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Monday, December 3, 2012

Book Review: The Tombs

The Tombs
Why no real cover?

In the adventure novel The Tombs by Clive Cussler, the rich treasure hunting couple Sam and Remi Fargo are called to help by a friend of theirs with an excavation. What they find puts them on the trail of Attila’s long-lost tomb. But they are not the only ones interested in the treasures, and soon they find themselves in grave danger.

This is the fourth book in Clive Cussler’s Fargo adventure series. It’s my favorite series by him, though I have to say this book is not the best one of them. Still, the fast-paced action combined with very likeable characters made the book a joy to read and a pain to hear the alarm clock after way too little sleep. For me, they made up for the in parts somewhat thin story.

Again, one of the things Cussler does really well is to present a double-protagonist of male and female, including some genderized roles such as a damsel in distress scene, while balancing those out easily and giving both partners strengths and weaknesses that make neither one clearly superior. This is sadly rare in the book market.

If you like adventure stories, don’t miss out on this book.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Circe 1.0 released

Version 1.0 of Circe, the Client for IRC in Emacs, has been released.

It is always difficult to make a release, especially a major one such as 1.0, for software you develop yourself. Programs are really never done, so making that step can take a while. For us, it took over seven years.

Development on Circe began in August 2005. Since then, Circe has grown a lot, and today, a small group of developers are actively using and continuously improving it.

You can read more about it on the client homepage:


Monday, November 26, 2012

Book Review: Blaze of Glory

Blaze of Glory
Why no real cover?

In the apocalyptic novel Blaze of Glory by Weston Ochse, the world is overrun by zombies an extraterrestial blob of slime martian invaders maggots, which are seemingly exterminating all of humanity. The story follows an unlikely group of survivors, who for all they know could be the last living people on earth! They stick together to push through, but the odds are against them.

As this summary of the plot might show, the story of this book is very, very generic. In the post scriptum of the book, the author notes that he wanted to write a story in the B-movie genre alongside of Tremors and The Blob, and if that was the goal, he succeeded well. Too well, for my taste: The book has pretty much no unique flavor, no surprises, nothing to set it apart from all the other stories in this genre. Which is sad, because the characters are somewhat likeable and the general writing style is mostly fast-paced and easy to read. Had the author done just a little bit to make the story stand out from the rest, this could have been a great book. But as is, it’s just one of many.

Unless you are a huge fan of b-movie apocalyptic worlds, I can’t recommend this book.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Book Review: Isaac Bell Adventures

Isaac Bell Adventures
Why no real cover?

In the adventure novel series Isaac Bell Adventures by Clive Cussler, the handsome detective Isaac Bell solves crimes at the beginning of the 20th century. Isaac is a banker’s son with great wealth, but prefers the thrill of detective work. His family’s wealth does help, though. Together with his sharp mind, he has become the top agent of the Van Dorn private investigation agency.

Adventure novels. A strikingly smart, handsome, good and friendly protagonist. A smart, corrupt, evil and cruel antagonist. Some beautiful women who madly fall in love with the protagonist. If you are by now feeling all sick and wonder why you’re reading this, this series is not for you. If you went “oh, sounds fun”, then you should look at Cussler’s books.

The Isaac Bell series combines Cussler’s adventure book style with the somewhat unusual time of the very beginning of the 20th century, which is a refreshing change and interesting to read.

My main gripe with adventure novels is the portrayal of women. The white knighting theme is pretty strong, and that generally requires a damsel in distress. I know from the Fargo adventures that Cussler can and does write strong female characters, though. In the first book of the series, The Chase, the two main women are surprisingly strong when you consider the time it is set in. I do hope this is the lower bar for the rest of the series, not the upper end.

So, if you like adventure novels, especially of the Cussler kind, and would like to read them in a refreshingly new setting, Isaac Bell might be of interest to you.

Buchrezension: Der sterbende König

Der sterbende König
Warum kein richtiges Cover?

Der historische Roman Der sterbende König von Bernard Cornwell beginnt am Ende des neunten Jahrhunderts, zu einer Zeit, als sich die Dänen überraschend ruhig verhalten. König Alfred liegt im Sterben und sein Nachfolger Edward ist in Skandale verwickelt. Trotz dieser günstigen Gelegenheit scheinen die Dänen nicht angreifen zu wollen. Der Frieden, den der Christengott verspricht, scheint wahr zu werden. Als Kriegsherr Uhtred zu einer Bündnisverhandlung mit einem benachbarten König entsendet wird, stellt er jedoch fest, dass der Schein trügt.

Die Uhtred-Saga von Bernard Cornwell ist eine meiner absoluten Lieblingsbuchreihen. Cornwells Schreibstil finde ich hier besser als in allen anderen seiner Bücher, und ich mag die meisten seiner Bücher. Zudem gefällt mir das Setting wirklich gut. Cornwell schafft es, eine historische Welt mit vielen kleinen Details und Hintergründen zum Leben zu erwecken, ohne sich von der spannenden Haupthandlung ablenken zu lassen. Der sterbende König ist vielleicht nicht der beste Band aus der Uhtred-Saga, aber das nimmt dem Buch keinerlei Faszination.

Für Freunde historischer Romane und natürlich Cornwell-Fans einfach ein muss.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Douglas Hofstadter: Person Paper on Purity in Language

I found this text originally on cs.virginia.edu, but it got removed from there (update: it appears to be back). To preserve this gem on the internet, I copied it here.

A Person Paper on Purity in Language

William Satire (alias Douglas R. Hofstadter)

From Metamagical Themas: Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern, by Douglas R. Hofstadter, Basic Books, 1985.
(Original web version: http://www.bloomington.in.us/~abangert/person.html)

It's high time someone blew the whistle on all the silly prattle about revamping our language to suit the purposes of certain political fanatics. You know what I'm talking about-those who accuse speakers of English of what they call "racism." This awkward neologism, constructed by analogy with the well-established term "sexism," does not sit well in the ears, if I may mix my metaphors. But let us grant that in our society there may be injustices here and there in the treatment of either race from time to time, and let us even grant these people their terms "racism" and "racist." How valid, however, are the claims of the self-proclaimed "black libbers," or "negrists"-those who would radically change our language in order to "liberate" us poor dupes from its supposed racist bias?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Taxes Are Not Simply Passed On To The Consumer

A recurring argument in political discussions regarding taxes is that taxes on corporations, products, or resources are not really affecting the corporations, as they are simply passed on to the consumer. This argument is, in the extreme form, simply false and is based on a common misconception of how prices are formed.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Lies, Damn Lies, and Elections

Tuesday is the US election, and it’s all over the news here. Even though I do not get to vote, it’s an election that will affect the whole world. Including me. So I tried to keep updated on it to have a well-formed opinion.

