Larry Hosken: New

Book Report: The Hot Rock

It's a heist novel. It's a fun multi-heist novel. I'm glad I read it; it was fun and I always wondered what the Sleater-Kinney album was named for.

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2016-09-26T12:56:44

Book Report: The Checklist Manifesto

We humans are inordinately proud that we're somewhat cleverer than lizards. The good news is that we can do some complex things. The bad news is that we think we're really great at handling that complexity; but mostly we're good at failing to notice when we mess something up.
Discipline is hard—harder than trustworthiness and skill and perhaps even than selflessness.

One thing that can help: a checklist, a documented set of steps to carry out some task. It's not easy to write a good checklist. It's a mnemonic for folks who already know what they're doing; they won't all know their stuff equally-well. A checklist detailed enough for the green newb doesn't help the grizzled expert. But get a checklist right, and it will help. Here are anecdotes as a doctor talks to building contractors and airplane pilots to find out how they use checklists. He hopes to steal ideas on how doctors might use checklists better. Some of these ideas transfer better than others; managing construction of a skyscraper isn't much like flying an airplane or prepping a patient; it makes sense that these folks would have very different checklists and use them differently.

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2016-09-18T17:56:17

Remember phraser, that tool for generating puzzle-design-friendly word lists? I just updated it. I found OMDB, a big database of movie info with a public API. (Did I find it? Or did one of you tell me about it? It's been long enough such that I can no longer remember when/how I heard about it. Anyhow.) I used it to grab a bunch of movie titles, grind them up, and add them to the mix of the phraser word lists. Yay, a chance to inject more pop-culture data into a data set which perhaps leans too much towards Wikipedia's knowledge of real-world things like history and geography and diseases of sheep. Except… I guess I should have had more confidence in the pop-culture data I'd already used. I hoped that all of those movie titles would make a difference. The main difference they make, uhm, is that the phrase "The Making of" got a boost. Yeah, "The Making of" is a phrase you'll see in many movie titles, for sure. But those "The Making of…" movies don't tend to turn up in puzzles. (Hey people designing the MIT Mystery Hunt: please do not interpret that previous sentence as a challenge.) Bah, a lot of tinkering and staring at data to eventually figure out I'd made only a minor difference. But I guess that's gonna happen when your measure of quality is "uhm, seems like it would be good for puzzles, I guess?" And it's good to know about that OMDB thing; it's certainly easier to automate than screen-scraping IMDB. Anyhow: updated word/phrase lists at the phraser page; updated source code.

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2016-09-15T18:37:52

Police-blotter article has, among other things, a neat little instance of police body cams fighting crime:
…At approximately 11:36pm, an officer who "observed a vehicle blow[ing] through a stop sign" at Frederick and Willard used one of the police department's newly issued body cameras to trip up a mendacious motorist. After Ofc. Chicas pulled over the female driver, she "began arguing and claiming she did stop," until he "showed the video to the violator, who then changed her story." …

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2016-09-13T17:31:26

Book Report: Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous

It's a book about the social movement Anonymous. That's a tricky thing to write about because anyone can be part of it. I could don a Guy Fawkes mask and declare that Anonymous' new purpose was constructing gimmicky crossword puzzles. That would be a legit thing to do, publishing puzzles with an anonymous byline. But I probably wouldn't have much luck convincing other members of Anonymous to join that effort; years later, folks wouldn't think of that as part of Anonymous' bag of tricks or what-have-you. This book talks about a few occasions when some savvy Anonymous folks worked together to accomplish extraordinary things.
…And so, when assessing Anonymous, it seems impossible to arrive at a universal—much less neat-and-tidy—maxim regarding the group's effects. Instead, I have tried to relay the lessons of Anonymous by narrating its exploits, failures, and successes. These compiled stories are idiosyncratic and told from the vantage point of my personal travels and travails. There are so many untold and secret tales that, were they publicized, would likely shift our comprehension of Anonymous. While all social life and political movements are complex, even convoluted, displaying endless facets and dimensions, Anonymous' embrace of multiplicity, secrecy, and deception makes it especially difficult to study and comprehend.

Anonymous has done some great things. When Scientologists attacked folks, Anonymous struck back. We're all less likely to be beat up by Scientology thugs thanks to Anonymous. Anonymous has done some awful things. Some Anonymous folks, thinking the movement had become too do-goody, hacked a message board for epileptics and posted seizure-inducing graphics on it.

Most of what I already knew about Anonymous, I had learned from the news. I learned things from this book.

I'd thought that the whole point of Anonymity was so that members could commit crimes (for good causes) without getting arrested; I was wrong. It's also a way to avoid ego-games that plague other social movements. How many groups have done stupid things because some weenie thought "As long as we're doing this, I'll be the expert and thus I'll stay in charge and be important!"? Maybe(?) there's less of that BS if that "importance" is attached to a code name and not someone's real-world name. E.g., Donald Trump wouldn't join Anonymous since that wouldn't boost the Trump name. Anonymity doesn't get rid of all folks who seek control for control's sake; but it does thusly avoid some large categories of them. Several Anonymous folks joined the Occupy movement, with expertise and enthusiasm for bootstrapping organization.

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2016-09-11T14:56:27

You should do Puzzled Pint this month

I playtested this month's Puzzled Pint puzzles. They're fun! You should scoop up some friends and go solve them Tuesday.

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2016-09-09T23:46:49

Free Donald Knuth lecture coming up… about Metafont. Clever guy, but not my topic. I probably won't go, but maybe you're interested.

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2016-09-07T13:46:38

Oh hey, there's a new Cometbus out, snap it up. I'm about ten pages into it. So far, it's interviews with NYC cartoonists. The questions aren't about who would win in a fight between Thor and Superman, but more about the community and how cartoonists get along together.

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2016-09-06T22:03:47

You know you've overtrained your brain to look out for secret messages when you're reading an interview about crewing an old-timey sailing ship and see

Question: What is your favorite line (rope) on Hawaiian Chieftain?

Answer: I really like the clew brail on the main. …

…and totally think "clue Braille" and spend the next minute looking for the code data.

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2016-08-31T21:43:44

Book Report: The Lost Frenchman

It's a thriller in which puzzly geocachers are unusually qualified to seek a treasure. It is fun in much the same way the National Treasure movies are fun, but with better puzzles. If that sounds like fun to you, then I recommend this book. If that sounds not-fun to you, then I don't recommend this book. I don't tend to like thrillers, but I do like puzzles that are out in the world; I enjoyed this book.

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2016-08-21T21:54:49

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