Categories
Review

“Physics of the Impossible”

Michio Kaku

I feel like I’ve been reading a lot of these “explain the whole field in broad strokes” books lately. I do enjoy the twist in this of focusing specifically on impossible things, particularly science fiction tropes; it provides a bit more of a narrative through line, a nice organizational structure to hang the various facts on.

Two caveats to this book:

Firstly, it’s somewhat dated; just from reading, you can narrow down the publishing date to sometime in the mid-aughts. The downside to writing about something as inherently contemporary as “the latest scientific discoveries.”

Secondly, the use of the definite article when referring to theories. It’s never “quantum theory”, always “the quantum theory.” Which I’ve listed as a caveat, but really it falls somewhere between being overly tied to semantics and doing a good job of reminding us that all theories are theories—sure, the theory of gravity is pretty well understood, but it remains a part of the scientific process; it remains a theory.

All told, I found this a pretty good read. The chapters are about the right size for chunks of reading time, and it’s a nice overview of the various impossibilities. (It also feels like it’d be a great reference book for a science fiction writer—it provides enough terminology and understanding to get the realistically-wrong physics you want for good sci-fi.) Give it a go.1

  1. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.
Categories
Playlist

Playlist of the Month: January 2023

As with every year, the realization that the first month of it is over feels nearly as strange as the December realization that the entire year is nearly over.

How It Was – Yoste on A Few Brief Moments – EP

twentyfive – Yoste on twentyfive – Single

How It Is – Majik on Under the Influence – EP

Let Me Swim – Yoste on Let Me Swim – Single

Save Me – Majik on It’s Alright / Save Me – Single

Friends – Yoste on Friends – Single

Lungs – Yoste on Lungs – Single

Coastline – Yoste on Never The Same

Balling – EDEN on Balling – Single

Carlos (Make It Thru) – Fred again.. on Actual Life (April 14 – December 17 2020)

Kahan (Last Year) [feat. Kodak Black] – Fred again.. on Actual Life 2 (February 2 – October 15 2021)

Kyle (I Found You) – Fred again.. on Actual Life (April 14 – December 17 2020)

Heat Above – Greta Van Fleet on The Battle at Garden’s Gate

O Superman (For Massenet) – Laurie Anderson on Talk Normal: The Laurie Anderson Anthology (Remastered)

start//end – EDEN on vertigo

Bleu (better with time) – Fred again.. on Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022)

Avalanche – The Midnight on Heroes

Funeral – Amber Run on Funeral – Single

Inner Light – Elderbrook & Bob Moses on Innerlight EP

Kelly (end of a nightmare) – Fred again.. on Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022)

runaway – Daniel Leggs on runaway – Single

Swan Upon Leda – Hozier on Swan Upon Leda – Single

Snow On The Beach (feat. Lana Del Rey) – Taylor Swift on Midnights (3am Edition)

Could – Elderbrook on Simmer Down – EP

Vigilante Shit – Taylor Swift on Midnights (3am Edition)

Doomed – Moses Sumney on Aromanticism

Nathan (still breathing) – Fred again.. on Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022)

Beautiful Morning – Elderbrook on Little Love

All Ours – Talos on Dear Chaos

Anti-Hero – Taylor Swift on Midnights (3am Edition / Video Deluxe)

gatsby – Daniel Leggs on gatsby – Single1

Alles schon okay – BLINKER & Madeline Juno on Gegen die Angst

Farewell / Kamikaze – Talos on Dear Chaos

Video Games (from “Westworld: Season 4”) – Ramin Djawadi on Westworld: Season 4 (Soundtrack from the HBO® Series)

TRAP PHONE – BERWYN on TRAP PHONE – Single

Tongue – MNEK on Language

For a Long Time – Star Pitchee on For a Long Time – Single

ROXANNE – Arizona Zervas on ROXANNE – Single

Silhouette – Aquilo on Silhouettes

Circles – Post Malone on Hollywood’s Bleeding

ticket home – Daniel Leggs on ticket home – Single

Waves – Abroad on Sydney – EP

Higher Than Nirvana (feat. LeyeT) – EMBRZ on Higher Than Nirvana (feat. LeyeT)

Altar – Fakear on Voyager – EP

Spinning Away – Talos on Dear Chaos

Lip Service – Cautious Clay on Thin Ice on the Cake – EP

Darling, You Don’t Need to Translate Your Heart All the Time – Bloodz Boi & Spira me on Darling, You Don’t Need to Translate Your Heart All the Time – Single

Feel – Octavian on Feel – Single

Powerlines – RIZ LA VIE on Keep. – EP2

Don’t Look Down – Ross Copperman on Human

KITES – Talos on Dear Chaos

Cut Deep – Stripped – Matt Maeson on Cut Deep – Stripped – Single

All Over (feat. Panda Bear) – Nosaj Thing on Continua

Path To Satisfaction – BERWYN on Path To Satisfaction – Single

Thanks (Acoustic Version) – Quinn Christopherson on Thanks (Acoustic Version) – Single

