More Reading

More books, mostly geeking out –

Rajeev Nagar’s Windows NT File System Internals. An O’Reilly book, probably out of print. This, and Dominique Giampaolo’s Practical File System Design with the Be File System are probably my favorites about file system internals.

Paul Graham’s On Lisp. Out of print, but available on Graham’s site, last I checked. This is readable, refreshing little book that combines an introduction to LISP with some aspects of practical and stylish Common Lisp. Good for us old farts who are used to SICP and Scheme.

Sedgewick’s Algorithms in C, part 5: Graph Algorithms. Sedgewick’s other books on algorithms were pretty lightweight and very nearly skimmable, but this is much toothier and a lot more fun. And he’s got an copy editor who understands how to lay out code (it’s sad how some houses will can take perfectly good book material and completely destroy the work with poor layout of code, like using a sans-serif font, or putting in random line breaks. Certain books on COM come to mind…).

Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver. I love all of his other books (except The Big U, which shouldn’t have been reprinted). Q is a real slog. Stephenson wants to be Thomas Pynchon, I think [it took me six tries to finish Gravity’s Rainbow, though it was worth it]. Three hundred pages, and while I’m sure it’s art and literary and stuff nothing has happened. The occasional stuffed-in apostrophe or tossed-off obscure cultural reference does not make an 18th century novel — Pynchon did better in Mason and Dixon. I don’t like historical fiction very much anyway (sad, because I’ve had to give up reading Guy Gavriel Kay, and Emma Bull). As an antidote I quickly re-read The Diamond Age. Phew. Better now.

Kage Baker’s The Anvil of the World. Think of a grown-up version of one of Robert Asprin’s badly punning Aahz novels. It’s funny. Some of the characters are green. It’s popcorn.

Comics: Carla Speed McNiel’s Finder or Sin Eater work. Fantastic. I haven’t read comics since I was 12 (with the exception of reading a roommate’s Black Knight stuff in the 80s, along with some Michael Kaluta). I’ve been told that Finder is a great series of graphic novels to start with. It’s certainly internally complex, with lots of references and little things going on that (bing!) only make sense later, at like 4am.

I looked at Heinlein’s posthumous For Us, the Living in the bookstore, but decided not to get it. Maybe the paperback. Probably the library. It’s not one of his stronger works, and I doubt I’d be able to finish it. The style reminded me of Beyond This Horizon, which is the only book by Heinlein I have never been able to finish.

What Am I?

Since it’s Tolkien week, in the spirit of Riddles in the Dark:

1. “Never time to do it right. Always time to fix it.”

2. “Lonely in this heap am I. But if there are many of me, you buy more of me.”

3. “It doesn’t matter who wins this, the user always loses.”

Answers later…

Prolog

I tried learning Prolog for a while, really I tried. I bought a copy of Clocksin and Mellish, read it and did the exercises (just like I read Kernighan and Ritchie before I had a C compiler, in 1979), thought I had it all down, thought I understood the cut and all of that, sat down in front of Turbo Prolog and nothing happened.

What I mean is, nothing much came of it. I could solve a simple whodunnit, get the cannibobbles across the river without losing any missionaries or ducks, and figure out that two lists weren’t the same, but I couldn’t do anything that was worthwhile.

This was the mid-80s. Japan was advancing upon us with the Fifth Generation Project; they’d chosen Prolog, and they were going to Crush America under the heels of their massive inference engines.

I tried more books; Shapiro offered a more scholarly view of Prolog, and there were some more books on logic programming. I bought ’em and tried to read them. I no longer cared. In fact, I hated it. There was some nice coverage in Abelson and Sussman, but I realized that without application, without the ability to do something really useful, it was a dead end. Warren’s Abstract Machine was something of a lark, a great exercise in language machine design, but again not really good for anything, not even a video game or a widget you could sell someone.

Prolog techniques are useful; from time to time a problem comes up where some of the search logic makes sense. You want to unify some lists, or do some data-driven programming that needs to be highly malleable. Perfect.

I guess I’ll never do AI. Most people don’t. It’s okay.

DVD regions

… and on a similar subject, here’s a neat article on making DVD drives region-free.

Correction to earlier article: Hard disks in Canada are exempt from the tarriff; it’s MP3 players that contain hard disks that are now caught up. Another interesting note: the “Zero exception” groups are ones that currently don’t have to pay, but that will in the future, so opposition to future tarriffs will be fueled by these previously “special” groups (such as law enforcement, universities and so on).

Media

Canadians levy more taxes on media that can be used to pirate music. This time, hard disks and removable media are covered.

Too bad if all you’re doing is backing up data. Expect more movement like this in the US.

Hey, aren’t we already paying for jails?