Tuesday, April 17, 2018

With the release of version 3.0, now in production, Earth and Moon Viewer, originally launched on the Web in 1994 as Earth Viewer, now becomes “Earth and Moon Viewer and Solar System Explorer”. In addition to viewing the Earth and its Moon using a variety of image databases, you can now also explore high-resolution imagery of Mercury, Venus, Mars and its moons Phobos and Deimos, the asteroids Ceres and Vesta, and Pluto and its moon Charon. For some bodies multiple image databases are available including spacecraft imagery and topography based upon elevation measurements. You can choose any of the available...

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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. Antifragile. New York: Random House, 2012. ISBN 978-0-8129-7968-8. This book is volume three in the author's Incerto series, following Fooled by Randomness (February 2011) and The Black Swan (January 2009). It continues to explore the themes of randomness, risk, and the design of systems: physical, economic, financial, and social, which perform well in the face of uncertainty and infrequent events with large consequences. He begins by posing the deceptively simple question, “What is the antonym of ‘fragile’?” After thinking for a few moments, most people will answer with “robust” or one of its synonyms such as “sturdy”, “tough”, or...

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Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Since 1996, Earth and Moon Viewer has offered a topographic map of the Earth as one of the image databases which may be displayed. This map was derived from the NOAA/NCEI ETOPO2 topography database. Although the original data set contained samples with a spatial resolution of two arc seconds (two nautical miles per pixel, or a total image size of 10800×5400 pixels), main memory and disc size constraints of the era required reducing the resolution of the image within Earth and Moon Viewer to 1440×720 pixels. This was sufficient for renderings at the hemisphere or continental scale, but if you...

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Thursday, March 29, 2018

The first major update to Earth and Moon Viewer since 2012 is now posted. Changes in this release are as follows. When viewing the Moon, the default image database is the 100 metre per pixel LRO LROC-WAC Global Mosaic produced by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera Team at Arizona State University from imagery returned by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. This data set provides more than 5700 times the resolution (measured by pixels in the image) of the Clementine imagery previously used (which remains available as an option). Since the complete image database, consisting of 8 bit grey scale values,...

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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

I have just posted a new version of JavaScrypt, the first major update in thirteen years. JavaScrypt is a collection of Web pages which implement a complete symmetrical encryption facility that runs entirely within your browser, using JavaScript for all computation. When you encrypt or decrypt with JavaScrypt, nothing is sent over the Internet; you can run JavaScrypt from a local copy on a machine not connected to the Internet. JavaScrypt encrypts with the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) using 256 bit keys: this is the standard accepted by the U.S. government for encryption of Top Secret data. (While JavaScrypt is...

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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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