‘No, Not That One’

Score: 5/5

A book by Douglas Adams with white robots turning up at a Lords where our protagonists are watching a cricket match. The robots steal the ashes and then go on to try to destroy the galaxy. It may all sound very familiar, but it's not 'Life, The Universe, And Everything', it's this book.

Bits of it really do come across as a Hitchhiker's/Who crossover. Some paragraphs are weirdly HHGTTG and not at all Whovian. And the weirdest thing about them is that they aren't in the original treatment (included in an appendix), so I'm left wondering to what extent they were made up by the other author (the one who is currently still alive so bears much responsibility for this book) James Goss. Did he find these things in the copious notes he read or did he just do a really good DNA impression?

I've no idea. But still, I enjoyed the book. Maybe not as much as I'd have enjoyed a real, pure Douglas Adams book, but there'll never be another one of those so if this is as close as I can get, I'll take it.

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‘Quick, Trite, Occasionally Useful’

Score: 3/5

This was a 99p 'Quick Read' so it’s not the full book.

It did have some good bits, some useful thoughts, but it could also be a bit tiresome, and it did have some dodgy moments. Maybe they're less dodgy in the complete edition...

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‘Paranormality In Rural Ireland’

Score: 5/5

I’ve no idea where I got the recommendation for this book (if it was you - thanks!) so I’d no idea what to expect of it.

What I got is: a story with paranormal elements set in rural Ireland in the 1970s, with all the poverty and insularity that entails. Add in religious guilt and some intrigue from decades ago and you have a fascinating story well told.

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‘Smart Pills And TDCS’

Score: 4/5

This is one man’s exploration of brain hacks and pills to find out how effective they are in making him smarter.

There’s some discussion of how ‘smart’ will be measured here (IQ is a troubling measure) but more interesting are the questions of effectiveness and morality. Do, say, pills work? And if so, should the be available indiscriminately? Should they be banned? Or should they only be available to specific categories of people? How do you choose?

I’m sure we all have our own thoughts on what the answers to those questions should be, but it’s nice to see someone publicly asking the questions.

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‘What Would You Do?’

Score: 4/5

This feels like Threads, but written by H. G. Wells or John Wyndham - a journey through a very English countryside with society falling apart all around. But its really just asking the question: how far would you go to keep your family safe?

I can’t fault the protagonists for their choices, but I’m not sure they’re the ones I’d have made. And some of the geography confused me a bit (the distances between some places is listed, but I think I’m just expected to sortof know roughly where some places are).

But overall, an oldy-but-goody.

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‘Discussions On Programmable Money’

Score: 4/5

This isn't anywhere near as technical as the previous Antonopoulos book I read, being just transcriptions of a collection of talks the author gave over a few years.

That said, it's nice to hear some higher-level discussions on the possibilities of bitcoin rather than getting drowned in the minutiae. For example, rather than think of it as money transferred using numbers and networks, what would you be able to do with 'programmable money'? And rather than describe what programmable money means here, decide for yourself what it is, see if that can be done, and then think about what you can do with that.

The whole area is so young that the foundations aren't all in place yet, so many possibilities are still open. I've no idea what we'll make of it but it's interesting to think about.

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‘All The Gory Details’

Score: 5/5

I read this a couple of months ago and (unless I’ve missed something) never put a mention of it up here.

Anyway, if you want to go further down the bitcoin rabbit-hole than just the basics, this is the book to get. It has some code, but not too much, and it goes into quite some detail about wallet seeds and UTXOs (which should give you some idea of the level we’re dealing with here).

There are more detailed descriptions of everything available elsewhere, but this is all one nice package.

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‘High Frequency Trading Shenanigans’

Score: 5/5

A nice, well written tale of the folks behind an anti-High Frequency Trading movement. The author gives a good overview of some of the nastier bits of HFT as well as how some exchanges are complicit. Well worth reading if you’re interested in this kind of stuff.

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‘Not My Kinda Book’

Score: 2/5

No, I did not enjoy this book. It’s one of those rare occasions that I was really keen to finish the book so I could move on to a book I’d enjoy more. If I’m reading a book I enjoy, I never want it to end.

It’s not the worst book I’ve ever read (thankfully books that get 1/5 are a rarity) but it certainly wasn’t fun.

Imagine someone taking all about the prospect of a mission to Mars, and making it dull.

Or, imagine delving deeply into the thoughts and actions of a bunch of dislikable people you don’t really care about.

Or, imagine the very basic things you’d have done in their situation which would kinda destroy the premise of the book

OK, some people really love this book. Really, really love it. And that’s fair enough - good for you, if you’re one of them! It’s just really not my kind of thing. So if you’re taste in books aligns with mine, you might be better skipping this one. If everything I type is anathema to you, this may be your kind of book.

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‘Ghosts With Local Colour’

Score: 3/5

Well, this is an odd one for someone who doesn’t believe in ghosts.

I first heard about this book last year when a friend in $WORK mentioned it. Even though I was born and raised in Belfast, I’d never heard of the book itself or the story around it. Maybe it’s because the time of the events was 1989 when I was at university meant it passed me by (although I think I’d have been back in Belfast for the summer break). Dunno. I’d never heard of it anyway.

And when someone mentions an intriguing book to me, my first action is usually to buy it. (Often this happens before I get to the ‘should I buy it’ or ‘will I ever read it’ stage.) And this is where I encountered a problem: I couldn’t buy this book.

Other options like eBay or just plain Google searches didn’t show up anything either, and @BelfastBooks told me the last copy he had he went for £150 a couple of years ago. That’s more money than I was willing to spend. There are mutterings about a PDF version in circulation, and then further mutterings from the family of the author asking that the PDF not be spread around, and then lots of dodgy piracy sites catching on to the search term and polluting all search results for the book (try it if you don’t believe me). I wouldn’t be comfortable downloading a dodgy PDF of a book anyway.

So I tried to find it in libraries:

So I tried to request it through the Norn Iron library system. And failed. Apparently this is one of the rare, special books that they have but don’t lend any more - I guess because it is so rare.

They did say I could request it be sent to a local library and I could read it there. I just wouldn’t be able to take it out of the building.

That was a good few months ago. It was only last week I figured I’d be able to dedicate some time to reading it in the library, so I put the request in then. It arrived in Carrickfergus library on Monday for me. Pretty fast service if you ask me!

So, on Wednesday I made it to the library to finally start reading this book, to find out what all the fuss is about.

Well, the fuss is about a purportedly true haunting in Belfast in 1989. The Skillen family were haunted by a ghost of a woman, and this spectre repeatedly physically attacked the author of the book, John Skillen. Priests and psychics were consulted, but the family were driven from their home.

It became well known as it was happening, with up to two hundred people gathering outside the house at times. And it made the radio and newspapers.

And I’d never heard of it.

Hmm. I don’t want to read too much into that - news was different back then, there were no Twitter alerts, no news web sites, and we usually didn’t get the papers. But still I wonder why I didn’t hear about it for nearly three decades.

It’s an interesting tale, certainly. And at 140 pages it’s quite a short one - it only took about two and half hours in the library to read it from start to finish.

It’s quite unpolished - a good editor would work wonders. But the tale itself is intriguing. I did keep wondering to myself what I’d have done differently. And I’m not sure it would have made any difference. I suppose the fact that I’m asking that question means I’m putting myself in the author’s position, so that means it’s quite relatable. Yeah, I could find a lot of it relatable.

I still don’t believe in ghosts though. I’m not going to try to offer explanations, but I’m sure others have and will. I did find it interesting.

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