Monthly Archives: August 2021

What3Words is coming to America

I learned recently that the British location system, What3Words, has been adopted by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to assist in dispatching. I have posted about W3W in this blog several times before. Check out here and here to learn more about it and have some fun.

This time I thought it would be fun to try to find the location of some ordinary products using W3W. I’ve discovered that:

Foster.Grant.glasses can be found just off Highway 50 near Dodge City Kansas.

To get a Chase.Bank.Visa you should visit the Nature Center at Crawley, England. For that you’d first need a United.Airlines.ticket and for that you’ll need to cross a few miles into Saskatchewan.

For a Home.Depot.hammer or General.Motors.vehicle, on the other hand, you’ll need to go all the way to Australia.

Quite a few Fortune 100 companies have valid W3W names. Check these out:

  • United Health Group
  • International Business Machines
  • Express Scripts Holding
  • United Parcel Service
  • Marathon Petroleum Corporation


What Unites Us by Dan Rather

What Unites Us: Reflections on PatriotismWhat Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism by Dan Rather
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In this humblebrag Rather relates the lessons he has learned from his upbringing in rural Texas through his lengthy career as a network news reporter and anchor. Much, nearly all, in fact, is stuff on which virtually everyone can agree: we should work together as a nation and as fellow citizens (“Why can’t we all just get along”), war is hell, there are many people in this country and everywhere who are very poor, very sick, or otherwise have been dealt a bad hand in life, etc.

I don’t take issue with these self-evident truths, but I find Rather’s delivery of them to be grating and unnecessary. If he had the cult following of Donald Trump or some fundamentalist preacher, say, perhaps it would do some good for him to put out a book with these sentiments. He might actually persuade some people. Instead, he just comes across as preachy and self-promoting. This is particularly futile because he also comes across as not that bright. He talks with pride about having attended an obscure Texas teachers’ college and being bad at science. He may find these traits endearing to the public but it serves only to undermine one’s confidence in what he has to say. I listened to the audiobook, which he narrates, and he often mispronounces words, just as he used to do as the CBS anchor. At least we are spared the cutesie Texas homilies he used to scatter in those broadcasts. In the end, though, it’s a quick read or listen and the content is probably worth being reminded of from time to time even if there’s nothing profound in it.

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Under a White Sky by Elizabeth Kolbert

Under a White Sky: The Nature of the FutureUnder a White Sky: The Nature of the Future by Elizabeth Kolbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author has penned a book that is at the same time disturbing, engaging, and hopeful. It is not just a book about climate change, although that plays a big part. It is, rather, about scientists’ various attempts to undo man’s damage to our environment by making other changes, perhaps more radical and damaging. It begins, for example, with current efforts to introduce non-native species to control other, previously introduced non-native species. One thing I learned on the hopeful side is that Asian carp, considered an invasive species in the U.S., make good eating. Let’s all dig in.

The style of writing is surprisingly entertaining and almost in the form of a travelogue. She describes where she went, how she got there, whom she talked to, and what the surroundings were like. She has a knack for description. She isn’t preachy. She doesn’t seem to promote a view of her own; rather she presents what scientists, scholars, and technologists have told her and does so in a balanced manner. She gives equal voice to those who contradict and oppose others whose work she has just described. It’s clear she has no idea whether or not some of the more radical ideas proposed should be carried out. What is clear is that radical change on a massive scale is ahead. If we do nothing to change our human behavior, or otherwise intervene, climate change and all the “natural” disasters it entails will continue. If we take some of the steps recommended by some in the book, we could start a cascade of unfortunate and unforeseen events on a global scale. Or, nature could send us a surprise – a pandemic that would make Covid look like the sniffles, a series of world-blanketing volcanic eruptions, another ice age, the magnetic poles switching, Greenland’s ice sheet, or the Ross Ice Shelf breaking free and raising the worldwide sea level overnight by hundreds of feet. The book presents no moral, no plan for how to proceed, but makes for fascinating reading.

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Our Watershed Moment

The period 2020 – 2021 is a watershed moment in the history of mankind. That’s my opinion. You may object that a two-year period isn’t a “moment,”  but in geological and evolutionary terms, it most certainly is a mere instant.

