The site now has a whole new look. Gone are the orange bars and instead there’s a fresh, modern, text- and image-focused feel.

I’ve removed a lot of the cruft that had been building up, so now there’s just the blog and the encoders – those encoders still seem quite useful and quite used.

I like the photos on the site. I used a template for the structure and CSS but I’ve replaced all the photos with ones I’ve taken. I really like them.

The blog itself is entirely new code. It’s still missing some things, so I have more work to do on it. And there’s more going on with that code so I really should write some more about it some day. But not today.

Tags: Life
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In the first update to the encoders in years, I’ve changed them to be completely client-side only.

Now, what you want to encode and decode is transformed directly in your browser, not sent to my server for processing.

This should be more secure (you don’t need to worry about me snooping on files that are sent, or anyone watching your network traffic) as well as faster (only dependent on your browser speed, not your network connection).

Of course this comes at a cost. Support for some of the APIs I used is patchy across browsers. It uses HTML5, so will probably never work in Internet Explorer. Edge has made some stupid security decisions around base-64 links so downloading encoded/decoded files won’t work in it. Other browsers might be better. I use Chrome and it seems to be OK in that. I really should check Firefox at some point…

If you really like or hate the new approach, let me know on Twitter.

Tags: Development
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‘Fusion of Magic, Tech’
Score: 4/5

Charlie Jane Anders
£5.99

I’m not entirely sure who this book is aimed at. Bits of it – certainly at the beginning – seem to be aimed at the Young Adult market. Later bits seem less so.

Still, whoever it’s aimed at, it’s enjoyable.

It’s a nice, original attempt at merging worlds of magic and technology. Other stories do that too, but not in quite this way. Plus it’s a complete, self-contained story, not part of a series that drags on.

There’s a lot to like here.

Tags: 4 Word Book Reviews
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‘Bit Flatter Than Previous’
Score: 4/5

Ben Aaronovitch
£8.99

This book felt a little flatter than the previous book in the series, ‘Rivers of London’. It was a toss-up whether it was 3/5 or 4/5 this time – the settings all felt a little plain compared with the imaginative first novel.

Still, 3/5 would be a good average mark and the book was better than that. Still very readable, very enjoyable, even if it didn’t quite reach the same peak as the last book (which also got 4/5 – there’s a real lack of granularity when there are only five possible marks).

Tags: 4 Word Book Reviews
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‘Highly Enjoyable Short Fiction’
Score: 5/5

I loved this selection of short science fiction stories. It’s the sort of book that reminds me I should read more short fiction.

The selection contains some quite different plots and viewpoints, and some of the stories are quite meaty.

Tags: 4 Word Book Reviews
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‘Makes It Sound Possible’
Score: 5/5

This book talks about 3 big ideas that could change society:

  • Universal Basic Income
  • Open Borders
  • A 15-Hour Work Week

It goes into quite some detail, and carefully makes the case for each one. Where it really shines is in the evidence it provides – careful footnotes litter the text.

Is it all really possible though? I hope so but I’m still not certain. Am I being swept up in a careful narrative (the same way the author believes was the cause of Nixon not choosing guaranteed basic income for the US when he was president)? Or is the evidence really as overwhelming as it appears?

Hmm.

Tags: 4 Word Book Reviews
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‘More Of The Same’
Score: 3/5

James S. A. Corey
£6.29

I just couldn't really get into this as much as previous books in the series. Even though there's plenty of interesting stuff going on it just didn't hold my attention as much.

Ah well.

Tags: 4 Word Book Reviews
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‘Nice, But Not Self-Contained’
Score: 4/5

Ian McDonald
£7.49

A nice imaginative book that makes me long for the days of science fiction novels instead of the obligatory series. I understand the commercial pressures that make publishers want to promote the ‘easier money’ of series, but that doesn't mean I like it.

So what we have in this book seems to me the start of a Game of Thrones in space – much more so than the purported ‘Game of Thrones in space’ of The Expanse. This has lots of characters, lots of death, and some obvious setting-up of plot points for the next book.

I can't really say if the book would have been better on its own instead of having a sequel (since the sequel isn't out yet) but it did make me wistful for the simplicity of ‘one book == one story’.

Tags: 4 Word Book Reviews
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‘Dresden Crossed With Neverwhere’
Score: 4/5

Ben Aaronovitch
£6.29

This was added to my to-read pile by SWMBO and I can see why. We both like the Dresden novels, and SWMBO is a big fan of Neil Gaiman, and this book feels like a blend of both. It’s set in London, but not the London as we see it – much like in Neverwhere, there’s a hidden city with its own mythology and characters. And there’s magic aplenty coupled with criminal investigation, much like the earlier Dresden books.

The charm of the book is the setting and the mythology, but I did enjoy it when the writing style occasionally dropped into police-procedural reporting.

Nice book, and very easy to read. SWMBO has already put the next in the series on my to-read pile.

Tags: 4 Word Book Reviews
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‘Great Introduction To Parapsychology’
Score: 4/5

I wasn’t at all sure what to expect when I ordered this book by one of the founders of the Koestler Parapsychology Unit. (I should pay more attention, I know.) Turns out it’s a ‘Beginners’ Guide’, but it’s really a great little introduction to the different areas of research in parapsychology. It’s very readable, and it covers some of the methodologies used, some of the questions experiments have answered, and some of the new questions research has posed.

It was interesting finding out just how much experimental psychology (and other areas of science) owe to parapsychology for its ever-stricter procedures. And I didn’t know that the first meta-analysis ever done was a parapsychology one!

The book doesn’t take a stance on particular aspects of parapsychology – for example, ‘Do ghosts exist?’ Instead it concentrates on what can be done to learn more. Seems like a good approach to me.

Tags: 4 Word Book Reviews
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