What3Words triangle challenge

I have a new game for you. I’ve written about the location app/website What3Words before. If you don’t already know what it is, click on the link or download the app. It’s a way to identify any spot on Earth using only three words.

The challenge is as follows: Find three distinct points using What3Words (W3W) that produce a triangle of minimum perimeter length and that follow these rules:

  1. If point 1 is in the W3W form of A.B.C, point 2 must be in the form B.C.D, i.e. the W3W address must start with the second and third words of the original W3W.
  2. Point 3 must have W3W address C.D.E.
  3. The total distance you re trying to minimize is the straight line distance from Point 1 to Point2 + the distance from Point 2 to Point 3 + the distance from Point 3 to Point 1.
  4. Points may not be duplicated, i.e. all three points are separate.

I chose a random point not too far from my house that had three short words I knew were used by W3W and tried to find the best triangle I could starting with that seed. I found one of 37.327078 miles total. The points are:


See if you can beat that.

Our Ignorant Newsies

I haven’t posted one of these lately. There are so many, it seems pointless, but I enjoyed one my wife brought to me yesterday. A commentator on NPR about something ended her rant with the statement:

“We can’t keep burying our heads in the sand like a flamingo.”

The Other Side of Night by Adam Hamdy

The Other Side of NightThe Other Side of Night by Adam Hamdy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The blurb from one reviewer said “…like no crime novel I’ve ever read.” That’s true, but that’s not actually praise. A lot of us are fans of conventional crime novels. If you are, you’re likely to be disappointed in this one, as I was. It’s set in England. The main characters are a male physicist, a brilliant child, a woman police detective and a scientist couple. The woman has recently been expelled from the force, but we don’t know the details of why. The woman scientist dies and the now ex-detective suspects she was murdered, even though she had cancer and died in a hospital. Then that woman’s body goes missing. Okay, that’s a pretty good setup. I was interested for the first 60% of the book. But at that point, the deaths (there are more) are explained and the culprit convicted. The case is solved.

Suddenly there is a white page with nothing but “Part 2” in the center. Everything we thought we knew starts to come into doubt. It becomes weirder and departs from the mundane. The characters are scientists, remember. And this is a novel, i.e. fiction. Science and fiction. Enough said. I found the ending imaginative, but unsatisfying. Still, it kept me reading and was entertaining enough to merit three stars.

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Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey

Riders of the Purple Sage (Riders of the Purple Sage, #1)Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This laughable fantasy is a cross between a fairy tale and comic book for horny teenage boys of yesteryear. Out on the Utah prairie two broad-shouldered, straight-shooting men separately find beautiful women who are near helpless without them and who give themselves to the men. Either man can single-handedly kill a half dozen attackers and take only flesh wounds in return which they stoically endure. The plot is convoluted and makes little sense. All you need to know is that there are bad guys and good guys clearly identified and killing is the way things get settled. One man finds a hidden Eden where a man and women can live with abundance all around.

The one aspect that I found most interesting is the way Grey portrayed Mormons of the day. It would be politically incorrect today. Mormonism comes across as a violent cult led by lustful hypocritical men. While I’ve known several Mormons that I like and respect, there is some truth to the cultish aspect. My son was cut off from contact with a good friend when he was in elementary school when the friend’s Mormon mother found out we weren’t Christians.

The writing style is hard to describe. It’s an amalgam of rusticity, elegance, and hyperbole. It’s so different from anything else I’ve read that I imagine any other Zane Grey book would be instantly recognizable.

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How to retire, Part 2

See the previous post for suggestions 1 through 4.

5. Learn to do something solitary and fun. This overlaps to some extent with item 1, but not entirely. The reality is that there will be times when you can’t socialize. Your health problems or those of others may be the cause. The Covid pandemic lockdown is a good example. So you need something you can concentrate on and keep you occupied. Even so-called mindless amusements are fine if you enjoy them: jigsaw puzzles, daytime TV, solitaire. But I recommend something new. I’ve learned enough computer programming to have create three games I play against the computer every day and I also solve ciphers that I exchange via email with a distant cipher hobbyist. Other ideas: take an adult education class or learn how to do something new from YouTube videos.

