2019 Book List

A new year means a new set of books. As in 2017 and 2018, I am recording the books that I read; partly for my own record and partly that it might help someone else find a book that sounds interesting.

21 Lessons for the 21st Century (2018) by Yuval Noah Harari

Book1I got this one for Christmas. It’s a collection of essays, written by an Israeli historian, covering various topics, including truth, religion, terrorism, equality, war and education. Nearly all of the essays are interesting and raise many questions worth pondering. It’s a lot shorter on answers than questions but it certainly stimulates the mind.

One of the major topics that bothers him is what will happen when big data/AI and biotech combine. He sees the merger of the fields as likely creating an inequality that can’t easily be overcome. He fears that the wealth concentrated in the hands of a few will allow them to modify their biology to be superior while AI and robots will mean that workers are unnecessary making the masses functionally and politically irrelevant. Aside from that there are many other great essays on important topics, such as how the current rise of nationalism is fundamentally incapable of tackling issues like climate change which affect many and require a widespread, co-ordinated response. Continue reading

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Metal remains uncorrupted by Spotify

There was an interesting article by Dan Kopf on Quartz recently about how popular music is shrinking.

Popular music is shrinking. From 2013 to 2018, the average song on the Billboard Hot 100 fell from 3 minutes and 50 seconds to about 3 minutes and 30 seconds. Six percent of hit songs were 2 minutes 30 seconds or shorter in 2018, up from just 1% five years before.

He suggested that Spotify could be the cause. Apparently, Spotify pays the same fee to all songs that are streamed, meaning that, if the songs are shorter, more can be streamed and the artist makes more money. It makes sense and he shows a decrease in song length for several artists, including Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj and J. Cole. While I recognise some of those names, I never listen to them and probably couldn’t name or identify a single one of their songs. So, I wondered if the results were relevant to the music I listen to.

Continue reading

Final books of 2018

This will almost certainly list the last books I finish this year, although I may still start some before January. Overall, I read 12 books in 2018 (approximately) which is about one per month. Not the best rate ever but not awful.

reWritten (2017) by Jako Malan

Cover2This was written by a South African fur and happily fills the gap of South African fantasy and science fiction. Usually, when I hear of South African books, they are dry, dealing with real political and social events rather than fantasy. ReWritten is a post-apocalyptic, sci-fi story with furry characters and a cool backstory.

I found the book started off very slowly and led to me taking a break after the first part. It was nice seeing a South African-flavoured story but there was initially little to really draw my attention as well as some bad editing, which frustrated me. From the second part though, the story picked up; both the pace and excitement increased and stayed high untill the end. The story of how the mammalæ came to be was very well presented.

The ending was a little clichéd and unsatisfactory, mostly serving to set up a sequal. The follow up story, Project Greenfields, was originally intended to be a graphic novel but, due to various difficulties, was changed to a normal novel which is still not finished. Overall, despite its flaws, I found reWritten refereshing and really engaging once it gets going.

Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary (2001) by Linus Torvalds & David Diamond

Cover1This is an autobiography of Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux. For various reasons (mostly the extended support of Windows 7 ending in 2020 and my dislike of Windows 10) I switched over to using Antergos Linux as my main operating system (OS). It’s not the first time I’m using Linux as a main OS but I thought it might be interesting to read more about its creator and some of the thoughts that went into it.

We learn a little about Linus and his life in this book, as well as some of the thinking behind Linux but I didn’t find there to be too much that was really interesting. I would’ve liked to have seen a bit more about the OS and why certain decisions were made and more expansion of the philosophies behind it. I guess part of why that is is that Linus says he made practical rather than principled decisions nearly all of the time. Another issue is that the book is now 17 years old. When he talks about Linux or Apple or Microsoft or anything technical, it’s so completely out-of-date that I’m not sure there’s much relevance these days.

The book has its interesting parts and it’s a look into a mind that has helped shape a lot of our current computing environment but it’s not really a great book. I guess it’s more for if you’re really interested in either Linus Torvalds or the early history of Linux. For others, I doubt it really offers enough to make it worth it.

The 2018 VBC PhD Symposium

One little side project I’ve been involved in since last year has been organising the Vienna BioCenter (VBC) PhD Symposium. I’ve attended and helped as a volunteer every year since 2015, though I only wrote about the 2016 symposium on my blog. For those who are not familiar with it, the symposium is held at the Vienna BioCenter in Austria and organised by a group of PhD candidates. We select a theme, invite speakers from across the world, co-ordinate and organise everything. This year’s theme is Metamorphosis – Transforming Science.

