Zine Report: Giant Robot #60

There's a photo of Ryohei Tanaka's equipment. Tanaka makes art by cutting paper. His equipment--an assortment of scissors and... dyes?

An article by a guy who photographed some film locations from the Star Wars movies--oh, wait, it's more interesting than that. These were in Tunisia. Some of that Tatooine stuff was real stuff found in Tatouine, some of it was movie magic.

An article about Peter Saville, the Factory Records artist who did the Joy Division album covers you remember.

An interview with the director of the movie Quick Gun Murugan (Behold: a clip from Quick Gun Murugan, I guess).

A fun read.

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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

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Information Architecture: There Oughtta be a Law

I recently read an article by London Times writer Alan Brien in which he wrote

"I used to think that I was the first reader, enraged by the difficulty of tracking down a passage in a long work of reference without re-scanning every single page, who proposed that all non-fictional [sic] books without indexes should be denied copyright."

"Indexes–pleasures of; pitfalls in; regrettable absences of; penalty for failing to provide"
Feb 23 1968 London Times

I encountered this quote as I hunted for an article by Mr Brien--an article I might have found right away if only the publishers of the Times had seen fit to provide an index.

To be clear, though this passage pissed me off when I first encountered it, I don't think Brien was being hypocritical. I think he was being humble. I guess he didn't expect that anyone would go through the Arts sections of decades-old newspaper microfiches looking for his old articles. Manual indexing takes effort. It almost seems an act of hubris to create an index of one's own writing.

(It's times like this when I love my job.)

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Book Report: Gaudy Century

I'm taking the day off work today. It's the day after a Bay Area Night Game (a rather-fun instance thereof). It was one of those Bay Area Night Games that actually happens at night, and thus I was up way past my bedtime last night. But I was prepared! As a veteran of these games, I've learned an important night game technique: schedule a vacation day for the day after.

Today I slept in. And I made it to the kinda-newly-opened California Academy of Sciences. This was my first time seeing the place since it re-opened. There was new stuff to see--the rain forest exhibit is pretty darned nice; not as impressive as the Eden Project, say, but much much easier to reach from my apartment. There's a big penguin display. There were "old friends" to look at, too: the pendulum, the alligator pit. I was sad to see that the two-headed gopher snake had died, but honestly it wasn't especially active back when it was alive.

I was bumbling around, not paying much attention to some taxiderm-ified bear, except that I noticed "Monarch". This was a locally-famous bear&emdash;famous as a publicity stunt by Hearst, the newspaper magnate. It's a sad story--Hearst hired a hunter to bring a live bear back to the city. The bear, named "Monarch", lived the rest of his life in captivity; but the local zoo didn't want him, so he was just in some cage in Golden Gate Park. His image appeared on the papers; the Examiner was "The Monarch of the Dailies". His image also appeared on the California flag--I guess if you're a flag designer who needs some bear, art, it's handy to have a captive grizzly to look at. Too bad that the California grizzlies were going extinct around this time. (You can call up the museum's phone-based interpretive text for Monarch: 1-415-294-3602, then enter 6#)

Why did I have this bit of San Francisco history rattling around in my head? A few months ago, I read Gaudy Century, a book of anecdotes and maybe-history of San Francisco newspapers.

Newspapers are in trouble these days, but newspapers have always been in trouble. This book is full of tales of newspapers going under. Most newspapers started up without a business plan more sophisticated than that of the Underpants Gnomes.

There has been much tearing of hair and gnashing of teeth over the ongoing collapse of newspapers. Sure, there are blogs--but those don't have armies of fact-checkers. Then again, newspapers get things wrong. If you've ever seen a Real Journalism article about something where you know the facts--at first, it can be jarring when you see how far off they are from the facts.

Gaudy Century is a book on the history of San Francisco newspapers. It was written by John Bruce, an editor of the Chronicle. I guess it's riddled with errors. Unlike a blog with a nice comments system which allows feedback from around the world, this was a physical book. Thus, the only errors I know about are those that inspired previous readers of this library book to scribble in the margins--or those which triggered my b---s--- alarm and prompted me to look things up.

