So, Fun Pastimes for Stupid Children is now located at funpastimes.com. If you have bookmarks or something, you may want to update ’em. Things seem to be working more or less okay, but I’m still messing with the redirects — hopefully I can get them working so that links to specific articles or files still work. Apologies for any inconvenience, things might be intermittently weird for a little while.
Hupaisaa ajankulua tyhmille lapsille on nyt osoitteessa funpastimes.com. Päivittäkää kirjanmerkit ja silleen. Blogin vanhasta osoitteesta on nyt siirto tänne suoraan, joka tuntuu toimivan yleisesti ottaen, mutta sitä pitänee säätää vielä, jotta linkit artikkeleihin tai yksittäisiin tiedostoihin toimisivat. Pahoittelen, jos tästä koituu häiriötä, lähiaikoina saattaa olla vähän säätöä.
The first computer I could really call my own was a 286, bought with my own money. I couldn’t tell you the exact year, but off the top of my head, I’d say it was 1990 — thereabouts, anyway. I had friends whose parents bought them pretty serious computers as presents, but that wasn’t something that happened in our family. We weren’t dirt poor or anything, but money was always a little too tight for something like that. That’s not to say that there had never been a computer in the house, of course, but if I wanted one just for myself — and I absolutely did — I’d have to come up with the cash.
Somehow, I did. I can’t remember where I got it from; a PC was more expensive than I could have afforded with my allowance. It was some kind of windfall money, funds that unexpectedly fell on my lap from some stroke of luck that I no longer can identify.
It wasn’t a new machine — it was a used 286, slow even by the standards of that day. I remember going out to this dingy hole in the wall place that sold stuff like that. I think I actually saw an ad in the paper for the thing. My mother’s new husband drove me there — something that now seems almost embarrassing, because we didn’t get along at the time. We were still adjusting to him being a part of the family, which mostly consisted of me being an asshole while he displayed the patience of a saint. I guess he didn’t have much choice, if he wanted to make the family work; in any case, he took the time out of his Saturday to take me to the place even though I probably had been a dick to him in one way or another. It wasn’t the first time he went out of his way to do something for me that I didn’t appreciate properly at the time. If I could go back in time and meet the teenaged me, I would probably just drown myself, time paradox or no time paradox. Like all teenagers everywhere, I was a fucking idiot and thought that I was awesome — a neat trick for a nerdy kid with the self-esteem of a gnat, come to think of it.
I bought the computer. There was nothing cutting edge about it. I’m pretty sure some of my friends were already sporting 486’s at that point, but so what? It was my own damn computer, I didn’t have to share it with anybody, and I could do what I wanted with it. It had a 32 MB hard drive and some piddling amount of RAM that I can’t quite recall — probably something like 2 or 4 megs, I’d guess. No sound card. A year later or so, I think, I upgraded it into a 386SX — again, I was behind the curve, but it was what I could afford at the time.
What that computer lacked in power, it made up for in sheer utility. I could play fantastic games — the Lucasarts adventures in particular didn’t really care too much about processing power and would run just fine even on my machine. But the important thing is that I had a modem. I could connect to the internet — such as it was at the time — which I was already familiar with. Of course, this was well before the days of graphical interfaces; it was all text, but it was still amazing to me that I was making connections with people who were literally on the other side of the world. I’d stay up all night long, typing messages and reading responses, forging relationships that are mostly now forgotten, but which still pop up every once in a while.
That’s so commonplace as to be mundane now, but the ability to have a real-time conversation with another person somewhere on the other side of the planet was unprecedented to me. The hardware I was using was outdated, but I was right there in the heart of a technological and social explosion that, in a few years, would start to transform the world in amazing ways that we now take completely for granted — that’s how comprehensive that change has been.
It also enabled me to start writing. I didn’t have a word processor and didn’t really understand why anyone would want to use one; I hammered out page after page in plaintext ASCII with a text editor, complete with a manual line break every 75 characters or so… I don’t believe any of the stuff I wrote at the time still survives anywhere, and I can only hope that is the case; just the memory of the horrible crap I pounded out mortifies me. Between very bad cyberpunk fiction, confused attempts at superhero stories, and even the occasional Star Trek fanfic — I know, I know — there was no end to now-embarrassing stupidity… but at least I was some kind of a writer, damn it. I was spinning stories, and once I got started, I never really stopped. Now it’s a career.
