Mary Worth’s Howl, by Al “Screwball” Ginsberg

So, Lauren LoPrete‘s Peanuts + Smiths Lyrics mashup blog, This Charming Life, has been making the rounds; it ended up on Metafilter yesterday, which led to much riffing on other possible comic/band juxtapositions, and I saw someone mention Mary Worth and joked that it should in fact be:

Mary Worth and excerpts from Howl.

And it was just a dumb one-off joke, since who could be more square and straight and constitutionally terrified of something like unfiltered Ginsberg than good ol’ meddlin’ Mary.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about the idea, and so, here we go for real. Heavily excerpted in seven parts, because a one-shot wasn’t enough.

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maryworthshowl-02

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I’m a little bit in love with Jerkcity HD

Jerkcity is one of the ur-webcomics, a weird chat-transcript-as-comic habit among some friends that started way back in 1998, facilitated by the almost nearly as weird application Microsoft Comic Chat, a piece of software released in 1996 and featuring the art of beloved weirdo Jim Woodring. You’d type, and cartoon characters would belch out the things you said emphatically into word balloon, lettered of course in MS Comic Sans.

jerkcity-orig-4452

The comic was surreal, profane, incoherent, hilarious, self-aware, self-loathing, etc. It managed though its mannered-nonsense approach to vocabularian freestyling to birth what indirectly became one of Metafilter’s favorite memes, “hurf durf butter eater“. The whole mess is a little hard to explain other than that everybody was probably pretty high at the time.

Jerkcity HD, then, is a brand new blog collecting submissions of reworks of the original Jerkcity strips by anybody and everybody, so long as you abide by a few rules. With the original Jerkcity being daily updated for 15 years now, the chances of actually catching up with the archives are vanishingly slim, but I don’t figure that’s really the point, so let’s not worry about it. The point, such that it is, is that people are jumping in and the results are lovely and awesome and so on.

I’m digging it, and looking forward to seeing all the weird directions people take these reinterpretations in. I’ve got a bunch of ideas of my own, and have chucked my first submission in their (reportedly a bit crowded already) bin, but here it is in the mean time, reworking this strip shown above:

jerkcityhd-73s

New podcast: We Have Such Films To Show You

So! I’ve started doing a podcast miniseries with my friend from the internet, Yakov “griphus on Metafilter” Grinberg. We’re watching all of the Hellraiser films—there’s nine of them so far—and discussing/reviewing/dissecting/boggling-at them, one movie at a time.

It’s called We Have Such Films To Show You—that’s the blog for the show, there—and you can listen to episodes there or subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or RSS.

We recorded our first episode a couple days ago, going over the original 1987 film (written and directed by Clive Barker, the horror author whose novella The Hellbound Heart was the basis for the film), and it was a fantastic time and two hours just flew by. If you’ve seen the film or are otherwise familiar already with the Hellraiser franchise or Barker’s work, you’re pretty much the target demographic already, but we talk in enough loving, rambling detail about the content of the film that it’s probably plenty listenable even coming at it cold if you enjoy listening to a couple of enthusiastic nerds bullshitting about the pros and cons of 80s horror filmmaking.

We’ll be doing another episode every couple weeks.

Doing things vs. wondering if people will notice

This is a thing I presume lots of folks struggle with, but it’s been on my mind a lot lately:

I spend a lot of time that I could spend doing a thing sitting around peeking at page views and comments and web analytics and tumblr likes and so on, wondering who is noticing a thing I did. And it feels pretty off balance sometimes.

Here’s the givens:

1. I really like making stuff; music, writing, art, humor stuff, weird programming stunts, whatever. Building a thing, doing a thing. I like going from “I bet I could do x” to sitting down and making x happen, or making a solid and realistic plan for how to make x happen; I like turning silly ideas into silly realities. It’s rewarding enough in its own right that when I’m doing it right it doesn’t feel like work even if it takes real effort.

2. But I also like positive feedback. I like to know when people like a thing I made; I like to know when what strikes me as funny or interesting or curious enough to put down on paper (or .jpg or .mp3 or or or) is also curious or interesting or funny to other people. I like that connection, that validation, that sense that I’m not just sitting around in my treehouse by myself. I like it when I see that other people get what I’m after. It’s exciting; it’s gratifying.

