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Book a week – March

No real purpose to the list this month. Largely just random grabs from a stack of stuff I’ve thrown into the Amazon basket over the last few weeks based on various lists of things to read / prize shortlists etc… in an attempt to broaden out the kind of thing I’m reading.

13 Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (304 pages) Didn’t enjoy this as much as Dance Dance Dance, but still a delightful way to spend some train journeys. I love the way Murakami describes boring everyday stuff.

14 Vernon God Little (288 pages) Excellent wee book largely constructed of delightful sentences. Read over three days following Super Tuesday where Hillary and Trump look to be stealing a march, and a week after watching Making a Murderer. ‘Murica. Sigh. Another mention of six fingered people. Probably my favourite so far. Second Booker winner on the list. Need to order a few more.

15 A Brief History of Time (256 pages) I’ve never read this before. Oddly. I can argue about emissions from Black Holes, visualisations of four dimensional space, and your general General Relativity with the best of the armchair physicists – but avoided this previously for some reason. Probably a snobbish rejection of overly popular pop-sci. I’m an idiot. The transition at page 23 from Newtonian to Relativistic is brutal. I can see why people stopped at that end of the book. I wish I’d done more maths. I can’t help wondering what shape physics would be in today if it wasn’t for the Pope and his ilk.

16 The Bone Clocks (640 pages) I think this is the first spooky nonsense book so far. Unless you count Murakami dream stuff as spooky. Which I don’t think I do (thereby no doubt demonstrating that I missed the point of the book entirely). I’d have preferred this without the Dungeons and Dragons nonsense. Felt a little bit like an episode of Yu Gi Oh in the third quarter – a bit of a slog. Ended well though, with some This Changes Everything scenario stuff. I preferred the resurrections of Harry August.

17 Trigger Warning (352 pages) Talking of spooky nonsense! Short story books can be incredibly frustrating to read on the train. Getting half way through a chapter is one thing – being three pages from the end of a story is quite another. Some utter nonsense in here. I don’t understand the dr who stuff. Fun though.

18 Good Ideas (368 pages) I’m always being asked how things are made, how they work, why something is, etc… by the wee lads . This is still a good reminder that even boring stuff is endlessly fascinating if you just dig in a bit deeper. Also some nice ideas outside of my usual science / maths / logic zone. Well worth a read if you have little people. While reading this the wee lad asked “Dad. What’s the opposite of medium?”, Discussion ended at head scratching about wether infinity was actually on the number line or not. I resisted showing him this.

19 A God in Ruins (542 pages) This was the only book I already had in the stack that featured in the Baileys long list announced this month. Deliberately bought this because it’s not the kind of thing I’d usually read. A lot of the books so far have done the time jumpy thing to some extent – with things happening out of sequence. You read about the death and then the life – that kind of thing. It feels like this jumps around mid sentence sometimes as recollection and reality get mashed up. My simple brain had to skip back and fore a few times to make sure I wasn’t slipping into that auto pilot where your eyes are reading but your brain is running through a todo list. I’m cheating slightly including this one – I finished it on April 1st.

7 books ( 5 fiction, 2 non-fiction )
2750 pages

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Map data glue

I’m at the sixth codethecity, on day two of the History Jam. We’re working on creating a walk through 3D version of 1930’s Aberdeen using open data, Unity, and a lot of transcribing and cross referencing.

I’m working on pairing historic company data with the OSM (Open Street Map) building outlines that we’re using to create our 3D environment. This pairing is harder than it sounds. I’m starting with something relatively simple. Identify the occupants at ground level, using a combination of OSM data, feet and eyes, and Google Streetview.

Starting with RBOS outside M&S and working along to the St Nicholas graveyard should be easy. Shouldn’t it?.

Looking at Open Street Maps there there are six distinct buildings in this stretch.

Looking at Google Maps it looks like we have five distinct buildings.

