jorallan: (Default)
2018-10-15 07:52 pm
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Being a greener person

It is apparently "Green GB Week". The cynical among us may say this is a publicity stunt to distract from the a certain summit happening on Wednesday which seems likely to go horribly wrong, it's as good a time as any to reflect on the state of our world. Some assumptions I'm not interested in debating here:
  1. Climate change is happening.
  2. Climate change is significant.
  3. Climate change is primarily man-made.
  4. We have an ethical duty to do something about it.
Given all that, the question on my mind is "how can I, a moderately intelligent, moderately well-off person make the largest positive difference to the environment?" For anyone that doesn't know me, I already cycle to work every day so that takes out one of the obvious changes I could make. I also have two children; I'm well aware this is in many ways a significant increase in "my" environmental cost but it isn't something which is going to change. It also means that I am time-poor. I am prepared to invest potentially non-trivial amounts of money in something if it could significantly affect my environmental cost. Not sure what "non-trivial" means yet.

So... tell me what things I can do which will have the largest benefit to the environment. If they just affect me and my immediate family, that's OK but what would be wonderful would be things which affect a larger group of people. Particular attention will be paid to ideas with quantitative numbers behind them - feel free to refer to the amazing "Sustainable Energy - without the hot air" to get those numbers. Stuff which I've considered:
  1. Going (mostly) veggie. I know I should but... I like meat.
  2. Voting Green. This is a tricky one - firstly because our electoral system means a green vote is almost certain to be "wasted" (I live in a Con-Lab marginal), and secondly because I have serious problems with the Greens' energy policy. "Do it all with renewables" just doesn't add up (see "without the hot air" for the numbers); as far as I can see, the only way we can in the short term get low carbon energy generation is with nuclear. It's not perfect, but it's the least bad option for base load generation right now.
What else can/should I do?

jorallan: (Default)
2018-09-19 10:22 pm


These days, a lot of people have heard of Linus Torvalds, the "father" of Linux. Linus is without question a really, really technically smart person. However, Linus can also behave pretty abominably at times in terms of his interactions with others, and has been unrepentant of this behaviour in the past. Your favourite search engine can find you plenty of examples.

Anyone who's had the somewhat dubious pleasure of living or working with me in the past might describe me somewhat similarly. I hope I've got at least somewhat better over the years. My thanks go out to those people that have helped me along the way, but most of all of course to Karen, my long suffering wife (and best friend). I know it can be hard to change, especially when at least some of what you are respected for is technical excellence.

Given all this, it was somewhat of a surprise this week to see that Linus had posted a full on apology for his past behaviour. Well done that man. (I acknowledge that this is words, not actions, and it's the actions that need to change. But as a first step, it's a very good one).
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2018-09-08 08:07 pm
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August reading

Didn't get through as much as I'd expect while on holiday for a week in the North York Moors because I got distracted by some coding. Aside: coding without Stack Overflow is hard :-( Anyway, in August I read:
  • A Woman of the Iron People (Eleanor Arneson): space explorers find a planet of iron-age people and send down a few people to investigate. Now, I do get this book is to some extent a commentary/investigation on our modern day anthropology, but to me it wasn't either a good story (too many "with one bound, Jack was free" type moments) or actually a particularly deep or insightful commentary on anthropology.
  • Gridlinked (Neal Asher): I got on pretty well with Asher's Transformation series (see last June for the end) so grabbed this when I saw it in a charity shop. And... it's not as good as his later stuff. I've never particularly liked military fiction and while the Transformation series did go into that kind of stuff, the rest of it was interesting as well. Here, the military bits are still there, but the plot and the rest of the writing aren't there to support it.
  • Extracted (R. R. Haywood): invent a time travel machine, "extract" three people from different times for... something. The "something" is revealed pretty early on, but the book then just drags on... and on.... and on.... through a fairly interminable slog with one of the characters. Chop that out, reduce the book to a third of its size and this would have been a much better novel. (Oh, and the physicist in me insists any time travel novel at least has to try and deal with the paradox issues. Hand-waving it away along the lines of "nah, let's not try that" really doesn't work).
jorallan: (Default)
2018-09-01 09:16 pm
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Fuse and the Vega+

Another post on the long-running Vega+ saga. Vague apologies if this is of no interest to you, but there seems to be some confusion around all this which it's worth clearing up...

