19 February 2017

Alastair Reynolds – On the Steel Breeze

in Bucharest, Romania
On the Steel Breeze (Poseidons Children) eBook by Alastair Reynolds

În urma descoperirii propulsiei Chibesa de către clanul Akinya, omenirea are în sfârșit o cale relativ accesibilă către stele. Iar telescopul Oculus a oferit destinația perfectă pentru o expediție la scară mare: gigantica și misterioasa structură de pe Crucible, botezată Mandala. Către acel sistem se îndreaptă o flotă de holonave într‑o traversare lungă de două secole. Moștenind setea de aventură caracteristică familiei, fiica lui Sunday Chiku-Verde s‑a alăturat expediției la bordul navei Zanzibar; o soră-clonă, Chiku-Roșie, a pornit în spațiul interstelar pe cont propriu pentru a prinde din urmă Regina de Gheață, nava la bordul căreia se află matriarha clanului, Eunice; o a treia soră, Chiku-Galbenă, a rămas pe Pământ, ca o mostră de control într‑un masiv experiment uman. Cele trei agreaseră să‑și sincronizeze în mod constant amintirile pentru a păstra unitatea din care se despărțiseră în urma unei operații complexe și unice. Dar contactul cu Chiku-Roșie se pierde destul de repede; apoi Chiku-Galbenă se distanțează tot mai mult de sora ei aflată deja la ani‑lumină distanță și de care o despart trăirile lor divergente, până la urmă rupând complet legătura cuantică care le regla amintirile. Ani mai târziu însă o fantomă digitală începe să‑i bântuie spațiul virtual și întâlnirea bruscă cu un Acvatic îi confirmă bănuielile: ceva grav s‑a petrecut în caravana către Crucible și sora ei Chiku-Verde încearcă să ia legătura cu ea.

‘Crucible is a lie. What we think is there… it’s not the truth, or at least not all of it. The data arriving from that world is false. Whatever Zanzibar and the other holoships think they’re going to find when they arrive… it isn’t real.’

Deși a doua carte într‑o trilogie, o poziție ingrată care de obicei rezultă într‑un roman sub medie, mie On the Steel Breeze mi s‑a părut cea mai bună din serie (între timp am terminat și cartea finală, despre care o să scriu în curând, sper). La început e destul de derutant să ții cont din ce perspectivă se relatează fiecare capitol, pentru că ele sar între Chiku-Verde și -Galbenă fără o regulă bine stabilită – despre Chiku-Roșie se descoperă relativ devreme că e în stare de inconștiență în urma călătoriei periculoase. Dar astfel romanul reușește să ne ducă mereu acolo unde se întâmplă important, și cele două povești se completează și alimentează reciproc cu cadența unui meci de tenis – mingea fiind informațiile transmise înainte și înapoi între Pământ și Zanzibar în ritmul prea lent al luminii. În același timp perioadele de acalmie sunt ținute cu succes la distanță de cititor, ceea ce nu e prea ușor având în vedere că întregul roman se întinde pe cel puțin un secol de timp obiectiv.

18 February 2017

The New York Times: “More Women in their 60s and 70s are having ‘Way Too Much Fun’ to retire”

Kay Abramowitz has been working, with a few breaks, since she was 14. Now 76, she is a partner in a law firm in Portland, Ore. — with no intention of stopping anytime soon. Retirement or death is always on the horizon, but I have no plans, she said. I’m actually having way too much fun.

The arc of women’s working lives is changing — reaching higher levels when they’re younger and stretching out much longer — according to two new analyses of census, earnings and retirement data that provide the most comprehensive look yet at women’s career paths.

Over all, the paths look much more like men’s careers than they used to. Women are more likely than in previous generations to work at almost every point in their lives, including in their 20s and 30s when they often used to be home with children. Now, if mothers take breaks at all, it’s often not until their late 30s or early 40s — and those who leave are likely to return to the labor force.

Claire Cain Miller

Good for them! On the other hand… The more old people (not necessarily women) continue working past their retirement age, the less open positions are available for young people joining the workforce. To tackle youth unemployment, maybe companies and authorities should consider encouraging old people to step out, or at least to work shorter hours to gradually make way for others who might not work for ‘fun’, but out of necessity.

17 February 2017

Facebook Newsroom: “New Ways to watch Facebook Video”

Videos in News Feed have previously played silently — you tap on a video to hear sound. As people watch more video on phones, they’ve come to expect sound when the volume on their device is turned on. After testing sound on in News Feed and hearing positive feedback, we’re slowly bringing it to more people. With this update, sound fades in and out as you scroll through videos in News Feed, bringing those videos to life.

If your phone is set to silent, videos will not play with sound. If you never want videos to play with sound, you can disable this feature by switching off “Videos in News Feed Start With Sound” in Settings. We’ll also be showing in-product messages to tell people about the new sound on experience and controls.

