The Time Cadet Keyboard


A few entries ago in this blog, I used a photo of the so-called Space Cadet Keyboard, the keyboard shipped with the famous Lisp machines of the 1980s. Depending largely on whether you are an Emacs user or a vi user, the Space Cadet Keyboard was either the most brilliant input device of all time, or the cause of everything that has gone wrong in any field of human endeavor under discussion.

That photo attracted lots of attention, for certain very, very wee values of “lots”. My friend John Braley remarked on F*c*b**k, “My new mantra: Hyper super meta – meta super hyper.[repeat]”, referring to the special modifier keys present on the Space Cadet but not most other keyboards – unlike Shift, Control, Alt, and so on. Of course, the Space Cadet wasn’t only long on modifier keys, but on Greek characters, math and logic keys, and keys of dubious utility – Roman numerals, friends?

I was (briefly) a computer science major at Yale in the mid-1980s, when this bizarre beastie flourished. I remember typing my APL homework on a similarly baroque keyboard – they were in all the labs – but I wouldn’t swear it was a Cadet. In fact, it was probably a descendant of the IBM 2741.


One thing I wanted to show in this post is that the Space Cadet was a lot more complicated than the first photo I included as a joke. As you can see up top, the keys are very tall – that is, high off the base – and they have room for even more characters on their fronts – the parts facing the user when she is facing the screen. (Closeup)

These characters can be Metaed, Supered, and Hypered until your carpal tunnel becomes inflamed. It says here that the Cadet could generate over 8,000 discrete characters. (Another large illustration.)

Space Cadets and Christianity (what?)

As an atheist, I am no friend of Madeleine L’Engle’s YA Christian propaganda A Wrinkle in Time and its four sequels, the “Time Quintet”. But I haven’t always been an atheist, and I’m pretty familiar with the books, especially the first two – I used to love them.

I’m sure that the Space Cadet Keyboard influenced the fourth book in the Time Quintet – Many Waters – just as I am that the board game Cosmic Encounter influenced William Sleator’s novel Interstellar Pig

Sandy stuffed another large bite of sandwich into his mouth, and left the warmth of the stove to wander to the far corner of the lab, where there was a not-quite-ordinary-looking computer. “How long has Dad had this gizmo here?”

“He put it in last week. Mother wasn’t particularly pleased.”

“Well, it is supposed to be her lab,” Sandy said.

“What’s he programming?” Dennys asked.

“He’s usually pretty good about explaining. Even though I don’t understand most of it. Tessering and red-shifting and space/time continuum and stuff.” Sandy stared at the keyboard, which had eight rather than the usual four ranks of keys. “Half of these symbols are Greek. I mean, literally Greek.”

Dennys, ramming the last of his sandwich into his mouth, peered over his twin’s shoulder. “Well, I more or less get the usual science signs. That looks like Hebrew, there, and that’s Cyrillic. I haven’t the faintest idea what these keys are for.”

Long story short, merely by typing into what I must refer to as the Magic Time Cadet Keyboard that they want to go somewhere warm and dry, the twins Sandy and Dennys are transported to the antediluvian Earth – the time of Noah himself – where they both fall in love with Noah’s forgotten daughter, and conclude that the people of Noah’s time are so unmentionably evil that it’s only right that God murder all of them. The Flood was good to the last drop!

Given its profound spiritual powers and the fact that it has not only math and Greek characters on the keys, but Hebrew and Cyrillic (what about Enochian?), I am forced to conclude that the Time Cadet Keyboard is to the Space Cadet Keyboard as the Space Cadet is to a random decrepit IBM Model M. The Time Cadet Keyboard is a must-have for the retrocomputing enthusiast who has everything. Five thumbs up!

I bet you didn’t think this post was going to swerve from the retrocomputing hobby to the history of board games to atheist apologetics, did you?

What do you think? And hey, how about leaving comments on this blog, rather than on Twitter or F*c*b**k or wherever else you found this link? Thanks.

Photo by Dave Fischer, Retro-Computing Society of RI (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons.

