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

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.