The Vega+ is running Fuse. Nobody disputes this. As noted last year, the Fuse team had nothing to do with the port of Fuse to the Vega+ - as it happens, the port was done by Private Planet, a company owned by Janko Mrsic-Flogel, Retro Computer's CTO. As required by the GNU GPL, RCL have released the code for the port; this was the first time I (or anyone outside of RCL / Private Planet as far as I know) had seen the source code for the port.

I had a look at the port last week and "live tweeted" my findings. To summarise here:
  • This is a good faith effort to comply with the GPL. It's not perfect as the libspectrum source should be available as well. but it's better than a lot of efforts. The inclusion of the build instructions explaining how to build it is one of the most often overlooked GPL requirements and RCL did include those.
  • That said, it's technically not a great port. The changes are monkey-patched into the generated files rather than being included properly.
  • Therefore I took the port and tidied it up a bit.
It's worth noting here exactly what the tidied up port does and doesn't do:
  • It doesn't fix any issues in the final binary, it just makes it all easier to work with so if anybody does find any issues and wants to fix them it will be easier to do so.
  • More crucially than that, it doesn't give a way to load the binary onto the Vega+. That's not something I can help with without a device, and quite probably not even then (whether I would be inclined to help is a different question and one I don't know the answer to at the moment).
  • Any changes to Fuse are never going to fix the well-reported issues with the Vega+ buttons. That's a hardware problem.
  • It's going to be pretty tricky to fix the performance issues as well. Fuse is pretty well optimized already, and it's not going to be easy at all to find the kind of performance gains needed - unless you're prepared to sacrifice accuracy, which is probably a valid decision.
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2018-08-05 10:39 pm
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July reading

 July started off very slow as a reading month, but picked up at the end while I was away in Pembrokeshire for a week. Anyway, I read:
  • The Night Clave (Monte Cook and Shanna Germain): a Numenera novel so while set in an RPG universe, probably never going to be a straight up dungeon crawl - and it certainly isn't, being essentially a voyage of self-discovery as to what really matters for one of the characters. Enjoyable enough, but felt a bit too padded to me - maybe would have been better in a novella type format. As an aside, I dare anyone to watch Strand and not want to play in the Numenera universe afterwards...
  • The Abyss Beyond Dreams (Peter F. Hamilton): back in Hamilton's Commonwealth universe, which is never a bad start and again sees people (well, in this case, mostly Nigel Sheldon) battling the Void, although this time from the inside. A lot of this book felt like a rehash of the Void trilogy itself - following the rise of individual through a Void-influenced society, much as Edeard did. Not quite sure where Hamilton's going with this one, but I'm sure I'll read Night without Stars, the second half of the series sometime.
  • The Long Mars (Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter): while I was really taken with The Long Earth, I wasn't so grabbed by The Long War in which not much really happened. Fortunately, The Long Mars rectifies that with two major plotlines, both of which grab the attention and show how the Long Earth (or as it's not a spoiler given the title of the book, the Long Mars) really starts to shape societies. Still obviously setting some things up for later books, but I'll be back to read them pretty soon.
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2018-07-05 08:38 pm
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June reading

