I have a password again!I'm going to be naughty now and post the password associated with this site for the last two and bit years.
Seriously. And no, it didn't work. The site refused to accept it as a valid password. The last two years I have been logging in through my associated google account. I only know it was r because it was confirmed to me in a tech support email.
It was a result of being rather too paranoid (I think I'd just read Little Brother or something like that). I used a random password generator to produce what should have been a secure password which I could save in an encrypted password manager rather than having to memorise it. What it spat out; r<DE@\\lV=L&f!6b\' It turns out this jumble of characters was seen by the database software as an attempted attack and was sanitised down to just the leading r. Except that only one part of the database did that. The part that stored the password for retrieval still had the full thing in it's records and sent me it if requested.
It wasn't until the most recent updates that I could even change the password. Which I have now done.
LabView guide: Part 1This is only the beginnings of a beginner guide to LabView and G (the actual name of the language; generally G and LabView are used interchangeably). This software is fairly common, but very few people will actually need to know how to use it. Most of this comes from it's ease of use; a well written program inherently has an easy to use interface. But a lot of it comes from the fact that most programs are written by in house or contract developers and are only ever seen as software interfaces that come with new hardware.
This is a shame because the language itself is really interesting. It's a lot of fun working with it, like playing with a pathological programming language where getting an end result is only a part of the entertainment. The nature of LabView/G mean that certain programs are nearly effortless and elegant, while other programs which take a dozen lines of C can cause brain damage in trying to get them to execute in LabView.
The software is proprietary and bloody expensive. Although a lot of the programs developed in it can be shared through Sourceforge and other sites most can't be executed without access to the core software and a valid license. For the most part take this guide as entertainment rather than actual instructions to be followed.
The rest of the guide is below the fold.[cut]
LabView is primarily a hardware/software interface language. Most interfaces are going to be fairly unique so I'm only going to cover some of the basics.
To start with, a simple Fibonacci number generator. This is the entire program, called a Virtual Instrument or VI. The panel on the right is the front panel, the user interface where the program is executed, where you enter and view data. On the left is the block diagram where the programming is done.
The front panel can easily be altered and adapted in almost any way you care to. In this case I've left most defaults, only changing the labels on the input and output. Here the Iterations value sets how many numbers to generate, while the Output is an array of the Fibonacci numbers. The box next to the output selects which value within that array to view, indexed from 0.
As you may have noticed, this is a very graphical language. The block diagram is effectively the program and contains all the logic. The values literally flow through the wires and each operator. A lot of how this is set up is purely convention and for clarities sake. The basic conventions;
1) Programs flow left to right. This helps follow the logic considerably, although it isn't a required rule. In general the various operators and other objects have inputs on their left and outputs on their right. You can see this in the plus operator, with two inputs on the left and a single output on the right. In this case I've put all the inputs on the left of the main loop and the output on the far right.
2) Keep programs compact but without obscuring or overlapping lines. Ideally a complete program will not take up more than a single screen. Fortunately there are lots of ways to compact more complicated programs using SubVIs, but that can be covered later. Equally important is keeping the wires clear and from overlaps that may confuse following the logic of the program.
3) Document like crazy. In this case I haven't, but a good program will use clear names for any inputs and outputs as well as good further documentation. You can add text anywhere on the program, front panel or block diagram.
In any case, lets look at the make-up of this VI in more detail.
The core of the program is a single For loop. The loop's description in context help;
The loop acts as a container, with the program to be run put inside it.
So...I've been putting this off for quite a while now, but I kinda need to put it out there.
I'm no longer a student. Stopped a year into my PhD with no current plans or options to return. Situation was a little complex and I don't want to go into it publicly, but it was definitely on my head and not anyone else's.
On the plus side, I'm just about caught up on my sleep debt now.
In any case, for the moment I'm looking for some part time and volunteer work along with being active in local political groups. I'm considering options for next year and might go back to university for a different course, but details are still up in the air.
