Fri Aug 01 2008 23:05:
Hey. Adam Parrish can't hang out with me tomorrow because he has to catch up on work because he spent all this week doing awesome things like
Mega Man linocut prints. He did four wood carvings for the four color segments of the Mega Man sprite, then printed him in different colors. It's like Andy Warhol prints of Mega Man's arsenal of palette swaps!
I don't want to encourage rash speculation, and no investment is guaranteed to increase in value, but since I've called dibs on his first print and there's no guarantee he'll ever make any more, I estimate the value of that print at up to one billion dollars. At that price point, he may not even sell it to me! But if he did do more prints, it would be great to see a nontych using the colors from Mega Man 2.
(5) Sun Aug 03 2008 12:22:
When life gives you water, make waterade.
Sun Aug 03 2008 22:15 "Did the earth move for you too?" "Does he have a brother?":
We discovered that you can do a whole conversation just by going down the TV Tropes list of stock phrases in alphabetical order.
(6) Wed Aug 06 2008 09:33 Leonard's Unpopular Opinions:
You know what's really boring? The Olympics. They combine the paint-drying excitement of athletic competition with the Long Tail of sports that aren't popular enough to have a big between-Olympics fanbase. The most interesting thing about them is the corruption and politics.
When I was five my father took me to the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, probably one of the track and field events. I remember with pleasure the pageantry and the big open spaces and the crowds. The games themselves were boring. (A lot like the Dodgers games he took me to, actually.) Basically, give me a good Worlds Fair over the Olympics any day.
(1) Fri Aug 08 2008 23:37:
Sumana wanted me to write more about my emotional reaction to The Making of the Atomic Bomb. It's true: girls always want to talk about feelings. Look, it's a story about a war, a war that featured escalating levels of brutality until you had soldiers flying off with bombs every night to turn cities into the stereotypical image of hell. Meanwhile some of the most brilliant people of the time, including many of my intellectual heroes, were working on making it possible to deliver that much hell with a single device.
They knew what they were doing and they had self-justifications. One of the self-justifications was the then-new concept of deterrence: that the bomb was so terrible it could be used to prevent war altogether. But deterrence doesn't work on the abstract level; it works by specific nation-states threatening each other. The bomb did prevent total war, but it did this by making everyone's life into a constant low-level war. Bohr and others had some ideas of how to prevent this but nothing came of them.
The theory behind fission and fusion bombs is not difficult. I basically understand it, and I'm terrible at physics. What's difficult is getting enough fissionable uranium, which basically requires being a nation-state. I was amazed by the enormous industrial parks set up to create a few grams of U-235 a day, and by how easy it was to destroy the German bomb program by blowing up their only source of heavy water. Of course, nowadays (this is not in the book), you can just take an existing warhead from one of the poorly-secured post-Soviet stockpiles.
So, basically, the book is very depressing.
(1) Sat Aug 09 2008 09:16 Sumana's French Song:
Où est le métro?
Où est la Tour Eiffel?
Je voudrais un Coca-Cola
Sun Aug 10 2008 14:27 Odd Moment of Grace:
Somehow we ended up eating brunch in a sports bar. "Pork and Beans" by Weezer played on the jukebox. I looked up near the end of the song to see a clip of a NASCAR pit crew throwing Gatorade on their driver from bottles. It was a wonderful synchronicity.
Sun Aug 10 2008 16:01 Rereading:
Three years ago I went on vacation with my mother to Montana and Alberta. We saw the Tyrrell Museum and Dinosaur Provincial Park and other dinosaur-related things we'd been waiting twenty years to see. It was the trip of a lifetime, and the last big trip my mother took. I found her travelogue of the trip and reread it; it was nice to hear her voice again. I wish I could put up the pictures but they're all on paper that would need to be scanned.
(4) Tue Aug 12 2008 19:35:
ZZT returns! In the web browser. Sort of. (Pushers + sliders == ZZT, by the Fundamental Theorem of ZZT.) It's The Tombs of Asciiroth, but the name is misleading; this is another in the still-strangely-small trickle of Unicode Roguelikes. Live the frustation!
Wed Aug 13 2008 20:02 Munitions Other Than Fun:
In celebration of Futurismic's deal with FeedBooks to... convert stories to various other formats, I've put up a tiny web page for "Mallory", which I'll use to track anything interesting that happens to the story in the future. Right now I'm just hosting a plain-text version of the story, in case someone ever manufactures an e-book reader capable of handling that exotic format.
In semirelated news of things happening to my stories, my bizarre short-short "Panspermia Cannon" was reprinted some time ago in an online mag called Infinity's Kitchen. It's in issue #1, in case you want to see the same words laid out better--and really, why else would you be reading this entry that's all about format-shifting?
