Book Report: Casanova book one: Luxuria

This comic book made no sense. It feels kinda plot-holish. You find out that the main character can make guns fall apart through mysteeeeerious powers, but earlier he didn't seem to use this power and seemed pretty worried about guns. And if this secret organization he works with--if this organization has invisibility cloak technology, why didn't they use it when... I guess I was supposed to just relax and go with the flow and be happy that there were so many pictures of scantily-clad chicks, but I mean c'mon, really, he can just make guns fall apart by invoking some spiders in his brain but he only does it sometimes? Why doesn't he use this power on hostile robots? Wh-- Oh, forget it.

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Book Report: The Eyre Affair

This book is set in a parallel universe. In this universe, mad science reigns. People care about literature! There are vampires! It's all different from our universe! And yet somehow similar!

You'd think I would love this. Yet, I did not love this.

People talk about a concept called the "uncanny valley". It comes up when you try to make things that are like people. Like if you try to make an android. Or if you write a computer program that tries to hold a conversation over IM chat. If you make something that looks totally like a machine, people interact with it neutrally, as if it were a tool. If you slap a cartoonish smiley face on it, people react to the thing positively. People like cartoony things. If you make it seem a little more human, people react to it more warmly. But... if you create something that seems almost human but not quite, then people react against it strongly.

I want to propose a new concept, the "unsilly valley". This refers to a work of art that approaches the absurd, does not quite achieve it, and is thus trapped in a strange zone: too strange to inform, too normal to be interesting.

I think The Eyre Affair falls in this zone.

It's a popular book. I suspect it's popular with people who like the idea of an alternate universe in which more people care about literature. But in the book's world, Dickens is an example of stuff worth caring about. C'mon, really, Dickens? I can only suspend my disbelief so far.

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Glossing my Twits: 2HB

Seth Godin recently blogged "If you've got 140 characters to make your point, the odds are you are going to be misunderstood (a lot)." I'm not really surprised that I get questions about my twitter items. E.g., my parents and D. asked what my recent Twitter means. OK, so I'll explain. But I warn you: it's a long story, maybe not worth it.

This time, I recognized the two-headed baby even though I just saw it out of the corner of my eye. It is a skill; it can be learned.

Why "This time"? Because this Twit refers back to a previous one:

I failed to recognize the two-headed baby. I blame the brutal legendary hair.

That Twit probably only made sense to two people reading it; I twitted it anyhow because I liked the sound of "brutal legendary". Ah, but what sense does it make?

I used to work at a game company called Infinite Machine, and so did a bunch of other people. After I.M. went under us people scattered to the four winds. Paul Du Bois and Lance Burton went to a company named Double Fine. Double Fine's logo is a two-headed baby. They are a game company, thus they have artists working for them full-time, therefore they have an awesome logo. This logo is sufficiently awesome that they stitch it onto patches. You can buy these patches.

I'm fond of the company. Remember how I bought an Xbox so I could play an excellent game called "Psychonauts"? And then when I was done with the game, I gave away the XBox and the associated TV because they would never experience anything so awesome again? Double Fine made that game. Anyhow.

Double Fine's project is a game called "Brutal Legend." I don't know much about it except that it's based on the iconography and imagery of Heavy Metal. And lately, they've been making two-headed baby patches upon which the 2HB sports long headbanger-ish hair. (Available now! Just $5) If you waxed lyrical, you might refer to it as brutal legendary hair. Anyhow.

At work a coupla weeks ago, some of us folks on a project are walking along. One of them asks the project's Tech Lead about the patch on his jacket. I'd kinda noticed that there was a patch on his jacket, but now I looked closer--OMG 2HB! He was wearing a Double Fine Two-Headed Baby patch. His spouse, it turns out, works at Double Fine. (What are the chances?) It looked different from the logo I was used to--it had the head-bangerish hair.

So I'd seen this patch a few times and failed to recognize it until someone pointed it out--maybe because the head-bangerish made it look different. Thus, I failed to recognize the two-headed baby. I blame the brutal legendary hair.

With me so far? OK.