More of the same.So a couple more science fiction reviews because the straight science part of my brain is in swear-at-hardware mode.
Neil Stevenson - Anathem
OK, so a bit late to the party on this one, but it's an interesting book. The basic premise involves a community of math-oriented monks who live entirely independently of the outside world (for the most part), isolated in 'maths' that only open once every year, ten years, hundred years or thousand years depending on the order. The monks are a bit of blend of mathematicians, scientist (well, mostly astronomers), philosophers and actual (if secular) monks. This leads to lots and lots of intellectual wankery and info-dumping. I'd guess that about 600 of the 900+ pages qualify as info-dumps of one sort or another.
As I said elsewhere, the amount of exposition made me think I was reading a (well written) popular science book at times, but 70-80% of the stuff they discuss is pretty much junk. And that was one of the big problems with the book. The style and depth was authorative, but the content was largely nonsensical, based on an unfortunate reading/blending of the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics and the idea of a multiverse. I hammered this main point home here, so won't repeat myself too much.
The actual plot is good fun, although some lines develop strangely and there are parts that could have done with more attention (in a 900 page book!). The worldbuilding is fantastic and mostly well thought out. Other than the annoyances I've listed it's a good and fun book from a purely entertainment standpoint. It's just a shame it plays with the wrong mental muscles from time to time.
Mira Grant - Feed
I'll warn you now, this is a zombie book in the vein of WWZ. Only with a few twists. In this case the twists are that it's about journalists/bloggers following a presidential campaign. In a post zombie-apocalypse world.
The world building is good, with a lot of time spent on the biology and sociology of the world twenty years after the rising. It's actually pretty intelligently done and has the feel of real world explanations. One of my favourite points is the nature of the virus involved in the zombie conversions. In this world, everyone is infected. The zombies are those who have 'converted', mostly due to contact with an active strain (eg, bitten), but there is a chance of spontaneous conversion. Also anyone who dies instantly converts. Oh and some bastards weaponise the fucking virus . There are also side effects from the low level infection in some cases, such as the main character whose eyes are permanently fully dilated, leading to a journalist who always has to wear sunglasses. Oh, and who is required by law to carry at least one gun at almost all times.
Story wise I wasn't expecting much. It turns out it's actually really, really good. I normally don't care much for horror stories, so was pleasantly surprised when they pretty much ignored most of the usual tropes. It's set long enough after the rising that it doesn't really qualify as survival horror. Not when you have well armed and experienced citizens with CDC guidelines. Zombies are pretty mundane to the leads, one of whom makes his living poking them with sticks on camera. The precautions and rituals thought up to make a zombie infested world a safe place are ingenious. Especially the tests to see whether conversion has started, mandated every time you enter a safe zone or may have been exposed. These tests are a great plot device, sprinkling tension wherever needed. The zombies themselves are nowhere near as scary.
It does drip with popular culture and reference at times (George/Georgia becomes the most popular name, the second lead character's name is Shaun and the third goes by Buffy), but then that is very realistic and to a degree explained by the semi-Idiocracy culture bred by a fear of going outside lest you be eaten. Some of the B-cast are clownish strawmen (spot the main bad guy - it takes about two minutes looking at the , but the central characters are crazily interesting people.
The author has already sold the rest of the trilogy, with the second book due next year. The plot to this one, particularly the ending, means you really won't want to pick up the others until you've read the first. In that sense I won't even put a spoilered spoiler, but lets just say it's one of the less expected twists and one of the most gutsy moves I've seen in a book this year. And yeah, I think that that sort of sums this book up. Surprisingly good. Definitely worth a read and pretty quick for 5-600 pages.
Non-popular science book reviews.So I owe quite a few popular science book reviews, and the original list is badly out of date anyway. I'll probably start over some time mid-summer.
For now, a couple of science fiction book reviews.
Charlie Stross - The Fuller Memorandum.
This was something of an impulse buy after seeing him note on his website it was in a 3 for 2 offer at Waterstones - currently my main source for the books overflowing my rooms minimal shelf space. The other two I haven't read yet and don't know if I'll be reviewing them here.
