The last book by Umberto Eco, who passed away on 2016-02-19. He used all of his tricks in making this one. From the opening, where the narrator believThe last book by Umberto Eco, who passed away on 2016-02-19. He used all of his tricks in making this one. From the opening, where the narrator believes someone was in his apartment while he was asleep, like in The Prague Cemetery, to the end where the narrator's girlfriend debunks his crazy conspiracy theories using common sense, like in Foucault's Pendulum. He even manages to squeeze in a paragraph in the style of his article Living by Proverbs (in Inventing_the_Enemy).
True to Eco's style, the novel operates at multiple levels.
The first chapter introduces a narrator whose memory is unreliable. Most of the novel is told in a long flashback. But since his memory is unreliable, how much can we trust what he is telling us?
The main device of the novel is a newspaper that reports on past events as if they had just happened. It uses hindsight on those events to make predictions that will have turn out to be true, making it look like the newspaper had foresight, when it was just hindsight. As a proof of concept, they invent issues from one year prior that hint at what developed in the year since. Now, the novel itself is set in 1992 but was published in 2015. Does it try to be prophetic about the impact that events in 1992 would have in the following 20+ years? I'm not familiar enough with Italian politics to answer this.
In chapter two, we learn the narrator, Colonna, is "fifty or so" years old in 1992. Eco himself was born in 1932 and was 60 in 1992. They are both from Northern Italy and studied literature in college. Colonna could work as a proxy for the author, much like the protagonist in The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana.
One of the themes is how the media are manipulating public opinion for purely capitalistic reasons. It foreshadows the commercialization of news departments in the years since 1992. Eco uses these moments to show how writers can manipulate the mind of their readers and create different effects with the words they choose to use or not to use. This is another literary concept that is dear to Eco.
It's not the news that makes the newspaper, but the newspaper that makes the news.
This theme is closely related to what Eco explored in Baudolino, where the main character believes he can manufacture reality simply by inventing it in his mind. If a lie is repeated often enough, people can start believing it is true.
Another theme deals with hermetic knowledge: the idea that all things are related and you can deduce a relationship between two things by looking at two other, separate things. As secret societies develop to protect some secret knowledge, someone with the right hermetic knowledge might be able to piece together the secret by gathering and analyzing other pieces of evidence. This was the central theme of Foucault's Pendulum; and that whether or not the secret is real does not matter, as long as there are people who believe in it and will do anything to defend them.
Everything always fits with everything else, you just have to know how to read the coffee grounds.
Eco doesn't believe in hermetic knowledge, but it makes great fodder for conspiracy theories. And those make good stories.
An interesting subplot revolves around how can one person know what another person is experiencing? The communicator has a mental model in their head and sends messages to transfer that model into their targets' head. Maia's character keeps sending messages that are misinterpreted, leading others to think she might be autistic, unable to understand that someone else might be thinking something different from her. As her relationship with Colonna develops, the two of them "think what the other thinks", meaning their mental models are more in sync and require less messaging to communicate.
One last quote:
the pleasures of erudition are reserved for losers.
Colonna doesn't have any achievements that extend beyond his person, so he considers himself a loser. He takes pleasure in intellectual pursuits, I suspect much like Eco himself did. By the end of the novel, Colonna and Maia have resolved themselves to an ordinary, insignificant life, but one which they will enjoy.
MEAN ties the latest web development technologies together, the way LAMP tied the early open source stack, years ago. This book should be a decent intMEAN ties the latest web development technologies together, the way LAMP tied the early open source stack, years ago. This book should be a decent intro to the key players.
It starts by building a server-side template application using Express. This was familiar territory for me. The server fetches data from the database, uses it to populate an HTML template, and returns this HTML to the browser. It then proceeds to build some of the functionality as a REST API. This last part felt a little forced, when you consider it by itself, but it makes sense if you are going to move to a single page application model later on, which the book does using AngularJS.
The book covers just enough of each technology to get through the sample application. It's not quite enough for me to start doing my thing with them, but it is a solid starting point. There is still a lot of ancillary material to look at. For instance, the Mongo schema shows how to embed subdocuments, but not how to connect together different top-level documents, either one-to-one or one-to-many or many-to-many.
