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[Comments] (4) Lintsagna: Here's a story from when I was in Little Rock working on the Clark campaign. Every night after work I'd go home and have an hour, hour and a half to myself; enough time to do one thing. Like make and eat my own dinner, or read for a while, or do a load of laundry.

There was no laundry in my tiny apartment building, but I had a special "laundry key" which opened the front door of a totally different house. In the foyer of this house was a washer and dryer, and if you lived there you'd have a different key that opened up the house proper. It was an odd system.

The first time I hauled my laundry over to this house someone else was using the washer, so I had to come back the next night. The second time I made it. After drying my clothes, I tugged on the lint trap to clean it out. The trap practically exploded out of its receptacle as the hundreds of loads worth of lint it contained expanded to fill the space outside.

I peeled the lint off the lint trap. It was two inches thick, a lasagna of lint, striated in colors like the geologic column. There was no trash can in the laundry room, so no one had ever emptied the lint trap.

I didn't want the house to burn down, so I took the lintsagna with me and threw it in my building's dumpster. Sometimes I can still hear it calling me. It says, "I'm a pile of compressed lint and incapable of speech, but nonetheless youuuu are responsible for my deaaaaath!" I generally ignore it.

Their Love Was Validated By Householding Algorithms: We got a piece of political spam addressed to "The Harihareswara & Richardson Household".

[Comments] (1) Well Now I'm Pushing Thirty: The title is a line from a song I wrote when I was seventeen, and now it's coming true. I've got less than a week of my twenties left. When I wrote that line of that song, I was worried about selling out (I learned the term, but not the concept, from a Reel Big Fish song). The lesson of my twenties is that the creative things a teenager thinks of selling, when he thinks of selling out, are not worth that much money. Nobody's buying. You might as well give it away.

What you can sell is your time. I get good money for my time, and for the money I worked at CollabNet two, three years after I'd stopped having fun. Ten years ago today I ported robotfindskitten to Linux. I very rarely write software for fun anymore. The time for that is no longer in stock. Sold out.

Apart from that, which I wouldn't have predicted as recently as five years ago, my twenties exceeded every goal I might have set. I got married, I wrote a piece of software that became very popular, I wrote two O'Reilly books, and I sold a science fiction story to a pro market. My current secret project is something I've wanted to do my whole life. There's a lot of sadness but not much to regret.

In reality I didn't set any goals. The day I turned twenty I didn't imagine myself today, about to turn thirty. But today, I can't conceive of myself as other than a transitional Leonard between the one who wrote that weblog entry and the one who will link to this weblog entry in 2019.

When I turn forty I know I'm going to be seriously worried about the time I have left. I'm worried now, but right now I have ten years more than I will then. I need to use it and not sell more than I need to.

: Andrew Appel posted about Thoughtcrime Experiments to the prestigious Freedom to Tinker weblog (alas, still not called Freedom To Tinkle). Andrew is one of the authors of "Using Memory Errors to Attack a Virtual Machine", the paper that partially inspired Ken Liu's Single-Bit Error. Andrew writes of the anthology:

It's not all honey and roses, of course. The authors got paid, but the editors didn't! The Appendix presents data on how many hours they spent "for free". In addition, if you look closely, you'll see that the way the authors got paid is that the editors spent their own money.

It certainly wasn't my intention to hide this fact! But more generally, this is my impression of how things work in the antilucrative world of SF/F short fiction publishing. When I sell a story to a magazine, I get a check signed by the editor. In almost all cases, that money is in some sense the editor's money. The only thing different with TE is that we're not trying to make our money back.

Here's what I mean. Unless you're Gordon Van Gelder or Sheila Williams or Stanley Schmidt, you don't draw a salary. A small-time editor/publisher spends their own money, in quantities that are obscene to them and laughably insufficient to the writers, and then tries to make that money back. There are different strategies for this. Strange Horizons solicits donations and runs public radio-style fundraising drives. Futurismic runs ads. Small print mags sell hard copies and/or subscriptions.

It's your money being spent because you're the publisher: if you make a profit, the profit is yours. The flip side of Stanley Schmidt drawing a salary is that if Analog should sell a million copies one month, he doesn't get to keep the money. It belongs to Dell Publications.

The thing is, you'll never make a profit. Even in the good old days the SF magazines scraped by, and these days are bad and new. Find an online magazine with Project Wonderful ads, look at their PW graphs versus their payment rates, and do the math.

Here's a ridiculously optimistic assumption: let's say ten percent of the people who downloaded our PDF would have paid us ten dollars for it, and that everyone who bought a five-dollar hard copy would have paid ten. We'd still have lost money, to the tune of a few hundred dollars. And that's just the loss on the money we paid out! I'm not even thinking about the money value of our time. The unprofitability of this whole realm of publishing is no secret; it's a running joke. Even people who try to make some money back aren't doing this for money, but because they like the non-monetary returns they get on their investment.

Sometime in the past decade I learned a valuable lesson from Jake Berendes: know when to say "screw it". Do the thing you've been waiting for someone else to do. Removing the commercial angle altogether will save you disappointment and headaches. Spending money to create something interesting for everybody feels much better than losing slightly less money in a commercial venture.

[Comments] (1) : If the opposite of a great truth is another great truth, is the opposite of a great falsehood another great falsehood?

[Comments] (6) Real Places: Today I heard a reference to Sherwood Forest and realized that I'd never thought of it as a real place, only as a setting for the story of Robin Hood. But it is a real place. Here it is. It's smaller than I imagined, but it's still a forest and not, say, a mall parking lot.

I can't think of any more places that I never thought of as real places. If you have a similar story to the one I just told, spill the beans or bean-shaped objects in comments.

[Comments] (7) Bananthropology: When I was a kid I opened bananas by pulling on the little stem that attaches the individual banana to the bunch. This was how you opened bananas in my culture. But, Kirk Cameron's demonstrations notwithstanding, it's not the best way to open a banana. It's much easier to kind of pinch the other end of the banana and peel from there.

When I found out about the pinching technique I thought it was an amazing new discovery. For about five seconds. Then I thought of all those old cartoons and comics depicting someone slipping on a banana peel. The banana peel is always drawn with the stem on top, having been opened from the other end. Is it just that it's easier to draw that way, or did we use to know the better way to peel bananas? If the latter, how did we lose that knowledge?

[Comments] (1) : From clickolinko I found that Murray Leinster's 1946 short story "A Logic Named Joe", of this-entry fame and predictive-hit fame in general, is online to read for free. And it's as great as everyone says. Thanks, Baen! One-fifth of your atrocious cover designs are forgiven.

[Comments] (7) : Well, that's my twenties. Thanks for your patronage these past 10 years. My Strange Horizons story should be published soon, and we'll see what happens in the 2009-2019 era.

[Comments] (6) : Instead of writing in this weblog or working on my secret project, I wrote a huge essay called "Nostalgiaudit". This project came out of the fact that my memories of 1987-1991 are really bad. Well, that was twenty years ago, of course they're bad, but as early as 1993 I could tell that big chunks of my memories were missing. Almost the only detailed memories I have from that period involve Nintendo games.

So I went through all those memories and cataloged them, putting them in chronological order and adding in other video-game-related memories where appropriate, in hopes that it would make that part of my life make more sense. And it kind of does. I was able to reconstruct a few chunks of my past out of memories of which games I played with whom, and what issues of Nintendo Power I remember reading.

The essay runs about seven thousand words and I'm a bit reluctant to post something so long, minutiae-obsessed, and self-indulgent, but on the other hand it's the sort of essay I'd enjoy if I read it about someone else. If you'd like to read it, email me or comment, and I'll either send it to you or put it up.

[Comments] (3) : I don't think I really want to play that funky music until I die.

[Comments] (4) : My latest-sold story, "Let Us Now Praise Awesome Dinosaurs", has been published in Strange Horizons. Enjoy! More later.

Wertham Comix: Issue 2 of "Comic Book Comics" tells this story: "One of comics' earliest critics was the consulting psychologist for Family Circle magazine, William Moulton Marston, world-renowned as an inventor of the lie detector." He mouthed off about comics' ill effects on youth until proto-DC editor Maxwell Gaines co-opted him by giving him a chance to write his own comics that pushed his crackpot views on the youth. The result was Wonder Woman, the tough, independent woman who's always getting tied up for no adequately explained reason.

A few years later, liberal psychiatrist Fredric Wertham published Seduction of the Innocent and started his better-known anti-comics crusade. CBC speculates that if Maxwell Gaines' son William had been less confrontational, he might have been able to co-opt Wertham the way his father co-opted Marston. I don't think that's terribly likely; once you publish a best-selling book taking a stance on an issue it's difficult to back away from it.

But What If? Gaines or some other editor had convinced Wertham that the answer to bad comics was more comics? What would Wertham have come up with? Since Wertham's big concern was juvenile delinquency, I think he'd have done comics about boys, for boys. I envision a team of teenagers with superpowers who fight prejudice in nonviolent ways. Maybe it would have been too preachy to survive to the modern day (Marston's kinks were much more interesting and comic-book-compatible), but I think it would have been the first serious comic book exploration of kids with superpowers. What do you think?

[Comments] (3) : Mike Popovic and daughter Zoe have been friends of the show since before Zoe was born. Now Zoe is eight and she and her father are collaborating on a web comic, Angry Octopus. Every aspect of life in the ocean just makes this octopus so angry. It's excellent.

On The Origin Of Awesome Dinosaurs: First, thanks to everyone for the appreciative comments on "Let Us Now Praise Awesome Dinosaurs". I wrote it to entertain you, and I'm glad you enjoyed it.

As usual, I've put up a clearinghouse page about the story on my web site. I'm also trying something new with this story and putting up a deleted scene. I toyed with the idea of doing this for "Mallory", but the deleted scene from "Mallory" was deleted because it was boring. This is a fun scene that I had to delete because it became non-canon.

I was really tempted to use the image described here on my clearinghouse page, but that would have been tragically misleading. No mere words could ever be that awesome.

The contract I signed gives the story exclusively to Strange Horizons for 60 days, but after that I plan to release the story under a CC license. I'm working out the details with the editors now to avoid any confusion later.

Now some behind-the-scenes. My friend Kate Lascoutx, student and tutor of classical literature, came up with many of the dinosaur names in the story, especially "alethinosaur" ("truthiness lizard") and "bradupeithid" ("slow-stepper"). She also came up with an incredible name that I couldn't use ("Diopteron" - "brilliant flyer"). I asked Kate for these names and came up with my own (Thymomenoraptor is mine, thanks to an online Greek dictionary) to avoid the impression that dinosaur evolution stopped dead when the story's dinosaurs left Earth. New names that are still obviously dinosaur names accomplished this to my satisfaction without making it a huge plot point.

The main trigger for "Awesome Dinosaurs" was a certain class of rejection letter that corresponds to about #11 on the Context of Rejection: "This story didn't quite grab me." Or its less positive sibling, "Nice story, but it didn't work for me." I get this rejection letter a lot, and at one point in a Jamsetji Tata-esque fit of pique I said, "I will write a story about dinosaurs who drive monster trucks! Maybe that will grab you!"

