TODO: ~ Difficult to judge a book that includes a brilliant novelette, a good introduction and afterword, and a series of mediocre to bad essays. But,TODO: ~ Difficult to judge a book that includes a brilliant novelette, a good introduction and afterword, and a series of mediocre to bad essays. But, as I do not judge a book by its covers, I decided to judge True Names by its core novelette, which is visionary and smart. Spare yourself of the rest, which includes an anarchist who trades in number of deaths change will take, a mysoginist who talks about something else, and a misplaced engineering chapter softened for the layperson to the point there's only bombast and claim left. +++ True Names has it all, presciently: the essence of privacy, virtual environments, hacking, distributed and cloud computing, digital economies, cryptocurrencies, etc. Read alongside Neuromancer and Snow Crash, to get to thw core of cyberpunk scifi or, as we call it today, today. ++ Mr. Slippery is a geat character: conscious of his own flaws, scared of what might be, pushed around by superior forces, fighting his internal demons and ethics. ++ I find it amazing to see how the writing of this essentially tech-driven book has not aged. Vernor Vinge does a masterful job of mixing euphemism with expected advances in computer science (in the 1980s), which sounds still quite advanced for today's (2010s) standards. Not new anymore, but advanced....more
TODO: +++ Every once in a while, I read a book that I find amazing. The Sculptor is one such book. +++ I loved the story, which starts as a take on dr.TODO: +++ Every once in a while, I read a book that I find amazing. The Sculptor is one such book. +++ I loved the story, which starts as a take on dr. Faust and ends a story of passion, love, and desperation in the modern world. ++ Excellent take on how the creative world has reached a point where imposture is more easily rewarded than genius, where comparison between excellent material is impossible yet required for deciding who gets needed funding. +++ The main characters are expressing a wide range of feelings. The sculptor is geeky and artistic. The wannabe actress is neurotic and warm. + I did cry at that point in the plot. +++ The graphics are refined and the style fits the story. The palette of techniques, especially of pagination and of depicting new artwork, is simply amazing. If Japanese high-quality manga is known for the detail with which it describes Japanese traditions and objects, than note this comicbook achieves similar depth....more
I have started with this installment, rather than the series' s chronological order, for several reasons. First, 1989 concludes the Showa period, when the old Japanese emperor dies, and starts the Heisei period, of a new Japanese emperor. This allows the author to reflect back in the entire Showa period, and describe important lessons and raise important questions. Second, the period 1953-1989 covers the transition of Japan from a starving, destroyed country, to an evonomic superpower. Third, I am much more familiar with the why 1980s,so I can judge much better the views expressed by the author about the international political events of the period. Fourth, I am not sure how much of World War II is still seen in the Japan of today.
The story is chunked into small periods of time, marked by important political, economic, and cultural events. The life of Shigeru Mizuki takes the backstage, and is perhaps more an illustration of how the common Japanese people might have lived their personal dramas and successes than a real memoir.
The manga is extraordinary, the mature skill of the drawings mixing very well with the text (excellent translation by Zack Davisson). The drawings include elements of great difficulty, such as the fisheye views of streets in Tokyo and action shots involving Japanese celebrities, but are never overwhelming. The book also includes a number of colored pages printed on matte paper, at the end. They are very, very good.
The text is wise and deep, despite the heavy topics, the superstitious turns, and the frequent slices of garbage news. If anything, the effect is cathartic: the reader feels a warm camaraderie with Shugi-kun and a sense of belonging in the great events of history. The text is often comical, but moments of inspired analysis abound. Shigeru on reaching the second half of his life, on the sense of work burden, on the meaning of happiness are interesting moments.
The end, which includes an analysis of Showa, is a bit preachy, but never self righteous. Shigeru pardons the emperor and then analyzes. Reading his manga, I felt the same as when I reflect back on the Communist regime in Romania: not with hatred, but with sadness for so many people's lives being ruined, with a little sorrow for my own losses, and with a strong desire to not let such a horror happen ever again.
Ok, I've said enough. It's your turn to read this manga....more
TODO: +++ any play on the elements of a distributed organism has got to have my attention. After all, I do distributed computing research for a living.TODO: +++ any play on the elements of a distributed organism has got to have my attention. After all, I do distributed computing research for a living. +++ robust, creative sci-fi story by one of the masters of the genre +++ several amazing images and ideas +++ plot twists abound, but because they follow 3-4-5 storylines in parallel, they seem less expected and thus less expected. (Think of it this way: Imagine following a TV series like Prison Break or some other serialized action-thriller. The first plot twists seem real, and your heart goes racing. After a while, you figure out there is a pattern in who survives and who doesn't. Even in masterpieces such as the Game of Thrones, the pace of the series cannot keep increasing. A plateau of expectation is reached--for some, after a few episodes, for others, after many seasons of the series. From that moment on, the series fails to produce the same heart race, and the results of every twist seem increasingly scripted (which, of course, they are). The series fails to thrill anymore.) ++/- Interesting to see how an alien race can be represented so that its actions and thoughts are believable yet still seem alien. The approach taken here by [atuhor:Vernor Vinge] is to equip the various races with interesting characteristics, of which the distributed systems dog-pack-like race gets the crown. -- In the middle, when so much goes wrong yet the lead protagonists still survive, this begins to feel like a soap opera. The low point is achieved, for me, in the action story when the skroderiders first betray their relationship with the perverted Power (I hope this is not much of a spoiler, as I saw it coming from the early foreshadows). Luckily, Vinge re-balances the story quickly, and the ending is excellent. ...more
Every once in a while, a classic book lives up to its expectation, and more. For me, The Incal is such a book. Born from the creative tension betweenEvery once in a while, a classic book lives up to its expectation, and more. For me, The Incal is such a book. Born from the creative tension between the godly optimism of Alejandro Jodorowski and the teluric (or simply French) skepticism of Moebius (Jean Giraud), The Incal is a brilliant epic of universal (actually, multi-universe) proportions. Just go today and pick this up!
The story is more of a space opera and at yimes gratuitously grandiose (the Jodoverse), but the situation humor and skeptical nature of the lead character (likely from Moebius) more than compensate. One could draw many parallels with known stories. The Incal follows roughly the structure of Dune, which Jodorowski knew intimately and actually tried to convert into a full motion picture. However, in The Incal everything is both more mystic (Jodoverse) and prozaic (Moebius): the spice transcendence of Dune is replaced by the rapture caused by the Incal; the action is thick; the story spans the entire universe and follows multiple civilizations trying to capture the universal essence; the lead character travels and in a sense conquers the universe, but is often caught in whoring and generally skeptical of everything. Likely through Jodorowski's untamed script, there are also similarities with Greek and Vedic mythos, and more recently with Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys and other American Gods books, in the way gods mingle with humans. However, altogether this is a unique, creative epic.
The characters are too many to mention, embodying many talents and faults. The lead char is the you and me detective, muddled in his own story, then suddenly put into the spotlight. He is often unable to cope, does not understand much, and lacks good manners, but is always saved by coincidence, allies, and the rare successful plan. The other characters are fleshed out gradually, and in general only the "bosses" are memorable.
The graphics are truly amazing - I found this book after discovering Moebius's amazing graphics. Moebius manages to create a delicate artform, with impressive landscapes, fantastic indoor settings, and also several clearly unique civilizations (body and fashion). His arabesques on the sides of all objects are unique and fitting. I am truly in love!...more
A Framework for the Study of Grid Inter-Operation Mechanisms
The study of the history of computing infrastructures reveal(I rate highly my own work...)
A Framework for the Study of Grid Inter-Operation Mechanisms
The study of the history of computing infrastructures reveals an integration trend. For example, the explosive growth of the Internet in the 1990s was the result of an integration process started in the 1960s with the emerging networks of computers. By using the Internet, millions of users were capable of accessing information anytime and anywhere, much like other daily utilities such as water, electricity, and telephone. However, an important category of users remained under-served: the users with large computational and storage requirements, e.g., the scientists, the companies that focus on data analysis, and the governmental departments that manage the interaction between the state and the population (such as census, tax, and public health). Thus, in the mid-1990s, the vision of the Grid as a universal computing utility was formulated. The main benefits promised by the Grid are similar to those of other integration efforts: extended and optimized service of the integrated network, and significant reductions of maintenance and operation costs through sharing and better scheduling.
While the universal Grid has yet to be developed, large-scale distributed computing infrastructures that provide their users with seamless and secure access to computing resources, individually called Grid parts or simply grids, have been built throughout the world -- in different countries, for different sciences, and both for production work and for computer-science research. At the same time, the main technological alternatives to grids, that is, supercomputers and large clusters, have evolved into much larger, scalable, and reliable systems. Thus, the integration of existing grids into larger infrastructures and finally into The Grid is key in keeping the grid vision attractive for its potential users.
The integration of grids raises a double challenge, one related with the efficient scaling of a distributed computing system, the second associated with the operation of a system across different ownership and administrative domains. Thus, many of the traditional approaches for inter-operating computer systems, such as those based on completely centralized or purely decentralized system ar- chitectures, are eliminated from the start. To mark the distinction between the typical problem of integrating smaller components into a larger system and the double challenge of grid integration, we call the latter the problem of grid inter-operation. In this thesis we approach the problem of grid inter-operation with two main objectives: to design a comprehensive framework for the study of grid inter-operation mechanisms, and to provide an initial but good solution for this problem.
Our framework provides both the theoretical support and the tools for finding new and improved solutions for this problem. The tools are assembled into a research toolbox for the study of grid inter-operation mechanisms. This research toolbox addresses two problems that have hampered the grid community in the past decade: the lack of knowledge about the workloads and resources of real grids, and the lack of tools for grid simulation and performance evaluation in real environments. Research using unrealistic characteristics or characteristics that are specific to other types of environments is being limited in scope and applicability, and may even miss the problems that are specific to grids. Thus, real data and realistic models of grid workloads and resources are critical for designing efficient and scalable architectures. Using for simulation and for performance evaluation in real environments tools that have not been adapted to the requirements of grids leads to slower progress and to results that are difficult to compare. Thus, tools adapted to grids and aimed at producing results that can be shared with other researchers are needed.
The contents of this thesis is split into four logical parts: the introduction, a toolbox for grid inter-operation research, a method for grid inter-operation, and the conclusion.
We begin the thesis with an introduction to the problem of grid inter-operation that focuses on the challenges of grid inter-operation addressed by this thesis. In Chapter 1 we also present an overview of the framework for the study of grid inter-operation mechanisms introduced in this thesis. In Chapter 2 we introduce a basic model for grid inter-operation. This model, required to understand the remainder of the thesis, defines the components of a grid system, the types of applications that can be found in a grid, the system users, and the grid job execution model.
The toolbox for grid inter-operation research is described in Chapters 3, 4, 5, and 6, which we describe in turn. In Chapter 3 we present the Grid Workloads Archive (GWA). We design the GWA with a focus on building a grid workload data repository, and on establishing a community center around the archived data. One of the important design achievements is the formulation of a grid workload format for storing job-level information that can be extended for higher-level information such as co-allocated jobs or resource reservations. We develop a comprehensive set of tools for collecting, processing, and using grid workloads. To make the GWA accessible by non-expert users, we devise a mechanism for automated trace ranking and selection. So far, the GWA contains traces from nine well-known grid environments, with a total content of more than 2,000 users submitting more than 7 million jobs over a period of over 13 operational years, and with working environments spanning over 130 sites comprising 10,000 resources.
In Chapter 4 we describe the extension of the basic model for grid environments into a comprehensive model for (multi-)grids. By analyzing real data such as long-term system traces of real grids, we find that grid resources exhibit a highly dynamic availability both over the course of single days and over whole years. We also find that grid workloads are very different from the workloads of other related systems such as parallel production environments and distributed web servers. Based on the results of this analysis, we design and validate a comprehensive model for grid resource dynamics and evolution, and for grid workloads that include parallel jobs and/or bags-of-tasks.
In Chapter 5 we introduce the GrenchMark testing framework. The main focus of this framework is on testing large-scale distributed computing systems with synthetically generated yet realistic workloads. We test and validate our reference implementation of the GrenchMark framework, and show that GrenchMark has been successful in testing real multi-cluster grids and pools of resources. The experimental results show that a grid testing tool focusing on realistic workloads can indeed be used to assess important characteristics of real systems that are otherwise not available, such as scalability limits, overheads, and reliability.
To conclude the presentation of our grid research toolbox, in Chapter 6 we introduce the DGSim grid simulation framework. The main focus of this framework is on facilitating repeated simulations of multi-cluster and multi-grid environments under realistic workload. We test and validate our reference implementation of the DGSim framework, and show that DGSim has been successful as the simulation tool for several design space exploration studies of grid settings that are larger than the previous state-of-the-art.
The method for grid inter-operation and a solution for the grid inter-operation problem are described in Chapters 7 and 8, which we describe in turn. In Chapter 7 we study the existing alternatives for grid inter-operation, and introduce a novel architecture for grid inter-operation. We classify real grid systems according to their architectural and operational components. The practical limitations of the centralized grid inter-operation approaches are evaluated in a real environment. These two preliminary steps allow us to assess the grid inter-operation ability of existing grid resource management systems; we find that this ability is limited. Thus, we introduce a novel architecture for grid inter-operation with a better potential of fulfilling the requirements of grid inter-operation. The architecture is a hybrid between hierarchical and purely decentralized architectures. The set of architectures investigated here provides a comprehensive architectural space for the problem of grid inter-operation.
In Chapter 8 we introduce a novel approach for grid inter-operation, Delegated MatchMaking. Our approach, which couples the hybrid architecture introduced in the previous chapter with a novel inter-operation mechanism, is compared with five alternatives through trace-based simulations, and is found to deliver the best performance especially when the system is heavily loaded. While many other mechanisms can be designed in the future, our experiments prove that the Delegated MatchMaking approach already is a good solution for the problem of grid inter-operation. Our experiments also demonstrate that the inter-operation of existing grids can lead to significant performance gains in comparison with leaving them operate independently.
At the end of this thesis, Chapter 9 summarizes our main achievements and presents future direc- tions for this work. The direct use of the framework for the study of grid inter-operation mechanisms holds good promise for future research. In particular, "How many clusters are best?" and other related questions about the system structure can find answers under this framework, leading to important contributions to automating system provisioning and administration. With extensions, our framework can be used to investigate important classes of resource management problems, such as mechanisms and incentives for more system decentralization, scheduling for specific classes of applications or scheduling under less strict information availability assumptions, and guarantees for Quality-of-Service for commercial workloads. We have already taken initial steps in several of these directions....more
Overall, I really liked this book. I learned much and discovered even more. Multumesc mult, Laszlo!
1. In the end, and in bits throughout the book, the reader discovers that Google uses not so much a ground-breaking process, but rather a data-driven iteration of well-known HR (and to some extent also managerial) processes.
2. Very good analysis of many HR processes, including detailed and important references. I particularly liked the identification of references from a few decades ago, such as Andrew S. Grove's High Output Management (Intel processes, mid-1990s). I enjoyed the summary dismissal of tradition: "Command-oriented, low-freedom management is common because it’s profitable, it requires less effort, and most managers are terrified of the alternative." Also, good reference to Dave Eggers' The Circle (2013), a dystopian novel that seems to describe Googlife.
3. The analysis of the "two tails", the best and the worst performers, is nicely done. In traditional management, with narrow remuneration bands, best-performers should always quit after a great delivery, to seek to maximize their value through competitive market forces. Good observation that "most talented people on the planet are increasingly physically mobile, increasingly connected through technology, and—importantly—increasingly discoverable by employers.". At Google, they are rewarded much closer to their contribution. In traditional management, worst-performers are fired, and failures are never acceptable. At Google, risk is encouraged and failure from which much is learned is rewarded.
4. The simple but powerful idea of using checklists, including the 10-point checklist that summarizes the book.
5. Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) must be specific, measurable, verifiable (so, achievable, relevant, and timed). SMART criteria exist already for many decades (Laszlo cites I believe George Doran's 1980s paper on "the S.M.A.R.T. way"), but here OKRs are revised each quarter and employees are supposed to set goals that far exceed their performance (and results of "achieved 70%" are considered very good).
Other positive aspects:
6. The inspiring text about "trusting first", which works in an environment of positive and ethical people.
7. The notion that "public recognition is one of the most effective and most underutilized management tools". Very good point, albeit gamification could have been mentioned more here. The cafeteria setup and the difference between a job, a career, and calling also points to gamification, with its many tracks of advancement and support for Achievers/Explorers/Socializers/Winners.
8. The simple but powerful idea that full transparency is necessary in modern institutions. (This goes in contrast to the politicking seen in so many traditional companies.)
9. The focus on 'spreading the wealth', here, to make the best share their knowledge to others, and to analyze the best vs the worst to identify true best-practices.
10. Description of new interview practices at Google. All more standardized, enabling cross-comparisons. Focus also on candidate experience with the process. Loved the data.
11. Success at job depends on personal 'scope, impact, and leadership'. Title follows leadership, and, even then, no more pompous titles. Also helps with retention: bad for people trying to move to another company, because it is more difficult to explain what your work was about.
12. Googlegeist as tool to collect feedback about each person, also from peers.
13. Performance assessment focusing on personal development, instead of ratings and rewards. At least the two processes should be separated. (This is an old HR approach, with obvious pros and cons.)
14. Lesson learned: "Expanding the proportion of people receiving the top rating better reflected their actual performance".
15. The calibration processes used at Google, especially the peer-review of decisions by collectives of managers, match those used in so many other companies...
16. The discussion about primary and secondary education vs training is very interesting. In short: annually, companies spend on training about a quarter of what is spent on primary and secondary education, but get less than a tenth of the results of education. In the US, $156 billions spent in 2011 for training that resulted in disappointingly little.
17. Discussion about training practices that work, mention to Ericsson's "deliberate practice: intentional repetitions of similar, small tasks with immediate feedback, correction, and experimentation. Simple practice, without feedback and experimentation, is insufficient."
18. Interesting observations about what many of us do. Among others: how we ascribe aesthetic and personal value based on how much we paid.
19. Excellent tips for onboarding starters. This follows up on the long-running thread on the importance of having high retention of employees (is it useful? or just a way to justify HR's practices? the author does not address these questions)
20. Laszlo's hierarchy of needs for HR departments.
(Personally, I also liked that the author presents a chain of though that matches my own "Modern West vs Old Russian education system" analogy: "You either believe people are fundamentally good or you don’t. [...] If people are good, they should be free. [...vs...] Taylor, who told Congress in 1912 that management needs to tightly control workers, who were too feeble-minded to think for themselves". Very funny!)
1. Running against own claims (see main positive 1), the author tries occasionally to emphasize how new a part of the process is. (The title is an example in this sense.) We see claims of novelty regarding processes and mechanisms that have been identified and studied before, sometimes even decades before Google started using them. This claim for novelty could be correct, as much larger scale and a very different environment can change things, but not if the findings are the same and the process seems to have been trivially adapted. There is one more inconsistency here, in that for some of the processes (such as awards), even Google only has a few samples (real people put under the microscope) to base its decisions upon.
2. The defense of failed Google products. Wave, "an entirely new way of interacting online"?! Please, more geek speak and less corporate talk.
3. The unnecessarily manipulative text. The ode to HR departments. The constant jibes at Yahoo and other competitors of Google; Marissa Meyer is in particular a target. The thinly veiled attempt to discredit competition. For example, near the end, the author identifies several major companies that now use People Operations instead of Human Resources; he immediately claims having spoken to one of the top people running this at a nong-Google organization, who purportedly claims that it's just a word trick, not the real thing ("it’s just regular HR. We just like calling it that [n.b.: People Operations]."). As another example, Bill Gates is quoted out of context with a complaint that his foundation's actions do not get the same recognition as Google's (smaller) deeds; this makes Bill Gates sound petty, whereas his claim is correct: eradicating malaria in Africa vs a mug-shot.
4. (a critique on Google, rather than this book:) Nudges. Nudges are ways to influence behavior, stopping only short of enforcing it; for example, building a corridor with only one exit would enforce using it, but building one with two doors, of which one is highlighted, would nudge people to use the highlighted door instead of forcing them to do so. The argument for using "nudges" at Google looks very similar to what Big Brother would argue in 1984 (all is fair for the greater good). The extent to which Google seems to already apply nudges is already scary (hint: everything is measured, many things are engineered to manipulate people). "Would the results hold for thousands of Googlers?" seems a question commonly asked; "Would it be ethical to try?" not so much. (Recently, Facebook has been involved in a scandal) As a consequence, I am reconsidering my career options.
5. Many of the stories are personal, often funny, but do not advance the cause of this book. They do match the author's useful story 'Frank Flynn, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, once told me the secret to high student evaluations: “Tell lots of jokes and lots of stories. Grad students love stories.” He went on to explain that it’s a constant trade-off between being engaging and imparting knowledge.'
What a beautiful book! Constellation Games is a sci-fi that's a love story, a coming-of-age novel that's a comedy, a computer games fest that's seriouWhat a beautiful book! Constellation Games is a sci-fi that's a love story, a coming-of-age novel that's a comedy, a computer games fest that's serious. Get it, read it, savor it!
The background story seems at first our typical aliens-contact-Earth, but quickly dissolves in a discussion about bigot and liberal, Aliens and Earthlings playing in both camps. The storyline gets messy very quickly, but there is an optimistic line that makes it beautiful.
The epistolary style (should I call it blogary style?) is distracting at first, but then becomes increasingly more suitable to represent the life of the main characters, who are as disconnected online as they are in their real lives, and characterise quite well the documented lifestyle of the born-digital generation.
I also liked very much the part about computer games, with the book's detailed discussion about game design, with the barbs aimed at today's industry many problems (Poneis brilhantes FTW!), with the accurate desc of how it is to go indie. Perhaps I liked this part too much, to the point where I stopped often to think about game designs derived from this book's. Funny, I spent less time thinking about the moral implications of aliens stealing the Polar ice-caps (yes, it happens in this book).
The characters are well cast, and the macho gamedev culture and the rebel indie artist are captured spot-on. The Feds are more stick figures and could have been done better. The aliens are for me surprisingly well contoured, especially given the length of the material in which they feature; truly a good sci-fi writ.
Enough said, go read this: fun and learning and even some depth. Not your typical sci-fi, not your typical gamedev book!...more
The City the City is a procedural policier in a dystopian setting -- two conflicting cities sharing the same geographical space, separated by culture,The City the City is a procedural policier in a dystopian setting -- two conflicting cities sharing the same geographical space, separated by culture, bureaucracy, and technology, with a touch of fantastic. Overall, China Mieville gives the reader an exploratory duopolis that turns at times into a trio- and even quadropolis, innovative devices related to the setting, excellent narrative technique, frequent plot twists, and the meta-level of the fantastic for re-reading pleasures to come. I am glad to have discovered this masterpiece!
The plot, in general Tyador Borlu is a city of Beszel's detective, assigned to a complicated murder case. Solving it will take Borlu into the opposite city of Ul Qoma, then across to the police of the duopolis, Breach, and to the borders of the obscure city of Orciny. Through many twists and turns, Inspector Borlu will poke the case and find the borders of the geopolitically accepted in an immensely complicated setup.
The setting, in general The start indicates a near-Balkanic duopolis, in which the cities Besz and Ul Qoma are not only arch-enemies and retrograde corners of the civilized world, but also sharing the same space in a tedious geopolitical agreement. Whoever lives in one city has to strictly limit vision, hearing, and analysis to the reality of that city, completely ignoring or, if that is not possible, unseeing, unhearing, and unlearning glimpses from the other city. A dangerous dance learned from early childhood, the repetition of which prevents seeing the other, or breaching. The consequences of a breach are dire, including possible death, and are enforced by the secret police of Breach, location unknown. A less nefarious 1984 that turns out to be acceptable for many of its citizens. Inventive! Also useful for the plot!! Delicious!!! (The fantastic undertones also reminded of Haruki Murakami. A fresh Murakami, so with a change of scenery from cats, Greece, young adults, and desperation.)
How is the writing? The writing excels in complex sentences and the rare (middle-)English word, but is very rewarding. The reduced language of the police, typical in procedural policiers (and Hollywood thrillers), is compensated by the rich texture of the other passages, from descriptions to the dialogue of the academics. The neologisms Mieville invents should form the topic of a detailed study, but to me reach an excellent level that reminds of Umberto Eco's tetrapiloctomy in Foucault's Pendulum. The writing is often humorous, especially in the first third of the book, perhaps compensating by design the (more technical) description of the legal and political aspects of the city and the city. How about the Schrödinger pedestrian, the traveler in the shared zone between the two cities, not seen by anyone for fear of seeing something of the other city, and thus breaching?
