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Book Review: The Afghan, Frederick Forsyth

TheAfghanSuppose intelligence discovered that a terrorist organisation was planning a fresh atrocity that would shock the world, but had no further leads to prevent it. Then it might be appropriate to take the longest of shots – send an agent into Iraq to infiltrate that organisation at a senior level, in the hope that the secret is shared with him.

So it happens that Mike Martin, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, is sent to impersonate The Afghan (Izmat Khan), a war hero supposedly returned from prison in Guantanamo. He is accepted as a member of the Taliban, thanks to his genuine background from growing up in the region and intensive coaching on the religion and customs of the area. But the real mission is to learn about the planned atrocity and to intervene.

It’s a clever plot, if necessarily far fetched – I’d read the book some years ago and it was good on re-reading.
Four stars

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Book Review: The Andromeda Strain, Michael Crichton

Andromeda StrainThis book is set in the early days of the space race. Scientists have assessed the risk of previously unknown organisms being released on Earth (either alien bacteria brought back to Earth by rockets or Earth-bound organisms changed by exposure to the environment of space). The result is Wildfire – an underground facility with multiple levels of increasing levels of sterilisation, in which the scientists would research any such contaminated material.

The plot is that a satellite has indeed brought back some terrible disease that has killed many people in the vicinity by solidifying their blood. This include two soldiers sent to retrieve the satellite – but there are two survivors, a baby and an old man. The scientists are summoned to the Wildfire bunker to investigate the nature of the disease and the book tells the story of their tests and endeavours as if from a retrospective.

Reviews of this book frequently admit that the reader was convinced that the story was true – I had that impression too, particularly given the fake acknowledgements to those ‘who encouraged me to tell the story accurately and in detail’ at the start of the book and the heavily academic bibliography at the end.
Four stars

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Video: Meta – Toward Generative C++, Herb Sutter

Herb Sutter shared this video of his Qt 2017 talk on his personal metaclasses project.  

 

I first heard about this development at ACCU 2017. The benefits of standardising best practices for definitions of interfaces/value types etc are huge and would let the developer concentrate more on the business problem they are solving, rather than the technicalities of the language. 

  

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Time to celebrate engineers

Brian Cox has done his bit to raise the profile of engineering.

“The impact of science and engineering is central to our culture,” said Prof Cox. “It is the most important thing we do in civilisation and what engineers do genuinely affects people’s lives.

“We need a cultural shift to celebrate intellectual adventuring: engineers and scientists should be celebrated more than X Factor stars are.”

The Institute of Engineering and Technology regularly bemoans the lack of a professional designation for engineers, equivalent to a doctor or chartered accountant. Anyone can claim to be an engineer, leading to a lack of status.

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Japanese broker makes £380 billion fat finger trade

Here is the city reports that a Japanese broker made a massive order by mistake.

The biggest order was for 57% of Toyota – 1.96bn shares of the world’s biggest carmaker

Fortunately he got away with it:

The unidentified broker was able to cancel the trades because they were made through the over-the-counter (OTC) market, which gives traders time to cancel before completion.

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How to set up a Raspberry Pi

I’ve got hold of a Raspberry Pi from a mate and am going to have to fun setting it up and learning some Python to write simple programmes on it.  Hopefully, some time down the line I’ll hook up some basic sensors to it and maybe even make my own Scalextric Lap Counter.

  1. Pick an SD card, I found this page useful and chose a 16GB Class 10 SDHC card made by SanDisk.  I was also chuffed to find my trusty Sony Vaio has a slot for SD cards, so I don’t need an external card reader.
  2. Download the disk image.  
  3. Do not just unzip it onto a fresh SD card and assume you’re good to go.  Instead,  unzip it to extract the .img file then download win32diskimager to do the copying onto the SD card.

Meanwhile, this tutorial on Python was useful.

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The Thesis Whisperer

This post is by Julio Peironcely, founder and editor of the Next Scientist blog. Julio is a PhD student in Metabolomics and Metabolite Identification at Leiden University, The Netherlands and has been blogging and using social media for several years, both for fun and for professional purposes.

This post developed out of a conversation on Twitter about the difficulties of socialising at academic conferences, particularly at the dinner.  I was thrilled when Julio sent me this post which is a comprehensive set of advice which anyone, scientist or not, can benefit from. Take it away Julio!

conference dinnerYou didn’t meet anybody new at the last scientific conference.

You paid high registration fees, travelled to the other side of the world, listened to boring talks, nobody came to your poster.

At least you met interesting people at the conference dinner, didn’t you?

Well, it’s kind of hard when you are…

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