Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Even Disneyland

Excerpt from the bottom of Matt Haughey's Disneyland travelog

Another highlight of the trip was using the Wishing Stars iPhone app in the park. It's basically a photo and clue-driven scavenger hunt through the park for features and locations. ... Overall, it was a blast and a fun diversion when standing in a line or walking around the same part of the park for the third time that day.

There's something kind of amazing about being able to do something social like a scavenger hunt, but asynchronous through the use of this app. I know a few friends are working on similar types of applications (doing previous real-time social events in a new web-enabled asynchronous way) and I think it's going to become a big trend in application development.

Not enough to make me put up with a visit to Disneyland. But interesting.

Labels: ,

Comic Report: Girl Genius Collection #8 (Agatha Heterodyne and the Chapel of Bones) | Act-i-Vate Primer

It seems kind of silly to post an online review a comic book when folks can go read the comic online and decide for themselves. And yet, here we are: Girl Genius. Girl Genius is a darned fun story of adventure, clockwork, romance, and mad science. It's been going strong for a few years now. If you haven't already, you should check it out.

I was prompted to mention this because the 8th printed collection came out. But mostly, I read this comic as it comes out online.

As long as I'm talking about online comics, another comic book that came out recently whose roots are online: The Act-I-Vate Primer. This is a bunch of comics from Act-I-Vate, which, if I'm understanding the intro correctly, is a cabal of comix artists who hang out on Livejournal. Anyhow, I got this comic book because it has a piece by Roger Langridge, but there was some other good stuff in there, too. It was quite a variety of stuff, so I didn't like everything... On the other hand, there was something in there for everyone.

Labels: , , ,

Jotting Notes on Red Byer's GC Summit 2009 Talk "Run More Games"

OK, jotting some notes about Red Byer's GC Summit 2009 talk "Run More Games". Yes, the talk was months ago; my notes are not timely. Oh, before I even start, I should link to Red's own notes about the talk--some hindsightish notes and clarifications. Are you back? OK. I'll mostly try to paraphrase here, but I'm injecting some thoughts [in square brackets]

  • Talking about the Bay Area Game only. Which doesn't include Shinteki, BATH. Talking about 1992-present.
  • Defining what counts as a Game. Site + Theme + Clue + Travel
  • Difficult enough: any GC can RSA-128 encrypt a message and give it to a team to slow them down. That's what we're gonna do to the lead teams in Muppet Movie Game, so beware. [hee hee]
  • Typical game is ~20 teams. Run only once. It's like a wedding. [don't scale well; e.g., "this site's parking lot can only handle 20 vans". replay value is there--but GC is probably too exhausted to do it.]
  • Team-based.
  • Community. You have to give back. Give back your time. Playtesting, GCing.
  • The formula. The basic idea: For the game community to survive, folks need to contribute, not just take. It's not enough to contribute just as much as you take. Because lots of teams drop out after just a few games, you need to contribute more than you take or else the community's going to asymptotically go to zero.
  • The formula, ctd. You need to give back one Game every Five Years. You might think, 20 teams play in a game, my team plays 2 games a year, so we'll just run a game in 10 years. But because of attrition, because teams stop playing, you'd better run a game every five years.
  • running games is big effort, expense, stressful
  • Folks worry about inadequacy. Don't do that. you're not gonna do the _______ aspect as well as ________ GC. That's OK. Doesn't have to be the same as everybody else's. My game is going to have my style, my flavor.
  • Running a game: warm fuzzies; giving back to community; try new things, e.g., industrial design; influence community direction; Higher Probability of Future Play
  • History. Captains list, so you knew teams were good--and not too many of them.
  • Feedback loops: a team will "try out" a player. Players they get along with get invited back.
  • Feedback loops: teams want to play, but also trust GC to run good Game. GC needs an audience that can handle 30 hours of Morse code and driving. There's mutual trust.
  • In the past, there was an understanding that teams who were more likely to run games would be invited to more games ??!? [Not sure how this worked. If a team played too much w/out running a game, were they removed from the Captains List?] Number of teams was pretty stable through the 90s. [Oh, maybe teams not-running games has always been a potential problem--but the explosion of # of teams in the aughts exacerbated said problem?]
  • Nowadays, there are still teams and games--but game community is larger. There's been crossover with other communities. No more Captains List.
  • Application process--takes team effort. Doesn't necessarily reward what you want. E.g., first-come first-served just rewards folks who wake up early. [Ideally, application includes a resume of games run, and you'd consider that. (But that requires GC folks to be judgmental, and not everyone is comfy with that.)]
  • Crossover has been good and bad thing. (Here crossover is with things like MSPH, Seattle Game, Shinteki, BATH.) We're more popular now! But we haven't seen a contribution from these folks back to the Game community. [So they should have run Moonraker's in San Jose instead of Seattle? WTF? (...and SBlom touches on this later)]
  • So there's a lot of teams that want to play, but the number of Games hasn't scaled to meet demand. Most games run by repeat GC. Not enough new GCs
    • Linda Holman points out: You don't have to run a BANG before you run a weekend game. Red says: Yeah, firmly believe in rookie GCs; ratrace was messy... but it still worked out. XX-Rated's Paparazzi game was awesome. Goonies was awesome.
  • Possible solutions:
    • close the Game Community 20 teams [reinstate something like the captains list].
    • we can "redefine and branch the community" [???] try to stop the crossover
    • reinvigorate the feedback loops. Even if you don't like a team, if they've run a game, let them play: they've given back to the community.
    • Don't expect to play in every Game.
    • Run More Games
  • Melinda Owens: Gee, if people ran more BANGs instead of more Games, that might help more: BANGs can handle more teams.
    Red: That wouldn't help reduce the demand for Games, though.
    [if your goal is max# of happy players, run a BANG. But if your goal is to get invited to more Games, run a Game]
  • Jennifer Novakoski: Ghost Patrol was team LowKey's first game. It was a full-length game. In hindsight, a few LowKeyers would rather have run a small game first. It's really hard to devote a year of your life to something that you're not even sure it's going to be successful. Just to learn the logistics.
    • Sean Gugler: not a rebuttal, just a contribution to the discussion. I have run full games, I have run half-games. The half-games were not significantly easier to run.
    • Red: Yeah, we spent as much time on overnightmare, a half-game, as on ???
    • Sean Gugler: then again, as I get older and need more sleep, I find the half-games more appealing. [This old fart says, yes, by jiminy.]
  • Brent Holman: As a prospective GC, you should push yourself a little bit. Try doing something that is more than you thought you could do. Try a half-Game instead of a few-hours BANG. Some things... taking the overnight aspect out helps the logistics a lot.
  • Scott Blomquist: I'm in one of those not-in-scope groups [Scott is from Seattle game community, though he lives in Portland as of 2009. It's complicated.] How are we "invaders from the north" perceived by the Bay Area community? You know, it's really hard to run a remote Game. Alaska Air is cheap. If we run a Game in Seattle and you're invited, does that kinda count as "repaying the community"? Or do we need to put a cell membrane around each city and figure out what the equilibrium equation looks like?
    • Someone: I'd love to go to Seattle
    • Greg deBeer: I've never played a Seattle Game, but I think it would be really fun, so do it. But there's also a trend we're seeing more of: simultaneous running a game in multiple cities. No, nobody's tried to "simulcast" a long Game game, just BANG/SNAP/MSPH-like things.
  • Linda Holman: Another barrier to entry [and thus a way to control demand] is money. If you run a game in NYC or Chicago, that will limit your demand down to 20 teams--the 20 teams enthused enough to fly to NYC for a game. But right now, with demand the way it is--you would get 20 teams who are willing to fly to NYC.
    • Red: But do we really want do limit demand for each game? Or do we want to run more games? Most teams don't want to play in 6 games per year.
  • Corey Anderson: If I'm GC figuring who has game-running karma, that's hard if I'm a brand-new team. I might not know. And also--what have you done for me lately? [Is Red disappointed w/Desert Taxi and LowKey because Orange Snood didn't get in to Ghost Patrol? Orange Snood hasn't run a game since those teams have been around. Then again, the Orange-ites and the Snoodites ran more than there share of Games... but years ago. Maybe it was Red's contemplation of all this that led him to wonder how often a team should GC?] So do you tell a new team: well, you have to let this "old guard" in? I don't know what the solution is here.
    • Red: Yeah, been on both sides of that. Been rejected by GCs. As a GC, have rejected teams because I didn't think they'd be a match for our game. "It happens." But we try to favor teams that have bled for the game. As a community, to survive, you have to reward folks who contribute to the community. Otherwise, folks who have run games will disappear. We've seen GCs, where it just obliterated their team. The BioHazard game, the Espionage game, there have been several examples. Anyhow. I'm not saying I have all the answers, I'm just saying this might be a key to get more GCs to step up.
    • Crowd chatter: Hey, if we obliterate more teams, that will reduce the demand :-)
  • Jesse Morris: so we're new GCs. Of the teams that applied [to Ghost Patrol], about 15 were past GCs. We don't know what they did, but we know they did something.
    • David Mendenhall: We were trying to bring in new blood, folks who will maybe contribute more in the future.
      • Red: Yeah. And honestly, the folks on the "old guard" are pretty adept at landing on teams. In Ghost Patrol, I landed on my sister's rookie team and had a great time.
  • Chris Dunphy: If a team is cohesive, a team can go on to run a game. But what if it's a ragtag mob that gets together to play a Game--but not a great group of folks to run a Game? Like, say, RadiKS. I'd like to get advice on how to build a Game-Control centered team to run a game.
    • Red: You know how when you're playing and your team says "Hey we could run something sort of like this but--" that's the spark. [Uhm, and if your team doesn't ever say that?]
    • Teresa Torres: Orange Crush played in 5-7 games with no team dynamic problems. Friends from college, got along really well. Running a game destroyed our team. The reason why: half of our team had no idea what they were getting into. I mean, they knew: we had a plan of building clues and finding sites; and it didn't happen. 2-3 of us bore the brunt of the entire game. Fortunately, at the end we were all still friends--but we will never play in a Game again. Yeah, your Game team is not necessarily your Game Control team. But you might have two teams together like Desert Taxi and and LowKey [and the Snout/Drunken Spider combo springs to mind]
    • Red: Yeah. There's a few Orange Snood folks who are running the Muppet Movie Game. But not all of Orange Snood is running the Muppet Movie Game. I know Snout likes a big "core" GC, but I like a small core. Less effort on updates, reminders, the effort to keep so many people working towards the same vision.
      • Scott Blomquist: quick remark, for some reason in Seattle, 12-person "cores" work really well. Insert your favorite Microsoft joke here :-)
      • Corey Anderson: Huh, so in the Bay Area, part of the reason a lot of "teams" have a tough time GC'ing is that it's basically one serious person and their four "friends of the week". So is the MSPH tradition different?
      • Scott Blomquist: Yeah. Actually, some Seattle non-MSPH have chosen team sizes relatively prime to the MSPH team size, just to force folks to mix a little. I'm affiliated with a 12-person entity, a 6-person entity whose population is made up entirely differently, and when I was a Microsoftie I was on a 4-person MS Puzzle Safari team. Seattle has its own Venn diagram of puzzle communities.
  • Rich Bragg: so why just The Game? I think the community today is the big thing [Bay Area Game + BANG + Seattle + etc] I almost feel--
    • Red: Is it, though? They serve very different expectations. Some people may go between them but I personally only play in Games.
    • Rich Bragg: I think a lot of people would consider a Shinteki a Game. [Yes] So you almost have to make a choice of where to contribute: if I contribute to that circle, am I excluded from that circle?
    • I have no answer for you.
  • Me: The MSPH is coming up. It's not the kind of event I like to play in--too many puzzles, not enough other stuff. So since I don't want to play in it, I volunteered to help run it. Maybe there's enough overlap of interest so that people will remember that I helped do that.


So... how to choose teams? I'm DIY-minded enough to think: Yes, you should consider whether a team has run events lately. If a team's members play a lot but never run events, pass them over for newcomers.

