Categories: Books, Geek, Personal

Stieg Larsson – The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

My Review: I wasn’t really impressed with the previous book (The Girl Who Played With Fire) and so, at the time, I wasn’t planning on reading the third book. But since my wife was reading the books and was then planning to watch the Swedish movies based on the books, I decided to also read it. Although the book is better than the second one, it’s not as good as the first, mainly because of Stieg Larsson’s investigative reporter-way of writing. Because of his background as a journalist, Larsson writes with the need to justify everything with facts that, although important to make sure there are not plot holes, becomes really distracting and tiresome for the reader that just wants to follow the thrilling story. That same story, written by someone else would probably have 150 pages less and you would still be able to follow every bit of the story.

My Rating: 4/5

George R. R. Martin – A Game Of Thrones (A Song Of Ice And Fire #1)

My Review: There was no surprise with this book, it was superb. I actually only read the book after watching the first two seasons of the Game of Thrones’ television series. But now I’m reading the remaining 4 books before the third season comes out (if time permits). The richness of the story and the characters is what makes this universe so wonderful and, although hard to follow sometimes (which is almost always the case with such giant fantasy epics), it is brilliantly written. I was also surprised to see how the adaptation to the TV series is so close to the original books. If you think about it, it actually makes sense considering that spreading the story through a 10-episode season per book is much better than condensing everything into a 2-hour movie per book and loose so many important bits of the story. I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that The Lord of the Rings should have had the same treatment as opposed to having 3 movies that left the die hard Tolkien fans really upset. But I guess money always speaks louder. Luckily for Game of Thrones, that wasn’t the case… and fans rejoice.

My Rating: 5/5

Ernest Cline – Ready Player One

My Review: This is not a brilliant adventure story but the real value of this book is not in the main plot line, it’s in the surrounding universe. If you’re a geek between 30 and 45 years old, you need to read this book. The amount of references to movies, games, music and assorted geekery of the 80s and 90s is enough to keep a grin smile on your face most of the time you’re reading it. Bonus points to the audiobook version of the book read by Will Wheaton. He does a wonderful job impersonating all the characters and references throughout the book. Fully recommended.

My Rating: 5/5

Daniel H. Wilson – Robopocalypse

My Review: What bothered me about this book was not the fact that it decided to pick up on a fairly-old theme of robotic uprising against its fellow humans. It’s OK to use recurring themes as long as you bring something new to it. In this case, the author decided to introduce a Cloverfield-like view of the war against the robots, that is, we’re actually “hearing” the testimony of a surviving soldier that collected several testimonies from different people and robots. The problem with this (and this is not a spoiler) is that you already know that the humans won the war. That, again, may not be a problem as long as you provide a good story in between. But, unfortunately, I don’t think that’s the case. The author doesn’t fully justify the robot uprising and when that is occasionally referred to in the story, it feels a bit rushed and like the old “You humans are bad. Must destroy.” story. Also, the surviving soldier’s testimony on each of the recording episodes always ends with his assessment of the importance of each event and the people involved. This completely guides the reader throughout the plot and we’re left without a single surprise in the entire story. You basically know everything that is going to happen before it actually takes place. The (very) few times that something interesting pops up, it is quickly dealt with and never to be spoken again, leaving the reader with that “That’s it?” feeling. With all its flaws, the story is still entertaining and I very much liked the robot-view of some of the episodes. And considering that Spielberg bought the rights to make a movie out of this book, I’m eager to see what he’ll come up with.

My Rating: 3/5

George R. R. Martin – A Clash Of Kings (A Song Of Ice And Fire #2)

My Review: Continuing with the brilliance of the first book, this second book does not fail to impress since it follows the multiple story-lines with the same greatness in writing. The characters and their personalities are so well described that you can’t help but feel connected to them, even the seriously disturbing ones. A small note of the TV adaptation of the book. While the first season of the Game of Thrones TV show was closely linked to the first book, the second season has taken several liberties by changing some of the characters’ course (but ultimately maintaining their endings) and, although, most of them don’t really matter to the character development, I can’t help but side with some of the decisions made at the TV show for being even better than the ones in the book. For example: the interaction between Arya Stark and Tywin Lannister in the second season of the TV show (and inexistent in the book) is simply brilliant.

My Rating: 5/5

Related: What I’ve been reading, Vol. I, IIIII, IVV and VI

Published by António Lopes on July 6, 2012
Categories: Apple, Geek, Mac, Personal, Technology

My 14 months old SSD has started to act up presenting some occurrences of bad blocks to a point that yesterday my Macbook didn’t even boot. So, I decided to buy a new one with more space (since they’re getting so cheap now) and after a few hours, thanks to Time Machine, I had my whole setup working again just as it was.

