Monday, July 24, 2017

Howey, Hugh. Wool. New York: Simon & Schuster, [2011] 2013. ISBN 978-1-4767-3395-1. Wool was originally self-published as a stand-alone novella. The series grew into a total of six novellas, collected into three books. This “Omnibus Edition” contains all three books, now designated “Volume 1 of the Silo Trilogy”. Two additional volumes in the series: Shift and Dust are respectively a prequel and sequel to the present work. The Silo is the universe to its inhabitants. It consists of a cylinder whose top is level with the surrounding terrain and extends downward into the Earth for 144 levels, with a central...

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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Cowie, Ian, Dim Jones, and Chris Long, eds. Out of the Blue. Farnborough, UK, 2011. ISBN 978-0-9570928-0-8. Flying an aircraft has long been described by those who do it for a living as hours of boredom punctuated by moments of stark terror. The ratio of terror to boredom depends upon the equipment and mission the pilot is flying, and tends to be much higher as these approach the ragged edge, as is the case for military aviation in high-performance aircraft. This book collects ninety anecdotes from pilots in the Royal Air Force, most dating from the Cold War era, illustrating...

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

van Creveld, Martin. Hitler in Hell. Kouvola, Finland: Castalia House, 2017. ASIN B0738YPW2M. Martin van Creveld is an Israeli military theorist and historian, professor emeritus at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and author of seventeen books of military history and strategy, including The Transformation of War, which has been hailed as one of the most significant recent works on strategy. In this volume he turns to fiction, penning the memoirs of the late, unlamented Adolf Hitler from his current domicile in Hell, “the place to which the victors assign their dead opponents.” In the interest of concision, in the following discussion...

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In 1913, H. G. Wells essentially single-handedly invented the modern pastime of miniature wargaming, providing a (tin soldier) battle-tested set of rules which makes for exciting, well-balanced, and unpredictable games that can be played by two or more people in an afternoon and part of an evening. Interestingly, he avoids much of the baggage that burdens contemporary games such as icosahedral dice and indirect fire calculations, and strictly minimises the rôle of chance, using nothing fancier than a coin toss, and that only in rare circumstances. This new public domain Web edition of Little Wars includes all of the photographs...

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Sunday, July 9, 2017

Mills, Kyle. The Survivor. New York: Pocket Books, 2015. ISBN 978-1-4767-8346-8. Over the last fifteen years, CIA counter-terrorism operative Mitch Rapp (warning—the article at this link contains minor spoilers) has survived myriad adventures and attempts to take him out by terrorists, hostile governments, subversive forces within his own agency, and ambitious and unscrupulous Washington politicians looking to nail his scalp to their luxuriously appointed office walls, chronicled in the thirteen thrillers by his creator, Vince Flynn. Now, Rapp must confront one of the most formidable challenges any fictional character can face—outliving the author who invented him. With the death of...

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Thursday, July 6, 2017

New at Fourmilab, Decide is a Unix utility, written in Perl, which helps you make decisions with the aid of (pseudo)random numbers from HotBits, the system's /dev/urandom generator, or, if none of the previous two are available, Perl's built-in rand() function. Based upon the name by which it is invoked and/or options on the command line, Decide can respond with a “Yes” or “No” answer, a binary 1 or 0, one of the twenty responses of the Magic 8-Ball, or with the result of a dice roll specified in the dice notation used by role-playing and war games, including algebraic...

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Monday, July 3, 2017

Schulman, J. Neil. The Robert Heinlein Interview. Pahrump, NV: Pulpless.Com, [1990, 1996, 1999] 2017. ISBN 978-1-58445-015-3. Today, J. Neil Schulman is an accomplished novelist, filmmaker, screenwriter, actor, journalist, and publisher: winner of the Prometheus Award for libertarian science fiction. In the summer of 1973, he was none of those things: just an avid twenty year old science fiction fan who credited the works of Robert A. Heinlein for saving his life—replacing his teenage depression with visions of a future worth living for and characters worthy of emulation who built that world. As Schulman describes it, Heinlein was already in his...

