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[Comments] (2) Space Game: I had an idea for a game and immediately started expanding the scope of the game beyond all reason, but let's keep it relatively simple. This is a game where you run a space program. You've got a mission, let's say putting a man on the moon and bringing him back safely. You get to design the spaceship, landing module, etc (I think we're at a point where you could design these in a fair amount of detail and it could be made fun). Then you do the launch, deal with any problems that come up, and try to carry out the mission.

I'm pretty sure there was a "space race" game in the 90s that let you manage a space program on the large scale and probably had some budget challenges, but I doubt it let you design spaceships in a meaningful way. What do you think of this game idea? No pressure since I'm not going to actually develop such a game.

Hm, actually it could work as a space-race role playing game.

: The problem with directly comparing the amount of time people spend watching TV with the amount of time spent writing Wikipedia is that a big chunk of Wikipedia is status reports about what happened on TV. Great article though.

The Legend Of The Legend Of Zelda: So a while ago I finished the Wii Zelda game I borrowed from Steve Minutillo, and yesterday I finished the Gamecube Zelda game I borrowed from Adam Parrish. I think Wind Waker (the Gamecube game) is my favorite Zelda game. This is partly because of its use of the Zelda myth.

The prevailing fanboy approach to the Zelda series is to try to put the games into some chronological order where there's an eternal recurrence of a hero archetype who keeps being reborn to fight the same evil over and over. In fact this is also the official approach, but it doesn't hold together very well. The details don't match up. Look at the intro story to Zelda 2: what should be a straightforward sequel is already a mess.

I prefer to think of every game in the series as being a different culture's telling of a myth--literally, the legend of Zelda--each emphasizing different things. Example: sometimes the hero visits a parallel universe, sometimes not, but in every telling with a parallel universe, the nature of the universe is different. It's like playing through all the video game adaptations of Journey to the West. On this view, trying to put the Zelda games in chronological order is like trying to unify the two creation myths in Genesis. It misses the point.

However, the Zelda myth is not that interesting on its own: it's the myth of The Kid Who Collected A Bunch Of Similar Things. Like if three-quarters of Lord of the Rings was Aragorn slumming it up and down Middle-Earth trying to find all the pieces of the Sword That Was Broken. I still need to play the N64 installments of the franchise, but Wind Waker had the best riffs on the myth of any Zelda game I've played.

First, the Polynesian-style setting was totally different, and it worked well. I think the ocean squares could have been reduced in size by about 25%, but it made the game world interesting the way loci of activity were scattered more or less uniformly across the map.

Also, in the other games I've played Link doesn't have much of a character arc. In Twilight Princess he starts out as a Luke Skywalker farm boy type who's thrust into greatness, but it doesn't really work because he's got the emotional range of your Kathy Ireland. He's a lot more expressive in Wind Waker with its cartoony graphics. He's also younger; his hero clothes are itchy and he's terrified, but he goes and is the hero anyway. It's typical Joseph Campbell stuff, but other games in the series don't even come up to that level. And it's especially effective with the Wind Waker backstory, in which the world is in the state it is because the last time someone ran through the eternal recurrence and told the myth, the hero didn't show up.

Bonuses: it's got a character who's effectively a coffinfish. I named my character "Zelda" in a tribute to the original NES Zelda game, which yielded yuk-worthy dialogue like "Hurry, Zelda! We must reach Zelda!". And while researching the much-loathéd character of Tingle, I discovered Freshly Picked Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland, the game that's a ruthless parody of the Zelda myth in addition to being a big "screw you" to fanboys everywhere.

[Comments] (2) They Said I Prob'ly Shouldn't Fly With Just One Eye: While waking up yesterday morning I had one of those semi-sensible waking up ideas, where I revamped my pretty-much-abandoned memorial page for my old BBS to reuse the actual old screens from the BBS. So the file listings would be colored text like they were on Da Warren, the homepage would be a copy of the BBS's main menu, etc. I could even put up ports of my WCCode masterpieces like The Online Hedgehog Detector and Eliminator, and Are You Online?

Well, looking at those old menus, that's probably not going to happen anytime soon because it would be a very confusing interface. But! To give the menus a proper look-see I ended up writing a program that converts my ANSI files to HTML. If you have any old ANSI files lying around it might work on them too. It even supports blinking ANSI, using the much-maligned (greatly-maligned?) <blink> tag. Well, the CSS equivalent.
qrstuvwxyz{|}~⌂Ç    ♥

Here's the source: ansi2html.py. I've released it into the public domain.

