Larry Hosken: New

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

Oh, no wonder that jar was so hard to open. It involved breaking a chip of glass off of one of the threads.

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2016-08-20T02:39:38

"Pledging on Kickstarter is buying my future self a surprise gift." –Joshua Little

This Baggywrinkles comic book by Lucy Bellwood was a pretty awesome surprise.

Sometimes I think the project-funding part of Kickstarter (which is pretty cool) isn't as awesome as the amazingly-awesome forgetful-people-get-surprise-gifts aspect. Like, I might be similarly delighted if I ordered a jar of pickles be delivered to me in six months (even though I'm not too worried about funding for the pickle industry) just because one day: unexpected pickles. Anyhow.

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2016-08-15T22:44:19

Book Report: The Undersea Network

It's a book about undersea cables: telegraph cables, coaxial cables, fiber. That sort of thing. The examples are from around the Pacific. And the examples are pretty sweet. The author chased down a fair amount of stuff that's usually kept quiet. Along the way, there's fun bits of communication tech lore. There's human stuff, too. Telegraph cables started out as a way to connect colonizers with colonies; cables nowadays can put cloudy abstractioneers unknowingly in conflict with the real world.

A factoid: someone at a conference said that 60% of all cable breaks are from ship anchors and trawls. The main danger to cables is from folks dragging anchor or fishing fleets trawling nets along the bottom of the ocean (with huge weights, e.g. old train wheels(!), on them to make sure they hug the ocean floor—unfortunately, also thus digging through the muck to sever buried cables). Now that we coat cables in stuff that tastes bad, sharks aren't still biting through them.

Cables excite folks, because communication is awesome; cables make folks nervous, because spying is bad:

On the whole, however, there remains a fundamental conservatism in the cable industry that dates back to the telegraph era, and many of the companies remain aligned with, though not beholden to, national governments. One can see this quite clearly in the emergence of Huawei Marine, a Chinese cable supply company that was launched in 2008 to compete with American and French cable suppliers. After Huawei Marine signed a contract to build Hibernia Atlantic's Global Financial Network Project Express from New York to London, along one of the most heavily trafficked routes in the world, the U.S. House Intelligence Committee released a report warning of the risks of using a Chinese supplier and suggesting that equipment could be used to tap content. Hibernia Networks subsequently halted its work on the cable system and shifted to a U.S. vendor, T.E. SubCom. The historical emphasis on the security of individual systems and the dependence on established technologies, routes, and players has made undersea cable one of the most reliable communications technologies in the world, yet at the same time it has kept the cable network's geography one of the most static in the history of communications.

An academic wrote this book for other academics to take seriously. You will bump into language like "Like nodal narratives, stories about transmission extend the spatiality and temporality of cable discourse to…" Which academic field, you ask? Media Studies. This leads to some unexpected nooks and crannies: some of this book is about cables, but some of it is about creative works/reports/ephemera/media on the topic of cables. (I'm still hoping for a book on undersea-cable-snagging grappling hooks written by some, uhm, historian of mechanical and/or nautical engineering or somesuch. But Media Studies turned out to be a surprisingly interesting lens through which to look at these cables.) Wading through the academic palaver is worth it. There's the story of Fiji: it got hooked up to communications networks as a colony. It gained its independence, but was still important since it was on the network. Later on, a coup overthrew the governement and disrupted cable traffic. Folks who'd routed communications through Fiji sought backup plans. Post-coup, those folks kept using their backup routes, didn't want to pay to route through Fiji; Fiji had an unreliable reputation. Lesson learned: when overthrowing your government, let the cables be.

And a chapter about how cable-laying and undersea exploration have complemented each other. Scientists chart the ocean bottoms. Cable-layers use this information to choose better routes. Scientists use old undersea cables to send measurements from undersea instruments up to land-based labs.

This book is a survey. E.g., it's neat that it mentions SOSUS, but if you want to learn more about it, you'll want to look elsewhere, e.g. in Listening for Leviathan.

You can get quite a bit of this book's goodness online, though it requires some poking around and exploring: Surfacing.In has a fair amount of photos, maps, and musings.

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2016-08-14T17:31:41

Have you looked at Curtis' mysterious postcard yet? I couldn't make head nor tail of it. I do approve of photos of columnar lava, FWIW.

