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[Comments] (1) : Back in New York. I spent the past couple of days visiting Alyson and David. More later.

[Comments] (2) : Susanna and John, when you move back to Utah you'll need this.

: Flee, ye assembled, from The New Pun Book, a book of infuriating conversations that unaccountably stop just before someone starts throwing punches. An unexpurgated selection:

Guest—What have you got?

Waiter—I've got liver, calf's brains, pig's feet—

Guest—Hold up there! I don't want a description of your physical peculiarities. What have you got to eat is what I want to know.

Waiter—Take that! And that!


[Comments] (5) : Damn airplane germs. Instead of doing anything useful I'm going to write about video games.

Atticus and Samuel love video games. They mainly love the feedback loop: they seem just as happy with a cheap toy from a cereal box as with a DS or GameCube. (However at any given time they must be using consoles with similar capabilities, or strife ensues.) Alyson and I played some Mario Kart Double Dash with them. They also like a game for the DS with the promising title of "Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2" (however they are not terribly good at that game, so I secretly unlocked some of the mini-games for them).

I have been out of the gaming console loop for about 15 years, and playing these games with the kids really drove home to me that Mario has become a frozen brand. There are about fifty Mario-branded games but the vast majority are not what I'd consider "Mario games", ie. platformers. MvDK2 looks just like (say) Super Mario World, but it's a puzzle game with no more action element than Lemmings. Mario Kart has the trappings of the Mario universe, but it's a racing game like every other branded racing game. Mario is now a figurehead, like Mickey Mouse, except Mickey's figurehead role has made him milquetoast and neotenous, whereas MvDK2 and MKDD actually succeed as games.

When I was a kid--no, this is going somewhere--there was one Mario game and rumors of a second. (Even this is complicating the issue because there were non-platform Mario games in arcades, but we didn't think about those.) At this point the universe could go one of two ways. Nintendo could release in the US the "Super Mario Bros. 2" they released in Japan, or they could change the sprites on a totally unrelated platformer and call it "Super Mario Bros. 2". The Japanese SMB2 is a good game, but it's a straightforward level hack of SMB1. Option 1 would lead to a world in which one Mario platformer was pretty much like the last. Option 2 would lead to a Cambrian explosion of totally new gameplay elements like picking things up and throwing them, and entirely out-of-left-field characters (like Birdo, now apparently Yoshi's transvestite boyfriend).

We got the second, and in my middle school the result was pandemonium--some sort of pre-release hype grapevine I don't remember, followed by desperate borrowing of cartridges from the kids whose parents had bought them. Nowadays it's fashionable to treat SMB2 as the odd man out it objectively is, but at the time it was a huge deal, and part of the huge deal was that 2 was radically different from 1. Then the same thing happened with 3, which was radically different from 2, in the same direction but not the same as 1.

I'm losing control of the narrative and I'm about to go off on a little fanboy tangent, but my larger point is that up to, say, Super Mario World, every Mario game was the same kind of game but added major characters and/or gameplay mechanisms. With SMW and Yoshi, the Mario brand froze and you wouldn't add more characters any more than you'd add more characters to the Disney lineup. The idea of new core mechanics (turtle shells, boxes containing power-ups, picking up and throwing things, etc.) stopped being meaningful because any sort of game could be given the Mario brand. And without new core mechanics that can be deployed in multiple games, the brand is frozen.

Here are the major changes I've noticed in the Mario universe since I stopped playing console games in the early 1990s: 1. Donkey Kong came back, started wearing a tie, and had a bunch of kids, Bowser-style (who's the mother?). 2. Pauline also returned after a long absence, probably causing some angst on Princess Toadstool's part. 3. Some kind of parallel-universe Mario named Wario showed up. There are also baby versions of Mario and Luigi (neoteny!), but I'm not counting that since obviously M&L were babies at some point. Even if you count them, all this stuff is revamps and standard twists on stuff that was canon already, like the fourth season of Enterprise, or if Disney tried to bring back Clarabelle the cow. The Cambrian explosion is over.

