Larry Hosken: New

Were you excited to hear that I'd written a set of Puzzled Pint puzzles, but on the evening in question you felt really lazy and you just stayed home? Yeah, me too. All is not lost: the excellent PP folks put those puzzles online for your downloading enjoyment: April 2019: Head to Head. This month's gimmick: all* the puzzles are laid out to be solved by folks sitting across the table from each other.

*Except the meta. That one was laid out funny in an early draft, but was not-fun that way. Sometimes right-side-up is just dandy.

Web nerds: the CSS thingy to turn a block upside-down is transform: rotate(180deg)

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2019-04-16T19:53:03.455575

The building across the street from the Temporary Transbay bus Terminal continues to be constructed. Recently, the building-side facing the bus terminal got decorated. Basically, it's a dark wall with dots. Not sure if the dot-placement is Braille or if I only think it's Braille because I stare at coded messages too much.

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2019-04-16T00:53:22.251859

Book Report: Sunburst and Luminary

It's a memoir by one of the programmers on the NASA Apollo project. Specifically, he wrote the computer programs that the astronauts used to land on the moon. This book is a real thrill ride for modern-day programmers. At least, I found it to be pretty thrilling. I kept thinking, "Why did they do it that way? That seems foolishly risky. Why didn't they just ____ ___ _______." And the answer keeps coming up: It was the 1960s; ____ ___ _______ didn't exist yet. This was the best option they had at the time. But there's no way we'd trust astronauts' lives to it now.

E.g., by the time I graduated from high school, I had more computer programming experience than this guy had when he was hired to write software that astronauts' lives depended on. That's crazy. But I grew up in the 1980s, when personal computers were coming in; I didn't have to wait around for hours for someone to process my punchcards. He was programming in the 1960s; there weren't any personal computers; programming back then involved a lot of waiting and hoping.

E.g., the Apollo 11 mission hit a pretty big computer problem, the 1202 error. This was because the lander had just one computer, responsible for many tasks. When everthing went smoothly, this computer was powerful enough for these many tasks—a sliver of time for this task; a sliver of time for that task, and so on. But when things got gnarly and some tasks took longer, then there weren't enough slivers to finish everything. And you thus ended up with the tense situation of the lander's computer horking up a 1202 error, going blank, and re-starting in the middle of, y'know, trying to land some humans safely on the moon. I, reading about this, had the naive thought: Why didn't they just set up a dedicated processor for this task? That would be a lot simpler than juggling all of those slivers. But it was the 1960s. You couldn't just walk down the street to a hobby electronics shop to buy a processor. Integrated circuits were a newfangled invention. When designing a computer, you had to second-guess your chip supplier: Were you the only customer for this chip? Could you buy enough to justify that chip's continued manufacture? It was crazy to use one computer for all that… except that it was the only choice.

So, yeah, if you're used to modern-day comforts to quality assurance like plentiful processors for running all those unit tests or a computer display that can show more than three numbers at a time… this book is kind of a white-knuckle reading experience. Also, there's snippets of bohemian lifestyle around MIT in the 1960s and 1970s.

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2019-04-12T19:54:22.978948

Wish I'd thought of "Road R'lyeh" earlier.

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2019-04-11T04:25:00.749776

Puzzled Pint is coming up on Tuesday. I wrote this month's set, aided (a lot) once again by excellent Puzzled Pint editor Neal Tibrewala and excellent anonymous-to-me playtesters who I love even though they pointed out that the best joke was also the biggest red herring and so it was only really the best joke if you already knew how the puzzle worked; dang.

Solve the location puzzle to find out which waterhole near you will have a mini-extravaganza of puzzles to solve on Tuesday.

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2019-04-05T19:17:16.111482

What if we all assumed that everyone else's Miskatonic U application video was going to be all "Baby Shark" so none of us used "Baby Shark"?

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2019-03-30T23:07:45.773731

We're putting together an MIT Mystery Hunt. It's an MIT Mystery Hunt—not some generic puzzle hunt. There should be some MIT-specific goodness in there. I joked "This doesn’t just mean extra-engineer-y." And yet. And yet. Maybe "extra-engineer-y" would get you pretty close.

Consider the old Mystery Hunt puzzle Analogy Farm. It abounds with MIT lore. Beware, spoilers for a six-year-old puzzle ahead! It's got plenty of MIT-lore. hack, college, all of that. And it's got some analogies based on extra-engineer-y things. Like those derivatives of position and derivative-derivatives and derivative-etc-derivatives, velocity-acceleration-jerk-snap-crackle-pop.

Lately, I've been reading this autobiography of this guy who didn't go to school at MIT, but did work at Draper Lab. And he mentions working with this MIT nerd who coined the jargon snap, crackle, and pop for those derivatives.

I'd thought that was just an over-the-top-engineer-y part of a puzzle, and it was…but it was perhaps also an MIT reference, though I didn't notice it at the time.

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2019-03-28T18:04:06.004273

Holy moly. PC/GEOS, that OS I was documenting as my first "real job" out of school, is still kicking around… and its owners open-sourced it. Behold the news and the github repo. Thanks to Morgan Fletcher for spotting this.

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2019-03-16T15:14:07.118502

Book Report: How Smart Machines Think

When Sean Gerrish isn't automating the creation of wordplayish portmanteaux, he wrangles artificial intelligence… or writes this book about it. It's a popular-science survey of modern AI. You find out why, e.g., a neural net might be a good system for finding faces in a picture; but you won't learn the details of how to code up such a thing. There's some nice summaries of recent history, with DARPA challenges and NetFlix recommendations and such. It's a fun read.

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2019-03-09T16:31:57.888589

Getting COBRA Complete? Don't use automatic payments, they're b0rken

You might hazily remember some months back my COBRA provider messed up an automatic payment and bizarrely handled it by cutting off my coverage and encouraging me to set up automatic payments to avoid future payment mishaps. They did it again (except maybe this time I maybe found out in time if maybe the physical check I wrote by hand like a caveman reaches them maybe soon enough I hope).

I am pretty glad I rejoined Covered California this year.

That incompetent company is COBRA Complete. If you're quitting/getting laid off and find out they're your COBRA provider, I recommend against using their automatic payment system.

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2019-02-26T18:46:26.872328

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