Larry Hosken: New

Book Report: A Gentleman in Moscow

In this novel, the protagonist's special ability is kindness. It's super effective.

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Facebook changed its rules, and thus my blog posts can no longer automatically appear on Facebook. So… if you've been using FB to keep up with the books I read or trash-picking adventures or whatevs, that'll stop working soon. Or maybe already stopped working? Feed readers like NewsBlur should work. Or Tumblr or Twitter or… Anyhow, there are choices of varying levels of hassle.

Guess I'll post this item to my blog, see if it automatically auto-copies to FB, and copy it by hand if necessary. And then stop copying things by hand because ugh what a hassle.

Today I miss Friendfeed more than usual.

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If self-driving trucks ever learn how to navigate our roads, how will they deal with self-contradictory nigh-paradoxical loading dock instructions?

photo of signs: "Notice: Drivers Park Outside and Check in Office Before Entering" and "Drivers: Wait Outside Until Called In"

(If you're wondering "Is there some way to 'check in office' without entering the building?" then I like the way you think, but I didn't see such a thing…)

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I volunteered to pick up trash today. Lately, San Francisco's been in the news for outlawing plastic straws but having streets littered with needles and human poop. So I kept count of some things as I went:
Qty Item
0 syringes/needles
0 human poops
1 pupper poops
5 plastic straws
many paper receipts from nearby restaurant

So… I'm thinking those folks complaining about prioritizing straw-bans vs pooping deterrence should find something better to complain about. E.g., complain about prioritizing straw-bans vs upzoning the Forest Hill neighborhood for more housing so more folks have residences inside of which they can poop.

(If you're a San Franciscan who'd like to help paint bridges, plant trees, trim trees, pick up trash, &c, &c, then you want to get in contact with Community Clean Team. Find out when they're coming to their district and/or sign up for the city-wide "sweep" coming up September 8.)

Oh gee whiz, I think there's a straw-ban straw-man pun hiding in there somewhere, but I can't quite reach it.

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Book Report: Krakatoa

It's a book about the big volcanic eruption at Krakatoa. This was a popular book back in the day; a lot of folks talked about it. Thus, instead of learning new things by reading this book, I mostly was just nodding my head and thinking "oh yeah, I think someone told me something about that." There are places where I could have learned things, but I just skimmed. There was a lot of detail about continental drift and geology and subduction and all that. But I'm pretty sure I've read detailed descriptions of this before and it's gone in one ear and out the other. In one brain lobe and out the other? Uhm, I've forgotten it and figured I'd forget it again and so just skimmed these parts.

One piece of trivia I learned (though maybe folks told me this and I forgot? anyhow…): the air-pressure wave from the eruption went around the Earth several times. You could hear the sound a fraction of the way around, but not all the way around. But scientists looking at recordings on their then-newfangled recording barometers (and comparing notes with fellow scientists around the globe) could "see" that the wave had gone around a few times. It's not intuitive: I'd assume that noise would drown out that signal. But like a Marshall Islands navigator picking out the water wave reflecting off of some far-off island, the barometer could still detect that air-wave going around.

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Book Report: A Voyage for Madmen

In the late 1960s, someone single-handedly sailed around the earth. This inspired a newspaper to sponsor a race for someone to single-handed-sail around the earth without stopping at port for repairs or resupply or anything. The paper didn't think to set up some kind of qualifications for this: if you could scrounge up a boat, you could enter the race even if you'd never sailed across a lake before.

So a few sailors with the right combination of skills, life-risking, ship-owning, loneliness-tolerating signed up. And some more folks signed up: folks who didn't know much about sailing but thought "how hard can it be?" Oh yeah and like the title says: "Madmen".

It's a strange book: you're reading about folks struggling to reach this audacious goal. But you're not really rooting for them to succeed. For most of them, you're rooting for them to figure out "This was a stupid idea. I should put into the next port I can find."

Sailors who haven't experienced ocean storms don't know what those are like. Yacht-makers who make coast-hugging boats might think "oh how bad can those ocean storms and waves be? I'm sure that one of the usual boats will be just fine. And if it's not, surely this captain will look at the specs and tell me. They wouldn't take the boat out if it weren't safe, right?" Folks hoped for the best, but it was never going to be okay.

