Book Report: Making Comics

To me, this was a fun but useless book.

This book is by Scott McCloud, the same guy who wrote Understanding Comics. I found UC useful even though I didn't find myself confused by comics--it talked about art and ways of directing the viewers' attention. I found it useful for guiding thoughts about diagrams and page layout--coming at the topic from a strange angle.

Making Comics doesn't talk so much about the layouts. It talks a lot about character--picking personalities for fictional characters, drawing them to illustrate personality. This is amusing reading as far as it goes, but doesn't help me with my life. I don't write fiction, so I'm not trying to make up interesting characters. The diagrams I draw don't feature humans--I don't think I'd gain anything by anthropomorphizing a computer revision control system--so the advice on life drawing does NOT help me.

Well, maybe I'm overstating the situation. I guess I did some character design on Saturday, when I went to a pumpkin-carving party.

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Site Update: Puzzle Hunt Write-Up

Thank you for your patience. After months of procrastinating, I finally got it ready: a write-up of the Google intern scavenger hunt.


Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Even the Void

Today at work, my main machine's monitors kept blanking out. I don't know what the problem is: bad video driver, bad video card, bad aetheric harmonic vibrations in the astral plane. At the risk of revealing my lack of hard-corosity, programmer-wise, I must admit that I did not say, "Wow, great, an opportunity to debug a video problem perhaps in some driver for which I don't have the source code!" Instead, I sat and stared at the blank monitors, thought about a great fire consuming all of the world's electronics, and reminded myself that smashing the monitors would not fix the video card.

I contemplated the void, sought calm. I thought about the comments I'd received. I'd sent around a first draft of a write-up of the Hogwarts Game. A couple of fast readers had sent back corrections and suggestions already.

Justin Ghan let me know that in Australia, they don't have Mathcamp. Being children of empire, they call their mathcamp "MathScamp" with an "s" in the middle. This was such a wrong-headed thing to call a mathcamp that I at first mis-read it as "math-scamp" and pictured a mischievous youth running away with with a stolen abelian group or something. (Or, as the Australians would spell it, "abelian grouup".) I wondered why scamps scamper, but campers camp.

My monitors were still blank.

I'd written about a member of team XX-Rated who had bellowingly mustered 16 wizards from the midst of a chaotic lunch and got them sufficiently synchronized to all cast a spell at the same time. I'd assumed she'd picked up this combination of leadership and lung-power as a cheerleader, but Curtis said that she'd told him that she had also been in the Israeli army. At the time, I'd thought, Note to self: Do not cross team XX-Rated. Staring at the blank screen, I thought, surely double-crossing team XX-Rated would be appropriate.

My monitors were still blank, but I was calm again. You can have your controlled breathing. I'll stick to wordplay.

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Book Report: Cometbus #50

Yesterday, it was too hot. In the evening, the neighborhood finally cooled off--a breeze blew through. My apartment was still too hot. So I applied my Game equipment to writing about the game--I went outside to write. I had on my headlamp so I could see; I had my written notes on my clipboard so that they wouldn't blow away; I typed away on the laptop. I looked like a dork, but it was the longest stint of writing I got in this weekend that wasn't disrupted by heat prostration.

That was pretty hard-core. Which brings me to the latest issue of Cometbus.

The latest issue of Cometbus and it is, unsurprisingly, awesome. Which parts were awesome? There's an interview with Ian MacKaye which doesn't wallow in the same old talk about the True Meaning of Straight Edge, but instead delivers an anecdote around an old Ramones show in D.C.

Then there's an article about great (and not-so-great) used bookstores in NYC. I could have used this back when I visited New York in January. I wasted some time trying to find the Gotham Book Mart in the diamond district. But Cometbus would have steered me right: that store moved.

...For fifty years GOTHAM BOOK MART was a delightful albatross right in the heart of the diamond district. Then, in 2004, they found more spacious digs a block away (16 East 46th) but lost all their charm in the move. The store got a high-class makeover and came out looking like a cross between a museum and a funeral parlor. Two years later, the place still reeks of privelege and McSweeney's. Only on the second floor does the stench thin out a bit. There, past shelves of precious, mylar-wrapped first editions I discovered one relic, one remnant of old Gotham...

