Quarterly review: FY15Q1

Each quarter I do a quick roundup of the book and film reviews that I do on Goodreads and Letterboxd. These reviews are too short and too off-the-cuff to be included with the more in depth reviews I do on this site. Below are the highlights of the quarter.

Books

I am keeping 4 books ahead of my 2015 Goodreads challenge so far, so that is good. I spend a lot of time reading The New Yorker, The Atlantic and The Literary Review of Canada while I am at home so I am glad audiobooks help me keep pace. I would have finished 1 or 2 more, but I abandoned a couple of books this year. That is something I normally wouldn’t do… but life is short right? And there is too much worthy out there to read.

Here are the longer reviews from this quarter:

Probably the number one book of this quarter – and potentially of this year – is Piketty’s Capital. A very challenging book. I am aware of the criticism, but it has certainly affected the way I think about economic policy.

★★★★☆ The Once and Future King

★★★☆☆ The Big Disconnect: Why the Internet Hasn’t Transformed Politics

★★★☆☆ The Republic of Thieves

★★★★½ Station Eleven

★★★☆☆ Ha’penny

★★★★★ Capital in the Twenty-First Century

★★★★☆ Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War

★★★★☆ Half a Crown

Film

Out of the 10 films I saw this quarter (the highlight being The Grand Budapest Hotel) I only deigned to write a little something for the following:

★★★½☆ Like Father, Like Son

★★★☆☆ Attack the Block

★★☆☆☆ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Not a lot of insight there…

Technology is a symptom

As “software eats the world,” further intertwining with our daily lives, more and more discussions that are ostensibly about tech are at heart political discussions. What looks like technology criticism is actually political critique, and therefore cannot be countered by arguments resting entirely within the niche of technology.

That is why I do not look for critical thinking about tech in tech publications. I am often disappointed by full-length books that are billed as deep, meaningful and thoughtful takes on society and technology.

In my heavily annotated copy of Douglas Coupland’s Kitten Clone (see review), there are a number of Post-it notes labelled with the admittedly dismissive tag: “old man problems.” Coupland’s tech-criticism-as-nostalgia is not satisfying to me by any means, and I am sure is completely dismissed by the Kool-Aid drinking techies in Silicon Valley. This type of “critical thinking” is of no help to anyone.
Continue reading “Technology is a symptom”

War in the East China Sea… or lack thereof

Foreign Affairs is being unnecessarily alarmist on China-Japan relations in the East China Sea. Take these quotes:

A military conflict between China and Japan would have catastrophic consequences and would almost certainly involve the U.S. military.

And:

The cost of any military conflict between China and Japan would be immense, and neither side wants a war.

Yet:

It isn’t as if China and Japan want to go to war over a few islands.

And:

While neither side wants a conflict…

But there is always a risk:

… in this volatile reality of increasingly crowded waters and airspace, the risk that a miscalculation or accident could escalate into a major crisis is far too high for comfort.

However small:

Yet even if the probability of any single encounter resulting in an incident remains low…

We insist, there is still risk!

… the frequency of plane and ship traffic in the region increases the likelihood of an incident that could escalate to a military crisis if not managed rapidly and effectively by both sides.

Here they are referring to these MOFA stats:

vessels in senkaku by year

Despite the article repeatedly stating that this is a “war” nobody wants, FA is willing to bang the drums. This article is simply a neorealist solution looking for a problem. (Here I refer you to my master’s thesis on this exact topic). Undoubtedly, China-Japan relations are a delicate topic and a better framework in East Asia is necessary. Nevertheless, banging the war drums is not the way to bring these parties to the peace table.

What is data doing to our species? — A review of Kitten Clone

My review in the Literary Review of Canada is finally released. It is behind a paywall now, but will open up in about a month or so. Or you could pick it up at your local magazine purveyor and support Canadian publishing!

The piece is mostly about “industrial innovation” and the wonderful (and forgotten?) legacy of Bell Labs. This is a common hobby horse of mine when debating innovation and startups (re: startups do not have a monopoly on innovation!). I hope you enjoy the review. In the meantime, I thought I would share some more thoughts on the visuals of this book, which I highlight in the review:

Writers in Residence partnered with Visual Editions to produce a book design that looks great and includes the unorthodox layout and typography that we have come to expect from Coupland’s books. Mere words are not enough for him. Like having a conversation with a high-spirited partner, Coupland uses visual clues to add emphasis to the content.

The book release was delayed for months and I can only imagine it had to do with the unorthodox layout and typography. Often when reading Coupland’s books, I use my smartphone camera to capture the unique layouts (I plan on putting together a few galleries in the future). Take the below page as an example: Coupland describes quantum computing in excruciating detail (qubits, integer factorization using Shor’s algorithm, the Church-Turing thesis, etc.). As the explanation descends into technical jargon, each line of the text becomes progressively smaller until it bleeds past the bottom margin of the page and to the edge of the page, continuing on into empty space beyond the authour’s (and presumably the reader’s) understanding. It is a cute trick.

Trailing off

In another example, he breaks line justification to emphasize the single word “bandwidth”. “Oh Douglas! I see what you did there! It is funny because the word is band ‘width’ and you make it cover the entire width of the page! You clever, cultural brain you!” I hope that doesn’t come off as too condescending… I like the idea of visual puns expressed in typography.

B-A-N-D-W-I-D-T-H