Book Report: Mixed Reviews

Somedays your quality of life is mixed, but a good discovery can brighten everything. Yesterday morning, my streetcar was late, my bus was late, my bus filled up, I had to sit on the floor of the bus, and a bird pooped on my head. But it was still a good morning! I found out that there was a tamale stand selling tamales for breakfast at the Civic Center farmers market. Yayy, tamales!

This, arguably, brings us to Mixed Reviews. It's a few short stories by Aaron Cometbus. They are sweet tales of love and squatting. If you like Cometbus, you will like this.

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Book Report: Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans

It's a collection of humor pieces from the McSweeney's web site. When I ride the bus in the morning, I don't have a net connection. Or sometimes I do, except that I didn't bring my laptop. Or something. Anyhow. I was glad to have these in book form.

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Link: Fire Sings

Beauty is where you find it... or make it.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Except When Preempted

If you follow The Game/Bay Area puzzle hunt stuff, you might be surprised to see that I posted to this blog this afternoon. I should be with Team Mystic Fish at Menlo Park turning in an application for the Paparazzi game.

But Libby, a.k.a. Liberty Belle, a.k.a. that sweet dog of Alexandra Dixon's--Libby had a rough night last night. Libby's been sick with cancer for a while. Last night, she had a really rough night, staggering around, disoriented. Today, Alexandra drove Libby up to the emergency room at U.C. Davis.

Alexandra is Team Mystic Fish's captain. Our game application is in her apartment. If the rest of us Mystic Fishies were really hardcore, we'd break into her apartment, grab the application, and deliver it to Menlo Park. But we're not. At least I'm not. So instead of trying to break in to Alexandra's apartment, I'll sit here and type in the story I hoped to tell her on the way to Menlo Park today.


I know I shouldn't try to reverse-solve the Bay Area. In the weeks leading up to the Genome Game, I obsessed about gene- and DNA- themed locations in the Bay Area. If you have some idea of what a puzzle's solution looks like, sometimes that puzzle is easier to solve. So if you've noted the existence of a place named, say the DNA Lounge and you're solving a puzzle and have figured out it's something like ?NA??U?G?, you can make some good guesses. Maybe.

"Reverse-solving" is slang for figuring out a puzzle by having a pretty good guess of what the solution is going to look like.

The Bay Area is big, with many locations. Trying to use Bay Area Location Names as your solution set--well, it doesn't narrow things down that much. Thus, "Do not try to reverse-solve the Bay Area." I guess that's not precise language. Better to say "Do not use Bay Area Location Names to reverse-solve puzzles." But that's a mouthful. Anyhow.

I figured out I was being silly about the DNA Lounge, but not before I made some pronouncements which got me gently teased later.

I learned my lesson. But I did not learn it well. Last weekend, I was strolling in Oakland's Rockridge district, waiting for Zachary's to make me a pizza. I noticed I was crossing Taft Street. I could have kept walking, but I stopped.

In a few weeks, we will play in a game hosted by the team Taft on a Raft. This game is themed on the movie The Fifth Element, and has had some elementish punnery. And it makes fun of the TV show "The Apprentice".

If I had learned my lesson well, I would have walked past Taft Street. I would have strolled down to the Hudson Bay Cafe, sat, drank coffee, and anticipated pizza. But I didn't. I turned onto Taft. I couldn't help myself. I walked past houses, telling myself that I was being very silly.

Still, when I crossed Broadway and saw the sign saying The Element, a frisson went down my spine. Omigosh omigosh it was the most perfect puzzle site possible.

Until I noticed the rest of the sign. The Elementary School of Arts and Sciences. The frisson stopped running down my spine and slunk off to... wherever frissons go when they're not on duty.

Do not attempt to reverse-solve the Bay Area. There are a lot of oddball coincidences here, and you can drive yourself to distraction.

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Book Report: One Hand Shaking

We Californians believe in the absurd. But it's a pleasant surprise when the absurd reciprocates.

Lowell Darling, artist and prankster, campaigned to be Governor of California back in 1978. He captured the spirit of the times. The people called for "taxpayer revolt", and Darling promised to replace taxes with Incredible Good Luck. Instead, the public voted in Proposition 13, which replaced taxes with Incredibly Poor Schools. Darling's position was obviously close to that of the Californian people; it doesn't make sense that he didn't get elected.

One Hand Shaking is his campaign diary, full of wine and hippos. It was a light-hearted campaign, and this is a light-hearted book. It was just the right thing to read after How to Hack a Party Line.

If you read this book, see if you can spot the brief Ruth Reichl cameo!

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[Update March 26 2006

A little mail exchange:

From: Lowell Darling
Subject: ???????

