It works

Rather remarkably, it all seems to be functioning perfectly. I had been anticipating several hours of tweaking before the client would work, but it fired up first time.

I’m still blundering around the orientation section, but, all going well, I should have some pictures to post before long.

Ready to go

I guess it was inevitable that I would follow up a post about slacking with a month-long silence, but my inactivity hasn’t been born of pure idleness. The amount of time I have to spend in front of a computer screen is limited, and for the last few weeks I’ve been concentrating on upgrading my machine to the Second Life specifications.

Putting in the hardware didn’t take too much time. I’m usually fairly relaxed about handling computer components, since my experience is that all the stuff you read about circuit boards being exquisitely sensitive to static is nonsense. Even so, I always feel a bit tense when I hit the power switch after messing around with the motherboard, and this time it seemed that my apprehension was justified, since the machine responded with nothing but the plaintive bleeps of the BIOS error signal.

I soon tracked down the problem though – incompatible memory. I had meant to buy PC133 DIMMs, but had made the mistake of having a few drinks before going on eBay, and carelessly bidding for PC100 modules instead. (I had noticed this about 1 second after hitting the “bid” button, leaving me hoping that someone would outbid me in the last few seconds, like they always do when it’s something that I want, but no luck). Once glance at the motherboard documentation would have told me that PC100 memory wasn’t going to work, but I was in too much of a hurry to bother with that.

Once I had the hardware sorted out I moved on to installing the new OS. I’ve been using the Mandrake/Mandriva distro ever since I started with Linux a few years ago, and have always found it straightforward and reliable, so I decided to go for their latest release. Mandriva, like most of the desktop-oriented distros nowadays, comes in a “live” version that runs from the CD, so I was able to confirm that it would work with my new hardware before I put anything on the hard drive. I’ve installed a few different Linux distros on various laptops and desktops now, and always found it much easier than installing Windows, though to be fair the last Microsoft product that I tried installing from scratch was Windows 98, so more recent versions might be better.

So, hardware sorted, OS installed, GUI (Gnome) configured, latest version of the Second Life Linux client downloaded – I’m all ready to go. I have a couple of hours spare, so I’m going to try it out right now – watch this space to see how I get on.

Elevate me later

There was a brief period in the early 1990’s when I felt that I was just ahead of the curve, culture-wise. My habitual approach to life – a mix of unfocussed ambition, vague dissatisfaction and general underachievement – was given a label, and for a while it seemed as if I was where it was at. I was a slacker, part of what might have become a movement if it had got its act together. Once it was identified though, slacking started to become hard work. It wasn’t enough any more to spend your free time getting stoned, reading comic books and listening to Pavement records; you had to consciously cultivate some sort of lifestyle. Ultimately it all became commodified, just like every other strand of youth culture. There wasn’t much resistance to this process, which was inevitable I suppose, since the essence of slackerdom (for me anyhow) is that feeling that there is something wrong with your life, or the scene, or the government or something, but you can’t quite be bothered to find out exactly what it is, let alone do something about it. Or maybe that’s not it. Whatever.

Anyway, I was thinking about this while doing some half-hearted research into the whole social-networking phenomenon, and more specifically into Facebook. I knew that this wasn’t exactly bleeding-edge stuff, but I didn’t realise quite how lame and dated any post on the subject would look until I saw that even the Daily Telegraph had already printed dozens of articles about it.

I suppose I can take some comfort from the knowledge that this blog is proof that I haven’t sold out that underachieving slacker ethos.

On the Game Grid

Flicking through the TV channels the other night I came across an airing of the sci-fi classic Tron. Watching it reminded me how immensely excited I had been when it first came out in 1982.

Back then I had a subscription to OMNI magazine, which had run a big feature on the movie ahead of its US release, making it look just about the coolest thing ever. In those days, before the studios got paranoid about piracy, there used to be a much longer gap between a film’s premiere in the States and its worldwide distribution than is customary now, so by the time Tron finally hit my hometown I was in a state of advanced anticipation. I queued to get a ticket for the opening night, lured by the promise of a heavily-hyped laser show, playing in lieu of a supporting feature, which duly blew my mind, despite consisting in its entirety of nothing more spectacular than a small green dot tracing out simple geometric patterns.

With all this build-up the film itself was at risk of being a major anticlimax, but it lived up to all my expectations. The clean lines and blocky aesthetic of the virtual world looked exactly like I imagined the inside of a computer would appear, and the real-life sequences that book-ended the story were quite appealing too. A world where a guy could be popular by virtue of knowing how to operate a computer seemed, to my teenage mind, to be a pretty neat place to live. True enough the hero, Kevin Flynn, had seen his attractive blonde girlfriend leave him due to his obsession with video games, but he didn’t seem too perturbed by this (probably because he looked like a young Jeff Bridges) and anyway she had dumped him for an even bigger nerd, which was a reassuringly life-affirming message at that point in my social development.

(Interestingly, having played my teenage role-model in Tron, Jeff Bridges went on to portray my adult ideal in The Big Lebowski, but that’s another story).

I’ve seen Tron a few times on the small screen since then, and I think that it still stands up fairly well. The angular virtual landscape, which makes a virtue of its artificiality, appeals to me more than the faux-reality of modern online worlds. The plot, an archetypal heroic quest, is presented with brutal efficiency, compressing into 96 minutes a story arc that The Lord of the Rings stretched out over three interminable instalments. And it teaches an important life-lesson – if you’re engaged in an epic struggle with a malevolently sentient computer, take care not to sit at a desk right in front of a huge matter-disintegrating laser controlled by said computer.

This blog is in grave danger of turning into an Abe Simpson-style nostalgia-fest, but just in time I have received a large package from Amazon containing my new graphics card, which, assuming I can get it working, will finally let me get into Second Life, and get this project back on-topic.