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December Book Roundup: Just a few notes on the books I read in December 2016. Books marked with a * are ones I read for free through NYPL's SimplyE mobile app. (Big news on that coming up! Also, I guess I should write a simple explanatory post for people who don't want to read my RESTFest talks.)

The Crummy.com Review of Things 2016: Film:

Film: Maintaining Film Roundup Roundup (now updated with 150 high-quality films!) makes it pretty easy to come up with a top ten for 2016:

  1. Man With A Movie Camera (1929)
  2. Dekalog 10 (1989)
  3. Tampopo (1985)
  4. Inquiring Nuns (1968)
  5. Approaching the Elephant (2014)
  6. Chisholm '72: Unbought and Unbossed (2004)
  7. A Short Film about Killing (1988)
  8. Dekalog 1 (1989)
  9. Hail, Ceasar! (2016)
  10. The Defiant Ones (1958)

Look at that list, we got four documentaries on there.

My lower-tier "recommended" list gets longer every year; here's a quick stab at the top ten of my twenty-one recommended movies from 2016:

  1. Moana (2016)
  2. Ghostbusters (2016)
  3. Deadpool (2016)
  4. Caucus (2013)
  5. La La Land (2016)
  6. Avanti! (1972)
  7. McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
  8. Three Colors: Blue (1993)
  9. Synecdoche, New York (2006)
  10. It (1927)

I'm not really happy with calling that second tier "recommended" because it implies I'll scoff at your decision to see a solid film like Arrival or Kung Fu Hustle that I didn't put on my list. Hopefully no one does the data gathering necessary to deduce (incorrectly) that I'm scoffing at you.

After several years of Film Roundup I think I can now make what to me looks like a normal person's top ten film list, containing only movies from 2016. All of these were worth watching:

  1. Hail, Ceasar!
  2. Moana
  3. Ghostbusters
  4. La La Land
  5. Deadpool
  6. Arrival
  7. Star Trek: Beyond
  8. A Beautiful Planet
  9. Shin Godzilla
  10. Zootopia
  11. The Last Arcade

Kind of a boring list though! Where are the nuns, the fourth-wall-breaking gangsters, or the convicts handcuffed to each other? Answer: in movies from previous years.

Oh noooo:

Godzilla reacts with shock to an 'Oxygen Absorber' 'Oxygen Absorber' detail

The Crummy.com Review of Things 2016: Books: Nearly all the books I read in 2016 were in electronic format. I either read library books through SimplyE, or I dug through the piles of ZIP files I've accumulated through Simon Carless's video game StoryBundles. Greg Millner's Perfecting Sound Forever was the only paper book I read in 2016 that I recommend; in fact, it's the Crummy.com Book of the Year.

I've got seven more super-recs and I'll give little capsule reviews for them, since they predate the first occurrence of Book Roundup. I read a decent amount of fiction, but you'll notice there's not much fiction on this list. What happens in my head when I read fiction seems highly idiosyncratic, so I'm more comfortable recommending super-detailed nonfiction.

[Comments] (2) The Crummy.com Review of Things 2016: Games: If you've come for cutting-edge gaming news, I must disabuse you of the notion you've somehow acquired. I buy computer games when they're ported to Linux. Then apparently I only talk about them at the end of the year. Let's get started!

Two excellent tabletop games stick in my mind: the thrilling Pandemic Legacy, about which much has been said elsewhere; and the unassuming Stinker, which once you play it is revealed as an absolute marvel. Stinker cleverly fixes all the problems, large and small, with "spell-something" games and "one-person-judges-everyone-else" games and "come-up-with-something-funny" games. It's not as surefire a hit as Snake Oil, but I love it and it's usually a hit when I introduce it to new players. Stinker is the Crummy.com Board Game of the Year.

Three years ago I closed the book on non-tactical RPGs and declared Mother 3 the all-time winner. Well, now I gotta re-open that book because Undertale improves on the formula. It's clearly based on the Mother series, but it has a solid new combat mechanic, a lot of memorable characters, and a type of humor I like better than the humor in the Mother series (which I do like, quite a bit). I really disliked the climax of Undertale, but a lot of Mother 3 was rambling and unfocused, so it kind of cancels out. Undertale overcomes my prejudices to become Crummy.com Computer Game of the Year.