Sunday evening, I'm trotting down my apartment building's stairwell, heading out for the evening. Someone else is coming up that same stairwell. We mutter greetings at each other, drift right, move past each other. And after we'd passed each other, some synapses in my brain finish firing and I ask... I ask something which, if the answer had been "no", would have been pretty embarrassing. I asked "Excuse me, is that the two-headed baby logo?" The answer was yes, yes it was. He was wearing a jacket with the patch. This guy lives upstairs from me. It turns out he sits right next to Paul Du Bois at work, because he works at Double Fine. I was pleased that I'd recognized the logo this time--and noticed it en passant.

Of course, part of the reason I'd succeeded this time is that earlier, I'd stared at that other patch, wondering "why didn't I recognize this?" The image was burned into my brain.

OK, so this time I recognized the two-headed baby logo out of the corner of my eye, probably because I'd been staring at the logo recently. Thus This time, I recognized the two-headed baby even though I just saw it out of the corner of my eye. It is a skill; it can be learned.

Fair warning: April is coming up. April is National Poetry Month. In April, I reserve the right to Twitter things solely because they sound interesting--and they might not have any basis in reality whatsoever.

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Book Report: Singularity Sky

My cousin goes to school in Washington D.C. He was talking with some Washington D.C. bloggers. Except that they don't call themselves bloggers. Why not? Because they're in Washington D.C. and "bloggers" have no credibility in Washington D.C. So these people call themselves "columnists". They are "columnists" who write online "columns". Ah, the little white lies that our nation's rulers tell themselves, convincing themselves that the world isn't changing around them that much. Funny.

Charles Stross is a funny writer. I want to tell you how much I enjoyed this novel Singularity Sky, but I find myself trying to do so by explaining the plot. But it would be boring to hear me explain the plot--or, rather, it would be much funnier for you if you just read the book yourself. It's sort of about a government trying to maintain control in the face of change. But mostly it's funny.

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Book Report: Invisible Cities

I am back from Los Angeles. I have seen more art museums recently than... than is perhaps healthy. The stench of artsy-fartsiness clings to me still. I'm digging out from underneath a backlog of everything, but meanwhile I can share a book report I wrote a few weeks back about an appropriately artsy-fartsy book: Invisible Cities

It's a little surreal novella by Italo Calvino. Marco Polo describes strange cities to Kublai Khan. There's enough weirdness in here that you want M.P. and K.K. to represent things. M.P. travels, then reports to K.K., who doesn't travel. So does M.P. represent sensation and K.K. represent reflection? Or does M.P. represent experience and K.K. represent wisdom? Or.... or... well, you can project quite a few things onto that, really, choose one that appeals to you. So I'm not sure what this book is supposed to mean, there's possibilities to choose from. But I know I enjoyed reading it.

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Follow-up: SFZero Suggestion Box

You may recall that last month, I stumbled onto a suggestion box on Waller and Steiner streets. This suggestion box, as it turned out, was part of a game. This game, SF0, is a sort of mutual-dare contest. A player concocts a challenge. Several players attempt to meet that challenge, documenting their efforts. Players then vote on which of these efforts is most impressive.

So the challenge was to make a suggestions box and collect suggestions. I'd found one attempt at doing this. I was impressed. And other folks were, too: of the various suggestions boxes made in response to this challenge, the Waller/Steiner suggestion box won first place. You can follow that link to see photos of their installation and photos of some of the suggestion cards they received.

You won't see the text of those cards, though. They didn't type them in. So I did, just now. (Note: these are other people's suggestions, not mine. (Well, one of these is mine; I submitted one card to the box. Can you guess which one?) I agree with some, disagree with some, don't know how I feel about some, couldn't read the poor penmanship of some.)

