‘Darkly Comic, Comically Dark’

Score: 5/5

Chris Whitaker
£7.99

Belfast has a great crime bookstore - No Alibis. When I was in some time last year, I picked up ‘Blacklands’ by Belinda Bauer and the owner David heaped a lot of praise on it. And he was right!

So when I was in again recently I asked him what I should buy this time. Not one in the same vein as Blacklands, just one that he thought was good. He picked this one. He was right again.

It’s a funny book of small-town characters. But it’s not. The comedy is on the surface but there’s a lot more going on as well. A lovely collection of people and red herrings as well as the central mystery. Thoroughly enjoyable!

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‘Barely Scratches The Surface’

Score: 4/5

I’ve been looking into some automatic trading of cryptocurrencies and it’s fascinating. I bought this book a while ago (January 2015!) and thought this would be a good time to finally read it.

And it’s good. It covers all the basics, in particular risk management and backtesting. It can only scratch the surface in these areas but it does at least introduce the concepts and let me know more of the topics I haven’t read about yet.

It’s good, but it shows there’s a lot work for me to do now.

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‘Couldn’t Get Into It’

Score: 3/5

Chuck Palahniuk
£6.99

I do like Chuck Palahniuk’s work but I found this hard to get into. Some of the exposition felt contorted to me, and I didn’t care much for the characters. Also, Madison has discovered Twitter and I’m not sure what to make of it all.

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‘Too Soon To Tell’

Score: 3/5

I dunno if it’s any good or not. The diet, I mean. The book is pretty good - nice and readable, with references. The crux of the book is that fasting for 2 days a week and eating normally the other 5 leads to health benefits beyond just weight loss (although that should happen too). Their web site does have a lot of fans but I’ve no idea if it lives up to the hype.

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‘Well This Dated Quickly...’

Score: 4/5

This book talks about the accelerating progress in technology, so I suppose it was inevitable that the details dated quickly. Even in the updated edition the authors note that the book contains not a single mention of drones.

It’s still a good book, and I enjoyed reading it. I’d probably have got more out of it if I’d read it nearer the time it came out instead of (just!) a few years later.

(FX: glares at ever-growing to-read pile...)

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Amazon made a bunch of datasets publicly available as ‘Amazon Earth’, including a growing collection of Landsat images. The Landsat program is an old program that’s still going, continually taking satellite images of earth. It’s very cool.

Amazon’s Landsat data will grow as they add more images, as Landsat takes more pictures.

I wondered what Northern Ireland looked like over time, so I wrote a wee viewer to get the data from Amazon and allow you to step back in time. The viewer starts with the latest image and allows you to step back to the earliest available image for Northern Ireland, taken in March 2017.

In summary: Norn Iron is dark at night, and mostly cloudy. The image taken on 25th March 2017 is nice and clear though.

Here’s the simple viewer:

Acquisition Date:
Scene:

This viewer loads all the data dynamically so it should (maybe) work even as Amazon add new items to the Landsat collection. I guess we’ll see...

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‘When’s The Next Instalment?’

Score: 4/5

Philip Pullman
£9.99

We’ve waited for a long time for Philip Pullman to get back to Dust. The last of the His Dark Materials trilogy was published in 2000. Was it worth the wait?

Well...

It’s a simpler book than Northern Lights was. I think there’s a lot more scene-setting here than in the first book of the previous trilogy, and as a result there’s less focus on standalone plot.

There’s still the start of a story here, and the adventure here is nicely paced. Even though I hate books that don’t deliver a good standalone story, I can’t wait for the next instalment of this.

P.S. Wouldn’t ‘La Belle Sausage’ be a great name for a French sausage shop? (Yeah, I know ‘sausage’ would be ‘saucisse’ in French. Shush.)

P.P.S. Turns out there already are a bunch of ‘La Belle Sausage’s out there.

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‘What’s The Wifi Password?’

Score: 4/5

I can’t believe no-one asked what the ISS wifi password was. It’s one of the first things I’d have asked.

The book is about Tim Peake’s Principia mission to the International Space Station, and covers a lot of information about the training involved, what work is like up there, and the aftermath of his return. The book is a compilation of answers to a lot of questions he was asked on Twitter and elsewhere.

It’s all very readable - I think it’s aimed at a Young Adult audience, although I don’t see that mentioned anywhere. There are a lot of fun anecdotes along with a little technical information.

But nowhere does it mention the wifi password. The ISS has some of the best OpSec available - anything approaches within 200 miles of it and they’ll know - so I figured The Powers That Be would be fairly open about the password, if there even was one. (I guess there probably is one because, even though it would be convenient having no password, there’d be the worry that a rogue device might connect to the wifi when it wasn’t supposed to.)

OK, I’ve just checked the wifi distance record - 237 miles. Given the ISS is usually about 250 miles up, that’s maybe a bit close for comfort. Maybe it’s best no-one asked about the wifi password after all...

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‘Kindof A Lightweight Dresden’

Score: 3/5

Daniel José Older
£6.09

It was alright. That’s the overwhelming feeling I had after reading this book. Not great, not gripping but not bad either. It feels like it’s trying to be a bit like The Dresden Files, but it doesn’t quite get there.

It’s a series so maybe the next one will be better.

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‘Well, I Finished It’

Score: 3/5

Don Tapscott and Alex Tapscott
£10.49

I mentioned before that I’ve been reading up on blockchain stuff. Well, this is one of the books I’ve been reading. It has taken me a long time to read this book.

This is not a casual book to read. I count it as an achievement that I read it all and finished it.

It’s not that it’s a bad book. There are some good bits of information, some snippets about interesting projects, some links to interesting papers. It’s just that it’s kinda dull. The subject is interesting enough, but the writing tends towards impenetrable business-speak. Stuff I haven’t had to read since my MBA.

I finished it, and I’m smarter because of it. But I don’t want to have to do something like that again for a while.

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