Runner-up is Duskers, the space exploration game which combines survival horror with system administration. Your typing speed can make the difference! Super creepy, but feels a bit unfinished.

Other computer games I enjoyed a lot in 2016: Mini Metro, Stardew Valley, RimWorld, Beglitched, Brogue, Caves of Qud, Sunless Sea, and XCom: Enemy Unknown.

The Crummy.com Review of Things 2016: Accomplishments:

Library Work: In 2016 SimplyE went from a two-developer team with me as backend guy, to a seven-developer team with me as architect. We launched the SimplyE reader for NYPL patrons and started work on rolling it out to other libraries across the country. We also launched the Open Ebooks project, which led to our brush with power.

SimplyE team photoI'm not comfortable bragging about the SimplyE product because it needs a lot of improvements, and I feel like saying how nice it is will lead to people thinking (or at least asserting) that I'm okay with the status quo. But if you compare it to the status quo ante, it's really damn good. We took checking out an ebook from a 17-step process to a 3-step process. And I'm totally happy bragging about the team, which is incredible. For the first time I ran a bunch of job searches and decided who to hire, and I think the past year's work has proven I made good choices.

At the end of the year, NYPL recognized our team with a Library Leadership Award! To the right is our official team photo (two of the developers are not pictured). I think this is an incredible achievement for a team that basically didn't exist a year ago.

Writing: Late 2015 I pitched a number of novels to my agent and we decided on Mine, a Rendezvous with Rama type political thriller. Lately, though, I'm haunted by the pitch I wrote for Nice Things, a novel about the fascist takeover of the Federation. Sometimes when I sit down to write Mine I feel like I should be writing Nice Things instead, but most of the time I'm glad I'm working on absolutely anything else.

Progress on Mine is slow but steady. But slow. My increased responsibilities at the library haven't been good for writing time.

Short stories I wrote in 2016 include "Quest For Boredom" (which I... supposedly sold??? but haven't heard back), "The Girls Boys Don't Notice" (possibly the best title I will ever come up with), "Fool, Professor, Peasant, King", and the unsellable "Unicode Changelog", which I might self-publish.

Situation Normal is still on the Desks of Editors.

Bots: I've drastically scaled down my use of Twitter because I don't like what it does to my brain. As a corollary, I don't really like that my whimsical software encourages people to spend more time on Twitter. So I've stopped putting bots on Twitter. Also, Twitter randomly suspends my bots without telling me. After the completely innocuous Vintage Groaners was suspended, I decided it wasn't worth the hassle.

I've thought about taking down my bots in a fiery cataclysm, rather than letting Twitter pick them off one by one, but a lot of people get happiness from Minecraft Signs, Hapax Hegemon, and (finally!) Smooth Unicode, so I'll commit to keeping the big ones working at least. I have a solution in mind for my computational creativity going forward, but I'm pretty damn busy so it's going to be a while. I've been doing this stuff since 1998 and it's still something I like, so consider this not a goodbot, but rather au botvoir.

Here's the 2016 robot roll call:

[Comments] (1) Jokes For Minecrafters: The last time I went to California, my nephew told me lots of punny jokes about animals ("Why are cats so vain? Because they're purr-fect.") He'd gotten these jokes from a Pokémon joke book, in which the jokes were about Pokémon ("Why are Meowth so vain? Because they're purr-fect."), and kindly translated the Pokémon into real animals for my benefit. Which worked out well because the jokes had clearly been about real animals to begin with.

This reminded me that I'd been meaning to report back about two other joke books about a common childhood obsession: Jokes for Minecrafters and Hilarious Jokes for Minecrafters. I'm really interested in the shady but seemingly profitable world of unlicensed Minecraft books. I've seen Minecraft self-insert fanfic being sold as an 80-page chapter book at Target! I applaud Mojang's lax stance on fan works but that seems a little excessive.

I recall from my own childhood that this sort of obsession-feeding book is usually a big disappointment once obtained. Themed joke books are the worst because they're often a big cash-in on preexisting folk jokes. Plus you have to find someone who's as big a nerd as you, and wants to listen to you tell the jokes instead of reading the book themselves.

