Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Introduction to Functional Programming using Haskell

The course text for the Oxford University Functional Programming MSc module, the tone of the book is mathematical rather than aimed at the practicing coder. Silly though it may seem the typesetting bothers me. It comes from the maths rather than programming school, so I took a while to determine if I was looking at one or two equals signs, and you have to translate in your head from a maths multiplication sign to star, which is the asterisk that you would actually use in the code. The decision to use greek characters in the text, which cannot be actually typed into a Haskell program, is typical of the complete disregard for anyone who struggles to keep up. The unthinking elitism caused by this lack of empathy is very off-putting. The kindest thing one can say is that it is more readable than Richard Bird's other well known book "Introduction to Functional Programming" written with Philip Wadler. I cannot reproduce in HTML the definition given in the book for multiplication, which should have read
multiply :: Num a => a -> a -> a
multiply x = x * x
By contrast the typesetting and get it done attitude of the Haskell chapter in "Seven languages in seven weeks" is much more readable and conveys the main points of the language. After that I was able to return to "Introduction to Functional Programming using Haskell" with more success. I am beginning to fear that Haskell, in a similar way to XML, may suffer from not having been written by computer people. XML seems to have attracted odds and ends from Psychology, Archeology and Law, Haskell seems to come from mathematicians (and it would not surprise me to find physicists). My starting, received, prejudice is that ML may the the programmer's functional language.


Look again at

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Nation by Terry Pratchett


Nation is a thrilling read, exciting, touching and interesting. Mr Pratchett's humour does poke through in places, which is a shame as it is out of place in this novel. Similarly his alternate world / real science name dropping does not really work for me, but these are minor gripes at a well paced and intricately plotted story.

As ever Mr Pratchett's handling of the big issues of belief, death, love and even duty are deft, easy to agree with and enjoyable.


In the Corgi edition
P 159
Mau knew how to make a spear
P 241
will do anything to make it stop
P 296
wasps wasp
P 333
roughage (anachronism)
P 389
picked pickled

Saturday, 27 August 2011

The Bed of Procrustes

The Bed of Procrustes Publisher: Random House I came across The Bed of Procrustes by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in an English language bookshop in Paris called The Red Wheelbarrow. I bought the book out of annoyance, and have read it in the same vein, as I had recently read the Robert Lancellyn Green version of the tale of Theseus in Tales of the Greek Heroes to my eldest daughter and made the connection between categorisation and Procrustes, indeed had suggested it as the name of a data curation system at work.

How annoying then to encounter my idea explored by another. Initially he takes the idea as it relates to our database society but soon wanders off into adolescent aphorisms, some of which make you laugh, but the majority leave a distate for Mr Taleb himself. This distaste starts from his frequent use of horrible American words: loser, nerd and most revolting sucker (also nonsucker). The book is full of name-calling and disparagement. I think Mr Taleb is a bully who was bullied. One imagines that Mr Taleb's primary audience are financiers after the success of his well known The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. His popularity may be explained by the masochistic attraction to self-loathing which such people are rightly drawn to.

The book induced some self-loathing in me due to my similarities with Mr Taleb and his style. I too value the aphorism and I too think in shallow categories and I too am envious of those I despise.

It is difficult having read the book, and not having previously actually done more than briefly talk about my take on Procrustes, to be sure if I can return to my own idea. Mr Taleb's take is that Procrustes is to be read as changing the wrong variable: the person not the bed. I wanted to take this in another direction, that categorisation is necessarily a process of information reduction. Eye colour may not have an infinity of varieties but it has many more than any database or language system is able to enumerate.


An erudite is someone who displays less than he knows; a journalist or consultant, the opposite.
Engineers can compute but not define, mathematicians can define but not compute, economists can neither define nor compute.
My best definition of a nerd: someone who asks you to explain an aphorism.
I regret buying this book, even from the beautiful bookseller in the Marais.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

I shall wear midnight

I Shall Wear Midnight: A Discworld NovelThe third time I have read I Shall Wear Midnight, just long ago for me to have forgotten how the plot works.
The denouement had my eyes watering.
One of Mr P's more scary works I would recommend for the over thirteens.


In the hardback edition
P 138
SheHe really winked
P 229
that this is a very good deal
P 349
of us of us

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Telling the Story of Welsh

Telling the Story of Welsh by Catrin Stevens is an interesting, if deeply partisan, pamphlet on the history of the Welsh language.

Published by Gomer who appear to have a Melati driven website, I bought my copy at the Dolaucothi Gold Mines.

I did notice a new confidence in Mid and West Wales. Wales looks best in sunlight, but towns that I remember as grim seem to be less so.

The number of young families speaking Welsh seemed high, and the RSPB warden, an incomer of twenty years, told me of his children's delight in talking Welsh in front of him, as he can still not understand.

It may be that a nationalist, socialist, elitist, academic and administered intervention has turned things around both for Welsh and Wales.

When I ask myself if this is a good thing I think of how sad I am that the last native speaker of Cornish has died and my sympathy for the Breton struggle with Frankish centralism.

The Welsh have probably got as big a grievance against the English as the Irish, Scottish or even the wider Empire, but respect for their language seems to be going a long way towards soothing ancient hurts.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Thoughts on Beagling - Peter Wood - Country Life 1938

Thoughts on beagling Another from Noël's bookshelf, I suspect that this was his as a boy.

Noël was keen on beagling, I never went with him but he did walk two litters of puppies at home. They were affectionate, eager little dogs. There is still a picture of a retriever puppy looming over the gang. A galleon in a sea of little boats, as they all ploughed through the snow.

Reading a seventy year old book it is the means of production as much as the content that are of interest. Typeset by typesetters, I only found found error. In the penultimate chapter we have "A fast pack is such country" which should be "A fast pack in such country". I can normally spot a few more than this in even the most rigorously proof-read modern books.

Who was this book aimed at? I am guessing that Peter Wood was himself a Master of Beagles, and that many of his fellow Masters would have bought a copy, but the majority must have been members of the Field. Certainly the number of people who took heed of the kennel design principles must really have been very small.

Whilst more interesting than reading a modern copy of Country Life I do not feel I got much from this dated book.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Ring of Bright Water by Gavin Maxwell

Ring of Brbeen ight Water (Penguin Nature Classics Series)
The copy of Ring of Bright Water that I am reading was given to my step father by, I assume, a patient, in 1961. It was first published in 1960. The book has been on my bookshelf since childhood, but I am not sure I read it as a child, I think I only saw it as a film. I certainly remember the death of Midj at the hands, or spade, of a road mender, which is treated in more depth in the book. In the book we are treated to the full cover-up of what can only be described as Midj's murder.


I started to re-read this book having read Seal Morning and wondered if Gavin Maxwell had read it. I began to suspect he had as he almost ticked off tinkers and second site. On page 40 he mentions his doubts as to Rowena's authenticity with regard to puffballs: Sometimes I wonder whether their adulators have ever tasted them; Miss Rowena Farre ate them in Seal Morning, if one may put it that way, and found them delicious.
Frankly you can dip blotting paper into a rich egg batter and fry it and it will taste excellent.


We have all moved on, a long way, since 1960. I can't help feeling that Mr Maxwell and his editors are getting all sort of combobulated about poo this year here is one who leaves close to the house Homeric droppings of dimensions that would make an Alsatian wolfhound appear almost constipated, I think we get the point, just. Similarly a red deer hind, whose fawn Gavin has disturbed stamped and barked unavailingly.


What stands out from this time, as different from our own, is the effort that the author, a member of the aristocracy, puts into justifying his privilege. He knows himself to be privileged and makes effort both in his life, by starting a shark fishery to provide work for the less privileged, and in his writing style, by using complex sentence construction and educated allusions, to justify his privilege by birth. I am not convinced that members of the upper classes feel the same pressure today.

Monday, 24 January 2011

How to ride a dragon's Storm by Cressida Cowell

How to Ride a Dragon's Storm (Hiccup, Book 7) (Bk. 6) Ellie and I have read this together, mostly me out load, and I have had to back fill where she has read it to herself without me.
This one is actually the signed copy that we queued for at the Oxford Literary Festival last year.
Enjoyable, with good pacey bits, and internally consistent, I still trip over some of the names, though Big Boobied Bertha is fun, and typical of Cressida Cowell's thigh-slapping principal boy style, in which she rather overdoes the cartoon adult men, weedy male hero and plucky girl companion and/or love interest.
Probably I am not sufficiently well read to get the references which are flying over my head but it feels in places a bit derivative even if I can never pin down from what.
All of that carping to one side this is a jolly good read and I suggest you go out and buy yourself a copy.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Gödel's Proof by Nagel and Newman

Gödel's Proof
Towards the end of our honeymoon in Cuba, in August 2000, I bought El Teorema de Godel, the translation by Adolfo Martin, from La Moderna Poesia in Habana. The idea was to learn Spanish by using Gödel's Proof as my Rosetta stone. Eleven years later I have at least bought and read the English copy. Maybe I will finish the job in another eleven years.

I would recommend Gödel's Proof to anyone with an interest in, or fear of, higher maths. I certainly wish I had read this a long time ago. It outlines the elements of Mathematics required to understand the proof, but it is the clear exposition of Gödel Numbering which I particularly enjoyed.


Such a shame that the precise use of English of the authors is let down by the type setting.

P84 We can gain gain some
P107 footnote 37 employ a a fixed
P116 S2 and from two

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Seal Morning by Rowena Farre

I borrowed this handsom first edition from my mother in law, who was given it on her birthday by her brother Peter on 14th April 1958.
Published two years before Gavin Maxwell's more famous Ring of Bright Water it too has been made into a film. It would be really interesting to know if Maxwell had read it.

It has much in common with Out of the Wild by Mike Tomkies, in that they both are set in the most isolated parts of Scotland, and both are a series of tales about the authors interactions with wild, normally injured, animals. Tomkies' book has photographs and he lives alone, as a grown man.

Seal Morning is the story of a girl's childhood, from ten to seventeen, with her aunt; her morning. The majority of this time she has a Common Seal as a pet, but also a pair of otters, a pair of squirrels and a rat. I am not sure how much scrutiny the book bares - surely a rat who lived with otters would not die of natural causes? do otters not have a mechanism to block incestuous pair bonds? even in the fifties surely you could not just take a ten year old into the wilds for seven years? these points aside it is a delightful read, and highlights how much we have changed in half a century. The thing, as a parent, that I find shocking is that a child had been sent from India at age seven, not to see her parents again for ten years.

What is impressive is the dedication to reading, music and the outdoors which enables two people to be a sufficiency to each other. Also notable is the postal delivery service where the postman walks the extra four mile round trip twice a week to deliver the mail in person for the sake of a cup of tea. It is also interesting to read about a period of time when the fight to outlaw gin traps and bird nesting was still ongoing.

Lastly I want to mention the recipe for Lambs Wool: the insides of a baked cooking apple whisked in hot milk with sugar and wine (or beer) added to taste.

Wildwood - A journey through trees

Wildwood A Journey Through Trees by Roger Deakin

I was given this book by friends for my fiftieth birthday, so made an uncharacteristic effort to read it; it was well worth the effort.

By the end of the book I found myself in tune with Roger Deakin, who lived my part-time passion for wood, trees, wildlife and trees.

Whilst his chainsaw installation artists were a little hard to take, indeed his artist friends were all from a different universe to mine, his travels in Kazakhstan, Australia and Kyrgyzstan were a delight.

The sections on natural history and the Engish countryside were well informed and informing.

I will probably read again and again, and have recommended to friends and even bought a copy as a birthday present.

He speculates that the evolutionary pressure on trees such as Ash to be respond well to coppicing was from extinct megaforna such as mammoths and mastadons. Which reminded me of my own musings on the reason that Oak dies back in the way it does. The picture is of a scrubby Cornish oak, the sharp, triangular section die-back is no deterrent to a modern, small, browser such as a Row Deer, but might put a mammoth off knocking the tree down accidentally.