But... you know how Red mentioned "crossover" from other communities into The Game community? I'm one of those "crossover" people. So, as you might guess, I hope when you're tally up events a team has run--I don't think you just count The Game events. I'm biased that way by preference... but of course you should also take what I say with a grain of salt--I'm probably biased that way out of self-interest, too.

And yet... and yet...

Even if The Game were the only thing I cared about, I'd still check for BANGs on a team's resume. Desert Taxi, XX-Rated, coed astronomy: they ran Games; I think they ran BANGs first? (Probably other teams did, too; those were just the first that sprang to mind.) Some folks are happy to just consume. Some folks create. You probably want the creative folks to be "in your neighborhood" even if they're not making exactly what you want.

So what should count? If you're a Bay Area puzzle freak, how much do you care about Mooncurser's? Does Shinteki count, if they're both a Game-like thing and a business that lets in just anybody? What about someone helped run the Microsoft Intern game? What about the guy who lives in Emeryville who runs treasure hunts for his kids for birthday parties? Me, I would count Mooncurser's and Shinteki. I'd probably not count the intern game, not Emeryville... I'm not sure why I wouldn't count those. Maybe because I wasn't invited to those events. But... maybe they'd count for something--because someone who ran such a thing might be tricked into other events later. Oh man, Thomas Snyder wrote a book of sudoku puzzles. How should that count? I mean, I was "invited" to it. I could go buy the book. On the other hand, it's not exactly a hunt. On the other hand, he's obviously of the mindset to make stuff. On the other hand...

There's going to be judgement calls. It's not going to be 100% fair. Not everyone on your GC committee will agree on what the criteria are. It would be easier and more straightforward to make your game first-come-first-served.

But you know? Red is right. Oh, I quibble on details; I would count "karma" from related-but-not-quite-what-I-had-in-mind events. But that's a quibble. It's a good idea to show appreciation for folks who run games, especially if you want to trick more folks into doing it. Slots in Games are darned precious; they're a great way to show appreciation.

When you ask teams to include a resume with their application, you remind them that running a game is important, that you care about it.

Oh yeah, and: Run More Games.


Labels: , ,

Link: How to stop leaking private info each time a FB friend takes a personality quiz

A while back, I started looking at FB app coding, and was thusly creeped out. When someone writes a Facebook app, e.g., one of those What sandwich condiment are you?!? quizzes, they can tell that app to get information about the person who runs it--and about that person's friends. When the person runs the application, a screen comes up asking for permission to look at a bunch of stuff, including their friends' data. I.e., it shows one of those permissions screens that nobody bothers to read anymore. When the program runs, it "sends home" information about your friend--and information about all of your friend's friends. Thus, the personality quiz's writers get to see your FB data, just because your friend ran their app.

Each time you see something in your FB news feed saying "Your friend Joe is Miracle Whip! Take the What sandwich condiment are you?!? quiz." you can cringe a little--your friend Joe just gave away your Facebook information so he could find out what kind of condiment he was.

You don't want to freak out too much about this; for some applications, it's totally worth it to share this kind of information. But I don't want to give out my information to any bozo who throws together a personality quiz.

So I was pretty glad to see this article Quiz: What Do Facebook Quizzes Know About You?, even though it leans towards the privacy-freak end of the spectrum. Mostly, I was glad to find out about FB settings I can use to keep friends' apps from seeing this info even though I have a few friends who are enthusiastic personality testers. I didn't know about those settings before.

I will cringe less often in the future.

Labels: ,

Google & OpenID: discovery URL

A while back, I mentioned that Google supported Opendid. There's one important detail that I had a hard time finding amidst the mountains of documentation:

If the user wants to use their Google account to log in via OpenID, the discovery url is https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id

That was hard to find. I think it took me over an hour. It's mentioned on the Federated Login for Google Account Users page... halfway down... under a diagram showing the back-and-forth of redirects which I didn't especially care about because of course my code has to handle those already for all of the other OpenID redirections. And with plenty of mentions of OAuth, just to further convince me that I must be looking at the wrong page, and wander off to look at other places.

It took me just a few minutes to find out Yahoo!'s OpenID discovery URL. Some Yahoo! technical writer deserves a bonus.

(Yeah, yeah, I saw the blog post about webfinger and how it will automagically discover discovery URLs and we'll all be sitting down at lovely unicorn tea parties forever. But maybe instead of waiting for that, I'll just let people log in via their Yahoo or Google account, and that's probably gonna handle all of my users just fine, thank you.)

Labels: , ,

Link: Stuart Landsborough's Puzzling World

Puzzling World is a tourist destination in New Zealand. It started out as a big maze for people to wander around in. Then they added some strange attractions. Some of the ad copy worries me, though.

Because [the] Maze had been created using wooden fences, Stuart became the first person in the world to be able to thoroughly understand the psychology of mazes and therefore continue to change and improve the design.

Wow, all of those people who grew hedge mazes must be gnashing their teeth now. "If only I'd used wooden fences, then I would understand the psychology of mazes!"

Labels: ,

Link: Deny you ever read about Crypto Strikes Back in this blog post

In theory, I'm hobbyishly working on a little programming project. In practice, I make almost no progress on it. I'm almost never home and awake and alert enough to code. The bad news is: not much progress. The good news is: I can make a mental note like "I should find an API for a cryptographically-secure random function in Python" and I don't really need to research it. (Note to self: random.SystemRandom) I just need to keep that in mind and a couple of weeks later, I'll watch a video of a tech talk which mentions the info I want. Normally, you might think that two weeks for "research" of one factlet would be too slow. But it didn't slow me down. It's not like I would have made progress. It was like, no-cost research, anemone-style.

Here's the talk: Crypto Strikes Back, by Nate Lawson.

Oh yeah, and you should totally ignore what I said about crytographically-whatever Python functions and watching that video because in that same video he also says that if someone says they researched crypto by reading a blog post, that's a warning sign of bad crypto. You totally didn't want to read this far. Look, you still have plausible deniability. Go drink gin until you've totally forgot that you read this right now or else your crypto will suffer.

Yeah, if anyone asks, you never read this blog post, and you would never study crypto by reading blog posts. (I, for one, am much too 'leet for that because I study crypto on YouTube.) YOU WERE NEVER HERE! WE NEVER HAD THIS CONVERSATION!

I will now go straight to bed and forget I ever wrote this.

Labels: , ,

Link: Bang XXVI

The web page for BANG XXVI gives my browser window a hard time, but it's announcing a SNAP simulcast, and that's a good thing to know about.

Labels: ,

Link: Auto-translation of foreign web pages getting more convenient

I sometimes visit web pages that are in languages other than American. To understand those pages, I need translation. For a while, the Google Toolbar has had a useful button: you can press this button to go to a page with an automatic translation of the page you were viewing. But but there was a limitation: the Google server had had to be able to fetch the page, or else it couldn't see the page to translate it.

But toolbar got a new translation feature recently. You can ask it to send the text from your browser to the translation service and get it back. It's all Web2.0. You can get translations of pages that the Google server can't fetch over the internet. It's pretty nice. This feature is in the Google Toolbar for Internet Explorer (that's the browser with the big blue "E") and is coming soon to the Google Toolbar for Firefox. Dare I hope it will come to Chrome soon? I can hope.

(This is probably one of those times I should mention that my opinions are mine, and aren't necessarily those of my employer.)

Labels: , ,

Link: Pimp my Bookcart Contest

Some webcomic is holding a Bookcart decoration contest. The only place I have ever seen decorated book carts is at UC Berkeley's library; that's where I've shot all of my book cart graffiti photos. But I guess there must be other places that this happens, as evidenced by the impressive previous winners of that contest.

Labels: , ,

Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Even in the News

Alert reader Mahlen spotted this article at SFGate, an essay by Dave Blum of Dr Clue:

..."The Amazing Race" definitely has boosted interest in treasure hunts, but that sort of competition and dysfunctional, cutthroat behavior is not what we do. We don't set this up so that people are shrieking at each other. We want people at the end of the day to feel like, "We are one company, all geared towards the same goals."

...I have 15 people around the country who are trained to administer the team-building treasure hunts. I have a primary clue writer, a very experienced treasure-hunt person, Alexandra Dixon. Occasionally, my wife writes treasure hunts.

There's a whole treasure hunt subculture, people who like nothing better than to write puzzles. I don't write as many of the hunts as I used to because there are people who are just dynamite at it.

--What I do: Dave Blum, treasure hunt designer

Labels: , ,

Link: Plain ol' Tasha

Tasha draws a comic. It's pretty good. She was inspired by Jim's Journal, and that inspiration shows.

You might think I'd link to a good comic to recommend it. But I never got around to it.

Yesterday, I bought toenail clippers. I suddenly recognized that Tasha and I shop at the same drugstore.

So I linked to that.

Labels: , ,

Jotting Notes on DeeAnn Soles GC Summit 2009 Presentation: Being GC

[DeeAnn Sole of Team Snout spoke at the GC Summit 2009. You remember when I volunteered on the Hogwart's Game, I followed around this one lady who, operationally, had the whole game in her head? The lady who knew what was coming up, who had to start prepping what, who was out driving where? That was DeeAnn. When she gave this talk, I didn't take notes . I just now watched the video, and this time I took notes. I'm paraphrasing, except the stuff in [square brackets] which is my snide commentary.]

