(2) Fri Jan 01 2010 22:08 Apples to Whatever:
I came up with another AtA (or A2A, as we in the enterprise game business call it) variant: "Apples to Placebos". Unlike vanilla Apples to Apples, Apples to Placebos can be play with only two or three people. In each round, the non-judge players play a red card to be judged, but their cards must compete against random cards from the draw pile. The judge draws one (three players) or two (two players) placebo cards from the draw pile, shuffles them into the submitted cards, and then judges the cards normally. If the judge picks one of the placebo cards, nobody gets the point.
Bonus: from the A2A game at the New Years party last night: "I just realized that 'The IRS' spells 'Theirs'. I feel like a stand-up comic should have pointed this out to me long ago. 'Where'd my money go? It's not mine anymore, it's TheIRS.'"
My original Apples to Apples variant is still the best way to end a game of A2A--proved, yet again, last night.
Sun Jan 03 2010 10:27 Audio Bonus #3: Snuggles the Pillow:
The end-of-year bonuses don't stop just because the year is over. Here's the seventh crummy.com non-podcast podcast, "Snuggles the pillow". In this episode the eponymous pillow visits our household, with wacky/disturbing results.
(1) Tue Jan 05 2010 23:23 Kandinsky vs. the Guggenheim Museum:
On Sunday, our last day of vacation, Sumana and I went to the Guggenheim museum for the first time. We'd planned to go about a week earlier, and then we got to the museum and there was a line wrapping around the block, in freezing cold weather. No thanks. We went to the Cooper-Hewitt museum instead. (Which was really small for the price, and also really preoccupied with the people and corporations that had been given awards by... the Cooper-Hewitt museum.)
It turns out you can buy Guggenheim tickets online, so I bought some for the 3rd. I cannot stress enough how important it is to buy tickets in advance. You don't want to be standing in the cold for 90 minutes. When we got into the museum we saw that the wraparound line wasn't even the whole line. There was insane chaos on the ground floor including milling tourists, a coat check off to the side, a small pond conveniently located for falling into, and a whole other winding line to the ticket sales area itself.
I should have seen this coming. My general theory of Frank Lloyd Wright is that his stuff is really beautiful but would be aggravating to use. I really love the FLW living room they have in the Met, but if I lived there (a la The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler), probably within an hour I'd reach for a magazine and bash my hand on something right-angled. And the Guggenheim is an amazingly well-designed museum so long as nobody is in it.
At the Met, the main entrance is really noisy and as you go into the exhibits it gets quieter and quieter. The entire Guggenheim is one big room. The whole time you're at the museum, you're in the same room as hundreds of people waiting in line for tickets, discussing with their friends what to do next, making phone calls, etc. You can't get away. They're a hundred feet away, but it's a hundred feet straight down through open air. You can see and hear everyone else just fine.
If you're the Guggenheim's only visitor, you'll find toilets are distributed for maximum convenience. Seemingly on every turn of every level you'll find a unisex toilet. That one person at a time can use. In real life you get people waiting in lines outside a toilet, blocking the ascent for everyone else, not willing to give up their space in line in hopes that a quarter-turn up or down the corkscrew is a toilet that doesn't have a line.
The same phenomenon happens whenever a timeline or exhibit description is painted on a wall. The Guggenheim is full of little inset niches containing 2-3 artworks each, where people can stand and admire the art without blocking traffic. This is good design. Good thinking, anticipating that an art museum would have art in it. Unfortunately, the same allowances have not been made for random walls with text on them. Bottom line, people stand immobile before these walls, reading, and you can't get past.
One good thing about the Guggenheim is the reading room. It's just a quiet room full of art books. Sumana and I killed time in there, reading (did you know that Alexander Calder painted full-size working airplanes? One of which was blown up in the movie "Bad Boys"?) and it was a good time.
I haven't mentioned the art itself because that changes all the time, and the museum's architecture is eternal. But wow! We went to see the Kandinsky exhibit (it's closing soon), and it was AMAZING. Kandinsky's stuff started out pretty dull--Sumana compared it unfavorably to Chagall, and I don't like Chagall in the first place. But around the time he joined Bahaus, Kandinsky literally shaped up. He started using stencils, clean lines, and proto-airbrush techniques, yielding nerdily precise paintings that look like scientific diagrams (eg. "Movement I" from 1935) or safety notices in an alien language (eg. "Succession", also from 1935).
