Tao of the Machine

Programming, Python, my projects, card games, books, music, Zoids, bettas, manga, cool stuff, and whatever comes to mind.

JKR Chat Transcript

A JK Rowling chat transcript. Contains a few hints about book six and seven. It appears that some of the popular fan theories can be put to rest. :-}

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2004-03-21 23:22:39   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: books


Via News You Can Bruise: Twisty Little Passages. I want this book. *drool*

Writing an adventure is on my to-do list, but then again, so are 100 other things...


Some people think the Python logging module is difficult to use. I haven't used it myself, but it certainly doesn't look too easy, especially considering that in most cases it's enough to just open a file and write to it.

It's not surprising though... I already had the impression that some Python modules/packages were designed to be complete, or to be compatible with the Java original, rather than to be Pythonic. The xml and unittest packages come to mind. Not to slight the authors of these packages, but people still write and use their own testing frameworks and XML parsers, which is a strong indicator that something's missing.


Sobe has a bunch of new drinks out. Black and Blue Berry. Sobe Synergy. Pomegranate Cranberry Elixir. Sobe Courage (cherry flavor). Sobe Fuerte (mango/passion fruit). Sobe Zen Tea. I haven't seen these around here... then again, Florida always gets things last.

No, I am not sponsored by Sobe. emoticon:smile

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2004-03-11 00:55:22   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: Python, books, general

The Little Lisper

What book did I get today? "The Little Lisper".

Is it a weird book? Yes, pretty weird.

Why? Because it doesn't look like a regular textbook at all. Rather, it does this question-and-answer thing, through the whole book. And it places horizontal bars between every Q&A section.

Isn't that a bit annoying? Yes, but it's also an interesting and refreshing approach to learning.

Posted by Hans "and it doesn't need cartoon foxes :-)" Nowak on 2004-02-25 16:51:44   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: Lisp, books

Currently reading...

Rules of Play is about game design. Not development, but design. I just started reading it, so I cannot say much about it yet, but I figure it would be of help for my own game designs... CCG, computer or otherwise. Reviews (not all of them positive, by the way) can be found on the Amazon page.

A related article on game design, mentioned in the book, can be found here: I have no words & I must design, by Greg Costikyan.

Dungeons and Dreamers is mostly the story of Richard Garriott, creator of the Ultima series. To a lesser extent, it also talks about id software, online gaming, games and violence, and early hallmark games like Spacewar, Adventure and Zork. Not a bad book; it's not very informative, technically, but it talks about how games were designed, what inspired their creators, etc. It reads a bit like Hackers, being about the *history* of computer gaming.

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2004-02-22 18:39:54   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: books, games

The stars, a new way to see them

I read the Dutch translation of this book in the early 80s... I got it from the library over and over and over again. Eventually I "graduated" to the adult section of the library, with all their boring books emoticon:smile, and wasn't able to get it anymore.

After that, I was unable to find the book in Dutch stores. Eventually I got my Internet connection in 1997, and found it on the Net. It didn't take long before I had an American copy of it.

At first this may seem like a simple book. If, as a child, you're interested in "the stars", it's easy to get fed up with the way constellations are displayed. They have names like Lion, Dragon, Bull, etc, but they don't look like anything, due to the unimaginative way the lines between the stars are drawn. This book fixes that problem. It introduces a new way of displaying the constellations, making it easy to find them in the night sky. You can go out in the evening and actually find these constellations, and (most of the time) they *will* look like something resembling their name.

To aid you in your constellation spotting, the book has maps for various dates and times, compensating for latitude, or offering different sets of maps altogether for areas that do not share the USA's latitude (around 30°-50° N). 1) It also tells you a bit about the backgrounds of the constellations, bright or peculiar stars, and how to find them.

"Real" astronomers may not think that constellations are very important; after all, they don't have real meaning. But there's more. The book also gives you a solid basis about the solar system, stars, galaxies, etc. This is presented in such a way that children can understand it (at least I did :-), but it's by no means for children only.

I would recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in astronomy or who is just curious about the night sky, stars and planets.

