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Leland Paul Kusmer
Works at University of Massachusetts Amherst
Attends University of Massachusetts Amherst
Lives in Northampton, MA
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Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, so I'll be gone from G+ (and most of the rest of the internet) until April 5th. http://lelandpaul.com/lenten-fast/
Every year during the season of Lent, I fast from the internet. Lent begins tomorrow. Lent is the season of the Christian calendar when we traditionally give up something in penitential preparation for Easter. The season begins with Ash Wednesday and runs through Palm Sunday Palm Sunday is the ...
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Further Clarke Award winners: Richard Morgan's Black Man (published in the US as Thirteen); Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep?.

http://lelandpaul.com/black-man/

(Also, I apparently never posted my last review here: Jane Roger's The Testament of Jessie Lamb.

http://lelandpaul.com/jessie-lamb/)
(Part of my read-through of the Clarke Award winners. There will be spoilers.) Black Man, by Richard Morgan Winner of the Clarke Award in 2008 (Published in the US as Thirteen). Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick Published in 1968 ...
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Next up of the Clarke Award winners: Lauren Beukes' excellent Zoo City, with a slightly inevitable tangent about The Golden Compass.

"Apparently there's nothing quite like being chased through sewers by superstitious teenagers determined to kill your sloth for its supposed medicinal properties to make you fall in love with a city."

http://lelandpaul.com/zoo-city/
(This is part of my continuing read-through of the winners of the Clarke Award.) Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes Winner of the Clarke Award in 2011. I was in about fourth grade when Pullman's The Golden Compass first came out, or at least when it first got popular. The funny thing was that in fourth ...
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Leland Paul Kusmer

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I'm starting to read my way through all of the Clarke award winners, and will be writing  short reviews of them all over on my blog. First up: Christopher Beckett's Dark Eden, with a long tangent into James P. Hogan's Inherit the Stars.

http://lelandpaul.com/dark-eden/
I'm a PhD student in linguistics at UMass Amherst. I work on endangered language revitalization and documentation, with further research on the PF-interface. Curriculum Vitae. me(at)lelandpaul(dot)com. @lelandpaul · +lelandpaul · blurblog · Blog Feed. Dark Eden. (I'm setting out to read all of ...
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Totally literal.
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tl;dr: I'm going on my annual Lenten internet fast, so don't expect to see me around until April.

http://lelandpaul.com/lenten-fast/
Every year during the season of Lent, I fast from the internet. Lent begins tomorrow. Lent is the season of the Christian calendar when we traditionally give up something in penitential preparation for Easter. The season begins with Ash Wednesday and runs through Palm Sunday Palm Sunday is the ...
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I just saw that there's a new recording coming out of John Luther Adams' Inuksuit. I heard this piece performed in NYC a few years ago: It's a big aleatoric percussion extravaganza where the performers are spread out over a wide area and the audience is encouraged to wander among them.

When I saw it in NYC, it was performed indoors, but it's meant to be outdoors. All of which, as you might imagine, makes for a tricky recording situation! Check out this beautiful video about the piece and the recording process:

http://vimeo.com/55954956
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#IFComp: Autumn's Daughter; The House at the End of Rosewood Street; Vulse

(I'm posting some thoughts on the IFComp games as I play them. This is mostly as an exercise for myself in thinking about what I liked and didn't. I'll spoilers below the break. If you're not already, you should play along and vote for yourself! http://ifcomp.org)

*****

# Autumn's Daughter

One of the most obvious advantages of interactive narrative is that the reader must also pretend to be a character. Many new IF authors seem to think that this means that they can somehow force empathy. Of course, this is partially true – but usually not the way people think it does! Cadre's Photopia works so well exactly because the interactivity forces the player to adopt certain kinds of perspectives and emotions... but this is mostly in service of developing the players rapport with a non-player character! Similar things happen in DeNiro's Deadline Enchanter. It rarely seems as effective when the target character is the viewpoint one, at least to me – certainly I felt basically no empathy for the VPC of, say, Blue Chairs

Anyway, Autumn's Daughter is a choice-based game focused on exploring the sorts of decisions young women need to go through in highly patriarchal societies, in this case that of Pakistan. And I think it succeeds reasonably well at that: The prose flows well enough, and if you play through it a few times you fairly quickly get a sense of how circumscribed your options are.

