Saturday, April 12, 2008

Going (for) Broke in New Media

... and kids, I mean BROKE. As in, "where did the money go?"

It's my own fault. I never get interested in anything cheap that you can do with, say, a pencil and a napkin. My noble experiment in drawing failed not because I cannot draw (and let me be the first to say I cannot draw, when it comes to drawing I really put the "not" in cannot), but because I couldn't make myself be interested enough in doing it to reel off even one attempted alleged drawing per month.

Now some of you might argue that my lack of ability, whether real or perceived, was the actual reason I couldn't get interested in drawing. But ah-hah, you would play innocently right into my hands with that argument. Because the reason New Media is currently costing me lots of money is exactly that: I discovered I wanted to do things that I didn't have the abilities to accomplish.

So of course I did what any respectable uber-geek academic-under-the-hood intellectual smartass would do: I decided to teach myself. Don't get alarmed, it's a geek thing, we spend all our lives laboring under the illusion that given enough time and enough code borrowed from someone else, we'll figure it out. It's not false confidence; we come at things this way because it generally works for us. Plus, we tend to have little patience with exercises that don't mean anything to us: let it be said here that I have never asked my computer in any form or fashion to say "Hello, World!" (Er, sorry, that's a bit of an in-joke, all the geeks just laughed and all the rest of you are now staring blankly at your monitors.)

What I discovered, unfortunately, was a fairly dramatic external barrier to my success. Namely, my computer is almost five years old, and was purchased back when the most processing-intensive thing I did on a regular basis was run a Microsoft operating system (oh dear, all the geeks just laughed again, sorry, sorry ... I'll get to something for the rest of you in just a bit, I promise.)

But now I'm doing a lot of video editing. I'm spending a lot of time on Second Life. And I'm trying to drag a lot of my "public art"-type projects into dual existence in both the real and virtual realms.

I knew I was in trouble when the installer for the last update of Second Life informed me that my system specs suggested I would soon have issues with my graphics support. No kidding. I found myself basically inhabiting Second Life alone. Buildings flickered and dissolved and changed textures disconcertingly. In a breathtaking "art-imitating-art" moment, I began to have trouble with the script that runs my hair (oh, more geek laughter ... at least some of you non-geeks who happen to enjoy the occasional foray into cyber-punk literature will have gotten that one also, unless it's been a darned long time since you read Snow Crash).

I further knew I was in trouble when, in preparation for a course I'm taking in Berkeley's Summer Sessions this year, I tried to download a particular 3-D modeling program ... and the installer wouldn't even let me download it.

This is all a very long, roundabout way of telling you that I've bought myself a new computer. Dell 630 computer, vroom-vroom!
It's quite a computer, too, with enough under the hood that I think it will probably go "BLUMBLUMBLUMBLUM ... VROOM, VROOM!" when I boot it up for the first time. It will be the most powerful thing I've ever had under my desk, although I once had something almost as powerful in the back seat of a Camaro, ha-ha (now all the rest of you are laughing, and a good many of the geeks may feel puzzled and left-out).

Was it expensive? Well, yes it was, stupidly so. But thanks to tips and reminders from my sneaky (that's "sneaky" in a good way) friend Seth, I wound up paying significantly less for it than the posted price, although one could argue that anybody who pays the list price these days is either not trying hard enough or simply has too much money anyway.

I'm still kind of in "I got a new computer" high, although "o god I have to move my stuff and all those applications" horror is beginning to set in. But I'm going to enjoy myself a little while longer. I feel sorry for those poor hamsters I can hear laboring in their wheels in my current set-up. They'll no doubt be happy to be set free.

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