Multi-format Reading

I recently re-read Dune. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read it. It still inspires me thirty-five years after the first time I encountered it. Interestingly the recent re-read was a mutli-format experience spread over three different formats, depending on where I was and my mood. I have the fabulous Folio Society 50th Anniversary hardback edition, the SF Masterworks iBook, and the partially dramatised Dune audiobook.

Dipping into the various formats was a surprisingly pleasurable way to re-read the book. The audiobook I listened to in the car when driving, and sometimes when at home doing some other task. Other times at home I read the Folio Society hardback. Mostly at my desk. The iBook edition was mostly read on iPad when in bed.

I liked this multi-format reading experience. I’ll probably do it again for other books that I plan to re-read. I’ve just started listening to The Silk Roads audiobook. I’m enjoying it so much I’m going to order the hardback edition as well. The iBook might be a step too far this time though.

It’d be great if you could buy a hardback edition of a book, at full publishers price, and get the ebook and audiobook versions included as well. If that was the case then I’d probably buy a lot more hardback books.

Culture Consumed 14

Books and films consumed since the previous post on 13th September.

A Walk in the Woods – A film based on the mid-life crisis book by Bill Bryson. Alarmed by attending funerals of his peers, Bryson decides to hike the Appalachian Trail to prove to himself he isn’t past it. His wife, who thinks the idea is mad, reads up on the route and upon discovering how many people get injured or die on the trail, tells him he isn’t doing it alone. Bryson tries to enlist his closest friends to walk the trail with him. With no success but much derision. Finally a friend from decades past calls and volunteers to go. When he turns up he isn’t in the best shape. They head out on the trail anyway. It then becomes a film about their reminiscences, tribulations on the trail, and their interactions with who they meet. I liked it. A bit like Wild, but with old men! The performance by Kristen Schaal as a manic hiker they run into is brilliant. Nike Nolte is great too. I rated it 6/10.

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials – There was nothing else I wanted to see for my OneFilmPerWeek pick the last week in September. So I selected the 2nd Maze Runner film. I hadn’t seen the original when it was in cinemas (missing films like this is why I started the OneFilmPerWeek project) so I watched the first one on AppleTV the night before seeing The Scorch Trials in the cinema. I liked them both. It’s a good dystopian Sci-fi story with a back story that is slowly being revealed. Looking forward to the next instalment in the franchise. Gave it 7/10. Same for the original.

Dreaming in Code: Two Dozen Programmers, Three Years, 4,732 Bugs, and One Quest for Transcendent Software – Scott Rosenberg. A really enjoyable audiobook about the failed development process for the Chandler Personal Information Manager. Probably my favourite book that is about technology industry. Everyone involved in software and technology should read this book. I liked Rosenberg’s Law.

The Martian – The much anticipated film adaptation of the self published book of the same name. The book is very nerdy. Science porn in places. A lot of that info was rightly chopped from the film. This is a good film in it’s own right. A bit compressed towards the end on the trek to Schiaparelli Crater. The only thing I would have liked done better was to depict lighter gravity on Mars. But hard to simulate that, and probably not worth the effort. Well worth seeing. I rated it 8/10.

The Intern – Story of a retiree, played by Robert De Niro, who having exhausted all the activities you would expect to keep busy during the day, gets a position as a senior Intern in an Internet fashion startup near his home. Great story about how his years of experience in business, and life, help many people employed at the company. Including the founder played by Anne Hathaway. Loved it. Oscar material IMHO. Rated it 8/10.

Doughnut – Tom Holt. Comedic science fiction novel. The main character is a brilliant physicist who makes a mistake that causes the Very, Very Large Hadron Collider to explode. He is ostracised for this. Then he loses his inheritance in a bad business deal and has to take odd jobs to survive. Until he gets bequeathed some intriguing items in a safety deposit box. Story unfolds slowly at start but is great in the 2nd half. Well worth sticking with as the final quarter might even explain the Universe.

Macbeth – I might have mild post-traumatic stress syndrome after watching the new Macbeth film adaptation. Not unlike Macbeth it turns out. What a nutter. It’s violent and stylised, with some quite disturbing scenes. The first half was poor. A couple walked out off the cinema. A mistake. Second half was very good. I even dreamt about it last night. I gave it 6/10.


