(5) Sat Aug 01 2009 22:56 99 Bottles Of Literature On The Wall:
I have a lot of books I haven't read. It got so bad I had to buy a bookcase just to hold them. For the past few years the number has hovered around 150. At the end of last year, when I had 130, I got serious about getting that number down.
I put an embargo on buying new books. I gave up on about 15 books, Bookmooching them or giving them to charity. And so far this year I've read 42 books--once I finish the two I'm working on, I'll have read as many books as I read in all of 2008. People keep giving me and loaning me books, of course, but last night I reached a milestone: I have fewer than 100 unread books. They fit on a mere three shelves of the bookcase.
What's a good way to ease back into buying new books? I could just adopt a one-out one-in rule, but I don't want to stay at 100 forever: I'd like to keep trending downward. I could do two-out one-in, or adopt some more complicated rule, such as "If I have 10n books, I can buy 10-n books."
(3) Mon Aug 03 2009 22:48:
I just finished Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon. Could it be the best book I've ever read?
Update: I forgot to mention that if you read the Baroque Cycle, you should definitely read this book. (You'll also be able to read this book.)
(1) Wed Aug 05 2009 09:02:
The most recent entry in Roy's Postcards is really funny, and I think the only time I make fun of my dad for a writing error.
(5) Thu Aug 06 2009 19:13 Bread And Tuxes:
Last week I heard about a nearby tuxedo rental place going out of business. They were offering a full tuxedo with shoes for $90. I've worn a tuxedo once in my life but that's cheap enough to hold in reserve in case an occasion of extreme fanciness presents itself.
The guy running the shop had been in business for thirty years and was shutting down because he got sick--I don't know if the problem was medical bills or if he just couldn't work anymore. I got the full tux as promised, and he also gave me an extra vest and two extra ties. I tried to pay him extra for this but he refused my filthy money. "The wholesalers come in and get it for nothing," he said. "I want to give it to the people."
The only downside is that my pants and jacket have little bar codes sewn into the inner lining, I guess for inventory tracking purposes back when they were rented out. Not the suavest of looks.
Fri Aug 07 2009 10:09 Roadside Picnic:
I read Roadside Picnic, which unlike Mason & Dixon is definitely not the best book I've ever read, but which does have the all-time best title for a science fiction novel. There's this interesting assertion in the author biography that I couldn't find in English anywhere on the Web, so I'm putting it up:
The Soviet cosmonaut Georgy Grechko, while in orbit during the Soyuz-17 flight, relaxed by reading the Strugatskys, making theirs the first science-fiction novels to be read in space.
Sun Aug 09 2009 21:01 Reviews of Old Science Fiction Magazines: F&SF 1984/09:
It's been a long time since I did one of these, because I was trying to cut down on the unread books and I wasn't counting magazines as unread books. But now I'm back to reading these old science fiction magazines I got last
May. Since my last review of this kind I've had to go through a real slush pile, and I'm no longer in the mood to analyze why I found a forgettable story forgettable. So I'm just gonna tell you what in this magazine is worth reading. I know I said things like this before but this time I mean it.
You might like the cover if you're interested in old SF depictions of the World Trade Center. In fact you might also like Frederik Pohl's "The Blister", which dares to predict the changes to unionized labor in New York once they cover Manhattan with the big dome they're always threatening to cover Manhattan with in these stories.
Up-and-comer Bruce Sterling has a decent possibly-no-fantastic-element story with "Telliamed", and Nebula nominee Bob Leman has the creepy Portal-esque "Instructions" ("We will now tell you that we lied in Instruction 11. There was in fact danger in Area Two.") which I really liked until the disappointing fake-Lovecraft ending.
Harlan Ellison has a bunch of movie reviews. He loved Splash, and speaks about Ron Howard (director) and Tom Hanks as though they were newcomers with something to prove, so maybe that was the movie that made their names. His initial impression of Star Trek III is "seems less interesting than ST II", even though a year later he says he disliked Khan and seems to have developed a grudging respect for The Search For Spock. He really loves The Quest and Iceman, two movies I've never heard of and The Quest doesn't even show up in IMDB despite having been written by Ray Bradbury and co-directed by Saul Bass.
Oh, there's a cartoon by Joseph Farris that, amazingly, has a small SF/fantasy element and is pretty funny. Finally, there's a horror story "Redcap" by Lisa Tuttle that I intensely disliked the way I intensely dislike horror stories (Who could the killer be? Could it be the only other character in the story?!?!), but I mention it because at the end is a great pre-Web example of unfortunate content/ad juxtaposition.
