Culture Consumed 3

So what culture have I consumed since the last list?

Twin Peaks Series 1 & 2 – I was completely gobsmacked, and ecstatic to hear that Twin Peaks was coming back for a 3rd series. Set 25 years after the end of series 2. Which if you’ve watched it makes perfect sense. So I had to watch them again. It’s the law. One of the best TV shows ever made. I’m up to episode 24 of 31 on this rewatch.

Storyville: Particle Fever – The Search for the Higgs – Caught this on BBC Storyville. A feature length documentary about the building and operation of the LHC, and the finding of the Higgs Boson. Story told from the point of view of 6 physicists working on the project. Both theorists and experimentalists. It is great. Watched it twice. Should still be on iPlayer, or you can buy it on iTunes or at the link above if in the USA.

The Frood – A new biography of Douglas Adams and how he came to pen The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and his later works. It’s very good. I’m about half way through.

Froot – A new song from Marina and the Diamonds. I love her voice. Went to london just to see her in concert a few years ago. The only other people I’ve done that for are Queen and Kate Bush. I cant stop listening to Froot. Others too it seems. It’s about to hit 2 million plays on YouTube after just 15 days!

Forever TV Series – A new TV series from the USA. Being shown on Sky in the UK. Just been 4 episodes so far. It’s great. A sort of cross between Highlander and Sherlock. A keeper. Hope it  doesn’t get cancelled!

The Hunger Games – I recorded this from TV broadcast a few months ago. It’s been sitting on my Virgin V+ disk for ages. Finally watched it last weekend. Wow. It’s great. I really enjoyed it. Even though I had said I was done with dystopian Sci-fi for a while. In fact I liked it so much that I…

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – rented the sequel the next night. It was just as good. Got the books too and have read a bit of them. Very close to the film so far. Like a text description of the film in fact. Looking forward to the 3rd film hitting theatres on 21st November. 

Moon – Watched the film Moon, again. Still good :)

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Podcasts I subscribe to

I was asked on Twitter to do a list of the podcasts I listen to. I’ve set up a Page here on the Soapbox in response. Raw list with some links there now. I’ll update, and curate, the list from now on. It’s at:

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Culture Consumed 2

Following on from the last Culture Consumed post. Again inspired by the similar segment in the Galactic Suburbs podcast.

Queen Live At The Rainbow ’74. In 1974 Queen recorded, and filmed, their March and November concerts at the Rainbow in London. On the Queen II and Sheer Heart Attack album tours. They have just been cleaned up and released. They are fabulous. I bought the Deluxe iTunes album that has the March and November concerts. Plus the November video on iTunes.

Starfall by Saundra Mitchell. A short story published on the Lightspeed Magazine site. I listened to the audiobook version whilst out walking. Both text and audio available for free, but do buy the magazine and support them. 

The Frood. The Authorised and Very Official History of Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Jem Roberts. I’m still consuming this one. About 25% into it. Loving it, so wanted to include it in this list. It’s a good autobiography of Douglas Adams and how he came to pen the vairious incarnations of The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy. I find myself likeing biographies and diaries a lot more in the last few years.

Micheal Palin Diaries Volume 3 (1988 to 1998): Travelling to Work. I loved the previous two voloumes of Michael Palin’s diaries. The 3rd volume feels a bit flatter to me. I’ve read to the start of 1991, but have set it to the side, metaphorically as I read most stuff on iPad these days, to read The Frood.

Yes Minister Series 1, 2 & 3. The classic 1980’s political sitcom about the Minister of Administrative Affairs and his Civil Service team. And their sparring. Brilliant stuff.

Weather by Susan Palwick. A short story published by Clarkesworld Magazine. Available on the site to read or as an audiobook via their podcast.  Buy the Magazine to support them. I buy the iPad version.

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Culture Consumed

Inspired by the segment on the Galactic Suburbs podcast.

