Blog Infrastructure Update: "Add to Google" Link

Yesterday was Buy Nothing Day in the USA, so I bought nothing. Actually, I didn't do much of anything yesterday. I went cold turkey on caffeine. I'd been hitting the sauce pretty heavily lately, and it was time to break the cycle. I read, napped, and didn't do anything that required much concentration. I headed over to my parents' house to help them move some furniture around. And my dad said, "How long have you had a feed?"

I said "January." I started using the service in January so that it would automagically create a feed for me.

I'd like to encourage people, especially my dad, to follow feeds. Why? Mostly because my dad keeps talking about "podcasts". I can't listen to podcasts--my computer doesn't have a working sound card. So I'm hoping that podcasts lose their hipness quotient soon. How better than by hyping feeds: it's 2002 technology for today!

To this end I have added an " Add to Google" link over in the sidebar of the main page. If you click on that link, you can slurp this site's feed into your Google Reader, Personalized Google Homepage, or whatever. I think that's pretty neat.

Disclaimer #1: my opinions are mine, and might not coincide with my empolyer's opinion. I'm pretty sure that most of my colleagues could get a sound card working. Or at least they'd prefer to get a sound card working than try to convince the world to give up listening to podcasts.

Disclaimer #2: I don't know why I said that feeds are 2002 technology. I don't know what year feeds were discovered. Developed. Whatever. I'm too lazy to fact-check it now. I'm kind of drowsy. Even though I had coffee today. But maybe it wasn't real coffee. I went into this new café on 9th Avenue, Café Gratitude. Once I was in there, the hostess dropped the bomb on me: the cafe served only organic, vegan, raw foods. I ordered a coffee, but coffee beans are normally roasted. So how did they... Oh, here is the Café Gratitude menu. It says that their coffee is cold-processed. Ah, and other articles point out that this process is healthier because it has less caffeine. Oh, I should be really upset that I settled for this coffee, but I'm too sleepy to get properly upset about anything. Oh, lookie, it's 6:30, time for bed.

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Site Update: Shinteki Decathlon Write-up Posted

It's late November, and NaNoWriMo people around the world are in the final sprint, churning out huge amounts of fiction. Me, I'm just horking up little bits of reportage. For example, I just posted (finally!) a write-up of Team PG?E versus Shinteki Decathlon. That is to say, it's a meandering bit of memories about a puzzle hunt game that happened a few months ago. Yeah, I just now got around to writing it up. Yeah, I forgot a lot of details in the meantime. Get over it.

Still, if you want to see how Peter Tang, Dave Loftesness, and Emily Marcroft banded together to face a bizarre set of challenges, check it out.

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Book Report: the Psycho Ex Game

Question: Under what circumstances will Larry read a romance novel?

Answer: If one of the co-authors is Andy Prieboy. That's right, Andy Prieboy.

Question: Wait, is that a good reason?

Answer: As it turns out, yes.

In this eepistolatory novel, two creative Angelinos exchange email about their past slow-motion trainwreck relationships. Well, there's a framing story around the emails, so I guess I can't claim that it's just eepistolatory. But it's time that someone coined the phrase "eepistolatory novel," so there we are. Now we can start arguing about whether it should be hyphenated ("e-epistolatory novel") or not. What? Oh, right. The story.

The story drags us through the world of the LA music and/or television/movie crowds. But you should read it anyhow. It's sad; it's funny. If that's not enough to convince you to read the book, know this: there is a Psycho Ex Game web page.

The other writer is Merrill Markoe who probably is very good even if she never was a member of Wall of Voodoo.

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Book Report: The King of California

This book by Mark Arax and Rick Wartzman ranks up with Cadillac Desert and City of Quartz as great books about the intersection of geography and history in the Western USA. It's about the history of the huge farms of the San Joaquin valley, especially those of the Boswell clan.

These farms used to flood plenty. There were some large government-built dams up in the mountains, but the dams didn't work so well, and farms got flooded. This tended to wash out smaller farmers: if you owned more land, you had a better chance of not being 100% flooded, and you could harvest a crop. If you only had a small farm, maybe this year it was all underwater and you were out of luck. If you were a small farmer, chances are one year you'd get flooded and sell out--to a larger farmer. The big farms got bigger. The descriptions of the size of Boswell's holdings wash over you. You can't take them in.

When the floods come, will one farmer build levees to divert onrushing waters away from his farm and onto his neighbor's land? Of course.

As of 1925, farmers in the San Joaquin valley were only allowed to grow one variety of cotton: alcala. So if you encourage cotton farmers around there to try some biodiversity, you're inciting them to break the law.

Before there was a United Farm Workers, there were striking farmers in the San Joaquin valley. If I steal your watch and give you a dollar, that is not sale, that is theft. If I point a gun at you and tell you to work for a low wage, that was SOP at old California cotton farms. And so there were strikes, and farmers turned to corrupt government officials to keep the workers working. My grandfather died a few months back, and at the memorial service it came out that he'd done some things help farm workers back in the day. What, the United Farm Workers? No, before that. Reading this book, I found out that the farm workers of the San Joaquin valley were a popular cause in their day. People would send trucks full of food to help striking workers--and local law enforcement would hijack the trucks to help starve the workers into submission.

Before the Boswells and the other big farmers came along, the valley Tulare Lake, a huge disease-infested reed-filled body of water. A lot of people got sick there. Maybe it's not the fault of factory farming that the valley has gone to hell. Maybe it was always hell.

Plenty of transplanted Southerners, white and black, ended up in Southern California after the civil war. They brought cotton farming with them. Racism in the valley was not as bad as that in the American South--but there were echoes there, incidents which any Southerner would have recognized.

