Thursday, 11 November 2010

Keith Douglas. Poet, Tank Commander.

It’s Armistice Day here in the UK, an appropriate day for BBC Four to air a programme about Keith Douglas, a poet and a tank-commander during WW2.

I stumbled on a poem of his some years ago, quoted in a newspaper article. It made such an impression that I tore it out of the page and kept it, vowing to find out more about the author.  The poem I read that day was called “How to Kill”.  There is a Guardian article about Keith Douglas, worth reading in its own right, which includes that poem.  I’ve reproduced it, below: I do hope that doesn’t get me into copyright trouble.

Keith Douglas also wrote a book of his experiences in the Western Desert called “Alamein to Zem Zem”, written while on leave in the UK prior to taking part in the D-Day landings in June 1944.  I loved this book.  It was out of print for a long time but is available, reprinted by the excellent Faber Finds imprint.

Now in my dial of glass appears

the soldier who is going to die.

He smiles, and moves about in ways

his mother knows, habits of his.

The wires touch his face: I cry

NOW. Death like a familiar, hears

and look, has made a man of dust

of a man of flesh. This sorcery

I do. Being damned, I am amused

to see the centre of love diffused

and the waves of love travel into vacancy.

How easy it is to make a ghost.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

GMail Priority Inbox – at last

Life without GMail (or Google Docs, or Reader or Calendar, for that matter) would be difficult to adjust to, but for a long time I’ve wanted the ability to prioritise the inbox contents, if only to ensure that unread items (however old they are) can be forced to the top of the pile.

Well, they’ve obviously read my mind (didn’t I un-tick the ‘Share my thoughts’ privacy option? Oh well …) because I’ve just been given the Priority Inbox Beta option.  First impressions are very good.  You can train it to recognize what’s important (and not) to you: we’ll see how well that works out, but just having unread stuff and starred items grouped together is a tremendous plus.

Can’t think why anyone would want to use any other email system.

Monday, 30 August 2010

NetBeans Platform 6.9 Developers Guide

I've been asked to review the NetBeans Platform 6.9 Developers Guide by Packt Publishing.  This is a book which I was considering buying in any case, so it's nice to be given a copy, even if it is the PDF rather than the paper. 

I've bought quite a few PDF e-books in the past, mostly from Manning, usually because I just wanted the information right now, but also because having the PDF on the laptop weighs nothing.  Commuting and heavy technical books don't mix.  However, I do prefer paper: as soon as a PDF book becomes important to me, I buy the physical book.

NetBeans is easily my preferred Java / Groovy IDE, and the NetBeans platform has become even more compelling recently with OSGi support and Maven archetypes for NB modules.  I have had a copy of the original NetBeans Rich Client Programming book published by Sun for more than a year, but to be honest I found the online resources, sample projects and Geertjan's tutorial screencasts rather more helpful than the book!  As I went through the Sun book, I remember thinking that I would probably get a lot more out of it once I knew how to create a NB platform application.  I think it's one of those books.

So I am very much looking forward to getting stuck into the Packt book.  From a first look at the Preface and chapter summaries it appears to take an API-focused approach, dealing with 'top-10' in much the way Geertjan's screencasts do, which is a good sign because I found they worked very well. The book essentially builds a complete platform application as it goes along, so I'm hoping to see the authors tie together the various ideas using the application as the binding context.

I'll post my review here, but I'm on vacation so it will be a week or two yet.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Windows 7

It's not often that I go out of my way to praise something from Microsoft, but I have been using Windows 7 Professional for a week or so now, and I must say this is easily the best desktop operating system I have ever used.

I bought the upgrade edition, but used the Custom Installation option, wiping everything (in my case, Vista and Ubuntu) from my hard drive.  The installation was spectacularly uneventful - it just worked.  I didn't time it, but it can't have been more than 30 minutes or so from start to finish: and no issues.

I haven't explored all the features yet (e.g. Libraries), but I'm truly impressed with just the basics - the whole taskbar implementation, the new tray/notification area, the clean desktop - and the fact that it feels much faster than Vista, though I've absolutely no hard evidence to back that yet.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Ophcrack NTLM Cracker

Not sure how concerned we should be about this, but the demo is pretty impressive: I used PasswordSafe to generate a reasonably good password (12 characters, mixed upper/lower case, digits and symbols) and Ophcrack cracked it in a few seconds.  The live CD should disturb anyone using standard XP password security.