The Wednesday Four (06/10/15)

Thanks to my mom for the third link!

Starting with this post, I’ve decided to include a photo with these links posts, just because I think it’s awesome? Also, Happy Anniversary to my parents!

Odd little tulips

Odd little tulips by Phyllis Buchanan, on Flickr

Book Review: Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

Not every book I read comes easily to me. I don’t mean that it was hard to get a copy of this book, it wasn’t, but I mean that in order to read it, I really had to work at it. Sometimes when you have to work at a book, it’s not necessarily a good one. But, of course, this isn’t always the case and it certainly isn’t the case with the first book in Cixin Liu’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy (according to Wikipedia and some googling I’ve done, it’s u2333sually referred to as the Three Body trilogy).

Three-Body Problem was translated from Chinese by Ken Liu (an excellent author in his own right). It’s a science fiction novel about aliens, but you don’t really meet the aliens until you get closer to the end of the novel. It’s really the story of two character from two different time periods in China. The beginning of the novel is set during the Cultural Revolution and gives us our first main character, Ye Wenjie. She watches the horrors that befall her father and his fate and black class status follows her throughout her young life. But, because this is a novel, after all, Ye’s scientific background ends up balancing out her father’s black marks on their past. She ends up entangled and then deeply entrenched in looking for alien life.

Our second thread follows that of Wang Miao and is set 40 years in the future (basically, present day China). Wang, like Ye, is a scientist, though they study different sciences. Wang is contacted by a strange group of people and ends up befriending Ye, though he doesn’t know how their stories truly intersect until later. Wang must infiltrate an organization that is bent on world destruction and when he does, what he discovers blows his mind (but that would be spoiling things for me to tell you, so I won’t).

The novel is full of Chinese history (Liu helpfully includes footnotes of his own, in addition to Cixin’s, to make sure Western authors understand what they’re reading and the historical context of the novel), science and computer games — among other things. You do not need to understand physics or Chinese history to enjoy this novel.

We follow Ye and Wang as their lives are intertwined, bringing us to the climax and conclusion of the novel. We discover what really happened to Ye once she started working on a mountain (what saved her from her black status) and we participate (though not directly) with Wang as he explorThreebodyes a computer game that proves to be very important to the story. And, toward the end, we also get to go inside the heads of the aliens.

Cixin Liu’s writing is excellent and I trust Ken Liu’s translation. I didn’t feel like I was reading a translated work. And now I want to return to something I mentioned at the start of this review — this novel was a lot of work to read. Not because it was hard, but because Cixin Liu packed it full. It’s a dense, enthralling read, but it also took me a long time to read it. In many ways, it reminds me of many of Kim Stanely Robinson’s works. Hard reads, but worth the effort — which is exactly how I feel about Three-Body Problem.

If you like science in your science fiction, plus a murder mystery, and mixing of time/story lines, you should read Three-Body Problem. It sets up it’s sequel very nicely, leaving me wanting more, but ends in such a way that I’m not angry there are three books in the series. Instead, I’m just ready for more of this universe that Cixin Liu’s created.

The Wednesday Four (05/27/15)

Today’s links deal with issues of death, chemistry and awesomeness. Who  knew?

Elements with the greatest supply risk. Red is high, blue is low.

Elements with the greatest supply risk. Red is high, blue is low.

Thursday Ten

A little bit of a mix of links today.

Mourning Excalibur, the Ebola Dog: Are we all quite mad here in the developed world?  A petition to save Excalibur, the pet dog of a Spanish nursing assistant who has contracted Ebola, received more than 370,000 signatures before the animal was sedated and killed as a precautionary measure this evening. As his corpse was taken away in a van for incineration, a crowd of activists who had clashed with police during the day were reportedly shouting: “murderers!” (Bloomberg)

 ‘I Couldn’t Smell, and Then I Died’ A fading ability to identify scents is a sign that life’s end may be near. (The Atlantic)

Popular on Amazon: Wildly misleading self-published books about Ebola, by random people without medical degrees In the past 90 days, some 84 people have self-published Ebola e-books on Amazon, almost half of them in the past month alone. Many of them are popular, crawling their way up the bestsellers’ list to sit atop categories, such as health and medicine. Many of them are well-reviewed by their readers, who vow to buy Hazmat suits or start vitamins based on what they’ve read. And many of the books — almost all of them, in fact — contain information that’s either wildly misleading or flat-out wrong. (Washington Post) Note: I’m sorry if you all hate yourselves now, I know I do.