Oh, also, my former writing group colleague N.K. Jemisin sold a story to Baen's Universe, except it's hardly worth mentioning compared to her three-novel book deal.
(1) Thu Aug 14 2008 21:57 Keep Chipping Away:
At this point, finding out that your dentist is really into World of Warcraft is practically a cliche.
(1) Fri Aug 15 2008 12:58:
You need Jake's necktie. (I don't, because I have a necktie with pterodactyls on it, suitable for any occasion.)
(1) Fri Aug 15 2008 14:02 Anathem:
In a move sure to earn me the jealousy of nerds everywhere, yesterday I finished reading an advance copy of Anathem. Without giving away any of the story I can say that it's an excellent book, my favorite Stephenson after Cryptonomicon, and will probably be remembered as his best book assuming he doesn't do anything better in the future, which there's no real reason to think. It combines the crowd-pleasing conversational mind candy you've come to expect from Stephenson, with the even more crowd-pleasing technique of moving the plot in a straight line from one event to another (with one major exception) until it reaches a proper conclusion.
The first-person narration really helps here. You don't get the mind-boggling interwoven plots or rhetorical excesses you see in Stephenson's previous books (I love rhetorical excesses, but hey). It's still a very complex book, but all the complexity goes into the worldbuilding, the relationships between characters, and the ideas deployed in the service of the plot. And into the multi-page descriptions of buildings, which are apparently here to stay.
If you're not afraid of spoilers (and really, these "spoilers" will raise more questions than they answer, so I say go for it), then de-rot13 the phrase that made me say "Yes! Awesome book!": "cnexvat fgehpgher qvabfnhe".
(6) Sun Aug 17 2008 11:54 Amazing Discoveries:
My sister Susanna and I have invented something. For years I've kept my dishrags on the kitchen counter due to a lack of drawer space. The invention is a hanging dishrag holder, a cloth bag with a loop at one end and an elastic orifice at the other. Susanna built me a prototype. I stuffed it with dishrags and hung it from the pothooks in the ceiling. Instant counter space savings! When I need a dishrag I pull one out. After laundering dishrags I stuff them back in. It's a fair system.
There are similar inventions for grocery bags, but this was a totally different engineering challenge because grocery bags are more compressible.
Update: Random clickolinko person, probably Nick, says, "hate to say it, but my grandmother-in-law totally has something like this by her sink in the suburbs of Tokyo". I'm sure this thing has been invented multiple times, wherever there are rags and not much space to put them, but I've never seen it before.
Sun Aug 17 2008 13:53 Reviews of Old Science Fiction Magazines: F&SF 1993/05:
Took me a long, long time to finish this magazine because I left it in a bag I seldom use. I think this may have been the first one of the big pile I started reading. Okay, so what do we have here. John Morressey's "Working Stiffs" puts fantastic humanoids into a modern-day scenario and milks the scenario for laughs, but unlike most such stories it doesn't focus on a single species. It's worth reading.
I absolutely loved Joyce K. Jensen's "Janell Johannson's First Exhibit", but after completing the story I discovered that a large part of my love was based on a misreading. I thought Jensen had plied some writer-fu at the beginning of the story that paid off spectacularly when she executed a fantasy twist on it later on, but it turns out the fantastic element was in the story from the beginning. Still a great story.
Barry Malzberg's "Something from the Seventies" is funny but today it would just be a rant on Malzberg's weblog. I remember Kristine Kathryn Rusch's "Sinner-Saints" being really well-done but not having any fantastic element; maybe it's alt-history. Yeah, that's right, it's alt-history about Lillian Helman. Michael Coney's "Die, Lorelei" had a lot of worldbuilding elements I liked, including ridiculous adaptations that let aquatic animals live on land, but as inevitably happens in my F&SF rejection letters, the story didn't grab me.
In books, John Kessel reviews Bruce Sterling's seminal The Hacker Crackdown. I'm going to break my usual talk-about-what-I-liked rule and totally slam the comics in this issue. They're terrible. I realize that your publication options are severely limited if The New Yorker rejects your one-panel cartoon with pithy caption, but just do another cartoon. I'd like to also advise making sure your cartoons have some connection with fantasy and/or science fiction, but that doesn't seem to help. I have seen one really good cartoon in these old magazines, and I was going to link to Sumana's discussion of it as a palate-cleanser, but I can't find that discussion. So, wear my crankiness on your palate all day!
Now, off to writing group, where I'll be told that Princess Toadstool slash fiction has no place in modern SF. Update, later: In a surprise twist, my slashfic was deemed "brilliant." Now I just have to find an editor who agrees.
