Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Version 3.1 of UNUM is now available for downloading. Version 3.1 incorporates the Unicode 12.1.0 standard, released on May 7th, 2019. Since the Unicode 11.0.0 standard supported by UNUM 3.0, a total of 555 new characters have been added, for a total of 137,929 characters. Unicode 12.0.0 added support for 4 new scripts (for a total of 150) and 61 new emoji characters. Unicode 12.1.0 added the single character U+32FF, the Japanese character for the Reiwa era. (In addition to the standard Unicode characters, UNUM also supports an additional 65 ASCII control characters, which are not assigned graphic code points...

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Virk, Rizwan. The Simulation Hypothesis. Cambridge, MA: Bayview Books, 2019. ISBN 978-0-9830569-0-4. Before electronic computers had actually been built, Alan Turing mathematically proved a fundamental and profound property of them which has been exploited in innumerable ways as they developed and became central to many of our technologies and social interactions. A computer of sufficient complexity, which is, in fact, not very complex at all, can simulate any other computer or, in fact, any deterministic physical process whatsoever, as long as it is understood sufficiently to model in computer code and the system being modelled does not exceed the capacity...

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Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Wood, Fenton. The City of Illusions. Seattle: Amazon Digital Services, 2019. ASIN B082692JTX. This is the fourth short novel/novella (148 pages) in the author's Yankee Republic series. I described the first, Pirates of the Electromagnetic Waves (May 2019), as “utterly charming”, and the second, Five Million Watts (June 2019), “enchanting”. The third, The Tower of the Bear (October 2019), takes Philo from the depths of the ocean to the Great Tree in the exotic West. Here, the story continues as Philo reaches the Tree, meets its Guardian, “the largest, ugliest, and smelliest bear” he has ever seen, not to mention the most voluble...

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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Here are my picks for the best books of 2019, fiction and nonfiction. These aren't the best books published this year, but rather the best I've read in the last twelve months. 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 Powers of the Earth and Causes of Separation by Travis J. I. Corcoran I am jointly choosing these two novels as fiction books of the...

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Sunday, December 29, 2019

Andrew, Christopher and Vasili Mitrokhin. The Sword and the Shield. New York: Basic Books, 1999. ISBN 978-0-465-00312-9. Vasili Mitrokhin joined the Soviet intelligence service as a foreign intelligence officer in 1948, at a time when the MGB (later to become the KGB) and the GRU were unified into a single service called the Committee of Information. By the time he was sent to his first posting abroad in 1952, the two services had split and Mitrokhin stayed with the MGB. Mitrokhin's career began in the paranoia of the final days of Stalin's regime, when foreign intelligence officers were sent on...

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Monday, December 23, 2019

Page, Joseph T., II. Vandenberg Air Force Base. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2014. ISBN 978-1-4671-3209-1. Prior to World War II, the sleepy rural part of the southern California coast between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo was best known as the location where, in September 1923, despite a lighthouse having been in operation at Arguello Point since 1901, the U.S. Navy suffered its worst peacetime disaster, when seven destroyers, travelling at 20 knots, ran aground at Honda Point, resulting in the loss of all seven ships and the deaths of 23 crewmembers. In the 1930s, following additional wrecks in the...

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Sunday, December 22, 2019

Taloni, John. The Compleat Martian Invasion. Seattle: Amazon Digital Services, 2016. ASIN B01HLTZ7MS. A number of years have elapsed since the Martian Invasion chronicled by H.G. Wells in The War of the Worlds. The damage inflicted on the Earth was severe, and the protracted process of recovery, begun in the British Empire in the last years of Queen Victoria's reign, now continues under Queen Louise, Victoria's sixth child and eldest surviving heir after the catastrophe of the invasion. Just as Earth is beginning to return to normalcy, another crisis has emerged. John Bedford, who had retreated into an opium haze...

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Saturday, December 21, 2019

Walton, David. Three Laws Lethal. Jersey City, NJ: Pyr, 2019. ISBN 978-1-63388-560-8. In the near future, autonomous vehicles, “autocars”, are available from a number of major automobile manufacturers. The self-driving capability, while not infallible, has been approved by regulatory authorities after having demonstrated that it is, on average, safer than the population of human drivers on the road and not subject to human frailties such as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, while tired, or distracted by others in the car or electronic gadgets. While self-driving remains a luxury feature with which a minority of cars on the...

