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: For a while now I've thought it would be cool if there was a remake of "Jeeves and Wooster" in which Steven Fry played Wooster and Hugh Laurie played Jeeves.

[Comments] (4) Thoughtcrime Experiments Lineup: Behold! After painful winnowing of the 25 stories we really wanted to publish, we've sent out acceptance notices to the authors of nine:

Barring unforseen catastrophe, that's the lineup. (A couple of the titles are working titles and might change, but I wanted to announce this ASAP.) These are the stories we couldn't say no to. They've all got great originality and execution. I'd put this anthology against an issue of a pro mag any day.

I'm surprised by the variety in the stories. I was expecting to publish maybe two fantasy stories; we're publishing four. Four of the stories are really funny, but none of them are "funny stories".[0] We're publishing a freaking cat story. A cat story that will kick your ass!

Sumana deserves enormous credit, not just for reading the slush pile and sending out over 200 mostly-personal rejections, but for working with me all the way to the final selections. She pulled one way, I pulled another, and the result was a balanced selection.

In addition to the stories, we've also commissioned pieces by five artists. Our instructions, such as they were, were "draw something awesome." The artists delivered. Here's what we've got:

Go to the Thoughtcrime Experiments homepage for a teaser that includes a low-res version of "Gaia's Strange Seedlike Brood". David Kelmer also put a low-res version of "Times Square" up on his weblog.

[0] I originally wrote that I don't think "funny stories" are funny, but then I thought of some really funny stories we rejected in the final rounds, and realized I was being snobbish. A story can be incredibly funny and still suffer the "funny story" stigma, if there's not a strong plot. That's why Wodehouse's books blend in one's mind into a homogenous mush of hilarity.

: A lot of people are having problems parsing bad HTML in the latest version of Beautiful Soup. It's a complex situation and I got tired of talking about it in email, so I made a webpage about it.

: You know how I love interviews with opinionated video game pioneers. So here's one such interview, with Jerry Lawson, creator of the first cartridge-based game system.

[Comments] (2) :

"I hate it with the passion of 1,004 suns."
"Why four?"
"Because I like to have more passion."
"Why not, say, 2,000 suns?"
"That's too many suns."

[Comments] (10) : When I was in Boston a while back I went with Kirk to a shop of strange and wonderful things. I bought some presents for various readers of this weblog, which I will dispense when the time is right. I also bought a little flexible plastic doll of Gumby's pony pal Pokey.

This doll is pretty much identical to one I had as a kid, except this one has a URL printed on it.[0] In fact, although the doll is cool on its own (Pokey's four identical skinny legs make him much more posable than the Gumby doll's larger, unevenly sized limbs), nostalgia is the main reason I bought it. I don't buy a whole lot of things because they remind me of my childhood, but I do have several small items that I've kept for over twenty years. Things I wouldn't stop to save during a fire but that I would put low on my list of things to throw away if I had to throw away a bunch of things, even though they're not useful and have no monetary value.

I bring this up because the Pokey purchase made me interested in what things you, my readers, have bought recently for nostalgic reasons. Or, alternatively, what things you hold on to for nostalgic reasons.

I'll do one of each. I still have a rabbit puppet (copyright date on tag 1976) which was not my first stuffed animal, but which was my first non-lame stuffed animal. I had an earlier stuffed rabbit, but it was this ugly orange cartoony thing that I'm sure I loved dearly at the time but not anymore. It's either long gone by now, or else my niece has it. The rabbit puppet resembles a real rabbit, still looks good after 30 years, and in general puppet stuffed animals are better than non-puppets.

[0] It's a strange URL to put on a toy, because the website is aimed at resellers, not the people who buy the toys. What's the use case here? "The store down the street is crushing me with these Pokey dolls! I've got to find out where they come from! Hopefully, they'll have a low minimum order!"

[Comments] (1) : The thing that jumped out at me from this review of early roguelikes XRogue and Advanced Rogue is that XRogue could be the first and only roguelike in which you get to fight trilobites.

[Comments] (1) : What is the Prime Directive, really, but a very strict anti-spoiler policy?

[Comments] (3) A Boy And His Buildings: There's a remake in the works of A Boy and His Blob, the game that should be one of my all-time favorites. Its awesome mechanic takes the kind of operations you get by typing or clicking in a text or graphical adventure, and makes them digetic. But it was ruined by terrible game design. Exactly the scenario where a remake makes sense.

As is well-known the original game takes place in Hoboken, New Jersey. The remake starts off with the same lovely view of a skyline across the water, but it's been Standards-and-Practiced and it's not the New York skyline anymore. In fact I don't think it looks like a real city skyline at all; the city would have to have two or three downtowns. Way to ruin the realism, game about a shapeshifting blob!