  • Originally wanted to give this talk to let potential GCs know what it was like. But looking out at the audience--it's people who have already run games. Preaching to the choir.
  • Forming a GC Team: People you can get along with. Not just folks from your team. We poach from Drunken Spider and elsewhere.
  • Defining the target. Most important step! [If The Game were a software development project, this would be figuring out the Product Requirements] Figure out what you want. Part of this--make sure everyone on GC has a compelling reason to want to work on this. Think about game style, theme, size, budget, date. Priorities: MUST have, cool, WIBNI.
    • Question wha-you resolve this in one meeting? Answer Nah, it takes us two or three. [This surprises audience] Well, OK, we might be sending ideas around by email for a few months before the meetings. The meetings: getting everyone together in one room, make sure we really are talking about the same thing.
    • Question are these things resolved by the time you're at the "go/no go" decision? Answer More than resolved
  • Next, set up meetings. Snout meets weekly. This keeps up momentum. Some folks are motivated by deadlines--so give them a regular deadline. As game approaches, meet more often. Twice a week. Twice a week plus weekends. In days leading up to game: If you can be here, be here! Please! We're not freaks: bowlers do this leading up to the end of league.
  • Assign folks to each major area
    • Nagger (PM)
    • GameStart
    • Route
    • Puzzles & Activities
    • Theme/Story
    • EndGame
    • Gadget/Software
    • Commo
    • Applications & Pre-Game
    • Money & Logisitics
    One person might do a few things. But for each general area, there's someone responsible for it. [Surjective but not injective... uhm, depending on which way you're flipping the relation around]
  • (Question about applications) I have to set up a system, a fair system, let teams know what the system is. You've been armed with all the information, go to town. I can't choose. It would have killed me to choose between 35 different teams. or 60 team. After our 16th slot in the Hogwarts Game filled up in 16 hours, I was crying trying to figure out how to fit in 4 or 8 more. Until Curtis said "snap out of it!"
  • Go/No go decision: Do NOT announce until after this. Are we still having fun? Can we finish this beast?
    • Question Has there ever been a no-go that meant no announcement? [Yeah, is this question meant to be a question that people might say "no" to? Or does this just make folks commit to the group with witnesses?] I was no-go for Midnight Madness. We have always been positive. For Hogwarts we did have a little bit of a discussion--we were close: I think 5 people were "go" and 3 people were "no go". So we talked about why the "no gos". People were all "This role is too big for me" "I don't think we can get this done" So we reallocated. Sometimes you need to haul on the brakes. Sometimes people need to step out. [And better if they do that early on before you're relying on them for too much]
  • Business-y stuff
    • Whether to get insurance: if something goes wrong, does anyone on GC have something that they can't afford to lose? If so, get insurance.
      • Yours could be the game where someone falls down a mineshaft.
      • In my first game, in Amnesia, one of the players scrambled out on slippery rocks by a crevasse. I'm looking down, there's surf crashing. I'm thinking: if he slides, it is over, we are never going to be able to rescue him. He will die.
      • In Justice Unlimited, I didn't once worry about someone falling down in the park while playing tag and breaking their leg. I worried about people climbing trees, the play equipment--but I didn't once worry about people running in the grass. But it happened.
      So we get event insurance. We get the sport one. In Midnight Madness, it was 25% of our budget--but it was worth it.
      • Remark from Linda Holman, Shinteki to get permission to use some places, you need insurance. Some of them might require that you have some amount of insurance.
      • Question from Burninator Corey does the insurance cost scale with the # of players? Answer the insurance we looked at for Midnight Madness, the cost was the same up to 1000 people. They covered seven days--we only used two. It was $540. Hogwarts was $500, with people going more places. Yeah, and there were sites that needed us to be covered.
      • Question from Burninator Corey You say Team Snout is insured. Is Team Snout a legal entity? Answer Yes. An unincorporated association recognized in California.
      If there's a particular person who's responsible for the game, you might instead go for Personal Umbrella Insurance.
    • Money: we spend it before we get it from teams. GC members end up loaning $ until after game. Submit receipts! If there's going to be something expensive, we put that off until after we get money from teams. But we've been building stuff for months before that.
    • Banks won't take checks that aren't addressed to a real person. (nervous laughter--probably from the Ghost Patrol table). I thought it would be cool if we could take checks for Homicide, but I called up the bank and they said "That's money laundering!" and that was the end of that. You can set up a business entity for your team. Then teams can fill out checks to Team Snout. But it takes time to set up an entity--and effort, and maybe money.
      • Audience suggestion: set up a Paypal account for GC. Behind the scenes, it goes to a person. But to the players, it seems to be going to GC.
      • Chris Dunphy, Radiks question: If GC is trying to stay anonymous, then what? Answer: I've never tried to remain anonymous, I cannot answer this question. [Oh sure, that's what you say when you're on camera.] Answer from Alexandra: You can do a DBA [Doing Business As]. In San Francisco, it costs about $25, and you file a notice in the paper. You can take that DBA to a bank. So... some effort. And some paperwork. And you have to dissolve your DBA when you're done with it. [Hey, why is Chris Dunphy asking about how to anonymously run a game? Has anyone tried putting a tracking beacon on his trailer? How do we know that he's really traveling around the country? could he be faking footage of national landmarks, suspiciously using stills when Cherie appears "in frame", pretending to "travel" there while actually hiding out in a house in Palo Alto, planning a game?]
      • Sean Gugler points out: In Midnight Madness, wanted to remain anonymous for a while. Teams that were accepted didn't know who GC was--until the pre-game Captains meeting "bring your checkbook".
    • Nasty surprise: all that $ that teams pay you? The IRS says that's income. Now, you can also deduct your hobby expenses--but only the part that's over 2% of your adjusted gross income. So if your "real income" was $50K last year, you eat the first $1K of expenses. [Ouch.] IRS cares whether it's a business or a hobby-- Oh Curtis wants me to tell you the professional golfer story or about the writer who was researching prostitutes.
    • Anyhow Team Snout files its own taxes because it's a separate entity. And I think JPT does too. Team Snout is a non-profit. Its taxes are kind of a nightmare to deal with. But it exists separate from any of us. If you think you're gonna do a lot of games, you might want to do that. But it's a lot of effort. You might just want to say "You know what--I'll just pay the money for the hobby."
    • Keep records. So you know who to pay back.
  • When you're feeling overwhelmed: Scale back. Look back at that Priority List. Are you freaking out over a WIBNI? Cut it out. Teams don't know about stuff that isn't there. No one shows up to a Game expecting Don Luskin. Ask for help Game community will help. People not in the game will help--because this stuff sounds like fun. Remember the fun.
  • Quality Control
    • Get a fresh pair of eyes to look. Every single time we didn't do a Quality Control check--it got us.
    • "Only GC thinks that's funny" It always starts with someone saying "Hey, wouldn't it be funny if we made the teams do _____?" Everybody laughs. As soon as you hear everyone around the table laughing, you need the alarm bells to go off in your head. You need to step back and say "Would I want to run naked through a fountain if I was a player?" [No.] Would teams like it? Might someone get arrested? Remember the rules of Team Snout:
      • Nobody dies
      • Nobody goes to jail
      • Nobody bleeds
      ...and sometimes we don't make that, but those are our rules. There was a broken leg in one of the games. And Jeff did injure himself. But other than that...
  • Question from Chris Dunphy any examples of "Only GC thinks that's funny?" Answer Yeah. We had a puzzle where we gave teams a CD and a phone book. In the phone book, we had Red, and in the CD we had Herring. We had people looking at red things for a long time. It was in our first game--we thought it was hilarious at the time--to tell you something was a red herring. But what we actually ended up doing was sending them through every red thing they could find. It took hours.
  • Another disaster: we had someone on GC make a last-minute edit to a puzzle. They checked there own work. Of course there was a typo. So we had to call up every team, go out, fix up their puzzle for them.
  • We had a math error in one of our formulas. That threw our timing off for hours and hours. We wanted every team to see our "showpiece" puzzle--and had to re-route teams on the fly to make that happen.
  • Question from Burninator Corey How many people are on Team Snout for GC? Answer Different each time. Curtis and I. Sean's almost always on. I don't want to get by without seven people. But that's my personal approach--because there will be a lot of activities and I don't want to be responsible for everything. I've heard of teams that have done it successfully with two. I sure wouldn't want to be them, but I've heard of them. Thinking like a PM: If I have more people, we can do more in less time.
  • Question from Burninator Corey You know all this business stuff--how did you happen to end up talking to accountants? Answer I researched on my own. For example, as a non-profit, exempt from California franchise tax. But the California franchise people don't all know this. I know that because I read through the paperwork. Got a frickin scary letter saying that we owed tax--called up tax people, finally got routed to the guy who deals with non-profits, pointed out what kind we were and he said--yeah you're right, they just did your paperwork wrong.
  • Comment from Linda Holman, Shinteki If you're freaking out about insurance or business: you can always ask other GCs.

Labels: , ,

Jotting notes on Scott Blomquists' GC Summit 2009 Lecture "An Analytic Framework for Estimating Puzzle Quality"

[I re-watched another 2009 GC Summit lecture. In this one, Scott Blomquist of Team Sharkbait talks about measuring puzzle quality. It's kinda a measure of puzzle simplicity--avoiding putting stuff in the puzzle which suggests red herrings. As with my previous set of notes, I paraphrase the speaker except that I have my own comments in [square brackets]]

  • Fair warning--this isn't something that lets you plug in a puzzle and get back a difficulty number. It just helps you subjectively judge.
  • He really wants our help fleshing out the idea. [Now I feel bad. I thought about this for a few minutes and then stopped.]
  • We're talking about information reduction puzzles. [Start with a huge field of dots, reduce it to "GO TO PULGAS WATER TEMPLE"]
  • We're not talking about constraint puzzles, though the Theory might cover them. [Theory vs Sledgehammer: Fight!]
  • How can we describe these puzzles?
    • Information Streams. The starting data is an information stream. But we'll create more of them through...
    • Transformation Steps. Transforming information from one form to another. [_ _ .   _ _ _ -> "GO"]
  • Sample puzzle for analysis: a bunch of automobile mfr logos scattered. E.g., 8 Mercedes Benz logos.
  • What's our information stream? Audience starts calling out
    • page of car badges
    • information about mfrs
    • position of logos
    • counts of logos
    Whoa whoa hey you guys are getting ahead of things. Let's start with just one stream: a page of car badges
  • OK, those things that you people were yelling out. Those are actually transformations. E.g.,
    • identify mfr names
    • describe locations
    • count
  • Information streams accumulate; they don't go away. You might hope that teams will forget about the "extra" streams as they tunnel through the next layer of your puzzle, but teams still get distracted by those streams.
  • This puzzle was originally on a grid. Teams really, really wanted to use location. They wasted a lot of time. [Argh]
  • OK, let's look at counts. And mfr names. And using count to index into mfr name. Also ordering by count. Hey, cool, we solved the puzzle!
  • OK, so how do we measure puzzle quality?
  • Teams are faced with decisions. Let's look at their decision tree.
  • page of badges
    • describe locations
    • count logos
    • id mfr names
      • order by count
      • index by count
        • order by count
  • Q: How do you decide that teams won't follow location branch? A: Judgement. [I hope he's right. I thought about constellation, ordering by "northmost" logo.]
  • Danger signs of a bad puzzle: Broad tree. Links of tree are weak--non-obvious, error-prone. Lack of confirmation at intermediate steps. Obvious streams not used. Abuse of the "Aha!" transform.
  • If you hand teams a CD, that's a broad tree. [Heck yeah.]
  • Unfortunately, don't know a way to measure a good puzzle.
  • Projects another sample puzzle: So what would be a minimal puzzle withou (brief interruption as someone calls out the answer)
  • There's a Puzzle Theory Google Group. There's a Puzzle Theory Wiki.
  • Queston time!
  • Q: Corey points out: red herring removal ain't automatic. If you give teams a bunch of text strings, sorted alphabetically, a good team will say "oh, it's sorted alphabetically, so this order doesn't matter", but a not-so-good team will still wonder "why did alfa come before benz here?" A: Yeah. Lay out your tree. Then playtest and find out about transforms you didn't anticipate.
  • Sean Gugler points out: I call those steps "layers". [Yeah.] If there's a red herring branch, maybe you can tweak it to a mini-solution that redirects to the right way. I've been calling those "signposts".
  • Teresa points out: We have this phrase "billions to three". You start out handed a puzzle, there's a billion options. And the team reduces that. Also, This graph seems like a great start for your help system.
  • Q: Corey brings the discrete math: Teresa called this a graph and I think she's right--it's a graph [vs always a tree], because teams will try to re-use products of previous "dead ends". A: Yeah, and do teams worry about the dead-ends that they don't use? Like, if there was a signpost that they never hit, do they wonder why that extra data was in there?
  • Red says: We think about it this way, in tems of layers. Have talked w/John Owens about how you even talk about this stuff. Might want to think about how you represent the solution. [hey yeah in car logo example, maybe I ordered the mfrs, and then indexed. I still get the answer out, but I took a different path through the tree. Maybe that's what Corey was getting at?]

Has anyone tried mapping out everything that teams could try on a puzzle and turning that into a help system? That seems hard when I think about it, but maybe no harder than coming up with a help system in general.