I like that the book is doing its best to promote the coding style of its user community (as far as I can tell). This is particularly evident in the AngularJS code, where the official documentation recommends a coding style that is quite different from what is widespread in the community. I find this style much easier to follow and work with. I got quite stuck after reading AngularJS in Action with an app that had an infinite loop and I was only able to fix it after I refactored the code to make it closer to what is in this book.
I also really appreciated the parts where they show you how to host your application for free on Heroku and mLab (formerly MongoLab). ...more
I started learning about AngularJS and did one quick tutorial. I was looking forward to learning more through this book.
Fact: the book came out in JulI started learning about AngularJS and did one quick tutorial. I was looking forward to learning more through this book.
Fact: the book came out in July 2015. Fact: the oldest message on the Manning forum for the book dates back to 2013-03-20. Fact: the book is about AngularJS 1.0. Fact: AngularJS 2.0 was announced in September 2014.
Fact: the book is very short at 152 pages and 10 pages of appendices. Fact: the book starts well enough, with chapters 1 through 4 elegantly presenting the major parts of AngularJS, but the second half feels rushed and is very hard to understand.
Here is what I think happened. In late 2012 or early 2013, Manning decided to produce a book on AngularJS. Almost two years into the project, the AngularJS team threw them a curveball with a new incompatible AngularJS 2.0. Manning had to choose between scraping the work so far or rush to have it come out before AngularJS 2.0. They must have chosen the latter, which would explain both the slimness of the book and the rushed feeling in the second half.
I really appreciated the first four chapters and the way they introduced the various parts of AngularJS. But already by chapter 4, there were bits of complex code involving $http and promises that were just talked over instead of really explaining to the reader what is happening behind the scene. These are powerful concepts that programmers are going to want to use heavily and need to understand thoroughly. It got worse in the following chapters with directives and animation. I could read the code but I could not see the full context and understand what else was possible. The prose simply restated the code in "plain English" and did not add anything.
The book could use some architecture diagrams that explain better how the pieces fit together. Especially sequence diagrams that would show who is called when and by whom and in what context. AngularJS is a framework that calls the programmer's code at the right moment. Knowing the context is really important so we can plug the right code in the right place. I find myself writing this criticism of Manning books more and more.
In the end, I cannot really recommend this book. It is too thin to be useful as a reference. And it will become obsolete as soon as AngularJS 2.0 is finalized. ...more
I worked with Sam a few years ago and I was curious to see what he'd been up to.
Microservices are all the rage, right now. At work, I've been struggliI worked with Sam a few years ago and I was curious to see what he'd been up to.
Microservices are all the rage, right now. At work, I've been struggling with a monolith of my own. We cannot upgrade the technology stack because the task is just too big. Had we had a microservice-based approach, we would have had small pieces that we could have upgraded one at a time over time.
The most important characteristic of microservices is to minimize coupling between them, so that the lifecycle of one is not tied to the lifecycle of any others. With an independent lifecycle, a microservice is free to evolve at its own pace. Finding the right boundaries between microservices is therefore critical. And the choice of integration technology can influence the options for implementing a microservice too.
The book gives a whirlwind tour of the a wide array of techniques and technologies that can help you manage a simple service but become crucial when dealing with a large number of cooperating microservices. Some examples, in no particular order:
ELK (Elasticsearch, Logstash, Kibana)
Strangler pattern when replacing legacy systems
Netflix's Simian Army
circuit breakers and bulkheads to contain failures
data pumps for aggregating data in data warehouses
RPC vs. event-based
Some of the anecdotes reminded me of experiences I've had a Google, some of them great and some of them less so. Overall, the book gives broad coverage of all the things you must keep in mind if you want to start using microservices. It does not provide in depth coverage of any one topic, so you have to look elsewhere for direct implementation advice. The book does give you a number of places to start looking and the big picture view so you can see how the pieces fit together. ...more
I really liked Uncle Bob's Clean Code, and I thought this would be aimed in the same direction of how to produce code in a way that is enjoyable. ButI really liked Uncle Bob's Clean Code, and I thought this would be aimed in the same direction of how to produce code in a way that is enjoyable. But it has more to do with Uncle Bob's vision of software engineering as a profession. He presents the attitudes and behaviors that he feels are part of a professional software engineer's ethos.
