The Crummy.com Review of Things 2015: Another year has gone, but what's the big deal? Let's remember the magical moments, like 12:12:12 on 12/12, or June 30th's leap second. Good timestamps, good timestamps. Here are the most worthwhile investments of my hard-earned 2015:


I've been giving books short shrift by only mentioning a single Crummy.com Book of the Year, and in 2015 I started reading books on my commute (partly because I'm developing a tool that helps people read books on their commute), so I can afford to mention more than one. I have records of reading 25 books this year, and probably a couple more slipped through the cracks, but I've got a solid best-of slate.

The 2015 Crummy.com Book of the Year is Dragonfly: NASA And The Crisis Aboard Mir by Bryan Burrough. So much good stuff in that book. If you want to write fictional dingy spacecraft, you can't do better than looking at the dingy spacecraft we've actually built.


  1. Nightwood by Djuna Barnes (who needs her own NYCB post)
  2. Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones
  3. You Can't Win by Jack Black (not that Jack Black)
  4. The Space Opera Renaissance, ed. David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer (book needs its own NYCB post)
  5. Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, by Anya von Bremzen
  6. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers

Honorable mention to Mallworld by Somtow Sucharitkul, a book that I didn't love, but I was blown away by its inventiveness. In 1982, Sucharitkul crammed Mallworld with all the jokes that would later be used in Futurama.


Saw ninety-one features this year. As always, only films I saw for the first time are eligible for consideration, though that only eliminates three. Here are my must-see movies:

  1. The Americanization Of Emily (1964)
  2. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
  3. The Brink's Job (1978)
  4. Inside Out (2015)
  5. Sullivan's Travels (1941)
  6. Sunset Boulevard (1950)
  7. The Breaking Point (1950)
  8. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
  9. Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
  10. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
  11. The Parallax View (1974)
  12. Nightmare Alley (1947)

And this year's bumper crop of "recommended" films:

  1. The Best of Everything (1959)
  2. Clueless (1995)
  3. Wagon Master (1950)
  4. The Crimson Kimono (1959)
  5. The Godfather, Part II (1974)
  6. Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)
  7. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
  8. Inside Man (2006)
  9. The Grapes of Wrath (1939)
  10. Kundo: Age of the Rampant (2014)
  11. Ed Wood (1994)
  12. How To Marry A Millionaire (1953)
  13. Brainstorm (1983)
  14. Invention For Destruction (1958)

Honorable mentions to the burglary in Rififi (1955) and the hotel tour in The Shining (1980). I don't want to sit through the whole movie again but those scenes were awesome.


Looking at the list of my follows I feel like I need to broaden my bot horizons because I love all of Allison's bots (except that damn Unicode Ebooks, which still has three more followers than Smooth Unicode) and I love bots that post images from image collections, and that doesn't seem like a very diverse set. Anyway, here are my faves of 2015:


Didn't play a lot of new video games this year because of the persistent problem with my computer shutting off if I dare to start up a game. I did replace the computer near the end of the year, so there will probably be more games in 2016. In the meantime, the Crummy.com Game of the Year is the super-atmospheric This War of Mine; its only flaw, which it shares with nearly all games, is that it's not roguelike enough.

A couple runners-up and honorable mentions:

  1. 80 Days
  2. Mini Metro
  3. Alphabear

I played board games pretty regularly but the only new game I remember is the much-loved "Code Names", which I also think is great.

I'd wanted to do an escape room this year, but put the idea on hold when Sumana wasn't interested. Near the end of the year, though, Pat Rafferty (who now works at an escape room in Portland) invited me to join his room-escaping team, and I leapt stood up at the opportunity. As part of a crew of six, I helped to repair a drifting spacecraft. It was really immersive, finally allowing me to live the experience of crawling through a Jeffries tube.

My only complaint is the puzzles were free-to-play iOS game-level stuff. I understand why you have to do it that way, since none of us would be able to repair a spacecraft in real life, but it meant that a very immersive exploration experience was constantly interrupted by having to decode some Morse Code or solve cheesy riddles. Same reason I didn't like Myst. I did like the puzzles that made you combine objects.

Going Out

Sumana and I at Town Hall for PHCStereotypically this section would be called "Going Outside", but all the things I want to talk about happened indoors. In fact, two of them happened in the same building: the Town Hall Theater near Times Square. In fact, all of them, since I moved the escape room to the previous section,

Sumana and I both grew up listening to NPR, and we're both fans of the schticky comedy and down-home existentialism of A Prairie Home Companion (though less ardent fans than we were as teenagers). 2015 was the year I told Sumana (paraphrase) "You know, PHC does shows in New York, and as a project focused around a single individual who has been doing it since before we were born, it might not be around for much longer. We should see it live while we have the opportunity." Sumana was convinced by my airtight logic, and we caught the April 25th show. We had lousy seats but it was fun!

Town Hall selfie pre-PDQThen, near the end of the year, the PDQ Bach Golden Anniversary Concert Kickstarter was announced. As per previous paragraph, Sumana and I are also fans of Peter Schickele's ur-podcast Schickele Mix, so we went through a similar process, although I ended up going to the concert alone. This time I had a great seat! Beautiful music, lots of laughs, I'm really glad I went.


