2015 Q4

David Foster Wallace - Consider the Lobster and Other Essays

The cover of Consider the Lobster

I hadn't read David Foster Wallace before this book.  I think that I don't like his writing style and disagree with many of his opinions, but he chooses very interesting topics to write about, so I enjoyed reading the book nonetheless.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality book cover

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality is a wonderful piece of Harry Potter fan fiction.  It's about 660,000 words (which is almost as long as the first 5 Harry Potter books), and it's available for free in a variety of formats, all of which you can find at hpmor.com

Habitica: the only productivity app that has worked for me

Habitica logo

I had a temporary roommate that studied cognitive science for his PhD, and I saw him using Habitica one day, so I asked him about it.  It is a gamified app that helps people form, keep, or break habits, and it has worked excellently for me for the past 5 months.

Kristen Marhaver: How we're growing baby corals to rebuild reefs

The TED talk image for this video

Coral reefs are important for stabilizing the ecosystem and providing biodiversity, for protecting humans against extreme weather, for medical research, and for aesthetic purposes.  Their value is estimated at over $375 billion per year.  They are dying at an alarming rate due to human activities.

In this talk, Kristen Marhaver explains exactly what coral are and how her lab has been researching ways to make it easier for coral to reproduce 

John Dies at the End - David Wong

John Dies at the End Cover

John Dies at the End is a Cthulu comedy.  It has all of the freaky monsters and stuff that messes with your mind, but the protagonists handle the situation with levity.  

The scary stuff wasn't too scary, which was good for me.  The jokes were reasonable.  There wasn't a ton of stuff that was thematically interesting.  So, an enjoyable read, but not amazing.

Genevieve von Petzinger: Why are these 32 symbols found in ancient caves all over Europe?

Genevieve von Petzinger's TED talk image

Genevieve von Petzinger is studying the evolution of writing by looking at cave paintings.  Before her, most researchers focused on animals in cave paintings even though most cave paintings included geometric figures.  She spent hundreds of hours crawling through caves to find these paintings, document them, and categorize them.  She found that there were only 32 different geometric symbols used across the cave paintings of Europe, indicating that they had come from a common origin and were being used intentionally rather than being used randomly.  

Harald Haas: A breakthrough new kind of wireless Internet

Harald Haas' TED talk image

Existing wifi technology, both the router and the receiving device, consumes energy.  Harald Haas' team has created a technology that uses light to transmit data using off the shelf LEDs and solar panels, which can transmit up to 50Mbps of data and can work even when partly obscured due to things like fog.  Because the receiver is a solar cell, it is able to harvest some of the energy used to transmit the data, making the technology more energy neutral.

Ernest Cline: Ready Player One

Ready Player One cover

In Ready Player One, global warming, an energy crisis, war, famine, and poverty have made the world a bad place, so many people use a high fidelity virtual reality game, the OASIS, as their escape.  The protagonist uses his knowledge of 80s video games, movies, and music to try to win a contest that would net him billions of dollars.

The book is generally good, and it could have been great, but it wasn't great.  As such, even though I generally liked the book, most of this post is fairly negative.  Here is the negativity:

Kurt Vonnegut: Sirens of Titan

Sirens of Titan book cover

Sirens of Titan was Vonnegut's second novel, and many of the themes present in it show through in subsequent works, though later works felt more refined.  For instance, the humanist religion in Sirens of Titan, The Church of God the Utterly Indifferent, felt less relatable than Bokononism and more likely to provoke a negative reaction out of traditional believers, though the two religions are very similar at a deeper level.  

"I was a victim of a series of accidents, as are we all."  Classic Vonnegut.  Only, "So it goes" is simpler.

Jennifer Doudna: We can now edit our DNA. But let's do it wisely

Jennifer Doudna's TED talk image

Jennifer Doudna was researching CRISPR, which is like an immune system for bacteria.  Bacteria can grab viruses, sample them, learn how to detect them, and then learn how to destroy them.

Since CRISPR cuts up the virus (using Cas9) and we can synthesize RNA, Doudna was able to use these components to edit genes.


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