Cuba Libre by Elmore Leonard

I went to the local second-hand bookshop looking for an Elmore Leonard novel, any Elmore Leonard novel. I was looking for the kind of dialogue that Quentin Tarantino looks up to. I was looking for a character like Raylan Givens in Justified

Cuba Libre has a lot going for it: set in Cuba when America invades. Corrupt local soldiers. Honest local cops. A cowboy with a fast draw that gets him into trouble. A beautiful and smart blonde a long way from home. A soldier unjustifiably detained. A greedy plantation owner and the old fixer that works for him. A dumb henchman. A cold-heart-ed killer.

Unfortunately the book is only just the sum of its parts. I’ve followed Ryan Holiday’s advice and given it a few weeks to settle in and I like the book much less than I did when I finished it. The flaws have become more obvious: Some characters and plot points are superfluous. The dialog is exposition heavy rather than snappy. I didn’t buy the romantic storyline at all.

Look, the story is fine. It would be a decent holiday read. But this probably isn’t the Elmore Leonard I was looking for. 

This post is syndicated to GoodReads.

Progress on a new video game

In the spirit of showing my work, here’s a peek at a game I’ve been working on:  codename SPADE. 

A character moving through levels

SPADE started out as a cut down clone of Shamus, an annoyingly hard yet oddly addicting game I played for hours and hours on my family XT clone in the late 80s. Despite all those hours I never got close to clocking the game. I want SPADE to be a game I can actually beat.

I’ve been making the game in pico-8, the same tool I used to make yet another version of robotfindskitten last year. 

I started out building the maps manually using pico-8’s sprite and map editor. It looked kinda like this. Pretty fussy and complicated to write code around.

Pixel art is not my forte

For some reason I decided it would be easier and more fun to do procedural generation of the maps. Darius Kazemi’s articles on how Spelunky’s levels are generated provided the recipe. I expected it would take me a few hours to implement. 

It took a lot longer. Like ages. Like a “how the fuck did I ever consider myself a programmer” amount of time. I got really good at logging and debugging.

DebugView.exe is an app for looking at print statements

I’m now at the point where I have any number of levels and a character that can move through them.

I have a TODO list and whenever the mood takes me and I have some quiet time I try and knock something off the list. Adding robots is next.

I’m not sure when the game will be playable. Working on it is a relaxation thing more than anything else. It’s been quite satisfying to do little bits at a time. I’m collecting screenshots of the game, photos of notes, that kind of thing. That archive has already brought me joy.

 I know I won’t be putting SPADE on itch.io like I did for robotfindskitten. I think it’ll just be for me. I hope I can beat it.

The Unfortunate Weezer Project

In 2012 I wrote an article about Weezer for Riot Radio, a music site published by my mate Mike. Sadly Riot, Radio is offline now so I’ve re-published the post here for posterity.

Remember last year when Mike placed Weezer’s Make Believe on the list of Worst Albums of All Time? He was right then and he’s right now. As Mike says, the Weezer all right thinking people know and love died that day.

Why is it that whenever Weezer put out a new album we all clamour to find out if it’s a return to form? Why do we give Rivers Cuomo another chance when he’s proven time and again he’s Lucy Van Pelt to our Charlie Brown, forever taking away the football at the last second. I think it’s because Weezer’s first two albums are so good that we still think of them as a class band lacking a bit of form.

Chatting with Mike and a few others over the years I’ve wondered if it’d be possible to scour the post 2000 Weezer catalog and make an album that’s as good as the first two. Can you make a set of songs that fits as well together like The Blue Album? Is there a unifying theme that works as well as Pinkerton? Earlier this year I decided to find out.

So how do you construct a new album worthy of Pinkerton? I came up with a few rules and you may or may not agree with them but this is how I decided:

  • There must be at least ten tracks.
  • There must be at least two deep cuts–it can’t be all singles.
  • A majority of the albums must be represented–picking songs from just Maladroit is not allowed.
  • B-sides, extra/exclusive/deluxe tracks, and holiday album tracks don’t count. Those songs should have been on the albums in the first place if they were truly worthy.

Next I dove into the Weezer catalogue and chronological order, taking notes and rating songs from zero to five as I went. Christ, it was hard going. I listened to every tune at least once. Many twice or three times. I reviewed and revised my scores and and pretty much left it at that for six months.

Last month I had another look at the list. There were eleven tunes that rated 4 or higher so I arbitrarily cut it off there. Then I made a playlist in iTunes and Spotify and I’ve listened to it dozens times in different orders and situations since then. I’m finally ready to call it.

You can make a pretty fantastic pop-rock album out of Weezer albums starting with The Green Album but it’s still not as good as the first two. There are some very catchy singles, ambitious anthems, and a more than a few big riffs, but the quality of lyrics has deteriorated so much that most of the songs just don’t have the depth of any random track from the first two albums. Comparing Tired of Sex with Where’s My Sex is just sad. It’s like Rivers just hopes that the songs rhyme. The kids will sing along anyway.

So Mike is still right. The Weezer we know is dead and gone–at least with regard to new recordings. Their current trend of playing The Blue Album or Pinkerton in their entirety gives the hope that Weezer the live act are still awesome, but that’s the best we can hope for.

Here’s the tracks in relatively chronological order with a few of my notes.

Hash Pipe

This was the first “new” Weezer track I heard. I was blown away by the riff and I still love it to this day. I can’t really make out the lyrics particularly well but who cares? That riff is good enough to get the Hash Pipe on the list.

Island In The Sun

Who doesn’t like the Spike Jonze video with all the animals? Nobody with a soul. Island In The Sun is nice a change of pace from a lot of the samey pop-rock that makes up The Green Album. The loud chorus might have found a home on The Blue Album.

