my recent reads..

Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters; From the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima
Power Sources and Supplies: World Class Designs
Red Storm Rising
Locked On
Analog Circuits Cookbook
The Teeth Of The Tiger
Sharpe's Gold
Without Remorse
Practical Oscillator Handbook
Red Rabbit

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Armageddon's Children - Genesis of Shannara Book 1

Check any bookshop's fantasy section and you are sure to find a number of title by Terry Brooks (along with the other Terry). I've never read him before though, and picked up Armageddon's Children - Genesis of Shannara Book 1 out of interest back in November.
Here begins the tale of the world that will emerge from the Great Wars to become one of the greatest in modern fantasy. Here begins the Genesis of Shannara.."

I'd stress begins. I found myself drawn in as the story unfolds and characters are introduced from three or four distinct story lines, and awed by the imagination that Terry Brooks has pured into the backstory. A crescendo of plots and conflicts builds...

.. and then you get to the end of the book.

No doubt an amazing epic in the telling, if you are committed to reading the whole series. Personally, I decided to cut my losses (at least for the time being). Telling a story in multiple parts is fine by me, but with each "part" coming in at 400 hundred odd pages good story-telling dictates making each part a satisfying whole in its own right. I am sure there are many fans who will disagree and gleefully devour the whole series. To each his/her own...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The White Stripes - Icky Thump

I heard the title track from The White Stripes' Icky Thump some time back. Think it might have been on BBC World Service's White Label. Finally picked up the album last weekend.

It's quirky playful, in a Sonic Youth kind of way, but perhaps with a more solid blues rock/bluegrass sensibility. It gets stuck in your head. Love it.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Tricky Business

Tricky Business by Dave Barry. The first book for a long time that had me snorting with laughter amongst groups of startled strangers.

As Dave Barry says..
This book is dedicated to the people of South Florida, for being so consistently weird

If I was to classify this book, I'd say its sort of like a Saturday Night Live version of CSI:Miami, directed by the Cohen Bros, and staring all the extras from Miami Vice (the original series). With a twist of Tarantino. Get it?

Sunday, December 09, 2007


Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Estranged

A Redwood, my love stands

Your knife cuts shallow
Skin deep, I stand

Sun-scorched clouds retreat
under your glare, I stand

I may die, may I fall
Stronger for you

The Eyre Affair - Lost in a Good Book

My sister introduced me to Thursday Next, the SpecOps literary crimes specialist (who even has her own website). The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde was a gift that I am sorry to say sat around for too long before being picked up. But once I did, I was hooked. Soon moved on to the second in the series - Lost in a Good Book. I only hope I got to them quick enough ... who knows how they could have changed in the meantime? NB: You will understand that once you have met Thursday Next.

See, Thursday is trying to stop the literary puritans, villains and other particularly unsavoury geezers from sneaking inside books and changing the plot to suit themselves. Or characters from one novel vacationing in another. Of even kidnapping of the lead roles.

OK, so maybe I can't explain it very well. Just take it from me that it is a mind-bending laugh. I can't help thinking Jasper Fforde has created a whole new literary genre .... but I am wondering what Thursday would think of that? Is that allowed?

This excerpt from when Thursday visits a novel may (or not) help you understand ...

"Hello!" she said in a friendly voice. "I haven't seen you around here before [...]"
"Don't we have to be careful as to what we say?" [Thursday Next] managed to utter, looking around nervously.
"Goodness me no!" exclaimed Marianne with a delightful giggle. "The chapter is over and, besides, this book is written in the third person. We are free to do what we please until tomorrow morning when we depart for Devon. The next two chapters are heavy with exposition - I hardly have anything to do, and I say even less! You look confused, poor thing! Have you been in a book before?"
"I went into Jane Eyre once."
Marianne frowned overdrammatically.
"Poor, dear, sweet Jane! I would so hate to be a first-person character! Always on your guard, always having people reading your thoughts! Here we do what we are told but think what we wish. It is a much happier circumstance, believe me!"

If you need something fresh and fun to read, bet on Thursday. Can't say I like the new covers though ... prefer the older comic-style.
See? Turn your back, and someone is off changing the books, which just isn't right.

Weapons of Choice

Talk about a page turner!

I've shied away from John Birmingham's Weapons of Choice (The Axis of Time Trilogy, Book 1) for ages. It's always staring at me on theshelf in the bookstore. Chunky like Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver. All about a 21st century US-lead naval group time-travelling back into the battle of Midway in 1942. Gimme a break. I've got better things to do with my time!

But curiosity got the better of me down at Kinokuniya last week and I picked up a copy. A plane flight and a few evenings later it is dog-eared and done, and I am looking for the next volume.