As you can see from the associated pictures, I lost a lot of weight in 2015. I still have a little more planned, but I'm very close to the impossible-seeming target weight I set in July. I found the Atkins diet to be very effective. I don't think I have a lot of self-control, but I am very, very stubborn, and Atkins lets you substitute stubbornness for self-control.

Because of this I didn't exactly spend a lot of time in 2015 exploring New York's burgeoned restaurant scene, and the Food section will be correspondingly short. However, I want to give a special shout-out to the King of Falafel halal food truck in Astoria. See, most places, if you order a meal without the carby thing, they'll simply omit the carby thing, yielding about 60% of a meal. However, if you order a plate at King of Falafel and ask for no rice, they will fill up the empty space with more meat and salad, and you still get a full meal. Thanks, King of Falafel. Saved my sanity.

Also this sugar-free flourless chocolate cake recipe is good for managing your chocolate cravings. Honorable mention: xylitol.

My Accomplishments

People say that being on Atkins normalizes your energy level, getting rid of the highs and crashes, and I've found this to be true but very inconvenient, since the highs are where I do all my creative work, and the crashes happen at night, a.k.a. "getting sleepy", or they happen at 2 PM, when I drink some tea, problem solved. Right now I feel like it's 1:30 PM all day. Anyway, if you don't count the amazing work I did going from Before to After, 2015 wasn't my most productive year, since I spent half the year in power-saving mode.

But I did finish Situation Normal, and handed it off to an agent, so the book is officially Not My Problem. I've started work on a new novel, Mine, my take on the classic Big Dumb Object In Space story.

I wrote four short stories: "We, the Unwilling" (a bonus story for Situation Normal); "The Katie Event" (the third in the Awesome Dinosaurs trilogy, which you haven't seen because the second in the trilogy needs a revision); "Worm Hunt" (exploratory work for a novel I probably won't write); and "Only G51 Kids Will Remember These Five Moments", which I think I can sell if I ever get around to sending it out.

I gave three talks of note:

I crafted a fabulous NaNoGenMo entry with a one-line shell script: Alphabetical Order.

Four bots came from my fingers in 2015:

I also breathed new life into Smooth Unicode by implementing beautiful emoji mosaics.


Finally I want to wish all of you readers the best in 2016, and to ask you to tell me what you liked in 2015. or what you're proud of accomplishing. I like other peoples' posts like this (Here's Allison's, here's Darius's), and I think taking a moment at the beginning of the new year to look back is satisfying in a way that can't be matched by the corporate "best of the year" lists that dominate the end of the old year.

Minecraft Archive Project: The 201512 Capture: On December 27th I started the third capture for the Minecraft Archive Project. Previous captures ran in February 2015 and March 2014. This time I collected about 420 gigabytes of material.

Screenshot of the Thermal Pointe map.

Here's the breakdown by what I believe the new files to be:
TypeNumber of filesCollective size
Maps33112320 GB
Maps (MCPE)15522 GB
Resource packs213730 GB
Resource packs (MCPE) 176172 MB
Mods6082 10 GB
Mods (MCPE)18391 GB
Screenshots33565157 GB
Skins31064132 MB
Server records25923361 MB
Blog posts6562129 MB

This time I think I was able to archive about 60-65% of the maps I saw, compared to 73% in the last capture. Even so, we ended up with 33k new maps in this capture versus 22k in the last one--and I didn't even get the adf.ly maps this time! (Nor will I--it's a huge pain and I'm sick of it.) 2012 was the single biggest year for custom Minecraft maps, and there was a downward trend visible in 2013 and 2014, but it looks like 2015 was really huge.

Screenshot from zero.min.org, a server that's been up since 2010

Couple new features in this capture: I started keeping track of blog posts and server records from Planet Minecraft. Server records are especially important because they usually feature screenshots, and in twenty years those screenshots will be the only record of what those servers looked like.

I've completely given up on the idea of archiving public servers--it's still theoretically possible but it's a full-time job for two developers, so I'd need to get a grant or some volunteer interest from the modding comunity. In fact, a few months ago the multiuser server I played Minecraft on went down, and I don't know whether my stuff is still around. That's life! Gonna archive the screenshots.

Screenshot for the Fairy Lights mod

The full dataset is now about 2.4 terabytes. I bought a new drive to store the archive and set it up with XFS, and it does seem to improve the performance when iterating over the file set.

As always I'm putting a copy of the data on a server at NYPL Labs, and I recently gave Jason Scott a drive that contained the first two captures, so he can do whatever Jason thing he wants with the data. I don't have any plans to make this archive public, or even to re-run the Minecraft Geologic Survey on the new data. My maximum supportable commitment is spending some time once a year to shepherd these scripts through saving a representative sample of this artform.

I'm going to leave everything else to the future when the archive becomes valuable to other people. I am doing exploratory work for adding a third site to the archive, but that's all I'll say about that for now.

[Comments] (3) The Minecraft (And Other Games) Archive Project: As suggested in the previous Minecraft Archive Project post, I have now completed a capture of the CurseForge family of sites. They host a lot of Minecraft stuff I hadn't downloaded before, including the popular Feed the Beast series of modpacks, lots of other modpacks, mods, and a ton of Bukkit plugins (not really sure what those are or how they differ from mods TBH).

