Larry Hosken: New: Tag: brutal-truth

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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Book Report: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes And Other Lessons from the Crematory

What happens to our bodies after we die? This book talks about preparing bodies, funerals, that sort of thing. We've got plenty of taboos around death. E.g., the author figures that leaving your body to science is about the best thing you can do… but the idea grosses her out, so she wants something else done with her body after she dies. (Me, I still want to donate to science, though from this book I learned of some "scientific" uses that aren't so uplifting…) If you don't go around with a layer of makeup on all the time, then you do not want an open coffin viewing thingy after you die—the funeral folks must slap plenty of paint onto you lest you look grosser than Hollywood's grossest zombie.

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Book Report: Prisoners of Power

I wanted to try a book by the Strugatskys, who I keep hearing good things about. Unfortunately, they were novelists. I bet this book was pretty good for a novel, but I'm mostly into non-fiction these days. I didn't finish this one. I don't need a novel to tell me that war is hell and mostly pointless. Maybe if I'd kept going, there would have been some startling new insight on this theme? Maybe? Maybe. Anyhow, I stopped.

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Book Report: In Defense of Flogging What if prisoners could shorten their sentences by choosing to be flogged instead? This sounds cruel…but then you think about how many prisoners would take that deal. Which gets to the book's ...

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Book Report: The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian Conan stories were influential, but I hadn't read any. I'd always been curious: how could a stupid barbarian interest folks so? (Yes, yes, Conan's actually a smart barbarian; but the cliche I'm used ...

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Book Report: The Peripheral Ages ago, probably back when I was a teenager, my dad told me some reasons why "time machine" stories in sci-fi movies/books/etc. don't work so well—that time machine also has to be a teleporte...

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Book Report: 400 Things Cops Know The number in the title makes this sound like an absurdly long listicle but this a really good listicle. Get a glimpse into the thinking of someone who's often lied to, deals with folks which other f...

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Book Report: The Impossible State It's a book about North Korea taught me how far to go when running a kleptocracy. Can you starve your population, as long as you keep your army fed? Yep, you totally can. It doesn't backfire. Is ad...

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If someone asks you for a cigarette, you hand one over. That explains the guy I overheard: If you smoke on the bus, nobody asks you for one. I hope that remains the most antisocial thing I hear t...

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Book Report: Dataclysm The OKCupid blog is pretty amazing. Way back when, it caused a stir talking about trends in USA interracial dating. Plenty of USA folks say they don't care about race. But when the OKCupid folks look...

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"I was really proud of my jar of teeth…" ...

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Book Report: Line Screw Memoir of a poet/executive whose migraines force him out of such intense-thinking pursuits and into prison guarding. He was guarding Canadian prisons back when there was a higher ratio of guards to p...

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Book Report: Everything is Bullshit The Priceonomics blog wrote a book with a rude name. It's pretty interesting; a lot of it was stuff that I'd already read. (I wasn't subscribed to the blog, but other folks kept forwarding links&hell...

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Book Report: Newjack How better to research prison life than to become a Corrections Officer for a year? Well, there are probably more pleasant ways, but this book's author worked a year in Sing Sing prison. This is a hi...

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Book Report: Flashfire There's this character named Parker; mostly in books, but recently in a movie named "Parker." I liked some of the books, so I saw the movie. Then I was curious to know which book it was based on. It'...

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Book Report: In the Belly of the Beast A long-time prisoner sent famous writer Norman Mailer some letters about prison life. This books collects excerpts from those letters. They talk vaguely about injustice. There are anecdotes that make...

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Book Report: Chinese Playground I picked up this book around the time that arms dealer Leland Yee was suspended from the California state senate. That case had some San Francisco Chinatown gangster connections. If you look around f...

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Book Report: Worm Do I call it a "Book" report if it doesn't exist in book-ish form? Oh sure why not. Worm is a novel-length story posted online. It's about superheroes. What if there were thousands of superheroes in ...

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Book Report: City of Fortune It's a history of Venice back in the days when Venice was a big deal. If you think that Realpolitik is hardass nowadays, go read your history and weep for the soul of humanity. Venice came to power ...

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Book Report: Republic, Lost When Solyndra was falling apart, Republicans were screaming: these green companies were just boondoggles, false fronts to scoop up government money. It's easy to dismiss their complaints as a bunch o...

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Comic Report: Apocalypse Nerd Since Valve is in the news with lots of news about virtual reality, you might think if I was going to review a Peter Bagge comic, it would be Reset. But only if you didn't know how far behind my book...

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Book Report: Homicide This week, teams are playing in the Ravenchase Great America Race, solving puzzles day after day, driving from city to city. And thus I've been outed: Team Bloody Boneless Smoking and Burning spotted...

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Comic Report: Cuba: My Revolution What was it like living in Cuba as it changed from a kleptocracy to a paranoiac batsh*t-insanocracy? It was bad. The protagonist of this comic got shot at, imprisoned, tortured, watched her family in...

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Book Report: Surface Detail (Yes, I'm publishing another blog post today. Sorry about the flurry. I'm testing stuff. This blog post should look pretty ordinary, but there's a rel="author" tag hiding in the source code.) It's a...

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Comic Report: Parker, the Hunted; Parker: The Outfit These Parker comics are retro noir crime fiction. The retro's all over the art. It looks like graphics from ads from the early 60s. The violence and the menace of violence is all over the place. ...

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Book Report: Flashman It's the story of empire. It's the story of a conquering force in Afghanistan realizing that they weren't as conquering as they thought. It's the story of the Massacre of Elphinstone's army told from...

