Plink-plink-plonk down the Memory Hole

A friend of mine was DJing on Twitch last night, a set mostly composed of chiptunes and music from the demoscene.  I asked if he had played satell.s3m yet, one of my favorite tracker tunes dating from when I first heard it back in the early ’90s.  (Well, actually, I asked him to play “satell.m3u”, because I got my mid-’90s formats with a ‘3’ in the middle confused.  Mea culpa.)  He had to download it–he was using someone else’s computer–but download he did, and a few tracks later: bam.

That got me to thinking of other excellent music I knew, which triggered a memory: at some point I had snarfed all of the MP3s off of some Japanese chiptune musician’s website; his specialty was taking music made for one chipset (say, the MSX) and transporting it to some other platform (say, the NES with the additional VRC6 chip).  Sometimes, like that example, that meant the new track had a bunch of additional instrumentation, but sometimes the conversions went the other way, a “demake” of sorts where a track had to be distilled to its bare essence.  Given that this was Inverse Phase DJing, he of Pretty Eight Machine Internet fame, I figured such demakes would appeal to him.

So I set about exploring the labyrinthine corners of my hard drive via find, at the same time trying to poke around on the ‘net to find this musician’s website.  I had success with the former well before the latter.

In fact, said website doesn’t exist at all any more.

This made me pretty despondent.  I immediately set about uploading the MP3s to Google Drive to give to Brendan, at the same time poking around furiously online in an attempt to find just where the hell these tracks had disappeared to.  I mean, there were literally hundreds of them; surely they hadn’t just evaporated into the ether?  (Spoiler: yes, and no.)

My late night searches proved fruitless, but at least my local copies finished uploading, and so I shared the link with Inverse Phase and a few friends on IRC, saying that I wanted the files spread around to keep them from falling into the Memory Hole.

A relevant digression: I used to have an account on the premier private music tracker on the Internet.  It was encyclopedic, overwhelming, enthralling; rumor had it that all the big-name electronic musicians had accounts on the site, scouring it for rarities.  Some artists uploaded their own music there to beat the promo-copy rippers to the punch.  And it had a wealth of rare CDs, up to and including albums that had never been officially released, uploaded by friends or family or the artist, just to help them get out there.  The site is no more, data trashed before the French authorities could get hold of the servers.

This isn’t a story about piracy, although I freely admit that said site definitely facilitated that.  It’s about the persistence of memory.  We will never know the contents of the Library of Alexandria.  We have lost forever untold masterpieces, art and music and writing, because they perished in flame or flood or mold in the back corner of a forgotten closet.

And yet, if we are not careful, in this age where we have enough storage to hold it all, we will still lose things due to a lack of diligence, or a company’s overzealous reach, or simply because no one knew there was something that needed saving.  Some day I’ll write about what we’ve already lost in terms of online-only games, but that’s another article.  But: we have already lost so much.  So much.

I woke up before 6am this morning due to a frankly hilarious dream–I won’t bore you with the details, because the details of other people’s dreams are the worst, except to say that apparently my subconscious knows the vocal harmony bits of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” by Crosby, Stills, and Nash even though I had to spend a half-hour searching frantically for the song, finally humming the “doot doo doo doo doo” bit into Midomi and having it actually succeed, my prior hard drive search an utter failure because for some reason I was convinced the dream-song was by Simon and Garfunkel–to find that a friend had downloaded the tracks from the Drive folder… but there were problems with several of them.  I looked, and sure enough: what were supposed to be MP3s were actually HTML files telling me that, sorry, that file wasn’t found.

Augh.  I hadn’t even rescued this from the Memory Hole.

So I set out with a bit more ferocity than the night before to track these down.  I realized that what looked like garbage in the ID3 tags in my terminal was probably Shift JIS encoded, and sure enough, that got me to an artist: 白亜R.  Oh ho!  Some Googling found me the old URL for the website, which no longer existed, but isn’t that what the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine is for?

