmother knew this, and with some help from family and friends, that wish came true.

Over the years, I received more video games as gifts. Birthdays, Christmas, even one Children’s Day on which I received a Game Boy. Video games are expensive; even when you factor in “Greatest Hits” discounts for later releases of games, buying these things are often not cheap. The one thing I regret now in my later years is the amount of trading I did with the games they bought me. I gave up so much of those gifts, all because I refused to realize the value of them as gifts.

I get it now though. Throughout my life, my mom and grandmother always supported me. If I needed anything, be it a hug, an extra dollar, or a much needed reality check, I could count on them. No debt I could ever amass would be greater than the good will I owe them for everything they have done for me. You think I’m a bit spoiled? I won’t disagree with that idea. In their opinion, my mom and grandmother will usually say, “I’m well loved.” Queens, they are.

Superheroes are perhaps at their most popular in mainstream media now. You can scarcely look on television or the internet without seeing something related to comic book hero. Fortunately for me, the superheroines in my life aren’t fictional. Thank you mom and grandmother, for always being there to save the day.

Until next time. I hope you had a happy one.

Peace & Pixels

…and I’m Back

It’s been a long time since I last said it’s been a long time.

However, I am back for the moment and will hopefully be better than ever. A lot has happened in the last year, and in the last few weeks especially. Times have been difficult for my family and myself, but we’re still doing our best to hang on. For all who do or will read this blog, I wish happy trails for you. Things are really crazy right now, and it’s understandable if it’s difficult for some to hold up.

OK, that intro was a bit drab, so let’s get positive! I recently joined a podcast, Pixel8Bit, created by some friends of mine, The Maestro and DJ Nox. You may have seen Maestro on his blog, Blister Gaming, and may have seen Nox on Twitch or on Youtube. We currently finished our third episode, which can be found on Nox’s Twitch page. It’s been fun thus far, even though I have been drifting away from gaming in the past year. For reference, I’m ToastManX on the podcast, and Twitch in general. If you have ever played the Twitch game Marble Racing (which isn’t currently running, sadly) you may have seen me.

That’s all for now. Hopefully you’ll visit my friends’ pages if you haven’t already, and will give the podcast a listen. Until next time.

Peace & Pixels

 

Been a Long Time…

My goodness, it’s been a while. The last time I posted on here was back in September of last year, when I covered the 30th anniversary of Super Mario Bros. This year, I’m going to make an attempt to blog more, either about video games or photography (perhaps both, which would be best).

I’ll see you all out there on the blogosphere soon. Hopefully, very soon. Until next time.

Peace & Pixels

Super Mario Bros. at 30

Oh we have a good one for you today, folks. Honestly, I think we have the best one of all time.

Legendary.

Legendary. Photo comes from Wikipedia

Thirty years ago to the day, Nintendo released its seminal action side-scroller Super Mario Bros. in Japan for its Famicom video game system. A critical and commercial success (the game would go on to sell over 40 million copies), Super Mario Bros. made the character of Mario a household name and helped cement Nintendo as one of the enduring titans of the gaming industry.

Developed by Nintendo’s R&D 4 studio, young designer Shigeru Miyamoto directed, produced, and (along with Takashi Tezuka) co-designed SMB. Koji Kondo composed the game’s catchy soundtrack, which has been covered by rock guitarists and marching bands.

The game’s premise presents a simple case of search and rescue. As titular hero Mario (or his younger brother Luigi in the two-player mode), you fight to save Princess Toadstool from the clutches of the dragon-like creature Bowser (also called King Koopa). The game takes players on a fantastical adventure through several different levels (known in-game as “Worlds”) which range from the sunny, greenery filled stages to the bowels of dungeons. Along the way, you pick up a number of power-ups to help Mario and Luigi in their quest, such as the Magic Mushroom (which doubles their size and durability) and the Fire Flower (which enables them to shoot fireballs). Trippy? Absolutely. Fun? Definitely.

Super Mario Bros. is the game that made a lifelong gamer out of me. It was the first video game I ever owned (thanks, family!) and the first one I beat. Without question, my interest in video gaming persisted largely because of this side-scrolling classic.

Thanks for the memories, Nintendo! You’ve given us thirty good years of Mario, and here’s hoping for thirty more. Until next time.

