Category Archives: Reviews

Some enjoyable things from 2017

2017 was a pretty crap year in lots of ways; I tried to write quite a broad review of what went well and badly from my point of view in order to take stock, but that very rapidly sprawled, so I’ve cut that draft down to this post, which is about mostly about cultural things that I enjoyed in the last year.

Films

There are few things that give me so much pleasure as cinema, and so it’s rather disappointing that I didn’t see many new films in 2017. (I’ve been keeping a list of things I want to see, and added more than 50 films over the course of that year…) However, of the things I did see, my favourite films released this year were:

  • My Life as a Courgette
  • Get Out
  • Moonlight
  • The Red Turtle

They’re all amazing (in very different ways!) And I also really enjoyed:

  • The Last Jedi
  • The Lego Batman movie (which is up there with Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman returns as my favourite Batman movies. I’m happy to argue about the Christopher Nolan ones any time ;))
  • Hidden Figures
  • Arrival
  • Wonder Woman

The best film I saw for the first time this year, but which was released before 2017, was:

  • Kill List – just an extraordinary movie (though not for the faint-hearted, I should say).

The biggest cinematic disappointments for me last year were:

  • Blade Runner 2049  – beautifully made, but …  Jamie Zawinski’s review covers a lot of my problems with it, although I think there’s much more to be said about how thoughtless and exploitative the Joi storyline was.
  • La La Land – again, wonderful cinematography, but the song and dance numbers left me strangely cold, and the character of Seb (Ryan Gosling) behaved like an arse at almost every point in the movie, so I found it difficult to feel involved in the central love story.

Most re-read film criticism:

Favourite film podcast:

TV

There’s so much amazing television around at the moment, I can’t keep up at all. For what it’s worth, though, the favourite new things I saw this year were:

  • Bojack Horseman, particularly season 4
  • The Good Place

(Both are on Netflix.) The series I’ve most re-watched this year are:

  • Brooklyn Nine Nine
  • Community

They’re both so full of joy for me, and frustratingly I seem to be really bad at getting across to people why. (Random aside: I wish people wouldn’t put so much emphasis on the paintball episodes of Community – they’re fine, but basically nothing to with what makes the series so great overall.)

Books

It’s been a while since I wrote my last summary of interesting things I’ve been reading, and I’d like to do another one soon. However, just to pick out a couple of recent highlights, I’ve probably got most enjoyment recently out of re-reading Jane Austen – in particular Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility. On that subject, John Mullan’s “What Matters in Jane Austen” was great to read around the same time.

Blogging

Although it might be barely detectable, I’ve been trying to write a bit more on this blog, publishing 7 posts last year, up from just 3 in 2016. Of these, the one that took by far the most work was on postcode boundaries. Probably the most delightful thing that happened related to this blog is that someone (@columbophile on Twitter) actually spotted an error in my silly Columbo data visualization and tweeted about it after I fixed the mistake :)

I do enjoy writing here, and I’m trying to do it more. I have a long-planned post about Python’s mock library in the works, which is probably top of my list. And similarly I’ve been thinking about a long post about The West Wing for ages, which I’d really like to get done.

Board Games

The highlight of the year for me for board games was a lovely weekend away with some friends to play some games.

The game I’ve most enjoyed this year is:

It’s interesting strategically, but doesn’t feel stressful to play, perhaps because of the lovely theme. And I love games that involve tiling polyominoes anyway.

I’ve also really enjoyed playing these:

Video Games

I haven’t played many computer games this year, but one of those that I did was one of the best games I’ve played in a long time (probably my favourite since Journey) – that was:

I also had a lot of fun playing Behold the Kickmen too :)

Exercise

Climbing

I’ve been doing a lot of indoor bouldering this year and I’ve been really enjoying it – it clears my head, it’s fantastic exercise and makes you feel like a superhero :) I’m climbing at about V3 to V4 standard at the  moment, I think. I hope that by working more on lower body flexibility and losing some body fat I can improve that somewhat next year.

I also did some more indoor lead climbing this year, learned to belay with a Gri Gri, and I’m hoping to start doing some outdoor climbing over the next year.

I’ve been mostly climbing at Vauxwall, which is a nice (and very conveniently located) bouldering wall in central London. They run a friendly competition every two months called “Vauxcomp”, which I’d recommend, with excellent music and great bouldering problems.

Running

I haven’t done any big races this year (like another half marathon, or my first full marathon) but I’ve been running pretty steadily. I’m still doing parkrun every week I can, which is still a great way to keep at it and it’s nice to know some of the regulars a bit now. Injury-wise I’ve had a mixed year – I had a painful calf muscle problem which put me out for a while, but I’ve not had a relapse of that since starting doing these stretching exercises, kindly recommend by a colleague, before running.

My left knee has been hurting quite a bit about the 8km point of any run recently, and I suspect I’ll have to consult a physiotherapist about that.

I’ve started using Strava to track my running, and I’m quite liking the light social aspects of that.

Books (2014 to 2016 ish)

Someone (rather surprisingly!) mentioned they’d enjoyed my last post about books I’d been reading, and would be interested in another one, hence this post.

Lots of these were recommendations from people I know, which I always hugely appreciate, but I haven’t attempted to note who recommended what below, partly since I’m not sure people would be happy with those recommendations being public.

(The links below are affiliate links to Amazon UK, in case that concerns you. Although I don’t know why I bother, really – I think such links have made me about £2 in total over the last year.)

“A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara

This is a long, brilliantly written and deeply upsetting novel. I cried more during this book than any I can remember in a long time, and had to stop reading often.

I have some reservations about this book, but on the whole it was an incredible experience to read. You should be warned, though, that it has descriptions of horrifying abuse in it.

“Utopia for Realists” by Rutger Bregman

This is an argument for a series of radical progressive policy ideas, including:

  • Universal basic income
  • Shorter working weeks
  • Open borders

It’s a bit of a polemic; it doesn’t really address some of the issues with universal basic income, for example, such as that some people in society do need more support from the state from others, and how you address that. However, it’s thought-provoking and it’s a good source of references to places where these policies have been tried. (e.g. I didn’t know that Richard Nixon was close to passing something very like a universal basic income in the USA.)

“The Taming of the Queen” by Philippa Gregory

This is one of Philippa Gregory’s novels about the Tudor period, specifically about Kateryn Parr, the last wife of Henry VIII. I had mixed feelings about this; after reading Hilary Mantel, the writing seemed a bit flat, and the basal exposition in dialogue got repetitive. It’s very tense, though, and a fascinating story that I knew nothing about.

“Command and Control” by Eric Schlosser

I found this book about the safety of nuclear weapons since their earliest development completely gripping, and very alarming. It interleaves the broader history with a detailed account of one particular incident, which worked very well, I thought.

“Hooves Above the Waves” by Laura Clay

(Disclosure: Laura is a friend.) I really enjoyed these dark and absorbing short stories. They also feature some creatures from Scottish mythology which I used to read stories about as a child, but hadn’t thought about for a long time. I’m looking forward to her next works.

“Bad Vibes” by Luke Haines

Subtitled “Britpop and my part in its downfall”, this is a bitter, angry and entertaining account by Luke Haines (of The Auteurs) of the Britpop years, how he disliked almost everyone else in that scene and none of them understood his genius, etc. etc. It works quite well as a companion piece / antidote to “The Last Party: Britpop, Blair and the Demise of English Rock”. I definitely found it more funny than objectionable, probably because I think it’s clear that he knows he’s an arse.

“The Stranger” / “The Outsider” by Albert Camus

I’d never read this before, but I think it’s always intriguing reading a book for the first time that you know the reputation of through popular culture. I can see why it’s so highly regarded, but the idea that lots of young men (apparently?) identify with the protagonist does upset me.

“Life Moves Pretty Fast” by Hadley Freeman

A joyful celebration of 80s movies, and a great source of recommendations for interesting films from that decade that I missed, or are worth rewatching.

I can’t agree about how highly she rates some of the films: for example, I like Ghostbusters, but it’s nowhere close to being my favourite film, as it is for her. Also, I loathe almost everything about “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. But that doesn’t matter at all, since she presents interesting, thought-provoking cases for all the films and the writing’s funny and involving throughout.

“Reasons to Stay Alive” by Matt Haig

This is an account of the author’s experience of clinical depression and recovery. (I’ve been treated for depression myself in the past and still struggle with it, but I’ve never experienced anything so severe as him.) There was a lot that I related to there, and it’s a quick, easy read and surprisingly uplifting read.

