Sunday, April 13, 2008

I deserved it

Kismet. Destiny. Inescapable fate, whether it's the thread of aViking's life as spun by the blind Norns, the store of a man's days as set down in the Book of Life... or the operational lifespan of a piece of electronics as determined by its warranty period. Hidden actuaries project these things out, and their voodoo math makes reality: a warranty is a death-spell, a terminator gene like the time-bomb killswitch coded into Blade Runner replicants...

... except, unlike Rutger Hauer, my iBook didn't get to have a dove flutter heavy-handedly skyward as it took its fatal plunge to the tile floor, less than a week after its AppleCare period elapsed. It's time was up; the power of warranty expiration basically shoved it out of my hands and into eternity.

And so. You know what happens now. Out of retirement, out of necessity, comes the old war-horse, the beaten-down ThinkPad that'd been put out to pasture (i.e. coffined in a banker's box and shoved in a closet) so many years ago. You pick it up, and... you know the feeling of exquiste delicacy you get when you pick up a really old cat? That's what it's like to handle my laptop.

A creaking, crashy bit-rotten install of goddamn Windows ME, the system restore discs long since lost in a seires of moves; no wi-fi capacity; a single functional i/o port (USB) and an unhinged monitor; some kind of deep, deep trouble that makes opening any web browser impossible so I have to type URLs directly into the address bar of an empty folder, force the desktop itself out onto a Web that's ten years beyond its comprehension... every minor hang, hiccup or crashlet requiring rebooting.

You've got to be a silver-lining type in these situations, channel a little Pollyanna for the sake of your own sanity. A half-dead, unreliable, breeze-fragile laptop from the Clinton years? Well, its lack of now-basic functionality will actually enhance my productivity! All my online time-wasters are dead to me -- even a whiff of an embedded YouTube video sends it to crashland, only the cleanest, simplest of sites come close to functioning properly,and the six-versions-ago Flash player eliminates the possibility of playing any of the browser games that've been eating up five or so hours out of evey day. The only thing on this machine that actually works realiably is WordPad, the stripped-down text editing program. There's nothing to do here but write, right?

You'd think so. But the truly dedicated -- maybe pathological? -- procrastinator, work-shirker and gaming addict will always find a way. And so, a way was found.

One of the cool/interesting things about pulling a years-ago machine out of closetbound dotage is that, if you're like me and didn't do any housekeeping before shoving it into the darkness, is that it's kind of like a time capsule. There's the last things you were working on, the last photos you uploaded, the last sites you visited. Memories, nostalgia... maybe a little bit of heartbreak. In my case, just past the old reviews (I'd forgotten how much I hated the Minority Report game) and sunny pics of distant girlfriends was an old, familiar doom: when last I used this machine, I still hadn't worn away the novelty of NES emulation.

So, there was the emulator -- NESter.exe, public beta 2, (c)2000 -- but... where were the ROMs? For some reason -- maybe in the poorly-thought-out disc-space-clearing frenzy that originally destroyed my web-browsing capacity -- I'd ditched my library of ripped Nintendo classics, the Bionic Commandos and Little Nemo the Dream Masters, and left myself with exactly two titles: Snake, Rattle and Roll and Phantom Fighter.

Now, these are both more-or-less terrible games. Phantom Fighter is a frustrating, repetetive, side-scrolling kung-fu adventure that's only interesting for its weird ancient-Chinese-vampire-hunter premise; Snake, Rattle and Roll is a mechanically interesting isometric action game rendered nearly unplayable by some of the most aggressively, purposely, sadistically aggravating music I've ever heard. But I took what getaway I could get: midnight of my first day of enforced "nothing to do but write" found me with my dust-crusted old gamepad in hand, grimly kicking the digital shit out of vampire after pink, hopping vampire.

Destiny... kismet. There are some things that simply must be; they're part of the Math of the Universe. A service plan expires, and a laptop must die. His laptop dead, the true vidiot (this term must make a comeback!) finds a way, any way, to snatch empty entertainment from the jaws of productivity.

The circle will not be broken.

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