Site Update: Notes on the Construction of the Triclops Headlamp

Less elaborate than the Mystic Fish Hat or the Battery Bandoleer, today I made a sort of triple headlamp, and I kept some construction notes.

Because the more I thought about it, the more I thought A regular headlamp doesn't look quite dorky enough.

Soon everyone will be wearing these. Or at least everyone who has no sense of dignity.

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Links: Quality Content on the Internets

Wow, it's a blog entry with a small pile of misc links. That's so retro.

If you're into puzzles, set up your Personalized Google Home Page, and add some content to it. What content should you add? Wei-Hwa's Puzzle Challenges. (You can search content for "Wei Hwa" and you'll find it. Actually, that won't work. To get Wei-Hwa's puzzles, follow these instructions from the estimable Jessica Lambert. Disclosure/Disclaimer: Though I work for Google, my opinions are mine and I can't always figure out our software.) The first puzzle went up today. It was too hard for me, so you know he's not dumbing it down for a mass audience :-)

Your favorite Giant Robot magazine contributors now have blogs at the Giant Robot site. Assuming that your favorite Giant Robot contributors are Eric Nakamura, Martin Wong, and Claudine Ko--and they should be. Sign up for the feeds, read what you need.

My favorite YTMND is definitely the self-referential The ULTIMATE search result!

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Book Report: Naked Economics

Many people recommended Naked Economics, but I should have paid attention to the details of their recommendation. This book is an introduction to economics. If you took "Economics 101" back in college, skip this book. I made it through a couple of chapters of this book. They seemed well-written, but they didn't teach me anything.

It's too bad; economics can be interesting. I'm in the middle of reading another economics book. Just a few minutes ago I missed my streetcar stop because that book made me think so hard. Come to think of it, that book might make a pretty good introduction, but it's more interesting than Naked Economics in general, at least so far. I should finish reading it and then review it and stuff.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, including my pager

I received this message on my pager with mixed emoticons:

:-!:-% :-!:-@ :-$ :-!:-# :-( :-!:-@ :-!:-@ :-!:-^ :-! :-!:-* :-!:-! :-!:-# :-( :-!:-@ :-!:-@ :-@:-@ :-! :-!:-@ :-!:-@ :-% :-@:-% @ :-* :-! :-!:-#

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, from Seattle to Siena

Some awesome folks in Seattle are contributing to their local Game community by setting up a web site with announcements and forums and stuff. Check it out. I fed their RSS feed into my reader so I can find out when the next SNAP game is announced.

To totally change the subject: This morning, I peeked at the research of Marco Ernandes, an AI researcher at the Universita' degli Studi di Siena. Specifically, I was looking at a project he works on with a couple of other researchers: WebCrow, an AI crossword puzzle solver. Among other techniques, it tries to solve clues by doing a web search on words from their words. If you want the 4-letter word which is "Nick Charles' dog", you could do a web search for [nick charles dog] and see what four-letter words show up especially often on the returned pages. It's pretty impressive. At the same time, it's sad to see that advances in technology may put my dad out of a job.

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Book Report: The Battle Over Hetch Hetchy

I finished playing the excellent game Psychonauts! It was totally worth buying an XBox just to play this game. Actually, I didn't make it to the end of the game. I made it to the start of the "meat circus" level, peeked at a walkthrough, and figured out that I was at the end of the adventure-gamey part--you know, the part I enjoy. (That and figuring out ways to destroy hay bales.) So I stopped playing the game, opened up the bonus disc that only had cutscenes, and watched the final cutscenes. Wow, fun cutscenes full of funny and/or touching dialog. All the fun of the game without the tedious trapeze artistry! It was awesome.

Sometimes the path to maximum enjoyment of a product involves knowing when to stop. For yet another example, consider the book, The Battle Over Hetch Hetchy.

I didn't read the whole book. I read the introduction. The introduction was informative.