CurseForge also has sites for Terraria and Kerbal Space Program, as well as many other games I haven't heard of or don't care about. I paid $30 for a premium membership and grabbed it all, downloading about 500 gigabytes of images and binaries. This doubles the size of the 201512 capture (though it probably introduces a lot of duplicates).

Here are the spoils, ordered by game:

Game What Capture Size (GB)
Firefall Add-ons <1
Kerbal Space Program Mods 23
Kerbal Space Program Shareables 1.8
Minecraft Bukkit plugins 19
Minecraft Customization <1
Minecraft Modpacks (Feed the Beast) 15
Minecraft Modpacks (Other) 87
Minecraft Mods 33
Minecraft Resource Packs 80
Minecraft Worlds 45
Rift Add-ons 7.5
Runes of Magic Add-ons 1.8
Skyrim Mods 6.4
Starcraft 2 Assets 4.7
Starcraft 2 Maps 46
Terraria Maps 4.8
The Elder Scrolls Online Add-ons <1
The Secret World Mods <1
Wildstar Add-ons 1.7
World of Tanks Mods 40
World of Tanks Skins 12
World of Warcraft Addons 48

Here's the really cool part: CurseForge projects frequently link to Git repositories. I cloned every one I could find. I ended up with 5000 Minecraft/Bukkit repositories totalling 47 gigs, 103 Kerbal Space Program repositories totalling 6 gigs, and a couple hundred megabytes here and there for the other games. That's over 50 gigs of game-mod source code, which I predict will be a lot more useful to the future than a bunch of JAR files.

These numbers are gloriously huge and there are two reasons. 1. this is the first capture I've done of CurseForge, and possibly the only full capture I will ever do. So I got stuff dating back several years. 2. CurseForge keeps a full history of your uploaded files, not just the most recent version (which is typically what you'd find on Planet Minecraft or the Minecraft forum). Some of the World of Warcraft add-ons have hundreds of releases! I guess because they have to be re-released for every client update. And it doesn't take many releases for a 100MB Minecraft mod pack to start becoming huge.

Anyway, as always it's good to be done with a project like this, so I can work on other stuff, like all the short stories I owe people.

January Film Roundup: How you doin'? I'm bringing the beginning of February into this post just so there's more than two things in this list. I was pretty busy all month and we spent a lot of evenings watching this month's Television Spotlight. Missed the whole Coen brothers retrospective at Film Forum, oh well.

And now, the Television Spotlight, focusing on a show that we started in January and finished in February:

[Comments] (1) The Lonely Dungeon: Dear diary, once again I have created the greatest bot ever. It's The Lonely Dungeon (Tumblr, Twitter), another in my tradition of "out-of-context selections from a very large corpus". In this case the corpus is all those RPG sourcebooks that came out in the late 20th century.

I found these books fascinating when I was a kid. They were full of secret information, obscure contigencies, bit characters with weird motivations, worldbuilding for made-up societies. Each paragraph was a little story about why this part of the game couldn't be handled by the normal rules.

Now the books have been replaced by newer editions, or just forgotten since nobody plays the games anymore. As forbidding as they seemed, all those crypts and forests and space stations were incomplete unless someone was going through them and uncovering their secrets.

One of my current interests is worlds that end not through some calamity, but because the inhabitants get bored and move out. Like Minecraft Signs, The Lonely Dungeon is a spotlight picking out features of abandoned worlds.

I've been working on this bot for over a year in spare moments. For the first time in Leonard bot history, The Lonely Dungeon's primary medium is Tumblr, so that I can give you the full OCRed text of the text box. It's better for accessibility, especially as those scans can be difficult to read. I had to learn a lot about PDFs and image processing, and I've scaled back this bot from my original plans, but those plans are still on the table in some form. More on this when it happens! In the meantime... keep adventuring.

#botUPDATE: Last week I fell ill and my cognitive capacity was limited to simple bot work. I created That's Life!, a bot which posts distinctive lines of code from Conway's Life implementations.

For reasons that will shortly become clear, I have cloned about 4000 Git repos that contain implementations of Conway's Life. (Well, I trust my reasons are already clear, but my overall strategy will shortly become clear.) That's a lot of code, but how to pick out the Life-specific code from generic loop processing, framework setup, etc?

Well, I have also cloned about 14,000 Git repos that contain Tic-Tac-Toe implementations. I used Pygments to tokenize all the code in both corpora. Any line of a Conway's Life implementation that contains a token not found in the Tic-Tac-Toe corpus is considered distinctive enough to go in the bot.

Alas, my condition deteriorated, until I was no longer able to write code at all. So I turned towards fulfilling my final vision for The Lonely Dungeon: augmenting the text clips with spot art. This meant a lot of miserable grunt work: scrolling through about 30,000 candidate images, marking the ones that looked cool or weird. But I was already miserable, so I was able to get it all done.

The Lonely Dungeon is now complete! We've got line drawings executed with varying levels of skill, glorious oil paintings, tons of maps with mysterious labels, and old RPG advertisements from magazines. And now I feel better and I can go back to work. Great timing!

The Ephemeral Software Collection: A lot of stuff has been happening around the Minecraft Archive Project, and NYCB is no longer the best place to put all this information, so I've created a separate website for it: The Minecraft Archive Project. It incorporates most of the stuff I've told you over the past year-and-a-half, about why I'm doing this, what's in the captures and who has copies of the data, but there's also plenty of new stuff, which I'll summarize.

