OpenID works!

I've always been intrigued by OpenID, while simultaneously being repulsed by the identifiers that I thought users were forced to adopt. Seeing one too many strings like:

tossed around made me think I'd have to adopt a username like that, which obviously is never going to wash, for aesthetic and typability reasons alone.

Fortunately Ned Batchelder's rant, leading me to Simon 'Zeppelin' Willison's demystifying blog post, taught me all about how to use your own URL as your OpenID equivalent of a username, by inserting some HTML onto your web page. So now I've managed to jump through the sign-up hoops required to get me one of those globally-unique OpenID username identifiers for myself:

There. That isn't too painful, is it? Since I got set up, it has proven lovely to use. Get on board!

Here Comes Everybody

Front Cover

by Clay Shirky, 2008.

Shirky has thrown a few beautiful and insightful essays over the wall the last few months. He is the guy who penned the 'Gin, Television and Social Surplus' piece a while back. It's a joy to find that this book is up to the same standard.

In it, he explains how the social changes enabled by recent technology are profoundly and permanently altering the ways in which human beings interact, form groups, and get things done.

This is making activities and projects possible which could never have been dreamed of even ten years ago, and is similarly displacing many established institutions. The greatest effects of this change will be seen when the technology has progressed to the point of invisibility, and the current upheavals in the music and newspaper industries are just the leading edge of the wave.

It's a change no less significant than the invention of the printing press, in terms of its ability to transform societal institutions. We do indeed live in interesting times.

Rating 10/10 - everyone should read it.

Stretching pyglet's Wings

I'm excited to be giving a talk at PyCon UK next weekend about creating OpenGL programs in Python, using the graphics and games library pyglet. I'm still working feverishly on the presentation. This post is to be a permanent URL for the content, downloadable demos and YOUR comments, once PyCon is over.

See y'all there.

Update v1.0: The presentation slides are online, as is the demo source code.

Update v1.1: Fixed a bug using batches of vertex lists. (they don't work with triangle fans, and they need a duplicated first and last vertex in each list to delineate primitives.) Rendering speed is still awful using graphics.draw, vertex_lists and batches though. I'm chasing that up next.

Update v1.2: Fixed some of the performance problems, demo 6's batches of vertex lists are now the fastest way to render, which is the expected result. Still curious why calls to are slower than though.

Update v1.3: Added demo 9 which creates a maze with ghosts wandering within it. The entire maze is rendered in a single batch.draw() call. Innumerable other improvements throughout.

Balloon Therapy

by Ivan Idso, 2007.

A disclaimer, to begin - the author is my new-to-me brother in law, so I got a copy at cost, inscribed 'soft aardvarks' (I think), and a few weeks later got a once-in-a-lifetime experience of being taken on a balloon ride by the man himself. So the write-up is going to be a glowing one.

Fortunately, I don't have to stretch the truth at all in order to do so. It's a short and lightweight read, which does explain the mechanics and practicalities of hot-air ballooning. However, the focus of the book is on the social aspects, and the effect it has had on the life and disposition of Ivan, his family and friends. As a result, it's a thoroughly personal and heart-warming read, engrossing and explanatory and fulfilling throughout, that left me feeling closer to the author, and with more of an understanding of him and his lifestyle.

The Catcher in the Rye

by Jerome D. Salinger, 1951.

Of course, people make such a fuss over it, they really do. You ask anyone. It's that Salinger's fault. He never listens to anyone. Sometimes I think he only writes it because he knows it gets on peoples goat. Writing about some crazy kid. I mean, I say he's crazy because that's what everyone says, but he's no crazier than the rest of us if you want to know the truth. Smoking and swearing getting laid, if he got half a chance. But it's only what anyone would have done, well, anyone with any sense, that is.

There's one thing about it though, it made me remember a time when I was very young, no joke, and I started reading this very book, I don't know where I got it, I think my Father gave it to me. But I don't think I got very far. It must have been beyond me, to tell you the truth. Well, you've got to give the old Pater his due, for trying to stretch you and all that. That's just like him, it really is.

Anyway, the story doesn't really go anywhere, at least not anywhere I could fathom. Well, things happen, but it's just everyday things over the few days after being expelled from school. The usual stuff. You could write a whole essay, I suppose, about whether or not Caulfield changes or learns anything by the novel's end, or simply remains an adolescent. But I don't think that would amount to very much. So it's a stylistic experience, at any rate. Very 'A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man' I'm sure, and you've got to give him his due.

Rating: 7/10 - Bloody Salinger, he never listens to anyone, him.

Breakfast of Champions

by Kurt Vonnegut, 1973.

I've always loved Vonnegut (who doesn't?) but I'd avoided this since seeing the painful 1999 movie made of it, proof if ever it were needed that some books are simply unfilmable.

The novel, however, is everything we love about Vonnegut. His clarity, wit, grumpiness and simplicity. The story of ordinary people in a small midwestern town reads like a playful Hemmingway, but forms a therapeutic rumination on the nature of sanity, and the author's own relationship with it, in the insane world we find ourselves in.

Rating: 7/10 - and so on.

Hackers and Painters

by Paul Graham, 2004.

I'd already stumbled across many of the individual essays that this is comprised of, but it was still hugely entertaining and educational to discover some of Graham's essays that I hadn't read yet. He covers a wide variety of topics, and inevitably for such a collection, the components vary in quality, but generally they are extremely engaging. I only regret having to grab them in dead-tree format since I lost my iPhone. Ohdeary.

Rating: 8/10 - a brilliant read

Halting State

by Charles Stross, 2007.

It's a tale of corporate shenanigans, online virtual reality computer gaming, scams, police on the beat, software contractors, and political intrigue, set in the midst of a near-future Scotland. It's told in first person, by a rotating set of a half-dozen characters, which I found distracting.

The Scottish vernacular and the boozed-up Brit attitudes in a mildly science-fictional setting come across as parochial rather than grungy, and projected technologies such as self-driving cars and virtual realities all seem too intrusive and out of place.

The premise oscillates between nauseating and preposterous, as an in-game robbery of virtual items gradually tips off its investigators that someone, somewhere, has got their hands on some heavy-duty decryption keys with which far more sinister acts are being perpetrated. Before it's done, there is a scene where the software engineer caught in the middle of it all has to play a swords-and-sorcery online computer game, upon the outcome of which hangs the safety of the free world. Oh deary.

I really, really, really, loved Stross' Accelerando, so maybe my expectations were just set too high. Can this really be from the same author, and written a scant 12 months afterwards?

Rating: 3/10. Letdown.

The Man Who Knew Too Much

by David Leavitt, 2006.

An impulse buy, and it was good but not great. The barbaric treatment Turing received over being gay seems to be the thing that initially attracted the author's interest in Turing's life, and while that is a worthwhile and thought-provoking topic, it is a little over-played here. While Turing's mathematical contributions are covered quite commendably, I'd pretty much read all of it before, and it somehow seemed to be lacking a tiny sparkle of passion that made me suspect the author had done his absolute damnedest to cover the mathematical side of Turing, because no book about him would be complete without it, but without really ever wanting to.

Rating: 5/10. Solid but not much that is new.


Sound of screaming

Me and the missus slung 200 feet in the air in a spherical 10 foot roll cage, on board the 'Slingshot' on the opening night of the Steel County Fair, Minnesota.