And, lo and behold, not only did I find the site in the Machine, but if I clicked the links for the missing files, the real MP3s played!  Turns out they had been crawled and stored in 2005 or thereabouts, before I managed to save the files myself.  Extracting them from the Wayback Machine required some mild shenanigans, but they were shenanigans I pulled off with ease.  I informed my friends that, hey, I had found the missing tracks to go along with the rest, and that they should download those too.

And so, even if just for a few people, I managed to keep at least one more thing from slipping down into the Memory Hole forever.

Speaking of which: here you go.  Enjoy–they really are excellent tunes–and share them around.  It’s just a tiny bit of media rescued from oblivion, but sometimes that’s all we can hope for.

Weekly status update [0034/????]

This is another hell of a week, but at least (mostly) not for me?  Thin comfort.

  • The trilogy that started with Ninefox Gambit stayed mostly excellent, although I wasn’t completely enamored with the conclusion.  Still, worth a read.  I also read a bunch of other books too.
  • Other book notes the first: I actually quite liked Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which is apparently Not The In Thing, but whatever.  (I’ll freely admit that its core “schtick” is one I’ve thought a lot about, which alters my judgment.)
  • Other book notes the second: Fortune Smiles is a fantastic short story collection by Adam Johnson.  One of the stories is very dark, but it warns you pretty close to the start, and if you read the book in chronological order you’ll be warned earlier anyhow.  This was another one of those “pick it up at random in the library” books that I almost certainly wouldn’t have ever picked on my own, so: yay library displays!
  • Other book notes the third: I’m in the middle of reading Harlan Ellison’s seminal sf collection Dangerous Visions; I can see how it would have been pretty damn transgressive in the late Sixties, although with the benefit of hindsight it occasionally has a whiff of Trying Too Hard.  Most of the stories are excellent, though, and as a whole it holds up impressively well.  My favorite bit so far isn’t one of the stories at all, but Ellison’s introduction where he tears into the whiny Old Guard and their complaints about how the new sf just isn’t the same as the old.  The fact that it could be taken almost verbatim as a tear-down of the modern “crisis” in sf that, for a while, centered around the whole Sad Puppy/Rabid Puppy/etc. thing is delightful.  Everything old is new again, kids.
  • Despite continuing to read at a rapid pace, I also continue to check out library books at an even more rapid rate.  Half of my couch is covered in them.  I have thirty-five checked out right now, many of them huge tomes full of short stories that will take me forever to finish.  what am I doing
  • We had an extended game night Tuesday.  We played Concordia, one of my favorite games, and I did very poorly, coming in last.  Part of that was an idiotic play on my part in one of the final turns that cost me something like fifteen points.  I acted like a complete jerk at the end, though, so… I’m afraid I’m not a lot better about that whole situation than I was when I wrote about it last.  Ugh.  I’m not happy with myself about that.
  • Finished up Bojack Horseman season 5, which was amazing, and Jessica Jones season 2, which was… fine… I guess.  Started on Luke Cage season 2 and Orange is the New Black season 5.  I may actually drop that last one, which is veering dangerously close to the sort of “everything is miserable and you get to watch” modern take on TV that I just can’t handle.
  • I weighed myself on Thursday for the first time in, uh, almost a year, I guess?  I’m at 271 pounds; my best guess for how much I weighed when I started on this diet in late April is somewhere between 330 and 360 pounds, so I’ve lost something in the 60-90 pound range over a bit more than five months.  (In case you’re wondering, my goal weight is 180, which is technically overweight from a BMI standpoint but is actually on the line where I go from looking healthy to looking less so.)  That’s pretty damn good progress, even though I’ve got a long way to go.  I was also reminded that I should never, ever own a scale.  They ruin my  will with the irregular ups-and-downs.
  • Lots of puzzles, too; I’m finally getting to a point where I’m relatively confident in my Kakuro solving, and I continue to work on several other books and magazines on a one-off basis.
  • No prose, although I did finish up my Guide to the Cardpocalypse series.
  • I also came up with the core idea for my NaNoWriMo novel.  My current plan is to share that here as I write it (although probably not as body text, which would be overwhelming).  We’ll see if I still feel that way come November.
  • Mostly just the usual on the videogame front, although the launch of Hollow Knight on the PS4 made me buy it (again) and play it, since I find that sort of game way more suited to a big TV and recliner than my computer.  If you like Metroidvanias, I strongly recommend it.