Birmingham does a decent job of setting the scientific basis to explain the time-travel bit. At least convinced me to the level of my understanding of string theory and quantum mechanics! Add some ego and a major cluster f#$k in a lab (easier to understand) and you are back in 1942. By then you are caught up in the story and the pages fly.

It might be easy to write this off as a macho, techno-military thriller in the Tom Clancy vein, but this book offers much more when you get thinking.

Without grinding your face in it, there's a great study and commentary on how morals and ethics have been through a rapid evolutionary process over the past century. Birmingham doesn't hold back when it comes to the reality of modern racial and gender attitudes facing off against WW2-era society. African-american, female naval Captain suddenly thrown into 1942? Don't expect the locals to just marvel at your ship and say thanks for the help.

What comes a little unexpected to the modern mind is the challenge that it is not all a one way street. Being comfortable with unleashing the mass death and destruction that 21st century weapons are capable of is not a natural state of being. Makes you think about what we've lost for all the gains of modern society.

There's a lot of thought that has gone into the alternate future/past that Birmingham has created. A great deal to ponder.

And/or you can just dive in for a rollicking good yarn.

Postscript: I was browsing movies in HMV the other day and stumbled across The Final Countdown. I'd completely forgotten about watching this 1980's movie (telling?) that has USS Nimitz time-warping back to just before Pearl Harbour. Similar idea that might have inspired Weapons of Choice, but Birmingham has taken the concept to new heights.

Quarter Share

Imagine a Stephenson-esque golden age of clippers, plying the trade routes through space on the solar wind in the far distant future. And the story of a young lad learning the ropes and working his way up through the ratings.

Nathan Lowell's Quarter Share is the first of a trilogy set in this world, and drips with a sense of mercantile adventure and bonds of companionship. This is another great book available as a podcast download from

I was sucked in by the details that Mr Lowell packs into the story of Ishmael Wang, Pip and the rest of the crew of the Lois McKendrick. Be it scrubbing the urns and tuning the grinder to produce the best possible coffee in the galley, or the intricacies of balancing Ish & Pip's trading portfolio.

Loved the book. It has a great feel-good factor, since in this first volume we go along with Ishmael's gradual rise-and-rise from greenhorn to well-loved and respected member of the crew.

Gotta download the next volume, Half Share, PDQ!

PS: Visit The Trader’s Diary for more information on the Golden Age

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Iron Coffin

I really enjoyed this book by John Mannock. It adds to my collection of submarine books and movies.

But Iron Coffin brings an interesting twist to the Das Boot-genre of WWII Kriegsmarine lore. The story commences with the discovery of a U-boat wreck in a Louisiana river delta and a chance encounter in a local bar with an old timer who can tell the story for the first and perhaps last time. How the disabled submarine sought refuge in the bayous and sought help from the Cajun river dwellers. And the surprising twist that explains why one of the sailors is left behind.

Gritty, authentic detail and the unconventional story line make this a great read.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Leader

After reading Guy Walters' The Colditz Legacy, I picked up The Leader.

The book plays out a convincing and chilling alternative history of the rise and fall of fascism in pre-WWII era Britain. The fork in the road from actual history is the refusal of King George to adbicate over his marriage to Mrs Simpson and the resulting face-off with Parliament that allows "The (fascist) Leader" to fill the power vacuum. The book presents a thought-provoking study of just how easy it could be for any society to head down the same path as Germany under Hitler. And the further you go, the harder it is to retreat without drastic action.

The Leader kept me engaged to the very last word. Definitely worth a read.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

What You Do Prata - Food Republic Suntec

Mmm .. getting back to the original theme of this blog: prata reports!

On Saturday I stopped off at Suntec Convention Centre. It's had a famous prata stall for years, and it seems to have survived last year's renovation under the "Food Republic" brand (look for the What You Do Prata stall). Pleased to report the plain prata is as light and fluffy as ever with just enough crispyness. Curry is not bad, but more like a thicker masala style. For fun (and your sweet-tooth), try the prata tissue!

NB: many places you'll find the Teh Tarik is bitter and stewed. Not here .. its great!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

SOA and WS-BPEL - here for review

I was kindly invited by Packt Publishing to review Yuli Vasiliev's new book SOA and WS-BPEL. The review copy just arrived today in time for a quick scan.

I'm immediately drawn by the fact that this is one book that clearly goes beyond smarchitectural blurgh and gets down to concrete details. The focus is on showing how you can create solutions with an open source or freely available toolset - specifically PHP and ActiveBPEL. And when it comes the database of course you expect MySQL, but I am very pleased to see that Yuli also gives full coverage of using (freely available) Oracle Database XE.

Looks like a few days of fun ahead as I work through the book in more detail. I'll be sure to post my review when I'm done.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Myths of Innovation

I finally got hold of Scott Berkun's The Myths of Innovation last week and read it in a day. It's thoughtful, eye-opening and funny to boot (even a few hidden gems, like way down at the very bottom of the ranked bibliography we find: 0, The Art of Project Management, Scott Berkun!).