That was surprisingly hard.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Emacs: Search for Symbol at Point

One thing I regularly do is to try and look for other occurrences of the symbol at point in my buffer. This can serve as a poor man’s way of finding the definition or callers of a function, or uses of a variable. It’s kind of annoying to do that in Emacs by default, sadly. The following code from my .emacs will enable the key shortcut C-d in isearch to yank the symbol at point into the search string. So C-s C-d will then start a search for that symbol, and already highlight it. Keep hitting C-s to move to further occurrences.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Assessing the Threat of Cyber Terrorism

A while back, the notorious terrorist organization Al Qaeda called for an “electronic jihad” against the United States. This video is almost unheard of in the European Union outside of the UK, but it seems to have caused quite some fear in the United States. The worries range from a general low-key anxiety to full-out fear that the end of civilization is close. So, what’s the true threat of “Cyber Terrorism”?

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Burden of Set Theory

The christian fundamentalist school book series A Beka Book is advertised, among other things, with the following:

“A Beka Book provides attractive, legible, workable traditional mathematics texts that are not burdened with modern theories such as set theory.”

… wait a moment. Set theory and “burdened?” “Modern?” 1874 is not exactly what I’d call “modern,” but then I’m a computer scientist so my views on “modern” and “old” are somewhat skewed. But “burdened?” Set theory is one of the most fundamental theories of mathematics and important pre-requisite for most higher-level stuff. So. Uh. What?

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Science and Truth

Adapted from Vadim Kurland (originally posted to Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve recently read some people rant about how science and only science gives us “the truth” about the world. This belief seems to be quite common in fundamentalist atheist circles. As a scientist, I find that sad, because it’s wrong. I’d go as far as “science does not care about truth.” Let me explain.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Book Review: Winter’s Bone

Winter’s Bone
Why no real cover?

In Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone, 16-year-old Ree Dolly has to tend her mentally ill mother and two pre-teen brothers all by herself, as her dad has been gone for a while now. One day, she learns that he put his house up for his bail-out, meaning their house will be gone if he doesn’t show up for court. Ree decides to set out and find him.

Wow. Just … Wow. The setting is a contemporary rural area with most people living in isolated houses, strong family bonds, and a lot of individualist strength. A reality completely beyond the grasp of most city-dwellers like myself. There is no blame and no arrogance in the book. Personal tragedies and daily suffering are described as simple reality, often not even particularly highlighted, just a mention in passing. An incredible book.

If you happen to feel too good and like to face some sobering reality, this is just the book for you.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Book Review: Serpent

Why no real cover?

The adventure novel Serpent by Clive Cussler follows the underwater specialist Kurt Austin in his investigation of the murder of archaeologists. What were they about to find that would require their death?

Ah, I love adventure novels. And I like Cussler a lot. Sadly, this one was a bit too prototypical. Kurt Austin is the hero, physically strong and fit, knows everything, can do everything−a bit boring as a character. Additionally, the story reminded me a bit of Cussler's Fargo novel Lost Empire, even though the quality of the storytelling here is far less developed. I suppose Cussler just re-used information from his investigations in the Fargo book.

All in all, a pretty average adventure novel with all the stereotypical requirements from uber-hero to the damsel in distress fulfilled. If you’re looking for a quick read and can live with these problems, the book isn’t a bad choice at all.

Book Review: The Rivers of London (Trilogy)

The Rivers of London
Why no real cover?

In the humorous trilogy The Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch, we can follow the adventures of Peter Grant, apprentice in the last department for magical events of the London Metropolitan Police. Caught between a police force that does not want to hear about magic any more than they have to and a superior office who is stuck in the 40s, Grant is drawn to adventures with river gods and decade-old wraiths.

The trilogy is a fast read and full of dry, British humor. Prejudices flow freely, which is a bit amusing but can go too far for my taste. For example, in the first book, Detective Seargeant Stephanopoulos is described as a woman you do not mess with, a strong woman with short hair, stocky, etc.—“a typical lesbian.” That’s just one example of where the usually good humor just goes too far. Stephanopoulos has a come-back in the second book, making her much more likable, though.

The second book was by far the best in my opinion. The author even managed an ending that really got under my skin, something I didn’t quite expect in such humorous novels. All in all, a good choice for a quick, funny read.

Book Review: The Whale Road

The Whale Road
Why no real cover?

The historical novel The Whale Road by Robert Low tells the first adventure of Orm the bear-slayer. Intrigues at home force young Orm to join the band of oathsworn under Einar the Black. After some fights, the oathsworn learn about the legendary hoard of Attila the Hun. A quest for riches begins.

The Whale Road is the first novel in the Oathsworn series. While the plot itself is fictitious, most of the little everyday tidbits in the book give a good impression of life in viking times. The book does end with a word from the author about what historically inaccuracies he built into the plot to make it a good story, something I have come to expect of good historical novels. Still, I am somewhat unsure about the accuracy of the book.

The author seemed a bit confused with his protagonist. On one hand, he tries to make Orm into some kind of anti-hero. The story his early fame is based on is a lie, and in general, he’s more lucky than skillful in solving the problems he faces, which he usually solves only barely. On the other hand, Orm is a real prodigy. He can pick up languages really fast by just listening to a few sentences, he knows mathematics and trade, and in his youth, he learned climbing, horse breeding, swimming, Latin, Finnish, and a few other things, all so well they impress others. These two extremes of the characterization of Orm just don’t mix well.

All in all, though, this was a rather enjoyable read. The feeling of a rough band of vikings comes across really well, so I can recommend it to people who like historical novels in Viking times, especially if they can live with some inaccuracies.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Introduction to Economics: Bubbles and Crashes

With the recent world-wide economical crisis and discussions surrounding the crisis and possible political reactions to it, I have noticed that those discussions often fail because of very different understandings of the economics involved. This post is my attempt to write down my own understanding of the economical background of both the cause of economical crises as well as the possible reactions of politics to them.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Buchrezension: Schlangenkopf

Warum kein richtiges Cover?

Im Politik-Krimi Schlangenkopf setzt Ulrich Ritzel die Geschichte des Privatdetektivs Hans Bendorf fort. Ein Junge klaut eine Jacke und wird kurz darauf überfahren – es scheint eine vorsätzliche Tat gewesen zu sein, jedoch lag wohl eine Verwechslung vor. Da die Polizei merkwürdig wenig Elan an den Tag legt ermittelt Bendorf, und wird in einen Sumpf aus Intrigen um den Bundestag gezogen.

Mein erstes Buch aus der Bendorf-Reihe, und ein Grund, den Rest gleich auf meine Leseliste zu setzen. Die Charaktere sind menschlich und dicht, und wenn der Autor zwischen den Perspektiven wechselt merkt man das bereits am Schreibstil. Ein fünfzehnjähriger Junge sieht die Welt nunmal anders und auch etwas einfacher als ein sechzigjähriger Privatdetektiv, und Ulrich Ritzel kann dies wunderschön zwischen den Zeilen vermitteln.

