I mentioned before that I had wishlisted the book Hacker’s Delight after reading the constant folding code in gcc. My better half surprised me with a copy for Christmas and I read through it in about a day and a half. To my surprise, the book is at once smaller (at just over 300 pages) while at the same time being a lot more thorough and principled than I had expected. Some formulas come with proofs, and for ranges that produce undesired results (e.g. log2(0)), the book makes a point of identifying them and discussing alternatives. Creative uses for ffs(), the ubiquitous bit-parallel permutation algorithms, and several other bit twiddling tricks are exhaustively covered, along with various integer math routines including, of course, division-by-constant. Worth a read if that’s your thing.
The Island of Dr. Moreau, H. G. Wells.
*** Interesting how-to manual for teaching your pets to talk.
Dracula, Bram Stoker.
**** Classic tale of bloodlust.
Book of Negroes, Lawrence Hill.
**** Like Uncle Tom’s Cabin but not quite as sad.
“I, Robot,” Cory Doctorow.
*** Cory Doctorow pretends to be Asimov, but it’s not as bad as you’d think.
“Call of Cthulu,” H. P. Lovecraft.
** Do I get kicked out of the nerd club for thinking this was dumb?
City of Thieves, David Benioff.
***** Remind me not to grow up in war-torn Russia.
Garlic And Sapphires: The Secret Life Of A Critic In Disguise, Ruth Reichl
*** Reichl reminds us that gourmet dining is a big sham.
Barnacle Love, Anthony Da Sa.
* Bored me.
World Without End, Ken Follett.
** Pillars of the Earth with different names.
**** A wonderfully paced horror novel marred only by the discovery that Dracula is a big nerd.
*** Boy finds more than he bargained for in a dusty old library (a book to be exact).
**** Journalist perseveres through cooking lessons, Batali’s drunkenness.
*** A pun-filled glance at the crossword industry that can be completed in less time than the Monday puzzle.
***** Exceeds industry standard woe quotient.
** A good story about cathedrals, badly written.
**** Surrealism reigns in this book about what, exactly?
*** Never visit India under any circumstances.
*** Like Mutiny on the “Bounty”, but true. Maybe.
* Man stumbles upon Christian dieties in the woods, and they make him pancakes.
** (e-book) A fantastic, gripping novella about a whale hunt, embedded inside a long, boring treatise on the intricacies of whaling ca. 1847.
Having seen it mentioned on Dave Jones’ blog (), I picked up The Soul of a New Machine and read it in 3 days. I think it pairs nicely with The Mythical Man Month as a cautionary tale for would-be computer nerds. Other than the amusing and all-too-true metaphor of ‘mushroom management,’ the interesting parts for me were the computer architecture digressions, with mostly reasonable layman’s explanations of i-cache, addresses, and the like. And the extensive discussion of Adventure — I had to break out TADS and try Colossal Cave myself. Doom was still better.
I just finished reading Woodward’s new book, State of Denial, a very provocative and damning look at the Bush administration’s handling of the war in Iraq. My take-aways are: Rumsfeld is a jerk, a bunch of PhDs can bollocks things up quite nicely merely by lying, and Colin Powell is an AOLer. Worth a read.
No idea what to be for Halloween this year. I suppose that is okay since I don’t have any plans either. Perhaps I should make another rock-icon-o-lantern?
Recently added to my bookshelf:
Spook by Mary Roach. 4 stars. I believe Stiff was a notch funnier, but Spook doesn’t disappoint. Roach turns a skeptic’s eye on the afterlife and various occult shenanigans. Loses half a point for fart jokes.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. 4 stars. This novel reminds me of my youth,
growing up as a member of the experimental group in a controlled scientific
The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas. 3 stars. Don’t quite see the magic in this book of swashbuckledom. The Count of Monte Cristo was much better. D’Artagnan was a man slut.
Marathon Man by William Goldman. 2.5 stars. From the author of the Princess Bride comes an altogether unengaging spy novel, complete with cartoonish Nazi supervillains. The Dustin Hoffman movie of same might be better.
A great companion to High Fidelity, I just started reading Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman. This is a collection of hilarious essays deconstructing pop culture and its many important implications for us as human beings. Think of it as an embittered yet philosophical X-Entertainment.
I picked this book up because of the title, obviously, but I took it home because a scan of the book found an entire chapter dedicated to “Saved By The Bell.” I’m not sure why I watched this particular bit of inane zeitgeist twice every afternoon after school, except perhaps, as Klosterman says, “because it was on TV.” But there were always lessons to be learned in the glib storylines, such as when Zack Morris bought securities on margin (Screech: “on margarine”) using Miss Bliss’s brokerage account (Lesson: buy low sell high), or the time when Zack beat Jessie on the SATs, scoring 1502 (Lessons: don’t judge a book by its cover and you can somehow get two extra points on the SATs). And people said TV has no value.
Anyhow, the book had me laughing out loud on the bus, so it gets my high recommendation. Unless you’re a hater.
I finally jumped on the Sarah Vowell bandwagon and started reading Assassination Vacation. I’m too lazy to find Amazon links so search yourself if you are one of the three people who hasn’t read it yet. Anyway, so far it’s very amusing, and I can’t help comparing to Mary Roach’s Stiff (4.2 stars), another book by a woman fascinated with death. I give AV 3.9 stars out of five; she loses a tenth of a point for unnecessarily inserting political views, though I generally agree with them. It is nice to know that so many pieces of presidents happen to reside nearby, so perhaps I shall inspect them someday.
Other recent readings include:
I’m a believer in Sturgeon’s law, but why must bad SF be so very bad? Especially when written by non-scientific sorts, as in my latest literary conquest, The Smithsonian Institution by Gore Vidal. This is a truly lamentable alternate history wherein the main character goes back in time to prevent World War II, all the while cavorting with a President’s wife in Gore’s so-bad-they-are-amusing love scenes which always end, “he entered her.” Now of course time travel is a stretch, yet I didn’t think anyone could do it worse than Michael Crichton. Alas, try this garbage on:
The light string, enormously magnified, could pinpoint any instant in space-time. The theorem that he had devised for Dr. Oppenheimer to keep one detonating atom from setting off random explosions within other atoms could also be adapted to provide sufficient velocity for a human being to go either backwards or forward in time and, once located in the desired space-time, he would be able to synchronize with the speed of those already there for a limited period — the limitation being the amount of power he could produce to provide him with sufficient velocity needed to do what he had to do and return to his home time-space.
Ahh, it is so clear now: use string theory! And um, some theorem, and do something else and go really fast and add power… and you need to use the time-space, or space-time, or whatever that jigger is. Easy.
I just finished reading The Dew Breaker. It was one of those books I just randomly picked up off the table at Borders, on the authority of some probably made-up award stamped on the cover. But it was a good pick. Dandicat paints a vivid picture of war-torn Haiti while exploring the past of a former prison torturer. The book is short, so it doesn’t go as deep as, say, QB VII or even Mother Night, but it gets a lot of mileage for its brevity. One interesting thing is that Breaker is written as a set of short stories from various points of view that all stand on their own, but still tell a complete story together. This approach is at times annoying for those of us with bad short term memory, but overall it works. I’m looking forward to reading more of her books.