I want you back in my life, colawars.83p

Do you know how things you trea­sure from your past prob­a­bly would­n’t hold up if you tried to enjoy them again years lat­er?

That does­n’t apply here, bud­dy.

Because there aren’t more impor­tant things to think about these days, nope, my mind recent­ly start­ed wan­der­ing back to a game I played on my graph­ing cal­cu­la­tor back in high school.

I did a lot of that back then, most­ly dur­ing class­es not nec­es­sar­i­ly math. And while there were def­i­nite­ly bet­ter games, more atmos­pher­ic games, more fun games, more Tetrisy games — and dozens of oth­er games I spent more time on — I’m not sure any cap­tured my imag­i­na­tion quite like this one did.

It was called Cola Wars and this game was absurd. You would buy and sell cans of Coke, Sprite, Moun­tain Dew, RC Cola and — because it was the late 90s — Jolt. You’d buy them on the street from a deal­er and try to re-sell them. Prices would go up and down. For some rea­son you had to avoid the cops.

I was struck by the sheer… I guess the word would be “ran­dom­ness” of the idea. It did­n’t cross my unso­phis­ti­cat­ed mind that it could have been a metaphor, an alle­go­ry or some­thing. I sin­cere­ly believed that some­one in the world just one day decid­ed that they would make a game about the risks and rewards of illic­it­ly sell­ing soft drinks on the sec­ondary mar­ket.

So when I lat­er dis­cov­ered that there was a game called Drug­wars, and that TI-83 was def­i­nite­ly not the first plat­form it was avail­able on, and that the weird drinks game was a rip-off — if not a sim­ple find-and-replace — it explained how this mys­te­ri­ous, supreme­ly odd duck came into exis­tence.

And I guess it took away some of the appeal. But just a lit­tle. I’d love to find a copy and play it again, but the places I would nor­mal­ly look have failed me. And I’ve done some seri­ous Way­back Machine spelunk­ing.

Help me, the Inter­net.

Icky Thump

I once told this girl in a bar that I was sav­ing the White Stripes’ final album, 2007’s Icky Thump, to lis­ten to at some point in the future just so I could have the plea­sure of lis­ten­ing to a new White Stripes album when there were no new ones. This was a bunch of years ago, it was true, and she said she was impressed with my self-control.

Late last year I found myself in the dri­ver’s seat in Texas late at night with a long way to go. By then I had bought the album and kept a copy stored up in the cloud, always avail­able but nev­er played and just kind of hang­ing out. I had avoid­ed even mere­ly read­ing reviews for almost a decade, but these unfa­mil­iar roads kin­da seemed like the right time, and this night the right place to pull Icky Thump down from the sky and out through the rental car speak­ers.

You know, I’ve got this playlist for songs that are not nec­es­sar­i­ly great, but when I first heard them made me go “whoa—what world did this thing come from?” (The playlist is actu­al­ly, lit­er­al­ly, titled “What world…?”) Ramm­stein, Goril­laz, Eminem, Black Flag, Mind­less Self Indul­gence, and a few oth­ers, have a track apiece on the playlist. None of the songs have that effect on me any­more, but every track was once mind-melting stuff.

Would adding an entire album be vio­lat­ing the spir­it of the playlist?

Observing Design Observer’s design

Oh, good­ness. I start­ed writ­ing this post in Jan­u­ary, and have had it basi­cal­ly fin­ished for weeks now. I’ve been putting off actu­al­ly post­ing it for some time, think­ing it needs more work. But now — in fact, just three hours ago — Design Observ­er unveiled a redesign and made me look like some kind of jerk. Now, if that isn’t an object les­son in ship­ping

Design Observ­er looks dat­ed.

The Past

DO’s head­er boasts proud­ly that it’design-observer-2s been oper­at­ing since 2003, and you can tell. Look at it with 2014 eyes and you’ll observe a non-responsive fixed-width lay­out with tiny text. Is that real­ly a blogroll? Where are the ubiq­ui­tous social shar­ing but­tons?

It’s like a time cap­sule of early-2000s blog design.

And that’s why it’s so great.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Observ­ing Design Observer’s design”

Not everyone’s a critic

As a kid, I hat­ed “crit­i­cal think­ing” ques­tions.

I did­n’t know what the term even meant, but what I did know was that about a third of the ques­tions at the end of each chap­ter in my school text­books were “crit­i­cal think­ing” ques­tions. I’d read the assigned text — well, usu­al­ly — but skim­ming the chap­ter for key words would mag­i­cal­ly reveal the answers… at least for all the nor­mal ques­tions.

In what year did Napolean what­ev­er? I knew the hack for that: scan the text for num­bers.

My goal was to get my work done as quick­ly as pos­si­ble, because the draw of TV time at home, and “free time” in class was strong. Crit­i­cal think­ing was an annoy­ing road­block to very impor­tant leisure. I just want­ed to get done.

As an adult, I take my time when I work — I just try not to com­plete­ly Dou­glas Adams my dead­lines, if you catch my drift. Qual­i­ty is impor­tant (although it’s only job two), and if I fin­ish some­thing ear­ly, odds are it could use some more thought, anoth­er look tomor­row with fresh eyes, or some­thing like that.

There real­ly is no prize for fin­ish­ing first.

I real­ize now that the crit­i­cal think­ing ques­tions were the only ones that ever real­ly mat­tered. Teach­ers prob­a­bly told us that, but it did­n’t mean any­thing at the time. And when I look around today, I get the sense that to a lot of my peers, it still does­n’t.

