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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Thursday (7/10/14) 2:59am - ... wherein Peter posts a Weekly Media Update.

Movies:  <none>
TV:  True Detective [1x03-1x05]
Books:  The Secret Lives of Codebreakers: The Men and Women Who Cracked the Enigma Code at Bletchley Park [audiobook], Head First Design Patterns

True Detective [1x03-1x05]
This is the HBO limited-run anthology drama which (this season) is about a pair of Louisiana detectives trying to catch a serial killer with apparent ties to the occult.

The show is slowly picking up steam.  In episode three, it was still shambling through the same old crime-procedural clichés of the first two episodes, still with the two leads straining to out-manly each other.  Episode four continued in that vein, but two interesting things happened: first, the narrative the 2012 leads told the investigators began to diverge significantly from the *real* history.  That interests me from a structural standpoint -- I don't think I've seen that trick used much in television.

Second, the episode ended on a riveting shootout.  Sure, plot-wise, it was more grunty manliness -- Russ had to infiltrate a badass bunch of bikers[1] and then double-cross them when a drug robbery goes wrong and, *sigh*, blah blah blah.  Anyway.  The shootout itself is amazing.  The director must be a big fan of Children of Men, because it follows the action in Cuarón-style long, long single takes.  And, as in Children of Men, the long "oners" aren't just there to make film students drool, they build up the tension to almost unbearable levels.  You find yourself scanning the screen, wondering where the next threat will pop out from.

Then the focus seems to shift slightly.  In episode five, the structure starts drifting away from the standard "follow lead A to lead B to lead C to KILLER YOU WIN", and the theme finally drifts away from "it's *haaard* being a man who is incredibly manly!"  Instead, it settles into something much more like cosmic horror.  It reveals that, surprise, they caught the wrong guy, and that this figure, "the Yellow King", might be something more powerful and terrifying than they can even wrap their minds around.

Now *that* story, I'm keen to watch.

The Secret Lives of Codebreakers: The Men and Women Who Cracked the Enigma Code at Bletchley Park [audiobook]
This is exactly what it says on the tin: a nonfiction book about Bletchley Park, an old manor house in the English hinterlands where a select group of government boffins broke "the Enigma code", the German military's "unbreakable" cipher.

The topic is fascinating.  It was an odd environment -- not quite military and not quite civilian, and a mishmash of different social classes, different backgrounds, different ages, and both genders.  The massive codebreaking machines they built (with names like "Colossus") are arguably the world's first modern computers.  It shifted the whole balance of World War II, it was a watershed moment in the history of computing, and it was kept a complete secret by the British government for thirty years afterwards.

The book's coverage of the topic is passable.  The prose isn't awful, and the book is well-researched and entertainingly informative, ticking off topic after topic as the timeline drifts from the late 1930s to the mid-1940s and beyond.  I learned a bit, and wasn't bored.  The audiobook had an American narrator, which was consistently off-putting.

It was a pleasant enough overview of the topic, but I suspect if I want to find a *good* book about what happened at Bletchley Park, I'll have to keep looking.

Head First Design Patterns by Eric Freeman, Bert Bates, Kathy Sierra, and Elisabeth Robson
This is a breezy, "for dummies"-esque how-to book about using design patterns.

The concept of a design pattern is pretty simple.  Say you're a programmer.  In your programs, you often have collections of objects -- arrays of strings, tables of numbers, what-have-you -- and you have to go through them and do things to them.  After you write your "go through and do stuff to things in collections" code enough times, you might decide to give that 'pattern' a name: an "iterator".

Suddenly, that simple decision opens up a lot of possibilities.  You have an easier time talking about things like this: "let's use an iterator" is much simpler than "let's make a thing that takes this collection and somehow goes through every item and runs some code on it."  And computer scientists can look at this "iterator" concept and figure out how to write the best possible iterator, what the advantages and disadvantages of iterators are, and when they're useful.

It's not just limited to software -- for example, you could say "yes, and" is a design pattern for improv.  You find a common behavior for people building stuff, give it a name, figure out its benefits, and use it in your work.  The whole idea of "design patterns" actually started out in architecture, not computers.

This book covers the basic idea of a design pattern, as well as some of the fundamental patterns programmers have discovered over the years -- patterns for creating objects, interfacing them together, adding behaviors to them, and so on and so on.  It's written in a breezy, very-small-words style commonly associated with "for dummies" books, heavily relying on 1950s and business-world stock photos with added speech balloons, used to convey just how kuh-razy and irreverent the writers are.

In spite of that, or perhaps because of it, this is actually one of the most highly-regarded introductions to design patterns on the market.  Yes, the forced wackiness is a little grating, but the book covers nearly all the basic patterns using helpful metaphors, clear examples, and simple explanations.  More importantly, it covers the ideas *behind* design patterns: why they're useful, when to use them, what general guidelines they try to follow.  This makes it a good preparation for understanding patterns that they don't have time to cover.

I've already made some use of this at work -- I realized a tricky bit of API coding I was working on was actually a "façade pattern", and designed it accordingly.  I suppose it's also made me a bit of a prat, yammering on about patterns all the time, but that's the temporary price to pay for learning new things about computer programming.

For next week: more of True Detective.  Meanwhile, Lindsey and I are watching Cosmos.  We'll probably also start watching Spaced at some point.  On my own, I'm also watching a Neal DeGrasse Tyson series with the Teaching Company on netflix.  I'm also listening to the audiobook edition of the Veronica Mars novel, and I may finally start reading The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, which is the modern bible for how to make clear charts, tables, or statistical graphs of any type.

[1] Does anyone actually know any bikers who are eeeevil criminal lowlifes?  All the bikers I've encountered have been pretty decent folks.
[1b] Then again, I suppose I live a sheltered existence.

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[User Picture]
From:Marc Majcher
Date:Thursday (7/10/14) 7:49am

Re: Bikers

Check out HST's Hell's Angels book. Clearly not of this time, but some fascinating stuff in there.
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