Well, that was excessively long, so, uh… until next time!

Guide to the Cardpocalypse, part six: Solitaire (and the end)

What if the Cardpocalypse is so bad that you are the last person on Earth?  Will there still be a use for that fancy-schmancy pristine Kem deck you pilfered from my house because, well, you knew I had one and I’m no longer around to fight you for it?

Well… yes.

But don’t play Klondike

Klondike is the game most people think of when they think of solitaire.  It’s the one that was built into Windows since 3.1.  It’s also a terrible game.

The problem with Klondike is that the majority of deals are impossible.  I do mean majority; some estimates put the win-rate of a perfect player at something close to 4%.  Those are awful odds, and you should never play Klondike again.

You will, because it’s the one solitaire you’re pretty much guaranteed to already know, but you shouldn’t.

If you want that Klondike feel but also want to win on the regular, try Westcliff; it has 10 piles of 3 as the starting layout, allows any card to be moved to an empty column rather than just kings, and is otherwise identical to Klondike.  It also comes out something like 90% of the time with intelligent play.

The (first) other Windows solitaire is great, though

Unlike Klondike, Freecell is absolutely worth your time.  It’s a high-strategy game with very few unwinnable deals.  But just because only one in ten thousand or so deals can’t be won doesn’t mean that you will win them all; there’s a lot of tactical nuance to Freecell that means it will take some serious effort to get good at the game.  It’s time well-spent, though.  This is one of those cases where the really popular thing is also a thing that should be really popular.

(Spider is a fine game too, but it’s a bit of a mess to play with physical cards, given that it requires two decks and involves a whole lot of shifting cards around.  If you want something good in that vein, Spiderette combines Spider and Klondike into a game that’s probably better than the former and definitely better than the latter.  It comes out about 15% of the time, which is low, so be forewarned.)

File this one under “pretty good”

Bisley is a neat, simple one-deck solitaire that allows you to build on a pair of foundations for each suit rather than the typical one.  It’s pretty high-skill with a reasonably high solvable probability (probably in the one-in-four range), and it also happens to be really easy to intuit if you’ve played other solitaires before, something that takes a while in a game like Freecell.

An appropriate, kablooey-ey ending

David Parlett is a fascinating man, having invented quite a few excellent games (such as Ninety-Nine, seen here earlier.  He also edited an excellent book on solitaires, which I keep handy because I’m a huge nerd.  It includes several games of his own devising.  One of the better ones is Black Hole, a game all about eliminating cards by bobbing up and down… or something like that.  Someone did the math and determined that almost 90 percent of the deals are winnable, so, y’know, that’s on you if you don’t succeed.  (He also has a Freecell variant called Penguin that’s supposedly pretty good, but I don’t know why you wouldn’t just play Freecell instead.)

And, as with the utter end of a bright shining star that a black hole represents–yes, I know it was probably a red giant and not actually that bright beforehand, you shush you–we also come to the utter end of this Guide to the Cardpocalypse.  Hopefully you’ve learned a few new games to break out at the table, or at least have some pointers to explore when you’re wondering what else you can do with that thin stack of pasteboard… or plastic, of course, if you’re doing it right.  I love cards, and I hope you do, or will, too.

Weekly status update [0033/????]

What a week.