Stay Awhile (feat. Susanne Sundfør) – Röyksopp on Profound Mysteries III

los angeles. – will hyde on as the world is passing by. – EP

Another Love Song (Acoustic) – Forest Blakk on Another Love Song (Acoustic) – Single

One Life – Dermot Kennedy on Sonder (Apple Music Edition)

Wormwood – Ritt Momney on Her and All of My Friends3

Somebody Else – Vancouver Sleep Clinic, Pop Goes Ambient & Amelia Magdalena on Somebody Else – Single

Pensée sur l’amour – Adrian Ström & LissA on Pensée sur l’amour – Single

Untold – Nate Brazier on Untold – Single

Ultimate Self – Lani Rose on Ultimate Self – Single

kill u – Cavetown on worm food

ventolin – Kai Kwasi on jalilah

White Iverson – Post Malone on Stoney (Deluxe)

Tripping Through My Blood – Edwin Raphael on Tripping Through My Blood – Single

Call On Me – SG Lewis & Tove Lo on AudioLust & HigherLove

Echo – Mokita & Augustana on Echo – Single

rien dire – Christine and the Queens on Redcar les adorables étoiles (prologue)

6am in amsterdam. – will hyde on as the world is passing by. – EP4

Crumble – Thomas LaVine on Crumble – Single

Les – Childish Gambino on Camp

BREAKING – CROOK on BREAKING – Single

Kiss Me (Acoustic) – Dermot Kennedy on Kiss Me (Acoustic) – Single

Suburban Pines – Roo Panes on The Summer Isles5

La Valse (feat. LissA) – Adrian Ström on La Valse (feat. LissA) – Single

No Rule – Manchester Orchestra on No Rule – Single

Lift Me Up (From Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – Music From and Inspired By) [Instrumental] – Rihanna on Lift Me Up (From Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – Music From and Inspired By) – Single6

Rumble – Skrillex, Fred again.. & Flowdan on Rumble – Single

cracks – Kai Kwasi on jalilah

Words (feat. Phoebe Bridgers) – Storefront Church on Words (feat. Phoebe Bridgers) – Single

LET GO – Central Cee on LET GO – Single7

Gravity Find Us & Bring Us In – Hayden Calnin on Gravity Find Us & Bring Us In – Single

Sky Walker (feat. Travis Scott) – Miguel on War & Leisure

Over and Over – Nelly on Suit

Condition (feat. Toro y Moi) – Nosaj Thing on Continua

Tell Me What You Dream About – Hazlett on Bloom Mountain

Afterglow (feat. WYNNE) – Portair on Afterglow (feat. WYNNE) – Single

Dead Inside – Cal Trask on Dead Inside – Single

Believer – SYML on The Day My Father Died

Make Me Feel – The Chainsmokers & Cheyenne Giles on Make Me Feel – Single

Désolée (Paris/Paname) (PARØ Remix) – Shanguy on Désolée (Paris/Paname) (Remixes) – EP

Grow – Alisky & VØR on Grow (feat. VØR) – Single

Love – Harry Strange on Love – Single

Blinding Lights – Vancouver Sleep Clinic, Pop Goes Ambient & Amelia Magdalena on Blinding Lights – Single

Voyager – Fakear on Voyager – EP

Bloody Mary – Lady Gaga on Born This Way

  1. Things I’ve done this month: make a playlist of just “things I can sing along to in the shower.” Inspired by this track.
  2. Pretty sure I got this from a Fitness+ workout. They’ve got pretty solid soundtracks!
  3. C’mon, “Ritt Momney” is just an excellent name.
  4. “I don’t think they’re doing timezones right.”
  5. Weirdly poignant, considering that no aspect of these lyrics actually directly applies to my life or goals.
  6. Haven’t seen the movie, pretty convinced I won’t based purely on how clearly the feeling of mourning comes through in this track.
  7. Another Fitness+ track, I think, which is kinda surprising given the rather explicit lyrics. Must’ve been trimmed down significantly. Anyhow, I’ve really been enjoying this one!
Categories
Review

“Imagine 2200: The 2022 climate fiction collection”

I stumbled across this basically by accident, and let it float around in my to-read pile for a while before finally diving in. It survived a few culls of the queue, and I’m glad it did; the stories here are poignant and hopeful, a look at futures that I hope we’ll see. I’m going to skim through a couple of my favorites.

  • Seven Sisters really brought to mind the phrase “this is the future liberals want.” A non-traditional family, struggling together, trying to make the world a better place just for the joy of doing it.
  • And Now the Shade brought tears to my eyes. Grief and hope, tied up together, and that strange sense of loss that comes before the loss itself.
  • The Florida Project made me think of my sister, in particular the feeling of the first reunion after we’d spent a while living in different states.
  • A Holdout in the Northern California Designated Wildcraft Zone reminds me of the concept of “friendly AI” done really well. A story from the perspective of a literal drone, part of a hive mind, learning compassion.
  • The World Away From the Rain is another one in the “working through grief” category, told from an outsider’s perspective instead. No less effective for that change in viewpoint.

That isn’t all—there are several more stories in the collection, and I quite enjoyed them all, but these were the ones that most grabbed me by the heartstrings. Go check it out.

