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Imagine the situation: you've written a ZX Spectrum emulator. Because ZX Spectrum games took a while to load and your modern self has a short attention span, your emulator plays various tricks in order to speed up the loading of games. Unfortunately, these tricks aren't infallible so sometimes they actually mean the game fails to load instead of loading quickly. This is a bad thing.

The good news is that you can look at where the tricks are going wrong, work out why they're going wrong and change the code so that the game you're looking at now loads properly... however, how do you know that you haven't broken some other game somewhere? Well, about the only way to do that is to test things, and because I'm lazy and don't fancy loading in hundreds of games and working out if they've loaded or not, I want to automate that. In order to automate that, you need some way of detecting whether a game has loaded successfully or not.

Oh look, what do we have here? A database of 78 (as I write this - expect this number to grow) games, each of which annotated with a value that the Z80's program counter will reach if the game loads successfully. That sounds useful if you're, well... me. And maybe somebody else somewhere in the world, but who knows? The biggest problem here is that I can't distribute the games themselves as that would be a copyright violation[1], so you'll have to source them yourselves - but I have given you the SHA-256 of each game so you can know if you're using the same file as I am. And almost all of them are available from a certain well known site...
  1. Please don't start a debate on this.
jorallan: (Default)
  • Inventors at Work (Brett Strern): a selection of 20-odd interviews with prolific inventors. Not much insight into what actually distinguishes an inventor from anybody else, other than a refusal to accept the status quo and (in the vast majority of cases) working with a team so they're not trying to do it all themselves.
  • The Bread we Eat in Dreams (Catherynne M. Valente): possibly best thought of as a modern set of fairy tales - but gone dark. Don't expect many happy endings here, but enjoyable enough reading all the same.
  • Moving Mars (Greg Bear): fairly typical Greg Bear in the sense of it being politics driven by some hard science - although the science is way out there in this case. Somewhat unsatisfying if the ending is telegraphed half-way through the book and somewhat unsatisfying when it comes in that it doesn't really seem to solve the problem it's intended to solve.
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Steig Larsson): to be honest, I don't quite see what the hype is about. The first half of the book is very slow, everything happens in the third quarter, and the last quarter is just wrapping up the obvious loose ends. I can see how it could make a good movie (or two) though.
Currently only one book on the go, The Atrocity Archives. Filling in a bit more stuff you may well have expected me to have read already, but there you go.

jorallan: (Default)
July's reading:
  • Heretics of Dune (Frank Herbert): felt like a novel which was written mostly because anything with "Dune" in the title and "Herbert" as an author is a license to print money; the Scattering has happened, but now we need something new now that Leto has gone. Better than God Emperor (which isn't saying much), but still doesn't really hold a candle to the original book. I may read Chapterhouse Dune one day, but I'm unlikely to spend any time with the Brian Herbert books.
  • Conservation of Shadows (Yoon Ha Lee): for the first half of this short story collection, I was really enjoying being pushed out of my typical hard sci-fi into something a bit different: still sci-fi, but a lot of stuff on the power of words and pictures (and a lot of betrayal). My the end, I was starting to think that the power of words and pictures was perhaps a little bit overdone, and maybe it was time for a different theme. Enough there that I'll probably read the rapidly becoming famous Ninefox Gambit at some point.
  • The Cloud Roads (Martha Wells): incomplete, and unlikely to be finished. The thinks-he's-the-last-of-his-shapeshifter-race suddenly discovers he's not the last of his race after all. Just didn't grab me enough in the first couple of chapters to make me think it would be worth continuing.
  • The Salt Roads (Nalo Hopkinson): if you don't like one set of roads, try another. A strange book, just too "literarture-y" for my simple tastes as it follows the stories of three oppressed African women across three time periods - but just never really seemed to go anywhere or come to any real conclusions. Or maybe I'm just a philistine, who knows?
August's reading will include Inventors at Work, The Bread We Eat In Dreams, Moving Mars and probably a whole load more as I'm spending a week away with no Internet :-)