And I think both of those are pretty normal and reasonable things, but like I said above, it can get to feeling off-balance. If I’m spending more of my time looking, for the nth time, to see if there’s new thumbs going up on something I posted than I’m spending making the next thing? That feels like a problem. Why am I cycling from one site to the next, dousing for validation, instead of just getting on with the great big stack of Some Day projects that today could be the day for? Why am I sitting around wondering if people will notice what I did, when the answer shouldn’t really matter and the energy I spend on that could be spent making something new?

I try to be self-aware about the whole thing, but self-awareness of a problem and addressing it effectively aren’t the same thing, so some days I end up sitting around sort of being aware that I’m not using my time the way I’d like to be but just not using it well anyway and feeling sort of wrapped up in that conflict and vibrating uselessly. It’s a frustrating thing.

And then I check twitter and flickr and mlkshk and tumblr and metafilter and facebook and my WordPress blogs and my web analytics again. The growth and decentralization of my pool of places-where-I-put-stuff-I-make-or-talk-to-people over time is probably exacerbating this whole thing a bit, and the idea of recentralizing somewhat (likely by routing a lot more of my output through this lately-pretty-dormant blog) has some appeal but isn’t a panacea. (And, turtles all the way down, I would likely do the work to facelift the blog and rework things and then announce that on twitter and sit around wondering who will notice…)

It’s a tricky thing. I’m working on it. I figure a lot of people are. But some days, some months, it feels like more of a thing than usual, and I guess this is one of those.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go draw a picture of Bird President Ptarmigan Jefferson.

Bird Presidents #27: Theodore Crowsevelt

Theodore Crowsevelt

We must treat each bird on his merit and worth as a bird.
~ Theodore Crowsevelt

Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt; the crow, in this case I think specifically the American Crow though no known species actually have mustaches or wear tiny spectacles.

The first bird president I drew, and so posted out of order. Also I believe I accidentally transposed “merit” and “worth” from the actual quote.

Just a little experiment this morning after I got the name “Crowsevelt” stuck in my brain for some reason.

In retrospect it’s hard to put a mustache on a bird; if I were to do this again I’d probably push the perspective to bring the face forward in the composition and give myself some more room to work with in caricature. But I’m also just not totally sure how to bridge the gap between Teddy and a crow, physiologically speaking, so hey.

Will now spend the rest of the day trying to think of other Presidential bird puns.

Metafilter Frequency Tables: 13 years, 636 million words

I’ve updated today a project I first launched a couple years ago: Metafilter Frequency Tables, a collection of tables calculated from the last 13 years of comments made by users on Metafilter.com.

The tables break down word frequency for the site as a whole as well as by several major subsites, and for all time as well as by year, month, and day. Each table includes raw count and parts-per-million data for each word. It’s all generated by some perl I wrote that fetches comments from our database and tabulates it into these text files. Read about the methodology here.

This isn’t by far the most carefully constructed set of such tables out there — I am a hobbyist, not a trained linguist, and this whole effort is very much DIY — but it’s the largest I’m aware of focused specifically on this sort of internet-mediated casual textual conversation over the last decade-plus, and I’m hoping it will be of some use or interest to word nerds.

Notes on The Franklin Post

During my senior year of high school, I was a writer for our school newspaper, The Franklin Post. I held onto a few issues after graduating, and lost track of them in one box or another for years and years; I just recently found them again. Below are scans and some notes of the entirety of the April 28th, 1997 issue, along with some clippings from a few other issues.

The Post was produced entirely in-school, by students, up to the point of actual printing; we had a faculty advisor, Helen Wittke, who ran editorial meetings and kept us more or less in check, but as far as I can remember the student staff was in charge of running pretty much the whole show in terms of writing, photography, editing and layout. We had a collection of Macs for workstations, did graphic design and layout work with some desktop publishing suite or another, and physically pasted finished columns and photos together onto large boards for delivery to the printers. The paper was generally eight or twelve pages, eleven by seventeen inch pages black-and-white on newsprint (with the occasional highlight color for some pages/issues; I remember red for the holiday issue, for example).