Labels: ,

Jotting notes on Teresa Torres' GC Summit 2009 Lecture "GC Transparency"

[A few months back, I went to the 2009 GC Summit, where Game Control people exchange philosophy, anecdotes, and techniques. I didn't take notes then. I retain things better when I take notes. So this morning I watched the video of Teresa Torres' lecture. And I'm jotting notes here. When I'm noting my own thoughts vs jotting notes on what Teresa said, [my thoughts are in square editorial-ish brackets]]

GC Transparency

  • Why the Muppet Movie Game has a blog
  • She's working on a game and working at a startup. [OMG no WAI I would die]
  • Want people to run games. Want them to know what running a game is like.
  • Traditionally, GC has been secretive. It's cool that a GC can run a game and you don't know who it is until you reach the end.
  • Inspired by Curtis' letter to aspiring GCs
  • Why be transparent? Let aspiring GCs know what's involved.
  • Even if a team isn't an aspiring GC, let them know what's involved. [Don't think for a second that that shit is easy.]
  • Let teams know what the game will be like so they can decide whether they want to play in it. [If we come up whining at the end that the puzzle difficulty was not up to WPC standards, Teresa will kick us in the shins]
  • Wanted to blog day-do-day existence. "ambitious goal". Want to blog the ups and downs. [blogging when you're down ain't easy, though.]
  • Running a game is like...
    • ...planning a wedding
    • ...starting a company
  • she wakes up at 3 in the morning about something that she forgot to do at work. a fortnight before the lecture, she woke up at 3am because--she forgot to write a blog post [presumably for the muppet movie game blog] They're analogous! [OMG no WAI I would die]
  • A while back, there was a flurry of [dum ^W ignorant] questions on the mailing list: why don't GCs take on more teams in their games? why not run your game twice? Those things aren't very feasible. [Damn right.] One of the things we wanted do through our blog is help explain why.
  • Game weekend takes tons of energy. You're not going to repeat that next weekend. Next weekend, you're sleeping.
  • So... let folks see the GC perspective, written while GC is in the thick of it.
  • After a lady gives birth, she'll say she never wants to have a baby again. Three weeks later, they love their new baby and saying Awww it wasn't so bad. Right? Running a game is the same way: you forget the pain.
  • Demand for games is going up. Different games have different styles. So we're telling people about our game so that only folks who want to play our style of game will sign up. [Hmm. Good luck with that.]
  • Maintaining operational secrecy while blogging. So what to share...
    • GC's motivation. Is it great puzzles? Great theming? Great locations?
      • Goonies Game was all about theme. All puzzles had to fit the theme! Except, uhm, for the puzzle we ended up writing during the game weekend because Blood and Bones was breaking the game
      • Dragonhunt paperless
      • Snout does an endgame where all the team can get together [so I can exhaustedly collapse while surrounded by cool people]
      • Overnightmare flow control
      Used to have some idea of GC's game philosophy based on the team's comments on previous games.
    • Discuss your thought process
      • Orange Snood has philosophical debates about what the game is. You can blog about some of this without giving away too much. E.g., you don't have to say how the help system is going to work. [Heck, depending on how the help system will work, you could probably announce that ahead of time without spoiling anything.]
      • They've been blogging about scouting for clue sites. [I think a plurality of posts have been about this. Does that mean that's an especially important topic for this GC? Or that it's something they can blog about w/out giving away too much? Or ...?]
      • Every potential blog post leads to debate w/in GC: how much to share? This is probably why there haven't been so many blog posts.
  • You can leave comments on our blog! Part of promoting transparency is promoting discussion! [And yet here I am jotting these notes over on my blog because... that's easier and I'm lazy and... oh well]
  • Question is the blog a pre-clue? Answer No, that's not our style.
  • Question Even if you're transparent and say "We're running a game. Blood and Bones will hate this game", Blood and Bones will still apply. Teams will still apply. Answer OK, when 60 teams apply to your game it's going to be tough. I want to decide based on good fit. Not first-come-first-serve, not solving millions of puzzles. In Goonies, we did interviews, it worked really really well. GC does this as a labor of love. Talking w/teams is a good way to make sure that they share your philosophy, that they'll enjoy your game and that you'll enjoy GCing them. [The logistics of setting up 60 team interviews... OMG no WAI. Hmm, well maybe if you let out-of-towner teams in w/out the interview. Hmm.]
  • Applause!

[So... my best chance of getting into the Muppet Movie Game is convincing all other potential teams that they won't like the game? Say, did I ever mention some of the conversation between Mystic Fish and Orange Snood when we were going through the scrabble puzzles in No More Secrets? Yeah, we were talking about game philosophy. The Orange Snood folks were saying "This game has been pretty interesting. That's a real problem. When we run a game, we try to run a really boring game. Like, capture the essence of non-interestingness, you know?"... What's that? You're not buying it? OK, never mind.]

Labels: ,

Link: Ken Jennings roolz San Francisco

City Hall runs this town. And who runs city hall? Not Gavin Newsom--he's bumbling around, grooming himself for a gubernatorial run. Fortunately Jeopardy star Ken Jennings stepped in to keep city hall on course and/or using the stairs.

Labels: , ,

Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even Tampa

A few years back, I pointed out a multi-day Game shaping up in New Zealand with a bionic theme. That game never came together. But all was not lost! Eagle-eyed Justin Graham got word: The GC for that game is running a Game in Tampa in September! There's a critical mass of teams signed up, so figure that the game will come together. Wow, there's a lot of material on that website.

Hmm. I dunno if I'd go all the way to Tampa for a The Game, but combine that with a trip to Disney World to play their Kim Possible treasure hunt game and maybe a trip to Cape Canaveral and suddenly you're talking about an interesting outing. Uhm, but I don't really think I know anyone around here who's interested in such an outing. But I can dream.

Labels: , ,

Link: XXX, Poison Picnic Puzzlehunts

I'm not cool enough to attend SXSW, but when folks there twitter about attending a puzzlehunt lecture, I pay attention. A lecture about puzzlehunts, forsooth. Apparently, a couple of folks put together a couple of puzzly treasure-huntish games. Furthermore, they wrote them up online. You can tell that they learned some lessons by the time they ran the second one--they provided better cluing on the puzzles, chose less sabotage-prone clue locations, and a couple of teams actually finished.

  • XXX, in which much goes wrong, but the participants figure out they're onto something good
  • Poisoned Picnic, which ends by addressing the winners: "Next time, you guys get to host!"

Maybe we're all re-inventing the wheel here, but it's a fun wheel.

Labels: , ,

Link: Javascript the Good Parts

Yes, I should be writing about BATH4 and MSPH1[23]. But that would require effort. But link posts are easy. So I'll link to a video of Douglas Crockford talking about the good parts of Javascript.

I've been programming in Javascript lately. I approached the language with some trepidation. I'd seen plenty of bad Javascript. But I'd also heard from co-workers that the language itself was pretty good. Maybe I'm late to the party--plenty of folks program Javascript nowadays. But I think there are still some who dodge the language, having done a scream-and-run based on past follies. If you tried JS a while back and hated it, you might want to watch Crockford's talk--he talks about how to use JS's good parts while steering clear of the warts.

Labels: ,

Link: AllMyData

I occasionally backed up my files. But it was always ad-hoc: zip up an archive of some files, upload it to my web server. Done by hand when I got around to it (not often).

Then there was the time when I upgraded my OS and it all went pear-shaped. I knew it was risky, so I zipped up an archive of my files, encrypted it (there was some private info in there), and uploaded it. Then the upgrade took a lot longer than I thought--partway through, it became apparent that I needed to send away for installation discs. And I lost the Post-It with the password I'd used to encrypt my files. And I couldn't remember the password. So that was a few months' of data lost forever.

Gone, daddy, gone.

So it was time to re-think my backups.

I'm starting to buy music online. If I send too much data back-and-forth to my website, I get charged for it. And there's a disk space quota besides. So, as I accumulate more music, I can't keep on using my web-site to hold my backup files.

So it was really time to re-think my backups.

Where could I keep these files? I could get an external hard drive. Of course, a lot of the problems that could wipe out my PC could also wipe out a hard drive sitting next to my PC. I have a teeny-tiny apartment. A small dog could destroy most of my electronics in about a minute. So, I was thinking about off-site backups. Backing up my data to "the cloud," as it were. Every year or so, there's a flurry of rumors that Google will launch a "G-drive". Two years of rumors and it ain't happened. I didn't want to wait for that. (Yes, you know where I work. No, I can't comment on unannounced thingies, nor do I even know half of the stuff that's brewing at work.)

I lurk on a mailing list about "capabilities" in computer security. This guy named "Zooko" keeps posting there about this online storage service he works on. Wow, an online storage system sounds like exactly what I need. Zooko seems reasonably sharp.

At some point, I follow up by learning more about this online file service, Allmydata.com. I find out that their CEO is Peter Secor. I worked with Peter Secor back in the day at Geoworks. Peter was pretty competent back then; no reason to think he's less competent now.

So I signed up for an account at Allmydata.com: $100 a year for "unlimited" storage--where "unlimited" means "as much as I can upload/download".

If you just look at the Allmydata.com website, you'll think "Wait, this is for Windoze losers and Macintosh freaks. There's nothing here about Unix weenies." But my previous research had clued me in to the existence of Allmydata.org's Tahoe, an open source program which would, among other things, allow me to send my files to/from Allmydata.com's service.

What I didn't have was a program that would do something rsync-like every so often. So I threw together some quick-and-dirty Python that could run in a cron job.


# Back up files to allmydata.com servers.
# Use a random order: I don't trust myself to write
# a program that doesn't fail partway through.  But
# if we run a few times, with a different order each
# time, we should back up most files OK.

import datetime
import simplejson as json
import os
import random
import subprocess
import tempfile

# The trees of files to upload.  Those with 'crypt': True get gpg-encrypted
# before upload.  (The rest are uploaded plain, unencrypted.)
    { "path": '/home/lahosken/keep/' },
    { "path": '/home/lahosken/seekrit/', 'crypt': True },

# Something like tahoe:/2008/home/lahosken/keep/path/to/file.txt
REMOTE_ROOT = 'tahoe:' + str(datetime.date.today().year)

TMP_DIR = tempfile.mkdtemp()

def EnumerateLocalDirs(start_path):
    retval = []
    for (root, dirs, files) in os.walk(unicode(start_path)):
        if files: retval.append(root)
    return retval

def MakeRemoteDir(local_dir_name):
    print "MakeRemoteDir", local_dir_name
    p = subprocess.Popen("tahoe mkdir '%s'" % REMOTE_ROOT, shell=True)
    sts = os.waitpid(p.pid, 0)
    path = ""
    for pathlet in local_dir_name.split("/"):
        path += pathlet + "/"
        remote_dir_name = REMOTE_ROOT + path
        remote_dir_name = remote_dir_name.replace("'", "'\\''")
        p = subprocess.Popen("tahoe mkdir '%s'" % remote_dir_name, shell=True)
        sts = os.waitpid(p.pid, 0)

def SyncFile(local_path, root):
    print "SyncFile", local_path
    local_path = local_path.replace("'", "'\\''")
    if "crypt" in root:
      encrypted_file_path = os.path.join(TMP_DIR, 
      p = subprocess.Popen("gpg -r mister@lahosken.san-francisco.ca.us -o %s --encrypt %s" %
                           (encrypted_file_path, local_path),
      sts = os.waitpid(p.pid, 0)
      p = subprocess.Popen("tahoe cp '%s' '%s'" % 
                           (encrypted_file_path, REMOTE_ROOT + local_path),
      sts = os.waitpid(p.pid, 0)
      p = subprocess.Popen("tahoe cp '%s' '%s'" % 
                           (local_path, REMOTE_ROOT + local_path),
      sts = os.waitpid(p.pid, 0)

def MaybeSync(local_dir_name, root):
    print "MaybeSync", local_dir_name
    remote_dir_name = REMOTE_ROOT + local_dir_name
    local_file_list = os.listdir(local_dir_name)
    remote_dir_contents_json = subprocess.Popen(["tahoe", "ls", "--json", remote_dir_name], stdout=subprocess.PIPE).communicate()[0]
    remote_dir_contents_dict = { "children" : [] }
    if not remote_dir_contents_json:
        remote_dir_contents_dict = json.loads(remote_dir_contents_json)[1]
    for local_file_name in local_file_list:
        local_path = os.path.join(local_dir_name, local_file_name)
        if not os.path.isfile(local_path): continue
        if "crypt" in root and local_file_name.endswith(".rc4"): continue
        if not local_file_name in remote_dir_contents_dict["children"]:
            SyncFile(local_path, root)
            remote_mtime = remote_dir_contents_dict["children"][local_file_name][1]["metadata"]["mtime"]
            local_mtime = os.stat(local_path).st_mtime
            if local_mtime > remote_mtime:
                SyncFile(local_path, root)
                # print "Skipping", local_dir_name, local_file_name, "already there"

def main():
    p = subprocess.Popen("tahoe start", shell=True)
    sts = os.waitpid(p.pid, 0)
    for root in LOCAL_ROOTS:
        local_dirs = EnumerateLocalDirs(root["path"])
        for local_dir in local_dirs:
            MaybeSync(local_dir, root)

if __name__ == "__main__":

Things can still go wrong with this system. I use gpg to encrypt my private stuff. My gpg key is on... my computer. It's also on a piece of removable media. Remember that hypothetical small dog I mentioned earlier, how easily it could mess up a hypothetical external hard drive at the same time it was destroying my computer? My removable media is not quite right next to my computer, but... things could still go wrong with it. Since my previous backup-recovery failure was due to me losing the encryption key, I'd like a stronger, foolproofier solution here.