Winamp — “feel the love”

Winamp 2.95I prob­a­bly haven’t used Winamp in a decade, but learn­ing that it’s final­ly going away for good brought it back to the top of my mind this week.

Winamp was­n’t just my pri­ma­ry digital-music-playing-thing1 — like many peo­ple, it was the first thing I ever used to play MP3s.

Yes Junior, back then Win­dows Media Play­er was for CDs and WAV files, and iTunes did­n’t exist yet.2

What made Winamp so awe­some? I could devote a whole post3  to the genius of Winamp skins, and things I’ve been read­ing (1, 2, 3) over­whelm­ing­ly ref­er­ence the clas­sic “whip the lla­ma’s ass” sound clip — which, in addi­tion to being a neat lit­tle brand­ing thing, was per­ma­nent­ly imprint­ed on every­one’s mem­o­ry by being the first thing that would play after instal­la­tion.

Those were cool, but my favorite Winamp mem­o­ry is some­thing a lit­tle less… super­fi­cial, per­haps? It’s a short piece of writ­ing that long ago was fea­tured on the “About” page of winamp.com:

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Winamp — “feel the love””

  1. Until iTunes for Win­dows showed me the val­ue in hav­ing a library of files. Yeah, I know Winamp has a library fea­ture, but I nev­er used it.
  2. Oh, and by the way, MP3s were these things peo­ple used to lis­ten to before there was YouTube.
  3. And, shit, I may — Winamp was doing skeu­mor­phics before Apple did skeu­mor­phics before Apple stopped doing skeu­mor­phics.

No Ovaltine please — we’re cool

As a kid, I did­n’t know any­thing about Oval­tine aside from their com­mer­cials, so I had­n’t seen it as a spon­sor of clas­sic radio and tele­vi­sion, as a joke on Sein­feld, or as a big fat liar in A Christ­mas Sto­ry. I can’t remem­ber any of my friends hav­ing any­thing to say about it, either.

I was total­ly unbi­ased.

But from the com­pa­ny’s mar­ket­ing alone, I could tell that rich choco­late Oval­tine was uncool. I had nev­er drunk any — and decades lat­er, I still haven’t — but if I ever had, I cer­tain­ly would­n’t have told any­one about it.

I’m not exact­ly sure why the stuff made my lame-sense tin­gle as a kid. Maybe because Oval­tine was named after a shape (and shapes are for lit­tle kids), or that its mar­ket­ing proud­ly pro­claimed that it was full of vit­a­mins (like every­thing par­ents love, and kids don’t), but what I sus­pect it was… was a lit­tle more basic than that.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “No Oval­tine please — we’re cool”

Cooties: they’re back

Ages ago, we thought we had a cure for cooties in the youth pop­u­la­tion: the cootie shot.

The dis­ease itself could usu­al­ly go untreat­ed with­out ill effect; the real prob­lem was the sec­ondary social stig­ma that came with being a car­ri­er. Once the oth­er kids found out that you had cooties, your social life would be roast­ed, toast­ed… burnt to a crisp. Play dates? Can­celed. Sleep­overs? In your dreams. And, hon­est­ly, who would want to go to your birth­day par­ty?

Yes, it was that bad.

From this cul­ture the cootie shot was born, and fear of cooties could make even the biggest wimp for­get he was afraid of shots — this was a seri­ous prob­lem for which there was no oth­er treat­ment. Even the chil­dren whose par­ents’ ques­tion­able sci­en­tif­ic beliefs kept them far away from vac­ci­na­tions could be found seek­ing treat­ment in the dark alleys of the school­yard, because cooties — not chick­en pox or what­ev­er — was the one ill­ness that could keep you up at night, wor­ry­ing well past your bed­time.

The cootie shot was sup­posed to be a bul­let­proof defense against every known strain. It was sup­posed to offer a sec­ond chance at child­hood.

Get­ting vac­ci­nat­ed worked like this: a typ­i­cal­ly unli­censed prac­ti­tion­er with ques­tion­able med­ical train­ing would admin­is­ter the shot by speak­ing the fol­low­ing incan­ta­tion in a singsong voice, while using their fin­ger to trace the not­ed shapes on your body.

Cir­cle cir­cle, dot dot
Now you’ve got the cootie shot

But that’s just the first stage of the vac­cine cock­tail. Per­haps your fore­arm would be pro­tect­ed, but what about every oth­er part? If you did­n’t con­tin­ue the full course of treat­ment, cooties would like­ly gain a foothold and basi­cal­ly ruin your entire life.

Cir­cle cir­cle, square square
Now you’ve got it every­where

At this point, you’d be safe until the shot wore off… which by the way, it would do almost instant­ly. Kids were still get­ting infect­ed left and right, so the great­est med­ical minds on the play­ground came up with what seemed like a sil­ver bul­let for this pub­lic health cri­sis.

Cir­cle cir­cle, knife knife
Now you’ve got it for your life

Only now could you breathe easy — you were final­ly immune. Not even the yuck­i­est girl1  could cause you harm.

At least that’s how it used to work. Once a panacea, a hope for a bet­ter tomor­row, cootie shots have become scarce. This easily-preventable ail­ment joins measles, polio and whoop­ing cough as again some­thing we must once again wor­ry about.

What hap­pened? Make-believe med­ical pro­fes­sion­als today — with their hands tied by a well-known ene­my of healthy and hap­py pop­u­la­tion — can be heard all too often singing a very dif­fer­ent song:

Cir­cle cir­cle, shame shame
Your HMO denied your claim

  1. Every­one knows that females are the main car­ri­ers of cooties, and those bitch­es are every­where.