"Write what you know" is a common cliche, and writing what you know will get you a coherent story but not, I find, one that goes around grabbing editors. I find my stories do much better when I write what I love. I know a thing or two about politics and asteroid mining and secret societies, but my stories on those topics aren't selling, and I'm starting to think it's because I don't love those things as much as I love the Internet, or video games, or dinosaurs.

The other influence, as I've mentioned before, was my disappointment that de Camp's classic story "A Gun For Dinosaur" is not about a dinosaur who buys a gun. I'd pictured it as a children's story, like "A House For Hermit Crab". The first scene of "Awesome Dinosaurs" is what I was hoping for from that story.

Finally, big thanks to my writing group for workshopping the story back in October, and to Jed for his editing comments.

Calca 1: One of my favorite Amar Chitra Katha comics is the one about Jamsetji Tata, founder of Indian megacorp Tata. It repeats a story (the accuracy of this story has been disputed) about an "unsavoury incident" that spurred Tata to build the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai around the turn of the 20th century (you may know this hotel as the one attacked in the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks). I'd give you a picture of the panel, but Sumana has the digital camera, so here's a transcript.

Random Guy: Can't you read? You are not allowed in this hotel!
Jamsetji Tata: I will build the best hotel in this country!

Two panels later he's buying land for the hotel, and still going:

Guy #1: This is a good piece of land.
Guy #2: Yes! Beautiful view, fresh air.
Jamsetji Tata: I will build the best hotel in Asia.

The great thing about this attitude is its applicability to a wide variety of situations, not just to foreigners building foreigner-only hotels in your country.

My favorite ACK of all time is the one about Suyya, aka Annapati Suyya, a civil engineer and early proponent of crowdsourcing. I'll write about him later, but that's definitely a comic book worth owning.

[Comments] (3) Level Playing Field: From back of chip bag: "IT'S THE ONLY SNACK BOLD ENOUGH TO CALL ITSELF DORITOS® BRAND."

I bet if "Doritos" wasn't a registered trademark, lots of snacks would be bold enough to call themselves that.

[Comments] (2) Nostalgiaudit, Part 1: OK, I started getting people I don't know asking me about "Nostalgiaudit", so I'm just gonna post the whole essay. This thing is longer than "Awesome Dinosaurs" and a lot less interesting, so feel free to skip it if you're not interested. I'll post it in two parts so that it's less to read in one chunk.

Premise: although video games feature in some of my most vivid memories of my childhood, the memories themselves are a disjointed, jumbled mess with no overarching narrative. I wrote this essay to put things in chronological order, to see how my interest in video games developed in childhood and temporarily flared out as I entered adolescence. And in the process, hopefully capture some more general information from the tattered remnant of my memory.

Names and dates are as best I can remember them, names in some cases backed up by old yearbooks. I've tried to omit any information my childhood friends might not want published on the Internet, and partially or wholly redacted some names. Although I'm pretty unsparing of my own childish attitudes (see esp. Ultima II, and my relationship with Sammy C.), I've tried to be more generous towards other people.

Earliest memories

My very first video gaming memory is of watching my cousin Brian play the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man at my grandmother's house. It was probably sometime in 1982--maybe just after Brian's birthday or Christmas. You might not think of this as an auspicious memory, because the 2600's Pac-Man was a disaster, but I didn't know from Pac-Man. I was three years old. I saw a world on my grandmother's previously dull television, and my cousin manipulating that world from outside.

My second memory is of being in an arcade without any money. I was five, we were on vacation in Hawaii, and I was allowed to briefly wander through an arcade in the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center as we walked to the Chinese restaurant we'd be eating at.

The year was 1985, and it was one of the old-school arcades that don't exist anymore. It was loud and dark and I was short. I watched someone play Donkey Kong. I watched the attract mode from Pengo. I had no quarter to spend and I only spent a couple minutes in the arcade, but I was hooked. Much to my parents' dismay, video games were now a part of my life.

Around the same time my mother acquired a Hewlett-Packard computer for some contract work she was doing (for HP itself?). I'm not sure what the work was but it involved a piece of software called FALCON. My great-aunt LeJeune, who worked at HP, also sent along two floppy disks of games. One of them had hangman and other somewhat pointless games, including one where you typed in how many tacos you think you could eat and the computer boasted that that's nothing, its brother could eat N+2 tacos. Not really a fair game. I played the hell out of these games through kindergarten, never even looking at the other disk.

Then one day my mother told me LeJeune wanted one of the game floppies back. Which one did I want to keep? In retrospect, I think my mother really wanted to stop me from spending so much time on the computer. But I chose to get rid of the disk I'd played so much, because I'd never tried the other one. For the first time I booted up the other disk. It contained the Colossal Cave text adventure. I happily played this game for a year and a half.

My father worked at a company that rented time on mainframe computers. He'd take me into the computer room, where it was cold and the floors were made of removable panels. Data was stored on big reel-to-reel tapes and I'd run through the tape library, looking for the right data to give to the operator. I also typed my name into punch cards, and played games on the teletype. The only one I remember playing is the old Star Trek game where you punch in commands to navigate the ship or repair the shields.

My father wrote about this in a journal entry from February 4, 1986:

Sunday afternoon, I went to work, as Ed Simon and I were testing MVS/SP. Leonard went with me and we were there for 8 hours. Leonard had quite a time playing battleship and tic-tac-toe and then later he mounted and dismounted tapes. We took food and ate periodically. At one point Leonard said, "This is the best time that a kid ever had that went to work with his dad." Which made me feel very warm.