In ten compelling chapters, the realisation is that conventional wisdom concerning innovation has it all backwards. These are the myths exploded:
  • The myth of epiphany
  • We understand the history of innovation
  • There is a method for innovation
  • People love new ideas
  • The lone inventor
  • Good ideas are hard to find
  • Your boss knows more about innovation than you
  • The best ideas win
  • Problems and solutions
  • Innovation is always good

The wierd thing is that you can probably read the list above (without referring to the book), recognise the "common belief", but with a moments thought understand why it is a myth. The strange things our brains do to us! (more on this when I post my review of Jeff Hawkins excellent book On Intelligence)

I'd highly recommend this to anyone with an interest in how we innovate, or a job role that is somehow related. That should mean pretty much everyone! No wonder this book hit #4 on Amazon's Best of 2007.

If I had 20 days to solve a problem, I would take 19 to define it - Albert Einstein

Monday, November 12, 2007

Writers [on Writing]

Writers [on Writing] is a collection of essays from the New York Times. There are 46 or so pieces by popular authors, that cover a diverse range of topics of interest to anyone who is going about the business of writing - perhaps skewed towards the novelist, but generally relevant to any kind of writer.

From stoking the fires of inspiration and maintaining motiviation, to methods for character and plot development, there are stories here for all aspects of the art.

I was particularly taken by Mary Gordon's Putting Pen to Paper, but Not Just Any Pen or Just Any Paper in which she describes her prediliction (maybe obsession is a better word) for having the correct writing instrument and notebook on hand. More than just comfort or convenience, this is about how certain tools can influence your state of mind and thus be conducive to certain work. Mary Gordon elevates this to a science: when contemplating a novel in three voices, each character had its own suitably matched notebook. I can certainly relate to this! I remember finding that I could only write and study chinese literature effectively with a certain kind of notebook with a light 5mm grid, and I had a similar fixation on yellow legal pads for essays in high school.

Obviously, Mary does not write using a computer, but it makes you wonder if there is an analogue for those that do? And I'm sure just changing your mouse pointer style doesn't do the trick. Stock up on a range of keyboards and mice? Or even different machines?

Picking up the theme of notebooks for geeks, Coté has an excellent discussion on selecting your Moleskin on the Sartorially Orientated Architects site. It's true .. this is very important topic!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Colditz Legacy

Guy Walters' The Colditz Legacy is an engaging read. For those of a certain age and cultural background, Colditz (and especially escape thereof) epitomises a grand Boy's Own tradition of daring and adventure. Walters picked a great backdrop for his story which features Colditz during WWII and 30 years on during the cold war. But this story is not about Colditz itself, but the two main characters; men thrown together during the war which each survived in their own way.

When I started the book, I assumed the "legacy" must mean something like nazi loot or some deep secret, but it is much more subtle. There is the idea that in our past we may have performed in way that meets all external, objective measures of approval but in our hearts is in some way unsatisfactory. This is the legacy we carry around, even subconsciously. Few may want or get the chance to revisit and rectify this conflict in their lifetime. This is the story of one man who does.

I like Guy Walters' writing. I'm sure this won't be the last book of his I read (in fact I have just picked up The Leader).

Code Generation In Action

Jack Herrington's Code Generation in Action is a book I love to recommend for two reasons.

First, the very premise that we should make the most of the tools at our disposal to continuously strive to improve the efficiency and maintainability of software systems appeals to deep-set values, probably ingrained during my education as an Industrial Engineer with a focus on productive systems.

Second, the book's approach lays plain the author's thorough investigation of the subject such that we learn methods and patterns that transcend any particular technology while keeping the examples very much grounded in specific, real applications. Not many technology books manage to so carefully balance the academic/generic with the practical/cookbook. Although the examples will eventually become dated (such as generating EJB data access layers), the book will remain relevant for many years to come as a guide to a "way of thinking" rather than for the specific examples.

It is interesting to note that the book's use of ruby as the exemplary language nudges towards the convention over configuration ethos of rails. Database migrations in rails may not owe any direct lineage to the work of Harrington, but it is easy to see how they could have.

If you like reflecting on how you work with software in order to improve over time - in a sense to think about thinking - then this book will surely capture your imagination and perhaps lead you to a better place.

Postscript: I've blogged about the applicability of the concepts in the book to Oracle JDeveloper here.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Heaven and Hell

Never expected another chance to see Black Sabbath live - let alone in Singapore. But this last weekend, they stormed Fort Canning Park for a huge crowd.

Although the band I saw (Ronnie James Dio, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, Vinny Appice) go under the Heaven and Hell name to distinguish from the Ozzy version of the band, this is classic Sabbath. As good or better than a flashback to the Live Evil tour.

