You can now read important Jewish texts like the Talmud online

Liked Putting the Talmud online by Jason Kottke (kottke.org)
Sefaria is a free online resource for Jewish texts, specifically the Talmud, which (amazingly) wasn't previously easily availabl

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.

I enjoyed reading Alastair Reynolds’ Elysium Fire

Read Elysium Fire by Alastair Reynolds (goodreads.com)
This book follows soon after the first Tom Dreyfus story. By this time, you're more familiar with the main characters, so you can explore their personalities a little further through the story. The story focuses on a new crisis that grips the Glitter Band, with a seemingly unrelated side story. The emphasis in this story seemed to be more on Dreyfus, his two deputies, and the Supreme Prefect, than the underlying crisis. It felt like a bit of a reverse of the first Tom Dreyfus story in this respect, and made this book a little more sentimental than the first. I like how Reynolds' books are...
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.

The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds

Read The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds by Alastair Reynolds (goodreads.com)
4/5:
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.

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A terrific way to spend a weekend

Liked The weekend Starts Here (Photos by Om)
007717-R3-002 Made with Leica M-A using the Leica f2/50mm Summicron (version V) and Kodak Portra 400. Shot wide open at f2. Shutter speed 1/250th of a second. Related Posts Life is a Beach A Bird’s eye view A Morning on Ocean Beach Flying Home

This looks like an awesome way to spend a relaxing weekend, actually.

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This article about Agatha Christie looks like a great read!

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Why Harry Potter wasn’t lost in translation

I didn’t realise that quite so much went into translating the Harry Potter book series. It makes sense after watching this video. At the same time, wow.

Image credit: João Silas

Learning to code and the argument for bribing our kids to read

My wife and I are avid readers and I suspect our daughter will also be one. She loves it when we read to her and she has started reading library books to herself. Our son, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be that keen on reading most of the books I find for me. On the other hand, he seems to be very interested in learning to code.

Our son’s introduction to coding

I’ve been teaching myself Python (2.7.x if you are curious). I picked Python because it is one of two languages that people seem to recommend for coding newbies. The other is PHP. It may not be the easiest language to learn but I thought I have to start somewhere and it seems to be a good language to know.

I don’t remember who recommended it but I bought the book, “Learn Python the Hard Way“, and I’ve been working through it. I scheduled time to learn using Google Calendar’s Goals feature and did another exercise this morning involving prompts.

Learning to code in Python
Learning to code in Python

The exercise involved creating a pretty basic script and I showed what I had done to my son. He loved it and immediately wanted to know if he could also start working through the book.

The book is a bit too complex for him so I got him started with Code.org tutorials on his PC. He has already completed a few basic exercises using a visual, block-based interface for learning Javascript.

Like many kids, he is a Minecraft nut and I have a feeling the Minecraft mod classes on Tynker might be great for him.

Persuading him to read too

My challenge, though, is that he needs to spend time reading books too, particularly in Hebrew. He is in a Hebrew language school and while he is largely bilingual, his Hebrew is weaker than the kids in his class because he has only been speaking Hebrew for just over 2 years.

He enjoys reading Hebrew graphic novels and often re-reads his favourites. He just isn’t that interested in novels and gives up soon after starting a book. On the one hand, I’m happy for him to read graphic novels because he is at least reading something. On the other hand, he needs more variety in what he’s reading or he won’t learn new words and different writing styles.

Another option is to find different books. He is interested in the Second World War so I’ll look for age appropriate books about WW2 when I am next at the library.

It also doesn’t help that his Hebrew is stronger than mine because I can’t help him all that much when he encounters new words. He is also probably reluctant to ask me about words he doesn’t understand because he doesn’t think I’ll understand them either (he’s probably correct although I look up words I don’t understand).
The thing is, reading is as important as ever.

It’s all very well that kids can access much of human knowledge with whichever device they happen to have in their pockets at the time. Unfortunately, they typically use those connected, pocket computers to play Clash Royale and go hunt Pokemons (is that the correct term?) instead of expanding their knowledge of the world around them.

If kids don’t read, they won’t expand their language skills as much and be able to express themselves more effectively. Reading also stimulates their imaginations and that fuels their creativity.

Bribery and extortion as parenting skills

The things kids do on their devices is fun, sure. I certainly spent as much time as I could playing with the distant ancestors of our kids’ devices but they weren’t as pervasive back in the 1980s.

These days we have to limit the time our kids spend on their devices or we just don’t see them over the weekend. They spend their time watching superficial YouTube videos (even on YouTube Kids which our daughter uses).

Thankfully, the devices they use tend to run out of charge after a couple hours and that ends their device time for the day. After that they tend to play with each other or, as the weather improves, head out to the park to play now and then.

I have a feeling that linking his new interest in learning to code with encouraging him to read more may be the way to go. In the time-honoured tradition of parents bribing and extorting their kids to do things that are good for them, I may resort to requiring reading time in exchange for more coding time. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do.

Speaking of which, what do you do? How do you get your kids to read more in this digital age we’re living in?

Featured image credit: Andrew Branch

Trump’s American fascism was the stuff of 20th century fiction

Warnings about American fascism have been rife since Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States of America.

20th century writers warned about the rise of someone like Trump and it seems that their fears are being realized.

It is difficult not to see why so many are concerned if you just consider Trump’s first few weeks in office. His executive orders have challenged the foundations of one of the world’s most distinctive democracies to the point where commentators are warning about an impending constitutional crisis over his controversial travel bans.

The Guardian published a fascinating article titled “‘It will be called Americanism’: the US writers who imagined a fascist future” that makes more disturbing reading. One of the paragraphs that stood out for me is this one:

In 1944, an article called “American Fascism” appeared in the New York Times, written by then vice president Henry Wallace. “A fascist,” wrote Wallace, “is one whose lust for money or power is combined with such an intensity of intolerance toward those of other races, parties, classes, religions, cultures, regions or nations as to make him ruthless in his use of deceit or violence to attain his ends.” Wallace predicted that American fascism would only become “really dangerous” if a “purposeful coalition” arose between crony capitalists, “poisoners of public information” and “the KKK type of demagoguery”. Those defending the new administration insist it isn’t fascism, but Americanism. This, too, was foretold: in 1938, a New York Times reporter warned: “When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labelled ‘made in Germany’; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, ‘Americanism’.”

As Trump settles in to his new role, I think we will see many more parallels between his actions and fictional despots and fascists. Whether he will utterly subvert America’s democratic safeguards remains to be seen but the initial indications are not particularly promising.

Postscript:

Another article worth reading is David Frum’s “How to Build an Autocracy” in The Atlantic.

You can also listen to the article on SoundCloud if you’d prefer: