Archive for May, 2013

The Languages of Pao

I intermittently attend a “science and literature” reading group. The last thing I read for the group was “The Languages of Pao”, by Jack Vance. Actually, we only read the first nine chapters.

I’m not really much of a science fiction fan—I’m not much of a novel-reader in general—and to start with the book was a bit of a grind. But once the story got going I found it quite intriguing: perhaps it had some sort of personal resonance.

Read Full Post »


A couple of things we saw on Vatersay: the desiccated remains of a gannet, on a beach; a memorial for a crashed plane, together with some of the wreckage.

Dead gannet

Wrecked Catalina

Read Full Post »


Call me Ishmael.

Over the past few years I’ve rather lost sight of the joys of programming. In fact, the whole business was causing me to grow grim around the mouth. I therefore accounted it high time to learn a new programming language.

I’ve picked Go.

It’s a bit too early to say where that might lead: so far all I’ve done is to run through the introductory tutorial and attend a meetup in a pub. So far, though, it seems quite jolly.

The last exercise in the tutorial involved implementing a parallelized web crawler. I was a bit surprised that the sample solution involved explicit locking, but rather pleased to discover that the trick I used to avoid this in my solution (namely, having a counter for the number of worker threads) isn’t unique to me. (See, e.g. the crawler in Russ Cox’s introduction to the language.)

Read Full Post »

No fun

I was recently lent a copy of C. S. Lewis’ Surprised by Joy. I read it, but didn’t quite engage. This is no doubt in part because—for personal reasons—I’m a bit dubious about the whole idea of literature and “the life of the mind”, Lewis’ stock-in-trade.

I did, however, like the following, in which Lewis describes his experience of serving in the army during World War I rather favourably (relative to his experience of boarding school):

It was, of course, detestable. But the words “of course” drew the sting. […] Straight tribulation is easier to bear than tribulation which advertises itself as pleasure. The one breeds camaraderie and even (when intense) a kind of love between fellow-sufferers; the other, mutual distrust, cynicism concealed and fretting resentment.

Read Full Post »