(Wow, I managed to push the fanboy tangent off past my main point. Here it is: it took a while for the SMB2 changes to be integrated into the Mario universe. The only part of SMB2 in SMB3 is the Bomb-ombs, and nothing further is in SMW except the cacti and a couple Ninjis in the last level. But by the time of Double Dash and MvDK2, the weird masked SMB2 enemies are everywhere.)

Since you've read all this way, you'll probably enjoy this collection of videos of hacked SMW worlds in which Mario triumphs by doing nothing. And if you like that, you'll like level 3-2 of Air, and some of the user-defined levels of N. Anything else?

Well, bye!: As part of my "being sick" plan, Sumana and I watched One, Two, Three. That's a hilarious movie with an awful title. The jokes just keep coming and are memorable and quotable. It gets a tiny bit slow and confused at the end but the Billy Wilder ride is worth it. Plus, IMDB confirms it: the Coca-Cola building in this movie is the same one used as the Cola-Cola building in Good-Bye Lenin! Now that's what I call "Referenced In"!

: I forgot to write the conclusion of the video game entry, which is that the boys are happily playing games that visibly incorporate 25 years of history. But they don't care about Donkey Kong any more than they care about Plane Crazy. Maybe a little more since Alyson is trying to keep them out of the clutches of Disney.

[Comments] (6) : One good thing about my Florida visit was that I got to visit three states I'd never visited before (FL plus Georgia and Alabama). You might know that I'm a bit obsessive about this, apart from the instrinsic interest of the different states, and have even used web tools to make maps of the states I've visited. But what was missing was a map that distinguished between the 5 minutes I've spent in Idaho and the 25 years I've spent in California. So I spent 5 minutes in New York and made my own multicolored map. Somewhat arbitrary house rules: time spent in airports doesn't count; time spent in car or train does; overnight stays are counted as "1 day".

[Comments] (1) Boiled Peanuts: Or bold peanuts, as they say down south. Fun fact: peanuts are legumes! I know this seems like an academic point when you're snacking on them at the ballpark, but when they're boiled they taste and mouthfeel like beans and you start wanting to make curry out of them. Tragically un-recommended.

Cooking For Mathematicians: "Modelling dishes and exploring culinary 'precisions': the two issues of molecular gastronomy":

This modelling led to the discovery that all the French classical sauces belong to 23 groups only: W, O, W/S, O/W, S/W, (O+S)/W, (W/S)/W, O+(W/S), (G+O)/W, (G+O+S)/W, (O+(W/S))/W, (S+(W/S))/W, ((W+S)/O)/S, (O+S+(W/S))/W, ((W/S)+ (W⊃S))/W, (O + (W/S)/W)/S, ((O+(W/S))/W)/S, (O/W) + ((G+O)/W), (O+(W/S)+(W⊃S))/W, (S+(W/S)+(W⊃S))/W, (((W/S)+(W⊃S))/W)/S, (O+S+(W/S)+(W⊃S))/W, (O+S+((G+O)/W))/W.

[Comments] (1) Restaurant Heuristic: If a restaurant has a banner outside saying how much the New York Daily News loved it, the restaurant is probably awful.

: "These little machine-generated texts enchant me, but I can’t read them for long. They afford too little purchase to satisfy my need for meaning."

That's because IT ATE IT ALL!

: Hey, people who live in LA. Who I guess is Adam and Kim at this point. Frank Conniff has a monthly comedy show in Hollywood called Cartoon Dump, and lately Joel Hodgson has been guesting. They also do it as a video podcast. Okay, honestly the jokes are relentlessly one-note, but it's pretty funny.

[Comments] (1) Psych: This is a funny if unrealistic show, but the best part is that it's the show we wrote all those Tonight's Episodes for. Every Psych episode title is in the TE mold, including five (eg. "Zero To Murder in Sixty Seconds") that are slight variants of actual TEs ("Zero To Dead in 3.5 Seconds"). Best episode title: "Meat Is Murder, But Murder Is Also Murder".

Ozymindieas: Look on my scare quotes, ye mighty, and "despair"!


Knock knock!

Who's there?

Knock knock!

Who's there?

Knock knock!

Who's there?

Knock knock!

Who's there?

[Comments] (2) : When I was very young my family did some recordings on my dad's big 80s tape recorder. Like Sumana, when I was a little older I did recorded sketch comedy with myself, eventually filling up a couple tapes. The former have survived; the latter mercifully perished. (I do, unfortunately, still have the horrible "shareware" GW-BASIC games I wrote back then.) Anyway, the tradition has revived as Sumana now occasionally bugs me to do a "podcast", which is what these recordings are apparently called nowadays.

There are fourteen of these "podcasts" so far but you haven't heard them because they always turn into rambling forty-five-minute conversations or they get mushy or boring, or I use the time to come up with hilariously obscene art projects. UNTIL NOW. Podcast 1: Duluth Trek has enough catalog nitpicking and Star Trek fanboyism to keep you entertained for five minutes, assuming you already know us and haven't heard our voices in a while. Note that this is only a podcast in the sense that "podcast" can be used to refer to any audio file slapped up on the web—there's no syndication feed.

: In keeping with today's theme of doing things Sumana already did, I took a career quiz. Here are its top recommended careers for me, with careers I've seriously considered bolded like so many peanuts.

  1. Website Designer
  2. Industrial Designer
  3. Historian
  4. Computer Programmer
  5. Fashion Designer
  6. Cartoonist / Comic Illustrator
  7. Cartographer
  8. Sign Maker
  9. Interior Designer
  10. Electrician
  11. Cabinetmaker
  12. Electronics Assembler
  13. Costume Designer
  14. Set Designer
  15. Makeup Artist
  16. Computer Engineer
  17. Video Game Developer
  18. Multimedia Developer
  19. Mathematician
  20. Anthropologist

"Writer" showed up at 34. Looking back, my would-be careers tended to fall through due to me not having the relevant skills (cartoonist, mathematician, professional baseball player) or the market not existing anymore (multimedia developer? What is this, 1994? Well, it was at the time.) or the work just being not very exciting up close (video game developer, website designer, paleontologist).

[Comments] (2) Puzzle: At the office supply store we saw a padlock whose keying mechanism was a set of five wheels like you might see on a briefcase. Instead of numbers the wheels had letters on them. Instead of a random string, you can choose a word to be the lock combination. The word can have five letters or four (one of the 'letters' on the fifth wheel was a blank). The locks in the store were set to "MATCH".

Obviously when you design the wheels you want to arrange the letters so that they can spell the largest number of words. Assuming there are 10 letters on a wheel, what are the best wheels?

That's the puzzle. The metapuzzle is to see if an equivalent puzzle has already been posed and answered.

: Recently I read two books about ontology: Ventus and Apex Hides the Hurt. Very different books, but maybe not that different. Colson Whitehead's last two novels have basically been hard science fiction, except that marketing isn't a science. A hyperliterate book reviewer such as myself might analogize his works to a super-Mundane Space Merchants. Unless I'm doing the opposite of the thing where authors who've clearly written a science fiction story try to wriggle off the hook.

[Comments] (1) : Today at the thrift store I found a Carousel Executive Snack Dispenser! aka Tom Servo's head! It's blue instead of red, but it's close enough to be disturbing—it has no snack-dispensing connotations, it's the head of a guy I kind of know. I'm pretty sure I could fit it with a string if I had the equipment, so maybe that'll be a long term project.

Search Requests of Pathos: magic real wishing trolls to make your wishes come easily true

It's a wonderful world... of crushing disappointment!

[Comments] (1) : Today: epic date day. We walked through Central Park to the Met and took in a cool sneak preview of a new Dutch Masters exhibit. Unfortunately, we were unable to find Sumana's favorite painting, The Fortune Teller by non-Dutch Master Georges de la Tour. Sumana will probably read that and say "It's not my favorite...". So you've been warned.

