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[Comments] (4) Constellation Games Author Commentary #23, "Trust Us, We're Expert Systems": I do believe it's time for a super dark relationship chapter. That's what I believed when I wrote this, anyway. Clearly I was eager to keep landing the body blows on Ariel after chapter 22.

It's always sadder when characters bring about their own destruction than when someone else screws them over. In the second draft this episode was a little less of a downer, because while Ariel was living in coffee shop exile he had a great idea for a mobile app he could write very quickly and sell to recoup some of his losses from the last chapter. So all the awful stuff between him and Dana and Jenny still happened, but at least we ended on a positive note. Who needs that, right? Just hang tough.

I cut out the "mobile app" subplot because it added a lot of story complexity for no real benefit. Ariel's already working on a software project, so why add another one? He puts out a press release for it next chapter, but I just turned it into a press release for the Sayable Spice: Earth Remix demo. Works fine.

I'll talk about the proposed app after the miscellaneous commentary, because this week's is a little light and next week's will probably be huge. (Spoiler: Tetsuo comes to Earth.)

Oh, and here's last week's Twitter archive.

Okay, about that mobile app. One thing that barely shows up in Constellation Games, but was very important in "Vanilla", is the contact audit. To sponsor an ET for an American visa (as Ariel did for Curic and Bai is now doing for Tetsuo), you need to register with the BEA as a contactee. You're supposed to do the same if you have any prolonged or repeated contact with ETs, although the Greenland Treaty is quickly making that unenforcable.

All registered contactees need to come in to their local field office twice a year for a sit-down interview about all the ETs they've encountered over the past six months. It's generally a formality; the point is to make contact with ETs a pain in the ass and, on the margin, discourage people from having anything to do with the Constellation.

Ariel's mobile app idea was a "contact manager", a way of taking the pain out of your contact audit. Whenever you meet an ET you just take a picture of them—something you were going to do anyway—and enter their name. Then your contact audit is effectively just a slideshow.

In the second draft, Ariel's key business insight was that although relatively few people really need this app, a lot of people want to be the sort of person who needs it, so they'd buy it aspirationally. Clever idea, but not really necessary for the story, so out it went.

That's all I got. Tune in next week for the TETSUOUS continuation, in which Ariel will say "Jesus Christ the great moral teacher!"

Image credits: Tim Patterson, Doug Kline.

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[Comments] (6) Constellation Games Author Commentary #24, "Homebrew": Tetsuo's back, and he brought exposition! This week we take a break from beating up Ariel, and just startle him a lot while he's high.

This week's Twitter feed is almost entirely devoted to Tetsuo's first day on Earth. Today also marks the start of the Great Microblog Bonus Content Migration. Prior to this point, Ariel's feed was where it was at. But Ariel's now too busy to tweet a lot, and he'll stay busy until the end of the book. Tetsuo's feed will be picking up the slack, chronicling his adventures on Earth and showing what the other characters are doing as the focus of the novel tightens around Ariel. If you're following Ariel but not Tetsuo, this is the week to get on the Tetsuo Train (patent pending).

(NB. I won't be setting a Twitter profile image for Tetsuo because the default image is a much better depiction of him than anything I could come up with.)

Speaking of Twitter feeds, here's last week's. And before we get started, some extratextual comments:

Now that the paperback is out, you can get it from your regular source for paperbacks: Barnes and Noble or Amazon, or order it from a bookstore through Ingram, or is there any chance a bookstore might proactively stock it based on the radioactively glowing Publishers Weekly review? I wouldn't depend on it, but that would be nice. Note that the paperback is the only thing you can get from your usual source—bonuses are only available from the C&G store, and the ebook edition won't be out until serialization wraps up at the end of July.

I'm not sure when people who are getting bonus stories and USB keys will be receiving them, so lemme just tell you this now. For our mutual peace of mind, I ask that you hold off reading those stories until you finish the novel. "Dana no Chousen" takes place after the novel; "Found Objects" casually blows two of the Part Three reveals; and "The Time Somn Died" is, in my opinion, actually incomprehensible unless you've read the whole book and know a lot more about Ashley and the Constellation than you do now.

