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 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?).

Reviews and links for May 2010

Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017

Founders at Work: Stories of Startups' Early Days by Jessica Livingston

4/5

Over 30 interviews with tech company founders ranging from Ray Ozzie and Mitch Kapor to James Hong of "Hot or Not". The interview with Philip Greenspun of ArsDigital is very raw and very amusing. Joel Spolsky's advice is "So quit your day job. Have one other founder, at least. I'd sat that's the minimum bar to getting anywhere." - well, that plus have a hit blog read by developers and then sell tools for developers. Diverse, inconclusive but fascinating.

 

The Girl Who Played with Fire (Millennium, #2) by Stieg Larsson

4/5

Picks up the pace from the first book in the trilogy. Looking forward to the third, which comes out in the US in a couple of weeks.

 

Links

- Let’s Get Small from I, Cringely (Way to kick Zuckerberg while he's down...).

- Fewer women get mammograms after program cuts from SFGate: Top News Stories (Nice one CA. I bet treating undetected and uninsured breast cancer will be a bunch cheaper :().

- Church warns cell scientists not to play God from All Salon (Surprise surprise. Correction, so far we have Evolution and Venter...).

- Cordoba scandal from BBC News | News Front Page | World Edition (Really, shocked? Not been reading the news much then...).

- Toddlers who lie will do better, research suggests from BBC News | News Front Page | World Edition (Fair disclosure - the research was conducted by lying toddlers...).

- Calif sea lion shot in face has new home from SFGate: Top News Stories (Getting shot is bad enough... Six Flags is torture.).

- Fresh BA strike dates announced from BBC News | News Front Page | World Edition (Hopefully they'll correspond with large plumes of ash.).

- Fan updating David Lynch's "Dune" with modern FX from Boing Boing (You're making it worse. Stop.).

- Neanderthal genes 'survive in us' from BBC News | News Front Page | World Edition (Um, the surprise would be if this wasn't the case.).

- Terry Pratchett: Doctor Who isn't science fiction from Boing Boing (Shouldn't think of it as one show. It's more of a framework for different authors to create plot around - some are very hard SciFi and some are very silly.).

Reviews and links for March 2010

Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

3/5

Classic Hornby. It's fairly close to High Fidelity with it's themes of love and music obsession-ism and so feels slightly too comfortable but certainly worth a read if you're a fan. 3/24/2010 2:00:00 AM

 

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium, #1) by Stieg Larsson

3/5

Slow, but highly atmospheric mystery. The first half of the book is dedicated to setting the scene and then the pieces start to fit into place like a glacier melting. The pace makes the occasional punctuation of extreme sexual violence all the more shocking. Fun enough, so I'll probably read the rest of the trilogy and try to catch the film (which has to be a profoundly truncated version).3/22/2010 2:00:00 AM

 

Practical WPF Charts and Graphics by Jack Xu

4/5

Be aware that this book is 90% code, 5% mathematics and 5% explanation. This isn't a criticism, Dr. Xu builds up a complete charting library that includes 2D, WPF 3D and manual 3D methods. The mathematics covers the theory and practice of 2D and 3D transforms as well as techniques for smoothing, interpolating and trending data. It's a fast read to get a sense of the content and then a great reference work to dip back into as needed. 3/14/2010 3:00:00 AM

 

C# Design and Development: Expert One on One by John Paul Mueller

1/5

This book is just atrocious. Each section sells itself as providing all the information you need about a certain topic, then provides trivial and often incorrect or at least highly subjective details. A couple of examples:

The chapter on error handling makes the point that you should catch the most specific Exception possible, but then goes on to demonstrate catching a FormatException, a DivideByZero exception and then just System.Exception. The whole point is to avoid catching Exceptions that you can't handle. There's a legitimate debate here between trying to plaster up the cracks with general catches and letting the application die with a useful stack, however this book doesn't discuss it. There's also very brief coverage of creating your own derived Exception but it doesn't touch on serialization.

Serializing an XML file is somehow included in the section on "Special Coding Methodologies", and labors over calling both .Flush() and .Close() on a StreamWriter. Despite the fact that you only need to call Close(), and that StreamWriter is IDisposable and so a using statement is really the way forward for this example.

I could go on, but won't. Avoid. 3/8/2010 2:00:00 AM

 

Links

- Dorothy Erskine Park Exists from Spots Unknown (Must go find this park.).

- Casttoo from jwz (I want to break my arm again...).

- Woman murdered over Facebook photo from BBC News | News Front Page | World Edition (Somehow I don't think the photo being on Facebook was the important part of the story...).

- Petition against Pope's UK visit from BBC News | News Front Page | World Edition (A better petition would be to get the Pope and Dawkins together on Question Time.).

- 'Heart risk' at football stadiums from BBC News | News Front Page | World Edition (Surprisingly few are equipped to remove gall stones as well.).

- Postal Service's emerging model: Never on Saturday from SFGate: Top News Stories (How about once a week. While you're at it recycle the junk at the post office and don't bother hauling it out for delivery.).

Reviews and links for February 2010

Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017

Programming WPF by Chris Sells

4/5

A highly detailed and well written reference to WPF. Note that this second edition is still based on Visual Studio 2005 / .NET 3.0 so a little out of date now. I still found the book to be very useful and would recommend it both for picking up WPF basics and to refer back to for more advanced topics when needed.2/26/2010 2:00:00 AM

 

Professional C# 2008 by Christian Nagel

4/5

I'm in the process of upgrading to VS2008 and loved the 2005 version of this book so picked up the 2008 update. It's a broad language and framework reference, perfect for understanding what's available in .NET 3.5 and how to get started. My only complaint is that it could have used a "what's new" section or guide to separate out completely new technologies from those familiar from .NET 2.0. Not a big problem though, it's easy to skim through the old stuff and then pay attention when you reach something new. I'll probably pick up the 2010 version in 2015 or so ;)2/15/2010 2:00:00 AM

 

Links

- UK NHS urged to buy Fairtrade tools from BBC News | News Front Page | World Edition (Fair enough, but what about having developing countries pay to train doctors and nurses and then poaching them to work for the NHS?).

- Brown 'upset' by bullying claims from BBC News | News Front Page | World Edition (And when he finds those responsible he's going to turn purple, squint and twat them.).

- CBS runs free ad for "magic" energy box from Boing Boing (A slightly more skeptical take. Magic box plus natural gas...).

- French halal burger sparks appeal from BBC News | News Front Page | World Edition (So eat somewhere else. You're in France and not about to starve.).

- One inch equals $30,000 in online dating world from Boing Boing (I'm worth $2.2 million :)).

- Video: Mantis vs. Cursor from Boing Boing (OK, I need a Preying Mantis to entertain me like this while I work...).

- Toyota recalls 8,000 US vehicles from BBC News | News Front Page | World Edition (And they're not even real propellers. They're just the joke ones you can attach to your tow hitch.).

- Britain reveals how U.S. treated detainee from SFGate: Top News Stories (Miliband against the "principle of their disclosure by an English court against U.S. wishes"!).

- Mariposaaah!!! from Spots Unknown (Feels steeper walking up it.).