>Technical – "Jython Essentials"

>Jython is the programming language Python, but implemented in pure Java and meant to run on Java JVMs. “Jython Essentials” is an O’Reilly book on Jython. Python is a scripting language that’s been around for a while. Python came into being little later than Perl, but from a programming language design point of view is a much cleaner language.

The cool thing about Jython is its seamless integration with Java. Unlike other languages that can be compiled to run on the JVM, Jython supports full access to all Java libraries. In fact you can write Jython classes that extend Java classes.

You can also imbed Jython into Java programs to give your program scripting control.

I’m working on a small Jython project at work, so I have been refering to this book a bit lately. I haven’t actually read the book from cover to cover, but I just read selected chapters (like the chapter on Swing or reflection). Some of the Jython examples in the book are pretty neat – there is a page long Web browser (!).

One thing I’m learning while doing the little project, is to use some of the functional language features of Jython. Some of these are just basic things from Lisp (like applying a function to each element of a list), but others are more sophisticated. For instance I finally figured out what “closures” are and I was actually using this construct in my code.

If you want to learn Python/Jython this probably not the book to use. But if you want to quick overview of Jython features or you need a quick reference, this is the right book.

>Unfinished – "The Trial"

>Ocassionally I read some classic book, some turn out to be really great (for example “War and Peace”) and sometimes they are not so good. This time I tried to read Franz Kafka’s “The Trial“. Unfortunately I lost interest in the story after about 60 pages.

“The Trial” is a story of Joseph K., who is arrested for some reason and then goes to trial for some reason, but none of the reasons are explained. In fact this description is already too clear for what happens in the book. At the start Joseph K. is arrested, but it is not what you would think of as an “arrest”. Some guys show up at his house and tell him he is under arrest. They stay for a while and then they leave.

Joseph K. continues with his life as before. Until someone hints to him that he needs to go to a hearing before a judge. He manages to find this surrealistic “court” on a Sunday morning, where he tries to argue his case.

The whole book was just too weird and too “kafkaess”.

I had read “Metamorphosis” years ago and didn’t find it particularly readable (except that it was shorter).

The tone of this book reminded me a little of “The Stranger” (by Albert Camus). It was also a story, told from the main character’s point of view, but at least the plot there was more engaging (the “hero” had murdered someone for no reason).

Perhaps I’ll get back to at some other time…

>Fiction – "The Caine Mutiny"

>I just finished reading “The Caine Mutiny“, by Herman Wouk. This book
was recomended to me by Jayne. She had read it long time ago and
liked, and thought I would like it too. Turns out that I did. You
maybe be familiar with the story, as it was made into a rather famous
movie with Humphrey Bogart in one of the main roles. I have seen
pieces of the movie, but I never sat down and watched it thorugh.

The book is a story of a ship in the US Navy during World War II. The
is named “Caine” and it is an old mine-sweeper/destroyer, which was
first commissioned during the first world war. The story is told from
the point of view of Willie Keith, a young, rich boy, who joins the
Navy to avoid the army. The first part of the book covers Willie’s
“adventures” as a midshipman in New York City.

Once Willie graduates from the initial training he becomes an ensign
and is assigned to the Caine. The captain of the Caine, when Willie
joins is a man, named DeVries. Under DeVries the ship is chaotic and
falling apart with little discipline – at least that’s how it appears
to Willie. In fact, when Willie first reports for duty, and he meets
the captain, the captain is standing in his cabin in the nude.

Anyway, DeVries is soon replaced by Captain Queeg, to Willie’s
relief. Unfortunately the relief does not last long. Queeg turns out
to be much worse captain. He is petty about even smallest breaches of
Navy discipline as he himself sees it and is vey mean about enforcing
his way. He also appears to be a coward – he “earns” the nickname “Old
Yellowstain” among the officers in his wardroom.

The middle part of the book is taken up by the description of the war
time “adventures” of the Caine. They were mostly assigned to boring
escort duties, with little participation in combat operations. During
this time the tensions between the captain and the crew increased to
the point, when during a storm, there was a mutiny.

Up until now, the story has been presented from Willie Keith’s point
of view, and the actions of the officers appear to be entirely
justified and even heroic. However, in the next several chapters that
cover the court martial of the mutiniers things become less clear.

I really liked the character of the defense lawyer: a jewish, naval
fighter pilot – who was only available to take the case, because he
was recovering from burns he received after a crash on a carrier. I
don’t want to give up the ending here, but the insight of this
character into the whole situation changed my perception of the entire
affair.

The court scenes were perhaps the most suspensful parts of the book.