You can read "Pey Shkoy Benefits Humans" anytime, even though it "takes place" after the novel. It's got basic spoilers like "Tetsuo still teaches at UT Austin", but guess what, I just spoiled you on that.

Finally, an obligatory reminder: although has been an instance where the week's chapter didn't show up in the web archive, the emails are consistently sent out every week, and if you didn't get a chapter it's almost certainly in your spam folder.

Now on to real commentary. I wrote the contact event as a positive catastrophe, a shocking world-changing event out of nowhere which is absolutely wonderful. These days a catastrophe leaves a maelstrom of frantic Internet communication in its wake, a stew of information and guesses and wishful thinking and propaganda that slowly settle into an agreed-upon set of facts and opinions and crackpot theories.

This process has been happening in the background throughout the novel. You've only seen glimpses of it (the bits that Ariel contributes), but it's very important, because that's how I've been controlling the flow of the worldbuilding: flooding the zone with misinformation and letting the truth precipitate out when I'm ready to use it dramatically.

There must be CDBOEGOACC games about Ragtime and the Slow People. But I can't tell you all this stuff at once. There'd be no space for a story. My Creative License-ish solution is there's lots of information about this stuff once you know where to look, but no human consensus about what information is accurate. It's a mess of half-assed opinions mixed up with misinformation and conspiracy theory, with no way of judging the truth of the matter. (Bai will complain about this next week.)

It was easy to control the flow of information early in the novel, when I had the world's governments working on my behalf. In "Found Objects" Jenny has a hard time getting some basic information, because that story takes place during chapter 5. But with the Greenland Treaty in effect, the half-life of secrets has declined dramatically, and the worldbuilding is starting to flood the story.

But I still have control over one thing. Ariel is the narrator. There are secrets he has to keep, details he considers unimportant, and one thing he just doesn't want to tell you. Eventually he'll figure out the central mystery of the book, and he won't tell you that either. (Don't worry, I won't leave you hanging.) With Tetsuo blabbing all the stuff the Constellation played down in the first half of the book, Ariel's scheming and obstinacy and fear of embarrassment are my secret weapons for maintaining a relatively even pacing.

That was the big-think piece, now for the misc:

The beefiest commentary yet? I'm not going back to check. Instead I'm looking forward, to next week, when Tetsuo will say, "What were you smoking? Perhaps it was crack!"

Image credits: Tim Patterson, Matt Lancashire, Mark, Doug Kline.

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[Comments] (7) Constellation Games Spoiler Conversation: I don't know how much traffic this will get, but now that the paperbacks are being sent out, I'm setting up this post for readers of my commentary posts who have read the whole book. Here you can comment on and ask questions about the chapters that haven't been serialized yet, or the novel as a whole. So have at it! I'll compile anything interesting that comes out of this and include it in the appropriate commentary posts.

I WILL FLY: My in-laws gave us a sheet-feed scanner, so I've been scanning a box of my old school stuff, saved for posterity (which is now) by my mother. I'll be putting the prize of the collection online tomorrow, but in honor of Mother's Day I wanted to share this thing I drew in 1985, which was too big to scan so I took a picture:

It's a drawing full of mysteries. Some of my drawings were labeled, either by myself ("Triciratops") or by Mom ("helicopter"), but I don't know what that thing hovering above the ocean is or what inside the ocean is saying "I WILL FLY". (Maybe another flying fish like the one on the left?) I do know what's with the diacritical marks. I think the spelling book we used (probably Basic Goals in Spelling--I remembered it used "snurks" to refer to words not spelled as pronounced) taught us to mark up words that way to indicate their pronunciation.

Happy Mother's Day!

[Comments] (3) A Time Machine And Other Poems: Among my recent childhood scans were a number of books, written in pencil and bound with staples and tape. One of the earliest is a six-page chapbook of poetry called A Time Machine and Other Poems.

For the first time ever, I now present A Time Machine as it was originally intended to be seen: on the Internet. I wrote these poems sometime between the ages of 6 and 8, and I'm much happier showing them to you than the poems I wrote when I was a teenager. I think you will see that certain themes have been constants in my writing my entire life.