Can you guess all the cameos?
From: Larry Hosken
To: Lowell Darling
Subject: ???????

> Can you guess all the cameos?

Perhaps.  The first challenge would be: spotting the cameos.
There are several fleetings mentions of people: monks wandering
by the side of the road; a man from Minneapolis.  Which of these
people are cameos?  It's easy to dismiss those monks, mentioned
in passing.  But what one of them was the Dalai Lama and this
fact was omitted due to its unimportance to the narrative?
There seem to be at least two people identified as "Maria", but
perhaps it is just one.  A former wrestler who is now a fortune
teller?  Unlikely, but stranger things have happened.  Anyhow,
detecting all of the cameos seems like the tricky part.

Given a list of cameos, the guesses are easy.  Guesses are
guesses.  They don't have to be good guesses.  We learn a lot
about "Ilene", but it doesn't ring any bells with me.  I try
searching the web, hoping to dig something up--with no success.
But it is easy to guess that this is Ilene Tetazoo, an obscure
sculptor.  That guess is probably not correct, but it was easy.

I wish you good day, sir.

-Larry H.
From: Lowell Darling
To: Larry Hosken
Subject: ???????

You are close with ilene because she is an artist. Most of the rest are
artists and movie people, a few comedians, early Saturday night live people,
directors and now studio heads. One of the maria's is maria tortuga a porno
movie star and the other a retired wrestler who doubled for the actress
alexis smith, but that is not the alexis in the book, that is the artist who
uses her name. the dalai lama is not in but perhaps his weather man is, I
can't recall, but the monks beside the highway were a couple of hare
krishnas crawling north, who knows where.

Anyway, thanks for the kind words on the book, it was fun to see it
mentioned after being published so long ago.

Best luck

What a great guy. I'd vote for him. If he ran against Arnie, I'd vote for him twice.]


Milestone: 5 Million Hits

Good gracious, it is the site's five-millionth hit. That's five million hits in seven years (plus a couple of days).

Let's look at the log record for that five-millionth hit: - - [12/Mar/2006:03:00:50 -0400] "GET departures/Seattle/11/03759_great_republic_painting_tm.jpg HTTP/1.1" 200 4070 "-" Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1; .NET CLR 1.1.4322)"

This appears to be a Verizon customer in the Seattle area looking at the New Year 2005 Berkeley-Vancouver road trip travelog. They're running MSIE. I don't know much about Microsoft software, but that .NET CLR 1.1.4322 might mean that this person is running an old version of the .NET framework--noawadays you see 2.0.50727 a bunch.

Most people find the site by searching Google. (My opinions and statements are mine, not that of my employer.) What kinds of things do they search for? The most popular searches are

  • hogtied
  • poke her
  • japanese punk
  • free comix
  • unknown phone numbers
  • ninja smoke bombs
  • telegraph machine
  • japanese ska
  • david thatcher
  • mongol 800

Thanks to the power of Google sitemaps, I can regularly check out which things people search for such that this site shows up in the results--whether or not people click to go to this site. So, what are the most popular queries for which people could click to go to this site, but don't?

  • tahoo
  • pg & e
  • puzzle
  • telcan
  • dblock
  • xjapan
  • antsy
  • demoui
  • bay area night game
  • porta portal

I guess if I want to write about one of those topics, I could, and be assured that I've got a head start showing up in search results pages for those words.

Anyhow, it's been a fun seven years. Thank you for reading!

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Book Report: The Nudist on the Late Shift

Last weekend, I was working on an art project. Well, not exactly an art project. It was kind of a fake job application. The competition is fierce for this fake job, and some people are jockeying for position by seeking endorsement from local celebrities. So why not just call it a fake job application?

It's easier to call it an art project, because then you won't be so surprised when I mention that there was glitter-glue involved. This glitter glue came in a little plastic jar with a wide mouth. The instructions instructed me to dab a brush or a sponge into the jar and use it to brush the glue onto whichever surface needed glitter. I don't do many art projects; I had no brush. So I didn't use a brush. One nice thing about a brush is that it has a handle. Thus, when you dip a brush into some glitter glue, you can probably keep your hands glue-free. This is not so true if you're not using something not equipped with a handle. You might get a glitter manicure. And glittering fingertips. And if you drip, you might have glitter-glue on your pants. Back in the 70s, that might have been stylish. As it was, I glad I was wearing pants.

Speaking of nudists, this is supposed to be my book report on The Nudist on the Late Shift.

For this book, Po Bronson interviewed many interesting Silicon Valley luminaries. I'd like to see a transcript of the interviews. I'm not so interested in Mr. Bronson's interpretation. He thought that he got into the head of the programmers that he talked to, but he didn't, really. Unless these were some of the shallowest programmers ever. So I doubt that he got into the heads of the entrepeneurs, salespeople, recruiters, ...

