sexta-feira, setembro 26, 2014

"Designing the Internet of Things" by Adrian McEwen, Hakim Cassimally

Designing the Internet of Things - Adrian McEwen, Hakim Cassimally
Let me start this review with a question: “is using a mobile device the perfect way to create an Internet of Things appliance?” (Answer at the end of this review).

When The Internet of Things theme first started to come up in the news, the first thing I thought was, I want to know what my microwave has to say to my flip-flops... what’s at stake here is something entirely different. I’m more concerned about the so-called legitimate application of the technology. Unfortunately there are many legitimate applications that can be used with illegitimate intentions in mind.

I’ve been working in IT for a long time. What I usually see is that those who are most adamant about how wonderful it will be when every device is internet connected are the same people who sell the HW that would be used for the connections. What I see all the time is that the actual value of the implementation is not anything remotely close to what is promised, and that when the novelty wears off, or a system gets hacked, the internet feature will be switched off. Then it will just be more electronic waste to fill up our homes.

Another catch is that the reliability of the internet connected device will be probably poor and then the microwave will stop working. Consequence: the people who paid will not be happy. And they’ll also not be happy about having to repair the 700 euro freezer when its electronic package fails. That’s a given. On top of that, to lower the cost of the embedded devices, the interfaces will be made as cheaply as possible. I don’t see how this can be addressed satisfactorily. Food for thought.

As far as I’m concerned the key factor in terms of Internet of Things adoption relies on Security. In the past, technology has lagged on issues such as networking. Forthe Internet of Things to really take off we need everything to be cutting edge. Vendors are beginning to connect everything, from remote conditioning to phone apps. It goes without saying that with every new connection, there is a possible new entry point security-wise. If the issue is not addressed properly, all hell will break loose then…

Getting back to the book at hand, the authors give us a very thorough analysis of the field. Starting with the Arduino, and the Raspberry Pi, McEwen and Cassimally also established a very interesting comparison between the two industry-wise. I’m more of a Raspberry Pi fan, because the latter is really a computer that can run a real operating system, and communicate with keyboard and mouse, talk to the internet, and drive a TV/monitor with high-resolution graphics. The Arduino instead has a fraction of the raw processing power, memory, and storage required for it to run a modern operating system. Nevertheless it doesn’t make sense to say that one is better than the other. It all depends on what we want to use it for. Although the specifications of the Raspberry pi are in general better than even the top Arduino, we can’t judge them as strictly better without considering what the devices are for. I’ve built a few home projects using the Raspberry Pi, and I’m very partial to it, but that’s just me (the Arduino has a very specific way to do things, whereas the Raspberry Pi presents us with a clean canvas, giving us choices for operating systems and programming languages; that’s why I prefer the Raspberry Pi over the Arduino).

I’d have liked to have seen in the book a technical discussion in terms of the specific protocols that we need to implement the Internet of Things (eg, MQTT - a protocol for collecting device data and communicating it to servers, XMPP - a protocol best for connecting devices to people, a special case of the D2S pattern, since people are connected to the servers, DDS - a fast bus for integrating intelligent machines, and AMQP - a queuing system designed to connect servers to each other). It’d have given a more technical perspective of what lies ahead (vide my review of the Adam Greenfield book to understand the work we still have ahead of us to get there).

I strongly believe I’ll be able to see, in my lifetime, the full power of The Internet of Things. As stated in the book at hand:

“I can’t understand why teddy bears did not have wifi before. A bear without wifi is barely alive, a semi-bear”.