Hetch Hetchy is, of course, the big reservoir next to Yosemite where a lot of San Francisco's water is stored. It used to be a mountain valley; we dammed it. In hindsight, it wasn't such a great place for a reservoir in terms of beauty lost vs. water stored. John Muir, at the time, pointed out that it was a bad idea.

What I learned from this book's introduction: at the time when people were debating whether or not San Francisco should flood Hetch Hetchy, it wasn't rapacious developers versus nature lovers. It was public utility people versus private utility people. Pretty much everyone except John Muir figured that Hetch Hetchy would be turned into a reservoir; it was mostly a question of whether San Francisco or some private company would do so.

Some nature lovers who didn't want the valley flooded. But there weren't many of them. Cynical folks at the time didn't take these nature lovers seriously--and perhaps with good reason. The nature lovers wanted to build roads to Hetch Hetchy and turn it into a place for tourists. They didn't have any plans on how to do this, however. Private water and power interests exhorted these people--because private water and power interests didn't want the city to have public water nor power.

So I learned something from the introduction, yayy! Then I emerged into the book proper. I read a few pages and quickly determined that the author, Robert Righter, was going into more detail than I really wanted to read. So I stopped.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, So Why Did I Try to Make them Easier to Find?

Today, I tinkered with Google Co-op and created a search boost. If you subscribe to it, you can use it to tweak Google web search behavior for certain searches. For now, I set up some boosts related to puzzle hunts. If you subscribe, and then search for morse code more:players, then within your search for morse code, some sites' results will get a little boost--the pages I labeled as belonging to puzzle hunt players. It doesn't boost those results much, though. So you'd still need to wade through some irrelevant results if you only wanted to see web pages by puzzle huntists.

Oh, if your a huntist and you suspect that I failed to label your site, your team's site, a game culture site, or a game site, let me know.

Disclosure: I work for Google, but I still ain't sure I got this thing working right. Oh, and my opinions of any page's relevance are mine, not my employer's. Just like all of my opinions.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Even Sveden

Shinteki signups are happening. And that is awesome. But if you follow Bay Area treasure hunt stuff, that's probably not news to you. So instead I'll tell you that I sat next to Jonas from Sweden on the bus today. He was telling me that they had something like The Game where he went to school. This was back in the 80s. In Sweden. Only they didn't call it "The Game". They call it Rebusrally.

And the first puzzle is: can you understand the Rebusrally web page if you don't speak Swedish?

Rebusrally går ut på att man samlar ihop ett gäng glada människor och knökar in dem, karta, matsäck, uppslagsverk, miniräknare, formelsamling, linjal, systemkatalog, papper, penna med mera i en personbil eller minibuss.

Yes, you can understand it, because Swedish is just English pronounced with an ovtrageovs accent:

Rebusrally blah activity blah gang of geeks blah blah with a map, backpack, flugelhorn ensemble, martini glasses, a protractor, tongue, phone book, paper, pen, blah blah zip around town in vans.

So you see, as reported, it's just like the Game except that when you solve the word puzzles, some of the letters have circles or dots over them. But that doesn't mean that you overlooked some Braille and/or Morse. Those dots are really supposed to be there.

OK, I admit it. I can't understand Swedish. This looks like a job for Raymond Chen.

Perhaps-related photo of degenerate lunatics )


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Not Exactly a Site Update

While my innards re-assemble themselves, maybe I can distract you with some fun email that the site received recently. It's on the comment page, but I'd like to call out the two most recent emails, which are goodies:

Captain Ken Appleby sent photos of his ship which navigated the English Channel and under the bridges of Paris.

A reporter mistakenly sent me a question, thus tipping me off that ex-Nazi Hubertus Strughold's name has been ejected from the International Space Hall of Fame.

Keep sending in the great material, folks. Goodness knows I'm too tired to write anything today myself.


Book Report: My Kind of Place

As a snack on Saturday, I had some hummus on good bread. For dinner, I had some more. I didn't think to put the hummus in the fridge in between, but I thought It will probably be OK. But it wasn't OK, and I spent Sunday and Monday... uhm... reading magazines. I've talked with folks about their uneasiness with their backlog of magazines--but when food poisoning strikes, you'll be glad to have those magazines.

