I Thought He Came With You is Robert Ellison’s blog about software, marketing, politics, photography and time lapse.

Reviews and links for March 2011

Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017

The Idle Parent: Why Laid-Back Parents Raise Happier and Healthier Kids by Tom Hodgkinson

3/5

It could have been a great one page idle book - leave the kids alone more. But I guess that wouldn't fly with the publisher so it's more of a manifesto for a more traditional childhood - four hour school day, build things from wood, raise and eat your own pigs. Possibly idyllic but far from idle. Also, Hodgkinson denounces computers yet the book wants you to visit its blog. Entertaining and occasionally inspirational nonetheless.

 

The Very Quiet Cricket by Eric Carle

2/5

Derivative, and requires batteries which is the last thing you need with a book. I think Carle phoned this one in. Actually, it's like when thriller writers get too famous and farm the hard work out. It reads like an "Eric Carle's" or "Eric Carle with Grant Blackwood" kind of book. Introduces a small range of insects but manages to use "whirred" twice. Has Mosquitoes out at night rather than being a dawn/dusk phenomenon. The only saving grace is the unexpected twist with the Luna Moth.

 

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

4/5

It's a geeky, Hispanic coming of age / family history epic. To read it you need some Spanish, some knowledge of the Dominican Republic (rather distractingly sketched in via footnotes - I wish Díaz had included an appendix instead) and to have read a lot of SciFi.

 

Links

- EU envoy defends Bahrain police from BBC News - Home (How do we fire Robert Cooper? Seriously, how is a sniper and 'accident'?).

- Obama's war tent from BBC News - Home (Surely he's just doing that to screw with Gaddafi?).

- Radiation Chart from xkcd (Radiation perspective...).

- Are cloth seats a public health hazard? Possibly. from Boing Boing (Of course. And which Muppet decided to carpet BART?).

- Chrysler Tells It How It Is from Failblog After Dark (It looks real - someone got fired for tweeting this).

- VIDEO: Murakami's book on silver screen from BBC News - Home (I hope they didn't screw it up...).

- Facebook adds suicide help system from BBC News - Home (Also needed, a 'net' underneath the wall.).

- What should you do if a cash machine overpays? from BBC News - Home (Really BBC, you needed to crowd source this one?).

- Herpetology from xkcd.com ('herpetology is a silly field').

- Dear Oprah: Some thoughts on your credibility. from Boing Boing (In her defense, she has a lot more hours to fill these days...).

Reviews and links for February 2011

Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017

Agents of Treachery: Never Before Published Spy Fiction from Today's Most Exciting Writers by Otto Penzler

3/5

A good mix of spy stories set everywhere from WWII to Somali pirates.

 

Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro

3/5

Five short stories, all lightly interconnected and all about music and some sort of personal transition. Engaging characters, sharp prose and a very funny turkey scene.

 

Terminal World (Gollancz S.F.) by Alastair Reynolds

2/5

Promising start, but then sags badly and ends inconclusively. Which makes me concerned that there might be a sequel or even a trilogy in the works. It's the first Reynolds book that I haven't liked - more blimp opera than space opera with a passive, repetitive protagonist.

 

The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson

4/5

An interesting mediation on belief, that boils down to how normal it seems for a minister to not believe in God, and then how extraordinary for the same minister to believe to have met The Devil.

 

Links

- What happens when you stick your head in a particle accelerator from Boing Boing (I used to have nightmares about this while commuting on 280).

- Rolls-Royce to show electric car from BBC News - Home (It can travel a foot between recharges...).

- England reading test to include non-words from BBC News - Home (This really seems very silly).

- What do you put in nine bins? from BBC News - Home (One of them is just for cats.).

- Fan held over 'air crash mockery' from BBC News - Home (Bad taste, but should you really be arrested for causing 'alarm or distress'?).

- Keen On… MIT Professor Says Robotic Moment Has Arrived, And We Are Toast (TCTV) from TechCrunch (Bollocks. Or rather, replace robot with dog or cat and get the same result.).

