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February Film Roundup:

I'm gonna shoehorn Book Roundup into this post because although I started three books on my commute, I lost interest in two of them a fair way in, and the only book I finished in February was Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad. A great horrifying read with a sinister George Saunders-type feel in places.

I thought I'd also finish The Fortress of Solitude, but that book's a lot longer than I thought! I'm not even halfway through. Stay tuned!

: "Do they have a designated survivor? Like, one celebrity who doesn't attend the Oscars?"

"That's what we have other countries for."

January Book Roundup:

January Film Roundup:

: Brace for impact.

[Comments] (1) Jokes For Minecrafters: The last time I went to California, my nephew told me lots of punny jokes about animals ("Why are cats so vain? Because they're purr-fect.") He'd gotten these jokes from a Pokémon joke book, in which the jokes were about Pokémon ("Why are Meowth so vain? Because they're purr-fect."), and kindly translated the Pokémon into real animals for my benefit. Which worked out well because the jokes had clearly been about real animals to begin with.

This reminded me that I'd been meaning to report back about two other joke books about a common childhood obsession: Jokes for Minecrafters and Hilarious Jokes for Minecrafters. I'm really interested in the shady but seemingly profitable world of unlicensed Minecraft books. I've seen Minecraft self-insert fanfic being sold as an 80-page chapter book at Target! I applaud Mojang's lax stance on fan works but that seems a little excessive.

I recall from my own childhood that this sort of obsession-feeding book is usually a big disappointment once obtained. Themed joke books are the worst because they're often a big cash-in on preexisting folk jokes. Plus you have to find someone who's as big a nerd as you, and wants to listen to you tell the jokes instead of reading the book themselves.

I was prepared for disappointment, but I had to find out what Minecraft kids' jokes were like, so I ventured one more time into a world I'd abandoned long ago. Fortunately, this time I didn't have to pay the Troll Book Club to send me two slim paperbacks. I just put the ebooks on hold at NYPL.

And... the best joke in the series is probably the very first one in Hilarious Jokes for Minecrafters:

Q: What happens when a creeper walks into a bar?
A: Everyone dies.

It's all downhill from there. Here are the two runners-up:

Q: Why do players shop at Endermen yard sales?
A: To get their stuff back.
Q: Do zombies eat popcorn with their fingers?
A: No, they eat their fingers separately.

I'm not here to make fun of bad jokes, because comedy is hard, but most of the book is more like this:

Q: What did the pig say to the creeper?
A: Nothing. The creeper blew up the pig.

Many entries have the form of jokes, but are actually Minecraft trivia. Here's one I didn't know:

Q: How do zombies and skeletons keep from burning during the day?
A: They stand on soul sand.

This one hasn't aged well:

Alex: "What do you call a polar bear in Minecraft?"
Steve: "I don't know. What?"
Alex: "Lost, because there are no polar bears in Minecraft!"

I need some help on this one:

Q: What happened when it became so cold in the icy biome?
A: The snow golems were holding up pictures of thumbs!

There are also many jokes that require knowledge of the Orespawn mod, which I'd never heard of. One book had a separate chapter dealing with "mods", but a lot of Orespawn jokes were not in that chapter. This seemed unfair to kids who are just trying to understand jokes and maybe laugh a couple times.

This one makes me irrationally angry:

First player: "I heard the End has its own soundtrack."
Second player: "What does it sound like?"
First player: "You can only hear it in the End."

This one has an artifact that makes me think most of the book was copy-and-pasted from an IM conversation:

You might be a Minecraft addict if you forget to give your mom a present for her birthday and instead get her a Minecraft account XD.

Anyway, I'm here to tell you that the terrible Amazon reviews of these books are more or less accurate. In the spirit of reconciliation, I thought I'd close by trying my hand at corny Minecraft jokes:

Q: How does Steve detect if someone is raiding his marijuana stash?
A: He uses a BUD switch.

That one's on the house!