6. Develop a routine. Boredom is the biggest problem for new retirees, and it can be mitigated by developing a regular routine. If you know the next thing you’re going to do, your mind can relax. For me, I take of my morning ablutions, get dressed, take care of the cat, open up the blinds, empty the dishwasher, fix and eat my breakfast, sit with a cup of coffee and watch the morning news or read a book for a while and that takes care of an hour and a half or so. Then I retreat to my office to read the comics online and join in the comments section where I love to swap puns and enjoy those of others. The usual trolling of other social media is mostly absent. People who read funnies, or at least those who comment on them online, are apparently baby boomers like me and there for good humor, not arguing. Then Wordle and a check of my email and  the New York Times newsletter (which usually covers more than the morning TV news) and another hour is past. Then it’s time for a few of my online games.

Four days a week I exercise, either running or going to the gym. Somewhere in there I work on generating my own cipher to solve and send it to my cipher buddy. By the time I’m done with that it’s lunchtime and after lunch I sit with my coffee and read and then work my buddy’s cipher if I haven’t done it in the morning. My afternoons are then mostly free for chores, shopping, reading, online browsing, writing (this blog, for example), etc. but I have two regular luncheons or Zoom meetings each month and get together with my friend every Saturday for geocaching or television. Evenings are spent with my wife watching TV or reading, talking, and, of course, dinner. I could go on, but you get the idea.

7. Do more housework. If you’re married or living with a partner, it’s your turn now. You aren’t working. Your spouse will appreciate it, and, yes, expect it, and it will give you a sense of accomplishment and self value. You’ll find there’s plenty to occupy you if you get bored.

The bottom line: be proactive and create your own retirement plan.

How to retire, Part 1

Many people, men especially, work for decades and then, voluntarily or not, retire without a clear idea of what they will do after retirement. In some cases they have a plan, but find it’s not doable due to financial, medical, or other reasons. I have some suggestions that have worked for me and seem to for others I know.

1. Develop a hobby or pursue one you already have. For many men I know, golf works. It’s not my cup of tea, but it works for many and helps provide some moderate exercise and socializing. For me I found several that have kept my interest: geocaching, cryptography, guitar, writing, reading. My interest in geocaching has waned somewhat, but I still go out regularly with a buddy. I can no longer play guitar due to arthritis in my hands, and that’s a big hole, so develop more than one hobby if you can.

2. Join a group. You will find that the friends you socialized with when working will tend to drift away. They or you may move to be near kids or grandkids. Some who are still working aren’t available at the times you want to do activities. There are usually community groups for retirees or ones that share your interests. For me, I found Sons in Retirement (SIRs), but for you it may be Elks, Kiwanis, or some charitable organization. Volunteering works for many and I spent several years at some activities, but they don’t all work. I wanted to socialize and that’s not always easy. Recording books for the blind was tedious and solitary, so I quit that. I ended up serving on a civil grand jury, which was a living hell. What worked for me was using my legal skills serving as a judge pro tem with the county, helping parties try to settle cases before going to trial. I enjoyed that for five or six years, but eventually I got tired of the commute downtown and the suits and ties.

3. Exercise. You may be able to combine that with item 1 or 2, but don’t become too sedentary. Maintaining your fitness and health is a huge factor in being able to enjoy your retirement. I still run 5+ miles twice a week in my mid 70s , but I’ve always been a runner. You should do whatever fits your fitness level and preferences, but do something.