OK, so when I was looking for the Gotham Book Mart nestled amongst a bunch of diamond shops, it had long since moved. Have you ever stood on a street full of diamond stores, just stood there looking at a building and scratching your head? You will draw attention. You look like a jewel thief; you look like you're casing the joint.

Hopefully, the next issue will come out soon. Hopefully, the next issue will come out in time to save me from looking for bookstores in the wrong places.

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Book Report: Samurai Detective #1

Style versus substance, style versus substance. Last night, I didn't sleep well. Last night, I saw a vacation slide show. It was by Nat C., who had been in a shipwreck. She'd been helping to sail a sailboat from Hawai'i to San Francisco. A sperm whale rammed the sailboat. The crew had to flee the sailboat, pile into a little life raft. They were rescued, but it was a near thing. Nat didn't panic during the shipwreck and she didn't panic as she gave her slideshow. Her delivery was calm, even. She didn't point out the scary stuff. Look, here's a photo, taken from the liferaft, a photo of the sailboat mostly under water. She didn't point out: there's nothing else in the photo: no land in the background, no other ships, no planes, just water water water water out to the horizon. But you couldn't help but notice. That image affected me strongly. I didn't want to go to sleep--what if I saw that image in my dreams?

"Samurai Detective", on the other hand, is all about style. This comic book is a sort of samurai noir in which our hero walks mean streets and slices up bad guys with a katana and wakizashi. It looks like a black-and-white movie. In the comic store, I flipped through the first couple of pages, chuckling to see a samurai story narrated in hard-boiled style. Upon getting home, I noticed that the joke got old after three pages. A pretty comic... but I don't think I'll keep picking it up. The substance, it's not quite there. Then again, if I'd skipped last night's slide show and instead re-read "Samurai Detective", maybe I wouldn't have been such a sleepyhead today.

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Names of Nonexistent Puzzle Hunt Teams

I used to think of band names. I couldn't help it. That doesn't happen to me anymore. Now, something else happens. Sometimes on the bus I stop reading, close my eyes, and just think up names for puzzle hunt teams.
  • Four Angry Pencils
  • The Goody-goody Leroy Browns
  • Probably Semaphore
  • Crypto-Fashionistas
  • Pentropy
  • Oversight Committee
  • The Dot-Dashing Fists of Righteousness
  • Brains Aren't Everything
  • Quadrivial Pursuit
  • Don't Shave the Messenger
  • Simple Gibberish Transforms
  • Claude E. Shannon has a Posse
  • Matching Clipboard Ensemble
  • All-Volunteer Signal Corps
  • The Mighty Tonguetippers
  • M.C. Binary and the Five-Bit Crew

I'm not sure it's useful to just think of a team name, though. It might be better to think of a distinctive yet easy-to-construct team outfit, then figure out a name to match that. Choose the suit, then name to suit, as it were.

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Book Report: The Breeze from the East

Mostly, I am not reading books. While I work on the Hogwarts write-up, I am not reading books. Mostly. I've posted some book reports in the past few weeks--but I'd read those books beforehand, written the book reports halfway.

I've been reading comic books and magazines. Quick reads, they don't distract me for long. I guess if it takes me much longer to finish the Hogwarts write-up, I can post some book reports about comic books.

But. But today I read a book. Today I went to the post office. I had recieved a slip of paper, a slip of paper saying that a registered letter was waiting for me. This was worrisome. Who sends registered mail? I have sent registered mail twice in the past, each time to a dishonest landlord. Registered mail means that you're edging towards a lawsuit, doesn't it? Who would send me registered mail? Who had a grievance towards me?

Anyhow, it was a relief when the registered mail turned out to be a book from R. S. J. Reddy, that crank who mailed me a book full of fake proofs that Pi is 3.1464. He might have a grievance against me after the mean things I said about his Pi book. Yet today he had not sent me a lawsuit. Instead he had sent me a book of his poetry. I was so relieved that it wasn't a lawsuit that I read it on my bus ride.

