The Rat plays along, turns Handsprings

R. Fink

The Rat has a new monkey on his back: a computer gadget that has unexpectedly turned into a time-sucking habit. It all started with Mrs. Rat's Christmas gift of a color Handspring Visor Prism handheld PC to replace the FrankenPalm he had been lugging around for months.

'I hope you like it,' she said. 'Of course, I know you'll probably have to run out and buy stuff to go with it. ... ' Before she finished speaking, the Rat was springing to his desk to plug in and charge up the new toy.

Naturally, the purchase of an IEEE 802.11b wireless networking attachment was mandatory, but otherwise the wireless one resolved to be frugal about accessorizing.

As he started to download software for the high-res handheld, the rodent was immediately snared by his latest fixation: Palm OS games.

A game link from Handspring's Web site transported him to Astraware's Zap2016, a nostalgic, top-view space shoot-'em-up that took full advantage of the Prism's color graphics enhancements. By the next day he'd found even more distractions to download.

'Look, they've ported Defender to the Palm OS!' he cried as he found a Midway video game that had obsessed him in the early 1980s. 'And Spy Hunter! And Joust!'

The killer app, however, turned out to be a simple Astraware puzzle game called Mars Needs Cows 1.0. Instead of hand-eye coordination, it requires problem-solving skills to help the denizens of a flying saucer abduct farm animals from Earth.

The game crept gradually into the Rat's workday. During a five-hour staff meeting with all routes of escape blocked, he pulled out the Handspring and started tapping.

To co-workers in the conference room, he appeared to be taking copious notes, when in fact he was sending cows, pigs, sheep and chickens to their doom on the Red Planet.

The next day, his wife caught him blasting aliens at the breakfast table.

'If I'd known you were going to spend all your time playing games on that thing, I'd have bought you a Nintendo Game Boy Advance,' she said. 'They're a lot cheaper.'

'But not as insidious,' the whiskered one replied, breaking into a flop sweat as he cleared another wave of alien landing craft. 'Besides, I use this thing mostly for my schedules, contacts and notes.'

'Riiight,' Mrs. Rat said, rolling her eyeballs.

So the cyberrodent decided to go cold turkey on all forms of handheld computer entertainment for one day, to prove he could in fact use computer technology for its intended purpose'productivity.

He purged the Handspring's memory of shareware shoot-'em-ups and even left his Tiger Woods Golf cartridge in the sock drawer. He focused completely on work-related computing as he left the burrow that morning.

Fortunately, with the 802.11b card he'd bought the day before, he managed to download a new copy of Mars Needs Cows while waiting for his java at the Starbucks drive-through window.

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at

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