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Notes on using Jupyter in the cloud

Notes on using Jupyter in the cloud

I've been thinking about running Jupyter notebooks in the cloud for some fairly compute-intensive simulation. Specifically I want to do epidemic and other simulations over complex networks. These are CPU-intensive and don't make use of GPU acceleration (yet, anyway). Using the cloud would make things easier to scale-out, especially for those without access to a local compute cluster.

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Herding Hemingway's Cats: Understanding how our genes work

Herding Hemingway's Cats: Understanding how our genes work

Kat Arney

2016


A masterful telling of modern genetics.

Everything you know about genetics is wrong: what's how it feels, anyway. The simple story about mutation and inheritance is ... well, not wrong exactly, but woefully incomplete. I think part of the problem is that we lack the right analogies. Genetics is in no way a blueprint that's simply read when creating life, nor is it in any way constructed like engineering. Instead it operates at the boundary of chaos, with multiple redundant (and often conflicting) mechanisms finding an uneasy hoeostasis. Genes aren't elementary packets of information, nor does most of the genome consist of them: nor, indeed, is there any well-agreed notion of what a gene actually is. The basic mechanism of RNA reading DNA and then being used to create proteins comes with a set of baroque extensions, as does the supposedly clear notion of heritable characteristics being frozen in the DNA itself.

All in all it's amazing that any of it is understood at all – let alone well enough to perform modifications and other feats of modern biotechnology. Arney in many ways achieves the impossible in this book, not hiding the complexity of dumbing it down for a popular audience, but also never getting lost or adding to the inevitable confusion that all this complexity induces even in a scientifically literate reader. I learned a huge amount and had several confusions sorted out for me (to the extent that they are understood at all).

5/5. Finished 27 November 2022.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

Suez: The Double War

Suez: The Double War

Fullick Roy Powell Geoffrey

2014


A history of a war without a purpose.

The Suez invasion by Britain and France ostensibly took place to separate two warring armies: the Egyptians defending Sinai, and the Israelis who had invaded it. In this is succeeded, in the sense that it stopped the fighting and led to a UN resolution that introduced a more international force to keep the peace.

Except that's not what happened at all. In reality the British, who allegedly took the initiative, followed the French, who had persuaded the Israelis (or been persuaded by them, it's not entirely clear) to provide a pretext to take over the Canal Zone and oust Egyptian President Nasser. The whole enterprise unwound as a result of the USA not supporting, and indeed actively frustrating, its two former allies – much to their surprise. Neither country was strong enough to go it alone.

Reading this book it's clear that there never was a clear war aim, or at least not one that was remotely plausible. The intiial plan called for taking Cairo, although no-one was sure that this would accomplish the aim of destroying Nasser's popularity. The revised plan called for occupying the Canal Zone only, which of course had the effect of strengthening Nasser's hand. Neither the military nor the political leaders seemed to think this through at the time, although many did in the aftermath.

Fullick and Powell were semi-eyewitnesses on the ground, and are scathing of everything to do with the operation, going so far as to say that it both destroyed British trust in their own government and contributed directly to the fall of the French Fourth Republic. They point out how far the world of Eden and Suez seems to be from the late 1980s when the Suez papers were largely declassified: a world where the solemn work of a Minister was simply accepted, as was the notion that invading Egypt (because it had nationalised the canal) constituted a "just" war.

3/5. Finished 19 November 2022.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

What If? 2: Additional Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions (What If?, #2)

What If? 2: Additional Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions (What If?, #2)

Randall Munroe

2022


A tour de force of creative scientific answers. It's perhaps less enjoyable than the original What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions – but only because it is a sequel, and so lacks the novelty of the first. It's still a rush, ranging from cosmology down to particle physics, with enough black holes to satisfy anyone. And I also learned about the Glass beach of Vladivostok, which is a place I'd never imagined existed and made the book worthwhile all on its own, just as Randall said it would.

5/5. Finished 14 November 2022.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)