4. Make new friends, especially at least one close friend. Group socializing is great, but you need someone to whom you can tell your health problems, complain about your spouse, brag about your grandchild’s latest accomplishment, or just go to lunch. When I first retired, my closest friend was still working and when he retired he moved out of state. I signed up for Meetup.com and joined several guitar/folk music groups. None were well-organized and after a few months of meetings, they all petered out, but at the time I joined one group, I noticed another guy, a recent retiree, who lived near me who had just joined. He mentioned that he had uploaded some videos to YouTube, so I searched his named and found them. He played very well, and liked the same style of stuff I did. So I contacted him and suggested we get together one-on-one to share stuff. He agreed and we’ve since become best friends. I got him into geocaching, too. Twelve years later we still get together every week, alternating between geocaching and TV shows that our wives don’t like. He still plays guitar, but I can’t now.

I also helped form a book club within the SIRs branch. The intimacy of a small group is very different from the big luncheons with a speaker. We meet monthly, mostly via Zoom now, and several of those members are now good friends. Note that in both cases I took the initiative. You can’t sit around waiting for someone to invite you, although that’s great when it happens. You need to proactively seek new friends. Pick up that phone or send that email.

That’s it for now. Tomorrow I’ll give you more suggestions from my own life experience.

Worbot: creating a successful Wordle solver


My Wordle solver, Worbot, has the following statistical accomplishments:

It has missed the word entirely only twice. Ignore the current streak 0 because my program doesn’t actually track that. If you average it out, it comes to about 3.9. It plays entirely in hard mode. Here’s how I created it.

First, I scraped the list of target words from the original Wordle website (before the Times bought it). By target words, I mean words that can actually appear as the winning word. There are many valid words that are accepted as guesses, but never used as the target. I computed the frequency of each letter in each of the five positions in the target words. In case you want to know what they are, here are the top few.

  1. SAAEE (most frequent in each position)
  2. COINY (2nd most frequent)
  3. BROST (3rd)

Then I ran the target list and selected 64 words that all scored high in the frequency of each letter, e.g. CRONE, SAINT.  I already had data from Google Nwords about the frequency of various words in English. I have word lists, including a 5-letter list, ordering the words by frequency. The top scorers are WHICH, THERE, THEIR, and WOULD. I wanted these because I knew that Wordle used mostly common words as target words. That’s the data I needed.

Now, to the logic of the program. For the first guess, it randomly selects one of those 64 words. It receives the usual feedback of gray, yellow and green. After that the program ignores the target list and refers only to my list of 5-letter words in frequency order. That list includes many words that are not possible target words, so the program doesn’t “cheat.”  It simply tests each word for conflicts and if it hits one, moves on to the next word. At each level, it uses the colors from all the previous guess results to cull out bad words.

For example, suppose the correct word is LINEN and Worbot guesses SAINT for its first guess. The I and N would be yellow, the rest gray. For the second guess, it would start with WHICH, but reject it because it doesn’t have an N. THERE would be skipped because it has a T and doesn’t have an N, and so forth. The first word it would come to with an I and an N is AGAIN, but that would be rejected because of the A, which was gray earlier. The first word that has no conflicts is GIVEN, the 65th word on the frequency list. This would produce green for the I, E, and N. And so on. If you are writing a solver, or just want to improve your guessing, I suggest you consider using this simple logic. BTW – Worbot has never gotten the word on its first try, and neither have I.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

Parable of the Sower (Earthseed, #1)Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lauren is a tall, strong, black teenager in Southern California. She watches the apocalypse, or, more accurately, slowpocalypse, engulf her area. Life has deteriorated to where thievery, arson, scavenging and bribery have become the overwhelming lifestyle. She has devised a plan to escape it and has concocted a religion, Earthseed, to provide philosophical underpinning for it. The book is classified as science fiction, rightfully so, but there are no aliens, monsters, or space travel. It is somewhat like The Road by Cormac McCarthy, but much better written and, at times at least, uplifting.