Zudem war ich recht angetan von der Art, wie hier auch weibliche Charaktere vollkommen natürlich und ganz ohne aufgesetzte Geschlechterrollen in die Geschichte passen. Danke dafür!

Für Freunde von Politik-Krimis eine gute Wahl.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Problems of the German Income Tax System

The German income tax law is very complicated. While it is almost required of a modern citizen in a western country to complain about their respective tax system, in Germany even the tax agency agrees. The control organization is warning about how the checks on tax declarations are completely insufficient and have a large error rate, endangering tax fairness. And the officials employed at the tax agency are complaining that there are so many changes to the regulations all the time that they just can’t keep up, and even if they do, the law text is written in such a complicated way that even they don’t understand it.

That is pretty bad. So, what’s the problem?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Book Review: Sworn Brother

Sworn Brother
Why no real cover?

The historical novel Sworn Brother by Tim Severin continues the tale of Thorgils as he travels through the viking world. The backdrop of the book is his friendship with Grettir, who becomes his sworn brother, but he still visits places from Iceland to Finland and even Constantinople.

As with the first part of the book, the book is more of a collection of loosely connected tales than one big story. And the main purpose of the individual stories is not so much to describe the development of a character, but to relate the realities of a world long gone. In this, the book is a textbook on the viking age masquerading as a saga.

I suspect if you do not like this kind of book, the lack of character development will put you off. While characters are not particularly thin, few of them are deep with a rich personality. On the other hand, if you are looking for a historical novel on the viking age, go for this series.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

One who went to become a pirate

A few months back, the German Pirate Party had some sort of breakthrough. After winning a few local elections, they suddenly soared up in polls, hitting 13% at their prime. This shook a number of people out of their political slumber—myself included. Suddenly, the seemingly so deadlocked political landscape was shaken up. Maybe, just maybe, we can actually change something?

This is the story of one who went to become a pirate.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Saturday, August 18, 2012

GNU Cash XML 1.0 released

A while back, I noted on Google Plus about how I wrote a small Python library to parse GNU Cash XML files. I'm hereby releasing version 1.0 of that library to the public, just in case someone else finds it useful.

The library can load GNU Cash XML files and translate them into a Pythonic data structure. It supports the full account tree, transactions, splits, and basic commodities. For more information, see the library's homepage.

gnucashxml homepage

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Programming Language Choice is Secondary

Programming language arguments are probably just as frequent in geek online communities as wars about which program of a certain kind is best. Which made it even more eye-opening when a while back, I read a great quote about programming languages out in the real world—and how language choice actually does not matter all that much.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Universal Health Care is Inevitable

The topic of universal health care has been brought up repeatedly recently due to the US’ new health care law, which improved and complemented the limited Medicaid health care to give all citizens health care. There was quite an uproar about whether this is good, or whether forced payment like this is an infringement of freedom.

In this post, I try to argue that, once you accept a specific premise, the question can not be whether universal health care should exist, but what it should cover.

Buchrezension: Borowski

Warum kein richtiges Cover?

Der Agententhriller Der Borowski-Betrug von Robert Ludlum handelt von einem Mann, der sein Gedächtnis verloren hat. Auf der Suche nach seinen Erinnerungen lernt er langsam, dass er in seinem früheren Leben wohl ein Profikiller war – und er wird immer noch verfolgt.

Im zweiten Teil, Der Borowski-Herrschaft, hat der Mann gerade erst sein Leben wieder ein klein Wenig unter Kontrolle als ein Profikiller auftaucht, der unter seinem Namen wieder mordet. Die Regierung sieht keine Wahl als ihn gegen seinen Doppelgänger einzusetzen, und schreckt auch nicht davor zurück ihn mit seiner großen Liebe zu erpressen.

Beide Bücher, die ich hier zusammen beschreibe da ich sie in einem Doppelband las, verbindet die sehr flüssige und dichte Erzählweise Ludlums. Die Charakterentwicklung ist hervorragend. In beiden Büchern entwickelt sich Borowski langsam hin zum Charakter des Profikillers, jedoch aus leicht unterschiedlichen Bedingungen. Im ersten Buch beginnt er als Mann ohne Gedächtnis, der langsam und mit immer größer werdendem Schrecken seine Vergangenheit erkennt. Im zweiten Buch beginnt er als Mann, der seine Vergangenheit kennt aber vergessen wollte, und seine Persönlichkeit verändert sich immer weiter in sein anderes Selbst.

Besonders interessant fand ich an einigen Stellen die Rolle der Frau. Wie leider üblich ist die Frau in größeren Teilen eher eine Nebenrolle, eben das Zubehör des Mannes, und auch die typische Rolle als Haushälterin wird praktisch nicht hinterfragt. Dennoch scheint mir die Person als eigenständiger und stärker als in vielen aktuellen Romanen.

Leider haben beide Bücher durchaus Längen. Es gibt einige Stellen, die ich eher schnell überblättert habe. Davon abgesehen waren beide Bücher ein großes Lesevergnügen. Freunde von Agenthrillern sollten sich das nicht entgehen lassen.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Book Review: Rebel

Why no real cover?

Bernard Cornwell’s Rebel brings us back to the start of the American civil war. Nathanial Starbuck is the son of a vehement anti-slavery preacher, but “Nate” as he is called does not like his snobby family. He starts to make friends among the “southrons,” and soon finds himself stuck in the war between the states.

As the first book of the Starbuck Chronicles, Rebel has the burden of having to introduce the characters. This gives it a slow start, but roughly halfway through I found myself back in the fast-paced action Bernard Cornwell can relay so well. This book delivered what I have come to expect of Cornwell: It is both interesting to read and, thanks to historical accuracy, educating at the same time.

Perfect for friends of historical adventure stories.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Do Feasible, Progressive Consumption Taxes Exist?

Recently, some article mentioned that some economists recommend replacing the income tax with a progressive consumption tax. They didn’t elaborate on that, and indeed, it was just a side sentence in a longer recommendation.

It made me stop, though, because if that actually existed—or rather, if a feasibly collected, progressive consumption tax would exist—it might solve a lot of problems in economics. Let me explain.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Energy Expenditure: Activity and Exercise (Weight Series Part 4)

Photo by familymwr on flickr

A large amount of scientific evidence supports positive effects of exercise,[1] and the recommendations of doing more exercise are pervasive. Yet a lot of people, and especially a number of dieters, do little to nothing. The question as to why that is the case is part of the central problem of figuring out why so many people are becoming overweight.

As we know, weight and body fat solely depend on the energy balance, that is, how many calories we take in as opposed to how many we expend.[2] While the last post in this series looked at the intake part of the equation,[3] this post will take a closer look at the benefits, myths and approaches to increasing energy expenditure.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Book Review: Ruthless Game

Ruthless Game
Warum kein richtiges Cover?