1) 10° difference in latitude is significant. Moving from the Netherlands (~51°) to Florida (~30°), I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that I could now see certain constellations that never rose above the Dutch horizon. The Crane and the Phoenix, for example; I've also seen Canopus and parts of the Centaur. Others, like the Scorpion and the Big Dog, rise much higher than in the Netherlands, and can be seen whole.

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2004-02-16 12:57:25   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: books, nostalgia

Books: Assassin's Apprentice / Royal Assassin / Assassin's Quest

The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb

  • Assassin's Apprentice
  • Royal Assassin
  • Assassin's Quest

Spoilers ahead...

These books describe the life of Fitz (or FitzChivalry as he is known later), the bastard son of prince Chivalry of the Six Duchies. Taken away from his mother at age six, he starts living at the castle of Buckkeep, where he is trained in many skills... including those of an assassin. These skills come in handy when the kingdom is threatened from several sides: pirates raiding the coasts, and treachery from within the royal family.

For an assassin, Fitz seems kind of... wimpy. He's more of a spy and a diplomat than anything else. His assassinations often consist of slipping some poison into someone's food or drink. An assassin is not a brawler, but you'd think he could hold his own in a fight, knowing lots of clever tricks and lethal strikes, and having plenty of hidden weapons handy. This does not seem the case. Fitz does win some fights, but often takes great damage. Also, it's kind of annoying that he often is powerless against his enemies, simply because he is not allowed to kill members of the royal family, or their servants.

I like the first two books very much. The third one is a bit disappointing. I just like simple stories where the guy gets the girl. ;-) That doesn't happen here. Nor does Fitz seem to succeed in some of his goals, and quite a few of his friends and bond-animals die along the way, making the books somewhat frustrating to read.

Overall, good books, but not always an easy read.

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2004-01-11 12:29:27   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: books

Things and stuff

1. (via Chris Petrilli:) Mind Media Brain Persuasion Test. My results:

Your Brain Usage Profile

Auditory : 40%
Visual : 60%
Left : 55%
Right : 44%

What does this mean?

"""Hans, you are somewhat left-hemisphere dominant and show a preference for visual learning, although not extreme in either characteristic. You probably tend to do most things in moderation, but not always.

Your left-hemisphere dominance implies that your learning style is organized and structured, detail oriented and logical. Your visual preference, though, has you seeking stimulation and multiple data. Such an outlook can overwhelm structure and logic and create an almost continuous state of uncertainty and agitation. You may well suffer a feeling of continually trying to "catch up" with yourself.

Your tendency to be organized and logical and attend to details is reasonably well-established which should afford you success regardless of your chosen field of endeavor. You can "size up" situations and take in information rapidly. However, you must then subject that data to being classified and organized which causes you to "lose touch" with the immediacy of the problem.

Your logical and methodical nature hamper you in this regard though in the long run it may work to your advantage since you "learn from experience" and can go through the process more rapidly on subsequent occasions.

You remain predominantly functional in your orientation and practical. Abstraction and theory are secondary to application. In keeping with this, you focus on details until they manifest themselves in a unique pattern and only then work with the "larger whole."

With regards to your career choices, you have a mentality that would be good as a scientist, coach, athlete, design consultant, or an engineering technician. You can "see where you want to go" and even be able to "tell yourself," but find that you are "fighting yourself" at the darndest times."""


2. I just discovered that Orson Scott Card has a website. I've just finished the first two books of the Alvin Maker series. In English this time; it's better than the Dutch translation I read years ago. But maybe I just don't like Dutch. ;-) Either way, the books are still very impressive and thought-provoking.

3. InBoxer is a tool that fights spam, and it uses spambayes. I haven't used it myself, since it uses Outlook, but it might be worth a look.