APL keyboard diagram By User:Rursus (APL-keybd.svg) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

The graveyard of lost Star Trek episodes

I dreamed I visited a necropolis with tombs for individual Star Trek episodes. Person-segments of Kirk and other characters in the episodes were buried there, with the phasers and tricorders they used, and related memorabilia.

To clarify, what was buried in each episode’s tomb was not the character’s body, but a part of the character’s four-dimensional extension from the beginning to the end of the episode. The tombs also contained all the associated props and sets for the episode – or rather, the segments of their “real life” equivalents in the world of Star Trek for the same period.

The segments included time the characters spent offscreen. For example, if McCoy were notionally off in Sickbay concocting a cure for the planetary plague of the week during much of the episode, that time would also be included.

My dreams have been a bit more vivid since I’ve been getting more sleep while I’m looking for work.

Work proceeds. Play proceeds.

Work proceeds, slowly, on the “imaginary games book”. I was aiming for a word count of around 50,000, and I currently have about 43,000.  I have about 75 game writeups in mixed states of completion — more complete than not, but always ready to take a higher polish, and there’s the rub.

Why has it taken me years to write 50,000 words (fewer), the length of a short novel? First, I’m a slow writer. To quote Thomas Mann, “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”

Second, it’s slow subject matter. To say I’ve been writing 75 notional reviews of imaginary games for the past couple of years is to say I’ve been halfway designing 75 games during that time. The term of art is design fiction — in this case, game design fiction.

Third, it’s the slow subject matter multiplied by my slow writing. They’re not merely additive.

The parallel world is called Counter now, not Glob or Lila or Loka.  The little Roman penal colony that started all the trouble on Counter is called Victoriæ, home of the Caïssan Mysteries, and if you don’t know who Caïssa is, I politely suggest you look Her up.

And reviews of imaginary games?


My wife Marty pointed me to this snippet from the Discworld series last night:

The Library of Ephebe was – before it burned down – the second biggest on the Disc.

Not as big as the library in Unseen University, of course, but that library had one or two advantages on account of its magical nature. No other library anywhere, for example, has a whole gallery of unwritten books – books that would have been written if the author hadn’t been eaten by an alligator around chapter 1, and so on. Atlases of imaginary places. Dictionaries of illusory words. Spotters’ guides to invisible things. Wild thesauri in the Lost Reading Room. A library so big that it distorts reality and has opened gateways to all other libraries, everywhere and everywhen …

–Terry Pratchett, Small Gods (1992)

See my other posts related to the parallel world of Loka.

Somebody hand me a water bottle

I just crossed the 25,000-word line in the marathon to complete my little book about the highly ludic planet Loka and the games they play there. Note to the cheering multitudes of onlookers: 25,000 words is half a short novel. Although my book is not a novel, 50,000 words is what I’ve been aiming for — but I won’t beat myself up if I overshoot that milestone by a few thousands or tens of thousands of words.

Yeah, so my text editor tells me I’m at 25,195 words. Today I wrote a couple of new games called X-Ray Replay and Double or Fuck Me (not nearly as dirty as they sound), both of which are connected with the much more dry-sounding (but actually quite interesting) real-life philosophical school of Object-Oriented Ontology, which asks, “What does your TV really think of you?” (And remember, you can’t have dirty without dry.)

I also added material to a couple of other fictional games, Mars Shot and High Bluff. I’ll be reading some “game reviews” aloud tomorrow and requesting feedback from EGGS, Experimental Game Genesis of Seattle, a local game design group I helped found (if I can squeeze into the schedule). Who better to give feedback on fictional games than real game designers and playtesters?

Finally, I’m writing partially for charity. I’d be writing anyway, but people who’d like to encourage me — and it really does encourage me — can sponsor me in the Write-a-thon for Clarion West, a venerable science fiction writing workshop here in Seattle that has given many successful SF writers a solid start. Note that I’m not attending Clarion West; I’m writing like mad and gesturing at those cheering multitudes to throw money at Clarion as I pass.

You don’t have to wait until the six weeks of the Write-a-thon are over. You can pay right now. So please do.

Good news about the Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana

First thing this morning, I got an email from author Jess Nevins that made my day (see my last post for context):

E-book from Cheeky Frawg out at the end of the year or beginning of next year.

You have my blessings for the .pdf you made of my site—thanks very much!

Jess N.

You’re welcome, Jess, and thanks for everything, including your blessing and your unstinting hard work. But to my family and friends —

I now have the first item on my 2013 Christmas list. Start your reindeer.

Quick, Dirty, Victorian, and Fantastic


This post contains the closest thing I fear we’ll ever get to an ebook edition of the Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana, the essential reference book for steampunks and anyone who loves real Victorian science fiction, fantasy, and horror — meaning work by Verne, Wells, and that crowd.

The EoFV was published in 2005 and now sells on Amazon for roughly ten times its cover price, which this public library copy on my desk tells me was $50. (I just checked again and Amazon prices presently start at $150 used — a steal; someone grab it! — but most copies are in the $400-600 range.) However, before there was an Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana, there was a Fantastic Victoriana website, which had much of the same material in a more informal style. In a sense, the website was the first draft of the book.

There never was an ebook of the EoFV, and for reasons that escape me, it doesn’t seem that there will ever be another paper printing either. So unless you want to pay up to $999.00 on Amazon for a copy, or borrow one from a library if you can, it seems for now you can either read the Reocities archive of the FV website (linked to above), or (or!) this PDF I just made of the whole site, admirably suited to reading on your tablet with or without Internet access. (At roughly 1200 pages, it’s almost as much a monster as the pbook — you may pronounce that either as “paper book” or “phone book”.)

Known bugs of this quick and dirty ebook:

  1. There are some formatting errors. Some are mine and some are the site’s. I don’t want to hear about them.
  2. Hyperlinks don’t work in the PDF. Too bad. Visit the Reocities archive if you want clickable links. Most of the ones in the body text just link to other parts of the book anyway, but there is a substantial appendix with plenty of juicy websites to visit.
  3. I guess this might qualify as a bug. I didn’t ask Jess Nevins for permission to make a PDF copy of his website. If he asks me to, I’ll take it down. The founders of Reocities didn’t ask permission either when they saved GeoCities websites by the million. Nevins was one beneficiary, and this PDF is another attempt to rescue some of the best stuff from the ruins.

Jess, if you are reading this, thanks for writing the book, feel free to email me, and when are we going to see a new edition, whether e or p?


Jess responds.

Outtake from my “game design fiction” book in progress


The following is an outtake from the book I’m currently writing, The Best of Reviews, State-of-the-Articles, and Other Information to Get You Through Your Gaming Day on Planet Glob.

Glob (pronounced “globe”) is a parallel Earth very like ours, but whose people are more neotenous, and therefore more curious, more neophilic, and more playful than the humans on our planet. They love games, especially new and novel ones. The book is essentially design fiction, specifically game design fiction, with each chapter of 50 being a 1000-word “review” of an original imaginary game. That is, I’m making the games up, not writing about games other people have already devised, such as Calvinball or Quidditch. is the imaginary Global website from which the reviews come, like BoardGameGeek in the real world. (Yes, the Globals love games so much, they have their own top-level domain for them. They have no .biz, though.)

Please understand that what follows is a never-to-be-finished draft. It was one of the earlier fake reviews in my book. I’m jettisoning it for three reasons:

  1. It has proven offensive to some people in workshops, who don’t understand I’m satirizing the DSM, the main psychiatric diagnostic manual in the United States, not people who are mentally ill. No other entry in the book has proven this offensive to anyone else, nor do I wish any to.
  2. My sister Pamela, who is a psychotherapist, has told me that therapists in training really do play a version of this game in grad school.
  3. The National Institute for Mental Health announced a few days ago that they’re ditching the DSM and starting over, just as the DSM-V is about to be published, too. Mocking the DSM is now shooting a dead horse in a barrel.

I hope that my book’s loss in word count is your gain, enabling you to read this would-be excerpt well ahead of the book’s publication and get an idea of what I’m aiming at. It’s not all about psychiatry. There are four-dimensional video game systems, roleplaying games based on thought experiments, game design reality shows, and more.