- Tarmac lorry sheds its load on M3 from BBC News - Home (Sounds like one hell of a speed bump.).

- Playmobil Stop Motion Joy Division from Boing Boing (I'm hoping this is a whole YouTube genre...).

- After Failing To Get Hacked Last Year, Google Paying For Chrome To Be In Pwn2Own 2011 from TechCrunch (If you're still not using Chrome this should provide some inspiration to make the switch. There's really nothing better, other than telneting to port 80.).

Reviews and links for January 2011

Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017

My Empire of Dirt: How One Man Turned His Big City Backyard into a Farm by Manny Howard

4/5

Alternatively funny and painful. Manny Howard is clearly not cut out to be a farmer but he battles through problems that seem to be mostly of his creation and manages to feed himself briefly from his back garden. Given he's doing this with a largish plot of land and an expense account it's a warning to anyone with urban agriculture ambitions. The death toll on the farm is pretty extreme - not the necessary slaughter of chickens for food but the number of avoidable accidents that border on abuse. Am now even more inspired to leave farming to the professionals...

 

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary by David Sedaris

4/5

Wind in the Willows Gone Wild.

It's nothing like his normal experience-mining, but hilarious none the less. Dark, grotesque fairy tails mixing the worst of animal and human behavior together.

 

Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear

5/5

After the mediocre FBI books this is a breath of fresh air. A man wakes up on a mysterious ship, supposedly on a slower than light mission to colonize a far off planet. But something has gone horribly wrong. Bear is channeling J.G. Ballard here, Hull Zero Three is mysterious and surreal and eventually haunting. It's hard SciFi with just enough horror (reminiscent of Pandorum and Moon, but much richer than either film). I think it's probably the best novel he's written, and I nearly missed it after assuming he'd gone soft with Quantico.

 

When Will There Be Good News? (Jackson Brodie #3) by Kate Atkinson

4/5

Bit of a rhetorical question in the title, good news is pretty thin on the ground in this brooding third outing for Jackson Brodie. Very good, but need something light now...

 

Worth Dying For (Jack Reacher Series #15) by Lee Child

3/5

The biggest hobo is back, and faced with by far the nastiest baddies in the series so far. It's the typical small town with a dark shadow setup and you know there's only one man for the job. Reacher has it a bit too easy in this installment. Child sets up some fearsome opponents but then knocks them down almost as an afterthought. While billed as a sequel to 61 Hours (also published in 2010) Worth Dying For stands alone with only a small nod to the bind Reacher found himself in at the end of the last book.

 

Zero History (Bigend, #3) by William Gibson

5/5

Excellent.

 

Links

- Microsoft warns on browser flaw from BBC News - Home (Main flaw would be still using IE...).

- Turning body heat into energy from BBC News - Home (Isn't it already energy?).

Reviews and links for December 2010

Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017

Don't Vote It Just Encourages the Bastards by P.J. O'Rourke

2/5

P.J. O'Rourke is hilarious when given something to react against. His Driving Like Crazy anthology last year was superb. Sadly this latest tome is closer to the dire CEO of the Sofa... It's just conservative talking points and cheap shots at the lefties. Not even funny cheap shots or it would be worth reading. Ironically in one chapter O'Rourke reviews recent left and right wing books and chides them for the same mindless behavior. Disappointing.

 

Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks

5/5

Back to a classic, grand-scale Culture novel and I think one of the best yet. Banks manages to zoom from funny to tragic, from space opera to personal vendetta. It makes me want to go back and read all the Culture novels again to freshen up the various references. Must read if you like Banks or SciFi.

 

Links

- Microsoft warns on IE browser bug from BBC News - Home (Microsoft recommends using the 'Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit 2.0' ... I'd suggest switching to Chrome.).

- Microsoft Allen's case dismissed from BBC News - Home (It's a temporary win, but please patent terrorists everywhere fuck off and find something productive to do with your life.).

- Dirk Gently BBC trailer from Boing Boing (Yes, please BBC America!).

