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review 2017-03-17 01:17
Version Control, by Dexter Palmer
Version Control: A Novel - Dexter Palmer

I'm seeing a theme in this year's Tournament of Books shortlist (or, I should say, those books whose samples appealed to me): genre-bending and concerns about identity. I like to think about the lines between or blurring genres, and I appreciate the lens of race or sexuality, both of which are commonly excluded from much genre fic.

 

Dexter Palmer's Version Control is speculative, but only just: its future is near, and there are certainly elements that are not at all far-fetched and therefore frightening: self-driving cars that can endanger passengers when, say, a firmware update has a glitch; data mining and what it could be used for; digital avatars, operating much like bot accounts on social media sites. There are also reminders for our own present, such as the real goals of online dating services--to keep you using (and paying) as long as possible, not successfully find a partner.

 

Palmer's novel is marketed as "time travel like you've never seen it before." I'll go ahead and preface my questions about and problems with the book by saying I'm easily confused by time travel narratives, no matter how well explained.

 

The book is structurally tight, with thematic echoes across points of view and timelines, of which there are two. The idea of "the best of all possible worlds" is central; when it's inevitably discovered that the device the protagonist's husband is working on is, well, working, despite a lack of scientific proof, the characters realize what we as readers learned about halfway through the book when details of their lives change (character x is dead instead of y; characters go--or don't go--by certain nicknames; character a cheats with character b rather than c, etc.): every time someone enters the "causation violation" chamber, a new timeline branches off.

 

Before the characters themselves are in the know, in the first timeline explored, the protagonist feels something's not right, but can't explain what. She's not alone; the phenomenon is experienced by others and has become a diagnosis. What I don't understand is why they have that sense of wrongness. I was also confused by Sean, the physicist and protagonist's son. Is his mural as his mother, Rebecca, sees it, or as Alicia sees (or doesn't see) it? Is he simply an artistic child suffering from loss?

 

Though thematically sound with some fresh explorations of gender and race in the hard sciences especially, Version Control didn't quite come together for me. I didn't particularly like or care about any of the characters; I'd say Carson was most interesting to me. The end was fairly predictable; I enjoyed the first half more. I have some stylistic quibbles that are just my bias, like chunks or pages of dialog, which reminded me of exposition in movies, and what felt like unnecessary section breaks. But I wanted to know what happened next, and the mystery of what was going on and why definitely kept me reading.

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review 2017-03-06 15:08
Book Review: Console Wars by Blake J. Harris
Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle That Defined a Generation - Blake J. Harris

I came across this book a while ago and, growing up in a hardcore Nintendo family, I was interested in learning the history behind Sega and Nintendo, especially since I was a kid in the 90s and while I don’t quite remember how Sega became a thing, I remember it being novel to me when one of my friends said they had a Genesis rather than an SNES. It’s been sitting on my to-read list for quite a while and my interest in it was renewed when my husband (who’s way more knowledgeable about video games than even I am, and that’s saying something) decided to read it as one of his summer reads. After not too much cajoling by him, I finally picked it up to read it.

 

Console Wars is interesting, because while it mostly follows Kalisnke, who was the CEO who got Sega to become a household name, it’s not told in any sort of biography or memoir format and mostly heavily focuses on marketing, the partnerships between the different gaming companies, and the games/systems themselves. So, if you’re not interested in the history of video games or how feats of marketing can completely change a company, this book is very much not for you. I studied marketing at university, so reading the different techniques the companies used to get ahead was fascinating. Also, like I said, I come from a hardcore Nintendo family and grew up playing the NES and SNES (if I remember correctly, actually, my family purchased every single system Nintendo came out with), so it was fun to see things from the “competitor’s” side and also read about how Nintendo responded to what was happening.

 

Overall, this gives a fairly comprehensive look at how Sega and Nintendo originated and also touches on the history of some well-known video gaming companies like Electronic Arts and Namco. I love that the human element is included and we get to learn about who the people are that drove video game innovation, even while so many were saying that it was bound to die. It was a slow read for me, but I very much enjoyed the steady pacing and the sheer volume of information that this book contained.

Source: www.purplereaders.com/?p=3509
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review 2017-03-01 16:01
How the Third Reich developed their advanced weaponry
German Secret Weapons Of The Second World War: The Missiles, Rockets, Weapons And New Technology Of The Third Reich - Ian V. Hogg

In January 1941 staff officers of the U.S., British, and Canadian militaries met in Washington D,C.. Though the United States was still a year from declaring war, planning was already underway in anticipation of that prospect, and the decisions they reached shaped much of the war that followed. Among the most important of these was that Germany was the primary opponent in any war involving the Axis powers. Though there were several excellent reasons for this, one of them was that the Germans possessed the greatest capacity for developing weapons which might radically transform the war, and thus needed to be defeated before they did.

