Friday, June 16, 2006

Charlie Wilson's War -- Book Review

The sub-title says it all "The extra-ordinary story of the largest covert operation in history". George Crile has written a fascinating account of the CIA's role in the Afghan resistance to the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan.

Charlie Wilson was a Dem senator from Texas. Most of the book deals with his efforts in Washington to get funding and support to his beloved mujahadeen. Washington is revealed not as a massive beurocratic system, or machine; but as a personality driven clique. One person, with the right skills (and Mr Wilson seems to have been a master), can find and grab the levers of power over literally billions of dollars in funding.

The other feature is the Alice-in-Wonderland nature of the world of the 1980s vs today's post-911 world. Then it was the Soviets who invaded a muslim country and faced a fierce insurgency. The US supported the insurgency at the urging of a Democratic president.
They supported (and were cheered) by fundamentalist jihadis, giving them secret weapons for attacking convoys and shelling bases.

One interesting question regarding today's Iraq is the lack of a Stinger missile. It made a huge difference in the Afghan war; as it would in Iraq. Strange that twenty years on there aren't tons of Stingers and its imitations available on the black market.

A movie is being made of the book.

C# Cookbook -- Book Review

If you program in C# then buy this book. It's an indispensible reference with 300 code snippets of everything you never have time to look up. Snippets on things like: better ways to use collections, regular expressions, generics, delegates, exceptions, reflection, i/o, XML, and security.

MSDN is great if you already know the name of the class or function that you're interested in. But if you don't, then it can be very hard. Date formatting, for example, is under string.Format() instead of under DateTime.

C# Cookbook is goal-driven. Each topic, such as "Writing a TCP Server", "Increasing StringBuilder Performance" or "Creating a Priority Queue" is a full solution to a programming problem. It covers C# 2.0 so generics and anonymous methods are covered.

Put it beside your desk. Read ten snippets a day, and in a month you'll be a better programmer.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Eating with Kids at the Bar-B-Barn

Eating with kids at restaurants can be a challenge, but last weekend in Montreal we hit a new high (or low). The Bar-B-Barn is a classic Quebec chicken & ribs place that takes its tradition seriously. With puritanical zeal, they have kept the same menu and decor: department of highways road-stripe-yellow paint, pine panelling, and ancient posters of hockey players.

The kids couldn't believe we were planning to eat in this low-ceilinged room with creaky floors and exposed heating ducts. My older son couldn't get over the menu. He kept asking "But there's only two items on the menu?". Yes, I'ld reply: chicken or ribs. "Just two things!?" and "Is that really it?" For someone used to the multi-page menus of a typically eatery, it blew his mind.

Son #2 is precise and his criticisms were detailed: the ribs had too much sauce, the fries were too long, and "this bun sucks!". Summing up, he concluded that "at least a crappy restaurant could have better lighting". Needless to say this sort of side commentary dulls the enjoyment of the others at the table. But we all got through it, and the food is actually pretty good. A broadening experience; for when I asked days later if they had told their friends about the Bar-B-Barn, they said "it wasn't that bad."