The imagery developed around the shared and non-shared topology is very creative and interesting:
pass through Copula Hall [n.b., the frontier-building] and she or he might leave Besźel, and at the end of the hall come back to exactly (corporeally) where they had just been, but in another country, a tourist, a marvelling visitor
--Mieville, China (2009-05-09). The City & The City (p. 86). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
How is the world constructed? China Mieville knows stuff and it shows. Mieville is topically, geographically, and politically inspired. The toponimics are carefully constructed, the Besz names with a strong Austro-Hungarian descent and the Ul Qoma names closer to Albanian. Just when the reader can agree with the Hungarian/Albanian world, a new, Greek/Slav/world-wide influence inserts itself naturally into the story. Jews and Turkic Muslims share a bazaar and especially the coffee tables. Americans and others are tourists and scholars. Kurds and others play the role of immigrants. It's the Blakans, recognizably so, but it's also a completely new world by a brilliant world constructor. Mieville then fills this lively world with jobs and objects he understands, from archaeology to academia, from police to technology, from architecture to bureaucracy. The potential of the world is exploited to the full extend allowed by the page limit, but remains barely put to work in this novel.
How are the characters? Borlu is a powerful character, well within its skin as a smart and educated Inspector, even when modern and middle-English, and unusual academic prowess allow him to push the story in ways that one would never suspect Dick Tracy of being able to. The other characters are more than stick figures, despite receiving much less attention. I really liked Borlu and, with the frequent and violent plot twists, felt strongly for his inability to get hold of the murder case in which he is involved (and his cursing). His sacrificial decision to breach makes Borlu a worthy hero.
Ok, ok, is there anything that's not perfect? The Hollywoodian pre-ending. Not wanting to spoil the fun of the real ending, I'll stop here, but let me assure the reader there's a real, likable ending in this book. There is also the issue of no power check for Breach, unless Orciny is real. Is it?
(I guess one could talk endlessly about the double, triple, multiple meaning.) ...more
Imperium is the rare book that can explain Communist regimes, in this case, the Communist regime in Russia. In what starts as a memoir, then turns intImperium is the rare book that can explain Communist regimes, in this case, the Communist regime in Russia. In what starts as a memoir, then turns into a multi-trip travelogue Ryszard Kapuściński captures the essence of the regime: the corruption, the decay, the bureaucracy, the totalitarian state, but also the beautifully diverse (and thoroughly enslaved and oppressed) people. This dystopian journalism, for modern Russia (1930s through 1990s) is a dystopian and failed state, is made palatable by Kapuściński's ability to tell stories, to blend humour and unexpected anecdote in the darkest of tales. How to move an oversized bust of Lenin into your room and why this is a sure way to prison? Etc.
Overall, a must-read for everyone wanting to understand Russia. Imperium is brilliant analysis coated in excellent writing, a masterclass in realpolitik in understandable terms.
TODO: about Stalin, Beria, Khrushchev,..., Gorbachev. About the population of Siberia. About the planned conflicts in Armenia, Azerbaijan, etc. About the starvation of millions in Ukraine. About the forced migration of millions. About the murder of intellectuals. About the depredation of Turkestan and its split into five countries. About Moscow, Novgorod, Petersburg. About Baltic states and Belorussia. About the tragedy of conflict set in advance by Russia, to enable it to intervene and occupy later.
The brilliant stories. The brilliant analysis. The brilliant feeling of "this journalist gets it."...more
TODO: +++ what a truly amazing book! +++ the comprehensive survey of over a hundred years of scientific progress is pure delight (250 pages of fast-pacTODO: +++ what a truly amazing book! +++ the comprehensive survey of over a hundred years of scientific progress is pure delight (250 pages of fast-paced discovery) ++ the coverage of a complex, time- and space-distributed, engineering project, which culminated in the routine production of nuclear weapons ++/- the characterization of so many important scientists, politicians, and army officers (perhaps less the Freudian analysis) ++ the excellent analysis of scientific, political, and military events, fortuitous and planned +++ how the atomic bomb was made in the US +++ how the Nazi failed ++ how the 'race' went on in other places ++ the analysis of the misunderstanding, by the US Army, of the science behind the bomb (and the implications of this) + the interplay between politicians and scientists + why Hiroshima, of all places? Why Nagasaki, for the second blast? +++/--- the description of the way the US took the decision to drop the bomb: so many dry, cynical arguments, culminating in the inhuman "we have to justify the immense cost" - (the book is indeed not perfect) I would have liked to know what happened afterwards with the main protagonists (at least the leading 10-15 scientists) -- the book drags on and on in its second half, when dry process meets cynical politics and army stupidity. --- the description of the horrors of the atomic bomb. I'm not sure all the raw and gory accounts were necessary for this book, when so many of the alternatives were relatively glanced over....more
TODO: +++ Every once in a while, I find a book that I regret not having read earlier. This one would have probably spared me of nearly 15 years of anguTODO: +++ Every once in a while, I find a book that I regret not having read earlier. This one would have probably spared me of nearly 15 years of anguish (ages 5 through 20,to be more specific). For an introvert, shy guy born and raised in Communist Romania, and going through the dramatic changes of the 1989 revolution and its shambolic aftermath, the simple notion that it's ok to be himself would have helped tremendously. +++ There is not much to say other than Susan Cain really gets it: in Quiet, she is able to explain who introverts are, how they came to be (nature, nurture, and post-nurture culture), how they function in the world and especially what their coping and hiding mechanisms are, how to help them be well, and why it matters to the society at large. Moreover, Susan gets me, and will likely get you too if you are an introvert. Perhaps even more importantly, I though I've already armchair-psychoanalyzed myself to bits, but I ended up learning much from this book and having even deeper to explore for the future. More reading, more thinking, more time in my own world! +++ I took extensive notes comparing my own coping strategies with those described in this book, and found many wheels I previously believed I have designed myself. No problem, introverts don't need the spotlight. ! I took 222 notes and then stopped counting. +/- Susan explains with plenty of example and generalization why introverts are needed even in our modern society, but tries too much to sell this, to the point where it seems the point she is trying to make is actually that introverts are the only good thing in the modern society. We're not, and we don't need to claim this. -- Perhaps the only part when I thought Susan does not get it is her take on the impact of culture on introversion. While she seems right that Asian cultures cultivate and stimulate introversion, and they are in start contrast to the US culture, her rosy picture about those countries is not matched by numerous accounts, from Imperium (the Asian parts) to Unsavory Elements, from A Geek in Japan to Shigeru Mizuki's work. There is also little understanding about what forced introversion can cause to even real introverts. For these parts, I would recommend instead reading Geert Hofstede. - I forgot. Especially in the first half of the book, I kept thinking "she's right with the cause, but for me the effect is totally different because I don't work this way". I was of course using coping mechanisms to avoid the negative consequences introversion leads to in the modern (Western) society. Consider this: without coping mechanisms, an introvert is quickly spotted and relegated to a non-quantity in most Western rooms. This is fine for the introvert, except when the room is professional and being in the corner means you're likely to be disqualified (fired?) soon; this is the world I grew up in. So instead of waiting in the corner, you could use a coping mechanism, uncomfortable but better than going through even more instability and deprecation. Moreover, a coping mechanism well used can set you well in a position of power, leading to stability and the possibility to reach the higher (idealistic) goals you care about. So should the introvert give in to introvert ways or coping mechanisms? Susan focuses in the first half on the former, and my experience has been the latter....more
Yes is More is the rare book that combines a manifesto on the new (?) course architecture should take, the presentation of a large number of projectsYes is More is the rare book that combines a manifesto on the new (?) course architecture should take, the presentation of a large number of projects designed by the BIG Danish architecture power-house, a large number of anecdotes and stories related to all these projects, all wrapped-up as a comic. Overall, the manifesto is weak and the presentation is often self-servient, but the architecture, the stories behind getting projects done, and the archicomic ideas are fantastic. A must-read!
About the text ... I do not have enough time to do this book justice. It is funny, it is well-drawn, it contains elements of political satire through technical eye, and it's modern 2000s architecture at its best. For an amateur in architecture, this is practically the manual on how housing projects get designed, pitched, accepted or rejected, politicized and patronized, done, and lived in.