Still, this is better than what I had before. I sleep easier now.

Labels: , ,

Link: Coffee to the People

I guess as long as I'm linking to a cafe, I should link to the place where I pick up coffee on weekend mornings: Coffee to the People. I claim that it is awesome. It's a cafe at Haight on Masonic. There are tables, sofas, books, boardgames. There are coffee drinks, pastries, and some other bits of food that don't require too much prep: bagels, warmed-up quiche, etc. I usually get a depth charge and that depth charge usually keeps me awake without sending me into a clench-jawed frenzy. I.e., efficacious but not harmful. I try to get there early in the morning, before poseurs, hipsters, and fashionistas descend upon the neighborhood, cafe, and mood. Early in the morning, there might be grizzled political commentators, street people, and hippies, but nothing you can't handle. I drink coffee, maybe pick at a scone, sit, read, and wait for wakefulness to return.

Not to be confused with the People's Cafe. That place concentrates more on food, sandwiches and such. That's all well and good, but I like Coffee to the People better.

Labels: , ,

Link: Free Andi Watson Comic

You don't have to blog about the things you're thinking about. Sometimes the things you're thinking about... don't bear blogging. Sometimes you can use blogging as an excuse to think about something more pleasant for a couple of minutes. E.g.: Great Uncle George's Will is a free comic, online. It's by Andi Watson, who did Skeleton Key, Samurai Jam, Slow News Day, etc etc. It mixes up themes from old folktales with modern manners. It's cute, check it out.

Labels: ,

Link: Warren Spector, Playing Word Games

Warren Spector does not, as far as I know, play uppercase "T" The uppercase "G" Game. But he designs lowercase "g" games. He worked on some good stuff for the Paranoia pencil-and-paper RPG... uhm, and you young'uns might have heard of a computer game he worked on more recently called "Deus Ex". He has a blog, and he wrote a fun post recently on word games. He mentioned a game played around the offices of Steve Jackson Games which reminds me of the four-letters or less game from Apprentice Zorg. (Said four-letter word game maybe having come from Harvey Mudd college if I'm remembering an old conversation correctly.) Anyhow: Playing Word Games.

Labels: , ,

Link: Help Get Sita out of Copyright Jail

The fun of watching cartoons plus the smugness of giving to a good cause: I encourage you to Help Get Sita out of Copyright Jail

You might remember the cartoonist Nina Paley. Or you might not remember her--you've had a while to forget her. She went off for a few years and made an animated movie, "Sita Sings the Blues". I hear that's it's pretty good. If I were to pass along a verbal description, it would sound artsy-fartsy--but it's by Nina Paley, so it's probably pretty funny. Roger Ebert liked it plenty. Yeah, I hear that it's pretty good.

But I can only tell you second-hand reports. I can't see the movie because if anyone were to try to distribute this movie, they'd get sued back to the stone age. There's some music in the movie, old old music that is nevertheless still under copyright. Nina is taking out a huge loan to pay off the copyright holders. And then she's going to make her movie available for free. You can donate to help her pay off the loan. Remember when I Twittered "So, what do religious fundamentalists and big media corporations have in common? They believe that they own culture."? I was quoting Nina, reflecting on her troubles getting this movie into the public eye.

Labels: , ,

Link: Two Narrow Establishments in the Inner Sunset

My neighborhood has a hot dog shack: Underdog. It's at around 18th Ave and Irving. I like it, and suspect that my foodie friends might like it, too. They might not trust my judgement, of course. I've mentioned that since becoming a vegetarian, I don't miss meat--but I do miss the taste of preservatives from hot dogs. But that's not why I like this particular place. Underdog has organic hot dogs and sausages. They also have a few varieties of vegetarian 'dogs to choose from; so far, my favorite is the Polish. Usually, I shop in the evening, after work. The place isn't so busy then, and so far I've been able to snag one of the place's two tables each time. Yes, just two tables. The building is narrow. Somehow it feels cozy instead of claustrophobic.

A couple of blocks away, a new cafe opened up, Hollow. My friend 'Lene posted a list of her favorite cafes. She mentioned that she liked Ritual coffee. So I went to the Ritual homepage to see what places served their coffee. They mentioned one nearby that was opening soon. I gambled that the Ritual folks maybe don't update their pages very often, and sure enough Hollow had opened. Another small space with just a couple of tables. I liked it. Maybe living in my teeny, tiny apartment made me appreciate these spaces?

Labels: ,

Link: Musicbrainz

I haven't posted a new J-ska review in ages. Did they do any good? I don't know. I got angry emails from folks who wanted to make sure that I should really give the band Mongol 800 another chance; no, rather, Mongol 800 might deign to give me another chance, and I'd understand their awesomeness just as soon as I understand that the Misfits are really amusing, not dull at all... Sorry, what was the question? Oh, right, "What have I been doing instead of posting J-ska reviews?"

I have entered some releases on Musicbrainz a big music database on the internets. If the RIAA asks, it's totally a coincidence that I entered this information onto a database which happens to be what the standard CD ripping software for Ubuntu uses for sharing information about CDs.

So if there were any Pez Stomp fans who (a) use Musicbrainz and (b) didn't already know that the album "Right Hands for All Children" came out a few years ago, now they can find out. Maybe that data will do the world more good than my music reviews did.

Ideally, this database would look at the information I entered, figure out what kind of music I like, and recommend stuff based on what similar people like. Oh, wait--the only reason I entered information about those albums is that nobody else had done it first. So I guess there's no way that Musicbrainz would know who had similar tastes. Drat.

Labels: ,

Link: Arising like a Phoenix from a Bathtub

Further evidence of Darcy's ongoing awesomeness: she rescued the contents of the team Taft on a Raft web site. It's back! Including the material from the The Apprentice Zorg game!

If you sadly took down your taftraft.com links when that old site got taken over by domain vultures and turned into evil webspam, you might want to dust off those links, put them back in, but this time pointing to the new place.

Labels: , ,

Link: USA Census Tract Data

I want to travel somewhere, but where? I like the places that I've been. I could keep going back to them. Then again, one reason to travel is to see new things. How do I keep from falling into a rut? How do I decide to travel to someplace that I wouldn't necessarily think of on my own?

I could throw darts at a map. This idea has a few problems. One, it makes holes in my map. Two, I don't actually have any darts. Three, maybe that dart lands in North Dakota. There's nothing in North Dakota. Well, I'm exaggerating. (Or undera-ggerating. Obviously, there is stuff in North Dakota.) And yet, if my dart landed in North Dakota, I'd be disappointed.

OK, suppose that people tend to congregate in interesting places. New York City is pretty interesting, and plenty of people live around there. So maybe I shouldn't throw darts at a map.

Instead, I'll try slicing my map into pieces so that each piece contains about the same number of people. Then I'll cross cut each of those slices, again, so that each piece has the same number of people. That sounds like something my computer could do, if only I had fine-grained population data.

Those lovely lovely people at the US Census provide USA census data in an easy-to-parse form. So crank crank crank through the data, spew out some rectangles in a KML file, feed that to Google Earth, and I have the USA in slices. Making four slices in each dimension, I see that I haven't visited four major pieces of the country.

[Map of USA mostly grayed out, but with some middle states highlighted]

Four pieces, all contiguous. Why, I could take care of all four of those in just two trips: I could visit Dallas and Pittsburgh. Each of those is on/near the border between pieces. That seems kind of silly, though. Once I visit those places, I'll probably feel obliged to slice my map more finely and keep going--and then I might be sorry I went all the way to Texas and just visited Dallas.

[Map of USA more finely sliced]

Labels: , ,

Link: Caja's HTML sanitizer for Javascript

When you write a program that's supposed to be secure, you have to plan on security from the beginning; you can't bolt it on afterwards. The idiomatic way to describe a "plan" like we'll write the program first and figure out the security later is "They're asking for some magical security fairy dust to sprinkle over their code."

I'm tweaking a Javascript program that takes HTML from someone else and renders it on a page. I thought my program was getting "sanitized" HTML; that is, HTML that had any potentially-dangerous stuff removed. If I'm showing someone else's HTML on my page, I want to make sure that HTML doesn't have, for example, an <img src="http://sneaky.org/sneaky.gif"> in it. Otherwise, the webmaster of sneaky.org will know whenever someone reads my page.

I thought the program was getting sanitized HTML, but it was getting "raw" HTML, possibly chock-full of evil. Argh, I needed to bolt on some security. I went pleading to some of the security-minded folks for help. I was embarrassed--I 'fessed up that I needed some "magical security fairy dust". The amazing part is that those security-minded folks came through--they pointed me at Caja.

Caja is primarily a system for enforcing security "capabilities" in Javascript. But, but but even if you don't need all of that, you might still want one part:

Caja comes with a XSS sanitizer for HTML that works with your JS code: html-sanitizer.js. And you'll also need html4-defs.js. It looks like you need to build html4-defs.js via Ant. That's kinda annoying, but a lot easier than writing your own HTML sanitizer from scratch.

I looked over the source code. It's checking for bad stuff I hadn't thought to check for. I sure am glad that folks more knowledgeable than me are working on this thing.

Labels: , ,

Ghost Patrol Links, including Photos

Yeah, yeah, you were waiting for the Ghost Patrol results, but me, I was waiting for Wesley's photos. And he posted them: Wes Chan's Ghost Patrol photos.

Mostly photos of puzzles and of our team (Mystic Ghosti). But there's other fun photos, too. coed astronomy, Longshots, Knights of Corinth, Burninators, and more. Check it out.

(Edited to fix a photo link: Loquacious != coed astronomy)

Labels: , ,

Link: Google Reader Hooked up to Automatic Translation

A couple of weeks ago, the Google Reader folks announced that I (or you, for that matter) could use Google Reader to subscribe to foreign-language feeds, automatically translated. I thought I'd like it; I've been using it for a while now, and I think it's going to change my life. Not humongously change my life. But it's going to change my life, kinda, and probably for the better. I'm subscribing to more foreign-language blogs. I'm getting windows into some different points of view. Some of these I'd already subscribed to. And when I was pretty sure they were talking about something I was interested in, then I'd go to the trouble to get them translated. But now it's easy to read all of them.

OK, it's pancake photos and a rant that's only a couple of degrees removed from the usual Slashdot nerdly hissyfits. Calling these things "life-changing" is overblown, granted. But this feels like something that could grow over the next few years.

(You remember those disclaimers about how my opinions are mine, and not necessarily anyone else's? Those disclaimers still apply.)

Labels: , ,

Link: Muppet Movie Game Blog

I was was avoiding linking to the Muppet Movie Game Site, but have since figured out that was dumb of me. You might say I avoided linking them due to philisophical differences... but really it was mis-placed pre-emptive sour grapes.

I've been around when a couple of the Orange Snoodites talked about philosophy of The Game. I agreed with them most of the way. They said (I'm paraphrasing) The Game is about the experience, not about puzzles. I thought, Right on. If I get to retrieve a puzzle by sticking my hand into a cold cold pumpkinful of spaghetti and finger jello, I think that's pretty darned good. I don't get to experience that working on a crossword puzzle on the bus--they kick you off the bus if you spill mushy pasta and pumpkin innards on your seat. I'm pretty sure they kick you off the bus. I haven't seen a No Pumpkin Innards sign posted on the bus, but I'm pretty sure it's in the regulations somewhere.

The Orange ones said You shouldn't worry so much about your time or your score. I thought, Right on. So much of your team's performance is out of your control; if you agonize over it, you'll make yourself miserable. Different teams approach The Game in a different spirit; comparing your "performance" to theirs might not make sense. (I'll let you decide whether my attitude here reflects my lack of puzzling skills, dot product some more sour grapes.) If your team finishes before RadiKS does but RadiKS gets cooler team photos along the way, then who has won? Two years from now when you're flipping through your photos and only have a blurry snap of the crowd scene at the after party, you'll know that RadiKS won after all.

