by Lawrence Block

It’s been too long since I took a spin with Lawrence Block. Here, burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr runs a used book store in Manhattan and supplements his earnings with occasional odd jobs, such as pilfering a unique edition of Kipling’s big mistake from a swank suburban house. With cops and everyone else staking out his home and store, Bernie takes refuge with a lesbian pal down in Greenwich Village. Hilarity ensues.

This 1979 title is plenty of fun. It must’ve been more fun then, of course, when incidentally lesbian characters were thin on the ground and when a plot that hinges on the absence of cell phones is less obtrusive. Nonetheless, a healthy romp is had by all.

The Gamergate Arbcom page has an entire section named for me!

Just to be clear, the “Mark Bernstein conspiracy theory” is some GamerGate supporter’s pipe dream that admins conspired together to let me get away with looking at the Gamergaters funny – or, rather, for asserting that contributors who consistently excuse and rationalize threats of assault, rape, and murder targeting women in computing are supporting the threatened behavior.

Just to be clear: I’m not a proponent of the Mark Bernstein conspiracy theory.

It’s interesting to wake up one morning and find your name plastered across section of anything. Nothing I can do about it.

by Craig Johnson

A particularly delightful Longmire, mixing spirituality, endurance, and wit. In the later books, Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire displays a charmingly postmodern understanding that, whatever is happening in his life, it’s more than usually surreal: not only does Absaroka County have more than its share of bizarrely serious crime, but its sheriff somehow receives more than his share of affliction. Job asks, “why me?” Walt merely exclaims, “You’ve got to be kidding.”

Here, we’re trying to figure out why the assistant sheriff of a neighboring county killed himself, while somehow getting to Philadelphia in time for the birth of our first grandchild. You know it will come down to the wire, because you understand the genre; here, all the characters understand that, too, but still remain (barely) on the right side of silliness and (mostly) on the customary side of sense and causality.

Also, a ton of fun.

John Ruskin, Seven Lamps of Architecture:

We have certain work to do for our bread, and that is to be done strenuously; other work to do for our delight, and that is to be done heartily: neither is to be done by halves nor shifts, but with a will; and what is not worth this effort is not to be done at all.

by Gabrielle Hamilton

A literary memory the author (and chef) of Prune. This successful and accomplished literary memoir redeems the author’s early MFA: she can write as well as cook. The subject, of course, is the writer. That’s the subject of Prune, too, though it might be harder for people who don’t cook to see the extremely clever and skillful blending of commentary, anecdote, and advice in the latter. This book, with accounts of youth hostels in Europe and early struggles with the restaurant, is more familiar in construction but also replete with subtly skillful touches.

In the food, Hamilton is arguing against Keller and Adriá and Redzepi and making a case for simple and comfortable food. She affects to dislike overtly complex texts and overtly complex food. Yet she is not beyond being clever herself: in Prune, she keeps the Brandy Stinger (brandy and green creme de menthe, once inexplicably favored by USAF fighter pilots) on the menu but tells her staff that she wants to meet anyone who actually orders one. And here, while affecting to simply record here progress toward owning a successful restaurant, she carries on an interesting dialogue first with Anthony Bourdain (whose brilliant Kitchen Confidential celebrated and popularized a viciously macho portrait of the professional kitchen) and then with MFK Fisher. Fisher famously wrote of love and food, but her loves were seen in the shadows and the food was always foremost; in the second half of Blood, Bones, and Butter, her failing marriage (a marriage she always expected to fail, since she entered into the marriage simply to help a friend get a green card) takes the focus to the virtual exclusion of food. In the end, we see the chef only on vacation in Italy, where she is not permitted to cook, and much of what food discussion remains is only about what we cannot eat (burratta at home, because it’s never good; anything but eggplant at the summer house, because that’s all they grow there).

It’s striking that while the author is gay, and is not particularly shy about alluding to her relationships, this memoir almost never focuses on her orientation.It’s nice that we can have a candid autobiography of a woman who simply happens to be gay, a woman for whom this is part of her life, in the way her parents’ divorce is, but it’s not a central concern.

Festival of Artisanal Software

The 2014 Winter Festival of Artisanal Software is now open.

We’ve gotten together with six other developers to offer great prices on great software for writing and thinking. Get ready for the new year with great new tools, at great prices, right at the vineyard door.

  • Tinderbox
  • Scrivener
  • DevonTHINK Pro
  • Nisus Writer
  • Aeon Timeline
  • TextExpander
  • Take Control Books
Dec 14 7 2014

Heavens To Betsy

Back at Wikipedia, talk page discussion has (astonishingly) returned to a defense of Vivian James and her color scheme, which famously alludes to a rape image. One experienced editor, slumming as an anonymous newbie, avers that:

There's no reasonable way to argue for non-consent between cartoon characters in an animated GIF

Great. That’s fine then.