Reviews and links for November 2010

Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017

The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker

4/5

A first person account of a procrastinating poet who just can't get the introduction to an anthology started. It's filled with fascinating nuggets of information like a Bill Bryson book, a lesson in poetry and a manifesto for a return to poems that rhyme. Short, sweet and beautifully written.

 

The Evolutionary Void (Void, #3) by Peter F. Hamilton

4/5

Some science fiction takes you to the future through new ideas or technology. Peter F. Hamilton physically drags you there through actual time. I started reading him last century and have just surfaced from the conclusion of the Void trilogy in actual honest to goodness 2010. I hope he takes some time off. I could use couple of years to catch up on some other books.

The Void trilogy is set in the same universe as his Commonwealth Saga and Misspent Youth, set over a millennium later although there are many recurring characters. We finally discover the true nature of the mysterious void at the heart of the universe introduced in The Dreaming Void, several thousand pages ago.

It's epic space opera combined with a thread of fantasy that eventually resolve into a single story. His dialog is often leaden but the plot and scope of the story more than make up for it. If you like this sort of thing then you're going to love it.

 

Links

- Guest Week: Zach Weiner (SMBC) from xkcd.com (Interactive guest XKCD goodness).

- Vitamin D from Information Is Beautiful (Need more sunshine!).

- Palin says she could beat Obama from BBC News - Home (McCain, your legacy is thoroughly fucked.).

- Obama vows to improve Muslim ties from BBC News - Home (Tip: stop killing Muslims).

- Flash vs. Batteries from Boing Boing (Because it has to check for updates every five seconds?).

- Electric current 'boosts maths' from BBC News - Home (Yes, every time you answer incorrectly...).

Reviews and links for October 2010

Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

5/5

Stonking. It tells the tale of a Dutch clerk (de Zoet) at a trading post with the xenophobic Japan of 1799. It has the swashbuckling panache and anal research of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle with just a dash of 'Big Trouble in Little China'. I hoped it was going to end with a 'to be continued...' but alas, Mitchell managed to wrap it up. Loved it.

 

Links

- Everest climbers get 3G network from BBC News - Home (Coming soon: escalators).

- Dream recording device 'is possible' from BBC News - Home (Life channels 'Until the End of the World').

- Pope urges migrants to integrate from BBC News - Home (How about getting priests to respect the laws of host countries and then start worrying about immigrants.).

- How Google understands language like a 10-year-old from San Francisco Bay Area News — — SFGate (Statistical analysis is Searle's Chineese Room, not AI.).

- Malcolm Gladwell is wrong about the revolution from All Salon (He's completely right. I joined a group to help the monks in Burma and they're still totally screwed.).

- Man used hosepipe to punish son from BBC News - Home (That's not what I was expecting the hosepipe to be used for. I think the son got off lightly and the father is lucky not to be facing a hosepipe ban related death sentence.).

Reviews and links for September 2010

Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017

NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson

4/5

I'm a big fan of Bronson and I became a father last Thursday, finishing this book the day after. NurtureShock is packed full of the latest research on child development from infants (I can't believe how happy I am that Baby Einstein doesn't work) to teenagers. If you're unwilling to vaccinate you can probably skip this, otherwise I'd say a must read for parents. But do check back - will update this review in eighteen years or so...

 

WAR by Sebastian Junger

3/5

WAR consists of Junger embedding with infantry trying to hold a valley in Afghanistan. He visits several times over the course of their deployment and gets caught up in a frightening amount of action. It's as much a book about dealing with this personally as it is about the soldiers he's there to cover. There's very little context about why the valley might be important, or about the war in general, just an account of the hard pointy end of warfare and the psychology of the troops before, during and after.

 

The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Use News Releases, Blogs, Podcasting, Viral Marketing and Online Media to Reach Buyers Directly by David Meerman Scott

3/5

It's a passionate manifesto for focusing on new media for marketing and PR, and a reasonable guide as to how to go about it. I found repeated chapters on the same topic to be a bit grating but if you're completely new to blogging I guess it could be helpful. Readers would be better served by including more on SEO basics and less on Second Life. Worth a read if you're not even blogging yet, probably a pass otherwise.

