Thursday, February 15, 2018

Lewis, Damien. The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare. New York: Quercus, 2015. ISBN 978-1-68144-392-8. After becoming prime minister in May 1940, one of Winston Churchill's first acts was to establish the Special Operations Executive (SOE), which was intended to conduct raids, sabotage, reconnaissance, and support resistance movements in Axis-occupied countries. The SOE was not part of the military: it was a branch of the Ministry of Economic Warfare and its very existence was a state secret, camouflaged under the name “Inter-Service Research Bureau”. Its charter was, as Churchill described it, to “set Europe ablaze”. The SOE consisted, from its chief, Brigadier...

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Saturday, February 10, 2018

Ever since the 19th century, the largest industry in Zambia has been copper mining, which today accounts for 85% of the country's exports. The economy of the nation and the prosperity of its people rise and fall with the price of copper on the world market, so nothing is so important to industry and government planners as the expectation for the price of this commodity in the future. Since the 1970s, the World Bank has issued regular forecasts for the price of copper and other important commodities, and the government of Zambia and other resource-based economies often base their economic...

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Sunday, February 4, 2018

Tegmark, Max. Life 3.0. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2017. ISBN 978-1-101-94659-6. The Earth formed from the protoplanetary disc surrounding the young Sun around 4.6 billion years ago. Around one hundred million years later, the nascent planet, beginning to solidify, was clobbered by a giant impactor which ejected the mass that made the Moon. This impact completely re-liquefied the Earth and Moon. Around 4.4 billion years ago, liquid water appeared on the Earth's surface (evidence for this comes from Hadean zircons which date from this era). And, some time thereafter, just about as soon as the Earth became environmentally hospitable...

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Thursday, February 1, 2018

Kroese, Robert. Starship Grifters. Seattle: 47North, 2014. ISBN 978-1-4778-1848-0. This is the funniest science fiction novel I have read in quite a while. Set in the year 3013, not long after galactic civilisation barely escaped an artificial intelligence apocalypse and banned fully self-aware robots, the story is related by Sasha, one of a small number of Self-Arresting near Sentient Heuristic Androids built to be useful without running the risk of their taking over. SASHA robots are equipped with an impossible-to-defeat watchdog module which causes a hard reboot whenever they are on the verge of having an original thought. The limitation...

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Thursday, January 25, 2018

Weir, Andy. Artemis. New York: Crown, 2017. ISBN 978-0-553-44812-2. Seldom has a first-time novelist burst onto the scene so spectacularly as Andy Weir with The Martian (November 2014). Originally written for his own amusement and circulated chapter by chapter to a small but enthusiastic group of fans who provided feedback and suggestions as the story developed, he posted the completed novel as a free download on his Web site. Some people who had heard of it by word of mouth but lacked the technical savvy to download documents and transfer them to E-readers inquired whether he could make a Kindle version...

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Monday, January 22, 2018

I have posted an update to my trigonometry-intense floating point benchmark which adds PHP to the list of languages in which the benchmark is implemented. A new release of the benchmark collection including PHP is now available for downloading. PHP is a brutal hack of a language created by bashing together HTML and a bastardised flavour of Perl which is just enough like Perl to trick you into thinking you know it, only to pull the rug out from under you whenever you become complacent. PHP is the foundation of vast snowdrifts of incomprehensible spaghetti code which adorns many Web...

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Sunday, January 14, 2018

I have added the following document to the Univac 1107 section of the Univac Document Archive. UNIVAC 1107 COBOL Programmer's Guide This is a PDF of a scanned paper document in my collection. This document is more than fifty years old (published in 1963) and may appear wonky to contemporary eyes: the unjustified typescript text is sometimes misaligned on the page. This is not an artefact of scanning—it's how the document actually appears. Recall that only around 38 Univac 1107s were sold, so documents describing it were produced in small numbers and didn't, in the eyes of Univac, merit the...

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Friday, January 12, 2018

Hamilton, Eric M. An Inconvenient Presidency. Seattle: CreateSpace, 2016. ISBN 978-1-5368-7363-4. This novella (89 pages in the Kindle edition) is a delightful romp into alternative history and the multiverse. Al Gore was elected president in 2000 and immediately informed of a capability so secret he had never been told of it, even as Vice President. He was handed a gadget, the METTA, which allowed a limited kind of time travel. Should he, or the country, find itself in a catastrophic and seemingly unrecoverable situation, he could press its red button and be mentally transported back in time to a reset...

