‘Well This Dated Quickly...’

Score: 4/5

This book talks about the accelerating progress in technology, so I suppose it was inevitable that the details dated quickly. Even in the updated edition the authors note that the book contains not a single mention of drones.

It’s still a good book, and I enjoyed reading it. I’d probably have got more out of it if I’d read it nearer the time it came out instead of (just!) a few years later.

(FX: glares at ever-growing to-read pile...)

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Amazon made a bunch of datasets publicly available as ‘Amazon Earth’, including a growing collection of Landsat images. The Landsat program is an old program that’s still going, continually taking satellite images of earth. It’s very cool.

Amazon’s Landsat data will grow as they add more images, as Landsat takes more pictures.

I wondered what Northern Ireland looked like over time, so I wrote a wee viewer to get the data from Amazon and allow you to step back in time. The viewer starts with the latest image and allows you to step back to the earliest available image for Northern Ireland, taken in March 2017.

In summary: Norn Iron is dark at night, and mostly cloudy. The image taken on 25th March 2017 is nice and clear though.

Here’s the simple viewer:

Acquisition Date:

This viewer loads all the data dynamically so it should (maybe) work even as Amazon add new items to the Landsat collection. I guess we’ll see...

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‘When’s The Next Instalment?’

Score: 4/5

Philip Pullman

We’ve waited for a long time for Philip Pullman to get back to Dust. The last of the His Dark Materials trilogy was published in 2000. Was it worth the wait?


It’s a simpler book than Northern Lights was. I think there’s a lot more scene-setting here than in the first book of the previous trilogy, and as a result there’s less focus on standalone plot.

There’s still the start of a story here, and the adventure here is nicely paced. Even though I hate books that don’t deliver a good standalone story, I can’t wait for the next instalment of this.

P.S. Wouldn’t ‘La Belle Sausage’ be a great name for a French sausage shop? (Yeah, I know ‘sausage’ would be ‘saucisse’ in French. Shush.)

P.P.S. Turns out there already are a bunch of ‘La Belle Sausage’s out there.

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‘What’s The Wifi Password?’

Score: 4/5

I can’t believe no-one asked what the ISS wifi password was. It’s one of the first things I’d have asked.

The book is about Tim Peake’s Principia mission to the International Space Station, and covers a lot of information about the training involved, what work is like up there, and the aftermath of his return. The book is a compilation of answers to a lot of questions he was asked on Twitter and elsewhere.

It’s all very readable - I think it’s aimed at a Young Adult audience, although I don’t see that mentioned anywhere. There are a lot of fun anecdotes along with a little technical information.

But nowhere does it mention the wifi password. The ISS has some of the best OpSec available - anything approaches within 200 miles of it and they’ll know - so I figured The Powers That Be would be fairly open about the password, if there even was one. (I guess there probably is one because, even though it would be convenient having no password, there’d be the worry that a rogue device might connect to the wifi when it wasn’t supposed to.)

OK, I’ve just checked the wifi distance record - 237 miles. Given the ISS is usually about 250 miles up, that’s maybe a bit close for comfort. Maybe it’s best no-one asked about the wifi password after all...

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‘Kindof A Lightweight Dresden’

Score: 3/5

Daniel José Older

It was alright. That’s the overwhelming feeling I had after reading this book. Not great, not gripping but not bad either. It feels like it’s trying to be a bit like The Dresden Files, but it doesn’t quite get there.

It’s a series so maybe the next one will be better.

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‘Well, I Finished It’

Score: 3/5

Don Tapscott and Alex Tapscott

I mentioned before that I’ve been reading up on blockchain stuff. Well, this is one of the books I’ve been reading. It has taken me a long time to read this book.

This is not a casual book to read. I count it as an achievement that I read it all and finished it.

It’s not that it’s a bad book. There are some good bits of information, some snippets about interesting projects, some links to interesting papers. It’s just that it’s kinda dull. The subject is interesting enough, but the writing tends towards impenetrable business-speak. Stuff I haven’t had to read since my MBA.

I finished it, and I’m smarter because of it. But I don’t want to have to do something like that again for a while.

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‘Brains, Computers And Nanotechnology’

Score: 4/5

PJ Manney

I enjoyed this. It’s an interesting discourse on some future technologies and who might seek to control them. The Bilderberg-esque conspiracy doesn’t hurt either! Characterisation isn’t great and there’s a tendency to extremes, but it was still enjoyable.

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‘Sponsored By America Online?’

Score: 2/5

David Baldacci

Meh. I really liked the previous book I’d read by this author but this one wasn’t great at all. It’s not just that it seems like he’s just swallowed the America Online email manual (although 20-odd years later that is kinda funny), it’s not the implausibility of some of the tech, it’s not just the obvious tech solutions that were available when the book was written, it’s just... it’s just not great.

The plot isn’t well paced, and I don’t really care for any of the characters. I’m supposed to warm to some of the central people and hope they grow to trust one another but mostly I just sat there thinking they should both be locked up.


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‘Better Characterisation Than Movie’

Lee Child

There is more visibility and development of character in the first 50 pages of this book than in the two Jack Reacher movies combined.

I was loaned this book but I was suspicious of it because I didn’t really like the first Jack Reacher movie. I read it anyway. It’s much better than the movie. (This is a Jack Reacher book, but it’s not the basis of either of the movies.) Jack Reacher feels like an actual person in this book, rather than the one-dimensional portrayal he gets in the movies.

The plot is obvious in parts, some of the ooh-why-does-that-happen are not difficult to figure out, and if you’re fond of crime books you’ll see the ending a mile off, but it was still fun to read.

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‘Thoroughly Undecided About This’

Score: 4/5

I’m honestly not sure what to make of this book.

It certainly seems as if the author has met a lot of psychopaths. And also that I have not.

I don’t think he’s seeing psychopaths where there aren’t any - many of the actions he describes seeing are indeed pretty awful. They’re just not things I’ve seen in person. Maybe I’ve led a particularly sheltered life. Maybe the author has led a particularly un-sheltered one.

(In a slightly strange twist, I met the author at a conference a couple of years ago, before his death last year. He seemed a perfectly fine, straightforward person, not someone prone to flights of fancy. No idea what he made of me.)

The basic thesis is that there are more psychopaths around than you expect, since they are generally underreported for various reasons. And that psychopathy isn’t so much a psychological disorder as it is an evolved predator/prey strategy where the psychopath wants to maximise gain and minimise effort and the non-psychopath wants to spot psychopaths early instead of becoming involved.

The relationship has evolved to the stage where spotting psychopaths is non-trivial. All the simple ‘tells’ have been eradicated, but they’ve left behind some strange behaviours. For instance, according to the author, psychopaths tend to want to get a lot of information from their victims while giving very little information in return. And so we non-psychopaths have evolved to be wary of people who act like that. The constant evolution of the behaviour of both psychopaths and non-psychopaths causes changes in the other party. It’s a constant battle. According to the author.

He admits he has no education in psychology and no qualifications to write this book. But on the other hand, no one else is writing a book from this perspective.

And I honestly don’t know what to make of it.

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