This book claims that the first newspaper for "negroes" was published in San Francisco. There's no detail backing up this claim; The relevant Wikipedia article on "African American newspapers" disagrees and cites sources. What made Bruce so sure that San Francisco was first? We'll never know; he doesn't tell us.

A few pages later, book says "The People's Party won [the San Francisco city election] with a scant margin." Someone underlined that "scant" and wrote "Check your facts, Bruce!" out in the margin.

Later on, he claimed that the term "hoodlums" originated in San Francisco. I looked that one up--and folks agree with him there. But it's not a good sign when the reader's tempted to double-check claims because "I bet I could fact-check this with a simple web search for [etymology hoodlum]" rather than because "This is an especially outrageous claim."

I ended up treating this book as a book of local myths and legends. Seen that way, it has some good yarns. Maybe Hearst was exciting. Maybe the de Youngs were murderous. Maybe some things in this book were true; or maybe they're better than that.

Here's a strange thing about newspapers: it seems that plenty of them were founded hoping to sway personal opinion. This whole teetering-on-the-edge of economic collapse seems familiar because most of these newspapers weren't started up with sound business plans--they were trying to get people to read, but were harvesting minds, not dollars. That is, they'd present reports of current events, financed by advertising, hoping that folks would adopt the opinions of the editors. Why didn't they just publish their opinions? Of those who wanted to spread their opinions, why did so many choose news reports as the, uhm, hook? Why not, say, recipes?

Growing up, I wasn't too excited about newspapers. Reading this book--I guess maybe my lack of excitement might be because the San Francisco papers were relatively weak-sauce. I hope that some medium emerges that serves investigative reporters well; or if not "well", at least better than newspapers have. And ideally that medium would allow for reader comments--if the margins of this book, are any indication, it's useful to let your readers check your facts.

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Book Report: the Castaway Pirates

Last night, I played Modern Art with some folks. It was a high-stakes game. One of us (not me) had revealed that he was one of the top five players of Caylus (a geeky German boardgame) on Brettspielwelt (a geeky German online boardgaming site). But he wouldn't tell us his "handle", the name he used on Brettspielwelt. So we played Modern Art, with the stakes: if he didn't win, he had to tell us his handle. But he won. So we still don't know his handle.

When I got home, I looked at Brettspielwelt's list of top-ranked players.

Pos.NameAlltime ScorePointsGames PlayedWon%age

Hmm, I can't figure out which of these "handles" is most likely to belong to this guy. Hmm. Then again, maybe there's another approach. Maybe I can just start calling this guy... "SuperMouflette". If you didn't choose "SuperMouflette" as your handle, you might be kinda insulted if someone else claimed that you had. You might say, "My handle isn't 'SuperMouflette', you cretin, it's ____________."

Sooner or later, we'll get an answer out of this guy. Oh, wait, but that wasn't my point. My point was a book report.

I caught a ride from the restaurant to the game-playing spot with Michelle, who works at Chronicle books. Thus, it's not so surprising that she had a book in her car. She said, "You might want to check that book out." Stealing a joke from Kevin L. at work, I said "Is it a pop-up book?" Michelle said, "Yeah." Not the answer I was expecting. Now I had to look at the book.

The pop-up book was The Castaway Pirates. It's the most elaborate pop-up book I've ever seen. Michelle mentioned that a "paper engineer" had worked on it, and I think this "paper engineer" earned that title. There was a splash of water, rendered in pop-up. There were interlocked loops of rope, rendered in popup.

I'm not sure if a verbal explanation is sufficient. Oh, lookie, here's a video I can embed.

The Castaway Pirates

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Follow-up: SFZero Suggestion Box

You may recall that last month, I stumbled onto a suggestion box on Waller and Steiner streets. This suggestion box, as it turned out, was part of a game. This game, SF0, is a sort of mutual-dare contest. A player concocts a challenge. Several players attempt to meet that challenge, documenting their efforts. Players then vote on which of these efforts is most impressive.