My first console gaming memory comes from about 1987. My mother took me to a Circuit City in Los Angeles, where there was an NES demonstration system (the controller was mounted on a semi-flexible rod) and an older kid hogging the system. I was transfixed by Super Mario Bros. I waited patiently for the kid to give me a chance at the NES, whereupon I ran right into the first Goomba and died. The older kid took the controller back and my mother hurried me along.


In August 1987, just after I turned eight, we moved north from Los Angeles to Arvin, a tiny agricultural town south of Bakersfield. For a few months my father was still working for his Los Angeles-based company, and he brought home an IBM PC with a monochrome monitor so he could do work from home. One of his co-workers had loaded the PC up with a lot of pirated games. I played all of these games happily, but my favorite was the DOS version of Rogue. At a company picnic in LA I was excited to hear the kid of another employee talk about playing Rogue on a color monitor!

I soon discovered that my next-door neighbor, Sammy C., had an Atari 2600. I'd go over to his house occasionally and play games--I especially remember Moon Patrol on the black-and-white TV in Sammy's room. The only other specific game I remember is the terrible The Empire Strikes Back tie-in. Maybe the TV was a color TV and I thought it was black-and-white because those two games weren't exactly colorful.

I'm not sure what Sammy's father did, but his family was pretty well off, and for Christmas 1987 Sammy got a NES. My next console gaming memory is coming over to Sammy's house in the afternoon on Christmas day, and seeing Sammy and his father downstairs going through the first dungeon of "The Legend of Zelda".

After that I went to Sammy's house nearly every day after school. I remember two distinct phases here. In phase one, the NES was upstairs in Sammy's room, as the Atari had been. The games we played were early titles mostly published by Nintendo: Kung Fu, Pro Wrestling, Excitebike, Pinball, but also Top Gun.

In phase two, the NES was moved down to Sammy's living room, where I originally saw it. The games were more sophisticated: Contra, Goonies II, Castlevania II, and so on. When I started the NES cartridge audit (in part 2) I soon noticed a pretty clean partition between cartridges I'd only played in Sammy's room and games I'd only played in his living room.

There's a chance that I've got it wrong. Maybe Sammy got the NES before Christmas 1987, plus a few safe first-party choices. Then for Christmas that year he got a lot of more sophisticated games like Zelda, and the NES was moved downstairs. But it doesn't really matter.

Early arcades

There was no video arcade in Arvin, but the grocery store had a Galaga and a Rush 'N' Attack, and Bear Mountain Pizza had about six cabinets including my favorites, Gyruss and Golden Axe. (I'm collapsing the timeline here -- Golden Axe didn't come out until 1989, but the grocery store games were there when we moved to Arvin.)

And yet, my secret desire to run unaccompanied through full-blown arcades would be granted, thanks to Chuck E Friggin Cheese, Nolan Bushnell's pizza restaurant/animatronic nightmare/kid-friendly arcade. There was one in Bakersfield and we went there every few months. I went to at least one birthday party there, though it wasn't mine or my sisters'.

I don't think I recognized at the time that Chuck E Cheese was at the low end of arcade experiences, but it was all I had, and the games were magical. (I also liked the pizza at the time, and the orange soda--all you could drink!) Along with Skee-Ball, my favorites were Paperboy, Gauntlet, Super Sprint, and RoadBlasters. Now that I think about it, all of those were Atari games! Did Nolan Bushnell seed Chuck E Cheese with Atari games? I was generally given a dollar per Chuck E Cheese visit to spend on games.

Miscellaneous arcade cabinet memories: I remember seeing the mystical Nintendo PlayChoice 10 game once, probably in a Bakersfield pizza restaurant other than Chuck E Cheese. We went on vacation somewhere and the hotel laundromat had a Galaxian cocktail cabinet. (Not sure why we were staying in a hotel--my father never did that unless someone else was paying. Maybe that was in Hawaii too.) I remember being transfixed by a Ms. Pac-Man cocktail cabinet in a dimly lit restaurant.

Outside Arvin

In mid-1989 Sammy got a TurboGraphx-16, and got rid of his NES and all the games. He had put away childish 8-bit graphics and now he was a man! A man playing freaking "Keith Courage in Alpha Zones". I thought this was a dumb move at the time and history has vindicated me.

It's sad to realize that my relationship with Sammy was based entirely on the fact that he had an NES. I didn't come over to play his TurboGraphx, and he never came over to my house to play Rogue. (I did show Rogue to one of my school friends, and they didn't get why you'd want to play it.) Sometimes we'd play in the huge vacant lot behind our houses (still a vacant lot, according to Google Maps), but more often I was alone back there. Sammy's backyard had a swimming pool; I never swam in it.

Around the same time as Sammy's defection from Nintendo to NEC, my family moved out of Arvin, into the grape fields, and I no longer had a next door neighbor. After this, Sammy and I hardly ever saw each other. He was a year ahead of me in school, so we didn't interact as a matter of course.

I remember playing Tetris on Sammy's Game Boy, but the Game Boy didn't come out until July 1989, by which time we'd already moved. So who knows. When I went to the Bakersfield Target with my mother, I'd always rush to the electronics section and play Super Mario Land on their Game Boy. That's still as close as I've ever been to an original Game Boy.

During the year I spent playing games with Sammy I also acquired more software for the PC, probably as gifts. I remember playing a Jeopardy! game a lot, as well as Infocom's Planetfall.

The Nintendo Power years

Where did I first encounter Nintendo's journal of agitprop, Nintendo Power? Almost certainly not at Sammy's house. The first issue came out right around the time we moved out of Arvin.

