(1) Wed Apr 01 2009 08:42 Abandon Ship:
I've written before about the New York Times's interest in the stupid problems of the wealthy. So has Sumana. But now the wealthy aren't so wealthy anymore, and their problems have changed. It used to be your biggest hassle was finding low-salt cocktail olives for your yacht to compensate for the saltiness of the sea air. Now you're more likely to be scouting for the best way to wreck that yacht and collect the insurance money.
The owners cannot sell them, because the secondhand market is overwhelmed. They cannot afford to spend hundreds of dollars a month mooring and maintaining them. And they do not have the thousands of dollars required to properly dispose of them.
So they're being sunk or just abandoned, like underwater mortgages. A few months back when we were walking along the Hudson, Evan expressed admiration for the boat-having lifestyle. There's never been a better time to buy, Evan!
Wed Apr 01 2009 14:40 A Fine Distinction:
"I love your snap judgements of how lame I am, Sumana."
"Not you! Your work!"
(3) Thu Apr 02 2009 07:52:
What would happen if Don Bluth met Don Knuth?
(1) Thu Apr 02 2009 07:55 More Slush Pile Tips:
A few left over from a draft I wrote while we were going through slush and forgot about.
- From one of my notes to Sumana: "It was refreshing to read a story about Christianity that wasn't all Ben Hur or Xenogears."
- If your story starts out as standard SF, the dead should not abruptly rise from their graves 80% of the way through. Yes, more than one story had this. Even more strangely, one person made it work, indicating the general presence of exceptions to rules.
- If you come up with an awesome title, use it, don't just mention it. That is, the title should have some bearing on what happens in the story. It should not just be the title of something else within the story. Like, imagine if A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again was not an essay about a trip on a cruise ship (truly a supposedly fun thing David Foster Wallace will never do again, in more ways than one), but in sooth an essay about the recording of a rock album called A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. You'd feel ripped off.
Although if ASFTINDA really was a rock album you'd have no cause for complaint, because we don't expect rock album titles to relate to their contents unless it's a concept album with a narrative. Look, why are we arguing about this?
(2) Thu Apr 02 2009 12:07 Panning For April Fool's Gold:
Last year I proposed, perhaps naively, that April first could become a day where you announce crazy things that you've truly created or that you truly intend to do going forward. Instead of the cheesy Internet pranks and fake news that I've never liked and that make me feel like T-Rex.
2008 was a pretty good year for such things, as you'll see if you click the link above. How did it go this year? I'm not seeing a whole lot. Jake Berendes abruptly shut down his junk shop, presumably so he can move on to different awesome things. And according to a reliable source, on Wikipedia "the true-but-sounds-like-an-obvious-hoax philosophy seems to taken root as the de-facto policy for the day."
Anything else? Tell me this is an idea that's catching on and not one that's dying out.
Fri Apr 03 2009 18:32:
The ultimate gadget for today's rough economic climate: torch and pitchfork in one!
(1) Fri Apr 03 2009 23:11 New Pawnshop:
Near the Astoria Boulevard stop there's a brand new pawn shop. It's got those triangle-shaped flags you see on car lots and a gaudy new sign and everything. Now, I've pawned the family silver many a time, so I'm no stranger to these dens of despair. But what would a new pawn shop sell?
Well, it turns out you can buy standardized display boxes of jewelry, and new pawn shops sell that. There were also some sports trophies, which seems strange. Despite my boast in the previous paragraph I know nothing about pawn shops, but who would buy someone else's sports trophies? Were they just to make it look pawn shop-y? Is it Phil Hartman's sentimental pawn shop?
Update: Maybe it was pro sports memorabilia that just looked like a trophy. Another thing you could pre-buy to stock your shop.