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Friday, June 30, 2017

Segrè, Gino and Bettina Hoerlin. The Pope of Physics. New York: Henry Holt, 2016. ISBN 978-1-6277-9005-5. By the start of the 20th century, the field of physics had bifurcated into theoretical and experimental specialties. While theorists and experimenters were acquainted with the same fundamentals and collaborated, with theorists suggesting phenomena to be explored in experiments and experimenters providing hard data upon which theorists could build their models, rarely did one individual do breakthrough work in both theory and experiment. One outstanding exception was Enrico Fermi, whose numerous achievements seemed to jump effortlessly between theory and experiment. Fermi was born in...

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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Haffner, Sebastian [Raimund Pretzel]. Defying Hitler. New York: Picador, [2000] 2003. ISBN 978-0-312-42113-7. In 1933, the author was pursuing his ambition to follow his father into a career in the Prussian civil service. While completing his law degree, he had obtained a post as a Referendar, the lowest rank in the civil service, performing what amounted to paralegal work for higher ranking clerks and judges. He enjoyed the work, especially doing research in the law library and drafting opinions, and was proud to be a part of the Prussian tradition of an independent judiciary. He had no strong political views...

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Monday, June 26, 2017

Ringo, John. Into the Looking Glass. Riverdale, NY: Baen Publishing, 2005. ISBN 978-1-4165-2105-1. Without warning, on a fine spring day in central Florida, an enormous explosion destroys the campus of the University of Central Florida and the surrounding region. The flash, heat pulse, and mushroom cloud are observed far from the site of the detonation. It is clear that casualties will be massive. First responders, fearing the worst, break out their equipment to respond to what seems likely to be nuclear terrorism. The yield of the explosion is estimated at 60 kilotons of TNT. But upon closer examination, things seem...

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A new rule in Cellular Automata Laboratory (CelLab) implements the Bak-Tang-Wiesenfeld sandpile model [BakTang&Wiesenfeld87]. In each generation, a single grain of sand falls on the cell at the center of the map. When the pile of sand in any cell reaches a height of four grains, it becomes unstable and topples, with the four grains it contains distributed to its four von Neumann neighbors. If this process results in one of more of the neighbors containing four grains, they in turn topple and the process continues until no cell contains four grains. This was the first model discovered which exhibits...

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Saturday, June 24, 2017

The latest collection of rules for Cellular Automata Laboratory (CelLab) illustrates aspects of self-reproduction and analogues to biological systems. Basic self-reproduction is demonstrated by the Langton rule, in which a loop of digital “DNA” provides the instructions to replicate itself and its enclosing structure, creating new identical digital organisms. Ever since John von Neumann discovered the first self-reproducing cellular automaton rule in 1952, a challenge has been to find simpler and faster-replicating rules. Von Neumann's original rule used 29 states, while Langton, in 1984, simplified this to just 8 states, an initial pattern of 86 cells, and 151 generations to...

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

I have added another new rule to Cellular Automata Laboratory (CelLab): Langton's Ant. This rule was discovered by Christopher Langton in 1986, and is one of the simplest known moving-head Turing machine rules which exhibits complex behaviour. It is a two-dimensional Turing machine with a head (ant) that moves on a map of cells which can be in one of two states. In each generation, the head moves to an adjacent cell, inverting the state of the cell it departs. The head can move in one of the four directions in the von Neumann neighborhood; the direction it moves...

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Monday, June 19, 2017

I have just posted an updated version of Jules Verne's 1870 novel Autour de la Lune (Around the Moon). This is the sequel to 1865's De la terre à la lune (From the Earth to the Moon), which left our intrepid explorers apparently stranded in orbit around the Moon. The present novel picks up the story from inside the projectile moments before it was fired from the giant cannon toward the Moon and recounts their subsequent adventures. As always, Verne does not stint on details, and readers will learn much of what was known in the mid-19th century about selenography....

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Sunday, June 18, 2017

I have just posted a new version of the HotBits radioactive random number generator Web support software. There are no changes to the actual generation process or hardware, which remain as previously documented. All changes are to the proxy server, which obtains random data from the generators and delivers them to requesters over the Web. API Keys The first change is the phased introduction of API Keys, which requesters must use to obtain random data. Since the original introduction of HotBits in 1996, anybody has been able to request random data generated from radioactive decay over the Web, constrained only...

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