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Books

Reading more Arthur C Clarke books

I grew a little bored with my current books, so I thought I’d read some classic science fiction. I picked one of Arthur C Clarke’s early books, “Childhood’s End“, and read it pretty quickly.

Despite the slightly dated technology references, the story is really well written, and kept me engaged right to the end. I wrote a short review on Goodreads for the book:

I enjoyed this book. Some of the technology references are a bit dated (the book was written some time ago). That said, they didn’t detract from the story, which was fascinating. The book managed to retain a few plot twists until the end, which was really nice.

I started re-reading Clarke’s 3001. I’m sure I read the previous books in the series (2001, 2010, and 2061), but 3001 always appealed to me the most. One aspect of the story that stands out for me is the identifier citizens of that era use in place of email addresses, handles, or whatever else we use.

It uses a gender indicator, followed by a date, a random 5 digit number, and an institutional or interest-based association. It reminds me of the names that Iain M Banks uses for his characters in The Culture. Here’s an example in Wikipedia:

Some humanoid or drone Culture citizens have long names, often with seven or more words. Some of these words specify the citizen’s origin (place of birth or manufacture), some an occupation, and some may denote specific philosophical or political alignments (chosen later in life by the citizen themselves), or make other similarly personal statements. An example would be Diziet Sma, whose full name is Rasd-Coduresa Diziet Embless Sma da’ Marenhide:

  • Rasd-Coduresa is the planetary system of her birth, and the specific object (planet, orbital, Dyson sphere, etc.). The -sa suffix is roughly equivalent to -er in English. By this convention, Earth humans would all be named SunEarthsa (or Sun-Earther).
  • Diziet is her given name. This is chosen by a parent, usually the mother.
  • Embless is her chosen name. Most Culture citizens choose this when they reach adulthood (according to The Player of Games this is known as “completing one’s name”). As with all conventions in the Culture, it may be broken or ignored: some change their chosen name during their lives, some never take one.
  • Sma is her surname, usually taken from one’s mother.
  • da’ Marenhide is the house or estate she was raised within, the da’ or dam being similar to von in German. (The usual formation is dam; da’ is used in Sma’s name because the house name begins with an M, eliding an awkward phoneme repetition.)

Iain Banks gave his own Culture name as “Sun-Earther Iain El-Bonko Banks of North Queensferry“.[1]

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Categories
Books Mindsets

Like Twitter, but for reading (and not in a good way)

Jamie Rubin recently wrote about abridgement going too far when it comes to books in his post “Abridge, Too Far“.

I’ve been thinking about abridgments lately because of an ad that keeps popping up on Facebook. It’s for a service called Blinkist. The service claims it allows you to “fit reading into your life.” It does this by providing short (15 minute or so) key takeaways of popular nonfiction books. I took a look at some titles in the History category. Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, a book I recently finished, is summarized in 19 minutes of audio. The actual unabridged audiobook is over 15 hours long. Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, which I read last year is summarized in 19 minutes. Actual unabridged audiobook length: 41 hours 32 minutes. This, to me, is abridge too far.

Jamie Rubin

This reminded me about a couple articles I’ve read lately about a different approach to using social media. In Ephrat Livni‘s post titled “The best way to use social media is to act like a 19th-century Parisian“, she wrote –

Arendt argued that a moral society depends on thinking individuals. In order to think we need solitude and mental freedom. “Arendt reminds us, if we lose our capacity for solitude, our ability to be alone with ourselves, then we lose our very ability to think. We risk getting caught up in the crowd. We risk being ‘swept away’, as she put it, ‘by what everybody else does and believes in,’” Stitt writes. She warns that in our hyper-connected world, the risk of losing a connection to ourselves and the ability to think independently is greater than ever.

Ephrat Livni

These extreme abridgements are like Twitter, but for reading. I mean this both in the sense that they’re short (well, they’re abridgements), but also in the sense that they seem to fit this notion of reading as something to churn through so you can rush off to the next thing. All while completely skipping past the substance that reading offers.

Reading is an opportunity to be still for a time, and delve into ideas, stories, other worlds. It’s not about scanning some quick gist, deluding yourself into thinking you’ve somehow grasped the essence of the book.

As Rubin points out, this is partly about exploitation –

My worry is that the revolt, in this case, is against reading. These millions are not consuming the works, they are instead like vultures, tearing away at the liver and intestines of a book that has already been gutted by profiteers playing on people’s desire to feel well-read without doing the actual work of reading.

More than that, though, I think this is indicative of a social trend away from substance, and thoughtfulness, towards a much more impulsive and superficial approach to how we live our lives, and engage with the issues we face.

Om Malik touched on this in his post titled “Why we need to slow time and scale down” –

Everything is meta sized. Information, choices, inputs, and outcomes. As a result, our biological makeup is being put to test. How long can we live with an unending dopamine hits? What about the thumbs, eyes and our hearts which are facing new stresses? What about our diets that are full of sugar and are re-configuring out gut microbes?

Om Malik

Let’s not be in such a rush to skip through the substance in Life. That substance is what our lives are about.

Categories
Books Events and Life Film Music Podcasts Television

Keeping track of my media diet

This idea of tracking my media diet really appeals to me:

Just like last year, I kept track of almost everything I read, watched, listened to, and experienced in my media diet posts.

Jason Kottke

I follow a few people who do this too, sometimes pretty publicly. I’m not sure that I’d want to share everything I consume, but I do like the thought of capturing, and aggregating everything.

I’m just not too sure how to pull it all together, if I were to do this.

Categories
Art Books Creative expression People

A peek inside Alex Ross’ studio (and his collection)

I’m a huge fan of Alex Ross’ work, especially for DC Comics. I have a couple graphic novels that he did the artwork for, and they’re some of my favourite books.

CBS This Morning’s Anthony Mason visited Ross in his studio, and spoke to him about his career painting superheroes. Ross’ “toy” collection, alone, is worth watching this video for.

I especially like how he paints Superman. He manages to blend this raw power you’d expect from the Man of Steel with a deep humanity.

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#superman #tgif @comicbookpros

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Superman — "Look! Up in the Sky" #dccomics #metropolis #tuesdaythoughts

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Categories
Books Education People Useful stuff Web/Tech

Building a computer with my daughter and Hello Ruby

I bought the Hello Ruby books for my daughter a couple months ago. She was interested in learning to code, and I had recently watched Linda Liukas’ wonderful TED talk about how she came to write her books.

So I bought both of the Hello Ruby books: one about programming, and the other about computer hardware. I read the stories in both books to my daughter, and then we paused for a time.

I realised that Liukas also made available PDFs of the computers that school kids could download and print to make little cardboard computers. I downloaded the PDFs, and had them printed on 300 gram paper the other day.

Our daughter cut out the various pieces, read about components like RAM, ROM, the CPU, and GPU, and then we sat together this afternoon and built her computer.

Having done this, it may be time to return to the books, and start exploring some of the exercises in the books. It’s a great way to introduce kids to what is otherwise a pretty technical field. Our daughter loves the Hello Ruby approach. I’m a fan too.

Categories
Books Publishing Spirituality Useful stuff

You can now read important Jewish texts like the Talmud online

This story appeals to me on so many levels. Perhaps the biggest reason why it excites me is that I’m very much in favour of important works like the Talmud being made freely available online, if anything, as an important cultural and historical resource.

After a prolonged negotiation process, and a substantial gift from the William Davidson Foundation, Sefaria was able to secure the copyright. Then, they ceded their rights and made it available free to the public, a move common to nature conservancies but vanishingly rare in the publishing world, since copyright and exclusivity are major guarantors of revenue.

I’m not even remotely a serious Jewish scholar, but the fact that these resources are available online to anyone who wants to read them, is a powerful way to ensure that our history is preserved for future generations. It’s also a terrific way to accurately communicate who we are as a people.

Categories
Books

I enjoyed reading Alastair Reynolds’ Elysium Fire

Elysium Fire by Alastair Reynolds
Elysium Fire by Alastair Reynolds

I just finished another of Alastair Reynolds’ books, the second Tom Dreyfus story titled “Elysium Fire“. I finished this one pretty quickly, considering that it took me a bit longer to get into the first book. If you enjoy Reynolds’ style of writing, this is well worth reading.

I like how Reynolds’ books are a little edgier than other popular sci-fi books that I’ve read (not exactly a fair representation of sci-fi generally, though). This one didn’t feel as edgy. Still, I enjoyed the book and was a little surprised to see that I finished it in about five days.

Next up is Century Rain, and then Galactic North. I’m heading to Automattic’s Grand Meetup next weekend, so I’ll have plenty of time to read on the flights there, and back.

Categories
Books

The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds

Book cover for The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds
The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds

I finished reading “The Prefect” by Alastair Reynolds yesterday. It took me a little while to get into the book, as is the case with many of his books. Once I did, though, I really enjoyed the book. It’s set some time in our future, around a planet called Yellowstone. It’s a detective story, with a pretty healthy dose of well thought out scifi. It’s also my introduction to the Tom Dreyfus character. I like this character, and I’ve already started reading the next in the series.

I’ve read a few of Reynolds’ books, and his Revelation Space series is well worth reading. If anything, for its intricacy, imagery, and the story-lines that seem to be woven into many of the books in some form or another.