A note on the text: The poems were originally formatted as free verse, but they're clearly not free verse, so I reformatted them. I've corrected the spelling throughout except in one case where it was ambiguous. Strangely, there is no poem called "A Time Machine".

A Time Machine and Other Poems

Written and illustrated by Leonard Richardson

A time poem
There's no such thing as a time machine.
Even so you may sometimes wonder
If you could hear ancient thunder
If you could see an ancient beam.
If you could swim in an ancient stream.
So build a pretend time machine if you please.
And go and feel an ancient breeze.

The dinosaurs have died
The dinosaurs have died you see.
Even in the great big sea.
So when you're swimming in the sea,
Beware of dinosaurs, you and me.

Tyrannosauruses are red
Tyrannosauruses are red
Allosauruses are blue.
When you're near them,
Run away to. [sic]

How did the dinosaurs die out?
How did the dinosaurs die out?
Was it a whale with its spout?
No one knows for sure I know
But in a time machine I will go.

Other books in this series

Oh man. That "whale with its spout" line gets me every time. And the first poem's ABBAACC rhyme scheme is pretty nice.

I'm sure I wrote the "Other books in this series", but the only one I still have is Better Homes and Gardens ("WITH QUESTIONERES AND CHECKLISTS!!!). It's nowhere near as good as A Time Machine—like most magazines, it's full of padding—but it does include the immortal line: "Now buy the stuff you don't have." Better Homes and Gardens has its own "Other books" list, which promises a fifth book, Computer Games—also lost to history.

[Comments] (3) Constellation Games Author Commentary #25, "The Infiltration Path": I accidentally wrote a lot of this commentary as chapter 24 commentary, because the ambivalence scene really wants to be part of 24. It may have originally been in 24, but I had to move it out because there was too much stuff in there already.

One bit in the final chapter is presented out of order, but there's it's still chronological from a certain standpoint. Here in chapter 25, I just wasn't a good enough writer to present the events of the novel in strict chronological order. I don't know why this sort of thing bothers me so much. (Actually, I do.)

I'm tired of getting interrupted every week to write the commentary, so last week I made them my main project. I've completed commentaries up to the end of chapter 33 (but haven't chosen the images, which takes a while on its own). After chapter 36, there will be some short commentaries on the bonus stories and "Pey Shkoy Benefits Humans", and possibly one more on the book as a whole.

If you've read the paperback, the spoiler thread from last week is still open for your questions and comments. Here's last week's Tetsuo-licious Twitter feeds, and now commentary:

Now for all you loyal commentary readers, it's time for the first ever Constellation Games deleted scene. Early in the second draft, this chapter ended with Ariel and Tetsuo on the commuter train to Ariel's parents' house in College Station. I'll present the train conversation and then explain why I cut it:

"Do people ever ask you what your real name is?" asked Tetsuo. "When you tell them your name?"

"No," I said, "but I'm not a space alien who took a Japanese name."

"It seems very rude," said Tetuo.

"What is your real name?"

"Why do you ask me the instant I tell you I don't like to be asked? Tetsuo Milk is my real name."

"What was your name before you learned a human name to change it to?"

Tetsuo made a reluctant sound and then said "Don't transliterate that in your blog."

"That's pronouncable," I said. "Why'd you change it?"

"We always adopt local names on contact missions," said Tetsuo. "We've got to prove we're the most adaptable species in the universe. We're pretty conceited, honestly."

"Hey," I said, "that's our schtick. Humans are the most adaptable species."

"According to who?"

"That's just how it works. Everybody's the best at something. Farang are the strongest, Barbarians are the fastest, Her is the creepiest. Humans are the most flexible."

"Are you designing a role-playing game?"

"Better me than somebody who doesn't know basic rules of game balance."

"Everybody thinks their species is the most adaptable," said Tetsuo. "It's like patriotism. You like the Longhorns, your parents like the Aggies, who's to say who's right?"

"Those are football teams," I said. "Patriotism is for countries."

