Zine Report: Cometbus #52 "the Spirit of St Louis"

Punk is about community--but this (fictional, keep reminding yourself it's fictional) story is the story of a punk community that's too small, too self-involved. The protagonist came from Berkeley, moved to St Louis as a way to break free--and then lives in St Louis from then on. Other members of the local punk scene try to break away, but are pulled back in. It's obvious that these people aren't good for each other. When outsiders come in, they are lionized--but then they too are trapped in the tarpit. Yet there's still love of the punk scene here. Just a reminder not to leave your blinders on, not to get provincial.

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Posted Chicago Photos

I went to Yosemite! But that was this week. Last-last week my parents and I went to Chicago. I posted some photos, some mine, some other folks'. They're more likely to interest you if you're related to me. Or if you like to look at photos of tourists who are looking up. A lot of stuff in Chicago is tall. Tourists look up a lot.

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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.

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Book Report: Group Theory in the Bedroom

It's a collection of essays by Brian Hayes--the guy whose magazine article got me into Markov Chain-generated English drivel. I was able to follow most of these essays, which was darned nice since I'm not a math guru.

  • Clock of Ages Thinking about the Long Now Foundation and related topics. He points out that it would make sense for the Clock of the Long Now to be associated with a nuclear waste site--if you're going to go to the trouble to set up an institution to last 10000 years, maybe that's what you need to warn other folks away from something that's going to stay toxic for 10000 years. I thought that was my idea. But then I saw it in Anathem, and a few days later I saw it again here. I guess the Long Now Foundation was in the news at the same time as Yucca Flats and Carlsbad. Maybe plenty of geeks were thinking the same way.
  • Inventing the Genetic Code Some mistteps along the way, explained. I couldn't follow much of this.
  • Statistics of Deadly Quarrels What happens when a statistician tries to count up casualties in brawls, border conflicts, battles, and world-ranging total wars. Lewis Fry Richardson tried to do this. It's not easy. Everyone lies about casualty counts. It's sometimes difficult to figure out where one war ends and the next squabble begins.
  • Dividing the Continent How would you algorithmically determine the contiental divide of a 2-D surface in 3-D?
  • On the Teeth of Wheels An introduction to clockwork computing. If you have a clock and you want it to do something once every N ticks, you might set up a gear wheel with N teeth to do something once per rotation. But what if N is large, so that you can't fit that many teeth on a wheel? Then you might set up a few wheels in different numbers of teeth, some attached at the axle, some with interlocking teeth. And you'd learn a lot about factoring.
  • Naming Names Namespaces, hashing
  • Group Theory in the Bedroom Considering mattress-flipping as a series of mathematical procedures and as a documentation problem.

There were more essays than just those, too.

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Dear Lazyweb: Texas Travel?

  • Any advice on things to see in Texas? Specifically, things in the east-ish Dallas-Houston-ish parts that might not make it into a guidebook? Maybe engineering-geekish things?
  • If you're a friend of mine and you'd like to go to Texas with me, uhm, March-ish or maybe April-ish let me know. What could be more fun than going to the land of perhaps the world's best beef with a vegetarian?

My plan to visit USA regions as decided by census data continues apace. I bought a Texas guidebook and riffled through it. I also came up with a new way of slicing up the map, which I like better than my previous way. Fortunately, even with this new way of slicing up the map, I need to visit Texas--so the Texas guidebook wasn't a waste. (With this new way of slicing the map, I shouldn't go to Michigan, at least not until after I go to Texas. I'd try to explain this, but when I explain it to people, they look bored.)

I like the idea of going to Texas because it's very exotic to Californians. I hung out with some of my high school chums last night and asked for Texas travel advice. They said "Texas? Don't." "I read your map-slicing travel plan. It's a bad plan." "Dude, Canada." I'm kinda reconstructing this from memory, but you get the idea. Only one of them had been to Texas--an exhausted stop in Amarillo, grabbing some sleep during a cross-country road trip. I can come back from Texas and tell my friends that I found the Big Rock Candy Mountain, that the natives anoint themselves with orange dye and dress themselves in a sort of "tree-wool". My California friends have no way to prove me wrong. At least, not the ones I've asked so far.

But I'm not sure what to do in Texas. Except that the Doc Porter Telephone Museum has a great name. And Galveston has some maritime stuff. But if Dell, TI, or RadioShack have factory tours, I haven't found them.

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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]

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Book Report: Thirteen Moons

The Trail of Tears was a bad thing, but Thirteen Moons was a good novel.

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Site Update: Chicago Photos

I finally typed up my notes and uploaded my Chicago photos. I don't know if they're coherent. But I'm calling them done for now, because I think I'm about to get distracted with other tasks.

In other news: Pi Day approaches. That might explain why Michael Naylor was roaming the internet looking for Pi stuff, sending me email.

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Book Report: American Gods

Did you know that "No More Secrets" is an anagram for "Cosmo Re-Enters", and that "Cosmo" is the name of the villain from the movie "Sneakers"? Why yes, I have been staring at Game application materials for several consecutive hours, how could you tell? Maybe it's time for another book report that I wrote a few weeks ago but only got around to uploading today. Maybe this one about American Gods.