(3) Mon Aug 18 2008 19:20 Request Weblog #Frog: REST Request:
I wasn't going to get involved in the latest REST brouhaha because... well, because I've had to deal with nearly-identical brouhaha at work, and I'm kind of tired of it. But Rachel Chalmers asked for my thoughts, and I have a conference talk I need to start thinking about, so sure.
It looks like this is going to be a multi-part entry, so here is the single most important point I'd like to make. I mentioned it here, last year, and also mentioned it in RESTful Web Services (see especially pages 220-221), though not as prominently as I probably should've. Maybe I'll work this here into the second edition.
REST says you should use a uniform interface, but it doesn't say which one. How do you choose? You pick a set of verbs that 1) gives you the semantics you need for your application, and 2) lets you tie into network effects.
On one end there's the degenerate uniform interface of XML-RPC and SOAP: [POST]. Like a language with only one word, this is pretty useless. Seeing that "POST" gives you absolutely no information. POST means: "whatever!" You're just pushing the complexity somewhere else.
The one thing I want to say about this degenerate vocabulary is that your decision to use it is orthogonal to your decisions about resource design. XML-RPC and SOAP services provide a single "endpoint" resource, a monster message-processor at a single URL that responds to a wide variety of POST requests. That's bad resource design. But you could expose a tiny "message processor" for every part of your application you want clients to manipulate, and have them serve hypermedia documents (in response to POST) that linked these resources together. (See RWS page 303.) It would just suck, because clients could only communicate with those resources through POST.
Then there's the uniform interface of the human web: [GET POST]. Now that there are two verbs, you can give them separate meanings and split the complexity. GET means "read data" and POST means "change data." Actually, POST still means "whatever!" but since it's defined in opposition to GET, it's convenient to think of it as the opposite of GET.
Choose this set of verbs and you can perform a series of nifty optimizations on GET, which probably make up the bulk of your requests anyway. The GET optimizations work because GET means something. Its meaning is constrained, and constraints can be starting points for optimizations.
But, now that the words have real meanings, they can be misused. Use of GET where you mean POST will make you a victim of the next Google Web Accelerator type fiasco. Use of POST where you mean GET will ruin addressability and annoy your users.
And again, your decision about vocabulary is orthogonal to your decisions about resource design. Whence my rule of thumb: "POST to the same place you GET." If you had well-designed resources that responded to the degenerate vocabulary of [POST], you could convert your "read data" operations to GET and get a much better web service without changing your resource design. (again, see RWS page 303.)
Moving further down the scale of complexity is the uniform interface most often seen in discussions of REST: [GET POST PUT DELETE]. This vocabulary isolates certain classes of "change data" operations, rips them out of POST, and gives them their own names. POST still means "whatever!"
Why would we do this? Splitting out PUT and DELETE means giving them a meaning distinct from "whatever!" And a meaning is a set of constraints, and you can optimize around constraints, etc. Your decision to use this vocabulary is a decision about which constraints are useful.
And for the third time this is orthogonal to resource design. If you had a RESTful web service that used GET and POST for everything, you could PUTify any POST operations that fit the PUT constraints, DELETEify any operations that fit the DELETE constraints, and then you'd have a four-verb RESTful service. You could go the other way, too: fold PUT and DELETE back into POST and you'd have a RESTful two-verb service. What you'd lose is the ability to say, "make sure the state of the resource reflects the submitted document" or "make sure the resource goes away", instead of "whatever!"
A little more complex is the uniform interface we used throughout RWS. We use the same four verbs, but we told POST to stop meaning "whatever!" When we use POST, it's only allowed to mean "create a new resource underneath this one." We did this because "whatever!" is a linguistic rug under which to sweep things. If you write a book about home organization where you say "and here's how to sweep anything inconvenient under the rug!", readers will suspect that there are systemic flaws in your organization techniques. So we wrote a book where we organized complex things like queues and transaction systems without recourse to "whatever!"
But on a technical level, the point is not that "whatever!" is evil. The point is that if you chip a piece off "whatever!" and make it mean something specific, you can optimize around the constraints and reap the benefits. It's pretty clear from the history of the web that you need to separate "read data" out from "whatever!" Because there's less history, there's active disagreement about the cost/benefit tradeoffs of PUT, DELETE, PATCH, et al., though I find them very useful. But the vocabulary you use is an interoperability shibboleth, not a RESTfulness shibboleth.
(2) Tue Aug 19 2008 11:52 Request Weblog #Frog.Frog:
OK, now on to the specific weblog entry on which Rachel asked me for my thoughts. These are mostly based on the work I've done designing and building services since RWS was published.
"Has REST Been Fortunate in Its Enemies?" I really hope the whole "enemies" thing goes away and that the period 2000-2005 is seen in retrospect as a big misunderstanding. Just in the period since RWS was published there have been really interesting developments (OAuth, PATCH) that have advanced the state of the HTTP art, and we lost five years of that kind of thing going down the wrong path and then having a huge argument about which path was right. That said, when your enemies turn out to be big corporations with lots of money (as always seems to happen to me), I would not describe the situation as fortunate.
