Book Report: Ghost Train to the Eastern Star

It's a recent railway travelogue by Paul Theroux. It was difficult to read in places, perhaps because it is so recent. His trip was in 2005-2006-ish. He sees stirrings of trouble around Ossetia--so this was unsettling reading as there was fighting going on in Ossetia. He travels through Europe and Asia; not every place is the site of some historical massacre, but there were plenty of massacres. He goes to Sri Lanka--yes, even though the Tamil Tigers were attacking.

But this journey, like others, is mostly about meeting interesting people along the way. Some are helpful, some are awful, some are tragic, at least one is a sourpuss. There are hard-working rickshaw drivers, one of whom made me cry. Cambodians who survived the Khmer Rouge. Arthur C. Clarke in Sri Lanka. Murakami in Tokyo--visiting a French Maid cafe, no less.

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Book Report: Spook Country

This novel is a lot of fun. There is GIS. There is spycraft. There are references to volapuk, to... I guess William Gibson is showing us that he doesn't need to go quite so far into the future in order to show us weird interactions between interesting circles of human activity. Fun stuff, check it out.

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Book Report: Daemon

(If you posted a guess about the secret message in the jack-o-lanterns photo, then you were right! Especially considering that was an unplaytested "I have no idea if this is possible" puzzle, I am suitably impressed.)

Busy with work, busy with BANG 19. Things should calm down mid-November. Meanwhile, here's a book report I put together ages ago, I guess I can post it now:

Daemon is a techno-thriller. I read it on an airplane, because that's what you do with techno-thrillers. Daemon fulfilled its purpose admirably; at no point during the flight did I lose my mind with boredom.

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Jack O' Lantern Hidden Message

Pumpkins? This year, I can't deal with pumpkins. This year, I'm leting Hallowe'en slide. My free time goes into BANG 19. Puzzles and logistics, logistics and puzzles. That's plenty to think about. But last year... last year at around this time I went to a pumpkin-carving party. The people were fun. We carved pumpkins. It was fun. Here's a photo: [Photo of pumpkins by Steven Pitsenbarger]

I hid a message in one of my pumpkin carvings. Can you find it? (Don't guess "Who me?" The "Who me?" pumpkin wasn't me. (Appropriately, I can't remember who carved the "Who me" pumpkin. (Hey, give me a break; it was a year ago.)))

In the name of art, scholarship, attribution, and citationship, I should point out that I didn't take this photo. Steven Pitsenbarger did. Yeah, that same Steven Pitsenbarger who takes photos of plants and then develops the photos using plant juices. If that guy were really hardcore, then this photo would have been developed via pumpkin juice. But it turned out pretty well anyhow.

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Book Report: Nothing Nice to Say

Work is busy. BANG 19 is less busy, but fills up the waking hours that are not devoted to work. Lately, most of my reading has taken place only because bus breakdowns have prevented me from working. This, in turn, causes me to have unusually nuanced feelings about bus breakdowns. Anyhow, here is a book review I wrote in less-busy times. It's about Nothing Nice to Say.

I hadn't heard of the webcomic Nothing Nice to Say. But then I saw the comic book in the comic book store, with the cover that looked like that famous Friedman photo of Minor Threat sitting on that porch... except different, because one of the people is a giant critter. So I had to pick it up. It's a funny comic. It makes fun of punk rock. I only get about half of the references. But you don't always need to get the references to find something amusing.

It's a webcomic. So you can go read Nothing Nice to Say without hunting down a physical comic book. But paper can be fun, too.

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Book Report: Deliver the Vote

Deliver the Vote is a history of crooked elections in the U.S. of A. It doesn't try to describe all crooked elections. Just some good stories, just enough to fill up a few hundred pages.

George Washington bought booze for voters. As far as corrupt electioneering goes, this was pretty benign--Washington wasn't having anybody beat up, shot, or what-have-you. He was just handing out alcohol. Our elections nowadays are fairly harmless--the theft is done through miscounting, not through violence. But there's been a constant theme of theft. If anyone tells you that the 2000 election was an anomaly, laugh at them.

Bleeding Kansas.

Rutherfraud Hayes.

In the late 1800s, Southern Democrats weren't happy about black folks, generally Republicans, getting the vote. So the Democrats used violence and ballot-stuffing to wipe out those votes. When you hear about civil rights folks heading South, risking harm at the hands of violent racist Southerners, it's easy to think, "Well, that violence happened because these 'invaders' riled them up." But the violence had been going on the whole time.

A polling place gets moved to a place where some uppity neighborhood's residents can't find it. Mysterious boxes of votes are "found" late on election night. When the women of Texas wanted suffrage, it was once voted down, with most of the votes coming from mysterious precincts whose polls had never opened.

Bush/Gore does get a mention--the overseas absentee ballots that arrived after the election ended, many without postmarks, but which were nonetheless counted.

Maybe we get the government we deserve, but we don't necessarily get the government we mostly ask for.

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Book Report: How to Rig an Election

This morning, I'm munching my breakfast, reading Slashdot's feed and I see a name I recognize. The strange part: the name is that of a politico, not a computer programmer. The Slashdot post is pointing out that the USA election's dirty tricks are heating up, citing a newsblurb about some flyers trying to scare voters away from polls, warning of undercover police waiting to arrest folks. The newsblurb quotes Allen Raymond. I recognized the name because I read How to Rig an Election, the book that he wrote while in jail, serving time for his electioneering crime.

Allen Raymond helped folks to win elections. This is his autobiography... well, his autobiography that he wrote with Ian Spiegelman. Raymond dug up dirt on candidates. He spread lies. He worked for the RNC. He saw Republicans doing dirty deeds. He didn't have much trouble digging up dirt on Democrats, either. You might think you're already plenty cynical about politics, but don't be surprised if this book makes your opinion sink even lower. Towards the end of the book, there's something interesting for the security-heads--Raymond used a phone bank to Denial-of-Service an opponent's phone bank. A clever trick--and the trick that landed him in jail.

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Book Report: Gaming the Vote

I know what I can say about BANG 19 preparations. It's necessarily vague, in the name of seekricy, but it's heartfelt. Thank you you past Game Control folks who have shared advice, "war stories", and wisdom from past games. When we don't know what to do, often the path to a solution starts out with "Hey, didn't they already deal with this in the ______ Game?" And soon we have an answer. Thanks also to XX-Rated for leaving the Paparazzi Game waiver up online.

Hmm, that probably wasn't so interesting to read. Maybe it's time for a book report on Gaming the Vote

William Poundstone continues to write about ideas. This time, he writes about voting. Do you remember how you felt when you learned that a three-way election might be unfair--when you learned that there is no system of voting such that a three-way election is certain to reflect the will of the voters? When I learned that, I felt like I'd been punched in the gut. That was years ago. I figured that we were doomed to plurality voting, the two-party system. Doomed, doomed, doomed.

Poundstone writes about this, but... but he gets past it. If there are more than two candidates running, no election system is guaranteed to work all of the time. That said, most reasonable systems work most of the time. And some systems probably work better than others. This book is about past "unfair" elections, voting systems, and how to manipulate voting systems. If you've been discouraged by Condorcet cycles and are ready to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and move on, this would be a good book to read.

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Book Report: Punching In

I guess I can't think of anything to say about how BANG 19 is going that wouldn't give away seekrit stuff. So here's a book report for Punching In.

To research this book, the author worked a few weeks each at UPS, the Gap, Starbucks, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, and maybe some other places I don't remember. Also, he applied to work at a few places and didn't get in. He writes about these service-heavy jobs from the point of view of a loner. Rather, these places seem to require their front-line employees to personify the brand; he wanted to see what the companies do to mold their employees to better smile their way into customers' hearts. But it seems that these companies don't do as much as you might think. At least this was a quick, easy read; Frankel writes well.

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