January 27 2011

Project Euler

Project Euler is a site that presents a series of programming/mathematical problems. The Euler part comes from Leonhard Euler, a Swiss mathematician.
All of the problems are designed so that a correct implementation can arrive at a solution in 1 minute or less. Sometimes the obvious (brute force) solution might take a very long time indeed. This means that a “correct” solution needs to be correct in both answer and performance.
I’ve done the first 158 out of 321 problems so far. New problems are added periodically. I’ve been using the problems as a way to learn the Scala language. That’s been working out fairly well.

January 25 2011


Blindsight is chock full of ideas. From what is the nature of consciousness to interesting ways to travel into the depths of the solar system.
Blindsight is set (mostly) aboard the spacecraft Theseus. Theseus has been sent to investigate a first contact scenario after a swarm of alien probes image earth. It is set sometime in the later 21st century. The narrator of the story is Siri Keeton. Siri is the synthesist for the voyage–his job is to observe and report. In his early childhood, Siri underwent a hemispherectomy to combat severe epilepsy. His reminisces on what this was like set the stage for deeper probing into the nature of consciousness as we encounter aliens–both on and off the ship.
The rest of the crew is:
Jukka Sarasti–a vampire. It turns out that vampire myths stem from racial remembrances of an evolutionary divergent branch of hominid that went extinct at around the dawn of history. They were cognitively and physically superior to humans, but had a few key weaknesses that allowed for their extinction. In the future they are genetically re-engineered to make use of some of their unique skill.
“The Gang”–the linguist of the expedition is a woman whose mind has been divided into separate consciousnesses, all of them active.
Amanda Bates–is the military presence.
Isaac Szpindel–the biologist. He has also undergone a number of modifications.

From Blindsight:

Theseus carried no regular crew—no navigators or engineers, no one to swab the decks, no meat wasted on tasks that machinery orders of mag smaller could perform orders of mag better. Let superfluous deckhands weigh down other ships, if the nonAscendent hordes needed to attach some pretense of usefulness to their lives. Let them infest vessels driven only by commercial priorities. The only reason we were here was because nobody had yet optimized software for First Contact. Bound past the edge of the solar system, already freighted with the fate of the world, Theseus wasted no mass on self-esteem.

So here we were, rehydrated and squeaky-clean: Isaac Szpindel, to study the aliens. The Gang of Four—Susan James and her secondary personae— to talk to them. Major Amanda Bates was here to fight, if necessary. And Jukka Sarasti to command us all, to move us like chess pieces on some multidimensional game board that only vampires could see.

The crew is placed into suspended animation for a large portion of the journey. We join them upon their awakening as Theseus begins its encounter.
The term Blindsight refers to the phenomenon in which people who are perceptually blind in a certain area of their visual field demonstrate some response to visual stimuli. This and a raft of other aspects of the fragile thing we call our perception are explored. The novel comes with a large number of footnotes.
I enjoyed this book as the nature of consciousness is an area that I have dabbled in (as do we all or at least the we who are aware of the “we”).
Lots of good info and a good read besides.

January 20 2011

Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character

Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman is a wonderful look into the life of Richard Feynman. This book is edited from a taped collection of anecdotes that Feynman had related to his friend Ralph Leighton. These anecdotes show a wonderful glimpse into Feynman’s mind, personality and adventures. They range from winning the Noble Prize to how to pick up girls in bars.
My favorite set of stories concern the time he spent in Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project. He recounts how he learned how to pick locks and crack safes as a way to pass the time.
In one story, he mentions how he was sent to Tennessee to look into the safety of the plant that was refining uranium for the bombs. He noted that there were a number of problems that arose from the secrecy of the project. The people designing the plant had not been told what happens when you put a large quantity of fissile materials in close proximity (it gets really hot). He pointed out, for example, that putting two storage containers on opposite sides of a wall wasn’t a good idea. On another occasion, engineers set out the complex blueprints for the plant. Feynmann looked at them briefly and arbitrarily pointed to a section, asking what would happen if that portion failed. The engineers studied it and excitedly reported that it was a key flaw in the design. They thought he had grasped the entire design in moments when he had really just made them think through their own design.

