pressing on

I have a sneaking suspicion that I have turned into a serious, albeit amateur, book collector; certainly I abide by the key rule of collecting: buy what you like. Some of the things I like have ended up being worth quite a bit and occasionally I pause and wish I’d bought doubles. That way lies danger and madness. I continue to buy pretty versions of things I want to read or re-read so that I can read them in a nice edition. I am on the mailing list of several independent presses within my area of interest: SF and Fantasy.

This week I have added another press to my list, Grim Oak, as I’ve decided afterall that I do indeed want nice editions of the The Sword of Shannara series by Terry Brooks, of which they’re publishing the initial trilogy. I had considered it last year but decided against as the first had already sold out. Last year was also the 40th anniversary of publication of the first book. I’ve recently watched season 1 of the TV series (based on Book 2) and while not blown away, was keen to re-read the originals. So I’ve found the first one on Abebooks though it was a wee bit eccy (US$325) and have purchased books 2 & 3 (preorder) direct from the publisher at regular pricing (US$100 each). I contacted the publisher directly to see if I could get 2 & 3 with matching numbers to the first. They were happy to oblige and I’ve had a nice chat via email with their Associate Publisher.

That’s one of the things I like with small presses, that sense of personal engagement. Another I deal with is Subterranean Press and I’d recently missed an announcement for their next installment of Corey’s Expanse series. I emailed the main guy directly and he was able to put aside a copy for me with the matching number of the titles I had already. I’ve lost count of how many books I’ve bought from Subterranean over the years but a rough estimate puts it over 30, possibly 40, titles. I’m also collecting the Malazan series (10 books) from Subterranean, and they’ve just announced preorders for the 8th book. Even though the limited set is not yet finished, their resale value is already a few times the purchase cost and the first alone has jumped to around US$2,000 (original purchase price of US$160).

The Grim Oak edition of The Sword of Shannara should arrive in a couple of weeks and I’m looking forward to re-reading it as soon as I have it. Book 2 (Elfstones of Shannara) is due in a few weeks and the third book (Wishsong of Shannara) mid-year.

Several books by Neal StephensonValue is a curious thing and it’s interesting to watch how much some titles sell out and increase in value while others languish. The Malazan titles for example by Subterranean Press, are a wee bit out of control, and I recall seeing a set (incomplete as only the first 7 of 10 have been published in these editions) of the lettered editions on ebay for a five figure amount whereas sets of the numbered editions seem to be in the mid four figures. Whereas I can easily buy the Subterranean editions of Greg Egan‘s shorter fiction and a new one is up for preorder. Egan is an Australian writer of hard SF.

The Centipede’s Press edition of Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card sold out quickly and has a scary range of secondhand pricing: US$800 to US$2,200 whereas I bought it direct from Centipede for US$275. I missed out on Centipede’s edition of Logan’s Run and it’s now available for a range of US$200 to US$300 which is not bad but I don’t have the personal keenness for that title. On the other hand, I had the opportunity to buy their edition of The Delicate Dependency (vampire novel) but decided to read it first. Now I want it but it’s sold out and hard to find with the occasional copy turning up for US$275 or so, again more than I want to pay for that one.

Small presses that I like:Book cover of Amberjack by Terry Dowling

  • Centipede Press – they do a lot of horror and some SF
  • Grim Oak – Terry Brooks + a few short story collections and other things
  • PS Publishing – UK publisher that has recently launched an Oz office. SF and horror. I started with them for Malazan stuff but have continued to find interesting things. They will eventually publish (I hope) nice editions of Oz author, Terry Dowling’s Rynosseros cycle
  • Subterranean Press – primarily SF and Fantasy

Other publishers that I may or may not dally with include:

  • Cemetery Dance – horror and dark – I think I’ve bought some Terry Dowling, or been tempted to buy some
  • Easton Press – they do old school leather bindings, gilt edge and book ribbons…and they do it really well. I have a few on the shelf though I don’t think I’ve paid more than US$100 or so per title.
  • Folio Society – I have a bunch and there’s a whole bunch more that I want – every time I look I get a little scared. Current temptations include The Foundation Trilogy and Dune – though I already have a nice Easton Press edition of Dune.