The book is slow to really get going. Her survival plan doesn’t really start until about halfway through the book, but it is imaginative and evocative at that point. I found it interesting enough, but also disliked the doomsaying assumptions made at the outset. In the book, virtually no one is to be trusted and government, police and all forms of power are corrupt and have abandoned the people. In my experience, when hard times or disasters hit, people come together and help each other out and so do our state, local, and federal authorities as well as non-profits. They don’t kill each other and set fire to a house in order to pillage their neighbors’ belongings. This kind of fiction can feed the paranoia of the survivalists and preppers. The book is a decent read, but just remember, it is fiction.

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I thought I’d clear up a few misconceptions.

This being tax time, I know of one common misconception. Some people think that if they get a little extra income that pushes them into the next higher bracket, they actually lose money. There are some very specialized taxpayer situations where this could be true; for example, if someone qualifies for a special deduction or benefit based on low income and they now earn more than the cutoff. But for the vast majority of taxpayers, the new, higher tax bracket applies only to the extra money you earned over the limit. All the money you earned lower than that limit is taxed exactly as before. In simple terms, if you earn more, you’re better off.

Another misconception that surprised me is about the lottery. A friend didn’t understand why anyone would buy a $10 lottery ticket instead of a $2 ticket since he knew every ticket has the same chance of winning. He thought “ticket” meant a piece of paper. In fact, one ticket is a string of numbers (6 numbers for Mega Millions and Powerball in the United States, $2 per ticket). It’s possible to have multiple tickets on one piece of paper. A $10 ticket has five strings of numbers and has five times the chances of winning as a $2 ticket.

The last misconception is about electric vehicles (EVs). I’ve heard some people say they think EVs are not any better for the environment than gas cars because lithium mining is as destructive as drilling and refining petroleum for gas. I’m not going to argue the point about that because the manufacturing process uses plenty of energy and heavy metals for both types and varies a lot by size and features of the specific cars, but that misses the point. The harm gas cars cause to the environment is primarily the emissions from driving. EVs produce none; gasoline produces a lot and that’s causing climate change. Arguments that power plants that provide the electricity for EVs cause just as many emissions is simply not true, at least not in places where EVs are widely used like California and Norway. Most power there is produced by renewable sources like wind, solar, hydroelectric, and geothermal.

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

Lessons in ChemistryLessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Elizabeth Zott is a brilliant chemist, but this being the 1950s and 60s, and she a woman, she is not allowed to finish her PhD, she is sexually molested, hired at a fraction of the pay of her male colleagues who are anything but brilliant, and in general no one believes she is actually capable of being a scientist since she’s not a man. That’s just for starters. I am very sympathetic to this plot line since my own brilliant mother, who skipped two grades, was date raped in college by a football player, and when she reported it to her sorority mother, was expelled for immorality. Nothing happened to the football player. So, yes, stories like this do happen. The writing style was decent enough.

Having said that, the author lays it on too thick in the book. It’s 350 pages of the same thing, and it becomes very unbelievable very fast. Zott has a child out of wedlock with a fellow chemist and the child is more intelligent that Einstein and Feynman combined. So is her dog Six Thirty. I went to college in the 60s and plenty of women were successfully getting degrees and working in scientific fields. My daughter is a brilliant chemist and chose to leave academia for marriage and motherhood. She wasn’t fired or discriminated against, and she is happy with her choice. So the book just seemed like a diatribe against all men. I felt castigated for my Y chromosome all the way through. Maybe some women feel that way and will get off on this revenge porn of a sort, but I couldn’t make it past halfway. I skipped ahead from there until the end. The ending was unfortunately too predictable and too unbelievable.

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Merrill Lynch Bank of America fail!

I just wasted over an hour trying to transfer funds from my checking account to my investment account at Merrill Lynch. This used to be easy before Bank of America took over Merrill Lynch. I could go on the Merrill website where I had already set up a relationship between the two accounts. The checking account is at Bank of the West, not Bank of America and pre-existed the B of A takeover.