Then we ate at an okay Thai restaurant (the crispy duck salad was great but everything else was not that good) and saw Helvetica (also not that good). Still fun. Ice cream at the oddly suggestive and stoner-y but tasty Mary's Dairy. I'm starting a full-time job after Viable Paradise so I've decided to squeeze in more of these days while I still have a flexible schedule.

: Sumana and I did a podcast, basically a riff where I try to come up with better filler lines for "Froggy Went A-Courtin'". Special musical guest: me.

[Comments] (5) 1491: This book blew me away! (See also author Charles Mann's responses to J. Bradford Delong's students.) It does what Guns, Germs, and Steel didn't do, which was to integrate the inhabitants of the Americas into history, showing them as people who did things rather than as people who had things happen to them. I thought it focused too much on South America, but that's where all the stuff is.

Here's the main thing I don't understand. There are dueling explanations for what killed the mega beasts. My favored explanation has always been overkill, on the general rule that mega beasts never survive long when humans come on the scene. 1491 brings up some arguments against overkill being the sole mega beast killer, such as the fact that many non-mega beasts went extinct at around the same time. My non-expert opinion is that this is pretty weak sauce because humans are really good at killing things, and even if you only kill the mega beasts there's going to be ripple effects in the whole ecosystem. In fact, one of the mind-blowing parts of 1491 is how much of the ecological picture we have of the Americas it explains as coming from the sudden near-dieout of the primary predator (humans) through disease. Though the results there were overpopulation of other species, not extinction.

But whatever. I'm not wedded to any particular explanation or explanation combo for mega beast extinction. I'm also not wedded to whether the Clovis sites represent the earliest American cultures, or whether there are lots of pre-Clovis sites. 1491 argues for pre-Clovis sites, and GG&S argues against. But here's the thing. If there are pre-Clovis sites then you've got humans hanging out with megafauna for thousands of years before the mass extinctions. That hurts the overkill theory, but it also hurts the whole theory of human development as popularized by Diamond and Mann. Why didn't someone domesticate the horses or camels or megallamas, with all that implies?

PS: In other book news, Ventus, which I mentioned a few entries ago, is available as a free ebook. Take the curtain!

[Comments] (1) Bust a Birthday Rhyme: Adam Parrish and Susanna share today as their birthday, as you know if you peruse Today In History. Adam put up a great chiptune song that has the quivering synth that is the sound of something tugging on my nostalgia strings. In other music links, everyone who will get the in-jokes has probably already seen it, but Jason Scott's video for MC Frontalot's text adventure song is great. Not-so-fun fact: the first time I heard the song I heard "Nord and Bert" as "Niklaus Wirth".

: One more cool thing about It Is Pitch Dark. Sumana and I hashed this out together.

And I retain plane tickets, snapshots, receipts,
yet I stand unconvinced that this has happened to me.

In those lines near the end, MC Frontalot compares the Infocom feelies to the fake documents from "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale". Both attempts to add realism to an experience you didn't actually have.

: Sumana's in the living room.

"I'm gonna watch this video slideshow on the history of the laugh track."
"Yeah, I'm gonna shut the door for that."

[Comments] (2) : Time to plug my other weblog again. "Hey! Robot dog here!"

Unrelated: "It's like watching home movies of Lwaxana Troi."

[Comments] (2) : Useful literary concept: just-in-time exposition. (looking I see that Patrick Nielsen Hayden came up with this term earlier.)

: Actual quote from Florida car dealership ad: "Just look for the giant American flag!"

: I bought a laptop for my new job, which will involve a lot of travel (less mysterious details after I start it). It's one of the Dell Ubuntu laptops, and so far it's worked great and didn't cost an insane amount. I got it off of Ben Pollack's recommendation.

