The black pit of despair

The year’s been hell, I think most everyone agrees. For me, in addition to all the external problems, I’ve been fighting with depression ranging from bothersome to near-crippling.

This is not advice, this is not a magic solution. This is a unordered collection of thoughts and observations with no real purpose other than writing them down.

This is not new, I’ve struggled with this for 8 or so years, probably longer. The events of this year have made it way worse however, partially by adding a massive external stress and uncertainty and partially by removing several of my escapes. No weekend gaming sessions, no afternoons at a coffee shop, no browsing a book shop for a couple hours, no trips to the coast. And even though I’m usually fine alone, the weeks of solitude sometimes broken by only a couple of meetings has been hard. The cats are good company but not great conversationalists.

Easy things are hard, hard things are near-impossible. On the worst days, something as trivial as making lunch is a challenge, not because it’s inherently difficult, but because of all the sub-steps. Deciding what to have, cooking whatever it is (or thawing out frozen stuff), remembering that something’s in the oven before it evolves into carbon, etc. There’s been many days when it was easier to just get another cup of coffee and a handful of nuts, or just a cup of coffee.

Focusing on something for any significant amount of time is hard. I’ve resorted to pommodoro timers, adjusted to 5 minutes/1 minute and it kinda works. Most of the time.

I’ve found that a good measure of how well I’m doing is the size of the laundry pile. Currently it’s about three machine-loads in size.

I have just about no interest in new tech. This is, obviously, not a good thing.

I think I’ve read maybe 15 books this year. Compared to my usual of around 70, that’s not great.

What I’m going to try and do from next year (4 hours time at this writing) is:

  • Spend at least half an hour outside every day, with a book. I spent a lot of time and money on the balcony, and it’s now at the point where it’s nice to sit out on it. I wish I had a real garden, but, block of flats, so no.
  • Not go to bed at 2AM. Bad habit here, needs to stop
  • Write more. Here and on my personal blog. This is going to be…. difficult.
  • Try and focus on an online course and spend some time each week on it. This is also going to be difficult.

Books of 2018

I set a reading goal of 75 books again in 2018. Fell a little short, only managed 70. All in all I’m not too unhappy about that.

The full details of all the books read are available on Goodreads’s yearly review

There are some books that need special mention.


Oh my! I knew this would be good, and it was. From Kaladin’s fight with depression (In which I saw reflected some of my own struggles over the past decade) to the revelations of Dalinar’s past and of the history of the Radiants. Not to mention the declaration “I am Unity!” Absolutely spectacular.

The only downside is that my paperback copy is over 1200 pages and is too heavy to read comfortably. If there’s a split version as there was for the previous two books, I’ll probably buy them and donate the doorstop to the local library.

Starship’s Mage series

Imagine a world where technology has advanced to the point of kilometer-long starships and massive space stations, but where travel between the stars is only possible with magic. That’s the premise here, and it does make for a very interesting setting.

In the first book, he main character is a just-graduated jump mage looking for a ship to serve on. He finds a ship, and a lot more.

The Lions of Al-Rassan

I’ve been a fan of Guy Gavriel Kay for years, and this is another outstanding work from him. Set in a fantasy version of Spain, it follows characters from three different religions destined to clash and shows how the wars affect them and those around them.

Exquisitely written.

Redemption’s Blade

What happens after the Chosen One has defected the Dark Lord? How does a world torn apart by war settle back into its old ways?

Books of 2017

Right, beginning of a new year, so time to look at what I read in the last year and what of it I can recommend.

Please ignore that it’s almost February. I’m going to pretend that the year starts with February, that way I don’t have to think about where January went.

First thing to mention is a change of tracking method. The blog plugin I was using to track my books doesn’t work under HTTPS. It gives odd errors when adding or updating books. I wasn’t in the mood for debugging php, instead the entire tracking of books and reading dates has been moved to GoodReads (with a few hiccups along the way)

That does make it easy to get the retrospective of 2017 at least:

77 books read, my goal was 75 and I was surprised that this time I made the goal (helped partially by a week vacation in December where I read 10 books)

There were a few of the year’s books that I consider standouts.

Caliban’s War, Abaddon’s Gate and Cibola Burns

The Expanse series is fantastic, and in these three books things go from bad (proto-molecule infested moon crashes into Venus) to worse, to weird, to really, really bad.