One important aspect deals with commitments. They form the basis of the relationship between engineer and client, whether the engineer is a consultant or an employee, in which case the client is the business manager. Commitments create expectations and each side usually understands things differently. A professional understands this potential for misunderstanding and makes sure everyone is on the same page. This includes avoiding to commit to goals that cannot be achieved, and doing everything to deliver on what was committed to. The professional also has a duty to work with the client to find a goal that is achievable and serves the business.
Another important is handling pressure. A professional relies on a set of best practices in his everyday work and they should not abandon them the going gets tough. If these practices represent the best way that the engineer knows how to work, then they should be that much more important when the project is having difficulties.
The book ends with with Uncle Bob's manifesto for his vision of the software craftsmanship movement. When I say I'm a software craftsman, I care mostly about workmanship and a certain creativity. It's more about a state of mind, really. The Software Craftsmanship movement, with capitals, as described by Uncle Bob and others, cares a lot about methods of training and apprenticeships. It's more about external relationships.
Overall, the books has many interesting anecdotes about Uncle Bob and his career, but little that is broadly applicable beyond that....more
Masterfully ties everything together. I had to go back to almost all five previous books to understand everything. It is very thorough in tying everytMasterfully ties everything together. I had to go back to almost all five previous books to understand everything. It is very thorough in tying everything together....more
Insignificance has a negative connotation, but Kundera sets out to write a celebration of insignificance. He shows us how things that are insignificanInsignificance has a negative connotation, but Kundera sets out to write a celebration of insignificance. He shows us how things that are insignificant to the group can be important to the individual: the small thoughts that matter only to us and are unique to each of us. In the day to day, we concerns themselves with things that matter to us in the moment but that are not that important in the long term, and usually, we're the only ones who care.
Each character in the novel has their own preoccupation. It generates deep thoughts in them in private, but reveal their insignificance when they are shared with others. Alain never really knew his mother and thinks a lot about his place in the world. Caliban invents a fake Pakistanese identity that only amuses him. An imaginary Staline takes pleasure in abusing Kalinin, but he's the only one who knows about it.
At the other extreme, La Franck is vain and shallow. She tries to make an insignificant moment profound for others to prop herself up, but it falls flat and she leaves.
There is a dialog towards the end that I feel is key. The characters discuss how you don't get to pick your looks, your gender, where you were born, when you were born, your mother; yet these factors are critical to how your life will unfold. Next to them, all the other human rights that we think are so important are really futile. ...more
Single page applications are all the rage these days. I figured this book could help me make sense of it all. I'm particularly interested in AngularJSSingle page applications are all the rage these days. I figured this book could help me make sense of it all. I'm particularly interested in AngularJS, but it never came up in the book.
The book walks you through all the steps to build a fully functional chat application. It shows client-side interactions, abstracting a data layer, communicating with a server to exchange messages, and storing user profiles in a database on the server. The example is just complex enough to showcase all the steps with drawing too much attention to itself.
Overall, it's a decent walkthrough of DIY single page apps. If you want to build a professional app, you might be better off with Dojo or some of the frameworks out there. This will not become a reference that I would get back to very often.
Throughout, the authors show you step-by-step how to write the code for all of the components. They do a great job of starting with a bare bone template and fill in the functionality gradually. They use bold text judiciously to show the differences between each successive iteration of the development.
They use the URL itself to store the state of the app. This lets the app lean on the browser's history mechanism to handle the back button and other navigation.
The authors mention "fractal MVC" as a means to structure the parts of the application. The idea is great in principle, if the lower layers are completely encapsulated in their enclosing component. A container shouldn't have to dig into the details of its components. But they messed it up by having the top-level shell control everything in the lower layers.
There is a great introduction of Node.js and why it is well suited for use with Socket.IO for client-server communication. Without getting bogged down in technical details, they make a case for resource management and how it is more lightweight than regular TCP connections.
