Book Report: Programming Ruby: The Pragmatic Programmer's Guide

This is a short book report. As if that wasn't bad enough, it's about computer programming. So maybe I should start out by relaying the story one of my relatives told tonight at dinner. It's a story about back when he worked at the Pentagon. He was in the 902nd military intelligence group. Every day, he'd receive a stack of reports from the FBI. He had a list of army people in the Pentagon, each of which was interested in certain things. So he'd spend a while each day reading over each of these FBI reports and figuring out which people would be interested in which reports. Then he'd make copies of these reports and distribute them. It was a tricky job, requiring attention to detail--except that he suspected that no-one really read these reports. One day, he nerved himself up and instead of carefully reading the reports, he just redistributed them randomly. It took less time, and he had more time to just walk around and goof off. You might think this was a foolish move--but he was young and foolish.

There's no denouement to this story. It turns out that nobody was reading those reports. He never bothered to read the reports again; he kept on distributing them randomly. Eventually, he was rewarded for his efforts with a different task.

In this spirit of not-reading things and then encouraging other people to read them, I recommend Programming Ruby. I didn't finish this book, but I recommend it. It's about a programming language. By reading the first part of the book, I was able to decide whether I wanted to use Ruby for an upcoming project or stick with Python.

This book talks a lot about anonymous program blocks, but doesn't mention lambda functions. And after a while, you wonder why there are no lambda functions, and you think that all Ruby programmers are nuts. But then the book finally mentions lambda functions after all. Ruby does have them. Ruby programmers aren't nuts.

I could write more about this book, but I think I need to go lie down and sleep off the effects of this dinner. Happy holidays, everybody.

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Book Report: Soldier of Sidon

This is another book about Latro, the soldier who has lost his short-term memory. To remember things, he writes them down, then reads them each morning. Except that sometimes his mornings are too busy for reading. For example, his slave (actually a Uraeus snake in disguise) may be warning him that the wax woman hidden in the hold of the ship is coming to life again.

A fun read. It's bleak in places. Our hero is enslaved. He has picked up a river wife, and is distressed when he remembers that he is already married. There are battles; there is treachery. You feel relieved for Latro when you remember that he will forget.

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Link: No Morse Egress

Those wacky kids at Coed Astronomy have just announced an upcoming game No Morse Egress. At last, a game in which you just solve Morse puzzles and never exit. That's going to be so awesome. Jessen might not like it, but-- What? It's called No More Secrets? Well, that sounds like fun too.

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Link: Webster's Online Dictionary

Puzzle hunts were everywhere last weekend. Midnight Madness in Hot Springs. Some movie called BHAGAMBHAG set up a promo treasure hunt in Mumbai, sounds big-scale. I didn't do any of that. I have a cold. I sat around the apartment, stayed cozy, puttered around with the computer. Not that there is anything wrong with the computer. It lets me see Webster's Online Dictionary, which presents a bunch of information about my query word. Definitions. Other words whose definitions mention this word. Translation into foreign languages (with furigana for the Japanese, no less). I think I could wast^W spend a lot of time on this site.

(I learned about it via Chronicles from Hurricane Country.)

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Site Update: Contact Info

The next time you visit the site's contact info page, you might notice that I got a mobile phone. You're not the only one who noticed. Ron figured it out right away: "Ha! You got it so that you can use Google on those puzzle hunts!" Yes, yes I did. And I don't even consider mine to be hard-core behavior.

If I'd got a Braille phone, that would have been hard-core.

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Book Report: Re/Search Pranks 2

I had an interesting phone conversation a few weeks ago. I responded to some spam email offering to optimize my web site so that it would rank higher on web site searches. There are legitimate ways to do this and illegitimate ways. A firm seeking business via spam probably favored the illegitimate. I called up and asked for details. The nice saleslady described their techniques--and they sounded pretty shady. She didn't tell me that their techniques were shady and that, if detected, were likely to backfire. I didn't tell her where I work.

This may sound all detective-y and investigative-ish, but at the time, it was just fun and silly. The idea of optimizing my website is pretty absurd. I write puzzle hunt reports, probably just a few people read each of them--and yet I claim that I already reach a major part of that... uhm... demographic. What's the big draw on this site? It's the Japanese ska band reviews, of course. English-language reviews of Japanese ska bands. It's a niche. You wouldn't spend hundreds of dollars to make your site the highest-ranking site for English-language Japanese ska band reviews, because that would mean that you'd get... five more visitors per week. Somehow, this made the conversation funny.

Her: Say for instance--now, assuming, OK, actually, tell me what you do. Let's start there.

Me: Oh, uhm, well, I've got a page, well I've got a few pages uhm about Japanese ska bands

Her: OK. OK, so say one of your major keywords is "Japanese ska bands". When somebody types that in to Yahoo or Google, you would want your hits to be close up there to the top.

Me: right. Right now there's someone from the University of Ohio who's up higher than I am.

Her: Right, so since he's one of your competitors, eventually you'd like to be before him.

It felt like a joke, a hoax--up until the point when I typed up her list of techniques and addresses of satisfied customers and sent it to Google, Yahoo, and MSN Live. It wasn't exactly a prank, but I'm still glad it happened.

Re/Search Pranks 2 isn't all about pranks, but you'll still be glad you read it. If I said flat-out how great the book Re/Search Pranks 2 is, you'd think I was just spouting hyperbole. Instead, I'll just say that if you liked Re/Search Pranks, you'll like Re/Search Pranks 2 as much.

This is another connection of interviews with various underground arts types on the subject of pranks. Some of the interviews fall flat; some are transcendantly wonderful. From the Al Jourgensen (Ministry) interview, I learned of no clever pranks--I only learned that I never, ever want to work with Al Jourgensen, to do business with Al Jourgensen, or to have Al Jourgensen think (rightly or wrongly) that I may have cheated him out of money. It was not interesting to read about him crapping on a desk; the effectiveness thereof as a bargaining technique etc. etc.

Once you get past the first few interviews, things get more interesting.

There's an interview with the Yes Men. There are interviews with members of the Suicide Club, a San Francisco precursor of the Cacophony Society. And there are interviews with the Cacophony Society as well. The Billboard Liberation Front, Ron English, Joey Skaggs...

My favorite interview was with Julia Solis about her activities with Dark Passage. This group mixes together urban exploration, Alternate Reality Gaming, and art. She talks about running a game which ended up with a big party in a chamber hidden under the streets of New York. She talks about stranger things.

Oh and Lydia Lunch and Monte Cazazza... Oh, just go read it already.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even the Bay Area

Save the dates!

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Book Report: the Birth of Plenty

Most books are boring. Most books about economics are boring. But a few stand out, are interesting. Some reviewers fooled me into thinking The Birth of Plenty would be interesting. Those reviewers were wrong.

This book claims that the following four things are necessary and sufficient to for a prosperous civlization, and that the emergence of these brought Western civilization into a time of plenty around 1820:

  • property rights
  • the scientific method
  • loans
  • rapid transportation and communication

I only made it about 100 pages into the book. I don't think he said anything that would persuade doubters, nor anything that would dissuade believers. Folks already inclined to agree with these points of view can have a fun time nodding their heads and saying "See, I told you so. And now this book agrees with me. So it must be true."

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even Phinney Ridge

I never saw the Team Los Jefes web site before today. I suspect that it's new. I think these people were team "Accio Brain!" in the Hogwarts Game.


Link: 200 ways to represent words or a message

Not exactly puzzlehunt-related...

Someone brainstormed 200 ways to represent words or a message:

41. classic do you like me, do you love me, maybe note.
42. New car sticker
43. Error message
44. Blue screen of death- BSOD
45. Shot of PC keyboard over head with actual sentence on keys

200 is pretty good. Still, there are some gaps.

EBCDIC. Carefully-oriented M&Ms. Laundry hanging on a clothesline. Trained parrot. Series of lat/long coordinates corresponding to natural features which look like letters in sattelite photos. Movie poster. Falsified movie data in MobyGames. Series of words vandalized by one user in the Wiktionary. Phonetic hieroglyphics presented in a cartouche. Deodorant smeared on a wall and set on fire. SETI online. Taxidermically preserved geckos posed in letterforms. "Hot metal" typeset letters. Flags of all nations. Clever arrangement of quack nostrums of the 19th century. Stills taken from Disney animated movies at carefully-selected times. Resistors. Leaves with holes chewed in them, ostensibly by bugs. An arrangement of pasta on a plate. A fake windmill farm--who would think to notice that each windmill turns at its own special rate? A flock of trained bats emitting sonar pings at just the right times. Yodeling. Photos of strange headgear you might recognize from paintings/movies--if you can recognize who wore them, consider their initials. A series of carefully-prepared reactions between Mentos and Diet Coke. Etching on golden plates, now lost. An alphabet of letterforms based on back-pocket stitching of designer jeans of the 70s and 80s. Simulated whalesong. What appears to be a series of pieces of string arranged in a row; further examination reveals that each piece has different elasticity. Sheet music. Player piano music. Cards for a Jaquard loom. A series of murders--different victims missing different pieces. Bird calls. A power source that emits different voltage over time, as displayed by the connected Jacob's Ladder. A banana cut into different-length cross-sections inside its skin. Syllogism. Knock-knock joke. A list of street addresses in a city, connect the dots to form a letter; a series of these, one per city, North-to-South ordering of cities tells you how to order the words. Esperanto. Carrier pigeon. A series of objects, all of which appear metallic: some are magetized, some respond to magnetism, some are not magnetic at all. An electric praying mantis; there are subtle patterns to the "arm" movements. Tap dancing rhythms. The path across a ballroom floor traced by a couple dancing the tango. A pattern of artificial thorns affixed to the stem of a thornless rose. A message written in sugar water on the sidewalk--not visible to the eye, until the ants discover it. Tuning forks. Dog license. An audio recording of falling dominos--the trained observer knows that the dominos were arranged in Morse code, and can distinguish their original placement by the quick silences between "clacks". Dewey decimal. An ordered list of baseball players, each of whom only played for one year. Circled letters on the Lincoln Memorial achieved with a laser light display salvaged from a defunct planetarium. Semiphore. A rash of explosions in skyscrapers; eventually you notice that each took place on a different story. Letterhead for fake law offices a la Dewey Cheatham and Howe. Several strands of hair, different colors; a microscope. The universe, only to be read by the enlightened. Cuneiform tablet, enclosed within an "envelope" of clay. Marching band, in formation. A sprinkling of freckles that someone smiles over. For the history trivia buffs, numbers corresponding to telephone exchange names. A quick series of tongue clicks. Movie house marquee. The calligraphy of a Zamboni driven with Total Freedom. It seems to be an automobile, but parts with certain part numbers have been removed. It appears to be snippets of audio recordings, riddles from Wei-Hwa Huang; eventually you notice the arcade game music playing in the background. Photos of famous people that have been distorted so that they look thinner or fatter; you must figure out how much they have been distorted; who knows what these people normally look like? A fake religion's holy days. A series of fables; the morals are awkwardly worded, suggesting that they conceal a message; but in truth the message is a modified binary, based on whether each fable is about a human or an animal. It appears to be a photograph of a termite mound. An edutainment video showing beavers slapping their tails on the water. A cheese plate featuring an unlikely assortment. That cable-knit sweater--the twists don't all go the same way, hmm. Stereogram. Facial tics. Photos of electrical outlets from different lands. Euphemisms for bodily fluids that share letters with the latin names for those fluids. It appears that each of these pigs has different buoyancy. This is not an exact reproduction of the pointilist Seurat painting you remember. Yellow snow. Descriptions of past meetings on different days: the day we ate pancakes, the time with the tree, etc. Concealed by propriety and decency within the confines of a diplomatic pouch. In neon letters 10 feet high. Attached as a "rider" to a federal spending bill. It seem unlikely that no two of these pencils is the same length; I suspect that these chew marks are carefully placed. A "singing chorus" of animatronic red pandas, the number of stripes on the tail of each is significant, meanwhile the designer of the enchanted tiki room senses a missed opportunity. The teenybopper sits on the streetcar, seems to be testing ringtones--but who notices that there are 26 ringtones to choose from? English.

That's not 200, but I'm up past my bedtime. Good night.

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Milestone: 6 Million Hits

[Update: I meant seven-millionth. It's seven. I'm not re-celebrating six. Sorry, I posted this in a hurry, didn't proof-read, didn't fact check, sloppy work, sloppy.]

Good gracious, it is the site's six-millionth hit.

Let's look at the log record for that six-millionth hit: - - [01/Dec/2006:10:49:32 -0400] "GET /departures/monterey/0/3292_from_water.jpg HTTP/1.1" 200 31201 "" "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; America Online Browser 1.1; rev1.2; Windows NT 5.1; SV1; FunWebProducts; ZangoToolbar 4.8.3)"

This appears to be an AOL user visiting my Monterey travelog. They're at the page, the graphics are loading, and this log shows them downloading a photo of Monterey taken from a boat tour.

Last time the site hit such a milestone, I pulled some site information from Google Webmaster Central. This time, in the interest of fairness or whatever, I'll give some information from Yahoo Site Explorer. (As ever, my opinions are mine, not my employer's.) Yahoo Site Explorer shows many uninteresting things and one interesting thing. The interesting thing is: You can ask for a list of pages that link to your site--any page in your site. What sites link to this site?

Oh, and there's more sites, apparently. How long have I been working on this list? For an hour, I think. I'm at work now. I'm supposed to be working. Uhm... I'm going to stop this list now.

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