Answer: No. The temptation is always to fall back on the device’s capabilities as a phone, at which point I’m really just creating an “app” for the device rather than a new “thing”. For that we need embedded systems (ArduinosRaspberry PIs and the likes).

domingo, setembro 21, 2014

One Day, One Choir: "Prayer for World Peace: Closing" - 21.09.2014

(Armando Calado closing the prayer-concert)


One Day, One Choir: "Prayer for World Peace: 13 - A Paz esteja connosco" - 21.09.2014

(13 - A Paz esteja connosco)

One Day, One Choir: "Prayer for World Peace: 12 - Deixo-vos a paz - J. Martins" - 21.09.2014

(12 - Deixo-vos a paz - J. Martins)

One Day, One Choir: "Prayer for World Peace: 11 - Ao amor que te arrasta irei contigo" - 21.09.2014

(my wife: first row, second from the left)

(11 - Ao amor que te arrasta irei contigo)

One Day, One Choir: "Prayer for World Peace: 10 - Pai Nosso - Pe Mário Silva" - 21.09.2014

(Actor Ricardo Carroço and piano professor Leonor Cadete)

(10 - Pai Nosso - Pe Mário Silva)

One Day, One Choir: "Prayer for World Peace: 09 - O povo de Deus Te aclama" - 21.09.2014

( 09 - O povo de Deus Te aclama)

One Day, One Choir: "Prayer for World Peace: 08 - Laudate Dominum" - 21.09.2014

( 08 - Laudate Dominum)

One Day, One Choir: "Prayer for World Peace: 07 - Exulta de Alegria - Abadia de Chevetgne" - 21.09.2014

(Armando Calado)

(07 - Exulta de Alegria - Abadia de Chevetgne)

One Day, One Choir: "Prayer for World Peace: 06 - Anima Christi" - 21.09.2014

(on the far left my pregnant wife talking to Armando Calado)

( 06 - Anima Christi)

One Day, One Choir: "Prayer for World Peace: 05 - Nada de Turbe" - 21.09.2014

(wearing a white shirt, conductor/tenor Armando Calado)

(05 - Nada de Turbe)

One Day, One Choir: "Prayer for World Peace: 04 - Permanece Junto de Mim" - 21.09.2014

(Actor Ricardo Carriço signing autographs at the end of the prayer-concert)

One Day, One Choir: "Prayer for World Peace: De Noite" - 21.09.2014

(On both pictures and on the left, the cathedral's chief organist; next to him, piano professor Leonor Cadete)

(03. De Noite)

One Day, One Choir: "Prayer for World Peace: 02. Gesto de Paz, Faz a Paz" - 21.09.2014

(02. Gesto de Paz, Faz a Paz)

First piece

One Day, One Choir: "Prayer for World Peace: Veni Creator Spiritus" - 21.09.2014

We're, my wife and I, great melomaniacs of classical music. We also belong to a choir, and we celebrate classical music everywhere we go. This was another chance to put this into practice.

In Portugal there was also an initiative to accompany this world-wide event taking place on this day. In Lisbon it took place in our most ancient 12th century medieval church: "Sé de Lisboa" (Patriarchal Cathedral of St. Mary Major)

The conductor and tenor was Armando Calado, with the text narration by Portuguese actor Ricardo Carriço.

All the major Lisbon Choirs were invited to participate. Our own choir "N.S. do Amparo", was well represented as well.

The first music piece sung was "Veni Creator Spiritus" (in the background Carriço's voice; my wife's contralto voice is also quite audible):

sábado, setembro 20, 2014

Lisbon Maker Faire - 19th/20th/21st of November 2014

At last in Lisbon! Once in a lifetime oportunity (Codebits is a different thing altogether) to see what the Portuguese Makers are making...

To get the ball rolling I bought a few tidbits (eg, Raspberry Pi B+ with a 10% discount) at the inMotion website:

Robosavy (my own Robot it's already underway; I just need time and a few more parts):

And then a Tron-like bike ride:

And then a very interesting presentation regarding the theme of 3D Printing by the Portuguese Company BeeVeryCreative (Artur Lourenço speaking on the next photo...he teamed up with BeeVeryCreative in order to pool resources, because they were both developing the same product):

Dream Red (also known as the bubbly car...Those of you who were there know what I'm talking

BTT-Adaptated-bike (good idea for my own bike):

Coffee making nachine (must-have!):

And the cherry on top of the cake (I must have one these wonderful EV3),,,

I still prefer Codebits. This one seemed too industrialezed for my taste...

sexta-feira, setembro 19, 2014

"The Folding Knife" by K.J. Parker

The Folding Knife - K.J. Parker

Open letter to K.J. Parker:

Parker, are you male or female? Are you human or alien? Does anyone really care? I surely don’t!