Christine Feehan’s Ruthless Game starts out with Kane Cannon and his team of psychic supersoldiers infiltrating a drug cartel owned town to liberate some hostages. During the mission, Kane finds out that the love of his life, Rose, is in the town. She is pregnant with his child which she got when the evil Dr. Whitney forced them to copulate to produce supersoldier offspring. Kane and Rose escape together and start a difficult path in discovering whether their love is genuine or just faked by the evil mastermind.

I’m not particularly impressed by the plot, but to make up for it, the writing of the book is quite good. In particular, the character development of Rose to actually trust her new friends is quite well done. Surprisingly for a romance, the action scenes are extensive and fast-paced. Even though psychic supersoldiers are not exactly my favorite topic, I enjoyed reading them.

My main gripe with the book, outside of it being romance, is the role model it perpetuates for women. Kane is a chauvinistic swine and incorporates pretty much every kind of stereotypical male role, and Rose either just puts up with his antics because she loves him, or gives some explanation on why she is different from normal women—implying that for other women, those expectations are quite ok. For example, the main reason she gives why she can’t be the house wife watching the kids while the husband is out working is not that that’s a pretty antiquated and horrible role model, but that she is a trained soldier and this special predicament means she has to do something else, too.

In real life, the interactions between the two would set the perfect beginning for an abusive relationship.

Another mind-numbing scene had “the girls” finally going out of the high-security building to enjoy their freedom. This was a good point in the story and nicely built up to. Rose has always been either imprisoned with no freedom, or on the run, so never could taste freedom like how the protection of her new friends allows her to.

So what do the three girls do? They go shopping. What do they shop for? Shoes of course. Why do they shop for shoes? So they can look sexy for their lovers. They sadly couldn’t go to the negligee shop to get Rose an outfit that would make Kane drool because that shop was a bit too far away. No, Ms. Feehan, the main purpose in life for a woman is not to find a partner and make him happy.

So, while the book is well-written, has some interesting character development and fast-paced action, it perpetuates horrible gender roles which are never challenged in and by themselves. Rose is only exempt from some of them because she is a special person. For this reason, I’d rather not recommend the book.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Energy Intake: Food, Diets and Nutrition (Weight Series Part 3)

Weight gain, maintenance and loss are solely dependent on whether we take in more energy than we expend.[1] This begs two questions: How do reduce the amount we take in, and how do we increase the amount we expend? This post will try to answer the first—that is, what kind of foods we should eat, and how much.

While a lot has been written on the topic and a lot of people are trying to make money with various diets, the common problem is that “under free-living conditions, the main determinant of long-term fat loss seems to be how well you stick to a diet, not which diet you choose.”[2] Hence, any look at diets should keep in mind that it will not be used in a clinical, fully-controlled environment, but by normal people out there who have a life and other things on their mind than to constantly worry about their food.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Buchrezension: Der Sommer des Kometen

Der Sommer des Kometen
Warum kein richtiges Cover?

Petra Oelkers Der Sommer des Kometen wird von einem Kometenbeschwörer auf dem Hamburger Marktplatz angekündigt. Nicht nur das, es werden auch in kurzer Folge drei Menschen ermordet. Und mit einem von den Opfern wollten die Komödianten um Rosina eigentlich sprechen. Rosina und der Kaufmann Claes setzen sich daran die Morde aufzuklären.

Bei einem weiteren Teil einer Reihe frage ich mich immer, was man neues erzählen kann. Petra Oelker schafft es auch diesmal wieder das Hamburg des 18. Jahrhunderts auf ganz herzliche Weise aufleben zu lassen. Die Protagonisten muss man einfach gern haben, während die Eigenheiten dieser Zeit weiterhin als ganz normal erzählt werden.

Wie auch die anderen Teile der Rosina und Claes-Reihe kann ich auch diesen nur jedem Freund von historischen Kriminalromanen wärmstens empfehlen.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Energy Balance (Weight Series Part 2)

The question of how to lose fat is hotly debated. We have lots of answers, but they contradict each other, and it seems they are rarely based on actual scientific understanding. This is not surprising, as the human metabolism is extremely complex. Still, we do know enough to have at least some good ideas on how to do it.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Do You Have a Weight Problem? (Weight Series Part 1)

Obesity is quickly becoming a very prevalent condition in most western countries, and brings with it severe negative effects on health.[1] Consequently, health organizations are regularly recommending people to slim down. This in turn has made slimming down a whole business unto itself, with many groups trying to profit from it. The craze about slimming down has got us to a situation where advertisers post-process human pictures to depict them unnaturally slim, giving us unhealthy role models. There is even a problem with anorexia nervosa,[2] where people have such a fear of gaining weight that they reach extremely unhealthy low body weights.

All of this craze is accompanied by a lot of bad information repeated all over the internet. It does not help that the human metabolism is still only barely understood, so that accurate and good information is hard to come by, if it exists at all.

The true extent of the problem became apparent to me when even my doctor recommended to me a diet not backed by scientific data, and where the basic premises are simply wrong. This is a series on weight-related information I have found.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Book Review: Corsair

Why no real cover?

Tim Severin’s Corsair starts out with a raid by a Turkish slave trader on a city at the Atlantic coast of Ireland, where Hector Lynch and his sister Elizabeth are taken prisoner and brought to the Africa to be sold as slaves. Before they arrive, though, they are separated, and Hector starts on a long journey to find his sister.

The book is set in the 16th century and is able to both draw the reader into a fascinating and fast-paced story, as well as to relay a very accurate historical view of those times. It concludes with a summary of which people and events in the book are historically accurate and where the author took some artistic liberties, another important part of a good historical novel for me.

All in all this is by far the best book I have read in recent times, a must read for fans of historical novels. The follow-up books promise to be about piracy in the Caribbean, so if that is your kind of story, start here, it sets the mood perfectly.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Fallacies in the Taxation Arguments of Guaranteed Minimum Income Proponents

A recurring controversy in the Guaranteed Minimum Income (GMI) discussion is the question which tax to use to fund the system. For some reason, the major proponents have fallen to like primarily single-tax systems, and the main debate seems to be about whether to use the Value-Added Tax (VAT) or Income Tax (IT) for the system. The arguments presented are often rather bogus, though.

Buchrezension: Die falsche Reliquie

Die falsche Reliquie
Warum kein richtiges Cover?

Die Falsche Reliquie von Renata Petrys berichtet von einer Phiole, die angeblich Jesus Blut enthält. Ein Bischof schöpft Verdacht und entsendet einen Spion um die Sache aufzuklären. Dieser begibt sich unversehens in größte Gefahr.

Der Erzählstil des Buches kann getrost als »ruhig« bezeichnet werden. Die Einleitung erstreckt sich fast über die Hälfte der Seiten, und erst im letzten Drittel kommt Spannung auf. Da jedoch der Protagonist die Geschichte als alter Mann erzählt hätte die Autorin vielleicht nicht den möglichen Tod des selbigen als zentrales Spannungsmoment für den letzten Teil des Buches wählen sollen. Hier tritt auch die einzige Charakterentwicklung des Buches auf: Der Protagonist erzählt im Epilog, dass ihn die Erlebnisse verändert haben.