I don't think Singapore will see such a brilliant live act for a long time yet. Flawless playing by all, Iommi just magic, Dio as good as ever .. I think they blew the doors of the clubroom at the back of the park.

And the crowd loved it. Any hard rock act that thinks Singapore isn't worth the effort betta check with Dio or Megadeth (who played the night before).

Here's my crap concert photo. I took some video too, but the audio track is useless -the band was pumping out about 100,000 watts too much power for my poor handphone mike!

Thanks to Aat for telling me about the concert and getting the tixs..

16th May 2010 - rumours that Ronnie James Dio succumbed to cancer, but it seems he fights on.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Best Software Writing I

It's a pity that there was never a volume II for this classic collection of the best software writing, selected and introduced by Joel Spolsky.

I just picked it up to re-read some of my favourites, like
  • Bruce Eckel's Strong Typing vs. Strong Testing, which is a bit of a milestone article in the rise of the "scripting" languages like ruby and Python.
  • Adam Bosworth's ICSOC04 Talk which reminds us it is more important for computer science to be understandable by people than by computers.

There's also some great pointed humour, with
Definitely one of the all-time-must-have tech reads (and re-reads).

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

War Dogs

Picked up Michael Farmer's War Dogs from the library the other day. Proved to be a great airport/trip read.

Its the third in a series of "alternate future-histories" set around the middle-east conflicts from Desert Shield onwards.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Software Fortresses

I forget the first time I became aware of Roger Sessions. I think a collegue of mine in the .com days might have had him as a lecturer. Certainly I got on his ObjectWatch newsletter some time back.

I picked up Software Fortresses - Modeling Enterprise Architectures from the library and it is an interesting read. While I don't see too much evidence that the methodology expoused by the book has been adopted by the mainstream, it is a book that is worth reading for some of the ideas none-the-less.

Principle among these is the idea that system boundries should be seen in the context of organisational dynamics. In other words, if your organisation goes for a centralised database structure and that is unlikely to change in the near term, then it makes sense to model and build your systems that way. This is a great insight as far as I am concerned. It is too easy to be seduced by the idea that IT folk are hyper-rational geeks, and forget the reality that we are all just as human as the rest. Anyone who has tried to implement a system for real can attest to the fact that often it is the human factor that is the primary determinant of success.

The last chapter ("Postlude") is worth the price of the book itself. Here it lists a series of Top-10s such as

  • Ten Important Points about Software Fortresses

  • Ten Reasons to Adopt the Software Fortress Model

  • Ten Rules for Software Fortress Design

    • At the enterprise level, focus on treaties (between fortresses)

    • Define fortresses with the right amount of granularity

    • Look carefully at your walls (for security implications especailly)

    • Look carefully at your guards

    • Make sure nobody can exit the fortress except through an envoy

    • Design infograms to be resilient

    • Design your fortress to scale

    • Use only losely coupled transations across fortresses

    • Use tightly coupled transations only within the fortress

    • Use asynchronous drawbridges wherever possible

  • Ten Controversial Ideas within the Sofftware Fortress Model

    • Performance doesn't count (as much as the overall design)

    • Put security only in the guard

    • Organisational boundaries are related to fortress boundaries

    • Tightly coupled transactions shouldn't cross fortress boundaries

    • We need fortresses within fortresses

    • The software fortress model should always be used

    • Turn off database security(!)

    • Don't share databases across fortresses

    • Give scale-out priority to scale-up

    • The model hasn;t been proven (but what has?)

  • Ten Considerations for Evaluating J2EE versus .NET

  • Ten Observations on the State of the Software Industry

    • The industry has no conceptual model for building enterprise systems

    • The software industry lacks a coherent vision for flowing transactions through the enterprise

    • The software industry has a confusing hodgepodge of security capabilities and no model for how they should be used

    • The software industry is wasting time defining portability standards when what we need are interoperability standards

    • The software industry does not differentiate among implementation technologies (such as objects), distribution technologies (such as components), and interoperability technologies (such as fortresses)

    • The software industry has no concept of the difference between the communications that must occur within a system and the communications that must occur between systems

    • The software industry does not have a common model for interoperability, so different vendors create products that are difficult to glue together

    • The software industry uses technology-specific terminology for describing what is being done, making it difficult to udnerstand when common approaches are being used (e.g. session beans v. COM+ components)

    • The software industry assumes that interoperability will be solved by the choice of one single technology that will integrate everything

    • The software industry frequently provides capabilities that are not only not useful, but downright harmful (examples include entity beans, distrubuted objects, Microsofts Transation Internet Protocol)

The book was published in 2003, but I think we see some sign that the challenges expresed by Mr sessions may well be being addressed - such as the wide-spread adoption of SOAP/Web Services. Mr Sessions words do however spell a warning to those who try to overload such technologies with too much intre-fortress baggage.

