Monday, July 28, 2008

Today's Macro Photography Tips

Here's some tips for macro photography:

* Macro photography requires either a tripod or a lot of light (ideally both).
* You will probably have to stand a lot farther away than you expect (depending on your lens, of course).

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Bellwether

Connie Willis

Connie Willis jumped onto my radar when I first read Doomsday Book (which I highly recommend), but I hadn't picked up a second Willis novel until just recently. Although I don't think it's quite as good as Doomsday Book, it was still an interesting story.

Sandra Foster is a researcher that studies fads, trying to understand where they come from, how they spread, and why. Her studies are alternately helped and hampered by the company she works for - HiTek - and her coworkers.

This novel is short, clocking in at merely 247 pages in my edition, and an easy read. The story flows very well, and each chapter begins with a brief paragraph describing a historical fad from the middle ages to the present.

I enjoyed this book, but I don't really have much to say about it. It's not terribly controversial, and there isn't really any major conflict to speak of. It's interesting, though, to note which fads continue today (the book was published in 1996) and which have petered out.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I hate little bitty flies!

Especially when they keep flying in my face. Or ears. Or anywhere near me, really, which they are doing a lot because... Steve isn't here today? A new nest hatched? I dunno.

But I squish 'em when I catch 'em.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Brief, Random Thoughts on Agile

I like Agile.

Business people have trouble with agile. Consider this recently-overheard exchange:

Business: It seems like [the project architect] just wants to do the bare-bones necessary.

IT Guy: That's his job.


A valid point that was brought up was that this sometimes results in delivering functionality later than originally planned. But I'd point out that 1) this happens all the time in software anyway and 2) the functionality is often prioritized below bug fixes (sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly).

Something I like about agile is that you only write the functionality that's needed, as it's needed (and ideally you've written previous functionality well enough that it's not very hard to refactor).

Another thing I like is that it recognizes that there's only so much time to spend on anything, and the business has to be frugal about what's needed, or the project will run out of money before finishing basic functionality. This can, however, be difficult for business people.

On the other hand, developers used to the waterfall approach (or other non-agile methodologies) tend to over-develop out of habit. (Sometimes I even find myself doing this.)

Production-ready code at the end of each iteration is good.

Good merge tools are worth it. (Not agile-specific...)

QA and UAT should be integrated ASAP (how else will you have production-ready code at the end of the iteration?).

Despite what Dilbert's Pointy-Haired Boss says, it's not "start coding and complaining" (though we do code a lot, of course, and complaining is the developer's past time).

I'm going to try to apply some of the agile/scrum practices to other areas, like DPO (though I'm not going to tell them that's what I'm doing).

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Asimov's Science Fiction (August 2008)

I just finished reading the latest Asimov's (well, either I'm a time traveler or their web site is in need of update, because the latest issue on the site is June 2008... ;-) ). I can't really say I was overly impressed with the stories in this issue. They were mostly alright, but nothing stands out to me as has happened with other issues. Sadly, I found the non-fiction to be more interesting. Oh well, on to the reviews (keeping them short & sweet... also, I'm not reviewing ones I didn't read or the poetry):

Reflections: Some Thoughts on the Short Story (essay). Robert Silverberg. Silverberg discusses Edgar Allen Poe's advice that "a short story is a piece of prose fiction in which just one significant thing happens" and H.G. Wells' addendum: "a science-fiction short story is a piece of prose fiction in which just one extraordinary thing happens". Interesting advice with examples and exceptions. Worth the read.

Thought Experiments: The Great Awakening (essay). Rudy Rucker. Rucker lays out possibilities on the future of computing and humanity post-singularity. Some interesting ideas and worthwhile hooks for fiction, though gets a little far-fetched towards the end.

Lagos (short story). Matthew Johnson. Safrat, a poor Nigerian working as a remote intelligence for first-world machinery, discovers that she and those she works with are being used to... Well, you'll have to read it. Interesting ideas, but not terribly compelling for me.

Old Man Waiting (short story). Robert Reed. A trust-funder (or someone with an unending supply of cash, anyway) stalks an old man with Alzheimer's for his amusement. I didn't really care for this story; nothing much happens, the characters aren't interesting or compelling, and I agree with the protagonist's friends: leave the old man alone!

