Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Future of the Internet - And How to Stop It by Jonathan Zittrain

This is technically a book that I'm reading for one of my tutorials, but I find that I need to write things down, to get some order to my thoughts.

The Future of the Internet - And How to Stop It is, to me, a warning. The internet came about about because it had the element of generativity. Generativity is "a system's capacity to produce unanticipated change through unfiltered contributions from broad and varied audiences." Basically, because people can add things to the internet, it grew so fast. But now, we're shifting away from generativity to what the author calls "sterile" appliances. The threat of viruses and bad code makes people like me go to closed systems (like Apple), where screening is involved and I'm pretty sure that the apps I download aren't malware.

But, this shift threatens the essence on which the internet is built. So how are we going to combat this? The book talked about the Verkeersbordvrij experiment, where removing traffic signals actually reduced accidents, and points to the success of wikipedia as a way that social pressures instead of legal means can be used to prevent bad information (and possible, bad software) from being spread.

To me, this seems to involve the belief that the majority of people are good and those intending to make mischief can be reigned in. But as the book itself points out, there is now a business model for viruses, and I'm pretty sure that spam mail and the scam emails are making someone money. I believe even the wikipedia model has some flaws - too little eyes on it, and it may just falter (I think there was the Saved by the Bell wiki, that had its content changed, right?). It may be that the generative element works only when the audience size within a certain range.

Or maybe I'm being unnecessarily cynical.

Maybe we can preserve the generative element that let the internet grow. After all, “generatively itself is, at its core, not a technology project. It is an education project, an exercise in intellect and community, the founding concepts of the universe.” It may be that the current and future generation of internet uses, the ones who grew up with the concept of the internet, are willing to be informed participants, who will demand the ability to mix and create new things out of the existing, who will use open-source software to its fullest potential. Things like fanvids (as insignificant as they seem) tell me that people taking a range of things and making something new from them.

Or they could be so used to apps that only the select few go beyond that to create apps and rewire parts of the internet.

Maybe, generativity will settle down to a more limited range in the future - we can mix and match and make things, but only using source data that is approved (or imported to the virtual world by ourselves). Would that strain of retained generativity be the real thing, or a false one, controlled by one of the larger tech companies?

I have no idea, but this book definitely gave me a lot of think about.

Now here's hoping I can write my book report.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Teaser Tuesday: Manhattan Mayhem edited by Marry Higgins Clark

Hey! I'm finally back for a teaser Tuesday! Right now, I'm making my way through Manhattan Mayhem, a series of short stories.

"Even is my favourite great-granddaughter. I never expected to be so fond of a girl with a guy's name, but in this century of yours - mine was the last one - I guess one size fits all." (From 'Serial Benefactor' by Jon L. Breen)

What's 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!

P.s. I took some photos recently, and I just shared them on my other blog, if you feel like taking a look. I thought of you guys since I was also reading Snuff that day. Most of the photos are of nature though (This is one of the two 'book photos'):

And one more photo:

Monday, September 28, 2015

Dissolution by C.J. Sansom

So after I finished Lamentation, I went back to the library and borrowed Dissolution, the first book in the series. In Dissolution, I met a much more idealistic William Shardlake, and came to see how he met one of his good friends - Guy.

In Dissolution, William Shardlake is sent by Cromwell to investigate a strange murder that occurs at the monastery of Scarnsea. Cromwell's commissioner was found murdered, his head cut off and a relic stolen (I believe a cock was also sacrificed). In this time, with Cromwell trying to get the monasteries to surrender to the King, a quick resolution to the problem is needed. But, the case turns out to be much more complicated than Shardlake expects...

To be honest, this more idealistic version of Shardlake was surprising. I'm really looking forward to reading the rest of the books to see how he got to the cynical self he was in Lamentation. And despite his fairly different character, I was still rooting for him. He's a bit more self-loathing in this book, but that just made me sympathise with him, and I was really hoping he would pull out of his funk.

But, I didn't like his assistant Mark Poer or Alice, the girl at the convent (who helps Guy). I will try not to give spoilers, but it might not be possible. Fair warning given. So, basically, by the end of the book, Mark has 'backstabbed' (ok, in a sense, it was more of an abandonment than a backstabbing) Shardlake. And this is despite how Shardlake has been trying to help him get over his mistake (he slept with a court lady and got in trouble). I cannot stand ungrateful people like this. I was really hoping that he and Alice would have an unhappy ending, but it doesn't seem like it. Booo.

The mystery itself was interesting. I definitely did not expect the murderer to be that person, or that the case would end up like that. I also liked the descriptions of the monastery, and thought it was well-portrayed. There are the devout, the wolf-in-sheeps-clothing, and the sinner struggling with his sin. Basically, it was a microcosm of human nature.

