Site: Uploaded St Louis Photos
Last weekend, I went to St Louis. I didn't emerge with any exciting stories, but it's an exciting time for St Louis--there's a lot of rebuilding going on. I took some photos of some old St Louis buildings, new St Louis buildings, and more. Special bonus photo: cub scouts digging a gratuitous hole.
Book Report: The Curious Life of Robert Hooke
Robert Hooke was a scientist during the 1600s. Did you read Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle? Of course you did. Or you at least got started. Robert Hooke was one of the mad scientists that figures large in the Cycle. Was he really such a weirdo?
This biography says yes. Do not read this biography for a great story. Hooke's life did not follow a clear narrative arc. He dabbled in many fields, was stymied, and occasionally overcome. But biographer Lisa Jardine chased down plenty of good bits and details. Some you will already be familiar with after having read the Baroque Cycle (if you made it through): kicking out king Charles, the fire of London, the Orange/Dutch invasion.
But the Baroque Cycle, despite its length, left out some good bits. Sure, you can read in there about scientists being "cut for the stone", but apparently things got worse:
On 16 November 1672, Hooke recorded in his diary that he had learned in conversation with Boyle and Wren that Wilkins was gravely ill 'of the stone', as it was thought. A team of Royal Society medical men prescribed remedies, including Hooke's Gresham colleague and personal physician Dr Goddard:On 20 November, however, Hooke was present at dinner with other Royal Society members when the doctor who had performed an autopsy on Wilkin's body arrived and reported that no sign of kidney stones had been found... Hooke and his medical colleagues [had] administered highly toxic 'physic' to the body of their sick colleague, and watched for alleviating symptoms which did not come.
(16) Blackfryers, Bridewell, Dr. Wren, Mr. Boyle, Cox. Lord Chester [Wilkins] desperately ill of the stone, stoppage of urine 6 dayes. oyster shells 4 red hot quenched in cyder a quart and drank, advised by Glanvill. Another prescribed flegma acidum succini rectifactum cum sale tartari [acid precipitate of amber refined with salt of tartar]. Dr. Godderd advisd Blisters of cantharides [Spanish fly] applyd to the neck and feet or to the vains.
(19) Mr. Lee here. Lord Bishop of Chester dyed about 9 in the morning of a suppression of urine. ... Sir Theodore Devaux told me of Sir Th. Meyerns cure of stone in kidneys by blowing up bladder with bellows etc.
Wow, blowing up bladders of a living human with a bellows. Poisoning friends in pursuit of a medical cure... and this book is full of stuff like that. (Actually, I'm not 100% sure that the bellows didn't make it into the Cycle. I'm not going to go back and re-read the whole thing now to make sure. If I'm wrong, I'm sure someone will eventually correct me.)
I'd already heard of Hooke, though I didn't know it. He was the Hooke behind Hooke's law describing the behavior of springs. Apparently he figured that out while trying to develop a clock during the race for longitude. This guy was everywhere.
Anyhow, if you made it through the Baroque Cycle and asked for more Mad Science, please, then this is a good follow-up book.
Book Report: The Three Musketeers
I bet that those long stretches of dialog between people from different social classes--I bet those were pretty funny back when they were relevant to the culture. Unlike now, when they're kinda boring.
I wish I'd seen one of the movies instead of reading this book. I bet that the swashbuckling and swordfight scenes hold up a lot better than the dialog.
Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, but not in my apartment
Another thrilling tale of behind-the-scenes Game Control action from yesterday's YABA 2005 game...
Registration was done. Teams had their first batch of clues and were spread out on a lawn, solving like mad. But Game Control's work was not done. We had to set up the clue hub with the second batch of clues. I.e., we had to get me and a big box of clues over to a cafe. Also, we had to pick up food for the after party. I.e., we needed some people to scramble through CostCo, picking up food.
And thus I was soon hopping out of a van double-parked in front of my apartment building. Inside the van: Alexandra Dixon the hunt organizer plus Curtis and Dee Ann of Team Snout. I hear tell that Dee Ann has the logistical skills to make a tablefull of food appear under any circumstances. Nor storm nor sleet nor 24-hour games could prevent her from moving men and materiel into place to set up a great game after-party. The only thing slowing this crew down: they were waiting for me to retrieve a backpack from my apartment.
So I jogged upstairs, unlocked my door, turned the knob, stepped forward--and bumped into my door. When I turned the knob--it hadn't engaged with any locking mechanism. It was spun freely. Thinking back a few seconds--when I'd turned my key, I hadn't heard the deadbolt disengage. Uh-oh. I don't know if you've been trained as an engineer, so you might not understand the terms used to describe the techniques I brought to bear against my door knob: rattling, hitting, jiggling, jerking, cussing, cussing louder. Finally, I thought to try my key again, pushing against the door at the same time. The door opened.
I stepped in, wondering what was wrong with my lock--and noticed that some things in my apartment had been moved. Had someone broken into my apartment? Was some burglar in my apartment right now? At this point I simultaneously attempted to look behind my doork, look behind myself, look all around, jump forward, jump backward, and spin around. This maneuver convinced me that there was no burglar in my apartment. Not that I'd succeeded in looking around--but any burglar would have burst out laughing my spastic flailing of limbs.
So I looked around. What was going on here? I listened. It was quiet. Too quiet. No, really, it was too quiet. Why didn't I hear my kitchen sink faucet dripping?
Oh, a plumber must have come in to fix my faucet. I guess he hadn't bothered to obey that law about giving 24 hours notice before entering someone's apartment. But at least I wasn't about to get hit on the head by a burglar.