But then the Snoodists said (again, I paraphrase) Back in the day, we didn't have all of this "application" stuff. There was a Captains List. When you wanted to run a game, you contacted the people on the Captains List and you invited them to play. And I thought, Aw $&#*, screw these jerks. They'd run games years ago. I.e., before I started playing. Who was on their mysterious "Captains List"? Probably a bunch of veteran teams. Probably not any team I could sneak onto. Grr. I didn't like this piece of philosophy, not one bit.

When I heard that the Snoodies were going to run a The Game, I figured there was no chance I'd get to play. I'd blown my opportunity. When I'd talked with them, why had I wasted time nudging them for details on The Overnightmare Game when I should have been sucking up to them, weaseling my way into their good graces?

But my attitude towards this game-application philosophy changed during Ghost Patrol. Specifically, it changed when [this text removed by request of a reader]. So maybe The Orange Snood gaming philosophy is perfect after all. (Not like the Olympic games. $&#*, those jerks never let me play.)

(And it was fun hanging out with O.S. for the Scrabble runaround clue in No More Secrets.)

Now that I figure we have a glimmer of hope of getting in to this game, I'm letting myself read their blog. They're keeping a blog as they plan the game. They've blogged a little about their philosophy, and might do more of that. They haven't said how they'll handle the admissions process. I hope you get in.

Alexandra Dixon, Team Mystic Fish's captain, mentioned how well she gets along with Red Byer of Team Orange Snood. I'd got my history wrong--I'd thought that Alexandra had barely started playing back around the time that the various Orange Snoodites had stopped running games. But there was more overlap than that. So if there was a Captains List, maybe Alexandra was on it after all

Labels: , ,

Link: BANG Suddenly Looming on Horizon

As one of the bureaucrats of the Bay Area Night Game wiki, I sleepily go through my chores. My feed reader monitors the "recent changes" section of the wiki. When it detects something, I go to the wiki, roll back the changes, and ban the "user" who made the changes forever. See, you could be a wiki bureaucrat, too; it's all about denying access. Almost all of the changes are, of course, made by spambots. But sometimes... sometimes there's a change, not by a spambot. Sometimes there's a change that mades you sit up and take notice. E.g., this morning I see a change from LessaChu, an addition to the front page:

[[coed astronomy]] and a coalition of other teams will host the Iron Puzzler BANG sometime in late August/early September 2008. Details forthcoming!


Go look if you don't believe me.

Labels: ,

Link: Ghost Patrol Forums, Sort of

Meat Machine (well, the Bay Area team by that name) set up a "Ghost Capturing" part of their Ghost Patrol application: a social network for ghosts (and ghost sympathizers. I joined, but have encountered some anti-living bigotry. I think y'all should join and back me up... while respecting Ghost culture, of course.

Visit Lonely Souls

Labels: , ,

Link: Ghost Patrol Application from Mystic Ghosti

You won't find the Mystic Ghosti application on YouTube because... it's not a video. We played to our strengths, creating a ghost-capturing cryptic crossword. Where by "we", I mean "not me". My "contribution" to this puzzle was a "test solve" in which I made very little progress and said, "Hey, this is really hard." I think the team's puzzle constructors maybe made it easier after that? But mostly they pointed out that Ghost Patrol GC has at least a couple of people who are much better than I am at cryptics. I got better at cryptics by poring over the answers to this puzzle after giving up... but maybe that's not saying much.

Elsewhere on the internet, Chris Roat pointed out that the Shinteki folks now have a website that explains what they do better than the old one did. There's even a blog, but it opens in a frame so your browser probably won't auto-detect the feed, but you can probably find the feed if you look hard enough. But the URL of the blog mentions "testblog" so maybe that's going to move anyhow and maybe I just subscribed to a blog that's never going to update... Gee, the internet is hard.

Labels: ,

Link: We Told Stories

Do you remember a few months back, there was a web-sensation around a novel told through the medium of Google Maps? I read that novel. What I didn't know is that this project was part of the effort of a couple of ex-Mindcandy folks. In case your memory's grinding gears right now--Mindcandy was the force behind the Perplexcity alternate reality game.

Those guys gave a talk recently. I missed the talk, but, yay, someone recorded it. So I just watched this video about new ways of telling stories online. I claim it got interesting around 34:40 in, where they talk about a blending of choose-your-own-adventure books, text adventures, and the life of Pakistan president Musharraf. Yeah, really.

Labels: ,

Link: A 3-D Puzzle Chat Room

Here's an attempt at creating a Lively room for the discussion of puzzles, puzzle hunts, and/or whatever.

(That sentence might make more sense if I explain that "Lively" is Google's new free 3-D chat service. It's pretty new. The client software is Windows-only. Sorry, Mac people. Sorry, Linux freaks.)


Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even Minneapolis

Remember a while back, I mentioned SF0, a not-really-a-puzzle-hunt dealie, more of a mutual-dare society? Well some folks on SF0 bridged the gap to puzzlehuntdom: they hosted a puzzle hunt in Minneapolis (citing BANG as an inspiration) and invited SF0 folks to play. The result: MN0PQ:1.

You can go look at the page: there are write-ups by organizers, playtesters, players.

SF0 is a game played for points. People take on challenges. The person who does the best here gets "first place", worth extra points. So SF0, as a "meta-game" might be a way to encourage folks to host puzzlehunts: who got SF0's "first place" award for MN0PQ1? The organizers. (See, there's a subtle distinction between "who won the puzzle hunt?" and "who got First Place in the SF0 challenge around the puzzle hunt?")

(Yes, yes, I should really be looking at Ghost Patrol application material instead of this other stuff. I'm doing that, too.)

Labels: ,

Puzzle Hunts were Everywhen, even 1973

Holy #$!) check it out: It's old Game invites to pre-Midnight Madness 1970s Don Luskin et. al puzzle-y Games! And newspaper articles describing those games! It seems like they were pretty heavy on the cryptic crossword-ish material. But there was other stuff going on. The "Idle Smart" article has a lot of details, including info about a couple of the top teams.

Labels: ,

Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even Stanford

I enjoyed reading this write-up of a recent Stanford Game. You might, too.

Labels: ,

Puzzles from Down Under

I don't know anything about the puzzles announced at the Google Australia Blog which is a little frustrating because I'm apparently not supposed to register to look at them.

Labels: ,

Link: Race for the Galaxy

When people ask me what I do at work, I clam up. Most of that stuff is confidential. Like when some of us geek gamers play-tested the geek game Race for the Galaxy some evenings, we knew it was a fun game, but we were sworn to secrecy. But now it's publicly available and I can say: it's pretty fun.

Actually, I think it's been publicly available for a while. But I forgot to post about it at the time, though I meant to. Just today I realized that I never did post about it. Intentions, actions, who can tell the difference? Anyhow, fun game. You can choose which phases of the turn you want to have happen, kinda like Puerto Rico or, uhm, that one card game? With the city? That game where you can be the thief, the assassin, the wizard, the priest, the... uhm... and you're trying to buy buildings with gold pieces, and they give you gems of different colors or something?

OK, I don't have a photographic memory for every geek game I've played, but nevertheless I remember this much: I remember enjoying Race for the Galaxy. Check it out.

Labels: , ,

Link: Qwirkle

I don't feel so bad about all those times Susan Ross beat me at Petaluma Game Night now that she's an award-winning game designer for her game Qwirkle.

Labels: , ,

Link: my IMDb page

Darling of course I have a page in the Internet Movie Database. Some might say that it was strange that I worked on a console game for a year. But it was all worth it for that IMDb page. Darling, working on movies is so 20th century. Real stars are made in the games, the games I'm telling you. That's why I can remember Steve Meretzky's name, but not... uhm... not... uhm... that other guy. He was in that movie. With the boat? No, the other one. Anyhow.

Hmm, this page says that something called my STARmeter is down 12% since last week. I'm not sure what that means, but it can't be good. Does this mean that I will be turned away from the door of my local taqueria? Oh, just a little while ago, I didn't even know that I had an IMDb page at all... but now I feel less famous than ever. How do I boost my STARmeter? Get my agent on the phone! Get me an agent! Heck, last week I still had that nasty-looking bump on my lip. Surely I'm more photogenic now. How did my STARmeter go down?

I can't stand this uncertainty. I'll be in my trailer.

Labels: ,

Link: Some thoughts on security after ten years of qmail 1.0

This guy Hans Boehm came and gave a talk at work today about upcoming C++ support for threads. That's support built into the language. It sounds like sometime in the next few years, we will have atomic<int> . That is to say that C++ will support concurrency, you'll be able to create objects that only one process/processor/whatever can mess with at a time. Up until now, it's been fun to mock people who have opinions about concurrency in programming languages, "Enjoy the Erlang!" and all that, but soon there will be no escape.

Actually, I was thinking about concurrency earlier, when I was reading this paper that's been going around, Some thoughts on security after ten years of qmail 1.0. Some things he doesn't say so well. But there is a nice list of things that a root program can do to run another program in a sandbox:

The jpegtopnm program reads a JPEG file, a compressed image, as input. It uncompresses the image, produces a bitmap as output, and exits. Right now this program is trusted: its bugs can compromise security. Let’s see how we can fix that.

Imagine running the jpegtopnm program in an “extreme sandbox” that doesn’t let the program do anything other than read the JPEG file from standard input, write the bitmap to standard output, and allocate a limited amount of memory. Existing UNIX tools make this sandbox tolerably easy for root to create:

  • Prohibit new files, new sockets, etc., by setting the current and maximum RLIMIT_NOFILE limits to 0.
  • Prohibit filesystem access: chdir and chroot to an empty directory.
  • Choose a uid dedicated to this process ID. This can be as simple as adding the process ID to a base uid, as long as other system-administration tools stay away from the same uid range.
  • Ensure that nothing is running under the uid: fork a child to run setuid(targetuid), kill(-1,SIGKILL), and _exit(0), and then check that the child exited normally.
  • Prohibit kill(), ptrace(), etc., by setting gid and uid to the target uid.
  • Prohibit fork(), by setting the current and maximum RLIMIT_NPROC limits to 0.
  • Set the desired limits on memory allocation and other resource allocation.
  • Run the rest of the program.

At this point, unless there are severe operating-system bugs, the program has no communication channels other than its initial file descriptors.

Up until now, the phrase "chroot jail" was one of those things that I read with only a vague sense of understanding. And folks kept saying "It's not enough to set up the chroot, there's more to it", but they never seemed to list the other things to do. But now that I have a list of a few things, I can probably search the web for pages and code that mentions these things and get a nice survey.

But something I hadn't caught onto before--this chroot stuff is all about spawning programs. I guess you end up with multiple programs all running at the same time. It's a concurrent programming model, I guess. Actually, now that I look at some code samples that deal with chroot this and RLIMIT that, this stuff doesn't look so easy.

Rob Pike gave a talk about Newsqueak a little while back. Newsqueak is a language that makes it pretty easy to spawn off little programlets--there are these objects that are kinda like function pointers. And you can do this thing where you kind of set up a thingy that invokes one of these functions and blocks/waits for its return value. And I thought it would be nice if I could do something like that, but maybe first set some flag on that function-pointer-like-thingy that means "run this function in jail".

Newsqueak-like message-passing concurrency programming... it lives on in other languages these days--like Erlang. Erlang? Erlang. Jeez, maybe I should look at Erlang, stop making fun of it, see what I can learn from it. Learn from Erlang. So this is how low I've sunk.

Next thing you know, I'll be associating with LARPers. Asking Furries to share their wisdom.

Oh, now I can't stop shuddering.

Maybe I'll put off studying Erlang until C++'s atomic<int> comes along.

Labels: , ,

Links: Some Photos

I think I should point out some things about some photos.

