Revenger – Alastair Reynolds

After what I’m afraid I’m going to have to call Elephants in Space!!!! in the Poseidon’s Children trilogy, Al Reynolds has popped off in another direction with his first novel aimed at what the industry likes to call the YA market, or “young adult”. Not at all sure who came up with that label, but it sounds oddly patronising to me, but hey, never mind, it’s a new-ish[1] Al Reynolds book, and it needs talking about.

First, let’s deal with the background. We’re deep in the future – millions of years, and the setting is the Congregation, a collection of engineered worldlets surrounding a fading star, always referred to as the Old Sun. People, who appear to be human, know they’re living in the “Thirteenth Occupation”, the latest in a long line of phases of inhabitation of the Congregation. Societies have risen and fallen over many years, some leaving behind technology that can be used, but not understood.

Some people make a living from collecting ancient artifacts from “Baubles”, worldlets that are surrounded by what, for want of another word, I’ll call force fields which periodically open for long enough to allow sufficiently motivated people to explore their often booby-trapped depths.

Travel is by small light-sail powered ships, communication by short-range radio “squawk” or more interestingly, by a form of telepathy mediated by old alien skulls. A “bone reader” connects to a skull and can pick up communications from other readers.

Anyway, being a YA novel, we’re in the hands of a teenage protagonist, Arafura Ness, who prefers to be called Fura. With her older sister Adrana, she signs on board a ship as a bone reader, which leads to deep trouble.

It’s a slow starter, as is often the case with Reynolds, but it gives us time to get to know Fura, or at least get to know the side of her that’s telling the story. But  once things get going, I found this a lot more of interest than the elephants. Separated from her sister, Fura is determined to get her back, and crosses more than one line in the attempt.

There’s an actual Villain to contend with, but is that villain all she seems? Or is she something altogether more complex?

Once it gets going, it’s good page-turning stuff, with lots of action, some ultraviolence and fancy ancient technology. Fura speaks in a distinctive voice, and is a fascinating (if at times disturbing) narrator.

The setting has the potential for many more stories, and perhaps more of the backstory will be revealed in future.

Worth a read.

[1] It takes me a while to catch up with things sometimes…

Weight and Stuff Report – 21 October 2017

Weight: 233.4 pounds (16 stone 9.4 pounds, 105.9 kg)
Steps: 7,171

After the traditional shopping, I took myself and the X-T2 to Middlesbrough for a short wander (this did involve spending more time waiting for, and sitting on, trains than actually committing acts of photography, but never mind, and all that…

It was bright and sunny, if a wee bit windy, which meant I spent a fair bit of time taking photos of the shiny Middlesbrough College building, such as this one:

Blue-sky thinking

Blue-sky thinking

Camera: X-T2
Aperture: ƒ/8
Shutter speed: 1/950s
Focal length: 55mm
ISO: 200
Taken: 21 October, 2017
Location: 54° 34.765′ 0″ N 1° 13.6224′ 0″ W

Shock! Horror!! QR codes become useful!

QR codes, you know the things I mean, this sort of thing:

Scan me

Scan me

The idea is that you wave you smartphone at it and it does something – usually takes you to a website. You used to need a special app for that, but these days the camera app on iPhones can do it – it pops up a notification offering to go to the site.

Despite the best efforts of marketing people, they never really seemed to catch on (there’s an old joke that the only people who regularly used them were those same marketing people). This left them as a solution in search of a problem.

Well, it seems some people have started finding problems. For instance, my local bus company sells weekly season tickets. You buy these from the driver on the bus and until recently you just had to show them as you got on. Simple. Fine for passengers, but possibly not so good for the company, who had to rely on drivers having the concentration and inclination to make sure the expiry date printed on the ticket hadn’t passed. And while they’d have an idea of how many journeys were made by people with such tickets, they had no idea how many were made by individuals. Were a small number of people making lots of journeys while most made just a few? This is the sort of thing companies like to know as it helps them decide on what prices they can get away with are appropriate.

So, enter the QR code. They’ve invested in fancy new ticket machines, which quite apart from letting you buy single or daily tickets with contactless payments, now print QR codes on multi-use tickets such as day returns or weekly ones. You pop your QR code under a scanner as you get on, and the machine beeps. They now know that a ticket bought at your stop is used mumble times in a week, which is probably very important to them. Unlike their mobile tickets thingy, this isn’t personally identifiable data, but still of value, I’m sure.

Here’s what it looks like (and yes, my phone did offer to do a search for the translation of the code):

Ticket to ride

Ticket to ride

They use a sticky thingy to hold the paper ticket, so it doesn’t fall apart. And that ticket expires today, so don’t bother trying to print it out and use it!

But there’s more. Tesco (large UK supermarket chain, for non-UK readers) now have a payment app on iOS and Android. The idea is you link it to your Clubcard account (loyalty card thingy) and add one or more payment cards – the phone camera scans the card for the number and expiry date, and you have to add some other details. You can then, if you’re so inclined, use the app when shopping. You authenticate (PIN code or thumbprint) and select which card you want to use if you’ve stored more than one. It then displays, you guessed it a QR code, which the cashier scans. The code changes every ten seconds, so it presumably includes a time code. Whether this is a good idea or not I’m not sure. Marginally more convenient than inserting a card and entering a PIN as well as presenting your Clubcard (got to give them lots of lovely data, err, get your points), about the same as tapping a card for a contactless payment, but without the relatively low transaction limit.

So there you are: QR codes actually being used. Who’d have thought it?

Weight and Stuff Report – 19 October 2017

Weight: 231.8 pounds (16 stone 7.8 pounds, 105.1 kg)
Steps: 1,530ish

Weight up over a pound for reasons of, err, dunno. Step count probably an underestimate because Les managed to not charge his watch, so it didn’t keep track all day. Silly Les.

This is a wide view of the arch of the Tyne Bridge

Arch

Arch

Camera: X-T2
Aperture: ƒ/1
Shutter speed: 1/1000s
Focal length: 8mm
ISO: 200
Taken: 7 October, 2017
Location: 54° 58.0654′ 0″ N 1° 36.3444′ 0″ W

 

Adobe attempt to confuse Les

OK, it’s new software versions time. All announced and released today are the latest versions of Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite.

For what I do these days, the only really important one is Lightroom. I get it bundled in the surprisingly nicely priced photography plan with Photoshop, but to be honest there’s not much that I use Photoshop for that I couldn’t do with something else. But hey, it’s a bargain.

But now things are changing. There’s a new shiny version of Lightroom CC, but that’s not the Lightroom you’re looking for. The one with CC in its name is, unlike CC things generally, actually a cloudy thing, intended to work with files synced to the included storage across multiple devices. Being shiny and new, it’s apparently not quite there in terms of features compared with the product formerly known as Lightroom CC. On first reading that, I had an eeerrrrr moment.

But it’s not quite as drastic as that. There’s also a new version of the kind of Lightroom that works with what, being a grouchy old Les who’s used to working that way, will call proper bloody files living in folders exactly where I put them. To maximise confusion, this is called Lightroom Classic, and it has some new features and performance improvements. More on that when I’ve absorbed the information.

Photography Plans now offer a choice:

The closest equivalent to the current one is much the same, and adds the new cloudy Lightroom and 20GB of online storage, which isn’t much these days. So, if (like me) you’re reasonably happy with how things work, there’s no need to change, and you can happily update Photoshop and Lightroom Classic from Creative Cloud.

For people who are more cloud-inclined (typically, people who do most, if not all of their photography on phones rather than cameras), you can have Lightroom CC with 1TB of storage for the same price.

And finally, if you’d like the best of both, you can pay twice as much to have all the software and 1TB of storage.

Usual advice on major new releases: make sure your Lightroom catalog has a good backup or six, test first to make sure any plugins work as expected and make sure you’ve got a good backup. (Yes I did say that twice)

If you have Lightroom on multiple computers, maybe try it on a secondary one first – that’s my plan.

Details from Adobe

Useful article with new features video from Matt Kloskowski

Useful article from Victoria Bampton (aka the Lightroom Queen)

 

Weight and Stuff Report – 17 October 2017

Weight: 230.6 pounds (16 stone 6.6 pounds, 104.6 kg)
Steps: 2,077

Down just a teeny wee bit today…

Here’s another view taken from the Tyne Bridge. I was intrigued by the sticker…

The what?

The what?

Camera: X-T2
Aperture: ƒ/1
Shutter speed: 1/150s
Focal length: 8mm
ISO: 200
Taken: 7 October, 2017
Location: 54° 58.0749′ 0″ N 1° 36.3519′ 0″ W

 

Weight and Stuff Report – 15 October 2017

Weight: 230.8 pounds (16 stone 6.8 pounds, 104.7 kg)
Steps: Remarkably few

Surprisingly down a pound after yesterday’s wee drinkie…

It was another quiet Sunday in, as I had to do the washing I didn’t do yesterday, catch up on some of last week’s TV and other such things.

I also got the Les Bessant Photography site into a state where it’s looking pretty much the way I want, and is ready for expansion when I select more photos. I’ve basically replicated the portfolio from the 500px site, with a slightly altered selection of photos. Thanks to the Clever Stuff in Backlight, adding to it in future will be very quick and easy, so I’ll aim to start creating new albums soon. I’ve now removed the portfolio from 500px, to save them the bother when they terminate the feature…

Here’s one more from last Saturday – there are some lovely wood carvings in St Nicholas Cathedral, including this one, which I think represents Moses:

Moses. Probably

Moses. Probably

Camera: X-T2
Aperture: ƒ/2.8
Shutter speed: 1/60s
Focal length: 55mm
ISO: 2000
Taken: 7 October, 2017
Location: 54° 58.2127′ 0″ N 1° 36.6627′ 0″ W