lewism

The Gift of Confidence

In a short but lovely interview with the Author David Nicholls (of One Day fame) he said something that struck me.

โ€œThereโ€™s a line in One Day where Dexter says that he wishes he could give Em the gift of confidence, which is something a friend of mine said to me then.โ€ via

I wish I had that gift, I often see that you either have it or not.

I think my kids are a little better than me, but if this would be a gift I could give them then I would.

A Place To Read by Michael Cohen ๐Ÿ“š

cover of the book A Place To Read

Michael Cohen has collected a book of his essays together which are about reading and a life taken up by reading.

Among the things he covers, places and their links to time, the home, places to read, names, clothing, travelling, playing golf, notebooks and journalling. Every one of these topics is tied to Cohens own life expanded upon and brought to life while also peppered with small insights that add up as you keep reading.

Sometimes the clarity and beauty of the connections he makes just stopped me in my tracks. It was a book I would pause with just to take in the last thought I’d read and which often sparked my own connections.

The books range is also appealing somehow far reaching but always circling back to something close and personal yet which many of us share.

The essays themselves are beautifully crafted often coming back to their beginnings closing their own opening in some beautiful way or linking somehow with another essay in the book. So to paraphrase something within its own pages it’s a book I will love forever. โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…๐Ÿ“š

Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio ๐Ÿ“š

front cover of the book Empire of Silence

I was excited to start this series having heard good things about it. Characterisation and dialogue are strong although sometimes too pondering. World-building uses a medieval framework on top of a star wars type science-fiction future where earth has been lost and it’s worship turned into the state religion, so far so good.

I found the descriptions and dialogue long winded and pondering. What starts out as involving detail soon became an added weight to the act of reading. The plot slows down here and the impression towards the end of the book was of a few tropes tied together by badly paced writing balanced by an involved and engaging world and plot. This means I can’t fully recommend I think some will love this and some will tire of it.

I am currently reading book 2 Howling Dark as my patience has not yet run out. โ˜…โ˜…โ˜… ๐Ÿ“š

Obsidian But For Images

I have been looking for an app that is a kind of obsidian for images. Something that I can browse and organise photos with and where tags and comments are written to the file so that if and when the software is no longer supported the files are there with my information carried along. Files over apps just like in Obsidian.

I have been checking out OneFolder but it has not been fully plain sailing. I would love something a little closer to eagle but that encases all your files in a database. I don’t really want to go to adobe bridge with its adobe account cruft. ๐Ÿ’ป

This Is How You Lose the Time War -by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone ๐Ÿ“š

Book Cover of This Is How You Lose the Time War

A beautifully written book which starts off slowly if captivatingly but I found myself getting more and more immered in it as it went along. A book with two authors writing the letters of each protagonist back and forth. Surprisingly poetic, philosophical, the prose has a shimmering beauty that will stay with me long after the plot fades.

The idea of dna running through the book matches with the time travel theme as do the double female characters' love story which pushes the book past a exclusively genre centric reading. A modern classic. โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜… ๐Ÿ“š.

Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany๐Ÿ“š

Front cover of the book Babel-17

A philospohical sci-fi book which in some ways is genre bending. How is reality and the language related, how do different languages effect how we see reality or how it can be manipulated even?

Babel-17 is a deep dive into these ideas. The complexity or ambition of writing style sometimes clashes, with the need to get over fascinating ideas clearly. The world building also sometime feels incongruous when taken as a whole but it makes you think, even dream about bounds of our experiences.

This is every bit a different type of sci-fi compared to something by Martha Wells for example. It requires attention and thought, but it has a strong driving narrative arc as well it’s a great read, and the fruits are worth the exertion. โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜… ๐Ÿ“š.

System Collapse by Martha Wells ๐Ÿ“š

bookcover System Collapse by Martha Wells

This is the seventh installment of the murderbot series by Martha Wells and a follow up to Network Effect. At this point I am fully signed up to read any and every murderbot book immediately. This one was good but felt a little like an extended epilogue to Network Effect. So here I am greedily waiting for a new adventure and the next installment Grrrr! โ˜…โ˜…โ˜… ๐Ÿ“š.

The Alienist by Caleb Carr ๐Ÿ“š

Set in 19th Century New York. A Gothic whodunnit, and a kind of tribute to ripper and Sherlock Holmes mysteries. Maybe the characters are a little derivative and the plot is a little clunky in the final chapters, but New York of the 19th Century is brought alive brightly and beautifully in all it’s glory. The recreation of New York fully absorbed me and was the reads real highlight. A lovely book to get lost in. โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜… ๐Ÿ“š

First Encounters and Thoughts on AI

So I have been seeing the deluge of all things AI in the news and on my feeds etc for a little over a year. This week I was confronted with two AI examples in my own life for the first time.

