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

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.