Tue Aug 11 2009 19:51:
On August 5th I went to a performance at NYU; Adam Parrish's "Digital Writing With Python" class was showing off their final projects, and only going there in person would get me close enough to the Python-drenched events of that night. But then I didn't write it up for a long time and Adam wrote it up with pictures and video. But I have pictures taken from the other side of the room! Advantage: blogosphere!
I want to mention a few things that Adam didn't cover. First, he reprinted one of Brian Jones's pharmaceutical acrostic poems ("Lipitor"), but I wanted to reprint my personal favorite, "Viagra":
- Inflamed gums
Here's Brian's script, which uses Beautiful Soup, and some other poems.
Also, check out Sie Heun Cho's haiku movie trailers created from Youtube comment threads. That one is for "Bruno"; there was a better one for "Casablanca" that I didn't get a picture of.
Finally, if you're the kind of person who reads NYCB, you need to see Sara Bremen's You're Not Wrong, Barton, You're Just an Asshole: A Coen Brothers Python Mashup. Adam has video but the sound is kind of quiet. You can see part of the script here, and here's a shot of Sara and fellow students performing.
Wed Aug 12 2009 20:25 Reviews of Old Science Fiction Magazines: Analog 1984/05:
This was a quick one because the bulk of the issue is the first 25% of Vernor Vinge's The Peace War. It's a pretty good novel but I've already read it, and if you want to read it it's easier to just buy the novel.
What else is there of note? Two things: David Brin's speculative nonfiction "The Deadly Thing at 2.4 Kilo-Parsecs", which I remember reading online but can't find now, and Allison Tellure's story "Low Midnight", which has cool sea monsters. That's it, really. But! I love the ads in old Analog! They've got lots of ads for role-playing and computer games. I took pictures of my favorites and put them up for you. Highlights:
- An ad for the cult-classic boardgame Cosmic Encounter with a blurb by Harlan Ellison.
- An ad for the paperback of Battlefield Earth.
- Two computer games based on Fred Saberhagen's Berserker series, published by Baen Software, which promises upcoming games co-written by luminaries like Robert Heinlein and C.J. Cherryh. I'm pretty sure those games didn't happen.
- An ad for a board game not mentioned anywhere on the web: Space Colony Rescue® by (one assumes) David Mac, which promises exciting encounters with "Abandoned Fuel Depots". It's possible this game didn't really exist either.
(5) Fri Aug 14 2009 21:54 Video Game Soundtrack Medleys:
Sumana was watching one of those videos where people play medleys of classic video game soundtracks on non-electronic instruments. I think this time it was a string quartet. Not to get all Viral Video Film School on you, but after watching a number of these videos I've discovered the two essential ingredients to a video game soundtrack medley:
- You must play the World 1-1 theme from Super Mario Bros.
- You must then play the "speeding up" riff followed by half of the World 1-1 theme at double speed.
Other than that, you can do whatever you want. I was trying to figure out the value proposition here--do people like these videos because the songs are great, or is it just nostalgia? A question with an obvious answer, and I'm not even gonna try to be contrarian: some of the songs are legitimately great, but it's nostalgia.
Argument one: some of the songs are in fact terrible. The Legend of Zelda overworld theme is in most of these medleys, and it's a bad song. It's a theme with no variations, an annoying ripoff of Ravel's famously annoying Bolero (I believe they wanted to use Bolero but couldn't get the rights.) No one enjoys that song except insofar as it makes them think of a fun game.
Second, these videos are videos, and they often have some prop-comedy component where people cosplay and/or act out scenes from the games. Nobody does that for other music performances. Maybe they should, but they don't. (I gotta make an exception for Frank Zappa, who often did strange things while conducting.)
But the reason I started seriously wondering about this is that none of these medleys have any songs from the original Metroid game.
Why is that? It's a very well-known game from the same era and the same publisher as the first Zelda and Mario games. It's got one of the best and deepest soundtracks in video game history. So why not include it? Maybe because it's a little more hardcore than Mario and Zelda, so it won't give as many people the nostalgic thrill.
Similarly for the Mega Man series, which no one would deny had excellent music, albeit more poppy and less classical (but therefore more accessible) than Metroid. The password entry theme from MM3 came up on our media player today and we were transfixed. The
password entry theme, folks. Anyway, a big-name game with great music, but a little too hardcore to push the average person's nostalgia buttons.
You don't watch these videos to be exposed to new music. I'm not expecting people to put songs from Earthbound in their video game soundtrack medleys (though they should). But I think if you put some Metroid in your medley you'd be pleasantly surprised by the audience reaction.
I did find one excellent live performance of Metroid music. It doesn't fit my theory because it's 1) not a medley, and 2) full of synths and electric guitars, but on the plus side it features composer Hip Tanaka himself--I think that's him on lead guitar. I guess that's pure upside, there.
PS: I declare the comments a place to link to or cite cool reinterpretations of video game music. I'll start with this well-known but awesome acoustic version of the Wind Waker title theme.
Sun Aug 16 2009 18:03:
The latest read was The World of null-A by A. E. Van Vogt. I did not enjoy this book but I must admit it was very inventive. I got this Ace paperback edition from the 1940s that has a strange introduction by Forrest Ackerman:
About the author:
The magic name of van Vogt conjures up a world of stimulating mental images to those familiar with his works, of which THE WORLD OF NULL-A, reprinted here, has been acclaimed a classic. For A.E. "slan" Vogt is the undisputed Idea Man of the futuristic field.
Canadian born, of Dutch descent, the author is now a transplanted Hollywoodite (although there are those among his legion of fans who secretly suspect his birthplace of being Mars, beyond the stars, or up ahead somewhere, say in the 25th Century).
Van Vogt always is years ahead with his concepts. Semantics, "totipotency", Batesystem vision restoratino, hypnotism, "similarization", dianetics, and "Nexialism", have all been grist for his mill.
Author of a dozen best-selling science-fiction books and dozens of short s-f stories, van Vogt has been repeatedly reprinted here and abroad, translated in French, German, and Italian, even recorded on Talking Records for the blind.
Van Vogt speaks fluently the universal languages of excitement and tension, action and invention.
Not terribly surprising that similarization and Nexialism were "grist for his mill", since those are just terms he made up to use in his novels!
(1) Sun Aug 16 2009 22:31 Why Not The YES?:
Recently I heard about a song-poem (this entry presumes your knowledge of song-poems!) called "Jimmy Carter Says YES". I bought the song (it's on a song-poem compilation album) and it's extremely funky. Here's the main theme:
Can our government be competent?
Jimmy Carter says YES. (2x)
Can our government be honest?
Jimmy Carter says YES. (2x)
Can our government be decent and open?
As the 39th president, he has spoken
YES. Jimmy Carter says YES.
This language seemed very familiar to me, because as it happens I just read Carter's 1975 campaign biography, Why Not the Best?. For the record I now present the Secret Origin Of "Jimmy Carter Says YES": it's cribbed from the book.
Here's the first few paragraphs of the first chapter, "Two Questions".
As we observe the two hundredth birthday of our nation, it is appropriate to ask ourselves two basic questions:
Can our government be honest, decent, open, fair, and compassionate?
Can our government be competent?
In the last chapter ("Those Two Questions Again"), Carter restates the first question and then says: "In my judgement, the answer to that question is a resounding YES[.]" Spoiler alert: the answer to the second question is also YES.
This explains a couple of the song's odd features, ie. the capitalization of "YES" and the fact that the rest of the lyrics don't measure up to the cribbed material ("statement of eruption"??).
Incidentally, Sumana and I also own an amazing album of presidential campaign songs, sung by Oscar Brand. One of the best songs on it is Carter's campaign song, also called "Why Not The Best?" It's a great slow country tune, and the last campaign song on that album to be an original song (ie. not a filk or reuse of an existing song).
(3) Mon Aug 17 2009 12:30 Let Us Now Create Awesome Derivative Works:
I'm happy to announce that "Let Us Now Praise Awesome Dinosaurs" is now available under BY-NC-SA, the only Creative Commons license that explodes on impact! If there's some element you thought the story was missing, such as chainsaws or Coelophysis, you can now add them.
Let me know what you do, and I'll put up links on the story page.
(5) Tue Aug 18 2009 19:56 Reviews of Old Science Fiction Magazines: F&SF 1985/05:
And we're back. This issue starts off with Nancy Kress's "Out Of All Them Bright Stars", which won the short story Nebula for 1985. So logically speaking, it's gotta be all downhill from there. And so it is. Felix C. Gotschalk ("Vestibular Man") and Gene O'Neill ("The Shadow of the Mountain") both had good scenes set in military boot camps, but the rest of O'Neill's story is dull, and
the only reason to keep reading Gotschalk's is his New Wave style of writing the story as a set of physiological changes described in this clinical medical language that's alienated from the POV character's perspective.
I was despairing of any other good fiction in this issue, and then the last story was "Top Of The Charts" by Bradley Denton, who wouldn't publish Buddy Holly is Alive and Well on Ganymede for another six years but was already writing about pop music. "Top Of The Charts" is not the most inventive story but it's a lot of fun to read, and it has this great song lyric:
Your baby is a beauty.
She lives inside a shell.
She's one of several million
In non-stories, Isaac Asimov talks about batteries, and Harlan Ellison complains about mindless summer movies. He kind of likes Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, though he never stops insulting it; he hates Cloak and Dagger and a film I've never heard of, Streets of Fire ("But as we say in the world of periodonture, Streets of Fire masticates the massive one.") He also hates Gremlins, though a lot of that seems to be hatred of the spin-off merchandising.
As usual I've photographed some interesting ads. There was a bizarre ad I forgot to photograph. It was an ad for the first Writers of the Future anthology that made the anthology look like the Bible with L. Ron Hubbard's name at the top. (Regrettably, correspondence on this topic is now closed.)
(2) Fri Aug 21 2009 21:35 The Revenge:
One of my go-to techniques for naming a sequel is to tack on "II: The Revenge" to the name of the original thing. But where did that come from? It seems like a generic sequel name, but it's really not used very often; the only thing I could find that had a sequel called "The Revenge" (as opposed to "The Revenge of [whatever]") is the game Double Dragon. Is that where I got it? Or does it seem like such a generic sequel name that nobody uses it for real?
Sat Aug 22 2009 12:29 Reviews of Old Science Fiction Magazines: Analog 1993/09:
This was a really good issue. It starts off with a semi-famous Stan Schmidt essay, "Magic" (well, I'd read it before). There are two really good time-travel stories: W.R. Thompson's "The Plot to Save Hitler" and Duncan Lunan's "With Time Comes Concord", which name-checks Carl Sagan. (Update: Now that I think about it, it implies Carl Sagan would be alive in 1999, which would have been nice and was probably an act of optimism in 1993.)
There's also Bud Sparhawk's Jake's Gift, which is not the kind of story you imagine appearing in Analog, while simultaneously fulfilling your Analog-story stereotype to the highest degree: the story comes with a technical diagram, and once you see the diagram you say "oh, cool" and you don't need the story itself. Although Jerry Oltion's "Course Changes" isn't stupendous, I wouldn't kick it out of any metaphorical bed for eating metaphorical crackers. I was excited to see that Linda Nagata had a story in this issue ("Small Victories") but I didn't like the story very much.
No interesting ads, except for a color insert advertising a limited-edition Captain Picard collector's plate (by "Plate of the Year" artist Thomas Blackshear, who's still in business). The book review section has a positive review of Mostly Harmless, and mentions a probably-not-that-interesting story by Del Stone, Jr. with the very interesting title of "The Googleplex Comes and Goes." (Yes, "Google", not "Googol"; see contemporaneous complaint about the misspelling.)
(4) Tue Aug 25 2009 22:11 Time For Some Links:
There's been too much original writing on this weblog recently! Time for some lazy linking to other sites.
I mentioned in my Wii Fit entry that I'm jogging 60-90 minutes a day while watching Internet videos. That's a lot of videos, folks. I've gone through Chrontendo, twice. I've seen pretty much everything on TGWTG. Sixty Symbols lasted me about three days. I need videos, folks. Give me your favorites in comments.
I don't have enough to fill the gaping foot-pounding void of exercise. Preferably videos that are at least ten minutes long, because I can't be using the keyboard all the time while jogging. Meanwhile, podcasts have been accumulating because if there's no visual component I'm not distracted enough to forget about the mind-crunching boredom of exercising.
One of my favorite CS papers is 1984's ROG-O-MATIC: A Belligerent Expert System, which describes a script that plays Rogue better than human players. You can get the source code, but good luck getting it to run. The Angband Borg works great--I remember leaving it running over an afternoon while in college--but because Angband is a game that rewards grinding, the Angband Borg loves to grind. It's incredibly dull--and the Borg isn't too exciting either! (I'm here all week!)
But now I've found out about TAEB::AI::Planar, an experimental AI player for Nethack. Compare that weblog post to the Rog-O-Matic
paper and see how much the state of the art has changed since 1984.
Don't miss the list of YASDs to which Planar is prone.
You can even watch Planar in action (just not while you run, it's only 3 minutes).
Wed Aug 26 2009 21:21 Link Time: Weblog Edition:
You may have noticed that Sumana's weblog has been down. For quite a while. That's because the Berkeley OCF has been down for quite a while. We plan to take action on this once Sumana is less stressed by other things, but in the meantime Sumana is one of the people posting at Geek Feminism.
