Books #9 to #18


I’ve fallen behind in both reading and recording what I’ve read. Two weeks holiday gave me chance to read quite a lot and record what I had read recently.

Julia Child’s  “My Life in France” was lent to me after I saw the film “Julie and Julia”. Julia Childs spent much of her adult life in France, where she loved the food, learnt to cook, and co-authored a cook book aimed at American housewives ( Mastering the Art of French Cooking” . On return to the US she presented a cookery programme, in what was the early days of TV. A fascinating book. Julia Childs experimental approach to cooking would have applied equally to many other disciplines, and I found myself wondering if she was of the eara of Julie in the film what career she would have followed.

Lindsay Barclay’s “Clouded Vision” was listed as a quick read. With a short book the author didn’t have space for all the twists and turns found in longer books, but still managed a gripping story.

Jason Fforde was an author I had not heard of, but a colleague lent me a couple of his books, which I read one after the other: “The Eyre Affair” and “Lost in a Good Book”.These are fantastic stories, especially for someone who likes reading. They are set in a parallel universe, similar to ours but different in that literature is important.  His heroine is Thursday Next and she is a literary detective. The style is very clever, while the plot is far fetched it reminded me of the writings of Douglas Adams. I am definitely going to read more by the author and find out what happens next to Thursday.

Philippa Gregory’s “The Red Queen” is a parallel book to her “The White Queen”. This book presents the story of Margaret Beaufort. Her son Henry Tudor (later Henry VII) is the centre of her life, although they spend very little time together. Really well written and shows what a noble women’s life was like in the 15th century.

Bernard Cornwell’s “The Fort” was not as good as other books I have read by the author. His desire to correctly tell this tale of the battle meant the characters lacked life.

Kate Morton’s “the Distant Hours” tells a tale from several different perspectives. The author got the level of each just right and made this a really gripping book.

Carlos Ruiz Zafron’s “The Prince of the Mist ” is a sinister book written with a light touch, the style made me want to keep reading (I read it in one day), but it didn’t terrify me.

Elizabeth Speller’s “The Return of Captain John Emmet” is an unusual tale, in which the titular character has apparently committed suicide after the Great War and his family’s wish to understand why. Very much a who-dunnit with lots of twists.

Howard Jacobson’s “The Finkler Question” came well recommended, it was The Man Brooker prize winner in 2010. I found it somewhat tedious. There were good parts but for me they didn’t balance the long texts which did little to develop plot or characters.


Book #8 cryptonomicon

After visiting Bletchley Park and the National Museum of Computing a colleague lent me Neal Stephenson’s “cryptonomicon”, at almost a 1000 pages this was not a light book but it was brilliantly written. The plot follows two timelines, essentially one following the work of Lawrence Waterhouse a war time crytographer (and more). The other following his grandson Randolph (Randy), a gifted programmer. The plot moves around the world with the two men and the story intertwines and is linked through code. The link to Bletchley Park is that Lawrence spends some time working there. There is a wonderful description of Lawrence and his duffle bag arriving at Bletchley station. Both in the US and Bletchley Lawrence is suppose to work with Alan Turing and some of the stories of Turing match those told by the guide at Bletchley Park.
You probably need to be a geek to truly appreciate this book but Stephenson writes so well there is entertainment available even in the description of eating of breakfast cereal.

Books #5 – #7

James Bradley’s “The Resurrectionist” is described in the blurb as: “A classically claustrophobic Gothic chiller”. I’m afraid I found it too claustophobic and even after endeavouring I could not get into it, so I put it to one side, and have bow decided that it would be a chore to finish it – so I won’t.

Kate Atkinson’s “Started Early, Took My Dog” is much more my sort of books, I have nejoyed earlier mysteries by her and this was equally good, lots of twists in the plot, which once again links to the line of missing and murdered girls.

I bought Jonathan Kellerman’s “The Conspiracy Club” because Amazon offered it at a very good price, and it turned out to be a very good buy, quite readable and lots of twists in the plot.

Books #3 and #4

I’ve fallen behind with noting what I have read:

“Ordinary Thunderstorms” by Williams Boyd is an exciting thriller placed in London, the hero is Adam Kindred, a young academic  (a climatologist) in London for a interview as a Research Assistant. A chance meeting changes his life and he has to disappear, the plot is full of twists – brilliant read.

Roma Tearne’s “Mosquito” is set in Sri Lanka, which still suffers from earlier strife, it interlinks the life of a writer and an artist against a backdrop of violence. Really well written

The National Museum of Computing

The National Museum of Computing is based in Bletchley Park, and having spent the morning visiting the Bletchley Park exhibits we moved in to the National Museum of Computing.