Thus, it's an appropriate time to review My Kind of Place. It's a collection of magazaine articles by Susan Orlean, so you know you're in for some easy breezy writing about some interesting topics.

I'd already read a bunch of these articles, but there were some that I hadn't seen--she went to Cuba. She talked with people about politics, restaurants, baseball, and stranger things.

If you've already read a lot of Susan Orleans articles in magazines--under whatever circumstances--you might want to flip through this book before picking it up. There might not be anything here new to you. But it's all good.

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Apprentice Zorg: Addenda, Erratum

In the weeks since I did that write-up of the Apprentice Zorg game, new facts have come to light. Well, I shouldn't act like anyone was trying to conceal these facts. OK, I think most people involved already knew this stuff. But it took me a while to figure them out.


I tweaked the write-up, but for the sake of folks who already read it and don't want to wade through it again, the new facts are these.


After a puzzle hunt game, my apartment floor is usually covered with papers and stuff. (Otherwise, it's just covered with papers.) So a while after a puzzle hunt game, I figure out where to put the papers and strange objects that the team accumulated during the hunt. Usually, I stuff them all into a box or an envelope. This time, I needed a box; I had no box; I went to the local drugstore to procure a box.

At the drugstore, there were some box-ish things available. I decided to get a small plastic chest of drawers that would fit on a shelf. In fact, it was already on a shelf--I reached up on tip-toe so that I could take it down. As I tugged on the chest, it tipped forward, thus causing a couple of its drawers to come forward, fall out of the chest, and land on my head.

Anyhow, I got the box home and started putting stuff away.

So I was dealing with the film-cannister-lookalike thingies which had played the parts of "stones" in the game. A couple of them had water in them which I wanted to dump out before storing. One cannister had been full of water. One had contained a black capsule which we'd soaked in water. In the write-up, I commented that this capsule looked like one of those sponge expando-matic dinosaur capsules, and that I'd been surprised that it hadn't expanded. Well, it did expand--when I opened it up to dump out the water, I could see that the capsule had expanded out into a pillow of green sponge.

I was mistaken when I said it wasn't a spongy expand-o thingy. Sorry about that.


The other thing I found out was the identity of the Taftian who played the parts of Zorg, the awesome "ten plus ten asks" (20 questions in words of four or fewer letters) guy, and the Rhodian sycophant. Specifically, I found out that it's the same guy who maintains the Sarong Theorem Archive which made such a splash in the blog-o-sphere a few months back. Which just goes to show that in our crowded word, there are only about 80,000 interesting people (though nobody agrees on exactly who those 80,000 interesting people are).

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Book Report: Strange Brains and Genius

I'm playing the excellent game PsychoNauts. It's a fun game. In this game, you get to crawl around inside the minds of some pretty insane folks. Insane people can be fun. So you might think I'd like the book "Strange Brains and Genius", which explores the relation between genius and insanity. But it didn't turn out that way.

I didn't make it very far in this book. That doesn't mean it was a poorly-written and/or poorly-researched book. That means I was reading the wrong book.

Cliff Pickover wrote mini-biographies of some eccentric geniuses. Then he looked for common themes amongst their madnesses and/or eccentricities. I made it partway through the biographies, but it was mostly stuff I'd seen before. I didn't especially want to read any reflections on the relation between genius and madness, so I stopped.

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Book Report: Cloud Atlas

This book was fun. It does playful things with structure. It takes the idea of a nested framing story and twists it around. The result is a sort of ziggurat of prose, each layer a piece of genre fiction. It's like six novellas. I liked some of the novellas, didn't like a couple. It was a fine, fine read for the bus.

Warning: this book got all kinds of glowing reviews which made it sound like some kind of earth-shattering Important New Novel. It does fun things with structure, but in the end those things don't add that much to the book. If you go in expecting this book to change the way that you think about literature, you will be disappointed. But it's still a fun book.

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