K.J. Parker, you son/daughter of a gun! I’ve been following your career since the beginning, and I still know nothing more of you than your fiction reveals. Though I know that fictional self-revelation can be considerable, I also know that it’s frequently misinterpreted by those of us who like to indulge in what I like to call “Close Reading”.  If I were to invite you for a cup of tea or a beer, I’d expect to meet a very disgruntled, sarcastic and savvy aesthete, prone to odd-word connections, with a taste not only for world-building, but also for the creation of real-world characters. Sometimes there’s a misstep, and I get quite mad at you (vide “Sharps”).

When you are in top form you’re quite unsurpassed in the SF landscape of today (in a recent review, I’ve just mentioned you as one of the most interesting new SF writers coming out of the woodwork in the last two decades. But maybe after that cup of tea or beer, I‘d have met someone else. Probably.

You have the ability to get into my reading brain and extract the stuff of extremely private thoughts.

Your ability to give us a glimpse of Basso’s internal processes is also quite masterly. Gene Wolfe’s stream-of-consciousness comes to mind (eg, in the “Book of the New Sun”, Hethor the sailor, who speaks in stream-of-consciousness babble). In less capable hands this could have proved infuriatingly impenetrable, but your control of inner voice is utterly assured.

Your prose style gets once again top marks. Kudos to you as a wordsmith. What made you chose the reports of Basso’s logistical battles instead of the reports from the front in the war? It was quite clever of you to understand that was where the entire novel was anchored.

Those not familiar with your style are quite unlikely and understandably to be happy with the novel’s ending. No worries there. We get what we get. We have to get into your narrative flow, which is quite appealing.

The only “flaw” in this novel (if I can call it that) was that I wanted to know the reasons for Basso's sister's hatred of him, but unfortunately you thought they should be under-explored. Hence I don't have any POV chapters from her. Nasty of you.

To sum-up this uncalled-for elegy, I don’t a give a shit, to put it nicely, about who you are. What you’re is one hell of a Writer. Just keep writing the way you have until now (even with some missteps along the way), and don’t sell yourself to the “other side”, SF-wise...

SF with this depth of intelligence is a rarity.

I’m sure you created a new form of SF.

Note to the general reader: “Academic Exercises”, K.J. Parker’s first anthology came out in July 2014 (it’s on my TBR Pile; I’m saving it for the end of the year… I always like to end every year on a high note). If you think Parker in the long form is superb, just read her short form. It’ll blow your mind wide open. When Parker is in top form, she/he is something to behold. Her/His prose style is dense, her/his imagery genuinely sound and often unique. Read her/him (every time I write about K.J. Parker it all gets very confusing; the use of the indirect and direct personal pronouns is an absolute chore!).

NB: SF = Speculative Fiction

sábado, setembro 13, 2014

"The God's Particle: A Palette of Particles" by Jeremy Bernstein

A Palette of Particles - Jeremy Bernstein
Where and when does the story in a Science Book happen? That’s substantiated by the background. Every story has at least one. Some have many, like the ones in this book: every particle in this tale has a past, a present and a future.

There's a world of mystery in physics these days as well, and it was fun reading about that mystery described with words that invite individual exploration. Besides being inscrutable (for the layman or -woman), physics is also beautiful.

The search for the God’s Particle, ie,the Higg’s Boson, has been one of my main interests physics-wise. It makes me toggle between the tiny and the infinite, between eternity and the real time of the recent past. 

“A Palette of Particles” allows us to compare with what Ernest Rutherford and his fellow merry men were able to do only on tabletops with a very small number of people involved, and, by contrast, with what the physicists nowadays need to do to search for the God’s Particle. It involves detectors the size of a building and thousands of people!