Lucy (short story). J. Chris Rock. The tale of a probe and those who love her. No, wait, that's WALL*E. Elgin and Brad, two scientists, have subcontracted with NASA to send a probe to Titan. Meanwhile, they ponder their lives, their neighbors and their future. Again, not a terribly compelling story, though I do feel for the probe in the end.

Divining Light (novelette). Ted Kosmatka. A suicidal physicist explores the nature of reality and humanity. I like the subject matter and the story was ok, but I think Kosmatka doesn't really understand the double-slit experiment and its results.

What You Are About To See (short story). Jack Skillingstead. An NSA (sorta) spook takes on an alien that can choose its reality - with his help. Nothing to say. Wasn't particularly impressed, wasn't terribly disappointed.

Wilmer or Wesley (short story). Carol Emshwiller. A creature of nearly-human intelligence longs for freedom (more eloquently than most humans could). I liked this story, empathized with Wilmer or Wesley and was saddened at the injustice of his captivity.

Radio Station St. Jack (novelette). Neal Barrett, Jr.. A local DJ/Priest defends his post-war town from marauders (in dresses). I'm a fan of post-apocalypse fiction, and this is close enough to fit the bill for me.

Starship Troopers

Robert A. Heinlein

I'm not quite sure how I feel about Starship Troopers. On the one hand, I really enjoyed the book (as, in fact, I have everything else I've read by Heinlein), even though it could certainly be viewed as Heinlein's novel-length discourse on militarism and society. On the other hand, I strongly disagree with most, if not all, of the arguments/conclusions it puts forth, for example, that militarism is necessary for survival, that rule by former soldiers (or at least those that have served in a military-like organization) would lead to a perfect society, that crime is based on an excess of liberty for juveniles (rather than 1. a lack of responsibility and 2. over-zealous know-it-alls who seek power for power's sake and criminalize more and more to satisfy their ever-growing powerlust. You may think of more examples...), and, of course, that liberty is not fundamental.

The story follows (using flashbacks) cap(sule) trooper Juan Rico ("Johnny") though his decision to join the Federal Service against his father's wishes, Mobile Infantry (MI) boot camp, several missions, and officer training. The emphasis throughout is on duty to the "group", whether that group is the squad, the Service, the Nation or the Species, and the noblesse of sacrifice in such service. (This is the justification for only allowing those who have Served [not even those who are Serving] to vote and hold office: only they can fully understand the need for sacrifice and be willing to put the collective needs of those they govern above the individual sacrifices - again of those they govern, though at least they are counted amongst the governed as near as I can tell - that must be made to fulfill those needs.)

Intermingled throughout is death, considered a necessary and routine part of life for the MI and utterly required for a free society. But there is only one instance of death that stands out to me, and only one case where the punishment would normally warrant death but mercy was shown. First, the death, which was pretty gratuitous: Heinlein seemingly has to portray a hanging for some reason, and so he creates a character - one we've never even heard of before - and has him "rape the dog" (except, of course, that he's given maybe 5 pages in the whole book so he's not really a villain) by raping & killing a 4-year-old. Not sure how exactly this would illustrate Heinlein's point, since I would probably kill the bastard.

Second, during boot camp, a recruit strikes a commanding officer (well, and has an attack of stupid and admits it). Normally, this would be a hanging offense, but the commander of the camp convenes a field court-marshal, so the recruit only gets 15 lashes and a bad-conduct discharge. Very merciful indeed. This was, really, the one area of the book that I was truly uneasy, all though the leadup to the court-marshal (whereupon he is only sentenced to the aforementioned lashes). I think it is meant to enforce the notion that, arbitrary though they might be, the rules are the rules and you'd better subvert yourself to them for the betterment of the squad/service/nation/race.

A few closing remarks in regards to the movie of the same title: night and day. Heinlein's Starship Troopers is a philosophical discourse on society. The movie is, well, a "bug hunt", as it was originally titled, baring scant resemblance to the book apart from names and the bugs.

Friday, July 04, 2008

A Pentapede's Lullaby, and a bonus

A Pentapede's Lullaby (to me)(imagine it being whisper-sung as you're about to fall asleep...)

Go to sleep, Mr. Geoff,
So I can lay eggs in your ear.
Go to sleep and don't wake up,
Until all the eggs are hatched!


A Bonus, from the Sporepedia description of a Pentapede:

The Pentapede a Monster is,
Black and white, with scary hiss!
Its mandibles ferocious clack;
It dines on things that venom lack.