(1) Sat Apr 04 2009 21:50 Public Service Announcement:
Also new to the Greenmarket is another dairy! Milk Thistle Farms is now competing with Ronnybrook for New Yorkers' milk-buying dollar. I bought some of the milk to taste it and it's definitely sweeter than Ronnybrook's. I wouldn't say it's better for all applications, and it's significantly more expensive, but it's definitely a better dessert milk. According to the famous Greenmarket Report they've been to the Union Square market before, but I'd never seen them. Now, back to working on my hit NES game, "Ramps and Milk".
(3) Mon Apr 06 2009 10:11 Jacob Berendes Interview, Part 1:
Jacob Berendes. The very name strikes confusion into the hearts of
readers of News You Can Bruise. Ever since his appearance in the first-ever NYCB entry, my readers have
considered him a mythical figure. Not surprising, since his friends feel
the same way about me. Now, in an exclusive interview, all will be
revealed (on certain topics only).
In 2006, Jacob rented a storefront in his native Worcester, MA and
started a junk shop/art installation called Happy Birthday Mike Leslie. I worked the
store shortly after it opened to get a
feel for this joining of art and commerce.
Other artists have started stores as art projects, but most of them
sold lame crap or nothing at all. Happy Birthday Mike Leslie sold
awesome clothes, records, and other secondhand goods, along with works
by local artists and grade school kids, and Jacob's own homemade
stuffed animals and chimeric action figures.
HBML's other advantage over other stores-as-art-statements is
longetivity. Inferior art stores close once they've made their
"point", but Jacob ran HBML for almost three years, longer than the
lifespans of many businesses not intended as works of art. But on
March 31st, Jake announced that
HBML would be closing the following day. I was able to acquire an
exclusive post-mortem interview with Jake, which I present here with
capital letters restored. We talked about his plans for the future and
about the business side of HBML. This is the first of a two-part
interview that will be concluded whenever he emails me back with
his answers to my nosy questions.
LDR: What are you going to do now that the junk shop is done?
JPB: Roughly, summer I'll be living in Providence, fall I'll
be traveling around, winter I hope to be "somewhere warm". The
traveling around will be in the guise of a slow snake oil tour,
landing in a town with some handmade product and relevant artworks,
and having a show at some sort of art space- a gallery or a weird
store or something. I've been constructing a small network of these
places, or at least keeping tabs on them. This is gearing up to a big
one-man (or group) show i'm trying (fingers crossed) to put together
in Philadelphia a year from now.
My project for the rest of the week is to clean out the store as
much as I can, and try and sell the squid to
raise money for a round trip ticket to Miami, where i'll hang out and
do an art show with my friend Mike T.
Summer is setting up the tour and working on some new websites to
try and make ad money so I don't have to all the way worry most of the
LDR: OK, it looks like you went on vacation and then shut the
JPB: Yes, that is also true.
LDR: Did you plan this from the beginning or did you discover that you were having a really good time on vacation?
JPB: No, I was actually pretty bummed out on vacation, but for once I wasn't in crisis mode, so I could sort of step back and look at what I was doing and what I wanted to be doing.
LDR: From here it looks like you became something of a local institution in Worcester. How true is that and did it make you feel constrained or any other leading question?
JPB: "Local institution" has a bit of truth to it, but I didn't feel constrained at all, except that I had to put more time and energy into it over other projects.
LDR: I'm curious about the future of your storefront, and
maybe the best way to find out is to see what happened to the other
space in the building. I remember it was an abandoned hair salon or
something. Did anyone else rent it? Did you scare anyone away?
JPB: That other side was rented out even when you were
there, but the guy that rents it only uses it as an office space-- he
comes in a few times a week and just makes phone calls, almost never
when I'm there. pretty weird. He's still there.
LDR: How likely is it he's up to some kind of con or scam?
JPB: No, he's a coffee roaster and he has another space that he roasts at but it's too chaotic, and he can't work out of his house or he'll never get anything done.
LDR: How much was your rent?
JPB: Rent was $300 for a while, then in the past year it
went to 350 and then 400.
LDR: Did you get people coming in from out of town who'd heard about HBML?
