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July 2nd, 2009


Fifteen books that will always stick with me?

That's a tricky one, seeing how much I read. However there are some books I keep coming back to, keep rereading. So, without further ado:

  1. Hardwired - Walter Jon Williams: Written as a homage to Zelazny, this is cyberpunk as country-and-western song, with Cowboy riding panzers across a balkanised USA accompanied by Sarah and her weasel.
  2. The Saga of Pliocene Exile - Julian May: All four books, taken as one here. May mixes Jungian archetypes with The Ring Cycle (and a dose of pure 50s SF) to deliver a remarkably fun science fantasy series that takes mitteleuropean myth and drops it into deep time.
  3. Don't Look Down - Jennifer Crusie and Bob Meyer: a romance author (albeit snarky) and an ex-Green Beret men-with-guns-save-the-world writer collaborate on a delightfully funny romantic thriller. Contains Wonder Woman bondage scenes.
  4. Vacuum Flowers - Michael Swanwick: a picaresque journey around a far future solar system, where changing your mind is as easy as slipping on a new shirt. Underneath it all is the question "What does it mean to be human".
  5. Understanding Comics - Scott McCloud: McCloud's look at the semiotics of sequential art is also one of the great textbooks of design. It's better than Tufte if you're working on the web.
  6. The New Dinosaurs - Dougal Dixon: Dixon's speculative evolutionary books take a turn into a world where dinosaurs didn't become extinct.
  7. Managing Internet Information Systems - John Udell: This is the book that built UK Online. It's also as relevant today as it was nearly 15 years ago.
  8. Computer Lib/Dream Machines - Ted Nelson: The book/s that pretty much made me who I am today - and shaped the trajectory of my career through the intertwingled worlds of engineering, computing and writing.
  9. Neuromancer - William Gibson: "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel." Enough said, this is the seminal cyberpunk novel.
  10. Between Planets - Robert Heinlein: A favourite juvenile, with Heinlein mixing colonial politics with the story of a violently suppressed revolution. The Venusian dragons are one of his finest creations.
  11. The Ophiuchi Hotline - John Varley: Another solar system picaresque. Here it's Varley's Eight Worlds that is centre stage. A fine book for a 13 year old islander to read (if you want to blow his tiny little mind). Clones, invincible alien invaders and the hierarchy of life. Humanity is learning its true place in the universe, and it's a particularly lowly one...
  12. The Terror - Dan Simmons: The most recent book on this list, but a powerful and extraordinarily well-written slice of secret history that delves into the lost years of the Franklin expedition. Simmons mixes Victorian rationality with the myths of the Esquimaux to deliver a post-modern, post-colonial take on the monster story wrapped up in a homage to Edgar Alan Poe.
  13. The Shockwave Rider - John Brunner: The most optimistic of the futures in the Club Of Rome quartet, this mixes Toffler's Future Shock with the Whole Earth Catalog (and the Point Foundation) to give us a book that defines the modern security industry.
  14. The Bridge - Iain Banks: This is the book that should have an "M". A never ending bridge, a Glaswegian barbarian, and the nameless life of a man on the road to disaster converge in three parallel stories. And it's got knife missiles!
  15. Moominvalley in November - Tove Jansson: The best of the Moomin books doesn't contain the titular family, off at sea fulfilling Moominpapa's dreams. It's a sad, wistful novel that's really a tale about growing up and finding your own way in life. No wonder it's the most adult of the Moomin novels.
That's a start. You can find most of what I read on my LibraryThing.



A while back I blogged the some of the photographs I'd taken of a combined pod of thousands of dolphins feeding their way up the Big Sur coast.

As I said at the time, it was one of the most amazing things I'd ever seen - so many animals all working in concert. It was one of those things that make you realise that we humans aren't the only intelligent animal on this planet. Superpods are rare, only taking place when the right food source is in the right place. But when they happen they bring in dolphins from all around the area - tens and hundreds of miles.

Sunset Dolphin Swarm

I was noodling around the BBC news site today when I found a video taken in the middle of one of these superpods - just off the Welsh coast:

Fascinating stuff.

Mic'ed Up

I bought a new microphone the other day. I needed something better for recording meetings, and as I work direct-to-disk in OneNote (timestamping interview audio with my notes), I decided to look out a high-quality USB microphone.

To be honest it didn't take me long to find the device I wanted. Blue Microphones have an excellent reputation and their chrome-retro styling has a certain 30's space opera feel that I found appealing. The fact that they were getting consistent good reviews for sound quality also helped a lot. Most of their devices aren't that portable, but I found the one I wanted very quickly: the Snowflake.

Sound quality's good so far, and it'll work with my Macs and my PCs. It is a little larger than I expected, but not too large, and the base doubles as a carry case for the USB cable and as a clip to hand the mic off the back of my PC. I do like the way the microphone folds into the base for travel, and the ability to twist the head to point where I want is definitely a plus.

All in all, I'm very happy.

Now to go out and interview some people.


Here we stand, in a special place

Keauhou, where we stayed on the Kona side of Big Island is more than a tourist destination (though the local definition of built-up means that it's two or three miles between hotels and resorts, and the tourist strip is less than half a mile long).

It's also the site of some of the island's holiest places. There were three heiau in the grounds of our hotel, currently being restored. They were massive stone platforms, built on lava flows that rolled out over the reefs. Artificial rock pools kept fish abundant, food for the local royal family who used the sacred pools in the woods.

One evening we waded into the pool, avoiding the grazing honu turtles, to watch the sun set.

Here we stand, in a special place

I couldn't help but think of a few lines from The Waterboy's song "Don't Bang The Drum":
Here we stand
On a rocky shore
Your father stood here before you
I can see his ghost explore you
I can feel the sea implore you
Not to pass on by
Not to walk on by
Not to try...
Keauhou, Hawaii
June 2009

Jolly Green Giants

The Honu is the Hawaiian Green Turtle, a gentle giant of the islands. You'll find then (now that they're protected) in rock pools and on beaches all round the Big Island, feeding on the green algae that coats the lava rocks. The old royal fish ponds at Keauhou are home to a small group of these beasts, and you can watch them gently scull through the cool water. At the hottest part of the day you can watch them haul themselves out of the water to rest and bask on the rocks.

One morning I scrambled over the rocks around the pool to get as close as possible to where they were feeding. You could see them sculling, their huge fins sliding out of the water.

Two turtles had a bit of a disagreement over who had right of way. Needless to say the biggest beast won.

Honu to Honu

One sculled around the pool, looking for the an unoccupied patch of algae.

Honu grazing

Another came very close, and I was able to photograph its delicately patterned shell,

Honu grazing

Beautiful beasts.

Keauhou, Hawaii
June 2009