In text someone whose second language is not even English and had used chatGPT to write a job application letter. He wanted me to look at it and make suggestions and only admitted to me after I had altered it that it was made with AI.

So firstly the english was impeccable, maybe only a few too many commas. But as a letter it was terrible and was so generic as to be immediately ignorable by any employer. I can however imagine with better prompts that a good letter could have been formed.

The second was in an architecture competition which I am doing with a friend. He put some prompts through midjourney concerning some basic ideas we had about the building.

The images were immediately amazing to me on first look. But on deeper inspection they fell apart and were not convincing, strange glitches and impossible artefacts in the building being only the most obvious failures.

I can see these as becoming tools and perhaps shockingly meaning some jobs in which expert knowledge is required will be quite quickly supplanted by AI.

It’s also quite clear from the results that AI doesn’t know what it’s doing (not true AI) but that AI makes accessible brute force knowledge like language knowledge and photorealistic imagery that otherwise for individuals requires thousands of hours to build up their abilities in.

Should I be afraid or reassured? The tools are exciting and potentially for all of us liberating but as usual I never stop being surprised by the depth to which humans can f–k it up.

Going Green

Last Summer we put some solar panels on our roof (4.1KW). The aim was to be able to go 5 months of the year without electricity or heating bills which we achieved. Happy to say we were part of a successful rollout of solar in Europe last year. If anyone is toying with the idea of putting some solar panels on their roof I can wholeheartedly recommend it. ๐ŸŒŽ

The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu ๐Ÿ“š

The second book in Earth’s Past Trilogy by Cixin Liu. The Dark Forest takes up the story where The Three Body Problem left off but aside from the world weary cop Shi Qiang with different main characters.
By now it’s clear that this trilogy deals with overriding ideas and concepts rather than characters and that is ok with me. The book is a little two speed, the first part of the book is a little slow and only gets going later. The overall concept at the heart of the book The Dark Forest truly is dark, but somehow Cixin after setting up this terrible possibility finds a silver lining. Chilling, beautiful and touching if you can make it through to the end. ๐Ÿ“šโ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…

The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu ๐Ÿ“š

The Three Body Problem is an unsloved physics problem and the key metaphor through which Cixin Liu’s The Three Body Problem is written.

Liu has written hard-fi and historical fiction, real science recast to tell the stories of two civilisations with immense imaginative leaps.

Dealing in high concepts, zooming between small and large scales and explains well it’s ideas although it helps to have some knowledge of these already. It really is imaginatively one of the most impressive books I have read for a long time. The narrative gathers pace as the book progresses and as beautifully terrifying ideas come to life. Highly recommended. ๐Ÿ“šโ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann ๐Ÿ“š

The Non-fiction book Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann starts with the story of Mollie Burkhart and the brutal murders of her family. Mollie was an Osage Indian and in a weird twist of fate the Osage who were removed from their land and placed on a reservation struck lucky when oil was found there. Luckily the Osage Indians with head rights to the oil suddenly became unbelievably wealthy, or maybe it wasn’t so lucky after all. In the mid 1920’s they were being murdered, shot, poisoned, blown up. Perhaps the richest group of people on the planet were also the most hunted. Mollies two sisters and her mother were murdered. A real life murder mystery and thriller rolled into one. What was going on and how was it nobody had been caught?

The story moves on to J.Edgar Hoover and the formation of the FBI. Hoover sent in a former Texas Ranger Tom White to lead an investigation into the murders. They found their man and the brief fame of the case contributed to the founding of the FBI. The case stands at the crossroads between the american frontier and modern america in many ways. After the case faded from the public imagination and because of the dwindling oil reserves this episode in history was largely forgotten.

The third part of the book is maybe the most hard hitting. From the wiki article I found this quote which sums it up nicely

There is a kick-in-the guts half-twist at the end of the book that gives the work its moral heft and reminds the American people of the great cost of their nationhood. Itโ€™s a twist that owes everything to Grannโ€™s diligence and intelligence as a journalist. It could not have been discovered without what he calls his โ€œresearch odysseyโ€. - David Aaronovich

Grann talks to the relatives in the case and assembles his evidence. The terrible facts of the murder case have perhaps obscured a deeper and uglier truth, that of the murder and subjugation of the whole Osage nation. Perhaps hundreds of other murders were never solved, or even investigated. Grann shines a light on the venal greed of the so called civilised, leaving a deep impression. A must read. ๐Ÿ“šโ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…

Also I know a Scorsese film is coming this year based on the book. I am greatly looking forward to it. In the mean time you can watch this interview of the author.