Categories
Review

“The Rapture of the Nerds”

Cory Doctorow & Charles Stross

Had a bit of a roller coaster in reading this book—it started off well, with the sort of fascinating worldbuilding that I do associate with Doctorow’s visions of the future. By the midpoint, though, I found myself rooting for the vague sense of doom. None of the characters were at all likable, and the idea of everyone being removed from the universe to make it a better place for everyone else started to feel nice.

The second half recovered well, though, and while I still think the protagonist is a bit of an ass, there was at least some personal growth on display. A lot of that arc of the story reminded me of The Improbable Rise of Singularity Girl—that same feeling of explorative transhumanism, and trying to apply computer science concepts (and scale!) to sentience. (That “bringing in actual computer science and engineering” stuff also reminds me of Ra, which takes a wildly different approach to this kind of story, but also quite enjoyable.)

Overall, I do totally recommend this book. And, being a Doctorow novel, you can actually pick it up as a free ebook, although I do recommend, for the sake of both the authors and the publisher that they apparently quite like, buying a physical copy.

Categories
Review

“Economics Through Everyday Life”

Anthony Clark

I can make this review pretty quick: it’s a good overview of the field of economics, and is probably worth a read for anyone who wants to have a good foundation in understanding what the heck they’re talking about on the news. The title is a bit odd, though, because the “everyday life” part never makes much of an appearance. It’s just… a regular book about economics. I suppose it’s “everyday” because it explains, like, the concept of the Gini Coefficient without burying you in the math of how it actually works, but still. Not really “everyday life,” just “Economics: Approachably Told.”

Still, a good read, worth reading.1

  1. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.
Categories
Review

“Solutionary Rail”

Bill Moyer & Patrick Mazza

Right off the bat, let me say: the name is not great. Having just read the whole book, which mentions its own name quite often, I feel as if I’ve been somewhat inoculated against how bad a name it is, but even with that, it’s still very clearly not a great name.

That said, the actual concept is, in my opinion, rock-solid. In short, the book is arguing that we should convert from diesel to electric power for our rail networks, and use the existing rail right-of-ways to build the transmission lines that we desperately need in order to make the green energy transition.

In slightly longer:

  • Rail freight is, inherently, way more efficient than truck freight, and hilariously more so than air freight. Rolling resistance is a hell of a thing; the least efficient train is still twice as energy-efficient as the most efficient truck.
  • Making a train run on electricity is a lot easier than making a truck run on electricity. Turns out it’s way easier to run power lines over a train track than it is to run them over every road ever. (And, bonus, electric trains have the exact same benefit electric cars do: way less maintenance.)
  • Truck freight is massively taxpayer-subsidized: by gallon of fuel purchased, a heavy truck pays, very roughly, 1.75x the gas tax of a sedan. But, for every mile driven, that heavy truck does around 5,000x as much damage to the road it’s driving on that the sedan does. tl;dr: the reason our roads need so much work is because of trucks; every time we use taxpayer money to rebuild a road, the trucking industry is getting a big ol’ present.
  • Railway right-of-ways are a Whole Thing, but for historical reasons, are basically a perfectly-interconnected network that ties together every city in the entire country, as well as whole lot o’ non-city land. This description also applies to the sort of long-distance power transmission infrastructure we need. Is it a coincidence I’m putting these two facts in the same bullet point? Not even remotely!

By these facts combined, we arrive at the argument that a) we should be using a whole lot more rail freight, b) we should be electrifying as much of our rail network as possible, and c) we shouldn’t be afraid to have government step in, because the competition literally could not exist without the massive government intervention that is the creation and maintenance of the interstate highway system.

The bit about using rail routes to also do power transmission is just a really clever way to combine two big projects and get them to pay for each other. Electrified rail means power companies have a brand-new, large-scale customer; siting power transmission literally on top of that large-scale customer not only provides guaranteed demand, it also significantly reduces the amount of time the power companies have to spend shoveling through the horrific mess that is the approvals process for power transmission.1

There’s some weird parts to the argument, namely the way that the book bends over backwards to never yell at the Class I rail carriers for their horrible business practices. Sure, there’s an appendix about it, courtesy of the rail unions, but within the actual text, they’re very careful not to say “and hey, maybe if Wall Street spent less time turning rail freight into the highest-profit-margin industry in the country and instead focused on making it actually good at its job, these problems wouldn’t be as bad!” But then, given that the target demographic of this book is Warren Buffet (owner of Berkshire Hathaway, owner of BNSF, monopolist of the Seattle-Chicago rail route that the authors have identified as the best starting point for electrifying the rail network), it makes sense that they wouldn’t want to draw attention to the fact that he’s kinda the villain of the story.2

Overall, I found this a fascinating read, and I heartily recommend checking out their website, if not the whole book. (There’s a video summary, but you can also get a free download of the book if you, like me, saw the concept and went “oh I have got to know more about this.”)

And then, as a secondary call to action, write to your representatives (state and federal!), your governor, and whoever you know that owns some shares of Berkshire Hathaway. Point out that, hey. Trains. They’re pretty cool. We should do more with them.