Here’s the other version of the video. Not so good.

Dope Nose

“Cheese smells so good on a burnt piece of lamb.” Complete gibberish from Rivers Cuomo and typical of post Y2K Weezer. None of these tracks come close to the honesty of Across the sea from Pinkerton or Say it ain’t so on The Blue Album.

Keep Fishin’

This is pretty much a perfect pop-rock and the fucking Muppets guarantee a video hit. But I am fucked if I know what the song is actually about.

Take Control

The first non-single on this list and it’s here courtesy of that big ol’ metal riff.

Death and Destruction

A variation on the classic quiet/loud formula, Death and Destruction is quite a bit different to the songs on this list and to the other tracks on Maladroit. Of all these tunes, I reckon this is one of only a couple that could find a place on Pinkerton, possibly just after Getchoo.

Perfect Situation

This is the video that turned me back on to the song–Jorge Garcia in full Hurley character rocking out to what has to be the only song he likes on Make Believe.

Perfect Situation is classic Weezer and sounds like a b-side or alternate track from Pinkerton era. A great track.

Troublemaker

OK. Is this a prequel to The Good Life? I’m working from the idea that Rivers is not being serious with this song. Because, jeebus.

The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)

The wikipedia entry for The Greatest Man That Ever Lived is a fascinating read. The song is made up of eleven different styles and themes and is fucking hard to play on Rock Band.

The lyrics are atrocious. Imagine if the worst of the worst commenters from Reddit and Hacker News collaborated on a song. This is their love child. Just terrible. Great, yes, but terrible.

And yet I can’t help but love it.

Here’s a video of the band playing the song live and pulling it off.

Pork and Beans

Possibly the most honest Rivers has been since the close of Pinkerton. Weezer is now as musically nutritious as a can of Watties beans and they are absolutely fine with that.

Time Flies

A rough and ready track from Hurley and the only song from the last couple of albums to make it on the list. I particularly liked this lyric:

Some sad day, they’ll be taking me away
But I won’t be dead
Cause even when I’m gone, this stupid dance song
Will be in your head

Too fucking true.

If you’ve got Spotify you can listen to all the songs in chronological order in this playlist.

2019 Joe again. Weezer have continued to pump out albums since 2012. All bar Everything Will Be Alright In The End have been garbage. EWBAITA is a keeper, though.

Python to be renamed

I wrote this for segfault.org in May, 2000. I think I was living in London at the time. 

segfault.org was a nerd satire site, based on the style of slashdot that was popular in the late 90s and early 00s. It was founded and run by the internet’s Leonard Richardson and Scott James Remnant. segfault accepted reader submissions and they were kind enough to publish about a few by yours truly. 

Links to the post made it to a couple of Python mailing lists and Guido van Rossum kinda, sorta responded.

In a press conference held early this morning, Guido van Rossum, creator of the Python programming language Python, announced that his most famous project will be undergoing a name change. The new name for the language is Homer.

Python was originally named after the British comedy show Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Today Mr. van Rossum told reporters he had “gone off Python” and enjoyed watching reruns of the Simpsons. “I caught a Simpsons marathon last weekend – that Homer, he’s so useless and so funny. And that Bart, what a little rascal,” said van Rossum.

Mr. van Rossum denied that the name change was bcause former Flying Circus member John Cleese has repeatedly declined invitations to come round one evening for some pizza, a few beers and some late night hacking.

“No no,” he insisted. “I’m just sick of reading ‘I fart in your general direction’ on the error messages of every second Python program I use. I want some new jokes, and the Simpsons will provide them.”

As well as the name change it appears the Python organization will be getting a new sponsor – Fox TV. Australian-born Fox boss Rupert Murdoch explained:

“Yeah mate, Disney have got that bloody Squeak so I thought we should have a language too. It’s all fair dinkum, they get money, we get ratings. And anyway, the Simpsons is a bloody laugh, not like that limey rubbish.”

There were other benefits resulting from the name change, added Mr van Rossum. “Writing comments, for instance. Not everyone understood the phrase “Luuxury” next to a variable declaration, but everyone will get “Mmmmm, integers.”

Segfault.org asked John Cleese for his comments on todays announcement:

“I’m not too worried about the name change at all. Actually, I’m glad it’s all over. Perhaps he’ll stop pestering me about his god-awful hack-a-thons. If you ask me, there’s nothing you can do in Python or Homer or whatever-it’s-bloody-called-today that can’t be done faster and more efficiently in assembly code.”

Already Homer applications are popping up on freshmeat.net. Included among them are a a program that orderes a can of pop over the Internet when the TAB key is pressed, and a script that scans comments and replaces the word “Ni!” with “Doh!”

robotfindskitten for Pico-8

In 2014 I was faffing around with PutHTML along with a few people I’d met on IRC. After a couple throwaway experiments I decided to make a version of robotfindskitten, the Zen simulation originally written by the internet’s Leonard Richardson. It was very bad JavaScript code but it worked.

In 2018 I discovered Pico-8 and decided to replicate the experiment. 30-odd days ago I uploaded a working version of robotfindskitten to itch.io. It is very bad Lua code but it works. As of writing, dozens of people have tried it. Dozens!

You can play the game online at itch.io or download versions that will run on Windows, Linux, and macOS. And, you can get a “cart” that will run in the Pico-8 virtual console.

I really enjoyed making the game. I wrote the code, created the sounds, and named almost all of the non-kitten items. Like I said, it wasn’t good Lua code but it was very satisfying to build it from nothing and get it onto something like itch. I’ve started the next game which I think will be similar to the surfing and BMX mini-games from the 80’s California Games.