In hindsight, I wish that instead of reading this book, I had spent more time playing with glitter.

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"Life" is the Noun Form of "Absurd"

The ever-gracious Eve Andersson published my question. To see it, follow the link and scroll down until you see "mysterious envelope".

In other news: Snakes on a Plane!

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Book Report: How to Hack a Party Line

The "New Economy" wasn't just a snake-oil story to extract venture capital money from gullible investors. It was also a snake-oil story to convince newly-wealthy tech CEOs to give lots of money to Political Action Committees. This book tells the story of Wade Randlett, TechNet, and the 2000 Gore campaign, and how they conned dozens of Silicon Valley luminaries into donating large piles of money to the Democratic Party.

This book should make everyone angry. Democrats can be angry that these bozos tried to hijack their party. Republicans can be angry that so much sweet, sweet cash went to their opposition. Silicon Valley types can be angry that so much time was wasted on politicos.

This book didn't just make me angry, and it didn't just inform me about politics. It also helped me to understand the power structure of Silicon Valley. Up until a couple of years ago, I'd worked in the East Bay. It's not much like the Valley. After reading this book, I begin to understand the power of John Doerr and Kleiner Perkins--when it seems like a chorus of Valley companies is piping up about some issue, KP might be behind them, pulling the strings. Or at least that was the case, back in 2000.

Sara Miles wrote this book. I should find out if she's written others.

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World Addition: Zoe Loftesness

Holy moly, Dave and Penny had a kid. Early indicators suggest extreme cuteness. Extra hippy-dippy style points for being born in a tub of water. Extra high-tech style points for being announced on googlepages.

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Book Report: The Search

Just a few hours ago, my weekend plans were so simple.

  • Put the excellent game PsychoNauts into my backpack so I remember to bring it home from work.
  • On the way home from work, stop off at BlockBuster video to rent an XBox video game machine.
  • Go home.
  • Plug in TV. See if TV catches fire. (A few months ago, I was moving furniture in my apartment. I tipped a bookshelf over on my TV. I haven't tried using the TV since then. It's probably fine. But maybe there's a short-circuit in there; maybe it will catch fire.)
  • See if I can figure out how to hook up the XBox to the TV. This may not be possible at all. I don't know anything about the provenance of this TV. During the depths of the dot-bomb, my neighbor, like me, could not find a job. So he moved back to the East Coast to live with his dad. He gave me his TV so that I could have some entertainment during my own unemployment. How old is this TV? What are its inputs? I don't know.
  • Play PsychoNauts.
  • Achieve bliss.

This simple plan just got simpler: It turns out that Blockbuster doesn't rent out XBox machines. I wonder why I thought they did. Maybe they used to. Maybe I'm just an ignoramus. I tried calling up EB Games. They don't rent XBox machines, either.

How will I play this game? What am I doing this weekend?

But that does not help you, dear reader. How can I help you? Are you here for the book reports? I can share my opinion of John Battelle's The Search. What is that opinion? The Search is worth skimming, but not worth reading.

In ten years or so when kids ask me "What was life like back when the web was young?" I can hand them this book. But if you lived through that time, this book is 95% full of stuff you already know. You might want to borrow the book to get the other 5%.

Some fun facts from my 5%:

  • It is much cheaper to acquire customers by being search-findable than by sending email spam according to some report by some organization named Piper Jaffray. Not just more ethical. It's cheaper. Spammers are evil and dumb.
  • The Yahoo! founders' first(?) web-crawling project scraped sports statistics from many places. The goal: Winning a fantasy football league.
  • The people think that mixing paid search listings with regular search listings is a feature, not sleazy. They see it as the web parallel to the yellow pages. They don't think of the yellow pages as sleazy.
  • During the Google IPO, Google opened up stock bidding to a large auction. Brokers specializing in IPOs criticized Google for this. This criticism did not say, "I, a fat-cat IPO broker, am upset. Why did those Google jerks use an auction? All the other high-tech companies let me run my own little exclusive auction. I sell stock cheap to my fat-cat frat buddies and then we sell the stock at high prices to regular investors. We all get mansions. It's great. Doesn't Google like the old boy network?" Instead, the criticism said, "Google is arrogant." (Remember folks: just because someone despises you doesn't always mean that they're arrogant. Sometimes it means you're despicable.)
  • When something strange happens to the Google index, people suffer. One year during an index change, stopped showing up in the top search results. The business nearly went under. The business owner tried to find out what was going on, but no-one at Google replied to him. Google needs to work on communication.

Hmm, that mention of fantasy football reminds me that I want to read something about football pools.

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