Larry Hosken: New

Long before the Two-Tone Game puzzlehunt

…there was a two-tone ska single decorated with a crossword puzzle, as seen on the Puzzlenation blog.

& Comments


Book Report: Last Man Off

It's a survivor's story from a fishing boat that sank in Antarctic waters. Not everyone on that boat survived; this book might be a good gift for someone who's become blasé about boating safety. It's scary and horrible.

The survivors were rescued by the fishing boat Isla Camila. Yay for the Isla Camila. Rescuing folks from collapsing lifeboats during an arctic storm wasn't easy.

Don't want to read a whole book, just want a quick article? Here's something from The Telegraph

& Comments


LA People: The Heritage Scare real-world game with imaginary murder

It's not exactly a haunted house, more of a chance to score points or something.

& Comments


As a wordplay enthusiast, I was excited to hear about an old book called Ars Magna by Ramon Llull that tried to find new occult truths by re-arranging letters. The letters of "Ars Magna", after all, can be re-arranged to form the word "anagrams" (defined as words/phrases that are letter-wise re-arrangements of other words/phrases). But it turns out that Llull's letter-rearrangements weren't anagram-ish. Rather, he had some concentric wheels with letters on them that he rotated in hopes that the resulting combinations would inspire, uhm, new concepts or something.

& Comments


Book Report Rise of the Rocket Girls

It's a history of computers at JPL, the rocket people. But the focus is on their computers. These were "computers" in the sense of "ladies who compute things by hand because we haven't invented electronic computing machines yet." This book reminds us that historically, we were pretty stupid about things. It was difficult to find skilled computers. But when a computer got pregnant, back then it was rare for mothers to work, so of course she was fired. And why would you think to reach out to these mothers a few years later to re-hire them? Nobody else did that, so why would you? (More recently, they figured this out; the book covers decades, things get better.) Anyhow, women have it rough now, but things were teeth-gnashingly worse then.

I heard about this book from Piaw.

& Comments


Book Report: The Second Machine Age

It's a survey of high-tech stuff. That is, it's a high-level overview of things I've already learned about in detail. I guess. I mean, I sat still and read through a chapter about the idea of exponential growth, realized I was learning nothing, and put the book down. Maybe it's a fine book aimed at folks who don't spend all their time wallowing in this stuff. (Maybe it would have moved on to other topics if I'd given it a chance?)

OK, that was a short book report. So hey, San Francisco people: If you saw my book report about Black Against Empire and it didn't quite convince you to read the book, consider this: it's this year's One City One Book book. So it's trendy… uhm, trendy among people who listen to recommendations from librarians, anyhow…

& Comments


Book Report: Hell and Good Company

It's a history of the Spanish Civil War. I didn't know much about it before I read this book, just about what happened to Orwell. This book is mostly little snippets of biography against a little historical background. Orwell is in there, and others. It's mostly stories of foreigners who came to Spain to help the government, Antifa back in the day, as it were. (I guess Franco's mercenaries didn't write so much afterwards.)

Fascist Franco led mercenaries against the recently-risen government. This was before World War II, before most of the world had figured out how bad Fascism was. But this war gave some hints. Hitler and Mussolini helped Franco out. The people of Spain were brave, and brave foreigners like the Lincoln Brigade came to help—but that bravery wasn't much help against Hitler's new bomber planes. This war gave Hitler a chance to try those planes out and confirm that they could make a big difference in a war. They bombed Guernica, a name you might recognize from that Picasso mural.

This book also has the story of Picasso living outside of Spain and planning that mural. He agonizes over it. But I didn't really feel sorry for him. He was having a rough time, but compared to the folks fighting back home in Spain, he had it pretty easy. You want to tell Picasso, "Stop feeling sorry for yourself, think of those folks from the previous chapter."

There are doctors trying out new battlefield medicine. People were figuring out blood transfusions, how to do them at field hospitals. How to set up a field hospital at some town who normally has a small population, but finds itself hosting many many dying and injured soldiers.

And there are writers. Orwell, Hemingway… Folks you've heard of, folks you haven't. They were brave and they struggled and they lost. We talk about how we beat the Fascists in World War II, but Franco ruled Spain until the 1970s, so we can't say we batted a thousand against Fascism. It's hard to read about brave people losing a war, but it's probably good to remember it happens.

& Comments


Book Report: Disrupted

In this memoir, a reporter flees journalism to join the marketing department of HubSpot, a snake-oil-ish computer startup. At first I thought he was being overly harsh about the snake-oil-ish-ness. For example, he chides the startup for firing its employees so casually; this seems strange coming from a guy who landed at that startup because the failing old-media magazine Newsweek laid him off. But the more you read, the more you see this place had problems. Spoiler: the epilogue is about the company's illegal attempts to to procure this book's manuscript before it was published, probably with the intent to prevent the book's publication.

& Comments


Book Report: The Last Days of New Paris

In a fantastic alternate-reality World War II Paris, magicians summon works of art into the real world. Our protagonist is a war-weary Surrealist in magical pajamas with an affinity for Exquisite Corpses.

In real life, Exquisite Corpses are Surrealist with multiple artists: Someone would make the top of a sketch, and fold over the paper; someone else would fill in the middle of the sketch, though they couldn't see much of the top and then they'd fold the paper again; finally, a third artist would finish the sketch, drawing the bottom. In this book, Exquisite Corpses are like that except come to life in the world and wreaking havoc on Nazis.

This novella has something of the disjoint nature of Surrealist art: from chapter to chapter, it jumps around in time and in viewpoint.

Thinking about exquisite corpses, I find myself wishing that the author had collaborated with a couple of other authors. The book's protagonist is a radical, as you'd expect in a China Miéville work. But he's also beaten-down and guilt-ridden about events in his past, making his way through a world with interesting magic that follows rules; Tim Powers could have written about that quite nicely. For a third author… I dunno, maybe someone who writes a lot about WWII? Anyhow.

A fun quick read.

& Comments


Book Report: Black Against Empire

It's a history of the Black Panther Party, especially their politics. In the late 1960s, the Panthers found a political sweet spot. They armed themselves and defended themselves against illegal police harassment. Angry youths who were tired of feeling powerless flocked to the cause; staying within the law (albeit against unjust law enforcement), steered away from actions that would alienate not-so-militant allies. The Panthers struck a chord and briefly became a powerful voice' they changed the way America thought about race and power. There were weird side effects, too. E.g., when Black Panthers (legally) armed themselves, California's racists quickly passed a big gun control law.

Keeping things legal helped the Panthers make alliances. Their allies were weak reeds, though. When the USA government made concession to leftist causes, the Panthers lost power. They'd made common cause with leftist groups; when the USA stopped the military draft and promised an end to fighting in Vietnam, those allies mostly stopped protesting, didn't hold out for racial justice.

Finding their sweet spot was tricky; the Panthers didn't always get it right. This was fine-tuned politics, and we might not ever know what some of the background thinking was. Some Panther leaders survived to write autobiographies; but some were assassinated by police. (Though this book concentrates on the politics, that's intertwined with the police violence, provocations by the FBI's COINTELPRO,…) Don't get too attached to any "character" in this book; plenty met violent ends.

& Comments



1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017