JPB: Yeah, all the time. Lots of folks from Providence,
because I'd cross-post to the big Providence weirdos email list. but
also Boston, western Mass. People came from farther (further?) away
but not just for the store.
LDR: It's not unheard of for artists to open stores. A long
time ago I mentioned to you that Marinetti opened and ran a Futurist
restaurant. Damien Hirst also started a restaurant I believe.
Actually I'm seeing a lot of restaurants in this list. Banksy put up an exhibit in a New York
storefront but it wasn't a real store, you couldn't buy stuff. Do you
know of any others?
JPB: The big "artist store project" was Claes Oldenberg's
store, which I think was just called "The Store". It was a big
inspiration, although he only ran with it two months I think. Sun Ra
and his Arkestra ran a convenience store in Philadelphia in the 70s (I
think). [According to Wikipedia, one of the band just happened to run
a convenience store. -LR] There are a few musicians who opened up
curated record stores, but that's different.
TO BE CONTINUED.
Mon Apr 06 2009 22:58:
Allllmost finalized the text of all the stories for TE. Now I have to write the appendix.
Wed Apr 08 2009 19:40:
A while back I mentioned some problems with the most recent version of Beautiful Soup, outlined how I planned to fix those problems, and explained that I didn't plan to work on those fixes anytime soon because my job at Canonical leaves me burnt-out w/r/t writing software in my spare time.
But as part of Launchpad Performance Week, everyone's working on improving Launchpad's performance. As it happens, Launchpad uses Beautiful Soup behind the scenes in the test suite, and I was offered the chance to fix the problem on company time. (Fixing the problem will allow us to plug in lxml as the parser, making the tests run faster.)
It's going pretty well. I don't know if I'll be done with the whole thing by Friday, but it's definite progress on something I'd pretty much written off for the near future.
Thu Apr 09 2009 22:08:
Check out the trunk of Beautiful Soup and you'll see the future. I've created a simple interface that lets any parser build a Beautiful Soup tree. There are large built-in builders that encapsulate the old HTMLParser logic with their lists of nestable tags, and there's now a very small builder that delegates everything to lxml. In a simple performance test the lxml builder was about twice as fast as the HTMLParser builder.
Hopefully this will be useful to the maintainers of libraries like lxml and html5lib who currently jump through hoops to make their parsers generate a Beautiful Soup parse tree. Now you should be able to just maintain a TreeBuilder implementation. The tree builder has a very simple interface, so take a look and make sure it does what you need. I'll be writing an html5lib tree builder and packaging it and the lxml builder in Beautiful Soup for a while, but I think long-term the TreeBuilders should live with their parent projects.
Tomorrow I'll be figuring out how to package this and trying to come up with a compatibility suite that will ensure your tree builder reacts sanely to different trees and different Beautiful Soup setups like SoupStrainers.
Fri Apr 10 2009 08:04:
Quick question related to the previous entry: how important is it to you that Beautiful Soup be in one file? I think we're at the point where it would be really useful to split it into multiple files. For instance, this would make it easier to use Unicode Dammit by itself. And the different tree builder classes with their varied dependencies really ought to be in separate files. But a lot of people (including Canonical, it turns out) just stick BeautifulSoup.py in a directory with the rest of their code, and I don't know how easy it'd be in general to use a real package.
Sat Apr 11 2009 19:15:
I was able to get the Beautiful Soup refactoring done and a simple compatibility suite working on Friday. Here are details. More work on this will probably wait for the next Launchpad Performance Week.
Mon Apr 13 2009 23:09:
Writing project has hit a wall, so I'm going to get the anthology out the door and come back to it.
I was talking to Brendan about this yesterday and he gave me a good analogy. When people read a long work of fiction they're willing to fuel up on worldbuilding at the beginning of the story, but then they expect to coast on that fuel to the climax of the first act. Only after there's a big payoff are they willing to start refueling again. What I'm writing is very heavy on the worldbuilding, and people I've shown it to enjoy the worldbuilding but they're starting to get antsy.