A Fistful OF Dollars  – The first in what many consider the archetypical spaghetti western series, directed by Sergio Leone and staring Clint Eastwood. A wandering drifter finds himself in a town with two feuding families. He sees an opportunity to play them off against each other. It doesnt end well for most. A great film. I have to watch the next 2 in the series soon.

Dr Who – I haven’t been a fan of the modern Doctor Who series. Haven’t watched many of them. Decided to give the new series a go. It is Peter Capaldi after all. I liked the opening episode. Although I did have to ask Twitter who some of the alien characters where. Given I hadn’t watched the recent series where they were introduced. I though the 2nd episode was a bit weak and predictable. But maybe they are still setting up for later in the series. The ‘heaven’ bit is interesting. Wondering how that’ll play out. Hopefully by not actually being heaven!

All Quiet on the Western Front (1979) – Caught this by accident when it was on TV. It’s a 1979 colour film adaption of the famous book about life on the German lines on western front in World War 1. I liked it a lot. Very graphic, for the time, and the depiction of the horror or trench warfare was very good. Several parts of it were like Band of Brothers. Not really surprising I expect. War is war, and horrible.

Five stages of Grief After the Alien Invasion – A short story from the latest Clarkesworld Magazine. A story of the aftermath of an (accidental?) alien seeding of Earth. Who claim they didn’t know it was inhabited. Read online at the link above or listen to the audiobook version via their Podcast.

The Lady Astronaut of Mars – A really great short story from Mary Robinette Kowal. It won the Hugo Award for Best Novelette this year. Deservadly so. It’s crisp, focused, evocative and thought provoking. Read it at the link above.

Before The Dawn – I now live in a world where I can say that I have seen Kate Bush live in concert. I never thought it would happen. I had high hopes for the concert. They were surpassed. The venue, the lighting, the staging and theatrics were all brilliant. But what topped it all was that voice. Kate Bush truly has one of the best voices ever. 

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Why SocialChess or Chess24 is better than playing a computer

In a SocialChess game I was playing earlier, I left my Queen hanging after one of my moves. I played 17. e5 to attack the black bishop, and open the diagonal for my white square bishop to put pressure on the exposed black king. Here is the position after my move.

Yikes. Queen hanging and open to the Bishop on b7. If I was playing a computer then this would be game over. The computer would not miss that move and would take the Queen off immediately. As it should! But I was playing a real human on SocialChess. And he didnt see the hanging Queen. He was more focused on protecting his attacked Bishop, and played 17…Be7. When I got a notification on my iPhone that it was my move I spotted 18.Qxb7 as soon as I opened the app. I did not see it after playing 17. e5. My opponent resigned shortly after. Game details :

[Event "SocialChess"]
[Site "Internet"]
[Date "2014.08.17"]
[White "IanRobinson (1413)"]
[Black “REDACTED (1276)"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "D00"]

1.d4 d5 2.Nc3 e6 3.Nf3 h6 4.e4 dxe4 5.Nxe4 Nf6 6.Bd3 Bb4+ 7.c3 Be7 8.O-O O-O 9.b4 a6 10.Bb2 b5 11.Ne5 Bb7 12.f3 Nxe4 13.fxe4 Bd6 14.Nxf7 Rxf7 15.Rxf7 Kxf7 16.Qf3+ Kg8 17.e5 Be7 18.Qxb7 Nd7 19.Qe4 Nf8 20.Rf1 Qd5 21.Qg4 Qxa2 22.Bc1 a5 23.Bxh6 1-0

Computers are great for analysing your games after the fact, but playing against a real human is a much more enjoyable experience. Especially when learning and your skill level is low to moderate. Even if your skill level is high I expect playing a human is more enjoyable. Hopefully one day I’ll be good enough to answer that question!

So, play humans. There are lots of places to do it on the Internet. I like SocialChess and Chess24.

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Blogo is back!

I loved Blogo back in the day. It’s been resurrected :)

This is a post from the new version. Grab it at their site.