All in all, I enjoyed this book. I can't say I was overjoyed at the ending, but at least I know that Shardlake goes on to find better and more loyal companions in the next few books.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

How to Talk About Books You've Never Read by Pierre Bayard

This is one of the books that I keep thinking I've read, but it turns out I haven't. Although after reading this, I realised that for some reason, I knew enough of the book to summarise it, even before reading. So I guess, in a way, this proves the author's premise?

Basically, How to Talk About Books You've Never Read makes the argument for non-reading. The argument is simple: If you want to be cultured, you do not want to read. You want to know enough of the books to be able to place them in context, and to know how they relate to one another. If you can do that, you can deliver talks about books you've haven't read, only heard about, skimmed briefly, or even read and have forgotten.

The book itself is extremely easy to read. Of course, since the author claims to have not read or has forgotten many of the books he talks about (you can see by the notation he provides each time a new book comes out), I am extremely skeptical about anything related to details. But, I do accept the basic premise that you don't have to read a book to be able to give your opinion on it.

In a way, this isn't a how-to guide. It's more a treatise on the function and place of books. If you think that books are important not for their content, but for the ways they connect to other books, then yeah, this book is going to affirm all your beliefs.

Personally, I'm going to stick to reading. True, I'll probably get bogged down in the details, but that's the beauty of it. I don't really need to be seen as a "cultured" person, in the definition that he uses for culture. I want to be seen as an enthusiast. If I talk about a book (or more accurately, if I fangirl over a book), then I want to be able to know so much that I either bore the listener, or find that I have a new kindred friend. Will I ever know enough to master even one genre? Nope. I don't read read primarily in one genre. But, I will be reading (an rereading) the books that catch my eye, and I will be talking about them in as much detail as I wish.

This doesn't mean that I'm completely ignorant of the book's place in the big web of books. It just means that instead of the web, I prefer to look at the book. I may zoom out occasionally to orientate myself, but that's not my preoccupation. The details are.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Trial by Fire by Christopher G. Nuttall

As you may know, I was having a school camp (then I had to go vote) last week. And tomorrow, I'll be on my way back to Singapore and Malaysia for a research trip. It's a good thing I have books to read in during camp and in-between flights. One of the books that I've read recently would be Trial By Fire.

Now, I should make it clear that I'm coming into this series as a first timer. There's probably a ton of background stuff that I don't know . That being said, I managed to follow along with the story pretty well, and I didn't feel like I was being thrown into a very unfamiliar world.

Trial by Fire follows Emily as she returns to Whitehall for her fourth year of magic studies. This is the year where she has to seriously consider her career paths, and things that happened in the previous books are making it difficult for her to make a simple decision. Add a teacher who hates her to that, and students acting weirder than normal, and it's so obvious that Emily's fourth year isn't going to go smoothly.

One thing I thought was interesting was Emily's contributions to Whitehall and the world it's in. It's not really dwelt upon, probably because all this is from the later books, but it seems like Emily has been trying to import ideas and machines from earth to this one. I found the way writing, printing presses, and so on affected the world interesting.

Character-wise, I liked Emily and friends. I thought that Emily, Caleb, Frieda and Alassa were the most developed compared to the other characters, but I think it's because they have more show time. I quite liked their interactions, and how their respective stations (and origins) in life affected how they behave.

As for the big obstacle in the book that's happens, well, no spoilers but I was quite surprised. The first half of the book is very much school-related, and then bam, there are two problems that Emily has to face at one go. I did like the fact that Emily doesn't solve everything on her own, one problem basically requires someone else to step in, but the solution for another problem did feel a little pat. [SPOILER ALERT - Skip to next paragraph if you don't want to see it] Emily basically has to enter a duel to the death, and the way she wins is by a forbidden spell. It was a bit of a let-down, since all the pages before was emphasised how she didn't have the skill and experience, but then suddenly, she had this magic "win everything" card.

All in all, this was an enjoyable book. Even though I didn't start from the first book, I connected quickly with the characters and was engaged in their stories.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for a free and honest review.

P.s. I just saw the author bio, and saw that he got married in Malaysia. How cool is that? I wonder if he's been to Singapore...

About the Book

Three years ago, Emily killed the Necromancer Shadye before he could sacrifice her and destroy the Allied Lands.  Now, the shadows of the past hang over Whitehall as Emily and the Grandmaster travel into the Blighted Lands to recover anything Shadye might have left behind, before returning to Whitehall to start the fourth year.  For Emily, it is a chance to stretch her mind and learn more about new and innovative forms of magic ... and to prepare for the exams that will determine her future as a magician. 

But as she starts her studies, it becomes clear that all is not well at Whitehall.  Master Grey, a man who disliked Emily from the moment he met her, is one of her teachers - and he seems intent on breaking her, pushing her right to her limits.  In the meantime, her friends Alassa and Imaiqah are acting oddly, Frieda seems to be having trouble talking to her and - worst of all - Caleb, her partner in a joint magical project, is intent on asking her to go out with him. 

