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 13, 2009

Trending Groceries #cider

You know when your local supermarkets and shops never stock one of your favourite things?

But you search the shelves on every visit anyway (just in case).

And when you do find it (even though you weren't really expecting to) you just have to buy it.

And you hope that somewhere back in the warehouse an alarm went off, and the clerks are leaping into action..

Smithers, we're spiking on sales of X. Hurry man, there's no time to waste: Reorder! Replenish! We must never go out of stock again.
Rationally, your "consumer activism" is hardly a blip on the radar/grain of sand in the Sahara. But maybe it's more like tweeting to your grocery manager, and hoping you'll kick off a "trending groceries" list to get their attention.

Well, I thought I'd start a list of my own "trending groceries". Today: cider..

#1: #cider

So rare to find in Singapore. For the past few years I've been unconsciously checking on every visit to my local NTUC Fairprice.

And then one fortuitous day I found a Pipsqueak 4-pack sitting on the shelf like a poor orphan. I had to adopt it of course, and have been back every week to save more of of it's brothers and sisters.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Information, Knowledge, Wisdom ..

Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not truth. Truth is not beauty. Beauty is not love. Love is not music. Music is the best...

Frank Zappa (Lyrics to the song Packard Goose on the album Joe's Garage: Act III.)

Most consulting firms have a version of the "Data, Information, Knowledge, Wisdom" point of view, but I've never seen any of them credit Zappa;-)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Customer Satisfaction Poll

Strangely enough, 100% of respondents to this poll reported 0% satifaction..

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Captain's Share

Last year, I wrote about Ishmael Wang's blossoming career on the ships within Nathan Lowell's wonderfully realised future universe of inter-galactic trading.

We last heard of Ishmael when he'd made it to full share and there's been an excrutiatingly long silence as we wait to hear more of his story. But Nathan was on a promise - it was coming!

I must admit I was wondering whether the latest installment would keep up the high standards that Mr Lowell has set for realistic, humanist, hard sci-fi. But now that I've started reading ("listening") to Captain's Share, I know my worries are for naught.

If you think it is remotely possible, I'd say that Nathan Lowell has met and exceeded the standards of story-telling that he set with the earlier books in the saga.

If you are not familiar with the Age of the Solar Clipper, I heartily recommend you start way back at the beginning and work through the series - you won't be disappointed! Not only does Nathan deliver intriguing hard science, but the situations into which he places his characters are model studies of human behaviour (and even management science)... not to mention the few culinary tips I've picked up along the way!

Here's the series (so far) in it's entirety:

All of these stories are wonderfully available for free download in audio format from read by the author in an utterly engaging way that only the creator could muster.

When I say "so far" I really mean it: Nathan Lowell has created an alternate universe/future so compelling and detailed that I can imagine (and eagerly await) many more stories drawing from the rich canvas he has created. So many more possibilities than even the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises ... and probably more in the league of the Dune and Foundation sagas ...

Monday, September 07, 2009

Ubuntu - Linux for Human Beings (and Bears)

Sunshine is one of our pimped PCs. After replacing a totally stuffed hard disk (seriously, it growled like a bear), time to install a real operating system. Sweet!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Top 10 Twitter Trending Topics in your City (or not)

Tweet: "How to Find the Top 10 Twitter Trending Topics in your City on a Google Map #twitter"

It is actually pretty amazing - see the screenshot below for what was trending just now in Manila.

But, aren't we missing a whole lot of information? Apparently nothing has been trending recently in the whole of South East Asia. Despite the fact I just watched a bunch of tweets from friends in Singapore/Thailand/Malaysia/Indonesia just scroll by. Hmmm.

It is a nice experiment, and a good start, but big gaps like this will inevitably raise the question whether any of the information can be trusted.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

TechnoDjango - The Lost Fingers Pump Up The Jam

NPR Fresh Air made me wish I was at the Montreal Jazz festival this year. The Lost Fingers' take on hits from the 80's are great fun, and great listening.

Just noticed their album is currently available for pre-order on amazon (out 1-Sep-2009).

  1. Pump Up the Jam

  2. You Give Love a Bad Name

  3. You Shook Me All Night Long

  4. Incognito

  5. Touch Me

  6. Part-Time Lover

  7. Fresh

  8. Billie Jean

  9. Careless Whisper

  10. Tainted Love

  11. Straight Up

  12. Black Velvet

Friday, August 07, 2009

Fail Whale

too good to pass without note.. (more about showing the whale here)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Rocket Ship Galileo - Apollo 11 40th Anniversary

Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed -- 20 July 1969

The 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing has been getting quite a bit of coverage, but the coolest initiative has got to be the addition of the Moon in Google Earth.

