This book is darned near perfect: It's about how folks navigated back before there was a GPS phone in every pocket. Had things I didn't know about Vikings and about Marshall Island stick chart wave maps. There's an interesting theory that Viking "sunstones" might have been chunks of calcite "Icelandic spar", a natually-occuring polarized crystal that could help you spot the sun's true direction on an overcast day. Celestial navigation is different if you're in the tropics because the stars behave more consistently. How to estimate the size or distance of a far-away thing by seeing how many fingers on an outstretched hand are required to obscure it. "Starboard" got its name from a steering-board that hung off the right-hand side of Viking cargo vessels. This book is full of neat stuff like that. Plus there's an excellent bibliography so I can learn more about what we've rediscovered about Marshall Island stick chart wave maps and wave navigation in the last couple of decades. (The stick charts aren't so important for wave navigation, it turns out, but they sure are intriguing artifacts to stumble upon in museums.)
I'm acquainted with a former computer programmer who ditched that life to become a baker. But he didn't have magical-realism sourdough starter that responds to music. So maybe this book isn't that realistic. Anyhow, there's starter culture, startup culture, awareness of your place in the universe, an Alice Waters-ish figure who uses underhanded methods to keep in control of everything culinary… It's a fun read.
That's partly because it's a very San Francisco book. I recognize the settings; I am aware of my place in the universe and in the book's universe. Latterly, I live downhill from a Lois. The Outer Richmond indeed has more going on than is at first apparent. When the book needs a wasteland, it goes to the not-yet-cleaned-up bits of Alameda, which seems appropriate; I was reminded what they looked like when my work group went on a ferry outing.
And there's hope for the future because the author says he's interested in "puzzle fiction." I don't know what that means, exactly, but if it's something like Winston Breen, I'm in favor.
As threatened, we ran another session of the Hunt for Justice game for folks who didn't get a chance to play the first time. I took a couple photos on one of the puzzle-assembly days, which you can see towards the bottom of my Hunt for Justice notes. If you're wondering about those Matt-Cleinman-no-beard rumors, they're all true and I have proof.
Team Hobgoblin has earned the "Postcard" badge on the Octothorpean online puzzle hunt site, the second team to do so. It's been a little over three years since the first team earned that badge. Maybe I made that particular challenge too difficult. Good thing there are more-achievable challenges on the site or else probably people would throw rocks at me. Y'all should be impressed.
If you visit the "Postcard" badge page on the site, it doesn't show Hobgoblin as the second team, but as the only team. It's been so long since the first team Just Having Fun earned the badge, and the site only shows months of logs, not years. Wow, who thought new teams would still be showing up and playing years later? I had to read through the site's source code to remember how to award a team that badge. It involves using a web form on which I labeled a confirmation checkbox "YA RLY." When was the last time "YA RLY" even came up in conversation? I feel like I need to wipe the dust off of some of my neurons now.
It's a book about what folks do with bodies after death around the world. I'd read the author's previous book about how things go in the USA. Here she travels to far-off places (and some places in the USA where things aren't done in "the usual way"). Before, if you'd asked me what to do with the leftover bits after I donate my body to science, I would have said "Oh, I don't know; burn it I guess? That will keep it from taking up so much room, right?" But now I'd say "Is composting humans still illegal in this state? What is wrong with us? Oh well, I don't know; burn it I guess?" But some folks are researching composting, so maybe my best bet is still "give it to science." Anyhow, chapters here talk about Spanish viewings involving many panes of glass; a Japanese Columbarium with spiffy lighting design; the Ñatitas (heads attributed w/mystical powers) of Bolivia, Parsi vulture rituals… It's interesting reading but slow because my way of thinking about death involves a lot of denial so every so often I'd just put the book down, look out the window, and try not to think very much about what I was thinking about and just concentrate on leaves and sunlight and things.
It's a summary of the USA surveillance debacle of recent decades. Such a summary can be useful. For a lot of these tech-y news-summary books, I say "Why would I read that? I followed the news then." But a lot of these incidents had a lot of denials, rebuttals, rebuttal-rebuttals… Yeah, it's nice to see a few months of back-and-forth boiled down to a paragraph or two. I say "nice" as in interesting, but it's mostly bad news. The USA government spies on its citizens. Pundits like to philosophize that the loss of privacy might be worth it to catch terrorists—but in practice, the spying hasn't caught terrorists. It has helped some creeps at the NSA to stalk their ex-girlfriends.
My timing in reading this book was somewhat sad. The author aimed the book to be read and understood by Congressfolks before they decided whether to extend Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, i.e., to continue spying. That vote happened recently and Congress (barely!) voted for more spying. You might think that under present circumstances all of Congress could agree it was time to curtail some of the more egregious powers of the Executive Branch, but it ain't so.