The Crummy.com Review of Things 2016: Accomplishments:

Library Work: In 2016 SimplyE went from a two-developer team with me as backend guy, to a seven-developer team with me as architect. We launched the SimplyE reader for NYPL patrons and started work on rolling it out to other libraries across the country. We also launched the Open Ebooks project, which led to our brush with power.

SimplyE team photoI'm not comfortable bragging about the SimplyE product because it needs a lot of improvements, and I feel like saying how nice it is will lead to people thinking (or at least asserting) that I'm okay with the status quo. But if you compare it to the status quo ante, it's really damn good. We took checking out an ebook from a 17-step process to a 3-step process. And I'm totally happy bragging about the team, which is incredible. For the first time I ran a bunch of job searches and decided who to hire, and I think the past year's work has proven I made good choices.

At the end of the year, NYPL recognized our team with a Library Leadership Award! To the right is our official team photo (two of the developers are not pictured). I think this is an incredible achievement for a team that basically didn't exist a year ago.

Writing: Late 2015 I pitched a number of novels to my agent and we decided on Mine, a Rendezvous with Rama type political thriller. Lately, though, I'm haunted by the pitch I wrote for Nice Things, a novel about the fascist takeover of the Federation. Sometimes when I sit down to write Mine I feel like I should be writing Nice Things instead, but most of the time I'm glad I'm working on absolutely anything else.

Progress on Mine is slow but steady. But slow. My increased responsibilities at the library haven't been good for writing time.

Short stories I wrote in 2016 include "Quest For Boredom" (which I... supposedly sold??? but haven't heard back), "The Girls Boys Don't Notice" (possibly the best title I will ever come up with), "Fool, Professor, Peasant, King", and the unsellable "Unicode Changelog", which I might self-publish.

Situation Normal is still on the Desks of Editors.

Bots: I've drastically scaled down my use of Twitter because I don't like what it does to my brain. As a corollary, I don't really like that my whimsical software encourages people to spend more time on Twitter. So I've stopped putting bots on Twitter. Also, Twitter randomly suspends my bots without telling me. After the completely innocuous Vintage Groaners was suspended, I decided it wasn't worth the hassle.

I've thought about taking down my bots in a fiery cataclysm, rather than letting Twitter pick them off one by one, but a lot of people get happiness from Minecraft Signs, Hapax Hegemon, and (finally!) Smooth Unicode, so I'll commit to keeping the big ones working at least. I have a solution in mind for my computational creativity going forward, but I'm pretty damn busy so it's going to be a while. I've been doing this stuff since 1998 and it's still something I like, so consider this not a goodbot, but rather au botvoir.

Here's the 2016 robot roll call:

[Comments] (2) The Crummy.com Review of Things 2016: Games: If you've come for cutting-edge gaming news, I must disabuse you of the notion you've somehow acquired. I buy computer games when they're ported to Linux. Then apparently I only talk about them at the end of the year. Let's get started!

Two excellent tabletop games stick in my mind: the thrilling Pandemic Legacy, about which much has been said elsewhere; and the unassuming Stinker, which once you play it is revealed as an absolute marvel. Stinker cleverly fixes all the problems, large and small, with "spell-something" games and "one-person-judges-everyone-else" games and "come-up-with-something-funny" games. It's not as surefire a hit as Snake Oil, but I love it and it's usually a hit when I introduce it to new players. Stinker is the Crummy.com Board Game of the Year.

Three years ago I closed the book on non-tactical RPGs and declared Mother 3 the all-time winner. Well, now I gotta re-open that book because Undertale improves on the formula. It's clearly based on the Mother series, but it has a solid new combat mechanic, a lot of memorable characters, and a type of humor I like better than the humor in the Mother series (which I do like, quite a bit). I really disliked the climax of Undertale, but a lot of Mother 3 was rambling and unfocused, so it kind of cancels out. Undertale overcomes my prejudices to become Crummy.com Computer Game of the Year.