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Book Report: Three Cups of Tea Yeah, it's that book that everybody else already read, the one about the do-gooder who builds schools in Pakistan (and, later, Afghanistan). This book started out hard to read—the writer think...

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Book Report: The Making of the Atomic Bomb I've read plenty of books about the development of the atomic bomb, but concentrating mostly on Los Alamos. It's a tale kind of like Camelot for nuclear physicists—for a time, the world's best...

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Puzzle Hunts^W^W LARPs are Everywhere, Even the Transbay Terminal Girts noticed something Nonchalant-Game-ish to do this evening in San Francisco. There was a nicely-done stroll. (It was fun! I'm glad I went! I still don't want to do Nonchalant-ish things that don...

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Book Report: Down at the Docks Back in 1999, I traveled in New England. I told intrepid traveler Tom Manshreck that I was going to visit New Bedford. He said ""Yeah, man--New Bedford used to be a good place to go to--to get shot...

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Comic Report: Persepolis An autobio comic about growing up in Iran. First under the corrupt Shah. Then under the Fundies. Getting away to Europe without parents, without much of a support system... You get the idea that ...

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Book Report: Oil! This is the book that the movie "There Will Be Blood" was based on. But that's not how I heard of this book. I saw Word for Word perform the first chapter. This group acts out short stories and st...

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Book Report: The Great Gamble It's a book about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, telling it from the Soviet point of view, based on interviews with Soviet soldiers. It's like a horror movie where you want to yell at the chara...

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Book Report: Killing Neighbors I used to work for a lady named Lee Ann Fujii. She was pretty cool, so when I heard that she wrote a book, I figured I'd read it to see what she's been up to. She's now a foreign policy wonk special...

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Book Report: Designing Web Usability This book is about web usability. It's kinda old, from the year 2000. Reading it with this historical hindsight was somewhat discouraging. Apparently, webmasters have made the same mistakes for sev...

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Book Report: Spin State I liked Spin State, a science fiction novel by Chris Moriarty. It's science fiction but with a story in which the characters make mistakes. That's a good thing. I actually found myself thinking li...

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Book Report: DEC is Dead, Long Live DEC This is a book about DEC, Digital Equipment Corporation, a start up that grew big. The author argues that some of the things that made it a great start-up, a great place to work... these things also...

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Book Report: Deliver the Vote Deliver the Vote is a history of crooked elections in the U.S. of A. It doesn't try to describe all crooked elections. Just some good stories, just enough to fill up a few hundred pages. George Wa...

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Book Report: A Far Country Scouting game locations for a puzzle hunt, e.g. BANG 19, is time-consuming but fun. It's a good excuse to go out on a tour of not-in-front-of-your-computer. Plus, since you're trying to find places...

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Book Report: The Next Catastrophe I'm going to Jury Duty today. Oh, gee. What if I get picked for a trial that goes on for three years? What if I'm sequestered? Does that mean no internet? What a catastrophe that would be. Oh h...

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Book Report: China: Fragile Superpower This book is about China. This book makes me want to hide my eyes and say "I hope you're wrong." It paints a discouraging picture. The Chinese government fears overthrow by popular uprising. The g...

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Book Report: Invisible Man Yesterday, I went to a game party at work. I won a couple of games, which was more than my share. You might think that means I'm a brilliant strategist, until you find out what games I won (and how...

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Book Report: The Wonga Coup Some people worry that laryngitis might interfere with their opera singing. Me, I spent the day at home trying to recover from laryngitis, listening to operetta. And I'm glad that I don't rely on m...

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Book Report: The Boys I'm not at Comic-con this weekend. I just read comics, but I don't especially want to meet their creators. I especially don't especially want to meet the creators of "The Boys." "The Boys" is perha...

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Book Report: How I Came into my Inheritance (and other true stories) 'Lene is out of the hospital. Meanwhile, Alexandra says that her mother is sick; Team Mystic Fish might be on shaky ground this weekend. I have no health problems myself; in theory I have no cause ...

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Book Report: Goodbye Darkness This memoir of the Pacific in WWII is pretty disturbing. I suspect that William Manchester was pulling punches, but his story still has plenty of punch. People got blown up. People fought at close...

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Book Report: Malcolm X Here I sit in a dark train somewhere in the vicinity of Menlo Park. The train is dark and stopped. An alarm bell rings constantly. We have stopped because we hit a car. At first, this was a sad s...

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Book Report: Heat Bill Buford's previous book Among the Thugs was wonderfully brutal and scary, so I figured I'd like this book about restaurant kitchens and butchery. It's fascinating. He talks about how chefs lear...

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Book Report: The Railway Man The good news is that Gene Wolfe has a new book coming out with "Pirate" in the title: Pirate Freedom. The bad news is that book isn't scheduled to emerge until November, months after the pirate-the...

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Book Report: Shadow Cities This book, by Robert Neuwirth, changed the way I think about the world. It's about slums, squatter cities, shanty towns, favelas. It's about people who build on land they don't own. It's about peo...

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Book Report: The Making of the Atomic Bomb I've read several books about the Manhattan Project. They all had a focus. New documents that had come to light. Focusing on one of the minor players. Family life. Now I realize why all of those...

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Book Report: Re/Search Pranks 2 I had an interesting phone conversation a few weeks ago. I responded to some spam email offering to optimize my web site so that it would rank higher on web site searches. There are legitimate ways...

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Book Report: Maximum City I hear wild cheering outside. Does that mean that the USA scored a goal in the World Cup match just now? Maybe I should care, but I don't. Which reminds me of Maximum City. I only made it partway...

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Book Report: People's History of the United States Reading Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States is hard work. He writes about some parts of USA history which I didn't know about. Some of these pieces of history were pretty disturbing...

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