Dana Sittler & Alex Li

Annoying to say the least. But let’s not forget Facebook is first and foremost a company, and as such needs to make money. Sound by default for newsfeed videos will make them look less like glorified GIFs, and enable richer ads, hopefully driving up engagement for users and revenues for Facebook.

16 February 2017

The New York Times: “A Tax Overhaul would be Great in Theory. Here’s why it’s so hard in Practice”

A short list of the plan’s potential benefits looks awesome: It would give companies more incentive to keep jobs in the United States, less to overextend themselves on borrowed money and provide vast savings by reducing what companies spend on tax lawyers, who help them game the current system.

Yet these changes could also set off a cascade of more harmful effects. The plan could shift trillions of dollars of wealth from Americans to foreigners; set off an emerging markets financial crisis; wreak havoc in global oil markets; and cause sustained harm to the American higher education and tourism industries (including, as it happens, luxury hotels with President Trump’s name on them).

Neil Irwin

Long story short: you can’t radically change the tax system of the world’s biggest economy (and home to the largest multinational companies) without huge repercussions everywhere.

15 February 2017

Flickr Blog: “Happy 13th Birthday, Flickr!”

It’s official, Flickr is a teenager! Thirteen years young and just as full of wonder, snark, and creativity as we’ve ever been. Together with our phenomenal community of photographers from around the world, our Flickr Family, we’ve set the tone for what an online photographer’s space could be.

Zee Jenkins

With the trouble their parent company Yahoo is going through, I would be grateful if Flickr just manages to grow old by another year. There are encouraging signs, with Flickr recently integrated more deeply into other Yahoo products, such as mail, but the bigger problem is how Yahoo will survive – or will the company end up being sold for parts.

14 February 2017

The Guardian: “The ruthlessly effective rebranding of Europe’s new far right”

This nostalgia has an unmistakable appeal, but not necessarily for the sort of voters one might expect. Whereas young Britons overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU and the elderly voted to leave, in France it is the opposite. According to Julian Rochedy, the former FN youth leader, appeals to nostalgia work better with the young in France – who dream of an era they never witnessed – than with the old, who lived through the era Marine Le Pen promises to restore. It is older voters, Rochedy argues, who are the greatest obstacle to Le Pen’s victory. They are afraid of leaving the euro, he says. They are afraid of huge changes. Rochedy is convinced that the FN will never win simply by fetishising the past. They just want to go back 30 years, he said of his erstwhile colleagues. It’s a discourse that doesn’t at all take into account the world as it is and what France has become.


By framing its anti-migrant politics as a battle against imperious elites and political correctness, the PVV has been able to capitalise on a panoply of grievances, from anger over asylum seekers to Euroscepticism. Meanwhile, many causes of the radical left – including anti-racism and anti-colonialism – have now become establishment thinking in the Netherlands. Idealism has been bureaucratised, argues the journalist Bas Heijne, who writes a column in the liberal daily newspaper NRC Handelsblad. And when the establishment enforces universalism, you react against it. That’s why there is such a strong anti-PC tone to the Dutch right: do not tell us what to say, what to celebrate and who we must live next to.

Sasha Polakow-Suransky

Remarkably similar to Trump’s tactics in the US – and just as dangerous. If I remember my German history lessons correctly, Hitler also played this ‘normalization’ card until he seized power, and we all know how well that turned out for Europe and the world.

13 February 2017

The Guardian: “Political correctness: how the right invented a phantom enemy”

Trump’s incessant repetition of the phrase has led many writers since the election to argue that the secret to his victory was a backlash against excessive “political correctness”. Some have argued that Hillary Clinton failed because she was too invested in that close relative of political correctness, “identity politics”. But upon closer examination, “political correctness” becomes an impossibly slippery concept. The term is what Ancient Greek rhetoricians would have called an “exonym”: a term for another group, which signals that the speaker does not belong to it. Nobody ever describes themselves as “politically correct”. The phrase is only ever an accusation.

If you say that something is technically correct, you are suggesting that it is wrong – the adverb before “correct” implies a “but”. However, to say that a statement is politically correct hints at something more insidious. Namely, that the speaker is acting in bad faith. He or she has ulterior motives, and is hiding the truth in order to advance an agenda or to signal moral superiority. To say that someone is being “politically correct” discredits them twice. First, they are wrong. Second, and more damningly, they know it.

Moira Weigel

One might say Donald Trump is ‘politically correct’ only to himself – i.e. proclaiming he’s a good leader for America and calling everybody disagreeing wrong and ‘sad’. Although on second thought I’m not sure it applies, because he sure seems to believe all the crazy, untrue things he constantly spouts.