I was prepared for disappointment, but I had to find out what Minecraft kids' jokes were like, so I ventured one more time into a world I'd abandoned long ago. Fortunately, this time I didn't have to pay the Troll Book Club to send me two slim paperbacks. I just put the ebooks on hold at NYPL.

And... the best joke in the series is probably the very first one in Hilarious Jokes for Minecrafters:

Q: What happens when a creeper walks into a bar?
A: Everyone dies.

It's all downhill from there. Here are the two runners-up:

Q: Why do players shop at Endermen yard sales?
A: To get their stuff back.
Q: Do zombies eat popcorn with their fingers?
A: No, they eat their fingers separately.

I'm not here to make fun of bad jokes, because comedy is hard, but most of the book is more like this:

Q: What did the pig say to the creeper?
A: Nothing. The creeper blew up the pig.

Many entries have the form of jokes, but are actually Minecraft trivia. Here's one I didn't know:

Q: How do zombies and skeletons keep from burning during the day?
A: They stand on soul sand.

This one hasn't aged well:

Alex: "What do you call a polar bear in Minecraft?"
Steve: "I don't know. What?"
Alex: "Lost, because there are no polar bears in Minecraft!"

I need some help on this one:

Q: What happened when it became so cold in the icy biome?
A: The snow golems were holding up pictures of thumbs!

There are also many jokes that require knowledge of the Orespawn mod, which I'd never heard of. One book had a separate chapter dealing with "mods", but a lot of Orespawn jokes were not in that chapter. This seemed unfair to kids who are just trying to understand jokes and maybe laugh a couple times.

This one makes me irrationally angry:

First player: "I heard the End has its own soundtrack."
Second player: "What does it sound like?"
First player: "You can only hear it in the End."

This one has an artifact that makes me think most of the book was copy-and-pasted from an IM conversation:

You might be a Minecraft addict if you forget to give your mom a present for her birthday and instead get her a Minecraft account XD.

Anyway, I'm here to tell you that the terrible Amazon reviews of these books are more or less accurate. In the spirit of reconciliation, I thought I'd close by trying my hand at corny Minecraft jokes:

Q: How does Steve detect if someone is raiding his marijuana stash?
A: He uses a BUD switch.

That one's on the house!

: Brace for impact.

January Film Roundup:

January Book Roundup:

: "Do they have a designated survivor? Like, one celebrity who doesn't attend the Oscars?"

"That's what we have other countries for."

February Film Roundup:

I'm gonna shoehorn Book Roundup into this post because although I started three books on my commute, I lost interest in two of them a fair way in, and the only book I finished in February was Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad. A great horrifying read with a sinister George Saunders-type feel in places.

I thought I'd also finish The Fortress of Solitude, but that book's a lot longer than I thought! I'm not even halfway through. Stay tuned!

FRED: This won't wait for Film Roundup because it's only showing until the end of the month. Last week Sumana and I went to see FRED at Dixon Place in Manhattan and had a good time. It's a short, funny play with a Starship Titanic feel. Check it out!

Reviews of Semi-Old Science Fiction Magazines: F&SF January/February 2012: Hey there. After keeping this magazine in the house for five years, I finally read it. You see, I only like things that are vintage. Sometimes you gotta age it yourself.

Standout stories for me were Naomi Kritzer's adorable "Scrap Dragon" and Alexander Jablokov's gross-out "The Comfort of Strangers". I guess I'm exposing the fact that I haven't read the Rich Horton anthology that reprinted "Four Kinds of Cargo" (The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2013 Edition), since that also reprinted "Scrap Dragon". I repeat: adorable.

I also liked Ken Liu's "Maxwell's Demon" for the clever way it combined several very different ideas. I love this issue's Mark Evans cover art, for John G. McDaid's "Umbrella Men", but I prefer the story I made up after looking at the cover art for five years. (However it is the first time the story I made up based on the cover art bears any resemblance to the real story.)

