Plutoshine

Lucy Kissick (2022)

It’s incredible to read a science fiction book that’s so informed by something as recent as the “New Horizons” mission to Pluto: a book that couldn’t have been written, or whose several key plot elements would have been different, if written fives years earlier. This is a political take on terraforming, focusing on the fact that all major movements are always problematic and opposed s they get started; but it’s also about capitalism, family dynamics, and the search for scientific fame that the author has (I imagine) experienced first-hand.

3/5. Finished Sunday 15 January, 2023.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

A quick function to delete whitespace in Lisp programs

A quick function to delete whitespace in Lisp programs

I’ve recently found myself constantly introducing – and then deleting – whitespace when writing Lisp. A quick bit of Emacs hacking fixed it.

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UNIX: A History and a Memoir

Brian W. Kernighan (2019)

You probably have to be a hard-core Unix head to get anywhere with this book – but it’s a gem if you are. Kernighan was there throughout what is possoibly the most formative period of computer history, when Unix was developed and many of the paradigms of operating systems and software tools were developed.

There are other books that handle many of the stories in greater detail, but this book is great for the “sweep” of Unix through Bell Labs and out into the world. The memoir parts are perhaps the most interesting, as they illuminate how the various tools came into being and why. There are cameos by people like Richard Hamming, whose own scientific contributions are matched by his insistence that you can only do important work if you first find the important problems, and by both an expected and unexpected cast of pioneers. I’d like to find a similar book on the early years of Lisp showing how decisions that now seem to be inevitable came to be made, and what alternatives there might have been.

The most hard-core part of the book? It was written using groff, the GNU successor to the roff text formatter than Kernighan himself wrote.

5/5. Finished Monday 2 January, 2023.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

The First World War: A Complete History

Martin Gilbert (1994)

A thoroughly readable narrative history of the First World War and its aftermath. I think the strongest parts are the beginning and end: there’s an unavoidable tedium in the middle that reflects the statis of trench warfare.

Churchill comes out well, perhaps unsurprisingly in a book by one of his biographers. Later authors place more of the blame for Gallipoli at his door. The American army also comes out well; Pershing, its commender, somewhat less so, as his insistence on having a solely American field army delayed their deployment and in many ways invited disaster in 1918. The Kaiser cuts a sorry figure throughout, belligerent and indecisive and blind to reality right up until the end.

Gilbert is also very strong on the often-overlooked mior allies of both sides. The complexities of Polish and Finnish independence movements, allied to the Central Powers largely in order to defeat Russia, get a lot of exploration, as does the eventual breakup of the Habsburg Empire. The Middle East and the Ottoman Empire are less well-covered. In each case there are clear lines drawn to the peace treaties and the grievances that later gave rise to the Second World War.

4/5. Finished Thursday 22 December, 2022.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

TIL: Regenerative braking in the cold

TIL: Regenerative braking in the cold

Today I learned that regenerative braking in an electric car doesn’t work at all well in the cold.

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