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2016-08-12T19:34:08

Book Report: Limits to Growth

Some folks wrote World3, a world economic simulator to answer questions along the lines of "if humans keep trying to use nonrenewable energy at their current rate, what will be the warning signs that we've hit 'peak whatever' and are heading towards the end of civilization?" Well, that's a gross oversimplification. But there's something to be said for gross oversimplification. This book is their notes about how they set up a big computer program something like a big spreadsheet that says "if N resources were harvested last year, then 90% of N are available this year…" I ended up skimming huge swaths of this book. It's dense. Here's a paragraph about forests:

Compounding the problem of forest decline, demand for forest products is growing. Between 1950 and 1996 world paper consumption grew by a factor of six. FAO expects it to rise from 280 to 400 million tons by 2010. In the United States the average person uses 330 kilograms of paper per year. In the other industrial nations the average person uses 160 kilograms; in the developing world, just 17. Though paper recycling is increasing, the consumption of virgin wood for pulp continues to go up by 1 to 2 percent per year.

Now imagine reading that sort of thing but about other economic resources, lots of 'em. After a while, you start thinking "oh gee, maybe instead of writing a book about this, they should have written a simulator program and plugged in the relations between these things." And that's what they did of course, but then they had to write this book to explain what they'd done. The book's more detailed than the simulator, though; rather than try to simulate forests and fish and this and that and the other thing, there are broad categories of renewable and non-renewable resources. Some of this simplification was so that they could understand the simulation; some of this was just because the first version of this simulator was written back in the 70s, when you needed <exaggeration level="slight">a computer the size of a room to store the number 12</exaggeration>.

I didn't get much from reading this book, for reasons that I found Casablanca to be a cliched movie; the important parts have become part of our culture. I read partway through. I realized I wasn't retaining much of what I read. (Pop quiz: to an order of magnitude, what was world paper consumption in 2010?. Yeah, I already forgot, too.) Back in the 70s, this book was breaking the news of how overconsumption leads to scarcity, what that looks like if you're observing economic charts. Nowadays, we don't need simulations for so much of that.

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2016-08-10T15:28:09

OpenID Connect for Google accounts

The document OpenID Connect | Google Identity Platform doesn't have a freeform feedback mechanism, so pardon me as I vent here.

When it says "JSON array" it means "JSON object". Okay yeah I figured out that one pretty quick but but but

When it says "Base64-encoded JSON object", it's correct (yay!) but I sure wish it had said "'raw' (unpadded) Base64URL-encoded JSON object". That would have saved me some time stumbling around using other Base64 flavors. Thanks to the OpenID Connect spec, I was on the lookout for "URL", but I didn't know that padded-vs-unpadded was even a thing.

(I guess I write one whiny blog post about setting up Federated Identity code about once every seven years? Something like that. Anyhow.)

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2016-08-10T03:42:09

Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even Walnut Creek

You might think that my photo-taking efforts were stymied when I dropped my camera in that abandoned fast food restaurant's parking lot and the battery popped out. But nay, here are some photos of Ghost Patrol: Late Night Snack!

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2016-08-07T18:18:43

Book Report: Coyotes

Donald Trump is scared of undocumented Mexican workers. Then again, he's a coward who's scared of plenty of things. How much should you worry? In Ted Conover's book Coyotes, he (Conover, not Trump) talks about living with them. He worked in the fields; he snuck across the border a couple of times; he snuck around the USA with them. He stayed in a Mexican village (pretty interesting—no young men there, they were all working across the border; it was as if the nation was at war). You will be shocked (shocked) to learn that picking fruit is hard work; that there are some bad folks amongst these Mexicans, but darned few; that walking through a cactus-filled desert in the dark of night is no fun. After reading this book, I am less scared of Mexican folks but more scared of cactus spines (with some justification, as they've done me harm in the past).

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2016-07-26T23:28:10

Excerpt from the Ghost Patrol pre-game prep-mail from GC:
Relatedly, we are fairly demanding on battery life, so please make sure your phones are charged ahead of time

I think he means hunt ghosts first, then hunt Pokemon.

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2016-07-24T13:28:42

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