Armchair Treasure Hunts

I came across an interesting article today about an “armchair treasure hunt” in France.

These were really popular around the turn of the century, starting with Masquerade by Kit Williams. Authors would publish a book of pictures and the pictures were supposed to provide clues to locating a buried treasure. Most of the time the “treasure” was a token that could be exchanged for the actual valuable object, as I doubt anyone would want to leave something worth tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars laying about. Plus, I’m sure there was the publicity angle of awarding the prize to the lucky winner.

I think I bought a copy of Masquerade and if so I probably still have it around here somewhere. I’m in the middle of a move and the majority of my books are still in boxes but perhaps I’ll find it when I finally get around to unpacking them. I never came close to the answer, which involved drawing a line from the left eye of each character in the picture through the longest digit of its left hand which would then point to a letter on the border. Repeat for the left foot and then right eye to hand/foot and you ended up with an anagram which would point you to the correct location.


The hunt mentioned in the article, On the Trail of the Golden Owl takes place in France, and there is a very complicated backstory involving the still unsolved puzzle. This took me down a Wikipedia rabbit hole where I learned that the person who “won” the Masquerade puzzle cheated, and that there was another game called The Secret that still has outstanding prizes. The Secret was published before Golden Owl but I guess since some of the prizes in The Secret have been found that the claim the Golden Owl is the oldest unsolved hunt is probably valid.

This reminded me of another hunt call A Treasure’s Trove. I never bought the book, but my friend David Somers did. He and classmate Mark Moeglein found a token for a diamond encrusted beetle worth $54,000. As I am an e-mail hoarder I still have the note he sent to me:

I’m having a bit of a Willy Wonka moment and feeling quite like Charlie Bucket. Late Sunday night I solved a sort of visual riddle in a book called a “Treasure’s Trove,” a book for kids and adults that has a real treasure hunt for 12 Jewels worth a total of $1 million dollars. You
may have seen this on the Today show. Anyway, we just found the 12th token! It can be redeemed for a jewel encrusted beetle valued at over $50K or a lesser amount of cash.

The riddle spelled out the name of an Overlook within the Badlands National Park. I immediately called Mark Moeglein, my best friend from college. His daughter Katie is my goddaughter and I had given her a copy of the book and we had all been doing the puzzles with the kids.  Mark is lives in Oregon and I’m in Boston. We both dropped everything and each raced about 1800 miles from opposite coasts (I drove 560 miles in 7 1/2 hours after my flights). By late Monday night we were both in Wall, S.D. By early Tuesday morning we were at the White River Overlook in the Badlands and quickly found the specific tree that we were looking for. After 15 minutes of searching from the ground with flashlights and lanterns, Mark finally climbed the tree and spotted the token in a knothole 8 ft off the ground.

It is quite amazing that decoding 15 characters (BADLANDSWROVRLK) out of a children’s book set us off on this little adventure. It is even more amazing that we pulled it off without a hitch. We knew exactly which tree to search 1800 miles away. Incredible!

There are a few more details in a Boston Globe article (yoinked from the Wayback Machine).

David was always good at stuff like this (I can remember him winning a radio contest with a much smaller prize back when we were in school together). I, on the other hand, am not good at such things, although the fact that one of the prizes still outstanding in The Secret is probably in North Carolina has piqued my interest (grin).

Sarge (2009-2023)

About 16 years ago my mother-in-law started feeding a pair of feral cats that had taken up residence in her back yard. Fast forward two years and she ended up with well over 20 cats. Understanding exponential growth we decided something needed to be done. Andrea caught the nine kittens, as those would be the most adoptable, and I started a campaign to trap and sterilize the remaining cats.

In order to socialize the kittens, they were first kept in the master bathroom, and then we slowly let them have access to more of the house. We managed to find homes for seven and we decided to keep two of them.

One kitten we nicknamed “Friendly” because he was simply the friendliest cat we’d ever met. As soon as you came into the room he would run over and want to be petted or to play.

We eventually settle on “Sarge” for a name, due to the pronounced stripes on his front legs.

While you aren’t really supposed to have favorites, Sarge became our favorite cat. Andrea in particular was very attached to him, and he would often seek her out for petting or to sleep on her, and like most cats he did like to sleep.

Unfortunately, he recently developed some health problems. We took him to the vet who, after a blood test, told us he was in kidney failure. We did what we could, including medication and subcutaneous fluids, but he started going downhill fast. Last week we took him in to have him euthanized, but he was having a really good day so we couldn’t bring ourselves to do it. The vet, who was very kind and spent a lot of time with us, said that he wasn’t in pain so if we decided to take him back home we weren’t being selfish or cruel.

That was probably his last good day. Last night he just let out the most pitiful wail and was panting hard, trying to breathe. We decided it was time and so we took him in this morning.

We buried him in the back of our property, along side several of our other lost pets.