  1. As a side note, we desperately need to fix that. Hey, Congress, get on that!
  2. And, frankly, he really should be listening to the idea of using the rail right-of-ways to connect all the wind farms he owns to, y’know, places people actually want to buy that electricity. If you’re gonna be a capitalist on that scale, at least actually get the benefits of vertical integration!
Categories
Playlist

Playlist of the Month: December 2022

Happy new year!

How It Was – Yoste on A Few Brief Moments – EP

twentyfive – Yoste on twentyfive – Single

How It Is – Majik on Under the Influence – EP

Let Me Swim – Yoste on Let Me Swim – Single

Save Me – Majik on It’s Alright / Save Me – Single

Friends – Yoste on Friends – Single

Lungs – Yoste on Lungs – Single

Coastline – Yoste on Never The Same

Livin It Up (with Post Malone & A$AP Rocky) – Young Thug on Punk

Balling – EDEN on Balling – Single

Carlos (Make It Thru) – Fred again.. on Actual Life (April 14 – December 17 2020)

Tate (How I Feel) – Fred again.. on Actual Life 2 (February 2 – October 15 2021)

Kahan (Last Year) [feat. Kodak Black] – Fred again.. on Actual Life 2 (February 2 – October 15 2021)

Angie (I’ve Been Lost) – Fred again.. on Actual Life (April 14 – December 17 2020)

Grapevine (feat. Elderbrook) – Lane 8 on Grapevine (feat. Elderbrook)

Kyle (I Found You) – Fred again.. on Actual Life (April 14 – December 17 2020)

Heat Above – Greta Van Fleet on The Battle at Garden’s Gate

O Superman (For Massenet) – Laurie Anderson on Talk Normal: The Laurie Anderson Anthology (Remastered)

start//end – EDEN on vertigo

Rand McNally – Death Cab for Cutie on Asphalt Meadows

Bleu (better with time) – Fred again.. on Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022)

Sanctified – Matt Maeson on Never Had to Leave

Avalanche – The Midnight on Heroes

Funeral – Amber Run on Funeral – Single

Run – Lane 8 & Kasablanca on Run – Single

Inner Light – Elderbrook & Bob Moses on Innerlight EP

Winnie (end of me) – Fred again.. on Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022)

Kelly (end of a nightmare) – Fred again.. on Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022)

runaway – Daniel Leggs on runaway – Single

Swan Upon Leda – Hozier on Swan Upon Leda – Single

Dear Reader – Taylor Swift on Midnights (3am Edition)

Clara (the night is dark) – Fred again.. on Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022)

Snow On The Beach (feat. Lana Del Rey) – Taylor Swift on Midnights (3am Edition)

Forget Me – Steve Kroeger & Skye Holland on Forget Me – Single

Wolf – Yeah Yeah Yeahs on Cool It Down

Kammy (like i do) – Fred again.. on Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022)

Neptune – Hayden Everett on Neptune – Single

Could – Elderbrook on Simmer Down – EP

Vigilante Shit – Taylor Swift on Midnights (3am Edition)

M.I.A. – SOHN on Trust

Sag dem Leben – BLINKER on Gegen die Angst

Prior Warning – Marcus Mumford on (self-titled)

Berwyn (all that i got is you) – Fred again.. on Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022)

Color Me In – Mokita on Color Me In – Single

Danger – Panda Bear & Sonic Boom on Reset

Karma – Taylor Swift on Midnights (3am Edition)

Oh Caroline – The 1975 on Being Funny In a Foreign Language

Mustafa (time to move you) – Fred again.. on Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022)

Doomed – Moses Sumney on Aromanticism

Season of the Witch – Donovan on Sunshine Superman

Nathan (still breathing) – Fred again.. on Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022)

kiss me before u go. – will hyde & Jess Benko on kiss me before u go. – Single

Beautiful Morning – Elderbrook on Little Love

A Place of Her Own – The Midnight on Heroes

All Ours – Talos on Dear Chaos

Anti-Hero – Taylor Swift on Midnights (3am Edition) [Video Deluxe]1

Heaven – Declan J Donovan on Heaven – Single

Blacktop – Yeah Yeah Yeahs on Cool It Down

heart attack – Cavetown on worm food

gatsby – Daniel Leggs on gatsby – Single2

Catch a Feeling – The eight five two on Catch a Feeling – Single

Somewhere Only We Know (feat. Rhianne) – Gustixa on Somewhere Only We Know (feat. Rhianne) – Single

PS1 – EDEN on ICYMI

Alles schon okay – BLINKER & Madeline Juno on Gegen die Angst

Yellow – Vancouver Sleep Clinic, Amelia Magdalena & Pop Goes Ambient on Yellow – Single

18 – Anson Seabra on 18 – Single

Farewell / Kamikaze – Talos on Dear Chaos

Video Games (from “Westworld: Season 4”) – Ramin Djawadi on Westworld: Season 4 (Soundtrack from the HBO® Series)3