“Ancillary Justice”, “Ancillary Sword” and “Ancillary Mercy” by Ann Leckie

This science-fiction trilogy (“space opera” I guess) has been rightly lauded; the world-building is fantastic and I loved the story. The way it plays with your perceptions of gender and appearance are fascinating as well.

“Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer

I read this after watching the film “Everest”. I found it very absorbing; I know a bit about mountaineering in the sense of “climbing Munros” but the tensions and contradictions of expensive guided climbs in the Himalayas, at altitudes where the human body is effectively dying, was largely new to me.

“The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins

As far as plot goes, I found this a bit predictable, but it was certainly gripping and the unreliable-due-to-alcoholism narrator worked well.

“Good Omens” by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

One of many re-reads – it’s still such a gem of a book, which has some of my favourite jokes in it.

“Saints of the Shadow Bible” by Ian Rankin

So long as Ian Rankin keeps writing Rebus novels, I’m going to keep reading them. I remember this being up to the standard of the later books (i.e. good :))

“Deep Work” by Cal Newport

This is about how important it is professionally to be able to regularly get into that lovely state of deep concentration so you can work on hard problems, even if it’s for relatively short periods of time each day (e.g. 3 or 4 hours). It’s hard for me to evaluate this book, really, because it plays exactly to my prejudices about what constitutes worthwhile work, which several people have told me are a bit broken :) However, I found it inspiring—it’s OK to stand up for this!—and its practical suggestions for, say, making email less time-consuming, were useful. I’d recommend it.

“Age of Ambition” by Evan Osnos

A very well written book about contemporary China. I learned a lot from it, and it’s very engagingly written. Highly recommended.

“Mansfield Park” and “Northanger Abbey” by Jane Austen

These are the two Jane Austen novels I know least well – I think I read them as a teenager, but couldn’t remember much about either. As far as Mansfield Park goes, I found Fanny Price pretty unsympathetic up to the point where everyone’s putting appalling pressure on her to marry Henry Crawford, at which point I found myself cheering her on. Northanger Abbey I loved too – particularly the awkwardness of trying to get to know people in Bath at the beginning. They’re both brilliant, obviously :)

The Peter Wimsey / Harriet Vane series books by Dorothy Sayers

Lord Peter Wimsey shares with Psmith the disconcerting contradiction in my mind as a reader that we must accept that these are clearly attractive men despite both wearing monocles. Anyway, my introduction to Dorothy Sayers was from the Nine Tailors and Five Red Herrings, but I think my favourite novels so far are those featuring Harriet Vane, and the journey of their relationship improving from the cringingly awful start in Strong Poison. Gaudy Night, in particularly, is brilliant, and I found that novel and Busman’s Honeymoon very moving in particular.

“Willpower: Rediscovering our Greatest Strength” by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney

It’s a bit curious writing about this book, because I’d have been very positive about it except for the issue that the research described in this popular science book is at the centre of the reproducibility crisis in psychology. The material about drawing “bright lines” when you’re trying to give something up, and the parts about how low blood sugar can really affect your emotional state and ability to make decisions rang very true to me.

“The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band who Burned a Million Pounds” by John Higgs

A brilliant account of the story of the KLF (so far) but it’s really about far more than just what they’ve done – it goes into the art movements that inspired or (may) relate to the band, and different ways of interpreting their bizarre story. It’s also very funny – I laughed out loud a lot when reading this.

“Stranger Than We Can Imagine” by John Higgs

By the same author as the previous book, this is an audacious journey through the 20th century, looking at how art and culture changed. I enjoyed it, and admire both the attempt and the writing – it’s great fun to read.

Terry Pratchett – Discworld novels

I’ve lost track of which Discworld novels I’ve re-read over this period, but it certainly included the Witches series. Anyway, they’re always so pleasurable to read – I’m really glad I started reading them again after such a long gap.

“Master and Commander” by Patrick O’Brian

I know lots of people who are big fans of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey / Maturin novels, but I’d never read any before this. I found it took a little while to get used to the idea that it was fine to not understand all the nautical terms, and just figure out roughly what’s going on from context – this is very similar to lots of science fiction, in fact. (I should say that I know some people get just as much enjoyment out of understanding every detail of these books as well.) Anyway, I’m planning to read more of the series, but got a bit stuck, for reasons I’m not sure of, part way through “Post Captain”. I’m sure I’ll go back to it, though.

“Danny the Champion of the World” by Roald Dahl

I loved this as a child, and it’s still marvellous. Perhaps the biggest shift in getting older is that I thought the father was wonderful when reading it as a child, and as a 40-year-old my thoughts were that he was, despite having many great qualities, unbelievably irresponsible.

“Nation” by Terry Pratchett

A marvellous standalone Terry Pratchett novel, which is funny and delightful. I think probably the less said about it the better, because right from the start there are things that are surprising, so arguably might constitute spoilers :)

“Anno Dracula” by Kim Newman

I don’t normally read horror fiction, so this was a bit of a departure for me. It’s by Kim Newman (whom you might know better from his film criticism) and set in a Victorian London some time after a key event in Dracula went differently, and now about a third of the population are vampires and Dracula is the Prince Consort. It was certainly disturbing, but very imaginative and packed with fictional characters from the period which reminded me of Alan Moore’s excellent League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics. It’s really good.

“Dracula” by Bram Stoker

I think I re-read this after Anno Dracula. It’s still excellent, of course, but for some reason the thing that jumped out at me this time is that Van Helsing’s treatment (random blood transfusions from one person to another) were very likely to harm the recipient given this was before blood types were known about.

“The Knot Shop Man”: “Air”, “Fire”, “Earth” and “Water”

(Disclaimer: the author is a friend and colleague.) An amazing set of four books that you can read in any order, despite having a single narrative thread running through them all. These are in the finest tradition of dark and fantastic stories for children (sorry: “smart children or thoughtful adults”) with a huge amount to enjoy. (If you’re interested in knots, then you’ll like it even more.)

“The Fourth Revolution” by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge

I didn’t quite know what to make of this; the history of what they consider the previous revolutions in types of government was interesting to me, as was the cataloguing of the changes the world is going through. The conclusions, though, seemed not only like just what you would expect from editors of The Economist, but also pretty unimaginative.

“Creativity, Inc” by Ed Catmull

I wish this was more about the history of Pixar, and trying less to be a management book. (The management stuff is pretty good, and has quite a few things that were certainly readily applicable to where I work, but it’s not really why I was reading it.) It is a good insight into Pixar as a company, though, if you’re a fan of them (as I am!) both on a cinematic and technical level. There’s quite a bit about the troubled development history of some of their most successful films (e.g. Toy Story 2) and how they decide what to do with projects that are seen as failing.

I describes “Inside Out” as a work in progress, and on reading that I thought, “how’s that ever going to work?” How wrong I was :)

“Jeeves and the Wedding Bells” by Sebastian Faulks

I was a bit sceptical about this – a Jeeves and Wooster novel written by someone other than Wodehouse! – but it’s really joyous, particularly in ways that I can’t talk about for fear of spoiling it for you :)

“Delusions of Gender” by Cordelia Fine

A very good book debunking the nonsense talked about the difference between men’s and women’s brains.

“The Paying Guests” by Sarah Waters

I think Sarah Waters is just a brilliant writer – I’ve read all of her novels, and this latest one is great too.

“Geek Sublime” by Vikram Chandra

Unfortunately I didn’t get on with this at all. I care a lot about the aesthetics of programming, obviously, but didn’t really relate to what the author was saying.

“The Way Inn” by Will Wiles

An excellent second novel from Will Wiles (disclaimer: whom I know a bit from college). It’s funny, painful, and not quite what you might expect from early on in the book. (It’s added a certain something to staying in chain hotels for me, which you’ll understand if you read it.)

“The Blunders of Our Governments” by Anthony King and Ivor Crewe

This book is in two halves – the chapters in the first half are each on a blunder which a UK government has made in recent history (e.g. the Poll Tax, Individual Learning Accounts, etc.) and the second half has more general analysis and suggestions. I think the first half is brilliant, and very professionally relevant to me and a huge proportion of the people I know who work in civic tech or GDS, say. The second half is less convincing, particularly when it touches on IT projects. But the case studies in the first half are compelling, partly because you will frequently cringe  on hearing some of the mistakes that well-meaning people have made.

“Dodger” by Terry Pratchett

More Terry Pratchett, in Dickensian mode (Dickens even appears as a character). Very enjoyable, as you’d expect, and I found the mystery / thriller aspect exciting.

“Coraline” by Neil Gaiman

I read this partly out of embarrassment that I hadn’t before, but also because a friend told me they didn’t enjoy “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” because it was so similar to Coraline. I disagree, I think – both stand on their own merits. They’re both brilliant stories – I wish I’d they’d been around for me to read when I was much younger. (I watched the animated film of Coraline later, which is a very nice adaptation.)

“23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism” by Ha-Joon Chang

This title rather sets up the obvious line that this included quite a lot of things that I have been told about capitalism :) It’s interesting, though, and a quick read with some interesting examples, and tackles lots of broken assumptions people make about economics.

“A Slip of the Keyboard” by Terry Pratchett

This is a collection of Terry Pratchett’s non-fiction writing, which has some real gems in it – e.g. his anger when writing about the danger of extinction of orangutans is very powerful, and (very different in tone) an essay about how our Father Christmas has clearly been swapped with one from another universe is brilliant. I read this shortly after Terry died, so a lot of this felt very poignant.

“The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying” / “Spark Joy” by Marie Kondo

These books, which are ostensibly about tidying up, but in large part about getting rid of your possessions, have a huge following. I’m a bit conflicted about these because they are bonkers, but they’ve been genuinely useful to me in prompting me to get on with (a) recycling or selling on things that I don’t really need, based on her test of “does it spark joy when you hold it?” and (b) her techniques for folding and storing clothes.

(When I say it’s “bonkers”, I mean, for example,  the suggestion that you give little pep talks to screwdrivers and other unglamorous but necessary possessions; thinking about how your socks feel being bundled into a drawer; the assertion that clothes that are worn closer to your heart being easier to feel affinity with, etc. etc. Still, it’s interesting to me that despite these things, I think these books have still had a very positive influence on my life.)

“Hatchet Job” by Mark Kermode

As a dedicated follower of the church of Wittertainment, I was predisposed to like this book by Mark Kermode about the practice of film criticism and its place in the world, and it didn’t disappoint me.

Christmas Gift Ideas

Holiday gift guides seem to be almost exclusively terrible, particularly those aimed at “geeks”, whatever people think that means. In particular these lists are often split by gender, presumably because they’re written by (or pandering to) idiots. And they’re typically full of novelties or cute ideas that in practice will just occupy valuable space and you’d feel guilty about giving away or recycling. This post is my attempt to write a list of ideas which I think has (mostly) genuinely useful presents on it, based on things we’ve owned and used for a while.

I’m quite conflicted about this exercise, I should probably say. Different families and social groups have very different present-giving cultures, but for many people in a similarly lucky position to me, getting consumer items that you don’t really want, or a subtly wrong variant of something you do want, is worse than getting nothing at all, and much worse than the person giving money to a charity instead. That said, maybe these lists are useful as a basis for things people might suggest and discuss before giving as presents?

(There are quite a few Amazon affiliate links here, which I haven’t tried using in a blog post before. I imagine no one much will read or click on links in this post anyway, but if that bothers you, you’ve been warned, at least.)

Muji touchscreen gloves

You can get gloves with conductive material in the fingertips from loads of places nowadays, in fact. The idea is that you can use capacitive touch-screens, like those on your phone or tablet, without removing  your gloves. These Muji ones are pretty cheap, and work OK – I find you need a bit more pressure than without the gloves to get them to work, but it’s fine.

Non-contact infrared digital thermometer

These thermometers are brilliant for accurate and remote measurement of temperature. (This was a great recommendation from my colleague Paul.) I use mine quite a lot for things like cooking and checking the oven temperature, as well as measuring the surface temperature of my feet, how cold the walls are, etc. It has a LASER pointer as well to mark what you’re measuring the temperature of. I think this is very similar to the device used by Gale Boetticher in Breaking Bad when he’s making tea, if that means anything to you :)

Ear plugs for loud concerts and public transport

I’m sure that my hearing was somewhat damaged from gigs and nightclubs when I was younger; it always seemed to be particularly bad after going to small venues where the treble is far too powerful. (I wonder if this is because the sound engineers have damaged the higher ranges of their hearing over the course of their working lives and then compensate for that, damaging the customers’ hearing in the same way, and so on…)

To avoid further damage to my hearing nowadays, I always take ear plugs with a fairly flat frequency response along to gigs. They can never be ideal: you often get a huge amount of bass sound through bone conduction at loud gigs, and the ear plugs can’t do anything about that. It’s probably better to have rather too bassy sound than damage your hearing, though.

The ones I’ve linked to from the heading have switchable filters for different levels of sound attenuation – the ones I have don’t have that feature, but in retrospect it would have been nice if they did.

I carry these in my bag all the time, and it’s also frequently useful for blocking out sound on public transport as well, to give yourself some peace and quiet.

Raspberry Pi 3 Model B

I think it’s always possible to think of a fun new project that a Raspberry Pi would be useful for, and the Pi 3 is a big step forward from the previous models, having Wi-Fi and Bluetooth built-in.

I really like the lovely Pimoroni cases, like these, which I got for our Pi 3, and they do other nice accessories.

A good battery charger

NiMH rechargeable batteries are really good nowadays, and save you quite a bit of money if you have lots of devices that use AA / AAA batteries. We got this battery charger in part because I believe it is the same model, albeit with different branding, as the Wirecutter’s “Also Great” pick – it has more features than their basic suggestion. (There’s a useful FAQ for it in an Amazon review of the US version.) Although the UI isn’t very intuitive, you can use the device to calculate the capacity of your existing batteries, which is really helpful – when we first got it I went through all of our existing rechargeable batteries to work out which were worth keeping and which should be replaced.

“The Knot Shop Man” books

My friend and colleague Dave Whiteland wrote an amazing of series of books called “The Knot Shop Man”, which are described as being for “smart children or thoughtful adults”. The theme of knots runs through all the books (which you can read in any order) and they come bound up in a very special knot. (After finishing reading them, you should try to retie it. :)) Not enough people know about these books, and I think the ones he’s selling at the moment are limited in quantity.

A Network Attached Storage device

If you don’t have any Network Attached Storage, I think you’ll be surprised at how soon you come to rely on it, both for backups and for storing music and videos on to stream to your phone, TV, or whatever.

For me, one of the Synology 2 drive bay boxes seemed about right, and it’s been brilliant so far. (Another of my excellent colleagues, Zarino, wrote a blog post about the initial setup of these.)

An AeroPress coffee maker

This is our favourite way of making coffee, for one or possibly two people.

A cut-resistant glove

If you have one of those excellent Microplane graters or a mandoline and are as clumsy as me, you’re probably familiar with the experience of accidentally slicing your hands when using them. You can partially solve this problem with a cut-resistant glove. (I say “partially” because this then shifts the problem to “remembering to use the cut-resistant glove”.)

A Mu folding-plug charger

These are a lovely design, which makes a UK 3-pin plug take up less space by letting you fold it away, and provides 2.4A USB port.

Butchery course at the Ginger Pig

Presents that are experiences rather than things-that-take-up-physical-space often work out well. An interesting one of these we did is a course in butchery at the Ginger Pig – you can do a class on pork, beef or lamb and you get both a big meal and a lot of meat to take away, as well as learning about what each cut of meat is good for.

Bluetooth keyboard

I really try to avoid using Bluetooth, because, well, it’s terrible, and gives me flashbacks to the worst job I ever had, working on “personal area networking”. But this keyboard has actually been pretty good – you can have it paired to three different devices and swap between them easily. (It doesn’t seem to be easy to find a keyboard that can be paired with more than three devices, but maybe someone knows of one.)

Bose noise-cancelling headphones

(I have an earlier version of these, but the QC25 seems to be the current equivalent.) I gather that headphone connoisseurs don’t particularly rate the sound quality of these, but basically everyone agrees that the noise cancelling is amazing. (The sounds seems great to me, for what it’s worth, but I’m not an audiophile.) For long coach, train and plane trips they’re fabulous, if quite bulky to take with you. They are expensive, though.

Sliding webcam covers

This is a set of 5 little sliding webcam covers. The idea is that if someone malicious gains remote access to your computer, then the impact if they can also see everything from your webcam is much worse than if they can’t. These little windows are really cheap and mean that you can just open the webcam window when you actually need it.

A bumper case and screen protector for your phone

I think I probably drop my phone about once a day, but haven’t had smashed its screen yet, thanks to having a good bumper case and screen protector. The Ringke Fusion line of bumper cases (which they seem to do for most current phones) are the ones I’ve used for a while, and as a very clumsy person I can testify that they protect your smartphone very well.

As a screen protector I’m currently using one of the “Invisible Defender Glass” models.