The Lost City of Z by David Grann ๐Ÿ“š

A lovely book, at once a biography, a detective story, a piece of travel writing, and maybe also an insight into how we search both for meaning and for things.

Percy Fawcet was an explorer, a real life Indiana Jones at beginning of the 20th Century as Britain’s empire was waning and the area of the world still unexplored was shrinking quickly. Fawcett went search of the last of the unknowns on the map in the Amazon.

In his last adventure he went back into the Amazon to find the Lost city of Z a place he was sure existed against the run of mainstream thought. He was never seen again. The book is a story of what happened before, during and after the expedition and contains a beautiful modern insight from current Archaeologists in the region. A gripping and highly recommended read. ๐Ÿ“šโ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…

Yearly Theme 2023 - Push

Push is my yearly theme for 2023. Push out a little past my comfort zone I have built up. Maybe expand out my horizons as from last year. But the main thing I want to do is work hard on improving my Finnish language. I want to be in a position by the end of the year to take my YKI intermediate language test. Lets see how I get on….๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ฎ ๐Ÿ“

2022 Yearly Theme Review

OK so I posted My Yearly Theme for 2022 and thought I would briefly reflect on how it’s going! The theme I chose was Consolidate and it broke down into a few key areas of my life;

  • more reading, writing and journaling

  • more quality time with my family

  • learn to type faster

  • work on my Finnish language ๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ฎ

  • less subscriptions

  • simplify & improve my workflows

  • keep saving (yes)

I will quickly look over how these subcategories are going one by one.

More Reading, Writing and Journaling

Broadly the reading part of this has been going really well. I have added an audible subscription this year so for the first time have been listening to books also. From the writing side of things I have been writing and thinking in Obsidian and following the Obsidian book club. Not much output which I would like to improve. The journalling has been going less well. A little reflection at the end of the day often escapes me but I have been writing about most of the key events which is good enough!

More Quality Time With Family

Broadly speaking also has been good. Holidays and weekends doing some nice things at home. A long summer holiday during which we spent some great time all together.

Learn to Type Faster

I have not really done anything with this. Now and again I do some practice typing but I not managed to make this a habit yet. It is better maybe thats enough for now.

Work on My Finnish Language

I started the year badly in this but took a new course with a new attitude in the Autumn. This is the biggest bugbear I have and its going to be the focus to a greater extent during the rest of the year. Jatka taistelua!

Less Subscriptions & Simplify and Improve Workflow

This is mixed. I have going from wordpress to micro.blog and blot and I am happy. I have saved some money in hosting and have greatly simplified my writing workflow. I have removed a few subscriptions but also added some so I can’t say overall that has gone well. Overall I have not sved money but I have simplified my online life.

Keep Saving

This has gone pretty OK, but this is always provisional.

Overall

The Theme Consolidate implies a simplification and a strengthening of the core I think and so if I look at the key theme holistically I am fairly happy with that. I have made some progress and simplified some things allowing me a bit more clarity in my writing and reading goals. These can now continue leaving me to concentrate on a few personal goals in need some attention. ๐Ÿ“

My Microblogvember

Thinking about how hard it might be to get a random word and make something of it I wanted a way to be able to constrain myself and also that would help inspire and challenge me. @challenges

So I chose the subject of Finland, where I live but am not a native. It really helped and hopefully made the sum of the words I posted about add up to something a little more than they would have been individually. So here they all are;

figure feast license admiration exempt echo insight consensus certain minister display suspicion adjust leave aluminium franchise barrel tire novel repeat ice grazed update retain ritual commitment motivation trend fish safety

Fingers Crossed a Review ๐Ÿ“š

Madchester, Shoegaze and Grunge were a few of the scenes that I was introduced to in my first couple of years at college when I first left home at the beginning of the nineties. Bands like Ride, Happy Mondays, Cocteau Twins, The Fall, Pavement, Nirvana and of course Lush. At that time of life it’s often through music that you identify yourself and so those bands will always have a special feeling for me, everyone has their own band hiastory maybe.

Now some thirty years later Miki Berenyi the lead singer from Lush has an autobiography out Fingers Crossed: How Music Saved Me from Success, and it really is an involving, agoninzing and engaging read.

