The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan

Curious about Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, I decided to read the first volume, The Eye of the World, which Jordan published in 1990. Twenty-one years after the publication of this first volume, The Wheel of Time is still not complete, the author having died in 2007 after publishing eleven volumes. Brandon Sanderson is completing the series, and two of the three remaining volumes are out, with the last scheduled for 2012.

Reviewers of The Eye of the World often cited Jordan as being a modern Tolkien. Jordan was hailed as having created a complex and realistic world that, for once, also contained strong women characters.

I am not as impressed. The first volume begins in a small village and follows several characters as they make their way to the Big City while they battle evil in a world suffused with magic. The women are certainly strong-willed and powerful, which is a great improvement over Tolkien, but the central character is a dim-witted, untutored, uncultured, unsophisticated young male. The magic is haphazard and often illogical; two of the characters are so powerful that the author never generates any doubt in the reader’s mind that they will prevail.

The Eye of the World suffers when contrasted with George R. R. Martin’s 1996 book A Game of Thrones, the first volume of his A Song of Ice and Fire series (also incomplete). Martin’s book contains richly drawn characters and a complex story that dwarf Jordan’s effort. I am currently reading the second volume of Martin’s series, but I don’t plan to read any more volumes of The Wheel of Time.

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NY Post Blocks iPad’s Safari Web Browser

Dave Winer reports that the NY Post blocks iPad access to its website when you use the iPad’s standard Safari web browser. The Post wants you to buy its iPad app, which is priced at $1.99 and apparently requires an additional $6.99 for a monthly subscription. In the meantime, the content is free from your computer or from another tablet.

I experimented, and I discovered that if you really, really want to read the NY Post on your iPad, turn JavaScript off in the Safari settings. Commenters to Winer’s post also suggesting using an alternative browser on the iPad.

Winer writes:

The solution is completely obvious. Apple could stop sending back information to the servers that identify me as an iPad user. Or give me a way to edit that information.

So how does the Post know when you’re using an iPad? I assume the Post’s web server is using JavaScript to examine the user agent string communicated by the iPad on each connection. Winer’s proposal is that Apple change the user agent string so that it matches another browser’s.

The user agent reported by Safari on the iPad (wrapping the line so it fits) is

Mozilla/5.0 (iPad; U; CPU OS 4_3_3 like Mac OS X; en-us)
AppleWebKit/533.17.9 (KHTML, like Gecko)
Version/5.0.2 Mobile/8J3 Safari/6533.18.5

Apple could change the user agent string to omit mentioning the iPad or allow a user to set an alternative user agent. For example, this is the user agent reported by Safari from my MacBook Pro:

Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; U; Intel Mac OS X 10_6_7; en-us)
AppleWebKit/533.21.1 (KHTML, like Gecko)
Version/5.0.5 Safari/533.21.1

I tested the Cyberspace web browser on the iPad, and it is (so far) immune to the Post’s redirection. Its user agent is almost identical to the iPad’s but apparently different enough that it isn’t detected.

Mozilla/5.0 (iPad; U; CPU OS 4_3_3 like Mac OS X; en-us)
AppleWebKit/533.17.9 (KHTML, like Gecko)
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Most Common iPhone Passcodes

Daniel Amitay collected a set of four-digit passcodes from iPhone users using his Big Brother Camera Security app (which Apple has subsequently banned from the App Store). If you have an iOS device and you lock it using a four-digit passcode, this article makes interesting reading.

Daniel concludes:

Formulaic passwords are never a good idea, yet 15% of all passcode sets were represented by only 10 different passcodes (out of a possible 10,000). The implication? A thief (or just a prankster) could safely try 10 different passcodes on your iPhone without initiating the data wipe. With a 15% success rate, about 1 in 7 iPhones would easily unlock–even more if the intruder knows the users’ years of birth, relationship status, etc.


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“I, Genius,” by Abstruse Goose

I, Genius,” by Abstruse Goose, shows what it takes to be a genius.

In Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell writes that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. Geniuses practice harder than most.

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Chris McDonough’s Project Maintainer Response Cheat Sheet

Chris McDough at posted an Open Source Project Maintainer Sarcastic Response Cheat Sheet. Chris’s list starts with:

1. I’ll just retype the docs into this email for you.

and gets even better through sixteen more responses.

Anyone who has served as a software maintainer will appreciate this post.


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Robert Scoble Peers Into the Future

Robert Scoble asks, “Google 2015: what will it look like?” and predicts trends for the next four years. I like his list of ten, especially, “Home entertainment systems will increasingly go completely Internet connected and many people will unplug their cable systems.”


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Data Scientists Needed

Steve Lohr of the New York Times reported last week in an article titled “New Ways to Exploit Raw Data May Bring Surge of Innovation, a Study Says” that a McKinsey Global Institute study predicts that businesses will need tens of thousands of data analysts and statisticians to mine big data in the near future. Lohr’s article begins, “Math majors, rejoice.”

The biggest problems? There is a looming shortage of qualified data scientists. In addition, managers need to become more data-literate as data-driven business decisions become more important. Third, privacy and security issues may limit the amount of available data. Finally, legacy data is often stored in formats that are not easily converted.


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