Three other weblogs I subscribed to recently:
- The Game Developer Research Institute is devoted to digging up the most obscure information about the video game business as it used to be: most notably, who did coding work for whom, and who ripped whom off.
- Similarly, Hardcore Gaming 101 not only has insanely detailed essays about specific game series, it now has a weblog that digs up more general retro tidbits, compares American and Japanese versions of games, etc. Less obscure stuff here than at the GDRI, since it focuses on the games rather than on the software companies that make them.
- The great thing about the Internet is that you can get access to cutting-edge scientific papers. Unfortunately, most of those papers are incomprehensible. Until now, the public was forced to resort to print science-popularization magazines with their long lead times. But now, there's the physics arXiv blog, presenting understandable summaries of the arXiv's most interesting or sensationalistic papers, as they're pre-published.
Uh, and a Wii Fit update: I've lost 6±1 pounds since I started my maniacal jogging a couple months ago. Not a whole lot, but it's the first time in my life my weight has gone down instead of up, and I haven't really made any other lifestyle changes.
(2) Thu Aug 27 2009 21:02 Reviews of Old Science Fiction Magazines: F&SF 1999/05:
Doesn't seem that long ago, but this sucker's over ten years old. Man. Interesting side note: one of the authors in this issue submitted a story to Thoughtcrime Experiments. (It's not Steven Baxter.) Also, this has the busiest magazine cover I've ever seen; the background painting is absolutely covered in text.
Almost every story in this issue was good! The kind of story that I'd mention after mentioning the really good story. But there was no really good story. I guess my favorites were K.D. Wentworth's "The Embians" and Baxter's "Huddle" (not the story pictured on the cover). Gregory Benford's nonfiction essay mentions Burning Man and the Long Now Foundation, but I don't think 1999 is terribly ahead of the curve for either of those phenomena, so maybe it's not worth mentioning the mentions.
Two of the three cartoons were jokes about science, which is a pretty good ratio. The "Curiosities" section on the last page mentions a prequel to H.G. Wells' Little Wars called Floor Games. I'd never heard of this book before, but it sounds interesting, and it begins with the scrupulously accurate statement: "The jolliest indoor games for boys and girls demand a floor[.]"
Summary: nothing to make the sprit soar, but the only boring stories were very very short. I even liked most of the supernatural stuff. You could do a lot worse.
Thu Aug 27 2009 22:56:
Susanna is transcribing a journal that my parents kept in the 1980s. My mother wrote in the journal fairly frequently, my father not very often. By now you know that he wrote postcards instead. On February 17th, 1985, he mentions the postcards in the journal:
Recognizing that my writings in this journal in recent years have been sparse, I must comment that my life has not been entirely undocumented. I have accumulated several hundred postcards — together with Frances, Leonard, Susanna, and Rachel — from our outings around town, our long-distance trips and my business trips. Many evenings in the hotel have found me writing postcards to my family and friends and also recording my own experiences on postcards. There are some I hope who will find them of some historical and biographical value — as well as lovely to look at.
Frances was not fond of the postcard idea at first, but has quit any opposition since she sees that I don’t leave them lying around — and on Wednesday night, when I
put ready and put the children to bed, a regular activity is "looking at PC's" (post cards) when we pull a random handful from someone's collection, and reminisce about previous trips and outings.
Susanna and Leonard are very keen on this activity now and Rachel should soon be old enough to not bend the postcards. I think that my favorite is Susanna’s postcard of the Washington DC Dulles Airport. It was the first I sent her, and she slept with it and carried it around in her purse until I came home from Reston, Va. I now send each of the children a postcard when I send them, because they are all so special and they do appreciate them so.
This resurfaced a memory of Susanna carrying that postcard around everywhere. Susanna is going to start scanning her postcards and give them to me to put in the big pile, so maybe we'll see that incredibly worn postcard one day in the next few years.
I've quoted that first paragraph on the "Roy's Postcards" page. I'm glad to read confirmation that I'm doing something he would have liked. The tone here is extremely formal, even more formal than the postcards, which can get pretty darn formal. I don't know what's behind that voice. It's not the voice he used with his children.
(1) Fri Aug 28 2009 15:39:
I just went looking for information on NASA mission patches for my writing project, and found this Wired Science article published today showcasing some very strange patches used over the years. Good timing! Here's the official list.
Sun Aug 30 2009 09:48:
Last night we moved Sumana's website from the OCF to the same server that hosts Crummy. (In fact, we're sharing a NewsBruiser installation, thus decreasing the number of remaining NewsBruiser installations by a staggering percentage.) Here it is.
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