All entries for August 2007

August 30, 2007

Bandwidth trading via BitTorrent

Writing about web page http://technology.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn12565&feedId=online-news_rss20

As part of my subscription to New Scientist, I get a free online subscription too, which I choose to manage via their RSS feeds and Google Reader.  One of the articles I saw today was an interesting modification to the BitTorrent protocol that has come out of Harvard, and is encapsulated in the Tribler program. 

The modification itself is quite interesting; taking the BitTorrent etiquette of giving back to the swarm what you download (i.e., maintaining a share ratio of 1.0), and the practice of blocking leechers (who have a share ratio far below 1.0) carried out by some private torrents, the Tribler guys have created a bandwidth credit system.  You actually trade bandwidth: uploading "earns" your bandwidth, and downloading is classed as "spending" your bandwidth.  Thus, if you don't upload, you can't download.  The creators hope that content can be distributed as fairly and efficiently as possible (cf. the ISPs' current issues with high-bandwidth applications such as video). 

Not only this, but looking briefly into the client program's features, it has collided head-on with the socially-networked world of "Web 2.0".  A recommendation system based on a "collaborative filtering algorithm" highlights torrents that you are likely to enjoy.  It also provides you with a one-stop shop for everything required to use your torrents - no more hunting the 'net for the right codec, Tribler has got it covered.  

Sounds good, but I'm not sure I'm ready to switch from Azureus yet.   Not on my PC, at least, which has enough power to cope with Azureus' memory-hogging antics, but Tribler might be worth investigating on my now-rather-underpowered G4 iBook...


One step forward, two steps back…

I'm back in Cambourne now.  The run back from Southampton was pretty good, all things considered (including the remains of an accident and spillage between the M3 and Staines on the M25...), and it's quite nice being back in my flat. 

Except my flat is a tip.  I somehow managed to get a whole car load of stuff out of Southampton having expected to be collecting basically my clothes, CDs and books, and now I've got boxes strewn around the flat again.  The lounge is a mess, with boxes full of collapsed boxes (left over from before I left because they're so big), boxes full of my stuff, and empty boxes strewn around the floor.  I bought a rug to go under my coffee table which I can't currently even unpack because of the mess.  The anal, organised part of my brain is very very unhappy.  

But there's some respite for that corner of my mind; I've completely unpacked my CDs into my new CD rack.   The "popular" music is sorted alphabetically.  Classical music is divided into ballet musical, chamber music, choral music, compilations, concerti, general orchestral music, solo music and symphonies, and each section is ordered by composer.  Then Jazz is stuck on the end; I don't have enough Jazz yet :(  The CD rack is full to overflowing, and, as with the matching DVD rack, some of my boxsets don't fit.  I hope to do my books tomorrow, and I may need to make another trip to Argos to buy another bookshelf...

All fun and games at the moment, as you can tell.  In other, more exciting news, however, I've settled on a TV and DVD/HDD recorder; I'm just waiting for DFS to contact me regarding my free credit for my sofa, and then I can get on with buying those!  The snappily-titled Panasonic TX32LXD700 and Panasonic DMREX77EBK will be mine, and then I can watch and record TV, and play Gamecube and Wii, to my heart's content.  I can't wait! :)


August 28, 2007

Sofa, So Good

I've been in Southampton since last Monday to clear out my room here, and things are going quite well.  I finally purchased a rather nice sofa from DFS (the Vetta sofa, three seater, no reclining action) in a warmer shade of beige than pictured, and provided the credit check goes through ok (always a worry for new graduates...) I should get it interest free for three years, too, with nothing to pay until this time next year.  Bargain.  

In the meantime, I've been looking at rugs (to go under my coffee table), bean bags (to sit on for the next two to three months whilst I wait for my sofa to be delivered) and cushions (to go on my sofa and match my rug).  I've done quite well, and I am still haemorrhaging money.  Oh well, the sofa's on credit.  I hope

Clearing out my room has been a good experience; I have a lot of junk that is just going, thank god, but there's still some stuff that's coming with me to Cambridge - CDs, books, Mum's old food processor...

Which, of course, is the other benefit of having come home.  My parents seem to like spending money on me (they obviously haven't yet kicked the habit of "looking after me" whilst I was a student), which is nice and always appreciated, and so I've ended up with a set of rather nice chopping boards, a set of rather nice Kitchen Devils knives (complete with storage block), a knife sharpener and a potato peeler.  And my Mum's old food processor. 

I also went through my tax return with Dad, and I have implemented a new filing system.  The anal, organised part of my brain is happy.   

I'm off back to Cambridge on Thursday with all my stuff, so I'm sort of killing time now, binning junk, blogging and doing the times2 puzzles.  9 across, "Betrayal of one's country (7)": "traitor". Erm... no. That's someone who betrays their country; treachery is the act of betraying one's country. But that's 9 letters.  Flipping tabloid. I might actually be able to finish this one, if the rubbish clues don't hinder me too much. 

Catch you later, alligator.


Book Review: Moondust

Title:
Rating:
5 out of 5 stars

Andrew Smith is a columnist for the Guardian.  Born in the US, he is lucky enough to remember that great day in July 1969 when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first walked on the moon.  For that alone, I am insanely jealous. I put the question to my parents: "Did you watch the moon landings?  What were they like?" and was surprised to find that I got a mixed response (although perhaps I should not have been; this is a good example of the usual juxtaposition of opinions that I've come to expect from them).  My Dad claims to have been riveted by them, glued to the TV (as I would have been), whilst my Mum's response was "Probably".  Surely, I said, it was an achievement so monumental that you must have been inspired by it.  Mum's response was, "I seem to remember it being old hat by the time they actually landed on the moon, as there were launches seemingly nearly every week.  I found John Glenn's accomplishment more exciting".  John Glenn was the third American in space and the first American to orbit the Earth1; slightly disillusioned by my Mum's indifference, I never quite found out why this was more of an achievement than  Gagarin's first flight into space (he was the first person ever to orbit the Earth).

But back to the book.  Moondust is as moving as its premise: that a handful of men (twelve, to be exact), in a crazily optimistic period between 1969 and 1972, were able to fly to and walk on the moon, the very edge of Deep Space.  The journeys these men made were to change them forever: the divorce rate amongst astronauts is "astronomical"; Buzz Aldrin lapsed into alcoholism and was later treated at a psychiatric institution; Neil Armstrong retreated from all public life; Ed Mitchell, of Apollo 14 and sixth man on the moon, reported experiencing an epiphany on the way back from the moon that led him to found the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS), set up to reconcile the differences between science and religion, that has been a lure for hippies and new-age thinkers since its inception.  

The prologue tells the story of Smith's first personal encounter with one of the Apollo men: the tenth man on the moon, Charlie Duke.  During the meeting, Duke received a telephone call informing him that Pete Conrad, of Apollo 12, had been in a motorcycle accident; later he was confirmed to have died from the injuries sustained in the accident.  

It was the words Duke left me with that set my mind reeling that day.  He said them quietly and evenly, as though uttering a psalm.

"Now there's only nine of us."

Only nine.

Correspondingly, Smith divides his book into nine chapters; however, he does not, as one might immediately think, devote one chapter to each of the remaining astronauts.  His journey leads him to meet with not only the remaining moonwalkers, but also the men who could not go "the last sixty miles" to the moon, the Command Module (CM) pilots, such as Mike Collins (Apollo 11) and Dick Gordon (Apollo 12).  

Smith's book combines personal memory, descriptions of the Apollo missions, inner thoughts and recent interviews with the Apollo astronauts to great effect.  His accounts of the Apollo 11 take-off and the Gemini 11 Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA, or "space walk" to you and me) are heart-stopping and real.  His interviews with the astronauts and encounters with other "space nuts" really give you a feel for the characters behind the greatest achievement of mankind.  Alan Bean's (Apollo 12) artwork sounds gorgeous to behold, as he forever tries to capture the "human" part of walking on the moon that he regrets never being explored — too much emphasis was always placed on the scientific, and no time to just experience the moon.  

An undercurrent throughout the book is a sense of urgency to get back, and how we cannot let the Moon landings pass into legend.  Too many people already hold that they never happened, and too many people are alive now (myself included) who don't remember the Moon landings because they weren't alive at the time.  The last optimistic act of the 20th Century is also mankind's greatest achievement, and we should be looking to top it (by getting men on Mars) or equalling it regularly.  NASA's focus has shifted with the large budget cuts it has faced since 1972 and the need to replace the Space Shuttle, and so we haven't got out of low-Earth orbit in the last 35 years.  This is a great shame, and should be addressed.

Smith's book cannot come more highly recommended.  It will get you thinking about philosophy, the wonder of being a member of the only race on Earth to escape the atmosphere, and just how small we are in the grand scheme of things.  Not in a bad way, but in a way that really makes you feel so incredibly lucky to be alive.  What's more,you'll never be able to look at a photo from/on the Moon without thinking, "Wow. That's the Moon!", and a similar, but slightly magnified feeling now erupts inside me as I look at photos from Mars.  Read it. 

--
1.  John Glenn. (2007, August 17). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 15:02, August 23, 2007, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=John_Glenn&oldid=151750796


August 19, 2007

Quite a weekend…

This weekend's been eventful, in a number of ways.  First and foremost, it was a lovely weekend with Zoë, staying in my flat in Cambridge (photos of the flat hopefully will follow soon). 

I almost bought a sofa.  I'd even chosen the colour and everything (blue leather).  It just didn't feel right handing over that much money to DFS, so I bottled out.  We spent the rest of Saturday looking at sofas in Cambridge and online; unless you go to DFS, though, they seem to cost an arm and a leg...

Additionally, my parents ran my desk up from Southampton on their way to visit friends in Ipswich.  The lounge is now more comfortable given that my computer is no longer resident on the same surface as I eat on, but there's a comparable amount of extra crap left over from assembling the desk and the recently-purchased coffee table.  Assembling these took Sunday afternoon and evening, so I'm only really sitting down to grab a breather now...

I'm off home to Southampton now (well, tomorrow lunchtime) for a couple of weeks to clear out my room there and collect the last of the random crap that I've assembled over the last 23 years before starting work at Citrix at the beginning of September.  

And so, to bed. zzzzzzzzz 


August 17, 2007

I've done something amazing…

...I've given blood.  For the first time in four years, which completely coincidentally coincides with my starting university...

Go do something amazing - give blood too.  You can book an appointment online (and enrol if you're a new donor) which will save you time queueing.  

That is all. 


August 15, 2007

Book Review: The God Delusion

Title:
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

Richard Dawkins is one of the most eminent Evolutionary Biologists around today, and also one of the most eminent atheists around today.  He has participated in a conference about how science should be the next evolutionary step beyond religion (people with an ATHENS login or online subscription can read the New Scientist report on the conference here), written numerous books on why religion is a Bad Thing™, and has accordingly been accused of being a "fundamentalist atheist".  He has also been hilariously lampooned in a two-part South Park story aired around the time of the afore-mentioned conference.

Dawkins uses The God Delusion as his manifesto for advancing the population of the world beyond religion, and a convincing one it is too, at least to the converted such as myself.  Unlikely to sell very highly in religious circles, and having spawned a number of counter-arguments, such as McGrath & McGrath's The Dawkins Delusion?, one wonders about the effectiveness this will have in converting the religious and the religious apologists. 

But this is not, in fact, Dawkins' aim.  Dawkins instead seeks to explain his opinion as to why religion is bad, and, by extension, why something needs to be done.  Interesting points he makes include the question of why religion is automatically afforded so much respect (citing an example of an American sect that won an exemption from the laws surrounding hallucinogenic drugs as their belief was that taking these drugs was the path to God; in the wonderful teenage phrase, not taking drugs is "against their religion"), that religion in moderation should not be tolerated as it provides a justification of fundamentalism and extremism, and that what we in the UK would consider as Christian fundamentalism is mainstream in the US.  He also rails against the indoctrination of children under religion, and calls for a paradigm shift in referring to children not as a "Christian child" or a "Muslim child", but rather "the child of Christian parents" or "the child of Muslim parents"; he maintains, quite rightly, that children should be able to choose religion once they are old enough to think for themselves, and not have it thrust upon 'em before they know what's hit them.  He uses political affiliation to provide a counter-example here: no one would refer to a "Tory child" or a "Marxist child".  

The God Delusion, like most books, is divided into a number of chapters; each chapter in this book is titled with a question or statement to be tackled: "A deeply religious non-believer", "Arguments for God's existence", "What's wrong with religion? Why be hostile?", etc.  The chapters tackle subjects including the roots of religion, the roots of morality, why religion cannot be moral (if said morality is derived from the holy book), focussing mainly on Christianity.  The root of Dawkins' arguments comes from his own particular field of specialty, evolution, and he uses natural selection to argue how and why religion and morality arose, and how he foresees a world without religion as the next step in the evolutionary path of religion.

Generally speaking, the book is particularly readable, and Dawkins conveys his message clearly and eloquently throughout.  The bit I struggled with most was chapter 5, "The roots of religion", which contained a lot of fairly Darwin-heavy reading.  For someone who thought they "got" the theory of evolution and natural selection, I can tell you that it was a tough read, and I'm now re-evaluating that assumption.  However, it is worth persevering; there is much joy to be found in chapter 6 "The roots of morality: why are we good" that outlines how morality might have evolved, along with — importantly — evidence to support the theories.  There are also stories later in the book of the journeys people have made when trying to reconcile a religious upbringing with the rationality they have gained as an adult, and one moving story of a man (I think a scientist himself) who ultimately chose religion.  

I award it 4 stars for a particularly high-level of writing, as would be expected of an academic such as Dawkins (the "Further Reading" list appears to formatted according to the Harvard system), and for the logic, strength of argument, and evidence presented.  The harder-going midsection around chapter 5 already mentioned is what loses the book the last star, but I really can't recommend this book enough. 

A welcome return to the blogosphere

Well, it's been a while since I last blogged; a little under a year, in fact!  The halt was due to work and extra-curricular commitments, and the fact that Facebook seems to have killed the blog.  Although, I'm still not signed up, and possibly the only person not to be...

Unsurprisingly, a lot has changed since I last blogged.  My final year was a busy one: I produced Trial with WSO, performed in The Merry Widow a few months later and sat on WSO's Exec, continued to play with the UWSO, and somehow managed to fit in my most academically successful year at Warwick yet.

By Christmas, I had also managed to secure myself a job with Citrix, where I worked last summer.  I was also invited to their Christmas party in Cambridge, which Zoë and I had great fun at.  I start in about three weeks, on 3 September, at an office outside Cambridge in a new town called Cambourne.  

Accordingly, I have had to find myself somewhere to live in the Cambridge area.  Focussing primarily on Cambourne, I found an unfurnished two-bedroom flat with a decent-sized kitchen and lounge, and have been living there since the beginning of August.  I've therefore been ordering and taking delivery of many items of furniture, perhaps most excitingly my wonderfully conformatble king size bed :D

The mess in the lounge at the moment is getting to me a bit, but without all the furniture in place, I don't feel I can properly get tidied up.  I therefore have some large boxes lying around, taking up space, and the current lack of a sofa makes things a little uncomfortable in there at the moment, but it is all only temporary. 

Anyways, I should go batten down the hatches - the wind is blowing a right gale here at the moment!  


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