Category Archives: Books

JK Rowling Book Cheap

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Cormoran Strike is author Robert Galbraith’s fictional character, a UK Military Police veteran now eking out a living as a private eye. He works with an assistant who some would mistakenly regard as totally out of her league in the hard boiled noir world of private detecting. (But they would be wrong.) Each of the stories about Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott is set in a different subworld of Great Britain, including London’s version of Hollywood, and the world of writers and agents. The stories are fiendishly clever, the bad guys cleverly fiendish, and the protagonists compelling and disarming. I very strongly recommend reading all of them.

Author Robert Galbraith is, of course, JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series and a few other books.

At this moment, the first of the books is on sale cheap (just under 4 bucks) in Kindle form. You should read The Cuckoo’s Calling (Cormoran Strike Book 1).

Then, not on sale at this time but for your information, read:

The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike Book 2)

Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike Book 3)

Lethal White (A Cormoran Strike Novel)


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A Guide To Using Command Line Tools

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There are a lot of books out there to help you learn command line tools, and of course, they mostly cover the same things because there is a fixed number of things you need to learn to get started down this interesting and powerful path.

Small, Sharp, Software Tools: Harness the Combinatoric Power of Command-Line Tools and Utilities by Brian P. Hogan is the latest iteration (not quite in press yet but any second now) of one such book.

I really like Hogan’s book. Here’s what you need to know about it.

First, and this will only matter to some but is important, the book does cover using CLI tools across platforms (Linux, Mac, Windows) in the sense that it helps get you set up to use the bash command line system on all three.

Second, this book is does a much better than average job as a tutorial, rather than just as a reference manual, than most other books I’ve seen. You can work from start to finish, with zero knowledge at the start, follow the examples (using the provided files that you are guided to download using command line tools!) and become proficient very comfortably and reasonably quickly. The topic are organized in such a way that you can probably skip chapters that interest you less (but don’t skip the first few).

Third, the book does give interesting esoteric details here and there, but the author seems not compelled to obsessively fill your brain with entirely useless knowledge such as how many arguments the POSIX standard hypothetically allows on a command line (is it 512 or 640? No one seems to remember) as some other books do.

I found Small, Sharp, Software Tools a very comfortable, straight forward, well organized, accurate read from Pragmatic.


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Math Adventures with Python

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Complex numbers, working with oscillations (trigonometry), using Turtles to draw, some basic algebra, my favorite, Cellular Automata, and more, are covered in Math Adventures with Python: An Illustrated Guide to Exploring Math with Code by Peter Farrell. Farrell is a math and computer science teacher who is interested in math education and using technology in learning. Continue reading Math Adventures with Python


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Serious Python Programming

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Julien Danjou’s Serious Python: Black-Belt Advice on Deployment, Scalability, Testing, and More is serious.

This book takes Python programming well beyond casual programming, and beyond the use of Python as a glorified scripting language to access statistical or graphics tools, etc. This is level one or even level two material. If you are writing software to distribute to others, handling time zones, want to optimize code, or experiment with different programming paradigms (i.e. functional programming, generating code, etc.) then you will find Serious Python informative and interesting. Multi-threading, optimization, scaling, methods and decorators, and integration with relational databases are also covered. (A decorator is a function that “decorates,” or changes or expands, a function without motifying i.) The material is carefully and richly explored, and the writing is clear and concise. Continue reading Serious Python Programming


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Minecraft Blockopedia

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Minecraft is probably the most creative video game out there, not in the sense that its creators are creative, but rather, that it is all about creating things, and this is done by constructing novelty out of a relatively simple set of primitives. But to do so, the player needs to know about the building blocks of Minedraft, such as Lava, Fencing, Redstone, Levers, various chest and chest related things, and so on.