Complex characters, complex plot, very little black and white and every solution to a problem creates a few more problems along the way.

Ordination and StillBright

I’m a sucker for paladins. A friend pointed out a few years back that most of my D&D characters have paladin tendencies. Case in point, my current character is a 5e LG Fighter with 2 levels of Cleric.

These are the story about a battle-weary knight who, after being chosen by a forgotten goddess, strives to become a beacon of hope to the war-torn world

Stiger’s Tigers, The Tiger, The Tiger’s Fate

Roman-type empire in a fantasy world. Junior legion officer thrown to the wolves and manages to change the world in the process.

I like the ‘roman legions in a fantasy world’ idea and, other than this and Codex Alera, I haven’t seen good treatments of the idea.

Arcanum Unbounded

Short stories by Brandon Sanderson in the Cosmere shared universe.
Enough said.


For 2018 I’m setting the same goal, 75 books. I have piles of unread books all over the house, so I’m not short on material, just on time.

Books of 2016

I set myself a reading goal of 75 books for last year, and managed 73. I’m not overly happy about that, there were months where I barely managed to read anything


The full list, with Amazon links is at the end of this post, I’ll mention a few of the standout books first.

Dust and Light, and its sequel Ash and Silver

A novel magic system, complex politics, a war, an ancient mystery and the main character is slap in the middle of all of them, and he doesn’t remember why.

An interesting theme in these is on memory and what we are if our memory is stripped away.

Halting State

Near-future Scotland. The book starts with a bank robbery, and the suspects are a bunch of orcs and a dragon. The robbery occurred in a persistent, online world, and the police are a little out of their depth. It gets more complicated from there.

Song for Arbonne

A beautifully written story of the land of Arbonne, land of troubadours and joglars and courtly love, worshipping a goddess and ruled by a Queen; and a land to the north where only the warrior god is worshipped and the king and high priest have sworn to conquer Arbonne.

Pandora’s Star

The first story of the Commonwealth saga, a futuristic society where space travel is almost unknown as wormholes link the worlds of the commonwealth together, and where people can live forever thanks to memory implants and rejuvenation techniques.

It all starts when an astronomer observes a star disappearing, enveloped in an instant by some form of Dyson sphere.

The Bands of Mourning

The last in the sequel series to Mistborn, we return to the world of Allomancy and mists. It’s hundreds of years after the end of “Hero of Ages”, the world is in an early Industrial Age.

This book completes the adventures of Wax and Wayne, started in Allow of Law and continued in Shadows of Self.

City of Stairs and its sequel City of Blades

Another completely different fantasy setting. For centuries the Divinities had ruled and protected the continent, their miracles feeding the people, protecting them, etc. Then on one day, the Divinities were killed and civilisation on the continent collapsed.

Almost 100 years later strange things with a divine feel to them are happening and must be investigated.

What If?

A book full of strange questions and well-researched answers, such as “What would happen if the Earth stopped spinning?” (Hint: Bad things would happen), or “What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball travelling at 90 percent of the speed of light?” (Hint: Bad things would happen).

It’s hilarious, it’s well-researched, it’s fantastic.

Full list:

Dust and Light: A Sanctuary Novel by Carol Berg
Skin Game: A Novel of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
Sacrifice (Star Wars: Legacy of the Force, Book 5) by Karen Traviss
Inferno (Star Wars: Legacy of the Force, Book 6) by Troy Denning
Fury (Star Wars: Legacy of the Force, Book 7) by Aaron Allston
Revelation (Star Wars: Legacy of the Force, Book 8) by Karen Traviss
The Republic of Thieves (Gentleman Bastards) by Scott Lynch
Ash and Silver: A Sanctuary Novel by Carol Berg
Arthur (The Pendragon Cycle, Book 3) by Stephen R. Lawhead
City of Stairs (The Divine Cities) by Robert Jackson Bennett
This May Go On Your Permanent Record by Kelly Swails
Words of Radiance: Part Two (The Stormlight Archive) by Brandon Sanderson
Rookie Privateer (Privateer Tales) (Volume 1) by Jamie McFarlane
Invincible (Star Wars: Legacy of the Force, Book 9) by Troy Denning
Shattered: The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne
White Tiger (Dark Heavens, Book 1) by Kylie Chan
Something More Than Night by Ian Tregillis
Crown of Renewal (Legend of Paksenarrion) by Elizabeth Moon
Halting State (Ace Science Fiction) by Charles Stross
The Crimson Campaign (The Powder Mage Trilogy) by Brian McClellan
The Long Way Down (Daniel Faust) (Volume 1) by Craig Schaefer
London Falling by Paul Cornell
Learning R by Richard Cotton
Song for Arbonne by Guy Gavriel Kay
Pendragon (The Pendragon Cycle, Book 4) by Stephen R. Lawhead
The First Casualty by Mike Moscoe
Dragons In The Stars (Star Rigger) by Jeffrey A. Carver
Girl on the Moon by Jack McDonald Burnett
Skinwalker (Jane Yellowrock, Book 1) by Faith Hunter
Terms of Enlistment (Frontlines) by Marko Kloos
Rath’s Deception (The Janus Group) (Volume 1) by Piers Platt
Valour by John Gwynne
Death from the Skies!: The Science Behind the End of the World by Philip Plait Ph.D.
The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality by Brian Greene
Flex by Ferrett Steinmetz
Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide by Wizards RPG Team
Lines of Departure (Frontlines) by Marko Kloos
The Dark Ability (Volume 1) by D.K. Holmberg
Shadows of Self: A Mistborn Novel by Brandon Sanderson
ATLAS (ATLAS Series) by Isaac Hooke
Pandora’s Star (The Commonwealth Saga) by Peter F. Hamilton
Interim Errantry: Three Tales of the Young Wizards by Diane Duane
Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse Book 1) by James S.A. Corey
Path of Destruction (Star Wars: Darth Bane, Book 1) by Drew Karpyshyn
Manifold: Time by Stephen Baxter
The Bands of Mourning: A Mistborn Novel by Brandon Sanderson
Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100 by Michio Kaku
Ruin (The Faithful and the Fallen) by John Gwynne
Virtual Destruction: Craig Kreident (Craig Kreident Thrillers) (Volume 1) by Kevin J Anderson, Doug Beason
Before the Awakening (Star Wars) by Greg Rucka
The Weapon of a Jedi: A Luke Skywalker Adventure by Jason Fry
Parley (Privateer Tales) (Volume 3) by Jamie McFarlane
Calamity (The Reckoners) by Brandon Sanderson
Grail (The Pendragon Cycle, Book 5) by Stephen R. Lawhead
Into the Black (Odyssey One) by Evan Currie
Avalon:: The Return of King Arthur by Stephen R. Lawhead
Meeting Infinity by Gregory Benford, James S.A. Corey, Madeline Ashby, Aliette de Bodard, Kameron Hurley, John Barnes, S
Desert Rising by Kelley Grant
Deepsix by Jack McDevitt
The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan
Child of the Daystar (The Wings of War Book 1) by Bryce O’Connor
The Terran Privateer (Duchy of Terra) (Volume 1) by Glynn Stewart
Throne Of Jade by Naomi Novik
Wireless by Charles Stross
Outriders by Jay Posey
The Vorrh by Brian Catling
The Engines Of God by Jack McDevitt
Parallel Worlds: A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos by Michio Kaku
What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe
City of Blades (The Divine Cities) by Robert Jackson Bennett
To Hold the Bridge: Tales from the Old Kingdom and Beyond by Garath Nix
Footfall by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle
Brandon Sanderson’s White Sand Volume 1 by Brandon Sanderson, Rik Hoskin

Book Review 2015

It’s been a few years since I wrote a review of books I’ve read, so this isn’t going to list everything I’ve read since 2012, just a few of the best books or series. For the entire list of all books, see the library page.

So, 2015. I set a goal of 50 (new) books to read in the year, same goal I’d set the previous few years. I read 70 in total. This doesn’t include re-reads of old favourites, just new books. For 2016 I’m going to set a goal of 75, that’s an average of 6.25 books a month, or 1.44 books a week.

Books2015Some of the best books or series of books I’ve read in the last year are:

Hounded (Iron Druid Chronicles)

Author: Kevin Hearne

This is a brilliant series. Atticus O’Sullivan is a druid, born during the Roman occupation of Britain and currently living in Arizona, running a second hand book shop. He’s hiding from a few deities (and other supernatural creatures) who he’s annoyed over the centuries, but his quiet life is about to come to an end.

Good character, good plotting, great humour. The series is a fantastic read.

Amazon link: Hounded

Dauntless (The Lost Fleet)

Author: Jack Campbell

Amazon link: Dauntless

Rivers of London

Probationary Constable Peter Grant is just trying to do his job, and avoid a transfer to the Case Progression Unit, when he interviews a murder witness who died a couple hundred years ago. The witness, not the victim. Then his life gets really strange.

This series is so much fun. British humour, magic, the weirdness that is London (and surrounds) and fun characters.

This is the first of a series. The other books are Moon over Soho, Whispers Underground, Broken Homes and Foxglove Summer. Rivers of London was also released under the title Midnight Riot.

Amazon link: Rivers of London

In Her Name: Redemption

Humans have been fighting a century-long war with the Kreegan Empire, and they’re losing. Reza Gard, orphaned at a young age due to the war, is kidnapped by the Kreegans and forced to live among his enemies, but he may hold the key the fulfilment of a 10 000 year old Kreegan prophecy, and to the end of the war.

Excellent science fiction, well plotted, good characters.

Amazon link: Redemption. This is the complete text of the Redemption trilogy, Empire, Confederation and Final Battle. There’s a trilogy that discusses the start of the war, The Last War, comprised of First Contact, Legend of the Sword and Dead Soul, but I didn’t enjoy it quite as much. First Contact is excellent, the other two aren’t quite as good.

Ready Player One

A story of a search through an online virtual world for a massive prize, nothing less than the complete ownership of that virtual world and several billion dollars. Lots and lots of geek references, games, TV shows, movies, etc.

Amazon link: Ready Player One

The Laundry Files

What if magic was real? What if magic could be done by solving certain mathematical equations? What if that meant that computer programmers were actually magicians?

That’s the premise of the Laundry Files. Magic is a branch of applied mathematics, and computers are really good at maths. Unfortunately, such magic tends to have unpleasant consequences, like interdimensional horrors eating your brain. Hence existence of a government department trying to keep magic under control, and put off the end of the world for a few more years.

This is another series set (mostly) in London with more typical British humour.

Amazon Link: The Atrocity Archives.

The Stormlight Archive

Brandon Sanderson did a wonderful job finishing off the Wheel of Time series, now he’s starting his own epic fantasy series, and it’s good.

The world of Roshar is scoured by hurricane-strength storms that cross from the east to west every few days. On this battered world kings and armies fight for power, for wealth and for legendary weapons called Shardblades. But there’s hints from various sources that something terrible is coming, something that will tear the world apart.

Amazon Link: The Way of Kings. Depending on the publisher, the books are either sold in 2 parts or as a single book. The two published titles of the Stormlight Archive are “The Way of Kings” and “Words of Radiance”.

How not to do a Masters degree

There are many, many guides to successfully completing a post grad degree, so I am not going to add to them. Instead, this is a list of things, based on personal experience, that you can do to make it somewhere between very difficult and impossible to complete that Masters or Doctorate degree.

To be clear, I’m talking about the degrees which are mostly, if not entirely, based on research and a dissertation, not coursework.

Do the degree while holding down a full-time job

Initially this looks like it’ll work out fine. Work Monday to Friday, work on the degree on Saturday and Sunday. For the first few months it does work fine.

But there’s one thing that a dissertation requires and that’s a large amount of dedicated time. Time to read the literature. Time to come up with the hypothesis or research questions. Time to design an experiment. Time to conduct that experiment. Time to revise the experiment, conduct it again, revise again, conduct again… Time to analyse the results. Time to write up the results. Time to edit, rewrite, edit, rewrite, edit…

As the months pass, and as the initial enthusiasm and fun fades, so it becomes harder and harder to spend most of the weekend on the research, weekend after weekend after weekend, for a couple of years

Sure, it’s possible to complete a Masters degree while working full time, but it’s like playing a game on Insane difficulty level.

Decide that you want to get heavily involved in the SQL community

The SQL community are a great bunch of people and there’s a lot of encouragement to jump in and get involved, for many good reasons

Posting on forums is great in many ways, it boosts your confidence, it gets you recognitions and it’s a good way to get to know features you’ll never use in your regular job.

Blogging and writing are a great way to share knowledge, and there’s a thrill from watching the page hit count go up, from the first comment, from the complements, especially when your blog post gets referenced by others as the authoritative article on a subject.

But it takes time. Lots of time. Articles can take days of work, blog posts can take anything from a few minutes to many hours depending on the subject and the depth of the post. Presenting takes lots and lots of prep time. An hour-long presentation can easily require a day of prep, and that’s once you’ve done several presentations. The first one can take many days of writing slides, rewriting slides, writing demos and rehearsing the presentation several times. Forums will take every minute you’re willing to give to them and more, and there’s the constant temptation of ‘just one more post…’

And where’s that time going to come from? The time that would otherwise have been spent on the research and dissertation.

Get burned out, and don’t seek help

I’m probably going to get flak for this, but it has to be said.

As an industry in general, we are too reluctant to ask for help. I don’t mean technical help (though that too in many cases).

We are too eager to put on a pedestal the person who works 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, the person who pulls all-nighters on a regular basis, the person who never takes vacation because he ‘doesn’t have time’. We’re conditioned to see extreme hours worked as a sign of dedication, of what is needed to get ahead.

It’s not heroic. It’s not required. It’s not something to be admired.

It’s stupid.

Long days are sometimes required, weekend work is sometimes necessary, but they both should be the exception, not the norm. Excessive overtime, if needed to meet deadlines, should be followed with a discussion on what went wrong such that the overtime was required. Was the estimation inadequate? Was the project analysis flawed? Did the scope creep (or gallop)? Were people working on multiple projects at the same time while the project plan expected them to be dedicated? Were assumptions not met or essential infrastructure delayed?

If overtime is frequently required, then management has failed at their job. A developer working 12 hours a day, 6 days a week for months on end is not a sign of dedication or heroics, it’s a sign that someone, somewhere in management is not doing their job properly.

This kind of workload and times are not sustainable. They lead to mistakes and buggy code, they lead to burnout and they lead to people, top people, walking away and never coming back.

I wrote about burnout a few years ago. Looking back now, after another recent brush with it, I don’t think I went far enough in what I said there.

It is not a flaw, it is not a weakness, it is not admitting failure, to seek professional help for burnout. It’s far better to do so than to suffer for years with the effects.

And to get this back on topic, trying to work through burnout is like trying to swim through syrup. Lots of effort, little progress, very easy to give up and stop trying. That’s not going to do wonders for that research and the couple-hundred page dissertation that needs to be done.

Despite all of that, in case anyone is wondering, graduation is mid-September

2011 Book review

Another year over and much as I did last year, I’m going to briefly go over the books I read this last year.

I will freely admit, very few of these could be considered ‘classic literature’, most is a mix of sci-fi, fantasy or adventure fiction. That’s just what I like to read.

Book total this year was 53, up from the 45 I managed in 2010 and above the 50 that I aimed for. Part of this is that I travelled more (and hence had time with nothing to do but read), part is because I took a couple of small vacations (and spent time reading) and part is due to getting an iPad and loading a couple of book apps on there.

The iPad is never going to replace real, physical, paper books for me. I love the smell of new books, the feel of the book (and you can’t read an iPad in the bath without significant risk). That said, it is convenient when travelling and for carrying a few books easily. It’s especially nice when getting books from Amazon. 6 week shipping vs immediate delivery. No contest there.

My choice for best books of the year:

  1. First Lord’s Fury (Codex Alera) by Jim Butcher. This is the climax of the Alera series and definitely the best of the bunch. Fast moving, tense, full of action and altogether an excellent ending for an excellent series. One thing I really like about this one: It doesn’t end with ‘happily ever after’.
  2. Elantris by Brandon Sanderson. This is a bit of a surprise. I got this on sale without too much in the way of expectations. Not to say I don’t like Brandon Sanderson, I’ve enjoyed everything of his that I’ve read, but this was his first published book and so I was willing to give it a little leeway. Not necessary. Good characters (though I’m sure I recognise that headstrong princess from a few places), good plot without too many holes and an intriguing mystery that all comes together logically in a way that leaves you saying ‘But, of course that’s the problem’. Definitely recommend and looking forward to more of his work.
  3. Star Trek: Destiny (trilogy). Yes, I’m recommending Star Trek novels. The world has not ended. I find most Star Trek novels are quickly churned out, mediocre novels. Average writing, average plotting (at best) and usually a reset button to return the universe to the way it was at the end. This trilogy is none of those. The plot works, it’s intertwined over three books and about four time-periods and the crew of at least four ships, and it works. It also leaves the universe dramatically changed (in a way that I did not foresee coming). Finally it’s one of the few time travel tales I’ve read that doesn’t leave me cringing.

Sooo… books per month.


You can almost see from that which months I was travelling or on holiday. June – trip to UK and a few days at leisure. Oct – trip to Pass and lots of time to read while travelling. Nov – Week away in the middle of nowhere.

Lastly, books per genre. Yes, I read a lot of fantasy. (note, these links go to the library pages on this blog, there’s a link to the Amazon page from there)

Science Fiction

  1. The Long Night of Centauri Prime (Babylon 5: Legions of Fire, Book 1) by Peter David
  2. The Light of Other Days by Arthur C. Clarke
  3. Star Trek: Destiny #3: Lost Souls by David Mack
  4. Star Trek: Destiny #2: Mere Mortals by David Mack
  5. A Confederation of Valor (omnibus) by Tanya Huff
  6. Star Trek: Destiny #1: Gods of Night by David Mack
  7. Earthfall (Homecoming) by Orson Scott Card
  8. Deathstalker by Simon R. Green
  9. Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke
  10. Songs of Distant Earth by Arthur C. Clarke
  11. The Time Machine (SF Masterworks) by H. G. Wells
  12. The Call of Earth by Orson Scott Card


  1. The Phoenix Transformed (The Enduring Flame) by Mercedes Lackey, James Mallory
  2. Nightingale’s Lament (Nightside, Book 3) by Simon R. Green
  3. Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
  4. The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower) by Stephen King
  5. Agents of Light and Darkness (Nightside, Book 2) by Simon R. Green
  6. The Dragon Token (Dragon Star, Book 2) by Melanie Rawn
  7. Something from the Nightside (Nightside, Book 1) by Simon R. Green
  8. A Calculus of Angels (The Age of Unreason, Book 2) by J. Gregory Keyes
  9. Stronghold (Dragon Star, Book 1) by Melanie Rawn
  10. The Crystal City (The Tales of Alvin Maker, Book 6) by Orson Scott Card
  11. Guards of Haven: The Adventures of Hawk and Fisher by Simon R. Green
  12. The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 5) by Rick Riordan
  13. The Battle of the Labyrinth (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 4) by Rick Riordan
  14. The Titan’s Curse (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 3) by Rick Riordan
  15. The Sea Of Monsters (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 2) by Rick Riordan
  16. The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1) by Rick Riordan
  17. Heartfire (The Tales of Alvin Maker, Book 5) by Orson Scott Card
  18. Alvin Journeyman (Tales of Alvin Maker, Book 4) by Orson Scott Card
  19. Prentice Alvin (The Tales of Alvin Maker, Book 3) by Orson Scott Card
  20. Red Prophet (Tales of Alvin Maker, Book 2) by Orson Scott Card
  21. Seventh Son (Tales of Alvin Maker, Book 1) by Orson Scott Card
  22. Rides a Dread Legion: Book One of the Demonwar Saga by Raymond E. Feist
  23. First Lord’s Fury (Codex Alera) by Jim Butcher
  24. Issola (Vlad Taltos) by Steven Brust
  25. Turn Coat (The Dresden Files, Book 11) by Jim Butcher
  26. Hawk by Simon R. Green
  27. Taliesin by Stephen R. Lawhead

Other Fiction

  1. Robert Ludlum’s The Lazarus Vendetta: A Covert-One Novel by Robert Ludlum, Patrick Larkin
  2. Robert Ludlum’s The Altman Code: A Covert-One Novel by Robert Ludlum, Gayle Lynds
  3. The Bourne Identity: A Novel by Robert Ludlum
  4. The Eyre Affair: A Thursday Next Novel (Thursday Next Novels (Penguin Books)) by Jasper Fforde
  5. Lords of the Bow by Conn Iggulden
  6. Robert Ludlum’s The Cassandra Compact: A Covert-One Novel by Robert Ludlum, Philip Shelby
  7. Robert Ludlum’s The Hades Factor: A Covert-One Novel by Robert Ludlum


  1. Three Roads to Quantum Gravity by Lee Smolin
  2. Expert SQL Server 2005 Development by Adam Machanic, Hugo Kornelis, Lara Rubbelke
  3. Notes From a Small Island by Bill Bryson
  4. 19 Deadly Sins of Software Security: Programming Flaws and How to Fix Them (Security One-off) by Michael Howard, David LeBlanc, John Viega
  5. The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering, Anniversary Edition (2nd Edition) by Frederick P. Brooks
  6. On the Shores of the Unknown: A Short History of the Universe by Joseph Silk
  7. Warrior Soul: The Memoir of a Navy Seal by Chuck Pfarrer

Tourist time, Amsterdam and Vancouver

Nothing fancy here, just some of the photos that I took in Amsterdam and Vancouver. Taken with my phone, as I forgot to check the camera battery before I left, and I forgot to pack the charger.


Amsterdam Central train station

2011-02-23 12.06.48

One of the canals downtown Amsterdam
2011-02-23 12.25.04

2011-02-23 12.21.16

2011-02-23 13.03.43


The steam-powered clock
2011-02-24 12.47.03

One of the parks around the city.
2011-02-24 13.54.18

Entrance to Chinatown
2011-02-24 13.59.59

Taken from near the ScienceWorld
2011-02-25 12.14.48

Half-frozen fountains Friday afternoon
2011-02-25 16.13.17

And snow on Saturday.
2011-02-27 04.41.23

And now for a completely inappropriate use of SQL Server

A while back I wrote up a short introductory overview of Genetic Algorithms. Just for the shear, absolute fun of it, I thought I’d implement a basic genetic algorithm within SQL Server and use it to solve a form of the knapsack problem.

Now first a few comments on this. As the title states, this is not really an appropriate use of SQL Server. Genetic algorithms are generally implemented in languages like Java, C++, C#, etc; languages that are good at complex mathematics, string manipulation and have complex data types. I’m not necessarily using efficient, well-performing methods here, UDFa abound. This is not an article on best practices and well-performing code. I’m also doing no error handling, which I would if this were a real system (in a more suitable language)

Still, doing just for the sake of seeing if it’s possible is all sorts of fun. So, without further ado, the knapsack problem, an approximate solution with genetic algorithms in SQL Server. (For the record, this is a multi-constrained, bounded knapsack problem)

The scenario

There’s a bag that has a maximum volume that it can hold and a maximum mass that it can hold (and we assume that we can pack perfectly with no wasted space). There are eight items, all with different masses, different volumes and different values. The goal here is to maximise the total value of all the items contained within the bag.

CREATE TABLE ObjectStatistics (
  ObjectNumber TINYINT NOT NULL,
  Volume NUMERIC(4,2) NOT NULL,
  Value NUMERIC(4,2) NOT NULL,
  NumberAvailable TINYINT NOT NULL,

CREATE TABLE BagStatistics (
  MaxMass NUMERIC(5,2),
  MaxVolume NUMERIC(5,2)

INSERT INTO dbo.ObjectStatistics (ObjectNumber, Mass, Volume, Value, NumberAvailable)

INSERT INTO dbo.BagStatistics (MaxMass, MaxVolume)
VALUES  (100, 75);

Those two tables set up the constraints for the scenario, the maximum mass and volume for the bag and the mass, volume, value and maximum number available for each of the items.


The books of the year

At the beginning of the year I set myself a goal of 50 books. I managed 45, which isn’t bad considering there were a couple of months where I was re-reading old favourites only.

I’m not going to go into the level of detail Paul Randal did, rather I’m just list the books read, the genre and give my top 3 of the year.

Top 3:

  1. Princeps’ Fury: Book Five of the Codex Alera by Jim Butcher  I’m adoring the entire Codex Alara series. Well written, strong character, interesting form of magic and looks like a climactic ending. The last book should be in my post box in a couple of weeks.
  2. Sabriel (Abhorsen) by Garth Nix Actually the entire series belongs here. They’re apparently teenage books, but they’re complex and deal with adult themes.
  3. In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat: Quantum Physics and Reality by John Gribbin Exceptional take on the birth of quantum physics, minimal to no maths skills required. It’s written for the layman and is part history, part physics.

Complete list:


Science Fiction

Other fiction


Goal for 2011… 50 books.