Apple is well known for having developed great products that are well ahead of their competitors but the simplicity of Time Machine is just amazing. It’s one of those awesome features that you wish you never have to use, but you’re glad it’s there to help you when you need it.

Published by António Lopes on June 25, 2012
Categories: Funny, Images, Personal, Random

Realistic living statue

What makes this differ from other living statues I’ve seen is the details on the painting. It really looked like one of those old bronze statues that you see in most touristic areas. If he just had the patience and will to include some pigeon crap, it would have been flawless.

Spotted yesterday in beautiful Cascais.

Published by António Lopes on June 25, 2012
Categories: Apple, Geek, Mac, Personal, Technology

Following up on some Raspberry Pi setup notes, I’ve been trying to use it as a media server, but besides the basic stuff, I’ve been unable to use the RPi to its full potential so far. Basically, I installed RaspBMC, which is an XBMC build designed specifically for the RPi, and it works pretty much right away. For the basic stuff anyway…

Published by António Lopes on May 29, 2012

I received this message from the future, and the future described in the message looks awesome 🙂

As always, this kind of writing is inspired by (and dedicated to) my fellow lobster friends from One Over Zero.

Published by António Lopes on May 11, 2012


View of Sintra’s palace from my home using my telescope and the iPhone.

Published by António Lopes on May 4, 2012

Isaac Asimov – Nightfall

My Review: The premise behind this plot is as simple as it is brilliant: a society living in a planet that is surrounded by several suns doesn’t know darkness, until a rare orbital effect causes a total eclipse every 2000 years. It is with this simple plot line that Asimov presents a brilliant story about a society that has to face its biggest fear, which, in fact, serves as a metaphor for any kind of catastrophic event that can launch a society into a primitive state and, therefore, is a great way of making the reader think about their own reality. However, I can’t help but feel that Asimov was a bit lazy about this novel. He does make a point about that in the foreword in which he states that the novel is based on a short story he had previously wrote and that he has made certain choices regarding the characterization of the people in that planet that were meant to simplify the reading process. But what he did was simply think of Earth, add a few suns to it and then describe what would happen if Earth’s population had to face darkness. But a society that never faced darkness would be completely different than our society. There simply wouldn’t be the concept of day as we know it, hence, there wouldn’t be a circadian rhythm. I just think it could have been developed into a full-blown sci-fi novel (probably his best) if only he had extended the idea a bit further. Also, the ending (which, obviously, I won’t discuss here) felt a bit rushed… as if the inspiration ran out or a deadline with the publisher was approaching.

My Rating: 4/5

Suzanne Collins – Catching Fire (The Hunger Games #2)

My Review: In my opinion, this is the best of the 3 books. It still suffers from the same problem as in the first book where some of the twists can be easily predicted but less so. But in any case I like the main idea of the plot (which I can’t reveal as it would be somehow a spoiler) and I think it’s quite well written. I also like the way it ends and how it leaves the reader eager to read the next book.

My Rating: 4/5

Suzanne Collins – Mockingjay (The Hunger Games #3)

My Review: Sadly, the last book of the Hunger Games trilogy is also, in my opinion, the worst. I don’t know if the intention of the author was to use the book as a personal manifesto against war (by implicitly stating that no one actually wins in a war and most of the times, nothing changes afterwards, in which case I think the book is actually perfect to convey that message) but the story is too depressing and completely different from the other two, in which hope was the main message. Perhaps that is a good thing, it just wasn’t what I was expecting. And I’m not sure that it’ll work as a movie to end a trilogy. Maybe they’ll change the plot a bit to conform more to the other two.

My Rating: 3/5

William Gibson – Neuromancer

My Review: This book was part of my quest to fill in my gaps in sci-fi classics. It is a well known and critically-aclaimed book that defined a new genre in science-fiction about a futuristic society where people have brain-computer interfaces to access a global network system called the Matrix (that rings a bell, doesn’t it?). The story is mind-blowing (yay for artificial intelligence) but a bit confusing and far-fetched at some points, but overall I totally understand why it is considered a classic. To have had the opportunity to read this in 1984 would have simply been a life-changing event. At the age of 33 in 2012 not so much so.

My Rating: 4/5

Isaac Asimov – Foundation #1

My Review: I love Asimov’s writing style and this book isn’t any different. He simply lays the plot’s premise at the beginning and then the reader just follows the story while mixing it with its own thoughts about that premise. That’s what I love about sci-fi, it’s the way it makes you think about those things you’ve never thought about before. In this case, it’s all about the use of knowledge and the power that comes with it, including predicting future events by making use of Psychohistory, a science that can predict the future but only in the large scale of a society, not at the individual scale. However, the book didn’t feel exciting enough to me, which perhaps makes sense because it was not meant to be read as a single book, it is part of a larger story. When I get the time, I’ll read the entire Foundation series.