I remember the friend's room where I first saw the cool clay SMB 2 sculpture on the first issue's cover, but I don't know which friend it was. By default I'm going to say it was CJ Cullins, my post-Sammy NES buddy, even though the room doesn't feel like his room as I remember it. Maybe his family moved.

Unlike with Sammy, I had a non-Nintendo friendship with CJ, a tall skinny kid with bronze hair and freckles. We'd met in third grade when we were both newcomers to Arvin, and though it cooled over the years as our school clique identities solidified into "nerd" and "skater", our friendship, held together by a mutual love of Nirvana, lasted in some form until I graduated from high school and moved back to LA.

(CJ doesn't show up in my junior high yearbooks, but he is in my high school yearbook. If I recall correctly, he moved away for a couple years and then moved back.)

CJ lived in Arvin proper, a few blocks from the school. My house was six miles away. So my middle school years of two-player gaming often took the form of Friday night sleepovers at CJ's house. Although the year I spent at Sammy's house was formative and looms larger in my mind, many of my favorite old gaming memories were formed at CJ's house: killing each other in North and South, winning Kid Icarus, and getting multiple endings to Maniac Mansion.

For Christmas 1988 I got my own NES. I don't think I got any other games at the time, but the Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt pack-in was plenty of excitement for me. I remember my father helping me set up the A/V cables that Christmas, but my memory of playing SMB that day has blended in with all the memories of the dozens of other places I've played that game. The NES also came with a printed game catalog, which I loved to read. To this day I get a nostalgic thrill from the pixel art used on the covers of the NES launch titles.

From my earlier coveting I knew that the NES cost a hundred dollars at retail, a princely sum at my age. For several years afterwards I would envision large amounts of money in terms of how many Nintendos it would buy. I'm pretty sure the NES came from my grandparents. They were pretty generous, and $100 was about what they'd spend for a grandchild's big blowout Christmas present.

(I had a friend, not mentioned elsewhere in this essay, who very memorably did not get an NES that Christmas. But I've already written a fictionalized version of that occurance, so you'll have to wait until I sell the story to read it.)

In July of 1989 I got my first issue of Nintendo Power. I remember doing an insane amount of work to pull a big stump out of the back yard for $50 so I could pay for my subscription, though I may have done that in 1990 to renew my subscription.

It's hard to overestimate how much I loved Nintendo Power. I read it all the time and everywhere. It was full of detailed information about pieces of software! Its maps let you explore a game world mentally without ever buying the game!

It never occured to me that Nintendo Power was corporate propaganda designed to do just that--submerge you irretrievably in Nintendo's world. The unsavory aspects of Nintendo Power are clearly visible to my adult eyes: the "tips" that were workarounds for bugs in the games, the artfully worded blurbs for terrible cartridges, the back cover's constant shilling for the Nintendo Seal of Quality (which was a joke in your town and every other), and most of all the letters, which were carefully selected to give kids talking points when arguing with adults about the merits of video games.

(Looking at those old issues of Nintendo Power, the most interesting parts now are the crazy cartoon monsters at the bottom of the pages, delivering gossip about upcoming games and totally unconstrained by normal rules of corporate synergy.)

Parents, including mine, were concerned about their kids spending so much time on the Nintendo. My parents grudgingly accepted my obsession as another aspect of a) my interest in computers, b) the end of civilization. Looking back, I suspect their attitude towards my Nintendo usage was "as long as his grades hold up..." My mother must have seen Nintendo Power for what it was, but she never said anything to destroy my illusions.

(My standard punishment when grounded was confiscation of my NES controllers for a week. It was aggravating but not a terrible punishment because I could still use the PC. Also, I found where the controllers were hidden, so I could still play before my parents woke up.)

But even the propaganda aspects weren't all bad. A game might be terrible, but the Nintendo Power writeups were always entertaining. A two-page spread for a mediocre game would show all the cool power-ups, kind of like a trailer that gives away all the good parts of a movie and you don't have to see the movie. A tiny blurb for a terrible game would give you enough ideas to design a decent game or fantasy scenario in your head. As long as you didn't try to play the games, you were fine.

I drew my own Nintendo Power-style maps in sixth grade. I designed a Mega Man game that featured enemies like Ink Man (his minions could blind you with ink, turning the screen temporarily dark). I designed an exploration game that was a total ripoff of Goonies II.

Large as my Nintendo obsession looms in memory, the audit in part 2 shows that I didn't own that many cartridges. Almost all the ones I did own were Christmas or birthday presents. At this point in my life I almost never had enough money to my name to afford an NES cartridge. And so the games I remember best weren't necessarily ones I owned. They dated from time spent with Sammy C., or I only knew about them through Nintendo Power. Or, most commonly, I rented them.

Look in the NES audit in part 2 and you'll see a lot of rental games. Arvin had two video rental stores and by this time they'd branched out into renting NES games. Many's the Friday my mother would take me to one or the other of these stores and let me pick out a game for the weekend while she picked out a movie. CJ and I also rented games for our sleepovers, though I'm not sure how that worked because neither store was particularly near his house. (No, I remember now: CJ and I and Ivan Orozco walking to one of the stores from school and renting a game and walking to CJ's house. I remember because I was in the lead walking home, walking backwards to explain something to CJ and Ivan, and I ran into a signpost. Bonk.)

At some point during this 1989-1990 period I stayed over at the out-in-the-boonies house of yet another friend, whose name I won't mention. His house had an Atari 2600 with a huge selection of games. It also had bugs. Bugs that would run across the floor at night and bite you, making it impossible to sleep. We played those games all night. The games were not too hot compared to the NES, but they were totally new to me. I'd never heard of them or read previews of them in gaming magazines, and each one was a surprise. In particular I remember Adventure and a bizarre little shooter called Plaque Attack.