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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Bracken, Matthew. The Red Cliffs of Zerhoun. Orange Park, FL: Steelcutter Publishing, 2017. ISBN 978-0-9728310-5-5. We first met Dan Kilmer in Castigo Cay (February 2014), where the retired U.S. Marine sniper (I tread cautiously on the terminology: some members of the Corps say there's no such thing as a “former Marine” and, perhaps, neither is there a “former sniper”) had to rescue his girlfriend from villains in the Caribbean. The novel is set in a world where the U.S. is deteriorating into chaos and the malevolent forces suppressed by civilisation have begun to assert their power on the high seas. As...

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Sunday, December 31, 2017

Here are my picks for the best books of 2017, fiction and nonfiction. These aren't the best books published this year, but rather the best I've read in the last twelvemonth. The winner in both categories is barely distinguished from the pack, and the runners up are all worthy of reading. Runners up appear in alphabetical order by their author's surname. Each title is linked to my review of the book. Fiction: Winner: The Berlin Project by Gregory Benford Runners up: Drug Lord by Doug Casey and John Hunt Hitler in Hell by Martin van Creveld The Hidden Truth by...

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Schantz, Hans G. The Hidden Truth. Huntsville, AL: ÆtherCzar, 2016. ISBN 978-1-5327-1293-7. This is a masterpiece of alternative history techno-thriller science fiction. It is rich in detail, full of interesting characters who interact and develop as the story unfolds, sound in the technical details which intersect with our world, insightful about science, technology, economics, government and the agenda of the “progressive” movement, and plausible in its presentation of the vast, ruthless, and shadowy conspiracy which lies under the surface of its world. And, above all, it is charming—these are characters you'd like to meet, even some of the villains because...

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Friday, December 29, 2017

Mills, Kyle. Order to Kill. New York: Pocket Books, 2016. ISBN 978-1-4767-8349-9. This is the second novel in the Mitch Rapp saga written by Kyle Mills, who took over the franchise after the death of Vince Flynn, its creator. In the first novel by Mills, The Survivor (July 2017), he picked up the story of the last Vince Flynn installment, The Last Man (February 2013), right where it left off and seemed to effortlessly assume the voice of Vince Flynn and his sense for the character of Mitch Rapp. This was a most promising beginning, which augured well for further Mitch Rapp...

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Thursday, December 28, 2017

Serling, Robert J. The Electra Story. New York: Bantam Books, [1963] 1991. ISBN 978-0-553-28845-2. As the jet age dawned for commercial air transport, the major U.S. aircraft manufacturers found themselves playing catch-up to the British, who had put the first pure jet airliner, the De Havilland Comet, into service in 1952, followed shortly thereafter by the turboprop Vickers Viscount in 1953. The Comet's reputation was seriously damaged by a series of crashes caused by metal fatigue provoked by its pressurisation system, and while this was remedied in subsequent models, the opportunity to scoop the Americans and set the standard for...

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Sunday, December 24, 2017

Cox, Joseph. The City on the Heights. Modiin, Israel: Big Picture Books, 2017. ISBN 978-0-9764659-6-6. For more than two millennia the near east (which is sloppily called the “middle east” by ignorant pundits who can't distinguish north Africa from southwest Asia) has exported far more trouble than it has imported from elsewhere. You need only consult the chronicles of the Greeks, the Roman Empire, the histories of conflicts among them and the Persians, the expansion of Islam into the region, internecine conflicts among Islamic sects, the Crusades, Israeli-Arab wars, all the way to recent follies of “nation building” to appreciate...

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Saturday, December 9, 2017

Benford, Gregory. The Berlin Project. New York: Saga Press, 2017. ISBN 978-1-4814-8765-8. In September 1938, Karl Cohen returned from a postdoctoral position in France to the chemistry department at Columbia University in New York, where he had obtained his Ph.D. two years earlier. Accompanying him was his new wife, Marthe, daughter of a senior officer in the French army. Cohen went to work for Harold Urey, professor of chemistry at Columbia and winner of the 1934 Nobel Prize in chemistry for the discovery of deuterium. At the start of 1939, the fields of chemistry and nuclear physics were stunned by...

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