The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft: Beyond Arkham

Excellent volume. Massively annotated, 1/3 sidebar is almost always full of red text. Mentioned people, places, and artworks are shown inline.

First volume covered mostly more popular stories (arbitrarily chosen as ones mentioning Arkham), but this has most of his Dream Quest, and "The Outsider", one of my favorite of his stories.

It's a big improvement over S.T. Joshi's fandom-oriented books, which had some blurry photos half-assed shoved in the text, no index, in one volume no table of contents!

"Men of broader intellect know that there is no sharp distinction betwixt the real and the unreal; that all things appear as they do only by virtue of the delicate individual physical and mental media through which we are made conscious of them"
—H.P. Lovecraft, "The Tomb" (1917)

The man himself was troubling, but he's long dead and the shadow of his writing has happily darkened the entire 20th & 21st Centuries.

I don't know why, but I'm really getting in the mood of endless Halloween this year, and a steady diet of horror helps.

Television Don't Touch That Dial (1982)

Fascinating time capsule. This was just as cable and videotape rental was devouring their market, and about 10 years before Twin Peaks (1990), Babylon 5 (1993), and Murder One (1995), the first scripted season shows on US television (not counting soaps, which generally didn't have plots so much as random encounters).

So they knew that episodic garbage with ad breaks getting longer and more frequent was toxic, for most of a decade, and they still couldn't fix it; they just went to cheaper and worse shows every season until it imploded. ABC, CBS, and NBC are still around, still making the same crap that only very old people watch anymore (the few plausible viewership charts I've found show over-50s a steady market for watching broadcast TV; Gen-X and younger just vanishing from their charts), many of those people got very very rich, but it's a wasteland compared to what it was like.

Rather weird seeing Morley Safer of CBS attack Dukes of Hazzard (from CBS) as "trash" multiple times. It was an action show for kids, a live-action cartoon, and one of the most perfect such; better than A-Team (NBC's competition), where the premise immediately foiled itself because they couldn't use guns, the Dukes car and explosives stunts were better, and there was at least one hot woman on Dukes, usually a sausage festival on A-Team. Looking at Dukes as an adult now, the subtext of the Duke boys being proud Confederate traitors is super troubling, but they never did overt racism (there were very few black characters on any TV show, so Dukes being all honkies was typical; that's one place where A-Team did better), and good-hearted outlaws foiling the greedy, corrupt pigs was a great moral to teach kids. Beat up Boss Hogg, drink moonshine. Probably A-Team's ex-military criminal terrorist heroes wouldn't play well now, but that wasn't the objectionable part then.

And then CBS were working on Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, which was clearly gay Broadway, not Nashville, for the adult hillbilly audience, and failed utterly; I don't know how it got past mid-season replacement. NBC's somewhat edgier, adult political humor in Family Ties at least put something worth watching on the boob tube. Alex P. Keaton was interesting for Gen-X because he made usually-sensible arguments for conservative economics, against incoherent, mathematically-illiterate hippie bullshit from his Boomer parents, back when the GOP wasn't religious lunacy and moron brownshirts in MAGA hats; basically arguing for neoliberalism now. In a sitcom with no plot, meant to just be brainless entertainment, that was kind of impressive.

The special doesn't spend any real time in a writer's room, but that episodic shit where they bargain out what the content of a show will be, and then on-demand write something to fit, drove some really serious drug abuse, work loads, and just bad writing. The story of Danny Arnold, creator of Barney Miller, spending 18+ hours on set and sleeping there, and (not covered in the special) writing script pages as the show was being made, literally last minute, is just a rotten way to work. Barney was one of the few intelligent shows out there, if sometimes a little… racially caricatured… and often incoherent because the writers were in such a bad state.

(meta: I have no "television" category, and never will, because I treat all video entertainments the same now; but there was a time before Twin Peaks, B5, M1 when TV was massively below movies.)

Modern C 2.0

Fantastic book about C as actually used in modern code-bases. Interesting structure of levels 0-3, each of which covers a cross-section of topics at an understanding level. If you know everything in the summary already, you can just skip ahead to the parts you do want detail on.