I enjoyed this book by Neil Gaiman.

It was a bestseller. You probably already read it. You probably already tried to talk to me about this book and then I stuck my fingers in my ears and said "Laylerlaylerlaylerlaylerlayler! I'm not listening! Spoiler warning! Go away fan[boy|girl]! I'm not listening to you! I haven't read the book yet!" Anyhow, it took me a few years, but I finally read it. I enjoyed it.

I hope that you enjoyed it, too. Sorry about the whole "layler" thing.

(Wow, that was a short review. Why did I wait so long?)

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Even Oklahoma

Oklahoma has it going on. I'm not just talking about Martin Gardner.

A Treasure's Trove: A Fairy Tale About Real Treasure For Parents And Children Of All Ages is an illustrated children's book written by Michael Stadther and published in 2004. The "real treasure" was found by deciphering clues in the book that lead to twelve tokens that could be turned in for unique jewels, each representing an insect or character in the book. ...The finders and locations are:

  • ...The sixth, the Firefly token, was found in Foss State Park in Oklahoma by Jason Davis of Berkeley, California
  • ...The thirteenth, Pook (a doth), was found in Newaygo State Park, Michigan, by Terri Gulasy of Tulsa, Oklahoma and Tammy Nunnally of St. Mary's, Ohio
--Wikipedia: A Treasure's Trove

This Terri Gulasy lady sounds pretty hardcore:

A couple of months later, Gulasy and her family traveled to Pennsylvania in their motor home for a summer getaway. The proximity of Pennsylvania to Michigan enticed Gulasy to drive to the state park in a last-hope effort to find the token she and Nunnally had desperately been trying to locate.

As their motor home pulled into a Newaygo State Park campsite, their tires dug trenches in the wet ground. The Gulasy family began searching the campsite, hoping to find the token. It wasn’t until they returned to their motor home that they spotted a glimmer of gold peeking out from the tracks their tires had dug!

"It seems as though it was fated for us to find Pook. Who knows how long it was buried beneath the mud’s surface," said Gulasy, a software engineer. "We were meant to find the token. It’s simply mind-blowing!"

--"Pook Pokes Into Families' Lives"

According to this article, Ms Gulasy collaborated with someone she found on the internet. They promised to split the reward--and they did. With a sense of fair play like that, it sounds like she ought to do more puzzle hunts.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Even Auburn

Pete extracted some more Shinteki Decathlon II photos from his camera, and I posted some of them in the write-up.

In other puzzley news, Eric Harshbarger's running a puzzlehunt in Auburn in September. I mostly know of Eric as one of those people whose last name starts with "H" and with personal homepages with higher PageRank than mine. But the guy builds statues out of Lego and comes up with some cool puzzles. So if his PageRank is higher than mine... I think that means the system works as it should.

According to some mail forwarded by Wei-Hwa, Eric Harshbarger designed some of the puzzles for the upcoming Perplexcity live event here in San Francisco. Maybe that's enough to convince me to risk attending an event associated with trading cards. Maybe?

[Updated when Philip Dasler of Austin pointed out that Harshberger is in Auburn, not in Austin as I originally wrote. Yipe.]

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Curtiss H. Anderson: Three more / Lea W., one for the Road

I continue to type up these Curtiss Anderson essays which fell into my possession. Today, three of his travelogs:

Speaking of travelogs, you might remember that the first time I went to St Louis, one of my favorite spots was The Chocolate Bar, a bar that served hot chocolate instead of, you know, real drinks. I lamented that San Francisco didn't have anything similar. Now we have something sorta similar: Bittersweet, a cafe that serves chocolate instead of coffee. No live DJ. But their spicy hot chocolate is sufficiently spicy and chocolatey for my standards.

Speaking of travel notes, we were at Bittersweet for Lea W.'s send-off party. Lea's moving to Cincinatti, of all places, to do more awesome medical research. One person at this gathering had family in Cincinatti and had thus been there. But she was on call, and thus didn't get to join in the conversation to let us know what Cincinatti was really like. But her husband, Andy, had accompanied her there. He talked about driving out of town to see the rust belt towns. Ironton had been a big steelmaking town; now there were a few people hanging on--but not many. Portsmouth had some big murals--but most of the people were gone. So it was kind of scenic, kind of eerie checking these places out.

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Book Report: What's the Matter With Kansas?

Thomas Frank, a member of the liberal intellectual elite wrote this book for other members of the liberal intellectual elite to tell them that the formerly-liberal working class is tired of liberal intellectual elites ignoring the voice of the working class.

Ideally, people who read this book would then go out and listen to some fundamentalist preaching, and thus better gain understanding of the other messages which the working class is picking up. I haven't heard about that happening. Even though this book sold pretty well.

Great, now I've written a rambling post about politics and the media. Just what the blogosphere needs. I should go read something else.

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