The Midnight Writer -- July 1997
I haven't had any new problems with the Beast recently, and the few lingering glitches don't cramp my style too much. The only serious inconvenience I've experienced with computers this last month had been related to communications troubles, and those ascribable more to logistics/lifestyle issues than to hardware or software.
I have a P75 notebook computer in the office hooked up to my spare modem, an old USR 14.4 Sportster. Several times during the day I check for e-mail on that machine, and use the Beast at home mostly during telehodai hours. I don't always get home at reasonable hours, or at all, sometimes, so lately much of my e-mailing has been done from the office machine. Since a number of TPC people are taking advantage of the internet instead of the BBS for their e-mail, I usually see their messages there first. That's fine, but that notebook doesn't have MS Publisher installed on its miniscule (540MB) HDD. In fact, since it doesn't have a CD-ROM drive, it would be a pain to install MS Pub even if I could spare the space. Thus, when I got the first draft of this issue of the AJ the other day over the net, I wasn't able to look at it on the office machine. So I forwarded it to myself, attachment and all, at my TPC address and downloaded the message from the BBS. What I got was a pretty huge message filled with unintelligible garble, proof of my technical ineptness, I guess.
Publisher Paul Cipywnyk kindly resent the message to me, and nothing was lost but a little time. It would actually have been even less time lost, had I remembered that the current BBS-to-net setup doesn't forward private conference messages from the BBS. That, of course, is where I had posted a message asking Paul to resend the draft. With the internet availability of TPC BBS conferences, he hasn't been logging onto the BBS as frequently as he used to. No harm done, but another lesson for me that for every new convenience, there's a price to pay, somehow, at least until you manage to reach some sort of new accommodation.
The only new gizmo I've played with recently was a tamagotchi. Before you start wondering what I've been smoking lately, I should explain that one of the "extra" tasks I do in my real job is to edit a quarterly English-language newsmagazine that gets sent out to all of NEC's overseas managers. Since it started up 50-something issues ago, I've had a column in every issue called "Glimpses of Japan", where I write about some aspect of Japanese culture, society, current events, and the like, that I think might be of interest to people who haven't been here. It's been getting harder and harder to come up with material this last couple of years (yes, I've already covered youth fashions a.k.a. loose socks/short skirts, purikura, etc.), so the tamagotchi phenomenon seemed a natural.
In the interest of research, I took care of a borrowed virtual chick for a couple of weeks. The bottom line is: what a royal pain this is! Particularly for the first couple of days of the little creature's life, it's more trouble than a human baby. Ensuring that it's fed, cleaned up after, and given enough attention can mean checking up on it every half hour or so, from roughly nine in the morning to nine at night, when it finally goes to sleep and gives you your life back. As you probably know, failure to take good care of the demanding little rascal ensures that it will grow up deformed and/or short-lived.
It's not even cute. Ann Colville's cartoon on the back page has some excellent renditions of various avatars of the tamagotchi chick, except that hers look better than the real thing...to call the LCD graphics on the tamagotchi "primitive" is a compliment. It seems that Bandai went for cheep (sorry; I couldn't resist) graphics on purpose, as a way of differentiating the product from the more typical graphically sophisticated displays. Seems an odd sort of marketing technique, but it appears to have succeeded even beyond the toy maker's wildest expectations.
Both times I tried raising the virtual chick, even with the best of intentions and as much care as I could devote to it, it turned out weirdly shaped and died young: on the seventh day for the first try and on the ninth for the second. When even someone as cynical as I am spends that much time and energy on trying to make something work properly, it's a disappointment to have it fail. It's a mystery to me that its popularity continues to be as high as it has been, high enough to lead to the creation of support groups and information exchange Web sites all over the net, including several English-language ones. There's even a site where you can virtually bury/enshrine your departed tamagotchi and have electronic sutras chanted for it. As far as I'm concerned, it's another behavioral phenomenon showing that the end of the millennium is approaching. Things are getting weirder and weirder.
Well, at the coming fin de siecle I'll be just a half-century old, living proof that there's no justice in the universe. I'll be very interested in observing how much impact the so-called millenium bug will have on our highly computerized society, when the time - not that far off - comes. I won't be riding any elevators at midnight on that possibly fateful New Year's night, I'll try to avoid being in a hospital or airport, and in the unlikely event that I have any money in the bank at the time, I think I'll have withdrawn it a few days before, just in case. There ought to be plenty of topics for conversation for the next New Year's Day, 2001, when the next century begins.
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