Wednesday, September 19, 2018

[Book] Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Book cover
Since this is a non-fiction and educational book, I'm not going to worry about inadvertent spoilers as I usually do with fictional, or even narrative true-stories.  This book does have a narrative flow, better that a lot of the fiction books I've already reviewed, but it is the narrative flow of a documentary, moving from subject to subject, building knowledge.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of the top science communicators alive today.  And this book, physically small, is only about half the reading of another book with the same number of pages.  It took me about a week to complete, and I definitely read non-fiction books much, much slower than I read fiction.  This is as close to a page-turner of a non-fiction book as I've read since I read the Quark and the Jaguar, around 7 years ago.

This book starts with chapters titles that invoke biblical parallels.  Chapter one, The Greatest Story Ever Told, covers the big bang, introducing Plank and leaving me with many, many questions about the speed of light and how it's rules applied to the earliest moments of the universe.

The book then covers Isaac Newton's discoveries about gravity, and specifically the universality of gravity throughout the solar system, but thankfully avoids describing calculus itself.  Moving back to the forming of the early universe, it covers the Cosmic Microwave Background and its origins.

The next three chapters cover the space between galaxies first establishing the basics then introducing us to Dark Matter and then Dark Energy.  At the point where I was reading about these, my questions surrounding the limitations on the speed of light were still reeling in my head, and all this measured "extra" is a lot for my little brain to take in.

Chapter seven, The Cosmos on the Table, explores the stellar origins of the elements (those of the Periodic Table), which for me was a very welcome break from the abstract.  Though not repeated in this book, it reminds me of the Carl Sagan quote, "We are all made of star stuff."

The next two chapters talk about Spheres and Invisible light.  The stability of spheres as well as how rotation has a tendency to flatten a sphere into an oblong spheroid seems meant to explain the general shape of galaxies.  Invisible light is a useful introduction to the instruments of modern astronomy beyond the visible-light telescope, including how each was discovered and how they are used.

Between the Planets, the 10th Chapter, tries to put into perspective how little the constituent parts of our solar system are in comparison to the Sun while Chapter 11, Exoplanet Earth, explores what our planet would look like from other stars and what methods might be used to figure out that there is life here.

In the 12th and final chapter, Reflections on the Cosmic Perspective, Tyson clearly shows that he is a disciple of Carl Sagan, linking the study of the Cosmos to the importance of stewardship of our tiny and fragile planet, while fostering a hopeful view on what we could accomplish.  This is a very good round-up of the book.

Overall, I recommend this book if you found this review itself to be interesting.  If, on the other hand, you generally find space to be an invitation to sleep, then it's okay to skip.  I am glad I read it.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

[Tech/PC] VirtualBox, Windows 7 and a new CPU

As I've done from time to time, this blog serves as a bit of a bench-notes of what I did.  However, maybe someone else hits the same problem, and finds my blog via search.

About a month back, the new nVidia 2080 Ti card was announced.  I decided to hit up eBay to see if anyone was selling off a 1080 Ti, and I was not disappointed in the price drops.  So, I upgraded my graphics to the 1080 Ti.

Similarly, Intel just dropped the new 8th Generation of Core i7 processors.  Last weekend, I upgraded my system from a Core i7-6700k CPU to a newer i7-7700k.  Now that the 8th gen 8700k is out, the 7700k became more affordable AND my existing motherboard already supports it.

I was hoping it would be more noticeable in actual use.  My benchmarks are slightly better as I expected.  I have - though - life extended this another year or two into the future.


VirtualBox & Windows 7 (which I run for work reasons)

When I started my Windows 7 virtual machine, I got a notification from the Operating System that some Windows Updates would stop being delivered because Windows 7 doesn't support my CPU.  Knowing that VMs can fudge this data, I went searching.  After pages and pages of VERY complex commands, I found a comment from 2010 pointing at experimental "Processor Templates".  With all VirtualBox components shut down, I ran the following:

cd '\Program Files\Oracle VirtualBox'
.\VBoxManage.exe modifyvm "Win7 x64" --cpu-profile "Intel Core i7-6700K"

Restarted the VM and everything is happy again.


VBoxManage modifyvm "<vm name>" --cpu-profile "Intel Xeon X5482 3.20GHz"
VBoxManage modifyvm "<vm name>" --cpu-profile "Intel Core i7-2635QM"
VBoxManage modifyvm "<vm name>" --cpu-profile "Intel Core i7-3960X"
VBoxManage modifyvm "<vm name>" --cpu-profile "Intel Core i5-3570"
VBoxManage modifyvm "<vm name>" --cpu-profile "Intel Core i7-5600U"
VBoxManage modifyvm "<vm name>" --cpu-profile "Intel Core i7-6700K"


Current PC Spec

Intel Core i7-7700K Kaby Lake Quad-Core 4.2 GHz LGA 1151 91W BX80677I77700K Desktop Processor
GIGABYTE GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Turbo 11GD, GV-N108TTURBO-11GD
ASUS WiFi Dual Band Wireless (Intel AC 8260 chipset)
SAMSUNG 950 PRO M.2 512GB PCI-Express 3.0 x4 Internal Solid State Drive (SSD) MZ-V5P512BW
CORSAIR Vengeance LPX 32GB (4 x 8GB) 288-Pin DDR4 SDRAM DDR4 2133 (PC4 17000) CMK32GX4M4A2133C13
ASUS Z170-A LGA 1151 Intel Z170 HDMI SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.1 USB 3.0 ATX Intel Motherboard
CORSAIR HXi HX750i CP-9020072-NA 750W ATX12V / EPS12V 80 PLUS PLATINUM Certified Full Modular Power Supply
Corsair Carbide Series 100R Silent Edition CC-9011077-WW Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case ATX (not included) Power Supply
Noctua NH-L12 120mm & 92mm SSO Bearing PWM Fans CPU Cooler
Noctua NF-S12A PWM 120mm Case Fan
Samsung SSD 850 EVO 2TB (Added mid 2016)