Death Stranding is for Babies


I would dispute "RPG fans", since even turn-based RPGs require mechanical skills, just not aim-and-shoot reflexes; and as someone who's spent 5+ years in Elder Scrolls Online where I clear group dungeons and world bosses solo, there's RPG players who don't need an easy or normal mode, let alone "very easy".

easy mode is for babies

As usual there's people who call this attitude "elitist". Well, sure. Dr Seuss, Dan Brown, and the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew writers wrote in easy mode for babies. But most literature is above that level, you have to be able to read at a college level to read David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, you need some math & physics education to read Greg Egan's Diaspora, Schild's Ladder, Incandescence, or Dichronauts, you need a computing background to get more than superficial understanding of Tracy Kidder's The Soul of a New Machine or Rudy Rucker's The Hacker and the Ants. Those are elite entertainments. There's no way to dumb them down without totally ruining the experience.

In Kojima's case, his games are already compromised that way, endless tedious unskippable(!) cutscenes instead of getting to play the game, so I doubt it really matters. The Onion's new experimental videogame article nailed this, and Squenix was going down this road with their CGI movie adaptations, before they veered back into making actual games. Maybe Kojima will someday head back away from idiotic "narrative" and even more idiotic actors which the form is ill-suited to, and back into things with gameplay, strategy, and action, or maybe he'll just make movies and stop pretending this is playable.

Free Software Foundation Becomes Slightly Less Offensive

Which focuses on his sexual creepiness, and not his toe jam eating, horrific political views, conspiracy theories, and the lasting damage he's done to computer science with his aggressively anti-freedom "public license", and the promotion of emacs, which is most accurately classified as a mental disorder or an invasive fungus. If you want to edit text, use ed or vi or any nice editor, not a bad LISP interpreter with half an editor bolted on. And seriously, if you want to share your software, put it under actually-free BSD or MIT license and stop being a stallman.

Going back to 2001, there was his hostile takeover of glibc:

  • glibc 2.2.4: page down to "And now for some not so nice things."

And more recently a long-standing offensive joke in glibc being removed and then "restored" by the petty tyrant:

He demonized Miguel de Icaza of the Mono project (not my favorite software, but hardly objectionable):

Miguel de Icaza “is basically a traitor to the Free Software community” This was in response to my question about the new Microsoft “Open Source” labs. He went on to say that Miguel’s involvement in the project doesn’t give much confidence as he is a Microsoft apologist. The project looks to be concerned with permitting “Open Source” programs to work on the Windows platform and thus divert valuable developer time away from free platforms such as Gnu/Linux.
Mono framework is not so much of a problem, but C# shouldn’t be used in core apps as legal problems would be hard to work around. Recommends uninstalling any apps using C#.

So now he's finally reaped some personal consequences, after decades of this shit:

It's not unfortunate, it's 40 years overdue. The correct epithet is "the infamous Richard Stallman", just like "the infamous Unabomber Ted Kaczynski".

If the Benefits of Software are So Great…

"When we start cataloging the gains in tools sitting on a computer, the benefits of software are amazing. But, if the benefits of software are so great, why do we worry about making it easier—don’t the ends pay for the means? We worry because making such software is extraordinarily hard and almost no one can do it—the detail is exhausting, the creativity required is extreme, the hours of failure upon failure requiring patience and persistence would tax anyone claiming to be sane. Yet we require that people with such characteristics be found and employed and employed cheaply."
—Richard P. Gabriel, Patterns of Software

Design Patterns

It is sometimes suggested by well-meaning language enthusiasts that "My language is complete and powerful, so design patterns don't apply here!" Sadly, they are incorrect.

Design patterns happen in every language. The "Gang of Four" Design Patterns book just collected the ones observed in Smalltalk, and ported them to C++, later rewrites to Java, etc. These are not recipes to blindly follow, but examples meant to show you how to find and regularize the ones in your code.

It's somewhat difficult to see them unless you've read Christopher Alexander's books, and written a lot of programs in some language, and specifically looked for the places where you repeat a structure for livability's sake. Just as it's hard for an architect to make a path where people will want it, unless they first observe how people live and get around that space, and then convert the ad-hoc trails people follow into paths.

Smalltalk is an extremely expressive language (it failed in the market because every ST program is IDE-specific), it has closures, allows you to very trivially make new control structures; it doesn't need a hack like macros because the entire language is that freeform. And this is where the GoF authors observed these paths being made by themselves and other developers, not just in limited BDSM languages like Java.