I wrote down the names of our favorite paintings and I'll try to round up some links to pictures later. I'm absolutely not someone who tries to interpret abstract art in representational terms, but if you rotate 1932's "Black Grid" ninety degrees counterclockwise, it really looks like a seascape with airplanes, modern (for 1932) steamships, and old-fashioned sailing ships, all in front of a city. Plus a black grid and a bunch of random shapes in a corner to fool you.
Conclusion: Kandinsky is awesome, the Guggenheim is aggravating. Unfortunately, the other owns a lot of the one! We were talking about this at the New Years party; how the Guggenheim really loves collecting Kandinsky, how Charles Simonyi seems determined to buy up every Lichtenstein painting in the world. What artists would you buy up, if you had, say, a billion dollars to spend on art and could thus acquire a good chunk of anyone's ouvre?
Thu Jan 07 2010 20:08 Captain Raptor!:
My now-undirected ongoing search for the phrase "awesome dinosaurs" has picked up another example of what if this was music would be called dinocore. From The Aviary I found out about a series (two is a series!) of illustrated children's books called "Captain Raptor": "CR and the Moon Mystery" and "CR and the Space Pirates". I got copies today and they're awesome. 1) dinosaurs in space! 2) everything's drawn like those gorgeous old-fashioned movie posters. 3) since it's a children's book you probably learn a valuable lesson. Minus points for stereotyping dinosaurs based on their species (which I also did).
(1) Sat Jan 09 2010 18:00:
I'm in Boston, having fun with friends. In lieu of a NYCB post, here's Julia's summary of today, with pictures.
(2) Mon Jan 11 2010 21:35 Things You've Probably Seen Already:
1. "Two Gentlemen of Lebowski" I think if Shakespeare had written The Big Lebowski he would have quoted his own plays a little less, but it's good stuff. And there's a New York performance in March!
Our ringer was a ringer for the same
In odious Lebowski's rotten game.
2. Art Clokey died on Friday. I've been a Gumby fan for ages--I'm pretty sure it's the first thing I ever saw on television--but I didn't know much about Clokey until I watched the 2006 biopic "Gumby Dharma", which was really excellent and which I should have mentioned on my 2009 film list. It's got fourth-wall-smashing interviews with Gumby and Pokey themselves--I'm pretty sure Gumby claims that Pokey was prone to cocaine binges, or maybe vice versa. It's not on DVD but they used to play it on the Sundance Channel all the time, maybe they still do.
At this point in my life I'm becoming accustomed to the likelihood that any random old person has accumulated a whole lot of interesting life experiences, but even so, Art Clokey's experiences were a couple standard deviations further out than I was expecting.
 In kindergarten I'd walk with my friend Tony after school to his house and watch cartoons for a bit. There was Gumby, and, I believe, the Thundercats.
(1) Tue Jan 12 2010 09:06 Leonard Nitpicks the Showtunes:
New York, New York, it's a hell of a town
The Bronx is up and the Battery's down
That's not really very convincing.
Wed Jan 13 2010 18:05:
Origin of Mother 3's save frogs--revealed! Even if you don't know or care about Mother 3, check out the song's cute lyrics.
(4) Fri Jan 15 2010 10:51 Reviews of Old Science Fiction Magazines: F&SF 1986/03:
A good issue, but the whole time I was reading, I was waiting for the story that fulfilled the promise of the cover. A spaceship landing (or, I suppose, taking off) near a stegosaur! Which story would it be? "Good Night, Sweethearts" by James Tiptree Jr.? "Still Life" by David S. Garnett? Probably not "The Dog of Truth" by Kit Reed. Well, I'm at the end of the magazine, by process of elimination it's gotta be "Sea Change" by Scott Baker. But no, it was just a misleading cover image that has nothing to do with any story in the magazine. Oh well.
I think the best story is "Sea Change", despite the stegosaurus disappointment. Although it has a little too much of a "I went on vacation and had a really evocative experience, so I wrote a story" feel. So maybe the Tiptree is the best. They're both very good.
Also recommended are Karen Joy Fowler's "Wild Boys", and Neil W. Hiller's "Peace Feelers", in which invading aliens have the same military structure as the US Army. (Points deducted for puns.) It's always strange to be on the New York subway reading about someone trying to blow up the New York subway.
Paul Di Filippo's "Skintwister" and David S. Garnett's "Still Life" are both the "eternal youth is possible but only for the rich--and at what cost?" story that was written a lot in the 80s, or maybe is written a lot by writers approaching middle age.
George Zebrowski is now officially my "writer whose work I find compelling when described but disappointing when I read it." He's got a story about semidecidability called "Gödel's Doom" (originally printed in Popular Computing!), but the story just can't happen. The Incompleteness Theorem says it can't happen. The author knows this. The characters in the story know this. They spend much of the story exchanging dialogue: "The Incompleteness Theorem says this can't happen!" "But what if it can?" And in the end it happens and makes no sense and is boring. Ted Chiang did it better ("Division by Zero").
