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Tom Gordon's Blother

February 6, 2006

Pining for Nerd-dom
Me figure a good recurring schtick for the Blother ("the Blother?" What am I, Lileks?) is to include a JPEG-destroyed sketch with each entry, whenever possible. (Like the Drawing of the Week feature, Tom? Shut up! Shut up!) So rather than making a fool of myself by vomiting about subjects where it's clear my ignorance is nearly matched by my incoherence, I can occasionally fall back to Pretentious Artist mode instead. Or at least until my reserve of non-underclothed mega-jugged Frazettan-rumped wimmin scratchings is spent. Anyhoo, this time around, it's a preliminary doodle for my "Fafhrd & Grey Mouser" illustrot, dashed off using one of them infectious black-and-white MacPaint wannabes:



(Neologism Alert #2! 'Illustrot' -- an illustration marked by the telltale putrid stench of creative decay)

Gahh. Sometimes I wish there was a mechanism in place whereby a person could immediately 'reformat' one's knowledge of any given subject, and restart the entire educational process again from scratch without requiring a blinkered process of 'unlearning.' (Okay okay, I suppose pickling your brain in alcohol or some other mind-altering substance might do the trick -- but I'd much rather take my chances with a bit o'rigorous technological know-how.)

The reason: programming. My erudition in this subject has been chaotic, to say the least. I started writing digibrain instructions circa 1982, after devouring an introduction to BASIC (yum!) Of course, it sort of helps if you actually fargin' OWN a computer when you're writing computer programs. Instead of, say, scrawling them out beforehand on stacks of looseleaf paper, signing up to use a TRS-80 whose librarian overlords have decreed a contemptible prole patron can only use for ONE STINKIN' HOUR, spending 90% of that same generous allotment frantically entering in the commands on the looseleaf, and then squandering the remainder of that time pulling your preadolescent hair out because the damned prog doesn't run and you don't know what the freakin' problem is and nobody around here can help you because they're all either playing "Zork" or else they're uber-smart suprageekz who don't consort with such lowly rabble as yourself. Eventually though, my hardworking parents plunked down the money to indulge their idiotic son's newest obsession.



The first entry was a Timex-Sinclair 1000, a low-budget deal sporting a bubble-membrane keyboard, memory approximately the size of a gnat's turd, the complete inability to store programs on audio cassettes (despite what the manual vainly professed) and a curious electrical glitch which caused the unit to completely lose power (and that program you'd spent the past 30 minutes on) if it wasn't precisely oriented with the center of the Earth, Orion in the sky, or quite possibly a Californian starlet's menstruation cycle.

But a few agonized years later came the Mother of All Compu-Upgrades -- the Commie 64 -- and at long last I was in business! Quite literally!



Or not. Electronic Arts had little to fear, there. Oh, the C-64 was a GREAT programming platform -- particularly when you've spent the previous 3+ years attempting to mold a BASIC masterpiece on unreliable/unavailable machines with NO storage capacity to speak of. Just the fact that I didn't have to write everything from scratch anymore came as a great shock -- no, I could run out, buy a "floppy disk" and "save" whatever I wanted on 'em! Regardless of whether they were finished or not!

Of course, there were other things you could store on a Commodore 64 floppy disk, too -- as I found out elbowing through the seedy Darwinian corridors of junior high, where a brisk trade in pirated vidgames had transmogrified it into something akin to a kiddie pork-bellies trading pit. Before long, that masochistic enthusiasm once cradled for pecking in badly-parsed Sysiphian subroutines was quickly replaced by a frenzied motion of manic hustling, disk-hoarding and gameplaying. This is not to say my compu-creative fires were completely doused, however; instead they found alternative avenues through such user-friendly utilities as GameMaker, Flexidraw, Movie Maker and Adventure Construction Set -- those few commercially-purchased exceptions amidst my great heaps of illicit IntProp-violating ferro-magnetic loot. (Coincidence? Don't think so...)



Yet such stuff, however convenient, just wasn't PROGRAMMING any longer. No more wreaking havoc POKEing and PEEKing eldritch registers, no more arranging charset pictures on graph paper, and no more complicated mathematical dancing to make pretty music pipe from the speaker. From that point on, yours truly's always worked with proxies and scripts and object-oriented thutunthp. HyperTalk. AppleScript. Lingo. C with prefabricated graphics-manipulating libraries. VisualBasic. Et cet. Feel those neurons atrophying yet, l4merd3wd?

Ah well. I suppose it's for the best. Life is certainly short enough... and while brandishing the most fundamental tools can offer one unprecendented levels of power/control, ultimately in the end they ALSO consume that most precious of commodities: time.

(The only exception to this may be nauseatingly long-winded blogs.)
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