(Much later, near the end of high school, this person's mother would yell at me, believing me through a hilarious misunderstanding to be a bad influence, a product of negligent parenting, a long-haired freak who did nothing but drive a fast car and cause trouble. This was the coolest I ever felt in high school.)

Although most of the kids in Arvin were Hispanic, most of my NES memories are of playing with other white kids. The exceptions are Ivan, who would sometimes join me at CJ's house, and Ricky Garay, who's now a comedian in LA; but I don't think they had their own systems. If you look through the cartridge audit in part 2 there's a lot of one-off mentions of being at some other kid's house, and the other kid was always white. Although nobody in Arvin was really well off (except Sammy's family, apparently), immigrant families tended to be even less well off, and less likely to buy an expensive machine that their kids would play all afternoon instead of doing homework. This changed gradually: in 1997, Dario Espinoza, my best friend from high school, got an N64. Though I don't know whether his parents got it for him or if he bought it himself.

Next time: the end of the NES years.

[Comments] (1) Nostlagiaudit, Part II: Previously on Nostalgiaudit, I explained how I got hooked on electronic simulations of impossible scenarios, and how I was eventually given specialized hardware to feed that addiction. This time around, I take a look at the aftermath, and then give a detailed analysis of the years I lost to the NES.

Update: I've removed one of the stories about how I was a jerk when I was a kid, by way of apology to the person affected.

Later arcades

A corner store near the middle school had Smash TV. CJ and Ivan and I would stop occasionally and admire its hamhanded satire of consumerism. I never had the money to play it.

Throughout junior high one or another of my classes would take trips to a bowling alley in Bakersfield. Two trips a year, maybe. Instead of bowling I spent most of my time hanging out alone in the small arcade, playing Arkanoid and Ms. Pac-Man. Well, I probably didn't spend that much time in the arcade because that would have required more money than a couple dollars, but I remember the arcade better than the bowling.

I remember watching CJ and Ivan play the four-player Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade brawler at a laundromat in Bakersfield, while we waited for CJ's mom to pick something up. Arvin was not so small that you had to drive twenty miles to get groceries, but you did have to drive twenty miles to get something dry cleaned. I didn't join in because I didn't like that kind of game.

End of the NES

Early in 1991--probably in April or May, maybe in June when school let out--I suddenly stopped playing my NES. Of the NES games released in 1991, I've played only three. I admired the Super NES during my Target visits, but I never wanted one or asked for one. Same with the Game Boy.

My last issue of Nintendo Power was probably the August 1991 issue, which makes sense if I had two one-year subscriptions. The March issue was the last to feature any games I've played. I read Nintendo Power on its own without asking for or renting any of the games, and then I let my subscription lapse.

I don't know why this happened. In an earlier draft I suggested my father's death might have been the trigger, but I got the dates mixed up--my father died in 1992. Maybe it was puberty, or maybe I was just bored with NES-style games. Cartridges weren't getting any cheaper, and by 1991 I had competition for my pocket money: the Prodigy dial-up service and an endless series of $20 AD&D rulebooks.

I'd still been buying PC games at retail. I remember playing Rampage a lot, and Marble Madness. They weren't as good as the corresponding NES games, but they were much cheaper.

I'd also been buying disks of shareware games from various places: a factory outlet store in Barstow, the Association of Shareware Professionals catalog, etc. Most of the games were crap, but I made three lucky discoveries. In 1990 I bought a disk of the Adventure Game Toolkit, and a disk that included an early version of Hack. In 1992 in Barstow I bought a disk with ZZT on it.

(I loved the idea of the ASP so much that in 1990 I wrote fifteen terrible GW-BASIC games and other programs, each ending with a nagging shareware registration message, and sent a disk off to the ASP so they'd distribute it and I could rake in the dough. I got a letter that said they'd given my program to someone to review, and then I got another letter politely declining my contribution to the shareware world. Among the reasons given: the fact that my disk contained the Microsoft-copyrighted GWBASIC.EXE, and most painful of all, "Programs appear to have no defining purpose." Thankfully, my GW-BASIC programs have by now ascended to software heaven and cannot be found on the material plane.)

In late 1992 I learned about BBSes. Within a month I was neglecting the Prodigy boards in favor of local BBSes. By the beginning of 1993 I was planning my own BBS. I launched it in 1993 and directed my game-collecting expertise towards stocking it with shareware. After this I bought some of SSI's AD&D games, a collection of Infocom games, and I registered some shareware games, but not until 2007 would I again buy video games on a regular basis.

I don't know what happened to my NES or the cartridges. I'm pretty sure they were still in the house somewhere when I left for college, but a couple years into college when I wanted them back they were gone, and my mother vague about what had happened to them. Hopefully everything was given to some younger kid who put it to good use. It's also possible I just took the NES apart--in high school I often took things apart to see what was inside, often destroying things I would have valued later.

From my mother's perspective, the NES and video games in general were something I'd grown out of. I'd lost interest only a year and a half after getting my own NES. My sister's obsession with The Nutcracker lasted about that long. And that's not a bad point of view. I was still interested in computer games, but my interest in specialized gaming computers wouldn't resurface until the Wii was released, fifteen years later.

After high school

I briefly rediscovered console games in college, in the form of emulated NES and SNES games, but I was busy with other entertainments--writing music, learning about Unix, and exploring the Internet. One of my freshman year roommates had an N64, and I played Bomberman with the guys a couple times, but I hardly ever played games, and when I did they were PC games like Nethack or Command and Conquer.

