Book Report: First Democracy

Last night I went out with a couple of friends to see the band Quasi. This was a good thing. I finally finally made it to a show at the Cafe du Nord, thus checking off one of my life goals. Also, one of the opening bands was pretty good, with complicated beats, fun drones, and fun viola: Talk Demonic. Check them out. Yes, I know, it's strange to hear me recommend a band that isn't a Japanese ska band. Yes, I know, you expect book recommendations instead. All right: I recommend First Democracy by Paul Woodruff.

Here in the USA, we don't live in a true democracy. We live in a republic. We elect officials to act as oligarchs. We let the people vote on some things. Some. And we tell ourselves that's all right because Democracy Doesn't Scale.

Maybe it doesn't, but maybe it does. First Democracy told me things about democracy as practiced in ancient Athens. They, too, realized that it wasn't practical to have everyone in the land vote on every issue. But they didn't want to put much power in the hands of elected officials. They were wary of tyrants.

So they didn't elect their officials. They chose them by lot. Yeah, randomly. And those randomly-chosen legislators did OK. They were harder to corrupt than elected officials. If you have elected officials, those same officials keep getting elected. So once you find out about Senator Bedfellow's indiscretions with that "liaison officer" from Sparta, you have a senator in your pocket for the next several years. But once Joe Schmoe gets randomly chosen as a legislator, by the time you get some juicy gossip on him, he's probably halfway done with his term.

That's not a perfect system. People whine about jury duty. I whine about jury duty. Now imagine what happens when someone tells you, "Your number came up. You're going to the capital for a year to listen to debate about mineral rights." Not perfect, but it expanded my horizons to think about it.

This book ties together other long-lost innovations in populist government. And it talks about places where Athens went wrong. It's enough to get you excited about election reform again. Like, if we had a better election system, it wouldn't just mean shedding our current useless two-party system. If we had a decent voting system, we could let people vote on many more things than they do today--and the results would probably be better than letting Washington fat cats decide it.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, from coast to coast

Puzzle hunts are in Vermont.

Puzzle hunts are in Florida, if somewhat clunkily.

Puzzle hunts are in my mailbox:

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Book Report: The Nautical Chart

You may recall that a few weeks ago, my simple plan to play the excellent game PsychoNauts hit a snag when I failed to rent an XBox machine. This weekend, I tried again. I'd asked around about XBox rentals. No-one knew of a place that rented any. So yesterday, I decided to buy an XBox. I shoveled big fistfuls of cash into my pockets and walked over to the local Toys 'R Us.

It was closed. I mean, it wasn't just closed for the day. This store was closed forever. It's like there was some malign cosmic force which had determined that I was not going to play the excellent game PsychoNauts, and that force was snuffing out businesses to thwart me.

I was feeling pretty shaken. My "Plan B" for XBox acquistion had failed. The whole point of "Plan B" is that it's not supposed to fail. "Plan B" is the plan where you buckle down and do things the safe way. I went over to the local Peet's to have some coffee and steady my nerves. Then I walked home.

I looked at the CompUSA web site. They said that they sold XBox machines, and that the downtown San Francisco store had them in stock. I called up the store and navigated some voice menus to hear... that they sold XBox machines and the downtown San Francisco store had them in stock. I wanted to talk to a human, to gain some reassurance that the malign force would not thwart me again. But I got over it.

CompUSA was still there. They did indeed have XBoxes. I bought one, hooked it up. My television did not catch fire.

Soon I was playing the excellent game PsychoNauts. It really is excellent. At least up until the point where there's a Psi Blast training level. I haven't got past that. I don't think I can get past that level on my merits. My merits as a video game player are pretty sparse. I tried looking up a cheat code, and couldn't even figure out how to enter that.

Meanwhile, I've had a fun time kicking virtual rocks, punching virtual hay bales, and looking at pretty glowy figments. But I think I'm stuck until I can get in touch with someone who can tell me the right way to enter a cheat code for this game.

But there are plenty of video game review sites out there. You didn't come here for video game reviews, did you? You came for the book report. OK, let's step away from this game which is excellent, but hard for me to access. Let's look at a book that's accessible, but not so good. Let's look at The Nautical Chart.

Take a simple piece of noir crap.

Dress it up with themes. The main character is a sailor, skilled at navigating. He thinks about objects to use as landmarks, to take bearings from. At the start of this novel, he gets rid of his sextant. He starts taking orders from a femme fatale. Towards the end, he gets some new navigation equipment, and takes control of his life back.

So navigation is a theme. And there are other themes. And so the reader can feel all proud of himself as he checks them off. I spotted that, he thinks to himself.

So reading this book was kind of satisfying in that I could go back and write an essay about it for a college-level course. But that doesn't change the fact that this book stunk on ice, and had the plot of a basic piece of noir crap. Not to say that all noir is crap. I'm just classifying the exact kind of crap that this book is a piece of. You understand.

It was translated from the Spanish. Maybe in the original Spanish, the language is more amusing? There were some passages that seemed like they were trying to be funny.

