Book Report: Leave me Alone, I'm Reading

Today at lunch, the conversation was all about web application security. No, wait, it wasn't even about web application security. It was about what sort of effort it would take to educate computer programmers about web application security. No wait it was about how to educate computer programmers about one paradigm of web application security without totally alienating any computer security experts. I found this conversation interesting. This suggests that you might not want to trust me very far about what things are interesting and/or boring. So you might not want to read about what I thought of the book Leave me Alone, I'm Reading. Nevertheless, here we go.

This book starts out with a little bit of autobiography, but then dives into literary criticism, an informed essay about Women's Extreme Adventure Stories. It turns out that I don't care that much about Women's Extreme Adventure Stories, no matter how cleverly Maureen Corrigan compares and contrasts instances of these stories.

Actually, of the stories that she mentioned that I'd read, I liked most of them. I guess I just don't enjoy reading book reports that talk about overarching themes and common elements and all that crapola. Wow, those of you who have read many of these Book Reports are probably really surprised to learn that, but it's true. I gave up partway through this book. It seems well-executed. But it's not my thing.

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Site: Shinteki Decathlon 3 Notes

I was talking with Matt A. at Paul and Anisa's wedding reception yesterday. He said that he read this blog, but he didn't make it all the way through most posts. He's not so interested in book reviews. But he does like the rants about... whatever's going on in my life. Most of the book reviews are preceded by those rants. Then there's a segue in the post where I say something like "...which brings us to the point of this post". That's usually where Matt stops reading. That's a pretty reasonable attitude. Matt doesn't spend three hours of each weekday commuting by bus; he's not looking for book reviews.

Which brings us to the anecdote before the point of this post. A few days ago I was at the bus stop next to work. My bus had filled up with coworkers, and I'd been left behind. Thus I was sitting and waiting for an hour. The good news was that yet more of my co-workers showed up meanwhile, so I had an excuse to chat with some of them. A couple of them were gamists--Mark Pearson of the Warrior Monks; Corey Anderson of the Burninators. The bad news is that I don't remember either of those conversations because during each of them, a fly flew up my nose. It was very distracting. As flies flew in, memories flew out. So I can't report on those conversations.

Which brings us to the point of this post. The way I remember things is to write them down. So you'll be glad to know that I wrote up my notes from Shinteki Decathlon 3.

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Book Report: Brainiac

It's a book about trivia by Ken Jennings, that guy who kept winning at Jeopardy!. Fortunately, this book is about a lot more than just Jeopardy!. The author explores the world of trivia--the history of trivia books; a little game show history; that town in Wisconsin with the nutso annual trivia radio contest; more.

I had two favorite parts:

  • He describes college quiz teams. I had no idea that this sort of thing went on. Teams of college students roam the country, battling each other in trivia games. One league of these kids writes their own trivia questions, and those questions are twisted and esoteric.
  • And he mentions that the International Corned Beef Eating Championship takes place in... Hot Springs, Arkansas. That place has more going on than just Midnight Madness.

A fun, quick read.

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Book Report: Happiness (Lessons from a New Science)

Yesterday, I was walking in the Mission district and ran into Janak R. Janak just finished up an internship at my place of employment; soon he will go back to UCB. He asked, "Do you live around here?" I said, "No, but I come here to buy neckties." He said, "That's right--you wore a necktie yesterday. And again before--So was yesterday your last tie and now you need a new one?"

He was right. But because he was a true scientist, he tested his hypothesis--he asked. We like tests, we like confirmation.

Which is why I gave up on Happiness. As a society, we're figuring out that money can't buy happiness. We're learning more about how happiness works. Maybe we can start re-tooling society so that people can set smarter goals. So how can you find out more about what really makes us happy? Certainly not by reading Happiness (Lessons from a New Science). At least not from reading the first half or so. I read the first half or so. The book didn't tell me much about happiness. Mostly it made me grumpy. Did you know that people who win Oscars tend to live four years longer than people who are merely nominated? You could claim that this means that winners are happier and that this Oscarly longevity proves that happiness leads to healthiness. Or you could figure that Oscar judges might tend to vote for healthier people, who probably tend to look better.

Reading this book, I kept saying "correlation is not causation". I gave up on Happiness. I will choose my own path, test my own hypotheses.

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Book Report: The Prestige

If you're an author, e.g. Christopher Priest, there is danger in writing a book that relies on its Amazing! Colossal! Surprising! twist ending. Your audience, while reading the book, will attempt to guess what the twist ending is. They'll probably guess it. Worse, along the way, they might guess something else, a better ending. And then they'll be disappointed with the stuff you wrote. The Prestige could have been a better book.

It's about dueling stage magicians yadda yadda, oh what's the point.

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Link: Steven Pitsenbarger on Anthotypes

Steven Pitsenbarger writes about making pictures of plants from their own juices.

And that, children, is why you should never leave your salad out in the sunlight all day. It will become part of your salad plate forever! Especially if you accidentally reduced most of it to concentrated pigment earlier. Don't do that. You should eat the salad instead. It's good for you.

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Book Report: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

I started reading this book because it was highly recommended by Wikilens.