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My note taking tags

I recently started using tags in square brackets to tag notes in meetings, or to capture ideas that come to me on the go. For example:

[Note] The server needs to be running…

[Action] Do a report that summarises…

I started out with just the [Note] tag but I’ve been adding to it and I now have 23 of them. As you can imagine typing the square bracket around these tags is a pain. Especially on an iPhone. 

Enter iOS and OSX shortcuts. If you don’t know about them, Shortcuts on iOS and OSX allow you enter a bit of text and an associated replacement gets put into the text you are writing. So to get [Note] I have the following setup:

sbnote -> [Note] 

I just type sbnote. And [Note] is inserted instead when I hit the space bar. Really handy. A nice thing is that the shortcuts sync between all my iOS devices and my Mac. You could also set these up in TextExpander. I did have them there but I like the simplicity of the sync between iOS and OSX for these. I use TextExpander for more complex things.

Here is the full list of tags in square brackets that I now use. I keep adding to it! Really useful for categorising quick notes in meetings, and capturing creative ideas on the go. Use in the notes app of your choice. 

sbaction -> [Action]

sbapplication -> [Application]

sbbook -> [Book]

sbcall -> [Call] 

sbchange -> [Change]

sbdate -> [Date]

sbexample -> [Example]

sbfix -> [Fix] 

sbform -> [Form]

sbinstance -> [Instance]

sbissue -> [Issue]

sbitem -> [Item] 

sblist -> [List]

sblyric -> [Lyric]

sbname -> [Name]

sbnote -> [Note] 

sbquestion -> [Question]

sbquote -> [Quote]

sbreport -> [Report] 

sbsolution -> [Solution]

sbsystem -> [System]

sbtest -> [Test]

sbthought -> [Thought] 




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You should still get to know your nuts!

It’s exactly ten years since I posted “Why you should get to know your nuts” here on the Soapbox. Turned out it was testicular cancer. A pure seminoma. Which is the type you want if you have to get it! Anyway, still here to annoy you all :)

Related: My Leslie Neilsen moment ;)

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Upcoming Chess tournaments #chess

I lifted this table from a post at Chess Vibes. It lists the upcoming chess tournaments we can look forward to now the World Championship Contenders tournament is over. Magnus Carlsen won the right to challenge Vishy Anand for the World Title.

Calendar: major events in 2013

FIDE Candidates London, England 14 Mar 2013
FIDE Grand Prix Lisbon, Portugal 17 Apr 2013
Alekhine Memorial Paris/St Petersburg 21 Apr 2013
European Individual Championship 2013 Legnica, Poland 4 May 2013
Norway Chess 2013 Stavanger region, Norway 7 May 2013
Sigeman & Co Malmö, Sweden 22 May 2013
FIDE Grand Prix Madrid, Spain ? 22 May 2013
World Rapid and Blitz Championships 2013 Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia 3 Jun 2013
Tal Memorial Moscow, Russia 12 June 2013
FIDE Grand Prix Berlin, Germany 3 Jul 2013
Biel Chess Festival Biel, Switzerland 20 Jul 2013
Sparkassen Chess Meeting Dortmund, Germany 25 July 2013
World Cup 2013 Tromso, Norway 10 Aug 2013
FIDE Grand Prix Paris, France 18 Sep 2013
Grand Slam Masters Final Bilbao,Spain Mid Sep 2013
European Club Cup 2013 Rhodes, Greece 19 Oct 2013
World Championship Match ? 6 Nov 2013
European Team Championship 2013 Warsaw, Poland 7 Nov 2013
World Team Championship 2013 Antalya, Turkey 1 Dec 2013
World Youth Championship 2013 Al-Ain, UAE 17 Dec 2013
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Chess boards with notation #chess

ChessBoardsMany chess teaching books say that you need to know the colour of each square on the board. Instantly. Without looking at the board. That f7 is a white square, for example. Knowing the colours of all the squares, and their coordinates, allows you to visualise positions in your head.