Schema-driven mapping: probably hopeless if you want a really detailed mapping to plug-and-chug into your strongly-typed language. Even if possible, very boring. Not too difficult if you just want an index that points out the interesting parts of a document.
Contracts: My personal crackpot theory that I can't get anyone to believe is that hypermedia is contracts. A link or form is a promise that if you make a certain HTTP request, you'll get a certain result. HTML is a primitive contract language. The AtomPub service document format and WADL are more advanced contract languages. That said, I think contracts are less useful than often supposed, because the ELIZA effect artificially narrows the distance between the syntax of the contract document and its semantics. An AtomPub service document works like magic because a human programmer did some work beforehand understanding the AtomPub standard and programming in the semantics.
Registries: We have registries on the human web; we should be able to have them for web services. How much of their imagined benefit is due to the ELIZA effect? How much work will a human need to put in to find the one of 10000 AtomPub implementations they want to post to? I don't know. It depends on the conventions and standards we come up with.
Payload wrappers: HTTP is a sufficient payload wrapper for my needs, and if I ran into a problem with it I'd extend it (a la OAuth), not that I feel competent to do that. I can kind of see how you'd consider Atom a payload wrapper, but I'm just a simple caveman and I prefer to think of it as a representation format.
Message-level signing and security: yes! to the former. OAuth works for me. I don't know if I'd ever use message-level security. In general, experimentation is good when it happens on top of HTTP where everyone can use the new standards.
"Is Getting HTTP Right Good Enough?" No, not in the way we mean "HTTP" when we have this never-ending argument about verbs. I don't even think it's the first step. The first step is to expose resources: to give a distinct URI to every object you want to publish. That's the first of the RESTful rehabilitation suggestions on page 303 of RWS. That's the first three steps of the ROA design procedure on page 148. The first document to understand is not the Fielding thesis, not RFC 2616, not even RWS, it's Architecure of the World Wide Web, Volume One. That document is mostly about URIs. HTTP shows up as a URI scheme and as a popular protocol for dereferencing URIs.
This is why Flickr and del.icio.us put up terribly-designed web services and people love them and use them all the time: they stick URIs on everything. People love URIs! Their problem with those services is they don't know when to stop. So the first step is to get on the web, to not ignore the intuitively obvious usefulness of URIs. It's terrible that these web services self-identify as "RESTful", but at least they've taken the first step.
The second step is to know when to stop handing out URIs. Picking a vocabulary lets you move some of the information out of the URI and into the HTTP method. It lets you expose objects that have methods, instead of a big C library of del.icio.us or Flickr-style functions. This is the step where you master HTTP. This is where the arguments are happening right now. These arguments are not based on intuitively obvious things. They're arguments about scalability and fiasco avoidance and client and network capabilities. They're also arguments about whether using all of HTTP would improve the Web.
The third step is the mastery of hypermedia. (Note that there's one step for each of the Web technologies: URI, HTTP, HTML.) This is about making it possible to program a computer to do the mapping of options to actions that happens in our brains when we surf the web. The advantage here is the same as in the other steps: loose coupling and flexibility. This is the part that confuses everybody, because we don't usually write programs like this unless we're scripting or screen-scraping. And the ELIZA effect is in play, because we've moved past HTTP requests and responses to what happens inside us when we look at response N and decide to make request N+1.
To the extent that there is a "religious" aspect to RESTful thinking, I think it's on this level, in the intuition that there's something in the high-level way we use the Web that we can use when programing a client. Maybe it will turn out to be a bust like AI in the 80s. I've had some encouraging results on my current project. I think it's likely that we're only now figuring this out because we spent five years arguing over whether to use URIs and then another three arguing over whether to use GET/POST or GET/POST/PUT/DELETE.
Tue Aug 19 2008 15:04 'What Does "Hypermedia as the Engine of Application State" Mean, Really?':
It means that you operate the web service by following links and filling out forms. (For definitions of "link" and "form" that depend on the media type.) It means you can use a generic "web service browser" that doesn't have a bunch of hard-coded knowledge about one particular web service, the way PyAmazon does. When the web service changes, user behavior may need to change with it, but the client itself isn't instantly rendered useless, the way PyAmazon was.
I called this "connectedness" in RWS, and Roy Fielding himself slammed me for it, but when
Tim Bray, after years of real-world experience, isn't sure what "hypermedia as the engine of application state" means, I think that's a sign it needs to be explained in different words.