My Rating: 4/5

Related: What I’ve been reading, Vol. I, IIIII, IV and V

Published by António Lopes on April 12, 2012
Categories: News, Personal, Random, Society

Apparently an extension to the Portuguese law that prohibits smoking in enclosed public spaces is being discussed so as to include the situation in which parents smoke inside their cars while transporting their children. I agree with the situation the law intends to include but not necessarily with the fact it should be a law, as in, “you’ll get fined or go to jail if you don’t comply”.

Up in smoke

Up in smoke, by Pedro Moura Pinheiro

People might misinterpret my words so, let me clarify: I fully agree children should not be exposed to their parents’ smoking environment. And I get it that a law is probably the only way to enforce the protection of children whose parents are irresponsible enough to include their children in their smoking environment.

Now imagine that, in the future, the government prohibits parents from taking their children to McDonald’s or any other junk food restaurant because too much of that kind of food can turn your kids into adults with high risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. The argument is still the same: the law exists because there are irresponsible parents that do not protect their children from harmful activities (even if that harm only reveals itself in the distant future). Would your position still be the same as in the smoking law? Or would you find that to be a huge invasion of your freedom?

You’d probably say: “Ah but that’s different!” Well, is it? From a health point of view, the situations are exactly the same. You might think I’m being extreme but actually, junk food might be worse since a lot more people die of cardiovascular diseases than people die of smoke-related diseases. However, a lot more people would oppose to this no-junk-food-for-small-children law than the no-smoking-near-children law. Why is that?

What worries me the most is the precedence that this kind of law opens. Would you like to live in a future in which you’d need to show your most recent cholesterol exams just to prove that you are allowed to eat a Big Mac? Yeah, me neither.

I think people should have the freedom to be idiots.

Published by António Lopes on March 2, 2012
Categories: Images, Personal, Random, Society

There has always been a discussion about Agnosticism and Atheism. Are they mutually exclusive or are they supposed to be combined in a two-dimensional scale? It’s a difficult question to tackle but Zach Weiner’s post is one of the best texts I read on this subject.

He makes an interesting point about the question of whether or not you’re agnostic should come before the question of whether or not you’re atheist. Here’s his proposal in graphical terms:

Want to know if you're an agnostic or an atheist? Follow this simple flow chart!

Want to know if you're an agnostic or an atheist? Follow this simple flow chart!

His point is that if a person is agnostic (i.e. a person that believes it is impossible to know if there’s a deity), then there isn’t really a point about discussing whether or not you’re an atheist (i.e. a person that doesn’t believe in the existence of deities) because you’ve already stated that it is impossible to know if there is a God or not.

The other interesting point that he tackles is the absolute certainty with which one can affirm he/she is an Agnostic or Atheist. It all comes down to the knowledge you possess at this point and things can (and most probably will) change in the future.

So, for now, I’d make his words my own:

I like to just call myself “irreligious.” Whether I’m agnostic or gnostic or atheist or whatever is really dependent on what we’re talking about. But I know for a fact that I don’t attend a place of worship, and don’t assume any books are sacred.

Categories: Geek, Internet, Personal, Technology

Inspired by what @andr3 did for his brother (@brunoluis) as a Christmas present, I decided I wanted to do something similar for my wife on Valentine’s day: a simple website where she could browse her Instagram photos. But instead of a static website that I’d have to constantly update as she would take more and more photos, I wanted a dynamic web app that would automatically update as new photos would be taken.

So, I had a look at the Instagram API and was quite amazed by how simple and quick it was to set up a simple web app to browse the photos. I just had to apply a bit of CSS and JavaScript wizardry… et voilá! A simple Mosaic Photo Browser for your Instagram photos.

Mosaic Photo Browser

Obviously, after it was developed I realized that, since I used the Instagram API (even though I was only planning to do this for my wife as a present), the web app could be opened to anyone with an Instagram account. So, after Valentine’s day has passed (wifey loved the present, by the way), I just made the quick adjustments to make the site more generic (I think the introductory love message on the site wasn’t suitable for every user) and it should now be ready for primetime.

Now remember, this web app is not meant to be a full-fledged Instagram client (for that, there’s Statigram). It only allows you to browse your photos (and those of the people you follow) in a beautiful mosaic. Although other features can be added in the future, for now the main goal is just to offer a quick way to view your photos when you’re on your computer.

Because it uses the Instagram API, this web app never asks for your username or password. That is done through the Instagram API OAUTH mechanism, which means that this web app never has access to your private information.

Also, this was developed to be used by modern day browsers such as Firefox, Chrome and Safari. Please, avoid using Internet Explorer. It’ll still work (hopefully), although I can’t guarantee it’ll be a pleasant experience.

If you have any comments, you can just post a comment here or hit me up on Twitter: @tonyvirtual.