Thursday, August 31, 2017

Time for the Lottery Drawing

Things have changed a bit in 30 years, but dorm life apparently isn't one of them.

Sure, there's wifi (and network access in general), newer washing machines, smartphones*, and air conditioning**, but the dorms are filled with students, and students haven't exactly changed much over the years.

Our oldest mini-Red is now at university, living in a dorm with three other women. I've heard the common complaints ("classes are overwhelming at times") and emergency requests that comes with life from someone in music/band ("I need my flip folder sent to me so that I'm ready by Saturday's game"), but I've also heard items that are closer to a modern sensibility ("wifi sucks" and "I need to get this program loaded but the instructions for installing it are all screwed up").
"Hey Lazlo! Wanna see a demonstration of gravity?"
The dorm wasn't too far off this, but with a LOT
more cinder block and a lot less graffiti.
From Real Genius (1985) and
By comparison, when I attended college you couldn't connect to the university owned network from your dorm or rented house until my junior year. And even then, you needed a modem to handle the dial-up connection.*** The internet? Ha! Good luck with that, because it was the province of only the professors and a few lucky students who could use the net for research purposes. (Remember, the web itself was about 7-8 years away.) The concept of using a word processor to write up a paper was still pretty alien, as very few students had computers that could even handle a word processor. I was lucky that my Freshman roommate had a Commodore 64 and a printer, but until I reached my Junior year I frequently relied upon my old Smith Corona electronic typewriter to write my reports.****
We still have my wife's old Smith Corona around.
I haven't seen mine in decades. From

The Commodore 64 --and, to a lesser extent, the Apple IIe-- were what my fellow students frequently had if they had any computer or game console at all in their dorms. The NES was still a rare find on campus as most students couldn't afford to have one in their dorm --you more often found a hand-me-down Atari 2600 than an NES-- so the C64 was also the primary games machine for a lot of students.*****
There are times when I really do miss this
machine. Considering they were built like
tanks, I suppose I could find one
if I really wanted it. From Pinterest.

While I have very fond memories of my roommate's C64 --it introduced me to Ultima IV and Infocom games such as Planetfall-- the gaming landscape today is a wee bit different than thirty years ago. Among other things, tech's integration with society has had a huge impact on the public's perception of gamers. The very concept of being a gamer has much more acceptance today than it did in the 1980s, when "gamer" as a slang or descriptive term really didn't exist.

What we call gamers today were basically lumped into generic bucket of "nerd" activities. Played D&D? Nerd. Played video games? Nerd. Owned an actual game console? Nerd. Was into science? Nerd. Was into computer science? Nerd. Watched cartoons? Nerd. Read comics? Nerd. Was into science fiction and fantasy? Nerd.
Life is hell when the Alpha Betas are in charge
of the frat council. From Revenge of the Nerds (1984).
From giphy.
Sure, those activities are still nerdy, but the term "nerd" was much more pejorative back then. Today, video games are big business. So are boardgames and pencil-and-paper RPGs. The list of top grossing movies dating back to (roughly) 2000 has been an 80's nerd's paradise. Hell, even MTV, that purveyor of hipster teen/twentysomething coolness, has had SF/F shows on their lineup.

All this has translated into today, where having a dorm roommate who plays video games or D&D isn't so out of the ordinary.


When I arrived at my dorm my freshman year, I walked past the hallways of people carrying boxes into their own rooms. Some had begun putting up posters of rock bands, hot bikini babes, and odes to greed.
Yeah, like this. This and the posters of Budweiser
swimsuit models pretty much scream '80s.
From Yahoo.

I walked into my dorm room, and there were a few boxes set neatly to one side. A signed photo of Tom Baker, the Fourth Doctor, sat on the two person desk next to a pair of prom photos. My roommate came through the doorway carrying a milk crate of stuff that had a copy of Dragon magazine on top, and I grinned. I was with another member of my tribe.******

This cover, actually. I remember the Mystic
College article very well. From

Fast forward to the other week when the oldest mini-Red was getting settled into her dorm, she put up a few posters --Rogue One among them-- and her roommate began talking about the copy of Smash Up that the mini-Red had tossed onto her bed. Thirty minutes later they were discussing D&D 5e and maybe getting a campaign together.

I wore a silly grin for the next five minutes.

As I later texted my brother-in-law, "Sometimes, you just win the roommate lottery."

*The dorm that the oldest mini-Red lives in was built in the 50s/60s and had places for telephones hung on the wall. But --surprise surprise-- those phones are now gone. If your kid doesn't have a cell at this point then they can't call anybody without a laptop or tablet using Skype. Of course, some teenagers might read this and think "Who CALLS anybody anymore?" I guess I'm getting old...

