Larry Hosken: New

Book Report: The Gateway Arch

The St Louis Arch is magnificent. I'm glad I saw it. This here book talks about how the Arch was made; not so much in the "it's made of stainless steel" sense as the "it's made of political sausage". The big inspiration to clear lots of land for a memorial was probably to trick the US government into buying up lots of land at high prices. There was plenty of racism going on as white folks tried to shoo away black folks. Design happened back when planners thought that cars and freeways made a city active.

The more you learn about Eero Saarinen, the more you find out he was a jerk.

This book makes you think about opportunity cost. The Arch is pretty sweet. But what might have St Louis been like if a bustling neighborhood was there instead? What if that area hadn't spent decades as a parking lot, waiting to turn into a memorial? What if… This book left me sadder but wiser.

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My bus slowed to a crawl behind the naked march. Fans of nudity slowly slowly ambled down the middle of Haight Street, in the way traffic. It seemed rude. Did they really feel justified blocking buses? As they walked slowly slowly in front of the bus, all I could think was "What a bunch of assholes."

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Book Report: Data and Goliath

Bruce Schneier once again writing a normal-person-understandable policy-ish book about implications of computer security SNAFU.

Plenty of organizations gather info about us. Some of this information is online stuff: who we call, who we know on social networks, and on and on. Some of this information is real-world stuff: where our cars' license plates have been spotted, where we've traveled, and on and on.

Who/what has access to this information? Some people/things that make sense. I'm glad Gmail knows who sent me that email* so it can show me the From: field. Some people/things that don't make sense. I'm sad the NSA knows who's sending me emails since they're not using it for anything useful and employ some creepy folks who like to peek at such things.

Even if you're glad that some organization has your info, you might not be so glad if you knew how poorly they keep it safe. Users of the Ashley Madison adultery-hookup site were presumably glad to give private info to the site. They were presumably sad when hackers got past the site's not-so-great security and published the users' private no-longer-private info.

What can users do? Some things, but maybe not much. When you choose a service to work with, you might choose the one you trust to keep your data safe and/or to "forget" that data when it's no longer useful. But how do you know which services to trust? If you'd ask me to guess whether an adultery-hookup site would have good security, I'd have guessed it would (such private info)… and I would have been wrong. And sometimes all the choices are bad. And often, we don't choose. If I choose to move to another country, the NSA won't stop trying to snoop on my emails; it just won't be breaking US law when it does so. (So I guess I'd be helping to stop illegal spying? kinda?)

Policy-makers can do more. If in a secret police force, you might be a policy-maker; you can choose to snoop less. If you're in a company, you might be a policy-maker: you can choose to "forget" data if the risk of retaining it is > the benefit of keeping it around.

It's a thoughtful book.

*Yeah, email can be spoofed. Anyhow.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even Fremont

Once again, I traveled to volunteer at DASH, that puzzlehunt that takes place in many, many cities nationwi worldwide. This year, I didn't "travel" very far: the first GC to ask for a volunteer was in Fremont. I wrote a few notes and posted a bunch of photos. If your team played in Fremont, maybe there's a photo of y'all in there.

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Ever wonder why the engineering department doesn't normally get business headshots?

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Book Report: Philanthropist

It's a novel set in San Francisco. I was hoping that San Francisco would have more of a starring role, but it's a novel about people.

Remember back when my website got zapped for a few weeks? The good news is that it was mostly backed up. The bad news is that my draft blog posts weren't backed up. Maybe I had a wordier book report prepped? Anyhow, now it's months since I read this book and I don't remember so much. Sorry!

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even Vancouver BC

This linked-to photo makes me think puzzly magician David Kwong snuck a puzzlehunt into a recent TED event

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Book Report: Empire of Cotton

It's a history of the cotton business. Cotton was one of the first global businesses. Cotton's not so perishable; you can grow it in one place; spin+weave it somewhere else; sell the resulting cloth in yet another place. So an action over on this continent can make something happen over that that continent. For a long time, cotton was a (sometimes the) big international business; thus, human history gets tangled with cotton history. Alas, human history is pretty awful.