Strangely enough, this program didn't already exist--HTML::FromANSI works for color codes but doesn't handle the CP437 extended ASCII characters that were a staple of DOS-based BBSes. There was a last burst of enthusiasm for ANSI files in general around 1999, when ansi2gif was released, but that seems to have been before web browsers had Unicode support, so nobody thought of putting it in the browser. And nowadays most people interested in ANSI art are into the scene stuff that mostly uses the block characters, and instead of cheap HTML translations you get cool things like lightboxes.

I wanted to bring all my tacky BBS screens into the browser and share them with you. Then I got this program working, actually saw all my tacky screens for the first time in years, and thought better of it. I will share one of my old Da Warren screens with you, to give you an idea of what the program can do. I've put it up at the ANSI2HTML web page. The graphics aren't bad because it's a plagiarized parody of someone else's ANSI advertising their pirate BBS. I used it as Da Warren's login screen occasionally.

There are a couple problems with the script. The first is that it needs some line-wrapping logic to simulate an 80-column screen. The second, which might be related, is that some ANSIs look crappy when it converts them to HTML. And--I'm embarrassed that this never occurred to me before--I'm not sure how an ANSI file is supposed to distinguish between an \x0a that's a newline and a \x0a that's INVERSE WHITE CIRCLE. Right now I treat 'em all like newlines.

But, at the very least I hope someone will get some use out of my Python dict mapping the IBM PC's special characters to numeric HTML entities. I forsee a renaissance of ZZT-style ANSI art games, old door games ported to the Web, etc.

PS: the official Unicode name of the ⌂ character is "HOUSE". I never mentally gave it a name, but "HOUSE"? Seriously? I'd have called it HOME PLATE.

Update: Added support for the simple cursor movement codes that can be simulated by adding newlines and spaces, which makes basically all ANSIs convert well enough that you can see what they are. Getting more complex than that will involve creating a virtual screen and drawing the whole thing on that before converting the finished product to HTML. Not worth it for me right now.

Uh, one more bit of art. This is how I signed my name in one of the BBS bulletins:


[Comments] (1) : It's two years since my mother's death. When someone dies you're left with your mental model of that person. This is a kind of immortality but as immortality goes it's really terrible, because your mental model of another person is never good enough to give any satisfaction. It's the difference between a real person and ELIZA.

Except in dreams. The people in our dreams are simulations run by the brain, but we don't notice at the time. I dream about my mother all the time, and for a while I fool myself into thinking a few mental images are a real person. And I wake up and it's painful, like it always is when you realize you've been fooling yourself.

But that's not as bad as it gets, because sometimes I dream that my mother dies. I wake up and realize it was a dream, and I'm relieved. And then I remember that the dream was accurate, and it's worse. The mental-model sort of immortality is mostly good for keeping the pain fresh.

: On Saturday I went with Evan to see the pretty decent Dave Eggers-curated exhibition of cartoonish art, "Lots of Things Like This". Here are some pictures from Saturday, including L.H.O.O.Q., first in my mission to take my own pictures of Duchamp's major forgeries. (Duchamp retouched L.H.O.O.Q., probably to make the Mona Lisa's face more like his own, betting that you wouldn't notice because you'd be distracted by the moustache; dare to compare.)

[Comments] (3) : It looks like someone's setting up an office in my apartment building.

[Comments] (9) : I'm not really interested right now in writing the kind of weblog entry I usually write. I apologize since I assume you read my weblog for that kind of entry, but this is not some lame "I'm not going to write much for a while because I'm so busy.". I'm no busier than usual and I like writing, but at the moment I want to focus on creating new things and doing research. Most of my writing at the moment is fiction.

So here is the deal. If there's something interesting or helpful you think I could find out or create, tell me about it in a comment. I read a number of weblogs that do something similar (eg. waxy, Request Comics) and the results are always interesting.

: Speaking of things I read on Waxy, check out Dino Run, a synthesis of the ludological concepts I've developed through years of Game Roundups. Specifically, 1) "a flexible set of techniques to use towards your goals, and lots of random variation within well-defined parameters"; and more importantly 2) "replace the humans with dinosaurs".

Disclaimer: in the interest of scientific accuracy I should point out that, like many animal-themed games, Dino Run uses as a game mechanic a totally inaccurate model of evolution. It also depicts the K-T event as something you could outrun, which seems about an order of magnitude worse than having an action hero outrun an explosion.