So the challenge was to make a suggestions box and collect suggestions. I'd found one attempt at doing this. I was impressed. And other folks were, too: of the various suggestions boxes made in response to this challenge, the Waller/Steiner suggestion box won first place. You can follow that link to see photos of their installation and photos of some of the suggestion cards they received.

You won't see the text of those cards, though. They didn't type them in. So I did, just now. (Note: these are other people's suggestions, not mine. (Well, one of these is mine; I submitted one card to the box. Can you guess which one?) I agree with some, disagree with some, don't know how I feel about some, couldn't read the poor penmanship of some.)

  • Please more BOXES
  • let's have dedicated bike lanes
  • I suggest more suggestion boxes in SF -Colfax Cor?thers
  • More magic carpet parking
  • Get the rich folks OUT NOW!
  • More Unicorns
  • European misty mornings, California ?sunny? afternoons!! &Tiger Feast
  • I THINK TO MANY ?farlk? walk WITH out looking both way so if I HIT ONE NOT MY Fault
  • Who is Frank? I don't know who frank is I will not yield to someone I do not know. I suggestion is subliminal (figure it out)
  • Steven 202-4378
  • No pollution in the environment
  • Fox in socks with lox in box
  • bike riders need to reduce the stink eye
  • Recall what you enjoyed doing when you were a child and keep doing it: ie hulla hoops, sing, play, laugh, be silly, make a for, color
  • handicraft and barter-based local economy
  • diagonal crosswalks!!! and a diagonal bridge crosswalk at church and market!
  • Do not forsake the for-next loop. There is power in its rhythm. You must control it. Don't let it control you.
  • More diagonal crosswalks!! (tigers takeover)
  • Try to figure out what the ants are doing over by that tree
  • Feed the population to the TIGERS!
  • You suck!
  • This is a great idea! Want to install one near my apt (oak & ?central?) Keep up the good work!
  • I want higher taxes paid on all vehicles larger than a mid-sized truck. All SUVs need to be off the road
  • Remove the cross-walk signal buttons that make noise. We can't even understand what they say. JP
  • I suggest that we create a suggestion WALL where everyone can write their suggestions up for everyone else to see and comment on. And I'd like a really big marker so that my suggestions are recognized as most important. A red marker. Big.
  • Stay cool!
  • Can we get sharpies to write with?
  • I think we should eat cupcakes for breakfast more regularly! Preferably pink sprinkly ones.
  • The lack of Lamppost for the ARTS!
  • Less Usage of Ball-Throwing Ice-Cream Scoop Dog Toys in Duboce Park
  • I suggest a BBQ!!! Let's have a BBQ! You bring the chips, I'll bring my guitar.
  • We need more of these boxes
  • Make More Boxes
  • 1. Impeach Bush 2. See #1 3. Destroy Capitalism 4. NO FAT chicks
  • Do NOT let people put their garbage on the street. It's NOT nice!
  • How is it that you ?? commithe murder and then act as if it never Happened! Memory of Vi?? Har?ey 2-911 (?)
  • We shall ?? back later But overall, I am suspicious of you
  • I think there should be more public art... possibly by local artists who live in the neighborhood.
  • Spend more tax money to transition SF homeless population
  • . Stop having babies. . eat more broccoli + spinach . Buy ice cream + have it delivered to my office . allow Jason, + only jason to park in front of fire hydrants if granted this one wish he promises to tone down his arson habit. . Remember that you are average--just like everyone alive. Average not special. Screw what your mom said.
  • . If you are a little on the chunky side, don't wear tight low rise jeans. . stop having babies . no adjusttable rate mortgages . get up early + do stuff all day. . watch meerkat manor . prepare for earthquakes... are you ready for earthquakes? . if you must have babies, do not shake them
  • - and I am not refering to "recyclable items" -
  • More ??olic girls schools!
  • Fuck the COPS
  • I am concerned with disposable paper cups. I would like to see a system for sharing re? cups when we drink cofee.
  • Ballpoint pens write poorly when held horizontally--a different sort is suggested (or a writing surface)
  • Get the crack out of the Lower Haight. It will help the neighborhood and its people.
  • See other card.
  • What if everyone sat outside on the sidewalk and talked to each other like in the barrio? That would be so nice. Also more fresh fruits and vegetables. Thank you, Lisa
