Larry Hosken: New

Book Report: The Burglar who Liked to quote Kipling

It was a fun read. Now it's a week later, and it's pretty much faded from my memory. It's one book in a series.

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Book Report: The Sugar King of Havana

Biography of a sugar magnate in Cuba before, during, and after Castro's revolution. Tales of market-cornering. The satisfaction of a local Cuban running sugar mills more efficiently than Americans trying to phone it in from New York. Sympathy for (some of) the running capitalist dogs who actually paid taxes and created jobs instead paying senators to remove the social safety net and…

What? Oh, right, the book. There's some personal history to slog through and some reminiscing about old Cuba that doesn't really mean much if you never lived in old Cuba, but then there's some Cuban history which is pretty interesting.

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Book Report: Whiteout (Lost in Aspen)

In which journalist Ted Conover lives in Aspen for a couple of years… yes, Aspen the ski resort which has been taken over by celebrities and the super-rich. There is skiing. There are mines. There is mountain rescue. There are parties to crash. There is new-age nonsense. John Denver, Hunter S. Thompson… and other local notables. Conover was warped by his experience, but he got out.

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After Thanksgiving dinner, my parents figured out they could brew more coffee faster if they had two coffee filter cones—they could brew two pots at the same time. They haven't had much luck finding cones, though. Nowadays, you can find the hopper truncated cones and the not-quite-a-cone-almost-but-with-a-ridge-at-the-bottom-cones, but not the right kind.

So I said "Don't worry, machine learning will save the day." I snapped a photo of the good cone with my phone and told Google Image Search to find similar images. I figured this would show me various web merchants' product pages for similar cones. Thus harnessing the power of a billion mapreduces, I was soon looking at
screen shot: Google thought I took a photo of a ceiling fan

So that's why next year's plan is to make the coffee by pouring it through a ceiling fan. It's not super-clear at this point exactly how we get the coffee from the fan into the cups, but it probably involves a lot of pipe and maybe some sort of laminar flow hood.

Also I found out I had a great-great grandmother from Vienna who had a wooden leg and worked for the circus.

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Remember that list of phrases and/or that list of words in a text file handy for designing/solving word puzzles? I updated those lists again with some fresh content.

While I'm here: Happy Thanksgiving, USA people.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even your local Cinematheque

Puzzle nerds and movie buffs, you might be interested in this email I got after a phone call today:

Larry - good chatting with you. To recap our conversation:

I'm Jack Kelley, producer of the forthcoming feature film SOLVER. Our "prequel PR campaign", the Solver PuzzleHunt is coming out in December via @solverfilm 📷. A press release is attached with more info.

Solver is an all-ages mystery-adventure - think "the Goonies meets an escape room". Our expected launch date is January 29, 2018 which is National Puzzle Day.

We'd love to include you in the media coverage for the project as well as hear your feedback about how we can do a better job reaching the puzzle community.

A trailer and some other info (IMDB, media etc) is available on the website:

Of course, the Puzzle Hunt starts December 1st and we'd be grateful for any coverage you can lend this fun & unique project.

warm regards,

So now I've got this picture in my head of all these independent filmmakers discussing their projects with one another, each one trying to be nicheier-than-thou. And Jack is there saying "So then I realized I could market this film by calling up a significant fraction of its potential audience…" and all the other executive producers step back in awe.

Oh, I started to copy-paste the attached press release, but now I see it's for release on November 29, so I guess I shouldn't copy-paste it? Anyhow. Go look at the web site; web sites are cooler than press releases. There's a movie, there's a puzzlehunt, something for everyone.

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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 Tony Requist) 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 shortened 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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