The God’s Particle was introduced by Peter Higgs in a form of electrodynamics that began with a massless photon and some bosons that couple to each other in a special way and to the photon. Electrodynamics has a strange property, which is an apparent symmetry that breaks spontaneously. If it were not broken, the photon would remain massless. But with this breaking, something wonderful (hence the name “God’s Particle”) then happens, ie, the massless photon grows a mass, and Electrodynamics gets a massive boson, which is called the Higgs Boson universally (Peter Higgs got the Nobel Prize in 2013 for his prediction in the 60’s). This is just a very basic explanation. You’ve got to see the mathematics to believe it (incidentally in Weinberg’s electroweak theory we begin with also a symmetric setup in which is both the photons and the weak mesons have no mass. The symmetry is also spontaneously broken and the same miracle happens, ie, the weak mesons get a mass and the photon doesn’t. God must be at work here surely…).

Who needs SF when reality is better than fiction…?

Jeremy Bernstein was able to give us a very thorough high-level grasp of what the particle jungle is nowadays. He also covered the material in a very down-to-earth manner. The graphics that accompany the book are also extremely valuable. We still need the math to understand it, but they surely help us understand what is going on in the field of Particle Physics.

Footnote: A friend of mine working in the physics field has always been very critical of the String Theory (it’s very difficult to build contraptions to test it). As Einstein would say: “Da könnt’ mir halt der lieber Gott Leid tun, die Theorie simmt doch”… (Then I’d have been sorry for the dear God. The theory is right”).

NB: SF = Speculative Fiction.

sábado, setembro 06, 2014

"Personal" by Lee Child

Personal - Lee Child
I’ve one rule when it comes to reading. Never read thrillers, but as always I ended up reading the latest Jack Reacher…

Always coming back to the Jack Reacher novels reminds me why thrillers are such an engaging reading experience (maybe that’s why I keep coming back for more, Jack-Reacher-wise):

  1. The visceral pull of the plots;
  2. The lure of identification with the action hero;
  3. They persuade us that however terrible the situation, some sort of fight or flight is always available to us;
  4. Reacher’s intellectual faculties are always masterclass and they never interfere with him throwing a punch (I’m always flabbergasted by his ability to perform complex arithmetic operations while preparing to engage with the bad guys…);
  5. He gets mixed up with other people’s business because he has none of his own;
  6. It’s always a delight to hide inside the heroe's perspective for the ride;
  7. He comes out nothingness (roaming the good USofA until the action bumps into him);
  8. (feel free to add your own)  

All the Lee’s books are essentially the same book, but I've read 18 (now 19) so call me a fan. One of the books a few years ago did have a cliff-hanger ending when it appeared he may not have survived. But why should he not keep on? Going back to Sherlock Holmes but more pronounced in recent years, characters have outlasted their authors (e.g. Robert B. Parker’s Spenser). Lee has always acknowledged his debt to John D. Mcdonald and McGee but also mentions the traditions of knights errant and Ronins.

What about the 19th? It's still nonsense as the previous ones (we even have a Giantà la James Bond posing as the bad guy). When reading a Jack Reacher I always try not to over think it. Lee’s books are every bit as unimportant as Jack Reacher's toothbrushes and shirts. This one tops it all up. One’s Suspension of Disbeliefmust be at its best this time… Silliness is more pronounced than in the previous books, and I started picking it apart (which I won’t do here, because I don’t want to ruin your potential reading of the book).

What kept me racing from one chapter to the next? Was it because I was on tenterhooks? Was it because I was involved with the narrative? No to all the questions above. There's “something” about Child's prose that makes you rush through it to the next chapter. What happens later on? I usually put the book in the pile for the charity store because I know I’m not reading it again. 

terça-feira, setembro 02, 2014

"Ancillary Justice" by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Justice - Ann Leckie
Warning: Rant follows.