About the architecture ... I fell in love with it when I visited Oerestad, near Copenhagen. I knew next to nothing about BIG at the start of the trip, but at the end I had taken hundreds of photos, read tens of Internet pages, and now I even have several albums about their work. This book does justice to the work I've seen in the fields of Oerestad---the in-depth descriptions indicate the amount and quality of engineering and design that went into architecting the VM Houses (oh, those pointy balconies, and the unity yet the diversity, etc.), the 8-House, the Mountain, etc. I don't even recall all the wonderful designs in this book. (It's safe to say I do not remember much else from the trip to Copenhagen, either.)
About the comics ... excellent idea: a visual art represented through another, plus the explanations that now fit organically in the panels (that's what we expect from a comic book). Almost nothign to improve here. Perhaps the text panels could have been better designed. Perhaps the use of boldface could have been toned down, but that's an old discussion in comics design (see Making Comics Storytelling Secrets of Comics Manga and Graphic Novels).
About the presentations (pitches) ... I experienced this part as perhaps the least polished and most offensive. Bjarke Ingels and BIG always present their work as the result of identifying an important yet insofar overlooked contradiction, to the extent at which I started wondering how many contradictions are these guys going to just make up and why should anyone care. (I guess it's a professional defect on each side.) Annoyingly, for the authors there seems to be no way their approach is not the best, as illustrated by the several cases when their competitors' work (which has won the contest) is bashed and trashed without right of defense or appeal. Hmhm. Let's just say that fans of fairness or balance could easily take offense.
About the manifesto ... it was weak. Derived from the weaknesses of their presentations, the BIG group introduce a manifesto that talks about some perceived contradiction, offer instead no clear alternative, but argue about it vociferously and energetically. Nice, but no cigar.
To conclude: a wonderful book about architecture, presented in an unusual (but suitable) format. This book may have flaws, but it so good in its core elements that for me the whole package is just excellent. Go read it! ...more
If I only remember Restauratia de catifea, 2013 will still be a great year for reading. For explaining so gently concepts such as the gray of democracIf I only remember Restauratia de catifea, 2013 will still be a great year for reading. For explaining so gently concepts such as the gray of democracy and the duality nationalism-minority for the individual, the role of the intellectual, and policies related to decommunization and to the Holocaust, Adam Michnik has become one of my favorite political writers. Overall, I cannot recommend this book highly enough!
Born into a family of Communist activists of Jewish origin and Stalinist belief--and thus marginalized in Poland after the death of Stalin and the denunciation of his policies---, Adam Michnik becomes a dissident while attending the philosophy track of the Warsaw University, from which he is expelled in 1968. Following the expulsion of Michnik and others, students organize street demonstrations, which are quickly and forcefully repressed; after an anti-Semitic campaign led by the Communist leaders, Michnik is arrested and imprisoned for 3 years. Upon release, he is not allowed to continue his studies and becomes a welder. In 1976 he spends one year in Paris, where he becomes well-known as a dissident of the regime. In 1977 he becomes one of the leaders of KOR (the Polish workers'opposition). He joins Solidarnosc in 1980 and is a leader of the movement in 1981, when the Communist regime enforces martial law. He refuses to leave Poland---as a Jewish dissident, he could have received political or religious asylum in a number of countries, including France and Israel---and is imprisoned for 3 years. In 1985, he is involved in a demonstration of workers in the port of Gdansk, for which he is again imprisoned for 3 years. In 1989, he is a member of the Round Table Talks, which mark a transition to democracy via joint Communist-Solidarnosc leadership (what many have seen as the betrayal of democratic principles by Walesa). After 1989, he became active in the peaceful decommunization of Poland and an active opponent of Walesa"(which he saw as a totalitarian leader, not much better than Gomulka and his Communist fellows); both have seen him ostracized by the public opinion.
The book includes eleven pieces, of various tone, topic, and topography. The topics include a brief memoir from the Solidarnosc years (the years when the trade union of Poland has pursued active resistance to the Communist regime, causing the very end of the latter); a portret of Lech Walesa (leader of Solidarnosc and the first President of Poland, a politician with a debatable democratic record); the position of democracy in the political spectrum ("the gray"); the process of decommunization (including interviews with the strong-hand Polish general Jaruzelski, and with the Czech President and leading dissident against Communism Vaclav Havel); the Polish-Jewish relationships (including an epistolary debate with Leon Wieseltier on the Jedwabne massacre); the role of the Polish intellectual (including an interview with Milosz); etc. Much of the material is translated from articles previously published by Michnik in the New York Times Book's Review and Gazeta Wyborcza (where Adam Michnik was editor-in-chief).
Although not every topic is well covered, the material is often superb. The ideas? We know many of them from reading Havel and from the general information about the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. In many intellectual discourses, it's the quality of the argument that distinguishes, and Michnik has a gentle touch that makes the tough content palatable. His reflections on democracy as seen through the eyes of former and current Communists are interesting and well formulated ("the gray is wonderful"). His opinion about decommunization, which he calls Havelist, is that former Communists should be reintegrated in the society; any form of collective trial would amount to a Nazi-like action. In "Polonia si Germania", he tries to show the suffering of the Polish people. In the various sections dedicated to the Polish-Jewish relationship, he tries to diminish the difficulties of being a Jew in Poland; he sees himself proudly Polish when trying to defend Poland and proudly Jewish when Jews are attacked by Polish politicians and street crowd. His reflections on the role of the modern intellectual are refreshing. etc.
There was much for me to learn from this book. I may not agree with all the ideas and opinions, but it surely was interesting!...more
Mastering Digital SLR Photography is a long course on using digital cameras. In an alert tone, David Busch makes us fall in love with digital photograMastering Digital SLR Photography is a long course on using digital cameras. In an alert tone, David Busch makes us fall in love with digital photography, and even manages to make incredibly detailed technical explanations seem lightweight, and to turn atmospheric stories deep and thoughtful. Overall, a great read and, for me personally, an inspiration to continue my amateur photographer fun.
Technically, the book covers digital Single-Lens Reflex cameras, which capture image on digital media and use a mirror to separate the incoming light so that one path goes to the photographer's eye via a prismatic pathway---this contrasts to analog (traditional) cameras, which capture image on film-like media, and to viewfinder cameras, which show the photographer separate light input than the one used for the actual photographs.
This review covers the third edition, published in 2012. For better placement, this edition discusses cameras up to the semi-professional D7000 Nikon (in 2013, Nikon has released the D7100) and the D300 (one of the latest pro cameras is the D800). Fans of Canon, Pentax, and other major brands will find enough references to their favorite cameras in this book ... there are even references to Hasselblads.
I fell for [author-David Busch]'s enthusiasm for digital cameras. A self-confessed convert from more than a decade-long affair with analog cameras, David switched in 2004 to digital and never looked back (except through a digital lens). The first chapter of the book, and later several other sections of the book, try to compare fairly digital camera and other types of cameras (analog and film, primarily). The advice on lenses (Chapter 5) and on the general issues related to digital photography (Chapter 4) are eye-opening; here, David uses small f stops and achieves great depth of field with remarkably low noise.
The technical part of the book also explaining the principles of exposure, focus, and light, in Chapters 2, 3, and 6, respectively. This part was tough for this amateur photographer, but very interesting and hopefully with tangible results in the future. This is the core of camera theory.
The part about new tools---live view and movies, GPS and WiFi, and tablet/smart-phone apps in Chapters 7, 8, and 9, respectively---is perhaps less inspired, perhaps because it repeats information from the first part and because it tries to do too much. Why is composition for movies discussed here? If anything, it could have been part of a new Chapter in Part III, types of photo-/film-shooting. Nevertheless, even this part is useful, albeit for later.
I loved the ability of a veteran of pro sports photographer, who also dabbled into concert, nature, portrait, and travel photography, to give useful insight into the techniques for taking various types of photography. Chapters 11 through 15 finished way too early for my liking, but still cover in over 200 pages the main aspects of photography that David actually has experience with. The unpretentious discussion---this is not the definitive guide on the matter, as it well shouldn't---helps greatly.
