Larry Hosken: New

I went to scenic Boulder, Colorado. I had a rough time getting around, so the resulting travelog is pretty whiny, sorry.

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2019-07-16T17:15:23.650147

Curtis and DeeAnn of Team Snout were in town. We played the Edison Room over at the excellent Palace Games Escape Rooms. And and and Curtis had Puzzled Pint stickers with him, so now my laptop is extra snazzy.

team photo laptop sticker

Yes, that's Lisa L. on this side of the pond. Fortunately, our team had enough tall people on it such that you can't see the game clock behind us: We didn't actually escape in time, but went several seconds over. [Update: Actually, we did escape in time. This room gives you a hundred minutes. We went a few seconds over the usual hour.]

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2019-07-15T02:05:13.163878

Book Report: Bad Blood

Content warning: all the gross bodily fluids

Today I was walking along, minding my own business, and I felt something wet on my hip. I looked down and saw blood and guts on my sweatshirt. My brain slewed into heavy diagnostic mode for a couple of seconds while I figured out that this wasn't my blood and guts. My best guess: fish guts. This was near San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf neighborhood. I guess a seagull was flying around with a mouthful of fish guts and dropped some. Or maybe a seagull vomited on me. Does that happen? Do seagulls vomit up fish guts? If I ate some of the gross fish-stuff that seagulls eat, I'd throw up all the time. But I don't know how often seagulls throw up. I don't even know for sure that a seagull was involved. Maybe some street lunatic was flinging guts around. Stranger things happen in this city every day. I'm used to the idea that, walking a lot around the city without a hat, every so often a bird is going to poop on my head. There's a superstition that's good luck. I never really thought of bird poop as good luck. But the next time it happens, I guess I can think I'm lucky it's not a glob of bloody fish guts because that is nasty. Anyhow. I got home and spent a couple of whiles rinsing blood out of my clothes. The problem: too much blood.

There's this book Bad Blood about Theranos, that company with the opposite problem. Theranos was trying to make an automatic blood testing machine. There were already such machines around. But Theranos was trying to make a portable machine that didn't need to use much blood in its test. It failed. Well…some of the medical nerds working at the place succeeded in developing a few new mechanisms/processes to test blood, but nowhere near the capabilities promised by Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos' liar CEO.

Along with the scariness of the general situation—how many people were harmed by acting on incorrect blood tests before Theranos was shut down?—tech workers get some additional frights by seeing some tech-company-tropes used to great harm.

E.g., Steve Jobs famously kept departments at Apple in the dark about what other departments were working on. This allowed him to make surprise product announcements—very few people knew of the existence of any new product, and thus leaks were rare. Holmes kept Theranos' departments in the dark about what other departments were doing. In theory, this was following Jobs' example. In practice, this meant that few folks within the company knew how poorly the blood-testing machines worked. There's a pattern to this book's stories of whistleblowing Theranos workers. Worker gets hired. Worker is enthusiastic—portable blood testing machines that can work with small samples would make many people's lives better! As far as worker knows, everything is hunky-dory. Worker is in one of the few parts of the company that actually uses the machines. Worker notices that one aspect of the machines doesn't work well, the aspect they're testing. Worker reports this to a higher-up. Worker gets fired for their bad attitude. Other workers off in other departments still assume everything's working fine.

E.g., working around government regulation. Is it right that a company should follow medical-testing rules made to stop wild-west snake oil salesmen? We're in a new age of engineering, skilled in rapid innovation and we're trying to save lives here— And it all probably sounded pretty convincing at the time. But in the end, it just reminds us that the snake oil salesmen have kept up with the pace of innovation just as well as the honest folks.

The book also points out how folks found Holmes' deep voice to be very compelling. I've worked with a couple of managers who had deep voices; in more than one case I'd find myself nodding along to something one of these guys said… only to head back to my desk, sit down, replay the conversation and realize that they'd been talking nonsense. These occasions weren't happy, but looking back I guess I can say it was lucky that those guys weren't working on medical devices.

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2019-07-05T19:43:39.918636

Book Report: All At Sea

It's a writer's memoir about joining up with a documentary film crew hoping to document seamanship techniques by nomadic sailors based near Thailand, sort of. But things go off the rails and it's a road to muddled hell paved with good intentions. These nomads indeed have a tough time nowadays—nations care about borders and aren't very understanding of big groups of folks accustomed to wandering over those dotted lines on the map. But but this movie crew sure didn't help. Anyhow, if you've ever thought When a ship's captain asks me if I know how to do something, for safety's sake I should admit my ignorance but worried that you didn't have evidence to back that up, this book has a cringe-y anecdote for you. Oh yeah—this book is by Julian Sayarer; don't confuse it with other books with the same title…

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2019-06-15T17:56:55.447314

Book Report: Silence on the Wire

It's a book with ways to indirectly find out internet-security-ish info about things. E.g., if you're curious to know whether visitors to your website also frequent the San Francisco SPCA website, you might try displaying an image from that website and time how long it takes for that image to appear. If a visitor sees the image quickly, their computer probably already had info from the SPCA website cached on their computer from previous visits.

Some of these techniques are practical. Some others, uhm, sound like some grad students dared each other find the most bass-ackwards way to "leak" information from systems they already owned. E.g., whoever figured out how to guess at network traffic by using a high-speed camera to monitor lights on a modem, uhm… these people were clever but maybe could have found a better use of their time?

Practical or not, this is some fun reading if you're into that sort of thing.

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2019-06-05T15:50:34.090374

I drank some instant tea. But first I snapped photos because I didn't find much online about this tea. Behold: Platinum Myanmar Milk Tea.

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2019-06-05T00:31:32.980574

Today I walked the SF Crosstown Trail, a long walk from one corner of San Francisco to the opposite corner via lots of parks and greenways and trees and such. There were a few stretches of sidewalk in there, but mostly paths among trees. Some fans of trees would probably like to set up an all-greenway route across the city. But then we'd probably end up with a bunch of coyotes at Candlestick Point yipping "Well, where are we supposed to go from here, this is dumb" and nobody wants to listen to a bunch of coyotes whining so never mind that. Anyhow, the trail was fun.

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2019-06-02T01:07:01.526489

I was unintentionally cruel a while back. I posted a photo saying "ha ha ha, this wall decoration could almost be Braille, I see codez everywhere ha ha ha". And then some nice folks pointed out that actually, yes, the wall decoration was indeed Braille—but because I'd taken such a narrow photo, they could only see a few words, grrr. So here, at long last, is a wider photo so that code fiends can read the rest.

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2019-06-01T23:22:07.603765

Book Report: Ninth Step Station, Season 1

It's cyberpunk detectives fighting crime in a divided city. It's fun. There are fun bits of spycraft, drone walls, and the kinds of nasty side effects from extreme body modification that Mike Pondsmith told us to be wary of.

It's meant to be read as a serial. [Update: you can now buy a "season" as a single Kindle book, huzzah!] Thus, I ended up downloading 10 separate chapters onto my Kindle. But as long as this "Serial Box" outfit keeps publishing writers whose stuff I like, I can deal with such a nuisance.

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2019-06-02T18:11:46.596033

I read a book. I won't report which book; I was researching a puzzle, so naming it would be spoiler-y. But but it was a rare excuse for me, a non-academic, to visit the San Francisco Public Library's Special Collections room. I had to sign in, hand over my backpack, and fill out a form reporting how many pictures of the book I snapped. My mien was super scholarly.

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2019-05-22T23:39:13.669164

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