In June, I read:
  • Orbital Decay (Allen Steele): mostly interesting take on the social dynamics aboard the first commercial (as opposed to ISS-style scientific) space station. While trying to avoid spoilers, there's one bit in the story which feels very grafted on as you go through - and then suddenly becomes a crucial plot device in the ending which let it down a bit. I've previously read Steele's Coyote, and enjoyed that many years ago so will probably read some more of his stuff at some point. I may be being a bit harsh here on what was Steele's first novel.
  • Aurora (Kim Stanley Robinson): really hard to describe what this is about without some massive spoilers. Let's just say that despite what's on the jacket, it's not at all the same as the Mars trilogy. That said, I can see how the first half of the book is a good set up for the second, but felt a bit let down by very end when the character I was identifying with became less important. Sorry if that's a bit obtuse...
  • Parable of the Talents (Octavia E. Butler): the follow-up / second half to Parable of the Sower (coincidentally see last year's June Reading post). Didn't enjoy it as much as Sower in that it felt there was a lot more filler in this one - I felt the first half of the book could have been cut back significantly without really affecting the story much, but the second half was pretty good. Talents still nicely filled in the travel bits of a work trip to Denmark.
  • Dragons of Autumn Twilight (Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman): it's not big[1], it's not particularly clever, it's full of ridiculous "with one bound Jack was free" moments, but it's what kicked off my D&D (and RPG in general) habit and it's still quite fun.
[1] OK, the Dragonlance universe is ridiculously big, but almost all of the non-Weis/Hickman novels are pretty poor. And so are the Weis/Hickman novels after the first six.
jorallan: (Default)
2018-05-27 11:18 am
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This is why we can't have nice things

As some people will know, a bunch of wonderful people led by my wonderful wife have put in a huge amount of effort to improve our local playground. Karen put in a huge amount of work - she started the project, project managed, fundraised, coordinated volunteers and got down and dirty planting trees and making willow structures. The culmination of this was yesterday when the mayor officially opened the new slide.

But now, less than 24 hours later, some morons have decided to trash the place. The grass on the mound needs some time to settle in, so it had been taped off - that's been destroyed. And then just for "fun", they decided to ruin the willow house as well: The willow house at Mirfield Memorial Park, now broken.

This has left us with one very fed up wife, one upset son and a lot of children that are going to be disappointed as well.

Thank you to all the good people in this world that take the time to help others. And those of you that just want to destroy things, probably best to keep out of my way right now.

[ Also on Facebook if you'd prefer to comment there for any reason ]
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2018-05-25 07:48 pm
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Belated books update

It's been too long. Haven't read that much in the past six months, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for bad. But here's some of the things I did read:
  • The Medusa Chronicles (Stephen Baxter and Alastair Reynolds): fairly typical Baxter or Reynolds hard sci-fi. Enjoyable enough, but with a GREAT BIG SIGNPOST to the ending a third of the way through the book which left a bit of slogging through waiting to get to that bit.
  • Can & Can’tankerous (Harlan Ellison): I don't remember very much about this. Sorry.
  • Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman): pretty dark, pretty twisted, generally quite weird. Or in other words, just what you'd expect from Gaiman. Enjoyable.
  • Binary Storm (Christopher Hinz): entertaining action romp through a dysfunctional near-future Earth. Written as a prequel, and either the ending is very forced, or was hamstrung by the need to remain consistent with the later books. I suspect the latter.
  • Nemesis (Alex Lamb): starts off as a fairly standard "conspiracy in space" - but has enough twists along the way to keep the interest levels up. Probably worth reading Roboteer (the first in the trilogy) before this though as while there's just about enough exposition so that things make sense, I felt I was missing a few bits along the way.
  • The Three-Body Problem (Liu Cixin, translated by Ken Liu): Hard sci-fi, but with an Eastern spin this time. Hard going in places and jumped a bit quickly from the "investigative phase" to the "everything happens at once phase" for my liking, but I wouldn't be averse to reading the rest of the trilogy at some point.
  • The Book of Heroes (Miyabe Miyuki. Apologies if I've got that name in the wrong order): young girl enters a story to save the world. A bit too young adult for me really, but probably enjoyable if you like that sort of thing.
  • My Night in Freeport (Anthony Pryor): Freeport is one of my favourite D&D settings, so a new story set in the City of Adventure? Grabbed me straight away - but it's really, really, really short. Not worth the asking price.
  • First Person Peculiar (Mike Resnick): a short story collection. Had some good bits and not so good bits in it. Probably.
  • Poseidon's Wake (Alastair Reynolds): yes, more Reynolds so more hard sci-fi. Didn't realise it was the third one in the trilogy when I got it from the library and definitely suffered from that.
  • Miniatures (John Scalzi): another short story collection that I don't remember very much about. There's a theme here, isn't there?
  • The Nightmare Stacks (Charles Stross): back in the Laundryverse. More programmer/maths geek dark horror fun. Good, but not up to the level of The Atrocity Archives from my point of view.
  • Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti (Genevieve Valentine): take a traditional circus. Add some fairly dark Iain M. Banks-style body horror and you have Mechanique. Not going to be a book that makes you smile, but still worth a read.
  • Echoes of Earth (Sean Williams and Shane Dix): an off-shoot colony of humanity receives an apparently great boon from another species... but it comes with a price. A lot of set up for what was obviously always intended to be a multi-part story, and doesn't really get going itself.
  • Blackcollar (Timothy Zahn): a bunch of freedom fighters strike out against the evil Galactic Empire using non-conventional weaponry. Sound familiar? Actually written before Zahn wrote what is apparently some of the best stuff in the Star Wars EU (sorry, "Legends"), but all the same... military fiction is never really my thing, but this is okay as it goes.