July's coding:
  • z80trace: a simple tool to visualize instruction flow on a processor. Potentially interesting, but needs some work.
  • DivMMC emulation for Fuse - pretty much working, but needs tidying up.
  • Work-wise, some data science for our driver identification patent and some embedded C coding for a client project. Scaring the rest of the team with pointers :-)
jorallan: (Default)
  •  One Man and his Bike (Mike Carter): a semi-accidental read. I grabbed this off the pile of shame as emergency reading for a camping weekend away when somebody else stole the Kindle... and then left the Kindle on charge when we went out the door. A Guardian journalist gets fed up with the rat-race and goes off round Britain on his bike - the book itself didn't really grab me, mostly being a series of unconnected ancedotes, with only a couple of threads tying the whole thing together, but it did vaguely make me what to do some sort of cycle tour (although nothing like 5000 miles, I should be very clear). Of course, 90 minutes after finishing the book, I came off my bike so maybe that's not such a good idea...
  • The Border (Robert McCammon): started off promisingly as a piece of post-apocalyptic fiction: Earth is being used as a battleground between two all-powerful alien races, and humanity is squeezing out an existence where it can. It started OK, but went downhill in about Chapter 6, continued through a whole sequence of "with one bound Jack was free" moments, jumped the shark completely when the anti-hero suddenly saves the day and then ends on perhaps the second most ridiculous deus ex machina I've read (The Naked God still "wins" on that front). Not recommended!
  • Infinity Engine (Neal Asher): while I really liked Dark Intelligence, the first book in the Transformation trilogy, I wasn't nearly so taken with War Factory in which everyone seemed to be manipulated by You-Know-Who-If-You've-Read-The-Book, so wasn't sure what was going to happen here. It turned out to be a pleasant surprise in that while everyone was still being manipulated by You-Know-Who, they were now all very much aware they were being manipulated. And everything ends with a nice showdown which ends mostly as you'd expect, but certainly with a kick in the tail.
  • Parable of the Sower (Octavia Butler): more post-apocalyptic fiction, although not a deliberate choice - a semi-random choice from the unread pile on the Kindle. In 2025, the US is falling apart as the effects of climate change hit hard. As a young girl's community falls apart, she sees a better future and prepares and plans how to make that happen. So much better on that front than The Border, where everything seemed to happen despite the actions of the protagonists, rather than because of it. There's quite a lot of words here for not that much happening, but enough to make me read the next one sometime.
  • Burn (James Patrick Kelly): sci-fi novella set on a deliberately planned planet where the residents accept a simple life - apart from the few that don't. Felt like a bit of a mismatch for the novella format - it would have been stronger either chopped down to a short story focusing on the one main thread, or as a full length novel where the secondary themes could have been delved into a little deeper. Entertaining enough, but just a little unsatisfying.
Currently working my way though Heretics of Dune (Frank Herbert) just because I've never read the last two of the original series and Conservation of Shadows (Yoon Ha Lee).

jorallan: (Default)
May's reading:
  • Revelation Space (Alistair Reynolds): usual Reynolds hard sci-fi, not that I think that's a bad thing. That said, probably my least favourite of the Revelation Space trilogy - it lacks the grand scale of the later books, and is a bit deus ex machina at the end.
  • Sunshine (Robin McKinley): while I loved the world this was set in, I couldn't really relate to the characters and the plot was just a bit too predictable. Bit of a struggle to get through, but I'd potentially read something else set in the same world.
  • Beyond the Aquila Rift (Alistair Reynolds, short story collection): there wasn't a deliberate plan for a Reynolds-fest; this just happened to be at the library when I was there with the kids. The usual mix of stuff you get in a short story collection - three favourites were "Weather" (what is a Conjoiner engine, anyway?), "Beyond the Aquila Rift" (ancient jumpgate technology) and "Trauma Pod" (a soldier is saved by an intelligent medic-bot. Then stuff happens...).
Bit of a quiet month. Currently working my way through Infinity Engine (Neal Asher), the last in the Transformation trilogy, and The Border (Robert McCammon).

jorallan: (Default)
Two years ago, we got a new "little" camera to replace the old one which died while we were on holiday. As time's gone on, we've been less and less impressed with the IXUS 160 as it seemed pretty obvious to us that the image quality was significantly worse than that of the 8 years older IXUS 70. However, as the IXUS 70 died before we got the IXUS 160, there was no way for me really to confirm this - was it just rose-tinted specs?