The book is split into two parts, Miki’s childhood growing up in London and then her time wtih the band Lush. Certainly there is a hell of a story to tell. Her upbringing is really unusual and at many points quite harrowing. This is all told delicately and with great skill, the worst of it is not really highlighted but it’s all there, involving but not showy, better and more involving writing than most biographies.

The second part of the book covering the band years is also fascinating and a knowledge of the bands is not necessary, Miki’s story is enough. The bad behaviour, sexism and hedonism is a timeless trope but it’s written about calmy and Miki doesn’t spare herself.

For my part I think Lush were underrated at the time and their melodies and lyrics are better and more intereting than most of their contemporaries. After reading the book forinsance I went back to their back catalogue. The lyrics from Light From a Dead Star especially hit hard…. It was all there in the lyrics for anyone to see all this time.

Overall it is a fantastic book that I loved and that I would recommend to anyone regardless of their own band history! ๐Ÿ“šโ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…

Lyrics from Light From A Dead Star

He lives his life in a world
Full of women and he takes
What he wants from their love
And he throws the rest away
I cling to him and pray
But still, he slips away
And now it’s just too late
To wish him back again

She won’t put up with this life
So she leaves him and she finds
Someone else, falls in love
And she travels far away
I say that it’s okay
And swallow all my pain
And now it’s just too late
To wish her back again

They left me here on my own
In a nightmare and I just
Can’t forgive any more
So I smile and I turn away
Don’t listen when they say
They wish that I could stay
And now it’s just too late
To wish me back again -Miki Berenyi

My Summer 2022 Reading List ๐Ÿ“š

For the first time ever I made a summer reading list for myself in order to try and find some good books and read them in a slightly more methodical way than the almost random method I usually choose my next book from.

First I listed out all the books I had already but haven’t read adding a couple from there. Long ago I reconciled myself to the fact this list will probably only get longer over time.

Then for the first time I really tried to use goodreads and together with that go through my old lists. What books might make good listens, which I should actually read on kindle or in the flesh even. I added in a few books from booktube recommendations , and tried to mix it up with book genres I normally don’t read (see the romances bellow). I really enjoyed my reads overall and the act of making the list and thinking what to add to it was fun in itself. I think it also helped to make the reading journey a little more satisfying, It at least felt more deliberate.

Two particular favourites that made my summer were The Left Hand of Darkness and A Place to Read which was recommended by Jamie Todd Rubin so a big thanks to him for putting up a review of it.

I will be making an Autumn reading list, I think it could become a seasonal thing. A way of making selections of the books I read more thoughtful and more rewarding.

Over the three months of summer these are what I finished:

A Brief History of Equality - a Short Review ๐Ÿ“š

With A Brief History of Equality Thomas Piketty’s new book brings his views on economics to the public as clearly and concisely as he can. At only 277 pages versus his last book Capitol and Ideology which was 1100 pages he really has made every effort to make this as readable as possible.

It is meant to be read not just prop up a coffee table and throughout I found it easy to read and engaging. So if you thought about taking the plunge with Piketty before well this is probably the one too start with for most of us. Piketty begins with clear intentions.

This book offers a comparative history of inequalities among social classes in human societies. Or rather, it offers a history of equality, because, as we shall see, there has been a long-term movement over the course of history toward more social, economic, and political equality.

He follows through on this for the most part, with a clearly stated ambition and detailed research which he uses well enough to illustrate his points without letting the main text to get bogged down in the detail.

Along the way he deals with the key reason we are where we are today by looking back at the last 300 years of economic history.

We might classify these under a few different headings or keywords of which I have brought out a few which I think cover much of what he talks about;

  • Slavery and Colonisation.
  • Property Rights.
  • Education.
  • The Liberal economic model.
  • Redistribution.

So he clearly sets out the history of inequality, how and why it arose, and slow diminishing over the last 300 years. But now we are at a possible inflection point and inequality has lately been rising again.

He proposes a set of economic tools to get us back on track as it were. To address the problems that are glaringly obvious to all at the moment. It’s a welcome relief from the cheap nationalism in much Western dialogue about economics.

In this book, I have defended the possibility of a democratic and federal socialism, decentralized and participatory, ecological and multicultural, based on the extension of the welfare state and progressive taxation, power-sharing in business enterprises, postcolonial reparations, the battle against discrimination, educational equality, the carbon card, the gradual decommodification of the economy, guaranteed employment and an inheritance for all, the drastic reduction of monetary inequalities, and finally, an electoral and media system that cannot be controlled by money

I hope it is read and debated fairly. I recommend it to anyone looking to make sense of the economic forces which all buffer us but we often are unaware of and in that sense whether you ultimately agree with Piketty or not it is well worth a read.

