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The Geek vs Nuclear Man

The Geek vs Nuclear Man

Some arguments really aren't worth having. The parry and thrust of spirited debate notwithstanding, certain questions cannot easily be resolved. There is only a limited amount of time out there, and it seems pointless to waste too much of it trying to resolve questions you can never agree upon.

Such as, for instance, whether Superman III is a better film than Superman IV. Both have their merits - Superman III is kind of funny, Superman IV is well meaning - but both are, by any objective measurement, utter rubbish. And yet I have witnessed passionate arguments about which of the two is superior - intelligent people with actual good taste in films, spending their time and clock cycles trying to find things to like about these two films.

A quick reminder for the vast majority of you who will have very wisely banished knowledge of both films from your museum of recollections: Superman III features Richard Pryor as a computer geek who is roped into a plot to undermine the world's economy by rep-rogramming weather satellites. The reprogrammed satellites, rather than merely reporting on weather conditions, actually cause adverse weather to destroy valuable crops, thus enabling our villainous genius to profit. When Superman intervenes, Pryor uses his computer to synthesise kryptonite (unsuccessfully), and causes the Man of Steel to fall into a kind of super-existential crisis.

In Superman IV, Lex Luthor steals a strand of Superman's hair and uses it to construct a clone of him. The clone draws its power (as does Superman) from nuclear reactions taking place in the Sun. The super-villain is thus dubbed `Nuclear Man' and exists to do Luthor's evil bidding.

Now, I think you folks are pretty au fait with how computers work, and I'll even go out on a limb to suggest you can understand how weather satellites do their stuff. Superman III is based on a premise without any merit whatsoever. No hacker, even really really `kewl' ones, can make weather satellites create weather.

But Superman IV has that whole `nuclear weapons are bad, mmmkay' thing that really gets my goat. Mindless entertainment is one thing, mindless entertainment with a `message' should be banned.

So basically all prints of both films should be bottled into a canister and shot into space, where they can't do any harm. But still the debate continues.

I'm not even going to touch on the Jaws III vs Jaws IV controversy. Ick.

Likewise the end of the millennium thing. I've been having great fun with this, because I truly believe that both sides of the argument have their own merits. Sure, the turn of the century is this December, because the `19' changes to a `20'. And sure, the real start of next century (and next millennium, and next decade) is 2001, because there was no year `0', so everything has to start with `1'.

I can have fun with this, because intelligent and reasonable-thinking people argue passionately on both sides of the argument. They always will. No one will win. 2002 will roll around, and the debate will stop because it's not relevant anymore. Because I don't have any real vested interest in the outcome, I've argued the toss with advocates of both sides.

I especially like weighing into arguments with people whose case begins with `of course, you're too smart to think that . . .' People who argue that anyone who disagrees with them is dumb will always be my favourite targets for ridicule. Aside from teasing the arrogant, there is no real reason to have the millennium argument.

If compelled to come down on one side or the other, I have to admit I'm in favour of 2000 as the start of the new millennium. The (undeniable and unarguable) fact that there was no year zero is so amazingly arbitrary to my mind that I see no reason not to be equally arbitrary and say the centuries roll over at zero, not one. But that's just me.

The thing is, you lot - the computer industry, I mean - have created the ultimate umpire for this decision. Y2K is crunch time. It's when we find out whether the billions that have been spent getting all of our computers to understand four digit dates have been well spent or wasted. It's when we find out whether or not planes will fall from the sky, the sewers will back up, the phones will fail, the banks will lose all our money, the rivers will run red, there will be plagues of locusts, so on and so forth.

And we find all of this out on January 1, 2000. To date, I haven't heard of any mass hysteria related to what may or may not take place come January 1, 2001. A decades-old programming shortcut has thus moved the focus from the last two digits onto the first two. If that doesn't settle it, I don't know what will.

Matthew JC. Powell is the editor of ARN's sister publication PC Buyer. E-mail him at matthew_powell@ idg.com.au


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