Pyjamarama is underappreciated.

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While other 80s games like Donkey Kong ended up spawning a 200+ game franchise and iconic characters that have become Halloween costume staples, Pyjamarama (1984) hero Wally Week languishes utterly unknown.

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Question mark box and Mario, photo by ultrakickgirl on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons licence

And yet Pyjamarama was the better game. It’s a direct ancestor of modern games like Outlast.

In Pyjamarama Wally is asleep and needs to wind his alarm clock so he can wake up on time in the morning, get to work, and not lose his job (sure, no 80s proto-neoliberalist fears reflected here). Finding the key (spoiler: it’s on the moon) involves realizing you need to slide the pound coin into the change machine to get a penny, which will unlock the toilet* where you’ll find the hammer you need to break the glass on the fire extinguisher which you need to get past the fire and  . . . . .

On your way through all this you had to avoid Wally-eating Venus flytraps, ghosts, animated roast chickens, flying double-headed axes, and assorted other things out to do you harm. The graphics were state of the art at the time, and these guys were inventing game design which we still use today.

Remember, no online walkthroughs in 1984, because no world wide web. If you got stuck you could write in to a magazine like Computer and Video Games with a question and hope they published your letter in a few months, and that a reader would write back with the solution for you in another few months. This is the reason I never finished a single one of the Level 9 Computing’s text adventure games. It tooks weeks of experimenting to find the right solution to a next step. Games were a committment: an investment in time and effort.

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Goddamn Return to Eden. I never even got across the river. I curse this game.

I do like gaming a hell of a lot more now. I like being able to find a solution to my stuckness inside of 60 seconds, but I also adore the sheer beauty of modern games. But maybe they’ve made me a little less persistent.

You can play Pyjamarama in a ZX Spectrum emulator online here, for free, right now.** And appreciate the times when this was as good as gaming got.

 

*This is because in British Empire countries, when you needed to use the bathroom you’d say, “I’m going to spend a penny.” My great-grandmother always said, “I’m going to see a man about a dog” which left me wondering why she saw so many men about dogs and yet never went ahead and bought a puppy. Now I just wonder why she needed to announce to everyone why she was leaving the living room. Could you not just . . .go?

** And if you get stuck, the walkthrough is here.

Hobonichi Niuhans Wallet review

Somehow there is still a perception with tourists that New Zealand is safe. In reality, while you’re unlikely to get mugged, tourists are sitting ducks for property theft. If you take a campervan/RV around New Zealand, take your passport, cash, and electronics with you every single time you leave the camper. Even if it’s for 2 minutes. If you leave your motel room to go to dinner, take your passport, cash, and electronics with you. All of them! Just try googling “Tourists lose everything theft New Zealand” some time.

Back in January, on my daily walk, I found a distraught tourist and her 8-year-old daughter in the beach carpark near my home. Their car had been stolen, including their clothes, bags, and phones. I loaned them my phone, but she was not pleased to learn that when you call about a stolen vehicle in Auckland the police tell you to come in to the station, file a report, and they’ll give you a copy for your insurance claim. That’s the extent of the action. The tourists were staying in a motel clear on the other side of Auckland, and she was even less impressed to find out a) there is no Uber service in my part of Auckland, and b) there was a minimum three-hour wait for a taxi, thanks to being a long way from the CBD, and it being a public holiday.

What else could I do but drive them back to their motel (also swing by McDonalds to buy cheeseburgers because an upset, sunburned, overtired 8-year-old requires immediate sedation in the form of carbohydrates and processed cows. How else will women learn to eat our feelings?)  The best moment of the drive was when the tourist said to me, “I suppose I shouldn’t have left my keys in the car.” Yes, she believed that NZ was some idyllic paradise where you could leave your car unlocked all day at the beach (perhaps she’d been reading 1930s tourist brochures). The next best was when we somehow ended up talking Hobonichi, as we were both fans.

Anyway, five weeks later I received a completely unexpected thank you gift from my tourist: the Hobonichi Niuhans wallet. Which is seriously a lovely, lovely thing to receive and was entirely unnecessary. I forced myself to carefully put away my A5 Safari and I’ve given the A6 wallet a test drive for the last six weeks.

Niuhans is a Japanese men’s fashion brand which sells hipster classics in solid colors and their own denim weave: the same denim the wallet is made from.

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The wallet holds the Hobonichi Original Techo. The zip is brass and solid and seems like it would wear well. The exterior is slightly padded. I’d prefer it if unpadded, but with a fabric cover this would make it wear out faster.

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However I seriously doubt the Niuhens wallet could actually work with the Original Techo.I don’t have an actual Original Techo, but I first tried a similar-sized Stalogy notebook and once I added my cards into the slots it bulked up and would barely zip up. I had more luck with a Kokuyo Buncobon grid notebook I found in my credenza. This notebook is actually a cracker little buy: USD$4 from Jet Pens. But if you wanted to carry a Hobonichi in here I think you’d much better off with the Avec (the two-volume six-month edition).

