Wednesday, 2 July 2014
A good "leg-up" ★★★☆☆
There's a fundamental change occurring on the Internet: the venerable Internet Protocol by which all nodes communicate is being replaced with a new version, IPv6. Silvia Hagen's IPv6 Essentials provides engineers with a good leg-up to understanding the wide-ranging impacts of the new protocol.
That said, there's still a lot of legwork for the reader to do. This is not a gentle tutorial. By necessity it covers many technical areas in significant depth, sometimes bordering on being just a little bit too dry in its presentation. With so much material to cover, I'm sure the author faced a chicken-and-egg dilemma about what to present first. I imagine reading it a second time will be a much easier prospect.
The shining gem is chapter eight, which describes Mobile IPv6. The ability for a device to migrate seamlessly from one network to another without breaking sessions might not seem to be an "essential" part of the core protocol suite, but by reading the details I developed a genuine admiration for how the individual elements of IPv6 work together.
There's a wealth of information in this book. Sometimes the structure irked me, and I would have liked more tabular presentation that can be used for reference. However, it's bang up-to-date — a good thing since many technologies recommended over the past twenty years to aid the transition from IPv4 to IPv6 are no longer recommended, as the author points out.
It's undoubtedly be a book I come back to regularly as the transition gathers momentum.
[Note: I received a free electronic copy of this book through the O'Reilly Reader Review Program.]
Sunday, 22 June 2014
Solas 2014: Common Ground
There's no doubt about it: Solas is currently my favourite festival.
This year's highlights:
- Film: Bridge Rising, a documentary that on the surface is about the Skye bridge tolls, but underneath is a searing critique of PFI
- Music: Jo Mango, Marit and Rona, Stanley Odd, Genesee
- Ideas: Andy Wightman and Lesley Riddoch
- Comedy: Josie Long
- Food: Aye Coffee's ridiculously delicious "luxury muffins"
- Encounters: a long chat with Alastair McIntosh who we'd last seen on Iona
- Friends: too many to enumerate, old and new
Above all that though was the feel of the place. This was a wonderful weekend, and well worth the rather long journey from the far south of England. Roll on next year.
Tuesday, 10 June 2014
Getting Started with Bluetooth Low Energy
An Inspiring Introduction ★★★☆
I've worked a little with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) before, getting the bulk of my information from programming guides.
This book presented an opportunity to go back to basics: to review the protocol stack from top to bottom and patch in the gaps in my knowledge. On that account it succeeded very well.
There are many components to BLE, and a seemingly unending vocabulary to learn (care to distinguish profiles, procedures, protocols, or ATT versus GATT?). "Getting Started with Bluetooth Low Energy" does a tremendous job at guiding the reader through the scenery, pointing out subtleties and traps along the way.
In particular, the tour of the protocol stack presented in Chapter 2 is wonderful, describing everything from the application down to the low-level radio components (and how those lower levels necessarily impact the behaviour of frameworks and apps).
In places I would've liked a little more detail (I'm a sucker for packet traces, and there's scant information about specific profiles built on top of GATT), but the book has inspired me to dig deeper and continue learning about BLE elsewhere. And that's the key point: I was expecting to learn, but in addition to that I was energised. While I previously had in mind one application for which I could use BLE, I now have dozens of ideas.
[Note: I received a free copy of this book through the O'Reilly Reader Review Program.]
Saturday, 31 May 2014
Java 8 Pocket Guide
More "Java" than "Java 8" ★★☆☆☆
A "pocket guide" for something like Java is always going to be a difficult book. It's got to be succinct enough to allow easy access to salient points while simultaneously proving the depth that this complex platform deserves. A book that is perfect for experts is unlikely to appeal to beginners too, and therein lies the problem with the Java 8 Pocket Guide.
I was hoping for a speedy "leg-up" on new features in Java SE 8, having been a long-term Java developer. Sadly this book doesn't quite meet that need. There is Java 8 material here: a tour of the new Date and Time API and a good overview of Lambdas (although only a passing reference to method references, and pretty much nothing about the new collections streams).
But I'd like to see further detail on the library: a list of package names isn't enough! The Concurrency chapter was interesting, but would've been so much more informative with more detailed examples. (And those examples that are present need reviewing further: I'm sure the author meant to invoke thread.start() instead of thread.run() to spawn a new thread.)
If you're coming back to Java from a long time away and need a reminder about the syntax and style of the language, or if you're new to Java and need an aide memoir to keep beside your IDE, the Pocket Guide might be perfect. Experts looking for a reference to what's new in Java SE 8 should look elsewhere.
[Note: I received a free copy of this book through the O'Reilly Reader Review Program.]
