Recent Books — The Road, The Chatham School Affair, Air, Consider Phlebas

OK somehow I have managed to jam a few books into the last month despite all the other things going on.  I will say this, time pressure makes me a little more selective.

* “The Road”:amazon by Cormac McCarthy. Boy I’m late to this one. Brutal, spartan tale. Touching but deeply sad. Going to be the feelgood movie of the holiday season! Viggo is the right guy for this role.

* “The Chatham School Affair”:amazon by Thomas H. Cook. A nice little tale of small town adultery and how it rips apart the lives around it. Depths of darkness here, and some unexpected twists. An Edgar Award winner tho certainly not structured like a typical mystery, probably will appeal to more types of readers. Amazon says 4 stars, I’d say 4.5, this one will stick with me for a while. Surprisingly hard to find — this is why the retail bookstores are in trouble, too much crap on the racks, not enough of this kind of book.

* “Air”:amazon by Geoff Ryman. A small town in Central Asia is brought forcefully into the information age. Highly recommended, award-winning but blah, just doesn’t click for me. Not terrible but just uninteresting. Maybe deeper in the story ramps up but I gave up after 50 pages. Amazon gives 4 stars but I can’t give it more than one.

* “Consider Phlebas”:amazon by Iain M. Banks. His first? Culture novel about a far distant future. Seemingly a space opera but actually a thoughtful book about humanity, the futility of war. Better than I first thought. The epilog to the tale really ties it together. Amazon says 4 stars, this seems right.

Another great Buckeye season

While this weekend’s victory over Michigan was not one for the ages, it does cap another great Buckeye season. Undisputed Big10 champs, 5 straight Big10 titles, Rose Bowl trip, 5th straight BCS bowl, 6th straight victory over Michigan, undefeated November including wins over other title contenders. It is a good era to be a Buckeye fan. Tresselball is alive and well despite opinions to the contrary — I am very happy winning games with a tough defense, special teams play (tho this has not been as strong this year), and mistake-free offense. Some writers want to see a lot of “style” points, but that is not football. If you value style points, go watch ice dancing or diving — fine sports, nothing wrong with them. I don’t watch football for style points.

The throwback unis looked good and it is super to commemorate the ’54 team — congrats Dad.

For Michigan, wow, another terrible season. The fan base is failing as well — the amount of scarlet in the Big House was astounding. Real Michigan fans are pissed about.  For the sake of the rivalry, I hope that Michigan starts to be relevant and credible again. I admit to having the thought that, if there was any year in which the pain of losing to Michigan would be small, this might have been it, and it would have been good for the rivalry. The wolverines weren’t up to it.

Also watched a lot of PAC 10 action. With USC caught up in its own undershorts, the Pac-10 is a mess. Stanford opted out this weekend. Arizona opted out. Oregon-Oregon State for all the marbles? When has that ever been the case in the past? The collapse of USC is like the death of Tito, with the Pac-10 fracturing like Yugoslavia into a bunch of warring factions, none dominant.

What’s on the first screen of my iPhone

Been 3 months since I last talked about what apps I’m using, there have been some changes.

The bottom row remains Mail, Messages, Calendar, Safari. I use all these many many times a day, almost hourly. Calendar is the least used but I still need it all the time.

First screen: the default Apple apps that have a home here are Weather, Maps, Camera, Calculator, Settings, Clock, Phone, Stocks.

  • I use Phone a lot but wonder if it needs a spot since I can get there through double-click of the button, but for now it remains.
  • Stocks is the other that is least used, I just don’t check Stocks all that often, it may be the next to get shoved off the page.
  • Weather I use a lot and I have like 20 cities stored. I’ve considered some of the paid options but I like the simplicity of Apple’s app.
  • Maps I use daily. Have started to use the bookmark feature a lot. It is not a perfect app, I wish I could see my custom maps I’ve created at Google Maps.
  • Calculator I use frequently since I am taking courses. However it may get pushed off in favor of something better soon…
  • Camera gets used weekly for throwaway pics — parking spot at airport, etc. I don’t care about all the fancy photo apps since I use a real camera for photos I care about.
  • Settings continues to have a homepage spot just so I can turn wifi on/off. There has to be a better app for this.
  • Clock — I use the alarm when travelling and the timer for cooking.

