Monday, May 30, 2011

Every Day by the Sun by Dean Faulkner Wells

Dean Faulkner Wells' Every Day by the Sun is for serious William Faulkner fans.  The author, Faulkner's niece and de facto stepdaughter after her father's death in a plane crash, weaves insights of the great author into the tale of her own life and family.

She tempers without reducing his greatness by mixing tales of his deep sense of privacy and love of family with his bouts of binge drinking and fondness for women other than his wife.

One interesting anecdote involved Faulkner's love for Charlie Chaplin's films.  It's somewhat ironic that a master of the written word would enjoy silent films most of all.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A stair not worn hollow by footsteps...

Proof #2 that innovation is not dead.  Scientists invent rainbow poop.

Science giveth and science taketh away.  Scientists determine that happy men are significantly less attractive to women.  Damn, that explains why this class clown thing isn't working.

Damn infographics, I wish I knew how to quit you.  More stuff than you ever wanted to know about apps in the iTunes store.  (37% are free, $6.8 billion in revenue during 2010).

For some reason, I have an overwhelming compulsion to go see the rodeo tonight.

Type in some text and get an mp3 of speech back from vozMe.

How viscous fingers enhance the mixing of fluids.
Even though I've given up beer (and I write that more to convince myself than you), here's that'll find all the breweries within 300 miles of your location.

If you don't know your Shakespeare, at least you can search your Shakespeare.  For example, searching for "sex" in Julius Caesar results in Portia's line "Think you I am no stronger than my sex..."

What makes a team smarter (and better smelling)?  More women.  (I am certain my parenthetical comment - the other one, not this one - makes me some kind of chauvinist in someone's eyes.)

Are you one of those people who loses their phone often?  (We now see one benefit to the old fashioned land line that's tethered to the wall with the thick curly pig-tail cord.)  Just type in your phone number to ICan' and it'll start ringing.  (Let's hope you don't have it on silent.)

Use Qurify to make a QR Code (2D barcode).  If any of you have one of those newfangled phones that reads these, let me know if this one works.
When you have 45 minutes to spare, watch this video of John Gruber speaking about The Gap Theory of UI Design from Webstock '11.  How to style the numbers used in ordered lists using CSS.  Play with this: more CSS tricks that allow you to transform a square interactively in your browser.  Not really sure what jsFiddle does but it looks cool.

Refreshing CEO honesty: I have no idea what I'm doing.   "The most frustrating part is that it is difficult to get into a rhythm in your work when you have no real understanding of the next steps you need to take. There’s no opportunity for flow if both outcome and process are foreign experiences. There’s just a lot of poking around and mystery and inadvertent negligence."

A cosmological yin and yang - if there are black holes it makes sense that there are also white holes.

The electron is "surprisingly" round, so round that if an electron were the size of the solar system it would still be perfectly round to within the width of a hair.  Why "surprisingly"?  What shape where they expecting?

From the Truly Surprising Department, Dallas is the metro area at highest risk of a natural disaster according to this map from the NY Times.  Lowest risk?  Corvallis OR.  Unfortunately, neither Dallas nor Fort Worth made this list of the most well-read cities in the U.S.  (#1 was Cambridge MA.)

Fluid dynamics pr0n of the week: photos of water droplets.
Aviation pr0n of the week: video of NASA Dryden's flight test projects for 2011.  (Someone needs to tell NASA's video editors to nix the faux 3D effects.)  How exotic aircraft were hidden at Area 51 (really).  More intel on the stealthy helicopters used in the bin Laden raid.  Looks like they came from Sikorsky's Hawk Works in Elmira, New York.  Back in the day that facility was known as Schweizer Aircraft, a small manufacturer of gliders that I toured as an undergrad.

Remains of War is a photoset of abandoned, derelict, and retired military equipment.  Space Shuttle pr0n: high-res photo of Endeavour's wing and one of Endeavour being assembled.  From the 1950s, here's the illustrated guide to nuclear weapons testing.

This link is only here because of one line: "One of the reasons we like to look at paintings is that reality is filtered through someone [else]'s brain."  If you paint a still life of a bowl of fruit, we're both looking at a bowl of fruit.  On the other hand, if you paint Stephen's Iron Crown it'll make me wonder what the hell you were thinking.  The enjoyment of art changes from passive to active.