This book was titled "The Breeze from the East", and it is Book 1 of a translation of some presumably even longer poem called "Sarvam Jagannadham". Reddivari Sarva Jagannadha Reddy wrote the original; and A.L.N. Murthy took the time to translate this part of it.

It's a sort of devotional poem, saying that the world is a wonderful place and that we should live wisely and well. It's pretty vague about how one should do this. This allows the reader to project their own beliefs onto the poem and convince themselves that they agree with it, and that it thus must be wise.

I am no doubt being harsh in this summary of the poem. After reading several of Reddy's false proofs that the value of Pi is 3.1464, I look for snake oil in everything associated with him. If anyone else had written this poem, I would think it harmless.

I'll point out the third poem, which mentions Ramanujan.

Einstein, who worked in a patent office, became a great scientist
Ramanujan, who worked in a port office, became a great mathematician
Madame Curie, who engaged little children in tuition, became a gem of womanhood
Raman won the Nobel prize with a small instrument

I guess that these are Reddy's heroes. Ramanujan is one of his heroes. Did Reddy convince himself that he must discover a new value of Pi so that he, too, could be a great mathematician?

Later on, in poem 89:

My intellect solved more skillfully than my imagination

Except for that value of Pi. He pulled that one out of his... imagination.

That was a cheap shot, wasn't it? I guess it's tough to overcome a first impression. My first impression of Mr. Reddy is someone who tells false proofs. Should I hold that against his poetry?

Finally, from poem 117:

A critic knows the imaginative power of the poets.

Ah, "a critic". I guess that's me. To see how I waste the imaginative power of the poets, I guess you can look in the comments of this recent blog post by lessachu. I wrote a couple of haiku there, the one that starts "My development" (arguably funny to people who study software development methodologies) and the one that starts "Dashdash dashdashdash" (arguably funny to people who like Morse code).

OK, not many people will find those poems funny, but at least I'm not propogating false math proofs.

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Site Update: Islais Creek Area Photos

I'm still working on that write-up of the Hogwarts Game. Today was a milestone: I finished listening to all of the audio I recorded. I had an audio recorder on me for most of the time I was in the game or volunteering for GC. This was an easy way to gather information. However, retrieving that information afterwards is takes at least as much time as the original recording.

To reward myself, I decided to spend a few hours not-in-front-of-the-computer. I took some photos, including a bunch of a set of cement silos. It was kind of a sketchy way to spend one's free time, scrambling around in "parks" full of broken glass, nodding howdy at the homeless folks, realizing that one has been trespassing for the last five minutes or so. Still, I guess it's good to take photos of things that you like. On the way to the area with these photos, I went through China Basin. There's yet more new construction going on in China Basin. One of the casualties is an old warehouse-looking building that had been covered with graffiti. I took a photo of it a few years ago. Now, that photo's all that I have left. Anyhow, photos.

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Book Report: Cards as Weapons

Ricky Jay came to speak at my place of employment today. I brought my old, worn copy of his book Cards as Weapons in, in hopes of getting it autographed. It turns out that he doesn't want to autograph that book anymore--too many pirated copies floating around. But I'm glad I didn't know that, since I had the book with me on the bus this morning, and thus had an excuse to re-read it. It holds up well.

It's a very silly book. There is, as you would hope, a well-researched section on the recent history of card-throwing. There is a good how-to section on card throwing, albeit one with photos of nekkid women in it. The guy next to me on the shuttle bus was kind of surprised to see those, and I hope he doesn't sue. But the serious/useful/p0rnographic sections are sandwiched in amongst other sections that are just plain silly: an ancient history of card throwing featuring photos of the author making funny faces while wearing a viking helmet. Stretching exercises that involve finger-pulling.

Anyhow, it was a good speech. Mr. Jay threw a card into the audience. It hit Val Haecky, who was sitting right next to me. Val even let me keep the card after I grabbed it and stared longingly at it for a few seconds. Sometimes it's good to be the only rude person in a company full of sweetie-pies. (Thanks, Val!) Now Cards as Weapons has a very nice bookmark. A good day.

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