I don’t remember exactly how I got involved that year; I think I had to work/beg/promise my way around a pre-requisite course I hadn’t taken the previous year and wouldn’t have time for since this was my senior year. I didn’t have any news or journalism experience, but I was an enthusiastic writer and had taken a black-and-white photography class the previous year, so at least I was coming to it with more than just the sort of “maybe I should try that” idle curiosity that got me into a couple disastrous seasons of school sports earlier in my childhood.

And it was a great time, it turned out. If I think about it I’m sure I can dredge up some memory or other of any of my classes from senior year, or high school in general, but Journalism just leaps back to me especially vividly. I’d done some self-guided courses in previous years, for programming credits where the school lacked the enrollment or curriculum to justify a proper classroom experience, but those were more like private study periods than anything; working on the paper was very different, this strange freeform thing, a lumbering collaborative project that we all had to get done together, kicking around at big tables and workstations in a room that really felt like a workshop.

Plus we got away with a whole lot of hanging out and bullshitting. And I was really finally finding my bullshitting legs at that point in my life, after being pretty introverted and socially isolated for a lot of years. I loved it. I was probably a terrible pain in the ass a lot of the time; I remember a few specific situations where I’m certain I was, and that’s just the stuff I had the self-awareness at the time to remember and the sense in retrospect to regret.

FranklinPost-clipping-staffbox

Our staff: Misty Redmon, Colleen Coombes, Tobias Green, Bryan Hunt, Brock Briones, Savanna Walls, Nathan Saunders, Beth Coleman, Carrie Brummer, Joy Geren, Jimmy Ho, Derek Moore, Kathleen Peterson, April Rautio, Abbie Vaught, Cydny Winslow, Nick Wolchesky, Willie Schmaltz, and me.

Tobias was always “Toby” to me and might be again at this point; I can’t remember if he really went formal with it in person or just liked how it looked on the byline there. Bryan was sometimes “Mike” because we were terrible people but I’m pretty sure Savanna started it. And Willie was at that point I think already on his way to preferring “Wilder”, which in his defense is a way better name, though my family still calls him Willie because whatever your name was back in middle school pretty much sticks with them forever.

I don’t remember being the Opinion Editor, and in fact checking the staff box for the issue below (the box above is from a different issue) I’m listed there as Sports Editor, which I also don’t remember being. We must have been assigned or argued for monthly editorial assignments? Forgotten detail.

Franklin Post – Monday, April 28th, 1997

Important note, you can click on an image below to get a much higher-res view for readability’s sake.

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Page 1:

- Franklin celebrates May Fete for 75 years, April Rautio.
- Franklin wins award two years running, Savanna Walls.
- FHS Mock Trial team’s first appearance at state, Bryan Hunt.

I should apologize for the sometimes dodgy scans here; these were grabbed on a little consumer printer/scannier/copy in a hurry, so margins are a bit tight and a bit sloppy in places, and (as in the break in the center of this page) text occasionally got cut out by bad placement of edges.
Continue reading

Desperately Seeking JUSTIN BAILEY

I wrote this up this morning for Mapstalgia; cross-posting it here as well.

It looked something like this

This is just a best-guess sketch; I can no longer remember clearly the details of the password screen on Metroid.

Did the alphabetic selection field have only letters and numbers like this, in four rows of nine?  It feels doubtful.  I suspect there was a space, maybe a dash, maybe a dot?  Maybe in four rows of ten?  Or was it three rows of twelve?  I don’t think there was a backspace; I feel like I remember having to go forward through the whole password again one character at a time if I needed to fix a typo.  Was the default character 0, like I have here in the bottom row, or dashes, or blanks, or something else?  I can’t remember anymore.

But there was, for sure, a 24-character password field, and that was laid out in two lines, one on top of the other, each of those lines composed of two separate six-character fields.  And there were letters and numbers to select from.  White letters, or maybe yellow, on a black field, those squarish block letters that were such a standard part of NES cartridges.  That much I remember for sure.

In any case, at this late date the only password I can remember is the password, the skeleton key, the built-in game genie code:

JUSTIN BAILEY.