Robert Motherwell, Stephen's Iron Crown, 1981
So when you look at an abstract painting perhaps the question to ask yourself is not "what is it?" but instead "how does this make me feel?"  You may scoff at that idea, that shape and color can express emotion.  But consider the Bouba/Kiki effect in which 98% of people name who are given two shapes and two names assign the names the same way.  If shape corresponds so closely to language, why can't painting and emotion be too?

You decide: art or not. (The artist is 7 years old.)

Momma told you not to play with your food.  But she didn't say anything about playing with your art.  This is like playing Jenga with the Mona Lisa.

Teh interwebs was made for stuff like this: the National Toothpick Holder Collector's Society.

Real men don't need the Willy Care Kit.  Real men maintain their junk with baking soda and a rusty spoon.

I like Pink Floyd's The Wall as much as the next guy.  I have most of their studio albums from the 1960s to when they stopped making them.   While there are only so many compilations and live albums you can buy, the quality of a PF live recording seems to be dictated by the quality of that show's version of Shine on You Crazy Diamond.  Now, back to the matter at hand.  This critical analysis of The Wall might only appeal to uber fanboys.  It's a little overblown - "the Wall has become synonymous with, if not the very definition of, the term "concept album."  The definition of?  Really?  A little myopic don't you think?  What about The Who's Quadrophenia (1973)?  Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974)?  Pink Floyd's own Dark Side of the Moon (1973)?  The Wall is also flawed in my opinion because it showcases Roger Waters running roughshod over the rest of the band, telling his personal story.  Anyway, check it out and be your own judge.

If you're a fan of the video game Star Wars Tie Fighter, you can now play it in your browser.  (If you use Chrome.)  Despite not having played in years, I'm a fan of Super Mario World.  Here's a video in which someone has added realistic sound effects.

V4W.ENKO is algorithmically generated pictures and music.  Watch the videos.
A community college professor's message to apathetic students.  "Lives built on excuses generally don't turn out well."

Do all your learning online: The C Library Reference Guide, a white paper on portable GPU programming, and course notes on Algorithms in computer science.

Don't forget Stack Exchange if you're seeking expert advice.  There are 51 different exchanges including Super User, Programmers, OnStartups, WordPress, Code Review, and Software QA and Testing.  They're not all geekery either - Parenting, Board Games, Skeptics, etc.

Forget haiku.  Fib combines poetry and mathematics by taking its syllable count from the Fibonacci sequence, 1/1/2/3/5/8.  I'll give it a shot: 
green leaves hide
ugly winter scars.
This is the essence of living.
Obligatory bacon of the week: bacon scarves.  Time waster of the week: Attractors lets you control the path of falling and bouncing balls.  Animated geometry thingy of the week: double pendulum. only a boring something made of wood.  ~Franz Kafka

Friday, May 27, 2011

Worth Dying For by Lee Child

I've been reading a lot of Lee Child's novels from his Jack Reacher series and Worth Dying For is one of the latest and one that has Reacher at his Reacher-est.  It's the middle of a Nebraska winter and this retired Army MP and current nomad finds himself helping a drunk doctor make a house call to treat a woman who's been roughed up.  Reacher breaks the husband's nose but that doesn't finish things.  He's kicked over a hornet's nest of trouble because the husband and his relatives are involved in some questionable commerce and the broken nose is the first crack in their grip on this small rural community.

I noticed something interesting about Child's writing style - he has a habit of using similar phrases to describe similar situations throughout the story, but changes the wording slightly each time to fit the circumstances.  Of course, a Reacher novel is full of violent confrontations and the descriptions are slow, detailed, and cringe and squirm inducing - which is awkward when you're listening to the story on audiobook while driving.  One of these events was something Reacher inflicted upon himself.

As usual, Dick Hill's voice acting is excellent.  I can't imagine anyone else doing a Reacher novel.

I know someone who's a Reacher fan and a Nebraskan and I wonder if she'll like Worth Dying For.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Pain is invevitable.

Perhaps this was a portent of today's rapture: Angry Birds for the web.  At least it's apocalyptic for office productivity.

I'm not normally a big fan of photography but the TRIANGULATION blog's post about Eric Cahan got me interested.
Know yer ABCs: video game alphabet, and another video game alphabet.  If you like your letters a bit more interactive, check out a World of Qwert. Git yer chemistry on with CanvasMol, an 3D interactive visualization of various molecules.