Quite coincidentally, I just read Robert A. Heinlein's "Rocket Ship Galileo" (well, actually listened to the audio version brilliantly narrated by Spider Robinson ).

Heinlein packs this atomic moonshot adventure with just about every Boy's Own plot twist possible and tells a rollicking ripping yarn. What's amazing is the detail of the hard science throughout the book - especially given the fact it was written in 1947.

All the shucks, gee willikins is quaintly pre-baby boom, while the embracing of atomic power with such wild abandon is frightening in retrospect. Altogether, it's a great - if dated - story; a true testament to Heinlein's genius and imagination.

On atomics: it is possible the tide of opinion may be swinging back to nuclear. The ABC Science show just featured a story on the safer and cheaper generations of reactors coming online (transcript, audio). Today's generation III reactors, and the generation IV on the horizon offer even cheaper, safer and cleaner power (literally eating the waste products of earlier designs). All well and good, but it would be a concern if "new atomics" became the quick and easy fix that sabotages the head of steam building up behind the true clean, green renewables (like solar nanopillars).

Friday, June 12, 2009

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

Heard that the movie Sex & Drugs & Rock & Rollhas just started production. Probably shouldn't hold my breath, but I can't wait to see it.

It's based on the life story of Ian Dury, IMHO the best lyricist/poet who ever got a gig. And Laughter was the best album I ever bought as a teenager. I still have the cassette tape at home, even though the ferrite oxide has long rusted and worn away.

In what could turn out to be a masterful bit of casting, they have Andy Serkis playing Dury in the movie. I can well imagine Serkis doing a great Dury. Having done mega-blockbusters with Peter Jackson, Andy seems to be picking up quite a number of intriguing, not-so-mainstream roles. I guess he can afford to;-)

I also realize there's an obscure connection between Dury and Serkis. Dury is well known for having created and performed a version of the Bus Driver's Prayer, which ends with the line..

For Iver and Iver ... Crouch End

Which is - at least according to wikipedia - where Serkis now lives. So Andy is picking up from where our dear departed Ian Dury (RIP) left off...

OK, so that's a stretch. Time to reminisce over the Blockheads and wait for the movie to come out..

Monday, June 08, 2009

Oh boy, got to get one ...Zimplistic Rotimatic

This sounds great, and congrats to the winners of Start-Up@Singapore 2009 for the Zimplistic Rotimatic.

But I want to know ... can it also do the perfect prata?

Chapati or roti is a staple in Indian diet. Yet it can take over 30 minutes to prepare a simple meal of roti. Repeating this at least three times every day is a cumbersome process.

Zimplistic’s invention is an elegant automatic roti-maker set to be the rice cooker of India. With a push of a button, the roti-maker can mix, make and bake rotis from just the addition of water and flour to the machine.

Zimplistic’s founder Pranoti Nagarkar Israni is no stranger to product design. Only in her 20s, she left her job at a leading electronic manufacturer to start-up on her own. She graduated from NUS and majored in mechanical engineering. Zimplistic aims to go one step further by developing more innovations such as the roti-maker, to make every meal more convenient to make and consume.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The largest LEGO battleship in the world

The LEGO Battleship Yamata has now been launched.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

マキシマムザホルモン & THE Best Drummer In The World

マキシマムザホルモン (Makishimamu Za Horumon/Maximum the Hormone). I've had their latest album ぶっ生き返す for a month or so.

And listen to it .. oh, at least once a day. It's some kind of amazing.

Just saw they won the "MTV Best Rock Video Award" in Japan a few days back. Which is pretty mind blowing - Japan has a real vibrant alternative music scene, but the mainstream always seems dominated by the bubblegum schoolgirls and elderly crooners.

Yeah, did I mention Makishimamu Za Horumon is pretty "alternative"? Like driving down a mountain road at 100kph. Every turn you don't know what to expect. Don't try to guess - you will be wrong. Pop+punk+metal+ska+WTF!

Kind of like Red Hot Chili Peppers way over the edge. And in Japanese.

And I am sorry Lars and Nikko, Kawakita Nao 川北 奈緒 / ナヲ is now THE best drummer in the world. And her vocals are essential for the unique fusion that is MTH.

If you are in Osaka 大阪府 tomorrow (3-Jun), you can catch them live. You lucky bastards.