The Blockopedia in use.
Yes, you (or your child) can learn as you go playing the game, watch a few YouTube videos, etc. But if we want to fully enjoy and integrate the Minecraft experience, and help that child (or you?) get in some more reading time, there must be books. For example, the Minecraft: Blockopedia by Alex Wiltshire. Continue reading Minecraft Blockopedia


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Time itself as a resource that drives evolution

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Many of the key revolutions, or at least, overhauls, in biological thinking have come as a result of the broad realization that a thentofore identified variable is not simply background, but central and causative.

I’m sure everyone always thought, since first recognized, that if genes are important than good genes would be good. Great, even. But it took a while for Amotz Zahavi and some others to insert good genes into Darwin’s sexual selection as the cause of sometimes wild elaboration of traits, not a female aesthetic or mere runaway selection. Continue reading Time itself as a resource that drives evolution


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Minecraft Handbooks

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First, if you don’t know, Minecraft is a computer game in which you, the protagonist, exist as a sort of sprite with a hammer out in front of you. As you move across the landscape (or through the air or water) you can whack at things and your hammer will destroy them, or y our hammer will make things, or change things. And it is often not a hammer you wield, but perhaps a shovel or some other tool. Meanwhile, you come to possess things, often by mining them, and these things can be crafted together of you do it right, to make unique things.

The visuals are highly pixelated, in that everything is a three dimensional square block. Like this: Continue reading Minecraft Handbooks


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Making Raspberry Pi Robots

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At the core of this post is a review of a new book, Learn Robotics with Raspberry Pi: Build and Code Your Own Moving, Sensing, Thinking Robots. I recommend it as a great above-basic level introduction to building a standard robot, learning a bit about the Linux operating system, learning to program in Python, and learning some basic electronics. However, I want to frame this review in a bit more context which I think will chase some readers away from this book while at the same time making others drool. But don’t drool on the electronics. Continue reading Making Raspberry Pi Robots


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Neil Gaiman’s Book About Douglas Adams’ Book

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Suddenly available on kindle, and right now, for two buck. Don’t Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy!!!

Douglas Adams’s “six-part trilogy,” The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy grew from a blip of a notion into an ever-expanding multimedia universe that amassed an unprecedented cult of followers and became an international sensation. As a young journalist, Neil Gaiman was given complete access to Adams’s life, times, gossip, unpublished outtakes, and files (and became privy to his writing process, insecurities, disillusionments, challenges, and triumphs). The resulting volume illuminates the unique, funny, dramatic, and improbable chronicle of an idea, an incredibly tall man, and a mind-boggling success story.

In Don’t Panic, Gaiman celebrates everything Hitchhiker: the original radio play, the books, comics, video and computer games, films, television series, record albums, stage musicals, one-man shows, the Great One himself, and towels. And as Douglas Adams himself attested: “It’s all absolutely devastatingly true—except the bits that are lies.”

Updated several times in the thirty years since its original publication, Don’t Panic is available for the first time in digital form. Part biography, part tell-all parody, part pop-culture history, part guide to a guide, Don’t Panic “deserves as much cult success as the Hitchhiker’s books themselves” (Time Out).


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How to be a hacker

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Wikipedia tells us that a “computer hacker is any skilled computer expert that uses their technical knowledge to overcome a problem.” The all knowing one goes on to note that the term has been linked in popular parlance with the made up Wikipedia word “security hacker.” Such an individuals “uses bugs or exploits to break into computer systems.”

Continue reading How to be a hacker
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Field Guide To The Carnivores Of The World: Review

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Carnivores of the World: Second Edition (Princeton Field Guides) by Luke Hunter and lavishly and beautifully illustrated by Priscilla Barrett is in its second edition. I reviewed the first edition here, where I discussed the idea of having a Order-wide “field guide.” To summarize, you don’t really carry a field guide to all the members of a world wide class around in your pocket in case, for instance, you run into a South American Coati or a Sulawesi Palm Civet on your walk back from your favorite bird blind in northern Minnesota. You have a book like this because you are a student of nature, and you find yourself needing to know about on or another carnivore at one time or another. Or, just because, as a student of nature, you might enjoy sitting in a comfortable chair and studying up on all the carnivores (aside from the carnivorous sea dwellers, which are not covered in this book).