Saying that RESTful services "work like the web" is not just saying that things have URIs or you can cache GET requests. Ideas as confusing as hypermedia-as-the-engine-of-application-state become
understandable when you think about the way you use the web.
If a website is well-designed, you don't need to mess around with the URL bar to get where you want to be: you fill out forms and follow links. You don't need a custom web browser to use crummy.com. My website is distinguished from all other websites by the HTML documents I serve. If I change my weblog software, it'll serve you different documents, and you may have to change the way you use the website, but your browser doesn't crash.
You know what to do (how to drive the crummy.com "application" into the desired state) because the document I send you lays out your options. And because the document represents the options as hypermedia links and forms, you know how to build an HTTP request that will carry out your desires.
Tue Aug 19 2008 15:28:
That one deserved its own entry. Onwards! (Again, here's the document I'm responding to.)
Is Statelessness Required? The universe will not end in an ontological segfault if you violate statelessness. Instead, you will give up a lot of scalability potential, and you will hide state where your clients can't get at it, which will annoy them. So why do it? Maybe because you're using a framework that makes it really easy to write programs that violate statelessness, and then tries complicated tricks to get scalability back, because that's the way web frameworks have been written for ten years.
We took a pretty hard anti-cookie line in RWS (pages 252-253), but we made it clear that cookies themselves are not the problem. Cookies, like links, are a way of serving application state. They have one big RESTfulness problem but it's moot because nobody follows the cookie standard that slavishly. The real problem is the session IDs that go into those cookies.
A session ID is a key into a big chunk of state kept invisibly on the server. That's what causes the problems. It's just as wrong to serve that session ID as a query variable in a link as it is to serve it in a cookie. You need to turn the hidden state into application state by incorporating it into links and forms, or you need to turn it into resource state by exposing it as part of your web service and letting clients manipulate it directly.
Is Being Message-Centric Good Enough? I say yes. I'm young enough that the Web is the first distributed programming environment I ever used. I've never felt like I was missing something that justified switching to a competitor. The more I've learned about its design the more impressed I've been. When something better comes along, I predict it will look more like the Web than it will look like DCOM or CORBA or WS-*, whether it's "better" in a global sense or in some application-limited sense.
Are PUT and DELETE Essential? The universe will not end in an ontological segfault etc. Also, you won't even stop being RESTful, assuming you have proper resource design, as per my first entry in this series. What you'll give up is the ability to make various reliability guarantees. I was going to say you also give up the ability to avoid the lost-update problem, but I guess you could do that with POST, so long as (yes) you were POSTing to the same URI you sent GET to earlier.
I don't know how good an argument this is anymore, but: designing with PUT and DELETE forces you to think in terms of resources. It's a form of discipline, like eschewing cookies. When you've got "read data" and "whatever!" it's very easy to think in terms of operations, flex your ten-year-old web application muscles, and end up with a mess like the Flickr web service. The vocabulary is negotiable. The underlying idea, (that a URI designates an object which responds to a standard vocabulary) is essential. That's the Architecture of the World Wide Web.
Is "Do Like the Web" a Good Argument? Not in and of itself, because parts of the Web are lousy. You need a tool to separate the good from the bad. I follow the admonition of Paul: "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." Look at what people love about the Web and see if you can bring that same joy to distributed programming. Look at what people complain about and try to eliminate those things, whether you're building web applications or web services. When you find something that improves the distributed programming side of things, bring that knowledge back into the field of web application design.
Where Are The Tools? Traditionally this question has been answered by assertions that the (HTTP-level) tools already exist. As annoying as this answer is, it's technically correct. Without additional abstractions on top of HTTP/URI/*ML, there's nothing to write tools about. As we invent those abstractions (AtomPub, ROA, the ActiveResource control flow, OAuth, WADL, etc.) we write more tools. I'm writing tools now. As we get more practice the higher-level tools will get better, and as they get better they'll consolidate (as will the abstractions beneath them) and there will be fewer.
One thing I'd like to add is that it would be cool to see the existing frameworks for web applications apply some of the principles people have come up with while using the Web as a distributed programming environment. Make it easy to publish resources rather than operations, easy to support conditional GET, easy to write client interactions that respect statelessness. Rails has the right idea here.
Tue Aug 19 2008 23:23:
While I wait for the dubbed edition of GameCenter CX to come out on DVD, I've been watching Frankomatic's "Obscure Game Theater", a mile-long series of YouTube videos in which the aforementioned Frankomatic gives retro games his ganbatte best, except with more cursing than you get from Shinya Arino.
While watching one of these videos I realized that A Boy and His Blob, possibly the NES game to combine the coolest concept with the worst execution, takes place in New Jersey. You start off looking at what seems to be the Empire State Building across a body of water, and as you run to the right (ie. south) you see the Manhattan skyline with the World Trade Center at the far right. It's a very nice graphic, actually, probably digitized from a photo (Wikipedia and the SEC agree that Absolute Entertainment was based in New Jersey). I think the game is supposed to take place in Brooklyn instead of Hoboken, because it's got a subway station, but basic directionality says the game board is to the west of Manhattan.