In terms of buying sold out titles, I tend to use abebooks and bypass ebay though I have used the latter once or twice. I sorta like using book specific resources and non auction sites at that. Ebay often has an option to buy immediately but it’s more of a general store than a bookstore. The main time I used ebay was to buy a particular numbered edition of the first of the Malazan series.


harvest testing

One of the difficulties with working with web harvests is that it is but one of several priorities and not even the key one. A lot of my job is focussed on managing the Library’s eresources collection, dealing with suppliers and looking after budgets. In addition I’ve been running the Library’s web harvesting programme for about three and a half years now. The main crawl of NSW government websites was set up originally by Archive-It and these days I have it scheduled to run twice a year. There are other smaller crawls that are run throughout the year.

However there’s never been a lot of time for exploring the harvested content in detail and ensuring we’re getting the material we think we are. We do run some testing by searching for specific content within the archive eg budget papers and check that it contains all relevant content including spreadsheets and documents. There’s only so much you can do to manually test when this particular archive is 3.5TB and contains around 74 million documents. The Archive-It software does provide some tools for checking crawl results and broadly indicating missed material.

However, as readers continue to explore the collection, they come across things where we haven’t fully captured the content we thought we had. A recent example is the Electoral Atlas of NSW 1856-2006 edited by Eamonn Clifford, Antony Green and David Clune. The State Library does hold it in print and until recently the digital content was hosted on the NSW Parliamentary website.

On initial inspection, it appeared that the content had been captured via the harvest both by SLNSW and the National Library (NLA). The NLA version doesn’t descend further while the NSW version does display the individual election results eg 1984:

Election details of the 1984 New South Wales state election

However, all the links in the 1984 Election Links section return a “Not in Archive” message, similarly for other years. In this example, there is some happy news in that the main wayback machine seems to have captured the site in full including those pages we’ve missed. The question that I need to explore and may need to ask Archive-It about, is why their crawl captured that information and our’s didn’t.

As a side note, I’ve found the Wayback browser plugin (Firefox, Chrome) rather useful for finding archived versions of pages that no longer exist on websites.


bits and whiskies

Sat down at the computer today for the first time in a while and installed docker. I have it installed on most of my machines and got round to it on the vivomini today. Was a simple matter to run:

sudo apt install

enter my password and off it went. Docker containers include everything you’re likely to need to run a particular batch of software. Installing software is rarely simple and may rely on the presence of other packages which leads into a vicious circle of finding all the dependencies and installing them. In this case, I wanted to try the new-ish docker container for the Archives Unleashed Toolkit which, in earlier days and been a little challenging in a on docker environment. Whereas this version was dead simple via docker on a linux command line:

Step 1 sudo docker pull archivesunleashed/docker-aut
Step 2 sudo docker run --rm -it archivesunleashed/docker-aut

Both steps took a while but I think it was around 15-20 minutes altogether on my ADSL2 house wifi (my NBN option is HFC and that’s been delayed several months). When the second step finished I was greeted with the opening screen for the spark shell and ready to work. Very nice and will have more of a play later.

For now, I’m currently downloading Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds and rather looking forward to revisiting my favourite game of 2017, and possibly even my favourite game since Skyrim. Actually, I’m not sure on the latter and I haven’t actually stopped playing Skyrim. I have been playing a lot of Assassin’s Creed: Origins over the last couple of months and it feels like there’s still so much to explore. Some of it is a bit repetitive yet it’s wonderful exploring such a well realised version of Egypt, in the time of Cleopatra, and its surrounds. With that said, I’m at the point where I’m going to ease back and pop into it occasionally rather than have it as my primary game.