"Well, you get what I'm saying."

It's a pretty funny conversation, which is why I present it now, but I cut it because it has serious problems and I make better use of its ideas later on:

Basically, a much better scene in chapter 28 killed off this scene. Let's let it rest... in peace.

Tune in next week for the family reunion, during which Tetsuo will say, "Your brother's not a turtle."

Image credits: Thomas Deusing, Dave Herholz, NASA, Maureen Didde, Flickr user Perro Viejo.

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[Comments] (1) ASINs that Spell Words: In the past year I've learned more about Amazon's ASIN product identifiers than... well, probably more than the median person wants to know, but not more than I want to know. One thing I've learned is that the ASIN for a print book is the same as its ISBN, but the ASIN for the Kindle edition of that same book is an Amazon-specific code. And where ISBNs are all numeric, non-ISBN ASINs tend to contain letters. Which means in theory you could have a Kindle book (or other Amazon product) whose product identifier was obscene.

Well, enough chitchat, let's look at some books whose ASINs end in five- or six-letter words! Courtesy of an Amazon site map and a word list:

[Comments] (1) 118 Fifth Avenue: Marcel Duchamp's readymade urinal Fountain plays a small but important part in Constellation Games. As I was writing the commentary for the chapter where it shows up, something started nagging at me. Something that had been bothering me for a while in a low-key sort of way.

It's well known to Duchamp fans that ol' Marcel bought the Fountain urinal from the J. L. Mott Iron Works at 118 Fifth Avenue in New York. That's the story, anyway; I don't really trust anything Duchamp says about his readymades, for reasons documented elsewhere in this weblog. Anyway, the thing that's been bothering me is: what's at 118 Fifth Avenue now, ninety-five years later? Can you still buy a urinal there?

Probably not. Over the past hundred years all the plumbing supply stores have been pushed off Fifth Avenue and onto the side streets. But maybe there's an ABC Carpets there that sells overpriced toilet lids or something. I decided to go check.

The stupid thing is, I pass 118 Fifth Avenue all the time. It's right near City Bakery and the Union Square farmers market. But I never bothered to figure out which building was 118, until Saturday, when I went out with my camera and verified that 118 Fifth Avenue is now a Gap Body.

To the right you can see the same building in 1911, when it was the iron works. (Presumably just the showroom; the NYT says the factory was moved to New Jersey in 1902.) The facade clearly hasn't changed since then. Here's a Google Street View link that tries to copy the angle of the 1911 drawing.

Gap Body is exactly the sort of disappointment I was expecting, so I'm not really disappointed. I am glad to know exactly when I'm passing that little bit of art history. And here's a free idea for all you up-and-coming artists: buy a readymade tank top from that Gap Body and present it as a sequel to Fountain.

PS: this 2010 post on Ephemeral New York talks about statues atop 118 Fifth. Those statues are actually across the street, atop 91 Fifth, currently a J. Crew. This confused me greatly while I was out there, so I want to put an explicit correction on the web.

Image credits: Alfred Steiglitz, J. L. Mott Iron Works, yours truly.

[Comments] (2) Constellation Games Author Commentary #26, "Everyone With Cartoon Violence": This week Ariel faces his greatest self-imposed challenge yet: getting along with his parents. Let's listen in, shall we?

Actually, before we shall, I have some good non-novel news. I've sold my story "Four Kinds of Cargo" to Strange Horizons! Look for it late this year. It's not a Constellation story, but I think fans of the book will like it.

Here's last week's extensive Twitter feeds. I retconned one of Tetsuo's posts because he mentioned his cocktail experiments, which don't happen until this week. And now, a bulleted list:

Before I go, a little bonus deleted snippet from the Ariel/Curic conversation, which might be of interest:

"The mature thing to do is to send for help before you end up like the Inostrantsi."

"The Inostrantsi are still around," I pointed out.

"The Inostrantsi reproduce by budding," said Curic. "They didn't have much genetic diversity to lose. They're also immortal, so the surviving individuals had good memories of pre-collapse society. Let's not push our luck, Ariel."