The Paris Option

It's not that I have anything against France, but reading The Paris Option comes only a month on the heels of Hunter Killer - another terrorist action thriller with the French cast as the villains.

The Paris Option is another Covert-One novel in which Col. Jon Smith brings the world back from the brink, ably assisted by CIA operative Randi Russell, MI6 renegade Peter Howell and computer genius Marty Zellerbach. Its a rollicking good read, written by Gayle Lynds under the Robert Ludlum brand.

Gayle Lynds also wrote The Hades Factor, which is the first in the Covert-One series. Peter Larkin is the other main writer in the series. Peter did The Lazarus Vendetta and The Moscow Vector, which are the other books in the series that I have read.

The Covert-One series works really well - similar in a way the the Tom Clancy Net Force franchise - and I look forward to reading the remaining novels.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Ballmer Peak and the Programmers' Paradox

xkcd wrote up the Ballmer Peak recently. got me thinking about what I call the Programmer's Paradox, which is the lag in creativity behind skill on the inebriation scale. This has been shown to explain why you are more likely to wake up with pizza on your face than a finished program after that "flash of inspiration" last night. Here's my graphic...

Monday, October 01, 2007

Exit .. Stage Left

Cranked up Rush's Exit .. Stage Left the other day for the first time in years. I'd forgotten about the classic drum solo on YYZ. Magic. There's a few versions available up on YouTube..

The Weather Makers

My sister gave me a copy of Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers for my birthday (thanks!) but it sat in my reading queue for half a year. I packed it when travelling last week and once picked up, was not put down. I wouldn't say this is a happy or hopeful book to read, but it is important. I'm glad this is a best seller, but I'd be happier if we see that translated into action.

I guess the three facts of importance
  1. that climate change is upon us - we have reached the tipping point

  2. that the change is for the worse - the only disagreement being about the specific effects our planet will need to endure

  3. that while human activity is not the only contributor, we know that it is a factor, and more importantly we know ways in which our impact can be lessened
So the question is no longer "should we act" but "will we?"

I particularly liked the quotes that Mr Flannery uses to introduce each chapter. For example from Alfred Russel Wallace:
It is amongst those nations that claim to be the most civilised, those that profess to be guided by a knowledge of laws of nature, those that most glory in the advance of science, that we find the greatest apathy, the greatest recklessness, in continually rendering impure this important necessity of life...
The astonishing point to note is that this is from 1903. It is sobering to realise that the warning bell has been ringing for well over a century, but humanity is nothing if not a master of allowing short term goals undermine the future. Of course, it has always been quite valid to answer the question of climate change with a "Pish!" Well, that is until 2005 when finally we had the published, refereed scientific proof that global warming is in fact, fact.

Read this before it is too late!

PS: my soundtrack recommendation for reading this is Gwen Stefani's Don't Get It Twisted from The Sweet Escape
..don't get it twisted, don't get clever, this is the worst craziest shit ever..

The Warden

I've had Anthony Trollope's The Warden in my iPod for a while, and finally listened to it last week. This is the LibriVox recording of the 1855 novel.

It's a great story that deals in part with the unexpected ethical dilemmas that often attend foolhardy idealistic pursuits. A nice dab of dry wit, to whit:
..but in matters of love men do not see clearly in their own affairs. They say that faint heart never won fair lady; and it is amazing to me how fair ladies are won, so faint are often men's hearts! Were it not for the kindness of their nature, that seeing the weakness of our courage they will occasionally descend from their impregnable fortresses, and themselves aid us in effecting their own defeat, too often would they escape unconquered if not unscathed, and free of body if not of heart.

I couldn't help thinking that if you notch up the drama a bit and don't take it too litterally, the story would make a great "romantic-comedy-drama" movie. I can't dislodge a feeling that there's a stuffy British 1950's B&W version, but I can't find a reference to it. I did discover that there's a BBC series of The Barchester Chronicles from 1982 with Donald Pleasence playing Rev. Septimus Harding (perfect casting). The Warden is one novel in the series.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Comically Large Things

Comically Large Things is a site devoted to the supersize. Why? Apparently because big = big laughs!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Rails for Java Developers

I've picked up and put down quote a few Ruby and Rails books, but haven't found anything that really captured me. That is, until Rails for Java Developers. The discussion is intelligent, and the comparisons between Java and Rails approaches is a great learning process. Thankfully, it doesn't get into slamming one or the other but just focuses on the how. I've worked through some parts of the book so far (my Rails learning is not exactly on the fast track yet!), but I can definitely recommended it if you have the Java background.