I stopped reading it because I didn't want to read more about day-to-day life in Brooklyn. The first hundred pages were fascinating. But I hit a wall.

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Book Report: All the Right Enemies

Here is a mini-puzzle from BATH3 (that pirate-themed puzzle hunt from earlier this year):


Ye seek a four-letter word.

Jack Flash                 _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Bill Cody      _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Abe (Lincoln)              _ _ _ _ _ _
Dan McGrew             _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Cal (Coolidge)             _ _ _ _ _ _
Dick (Nixon)           _ _ _ _ _ _
Bill Hickock           _ _ _ _
Marvin Hagler        _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Prince Charlie   _ _ _ _ _ _
Pirate Roberts           _ _ _ _ _ 

OK, that's the puzzle. It's based on people commonly associated with epithets.

I wrote the first draft of this puzzle and the folks on GC liked it--except that they didn't know many of the "famous" people I came up for the first draft. I was kinda expecting that--I didn't really think that GAIVS IULIVS CAESAR OCTAVIANVS was a great hint for AVGVSTVS.

But I was sad to hear that "Big" Bill Haywood was obscure. I'd thought that people would know that one. When I was growing up, we learned about the early days of organized labor in the USA. There are names that stick in the head: Harry Bridges, Debs, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Joe Hill, and, yes, Big Bill Haywood. I'm not sure why other folks haven't been taught about these folks. Did I learn about them because the San Francisco public schools were staffed by filthy hippies and foaming radicals? Have we tried to forget these stories because we've seen how the labor unions turned out?

Maybe it's because there's a stereotypical course to the story of a labor leader of those days, and it's tragic. Organize people, do good, find out that Stalin has transformed communism into totalitarianism and... join Stalin anyhow or give up.

Maybe that's why I enjoyed All the Right Enemies, Dorothy Gallagher's biography of Carlo Tresca. He was a labor leader. But he didn't join the commies and he didn't give up. When the bosses were oppressive, he rallied people against the bosses. When the commies were oppressive, he took them on. The mafia, sure why not. Here, the tragedy is that more leaders didn't join him, sticking with "people's" movements that had been hijacked.

Eventually, someone shot Tresca. But it took a while and he had a good run before it happened. And plenty of other people got shot who did less good along the way.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even Richmond

When the Great American Race was going on, several west coast folks were watching various team blogs. I didn't spot Team A2's blog until just now. They've done well in past events, including winning some Mini Cooper road rally thing... maybe it was a Mini Cooper road rally thing. The blog doesn't provide a lot of context, but there are some fun anecdotes lurking there nonetheless.

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Book Report: Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser

Shinteki Decathlon 3 was awesome. Since then, I have had approximate 0.0 hours of unstructured awake time. Thus, not so much blogging.

But I will paraphrase a conversation I was in a while back:

She: I was reading your blog post about the ass gasket.

Me: Oh yeah?

She: And I was wondering about that Hoover Method, it sounds very uncomfortable...

He: "Hover Method"

Me: Yeah, I guess you have to have really strong legs, it seems like an awkward angle.

She: So are you supposed to somehow form some kind of vacuum seal? Because that seems like it would be, uhm, less--

He: Not "Hoover". "Hover".

He: Uh yeah. Not the vacuum. It's like-- you're hovering over the, uhm.

She: Oh. That makes more sense then.

In other news, I guess I could tell you about a comic book I read about a month ago: Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.

What would it take to convince me to read about Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser again? I read some of the stories back when I was in college, when swords and sorcery seemed fun and exciting. But I lost interest. Until recently, when I saw this collection of comics of the F+GM stories, illustrated by Mike Mignola. So I read them. They were fun nostalgia. They didn't suck.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, but the Go Game Isn't One of Them (Not that it Claims to Be)

This afternoon at work, I snuck into a certain cafeteria. Thus I was there when hordes of interns streamed in for a late lunch. They were late because they'd been at the intern scavenger hunt. I was curious to know how it had gone.

We'd outsourced this year's Hunt to The Go Game. As I hear about treasure-huntish things in the San Francisco Bay Area, I occasionally hear about The Go Game. They don't claim to be puzzle-oriented. So I never was that motivated to try it out. But I was glad that the interns were trying it out so that I could find out whether I was missing something.

The Go Game is not a puzzle game. It doesn't try to be. It derives excitement from time pressure. You get a mission: you have four minutes to trot to a building a few blocks away and note down something about it to prove you were there. Go. Not puzzly, but frantic. You have 15 minutes to re-enact a historical event through the medium of ballet. Go.

It doesn't sound like my cup of tea. But it might be someone's cup of tea. I talked with one intern who'd played in last year's game and eavesdropped on another. Both liked JustPassingThrough's hunt better. Gnarly puzzles are a more Googly fit, I guess.

One impressive thing about The Go Game: the final part of the contest allowed each team to vote on the others' creative creations (e.g., videos of balletic reenactments of historical events). To make this work, the organizers had to show us team photos + videos. To make this more interesting, they accompanied the photos/videos with music and sound effects. I was impressed with the presenter, who quickly queued up semi-appropriate music. It was a good show. I'm glad I snuck in.

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