January 19 2011


I love to read. I remember my mom reading to me when I was little and then one day I brought her my favorite book The King with Six Friends so that she could read it to me. She said, “I bet you can read that yourself now.” And I could. I don’t know for certain, but I would guess that I was around 5 then.
Once I learned to read, I couldn’t stop. I used to keep track of what books I was reading and I would usually fall around 110 books a year. I hadn’t done that for awhile, but thought it would be fun to see where I am at nowadays.
Most of the fiction that I read is in either the Science Fiction, Fantasy or Mystery genres. I do venture outside of those occasionally but that’s where my tastes lie, in the main.

January 12 2011


Stonewielder is Ian C. Esslemont’s newest entry into the Malazan universe. His first two books (Night of Knives and Return of the Crimson Guard) were both at least partially written some time ago and then set aside before being published. Stonewielder is thus the first completely new and recent work of his.
Esslemont co-created the Malazan universe with Steven Erikson. I’ll be writing more about all of that later, but for now, I’ll assume some familiarity with the universe. This review is fairly spoiler free.
I enjoyed Stonewielder and thought that it showed a decent improvement in style over both Night of Knives and Return of the Crimson Guard. There are still a few too many characters with similar names (Bakune, Barune, …) but that’s fairly minor.
I probably enjoyed the continuation of the Kiska storyline the most. The use of Warran was amusing.
For further amusement, the Manask character is well done and quite funny.
I also really liked the naval battle between the forces of Malaz and Mare. The solution to the problem brought back some echos of Roman history for me. Nok (the Malazan admiral) needs to read about a corvus, though.
We find out quite a bit more about the Koreli and the Stormwall. The motivation of the Stormguard is more clear now. The motivations of the Stormriders is still hazy.
All in all, well done. I’m looking forward to going back to Darujhistan in Esslemont’s next book.

January 10 2011


I’ve been fencing since 1982. That’s when I wandered over to the fencing club at Iowa State University. Gary Hayenga gave me a nice introduction to the fundamentals of fencing. If you can consistently do parry-riposte and keep distance, you’ll do OK.
For the last 21 years, I’ve been in the Rochester Minnesota Fencing Club. We try to have some fun and get people involved.
I went to a tournament this weekend for the first time in about 10 years. My first bout went pretty well. I lost 5-3, but it was against the guy who eventually won the tournament. In my second bout I strained my hamstring. Not being able to lunge or move forward or backwards will put a serious cramp in your style.

January 7 2011

The Cubs

I’ve been a fan of the Chicago Cubs pretty much as long as I can remember. I grew up in Iowa and one of the local stations would broadcast the cubs on an irregular basis. Then, in college the magic of cable let me watch them on WGN all of the time.

January 5 2011

Gilded Latten Bones

Gilded Latten Bones is the 13th entry in the Garrett, P.I. series by Glen Cook.
While the Garrett series hasn’t received as much attention as his Black Company series, it is well worth reading. There are true moments of magic. For those who haven’t read along, Garrett is a private detective in the city-state of Tunfaire. Magic exists in this world, along with elves and dwarves and many other fantasy creatures. Cook does a wonderful spin by placing all these disparate pieces into a tight packed city situation full of simmering racial and political tension. Amid this mix. we have Garrett. Garrett is an ex-marine (there was a war going on at the start of the series) who has become a private investigator. A PI isn’t particularly a normal occupation in the world of Tunfaire but Garrett is persistent.
The current volume begins with Garrett being attacked while in bed with Tinnie Tate. This is nothing out of the ordinary for Garrett. What is out of the ordinary is that he is not in his usual house on Macanudo Street. We then find out that Garrett’s friend Morley (a dark elf sometime gangster, sometime restaurateur) has been wounded and Garrett is summoned off to help guard him in his recovery.
We find out that Garrett has moved in with Tinny and it seems some time has passed since we last saw him (I would guess around a year and a half).
Many things ensue in the investigation of Morley’s injury and the appearance of strange sorceries. Along the way, Garrett has to deal with the deterioration of his and Tinnie’s relationship and possibly steps towards growing up.
I really enjoyed this book. Cook delivers freshness and fun twists into his already interesting series.