However, this year we were off on holiday again in "hand baggage only" mode so once again the SLR stayed at home. We looked at options for replacing the IXUS 160 and it came down to spending perhaps £300 on a newer better camera... or picking up an IXUS 70 on eBay for £30. So the latter is what we did and off on holiday we went.

This does let me finally actually do that camera shoot out and work out which camera actually gives better pictures. Both images are taken at ~35mm, and I've rescaled the IXUS 160's image to the 7 MP of the IXUS 70. Anyway, here's the IXUS 70 image (open in a new tab for full size):


(the pixelated bit in the bottom left corner is just where my daughter crept into the frame) and here's the IXUS 160:

IXUS 160

To me, this is a clear win for the IXUS 70. The IXUS 160 image is very washed out, and if you zoom in on any of the detail in the image (e.g. the white flowers at the back of the garden, just to the left of the treehouse), the IXUS 70 has maintained much more detail. Good to know I wasn't just making it all up that it was better than the IXUS 160 :-)

For a bit of fun, I also took the same shot with the other photographic devices I had handy:
  • My Canon 550D SLR. Clearly better than the compact camera photos, but then it should be!
  • My Motorola Moto G (2013) phone: the Moto G is a great phone in a lot of ways, but its camera is famously bad. This shows that - although it is the only one of the non-SLR options to maintain any detail in the sky.
  • Karen's Amazon Fire HD 7. Even ignoring the finger over the lens ;-), this is awful. I didn't think I'd manage to find a worse camera than my phone, but here's one.
jorallan: (Default)
My reading from 10 days in Majorca:
  • From Techie to Boss (Scott Cromar): a guide for how to transition from being a techie in the trenches to team lead / project manager / people manager. All a bit too "management from on high" (aka waterfall) for my tastes, particularly the project management bits; the words "change control board" generally want to make me run as far and as fast from a project as possible.
  • The Protos Mandate (Nick Kanas): part of Springer's "Scientific Novel" series, and frankly a perfect example of why you shouldn't let scientists pretend to be authors. Probably best summed up by the author themselves in the "Science behind the Fiction" section after the story itself: "the [story reflects] traditional American values [...] with good guys and bad guys and relatively formulaic plot lines." - although I'd probably change "relatively formulaic" to "incredibly predictable".
  • Building Great Software Engineering Teams (Joshua Tyler): a better guide to being a good software leader. Very startup focused, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. I wouldn't agree with everything in here (should a founder at a ~100 person startup still be doing the initial CV screening - probably not) but the book's a good place to start if you're looking at being a software leader, either as a manager, a technical leader or a startup founder type role.
  • The Long War (Terry Pratchett / Stephen Baxter): the second of the Long Earth series. I very much liked The Long Earth, and this started promisingly with a couple of interesting major plot threads (along with a couple of minor ones as well). The major threads continued to develop... but then all just ended rather suddenly, followed by a very telegraphed hook for the next book. Enough interesting stuff going on for me to read the next one though.
  • Finding a Million-Star Hotel (Bob Mizon): a guide to getting to see the Milky Way and the rest of the stars, an increasingly difficult problem in this day and age. Generally pretty good, but a lot of filler (which I skipped), particularly the list of "dark sky places" in the UK and the US and the details of every solar eclipse until 2027. Had the best line of any book this holiday: "Most astronomers are very sane, tolerant people."
  • Horus Rising (Dan Abnett): the first of novels giving the backstory to Games Workshop's Warhammer 40K universe. Fairly standard military sci-fi; I suspect readers will either know the rough outline of the Horus Heresy (in which case the plot won't be too surprising) or won't be interested in it, in which case I suspect the book won't hold their attention for too long. Definitely worth the $0.20 if you consider I got five of the Horus Heresy novels for $1 in a Humble Bundle deal, and probably even worth the $1 if I don't read any of the rest of them.
  • Down and Out in Purgatory (Tim Powers): a quick novella about a guy who wants revenge on his love rival, even though said rival is now dead. A bit predicatable, but only an hour or so to read so not the end of world.
Other than that lot, I also read most of Alistair Reynolds's "Revelation Space" when either sitting on the beach or when Karen or James stole the Kindle. Not quite finished yet, and a bit weird as I've read the Revelation Space stories mostly in reverse order (Absolution Gap first, followed by Redemption Ark and now Revelation Space) so I have a fair idea what's going to happen...


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