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2003-07-21 21:02:59   {link}
Categories: general, books, linkstuffs


  • Hikaru No Go has been licensed. (For the non-manga-otakus, that means that some US publisher is going to do the American release, making scanlations on the Net pretty much illegal.) Fortunately, MangaReaders still has a number of chapters that TW didn't release. (If that link doesn't work, go to mangareaders.com, log in (maybe after registering), and go to the download section.)
  • I'm writing this using Sextile. It's quite usable, I only need to add a few more features, like lists. Combined with macros, it's really quite powerful, and it doesn't get in my way.
  • I registered my weblog at Artima buzz. Apparently they just added all my posts to the top, so the whole first page of "latest posts" consists of my writings. emoticon:bloos So far, Pyblagg has far more weblogs, though.
  • The number of Google hits for "luna lovegood" are increasing daily.
  • Occasionally I find myself thinking "gee, this programming problem would have quite an elegant soluton in Lisp". The dark side beckons...
  • Currently reading: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (OK, I finished it, but maybe I'll do a reread, like the hardcore fans :-); Orson Scott Card: Seventh Son.
  • Currently listening to: In Extremo, Osdorp Posse, Clawfinger, Dawn Penn, H-Blockx, Puhdys, A Split Second, Bloodhound Gang, Gotcha!
  • Currently hacking on: Firedrop2, Sextile

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2003-06-28 15:05:25   {link}
Categories: general, manga, programming, Python, books, music

Hem, hem

Back after 5 days... been busy with work, and of course the new Harry Potter book. ^_^ I did manage to get it on the 21st, without pre-ordering. Granted, Borders and Books-a-million were sold out, but fortunately Waldenbooks still had a copy (I got the very last!), and Toys 'R Us even had a whole stack, I guess people didn't think of going there for the book.

Now some comments... containing spoilers. Highlight this area to see them. Or not, if you don't want to see gratuitous babbling.

Harry sure has an anger problem. Somebody in the newsgroup pointed out that, besides having a lot on his mind, he probably suffers from post-traumatic stress. I guess that explains his sudden change (compared to the previous book).

Sirius. I wonder if he's really dead? There definitely seems to be something up with that veil. Maybe he will be back, alive or otherwise.

Luna Lovegood. My favorite new character by far, possibly because I recognize parts of myself. :) Hopefully she'll be back in book 6.

Snape. I think in future books (7?) one of the following will happen: 1. Snape and Harry get some kind of grudging respect for each other (although they will still not like each other), or 2. Snape dies saving Harry's life. Of course I have zero evidence for this...

James Potter. So now we know that he was a jerk. A bully, not unlike Draco Malfoy. That sheds a new light on Snape's behavior... maybe he just hates Harry because he assumes he's the same as James, possibly because of their "uncanny resemblance". And, of course, he doesn't like mudbloods...

Moody. According to an interview, the new Moody would be "even cooler" than the old (fake) one, but we don't see much of that in the book. Maybe in the next one?

Tonks. Interesting character, should appear more, though.

Percy. Values rules over his own family, and acts like an asshole doing so. I wonder if he will return to his family in the next book, now that the Ministry has been proven wrong.

Minerva McGonagall. Her witty, scorching retorts to Dolores Umbridge makes the book worth (re)reading alone. Great stuff.

Mundungus Fletcher. There's an uncanny resemblance between him and Crookshanks... both are described as "ginger-haired" and "bandy-legged". Still, Dung == Crookshanks doesn't seem to be possible, because there is a scene where they appear simultaneously. Hmm...

Romantic developments. There aren't many, really... I knew from an interview with JKR that Harry/Cho and Hermione/Krum wouldn't last. My favorite pet theory is that Harry will/should end up with Ginny. Book 5 seems to make that less likely, but I'm not sure... at least, she sees him as a real person now (rather than a celebrity), talking to him, etc, which only brings them closer, IMHO. On the other hand, I'm not sure that we already know Harry's future love interest. Maybe Luna?

Everybody on the newsgroup (and elsewhere) babbles about Hermione x Ron, but I really don't see many clues in that direction... although it's possible.

Dumbledore's Army. There's now a circle of people practicing DADA; we'll probably see them again in the next book (unless Dumbledore disbands it?). Such an "inner circle" could be important in the last battle. (Oops, wrong book... :-)

Prophecy. Depending on how you interpret it, it may mean that one of [Harry, Voldemort] will have to kill the other... but that doesn't seem quite right. If Voldemort kills Harry, then the books will definitely have a sucky ending, so let's assume that this won't happen. If Harry kills Voldemort, then he's suddenly a murderer. OK, he killed the worst wizard on earth, but that doesn't make him any less a killer. That doesn't seem right either. Maybe some other scenario is possible... somebody else kills Voldemort, Voldemort falls behind the veil :), or maybe falls to his doom as Harry battles him at the edge of a cliff? Who knows.

