Auto Ads by Adsense

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Crush Vol 1

Crush Vol 1 was an Amazon giveaway. Lots have been written about how werewolves are a metaphor for a woman's menstrual period, so it's inevitable that some comic will take the metaphor and make it literal in a story.

The story revolves around Elizabeth, who turns into Crush whenever she bleeds, which includes that time of the month. Crush, is an amoral monster, who only barely resembles Elizabeth, but somehow she and her friends are convinced that the monster would never do something like kill. There's an unresolved long-running plot involving some other monster that's similar to crush and seeks her out, but it's never really explained in this volume, and doesn't seem special enough for me to want to pursue it.

The art is nothing special. It's clear that the artist wants to evoke Matt Wagner's Mage, but neither the story nor the art can quite live up to that!

Monday, May 25, 2020

Review: Scary Godmother

Scary Godmother was a kindle giveaway, and somehow Boen asked me to read it to him over several nights. Each story is self-contained, but it helps to read everything in order since  characters carry over from one story to the next. The art is cute. The text is simple and easy for kids to understand, and the plotline mostly targeted for little kids.

There's no explanation for any of the "scary" characters in the book, and how they live or come about. Your kid's expected to know all the myths (i.e., what's a vampire, etc). It's fun entertainment but I can probably count any number of other books that are worth your time.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Review: Plastics - A Toxic Love Story

Plastics is much less technical than I would have liked. It doesn't cover in great detail how plastics were invented, nor does it discuss, for instance, how the details of recycling plastics work. It does spend some time discussing the effects of plastics on your health, but again, without a lot of detail. What it does point out that I didn't know about, was the lack of regulation over chemicals and safety:
while twenty thousand chemicals have been introduced since 1976, the EPA has been able to require intensive reviews for only two hundred, and it has used its authority to restrict only five. The hurdles are so high, the agency could not even successfully ban asbestos, an undisputed carcinogen.

In Europe, the burden of proof is on safety rather than danger. European regulators “act on the principle of preventing harm before it happens, even in the face of scientific uncertainty.” Guided by that precautionary principle, Europeans began limiting DEHP and other phthalates while American regulators continued debating the risks. (The EU, for instance, barred the use of DEHP in children’s toys in 1999, nine years before the U.S. Congress passed similar legislation.) A new directive known as REACH (for Registration, Evaluation, and Authorization of Chemicals), adopted in 2007, requires testing of both newly introduced chemicals and those already in use, with the burden on manufacturers to demonstrate that they can be used safely. The agency charged with implementing REACH targeted DEHP as one of the first fifteen “substances of very high concern” to be regulated. (Pg. 106-107)
By the time we get to the Pacific Garbage patches (there are actually several garbage patches, distributed all over the world's oceans), we start to get a surprisingly balanced view of things:
The lighter, like every other piece of plastic debris they hauled up in their nets, was coated with a fine slime of microbes, including bacteria and phytoplankton—organisms that are essential to the health of the ocean. To his surprise, Karl found that the plants attached to such plastic objects are copious producers of oxygen, churning out even more from their polymer platforms than is normally produced in open ocean. The finding suggests that, at some level, the multitude of plastic debris may be “improving the efficiency of the ocean to harvest and scavenge nutrients and produce food and oxygen,” (Pg. 134)
The author (and the scientist quoted above) stopped short of saying that plastics in the ocean is a good thing, but as with many things it's not immediately obvious that plastics are an unmitigated evil. For instance, in comparison to paper bags, plastics actually have a lower carbon footprint: they're lighter and therefore the cost of shipping is much lower, and paper itself has issues:
Life-cycle analyses—studies that analyze a product’s cradle-to-grave environmental impact—have consistently found that, compared to paper bags, plastic bags take significantly less energy and water to produce, require less energy to transport, and emit half as many greenhouse gases in their production. Author Tom Robbins called the paper bag “the only thing civilized man has produced that does not seem out of place in nature,” but that’s true only if you ignore the tree-felling, chemical-pulping, intensive-bleaching, water-sucking industrial production that goes into making that natural, potato-skin feel of a brown paper bag. (Pg. 158)
The book also disabused me of the idea that landfills are about decomposition. They're not. They're truly about waste disposal, and the goal is for landfills not to decompose, as that would add to their carbon footprint. The author's passion clearly lies with the environmental activism movement, and it's clear from her coverage of it, where she points out how quickly lip service the plastics industry fades once the spotlight on them disappears, and why the structure of the industry is such that it's difficult to get consistent action from them without government regulation:
The only players with significant financial resources to invest in recycling are the resin producers, the major oil and chemical companies, he said. But their top priority is “to make and sell virgin plastics.” As long as oil and gas prices are reasonably stable, there’s no financial incentive for the Dows, DuPonts, and ExxonMobils to get into the recycling business. Nor do they want to alienate the beverage companies that buy their raw plastics to make bottles. Meanwhile, the companies that make plastic products—which might be expected to have an interest in using recycled materials—are too fragmented a constituency to put together an all-out campaign for more recycling, said Rappaport. “The guy making trash bags has nothing to do with the guy making bottles. He’s got nothing to do with the guy making toys. It’s so fractured that nobody can get enough critical mass and money together” to put into developing the recycling infrastructure. (pg. 192)
Her visit to China's recycling center was also enlightening. Once again, the recycling happens there easily because the workers are getting paid $200 a month, which explains why plastic recycling doesn't happen on the coasts of the US --- China can outbid any US-based recycling center, and shipping from the US to China is incredibly cheap because container ships would be going back to China empty otherwise.