Meanwhile, the infection has spread: GamerGate letter-writing convinced Jimmy Wales to intercede in defense of the page on Cultural Marxism, which was to have been deleted and which currently begins with the immortal words:

Cultural Marxism is a pejorative term with links to the Frankfurt School conspiracy theory and alleges an organized and concerted effort on the part of Marxists to subvert the traditional Christian values and cultural norms of western society [1]. Historian William S. Lind and other American commentators, such as Patrick Buchanan, have further claimed that "Cultural Marxism" is a dominant strain of thought within the American left, intended to promote "the capture of [Western culture]" [2].

Glad to see we don’t have any pusillanimous pussyfooters to restrict Pat Buchanan’s defense of Christianity from the left-wing marauders.

My Wikipedia user page now holds my retirement notice and three short essays that explain my departure, two concerning the Jews and Communism fiasco which was satisfactorily resolved, and one concerning GamerGate, which was not. They predict just what’s happening now: an organized professional cadre can and will dominate any unguarded Wikipedia page simply by swamping it with seemingly-competent, apparently well-meaning editors who share a common goal. Against professionals, volunteers seldom stand a chance; the volunteer must appeal to reason, the professional just calls Howard in the London office and asks him to get to work.

I do have a sneaking fondness for these notes, especially the nomination for deletion of Jews & Communism. In my line of work, you don’t generally get much call for this sort of rhetoric. It’s fun to take a hand now and then.

Some editors take exception to these essays, which are critical of Wikipedia, and want to delete them. That’s fine with me: I could move them here. This page gets lots more readers, and I bet I could find pages with lots more than this page sees. This would break some WikiLinks, of course, but that’s a drop in the ocean.

But what’s on the User Page of the fellow who wants to delete my essays? Chiefly a picture of a young woman who, it seems, has misplaced both the top of her bathing suit and her contact lenses, and who is in consequences crawling about the pavement in search of one or the other. Now, that’s crucial to the project, isn’t it.

About once a day, Eastgate gets a very peculiar robocall. Each time, it appears to derive from a different phone number — lately, they’ve been apparently-residential numbers in Texas. The calls are as follows:

  • About 20 secs of hiss, garbles, and chirps.
  • Some clearly-audible voice from a man saying that he is going to hook up the splitter and will need about 30 secs of speech.
  • An apparently recorded message saying that the Canadian Embassy in Havana is currently closed.
  • Another minute of garbles, chirps, and hiss.

Does anyone know what this is? Email me.

I have fantasies of a dead robocall network that someone started to set up (on zombie PC’s?) and then never remembered to either use or disconnect.

After a day of comparatively moderate weather at Wikipedia, we’ve got a fresh storm as an experienced user decided that an Amherst freshman’s op-ed in the The Amherst Student required lots of discussion on the Gamergate talk page. The story, which has since been pulled, repeats the long-discredited canard that Zoe Quinn exchanged had dinner with a fellow, or something, in exchange for favorable coverage.

The Amherst Student has apparently withdrawn the article, but that won’t stop the Wikipedia discussion.

Though all the participants have known these accusations to be untrue, the entire matter must be dragged out and discussed in detail on the Talk page, and again on the Sanctions page, because …. well, I guess because people like to talk about Zoe Quinn’s social life, even though everyone knows that it’s none of their business.

No responsible adult with the admin bit is willing to step up and stop this continuing and shameful obsession.

In my NaNoWriMo notes, I kept a tab with an outline of characters. This is a sprawling project, as school stories tend to be, and so it’s good to have a reference. What’s the science master’s name? Who is Cassie’s roommate? When you’re cranking a couple of thousand words, it’s easy to invent facts, but today’s facts are tomorrow’s continuity blunders. So, I have lots of notes like this one, describing one of the senior students:

May Elster was born in the village, as were her father and her grandfather, both shopkeepers. May’s father owns an important general store has served as alderman. Her features bear the stamp of the Eastern traders from whom she is descended.

May’s family still uses some evocative phrases of Eastern language when they are at home and no visitors can hear. Her Eastern grammar and accent are abominable, but May can, with difficulty, manage a simple conversation in Eastern. When she is angry, May knows a number of very imaginative Eastern curses.

She rooms with Cassie (and also, briefly in chapter 2 flashback, Amy).

Aside from continuity, I found myself using this chiefly for two reasons. First: I’d often need to add someone to a scene and had not particular idea who to add beyond “another student” or “one of the instructors”. Second: I’d quite often know exactly who I meant to add (“the lonely gay line cook you invented the other day – yeah, that one”) but had forgotten the name.