And now it’s a couple of decades later, and I have an iPhone vastly more powerful than that computer, and that’s not even getting into my “real” computers — and none of those devices are considered to be in any way out of the ordinary.
When I was a kid, there were still computer geeks, people who got into computers and learned strange and arcane things that were incomprehensible to normal people. They were often treated with a strange mixture of contempt and awe; at the very least, no one could deny that these people had skills and knowledge beyond that of normal mortals. Computer geeks would have computers of their own, and they would write programs, or play games, or take them apart and put them back together. Just starting a program required special skills that ordinary people were absolutely not expected to have.
These days, that concept of the computer geek is all but dead and buried, despite the best efforts of Linux admins all over the world. Can’t use the internet? Don’t have an e-mail address? Don’t know how to turn on a laptop? It’s like saying you don’t know how to open a door. You can get away with that if you’re over fifty, but for a young person, that’s like not knowing how to flush a toilet — if you can’t handle that kind of basics, there’s something wrong with you. You’re a fucking retard.
Getting back to the iPhone, the capabilities of this device — whether I think of it in terms of gaming, or communication, or anything else, really — are so much more advanced than that old 286 that if my teenaged self could see it, he probably wouldn’t take it seriously. And I really do take it for granted. Most people do. I can — and typically do — carry an entire library of music or books in my pocket. Earlier today, I used it to conduct an interview with a guy over 3,000 kilometers away from me, but instead of it being a traditional a phone call, I used Skype and a WiFi connection. A little later, I was hanging out with a friend of mine and, at the same time, downloaded a 200 megabyte file off the internet in a couple of minutes… and just before I did that, I paid for the file. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but the number of huge sociopolitical and technological changes required to make that a possibility — let alone a completely mundane event — is staggering.
It’s a pervasive change. I’m pretty sure that I no longer know anybody who has a landline in their house, at least nobody in Finland. Even my grandmother has a cell phone. My sisters, who are quite a bit younger than I am, have essentially always had computers and cell phones of their own. I don’t think they really understand how they work, and they don’t care. And why should they? These devices have evolved far past the point of an engineer mindset being required to operate them. Their users are no longer a special caste of their own, they’re just people who need to get things done. Today, in Western society, anybody whose life isn’t a completely hopeless train wreck can get some kind of a computer of their own that enables them to get connected.
We’re living in the future and don’t really even notice. It’s pretty amazing.
Being without Facebook is, these days, pretty much the same thing as being without an e-mail account or a cell phone — you can do it, sure, but it’s gonna make life more complicated. Back in the day, when people started joining it, it was just another Sixdegrees or Friendster or whatever the hell. I declined.
It became a thing. I was not unaware of this, obviously. The focus of social interactions has slowly but surely shifted away from where I generally hang out. I find that the people I don’t interact every day — especially those of my friends who aren’t in Finland — just aren’t there… because I’m not where they are. But I’m a stubborn asshole, and I’ve held out. Still, for a good while now — a couple of years, at least — I’ve been saying, “I know I have to join it… but not today.”
Oh, look, it’s the 22nd here in Finland already, and the world still hasn’t ended. No Rapture in sight. Jesus didn’t show. Frankly, I’m shocked, because all that stuff seemed totally legit.
It’s okay, we’ll be sure to hear plenty of excellent and totally solid explanations for why it didn’t happen. Probably because somebody at some point in history used a different calendar or something, or the leap years, or something entirely credible like that. Maybe we’ll get a Nostradamus quote, because those are always right, and in any case we’ve got the nifty end of the Mayan calendar thing coming up in 2012, which means widespread destruction and Armageddon for sure. It’s a sure thing!
By no means should anyone stop being an idiot about this kind of dumb shit and concentrate on living their lives for a change instead of getting worked up over things even a child can recognize as fiction, ’cause it’s totally gonna happen soon.
So, yeah, Sundance.
I was invited as a guest, so it was a working trip, albeit not a super busy one. Actually, when I first read the e-mail, I thought it was a joke or a scam, simply because I don’t work in film — why would they care, right? Then I found out that Sundance has this thing called New Frontier, which ”celebrates the convergence of film, art, and new media technologies as a hotbed for cinematic innovation”. Video games fit that bill pretty well, and since they had a panel on storytelling and video games, suddenly things started to make a lot more sense.