There is also a good introduction to MongoDB and how to connect it to Node.js. Again, it is just enough to wet the appetite and start playing with the database.
Much of the writing is really juvenile. The lead ins are repetitive and often condescending. There are a few attempts at humor but they feel forced and fell flat. The whole just felt unprofessional and reduced their credibility.
They write their own custom frontend framework instead of relying on more widespread technology. They complain that current frameworks all have tradeoffs that they were not comfortable with and that they wanted to show the inner workings of a web framework. They end up having to build a lot of infrastructure and deploy patterns that are not trivial to understand. And because they build their framework incrementally, it is not clear where they are going.
The flows of control get so complicated that they could really have used some sequence and/or collaboration diagrams. I got lost in all the inter-module communication.
Throughout, the authors rely exclusively on manual testing. They build a piece of functionality and then try it out in a browser or make calls to the server using curl. There is an appendix that delves into automated testing, but it feels like a bolted on late addition. ...more
Responsive web pages are all the rage these days. I figured this book could help me make sense of it all.
In the end, I couldn't help but be disappointResponsive web pages are all the rage these days. I figured this book could help me make sense of it all.
In the end, I couldn't help but be disappointed. Carver, the author, tries to straddle the divide between designers and programmers but the book is too short to be helpful to either. The design insights are too few and too high-level. The technical insights are either too trivial or would require better exposition to highlight their internal structure and explain their tradeoffs.
For example, the section on design patterns was a missed opportunity to illustrate multiple related patterns and show how they resolve forces in different ways. The reader would have a better perspective of the solution space and of how to navigate it. Instead, we get two measly patterns and no clear discussion of why or when one might be more beneficial than the other. A footnote points to a website of responsive design patterns, but the site is not well suited to side-by-side comparison.
Carver uses an interesting device by having sidebars for designer-specific and developer-specific advice. In these sidebars, he can raise the level for these audiences. The unfortunate side effect is that the main text appears condescending to both.
There were some nuggets here and there. Modernizr and Foundation look like good tools to have under your belt. But it missed other opportunities to discuss emerging technologies like Bootstrap and Purecss under the excuse that frameworks can constrain and stiffle your creativity. Smells of Not Invented Here syndrome to me. Or maybe the editor didn't want to undermine potential of new titles on these technologies. ...more
This update brings it up to Grails 2.3.7. Between final edits and actual publication, Grails is now on version 2.4.2 and some people are already pointThis update brings it up to Grails 2.3.7. Between final edits and actual publication, Grails is now on version 2.4.2 and some people are already pointing out incompatibilities.
We're still using Grails 1.3.7 at work, so I got to read about all the cool new things in Grails 2 without being able to use any of them. And there is plenty to get excited about! Just about every chapter brought in some new piece that made me wish I could use it in my day-to-day job.
The book itself was much better put together than the first edition. The examples flow better from chapter to chapter and I didn't find any inconsistencies.
The thing that impressed me the most was how they use Spock for all their testing. It makes the tests much more readable and possibly much easier to manage. I remember using RSpec with Ruby, and Spock brings the same expressiveness to Grails. It still supports JUnit-based tests from before, so you don't have to rewrite all your tests when upgrading a project, but you should definitely switch to it for any new tests.
The new where queries are much more flexible than the old findAllBy... dynamic queries. Since they use AST transforms, they are much more flexible and can work beyond strictly SQL-based data stores. They are also much easier to test, not requiring integration tests for anything beyond trivial queries.
The chapter on Platform Core and pub/sub messaging showed me how large chunks of code that I've written are now baked in, for all intents and purposes. I used Spring Events to build an event-based architecture, but the event in Platform Core are much better integrated and require a minimum of code. And moving from there to distributed events (JMS-based or otherwise) is also now trivial to add to any application.
Caching is now as simple as putting a few annotations here and there. Much better than an intrusive service that needs to be wired by hand everywhere it's needed.
