With the temperature in the 70s, the sun shining and the crocuses blooming, it's hard to concentrate on serious PC matters.
So when spring fever strikes, I don't fight it. Instead, I start to look at the crazy computer stuff that has accumulated on my desk.
The folks at 7th Level must understand the timing, because their latest offering, Take Your Best Shot, is as strange as anything I've seen since -- well, since their last offering, Monty Python's Complete Waste of Time.
The featured characters, from animator Bill Plympton, are a pair of conservative, brown-suited businessmen who pummel each other's faces, blow each other up with cannon, slice each other up with scissors, smash each other with rocks and otherwise visit upon each other a delightful variety of grotesque physical indignities. Laurel and Hardy scripted by the Marquis de Sade.
Is this funny, you ask? A lot of people think so. The two characters, from a Plympton film called Push Comes to Shove, are staples of MTV (where they're known as The Enemies). I found myself in a guilty, I-can't-believe-anyone-would-actually-do-this giggling fit as I watched them slug it out.
The title game is a slugfest, pure and simple. You can give either character a name (your boss, perhaps?), and then do whatever you want to him. Or you can play both sides. If you get tired of that, there are a three arcade games featuring the same duo.
If that isn't enough to keep you occupied, you can turn the action into screen savers, static or live-section Windows Wallpaper, program icons, and system-generated sound bites.
All things considered, Take Your Best Shot is gross, meaningless and sick, an utter waste of CPU cycles, and a wonderful antidote to spring fever.
For information, contact 7th Level Inc., P.O. Box 832190, Richardson, Texas 75083.
There-oughta-be-a-law Department: When IBM introduced the first PS/2 models a few years back, the company came up with a good idea -- a computer that you could take apart with a quarter.
Until then, getting the cover off a PC meant removing a half-dozen screws, none of which ever matched any screwdriver you happened to have at hand. If you did manage to get the screws out without stripping the slots, one or two would inevitably roll off the table into a dusty corner that could only be reached by a circus contortionist.
The redoubtable IBM engineers came up with a design that secured the case to the computer chassis with a single large screw that could be removed with virtually any tool at hand. The company recommended a quarter, although a nickel would do in a pinch.
While a few other manufacturers have adopted easy-open designs since then, many of us are stuck with PC's that make it a pain in the neck to install a new video board, sound card, CD-ROM or disk drive, or to check for a loose connection.
Recently, I found a $5 solution to the problem -- a pack of Curtis Speed Screws. Available at many computer stores, the package contains 20 plastic screws with large, round knobs that you can turn with your fingers. If you have to tinker with the innards of your computer now and then, buy a pack and replace the existing screws next time you open the case.
If you purchased a color ink-jet printer recently, you may be disappointed because your output looks flat, dull and fuzzy compared to the beautiful graphics and text you saw on the laminated demo sheet at the store.
The good news is that you can probably solve the problem by switching paper. The bad news is that it'll cost you.
Ink jet printers produce graphics and text by squirting ink through tiny jets that create tiny dots on the paper. Regular copy paper can absorb too much ink, making the dots blossom before the ink can dry. The result: washed-out color, grayish blacks and gummy graphics.
We ran into the color blahs a few weeks ago when we bought a Canon BJC-4000 ink jet -- a nifty little machine -- and started work on a school project. The graphs and tables lacked sparkle on the junk paper that I normally feed into my LaserJet. They looked better, but not great, on the high-contrast Hammermill Laser Print bond I use for good correspondence.
So I went shopping at the computer store and found a surprising variety of specially designed ink jet papers ranging in cost from 2.5 cents to $1.50 a sheet.
Ultimately, I decided on package of coated Avery Brilliant Color stock. There was an amazing leap in quality. The graphs were sharp, the blacks were black and the color images -- particularly those with primary colors -- virtually jumped off the page.
Intrigued, I created an eclectic torture page using Ami Professional, my standard word processor. It consisted of text in primary colors, two test photographs from the Kodak Photo Access CD-ROM, a scanned image of an obscure Old Master, and a two-color, 3-D bar chart.
I printed the image using the Avery coated paper, the Hammermill laser bond, a sheet of Hammermill's Jet Print (a relatively inexpensive paper marketed for ink jet printers) and the generic, no-name paper I normally use. The coated paper again won hands down, although the difference wasn't as pronounced in the photos as it was with the text and bar chart. But quality isn't cheap. At 50 sheets for $8 (or 16 cents a page), the Avery coated stock is about 20 times as expensive as my everyday paper. We'll save it for special occasions.
The Hammermill Jet Print (200 sheets for $5, or 2.5 cents per page) produced marginally better results than the quality laser bond and significantly better color than my everyday paper. But it didn't come close to the coated paper.
To take full advantage of some other color ink jet printers, such as Epson's new 720-dot-per-inch machines, you'll absolutely need special paper. Epson sells two varieties, one for high-resolution color printing (about 12.5 cents per sheet), and one for 360-dot output for about half that much.
If your ink jet printer is good enough and you want near-photographic reproduction of scanned images for a special presentation, you may want to invest in industrial-strength coated paper, which sells for $1 to $1.50 a sheet. But for that kind of dough, whoever you're trying to impress had better be pretty important.
Michael Himowitz is a columnist for The Sun.