 

Ian Hogg's book provides evidence of the wisdom of this decision. In it he provides an overview of the major weapons research bring undertaken by the Third Reich before and during the war. Diving his examination into categories, he summarizes the major projects to design new aircraft and air-launched weapons, air defense weapons, naval weapons, and the Wunderwaffen and nuclear and chemical weapons programs. His focus throughout is on their development, providing technical details and accounts of the decisions whether to undertake or abandon them and avoiding more than a brief mention of their deployment in the cases where the weapons were introduced. As befits a former artilleryman in the Royal Army, his section discussing the "big guns" is the best, but he provides interesting details throughout about the technical and bureaucratic challenges that slowed or stopped the development of weapons that might have changed the course of the war. The result is a work that is an excellent introduction to Germany's secret weapons programs, one best suited for the reader familiar with military technology but an informative read for anyone interested in an overview of the subject.

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review 2017-03-01 13:01
Cyber World: Tales of Humanity's Tomorrow
Cyber World: Tales of Humanity's Tomorrow - Paolo Bacigalupi,Stephen Graham Jones,Alyssa Wong,Saladin Ahmed,Cat Rambo,Nisi Shawl,E. Lily Yu,Madeline Ashby,Joshua Viola,Jason Heller

[I received an e-copy of this book through NetGalley.]

A collection of short stories with virtual reality, AI and technology themes in general. Despite the 'cyberpunk' flair, I agree with the curators: it's not so much cyberpunk in its original meaning, as dealing with various ideas that fit our current societies more than the 'old cyberpunk' feeling.

* "Serenade:" 3/5

A hacker decrypting data on an old USB sticks realises that said data is not about future useful information, but memories.

* "The Mighty Phin:" 3/5

In a prison ship controlled by an AI, not everything is as it looks, and truth may be more difficult to stomach than the characters think at first. Bit of an abrupt ending, though, when I think about how it could've been more developed.

* "Reactions:" 3/5

What a drone pilot pumped up on battle drugs goes through when the operation he's on is suddenly cancelled... but not what's still lingering in his organism. I found it interesting, although, like the story before it, I'd have liked some more development (especially regarding the soldier's decision to break his family).

* "The Bees of Kiribati:" 5/5

Chilling because even though this doesn't exist (yet), the principles behind the murders in this story could very well be applied in other ways. It also raises the old but still accurate ethical question: would you kill a few people, even babies, if it meant being able to save many more?

* "The Rest Between Two Notes:" 2/3

Promising theme (a teenager killing her mother repeatedly in virtual reality), but I found the plot too muddled in places. The resolution brought at the end wasn't too clear--I wouldn't mind in a novel, but in short stories it's another matter.

* "The Singularity is In Your Hair:" 5/5

Touching and horrible. A girl suffering from a degenerative disease, who can only experience living through virtual reality, performs jobs and meets people thanks to an AI who may or may not be so benevolent. The promise of one day being fully uploaded to virtual space, and leaving the meat behind instead of facing the prospect of her impending death, keep her going. And she desperately hopes this will come true sooner than later.

* "Panic City:" 5/5

In an underground city that is both a refuge and a prison, people have been living for generations following models and using technology that are gradually failing. When something threatens to break an opening into this 'homeostatic' environment, the AI controlling the city has to make a decision: is their original programming really ideal in this case?

* "The Faithful Soldier, Prompted:" 4/5

A veteran from corporate wars receives prompts on his augmented reality system, even though the war is over. While such defective prompts are known to be useless, and should be discarded, these seem different... and so he follows them, desperate in his hopes that the rewards will save the woman he loves. I liked the writing here--even the prompts sounded poetic.

* "Your Bones Will Not Be Unknown:" 4/5

An assassin is sent to kill a rival boss, knowing full well there are little chances of success here. But what the boss has in mind for them is not necessarily death, and could even actually be a gift.

* "Staunch:" 2/5

A group of kids-hackers-rebels, led by a doctor who used to be part of a legendary team, travel through what's left of the UK to save the life of one of their own. Though the plot itself was a bit weak, I liked the technological problems used in it (replacement organs shutting down if the firmware's outdated or the copyright has changed hands, etc.)—definitely freaky.

* "Other People's Thoughts:" 2/5

About empathy, telepathic powers and gender fluidity. Good themes, and I would've loved actually liking the story, but it was more descriptive than actual plot, and I found it too weak to hold my interest.

* "WISYOMG:" 1/5

Almost skipped that one. The style and character weren't appealing, and I'm still not sure what was the idea. Warning people against body mods and fads? It was hard to follow, so I'm really not sure.

* "We Will Take Care of Our Own:" 2/5

Of corrupt politicians and corporations trying to make money by officially solving problems, and officiously sweeping them under the carpet. Again, good theme, especially since the politician has a skeleton of her own in the closet, but in terms of plot and development, it wasn't strong nor long enough.

* "A Song Transmuted:" 3/5

A young musician comes up with a new concept to be music, rather than simply playing it—spurred by her relationship with her grandfather, his way of encouraging her to meet other people and play music with her, and this in spite of a dishonest colleague stealing her idea. Good, though not groundbreaking.

* "It's Only Words:" 2/5

A sort of neo-Luddite theme, of a boy writing his school project on paper when everybody else is constantly connected to the web and not doing anything in an "analogue" way anymore. I'm not sure where this story was going, though: I felt that something was missing, that the point wasn't strongly made enough at the end, because nothing really changes, and the people targetted may not even have understood what was happening?

* "Small Offerings:" 5/5

Horrific but fascinating. A story about the means that may be necessary, in a future and over-polluted world, for people to carry healthy children to term, by sacrificing others.

* "Darkout:" 2/5

Good build-up to something bigger, in a society where everybody's living under the camera's eye... but the end just fell flat, and nothing really happened.

* "Visible Damage:" 3/5

A hacker goes on the trail of a nascent AI, in the hopes of finding it before everyone else obliterates it. Interesting, but a bit confusing.

* "The Ibex on the Day of Extinction:" 4/5

A man far from his family comes home to find everybody and everything gone—no GPS, no radio, no internet, and only empty clothes left behind.
I kind of suspected what had happened early on. Still, I liked this story. Sometimes all I need is for the conclusion to vindicate what I'm already thinking.

* "How Nothing Happens:" 1/5

Kind of what it says on the tin? I get the basic idea, but the way it was developed didn't grab my attention.

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review 2017-02-26 10:08
Use the Internet
HTML5 and CSS3 All-In-One for Dummies - Andy Harris

Well, I reckon it took me almost two years to actually get through this monstrosity and I don’t think I know any more about web programming than I did when I started. Well, okay, that’s a lie, I know quite a lot more, especially since when I started I claimed that being able to use the HTML tags in Goodreads counted as having a basic understanding of web programming. It turns out not to be the case, and in fact the HTML tags that Goodreads uses are woefully out to date. In fact the amount of HTML that you can use on your posts is minimal (though it is somewhat more than some other sites that I have visited). As for Booklikes, there is so much more scope in their posts that it actually leaves Goodreads for dead.

 

The question that I raise though is whether this book is actually useful. The problem with the development of software is that it is always on the move you may discover that a version that he uses in the book is no longer available – this was what happened when I tried to play around with MySQL and with AJAX – his versions are out of date which means that if you try to type his programs out then they don’t actually work. Mind you, I ended up getting MySQL to eventually work and even through together a basic PHP website (though it is pretty basic).

 

Interestingly ,I have noticed that there are a number of people claiming that if we go and learn the latest programming languages we can all go off and make heaps of money. Some dude on Youtube made this claim with PHP (and reckons that he even dropped out of university) while I get all of these spam emails trying to get me to part with my money so that I can learn Python or Agile. The catch is that even though you may know how to program those languages, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are suddenly going to make lots of money – if a stranger walked in off the road and made a claim that they were this hot shot computer programmer and had absolutely no references whatsoever, would you hire him? The thing with making your way in this world is to be able to sell yourself, and to get practical experience.

 

This is where I believe this book falls down. Sure, he has lots and lots of examples, but that is basically where it ends. Sure, it may work as a reference book but the problem is that pretty much everything is available on line these days. Further, while one may be able to show you how to do something that doesn’t necessarily make you a programmer – to be a good programmer you need to be able to solve problems, to be able to work on projects, and to be able to work as a part of a team. That last one is important because while one could program alone (you can tell be age since I still use the term programmer, which is an Eighties term), the scale of some of the programs out there, and the needs of businesses these days, generally means that the small scale projects are few and far between – everybody has a website these days, and if they don’t Wordpress and others are just a click away.

 

The other thing is that there are so many websites out there that offer tutorials that I am wondering whether actually purchasing this book was actually worth it. In fact, it has now been put back into my garage (where I store stuff that I don’t need ready access to) and I doubt I am going to be pulling it out again. The thing is that there are videos on Youtube, and the aforementioned tutorial sites such as CodeAcademy and W3Schools (among others). The other thing that I think this book lacked, which would have been something that would have gone a long way to actually helping me at least to learn, is the lack of exercises to do and problems to solve. Reading about something is all well and good, but the best way to learn is to actually get out there and do it.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1226977695
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