Then there was whisky. All the bottles I had opened in early November are now finished. Back then I had 9 bottles altogether with 5 open, now  9 bottles and 4 open. Actually I have an additional 7 bottles but they’re each 50ml and combined are equivalent to a single bottle. My partner bought me a box of 4 peated malts for christmas, and I picked up a taster pack of 3 Loch Lomond whiskies. Whiskies opened include:

  • Hellyers Road 10 year old (46.2%) – a nice, soft dram from Tasmania. Usually retails around $90 and I think I’m on my second bottle.
  • Ben Nevis 18 year old (single cask, 54.7%) – strong but delish, loving this one and on to the second bottle. This was $240 and is part of a fund raiser for a new distillery in Corowa, NSW.
  • BenRiach Peated Cask Strength Single Malt (56%) – also strong and also delish. This was $150 and I have a suspicion that BenRiach is turning out to be one of my favourite distilleries after Highland Park and Overeem. I have also enjoyed their 17 year old PX cask.
  • Glenmorangie: The Duthac (43%) – more yum. This was a christmas present and was released for travel retail and is primarily available at duty free places at airports, Singapore in this instance. Part finished in Pedro Ximinez casks. Sherry casks are my preferred and the Pedro Ximinez (PX) seems to raise that a notch or two.

Speaking of Pedro, I rather like sherry straight too. I used to prefer ports and muscats, and even had a port barrel maturing at one stage. I suspect if I ever do another barrel it will be for sherry. Of sherries, the Pedro Ximinez or PX (though it seems irreverent to shorten it such) is turning out to be my favourite. I have been trying out various releases from cheap to expensive, the most expensive being around $55 for 350ml! My favourite, while a little pricey, seems to be the Cardenal Cisneros at $56/750ml, though cheap compared to whisky.

opened bottles

I’m a member (but mostly lurk) of a couple of facebook groups on whisky: the Australian Whisky Appreciation Society (AWAS) and the Highland Park Appreciation Society. I’m on the former cause it’s sorta local and I’ve been getting more and more into whisky. I’m on the latter as I think it was Highland Park that first made whisky click for me and it remains one of my faves. I have even been to the Orkney Islands, north of mainland Scotland, where Highland Park is located but that was before I’d gotten into whisky. I visited a few distilleries on the mainland via a backpacker’s bus and must have picked up some Highland Park duty free. There’s only two distilleries on Orkney, Highland Park and Scapa though I’ve never tasted the latter and they seem to be much smaller whereas Highland seems huge and expanding.

Anyways, there was a recent thread on AWAS about how many bottles people had, and how many they had open. I figured that bottles owned would range from a few to lots, while bottles opened would range from a few to a few more. I was a little wrong on the latter assumption. Most folk seemed to have a third to two thirds of their collection open. This is ok if you’ve got 10-20 bottles but beyond that it gets sort of scary. Some folk have 70 bottles with 60 opened, or several hundred with a few hundred open. I can see easily, how whisky can be as dangerous as book collecting.

Once you open a whisky it is affected by the air that gets in, some well some not so much. I know from my own experience that if you open a whisky and leave it a few years it can go a little off. For some whiskies, additional air improves it over several months. Others need to be drunk quickly. I recall having an 18 year old Glenfiddich that tasted horrible by the time I finished it a couple of years after opening.

Taking stock of my current state of play: I have 5 bottles open out of a total of 9. To be honest, I’m a bit staggered I have so many: both open and unopened. Every time I buy a new bottle it is tempting to open it immediately. Thankfully, regular tastings and whisky fairs has reduced that temptation and improved my appreciation. Plus I have a significant understanding of collectivitis via books which are my first priority. So far at least whisky collecting has proven cheaper than book collecting.

The 5 I have open currently include:

  • Highland Park Viking Scars (10 year old) – very smooth, easy drop. It’s relatively cheap at $75 though lacks complexity. A nice, regular quaffer.
  • McHenry 6th barrel release – oh my! I love this so. Molasses and toffee. A delish Tassie whisky. The distillery in Port Arthur was alas shut when we were in Hobart last but keen to visit next time. I did meet the man himself at the Oak Barrel’s Whisky Fair and it was lovely chatting to him. Last week I picked up the 3rd barrel release.
  • Ben Nevis 1997 – 20 year old single cask, bottled specially for the Oak Barrel Whisky Fair. I have bottle 8 of 60. Delish but much improved with a few drops of water. At 48.6% alcohol it tastes much stronger but the water really opens it up.
  • Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve – was on special recently at my local for $99 (from $134). The ultimate Yamazaki is the 18 year old that sells out quickly, even at $1,000+ and then re-sells for several thousand. I have tasted the 18 year old and it is yum but I ain’t paying stupid money. This one is nice and works well as a quaffer with a bit of character.
  • Overeem sherry cask – this is probably my favourite whisky and comes from the last cask that Casey Overeem made before selling to Lark. This is my second bottle from that cask and it is oh so good. Overeem mostly mature in either port or sherry casks and while I don’t mind the port, I usually prefer the sherry cask.