 

Links

- Star Trek pizza cutter from Boing Boing (Need this!).

- The coming BlackBerry row from BBC - American Frei (Those who don't remember the Clipper Chip are doomed to repeat it...).

- David Miliband: This is Ed's day from BBC News - Home (And it will probably make for a really crappy Miliband Christmas.).

- Timelapse Footage of San Francisco and its Fog at Night from Spots Unknown (Often the fog here looks like a time lapse.).

- Ewan McGregor in a Spitfire from BBC News - Home (A Spitfire 'jet', really?).

- Pope aide in 'Third World' jibe from BBC News - Home (Criticizing Heathrow and BA is hardly the same as criticizing the UK. Also, he's right.).

- Clinton endorses Jerry Brown for Calif. governor from SFGate: Top News Stories (Wow. Probably says more about Meg than Brown.).

- Young 'exposed to unsuitable TV' from BBC News - Home (Right, so send them to bed early so they can watch porn on their laptops...).

- Turtles Eating Things from Boing Boing (Except... they're tortoises! One might expect Blade Runner savvy BB to spot the difference. Sigh.).

- Why patent lawsuits and hot tubs don't mix from All Salon (From the headlines you never thought you'd read department...).

- WTF stamp from Boing Boing (Want).

- Top Gear's 'The Stig': Revealed? from BBC News - Home (It's all a decoy to prevent the real identity from leaking out (Julian Assange)).

Reviews and links for August 2010

Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach

4/5

It's Mary Roach, so no surprise that her book on space focused on how hard it is to take a crap (in space), how much engineering goes into disposing of crap (in space), and practical uses for crap on a Mars mission (including making it into radiation shielding tiles and reprocessing it into crap burgers). You'd think this book would be NASA's worst nightmare, but it's actually humanizing as well as fascinating. If you're a Roach fan you'll love it. If you haven't had the pleasure then this is a great place to start.

 

The Lion by Nelson DeMille

2/5

This sequel to The Lion's Game is disappointingly flat - Corey and Assad are fated to meet for a final confrontation and they do but after an initial sky diving sequence nothing really happens. There's very little tension, no plot, no struggles or setbacks for the hero or villain. DeMille really phoned this one in.

 

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (Millennium, #3) by Stieg Larsson

3/5

The second and third books could be just one (very) long book. Nest kicks off where Fire ended and slows the tempo down a bit, although not to the glacial pace of Tattoo. It's a fitting ending to the tale of Salandar, if a bit drawn out in the final sequence. Of course, a must read if you've ploughed through the first two.

 

Links

- What do new passports say about the UK? from BBC News - Home (At least it still "requires" other countries to let us pass without let or hindrance, unlike the less forceful US passport...).

- General Motors in huge share sale from BBC News - Home (It really doesn't seem quite right to call it an 'initial' public offering.).

- Record broken for number of 'pirates' in one place from BBC News - Home (Um, is that just because the Guinness people are afraid of going to Somalia?).

- Sandwich Monday: 'The Breakfast Club' Edition from NPR Blogs: Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me! (Sandwich Monday is now funnier than the actual show.).

Reviews and links for July 2010

Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017

Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis

4/5

Returns to the characters of Less Than Zero twenty five years later. I don't think it's a plot spoiler to say that they're not happy and well adjusted people. I found Glamorama to be pretty tedious and Lunar Park only marginally better. It was a huge relief that Imperial Bedrooms just flows. It's a welcome return to his earlier narrative style. Dread and paranoia are visceral presences from the start and then layers of fear and horror build until it can't get any worse and then somehow does. Brilliant.

 

Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant by W. Chan Kim

2/5

Given its pedigree it's missing two segments - the yellow ocean (no competition, no customers) and the purple ocean (high competition, no customers). They must be saving those for a sequel. I read this because a few people had recommended it and if you think the ideal market to play in is one with no differentiation and high competition then it's a must read. Otherwise the only real value is being conversant with the buzz word. Evaluating past successes with 20/20 hindsight and talking about their 'blue ocean strategy' is a classic business book selection bias. If you learn anything from the case studies it should be that breakout innovation doesn't come from your ocean, hedgehog principle or current cheese location.