Runner-up is Duskers, the space exploration game which combines survival horror with system administration. Your typing speed can make the difference! Super creepy, but feels a bit unfinished.

Other computer games I enjoyed a lot in 2016: Mini Metro, Stardew Valley, RimWorld, Beglitched, Brogue, Caves of Qud, Sunless Sea, and XCom: Enemy Unknown.

The Crummy.com Review of Things 2016: Books: Nearly all the books I read in 2016 were in electronic format. I either read library books through SimplyE, or I dug through the piles of ZIP files I've accumulated through Simon Carless's video game StoryBundles. Greg Millner's Perfecting Sound Forever was the only paper book I read in 2016 that I recommend; in fact, it's the Crummy.com Book of the Year.

I've got seven more super-recs and I'll give little capsule reviews for them, since they predate the first occurrence of Book Roundup. I read a decent amount of fiction, but you'll notice there's not much fiction on this list. What happens in my head when I read fiction seems highly idiosyncratic, so I'm more comfortable recommending super-detailed nonfiction.

Oh noooo:

Godzilla reacts with shock to an 'Oxygen Absorber' 'Oxygen Absorber' detail

The Crummy.com Review of Things 2016: Film:

Film: Maintaining Film Roundup Roundup (now updated with 150 high-quality films!) makes it pretty easy to come up with a top ten for 2016:

  1. Man With A Movie Camera (1929)
  2. Dekalog 10 (1989)
  3. Tampopo (1985)
  4. Inquiring Nuns (1968)
  5. Approaching the Elephant (2014)
  6. Chisholm '72: Unbought and Unbossed (2004)
  7. A Short Film about Killing (1988)
  8. Dekalog 1 (1989)
  9. Hail, Ceasar! (2016)
  10. The Defiant Ones (1958)

Look at that list, we got four documentaries on there.

My lower-tier "recommended" list gets longer every year; here's a quick stab at the top ten of my twenty-one recommended movies from 2016:

  1. Moana (2016)
  2. Ghostbusters (2016)
  3. Deadpool (2016)
  4. Caucus (2013)
  5. La La Land (2016)
  6. Avanti! (1972)
  7. McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
  8. Three Colors: Blue (1993)
  9. Synecdoche, New York (2006)
  10. It (1927)

I'm not really happy with calling that second tier "recommended" because it implies I'll scoff at your decision to see a solid film like Arrival or Kung Fu Hustle that I didn't put on my list. Hopefully no one does the data gathering necessary to deduce (incorrectly) that I'm scoffing at you.

After several years of Film Roundup I think I can now make what to me looks like a normal person's top ten film list, containing only movies from 2016. All of these were worth watching:

  1. Hail, Ceasar!
  2. Moana
  3. Ghostbusters
  4. La La Land
  5. Deadpool
  6. Arrival
  7. Star Trek: Beyond
  8. A Beautiful Planet
  9. Shin Godzilla
  10. Zootopia
  11. The Last Arcade

Kind of a boring list though! Where are the nuns, the fourth-wall-breaking gangsters, or the convicts handcuffed to each other? Answer: in movies from previous years.

December Book Roundup: Just a few notes on the books I read in December 2016. Books marked with a * are ones I read for free through NYPL's SimplyE mobile app. (Big news on that coming up! Also, I guess I should write a simple explanatory post for people who don't want to read my RESTFest talks.)

December Film Roundup: Looks like December 2016 has escaped its holding pen! As you flee, please consult this Film Roundup for next steps and valuable offers from our partners.

As the year draws to a close (actually, afterwards; I'm writing this addendum on Monday) let's turn the Television Spotlight on the beloved classic, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood (1968-2001). I don't think I've said this explicitly on NYCB, but when I was growing up my family did not own a television. You might think this was snobbish behavior, but I don't think Mom and Dad went around bragging about this at parties, and looking back on 1980s TV I have to say it was a solid choice.