Now I go through the same steps and get to a page where I fill in the information: i.e. into or out of the Merrill account, the amount, the date (next day). The only other option at that point is to click the button labeled “Continue Transfer.” I click that and get a big red error message saying:

You have exceeded the number of attempts allowed to enter a PIN. For assistance please call contact (sic) the Merrill Lynch Help desk.

At this point a new box appears where the “Continue Transfer” button had been. This box is labeled PIN in bold red. I try to click in it, but the web site has disabled it. This box wasn’t there the first time and I don’t even have a PIN for this. I’m already signed into my account with my regular password.

So I call my Financial Advisor at Merrill and only get voice mail. No one picks up. In the old days, an assistant would pick up if the advisor wasn’t available. I leave a voice mail. No one calls back right away, so I decide to call the Merrill 800 number showing on the web page for assistance. It took four calls. They went like this:

  1. A recorded message tells me I’m being recorded and says they have a special offer and asks if I am over 50 (press 1) or not (press 2). I don’t want to hear an offer so I press 0 repeatedly. It hangs up on me.
  2. I call again. Same message. This time I press 1. A woman’s voice comes on telling me there’s a special offer of health insurance for seniors. I tell her I’m not interested and I need help with my account, but she keeps talking as I’m trying to talk. Probably a recording, although it didn’t sound like it. This time I hung up.
  3. I call again intending to press 2, but a different message comes up, one recorded menu asking what I want to do. I say “transfer funds” and it understands and puts me in a queue for an associate. That takes a few minutes and a very polite woman comes on the phone and I explain all of the above. I’ll skip all the grisly detail, but she clearly didn’t understand what the web page was like or what the problem was; after 27 minutes she finally puts me into an automated system to create a PIN for funds transfer. It asks me to enter my 10-digit account number. The problem with that is I have two account numbers. One is an 8-digit Cash Management Account (CMA) number and the other is the account number on the Bank of America checking account associated with the CMA account. That’s 12 digits. I start entering that number and the system disconnects me.
  4. I call again and eventually get through to another polite young lady. I go through the same thing again. This time she gets the point faster and tells me she will set up the PIN so I can transfer directly. First, though, she has to verify me through my phone and texts me a one-time PIN (not something to use for the deposit). I recite it back to her over the phone. Think about how stupid this is. She didn’t simply text it to the number associated with account as shown in her records, but asked me what phone number to text it to. Obviously it was the phone I was talking to her on; that could be anyone giving whatever phone they were calling on. All it proved is that the person calling was on a phone capable of receiving a text. But it turns out she also has to verify my identity through the branch office. At least she had the foresight to ask for my phone number so that if I get cut off, she’ll call me back, which the first woman didn’t do. She tells me she tried two different numbers at my branch and couldn’t get through. She says someone from my branch office will have to call me later and verify my identity. Why not ask me information like my address, routing and account numbers, etc.? I’m calling from the phone associated with the account. I can verify on the phone with a fingerprint. Why not use that? No, the branch has to do it in person. She ends the call. I try again on my computer and notice that this time the website produces a PIN box for me to use on the first try, but of course I still don’t have one. I tried using the one-time PIN she sent me earlier, but it doesn’t work. She had mentioned at some point in the call that they’ve had trouble with some browsers not displaying the web page correctly.

At this point I’d been on the phone for over an hour and the transfer still hasn’t happened. I realize I could have just written a check on the other account and used my Merrill phone app to deposit it in my Merrill account via photographic image. That app has always worked well. One problem with that is I have bad arthritis in my hands and really dislike having to write checks because it is painful. I don’t even like endorsing them because Merrill requires a rather wordy sentence on the back in addition to my signature. Also, that doesn’t work going the other way. My wife is the main user of the Bank of the West account and doesn’t have an app for it and ability to deposit over the phone. The bank may have one, but she refuses to get such a thing. She’s not a fan of tech. Most transfers are from Merrill to Bank of the West, so this transfer system needs to be fixed so I can do it both directions on my desktop computer.

