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Maps: Worked on book, then worked on short story. (Incidentally, still no word on my submission of my previously finished story.) Pleased to note that Beautiful Soup is now being mentioned in distinguished university lectures.

I had an idea based on Google Sightseeing: a journal of negative results. You could post to this service saying that you'd scanned a certain region and found nothing especially interesting.

Actually, is there a journal of positive results that's machine-accessible? A fully general way to describe parts of the map. No reason the negative results couldn't go in there too.

[Comments] (3) : Crummy reader crackpot schemes come to life!

[Comments] (1) : Sumana went with coworkers to see Avenue Q. I'd been looking forward to seeing Avenue Q as well, because it looked like someone had finally done a musical that really explored the symbiotic relationship between Muppet and puppeteer. But much of my interest was crushed when Sumana revealed that the puppeteers are not characters in the musical! Any more than they are on brand-name Muppet shows. The only human characters are the ones who aren't operating Muppets.

The puppeteers are visible, they walk around the stage and they emote along with their Muppets, but in the fiction of the show they're supposed to not exist? Or they're supposed to be the insensate bodies of the Muppet characters? I dunno how it's supposed to work. How do Muppet operators see their Muppets? I always thought it was like the relationship between ventriloquist and dummy.

[Comments] (1) Rejection and Acceptance: I came home to discover two emails: "Mallory" got rejected by Futurismic and "Unit Testing a Book" got accepted by the O'Reilly Network. Not that I normally have trouble getting technical articles accepted, but it took away some of the sting of bitter, bitter rejection. With lots of helpful feedback and an invitation to resubmit after a rewrite. Silence, reasonable self!

If I may self-analyze, I think my biggest fiction failing is a pathological fear of writing infodumps. I relentlessly avoid explaining anything except in sidelong glances. The result is a pointillistic story that you can't understand without reading it multiple times. To make you want to read the story multiple times I cram it full of ideas. Which must be explained. In sidelong glances. My stories look like flip books. You have to work to see the plot.

Does anyone else have this problem? (Especially published writers whose work I can look at?) I'll let you know what strategies I can figure out against it.

[Comments] (2) That's capitalist coffee, you traitor!: Sumana's coworker Jacob has a Muppet obsession similar to mine. He sent us these 10-second coffee commercials from the 1950s featuring a proto-Kermit beating up on a proto-Waldorf for not liking the brand of coffee advertised. Sample commercial:

Proto-Kermit: Have some Willkins coffee?
Proto-Waldorf: No thanks, gimme Brand X!
[Proto-Kermit shoves an X-shaped branding iron into Proto-Waldorf's chest.]

I've never seen such violent Muppets.

[Comments] (2) Chronological Order: I thought I'd avoided the mistakes that first-time writers make, but I think I found one that nobody told me. Your short story should be in chronological order. My story was almost in chronological order. There was one scene that I displayed (in two parts) before it "really" happened. But that little bit of jumping around created four time-shifts in the story, making the whole thing seem disjointed and plotless.

All day I gnashed my teeth trying to figure out how to get that damn scene into its chronological place in the story. So many dependencies, so many facts it establishes that I need later. I finally just dropped the scene into the right place and started hacking at the dangling references. The guts are still showing, but amazingly the story now has a plot. One thing happens, and it makes another thing happen, and things cause other things until the story ends, and that's a plot. There are no random notes from the future coming in and obscuring the connection between things x and x+1.

Maybe it's not that strict a rule, but I'm a well-known anti-fan of flashbacks, so for me it's chronological order or totally disassociated sequence of images. It can't be half and half, it can't be now and then.

[Comments] (7) Keyboard Madness: Sumana and I play a Tetris game where we use the same keyboard. It gave me an idea for the game that the most people could play using the same keyboard.

It's a spacewar type game with a separate spaceship for every key on the keyboard. When you press a key, that character shows up on the screen as a spaceship and joins the game. You control the spaceship with the corresponding key. Tapping the key rotates your ship clockwise, and holding it down accelerates.

The health of a spaceship is represented as a color from green to red. Accelerating drains your health, and so does colliding with another ship. You kill other spaceships by ramming them: this does some damage to you but more to the other ship. If your health goes to super-red your ship explodes.

In theory you can have as many players as there are keys on the keyboard, assuming they've all got long tentacles for fingers. In practice you will only have a few players, but each player can try to control multiple ships. Will you use ships as disposable missiles or try to set up pincer movements? Or just try to hit the other player's keys and mess up their navigation?

