Ada Lovelace: The Making of a Computer Scientist

Christopher Hollings (2018)

4/5. Finished Saturday 26 May, 2018.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

Citizen sensing with Arduino

Introducing some notes on low-power Arduino programming.

In 2013 I did a summer project on using the Arduino as a platform for “citizen sensing”. This rapidly became an exploration of how to create hardware and software that can do sensing while operating in a very low-power regime, such as one would need for an environmental sensor.

There were several results from this project — one of which wasn’t an actual solution to the motivating problem I’d come up with. However, it did generate a lot of notes about low-power Arduino programming, both for hardware and software, and a software library that embodies some of them

I recently decommissioned the web site I was using to host this content, so I’ve ported it onto my main blog as a collection of research and development notes in case it’s still of interest to anyone.

Killers of the Flower Moon: Oil, Money, Murder and the Birth of the FBI

David Grann (2017)

A narrative history of a largely forgotten mass murder. It’s a very American tale, in many ways: the Osage Native American Nation is exiled from its homelands and forced to live on a rocky and barren reservation of worthless land – which then turns out to sit on top of huge oil deposits. In many ways the tribe is lucky, because the laws of the US have advanced sufficiently that they are allowed to licence their oil rather than being moved on again; in other ways they are unlucky because, in order to avoid making native rich too easily, a system of “guardianship” is instituted whereby “incompetent” Native Americans have their interests looked after by local whites, which turns out to be an open invitation for fraud, theft, and murder. It becomes such an industry that husbands can honestly say, when asked their profession, “I married an Osage”.

The killings and the investigation are carefully and dramatically described, but the real sting is in the tail, the last chapter that demonstrates how the investigations were really only the tip of an iceberg that gave rise to a huge number of unexplained and unexamined deaths as whites sought control of the oil revenues. While the case gave rise to the FBI in its modern form (and was used ruthlessly by J. Edgar Hoover), its investigation was plainly deficient and limited in order to generate maximum victory with limited wider scandal. It’s an open question how many other allegedly “closed” cases hide a similar secret.

4/5. Finished Thursday 24 May, 2018.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

Abandoned Places: 60 Stories of Places Where Time Stopped

Richard Happer (2015)

A tour of some of the most atmospheric abandoned and semi-abandoned places in the world, ranging from ancient cities, through colonial-era hill hotels, to Communist showpieces and disaster sites. All accompanied by fascinating descriptions and wonderful photography.

5/5. Finished Thursday 10 May, 2018.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis

Elaine Morgan (1982)

Discussions of human origins invariably rest on rather shaky foundations. The fossil record – such as it is – has huge gaps, isn’t a random sample of the fauna, and only preserves the gross features of anatomy evident in bones. So it’s hardly surprising that a range of theories have been proposed to explain the division between apes and humans.

The aquatic ape hypothesis is one such. It has some supporting evidence – or, rather, it isn’t definitively contradicted by the evidence that there is. In this it falls into the common evidential trap of turning a lack of evidence against into prima facie evidence for: the classic pseudoscience bait-and-switch.

It’s possible to pose the theory at several strengths. The strongest, that hominids went through an aquatic phase long enough to give rise to evolutionary adaptations that haven’t been wholly lost, seems unsupported; the weakest, that hominids spent time near water and waded in order to access rich food supplies, seems unobjectionable.I’m unconvinced there’s much else to it, or indeed that there ever could be given the limitations of the evidence available.

1/5. Finished Thursday 10 May, 2018.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)