Suddenly, I needed to use the restroom. You've probably heard that people have this reaction when they listen to a dripping faucet; apparently they also have this reaction when listening to the lack of a dripping faucet. A skeptic might guess that this was just a post-stress reaction thingy. Whatever.
There were still folks waiting for me in the van--folks on a mission. I needed to act swiftly. I stepped into my dark bathroom, dropped trou, turned, sat--sat in the toilet bowl. That plumber had broken into my apartment, used my toilet, and left the seat up.
So it was a little while longer before I eventually made my way back downstairs with my backpack.
Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, including outside a local cafe
Today was the YABA 2005 treasure hunt game, run by Alexandra Dixon. I volunteered to help out. Game control has to do many things. Scout the course, design puzzles, playtest, print puzzles, set up, run the game, clean up. Wow.
Fortunately, I didn't do much of that today. My tough job: sit outside a cafe and eat some salad and a couple of slices of apple tart. I was manning a "clue hub". Teams were solving puzzles; those puzzles directed them to places around the neighborhood. When they were halfway through the game, they visited me at the cafe to pick up a second batch of clues.
So teams showed up. I handed over clues. I nibbled at my tart and waited for more teams to show up. Meanwhile a crowd of teams built up around the intersection, sitting on bus stop benches and in doorways.
I watched one team. One member had nicked himself with scissors; he was bleeding. He called out for tape. A team member had a tape dispenser mounted on his wrist and handed over some tape for a jury-rigged bandage. Wow, a tape dispenser on his wrist. That guy was ready for anything. That's why they were a master team.
Some non-playing fellows at the next table wanted to know what all the excitement was about. Why were there all these people sitting around solving puzzles? I talked a bit about it. One guy said that he had run some scavenger hunt games in NYC. I asked if it was the Haystack Game; it wasn't. He'd just run some little games for friends. I wrote down Alexandra's URL on a piece of paper and handed it to him so he could get links to local games. Moving from NYC to San Francisco is no excuse to give up gaming.
Wesley Chan sat down at a chair across the table from me. Wes was also volunteering--he was bicycling along the course, snapping photos. He looked really tired, more tired than I would have expected. What was up with Wesley? Oh, he was moving this weekend. He was moving to Noe Valley. Eventually he forced himself back up to his feet; he was back in photo-taking mode. As for me, I went back to my tart.
I munched and looked around. I saw people solving puzzles. They seemed to be concentrating; they seemed to be having a good time. A week before, I'd been on a plane to Tennessee to attend a funeral. This was more fun. I hoped to attend more puzzle hunts and fewer funerals in the near future.
Book Report: the Girl Who Talked
The other day I picked up a handful of mini-comics by Daniel Merlin Godfrey. "The Girl Who Talked" was my favorite, but they were all good. "The Girl Who Talked" is an interview with a girl who was raised by "lifestyle mimes"--people who refuse to use language. Yay, high concept stuff, black and white art with huge fields of black, what more could you want? "The Last Sane Cowboy" was pretty good, too. It's a surreal comic, a story in which anything can happen. And yet the story hangs together well, even if it's all about a town in which everyone is crazy and giant scorpions talk to you.
Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, But Not Everything is Puzzle Hunts
I was walking with some Gamers around my neighborhood. Specifically, we were right across the street from my apartment. One of my colleagues stopped and looked at a parked vehicle. Specifically, looked at its license plate.
The license plate said "XX R8TED" Oh, no wonder it was observation-worthy.
"Larry, you haven't started dating Rachel Weinstein, have you?"
"Not to the best of my knowledge."
I wasn't dating the captain of puzzle hunt team XX-Rated. I was, however, suddenly vary paranoid. Was someone burgling my apartment? Was Team XX-Rated burgling my apartment?
Maybe they were looking for puzzle hunt materials? That seemed unlikely. People play puzzle hunts for fun. Solving puzzle hunts is fun. Solving puzzle hunts after you've peeked at the answers is probably less fun. My apartment is very boring. OK, that probably wasn't it.
Could it be a prank? I thought about the time I'd stumblingly broken into a team XX-rated computer account after someone else had inadvertently revealed the password. Could a prankish burglary be retaliation for that? I hadn't used that computer account to do anything, but did team XX-Rated know that? Anyone else who knew how to break in to that account could abuse it and blame me. Could that have happened? It seemed wildly improbable. And yet here was this vehicle.
I didn't want to be pranked. I disliked surprises, at least those for which I was the surprisee. 15 years ago, I fell victim to a surprise birthday party. Ever since then, I'd maintained a steady misinformation campaign to keep my friends unsure of when my real birthday occurred. How much would I need to change my lifestyle to keep clear of clever burglars? Maybe I could set up a stronghold in the Gobi desert. That seemed like more trouble than it was worth. Were there any good comic book stores in the Gobi desert?
It was time to think. If I was another gamist, and I was mad at Larry for something, and I wanted revenge, what would I do? Plots for mayhem flitted through my head. During a game, take a puzzle meant for Team Mystic Fish and throw it in a river. Mail a frozen trout to Larry's address. Impersonate Larry while revealing secrets of the Scientologists.
There were many easy ways to seek revenge on me--much simpler than burgling my apartment. Under other circumstances, I might have found this idea disturbing; today it reassured me. No doubt Ms. Weinstein was in the neighborhood for some reason that had nothing to do with me, probably nothing to do with gaming.
We had wandered away and finished our talk. The group went their separate ways. I went back to my street. The vehicle was gone. I went up to my apartment. No obvious burglary had occurred. I braced myself and opened up my mailbox. No frozen trout was within.
There was a line between game and life, and no-one was crossing it today. That was fine with me.