He would have been 14 this summer, so that is a decent run for a Felis catus, but we’ve had cats in the past who lived to 18 or 19 years so it still seems like he left too soon. Our sadness at his passing, while great, is offset by the joy and companionship he gave us over the years.

Low Bandwidth Camera Solution

My neighbor recently asked me for advice on security cameras. Lately when anyone asks me for tech recommendations, I just send them to The Wirecutter. However, in this case their suggestions won’t work because every option they recommend requires decent Internet access.

I live on a 21 acre farm 10 miles from the nearest gas station. I love where I live but it does suffer from a lack of Internet access options. Basically, there is satellite, which is expensive with high latency, or Centurylink DSL. I have the latter and get to bask in 10 Mbps down and about 750Kbps up.

Envy me.

Unfortunately, with limited upstream all of The Wirecutter’s options are out. I found a bandwidth calculator that estimates a 1 megapixel camera encoding video using H.264 at 24 fps in low quality would still require nearly 2Mbps and over 5Mbps for high quality. Just not gonna happen with a 750Kbps circuit. In addition, I have issues sending video to some third party server. Sure, it is easy but I’m not comfortable with it.

I get around this by using an application called Surveillance Station that is included on my Synology DS415+. Surveillance Station supports a huge number of camera manufacturers and all of the information is stored locally, so no need to send information to “the cloud”. There is also an available camera application called “DS-cam” that can allow you to access your live cameras and recordings remotely. Due the the aforementioned bandwidth limitations, it isn’t a great experience but it can be useful. I use it, for example, to see if a package I’m expecting has been delivered.

Surveillance Station is not free software, and you only get two cameras for free. If you want more there is a pretty hefty license fee. Still, it was useful enough to me that I paid it in order to have two more cameras (for a total of four).

I have the cameras set to record on motion, and it will store up to 10GB of video, per camera, on the Synology. For cameras that stay inside I’m partial to Netgear devices, but for outdoor cameras I use Wansview mainly due to price. Since these types of devices have been know to be easily hackable, I set up firewall rules to block them from accessing the Internet unless I expressly allow it (mainly for software updates). The Netgear cameras move which is cool, but I haven’t found an outdoor camera with the same features.

The main thing that prevented me from recommending my solution to my neighbor is that the DS415+ loaded with four drives was not inexpensive. But then it dawned on me that Synology has a number of smaller products that still support Surveillance View. He could get one of those plus a camera like the Wansview for a little more than one of the cameras recommended by The Wirecutter.

The bargain basement choice would be the Synology DS118. It cost less than $200 but would still require a hard drive. I use WD RED drives which run around $50 for 1TB and $100 for 4TB. Throw in a $50 camera and you are looking at about $300 for a one camera solution.

However, if you are going to get a Synology I would strongly recommend at least a 2-bay solution, like the DS218. It’s about $70 more than the DS118 and you also would need to get another hard drive, but now you will have a Network Attached Storage (NAS) solution in addition to security cameras. I’ve been extremely happy with my DS415+ and I use it to centralize all of my music, video and other data across all my devices.

Ramadan Part 4: Asr

The third of the three daily prayers of Islam is Asr, or “afternoon”.

Fast update: Thirsty with a slight headache. Still not very hungry,

I like the fact that Islamic times seem to be tied to nature. The prayers are tied to the motion of the Sun and the Islamic calendar is lunar. This means is it about 10 to 11 days shorter than the solar year and thus the months move around. The cycle repeats itself every 33 years, which means that in about 16 years Ramadan will coincide with the winter solstice, which will make the whole fasting thing a piece of cake in the northern hemisphere.

It must be difficult to fast properly in the far north. I looked up Bergen, Norway, which is where my friend Alex lives, and Fajr occurs 85 minutes earlier than Pittsboro and Maghrib over two hours later, so add about 3.5 hours to your fast. Then I looked up Punta Arenas, Chile, and Fajr happens over three hours later than here and Maghrib five hours before, so that must make fasting a breeze.

Some places allow using the times for Mecca in place of local time when they are extreme, but I think I would be willing to suffer a bit now for an easy time of it in a decade or so.

I plan ahead.

I miss the seasons. I could be sitting in my office (which doesn’t really have a window) and whether it is high summer or the dead of winter I’m going to experience about the same amount of light and the same temperature. I’m not sure if that is healthy, as I think it is healthier for us to change with the seasons.

When I was a child there were four seasons. When it got cold there was turkey for Thanksgiving and Santa came from Christmas. In late Spring we waited for permission to go outside barefoot. Summers were lazy and hot. When I started to attend school, there were three seasons: Fall semestre, Spring semestre and Summer. I looked forward to each and marked the years by their passing.

Now it is just one long season with a slight change in wardrobe depending on the weather. Sure, there are holidays but they don’t represent the seasonal change that I used to experience. When we as a society were mainly agrarian, the seasons still existed as work followed the cycle of planting. Now it just seems we are driven to do more, faster. There is little time to reflect and recharge. I like to close the office the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day for mandatory “brain regrooving” but even that isn’t quite enough.