Knowledgeable responses to SF require a certain apprenticeship; it’s impossible to approach SF criticism without a certain familiarity with many SF texts. Just as a wonderfully articulate casual reader cannot simply pick up “The Divine Comedy” or “The Name of the Rose” and begin a nuanced enjoyment of both books, a SF newbie must work her or his way into the specialized narrative structures and vocabulary of SF. The gender treatment belongs to the category.

Lecki’s so-called inventive approach to the treatment of gender is simply awful. I found myself having a hard time trying to follow the personal pronouns, eg, the character of Seivarden, who is referred to as both he and she in the novel: In some parts of the novel personal pronouns can't be relied on convey to whom the narrator is referring. The text can be utterly confusing at times, and Leckie took the easy way out. When things got too complicated, personal-pronouns-wise, in many parts of the novel Leckie defaults to “she” to avoid making things too damn complicated.

If one wants to read a wonderful treatment of the gender “issue” in SF (or elsewhere), read Ursula K. Le Guin. Almost all of Le Guin’s novels have at their core the gender concern. In Le Guin’s take she basically wants to call attention to those characteristics which are associated with one’s sexual identity but which are learned rather than genetically caused. See for instance her approach to The Gethenians in “The Left Hand of Darkness”. The Gethenians don’t have gender characteristics, having instead sexual potency and identity that only lasts for a month (during a period called Kemmer). During this period a person becomes a sexually male or female, with no predisposition toward either (vide Le Guin’s essay in terms of gender experimentation in SF). Le Guin’s has always been able to fully explore this. Lecki’s approach is cartoonish because she is not able to give Seivarden the samemanwoman characteristic that Estraven (in “The Left Hand of Darkness”) has. Instead what we have is a big narrative mess.
It’s a sorry state of affairs when a novel like this one is able to win the Arthur C. Clarke award. It’s detrimental to SF that this novel is getting all the praise that it seems to be getting. If this is the best SF can do at the moment, we’re in deep shit, SF-wise. This is one of reasons I’ve almost altogether stopped reading SF… still in rant mode, it’s quite incomprehensible how a novel like The Adjacent” by Cristopher Priest does not get any more notoriety. It’s a far superior SF specimen.

Let’s summarize the “problems” with Lecki’s novel:

  1. The plot is boring as hell;
  2. The characters are as interesting as an inflexible wooden board (on a side note, if the book’s characters are not interesting, then it’s certainly a complete waste of my time);
  3. The exploration of gender is cartoonish to the extreme, ie, it didn’t add anything to the story;
  4. Nothing of interest was explored in any depth:
    • Gender (it felt gimmicky);
    • The religious implications of AI;
    • The galactic-spanning theocratic empire;
    • The politics of an empire ripping apart at its seams;
    • The impact of a xenophobic society expanding through a galaxy;
    • There's not enough science behind the fiction

So. What’s the point? I’ve read it because I was curious to know why “The Adjacent” didn’t won the Arthur C. Clarke. After reading “Ancillary Justice” I still fail to understand the rationale. Why all the hype, the buzz, the talk about this book? I think it’s another successful case of a devious book publishing strategy. Or maybe Lecki has a better marketing machine than Priest.

Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler, Joanna Russ, Pamela Sargent have explored gender in much more shocking, and more meaningful ways a long time ago.
Bottom-line: Should it be read? Absolutely. I’ve been reading SF for close to 40 years. In today’s SF, and with a few exceptions (eg, Greg Egan, Christopher Priest, Maureen F. McHugh, Neal Stephenson, William Gibson, Susanna Clarke, Joe Abercrombie, K.J. Parker, Ted Chiang, etc), SF as genre has become stagnant. For me SF (the written kind) is still the best medium best suited to explore what’s possible, what should and should not be, what our own expectations say about us and everything in-between and under the sun. The gender treatment in this novel is unnecessary, is distracting, and contributes nothing to the story. It all felt like a huge pothole.

This state-of-affairs both depresses me and pisses me off in equal measure.

NB: SF = Speculative Fiction.