  • Saturday, Sunday, and Monday: the storm that didn’t really hit us.  I had thoughts.
  • Most of my weekend time–and, actually, most of my time during the week as well–was spent reading.  I think I read something like twelve novels in the last seven days; I know for a fact that I read three just yesterday.  It was nice.  I particularly want to note the three Seanan McGuire novellas that start with Every Heart a Doorway and the three Ben H. Winters novels that start with The Last Policeman.  They were all particularly pleasant reads.  I’m currently in the middle of Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee, the first in another trilogy.  It had a bit of an impenetrable start, but I’m over halfway through it and enjoying it thoroughly now.
  • I also got back (at least temporarily) into watching television.  It’s Last Man on Earth and Brooklyn Nine-Nine in the morning, then the just-released season of Bojack Horseman and season two of Jessica Jones in the afternoon.  Both of those are almost done, though; I’ll move onto Luke Cage for sure, and probably finally start the second season of Fargo as well.
  • Several of my old coworkers (and some that would be new, were I still working) were in town this week, and I was invited to a pair of group events.  Those were nice, but honestly the best evening was Tuesday, which involved just three of us having a long conversation about science fiction over dinner at the best local Tex-Mex place.  It’s always nice to catch up with folks, but I do much better in small groups than I do in large ones, and I’m delighted that someone reached out to plan that dinner.  (Thanks, Mike!)
  • The downside of said dinner: despite getting through a dozen novels this week, my library stack actually grew (in word count, if not volumes) thanks to suggestions-slash-recommendations from that extended conversation. Sigh.
  • Puzzles provided a nice series of interrupts over the course of the week.  Not just for me, too; I had Amazon ship a fat stack of puzzle books to one of my cousins back home, who had expressed interest in them back when I visited in April, and spent a couple of hours on the phone over the course of the week helping her work through some of them.  She seems pretty hooked, which gives me a good feeling.  Puzzles are awesome.
  • Nothing exciting on the video game front, though; I’m mostly taking a break after the heavy Creeper World action from the past few weeks, just maintaining my dailies in the handful of free-to-play games I still muck around with.  I really, really need to put Let It Die to bed.

I’ll finish up my Cardpocalypse series this coming week.  I know my tiny readership isn’t big on commenting, but: this is your final chance to get me to cover anything you think I’ve missed.  So, uh, get on that, I guess?

The warm equations

[Warning: This entry is darker than my usual fare.  It also makes heavier use of expletives.]

I fucking hate hurricanes.

That seems like a pointlessly true statement: who, exactly, likes them?  Jim Cantore, maybe (but probably not).  It keeps part of the NOAA in business.  Sociopath televangelists who “believe” that hurricanes are messages from God to repent our sins… much like the message that insists you call the 1-800 number emblazoned at the bottom of the screen to help fund their war against gays and the IRS.

It’s all well and good to wish (or pray, if that’s your thing) that a hurricane not make landfall at all, that it spin out over the ocean and mostly wish ill on pods of whales, but the moment they near the shore and start their unwieldy, unpredictable devestation, everyone’s plea becames: not me.

There’s the rub, though: isn’t everyone making that plea?  Everyone except Jim Cantore, of course, who has to go drive out into the middle of the damn thing, who is probably just going let’s get this over with so I can get dry for a goddamn change.

Hurricane Florence came aground this weekend; I spent a large portion of last week doing preparatory work for the event.  The fridge was filled, the shelf overflowed with Essential Hurricane Snax™, the spare bathtub used for the first time in several years in case I needed to bail water into the toilets so I could flush like a normal human being.  Stacks of books teetered on my couch, my Kindle Paperwhite charged back to full, crappy knockoff Yankee Candles squatted on the vanity in case the power went out and I had to take a leak in the middle of the night.

In the end, it was a non-event here in Lenoir.  Lots of wind–at times it felt like my house was about to take flight, a puddle-jumper take on The Wizard of Oz–and sporadic bursts of fine-drop rain that ended as abruptly as they started.  It’s easy to feel happy, even weirdly put-out: I did all that work for this?  Summer afternoon cloudbursts have been scarier than this shit.

But: New Bern.  A mother and child dead in Wilmington because of a tree that crushed their house.  In many places, the rivers continue to rise.  The flooding’s not over yet.

Not me, them.