๐Ÿ“šโ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens ๐Ÿ“š

Evocative writing, engaging story, well rounded setting, and not too forced twists meant for a lovely read. The book splits its time line in two and I think this is really well handled also, making for a more gripping plot as the feedback loop from one time periods informs the reader for the other.

I liked the two principle protagonists although perhaps Kya’s story felt a little unbelievable at times her inner voice to me was authentic.

A romance / murder mystery might be a weird split and maybe we didn’t even really need the murder? But I recommend this as a great summer holiday read. ๐Ÿ“šโ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…

The Library of The Dead by T.L.Huchu ๐Ÿ“š

Ropa is a ghostalker a young teenage dropout with a Zimbabwean background growing up in Edinburgh. She talks to the dead taking messages back and forth for them. Soon she is caught up in a strange case of child kidnapping.

T.L Huchu creates an Edinburgh perhaps in the near future definitely in a parallel world where magic exists and society as we know it has partially collapsed. A world which gives him a great chance of writing a gripping fantasy adventure series. The Edinburgh we know is partially regressed. The Nor Loch is back and the city is broken down, more mavelovent and more interesting as a result. Slums and high society mix and overlap as do this world and the next.

His imaginative descriptions of this new Edinburgh are wonderful, I particularly loved his description of Waverley stations roof under the water. Magic is also reimagined given a history linking it back to the enlightenment, to Scotland and Edinburghs history a lovely inventive twist which feels like it fits. So as someone born and bred in Edinburgh I really love the world Huchu has created.

Ropaโ€™s adventures definitely bring to mind Harry Potter but Ropa is a bit more hard boiled than at least the early Potter books. A book like this needs a plot that pulls you through with anticipation and I am happy to say it did this with a wider arc hinted at also by the end.

I loved this book and would recommend and especially to anyone familiar with Edinburgh they will see a new and original twist to the city and some great adventures. ๐Ÿ“šโ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…

Neuromancer by William Gibson๐Ÿ“š

cover

Super influential he coined the term cyberspace in the 1982 short story Burning Chrome and later in Neuromancer and made famous the term matrix. Hard to think of a more influential book on the look of the near future than Neuromancer. My dad gave me a copy of this book as a teenager and it helped shape my ideas of the future of what was cool, a countercultural space physically and metaphorically.

So it was a real pleasure to read it again and rediscover the thrillingly graphic descriptions which light this book up still today. The 2000 version as a nice introduction by Gibson apologising for the omission of mobile phones amongst other things, and the afterword by Jack Womack makes some really interesting points about the past and future, what they mean to science-fiction. ๐Ÿ“šโ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…

A Life Lived Remotely by Siobhan McKeown ๐Ÿ“š

Part memoir, part philosophical journey into work in the digital age. Like a hypertext the very idea of work has kind of exploded, smeared across reality divorced from our location and our private lives. A Life Lived Remotely was published before COVID gripped the world in which perhaps millions more people experienced some of the problems Mckeown looks at in this book. But rather than making the book obsolete it actually reinforces much of the insight. It might be useful as a practical guide to those a little lost between working from home and the office and it might be a good introduction to the opportunities and problems with work in the early 21st C. Itโ€™s entertaining and involving even though the memoir parts of the book often take a back seat to the historical and philosophical enquiry into work itself. ๐Ÿ“šโ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…

Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada ๐Ÿ“š

Alone in Berlin By Hans Fallada (Rudolph Ditzen) is a look at the lives of ordinary working class people in Berlin during WWII. It looks at the heroic resistance and amoral compliance of different people under the Nazi regime.

The original German title is Every Man Dies Alone. It’s based on the true story of Otto and Elise Hampel. Fallada was given the Gestapo files of the case by the poet Johannes Becher.

It’s a fantastic empathetic look at the psychology of people under a kleptocracy. If it really feels true in spirit it is probably because Fallada lived under the Nazi regime in fear for many years. He clearly understood the mindset of many of the characters he draws so convincingly in the book.

When I first started reading it I had trouble picking up the book as the Russians were invading Ukraine at the same time. The book all the time brought up my thoughts about that war. But soon enough I had been fully drawn into its story.

Wikipedia has a good background page on the book [Every Man Dies Alone].(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Every_Man_Dies_Alone) ๐Ÿ“šโ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…