#atozchallenge Reflections, 2019

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Well, the 10th Annual Blogging From A To Z April Challenge (hereinafter referred to as “the A to Z Challenge” or simply “the Challenge”) is done and dusted, in the can, finished &c. As is the tradition around here, both in Challenge Land and here on The Sound of One Hand Typing, it’s now time for John Holton’s Address to the Nation about The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly of this year’s Challenge. Maestro, if you please:

  1. To Arlee, J, JR, Csenge, and Jeremy: it was an honor and a pleasure to work with you again, and I look forward to the next 11 months during which we come up with a way to outdo ourselves.
  2. Thank you to every who commented on my A to Z entries, whether or not you were participating yourself. As usual, I did a so-so job of returning the favor. I will visit all of you eventually, read all your entries, and leave lots of comments, I promise.
  3. I enjoyed my theme, “words that contain an X,” and I hope you did, too. I like choosing themes that are word-based, where the words have a common thread (e.g. portmanteaus, words that start and end with the same letter, &c.) as opposed to subject-based, where all the words are related to a single topic. It works the best for me. And yes, I practice what I preach: as I suggested here, I already have a theme for next year.
  4. I was really happy with the level of participation this year. My first year on the committee, we had a couple of thousand bloggers sign up, but only about 40% completed the Challenge. This year we had around 600 and it seemed like most of them (i.e. you) were involved from A to Z. I know there were some complaints that every time a blogger went to a blog on the list, the person wasn’t participating. We make no attempt at “sanitizing” the list like we did in previous years, simply because we don’t have the resources to do it. If you’d like to volunteer to monitor the master list and clean it up, there’s a place on this year’s after-challenge survey to volunteer.
  5. It’s always good to see old friends participating in the Challenge, and it’s also good to see new participants. I know a few people who decided to take the year off, for reasons that made perfectly good sense. We hope we see you next year.
  6. To that end, maybe we can hold a contest to see who can get the most other bloggers to do the challenge. Logistics are always a “TBD” type thing for that, but if you like the idea and want to see it come to life, leave me a comment.
  7. I know we should try to get a list of ten things, but I just have one more thing to say:

Stay thirsty, my friends…

ZX81 #atozchallenge

Almost done here!

In the early days of microcomputing, machines were really expensive. Pretty much the least expensive computer you could get in the US was the Radio Shack TRS-80 (affectionately known as the “Trash 80”), which cost $600 ($2500 in 2018 dollars) and that was just for the computer, which came with 4 KB of memory, a 64-line monitor, and a keyboard. I don’t even think it had a disk drive (although I can’t imagine it didn’t), but you could add on floppy disk drives, hard drives, tape backup, more memory, and other peripherals, all available from Radio Shack. The TRS-80 came out in 1977 and quickly dominated the market.

Pretty soon, just about everyone and his brother had a computer of some kind. All, of course, except me. I couldn’t justify spending that much money on something that was basically a toy that I knew I’d be on all the time. So I did without.

Until I heard about the Sinclair ZX81.

The Sinclair ZX81, pretty close to full size. Evan-Amos [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D

The ZX81 came with a whopping 1 KB of memory, but a 16 KB memory expansion (pretty much a sine qua non if you wanted to do anything besides write a program that spit out “HELLO WORLD”) was available. Storage was supplied by your own cassette recorder, while the monitor was your own black-and-white TV. It was delivered with a version of BASIC loaded on it so you could write programs to do stuff. I made my case to Mary, and $80 later, I was the proud owner of a ZX81 (which I soon learned was pronounced “ZED-X-81”).

I have to say, for a little computer, you could write some pretty interesting stuff on it. First thing I did was to type in some programs that I found in a couple of books we found at Crown Books. I had to get used to the way you typed in the various BASIC commands, which was not to type them, but to press one of the keys that would type the whole command out for you. I also had to learn how to adapt the programs in the books (written for the TRS-80) so they would run on the ZX81. Once I had done that, though, I was in business. I actually designed and wrote a program to balance the checkbook that worked pretty well, and I was quite proud of myself.

The ZX81 had almost cult status. There were magazines that talked about new software that was available (on cassette) and how to get the most out of the machine, and I started reading them. Another guy at work had one, and we’d talk about what we had done and what we had found out, we’d share magazine articles… I mean, it was great!