This means that I didn't see any Mister Rogers' Neighborhood until I was thirty-seven, but no harm done. MRN is really good for kids who have serious problems in their lives, who need an oasis of ritual and calm, and the problems in my life started right around the time I grew out of the MRN age group. Now that I'm an adult I see MRN as a good model for talking to children without condescending to them or ignoring their concerns. The thing that stood out to me is that when he shows you a potentially unfamiliar place like an art gallery or an airplane, he always takes the time to verify that there are bathrooms there. He goes into the airplane bathroom and shows you how everything works. So you don't pee your pants on the plane flight because you're afraid to use the toilet.

Of course, some of these techniques only work on television. Mister Rogers will frequently ask you a question that sounds rhetorical, and then proceed as though you had answered it. I believe is the source of the common "can you say X?" parody construct. The semi-rhetorical question is incredibly condescending when someone does it to you in person. But Mister Rogers never acts like he heard your answer. You both know it's television and he can't hear you. Instead, he'll answer the question himself. "Is this the right shape? No, certainly not." He waits for you to give your opinion and then he weighs in with his own. If you don't say anything, that also works.

In general, this show is not my thing and never would have been, but I really admire the dedication to the target audience, and the field trip segments are always cool.

little of my collections have enabled in contemplation: I created a blackout story as a present for Allison and decided to retroactively make it my 2016 NaNoGenMo project. I call it "Amazon Prime". Enjoy!

At work, in the morning, when it's quiet:

Holiday tree in the main lobby at NYPL SASB.

November Book Roundup : Please join me in writing a long-overdue Crummy feature, Book Roundup. Hmm, I'm being informed I have to write this myself. Please join other NYCB readers in reading a long over-due Crummy feature, Book Roundup. This is part of my up-ramping effort to post to NYCB more often and to control more of the information I put on the Internet.

It works like Film Roundup, but with less detail. At one point I pledged less detail on Film Roundup and it hasn't really worked, but here I'm serious. I'm just going to mention the books I read that I liked or that I need to remember I read. I'm reading most of these books on NYPL's SimplyE reader, and since libraries don't keep track of which books you read, this is a great way of remembering what I've read.

November Film Roundup: A few movies seen in a miserable month. Really high success rate though! Plus, this is the first month since the beginning of Film Roundup where every feature I saw is a new release. Maybe that counts for something in this messed-up world. Naw, who am I kidding? Update: turns out that's not even true, I forgot about Avanti! when I was writing this. When I was writing this I knew there was probably a movie I'd forgotten and I'd have to write an update like this one, and now it's happened.

[Comments] (2) October "Film" Roundup: October was a Krzysztof Kieslowski month at the museum, so we saw a lot of his stuff with a few other things mixed in. Kieslowski is Sumana's favorite director, whereas I had seen one of his films. Tons of new stuff, many new favorites, some duds... it's all in a Film Roundup's work!

Reviews Of Old Science Fiction Anthologies: 1972: Just finished Donald A. Wollheim Presents The 1972 Annual World's Best SF, an old SF anthology with one of those funky 1970s Yves Tanguy-esque cover paintings, obtained, I believe, through Jed Hartman. While it's fresh in my mind I wanted to take note of my favorite stories from the book. If nothing else, it's sometimes useful for me to go back and remember stories that I really liked.

As you'd expect from a year's-best anthology all the stories in this book are pretty good by 1972 standards. I'd say the champion is probably "Real-Time World" by Christopher Priest, which is weird in a way I found really interesting. Has a PKD-like plot but written in a different style. Honorable mention to Joanna Russ's "Gleepsite", which is weird in almost the same way, and a lot shorter. R. A. Lafferty's "All Pieces of A River Shore" was my favorite story in the book all the way up to the last paragraph, which enraged me to the point that I've bumped it down to third place.

Runners-up: Paul Anderson's "A Little Knowledge" was slight but really fun to read. Larry Niven's "The Fourth Profession" (Hugo nominee!) combined the superb inventiveness characteristic of the very best SF with a very 1972 conception of the range of acceptable human behavior. The introduction to "The Fourth Profession" mentioned it was originally published in a Samuel Delany anthology series called Quark, which looks like it's got a lot of good stuff.