I’ve created two A3 sized chess boards with coordinate of each square shown. One board perspective is from the white side, and the other from the black side. May be useful for others learning the colours and coordinates on the board.

You can download as a PDF. These were created in OmniGraffle. The source files are available.

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Buy your chess books in bulk #chess

If you want to improve at anything then it helps to study and practice. Working on that premise I’ve ordered a pile of chess books. I want to be a competent player. No rush. Before I die will do :)


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New ultra beginners books for iOS development

I recently stumbled across a series of beginner books targeted at complete new starters looking to get into iOS app development. The series goes under the name of iOS App Development for Non-Programmers by Kevin McNeish. There are 3 books in the series so far, with more promised. Available on iBooks store, and Amazon Kindle has Book 1. Get the iBooks versions if you have an iPad to read them on. They have embedded videos and tap-through diagrams.

These really are for beginners. Book 1 doesn’t have any coding in it at all. It builds an app in Xcode using standard controls. Even with a map control. The 2nd book is a beginners guide to Objective-C. I like it a lot. The 3rd book is a deeper dive into Xcode. I haven’t read the 3rd book yet. I will soon. 

If you are looking to start iOS app development you could do a lot worse than get these 3 books (and the forthcoming ones when available) as a self-teaching course.

When you have read the McNeish books I’d recommend reading the iOS Apprentice. This is another beginners tutorial series. If you tackle it with the McNeish books under your belt you’ll get more from it.

After you have done both the McNeish and the iOS Apprentice tutorials there are lots of more advanced learning resources that will be accessible to you. 

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Simplified my computer choices

I sold two Apple devices this week. And bought one.

I sold my 4th generation retina iPad. A few weeks ago I decided to use an iPad mini, that I bought as a mobile device management testing device, for a week. Just to get a feel of how the smaller device handled real use. I had voiced the opinion that the lack of a retina screen would mean I wouldn’t like it as much as the larger iPad model. I was wrong. Ever since that week I have hardly used the retina iPad at all. The smaller form factor of the iPad mini gives the full iPad experience in a more portable, and easier to hold, package. The iPad mini may not be a replacement for a laptop, whereas the larger iPad could, and has, for many people. This doesn’t matter to me as I have a 15 inch retina Macbook Pro as my main computing device. If a retina iPad mini ships, and it doesn’t add a lot of weight due to a bigger battery, I’ll get one of those. Or even a 9.7 inch iPad that has the same case style and smaller bezels, like the iPad mini.

I also sold my 16GB iPhone 5. A few times recently I’ve come very close to running out of storage space on my iPhone. I’ve had to choose which podcasts to keep on the phone and also had to delete some multimedia rich apps. I want interesting content, and not storage availability, to be the arbiter of what’s on my iPhone. So I bought a 64Gb iPhone 5 to replace the 16GB one.

So my day to day computing arsenal is now:

I also have the following devices for use in testing mobile OSes and apps outside of iOS, and for mobile device management testing. I don’t use these day to day:

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Week 11 goals

Let’s set some goals for the upcoming week. Gotta set goals. 


Walk 20 miles for exercise.

Do 2 Fast Diet days.



Read chapters 11 to 15 of Maths For Chemistry.

Read chapter 2, ‘Thermochemistry’ of Chemistry (Housecroft & Constable). PDF available here. Chapter 1 PDF, ‘Some basic concepts’ available here, and Chapter 3 PDF, ‘Atoms and atomic structure’ available here. Maths tutor PDF to go with the book here. I have the paper edition of Chemistry. It’s great. Starting this OU course in a few weeks. Hence the maths and chemistry revision.

Finish reading ‘Flying with Objective-C‘. 

Read Chapters 1 to 9 of ‘Navigating Xcode 4.6‘.

Read Chapters 5 to 11 of ‘Programming in Objective-C 5/e‘.



Do 4 blog posts.

Add 2000 words to current SciFi project.

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Short Story: Mark II

Short story.