On the plus side, because of "Gödel's Doom" I found MathFiction, which lists fiction about math and critiques the math. Here's its get-off-my-lawn page about "Gödel's Doom". Here's 29 more works of fiction that involve Gödel somehow. MathFiction also loves "Division By Zero".
In movie reviews, Harlan Ellison can't shut up about how great Brazil is (or, indeed, anything). It's an enjoyable column. Algys Burdis's book review column contains a review of Schismatrix and The Postman, which I just read. (3/4 kickass adventure, 1/4 David Brin's cranky blog!) Also the phrase "Now, Bruce Sterling is what they have begun calling a 'cyberpunk'", and these two footnotes:
*Someday if they don't stop giving Brin awards and money long enough to edit him properly, he, his publishers and we his readers will all lose. The initial burst of charming and/or socially praiseworthy ideas will have slackened a little, the need for a better grasp of storytelling per se will make itself felt, and Brin, like many another bright young star before him, will be left wondering where his career has gone. This will be a notable shame, in his case.
*At this point, I began picturing [Philip K.] Dick as a squid among the stars grappling Arthur C. Clarke's whale from Childhood's End. Fortunately, in most realities this footnote does not exist.
No interesting ads (apart from some classifieds pushing Halley's Comet kitsch), the cartoons still suck. The end.
(2) Mon Jan 18 2010 18:28 Little Joke:
Have you heard about the new corduroy pillows? They're making headlines!
(1) Wed Jan 20 2010 19:59:
I was watching Computer Networks: Heralds of Resource Sharing, the excellent 1972 documentary about the ARPAnet, and one statement jumped out at me: "the large superfiles, the 1011-bit weather files which we're putting on the Illiac". That's about 13 gigabytes, which will fit on a couple DVDs today but which was damn impressive in 1972.
Some Moore's Law style inflation shows just how impressive: an equivalent amount of data today might be 370 petabytes. They must have had a whole tape library devoted to that weather data.
Thu Jan 21 2010 07:41 Nethack Where You Don't Expect It:
I decided to do something similar to my adventure to find the first known mention of the ARPAnet in popular culture. I'd find books that mentioned Nethack but were not books on computers or game design.
This adventure was fun but noticeably less successful. There were a number of government documents and books about oil mentioning "nethack agreements", but this was just an OCR error for "netback". I also saw one "setback" become "nethack".
There was a collection of User Friendly comics and one of BBspot news stories. I found only one work of prose fiction that mentioned the game Nethack: "Dyl", a self-published piece of French SF by Mirko Vidovic. Here's my machine-aided English translation of part of the section called "Rogue":
The system, which had seemed to boot normally, was suddenly seized
with hiccups. The screen was going mad. Instead of presenting the
expected prompt, Dyl found himself in the middle of a game of Hack,
the successor to Rogue, itself the originator of Nethack.
"The system has managed to intercept the launching of Sarge [the Debian release?], and
substituted the utility routines which it considers best suited to a
strategic confrontation. Something tells me that in these
dungeons are two antagonists which expect me," whistled Dyl. "I will play the game, go down there and beat them both."
Michael P. Kube-McDowell's "Vectors" contains the string "nethack", but it's a cyberpunk nonsense word ("covered with nethack gear"), possibly used as an in-joke.
Marylin Schrock's "Wake Up, Church! The Enemy Is Within Your Gates!: Astral Projection and The Church" tries to bring 80s-style Bible-thumping fantasy buzzkill into the Internet era by, near as I can tell, taking claims of astral projection at face value and blaming it all on Satan. Its big section on "Astral Projection in Our Culture" (hey, Wikipedia didn't want it) says: "The astral plane is the final level of the computer game Nethack. The player must sacrifice the Amulet of Yendor to a deity in order to win." Otherkin, mentioned on the same page, are apparently an even bigger problem than Nethack.
On the other end of the spectrum, a Christian nerd with the ominous nom de plume of "Anakin Niceguy" has self-published "Rethinking 'Getting Serious about Getting Married' : A Biblical Response to Debbie Maken's Book and to the Assault on Unmarried Men by Religious Leaders". I know that religious leaders were always mounting assaults on me until I got married. Here's the Nethack graf:
A bachelor may indeed have his "golf or other hobbies" but married
people have their weddings, receptions, honeymoons, McMansions, oversized SUVs [several other stereotypical status symbols elided], and piano lessons for Junior to make the parents proud. As a lawful [sic] as these things are, I fail to see how they bring a soul any closer to God than the time a single man spends in front of the computer playing NetHack.