Let’s pretend for a moment that I’m actually a competent human being, that I was actually as well-prepared for the situation as I could be.  I mean, it’s not that far-fetched; I’m from Louisiana.  I have memories of sitting wrapped up in a blanket on the covered porch of the house where I grew up, wet and getting wetter by the moment, while Hurricane Andrew dumped its trillions of gallons of water over southern Louisiana after it had decided that destroying most of south Florida was just not quite enough death and destruction.  This wasn’t my first major storm.

What if I could have, somehow, made the storm come this way?

What about everyone else in the area?  The people who weren’t as well-prepared, due to lack of diligence, lack of knowledge, lack of money?  How is that fair to them, just because I can handle it?

So: not me.  Let it be someone else, let the next town over have the long thin scar of the tornado, let the catastrophe be cozily distant, abstract and on the other side of an OLED display.  There is no such thing as a fair share of misery, so let mine be smaller, let my wishes be granted more often than those of the people sixty miles down the road, wishing just as fervently.  The equation is there; lives will be lost, homes destroyed, families shattered.  Just: not me.

I fucking hate hurricanes.

Weekly status update [0032/????]

I’m writing this one early, since it’s entirely possible that by the end of today I’ll be without power for a week or so.  That’s what I get for thinking that western North Carolina is all that different from Louisiana…

  • Speaking of which, a non-trivial amount of time this week was spent on preparations for Florence.  I bought a bunch of low-carb snacks, along with a lot of liquids (read: Coke Zero and, as an even bigger treat, Ginger Lime Diet Coke) to add thermal mass to my fridge, which is usually almost completely bare.  Charged spare phones and, vitally, my Kindle Paperwhite; checked out a metric ton of books from the library, washed every scrap of clothing I have, et cetera.  I’m as prepped as I’m likely to get.  Now it’s just a matter of lasting through the storm.
  • My reading binge continued, albeit at a bit of a slower pace.  Noir wasn’t as good as The Serpent of Venice (both by Christopher Moore); I actually really liked the latter, although I have no particular attachment to either The Merchant of Venice or Othello.  I thought it was quite a bit better than Fool, even.  Now I’m working on The Black Opera by Mary Gentle, which is good if dense… and glancing over at the 25 (!) other books I have checked out.  Woof.
  • I also played quite a bit on the computer.  Specifically, I finished off Creeper World 2 and its free Flash sequel CW2: Academy.  I really liked it, although the time pressures in a couple of the levels were very non-traditional for the series.  If you’re a fan of tower-defense-y RTS-y turtle-y indie-y games, the series will provide many hours of fun for not a lot of money.  It’s available on Steam.  Now to see if I can get Particle Fleet: Emergence working…
  • Still haven’t touched the code for Dudes.  Life got a little more hectic slash stressful than I like for jumping into something with that level of complexity.
  • I did find time to watch a couple more episodes of Jessica Jones, which seems to finally be picking up steam halfway through the season.  And the new episodes of BoJack Horseman dropped just this morning.  I watched the first one and see no reason to believe it won’t continue to be, for my money, the best show currently “on television” (whatever that means in the streaming era).
  • My order of puzzle books from Turkey finally came in after spending over a week in Customs.  I’m super-stoked about them; there seem to be lots of neat, interesting puzzles inside, even if some of them (like the traditional logic problems) will be forever cut off to me since I don’t read Turkish.  It’s every issue of the magazine ever published, and they only cost me $2 apiece even with shipping halfway around the planet, which goes to show just how big a price disparity there is on these sorts of things.

Right now I’m sitting in my comfy recliner, watching the wind steadily pick up in speed outside while I prepare to curl up with a book for a while.  I’ll post again here later this weekend, assuming I can.  See you on the other side!

Guide to the Cardpocalypse, part five: Other multiplayer games

Now that we’ve covered two big groups of games, it’s time to hit some other random ones that I didn’t feel fit into the previous articles.

Beating as one

Hearts is a classic game, commonly (and incorrectly) considered a trick-taking game.  It’s actually a trick avoidance game, with the quirk of “shooting the moon” adding a heavy risk/reward element to the experience.  It can handle variable numbers of players with a little deck adjustment, removing cards to ensure even counts, but like many card games it’s at its best with four players.