Okay! Good commentary, everybody. Tune in next week for Tetsuo's first college lecture, during the course of which he will say, "I'm sorry, I just assumed there was space travel."

Image credits: Azmeen Afandi, Brian Sterling, yours truly.

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[Comments] (1) Crazy the Scorpion: A cooperative card game: I've been having a great time with a card game Beth Lerman and I invented, a game which I'm calling "Crazy the Scorpion", for the same reason "Exquisite Corpse" is called what it is. If you want a less interesting title it can also be called "Newsworthy".

Crazy the Scorpion is based on the "fun variant" of Man Bites Dog invented in 2010 by Kevan Davis, Holly Gramazio, and myself, but it's even more fun, and replayable to boot. I've tested it with two and three players. It should work with four, but probably not more than four. It plays in 20-30 minutes. I'm releasing these rules, and the print-and-play cards (see below) into the public domain.

Update: In 2013 Kirk Israel and I made a browser version of Crazy the Scorpion.


To play Crazy the Scorpion, you need two decks of cards:

  1. A copy of Man Bites Dog.
  2. A stack of Trivial Pursuit cards.

Trivial Pursuit cards should be easy to find--in my experience, the Trivial Pursuit family is the single most common board game find at thrift stores and yard sales. You can also use Once Upon a Time cards or red Apples to Apples cards (not playtested).

Man Bites Dog is tougher to find, but I've made a print-and-play deck of 128 headline words. I constructed the words by looking at a news site, independently of Man Bites Dog, and the words are optimized for Crazy the Scorpion and not Man Bites Dog, and you can't play Man Bites Dog with my deck anyway because the cards have no point values.


The goal is to construct a 5x5 magic square of headlines, out of headline cards and Trivial Pursuit answers. The best way to explain the game is with a...

Sample of play

I start the game. I draw the Man Bites Dog card "SCAM", and a Trivial Pursuit card with these answers:

I lay down the cards like so, and designate the Trivial Pursuit card as the "Gopher" card.

The headline reads "Gopher Scam". Other legal layouts include "Scam The Montreal Canadiens" and "A Pen Scam". Anything that could conceivably be a headline in any universe. I could have laid out the headline horizontally or vertically.

Now it's your turn. You draw the Man Bites Dog card "DEVOTED" and a Trivial Pursuit card with these answers:

You lay down your cards like so, and designate your Trivial Pursuit card the "Abraham Lincoln" card:

Now there are two headlines: "Devoted Gopher Scam" and "Devoted Abraham Lincoln". Other legal placements would create headlines like "Gopher: Scam A Goalie", "Devoted Gopher" (created by placing "Devoted" above "Gopher"), and "Scam Prancer Devoted".

"Gopher A Goalie" is an illegal placement: it would put two Trivial Pursuit cards next to each other, which violates suggestion #1. "A Pen Devoted" is also illegal: it would rename "Gopher" to "A pen", violating suggestion #2.

Now it's my turn again. I draw the Man Bites Dog card "DRUGS" and a Trivial Pursuit card with the following answers:

I lay down my cards like so, and designate my Trivial Pursuit card the "A quantum" card:

Now there are six headlines:

  1. Devoted Gopher Scam
  2. Abraham Lincoln Drugs A Quantum
  3. Devoted Abraham Lincoln
  4. Gopher Drugs
  5. Scam A Quantum

Among other legal moves, I could have formed "Devoted Gopher Scam Drugs Dennis Rodman" instead.

Halfway through my third turn, we might have a nice 3x3 magic square that looks like this:

Or, in textual form:
Abraham LincolnDrugsA quantum
JudgeA netTourist

Forming these six headlines:

  1. Devoted Gopher Scam
  2. Abraham Lincoln Drugs A Quantum
  3. Judge A Net Tourist
  4. Devoted Abraham Lincoln
  5. Gopher Drugs A Net
  6. Scam A Quantum Tourist

(More likely, that early in the game we wouldn't have a magic square at all. But this makes for a better illustration.)

By the end of the game we'll have headlines like "The Ladybug Judge A Net Tourist, Charlemagne Blasts" and "Nicotine-Devoted Abraham Lincoln: Judge Buckminster Fuller's Movie."