: For a while Mike Nelson has been doing MST3K-style audio commentaries for movies' DVD releases. Now he's refactored and is selling freelance commentaries as MP3 files.

: Game Set Watch now has a column about Roguelike games. Will it be able to keep up with my level of obsession? Only time will tell.

[Comments] (3) Conservation of Commas: When I was about eight my mother told me a story that took place while she was clerking law. There was a lawsuit between someone who wanted something built, and the builder they'd hired to build it. The contract read something like "The builder who is responsible for the inspection shall...". It should have read "The builder, who is responsible for the inspection, shall...".

The builder came to court and shrugged its collective shoulders comically and said that it had never heard about these other builders or which one of them was responsible for the inspection, but the contract gave it no reason to believe that it was that unfortunate builder.

Ever since then I wondered what happened to those commas. Now thanks to Teresa Nielsen Hayden I see that one of them has shown up in Canada. Where's the other one?

Ruby Cookbook PDF: Lots of people were disappointed that there was no downloadable PDF copy of the Ruby Cookbook for sale. Well, now there is! Lucas and I convinced O'Reilly to make it available as a PDF for half off the cover price. And it looks like they might be headed that way in general. (Update: two sources confirm they are.) Our place in history is secure!

[Comments] (3) Dada Maps: In 1996 I cut up a road atlas and pasted it into an AAA map of southern California. Because the scales were different, a major highway in one part of the country would feed into a street on the LA detail of the road map. This was my Dada Road Map.

I got this map laminated, but I always thought my craftsmanship on it was rather shoddy, so I never hung it up. Recently I foisted it on Jake Berendes, who pretended to appreciate it.

But once I got it out of my head, a similar idea took its place. Google Maps has pregenerated static image tiles for maps at different scales, and it wouldn't be hard to write a program that tiled them together like Google Maps does, except not helpfully.

So I present Dada Maps, which uses tiles from all over the world to create a new evocative map every 5 minutes. It's what I wanted my earlier project to look like, and it's not subject to scarcity. Enjoy!

[Comments] (4) Joementum: In 2003 and 2004 when I was working on the Clark campaign we always made fun of the Lieberman campaign. We didn't do all that well but we always did better than Lieberman.

I've discussed before how part of being a politician is going out and smiling the morning after a crushing defeat and pretending everything will turn out fine. I've seen my share of this up close, but Joe Lieberman was incredible. All through the 2004 campaign he acted like the nomination was his in all but name, right up until he dropped out. Defeats were recast into milestones that he'd had to meet, and that he'd just met. He had the Joementum.

Except no one could figure out what "Joementum" was. Clearly it was not being used according to its dictionary meaning ("an electroplated filligree added in modern times to a medieval baton or weapon"). Nor could it legitimately be considered any kind of pun on "momentum".

I think I've figured it out. Yesterday Joe Lieberman lost his Senate primary (note to non-US readers, who don't care anyway: this is quite a feat). He's still smilin'. He's going to run as an independent, against the Democratic nominee and the (fairly pathetic) Republican.

That's when it struck me. Joementum is not specific to Joe Lieberman, and it's not an attribute of the campaign, as I'd always thought. It's a personal quality of the candidate. It's just the name for that thing inside you that makes you act like the bad news isn't happening, that everything will work out fine and you'll win. It's the momentum that keeps you physically working even when people aren't voting for you. Joe Lieberman just has more of it than most people in politics.

It's not denial; it's the ability to act as though you were in denial. As I discussed in my earlier entry, this is a neccessary quality in a politician, because admitting that any bad news is real will instantly doom you. To gain any nontrivial victory, the candidate must posess enough Joementum to be stubborn and firm-jawed about bad news and impossible odds. But usually when the bad news is that you lost and conceded the election, you can relax.

: "This book is dedicated to the ninja in everyone's Dad." Why didn't I think of that dedication? Via waxy.

: Subway ad: "Making more of me". Aimed at von Neumann probes?

: Today went to the Met, and met some of Sumana's friends. Too tired to go into detail.

Name-Dropping: Still not much time to write about the Met because I'm going off on a Long Island adventure with Ruby Cookbook contributor Kevin Marshall soon. So I'll just mention the impressive stuff I hadn't seen before. Because most of the new stuff I saw was fairly modern and had a name associated with it, I can do this in the form of name-dropping: Raphael, Rembrandt, Picasso, Dali, Miro, Goya, Bastien-Lepage, Eames, Sottsass, Jan Stern, and the strangely photorealistic Robert F. Blum.