The connection between the choice you make and the eventual outcome is not always clear; the authors seem to think that this amounts to demonstrating how highly-scrutinized the actions of the character are. And I suppose it does – it definitely takes away some of the player's sense of agency. However, I think they undercut this by later offering choices that are really direct (like, go along with your arranged marriage because you have a plan, which of course means murdering your husband...). 

My largest gripe is that the authors insist on speaking the subtext, basically explaining in the sidebar what the whole game is about. Don't do this, folks. Please. 

6/10, for attempting to say something important and executing it reasonably well. (I'd probably vote higher if it weren't a choice-based game – I don't tend to enjoy them as much as parser-based ones, which I think puts me in the minority these days.)

# The House at the End of Rosewood Street

Huh? My very first action (>X WORK TABLE) apparently wasn't implemented, despite there clearly being a work table in the room. Furthermore, the parser-refusal response was totally nonsensical. ("What would So-and-so think?" Of my looking at my table? In my own home? Before I even have any idea who so-and-so was?) It got worse from here: >L apparently makes you walk around. For a bit I thought they were trying to do something silly about railroading you, like "oh, the VPC is so routine-bound that he just goes about his business without waiting for you to do anything", but then no, it was just buggy.

This might be a good time to note that, following Emily Short, I'm not playing any games that don't have beta-testers listed. This one does. How they missed these bugs, I don't know.

1/10 for being non-functional.

# Vulse

Remember how, above, I said that I tend to dislike choice-based games? Unfortunately, I tend to dislike Twine games even more. I keep trying them, because I want to like them – I think Twine has done some really important things for inclusivity in the IF community. But I've just never been able to get into them. I think this game really drove home why: Agency. Surely it should be definitional of interactive fiction that the interactor should feel like they have agency? Of course, they probably don't have as much as they think they do – authorial intent, and all that – but good IF puts a lot of work into building up an illusion of agency, a feeling that what you do matters.

I don't think I've yet played a Twine game where I consistently felt like my decisions mattered. There's some text, some of it is blue, you click it, and then there's more text. Some games will, in some scenes, make it clear what clicking a link means – "examine this", "say something about this", "go over there" – but much of the time the consequences of a click are just unclear. I'm perfectly happy to accept as "interactive" works like Deadline Enchanter that are basically railroaded, with no significant choice; but as soon as the consequences of my actions become unclear, the piece starts to feel more and more like a static work, losing all of the benefits of interactivity in favor of a sort of kludgy replacement for a printed page.

Vulse is a serious offender, here. I don't know what it was about – something about loneliness and sense of place and death, maybe? But mostly it was a bunch of text, some of it blue.

2/10, sorry.
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"Yes, it's the kind of book that mocks its characters for smiling at their own cleverness, all the while patting itself on the back for every clever turn of phrase."

I just got around to posting my review of M. John Harrison's Nova Swing. Spoiler alert: I didn't like it.

(Also, I never posted this here, but I recently reviewed Ian MacLeod's Song of Time. I liked that a lot better, despite serious issues with the ending.)

http://lelandpaul.com/nova-swing
http://lelandpaul.com/song-of-time/
(Part of my read-through of the Clarke Award winners. I'd put a spoiler warning here, but nothing happens in this book that I could possibly spoil.) Nova Swing, by M. John Harrison Winner of the Clarke Award in 2007. This is the kind of book that reads like this: ...
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A Linguist On the Story of Gendered Pronouns http://allthingslinguistic.com/post/87635759445
“Gretchen McCulloch, The Toast’s resident linguist, on why we have gendered pronouns at all, and where they may be headed.” At the risk of spoiling my own punchline, you’ll be relieved to know that...
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No. Way.

(Having flashbacks to playing Syberia may years ago...)
 