Positiv anzumerken ist, dass die Geschichte der Reliquie in immer wiederkehrenden Rückblenden neben der eigentlichen Geschichte erzählt wird, und dass dieses häufig missbrauchte Stilmittel der Autorin sehr gut gelungen ist. Und trotz der fehlenden Spannung ist das Buch gut geschrieben und liest sich sehr flüssig.

Insgesamt finde ich den Roman zu ruhig. Obwohl er wirklich gut geschrieben ist fragte ich mich doch die ganze Zeit, wann denn endlich mal etwas passiert. Von daher eher für Freunde von langsamen Erzählungen mit wenig Spannung zu empfehlen.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Book Review: The Mediterranean Caper

The Mediterranean Caper
Why no real cover?

Clive Cussler’s The Mediterranean Caper starts out just as Major Dirk Pitt arrives on an island near Greece to investigate a series of mishaps on a science vessel looking for a rare fish. The arrival coincides with the attack of an old World War I war plane attacking an US Air Force air field. Dirk Pitt can drive the old war plane off with his own non-combat plane, but is now drawn into a strange fight seemingly about fish.

The second book in the Dirk Pitt series keeps up the story of the James Bond like hero and womanizer who lives through the strangest adventures. The amount of repetitions where the author tries to tell the reader how incredibly awesome Dirk Pitt is are vastly reduced in comparison to the first adventure, but there are still lengthy revelation scenes where Pitt explains the whole story to the Evil Overlord, showing him that he totally saw through him. Other than that, the book is a very simple and fast read, good for casual, low-brain reading.

If you don’t mind some chauvinism towards women and a rather simple but fast-paced story, you can’t go wrong here. Don’t expect high-quality literature, though.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Book Review: Pacific Vortex

Pacific Vortex
Why no real cover?

Clive Cussler’s Pacific Vortex tells the tale of a strange area in the pacific where ships get lost. The latest victim is a experimental US navy submarine. When Dirk Pitt finds a message buoy from the submarine, he’s drawn into a mystery hidden below the surface of the sea.

The book starts out with an explanation by Clive Cussler that it’s the first adventure of Dirk Pitt, but he hadn’t released it until later because he did not quite like the quality. Knowing that and not expecting too much, the book is a nice, quick read. Dirk Pitt is a hero of the James Bond kind, always ready with a cool quip, and very much into seducing women. The main irritation I had while reading this was an unnecessary repetition of how awesome Dirk Pitt is. Not only does he do insane things for no other reason than to be a hero, but the author even repeats that he just did something incredibly stupid, er, brave after every other time.

If you can enjoy an unbelievably heroic, womanizing protagonist, and want a book for easy reading, this is for you.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are a topic of extreme misunderstandings and myths. Combine this with the typical effect of the internet, where myths that sounded good can easily get multiplied a thousandfold, you end up with a very tricky jungle of facts, fiction, myths and ideologies. A small attempt at fixing this.

Here, dearest internet, my own contribution to the wealth of badly-cited claims regarding food, as I didn't actually read all of those studies myself, but simply believed those who cited them. Thanks especially to Wikipedia for many pointers.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Book Review: On Stranger Tides

On Stranger Tides
Why no real cover?

Im Tim Powers’ On Stranger Tides, John Chandagnac is forced to join a band of pirates after they captured his ship. From them, he learns about vodoun magic in the new world, and is drawn into the plotting of various vodoun magicians.

When it comes to magic in books, I like it to be subtle. The kind of magic where something apparently happened because of the magician’s work, but it could also have been pure luck. The magic in this book is not subtle. It tops out with two vodoun practitioners levitating above ships flinging fireballs at each other. Sadly, the remaining book did not really make up for this, either. The plots are not very convincing, the characters are the epitome of one-dimensional, and the role of the women is to be passive props for the protagonists to use in their plots. The main woman is allowed to speak I think four times in the whole book. While the 17th century is surely not the best time for a women, even the Sabatini pirate novels give them more independent thought.

Despite all of this, the storytelling is quite fluid and the book is quick to read.

All in all, I expected a pirate story with a magical flair, but was disappointed to find a bad story with some sailing ships in it. I have read worse books, but I’m not sure I’d read this again if I had the choice.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Book Review: Lost Empire

Lost Empire
Why no real cover?

Clive Cussler's Lost Empire starts out with the millionaire treasure hunters Sam and Remi Fargo having a simple vacation in Tanzania. On a normal diving trip, they find an old artifact. Suddenly, special forces and a rich person in the background find great interest in them and their discovery. Sam and Remi are intrigued.

This, like other books by Clive Cussler I read before, is a prototypical adventure book for the boy in an adult. Treasure hunting, exotic places, five star hotels, underground caves, special forces, action scenes and historical detective research all combined into a fascinating story. At least if you don't mind history being changed from the real world. Also, I noticed in this book that the couple Sam and Remi is probably as close to an unsexist protagonist couple I have ever read about. While there are some sex-specific traits, like Sam being the science geek and Remi more into art and cultures, and Remi having a recurring preference for nice dresses and hot baths, they both are intelligent, have their fields of expertise, and act as equals in all regards. This is a refreshing change from the typical female sidekick in books that is just there to make the male protagonist look cooler.

All in all, I have to admit I'm simply biased. These kinds of books appeal to me immensely. If you like Indiana Jones style adventure stories and do not mind cliches and some historical inaccuracy, this is for you, too.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Buchrezension: Tod am Zollhaus

Tod am Zollhaus
Warum kein richtiges Cover?

Tod am Zollhaus von Petra Oelker erzählt als erster Band ihrer Claes und Rosina-Reihe wie sich Claes und Rosina kennenlernen. Der Sekretär von Claes Hermanns, einem erfolgreichen Kaufmann, wird tot aufgefunden, direkt neben einem betrunkenen reisenden Komödianten. Der Fall scheint klar, aber Rosina, eine Freundin des Komödianten, sieht das anders und versucht die Wahrheit ans Licht zu bringen. Gleichzeitig widerfahren Claes und seinem Handelsunternehmen immer weitere Unglücke, so dass auch er nicht mehr an einen Zufall glaubt.

Zusätzlich zu einem guten Krimi schafft es Petra Oelker durch viele kleine Details ganz nebenbei das Hamburg des 18. Jahrhunderts aufleben zu lassen, so dass man sich beim lesen direkt in diese Zeit zurückversetzt fühlt. In Verbindung mit ihrer geradezu liebevollen Art ihre Hauptcharaktere menschlich und charmant zu beschreiben, besteht diese Reihe aus einigen der meiner Meinung nach besten historischen Krimis überhaupt.