I often say professionally that I did a compsci major (though can never claim it officially) yonks ago but decided against becoming a programmer. That’s not a decision I regret mostly, though it must be said I continue to have strong leanings that direction. Scarily, it’s been over 25 years since those compsci days. Still, I learnt good stuff.

I recall in the second half of first year compsci, we had an older lecturer at the time who was actually a maths lecturer who seemed to have come across into computers. I can say “older” as I’ve just found this bio which sums up very briefly a rather fascinating career. He may even have been one of my favourite lecturers as he liked to play with new ideas and introduced stuff he knew about from maths into computing. I was a very rare beast in compsci in that I was enrolled under BA and not directly in Compsci and I did no math. I had done first year math but it wasn’t quite my bag. Doherty was very big on mathematical ideas and assessing efficiencies of algorithms.

I recall him talking some weird algorithm for encrypting data and he worked through the basic idea in a lecture, I think it was based on some sort of fractional encoding model. At the end of the lecture, he said the next assignment would be to implement it. I found the idea of it fascinating. The next assignment came out and sure enough it was on encryption so I implemented the algorithm in Pascal that he’d talked about based on my lecture notes. The idea was you’d write code to encrypt a paragraph of text, and code to decrypt the text. I was mostly successful but because it relied on decimal conversion of larger numbers, it rapidly lost accuracy on the 8 bit macs we were using at the time. Out of a sentence of 10 words, it started losing letters by the end of the first word.

Turns out, I should have read the back page of the assignment. Doherty had decided that the technique was a little too experimental for first year compsci and had instead instructed everyone to use a hashing technique. I handed my assignment in and discussed with the class tutor what I’d done. He wasn’t familiar with the algorithm at all but was impressed that it worked and understood why it failed where it did. I got full marks and first year compsci was one of my few high distinctions at uni.

mini computers on top of computer books.Anyway, Doherty would often quote Knuth as the foundation of modern computing. Knuth was all about the development of algorithms and understanding their efficiencies. Algorithms are really important as they represent techniques for solving particular sorts of problems eg what is the best way to sort a random string of numbers? The answer varies depending on how many numbers are in the string, or even whether you can know the number of numbers. For very small sets, a bubble sort is sufficient, and from there you move on to binary searches, binary trees, and so on. I wasn’t always across the math but really appreciated the underlying thinking around assessing approaches to problem solving. Plus Doherty was a fab lecturer with a bit of character.

So Knuth. He is best known for his series, The Art of Computer Programming, which has gone through a few editions and I wonder if it will ever be actually finished; the fourth volume is actually labeled 4A: Combinatorial Algorithms Part 1. Volume 4 is eventually expected to cover 4 volumes: 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D. 4B has been partially released across several fascicles of which 6 have been released. Volume 3 seems to be the most relevant for where I’m at today and where I’m looking to play; #3 is around 750 pages devoted specifically to sorting and searching. So much of what we do online is reliant on being able to find stuff and to find stuff well, it helps if the data has been ordered.

Knuth has this been this name in my head though my life has gone in other directions. A few years ago, I did a google and found that not only were his books on Amazon, there was even a box set of Volumes 1-4A. I bit the bullet about 3 years ago and bought the set, cost around US$180 at the time and looks really, bloody good on the shelf. I haven’t read a great deal yet but dipped in a few times and planning to get into volume 3 properly at some point. I’ve recently being moving stuff around at home and don’t have a lot of space for books next to where my computer gear is these days. However, it turns out, the mac mini sits nicely on top of the set, and my newest computer, the VivoMini sits nicely on top of the mac. I sorta like the idea of these small computers sitting on Knuth’s foundation.