Meet the Hong Kong Cop Who Has Joined His City’s Protesters: I met John on Tuesday in Mong Kok, the shopping district of Kowloon where the previous night a man had driven a Mercedes-Benz through a crowd of protestors, fueling rumors that hired thugs were trying to cause trouble for the Occupy Central movement. John, who was carrying a backpack with a yellow ribbon pinned to the strap, told me there had also been reports of cars filled with weapons parked nearby. I asked how he knew so much, and he surreptitiously pulled a card out of his pocket: a police ID.  (The New Republic)

The U.S. media will believe anything on North Korea: some perspective from a long-time Asia hand (Tim Shorrock)

The Thugs of Mainland China: Last Friday, as the Occupy Central protests convulsed Hong Kong, James Bang, a twenty-eight-year-old digital-strategy consultant, found himself holding down the front line in the district of Mong Kok, his arms linked with other young protesters as they fended off surging groups of attackers. The assailants shoved the protesters, spat in their faces, and shouted, “Motherfuckers!” and “Go home!” Their accents signalled to Bang that they were from Guangdong, across the border, and they wore bags slung across their chests, a style common in mainland China. He was convinced that they weren’t locals. “Hong Kong people don’t spit on Hong Kong people,” he told me over Skype. “In Hong Kong, they spit on the roads.” (New Yorker)

Fond Memories Of Ebola Victim Eric Duncan, Anger Over His Death: He liked to joke around with his neighbors. And he always gave them a helping hand. The neighbors that Thomas Eric Duncan’s generous spirit is what cost him his life. (NPR)

Hope Solo abuse allegation can’t be ignored: Our league can no longer turn a blind eye to the allegations that Solo assaulted two family members. (USA Today)

 The Story Of A 12-Year-Old Norwegian Bride Brings Attention To A Global Issue: Child-aid organization Plan Norway uses a local face to raise awareness around the global issue of child brides. (Fast Company/Co.Create)

Adobe’s e-book reader sends your reading logs back to Adobe—in plain text: Digital Editions even tracks which pages you’ve read. It might break a New Jersey Law. (Ars Technica) Note: This has been making the rounds, but I haven’t shared it yet. FYI, Amazon does the same thing — and don’t blame the libraries, we had no idea this was going on.

Bonus Links:

Navigating All the Fringe Beliefs in LA: If you want to make friends in LA, one of the first things you must learn to do is to socialize with crazy people. Or rather, to socialize with otherwise sane people who will wait until several hours into a casual conversation to nonchalantly reveal a belief in elves, or telepathy, or the Hollow Earth. (The Bold Italic) Note: This is here to make you laugh, hopefully it did it’s job.

What It’s like to Fly the $23,000 Singapore Airlines Suites Class, the world’s best airline experience, from Singapore to New York:  In 2008, Singapore Airlines introduced their Suites Class, the most luxurious class of flying that is commercially available.  The Suites were exclusive to their flagship Airbus A380, and they go beyond flat beds by offering enclosed private cabins with sliding doors that cocoon you in your own little lap of luxury. The interior was designed by French luxury yacht designer Jean-Jacques Coste and comes along with a plush soft leather armchair hand-stitched by the Italian master craftsmen Poltrona Frau. Perhaps most well-known of all, Singapore Airlines became the first and only commercial airline with a double bed in the sky. (Medium)

Thursday Ten

When I was in high school, I was obsessed with many things. One of these things was Ebola and other, similar viruses. This was, obviously, in my young and less anxious years (I barely remember them, to be honest). I read Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone, watched Outbreak and struggled to finish The Coming Plague (I’m pretty sure I didn’t finish it). But after one too many nightmares, I gave up on all my dreams about being some sort of infectious disease doctor (I shudder to think of it now) and moved on with my life. But Ebola still remains and dominates the news (both here and abroad). And while today’s links do contain some information on Ebola, there are other things as welll. Including the protests for democracy in Hong Kong.

And on that note, here are this week’s links.

  • When no gender fits: A quest to be seen as just a person: How do you navigate the world when it is built on identifying with one group or another and the place that feels right is neither? (Washington Post)
  • I Had a Stroke at 33: On New Year’s Eve 2007, a clot blocked one half of my brain from the other. My reality would never be the same again. (BuzzFeed)
  • Message for Beijing Hidden in a Hong Kong Street Poem: On a busy Hong Kong street on Wednesday, a poem dashed out on a bare wooden crate contained a hidden message for China. (Sinosphere // New York Times)
  • Hong Kong’s protests don’t impress mainland Chinese visitors: Chinese tourists pouring into Hong Kong this week for a shopping holiday are getting an unexpected lesson in democracy from the city’s tens of thousands of protesters demanding free elections. So far, most of them are unimpressed. (Quartz)
  • 16 Dramatic Videos Show What It’s Like to Be in Hong Kong Right Now: Thousands of protesters braved clouds of tear gas and police batons charges to stand firm in center of Hong Kong in one of the biggest political challenges for China since the Tiananmen Square protests 25 years ago. (Mic)
  • Pro-Democracy Protesters Occupy Hong Kong’s Central District: In Photos (The Atlantic) Note: This was also posted on FB. You can also follow live coverage of the protests on the South China Morning Post’s Occupy Central blog.
  • The Supreme Court That Made It Easier to Buy Elections Just Made It Harder for People to Vote in Them: In case there was any remaining confusion with regard to the precise political intentions of the US Supreme Court’s activist majority, things were clarified Monday. The same majority that has made it easier for corporations to buy elections (with the Citizens United v. FEC decision) and for billionaires to become the dominant players in elections across the country (with the McCutcheon v. FEC decision) decided to make it harder for people in Ohio to vote. (The Nation)
  • Don’t panic over Ebola in America: The first thing to do is to calm down.  Ebola is terrifying. But it’s not likely to kill you, or to spread widely in the United States. What’s scary — and hyped — about Ebola isn’t what makes it dangerous. (Vox) Note: Actor Idris Elba wrote an impassioned plea to help stop the spread of Ebola. Read it: Stopping Ebola in Its Tracks (Huffington Post)
  • Incredible Close-Up Drone Video of an Erupting Volcano in Iceland: This epic video isn’t a CGI outtake from Lord of the Rings. It’s proof that a guy with a quadcopter managed to get very, very close to an erupting Icelandic volcano—close enough to melt the face of the GoPro camera that shot the video. (Wired)
  • The Hidden Costs of E-books at University Libraries: For the past few years, both the California State University and the University of California libraries have been experimenting with packages that replace paper books with e-books. The advantages are obvious. With e-books, you no longer have to schlep to a library to take out a book. You just log on from whatever device connects you to the web, at whatever time and in whatever state of dress, and voila! the book appears on your screen (Times of San Diego)

Bonus:

  • How to Plant a Library: Somewhere outside of Oslo, there are 1,000 newly planted spruce trees. One hundred years from now, if everything goes to plan, they’ll be published together as 100 pieces of art. (Pacific Standard)

The Thursday Ten

I’ve decided to try something different. Instead of listing all the links I’ve read and thought were interesting, I’m going to limit it to just ten, with maybe a bonus link or two. This first week of September will be my first week attempting this. Feedback is always welcome.

Onto the links:

  • Pop culture’s newest apocalypse: Visions of a smartphone dystopia Two acclaimed new books show how our smartphone addiction is changing the way we think about the end of the world  (Salon) Note: I have read neither book, but the premises of both are similar to many a YA dystopia — though that’s not a bad thing. I do wish the author was familiar with other dystopian novels, though.
  • Hong Kong’s Democracy Dilemma: On Sunday the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress issued restrictive guidelines for the election of Hong Kong’s next chief executive in 2017. Shorn of its technical details, the proposal in effect gives Beijing the means to control who could run for the top office in Hong Kong: Voters would get to cast a ballot, but only for one of just a handful of candidates pre-selected by the Chinese government. (New York Times)
  • What’s missing in the Ebola fight in West Africa: If the Ebola epidemic devastating the countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone had instead struck Washington, New York or Boston, there is no doubt that the health systems in place could contain and then eliminate the disease. (Washington Post)
  • Shenzhen trip report – visiting the world’s manufacturing ecosystem: Last year, a group of Media Lab students visited Shenzhen with, bunnie, an old friend and my hardware guru. He’s probably best known for hacking the Xbox, the chumby, an open source networked hardware appliance, and for helping so many people with their hardware, firmware and software designs. bunnie is “our man in Shenzhen” and understands the ecosystem of suppliers and factories in China better than anyone I know. (Joi Ito)
  • Death to the Gamer: Tainted by its misogyny and embrace of consumption as a way of life, gamer culture isn’t worth saving. (Jacobin)

Bonus links! Something a little more fun:

 

Links: 08/08-08/14

Bad news, y’all: everyone should change their passwords again. I know, I’ve told you to do this once, but it’s time to do it again. Now, moving on. Remember, last week, when I said I wanted to go see One Direction this weekend? I’m going! I’m excited.

This week’s links consist of everything from the death of Robin Williams to racism to Ebola. But if you’re feeling a little down, skip to the end, where you’ll find articles about chemistry robots, Murakami novels, and some extraordinary pictures. Plus, of course, the Great Emu War.

Russian Hackers Probably Have Your Passwords. Now What?: Like many people, your first question is probably whether or not you were included in that dragnet. Hold Security, the Milwaukee-based security firm that uncovered the hack, says you can fork over $120 for an annual subscription to find out in the next 60 days if you were affected. The opportunistic move cast doubt on initial reports of the breach, but prominent cybersecurity experts have confirmed them to be accurate.  At this point, you should just assume you were hacked. (TechCrunch)

In Fatal Flash, Gaza Psychologist Switches Roles, Turning Into a Trauma Victim: Hassan al-Zeyada has spent decades counseling fellow residents of the Gaza Strip who experience psychological trauma. Now, as he prepares to aid his neighbors after a new round of combat and carnage, he has a challenging new patient: himself. (New York Times)

Kurdistan: The Best Hope for What is Left of Iraq: There must be urgency about this. Kurdistan is in clear and imminent danger. We surely don’t want to wait thirty years for a declassified CIA document that concedes that backing Kurdistan could have boosted stability but was flunked at great cost. (Rudaw)

Telling white people the criminal justice system is racist makes them like it more: A new study suggests that highlighting racism in the criminal justice system is not the answer, and in fact pushes white voters in the opposite direction. Even when whites believe the current laws are too harsh, they’re less likely to support changing the law if they’re reminded that the current prison population is disproportionately black. (Vox)

The real story behind “secret menus” is the key to hacking them: Ask a barista for a cotton candy Frappuccino, for example, and she’ll create this unofficial favorite by adding raspberry syrup to a Vanilla Bean Frappuccino, which is one of the company’s official offerings, an icy and sweet blended drink topped with whipped cream. Knowing how to ask for these twists, or “secret menu” items, is half the fun. (Quartz) Note: This is one of the things I’m not brave enough to do. Not that I’d even want to, if I was.

You can’t win a Twitter fight: I’ve had my fair share of Twitter spats and can confirm it’s an absolutely terrible venue for debate. Tone, nuance, context — all of that goes out the window. Even the most remotely controversial point is destined to be misconstrued. It’s notable that when these debates finally move to email — that is to say, out of the public realm — they become far more respectful and good-willed. (Politico)

Is Sunscreen A Lifesaver Or A Poison: As to whether I should be slathering my kid with sunscreen or not, the good news is that I’m not causing any damage by doing so, and I’m certainly sparing her the painful sunburns of my youth. On the other hand, it may be dangerous to be lulled into thinking that sun exposure is without risk when she wears sunscreen. Protective clothing, hats and shade may have as much — or more — of a direct role to play. Perhaps it’s time for another full-body bathing suit. (FiveThirtyEight)

Plot Thickens as 900 Writers Battle Amazon: Douglas Preston, who summers in this coastal hamlet, is a best-selling writer — or was, until Amazon decided to discourage readers from buying books from his publisher, Hachette, as a way of pressuring it into giving Amazon a better deal on e-books. So he wrote an open letter to his readers asking them to contact Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, demanding that Amazon stop using writers as hostages in its negotiations. (New York Times)

Timeline of China’s Social Media Crackdowns (Wall Street Journal) Note: I’ve occasionally considered signing up for a weibo account (I like a lot of Chinese/etc singers and actors), but the real name thing has always put me off.