Let'er rip. This is classic. The first track from ぶっ生き返す..

Java Puzzlers

Apparently, Joshua Block and Neal Gafter started the "Java Puzzlers" idea at Oracle Open World 2001. I wish I was there.

Subsequently, they've turned it into a book
, and a website.

If you program in Java, this is truly a must-read book.

More on my tech blog.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Lessons in Re-branding: My Aquarium and SpeedDate's Agressive Acquisition Strategy

The My Aquarium Facebook application will soon become .. a dating app??? WTF!

At first I thought it must be a joke, or someone hacked the developer's facebook account.

But amazingly, it seems for real. SpeedDate have apparently been acquiring quite a number of Facebook applications, and My Aquarium is just one of the latest.

I don't know what on earth they are thinking though. Do they seriously expect to just buy users like this? Isn't there a fundamental demographic and motivational mismatch between users of a cute aquarium app and the dating crowd (except by pure coincidence)?

Rather than endearing people to SpeedDate, I'd expect the reaction is more like this:

Get the hell of my Facebook page. First you buy up and kill off one of my apps, then you expect me to use your totally unrelated app? Get real!

Kind of like if Microsoft came along and bought up Adobe then sent an email to all Photoshop users saying they must all upgrade to Excel. Can you imagine the consumer revolt that would cause?

I don't know anything about SpeedDate, but this behaviour just makes me want to see them fail big time. Not a good PR position to be in...

Zero Day Exploit

I picked out Rob Shein's Zero Day Exploit: Countdown to Darkness (Cyber-Fiction) at the library simply because it stuck out as an obvious "computer book" in the fiction section. I thought it had been mis-shelved and so it caught my eye.

I finished reading it because ... well, it is simply so bad as to have a kind of Ed Wood "B-movie" allure.

It is a pity, because the idea has promise: a fictionalised cyber-security thriller that can almost double as a vulnerability assessment and computer forensics text because of the detail it includes.

Unfortunately, the book would be better titled Zero Day FAIL!

In terms of the computer security technicalities, it is really light weight, making only cursory reference to just a few of the most routine security issues and tools, and describing a methodology that is far from leading practice. The author's main characters are meant to be save-the-world "white hat" geniuses, but they come across as bumbling script-kiddie amateurs. Stuck debugging a program because they mis-spelt "main"? Forgot there might be a firewall in place? Found a vulnerability on the first attempt by sending a stream of É, "because it is a character know to cause buffer overflows". Sheesh!

As a novel, I don't think I've ever read a book so in need of a good editor than this. Just about every aspect needs work or a complete re-write: character development; dialogue; story arc; climax and resolution.

And did I mention the plot? It goes from sublime to the ridiculous, and then just peters away..

Mind you, even well-known authors can fall into the "sublime to the ridiculous" plot trap. Take Eric Van Lustbader for example, writing Robert Ludlum's (TM) The Bourne Sanction. Whereas Ludlum was a true master at pulling together incredibly complex and outlandish plots while never for a moment losing the credulity of his audience, Van Lustbader always seems to miss the mark by a little. And as a reader, once you start questioning the realism of characters' behaviour and the uncanny role of coincidences, then the magic of the story is quickly extinguished and the author has lost you.

I mention The Bourne Sanction for one further reason: like Zero Day Exploit, it features terrorists attempting to distroy the petroleum distribution infrastructure of the US. And the one thing that Rob Shein should feel happy about is that his scenario for how this could be done is way more credible than what Van Lustbader cooked up for The Bourne Sanction (which made me think Van Lustbader was probably script-consulting on Speed 2 at the time)

So was Zero Day Exploit mis-shelved? You bet. They missed the bin by a mile!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Faster and Faster

'ere, guv. Got a new mota?

More at Andy J Gallagher. Great Brit-indie-pub-rock vibe. Now listening to his Crocodiles & Prostitutes EP...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Software Architect's Professsion

That was a happy age, before the days of architects, before the days of builders. -- Seneca c.4BC-65AD

I hesitated as I reached for The Software Architect's Profession: An Introduction (Software Architecture Series) on the library shelf.

Did I really want to read another treatise on the role of the software architect? Hasn't the term architect been so abused as to now be worthless, even downright counter-productive? In this, I think I am one with Jeff Atwood and Joel Spolsky who discussed the questionable value of the title "Software Architect" on StackOverflow podcast #44.

Nevertheless, my hand followed through. I think I was persuaded by the unimposing nature of this concise little 100-page book.