(If there is a real city with a skyline like that, I'd consider that a more interesting fact than you'd think, so let me know. I guess I could see the New York skyline looking like that if you rotated Central Park 90 degrees.)

[Comments] (2) Leonard's Hypothetically Useful Advice: If someone says "All part of the act, folks!", it's probably not all part of the act.

Battle of the Internet Special Interest Groups: Who can most effectively stuff the ballot box for naming part of the International Space Station? You can't buy this one, Golden Palace Casino! This is democracy!

Dada Ripoff #2: Sumana went to an exhibition at Columbia that was really bad. Unlike most websites, News You Can Bruise is neither a finger-pointing catalog nor an ironic celebration of things that are really bad. So ordinarily I wouldn't mention it. But the exhibition, "Lorem Ipsum Dolor Sit Amet" is bad in a way that indicates it might be a Alan Sokal-type joke.

Sumana said the art was really phoned in, but works of art no longer have any signaling function in our society, so who can tell. Let's turn to the metadata. The exhibition was accompanied by a flyer (also available online), and the flyer was generated with SCIgen. Then there's the name of the exhibition, which pretty much says "Let's phone this one in." At least they didn't rip off the Eater of Meaning.

: I've put the Beautiful Soup source code onto Launchpad, so it's now easy instead of just technically possible for you to hack on the code and publish your changes.

[Comments] (1) : My biggest current project is a large work of fiction that you should be able to see in a couple of months. I've been writing down notes for months, scribbled in notebooks and put in disorganized files on my hard drive. I've also been collecting ideas from friends in email. Now that I need to exploit those notes, the limitations of this system become apparent.

I'm here to tell you that TiddlyWiki is the solution. I spent most of today organizing my notes, and the story is correspondingly clearer in my head. Tiny ideas have a place to live, and I've got a workshop for developing them into fleshed-out ideas.

Tiddlywiki lowers the barriers to capturing a fleeting idea better than any other software I've used. Since it's a Javascript app that runs in the web browser, rather than a client-server thing, Tiddlywiki is fast. Since it displays your entire edit trail on one page, the snippets don't feel isolated from each other. I can split out a section that's getting too long without losing it.

I've known about Tiddlywiki for a long time, and it's not that I resisted trying it until now; rather, I never really needed it until now. It delivers.

[Comments] (4) : My recent burst of game-related reading has come to a close as I finished Matt Barton's Dungeons and Desktops, a history of computer role-playing games. This is a really straightforward book that mostly describes games in chronological order without doing a bunch of theory or rehashing a lot of things I already knew. Very recommended. I especially enjoyed the chapters describing the late 80s to the late 90s, roughly the times when I wasn't paying attention and that aren't covered by other books. Minor downsides: the prose doesn't glisten, and screenshots were not previewed in black-and-white before printing, so the fact that they're practically unreadable in the book was not caught.

: A couple quick links.

[Comments] (1) Hearing!: I've long been fascinated by the highly ritualized nature of Congressional hearings. I think my interest started back in 2002 when Elmo the Muppet, a fictional character, testified before Congress, and no one said "Come out from under that Muppet and face our scrutiny!" or "Holy shit, Muppets are real!"

Anyway, the most recent round of Congressional hearings made me realize that the format makes a perfect framework for a role-playing game, a la The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Each player takes their turn in the spotlight and is asked to justify some despicable behavior or advocate for some bizarre appropriation. In fact, it could just be a theme hack of TEAoBM, but you'd want to have a balance of really hostile Congresspeople and those who just threw softballs. I guess the TEAoBM "story complication" mechanism could handle both.

[Comments] (2) The Devil You Say: One of the strange things about getting older is that you'll have a friend who you think you know, and then in the course of conversation it'll turn out she wrote a series of well-regarded supernatural Wodehouse pastiches in the 1990s. In this case it was Sumana's friend Elisa DeCarlo, author of The Devil You Say and its prequel Strong Spirits. I went on a stepstool through Elisa's closet to find copies of the books, and was injured by a falling box of 5 1/4" floppy disks that contain the original manuscripts.

Anyway, I've now read both books and I can heartily recommend at least The Devil You Say. It's not Wodehouse, but what is? (The answer: Wodehouse.) It's funny and clever, and has an excellent tagline: "Satan has risen... and just in time for tea." Strong Spirits has a better conceit, but the production schedule was severely rushed so it was written in not much time, and it's got huge plot holes and not as many jokes.