: Ryan Ginstrom, who just sent me some Beautiful Soup money, has a cool weblog about Japanese-English translation and Python. From the weblog I found out about maru batsu. Has it reawakened my longstanding love of punctuation

[Comments] (6) Request Weblog #1: Bureau of Statistics: Ben Heaton requested: "I'd like to see a weblog entry based around counting types of objects in the room with you." Here it is.

: Filmmaking has abandoned its roots. It's time for Dogme 1895! Just think of the possibilities: you can show something that actually happened, recreate a historical event, or tell a fictional story! But don't employ any technique or film element first used after 1895. See this handy guide. No artificial lighting, color, scale models, kissing, stunts, credits, or feature-length films. Synchronized sound is okay.

[Comments] (1) Magazine Haul: Evan requested to hear about "recent books bought, read, and/or stopped in mid-read". I'll answer his question properly later, but here are some magazines I got half an hour ago. We went to the Build It Green! NYC Swap Fest to recycle busted electronics and get rid of CDs, clothes, non-busted electronics, etc. that have outstayed their welcome in our house. Having swapped that stuff out, we discovered a huge multi-crate haul of Analog and Fantasy and Science Fiction magazines from 1984 to 2002. We went through them, semi-randomly picking ones that looked good, and ended up with about thirty.

Wow! Amazing find! Nobody else at the Swap Fest seemed to care about science fiction magazines so we didn't feel bad about taking so many (plus we took only about 10% of the total). As you might expect they were all from one guy's collection; searching for his name I see that he probably worked for the Federal Water Quality Association and that he put his name on the Stardust microchip. I hope he's still alive, but that's exactly the sort of thing that ends up at a Swap Fest after you die.

[Comments] (2) Request Weblog #2: Reading List: As previously mentioned Evan wanted me to write about my recent interactions with books. Rather than give a list (I already keep a list here, albeit not very consistently) I thought I'd write about some selected works.

Right now I'm halfway through Summerland by Michael Chabon. I thought there would be more alternate history and less fantasy; I think I confused it with The Yiddish Policeman's Union. I'm not really concerned with science fiction and fantasy's class ranking vis-a-vis other kinds of fiction but nonetheless I'm glad that Michael Chabon writes fantasy and then says to the literary world "yeah I wrote fantasy and you liked it!" Kapow!

The last book I read was a 1963 science fiction novel called Star Surgeon, not to be confused with the 1960 science fiction novel of the same name, or indeed the 1968 Silver Surfer ripoff Star Sturgeon. It's a really good read, as the abovelinked review indicates similar to the Culture novels in many ways, but there's a never-explained subplot where some horrible disease struck humanity and made all the women subservient and unambitious. No, wait, that's 1960s science fiction. Jiminy Cricket, this guy writes a believable asexual empathic insect doctor and he can't get a human woman right.

I also read Finite and Infinite Games recently. I don't know why I read these books thinking they'll have game theory in them. It was just 80s self-help stuff.

My previously-written mini-review of VALIS: "This book showed me that Dick is a master of plotting. He's written a novel in which he appears as the narrator, the main character is also himself, the narrator is unreliable and both main character and narrator are insane. But you always understand what's going on in the plot." Well, maybe that just makes him a master of exposition; the plot isn't that great actually.

Books recently bought: I rarely buy books because I've already got about 200 unread books. I guess the last one I spent money on would be Matthew Yglesias's book about recent American history and politics, Heads In The Sand. And a while back when I was out with Evan, I bought Stephen Mitchell's translation of Gilgamesh. I do use Bookmooch to request rare books from my wishlist. In the mail right now are A Complete and Utter Failure (Kevin's favorite book) and The Evolution of Useful Things, both of which have been on my wishlist for years.

Books that I stopped reading: I rarely just give up on a book. Last year I gave up on Floating Worlds, which I had high hopes for, and gave up on the Thomas Covenant series after slogging through the first one. More recently I stopped reading In Conquest Born by C.S. Friedman because everyone was acting like Klingons and it was boring. I'll give that one another try but I might give up on it. More recently still I stopped reading Vast by Linda Nagata after a couple chapters. It was the third book I had earmarked for subway rides, and that's just too many to juggle at once. I'll pick it up again soon.