Advice I just gave someone thinking about job move

Someone asked my advice about whether to take a new job they have been offered. I told them:

You need to decide what you want to do for the next 5 years, 10 years. Will other thing allow you to do that better than current job? Don’t wait for people to give you work. Find out what needs done and do it. People will notice and you will get more responsibility, authority and reward. 

That’s worked for me for 30 years.

Culture Consumed 13

Culture consumed since the last list on 23rd August.

Trainwreck – I’d never seen Amy Schumer in her Comedy Central TV show. So I went in to this not knowing what she was like. Both she and the film as a whole were really good. Funny, poignant, mostly well written and acted. Maybe a bit too much monologuing in places. I rated it 8/10.

How To Write Everything – David Quantick. A short, funny book from a writer who has lots of experience of writing. Having written in most areas professionally, including for The Thick Of It and Veep television shows. The book contains good advice, and some great anecdotes. I liked the one about how long it can be when a TV script is sent to producers until the time the writers hear anything back. In one case a writing pair waited a year and then sent a one year birthday card to the script, care off the producers. Brilliant.

The Long Mars – Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. I liked this more than The Long War. But it still seemed to be an exercise in world building at times. It all went a bit Midwich Cuckoos alike in later parts of the book. Knowing that won’t detract from the book. Now I’ve read The Long Utopia (see below) that story line makes more sense.

Paper Towns – I really enjoyed this. It’s a good Young Adult story. It has good music, comedy, a road trip, lots of coming of age within the group, pathos, and a believable real world ending. Rated it 8/10.

Irrational Man – New Woody Allen film. He wrote and directed and it stars Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey and Jamie Blackley. I love Woody Allen’s work, especially the early funny stuff 😉 So I’m predisposed to like his films. Even taking that bias into account I have to say that this was a magical film. It doesn’t tread any new ground for Allen. Other films like Match Point (which is also brilliant) deal with much the same ideas. But so what. Good stories are good stories. And this is a good story. Plus no one writes existential angst dialogue like Woody Allen. This was a good script that was well interpreted and acted by the cast. The locations were beautiful, and the cinematography, lighting and colour hue of the sets was great. As usual with Woody Allen films the jazz, piano and orchestral soundtrack was great too. Definitely a 9/10 rating. Came close to giving it the maximum!

The Long Utopia – Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. The fourth book in The Long Earth Series. I enjoyed this one the most from the four published so far. It has less world building and more story and character interaction. Plus some threads woven in the previous books come together here in a nice, fulfilling tapestry in the last few chapters. With some surprises and a few outcomes that made my eyes smart a little. Looking forward to the conclusion of the series in June next year when The Long Cosmos is published.

Culture Consumed 12

Culture consumed this week. See previous post for more.

Absolutely Anything – This was a bit erratic. The acting was good but the script was weak in places. Editing was weird. Liked the music though. I was pleasantly surprised to hear Roger Taylor singing the opening song. Rated 6/10.

Pixels – The reviews for this were poor. I decided to go anyway. I don’t know what the people giving it poor reviews were expecting. I liked it. It’s a fun, brash, tongue-in-cheek, sci-fi comedy film. If you are a certain age and remember the games from the early 1980’s then that will add some extra bits into your enjoyment. But it’s still good fun without having lived through that decade. I rated it 8/10.

The Long War – Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. The second book in the Long Earth series. Rereading this and the eponymous one before reading The Long Mars and the just published The Long Utopia. The Long War dragged a bit in the middle I thought. Perhaps too much world building. But given the point of the series is the huge number of Earths available, that might be a stupid criticism. Still, I enjoyed the first and last thirds of the book. Endured the middle. Sets up some interesting ideas to be explored in the next books. Reading the The Long Mars now. The final book in the series is due next year I think.

Culture Consumed 11

Another short culture consumed. As promised trying to avoid another monster post like the ninth one. Again, as stated in the last post, I need to get more reading done.

Mysteries of Modern Physics: Time – Sean Carroll. Brilliant series of lectures on Time and how it’s interwoven into theories of modern physics and is crucial to our understanding of how the Universe works. If you want an overview of current thinking about entropy, the arrow of time and physics then listen to these.

Hot Pursuit – This was okay. Funny in bits. Outtakes in credits funniest bit. You could see worse in cinemas any week of the year. Rated it 7/10.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E – Okay as a secret agent film. Had all the tropes, but nothing outstanding and new. Kingsman, Spy & Mission Impossible all better films in the same genre from this year. Alicia Vikander was great. She looked good in the 1960’s garb. 6/10

HDCP Errors with iTunes content on External screens

If you buy or rent films from Apple iTunes in HD format, and then try to play them from a Mac on an external screen, you might get this error:

The selected film won’t play on one of your connected displays.
This film can only be played on displays that support HDCP (High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection).

HDCP error alert on external screen

This is a copyright thing and there doesn’t seem to be a way round it if the Mac thinks your connected display isn’t HDCP compliant.

You can however watch the non-HD version of the film or TV show if you want. Right-click on the film or TV episode in iTunes, and select Video Quality-Standard Definition (SD) from the pop-up menu:

Choosing SD video option in iTunes

May not be in HD, but useful if you want to watch something from iTunes on an external display.

Stupid gravity!

Half the ceiling in the downstairs room I use as a study fell down yesterday. I was in bed about 06:50 and I heard a noise. Then another noise. Then a big thud. It sounded like snow sliding off a roof. Now I know our summer has been disappointing, but snow in August? I got up and had a look out the front and back of my house. Nothing untoward to be seen. I heard another noise whilst doing this so I went downstairs into the kitchen. Nothing there either. Then it dawned on me; the back room! When I opened the door I was greeted with this:

Ceiling debris over desk and floor

The reason that the back room had dawned on me was that the ceiling in there had been damaged by water in the past. About 12 years ago I got a lot of work done to my house. The electrical wiring was all replaced, the plumbing was replaced, about 80% of the wall and ceiling surfaces were ripped off and replaced with new plastered ones, new doors and door frame throughout, plus I got new wooden floors everywhere except kitchen, bathroom and stairs. The only room that didn’t get a lot of work done to it was the downstairs back room that I now use as a study. It was where all the furniture and stuff from the other rooms was piled when the work was being done.

During the plumbing work there was a leak that soaked the ceiling of that room. It had a huge bulge in it for a few weeks after that as it dried. The ceiling had paper over the plaster and as it all dried the bulge diminished, but never went away. I put repair tape over the joins of the paper and painted over the whole thing. And it survived. Until yesterday when gravity finally won the battle. I’m just glad it was at 06:50 and not when I was sitting there!

I’m making a spare bedroom into a new study today. I’ll take the opportunity to get the downstairs back room gutted and plastered anew like the rest of the house was last decade.

100 days with Apple Watch

It’s been 100 days since I received my Apple Watch. As I outlined in my previous post I had three main reasons for getting one (beyond being an Apple geek!):

  • Be a good timepiece.
  • Be a good Activity and health tracker.
  • Provide Haptic feedback for directions when walking (as demoed at the Apple launch event).

After 100 days it still fulfils those three functions perfectly. I wear it every day. In fact I feel naked without it. There are other features that I use. These are:

  • Haptic notifications for Messages, incoming calls, and calendar events. My iPhone is now on silent all the time. I never miss calls as I get tapped on the wrist when a call comes in. This is awesome.
  • Apple Remote app. I can control my AppleTV via the Watch from the sofa. No more groping for the remote. 
  • Dark Sky app. Given the vagaries of the weather recently it’s great to be able to look at a Glance on my Watch to see if I’m going to be rained on in the next hour.

I bought a black Sports Band to replace the white one it shipped with. Black was what i wanted, but the silver Aluminium Sport didn’t have a combination that included the black band.

Was my Apple Watch worth £339? For me, yes. I’m glad I bought it. I’m still very impressed with it. Looking forward to the next generation of watchOS 2 apps later in the year. They will be faster as they are native, and do not need to rely on a tethered iPhone to function.