I say it is such a moment because so many things have drastically changed in a very short period of time, locally, nationally, globally, and ecologically. I see so many signs of this change. The IPCC report on global warming issued three days ago is truly frightening and disheartening. It outlines in stark black and white the irreversible effects of climate change, including worsening droughts, forest fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, cold snaps and floods. The Trump presidency, and in particular, his insurgency and attempted coup, have threatened democracy itself. The very nature of human governance is teetering on the brink. The 2020 U.S. Census has just revealed significant demographic changes here in America and the same appears to be happening in Europe.

Perhaps most obvious is the Covid pandemic. This has upset so many people’s lives that businesses and households have made major changes. I have never known so many people to decide to move in such a short time. Friends who have lived in the same place for decades are now relocating. This includes retirees who, I thought, had long ago settled in the area where they want to spend their final days. Not so, it seems. It includes my own son, who loves his job and is very well paid here in Silicon Valley, but has decided to move for a better work-life balance at lower pay elsewhere. It includes my next door neighbor, the one who moved out and the family who is now moving in. It includes the migrants and refugees on the southern border. I believe people all over the world are rethinking their priorities in light of a dangerous and uncertain time ahead.

I have no panacea and no advice other than to point out it may be time for you to re-evaluate your own personal situation and make a change now rather than wait.

For All the Tea in China by Sarah Rose

For All the Tea in China: Espionage, Empire and the Secret Formula for the World's Favourite DrinkFor All the Tea in China: Espionage, Empire and the Secret Formula for the World’s Favourite Drink by Sarah Rose
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rose has penned a journeyman work about an interesting historical character that I knew nothing about previously. I suspect the same is true for you. Robert Fortune was an English botanist who was dispatched to China to acquire tea plants and seeds to be transplanted in the Indian Himalayas, which England then controlled. This was to strip China of its monopoly on high quality tea. It was more than a mere botanical research excursion. Fortune would have been killed had his identity and purpose been made known. He traveled incognito, disguised as a Manchurian mandarin, and met with some exciting adventures and misadventures. The author relates these quite well, with a dash of flair.

I’m a bit lukewarm about the book largely because I am lukewarm about tea. It’s okay as a beverage, although I can’t tell Darjeeling from Earl Grey from Orange Pekoe. To me it’s pretty much just bitter hot water, just as beer is just bitter cold water. I don’t like the taste or effects of tea any more than those of alcohol. It mystifies me why either is so popular, so a story about stealing the secret to tea is akin to, say, stealing the secret to producing licorice. Still, the adventures in the books were a pleasant and unexpected bonus.

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Computer cipher solving – Lesson 5¾ : cribs revisited again

I’ve written two previous posts (here and here) about how cribs can be used in solving ciphers, especially by those who program computers. However, I omitted a rather obvious use that doesn’t require computer coding knowledge. That method is to determine the cipher type of an unknown cipher.

Some ciphers are presented as puzzles but the cipher type is not given. Many geocaching puzzle caches are prime examples. If a crib is given, or can be guessed, it can be used to confirm or eliminate the cipher type. If you are a computer programmer, you can write code that will “drag” a crib across the ciphertext to determine if it could possibly fit there, although that’s not easy for some types. If you don’t program there is still an easy way to do this. There are free websites by programmers who will perform this function for you. Here are two that I use sometimes, although I have my own crib draggers for many cipher types.

The Scytale This one even shows you a worksheet with all letter placements.

BION’s gadgets This one checks many periods at once for some types and shows the exact placement. For some types it also shows the ciphertext and plaintext matched up.

Even if you can’t positively determine a cipher type by crib dragging, you may be able to eliminate one or several types, thus reducing the types you have to consider. For some ciphers this can be done by eye, without a computer or website. For example, suppose the ciphertext shows word divisions and the crib is TOMORROW. There are two 8-letter words in the ciphertext, but neither of them has the doubled letters in positions 5 and 6 or the repeats where the O’s should be. You can eliminate simple substitution (Aristocrat),  Key Phrase and Tridigital (if it’s numerical). Could it be a Ragbaby? If the key digit is 0 somewhere in either of those two ciphertext words, you may be able to confirm or eliminate one or both of them as possible placements. For Condi and Sequence you probably can’t confirm the type, but if the ciphertext doesn’t have a W, say, you can eliminate Sequence, which is a transposition type. There are often easier ways to determine a cipher type, but cribs can be useful in this way.