Ruby on Rails for Dummies, on the other hand, simply reinforces my dislike of the whole Dummies idea. I'm not against straight-to-the-point beginner texts (on the contrary, that's what I was looking for!) but this books suffers the worst of two blights:
  • It doesn't get straight to the point. Only so many cutesy, hip analogies and stories I can deal with.

  • It lays a limited and 'closed' foundation of knowledge. For example, it takes you through project configuration with an IDE but never hints there is another way. Fine if you never want to go beyond the basics that you get spoon fed here, but if you have higher ambitions at some point you'll have to unlearn/relearn all of the fundamentals you learn here. I hate that. By all means teach me grade 1, but help me build a mental model that can accommodate grade 2,3 and beyond at the same time.
Give this a wide berth.

The Pyrates

Before Guybrush Threepwood, before Captain Jack Sparrow ... there was Captain Avery and Colonel Blood to shiver your timbers and brace the mains'l. Avast thar!

George MacDonald Fraser's Pyrates is a grand farce that rolls in just about every piratical stereotype. Similar in style to his Flashman series, and I think executed almost - but not quite - as successfully.

The delicious juxtaposition in book's dedication gives you an idea of GMF's style ;-)

In memory of the Most Reverend and Right Honourable Lancelot Blackburne (1658-1743)
Archibishop of York and Buccaneer

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Leavenworth Case

I've enjoyed listening to The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katharine Green over the past week. Kirsten Ferreri reads it with a suitably "Victorian" overture for LibriVox, where it is available as a podcast download.

The Leavenworth Case was published in 1878, and is a nicely complicated murder mystery. The true culprit remains well veiled until a classic drawing-room climax. Apparently the book was praised for the mastery of legal points and was used at Yale University to demonstrate the fallacy of circumstantial evidence.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Richard Dawkins at the Sydney Writers' Festival

I was very interested to hear Robyn Williams interview Richard Dawkins for a recent Science Show broadcast from the Sydney Writers' Festival.

The topic was of course Dawkins' The God Delusion. I've yet to read this, but definitely have it on my reading list now. I remember reaeding his The Selfish Gene many years ago, and being struck by its clarity and compelling proposition. It seems like The God Delusion is cut from the same cloth. Speaking of cloth, the following is I gather the foreward to the UK edition, and a nice bit of satire;-)

[The Courtier's Reply by P.Z. Myers]: I have considered the impudent accusations of Mr Dawkins with exasperation at his lack of serious scholarship. He has apparently not read the detailed discourses of Count Roderigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor's boots, nor does he give a moment's consideration to Bellini's masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor's Feathered Hat. We have entire schools dedicated to writing learned treatises on the beauty of the Emperor's raiment, and every major newspaper runs a section dedicated to imperial fashion; Dawkins arrogantly ignores all these deep philosophical ponderings to crudely accuse the Emperor of nudity.

Until Dawkins has trained in the shops of Paris and Milan, until he has learned to tell the difference between a ruffled flounce and a puffy pantaloon, we should all pretend he has not spoken out against the Emperor's taste. His training in biology may give him the ability to recognise dangling genitalia when he sees it, but it has not taught him the proper appreciation of Imaginary Fabrics.

Oh, hail the Emperor!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Best Laid Plans

I found The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis on the recommendation list, and I am so glad I did.

This is a hartwarming story of a jaded political staffer rediscovering some of his idealism in the form of an Engineering Professor who becomes an accidental MP, turning parliament upside-down in the process. Mr Fallis has created an ensemble of wonderful and unconventional characters, and a story that you can enjoy on so many levels.
The podcast version of the novel is a delight. It is like having Terry tell you the story while sitting on the balcony overlooking the Ottawa River, sipping a good whiskey. The short introductions he does for each episode - mentioning some of the feedback, and updating on publishing plans - lend that personal touch in a way that few have been able to equal.

I'm pleased to see that the publishing deal has come through, and you can now find the Best Laid Plans in print on Amazon. I'm looking forward to my copy arriving soon so I can enjoy this story all over again in printed form (yes, that's how much I liked it!).

Join the Friends of “The Best Laid Plans” Podcast Facebook group, or check out the author's site for more information and his blog. Maybe we will see news of a sequel there in the not too distant future...

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Gwen Stefani - The Sweet Escape

Gwen's back on high rotation. The Sweet Escape is stuck in my head, not that I mind.

Last time it was Love Angel Music Baby. I was working in Tokyo and I had it permanently in my phone, along with Uplift Spice's first album 射的 (one of my great finds at HMV Shinjuku - my favourite Sunday afternoon haunt). For 6 months.

Here's a snap from Gwen's Sweet Escape concert in Singapore. Crap picture, fantastic show. Yep, she really mixed in!

The World is Flat

I'd heard about Thomas L. Friedman's The World is Flat long before I got to read it of course. Living in Singapore, a nexus of the flattening world, makes for a daily self-evident truth.