My headphones are like new again

I bought a set of Sennheiser PXC 450 headphones in 2007. Love them. They are noise cancelling. When the noise cancelling is on the ambient noise in environment just disappears. Eight years is a long time and I noticed recently that the leatherette covers on the ear pads was deteriorating and starting to flake. So I ordered a new pair of official replacements. They were expensive but well worth it. Came with the fitting rings that hold them on already fitted. So they just snapped on. Now my eight year old headphones are like new again. You get what you pay for!

Sennheiser PXC 450 headphones with new ear pads

Culture Consumed 10

I’m trying not to let the Culture Consumed posts get as large as the last one! Only two films this time. Which tells me I need to finish reading a few more books!

Inside Out – Pixar does it again. It’s probably not as good as The Incredibles, but Inside Out is a masterpiece. Studios can have multiple masterpieces. I can also have a favourite from them. Others can have their own favourites. It should be said that Inside Out isn’t a documentary on consciousness. It is however a great work of storytelling about changes when moving from childhood to adulthood, and that being sad is part of that transition. And life in general. 9/10

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation – I haven’t seen the previous four films in the Mission Impossible film franchise. You don’t need to have seen them to enjoy this fifth film. It was fun. Predictable fun, but fun nonetheless. Simon Pegg was great in it. As was Rebecca Ferguson. I liked it a lot. 8/10.

Free Will?

There is a lot of discussion about free will and whether humans have it. I don’t pretend to understand all the arguments. I want to learn a lot more in future.

One of the arguments that is made by advocates of the position that humans don’t have free will is based on brain scan results from when people are asked to perform a simple task. For example when someone is asked to move their index finger. Brain scan results show that our brains unconsciously decide to make the finger movement several seconds before we have conscious awareness of the decision. Similar results have been shown for other brain processes. I don’t think the fact that our brains make some decisions in our subconscious, before the conscious brain is aware of them, is in doubt.

Some people posit that this means we don’t have free will. If our subconscious brain is making decisions then how are we making informed conscious decisions is the argument. I don’t agree with this position. Our subconscious is still part of our brains. We don’t fully understand how brains work. Even if we didn’t have the option not to perform the action that is decided in our subconscious (we do have that option), then the decision in the subconscious is still ours.

Culture Consumed 9

It’s been a while since I posted the last Culture Consumed. So this is a long one. What have I read and watched since the previous post on 25th April? As always, hat tip to Galactic Suburbia for the idea. Some mild spoilers contained below.

John Wick – Keanu Reaves kicks some arse. A retired mob hitman gets dragged back into the world he had left behind. Mayhem ensues. I liked it. Gave it 7/10. A sequel has been given the go ahead I hear. Good stuff.

Big Game – A coming of age story set in Scandinavia. A young boy out in the woods to kill a deer as a rite of passage into manhood, gets caught up in a plot to kill the President of The United States. After the President’s Airforce One escape capsule lands in the woods, when the plane is shot down, the boy and The President team up. Above average: 6/10.

The Age of Adaline – I loved this. A woman has an accident and stops ageing. She then has to deal with the relationships with people who age around her, and change identities to avoid the authorities who have an interest in her ‘gift’. I’ll be buying this in iTunes to watch again and again in the future. Blake Lively and Harrison Ford are great in it. 8/10

Limitless – I caught this on Film 4HD. I’ve been watching a lot of Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro films recently. This didn’t have Lawrence in it but did have Anna Friel. Win. I really liked this. Man takes experimental drug that vastly increases cognitive ability so he can win in business and politics. Can’t all be upside can it? Can it? Watch and see! 8/10.

Twenty Trillion Leagues Under The Sea – Adam Roberts. What a strange book. In a good way. An experimental French submarine dives in the Atlantic. And keeps on diving. And diving. Well beyond the floor of the Atlantic basin. And on. And on. Are they even still on Earth at all? Does anyone in the crew know something they are not saying? Its a good bit of storytelling. Deals with the tensions amongst the crew as their predicament unfolds really well. Worth a read.

Mad Max: Fury Road – This left me cold. But then I didn’t like Mad Max 3. This is a competent bit of film making. Really well shot and the stunts and action sequences are great. But the story is lacking. It’s a chase movie set in desert and rocky hills. Fine if that’s what you want. I’ve no issue with Max not really being the focus. The Charlize Theron character is the best thing about the film. 5/10.

Touch – Claire North. Read this after liking The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by the same author so much. This is just as good or maybe even better. Deals with a similar subject. The essence of certain people are able to jump between human hosts just by touch. Using them as vessels for a while. Minutes or years. But some one is hunting them down. A brilliant sci-fi thriller. Read this. Claire North is a real talent.

Tomorrowland: A World Beyond – I was really looking forward to this after seeing the trailers repeatedly in the few weeks running up to release. It was good, if perhaps not as good as I hoped it would be. But your perception and enjoyment of a film is shaped by your mood when you see it. The performances by Britt Robertson and Raffey Cassidy are really good. Rated it 7/10.

The Affinities – Robert Charles Wilson. A science fiction book about social and genetic profiling taken to extreme. People, who pay the commercial company behind the process, are profiled and allocated to a Affinity of like minded individuals. Inevitably there is interest from the authorities and friction between the various affinities. Humans are humans after all. I liked this a lot.

What We Know About Climate Change – Kerry Emanuel. A short book about the current (as off 2012) knowledge that shows that man made climate change is a fact. Good summary if you want to get up to speed.

American Hustle – I had this sitting in my AppleTV wish list for a while. Due to it being from the same director and actors who were in Silver Linings Playbook. Finally got round to buying and watching it. Loved it. Has a definite Goodfellas vibe. But not as violent. People have poo-pooed American Hustle because of the obvious Goodfellas influence. I don’t agree with them. I loved it, possibly even more than Goodfellas. Time will be the judge of that. I rated it 8/10 on IMDB.

The Way Inn – Neil Wiles. If you do a lot of business travel and stay in hotels a lot then you’ll recognise the hotel related stuff in this book. Based around a newly opened Way Inn built beside a new business conference centre. Main character is a professional conference attender. He goes to conferences so business people don’t have to. Love that concept. But turns out, The Way Inn might not be a simple hotel chain… Recommended.

Man Up – Another film caught in my #OnefilmPerWeek project net. A romantic comedy. Nancy (played brilliantly by Lake Bell) ends up an a blind date with Jack (played by Simon Pegg) on which she pretends to be someone else. The woman who Jack was supposed to meet having left Nancy a copy of the self help book that was to allow them to recognise each other in a busy train station in London. Nancy is running to return the book when she is accosted by Jack who thinks she is his blind date. She doesn’t put him right. I liked this a lot. It’s funny. Came out after it with a huge grin on my face and feeling good about the world. Gave it 9/10.

Spy – The 2nd best spy film I’ve seen this year. Kingsman takes top slot. But Spy is fantastic too. It’s very funny. It has the best swearing that I’ve seen in a film in a long time. Possibly ever. I’ll be buying this on iTunes. This is one to watch again and again. There have to be sequels! 8/10.

Mr. Holmes – An ageing, forgetful Sherlock Holmes makes an new attempt to solve the case that forced him to retire a few decades earlier. A nice study on the effects of ageing. Good performance by Ian McKellen as the old Sherlock Holmes. 7/10.

The Falling Sky – Pippa Goldschmidt. A book in the Lab Lit phenomenon. The trials and tribulations and life story of a female astronomer. She and a co-worker find an image in their data that looks like it contradicts a central tenet of the big-bang theory. The professional ramifications of this are explored. Media scrutiny, media manipulation to get a good story too. The book also covers the early life of Jeanette, the protagonist. I liked it. This isn’t a science novel, or a science fiction novel. It’s a life story.

Minions – The minions got their own film. Maybe they shouldn’t have. It wasn’t that good. 4/10.