Wer Kiminalgeschichten vor historischem Hintergrund mag, ist bei Petra Oelker perfekt aufgehoben.

Book Review: The Janus Stone

The Janus Stone
Why no real cover?

In The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths, some construction work uncovers a human skeleton without head. Forensic Archaeologist Ruth Galloway is called in to find out the details, and the skeleton turns out not to be ancient, but only about fifty years old. Ruth finds herself entangled in the uncovering of a decade-old crime.

The second part of the Ruth Galloway series, I am still very happy with the storytelling. A good mix of archaeological accuracy, classical whodunit crime novel, and a very likeable protagonist far from stereotypical heroines. My main grievance is a slight lack of care for good typesetting of the e-book, but I have seen worse. If I had to point out something to improve, it would be trying to avoid infodumps a bit more. Oh, and write in past tense. Present tense annoys me.

All in all, if you like crime novels and archaeology, this is exactly your kind of book.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Book Review: Snow Angels

Snow Angels
Why no real cover?

Snow Angels by James Thompson tells the story about a Somali actress murdered in a cruel way in the far north of Finland. Inspector Kari Vaara tries to solve the mysterious case, but the endless night of the arctic circle creates a depressive mood in which seemingly everyone has gone mad.

This is a pretty good crime story that gives the option for much guessing on who might have done it, and a number of plot twists. The main annoyance I had was the bad typesetting of the e-book and the present tense the book was written in. No idea who started this tendency, but more and more books I read have this problem. Other than that, it was a very good read, and contained quite a lot of interesting cultural information about Finland, one of the main reasons I read Finnish crime novels.

All in all, an average to good crime novel that works well as a book to read on the commute to work.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Book Review: Odinn’s Child

Odinn’s Child
Why no real cover?

In Odinn’s Child by Tim Severin, the old norseman Thorgils tells the long tale of his life. The story begins with Thorgils birth, and follows him to many strange places, including the famed Vinland.

It was difficult for me to enjoy this book at first. The story seemed to move very slowly, without any apparent central plot. This changed when I realized that the book does not really tell a single tale, but many of them, with only the thin connection of the storyteller. And in these episodes of the life of Thorgils, Tim Severin artfully includes a lot of historical information about the time and cultures.

If you are looking for a strong adventure or action novel, Odinn’s Child will leave you disappointed. But if you enjoy a historical novel in a very verbatim sense of the word, written in the tradition of norse sagas, you have found your book and series.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Upheaval in German Politics

Watching the political landscape in Germany right now makes me shake my head in disbelief. With open mouth. What is happening is an upheaval with no precedence in the last decades, and every single party in the country is an exhibition in incompetence.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Sexism and Freedom of Speech

For some reason, I have recently been confronted a lot with sexism and other discriminating language. It’s quite disillusioning to notice how many people use such language without any thought on the matter—and worse, how many of them actively defend their behavior when confronted.

After finishing yet another round of discussions regarding the topic, I figured I could just write down the recurring arguments.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Go for a walk

When was the last time you did a leisure walk? If you just said “oh, yesterday,” then this text might not be for you, but most people seem to not have the time for that. I was one of them. I changed, and I’m happy for that.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Emacs Snippets: Syntax Highlighted HTML

For this blog and a few other uses, I regularly need some piece of source code nicely formatted in HTML. Emacs already provides a toolchain for that with the htmlfontify package. Sadly, that package both only works on whole buffers, and always adds the same kind of huge header and footer. I need neither. I already have the CSS around, and I want to add the HTML into some other page.

So, the following command will create a temporary buffer, and insert pre-wrapped HTML of the current region (if active) or the whole buffer (if not) there.

Simple, useful.

(defun fc-htmlfontify-buffer-or-region ()
  "Show the current buffer or region if active as HTML in a temporary buffer.

This uses `htmlfontify'."
  (let ((hfy-page-footer (lambda (filename)
        (hfy-page-header (lambda (filename stylesheet)
    (if (region-active-p)
        (let ((text (buffer-substring (region-beginning)
            (insert text)
            (switch-to-buffer (htmlfontify-buffer))))
      (switch-to-buffer (htmlfontify-buffer)))))

Sunday, March 18, 2012

typo.el 1.0 released: An Emacs library for typographical editing

typo.el provides two modes. typo-global-mode provides a prefix map for a number of useful Unicode glyphs, while typo-mode changes the behavior of a number of keys in the current buffer.

The changed keys will try to smartly guess which Unicode glyph you wanted to enter from context. Most of them let you easily cycle through a selection in case the first one was not what you wanted.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

On Social Reading

With social this and social that being the latest thing on the internet, and e-books going very strong, it was only a matter of time until the big companies started to realized that you can combine the two. And indeed, I’ve recently read quite a good article (in German) about this. But what I did read made me cringe.

I’m an avid reader. Dear big bosses, let me tell you what social reading should be for people like me. Because you seem to miss the point.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Book Review: The Crossing Places

The Crossing Places
Why no real cover?

At the start of Elly Griffiths’ The Crossing Places, the police find a corpse of a child. Believing it might be the remnants of a girl that went missing ten years ago, they call in archaeologist Professor Ruth Galloway. Sadly, it turns out the remnants are prehistoric. When shortly thereafter another child goes missing, Ruth feels herself dragged into the investigation.

What a beautiful setting. Ruth Galloway is such a likable character, and so very different both from standard crime novel heroes or typical chick lit heroines. She’s forty, overweight and an archaeology geek, a bit self-conscious about all of those, but at the same time has a strong personality. Likewise, her counterpart, deputy inspector Nelson, is also a very likable, normal, albeit scruffy person, with normal emotions and normal problems.

The story moves along fluently and provides plenty of hints and false leads as to who the murder might be. There are very few slow scenes, and even the few “infodumps” where Ruth explains all sorts of archaeological terms fit well into the story and are only mildly annoying.

The only downside to the whole book for me was that it was written in the present tense. This seems to have become a trend in books as of late, and I find it quite annoying. The odd tense regularly distracts me from the story and kicks me out of immersion. But in this case, it could not really destroy the book—more Ruth Galloway for me.

I can recommend this book to all friends of “whodunit” crime novels who are looking for a bit of mystery and unusually usual and very likable protagonists.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Emacs Snippets: Calculation Helpers

If there is one thing that absolutely highlights horrible user interface design to me, it is when a user is sitting in front of a computer and picks up a pocket calculator. That’s just wrong in so many ways.

You have to copy any data already on the computer, and then copy the result back. Then the calculator in your hand is missing all sorts of editing functionality to fix up mistakes you do. And well, you are sitting in front of an enormously powerful calculator, but have to use a separate hardware gadget for a simple calculation. Why?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Authenticating Users on the Web

One of the main challenges on the web right now is the question of authentication. Not so much the question how to do it at all, but how to make it easy and convenient.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Book Review: Sea Witch

Sea Witch
Why not a real cover?