Non-Apple apps on the first page:

  • Echofon, my current Twitter app. Solid. Used every couple hours
  • Byline, RSS reader. I used to just use the mobile google reader site which is pretty good, but this is better.
  • WordPress for blog posting. Sadly my post frequency is way down but still need it.
  • Tripit for travel details. I love Tripit.
  • 2 Across for the NYTimes crossword (subscription required). I usually skip monday/tuesday puzzles since they are fairly routine but enjoy the later puzzles. I generally finish tho my times are not competitive with real crossworders at all.
  • Todo, synced with RememberTheMilk. Love todo lists. Is this the best app? Maybe not but I flipped to it some time ago and remain happy. It has like a jillion more features than I use.
  • Lose It! to track daily calorie usage. Been working to drop a little weight this fall, and this app helps. If I track my calories I can usually control my portions.
  • ESPN Scorecenter. Particularly on football Saturdays. I got cranky this week because the ESPN data feed seemed to be a half hour or more behind, grr. So I looked at CBS Sports,, Fox Sports, ScoreMobile, and Sportacular. For the most part these all miss the mark, they are just a rendering of the web property into an app. This is useless. The ESPN app lets me pick my teams and sports and focuses just on the scores of those entities, that is what I want. So for now, it remains the king.

Things that recently lost their front page status:

  • Facebook. OK I like the fact that old friends can find me. But the constant nattering about Mafia Wars, Farmville, all the surveys and crap that Facebook Inc wants me to do — this is all a waste of my brain. And damned if I can figure out how to tell Facebook to quit nattering at me about all this crap. Twitter has a much higher signal-to-noise ratio for me.

Things that want to get to the front page:

  • some note taking app. I am trying out aNote right now. Not blowing me away. But I do keep little snippets of notes and would like something here…
  • iMathlab. A MATLAB lite app. For some classes of quick calculations this BLOWs the calculator away. The first version was buggy but getting better.
  • AccuDial. OK this isn’t really right yet. But a dialer app that a) dials conf calls correctly, b) syncs with cal, and c) is remotely configurable by folks at my office (perhaps thru cal sync) would be most desirable.

Apps that I am playing with but not sure what will happen to them:

  • LaTeX Help. Doing way too much math formatting these days.
  • Ego. Needs more drivers — Facebook for instance.
  • Gist. Interesting but doesn’t really help me yet.
  • foursquare. Not really getting into it.
  • Bento. I want to like it but I always end up finding databases requiring too much overhead.

Games come and go. Current things I am trialing:

  • Word Spin. Boggle-ish.
  • Missile Command
  • Fling
  • DoodleJump
  • Puzzloop
  • Cribbage
  • Civ Rev (tho I actually haven’t used it yet)
  • Shanghai
  • Flight Control
  • Bebot

There are a whole bag of travel apps I keep around that get occasional use: Urbanspoon, ZAGAT, Yelp, KAYAK, Flight Update, Topo Maps. Hugely useful at times. And a bunch of useful but not frequently used apps — Starmap, Zillow, GuitarToolkit, Clinometer,, Air sharing, Air Contacts, WiFiFoFum, MiGhtyDocs, m.UW, LinkedIn, Pandora, Shazam, SMugMug.

Apps still on the phone but I never use: Google Earth, Whole Foods, Remote, Drinks Free, Wine Guide, EBay, Offender Locator, Healthmap, Kindle, NikeID. Just haven’t bothered to delete. They all seemed like a good idea at the time. Kind of like that Flock of Seagulls song — seemed like a good thing to download at the time.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-11-15

  • @schadjoe have you watched USC the last 2 weeks? Clearly a team in regression. Not surpised OSU ahead. in reply to schadjoe #
  • Stuff I Want But Do Not Need — #
  • Life is best lived at the edge of folly — Thomas Cook. #
  • Your Iowa Pre-reading — #
  • L4D2, COD MW2, Dragon Age — some decent games finally arriving after a lull #
  • RT @OSUsportsfromPD: Hold on Rose Bowl – All #OhioState needs is combined 14 losses by 8 other teams in next 3 weeks to reach title game #

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Grabbag of interesting articles on math, econ, science, design, web

No theme here other than “stuff I happened across recently”

Grabbag of services to try out

  • Master list of google services — nice list from mike. There ought to be a google game where I get points and achievements for trying services, getting to 100 docs stored, 100 contacts, etc.  I would totally be competitive.
  • Typekit. Not really a type wonk but this looks worthy.
  • Oyster. Great hotel recos are hard to find.  This looks helpful
  • Clipperz. Yet another password management service
  • National Geographic top places. Need to review, I have used the UN world heritage sites list as well.
  • SPeccy. Detailed info about your hardware. Always helpful.
  • Springpad. One guy likes it better than BackPackIt.

