Larry Hosken: New

Today's my birthday. My aunt Ellen came into town, so we had a little get-together over at my Mom and Dad's place. (That means it was a pretty good day, in case that wasn't clear.)

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2019-10-12T00:07:53.349695

I have walked 1000km while playing that Harry Potter Wizards Unite game.

game screenshot

(That milestone doesn't capture the fun of the game, but it's something that folks can understand even if they don't know the game's rules. Like… if all you care about is how far you've walked, just use an app that keeps track of your "steps". Harry Potter Wizards Unite does something that those apps don't do: occasionally, it shows you a cute animation of a baby hippogriff flapping about. I don't know how to get my phone to screenshot that baby hippogriff animation for you, so instead you just get to see this screen with a 1000KM at the bottom.)

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2019-10-10T14:40:25.282212

When I read that Puzzled Pint now has a Code of Conduct, my first thought was "What about scissors?" … and they have a clause about scissors. They thought of everything.* Nice job, folks, I approve.

*Here, by "everything", I mean scissors.

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2019-10-07T19:56:24.313084

Book Report: How Not to be Wrong

A mathematician writes about how to think about the universe. A lot of the math-for-the-layperson material was old news to me, but there were some new-to-me bits. E.g., I'd read about instant runoff voting, Condorcet paradoxes, Arrow's theorem and such, but I hadn't seen a comparison between election results and slime mold behavior. I'm not sure if I'm happier knowing that a democratic society behaves like a slime mold, but… uhm well yeah anyhow.

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2019-10-04T16:32:49.762946

I wanted to go see the new mural "2020" by Tauba Auerbach, but Google Maps makes me think I can see it by looking out my window from pretty much anywhere in the USA's convex hull so I guess I'll stay home.

screenshot of Google Maps with San Francisco's Tenderloin Museum boundary covering the USA including much of the Pacific

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2019-09-30T16:44:16.439966

When I say "I threw up my hands," what I mean is "I flipped my computer the bird, twice."

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2019-09-24T23:12:28.887717

Book Report: The Great Getty

This biography tells the story of J. Paul Getty, oil tycoon. Getty made his millions the old-fashioned American way: his father was an oil tycoon. Reading about his early years as he lucks into a fortune will make you want to bring back the estate tax. (You think I'm overly harsh about this guy, but he might have agreed with me: In his various divorces he was reluctant to pay child support for the kids he'd fathered.) He comes off as clueless about things outside the world of oil and finance. He had a thick FBI file because he praised the Nazis and Hitler long after it was clear they were bad news. (It was sufficiently clear such that the FBI would take notes of public praise.) When you read the praise, he seems to have missed the substance of what he was seeing a la wow, that Hitler guy's speechifying sure got the audience excited.

He did better at world politics where oil was concerned. Negotiating for rights to drill in the neutral zone between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, he offered to pay something like what those rights were worth. This caused great consternation amongst other drillers in the area, who had historically gotten away with much much lower prices. Since these other drillers had gotten their rights through postcolonial-powers connections… it was not a good look. (At least nowadays? Maybe back then, folks still took that kind of patronizing colonial verbiage seriously?)

Anyhow, he seems to have been a difficult person to know. But a good person to study if you want to find out a bit about how the world got into its current state.

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2019-09-16T19:00:59.832243

Book Report: Season of the Witch

It's a history of San Francisco, concentrating on the weirdness of the 1970s and early 1980s. Jonestown, AIDS, … I'd read about bad things from those days, but hadn't followed Mr Rogers' advice to Look for the Helpers. This book pointed me at some folks doing good work in the Haight, near where I live. I read about Huckleberry House, which sheltered and counseled many many runaway teenagers who drifted in to San Francisco during this time. It told me about the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic, who helped a lot of folks who were running into nasty drug side effects.

My local branch library has a big sign that says NO DEALING / NO HOLDING DRUGS / NO USING DRUGS. All these years, I thought the sign was there because that library's a block away from a stretch of Haight Street that's basically an open-air drug market. But BUT that library sign is actually a copy of a historical sign at the Free Clinic—I should have kept reading to the next few items that said NO ALCOHOL / NO PETS / ANY OF THESE CAN CLOSE THE CLINIC. Why did the clinic need that sign? Police would barge in, looking for druggies. If that made someone scared to visit the clinic even though they were overdosing—well, that's the trade-off law enforcement was supposed to make back then. And AND drug pushers were also barging in—here was a great gathering of potential customers, right? Thus the sign. The Clinic saved a lot of people under remarkably hostile conditions.

In the news lately: the Clinic's shutting down. Not so many "customers" as there used to be. Let's hope that means that the city is taking care of its residents better, even poor residents suffering from unexpected side effects.

So… I learned some local history. And I learned that I'm not as much of a bad-ass for visiting my local branch library as I thought I was.

Election security enthusiasts might enjoy reading up on Jim Jones' organization pre-Jonestown. There's a description of a large-scale voter fraud effort, falsely registering followers from other towns as San Francisco residents, then busing them in to vote on election day; my back-of-the-envelope estimate is maybe 1000 fraudulent votes. It sounds like there weren't enough votes to change the election winner (it sounds like that to me…but that's my estimate from reading the words of someone in the Jones cult who says that their fraud did change the winner, so… who knows). But add up those fraudulent votes together with votes by Jones' followers who genuinely did live in San Francisco, and maybe you do have the Jones organization swinging elections.

Fans of voter fraud conspiracy theories won't like the story, though. Unlike people in the conspiracy theories, some of Jones' volunteers didn't keep the secret… as you'd expect when you're involving almost-enough conspirators to swing an election.

Nobody really likes the Jim Jones story. It's pretty horrifying.

This book is full of horrors and helpers. As a San Franciscan, I found it pretty interesting. You might like it, too. Do let yourself take breaks, though. Things got pretty intense back then.

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2019-09-07T15:24:49.433248

The really unsettling thing about out-in-the-world puzzle hunts, eldritch horrors aside, is days later when you think you see puzzles everywhere. Just looking down at the sidewalk and you think you see a puzzle and you have to remind yourself that it's not real.

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2019-09-02T17:29:53.843366

Book Report: Hello World

It's a book about AI and ML, especially where they bump into ethical questions. Part of the problem we get into is… computers nowadays (as in the past) are good at things humans are bad at; but bad at things humans find simple. E.g., Watson is really good at playing Jeopardy!, a game which requires knowledge of all human trivia. But if you narrow down Watson's scope and tell it "now just concentrate on diagnosing diseases from this tiny little set," it does rather poorly. The good news about this book: it's a highly-readable overview. The bad news about this book for me: I've been following enough of these issues in the news such that I wasn't really in the mood for an overview.

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2019-08-27T12:57:08.466046

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