sexta-feira, janeiro 24, 2014

"The Prince of West End Avenue" by Alan Isler

The Prince of West End Avenue - Alan IslerThe English Language is the star here. Isler's command of the English language implies a certain flair and panache, which is quite above-average. I detected several words which I had never heard before. For instance "halcyon" (as in "halcyon time", which means roughly "time of leisure" or something like that. Yes, I've looked it up...).

There are has so many references to German literature and way of life. It isn't necessary to be a German philologist to enjoy reading this book, but it certainly heightens the pleasure.

When the play "Hamlet" is introduced I'd already fallen for Otto Körner. What he confesses about his behaviour towards his first wife, came as an absolute shock at the end of the story.

This novel is one of the best things I've ever read in recent years. The samples for Hamlet production at a New York nursing home with a predominantly Jewish inhabitants of European origin are used by the first-person narrator as an opportunity to reminisce on his own past.

"The Prince of West End Avenue" has caused a wide range of emotions in me. The machinations and intrigues around the theatrical performance of "Hamlet" of seniors in a nursing homes is simply deliciously funny.

It begins at the point where Hamlet ends and it continues with guilt, and envy...

domingo, janeiro 19, 2014

Project 14 - Raspberry Pi vs MEO Cloud vs MEO Kanal

(beneath the LCD, my two "precious" toys: Raspberry Pi and the GertBoard, coupled to each other)

This's my a Raspberry Pi with a GertBoard. It's a tiny 700MHz ARM computer that runs Linux. It has 256 MB 512 MB of RAM, 2 USB ports, 1 Ethernet port, and can output HDMI video at 1080p. Also, it has a NTSC/PAL composite video port. For its "hard disk" I'm using a 16GB SD card, and for external storage I'm using a 500GB hard disk I had lying around doing nothing.

This's also where I've got my personal Cloud (not MEO Cloud...) installed:

Just a little aside note: How much does it cost?

The Raspberry Pi costs about 32 EUR with shipping included. You can then add another 5 EUR for a 4GB SD card and maybe another 8 EUR for a 1000mA power supply. Every Watt of power costs about 0.08 EUR per month in Portugal, so the 2.5W (average) the Raspberry Pi uses costs about 0.25 EUR/month in electricity costs (or maybe a little more since it can consume a little more power when using Ethernet). The hard disk power consumption is much higher, and it depends on traffic to this website, but its power supply is rated to 25W. For comparison, my laptop, rated at about 19W, costs me about 1.52 EUR/month, and a normal desktop rated at about 150W costs about 12 EUR/month.

For the purposes of this post, I'm just using another SD Card, with my brand-new image.

Almost ane year has gone by since I first bought my Raspberry Pi, and what a year it has been!

Also more than a year ago, at Codebits 2012 (November 2012), PT and Raspberry Pi Foundation announced a partnership. This partnership made its first output, with the incorporation of the MEO Cloud and MEO Kanal PT products into the Raspberry Pi:

PT chose OpenElec, which along with xbmc, is the de facto standard in terms of Media Centres.

I've just finished configuring it and for the moment everything is running smoothly as to be expected.

MEO Cloud and MEO Kanal on the Video tab:

MEO Cloud on the Music tab:

MEO Cloud and "Banca de Jornais" on the foto tab:

By selecting the MEO Cloud tab, I just can access all of my information on my personal cloud:

By selecting my music tab inside the MEO Cloud, music streaming starts off right away:

Streaming the track "Had Enough" by Newman from the album "Siren":

Still streaming the same track, but on full screen:

My MEO Cloud folders:

 To use both the MEO Cloud and the MEO Kanal I had to authenticate my OpenElec client:

After the authentication made through the web using the link that OpenElec produced above, and after having introduced that same code on the web page on the laptop, I was in:

Showing my MEO Kanal "Familia Antao" (inside are all the things that I can also view on my TV):

I just have to dig some more to find more stuff to do with the toy...

Happy hacking. You don’t learn to hack – you hack to learn…


sábado, janeiro 18, 2014

"Quantum: Einstein, Bohr and the Great Debate about the Nature of Reality" by Majit Kumar

Quantum: Einstein, Bohr and the Great Debate About the Nature of Reality - Manjit Kumar


In the 15th chapter the key to Quantum Mechanics (QM). It was Richard Feynman who said, “I think it is safe to say that nobody understands Quantum Mechanics.”

This book does not help either.

Quantum mechanics is the spookiest theoretical framework ever devised by man. Cats that are at the same time alive and dead ("Superposition" = "We do not know"; "Collapsing the superposition" = "finding out" whether the cat is alive and kicking), objects that are both particles and waves, etc.