Finally sitting down to read it, I was totally engaged way beyond my expectations. Friedman's views are well though out and strongly held. It's an impressive analysis, but not dry as a result. By taking us on somewhat of a travelogue with interesting characters and stories along the way, it is a neat voyage of discovery and illumination (although I must I admit to skipping some of the discussion of US domestic issues).

A warning though. This can be a frightening read. Helping you see further down the road does not necessarily mean you are comfortable with the destination! It depends from whence you come, and how prepared you (and your children) are for the journey.

There is one thought that increasingly niggles however.

It strikes me that there is an inherent contradiction between the conventional response of developed nations to the forces flattening the world. We seek to move from sunset to sunrise industries, transform our citizens into high-value knowledge workers. But how sustainable is that? In a flattening world, increasingly it's like trying to hold back the ocean as historic educational and environmental/economic advantages are washed away.

At least, this would be a contradiction if we do not lean on a "hidden assumption" that I think Friedman doesn't directly address: the regulation of people and labour that sovereign states and our tribal nature still demand as our right.

To me, this seems to be the last frontier of globalisation:
  • The freedom of financial markets. Capital can move around the globe in milliseconds. Nations may tax and regulate, but fiscal policy generally does not "control". Check
  • The freedom of goods and services. Check
  • Freedom of labour. Work in progress
In other words: while we may invest and trade together, I will control whether you can live or work with me.

This is border protection in action. The structural mechanism that maintains the "impedence" between nations. It is what helps to maintain differential standards of living, wages and opportunities. Sovereignty.

Logically one would think that this is a barrier that must eventually come down as the flattening process proceeds inexorably. Utopia! ... if it wasn't for human nature. One wonders whether there is any possible future in which this could be played out peacefully. Or will politics, tribalism, and xenophobia overcome our more lofty tendencies?

Line Rider - jump the shark

I've had fun playing around with line rider before ... but this is something else!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

A Different Point of View

The Jedi are terrorists, and the Star Wars saga just pulp propaganda undermining the Empire's sworn duty to protect peace and prosperity through the galaxy. Regular citizens just want to get on with life, but will the rebels let them? Hell no!

That is a different point of view;-)

This podcast series, presented from the point of view of standtrooper TD-0013, is a classic. If you've seen the Star Wars movies, prepare to be shocked into realising that Lucas just got totally sucked in by flimsy lies of the Rebel Alliance.

I found this at podiobooks where you can subscribe to the series RSS feed for your iPod or whatever, or checkout the author's site. Highly recommended if you grew up with Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Hunter Killer

Patrick Robinson's Hunter Killer is another bomb-the-bastards ripping yarn. He excels in creating dire yet plausible scenarios of truly global impact. The background to this story is a revolution in Saudi Arabia, backed by the French.

Forget about political correctness, and you can enjoy the story. It is somewhat predictable plot however, and lacks a strong sense of suspense. I'd previously read Scimitar SL-2 which shares many of the same charaters (set 2 years earlier), and I thought overall a better read because it plays more on suspense. (In that story, nukes are in the hands of terrorists. It's a race to see if they can be prevented from using them to trigger a major earthquake and tidal wave).

Hunter Killer does provoke some interesting thoughts, if you can see beyond the gung ho antics.

Firstly, the complicity of France does bring you two question some entrenched and largely invisible prejudices. Bomb Bagdhad? Sure, civilian casualties are unfortunate but can't be helped in our fight against the regime. Bomb Paris, despite clear evidence that France is acting as a renegade state? We-ell, lets think about that a bit. Surely another solution is possible?

Second, there's a fairly sympathetic treatment of the Saudi revolution. EM Forster's quote quickly becomes a key theme underpinning actions on both sides of the Atlantic:
"If I was asked to choose whether to betray my country or my friend, I hope I'd have the courage to choose my country."
Verdict: damn good airport read!

It's a feature not a bug!

... true geek humour.
Hat tip to Paweł Barut for highlighting this from Steve Bass' blog.

Monday, August 06, 2007

My Crazy Roommate

If you've ever known or lived with someone who seems to lived in an alternate reality, you need to check out the My Crazy Roommate blog. This site is hilarious. Make sure you checkout his superpowers ..

The Ambler Warning

I remember first getting hooked on Robert Ludlum when I was about 13. Desperate for something to relieve the boredom while sick for a few weeks, I borrowed The Chancellor Manuscript from my Dad. For many years, devouring and disecting the latest Ludlum was a unique pleasure we shared.

I guess my reading interests wandered, and The Ambler Warning is one of the first Ludlum books I've read for some time. I was surprised he was still writing. A quick check unfortunately confirmed that the newer books are ghost-written under the direction of Ludlum's estate, and apparently based on the wealth of notes and partially completed works he left behind. Sadly, Robert Ludlum himself died in 2001.