I'm not really sure what is up with Benjamin Rowe's "The 91 Parts of the Earth", but I doubt Marilyn Shrock would approve of its "Enochian magick". The Nethack graf makes Rowe (?) sound like H.P. Lovecraft's most milquetoast narrator:
Possibly in reaction to this, I now find myself slightly reluctant to try entering the Part again. I've put off starting several times already today, on the faintest excuse, and a couple of times with no excuse at all. (In fact, I'm going to do so again as soon as I save this file, and play Nethack for a few minutes.)
Dishonorable mention to Ralph Roberts' "REBOL for Dummies", which implies that Nethack is a text adventure, and to Timothy Albee's "CGI Filmmaking: The Creation of Ghost Warrior" which implies that Nethack is a MUD. Frankly, I expected better from you.
 But seriously, folks: the section is largely plagiarized from Wikipedia.
(2) Sat Jan 23 2010 21:11 She-Hulk Tie-In:
When I was in Boston Kirk showed me a few of his favorite games of the 2000s, including the Gamecube tie-in game for the Incredible Hulk movie. Kirk mentioned how he liked the game's dreamlike atmosphere of running up the sides of buildings, throwing helicopters, etc.
I was not as impressed. But this entry is not about how difficult it is to impress me. Instead I wanted to share my awesome idea for a She-Hulk tie-in game. It would be a courtroom adventure game like Phoenix Wright, except funnier and with the occasional fit of smashing. I can almost taste it--the only thing preventing me is the fact that video games generally have no flavor. It's such a great idea it would almost be worth having a terrible She-Hulk movie made so that this game could be the tie-in.
(2) Tue Jan 26 2010 16:22 Underrepresented in Wargames #2:
I'm not a big player of wargames but I like the idea of dramatizing interesting historical situations and/or exploring their tactical aspects. Especially the tactical aspects of non-military conflicts like protests, standoffs, and political struggles. After posting about UATWM! I mentioned this to Sumana, and spent a couple hours searching BoardGameGeek for wargames on such topics.
By the standard of interesting wargame topics, Ted Torgerson is our favorite game designer. He created Dawn of Freedom, a Twilight Struggle mod (?) that includes a Tiananmen Square track (not really tactical, but oh well), and Free At Last, a wargame about the civil rights movement. ("If the Non-violence track reaches Non-Violence Abandoned at the end of any game turn, the segregationist player wins the game.")
There are two games about the 1999 WTO protests: Battle Of Seattle and the longer-named N30: We Are Winning: The Battle of Seattle. Steve Jackson Games also published a tactical game about the 1980 attempt to free the American hostages in Iran.
In my experience a BoardGameGeek list is a fractal timesink as bad as TV Tropes, so instead of linking to "Wargames with Odd or Special Units" and "Overlooked but Important Battles" I'll just mention their names. If you go look at them, it's your own fault.
 But my current not-a-big-player state includes contingent factors like a lack of space to store games and a lack of friends who want to play them. In 2008 I played some Memoir '44 with Brendan and had a good time.
(2) Wed Jan 27 2010 10:00 HP Sauce:
Possibly the greatest Lovecraft sentence ever (from "The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward"):
To call it a dull wail, a doom-dragged whine or a hopeless howl of chorused anguish and stricken flesh without mind would be to miss its most quintessential loathsomeness and soul-sickening overtones.
Reminds me of a night when Kris and I were doing everything in Lovecraft style, like the "My most embarrassing moment" column in Seventeen magazine.
At once I felt a hideous upwelling of blood from within my bowels, a red stream of ichor that flowed without measure into the white trousers I had just purchased at this dying town's dusty Mercantile.
Kris also came up with the ultimate dinner-table line: "If you'll excuse me, I have to go give vent to certain measured sounds."
On a related note, does anyone else find it uncanny that the spokesman for Nintendo of America in the 1980s was named Howard Phillips?
(1) Sun Jan 31 2010 20:45 You gained "cows" and "hate"!:
Hey, check out the Global Game Jam entry of Adam Parrish et al, Humans Hanging Out. A matching game in which you must pass the Turing test against opponents who can't pass the Turing test. Some luck is involved, but once you figure out the underlying rules you can win pretty consistently. (It helps to sniff the Flash application's Ajax requests to the web service.) Unfortunately, when you win the game you get a screen that's much more disturbing than what you get when you lose.
PS: Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the game includes another sweet Adam P. chiptune.
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