Peace & Pixels

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ten Years Gone: A Trip to Japan

Sometimes things are a little tardy here on the Chomp, but they always (eventually) get done. Although this is primarily a video game blog, occasionally I’ll veer off-topic, which (admittedly after some hesitation) I’ll be doing today. As many of you may know, August 6th and 9th of this month marked the 70th anniversary of the United States’ atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. The results were devastating: the nuclear energy unleashed by the bombs instantly claimed an estimated 80,000 lives in Hiroshima and 70,000 in Nagasaki. The overall figures are rough, but it is thought that well over 200,000 lives were lost due to the attacks, both from the initial detonations and other conditions such as radiation sickness.

I bring all of this up not just because of the historical significance, but for personal reasons as well. My love of Japan spans much of my life, ever since that childhood moment when I first read the words “Made in Japan” on the back of one of my Nintendo cartridges. I remember telling my mother and grandmother that I would one day travel to Japan, and thanks to their sacrifices and the kindness of family friends, that declaration became a reality in 2005.

However, my trip to Japan was not for vacation, but for scholarship. The year 2005 was the 60th anniversary of the atomic bomb attacks, and in observance, DePaul University offered a course on the ethics of the U.S.’s usage of the atomic bombs. Professor Dr. Yuki Miyamoto, then a visiting religious studies professor at the school, created the course which also featured Father Dr. James Halstead as co-professor.

The course, which began during DePaul’s Spring Quarter, was a multidisciplinary class that included academic articles, creative pieces (specifically Keiji Nakazawa’s manga Barefoot Gen, which was inspired by his own experience during the Hiroshima attack), videos and personal accounts from survivors of the attacks, known as hibakusha (often translated as “bomb survivors”, but literally means “explosion affected people). Later on that summer, we were to travel to three cities in Japan: Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki.

Before taking the class, I hadn’t given much thought to the ethics of using the atomic bombs. From what I remember reading in the history books assigned during my pre-college years, the bombs were necessary to save American lives and end the war. Other than that, I mainly saw the bomb in terms of fear, mainly because of fictional stories in which the threat of nuclear war threatened humanity. I suppose if a weapon is so feared and powerful, I should have at least attempted to consider the ethics of its usage. Even after reading the articles that analyzed the ethics of the bomb attacks in an academic context, nothing resonated with me more than the personal account of Katusiji Yoshida.

Mr. Yoshida was a teenager living in Nagasaki when the atomic bomb detonated over the city. Through a translator, Mr. Yoshida told us of his personal struggle with the aftermath of the attack, including his stay at a hospital that lasted well over a year. His body and face were badly burned from the heat of the radiation, causing him a great deal of physical and emotional pain, the latter of which came from the teasing he suffered due to his injuries.

Unfortunately, stories of mistreatment like Mr. Yoshida’s aren’t uncommon for many hibakusha. They have faced some arduous times, enduring ridicule from some of their fellow citizens because of their injuries and appearance, as well as having to pay their own (often expensive) medical bills for over a decade until the Japanese government set up The Act on Medical Care for Atomic Bomb Survivors in 1957.

Faced with eyewitness testimony and learned scholars questioning whether atomic weaponry was ever an ethical choice in war, my mind opened to a whole new type of discourse on the usage of the bombs. Upon finishing the remaining coursework at the end of the school year, we were set to leave for Japan in late June. Our first stop was Kyoto, where we stayed in for only a few days. In that time, we did manage to visit a zen rock garden and traveled on bullet trains that rode so smoothly, I sometimes cry a little when I ride the L trains here in Chicago.

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The crew in Kyoto. See the girl in the red shirt with the glasses? I should have been nicer to her

The next city we visited was Hiroshima, Yuki’s hometown, where we spent the majority of our trip. A sprawling metropolis, Hiroshima was busy, modern, and beautiful. We visited a number of places and people in the city (including an internet cafe with one of the nicest guys ever), but the place I remember most is the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Museum.

Hiroshima_Peace_Memorial_Museum_2009

The Museum. Photo comes from Wikipedia

Established in 1955, the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Museum features a number of displays about the bomb attack on the city. There are photographs, artifacts, and videos featuring the personal accounts of hibakusha who recalled what happened to them on the day of the bombing.

Visiting that museum is still one of the saddest experiences of my life. Some of the things I saw there made me physically sick. There were many photographs of decimated buildings, scorched neighborhoods, and people whose bodies were viciously burned, warped and disfigured by the radiation. It was a terrible thing to view, especially the images that showed children. Nothing more proved that sentiment to me than the remains of a young boy’s charred and tattered clothes on a mannequin in one of the exhibits. Even now, the thought of that display, and all of those photographs still makes me nauseous.

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Fellow student Matt (R) and myself laying down flowers in remembrance of the victims on the Peace Museum’s campus.