Putting these thoughts aside however, The Ambler Warning stands up as a very engaging read in true Ludlum style. Harrison Ambler, former covert operative, escapes from a state psychiatric facility. Even as he tries to make sense of his own memories, it seems everyone is out to kill him. Finding out why is the key to his sanity, and also stopping the bad guys.

Coincidentally, it proved to be an evocative counter-point to the last book I read, blink. Harrison Ambler is so successful in the field because he has the ability to instantly and accurately read people .. "the walking polygraph". At the outset, he has uber-rational CIA auditor Clayton Caston on his tail .. "..don't talk to me about feelings..". Ironically, they find that only in teaming up can they win.

So in a way, this is affirming one of the central themes in blink: sometimes you can't trust gut reaction, and sometimes you can't trust rational analysis either. But if you consider both, then you have considerably increased your chances of being correct.

Still more coincidences in the cameo department. As the book reaches a climax, action centers on the World Economic Forum meeting at Davos..
"A couple of yards away from him, an older, rangy American billionaire - someone whose 'enterprise software' was an industry standard across the globe..." Hmmm, ring any bells? If you don't think Bill makes 'enterprise software', then I reckon it can only be one person ... but then again, I did just read Softwar.

"Another audience member - a woman Ambler vaguely recognized from pictures, a CEO of a tech company, blond and perfectly coiffed - looked distracted, as if rehersing talking points for an upcoming interview.." Got to be Carly!

Favourite quote:
"There's a difference between risk and uncertainty .. Risk is quantifiable. Uncertaintly isn't. It's one thing to know there's a fifty-fifty chance of something going wrong. It's another not to know what the chances are at all."

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Death by Risk Aversion

/unfortunately, this is so true of much in life, love and business.

From the late, great Creating Passionate Users site

Saturday, July 28, 2007


After reading The Tipping Point, I realised blink was also by Malcolm Gladwell so I picked it up at the first opportunity.

If anything, I found blink even more engaging and interesting than The Tipping Point. It explores and tries to explain what happens in those first microseconds of automatic insight. Even more challenging is the question of whether you can harness and train this "power of thinking without thinking" ...

The Tipping Point

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell is one of those books that you suddenly realise is everywhere - bookshops, airports, being read by people on the bus or train.

It's an easy and engaging read - Gladwell's a compelling story teller - and does a convincing job of exploring and explaining just how social epidemics work. He uses a simple model of three concepts to organise the book:
  • The Law of the Few : Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen

  • The Stickiness Factor

  • The Power of Context
I found myself immediately reflecting on how this all applies to what I am trying to achieve at work. I'm sure every reader will do a similar thing - whether your mission is to nurture an idea, a product or a message.

In one of his case studies, Gladwell even makes a very convincing argument for why public health policy has got it completely wrong in regard to controlling smoking!

Softwar - An Intimate Portrait of Larry Ellison and Oracle

I've been meaning to pick this up for some years, and finally did while killing a few hours at KLIA. And I'm glad I did, devouring it last weekend.

It is a great read, no matter what views you may personally hold about Larry or Oracle itself. So many things about the way you see Oracle operate today are given a rich historical background. Fascinating. And remarkably balanced ... I'd say its still 50/50 whether you'll finish the book with more or less respect for Larry and Oracle.

Since the final touches to the epilogue were made in March 2004 (just on the verge of the PeopleSoft acquisition), it was a bit like watching “Fellowship of the Ring”. The story is unfinished and you can’t wait for the next episode of the saga to come out. But despite it being a few years old, I think it remains a highly recommended read especially if you work in enterprise computing. I do hope Matthew Symonds gets to continue the story in another book (a SQL?).

Favourite quote .. LE writes,

"Okay. Maybe database clustering is not as cool as flight. But it's close."
See also:

Friday, July 27, 2007

My Brain

From xkcd - A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Arsène Lupin, Gentleman-Burglar

I recently finished listening to the Librivox recording of The Extraordinary Adventures of Arsène Lupin, Gentleman-Burglar. Librivox make it available as a free podcast, but I notice the book is also available from Amazon.

This is Maurice Leblanc's classic. The Sherlock Holmes/Hercule Poirot who took the other path in life!

I first encountered the character in the Japanese anime Lupin III by Kazuhiko Kato.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The fake David Blaine tapes

I can see the future. Whether you love or hate the real David Blaine, you are going to rofl when you watch these.

David Blaine Street Magic: YouTube Edition!

David Blaine Street Magic part 2 : youtube Edition!

Here we go ..

Prata. The king of foods. Best served hot and slightly crispy, with a masala curry and sweet teh tarik. Its cheap.. quick.. satisfying..

That's what this blog is going to be about. Its my place to post quick satisfying stuff, no subject out of bounds.