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XmlTools Free tools to process XML files from the command line.

‘I’m Confused As Ever’
Score: 4/5

Lee Smolin

I’ve never really understood what time is. It obviously seems to exist, but I’ve never really come up with a good definition or way to describe it. Things like temperature have nice enough definitions and explanations that make sense – not just enough sense to be practical, but enough allow for testable predictions.

Not so time.

(FWIW I’m equally confused when it comes to space. What does it actually mean to say that a wall is 3 feet away?)

A lot of the current physics models say that time doesn’t really exist, because there’s no real ‘arrow’ of time in the equations and so the equations are reversible. Smolin’s approach here is to say that this doesn’t mean what it’s currently purported to me, and that instead physics should try treating time as ‘more real’ than space.

It’s an interesting idea, and one which should give some testable predictions. As to whether it’s right or not, even the author says he doesn’t know but that it’s important to try thinking about.

Maybe we are at a turning point in some of our thinking, like before the Copernican view of things where the paths of planets couldn’t really be explained. Once we had the heliocentric model, things started making a lot more sense. At the minute(?) our confusion over time may be similar – we’re just waiting for the right leap to a new model.

As for the book itself? I thought the first half was interesting but the second half dragged on a bit. I appreciate that it’s worth the author exploring the different approach in all the different avenues, but my attention span isn’t what it once was and I didn’t get as much from that as I got from the start of the book.

The book didn’t really end my confusion so much as add a new layer on top of it. Still, fascinating stuff.

Posted by 'geoff' on Wednesday, 30 July 2014. No comments.

‘More Brain Twisting Fun’
Score: 4/5

Daniel P. Friedman

This follows on from the earlier book ‘The Little Schemer’, and it’s a similar structure. Fun examples that lead to complete brain meltery. This book tackles things like ‘continuations’, something a lot of programmers these days aren’t that familiar with. It adds an interesting way of tackling problems, and it does need a slightly different way of thinking about things.

Confused Note: I have no idea why Amazon’s listing makes no mention of Matthias Felleisen as co-author.

Other random note: Amazon tells me I bought this book in May 1999. Yes, that’s how long my to-read pile is. 15 years.

Posted by 'geoff' on Wednesday, 30 July 2014. No comments.

“Darkly Different African Drama”
Score: 4/5

Kwei Quartey

Confession time – I have no idea who recommended this book. (If it was you – thanks!) I bought it in 2011 and it finally made it near enough the top of the to-read pile for me to grab it.

It’s a lovely story. It’s a police mystery/thriller, but what makes it more compelling is the setting (Ghana) and the different textures surrounding everyday life there. There are inevitable comparisons to The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, but this is quite different in tone as well as setting.

I have no idea how realistic a depiction this really is, but I don’t think I’d be averse to reading some more of the Darko Dawson series.

Posted by 'geoff' on Saturday, 19 July 2014. No comments.

‘The Culture, Only Nasty’
Score: 3/5

Ann Leckie

An interesting take on the notion of ships-as-people, or what could happen when we have pervasive AIs and pervasive monitoring.

I still miss Iain M. Banks and his Culture novels though.

Posted by 'geoff' on Wednesday, 02 July 2014. No comments.

‘Not Worth The Effort’
Score: 2/5

Christopher Priest

You know when you get a book and you struggle through it and you reach the end and it’s so satisfying that you don’t mind the struggle, it was all worthwhile in the end?

This is not that book.

I struggled through the chapters, the different settings, the different voices, the same-scene-but-differents, and really, it just wasn’t worth it.

Others will probably rave about this book. I just didn’t like it at all.

Posted by 'geoff' on Sunday, 22 June 2014. No comments.

‘Imaginative Setting, Compelling Story’
Score: 5/5

Max Barry

OK, this is a science fiction book, but that setting is secondary – it’s primarily a thriller. It’s nicely done, with things being revealed at appropriate moments rather than it all being spelled out in advance.

The flashbacks do make it hard (towards the end) to keep track of what is happening when though – I don’t know if this is deliberate or not, but sometimes I was left guessing ‘did this happen before X or after it?’

Still, that’s a fairly minor point about what is overall a lovely book. The story is interesting, the setting imaginative, and the characters interesting. Excellent.

Posted by 'geoff' on Sunday, 15 June 2014. No comments.

‘As Others See Us’
Score: 4/5

Matt Haig

I’m not usually a big fan of Sci Fi books that try to view humans from an alien perspective. Maybe it’s because I just haven’t seen it done well. Usually there are some trite ‘silly humans do this’, and ‘believe it or not humans do that’ observations but no real insight, and no real empathy.

This book has plenty of observations and while some of them may be trite they are at least combined with some empathy. This was a nice book, a humorous book, and easy to read.

Posted by 'geoff' on Sunday, 15 June 2014. No comments.

‘Lovely, With Casual Slurs’
Score: 4/5

Chuck Palahniuk

I'm not going to dwell on this one, but it's another nice Palahniuk novel where you're never entirely sure of the undercurrents or what's actually going on. Lovely! The author also seemed to have a lot of fun coming up with casual slur names like Snarky McSnark.

Posted by 'geoff' on Saturday, 14 June 2014. No comments.

‘New Take On Genre’
Score: 4/5

M. R. Carey

If I'd known what this book was about before I read it I probably wouldn't have started it, even though it came with SWMBO's recommendation.

But start it I did, and I found it captivating. I did like the way things were gradually revealed, the way the reader had to figure out rather than having details endlessly explained. The way things are gradually shown to the reader make me wonder how this could be done in a movie (I've no idea if there are plans for a movie of this book or not).

I think it could be tricky to do as a movie. But as a book it's stunning.

Posted by 'geoff' on Saturday, 14 June 2014. No comments.

‘StarWars Does Ocean’s Eleven’
Score: 3/5

Timothy Zahn

I really liked Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy so I was hopeful when I saw he had a more recent StarWars book out. I think I’d expected something more StarWars-y though - this book is set in the StarWars universe but there’s nothing about it that couldn’t just be in a general science fiction book. There’s not much use of StarWars here.

This book feels like a heist thriller, an Ocean’s Eleven story (there are even eleven in the gang here) that just happens to be a bit sci-fi. The tools are fancier, the defences to be broken are scarier, but the story is familiar.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but choosing to make this a StarWars book with Han Solo in a starring role, just doesn’t seem to gel. The Han Solo here isn’t the Han Solo who shot first, but a more decent, more honourable one. And it doesn’t ring true.

Posted by 'geoff' on Monday, 26 May 2014. No comments.
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