The museum is fantastic with so many things I remember that I will write a few separate posts linked to the photos.
There are lots of volunteers around willing to talk in detail about the exhibits, and to listen to visitors’ tales of what they used to use.
Lots of what they have actually works and the volunteers are making efforts to get other things actually working.
It so great that there is a place like this or otherwise we would find that these machines just disappeared.

Bletchley Park

I went to Bletchley Park yesterday with a group of research students and a colleague.

Bletchley Park

I hadn’t visited before and I was really impressed by the wealth of exhibits and the way in which everything was presented.
Our volunteer guide (John) really knew about the place and the history and bought life to the whole experience, we spent about 90 minutes going round from our start in the block where Alan Turing worked, via Mansion, the Post Office, the Bombe and finishing up at Colossus.
I know there was lots that I didn’t see, but my ticket is valid for a year so I will have to go again.

Me and Cakes

I quite like cakes both from the point of eating and baking.

I have quite a few pictures of cakes on Flickr and the reasons I do that are several-fold:
1.       If I have baked something I am proud of I want to preserve the picture.
2.       It is easy to share the Flickr URL of the cake.
3.       I can also embed Flickr pictures into my blog.
4.       I use cake examples a lot in my teaching (there is a lot of similarities between cooking and programming).
5.       They add (I think) a human side to me for my students and colleagues without unduly exposing my family.
6.       Occasionally the cakes are as a result of online conversations, for example I made a chocolate beer cake, because I saw a tweet from someone else who had made one.

Chocolate beer cake

So cakes are part of my real life identity but because of decisions I have taken I think they actually represent a larger portion of my digital identity.


Last week I decided to breathe some life in to an oldish XP-running desktop computer by installing Linux.
I decided to use Ubuntu because my netbook runs Easy Peasy – which is based on Ubuntu.
I started by downloading Ubuntu on to a flash drive, and using this (without installing) to boot my computer, that worked fantastically well.
There was just one problem my wireless dongle didn’t work. A Google search revealed others had the same problem but didn’t offer a solution that worked for me. Eventually I found that there was a wrapper that meant the Windows Driver could be used, however the dongle provider hadn’t supplied that on the CD – they used some package which auto-installed with Windows – but a root round in the Windows file store found that. So the wireless worked, I tried a couple of times re-booting from the flash drive to be sure everything did work. I then installed Ubuntu and went on to get the wireless working but now the system said it couldn’t find the wrapper and it needed internet access to get it, which seemed a bit cyclic. I started looking at trying to download it on another machine, but then hit on the idea of moving our router and getting a long wire and actually connecting in a wired fashion, that worked a treat and soon the wireless was also working
My next challenge was to get our school’s ITNG web-based vpn working, I use this quite a lot because it allows me to access my university filestore and to run different machines. This required that I had Flash and Java installed, I spent quite a lot of time trying to get this to work, but it would not fully work like it does on my other computers.
I had followed the instructions from the ITNG Help pages which recommended using Icedtea for Java, and this ultimately turned out to be the problem. I sat the netbook next to the desktop and the only difference in the installation seemed to be Java. So I uninstalled Icedtea, then had a dig round in the Ubuntu web pages and found out the best way to install Java, by doing this the vpn worked. I’ve edited the ITNG help page to suggest that using Sun Java is an alternative, and added a bit of discussion with the actual versions I used.
I’ve left the machine as dual boot so I can run the old XP if I want, but for now I’m happy with the Ubuntu Linux.

Two thrillers – books #1 and 2


Two books that can be classed as thrillers, one from a new author, and one from a guy who turns them out regularly. 

Mohammed Hanif’s “A Case of Exploding Mangoes” is great book, dark and funny. It starts and ends with the same plane crash. The book investigates what happened leading up to this, and while this is violent it does has humour, witness the role of the mangoes in the title.
Tom Clanchy’s “Red Rabbit” is set more than a decade ago when Russia was still a strong communist force with plenty of agents, and a plan to kill the Polish-born Pope. A good page-turner.


We have a new KTP project approved with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS).
The aim of this exciting and innovative 24 month project is to take WAGGGS leadership programme to leaders in their own locations, with the use of Information Technology.
We are currently advertising for a Learning Technologies Officer to work on the project have a look at our advert at:
This will be an exciting opportunity based in London with plenty of opportunity to travel.