  • Please more BOXES
  • let's have dedicated bike lanes
  • I suggest more suggestion boxes in SF -Colfax Cor?thers
  • More magic carpet parking
  • Get the rich folks OUT NOW!
  • More Unicorns
  • European misty mornings, California ?sunny? afternoons!! &Tiger Feast
  • I THINK TO MANY ?farlk? walk WITH out looking both way so if I HIT ONE NOT MY Fault
  • Who is Frank? I don't know who frank is I will not yield to someone I do not know. I suggestion is subliminal (figure it out)
  • Steven 202-4378
  • No pollution in the environment
  • Fox in socks with lox in box
  • bike riders need to reduce the stink eye
  • Recall what you enjoyed doing when you were a child and keep doing it: ie hulla hoops, sing, play, laugh, be silly, make a for, color
  • handicraft and barter-based local economy
  • diagonal crosswalks!!! and a diagonal bridge crosswalk at church and market!
  • Do not forsake the for-next loop. There is power in its rhythm. You must control it. Don't let it control you.
  • More diagonal crosswalks!! (tigers takeover)
  • Try to figure out what the ants are doing over by that tree
  • Feed the population to the TIGERS!
  • You suck!
  • This is a great idea! Want to install one near my apt (oak & ?central?) Keep up the good work!
  • I want higher taxes paid on all vehicles larger than a mid-sized truck. All SUVs need to be off the road
  • Remove the cross-walk signal buttons that make noise. We can't even understand what they say. JP
  • I suggest that we create a suggestion WALL where everyone can write their suggestions up for everyone else to see and comment on. And I'd like a really big marker so that my suggestions are recognized as most important. A red marker. Big.
  • Stay cool!
  • Can we get sharpies to write with?
  • I think we should eat cupcakes for breakfast more regularly! Preferably pink sprinkly ones.
  • The lack of Lamppost for the ARTS!
  • Less Usage of Ball-Throwing Ice-Cream Scoop Dog Toys in Duboce Park
  • I suggest a BBQ!!! Let's have a BBQ! You bring the chips, I'll bring my guitar.
  • We need more of these boxes
  • Make More Boxes
  • 1. Impeach Bush 2. See #1 3. Destroy Capitalism 4. NO FAT chicks
  • Do NOT let people put their garbage on the street. It's NOT nice!
  • How is it that you ?? commithe murder and then act as if it never Happened! Memory of Vi?? Har?ey 2-911 (?)
  • We shall ?? back later But overall, I am suspicious of you
  • I think there should be more public art... possibly by local artists who live in the neighborhood.
  • Spend more tax money to transition SF homeless population
  • . Stop having babies. . eat more broccoli + spinach . Buy ice cream + have it delivered to my office . allow Jason, + only jason to park in front of fire hydrants if granted this one wish he promises to tone down his arson habit. . Remember that you are average--just like everyone alive. Average not special. Screw what your mom said.
  • . If you are a little on the chunky side, don't wear tight low rise jeans. . stop having babies . no adjusttable rate mortgages . get up early + do stuff all day. . watch meerkat manor . prepare for earthquakes... are you ready for earthquakes? . if you must have babies, do not shake them
  • - and I am not refering to "recyclable items" -
  • More ??olic girls schools!
  • Fuck the COPS
  • I am concerned with disposable paper cups. I would like to see a system for sharing re? cups when we drink cofee.
  • Ballpoint pens write poorly when held horizontally--a different sort is suggested (or a writing surface)
  • Get the crack out of the Lower Haight. It will help the neighborhood and its people.
  • See other card.
  • What if everyone sat outside on the sidewalk and talked to each other like in the barrio? That would be so nice. Also more fresh fruits and vegetables. Thank you, Lisa
  • Public Restrooms for the bathroomLess & Help for the crackheads
  • My car will move itself when it is time for street cleaning / Word: Fuck DPT Evil = DPT
  • ? Simply the Best
  • More Kissing
  • You have a lovely box: I like the lock on it. The wind is particularly chilly. I would appreciate more warmth. Thank you!
  • This neighborhood could absolutely benefit from a bumpin' techno soundtrack. Thank you, Sam
  • In a transit f? city its rediculous that we have no $5 change machines at Civic Center, Montgomery, powell-people with only a $5 bill are told to go "buy a soda" weird-Nonsense-Silly MTA-Thanks!
  • chocha for one is chocha for all Increase societal nudity and free the yoni energy! Richard Bradley.
  • San Francisco needs more nice hotels outside of onion square +downtown.
  • Heal the world through insemination Babies are peace! I want to be free from all disgusting male energy!
  • More good stuff!
  • stop the examiner from covering our city with unwanted newspapers in unwanted plastic bags!!!
  • Less Hills Please !!! thnx Boston
  • Taxi drivers should have to pass a special "bike awareness" test. Maybe they'd even get a cool sticker for their cabs. (P.S. Your suggestion box is really pretty)
  • 3-5-08 Fewer Cars More Flowers Keep being awesome, suggestion people
  • wouldn't it be awesome if people perceived suggestions as gentle reminders coming rom a genuine place of caring instead of as aggressive ego threats? It's all in the delivery I guess. Could you help me with my delivery?
  • I suggest you ?? ?? in several languages Gracias Merci Danke Gratis
  • Doggie potties so R city don't stink
  • Thank you for continuing a wonderful tradition in the community!
  • Put a wind turbine on all of the roofs in the city to charge the power grid
  • Bring back Naked eye news & video We don't need that much vapor!!
  • Clean this F*!#$ing Street!
  • Less violence in the drug trade.
  • Extend you 2 Hour Parking on ?? of ?? Ernest M??? ???Steiner + 1
  • I suggest that we have more community gardens throughout the city!! Thanks for the suggestion box!
  • No more dog poo?
  • send all the homelsss people to treasure island for a Battle Royale! to the death!
  • Kick the "Environment" dudes out of our neighborhood -Luca
  • Why suggest when I can act?
  • I think there should be more cheese around for general consumption. Thanks.
  • improve my satisfaction, i dare you.
  • You USE BLOCK LETTERS. ITS YOUR ART (You hope book or blog) PROJECT
  • make my job better
  • we all need to smile at each other more often. Especially when passing each other on the sidewalk.
  • More beach days!

