Sunday, 28 September 2014


My jaw dropped several times! Amazing.

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Saturday, 27 September 2014

TV review: Orphan Black, season 1

Sarah Manning [Tatiana Maslany], a street punk in trouble with an ex-boyfriend, sees a woman who looks just like her. When the woman commits suicide in front of her, she steals her bag. She goes to the woman’s apartment, to steal her stuff, then decides instead to take her identity, in order to solve her own ex-boyfriend problems. She persuades her foster brother Felix [Jordan Gavaris] to identify the dead woman as Sarah. But what she doesn’t know is that Beth Childs was a cop under investigation for a civilian death. Or Beth’s boyfriend’s secret. Or that there is an assassin out trying to kill her. Or how much trouble she is really in.

This is brilliant on so many levels. Maslany is excellent at playing all the clones with different personalities so that you really see them as distinct individuals (even when they are impersonating each other!) The special effects mean that she can be on the screen several times at once. And the plot is clever, and fast moving, and twisty. Having just 10 episodes, rather than the usual 22 or 23, means absolutely no padding, yet there's still great character development. But best of all is the completely naturalistic way Maslany's various characters behave as they start to uncover who, and why, they are.

Season 1 explains a lot, but not everything, and then ends on a great cliffhanger. I can't wait for season 2.

For all my SF TV reviews, see my main website.

Friday, 26 September 2014

book review: Best Practices of Spell Design

Jeremy Kubica.
Best Practices of Spell Design: a computational fairy tale. 
CreateSpace. 2013

This book illustrates various good practices of software design through a sequence of vignettes set in a fantasy world of wizards, where spells (and bakery recipes, and accountancy) have a distinctly computational nature.

I enjoyed this, but found nothing particularly deep here. I realise that I am not the right audience for the book, since I have come across (and try to use!) all the techniques illustrated, from comments and named constants to problem decomposition and test driven requirements.

However, I am not entirely sure who the right audience might be, given the wide range of subjects covered. Apprentice programmers will not get some of the later material; those more experienced should already know the earlier. Maybe it is for those self-taught (rather than apprenticed) hackers, who have never come across these concepts? If so, this is a fun, and memorable, was to illustrate good practice.

For all my book reviews, see my main website.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

book review: Just a Geek

Wil Wheaton.
Just a Geek.
O'Reilly. 2004

Although I’m a fan of Star Trek, Wesley Crusher was definitely never my favourite character in ST:NG. The bridge of the Enterprise is no place for children (unless they are being suitably creepy). But I believe I’m able to distinguish between the actor and the character, so I hold no grudge against Wil Wheaton, just his script writers. Even so I would not have thought to read his autobiography, as I rarely read books about real people: I mainly read about (science) fictional people, and about science, and about other geeky things.

However, I’ve noticed that Wheaton now does non-acting geeky things (mainly from items on John Scalzi’s Whatever blog). So when my other half got this book, I thought I’d have a look too.

It’s very good. Okay, it’s 10 years out of date (published in 2004), and I’m postiive he’s done a lot else since, but what it does is provide the background to Wheaton’s then-new blog, Wil Wheaton dot Net (launched in 2001). The book blurb says how On his blog, Wil shared—with stunning and fearless honesty—his real life. The book says how, in fact, he didn’t, initially. It’s mainly a description of how he worked through being an actor no-one would hire, to a writer everyone was reading. In the book he is fearlessly honest (I assume), including being honest about how he was still in denial in his early blog posts.

Some of the insights into behind the scenes on ST:NG and at Trek conventions are fascinating. Ironically, the bits that work least well for me are the passages where he being writerly: writing about incidents from his childhood, because these are more autobiography than geeky. However, the parts where he is writing about how he transitioned from trying to be the person he thought he should be (an actor), to the person he actually wanted to be (a writer), and no longer being afraid of being thought a failure, are very thoughtful, and a great read too.

For all my book reviews, see my main website.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

reasons for being

Scott Aaronson has some thoughts on Microsoft SVC, including:
it seems essential that our civilization maintain institutions for which the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge are not just accoutrements for when financial times are good and the Board of Directors is sympathetic, but are the institution’s entire reasons for being

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sequestering carbon, several books at a time XXX

The latest batch:

Several of these were recommendations from panels at the recent WorldCon.  The Dragon Never Sleeps was recommended as being Banksian.  Gallun was recommended during the 1938 Retro Hugos panel. The Mirage was recommended during the infodump panel; I don’t know why I hadn’t already got it, given how brilliant Sewer, Gas, Electric is.

The presence of the Randall Munroe needs no explanation.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

future book

Two things collided in my head:

1) A blog post from Jo Walton, where she uses Pulp-O-Mizer to produce another fun faux cover for her latest work.

2) Guilt about the book that we are writing about our CoSMoS simulation and modelling approach, which is our latest … very late … work.

The result:

Hmm.  Maybe I should suggest this cover design to the publishers…?