The big thing is that I've started a whole other collection, the Ephemeral Software Collection, which is now bigger than the MAP. My goal with the ESC is to archive software that's likely to be overlooked, forgotten, or destroyed by a takedown notice. Also stuff that I just think would be interesting to have around. The ESC contains the non-Minecraft stuff I got from CurseForge in the December capture, but it also contains a ton of Git repos that I cloned from GitHub.

I asked around about games that had active level creation/modding communities, searched the GitHub API for the names of those games, and cloned all the repos that showed up in the search results. Then I started branching out, running searches for classic games like checkers and Snake, as well as more general terms like 'surreal' and 'gender' and 'senior project'. This is how I got the data for That's Life!. IMO the most significant part of the ESC capture is 750 gigabytes of games created for game jams.

I stopped when I ran out of old hard drives to fill up. You can see the full list of ESC collections; there are about 100 of them.

Before creating this web page, when I heard about another source of Minecraft maps or other ephemeral software, I had two choices: 1) do a lot of work to incorporate it into the MAP, 2) do nothing, feel guilty, eventually forget about it, and suffer a nagging feeling that I'd forgotten something important. Now when I find out this sort of thing, I stick it in the "What I Didn't Capture" section and then forget about it guilt-free. It's a nice system.

I guess the only other piece of news is, I did another MAP capture in early February to see if it was too much hassle to do a capture every month. Total haul: about 75 GB of images and binaries. It was a pretty big hassle, but that number implies that I save about twice as much stuff if I act within one month than if I wait a year, so I'm torn.

February Film Roundup: This month quite a few non-feature-films make it into Film Roundup. Could this be becoming... a blog?

In lieu of Television Roundup this month I'd like to put in a good word for a company I don't like very much: Amazon. Specifically, Amazon Instant Video. If you spend $8 a month on Netflix you can stream the output of their recommendation engine all day long, but if you want to watch something in particular, you're likely to be disappointed, because Netflix's selection is terrible. That's why they put so much work into the recommendation engine! From one who knows.

By contrast, Amazon Instant Video has an excellent selection of classic, arthouse, and just plain old films. I generally want to watch specific titles, and about 90% of the things I put on my wish list are available on Amazon for the price of a video rental. Remember that? Back when there were video rental stores, you could borrow some Criterion DVDs and the works of big-name arthouse directors, but could you get an obscure noir, a 1950s office comedy, or an undistinguished war movie that you only want to watch because there's a character with your name in the movie? The answer was no. Same with the public library (still a good place to borrow seasons of television though).

So we frequently purchase the time-limited right to stream a movie from Amazon. It ends up a bit more expensive than Netflix, and if we watched a movie every single night it would get pricey real fast, but it's a lot more satisfying for casual use.

We do sometimes have Netflix-style nights where we just want to watch something that's free on Amazon Prime, and unfortunately we recently encountered the worst documentary I've ever seen, a thirty-minute piece on Queen that's part of a series of terrible music documentaries. They're all rush jobs cobbled together from still photos cadged from Geocities fan pages, old television footage, and interviews from other peoples' unfinished documentaries.

There's no Queen music in the Queen documentary. The interview subjects tell rambling stories laced with vague, inaccurate recollections. It's like Drunk History, except nobody's drunk, just frequently wrong. I know people get things wrong in interviews, but it's the filmmaker's job to fact-check and find some way of conveying the correct information, and that didn't happen here. We peeked at a couple other docs in the series and although they're all awful, only the Queen documentary was hilariously awful.

March Film Roundup: Roundin' up the films, roundin' up the films... oh, hi. I didn't see you there. Because I'm looking at my computer monitor, typing this paragraph. Hey, you want to hear about some movies?

This month the Television Spotlight shines on Drunk History, a Youtube series that made the leap to basic cable and has been going strong for long enough that I'm comfortable spotlighting it here even though there's (hopefully) many more seasons to come. Sumana has written about the uses of history in Drunk History, Hamilton, and the comics of Kate Beaton, so I'll just say that all three use anachronism to deconstruct the accepted narratives of Serious History. Drunk History treats Serious History as an inhibition to be broken down with booze, and then tries to build the wall back up with 100% literal reenactments that treat the drunken ramblings of the narrator like they're Shelby Foote talking about Gettysburg. Great stuff.

I'm pretty sure Drunk History was also the inspiration for the hilarious, Mormon-friendly Kid Snippets Youtube series, which means that even as it's still on the air it's paying back in inspiration to the indie-web-film community that spawned it.

[Comments] (2) I'm Stuffed With Pastries And Drunk With Power: Sumana and I just returned from an anniversary trip to Paris, courtesy of Sumana's mom. We had a great time, and as time permits I'll be putting up mini-travelogues of the major sights we saw. I'll start things off with a catalog of our lesser adventures and discoveries.

As always, I travelled exclusively by private bus. We had to make some minor livery changes to make my usual ride street-legal in France.

We skipped the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, Paris's two biggest tourist traps. However we did take a boat cruise of the Seine the first day, so there is proof that I was near the Eiffel Tower at some point.

We were more enthusiastic about Montmartre, home of the perspective-tastic steps seen in Celine And Julie Go Boating.