I also discovered a creepy sub-floor called the Henry R. Luce Center, which is a sort of browsable storage space for the museum. It's full of furniture and paintings and bottles just lined up on shelves behind glass, with minimal signage.

: Ruby Cookbook: #1 technical book at Powell's!

Plane Crazy Three Ways: Went to Jones Beach with Kevin Marshall. A popular hobby at beaches in New York is hiring planes to fly over the ocean trailing advertising banners. You're not having fun here if nobody's monetizing your experience. We saw three ridiculous banners.

One was for Bud Lite. I guess if you're spending a million dollars a day or whatever on advertising, hiring an airplane to fly over a beach is just a drop in the ocean. But it's not neccessary, because the Budweiser brand is one of those select few that's associated with the concept of obnoxious advertising in general. Ask someone: "Say you're at the beach and someone flies a plane in front of you. What is the plane advertising?" "Uh, Bud Lite?" You don't need to hire an advertising plane, because any advertising plane makes people think of your product.

One was for Snakes on a Plane. It had a picture of a snake, and it said "Snakes + Plane = In theaters August 18th". As much as I would like to believe that there were promotional snakes on the plane that pulled that banner, I know that that's not true. The banner merely called attention to one of the many planes above this planet that contain no snakes at all. Was this a good marketing move? I don't know, but this is a ridiculous B-movie-style movie being marketed as an A-movie.

The other airborne banner was the most ridiculous yet. It was tied to its plane by two tethers, which somehow had folded the banner up so that the advertising was not visible to anyone on the beach. It was as obnoxious as the other two ads, but there was no content. Made me think of Bud Lite for some reason.

Autograph Apology: To a guy whose Cookbook I autographed at LinuxWorld. I don't remember your name but your last name had two Ts at the end. When I autograph books I write down random cliches for the inscriptions. I do this because I have a mental picture of cliches being harmless by definition, so that I can pick them at random and make people's lives more interesting without offending them. But in your case I picked a cliche used in a dismissive or derogatory manner:"Take a picture, it'll last longer". I hope you don't think that I think this cliche applies to our conversation or our author-reader relationship or some perceived slight on your part; I just picked it at random.

So I'm sorry I gave you a lousy inscription, and I hope you don't feel insulted. If you're reading this, I'm happy to send you a replacement sticker-inscription with the cliche of your choice. Or you can just keep it around to embarass me with my own callousness.

To everyone else: enjoy your cliche-inscribed Cookbooks!

[Comments] (4) Wow!: Sales of the Cookbook (at least on Amazon) have skyrocketed! Current sales rank: 850. I can't figure out what caused that. Maybe it's the chance to get a copy that I haven't written some nonsensical inscription on.

Update: Maybe the Dinosaur Comics plug.

Whooooo: "Some say his ghost still... stays with his body because he's not dead."


Advertising Phrases You Didn't Expect: "Maximum strength homeopathic formula"

[Comments] (1) Stock Spam Spam: I get lots of stock spam but today I got spam advertising a stock spamming service. "We are a stock promotion company and we can promote any kind of stocks." They have two products. The first is straightforward spamming to pump a stock:

We can increase the price of your stock and we can increase average day trading volume. We can increase price up to 200-250% in 2-3 weeks and also we can increase volume by 10 times each trading day.

You pay them according to how much they jack up the stock price in one day.



Who could doubt it?

The second product I don't understand, unless it's a degenerate case of the first product. Here's the relevant part of the email:

You want to invest some money and you want to make big profits? Our company can help you in that. We know exactly which stocks will increase in price and wich will be falling down. We will give you advices and according to that advices you will make decisions. We will prove it for 1 day for free. We will tell you the price of the stock in advance and you will see that our stock promotion group works hard in order to make your investment portfolio grow.

Payment: Our price for that is 25-30% from your income. Before the deal you are telling us on which ammount of money you are buying/selling stock and we are counting the future profit and take 30% from that profit. You don't have to pay anything in advance, you pay only then you receive your profit.

So they know how stocks will go, but they want you to buy the stock instead of doing it themselves? Clearly there's spamming going on here ("our stock promotion group works hard"), but maybe they also do something with the knowledge about how much you're going to buy or sell? I don't see it.

This demonstrates that stock spamming has become a service that can itself be packaged and sold via spam. It's a little different from generic spamming services (or spam for spamming tools that you yourself sell through spam), because there's an implication that pumping stocks is hard work best left to the spamming professionals.

Cross Stitch Riot: Found via search requests: periodic table cross-stitch pattern!