Photo, by Steven Pitsenbarger, of Jack o' Lanterns (2006)

This deserves an explanation. I did not take this photo of Jack o' Lanterns. Steven Pitsenbarger took this photo. I did not carve those pumpkins. I carved one of those pumpkins. Sometimes I am sloppy about attributions, and I didn't attribute this photo the first time I posted it. That's too bad because a bunch of people like that photo, and have been using it as the background of their MySpace profiles and other things.

Photo, by Catherine Rondeau, of me

This deserves an explanation. This is a photo, yes, of me, and yes, I'm kneeling next to a toilet, and, yes, I am wearing a flotation vest and look as if I'm contemplating something unpleasant. I wish to make clear that I did not dive into the toilet after this photo was taken. Nor have I ever dived into a toilet, really. (Except, perhaps, in the figurative sense. "When it came time to do chores, Larry dove into the toilet with zeal and a scrubber brush.") Catherine Rondeau took this photo, and it is important that you understand the context. We were on a boat. Thus, the flotation vest. I was explaining how to work the bizarre nautical toilets. (They're bizarre? You need to pump them! If you do it wrong, you could sink the boat! Really! Or get really icky liquid on you! They require explanation! Really!) I mean, I don't want you to think I was contemplating doing something really nasty, or that I had lost a best or something.

Finally, if you are familiar with Bernd and Hilla Becher's "Typology" photographs, you might, as I did, find these photos amusing. I did not take these photos. According to the interpretive text, some weirdos in Rotterdam took the photos.

Labels: ,

Puzzle Hunts are everywhere, even Golden Gate Park

I am back from a 2.5 week trip to the greater Seattle area. I volunteered at the MS Puzzlehunt, which was pretty cool. I guess I'll write something about Seattle soon. But life is still busy. Last night, it was going to see Black Moth Super Rainbow at the Fillmore, a band about which I knew nothing, but was pretty good anyhow. Tonight, I go to see Frank Black or Black Francis or whatever he's calling himself; I hear tell that the stuff he's done recently is "different", so again I don't know what I'm getting myself into.

Meanwhile, if you haven't already, you can read about a Shinteki playtest that got out of hand. And/or go read some puzzlehunt recaps.

Labels: ,

Link: Steven Pitsenbarger on Anthotypes

Steven Pitsenbarger writes about making pictures of plants from their own juices.

And that, children, is why you should never leave your salad out in the sunlight all day. It will become part of your salad plate forever! Especially if you accidentally reduced most of it to concentrated pigment earlier. Don't do that. You should eat the salad instead. It's good for you.

Labels: , ,

Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even Richmond

When the Great American Race was going on, several west coast folks were watching various team blogs. I didn't spot Team A2's blog until just now. They've done well in past events, including winning some Mini Cooper road rally thing... maybe it was a Mini Cooper road rally thing. The blog doesn't provide a lot of context, but there are some fun anecdotes lurking there nonetheless.

Labels: ,

Link: writeup of La chasse au tresor de paris

I enjoyed this (English) writeup of a Paris treasure hunt game. Yeah, even though it sounds like it was one of those spot-landmarks-based-on-riddly-descriptions games.

Labels: ,

Link: Steven Pitsenbarger at Alternative Photography

Apparently, "anthotype" is a photographic development system which uses dyes from plants. I never would have heard about it if it wasn't for this guy:

"Pitsenbarger has had a lifelong fascination with plants. ... The anthotype process allows him to ditch the camera and make images of plants using their own juices."

Alternative Photography (emphasis mine)

Remind me to never allow Steven Pitsenbarger to take a photo of me.

Labels: , ,

Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even the site of buried treasure

I finally figured out how to make some progress on the No More Secrets write-up--I'm sitting at an undisclosed location in the Googleplex, volunteering for the Gooooogol Game. Nothing to do but sit and write... Oh except that there's a great internet connection here. And so I find myself reading instead of writing.

Earlier this year, Volvo selected Odyssey to sink a treasure chest in the Western Mediterranean. They had planned to take the winner of the [puzzle] hunt, 23-year-old Alena Zvereva from Ekaterinburg, Russia, out to retrieve the treasure from its secret location. What they found was the discovery of an estimated $500 million in coins from a deep ocean site that the company has now code-named the ‘Black Swan.’

As soon as the discovery was made public, Odyssey found itself in the eye of a media storm. Reports have circulated that a court in the Spanish coastal town of La Linea has issued an order for the Spanish Guardia Civil to hold any Odyssey vessel if it leaves the port of Gibraltar, putting Volvo’s retrieval plans on hold. --egmcartech

Compromised clue sites are always a drag. Stupid gold, always getting in the way.

Labels: ,

Link: Travelers Storybook

I have mentioned this before: When I was growing, I spent a fair amount of time with Bob & Kelly Wilhelm, friends of the family. Bob was and is a storyteller. I don't just mean that he can relay anecdotes, though he can do that. I mean: he's a traditional storyteller. There is an art to telling these stories out loud; they were composed and passed along with this delivery in mind.

Bob and Kelly moved out east to the Washimore area. Thus, I didn't get to hear stories so often. For a while, I had some stories on audio tape. I think I still have them. But an audio tape player... uhm, oh whoops.

Now, tradition gets an update: Bob has a podcast. I just found out about it yesterday. This was sufficiently exciting that I sought out a computer with a working sound card. It was worth it. I work with written words; I believe in the power of the written word--but I remember the power of the voice. I listened to Ivar's Tale from Iceland, and the voice was there.

Check it out. Really, go listen.

Labels: , ,

Link: Game Shoe

Depending on what you've been doing lately, you might be thinking "If I never look at another photo of an athletic shoe again for the rest of my life, that's just fine with me". But you might still like this ad showing a giant shoe sculpture made from hip Japanese toys. Sort of like game fish, but different, with a taste of ugly nationalism: You can't join in, nesting Russian doll! Go back home to Siberia or wherever! Wareware nippon-toizu, with 10,000 batteries all powered as one... Uhm, I'm not sure exactly where I'm going with this. But I liked the ad.

Labels: ,

Link: Book Report: Prank the Monkey (pages 91, 92)

You might think yesterday's book report was obnoxious, only covering the first third of a book. If so, you'll find this even more obnoxious: a review of pages 91-92 of a book. Rob "How Much is Inside?" Cockerham organized a massively-parallel book review; I was a worker in this effort.

Warning: the above link is abstractly not safe for work, as it contains a photo of me holding up a book page which itself has a photo, a photo of a kielbasa which is a metaphor for the book author's... uhm, sausage-like appendage.

Labels: , ,

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.

Labels: , ,

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.)

Labels: , ,

Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even Sacramento

Team Snout has revealed their secret behind-the-scenes view of The Hogwarts Game. How much planning went into this game? A lot. Go read. And if they spelled your name wrong, you can fix it.

Tags:  |  |  |

Labels: ,

Link: Blinky Light Photo

This morning, I listened to audio recordings of the Team Snout Game Control "war room", jotting down notes for a game write-up. It's not so exciting to listen to this stuff after the fact, when the crises are past. Who would think it would require so much chatter to track down a set of car keys? Then again, I still haven't reached the part of the audio where I wake Anna up from a sound sleep and bring her down to the "war room"--to get some car keys from her. It turned out she didn't have those car keys. So I guess there are worse things than listening to large amounts of chatter, e.g., failing to hear the small amount of chatter that lets you know that you don't really need to wake Anna up. But I digress, and I haven't even started yet. Ahem.

Puzzle hunts often require teams to find clues late at night. In these situations, it's useful to mark clue locations with blinky lights. You can hang blinky lights from string. You can tape them to things. But if ever I need to hide a clue up my nose, I know that I can still affix a nearby blinky light with the power of magnetism.

OK, I'm remembering this photo from the Google Intern bay cruise dinner shindig. Avani the intern took that photo, and you might think that she messed up the light metering, which is rather dark. But that's not what's going on. The reason that that photo's so dark is that there's a blinky light magnetically attached to my nose, confusing the heck out of the camera.

That was a reasonably straightforward party. Not like the parties I've been having this weekend. Friday was the momentary escape from Cincinnati party. Yesterday was the Hogwarts crew wrap-up party. Today was the good luck with the open-heart surgery party. There's something to be said for a party in which the most complicated thing going on is figuring out how to get a blinky light to stay attached to your nose.

Wow, what if there was a blinky light attached to your nose, and it was showing the location of a puzzle-hunt clue? That would be awesome. Like, you'd solve a puzzle, and its solution would be "THE NEXT CLUE IS UP YOUR NOSE". And when you looked at yourself in the mirror, you'd see a blinky light attached to your nose. And you'd think "Wow, how did Game Control sneak up and plant a clue in my nose along with a blinky light without me noticing?"

I've stopped making sense. Too much partying this weekend. I'll go sleep now.

Tags:  |  |  |


Link: Tauba Auerbach images

Good visual design, by tautology, is enjoyable to look at. I stumbled upon some letterformy designs by artist/designer Tauba Auerbach. (I was trying out the new MSN Live image search. In Dirk Gently fashion, it didn't show me what I was looking for, but did show me something that I needed to see. In this case, I needed to see some works by Tauba Auerbach.) You look at them for a while and think that if you ever received a word puzzle that was laid out by Ms. Auerbach, you'd never settle for a plain grid again. Apparently, she likes ASCII, Morse, Braille, and LEDs, too. Oh, and maybe cipher machines.

Tags:  |  |  |

Labels: ,

Hogwarts Photos

A few weekends back, I helped to playtest the Hogwarts Game. Then I went to a few puzzle-construction parties. Last weekend, I volunteered for Game Control for the duration of the Game.

I'm working on a write-up. But that will take a while to finish. I'm still digesting a few pages of notes and a few hours of audio recording. Meanwhile, all I have to offer is Hogwarts Game photos.

Fortunately, plenty of other folks have written interesting things, including Darcy, Tracy, JessicaLa, and Lessachu. Also, other people took photos, often better photos than mine. David Lindes has photos. Darcy has Photos

And there are probably plenty of others that I missed.

[Update: more links. JessicaLa's photos, Static Zombie write-up, Miss Jerry's dry run photos]

Labels: , ,

Link: Flowers and P0rn

My apartment building's laundry room is currently out of commision; the washing and drying machines are tipped over with parts ripped out and dumped on the floor. This is either the work of wild baboons or else it's a repair gone wrong. I'm not sure which. But it's been going on for a while now, so today I made my first visit to the neighborhood laundromat: Wash Club, 500 Frederick Street. It's pretty swank, with a comfy sofa. And there are photos of flowers on the wall. At least some of them are orchids. Which reminds me to mention a book.

My friend Elizabeth Graves continues to take awesome photos. Some of her orchid photos won an orchid photo contest and, as such, were published in a book. But it turns out that this book isn't just orchid photos. This book has two photo themes, as summed up in the cryptic title Like Sand from Orchid's Lips. Apparently this means that the other photo theme was sand and/or nudes that look like sand. Elizabeth was kind of surprised that her photos would end up in a book with some nudes, but that seems like a good thing to me--now everyone who wants a photo book containing nudes is going to buy this thing. This book has great crossover potential, and I suppose it means that a lot of p0rnhounds will end up interested in flowers. Goodness knows what will happen if these people discover the work of Georgia O'Keefe.

Tags:  |  |  |


Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even New York City

This write-up of the recent Midnight Madness game in NYC has the title I never dared to use: Some serious nerd-ass shit.

There are strange things afoot in Toronto, which are perhaps only tangentially related to puzzlehunty things, but which nevertheless serve to remind us that all Canadians are dangerous freaks.

Tags:  |  |  |

Labels: ,

Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even Santa Barbara

I didn't know that people were allowed to think very hard in Santa Barbara, but I may yet be proved wrong.