Despite the overall somber nature of our time in Hiroshima, there was one particularly inspiring moment when we were able to meet Yuki’s father.  He was a cordial, kind, and thoughtful man, even going as far as bringing gifts for all of us. The gift I was given was a decorative set of chopsticks, which I kept in the same condition that I received them.

Meeting Yuki’s father was a miracle in itself. During the war, he was a teenager in the military training to become a suicide pilot. When the bomb detonated over Hiroshima, he was (if memory serves me correctly) on an island just off the coast of the city. Fortunately, he did not suffer from any effects of the bomb but he did see it explode. I remember thinking how blessed Yuki’s father was to be alive, and humbled to experience how graciously he treated us.

The last city on the trip was Nagasaki, where we students got the chance to stay with a host family. A young woman named Seiko took myself and fellow student Brandon in with her family who lived in the mountains. The experience we had getting to Seiko’s house was cinematic in itself, as Seiko skillfully navigated the narrow roads like a stuntwoman. Jokes aside, Seiko and her family were incredible, no easy feat considering how insufferable I can be. I said it then and I’ll say it now, heavens bless them for dealing with my lack of chopsticks skill at the dinner table.

Nagasaki was gorgeous, balancing modern architecture with a rural aesthetic. While walking around I almost couldn’t believe it suffered such a devastating attack all those decades ago. Most of our study in Nagasaki was done at an all-female Catholic university, where we were able to interact with some of the students, and even met the school’s president.

Upon returning home, I took a few days to really process my experience. I felt a lot of emotions–sadness, joy, fear and anger to name a few–, but I was mostly grateful for being a part of that class and learning about the bomb attacks on Japan’s soil and from her people. In many ways, it was an experience that has indelibly changed my life.

Of all the things that occurred while I was in Japan, I the kindness of the people struck me most. I had heard that there would likely be many people who would be cordial to us, but I was still unsure. I feared that some people would be hesitant to accept us because many of us came from the country that was responsible for so much destruction on their soil. Fortunately, my fears were not realized, and I experienced some of the most comfortable moments of my life there.

During one Saturday that summer, I decided to share my experiences on Japan with a group of people at First United Church of Oak Park, which I often attended at the time. Despite some pitfalls I had as an orator, I did my best to describe what I had seen and learned, and, judging by their enthusiastic reactions was successful in doing so.

Where I failed, however, is my squandering of an opportunity to write then mayor of Chicago Bill Daley about the non-profit organization Mayors for Peace, which consists of mayors from cities across the globe. Founded in 1982 by then mayor of Hiroshima Takeshi Araki, Mayors for Peace seeks the promotion of peace across the world, with one of its efforts being to end the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Although Daley eventually joined the group, I never sent him the letter I started writing to him, mostly because I didn’t have the courage to find the words to say. Obviously, that wasn’t one of my braver moments.

In the decades since the bomb attacks, the U.S.’s nuclear weapons stockpile both ballooned (it had a cache of over 31,000 weapons in the 1967 fiscal year) and, according to this report by the U.S. Department of State, fell to its lowest levels in 2003. While that’s encouraging, I’d like to see that number hit zero.

To anyone who reads this post, know that I wrote it fully aware that I’m not an authority on nuclear weapons. I’m not a scholar, a veteran, nor any type of defense specialist. I wrote this out of concern for this world and the people in it. Perhaps one day we will see a time where there is no threat of nuclear weapons because the world will be rid of them. Don’t let my optimism deceive you; I’m no fool, and am well aware of the unlikelihood of a world free of nuclear weapons. Still, that doesn’t deter me from believing such a future can be realized. Until next time.

Peace & Pixels

Satoru Iwata Has Passed Away

1959-2015

1959-2015   Photo comes from nintendoenthusiast.com 

It’s been a long time since I last posted, and unfortunately I’m doing so now with a heavy heart. Satoru Iwata, Nintendo’s President and popular icon of gaming, passed away Saturday due to a bile duct growth. He was 55.

Iwata joined Nintendo’s HAL Laboratories as a programmer back in the early 1980s, and was involved in the creation of a number of games including The Legend of ZeldaKirby’s AdventureEarthbound and Super Smash Bros. In 2002, he was named President of Nintendo after succeeding Hiroshi Yamaucchi. Iwata eventually oversaw some of Nintendo’s (and the gaming industry’s in general) most successful products, among them the Nintendo Wii and the DS family of handheld consoles.

My condolences go out to Iwata’s family, friends and colleagues. He will sorely be missed.

RIP