I found the pen loop annoying. It only holds the pen clip, not the barrel. Even so, to put the pen in and out I had to fold back the top edge of the wallet zip, and then fold it forward into place to fasten it. This got old quickly.

There’s a weird little pocket I still have no idea of the use for. Gillian St Kevern suggested it was for a flash drive, which is the only thing I can see even vaguely making sense, although I’m open to other ideas.

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I really missed having a secretary pocket for receipts and papers. There’s a tiny nub of a secretary pocket but it’s not deep enough to hold more than a folded EFTPOS receipt.

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There simply weren’t enough card slits in the wallet for me, but luckily I already had a Hobonichi card case from a couple of years ago. One annoying thing with the card slits is the fabric lining separated from the leather pretty much immediately. This makes it hard to get the cards back into the slots. When I try to slide them in with one hand they go into the space between lining and leather, so they go in about 2cm and no further, leaving me fumbling like an idiot at the checkout counter.

The purse can hold a small number of coins, and I’ve always thought I missed a coin purse, but as I added coins the thickness of the wallet increased quickly, and then I ran into the same issue of bulk, with the zip no longer fastening easily (even with the thin notebook). The coin zip was also sticky and difficult to open, even after I applied a little silicon non-stick spray. I’d be happier if the coin purse was sacrificed for a deeper secretary pocket.

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This is a tiny issue and is probably be idiosyncratic to me, but even after six weeks I still expected to unfasten the wallet with the zip finishing on top, not on the bottom. I was forever opening the wallet back to front and upside down.

The wallet is fine, but the thing I want from my everyday carry items is that my use of them requires no thought. I just want it to work. And there were enough tiny issues that I had to pay attention as I used the wallet. I can’t complain about carrying less, but I missed my A5 notebook. I can’t think in an A6: the space is too confined. I know a lot of people find A5 far too bulky to carry around, but I have no problem with it. It’s hard to lose an A5 wallet. And it can hold a ton. I’m always confident that whatever I need for the day, I have it with me.

As you can probably tell, I moved back into my beloved A5 at the weekend. The gift was so thoughtful and kind, but this is not the wallet for me.

#trypod: Crimetown

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So, it’s a thing in March to recommend a podcast to friends. Which is great, because this gives me a chance to tell you to immediately queue up Crimetown by Gimlet Media. The podcast is about organized crime in Providence, Rhode Island (I had no idea there was enough material there for a single episode, let alone a series).

Wow, it’s fantastic. With each episode the story gets deeper, richer, and more interwoven. The characters are gripping, memorable, and real.

Give Crimetown a try.

What do y’all do with cords?

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This is the corner of my desk. Sadly, I need all this crap: rechargers, power cords, transformer boxes, leads, cables, and all. Still, it annoys the hell out of me every day. What do you do to keep your cables under control and make your workspace look less like that one cupboard in every office where defunct IT stuff gets dumped?

Gattaca is coming and you should be worried

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Photo by University of Michigan School of Nursing, used under a Creative Commons Licence

Hey , Americans. Did you know H.R.1313 – Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act has gone to your Committee of Ways and Means? Sounds pretty innocuous, right? Who wouldn’t support Employee Wellness?

If passed, HR1313 will overturn the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) George W Bush signed in 2008.

GINA means “it is against the law for your employer to use family health history and genetic test results in making decisions about your employment.”

If HR1313 passes it will now be legal for “workplace wellness programs to ask employees questions about genetic tests taken by themselves or their families, and to make inquiries about the medical history of employees, their spouses, their children, and other family members” and that if you refuse you will face a financial penalty “of up to 30 percent of the total cost of an employee’s health insurance.”

This raises the spectre of next being required to submit this information right at the hiring process. Imagine getting turned down for a job because your grandfather has Parkinsons, therefore making you a potential liability in twenty years. Or because your spouse is a carrier for sickle cell disease. Or being fired because your baby has long QT syndrome.

This shouldn’t be a thing. Knowledge is power, people.

Eau de hard liquor

I found these new “all natural” perfumes this morning. The company is local.

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The labels do not lie. They smell exactly like vanilla and brandy, cinnamon and rum. That’s because they’re made by a distillery. They are vanilla and brandy, cinnamon and rum.

What I’ve been pondering all day is under what circumstances is it socially acceptable to walk around smelling of brandy? What will an employer think when you turn up reeking of spirits morning after morning? When you meet that client for coffee, won’t they assume you’ve been hitting the bottle before 10am? And is this likely to make them trust you?

The perfumes are sold in a delicate, miniature, hand-blown glass bottle that doubles as a necklace. They’re organic, and contain real ambergris aka whale vomit. I’m just not sold on the benefits of smelling of brandy. Or even rum. Who do you think the target market is?