I drank the McHenrys 6th release 3 nights in a row this week and it’s like a lovely toffee verging on rich christmas cake. I know where I can a bottle from their 3rd release, and 4th for that matter, but avoiding it as it’s a little pricey. Though today I picked up a discounted bottle of the Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve, at $99 it’s a wee bit cheaper than the 18 year old that seems to sell in uncomfortable four figure amounts.

Somehow I have found myself on Amazon…just looking at stuff, minding my own business. I could for example get a whisky flask that looks a game cartridge, or even a dodgy looking steampunk version. On the other hand, the Disruptor Rifle looks rather cool but I’ve got nowhere to display it currently and it might not be quite the thing to put on my filing cabinet at work.

I occasionally, and this may surprise some, look longingly at Richie Rich collections. I had lots of comics as a kid and I’d like to say they were really cool in a pre-hipster sort of way but nyah, I bought the regular stuff not the niche. I had lots of Richie Rich comics, the story of the poor little rich boy. Though I did also have the english whizzer and chips with its stories of Mustapha Millions. Actually I did have a bunch of Captain America too. In later years I think I even have a complete run of the Babylon 5 comics. There’s a new book on gaming that came out a month or so back that looks rather interesting: Blood, Sweat and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made.

Other temptations include omnibus collections of the original Wonder Woman, Guardians of the Galaxy, and even a couple of books on Soviet bus stops. Every other week there seems to be a new omnibus featuring Captain America and The Avengers though the really big temptation at the moment is the Complete Collection of S.H.I.E.L.D. as I’m currently enjoying the 3rd season of Agents of SHIELD via DVD. Also glad to see that an omnibus has been released of the new Ms Marvel of which I’ve read the first couple of releases. I tend not to buy much in paperback these days and prefer to wait for the hardcover omnibus releases…afterall they look rather nice on the shelf and hopefully last a bit longer.

Haven’t bought any books so far but may revisit later in the evening.

more sheep (there are spoilers)

…which sounds like it could be a line introducing the planned Settlers of Catan movie.

But no, I of course refer to a second movie picking up on the themes of Philip K Dick‘s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”. As an aside, thankfully, googling “android” and “dick” produced far less scary results than anticipated. Dick’s greatness far exceeds dodgy pr0n references. DADOES as it is often shortened to, is possibly Dick’s second best novel, the best generally regarded as The Man in the High Castle. I tend not to disagree.

When the first version of the first movie was released in, I think, 1982 or 3, I wasn’t able to see it. Dad however, bought me the book. I was 14 at the time. It blew me away. I loved it much. I’ve only read it once but it has always stuck with me. Vivid. I finally saw the film on its second release, as the Director’s Cut. Loved it. Also vivid. Seared into my mind. I saw it many times both on big screen and small.

I suspect I’ve seen the original version several times since. Comfortably double figures on the director’s cut, possibly double figures on the original. I love both though it remains true that people generally prefer the version they saw first. There is also a final cut that was much later that I tried to watch recently but didn’t quite find the right moment to pop it on. I’ve read enough to know where it differs and seen the other versions enough to work out where it fits visually.

Seriously: spoilers below.

Bladerunner is that rare, rare film that leaves out so much of the book yet captures its essence, shares its soul. Blade Runner 2049 also succeeded…mostly. I was riveted to the screen for most of it, for most of it was perfect. If it had stopped shortly after Agent K and Deckard met, or been effectively finished at that point, I would have been happy. But it didn’t finish, there were fights and kidnapping and more fights, Terminator-esque. The side plot of the tycoon Wallace, felt shallow and vacuous. Unnecessary. Even then, if the film had ended with K dying on the snowy steps it might have been redeemed. It felt so much like an interesting film with a Brady Bunch ending slapped on.

And yet, it was still so bloody good…so much perfect, visually grand (it needs a really big screen, a big space), musically, aurally wonderful. It still traces the path of  what does it mean to be human, and explores new ripples. It was well paced, events, music, landscapes…connected. I loved its play with virtual characters, and the way it overlapped virtual with real…or a sense of real. It’s all about the sense of real, and not necessarily the real itself.