Both books are really short, like the length of two round-trip subway trips. Elisa has the rights, and the books have a decent fan base, so we told her she should put the books up on Lulu. She was working on a third book in the series when it was canceled in an editorial shakeup, and the manuscript is with the others on one of those deteriorating floppies.

: Recently the Triborough bridge near my house was renamed the RFK Bridge. I thought that was kind of an extreme way to honor robotfindskitten, but I wasn't consulted. I would have settled for giving robot the key to the city (which it would have ignored).

But the most appropriate way to honor robotfindskitten is to make robotfindskittenlike games. Such as the rather gruesome The Favored.

[Comments] (6) Get Me Rewrite: Like nearly everyone who cares, I was disappointed by the Battlestar Galactica finale. I had my own idea for how it should turn out, and although my prediction technically came true, it was in a really unsatisfying and sloppily-executed way.

But as Joel Hodgson once said, you don't have to take the ending they give you. You know I haven't been boring you by posting about BSG every week, and I wouldn't post about the finale if all I had to say was "I'm disappointed". But ever since the DS9 days I've considered Ron Moore a role model for SF storytelling with long dramatic arcs, and I need to write this alternate ending so I don't remember the BSG arc as fundamentally flawed.

Obviously this discussion is full of spoilers, so if you're Nandini or someone else who's waiting for the finale to show up on Hulu, don't read this yet.

It looks like the finale was as sloppy as it was because Ron Moore had a few major obsessions that drove the story to a place nobody but Ron Moore wanted it to go. A place the story itself didn't want to go, such that an entire pantheon of B-movie dei ex machina had to be deployed to push it there. I'm gonna take one of the obsessions as revealed in the final episode, and ditch the rest.

For me the wheels came off the story right after Galen killed Tory. That made sense by itself, but not much afterward made sense. I'm gonna back up the story to just before that, get rid of the memory-sharing tech that gave Galen his motive, and start from there.

The five uber-Cylons put their minds together and decrypt the secret to resurrection technology. An uneasy truce is formed between the humans and all models of Cylon. Galactica docks at the Cylon colony and the Five begin work on a new resurrection hub.

What I'm about to write doesn't really have any conflict in it, which is usually a problem, but it has more conflict (read: shouting) than the final hour of the actual finale. There wasn't any conflict in the second hour of "What You Leave Behind", and that was fine. And if you want more conflict you can just add back in Galen finding out about what Tory did.

During their work on the hub the Five make a discovery: there's no reason why resurrection technology can't work on humans. It may have been a human invention in the first place. The inability of Cylons to reproduce sexually is some kind of DRM that can be broken if you understand resurrection tech. There is no longer any fundamental difference between humans and Cylons.[0] The cycle is broken. The human race and the Cylon race merge. Laura Roslin's death is especially poignant because she'll be one of the last people ever to die.

The show ends with a flash-forward to twenty years in the future. Some people we knew as humans now exist in multiple copies. There are some new hybrid characters.

The occasion is the commissioning of a new ship, a colony ship the size of a base star, built with human and Cylon technology. The people who were born human have been living in space for far too long. They've built this ship and are leaving to continue their search for a habitable planet. Of course they call this new ship Galactica and there's bookending and all that good stuff.

That's my basic storyline. There are many possible variations: if you want the cycle to restart in the end, I think you can see a couple ways of doing that. There are problems you'd have to finesse but by and large the real show finessed the same problems. Watch this video of Edward James Olmos at the UN and tell me this ending isn't more in the spirit of BSG.

One last thing. Let's talk about Starbuck. Pretty much the only thing I liked about the final hour of BSG was the revelation of what Head Six, Head Baltar, and Starbuck were. I'd like to keep that, but Starbuck's arc needs some changing now that there's no "real" Earth for the humans to find.

So. Sometime in the final hour Starbuck disappears from human sight, as per the actual episode. But instead of Lee's "that's strange, the woman I love suddenly disappeared, oh well" shot, we go to her POV. She sees Head Six and Head Baltar. They tell her that she is a construct created by God for the fulfilment of the plot prophecy. Prophecy is a very tricky thing and when the instrument of prophecy dies at an inconvenient time, extreme measures must be taken. She was brought back to lead the fleet to Earth. Earth sucked so much that the humans became desperate enough to make an alliance with the Cylons, a move that has now led the human race to its end. Now the plot prophecy is over and it's time for Starbuck to come with them.

Needless to say Starbuck does not take kindly to this revelation. Here you get your shouting. You can resolve this in a number of different ways, most of which are more interesting than what happened in canon.

[0] That was my prediction that came true in a really unsatisfying way, ie. by killing off the humans and the Cylons and making us all descendants of the hybrid.