As she struggles to cope with new challenges and to overcome the demons in her past, she becomes aware of a deadly threat looming over Whitehall, a curse that threatens her very soul.  And when she makes a tiny yet fatal mistake, she finds herself facing a fight she cannot win, but dares not lose...

About the Author

Christopher Nuttall was born in Edinburgh, studied in Manchester, married in Malaysia and currently living in Scotland, United Kingdom, with his wife and baby son.  He is the author of twenty novels from various publishers and thirty-nine self-published novels. 

Connect with the author on the web:

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Blog Tour: The Ripper Gene by Michael Ransom

Hey, so I'll be heading off to a class camp today, but before that, blog tour! Today's blog tour stop is for The Ripper Gene by Michael Ransom.

The Ripper Gene is a mystery starring Dr. Lucas Madden, a neuroscientist/FBI profiler who discovers something called the Ripper Gene, a genetic mutation that makes some people predisposed to serial killing. In the book, he's called back to his hometown to chase a murderer the press calls the Snow White Killer (SNK, as they call the killer). As the case progresses, it becomes clear that this murder is tied to Lucas's childhood, and his mother's murder.

First things first, this book delivers on its promise. The mystery is solid, and I was flipping page after page in order to find out what happened. There were plenty of twists and turns in the story, but I never felt like it was unbelievable.

Now on to the other stuff. The main theme of the book is (to me at least), something like "who determines our destiny"? Are we a product of our genes, or do we have any free will? While Lucas Madden is an atheist, his father is a pastor. Obviously, the two see the world very differently, and while his father doesn't appear that much, it did raise the question of predetermination vs free-will. Bear in mind, this theme is brought up very strongly towards the end of the book. I didn't think it was preachy though.

As for characters, well, I liked Lucas, and didn't get why his estranged from his family (and why it's his fault). It's pretty obvious that he's the "black sheep" of sorts, but I don't get why he's getting blamed for so much. I mean, for example, early in the book, Lucas was called by his brother's girlfriend, who was actually his girlfriend but she cheated on Lucas with his brother before they broke up. Turns out, she was kidnapped (don't worry, this doesn't spoil anything major), and she accused Lucas of being the perpetrator (she's not right in the head). But, in the hospital scene when the family visits, his brother lost his temper pretty quickly, yet was described has having held out an olive branch. That, I didn't get. What as Lucas supposed to apologise for? His estrangement with his father I get, but not the brother.

Overall, I really liked this book. The mystery kept me engaged, and I definitely want to read more adventures starring Lucas Madden (and fellow profiler Woodson). Hopefully this will be the first in a series.

About The Ripper Gene:

A neuroscientist-turned-FBI-profiler discovers a genetic signature that produces psychopaths in The Ripper Gene, a thrilling debut novel from Michael Ransom.
Dr. Lucas Madden is a neuroscientist-turned-FBI profiler who first gained global recognition for cloning the ripper gene and showing its dysfunction in the brains of psychopaths. Later, as an FBI profiler, Madden achieved further notoriety by sequencing the DNA of the world's most notorious serial killers and proposing a controversial "damnation algorithm" that could predict serial killer behavior using DNA alone.
Now, a new murderer-the Snow White Killer-is terrorizing women in the Mississippi Delta. When Mara Bliss, Madden's former fiancée, is kidnapped, he must track down a killer who is always two steps ahead of him. Only by entering the killer's mind will Madden ultimately understand the twisted and terrifying rationale behind the murders-and have a chance at ending the psychopath's reign of terror.

About the Author:

MICHAEL RANSOM is a molecular pharmacologist and a recognized expert in the fields of toxicogenomics and pharmacogenetics. He is widely published in scientific journals and has edited multiple textbooks in biomedical research. He is currently a pharmaceutical executive and an adjunct professor in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Raised in rural Mississippi, he now makes his home in northern New Jersey. The Ripper Gene is his first novel.

The Ripper Gene [Forge Books / Macmillan] is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and in brick-and-mortar bookstores across North America.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Samurai and Ninja by Antony Cummins

This is another one of those "saw in the library and had to borrow it" sort of books. And after reading it, well, I want my own copy.

Unlike the previous ninja-related book I read, The Kouga Ninja Scrolls,  Samurai and Ninja is neither a novel, nor does it take an idealistic/unrealistic view of ninja/samurai. Instead, the book tries to strip away the misconceptions that most of us hold about these two groups of warriors, and tries to give us an accurate picture of what they are.

The book is broken into four parts. The first part basically just tries to get rid of all those mistaken impressions we've gotten from movies and books (like the Kouga Ninja Scrolls, I suppose). The second and third parts, which actually make up the bulk of the book, focus on the samurai and ninja respectively. The last part is about how the author is trying to resurrect the samurai and ninja school Natori-ryu.