(2) Wed Aug 20 2008 17:12 "A large bubble rises to the surface and pops":
The bathroom sink was draining slowly. I didn't want to buy a plunger or a specialized drain-cleaning chemical so I tried some Bill Nye the Science Guy-level science and made a fourth grade science fair in the sink. I poured some baking soda into the sink and washed it down with a minimum of water. Then I poured in some vinegar. It bubbled. Eventually I shut the drain in hopes that the CO2 would build up pressure in the pipes and eject whatever was clogging the drain, but it didn't seem to be necessary. The sink works fine now.
Unlike more common uses of the deadly vinegar/baking soda combo, this would actually be a good fourth-grade science fair project.
(4) Thu Aug 21 2008 09:04 Das Komputermaschine Ist Nicht:
I saw a German ad for the Commodore 64 and it got me thinking about how many C64s made it into East Germany. The PolyPlay was made in the mid-80s, and it was extremely popular despite the games being terrible by 1985 standards, especially compared to the C64. (You can play the PolyPlay games on MAME, or in Flash here.)
Well, in a move that can only be described as "astounding" I did some searching and found this translated essay on the topic. It's excellent. It takes you through the adolescence of an East German computer nerd, with its PolyPlays and its Robotron computers and its sections in the back of state-sponsored ham radio magazines. Once nerds got their own computers they were able to clone the PolyPlay games and distribute the clones through the mail.
Another interesting aspect is the difference between West Germany, which took a Music Man anti-pool-table approach to video games, and the East, which coopted the mania (or, I suppose, cöopted it).
Computer gaming was made a matter of the State – and computer gaming was officially labelled "Computersport", which means "computer sports" [thank you. -LR]. Connecting computer gaming to politics had a huge impact on the future development of computing in East Germany... In West Germany, in 1984 a new youth protection law prohibited gaming computers at public places. The new technologies were denounced to have a bad influence on young people, who from then had to go to bars if they wanted to play. In East Germany, the government had realised that computers were to become an important economic means in the future... Inspired by the Polyplay, or by visits at relative's places, many youths started putting together their own computers, or to program their own games.
And at the end, the essay answers my question.
Even before the borders were opened, and in spite of an import prohibition, advertisings in the Funkamateur [the aforementioned ham radio magazine -LR] offered C64 computers for 5000 East Mark, a horrendous price. But nevertheless, the commodore took over in the Berlin scene.
After that, unfortunately, "programming was less important here than cracking and copying C64 games." Thanks for the essay, Thilo Mischke and Kerstin Grosch. And Melanie Swalwell, for hosting the essay and also creating some sort of interactive oral history of video games in New Zealand.
One thing that didn't occur to me until I started writing this entry was that the people who made PolyPlay must have played a bunch of decadent Western games to figure out which ones to clone.
(2) Sat Aug 23 2008 17:02:
I was reading an interesting article about competitive video game players. Some of these players express a strange attitude towards a game's "kill screen", the point at which the game breaks down because the authors didn't anticipate anyone getting that far.
From a programmer's perspective the kill screen is something to be decoded and understood. It is comprehensible and can be fixed. But when the kill screen comes at the end of a grueling ritual there seems a temptation to see it in esoteric and mystical terms.
With Pac-Man, there has always been a powerful appeal surrounding the notion of "The Doorway" -- a prospective passageway to the other side, a way past level 256... the final prize Pac-Man collects is not a fruit but a key, the last of nine--and why are there keys if there is nothing to unlock?
Before I go on, let me make my position clear: I am a total video game nerd (though not a particularly angry one). Songs have I written and stories that draw from this pixelated well. My cohort has a fascination with video games: old ones, new ones, the people who make them, the ones we make ourselves, their distribution mechanisms, their similarities and basic building blocks, the ways we push ourselves to best them, the stories we tell about them, the relationships they create and mediate.
So don't take it as "Get a life!" when I say there's nothing special about the games themselves. Like books, they only have the power we give them. Pac-Man has a bug. It's not even an Easter Egg. There's nothing to unlock. The kill screen is not in the realm of the meant. If you spend years mastering Pac-Man and prefer it to Ms. Pac-Man because it's totally deterministic, why get mystical about the way it crashes at the end? This is real life, not Lucky Wander Boy.
I could see writing fan fiction about bugs, the same kind of fan fiction that explains what it means to make the Kessel Run in twelve parsecs, but this kind of talk about the bug's mysterious meaning leaves me cold.