  • Public Restrooms for the bathroomLess & Help for the crackheads
  • My car will move itself when it is time for street cleaning / Word: Fuck DPT Evil = DPT
  • ? Simply the Best
  • More Kissing
  • You have a lovely box: I like the lock on it. The wind is particularly chilly. I would appreciate more warmth. Thank you!
  • This neighborhood could absolutely benefit from a bumpin' techno soundtrack. Thank you, Sam
  • In a transit f? city its rediculous that we have no $5 change machines at Civic Center, Montgomery, powell-people with only a $5 bill are told to go "buy a soda" weird-Nonsense-Silly MTA-Thanks!
  • chocha for one is chocha for all Increase societal nudity and free the yoni energy! Richard Bradley.
  • San Francisco needs more nice hotels outside of onion square +downtown.
  • Heal the world through insemination Babies are peace! I want to be free from all disgusting male energy!
  • More good stuff!
  • stop the examiner from covering our city with unwanted newspapers in unwanted plastic bags!!!
  • Less Hills Please !!! thnx Boston
  • Taxi drivers should have to pass a special "bike awareness" test. Maybe they'd even get a cool sticker for their cabs. (P.S. Your suggestion box is really pretty)
  • 3-5-08 Fewer Cars More Flowers Keep being awesome, suggestion people
  • wouldn't it be awesome if people perceived suggestions as gentle reminders coming rom a genuine place of caring instead of as aggressive ego threats? It's all in the delivery I guess. Could you help me with my delivery?
  • I suggest you ?? ?? in several languages Gracias Merci Danke Gratis
  • Doggie potties so R city don't stink
  • Thank you for continuing a wonderful tradition in the community!
  • Put a wind turbine on all of the roofs in the city to charge the power grid
  • Bring back Naked eye news & video We don't need that much vapor!!
  • Clean this F*!#$ing Street!
  • Less violence in the drug trade.
  • Extend you 2 Hour Parking on ?? of ?? Ernest M??? ???Steiner + 1
  • I suggest that we have more community gardens throughout the city!! Thanks for the suggestion box!
  • No more dog poo?
  • send all the homelsss people to treasure island for a Battle Royale! to the death!
  • Kick the "Environment" dudes out of our neighborhood -Luca
  • Why suggest when I can act?
  • I think there should be more cheese around for general consumption. Thanks.
  • improve my satisfaction, i dare you.
  • You USE BLOCK LETTERS. ITS YOUR ART (You hope book or blog) PROJECT
  • make my job better
  • we all need to smile at each other more often. Especially when passing each other on the sidewalk.
  • More beach days!

Yes, yes, there are other things I should be doing.

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Not-Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, but especiially at Waller and Steiner

On my way back home from the library, I encountered a nicely-made suggestion box at the Northeast corner of Waller and Steiner. Signage encouraged passers-by to write suggestions on index cards and place them within the box. There were no index cards left, but then there was nothing preventing you from writing suggestions on other things. There were two slots for suggestions: one labeled "Public", one "Private". Each slot was on a drawer; the private one was locked, the public one wasn't. I read the public suggestions. Many of them suggested road and traffic improvements. Did their authors think that this was a municipal suggestion box?

A label on the side of the box read "sfzero.org" and thus I found out that this box is part of a game and that one can read suggestions from boxes around the world. I have not joined this game; my shoulders already strain beneath the weight of a few half-done projects. And yet... and yet, after some reading in their web site, I believe that this game has merit. And if you're in San Francisco swinging past the Lower Haight any time soon, I suggest you take a few minutes to visit that suggestion box. (I think I got that intersection right. I'm sure it was on Waller, close to Fillmore.)

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Link: Nina Katchadourian's Sorted Books Project

Unlike books juxtaposed = laughs. Sorted Books Project. Also: Sorted Books Project

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even Agile Programming

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

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

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

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