Fans of Cadillac Desert: how do these huge farms, growing crops for which the USA runs a surplus, get cheap water from government-built dams? The history is fascinating, if infuriating.

James Boswell, head of the company as of the time the book was written, is a huge donor to the Nature Conservancy. He's big on Ducks Unlimited. When someone at his company killed millions of fish and birds by dumping poison into a waterway, the company tried to cover it up, and escaped punishment. So maybe Boswell likes nature but doesn't let that get in the way of sloppy farming techniques?

In short, this book touches on many topics. I recommend it to Californians everywhere.

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Book Report: Dealers of Lightning

Sometimes, it's good to be wrong. For example, I claim to be pretty jaded. But when I saw a little dog, a Yorkshire terrier-style dog, walking along this morning carrying a rubber chicken, I was filled with joy. I would have thought I was too blasé to enjoy such a thing; I was glad to be mistaken. For another example, there's Xerox PARC.

There's plenty of Xerox PARC myths floating around and I fell for most of them. Until I read this book by Michael Hiltzik, which does a good job of squooshing the history of a far-ranging computer research lab into something resembling a narrative.

Anyhow, I'm quoting this bit from the introduction as a myth-debunking public service. But if you want the details, you should read this book.

...That Xerox proved only sporadically willing to follow them is one of the ironies of this story. The best-publicized aspect of PARC's history is that its work was ignored by its parent company while earning billions of dollars for others. To a certain extent this is true. ...

Yet this relationship is too easiy, and too often, simplified. ... Xerox was so indifferent to PARC that it "didn't even patent PARC's innovations," one leading business journal informed its readers not long before this writing--an assertion that would come as a surprise to the team of patent lawyers permanently assigned to PARC, not to mention the center's former scientists whose office walls are still decorated with complimentary plaques engraved with the cover pages of their patents... Another business journal writes authoritatively that the Alto "failed as a commercial product." In fact, the Alto was designed from the first strictly as a research prototype--no more destined for marketing as a commercial product than was, say, the Mercury space capsule.

Another great myth is that Xerox never earned any money from PARC. The truth is that its revenues from one invention alone, the laser printer, have come to billions of dollars--returning its investment in PARC many times over.

Along with all of this myth-busting, this book showed me something scary. As Xerox was ignoring plenty of computer innovation and sticking to copiers, it thought of itself as a high-tech company. Executives didn't think of themselves as manufacturers of boring office equipment. They thought they were cutting edge; they did not handle it well when other companies caught up with their copier technology. That felt familiar. Just because everyone at your company tells each other, "We're working on cutting edge stuff," you might all be pulling the wool over each others' eyes. Of those companies beating dead horses, few of them have employees who say, "We had our last great idea ten years ago." (Disclaimer: my snide remarks about faux high-tech companies are my opinion, and not those of my employer. Heck, if my employer turned cut-throat, my employer would probably be glad for the self-delusional mindset of some high-tech companies... but I digress.)

Thanks to Piaw's blog for pointing me at this book.

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Book Report: Dreadnought

My cousin Betsy was in town this last weekend. She was full of energy. My parents and I had to take her in shifts, and we still got worn out keeping up with her. I accompanied her to a couple of museums and a few meals. My parents kept up with her through some of that, plus some sight-seeing and an opera. Today at work, I could hardly stir from my chair. But that's not my excuse for not making it through Dreadnought. It's not Betsy's fault. I blame Queen Victoria.

Dreadnought, a history of World War I by Robert Massie, revels in detail. At least the first few chapters did. They provided background about Queen Victoria and Otto Bismarck and they went on a lot longer than I wanted them to so I stopped reading. Well, the part about Bismarck wasn't quite so overlong, but I was soooo bored after slogging through tales of the British royals that I ran out of steam.

It's too bad. This book is well-researched and well-written. If only Victoria hadn't reigned so long, I might have kept going and learned something.

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Site Update: More BANG 13 Photos, pointer to YABA photos

Tom Lester sent in three awesome photos from the recent Bay Area Night Game. So I put them on the Bay Area Night Game 13 page.

In other puzzle-hunt photo news, Wesley Chan posted his photos of YABA 6. See thrilling action photos of me registering people for the game!

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Book Report: Why We Buy

Reading this book in 2005 was a waste of my time. When this book was first published back in 1999, it was probably pretty interesting. So interesting that everyone was talking about it. So I had already heard all the good bits from this book by 2003. Oh well. The author, Paco Underhill, wrote something else in 2004. I haven't heard 20 bazillion people talking about it. Maybe if I read it, I'll learn something. Then again, if that book is by a bestselling author and it came out over a year ago, why haven't I heard 20 bazillion people talking about it? Maybe it was awful.

Consumer lesson: Larry follows the crowd. Sometimes years behind.

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Book Report: Polly and the Pirates #1

In this comic by Ted Naifeh, a girl is kidnapped from a boarding school to become a pirate queen aboard the Titania. This comic shows promise: all it needs now are monkeys, ninjas, and robots.

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Link: ExistentialTraveller

In June of 2005, Tom Manshreck drove from Brooklyn to Alaska. And he wrote about it.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Including Far From Redmond

I typed up some notes about the Microsoft Puzzle Hunt. No, I wasn't at this weekend's Microsoft Puzzle Hunt IX. I wasn't cool enough to get invited. So what did I write about? I finally typed up some notes about the time I played in a re-enactment of Microsoft Puzzle Hunt 8.

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Book Report: The Super-Scary Monster Show Featuring Little Gloomy #2

Earlier, I complained about the way the black areas in this comic had been filled in. I rectract that complaint now. They're doing some interesting thing with textures and hatches, and it's growing on me. And I still like the writing. I just can't stay mad at Little Gloomy.

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