DSM Charades

Publication Date: February 2008
Authors: uncredited
Publisher: Boxful o’ Nuts
Format: boxed party game

In this party game, one player picks a random disorder out of the official psychiatric handbook Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (currently in its DSM-VIII edition), pretends to have the disorder, and tries to convey it in conversation to teammates, who are supposed to be a panel of psychiatrists who must “diagnose” the player during a timed game round. The patient must vehemently deny she has the illness, but the psychiatric panel gets one final crack at diagnosing the disorder at the end of the round, during which the patient must tell the truth. All else being equal, at the end of the game, the team with the most correct diagnoses wins the game.

A word about safety: whether this is sensationalistic or not, you can decide, but the game comes with a warning in large, nasty letters on the side: WARNING! DO NOT PLAY IN OR NEAR MENTAL HOSPITALS! The back of the box claims that unspecified persons have, while playing the game in the presence of psychiatrists, been mistakenly diagnosed as having the disorder they were only pretending to have, and been institutionalized.

There is reason to believe this might be true. As the game rules explain,

In the 1973 Rosenhan experiment, psychologist David Rosenhan and eight healthy confederates, or “pseudopatients,” made appointments at mental hospitals, claiming to hear voices saying variously, “empty,” “hollow,” or “thud,” but displaying no other symptoms. All of them were admitted and diagnosed with psychoses, mostly schizophrenia. Their average stay in the hospital was 19 days, with the longest being 52 days.

Nevertheless, DSM-C plays mental illness for laughs. In fact, one of the diagnostic categories on the game’s cards is “pseudopatient.” If you draw this card, you will find yourself in the bizarre (simulated) existential position of having to convince your teammates that you are only pretending to have a mental illness you are only pretending to have. Depending on the difficulty of the disorder you are simulating as a pseudopatient (bipolar, paranoid schizophrenic, catatonic, etc.), if you get this across, you may score anywhere from double points to an automatic win.

At a recent game night, my friend Jim was pretending to have a mysterious disorder for the benefit of his “psychiatric board,” his teammates me, my wife Lonnie, and our friend Tim. Lonnie and her sister Lois were regretfully (jeeringly) placed on opposite teams; they are never allowed on the same team during word or party games, because they know each other far too well.

The other side is permitted to ask questions they hope will lead the diagnosis in the wrong direction, except for opposing team members the patient has enlisted as actors in his own charade–obviously, it would be hard to use your own “psychiatrists” as “family members” and so on–so, a nice touch by the game authors, I thought.

Jim had brought Lois into this scenario as his child. He felt her forehead and asked “Honey,” (we all snickered; Jim is past child-rearing age and has never addressed anyone as “honey” in our company), “would you like something to drink?” Lois nodded yes, so Jim went off to our host Anton’s kitchen, where another guest had left a rack of soft drinks. Suddenly, there was a crash, and a couple of players leapt up. “Jim? Are you OK?” I called.

“I’m fine. I’m just getting some soda. Don’t mind me,” he said. More crashes. Breaking glass?

“Jim?” But Jim was already emerging into the living room bearing two glasses. He visibly engaged in an elaborate deliberation worthy of a Bond villain or Vizzini in The Princess Bride, scrutinizing invisible marks on the glasses, before he handed over one drink to his “daughter” Lois. She drank. “There, do you feel any better, honey?”

Lois had already seen Jim’s card and knew what disorder he was supposed to have, so she said, “No, Mom,” (snickers all around), “I feel worse. I feel like my stomach is burning.”

“Well, we’d better get you to the hospital then.” And so Jim did, where he protested at great length that he wasn’t the “sick one,” his daughter was.

The timer went off, but we had seen enough. In short order, the psychiatric board came to the conclusion that Jim was suffering from Münchausen syndrome by proxy, and poisoning his daughter in an attempt to get attention. (Two of us had also just seen The Sixth Sense.) Jim told us we were correct, so our team scored one point, and we kept the card with the diagnosis on it to track our score (otherwise, it would have gone to our opponents).

It may seem simple enough (and it is fun), especially if you’ve had any psychological training, but I’ve been told by friends who are psychiatric residents that at truly high levels of play, the game can become not only riotously funny, but also eerie, even scary. Ah, but they’re violating the warning: DO NOT PLAY IN OR NEAR MENTAL HOSPITALS!

7 July 2013: Note that the planet Glob has been renamed to Loka.