I thought I could write a bunch of self-contained worldbuilding essays with a plot arc in the background, but everyone's focusing on the plot arc. So I need to integrate the worldbuilding essays more closely into the timeline of people doing things, advancing the character development if not the main plot arc.
(5) Tue Apr 14 2009 14:18 Leonard's Ultimate New York Food Business Ideas:
- Milkshake shots. This lets you sample lots of crazy flavors of ice cream instead of having to pick one. Plus, New Yorkers love small expensive things.
- Ramps on a bagel.
(2) Wed Apr 15 2009 20:36:
Got the contract and check from Strange Horizons for "Let Us Now Praise Awesome Dinosaurs". I've now made a whopping $395 writing fiction--about 20% of what I've spent buying fiction to publish. Speaking of which, this is not a promise, but I think we might be able to release Thoughtcrime Experiments next week.
(5) Fri Apr 17 2009 20:44 Song Opposites:
While we were having dinner, "Don't Stand So Close to Me" came on the restaurant radio. Sumana and I decided that "Stacy's Mom" is the opposite of that song. Then we started thinking of what songs are the opposite of what other songs. But it turned out this wasn't a game I really enjoyed playing, though it sounded fun in the abstract. So I give this game to you, in hopes that you'll have more fun with it.
(2) Tue Apr 21 2009 22:19:
Desktop publishing is a ripoff.
Sat Apr 25 2009 10:34:
Wow, Bradley Denton has put online his excellent (and seriously out of print) novel Buddy Holly is Alive and Well on Ganymede. With a great title like that there's always a chance the story will be a disappointment, like how the sharks in Internet-Linked Sharks don't really have Internet capabilities, and how A Moon for the Misbegotten isn't about society's rejects taking over the moon. But Ganymede delivers.
Sun Apr 26 2009 23:19 Thoughtcrime Experiments:
Four months since its inception, Sumana and I have released Thoughtcrime Experiments into the commons. We've selected nine mind-squibbling SF and fantasy stories from the slush pile, commissioned five works of art, and packaged the whole thing as a high-quality anthology that you're free to copy and remix. We also wrote an essay describing the process, which you can read if you're interested in how we did it or what the SF/fantasy market looks like from the editor's perspective. Or you can jump right in with a random story.
Thanks to our great authors and artists, and all the other people who helped us out. I'm going to sleep now.
(5) Mon Apr 27 2009 19:38 Thoughtcrime Update: Day One:
I've put up a zipfile containing high-resolution versions of all the TE artwork, suitable for making desktop wallpaper or whatever. I kept this in reserve because I was afraid that my server wouldn't be able to handle the anticipated traffic, and putting up a huge image dump would make things worse. But they make servers a lot tougher now than they did in 2004, which was the last time I personally had to worry about a server handling a lot of traffic, and we're fine. It helps to be serving static files.
Matthew McClintock of manybooks.net has made it possible to get TE in the weird-ass ebook format of your choice. Thanks, Matthew!
The process of creating a POD book is extremely slow by Internet standards, but if all goes well you should be able to buy a print copy by the end of the week. We'll be selling the print copies at cost.
Now, a bunch of boring numbers. TE got a huge amount of traffic today, almost all of which came from three big-name weblogs and one I'd never heard of. Boing Boing posted first and has sent us about 900 hits, John Scalzi posted later and so far we've got a huge 3600 hits from him [Update: this number is totally inaccurate because Scalzi included our image inline. The real number of hits is more like 200], and tor.com posted even later in the day and has sent us about 100 hits. We got 60 hits from Grasping for the Wind, a weblog I'd never heard of but which sent us more hits than higher-profile sites like Twitter.