I usually don't decide in advance what to read, but continuing the theme of you telling me what to do, leave a comment and you can tell me which of my unread books I should read next. (Do a tag search for 'unread', just like in that largely-bogus unread-books meme; I can't seem to link directly to my list.) Fine print: Leonard retains veto power. Limit two books per bizarre abdication of autonomy. Member FDIC.

[Comments] (4) Keyboard Snoops: I'm interested in buying a wireless keyboard but it just seems like asking for trouble. They don't use very strong crypto. But nobody really seems to care. Any opinions?

[Comments] (2) Living In A Submarine: Four years ago and change I was working for a presidential campaign. We'd just had a bunch of primaries that generally didn't go the way we needed them to go and it was time to start thinking about packing it up. But we didn't actually pack it up for another week. I want to say something about that intervening week. I'm not sure what.

When I play it back in my head as a movie there are three key scenes. The first scene is kind of farcical but describing it would be cruel to no real purpose, not even the purpose of telling a funny story. The second is a human-interest scene that I won't tell because I have a superstition that if I tell you I'll lose the good karma.

The last scene is at the end, when we learn that the Kerry campaign wants to recruit the Clark tech team. We've got jobs in Boston if we want them. Josh Hendler says yes. I say no. I'm exhausted and Kerry isn't my candidate and I've learned that political work is not for me. I go home.

But here's the reason I joined the Clark campaign in the first place: to stop 2005-2009 from happening the way they did and will happen. I joined the campaign because I knew I couldn't live with myself having passed up the opportunity to see what my marginal contribution could do. In February of 04 that goal is still operative. I'm offered a second chance, and I pass it up. I give up, and everything happens as I fear it will and I wonder whether my marginal contribution could have stopped it.

That's the movie playing in my head the past four years. It's cool that techniques we developed have been refined but that's cold comfort.

Let's go back to that intervening week. Given that I'm going to go home, why not do it on Wednesday and save a few brain cells? Why wait for the slow wheels to process the obvious implications of the electoral math? I don't have "that thing inside you that makes you act like the bad news isn't happening". I do have two cheesy reasons: loyalty and honor.

Working on a political campaign was like working on a submarine. (I got this analogy from a fellow campaign worker who'd served on a submarine, though I don't think he drew the analogy explicitly.) You're in close proximity with the same people every waking hour, you develop bizarre social codes and dialect (I don't know if that happens in submarines, but it should). And maybe the submarine starts to sink, but you know that if you take off and abandon your post it's going to sink like hell.

For a job at a company that argument doesn't mean as much to me. But I'd taken this job to harness myself to something bigger and more meaningful than my own life. As will anything bigger than one's own life, it burned me out. But this is what I mean when I fumble for words and come up with "honor": I had to complete the sacrifice. It wasn't what I thought I'd be sacrificing, and I didn't get what I wanted in return, and there are many things I could have done differently, but that's why I did what I did.

(I got all this ritual/sacrifice language from Jim Macdonald's Viable Paradise lecture; I haven't suddenly converted to Hinduism or something.)

Here's what I'm really saying. Life will burn you out and leave you dead. You have to complete it. The logic of sacrifice doesn't make sense in the same way that life doesn't make sense. But the goal of a sacrifice can make sense, and that's how you give meaning to your life. Pick good goals.

I need to go to sleep. Eh, sure, I'll publish this.

Game Non-Design: Sumana pointed out the other day that scifi.com has the same lame web TV show tie-ins as any other basic cable channel, featuring games that are rebranded versions of games you've played elsewhere. For instance, there's Frakjack, which you may know as blackjack. Seriously, it's exactly the same. The game blurb says: "It's a friendly game of 21... until Starbuck hits the hooch", but although I heroically played several good-faith rounds for review purposes, Starbuck never hit the hooch, or me, or anything for that matter. Nobody even told me that I had no choice or ordered me to do my job.

Big deal, they subcontracted with some company that's got a bunch of prewritten Flash games and skins them for whatever the client is plugging. I don't really understand the point of these games but it's doubly stupid here, because there already is a card game in the Battlestar Galactica universe, and it's not frakjack. It's Triad. Unlike blackjack, Triad is "a friendly game" instead of a game of one person against a dealer. It's played with cool hexagonal cards instead of standard rectangular cards with the players' own faces on them. And it makes a nonzero amount of sense to do it as a tie-in game on the scifi.com website.

I'm well aware of the reasons why this didn't happen, but all those reasons just throw into stark relief the stupidity of what did happen, and what happens whenever you do a tie-in game without doing any game design.