Tell Me What You Dream About – Hazlett on Tell Me What You Dream About – Single

180 (feat. EDEN) – Bloodz Boi on 180 (feat. EDEN) – Single

Old Love (feat. BROODS) – Bob Moses on Old Love (feat. BROODS) – Single

TRAP PHONE – BERWYN on TRAP PHONE – Single4

July – Steve Kroeger & BRDGS on July – Single

Redwoods – Hayden Everett on Redwoods – Single

DREAMER – The Blaze on DREAMER – Single

Set It Off, Set It Right – Vallis Alps on Set It off, Set It Right – Single

Running Back – Harrison Sands on Running Back – Single

Uptown – Quinn Christopherson on Write Your Name In Pink

Tomorrow Will Be Gone – Axel Flóvent on You Stay by the Sea (Deluxe)

Paris – The Chainsmokers on Memories…Do Not Open

Tongue – MNEK on Language

King Nine – Blueneck on King Nine

For a Long Time – Star Pitchee on For a Long Time – Single5

  1. “She thinks I left them in the will” is maybe the funniest line I’ve heard all year, it makes me laugh every time.
  2. I think this is one of my favorite new additions in the tail end of the year.
  3. I finally finished watching the whole series, and this (aside from the theme song) was the track that lodged in my brain most, so here it is.
  4. Pointed out as a collaborator on some of the Fred again.. that I’ve been loving, and turns out, he’s also great on his own!
  5. Brought back because the opening chord sounds incredibly similar to the opening chord of TRAP PHONE, and it took several times of restarting the latter over and over until I could figure out what it was reminding me of.
Categories
Review

“Augie & the Green Knight”

Zach Weinersmith

Y’know, I can’t say that I’ve ever before read a children’s book that includes a mathematical proof as an appendix. But then, Weinersmith is an interesting writer like that.

The core of the story is an old Arthurian myth, Gawain undertaking a quest that comes down to an exploitation of the knight’s code. There’s a certain amount of adaptation for young audiences possible from that, but where Weinersmith really shone was in splitting the story to also follow the Green Knight. Or rather, to follow Augie as she tries to teach the Green Knight not to, y’know, behead people willy-nilly. A bit difficult an argument to make to someone who, upon being beheaded, waves cheerfully, picks up his head, and reattaches it with about as much effort as one puts into reattaching the head that fell off a snowman.

The writing style actually feels very Pratchettian in style—not just because the footnotes, but because it’s got that same sort of “approachable for kids, with jokes that will make them laugh, but not as hard as they’ll make their parents laugh” thing going on.

This feels like a great book for the folks the age it’s aimed at, and I also enjoyed reading it. (Someone remind me, in a couple years, to get a print copy and give it to some of the young folks in my extended family.) Check it out!1

  1. This is an Amazon affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I prefer Bookshop affiliate links to Amazon when possible, but in this case, the book wasn’t available there, so it’ll have to do.
Categories
Review

“The Fifth Risk”

Michael Lewis

It took me a bit to realize that this was a reread—I thought that I’d just read some of the marketing materials when the book first came out, maybe an excerpt, but no—by the time I got to the end of the book and it continued to feel familiar, I had to admit that I’d read it before and just missed marking it as read in my big list o’ books.

Still, it holds up well! Honestly, I think it’s almost more interesting now, during the Biden administration, than it was during the Trump years. Sure, it felt more urgent when these things were being actively undermined, but now, it works well as a reminder that our institutions are still fragile. Just because everything is alright in this moment doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels. Hanford’s still got about 100 years and $100 billion in work necessary to clean it up; publicly-funded databases are still one executive order away from being inaccessible to the public that funded them. The core function of government is to handle these big problems, the things that business incentives just don’t work for.

Given the subject matter, it feels like this book would be a tome, something that’ll take you ages to work through. In fact, it’s quite short and easy to read—and, in a way, reminds me of some of McPhee’s stuff. It’s an exploration of the huge, banal things that the US government does every day to keep the world turning.

Overall, it’s an interesting read, and not a huge time investment. I heartily recommend it; check it out.1

  1. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.
Categories
Review

“Unseen Academicals”

Terry Pratchett

Taking a break from my reading new books to reread a favorite of mine! Some friends of mine took part in a recreational soccer league recently, and watching their games put me in the mood for Unseen Academicals. And, upon finishing the reread, I was surprised to find that I’d never posted a review of it.

As with everything Pratchett wrote, the book is a delight to read, a perfect blend of serious story and characters with comedy. It is, frankly, utterly unsurprising that he was awarded a knighthood for his writing; it’d be a shame if he hadn’t been honored.

The thing that makes Unseen Academicals such a long-standing favorite for me is Nutt. And now, in reading it again, there’s a part of me that doesn’t like how neatly his arc is tied together in the end. It’s hardly realistic—that degree of anxiety doesn’t just go away like that. But then, it’s a work of fiction, and more importantly, it’s telling a story. A story has to have a neat ending, or it won’t feel complete.

Still, though, I’ve always loved the portrayal of his fighting through it. The Sisyphean struggle to be worthy:

“But he makes wonderful candles,” she added quickly. “He’s always making things. It’s as if… worth is something that drains away all the time so you have to keep topping it up.”