Who knows if this article about things you can learn about people simply by looking at them is valid or not, but since reading it I can't stop looking at women's feet.

Aviation pr0n of the week: video of flying the U-2 at 70,000 feet and video of SpaceShip Two feathering its tail.

Google's Browser Size shows how much of your webpage people can see.  Not everyone has a super-wide monitor.
From November 2010, Business Insider presents their list of the 50 best colleges in America.  Georgia Tech is #42, Carnegie Mellon is #16, MIT is #1.  Regardless of where they went to school, engineers got higher salary offers than other majors in 2011.  Eleven PhD students were awarded $275,000 from NVIDIA's Graduate Fellowship Program.

If you prefer your learning to be online (at least the textbooks), here are Learning Modern 3D Graphic Programming and  Learning with Python.  Damn infographics!  Programming languages from Fortran to Ruby on Rails.

If you're not familiar with the work of Edward Tufte, graphic design theorist in data visualization, this article in Washington Monthly is a good introduction.  Warning: terms like "information sage", "graphics guru", "oracle", and "philosopher king" are overused.

While we're on the topic of data visualization, States of Design 01: Visualization is an overview of modern visualization design.

I'm not a fan of Bob Dylan, but I do like Oonce-Oonce.
INCREDIBOX is an interactive human beat-box.  And it's French.  Which explains a lot.

Industry Market Trends shares their list of small business trends for 2011.
  1. Tech Investments on the Rise: The use of websites, online lead generation, and web-based technologies is on the rise and is seen as positive factors for business.  No real surprise here.
  2. Social Media Embraced: Up to 62% of small firms are using social media to conduct business.  This trend is on the rise as the technology matures and more and more people get used to how it works and how to use it properly.  Again, no surprise.
  3. Virtual Office toward Work/Life Balance: 60% of owners and managers admit to holding their mobile device more often than their significant other's hand.  More significantly, 98% say they've used their mobile device after hours for work.  As for work/life balance, the article suggests that a distracted parent thumbing a Blackberry at a child's soccer game is better than no parent in the bleachers at all.  I'll rate this one a fail.  First, work/life balance, the idea that you work from 9 to 5 and after that you're just plain ol' spouse/parent/friend, is false.  The key is being in the moment, whenever and wherever that moment is.  If you're at your kid's band concert, turn off the phone.  If you're at work, do work.  But don't constrain yourself to an outmoded idea of when work is and when it is not.
CAD Human is your source for 3D, high-quality CAD models of people for all your engineering or design purposes.

From the Follow-Up Department - A couple weeks ago I linked to an upcoming auction of animation art and other Hollywood memorabilia.  The auction is now complete and the results are in.  Here are some selected results (a production cel and pan background from Sleeping Beauty sold for $94,400).  The full results indicate that the car from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang didn't sell (maybe not too surprising with a pre-auction estimate of between $1 million and $2 million) but a production predator head from Predator 2 sold for $7,080.  Again, I urge you to browse the auction catalog just to see the cool stuff that was available.

Mark Rothko's Untitled No. 17 recently sold at auction for over $33 million.  I know this price will baffle my younger son.
I thought CFD was hard but computational metaphysics uses computers to derive conclusions from axioms in metaphysical thought on topics such as the nature of being and reality.  This brings us closer to Leibniz's goal: "there would be no more need of disputation between two philosophers than between two accountants."

Stanford folks are also responsible for this list of the best English-language fiction of the twentieth century.  What should be inferred from the fact that I haven't read novel #1, The Great Gatsby?  Faulkner first appears on the list at #13 with The Sound and the Fury.

In a college commencement address, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg urges women to be more ambitious, that it's the path to leadership, and that's the path to solving "this generation's central moral problem, which is gender inequality."

I HATE spiders.  They are vile, disgusting creatures covered with eyes and legs and fangs and venom and hairs and god knows what else.  Crawling around all sneaky and shit.  Simply evil.  Yuck. I mean, just look at it.  What the hell is that thing?  I even made this picture as small as I could.  But you don't often see one that's 49 million years old.
Texas A&M University is seeking donations totaling about $500,000 so they can accept and maintain the gift of a Space Shuttle simulator from NASA.

From the Scratching My Head Department: JS/Linux is an in-browser implementation of a Linux kernel done entirely in Javascript.  Windows 8 may have 128-bit support.  Syntaclet is a syntax bookmarklet that "makes boring code look pretty!" 

Dutch students created the world's largest working Nintendo NES controller that's 6 meters wide.  An exercise in egomania: a Google mapping app that finds streets with your name.

Can you resist the temptation to reset this website?  Six minutes 45 seconds is the longest I've seen it go.

Suffering is optional.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Expecting fair treatment because you are good...

I'm suffering from a bad case of DUBU (deadly URL build-up) so look out - this one's gonna be ugly.

Music Soothes the Savage Beast

Soundtrack of the week: Absalom by Stick Men. (Not included simply because of the Faulkner tie-in.)

Musician Trey Gunn blogs about the "gap of frustration," the awareness that what you're doing is not good enough.  We get frustrated when we've achieved at a high level in one activity but haven't yet achieved in a second activity.  We know what it feels like and that we're not there yet.  He quotes Ira Glass who advises doing a lot of work to get through this.  Trey himself finds it to be a source of energy.

The listeners of voted for the 100 quintessential jazz songs of all time. #1 is Dave Brubeck's Take Five.  Like jazz?  Then you oughta know about the One O'Clock Lab Band from the University of North Texas.

This visualization of a Daft Punk mashup is really excellent.
Now make your own music. Turn your keyboard into a beatbox with Qwerty BeatsOtomata is a little interactive experiment in sound generation.  glitchscape is similar.

Somehow These Next Four are Related

A cool binary clock.

Feeling listless?  Try these 77 motivational thoughts.   Admittedly, the fact that Rothko's was first is one reason I post the link here.  "To paint a small picture is to place yourself outside the experience.  However, you paint the larger picture, you are in it."  (I don't know what that has to do with motivation either.)

Many young people have never heard the sound of a dialup modem.  I'll never forget it.  But I didn't know a little guy inside the box made it.

There an auction of Hollywood memorabilia this weekend and you must read the catalog even if you're not interested in actually purchasing anything.  They are offering the original car from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (est. $1 million - $2 million), an alien costume from Aliens (est. $80,000 - $120,000) and hundreds of pieces of animation art.

Why Do I Keep Saying I Hate Infographics?

From the Space Shuttle to a Star Wars Executor Class, compare the size of all your favorite space ships.

You people think I must have a lot of spare time to write this.  But whomever diagrammed the lyrics of Rebecca Black's Friday must really have nothing better to do.  And while I'm certain that she's a very nice and talented young lady, this song and video rank way up there with the worst I've ever seen.

Part 4 of the essential visualization resources brings us mapping tools.

I Do Not Have Food Issues

This makes me want to make some Jello: 6,200 fps video of a cube of gelatin bouncing off a flat surface.

Guess what's the #1 noble element on the periodic table of meats.  C'mon, you know.  Without it, "life on earth as we know it could not exist."  If you're a traditionalist when it comes to your elements, here's a nice dynamic periodic table with all sorts of factoids about the elements.

Van Gogh's One Starry Night done entirely in delicious bacon.

Via Booze Dancing we find this flow chart for deciding what to drink after work.  Would my beer mavens eat Beer Chips?  Do porters really go best with grilled food?

I didn't know whether to file this under art or food: man steps into 1,100 liters of peanut butter - museum wants him to pay for damaging this work of art.

Things Mom Told You Not To Discuss in Public

A gallery of bizarre urinals.

Proof that every professional has a professional society: aPaws is the Association of Professional Animal Waste Specialists.

This is a crappy list of foods that make your poo change color.  Crappy because it left out licorice.  But my beer friends will have to vouch for whether Guinness belongs on this list.

After all, it's only polite.
Do not click this if you are easily offended. (After that last picture, is this warning really necessary?)

What Do You Mean, You Don't Care About Creating Websites?

Use CSSWARP to create text that follows a curve path.
You can make upside down text. An interactive table of Unicode characters - so you can easily figure out that ❤ is ❤.  You can see how the box shadow property appears on various browsers.  Img to Css does exactly what it says - it converts an image to HTML/CSS. Here's another cool little web experiment in splitting circles.

Whatever you want to call them - sparklines, sparkbars, sparkblocks - Tufte's inline data micrographics are coming to Twitter.

Three Dreams of Black is an experimental, interactive, WebGL/HTML5 film from ROME (  It seems to only work in Chrome but it's worth watching.

Tired of Working for The Man

Engineers come in 8th in U.S. News' report card on the best careers with a median salary (2009) of $90,900.  They also earn grades of  B (job satisfaction), A (prestige), and B+ (job market outlook).  I wonder about the prestige.

A former computer systems administrator turned sales persons at Fog Creek has written the 4-part essay on the very most basic things your company needs to know about sales.
  1. Introduction This section is good if only for use of the word "inveigle."  (I looked it up - to persuade by means of deception.)  But the core message here is "Sales is a conversation about how to solve a problem."
  2. The most important sales skills  This involves asking good questions, telling good stories, and knowing the difference between benefits and features ("features get you to zero, benefits move you beyond").  I'm also curious about this stat: the average time in a sales call between the end of chit-chat and the start of the pitch is 49 seconds.
  3. The pain-free way to close a sale Simply put, "So, what do you think?"  And when it comes to objections, "An objection is
  4. How to get the most return for your time selling Here he writes about blocking off dedicated time each day for sales calls, including both new prospects and follow-ups with existing prospects.
This is some of the best sales advice I've read in a long time: "You can do really well selling to nobody."
    A Big Vocabulary is Neat

    Spell out anything with Icon Scrabble.
    Is cursive a 21st century skill?  If you can't write cursive (or can't write it well) can you read it?  Will it be easier to people to forge your signature?  I personally can't imagine having to print everything.  I take notes on the computer as much as the next guy but nothing beats a pen and paper.  Of course, my cursive leaves a little to be desired in the legibility department (as those at work who have to read it will attest).

    If educating children is of interest to you, the 32-million word gap might be of interest.

    This list of random facts about Shakespeare includes the fact that his was the first recorded use of the word excellent and 2,034 other English words.

    Last time I couldn't get in Harvard.  Now I'm apparently not able to complete 8th grade in 1930.  "Name and locate the principal health resorts in the United States."  Club Med?

    The Playboy Club Bunny Manual from 1968 includes a list of demerits for transgressions such as "too pale lipstick."

    More textbooks online: Book of Proof is an introduction to proving mathematical theorems.

    Things I Know Only One Person Will Like
    • A collection of handheld electronic games
    • Vintage photos of Moscow from 1909
    • Cool outer space photos for your desktop wallpaper
    • Our Hollow Earth (I can't really name anyone who'll like this but it's so completely bat-shit crazy that there's probably only one guy who will.  Probably the guy in the picture.)
    The Dreaded Bullet List of Science
    • Mentor Graphics announced FloEFD for Siemens NX.
    • ANSYS reported a 16.2% increase in total revenue for 2011 Q1 over the same period in 2010.
    • Boeing honored Altair with a Performance Excellence award. 
    • Tinkercad is a 3D, solid-modeling based, web driven, CAD system for artists and makers. 
    • Are you a student?  Do you want to win some money?  Can you design something that solves a problem?  Then perhaps you should try for the James Dyson Award.
    In engineering and applied geometry, the leap from 2D to 3D is huge.  Therefore, imagining 10D is well beyond where my brain can go.  But this video on understanding the 10th dimension is helpful. "All possibilities are contained within the tenth dimension."
    Sophomoric and funny aren't mutually exclusive.  source
    My Therapist Worries About Me and Mushroom Clouds

    A relatively detailed article on Operation Downfall, plans for the invasion of Japan in 1945.  My father likely would've been one of those soldiers wading ashore.  I'm here because he didn't have to.

    Pictures of nuclear everything.  I think I posted these photos of nuclear tests before (maybe from another source) but some of them are worth seeing again.

    Eccentric not Insane

    Exactly what it sounds like:  Apparently, Mr. bin Laden and I have something in common. OK, two things.  Click only if you like dogs.

    Hot on the tail of Nyan Cat comes h. like assuming the bull won't charge because you're vegetarian.

    Edited 15 May 2011: Added missing link to Jello video.

      Sunday, May 8, 2011

      The Design of Design by Fred Brooks

      If you haven't read Fred Brooks' The Mythical Man-Month about software engineering and project management (updated in 1995) you should.  While I enjoyed his 2010 effort The Design of Design, it didn't have the impact of its predecessor.

      It's not that The Design of Design is a bad book.  It's a collection of essays about designing things (whether it be software or a house) and how design can be taught, learned, and fostered.  But the nature of the essays gave the work a fragmented feel.  You'd think having a book of digestible chunks would make it easier to read, but after a chapter here and a chapter there over a period of weeks it took some dedicated time on an airliner for me to finish it.  Plus, I skipped the last of the book's six parts consisting of seven case studies of various designs.  Frankly, I wasn't motivated to learn about how Brooks added a room to his house.

      But the first five parts are worth reading.  And I'm not saying that just because he mentions CFD (computational fluid dynamics) by name as an example of how advanced the designer's toolkit has become.  Brooks wrote something that really struck a chord with me: "My whole intellectual life has been one of throwing passionate subfield interests overboard as they have exploded beyond my ability to follow them."  I've thrown enough overboard that my id can cross the Pacific Ocean of my ignorance without getting its feet wet, skipping easily from one bit of mental flotsam to the next.

      Part I of The Design of Design lays groundwork for the remainder of the book by reviewing the basic nature of designing and models for its implementation.  Brooks draws a distinction here between design and the design process for the simple, practical fact that few of us get to do truly unique designs (think Apollo) and instead are designing new versions of things that already exist.  Therefore, the design process is a valuable tool that facilitates our ability to accomplish real work.  Brooks describes different process models including rational, waterfall, bazaar (as in The Cathedral and the Bazaar) and spiral and is very clear with his opinions:  "I find Boehm's Spiral Model the most promising."  A chief takeaway for me was something I've seen validated over and over again in the software business: a designer's goal is to help clients decide what they want designed.  Stated differently, one should not assume that requirements and constraints are known in advance.  The design process often illuminates them.

      Collaboration and telecollaboration are addressed by Brooks in Part II.  He points out that while the move toward team-based design is well-founded due to the complexity of the modern-day design task, all great designs throughout history succeeded because of conceptual integrity that comes from having one chief designer.  That is the main challenge to be faced by design teams.  Drawing a bit of a parallel with Patrick Lencioni's Death by Meeting, Brooks quotes Baruch who wrote "A meeting is a refuge from 'the dreariness of labor and the loneliness of thought'."  In essence, meetings are an essential element of the design process, not to be feared or even considered a necessary evil.

      The chapters in part III tackle design perspectives, specifically the rational versus empirical approach to design.  Rationalism, the ability to design correctly based on thought alone, is rejected due to the simple fallibility of people.  Once empiricism is embraced, Books leads us through discussions of user models ("An articulated guess beats an unspoken assumption."), budgets (name, track, control and publish the critical resource), constraints (form is liberating), aesthetics (consistency, clarity, and style), and exemplars.  He delves a bit into the dark sides of design with how designs go wrong, how designs get divorced from reality, and then into tools for tracking a design's trajectory.

      Part IV is where I started to lose interest.   I just couldn't keep up with "A Computer Scientist's Dream for Designing Houses."

      Part V is a nice bookend to Part I in that Brooks reminds us that great designs come from great designers, not great processes.  While the latter is necessary to the success of the former, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that we foster the development of design skills from college education through professional development.  This echoes thoughts from an article in Mechanical Engineering magazine from a couple month's back about how a student's grades in design courses should be used as a measure of their success in the profession.

      Overall a decent read.  If The Mythical Man-Month warrants a rating of 9 then The Design of Design is about a 6.5. But Brooks' thoughts are worth reading if only to help clarify your own ideas.

      I received no compensation of any kind for this review.

      Home is where you can say anything you please...

      ...because no one pays any attention to you anyway.

      Thursday, May 5, 2011

      Moscow Rules by Daniel Silva

      What makes Daniel Silva's thrillers interesting (and I've read several) are Gabriel Allon, Israeli agent and superbly talented art restorer. Certainly, reading an espionage thriller from the Israeli standpoint is a nice twist relative to the same old CIA/NSA/DIA thing.

      But about three quarters of the way through Moscow Rules comes a plot twist so completely out of the blue that it killed the whole story. Bing, bang, boom and everyone's having a glass of Chardonnay and getting debriefed.

      It goes a little something like this.  Gabriel Allon is plying his day job in a remote Italian villa restoring a painting for the Pope. His spymaster calls and asks him to run a brief errand which goes badly and ends with his source dying in his arms. This leads to a Russian venture capitalist, real estate developer and arms dealer who's about to score a big deal with terrorists.

      Can you tell I lost my enthusiasm for this book?