Review of 2008: Favourite Posts

As promised a couple of days ago, here are my favourite posts from this year. I’ve chosen one from each month and they are listed chronologically.

Colossal Caving Adventure
A piece about my experiences trying out “adventure caving” in Cheddar Gorge. I really didn’t enjoy it very much.

This Film is Not Yet Rated
I enjoyed the film “This Film is Not Yet Rated”, but I thought that some of the participants were a bit naive and that it missed the real problem with the US cinema rating system.

Nadine Dorries is Confused Again
Nadine Dorries is always a ripe seam to mine for nonsense. In March she presented as fact a well-known (and completely debunked) story about a foetus interacting with a surgeon during an operation.

Apple Shopping
Probably my favourite post of the year. In this entry I described exactly why I dislike shopping in the Apple Shop so much.

Pointless Battles for Geeks
Explaining why geeks shouldn’t waste time complaining when people top-post or sent HTML mail. Yes, it’s annoying; yes, it’s stupid. But it’s the way that most people expect email to work. Complaining is just a waste of time and energy.

Food Chain
A description of our cat’s attempts to work out his position in the local food chain. I think he’s worked it out now and he continues to bring us dead mice and (occasionally) pigeons. Not sure if he’s given up on rats or whether he’s killed all the local population.

James Cross, Lifeboatman
Something a bit more personal than is usual for this blog. This was a post about my great, great grandfather, James Cross, who drowned whilst involved in a rescue on the Clacton Life Boat. This post was indicative of my revived interest in my family history.

Why Corporates Hate Perl
Only a small entry on this blog, but it was a pointer to a longer article on my O’Reilly blog. It seems that this piece struck a chord with a lot of people. It generated the most email of everything that I’ve written this year.

Their Own Worst Enemy
A post about why the GNU project’s insistance on staying away from de-facto standards like Flash video means that most people won’t see their videos. Over at the Digital Citizen, J.B. Nicholson-Owens objected quite strongly to my post (but he didn’t bother to actually tell me about his response – I just found it through Google’s blogsearch).

Non-Magic Bus
A description of the astonishing (and very heartening) success of the Atheist Bus Campaign.

“Selling” Photos
I was trying to think through the best way to license the photos which I upload to Flickr in order to maximise the exposure they get but without allowing just anyone to use them without paying me.

Twitter and Passwords
I’ve wirtten a number ot articles over the last few years about the cavalier approach that most people have towards their passwords. In this post, I tried to explain exactly why it’s a bad idea to give your password to third-party Twitter utilities like Twitterfeed.

There you have it. The best of davblog for 2008, in my opinion. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this blog over the last year and I hope you continue to read it next year.

Happy New Year everyone.


Review of 2008: Most Popular Posts

This blog has been running for over six years and I’ve never done a review of the year before – so this is all very experimental. Today I’m going to list the ten most popular entries from this year (as measured by number of views) and tomorrow I’ll list my ten favourite entries.

So here are the ten most read entries. If nothing else, the list certainly demonstrates how much of my traffic is driven by getting high placings in Google.

1/ The BBC’s Merlin
My rant about the BBC’s terrible recent new version of the Arthurian Legend is incredibly high on Google. The entry was only published in September but but it has almost twice the number of hits of the next entry.

2/ Pub Quiz
3/ Derren Brown – The System
A couple of entries about Derren Brown took second and third places. In February I wrote about his TV programme, The System, and in April I wrote a description of a night I spent being an unwitting part of another Derren Brown show.

4/ Quantum of Solace
In January, the title of the new James Bond film was announced and I used that as an excuse to write about my dislike of Bond films and my opinion that the they’d be better if they followed the books more closely. It picked up a lot of Googlejuice early on but, of course, now the film is out it has been pushed out by sites with far bigger SEO budgets.

5/ Is Sarah Palin a Wiccan?
A Guardian office joke gets turned into a blog post. I can understand why it’s the first Google result for phrases like “sarah palin wiccan” (there aren’t very many sites containing that phrase), but what puzzles me is why so many people a searching for the phrase.

6/ Baby Bible Bashers
Something a bit more serious (at last). Channel 4 broadcast a documentary about some children whose parents had encouraged them to get involved with christianity at an obscenely young age. It was a deeply troubling programme.

7/ Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
A post about the massively backfiring publicity campaign for the creationist propaganda film. I’ve seen the film since and keep meaning to write about it – but it’s hard to find the right words.

8/ Proof of Residence
A pretty standard rant about my local council preventing me from doing something pretty simple.