Another day, another island; another island with a special place in my heart.
Without Kerrera there would be no Oban. Separating the town from the Sound of Mull, the island acts as a huge natural breakwater, providing this "Gateway to the Isles" with its own ready-made harbour.
I first visited back in 1999. I was a hopeless romantic. I took the ferry from the mainland and embarked on a walk around the island's perimeter. Three quarters of the way round I sat on a rock to eat my sandwiches, the water gently lapping away at my feet.
Here I came up with the idea for the Model Boat Club. Imagine a young couple, hopelessly in love. On a warm summer's day they walk round a small island and stop off for a picnic in the bay. As the food is finished, a model boat comes into view. It rounds the rocks and heads straight towards the couple. Attached to its mast is a neatly wrapped box. Attached to the box is a label bearing the girl's name. She unwraps it to find a jewellery box. Her heart beats faster. Seeing that she's too nervous to look inside, the boy takes it from her, tilts open the lid and asks "the question". Of course she says "yes". The boat slips silently away.
It occurred to me that if you're going to spend a significant sum on an engagement ring, you may as well propose in style. You can draw a direct line between that time moment on the island of Kerrera and an evening on at Tan-y-Bwlch seven years later.
We saw plenty more on Kerrera today including parrots, a peacock and a turkey; Gylen Castle and one of the world's best tea-rooms. But the highlight for me was taking Emma to an unnamed bay on the island's southern tip to tell her the beginnings of the story that ended with me sketching a lych gate on a boulder on a beach south of Aberystwyth.
Friday, 30 May 2014
We've been on the island of Iona this week with friends from Greenbelt.
For the past ten years Emma and I have made the pilgrimage here every two years or so. We'd each visited the island before we met each other too; it was on a call from the village phone box that I discovered my degree result twenty years ago. (I thought I might have scraped a third; I couldn't have been more wrong!)
It's an island we know well, but this year I discovered dozens of places I'd never visited before. Rather than stick to the well worn paths I ventured across the moorland at the heart of the island, climbed hills I'd not previously noticed and more than once sunk deep into a bog I wish I had spotted.
As we headed north on Friday I wondered whether this would be our last visit to Iona for a while. I now know that it will not. We shall return.
Wednesday, 28 May 2014
Cultured people might tell you they visit Staffa to see Fingal's Cave. They'll sit on the basalt columns and listen to Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture as the waves break on the rocks below. Maybe they'll tell you of Queen Victoria's visit to Staffa, or invoke tales of the British Romantics.
It's certainly an atmospheric place, but it's not the reason I like to visit the island.
Ever ready to entertain the crowds, these small birds will fly up to greet anyone willing to sit patiently on the cliff tops for a few minutes. They're beautiful, charming and curious. They bring a smile to everyone's face yet always look terribly sad.
Staffa is well worth the trip. The birds will draw you back.
Friday, 23 May 2014
There are few better places to find yourself just before midnight on a Friday night than platform one at Euston station. Or to be more specific, there are few places better than the lounge car of the Caledonian Sleeper with the love of your life and a wee dram, especially if ahead of you lies a week away from work and breathing space of the Hebridean islands.
Thirty times fifteen
Since 17 January I have walked more than five miles a day, every day.
That was quite straightforward: it just meant taking a slightly more circuitous route between home and the bus stop on my way to and from work.
I was concerned this would be difficult to keep up once I started working from home. I shouldn't have worried.
Since 3 April I have walked more than ten miles a day, every day.
I invested the time I wasn't on the bus in more walking. I found I was "walking to work" daily, even though the office was in the next room. Five miles there, five miles back.
Then as the evenings got lighter after Easter, I went slightly crazy.
Since 23 April I have walked more than fifteen miles a day, every day.
Today this stops. I can't see how I can sustain fifteen miles into the next month, so it's time to dial back the effort.
It's been fun though. I've completed my Neighbourhood Walks, and have a further dozen or so recreational walks to write up. There's a reason to all this walking; I must write about it sometime. But for now, it's good to know that 500 miles in a month isn't a problem and that I can still hold down a job at the same time!
Saturday, 10 May 2014
It's twenty years since I left Imperial. Time to return.
Today the college is running a festival alongside alumni reunion events. The festival was far more interesting than the reunion (I didn't meet anyone I knew).
I came away impressed by the wide range of research going on at Imperial, and with a pang of nostalgia after sitting through an interesting lecture. The one disappointment was how software and maths were hardly represented at all in the programme. Software is at the heart of almost everything in our twenty-first century society, and Imperial is (or at least was) leading the world in the subject. To be under-represented – to be unrepresented – was quite simply wrong.
Looks like I was caught on camera by one of IC's official photographers.