It sounds weird, but what convinced me that the author knows his stuff is was how he kept trying to avoid generalisations. Apart from the fact that samurai and ninja changed as time went on, he also took great pains to emphasise that not all samurai and ninja were the same. Some were richer than others, some were hired in plain sight, and some were hired in secret, etc.

Since I'm not very familiar with the samurai and ninja world, a lot of this was new to me. I found the skills of the ninja interesting, and the translations of the Japanese texts were fascinating (and also, I still can't read them. I guess it's a sign to study ancient Japanese?). But the most surprising thing I learnt was that the samurai were headhunters. And that heads could be used to divine the future. The section of head-hunting was pretty detailed, like how they cut of the head, what they did with it, the five types of heads, etc. I was reading it on the train, so hopefully no one thought I was planning to revive that particular aspect of the samurai.

Basically, this book is very accessible, and I think a really good introduction into the world of samurai and ninja. If I ever write a story featuring them, you can bet that I'll buy this book as reference. Or maybe I'll just buy it because it's interesting.

This review is also published to my other blog: With Love from Japan, Eustacia

Friday, September 4, 2015

Lamentation by C.J. Sansom

Despite the fact that I don't read that much historical fiction, I felt compelled to borrow this book when I saw it at the library. And thankfully, my bookish instincts did not lead me astray - this book was fantastic, and luckily for me, the library has all the previous books in the series!

So Lamentations is 6th book in the William Shardlake series (I think, according to the covers at the back of the book). William Shardlake is a lawyer, but for some reason, he's always been called to help the great personages of the realm. In this case, it's Queen Catherine, the last wife of Henry VIII. She lost a book she penned, which was shortened to Lamentations in the story (hence the title). This book could, if found and given to the king, could hurt the reformist cause (the Protestants). Since he really likes the Queen (although she doesn't feel the same way), and he was in the Protestant camp in the past, he agrees to help. And thus starts a long and captivating tale of intrigue.

For me, the details and characters in the book were what held my attention. I managed to read the book for long-stretches of time, like a plane ride to Tokyo, and every time I looked up from the book, I felt a bit surprised that I wasn't in olden-time England (good thing though, because it doesn't sound like a nice place to live).

The book had twist after twist. I definitely did not expect the ending, but it felt very plausible to it. And speaking of endings, I thought it brought the current case to a close, but also made me want to read the next book. And the previous books. It's strange, but I want to go back to this world, even though it's full of people who must live tiring lives, always having to plot and backstab and read the wind.

I loved the details in the book, and found the characters to be very realistic. Even though I entered the series halfway, I didn't have any problems connecting to the characters, and look forward to reading more books about them.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Reader's Brain by Yellowlees Douglas

I requested this book mainly because it held the promise of being able to make my writing better. While I won't have many opportunities to write academic papers in English (for now),  there's always the chance I'll need it for my future job.

Basically, The Reader's Brain is supposed to teach you how to use the 5Cs - clarity, continuity, coherence, concision, and cadence, to write more effectively. The book contains a fair amount of research about how reading works, and provides lots of examples. There'll be an example one (normally the horrible writing), and then an example two, so the reader can see what the author means. At the end of the book is a quick grammar guide.

I admit, I skimmed the parts about reading. I'm not sure why, since that was why I got the book, but it turned out that the parts that interested me the most were probably the expert tips, since they were short and basically summarisations of what the author just said, written in a "how to apply it to writing" format.

What I learnt from the book can be summed up as: use active voice, and put what you want people to remember in the front. And make sure you vary your sentence lengths and structure. So, KISS with an addition of "mix it up now and then".

Oh, and how to identify passive voice. Basically, if you can insert the phrase "by zombies" after the verb and the sentence still makes sense, it's passive voice. So, if I'm applying this right,

"After consuming penicillin, Tim was was healed by zombies" - passive.
"The penicillin healed Tim by zombies" - active voice.

All in all, this book is a clearly written guide on how to improve your non-fiction writing. I like that lots of example were raised, and it seems be be backed up by science. It is, however, not a grammar book, despite the brief guide at the end, so think of this as for the middle-to-advanced writer.

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

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Teaser Tuesday - Dissolution by C.J. Sansom

Hey everyone! I've got my Teaser Tuesday this week, it's from Dissolution, the first in the Matthew Shardlake series. Since I started with Lamentation, which is the latest in the book, the characters here are quite different from the same I encountered. Still enjoying the story though.

"That morning, for all I sat behind the stinking coffin of a murdered man, I found myself lulled along by the monks' beautiful, polyphonic chant. The psalms, and the Latin readings from Job, struck a chord." (page 255)
So, what is your teaser this week?