Saturday, 2020-01-18

With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by Eugene B. Sledge

Continuing my deep dive into the rot and shit of the Pacific theatre. Sledge has another background than Leckie (who was a sportswriter as a civilian) and has less facility with words. I believe Leckie spent a lot of time drinking beers with other vets, polishing his anecdotes, while Sledge pushed his memories back - he alludes to frequent nightmares after his experiences.

Tuesday, 2020-01-14

Dunkirk: Fight to the Last Man by Simon Sebag-Montefiore

An accessible read on the fall of France and the evacuation from Dunkirk. This is the first book by Sebag-Montefiore I’ve read and I’m not that impressed.

I did like the attempt to give other viewpoints than the British, though.

Dunkirk-in-memory is weird. I’m sure the recent movie (the reason I wanted to read this book) got a lot of lift from Brexit, and that the Leavers imagine they’re doing something similar. Of course Dunkirk was a crushing defeat, but in that curious British (English?) way, it’s almost more famous than some victories (cf. Scott vs. Amundsen). Perhaps it’s an memory of Thermopylae, as echoed by Hjalmar Gullberg’s poem about the death of Karin Boye:

Ej har Nike med segerkransen
krönt vid flöjtspel och harposlag
perserkonungen, jordens gissel.
Glömd förvittrar hans sarkofag.
Hyllningkören skall evigt handla
om Leonidas’ nederlag.

By far the most chilling parts of the book are the discussions in the War Cabinet on whether Great Britain should seek an armistice with Nazi Germany. Churchill, whatever his faults and motivations, deserves credit for not giving in. Leavers see themselves as heirs to Churchills, but they’re actually followers of Lord Halifax.

Thursday, 2020-01-09

Helmet for My Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific by Robert Leckie

I enjoyed the TV miniseries The Pacific, and this is one of the inspirations for it. Leckie is a good if journeymanlike writer, and the story flows chronologically with no significant pauses. Flashes of class differences, frank discussion of petty criminality and sexual promiscuity, and actual sympathy for the hated enemy enliven the text.

Tuesday, 2020-01-07

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

For some reason I’ve not read this classic from 1956 before. I’m glad I did.

Although this follows the basic Count of Monte Cristo formula, it has enough SF concepts for many novels. The central conceit of personal teleportation implies disease spread, new forms of criminality, new forms of urban development, threat of inter-system war - all summarized in breezy paragraphs.

Bester has also thought about the implications for those who because of brain damage or injury cannot “jaunt” - rehabilitation, or degrading slave wage labor at workplaces where jaunting is impractical.

The view of women is from its time, but could be plausibly explained by a neo-Victorian reaction in the novel. The female characters are thinly drawn, but not devoid of agency.

Thursday, 2020-01-02

The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood by James Gleick

Gleick at his usual lucid self. Not as thick (or as deep) as Chaos, but a good read nonetheless.

Tuesday, 2019-12-31


decoration wide open

Dec 2018 | Dec 2017 | Dec 2016 | Dec 2015 | Dec 2014 | Dec 2013 | Dec 2012 | Dec 2011 | Dec 2010

Thursday, 2019-12-26

Advent of Code 2019 wrapup

I enjoyed this year’s edition more than last year’s.

It was a combination of being slightly easier, and having a better attitude to it coming in. In 2018, I was aiming for as good a result as I had in 2016, which was 49 stars out of 50. This left very little margin for bailing out of tough problems, and led to increased frustration when I didn’t have the time required to solve a problem within 24 hours.

I was thinking of not participating, but as time drew near, I got inspired, and even solved a couple of left-over problems from last year in preparation.

This year I gave myself more leeway for simply bailing on problems that didn’t seem fun. This turned out to be day 21. I also gave up on day 6, which was probably a mistake, and part 2 of day 22.

I also felt that this year was easier than 2018. In part, this was because of nearly half of the problems being intcode problems, where we first had to write an interpreter for a specific machine code, and then apply that interpreter to various fun follow-up questions, like playing Breakout or Adventure.

Then I had a lot of support from the dedicated IRC channel from I’d like to thank regulars jjuran, wink, gthm and tumdum for encouragement and friendly competition.

I still have a number of stars to get, but unlike last year, I’m looking forward to solving those problems.

Friday, 2019-12-13

Maktspel och mord: Politik i medeltidens Frankrike 1380-1408 av Michael Nordberg [SvSe]

Ett djupdyk kring Frankrikes inrikespolitik kring 1407. Författaren har inte mycket till övers för Barbara Tuchmans A Distant Mirror men jag tycker båda verken har sina förtjänster.