Tags:  |  |  |

Labels: ,

Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even Redmond

I'm still working on that Shinteki Decathlon write-up. I got a draft ready, sent it out to my team-mates. Emily wrote back with a bunch of cool jokes that I'd forgotten. Yeah, I forgot plenty; usually I take better notes. I lost my little audio-recorder dealie, so I was taking notes by writing in pencil on these big purple index cards. But there was aheat wave going on. My hands were sweaty, the cards were smeared when I tried to read the notes and... what? Gross? You don't want to hear about my sweat? Hmm, maybe you're not going to want to read that write-up when I finish it, then. Meanwhile, I'll just talk about some other puzzle-game-thingie related links to distract you from my slow writing.

When I posted a bunch of Microsoft Intern PuzzleHunt links a while back, I overlooked one. Why? Because it was in Chinese. But then I tried looking at it again. And thanks to Google Language Tools, I can read the gist of it. I think (s)he liked it:

Saturday is the Puzzlehunt Microsoft interns. I do not want to, but in looking at the last persuasion, or joined H-bomb team (hey, the team members understood the significance of : :). Saturday only to find the original guess was quite interesting, and a total of 32, I play a high level, at least in the title of the settlement process 1/4 played a key role -- or even four or five that I alone completed. (a total of 12 of our teams. ) H-bomb team has far ahead is the only cut more than 40 teams created all the teams. Unfortunately, the number of rounds is not the key to the final title. Since some inadvertent errors and communication, and we lost the championship (final hurdle only five minutes !!! worse than the first), but placing him second. The prizes better, a block and a Chinese chess pieces.

From Jessica Lambert's blog, I learned something. Microsoft interns get a weekend puzzle game in addition to a day-long puzzle game. That's, like, three days of puzzle-hunting. Very impressive. So now I'm working on a little speech. "To keep up with the competition, we must close the 'intern puzzle-hunt gap'." "To keep up with the competition, we must close the 'intern puzzle-hunt gap'." "To keep up with the competition, we must close the 'intern puzzle-hunt gap'." I'm going to keep repeating that until I can say it with a straight face to the Google Intern Recruiting College Morale Wacky University Fun Times Department.

Then again, if a Google intern is working at the Google Mountain View office, they can participate in a variety of San Francisco bay area events, enjoying a fun mix of puzzle-huntish activities out of the frickin' office. So maybe the Microsofties should be saying "To keep up with the competition, we need some time to work on our puzzle-related community outreach program, working with SeattleGC.com and other agencies to close the 'local puzzle-hunt scene gap'." to their Microsft Intern Recruiting College Morale Wacky University Fun Times Department.

If this escalates, both companies will spend three months out of each year having their interns decode Morse by hand. As those interns return to academia, this will lead to changes in the underlying IP protocols moving to a sort of dah-dit-based packet structure and... Sorry, what was the question?

In other news, Remote Mystic Fish Joe DeVincentis had a fun report on a big National Puzzlers' League convention. Where by "fun," I mean "better him than me." I visited my folks yesterday, and they'd clipped out this newspaper article about a display of mechanical puzzles with some pretty photos.

The other thing I did yesterday was buy a new audio recorder dealie. So, barring disaster, I should be able to take good notes for that writing project I mentioned earlier. Not that I can be sure of barring disaster. I'm hoping to play with not-my-usual team. The first team I signed up with filled up and gently said "no". The second team thought they were playing, but weren't really. The third... well, the third time's the charm. (Now please excuse me while I go knock on wood to keep from jinxing it.)

Tags:  |  |  |

Labels: ,

Link: Lectures on Authorization Based Access Control

If you're a programmer, you might be interested in watching some lectures about Authorization Based Access Control. Some folks from an HP research lab lectured at the GooglePlex about better & easier security through fine-grained access control. Maybe if I followed security literature closely, this would be all old news to me. But I don't. And these lectures were pretty good. Well, at least three of them were. I was out of town for one of them, and haven't seen it. Anyhow, links to the lectures:

These lectures were dangerous in that they made me want to go join a startup to create a new operating system. But I know better than that by now. So I got over it.

Tags:  |  |  |

Labels: ,

Publishing News: Cyanotype HOWTO

My friend Elizabeth Graves is a photographer, but she's also a chemist. She experiments with with alternative photographic development techniques. She's created some neat images, and some of them made it into this new how-to book about blueprint and cyanotypes.

If you don't know about her work, you might be thinking, "Why should the presence of her photos convince me to buy this book?" Heck, if you want a book about how to make your own cyanotype prints, you don't have much choice. I just did some searching on Amazon.com, and there were few choices--a few out-of-print expensive choices. When you're ready to combine mad science with rad art, this book looks like a good resource.

Labels: ,

Puzzle Hunts Were Everywhere, and So Shall they Be Again

I was sick for the XXTra Online/Paparazzi game, stayed home, missed it. But through the modern medium of blogovoxology, I think I kinda understand what happened.

But the most comforting blog entry was a side note by Static Zombie which revealed that The Game is "miserable" when your nose is running. So now I feel better about deciding to stay home and take naps.

In other hunts-on-the-internet monitoring news, some Zorgian solutions are popping up. And the Hogwarts Game application should appear soon.

Labels: ,

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!

Labels: ,

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.

Labels: , ,

"Life" is the Noun Form of "Absurd"

The ever-gracious Eve Andersson published my question. To see it, follow the link and scroll down until you see "mysterious envelope".

In other news: Snakes on a Plane!

Labels: , ,

World Addition: Zoe Loftesness

Holy moly, Dave and Penny had a kid. Early indicators suggest extreme cuteness. Extra hippy-dippy style points for being born in a tub of water. Extra high-tech style points for being announced on googlepages.

Labels: , ,

Link: Google Page Creator

I have been playing with Google Page Creator, a new service which hosts web pages and gives you a WYSIWYG editor for them. It's pretty neat. My favorite part: there are pretty templates available. That is to say, I can write some words and pour them into a page designed by the UI designers at Google. These people have some ideas that have evolved past the 1980s green-screen era.

Labels: ,

Link: The Apprentice

The Mystic Fish team of space mercenaries has signed up as contestants on The Apprentice: Zorg!. Oh, I hope we get in. Oh, I'm on tenterhooks. Or maybe those aren't tenterhooks. Maybe I just consumed too much caffeine to speed our efforts towards filling in the application quickly. That would also explain the twitching and dehydration. I should go eat something.

Labels: ,

Link: BillMonk, Billing for the People

I was just checking out BillMonk, a web site that allows people to keep track of the money they owe each other. You and five friends go out for lunch and you need to deal with the bill? Let one guy pay and enter the amount in the BillMonk. Next time, someone else can get lunch, and tell the BillMonk. The BillMonk will keep track of who paid what. So if you paid when people went to the expensive place, and Pat paid when people went to the cheap place, Pat still owes you a bit. Use it to keep track of which roommate owes rent, to handle one-on-one transactions, whatever.

The bad news is that BillMonk is a service of the company "Code Monks", and one of the founders of "Code Monks" is Chuck Groom, and I still owe that guy three bucks for coffee back from when we worked together at Blue Mug.

So I guess I'll sign up for the service. But in this BillMonk transaction, I think Chuck is the monk, but I am the monkee.

(via DLoft)

Labels: , ,

Link: Sam and Max Game Announcement

Holy moly, it's an announcement of intent to produce a game starring beloved freelance police officers Sam & Max!

OK, I concede that the last few such announcements haven't led to any games that, uhm, actually got published. But I'm still excited.

I heard about it on Chuck Jordan's Spectre Collie blog, so it must be true.

Labels: ,

Blog Infrastructure Update: "Add to Google" Link

Yesterday was Buy Nothing Day in the USA, so I bought nothing. Actually, I didn't do much of anything yesterday. I went cold turkey on caffeine. I'd been hitting the sauce pretty heavily lately, and it was time to break the cycle. I read, napped, and didn't do anything that required much concentration. I headed over to my parents' house to help them move some furniture around. And my dad said, "How long have you had a feed?"

I said "January." I started using the Blogger.com service in January so that it would automagically create a feed for me.

I'd like to encourage people, especially my dad, to follow feeds. Why? Mostly because my dad keeps talking about "podcasts". I can't listen to podcasts--my computer doesn't have a working sound card. So I'm hoping that podcasts lose their hipness quotient soon. How better than by hyping feeds: it's 2002 technology for today!

To this end I have added an " Add to Google" link over in the sidebar of the main page. If you click on that link, you can slurp this site's feed into your Google Reader, Personalized Google Homepage, or whatever. I think that's pretty neat.

Disclaimer #1: my opinions are mine, and might not coincide with my empolyer's opinion. I'm pretty sure that most of my colleagues could get a sound card working. Or at least they'd prefer to get a sound card working than try to convince the world to give up listening to podcasts.

Disclaimer #2: I don't know why I said that feeds are 2002 technology. I don't know what year feeds were discovered. Developed. Whatever. I'm too lazy to fact-check it now. I'm kind of drowsy. Even though I had coffee today. But maybe it wasn't real coffee. I went into this new café on 9th Avenue, Café Gratitude. Once I was in there, the hostess dropped the bomb on me: the cafe served only organic, vegan, raw foods. I ordered a coffee, but coffee beans are normally roasted. So how did they... Oh, here is the Café Gratitude menu. It says that their coffee is cold-processed. Ah, and other articles point out that this process is healthier because it has less caffeine. Oh, I should be really upset that I settled for this coffee, but I'm too sleepy to get properly upset about anything. Oh, lookie, it's 6:30, time for bed.

Labels: , ,

Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even Seattle

Because I am a lame-o, I didn't play in the recent Mooncurser's game. But Matthew "Defective Yeti" Baldwin did, and he's a better writer than I am. Go read his write-up.

As of today, there's just one part. But he implies there will be more in a week or two.

Update: Mystic Fish's own Wesley Chan wrote up a couple of blog articles about the Mooncurser's game: Thirty Hours of Nonstop Fun & Trade You a Tribonium for Two Unethical Items. Enjoy!

Tags:  |  |  |

Labels: , ,

Publishing News: XXtra Online magazine

My new plan: finish up my existing writing projects by June 2006 so that I can apply at XXtra Online magazine.

Tags:  |  | |

Labels: , ,

Link: Parallel Analysis with Sawzall

People ask me what I do at work. I did not write the academic paper Interpreting the Data: Parallel Analysis with Sawzall (Pike, Dorward, Griesemer, Quinlan 2005). But I did revise the tutorial for the described system/language.

(The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.)

Tags:  |  |  |

Labels: ,

Link: Elizabeth Graves @ AlternativePhotography.com

Check it out. Elizabeth Graves is a photographer. She makes some normal-looking photos, but she makes some by unusual methods. Some of these were sufficiently unusual to win her a spot at AlternativePhotography.com.

Tags:  |  |  |

Labels: ,

Link: Joel on Hungarian Notation

Just when I thought I was going to have to read the papers myself, Joel Spolsky wrote a readable paper about the non-braindead version of the software engineering technique Hungarian Notation. Is the technique worth using? I used to think "Hell no!", but I'm backsliding to "I guess not."

Labels: ,

Hungarian Notation Not Brain Dead

(If you are not a computer programmer, this item will not make sense.)

For years I made fun of Hungarian Notation and Charles Simonyi. Now, thanks to Joel Spolsky, I find out that Hungarian Notation started out as something useful.

We try to use something called Apps Hungarian notation, as invented by Simonyi, not the grotesque bastard Systems Hungarian notation, misinterpreted by Petzold and the entire Windows team.

--Joel Spolsky, The Road to FogBugz 4.0, Part III

Now I'm tempted to start making fun of this Petzold guy. But of course it would only be a matter of time until I found out that he was OK, too. So never mind.

[Update May 12 2005: Joel wrote about the right way to use Hungarian notation.]

Tags:  |  |

Labels: ,

Link: Hello Kitty BE@RBRICK iPod

Looking at ads for these toys made me imagine Hello Kitty hanging out with some BE@RBRICKs.

"Sometimes I wish I had a mouth."

"Some of us have mouths. Most of us do not."

"How are we even having this conversation?"

Labels: ,


I recommend this photo.


Labels: ,

[Powered by Blogger | Feed | Feeds I Like ]

home |