With JUSTIN BAILEY, you were in.  You got Samus with her power suit off, running around Zebes with her long hair flowin’ and wearing a bikini out of Barbarella (which, for a mid-80s platformer, qualified as straight-up empowering); you got a bunch of power-ups like the jumpboots and the spinjump, and a bunch of missiles and energy tanks.  You were ready to kick some Mother Brainful ass, at least after a tedious energy refill at the nearest wasp fountain — those energy tanks start empty, magic password or no.

The password needed 24 characters total, but the first twelve were all that mattered in this case: you just put in J U S T I N   B A I L E Y up top and underneath you could throw in any junk you wanted and it’d work no matter what.  Line noise, lottery numbers, S M E L L S   M Y B U T T, whatever you liked.  No matter what, Samus Aran came out the other side in full-on badass mode.

I don’t know where I learned about JUSTIN BAILEY anymore; it was more than twenty-five years ago, now.  On the playground?  Maybe.  From my Nintendo Power subscription?  More likely.

But why JUSTIN BAILEY, anyway?  That was the question in my mind as a kid.  And at some point as a kid, I came up with an answer, the origins of which, like the details of the Metroid password entry screen, are now lost to me: did I invent this story myself?  Hear it from a friend?  Internalize and extrapolate something in a Nintendo Power issue?

My guess is I made it up and then presented it to friends at school as having been Something I Read because that had more authority and put me at less risk of being told that I had a dumb idea; if it’s something Someone Else Said, it’s unassailable, right?  I did a lot of pretending to have heard stuff elsewhere (and, conversely, pretending to know what TV show or movie or song people were talking about or riffing on), when I was a kid.

But if I made it up but then pretended it was someone else’s factoid, step two would have been to repeat that fiction so often that I’d forget, at least on the surface, that I’d made it up.  Fake it till you make it.  And so now here I am, a quarter of a century later, not sure where the story came from and feeling obliged to call my younger self a liar, because it’s the best bet.

But the story.

The story goes like this: once upon a time, some kid had an idea for a game, an idea about an outer space bounty hunter with a gun for a hand who killed space monsters and defeated a weird monster in a jar.

And he wrote this idea down in a letter, and he mailed that letter to Nintendo, and Nintendo said, hey, this is a really great game idea.  What do you call this game?

Metroid, he thought it should be called.  Because you have to fight the dreaded metroids.

And they said, Metroid it is.  We’re gonna do it: we’re gonna make your idea into a game.  By the way, kid, what’s your name?

My name, he’d clarified, is Justin Bailey.

It’s a short and ridiculous story, but as a kid it was a kind of ultimate wish fulfillment fantasy.  I loved video games, I loved my NES; I drew what I thought of in naive eight-year-old terms as video game maps and design documents, pictures of levels and characters, graph paper renditions of character sprites, Legend of Zelda fanfiction (though I’d never heard of fanfic in the 80s).

So what could be better than inventing a game?  And as a kid who only knew, of games, that (a) they were awesome and (b) Nintendo made them, how else would it work than to write them a letter with some drawings and just knock their socks off?

Later, growing up, I got into programming and started to realize for the first time that video games were something I could make myself.  That there was no step in the process where someone waves a magic wand and performs a miracle; there was no impassible barrier on the wrong side of which I and the rest of the non-videogame-making world were trapped; it was just a thing you could do with computers if you learned a lot and set your mind to it.

There was a point of transition, somewhere in high school, where I went from being someone who wanted to be a Nintendo Game Counselor when I grew up to being someone who felt like he could Make Videogames when he grew up.

I ended up doing neither; I studied programming in high school and computer science in college, and did plenty of programming and made the occasional small proof-of-concept game, but life went in other directions and I ended up not getting work at a game company or investing myself seriously in independent game development.

I knock out the occasional silly experiment (e.g. FLEE! or Faverunner) and toy with ideas I could put real energy into if I tried, but it’s all a lot of work and a lot of frustration and throwing out stuff that doesn’t work and cursing unfamiliar libraries and chasing down weird bugs and performing intensive physical therapy on my atrophied coding muscles.  And I have other hobbies as well, and a wife I like to spend time with, and a job I care about, and all these other videogames people have made that need playing, and, and, and.

And it’d all just be a lot simpler if I could just write a letter to someone at Nintendo and say:

Hi, my name is Josh Millard, and I’ve got an idea for a game.  If you want to make it, that’s okay with me.  Just make my name the best password in the whole game.