So, a little light reading:

What I'm Watching: Stranger Things S3, We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Stranger Things is the very definition of half-assed. They're trying to do "how cool was it to be a kid in the '80s", and it was VERY cool, but most of the people involved weren't even alive then, and they are unable or unwilling to take enough cocaine to really commit to it. They play D&D, but didn't live thru the Edition Wars, where those of us who played OD&D fucked off when Gary's polearm and rules fetishes ruined AD&D, Frank Mentzer's revisionist BECMI baby-fied the Basic branch, and accusations of Satanism were thrown at us constantly (never mind that I actually gamed with teenage Satanists (which I took no more seriously than the Christfuckers, I was even then a Cthulhu cultist and thought Satanists were amateurs), and we mostly played Champions, Stormbringer, and Rolemaster, because those are serious games). They sing along to top-40 songs, but not the hard-rockin' hard-fuckin' songs, but pop movie themes. The fashion is so far toned down from reality it's really depressing; yeah, Indiana was uncool and years behind, but I was a nerd in Idaho which is just as uncool and I wore pastel faded blue jeans and black leather jackets. Nobody in this has Ray-Bans, which were on like 90% of the eyeballs. Fat Rambo Hopper puts on the most faded-out Hawaiian shirt possible, and everyone in the show is like "WHOAH, look at him!" when in reality he was bland as the mayonnaise he guzzles straight from a jar. The Max/El dress-up routine did manage to hit the Osh-Kosh-B'Gosh look and she stayed in bright colors for a while.

So, S1 was pretty much a Steven King's Firestarter/Escape to Witch Mountain mashup, and ended on a down note but it's OK. S2 at least closed a few plot holes and the Hellmouth, but meanders all over with a visit to mom, a visit to punk rock girl, Hopper failing at being a "dad" to El.

S3 then has nowhere to go except over the top, with a giant slime monster possessing people and climbing a mall like a King Kong made of shit, and somehow having "Russians" show up and build a giant underground base. Which looks nothing like Soviet architecture or engineering, it's all shiny surfaces and big open spaces, when the real Soviets liked claustrophobic bunkers and dull industrial paintjobs. And nobody calls them Soviets, the show is all "Russians" or "Russkies"; we said those, but mostly Soviet, because not all Soviets are Russian! They'd be just as likely to be from throughout the USSR or Warsaw Pact. Dumbass writers. And the notion that Fat Rambo Hopper, drunk loser hillbilly cop, can fight a Spetsnaz soldier like the terminator and win/even have a chance is preposterous. This season's monster plot relies on Eleven solving all problems with superpowers, everyone else is just there as a distraction; at least the B-plot of the Soviets has normal kids doing the Red Dawn/MacGyver kind of thing.

Probably as an overreaction to the sausage festival + El of S1 & S2, almost everyone gets a girlfriend in this season, but other than Max they're useless. When the party of kids goes wandering single-file door-to-door, I think of Earthbound games where you'd be followed by a centipede-like trail of your party members.

★★½☆☆ — just not enough meat in that corn-dog.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, adapted from Shirley Jackson's fantastic novel, is lovely, slow, gothic, oppressive, creepy… Merricat and Constance are well-cast for the "creepy witch girl who acts like an old maid" and "Marilyn Munster but even more insane". Uncle Julian, Cousin Charles, and Helen the fussy "friend" are fine… Charles is a creep, like Brad Pitt fucked Steve Buscemi and gave birth to this thing; I don't really buy Constance's quick affection for him in this portrayal, he's too sharp-edged. Julian's too repetitive and often just hard to take, which is how someone that damaged would be. The villagers are awful people, but only about half of them are the hideous caricatures they seem to be in the book.

I hadn't even heard of the film being made & released, discovered it at $9.99 on iTunes, grabbed it instantly. Not a perfect adaptation, the ending adds a little flourish which is not present in the book, but charming nonetheless.


Twilight of the Media Lab

The lack of product from things like the Media Lab, or AOL's "digital prophet Shingy", or whatever the fuck happened to billions of dollars at Yahoo! (see Peanut Butter Manifesto ), or any other singing, dancing, cargo cult imitation of an actual technology lab, should not be surprising to anyone. These are not how you make new technical products; there's no customer, there's no use case, just a slideshow or demo at most. Real artists ship, as Steve Jobs said.

I told him that it's merely a matter of understanding our sponsor's needs. Our sponsors are represented by middle-aged middle-managers who need three things: Booze, good hotels, and hookers. Keep 'em busy with free trips and the slick dog and pony shows, provide them with pre-written notes for their upper-managment, and the money will keep rolling in.

Oh, hmn. Eerily prescient.