Uranus. Nitpick: here she comes with that Uranus joke again, multiple times even! We already saw that in book 4... emoticon:devil

That's all. Buy the book. Overall, it's darker and definitely less childish than the previous ones. Just so you know.

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2003-06-26 20:54:07   {link}
Categories: books


1. This seems like an interesting book. Comes with cards (I hope)...

2. Textile is causing more problems than it's worth. I am considering writing my own format, probably very minimal(istic), and then use macros for additional power. Reinventing one wheel, or two, three, what's the difference? emoticon:smile (I will keep Textile in Kaa and Firedrop2, after all, it's already there, but it's up to the user to work around all its little idiosyncracies.)

3. Firedrop2: I fixed the problem with macros that showed up unexpanded in RSS. A bleeding-edge version should be available soon.

4. Googling for 'python nederland' yields a bunch of crap. There's an opportunity here for Dutch Pythonistas...

Update (2003.07.10): Hum, now *I* am the number one hit for 'python nederland'. That wasn't so difficult. I wonder if it's possible/viable/useful to make a page with Dutch Python resources?

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2003-06-18 21:13:03   {link}
Categories: books, Firedrop

The M.D.

by Thomas Disch

Several times I saw the Dutch translation of this book in stores (called De Duivelsstaf), but never got around to reading it. This week I read the English version.

The cover calls it “a horror story”, and elsewhere it’s advertised as “fantasy-horror”. I’ve been reading this book, waiting for it to become horrific… to no avail. Maybe my senses have been numbed over the years… even though I try to avoid the news, live surgery on tv, horror movies, gangsta rap, and goatse.cx. Anyway, the book has the obligatory deaths, but they aren’t very gruesome. There is not much suspense either.

The book is about a boy, Billy (later William) who wields a caduceus?, given to him by the god Mercury, that grants him magical powers. He uses it to make his grandmother’s hair fall out, to make bullies’ teeth rot, and more. Indirectly it also maims and kills people. The short book summaries I’ve read make it seem like he is an evil kid who puts the vilest curses on people close to him whenever they do something he doesn’t like. This isn’t the case though; Billy is smart and sometimes out for revenge, but not evil, and at first doesn’t really understand the consequences of his actions. Unfortunately the caduceus is mostly meant for destructive acts; it feeds on those, while acts of healing drain its power.

In the end, we learn that William (then an M.D.) got rich by unleashing a virus, worse than AIDS, on the world. This last part of the book seems separate from the rest and doesn’t make so much sense. Oh, and just about all the characters die in the process.

Not the greatest book, but no so bad that I had to stop reading, either.

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2003-06-03 23:22:32   {link}
Categories: books

Just for the heck of it...

Harry Potter FAQs

Only (time.mktime((2003, 6, 21, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0)) - time.time()) / (60*60*24) days to go till OOTP...

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2003-05-12 00:41:12   {link}
Categories: books

Some people really have too much time on their hands...

I know that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is highly anticipated, but I didn’t expect to find two fake books on the Net. They’re not parodies, they’re fakes, and someone spent a lot of time on them. They’re hundreds of pages, and have convoluted story lines!

Why do I think they are fakes? For starters, they’re too short (~350 and ~550 pages, while the real book will have 768 pages), and unlikely things happen, that are in direct contradiction to hints revealed in interviews with J.K. Rowling. Besides, some actions just seem… out of character.

(There are also some chapters of another version, with (among other things) a character named Cassiopeia. That sounds more like something JKR would write. Maybe it is the real thing?)

I would upload the PDFs, if nothing else they have value as a curiosity, but I’m not sure about the legality of it all. So if you’re interested, you’ll have to look for them yourself.

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2003-04-28 13:17:14   {link}
Categories: books

The Art of Unix Programming

Not hot news, but I wasn't aware that a whole (I think; haven't checked out everything yet) draft of the book was available. By Eric Raymond. See the list of contents.