So I went over, partly for work reasons and partly because it’s Sundance — that’s a kind of a no-brainer for anybody who loves cinema. It’s a kind of a rough trip when you’re flying from Finland to Utah — I timed it, and it took almost exactly 24 hours from the time I left my home to the moment I stepped into my hotel room at the other end. I was beat, but the trip itself went pretty smoothly.
The only minor bump in the road was the Immigration guy at O’Hare in Chicago, who peered at me suspiciously and thought it important to make sure I knew that I couldn’t just dance into his damn country as I please. It was kind of ridiculous; it was obvious he wasn’t going to detain me or anything, but he had me for a few minutes and he was going to make me sing for my supper.
Which is what I did, of course. Getting clever with those guys just isn’t worth the aggravation. All you can do is play along.
It’s probably fair to say that in general, my job’s pretty awesome, but there are definitely times when it’s more awesome than usual. Case in point:
Sundance! It’s pretty damn nifty. That said, jetlag’s a real fucking bitch. My body may be in Utah, but my mind’s still desperately trying to catch up.
I don’t typically post just to spit out a link, but the Map of Metal is fucking cool.
The Finnish underground noise band Älymystö went ahead and had their website redesigned, with a bunch of photos, videos and all that crap. It looks nice.
Good for them, I guess, but more interestingly, they’ve now offering a download of their 2005 album, Atomgrad, as a free Creative Commons-licensed relase. Grab the torrent — it’s good shit, provided you enjoy interesting and varied soundscapes, distortion, being enveloped in a somewhat disturbing atmosphere and so forth. And being a person of wide-ranging interests and well-developed taste, of course you do. Check it out.
Oh, Mythbusters! There are so many reasons to love you. There’s the fact that you don’t take yourself too seriously. Or that you’re always willing to go that extra step from stupid to utterly ridiculous. Or that you firmly laugh in the face of mumbo jumbo, and yet take the time to prove it is mumbo jumbo. Or — maybe my favorite — that when you get it wrong, you own up to it. All of this is true, and yet these words fail to truly communicate exactly why I love you so.
But never fear! I have the solution. The image below requires but a click of your mouse, and all will be made absolutely clear. Why do I love you, Mythbusters?
That’s why, baby. That’s why.
Well, progress just keeps on progressing. I went and installed WordPress 2.5, like a good boy. Usually it takes me a while to get around to upgrading, but this time around I was on that bandwagon almost immediately.
It’s a pretty big upgrade; the user interface has gone through a serious revamp. Apparently there are enough new features to choke a horse. Dashboard widgets. A password strength meter. Multi-file uploads. I dunno, it seems pretty much meaningless to me. The older I get, the more the geek seems to leak out of me (leaving me an empty shell of a man, because let’s face it, what the hell else did I ever have in there?); I just don’t get into that stuff. I don’t care.
If you’ll forgive an inaccurate blanket statement with some truth to it, I seem to use just about two features — the one that publishes the article and the one that that saves a draft of it. A little comment management thrown in for good measure. Like a Luddite, I upload any images I use by FTP and type the picture links in by hand. I don’t really need or want anything else, I just want to rant in peace or go off on a tangent on comics and games, stuff like that. I probably didn’t need the upgrade.
Honestly, and it pains me to admit this, looking at the new interface makes me feel a little lost — I mean, what am I now, a baby? “The buttons aren’t where they used to be.” So much for that good old “let me get into the guts of this computer” thing. Like an old man who can’t figure out how to set the time on his VCR, I find that more and more, I just want things to work. I’m not like that all the time, but the time in my evolution as a geek when I looked forward to getting my hands dirty is long gone. Looking back, I don’t think I was ever all that interested; it was something guys like me did at the time, an intrinsic part of the geek experience, but it was a fairly half-hearted effort in my part. That’s why I never became a coder; probably why I didn’t last that long in the IT industry, either. I’m just not interested enough in the nuts and bolts, just what the thing can do for me once it’s put together.
Which is probably why I like using WordPress. I know it’s not a universally loved piece of software, but I have never had any problems installing or upgrading it. I’m enough of a control freak — and, yeah, a geek, I suppose — to not feel comfortable relying on a service provided by one of the blog publishing sites out there, but beyond that, I want to experience a minimum amount of hassle. Messing with the layout is about the level of complexity I still feel comfortable with; beyond that, I just don’t care.