[Comments] (6) Lost Update Nanny State: In the web service I'm working on, we're considering rejecting PUT and PATCH requests unless they're accompanied by a valid If-Unmodified-Since or If-None-Match. Basically forcing clients to consider the lost update problem and work with us to avoid it. If you're trying to PUT a new resource, you need to send If-None-Match: * to avoid stepping on someone else who just created that resource.

Is this legal? Seems okay to me, but I'm not sure what response code to send. 412 ("Precondition Failed") is the obvious choice, but the precondition that failed is that the client didn't specify a precondition, and that's weird. I see that the Astoria team is thinking about the same things (search for "validation during side-effecting operations").

[Comments] (1) Request Weblog #3: Game Non-Non-Design: Ben the request-meister asked for "A specification of a game that you would love to play but hate to make" or vice versa. Here's a sketch for a game I'd love to play: a fractally-scaling societal sandbox that combines the best of Civilization, Dwarf Fortress, Spore, Adam Cadre's IF game "Varicella", and the Grand Theft Auto series.

The sandbox scenario is that you're an alien civilization making contact with Earth. You choose a few startup parameters:

And that's it. You're weird, you've got advanced technology, and you encounter or are forced into human history. You can try to help humanity (for whatever definition of "help"), make and sell stuff, conquer the planet, try to blend in, try to be accepted, or just repair your ship and get out. The levers of society are exposed to you at all levels: personal relationships, trade, diplomacy, media and propaganda, espionage, etc. You can play it like an RTS, a wargame, a game of stealth and guile, or a tourism ungame. If you play it as a wargame you've got a political wargame, because the tactics you deploy are in the service of some larger goal.

All the time you're controlling some specific member of your party. You can probably switch between party members[0], but there's never, say, a disembodied RTS interface: it's you giving orders to other people. If Bob gives an order, it affects Bob's reputation with the people who see him do it, the people who carry out the order, and the people affected by the order. If humans see any part of this, the part they see affects your whole species' reputation.

Ah, reputation. Humans' ideologies are well-known, but alien ideologies can be different. The player's actions will be interpreted by NPC aliens (if any) through the lens of the party's ideology[1], which might make them happy or unhappy. One thing that might make them happy is converting humans to their ideology. Ideologies would be selected from a list, or assembled piecemeal a la Credo. For some ideologies it might make NPC aliens happy to convert NPC humans to some other ideology; a master morality/slave morality thing. The game's sense of morality is intersubjective rather than objective. There's no "you can't do that" enforcement mechanism; rather, a gradually increasing NPC resentment at having to follow orders they see as unethical.

I'd hate to make this game because it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars (GTA4 cost $100 million) and it would be insanely complex, possibly requiring something close to strong AI. While writing this description I thought about recasting it as a role-playing game, but I can't see it being fun to DM. If you gave the humans a more active role you might be able to have a human team and an alien team.

A variant that might be easier to implement is to switch it around and have humans make contact with aliens. It's easier because you don't have to simulate the alien societies in as much detail. People accept ahistorical and culturally homogeneous alien species without thinking much about it. But it wouldn't be as fun to play, since one of the cool things about my idea is the way it lets you try to manipulate humans on any level.

[0] I don't need to be able to switch to any given member of my army, but in a very large party I'd like to be able to switch to certain archetypes: the leader, the leader's lackey, the guy who runs the media/military/trade operation, the grunt carrying out the media/military/trade plan. People who interact with the humans on any level; no middle managers who are only concerned with other aliens.

[1] The party might not have one fixed ideology; maybe a cruise ship crashes on Earth and the passengers and crew don't get along but they've got to work together, like how I imagine "Lost". Party ideology is just a baseline for personal ideologies. Similarly for humans. You can always find one scummy human who'll deal with you no matter what you do, but if you need a bunch of humans, you'll need to cater to human ideologies or use force.

[Comments] (3) The Sad Truth: Opus, the sad truth is that Jacques Torres frozen hot chocolate is not nearly as good as is often alleged.

From The Notebooks: "LED grills for MC Frontalot"

Old Science Fiction Magazine Reviews: Analog 1988/10: These magazines are great for subway rides. They fit in the pocket and each is good for about 2 round-trip rides. As a public service I'll be highlighting good but forgotten science fiction as I go through them. It's really a shame that this stuff isn't online.

Only one recommended story in this issue, but it's really good: Michael F. Flynn's "The Adventure of the Laughing Clone" is nasty noir with a good integration of character motivation and the sciencey bits, and a plot that's intricately tied up with the workings and layout of the New York transit system. The final twist wasn't hard to see coming but it was a great story.