[Comments] (2) Greens vs. Chez Panisse: Sumana and I went on vacation to California last week. I didn't mention it on NYCB (or, indeed, write much at all to NYCB) because Sumana doesn't like publicly mentioning that we're away from our house. So now I have stuff to tell you about the vacation.

We ate with Rachel Chalmers at Chez Panisse. We sat right next to the open kitchen and watched people make food. The atmosphere was great and conducive to conversation. We talked about science fiction and Rachel said that I should spend my time writing space opera for her delectation, which is good work if you can get it.

We all had the vegetarian prix fixe. Sumana and Rachel shared a half-bottle of fancy wine and I had two glasses of a really good raspberry Italian soda. We started with bread and butter. Then, the menu!

Appetizer was a pair of crostini, one with tomatoes and one with some green vegetable I don't know what--possibly squash--and cheese. They both were topped with an excellent vinaigrette. The tomato crostini was better, because tomatoes are more awesome than random vegetable.

Then a garlic broth soup with a poached egg floating in it. You cut open the egg with your spoon and the yolk flooded out to be cooked by the soup.

Then the entree, which was a soufflé. It was okay but what I think the non-vegetarian option (something porkish) would have been better. What was really great were the corn, green beans, and other vegetables served around the soufflé. Also there were zucchini blossoms at the top of the soufflé, which was awesome.

Dessert was a great fig tart, and there were some tiny after-dessert cookies, also great.

Chez Panisse was quite an experience, but I was pretty disappointed in the soufflé, a nontrivial part of the meal. I don't really like souflés except for the dessert ones with chocolate in them.

The next day I went to Greens with Adam, Kim, Kris, and Erica. Sumana got sick from the plane trip so she didn't come. I, on the other hand, waited until the vacation was over to get sick from a plane trip. Cough, sneeze.

At Greens I had lemonade and zucchini griddle cakes and pasta with tomatoes and chocolate cake. The lemonade was pretty lame (I officially give up on restaurant lemonade, except for the lemonade at the cafe nearest my house). Everything else was excellent.

I've been to Greens many a time and Chez Panisse only once, but I think Greens has better food, as well as being easier to get into and a little less expensive.

I have a more general entry on this topic percolating, but I think there's a point of diminishing returns at which making restaurant food more expensive doesn't make it proportinately better. I hypothesize that this point comes when you stop getting your food from Sysco or a Sysco wannabe and start getting it from diverse local sources. Greens and Chez Panisse are both at this point.

[Comments] (3) Transcendental Transneptunianism: Occasionally Sumana has transcendental experiences associated with revelations about the universe. Incredibly, I always manage to ruin these experiences by making some bonehead remark. I can't remember any of these remarks verbatim, but I have no trouble thinking them up and saying them when the need arises. I'd like to not do that next time because it really brings the transcendental party to a halt with a loud record-scratch sound.

I do know the source of these remarks: they stem from the eternal conflict between two philosophes in my mind. These are the hippy-dippy Carl Sagan atheist who says "You don't need God to have a good time, man; look at all the wonder in the natural universe!", and the cranky Richard Dawkins atheist who says "The wonder is all in your brain, you pothead! Not distributed throughout the universe!"

The Carl Sagan philosophe was formed in a transcendental experience I had when I was six years old. You know those charts that go on the walls in elementary school classrooms? Instead of putting a few of them on the walls, my kindergarten teacher, Jim Murchison, bought an enormous number of them. He punched holes in them and turned them into a huge flip chart. Every day or two he would flip over a sheet and reveal the new topic of discussion. One day he flipped over a sheet and I saw the solar system.

I'd surely been to the Griffith Observatory before then, but somehow I hadn't seen any pictures of the planets before this reveal. Jupiter, in particular, blew me away. Seeing drawings of the planets triggered my first and biggest transcendental experience. Since I always ruin Sumana's transcendental experiences it's only fair that I should ruin my own. Jupiter isn't transcendental; it just looks really creepy. It's a planet, a gasball.

What's more, the universe does not contain a magical kind of thing called a "planet". Planetness is a social construct. The solar system is not the sun and nine planets, as depicted on the flip chart of my youth. It's a fusing gasball, four non-fusing gasballs, a few million rockballs, a few billion snowballs, and a big dust cloud.

Recently, the International Astronomical Union decided to make a proper scientific definition out of the social construct "planet". This used to seem easy and even superfluous, but in recent years it's become clear that to judge every object in the solar system by a uniform standard of planetness, you must make a hard decision. Either Pluto is not a planet, or there are lots of Kuiper Belt objects which are planets on the same criteria as Pluto. These planets are very distant, mostly undiscovered, and not very interesting once discovered. There might be hundreds of these tiny boring planets. So the IAU created a definition that excludes these objects, including Pluto.