Seach Witch is the first book by Helen Hollick on the adventures of the pirate Jesamiah Acorne. This book accompanies him from being a standard pirate to finding his true love, Tiola, a white witch. Through various difficulties, the unlikely pair—him a pirate, thief and murderer, her a healer and witch of the good—find each other’s love.

For me, there are two kinds of pirate books: Those that tell a romance with a piracy-themed backdrop, and the good ones. While a romance is an integral part of a good pirate story and can well be the main plot, I prefer it if the story still is primarily about pirates and ships, and not primarily about a romantic relationship. And while Sea Witch is not a pure romance novel, the story focuses a lot on the deeply romantic relationship between Acorne and Tiola.

Helen Hollick balances this out with historical accuracy that is unknown in more romance-focused stories. Even though dates have been slightly adjusted, most of the events in the book have historical backing, and there is an appendix explaining the liberties taken for the sake of telling a good story. While the historical backdrop is accurate, I felt that the everyday interaction of the characters, in particular the main protagonists, lacked some of the historical feel. Instead, sometimes it feels as if the characters have a modern mindset and just accidentally stumbled into the historical world. Sea Witch manages this much better than many historical novels I’ve read, but it was still slightly distracting at times.

All in all, Helen Hollick tells an interesting blend of piracy and her own kind of witchcraft, without falling into the comical humor of Pirates of the Carribean. It is quite enjoyable to follow the story, as it is obvious from her writing that she dearly loves each and every one of her main characters. And even though the romance aspect was a bit too strong for my personal liking, I enjoyed reading the book.

If you like pirate stories and are not afraid of a heavy focus on romance, the Sea Witch is for you. Myself, I will have to think hard about whether I want to continue reading the series, though.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Emacs Snippets: Kill Region or Line, Toggle Case

Two code snippets that solved problems random people on #emacs had. The first implements a specific behavior for C-w, the other toggles case at point.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

I love my text editor

This text is a love declaration to my text editor. It's the most important tool on my computer (yes, more important than the web browser). It interconnects almost everything I do. And this is marvelous, because text editors are also one of the oldest tools still in use with only few conceptual changes since their inception.

But what makes text editors so great?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Buchrezension: Sharpes Trophäe

Sharpes Trophäe
Warum kein richtiges Cover?

Lieutenant Colonel Henry Simmers ist der inkompetente Offizier eines neuen Battalions. Lieutenant Sharpe blamiert den Offizier in seiner ersten Schlacht, als Simmers alles falsch macht, und Sharpe gerade noch das schlimmste durch eine Befehlsverweigerung verhindern kann. Dadurch hat er jetzt jedoch einen mächtigen Feind, der Sharpes Karriere beenden könnte. Es gibt nur einen Ausweg: Sharpe muss eine französische Feldstandarte erobern, um mit dem damit einhergehenden Ruhm für Simmers unangreifbar zu werden.

Dies ist Teil 8 der Sharpe-Reihe von Bernard Cornwell. Meines Erachtens einer der schwächeren Teile der Serie, aber das heißt bei Cornwell eben, dass das Buch nur gut ist, und nicht hevorragend. Die Liebesgeschichte, die natürlich dazugehört, wirkt hier etwas aufgesetzt, und die Beweggründe für den Kern der Geschichte sind auch nicht ganz schlüssig.

Aber die Geschichte ist wie immer packend geschrieben, die Schlachtszenen faszinierend, und das Buch im Nu durch. Für Freunde von historischen Action-Romanen ein Genuss. Ebenso natürlich für Cornwell-Fans und alle Leser der Sharpe-Reihe.

Recommendations Based on User Ratings

Systems that allow users to rate items are becoming more and more important. An increasing amount of information available requires better and better ways of filtering. “Crowdsourcing” that filtering to a large group of users is a common approach, and rating systems facilitate that. One important aspect of rating systems is the number of options they allow. The following will compare these rating systems and argue that the simple two- or even one-option systems should be the preferred choice.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Book Review: Empyrean Age

Empyrean Age
Why not a real cover?

In Empyrean Age, Tony Gonzales describes how the fragile peace between the four large empires comes to an end and war breaks out. The book is game fiction for the space MMORPG of EVE Online.

The following is a rewrite of a review I wrote for an EVE Online gaming community. I tried to adapt it to a more general audience. It should be noted that I am an avid EVE Online player, love the game, and love most of the fiction around the game. This book is one of the rare exceptions: I despise it. Also, please note that I only read the first part of the book, until page 127. I just could not get myself to read the rest. I usually do not stop reading a book in the middle, but here I did—it was that bad.

SPOILER ALERT. The following does contain major spoilers of the story.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Buchrezension: Raid und der dicke Mann

Raid und der dicke Mann
Warum kein richtiges Cover?

Harri Nykänens dicker Mann ist ein Politiker vom rechten Rand, der befürchtet, einem Anschlag zum Opfer zu fallen. Deshalb heuert er den professionellen Killer Raid an, um sich zu schützen. Als mehrere Morde im Dunstkreis der russischen Mafia geschehen, die alle anscheinend mit dem dicken Mann zusammenhängen, versucht neben der Polizei auch Raid, dem Ganzen einen Sinn zu geben.

Raid ist der archetypische Actionheld. Er wird spielend mit Profikillern, Bodyguards und anderen Kriminellen fertig, und bewahrt dabei immer eine gute Figur. Die Geschichte ist etwas verwirrend, fast schon zu verwirrend, jedoch ist der Roman sehr dicht geschrieben, so dass man leicht über die verwirrenden Stellen weglesen kann.

Insofern liest sich das Buch sehr flüssig, auch wenn die Sprache teilweise etwas holprig wirkt. Es würde mich nicht wundern, wenn dies mehr an der Übersetzung denn an dem Autor liegt. Finnisch bietet einfach ganz andere Möglichkeiten sich auszudrücken als das Deutsche.

Ein schöner Schmöker für nebenbei, jedoch ohne großen Anspruch. Insbesondere für Freunde von typisch amerikanischen Actionhelden zu empfehlen.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Buchrezension: Wächter der Nacht

Wächter der Nacht
Warum kein richtiges Cover?

Sergej Lukjanenkos Wächter der Nacht behüten die Menschen vor den Taten der Dunklen – den bösen Magiern, Hexen, Vampiren und Werwölfen. Denn das Dunkle und das Licht haben einen Vertrag geschlossen: Das Gleichgewicht muss gewahrt bleiben, sonst würde der Krieg alles zerstören. Dennoch versuchen die großen Magier beider Seiten ihre Intrigen zu spinnen.

Lukjanenko baut hier eine eine einzigartige Welt auf. Vampire leben in heruntergekommenen Wohnungen und ernähren sich von Spenderblut, während nebenan die Lichten wohnen, die irgendwie mit ihrer Aufgabe zurechtzukommen versuchen. Und obwohl es Licht und Dunkel gibt, ist dann doch nicht wirklich klar, ob das Gute wirklich gut ist und das Böse wirklich böse. Eine wunderbar abgewrackte Welt als Kontrastprogramm zur stereotypen Fantasygeschichte.

Auch wenn die Intrigen teilweise ein bisschen zu abgehoben, die Geschichten ein bisschen zu überraschend, und die Charaktere ein bisschen zu dünn sind, muss man diese Welt als Antithese der herkömmlichen Literatur des Genres einfach lieben.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Copyright is good. Copyright is bad. Some thoughts.

From Wikimedia Commons. The image is in the public domain.

Copyright is good. Copyright is bad. Patents are good. Patents are bad. All of these are true, and we live in difficult times.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Buchrezension: Der Trümmermörder

Der Trümmermörder
Warum kein richtiges Cover?

Im Kriminalroman „Der Trümmermörder“ lässt Cay Rademacher das Hamburg der Nachkriegszeit wiederauferstehen. Im extrem kalten Winter 1946/47 ereignet sich eine seltsame Mordserie. Frische Leichen werden in zerstörten Vierteln gefunden, vollständig entkleidet – jedoch sieht es nicht nach Raubmorden aus. Schlimmer noch: Es scheint niemand diese Menschen zu vermissen. Ein Team um Oberinspektor Frank Stave versucht, dem Mörder auf die Spur zu kommen.

Das Buch ist gut geschrieben und die Geschichte fesselt durchgehend. Der Autor schafft es insbesondere hervorragend, die Atmosphäre des größtenteils zerstörten Hamburgs einzufangen, ohne sich in Detailbeschreibungen zu verlieren. So erfährt man nebenbei viel über die Stadt und das Leben der Menschen im Spannungsfeld zwischen Entnazifizierung, britischer Herrschaft und mangelnder Versorgung.

Einziger Wermutstropfen für mich war die Wahl der Erzählzeit. Das Buch ist durchgehend im Präsens geschrieben. Das war derart ungewohnt für mich, dass es mich regelmäßig von der Geschichte abgelenkt hat. Ich vermute, dass es ein Versuch des Autors war, den Leser in die Geschichte hinein zu ziehen, jedoch hatte es bei mir leider den gegenteiligen Effekt.

Trotz dieses kleinen Problems kann ich das Buch jedem Freund von Krimis und historischen Romanen in der Nachkriegszeit empfehlen.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Buchrezension: Svantevit

Svantevit von Nikolai M. Jakobi erzählt die Geschichte der Ranen, einem Volkstamm der Wenden, in der Mitte des 12. Jahrhunderts aus drei unterschiedlichen Blickwinkeln. Der Großteil des Buches begleitet Radik, einen jungen Ranen, bei seiner Entwicklung von einem kleinen Fischerjungen zu einem Kämpfer der Tempelgarde der Burg Arkona, die den Tempel des höchsten Gottes der Ranen beherbergt – den Tempel des Svantevit. In den anderen Erzählsträngen wird die gleiche Geschichte aus Sicht der Dänen und der Sachsen geschildert.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

E-Books: The End of The World as We Know It

In the last year, e-books have spiked in use. With cheaply-available e-readers and a good supply of the books themselves, they are slowly chipping away at the traditional book market. Amazon already reports e-book sales overtaking paper book sales.

At the same time, there is a recurring discussion among book enthusiasts and technophiles. While some people herald e-books as the biggest invention since Gutenberg’s movable types, others put a lot of work into trying to “prove” that e-books are strictly inferior to paper books. Ignoring the clearly neophobic arguments, let’s take a look at some of the interesting differences and phenomena related to e-books and paper books.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Privacy, Extremism, and Learning from the Military

When I started using the internet 15 years ago, one of the biggest rules on German newsgroups (usenet) was to use your real name for posting. This was considered courteous. Using a nick name, a pseudonym, was considered rude—to the point where quite a large number of people would simply not respond if you used a pseudoynm.

Now, 15 years later, the requirement to use your real name, be it with Google, Facebook, or other service, causes the same people to be upset about the breach of privacy. To the point where those who require real names to be considered “evil.”

What happened?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The dark side: Quicker, easier, more seductive

I’ve been asked to join facebook so often in the last weeks/months, I’m very happy to have a facebook that is not facebook now. I’m sure I’ll find out what Google+ actually is in time, but for now, it primarily is something that is not …

This is how this story started roughly six months ago.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Applied Accounting: Managing Money (Inheritance)

Learning about accounting is best done by looking at various actual applications. Based on last week’s post, we’ll look here at a case that is not about managing your personal finances, but about managing finances for different parties with a lot of interconnections.

The example here is from an actual use case (names and numbers adjusted), and not made up. It might be a bit more complicated than what you usually would come across, but not exceptionally so.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Review: Lorettas letzter Vorhang.

Lorettas letzter Vorhang.
Lorettas letzter Vorhang. by Petra Oelker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ein wunderschöner Krimi im Hamburg des 18. Jahrhunderts. Die Komödiantin Rosina ist gerade erst wenige Wochen am Theater am Gänsemarkt angestellt, als ihre beste Freundin ermordet wird. Eine überraschende Geschichte mit viel Charme. Petra Oelker schafft es, den Leser in das Hamburg dieser Zeit zu versetzen und verdirbt die Atmospähre nicht mit zu vielen neuzeitlichen Moral- und Ethikvorstellungen.

Dies war mein Einstieg in die Rosina-Reihe, und ich werde mit Sicherheit mehr davon lesen.

View all my reviews

Review: The Ritual

The Ritual
The Ritual by Adam Nevill

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

If you ever want to explain to someone how word count requirements can ruin stories, give them this book. It starts out like any random horror / thriller. A group of people get lost in a big forest and get hunted by something that might very well be their imagination. It's a good read, and I enjoyed it a lot, even though it was a bit of a generic plot. But then the story finishes and all would be good, except the author apparently had a word count requirement, so he finished the book. I won't spoil it to you, but needless to say, it gets really, really horrible after that. Would get three or four stars for the first part, and one star for the second, so two stars for this disappointment.

View all my reviews

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Accounting: The Arcane Art

It’s like a story from Lovecraft: Accounting. The mere utterance of the word can scare people. Many simply do not wish to hear. Like a witch, the accountant is feared for her knowledge and excluded from society. So what the hell is this about? And, why would you care?

Accounting is the art of keeping track of what you do with your money. The primary purposes being to figure out whether your finances are doing ok, and if not, where to start improving. That’s why you care. The reason why people usually cower in fear when the Words are used is because the whole thing is so old that a lot of the words and general habits used are so antiquated as to be confusing. I’ll try to explain this in a way that makes more sense. Well, it does make sense to me, let’s hope it does for you, too.