Now I think you're ready for the...

Official Rules

The goal is to construct a 5x5 magic square of headlines. Or, for the adventurous, a 6x6 square. Players take turns drawing two cards (one from each deck) and placing them in a grid. The game ends when the magic square is complete. The game may end in the middle of one player's turn.

When playing a Trivial Pursuit card, the player names the card after one of its answers. The card is considered to have that name for the rest of the game.

Each played card must be orthogonally adjacent to at least one card already played.


The game is better if you follow these suggestions, but in specific cases you might get funnier headlines by breaking them.

  1. Man Bites Dog cards should not touch other Man Bites Dog cards, and Trivial Pursuit cards should not touch other Trivial Pursuit cards. You want to get a nice checkerboard pattern.
  2. Don't rearrange, rename, or remove cards once they're played.
  3. Headlines must make some kind of sense at every stage. This is more a requirement that you come up with a story about each headline, than an admission that there's some sequence of words that cannot conceivably be a headline.


The Man Bites Dog cards are full of words that clearly belong in headlines, but which (for the sake of generality) include no details. Trivial Pursuit answers are disconnected references to newsworthy topics. Combining them yields sentences that feel like real, specific headlines, but make no sense whatsoever.

Have fun!

[Comments] (3) Constellation Games Author Commentary #27: "Friend Codes": Hey there. Let's talk business!

Back when the serialization launched, people were really curious about our business model, but that curiosity didn't lead to thousands of subscriptions. The stuff I've been working on since--the commentaries, the in-character Twitter feeds--has proven great for engaging with fans but not so great at getting new people interested. This makes me worry that Constellation Games is on track to be the kind of book that has dedicated fans and gets good reviews (here's the latest: "presented so well that it is now quite hard to imagine first contact going any other way."), but never becomes the hit I was hoping for.

That's not too bad for a first novel, but I'd like to do better. There's one more inflection point approaching in the book's life, a point where some marketing could make a big difference. Sometime in early August, once the serialization has finished, the ebook will be released, and unlike the paperback, the ebook will be cheap. Setting the prices is Kate's job and not mine, but I imagine it'll be around $5, the current cost of the base package. My hope is that this will put Constellation Games into impulse-buy territory for when someone hears "hey, there's this novel about alien video games."

I'm bringing this up now because I want your help. We've got some things lined up like a radio guest appearance, some things that might or might not pan out like a bookstore appearance, a whole lot of things we tried to set up but didn't happen for whatever reason. I want your ideas of people I can contact who might be interested in talking with me, not about the book but about related interesting topics.

This is not "like us on Facebook" type crap. I hate that sort of promotion and I don't think it works. I want to set up the situation that makes me want to buy someone's book, where I hear/read them saying interesting things and then, hey, they have a book out. You've seen the sort of stuff I write on this weblog. If you know someone who might like to talk to me on their podcast, or host something I wrote, or a game I made up, or a dynamic dada assemblage, or whatever, let me know and I'll get in touch with them. I don't know if anything will come of it, but it's worth a shot. Let me know in comments or email me at leonardr@segfault.org.

You can suggest conventions or faraway bookstores, but I'm trying to get the word out without travelling a lot or spending a lot of money—likely a futile task, but the one I've chosen. (I also don't like going to conventions.) Also, my experience on both the sending and receiving ends indicates that the vast majority of emails of this kind are simply ignored, so let me know if I can/it'll help to mention your name when I email whoever you're suggesting.

Okay, business is over, time for ars gratia artis. Here's last week's Twitter feed, and here's the latest commentary:

Not much commentary this week, but we do have the second of three deleted scenes. This would be a "real life" scene if that distinction existed back in the third draft. As before, first the scene, then the explanation as to why I cut it. The scene opens with Ariel having biked back to Jenny's house from the train station:

September 20, evening

Waiting outside on the stairs outside Jenny's apartment. Working on Sayable Spice: Earth Remix. Back in Austin, Tetsuo back at Bruce's house. Downstairs, the clank of a bike lock. Jenny comes up the stairs and she's real sweaty and happy.