I was pleasantly surprised; this is a great little book for stimulating some thinking around the role of an architect for the advanced reader. But I worry that it attempts to position itself as "An Introduction". A novice, unprepared to read the text critically, may easily be mislead by the book's definitive statements about what a software architect is and what they do.

Personally, I believe the book is fundamentally flawed in three important aspects:

1. Are we really in Crisis because we lack a Software Architecture Profession?

Firstly, the premise that today's Crisis in Software...
[the] parade of failures and half-failures that has grown over the years as a result of a world without an established profession of software architecture wholly unsupported by any direct evidence. The authors' central argument is of course flawed based on the appearance of a causal relationship where in fact only coincidence has been established beyond doubt. A number of well-known software runaways and failures are mentioned, but I don't know of any where the original case studies attributed the failure primarily to the lack of "an established profession of software architecture". The authors get around this problem by redefining the conclusions and suggesting that all faults may eventually be explained by architecture. It seems to me self-serving and circular.

2. A Flawed Analogy with Building Construction

Second, the authors attempt to reinforce their argument with the proposition that the analogy with building architecture is self-evident. Buildings need architects. Software is like building. Therefore software needs architects. Hmmm. I am reminded of Bernard Rudofsky's book "The Prodigious Builders" which celebrates the history of vernacular architecture. That is, architecture without Architects (unfortunately a stunningly boring book for what ought to be a highly inspirational subject).

I particularly disagree with the authors' contention that software is not developed: it is built (with a sense of finality). The Google-inspired trend towards the perpetual beta is the most visible evidence to the contrary. The authors object to the notion that to develop implies to unfold, uncover, and make known. On the contrary, I find this a most apt description of what we do within the software profession: the youth and continuing innovation within the field does mean that software development and the architecture it requires is more akin to exploration, invention and discovery than to a formalised application of the tried and true.

Strike two.

3. Premature Specialisation

I began to renew my hope for the book as it explored the historical foundations of architecture. Michelangelo can truly lay claim to the title of Architect ("master builder"); his work on St Peter's Basilica epitomizes the unltimate balance between function, beauty, and structure,

Vitruvius is famous for asserting in his book De architectura circa 50BC that a structure must exhibit the three qualities of firmitas, utilitas, venustas — that is, it must be strong or durable, useful, and beautiful. A sense of proportion and harmony is represented in Leonardo Da Vinci's famous illustration of Vitruvian Man.

Such ideas begin to shape the conventional definition of an architect. A master who not only understands structure, utility, and beauty in order to successfully render a design into plans, but has the practical experience to supervise their realisation through construction.

At this point, I think the authors are getting onto the right track. However they stumble at the last post by then inexplicably turning this into an argument for a limited and specialised concept of a "Software Architecture Profession", where the architect only retains responsibility for venustas (design/beauty). Utilitas (function/utility) is the client's problem, and firmitas (form, materials, logistics) is the province of the engineers, scientists and code monkeys.

Time for the Renaissance?

The authors' call for the codification and ossification of a software architecture practice is I think at least 50 years premature.

What an "Architect" needs to be concerned with is still going through successive waves of tumultuous change. Up to the green-screen era, computer system architecture necessarily had a strong hardware component. Come the GUIs and increasing processing power in the 90s, it seemed a singular focus on "software architecture" as a technical discipline was a valid vocation. Now the waves of web-driven innovation and the emergence of the "Rich Internet Application" is again challenging our notions of what architecture entails. And again, the "real world" is encroaching the pure software realm with the rise of increasingly powerful and widely available mobile computing platforms (think iPhone, Android), and the revolution in pervasive automation (think Arduino).

I think the Java Posse were spot on when they discussed the growing need for cross-fertilisation and collaboration between designers and developers on podcast #247 - Design and Engineering. This is a time of divergence, not convergence, in the business of producing software & technology-based systems.

In truth, I question how appropriate both words are in the term "Software Architect":
  • Software - it is perhaps only in the last 10-20 years that it has been possible to construct computer software at the level of complexity that warrants the existence of an architect in the classical sense. And I suspect that in another 10 years it will seem ludicrous to suggest that you can be an Architect of only software ("just a turn-of-the-century fad"). Software is just one component of a "built environment" that encompasses everything from the information infrastructure and systems technology to the psychology, art and design of human interaction; ultimately leading to a desired collaboration between people and machines in the context of real-world objectives.
  • Architect - the common use of the term in the computing field has stripped this word of it's more noble dimensions. No longer is the architect "the person with the vision and skill to make dreams a reality". They are more likely to be the person in the corner who produces nothing but paper, leaves no fingerprints on the pages of history, and is generally ignored by those who are really making things happen.