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One Pixel Three

Let’s see how this one shapes up. This should show a whole day. Eventually. Same principle as the other hdmy stuff. Each pixel represents a minute. Each row represents an hour.

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One Pixel Two

I’ve been paying with visualisations using p5.js for the one pixel camera project.

With the data streaming from processing to the phant setup, we can easily pull various sets of data as json to feed into p5.js sketches. This makes the visualisation easy enough to be fun, because it removes a lot of the faff associated with moving data around. The docs on phant.io give a decent overview of the different cuts of the data you can pull directly.

This is a really simple visualisation – it just pulls a recent data set and plots a pixel for each second – seconds on columns, minutes on rows – in whichever order they arrive.

I like how it goes a bit glitchy when the pixel capture fails for a few seconds, or when the data set spans more than a single hour and it overwrites itself.

Next up – getting the pixel stream to come from this little monkey instead of the Mac. RPi + Lego = Huzzah.

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One Pixel

So I’m working on a one pixel camera project with the wee lads. A ‘photo’ from a one pixel camera looks odd. It makes images of time, rather than space. Here is a ‘photo’ of an hour I spent working on some arduino stuff just now.

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Each pixel represents one second. Each row represents one minute. The 60 x 60 block represents an hour. What can you tell from this photo? Well, you can tell that I probably wasn’t outside from the lack of blues or greens. Something orange turned up late in the hour. Probably a wee lad in an orange fleece. Something red popped up from time to time. Probably my notebook.

The camera for this little test was just the camera on my mac. I used Processing to grab a pixel from the centre of the frame once a second and plot it to a grid.

The next version uses Python, Raspberry Pi, the RPi Camera, a custom Lego Pi case for directing the camera. It’s using phant for data logging so that I can throw the pixels at a server, and then process them into images or animations elsewhere. I’m mainly experimenting with exposure settings to get a balance of pleasing / accurate brightness through a 24 hour cycle.

Testing takes time when you’re taking photos of time.

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Book a week – February

Okay so January was non-fiction heavy. Let’s make February a bit more fictiony. Picking books to read is hard when you’re out of the habit. I realised that in addition to being non-fiction heavy, January had been a month of books written by chaps. So I decided to fix that. I just bought a bunch of prize-winners making sure a decent number were written by ladies.


7 Station Eleven (384 pages) Rattled through this one. Fun to read after Sapiens. Sapiens covered the end of some humans, and the rise of some others. This covers the near death of those heroes of Sapiens, and presents further evidence that religion is largely a negative force in the world. More imagined futures. I should really read King Lear.

8 The Narrow Road to the Deep North (464 pages) A Booker winner. Fancy! I haven’t knowingly read a Booker winner before. I read Life of pi, but didn’t realise it was a booker winner when I read it. I just thought it was a book. I got entirely overwhelmed by something in the first quarter hinting at things to come – felt like the book had eight endings in succession. Which is a good thing. You should read this. It’s early, but this might be the best one on this list. I need to grab some more bookers.

9 The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August (448 pages) I do enjoy a bit of time travel paradox. I also enjoy a bit of science and a bit of soviet otherness. Enjoyable. Better than back to the future.

10 This Changes Everything (575 pages) Ouch. Hard read. Sorry kids. We ruined it and we knew, but we didn’t bother to fix it. Found this hard – and took breaks to read other books along the way. Not because it’s a hard read as such – I mean it’s LONG, but it’s fascinating throughout. Hard because I read all about Rio in the Guardian way back in the day and assumed that paying my green party subs, turning off lights, and not using standby on the telly would be enough to fix things. I was an idiot, and so was everyone else.

11 Reasons to Stay Alive (272 pages) Everyone should read this. It’s a tiny book. Go on. You’ll maybe cut a few people a little more slack from time to time. Which might help them. Why wouldn’t you want to help people?

12 Slaughterhouse 5 (192 pages) Back to fiction. I’m not entirely sure why – but I loved this. To bits.

February
6 books ( 4 fiction, 2 non-fiction )
2335 pages

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