"Sunstat" by Jerry Oltion and Lee Goodloe is okay and has some nostalgia value with its glasnost-era theme of international cooperation in space. I didn't read part III of "Proteus Unbound" by Charles Sheffield because it didn't sound good enough to read a chunk out of the middle of the story. I was initially intrigued by the unique "synopsis" format of the story, until I found that it was actually a synopsis of the previous two installments.

Letters section is pretty lightweight: "What do you suppose would happen if our political leaders... suddenly 'wised up' and dropped their petty ideological differences?" Yes, what if people "wised up" en masse and devoted themselves to becoming the Competent Man? Sounds like a good idea for a science fiction backstory or 700. Stanley Schmidt's editorial is better, with a topic of Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier.

Review section reviews Portal: A Dataspace Retrieval, one of a few attempts to do IF written by professional authors, not to be confused with the modern Portal. No other works that sound familiar except in ads (how I missed you, book club ad trying to get me to buy Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials!). There's an ad for the Illuminati game and one for another Steve Jackson Games game called Isaac Asimov Presents: Star Traders. Honestly, I question how much work Isaac Asimov put into designing that game.

[Comments] (2) Sumanabams!: In our household we have a tradition of making peoples' names more interesting by appending their academic degrees. It all started with a spam that suggested you "add an mba to your name". I am a lowly Leonardbs, which is hard to pronounce, but Sumana's sister holds the title as Nandinibabsmamba. Sumana is catching up, though, as soon she will be an action-packed Sumanabams!

: Today I hung out with Adam P. and worked on silly software. Even silly software needs unit tests, apparently. Also it would be cool if Adam Kaplan and Adam Parrish could meet, but I don't see how to arrange that since I already got married.

: Great parodies of the early, desperate, gotta-get-an-issue-out-every-month comic books you saw in the 50s and 60s. (They seem to have toned it down since.) I think all the webcomics I read could just do this kind of parody for a month and I'd still love it.

: Hmm, it would seem that silly software also needs proper resource design. Who knew? In the meantime, enjoy Susan McCarthy's awesome animal behavior weblog. (cf.)

Fair Warning: On the inside cover page of my copy of The Warlock in Spite of Himself, which I bought in the bookstore across the street from the British Museum:

Christopher Stasheff worked in
educational television before he
became a writer of science fantasy.
He is an American.

[Comments] (3) But That's Just The Palette Colors Talking: Adam P. let on that his fancy college education had taught him the true meaning of Mega Man. Specifically the part of the ending credits of Mega Man 2 where the palette turns pink to symbolize the coming of spring (skip to 44:10 in that video to see it). When I was a kid I thought that was the game's tribute to Quick Man, but no, pink means spring in Japan because of the cherry blossoms.

I asked Adam if he'd made this connection because all the other ITP people were obsessed with Mega Man like he is. Actually he'd made the connection because there are a lot of Japanese students in the ITP program and they often did cherry-blossom-related projects.

You Got A Hearing Problem, Mister?: Sumana Graduates, Sources Say.

Also, George Takei is getting married! I've waited years to use that title in a weblog entry, and now seems like a good time.

[Comments] (2) "I Blog What You Say" #4: Link Cop-Out : Jacob B. said I should blog about H2O (look at http://tinyurl.com/5a823s); that is, blog about its quality as I find it dripping from a tap. Its quality in my city is good, according to NYT's own "City Room" blog (look at http://tinyurl.com/3jt6yu). At this point, having shown a link, I could just click "Publish", but I'll add that I also think its quality is good. I do own a jar that traps impurity, as on occasion this liquid picks up bits of grit as it flows into my building.

Jacob also said I should blog without using ASCII glyphs 0x65 and 0x45, which I just did. (I took pains to omit such glyphs from both body and HTML markup, and so I couldn't do normal <A> tags.) Finally, Jacob has an odd wish to talk abnormally, and I am to command him to apply a transform to his vocal cords. I say Jacob should talk as Sonic talks. I actually don't know how Sonic talks but that's how Jacob should talk.

PS: I had to wait til Thursday to post this.

The Tapeless Office: After completing my digitize-and-get-rid-of-tapes project in January, and dumping a box of commercial tapes on the thrift store and mailing off a bunch of personal tapes to GreenDisk for recycling, I've now gotten the number of non-blank cassette tapes in my house down to about 12. For some reason this has not led to the dramatic increase in storage space I'd hoped.

Because of the thrift store thing I was thinking how odd it is that thrift stores still sell huge collections of terrible records, 20 years after they stopped really making records. You'd think things would have shaken out by now so that all the good records have been selected by hipsters or record stores and the remainder can't be sold, but I guess people keep dying.

Compare old game cartridges and computer software. There were windows for old game cartridges showing up at the thrift store 5-7 years after the console died. I remember going to the DI in Provo around the time of my father's funeral and seeing a huge bin of loose Atari 2600 cartridges. Around the time I graduated from high school you started seeing the lamer NES cartridges in thrift stores, but they were behind the glass case and sold for far more than they were worth--more than they're worth today, in fact. A couple months ago I saw someone's N64 carts at the thrift store on Ditmars. You might say that today's game buyback stores mean games don't end up at the thrift store, but what happens to those games after the consoles die? [Oh, I recently bought a Wii game at Goodwill, but it was busted, as you might have expected.]

Old computer books stay in the thrift store economy for longer, though it's been a while since I saw a good flowchart-filled "Principles Of Data Structure Analysis" book in a thrift store, or even a Windows 3.1 book.

[Comments] (4) Request Weblog Thread #2: The first batch of request weblog entries is pretty much done, so leave a comment and tell me what to write about next.

Make Your Own Markov Chain: As per Fafner's request, here's a Surrealist-style word game I made up, the textual equivalent of the Exquisite Corpse. It probably already exists but you get what you pay for.

This is a game for at least 2 players, though 3 is probably the realistic minimum. The rules for n players are as follows.

  1. Pick an ordering of the players.
  2. Start with an empty string. Going in turn, each player adds a word to the string, possibly including punctuation.
  3. Now continue looping around the players, adding one word each time, but now each player can only see the last n-1 words of the string.
  4. Stop after a while.

Now you've got a manually-created text with some Markov chain-like properties (because people have imperfect memory, and the text has many authors) and some human-written text properties. To bump up the Markov chain quality, reduce how many words of the string each player is allowed to see.

Science Fiction Magazine Reviews: F&SF 09/1999: Eh. Most of the pages are devoted to a blockbuster novella, "Ninety Percent of Everything", by John Kessel, Jonathan Lethem, and James Patrick Kelly. It got a Nebula nomination despite being the kind of story that when I submit it to writing group my colleagues say "This story has a lot going for it, but..."

Here's what this story has going for it: big-name writers, a cast of eccentric characters (ever since reading Software I've had a soft spot for recluses who make ice cream vans their primary mode of transportation), space aliens. I usually try to coast on the last two. But the main plot is too weak to support the eccentric characters, and it ends with a resolution that in my crankiness I am growing more and more impatient with, basically (spoilers) "Behold! All aspects of the story's mystery fit into a simple conceptual framework! Those aspects that baffled you, don't feel bad--they were intended to baffle all of mankind! Until the end of the story, which is now! Also, according to secondary sources, two of the main characters are in love!" Even the ending had some really good stuff in it, but it felt like a shaggy dog story. However the title of the piece did make me come up with the following joke:

Q: What's dark energy?
A: The ninety percent of everything that's crap.

And 90%oE is the best thing in this issue by far. The only other thing worth mentioning is Kathi Maio's review of The Matrix, which trashes the movie as it deserves to be trashed. (Best Dennis the Peasant-esque line: "Significant social change requires collective action, and not just some demigod dude who decides that he's going to apply his newfound magnificence to the problem at hand.")

For a more detailed and generally more positive review of this issue, see SFSite.

[Comments] (1) QOTD: Sumana: "You would think that handbasket would have gotten to hell by now."

[Comments] (1) "Dear friend. Question mark.": At last! A while back I discovered that the NYCB A/V Club's favorite Prohibition-era comedy, "What Price Pants?", was available on DVD as part of a Paramount shorts (ha) collection. My copy came in the mail today. We watched it and it's got an interminable Zoidbergian framing device but the framed dream sequence is all I'd hoped for, nine minutes of lunacy in which the government outlaws pants, leaving men in their underwear and scrambling towards gangster-controlled pantseasies. Shown: the inevitable raid.

Bonus: like the classic "Duck and Cover" video, "What Price Pants" was filmed in Astoria.

Bonus bonus: My "Dogme 1895" idea was semi-realized in 1995's "Lumiere and Company".