Ebola in Africa and the U.S.: A Curation: That I am anti-Ebola panic — and especially anti-Ebola media scrum, which was disgraceful — does not mean I am not concerned about Ebola where it is authentically a problem, which is in the expanding epidemic in West Africa. It is a dreadful outbreak, it needs attention, and it says something ugly about us as a society that we only really noticed it when two Westerners were injured by it. But, again: The conditions that are pushing that epidemic along do not exist in the US. (Wired) Note: I haven’t read all of the links within this post, but her article itself is worth reading on it’s own.

About Michael Brown’s murder:

Outrage in Ferguson after police shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown: On August 9, Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was killed by a police officer in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, MO. Eyewitnesses to the shooting report that Brown was killed while attempting to surrender, but police say that Brown assaulted the officer before the shooting. (VOX)

#IfTheyGunnedMeDown and What Hashtag Activism Does Right: Social media protests have their limits, but one thing they’re very, very good at is grassroots media criticism. (Time) Note: For pictures from the hashtag, go here. These are powerful, thought-provoking photos.

Black Residents In Ferguson, Missouri, Are Stopped And Arrested Far More Than Whites:  But a higher percentage of white residents have contraband, according to a racial profiling report from the Missouri Attorney General’s Office. (Buzzfeed)

Why Did Michael Brown Die in Ferguson?: Michael Brown didn’t die in the dark. He was eighteen years old, walking down a street in Ferguson, Missouri, from his apartment to his grandmother’s, at 2:15 on a bright Saturday afternoon. He was, for a young man, exactly where he should be—among other things, days away from his first college classes.  (New Yorker)

Social media posts from scene of Ferguson shooting (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Robin Williams, an Improvisational Genius, Forever Present in the Moment: Part of the shock of his death on Monday came from the fact that he had been on — ubiquitous, self-reinventing, insistently present — for so long. On Twitter, mourners dated themselves with memories of the first time they had noticed him.  (New York Times)

Suicide Rates Rise Sharply in U.S.: Suicide rates among middle-aged Americans have risen sharply in the past decade, prompting concern that a generation of baby boomers who have faced years of economic worry and easy access to prescription painkillers may be particularly vulnerable to self-inflicted harm.  (New York Times)

What’s Wrong With Comcast?: The story of a company that’s too big to function. (The Atlantic)

Privacy as a premium: Why it’s time to say goodbye to the free internet (The Next Web)

The female Pinterest engineer who pressed tech giants to air embarrassing diversity numbers: Before the recent wave of big technology companies releasing diversity data, there was a one-woman effort by Tracy Chou, a software engineer at the social bookmarking website Pinterest. She issued a call last fall for hard numbers showing how many women engineers worked at tech companies. (San Francisco Business Times)

In Defense of Passwords: They’re inconvenient and insecure, but the alternatives are worse. (Slate)

Blue Is For Boys, Pink Is For Girls: See Children Surrounded By Their Color-Coded Toys: A series of images from South Korean photographer JeongMee Yoon shows exactly how much things have changed today, after manufacturers and marketers made the arbitrary choice to assign pink to girls. For the last nine years, Yoon has been photographing toddlers surrounded by their “favorite” colors–little girls, dressed in pink, blending in with a sea of pink Hello Kitty and princess gear, and little boys in rooms filled with blue Lego and trains. (Fast Company/Co.Exist)

The Great Emu War: In which some large, flightless birds unwittingly foiled the Australian Army (Scientific American) Note: Who HASN’T heard of the Great Emu War???

‘I’m pretty terrified’: Scientists set to excavate ‘Natural trap cave’ where bones of tens of thousands of animals are piled at least 10 metres deep (National Post)

Organic synthesis: The robo-chemist: The race is on to build a machine that can synthesize any organic compound. It could transform chemistry. (Nature)

The 10 Best Haruki Murakami Book: My own favorites are chosen on a “gut” level; I liked these works because they awakened something in me as a reader, spoke to me about things that were already going on my mind, maybe only subconsciously. Some are powerfully entertaining, others just powerful. All seem to connect to an enduring thematic thread of identity, its construction and its preservation. (Publishers Weekly) Note: Of the ten, I’ve read 7. Of the three I haven’t read, the two earliest ones I have on ebook, but haven’t gotten to yet and #5 hasn’t been published in English in the US quite yet. Soon, though.

The Beautiful Junkyard Where Bolivia’s Trains Were Left to Rot: They’re rusted out, long ago stripped for useful parts. Covered in graffiti—some of it pretty good—they’re strangely beautiful relics of an industry left behind. (Wired)