"Hey," I said. "How was your weekend?"

"How long you been here?" she said. "You should have called."

"Eh, forty-five minutes. I'm hacking. It's fine."

"Weekend was great!" said Jenny. She drew keys from her bicycle shorts and unlocked the apartment door. "I took my nephew into space."

"How far out did you go?"

"Well, first we stood in line for eight hours. But surprisingly even that was fun. Eddie and I played drawing games on his smart paper. Then we went up, we did a couple orbits, we buzzed the ISS, came within like ten feet of some other tourists from China, and back down."

I reclaimed Jenny's couch with my ass. "That's not very far," I said.

"Far enough, Ariel! It was the best experience of my life! It was like being in this beautiful glass womb and seeing the whole Earth reborn."

"Oh, wow, maybe I should try it."

"Dude, have a smoke before you go up. The merry-wan-ha. Don't give up on space travel because of nausea."

"It's not just nausea. It's this feeling of emptiness. Like..."

Jenny stood behind the sofa and clapped her hands onto my shoulders. "All right then. What shall we do for dinner?"

about this stuff

"Can we do pork-stuffed lobster with cheese sauce?"

"Sure, I think we got a couple lobsters in the crisper. Right under the filet mignon. What's your problem, Ariel? Your folks don't even keep kosher."

"I'm so much like them that I feel this need to differentiate myself from them. We all do it. You became an artist, Raph became a right-wing asshole..."

"Well, differentiate yourself by chopping some green beans. We'll do stir-fry."

The other two deleted scenes were added in the second draft, but this one was added in the third draft. I like this scene, but there's no reason for it to exist. It doesn't do any worldbuilding or character development that isn't done elsewhere. I originally wrote it to foreshadow developments in chapter 30, but as I suggested when discussing the lying scene, foreshadowing is overrated. It's just an easter egg for people who go back and reread. That's worth a sentence, not a whole scene.

Plus, this easter egg confuses more than it clarifies, and there already are easter eggs for chapter 30, e.g. in chapters 2 and 17. So I cut the scene, but I (tenatively) still consider it canon.

That's it for this week. Don't miss the exciting chapter 28, in which Ariel's descent into madness continues, to the extent that Ashley is forced to say, "I don't wish to mate with you!" [We really need to talk about these misleading previews. -Ed.]

Image credits: NASA, Chris Lott, Flickr user mecookie, NASA.

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[Comments] (2) Constellation Games Spoiler Conversation #2: Here it is, the sequel to the last spoiler conversation, which went pretty well but whose comments are now closed. If you want to talk or ask about the ever-shrinking portion of the book that's not covered in the commentary, do it here.

Beautiful Soup 4.1.0 and detwingle(): Due to the contigencies of fate I get asked a lot of questions about bad HTML. Recently I noticed a problem cropping up which I haven't seen discussed much: documents with mixed encodings. This is typically a document that claims to be UTF-8, and mostly is UTF-8, but which contains bytestrings that only make sense according to some other encoding, usually Windows-1252.

I'll stop beating around the bush: sometimes otherwise UTF-8 documents contain Microsoft smart quotes. This isn't terribly common, but when it happens there's been no easy way to convert that document to Unicode... until now. Beautiful Soup 4.1.0, released today, adds the method UnicodeDammit.detwingle(). This method converts a mixed UTF-8/Windows-1252 document to pure UTF-8, allowing you to run it through BeautifulSoup() or UnicodeDammit() and get Unicode.

I'll let the documentation give the details. In theory I can expand detwingle() to handle other pairs of encodings, but UTF-8/Windows-1252 is the only one currently supported. I'm imagining adding support for other popular encoding pairs, maybe EUC-JP + Shift JIS. But I'm not imagining writing that code, just incorporating patches from other people.

If you're ever in this situation, try it out and let me know how it works.

Beautiful Soup 4.1.0 also includes a bunch of medium-level bug fixes, and a major refactoring of the search code that will hopefully have no effect whatsoever on the way searches work.

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