PS: Feel free to apply this attitude to everything else in life! Other people will love it!
PPS: The keys are for use in Super Pac-Man.
Sun Aug 24 2008 18:46:
Best "I ♥ NY" shirt ever: one in which the shirt is the same color as the ♥, making it read "I NY".
(4) Mon Aug 25 2008 20:04:
Is short fiction devalued by being available for free? Hey, here's the elephant in the room that keeps being pointed out and yet remains elephant-shaped: there's way more short fiction than there is market for it. In my writing group we critique 2-3 stories a month. Half of 'em are a rewrite away from publication quality. They're also likely years away from publication, because the market is so small and response times so long.
Why do the markets pay so poorly? That's the natural result of massive oversupply. Why is there so much bad free stuff online? My portfolio shows the problem in miniature. My old crappy stories are online because I didn't know any better. My dynamite new stuff circulates endlessly through snail and electronic mail. Sure, I'm bitter, but it seems pointless to complain about this because the solution is obvious.
Seriously, what am I doing? I don't care about money--there's not enough to care about. If I wanted an audience I'd split my stories into RSS-feed cliffhangers and put them in syndication once they passed writing group muster. All that's left is the feeling that there are dues I ought to be paying. I've got a bad case of professionalism.
Who needs it? Life is too short. I know what position I'm sliding towards and I keep resisting it. Maybe I'll start writing novels instead; those take a lot longer to crank out, at least.
Mon Aug 25 2008 20:44 Crankiness Antidote:
So the only thing I post today isn't me bring cranky, check out this excellent summary of the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop, where writers go to learn about the universe. Yes, this universe.
(1) Mon Aug 25 2008 20:53 Totally Heavenly Product:
More praise from spam weblogs:
I must assert that I’m generally one that does not love shopping online, but my concept on that has changed since I ordered my RESTful Web Services from ebay...
My RESTful Web Services arrived in a week from my seller. The RESTful Web Services was exactly as it was described! I am so at ease about ebay, I’m sure I will go back for more!
I have left more info on RESTful Web Services, a totally heavenly product...
I see nothing special about the RESTful Web Services.
(1) Tue Aug 26 2008 17:27:
If you're up on your Anathem gossip you'll know that the book (or, at least, the Advance Reader's Copy) comes with a CD of nice acapella chant music. What has been somewhat obscured by descriptions of this music is that each piece doesn't just have a fancy math-related title, it actually is a piece of math. Usually a description of a cellular automaton, or a proof represented in some bizarre musical Gödel-encoding. And what I didn't know until Mirabai emailed me is that the scores for these songs are being published by their author, David Stutz.
(2) Tue Aug 26 2008 18:23 Content-Encoding versus Transfer-Encoding:
Today I discovered a "problem" where Apache's mod_deflate changes a resource's ETag value from
"foo"-gzip when compressing the representation. This problem has been a while in coming, and after some research I'm convinced that Apache's behavior is almost completely correct. But very annoying. Your representations are transparently compressed on the way out, but then the client sends you values for If-Match and If-None-Match that you've never seen before. True transparency is a two-way street.
There are a number of ways to solve the problem. One way would be for Apache to magically strip the "-gzip" off the entity-tags when they come back in, but how is Apache supposed to know that that particular -gzip was one it added? So, as usual, the magic solution fails.
An alternative that appeals to me is to stop treating compression as an aspect of the representation such that having it or not having it means you need to change the ETag. Move it out of Accept-Encoding and Content-Encoding, and into TE and Transfer-Encoding. This is related to what I was saying last year, but I didn't make the connection between "this is part of the transmission, not part of the representation" and "this should be in Transfer-Encoding, not Content-Encoding." Or to quote the RFC, "the transfer-coding is a property of the message, not of the entity."
The problem with this is that Transfer-Encoding describes the transmission from one intermediary in a chain to the next, not the transmission from server to client. Similarly for TE and the transmission from client to server. Intermediaries are my RESTful weak point so I don't fully grasp the implications of this. If the client sends
TE: gzip, the proxy can decide to get an uncompressed representation, look at it, and then compress it before sending it back to me. That hurts performance but everything still works, right?
Update: "That is why transfer encoding was invented in the first place."
 To be 100% correct it would change the ETag to
"foo-gzip", since entity-tags are supposed to be enclosed in quotes.
(1) Tue Aug 26 2008 22:56:
Apropos today's Dinosaur Comics cartoon about abrupt sex changes I emailed Ryan to tell him about a movie I'd seen in India. There were no subtitles but I got the gist of it:
[A] guy was a
jerk to women, and ended up getting hit on the head with a statue of
Shiva [on second thought, maybe it was just a random statue -LR]. He had a dream where Shiva and Parvati lectured him, and when
he woke up he'd been turned into a woman. It was wacky! But then he
slept with his best friend or something, and got pregnant! And then
the girl he was a jerk to framed him for the murder of his male self!
