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This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on June 8, 2001

(Issue 1923, Adult Education)

Sometimes you just gotta step away from all the serious issues and have some fun ...

Black & White Dancing Bear Winamp plugin

Remember that stupid Dancing Baby program that spread all over the Internet like an over-full diaper a few years back? Imagine if that program had actually been fun, even hip?

What you'd have then is the Black & White plugin for the Winamp music player for Windows.

Black & White is the incredibly popular sim game where you are, well, God. Only you have to decide whether to be a good god (white) or a bad god (black). It is reported to be addictive as all get-out, so I've avoided it – trying to maintain a real life and all.

But the publishers have released this fun plugin for WinAmp, and it's good for at least a few minutes of silly entertainment.

The bear only has about five moves total, but it will follow the beat of whatever music Winamp is playing at the time. The bear combines his limited moves into a variety of dances that look ... well, really bad, actually – like what you'd see an overweight middle-aged used car salesman with an ill-fitting toupee laying down at the bowling alley on a Friday night.

Still, the animation is impressive, and the plug-in shows good real-time reactions to the Winamp program – when the song ends, the bear stops dancing, waiting for the music to start up again.

You need a 3-D graphics card to run this plug-in, but the graphics are worth it. If you've never played a first- or third-person game with 3-D graphics, you'll be stunned by the detail on the bear's little island. The trees, the clouds, even the grass all have texture and depth that are truly impressive.

By using your cursor keys, you can control the view of the bear – swing the camera angle right or left, up or down. And if the bear can't seem to find the beat, click the space bar – that seems to help him sync up with the music.

Musically, the bear seems to have a soft spot for Dean Martin (check out his moves on "Ain't That A Kick in the Head"), but danced perfectly well to The Corrs, David Byrne, some reggae, and the Lemonheads. Scottish bagpipe music did seem to give it fits in terms of finding a beat to dance to, however ...

The included Read Me file indicates the bear will dance better to music with a strong beat – so dig out those old Ohio Players albums and run your stereo through your sound card.

(To get the plug-in, go to the above URL, then click on the Downloads link off the main menu.)

Winamp plugins and skins

To run the Black & White Dancing Bear, you'll need the free Winamp music player, of course. You can get it from the URL immediately above.

But the Dancing Bear is hardly the only fun you can have with Winamp – you can get other plugins that turn your computer monitor into a sound-activated lava lamp or color board (both very '70s), as well as thousands of skins. The skins are files that change the appearance of Winamp.

With the free skins, you can paste Winamp with art of your favorite bands, cars or video games. For computer nuts, you can give Winamp the look of your favorite operating system – Linux, Solaris, Mac, Amiga, Atari, Apple II, Commodore 64, or my favorite, DOS!

The search engine is fairly useless, however – I typed in "Atari" and go 0 responses, but by scrolling through the Computer/OS category, came up with three (two with the look and feel of the ST's GEM desktop, another with the 8-bit BASIC theme).

For those of an artistic bent, there is information posted on the Winamp site to guide you through making your own skin – other users created and posted all the skins now on the site, so if you can't find what you're really looking for, create your own and share it.

1001 Winamp Skins

Not nearly as many skins here as on Winamp's site, but the search engine actually works so you don't have to scroll through everything to find what you want. And don't click any of the ads or links – most of them seem to have that endless new browser routine so that you end up with 25 browser windows open on your desktop. No porn sites, just a lot of cheesy music and pop culture stuff.

Winamp Central

This is another independent Winamp skins site that has a lot of the same skins you'll find at Winamp's site, but it loads faster. No search engine that I could find, and you have to get to a skin's own page to see a preview, but it's a handy alternative if traffic is bogging down the official site.