Computers and the Imagination

This week’s fortunate Goodwill find was a hardcover copy of Clifford Pickover’s Computers and the Imagination (1991), a fine bit of nostalgia for me. Pickover is a prolific author of computing and mathematical books, as you can see from his Wikipedia entry. This was a particularly nice find for me because I used to devour Pickover’s books and other similar ones from the public library in the early 90s, when I was in high school.

Computers and the Imagination is an eclectic take on computer imaging, fractals, mathematics, and some more esoteric topics as well. The aesthetic is similar to the cover of a modern O’Reilly book, with lots of woodblock illustrations mixed into the computer-generated images that are the results of the book’s algorithms. What is nice about the way the book is executed is that the ideas are presented with mathematical formulae and algorithmic pseudocode, so that the book is just as useful today as it was at its publication date.

I don’t purchase as many technical books these days, as most of them seem to be obsolete within a few years, so why not just get your information online? However, I do browse the stacks at Powell’s somewhat regularly and I don’t see many books like this any longer. Am I missing them? It’s true that there are plenty of DIY computing books out there, but I don’t recall seeing any recent ones that delved into the more philosophical, perhaps even meta-commentary that is typical with Pickover’s early books. The only other book that comes to my mind at the moment is Gödel, Escher, Bach, but that is also an older book, not to mention specifically more weighty. Let me know in the comments if you know of any others.


Linux Mint 18 Has Arrived

Those of you who have followed my blog for a while may be aware that our household has relied upon Linux for years. Earlier on, it was Ubuntu, and then later I migrated to Linux Mint shortly after the Unity environment was released for Ubuntu. I do have a dedicated Windows box for use in my Etherkit shipping station and I have dual-boot Win 10 on my notebook, but I only use Windows when forced. Otherwise, I much prefer Linux Mint, even on my ham shack PC.

Today is an exciting day for us Linux Mint fans, as the newest long-term support release, version 18 (code name “Sarah”) has been officially released! Mint is derived from an Ubuntu LTS release, and the version 17 family was based on Ubuntu 14.04, which dates from 2014. Linux Mint 18 descends from Ubuntu 16.06, so there will be updates to the core software compared to version 17. (You can manually update most of these packages in an older release, but there’s always a risk of corrupting your installation, so it’s usually not worth it if you value stability).

Speaking of corrupting your system, I recently tried to update the kernel on my ham shack PC running Linux Mint 17.3 and messed up the system so bad it wouldn’t even boot. Rather than try to spend the time doing a recovery, I decided to install the Linux Mint 18 beta last week and give it a spin. My initial impressions from working with it over the last week are very positive. The shack PC is very modest, using a cheap AMD Athlon 5350 APU (I guess that’s their name for their integrated CPU/GPU/SoC) with integrated Radeon graphics. Under Mint 17.3, the Radeon graphic support was kind of terrible. The proprietary fglrx driver kind of worked but was glitchy as hell and the open-source driver had absolutely terrible performance. Under Mint 18 with the newer AMD open source graphics drivers, the machine performs as expected, which is a relief. The Mint-Y theme looks fantastic, and I think I much prefer it over the default Mint-X.

Linux has truly come a long way on the desktop. If you are a Windows user who has dabbled in Linux previously but found it a pain to get working, you should try Linux Mint 18 on live OS installation to see how far it has come. Much more “plug-and-play” than just a few years ago. Grab that ISO torrent, image it to a USB drive, and give it a whirl!