Books in 2012

This is a rough list of the books I read in 2012 with some brief comments – I’ve seen other people do this on their blogs and enjoyed reading their summaries, so thought that I would have a go. (Originally I added a mention of each person who recommended one of these to me, but that turned out to be problematic, both in privacy and completeness terms – let me just say that I’m always grateful for the wonderful recommendations I get from friends and colleagues.)

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S. Thompson

I’ve read it at least twice before – this time I didn’t feel the momentum of the writing bowling me along quite as it did when I first read it, but that’s probably to be expected.

Bury the Chains – Adam Hochschild

An excellent account of the movement in Britain to abolish slavery. It’s still very relevant today if you’re interested in activism and campaigning, and, as the author points out, it’s the story of the first mass movement where a group campaigned for the rights of people other than themselves.

Mort – Terry Pratchett

This is the first time I’d re-read it in many years, although I usually suggest it (as do many people) as the first Terry Pratchett novel to try if you’ve never read any of his Discworld novels before.  I was glad to find still every bit as enjoyable as the first time. (At the end of the previous year I’d finished the Discworld series, after not reading any of them roughly between the ages of 18 and 32.)

Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins

I’d listened to the first two of the Hunger Games novels as audiobooks when I still had Emusic‘s “one audiobook a month” deal. It’s worth finishing the trilogy if you’ve read the first two, which I also enjoyed despite finding the character of Katniss terribly frustrating (as is probably intended).  The nature of the resistance movement is interesting, and I found the conclusion satisfying.

Knots and Crosses – Ian Rankin

Hide And Seek – Ian Rankin

Tooth and Nail – Ian Rankin

Strip Jack – Ian Rankin

The Black Book – Ian Rankin

Mortal Causes – Ian Rankin

Let It Bleed – Ian Rankin

Black and Blue – Ian Rankin

The Hanging Garden – Ian Rankin

Dead Souls – Ian Rankin

Set in Darkness – Ian Rankin

The Falls – Ian Rankin

These are the first 12 of Ian Rankin’s Rebus series of detective novels, and I’ll probably read the last few of them in 2013. I found them quick to read, and I loved the portrait of Edinburgh – it’s much more true to my experiences of the city both as a child and an adult than virtually any other books I’ve read that are set there.  I found the character of Rebus compelling as well.  The first two novels (Knots and Crosses and Hide and Seek) have some points where the writing really jarred for me, but from the third onwards they’re consistently well-written.

The Player of Games – Iain M. Banks

I seem to re-read this about once a year – it’s one of my favourite of Iain M. Banks’ novels (along with Consider Phlebas and Excession). I’ve actually stopped reading his new books, the last straw being The Steep Approach to Garbadale, where I spent most of the book thinking “oh, please don’t let the twist be the one that I think is coming, [a disturbing theme from several previous novels]”, and of course it was…

The Open-Focus Brain – Les Fehmi

This was a kind present from a student in Zürich who was concerned about my style of concentration. The idea of the book is that one can switch from a very intense “fight or flight” style of concentration to something the author describes as “open focus” by using various techniques, in particular thinking about volumes of space. It comes with a CD with some example exercises. When I’ve tried this it’s certainly been relaxing – I hadn’t tried any form of meditation before. It’s also interesting that thinking about the space around you is also something that’s used in the Alexander technique and (I’m told) various meditation techniques. Unfortunately, the book is written in a self-help style that makes me rather suspicious of it, particularly the wide-ranging claims for its health benefits sometimes based on single cases or unpublished data.

Moonwalking with Einstein – Joshua Foer

A book about memory champions and memory techniques of the “a journalist tries to become really good at something relatively obscure” genre (see also “Word Freak”, “Born To Run”, etc.) It’s a quick read, and if you’re interested in the subject of memory, or building expertise Anders Ericsson-style, worth a look.  In a strange coincidence, 6 months after I read this, my partner started work at a company run by one of the memory champions who appears in the book.

Why Have Kids? – Jessica Valenti

This probably isn’t what it sounds like from the title – it’s an excellent discussion of the absurd pressures on mothers (particularly in US culture) to meet impossible standards. It was written by Jessica Valenti after having her first child.

The Revolution will be Digitised – Heather Brooke

An interesting account of the Wikileaks saga from Heather Brooke, who is a fantastic campaigner on freedom of information issues. The most extraordinary sections deal with Julian Assange’s interactions with her, including his advances wherein he identifies himself with Jesus…

Born to Run – Christopher McDougall

An entertaining book about ultra-runners, barefoot-style running and the Tarahumara people, who run huge distances without apparently being susceptible to the injuries that plague runners elsewhere. It’s great in terms of adventure and storytelling, with lovely portraits of the runners the author meets. I wouldn’t read it if you’re looking for rigorous science and anthropology, but it’s excellent fun.

Rocket Surgery Made Easy – Steve Krug

I generally haven’t added work-related books to this list, but since I read this one straight through, it seemed as if it fitted better than then others which I tended to dip into and out-of more. This is by Steve Krug as a follow-up to “Don’t Make Me Think”, and aims to give you step-by-step guidance for running DIY usability testing sessions of websites.  I found the style somewhat irritating (as so often where technical books try for a light touch) but in practice it was very helpful for running some usability testing last year.  I’m hoping I’ll get to do that again next year.

The House of Silk – Anthony Horowitz

A new Sherlock Holmes novel by Anthony Horowitz. It’s a disturbing book, but brilliantly matches the style of the Holmes stories, I thought.

Plan of Attack – Bob Woodward

Bob Woodward’s book about the decisions that led to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 – I found this frankly terrifying.

The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes

The 2011 Booker prize winner – consummately well-written and an excellent read.

The Narrative of John Smith – Arthur Conan Doyle

The unpublished first novel of Arthur Conan Doyle. I found it tiresome, and not terribly interesting – I wouldn’t recommend it unless, I suppose, you’re a Conan Doyle completist.

Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish Queen – Giles Tremlett

A sympathetic biography of Catherine of Aragon – embarrassingly, I know virtually nothing of Tudor history, so this wasn’t just interesting, but almost entirely novel for me…

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson

I’d forgotten how short this story is, in fact, but it’s still hugely enjoyable. It’s tense throughout, and I’d forgotten about the interesting character of the narrator, a quiet man who’s happy sitting in silence by the fire with his old friends.

Kidnapped – Robert Louis Stevenson

I don’t think that I’d ever read the original text of Kidnapped before, just a children’s edition and later a graphic novel version. Anyway, it’s still a great adventure and Balfour’s journey crosses lots of parts of Scotland that I know from past walking holidays.

The Ascent of Rum Doodle –  W. E. Bowman

An excellent comic novel from the 1950s about a group of mountaineers attempting to climb the fictional mountain “Rum Doodle” with the help of thousands of porters and a supply of Champagne for “medicinal purposes”. Very silly, and highly recommended.

Care of Wooden Floors – Will Wiles

This is the first novel by a friend I knew at college. I enjoyed this very much – I’ve been accused of giving away too much when discussing it before, so I’ll just say that it’s hilarious and agonising in equal parts, and definitely worth reading.

Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel

Another Booker prize winner; my ignorance of history probably meant that I missed quite a lot of pleasure in associating the wonderfully drawn characters with their actual stories, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The (much discussed) style of the writing, in particular the use of the pronoun “he”, initially irritated me a great deal, but I got used to it after a hundred pages or so. I really did think that Wolf Hall was good, but I don’t really see why so many people are quite so passionate about it.

The Afterparty – Leo Benedictus

Another novel written by someone that I used to know, and happily another great read. I found this story of a naive journalist caught up in events around a celebrity party completely gripping, and I enjoyed the meta-narrative too – it’s a smart and very well-written novel.

How To Be A Woman – Caitlin Moran

An often hilarious book – there are several sections that had both of us laughing out loud. The subject matter’s also great – I think it’s essentially aimed at younger people who would say that they’re in favour of equal rights for women, but bizarrely would also say that they’re not feminists.

The Blank Wall – Elisabeth Sanxay Holding

Elisabeth Sanxay Holding was an author that Raymond Chandler regarded as “the top suspense writer of them all”, but who is relatively unread. (You can get it from Persephone Books.) This is the story of a housewife during WWII who is trying to protect her family from events that are going out of control, a bit like Brief Encounter crossed with hardboiled detective fiction – I enjoyed it very much.

Quiet – Susan Cain

This is probably the most personally and professionally relevant book I read this year, as someone who’s introverted but works hard to not give that impression.  It’s about the ways in which society increasingly values the qualities we associate with extroversion rather than introversion, and why that might be a mistake. I found it encouraging and thought-provoking – I’d recommend it to anyone who’s quiet, introverted or sensitive (the book deals with several associated personality traits). There’s also a little material towards the end about how these traits can affect relationships which struck quite a few chords with me.

Star Trek: The Next Generation

I’ve had a long-standing affection for Star Trek: The Next Generation, since it used to be shown on TV right after I got home from school and I would watch it almost every day.  I must have seen every episode several times when I was younger, but it was only recently that I went back to rewatch them on DVD, partly out of curiosity to see how they would stand up.  I think it’s fair to say that a lot of these episodes haven’t aged well (or were dreadful even at the time), but there are still plenty of gems there. As much for my own reference as anything else, the table below marks which episodes I still thought were good after a gap of many years.

In the table, I’ve also added links to two series of reviews.  The first are Zack Handlen’s excellent reviews of every ST:TNG episode (linked from the initials “ZH” below), and I’ve also added his grade for each episode.  I’ve found myself agreeing with his reviews more often than not, and in a some cases the reviews are significantly more enjoyable than the episodes themselves.  The second set of links are to reviews by Wil Wheaton (who played Wesley Crusher) of some of the episodes from Season 1 – it’s interesting to hear his take on these very variable episodes, particularly since the writers were not good to him at all.

A few other random observations:

  • It’s often been said, but there are plenty of episodes that are completely carried by Patrick Stewart – he’s just fantastic.
  • Predictably, perhaps, given that I enjoyed Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Battlestar Galactica, it seems that lots of my favourite episodes were written by Ronald D. Moore.
  • I hated the holodeck episodes when I was younger, and I still think they have no place in the series. There are any number of problems with the holodeck conceit from a science fiction point of view, and it very rarely adds anything to the story-telling.
  • The pastiches of other genres are dreadful, in particular the insultingly awful “Dixon Hill” parodies of Raymond Chandler. As a general rule, if you think you can write something in the style of Raymond Chandler, you have no idea what makes his books good. (See also the ridiculous Robert Altman version of the Long Goodbye.)

These other links might also be of interest if you enjoyed ST:TNG:

Summary Table of Episodes

The source for this table is the spreadsheet here and the HTML was generated from that with this script.

The key to this colours in this table is:

  • One of my favourites
  • An episode I liked
  • An episode I’m still undecided about
  • A quite missable episode

Season 1

1×01, 1×02 Encounter at Farpoint WP: The new starship Enterprise begins her maiden voyage by uncovering the mysteries of an advanced space station. The crew’s mission is threatened by an omnipotent being named Q, who puts them (and specifically, Captain Picard) on trial for the crimes of all humanity. ZH (B-) WW
1×03 The Naked Now WP: A mysterious, communicable contaminant causes the crew to experience symptoms similar to alcohol intoxication. ZH (D-) WW
1×04 Code of Honor WP: Lt. Yar is abducted by the leader of a people who abide by a strict code of honor, which requires her participation in a fight to the death. ZH (C-) WW
1×05 The Last Outpost WP: An unknown force immobilizes the Enterprise during the Federation’s first encounter with a new alien threat—the Ferengi. ZH (C-) WW
1×06 Where No One Has Gone Before WP: Warp efficiency tests send the Enterprise traveling far beyond known space, where the crew’s imagination takes on real form. First appearance of Eric Menyuk as The Traveler. ZH (B-) WW
1×07 Lonely Among Us WP: An alien entity possesses Dr. Crusher, Worf, and Picard while the Enterprise is transporting delegates from two feuding planets. ZH (C-) WW
1×08 Justice WP: Wesley breaks an idyllic world’s trivial law by accidentally stepping on flowers and faces the death sentence. ZH (C) WW
1×09 The Battle WP: A Ferengi captain returns the abandoned Stargazer to its former captain, Jean-Luc Picard. Picard, who experiences severe headaches, begins to relive the “Battle of Maxia” in which he lost the ship. Guest star Frank Corsentino as DaiMon Bok. ZH (C+) WW
1×10 Hide and Q WP: Q returns to the Enterprise to tempt Commander Riker into joining the Q Continuum with the lure of Q’s powers. ZH (C-) WW
1×11 Haven WP: Lwaxana Troi visits her daughter, Counselor Troi, and prepares her for an arranged marriage. ZH (D) WW
1×12 The Big Goodbye WP: A computer malfunction traps Picard, Data, and Beverly in a Dixon Hill holodeck program set in early 20th-century Earth. ZH (B-) WW
1×13 Datalore WP: The Enterprise crew finds a disassembled android identical to Data at the site of the Omicron Theta colony—where Data was found—which was destroyed by a life form dubbed “the Crystalline Entity.” The reassembled android, Lore, brings the Crystalline Entity to the Enterprise. ZH (B-) WW
1×14 Angel One WP: The Enterprise visits a world dominated by women to rescue survivors of a downed freighter. ZH (F) WW
1×15 11001001 WP: Bynars upgrade the Enterprise’s computers in spacedock. Riker and Picard become distracted by a surprisingly realistic holodeck character. ZH (B) WW
1×16 Too Short a Season WP: The Enterprise transports a legendary geriatric admiral who must once again negotiate a hostage situation involving a man from decades earlier in his career. The admiral is mysteriously growing younger; by the time the Enterprise arrives he is a young man. ZH (C+) WW
1×17 When The Bough Breaks WP: A planet formerly existing only in legend uncloaks and requests help from the Enterprise. Planet’s inhabitants are sterile and want to adopt children from the Enterprise—by force, if necessary. ZH (B) WW
1×18 Home Soil WP: The crew of the Enterprise discovers a crystalline lifeform with murderous intelligence that has been killing the scientists on a terraforming project. ZH (B+) WW
1×19 Coming of Age WP: While Wesley takes a Starfleet Academy entrance exam, the senior staff of the Enterprise are placed under investigation by Starfleet. ZH (C) WW
1×20 Heart of Glory WP: Fugitive Klingons seeking battle attempt to hijack the Enterprise, and ask Worf to join them. ZH (B+) WW
1×21 The Arsenal of Freedom WP: Trapped on the surface of an abandoned planet, an away team becomes unwitting participants in the demonstration of an advanced weapons system. ZH (C+) WW
1×22 Symbiosis WP: Picard tries to mediate a trade dispute between two neighboring planets, one of which is the sole supplier of a drug to treat the other’s apparently fatal disease. ZH (B) WW
1×23 Skin of Evil WP: An evil, tar-like creature holds Troi hostage on an alien world. During the rescue mission, one of the Enterprise crew is killed. ZH (C-) WW
1×24 We’ll Always Have Paris WP: Picard meets an old flame, whose husband has been affected by a dimensional experiment accident. ZH (B-) WW
1×25 Conspiracy WP: The strange behavior of high-ranking officers—which earlier prompted the investigation of the crew (in “Coming of Age”)—leads Picard to uncover a conspiracy within Starfleet. ZH (B) WW
1×26 The Neutral Zone WP: A derelict satellite is found containing cryonically frozen humans from the 21st century as the Enterprise is sent to investigate the destruction of outposts near Romulan space. ZH (C-) WW

