‘Hot Subject, Great Introduction’
Score: 5/5

I enjoyed this book. It’s short, it’s colour-printed on dodgy paper, it could use some better editing, but it does cover an awful lot of ground.

It goes into quite some detail on the current hot topic of mining asteroids. Why is it a hot topic now? It seems things are finally getting to the stage where significant progress can be made on some of the fundamental challenges of finding asteroids to mine, mining them, and doing something useful with what is mined.

Enough progress has been made that even small countries like Luxembourg are getting involved. This really does look like a fascinating area to watch, and maybe take part in.

The book didn’t answer every question I have about mining asteroids, but it certainly left me better equipped to find the answers.

Tags: 4 Word Book Reviews
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‘Didn’t Get Into It’
Score: 2/5

Paolo Bacigalupi
£8.99

I just didn’t really get into this book enough to enjoy it. The book won the Hugo and Nebula awards, so I’m perfectly happy to chalk this one up to me being weird.

The long, dense blocks of text put me off. I know the author wants to create a vivid tapestry, a rich setting for scenes, but it didn’t work for me here. And instead of sympathy for the characters, I mostly felt apathy or disdain.

Ah well. I’m not saying it’s a bad book, it looks like it’s just not my kind of thing.

Tags: 4 Word Book Reviews
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‘Preparation For Future Risks’
Score: 5/5

This was an excellent but difficult book to read.

At its root, it’s about what happens when something like AI achieves greater-than-human intelligence. The problem is when such a thing learns how to improve how it learns, intelligence could increase exponentially. And if it does, what does that mean for humanity? Will it be benevolent, or will it be destructive? And even if it’s not intentionally malevolent, how can we protect ourselves from it destroying us accidentally (turning the entire planet into paperclips, us included, as the canonical example)?

Big questions. There’s more to the book than just questions though – it does its best to provide directions for answers and some steps along the path to the answers, if it can’t provide actual answers themselves.

The book itself is taxing to read though. It is filled with jargon and awkward terms that I had to work through to find out what was meant. It could be a hard slog at times but it was worthwhile in the end.

The subject is big, difficult, and still very new, but I’m glad that some people are giving it some deep thought.

Tags: 4 Word Book Reviews
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Things I wish I’d known before I bought Hue bulbs:

  • The Hue system is a bit rubbish.
  • The company appears arrogant, hostile to partners and apathetic of customers.
  • It’s possible the company has heard the word ‘privacy’ but I can see no evidence of this.

I got a starter kit of bulbs and hub, as well as a bulb from a Hue partner (Osram) that allowed changing the colour. (Yeah, oddly enough, you can’t change the ‘hue’  of the actual ‘Hue’ bulbs in the starter kit.)

What I wanted:

  • Bulbs I could dim from my phone or tablet, that were at least as good as other dimmable bulbs. Playing with the colours and the API might give me other ideas.

What I got:

  • Bulbs that are so dumb they reset to 100% brightness when I switch them off.

The justification Hue comes up with is that if there’s a fire, rescuers should be able to turn the light bulbs on and have them come on at full power. That sounds like a load of bollocks to me.

I don’t think treating light switches as legacy systems they can ignore is the right approach here. The notion of having to replace every light switch (only $40 each!) just so I can use expensive bulbs from an arrogant company that doesn’t understand privacy is just so wrong it’s very easy for me to decide not to do it.

What makes me think they’re arrogant? Two things. First of all there was the debacle over an update Philips sent out that stopped all the ‘Friends of Hue’ partner bulbs from working. Philips deny this was a land-grab to get people to buy more bulbs, and eventually backed down. Still, do you want to do business with a company that acts this way towards its partners? And it backed down this time but will it try something else - something worse? - in the near future? Can you trust them not to?

The second thing is their attitude to people wanting the simple ability to have their bulbs come on at a specific brightness and hue - the problem I described above. Just check out the support thread and watch people get angrier and angrier at Philips’ handling the request.

Privacy is another problem. Putting aside the problem of adding a hub to your network that may or may not spy on you and ‘call home’, even the apps to turn the lights on and off spy on you.