Slow West – A nice take on the western genre. This is actually a road film. Albeit one set at a gentle pace on horseback. Jay Cavendish is the son of a Scottish Laird. He is travelling across America to find the girl he is in love with. She has fled to America with her father who is wanted and now has a price on his head. Quite a large price. This means that a lot of bounty hunters are also looking for the Scots. One of them befriends Jay and travels with him. Of course Jay doesn’t know this. Great film. Looks fantastic (was actually shot in New Zealand). I liked it a lot. Gave it 8/10.

Superintelligence – This book melted my head. Listened to the audiobook version. It’s fantastic. Liked it so much I bought the hardback to read again. Deserves detailed study. Artificial Intelligence is one of the next big things (along with Big Data and Internet of Things).

Terminator Genisys – Arnie’s back! Lots of reviews have said that they shouldn’t have bothered. I couldn’t disagree more with those negative reviews. I liked this a lot. It is a good reboot of the Terminator franchise. Certainly as good as the original and the sequel. Some nice takes on the same motifs that are in those films. The scene where The Terminator asks the punks for their clothes and bike is fabulous. 8/10.

The Higgs Boson and Beyond – Sean Carroll. A great audiobook version of the particle physics lectures from The Great Courses. If you want to get a picture of what modern particle physics and the standard model is, then listen to this audiobook. I’ve started listening to the Time one from the same series. Loving it too.

Knock Knock – Yikes. This was a bit disturbing. Keanu Reaves is working late at night when his wife and kids are away for a few days. There is a storm raging. He hears a knock on his front door and finds two soaked young girls at the door. They worm their way into the house and end up seducing him. They then pretend to be underage. Then they blackmail him and more. Just say no people! Well made and shot. Story good. Rated 7/10.

Humans – TV series about the impact of artificially intelligent synthetic beings on society, and how humanity reacts to them. There have been 6 out of 8 episodes shown so far. Will say more when it’s complete. No spoilers. Suffice to say its possibly my favourite drama TV show ever.

Self/Less – Science fiction story on a well trodden theme. An ageing billionaire businessman, who has a terminal illness, is contacted by an organisation who claim to be able to transfer his consciousness into another body. A body that has been grown in the lab. Not a clone however. Which should raise a few red flags! he agrees to the process. Let’s accept the process to do this at face value and let it through on the nod (read Superintelligence to get an idea of how hard taking a snapshot of a brain will be). The businessman starts leading his new life, with the instruction not to contact anyone he knew previously. All is fine until he starts to get hallucinations and memories that are not his. I liked this a lot. The story is well told and is an entertaining two hours. Well worth watching. Rated it 8/10.

Procedure to follow when a bat infiltrates your house

You may find yourself in a situation in future in which a bat has infiltrated your house. What should you do in such a situation?

The first step is to scream like a schoolgirl as the bat flaps around your head. This seems to be a vital first step in any eviction procedure. This should be closely followed by frantic crouching to avoid getting hit on the head by said bat. Something I now know couldn’t happen thanks to my later efforts to try and catch the bat in flight. That sonar thing seems to work. The bat didn’t fly into anything in the 20 minutes or so I shared a room with it.

Step three; isolate the bat in a single room and open the available windows in the hope that the bat will fly out. A forlorn hope it turns out. The bat simply flies around in a circle. Step four is to find a suitable receptacle to capture the bat in, and a flat piece of card to use as a lid.

Five. Watch the bat fly around the room you have isolated it in. Through a gap between the door and doorframe mind you, not from within the actual room. When the bat fails to take the sensible option and fly out the open window, you should proceed to the next step. Six. Quickly duck into the room and attempt to get the bat to fly into your receptacle. Step seven; fail miserably. Step eight; turn light out in room and wait for the bat to get fed up flying round in circles and land somewhere.

Step nine. Place receptacle on the stationary bat. This step may require several attempts. Be patient. Feel free to repeat step one if the bat takes off and flies at your head again.

Step ten. When you have successfully got the receptacle over the bat slide the cardboard under it to seal the bat inside. Eleven, close the windows opened when hoping the bat would fly out on its own accord. Step twelve; precede with alacrity to the nearest exit and, remembering to close the door behind you, release the bat as high up in the air you can reach.

Step thirteen. Have a stiff drink.

Step fourteen. Never open your windows again.

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes