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: Hey, nobody writes depressing-ass stories like George Saunders. But I wanted to rave a bit about Offloading For Mrs. Schwartz, which I just read yesterday. That's a damn good piece of science fiction. Not for the story's future tech gimmick, which is poorly designed, but for the plot, which is based on the gimmick working as a technology. Often Saunders writes fantasy-type stories where the weird element is a ghost or some other unexplainable or subjective phenomena. But here it's something that can be quantified, focus-grouped and sold, equipment built around it, etc., and all that peripheral activity drives the plot.

I originally wrote "poorly designed in a way that screams 'I'm writing genre fiction but have no grounding in the field!'" but took it out not wanting to be mean and having no evidence. But then I found this interview where he says, "I never read a lot of science fiction when I was a kid, and what I read I didn't really like." And presumably doesn't read a lot of it now, or he wouldn't have cast back to when he was a kid. Well, keep writing creepy stories, George Saunders.

Non-Spam As Folk Art: From semi-legitimate commercial email I got today.

StillAliveDS Review: The champion of non-robotfindskitten DS homebrew is this Portal-ripoff platformer. It has a nice 50s-esque cartoon aesthetic, the level design is clever, the portal mechanics work perfectly, and there's a map editor. It's as fun to play as many commercially sold DS games, and it's definitely worth downloading and keeping around.

The major downside is the controls. You jump with the up arrow instead of the more typical tactic of using a button. This is awkward, but necessary because your right hand needs to be operating the stylus at all times, because the stylus is what you use to indicate where you want to put a portal. It's an understandable design decision but a little awkward when you just need to run and jump. Also, in a "we present you a new quest" type move, once you complete the main level set you get to play the exact same level set again except with more turrets and plasma balls.

There are two other problems I'm a little loath to bring up, but here goes. The first is the cake. You know how lame media tie-in games, especially in the NES era, always had some iconic thing you had to collect? In the Bugs Bunny game you had to collect the carrots, in the Back to the Future game it was clocks, in the Mickey Mouse game it was copyright extensions. You get the picture. Well, in StillAliveDS each level is full of little hovering pink cakes, all of which you must collect to leave the level. They took a game whose whole premise was the absence of cake, and made a spin-off where the problem is too much cake. Is this a game design problem strictly speaking? I say yes, because "collect all these identical things" is to my mind the ur-annoying ludeme (Mario coins, how I loathe thee), and it seems to be favored by tie-in creators especially.

The other problem is the writing. I'm not going to fault the game creator for not doing better writing, especially because English is probably not their first language, but I'm also not going to not mention it. Every level has a little taunting monologue from GLaDOS just like in Portal, but GLaDOS is feeling especially passive-aggressive or something because she just tells you how to beat the level. And occasionally she quotes a line or two from the song "Still Alive". Yes, not even actual dialogue is being stolen, just song lyrics. So it's like you're being tormented by a GLaDOS fangirl with a vocoder.

: Does it get any cooler than this clip of Shinya Arino playing Mega Man 9? It does, but not that much cooler.

[Comments] (1) : Woo hoo, another unsellable story completed.

Update, much later: I was wrong.

: A Symbol A Day. Also, Terror of Mechagodzilla.

[Comments] (1) I Just Want To Make An XMLHttpOmelette: I've always hated Javascript, and now that I'm working on a Javascript client for Launchpad's web service, I know I was right to hate it. Recently I lost half a day to a mysterious problem that turned out to be XMLHttpRequest truncating my PUT request at the first null character. Because why would you want to send binary data over the Internet? It's not like some kind of... tube... that you can put just anything in.

The Internet is scattershot with uninformed commentary on this issue, which I now supplant with a single clearinghouse of uninformed commentary. Mozilla developers know about this problem but for some reason, presumably bug-compatibility, added a sendAsBinary method rather than fixing send. Maybe in five years that will be a standard, but it doesn't help me now. (Also, in experiments I couldn't get sendAsBinary to send binary data! It crashed with NS_ERROR_DOM_INVALID_CHARACTER_ERR!)

One solution is to create a MIME multipart message with one part and a Content-Transfer-Encoding of "base64". Bandwidth-wasty, but effective. Except, thought I, why bother with the multipart message? Just encode the binary data as base64 and send a Transfer-Encoding of "base64". (Content-Transfer-Encoding is explicitly prohibited by RFC2616; it was more or less split into Content-Encoding and Transfer-Encoding.)