The idea of the app is to turn lights on and off, dim them, and maybe even have profiles you can select for specific light settings. That all sounds straightforward enough.

So why does the Hue app on Android mandate access to my location? I don’t even know if there’s any location-specific aspects to the app, but if there are I don’t want them. I should be able to use the app without having to let Hue know exactly where I am all the time.

And why does it need access to my pictures and media? I don’t have anything to hide but I’m buggered if I want to share anything with Hue. I should be able to dim my lights without letting Hue copy all the photos I’ve taken.

And even worse - why the hell does the app require the ability to use my cameras? I don’t want Hue stealing pictures I’ve already taken so I certainly don’t want it taking more pictures behind my metaphorical back.

Android Marshmallow has a new mechanism for dealing with app permissions - apps no longer specify up front what permissions they need, but instead ask for them before they use them. And the user is in control - they can deny the permission request.

Hue’s answer to this is a big Fuck You to the user - as soon as you start the app it asks for all the permissions and if you decline any of them - any! - the app exits. If you want to dim your lights, Hue needs to know where you are and be able to take sneaky pictures of you.

I just wanted a nice way of dimming bulbs from my tablet and phone. Hue isn’t it.

Tags: Clueless Idiocy
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‘More Phoebe. More Unicorn’
Score: 4/5

Dana Simpson
£6.99

More Phoebe and Heavenly Nostrils adventures. I still love the charm of these characters, a charm I’ve only really seen in Calvin and Hobbes. I do highly recommend these books if you’re a Calvin and Hobbes fan.

Tags: 4 Word Book Reviews
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‘Implausible Setting, Still Fun’
Score: 3/5

Colin Bateman
£2.80

More fun and games for the survivors of the original Titanic 2020 novel. Another outing for the same characters, another setting that’s no less fun for all its implausibility. It’s still charming. I may be the only one who thought so though, because even though he wrote a second book in this series, he hasn’t written a third…

Tags: 4 Word Book Reviews
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‘So Long Terry Pratchett’
Score: 4/5

Terry Pratchett
£8.99

*sniff*

Tags: 4 Word Book Reviews
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‘Enjoyed It Despite Faults’
Score: 4/5

Colin Bateman
£0.50 in a charity shop

I didn’t know Colin Bateman wrote Young Adult books but here’s a charming wee one found in a charity shop.

It’s simplistic, implausible and sometimes just plain wrong (they use antibiotics against the virus in the chemical weapon?) but I thoroughly enjoyed it anyway.

Tags: 4 Word Book Reviews
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‘Some More Interesting Escapism’
Score: 4/5

James S. A. Corey
£8.99

More from ‘The Expanse’, a nice but fairly implausible future (Why aren’t there cameras everywhere? They’ll be dirt cheap then…)

I prefer the characters in the book to the same characters in the first season of the TV show. The TV characters just don’t really fit with the actions of the characters in the books. Maybe I should just treat them as two separate works. Maybe I just shouldn’t watch the TV show.

Anyway. It’s some more of the interesting escapism Expanse books bring.

Tags: 4 Word Book Reviews
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I’ve learned a few more things since part 1.

  1. The ‘pynergenie’ python code on Github is pretty neat and works well on the Pi 2.
  2. pynergenie doesn’t contain a simple command to turn a switch on or off, so I threw one together (by copying a lot of code that was already there) and sent a pull request.
  3. There’s no real security around who can turn Energenie plugs on or off. If a nasty hacker with a Pi+PiMote is within range, he or she can turn plugs on or off.

The lack of security around who can turn plugs on or off both surprises and bothers me. I figured in these days of bluetooth, pairing devices was mostly a solved problem. Apparently not. The MIHO005 does indeed have a pairing mechanism, but it’s not for pairing with the PiMote - the Pi+PiMote can happily control the MIHO005 even though it has never been paired with it. All it needs to know is the device ID, and the PiMote can ask for that over the airwaves.

Tags: Weird Interweb Stuff
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