Sunday, December 27, 2015

Advent of Code 2015

Over the past month, I've been slowly working on the Advent of Code programming puzzles. I was alerted to this by a colleague at work and decided to give them a try. You get one puzzle each day, with two parts, and solving them gives you a star to light up the Christmas tree (since this was in December and holiday-themed). I decided to use Python to solve these as it's one of the programming languages I know best, but any language would have worked.

Below, I describe a few of my favorite puzzles, the hardest ones I found, and things I learned from this.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Favorite Books of 2015

As I like to do every year, I'd like to briefly point out the best books I've read this year. This is not necessarily books that have been published this year, but rather books that I had the opportunity to read this year.

Unfortunately, this year has been very busy and I haven't been able to read much for the past few months. Over the full year, I've only read 14 books, one of them a novella. According to Goodreads, this was around 4800 pages, just over half of what I had read in 2014 (8000 pages over 20 books). A top 5 would be too much, so instead I present a top 3, though 2 are from the same author.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Novella Review: Perfect State by Brandon Sanderson

I've been busy of late, but still have wanted to read something in my morning commute to work. As such, I decided to peak a short, light read. Unfortunately, it ended up being so interesting that I finished it super fast! Here you'll find a brief review of the novella Perfect State by Brandon Sanderson. As a novella, I just write on my overall impression instead of going through the detailed subsections I usually do. But first, here is the Goodreads blurb to tell you what it's about:

God-Emperor Kairominas is lord of all he surveys. He has defeated all foes, has united the entire world beneath his rule, and has mastered the arcane arts. He spends his time sparring with his nemesis, who keeps trying to invade Kai's world.

Except for today. Today, Kai has to go on a date.

Forces have conspired to require him to meet with his equal—a woman from another world who has achieved just as much as he has. What happens when the most important man in the world is forced to have dinner with the most important woman in the world?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Moving to New York City

This past October I moved to New York City to start my new job. It has been a bit of a hectic experience, but now I'm finally settling down so it's time to update my blog. I'm working at the American Museum of Natural History, specifically with the BDNYC group helping with a variety of tasks related to their science (brown dwarfs) and their students (of which there are quite a few).
In this post I'll describe my move and some of what I've been up to.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Book Review: Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie is the third and final book in the Imperial Radch series. It brings the saga of the ancillary of Justice of Toren to an end, but, as the novel says, there are no real endings. We'll have to wait and see if more books will be written in this universe to touch on some of the things left open.

Because this book is the third in the trilogy, my review includes some spoilers for the prior two books, but I avoid spoilers directly for this one. Read on for my full review.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Book Review: Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson

Around the time when Brandon Sanderson finished publishing his Mistborn trilogy, he revealed that his goal was to make a set of trilogies set in the same world and spanning a long period of time. In the meantime (and among many other projects), he decided to fill in the gaps between the first and second trilogies with stories of a band of characters in a sort of Old-West Mistborn time period. The first of these was The Alloy of Law, published in 2011. Now we get to see the next of these: Shadows of Self, which is actually the start of a brand new trilogy beyond the original plan with the second book coming out in January (so The Allow of Law is a bit of an interlude between the trilogies).

Read on for my spoiler-free review.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Leaving Chile: The Next Adventure

This is a short post to let you know the latest in my adventures. Over the past few weeks, I've been packing up and getting ready to move out of Chile. My current fellowship has ended and after these four years I'll be returning to the United States. Specifically, I'll be moving to New York to work at the American Museum of Natural History. This next job is a bit of a hybrid job with a variety of tasks to do. I'll be helping out with some of the science carried out by the BDNYC group, mentoring students, producing visualizations, helping manage their brown dwarf database, etc, etc. It's a job that will train me in a variety of ways and can serve as a stepping stone in my future career.

My experience in Chile has been good. There's been ups and downs as with any place. I've had lots of trips to explore the country and others in South America and tried lots of tasty food. Scientifically, I had plenty of telescope observing runs. The amount of data I got was overwhelming and while I could focus on keeping track of it and organizing it, I couldn't always work on reducing or analyzing it. Socially, I met many interesting people and made some good friends. The nature of an astronomer's career, though, is that one has to frequently move and these connections can be lost. Fortunately, today's internet connectivity allows us to stay in touch.

I look forward to this new change and being back in the US. My blog will continue detailing my adventures and, of course, providing reviews for the books I read.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Book Review: The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu

The Dark Forest (黑暗森林), by Cixin Liu, is the second book in the Remembrance of Earth’s Past series and is translated from Chinese by Joel Martinsen. This is the sequel to the 2015 Hugo-award winning novel, The Three Body Problem, which received an enormous amount of well-deserved praise. The Dark Forest is no different; it is an absolutely excellent sci-fi story that I recommend checking out.

Note that this post has significant spoilers for the first book in the series (The Three Body Problem). If you haven't read that yet, stop here. Otherwise I try to avoid spoilers from book two in this review.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Data Science: My Blog with R

Over the past few weeks, I've been taking an online course on Data Science with the R programing language. It's my first time taking an online course and it's been quite fun. I wanted to learn more about data science in general and this course came recommended by a friend. I didn't know anything about R at the start, but I have many years of experience working with Python, IDL, IRAF, etc, so it was easy to pick up. One of the best ways I learn, however, is through practice. So I figured I would create my own personal project: some data analysis on my blog.

This blog post will focus on the statistics I gleaned from accessing the API for Blogger, which is a product of Google. If you are interested in more technical details, I'll point you to my Github repo where I share the code I used to get the results I present below. Rather than focus on visitors or visibility, I instead focus on production. That is, how often do I post? What is the typical length of my posts? What words do I tend to use? And so forth.

This is a relatively long post with some graphs and lots of discussion. Read on if you're interested in how this blog has evolved through time or if you want to learn how to do it yourself.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Book Review: Eight Skilled Gentlemen by Barry Hughart

Eight Skilled Gentleman is the third installment of Barry Hughart's Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox. It follows from the prior books, but an indeterminate amount of time has passed. As before, the novel takes elements of Chinese history and myth and blends them together with a lot of fantasy and a detective-style story.

Read on for my full review.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Book Review: The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin

Over the past year, since the English translation was released in November 2014, The Three-Body Problem (三体) has received a huge amount of praise.  It's considered one of the most popular science fiction novels in China and with its English translation, it's easy for me to see why. Liu Cixin blends together a lot of fascinating concepts in a hard science fiction story reminiscent of the type Arthur C. Clarke or Isaac Asimov would write. If you are a fan of classic science fiction, you owe it to yourself to try out this author. I guarantee you will enjoy it.

For my spoiler-free review, read on.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Book Review: Mort by Terry Pratchett

Mort, by Terry Pratchett, is the fourth book in the Discworld universe and the first of the "Death" novels, so called since they focus on the character of Death. It is an excellent starting point to the Discworld novels. Here's the Goodreads blurb:

In this Discworld installment, Death comes to Mort with an offer he can't refuse -- especially since being, well, dead isn't compulsory. As Death's apprentice, he'll have free board and lodging, use of the company horse, and he won't need time off for family funerals. The position is everything Mort thought he'd ever wanted, until he discovers that this perfect job can be a killer on his love life.

Read on for my spoiler-free review.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Astronomy: Young Stars and Planets Near the Sun

This past week, I attended the 314th International Astronomical Union (IAU) Symposium titled Young Stars and Planets Near the Sun. This symposium was held in Atlanta, Georgia and covered everything related to the subject including, of course, young stars, but also brown dwarfs, circumstellar disks, and discussions of upcoming observatories and surveys. In this brief blog, I talk about my experience there as well as my work as part of the Science Organizing Committee (SOC).

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Book Review: The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

For the latest book club pick, and as a tribute to the late Terry Pratchett, we decided to read on the Discworld novels. We looked online and found a listing of the best ones, which included The Color of Magic, Mort, Going Postal, and, the one we selected, The Wee Free Men. It's a fairly short book.

Read on for my full review.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Astronomy: On Leaving Academia

Earlier this month, I got a request for a telephone interview for one of the many academic positions I applied for. While it was good news, I immediately knew that this was not something I wanted. This was not because of the particular offer, but because of the greater aspect of being a professor. It was the moment I realized what had been nagging me for the past few years: It was time to leave the academic path.

In this post, I'll describe some of what I went through. I know I am not the only one that has left academia, nor will I be the last. I think this may be of help to people passing through the same situation.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Book Review: The Scar by China Mieville

I had read this previously, but always remembered it as one of my favorite Mieville books. On a second read it didn't disappoint, though I realized there were a lot of things I didn't remember about the book, including the ending! While it is frequently described as the second novel in the Bas-Lag universe, it is important to realize that it does not require reading the prior novel (Perdido Street Station) as it is not a strict sequel.

Read on for my full review.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A Journey to Southern Patagonia and Tierra de Fuego

I've recently returned from a brief trip to the southernmost parts of Chile. Like my prior journey to Patagonia (see here), I saw many great sights and enjoyed traveling to such remote places. This particular journey featured lots of penguins and the famous Torres del Paine. For more details, and for those that may be interested in doing their own trips, keep reading.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Book Review: Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

Sequels are sometimes weak novels as they usually lack the fresh characterization and unique story of the prior novel. Firefight by Brandon Sanderson is the exception! The second novel in the Reckoners series (not counting the novella Mitosis, which I haven't read) is just as strong, if not stronger, than the first: Steelheart. I'd still recommend reading them in order, as the events of Firefight happen some time after Steelheart. Interestingly enough, I was in Seattle when Sanderson stopped by on tour to promote this book. Alas, I was too busy to attend.

Read on for my full spoiler-free review. I have to say this has been a bit difficult to keep spoiler-free as some things, like Firefight's identify, are revealed in Steelheart and I don't want to spoil that.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Astronomy: The 225th American Astronomical Society Meeting

I've made it a habit to go to the winter meeting of the american astronomical society and this year was no exception. This time it was held in Seattle, Washington which marks the first time I repeat the "cycle": the winter meeting cycles between four locations (though it looks like next year will break this). In this blog, I briefly summarize my experience at the meeting.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Book Review: Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Sword is the sequel to Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. The prior book received quite a lot of praise last year and so the sequel has been highly anticipated. I'm glad to say the sequel is also pretty good, though I think I enjoyed the first one better.

Read on for my spoiler-free review.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Book Review: Afterparty by Daryl Gregory

This was the latest book pick in our Santiago book club. It was quite an interesting one coming right after I finished Legion: Skin Deep, for reasons I'll explain below. It is a near-future story where pharmaceutical companies, religious groups, pretty much anyone really, can print out the drugs they want to use, or invent new ones to get the effects they want. The problem starts when a company invents a drug that makes you see God and despite stopping work on it, the drug somehow ends up in the streets.