Now that I've started writing all this down, I'll conclude by mentioning that I recently read the September/October 2011 F&SF and my favorite story was "Aisle 1047", Jon Armstrong's goofy story of brand warfare.

September Film Roundup: Ah, September, the month of cinematic disappointment. Wake me up when September ends. What's that you say? Well, just gimme like five more minutes.

August Film Roundup: August was a month with a lot of writing and relatively little film-watching, but I've got a number of good selections for you.

July Film Roundup: Rising global temperatures, political documentary series, and blockbusters in franchises I care about ensure that I spend a lot of time in air-conditioned theaters this summer. The result is a Film Roundup for the ages! Specifically, ages 13 and up. (Sorry—COPPA demands it!)

Film roundup Special #2:

June Film Roundup: This month's movies are all over the place. I also wrote a huge essay about a movie I saw on July 1, so there might be a supplemental post as well.

[Comments] (2) Paris Pictures: Versailles: I'm back with another Paris trip photoessay! This time we venture to Château Versailles, a short train trip from Paris. Versailles is a small commuter city whose major attraction is the residence (and occasional prison) of kings; sort of if New Rochelle used to be the capital of the United States.

There are four parts to the Versailles experience and it all depends on how much you want to pay and how far you're willing to walk. We paid full price and walked all day, we saw it all, and I'm here to tell you that the best thing is right at the end. I would not have chosen to go to Versailles, but I'm glad Sumana suggested it as our day trip.

Let's start at the Château proper. This was... a big palace with a lot of history. You get in a big line, which goes through a metal detector and then shuffles as a single unit through one extravagant room after another. It's not what the original architects had in mind but it does instill the intended sense of being dutiful and oppressed.

I took lots of pictures of this stage, but afterwards I realized 5000 other people had taken the same photos that day, so I won't show most of them. I will show the big Hall of Mirrors, which was really intimidating back when mirrors were an advanced technology, but which now kind of feels like a tinpot dictator showing you his Hall of Integrated Circuits.

"Yeah, it's all on one chip, no big deal."

There was a big gallery of paintings of French military victories, from which I took this dyptich I call "Leonard's Two Moods":
In a sop to the non-bloodthirsty, the gallery of military prowess was balanced by a hall of statues honoring humanists and statesmen who "spread the glory of French civilization without drawing the sword." They were able to get some big names, like Descartes (left).
In the many Versailles gift shops we learned that Frédéric Lenormand wrote a series of mystery novels staring Voltaire, including Le diable s'habille en Voltaire (The Devil Wears Voltaire), which according to the back-cover copy is the book that finally delivers the long-promised Voltaire-Satan grudge match! I don't read French well enough to read a historical-fiction novel, but I'd love to see some translations of these.

There's a restaurant (a branch of Angelina, a famous Paris hot-chocolate joint) in the main Château. Their croque monsieur was the only bad food I ate between the time I got off the plane at De Gaulle and the time I got back on the plane a week later. Generally museum restaurants are not great, so not too surprising. However the hot chocolate was excellent! And it's hard to beat the ambience; it called to mind a Ken MacLeod quote about how "our children giggle and eat ice-cream in the palaces of past rulers."

Speaking of which, let's move on to part two of the Versailles Journey, the gardens! This is a park about twice the size of Central Park, all done in the perfect shaved-trees geometric format that seems kinda creepy to me but it's just the way the French do parks. We took some establishing shots for Sumana's mom just so she could see we made it.

This part of Versailles is free, so if you're a cheapskate and just want to have a day in the park, this is for you. It's also the part of Versailles with the most replay value. Lots of kids running around eating ice-cream. You can rent a bike or a boat.

Near the entrance you see this fountain full of statues of frogs, and statues of people being turned into frogs. There's an implied threat that the king might himself turn you into a frog. (He had the legal right to do this, though it was rarely exercised.)