Continue reading Field Guide To The Carnivores Of The World: Review
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Violence in the United States Congress

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There is probably a rule in the chambers of the United States Congress that you can’t punch a guy. Living rules are clues to past behavior. For instance, where I live now, there is a rule: You can’t leave your hockey goals or giant plastic basketball nets out overnight. There are no appropriate age children for that rule to affect. All the old people who live on my street have to drag those things into the garage at the end of every day, after their long sessions of pickup ball. More likely, years ago, there were kids everywhere and the “Get off my lawn” contingent took over the local board and made all these rules.

So, today, in Congress, you can’t hit a guy, but in the old days, that wasn’t so uncommon.

You have heard about the caning of Charles Sumner. Southern slavery supporter Preston Brooks beat the piss out of Charles Sumner, an anti-slave Senator from Massachusetts. They weren’t even in the same chamber. Brooks was in the House, Sumner was in the Senate. Sumner almost didn’t survive the ruthless and violent beating, which came after a long period of bullying and ridicule by a bunch of southern bullies. Witnesses describe a scene in which Brooks was clearly trying to murder Sumner, and seems to have failed only because the cane he was using broke into too many pieces, depriving the assailant of the necessary leverage. Parts of that cane, by the way, were fashioned into pendants worn by Brook’s allies to celebrate his attempted murder of a Yankee anti-slavery member of Congress.

Here’s the thing. You’ve probably heard that story, or some version of it, because it was a major example of violence in the US Congress. But in truth, there were many other acts of verbal and physical violence carried out among our elected representatives, some even worse, often in the chambers, during the decades leading up to the Civil War. Even a cursory examination of this series of events reveals how fisticuffs, sometimes quite serious, can be a prelude to a bloody fight in which perhaps as many as a million people all told were killed. Indeed, the number of violent events, almost always southerner against northerner, may have been large enough to never allow the two sides, conservative, southern, right wing on one hand vs. progressive, liberal not as southern, on the other, to equalize in their total level of violence against each other. Perhaps there are good people on both sides, but the preponderance of thugs reside on one side only.

Which brings us to this. You hears of the caning of Sumner, but you probably have not read The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War by Yale historian Joanne B. Freeman.

Professor Freeman is one of the hosts of a podcast I consider to be in my top three favorite, Backstory, produced by Virginia Humanities. Joanne is one of the “American History Guys,” along with Ed Ayers (19th century), Brian Balogh (20th Century), Nathan Connolly (Immigration history, Urban history) and emeritus host Peter Onuf (18th century). Freeman writes in her newest book of the first half of the 19th century, but her primary area of interest heretofore is the 18th century, and her prior works have focused, among other things, on Alexander Hamilton: Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic about the nastiness among the founding fathers, and two major collections focused on A.H., The Essential Hamilton: Letters & Other Writings: A Library of America Special Publication and Alexander Hamilton: Writings .

I strongly urge you to have a look at Freeman’s book, in which she brings to light a vast amount of information about utter asshatitude among our elected representatives, based on previously unexplored documents. I also strongly urge you to listen to the podcast. The most recent edition as of this writing is on video games and American History. The previous issue is covers the hosts’ book picks for the year.


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We Don’t Need No Stinking Astronauts: The History of Unmanned Space Exploration

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Not that astronauts necessarily stink. Well, actually, they probably do after a while, but I suppose one gets used to it.

Anyway, we are all faced, or at least those of us who live in countries that have rocket ships all face, the question of personed vs. un-personed space flight as a way of doing science abroad and related quests. I’m not sure myself what I think about it, but considering the huge cost and difficulty, and the physical limitations, of using humans to run instruments on other planets or in space, and the sheer impossibility of human space missions really far away, the best approach is probably to use a lot of robots. Continue reading We Don’t Need No Stinking Astronauts: The History of Unmanned Space Exploration


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