Nordberg gör ett försök att rehabilitera Ludvig av Orléans från burgundiska smädesskrifter, men är inte lika vältalig som Mantel om Thomas Cromwell.

Sunday, 2019-12-01

Advent of Code 2019

This blog post is a work in progress

Project website: Advent of Code 2019.

Previous years: 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018.

I use Perl for all the solutions.

Most assume the input data is in a file called input.txt in the same directory as the file.

A note on scoring

Current score (2019-12-25): 40. I’m aiming for a final of 44+1.

I score my problems to mark where I’ve finished a solution myself or given up and looked for hints. A score of 2 means I solved both the daily problems myself, a score of 1 means I looked up a hint for one of the problems, and a zero score means I didn’t solve any of the problems myself.

My goals for this year (in descending order of priority):

  • get 38 stars or more (75%)
  • solve all problems within 24 hours of release

Link to Github repo.


  • complete day 18
  • complete day 20 part 2
  • complete day 24 part 2

Day 1 - Day 2 - Day 3 - Day 4 - Day 5 - Day 6 - Day 7 - Day 8 - Day 9 - Day 10 - Day 11 - Day 12 - Day 13 - Day 14 - Day 15 - Day 16 - Day 17 - Day 19 - Day 20 - Day 21 - Day 22 - Day 23 - Day 24 - Day 25

Day 1 - The Tyranny of the Rocket Equation

Day 1 - complete solution

A nice and simple problem to kick off this year.

Score: 2

Day 2 - 1202 Program Alarm

Day 2 - complete solution

An earlier appearance of register rodeo than expected! I think we’ll see more of this going forward.

[intcode part 1]

Score: 2

Day 3 - Crossed Wires

Day 3 - complete solution

This took longer than it had to. I messed up adding the paths, and only managed to get the correct answer to part 1 by chance. Once I plotted the example data I could correct the code, then add the logic for part 2.

I’m not entirely happy with the duplicated direction subroutines. Some people have used complex numbers to simplify this but that would require a separate Perl module to implement.

Score: 2.

Day 4 - Secure Container

Day 4 - complete solution

I blanked on this one and dreaded combinatorics. Turns out brute force is eminently doable. Credits to /u/andreyrmg in the daily solutions thread, and A_D and sim642 in the IRC channels for help in inspiration.

I still think my solution is my own though (and pretty Perlish), so full score today.

Score: 2.

Day 5 - Sunny with a Chance of Asteroids

Day 5 - complete solution

After struggling with the convoluted problem description I was pleasantly surprised to find my code ran flawlessly first try. I still have some niggling issues with the test data, and need to clear that up before the inevitable next intcode problem.

[intcode part 2]

Score: 2.

Day 6 - Universal Orbit Map

Day 6 - complete solution

I bailed on this one and sought inspiration in the daily solutions subreddit. Credit in source!

Score: 0.

Day 7 - Amplification Circuit

Day 7 - part 1 Day 7 - part 2

A tough, but fun one. There were a lot of subtleties in the second part, and I got some pointers from the subreddit.

I got the chance to clean up my intcode implementation, and learned a new facet of Perl.

[intcode part 3]

Score: 2.

Day 8 - Space Image Format

Day 8 - complete solution

Defying expectations (and maybe fears), this Sunday problem was not that complicated.

Of course, it helps if you confirm that what you think is input actually is the same as the problem input. Not that I’d have anything other than theoretical knowledge of this situation…

Score: 2.

Day 9 - intcode test suite

Day 9 - complete solution Day 9 - complete solution

So the Intcode computer is done, and we’ve amassed a number of test cases to ensure it works. I’m kinda sorta happy with my code. It’s not the most elegantly put together but it works fine.

[intcode part 4]

Score: 2.

Day 10 - Monitoring Station

Day 10 - complete solution

This was a fun one, even though I got sidetracked by my incorrect assumptions and got lost in a hallway of indices, all alike.

Part 2 was found by inspecting the output, but hey, a star is a star.

Score: 2.

Day 11 - Space Police

Day 11 - complete solution

Ah, the return of Langton’s ant. Always nice to see an old friend.

Nothing too complex here, although I’m quite proud of the line noise for the dispatch table for movement:

my %directions = (
    '^'=>sub{!$_[0]?['<', 0,-1 ]:['>', 0, 1 ]},
    '<'=>sub{!$_[0]?['v', 1, 0 ]:['^',-1, 0 ]},
    'v'=>sub{!$_[0]?['>', 0, 1 ]:['<', 0,-1 ]},
    '>'=>sub{!$_[0]?['^',-1, 0 ]:['v', 1, 0 ]},

[intcode part 5]

Score: 2.

Day 12 - The N-Body Problem

Day 12 - complete solution

A fun little problem.

Score: 2.

Day 13 - Care Package

Day 13 - complete solution

I am in awe of what the creator of Advent of Code has wrought in the form of intcode.

[intcode part 6]

Score: 2.

Day 14 - Space Stoichiometry

Day 14 - complete solution

A hard problem that was satisfying to solve.

Score: 2.

Day 15 - Oxygen System

Day 15 - complete solution

Not my proudest moment. I’m happy my intcode implementation works well enough for this kind of application now, but my utter inability to code a BFS routine is humiliating. In the end I had to use a modified Djikstra’s that I cribbed for last year’s day 22.

[intcode part 7]

Score: 2.

Day 16 - Flawed Frequency Transmission

Day 16 - part 1 Day 16 - part 2

I had a lot of trouble with part 2, mostly due to indexing errors.

Runtime is 2m16s for part 2, which is just barely acceptable.

Score: 2

Day 17 - Set and Forget

Day 17 - complete solution

This one was a slog!

I was very worried that my intcode interpreter was incorrect, but it was actually just me not being able to read the input specification correctly.

[intcode part 8]

Score: 2.

Day 19 - Tractor Beam

Day 19 - complete solution

This was supposed to be a breather…

From the beginning I realized that this problem is best expressed as x in terms of y, instead of the more usual y in term of x, and I made a mental note not to mix them up.

Of course, many hours later I realized I had done that just that.

[intcode part 9]

Score: 2.

Day 20 - Donut Maze

Day 20 - part 1

Part 1 yields easily to a modified BFS approach.

Part 2 is still TODO.

Score: 1.

Day 21 - Springdroid Adventure

Day 21 - complete solution

I felt zero interest in trying to puzzle this out so found some closed forms on the subreddit.

[intcode part 10]

Score: 0.

Day 22 - Slam Shuffle

Day 22 - part 1

Part one only done for now, part 2 requires way too much weird (read modular) math for me. Damnit, Cap’n, I’m continuous, not discrete!

Score: 1.

Day 23 - Category Six

Day 23 - complete solution

A remarkably straight-forward puzzle.

[intcode part 11]

Score: 2.

Day 24 - Planet of Discord

Day 24 - part 1

An interesting problem. Part 1 only for now.

Score: 1

Day 25 - Cryostasis

Day 25 - complete solution

A fitting end to a good edition of Advent of Code!

Score: 2.

Tuesday, 2019-11-19

For the Soul of France: Culture Wars in the Age of Dreyfus by Frederick Brown

This is an excellent and entertaining view of the war between Republicans and their opponents in the years between 1870 and World War 1. It reminds the reader of the virulent anti-Semitism of French discourse at the time.

As an example, Lt. Col. Henry was instrumental in framing Alfred Dreyfus. He literally forged evidence to “prove” Dreyfus’ guilt. When he was arrested and committed suicide in prison, he was hailed a hero. A subscription was started to finance a lawsuit bought by his wife against Joseph Reinach for libel. A journalist collected the testimonials in a book, and the statements from that book, excerpted in a footnote, are among the most chilling in the entire book:

“From an antisemitic merchant in Boulogne-sur-Mer who hopes that the Hebes are blown away, above all Joseph Reinach, that unspeakable son-in-law and nephew of the Panama swindler one of whose victims I am.” “From a cook who would rejoice in roasting Yids in her oven.” “Long live Christ! Love live France! Long live the Army! A curate from a little very antisemitic village.” “One franc to pay for the cord that hangs Reinach.” “Joan of Arc, help us banish the new English.” “Two francs to buy a round of drinks for the troopers who will shoot Dreyfus, Reinach, and all the traitors.” A resident of Baccarat wanted “all the kikes” in the region—men, women, and children—thrown into the immense ovens of the famous crystal factory. Another contributor longed, prophetically, for the day that a “liberating boot” would appear over the horizon.

In these days where the ideas of sange et terre are making a resurgance, it’s instructive to look back on a time where the Right expressed itself in its true voice.