What else should I mention? Oh, I know! One of the goals of this book is to show how the camera, rather than the post-processing software, can be used to achieve greatness. It was refreshing to see a professional at work, one that can do quite a bit with software, but prefers to stretch the limit of the optical device first---see for example the discussion on High Dynamic Range imaging.
That's it, go and read it if you own a shred of a digital device, especially one with inter-changeable lenses....more
I don't really know where to start this review. Bruce Barnbaum's The Art of Photography is a book about art, design, self-expression, and creativity.I don't really know where to start this review. Bruce Barnbaum's The Art of Photography is a book about art, design, self-expression, and creativity. It's also about photography, from the technical aspects (both film and digital) to a discussion about photography myths. Overall, I learned much and found this book wonderful! Must-read if you are starting to dabble in creative processes and/or are interested in photography. (For the former aspect, I will recommend it to all Ph.D. students under my guidance.)
In eighteen chapters, the book covers much ground. It first discusses photography as communication (Chapter 1); followed by the elements of composition (increasingly technical, from the general discussion about composition in Chapter 2, to the presentation of light and color in Chapters 5 and 6, respectively). Then, the book explains the core of photographic technique, with filters and the zone system (exposure) explained carefully in Chapters 7 through 9; Chapter 9, on the extended zone system, explains how to work in a high dynamic range with visible results and dispels the myth of only 10 zones being available to the film photographer. Chapter 10 presents the printing process; it's rather technical. Chapter 11 introduces digital photography as a complement to its film counterpart. Chapter 12 closes the circle of technical aspects of photography---after visualization, exposure, development, and printing---, with presentation (dry mounting and correcting mistakes in the mounted picture). After a summary of the most common faults of thinking about photography (Chapter 13), Chapters 14 through 18 present a debate about artistic integrity, meaning and limitations of photography as an art, and creativity and personal philosophy.
I enjoyed very much the analysis of many things creative and technical regarding (film) photography. Having started from digital, I can finally understand some of the things that differentiate the two approaches, and also some of the unifying themes (like the zone system vs channel histograms).
The discussion about art was, for me, exquisite. The formulation of a vision for each photograph is a concept that is novel for me, but following various fields of artistic interest and merging visualization with perfect execution are ideas that resonate with me. The explanations and discussions about these matters were cogent and delightful, even when I did not agree with the tone or even the argument.
I was very impressed with the discussion about the professional limit imposed on creativity by obtuse editors, curators, and reviewers. Simply, these categories of professionals may severely limit the art (and published expression) of artists to "what sells" or to what each artist has come to be known for. To alleviate this problem, Bruce suggests a broadening of the portfolio, either from the start, or whenever allowed by the publisher's wishes; this approach could match the natural expressive and technical development of the artist.
I found the part on creativity refreshing, if a bit trivial. It's perseverance and a few related traits that, in the view of Bruce Barnbaum, enable creativity. No recipe (that's normal), but luck and hard work and knowing what one wants (this also contradicts with Chapter 17's take on intuition).
There is a wealth of relevant references, especially in what concerns great photographers---I picked the names of Ansel Adams, Diane Arbus, Eugene Atget, Bill Brandt, Alvarez Bravo, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Imogen Cunningham, Walker Evans, Ernst Haas, Yousuf Karsh, Andre Kertesz, Josef Koudelka, Mary Ellen Mark, Sebastiano Salgado, Joseph Sudek, Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Brett Weston, Edward Weston, and Minor White.
There are very few things I did not like in this book. Perhaps, at least in the beginning, the tone---Bruce talks disparagingly of beginners, people adhering to rules of composition, technically adept people, pretty much everyone who does not take what Bruce considers to be a pure approach; yet, in Chapter 17, Bruce becomes human and admits than lack of control over the visualization of the image can be useful. Another slightly negative aspect was the treatment of digital photography, rather limited and in general considered less good; again, the view expressed in this book varies, depending on the subject to photograph, so perhaps digital is not so bad. Last, but not least, the conviction of the author that great photography is always the result of respectful, caring, and in general feelings about the subject of the photograph was unsubstantiated; simplistically, I believe a good, artsy photography could be produced not only by luck by an amateur, especially with the great advances of technology. ...more
As an avid reader, I was entertained with page after page of wonderful art and design. I loved the the breadth of production topics and drawing prowess on display: from wide landscapes to detailed city details, from cooking utensils to flora and fauna, it's all in there. The selected angles and framing are a wonderful source of study. Another masterclass is in perspectives (1-, 2-, 3-point vanishing, isometric, fish-eye or several kinds, distortion in water, etc.). But the cherry on the cake was being able to follow these techniques without getting disconnected; loving Miyazaki's animes is the missing link.
Making Comics is a sequel to Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics (by thirteen years): it introduces and discusses the process, the main techniques, aMaking Comics is a sequel to Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics (by thirteen years): it introduces and discusses the process, the main techniques, and important examples of creating comics, mangas, and graphic novels. Overall, it first sated my appetite for learning how to make comics, than left me wanting more. Easily one of my favorite books on the topic.
Interestingly, the actual making of comics, that is, working with physical tools (from pencil to computer software) and being part of the business, is left for the end. From the last third of the book, about half is dedicated to a description of pen-and-paper tools and of computer tools, and another fifth to being employed by the comics industry (in the US); the remainder, which covers style and logically belongs just after the core techniques, is sandwiched between tools and business.
The part on style is alone worth the book: in it, Scott not only discusses broadly what constitutes style, but also the main styles currently available in the world market. He analyzes the North American market and argues for which different elements of style work together. He presents a (somewhat unfinished) analysis of the manga culture, with a focus on Shojo (emotional) and Shonen (action-oriented). He discusses on genre birth and evolution. Good stuff!
Now back to the beginning of the book, in which, for 180 pages, Scott McCloud lectures on converting a story to images, creating stories (for humans), the relationship between text and graphics, and world building. I found the first and the last topics the most compelling; the others have some overlaps with Understanding Comics. The notion of "five choices"---of moment, frame, image, word, and flow---was interesting, and perhaps taken from the theory of film-making. (I've also met similar ideas in Dream Worlds Production Design for Animation, The Art of Howl's Moving Castle, and other books about animation and motion pictures, but Scott McCloud does an excellent job of adapting this topic to comics.)
I should mention the extra depth, the notes, and the exercises: they are well worth the time. Throughout each chapter dedicated to the core techniques and elements of drawing comics, Scott adds short sections of analysis, additional information, or just plain musing on. At the end of each chapter, there are detailed notes which, albeit somewhat difficult to trace back to the panel they refer to, add much to the graphical material. The exercises at the end of each chapter are stimulating, and I found myself doodling not only once; too bad they interrupt your reading flow. ...more
In The Design of Design, Frederick P. Brooks Jr. starts from the premise that the process of designing anything---computers, software, houses, books, and organizations are the prime examples used in this book---follows very similar processes, when the outcome needs to be top-class. This book tries to decipher the structure and contents of a process that can lead to excellent design.
The book includes 27 chapters in 6 parts. Brooks looks at models of design process (part I) and elements of design (part III), the growth of team design into remote design and tellecolaboration (part II), the relationship between great designs and great designers (part V), and seven use cases in design (part VI). There is also an incursion into architecting houses via advanced computer visualization and interfaces (part IV). Interspersed in this book are summaries of Brooks' wisdom, such as "A chief service of a designer is helping clients discover what they want designed"---this lack of initial understanding of the real objectives of a design is a major obstacle in the theory of systematic design exploration, which is much favored by engineers as a better alternative to purely creative processes. The writing is robust, often from the perspective of absolute truth, which helps with starting designers but may not be so much fun for experienced professionals.
There are many technical elements in this book that may raise the attention of the wannabe designer. I found so many of the things I was looking for: notes on the design of a system architecture, notes on the design of an academic book, anecdotes and practical advice, an incursion into the history of design, useful literature references (up to 2010), etc. I also took notes, oh, so many notes (over 150 of them)!
Among the "trivial" treatment of some subjects, I absolutely loved the anecdote about rigid procedure following, among the German IBM team (Chapter 19)---this approach turned a talented team with strong leadership into a production pipeline rather than a creative powerhouse. There is plenty more in this book.
On the negative side, I was unable to relate to the architectural design. I found it very difficult to follow the process, perhaps because there are so many different aspects; space, the management of which I could easily follow, has to give room to considerations about materials, weather, etc. I enjoyed very much in the Chapters related to this topic, though, the discussion about patterns of house use.
Overall, a brilliant book about design. Highly recommended for any computer scientist, and perhaps for anyone in the world of design. ...more
Shaun Tan's The Arrival is a graphic novel about relocation. This book is bound to become classic! I loved the touching story, beautiful drawings, andShaun Tan's The Arrival is a graphic novel about relocation. This book is bound to become classic! I loved the touching story, beautiful drawings, and inventive new world. The only think I disliked was the length: the book was just too short for the beauty in it.
Shaun Tan explores a normally banal story: a husband is forced to leave one day his wife and small child to look for a better place to live. The book follows his journey, which is perilous and confusing. The man experiences many new places and things, makes new friends, etc.; the ending ties nicely into the story. All in all, I found this a well designed variation on the main story line.
The key is in the medium. Through a graphic novel of no words and surreal places, Shaun Tan builds a unique meta-experience of understanding how moving to a completely new place feels like. The objects from the first few pages are rapidly exchanged for fantastic symbols, people, and objects; as a reader, I felt I could follow the general idea but not every detail, and was reminded of my own relocation adventures. The feeling is bitter-sweet, yet in the end wonderful and liberating. It just felt right.
Now on for a bit of musing...
Language: Perhaps the only words are the title, "The Arrival". (There may be other words embedded into the environment, but those require re-reading and interpreting and this is a hot reaction type of review.) Who arrives? There are several characters and each seems to have arrived. There is also a cyclic newcomer experience theme. Where is the arrival? The new place remains largely unexplored. Why is it an arrival? The book begins with a departure, and the present is so fluid and dynamic that it is not sure that the characters have ended their journey. In my language, "to arrive" also means to be well off; did the main characters arrive in this sense? Only time can tell about common daily issues such as finding a job and growing the child.
Visuals: The visuals are exquisite, carefully reproducing the quality of old pictures one sees on exhibitions about the waterfront of New York in the early 1920s: sepia magic combined with unforgettably destitute faces, but somehow foretelling of the modern world. Many of the visuals are not only terrific, they are also magically innovative: Shaun Tan has created a new world. (The closest I can think of are the images of old Lucas Arts quests, such as Monkey Island and maniac Mansion 2: Day of the Tentacle.)
Scenario: This part is brilliant. Shaun Tan creates an art movie out of cartoon pages; this could have easily been the cut room of a documentary. He combines little triptychs into animations. He inserts broad camera angles. He creates key frames and sprinkles them throughout the story. He links elements in the story through similar visuals. He integrates a variety of human emotions into a depiction of a new world. Etc. ...more
The remainder of my review may present a high-level view of what is in this book. However, the real pleasure is in the details, so I do not feel like I am spoiling any fun.
I enjoyed very much the treatment of the topic. There is so much that I recognize and strongly relate to! Growing up in the 1980s. The scarcity of things: toilet paper, meat, gas. The great scare following the atomic explosion at Chernobyl, 1986. Ulker's Turbo as chewing gum and collectible pictures of cars, and the national craze for the TV series Isaura the Slave (Escrava Isaura, Ro: Sclava Isaura). The infinite queues for unknown loot (Heh, maybe that's why I grind through hack-and-slash RPGs). The hard, practical life taught to children since early age ("Eat all there is in your plate!", "Here is what is inside this chicken! Don't be afraid of the entrails!", "Go queue and don't leave until you have bought toilet paper!", "You need to fight for your place in the queue!", "Pluck these feathers and stuff this pillow!", "You need to help with weeding out the legumes!", "The next three days we'll have to harvest strawberries!", etc.). At the same time, the eternal lies and smiles, as parents were trying to avoid involving the children into political life ("When you'll be older, you'll understand this better"). The feeling of the inevitability of the end of Communism. The surprisingly abrupt fall of Communism. The deal made by the new leaders with the Russians, presumably to avoid an invasion (the specter of Hungary). The eternal question: did the new rulers sell us out for their own benefit?
Double-speak and double-life, the main elements of surviving life under Communism, were well represented in this novel. The stages marches of joy accompanying the 1st of May (the international day of Communism) vs the silent resistance (here: turning off tvs, wearing resistors at the sleeve). The empty fridges vs the joyous birthdays staged for the kids. The angry sellers at the department store, more like little dictators of necessary resources than employees providing services. The expectation that Communism will imminently fall vs the surprise and total loss of lucidity when it did. Etc.
There were also parts about the Communism in Marzi's experience that fall far from my own. Being poor, for example; I had the impression that in Romania the problem was not the money, but the lack of actual merchandise to buy and the long waiting lists for anything worthwhile. (In other words, I had the impression that the regime was printing enough money, but there was simply no way they could be spent for daily necessities, as these did not exist in stores; or for vacations or a car or electrical implements, as these had waiting lists that could be bypassed only through connections; or the impossibility to buy or own a house.) Having teachers who would openly discuss how bad things were under Communism or explaining the meaning of the struggle against it. Having teachers replaced because the parents were complaining their children were being abused. Having a big family and access to the country side to compensate scarcity (although many Romanians did have this). Not having to worry at all about speaking openly (or even in the apartment, other than in hushed voices) against the regime (no internal police? Stasi? Securitate?). Religion and the workers population (in Romania, the church was known to collaborate murderously with the internal police, so religion in general and confessions in particular were snubbed by many in the city). The Pope supporting audibly and physically the country. A Solidarnosc and a Lech Walesa; a quiet revolution.
Visually, the book is rather good. The illustrator speaks the language of Understanding Comics The Invisible Art and the variety of topics is really staggering. Color-wise, gray tones and one-two colors (mostly reds) can do wonders. Nothing brilliant, or perhaps my mind was elsewhere....more
TODO: very good, very personal account of a top pianist's search of meaning and sound in Beethoven's sonatas. Excellent breadth of topics: angst, searTODO: very good, very personal account of a top pianist's search of meaning and sound in Beethoven's sonatas. Excellent breadth of topics: angst, search, ethics, work schedule, etc. A dense format, that of a novelette, that helps....more
Valve's Handbook for New Employees is a wonderful company work statement in an extremely competitive industry (computers, software design and engineerValve's Handbook for New Employees is a wonderful company work statement in an extremely competitive industry (computers, software design and engineering, entertainment software, computer and video games). Valve is a leader of the PC gaming industry, with its own excellent games (Half-Life, Portal), great support for modders (Counter-Strike) and the indie community, and innovations in the gaming industry as a whole (esp. distribution channels such as Steam for PC games). With this booklet, Valve presents a refreshing statement of how big business in creative industries can be organized. The main message is that a flat organization, carefully managed and with a focus on top individuals who may be friends or rel, can deliver excellent results. A must-read for startups in the gaming industry....more
Gamers at Work is a collection of interviews with top people from the video and computer gaming industry. The interviews are loosely structured aroundGamers at Work is a collection of interviews with top people from the video and computer gaming industry. The interviews are loosely structured around the establishment and challenges of gaming studios, the creative processes, and the struggle to remain afloat as the industry changes.
I really loved this book. The people interviewed here are usually heads of game studios or leads of the creative part of the business, but otherwise span a broad range of interests, backgrounds, and capability. There are many excellent interviews, including of: Wild Bill Stealy (the business side of MicroProse); Tony Goodman (the process guy at Ensemble Corp/Studios and Robot Entertainment); Feargus Urquhart (great interview on processes, Interplay/Fallout, etc.); John Smedley (EverQuest); Lorne Lanning (a bit shambolic but overall great stuff, Oddworld); Tobi Saulnier (client-centric game developer); and Christopher Weaver (Bethesda Softworks, The Elder Scrolls + professor at MIT).
Here are a few things I've learned: * The gaming industry is only for people who love games. The high risk and relatively low return of this hit-driven market are otherwise not worth the personal investment. * The size of a sustainable studio is 40-50 people, with 3-5 production pipelines active at all times. Anything above 100 people is bound to crash as the industry twists and turns. * Gaming studios must consider all possible valorization channels, including leveraging their technology in serious gaming and technical simulators, and doing games that extend somebody else's franchise. * Intellectual Property (IP) really counts. Building and populating entire worlds is preferable to creating small games that are independent of each other. * Building strong portfolios and strong IP protect a studio from poor contracts from publishers. * The game designers and producers rarely win as much as publishers and other channel owners. * Publishers and distributors have a stranglehold on industry and even creativity: their choice decides the going of the industry. * Indie gaming is tough, running a studio is tougher. Giants like EA and Sony Online Entertainment produce mostly games in long franchise lines. * etc. etc. etc.
