September 23, 2005

Reading List: Lovelock

by Orson Scott Card and Kathryn H. Kidd, 1994.

I strongly dislike a lot of books written by Orson Scott Card. Yet I really like this one, possibly thanks to the influence of the other author. The cover promises that it is the first book of a trilogy, but, over a decade later, the second book has yet to appear. So why do I like it?

The narrator and main character, the eponymous Lovelock, is a genetically engineered cyborg capuchin monkey, the only one of his kind that we meet in the book. He's actually smarter in most ways than the human characters, yet lacks the ability to speak and is viewed as an animal by most people, or at best a tool. Lovelock has capuchin monkey instincts (not to mention conditioned programming), and thus observes (and sarcastically comments on) the behaviour of his adopted family and the other inhabitants of the village of Mayflower from a unique viewpoint.

Mayflower, I should mention, is one village on a starship preparing to depart for an interstellar colonization mission. Its populace are only just beginning to get to know one another, and have just been disconnected from their former lives, yet for all that they are living in what is effectively a small town. The quickly changing dynamics are all observed by Lovelock, and along the way he takes a hard look at his own situation and begins to break out of it.

The novel stands well on its own as an exploration of the consequences of uplifting animals and then treating them as slaves, from the inside, so I can forgive the broken promise of a sequel. Go read it, if you can find a copy.

September 13, 2005

Chemistry Quiz

Pharaohmagnetic just posted a chemistry quiz on Shiny Things Distract Us. So as not to spoil things for you, I'm going to answer the questions in the comments for this post, which has the added benefit of timestamping my answers. So, go answer the quiz yourself, then come back and see my answers.

Update: discussion about the answers here.

September 12, 2005

Unusual Music

Fraxas insisted I share with you some of the odd music groups I listen to. First, The Chromatics, an a cappella group from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (I kid you not!). You can download six of their science songs for free here. Their other music is less focused on science, but contains lyrics that are often funny to scientists. Easily the most professional of the groups in this post.

Les Horribles Cernettes, a more conventional High Energy Rock Band, this time from CERN. Not my favourites (maybe it's the web page), but still neat if you're interested in science songs.

The Mental Notes, of John Hopkins. I point you to them solely because of Nintendley, an a cappella recreation of Mario Brothers music, complete with pause sound effect.

For more video game music, I point you to The Minibosses, who Fraxas had actually heard of. You can dowload a bunch of their songs for free when their site is up.

Oh, and I have to mention that as part of the Ur-Quan Masters project, all 69 of the songs from Star Control 2 are being remade by The Precursors. There are also a lot of fan remixes of these songs. I particularly recommend Potato Juice, by Eric Berge.

Reading List: Wikipedia beat me to them

I'm going to skip any further reviews of books that Wikipedia already has big articles on, since I'd just be repeating most of what they say. These include:I will, however, review The Pragmatic Programmer, since its Wikipedia article is just a stub and I'm just starting a course that covers many of the same topics.

Don't worry, though, this just leaves really interesting books for me to review, such as:
  • Atatürk: The Biography of the founder of Modern Turkey
  • Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
  • Maelstrom
  • Anywhere But Here