I sit down at my computer and start to write this blog post when I get a phone call from my Merrill Advisor. I should mention at this point that he has always been very responsive and quick to meet my needs. I like him and his service. The problem is with the website and the whole design of the system to allow transfer but fails to give the ladies at the 800 number power and training to take care of things like this. If Merrill Lynch could do it, Bank of America should be able to. There isn’t even a need for a password. I’ve already had to sign in with username and password.

My advisor was unhappy and asked how he could help. I told him in brief form what I’d just gone through and he immediately took whatever steps were necessary to make the transfer happen. As I said, he’s always been responsive. He explained that when I’d called earlier he’d been out of the office driving his assistant to the airport, which is why neither he nor his assistant answered. I take him at his word, but I know that my previous advisor (both pre- and post-B of A takeover) always had someone to take any call that came in. That phone number was never left unmanned. He also said that the “back office” had sent him a message that I’d complained which counts against him as a client complaint. I agreed it was a client complaint but it was really with the website design and the bureaucracy with the back office system. He tells me there is always someone there at the branch and that the back office could have gotten through easily if they’d tried. My advisor was not familiar with what he called the FTS(?) PIN system. Neither am I, and apparently the back office people aren’t either. He said he will have someone see that I get a PIN. By the end of the phone call, it had been over 90 minutes of effort to complete this, and I still don’t have a PIN.

The whole point of associating the other bank account was so that the client can seamlessly make such transfers without the need to contact anyone at the branch or back office. My advisor assures me that he will always take care of me for such things, and I’m sure he will, but I shouldn’t have to call him, not for this. It is inevitable that he will not be available at times, being on vacation or having other clients to take care of, and apparently, his assistant isn’t always, either. That’s the whole reason for a computerized system. Why create it and then make it impossible to use without going through your advisor?

Behind Her Lives by Briana Cole

Behind Her Lives (Pseudo)Behind Her Lives by Briana Cole
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What I liked most about this book was the clever plot. There were enough twists and turns to keep me guessing to the very end. That said, in the end I felt disappointed with this book. The writing was very uneven – quite good at the beginning but deteriorating as it continued. This included the proofreading, which allowed numerous errors such as wrong word (off for of), mixed tenses, omitted words, and commas scattered in random, odd places.

The story is a mystery. The main character, Deven, is called upon to identify a body as her half sister Kennedy, but she doesn’t think it is her sister. Deven is black, something I didn’t pick up on at first since there was no physical description given of her. The cover picture is the profile of a black woman, but is obscured by two such images overlaid on each other and the title print over that. With straight hair, her race was not obvious at a quick glance, but perhaps I was just unobservant. In any event, the cover picture was of Kennedy, not Deven, and with different fathers, they could have been of different races. Her race shouldn’t matter, but as the story went on, it seemed rather important. At one point Deven mused that she couldn’t marry outside her race. That made me assume she was white and thinking about a black man, when in fact, it was the opposite. The dialog became “blacker” as it went on, or at least it seemed that way to me; e.g. I had to look up the word “locs.” The characters became rougher. At the beginning, it was nurse, doctor, hospital setting, but then some shady characters fell into the mix and everyone, even Deven, developed a filthy mouth toward the end.

Deven often did not behave in remotely logical ways. She decided to try to find her sister by herself, often withholding critical information not only from the police, but from others trying to help her. She would run off to confront someone, even after being told to let the police do it, and as she arrived, wished she had called the police instead, then even when confronting someone who could be dangerous, had no plan as to what she would say or do. She would get important calls or texts and not read or listen to them until much later. She also spent no time at work for days and days. There was a pregnancy inserted into the plot for no reason I could determine as it disappeared from the plot line as quickly as it appeared. Though I can’t recommend it, the mystery itself was intriguing enough to keep me reading, and it was logically resolved in the end.

