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I really wanted to like Game of Thrones… I’m reluctant to start reading a book series that hasn’t been finished yet, so I avoided the books and the TV show for the longest time, all the while valiantly dodging spoilers and skillfully extricating myself from GoT-related conversations.

But then I saw the free week-long HBO trial that’s available on Amazon. After binge-watching all of Westworl, I decided to finally give GoT a try. It is well known that TV shows shouldn’t be judged on the quality of their first episode. Or the first few episodes. Or, sometimes, even their entire first season. (Case in point: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek: The Next Generation.) That said, I can’t quite explain why I binge-watched 80% of the second season as well before finally cancelling my HBO trial once and for all. I plead boredom.

And so, in no particular order – and without any particular spoilers, first impressions by a complete GoT newbie who only watched the show and never touched the books:

  • The whole thing could have been avoided if a certain 10-year-old with ADHD could have been kept in check by his parents.
  • Or if a certain couple didn’t decide to copulate with a window wide open, despite being in a new location. (I assume the GoT world had binoculars, spyglasses or telescopes.)
  • Incest. Sooo much incest. I don’t think there’s a baseline for incest in medieval-themed shows, but if there is, GoT is definitely ~400% or so above it.
  • If the king’s kids don’t look anything like him and the queen’s brother is perpetually single and never dates any men, women or livestock (the sheep option was actually mentioned in one of the episodes), does it really take a dramatic plot development for their royal subjects to put two and two together?
  • What the hell kind of orbit is that planet on? If you keep getting spontaneous miniature ice ages that occur at random intervals and last anywhere between 3-15 years, you probably don’t live in a garden-variety solar system. A solar system with multiple suns would kind of make sense, but it doesn’t look like they have more than one sun in the show. (I know, I know, that’s what I get for bringing sci-fi logic into the fantasy world. I’ll leave my phaser at the door next time.)
  • Considering that all of the main characters are from the top 1% and most of them spend their overabundant free time being insufferably posh/incestuous/suicidal/arrogant, who exactly am I supposed to root for here?.. This is like the Dune, only with 5% more social mobility.
  • Do the messenger ravens have miniature jet packs? Because I’m pretty sure they routinely cross the continent in less than a day. (Whereas, by comparison, it takes the king months to make the same journey on foot.)
  • If a large segment of the population ended up living in the northern wilderness for 8,000 years, with extremely limited contact with the so-called civilization, why do they look the same and speak the same language with the same accent? (Read up on the Ainu people and how they differ from their Japanese neighbors – and that’s without a giant wall between them.)
  • In addition to jet-pack ravens, we apparently have telepathic direwolves? Not sure if the concept got explored in the future seasons, but after the rather cliché scene in the first season, I was expecting to see more.
  • If your entire empire can descend into a bloody civil war because of a single hyperactive 10-year-old kid, maybe it wasn’t such a good form of government in the first place, and maybe whoever gets the throne in the end will only perpetuate more of the same.

As always, I welcome an intelligent and/or snarky discussion in the comments.

I’m a bit of a news junkie. Reality is always stranger than fiction, and recent events have made it stranger yet. (My sincerest condolences to the writers of “House of Cards.”)

Interesting times call for interesting news sources, and at one point last year I found that regular news sites just weren’t providing enough diverse information fast enough to keep up with my ever-growing appetite. To that end, I’ve created my very own news portal by harnessing the power of Twitter: after some trial and error, I’ve identified particularly interesting journalists and started following them in real time.

If you follow enough interesting and active people, your Twitter feed will be full of odd insights, interesting links and instant notifications about fresh news stories posted in their publications – or other news media that they, in turn, follow.

A lot of the people I follow are bloggers and writers, but they don’t produce the news so much as disseminate it. And so, in no particular order, here are the reporters and journalists whom I follow:

@costareports & @DanEggenWPost & @Fahrenthold – Washintgon Post politics
@maggieNYT – NYT White House correspondent
@SopanDeb – NYT culture writer
@DouthatNYT – NYT columnist
@JohnJHarwood – economy reporter on CNBC and NYT
@KatyTurNBC – the world’s top expert on Trump – she shadowed him (and got under his skin) since the day he announced his campain, way back in 2015.
@chrislhayes – MSNBC news host
@cbsMcCormick – CBS foreign affairs
@KatzOnEarth – freelance journo, really big on history
@elongreen – New Yorker
@AoDespair – former Washington Post journo, then a crime chronicler
@paulkrugman – the world’s most interesting economist!
@RalstonReports & @annieflanz & @MikeHigdon & @brianduggan – journos from Nevada
@froomkyn – Washington editor at The Intercept

I’m fully aware that a list of Twitter handles recorded on a personal blog might seem charmingly antiquated in the very near future, when we all get instant OmniSphere updates pumped straight into the frontal lobe via subdermal implants. Until then, however, feel free to follow any and all of the above – and leave a comment if you know any other interesting newsmakers.

(And here is my own humble account – @GrigoryLukin, should you be so inclined.)

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“the stomach wants what it wants” – 92 search results
“the brain wants what it wants” – 55 search results
“the liver wants what it wants” – 10 search results
“the lungs want what they want” – 8 search results
“the spleen wants what it wants” – 1 search result
“the appendix wants what it wants” – zero search results

Have you ever wondered if our world made a wrong turn somewhere? Sure, we have computers and smartphones and shiny video games, but what happened to the yesteryear dreams of jetpacks and space travel and flying cars? Well, now we know whom to blame: Tom Barren, the world’s worst time-traveler and the protagonist of Elan Mastai’s debut novel “All Our Wrong Todays.”

As it turns out, the most important event in human history happened on July 11th, 1965, when an eccentric scientist named Lionel Goettreider launched a device that harvested a new type of energy. The Goettreider Engine revolutionized everything, solved the energy crisis and turned the world into a utopia. Goettreider himself dies during the experiment (taking 16 fellow scientists with him), but that just helped cement his status as the new messiah of the utopian world. (The unfortunate scientists are remembered as “the 16 witnesses.”)

The story begins when our hapless protagonist, the scion of a famous physics professor, gets picked as a backup in the first ever time travel expedition. The grateful people of the futuristic 2015 want to go back in time (and space, accounting for the planetary movement) to witness the famous 1965 experiment. The end result is Tom waking up in our timeline, in our 2015, which to him seems like a dystopian nightmare. The Goettreider Engine doesn’t exist; buildings aren’t organically grown from smart materials; we use gas-guzzling cars instead of the fancy flying ones; worst of all, you have to pay other adults to pay your hair! And, on top of all that, the world he grew up in has ceased to exist, along with all his friends and relatives. Meet Tom Barren, destroyer of worlds.

As a self-proclaimed sci-fi junkie, I have to say – this book is probably the best time travel book I’ve had the pleasure to encounter. (The runner-ups are “How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe” by Charles Yu and “Rant: The Oral Biography of Buster Casey” by Chuck Palahniuk.) It deconstructs just about every time travel trope out there, flirts with a few that are either brand new or downright extinct, and provides dozens of quotable zingers and assorted deep thoughts.

The 380-page story is told from a first-person perspective, and we get to know Tom Barren well: an aimless 32-year-old who grew up in the shadow of his father, never had a lasting relationship and, despite being smarter than an average bear, has a remarkable talent for ruining things. (The fact that he has to share his mind with his alternate-universe self doesn’t help.) The ongoing, unceasing mental narrative reminded me a lot of the aforementioned “How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe,” expect much more so.

“All Our Wrong Todays” offers something unique for fans of both hard sci-fi and human interest stories. On the one hand, the book goes into quite a lot of detail regarding the plot holes of most time travel stories. (A recurring plot point is having to track down the exact spatial coordinates – miss by 3″ and you’re done for.) On the other hand, a huge part of the plot is dealing with the impossibly large implications of wiping out an entire timeline. On top of that, there’s time travel ethics: if you change history and end up accidentally getting a new relative, would reversing the change count as murder? If you liked “Safety Not Guaranteed” (probably the best human-interest time travel movie out there), you’ll love this book because it’s just like that, but amplified tenfold.

It’s hard to believe this is a debut novel: there are plot twists you won’t see coming, turns of phrase that will stick in your mind long after you finish the book. It sets a high standard for all the other sci-fi writers, newbie or otherwise, and should be on every sci-fi fan’s bookshelf.

I give this book five out of five stars.

Full disclosure: I received an advance reader copy of the book in exchange for an honest review – but then loved it so much that I pre-ordered a hardcover copy.

Pre-order “All Our Wrong Todays” on Amazon. (Release date: February 7th, 2017)

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I took a sleeping pill on the election day. At 1:15am on November 9th, I woke up to a strange world, vastly different from the one I had left behind.

We had it wrong. We had it all wrong. The conventional wisdom, the time-tested rules of politics, the elaborate polling models. All for naught.

In the age where celebrities are trusted more than scientists, where statisticians like Nate Silver are treated as oracles, where complacency supersedes commitment, our hubris humiliated us.

The Obama coalition fell apart. The white vote and the minority vote were different – vastly different – from what had been expected. The leading factors, to mangle Rumsfeld’s words, were known unknowns. We just hadn’t cared enough to know them.

My degree is in political science. I am a financial analyst by trade. The aftermath makes me want to reconsider ever mentioning my degree, ever again working as an analyst.

On the off chance you’re reading this simple blog in the future,  perhaps while researching the year that brought you Rodrigo Duterte and Brexit and Trump, know this: there was opposition. There was hubris. There was a fundamental miscalculation of who we really are.

We were arrogant. We are shaken. We shall learn.

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I rarely read non-fiction. I’ve never read a travelogue. And yet I was pleasantly surprised by Tom Lutz’s latest book, “And the Monkey Learned Nothing: Dispatches from a Life in Transit.” At first, the book grabbed my attention with its title, followed by the synopsis. After I read the first few chapters, I knew I was hooked.

Lutz is a solo traveler who dreams of visiting every country in the world. He’s also a great and introspective writer. Each chapter is a short account of his personal experience in a new foreign country. They range in length and topic: walking through an empty Middle Eastern town; being stalked by an aloof young woman in South Korea; infiltrating the secret tango scene in Buenos Aires…

Like every other travelogue out there, this one is subjective. It reveals a fair bit about the author himself, while also describing the way others reacted to him. It also adds a great deal of cultural context or just funny (and occasionally disturbing) anecdotes.

Just about the only flaw I could find in the book is the dry nature of some chapters that discuss local politics. Those chapters, however, were outnumbered by the ones that gave great travel advice, made me reconsider visiting a few places (sorry, Cambodia) and taught me to avoid monkeys in tourist-heavy areas. (“They are sociopaths, like particularly nasty juvenile delinquents.”)

This book was a genuine pleasure to read. It would make an excellent present to anyone that’s curious about travel, the world, the universe and everything. Most and foremost, it’s a must-read if your wanderlust has overgrown the confines of your own country and inspired you to travel abroad.

I give this book five out of five stars.

Full disclosure: I received an advance reader copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Buy “And the monkey learned nothing” on Amazon.

I want to be a stand-up comedian if I grow up. Might want to get insurance against pun-induced brain damage, though. Decisions, decisions…

iron punning

Kudos to Felicia Day for inspiring the pun barrage with this tweet.