I really can’t say how much I adore this book. I’ve given copies of it to people before, and likely will again. Go read it.1

  1. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.
Categories
Review

“The Willpower Instinct”

Kelly McGonigal

The organization of this book felt a bit weird, but I think that was more of an ebook implementation detail than anything to do with the actual content. And, overall, I thought it was interesting—I even jotted down notes in a couple places, interesting ideas that could be useful to apply.

Sitting here writing this, though, I take issue with the title. It doesn’t feel like it fits with the content; there’s no instinct to willpower discussed, really, just things about the evolutionary psychology of the concept of willpower. Can you call something an instinct if you’re specifically writing a book about how to train yourself to have it? Is my ability to type on this keyboard instinctual after the years of practice, or is it robust muscle memory? I’m firmly on the side of the latter.

That aside, some interesting tips from the book:

  • While meditating, focus on the sensation of breathing. And, importantly: The point of meditation is being bad at it. The goal isn’t to think about nothing but your breath; the goal is to practice drawing your focus back to your breath after it shifts elsewhere, and notice those shifts happening.
  • Slowing your breathing to the range of 4-6 breaths per minute, without holding your breath, can help increase your heart rate variability. Heart rate variability may or may not correlate directly with your available willpower.
  • When considering short- versus long-term benefits, loss aversion tends to bite us—setting aside the short-term gain in favor of the long-term one feels like a loss of the short-term gain, even though neither one actually exists yet. You can make this work in your favor, though: examine the long-term gain first, and focus on the short-term option as “why would I give up the long-term thing for this?”
  • It is impossible to Not Think About something. (“Don’t think about white bears” was the experiment the book cited.) The general concept is called “ironic rebound”—you try not to think about it, and think about it even more. Instead, notice the thought, give yourself permission to think it… and then move on.

There were, of course, a few other useful little concepts like that, but those were the ones that most caught my interest. Beyond that, the book did the usual pop psychology book thing, repeating the same point over and over with a variety of stories and angles. While I grasp that it’s a good teaching technique, I do sometimes wish I could get the 4-page pamphlet version instead of the couple-hundred-pages edition. But then, that requires picking out the right example each time, and the trick is in knowing which one that is for each individual reader.

Overall, I liked the book; it was interesting to read some of the psychology of focus and willpower. If you’re interested in that kind of thing—or just want some tips for kicking a bad habit—check it out.1

  1. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.
Categories
Review

“My Evil Mother”

Margaret Atwood

I was expecting something a lot more depressing, given Atwood’s most famous work, but this was actually quite touching. It’s a very short read, and as far as I can tell, free in Kindle edition, so go ahead and grab it.

Categories
Playlist

Playlist of the Month: November 2022

November is a good month; I think Thanksgiving may be my favorite holiday, but Christmas comes in second.

How It Was – Yoste on A Few Brief Moments – EP

twentyfive – Yoste on twentyfive – Single

Lost in Space – Emmit Fenn on Lost in Space – Single

How It Is – Majik on Under the Influence – EP

Let Me Swim – Yoste on Let Me Swim – Single

Save Me – Majik on It’s Alright / Save Me – Single

Friends – Yoste on Friends – Single

Lungs – Yoste on Lungs – Single

Coastline – Yoste on Never The Same

Running Up That Hill (Dermot O’Leary Saturday Sessions) – Will Young on 20 Years: The Greatest Hits (Deluxe)

It’s A Waste Man (feat. Aquilo) – Fyfe & Iskra Strings on It’s A Waste Man (feat. Aquilo) – Single

Slowly – ODIE on Slowly – Single

Livin It Up (with Post Malone & A$AP Rocky) – Young Thug on Punk

Balling – EDEN on Balling – Single

Carlos (Make It Thru) – Fred again.. on Actual Life (April 14 – December 17 2020)

Angie (Interlude) – Fred again.. on Actual Life (April 14 – December 17 2020)

Tate (How I Feel) – Fred again.. on Actual Life 2 (February 2 – October 15 2021)

Kahan (Last Year) [feat. Kodak Black] – Fred again.. on Actual Life 2 (February 2 – October 15 2021)

Angie (I’ve Been Lost) – Fred again.. on Actual Life (April 14 – December 17 2020)

Grapevine (feat. Elderbrook) – Lane 8 on Grapevine (feat. Elderbrook)

Kyle (I Found You) – Fred again.. on Actual Life (April 14 – December 17 2020)

Weird Goodbyes (feat. Bon Iver) – The National on Weird Goodbyes (feat. Bon Iver) – Single

Sci-Fi – EDEN on Sci-Fi – Single

Heat Above – Greta Van Fleet on The Battle at Garden’s Gate

I Won’t – SOHN on Trust

different man – Daniel Leggs on different man – Single

O Superman (For Massenet) – Laurie Anderson on Talk Normal: The Laurie Anderson Anthology (Remastered)

start//end – EDEN on vertigo

I Found – Amber Run on Pilot EP

Rand McNally – Death Cab for Cutie on Asphalt Meadows

Loved by You – The Midnight on Heroes

Bleu (better with time) – Fred again.. on Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022)

