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Profil für Kevin W. Parker > Rezensionen

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Beiträge von Kevin W. Parker
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Rezensionen verfasst von
Kevin W. Parker (Greenbelt, MD)

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Puppies, Dogs, and Blue Northers: Reflections on Being Raised by a Pack of Sled Dogs
Puppies, Dogs, and Blue Northers: Reflections on Being Raised by a Pack of Sled Dogs
von Gary Paulsen
  Gebundene Ausgabe

5.0 von 5 Sternen Funny and sad and very truthful, 23. Juni 2000
Paulsen has written one of the funniest books we've ever read, about preparing for and racing in the Iditarod. Like all the best humorists, his humor comes from the heart. This book is much more serious but it still comes from the heart and succeeds for that reason.
Here he is writing about his dogs and in particular a dog named Cookie, a female who served as his lead dog in the Iditarod and also was mother to many of his other dogs. He starts with the birth of her last litter of pups and goes on from there. Some of the most striking anecdotes show just how intelligent and sensitive these animals are: one of the other dogs teaching the puppies how to get all of the meat out of the skull, and Cookie herself seemingly forcing a pack of dogs to go back and help her owner when he has to let all of them go in order to extricate himself from a predicament.
In the end, they both have to give up running, and of course humans live longer than dogs, so we know how it ends: sadly but poignantly, as the author says goodbye to someone he obviously considers a friend.

Rocket and the Reich: Peenemunde and the Comming of the Ballistic Missile Era: Peenemunde and the Coming of the Ballistic Missile Era
Rocket and the Reich: Peenemunde and the Comming of the Ballistic Missile Era: Peenemunde and the Coming of the Ballistic Missile Era
von Michael J. Neufeld
  Gebundene Ausgabe

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3.0 von 5 Sternen Dry but comprehensive, 23. Juni 2000
This book told me more than I wanted to know about the development of the V-2. It goes into excruciating detail about everything that went on: who did what and when, who in the Reich supported the effort, who opposed it (and how the supporters got around the detractors).
I was most interested in the technical challenges and how they were dealt with (and bemused to find that some of the most gifted of the engineers were killed during the war-one wonders how much better Project Apollo might have gone if they'd still been around). There's also significant insight into how the Third Reich really worked (more a collection of competing bureaucracies than the monolithic entity it's generally considered to be) and an extensive discussion of the culpability of von Braun and some of the others in the atrocities of the Third Reich and the V-2 manufacturing effort itself, particularly the slave labor camp at Mittelwerk.
In short, interesting but a bit too much; however, still the definitive work on the subject. I will have to reread Ordway's The Rocket Team for comparison someday.

Extreme Programming Explained: Embrace Change (Aw Professional)
Extreme Programming Explained: Embrace Change (Aw Professional)
von Kent Beck

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5.0 von 5 Sternen A new approach to software development, 23. Juni 2000
This approach to programming was much bandied about and a little controversial at a software engineering conference I recently attended. Beck's premise is to take proven good practices in software development and max them out:
- if code reviews are good, do code reviews constantly by having another programmer look over your shoulder.
- if testing is good, write your test plans first and then test each time you implement another feature
- if integration is good, integrate almost constantly so that the system always works
The underlying premise is that the old, familiar cost curve that says it costs a thousand times as much to fix a mistake in the testing phase as in the requirements phase is no longer accurate: we have much better tools now than when that curve was formulated, we're living in Internet time, and the customers don't know what the heck they want anyway. So we might as well go ahead and try to give them something, then fix it up later, rather than trying to divine their goals now.
The problem I see with this is that there's not much time allowed for doing analysis and design. Beck specifically counsels against trying to anticipate capabilities, but if you know what you're doing, anticipating capabilities can save you a lot of time down the line. (His rejoinder is that it can also cost you a lot of time in implementing and debugging features that don't work and may never be used.) No matter how clever you may be, doing design as you code seems to me to be one cut above the worst sort of hacking.
Still, there are some marvelous ideas in here: pair coding sounds intriguing, writing test plans first is a must-have, and I've always held the position that the system should be constantly integrated, that there should never be a big push at the end to get all the pieces to fit together.
He also has other, related advice: developers should not work overtime for more than one week in a row (that's a way to become less productive, not more), you should have a customer representative onsite with the programming team to answer lesser questions about how to implement capabilities, and so on.
In summary, this book is very worthwhile for anyone who wants to improve their software development practices (and who doesn't have problems with their software development practices?). It's particularly good if you're in an environment where the customer wants a quick response to what they want when they want it even as they're not sure what they want. I wouldn't recommend adopting the approach wholeheartedly and automatically (and neither would Beck), but take what makes sense and go from there. As Beck himself says, figure out where your biggest problem is and adopt XP practices there first.

Letters of the Century: America 1900-1999
Letters of the Century: America 1900-1999
von Lisa Grunwald
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 31,20

5.0 von 5 Sternen One way of looking at the century, 23. Juni 2000
This is a collection of over 400 letters that attempts to summarize the century using such. It's a fool's errand, of course, but this is a valiant and fascinating effort.
Some of the letters are famous ones: Einstein alerting Roosevelt to the possibility of developing a nuclear bomb, Martin Luther King writing from the Birmingham jail, and Nixon's terse letter resigning the presidency. Others are less-known but still from famous people: Mark Twain complaining caustically about the inefficiency of telegrams, Charlie Chaplin ecstatic about his first movie contract, Bill Gates trying to discourage early software piracy.
And others are from and to obscure people while still being remarkably telling: an immigrant writing to his relatives about his new life in America, a Jewish woman writing of her experiences being captured and interrogated by the Nazis, a letter left at the Vietnam War Memorial, an erstwhile Compuserve user giving up on his connection problems when confronted with technobabble in response to his request for help. It's really a fascinating read, a hodge-podge of life across the century, from mundane domestic problems to the key issues of the day. My only complaint is that there's a bit of a liberal bias, with plenty of letters describing the hardships of the downtrodden masses and not a whole lot celebrating human ingenuity and accomplishment. But perhaps that is a telling point as well, considering it's a bias that has dominated this century.

Freddy and the Pilot (Freddy the Pig)
Freddy and the Pilot (Freddy the Pig)
von Walter R. Brooks
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 20,34

5.0 von 5 Sternen More ideas per page than you can imagine, 31. Mai 2000
This is not one of my favorites among the Freddy books (which is only a tiny insult because I like them all so much), but it has more imaginative ideas in it than any other two books in the series. Here you'll find:
- rabbits jumping out of airplanes using umbrellas
- a bombsight that helps you find money
- a comic book publisher terrified when he thinks his characters are coming to life
- skunks fighting with quarterstaffs
and that's just the tip of the iceberg in this densely plotted, multifaceted book. In addition, you have the usual Freddy features of delightfully entertaining and sympathetic characters, gentle satire, and a sense of fun. Highly recommended.

Playing God
Playing God
von Sarah Zettel
Preis: EUR 14,19

4.0 von 5 Sternen Good, original, hard sf, 31. Mai 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Playing God (Taschenbuch)
Bias alert: Sarah Zettel is a friend of mine (or at least an acquaintance), and I think I can lay claim to having the very first Sarah Zettel autograph (on her first story in Analog). But on to the review.
The Dedelphi are a mess. They're a quick-tempered, tribalistic, genetically inbred species who have a murderously narrow definition of "stranger." On top of that, they're violently allergic to humans - not sneezes and itching allergic, but anaphylactic shock allergic. And in one of the many wars on their planet, someone let loose a genetically engineered plague that instead of just killing off the targetting tribe, escaped to the wild, interbred with its natural equivalent, mutated like fruit flies in a nuclear reactor, and began killing indiscriminately.
Into this ongoing disaster steps Lynn Nussbaumer, universe-class bioremediator, who accepts a challenging assignment from Bioverse Incorporated. Bioverse has gotten all of the major Dedelphi tribes to agree to a temporary peace (an accomplishment in itself) and to move off their planet into spaceships while humans clean up the place and eliminate the plague once and for all. Nussbaumer's job is to make it all work.
To say it's a challenge is a massive understatement: many of the Dedelphi are quick to assume that it's all a plot, that the humans are in league with those walking vermin, (fill in the blank with their worst enemies), to use the program to eliminate their own tribe. Other Dedelphi see it as a golden opportunity to eliminate their enemies. And all this is on top of the incredible logistical challenge of getting an entire sentient species off of their planet for a couple of years. At times one wonders why Nussbaumer doesn't just throw up her hands and leave.
Saying much more about the plot would give it away. Let me just say that Nussbaumer not only has her hands full, but she also gains wisdom from the experience. Also, once you reach about page 300 (when the action really takes off), don't expect to be able to put the book down till you're done.
I'd also like to praise Zettel's gift for detail. She has a marvelous imagination for the little touches that convince you that "we're not in Kansas any more." Much of the book is written from the viewpoint of the alien Dedelphi, and they are alien indeed: driven to fight at almost a genetic level, and all of the intelligent ones are female. (Apparently, the females' brains fall out--almost literally--when they reach a certain age, and they become male. Since Sarah is happily married, I'm assuming this does not reflect her opinion of men in general.) Anyhow, her characters, alien and human, are very convincing.
All in all, this is an exciting, gripping read and one of the best hard sf novels I've read in quite a while.

A Civil Campaign (Miles Vorkosigan Adventures)
A Civil Campaign (Miles Vorkosigan Adventures)
von Bujold
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 21,35

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4.0 von 5 Sternen Make love not war, 28. Mai 2000
This is a bit of a departure for Miles and Bujold, a novel neither about war nor political intrigue (well, some anyway), but about romance.
It's impossible to do justice to all of the plot threads in this story, but the main one involves Miles setting his sights on a certain young lady and engaging in his usual complex plotting to achieve what he wants to happen. However, romance is not a battle, and the whole thing blows up in his face - somehow Miles has problems dealing with real life, and he ends up having to all but grovel before his intended before it all works out.
Other plot threads involve other romances, a soupcon of political intrigue (some of which hinges on the outcome of the romances), and a plan to sell bug poop for profit. (Don't ask, just read the book.)
So, don't get this book and expect the usual Bujold/Vorkosigan fare. In fact, don't make this your first Vorkosigan at all - start at least with Komarr, the prequel to this one, if you're not prepared to go through the entire rest of the series first (which I should say are well worth it). And be prepared for a book that's scarcely sf at all (except for the trappings) but nonetheless most enjoyable.

The Light of Other Days
The Light of Other Days
von Arthur C. Clarke
  Gebundene Ausgabe

3.0 von 5 Sternen Great idea, mediocre novel, 28. Mai 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: The Light of Other Days (Gebundene Ausgabe)
I must confess to being prejudiced here: I had hoped to write this book someday. Isaac Asimov wrote a short story entitled "The Dead Past," in which a device to see into the past exists but which is kept under strict government control. A historian, frustrated with the government's refusal to support his investigations using the device, steals the plans and makes them public. It ends with the government's representative pointing out that he had just made an end to privacy: after all the past is any time more than a snap of a finger's ago.
So what would that "brave new world" be like? Well, I was going to take a shot at it, but Baxter and Clarke have beaten me to it. They start with the development of the device in their context, a "WormCam" that initially uses quirks of arcane physics to see long distances away instantly. The instigator is an entrepeneur (kind of a cross between Rupert Murdoch and Bill Gates) whose goal is to get the news sooner than his competition. It's only eventually that the main characters (the entrepreneur and his family) realize both that the past is open to them and that privacy as we know it is no more.
The consequences of this, which of course are the key to the whole story, are rather lamely presented. The focus is the effects on the central characters, who are not terribly sympathetic in any case, and one never gets the feel of the social upheaval that must be taking place.
Thus, despite one big surprise at the end, this is a disappointing book: a tremendously powerful idea not very well presented.

Worlds Of Honor (Worlds of Honor (Weber), Band 2)
Worlds Of Honor (Worlds of Honor (Weber), Band 2)
von David Weber
Preis: EUR 7,70

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3.0 von 5 Sternen More treecats and less fighting, 28. Mai 2000
Honor Harrington now appears to be a franchise, something that makes me a little bit uncomfortable; however, my wife bought me this book, and I willingly read it, so that says something, I suppose.
As my title indicates, these stories focus more on the treecats and less on Our Heroine. As a cat lover myself, I had little problem with this, and in fact the stories could pretty much be ordered in quality based on how much the treecats were involved.
I thought the first two stories were the best. "The Stray" involves a brutal crime that a treecat helps to solve - in the early days of human contact when treecats were still very mysterious and not to be trusted. David Weber's "What Price Dreams?" is from a similar era and focuses on the appeal of humans to treecats. Both are emotional, bittersweet stories, rather different from the usual HH fare.
"Queen's Gambit" focuses more on politics and the investigation of an assassination, but a treecat proves helpful nonetheless. This one wasn't quite as strong as the other two and seemed to end somewhat inconclusively, as if it would have been better as the first or middle third of a full novel rather than a story to itself.
The last two I didn't like at all. Despite having Harrington as a major character (the only story of the five to do so), Weber's "The Hard Way Home" has a contrived situation (Harrington dealing with an officious boss first during a military exercise and then while trying to save the victims of a massive avalanche) and too many expository blurbs unaccompanied by progress in the story. And "Deck Load Strike" is simply dreadful: confusing and badly characterized, it reads about as I would imagine an imaginatively annotated description of a militaristic computer or board game would.
My recommendation: buy the book only if you're fond of treecats and even then only read the first three stories.

Gemini 6: The Nasa Mission Reports
Gemini 6: The Nasa Mission Reports
von Robert Godwin
Preis: EUR 17,95

5.0 von 5 Sternen Addendum on Lunar Orbit Rendezvous, 17. April 2000
I completely neglected to mention in my initial review that this fascinating little book includes some of the key memos and reports covering the decision to implement the lunar landing using lunar orbit rendezvous (LOR). Those familiar with the history of Project Apollo will know that John Houboult, a middle manager at NASA's Langley facility, put his job on the line by writing a letter to NASA Associate Administrator Robert Seamans, skipping at least half-a-dozen layers of bureaucracy in a desperate attempt to get someone to address the issue. Well, you will find that memo here, followed by von Braun's report acquiescing that LOR is the way to go.

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