Sunday, August 5, 2018

Keating, Brian. Losing the Nobel Prize. New York: W. W. Norton, 2018. ISBN 978-1-324-00091-4. Ever since the time of Galileo, the history of astronomy has been punctuated by a series of “great debates”—disputes between competing theories of the organisation of the universe which observation and experiment using available technology are not yet able to resolve one way or another. In Galileo's time, the great debate was between the Ptolemaic model, which placed the Earth at the centre of the solar system (and universe) and the competing Copernican model which had the planets all revolving around the Sun. Both models worked...

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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Verne, Jules. Une Fantaisie du Docteur Ox. Seattle: CreateSpace, [1874] 2017. ISBN 978-1-5470-6408-3. After reading and reviewing Jules Verne's Hector Servadac last year, I stumbled upon a phenomenal bargain: a Kindle edition of the complete works of Jules Verne—160 titles, with 5400 illustrations—for US$ 2.51 at this writing, published by Arvensa. This is not a cheap public domain knock-off, but a thoroughly professional publication with very few errors. For less than the price of a paperback book, you get just about everything Jules Verne ever wrote in Kindle format which, if you download the free Kindle French dictionary, allows you to...

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Sunday, July 22, 2018

Neovictorian [pseud.] and Neal Van Wahr. Sanity. Seattle: Amazon Digital Services, [2017] 2018. ISBN 978-1-980820-95-6. Have you sometimes felt, since an early age, that you were an alien, somehow placed on Earth and observing the antics of humans as if they were a different species? Why do they believe such stupid things? Why do they do such dumb things? Any why do they keep doing them over and over again seemingly incapable of learning from the bad outcomes of all the previous attempts? That is how Cal Adler felt since childhood and, like most people with such feelings, kept them...

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Saturday, July 21, 2018

After I migrated the WordPress/BuddyPress site I administer, ratburger.org, to the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Linux 2 operating system platform on 2018-07-08, I observed intermittent errors in the system log reporting “php-fpm[21865]: [WARNING] [pool www] seems busy (you may need to increase pm.start_servers, or pm.min/max_spare_servers), spawning 8 children, there are 3 idle, and 27 total children” or some such. After correlating these with the HTTPD access_log, I found that they were due to the PHP-fpm mechanism (which is new in Linux 2) running out of worker processes or, even worse, launching so many of them it exhausts system memory and...

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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Web edition of the Hebrew Bible has been available at Fourmilab since 1998. It originally required a browser extension to support downloadable fonts. When this became obsolete, a second edition was released in 2002 which used the ISO 8859-8 character set, which includes the ASCII Latin character set and Hebrew letters (but no vowel signs). Most Web browsers at the time supported this character set, although some required the installation of a "language pack" or font in order to display it. At the time, I remarked that when Unicode became widely adopted, all of the complexity of special character...

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Sunday, July 15, 2018

Here is a meal you can make yourself from all natural ingredients in minimal time with little to clean up afterward. It never fails and requires very little of your time. I use one low-tech gizmo to save time and ensure success, but you can use alternative means at the cost of a bit more fussiness and time. Start with: A good cut of steak, 250 to 350 grams per person Roquefort cheese, 100 g Sliced mushrooms, 200 g before draining Garlic purée, around a tablespoon (15 ml) Cooking oil (olive, etc.) We're going to cook the steak in...

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Sunday, July 8, 2018

Carreyrou, John. Bad Blood. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2018. ISBN 978-1-984833-63-1. The drawing of blood for laboratory tests is one of my least favourite parts of a routine visit to the doctor's office. Now, I have no fear of needles and hardly notice the stick, but frequently the doctor's assistant who draws the blood (whom I've nicknamed Vampira) has difficulty finding the vein to get a good flow and has to try several times. On one occasion she made an internal puncture which resulted in a huge, ugly bruise that looked like I'd slammed a car door on my...

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Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Version 3.0 of UNUM is now available for downloading. Version 3.0 incorporates the Unicode 11.0.0 standard, released on June 5th, 2018. The update to Unicode adds support for seven scripts for languages, additional CJK (Chinese, Japanese, and Korean) symbols, 66 new emoji, and assorted symbols such as half-stars for rating systems. There are a total of 137,374 characters in 11.0.0, of which 684 are new since 10.0.0. (UNUM also supports an additional 65 ASCII control characters, which are not assigned graphic code points in the Unicode database.) This is an incremental update to Unicode. There are no structural changes in...

