Saturday, 30 January 2016

someone's going to get a shock

The nights are getting shorter.
The days are getting colder.
The garden is getting confused.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

sequestering carbon, several books at a time LVI

The latest batch, trickling in slowly after the Christmas rush:

Monday, 18 January 2016

book review: The Invisible Library

Genevieve Cogman.
The Invisible Library.
Tor. 2015

Irene (not her real name) is a Librarian: she gathers rare fiction for the mysterious Library that straddles alternate universes. She has just returned from a mission when, with no time even to change clothes, she is sent on a new one, with a new assistant, the seemingly sullen teenager Kai. What should be a simple training exercise in stealing a stolen book of fairy tales quickly turns into something much darker, as the Library’s chaotic enemy takes an interest. But Irene has resources of her own, including her native wit, her command of the Language, and a puzzlingly mature Kai.

This is a fun world, with steampunk alligators, a Sherlock Holmes substitute, chaotic Fae, zeppelins, dragons, books, and more. Having to follow the world-building and plot simultaneously leads to a roller-coaster adventure, as each new twist and turn of the plot reveals new facets of the background, mostly without too much Deus ex Machina feeling.

Of course, having a protagonist who loves books is going to appeal to the target audience, but Irene is an interestingly complex character, and a massive hint is dropped near the end about her importance to the ongoing plot. I’m looking forward to the further adventures of Irene and Kai.

For all my book reviews, see my main website.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

fair shares

A new way to slice pizza – so everyone gets the same (shape and) size piece, but some get more crust than others. See multiple new patterns.

[via New Scientist]

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Saturday, 16 January 2016

Pharaoh’s Serpent

Watch mercury(II) thiocyanate burn. Complex chemistry in action: and it’s not even organic chemistry!

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Tuesday, 12 January 2016

when unanimity is too much of a good thing

The “paradox of unanimity”: if everybody agrees on a noisy event, they are almost certainly wrong.
Experiments with simulated crimes have shown misidentification rates as high as 48% in cases where the witnesses see the perpetrator only briefly as he runs away from a crime scene. In these situations, it would be highly unlikely to find large, unanimous agreement.

[via Danny Yee’s blog]

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Sunday, 10 January 2016

featurised bug

Warning message from MS Excel 2010:

In case you can’t read the long thin message, it says:
A document with the name ‘01.csv’ is already open.  You cannot open two documents with the same name, even if the documents are in different folders.  To open the second document, either close the document that’s currently open, or rename one of the documents.
There are so many things wrong with this.
  1. Even if they are in separate folders?  Because we all have documents with the same name in the same folder, of course.
  2. It’s a perfectly obvious use case to want to open two documents with the same name in different folders, eg January in the 2015 folder, and in the 2016 folder, to compare them.  
  3. Someone had to write this message, thereby tacitly approving this unfortunate design decision (or maybe this is a stopgap and they raised a bug report, but it’s still there).
So, what century is this again?

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Open Access via a new University Press

White Rose University Press

I’m sure a lot of universities who haven’t traditionally had a University Press will be going this Open Access route, to save the enormous fees charged by commercial publishers.

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Friday, 8 January 2016

book review: Chasing the Dragon

Justina Robson.
Chasing the Dragon.
Gollancz. 2009

Cyborg agent Lila Black has been deep Under Faerie. She and her friends have returned damaged, destroyed, dead. And fifty years have passed in human time, so Lila has lost everything at home, too. Her demon husband Teazle has been framed for murder and gone missing while searching for clues to the whereabouts of her dead elf husband Zal. Her possessed dress is giving her a hard time. Then the Ghost Fleet turns up. It’s all up to Lila again.

This starts off rather slowly, with Lila frankly moping about everything; fair enough, she’s got plenty to mope about. But eventually she starts to do things, stir things up, take charge, and charge into danger. And we’re back into fantastically imaginative and weird lands, as Lila risks everything to rescue Zal from the Edge of Death.

The series started off leaving home to explore the elf, demon, and fae worlds made available by the quantum bomb. Here the story is beginning to circle back to consider that initial event: who or what set off the bomb, and why? It feels things are setting up for a grand denouement in the final book; I’m confident Robson is going to pull this off in ways I can’t even begin to imagine!

For all my book reviews, see my main website.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Underestimating renewables

John Baez asks why autonomous intergovernmental organisation The International Energy Agency (IEA) consistently underestimate the future production of renewables in their annual World Energy Outlook (WEO).

Maybe they’re not as independent as they look?  

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Wednesday, 6 January 2016

don't throw stones!

Build your house inside a glass shell, save on heating, and have lovely interior gardens. Probably only useful in cold northern climes, though, otherwise I suspect summer would be a problem! But I like the point about needing no roof (instead, using the space for a terrace), and less maintenance on the house itself, because it is fully protected from the wind and rain.

This is a relatively old system (10 years) and they have no solar PV – I wonder how that could be integrated into the system?

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Tuesday, 5 January 2016

2015 was a great year in space

The 22 Most Mesmerizing Space Photos of 2015
Pluto and Charon, Mars, Ceres, Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, Saturn, and more.

No.9: Mars

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Monday, 4 January 2016

film review: Guardians of the Galaxy

A bunch of minor criminals and bounty hunters all after the same MacGuffin reluctantly join forces against the Really Bad Guys who want to Destroy the World with said MacGuffin.

We have a motley ensemble cast: human space pirate Peter Quill [Chris Pratt], green humanoid assassin Gamora [Zoe Saldana], uplifted raccoon bounty hunter Rocket [Bradley Cooper, voice] and his sidekick the tree-like Groot [Vin Diesel, voice], and paisley-tattooed humanoid assassin-hunter Drax [Dave Bautista].

After a rather slow start (a dying mother foreshadowing trope) the action gets going, accompanied by a 1980s pop soundtrack (for reasons that make sense at least in the story). There’s lots of running around, lots of wisecracking, lots of fights, lots of CGI things being blown up.

The team of good guys has one woman (Gamora); the team of bad guys has one woman (Nebula, an unrecognisable blue bald Karen Gillan); and the team on the planet has one woman (Nova Prime, Glenn Close). Oh, and Peter’s mother [Laura Haddock], in her death scene. It arguably just passes the Bechdel test: sisters Gamora and Nebula have a few conversations, not necessarily about a man. But that’s not exactly a high bar.

It doesn’t take itself seriously, but isn’t as funny as it thinks it is. Nevertheless, it’s sufficiently entertaining piffle for a dark winter’s evening viewing. And at least the raccoon isn’t cute.

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Sunday, 3 January 2016

bronze cell division

A 3D printed, bronze model of cell division – what’s not to love?

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Saturday, 2 January 2016

swanning around

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Friday, 1 January 2016

Sue Black OBE

Congratulations, Sue Black OBE

For services to technology, including the saving of Bletchley Park.

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