Larry Hosken: New

Over-engineered Walks a year later: Munzee

I still play Munzee, in which folks post the GPS coordinates of barcode stickers, and I go find and scan those bar codes. Since you only get credit for scanning any particular Munzee once, it gives me an excuse to visit new places. On Sundays when another system suggests that I walk someplace with slow Sunday bus service, I'm likely to head out in search of some Munzees instead.

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2014-10-19T00:05:39

Book Report: Inside the Red Mansion

This is sort of an investigation of Lai Changxing, a Chinese smuggler tycoon from a few years back. By the time you're done, you've explored corruption in modern Chinese life. There might not be a way to become a tycoon in China except through corruption. When it was convenient for officials to take money from Lai, they did. Later, when it was no longer convenient, they screamed for his head. Meanwhile a service economy thrives, providing luxuries to the rich, with the assumption that the customers are crooks. When Mao wanted influence in the cities, he dealt with gangsters. When the mainland wanted to get Hong Kong under control, they dealt with gangsters. Payoffs are everywhere.

This makes the book sound grim and strident. But really, it's wander-ish and exploratory. In many places, it's funny.

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2014-10-17T12:47:14

Over-Engineered Walks a Year Later: randomized deck from index cards

I still let some written-on index cards figure out my walking route to work each morning. If my route doesn't bring me to the correct block, then I take the last card, cross out its number, and write in a new one. By now, most of the cards have their numbers changed.

Partly as a side effect of these new numbers, the deck's suggested route tends to meander more now. I find myself "cheating." I peek ahead at the next few cards: if the deck tells me to walk around three sides of a block, I might shortcut the meander. If the deck tells me to walk all the way around a block, I probably just stay put.

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2014-10-16T13:17:17

Book Report: Flash Boys

It's about high-speed trading; including shady deals by brokerage houses with high-speed traders. If you're setting up a stock market, some folks will pay to get early access to information about trades; with this early knowledge, they have an edge in choosing which trades to make. It's about trying to set up a market that doesn't favor high-speed traders so much, and why that's a good thing.

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2014-10-15T12:56:49

Over-Engineered Walks a Year Later: Geocache Vicinity

When I want to get out from behind the computer and go for a walk and don't want to choose the route myself, I still do this: Choose a geocache that I haven't visited yet that's a little further away than the geocaches I have visited. From there, go to the nearest unvisited geocache, and then go to the nearest unvisited geocache to that and so on. Don't actually try to find the geocaches; that would just distract from the walking.

I do it less often, though. A year ago, I pointed out that I sometimes put off these walks because the algorithm might say: this time, my walk starts on Angel Island; so I'd better plan my day around getting there. Nowadays, the system picks out starting spots about 24km from my apartment. San Pablo, San Leandro, Foster City. If the system wants to send me to Marin County or south of Pacifica, it's more than 1.5 hours away by public transit. That's too much time on the bus; I skip those. Instead I allow only spots more accessible by public transit; but many of those take too long to get to on Sunday bus schedules; so I only take these walks on Saturdays now. Thus: less often.

I'm guessing I'll only keep using this system for another few months: eventually, it will only pick far-far-away places: maybe there will be a last couple of in-transit-range walks that start in Orinda or nearabouts, and then it will be time to abandon this system. (Or perhaps restart it, perhaps altered.)

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2014-10-15T02:12:48

Book Report: The Routes of Man

Better than a road trip, it's several road trips. Pirated lumber, mountainous roads, "the AIDS highway" years later, a Chinese road rally club, an ambulance in Lagos, … This book explores some pretty interested territory.

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2014-10-12T23:38:44

My Hobby's been De-Skilled

OK, I'm exaggerating. But here's what I'm talking about: If your puzzlehunt has an automatic answer-checker app, then your site monitors don't have much to do. I and some of the other Davis site volunteers talked about this after DASH this year. The hunt used the excellent ClueKeeper app to dispense hints and check answers. So when I was handing out puzzles and looking at folks' progress, I wasn't giving them hints when they got stuck; they had an app for that. So I… I mostly sat around. For this year's #terngame, Jan Chong wrote a custom Android app for a similar purpose. This was pretty sweet—some of our volunteers weren't puzzle-heads, but folks from Twitter University Recruiting. Back in the day, I felt like a rare, precious commodity: a puzzle enthusiast willing to sit around and help folks. Nowaday, maybe I'm still rare, but maybe not so precious. I wonder if I'll need to think of some different excuse for traveling soon.

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2014-10-12T02:12:55

Book Report: The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

It's a book about the rise of LSD culture in California. It's a book about Ken Kesey as something like a charismatic cult leader, about the Merry Pranksters. It's easy to look back and criticize these folks; but that's hindsight talking. At the time, it was a new exploration of the mind; nobody knew how it would turn out.
There is also a lot of talk about games. The straight world outside, it seems, is made up of millions of people involved, trapped, in games they aren't even aware of. A guy they call Hassler comes comes in out of the sunlight screen on Harriet Street and, zoom, he doesn't even wait for the metaphors. I never got into an abstract discussion with a total stranger so fast in my life. We began talking right away about the games. Hassler is a young guy, good-looking with a wide face and long hair with bangs just exactly like Prince Valiant in the comic strip and a turtleneck jersey on with metal stars on it, of the sort generals wear on their shoulders, and he says, "Games so permeate our culture that…" rumble rumble ego games judge everything screwed up brainwashing tell ourselves "…keep on oppositioning". … "—but you know what? People are beginning to see through the warf of the games. Not just the heads and everybody, but all sorts of people."
This book gives Ken Babbs credit for introducing the nature of pranks. Maybe I should read more about Ken Babbs. I learned that Kesey read comic books, which might help explain some of the pranksterish flair for costumery. Tales of folks all tripping at the same time, all gibbering together, "going into echolalia," which sounds just a couple of settings away from fitting in at a revival tent.

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2014-10-10T13:36:10

fantabular.py: already obsolete

Remember a few days back when I posted about fantabular.py, a little computer program to convert Quip docs to spreadsheets? It's already obsolete: Quip now includes spreadsheets. Now I wish I'd procrastinated on that one just a little longer.

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2014-10-10T04:13:11

Book Report: Things a Little Bird Told Me

It's an autobiography by Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, co-founder of Jelly. At the start, it talks about crazy risks he took. Some of which, in hindsight, still seem pretty risky… Some of which, though, show that he was good at figuring out the reasons behind some "rules" and figuring out some rules that might not apply anymore. His thoughts about altruism and its place in society are pretty interesting.

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2014-10-06T12:52:36

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