Saturday, March 28, 2009

James Herriot's Cat Stories, James Herriot

James Herriot's Cat Stories
James Herriot

A short review for a short volume. These are extracts from his earlier works, specifically about cats. They're nice, and I like his introduction - which was new with the volume - but overall I found the dog stories book a bit better, and the original books better yet. Still, these are warm, enjoyable stories. Don't hesitate to read them if you come across the book, but I don't think it has anything in it that you won't find in his longer works, except the introduction.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Hot Zone, Richard Preston

The Hot Zone
Richard Preston

I don't remember why I ordered this one from Something about it caught my eye and I have a ton of credits built up over there, so I requested it. Then it sat on my TBR shelf for a while, and got picked up a couple of days ago because it looked like some light reading.

And it turned out to be light reading, but not in the usual sense. I think it's written at about a 6th grade level, making it simplistic to read. The sentence structure got a bit repetitive at times, but the information it was interesting - and dark - so I didn't give up on it.

This is the true story of the first outbreak of Ebola in the US in 1989. What? You didn't know we'd had an Ebola outbreak here? You don't remember news stories about people dying in hideous ways? Well, I didn't either, and the story is interesting in various ways. We got very, very lucky in this case. I won't spoil it, though.

The story covers the historical background of Ebola and some other viruses. Some - like Marburg - are related to Ebola, while others - like AIDS - aren't related but came from the same area, and so share some of the same background.

On the whole this book was good, despite the simplistic writing style. It brought home the risks we face as a result of new viruses. Bird Flu is a new one - not mentioned in the book at all - that shows the planet actually is a really big petri dish, and we're just potential carriers for the next nasty disease to come along. One note: If you can't read about animals suffering, this is not a book for you. Monkeys play a major role here, one they did not willingly chose for themselves.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson

Neal Stephenson

This was an interesting read. At a bit over 900 pages in an oversize paperback edition, it was a huge, long read as well. That's part of why you haven't heard much from me lately. Well, that and work.

I enjoyed this book a fair bit, actually. The first third or so might have been a bit slow - it took me a long time to get through it - but the rest went reasonably quickly. This is a geek book, though. It discusses any number of topics in depth, possibly far more depth than you're interested in reading if you're not a geek. Happily I am a geek and it worked well for me.

The plot revolves around the interconnected lives of several people at two different times: during the second world war and now. In particular we follow a marine in WW II, and cryptographer and mathematician working in WW II, and a programmer working now. Others factor in, of course, but those are the three main points of view. The marine winds up doing and seeing all kinds of interesting things during the war, some of which are never adequately explained, the cryptographer is more straight forward in some ways, and the programmer could be any of a number of people I know, at least in terms of background.

I think that - apart from it's sheer size - Cryptonomicon is an approachable book by Stephenson. I've read two others by him Snow Crash and The Diamond Age. For my money, this may be the best of the three. If you're looking for something substantial to read, this might be it. I ought to get credit for 3 or 4 regular books on page count alone.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Programming in Python 3, Mark Summerfield

Programming in Python 3
Mark Summerfield

I didn't finish this and I don't think I ever will.

We're thinking of doing development in Python 3 at work. For those who don't know, Python is an object oriented scripting language that has had a lot of people saying nice things for some time now. And Python 3 is the absolute latest version thereof.

Interestingly, Python isn't necessarily compatible between major versions, and since we hadn't been using much Python before, we decided to go straight to the latest. Given that I didn't know Python at all, I went looking for a book specifically about Python 3, and this was the only one I could find.

What a waste. I'm a reasonably good programmer, and this is a terrible book. It can't be used as a reference, so forget that. His examples and overview stink too, though, which means that newer programmers who need more to get the gist of things are out of luck as well. I was over 100 pages into it, for example, before I ever saw anything that showed how to open and read from or write to files.

At this point I've resorted to the documentation on If you're considering Python, I suggest you do the same and give this book a wide berth.