My sophomore year of college, my friend Andy Schile gave me an Atari 2600 and a bunch of games. I thought this was a cool gift, I played the games for a few days, and then I disconnected the 2600 and put it in storage at my mother's house. In 2005 I found it again and passed it on to another friend, Adam Kaplan.

Here's one theory about why I lost interest. After graduating from high school I went on a vacation to Washington D.C. and stayed with my uncle. My cousins also had an N64 and I played some Super Mario 64 and even a bit of Ocarina of Time, but it didn't stick with me. Why? Because these games had a first-person perspective, and I couldn't handle that. I grew up with two-dimensional side- or top-view games and I just wasn't dextrous enough to maneuver in 3D. As a PC gamer I was terrible at Wolfenstein and Doom, even though they didn't really require moving in three dimensions, just mastering a first-person perspective. In the 90s more and more games went to first-person, and I reacted by just not playing the games.

NES cartridge audit

This list was the original point of this essay: an attempt to classify my scattered memories of specific games. The essay part came out of my growing realization that there were a whole lot of auxillary memories and non-NES experiences that needed to be put into place.

I realized something while compiling this list: when I was a kid, I almost never had a bad experience playing an NES game. I played games now considered among the system's worst (Deadly Towers, Super Pitfall), games that today are fuel for snarky entertainment, but I generally had a good time playing them. I didn't know enough to hold the assumption, prevalent today, that a game should be beatable by a skilled player and that games existed to be beaten. I thought a game was a simulated world for playing in. When a game started to frustrate me, I just turned it off and played something else. My only bad experiences came from wasting a rental on a terrible game.

Games I owned

By and large these are the games that I had to own, because they were too complicated to rent and my friends didn't want to play them. You can build up a pretty good idea of the kind of kid I was from this list. For instance, I'm a science fiction guy now, but back then I really loved high fantasy.

[Comments] (1) : Writing's not going too well this weekend--all I have is a few fictional Twitter posts--so I'm going to post stuff that other people have written. First up, an email exchange about "Awesome Dinosaurs" that I was forwarded and given permission to post if I changed the names.

The story so far: Dave sends a link to "Awesome Dinosaurs" to his friends, and Bernard says he likes it, but Sid is confused:

Fuck! Would someone please give me the moral of the story? I read the final paragraph again and I can't quite put any specific type of person in the role of the dinosaurs or some movement or government or anything. Just fucking explain this stupid story.

I guess Sid mostly reads political cartoons. Bernard attempts to help him. (I've truncated his analysis and the quote from the story.)

Hmmm...well, I think if you're looking for a moral I'd look in the last section:
"We set her up," said Entippa, "when we came to Earth..."

But you don't have to read it as a parable or an allegory or in any way "making a statement." But I do think the fact that the dinos don't fit into the normal image of "dino" is significant. It ties into the idea that people USE history...to tell themselves stories that address and satisfy their own inner drives and desires...

And then Dave decides to just give Sid what he wants:

While Bernard's reading of the story was very closely aligned with my own, and the major themes that he addressed were very similar to those that I took away from it (but were laid-out and summarized much better than I probably could've done), I will cave-in to Sid's deep-seated love of Animal Farm and indulge his guilty-pleasure for unsubtle and overbearing direct allegory.

The dinosaurs represent (in actual personage as well as in the effects brought about by) the countryless, liberal intelligentsia displaced by the rise of major European Right- and Left-leaning autocracies that came to dominate the continent in the first half of the 20th century. Mars is the old-world--representing to the dinosaurs a people and culture they loved and, under ideal circumstances, would prefer to live in--that they were compelled to abandon because of coercive externalities.

Cass the T-Rex, is, of course, both the fearsome, existentially-devastating Atomic Bomb, and the foreign nationals who worked in its development; a body of people representing the full spectrum of dis/agreement with both the weaponization of this new technology, and with the ideological and political alignment of the United States itself.

Tark, the carnivorous protagonist, is Wernher von Braun; compelling and mercurial, hot-tempered and prone to fits of slightly-deluded and juvenile persecuted melancholia--also possessing a past history of actions that are regarded as culturally unacceptable, as well as a record of personal ethics that has to be accounted for before he could claim the limited amount of personal respectability that would make him superficially benign. Entippa, the even-tempered herbivore, is Albert Einstein (for obvious reasons), and in some cases acts as a stand-in for the entirety of the Jewish intelligentsia displaced by European fascism.

Misunderstood by their new audience (the human motocross fans/the American public) Tark/von Braun and Entippa/Einstein are forced to subdue their own personal research preferences (jumping the Grand Canyon/Space Exploration/Highbrow Quantum Physics) to parade themselves to Americans by participating in some vestigial/plausible exercise of same (motocross/ICBM development/castrated academia). They are disillusioned and sad because they are fully aware that they are being presented, not as artists or intellectuals, stunt-men or heroes, but as gleaming war trophies gathering dust on a shelf--being cheered by an audience superficially supportive, but entirely ignorant.

The violent end of the Destructoraptor represents the horrible events that were the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Tark/von Braun and Entippa/Einstein are each shaken by this in their own ways... electing to cope by constructing petulant and misdirected revenge-fantasy, and beleaguered resignation, respectively. This is made more poignant in the minds of these men because this horrible event and all of its terrifying implications are regarded as a blasé non-event by their new, erstwhile countrymen.

