Thursday, February 27, 2003

James Lileks concedes his Thursday Bleat is aimless, but then a broken clock is right twice a day, too. There's really no other explanation for the fact that it sounds awfully familiar.

He begins with a dream the essentials of which I've had many times. No, I don't think I've ever dreamed that I had to create a rhyme for Tristan and Isolde, but who hasn't, in those not-quite-awake pre-dawn moments, thought I haven't been to class in weeks, I'm going to fail the final for sure? Only after the panic has awakened you do you remember that you graduated over twenty-five years ago -- and you wish that all you had to worry about was getting to class on time.

Well, fine. So I am the only person that ever happens to.

Then he goes on to chat about his head cold, which I am sharing at the moment without even the excuse of Minnesota weather. My friend who's directing our upcoming radio theater performance found another way to make me sing in public last night (which triggers acute stage fright), impersonating Barney no less. The only thing worse than that is to do so with a sore throat.

At least I was only filling in, and not permanently cast in the part. But the missing couple was missing because the wife's brother has passed away, so I really don't have any problems.

Anyway, I was talking about Mr Lileks, not me.

He goes on to talk about his daughter, "Gnat" (I can't point fingers: I used to call mine "Peanut"), and how nimbly (at two and a half) she skips through dialog boxes in her computer games. Hey, the point of this kind of user interface was to be intuitive. I'm thinking that they only fail to be so with us older types, whose "intuitions" are already shaped by lifelong exposure to media now obsolete. I'll bet Gnat can't drop a stylus on a 78. (I'll bet half the people reading this have no idea what I'm talking about.)

No, I'm not lamenting the good old days. A ten-inch disc with a capacity of five-minutes of music? Who needs it?

He concludes by complaining about how much work it is to get to the "fun parts" in Sim City. He's right, of course, which is one reason I don't play it (or Age of Empires, my households current addiction; there are five working computers in this house, a realization that boggles me when I think of it, and at any given moment three of them are running some version or another of Age of Empires).

I crossed this threshhold years ago, with the popular (and now primitive) Lunar Lander simulations. The idea, as you may remember, was to manually tweak the level of thrust on the lander's rockets so that you survive the touchdown. Too much thrust and you use up your fuel too soon, then fall like a rock. Not enough and you impact at orbital velocity.

It occurred to me after two or three attempts that this is the kind of problem computers were invented to solve. Why am I playing a game in which the computer simulates the environment, and I play the part of the computer?

In this sense, Lunar Lander, Age of Empires, and Sim City are the same game. And people wonder why the only games I play are solitaire and backgammon.

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