Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Brown, Dan. Origin. New York: Doubleday, 2017. ISBN 978-0-385-51423-1. Ever since the breakthrough success of Angels & Demons, his first mystery/thriller novel featuring Harvard professor and master of symbology Robert Langdon, Dan Brown has found a formula which turns arcane and esoteric knowledge, exotic and picturesque settings, villains with grandiose ambitions, and plucky female characters into bestsellers, two of which, The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, have been adapted into Hollywood movies. This is the fifth novel in the Robert Langdon series. After reading the fourth, Inferno (May 2013), it struck me that Brown's novels have become so formulaic...

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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Hanson, Victor Davis. The Second World Wars. New York: Basic Books, 2017. ISBN 978-0-465-06698-8. This may be the best single-volume history of World War II ever written. While it does not get into the low-level details of the war or its individual battles (don't expect to see maps with boxes, front lines, and arrows), it provides an encyclopedic view of the first truly global conflict with a novel and stunning insight every few pages. Nothing like World War II had ever happened before and, thankfully, has not happened since. While earlier wars may have seemed to those involved in them...

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Sunday, May 20, 2018

Thor, Brad. Use of Force. New York: Atria Books, 2017. ISBN 978-1-4767-8939-2. This is the seventeenth novel in the author's Scot Harvath series, which began with The Lions of Lucerne (October 2010). As this book begins, Scot Harvath, operative for the Carlton Group, a private outfit that does “the jobs the CIA won't do” is under cover at the Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. He and his team are tracking a terrorist thought to be conducting advance surveillance for attacks within the U.S. Only as the operation unfolds does he realise he's walked into the middle...

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Thursday, May 17, 2018

Skousen, W. Cleon. The Naked Communist. Salt Lake City: Izzard Ink, [1958, 1964, 1966, 1979, 1986, 2007, 2014] 2017. ISBN 978-1-5454-0215-3. In 1935 the author joined the FBI in a clerical position while attending law school at night. In 1940, after receiving his law degree, he was promoted to Special Agent and continued in that capacity for the rest of his 16 year career at the Bureau. During the postwar years, one of the FBI's top priorities was investigating and responding to communist infiltration and subversion of the United States, a high priority of the Soviet Union. During his time...

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Kroese, Robert. Schrödinger's Gat. Seattle: CreateSpace, 2012. ISBN 978-1-4903-1821-9. It was pure coincidence (or was it?) that caused me to pick up this book immediately after finishing Dean Radin's Real Magic (May 2018), but it is a perfect fictional companion to that work. Robert Kroese, whose Starship Grifters (February 2018) is the funniest science fiction novel I've read in the last several years, here delivers a tour de force grounded in quantum theory, multiple worlds, free will, the nature of consciousness, determinism versus uncertainty, the nature of genius, and the madness which can result from thinking too long and deeply about these...

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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Radin, Dean. Real Magic. New York: Harmony Books, 2018. ISBN 978-1-5247-5882-0. From its beginnings in the 19th century as “psychical research”, there has always been something dodgy and disreputable about parapsychology: the scientific study of phenomena, frequently reported across all human cultures and history, such as clairvoyance, precognition, telepathy, communication with the dead or non-material beings, and psychokinesis (mental influence on physical processes). All of these disparate phenomena have in common that there is no known physical theory which can explain how they might work. In the 19th century, science was much more willing to proceed from observations and evidence,...

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Saturday, May 5, 2018

With release 3.0 on April 17, 2018, Earth and Moon Viewer was extended to become Solar System Explorer, adding imagery of Mercury, Venus, Mars and its moons, Pluto and its moon Charon, and the asteroids Ceres and Vesta. I have now added a database of Named Features on Solar System Bodies, using official nomenclature adopted by the International Astronomical Union's Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature. Features are listed by category (craters, ridges, plains, valleys, etc.) with their latitude, longitude, and diameter (where applicable). Each is a clickable link which displays the feature at the centre of a view 1000...