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Book Report: 400 Million Customers

(Yes, I received some puzzle-hunt-related clothing tips in my snail mail. But aren't you getting a little tired of reading about puzzle hunts? It's been so long since we had a book report. Let us now have a book report:)

It's a book about advertising and business in China, written back in 1937. To an American audience in 1937, this book was probably a revelation of the Chinese psyche, teaching them about "face" and feng shui. To someone who grew up in San Francisco's Richmond district in the 1970s, this book was not such a revelation. But it's pretty funny, so you might want to read it anyhow. Carl Crow writes well enough such that you can almost forgive him for writing ad copy that would eventually hook the Chinese people on life-destroying tobacco.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Including Fhloston Paradise

Good grief, it's another game write-up. A few days back, part of Team Mystic Fish played in The Apprentice: Zorg, a fifteen-hour puzzle hunt game in the East Bay.

In a lazy bold writer's move, I typed this thing up in a couple of days and am posting this admittedly-rough draft. You remember how last year, my game write-ups appeared months after the fact? I'm trying to fix that.

Meanwhile, team Taft on a Raft, the excellent organizers of TAZ, are threatening to release an online game called The Prisoner's Dilemma. Be seeing you.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even Seattle and/or annoying movie promo internet sites.

Peter Sarrett enjoyed the SNAP game in Seattle a couple of weeks ago.

In tangentially related puzzling news, many people worked on the Google/Sony Da Vinci Code game. At least a couple of them were local folks who are into the Game. So far I've played one puzzle--a simple Sudoku game. My reward for finishing? I had to slog through a move promo site full of flash animations to find some trivia about the movie.

Disclaimer: My opinions are mine. They are not my employer's. I think it's a waste of talent for a couple of awesome Gamists to create something that's buried under a lot of movie promo crapola.

Oh, I just solved a peg-jumping puzzle. I thought I'd found a way to skip the movie-promo stuff and hop to the next puzzle. There is a "Get New Puzzle" button. But no, after I solve the peg-jumping puzzle, it insists on asking me a movie trivia question. The Get New Puzzle button does nothing. Ah, but if I solve that puzzle most of the way, but don't make the final move, then I can click the "Get New Puzzle" buton. And I get another peg-jumping puzzle.

Wow, that's effort.

Maybe I should beg my colleagues to point me at the puzzles in some form that doesn't involve movie promos.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Especially Petaluma. Furthermore, Petaluma generally has it Going On

On Saturday, Team Giant Die Protocol played in BANG 15 (BANG Appetit), a puzzle hunt game in Petaluma. Then we played boardgames. These things are more fun to do than to read about, and yet I did a little write-up.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Even at Big Meetings at Work

Today, at work, there was a big meeting. At one point during this meeting, a bunch of students were on stage--specifically, it was a bunch of Anita Borg Scholarship winners. Their names were projected up on the big screen while lots of folks clapped and cheered. One finalists' name caught my eye: Rachel Weinstein, Stanford University.

Hey, that's head of Game Control for the Paparazzi Game. I think that there's a money award for being a Borg finalist. Let's hope Ms. Weinstein doesn't waste that money on world-improving computer research. Let's hope she instead puts it where it belongs: into building weird stuff for an excellent puzzle hunt in June.

At this meeting, we also got to see the trailer for the movie An Inconvenient Truth plus a bunch of material from the film. It looks like it's going to be awesome--you get to see Florida, Shanghai, Beijing, and the World Trade Center sites all get destroyed. It's pretty exciting. But that doesn't have anything to do with puzzle hunts, so I don't know why I even mention it.

To get back on topic, maybe I should point out that some Seattle Microsoft folks are trying to foster outreach with Seattle's non-Microsoft puzzling community. If you like fun and live in Seattle, you might want to help out with this endeavour. Or at least follow it, and enjoy any fun puzzle hunts that emerge.


Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, but where will Zorg start?

Yesterday, we of Team Mystic Fish got our collective act together long enough to figure out the time & location of the start of the The Apprentice Zorg game. This was, of course, a puzzle. Or, rather it was 12 mini-puzzles plus one meta-puzzle.

This puzzle is disguised as a list of teams participating in the game. That is not a coincidence. Game Control asked each time to submit a "team photo", a piece of media to represent their team. 12 teams were asked to encode a Game-Control-supplied message into their medium.

So if you look at that page, click on the "team photos" that are bordered in red. Each of them contains a secret message. When you have the solutions to (most of) those puzzles, you can apply those to the green-bordered puzzle. (For the red-bordered puzzles, you can ignore the text on the right half of the Teams page--it's not part of the puzzle.)

My personal favorite of these puzzles is Team Briny Deep's; it made me laugh. Usually audio puzzles make me groan. If I told you why this puzzle made me laugh, you wouldn't think it was funny. You need to listen to the puzzle, form a hypothesis as to its encoding, listen closely, think your method is working, think your method is failing--and then realize your method is working after all, but only seemed to be failing because of a joke. And then this feeling of joy and relief washes over you and you laugh uncontrollably. Oh, wait, did I say "you"? I meant "me".

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Book Report (of a sort): Sucker's Progress (more or less)

National poetry month is April.
So I'll rhyme all month! Oh yes I will.

A book not to read if you're in a hurry?
The long Sucker's Progress is by Richard Asbury

Its style is both list-y and rambling;
a survey of U.S. gamblers and gambling.
For many days, it was my commute reading.
Concerning faro, poker, blackjack, and cheating.
I hoped to learn many cardsharps' antics,
But our nation's crooks re-use the same tricks.
If you want mini-biographies, there's somehting doin',
With many tales of rise and ruin.
To me, beyond the year, city, and name,
These stories began to sound the same.

This work seems well-researched, not swayed by bull
As such, I found it kind of dull.
Our nation's gambling? I guess I've seen it.
Anybody want a peanut?

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