Elsewhere – EDEN on ICYMI

Call Me Back – EDEN on ICYMI

Reaching 2 – EDEN on ICYMI

Sanctified – Matt Maeson on Never Had to Leave

Avalanche – The Midnight on Heroes

Funeral – Amber Run on Funeral – Single

Closer 2 – EDEN on ICYMI

Forever in Sunset – Ezra Furman on All of Us Flames

Run – Lane 8 & Kasablanca on Run – Single

Maroon – Taylor Swift on Midnights (3am Edition)

Apollo – Oh Wonder on 22 Make

Moth To A Flame – Swedish House Mafia & The Weeknd on Moth To A Flame – Single

Inner Light – Elderbrook & Bob Moses on Innerlight EP1

Lost – Frank Ocean on channel ORANGE

Winnie (end of me) – Fred again.. on Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022)

Kelly (end of a nightmare) – Fred again.. on Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022)

runaway – Daniel Leggs on runaway – Single

Bigger Than The Whole Sky – Taylor Swift on Midnights (3am Edition)

Wild Winds – Nathan Ball on Wild Winds – Single

Midnight Rain – Taylor Swift on Midnights (3am Edition)

CHIRI – ROSALÍA on MOTOMAMI +

Swan Upon Leda – Hozier on Swan Upon Leda – Single

Magnificent – Oh Wonder on 22 Make

Dear Reader – Taylor Swift on Midnights (3am Edition)

Automatic License – aboynamedblu on I Heard You Tried to Fight the Sky – EP

frog – Cavetown on worm food

Clara (the night is dark) – Fred again.. on Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022)

Everlasting – Seafret on Anywhere from Here – EP

Snow On The Beach (feat. Lana Del Rey) – Taylor Swift on Midnights (3am Edition)

Suburbia – Tove Lo on Dirt Femme

Forget Me – Steve Kroeger & Skye Holland on Forget Me – Single

Wolf – Yeah Yeah Yeahs on Cool It Down

Kammy (like i do) – Fred again.. on Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022)

Neptune – Hayden Everett on Neptune – Single

Us – Shallou & ayokay on Us – Single

Stop Waiting – Oh Wonder on 22 Make

Could – Elderbrook on Simmer Down – EP

Lençóis (Love Me) – RY X on Lençóis (Love Me) – Single

Vigilante Shit – Taylor Swift on Midnights (3am Edition)

I’m In Love With You – The 1975 on Being Funny In a Foreign Language

The 1975 – The 1975 on Being Funny In a Foreign Language

M.I.A. – SOHN on Trust

Sag dem Leben – BLINKER on Gegen die Angst

Never Good Enough (Apple Music Home Session) – Tom A. Smith on Apple Music Home Session: Tom A. Smith

Everybody Hates Me – Hazlett on Oh Downhill – EP

Unreliable Narrator – Oliver Sim on Hideous Bastard (The Antidote Edition)

funny – Golden Vessel on everythingeverydayeverything

Eyelar (shutters) – Fred again.. on Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022)

Prior Warning – Marcus Mumford on (self-titled)

Berwyn (all that i got is you) – Fred again.. on Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022)

Color Me In – Mokita on Color Me In – Single

Valentine – Seafret on Anywhere from Here – EP

Only Fools – A. Johanson on Who Are We Fooling

Danger – Panda Bear & Sonic Boom on Reset

Karma – Taylor Swift on Midnights (3am Edition)

Never Had To Leave – Matt Maeson on Never Had to Leave

F**k It I Love You – Oh Wonder on 22 Make

Riptide (Rr049) [feat. Davey Havok] – Lane 8 on The Anjunabeats Rising Residency with Harry Diamond & K – Mrk #4

Oh Caroline – The 1975 on Being Funny In a Foreign Language

Part of the Band – The 1975 on Being Funny In a Foreign Language

carpool – ioakim on feel something or nothing at all – EP

Mustafa (time to move you) – Fred again.. on Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022)

Renegade (feat. Taylor Swift) – Big Red Machine on How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last?

Little Talks – Of Monsters and Men on My Head Is An Animal

Golden Gate – The Midnight on Heroes (& Instrumentals)

Human Too – The 1975 on Being Funny In a Foreign Language

Doomed – Moses Sumney on Aromanticism

Season of the Witch – Donovan on Sunshine Superman2

Nathan (still breathing) – Fred again.. on Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022)

LA KILIÉ – ROSALÍA on MOTOMAMI +

My Hand/Lawless Dream – Matt Maeson on Never Had to Leave

Souvenir – The Midnight on Heroes

Delilah (pull me out of this) – Fred again.. on Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022)

Above the Salt – Portair & VÉRITÉ on Above the Salt – Single

kiss me before u go. – will hyde & Jess Benko on kiss me before u go. – Single

Beautiful Morning – Elderbrook on Little Love

A Place of Her Own – The Midnight on Heroes

All Ours – Talos on Dear Chaos

Zombie – The Cranberries on No Need to Argue3

Anti-Hero – Taylor Swift on Midnights (3am Edition) [Video Deluxe]4

Nuke the Moon – Epic Mountain on Nuke the Moon – Single

Rebota – Guaynaa on Rebota – Single

Codex – Radiohead on The King of Limbs

Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve – Taylor Swift on Midnights (3am Edition)