That said, I’m actually personally not a huge fan of Hearts.  Its punitive scoring system often makes for an unpleasant game, and it feels more luck-driven than even simple traditional trick-takers.  But a lot of that is due to my own preferences for how games should feel at the table, rather than being Hearts’ fault.

Also note that Hearts is another one of those folk games where you’re going to want to get confirmation on the rules from everyone involved.

Pegging for points

Cribbage is another game of the ages, and almost certainly the oldest surviving game in this list; it’s been played in basically the same way for something like four hundred years.

Let that sink in: this game is older than almost every single modern settlement in North America.

It’s an odd beast, with ways of scoring that are not particularly intuitive to a newcomer (and ways for opponents to steal points you miss), and traditionally it uses side equipment in the form of a board with pegs that track your score.  In the event of the Cardpocalypse, though, you should feel free to just use pencil and paper if you can’t find an appropriate board.

While it can be played by more than two (four-player partnership Cribbage is apparently very good, although I’ve never tried it), Cribbage is essentially a two-player game at heart; if you have a different count, play something else instead.  But it’s probably one of the best two-player card games in existence.  I’ve never managed to get any good at it… but don’t let that stop you.

The real multiplayer solitaire

(We’re going to assume that all copies of Race for the Galaxy were lost in the Cardpocalypse.  Heh.)

Another excellent two-player game is Spite and Malice (although, like Cribbage, it can be forced into being for more players… although you shouldn’t.)  It does indeed play much like a game of solitaire or patience, where you are in a race to shed your cards faster than your opponent.  I’ll note that it is generally played with two identically-backed decks shuffled together, so there may be a bit of an equipment issue for this game compared to most of those listed here… but it’s too good of a game to not write about.  Because of its solitaire-y nature, it feels quite different from most of the other games I’ve covered here.  And, yes, it’s another folk game where you’re going to have to make sure that you’re playing the same thing your fellow post-Cardpocalyptic survivor thinks they’re playing.

The exploding psychological inevitable

I’m not going to write about Poker for a bunch of reasons.  I don’t really think it’s a card game, for one; the play is in the psychology of the pot, not the cards themselves, which really just exist as a randomizer.  And there are many vastly superior write-ups of the game online than anything I could bang out on my Chromebook in any reasonable time-frame.  But I’m pretty sure that Poker (and in particular Texas Hold’em) is basically the cockroach of games now; even after the Cardpocalypse, people will still be shooting each other over cheating at the damn thing.  They may have to use blow-darts or arrows because everyone’s run out of ammo, but Poker will be there.  So it probably behooves you to learn it too.  Sigh.

This is (almost) the end, my friends

I plan on writing one more main article for this series, covering solitaires.  So now’s the time to speak up: are there any major games I missed that you feel are essential to the Cardpocalypse?  Convince me and I’ll write a follow-up article to include them.  I’d also love to know if this Guide caused you to take a second look at a game you had passed by before, or to try something completely new with your friends or family.

See you next time for the exciting maybe-conclusion!

Weekly status update [0031/????]

After the (relatively) busy times of last week, we’re back to something rather more like my usual speed.