In the course of an essay on vampire fiction, Elizabeth Hand mentions the ur-text, John Polidori's The Vampyre, as well as the 1845-1847 serial "Varney the Vampire" which ran to 670,000 words (Project Gutenberg has a measley 327,927 of those words). I don't care about vampire stories but I'm always interested in the first or biggest example of something. This column also made me aware of Theodore Rozak's Flicker, in a would-actually-want-to-read-it way.

Man, "Varney the Vampire" makes me think of vampire Jim Varney. How come they never did an Ernest movie about that? Seems like a natural fit. Bye for now!

March Film Roundup:

This month the Television Spotlight shines on Jane the Virgin (2014-), a fun, silly melodrama we picked up based on a recommendation from Julia. Way to go, Julia! A while back in Film Roundup I said that Jacques Tati's Playtime is like Brazil but with all the nastiness taken out. Well, Jane the Virgin is like Arrested Development with... most of the nastiness taken out. In fact one could do a comedic Tumblr on the topic, a la Breaking Development, but I don't know how big the overlap fandom is. Should be bigger, is what I'm saying.

I was initially disappointed that Jane the Virgin doesn't have the fantastic element I assumed it would have, but it's addressed within the show with other people incorrectly making the same assumption, so that's fine.

Whew! Let's do the books while we're at it:

: Why "send an email" when you can "use the RFC 2822 method"?

Penguicon!: I'm in Detroit to attend Penguicon as the plus-one of Sumana, who's a guest of honor. This is my first trip to Michigan and I've already met some cool folks. I'm giving two talks (?) this weekend: an overview of bots and an update of my groundbreaking exposé How Game Titles Work. (previous version from 2009)

April Film Roundup: As they say, April showers bring Film Roundup. Many, many people say this, I'm told. Hundreds, possibly millions, chanting in unison. Can they all be bots? I say no.

That's it for now, but we're almost caught up on Jane the Virgin, so maybe next month the Television Spotlight will have a new focus.

[No comments] Tonight's Episode: An Oral History of Murder: It's been seven years since the last episode of the crummy.com podcast, so you might be forgiven for forgetting that it even existed. In fact, forgetting about a podcast is not a sin in any human religious tradition, so no forgiveness necessary. Just enjoy tonight's episode, "Tonight's Episode: An Oral History of Murder".

This is an hour-long conversation between myself and Sumana about Tonight's Episode, a crummy.com feature even older than our ancient podcast, and the first creative collaboration between the two of us. Listen, and explore the origins of Internet comedy so small in bytesize that a joke might be compared to a short sound a bird might make.

A couple things I forgot to mention in the podcast: first, Tales from the Crypt and the Cryptkeeper's stupid puns as a predecessor to Tonight's Episode. Second, Murderous Magnetism, the Jason Robbins magnetic poetry kit for making Tonight's Episodes.

[No comments] Minecraft Archive Project - 2011/11 Sample: For a while I've been working with Jason Scott on the best way to make the data from Minecraft Archive Project available. The basic problem is that if you zip it up, it's many terabytes of data, and if you don't, it's millions of individual files. Although the Internet Archive is technically capable of handling either one of those options, neither is great for sharing data with the public.

The Minecraft Geologic Survey gives you an overview of everything posted before July 2014, but generating it was incredibly processor-intensive, so it's not really something I can update. So we decided to try out time slices instead.

Here's a 22-gigabyte archive containing everything Minecraft-related I could get that was posted in November 2011. If you think you might be interested in doing something with the full archive, please download this tiny slice and see if you can figure out how it works. If you have problems, complain to me. (Not to Jason, he just puts the files on the Archive.)

I picked November 2011 because it comes in the month of the 1.0 release, at a really interesting time for the medium. By 2017 standards the maps in this set are very primitive, but it was right around here Minecraft went from indie darling to decade-defining megahit. At the same time, fans had started to chafe at the limitations of the medium-- was the month I wrote my "Programmable Minecraft" essays, where I basically asked for command blocks.

Command blocks would be introduced in August 2012, and IMO they mark the distinction between the "silent film" era of Minecraft and the "talkie" era. I think the next most important month-slice of data would be August 2012, which would let us see what people did immediately after they got command blocks. But the point of this exercise is not to release one month at a time; it's to release a single month and make sure the package is usable before we package everything else the same way.

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