It's not nice to fool Mother Nature, but it's even less nice to naturalize Mother Social Construct. People are used to the planets being the non-fusing gasballs, four of the biggest rockballs, and Pluto. A lot of people got mad at what they viewed as a bunch of eggheads usurping their social construct. And now the eggheads are arguing amongst themselves about the definition. It's a huge mess.

The real problem with this definition is that, to get the "right" result, the IAU restricted the definition to apply only to our solar system. It's the Bush v. Gore of scientific definitions! They had to do this because extrasolar systems perform instant reductio on any attempt to turn "planet" into an objective concept. There are too many weird things in the universe. It would have been simpler if they'd just enumerated by fiat the eight things in our solar system that are "real" planets.

Astronomers have found things like two non-fusing gasballs orbiting each other in interstellar space. Are they planets? Only if we decide to call them "planets". What they are is big non-fusing gasballs that orbit each other. A gasball can have natural starness, but it cannot have natural planetness, any more than (as Michael Shermer says) it can have natural meaningness. This is what social constructs are for.

I personally don't care if Pluto is called a planet or not. My money is still on "alien disco ball". But if we must have a definition of planetness, it should recognize the inevitable subjectivity. If you don't do this, you need an artificial ban on discussing what might make an extrasolar object a "planet". Because sooner or later the smart-aleck universe will toss you a planet that doesn't meets the technical criteria, or (less likely) a non-planet that does. Then you have to tweak the definition and it's like adding epicycles to the Ptolemaic model of the solar system.

[Comments] (6) Antigamesgeburtstagsdinosauriergewinnspiel: I used to wonder if Germans ever made up really really long words just as a joke. I stopped wondering this when I saw das Antigamesgeburtstagsdinosauriergewinnspiel, a production of German video game weblog antigames.de. Then I translated "Antigamesgeburtstagsdinosauriergewinnspiel" as "Antigames birthday dinosaur contest", and I started wondering again. It sure looks funny but was it intended to be? Presumably that's just how you say "birthday dinosaur contest", and maybe it's acceptable to incorporate the name of your website in a word. The German sense of humor is a mystery to me.

Antigamesgeburtstagsdinosauriergewinnspiel (I can almost pronounce that now) is a Something Awful-style Photoshop contest presenting video game screenshots that have been modified to include a dinosaur. This is in accordance with Kevan's discovery that any game can be made more fun by the addition of dinosaurs. The winners are here and here. Highlights include Tetris, Grand Theft Auto, and Nintendogs.

I discovered Antigamesgeburtstagsdinosauriergewinnspiel via referer logs, when a post-contest entry presented Nethack with dinosaurs, and a commenter pointed out that I already put dinosaurs in Nethack.

[Comments] (3) Nethackdinosaurierunddeutschdiskussionsbeitrag: The German long-name-making-up question is resolved thanks to Antigames's own Richard (surname presumably not Leonardson), in his entry on the Nethack dinosaur patch. I turned his entry and my previous one into this exclusive fake interview, in which for the first time both sides of the interview are made of quotes taken out of context:

Leonard: I used to wonder if Germans ever made up really really long words just as a joke.

Richard: Yes, we do. You can stop wondering. Really. Stop.

Leonard: "Antigamesgeburtstagsdinosauriergewinnspiel" sure looks funny but was it intended to be?

Richard: It does and it was.

Leonard: Presumably that's just how you say "birthday dinosaur contest".

Richard: Yes, that' s really how you say it.

Leonard: And maybe it's acceptable to incorporate the name of your website in a word.

Richard: Nope, usually not acceptable. Any OTHER questions?

Leonard: Die deutsche Richtung der Stimmung ist ein Geheimnis zu mir.

Richard: Lake, it' s funny because… uh… wave, because. Oh, what the brightly, it' s A mystery tons of ME, too. Happy now?

Actually I should have realized that the German sense of humor is not that much of a mystery; the Antigamesgeburtstagsdinosauriergewinnspiel proves that Germans speak the universal language of Photoshop contests. Only unresolved question: is there a German word for the habit of making up humorous long German words?

: I'm at a point in the writing of this book where it feels like my time would be better spent writing Vectrex games. On the plus side, Sumana and I just did Sesame Street improv and I had Bert say "Live the pain, Ernie!"

PS: Also, I just said "It is now empathy time."

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