For the romantics the readers there is also a love story between
Willie and a girl he met in a night club, May Wynn. The thread of this
relationship is woven throughout the entire book, and nearly resolved
at end.

Jayne was right. I really liked this book. There were many parts that
were exceptional – there was the letter of a father to his son, there
were the court room scenes and there were descriptions of taifuns and
kamikaze attacks.

Now I’ll have to get a copy of the movie and watch it.

>Science Fiction – "Tunnel in the Sky"

>“Tunnel In The Sky, by Robert Heinhlein, is the April book for my SF book discussion group. It’s a fairly short book (about 200 pages), about a survival test given to senior high school students. But this is not a typical survival test, the subjects are transported via “tunnels” which connect Earth to other planets, to an unsettled planet, where they need to survive for a week.

The reason that such tests are needed, is that in this universe humans have been colonizing other worlds – via the “tunnels in the sky” – and the test is there to prepare the students for future work. As it turns out the tunnels are very expensive to operate, so in most cases when colonists are dropped on some world they must be able to fend for themselves for quite a while, before the next bunch of materials can be sent from Earth.

The main character in this story is a fellow named, Rod Walker. He has an older sister, who is now in the millitary, but who went through a similar test. I liked the way she advised him to bring only knives as weapons, because having a gun would make him less careful.

Rod and his classmates are dropped on a planet, resembling african savanna, with the requisite predators. Rod survives the first week, but then an odd thing happens. No tunnel opens and he is stuck on the far away planet.

The main part of the story has to do with how he and the other people abandoned on an uncivilized planet survive. It’s an interesting story, seeing how just knowledge of advance technology can help, even when you don’t have the actual tools.

Although I haven’t read “The Lord Of the Flies”, this story seems to have a similar feel.

I enjoyed reading this book – it was quick and entertaining. It would make good summer reading, when you don’t want to concentrate too hard.

>Science Fiction – "Star Diaries"

>My local library has several book discussion groups. Jayne and I have attended some of the meetings every now and then. Last summer I found out that one of the groups was dedicated to Science Fiction books, and since the book they were going to discuss next was “Snow Crash” (Neil Stephenson),which I read, I decided to attend. Since then I’ve attended many of the meetings and they are always a lot of fun.

The composition of the group is pretty eclectic. There are a couple of people retired from Bell Labs, who seem to go around to many sciene fiction conventions and are involved in voting on SF awards (like the Hugo). There is a man, named Charles, who’s college room mate was Ted Nelson. Ted Nelson, if I need to remind you, was the guy who invented hypertext. There is an older lady, Shirley, who comes to all the groups and who seems to have read everything.

The book we discussed in March was “Star Diaries” written by Stanilaw Lem. I suggested this book, as Lem is my all around favorite SF writer. First time I read “Star Diaries” I was twelve (that’s back in the Jurasic Era 😉 ), and since then I read it again every few years.

Star Diaries” is a collection of “voyages” of intrepid Ijon Tichy – a kind of space age Gulliver, who travels around the space and time, and gets into trouble. The actual stories that comprise this book have been written over a number of years – first one in late 50s the latest in the 70s.

Some of the stories are downright silly. For example, when Tichy’s rocket stearing mechanims breaks and he falls into a large field of “space vortices”, with many space/time loops and winds up arguing with himself from another day on how to go about fixing the rocket. Things get out of hand pretty quickly – there are so many Tichy’s that committees have to be organized…etc.

In another voyage Tichy is recruited by his future self to be the leader of the project to correct human history. In the furture, after time travel is discovered, Earth is embarrassed of its history and naturally a large project is started to fix it. The only person, according to psychological profiles, who can lead it is Tichy.

When he arrives in the future, the project turns out about the same as any large government type of project. There is incompetemce , back-stabbing politics, and all around nastiness. From this story you will learn why Earth’s axis is tilted, who killed the dinosaurs and what happened to project members Lenny D’Vinch and Pat Lado. This particular voyage is so full of awful jokes, that I find few more each time I read it.

My favorite voyage is bit serious though. Rather than being funny, it consders the problem of a really really advanced technology and the Church. In particular on the planet that Ijon Tichy visits two major biologal evolutions took place. Bio-tech is so advanced you can grow anything – i.e.
furniture or a tape recorder. While on the planet Tichy stays with an order of robot monks and studies the history of the relation between the Church and the advancing bio-tech. For example, if the soul enters the body at conception, what happens if conception is reversed?

I was surprized that the people in the group did not like this particular voyage at all. They were more impressed with the language play and silliness of other stories. We all agreed that the translator has done a great job.