Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Shift by Lynda Gratton

This was recommended to me by a Japanese friend - he read the Japanese version, which is titled "Work Shift" and confused me because I could NOT find a book by that title. But eventually I found it, and woah, is it a thought provoking read.

The book goes like this. First, the author identifies what she thinks are the most important macro-trends taking place. Next, she looks at six possible aspects of the future, three positive and three negative.

The negative aspects are:
1. Fragmentation - a world where a multitude of things constantly demand our attention.

2. Isolation - a world where the reliance on virtual technology and working from home has led to a dramatic decrease (and almost elimination) of face-to-face meetings.

3. Exclusion - ok, this was a bit hard for me to swallow, because exclusion exists even now. According to the author, the difference is that
"the axis of exclusion has shifted from where you are born to your natural talents and motivations and the specifics of your personal connections." 
To be very clear, I don't think the "specifics of your personal connections" part is a good thing, because it's got a lot relying on who you are born too, which is not something anyone can choose. But the natural talents and motivations bit? It sounds like a fairer world to me. The case study involved a girl who loves World of Warcraft and spends at least four hours a day on it.

Assuming that everyone gets the same baseline education, then I see nothing wrong in a smart and ambitious kid from Vietnam or Cambodia beating out a kid from a Western nation, who prioritises games. If there was a failing in the education system, or some intentional bias in there, then yeah, I see a problem, but other than that, I'm fine with it. I don't think that "where you are born" should determine that you get a better life than someone. "Natural talents and motivations" sounds a lot more meritocratic to me.

Again, I am assuming the same baseline education (i.e. everyone who wants to learn can learn), and that even if you choose to work only part-time because you want to game, you are still able to earn a living. Not a luxurious living, with trips overseas or fancy food, but enough to buy the groceries and pay the bills. I understand the future may be a lot more nuanced, but the way the author expresses the idea means that I don't totally agree that it's a terrible thing. And obviously, the increasing disparity between the rich and the poor is a bad thing too.

The positive aspects are:

1. Co-creation - Working with many people to solve large problems

2. Social engagement - Better work life balance, increased empathy and an option for people who want to, to be able to do meaningful work/take time off from work for long stretches to do volunteer work.

3. Micro-entrepreneurship - People making a living through ecosystems.

After this, the author identifies three shifts that we need to make:

1. From shallow generalist to serial master.

2. From isolated competitor to innovative connector

3. From voracious consumer to impassioned producer.

With recent events like the rise of ISIS and the sudden drop in oil prices may affect the accuracy of the predictions (either by delaying them or changing them), what I appreciated about the book was that it was truly global in outlook. Most of the time, all these books focus on the West, which makes does not really apply to a very large segment of the world. But this book has research done in India, Singapore (our Ministry of Manpower was a sponsor too), and the futures, while do not mention Singapore, are set in Brazil, India etc. I found this very refreshing, and made the arguments more compelling to me, because they seemed more relevant.

 The other thing I liked was the use of 'case studies', where they imagine someone's life in 2025. It makes the concepts a lot easier to understand, especially since things like fragmentation can be a bit confusing.

Overall, this is a though-provoking book, and one that I would encourage everyone to read (Also, you can tell that a book is good when even some time after reading it, it makes a big enough impression that you use it in your arguments on why we do not necessarily need to fear that the future will dehumanise us, even if it is a possibility).

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Waking Gods by Mike Robinson

Alright, like I said, I started on Waking Gods immediately after I finished Negative Space, and I'm done! This is the third in the series, and it is even stranger than the other two.

Waking Gods starts with a murder. There's a serial killer called The Surgeon on the loose, and apparently, only a guy called Adrian Foster can possibly stop him. The thing is, Adrian isn't normal. He's somehow attuned into some sort of network. And when The Surgeon strikes again, Adrian and the cop in charge of the case, Derek Adams, head to Twilight Falls to try and get some clues.

This is when the story just stops being a murder mystery and gets really weird. There are flashbacks back and forth, as the reader finds out more about Adrian's conception and more about Feldman, who was featured quite prominently in Negative Space. And things build to a crescendo as the Grandfather (you might remember him from the first book, Green Eyed Monster) and his enemy make their appearances.

After all the tension from the previous books, I was so glad that there was an ending! I finally found out what's going on in Twilight falls. But, I don't know if it's because my expectations were hyped, but when I found out, it was this huge, excited "OH SO THAT'S IT", but a more muted, "oh, so that's what's going on." I'm not saying it's bad, but it wasn't as dramatic as I expected. Even though, thinking about it, plenty of people died in grotesque ways in the end. I guess the actual nature of Grandfather and the Teacher was just less exciting for me (or I missed the point).

Oh, and now that I've mentioned the death, well, this book is definitely for mature audiences only. Not that I'm saying that the previous books are YA material, far from it, but there's a lot of disturbing stuff going on in here, especially towards the end where it seems everyone goes crazy. If you're sensitive about blood and gore, you might want to be careful.

Overall though, this was a creepy and compulsive series. Sure, you could technically read all three books as a standalone, but I think you should read at least two of these books in a row, and one of the books has to be the ending, to properly experience this world that the author has created.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book form the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Teaser Tuesday - The Science of Monsters by Matt Kaplan

Hey everyone! Can you believe it's already Tuesday? It's also Day 2 of the Chinese New Year, so Happy Chinese New Year everyone!! Unfortunately, I'm still in the midst of exams, though my last paper is tomorrow.