Also of note are 1200 hits of unknown origin through Google Reader, and 900 from Livejournal friends pages. Add in other sources and the total number of hits is about
Why did Scalzi send us so much traffic despite not having the first-mover advantage? Probably because his audience has a higher concentration of print SF fans than BB. [Update: this speculation is moot; see above.] BB readers are more likely to use feed aggregators, which hides their allegiance. Scalzi also simply posts less, so we'll stay on his front page longer. And I bet most of the people reading tor.com had already read BB or Scalzi by the time they saw the link on tor.com. Needless to say we appreciate all links and publicity and appreciation, those being our only payment. I'm not trying to min-max you guys.
How do hits translate into readers? As of this writing the PDF has been downloaded about 1150 times, the master OpenOffice document has been downloaded 120 times, and the zip archive of the website 90 times. By the crudest metric imaginable, about
1/6 1/3 of the people who visited were interested enough to download the anthology.
People seem to prefer downloading the whole anthology for later, but a significant minority are reading the stories online. Stories nearer the top of the TOC get more hits. The first story has 350 hits and the last story only has 50.
The art pages are much more popular than the story pages, which I was expecting. The most popular artwork (with the attention-grabbing title of "Pirate vs. Alien") has 450 hits. "Bio Break" (my personal favorite) has only 200 hits, but that's more
hits than most of the stories.
The "random story" feature has only been used 75 times, which I find a little disappointing.
Comparison: usually the most popular thing on my website is Beautiful Soup. During the same period, the most recent version of BS was downloaded about 300 times, and version 3.0.7a (the non-lame-parsing version) was downloaded about 750 times. The documentation was retrieved 500 times. I find this hard to believe, but I never paid attention to BS downloads before, so I gotta go with the data. I think most of these are automatic downloads done while installing some other piece of software with a BS dependency.
Tue Apr 28 2009 18:06:
Sumana has complained that my NYCB entries often turn into cranky complaining. Ironical that she should complain about this. No? Okay, false alarm.
Anyway, here's an entry with no complaining, just greatness. I do have complaints, but they're minor and for once I'll keep them to myself.
I first read about Jack Vance's "Dying Earth" stories as a teenager, in prefaces to AD&D manuals which listed the game's literary precursors. I took no interest in Vance at the time for a number of reasons, the least complaint-like of which is that when it came to old fantasy books that I couldn't find, "Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser" sounded a lot cooler.
But recently I become interested in those literary precursors as precursors, and sought them out. About a week ago I started reading "The Compleat Dying Earth" and it blew me away. It's inventive and rich, refreshingly cynical, and delivers sense-of-wonder in a way I've almost exclusively associated with SF. (Technically it is SF, but it's at its best when the SF element is in the background, which is nearly all the time.)
I was especially interested in the specific influences of Vance on the mechanics of D&D. Turns out Gary Gygax wrote an essay about this, but I'd like to mention a few other things I noticed.
I knew that D&D's magic system came from Vance, but it always seemed gamelike to me and I'm amazed at how well it works in the stories. And it has the same effect as in the game: to keep magic-users from being so powerful they ruin the plot.
Ioun stones first showed up in Vance as IOUN stones, the all-caps name making them sound like a piece of advanced technology. It turns out they're not technology, but it was a nice Richard Brautigan-esque touch. It's great to see how the effects of the stones in the books were turned into game mechanics.
"Vecna" is an anagram of "Vance". I'm pretty sure I noticed this once and then forgot.
One could argue that the notion of reversible spells comes from Vance. Spells in "Dying Earth" are like computer programs, and swapping two instructions can cause a reversed effect.
Update: Oh yeah, Vance invented grues (though Infocom really fleshed out what they are).
(2) Wed Apr 29 2009 18:40:
We've taken the code that powers the Launchpad web service and moved it into standalone server and client libraries. This is still what I'm working on, so it'll get more useful soon.
In other news, I've started using the word "blog". Argh.
Update: Strange that it took me a day to realize this, but it means that for the first time in about seven years my job is to work on open source software.
(1) Thu Apr 30 2009 09:05 If comic books made money the way webcomics do:
I just proposed a T-shirt saying "What part of HULK SMASH! don't you understand?"
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