[Comments] (1) : Editing Thoughtcrime Experiments. I've got line edits out for all but two of the stories. Now that Sumana's back from her job interview she's going to send out crits for rejected submissions for which she promised crits, and then (I hope) figure out how to lay out the book so we can put hard copies on Lulu.

I was hoping we could make TE an April 1st project, but it looks like it'll be at least a few days beyond that. Hopefully we can get it out in April, though, because I want to launch my secret writing project in May.

[Comments] (1) : Believe me, if anything interesting was happening, I'd be writing about it.

: OK, something interesting happened, so I'll write about it. Last night Sumana and I went to a Jonathan Coulton concert, with opening act Paul and Storm. We saw Andrew of writing group and "Daisy" fame, and a bunch of people from tor.com were also there. And pretty much anyone there was someone we could have known if our lives had gone slightly differently.

I gotta say that, unlike Sumana, I've never been a huge Coulton fan. When it comes to nerd music I prefer the Front. I like about half of Coulton's songs but none with the intensity the fans last night showed. Plus, I hate going to concerts (I'm pretty sure the last concert concert I went to was this one.) And it didn't help that most of Coulton's songs are about the emotional state where you don't like going to concerts, so really what are you doing here?

But it was pretty fun, and Coulton's showmanship was excellent. ("This is my 'last' 'song!'" before engaging in the encore farce.) And afterwards we hung out with Andrew. And now it's the weekend, which I'll probably squander on useless stuff instead of laying out the anthology or anything productive.

[Comments] (2) : I got some sore-throat bug from the concert so I didn't do anything today. Sumana and I did finally finish watching The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, the show that treats sitcom catchphrases like a fine musical instrument, and started on Cosmos.

Philip Pearson says I need one of these. I dunno. It's designed like an ironic hipster T-shirt, but there's nothing ironic about it.

Sumana got me a copy of Sainsbury's Magazine on her trip to the UK, because the first time I was in the UK, in 2002, I picked up a copy and enjoyed its concentrated Britishness. I gotta say I prefer the 2002 edition. The writing's better, the layout and graphic design are more distinctive, the recipes are better, the big ads are more interesting and there are more weird little ads in the back. Also the 2009 version is trying to be a lifestyle magazine instead of a magazine put out by a supermarket chain about the food they sell at the supermarket.

But, there was one section that made it all worthwhile, under "Health":


We British are obsessed with our bowels but monitoring how often you go to loo isn't the most reliable way to check they are working at peak efficiency. Intestinal transit time - how long it takes for food to travel the length of your bowel - is a better measure than how regular you are. Eat a generous helping of sweetcorn and set the clock. If you're eating a good diet and your bowels are working normally, you should spot it 12-36 hours later. Any longer suggests your bowels are on the sluggish side and could probably benefit from more fibre.

At the beginning of that paragraph I was thinking "Surely that's an exaggeration", but no, you'd have to be fairly obsessed to consider this a helpful tip.

[Comments] (9) Request Weblog's Musical Return: I'm not going to do this right away because there's lots of things I need to be doing instead, but once I finish some of them this would be a nice combination of my "doing something" projects and my "having fun" projects. Going to the Coulton concert made me realize that it's been a long time since I listened to new music in an exploratory way. There are a number of reasons for this that I won't dwell on because many of them involve me getting old. But it doesn't have to be that way. I'm interested in your music recommendations.

My vague idea is that I'll buy one album a week on your recommendations and write a review. For whatever reason I've always preferred music recommendations from friends to recommendations through reviews or (this is real weird) audio samples such as you'd hear on music podcasts.

In general I'd prefer music I can buy from CD Baby, because that's the only online store I've seen that offers a decent full-album download for Linux (known in the trade as a "download over HTTP"; somehow other stores keep screwing this up). Also I did some consulting work for CD Baby once, though it doesn't seem to have borne fruit yet. But suggest whatever and I'll try to get a hold of it if I think it sounds cool.

[Comments] (4) Slush Pile Tips: Okay, all the Thoughtcrime Experiments line edits are out and everyone has been paid. There's one story that still needs some rewrite but we're ready to start laying this sucker out.

I thought I'd take the opportunity to publish some of our hard-won Slush Pile Tips(tm), amazing rules that, if followed slavishly, will launch your fiction into some metaphorical orbit. Rules marked with an asterisk are ones that we still consider to be good advice even though we're publishing a story that violates them.

A lot of the things we've noticed are small things, but just fixing them won't necessarily fix the story. These are more like code smells: signs that something is wrong at a deeper level.

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