Teenage Angst Has Paid Off Poorly: OK, time to post something real. A couple days ago I auditioned for a science fiction writer's group here in New York. In a preview of what's in store for me at Viable Paradise, they took apart my story and complained about it in helpful ways, to the extent that I'll be embarrassed if it gets accepted by the magazine I submitted it to, and published with what now appear to be glaring flaws. Which, given my previous experience with publishing, is probably par for the course, but especially distressing when combined with my obsession with determining what "really" happened within a fictional universe.

Argh, despite my promises of posting real things I'm self-censoring for stupid reasons, not telling you about the other people in the group or which story of mine got critiqued or what the most devastating critiques were. I feel like I'm talking to someone who's waiting for me to say something they can take out of context. Plus: my soul is being crushed by things to do with my mother's estate, which I don't want to talk about until they're resolved.

Okay, seriously. Real things include: tomatoes, cement. The smell of rubbing alchohol. The natural numbers, except for that bastard five.

[Comments] (1) Passport to Pimlico: The original P2P troublemaker. This was a great movie that kind of copped out at the end. I don't remember how "The Napoleon of Notting Hill" ended, which is good because that means it's time to read it again, but it probably wasn't with an "everyone just needs to pitch in" message.

Oh, that reminds me that the TV Tropes wiki has grown a lot since I looked at it last, possibly because Wikipedia's banished trivia sections are moving there. It's now a pretty useful random-browsing dictionary of craft. Which in turn reminds me of a piece of implicit feedback from the writer's group. I'm not good enough at fiction writing yet to pull off cliche parodies; they read like the actual cliches. I actually learned this with "Mallory" but I keep thinking this story's the one where I can push the envelope.

Para-elemental: AD&D has long had the traditional four Empedoclean elements as a gameplay element. There's a whole theme park/plane of existence devoted to each element. Then it got silly: they created para-elemental planes where the elemental planes touched. So at the intersection of Fire and Air you got the para-elemental theme park/plane of Smoke. Then it got even sillier with quasi-elemental planes like Salt and Vacuum. Andy and I mocked this trend in one of our ZZT games. But recently (ie. ten minutes ago) I had the idea of using modern materials science to create new para-elemental planes, equally ridiculous but cooler than Smoke:

[Comments] (1) Unfree Japanese Game Roundup: Recently I got addicted to two Japanese games with very similar graphics: Doukutsu (aka "Cave Story") for Windows (and now Linux) and Mother 2 (aka "Earthbound") for the SNES. Cave Story was fun mostly for the large and varied environments and the Metroidesque variety of weapons; the plot I could take or leave. It was pretty generic-Japanese-RPG. One thing that bothered me was how the machine gun's recoil could be used to propel you upwards, but not to propel you in any other direction.

Earthbound (totally spoileriffic and erudite review) is not very fun as a game—I got enough of this kind of gameplay with Dragon Warrior, which I don't think I ever beat despite many Saturdays spent getting up at 5AM to grind through mid-level enemies. But Earthbound has great music, even larger and more varied environments than Cave Story, eccentrically-written NPCs, and a totally insane ZZT-like plot that manages to hit all the RPG cliches (town area, desert area, snow area, water area, jungle area, graveyard, alternate universe) while violating many of the conventions of RPGs. Plus, designed by the guy who voiced the father in My Neighbor Totoro. Recommended.

: In concerts of the future, instead of waving lighters and shouting "Play 'Freebird'", concert-goers will wave their cell phones with the ringtone set to play "Freebird".

[Comments] (1) : Today I went through my bag of old Linux World Expo schwag looking for the Linuxcare "LINUXGRUVEN" bumper sticker to put on my laptop. I ended up spreading the schwag out and taking pictures of it. I can't believe how old this stuff is. Includes my collection of LNX-BBC CDs and my increasingly dubious can of OpenCola. I've thrown away that cup from the Slashdot party; it was in pretty bad shape. At one time it may have had sentimental value, but I've conveniently forgotten what that value might be.

The Dang Bus: Catch It!: Time to catch the dang bus.

: I'm safe in "The Yard", as the hip demographic I just manufactured out of whole cloth calls it. Every once in a while, my laptop makes the kind of noise my stomach makes when I'm hungry.

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