  • I read a lot.  A lot.  I still have a stack of a good dozen books I checked out at the library (which prompted me to write my paean to the institution earlier this week), but on the whole I made a bunch of forward progress.  Most of it was fiction; Lamb by Christopher Moore stood out, although it suffers from the problem that those most likely to get the most out of it are also those most likely to never, ever read it.  The sole non-fiction book was Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, which was impressively readable.  I typically take two to four times longer to read non-fiction, but I tore through Peak in a single afternoon.
  • I also watched a whole bunch of TV for basically the first time in months.  For whatever reason I was in the mood to give The Good Place a shot; cue spending much of three days tearing through both already-aired seasons.  It’s extraordinarily good, probably the most clever show I’ve seen in years, with a bunch of genuine laugh-out-loud moments and a stellar cast.  Most impressive (to me) is the showing that the main actors who aren’t Ted Danson and Kristen Bell make; I had never heard of Jameela Jamil, not being British, and she is absolutely fantastic in her role as a do-gooder aristo.  The real find–I assume everyone in Britain already knew of her awesomeness–is William Jackson Harper, who plays against Bell’s “banality of mediocre not-quite-evil” with a combination of exasperation and existential dread that is absolutely pitch-perfect.  Never has the word “what?” had such an impact.  I don’t want to write an article on the show, because to really cover what I’d like to cover it’d be spoiler-y as heck, but if you haven’t watched it yet: what the fork are you doing?
  • After getting my second Burnout Paradise Platinum trophy (per my past article, the game thankfully only has one really stupid one), I went back to mostly just playing my daily free-to-play stuff on my PS4.  The computer’s another matter, though; I’ve been on a huge “old strategy game” kick, playing the original Heroes of Might and Magic and Warlords and other games of that ilk.  Most of the time has been with Creeper World 2, which is… wildly different from the first and third games, not just in raw design–the side-view thing is a big twist–but also in its heavy use of timed stages.  Lots of fun, though.
  • Other than all of that, just the typical “spending too much on games I don’t need,” on both the digital and board-type front.  You know, the usual.
  • I haven’t touched the code for Dosat yet.  Soon.

To be fair, after the relative excitement of last week, it was nice to mostly just curl up with a stack of books and get my literature on.  Which I will likely continue this coming week… to my distinct pleasure.

Biblio tech

I’ve been spending most of my time this past week reading; I tore through an entire book yesterday, stopping only to go to Fercott and play games for an hour and a half (Lamb by Christopher Moore, which was very good), and this weekend I read both collected volumes of Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, 800+ pages of manga that completely entranced me the whole way through.  I currently have a pair of teetering stacks on my sofa, waiting to be read.

And they’re all from the library.

I think that, at least here in the US, there is a common… not disrespect, necessarily, but intentional devaluing of the services that libraries provide, particularly among those that consider themselves “middle class.”  Even I have gone in and out of heavy usage periods with local libraries, and the general not-really-logic over the years has often been something like:

  • I have a job that makes pretty decent money.
  • Books are really nice objects.
  • I know the library has most of the books I want, but not all of them…
  • …and I can afford to buy books.
  • And then they’re mine.  Mine!  For all eternity.
  • So I should buy my books.

Up until that last point, there’s really nothing particularly flawed with that reasoning.  But that last step is not all that far removed from the old “then a miracle occurs” comic strip.  While it’s absolutely true that any reasonable rate of book collection is unlikely to bankrupt someone of even modest means, it’s also almost always unnecessary.

The big reason is utility: if you buy a book, read it once, then put it on a shelf, what exactly is that book doing for you the other 99.995% of its lifetime?  Nothing, really.  And don’t get me wrong, a lot of the books on the shelves of a modern library don’t get checked out very often… but that’s still a lot more utility than the ones sitting dusty in the far corner of your bedroom.

There are others, too; inter-library loan, or things like the Cardinal system here in North Carolina, can get you the books that your local library doesn’t have.  And libraries have a ton of other things besides, DVDs and CDs and paintings and public computers and sometimes even board games and video games.  But I think that libraries also often have a whiff of the desperate, the needy, the plebeian, that a certain middle class mentality frowns upon.  “That’s nice,” it proposes, “but not for me.  It’s for other, less well-to-do people, and students.”

Well… no.  You pay for your local library with taxes.  You should use the hell out of your local library.

I’ve made it an intentional habit that, whenever I put a book on hold (which is often) and go into the library to pick it up, I also browse the New Book shelf and the science fiction section.  Librarians will almost always have some books on those little display rack things, and I end up picking up one or two or five of those because they look interesting; the last time I went to the library I picked up my one on-hold book and nine others I had never even heard of.  And you know what?  Some of my best recent reads came from that sort of random browsing.  I just finished a book called The Comedown that was a solid bit of modern literary fiction… and a book I would have never read “on my own,” because it’s in a genre I pay basically no attention to.  But it was on the New Book rack, I took a chance on it, and that chance paid off.

