Computer Waiting Games

by Hal Bowman

Published by Quirk Books

96 pages, 2002




Murphy's Computer Law

Reviewed by Aaron Blanton


While it happens frequently to most of us, it seems to never fail to occur when we're the most motivated to work. Murphy's Law for the computer age. The last stanza of the sonnet is seething out; the piece of code that will solve all of the program's problems wants to dance off your fingertips; the legal brief that will cut them to the... er... briefs is lodged right there at the edge of your brain.

You settle yourself in front of your computer, some nice liquid waiting at your elbow to accompany you on your journey of creativity. You spread your fingers, ready to release your special computing energy. Perhaps a knuckle cracks of its own accord. It will be good. Ah... it will be the best.

You close your eyes, already seeing the finished project in your mind, and then -- this is it. You begin to work. And then you notice something: your heart and mind are working in tandem, just as they should be. Your computer, however, is not. You're pushing keys, but nothing is happening. Without any provocation at all -- or maybe, with very little -- your computer has declared a mini-vacation in the middle of the workday. It has crashed/locked-up/frozen or otherwise made itself unavailable to your clever hunting or maniacal pecking.

At this point, your participation is required for about 30 seconds while you reboot, reload or otherwise readjust your computer's attitude. Then, while your computer busies itself getting ready for you once more, you have a few minutes to... what? Throw things at your computer? Curse the necessity of sharing our lives with a helpful but unpredictable electronic pet? Swear? Systems technician Hal Bowman has come up with a more productive alternative. In Computer Waiting Games: Activities for the Impatient, author Bowman tells us that:

The average person spends nine minutes every day waiting for web sites and files to download. That may not seem like a lot, but consider the math: nine minutes a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year -- at the end of it all, you'll have spent nearly fifty-five hours doing absolutely nothing. And that's not even counting the time spent rebooting after the downloaded files crash your computer.

So what's the connected person to do? Bowman's book suggests dozens of activities -- from the mildly amusing to the practically insane -- with which to plug up the time that would otherwise be wasted completely. The book is broken into four main sections -- Arts and Crafts, Sports and Fitness, Puzzles and Games, Mind and Spirit -- and each activity is flagged by the amount of time it will take to complete. Sharply designed and cleverly illustrated, despite its potential for shallow silliness, Computer Waiting Games is a genuinely engaging book. While I might not ever make a floppy Fly-Face Halloween Mask (three to seven minutes), go Mouse Ball Bowling (eight minutes or more) or do Printer Cable Calisthenics (three minutes or less), it's good to know that these are available options I probably wouldn't have thought of before. Several entries in the Puzzles and Games section of the book -- like Dice Games from the Bantu Tribesmen of Zaire and Super Computer Scrapple Challenge -- involve removing all of the keys from your keyboard. And, honestly, though Bowman makes this sound very simple, I'm not confident that I'd be able to get my keys off, play the game, then get the keys back on in the right order in the allotted time. When I think about it, taking the keys off, mixing them up and then trying to get them back on sounds just about like a whole activity to me.

While some of the suggestions are silly, others are delightfully inventive while still others are simply well-executed and look just plain fun. Conduct a Touch-Tone Music Symphony falls into this last category. I always knew I could play "Mary Had A Little Lamb" on a touch tone phone, but Bowman has provided both the music and the numeric key sequences for "Jingle Bells," "Happy Birthday," "Frére Jacques," "Way Down Upon the Swanee River" and "Auld Lang Syne." Draw an Animated Cartoon for Your Rolodex falls into this category, as well.

With its sharp design, mouse pad cover (no, really) and fun and irreverent tone, Computer Waiting Games could easily become the next office craze or, at least, provide the foundation for it. CD-ROM Long-Distance Discus Toss, anyone? | September 2002


Aaron Blanton is an expatriate Kentuckian writer and musician living outside of the United States.