The subject is very interesting, the book not so much. The framing of the debate is way off the mark. A few notes: 

1. Faraday is strangely absent;

2. Gravitation is depicted as a space-warp. Unfortunately the alternative of a field supporting gravitational waves is nowhere to be seen;

3. QM is not relativistic - yet this issue, critical to causality, is missing;

4. It's ridden with unexplained concepts like electron ‘spin’ and exclusion rule. Schrödinger’s wave mechanics was a huge advancement, but relating the wave function to real probabilities was formulaic;

5. The collapse of the wave function and the measurement process is not properly explained;

6. The last years of QM's developments are hardly mentioned, maybe to the high esoteric nature of the subject (eg, quantum gravity). Still it would have been interesting to have at least an appendix dealing with this;

7. It does not draw any philosophical conclusions. Everything seems quite bare;

8. The overuse of amusing stories, anecdotes and quotations breaks up the narrative flow.

Einstein’s main objection to QM was directed at the notion that there's something in nature that allowed "ghostly action at a distance" ("spukhafte Fernwirkung" in Einstein's own words), meaning that faster-than-light speeds had to be possible in QM. He was also quite adamant in denying that an underlying reality existed (through the so-called ‘hidden variables’). Still in his lifetime, he was able to "demonstrate" that the measurement of separated systems could not influence each other directly. If only that were possible (ie, at a distance influence), magic would also be possible... 

There are a few SF books that were able to capture the duality of nature in a more interesting fashion (eg, "One, True Platonic Heaven: A Scientific Fiction of the Limits of Knowledge by John L. Casti").

The last quote in the book by German playwright and philosopher Gotthold Lessing: “The aspiration of truth is more precious than its assured possession”, also epitomizes for me the quest for the ultimate TOE (Theory of Everything).

3 stars for the 2 chapters dealing with the 1927 and 1930 Solvay conferences.

domingo, janeiro 12, 2014

"The City & The City" by China Miéville

The City and the City - China Miéville

The City and The City was my first Miéville book to make it to my TBR pile, but I’ve got Bad News. It’ll be awhile until my TBR stack will see another Miéville… 

I’ve found it wanting, mostly. It seemed like an ambitious exercise that was poorly executed. For the most part, it’s a withered novel, and the story suffers as a result. There’s not a lot of world-building, and in an existential and fictionalized world, it takes away from the reliance of these places. It just seems like a run-of-the-mill crime novel in an extraordinary location. The main character, Borlu, suffers from chronic lethargy and a lack of personality. The other characters, namely Corwi, were bland nothings. Simple as that. He tried to stay away from the usual cynic that we see in the best Crime Fiction, but left me seeing no personality. Borlu was more a vehicle than anything. There are lots of gaps between me and what he was trying to communicate. His made-up words, without either defining them or including them in a context that might have implied their meaning is what creates the abovementioned gaps. I kept wondering whether he had established a SFictional vocabulary in other books. In every great book there’s always a dividing line between a writer’s understanding of their own ideas, and the readers’ grasp of that same ideas. Good writers manage to offer cognizance over that line, without actually stepping over it. Not having read anything from him before “The City and the City”, I’m not sure what to think. At the end of the day, I didn’t care about the world he had conjured, because it seemed only half thought-out. 

Another pet peeve for me was the fact that he kept spelling out the main themes of the book in the dialogue of his characters (a really, bad, bad literary device in my book).

Concept wise is the only point where Miéville scores and he scores in a big way (3 stars for that). Unfortunately cool ideas are not enough to make a book.

SF has a lot more to offer than being just okay. I can’t see how it won the Clarke Award, I sure don’t.

segunda-feira, janeiro 06, 2014

"Saints of the Shadow Bible" by Ian Rankin

Saints of the Shadow Bible (Inspector Rebus, #19) - Ian Rankin

What's a "rebus"? The first time I came across the term was in a Stieg Larsson's novel, where he used it as a possible explanation for a mathematical equation.

Allow me: "Saints of the Shadow Bible" is not exactly "GR + 8" (an example of a rebus...), but it comes pretty close.

I’ve been a longtime fan of Ian Rankin. One of the things that draws me the most into his work is his deliberate avoidance of the literary. Here I’m going to take the easy way out. I’m not going to define what I mean by “literary fiction” (thus avoiding sounding moronic), because everyone knows what the term means. Rankin’s books are on the other side of the “barricade”, ie, they’re mostly based on character studies and huge chunks of the real world.

Ian Rankin’s books always have me hooked from page one. He’s able to make the difficult seem easy. His technique is embedded with confidence, location, pace, wit, narrative, dialogue and wonderful detail of characterization that makes me forget I’m reading fiction and really believe I’ve been immersed in a true-crime investigation.

I’ve never needed to call up Suspension of Disbelief, which is a real killer for me writing-wise. That’s always the manifestation of a truly gifted writer.