Larry Hosken: New

I started playing the game Fallen London. If you also play, my character's name is lahosken if you'd like to correspond or somesuch.

(You might think it strange that I just now started playing a 10-year-old game, but it was just written up in the "50 Years of Text-Based Games" substack, so I just now found out enough about the game to decide I might enjoy it. (That "50 Years…" substack also got me to re-play the Plundered Hearts Infocom game umpty-ump years later, but it's not a multi-player game, so I didn't mention it at the time. (I guess I played it multi-player the first time, but only if you mean "One player sits and types while the other player looks over their shoulder and suggests actions.") Where was I?))

I guess "lahosken" isn't suitably neo-Dickensian for this game, but I didn't realize what I was getting myself into at the time. Anyhow, I know some folks who read this here blog also read that "50 Years…" substack, so maybe maybe it's more-probable-than-you-might-think that one or more of y'all is playing (or re-playing) that 10-year-old game this week.

Meanwhile, I guess I should be thinking of a more era-appropriate name, "Jack Grogbarrel" or somesuch. I don't know, I try to avoid Dickens in real life.

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Clown Music is Always Appropriate

I finally learned enough about Android audio settings to make "Entrance of the Gladiators" my clock alarm noise.

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I got wind of a new-ish public word list for crossword constructors, the spread the word(list). So I grabbed a copy and tossed it into the big pile of data that feeds the "Phraser" phrase and word lists.

I've got a few crossword lists in that big pile of data now. I want to give them lest "oomph" in how much they boost things. Crossword constructors don't care about spaces between words: they happily lay BRITISHCOLUMBIA into a grid; but in other contexts you'd expect a space between British and Columbia. Because I pull in data from crossword word lists and from sources that use spaces, my Phraser lists now have both "british columbia" and "britishcolumbia". That's not terrible: space-less britishcolumbia is pretty far down in the list amongst obscure words like "brisco" and "bunglers".

But I notice that the missing-spaces "howardtheduck" is now higher in my list than "howard the duck". As Howard would say, "Waak." Trapped in a wordlist he never made. I just now changed the Phraser program so that it won't boost long space-less "words" it finds in crossword lists as much. I won't jump in and re-generate the Phraser lists right away with the new program; but the next time I do, space-less howardtheduck should be much lower.

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Steve Yegge is shooting videos about working at big tech companies. Nerds of a certain age may fondly remember Steve Y's blog rants (and, more recently, Medium rants), in which he wrote about working at big tech companies. In these videos, as before, he's often right, sometimes wrong, but either way darned cool because he'll take the time to talk about this stuff.

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The future is amazing.

FedEx: Hello Lawrence, I'm the FedEx Virtual Assistant. I'm here to help you with your questions regarding FedEx® services.
Lawrence: I uploaded a file to print but got errors. I renamed it from something.html.pdf to something.pdf , it worked.
FedEx: FedEx Office® Print Online pricing is specific to your file, paper and finishing options, as well as to the location selected for pickup. To get the most accurate pricing, we suggest you upload your files and select your print options. Or you can contact your local store for print estimate information.
Lawrence: Please tell your programmers.
FedEx: Perhaps you meant…:
  • I would like to track my package

In the bad old days, I might have waited on hold on the phone for five minutes to fail to get a bug report to a company's computer programmers. Thanks to the magic of chatbots, such failure now takes only seconds.

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Palace Games: The Attraction

Today I helped play the The Attraction escape room experience at Palace Games. It was awesome and fun. As usual with escape rooms, there's not much you can say specifically about them, lest spoilers. As usual at Palace Games, the games designers are good at working with high-tech sensors and servos; this gives them a lot of freedom to design interesting room interactions.

I only played one escape room today. Compared to the rest of my team, that was small potatoes. This afternoon/evening, Rich Bragg is playing The Attraction as his 1000th escape room. To make that happen, he had to play a few rooms today before The Attraction; to make that happen, he organized 22 people playing six San Francisco escape rooms and one escape tour over the course of the day. That's pretty impressive, but remember that Rich was part of the world record Escape Room team that played 22 rooms in 24 hours in Moscow. So organizing a mere six rooms… well, that's still a lot. But I guess that's the sort of logistic feat you have to regularly pull off if you want to play 1000 escape rooms. Of the folks I played The Attraction with today, I was the only one so dainty to stop at one activity.

My team (Deb, Jan, Jesse, Jessen, and me) was the second "shift" of Braggians to play The Attraction. The first "shift" got a 45 minute late start. (maybe because the Escape Tour took longer than expected? Though I have a hard time believing that these folks would take more time than the Escape Tour's regular tourist patrons… Maybe tourists tend to ragequit early? I'm not sure I followed what was happening.) The excellent Palace Games people knew that everyone playing The Attraction today was a Braggian, so they could just keep shoving everyone's time back for that room instead of telling the first "shift" that they wouldn't have time to finish. Thus, our team also got a late start.

We helped nudge The Attraction back towards being on-schedule: we solved it faster than any other team ever. That sounds very impressive, doesn't it? It sounds less impressive once you know that The Attraction had only been open for a day and a half: we were the fifth team to play ever. Sadly, thanks to our late start, Deb had to leave partway through: she was catching a flight to Denver to play a bunch of escape rooms there the next day.

Among the 22 folks running around today were the members world record 24 hour escape room team— but I dunno how many games those folks played today, maybe not so many. Dan Egnor had helped design The Attraction, so he couldn't play that. I bet Amanda Harris had already played all the San Francisco rooms; I ?think? she already played her 1000th room a while back. I haven't met Amanda, but she sounds pretty amazing. Ana played a bunch today, and so did Rich; I don't think they ended up playing any games together, though.

I got to hear some 24 hour escape room world record rumors. Apparently, there's a team from Belgium* that broke the 22-rooms record. But they have yet to hear from the Guiness World Record people if the evidence they sent in is acceptable. Instead of sending-in-evidence-and-hoping, you can ask the Guiness folks to send out observers to watch you—but that costs tens of thousands of dollars. So this Belgium team has probably broken the record, but we have to wait for some Guiness people to… I don't even know what they have to do. View many many hours of escape room footage, thusly getting spoiled on every escape room in Antwerp or something?

Anyhow, I had a fun time at the The Attraction; it was fun to hang out with some local puzzle nerds for the first time since the pandemic; it was exciting to be associated with Rich's 1000th room day. Yay!

*From Belgium? From somewhere else, but they solved in Belgium for 24 hours? Uhm, now I forget what I heard.

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I enjoyed playing the game Neo Cab. It's a story game full of conversation trees. You play a rideshare driver in a cyberpunk future.

There are several passengers to ferry, but not too many. Thus, you might drive the same passenger around a few times over the course of the game. Each passenger's story continues from ride to ride. I ended up re-playing the whole game so that I could give three rides to the passenger Fiona before the game's end—each of her first two ride-stories were cliffhangers, but the first time I played through the game, I missed my chance to give her a third ride and thus to see how her story turned out.

This game was fun. I'm grateful to the folks who work on Steam's Proton tool that allowed me to play this Windows game on my Linux machine.

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Link: Puzzle Testing

Sharon Wong wrote about running puzzlehunt playtests. Sharon gets it.

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Got my flu shot. Apparently, it is flu shot season.

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Book Report: Catch and Kill

Content Warning: Rape, Abuse, Stalking, Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Woody Allen, Donald Trump, etc.

This is the autobiography of one reporter working on exposing Harvey Weinstein, serial rapist movie mogul. I knew the outline of Weinstein's story, thanks to this reporter and others. But I didn't the story of the reporting. I was braced for recounting of rape, abuse, and stalking. I wasn't braced for something less-serious but closer to home: information security pros using their skills and tools to shield a serial rapist from facing consequences.

As the reporter met with sources, occasionally his phone would display strange messages. In hindsight, we know that those messages were hacking the phone. In theory, that phone-hacking tool was only available to government agencies. In practice, a private security company run by ex-Mossad folks kept access to the tool; and kept serial rapist Harvey Weinstein as a client. So these detectives hacked reporters' phones, effectively bugging the reporters. And then the detectives passed information along to Weinstein. And thus Weinstein harassed and threatened these sources after they met with reporters secretly-but-not-secretly-enough.

I'm glad that Apple has a bug bounty system now. If some hacker figures out a new way to break iPhone security, it would be good if they could sell their work to an organization that might fix it to protect customers. It would be good if the hackers' only choice wasn't to sell to…

Ugh, enough. I learned things from this book and I'm ready to be done with it.

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