9/ Recording TV Revisited
A follow-up to a 2005 post talking about the combination of technologies that we use in my house to ensure that we never miss a TV programme that we want to watch.

10/ Combining Google Accounts
A post which made it into the top 10 despite only being published in November. If I had treid to combine my Google accounts earlier in the year, this post would almost certainly have been much higher.

So those are the posts that you’ve been reading over the last year. Thanks for showing some interest in my witterings. Tomorrow I’ll list the ten articles that I like the most (and which, for some reason, weren’t popular enough to make this list).


Happy Elections

Four years ago I drew a comparison between the US Presidential Election result and the 1992 British General Election. This year the comparison seems even more apt. The footage we saw of the celebrations in Chicago and elsewhere in the US as Obama was confirmed as the winner brought back memories of how we all felt in the UK on the night of May 1st 1997.

I just hope that Barack Obama doesn’t turn into Tony Blair.


Books I Read in March 2008

Another month, another list of books read. I know how much you all love reading these lists.

number9dream – David Mitchell
I started this at the end of February. And, surprisingly, found it all a bit of a struggle. I say “surprisingly” because I’ve loved the previous two David Mitchell books that I’ve read – Cloud Atlas and Black Swan Green. This (earlier) novel just didn’t seem to work as well for me. I didn’t find the story engaging and the characters all seemed a bit one-dimensional.

Managing Software Development with Trac and Subversion – David J Murphy
Like January’s Catalyst, this is a book that I was sent to review by the publishers, so a longer review will appear elsewhere in the next couple of weeks. All I’ll say now is that it’s a completely pointless book and you would be wasting your time reading it.

Unweaving the Rainbow – Richard Dawkins
It’s only in the last three or four years that I’ve started reading books by Richard Dawkins. I’ve read the most recent ones and now I’m gradually going back through the older ones. Unweaving the Rainbow addresses the idea that by studying the universe in depth we remove the mystery and wonder. Unsurprisingly, Dawkins thinks this is complete nonsense and in the book he presents a compelling case for the opposite point of view – that an understanding of science increases the feeling of wonder he gets when contemplating the universe. This would be a great introduction to the works of Richard Dawkins as it doesn’t concentrate on evolutionary biology the way that some of his other books do.

The Man in the High Castle – Philip K. Dick
This was this month’s book club book. I read a lot of Philip K Dick twenty or thirty years ago, but for some reason I didn’t get round to this one. Which is a bit strange given that it’s generally considered his masterpiece. Perhaps the “future history” aspect wasn’t science fictiony enough for my younger self. Anyway, I’m glad that I’ve now corrected this omission as this is one of the best books I’ve read for a long time. It’s one of those books that is deceptively easy to read, but which you find yourself thinking about for some time after finishing it. Dick obviously worked out the history of his new future meticulously and I’m pretty sure it’s the kind of novel which will be well worth rereading.

The Steep Approach to Garbadale – Iain Banks
I’ve been a big fan of Iain Banks (not so much Iain M Banks) for many years. But, to be honest, his last few books have been a bit disappointing. Things like Whit, The Business and A Song of Stone seemed a little formulaic to me (even though they were all very different to each other). His last novel, Dead Air, was a lot better and with this novel I think he has returned completely to form. This reads a bit like a cross between The Business and The Crow Road and is exactly the kind of novel that I enjoy reading. If I had to make one criticism, it would be that the ending was a little too neat, but after almost four hundred pages of great writing I can forgive him that.


Books I Read in February 2008

Fewer books this month. It’s a shorter month, of course, but really I got a bit bogged down in a couple of books. I’m still reading David Mitchell’s number9dream, but I’ll finish it in a couple of days so it will be included in next month’s list.

Oh, and I read a few X-Men comic collections. But I’m not going to include those.

Beautiful Code – Andy Oram & Greg Wilson (editors)
I’m told that a good programmer learns a new language every year. If that’s true, then I haven’t been a particularly good programmer for the last few years as I’ve largely stuck with my core languages. I picked up this book as an attempt to address that. The book contains articles by a number of well-known programmers writing about what they find beautiful in their favourite programming languages. It is a useful overview of the programming languages that are in current use (there was even an article about FORTRAN – some people still use it). I now have a list of two or three languages that I want to learn more about (Erlang is top of that list) but, more interestingly, it has also reinforced some ideas that I had about languages that I don’t want to learn. Michael Feathers talks about the way that the FIT framework breaks all the rules of good Java design and describes code which is pretty much how I would have designed it. Charles Petzold talks about writing code that generates other code in C# and makes me very glad that I use a dynamic language.

