WorldCat’s new canonical URIs are ugly and stupid

WorldCat is now permanently redirecting straightforward, hackable identifier-based URIs, to new, absurdly long canonical URIs . This means that a link to something like:

http://www.worldcat.org/isbn/9780060817084

now becomes:

http://www.worldcat.org/title/marley-me-life-and-love-with-the-worlds-worst-dog/oclc/58431841

Besides being longer and uglier, the new canonical URI forces a loss in semantic precision. It’s no longer sensible for me to reference multiple editions of the same work on WorldCat; every ISBN link leads to the same page. This is not progress.

(Ironically, I actually wrote a trivial Greasemonkey userscript that did exactly what I just complained about: redirecting from ISBN-based URIs automatically. The difference being, of course, that a userscript is optional. Only a few dozen people in the world ever used it; I myself kept it turned off much of the time,)

I know my Free Software bias is showing, but I can’t help but be cynical about the thought process here. (Hey, Amazon has really ugly default URIs for books that are tied to a proprietary identifier; we should do the same thing, only ours should be longer and even more arbitrary! Then they have to use our API to do anything useful!) At least Amazon allows the user to use the shorter URIs if they choose, which makes things like Gina Trapani’s userscript possible—and invaluable.

I first became interested in using links to WorldCat precisely to avoid Amazon’s ugly URIs and refusal to use modern 13-digit ISBNs. I thought a library-oriented nonprofit would be a better choice. Unfortunately, subsequent events have proved this not to be the case. At this point, if I’m going to end up with non-ISBN links, I might as well focus on using and improving LibraryThing‘s data whenever possible, rather than encouraging Amazon or WorldCat to strengthen their respective near-monopoly positions. So, http://www.librarything.com/isbn/9780060817084 it is, then.

Implementation methods in interactive fiction

Emily Short has an interesting post charting the “whole gory evolution […] of my implementation strategy”. Useful comments follow about the more general programming issues, and both Andrew Plotkin and Mike Gentry comment on their own implementation methods.

(As it happens, I was in a few of the same undergraduate Classics classes as Emily Short. When I saw that someone by that name had just released a game called Galatea, I knew immediately that it would be very good, and very clever.)

The comments to Short’s post highlight what I’ve always found interesting about interactive fiction as a form. Some focus on the programming methodologies (XP and Agile Programming), others focus on the texture of the game-world. Both, of course, are essential; as always, IF is a narrative at war with a crossword.

Actually, that wasn’t as cathartic as I’d hoped.

Quote of the day:

[W]hen you get to the point where you see watching Zombie Lake as some kind of solemn obligation, it’s a circumstance that bears some investigation.

That’s Todd of Teleport City, part of the latest roundtable from The B-Masters Cabal. I’ve been reading B-movie reviews from these folks for years—hell, I still think of Braineater and 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting as “the new guys” even though Braineater joined the Cabal at least 6 years ago!—and it’s absolutely fascinating to see which gaps they have in their knowledge, and how they respond to the new input. (And You Call Yourself A Scientist!’s typically insightful dissection of Jurassic Park has been followed by a nifty comment thread as well.)

I must admit that this particular roundtable is fascinating to me because it’s built around precisely the sort of thing that makes many self-proclaimed cinephiles and movie nerds squirm: an admission of ignorance.

In that spirit, I’ve just had a look at the TOC of Danny Peary’s invaluable Cult Movies and have to admit:

  1. I’ve never watched Forbidden Planet all the way through, even though that film’s Id Monster is crucial to my reading of The Shape / Michael Myers in John Carpenter’s Halloween.

  2. I’ve never seen The Red Shoes—widely regarded as one of the best British films ever made—because at one point in my life I deeply resented Martin Scorsese. Scorsese wisecracks in Roger Corman’s autobiography that

    There’s no such thing as studying film at NYU. At NYU they made you study Wild Strawberries. […] Every morning at NYU you had to light a candle to Ingmar Bergman.

    Well, Martin Scorsese was my film teachers’ Ingmar Bergman, and I got tired of lighting damned candles to him. Which meant that the artists Scorsese couldn’t stop being enthused about—Minelli, Pressburger & Powell—were dead to me. So, no Red Shoes.

  3. Okay, last confession, and this one is really painful for someone who claims to love B-Movies. I’ve…I’ve never seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show. When I was a teenager, I avoided it (for the same reasons that Wil Wheaton did). As I got older and become more of a film buff, it seemed as though I had to see it on a big screen, with a crowd, at midnight. And that still doesn’t appeal to me at all. So I still haven’t seen it.

