More-or-less aimless surfing brought me to an old blog post about math in movies, which mentions Pi and Contact. This mostly coincidental juxtaposition reminded me of the conclusion of the novel behind the latter.

When I first read the book, a zillion years ago, I thought the ending was pretty clever. Then I realized that it was incredibly dumb. It later occurred to me that it might actually be intentionally dumb, and therefore incredibly clever, because Carl Sagan really ought to have known better, but… I don’t know. I think he either genuinely goofed or assumed (probably correctly, in most cases) that his readers wouldn’t notice. Continue reading “Pi”

Mind the Gap

I don’t get it.

I’ve started reading Stephen Donaldson’s Gap cycle, and I don’t get what’s so great about it.

I don’t mind that the characters are dicks. That’s Donaldson’s thing, and I knew it before I started reading.

I do mind his writing style, which I find flat and unengaging, but I guess it’s a matter of taste.

There are two things, however, that really bother me: plot holes and bad science. Continue reading “Mind the Gap”

Dereliction of duty

I started on Lois McMaster Bujold‘s Vorkosigan Saga this weekend. Quite a good read; unlike many other books in the genre—say, David Weber‘s Honorverse—the societies she describes and their politics are not too far-fetched or caricatured, nor is the heroine too much of a Mary Sue.

One thing that did make me groan, though, was that the entire plot of the first four chapters of the first book hinges on no fewer than three starship commanders leaving their ships to lead what Trekkies would call the away team1. In any real military organization, this is the gravest sin a commander can commit and would be grounds for court-martial; heck, that almost happened to John Kerry when he jumped ashore for a few minutes in the heat of combat to save his ship and crew (they ended up giving him a Silver Star instead).

To add insult to injury, a few chapters later, in what is probably the linchpin of the entire novel, one of those very same commanders accuses a superior officer of dereliction of duty for doing the exact same thing.

Oh, and there are several instances of characters using a light pen to control a computer, or fiddling with it while thinking or talking. In the author’s defense, unlike light pens, touch screens weren’t all that common in 1986 :)

1 Most of TOS and a large percentage of TNG is about the Enterprise‘s entire wardroom leaving the ship to lead the away team, then returning sans about half of it.


I just finished Neal Stephenson’s Anathem—highly recommended! Like most of Neal Stephenson’s novels, it is full of little gems. There were none that stood out as much as the passage in The Confusion where Stephenson manages to place his protagonists in a situation where it is completely natural for one of them to say “I certainly did not expect the Spanish Inquisition”, but here are a couple I just had to share.

On why people stopped building particle accelerators:

Erasmas: “I always tend to assume there’s an infinite amount of money out there.”

Arsibalt: “There might as well be, but most of it is spent on pornography, sugar water, and bombs. There is only so much that can be scraped together for particle accelerators.”

On the balance of power between the protagonists’ civilization and their ostensibly extrasolar and probably hostile visitors:

Cord: “Do you need transportation? Tools? Stuff?”

Erasmas: “Our opponent is an alien starship packed with atomic bombs. We have a protractor.”

Cord: “Okay, I’ll go home and see if I can scrounge up a ruler and a piece of string.”

Nilges v. the World

Herbert Schildt is the author of a series of books on computer programming, including about a dozen about C, which are widely considered by the C community to be, to put it bluntly, shit. Two of them, C: A Complete Reference and The Annotated C Standard have been roundly criticized by Peter Seebach and Clive Feather, respectively, and inspired a number of scathing reviews on the Association of C and C++ Users website. Even Steve Summit’s C FAQ includes a warning about The Annotated C Standard.

Recently, a certain Edward Nilges has been waging a highly entertaining crusade against Schildt’s critics on comp.lang.c (C as a Platonic pathology) and comp.lang.c.moderated (Statement on Schildt submitted to wikipedia today)).

The whole point of this entry is to share with you some exquisite gems from the latter thread: Continue reading “Nilges v. the World”