Now, "base64" is not an officially registered transfer coding, but using it seems to be in the spirit of the Transfer-Encoding spec, which wants 'to ensure "safe transport" through the network.' The only difference is that the unsafe thing (stupid Javascript) is on one end of the network rather than in the middle.

Here's another solution that I don't really understand. It uses Mozilla-specific hacks to create an input stream containing binary data, which input stream is passed to send() instead of a string which will inevitably be chopped or parsed as a DOM object or something.

For now I'm going to hope that the problem goes away when I start using a different Ajax toolkit, which we were going to do anyway, but as always I'm very disappointed when I try to make an HTTP request and something totally random happens that's not my HTTP request.

Update: Because of this problem it's apparently common to send binary files using a hidden IFRAME that contains an HTML form. The binary file is sent as a MIME multipart message over POST, but it's not base64 encoded--it's a regular browser file upload.

Update 2: Have fun arguing over the legitimacy of my desire to do this instead of investigating the problem, Reddit dudes. The %00 trick sounds feasible, other Reddit dudes. I'll try it. PS: switching to another toolkit didn't solve the problem because all the toolkits use XHR.

Ice Cream Candidate: Upon my block.

To celebrate Barack Obama, I wanted to bring together bipartisan elements--coconut and chocolate, marshmallow fluff and almonds--to create one amazing ice cream. An ice cream that celebrates multiple flavors at once, that reaches out even to non-ice-cream-lovers, offering a friendly hand, inviting them into the ice creamery of our country.

[Comments] (1) :

Don't pull your love out on me, baby
If you do then I think that maybe
I'll just lay me down, cry for a hundred years

Yes! That's a great plan! Spend a full century crying! Maybe!

Best Starslip Ever: Chug! Chug!

[Comments] (1) Pen Milestone: Today I was using a pen and ran out of ink. In the past I've always lost the pen before that happened. This is one of the dumbest milestones imaginable but I wanted to commemorate it.

[Comments] (5) : I've made no secret of my distate for the ridiculous Robot Masters in Mega Man games. But upon playing Mega Man 9 my wrath abated somewhat. It's an expertly crafted game, except for the damn amorphous blob in Dr. Wily's castle that's impossible to beat. But more than that, the bosses in that game made me appreciate Drs. Light's and Wily's business plan.

It's pretty simple, the same as the car companies. They keep making the same robots over and over again with cosmetic differences, so they can sell you a slightly different model every year. Among their offerings are:

That's 44 of the 70 Robot Masters. The others are mostly terrible one-offs, with a couple products that failed and tried to make a comeback later. Do you really need a specialized robot just to cut things? (Cut Man) No? How about now? (Sword Man) The secret is to ignore all the weird one-offs like Centaur Man and Clown Man and focus on the core business. If you're interested in a more sophisticated analysis the Mega Man Knowledge Base groups the Robot Masters by their weapon types, rock-paper-scissors style, and comes to much the same conclusions.

Not only does Mega Man 9 have great level design, it's got the best boss weapons of the series. Yeah, I said it, better than in Mega Man 2. The Crash Bomb and Quick Boomerang are fun, but the Black Hole Bomb and Concrete Shot are more fun. I, for one, welcome our new Robot Masters.

: The Beautiful Soup documentation has been translated into Chinese. Translator Richie Yan says, "I hope this would help some guys who're poor in English." So hope we all.

: Awesome cover. Sumana used to have this book of alt-history stories about if presidential elections had happened differently (occasionally very unrealistically; I think there was one where Victoria Chaflin Woodhull won in 1872). The stories were generally okay but what really stood out in my mind was the awesome cover (see enclosed). It's rare these days that you get a hardcore Thomas Dewey reference. Cover photo from the website of one of the authors anthologized.

In semirelated news, I'm having fun looking through the NYT archives for previous election years and comparing their campaign news to this year's. Around this time in 1996, I was in my first quarter of college and Bob Dole was campaigning in California after "a new Field Poll showing Mr. Clinton only 10 percentage points ahead." It's a genius plan, Bill Bradley doesn't say:

''Dole is confronted with pretty bad choices across the country, whether Ohio, Indiana or Florida or here,'' Mr. Bradley said. ''He won't win California, but a rip-roaring campaign in the last two weeks could save a half-dozen House seats and help the Republicans keep the Assembly, where they're in trouble.''

Also, this Clinton-seeking zinger from Bush in 1992: "I do think that you can't turn the White House into the Waffle House." It's funny because Waffle House is a terrible restaurant!

PS: fun Thomas Dewey fact: he was the Eliot Spitzer of his time, except without the prostitution scandals.

[Comments] (1) Age-Old Rant: How come the people who design fancy hotel rooms never test them by spending a night in them?

Scrabble: My manager is wearing a shirt that says

SONI
CYOU
TH

It would be cooler if the lines broke like this:

SON
ICY
OUT
H

[Comments] (1) Dumb Question: This is for the QCon talk I'm working on. In The Jetsons, George Jetson works in the widget factory and it's apparently canon that his job consists of pushing a button. I remembered this even though I never saw The Jetsons. But I can't find any pictures or video online of George pushing the magic button. I thought it was at the end of the show's intro, but it's not: George just kicks back at his desk and the button's not visible. That makes me think the button plot only shows up in one episode.

So which episode? If someone can find a screenshot of George in the same shot as the magic button, or tell me which episode it happens in, I'd be grateful, or at least more grateful to you than I am to the average NYCB reader. Otherwise I'll just use a screenshot of him kicking back.

Instant update: The button thing shows up in the 1990 Jetsons movie. Is that it? The only thing I like about The Jetsons is the 1960s aesthetic, so if that's it I'll just use the old screenshot. Because I'm a snob even about things I don't care about.

[Comments] (3) Don't Go To London, It's A Social Construction: I haven't been writing NYCB entries in real life because I'm at a Canonical training session in London and I've got time to do approximately one non-work thing a day. I usually choose dinner. But I was sublimating some urge because last night I wrote two NYCB entries in my sleep. Here's the one I remember.

* [No comments] It Can't Be!: Kurt Cobain looks so young!

Yeah, dream-self, I checked, and he does. I'm older than Cobain was when he died, and I've barely revitalized rock 'n' roll at all. On the plus side, I managed not to kill myself. If only Cobain were still alive, sober, and washed-up, my age cohort would have less complicated self-esteem issues right about now.

The second weblog entry was about a very interesting family I met in-dream, but since they don't really exist it's better for everyone that I don't remember it.

[Comments] (2) Mind The Arbitrarily Placed Gap: I tripped over a curb that shouldn't have been there and landed hard on my hands--nothing's broken, or even sprained, but my arms sure do hurt. Really cut into my Tate Modern time what with the PAIN. So I'm spending the weekend in a hotel room wearing tube-sock bondage gear on my arms. After some confusion regarding the British names for drugs I've now got Panadol, aka paracetamol, aka acetaminophen, aka Tylenol.

Since I just rattled off a bunch of drug names, and because these bondage socks make it look like I'm wearing long underwear under my shirt, let's talk a little more about Kurt Cobain. I've been thinking about what I wrote in the previous entry, about imagining Cobain as "still alive, sober, and washed-up". When I was in high school, after Cobain's suicide, there were a whole lot of poorly-written tribute poems and songs. In fact one of my better songs[0] started out as one of these awful songs, and I wasn't the only one in my school who tried his hand.

The songs are awful because what do you say? Cobain, like David Foster Wallace, was a bright guy whose very brightness and success fed into his personal demons, and in the end he wasn't strong enough to fight them off. No matter how good an idea you think you have of this dynamic, if you're around to write a song about it you've probably got only a fuzzy idea. So maybe the key is to write what you do know: life with its disappointments and ARM PAIN.

[0] The song is Vertigo (here's an MP3). The story is that an artist named Sandow Birk did an oil painting called "The Death of Kurt Cobain", which you can find if you search for it but I gotta warn you it's a gruesome painting. Also I remember the perspective being different, more of a 3/4 view from above, but the Internet proves me wrong, and also tells me that Sandow Birk did "In Smog and Thunder". Anyway, I saw this painting in an art book when I was seventeen and the detail I couldn't get out of my head was that Cobain's teeth are scattered all over the floor. Or something that looks like teeth--I never look too closely, because like I said, gruesome.