A bad week for screenwriters

  1. Budd Schulberg (1914–2009).
  2. Blake Snyder (1957–2009).
  3. John Hughes (1950–2009).

Budd Schulberg (On the Waterfront) and Blake Snyder (Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot) were very different writers, but each was a craftsman with a family history in showbiz. (Schulberg was the son of a studio head; Snyder did voice work as a child for his father’s Roger Ramjet cartoons.)

For what it’s worth, my favorite Schulberg book is The Disenchanted, a roman à clef based on F. Scott Fitzgerald and Schulberg himself. Among other great bits, there’s an amazing drunken stream-of-consciousness “appreciation” of Charlie Chaplin’s man-child film persona by the Fitzgerald character. (Ironically, the novel plays out rather like Chaplin’s own later film Limelight.)

Blake Snyder was more famous for being a how-to guru than a screenwriter; his books (Save the Cat! and Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies) emphasize commercially-viable, Hollywood-style projects. Unlike most Hollywood gurus, though, he actually had multiple real film credits, and wasn’t automatically dismissed by working writers: both John Rogers (Leverage) and Alex Epstein (Bon Cop / Bad Cop) thought he was on to something. (Plus, you know, Snyder never named names to HUAC. That might matter to some people.)

Update: Damn. John Hughes as well. (And I know it’s horribly cynical of me, but I wonder when the backlash will begin at how much more attention this death gets, especially online, than the “worthier” Schulberg’s death does.)

Orange alert. Orange alert.

Patrick McGoohan is dead.

The Prisoner inspires Trekker / Browncoat levels of devotion in me. (When I saw last week that AMC is streaming the original series online, my first thought was, “which episode order are they using?”) It was my first exposure to science fiction TV other than Star Trek, and it shaped my tastes immensely at a fairly young age. (I seem to recall that my father taped the show when CBS aired it after The Pat Sajak Show—which would make me ten or eleven years old at the time—but I think that I actually saw it on PBS before that.)

The Prisoner wasn’t a perfect show on an episode-by-episode basis; like too much television, it was padded out for commercial reasons to a greater length than its premise could sustain. But on the whole it did what any good show does, blending familiar story elements into something distinctive.

(For the uninitiated: imagine if Keifer Sutherland left 24 to star in a show about a nameless man exactly like Jack Bauer, who has been imprisoned and tortured by his former employers because he doesn’t want to work for them anymore. Also, there’s a enigmatic monster like on Lost, only it’s a sentient weather balloon that acts as a guard dog, which is way cooler than a cloud of smoke that thinks it’s a taxicab anyway, so stop snickering and get off my lawn.)

A huge part of the appeal of The Prisoner to my younger self was McGoohan’s ferocious performance. The Prisoner (the character) is a loner who absolutely refuses to compromise with the society he has rejected:

I will not make any deals with you. I’ve resigned. I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered. My life is my own.

But just because he’s dropped out doesn’t mean he’s mellowed, man:

I’m going to escape, come back, wipe this place off the face of the Earth, obliterate it; and you with it.

I mean, come on. That’s awesome. Not exactly a likeable character, true, but one comes to admire his sheer determination in the face of the seemingly limitless resources that The Village expends in its attempt to break him. (Come to think of it, I wonder if my failure to succumb to Rand or Heinlein the way so many of my peers did as a teen is because I’d already been exposed to a far cooler Rational Superman, at an age when it couldn’t do me as much harm.)

In my favorite episode, The Village, which has always refused to call The Prisoner anything but “Number Six”, creates an imposter Number Six, and insists that The Prisoner is—and always has been—Number Twelve. The scheme, of course, is to goad the individualistic Prisoner into asserting his “true” identity as Number Six, cementing his socialization into The Village. In the end, he wins (they don’t break him) but loses (he doesn’t escape). The moral? Doppelgängers + electroshock aversion therapy + spies + monsters = entertainment.

Certainly The Prisoner compares favorably with many shows that have followed it. Despite the occasional absurdity of the genre trappings, the padding, and its infamous ending, The Prisoner still had a much clearer point of view and narrative thrust than a certain inexplicably popular sci-fi drama ever has.

(Oh, yeah, they’re remaking it. Whatever.)

Further reading: