Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Even Under One's Nose

The team name "Coed Astronomy" of course invokes memories of "SETEC Astronomy," the mysterious code name from the movie "Sneakers."

In the movie, "SETEC Astronomy" turns out to be an anagram for "Too many secrets". So it made sense that "Coed Astronomy" would turn out to be an acronym for something.

And once I finally tried anagramming it, of course it turned out to work out nicely to "TOO MANY CODERS". Wow, how long has that been staring me in the face?

Then again, there are other anagrams that could fit. "ODE TO ACRONYMS". "CRY, O TEAM SNOOD". "SODOMY ON RECTA". Uhm, eww. I think I'm going to stop looking for more anagrams now.

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Book Report: Shadow Cities

This book, by Robert Neuwirth, changed the way I think about the world. It's about slums, squatter cities, shanty towns, favelas. It's about people who build on land they don't own. It's about people who rent land from people who don't own that land. It's about governments trying to help homeless people--things that work, things that don't. If people are living in shanties without sewer connections or electricity and you kick them out--are you helping them or harming them? Before I read this book, I would have said "You are helping them, in the long run." Now--now I don't know what I think. This book shows you the way that people live in communities governed, not by title deeds, but by anarchic agreement. This book talks about property versus possession. This book made me think.

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Site Update: Fixed a Photo

A little script runs over this website's visit logs each night, generating a pretty report. I think I wrote the original back in 1999. I rewrote it last night. Python instead of Perl now. Sorted and clustered logs of errors. Some errors indicate that I've broken the web site; I want to fix those. Some errors indicate that someone on MySpace decided to use one of my photos as their background image without my permission; those errors are fine. The want-to-fix errors were getting lost in a sea of MySpace crud. So I re-wrote the script, tinkering, getting things the way I wanted them.

The pay-off so far? I finally noticed that I failed to upload a photo that someone sent me. Yes, the page that failed to display that graphic--I added that page back in October. Sorry about the broken image. Anyhow, it's there now.

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Book Report: The Making of the Atomic Bomb

I've read several books about the Manhattan Project. They all had a focus. New documents that had come to light. Focusing on one of the minor players. Family life. Now I realize why all of those books thought that they needed to focus on something, couldn't just provide the big picture. They assumed that I'd already read Richard Rhodes' The Making of the Atomic Bomb. As well they should. It's a standard, it won the Pulitzer--and yet somehow it's also a good book. It's that same story of scientists able to see a few months ahead of their time--but, tragically, not a few years ahead of their time.

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Book Report: Guanxi

This book is about how Microsoft set up a research lab in Beijing. This was a pioneering effort. China's economy had opportunities for kids who wanted to Make Money Fast in computing--but not so much for kids who wanted to do basic research. Microsoft came in, set up a lab, set up a sounds-weird-to-me-but-apparently-normal-in-China program where Microsoft Research could issue their own academic degrees. If you think you might want to read about something like that, this book is pretty interesting. If you would cross the street to avoid reading about something like that... uhm, this book won't win you over. I thought it was pretty interesting.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even Agile Programming

I haven't memorized the Braille alphabet nor the Morse alphabet. I even set up a little Morse training drill web program dealie, learned a little more Morse that way. But it doesn't stick. When I'm on puzzle hunts, I use a cheat sheet. When I'm leading a team, I pass out photocopies of this cheat sheet. This is an Nth generation copy of a cheat sheet the Burninators provided to players in BANG 7. I tried designing a better cheat sheet, but that didn't turn out very well. Yeah, yeah, that sounds pretty pathetic. Now I'm thinking that the root problem was that I was trying to lay all of these codes out on one page.

I read this LJ post by Brian Enigma. It starts out scary, like he's going to try to tell you that Agile Programming isn't just snake oil. But then he gets into the other stuff, the useful stuff, ideas for puzzle-hunt teams (although he thinks of it as a handy hint for Alternative Reality Game players). Instead of a single 8.5x11 "cheat sheet", carry around some index cards: one card for Morse, one card for Braille, etc. You don't need to think of how to lay all of these things out on one sheet of paper. Each card can have its own layout.

The Lester siblings threw a birthday party last night, and various cheat-sheet-card ideas bounced around. Laminate the cards so that they can tolerate wear and tear. Print the different codes on differently-colored cards so you can find the right code in a hurry. Keep the cards on a ring like those language-study flashcards. There might have been other ideas; I stayed up way past my bed time, and my memories are pretty hazy.

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Book Report: Future Noir

Yes, I read a book about the making of the movie Blade Runner. I make fun of people who read the entertainment news, but I spent more than an hour reading this book. It's mostly the fluff that you expect from a making-of-the-movie book, but there are some good bits, too. There are the usual stories of screenplay re-writes; financiers with cold feet. To film a cityscape that's mired in haze, you can create a model and film it through a mist of mineral oil. There are hints of strife on the set amongst the actors, but nothing definite.

A couple of nights later, I was hanging out with my high school chums at Peter's place. We were looking over his digital video recorder gizmo to see what movies were on it. We agreed on Blade Runner. That movie is still pretty good.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Even Arkansas

I know, you're still trying to decide which MIT Mystery Hunt puzzle was your favorite, but I nevertheless encourage you to go read David Hill's recap of Midnight Madness 2006. Torrential rain! RC boats! A man who can't see being directed by people watching through a camera mounted to his head! The acronymically unalterable smell of raspberries!

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Book Report: Life of Pi

I only made it about halfway through this book. I found it dull.

I like reading books about animals. This book has some animals in it. But... maybe I'd rather read a book that's all about animals. Instead of trying to cram some animal stuff into a boring story.

Some people who made it to the end of this book tell me that it gets good towards the end. Then again, people who made it to the end of this book probably have tastes different than mine.

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Book Report: Treasure Island

I kicked myself off of Game Control for the Pirate BATH game. I was getting tired of reading about nothing but pirates. Factual pirate research isn't much fun. Pirates were bullies, they killed people, they enslaved people, they set peoples' homes on fire. Awful people, just awful. Pirate fiction is often pretty good, though. Does that count as research? Maybe. I remember that over the holidays, I was talking with friends when conversation drifted, as it does, to Genghis Khan. We were trying to figure out if Genghis Khan had been tall or short. Someone pointed out that in the movie "Time Bandits", Napoleon had mentioned Genghis Khan as one of the small-but-powerful forces of history. I pointed out that in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Genghis Khan hadn't seemed so short. Could we trust Napoleon? In the end, we decided to trust Napoleon because Time Bandits felt like it had been more carefully researched than Bill & Ted.

I forget what my original point was.

Oh, right, so I read Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. If you want to know where that "Black Spot" from the Pirates of the Caribbean movie came from--it's from Treasure Island. "15 Men on a Dead Man's Chest"--that song is either from Treasure Island or else popularized by it. The story itself is fluffy, a ripping adventure yarn. Still, it does a good job of portraying the pirates as horrid people. They are treacherous and dissolute--and that is their undoing. Overall, it was a fun read.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even Book Reports

I read many blogs. According to Google Reader's new Trends feature, in the last 30 days, I've read 1977 items in the past 30 days from 302 feeds. (And I've been cutting back. When the Trends feature first appeared, that "1977" was more on the order of "2300".)

Many of these are book reviews, including those by blogo-famous librarian Jessamyn.

I read a lot of blogs about puzzle hunts, too. I try to keep up. This weekend is the MIT Mystery Hunt. It's a big weekend-long puzzle hunt. In theory, it's for MIT students in some inter-session break; in practice, the MIT student teams bring in many "ringers" from the outside.

The point, which you may have predicted from the above: It was a worlds-colliding moment to see that Jessamyn is playing in the Mystery Hunt this year.

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Book Report: Cold Mountain

This is a great book, an odyssey set during the USA's Civil War. It's a bleak study of the horrors of war. It's a story about humans and beasts. You've probably already heard about it. After I read it, I searched the internet to learn more about it and found out that someone made a movie about it a few years back, and that movie won an Academy AwardTM. Maybe you've already made up your mind about whether or not you want to read this book. So instead of telling you about the book, I'll tell you how I heard about it.

I'm using the WikiLens recommendation service. You create an account, tell it what things you like, it compares your ratings to other peoples' and recommends new things for you. Yes, I'm trying another recommendation service. This one stands out from the others because: It's still running and I liked its first recommendation. I recommend this recommendation service. It has categories for Album, Artist, Book, Movie, San Francisco Bay Area Restaurant, TV Show, Video Game, and Web site. That's not all of the categories; you can suggest new ones.

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Spam Filtering

If you send mail to this domain, I might discard it without looking at it. But I probably won't. For the last few weeks, I've been using a spam filter to... filter spam. I've been carefully looking over the results to make sure that stuff from real people didn't get filtered. But I'm going to stop looking carefully.

I was spending so much time looking over that filter that I was falling behind on answering my mail. That's no good.

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