One of the participants was a know-it-all engineer. He had some clever ideas on how to better-design trimaran sailboats for single-handed sailing. Good news, right? Except he totally underestimated the difficulty of ocean sailing and so he thought it was a good plan to test these gadgets for the first time in this around-the-world race. I don't care how good your sailboat-righting-gadget idea is; you don't want to test it for the first time having been knocked down in the middle of the ocean far far away from any coast guard or other ship or human or… Gah, ugh. This book was a long cringe: hoping the protagonists despair (but not too much).

If you want to read just the story of a race participant who survived and only went a little crazy, read The Long Way. But if you want to read a bleak tale of dangerous failure, A Voyage for Madmen is pretty gripping.

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Book Report: The Big Rig

It's about about USA long-haul truck drivers working darned hard for darned little pay. This book gets into the historical and sociological (Is that a word?) reasons for the "little pay" part.

Some of these reasons seem like I'd be susceptible… E.g., shipping companies encourage truckers to work as contractors instead of as employees. Many truckers do this so they can have more control. Being a contractor-trucker gives you many choices about how to operate, and if you're detail-oriented, you can pay a lot of attention to optimizing various processes and figuring out how to be better at this game… without stepping back and realizing you should find a better game to play. Oh, that sounds like me.

Anyhow: history of the Teamsters; present-day truck stop life; USA economic woes; growing gap between rich and poor… This book covers a lot of interesting ground.

I heard about this book thanks to an Alison Chaiken tweet; she programs vehicles and tweets about programming and vehicles and related things and unrelated things.

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With Scott Pruitt's resignation from the EPA, Trump must find a replacement. Did we ever figure out who's still pumping CFCs into the atmosphere? Seems like that person would be the consistent choice.

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Book Report: Code Girls

At the start of WWII, the USA's spy organizations were clown-shoes clumsy. During WWII, the USA sent its healthy men off to fight. But we (gradually) figured out that we wouldn't squander so many of those men's lives if we could break enemy codes. Enemy ships were sinking USA troop transport ships; but if we could crack their codes, we'd know where the enemy ships were. Training men to break codes wasn't so great, since we were so sure that only men were capable of combat that we kept sending them away. (You can roll your eyes now.) But we decided to give women a try at the codes. It was risky: "everybody knew" that women were bad at math and too gossipy to keep secrets. But eventually the women learned to break codes, broke codes, saved lives. And became skilled military intelligence analysts. This was back before databases, so you'd have women keeping track of paper files with paper indexes. And… maybe "file clerk" doesn't sound like a brainy person, but to understand the filing system, you had to keep track of enemy military organization.

This book follows some USA ladies who broke codes. (More precisely: follows some white USA ladies. Apparently there were some code-nerds-of-color… but of course they were in separate units than the white folks and of course we don't have records of them (so this historian didn't have much to say about them beyond that it was a pity we don't know more) and and and I swear reading about history is half the speed of reading about anything else because you have to stop to roll your eyes about every other sentence.)

Most of the material is life-on-the-home-front bits: Educated women were sneakily recruited from around the USA and brought to Washington DC. They lived in crowded conditions. Northerners and Southerners had to get along. There were shortages, there were outings. But you can also get some idea of how the code-breaking orgs grew. Towards the start, part of the clown-shoes-ness was pretty awful: the USA Army and Navy were rivals. So… at first, cracking codes wasn't seen as a way to save USA folks' lives, but rather as some strange competition—and you wouldn't ever help the other side of a competition, right? But eventually the army and navy folks… well, they didn't work together but they figured out how to divvy up the work so that they could work separately without duplicating effort. And cracking codes is difficult, but at first we figured out just a part of the code, but enough for traffic metadata: we figured out the part of a message that said who the message was to. So if there was a burst of messages to some ship's captain, we could guess that ship was going to do something important soon. And then we broke some codes, so we could start reading messages. And then read more messages—and grew our organizations so that there were enough people to read all the messages and keep track of them all and figure out what the bad guys were doing.

There are probably lessons to learn about codebreaking and about scaling up organizations and plenty of things… but there's not so much about that in the book. But there's plenty of human interest. The anxiety of breaking codes for messages in which the enemy dispatch ships to sink troop transports on which one's brother sits. Writing postcards to plenty of GIs, occasionally marrying them. Knowing that working harder means saving more boys; learning that working too much harder means burning out and saving nobody.

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