jorallan: (Default)
2017-12-04 09:35 pm
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November's (lack of) reading. And some code and photography.

Also known as "Phil starts reading too many books at once month".

The only things I actually finished this month:
  • Word Puppets (Mary Robinette Kowal): too long since I finished this, struggling to remember very much about this short story collection other than that I enjoyed most of it.
  • Elite: Dangerous Role Playing Game (Spidermind Games): I kickstarted this after they got copyright bullied earlier in the year. Haven't got round to running a game yet, but hopefully will do in the New Year.
Still reading Gridlinked (zero progress made) and The Three-Body Problem (some progress made) from October, but also now reading Echoes of Earth (good progress being made on the train during various work trips to Manchester) and New Views on an Old Planet which was the recommended reading for my 1A Geology course but I never read at the time. However, inspired by the Blue Planet II episode on "The Deep" (van Andel was the first person to see mid-ocean ridges forming new crust in person) and as it's available for about £3 on eBay, it was too good an opportunity to miss.

Coding-wise, I rewrote the "automatic loading" feature of Fuse to be more friendly if you've got additional hardware available (techie details here) and made some games load quicker.

Photography-wise, I got tagged in the "seven days, seven black and white photos of your daily life" meme on Facebook. You can see what I came up with on Flickr.

December will be spent trying to finish more books than I start, but I may not actually get too much done due to the fantastic Advent of Code being back again.

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2017-11-06 09:42 pm
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October reading

 October's reading:
  • Gene Mapper (Taiyo Fujii, translated by Jim Herbert): a bit of a random pick up from the library, but also part of a slightly deliberate attempt to read a bit outside my normal comfort zone of moderately hard sci-fi. Very simple plot summary is near future and dealing with the socio-economic impacts of genetically engineered crops - and I enjoyed it enough to munch through in a couple of days, which is pretty rare these days. Can't let the glaring crypto hole go uncommented though: no, you cannot reverse engineer the input given only a hash, no matter how much brute force computing power you have.
  • Skeen's Leap (Jo Clayton): your typical RPG thief ends up stranded on a medieval technology world and has to get back to her nice high tech environment. Along the way, she acquires a party of diverse companions and has various adventures. Unfortunately, the plot is about as generic as it sounds, and the writing isn't good enough to elevate it. It's also only half a story, ending just as it should be getting going. Meh.
  • Yesterday's Kin (Nancy Kress): apparently peaceful aliens have landed in New York. What do they want, and are they truly peaceful? Sounds like yet another bit of pulp fiction, but Kress spins it through the eye of one (dysfunctional!) family and how it affects them. Enjoyable enough in what is effectively a novella format, but just lacking that... something which would make it want to pick up the trilogy its become.
  • The Stars are Legion (Kameron Hurley): I know this one has got a bunch of adoration for its feminist themes, but... sorry, it's just not a very good story. Just too many points at which the "grand plan" could have got one or other of the protagonists killed, and then the whole thing would have fallen apart without its message meaning very much at all. A real struggle to get through.
Currently reading Gridlinked (back to hard sci-fi and back to the start of Neal Asher after doing the Dark Intelligence trilogy earlier in the year) and The Three-Body Problem (Cixin Liu: continuing the eastern theme), and finished off Word Puppets which I was reading through October.

