BlogOfTheMoon

Monday, 6 January 2020

Exporting GoodReads reviews to a WordPress blog

In a previous post, I discussed wanting to take a backup of my book reviews from GoodReads. In this post, I’ll go into how I did that in more detail and provide my code for anyone who wants to do something similar. It’s quite lengthy, so details under the fold.

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Sunday, 5 January 2020

Book reviews, now cloud-free!

I’ve been reading books forever. I mean, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love just sitting down with a book and spending hours getting lost in it. And I’ve been writing about books for years now too. I’ve reviewed pretty much every book I’ve written for the best part of three lustra – that’s over a thousand books. Originally, these reviews were part of the 50 Book Challenge that was facilitated through IoForum back in the day. When that slowly faded away, I moved to using GoodReads, which I still use to this day.

However, with one thing and another, I don’t really trust any cloud-based provider to not disappear one day so I spent a weekend figuring out how to mirror my existing (and future) reviews from GoodReads back to LordOfTheMoon.com. I’ve now done that, and all my book reviews are now available on the new Book Reviews section of this website.

I still intend to keep writing on GoodReads. Whilst I’m not a great one for social media, I do quite like seeing my friends’ book reviews; but each review I write will be mirrored here, for posterity (and, to make it easier for anyone to follow my own book reviews, an RSS feed is available).

I’ll write a more technical post on the details later, and maybe make the scripts I wrote available to others, if anyone’s interested.

Thursday, 2 January 2020

Happy new year

Happy new year to everyone!  My annual retrospective is now up, as usual, on my website.

As the year turns
We gird our loins
And dare to hope for better

Happy New Year

Saturday, 8 June 2019

Against the glorification of weaponry

I reread Iain M. Banks’ marvellous Excession recently and one paragraph really jumped out at me. The warship Attitude Adjuster is musing on its own nature and shortcomings and it turns into a very elegant argument for the moral argument against the glorification of weaponry.

Geek culture has a tendency to admire the coolness of many weapons, both real and imaginary. We tend to look at an F-15 fighter and just admire it from an aesthetic point of view. We lovingly describe the high-tech weapons in our SF, and go into detail amongst the swords and other medieval weapons in our fantasy. (And, of course, who amongst us hasn’t been known to make lightsaber noises with a stick?). But when it comes down to it, these are instruments designed for no other reason than to kill and maim. And Banksy absolutely nails it:

It was a warship, after all. It was built, designed to glory in destruction, when it was considered appropriate. It found, as it was rightly and properly supposed to, an awful beauty in both the weaponry of war and the violence and devastation which that weaponry was capable of inflicting, and yet it knew that attractiveness stemmed from a kind of insecurity, a sort of childishness. It could see that – by some criteria – a warship, just by the perfectly articulated purity of its purpose, was the most beautiful single artifact the Culture was capable of producing, and at the same time understand the paucity of moral vision such a judgement implied. To fully appreciate the beauty of a weapon was to admit to a kind of shortsightedness close to blindness, to confess to a sort of stupidity. The weapon was not itself; nothing was solely itself. The weapon, like anything else, could only finally be judged by the effect it had on others, by the consequences it produced in some outside context, by its place in the rest of the universe. By this measure the love, or just the appreciation, of weapons was a kind of tragedy.

Iain M. Banks — Excession

I think the money quote here is: The weapon was not itself; nothing was solely itself. The weapon, like anything else, could only finally be judged by the effect it had on others. This is why I feel slightly uneasy as I look over tech stats for some cool piece of kit, or get caught up in the descriptions of really cool space battles. All this technology has to, in the end, be judged by the effect it has on others.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Happy New Year

Happy new year to everyone!  My annual retrospective is now up, as usual, on my website.

With the solstice behind us
And the days lengthening again
Our spirits rise
As we look to the future
Happy New Year

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Homebrewed RSS feeds

Some time ago, the BBC redesigned their news site and, for some unfathomable reason, removed most of the RSS feeds for their reporters’ blogs.  Being a fan of Brian Taylor, I grumbled at this for a bit and eventually wrote a little scraping script on my Raspberry Pi that polls the appropriate page and turns it into an RSS feed that I could consume in my preferred reader.  Later, the (excellent) NHS Behind the Headlines news site did the same.  Upon enquiry, they offered a private API that would let me recreate an RSS feed, and, again, I wrote a little script to manipulate this into the shape I required.  However, until now, I’ve kept these on my private web server, but always meant to move them to somewhere more public so that others could use them if they wanted to.  So without further ado:

Feel free to use any of these with your own reader.

(Usual disclaimer: I’m not affiliated with either the BBC or NHS, and these feeds could go away at any time if any corporate lawyers start getting angry). Enjoy!

(Edit 2019-03-06: added feed for NI political correspondent Mark Devenport)

Sunday, 4 March 2018

The Good Place: Making ethics accessible and fun

I got Netflix at the tail end of last year, mostly so that I could watch Star Trek: Discovery.  (Aside: Discovery is good, but it’s turned into a programme that I enjoy having watched rather than actively watching.  That may be a blog post in its own right.)  But since I had Netflix, I took the opportunity to watch a few other programmes on it that had been recommended to me, one of which was The Good Place.  And oh, goodness, gracious me, I’m so glad I decided to give it a go.

The characters in the show are just wonderful.  Eleanor is our main protagonist, someone who is welcomed into the “Good Place” after she dies, and who realises that there’s been a mistake, and she doesn’t belong there.  But, with the help of her soulmate, Chidi, she resolves to become a better person in the hope of earning her place, and following her on that journey is a joy.  Chidi is a professor of ethics and moral philosophy, and he’s the one who weaves in actual ethics and philosophy into the programme, even if it’s usually Eleanor or one of her neighbours, Tahani and Jianyu, who enact what they’ve learned and make it real for the audience.

Although Tahani is a secondary character, she very quickly cemented her place as my favourite character on the show.  Her wealthy philanthropist who’s really insecure inside is so deftly portrayed, and her constant name-dropping is hilariously over the top.  But despite her pretension, she’s a genuinely warm character who cares about those around her.  Following actress Jameela Jamil on Twitter, and seeing her I Weigh campaign, has done nothing but increase my respect for her and love for the character.

And then there’s Michael.  An eternal being and architect of the neighbourhood in which our protagonists live, he’s a dapper fellow, always in a good suit with a bow-tie (bow-ties are still cool!) with Janet, the not-a-lady, not-a-robot, all-purpose sort of PA, who provides the residents with anything they want, alongside him (and who is, incidentally, another brilliant character).  Ted Danson gives Michael an air both of naivety and ancient knowledge at the same time, and his physical portrayal is excellent, with one hand always nonchalantly in his pocket, even when things are going wrong.

One other thing that I really like about the show is how it handles Eleanor’s apparent bisexuality.  Unlike another Netflix show I could mention (*cough*Discovery*cough*), it doesn’t fall into the trap of showing that an evil character is evil because they like men and women.  In fact, Eleanor’s bisexuality isn’t remarked upon at all.  She shows it through her words and actions, but it’s not a thing.  The show doesn’t feel the need to draw attention to it at all, and just lets it be a part of human nature.  And that’s a rare show of maturity in Hollywood, one that I’m really pleased to see.

I’ve not fallen this hard for a TV show for a very long time, but after just a few episodes, I came to adore The Good Place.  The characters are so warm, the humour is gentle and the philosophy is real – you learn without even realising it!  The story moves along apace, with twists aplenty but it stays reasonable, with everything building on what comes before.  It’s a caring show, where the humour doesn’t come at the expense of the characters being nasty towards each other.  Instead they build up a camaraderie and bond that’s wonderful to see, as it’s forming.

For want of a better word, it’s a compassionate show, with a message of hope for all of us, and in this time and place, that’s something that’s sorely needed amongst all the grimdark out there (looking at you, again, Discovery).

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Happy New Year

Happy new year to everyone!  My annual retrospective is now up, as usual, on my website. Also, it appears that I’ve been writing these annual reviews for a full twenty years now! If you want to see earlier ones, they’re all on my website.

As the days lengthen
And new shoots push cautiously through the soil
May the coming year bring renewal of hope, kindness and happiness.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Missing Banksie All Over Again

Some time ago I found a long interview with Iain M. Banks that I didn’t have time to read at the time, so I stashed it into my bookmarks and then forgot about it.  I found it again the other day and started reading.  Early on, the famous essay A Few Notes on the Culture was mentioned and I realised that I’ve never actually read that so took a tangent that I’ve not made it back from.  It’s a really interesting essay both for fans of the Culture and for general fans of future history and worldbuilding.  I found a fantastic quote which seems very apt for the times we’re living in, which I was going to tweet, but then Bankie was never really known for being concise, was he?

The market, for all its (profoundly inelegant) complexities, remains a crude and essentially blind system, and is – without the sort of drastic amendments liable to cripple the economic efficacy which is its greatest claimed asset – intrinsically incapable of distinguishing between simple non-use of matter resulting from processal superfluity and the acute, prolonged and wide-spread suffering of conscious beings.

Given the briefings coming from Westminster about turning the UK into a deregulated tax haven, slashing workers’ rights while making corporations even more unaccountable, I fear Banks’ words are all too true.

I think it may be time to get away from it all with a Culture reread.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Happy New Year

Happy new year to everyone!  My annual retrospective is now up, as usual, on my website.

After the turbulence of the past year
May the ships of state and self steady
And sail on to gentle harbour

Wishing you a happy and peaceful new year and may your times be uninteresting.

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