It occurs to me that these character notes should have been agents. The agent looks through the draft for notes that mention the character’s name:

Query: descendedFrom(/Draft) & $Text.contains("May")
Sort: OutlineOrder(original)
DisplayExpression: $Name+" ("+$Role+") "+$ChildCount

This gives us a quick summary of the scenes in which each character appears.

Character Agents

Now, we’re not finished here. The regular expression needs to be tweaked, for example, so it doesn’t think every sentence that begins with the word “maybe” is mentioning our character. But that’s a messy detail. Main point: we have the same quick reminder of the name of each character, the same handy place to store notes as the character accretes detail, plus now we know roughly how many scenes each characters figures in, and we can get instant access to any of those scenes.

by Gabrielle Hamilton

A delightful portrait of a chef, masquerading as a cookbook. This looks like a collection of recipes, but the recipes are written (and the book designed) not as if they’re adapted for the home cook, but instead as if they’re odd sheets of instructions to be handed to new line cooks. There are lots of canny and charming words of warning and advice – including several mentions of shortcuts that we wouldn’t take if we were “a real restaurant.”

There’s an entire chapter on garbage: how to use up food that even professional kitchens would throw away. (Example: sardine heads and bones: season, deep fry, and send ’em out to guests who are chefs, line cooks, or other professionals who’ll understand; not to be wasted on mere VIPs.)

In prepping the paté for a bar snack sandwich, the recipe advises that for a half batch one should make a cardboard and foil partition so you can use half the paté pan, and if you don’t know how, you should “find me and we’ll do it together.” Yes, chef. In prepping a dish based on lamb-filled wontons, the recipe calls for grabbing any intern or trailer in the house that night, because the prep is such a bitch. You don’t get this stuff from Joy of Cooking.

Recipes are scaled for service — but that often works out conveniently to 8, which is to say a dinner party, and we all know division. There’s some reverse-snobbery at work here too: a “duck liver garbure” is made with foie gras (and, we’re warned, is not really a garbure so don’t call it that if you get a job someday in a real restaurant).

This is impressive writing; in the guise of writing yet another restaurant recipe book. Hamilton has written an intelligent and sympathetic response to Kitchen Confidential.

Nov 14 29 2014

NaNoWriMo Notes

  • It’s been a while since I tackled 50,000 words in a month. It’s not nearly as arduous as I’d expected.
  • The goal here was to have a big pile of eventful fiction that could be used to explore new hypertext formalisms. I’ve got that, I think, though we’re still shy of the story’s end.
  • The length of writing spaces/screens/lexia has a vast influence on the shape of hypertext stories, and influence way out of proportion to the amount of critical discussion this has received. I now suspect that many of the shortcomings of narrative games arise chiefly because there’s too little screen space; writers wind up trying to say too much with too few words and end up falling back on archetypes and cardboard.
  • I believe everyone in our electronic cohort made their quota, which is nice as well.
  • I’m tempted to recast this – or at least a part of this – in a Storyspace hypertext as well as the planned Card Shark romp. The two projects strike me as quite different, though the media are also very similar; it would be interesting to see the same story addressed in both ways.
NaNoWriMo Notes
My NaNoWriMo Tinderbox dashboard
  • Here’s my dashboard. In retrospect, I ought to have added some agents with summary tables for characters of various sorts – the faculty, the service staff, the nefarious Security police, the Resistance fighters, and the townies.
  • Frequently-used Tinderbox tabs included ❧ dashboard ❧ draft ❧ map of the school and its environs ❧ outline of characters with notes about their names, families, and other loose ends ❧ notes about actual places that resemble the setting, which were fun to compile and useful to have seen but which I seldom consulted.

Game developer Zoe Quinn has just published a lengthy and generous exploration of Gamergate and Journalism, Let’s Talk About Ethics – No Really!. Readers will recall that Quinn was the original Gamergate target.

Weather Report

Stacey Mason is starting a study of Gamergate’s history. Above, see a part of her Tinderbox map of the origins of Gamergate.

Yesterday, game developer Brianna Wu’s pet dog, Crash, died. Gamer gate responded by flooding her email and Twitter stream with pictures of dead dogs.

Over at Wikipedia. Brianna Wu’s page is now the arena of renewed edit war today, as single-purpose accounts attempt to insert suggestions that she lied in reporting threats of rape and murder, or that she sent the threats herself. A proposal to recast the Gamergate article itself as an open question – misogyny or ethics? we report: you decide! – will continue to unsettle the talk page. Ardent efforts to discuss a job that Anita Sarkeesian might have had ten years ago appear to have stalled for now; look for a change in weather and a new storm front. Gamergate continues at ArbCom (16,700 words so far, another 10,000 on the talk page), at General Sanctions, at AN/I (two open complaints), and AN (just closed).