A lot of the gardens operate on the hedge-maze principle. You leave the beaten path, wander around in the trees and eventually stumble into a fountain or statue grouping. Unfortunately, although you're free to wander through the mazes, the fountains and whatnot are all caged behind gates, so you can't get a good look at them! Kind of spoils the fun.

You can't really see it in that picture, but the latticework on that gate says "XIIII XIIII XIIII XIIII".

A lot of people call it a day after seeing the main chateau and a bit of the gardens, but we pressed on! We took in the Grand Trianon, the palace that Louis XIV had built to get away from it all. This was the exact reason he'd had Versailles built, but when you're the king, truly "getting away from it all" would require delegating important decisions to someone else, and Louis XIV was not the delegating type, so he brought "it all" with him wherever he went. If he'd lived longer he would have probably built another palace even further away.

Because of this history the Grand Trianon made for a disappointing sequel to the Château. It is a little more informal, though; you get to see Louis's man-cave, where he would bro down for some billiards.

While you're over here you can check out the Petit Trianon, originally built for Madame de Pompadour but later occupied by Marie Antoinette, of unhelpful-suggestion fame. This is still more informal, a little closer to something a modern person might be able to live in. And if you're undeterred by the fact that it's now well into the afternoon and you've been walking all day, you can step outside the Petit Trianon into the Queen's Hamlet. And this is where it gets freaky.

I had of course heard that Marie Antoinette had "dressed up as a milkmaid", but there were a lot of slanders going around about ol' Marie, so a) I wasn't sure this had really happened, and b) I'd assumed it had maybe happened once, at the sort of party you see nowadays where frat boys dress like they're homeless.

Well, I'm here to tell you that it didn't happen once. It happened all the friggin' time, and the Queen's Hamlet is where it happened.

The backyard of the Petit Trianon is pretty normal, with winding paths through a natural-looking constructed environment. Trees, bridges, a theater, a "temple of Love"; what the French would consider an English-style park. Then you enter the Hamlet, a working replica of a farming village.

You know in Constellation Games where Tetsuo Milk creates the Ip Shkoy Replica Village with its convenience store and printing press, then goes around pretending to be all the inhabitants? It's like that, but it happened for real, in the 1700s, and it wasn't even the first time someone had done this. It was a fad!

There's a barn-type building with chickens and other farm animals.

There's a little pond with its own fairy-tale lighthouse.

There's a mill that doesn't do anything.

There are many other single-use buildings--a dairy, a "boudoir" whose only purpose seems to be to let Marie have a conversation in private, etc.

Over the centuries the Hamlet has fallen into disrepair and been restored with modern techniques. Here's the main house, which we couldn't enter because it's undergoing renovation. That's right, we're restoring the replica farmhouse to recreate the effect of the original replica.

And it works! It's clearly fake, but the part of my brain that likes this sort of thing doesn't care. Even with tourists and kids running around, the Hamlet is a nice relaxing place to be. There's something deeply appealing about these tidy replicas of rural life. It reminds me of watching Peter Jackson's Hobbiton. Sumana called it the "Pinterest mom" look.

In general we found the French attitude towards Marie Antoinette confusing. The Versailles gift shop was full of kitsch indicating a demand for the pomp and decadence of pre-revolutionary France, and the doomed queen in particular. But most tourists, having gotten within a mile of her really nice Minecraft base, were not willing to walk out here, to what, in our opinion, is the highlight of the park.

So we asked a French friend about history's final judgement on Marie Antoinette, and he thought about it a long time and said, "Well... she wasn't French." 'Nuff said!

This document (source) is part of Crummy, the webspace of Leonard Richardson (contact information). It was last modified on Monday, September 09 2013, 18:05:52 Nowhere Standard Time and last built on Thursday, March 23 2017, 20:10:01 Nowhere Standard Time.

Crummy is © 1996-2017 Leonard Richardson. Unless otherwise noted, all text licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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