Season 2

2×01 The Child WP: Dr. Pulaski joins the Enterprise while La Forge prepares the Enterprise to transport dangerous plague specimens; Deanna spontaneously becomes pregnant and gives birth to a mysterious child. ZH (D+) WW
2×02 Where Silence Has Lease WP: The Enterprise becomes trapped in a “hole in space”, where the crew encounter strange spatial phenomena and crewless ships materialising in and out of existence. The crew suspect they are akin to lab rats. ZH (B) WW
2×03 Elementary, Dear Data WP: After Data easily solves an ordinary Sherlock Holmes holodeck mystery, Geordi asks the computer to make a Holmes villain capable of defeating Data. The resultant Professor Moriarty soon becomes far more powerful than expected. ZH (B+) WW
2×04 The Outrageous Okona WP: The Enterprise is caught up in the schemes of a flamboyant space rogue on the run, while Data explores humor with the help of a holodeck comedian (played by Joe Piscopo). ZH (C-) WW
2×05 Loud As A Whisper WP: The Enterprise hosts a deaf, telepathic ambassador who mediates difficult peace negotiations with the assistance of his trio of telepathic interpreters. ZH (B-) WW
2×06 The Schizoid Man WP: A brilliant scientist and former mentor of Data’s creator, Dr. Ira Graves, cheats death by uploading his memories and personality into the android Data. ZH (C-) WW
2×07 Unnatural Selection WP: The Enterprise receives a distress call from the USS Lantree where the crew find all hands dead from, apparently, old age. The cause of the accelerated aging must be found before scientists on a research colony suffer the same fate. ZH (C+) WW
2×08 A Matter Of Honor WP: Riker is assigned to a Klingon vessel via an officer exchange program between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. ZH (A-) WW
2×09 The Measure Of A Man WP: When Data refuses orders to be dismantled for research purposes, a hearing is convened to determine if he is a legal citizen or property of the Federation. Guest stars Amanda McBroom as JAG Philippa Louvois. ZH (A-) WW
2×10 The Dauphin WP: The Enterprise hosts a young world leader and her mysterious chaperone. Wesley soon falls in love with the young leader. Guest stars Paddi Edwards as Anya. ZH (B) WW
2×11 Contagion WP: A dangerous alien computer virus runs rampant through the Enterprise after causing the destruction of her sister ship, the USS Yamato. ZH (B+) WW
2×12 The Royale WP: Riker, Worf, and Data investigate a structure on an icy gas giant. Inside, they find a casino reconstructed from a bad Earth novel. ZH (B) WW
2×13 Time Squared WP: Picard encounters his future self, when the Enterprise becomes caught in a time loop. ZH (A-) WW
2×14 The Icarus Factor WP: Riker’s estranged father visits to brief him on the command he has been offered, and Worf’s friends discover he is about to miss an important Klingon rite of passage. ZH (C+) WW
2×15 Pen Pals WP: Data befriends a child from a doomed planet, breaking the Prime Directive. ZH (B-) WW
2×16 Q Who WP: Q flings the Enterprise 7,000 light years beyond Federation space and introduces the ship and its crew to the deadly Borg. ZH (A) WW
2×17 Samaritan Snare WP: A group of seemingly dimwitted aliens, the Pakleds, kidnap Geordi to make their ship go. ZH (B-) WW
2×18 Up The Long Ladder WP: Picard must find a way to bring two radically incompatible cultures together, lest both of them face extinction. ZH (C) WW
2×19 Manhunt WP: Deanna’s mother seeks a new husband, and she has her eyes on Picard. ZH (C) WW
2×20 The Emissary WP: Worf’s former lover comes aboard Enterprise to help deal with a Klingon sleeper ship. ZH (B+) WW
2×21 Peak Performance WP: The Enterprise and USS Hathaway face off in simulated combat maneuvers. Data fails to beat a humanoid at a game of Strategema and experiences feelings of self-doubt. ZH (B+) WW
2×22 Shades Of Gray WP: Riker is poisoned by an alien plant and, as he lies comatose, he relives various memories of his life serving the Enterprise. (Clip show as a result of the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike.) ZH (F) WW

Season 3

3×01 Evolution WP: Nanites escape Wesley’s lab and form a collective intelligence, threatening an astrophysicist’s only chance at performing a stellar experiment. Guest star Ken Jenkins as Dr. Paul Stubbs. ZH (B) WW
3×02 The Ensigns of Command WP: Data must persuade a stubborn colony to evacuate their homeland under threat of a powerful and mysterious race. ZH (B+) WW
3×03 The Survivors WP: The Enterprise investigates the last two survivors of an annihilated world, as the entire surface has been transformed to dust except their one little garden and house. Guest stars John Anderson and Anne Haney as Kevin and Rishon Uxbridge. ZH (A) WW
3×04 Who Watches The Watchers WP: Deanna and Riker must rectify the damage done when two primitives from Mintaka III catch glimpse of a Federation observation team and eventually conclude that Captain Picard is a god. ZH (A) WW
3×05 The Bonding WP: A mysterious entity seeks to comfort a boy who has lost his mother in an accident on its planet. Guest star Gabriel Damon as Jeremy Aster. ZH (B+) WW
3×06 Booby Trap WP: The Enterprise falls victim to an ancient booby trap set to snare starships; while in an effort to find an escape, Geordi finds himself falling for the holodeck’s representation of a famous Federation engineer. Guest star Susan Gibney as Dr. Leah Brahms. ZH (B) WW
3×07 The Enemy WP: Geordi is trapped on a harsh planet with a hostile Romulan, and the two must work together to survive. ZH (A-) WW
3×08 The Price WP: Troi falls in love with a charismatic negotiator who vies for rights to a wormhole. But several different groups are after the wormhole as it may be the only known stable wormhole in existence. Guest star Dan Shor as Dr. Arridor. ZH (B-) WW
3×09 The Vengeance Factor WP: Riker exposes an assassin in the midst of critical peace talks. ZH (B) WW
3×10 The Defector WP: Determined to avert a war, a Romulan officer defects to warn Picard of his Empire’s invasion plans. ZH (A) WW
3×11 The Hunted WP: A genetically modified soldier reveals the social problems of a world hoping to join the Federation. Guest star James Cromwell as Prime Minister Nayrok. ZH (A) WW
3×12 The High Ground WP: Dr. Crusher is kidnapped by terrorists who need medical assistance as the technology employed in their attacks is detrimental to their own health. ZH (B-) WW
3×13 Déjà Q WP: The Q Continuum strips Q of his powers, and dumps him aboard the Enterprise. ZH (B+) WW
3×14 A Matter of Perspective WP: Riker is accused of murder, and the holodeck is used to reconstruct the events from different perspectives. ZH (B-) WW
3×15 Yesterday’s Enterprise WP: The Enterprise-C arrives from the past, causing a shift in reality—and the return of the deceased Tasha Yar. ZH (A) WW
3×16 The Offspring WP: Data creates a young gynoid, which he considers his daughter, “Lal”. But a Starfleet admiral arrives demanding she be removed from the Enterprise. Guest star Hallie Todd as Lal. ZH (A-) WW
3×17 Sins of the Father WP: Worf goes on trial to prove his father’s innocence after the Klingon High Council declares that Worf’s father is a traitor, and worked with the Romulans all along. ZH (A) WW
3×18 Allegiance WP: Aliens kidnap Picard and replace him with a duplicate, who sends the Enterprise to a pulsar. Meanwhile, the real Picard and three other captives try to escape from their prison. ZH (B) WW
3×19 Captain’s Holiday WP: Picard is convinced to take some much needed shore leave, but gets wrapped up in a woman’s treasure hunt. Guest star Max Grodenchik as Sovak. ZH (B) WW
3×20 Tin Man WP: A gifted telepath whom Deanna Troi once treated as a patient comes aboard to establish first contact with an unknown vessel near an unstable star before the Romulans do. ZH (B+) WW
3×21 Hollow Pursuits WP: Lt. Barclay’s use of the holodeck as an escape interferes with his duties. Meanwhile, the Enterprise suffers from mysterious and random malfunctions. ZH (B) WW
3×22 The Most Toys WP: An obsessed collector is determined to add Data to his private collection of unique items. Guest star Saul Rubinek as Kivas Fajo. ZH (A-) WW
3×23 Sarek WP: The Enterprise hosts Ambassador Sarek, but his deteriorating mental health causes unforeseen problems. ZH (A) WW
3×24 Ménage à Troi WP: The Ferengi kidnap Deanna, her mother and Riker. ZH (B) WW
3×25 Transfigurations WP: The Enterprise rescues a humanoid with amnesia and incredible healing powers. ZH (B-) WW
3×26 The Best of Both Worlds WP: Picard is kidnapped by the Borg, who begin their invasion of Federation space. ZH (A) WW

Season 4

4×01 The Best of Both Worlds, Part II WP: Picard is rescued from the Borg as the Enterprise races to save Earth. A great number of Starfleet ships are destroyed by the lone Borg ship, although an away team finally rescues Picard. Data interfaces with the half-Borg Picard and finds a way to shut down the Borg ship. Guest star Elizabeth Dennehy as Starfleet Commander Shelby. ZH (A) WW
4×02 Family WP: Picard visits his family in France and Worf’s human parents come aboard the Enterprise. ZH (A) WW
4×03 Brothers WP: Data is summoned by his creator Noonien Soong who is still alive, and they are joined by Lore. ZH (B+) WW
4×04 Suddenly Human WP: Picard must help a human boy, raised by aliens, to decide his fate. ZH (A-) WW
4×05 Remember Me WP: After an apparent failure of a warp-field experiment, people begin to disappear from the Enterprise with only Dr. Crusher remembering that they ever existed. ZH (B) WW
4×06 Legacy WP: Tasha Yar’s sister Ishara seeks to restore order on their conflict-ridden colony world. ZH (B) WW
4×07 Reunion WP: Worf’s ex-girlfriend returns, and along with Picard, the two mediate a Klingon power dispute and Worf discovers more family. ZH (B+) WW
4×08 Future Imperfect WP: Riker finds himself sixteen years in the future, his memory of the interim erased by a dormant virus. ZH (A-) WW
4×09 Final Mission WP: Wesley sets off on his final mission with the Enterprise accompanied by Picard, but they become stranded on a desert planet. ZH (B+) WW
4×10 The Loss WP: An unknown force captures the Enterprise and causes Deanna to lose her empathic powers. ZH (C+) WW
4×11 Data’s Day WP: Data gets dancing lessons from Dr. Crusher in preparation of Chief O’Brien’s wedding as the Enterprise brings Ambassador T’Pel to the Romulans for negotiations. ZH (B-) WW
4×12 The Wounded WP: A rogue Starfleet Captain jeopardizes the Cardassian peace treaty. ZH (A-) WW
4×13 Devil’s Due WP: A powerful mythic figure from a millennium ago returns to enslave a planet in accordance with a contract. However Picard is convinced she is an opportunistic charlatan. Guest star Marta DuBois as Ardra. ZH (B+) WW
4×14 Clues WP: The crew, with the exception of Data, is rendered unconscious for 30 seconds after going through a localized wormhole. However, various clues suggest they were unconscious for an entire day. ZH (B+) WW
4×15 First Contact WP: Riker is hospitalized during a botched pre-first contact mission. Xenophobia results in increasing hostility toward his presence. ZH (B+) WW
4×16 Galaxy’s Child WP: The Enterprise accidentally kills a space creature, and the crew rush to save its unborn offspring. Meanwhile, Geordi meets the engineer he fell in love with and finds to his shock, she’s nothing like the woman he encountered on the holodeck. Guest star Susan Gibney as Dr. Leah Brahms. ZH (C+) WW
4×17 Night Terrors WP: The Enterprise is trapped in a rift. The crew succumbs to REM sleep deprivation, while Deanna has a recurring nightmare. ZH (B) WW
4×18 Identity Crisis WP: Geordi transforms into an alien creature with strong instinct to return to its planet of origin. ZH (B+) WW
4×19 The Nth Degree WP: After an encounter with an alien probe Barclay experiences great leaps in confidence and intelligence. ZH (B) WW
4×20 Qpid WP: Q returns to test Picard’s love for an old flame. ZH (B-) WW
4×21 The Drumhead WP: A witchhunt ensues for suspected Romulan spies aboard the Enterprise. Guest star Jean Simmons as Rear Admiral Norah Satie. ZH (A) WW
4×22 Half a Life WP: Lwaxana Troi finally finds love, but discovers her man must undergo a ritualistic suicide. Guest star David Ogden Stiers as Timicin. ZH (B+) WW
4×23 The Host WP: Dr. Crusher falls in love with Odan, only to discover that Odan is a symbiote, which is implanted into Riker after his original host dies. Odan continues peace negotiations using Riker as a temporary host. ZH (B+) WW
4×24 The Mind’s Eye WP: The Romulans brainwash Geordi to carry out a covert mission. ZH (A) WW
4×25 In Theory WP: Data participates in a romantic relationship with a fellow crew member. ZH (B) WW
4×26 Redemption WP: Worf leaves the Enterprise to fight on behalf of Gowron in a Klingon civil war. ZH (A-) WW

Season 5

5×01 Redemption II WP: A fleet of 23 Federation ships blockades Romulan support to the Duras family, resulting in Gowron’s installation as Chancellor. ZH (B) WW
5×02 Darmok WP: Picard must learn to communicate with an alien captain who speaks in metaphors before a dangerous beast kills them both. Guest star Paul Winfield as Dathan. ZH (A) WW
5×03 Ensign Ro WP: After an attack on a Federation outpost, Picard is sent to locate a Bajoran terrorist, with the help of Ensign Ro Laren. ZH (A-) WW
5×04 Silicon Avatar WP: The crew, with the help of a scientist whose son lived on Data’s home world, attempt to communicate with the Crystalline Entity. ZH (B+) WW
5×05 Disaster WP: The Enterprise is without power, trapping Picard in a turbolift with three children and trapping others in various locations. Command of the bridge falls to Counselor Troi, who feels ill-prepared. ZH (B+) WW
5×06 The Game WP: Wesley visits the Enterprise, but finds the crew addicted to a mind-altering computer game. Guest star Ashley Judd as Robin Lefler. ZH (C) WW
5×07 Unification I WP: Spock is reported to have defected to the Romulans. Picard and Data travel to Romulus on a cloaked Klingon vessel to investigate. ZH (B) WW
5×08 Unification II WP: Spock attempts to unify the Vulcans and Romulans in peace, but falls into a Romulan trap. ZH (B) WW
5×09 A Matter of Time WP: A historian from the 26th century visits the Enterprise, while they help a planet prevent a nuclear winter. Guest star Matt Frewer as Berlinghoff Rasmussen. ZH (B) WW
5×10 New Ground WP: Worf tries to be a father to his son, Alexander, while the Enterprise helps to test a new propulsion technology. ZH (B-) WW
5×11 Hero Worship WP: Data saves the life of an orphaned boy, who begins to emulate him. ZH (B+) WW
5×12 Violations WP: An alien traveling aboard the Enterprise telepathically molests Troi and invades the minds of Beverly Crusher and William Riker. ZH (C+) WW
5×13 The Masterpiece Society WP: The Enterprise helps a far-flung eugenic human colony avoid destruction, but upsets its delicate balance by ending 200 years of isolation. ZH (B-) WW
5×14 Conundrum WP: The crew’s memory is erased, and they discover they are being manipulated into being the key part of a war. ZH (B+) WW
5×15 Power Play WP: Troi, O’Brien, and Data are possessed by entities who want control of the ship. ZH (B) WW
5×16 Ethics WP: Worf becomes paralyzed—and suicidal—and Dr. Crusher consults a risk-taking researcher to save his life. ZH (B-) WW
5×17 The Outcast WP: Riker falls in love with an androgynous person after rescuing some others trapped in “null space.” ZH (A) WW
5×18 Cause and Effect WP: The Enterprise becomes stuck in a causality loop, but the crew retain some memory of previous instances. Guest star Kelsey Grammer as Morgan Bateson. ZH (A) WW
5×19 The First Duty WP: Wesley is questioned over a Starfleet Academy flight-training accident. Guest star Ray Walston as Boothby. ZH (A) WW
5×20 Cost of Living WP: Deanna’s mother, Lwaxana, arrives to marry a man she has never met. Worf has difficulty rearing Alexander, which is exacerbated when Lwaxana takes the boy under her wing. ZH (C) WW
5×21 The Perfect Mate WP: Picard forces himself to resist the charms of a female empathic metamorph, who is sent to marry an alien leader as a peace offering. Guest star Famke Janssen as Kamala. ZH (B+) WW
5×22 Imaginary Friend WP: A child’s imaginary playmate takes on real form and threatens the well-being of the Enterprise. ZH (B-) WW
5×23 I Borg WP: The Enterprise rescues a Borg survivor, and Picard plans to use him as a weapon against his nemesis by exposing him to a computer virus. ZH (A-) WW
5×24 The Next Phase WP: A transporter accident traps Geordi and Ensign Ro out of phase; while the others plan their funeral they must find a way to reverse the process and save the Enterprise from destruction. ZH (A-) WW
5×25 The Inner Light WP: A space probe creates a telepathic tether and causes Picard to experience, in twenty-five minutes, a lifetime as a married man on a world that was destroyed a millennium ago. ZH (A+) WW
5×26 Time’s Arrow WP: A 500-year-old artifact is uncovered on Earth: Data’s severed head. The Enterprise investigates alien involvement in Earth’s past and Data fulfills his destiny. ZH (B-) WW