Again, no answers, just thinking about the questions.

Last night I watched part of the Grammy awards show. I tuned in just in time to see Beck take Album of the Year, and I thought to myself that maybe this year the Grammys would be different (they weren’t). Just for full disclosure, I would have been just as happy (if not slightly happier) to see Ed Sheeran win.

What really rubbed me the wrong way was that just before the “In Memoriam” section, some old, rich white guy in a suit droned on and on about how stealing music was bad. That’s not exactly what he said, but it was along the lines of artists should get paid for there work (true) but what he was really advocating for was the continuation of the status quo where consumers’ access to music is tightly controlled by the record labels.

Screw that.

For decades record labels have been sticking it to both artists and consumers. For example, when I moved to LA in 1984 my record collection was stolen in shipment. I used the (minimal) insurance money to buy my first CD player. Back then CDs were about $15-$20 each, mainly because both the technology and demand were low. Now I can burn a CD for about 5 cents, but music CDs are still pretty expensive. Why? So that music labels could protect their profit margins.

[In case you care, my first three CDs were R.E.M.’s Murmur, The Police Zenyatta Mondatta and The Alan Parsons Project I, Robot]

I could drone on even more about how broken that system is, but instead I want to talk about alternatives.

With the near ubiquitousness of the Internet, the role of record labels is diminished. I no longer need them to tell me what is available. I can rely on friends and friends of friends, etc., for recommendations (I’m currently listening to Jim Boggia at the recommendation of my friend Ben – if you click through please excuse Boggia’s lack of updates on his website), and I can buy things directly from the people who create them (see Louis CK and Radiohead). That can work out better for both the artist and the consumer. I spend a lot of money on music and where I can I try to put that money as close to the people who created the content.

Now, in the software industry we often talk about “recurring revenue”. This is kind of the holy grail – can you come up with something useful that people are willing to buy again and again? Think about it: for a lot of artists they create an album, their fan base snaps it up, but then sales tail off until the next release. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to plan for finances as a musician.

Some of you may point to superstars like BeyoncĂ© who don’t have to worry about money (billion dollars in an elevator, blah blah) but to continue with the software analogy for every Whatsapp there are a massive number of other applications without that kind of valuation.

So, what are the options? Recently I was introduced to This is a service that is building a subscription service platform to connect musicians and their fans. For example, I pay $5/month and I get access to Mike Doughty’s “drip”. He promises to post new content frequently and I get access to it for as long as I have my subscription. It’s mine – I can download it and use it on any of my devices – so the service is different from streaming where once you stop paying you lose access altogether.

But if you can download the content, wouldn’t that drive people to purchase a one month subscription and then drop it? Well, in drip all content that was added before you joined is locked. You get access to the new stuff, but you have “unlock” the older stuff using “release credits” which you earn for each month you remain a member.

At first I was a little upset that I had to unlock the other tracks, but mainly I was kicking myself for not signing up to drip when I had the opportunity. I supported Mike during a PledgeMusic drive and in return he offered us free trial access. I was too busy to check it out, and part of the reason for this post is to act as a public service announcement that if one of your favorite musicians starts a drip, sign up early (grin). You do start out with a number of release credits so you can get started unlocking right away, and it appears I’ve just gained about four more in just a week, so I obviously don’t have the whole thing figured out but I think it strikes a good balance between fending off the leechers without being too obtrusive.

I already think I’ve gotten my money’s worth. While Mike is promising us new songs moving forward, he has also uploaded a number of live versions of older songs and even complete concerts. To get another version of “Rising Sign” into my collection is cheap at twice the price.

For those artists who aren’t BeyoncĂ© this may provide a nice, steady stream of revenue to keep them productive and, well, fed. He even talks about it during the “Live at City Winery” concert. Basically, give him money and he’ll use it to to buy these things called “sandwiches”. When I heard that I couldn’t help but think of MC Frontalot’s “Captains of Industry”.

Grrr – I just went to look for a link to that song and the first hit was Youtube. Since it wasn’t on Front’s official channel it appears some fan has dutifully uploaded most of his songs. While that can help gain exposure for an artist, it makes it hard for them to get paid, and that must be frustrating.

Anyway, as a drip subscriber, you get access to “Mainline” which is free content provided by other artists. And I love the fact that you can download your tunes in FLAC.

The website is pretty cool – easy to navigate and you can queue up songs and stream them if you don’t want to do that on your local device. It would be nice to have some sort of overall search facility. For example, I couldn’t find out if Frontalot actually had a drip. It will let me search my library, which includes the Mainline content, but it would be useful to see what other drips are available. My guess is that it is there somewhere, I just can’t find it.

To summarize: I think has a lot of potential, and I like thinking that I can buy Mike Doughty’s lunch for three or four days in a year versus paying for the first of many martinis for a record executive.