Yes, yes, there are other things I should be doing.

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Not-Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, but especiially at Waller and Steiner

On my way back home from the library, I encountered a nicely-made suggestion box at the Northeast corner of Waller and Steiner. Signage encouraged passers-by to write suggestions on index cards and place them within the box. There were no index cards left, but then there was nothing preventing you from writing suggestions on other things. There were two slots for suggestions: one labeled "Public", one "Private". Each slot was on a drawer; the private one was locked, the public one wasn't. I read the public suggestions. Many of them suggested road and traffic improvements. Did their authors think that this was a municipal suggestion box?

A label on the side of the box read "" and thus I found out that this box is part of a game and that one can read suggestions from boxes around the world. I have not joined this game; my shoulders already strain beneath the weight of a few half-done projects. And yet... and yet, after some reading in their web site, I believe that this game has merit. And if you're in San Francisco swinging past the Lower Haight any time soon, I suggest you take a few minutes to visit that suggestion box. (I think I got that intersection right. I'm sure it was on Waller, close to Fillmore.)

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Book Report: Halting State

This book, a science fiction novel by Charles Stross, is pretty funny. In the first act, there is a claymore. There is a heist in a computer game. There is electronic security. There are some holes in the plot, but you don't really mind them because you're chuckling so much.

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Book Report: Poor George

Apparently Bernd Becher, industrial site photographer, died last week. Dammit. I would prefer that tragedies be restricted to fiction, please.

Poor George is bleak. Nobody knows why they do the things they do. Everybody suffers. All effort is futile. Everyone is doomed and unhappy. I love books like this. If you do, too, then you'll probably like this book.

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Link: 200 ways to represent words or a message

Not exactly puzzlehunt-related...

Someone brainstormed 200 ways to represent words or a message:

41. classic do you like me, do you love me, maybe note.
42. New car sticker
43. Error message
44. Blue screen of death- BSOD
45. Shot of PC keyboard over head with actual sentence on keys

200 is pretty good. Still, there are some gaps.