(Not really related:) And, for those long-night hacking sessions... Penguin Caffeinated Peppermints. ^_^

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2003-03-09 20:23:52   {link}
Categories: books, programming, general

Google hacks

Interesting those Google hacks... But why did they provide code examples in Perl? If they had used Python I might actually have been able to read them. :(

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2003-03-01 11:07:43   {link}
Categories: books, programming

Short CoT review

Crossroads of Twilight, book 10 in the Wheel of Time series, by Robert Jordan

(Warning: spoilers ahead)

Before this book came out, I read some previews that said that CoT actually moved the plot along. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. In the newsgroups, many people complain that nothing happens at all. While that judgement is not entirely fair, their disappointment is understandable.

The book can roughly be divided into two parts: what people where doing shortly before Rand cleansed saidin, and shortly after that. That's it. No long timespans are covereed here. People hardly move, and basically still do the same as what they were doing in WH. Elaine struggles with the succession. Mat & co leave Ebou Dar, but don't get too far (not out of Seanchan reach anyway). Perrin still walks around trying to free Faile. Rand recovers from his saidin-cleansing. Egwene and the Salidar Aes Sedai seem to make the most progress, they reach Tar Valon.

So many things don't happen. Mat doesn't marry the Daughter of the Nine Moons. Perrin doesn't free Faile. Rand doesn't do anything interesting, neither do people around him, like Min, Nynaeve, Lan or Cadsuane. Elaine is still in pretty much the same position as at the end of the last book; no war, but nothing is settled either. Egwene and the SAS don't besiege Tar Valon, they just talk. No Forsaken in this book except for Mesaana. (Well, and Halima.) No Fain. No Taim. No fights with Trollocs or Myrddraal. Tarmon Gaidon doesn't seem any closer.

The things that do happen are not earth-shattering, although some of them are important, and others may turn out to be important in the future. Here are some of the events and plot lines:

  • Mat escapes Ebou Dar with Egeanin, Baile Domon, Noal Charin (Jaim Farstrider?) and most importantly Tuon. They get a bit closer to each other, but not by much.
  • One spoiler was right: Perrin does something very much out of character. A reader in the newsgroup suggested that he's undergoing a character change that may be important later on, when he will have to choose between following Rand (and doing his duty in TG), and rescueing Faile.
  • Perrin & co also encounter a strange town with ghosts and stuff. We don't know too much about this yet.
  • Egwene seals the harbors of Tar Valon with cuendillar. The most important event of the book might happen at the last page of the last chapter (not counting the epilogue).
  • Two Aes Sedai in the SAS camp are killed with saidin, probably by Halima (it doesn't say that, but she seems the most likely culprit).
  • Rand doesn't do anything, but plans "something dangerous". No clue what it is.
That's about it. Maybe CoT is really the low before the storm, but there aren't really many clues that Tarmon Gaidon is about to begin. Aside from that, many parts are decidedly boring, especially when Jordan indulges in page-long descriptions of scenery and clothing. Sure, it adds to the flavor, but it's not very entertaining. Too often you think, "when is something going to *happen* already?"

All in all, I didn't find the book really disappointing, but it wasn't a very exciting read either. At least WH moved the story along. Sigh. And now we have to wait two years or so for the next book...

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2003-01-23 23:56:23   {link}
Categories: books

An interview with Robert Jordan

At wotmania.

That's Robert Jordan, author of the Wheel of Time series, among other things. Some quotes:

"In the end, for most of us, the medals boiled down to managing not to die. If you're alive when the higher-ups think you should be dead, it discombobulates their brains, so they hang a bit of something on you to balance things in their own heads."

"[...] the only thing to do when you sell a book to Hollywood is to take the money, walk away very fast before they can take it back, and never, ever go to see the movie."

By the way, this site has some CoT spoilers as well...

Update. There's also an older interview, or parts of it, in the FAQ.

"Fewer than 100 men in the nations that are spoken of in the book. It is a semi-formal thing that is normally one is chosen to become a Blademaster by other Blademasters. There's no real organization. IF you want to become a Blademaster, you have to find other Blademasters who are willing to acknowledge you as an equal."

Hmm. Like hackers...

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2002-12-14 12:56:30   {link}
Categories: books

Generated by Firedrop2.