Right now, I'm reading The Science of Monsters, which I've wanted to read ever since I read The Science of Magic. It's really interesting, to see the author theorise about what might be the real world cause of monsters like the Chimera, giant boars, vampires, etc. Although when it comes to Frankenstein, it's more of an explaining of the time period than an actual "what is probably cause" sort of thing.

My teaser:

"Aside from being fun for paleontologists, trying to work out how an ancient predator like Tyrannosaurus Rex functioned is a great exercise for realising just how small modern predators are. Perhaps more importantly, it is also an opportunity to recognise why dinosaurs have featured so prominently as monsters since their identification by the scientist Sir Richard Owen in 1841."

What is your teaser this week?
Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read 
  • Open to a random page 
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page 
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) 
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Monday, February 8, 2016

CNY Liveblogged Review - The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton

Happy Chinese New Year everyone! Since I'm in the midst of exam season and can't go home, I decided to celebrate with a readalong on my Dayre. There were only two participants, including me though... Oh well, there's still tomorrow and maybe someone will join in!

Anyway, we read The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton. Without further ado....

First thoughts: I didn't notice this was subtitled "A nightmare"! Explains quite a bit hahaha

The opening lines remind me of a poem though.

A cloud was on the mind of men, and wailing went the weather, Yea, a sick cloud upon the sound when we were boys together. Science announced nonentity and art admired decay; The world was old and ended: but you and I were gay

Haha, and I just realised this is a sort of prologue?

But I think my readalong report is more quotes than feelings, because I ALREADY FOUND ANOTHER QUOTE.

And it's not even Chapter 1 yet.

This is a tale of those old fears, even if those emptied hells, and none but you shall understand the true thing that it tells

Just finished Chapter one and I was reminded once again about how much I love Chesterton's descriptions. I just want to copy that paragraph about the sunset, but I won't haha. It's too long!

Also, I managed to forget my student card in school, but thank goodness for class Line! My friend managed to retrieve it.

Anyway, quote of choice from Chapter 1, and then I'm gonna study.

He seemed like a walking blasphemy, a blend of the angel and the ape.

I studied two chapters of managerial accounting, then my hands froze a little so I took a break for lunch and read some more

I forgot to say it just now, but in the beginning, there is a line about the beauty of one great act of violence. In wake of all the terror attacks, it really hit home and I wonder, is that how terrorists see things? Do they miss the beauty of life for the terrible greatness of an explosion?

The man who throws a bomb is an artist, because he prefers a great moment to everything. He sees how much more valuable is one burst of blazing light, one peal of perfect thunder, than the mere common bodies of a few shapeless policemen.

Of course, Chesterton follows it by having another character make the argument that it is order, not disorder, that the anarchist should embrace, because disorder is the natural state, while order isn't.

Anyway, there was also a rather true moment, I feel, when it was said that people don't tend to take those at extremes seriously. Sometimes, speaking the truth is the best way to get someone to disbelieve you.

I took his advice, and have never regretted it. I preached blood and murder to those women day and night, and--by God!--they would let me wheel their perambulators.

I am basically rewarding myself with reading. Just finished revising (will go through the practice questions next), so I read a few chapters.

We're well into the narrative now, and Syme (the protagonist) has gained entrance to the council of anarchists. My ebook is also very pink from all the highlighting.

I think I'm starting to remember what the twist was.

Anyway, if I had to pick one quote from all I saved for this section, it would be this:

For even the most dehumanised modern fantasies depend on some older and simpler figure; the adventures may be mad, but the adventurer must be sane. The dragon without St. George would not even be grotesque.

It seemed a symbol of human faith and valour that while the skies were darkening that high place of the earth was still bright. The Devils might have captured heaven, but they had not yet captured the cross.

I'm on the way to go teach, so I managed to read till the end of Chapter 9 in the train. Depending on how long the end matter is, I may be able to finish the book today, in which case I'll have to find something else for tomorrow :p

But now the story is doing the unraveling, where each character is shown for who they are. So far, Syme has unraveled two of the anarchists, and I think he'll unravel the third in Chapter 10

"Because I am afraid of him," said Syme; "and no man should leave in the universe anything of which he is afraid."

So I have followed the story to its end, and like @rideofvalkyries asked, here are my attempts at consolidating my thoughts. (By the way, if anyone is going to attempt the readalong on Day 2, please do so because I think the both of us would love to see more opinions).

To me, the meaning of the entire story is tied to two things.

One is that it is 'a nightmare'. What is a nightmare but a scary dream that one remembers imperfectly?

The other is Sunday. Who is he?

Each of you finds Sunday quite different, yet each man of you can only find one thing to compare him to - the universe itself.

But when I saw him from behind I was certain he was an animal, and when I saw him from the front I knew he was a god

For the matter, who is Gregory, the wannabe anarchist? Who is Syme? Who is Bull? Are they characters in a book or characters in a dream that was written down?

To be honest, I have no idea. I have a suspicion, but I'm no longer a lit student and can't back it up. I think the truth is hinted at in this line:

For these disguises did not disguise, but reveal.

So if this book, too, is a disguise, the question is: what does it reveal?

Is this a nightmare or a dream?

*******
And that's the end of the liveblogged review that I did today!