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January 2003 - Electronic Pets

So you all enjoyed your Christmas then? You ARE awake at the back there, aren't you madam? Good! Welcome, all, to a brand new year and another brand new load of old rubbish from Mr Nick Harvey.

It's when you're sat in the chair over Christmas, nearly nodding from the incredible amounts of food you're expected to consume, that you start to have all these totally silly ideas, isn't it? It really IS an ideal Comment writing time of year, to be sure.

Yet another season of "toys sans batteries" got me thinking, in my well-fed and well-drunk stupor, of that wonderful idea from a few years back, where all the toys were pets, and all the pets lived in the computer.

It's not very often that Nick Harvey gets excited about an idea from sur le continent, but I must confess that I was rather looking forward to the success of this particular one, even if it DID eventually turn out to be rather short-lived as kiddy fashions go.

I sat there for a few minutes spellbound when it first came on the goggle box, as a more stupid idea is hard to think up, even allowing for the origin being Japan.

Now, as I'm sure you're all thinking already, this idea must be TOTALLY stupid for the inventor of the paw clamp for dogs and the supermarket for chatterers to be considering it rather silly.

But the thing is, it was just silly enough to catch on, for a little while at least.

The idea was that you ran this computer program, which was a sort of pet's habitat control routine.

Each time you loaded it it checked things like how long it was since you fed little Tiddles, or whatever the thing was; and if the length of time was too long you just got a picture of said moggy flat on his back with his legs in the air.

You also had to make sure you turned the heating up to the right level in the winter to keep dear old Tiddles warm, otherwise he popped off due to hypothermia.

You can imagine the flamin' moggy getting fleas or something like that and you having to administer flea powder via keyboard commands. My goodness, it brings a whole new meaning to debugging doesn't it?

I've long since forgotten the complete list of all the different species you could keep within the confines of your computer, but I do remember the typical tank of tropical fish, and a strange imaginary creature which you could teach to talk and do acrobatic tricks on the screen.

The fish tank was quite lifelike on the monitor, but you had to watch what types of fish you put in with which others, otherwise they attacked each other, and next time you loaded the program, all you got was a load of floating corpses for your trouble.

I think we ought to bring the whole idea up-to-date. I fancy keeping lions myself, rather appropriate for those of us with dodgy lines onto the internet. I'd have to be a bit careful how I handled them though. I'd hate to get a byte.

If your machine comes from that Sugar chappie, you can go really mad and keep your own pet hamster.

I wonder if you have to provide the right brand of tea on the machine if chimpanzees are the creature you choose to nurture? And what of tortoises? Do you have to switch the computer off for the winter?

Anyway, I digress as usual. I never intended to go into any great detail about the original idea in this month's exciting edition.

As I said at the start, there I was letting my poor feeble brain wander off into oblivion, with glorious ideas of extending the concept far beyond the original idea of pets.

That's the subject I've chosen for in-depth analysis for the first of this year's epics.

Now, what I reckon is that we should extend this computerised pets system to computerised people. Just think how much easier it would be if our mothers-in-law were only images on a computer monitor.

I know many of you will say it already applies, but how about a computerised bank manager as well? And the car salesman at the local garage must also be a candidate.

Now, after much over-exposure to her over the festive season, I really would like the opportunity of pressing the escape key on my mother-in-law; or at least turning the volume and brightness down.

On second thoughts, I don't think the brightness will go down any lower, she's already quite dim enough. Ooops, in trouble with the proof reader again methinks!

But just think of the control you'll have when she's just a computer image. In the program you'll have to choose what to feed them, so they grow big and healthy.

With the mother-in-law program you could feed them garlic all day and every day so nobody would want to chat to them. And just think, no travelling miles to visit her on a Sunday any more, just boot her up.

The bank manager has got to be one of the best people to be on the computer. After all, they're already slaves to the damn things so they'd be quite at home as just an image to be controlled.

Every time he says that the fact you're in the red is just "an error on the computer", you could switch him off until he became properly contrite.

Imagine selecting your own overdraft limit in thousands of pounds by pressing one of the F keys; and setting your own interest rate in tenths of a percent on the number pad.

If he really gets nasty, you just refuse to feed him till he dies and keep reloading the program till you get a nicer one. Better than having him in the wardrobe.

Just looking around my keyboard as I write, there are lots of keys which would suit lots of situations if we were to get the people programs to replace the pet ones.

Going back to mother-in-law, the "Home" key springs to mind. And I can think up lots of horrible uses for the "Insert" key when the car salesman's on the screen!

You could use "Scroll Lock" every time the insurance salesman gets to the bottom of another page of exclusions to your cover; and if Mr Plod were to come round with another driving offence summons, you just press "Delete".

The combinations are endless for a great deal of fun at the expense of those dear little people flashing before your eyes on the screen.

Probably the most exciting of all the possibilities is to have your children on the computer instead of in real life.

Just imagine the benefit of saying that seven o'clock is bedtime and switching them off at precisely that time, rather than going through the endless business of just one more glass of squash or one more round of THEIR latest computer game.

And just think of the money you'll save on clothes. I mean, a twelve inch monitor is a twelve inch monitor; no more buying new every few months when they grow out of the last lot of perfectly serviceable garments.

The washing machine will become a thing of the past, with all mud and filthy grease banned from the computer screen.

The more I think of the computerised children idea, the more I love it. I reckon I'd better be on the next plane out of Heathrow for Tokyo, so I can find this designer chappie and give him some good ideas for his next programming project.

Assuming I do get the exclusive rights to sell the programs in this country, I reckon I'll be retiring somewhere around NEXT Christmas.

Well, I think it's time to rush off and get all the plans sorted out, while they're still fresh in my mind. I'll be back at the beginning of February with another in-depth analysis of some matter of great import.

Till next month then, good luck with the computerised goldfish. Right, I'm off, where's me three button mouse?

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