For about nine months, anyway. After about that long, I had gotten tired of it. Setting it up was a drag, trying to keep one of my cats from chewing through the power cord became a hassle (as did soldering the wires back together), and, let’s face it, it was an $80 computer that was pretty severely limited in what it could do. Timex, the company that owned Sinclair, started marketing the computers under its own name (the Timex-Sinclair 1000), but it was pretty much the same little computer that I had grown tired of.

Then, it just sort of vanished. The magazines were gone, the books, the software, the computers themselves, all gone, pretty much overnight. It was time to move on.


And that, my friends old and new, is that for the 2019 Blogging from A to Z April challenge. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, whether you’re a participant or just someone who dropped by to read. Watch the Challenge blog for further updates.

Yex #atozchallenge

The letter that gave me the most trouble this year wasn’t X, it was Y. There is really only one word that I could find that fit the criteria: yex, which means “hiccup” or “belch.” George Carlin, in his (in)famous routine “Class Clown,” talked about a classmate who could belch at will…

We all knew a guy like that. There was a guy a year ahead of me in grammar school who would always announce himself whenever he’d walk into the theater at school. There was another guy who could make a sound kind of like a tiger coughing up a hairball.

I was looking at yex, and if you capitalize it, YEX, it looks like an IATA airport code. I consulted a list, and was disappointed that there’s no airport with that code. There’s a YAX, which is the Angling Lake/Wapekeka Airport in Wapekeka, Ontario, Canada, and a YBX (Lourdes-de-Blanc-Sablon Airport in Blanc-Sablon, Quebec), and a few more, all in Canada. But no YEX. Damn.

XX #atozchallenge

Call it cheating if you want. I had plans to make this a scholarly work on Xerxes I (“The Great”), King of Persia, but history just isn’t my thing. Then, I was going to write about Xerox, and realized… nah. It’s Saturday! Have a beer!

Specifically, a Dos Equis, Spanish for “two X’s.”

Dos Equis is brewed by CuauhtĂ©moc Moctezuma Brewery, a Mexican brewery based in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, with plants in Monterrey, Guadalajara, Toluca, Tecate, Orizaba, and Meoqui. Also called Heineken Mexico, it brews a number of Mexican beers, including Dos Equis, Sol, Bohemia, Superior, Carta Blanca, Noche Buena, Indio, Casta and Tecate, to the tune of over 3 gigaliters (almost 800 million US gallons) per year. They have a Lager Especial and an Ambar, both of which are good. The two X’s were originally placed on the bottles to signify the 20th Century, in case you were wondering.

Most people know of Dos Equis because of their ad campaign, The Most Interesting Man In The World. Jonathan Goldsmith played the role from 2006 to 2016, after which he retired, replaced by Augustin Legrand. Here are some examples of the commercials (they’re all in the video).

Mr. Goldsmith’s Most Interesting Man in the World has become a minor classic as an Internet meme. I founde a meme generator and made this:

Stay thirsty, my friends.

Waxing #atozchallenge

A couple of years ago, when I was doing words that started with the letter of the day and ended with the next day’s letter, my word for W was “wax,” when I discussed waxing the floor. This is another kind of waxing.

One of the things that you’d always see in the weather report in the newspaper was the phase of the moon. What that had to do with the weather, I have no idea, but it was always kind of interesting to me.

Phases of the moon for Atlanta, 2019. Source: timeanddate.com

This past Sunday was Easter, which commemorates the day that Christians (including Orthodox Christians) believe Jesus, having been crucified a couple of days earlier, rose from the dead and exited the tomb to which he had been committed. The official day that we celebrate Easter is defined as “the Sunday immediately following the first full moon of spring.” However, we don’t rely on the astronomers to determine the date of the vernal equinox (i.e. the start of spring). Rather, the beginning of spring is presumed to be March 21, and an involved algorithm is used to compute the date of Easter based on the year. The result yields a date between March 22 and April 25. The formula is actually pretty accurate: you’ll notice from the table above that the first full moon of spring was on April 19, meaning Easter would fall on April 21, the same date as the formula gives us. (Orthodox Easter, being based on the Julian calendar, is a week later. This year, anyway.)

So, what does all this have to do with waxing? Nothing, really. Just took you on a side trip.

Looking at the calendar above, we see the dates of the new moon, first quarter (when the right-hand half of the moon is lighted), full moon, and last quarter (when the left-hand side is lighted). Between the new moon and the first quarter, the moon is waxing crescent; from the first quarter to the full moon, it’s waxing gibbous; from the full moon to the last quarter, it’s waning gibbous; and from the last quarter to the new moon, it’s waning crescent.

There’ll be a test on this next week. Class dismissed.