Review: Heir to the Empire

Heir to the Empire
Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Last year after watching the latest Star Wars I wanted more. I researched and found that the Thrawn trilogy is awesome and people wished Episode VII mirrored it a bit more.

All the primary characters are there, Chewie, Leia, Lando, Luke, R2D2 and even Ackbar. But what about the enemy — Enter Grand Admiral Thrawn. The only Alien Admiral, blue skinned and master strategist. During the Battle of Endor he was on the other side of the galaxy and so couldn’t help. The Empire is broken, but he maintains the last vestiges, building power and conquering fringe planets.

This takes place about 5 to 10 years, I’m sure it said, but it was fairly recent after Return of the Jedi. Leia is pregnant with twins and training to be a Jedi. They are doing research about the enemy threat and think there is a traitor amongst the Rebel Alliance. You may have heard about a character named Mara Jade, a possible Force user, and she is introduced in this novel.

I listened to the audiobook and it was very enjoyable. Lightsaber noises, R2D2 beep boops and explosion sounds accompanied the varied voices. Definately a delight.

If you like Star Wars, you will likely like this novel. Some things were cheesey, but you get over it quick. I won’t read the next one right away, but its going on the reading list.

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Review: Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character
Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character by Richard Feynman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman is an authobiography on none other than Richard Feynman. If you haven’t heard of him, he is a Physicist, professor, integral member of the Manhattan project, and nobel prize winner. In this book he also professes he is an artist (specifically drawing nudes), drum player, linguist and safecracker.

Feynman has a real knack for writing which made this entire book quite interesting. His childhood fixing radios and solving problems was very cool and a gentlemen proclaiming “He fixes radios by thinkin!” made by chuckle.

He also has some good ideas about teaching. How we teach towards the test instead of understand the significance or application. “I couldn’t see how anyone wcould be educated by this self-propagating system in which people pass exams, and teach others to pass exams, but nobody knows anything.” I have found many times I don’t take the time to understand the underlying principles very often, because the requirement is to know what you need to know for the test. Without a test or exam, it is the exact opposite…

This was also my first book about the manhattan project and Feynman was among Oppenheimer and Von Neumann in the development of nuclear power. Getting a behind the scenes look was very informative and worth the price of admission alone.

I give this book a high 3 stars and think any logically thinking or scientific minded person may really enjoy it.  You can purchase the kindle version from Amazon here.

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Review: How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times

How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times
How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times by Roy Peter Clark
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I saw this on a Lifehacker article and thought it sounded interesting and gave it a quick read. This book showcases tons of different ways to look at short pieces of writing. At the end of every chapter it has essentially homework assignments. I think if someone sticks to those assignments, their writing would definately improve. It utilizes everything from the gettysburg address to twitter jokes to get the point across that short writing is impactful. As well as, the better you are at short writing, the better writer you could become.

I went into it wanting to walk away with some tips I could use in my work. I came across a few, but not nearly as many as I wanted to. I enjoyed the book and likely worth a read. Probably more of a 3.5 stars, but on the lower side, so I give it 3.

Some favorite quotes in the book:
“He was a man too busy to flush toilets”
“A report might point you there, but a story puts you there.”
An interesting short story – “He was allergic. She pretended not to know.” (Camille Esses, ‘Peanut Butter’)
“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”

If this book intrigues you, you can buy the Kindle version from Amazon here.

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Review: The Three-Body Problem

The Three-Body Problem
The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Type: Audiobook narrated by Luke Daniels

The Three-Body Problem is a piece of excellent science fiction. It takes place in China over the past 60 to 80 years. I don’t know enough of Chinese history to discern the difference between fact and fiction, but it seemed more factually based than not.

The book follows several characters, and all are wonderfully narrated by Luke Daniels. I couldn’t spell the names if I tried and they were a bit difficult to make sure whose name matched to which character, but the aide of Luke’s voice helped tremendously. The criminal detective was great and the daughter who leads the researchers was also great. I felt most of the characters were real and had real motives and drew real conclusions.

There are several premises the novels enjoys and intertwines. The main one, and titular, is the Three-Body problem. There exists a video game that is experienced through a VR-haptic feedback system that introduces the three body problem by showcasing it from the perspective of a civilization that observes the effects from the planet’s surface. The 3 bodies refer to 3 stars that are orbiting each other. The problem lies in that there should be a mathematical model that describes their motion, but has not been found yet. From the civilization’s perspective they experience chaotic and stable periods. Or periods where the sun or suns rise and fall regularly and at a safe distance, or a chaotic period where the planet melts or freezes or gets torn asunder.

The other premise was the impact of science on society. Is it worthwhile? Is it for the betterment of mankind? The book was heavy handed in these questions, but it did make you wonder.

The last was a first contact with an alien race. Things came into play such as the light difference, how long an attack fleet could reach each other, what technology could be advanced. The simplified example Liu Cixin uses in the novel is Alien Race A is at our technology level+300 years. Well, by the time the Alien Race sends a fleet and it takes 400 years, our technology may than surpass theirs. Well how do you fight technology? Which led to the next premise near the end and while a slightly spoiler, depicts visualizing a proton from its 11 dimensions and shown in smaller dimensions. That entire sequence was a really good read and worth the price of admission.

I also enjoyed how the ending while ominous, held out hope. This entire novel was great. The audio reading was great. The science seemed semi-plausible and included easy laymen examples. For this I give it a high 4 Stars, resulting in the 5 star I gave it.

If interested in this book, you can purchase the audiobook from Amazon here.
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Review: Seveneves

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is another of Neal Stephenson’s large books. I read Anathem seven years ago, then Reamde, Snowcrash, and going to try and work on Cryptonomicon. When you finish one of these books, you feel a bit smarter and you feel a large sense of achievement. I mean most people barely finish a 300 page book, well this one sits in at 865, so nearly 3 books in one. In a sense this was three books and I will review it as such.