That’s not to say that I never buy books any more.  There are a couple of authors (Scalzi, Stross) whose books I still preorder as sort of a vestigial “I really like them and want to support them” thing.  And sometimes someone recommends a book to me, I poke around on Cardinal and see no live copies, and so I pick up one used on Amazon for $5.  But I try to keep that all to a minimum; my house is already way too cluttered with board games to make a whole bunch of room for more books, and the vast majority of what I want can be found at the library anyhow.  I was the first person to get Stephen King’s most recent book (The Outsider, which was quite a delightful read) at the local library, and I got it maybe a week after it came out.  Not exactly long-delayed gratification.

Now, I know I’m a partisan.  I was on the Board for the local library until politics drove me off, after all!  But even if you’re not as passionate about libraries as I am, the next time you think about placing an order on Amazon for a book you’re likely to only read once, think: couldn’t I just pick this up from the library?

And maybe you’ll find some other life-changing book waiting for you on one of those little racks when you do.

Weekly status update [0030/????]

A busier week than usual, that’s for sure.

  • I spent a non-trivial amount of time this week playing Burnout Paradise Remastered on my PS4.  I spent something like 60-70 hours in the game back on the PS3, and it was a delight to play it again… although I don’t plan on doing nearly everything there is to do in the game like I did back then.  Racing games generally leave me cold, but there’s something about Paradise that makes it a delight to play.  Except for the fact that it plays “Paradise City” every time it boots up.  Ugh.  I have to mute the TV each time I start the game.
  • We had a board game night Tuesday at Fercott.  We played the second edition of London; previously, I enthused about the game, and I still think it’s really good, but I also think that you probably shouldn’t play it with more than three people, and really two is best.  There’s too much “luck of the draw” for the result to be very stable at four.  (I’m not just saying this because I got crushed… but I got crushed.)
  • I spent much of Wednesday up in the hills and mountains with a friend; we went to Wiseman’s View.  A non-trivial amount of the trip’s time was spent on the barely-maintained gravel road leading to the View, and we were the only people there, which was a bit surprising; the day was beautiful, if warm, and the sight down into the gorge utterly stunning.  I had a really good time.  It was nice actually getting out in the woods and into the sun; as I lose weight, my desire to take up hiking is beginning to grow again.  Perhaps next season.
  • I went to the library Thursday to get a single book I had on hold and ended up with ten, which went into a stack with a bunch of other books I’m behind on reading (mostly thanks to Burnout Paradise Remastered).  I’m almost done with one today, though, and plan on tearing through much of the rest in short order.  Libraries are awesome and people don’t use them nearly enough.
  • The programming urge has been growing steadily stronger, so I finally steeled myself and bugged Donald X. Vaccarino (of Dominion fame) to release a game he wrote for himself as open source.  He actually went for it, to my mild surprise.  It’s written in Object Pascal with some very old DOS graphics and mouse tech; my current plan is to basically rewrite it 1:1 in C so that it’ll actually be maintainable into the foreseeable future.  Once I get that done I’ll look into actual improvements to the game itself.  I haven’t actually started coding on it yet; I plan to begin with some of the tools he wrote to mess with the data files, so as to get my feet wet again.  But I am excited!
  • I watched the first episode of Jack Ryan, mostly to get the Twitch bits.  It was… fine?  I mean, I love Wendell Pierce to bits, and after seeing A Quiet Place I’m down with John Krasinski in serious roles, but it sure feels not nearly enough removed from the torture porn of 24 for my liking.  I may watch another episode or two… or I may not, given how little TV I’ve managed these last couple of months.  We’ll see.

So, yeah, lots of stuff going on this past week, including some things I hadn’t done in ages.  I look forward to working on the game, reading these books, and, y’know, in general continuing to chip away at the infinite rock face of “things I want to do.”  As one does.