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The Divider by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser

The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021 by Peter Baker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Husband and wife team Baker (New York Times) and Glasser (The New Yorker) have written a massive tome documenting the Trump presidency based on years of personal reporting and interviews of key insiders. I won’t bother to analyze or bash Trump since everyone pretty much knows what he is. Those who need to hear the truth about him won’t listen anyway. What I found interesting and important about the book is how it portrays the people around him in the White House or other key government positions. I hadn’t realized how much they almost all hated each other. They fell into two general categories: those true pro-Trumpers and those who took positions primarily to prevent Trump from doing something horrible. The former didn’t really like or respect Trump, nor he them, but they saw him as a vehicle for their own agenda. These include people like Jared Kushner (Israel), Jeff Sessions (immigration), John Bolton (Venezuela), Betsy DeVos (charter schools), and many others. The latter included the generals such as Mattis, McMaster, and Kelly, (but notably did not include Flynn, who was a true Trumper with an agenda of his own), Tillerson and many others. None of them was very effective either at their own agendas or at controlling Trump. Even within the second category, the in-fighting was fierce.

My takeaway from the book is how blessed we are to have a civil service system. Our governments and federal, state and local level chug along doing what needs to be done, whether protecting us , providing sanitation, education, social services, foreign relations, and a myriad of other things, all despite, not because of, the elected politicians. They are also protected by the civil service system which makes it hard to fire rank and file employees, and easy for arbitrators or boards to reinstate them. The same is true in the military. It leads to incompetent people staying in positions and plenty of the inefficiency for which government is known, but it is also the safeguard that keeps people like Trump from replacing knowledgeable career people with partisan incompetents or worse. It was our inexorable government machinery that kept our allies on our side, our military within the law, our court system running, and our economy working.

The book itself is too long and ponderous to be an enjoyable read. It is really written as a historical source document. People who follow the news closely won’t find much surprising, although I skipped liberally through the second half and may have missed something. The book is over 700 pages.

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Desert Star by Michael Connelly

Desert Star (Renée Ballard, #5; Harry Bosch Universe, #36)Desert Star by Michael Connelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m a big Harry Bosch fan, so take that into account in the rating. If you’ve read his earlier stuff, you know the good and the bad of the style. Harry is a rule-breaking, abrasive, now ex-LAPD detective who still burns with a fury over injustices in the world. He is here working cold cases, called back to assist the force in a squad of volunteers led by Renee Ballard, the only sworn officer. The plot suffers from too much predictability, but the detail of how Harry works is pure joy to read. Connelly gets into the cop nitty-gritty – where Harry parks to get the best view, how he positions his body to look old and decrepit, the lies he tells to get people to tell him what he wants, and all the people and resources in the LAPD he knows how to use and clues only he is sharp enough to spot. There’s a big reveal in the epilogue, but there’s enough telegraphing of it throughout the book that I can’t call it a surprise. The bottom line: if you’re a Harry Bosch fan, read it and enjoy it; if not, avoid it, or if this is your first one, go back to the earlier ones. Don’t start here.

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The Ransomware Hunting Team by Renee Dudley and Daniel Golden

The Ransomware Hunting TeamThe Ransomware Hunting Team by Renee Dudley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book, but it may be largely due to my experience and interests. I was an FBI agent on the very first high-tech squad in Silicon Valley in the 1990s and I have a longtime interest in cryptography and computers. I was dismayed at the unflattering (but accurate) portrayal of the FBI and its response (or non-response) in the middle of the book. But I was pleased to see by the end that the FBI has upped its game and works well with the private sector to combat this scourge of ransomware.

The book is not a technical manual. It spends most of its time on the lives of the team members, the mostly young people who selflessly devote their time and talents to breaking ransomware or otherwise helping victims recover their encrypted files without paying ransom, or sometimes by helping to reduce the ransom through negotiation. The team who does this is an informal but real group, many of whom have never met the others, scattered around the western world. Their technical skills are formidable, but they are often socially somewhat inept, the stereotypical computer nerds from TV and movies. The reality is these people are heroes.