EBCDIC. Carefully-oriented M&Ms. Laundry hanging on a clothesline. Trained parrot. Series of lat/long coordinates corresponding to natural features which look like letters in sattelite photos. Movie poster. Falsified movie data in MobyGames. Series of words vandalized by one user in the Wiktionary. Phonetic hieroglyphics presented in a cartouche. Deodorant smeared on a wall and set on fire. SETI online. Taxidermically preserved geckos posed in letterforms. "Hot metal" typeset letters. Flags of all nations. Clever arrangement of quack nostrums of the 19th century. Stills taken from Disney animated movies at carefully-selected times. Resistors. Leaves with holes chewed in them, ostensibly by bugs. An arrangement of pasta on a plate. A fake windmill farm--who would think to notice that each windmill turns at its own special rate? A flock of trained bats emitting sonar pings at just the right times. Yodeling. Photos of strange headgear you might recognize from paintings/movies--if you can recognize who wore them, consider their initials. A series of carefully-prepared reactions between Mentos and Diet Coke. Etching on golden plates, now lost. An alphabet of letterforms based on back-pocket stitching of designer jeans of the 70s and 80s. Simulated whalesong. What appears to be a series of pieces of string arranged in a row; further examination reveals that each piece has different elasticity. Sheet music. Player piano music. Cards for a Jaquard loom. A series of murders--different victims missing different pieces. Bird calls. A power source that emits different voltage over time, as displayed by the connected Jacob's Ladder. A banana cut into different-length cross-sections inside its skin. Syllogism. Knock-knock joke. A list of street addresses in a city, connect the dots to form a letter; a series of these, one per city, North-to-South ordering of cities tells you how to order the words. Esperanto. Carrier pigeon. A series of objects, all of which appear metallic: some are magetized, some respond to magnetism, some are not magnetic at all. An electric praying mantis; there are subtle patterns to the "arm" movements. Tap dancing rhythms. The path across a ballroom floor traced by a couple dancing the tango. A pattern of artificial thorns affixed to the stem of a thornless rose. A message written in sugar water on the sidewalk--not visible to the eye, until the ants discover it. Tuning forks. Dog license. An audio recording of falling dominos--the trained observer knows that the dominos were arranged in Morse code, and can distinguish their original placement by the quick silences between "clacks". Dewey decimal. An ordered list of baseball players, each of whom only played for one year. Circled letters on the Lincoln Memorial achieved with a laser light display salvaged from a defunct planetarium. Semiphore. A rash of explosions in skyscrapers; eventually you notice that each took place on a different story. Letterhead for fake law offices a la Dewey Cheatham and Howe. Several strands of hair, different colors; a microscope. The universe, only to be read by the enlightened. Cuneiform tablet, enclosed within an "envelope" of clay. Marching band, in formation. A sprinkling of freckles that someone smiles over. For the history trivia buffs, numbers corresponding to telephone exchange names. A quick series of tongue clicks. Movie house marquee. The calligraphy of a Zamboni driven with Total Freedom. It seems to be an automobile, but parts with certain part numbers have been removed. It appears to be snippets of audio recordings, riddles from Wei-Hwa Huang; eventually you notice the arcade game music playing in the background. Photos of famous people that have been distorted so that they look thinner or fatter; you must figure out how much they have been distorted; who knows what these people normally look like? A fake religion's holy days. A series of fables; the morals are awkwardly worded, suggesting that they conceal a message; but in truth the message is a modified binary, based on whether each fable is about a human or an animal. It appears to be a photograph of a termite mound. An edutainment video showing beavers slapping their tails on the water. A cheese plate featuring an unlikely assortment. That cable-knit sweater--the twists don't all go the same way, hmm. Stereogram. Facial tics. Photos of electrical outlets from different lands. Euphemisms for bodily fluids that share letters with the latin names for those fluids. It appears that each of these pigs has different buoyancy. This is not an exact reproduction of the pointilist Seurat painting you remember. Yellow snow. Descriptions of past meetings on different days: the day we ate pancakes, the time with the tree, etc. Concealed by propriety and decency within the confines of a diplomatic pouch. In neon letters 10 feet high. Attached as a "rider" to a federal spending bill. It seem unlikely that no two of these pencils is the same length; I suspect that these chew marks are carefully placed. A "singing chorus" of animatronic red pandas, the number of stripes on the tail of each is significant, meanwhile the designer of the enchanted tiki room senses a missed opportunity. The teenybopper sits on the streetcar, seems to be testing ringtones--but who notices that there are 26 ringtones to choose from? English.

That's not 200, but I'm up past my bedtime. Good night.

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Book Report: the Girl Who Talked

The other day I picked up a handful of mini-comics by Daniel Merlin Godfrey. "The Girl Who Talked" was my favorite, but they were all good. "The Girl Who Talked" is an interview with a girl who was raised by "lifestyle mimes"--people who refuse to use language. Yay, high concept stuff, black and white art with huge fields of black, what more could you want? "The Last Sane Cowboy" was pretty good, too. It's a surreal comic, a story in which anything can happen. And yet the story hangs together well, even if it's all about a town in which everyone is crazy and giant scorpions talk to you.

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Link: Hello Kitty BE@RBRICK iPod

Looking at ads for these toys made me imagine Hello Kitty hanging out with some BE@RBRICKs.

"Sometimes I wish I had a mouth."

"Some of us have mouths. Most of us do not."

"How are we even having this conversation?"

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