The Stainless Steel Rat’s Revenge

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I’m frantically trying to reduce the size of the mound of books I need to take back to the US at the end of our annual trip back to Australia. As part of this I read the Stainless Steel Rat’s Revenge last night and on a flight to Sydney this morning. That’s not in any particular rush though — the Stainless Steel Rat books are pretty light reading.

I didn’t like this one as much as the others, to be honest. It wasn’t as humorous, and seemed to lag a little in the middle. It kept me occupied on the plane though.

[isbn: 0441779123;0722144822;0553173952]

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Prelude To Foundation

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Written well after the original Foundation novels, Prelude to Foundation is one of two prequels. The book ties in nicely with Robots and Empire, as well as the other robot novels.

Its a good book too, with its 460ish pages only taking a few days to read (I think I knocked it over in about four days). The story is sufficiently engaging that I kept looking up and discovering that I had read another 100 pages. There are also a couple of twists in the book (I count three in fact), only two of which I had figured out before the characters.

A good book. Probably better than Robots of Dawn and Robots and Empire, and definitely better than Allen’s Caliban trilogy (Caliban, Inferno, and Utopia.

[isbn: 0586071113;0553278398]

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Pebble in the Sky

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This is Asimov’s first book, and not his best. Its set on an Earth which is radioactive (possibly because of a global nuclear war as supposed in the book, or perhaps because of events described in Robots and Empire). There is a galactic empire at this point, and overall humans have forgotten that they originated on Earth.

(I find that a little hard to believe by the way. Whilst it is true that we have lost historical records from thousands of years ago, we do have some and archeology has constructed at least a partial history for humanity. Additionally, we now have pretty solid record keeping as a society, and it is left unexplained where all those records might have gone. Finally, there is no mention of techniques like carbon dating, which presumably could have been used to prove that Earth is indeed the original planet.)

I did like the general gist of the book, although the conclusion was unsatisfying as well. Overall, not Asimov’s best work.

[isbn: B000K052KS;0345335635]
[award: nominee hugo 1951]

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The Currents of Space

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“The Currents of Space is a 1952 novel by the American science fiction author Isaac Asimov. It is the second of three books labelled the Galactic Empire series. Each occurs after humans have settled many worlds in the galaxy after the second wave of colonisation that went beyond the Spacer worlds and before the era of decline that was the setting for the original Foundation series. Each of the three is only loosely connected to other works, being separated by a fairly large gulf of centuries.”

That’s the description from Wikipedia. This book is completely separate from The Stars Like Dust, in that while it might use the same universe the characters are entirely different and there quite a distance between the books in the time line of the series. Really, they’re separate novels entirely.

I found it quite hard to get into this book, and I don’t think it is as well written as The Stars Like Dust. The problem might have been that I found it pretty hard to care about Rik, and the Florina / Sark division was a bit shallowly constructed. Its hard to imagine a segregation system which is as completely effective as the one described. How did it ever occur? Why didn’t people fight back? Did people never randomly fall in love with the “wrong” set of have affairs?

I persevered however, and the second half of the book is much better that the first, including some twists I didn’t expect. Overall an ok book, but not fantastic.

[isbn: 0553293419;0449015416]

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MythNetTV release 3

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New things in this release:

  • Started work on an RSS exporter for MythTV recordings
  • DX50 doesn’t need transcode
  • Tweaked supported video mime types so “Tikibar TV” and “Ask a ninja” work
  • First cut of Bittorrent support
  • Schema upgrades
  • Archive recordings as well as importing them
  • Improved –list output
  • Subtitle restrictions on download as well
  • Make subscriptions inactive instead of deleting them (for unsubscribe)
  • Better filename safening
  • More markread options
  • Refactored code to be more sane
  • Don’t archive things imported from the archive location
  • Bulk import (–importmanylocal)

This version was a long time coming. Sorry about that. You can grab your copy here.

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The Stars, Like Dust

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This is a short book, and quite different from the other Asimovs I’ve read recently. Specifically it doesn’t have any robots, and isn’t a murder mystery. Its also set about 1,000 years into the future from the previous Robot Mysteries. Its a good book, with a style similar to the original Robot Mysteries (distinct from the newer ones written 40 years later). Its short and an easy read. I liked it.

Update: I originally thought the space between the Robot Mysteries and this book was much bigger than apparently it is meant to be. According to Wikipedia’s page on the empire series:

“Some sources further this argument by asserting that The Stars, Like Dust takes place about one thousand years following the events of Robots and Empire.”

[isbn: 0449023737;0345339290]

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Dealing with remote HTTP servers with buggy chunking implementations

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HTTP 1.1 implements chunking as a way of servers telling clients how much content is left for a given request, which enables you to send more than one piece of content in a given HTTP connection. Unfortunately for me, the site I was trying to access has a buggy chunking implementation, and that causes the somewhat fragile python urllib2 code to throw an exception:

    Traceback (most recent call last):
      File "./mythingie.py", line 55, in ?
        xml = remote.readlines()
      File "/usr/lib/python2.4/socket.py", line 382, in readlines
        line = self.readline()
      File "/usr/lib/python2.4/socket.py", line 332, in readline
        data = self._sock.recv(self._rbufsize)
      File "/usr/lib/python2.4/httplib.py", line 460, in read
        return self._read_chunked(amt)
      File "/usr/lib/python2.4/httplib.py", line 499, in _read_chunked
        chunk_left = int(line, 16)
    ValueError: invalid literal for int():
    

I muttered about this earlier today, including finding the bug tracking the problem in pythonistan. However, finding the will not fix bug wasn’t satisfying enough…

It turns out you can just have urllib2 lie to the server about what HTTP version it talks, and therefore turn off chunking. Here’s my sample code for how to do that:

    import httplib
    import urllib2
    
    class HTTP10Connection(httplib.HTTPConnection):
      """HTTP10Connection -- a HTTP connection which is forced to ask for HTTP
         1.0
      """
    
      _http_vsn_str = 'HTTP/1.0'
    
    class HTTP10Handler(urllib2.HTTPHandler):
      """HTTP10Handler -- don't use HTTP 1.1"""
    
      def http_open(self, req):
        return self.do_open(HTTP10Connection, req)
    
    // ...
    
      request = urllib2.Request(feed)
      request.add_header('User-Agent', 'mythingie')
      opener = urllib2.build_opener(HTTP10Handler())
    
      remote = opener.open(request)
      content = remote.readlines()
      remote.close()
    

I hereby declare myself Michael Still, bringer of the gross python hacks.

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The Stainless Steel Rat Sings The Blues

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The underlying premise of this book is weak (a criminal forced into a band in order to find a stolen item), but like I’ve said in the past the Stainless Steel Rat books are fun, and not really intended to make you a better person. This one is along those lines too — its an enjoyable light read, with a much better plot twist than the other Stainless Steel Rat books I’ve read. I liked it, even with the weak premise.

[isbn: 0533405012]

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Sydney 1, Mikal 1

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I tried two more second hand bookstores yesterday. Books Buy and Sell no longer exists, it has been replaced with a sex toy store. I guess that says something about Sydney again. Gould’s books was all I had remembered (big mounds of books everywhere), and was worth the visit. Its more organised than I remember, and I did eventually find the science fiction section. Thanks to those who recommended it in comments here. It is surprising that a second hand book store managed to have no paperback Isaac Asimov, with the four Harry Harrisons I bought make up for that I suppose.

I took some photos of Gould’s as well, but it turns out that the room full of PhDs can’t figure out how to empty a micro SD card, so I will give up on putting them online for now.

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