**One of the universities we visited during the selection process was my and my wife's alma mater. During the group tour it came out that yes, we were alumni, and one of my fellow parents asked me what I thought of the dorms that they were presenting. "I'm amazed that they have air conditioning," I replied. "All of the main dorms didn't have A/C when I was here."

"What do you remember the most?"

"The smell. Imagine 40-50 guys on one floor, with no A/C, and the smell of sweat and dirty clothes. It got really fragrant at times."

***My housemates and I my senior year pooled our money and splurged on a second phone line so we wouldn't tie up the main phone by connecting to the university.

****Remember Wordstar? It was a competitor to Wordperfect at the time, and it's software could fit onto one 5.25" floppy disk with enough space for your papers. That meant if I had access to a PC around campus, I could pop in the floppy, start Wordstar, and work on a paper. It did have one major flaw in that if you got too eager and began to pull the floppy before it completely stopped spinning, your data file would get corrupted. I sadly discovered this the night before my final in my Advanced Lab class, where I lost 3 lab reports at 11 PM. The data was there, but unrecoverable. I had to rewrite those 3 reports --each report 20-25 pages long-- plus the one that was unwritten by 8 AM. I still don't know how I managed to write about 80 pages in one night, but I was so hyped up on coffee, adrenaline, and sheer terror that after I turned in all the papers I simply couldn't get myself to calm down and sleep for another 4 hours.

*****The NES back in 1987 ran typically from $100-150, with the deluxe set $179. In 2017 dollars, that's $220-330 for the commonly found versions of the NES and $400 for the deluxe set (courtesy of the inflation calculator at These numbers are pretty much in line with what a new PS4/XBox One/Switch costs in 2017.

******You can buy those milk crates --even though they don't hold milk anymore-- at all of the discount stores such as Target and Walmart. Another nod to things that never change.

And for the record, yes, we did have some non-geeky posters on the wall too. Like the obligatory 6 foot tall poster of Samantha Fox. Yes, THAT poster. And yes, when my parents visited my dorm room later that year, I thought my mom was going to have a heart attack. (They never even noticed the D&D stuff tucked in a corner.)


  1. Yay for mini-Red #1 hitting it off well with her roomie!

    I got a chuckle out of the poster with the seaside villa and all the fancy cars because that exact poster is on the wall of the lecture classroom I used to teach in in the old science building. :P

    1. I haven't talked to her much over the past several days --mostly debugging work on "why XXX on the laptop wouldn't work" or "why can't I connect to the university system"* but they still seem to be getting along. She and one of her roomies will be playing in the pep band** for football games, and unfortunately their first game tomorrow evening will be with the remnants of Hurricane Harvey still in the region. I predict their dorm area will be filled with flipbook sheets drying out....

      *That was a puzzler until I remembered I manually configured her laptop to point to Google's DNS servers (our local ISP's DNS servers are really bad). Removing those entries, and voila!

      **The university had a marching band from the 1920s through the 60s, but it stopped being active by the end of the 60s.

  2. That's so great on the room mate! Don't tell anyone but we still have an antique phone hanging on the wall. We do have modern phones but I look at the modern one to see who's calling and then answer the old wall phone if I'm in that room. Ah, nostalgia lol.

  3. My in-laws have an actual rotary phone that dates from when their house was built, which is (roughly) the mid-60s. They had the option in the 80s to buy the phone outright, so they did. It's an entertaining bit of nostalgia, until they contact a company that begins with "To use English, press '1'..."

  4. The concept of dorms is pretty alien to me (and I believe I'm not missing out on anything), but I'm happy to hear the oldest mini Red has found such a great room mate!

    1. Rav, how do you handle on-campus student housing in Europe? I figured it would be somewhat similar in that students would be placed in small rooms with space for sleeping, studying, and hygiene.

  5. Yes, yes, I remember pretty much every one of those things. I did get a degree, but I'm pretty sure I majored in D&D.

    1. Our D&D group met on Saturday afternoons --a few players loved to watch the women's basketball team play so we'd usually start after those games-- and then after a long game session we'd grab some food and go rent some really bad B movies from the local video store. Man, those were the days...

    2. Okay, that like about the women's basketball team reminded me of a story...

      One day, the guys were at a game, sitting in the stands and being loudmouth fans. At one point, a ref made a questionable call, and one of the guys yelled out "Hey ref, you suck! What the hell was that, are you blind or something?"

      The ref turns around and gives the opposing team's head coach a technical foul. The coach is flabbergasted; "It wasn't me!!!" he was yelling at the refs.

      After that point, the women on the basketball team turned around, grinned, and started giving the guys a big thumbs up for getting a technical foul called on the other team.