Larry Hosken: New

Book Report: A Man of Misconceptions

It's a biography of this kinda-scientist kinda-pseudo-scientist of renaissance times. It's about a priest, Kircher. Kircher wrote some true things about music theory. And he lied about medical and magnetism experiments and autobiographical details when he thought those lies would promote good Christian thought. If you're a fan of truth in science (or in general), this book is an infuriating read.

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I'm learning Objective-C for work. (We have SDKs for folks who want to write apps that talk to banks, and one of those SDKs is for iOS, which is an 🍎 thing, and thus uses Objective-C.) It's been a trip down memory lane. Not because I've used Objective-C before—I haven't. Rather, because I worked with programming languages designed during the same era. Around 1990, folks were figuring out how to smoosh object-oriented programming into their programming languages. Objective-C came along during this time. Meanwhile, I was working at GeoWorks, documenting how to write apps for our operating system that was, enthusiastically but unwisely, competing with Microsoft Windows. We ("we" being, if I remember correctly, mostly some guy named Tony) designed an object-oriented programming language GoC ("geo-C"). And when we explained it to folks, we ran into issues that I see echoed in these Objective-C documentation pages I'm reading now. The whole concept of objects, so mysterious. (And nowadays, so commonplace.) The need to explain "message passing".

The silver lining to being crushed by Microsoft's illegal tactics where Apple survived: 20+ years later, we don't have to justify the design decisions that went into the now-forgotten GoC. Some parts of Apple's Objective-C have not aged well, and I find myself smirking at the ancient voices echoing through its documentation.

Objective-C uses long names for things. Where most languages that needed to append strings together might name a string method "append", the Objective-C equivalent is "stringByAppendingString". They were proud of these long names. "This is one of the features that helps make Objective-C such a readable language," the documentation proudly states. And yet, you know they don't still believe this. A few years back, Apple designed a new programming language, Swift. Rather than re-write all of their interfaces from scratch, they wrote a tool to do some automatic translation. But this tool didn't just translate the code-ish parts. It also translated the names: it looked for some common wordy idioms in Objective-C names and shorted them for Swift.

(Though some parts of Objective-C remind me of GoC, over-long names weren't part of that… Probably because GeoWorks was a company of assembly-language hackers who were used to to keeping track of things called ax and bx.)

Anyhow, it's been a nostalgic time, thinking about messages and properties and such. I feel like the old town native talking to new arrivals. "You kids today have no idea what this place was like back then. I remember when those properties were just fields."

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Book Report: A Burglar's Guide to the City

It's a good book with a great premise: how burglary and anti-burglary security interact with architecture and city planning. I came away with some good nuggets but also a feeling of unmet potential. I get the impression that there's not a lot of material about the topic out there, perhaps because the most successful burglars don't publish; the author had to pad things out.

We ride along with an LA police helicopter patrol. If someone's on the ground, perhaps fleeing a crime scene, and a helicopter starts following them, they probably won't have much luck hiding. The helicopter cops might not have much luck telling ground-based police where to find the flee-er, though. If this is happening in nice streets laid out in a grid, especially if institutions in the neighborhood have written their addresses on their roofs in big numbers, the helicopter folks can probably describe the location. In tangly streets, maybe not.

A few master burglars have written and spoken about how they move through urban space. Part of this is a matter of seeing things differently. Instead of looking at a building and saying "oh that balcony looks pleasant for standing on" or "what a pretty ornament", you should instead think "oh I can see how I could scale that building from the outside; and with my knowledge of fire codes, the fire escapes tell me where people and stairways are within." The book exhorts us readers to look at neighborhood buildings and think in terms of footholds and escaping observation. I looked around, but didn't really know enough to figure those out.

Criminals discovered the "Stop and Rob," Los Angeles banks so handy to highways that criminals could breeze in and make getaways. Skilled criminal construction workers or miners or someone tunneled into banks, making professional tunnels.

A criminal lived in a mall's "dead space" while planning crimes. He set up a hideaway under some stairs in an empty store. He used baby monitors from a nearby toy store to keep track of those who might find him.

So yeah, there are some interesting nuggets here.

There's also a lot of hand-wavy philosophizing about what it means that these folks use buildings in cities in unintended ways. And an aside about locksport which goes on too long. And an aside about the laws behind "burglary" that weren't what I wanted to read about either. So… a few good nuggets suspended in some yadda yadda and a couple of asides that should have been left out, but then the book probably would have been too short to be considered by paper-publishers. All in all, I call it a fun read if you let yourself skim when you think "I bet this is one of the parts to skim."

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Book Report: The Next Perfect Trade

It's a book on investment strategy. Since I'm not a full-time investor, a lot of this was lost on me. I had to look up a lot of jargon. E.g. "pyramiding" an investment. That's when you take the profits from a leveraged investment and, instead of saying, "whew now I can pay off my loans", you use the profits as collateral for even more leveraging so that your risky investment stays risky. But even though I'm not an investor, the fundamentals of strategy still shone through. E.g., don't feel like you have to be 100% invested all the time; if you don't see good opportunities at the moment, hold some resources back. Later, when you do spot a great opportunity, you'll be glad you can quickly invest more in it.

The book assumes that you're already good enough at investing to know a good opportunity when you spot it. This was disappointing, and not just because I'm not a skilled investor. You see, I didn't buy this book to become a great investor. I bought it because I play boardgames about twice a year, and this book's author is usually there. And if he's there, he probably wins whatever boardgame we're playing. I was hoping that, by learning how the author thinks about strategy, maybe next time we play I could anticipate some of his thinking.

But this book points out that it's important to understand the fundamentals. And I only play boardgames once or twice a year. I can expect to lose at boardgames as long as I insist on playing against people who are better than I am.

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Book Report: Thunder At Twilight

It's a history of famous folks in Vienna during the lead-up to World War I. Cowardly Adolph Hitler dodges the draft and shrieks racist tirades. Future Russian Commie leaders write political articles. Freud makes up psychological theories to needle Jung. Franz "Archduke" Ferdinand is the unlikeable heir apparent to what seems like a pretty horrid ruling family of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Gavrilo Princip joins a league of Serbian occult spies and plots to kill Ferdinand. General Conrad plots war, because war is good for generals' careers. He hopes that his country will make a swift raid and be hailed as heroes after a few days; instead he (spoiler!) starts World War I which was not so great (but is outside the scope of this book).

Though many "big names" were in Vienna during this time, the different groups didn't interact with each other much. If you were hoping for some Hitler-Stalin fistfight, you're out of luck. Freud didn't psychoanalyze the archduke. But there's definitely a theme of squabbling. These "big names" didn't tend to get along with others, and dragged others into their fights.

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Puzzzle Hunts are Everywhere thanks to USPS

There was a puzzlehunt-by-mail recently, the Hunt for Justice. It was mostly done by other folks, but I did some things. I designed one of its puzzles, collaborating with other GC folks. I helped out with some other volunteer-able activities. And I wrote about it and fetched some pictures off of my phone so I don't forget it all.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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