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2017-10-17 09:08 pm
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The (wired) Vega emulator is *not* Fuse

If you're not involved in the ZX Spectrum emulation scene, feel free to skip this post. In fact, it's probably best if you do. For avoidance of doubt, this views in this post are purely my personal views and are not intended to reflect the views of the Fuse team in any way.

Just about anyone who's been around the ZX Spectrum emulation scene in the past 18 months or so is probably aware of the ongoing saga of the Vega+ and its failure to be released. One of the allegations which has been made is that the emulator involved in the original Vega (not Plus) was in fact a rip-off of Fuse, and not the work of Chris Smith. This is frankly, complete rubbish, and I've told Retro Computers that in the past. While it's pretty easy for those of us who enjoy digging into t-state timings to spot the differences, there's actually one very easy way to tell: as part of Fuse's development, the team have developed a utility called "fusetest" which digs into a few dark corners of the ZX Spectrum's behaviour. The primary use of this tool is as a regression test to make sure that we haven't broken anything before doing a new release, but it can serve a secondary purpose of spotting differences between one emulator and another.

And what happens if you run fusetest on the Vega? Yep, you guessed it, it displays significantly different behaviour from Fuse - in particular, it fails the "floating bus" test in both 48K and 128K modes, and the "High port contention 2" test in 128K mode. You can see all this in this short video I made with my Vega.

Let's hope this puts to bed any further repetitions of this allegation.

Oh, and anyone playing silly buggers in the comments, either here or on YouTube, will discover that I can play quite well too.

jorallan: (Default)
2017-10-08 10:13 pm
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September reading

September's reading:
  •  The Atrocity Archives (Charlie Stross): as noted last time out, you'd probably expect I'd have read this already, but I never had. I really enjoyed the first half ("The Atrocity Archive" itself) as I'm always a sucker for Lovecraftian sci-fi, but wasn't so taken by "The Concrete Jungle". Overall the whole thing reads as what Pratchett might have written if he were writing stuff set in the modern day, which isn't a bad thing (and I do very much like Good Omens as well...). Will probably seek out some more of the series sometime.
  • Flood (Stephen Baxter): I have a funny relationship with Stephen Baxter. He's an author I always think I should like more than I do, which leads to me owning quite a lot of his work... but never actually enjoying it very much. Flood was OK - an interestingly different take on climate change, but still not one that really grabbed me at all.
  • Moons of the Solar System (James A. Hall III): a largely tedious gazetteer of every known moon in the Solar System (i.e. a natural satellite which orbits something other than the Sun). While some of these bodies (Enceladus, Europa, Ganymede) are definitely interesting, some have some cool orbital mechanics (Epimetheus and Janus) and it's vaguely interesting to know that some asteroids have moons, the vast majority of moons are just boring lumps of rock. Then for added confusion, some almost entirely unrelated appendices.
As of 1st October, the only thing on the reading list was Skeen's Leap, but I've actually worked my way through Gene Mapper and started on The Stars are Legion since then.

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2017-09-18 08:43 pm
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ZX Spectrum "did I load that game" database?

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)
2017-09-01 07:27 pm
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August reading

  • 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.

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2017-08-07 09:36 pm
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July reading (and coding)

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 :-)
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2017-06-18 08:42 pm
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June reading

  •  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).

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2017-05-30 10:28 pm
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May reading

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)
2017-04-29 08:29 pm
Entry tags:

The great ultracompact camera shoot out

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)
2017-04-21 10:22 pm
Entry tags:

Holiday reading

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...