The exploitive television host is, naturally, the profit-minded and sociopathic American industrialist. He cares not for the individual humanity of the two dinosaurs, nor for the implications of their sentience or for their desires or personal genius. Ignoring the myriad uses to which these two unfathomably unique creatures could be applied, it is decided--reflexively and axiomatically--that the best thing to is to do what is most obvious and most apparent; a conclusion reached--tautologically, perhaps, but squarely in the most revered and dogmatic logic of capitalism--simply because the best thing is de facto the most obvious thing, and that when their preferences are allowed to sort-out and stabilize policy, (those people that we qualify as) individual agents (non-marginalized U.S. Citizens, in this case) acting in their own rational self-interest will trend towards bringing about a panglossian utopia. We will pit the varied cultures and traditions and ideologies of Europe against one-another because, in our disaffected cosmopolitanism, we suppose we're marginally interested in it enough to see it. Preferring to watch the Pole fight the Italian than to understand their maths or learn their dances. The expediency of using it to eliminate a perceived menace is just icing on the cake.

Now: Tark/von Braun killing and eating the television producer... that was 9/11 (I trust this is clear without further qualification), the two human children? They are Ralph Nader and tennis legend Boris Becker (think about it).

The ending (the spaceship ride back to Mars) is a one-to-one, direct analogy to that fateful day when the U.S. Government had "had enough" and forced von Braun and Einstein to board a ship to go back to Germany because they were involved in killing and eating a guy. The exchange between Tark and Entippa was lifted--word for word--from a transcript of a conversation between Einstein and von Braun that was recorded by a Life Magazine reporter during that trip.

The motorcycles are iPods.

[Comments] (1) Basilosaurus: I went to the Natural History Museum last week and was shocked to find that, despite the name, Basilosaurus was not a lizard. It was a cetacean! Curse you, misleading precedence rules for species names!

[Comments] (1) Moon Music: A few years ago I stopped being able to work while listening to music. The first sign of approaching old age, I guess. But a few days ago I discovered that it was pretty easy to work while listening to streaming audio of the Apollo 11 mission. If you read this soon after I post it, I recommend tuning in because they're going to land on the moon in a few hours.

I hope the mission audio is available somewhere as an eight-day-long MP3.

[Comments] (1) : While I polish off those fictional Twitter posts, my sister Susanna weighs in on the Nostalgiaudit:

Thanks for saving me from having to write a NYCB post today, Susanna!

[Comments] (2) : I'm reading Lest Darkness Fall, a fun de Camp novel that kicked off the "Competent Man goes back in time and makes history AWESOME" genre. Near the end of the book, the protagonist introduces modern American electioneering methods to the Gothic electors. Since the novel was written in 1939, his methods take a lot from early-20th-century big city machine politics; ie. he hosts a big blow-out barbecue for the electors.

"That's interesting," I said. "I bet if someone was writing this book today they wouldn't think to go back that far. They'd probably try something more modern, like having the protagonist set up a debate between the two candidates for king and playing it for laughs."

Sumana had read the book before and was now rereading it over my shoulder. "Read on!" she said. And I read on, to see the protagonist imply that his rival had fathered an illegitimate black child--just like George W. Bush did to John McCain in 2000! Wow.

: My obsessions collide with Thomas Thurman's Gopher implementation of robotfindskitten. There's also a cool "Awesome Dinosaurs" thing happening that I'll mention in a non-teaser way when it happens.

[Comments] (5) : We got a Wii Fit with our credit card points and I gotta say it was a good deal. I've always hated exercise and I still hate it, but Wii Fit taught me that exercise is just like grinding in an RPG. You do something boring and repetitive for long enough and a number will change a little bit. And so I'll do the thing I hate, obsessively, just to get that number to change. Currently my favorite activity is jogging in place, because I can watch Internet videos while I jog. I'm jogging over an hour a day now.

But the thing I wanted to tell you about was the Ben Sisko experiment. See, probably the worst thing about Wii Fit is the way the balance board is anthropomorphized as a super-passive-aggressive coach, the embodiment of the reason why I exercise in private, away from the judgemental glare of society. In fact there's an Internet video about this. Sumana and I both dislike the balance board with its chirpy voice and wanted to see if there was anything we could do that would make it angry or otherwise make it break character.

An experiment was carried out where we added one of our spare Miis to Wii Fit. We chose Ben Sisko (pictured) because he's the coolest. Then we weighed in as Ben on alternate days. I weigh about 100 pounds more than Sumana. So day-to-day, Ben's weight fluctuated by about 100 pounds. When Sumana went on a business trip I replaced her with a heavy box. How did the anthropomorphized balance board react?

Totally unflappable. "You've gained/lost 100 pounds since last time!" I was hoping for "Hey, you weigh the same as one of my other tormentees!" or at least "HOLY SHIT, DID YOU SAW OFF YOUR LEGS?" But no. It just congratulated us.

The best part is that Ben Sisko would be seriously underweight if he weighed the same as Sumana. So whenever Sumana weighed in, the ABB would invite him to set a goal where he gained some weight. Then the next day, when I weighed in, "That's incredible! You've... you've reached your goal ahead of schedule!" And so on with Sumana "losing" weight for Ben.

I could say that this trickery was the most fun part of the game, and it's certainly the most interesting, but honestly it was a pain to weigh in twice each day just to keep fooling the ABB. So I think the experiment is over now. Ben was also useful as a testbed for questions like "what is the worst Wii Fit age you can possibly get?" (75)


Maybe it's the clothes she wears
Or the way she combs her hair
That makes me want to tell her that I care

Yeah, it's probably one or the other.

[Comments] (3) Cooling Tea Quickly For Ice Tea: Pour it into the ice cream maker.

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