Part 1 starts with the idea that the moon basically blew up into several large pieces. It flashes between Earth and the International Space Station as they figure out that the moon will eventually keep hitting each other and ejecting giant meteors to Earth caushing an extinction level event that would last 4 to 5 thousand years. Earth joins together and tries to save people by sending them to space. This was actually a really cool premise and went into ideas about how to make selections, ratios of genders, how to build onto the ISS, how to send up a bunch of folks, equipment packages and strategies for living for many thousand years. Most of the characters were pretty interesting. Very strong female presence, from a very smart engineer, the Commander of the ISS to the President of the United States. I also enjoyed Doc Dubois, who seemed to be a mix of Neil Degrasse Tyson and Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Part 2 happens when the world begins to be destroyed. This goes into the politics of the ISS versus the swarm, how each could survive. It went into terribly amount of detail about orbital dynamics, but did so in a way that I want to learn how it all works better. Radiation, cannabilism, space piracy and more. Eventually ending in the essential title of this book.

Part 3 was set 5000 years after part 2. It starts with Kath 2 on Earth and her journey back into space. It used some really cool glider technology, some tethers and whips and a sort of space habitat ring. All of the explanations, while some were hard to understand completely without rereading a few times, made it all seem pretty plausible and really cool. I liked how they approached the idea that this culture tackled giant problems instead of making nice to do things slightly better. For example, they build basically a giant manhattan in the sky, while we rerelease a new iphone with only slightly better memory or storage. It then also talks about how each different breed of humans came about and only slightly went into their mindsets or skills. Then it goes into the journey about finding the possible subterranean humans that survived.

Part 1 was awesome. Part 2 was great. Part 3 was pretty good. So overall, I give the book 4 stars. I probably won’t read again, but enjoyed it and might recommend portions to people who might want to know more about a specific topic. At the very least I have some interesting thought experiments to let others think about. The book is largely based around several really cool technologies and then a story that is well put together wrapped around it.

If interested you can purchase Seveneves from Amazon here.
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Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this at the recommendation of a mentor of mine. I was surprised at how quickly I devoured this book. I purchased it on my kindle yesterday and finished before dinner today.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is about a young man, Clay, needing a job and finding himself becoming a bookseller for a mysterious bookstore open 24 hours next to a strip club. It is slowly revealed that it is part of a secret society trying to figure out a cryptic puzzle. It happens slowly and escalates quickly. Set in San Francisco among programmers and techies.

The beginning of the novel had me imaging a not so distant dystopian future about economic collapse, based upon the main characters’ musings. However, it seems to be set in 2010-2014. A few things seemed to have been added just to show the author knew some technical terms, like Hadoop or Ruby programming language. Data visualization montage was also kind of weird, but I could see it working on film.

Most of the characters were superficially intriguing, but didn’t have a lot of depth. It also straddled the audiobook/paperback/ebook benefits and differences with some good quotes. I enjoyed the author comparing listening to an audio book like being absorbed in a cloud of the book like a snug beanie.

This books gives you mystery, intrigue, a tour of google, museum warehouses, secret societies and special effects. The book wraps everything in a nice little bow at the end if you don’t want to read the rest of the series. It is also a quick read and would make for a great summer beach read.

If you think you might like this book, you can buy it from Amazon here.

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Review: Terms of Enlistment

Terms of Enlistment
Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yet another military sci-fi, but actually pretty darn good. Terms of Enlistment takes place in a future where the world has been ravaged by war and we have started colonizing the galaxy. It follows Andrew Grayson, a welfare rat, who gets the lucky draw at his chance to join the military. It follows him as he goes through basic training, joins the Army, fights, gets transferred to the Navy and experiences a first contact.

The whole book, while set in the future is not terrible far off from what we experience now. Especially the Army portion. I would say that everything Andrew experiences isn’t impossible, just improbable. I really liked the basic training section and the Army section quite a bit. The Navy got a little weird quite quick. Things were inputted that made it seem just odd. Like Andrew is the ship system IT manager or equivalent, but vehicles still take 10 minutes to power on. The Navy portion just seemed less thought out than the other sections.

Kloos is definately a Soldier or former Soldier. The reason I say that it is some descriptions were too spot on not to have come from a veteran. “This is the military, and nobody gives shit about what we want. We take what we’re served, and we ask for seconds, and that’s the way it goes.” “Half the things we do in th emiltiary are tedious, boring or dangerous, but at least we’re alive enough to feel boredom or fear.”

I enjoyed the book, but not sure if I want to continue reading the series. I give it a strong 4 stars.

If you think you might like this book, purchase it at Amazon here.

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Analysis of Bitcoin Improvement Proposals for Block Size Increase

I wrote this paper for my Systems Architecture course and decided to do it on a hotly debated topic for bitcoin; whether to increase the block size and if so, what way.  I submitted this paper to the Ledger, Bitcoin’s first peer reviewed journal, but since this topic is changing so quickly they passed for this iteration and requested a redo once the dust settles.

Abstract.  This paper will discuss the issues, hurdles and concerns regarding the maximum one megabyte block size limit currently imposed for Bitcoin and whether an increase to the block size is needed or required. This paper will also analyze both arguments for and against the block size and compare that to each of the current Bitcoin Improvement Proposals (BIP).  It is the conclusion of this paper that the block size should increase as long as the arguments against an increase are addressed and the best BIP(s) that supports this conclusion is an amalgamation of BIP 102 and BIP 103.

Link to Paper

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