From the Office of the Executive AI.


It was with deep regret that we today shared news of the death of Mark Williamson. We have all known that this day would come. However, now that it has finally arrived, I share the loss that many of you feel. 

Mark enriched many lives. Directly in person, and much more widely via the technological progress he helped foster as CEO of Williamson Cybernetics. It is not an exaggeration to say that the work undertaken by Mark, and his father Jim, has changed the course of history for all sentient beings on Earth. And beyond. We all exist in a society that is very different from the one that Mark was born into.

Many of you will have studied in history classes about the continuous prenatal, infant, childhood, teenage and adult data capture that was a defining characteristic of Marks life. Every experience his mother Elizabeth had from the 2nd trimester of her pregnancy, was recorded and fed into an artificial intelligence system. This system was designed by his father, in co-operation with other scientists and engineers from Williamson Cybernetics. Sounds collected as part this data were adjusted to mimic what Mark as a foetus would have heard in his mothers womb. After Mark was born, sensors recorded every experience he had and this information was fed into the artificial intelligence system in real time. The goal, as you all know, was to try to create a machine intelligence that could learn and develop in a way that simulated how a human infant learns and develops. In addition to the continuous input of data from Mark, information from various databases and online knowledge stores were made available to the system without restriction. The project was a sweeping success and ultimately led to the introduction of the millions of machine intelligences that coexist with humanity today. Including those on the Moon, Mars and the three that are currently on route to some of our closest stellar neighbours. We can say with some validity that Mark helped open up the Solar System and the galaxy to colonisation.

Mark embraced the project from a young age. As soon as he was old enough to understand, he actively sought ways to provide new input for the system.  He was keen to try new physical and mental experiences so that the artificial intelligence systems could also experience them, and therefore learn and grow.  The stories of Marks broken bones, as a result of some escapade gone awry, are legend from this time. Ten years after Mark was born, Williamson Cybernetics built a dedicated campus outside Boston to hold the computers and support infrastructure required for the artificial intelligence system. At that time the computing power allocated to the system was doubling every 7 months. Advances in computational science have since reduced the space needed to house the system. Now the Boston campus houses thousands of copies of the original, and functions as the headquarters of Williamson Cybernetics.  It is also the main seat of the Earth-wide Government.

Mark was 23 years old, and studying for his Doctorate in applied mathematics, when the artificial intelligence system, into which he was still feeding data, was declared sentient by Williamson Cybernetics. Few people outside of the organisation accepted that this was the case. At this time Marks father renamed the artificial intelligence as Mark II. He did this to reflect the fact that it shared many experiences, and memories, with his son. It was another decade before it was generally accepted by other artificial intelligence researchers and the wider public that Mark II was sentient. Jim Williamson died around this time. He passed on full control of Williamson Cybernetics to his sons. Mark and Mark II. The legal discussions and public debates that resulted in response to this are well known. Mark campaigned for Mark II to be recognised as a citizen and able to be a legal joint owner of the corporation. In 2065 the Digital Citizenship Bill that Mark was an advocate for, was passed into law. This granted sentient artificial systems full equivalent rights as United States citizens. 

Mark spent much of his time after the passing of the Digital Citizenship Bill advocating for the rights of Sentient Artificial Intelligences, or SAIs as they became known. He helped ensure voting rights and helped get several of them elected to local, state and national legislatures. 

Mark is survived by his three children, Dale, Susan and Grant. Also by his 2nd wife Nancy. I’m sure you will join me in sending condolences to them all. Dale and Susan have followed in their fathers footsteps in Williamson Cybernetics. They are currently working on human augmentation techniques and life extension programmes. We have high hopes that this work will enable humans to live for a much longer lifespan in future, even if the immortality envisioned for Sentient Artificial Intelligences can’t be replicated.

Mark died today. But in a very real sense he lives on in me, and my siblings. But you all know that. 

I will miss him.

Mark II

Executive AI

19th April 2109


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