 

61 Hours (Jack Reacher Series, #14) by Lee Child

3/5

Well constructed if average plot. This is the Empire Strikes Back of Reacher novels and ends on a bit of a cliffhanger - the next in the series is out later this year and hopefully picks up the pace a bit.

 

Professional C# 4 and .NET 4 by Christian Nagel

4/5

I own the 2005 and 2008 flavors of this book as well. It's the best overall C# reference I've found and this 2010 version is a welcome update. As with the 2008 book it could use a better guide to new features, but still very highly recommended.

 

Ina May's Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin

3/5

It's a somewhat troublesome mix of advice and propaganda. The advice seems mostly solid, practical and grounded in a great deal of experience. The book ends with the most important - don't think that your body is a lemon, pregnancy isn't a disease, you can do it. Ina May's statistics from "The Farm" are compelling as well, but the birth stories are a bit far out. They typically sound like: 'Sunflower, hanging from the birthing gallows while member of the Farm suck her nipples and I bring her to repeated orgasm, didn't even notice that her baby had been born'. For most people there's probably a middle ground between technocratic doctors and hippie midwives. When the book veers into propaganda it seems there's no anecdotal story too weird to make the case for natural childbirth and no study rigorous enough to suggest that there might be nothing to this modern medicine fad. Some suggestions - like that obstetricians don't believe that nutrition has a role in healthy pregnancy - are just so ridiculous that they case doubt on the rest of the book. And yet, her statistics are so very good while US hospitals force you into a caesarean section to prevent lawsuits and not miss happy hour. I guess the only conclusion to reach is to give birth in The Netherlands and then move to Sweden to take advantage of their twenty year maternity leave...

 

Links

- Frogger from xkcd.com (don't miss the alt text).

- Say fat not obese, urges minister from BBC News - Home (also 'a bit poorly' rather than 'cancerous').

- MoD 'must not live beyond means' from BBC News - Home (Easy fix... bring troops home and send National Audit Office to scold Iraq and Afghanistan into submission.).

- Vatican mulls sex abuse of impaired adults from All Salon (Hint: if you don't know the number for your local police department 112 will work on most mobile phones.).

- Call for school rugby scrum ban from BBC News | News Front Page | World Edition (Where was Professor Pollock when I was at school?).

- Grandmothers link orcas to humans from BBC News | News Front Page | World Edition (Could it be that the mothers also have mothers? Like necessarily?).

Reviews and links for June 2010

Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017

Tell-All by Chuck Palahniuk

2/5

A barely reheated Glamorama (celebrities and brands in bold face) about star-fucking in the form of a movie script. Enough Palahniukisms to make it worth finishing (for me), but only because it was mercifully short.

 

Links

- BP 'trusted partner' of Olympics from BBC News | News Front Page | World Edition (Appropriate given that much of the Olympic site is toxic sludge covered in a thin layer of plastic wrap...).

- Falls cost NHS millions each day from BBC News | News Front Page | World Edition (Are they falling on expensive scanners or something?).

- Should nuts be banned on commercial flights? from All Salon (Ban them? I can't remember the last time I was served anything as luxurious as a peanut on a US flight...).

- Call to regulate artificial life from BBC News | News Front Page | World Edition (Public should have studied harder at school then.).

- City of Smarty Pantses from Spots Unknown (Says more about cost of living maybe?).

- "A hundred mile oil lake at the bottom of the Gulf that's 500 feet deep." from jwz (Hopefully this guy doesn't know what he's talking about...).

- Dolphin uses iPad as way to communicate with humans from Boing Boing ("S_ l_*g *nd th*nks !or *ll the !ish" - but what can it mean?).

- Feds meet with film director Cameron on oil spill from SFGate: Top News Stories (They can get rid of it in post-production?).