Larry Hosken: New

A while back, you'll recall I made a phone game that involved walking around and "checking in" to various landmark-y locations. The game got its information about local landmarks from Foursquare, that app that folks worldwide use to check in to their local sandwich shops, thus inadvertently discovering which places all the local folks know about.

Alas, Foursquare figured out that this was pretty valuable information to give away, and has changed the terms under which an app can use this information for free (a.k.a. the price tier that doesn't involve talking to their sales reps). Apps will soon be required to "forget" info they learned from Foursquare after 24 hours. That's reasonable and generous, but doesn't work well with this game's rules. So I changed the game: now instead of getting its "landmark" information from Foursquare, it gets that information from Wikipedia via GeoNames.

This changes the nature of the game. Wikipedia has a different idea of what consitutes an interesting place than Foursquare does. Foursquare knows that many many people check in to my local coffee shop; but Wikipedia considers that shop beneath notice. Wikipedia however thinks that every tram stop (but not bus stop) in the city deserves its own page. With the old data, you'd do well in the game to seek out shopping centers so you could score the local Foursquare hot spots: coffee shops, sandwicherias, beauty salons. But now you might follow LRV tracks around. This arguably makes for a less-interesting game…on the other hand, it's fun enough and I don't have to talk to any sales reps. (Geonames takes donations without having the donator talk to anybody.) Thus good enough for my purposes.

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2018-04-24T20:39:24.570994

Book Report: Doctor Illuminatus: A Ramon Llull Reader

It's an illustrated method for organizing arguments plus some arguments constructed by this method. This guy Ramon Llull came up with them centuries ago as a way to organize his thoughts. A while back, on the internet I saw some interesting diagrams. Letters arranged in rings; this guy wanted a physical aid to combining concepts to make an argument. He made little paper wheels to spin on the same axis—like code wheels. Rotating wheels would bring concepts into physical alignment, suggesting combining those concepts. A neat idea, sure…

The arguments Llull was making were that his religion was the one true religion. He wanted to write Apologetics which sounds politely sorry but apparently are all about how one's favorite religion is the best religion and about how everyone who believes anything else is going to Hell. If that makes you think: Hmm, I wonder if Llull's diagrams boiled down to unusually-rigorously geometric bulls—— then, yeah, that's pretty much it. I was hoping to raid this collection of works for a metapuzzle idea, but it's pretty much a disaster so never mind. I gave up on reading the arguments he'd made based on his diagrams. They were impressive in their own way: drawings of flower arrangements based upon the combinations of concepts he'd figured out… if only his talent for constructing these concept-maps hadn't been wasted on god-bothering, they might have been interesting. But it's about as well-considered as you'd expect from someone who thought it was a happy coincidence that he'd been born into a community that happened to observe the one true religion.

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2018-04-21T23:49:18.117569

Book Report: October

A history of the months between the overthrow of the Tsar and the rise of Lenin, as told by China MiĆ©ville taking a break from writing science fiction long enough to untangle this mess such that one can try to understand it. It was a popular uprising in a place and time that wasn't set up for elections. No voting booths, no polls—to gauge "the will of the people," you'd wait for some firebrands to call for a strike/rally/whatever and see how crowded the streets got. It was a godawful mess, but probably less deadly than being ruled by the Tsar because this was happening during World War I when following your government in Europe tended to mean dying in a trench.

(In other news, I'm keeping an eye out for strangeness in this here blog. I wrote this here blog's tools in a now-ancient programming language (Python 2). The folks running the machines for this here site did an upgrade that didn't play nice with the ancient stuff, so I've been upgrading to a more-recent version of that programming language. Good chance that I overlooked some problems here or there. I wonder if this will actually appear anywhere…)

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2018-04-14T20:20:51.373250

I went to see the Rube Goldberg exhibit at San Francisco's Contemporary Jewish Museum—or rather, I went to see "Contraption," an exhibit accompanying the Rube Goldberg exhibit. There was a Rube Goldberg exhibit, but I've read at least one book of Rube Goldberg comics, and didn't really need to see them again up on walls. But "Contraption" had a bunch of over-engineered art in the vein of Rube Goldberg devices. Like there was a crankable system of gears that turned cranking motion into sawing motion, but with a saw "blade" that was unsuitable for sawing. As if doing all the work necessary for sawing, the energy, the motion… as if you turned the "M" in SAWMILL upside-down to make SAW-WILL, the intent and action of sawing with no actual sawing taking place… Anyhow, I liked the exhibit.

(Also there was an installation by Kutiman, that guy who makes YouTube music videos by smooshing together lots and lots of other YouTube music videos. This was an experience he couldn't deliver via YouTube—more than a dozen speakers arranged in a ring around the listener… but I'm pretty lazy and couldn't help but think "this experience is different from me sitting around at home watching Youtube videos and it turns out that the experience of sitting around at home watching Youtube videos is more comfy and has better snacks.")

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2018-04-16T14:38:12.606041

There's a special exhibit at San Francisco's deYoung Museum with works by Charles Sheeler and other Precisionist folks. I'm a fan of Sheeler, so I went. Out in front of the exhibit there's some interpretive text giving a timeline of machine-y goings-on that inspired some of these machine-showing works.

One event on the timeline was the building of the Fort Peck Dam, along with a photo showing construction. That photo looked familiar: aha, no doubt it had inspired Sheeler's painting "Water", which has a goofy title since it shows no water. So I traipsed through the exhibit, keeping an eye out for "Water"… but it wasn't there. So now I wonder why that Fort Peck Dam item was in the timeline. Had the curators hoped to get "Water"? Or maybe they didn't but left that item in as an "easter egg" for Sheeler fans? If so, it worked: this got me to go through the exhibit a second time to make sure I hadn't accidentally skipped something.

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2018-04-09T18:31:05.775573

Book Report: Confessions of a Political Hitman

Autobiography of a guy who did political opposition research back when that meant travelling to county seats and looking at old voting records on microfilm or somesuch. He mostly worked for right-wing candidates digging up "dirt" on left-wing candidates where "dirt" all too often meant: voting to increase taxes or increase spending. But there are also stories of bringing actual corruption to light, both on the left and on the right. So I guess read this book if you ever find yourself feeling insufficiently cynical about politics or something?

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2018-04-08T19:05:28.026402

Urban Morphology is Everywhere, even the Ferry Terminal

At the Stephan Leonoudakis Golden Gate Ferry Terminal the other day, I noticed that one of the two pay phones had gone away. That's not surprising; nowadays, pay phones tend to go away. But I'd based a puzzlehunt-puzzle on those two pay phones. The gist of the puzzle: find these pay phones. Suppose their phone numbers, encoded, are this; then what is that encoded message? With one of those phones gone, the puzzle was no longer solvable.

It's not surprising when pay phones go away. I had a contingency plan ready in case the two pay phones at the Stephan Leonoudakis Golden Gate Ferry Terminal went away. But I didn't have a plan ready in case just one phone went away. So… I made up a new contingency plan, tweaked the puzzle a little. Folks solving the puzzle today will have an easier than folks who solved it before. Fans of fairness will point out: that's not fair. But it's not a disaster when a puzzle gets easier.

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2018-04-02T20:45:07.894977

Book Report: Beautiful Trouble

It's a bag of tricks, principles, theories, and case studies for political action: rallies, hoaxes, sit-ins, etc. It's interesting, and might inspire someone to expand their repertoire by pointing out overlooked tactics. On the other hand, there's no systematic this tactic is well-suited to these situations analysis—these aren't design patterns. And it's not clear how well some of these work in any situation. Folks who wrote some case studies pointed out how their action did (or didn't) move them towards their strategic goals. But some don't; and it's not clear that some of these actions had any positive effect. So… it's a fun read, but don't assume all of the case studies are positive examples, even if their writeups might lack a "What Didn't Work" section. Maybe be especially skeptical of those lacking a "What Didn't Work" section.

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2018-04-01T13:04:35.292337

Book Report: Lifelike

Are there really people who think that a camera can steal your soul or is that an urban legend? Anyhow, in this novel you can steal part of someone's soul by paying close attention to them as you paint their portrait.

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2018-03-25T16:09:18.937578

Book Report: The Lost art of Finding our Way

This book is darned near perfect: It's about how folks navigated back before there was a GPS phone in every pocket. Had things I didn't know about Vikings and about Marshall Island stick chart wave maps. There's an interesting theory that Viking "sunstones" might have been chunks of calcite "Icelandic spar", a naturally-occuring polarized crystal that could help you spot the sun's true direction on an overcast day. Celestial navigation is different if you're in the tropics because the stars behave more consistently. How to estimate the size or distance of a far-away thing by seeing how many fingers on an outstretched hand are required to obscure it. "Starboard" got its name from a steering-board that hung off the right-hand side of Viking cargo vessels. This book is full of neat stuff like that. Plus there's an excellent bibliography so I can learn more about what we've rediscovered about Marshall Island stick chart wave maps and wave navigation in the last couple of decades. (The stick charts aren't so important for wave navigation, it turns out, but they sure are intriguing artifacts to stumble upon in museums.)

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2018-03-20T13:42:13.249316

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