The authors did a good job of showing how to include the latest technologies into a Grails application. AngularJS, Redis, MongoDB, and Neo4j all make guest appearances. Everything you need to build a cutting edge app....more
Clarifies many threads started in the previous volume. The overall plot is jumping back and forth in time, but we experience everything from the perspClarifies many threads started in the previous volume. The overall plot is jumping back and forth in time, but we experience everything from the perspective of Cyann, so it can be difficult to follow what's going on. And since the books come out a few years apart, it's hard to keep in all in head. ...more
Kundera's latest book is a collection of short texts where he develops his understanding of Modernism across the arts and of the novel in particular.Kundera's latest book is a collection of short texts where he develops his understanding of Modernism across the arts and of the novel in particular. The result is rather eclectic but an interesting peek into Modernism and some of its less famous proponents.
Each section as short enough that I could read each one in a single session and then write down my notes immediately thereafter.
The Painter's Brutal Gesture: On Francis Bacon
Early and mainstream modernists gained followers who helped define their vision. Francis Bacon, being the last of the modernist painters, does not have such a group that imposes a form. He is free to draw inspiration from all of Modernism. His paintings cut to the core of their subject, without any additional layers. He shows life as an accident, without any higher purpose.
Novels, Existential Soundings
Different novels shed different lights on separate aspects of the human experience: laughter (The Idiot), vanity, sex (Philip Roth), individuality (as a nine year old), idylls (Tworki), living in the present with imperfect memories, life as a continuation through generations (One Hundred Years of Solitude). Novels help us explore the human condition.
Blacklists, or Divertimento in Homage to Anatole France
Each of us only knows a portion of a given artist's works and we form our opinion based on that partial knowledge. Therefore, it is very easy for two persons to have completely different interpretations and appreciations for a same artist.
The setting of a novel can mask its message if the reader closely identifies with that setting (e.g. a Frenchman and the French Revolution). Fleeting opinions of a blacklisted artist is all based on incomplete information.
The Dream of Total Heritage
As an art form develops, its possibilities narrow down as it gets more and more precisely defined. Then, an artist comes along who breaks with tradition and reconnects with the original, total possibility of the art. Witness Rabelais, Beethoven, Xenakis, and Fuentes. Either they claim ownership of their entire art, or else they place themselves outside of it, above it.
Beautiful Like a Multiple Encounter
Kundera comments on Modernist literature of Martinique and how it relates to prior developments in the art of the novel. It not only expands on European Modernist tendencies, but taps into local oral traditions the way the early European novel developed from its earlier oral tradition too. It is not only Caribbean meets Europe, but early novel meets modern novel.
Exile can be freeing for an artist, who is no longer bound by obligations to his home nation, and not bound by their host nation either. The artist's only loyalty has to be to their art, and nothing else. This can cause breaches in friendships when expectations start to diverge.
As a Canadian and Québec expatriate living in the United States, this part resonated very strongly with me. I am proud of my heritage, but I do not feel beholden to it either.
My First Love
Kundera grew up in the legacy of Janacek and better understands why he belongs with Modernist composers, and not romantic nationalists. Janacek was a late bloomer and has a unique understanding of how nostalgia is how music expresses old age. This is in contrast to how old age is usually represented in visual arts. Janacek's isolation made it difficult of him to belong to an art movement and be recognized.
Kundera deplores the loss of art for art's sake in Europe of the 20th Century. Makers of films (Fellini), photographs (Brecht), music (Schönberg), novels, poetry are being analyzed with a clinical coldness for their intrinsic faults, not what they bring to their art and to the human experience.
The Skin: Malaparte's Archi-Novel
Malaparte gives a new form to the novel. He uses it to express his view of the new Europe that emerged from the ashes of World War II. His novels are less formal than 19th Century novels, more realist than surrealists of the early 20th Century. They capture the end of Europe, destroyed internally by Germans and finished by liberating Americans....more
Hitchens told his editor he would write about anything except sports. So when he was diagnosed with cancer, he wrote about it. And as he approached hiHitchens told his editor he would write about anything except sports. So when he was diagnosed with cancer, he wrote about it. And as he approached his own end, he kept on writing. He takes us on an intimate ride along as he explores his attitude towards death.
Early on, when death is but a shadow on the distant horizon, Hitchens is more outward-facing. He deals with religion and people wishing him well (and sometimes not). As the book and his cancer progress, he sheds externalities and slowly gets more personal.