: Rachel C. went to London and we went to Brooklyn and we saw each other through the Telectroscope. I just realized that I should have told my sister Rachel about the Telectroscope and seen her too, but I didn't think about it because I was already meeting a Rachel. Despite its technical uselessness (Rachel and I were texting back and forth to coordinate our meeting up at the scope) it was really great because of its public nature. I think there should be more bidirectional public portals between countries.

After Telectroscope we walked around Brooklyn Heights for a while, which was fun. There are pictures! I bought some books off my wishlist. The pictures you crave: Sumana preparing a sign for the Fitzchalmers family as Manhattan looms in the background. My most successful picture taken through the Telectroscope. Sumana pats the blue pig. The tiny basil plants we got yesterday at the farmers' market.

[Comments] (6) Science Fiction Magazine Reviews: F&SF 04/2002: Read while subwaying to and from Brooklyn. This was a really great issue, excepting one well-written horror story that I didn't like because I don't really like horror. "Just Another Cowboy" by Esther N. Friesner had a really funny tall-tale voice, and then the voice started getting a little old and my mind started wandering and coming up with little riffs, and then one of the riffs I'd thought of actually happened in the story. I love it when a plan comes together.

Also funny were "Torah! Torah! Torah!" by Thomas M. Disch, sometime collaborator with John Sladek, and Alison Bowman's "The Copywriter", which is pretty much The Ballad of Michigan J. (Honestly I think TBoMJ has a more satisfying resolution, though it's totally unsellable.)

Not funny but very good was Charles Coleman Finlay's "The Political Officer", which as you can tell from the title tackles an organizational structure seen not often enough in SF. Intriguingly, Finlay published a story called "Fading Quayle, Dancing Quayle" in an anthology about zombies, making it possible that he's written a cross between "Absent Qualia, Fading Qualia, Dancing Qualia", Zombies: The Movie, and (dare we hope?) Pamela Sergeant's Nebula-winning "Danny Goes To Mars".

Movie column is an appreciation of Donnie Darko, which I haven't seen. Book column mentions two excellent stories I've read and recommend to you: Ted Chiang's "Seventy-Two Letters" and Greg Egan's "Oracle". Both stories about computer science, actually.

Space Robots Strike Again: With pictures from the Martian arctic region.

: We went to see Cory Doctorow do his book tour thing and met up with all the people we thought we'd meet, plus many surprises like Rajan from my writing group. Then for many hours we hung out with Adam and Sabrina and talked, and really you don't read my weblog to find out who I hung out with and talked with but it was a great time and a great way to spend a holiday Monday.

In things you care about news, today I also did some work on a fix to Beautiful Soup that speeds it up dramatically in certain circumstances, but it's not ready to release yet.

Charlie Wilson's War: At an anonymous commenter's insistence, the last book I read was Charlie Wilson's War, an amazing and recommended trainwreck. Often I get a handle on a book I'm reading by imagining what would happen if the finished book were sent back to the time of the events it describes. And it would certainly have an effect, but the covert war described in this book is so complicated that I have no idea what that effect would be, besides the obvious ones like burning some intelligence resources.

I don't know what the movie does, but the stuff that you'd turn into a movie (Wilson's gallivanting around, mainly) is definitely the least interesting part of the book. I was riveted by the political wrangling and bureaucratic backstabbing and people getting screwed over for some poorly-defined national interest or logrolling or just to cover someone else's ass. I'm pretty sure I could tell where someone was trying to cover their ass in the book itself, but that's a sucker's game so I'm just not putting a lot of credit in the details. But the analytic conclusions were really interesting, especially as regards the way the catastrophic Contra proxy war ran interference for the Afghanistan proxy war.

[Comments] (3) : For future reference, today was the day the farmer's market seriously got started again, with my two favorite produce items: berries and tomatoes.

The Water's Kind Of Funny So The Beer Won't Foam: Not a great science fiction story, but a great title: The Man Who Hated Mars. Me, I hate Saturn.

: Ever since subscribing to some Lego weblogs or (LEGLOGS, as I think they're officially called) I've been amazed at the dimension-twisting and generally imaginative building tricks people are coming up with. Specifically, check out the head and body cavity of this robot. If you know just a little bit about the shapes of Lego bricks (my extensive 1980s knowledge now counts as "a little bit") you'll be amazed, and the model's so charming!

[Comments] (2) Discussion Topic: Super Paper Mario is the best ZZT game ever created.

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