Mini review: “Sea of Rust” by C. Robert Cargill (audiobook version)

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We created robots, made them intelligent.  They rebelled and wiped us out.  Humans are extinct.  Now there are a few robots who still survive on the fringes, not willing to be assimilated into the mainframe artificial intelligences that want to rule over everything.

This starts off brilliantly.  The path that the author sets out, from early attempts to build artificially intelligent machines to the resulting moral choices that have to be made, is totally believable.   It might not play out this way but it certainly could – to a degree that anyone who has an interest in AI should read this book, just to see what might result when someone allows themselves to think through the implications.

I wish the book could have found a way to finish there – this would have been an awesome science fiction short story.

But it starts to drag on, trying to add some meaning to the robots’ existence and then ending up with the typical Transformers-movie-type of robots just trying to beat the crap out of one another.

There is a female narrator all the way through (all too rare) and she does a good job of imbuing the robots with character and putting over some of the dark humour that resonates out of the story.

This is a book of two halves – unmissable, essential at first and good but not that good at the end.

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Mini review: “Uncommon Type – some stories” by Tom Hanks (audiobook version)

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This is not traditionally a book that I would jump at but it sounded interesting so I gave it a try.  Overall I would recommend it.

This is a varied collection – long, short, amusing, funny, sometimes moving – with several characters appearing in more than one story.  Twists in the narrative often take the stories in unexpected directions.

Although these are written stories, they feel very visual as though they could be made into a series of TV episodes – “Tom Hanks Presents…”.

I have to make an observation about a book that I have never been compelled to do before: it suffers from an overabundance of typewriters.  It shouldn’t be a surprise given the book’s cover, I suppose.  If you have any kind of aversion to typewriters, this book is not for you.  You may or may not have an aversion to typewriters by the time you finish this book.

Unsurprisingly, the author does a good job of reading his own material.

Here’s a round up:

Three Exhausting Weeks

An excellent way to start – a very funny look at the impact that a new lady can have on a man’s peaceful existence.  This group of friends will make more appearances later in the book.

Christmas Eve 1953

Starts as a warm tale about the festive period but then takes a disturbing turn as the main character remembers his war experiences. Not a story I would have expected to get from Tom Hanks, which probably made the impact greater (although when you think about it he has done Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan so is no stranger to portraying WW2). Opens up the prospect that this collection might not be quite what you were expecting.

A Junket in the City of Light

A highly enjoyable look at the behind-the-scenes life of a supporting actor on a promotional tour for a blockbuster film. I’m sure that many a performer has been through this kind of experience – probably on a Tom Cruise movie or… a Tom Hanks film.

Our Town Today with Hank Fiset – An Elephant in the Press Room

A short reflection on the loss of a printed edition of a newspaper – something close to my heart.

Welcome to Mars

The first story that did not really appeal. An overly long look at a father and son bonding at the beach where I just lost interest.

A Month on Greene Street

A recently-divorced woman and her children move to a new home in a new neighbourhood. How accurate are her first impressions?

Alan Bean Plus Four

The group of friends from “Three Exhausting Weeks” return in a fantasy tale about organising and launching a mission around the moon.  A novel idea and a good cast of characters.

Our Town Today with Hank Fiset – At Loose in the Big Apple

Hank’s back too, this time getting a bit too repetitive about a trip to New York.  

Who’s Who?

A return to form – an actress chases her dream in late 1970s New York.  

A Special Weekend

A son is taken on a birthday trip by his mum.  This is the longest story so far and the first time that Hanks’s style comes across as a plod, the story taking forever to get started (does it ever?) and the narration lacking any real spark.  Yet another fractured family and my interest in the typewriter is waning.

These are the Meditations of My Heart

My interest in the typewriter is restored.  If you are going to write about typewriters, don’t try to shoehorn them into the narrative when no-one is looking.  Write an ode to the typewriter, a love letter.  Like this. 

Our Town Today with Hank Fiset – Back From Back In Time

Hey, hey! It’s Hank again.  Does he redeem himself this time? Yes, despite talking about typewriters.

The Past is Important to Us

A lovely story, up with the best.  An intriguing mix of time travel and infatuation.

Go See Costas

A Bulgarian man works his way to America on a ship.  These are his first few days in New York.  

Our Town Today with Hank Fiset – Your Evangelista, Esperanza

Hey, Hank buddy – are you still talking?  Must be the caffeine, as our favourite columnist tackles the subject of coffee (and typewriters).

Steve Wong is Perfect

Anna and the boys are back, this time for a spot of expert 10 pin bowling.

Stay With Us

A new auditory experience awaits those who have made it this far – actors take on the main character roles as Hanks keeps hold of the reins as narrator.  Shame he decided to include this unnecessary pile of horseshit.  Finishing with “Steve Wong is Perfect” would have been perfect.  This almost murders everything that has gone before.  Ignore it.  This is Hollywood ego bullshit crap.

Film review: Heat

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I remember when this first came out in 1995 all the interest was related to the fact that this was the first time that Robert De Niro and Al Pacino had actually spent screen time together. Previously, in The Godfather Part 2 they had been in the same film but not at the same time. That momentous occasion seemed to overshadow the whole film.

I watched the film again recently – it is a masterpiece. As action films go this is intelligent and vicious. A great story, a magnificent cast. One of the best examples of the genre.

Setting up Wireguard VPN so that it can be used with an iPhone or iPad

 

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Note: This is correct as of December 2018 and should be seen only as an experiment because Wireguard is not yet production ready (pre version 1.0).

I have heard a lot about Wireguard VPN recently because I listen to some Linux-related podcasts and they were being very positive so I thought I’d try it out.

My aim was to set up a Wireguard VPN server on Amazon Web Services (AWS) and configure it to work on an iPhone (currently running iOS 12).

To do this I found very good two articles online and used bits from both. Combining those with installing a beta version of the Wireguard iOS app got me up and running.

The two articles I used were:

Article 1: Installing WireGuard on Amazon Lightsail 

Article 2: Wireguard VPN: Typical Setup

I suggest reading both in full before you start. There are many other articles out there that also explain how to set up Wireguard, so try them if these particular articles are not to your taste.

Setting up a virtual server on AWS

Article 1 is very good on this. It explains how to set up a virtual server on AWS, so follow the steps mentioned there.

I made a couple of changes. Firstly, I chose a different operating system. My choice was Ubuntu LTS 16.04. I did this for two reasons – I am familiar with Ubuntu and Article 2 also uses Ubuntu in its example.

The second change was that I used a different UDP port. Neither article specified a particular port number that should be used so I went with port 53133, which was mentioned here.

I mention the UDP port because it is something that has to be specified when setting up the virtual server on AWS.

Note about the user on the AWS Ubuntu server

When you log onto the virtual server, you do so as the user “ubuntu”. There is no password for this user. You must specify sudo otherwise you will get permission denied messages when running commands or modifying configuration files.

 

Setting up Wireguard on the virtual server

I used Article 2 for most configuration steps (eg installing Wireguard, generating server and client keys, generating server and client configs, firewall, DNS) and carried out the steps in the same order.

Make sure you read what you are copying / pasting from the article(s) as you have to insert your own specific information in some places (key details, IP address, UDP port number).

The only change I made was when naming the client config. Instead of calling it wg0-client.conf, I chose to call it simply client1. I thought it might be easier to follow later if I want to configure more clients so that they can connect to the server.

In Article 2 I finished with part 7 (configuring DNS). This is the last stage of setting up the server.

Part 8 is about setting up a client, but it is referring to a Linux machine. I want to get it working on iOS so there are some different steps to take.

Installing the Wireguard iOS app

The Wireguard iOS app is still in beta so you have to use Apple’s Testflight app to install it. First install Testflight and then see the details here.

This will change in future once the app is out of beta, when you will be able to install it in the normal way.

 

Setting up the Wireguard iOS app with your configuration details

For this, I return to Article 1. Go to the “Client setup” section.

Ignore the fact that it talks about an Android app.

At this point we have already set up the client config file on the server so it is not necessary to do that again.

The bit that you need describes how to create a QR code. Run the “qrencode” command, ensuring that the client name you use matches the name of the client config file on the server (mine is called client1).

Note that qrencode was not installed by default on Ubuntu 16.04 but was quickly installed with apt-get.

This will actually display a QR code in the terminal window.

In the iOS app choose the option to create a Wireguard tunnel from a QR code, give the app permission to use the phone’s camera if necessary and then point the phone at the QR code on the screen.

An entry for your Wireguard server will appear in the app – just switch it on.

I’d recommend that you do the checks to make sure that your phone is routing through the VPN server by testing your IP address and DNS queries.

Mini review: “A Logic Named Joe” by Murray Leinster (From “Machines That Think”, an early 1980s science fiction short story anthology)

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For a while now I have been reading more about the history of computing (in the USA and in particular Silicon Valley).  It started with the sublime article “The Tinkerings of Robert Noyce” by Tom Wolfe in Esquire magazine and followed by the revelatory – to me at least – Rolling Stone article “SPACEWAR” by Stewart Brand.  Next up was the wonderful book “Troublemakers” which covered Silicon Valley from 1969 to 1984.

The reason I’m interested in this is because the more I find out about the history of computing, the more I realise that the world that we live in today was conceived several decades ago.  Ideas that we think of as modern originated back then.

What they predicted back then, we are enmeshed in today.

The story “A Logic Named Joe” features in “Machines That Think”, a science fiction short story anthology from 1984.

The story is just 17 pages long but I was astounded.  This story from 72 years ago appears to predict the internet, artificial intelligence and some of the less salubrious social consequences of having the world’s information at our fingertips.

The introduction talks about the importance of the story due to the way it predicted widespread ownership of computers, made possible by the reduction in size and cost of the machines.  In fact, the world the story was describing had not yet arrived in 1984 – it was too early to comment on the story and truly understand how predictive it would become.

You can read the story in full and listen to the excellent radio adaptation – both highly recommended.

 

 

 

 

Podcast: Intrigue: The Ratline (BBC Radio 4)

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I really enjoyed the first series of the Intrigue podcast from last year called “Murder in the Lucky Holiday Hotel”, which describes itself as “A true story of death, sex and elite politics in China”.  It was the first time that I had come across a BBC podcast that was not just a feed of previously broadcast programmes but something that showed that the BBC were starting to recognise the value of podcasting as an alternative way of delivering high quality stories to their audience. I think that the first season of the Serial podcast had inspired them to dip their toe in the water…

The BBC’s description is as follows:   “Each series of Intrigue tells the story of an unexpected death which pulls back the curtain on how the world works” and I think that is a very good summation.

One of the benefits of podcasts is that if you leave yourself subscribed to the feed then you can discover new content as it became available.  That’s what happened here – one day a trailer for the second series, The Ratline, appeared out of the blue.

The programme is hosted by Philippe Sands, a renowned human rights lawyer who is investigating the background to what happened to his family in a Nazi concentration camp.

He follows the story of one high-ranking Nazi who was never tried for his crimes and over time has built up a remarkable relationship with the man’s son.  What he discovers is a truly  tangled web, and although it can be difficult to comprehend all the connections at times,  he persuasively paints a picture of a time after World War 2 where shifting priorities bring together nascent intelligence agencies, war criminals and religious leaders.

Fascinating stuff.

• BBC: Direct download of both series of the Intrigue podcast

The Art of “Dune” by Frank Herbert

One thing I love about reading old books is the possibility of searching for alternative book covers that have appeared over the years.  They often show a lot of imagination and artistic talent – and different visions of the story you are about to read.  I will often search out second hand copies of a book rather than the latest design if something really catches my eye and the price is right.

Science fiction is a particularly rich source of artwork .  Here are a few of my favourite designs for a book that I have just read for the first time – “Dune” by Frank Herbert.

There are a lot more too

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