So you read about clever inventors ginning up ways to simplify spinning and weaving cotton. And if you're a nerdly engineer like myself, you puff up your chest and think Yep, changing the world. Sparing workers from toil. But then it turns out that easing cotton processing just drives up the demand for raw material from wherever. And so over the next few decades after a batch of inventions, the American South tripled the number of slaves to meet that demand for cotton. So, yeah, clever nerdly inventors spared workers from toil except actually the result was kidnapping and forcing labor from hundreds of thousands of people and history is just the worst.

Cotton was big business. If you had some resource you could exploit and you wanted to somehow turn that into money, your first guess at an enterprise would be cotton. If you were a country that captured a colony, force the citizens to grow cotton. Or if the climate wasn't right for that, then force those citizens to buy cotton only from you. If you were a ruler with serfs, force them to grow cotton and/or only buy it from you. If… Oh and it just goes on like that.

This is not a happy book. It's interesting. But keep in mind that you're reminding yourself that mankind can be pretty horrible to itself (and has been for a long time).

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The new job starts Monday. The main programming language there is Java. I haven't done much with Java in years. In my remaining free time, I took a few whiles to catch up on how the language has changed.

Some folks claim to know object-oriented programming. I'd confirm this when job-interviewing them. I'd ask something like: Suppose you're writing a system to organize a kitchen. You already know you'll need object classes for: Kitchens, Cupboards, Bowls, Plates. What would the relation between this object class and that object class be? About half of these folks would say that Cupboard was a superclass of Bowl. While aiming for the notion that a cupboard can contain some bowls, they instead came up with the notion that bowls are a kind of cupboard.

I'd chuckle ruefully: It made sense that folks who had cram-learned Java or C++ would make this mistake. They'd probably spent a whole day learning some language's complex rules of type inheritance. You spend that much time learning about something, you think you're probably supposed to use it all the time.

So I've been catching up on Java's new features, for a very loose definition of "new". Java's picked up more type inheritance complexity since I learned it. (Especially if you say that interface/implements is basically more type inheritance, which I do. And then you get into covariance and contravariance and all those whatevervariances that I theoretically learned for Scala but still have to Google every time to remember which is which…) Those kids had so much education tricking them into thinking that bowls are cupboards. Much more than I realized. I thought I was being cruel-but-fair. It turns out, I was being more extra-cruel-but-fair.

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Book Report: My Dateless Diary

It's a memoir/travelog: An author from India travels in the USA in the 1950s. Although at the time he liked America, with some hindsight, this book reminds us that "the good old days" were not so good after all. At the time, the intelligentsia thought of India as "cool"—but of course it was largely a strange version of India as projected by folks who knew just enough to appear silly. Traveling in the South, his dark skin means he's not supposed to ride in the front of the bus. He goes to a Key station, the old San Francisco commuter train system, and I perked up, ready for a nostalgic tale of a local transit system of yesteryear—but drunken louts try to shake him down for money in the station so…yeah, not so much with the glowing nostalgia. Traveling wasn't so easy back in those days of not-so-advanced communications systems. Folks might say "oh yeah, before the web you couldn't just go online to shop for travel tickets, you had to talk to people." But it wasn't just that; long-distance calls were expensive and complex; talking to far-away people to reserve tickets/whatever wasn't to be taken lightly. And one can't help but wonder if conductors would have kept ignoring his first-class tickets and tossing him into coach if he'd had lighter skin…

It wasn't all miserable times back then. He has fine conversations about literature with Authors You've Heard Of. He has fun conversations about other things. Nice folks welcome him into their homes. He tours movie studios and other things. He liked the Grand Canyon, which shows his good judgement; the Grand Canyon is still pretty good. I'm glad Senthil Kumaran loaned me this book; thanks, Senthil!

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