High Infidelity – Taylor Swift on Midnights (3am Edition)

Strong – Romy & Fred again.. on Strong – Single

Heaven – Declan J Donovan on Heaven – Single

How – Marcus Mumford & Brandi Carlile on (self-titled)

Photograph – The Midnight on Heroes

Unfortunate Love (feat. Harrison Storm) [Orchestral] – Hayden Calnin on Unfortunate Love (feat. Harrison Storm) [Orchestral] – Single

Blacktop – Yeah Yeah Yeahs on Cool It Down

heart attack – Cavetown on worm food

Problems – Matt Maeson on Never Had to Leave

Train Comes Through – Ezra Furman on All of Us Flames

Keine Angst mehr (Mit Dir ISBESSA Sessions) – BLINKER on Keine Angst mehr (Mit Dir ISBESSA Sessions) – Single

Hard To Be Human – Anson Seabra on Hard To Be Human – Single

gatsby – Daniel Leggs on gatsby – Single

Figure Me Out – Mokita on Color Me In – EP

Moving On – Mark Diamond on Moving On – Single

Wheat Like Waves – Death Cab for Cutie on Asphalt Meadows

  1. Brought to you by someone else’s phone on shuffle at a Friendsgiving
  2. Feels a lot like Hozier.
  3. Some day I may build something to visualize when, over the course of the month, tracks were added to these playlists. This one, I don’t need to check—the day after the shooting in Colorado.
  4. While the music video version is fun, it’s a bit jarring to accidentally get that when you’re expecting the regular edit.
Categories
Review

“Global Catastrophic Risks”

Nick Bostrom and Milan M. Ćirković

I’d love to see an updated version of this book, because some of the chapters held up really well, a couple need some revised timeline estimates,1 and a couple would be heavily revised in light of how the last couple years have gone.2

The gist of it is, there’s a category of potential problem that can bring human civilization to its knees… or wipe out all life on earth. Some of them, we’re working on; some, we’re powerless to stop; and some, we’re actively making worse.

After establishing that core concept, the book splits up; each chapter is by a different author or authors, and they each address their own area of expertise. A volcanologist addresses the possibility of a super volcano eruption; an astrophysicist talks about the likelihood of gamma ray or cosmic ray bursts.3

Being the kind of person that I am, there wasn’t actually much in this book that was a new concept to me. This is the kind of thing I think about all the time! And so, given that background, it was a surprisingly uplifting book. Aside from the “the universe decided there isn’t life on earth anymore” type issues, every chapter came with advice on how to prevent or mitigate the issues, and discussion of who’s already working on it.

None of the problems discussed are solved, or anywhere near. I’d say that the one that’s currently in best shape is either naturally-occurring pandemics or nuclear proliferation—we have reasonably robust institutions, within the UN, working on those. Building a nuke is frighteningly easy, but getting the raw materials is, fortunately, very difficult. New diseases keep cropping up, but we’re getting reasonably good at developing vaccines, and things with sufficient lethality to totally collapse human civilization kill to fast to spread that well.

The other issues, though? Well… they remain a work in progress. AI researchers are still playing with fire, and CRISPR CAS-9 has made the possibility of engineered pandemics terrifyingly real.

All told, I’d call this book “required reading for anyone working at the UN.” And every world leader. It’s a long read, but the chapter divisions make it fairly digestible; I do recommend it, though with a caveat of “maybe not if you’ve been suffering from anxiety.” It… isn’t likely to help with that, unless you, like me, are already anxious about all these things. Give it a go.4

  1. I can report that we didn’t crack self-replicating nanotechnology by 2020, for example.
  2. Although, actually, the one on dealing with pandemics was pretty much spot-on for what should have been done; the revised version would probably include a lot more pointing at our new historical counter-examples.
  3. The latter being, by my standard, among the scariest concepts in the book. No way to see it coming, and nothing we can do about it regardless. To borrow a term, it’s an out-of-context problem.
  4. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.
Categories
Review

“Palaces for the People”

Eric Klinenberg

This book felt so familiar throughout that I had to check, several times, if I’d read it before. Evidently I haven’t! Which, I suppose, tells me that I’m more of a hobbyist civil engineer than I thought.

The very quick summary of the book is that, along with everything we usually think of as infrastructure, the US has also severely underinvested in social infrastructure—the things that make it easy for people to connect with one another in a space. The shining example of this, and the titular palaces for the people, are libraries: a completely free, completely public place where people are given the freedom to explore whatever may interest them.

For me, the familiarity of the book was a negative; I didn’t get much at all new from it, and so feel like it wasn’t a great use of my time to read. Conversely, though, if you haven’t spent a bunch of your spare time learning about this kind of thing, it’s probably a very good introduction to the topic. With that in mind, it’s an interesting read; give it a go—or, y’know, check it out from your local library.1

  1. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.