MATLAB lessons

Doing a ton of MATLAB coding these days. What an amazing tool. For a numbers geek, this is so much better than Excel. The macro language in excel/spreadsheets has always been wacky, and the basic tool in later versions is even worse.

MATLAB is awesome but of course some key lessons that I am relearning, as well as some new ones.

  • Off-by-one errors are killers. Especially when dealing with huge complex matrices. Document and layout your variables carefully.
  • The lack of any variable typing system is a little scary, as well as the lack of required variable declarations. You can get in a lot of trouble easily by declaring variables willy-nilly and doing whatever you want with them. Powerful but a little dangerous.
  • OK, the ability to create variables with the same name as built-in values/functions, and/or the ability to assign values to built-ins without regard to their intended value — well this is just nutso.  And the “lint” tool that is part of the development environment doesn’t make a peep about it. For instance, I used “i” as the index value for a loop. Unfortunately “i” means of course the square root of -1, and when you arbitrarily set this to say 5, bad $h!t happens. Who ever thought it was a good idea to let users do this? Lesson learned.
  • MATLAB is very PL/1 like. OK this doesn’t mean much to most people, but there is a function or library for everything in MATLAB. If it is something you want to do, there is probably already a function or option to do it, you just have to sift thru the function reference to find it.
  • BTW, make sure you change the help search options to span just the libs you have access to. Otherwise everytime you search help, you will get 95% useless information.
  • The lack of even the most primitive source control package in the development environment is ridiculous. It is easy to point the tool at other working directories tho. Short of installing a source control system , clone your working directory often. Really there ought to be some simple versioning in the tool and the ability to rollback.

Stuff I Want but do not need — Mostly wood and furniture edition

Still enjoying afterglow of OSU’s win

I could take the high road here and talk about the great character of the Ohio State team or the great athleticism they displayed…

…but it is way more fun to enjoy the misery of the PSU crowd —

  • teeth gnashing over at Black Shoe Diaries — “Sifting through the rubble this morning, and nothing has changed. Yesterday’s game was an absolute owning of the home team — coaches, players, fans, offense, defense, special teams — from beginning to end.”
  • declaring the season a total loss over at CentreDaily — “It probably took Ohio State’s Cameron Heyward, who had both Buckeye sacks, an extra 15 minutes in the showers to wash off the chunks of Clark left on his body from Saturday’s game.”

This victory and our enjoyment of it will sow years of hatred for OSU in the PSU fanbase, which is of course one of the great things about college football.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-11-08

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Books — Await Your Reply, Fidelity, In Pale Battalions

Been a slow slow blogging fall. Killing myself on two courses at UW, and a bunch of other stuff. But have been on airplanes enough to work my way through some modest tomes:

* “Await Your Reply”:amazon by Dan Choan. Strange tale of a serial ID thief trying to find a life for himself. Along the way he spawns more and more ID thieves, all of whom experience the freedom of creating themselves out of whole cloth. An interesting tale couched as a mystery but really a more thoughtful inspection of identity. Amazon says 4 stars, I would agree, this book has stuck with me a little.
* “Fidelity”:amazon by Thomas Perry. Quality thriller. A PI is murdered, and his wife and colleagues dig into his life and his lies to understand the cause. Amazon says 3 stars. I guess that is about right, I honestly can’t remember much of the tale now. It was fine and won’t hurt your brain but accept it for what it is, an airplane read.
* “In Pale Battalions”:amazon by Robert Goddard. A woman gradually discovers the truths about her family and background — the cruelty and crimes during WWI which defined her life. Unexpected and good. 4.5 stars on Amazon, this is a very engaging tale of family secrets.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-11-01

  • RT @Fat_Spaniel: We've got two big announcements coming at Solar Power 2009. A big partnership, and more. Stay tuned! #spi #solarpower #
  • RT @fstdev: Fat Spaniel and Tendril Bring Smart Energy Home to Utilities and Consumers #
  • $&#%. Roof leak. #
  • Better late than never — at UW CSE Industrial Affiliates meeting #
  • RT @pkedrosky: I like randomized claims like "The future of economic growth is social". Works same with any combination of same words. #

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