Season 6

6×01 Time’s Arrow, Part II WP: The Enterprise crew follow Data to San Francisco of the 1890s. The crew deals with Samuel Clemens (and run into Jack London), while trying to find a way to prevent aliens from interfering with 19th-century Earth. Guest star: Jerry Hardin as Samuel Clemens. ZH (D+) WW
6×02 Realm of Fear WP: Barclay must overcome his fear of the transporter to solve a mystery. ZH (B-) WW
6×03 Man of the People WP: A psychic ambassador uses Deanna’s mind to influence the outcome of his mission. ZH (C) WW
6×04 Relics WP: The Enterprise investigates a vessel that crashed on the surface of a Dyson sphere 75 years ago. An undegraded pattern is found in the transporter buffer, that of Mr. Scott. Feeling out of place and obsolete, Scotty agrees to return to his vessel with Geordi to help restore the logs, and they become the only hope when the Enterprise is accidentally pulled inside the sphere. ZH (A) WW
6×05 Schisms WP: Several members of the crew are abducted and experimented on while they sleep. ZH (B) WW
6×06 True Q WP: Q reveals a secret about a young woman from Kansas who is visiting the Enterprise. Guest star: Olivia D’Abo as Amanda Rogers. ZH (B+) WW
6×07 Rascals WP: A transporter malfunction turns Picard, Keiko, Ro and Guinan into children, who become the ship’s only hope when they are left aboard while the adult crew are forced to perform dangerous labor by Ferengi pirates. ZH (B-) WW
6×08 A Fistful of Datas WP: Data’s mind is connected to the ship’s computer, which creates unforeseen effects on the holodeck. ZH (B+) WW
6×09 The Quality of Life WP: Data observes self-guided “tools” used at a mining station display signs of sentience, and fights for their preservation, even risking Captain Picard’s life on the ground that it is unacceptable to kill one sentient being to save another. ZH (B+) WW
6×10 Chain of Command, Part I WP: Captain Jellico is assigned command of the Enterprise, while Picard is sent on a covert mission into Cardassian territory. Guest star: Ronny Cox as Edward Jellico. ZH (B+) WW
6×11 Chain of Command, Part II WP: Picard, having been captured, is tortured by a sadistic Cardassian interrogator (played by David Warner). ZH (A) WW
6×12 Ship in a Bottle WP: Barclay accidentally awakens Prof. Moriarty on the holodeck, who uses the powers at his disposal to coerce the crew into finding a way to allow him to leave the holodeck. Guest star: Daniel Davis as Professor Moriarty. ZH (A-) WW
6×13 Aquiel WP: Geordi falls for an alien Starfleet officer who is suspected of murder. Guest star Renee Jones as Aquiel Uhnari. ZH (C) WW
6×14 Face of the Enemy WP: Deanna is involuntarily recruited to assist in the transport of Romulan defectors across the border. ZH (B+) WW
6×15 Tapestry WP: An accident kills Picard, and he finds an afterlife with Q analyzing his past choices. ZH (A) WW
6×16 Birthright, Part I WP: Worf is told on Deep Space Nine his father is alive, and being held prisoner by the Romulans. Meanwhile an engineering experiment accidentally results in Data’s first dream. Guest star: James Cromwell as Jaglom Shrek. ZH (B+) WW
6×16 Birthright, Part II WP: Worf, now a prisoner, tries to teach the Klingon refugees the ways of the warrior. ZH (B) WW
6×18 Starship Mine WP: Thieves attempt to steal trilithium from Enterprise during a Baryon sweep at the Remmler Array, and Picard alone must thwart them. ZH (B) WW
6×19 Lessons WP: Picard becomes involved with a woman who is serving on the Enterprise, but he must send her into a dangerous mission. ZH (B+) WW
6×20 The Chase WP: Picard tries to solve an ancient genetic mystery uncovered by his archaeological mentor, and faces stiff competition. Guest star: Norman Lloyd as Richard Galen. ZH (B+) WW
6×21 Frame of Mind WP: Riker finds himself prisoner in an alien mental institution, which resembles scenes from Beverly’s play. ZH (A) WW
6×22 Suspicions WP: Dr. Crusher risks her career to solve the murder of Ferengi scientist Dr. Reyga and vindicate his research. ZH (B-) WW
6×23 Rightful Heir WP: Worf experiences a crisis of faith, and travels to a Klingon holy site where the mythic figure Kahless returns to lead the Klingon people. ZH (A) WW
6×24 Second Chances WP: Riker encounters a duplicate of himself created by a transporter malfunction stranded on a planet. “Thomas” vies for Deanna’s affections. ZH (B+) WW
6×25 Timescape WP: The Enterprise is caught in temporal stasis, and on the brink of destruction by a Romulan ship. ZH (B) WW
6×26 Descent WP: The crew encounter a group of Borg acting individually, and Data briefly experiences emotions. ZH (B) WW

Season 7

7×01 Descent, Part II WP: The Borg are being led by Lore. Data falls under his control by being fed negative emotions. ZH (B-) WW
7×02 Liaisons WP: Worf and Troi reluctantly play host to two Lyraan ambassadors, while Picard crashes in a shuttle with another Lyraan. He is rescued by a human female who exhibits strange behavior. ZH (B-) WW
7×03 Interface WP: Geordi tries to rescue his mother’s starship via a remotely controlled probe. ZH (C+) WW
7×04 Gambit, Part I WP: The Enterprise crew investigate the apparent murder of Captain Picard during an archaeological trip. Riker is kidnapped by mercenaries and finds Picard working as part of their crew. ZH (B) WW
7×05 Gambit, Part II WP: Picard and Riker help mercenaries collect archaeological artifacts to prevent an ancient Vulcan weapon falling into the wrong hands. ZH (B-) WW
7×06 Phantasms WP: Data experiences strange dreams, while the Enterprise has issues with its new Warp-core. But all is not as it seems. ZH (B+) WW
7×07 Dark Page WP: A psychic breakdown puts Lwaxana Troi in a coma, and Deanna works to save her life. Features a young Kirsten Dunst, playing the little girl Hedril. ZH (B-) WW
7×08 Attached WP: Reclusive aliens imprison Picard and Dr. Crusher on charges of espionage, and experimental implants linking their minds telepathically cause them to face their latent feelings for each other. ZH (B+) WW
7×09 Force of Nature WP: A pair of scientists show that warp drives are harming the fabric of space. ZH (B) WW
7×10 Inheritance WP: Data encounters a woman claiming to be his “mother”. ZH (B-) WW
7×11 Parallels WP: Worf finds himself randomly shifting between alternate realities. ZH (A-) WW
7×12 The Pegasus WP: Riker’s former Captain boards the Enterprise to retrieve the USS Pegasus. Picard investigates the circumstances of its loss and finds that there has been a cover-up. Features Terry O’Quinn as Admiral Eric Pressman. ZH (A-) WW
7×13 Homeward WP: Worf’s human foster brother violates the Prime Directive to save a doomed primitive race. ZH (C+) WW
7×14 Sub Rosa WP: Dr. Crusher attends her grandmother’s funeral, and takes on an unusual family tradition. ZH (D) WW
7×15 Lower Decks WP: Junior officers buck for promotion as one of them is assigned the dangerous task of helping a Cardassian spy. ZH (A) WW
7×16 Thine Own Self WP: Data loses his memory after retrieving radioactive fragments on a planet’s surface and endangers the humanoid settlement he encounters, while Deanna studies to become a bridge officer. ZH (B+) WW
7×17 Masks WP: The Enterprise finds an ancient library that recreates its civilization by taking possession of Data and transforming the ship. ZH (C) WW
7×18 Eye of the Beholder WP: Deanna investigates the suicide of a crewman and uncovers a murder that took place during construction of the Enterprise. ZH (C-) WW
7×19 Genesis WP: A routine medical treatment inadvertently creates a virus that begins to de-evolve the Enterprise crew while Picard and Data are on an away mission. This is the first and only episode to be directed by Gates McFadden, who plays Dr. Crusher. ZH (C-) WW
7×20 Journey’s End WP: Wesley considers his future, as the Enterprise is ordered to remove Native American colonists from a planet that is about to fall under Cardassian jurisdiction. Guest star Richard Poe as Gul Evek. Final appearance of Eric Menyuk as The Traveler. ZH (C) WW
7×21 Firstborn WP: Worf attempts to convince his son Alexander to embrace his warrior heritage. Guest star James Sloyan as K’mtar. ZH (C+) WW
7×22 Bloodlines WP: DaiMon Bok returns to exact revenge on Picard, by trying to kill the son Picard never knew he had. Guest star Lee Arenberg as DaiMon Bok. ZH (C+) WW
7×23 Emergence WP: The Enterprise becomes an emergent intelligence. ZH (B-) WW
7×24 Preemptive Strike WP: Ensign Ro graduates from advanced tactical training, and is sent by Picard to lure Maquis terrorists into a trap. Guest star Richard Poe as Gul Evek. ZH (A) WW
7×25 All Good Things… WP: Picard finds himself alternating between three time periods thanks to Q, with a spacetime distortion that threatens to destroy reality growing larger in the past, and smaller in the future. ZH (A) WW