I started out the book rather negative, but by the end of the book realized that I learned a lot more than I expected. Recommended.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Rejuvenating old phones

Boen clamored for a phone since his big brother had my old Moto X4, so I dug up Xiaoqin's old Moto X Pure, which had a battery that wouldn't last 30 minutes. I looked at the iFixit site and discovered that it had relatively little glue, which was probably all gone because the screen had already been replaced once, so orderer the ZURUN 3400mAh replacement on Amazon. The replacement was fairly easy, though like an idiot I had 3 screws left over after the procedure which would affect the longevity of the product.

Similarly, Xiaoqin dropped her Pixel 3aXL and broke the screen. That phone was less than a year old, so it was worth sending out the phone for repair despite Google asking for $150. During the COVID19 crisis my wife and I didn't even consider going into the walk-in shop, despite their "essential" status. That would have probably saved some money.

By far the easiest repair, however, was the the Moto Z Play Xiaoqin's mom was using (also a pass down). That one started having battery problems as well, and I dreaded having to open up the case. Then I realized that the Moto Z series of phones have a mod pack ability that we never used, and now was the time to use it. Ordering a Moto Z Battery mod from eBay, when the mod arrived I removed the phone from the protective case, slapped on the mod, and handed it back. Everyone was surprised by how quickly the repair was done, and I was surprised that it worked. Of course, compared to the $16 the Moto X Pure repair cost, the Moto Z Play mod cost $50, but not having any screws left over must count for something!

In normal times you could just go down to BestBuy and have their technicians replace a battery for $50. Though for waterproof phones there's a big question as to whether the phone would stay waterproof after the operation, usually by the time the phone requires that level of maintenance you're no longer as worried about damage, and the phone was fully depreciated anyway! The rest of society might believe in throwing away old stuff, but I firmly believe that it's better for the environment if we keep using what we have for as long as possible.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Neil Gaiman's Likely Stories

In this 80 page comic, Neil Gaiman re-unites with Mark Buckingham to provide adult-oriented stories. The framing story is a pub, with dark stories that perhaps no longer seem so dark in the light of the very real crisis brought about by a pub in Ischgl. I read through the book in one night, and the stories had a mildly haunting quality, but nothing that's particularly outstanding. It wasn't a waste of time, but I'm not going to put a "recommended" tag on it.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Review: The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories

Despite not liking his novels and his latest collection of short stories, I'd already had The Paper Menagerie on hold (in ebook form) at the library, and ended up reading it without high expectations. I have no regrets. Not only are most of the stories in this collection of higher quality, the entire collection as a whole explained to me why I found his other work uncompelling.