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Monday, June 25, 2018

Nury, Fabien and Thierry Robin. La Mort de Staline. Paris: Dargaud, [2010, 2012] 2014. ISBN 978-2-205-07351-5. The 2017 film, The Death of Stalin, was based upon this French bande dessinée (BD, graphic novel, or comic). The story is based around the death of Stalin and the events that ensued: the scheming and struggle for power among the members of his inner circle, the reactions and relationships of his daughter Svetlana and wastrel son Vasily, the conflict between the Red Army and NKVD, the maneuvering over the arrangements for Stalin's funeral, and the all-encompassing fear and suspicion that Stalin's paranoia had...

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Sunday, June 24, 2018

Many Web sites use “HTTP cookies” to follow a user through a session which may involve a series of individual Web pages. While cookies can be used for intrusive tracking and have developed a somewhat dodgy reputation as a result, for some applications such as providing persistent log-ins to a site from a certain computer and browser they are nearly essential. The Hacker's Diet Online uses cookies to implement its “Remember me” login feature. If this box is checked when the user logs in, a cookie is stored in the browser which contains an opaque credential that allows the user...

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Thursday, June 14, 2018

The travelling salesman problem—finding the shortest itinerary to visit each of a number of cities—is a classic of combinatorial optimisation. Finding optimal solutions by brute force is effectively impossible: there are more than 1032 possible paths to visit thirty cities, and if you could test a billion paths a second, it would take 600,000 times the age of the universe to compare them all and choose the shortest. If you don't require an absolutely optimal solution, but rather one that's within a few percent of the best possible, there are a number of optimisation techniques which will get the...

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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Suarez, Daniel. Influx. New York: Signet, [2014] 2015. ISBN 978-0-451-46944-1. Doesn't it sometimes seem that, sometime in the 1960s, the broad march of technology just stopped? Certainly, there has been breathtaking progress in some fields, particularly computation and data communication, but what about clean, abundant fusion power too cheap to meter, opening up the solar system to settlement, prevention and/or effective treatment of all kinds of cancer, anti-aging therapy, artificial general intelligence, anthropomorphic robotics, and the many other wonders we expected to be commonplace by the year 2000? Decades later, Jon Grady was toiling in his obscure laboratory to make...

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Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Mills, Kyle. Enemy of the State. New York: Atria Books, 2017. ISBN 978-1-4767-8351-2. This is the third novel in the Mitch Rapp saga written by Kyle Mills, who took over the franchise after the death of Vince Flynn, its creator. It is the sixteenth novel in the Mitch Rapp series (Flynn's first novel, Term Limits [November 2009], is set in the same world and shares characters with the Mitch Rapp series, but Rapp does not appear in it, so it isn't considered a Rapp novel), Mills continues to develop the Rapp story in new directions, while maintaining the action-packed and detail-rich...

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Saturday, June 2, 2018

Oliver, Bernard M., John Billingham, et al. Project Cyclops. Stanford, CA: Stanford/NASA Ames Research Center, 1971. NASA-CR-114445 N73-18822. There are few questions in science as simple to state and profound in their implications as “are we alone?”—are humans the only species with a technological civilisation in the galaxy, or in the universe? This has been a matter of speculation by philosophers, theologians, authors of fiction, and innumerable people gazing at the stars since antiquity, but it was only in the years after World War II, which had seen the development of high-power microwave transmitters and low-noise receivers for radar,...

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Thursday, May 31, 2018

I have added the following document to the Software section of the Univac Document Archive. UNIVAC 1106/1108 Assembler Programmer's Reference This is a PDF of a scanned paper document in my collection. This document was published in 1969 (two earlier editions date from 1966 and 1967). This describes the “classic” assembler, which was derived from the SLEUTH II assembler for the Univac 1107. As of the publication of this manual, the assembler supported only FIELDATA character code and six bit characters; it would later be extended to support ASCII code and nine bit (quarter word) character representation. In the 1970s,...

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