A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini
This is this month’s book club book. But it’s something that I would probably have picked up myself eventually. A couple of years ago I was interested in reading Hosseini’s first novel, The Kite Runner, but I never got round to it. Having read this one, I don’t think I’ll bother now. The novel is about the plight of women in Afghanistan under the Taliban. I think that it uses that obviously shocking background to give it emotional impact – which is a bit lazy on the part of the author. This background is really the only thing that the book has going for it. The characters are all very one-dimensional and the plotting is very simplistic (“oh no, the love of my life is dead”, time passes, “oh, wait, no he isn’t”) and the ending is as contrived as anything I’ve read. The book is getting a lot of publicity at the moment on the back of the Kite Runner film, but I really don’t think it’s good enough to justify the hype.

Rip It Up and Start Again – Simon Reynolds
Subtitled “Postpunk, 1978-1984″, this is a book about one of my favourite periods of popular (and not so popular) music. Postpunk was never really a single movement. It was a number of different styles all of which built on various aspects of punk rock movement. The diversity of postpunk can be seen from the range of bands covered in this book – it starts with Public Image Limited and ends with Frankie Goes to Hollywood. If you were buying slightly alternative music at the time covered by this book, or you appreciate the music of this period, then I strongly recommend reading it. One warning though – it’ll almost certainly have a detrimental effect on your bank account as you are reminded of music that you have forgotten and you no longer have copies of.


Books I Read in January 2008

The first of a (hopefully) monthly series. I say “hopefully” because I’ve tried do to things like this before. It never works.

Here are the books I read last month:

Atonement – Ian McEwan
I really don’t know why I’ve only just read it. I bought it when it was first published and even started reading it. But for some reason I put it down and didn’t pick it up again for about five years. I remembered that I hadn’t read it when the film was released last year and wanted to read the book before seeing the film. But I couldn’t find it then. It turned up whilst I was looking for something completely different over christmas, so I decided to finally read it.

I love Ian McEwan books. This one isn’t quite up to the standard of Enduring Love or The Child in Time, but it’s thoroughly enjoyable. And the basic plot device is really clever. If you’ve seen the film, then you’ll know the story. The film is a pretty accurate retelling of the novel. Still worth reading though as books are always better than films. Ok, maybe not absolutely always, but certainly when the book is as literary as McEwan’s are.

The Big Picture – Douglas Kennedy
I’ve joined a book group at work. So you’ll see me reading books that you wouldn’t normally associate with me. This is the first.

I really didn’t like this at all. The initial set-up introduced a number of stereotypical characters that I had no interest in. At times it just read like a shopping list of expensive photographic equipment. Then a Big Thing happens and the book changes direction. It doesn’t get any better though. The protagonist goes off and has a big adventure and meets a number of uninteresting people on the way. The book is purely plot-driven and the plot relies on some ridiculous coincidences. The best that can be said of it is that it’s a very easy read. I only wasted four or five hours reading it.

This is obviously a minority opinion though. The Amazon reviews are unremittingly positive. I expect they’re written by idiots. I recommend avoiding this book at all costs.

On Chesil Beach – Ian McEwan
Having taken years to read Atonement, I decided to get in really early with McEwan’s new novel. Or, more accurately, novella. It’s very short. The story is a interesting study of sexual innocence in the early 1960s and it’s full of McEwan’s trademark descriptive detail. Like Atonement it’s not one of his best, but it’s well worth a read.

The Ladies of Grade Adieu – Susanna Clarke
This is going to be a love it or hate it book. If you loved Clarke’s previous book, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, (as I did) then you’ll love this one too. It’s really just more of the same. Except that in this case you get a series of short stories instead of a really long novel. All of the stories are set in the same world as Strange and Norrell. Actually, there’s one exception – a story that is set in same universe as Neil Gaiman’s Stardust. But to be honest, there’s not much to differentiate Clarke’s universe from Gaiman’s. If you like the idea of an alternative history where fairies and wizards exist in England at the start of the nineteenth century, there’s a good chance that you’ll enjoy this book. If not, then you should probably avoid it completely.

Catalyst – Jonathan Rockway
Something a bit different to finish. This is a technical book about Catalyst, a framework for building web sites in Perl. This was a review copy, so I’ll be writing a full review which I’ll publish elsewhere on this site. It’ll be there soon. Honest.