I loved the Jardin du Luxembourg. For some reason people were always taking selfies next to this statue.

Also in the garden but a bit harder to find was this awesome metastatue!

The Luxembourg also features a functional Beaux-Arts latrine (not pictured).

The most touristy thing we did was a walk down the Champs Élysées, which was the Paris equivalent of walking through Times Square on Broadway, then crossing the street and walking back. It was cool at the start (Arc de Triomphe), and again later on once it turned into a park, but I'm gonna let this picture sum up the middle:

We ate a lot of great food! I won't be sharing pictures of the food because I don't take good pictures of food, but I'll say that raw milk cheese is fabulous, and pastries and bread were routinely as good as the best you can get in New York. High-quality carbs and cheese: the culinary highlights of my trip.

We went on a food tour with two other tourists and since three of us were from New York, when we went into the cheese shop the tour guide said "Look, you can get most of these at Murray's, so we're just gonna focus on the raw milk." Much appreciated.

We didn't eat at La Grenoille but I thought it was cute and it can stand in for a lot of Paris restaurants. I tried escargot, as well as the mysterious Futurist dessert known as the floating island, and my verdict for both is "meh".

We also didn't eat at this restaurant, because it was closed, and because the passive-aggressive note taped to the window ensures that no one will ever eat there again.

(My translation: "We will reopen upon completion of the work to stop the recurrent floods of fecal water from the WC installed in the basement. We are waiting on the leaseholder to act.")

But I'm sure you're asking: what do the French think of America in today's Je Suis Charlie world? Well, here's the answer, in sidewalk menu form.

Bad luck, rest of the country! According to France, New York City is coextant with the United States, and Toronto stands in for all of Canada. It could be worse; in the airport I saw a French guidebook for "New York + Brooklyn". I mean, I get it, we didn't really leave Paris, but I know there are different regions in France.

This tote bag we saw in a €1.20 store (i.e. a dollar store, but more expensive) managed to achieve greater overall accuracy by avoiding pesky details. Not sure where that subway map comes from though.

Okay, that's it for now, but tune in soon for scientific instruments, Duchamp's obviously fake readymades, and the Tetsuo Milk-approved netherworld of Versailles. Just to whet your appetite, here's the sort of thing you see in the Musée des Arts et Métiers, a really cool museum that wasn't mentioned by either of the guidebooks we used, but was mentioned by every French person we asked.

An early steno keyboard! Awesome. See you next time.

Paris Graffiti: There's a lot of boring graffiti in the world, but sometimes it's cute or interesting, and I think the Francophone cartooning tradition means there's more interesting stuff in Europe. Here are the greatest acts of vandalism I saw on our trip to Paris:

Man, that second one's like a Paul Klee graffito. The snail and the "Nos amores digitales" were on the same wall!

April Film Roundup: Man, this took forever to put together. I can't believe how many movies I saw in April, given that we spent a week in France, where everyone knows they don't have movies. Enjoy:

Well, see you next—ow! I banged my shin on Tomorrowland (2015), which for some reason is sitting right in the middle of this high-traffic dread threshold! Oh, right, the curse. Well, only one way to undo my hasty decision—express an opinion about the movie! It was a nice surprise to see Hugh Laurie as the scenery-chewing villain. Bye!

Paris Pictures: Musée des Arts et Métiers: Hey, how's it going? I've got a ton of important stuff to do, but that just means I can procrastinate by putting up pictures from our Paris trip. Today I'd like to introduce you to the Musée des Arts et Métiers, a museum not found in either of our guidebooks but recommended by every French person we talked to. You know how The Da Vinci Code starts in the Louvre? Well, Foucault's Pendulum isn't having any of that mainstream nonsense--it starts off in Arts et Métiers, a museum of Science and Invention with none of that postmodern self-reflection seen in museums whose exhibits were updated after, say, 1995.

That's probably why it's not in the guidebooks; it's kind of old-fashioned and disjointed. You'll walk through a bunch of exhibits that don't seem to have changed since the 1960s, and then suddenly jump forward in museum time to the electronics age (mid-1990s I'd say). You check out some cool old computers and awkard "interactive" exhibits, then you walk through a doorway or around a corner, and you're back in the 1960s with things behind glass in wooden cases.

Nonetheless, if you're reading this weblog, this is a must-see museum when you're in Paris, because the amount and type of incredible stuff they have is off the charts. Here's just a sample to whet your appetite:
I figured out who buys all that Statue of Liberty kitsch in New York —it's tourists visiting from Paris! Parisians love the Statue of Liberty. There's a 1/4 scale model on the banks of the Siene, there's this thing (I think a 1/16) in front of the museum, another one outside the Musée d'Orsay. Look, you gave it away, it's ours now... don't make this weird, France.
This is the sort of thing you come to the museum for: Léon Foucault's 1862 apparatus for measuring the speed of light with a rapidly rotating mirror. To see how it works you can either watch a very slow video or promise yourself you'll read the Wikipedia page later and then never get around to it.
Or how about this wicked bastard? This is a steampunk oscilloscope, made by Rudolph Koenig in the 19th century. On the left is a big stack of Hemholz resonators, each designed to pick up one specific frequency and dampen all other frequencies. Each resonator is attached to a little gaslight. You set all the gaslights blasting away, and when a resonator vibrates it makes the flame of the attached gaslight wobble.