You need to stop and watch this video. It's about an automaton built in the late 1770's, shaped like a small boy. It writes, programmably, in an elegant cursive script, using a goose quill. On its back is a dial which stores the program; around the dial is a sequence of blocks, one for each letter, which can be arranged by the user and which tell it what to write. Vertically in the center of the device is a stack of hundreds of cam wheels, which encode the "font;" each letter is encoded by a set of three wheels which encode the three-dimensional (yes, including pressure) motion of the pen.

It still works to this day, and in the video you can watch it write. The attention to detail in this is truly extraordinary; it refills the pen and shakes the quill, moves the page and moves its eyes to track what it is writing. This is truly one of the great works of mechanical computation. The automaton, along with his other works, are on display at the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire in Neuchâtel, Switzerland.

More about this ingenious device, and his other works, here: http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2013/11/the-writer-automata/

via +Jennifer Ouellette and +Daniel Estrada.
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#IFComp: Mrs. Wobbles; Sam and Leo; Wizard's Apprentice

(I'm posting some thoughts on the IFComp games as I play them. This is mostly as an exercise for myself in thinking about what I liked and didn't. I'll spoilers below the break. If you're not already, you should play along and vote for yourself! http://ifcomp.org)

***

# Mrs. Wobbles and the Tangerine House

Adorable. A cute beginning to a set of minimally-interactive stories about kids in a magical orphanage. Gets points for having a diverse cast along several axes. Also, one of the main stories revolves around a situation where the floor is literally made of lava, so.

I mean, it's minimally interactive choice-based fiction, but given that, it's awesome. 

7/10

# Sam and Leo Go to the Bodega

Minimally-interactive Twine. Seems to revolve around the idea that stoned guys are both hilarious and wise. They're neither. 

2/10

# The Wizard's Apprentice

A fairly typical sort of puzzle-plot: Escape a thing, then find some stuff, because your wizard master said so. 

Really poorly cued, though: Apparently the first action (the absolute only action you can take first, as it turns out) was >KICK SLAB. However, said slab was not visible in the room description; if I had bothered to, um, >X FLOOR, I would have seen that a stone was loose. But would I have thought to kick it? And even if I had, why should I have expected the slab to fly across the room, knocking over the table with my wand on it, rolling the wand towards me? 

I gave up pretty quick.

3/10
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Ooh, can't wait. :) NoHo's treating me pretty well so far, though I miss SF quite a bit.
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People
Work
Occupation
Student
Skills
Linguistic fieldwork; music teaching; making soft pretzels.
Employment
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst
    Ph.D. Student and TA, 2013 - present
  • Abvio
    Technical Support, 2011 - 2013
    Abvio makes Runmeter, Walkmeter, & Cyclemeter – three GPS fitness apps for iOS.
  • Bell Appeal
    Handbell Director, 2013 - 2013
    Bell Appeal is a San Francisco-based choir doing new arrangements for bells and other instruments.
  • Swarthmore Presbyterian
    Handbell Director, 2008 - 2011
Places
Map of the places this user has livedMap of the places this user has livedMap of the places this user has lived
Currently
Northampton, MA
Previously
Dublin, NH - Swarthmore, PA - San Francisco, CA
Story
Tagline
Linguist; musician.
Introduction
I'm a linguist: Greatly concerned with language endangerment and language documentation / revitalization. Definitely S-side, but very interested in the PF interface. Have done fieldwork on Akan (Ghana; primarily the Twi and Fante dialects) and Uda (Nigeria).

I'm a musician: Viola, mostly in the context of the string quartet; handbells, mostly as a director but occasionally in small ensembles; fiddle, bodhran, and uilleann pipes, on occasion; voice, whenever possible, mostly in the context of Sacred Harp; Balinese gamelan, when I can. Also a composer.
Education
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst
    Linguistics (Ph.D.), 2013 - present
  • Swarthmore College
    Linguistics (Honors), 2007 - 2011
  • International High School, San Francisco
    IB HLs: Math, English, Chinese B, Music, 2003 - 2007
  • Alice Fong Yu Alternative School
    Cantonese and Mandarin Immersion, 1994 - 2003
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Male