Breakdown by chapter:
1. Diagnosis, dealing with the news, side effects of therapy.
2. People express their religious sentiments. He'll have none of it.
3. The medical establishment tries everything to fight the disease. More false hopes.
4. People's euphemisms to avoid talking about death.
5. Losing his voice strikes really close to home. Voice and expression are at the core of existence.
6. How people choose to die. How what almost kills him is not making him stronger. Starts to yearn for the end.
7. Personal observations on pain and fear, in the face of torture ... or medical procedures.
8. Unfinished thoughts. Fitting that at the end, even his mind comes apart.
Hitchens mentions journalist John Diamond who also wrote a regular column about his experience with cancer, up to his death. He mentions how his story "lacked compactness toward the end..." He didn't fall into the same trap. The book is concise and to the point, a quick read that goes straight to the point. ...more
Governments, especially 18th Century European governments, need an enemy to focus public discontent away from themselves. Simonini, the main characterGovernments, especially 18th Century European governments, need an enemy to focus public discontent away from themselves. Simonini, the main character, provides forged documents to assist one faction or the other in their quest to hold on to power, as he lives through the Italian unification and later the numerous troubles of Paris in that century. A product of his age, he is a misanthrope, a misogynist, an anti-semite, sometimes an anarchist, sometimes pretending to be a freemason. The novel wants to be a historical novel, where the background and much of the action is grounded in actual history. Simonini is a thread that anchors the story through those tumultuous times and gives us a unique point of view of all these secret services, secret societies, and charlatans. This allows Eco to weave Garibaldi, the Franco-Prussian War, the Paris Commune, and even the Dreyfus Affair into the story, setting the stage for 20th Century events to come.
It took me a whole year to get through this novel, not because of it is particularly dense (it is actually quite light for an Eco novel), but simply because the main character is so antipathetic. Eco went to great lengths to make him as unlikeable as possible. There is not one shred of humanity in him that the reader can associate with, not even the gourmet eating, which is lavishly described throughout.
Diaries And Narrators
There are all kinds of characters involved in manipulating history from the shadows. Eco needs different narrators to help convey the principal archetypes. Simonini is a forger, in it for the money. Abbé Dalla Piccola is a manipulating priest, led by a grand plan, a more noble ambition. To help transition between the two, there is an omniscient Narrator who can fill as needed in the other to separate the other two narration, or humanize them by letting them succumb to human frailties, such as confusion, or willful forgetfulness, or fatigue.
Unsatisfying, Gratuitous Sex Scene
As in The Name of the Rose, we get a brief sex scene between an inexperienced male and a lusting female. We share the point of view of the male, who is so overwhelmed that he gets utterly confused. It is awkward and totally misses on the sensuality of the moment. I could have done without.
Eco uses an open ended narrative device to reinforce the role of the reader in constructing the story for themselves.
* * * Spoiler Alert * * *
Did the bomb explode? Did Simonini die in the explosion? Did Gaviali set him up to extract revenge? Was it Rachkovsky cleaning up loose ends and getting rid of a potential witness, just as Simonini had done numerous times? Or maybe Simonini survived, somehow, and realizing the danger he is in, has gone into hiding? It is up to the reader to finish the story for themselves.
Somewhere between pages 331-378:
Nothing is more original than something that's already been published.
What he means is that when trying to convince people that a fake document is genuine, it helps if the target audience is already familiar with the material. Previously published material will strike a resonance in the reader's mind and prime them to treat the new material as authentic. Especially if the material was published some time ago and the audience's recollection is a little fuzzy. It will feel right since it matches prior recollections. Most people won't go through the trouble of double checking.
On page 421:
Most of those who join secret societies are opportunists who seek to make their own way and have no worthy purposes.
This is said in the context of jews-infiltrating-secret-societies-in-their-plan-to-take-over-the-world. What it means is that members look for a sense of purpose, which the leaders can provide and then use to manipulate the group and get them to support the leaders' agenda, sometimes against their own best interest. Eco's character makes that statement about secret society membership, but I think it can easily be applied to most organizations. ...more