He went to jail! He was about to give birth when we got to the airport
and I stopped watching the movie.
Unfortunately it's difficult for me to search for this movie because
some subset of these things happens in almost every Bollywood movie.
This was just the one that had it all.
Ryan's friend Priya knew the movie! It's called Mr Ya Miss, and Priya comments: "It is the worst movie ever." Also, apparently the blow to the head actually killed the protagonist, and the scene with Shiva and Parvati was a reincarnation interview. I don't think reincarnation is supposed to give you a fully mature new body, but Parvati works in mysterious ways her wonders to perform. And how can you say a movie is the worst ever when the main character gets killed fifteen minutes into the movie? I've been waiting for that for years!
(5) Thu Aug 28 2008 21:03:
One assumption I've never seen questioned in my extremely non-exhaustive survey of superhero comics is the idea that every super-powered person has unique powers. In real life, it's much more likely you'd have populations of people with similar powers, like you might get in an RPG with a points system.
But when I think of scenarios where, eg. 1% of the population is telepathic, all I come up with is young adult SF books where there's only one superpower: there's normal people and then an oppressed minority of telepaths that's a metaphor for puberty. Has no one combined population genetics with the wide variety of superpowers found in, say, the Marvel universe?
Sat Aug 30 2008 16:41 What I Do:
For nearly a year I haven't told you about my job, mostly out of inertia. I took the job as a way to pay the mortgage on my mother's house, and for a while I was afraid it wouldn't produce anything I could be proud of, so I didn't really play it up, but those reasons are now moot. And now that I want to start talking about what I've done, some background would be nice.
In October 2007, straight out of Viable Paradise, I started work at Canonical, the company that makes the Ubuntu Linux distribution. I work on Launchpad, a web application for coordinating open source software development. You may have noticed similarities--eldritch similarities--to my previous full-time job at CollabNet, where I worked on a web application for coordinating open source style software development.
Well, anyway, Launchpad now exposes a RESTful web service. I built a framework on top of Zope, and my manager Francis Lacoste wrote a nice set of Python decorators on top of my framework. The combination of the two means that a Launchpad programmer can do a little bit of additional work in their Zope interfaces, and the objects that implement those interfaces will be published RESTfully through Launchpad's web service. As we work behind the scenes, more of Launchpad comes online through the service.
My goal is quality without compromise. If there are problems with the design (which there are) I consider them bugs to be fixed. On the client side I want to provide a web service browser: a program that works by navigating hypermedia documents, but is as easy to program against as a bunch of statically-typed crap generated from a WSDL file. To that end I've written launchpadlib, which has some Launchpad-specific hacks in it, but is based on the generic wadllib. The Launchpad-specific ideas are similar to the emerging standards around RESTful JSON. I can give more details if people are interested.
I'm posting weekly updates about our progress on the Launchpad weblog. On Tuesday I'll be giving an IRC Q&A as part of Ubuntu Developer Week. But I'd recommend not crashing that chat if you're just interested in the architecture, because it's for people who want to write Launchpad clients to help with development. I'll be discussing the architecture and the development process as part of my talk at QCon in November.
Sun Aug 31 2008 09:48 Weird Science:
Here's a story that seems unbelievable in the Internet age, but it actually happened. For my science fair project in fourth or fifth grade, I decided to explore an idea that had occured to me in a flash of insight: that the ancestors of today's whales lived on land, and were dinosaurs. I saw this project through to completion without ever discovering the truth: that whales are mammals and so their land-dwelling ancestors were also mammals. That while the dinosaurs have living descendants, they're not mammals but birds.
I can explain in a couple sentences what's wrong with my old science project because I now have a basic grasp of evolution and the history of life. That information was not available to me in 1988. We had a World Book encyclopedia that probably had this information somewhere but not under any heading I would think to look under, and certainly didn't discuss the evolution of whales under "Whales". I think I was able to wrangle a trip to the college library to get a better picture of a whale skeleton so that I could point out artifacts of the whales' land-locked history. Nowadays, if I go to Wikipedia, the first and last reference for grade-school science projects, I see on the second screen: "All cetaceans... are descendants of land-living mammals." Case closed.
I'm not going to blame my tools. I must have blocked out contradictory evidence--I'm pretty sure I knew about Archaeopteryx. And I knew at the time that my basic hypothesis, that dinosaurs didn't go extinct, was based on unscientific wishful thinking. But the tools made the difference between this being a passing fancy that was validated in an unexpected and fruitful way ("Aha! Birds! More generally, evolution!"), and something I did a lot of work on without managing to notice it was totally wrong.
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