This is the third in a series, although you can jump in at any point just fine. There are two short stories in the same world; Down On The Farm and Overtime which give you a good feel for the themes and style. The books are about a computer-science grad turned tech-support/field demonologist for a secret British government agency called the Laundry. The higher concept is that magic is a field of applied mathematics. The books combine spy thrillers (of varying levels of pulp), Lovecraft, office bureaucracy (he is a civil servant after all) and unabashed geekyness. See Bob Howard failing his saving throw against shiny and ending up with a JesusPhone (later christened the NecronomiCon), insisting that there is at least a level 4 glamor on the thing.
The magic loops around both sides of Clarke's third law, with both mystical shit far beyond our understanding suggested as alien tech and everyday technology being used to invoke magic. While it can be somewhat cheesy, it works pretty nicely and pretty much sticks to it's own rules.
While the main character could be seen as a wish fulfillment, self-insert character, it really doesn't work that way. Sure he is a major geek who happens to fight demons, land the hot smart chick and play James Bond from time to time, but he is also something of a punch bag and that hot smart chick ends up being considerably cooler than him. Second book spoiler: Especially in The Jennifer Morgue where they get locked into a memetic system modeled on a James Bond film. They have to play out the roles. Most of the book it seems that Bob is playing Bond, right up until you realise it's actually his girlfriend who landed that role and Bob ends up as the Bond babe. In this book he ends up fucking things up a few times, and gets into pretty nasty shape towards the end.
It's a quick and fun read, with some real horror story brutality, enjoyable characters, a heap of geek and tech references that mesh really nicely with the in-world magic and lots of very British rants (see complaining about speed bumps when stuck in the boot of a car being driven across London ). I will say that this one reveals a lot more about certain aspects of the world than the previous two, so although they aren't required reading I would recommend you read them in order. You won't lose anything from the later books, but it will spoil some points of the earlier ones.
Note that this is a series that has played with virtually every horror, spy and thriller cliche and theme. When they take the plot to a cemetery with nearly a quarter of a million people buried there, guess what is going to happen? Now throw in a death cult (riding piggyback on the Tories) Russian Spetsnaz team, a TA SAS brick and a violin solo to end all violin solos...
Alister Reynolds - Terminal World
First sample chapter. It doesn't really reflect that much of the story, but sets up the world to a degree.
This is largely an enforced steampunk world. For whatever reason (explored in world, but by characters with limited knowledge and understanding so nothing is definite) the world is divided into 'zones', each with a different level of possible technology. In some zones everything works, down to advanced nanotechnology. In others you are lucky if your watch keeps ticking. Moving between zones tends to brick technology and has rather nasty effects on people as well, which can be compensated for to a greater or lesser degree with medicine. 'Storms' occasionally cause these zones to shift.
The central location is a grand spire of a city, with the zones roughly vertical, with lower tech at the bottom and higher tech towards the top.
The story follows an ex-angel (post-human from the higher tech zones) who has infiltrated a lower tech region as a spy but now gone native. He gets a warning in the first chapter, then goes on the run out of the city. Once out, everything goes to hell very, very quickly.
This is Reynolds, so he quite often is conservative with the info-dumps, or leaves them to characters who aren't exactly reliable. The world he creates here could do with another few stories set in it just to explore all the ideas set up. The ending definitely leaves this open, with a fairly customary bittersweet feeling. It's not the best ending but it isn't on a par with, say, Bank's 'EVERYONE DIES' either. Seriously, in Matter he has the hero win by detonating the anti-matter bomb implanted in her wisdom tooth after being decapitated. And then he leaves the one surviving character's epilogue until after the glossary, so half the readers missed it on their first read.
Because this is steam-punk, expect huge airship fights. Expect to be satisfied by them. Reynolds loves his ships (space or air) to be big, have personality (sometimes literally, but not here) and to take severe punishment. He can make you feel something about a glorified balloon going pop.