Overall, a must-read for anyone interested in the gaming industry, especially wannabe indie game developers....more
[TODO: Great history of Google. Lots of technical insights, but also much about politics, law, societal impact. Little protection of Google's image; s[TODO: Great history of Google. Lots of technical insights, but also much about politics, law, societal impact. Little protection of Google's image; some of the toughest problems of Google not well covered, but not exactly hidden either. Excellent balance overall. Material from primary sources, such as access to the Google leadership and top engineers. A classic.]...more
TODO: +++ 5-star because of amount of ground-breaking ideas, relative to moment of creation (2003-2004), initial release (2006, self-pub), and mainstreTODO: +++ 5-star because of amount of ground-breaking ideas, relative to moment of creation (2003-2004), initial release (2006, self-pub), and mainstream publication (2008-9)*. This is for the hackers what the Neuromancer was for the virtual reality geeks; hint: a generation manifesto. Overall, brilliant! +++ The plot is powerful and innovative - mad scientist... Scratch that... Mad computer scientist creates software monster (the Daemon) while on deathbed. The Daemon activates upon death of said scientist, aims to change the world as we know it, in the name of strengthening our survival chances as human race. Daemon uses hacking as tool of dominance. Ok, so the plot is not new, except for compsci and hacking. +++ excellent description of hacking process and tools +++ excellent understanding of what tech is capable of doing. Snowden told all of us the same, but a decade later (first reveals in 2013). +++ excellent action scenes, full of pace and gore. Of course I didn't like them, but they are page-turners even in this case. *wink* + good, interesting characters --- For me, the real question is the assumption of Daemon's uniqueness. In thia book, only one person in the world is capable of realizing what a Daemon can do, and uses own and organization money to build one. This goes contrary to how tech and INTSEC operate: when tech enables a control system, every major government and company is scrambling to design and implement their own version. Unfortunately, the book focuses on an unopposed Daemon for months, then on the weak defense offered by the cliched US agencies. Would have been much nicer to have a realistic confrontation, more like advanced Daemon vs regular Daemons. --- Perhaps the human drama is needed to make the book sellable, but I hardly see a reason for all the scenes focusing on individuals and claiming importance, while the true protagonist is a global virtual beast who probably relies on tens of individuals doing any one action it needs accomplished. All the personal drama is moving, but logically pointless. -- some of the scenes are so cliched, to the point of making the reader want to scream! Why a bike chase, in a techno-thriller where billions of transactions can be closed while the bike is crossing 100m?! Etc.
Ready Player One is one of those rare books that capture a pop culture at its peak, say in the ranks of William S. Burroughs's Junkie, Jack Kerouac'sReady Player One is one of those rare books that capture a pop culture at its peak, say in the ranks of William S. Burroughs's Junkie, Jack Kerouac's On the Road, and, perhaps, Cory Doctorow's Little Brother. It's a classic tale of friendship and good conquering evil, but it's also a new tale of the massively multiplayer online gaming (MMOG) scene. In it, Wade Owen Watts (Parcival, also often just Player One) participates in a seemingly innocent game that soon becomes a matter of life and (virtual and real) death for his friends. To preserve a virtual escape for the millions of survivors in a post-apocalyptic Earth setting, Wade has to become the first winner of the game, beating in the process the IOI corporation and its executive hand Sorrento.
(view spoiler)[ Wade lives in a post-apocalyptic world, where most of the energy sources have been depleted, few steady jobs remain, and the US has returned to stacked trailer camps. To escape reality, millions spend their entire free time in OASIS, a free, computer-simulated world. When OASIS is promised to the first player who will complete an online game devised as a series of puzzles, Wade and many others begin to play for the win. What is seemingly a passtime becomes an increasingly deadly operation, with the corrupt corporation IOI planning to take over the virtual world and pervert it for their economic purposes. Wade and his closest opponents, real-life friends and the IOI, all scramble to complete the puzzles first. (hide spoiler)]
The topic of Ready Player One is surprisingly actual. The right to free access to information (Sweden and other countries have already added this as a constitutional right) and the growth of the online gaming community to hundreds of millions (from World of Warcraft to CityVille) are phenomena of the past five years.
Writing-wise, the tone is humorous and the book makes for an easy read. Cline masters the background material, with the book abounding in interesting, unforced references, and use of the 1990s culture and especially gaming. Cline also manages to explain briefly the main issues of contemporary MMOGs, from the technical server lag to the economic subscription costs.
The structure is overall good, an action-laden cyber-punk thriller that reminds me of William Gibson's Neuromancer but is perhaps more grounded in contemporary reality. I liked how Cline holds tight control over the scenes, with the exception of one-two glitches in the technical setting of the final scene. (The glitches refer to the final run-down of the castle, when perhaps IOI should have used its grip on home networks and cut off a majority of the gunters; and to the prediction of Parcival in the final scene, that Sorrento's agents were giving hints asap, while Parcival himself was cut off communication with his friends.) The structure reduces the balancing problems inherent to online gaming and thriller settings, such as the every-increasing power of the main characters, the omnipotency of the game creators, the role of a super-power (the IOI corporation), etc.
The characters are in general interesting, albeit sometimes lacking credibility. The main character's voice has very little from a nineteen-year-old's, Aech and the Japanese brothers are cliched, Og is cardboard material, Art3mis is often inconsistent. However, the character flaws are mostly hidden by the thick action and the real mastery Cline shows when juggling between real and virtual environments in which to place the characters.
... the final remarks. This book, although similar in topic, was much better than the books of Cory Doctorow I've read. A very nicely polished gem. Overall, thumbs up and recommended for anyone who wants to understand the culture of massively multiplayer online games.
Coders at Work is one long read into the lives of several fantastic computer scientists, the software-writing variety. Peter Seibel interviews sixteenCoders at Work is one long read into the lives of several fantastic computer scientists, the software-writing variety. Peter Seibel interviews sixteen "programmers", among them Joe Armstrong (Erlang), Brad Fitzpatrick (OpenID, memcached), Simon Peyton Jones (Haskell), THE Donald Knuth, Peter Norvig (AI), and Ken Thompson (UNIX). A few of the missing topics: high-performance computing, social networking, peer-to-peer file-sharing, more Internet.
Each interview goes over a number of standard questions, ranging from biographical to technical to philosophical: How did you learn to program? What is the role of documentation? What is the role of testing? What is the worst bug you have faced in your career? What is the best way to debug? What is the role of computer science courses, in particular assembly, in your career? What is the role of math in your career? How big were the teams in which you worked? What is your best achievement? Is your work science, engineering, or art? How does your schedule affect your family and social life? Seibel also tailors questions for each interviewee, knowing well their biography and confronting them about milestones, contacting former professors and current friends, creating ties between different interviewees, etc.
The book is very long, but this is because each interview tries to capture not only the answers, but also the essence of the interlocutor. We get to appreciate the kindness and open spirit of Simon Peyton Jones, the non-nonsense attitude of Donald Knuth, the die-hard approach of Joe Armstrong, etc. I found this immensely appealing and well-worth the wordiness.
A few of the lessons: - Most interviewees have started programming early, and among their early programs were games; - Most interviewees had a middle-class to rich family and did not have to struggle much in life; - There is no programming language that can do all, but C++ is widely regarded as an abomination; - Modern programming languages include C (performance), Python (prototyping), Erlang (distributed, fault-tolerant); - Assembly is regarded as either still important and relevant as part of computer science curriculum, or completely outdated--in the latter case, it still teaches you how to think about low-level problems; - Math is not seen as important as a whole, but computer scientists should learn parts depending on their branch of work (cryptography, graphics, etc. do require math); - The most difficult to debug programs are related to concurrency, parallelism, multi-users; - The most successful pieces of software are written alone or in small teams; once the team enlarges past, say, ten people, the ability to deliver becomes rare; - Working in this field does not necessarily lead to long hours, but it drains physically and psychically, and affects negatively family and social life; - Often, the best achievement is just shipping.
All in all, an amazing book about computer scientists, and an absolute must read for anyone with aspirations for this industry.