Categories
the daily column

The Little Mermaid for the 21st Century

This is brilliant:

A photo posted by Rich McCor (@paperboyo) on

Great photos from this guy, holding little cut outs in front of monuments to transform the scene.

Categories
asides tech

iPhone Photography

Beautifully presented comparison of the photographic capabilities of every iPhone to date

Still love the colours/textures from the 3GS there – was a big step up for phone photography all those years ago.

Categories
quickie

Putting space into perspective

“Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mindbogglingly big it is. I mean you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

Categories
quickie

The New Devil’s Dictionary

A guide to the terms of modern living:

tab (n.): Something opened, then closed, then opened again, then closed again, for eternity.

social (n.): An app or website that simulates what it might be like to interact with other people.

Instagram (n.): A persistent reminder that people you know can afford more expensive restaurants and better vacations than you.

So much to cringe and nod at.

Categories
conversations with myself

Three Oh

Thirty years.

That sounds like… a lot.

It sure doesn’t feel like a lot – I guess? I dunno. It feels like time has passed, but it also doesn’t, in the sense that I still recall events from 20 years ago vividly should I choose to.

But then I get a sense of perspective when talking to younger people, and I share experiences from my past, and realise – really – I’ve done a decent amount and achieved a decent bit… but then there’s so much I’ve still yet to do and still want to do, and it’s not as though I’m running out of time, but I wonder if I’m the only one that feels like the hundred things I’d to get done are just things you couldn’t ever hope to do, but things like movies and social media make it seem like you should be able to get everything done… but it’s just not reality.

Sorry, rambling.

How’s this for some perspective: My heart has beaten 1 billion times in my lifetime. That is a lot.

Here’s to the next.

Categories
the daily column thinking too loud

Patrick Rothfuss’ Thoughts on Pratchett

Patrick Rothfuss writes on Terry Pratchett’s passing – and interestingly, he’s writing as a fan, not a “fellow writer”:

Odds are, if you know much anything about me, you know I’ve been a fan of Pratchett for years. If you follow me on goodreads you’ve seen me write reviews so gushy that they border on the inarticulate.

I didn’t know him. Honestly, I didn’t even know too much about him. I saw him speak once at a convention in Madison, and got to meet him very briefly. I wrote about it on the blog.

He goes on to talk about the exact impact Pratchett had on him, because of this quote from Pratchett in an interview about why he writes in “fantasy” only:

Pratchett:  Without a shadow of a doubt, the first fiction ever recounted was fantasy… Guys sitting around the campfire telling each other stories about the gods who made lightning, and stuff like that. They did not tell one another literary stories. They did not complain about difficulties of male menopause while being a junior lecturer on some midwestern college campus. Fantasy is without a shadow of a doubt the ur-literature, the spring from which all other literature has flown.

This turns around Rothfuss’ view on his own work:

Even these days, people look down on fantasy. They think of it as kid stuff. They dismiss it as worthless. They say not real literature. People say that *NOW* despite the fact that Game of Thrones and The Hobbit and Avengers and Harry Potter are bigger than The Beatles.

Then I read that article, and it filled me with hope. With pride.

If there’s one thing I’ll say about this, it’s much the same connection – although I’m by no means a fantasy writer, or even a budding one as Rothfuss apparently was when reading the quote – that Fantasy is too easily looked down on as being somehow childish or escapist, when ultimately it is the fiction, the stories that have held through time for humanity. To escape into a world of fantasy is what we’ve done for millennia – and to look down on this is to deny the reality of where we came from.

So I’ll continue to read fantasy, without any pretensions to being more “mainstream”, because really, how would life be without worlds like Tolkien’s, or Jordan’s, or Martin’s to escape to, or wit like Pratchett’s to laugh at?

It’d be boring, that’s what.

Categories
asides

Map of Network attacks

Interesting – or possibly scary – real-time map of attacks over the internet, with source and destination where known. May be state or non-state actors, only shows the ones these guys can see, so there’s likely more out there.. The world’s going to hell in a hand basket, we just don’t realise this stuff is happening.

Categories
review

Book Review: Flash Boys by Michael Lewis

Yesterday, the NYSE went down for a couple of hours, and the fascinating thing was while it was out, stocks rallied… as soon as it came back, it plunged. Well, I guess “fascinating” is a word I can use because I’m not invested in the American market in any meaningful way, but for those involved, this kind of weird stock market behaviour makes for wondering as to what on earth is going on in the American market.

Which is where Flash Boys by Michael Lewis comes in. It’s pure non-fiction – Lewis (of Liar’s Poker fame) returns once more to the world of Wall Street to find out just what is going on, to find out how the market has changed in the last 10 years, and how we can get events like the above, or the “flash crash” in 2010 which saw billions, nominally, wiped off the collective value of companies, only to reappear not much later. Lewis takes his investigative eye to weaving a story of the people behind the scenes that make the markets tick now.

The story he tells starts with the construction of an optic fibre cable between Chicago and New York – something which appears to have no ostensible connection to the stock market – and he goes on to slowly fill in the definition and detail in the picture, weaving a story magnificently of how High Frequency Trading has changed the market since 2005, the impacts, and the people working to make things better. It does attempt to build some people into plucky heroes, and doesn’t directly involve the villains in telling the tale, but the message is loud as it is clear, and stuff like the NYSE system crash yesterday just jumps out at me now like “that was probably caused by HFT, damn!”

At certain points, it feels almost like a thriller – I just wanted to keep turning the pages and reading on. The book resonates with me particularly because of where I work in technology and finance, though I’ve never been directly involved with the specific processes at hand – but I’ve definitely seen the changes in the last 10 years as an “insider”, and so much rings true that there’s little doubt Lewis has the right end of the stick.

A magnificent quote that put into words what I’d been feeling about technology in financial markets is towards the latter stage of the book –

The markets were now run by technology, but technologists were still treated like tools. Nobody bothered to explain the business to them, but they were forced to adapt to its demands and exposed to its failures – which was, perhaps, why there had been so many more conspicuous failures.

Technologists being treated like tools – or more accurately, “cost centres” that are  money pits – when banks couldn’t operate in 2015 without technology is one of the most frustrating parts of my working life. Capital investment is a given in many industries, but technology is not viewed that way for far too many organisations.  That’s not even the primary message, but it’s an important one, and one I hope gets some momentum or at least recognition with people that are in important roles.

Categories
asides

Photos from the Cosmodrome

A collection of photos from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, including the Buran shuttle from the Russian space program that never flew.

Only mildly disappointed that the outside doesn’t look like Destiny.

Categories
tech

Can you hear the difference?

Blind test: can you hear the difference between uncompressed WAV, 320kbps MP3 and 128kbps MP3?

I got an awful 2 of 6 for picking the WAV, though thankfully I never picked the 128kbps MP3… but it’s a close run thing.