The symposium is going to focus on science and change; that includes topics like cutting edge technologies which will change the way science is done, environmental science which can change (and help save) the world we live in and the changing ways that we can communicate in science. So why am I writing about it now? I want anyone who is interested, to hear about it, sign up and attend. Continue reading

Murder and sex: books exploring the darker side of the world

Two new editions to my 2018 book list.

A Wasteful Death (2016) by Sylvain St-Pierre

COVERThis is the first ebook I’ve read. I don’t really care for the concept of ebooks and much prefer physical books. There are all sorts of reasons for that but I won’t go into it now. This is a short anthropomorphic novella which is centred around a murder mystery.

A female cheetah has been murdered and it’s up to a wolf and lion to find out who killed her. It’s not quite your standard murder mystery as predation of anyone is legal in this world but every citizen has a price according to how valuable they are to society. After killing them, a tax equal to that value must be paid. That was probably not so creepy when the story was originally conceived but now with China’s citizenship score tracking and quantifying everything… this story is even more dystopian.

Beyond the murder mystery there is also romance between Marlot and Trembor, the two main characters. This is particularly driven by Marlot’s past experiences making him extremely reluctant to reveal his homosexuality to the world. It should also be noted that that world is really well constructed and makes full use of the anthropomorphic nature of the characters throughout. Overall, it’s a really good read.

Straight Men (2018) by Jonathan W. Thurston

COVER2This is a rough book that can be really tough reading. The prologue even starts with an intense, graphic murder. Then there’s the story itself. The protagonist, Sean Wolfe is a gay college student who is submissive and enjoys hooking up with strangers for sex. When he goes to a certain man’s house, he is drugged and brought into a life of slavery.

The book deals with what he goes through and how he copes with an intensely dark time. It’s not easy reading. Everything is presented in a very raw, graphic and visceral way. There are several murders and, between those, the story is interspersed with abuse, drug addiction, gang rape and human trafficking.

In the end it is well-written and compelling. I wanted to see what would happen to Sean. How would he survive? Would he escape? I wanted him to be okay but the more I learned about the psychopath who had taken him captive, the more I feared what would happen next.

I finally finished reading The Fact of Evolution

A long time and still no proper blog post, just a brief summary of a book for my 2018 reading list.

coverThe Fact of Evolution (2011) by Cameron M. Smith

I finally finished this one! I started reading this about four or five years ago and finished four chapters. Then I went to Austria to do my PhD and left it behind in South Africa. After one of my trips home, I brought it to Vienna with me and read a little more before taking a break to read The Adventures of Peter Gray and De Vita Beata. I can now finally say I have finished reading it!

On the negative side, due to the multiple year time lapse and many gaps, I can’t clearly recall all of the book. All I can say is comes from the ending chapters. That is that the book was quite clear and well-written with several illustrations or tables to help explain things. Each chapter covers a particular aspect of evolutionary theory and it should make a good introduction to those who know little about evolution.

Another one-and-a-half books to the list

To the list of books I’ve read in 2018.

proxy.duckduckgo.comThe Adventures of Peter Gray (2018) by Nathan Hopp

This book tells us about a year in the life of Peter Gray, an anthropomorphic, orphaned wolf cub living in New York City in 1899. It’s an alternate history, obviously, where furry characters and humans co-exist with many events and people from 1899 being included. I didn’t find that to work so well though and think it would’ve been better off using a fictional world based on 1899 New York.

Almost each chapter forms its own complete story, although they do fit together to create an overall story arc and eventually a large change in Peter Gray’s life. The stories are all rather charming, mixing childhood innocence and freedom with the Oliver Twist like issue of living on the streets. There are also many other themes that are dealt with quite well and make it worthwhile reading.

Given the way each chapter forms its own story and the anthropomorphic aesthetic that would accompany it, I can’t help thinking it would make a really nice children’s TV show. I mean, it’d be a fairly gloomy one perhaps in some areas but just look at some of the old children’s movies. Watership Down, The Secret of NIMH, An American Tale, All Dogs go to Heaven. (Yes, I realise three of those are by Don Bluth.) It would fit right in. Continue reading