Then you turn the crank on the right to rotate the mirror (everything had a rotating mirror back then), and the resonant frequencies of whatever sound you're playing show up visually as wavy lines across the mirror, versus the undisturbed lines of all the frequencies not present. There's almost no signage on this thing and I had to sit through a slow five-minute audioguide explanation to figure out what's going on here but it was worth it!

Perhaps the plastic arts are more your speed. Here's a show-offy piece by Colville from the 1855 Universal Exposition, which demonstrates all the colors the manufacturer is capable of slapping onto a piece of porcelain. It really reminded me of the DOS color palette the way there are adjacent dark and light versions of the same color.
Or maybe you're too pure, too abstract for such material concerns. Maybe you'd like to take this sample case door-to-door, selling geometric solids to the public? This was briefly a popular business model among the Willie Loman types of nineteenth-century France, who eventually gave up and used the shapes to study geometry. These two pieces are by Louis Dupin (1846) and Baradelle (1805).
You know that the French Revolution gave birth to the metric system and had its own calendar, but did you know they also used decimal time? Tragically, counterrevolutionary clocks, like this two-faced example, made it easy for slackers to continue using the old system, and decimal time was only the law of the land for about a year. Look at it! The decimal time face is the tiny one on the bottom! They're not even taking it seriously!
Sumana with a model of the Jacquard loom, distant ancestor to the mighty general-purpose computer. What we didn't expect was all the other looms that came beforehand! They were all here in one big room that people walked right through, not knowing how cool the things they were seeing are.
Here's an example: a model of an earlier loom controlled by holes punched in paper. Now that's computery! Looks just like 1980s dot-matrix printer paper. (We also saw a full-size loom that basically ran off a player piano roll.) The problem here is that it's one huge sheet of paper. If you want to add or remove an "instruction", sucks to be you. It's like programming in BASIC when you can't change the line numbers. Whereas the Jacquard loom is programmed by small cards that are tied together. It's a lot easier to go in and change something.
There was a whole exhibit hall about keyboards and other input devices, a section I like to call "Telegraphy and Typewriters". The museum is full of unusual keyboard layouts. You'll have to trust me on this because I'm showing you a stenography typewriter, and those still have weird keyboard layouts. The second picture shows the box the stenography keyboard came in, and another, more spidery stenography keyboard in the background.
Here's perhaps my favorie piece from the "Telegraphy" section of that exhibit hall. This brave inventor refused to succumb to Not Invented Here syndrome. In an era when everyone was inventing weird telegraphy keyboards, this person thought "We already have keyboards! The keyboard has been around and successful for hundreds of years! I'm not going to reinvent the wheel!"
I'm going to close with this shot of the classic Minitel terminal. The museum had a very Pavel Chekhov rah-rah attitude towards all things French, and I don't begrudge this attitude—technologically the French have a lot to be proud of. But sometimes it was kind of a stretch. Did you know that the European ground station for the Telstar satellite was in France? I don't really think that's sufficient grounds to display a model of the Telstar in a museum exhibit and do a whole thing about it. You made Minitel! Minitel was amazing! You should do a whole Hall of Minitel! Just a suggestion.

Mad May Beyond Film Roundup: It is with great pride that I announce Film Roundup Roundup, a page that collects my recommended films in one convenient table, without any of the bad movies or nuance-adding reviews that clutter these monthly blog posts. Of all the films I've written about on NYCB over the years, there are about 125 that I'm willing to go on record and say that you, random person on the Internet, should check out. I'll update the list... at least once a year, how about that? And now, the latest candidates for addition to that big list, though I set up the toolchain before I wrote these reviews, so none of 'em are on there:

[Comments] (2) Paris Pictures: Versailles: I'm back with another Paris trip photoessay! This time we venture to Château Versailles, a short train trip from Paris. Versailles is a small commuter city whose major attraction is the residence (and occasional prison) of kings; sort of if New Rochelle used to be the capital of the United States.

There are four parts to the Versailles experience and it all depends on how much you want to pay and how far you're willing to walk. We paid full price and walked all day, we saw it all, and I'm here to tell you that the best thing is right at the end. I would not have chosen to go to Versailles, but I'm glad Sumana suggested it as our day trip.

Let's start at the Château proper. This was... a big palace with a lot of history. You get in a big line, which goes through a metal detector and then shuffles as a single unit through one extravagant room after another. It's not what the original architects had in mind but it does instill the intended sense of being dutiful and oppressed.

I took lots of pictures of this stage, but afterwards I realized 5000 other people had taken the same photos that day, so I won't show most of them. I will show the big Hall of Mirrors, which was really intimidating back when mirrors were an advanced technology, but which now kind of feels like a tinpot dictator showing you his Hall of Integrated Circuits.

"Yeah, it's all on one chip, no big deal."

There was a big gallery of paintings of French military victories, from which I took this dyptich I call "Leonard's Two Moods":
In a sop to the non-bloodthirsty, the gallery of military prowess was balanced by a hall of statues honoring humanists and statesmen who "spread the glory of French civilization without drawing the sword." They were able to get some big names, like Descartes (left).
In the many Versailles gift shops we learned that Frédéric Lenormand wrote a series of mystery novels staring Voltaire, including Le diable s'habille en Voltaire (The Devil Wears Voltaire), which according to the back-cover copy is the book that finally delivers the long-promised Voltaire-Satan grudge match! I don't read French well enough to read a historical-fiction novel, but I'd love to see some translations of these.

There's a restaurant (a branch of Angelina, a famous Paris hot-chocolate joint) in the main Château. Their croque monsieur was the only bad food I ate between the time I got off the plane at De Gaulle and the time I got back on the plane a week later. Generally museum restaurants are not great, so not too surprising. However the hot chocolate was excellent! And it's hard to beat the ambience; it called to mind a Ken MacLeod quote about how "our children giggle and eat ice-cream in the palaces of past rulers."

Speaking of which, let's move on to part two of the Versailles Journey, the gardens! This is a park about twice the size of Central Park, all done in the perfect shaved-trees geometric format that seems kinda creepy to me but it's just the way the French do parks. We took some establishing shots for Sumana's mom just so she could see we made it.

This part of Versailles is free, so if you're a cheapskate and just want to have a day in the park, this is for you. It's also the part of Versailles with the most replay value. Lots of kids running around eating ice-cream. You can rent a bike or a boat.

Near the entrance you see this fountain full of statues of frogs, and statues of people being turned into frogs. There's an implied threat that the king might himself turn you into a frog. (He had the legal right to do this, though it was rarely exercised.)

A lot of the gardens operate on the hedge-maze principle. You leave the beaten path, wander around in the trees and eventually stumble into a fountain or statue grouping. Unfortunately, although you're free to wander through the mazes, the fountains and whatnot are all caged behind gates, so you can't get a good look at them! Kind of spoils the fun.

You can't really see it in that picture, but the latticework on that gate says "XIIII XIIII XIIII XIIII".

A lot of people call it a day after seeing the main chateau and a bit of the gardens, but we pressed on! We took in the Grand Trianon, the palace that Louis XIV had built to get away from it all. This was the exact reason he'd had Versailles built, but when you're the king, truly "getting away from it all" would require delegating important decisions to someone else, and Louis XIV was not the delegating type, so he brought "it all" with him wherever he went. If he'd lived longer he would have probably built another palace even further away.

Because of this history the Grand Trianon made for a disappointing sequel to the Château. It is a little more informal, though; you get to see Louis's man-cave, where he would bro down for some billiards.

While you're over here you can check out the Petit Trianon, originally built for Madame de Pompadour but later occupied by Marie Antoinette, of unhelpful-suggestion fame. This is still more informal, a little closer to something a modern person might be able to live in. And if you're undeterred by the fact that it's now well into the afternoon and you've been walking all day, you can step outside the Petit Trianon into the Queen's Hamlet. And this is where it gets freaky.

I had of course heard that Marie Antoinette had "dressed up as a milkmaid", but there were a lot of slanders going around about ol' Marie, so a) I wasn't sure this had really happened, and b) I'd assumed it had maybe happened once, at the sort of party you see nowadays where frat boys dress like they're homeless.

Well, I'm here to tell you that it didn't happen once. It happened all the friggin' time, and the Queen's Hamlet is where it happened.

The backyard of the Petit Trianon is pretty normal, with winding paths through a natural-looking constructed environment. Trees, bridges, a theater, a "temple of Love"; what the French would consider an English-style park. Then you enter the Hamlet, a working replica of a farming village.

You know in Constellation Games where Tetsuo Milk creates the Ip Shkoy Replica Village with its convenience store and printing press, then goes around pretending to be all the inhabitants? It's like that, but it happened for real, in the 1700s, and it wasn't even the first time someone had done this. It was a fad!

There's a barn-type building with chickens and other farm animals.

There's a little pond with its own fairy-tale lighthouse.

There's a mill that doesn't do anything.

There are many other single-use buildings--a dairy, a "boudoir" whose only purpose seems to be to let Marie have a conversation in private, etc.

Over the centuries the Hamlet has fallen into disrepair and been restored with modern techniques. Here's the main house, which we couldn't enter because it's undergoing renovation. That's right, we're restoring the replica farmhouse to recreate the effect of the original replica.

And it works! It's clearly fake, but the part of my brain that likes this sort of thing doesn't care. Even with tourists and kids running around, the Hamlet is a nice relaxing place to be. There's something deeply appealing about these tidy replicas of rural life. It reminds me of watching Peter Jackson's Hobbiton. Sumana called it the "Pinterest mom" look.

In general we found the French attitude towards Marie Antoinette confusing. The Versailles gift shop was full of kitsch indicating a demand for the pomp and decadence of pre-revolutionary France, and the doomed queen in particular. But most tourists, having gotten within a mile of her really nice Minecraft base, were not willing to walk out here, to what, in our opinion, is the highlight of the park.

So we asked a French friend about history's final judgement on Marie Antoinette, and he thought about it a long time and said, "Well... she wasn't French." 'Nuff said!

June Film Roundup: This month's movies are all over the place. I also wrote a huge essay about a movie I saw on July 1, so there might be a supplemental post as well.

Film roundup Special #2:

July Film Roundup: Rising global temperatures, political documentary series, and blockbusters in franchises I care about ensure that I spend a lot of time in air-conditioned theaters this summer. The result is a Film Roundup for the ages! Specifically, ages 13 and up. (Sorry—COPPA demands it!)