The ransomware business is more complicated than I’d imagined, and the book gives fascinating insights about it. I hadn’t realized, for example, that many American businesses profit from it. Insurance companies make money insuring against it and there are unethical companies who claim to help victim companies recover their files through their technical expertise and not pay ransom, but actually just pay the demanded ransom and charge the victim that amount plus a premium. The ransomers vary in geographic locale and in their conscience (e.g. not victimizing hospitals), but the worst of them are in Russia, Iran, or Belarus. Read the book to learn more.

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2022 Timeline map

In case anyone is interested in where I go, here’s my Google timeline map for 2022 for the Bay Area. A couple of visits to the East Bay are out of range, and my road trip to Olympia, Washington doesn’t show here, although it does when I zoom out. The widespread nature of the locations is due mostly to my geocaching. I was surprised to see so many.

Varsity Blues finally over

William Singer, the mastermind behind the college admissions scandal known as Varsity Blues was sentenced yesterday to three and a half years. That’s a reduced sentence because he cooperated with the FBI to ensnare all or most of his clients. His was the last sentencing, because they had to keep him on the string until all the other cases resolved. He might have had to testify at trial for any holdouts.

The Local by Joey Hartstone

The LocalThe Local by Joey Hartstone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really liked this book and recommend it. Although this is his first novel, the author is a professional writer (screenplays for movies and TV) and it shows. The plot is suspense-filled, with twists and turns, and he does an excellent job of painting a scene of the east Texas legal scene. As a lawyer and FBI agent who worked in the intellectual property (IP) field, I was impressed with the depth of his research. The basic setup is that the main character, James Euchre, is a patent attorney who serves as the local counsel for patent law firms coming here from out of state. He is representing a client, Amin, who loses a ruling and screams threats in the courtroom. Then the judge who presided is murdered. Amin is charged with the murder and Euchre must represent him even though he’s never been a criminal attorney. Okay, that’s far-fetched. A good-looking female attorney, Layla, formerly a prosecutor, is seconded to the case to help him since it’s a capital case. To add a twist, the victim judge was a dear personal friend and mentor to Euchre. Euchre wants to find the killer, even if it is his own client, so he has in mind that he will screw Amin if he finds out he’s guilty. It is up to him and his quirky investigator, “the Leg,” to find out whodunit.

For a non-lawyer the author got the vast majority of the legal stuff right, like the feds deferring to Texas in order to go for the death penalty, and most of what wasn’t right was probably due to literary license. He lists a slew of lawyers in the acknowledgments section. However I feel compelled to set the record straight on a few issues. There is no FBI lab in Dallas. The only FBI lab is in Quantico, VA. It does assist local cases like this on request, but it is much more likely a local department would use a state lab for several reasons. This trial would surely be moved from the local area; it it wasn’t, any conviction would be overturned on appeal.

Another reason I can’t boost this to five stars is that the characters aren’t very likeable. Amin is a jerk. Euchre is a dissolute hothead. He claims to be a non-smoker but chain smokes Marlboros and throws the butts out on the roadway or sidewalk. He drinks heavily and is obviously impaired from hangovers running up to trial. At trial he cuts down to three stiff drinks a night as though that’s virtuous. He’s sarcastic and insulting to half the people he deals with. I’ve never really understood why authors like to make their lead characters flawed, but I guess it goes back at least to Sherlock Holmes and seems to be popular with some readers. Layla is inserted as a token black and female who should be lead counsel with her experience, but does almost nothing but provide a love interest. The Leg is the only somewhat likeable character, although she also seems like a token lesbian who ultimately doesn’t have much effect on the final resolution. The plot strains credibility even more toward the end, but I found it compelling enough to really enjoy it.

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