Tuesday, 16 December 2014

deleting birthdays

I just saw a birthday notification in my Google Calendar, about someone in my Google+ circles.  Getting rid of these annoying unasked-for entries requires a few clicks, as detailed below.

Thank you, Awesomely Techie!

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Monday, 15 December 2014


I’ve seen pictures of Strandbeest before, but I didn’t realise they were huge, or that there are so many designs.

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Sunday, 14 December 2014

cycling to freedom

Here is a nice YouTube description of the “100 prisoners problem”, that seems on the face of it impossible, but where a clever mathematical result makes it feasible.


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Wednesday, 10 December 2014

language evolution

Queen photobombs selfie.

Three words that capture the moment – two of which didn’t even exist a few years ago!

Glasgow 2014: Queen ‘photo-bombs’ hockey players’ selfie

Also, I just used the words “queen” and “(photo)bomb” in an online search to find the article…

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Sunday, 7 December 2014

flickering aurorae

When I was younger, I thought aurorae were static, only having seen pictures in books. Then I discovered they moved. But these REAL TIME shots are awesome. Watch full screen!


(via Phil Plait, Bad Astronomy)

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Sunday, 30 November 2014

SF book review: The Martian

Andy Weir.
The Martian.
Del Rey. 2014

The third Mars mission has had to evacuate and return home because of a dangerously strong storm. Due to a freak accident, Mark Watney is left for dead. But he’s not dead. And now he’s alone on Mars, without enough food, air, or energy to last the many months it would take rescue to arrive. Not that he can call for help. Nevertheless, he is an engineer…

This is a great adventure of engineer versus planet, in the old tradition: Apollo 13 meets Gravity meets A Fall of Moondust.

Watney is competent and resourceful, and he does have resources to be resourceful with: all the equipment the crew left behind when they abandoned Mars. Mars keeps throwing problems at him, and he keeps figuring out solutions, knowing that the first problem he can't solve will kill him for sure.

What makes this fun is all the engineering (although I’m sure it’s much harder than shown here); the little acid comments Watney keeps making about the entertainment choices of his departed crewmates; and the potatoes.

I am surprised that Watney didn’t realise that Earth would be able to see that he was still alive, but much of the rest of it rings sufficiently true to make this a thrilling adventure across the Red Planet.

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book review: Quiet

Susan Cain.
Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking.
Penguin. 2012

Most of the Western world, and certainly the USA, is organised not only expecting but requiring everyone to be an extrovert. This is very tough on the large minority of the population who are actually introverts. Why are scientists and other thinkers required to go out and “sell” themselves and their ideas, whereas salespeople are not similarly required to reflect and ponder? Rather than advocating some form of “cure” for this minority, Susan Cain (a self-acknowledged introvert) sets out how these quiet ones can provide a positive benefit (because actually thinking about things is beneficial!) and how they can better organise parts of their work and social life to cope with being surrounded by their extrovert peers.

There’s lots of good stuff here, from the history of how the world became extrovert-focussed and so dismissive of introverts, the myth of leaders needing to be extroverts, how to nurture introvert (and extrovert) children, how introversion and shyness are not the same thing, why introverts make better long term investors, and much more.

If you prefer to recharge your mental batteries alone rather than at a party, or have a partner, friend or colleague who does, you should read this book.

For all my book reviews, see my main website.