I don't know what you should call the people who have the experience and ability to lead others to do amazing things with the information technology we have at our disposal.

I'm just pretty sure that "Software Architect" doesn't even come close to being adequate. And building a "profession" around a woefully inadequate definition is a one-way ticket to irrelevance and obscurity.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Great Innovation for Bathroom Readers

... but I have to know: is there a MAXI version? A pity it seems to have been designed by designers for designers, and not your typical O'Reilly, Apress or Wrox reader;-)image

PicoCool - Elegant Solution for Bathroom Readers

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Hand Drawn Maps - Corsair

Maps have always intrigued me. As a career seafarer, my Dad always had nautical charts around the house, and drawing a map of a saxon village is one of my most distinct primary school memories.

I just stumbled upon the Hand Drawn Maps Association, which will be publishing a collection of hand drawn maps and in anticipation is running a contest for everyone to submit their own maps. In terms of esoteric deliciousness, this is certainly up there with the Cloud Appreciation Society
One of my favourite user submissions so far is David Donachie's RPG coastal map of the country of Tanaloth.

Maps also played a role in a book a recently finished listening to. Tim Severin's Corsair is the story of Hector Lynch who is taken from Ireland by slavers from the Barbary Coast and recounts his adventures to escape captivity. He helps his friend Dan, a slave from the Miskito Coast, turn his tattoo skills to map illustration for their Turkish master and take another step towards freedom.

Corsair is a ripping yarn in the best swashbuckling tradition, however the details that Severin weaves into the tale provide a fascinatingly different perspective on the 17th century, one that is more centered on the North African and Islamic world in both location and outlook.

The reading is brilliantly delivered by Rupert Farley. Highly recommended.

Morning Skies in Singapore

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Am I too old for Gundam slippers?

With sound effects some more!

Found in the Top Anime and Manga Gadgets Collection at

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The forgotten link between Earth, Wind & Fire and Jamiroquai?

As if you needed convincing that Earth, Wind & Fire laid the groundwork for modern funk...

My latest, crazy theory is that a forgotten track "You Can Do It" in the middle of No Doubt's Tragic Kingdom is the forgotten evolutionary link!

Don't believe me? Try listening to this sequence and tell me if I am wrong..

  • Boogie Wonderland, EW&F - classic disco funk (1979). Vocals, base and guitar come down heavy on the beat with trademark brass punctuation.

  • You Can Do It from Tragic Kingdom
    , No Doubt - big trumpets, rollicking beat and wah-wah, but in comes the synth.

  • Then, say, Love Foolosophy from A Funk Odyssey
    , Jamiroquai - the pinnacle of modern funk. Borrows all that is great in terms of beat, the brass and real guitar but so well produced and of course, the one thing that always makes a song .. distinctive and delicious vocal styling.

Good listening, whether you can see the connection or not;-)

The grand-daddy, one more time..

Friday, February 27, 2009

Potatoes need garlic

Last time I wrote about real garlic toast. Garlic really is the wunderkind of the kitchen. Potatoes? Mmmmmm....

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Web Form Design

I'm humming and hahing over some form designs at the moment. These days you have so many options, especially when you are getting smart with ajax and scriptaculous tricks.

Having options is always a double-edged sword. Yes, they allow you to do amazing things. But they provide a great recipe for procrastination.

.. just the situation where some thoughtful, concise guidance on leading practices from someone who knows their stuff can be a goldmine.

Thankfully I stumbled upon this great presentation on web form design by Luke Wroblewksi. It's a classic, and now I see he has a book out on the topic which instantly went on my "must read" list.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

l'amour de l'ail

As I found in Leon: Ingredients and Recipes
garlic: you either like it, or you're completely nuts about it.

Well I must be nuts. Whether it is sweet delicious nuggets in the best Bak Kuh Teh, or sliced in your favourite Thai stir fry, garlic claims its' place as one of the four essential pillars of great cuisine (along with salt, pepper and chili).

One of my most memorable dining experiences was at the Stinking Rose in San Francisco (they have a great cookery book available).

But as usual, simple is best. I don't think there is anything better than fresh bread toasted with virgin olive oil, and rubbed with fresh garlic before immediate consumption. Warm, crisp on the outside, soft on the inside with the sharp pungency of fresh, raw garlic.