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Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Dutton, Edward. How to Judge People by What they Look Like. Oulu, Finland: Thomas Edward Press, 2018. ISBN 978-1-9770-6797-5. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde wrote, People say sometimes that Beauty is only superficial. That may be so. But at least it is not as superficial as Thought. To me, Beauty is the wonder of wonders. It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. From childhood, however, we have been exhorted not to judge people by their appearances. In Skin in the Game (August 2019), Nassim Nicholas Taleb advises choosing the surgeon who “doesn't look like...

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Saturday, December 14, 2019

Carroll, Michael. Europa's Lost Expedition. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International, 2017. ISBN 978-3-319-43158-1. In the epoch in which this story is set the expansion of the human presence into the solar system was well advanced, with large settlements on the Moon and Mars, exploitation of the abundant resources in the main asteroid belt, and research outposts in exotic environments such as Jupiter's enigmatic moon Europa, when civilisation on Earth was consumed, as so often seems to happen when too many primates who evolved to live in small bands are packed into a limited space, by a global conflict which the survivors,...

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Sunday, December 8, 2019

Anonymous Conservative [Michael Trust]. The Evolutionary Psychology Behind Politics. Macclenny, FL: Federalist Publications, [2012, 2014] 2017. ISBN 978-0-9829479-3-7. One of the puzzles noted by observers of the contemporary political and cultural scene is the division of the population into two factions, (called in the sloppy terminology of the United States) “liberal” and “conservative”, and that if you pick a member from either faction by observing his or her position on one of the divisive issues of the time, you can, with a high probability of accuracy, predict their preferences on all of a long list of other issues which do...

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Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Klemperer, Victor. I Will Bear Witness. Vol. 2. New York: Modern Library, [1942–1945, 1995, 1999] 2001. ISBN 978-0-375-75697-9. This is the second volume in Victor Klemperer's diaries of life as a Jew in Nazi Germany. Volume 1 (February 2009) covers the years from 1933 through 1941, in which the Nazis seized and consolidated their power, began to increasingly persecute the Jewish population, and rearm in preparation for their military conquests which began with the invasion of Poland in September 1939. I described that book as “simultaneously tedious, depressing, and profoundly enlightening”. The author (a cousin of the conductor Otto Klemperer) was a...

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Friday, November 29, 2019

Smyth, Henry D. Atomic Energy for Military Purposes. Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press, [1945] 1990. ISBN 978-0-8047-1722-9. This document was released to the general public by the United States War Department on August 12th, 1945, just days after nuclear weapons had been dropped on Japan (Hiroshima on August 6th and Nagasaki on August 9th). The author, Prof. Henry D. Smyth of Princeton University, had worked on the Manhattan Project since early 1941, was involved in a variety of theoretical and practical aspects of the effort, and possessed security clearances which gave him access to all of the laboratories and production...

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Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Howe, Steven D. Wrench and Claw. Seattle: Amazon Digital Services, 2011. ASIN B005JPZ74A. In the conclusion of the author's Honor Bound Honor Born (May 2014), an explorer on the Moon discovers something that just shouldn't be there, which calls into question the history of the Earth and Moon and humanity's place in it. This short novel (or novella—it's 81 pages in a print edition) explores how that anomaly came to be and presents a brilliantly sketched alternative history which reminds the reader just how little we really know about the vast expanses of time which preceded our own species' appearance on...

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Sunday, November 3, 2019

Eyles, Don. Sunburst and Luminary. Boston: Fort Point Press, 2018. ISBN 978-0-9863859-3-3. In 1966, the author graduated from Boston University with a bachelor's degree in mathematics. He had no immediate job prospects or career plans. He thought he might be interested in computer programming due to a love of solving puzzles, but he had never programmed a computer. When asked, in one of numerous job interviews, how he would go about writing a program to alphabetise a list of names, he admitted he had no idea. One day, walking home from yet another interview, he passed an unimpressive brick building...

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