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

With the release of version 3.0, now in production, Earth and Moon Viewer, originally launched on the Web in 1994 as Earth Viewer, now becomes “Earth and Moon Viewer and Solar System Explorer”. In addition to viewing the Earth and its Moon using a variety of image databases, you can now also explore high-resolution imagery of Mercury, Venus, Mars and its moons Phobos and Deimos, the asteroids Ceres and Vesta, and Pluto and its moon Charon. For some bodies multiple image databases are available including spacecraft imagery and topography based upon elevation measurements. You can choose any of the available...

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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. Antifragile. New York: Random House, 2012. ISBN 978-0-8129-7968-8. This book is volume three in the author's Incerto series, following Fooled by Randomness (February 2011) and The Black Swan (January 2009). It continues to explore the themes of randomness, risk, and the design of systems: physical, economic, financial, and social, which perform well in the face of uncertainty and infrequent events with large consequences. He begins by posing the deceptively simple question, “What is the antonym of ‘fragile’?” After thinking for a few moments, most people will answer with “robust” or one of its synonyms such as “sturdy”, “tough”, or...

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Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Since 1996, Earth and Moon Viewer has offered a topographic map of the Earth as one of the image databases which may be displayed. This map was derived from the NOAA/NCEI ETOPO2 topography database. Although the original data set contained samples with a spatial resolution of two arc seconds (two nautical miles per pixel, or a total image size of 10800×5400 pixels), main memory and disc size constraints of the era required reducing the resolution of the image within Earth and Moon Viewer to 1440×720 pixels. This was sufficient for renderings at the hemisphere or continental scale, but if you...

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Thursday, March 29, 2018

The first major update to Earth and Moon Viewer since 2012 is now posted. Changes in this release are as follows. When viewing the Moon, the default image database is the 100 metre per pixel LRO LROC-WAC Global Mosaic produced by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera Team at Arizona State University from imagery returned by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. This data set provides more than 5700 times the resolution (measured by pixels in the image) of the Clementine imagery previously used (which remains available as an option). Since the complete image database, consisting of 8 bit grey scale values,...

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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

I have just posted a new version of JavaScrypt, the first major update in thirteen years. JavaScrypt is a collection of Web pages which implement a complete symmetrical encryption facility that runs entirely within your browser, using JavaScript for all computation. When you encrypt or decrypt with JavaScrypt, nothing is sent over the Internet; you can run JavaScrypt from a local copy on a machine not connected to the Internet. JavaScrypt encrypts with the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) using 256 bit keys: this is the standard accepted by the U.S. government for encryption of Top Secret data. (While JavaScrypt is...

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

Lewis, Damien. The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare. New York: Quercus, 2015. ISBN 978-1-68144-392-8. After becoming prime minister in May 1940, one of Winston Churchill's first acts was to establish the Special Operations Executive (SOE), which was intended to conduct raids, sabotage, reconnaissance, and support resistance movements in Axis-occupied countries. The SOE was not part of the military: it was a branch of the Ministry of Economic Warfare and its very existence was a state secret, camouflaged under the name “Inter-Service Research Bureau”. Its charter was, as Churchill described it, to “set Europe ablaze”. The SOE consisted, from its chief, Brigadier...

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Saturday, February 10, 2018

Ever since the 19th century, the largest industry in Zambia has been copper mining, which today accounts for 85% of the country's exports. The economy of the nation and the prosperity of its people rise and fall with the price of copper on the world market, so nothing is so important to industry and government planners as the expectation for the price of this commodity in the future. Since the 1970s, the World Bank has issued regular forecasts for the price of copper and other important commodities, and the government of Zambia and other resource-based economies often base their economic...

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Sunday, February 4, 2018

Tegmark, Max. Life 3.0. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2017. ISBN 978-1-101-94659-6. The Earth formed from the protoplanetary disc surrounding the young Sun around 4.6 billion years ago. Around one hundred million years later, the nascent planet, beginning to solidify, was clobbered by a giant impactor which ejected the mass that made the Moon. This impact completely re-liquefied the Earth and Moon. Around 4.4 billion years ago, liquid water appeared on the Earth's surface (evidence for this comes from Hadean zircons which date from this era). And, some time thereafter, just about as soon as the Earth became environmentally hospitable...

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