Attack of the Mutant Space Zombies

I was quite alarmed when I read this story from Peru today. A meteorite falls to earth and hundreds fall ill; how long before the alien virus (for that is what it surely is) starts turning people into crazed mutant zombies? Sure, Peru seems like a long way away, but this kind of infection tends to have an unpredictable incubation period, so there are probably already symptomless carriers spreading the contagion. We’ll see cases in Lima, then fleeing tourists will take it to North America, and from there it will go global.

Like most municipalities, my home town is woefully unprepared for mass zombie attack. I can only hope that, faced with a rising tide of the undead, the authorities will relax our strict gun-control laws, and issue firearms to surviving citizens. Based on extensive experience of playing Doom and Resident Evil, I would favour a pump-action shotgun, though I guess a good 9mm pistol would do, so long as it had a 25-shot magazine, since zombies can usually take a few bullets before they go down. The whole situation is likely to be fairly chaotic, so I think I could depend on finding plenty of ammunition just lying around.

I’m probably more prepared for this sort of emergency than most people, having suffered from zombie-phobia since childhood. As phobias go, it’s quite a good one to have, since it doesn’t really impact much on my day-to-day life, and an extreme aversion to animated corpses is likely to be quite adaptive once the damned start wandering the earth, feasting on the flesh of the living.

I can trace my fear of zombies back to my first viewing of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, when I was in my early teens. I’ve seen the film several times since then, and while I can appreciate Romero’s sly critique of consumer culture, my visceral reaction is still “Arrrgh!! – Zombies!!”.

My condition seems to be getting worse as the years go by. I haven’t been able to see any of the more recent zombie flicks, like 28 Days After or Shaun of the Dead, and I’ve had to give up playing zombie-themed video games. Even writing this post will probably give me nightmares.

Why do I find zombies so scary? The idea that friends and neighbours could shed their veneer of civilisation and try to kill and eat me must tap into some sort of subconscious paranoia. There’s definitely a sexual subtext too – a fear that libidinal energy might overwhelm the ego and allow the unrestrained id to act out its destructive impulses. (I’ll blame that on watching Cronenberg’s Rabid at an impressionable age). Then there’s the pitiless and relentless nature of the undead, which surely echoes the creeping reality of human mortality. Or maybe it’s just because the putrefied complexions of the living dead look really unattractive.

Anyway, I’m going to go out to the shopping mall tomorrow, to check out how easy it would be to block all the entrances with big lorries. I might look into learning how to fly a helicopter too…

Technical Update

Upgrading my computer is turning out to be a bit more complicated than I had anticipated. I’d thought that it would just be a case of ordering a new graphics card and slotting it in, but I hadn’t reckoned with the fact that technology has moved on a bit since the last time I took an interest in the inner workings of my machine.

Things are made more difficult by the fact that I have only a hazy idea of what is inside the case at the moment. I bought the machine, without any documentation, at a bankruptcy auction about four years ago, and, apart from putting in a new hard drive a while back, I haven’t had any reason to open it up.

The last time I was in the market for expansion cards, they came in two flavours, PCI and ISA, which lets you know that it wasn’t yesterday. I had heard about the introduction of AGP, and I guessed that my current motherboard probably had such a slot, since it was modern enough to support a P4 chip. A little web searching helped me track down the specifications of the board to confirm this. (Tip: to find out more about your motherboard, make a note of the BIOS version listed in the setup menu, type it into Google, and you should end up with a link to the documentation for the board). To further complicate things I discovered that there are several different types of AGP slot, but luckily I managed to find this page, which reassured me that my board should be able to take any new card that I bought.

The card also has to meet the Second Life minimum requirements, with enough to spare to ensure that I don’t have to do all this again when they upgrade their system, not to mention working with Linux, preferably out of the box.

Eventually I narrowed it down to the nVidia GeForce 7 Series. I chose nVidia over ATI because the nVidia Linux drivers seem to be a bit more stable. (Purists would say that the drivers aren’t truly open-source, because nVidia don’t release the source code, but I’m willing to compromise to get this project off the ground). I would have gone for a cutting-edge 8 Series card, were it not for the fact that they seem to only come in PCIE format, AGP having evidently passed the date of its planned obsolescence. Most 7 Series cards are PCIE too, but I managed to track down the Inno3D 7600GS which comes in an AGP version.

I’ve gone into all this in rather obsessive depth, partly to explain why I haven’t managed to get my act together sooner, but also because the experience has made me reflect on how the way I use a computer has changed over the years.

Like many boys of my generation, in the UK at least, my introduction to computing came through the ZX Spectrum, back in the 1980’s. (I did have an Atari 2600 before that, but I don’t think that counts as a proper computer). I used to spend hours labouriously typing in programs written in Z80 machine code, which even at the time was pretty arcane. I created some neat stuff, including an Asteroids knock-off which, in my opinion anyway, was as good as the commercially-available games of the era. I might have gone on to a great career in the industry, if I hadn’t gone off to University and been distracted by drink, drugs, music, politics and girls.

Medical students today seem to spend most of their time sitting in front of computers, but back when I was at medical school “Information Technology” meant the telephone. I did have a couple of friends from the science faculty, who would sometimes talk about a wonderful thing called the “internet”, but nobody paid much attention to them.

It wasn’t until a few years after I graduated that I got myself a PC. I did a bit of programming, subscribed to a couple of magazines to keep up with technical developments and regularly dismantled the machine and rebuilt it with new components.

Then, around the mid-90’s, I acquired a 14.4 modem and discovered the internet, which at that time was just starting to become a mass phenomenon. I was soon enjoying Usenet groups and the first primitive web pages. I remember when I upgraded to a 33.6 modem (a US Robotics Sportster which cost me £200 – I dug it out of the cupboard a few weeks ago when my broadband connection broke down, and it still works) and was completely amazed at the speed. I taught myself HTML (in those days AJAX was something you cleaned the bath with) and put a few pages up on Geocities.

As time passed I lost interest in the computer in itself, and increasingly saw it just as a box that I used to access the net. Eventually I gave up trying to create any online content, web pages or even newsgroup posts, and settled into being a passive consumer of information. This blog is the first time in ages that I’ve tried to reverse the process, and I have to admit that I’m finding it hard going, since every time I sit down with the intention of composing a post I tend to be distracted by essentially aimless browsing. (I have a bad Wikipedia habit, as you’ll know if you’ve followed any of the links from this post).

Anyway, I’ve ordered the graphics card from Amazon, and I should have it by the start of next month. While I’ve got the case open I’m going to put in some more memory, a bigger hard drive and a DVD-RW drive, and I’m also planning to install the latest version of the Mandriva Linux distro. Once I’ve got all that up and running I should be able to install the Second Life client, and finally get down to business.

This ain’t the Mudd Club

The first record I ever bought was the 7″ single version of “Heart of Glass“, back in 1979. This came to mind today when I read that Hilly Kristal, owner of CBGB’s in New York, had died, just a year after the club was forced to close as the neighbourhood around it gentrified. CBGB’s hosted early gigs by Blondie, and several other bands that I grew up with, like Television, Talking Heads and the Ramones, so the news of Hilly’s death produced the depressing realisation that a time that I had lived through was being consigned to the history books.

I visited CBGB’s a few times in the early 90’s, though by then the club’s glory days were long past, and the bands I saw were completely forgettable. At least the Bowery was still authentically scuzzy, and observing the street life was quite entertaining. I remember being tremendously impressed by the general grittiness of New York the first few times I visited – it was exactly how I had imagined it would be from watching Taxi Driver and Mean Streets. I hear that the city has been cleaned up a bit in the last few years, which I guess is good news for New Yorkers, if disappointing for Scorsese-loving tourists.

The last time I was in New York was 1992, for the CMJ. I saw some great gigs during the course of that event, notably The Flaming Lips and The Jesus and Mary Chain, both on the same bill at the Roseland Ballroom, and enjoyed some interesting social interaction with the local music crowd.

Now CBGB’s is gone, Joey, Johnny and Dee-Dee are dead, and the time when I would jet across the Atlantic to go to a music festival is nothing more than a fading memory. I keep meaning to go to SXSW or Burning Man, but at some point in the last decade my life became too complicated to do things impulsively, and I’m no good at planning ahead, so I don’t think it will be happening any time soon.