Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Journey and the Destination

Nick Tosches, a Vanity Fair contributing editor, hunts down the origin of the "Autumn" wallpaper that comes with Microsoft Windows. The difficulty he had is a fun ride.

This part especially hit home:
What I see are the green hills, blue sky, and stratocumulus and cirrus clouds of the Napa County bitmap landscape called Bliss, the Microsoft Windows XP default desktop wallpaper. It looks like an invitation to suicide on a Sunday afternoon.

I couldn't agree more. But, actually, it's worse.

It looks just like the freakin' "Telebubbies" hill:

© Microsoft Corp.

I couldn't find a screenshot of the opening sequence that shows the "Teletubbies" hill that looks exactly like the one above, but this'll give you the idea:

If the only exposure you've had to the "Teletubbies" is the Falwell dustup over the supposed gay teletubby (so accused because of the triangular-shaped antenna on his/her/its head - a clothes hanger, for those of you in the cheap seats - and the propensity to carry a purse), then consider yourself fortunate.

Btw, the reason they have antennas on their heads is because they have freakin' TVs embedded in their stomachs which spring to life when a pinwheel on the hill spins and kicks out alarming sparks. When this happens the teletubbies freeze, and sometimes drop to the ground (in paralyzing pain one imagines), while a video plays on these tummy TVs.

Creepier than that, the teletubbies are told what to do by speakers that rise from the ground on telescopes and announce in a female robotic voice when to eat, sleep, and so on. This so resembles elements of that other British import that explores paranoia and terrors that spring forth to do the bidding of hidden big-brother types, "The Prisoner," that I sometimes wonder if the same creative team was behind both.

Creepiest of all, though, is the baby who lives in the sun and giggles all day over the cavorting of the Teletubbies. Even my eldest, when she was all of three, pronounced the sun baby as "creepy." We only watched a few episodes before we decided that "The Simpsons" offered a better quality of programming - at least until the show where Marge cuts off Homer's finger accidentally and we see it lying there in the brownies; my poor daughter went as white as a sheet and had a rough week of nightmares.

So, when I see new installs of Windows displaying this, I waltz over and say that their refresh rate on their monitor isn't high enough (which is usually true*), and then while I'm at it, suggest better wallpaper, which they usually take me up on.

Btw, here's a great place to get some sweet wallpaper: Digitalblasphemy. This guy was able to quit his day job and live off the proceeds from the art he makes for this site. Flickr is another great place to find wallpaper. This page lets you randomly walk through images until you find one you like.

*The way you can tell your refresh is too low, which can cause headaches and fatigue because your brain is this ----> <---- close to being able to detect the screen redraws, is if you look away from the monitor, say at something about a foot to the left or right of it, you will actually be able to see flicker. If you're refresh is high enough, it'll look solid. To turn up your refresh rate in Windows, right-click on the desktop, pick properties, pick the settings tab, pick advanced, and pick the monitor tab; use the dropdown to set it to the highest available refresh rate.


The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

I apparently have the rare superpower of being immediately able to tell when a computer monitor isn't at its maximum refresh rate: I see the flicker when looking directly at the monitor, and feel queasy within minutes. Nobody else seems to see it unless they do the corner-of-the-eye trick you mention. I avoid places with lots of computers running, because so many are flickering violently at me.

When in the first trimester of pregnancy, I see the flicker no matter how high the refresh rate is, and can only use a computer briefly before needing to go lie down for a few hours.

Yahmdallah said...

Like you I can see it by just looking at a monitor.

And like you, when I walk along a cube farm, the flicker from the monitors is so apparent to me I feel like I'm in a freakin' disco (or rave, depending on your generational landmarks).

Flatpanel monitors help, too, btw. Their refresh is milder.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

It must have something to do with superior brains. So how does pregnancy affect you?

Yahmdallah said...

I get yelled at on occasion.