August Film Roundup: August was a month with a lot of writing and relatively little film-watching, but I've got a number of good selections for you.

September Film Roundup: Ah, September, the month of cinematic disappointment. Wake me up when September ends. What's that you say? Well, just gimme like five more minutes.

Reviews Of Old Science Fiction Anthologies: 1972: Just finished Donald A. Wollheim Presents The 1972 Annual World's Best SF, an old SF anthology with one of those funky 1970s Yves Tanguy-esque cover paintings, obtained, I believe, through Jed Hartman. While it's fresh in my mind I wanted to take note of my favorite stories from the book. If nothing else, it's sometimes useful for me to go back and remember stories that I really liked.

As you'd expect from a year's-best anthology all the stories in this book are pretty good by 1972 standards. I'd say the champion is probably "Real-Time World" by Christopher Priest, which is weird in a way I found really interesting. Has a PKD-like plot but written in a different style. Honorable mention to Joanna Russ's "Gleepsite", which is weird in almost the same way, and a lot shorter. R. A. Lafferty's "All Pieces of A River Shore" was my favorite story in the book all the way up to the last paragraph, which enraged me to the point that I've bumped it down to third place.

Runners-up: Paul Anderson's "A Little Knowledge" was slight but really fun to read. Larry Niven's "The Fourth Profession" (Hugo nominee!) combined the superb inventiveness characteristic of the very best SF with a very 1972 conception of the range of acceptable human behavior. The introduction to "The Fourth Profession" mentioned it was originally published in a Samuel Delany anthology series called Quark, which looks like it's got a lot of good stuff.

Now that I've started writing all this down, I'll conclude by mentioning that I recently read the September/October 2011 F&SF and my favorite story was "Aisle 1047", Jon Armstrong's goofy story of brand warfare.

[Comments] (2) October "Film" Roundup: October was a Krzysztof Kieslowski month at the museum, so we saw a lot of his stuff with a few other things mixed in. Kieslowski is Sumana's favorite director, whereas I had seen one of his films. Tons of new stuff, many new favorites, some duds... it's all in a Film Roundup's work!

November Film Roundup: A few movies seen in a miserable month. Really high success rate though! Plus, this is the first month since the beginning of Film Roundup where every feature I saw is a new release. Maybe that counts for something in this messed-up world. Naw, who am I kidding? Update: turns out that's not even true, I forgot about Avanti! when I was writing this. When I was writing this I knew there was probably a movie I'd forgotten and I'd have to write an update like this one, and now it's happened.

November Book Roundup : Please join me in writing a long-overdue Crummy feature, Book Roundup. Hmm, I'm being informed I have to write this myself. Please join other NYCB readers in reading a long over-due Crummy feature, Book Roundup. This is part of my up-ramping effort to post to NYCB more often and to control more of the information I put on the Internet.

It works like Film Roundup, but with less detail. At one point I pledged less detail on Film Roundup and it hasn't really worked, but here I'm serious. I'm just going to mention the books I read that I liked or that I need to remember I read. I'm reading most of these books on NYPL's SimplyE reader, and since libraries don't keep track of which books you read, this is a great way of remembering what I've read.

[Comments] (1) At work, in the morning, when it's quiet:

Holiday tree in the main lobby at NYPL SASB.

little of my collections have enabled in contemplation: I created a blackout story as a present for Allison and decided to retroactively make it my 2016 NaNoGenMo project. I call it "Amazon Prime". Enjoy!

December Film Roundup: Looks like December 2016 has escaped its holding pen! As you flee, please consult this Film Roundup for next steps and valuable offers from our partners.

As the year draws to a close (actually, afterwards; I'm writing this addendum on Monday) let's turn the Television Spotlight on the beloved classic, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood (1968-2001). I don't think I've said this explicitly on NYCB, but when I was growing up my family did not own a television. You might think this was snobbish behavior, but I don't think Mom and Dad went around bragging about this at parties, and looking back on 1980s TV I have to say it was a solid choice.

This means that I didn't see any Mister Rogers' Neighborhood until I was thirty-seven, but no harm done. MRN is really good for kids who have serious problems in their lives, who need an oasis of ritual and calm, and the problems in my life started right around the time I grew out of the MRN age group. Now that I'm an adult I see MRN as a good model for talking to children without condescending to them or ignoring their concerns. The thing that stood out to me is that when he shows you a potentially unfamiliar place like an art gallery or an airplane, he always takes the time to verify that there are bathrooms there. He goes into the airplane bathroom and shows you how everything works. So you don't pee your pants on the plane flight because you're afraid to use the toilet.

Of course, some of these techniques only work on television. Mister Rogers will frequently ask you a question that sounds rhetorical, and then proceed as though you had answered it. I believe is the source of the common "can you say X?" parody construct. The semi-rhetorical question is incredibly condescending when someone does it to you in person. But Mister Rogers never acts like he heard your answer. You both know it's television and he can't hear you. Instead, he'll answer the question himself. "Is this the right shape? No, certainly not." He waits for you to give your opinion and then he weighs in with his own. If you don't say anything, that also works.

In general, this show is not my thing and never would have been, but I really admire the dedication to the target audience, and the field trip segments are always cool.



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