That detail made it into a song, but even then I knew that tribute songs/paintings were cheesy and in bad taste, so I made up a fictional character and told a story about her. I've been coy about "Vertigo" on this site before, but this is the real dope. Brought to you by ARM PAIN.

Richie Yan: I meant to post this earlier. About two weeks ago I had a long chat with Richie Yan, Beautiful Soup documentation translator, and got some information about him to share with the English-speaking world. He's got a weblog, which I recognized because it's shown up in my referrer logs. He works at jobmet, the Chinese equivalent of monster.com, and for jobmet he's written a web crawler that uses Beautiful Soup. Sounds a little slow to me, but he claims it's fast and easy.

[Comments] (2) Oi! Shaver!: I wasn't able to charge my DS because unlike with your laptops, DS chargers don't have built-in voltage adapters. Then a coworker in a similar situation (he had a voltage adapter, but when I tried it out I blew a fuse in the hotel room) discovered that in the hotel bathroom was a plug that accepts an ungrounded US-style plug and delivers approximately 120 volts. The plug was labelled "SHAVERS ONLY", so I hadn't paid it any mind. Sure, I shave occasionally, but it's not like a lifestyle or anything.

Keeping in mind that I MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE ACTED ON THIS POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS KNOWLEDGE, the most reliable source imaginable says that "the sockets for [BS 4573 plugs] can often take unearthed CEE 7/16, US and/or Australian plugs as well."

Some Things: My arms are getting better. Bruises have shown up (thus the news).

In retrospect, I'm really glad I didn't get that job as a corporate trainer.

[Comments] (5) The Vish-Meister: I've been keeping this a SECRET INTERNET FIND because Sumana and I like to show it to people when they or we come over. But why keep it a secret? It's delicious. KleistGeistZeit is a collective that makes hyperliterate videos in the "misheard lyrics" genre, using a cheap copy-and-paste aesthetic that resembles my constrained comics. Truly this is the best use of obscure general knowledge now that the Internet has made trivia games obsolete.

The best video by far is Wishmaster Misheard Odysseus' Idealist Alchemical Revolution, but Point of Know Return is also great, and depending on how you like those two you might be interested in the really long repetitive one.

I kind of want Andy Baio to exert the skill he has of tracking down the creators of bizarre Internet videos and interviewing them. For a while I've been thinking about emailing him, but I can't actually think of any interview questions! Apart from "have you considered using your powers to enslave humanity?" and "What's that Greek word in the Odysseus video? I can't read the Greek alphabet!" So I'll let referer logs do the work of alerting Andy, and maybe you can think of some real questions.

PS: I'm not sure who introduced us to these videos, though it may have been Moss and Julia, or Dara Weinberg. Sumana probably knows. [Update: Sumana says she found it while working on Miro.] Actually, maybe Dara Weinberg is KleistGeistZeit.

PPS: I realized too late that I should have titled yesterday's entry "News: You Can Bruise". Also that man is a feeling creature, and because of it the greatest in the universe.

Update: mystery solved!

[Comments] (1) EmptyCrowd: Unless I'm wrong--and honestly, when is the last time that happened?--Halloween is the only holiday that your place of employment can shanghai you into celebrating with your co-workers in a corporate environment. It's a secular holiday, you don't get it off from work, and it's not generally of interest to adults. So long story short, I went to the Canonical office in Millbank for a Halloween party.

There were costumes. I have a special technique for Halloween costumes: I don't wear them. But when the wiki that says to wear a costume is the same wiki that lists you as someone who draws a paycheck, there's a little bit of pressure. So I employed my other technique: I did no planning and let an idea percolate which I would execute cheaply at the last minute.

Sometime last week I decided that my costume would be Launchpad itself. On Thursday we would get Launchpad T-shirts, which I planned to annotate with a huge number of Post-It Notes, a la the Office Space poster, containing the names of Launchpad classes. Unfortunately Post-It Notes don't stick terribly well to fabric. But by today, Rachel was back in town, and she came to the rescue with stickers. So now I've got a sticker-covered shirt that says things like "IHasBug" and "BlobTooLarge". It's no acid blob costume (or even AcidBlobTooLarge), but it's not bad.

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