Original Parts replaced from 2015 November build

EVGA GeForce GTX 980 Ti 06G-P4-4991-KR 6GB GAMING w/ACX 2.0+, Whisper Silent Cooling Graphics Card
Intel Core i7-6700K 8M Skylake Quad-Core 4.0 GHz LGA 1151 95W BX80662I76700K
Intel 7260HMWDTX1 Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260 (Died April 2018)

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

[Book] Leia, Princess of Aderaan by Claudia Gray

Book cover
This book is a Star Wars story.  It takes place during Leia Organa's 16th year.  I would like to say that familiarity with the Star Wars universe isn't absolutely necessary, but I cannot be sure of that.  It is, at its base, an exhilarating and sometimes sad, coming of age story, where we see Leia grow from a teen who thinks she's all grown up, to a woman who knows she isn't quite there.

I will warn that there is a LOT of Star Wars style galactic politics in this book.  There are many examples of the Empire creeping further and further into totalitarian rule, and - given the present climate of politics in the USA - some of that can be a bit hard to read.  It is important to the overall story, informing both Leia's choices in this story, but also foreshadowing the choices she will make later in her life.

This story has castles, swamps, mountains, oceans, space-ships, action, danger, spy-craft and romance, and a pretty good mix.  I laughed out loud a few times, and I cried once.

For the Star Wars fan, we get to see Leia meet Grand Moff Tarkin and R2D2 for the first time.  We get to see her form a friendship with Mon Mothma.  We get to see Leia use the Tantive IV without her father for the first time.  We get to really experience some of the personality of Bail and Breha Organa, and the beauty of Alderaan.

I try to keep these reviews from spoilers.  Anyone familiar with the Star Wars movies will be able to automatically know where some plot-points are headed.  I really want to talk about what happens in this book because I just finished it, but I may have said too much for some already.

I really enjoy this book, and I felt invited into the worlds it described easily.  Of course, I'm also aware that I grew up with the Star Wars movies, and I also enjoyed Rogue One and the other recent Star Wars films, so my easy enjoyment with this book may not be true for everyone.  If you don't know or like Star Wars, maybe this book isn't for you.  If, like me, you enjoy the franchise, and especially if you wanted to know a lot more about Leia, then read this book.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

[Book] Home After Dark by David Small

Book cover
Bonus review this week (because this book comes out on the 11th), and I finally figured out what to say about it.

This tale is, all at once, heartbreaking, terrifying, uncomfortable, troubling with a tiny bit of hopeful mixed in.  Trigger warnings would be helpful here: racism, suicide, sexual predation, sexual bigotry, bullying, alcoholism, violence (both human and animal), parental abandonment, and smoking.

After his mother walks-out, 13-year-old Russell moves with his father clear across the country to a small town in California.  The fears and uncertainties of teenage life in the 1950s come very much to life in this graphic novel where the story is told as more in the pictures than by the dialog.  This is not in color, though - honestly - color might actually take away some of the drama.

Russell goes through a lot in this book.  The characters... the raw side of human nature depicted in this book feels real.  It feels like people I've run into (and wished I hadn't).  I read this and I took several days to process it before even attempting to write this review.  It feels important.  It also has something to say without making it painfully obvious.

If the trigger warnings have you pulling back, I fully understand.  There were certainly parts of this book that were hard for me to read.  That said, I really do recommend it.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

[Book] Insurrecto by Gina Apostol

Book cover
Even though I'm reviewing an Advance copy, this story is surprisingly nonlinear, and I doubt that will change, though - really - it could.  The book starts, like a 1970s movie, listing the cast of characters in the approximate order in which the characters appear.  It's a story about two people, writing screenplays that are not exactly about the same thing, but are derived from a shared starting point and past.

Because it is non-linear, it is not obvious when switching between past, one of two screenplays and the present.  One has to carefully pay attention to the cast of characters to help determine *when* one is in the storyline.  This is not terribly difficult, but I had trouble getting back into the story when I paused for 48 hours around the middle of the book.

There are many Filipino references that subtly suggest this book isn't meant for me.  I don't mean to say that it is exclusionary, but it is definitely written in a way to not bother to introduce most words, phrases and Filipino cultural norms that I am not familiar with.  I feel like - to get the full experience - I should read it with Google open nearby, or - more naturally - be from the Philippines.  I read a lot, but I'm not that kind of advanced reader, so I just let the things I don't know wash over me in the comfort of knowing I don't need to know everything.

Here's the thing - when I'm in a chapter (as opposed to the jarring start of a chapter, where I haven't figured out where or when I am) - the writing is very engaging, and the characters feel very natural for who and where (or what) they are.  That said, the whole book is comprised of two parallel stories in two diverging and emerging screenplays of those stories, wrapped in a story of the two authors.  Put another way, it's meta, sometimes self-referentially meta.  It is also steeped in more than a little actual history of the islands, which is the part that most interested me (that is, the oldest, lowest level story).

Now that I've finished reading this book, it started to make a lot of sense.  I definitely feel it would all make sense if I read it a second time.  That said... there's a lot of books in this world, and I'm not going to make the tiniest dent by revisiting this one.

This is probably a great book to read while on the beach on a Philippines vacation, or if you live or have lived there.  It is a decent book if you like to read about the ripple effects that historic events have on lives and cultural perception over time.  If everything I wrote above gives you a headache, it's okay to skip this one.  I came really close to giving up more than once, but I'm glad I read it.