Ken Liu's best form is that of a short story. In a short story, he's capable of creating a coherent plot, sketching out characters that come to life, and even evoking emotions that elude him in long form. "The Literomancer", "Good Hunting", "The Paper Menagerie", "The Regular", "The Paper Menagerie", "All The Waves" are all award-worthy reads that are put together so well that I was astounded: not only are the subject topics germain (Liu kindly puts together a set of references in this collection for each story, so you can follow along his research), the characters are excellent and the cultural references uniquely his. Liu not only puts references to Chinese myths and history in his stories, but is also happy to explicate and work on Japanese history as well. "The Literomancer" in particular is happy to explain the intricacies of Chinese characters in a way that (to me at least) is not only familiar, but insightful.

The volume's longer form novellas demonstrate why his more recent work hasn't been appealing: his last story, admittedly inspired by one of Ted Chiang's stories, is bloated,  and overstays its welcome, with next to no character development, and despite the extensive bibliography, doesn't offer any new insight.

Nevertheless, even if you've read many of the stories in this volume, to read it in context and to explore his extensive makes revisiting them in this book well worth your time. Highly recommended.

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Review: ANCOOL 5X Replacement Watchband for Fenix 5X

It was inevitable: while I'm nowhere near as hard on equipment as Bowen is, my Fenix 5X is still a daily wear device. 18 months after buying it and wearing it nearly continuously, I broke one of the eyelets on the wrist-band. And of course, it's the eyelet I use most often!

Garmin wants $50 for an OEM wrist-band, which is a bit rich. I've had mixed results from 3rd party vendors for things like cables, but I figured silicone is silicone, and it doesn't matter where it comes from. The ANCOOL band comes with a 12 month warranty, so I picked one up despite certain reviews claiming that it wasn't as comfortable as the OEM band.

Those reviews are wrong. The band is just as comfortable, and the easy-on-easy off nature of the band meant it was easy to swap back and forth. Recommended.

Monday, May 04, 2020

Review: The Making of a Manager

To a large extent, we are all products of our history and experiences. I spent my career at startups, so when I wrote Startup Engineering Management, I wrote a lot about the hiring process end to end. Julie Zhou, however, spent her entire career at Facebook, so for her, "working hard on recruiting" meant finding more time to interview.

The Making of a Manager is a good management book for people in precisely Julie Zhou's shoes: working at a hypergrowth environment after the growth has started, and with a ton of mentorship available and lots of money. The effect is that most of her advice revolves around the interpersonal sociology (what others would call politics):
if nothing my report said could convince me to change my mind, it’s insincere to act as if she had had a say. What if she responds, “Actually, I do have the time for it”? Or if she brings up a slew of other reasons why she’s the best candidate? I’d only be scrambling to give her another excuse, which would make her feel unheard. (Kindle loc 1333)
And her book also perfectly illustrates how low the expectations we have in industry for management positions:
at the point in which your team becomes four or five people, you should have a plan for how to scale back your individual contributor responsibilities so that you can be the best manager for your people. (Kindle loc 596)
Our standards for management are so low that we think that the management span of attention is at most 4-5. Compared to the great managers I know, who've successfully managed as many as a hundred people without intermediaries, most companies' approach to management guarantees that Zhou's perception is correct: if you do not give sufficient management training and set low expectations, that's precisely what you get.

Another interesting thing about Zhou's book is that Facebook was famously good about promoting from inside. So she assumes that's how everyone else operates and doesn't consider that other possibilities exist.

I don't want to put down this book. It's worth reading for the many practicalities of operating inside Facebook. It's incomplete, as opposed to a deeper understanding of how organizations should be constructed and operated, and doesn't provide those organizational principles. But if you're a Facebook employee newly promoted into management (and want to do the minimum so you can manage your 4-5 people) I bet this is an essential book and thereby is recommended.