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Thursday, August 13, 2020

Review: Sex and Vanity

By now, you know what to expect from a Kevin Kwan novel: lots of footnotes, attention to the details of the lives of the ultra-wealthy, and a breezy writing style with a shallow, predictable plot.

Sex and Vanity tries to be a regency romance for the modern day. It follows a predictable plot: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy win girls. The characters are cookie-cutter and 2-dimensional. Its sole redeeming feature (and one that has Amazon reviewers slamming the book) is its subversiveness. Kwan has made the male lead a Chinese guy from Hong Kong who'd gone to school at Berkeley. In the normal world, that'll make him a member of the privileged class, but of course he might as well have come straight from the poor house in a Kevin Kwan novel. The female lead is a half-Asian woman --- the type who wouldn't give a non-white guy the time of day. To even posit that such a male lead would win the female lead is of course, the ultimate subversion of the norm in the USA.

The world of the hoity-toity wealthy New Yorkers isn't as exotic as those from Singapore, but of course, the same snootiness and privilege applies. It's also quite clear the novel was written well before COVID19, or Kwan would have gotten way more mileage out of private jets than he did in the novel. This book is unlikely to be made into a movie (see paragraph above), but as light reading it's worth your time, and it's fun to indulge in a bit of subversive fantasy once in a while, even if the author is someone as mainstream popular as Kevin Kwan.

Mildly recommended.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Review: Topeak Smart Guage D2

I've been making do with the gauge on various pumps in the house for ages, and relying on feel to decide how high to pump up the tires. Mountain biking with kids, however, requires much more tuning of tire pressure than for adults: kids can ride tires with as little as 15psi, and I always wondered if the gauges on the pump were accurate. So I bought a Topeak SmartGauge D2.

It's not a particularly cheap one, but it is fairly well regarded, and has a nice switch that flips between presta or schraeder modes. It also uses a CR2032 battery, which ties in nicely with all the other CR2032 driven Garmin sensors in use on various bikes.

The device seems much better for schraeder than presta valves. The valve will leak more than a little if you're not spot on when using it on a presta vale. The ergonomics otherwise is great: the unit will beep when it's done, and there's a bleed valve so you can bleed down the pressure.

I discovered of course, that my floor pump (a $20 Bontrager purchased in 2008 when I was in Munich) over-reads pressure, and when it reads 90 psi, the D2 reads 75. That's good to know --- it means I have extra headroom on tire pressure on the triplet, which will become necessary as the kids grow heavier.

It turned out that I also really didn't need the gauge. When I used it on my kids' bikes, it read 14psi! So my thumb was already well-calibrated to what my kids needed, even if my gauge wasn't. But that's also worth knowing --- if I'd been off, I wanted to know, and given that my thumb is accurate, I also now have the confidence to do without a gauge most of the time as well.

Recommended.

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Review: How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm

How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm is a parenting book about different cultures approach certain areas of parenting. It's an intriguing idea but the author unfortunately has neither the expertise nor the depth of approach that makes her statements credible.

In particular the book opens with a statement about how Argentinians take their babies to social outings even when they're late hours. Since her husband and her were living in Argentina at the time, they did the same. She never correlates that type of socialization with her kid with the fact that her kid doesn't have good sleep habits and doesn't sleep through the night. That ruined her credibility with me.

Later on, she covers all sorts of different areas, such as the approach to food, child, socialization, academics, and chores and work. These are all explored shallowly and only within the context of the culture she explores, so there are no scientific interventionist studies, no random control groups, just interviews with experts and a few titbits with some references to follow up.

Compared with other parenting books that explore different cultures in more depth like Bringing up Bebe or World Class, this book is lackluster, shallow, and way too focused on the author's first-world travails and opinions. Not recommended.

Monday, August 03, 2020

Review: Snow, Glass Apples

Snow, Glass, Apples is a Neil Gaiman's re-interpretation of the snow white fairy tale. Gorgeously illustrated by Colleen Doran, it's a dark retelling of who snow white is, who her mother the queen actually was, and of course, who the prince is.

There's no deep elaboration of the 7 dwarves, and as a retelling it's got several plot holes that can only be explained by the word, "Magic."

This is not a book for pre-teen kids, but a great story for adults. Recommended.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Review: The Road

I finally tried reading The Road again, this time keeping in mind that it was one of the inspirations for The Last of Us. It's a surprisingly short novel, but once I thought about the purpose of the novel it made sense that it had to be short.

The entire novel is written as a series of vignettes. Every sentence is short, and each vignette is meant to contribute to a specific mood. The setting is the aftermath of an environmental catastrophe that's apparently irredeemable,  and the plot, such as it were, revolves around a father and son traveling south in search of... something.

Much has been written about the relationship between father and son in this novel, but for me, it all rings false. The conversations I've had with my own children have never shied away from difficult truths or attempts to maintain the innocence of the children, and I cannot imagine behaving the way the father in the novel does to his children.

The reaction of society in this post-apocalyptic world is also uniquely American. There's a strong sense of "every man for himself" and the assumption that everyone you meet is evil, which of course turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Other cultures novels depict teamwork and strong attempts to rebuild society and civilization. I definitely much prefer David Brin's The Postman over McCarthy's vision. Go read that one instead!

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Review: Lock Laces

I'm not one of those people who believes in shoe laces. I gave up on them several years ago when I switched to shoes that didn't need them, and I've never met a pair of shoe laces that weren't more trouble than they're worth. The problem is, many kids shoes (especially the nice waterproof ones from Columbia) come with shoe laces.

I was about to return a particularly nice pair when I decided to search and see if there were ways to retrofit them. Indeed, Amazon carries Lock Laces: these are elastic laces that you lace onto a shoe, then you run a toggle lock through them, cut off the excess, and then clip off the ends so they don't fray. For a nice fit, you'd fit your kids' feet in the shoe and lace it up nice and snug before cutting off the excess.

It's very rare that I like a product so much that I'll go immediately buy 2 more. But that's what happened with these: I'm going to upgrade Boen's cycling shoes and Bowen's Columbia Waterproofs with these.

Highly recommended!

Monday, July 27, 2020

Review: Swearing is Good For You

Swearing is Good For You is Emma Byrne's debut book about the research and science behind swearing. It turns out that Byrne is actually a computer scientist and has no special knowledge of linguistics or etymology. Her approach to this book is therefore that of a "survey study" approach, where she reads a ton of related papers in the field and then regurgitates them at you. The topics are grouped in a few obvious fashions: medical (tourette's), workplace, social, and foreign languages. Each topic is covered in shallow fashion, with references to the actual research and study, but Byrne herself has not really contributed anything substantial in this field.

If you're looking for a survey book as a jumping off point to deeper study, this might be OK. As it is I came away from the book feeling very meh.