12 August 2018

Peter F. Hamilton – Alchimistul neutronic

in Bucharest, Romania
Peter F. Hamilton - Alchimistul Neutronic

În ciuda blocadei Marinei, colonia Lalonde a căzut complet sub controlul al posedaților, și Confederația se trezește în fața unei crize fără precedent. Oricât de rapid ar sări șoimii‑de‑vid prin găurile lor personale de vierme, veștile nu pot ajunge simultan în toate colțurile spațiului populat de oameni, așa încât carantina generală impusă de Marină sosește prea târziu pentru a împiedica răspândirea flagelului. Posedații fugiseră deja la bordul navelor plecate de pe Lalonde înainte de încercuirea planetei.

Un grup de doar trei posedați aterizează pe Ombey, în Regatul Kulu, reușind să preia controlul întregii peninsule Mortonridge în ciuda măsurilor drastice adoptate la sfatul lui Ralph Hiltch. Norfolk, cu societatea ei deliberat agrară, nu are nici o șansă; posedații o copleșesc repede, devenind următoarea planetă scoasă din univers. Pe Noua Californie, un cuib îl aduce din morți pe Al Capone, care își regăsește rapid flerul criminal și preia întreaga planetă în Organizația lui de stil mafiot. În habitatul Vasilisk, o altă celulă încearcă să preia controlul de la personalitatea Rubra, folosindu‑se de ura urmașului său, Dariat. Mai mult, profitând de criza care zguduie Confederația, dr. Alkad Mzu evadează din arestul ei lung de trei decenii în Seninătate, pentru a‑și finaliza planurile de răzbunare împotriva celor care i‑au anihilat planeta natală.

După cum am scris mai demult, nu am fost impresionat în mod special de prima parte a acestei trilogii masive. În mod surprinzător însă, al doilea roman mi‑a plăcut ceva mai mult, deși nu cred că i‑aș da o notă mai mare pe ansamblu. Odată ce autorul a stabilit cadrul general al evenimentelor în primul roman, al doilea are acțiune ceva mai multă și considerabil mai variată. Fiecare dintre celulele izolate de posedați își desfășoară propriile strategii și tactici, în funcție de personalitatea liderului. Pentru majoritatea, scopul final este asimilarea populației existente, asigurând astfel o masă critică pentru a se izola de univers. Asta obligă de exemplu grupul de pe Vasilisk, care nu are suficientă populație pentru a se susține la nesfârșit, să înceapă o campanie înșelătoare de propagandă, invitând nemulțumiții din toate colțurile Confederației pe Vasilisk cu promisiunea libertății și a unei vieți mai bune. Al Capone în schimb are alte planuri pentru noul său regat, și anume să se păstreze la conducere. Pentru asta se străduiește să păstreze un echilibru precar între posedați și normali și o societate relativ funcțională, căci odată relocați în alt univers nimeni n‑ar avea nevoie de ordinele lui.

11 August 2018

The Atlantic: “How America lost Its Mind”

A year later, The Colbert Report went on the air. In the first few minutes of the first episode, Stephen Colbert, playing his right-wing-populist commentator character, performed a feature called “The Word.” His first selection: truthiness. Now, I’m sure some of the ‘word police’, the ‘wordinistas’ over at Webster’s, are gonna say, Hey, that’s not a word! Well, anybody who knows me knows that I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They’re elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn’t true. Or what did or didn’t happen. Who’s Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was finished in 1914? If I wanna say it happened in 1941, that’s my right. I don’t trust books—they’re all fact, no heart… Face it, folks, we are a divided nation… divided between those who think with their head and those who know with their heart… Because that’s where the truth comes from, ladies and gentlemen—the gut.

Whoa, yes, I thought: exactly. America had changed since I was young, when truthiness and reality-based community wouldn’t have made any sense as jokes. For all the fun, and all the many salutary effects of the 1960s—the main decade of my childhood—I saw that those years had also been the big-bang moment for truthiness. And if the ’60s amounted to a national nervous breakdown, we are probably mistaken to consider ourselves over it.

Kurt Andersen

Exceptional account of the gradual, yet inexorable, slide of American society into the rejection of science and reason, and the embrace of fantasy and ‘personal truth’.

I have my own theory regarding this, possibly too simplistic to explain everything. It has to do with the protestant roots of American culture: back in Europe, Protestantism was born as a counter-movement to the centralized Truth imposed by the Catholic Church. After coming to the New World, the tradition of Protestantism has taken another form: as rationalism replaced of Christian Doctrine as the central tenet of society, so too the protestant spirit has turned to fighting… science and objective truth! Just as many before have rejected the interpretation of the Bible through priests and theologians, now Americans are rejecting the advice of experts and demand the right to their own (often naïve) interpretation of the world around them.

05 August 2018

ESO: “First Successful Test of Einstein’s General Relativity Near Supermassive Black Hole”

The team compared the position and velocity measurements from GRAVITY and SINFONI respectively, along with previous observations of S2 using other instruments, with the predictions of Newtonian gravity, general relativity and other theories of gravity. The new results are inconsistent with Newtonian predictions and in excellent agreement with the predictions of general relativity.


The new measurements clearly reveal an effect called gravitational redshift. Light from the star is stretched to longer wavelengths by the very strong gravitational field of the black hole. And the change in the wavelength of light from S2 agrees precisely with that predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity. This is the first time that this deviation from the predictions of the simpler Newtonian theory of gravity has been observed in the motion of a star around a supermassive black hole.

eso1825 — Science Release

It’s remarkable how well Einstein’s theory of general relativity has withstood every test and experiment it has been subjected to for the past century. But I find it somewhat odd that none of the articles I’ve read about this research mention how predictions from alternative theories of gravity fit with these measurements. No serious physicist would expect Newtonian gravity to pass this test, but what about string theory, MOND or loop quantum gravity? It makes me think that none of these theories can match the predictive success of general relativity, let alone improve upon it. And that suggests physics is very far from surpassing Einstein and unlocking the elusive final unification of forces.

29 July 2018

Some of the Best from Tor.com, 2016 edition

in Bucharest, Romania
Some of the Best from Tor, 2016 - Kindle Edition

După o lectură atât de masivă ca Disfuncția Realității am simțit nevoia de o schimbare de ritm. Aveam de multă vreme colecția de față pe Kindle (din câte țin minte descărcată gratuit), așa că m‑am decis să o încerc. Așa cum au remarcat alții în recenzii online, calitatea povestirilor este foarte variabilă, de la unele groaznice la altele remarcabil de reușite. Fiind vorba de 25 de texte, voi încerca să‑mi mențin remarcile scurte și la obiect, altfel riscă să devină unul dintre cele mai lungi articole de pe blog.

Colecția debutează din păcate cu una dintre cele mai slabe componente, Clover de Charlie Jane Anders. Un cuplu gay primește în dar o pisică de la un străin misterios, cu promisiunea că le va aduce noroc timp de șapte ani. După această perioadă de grație, străinul se întoarce cu o nouă pisică, avertizându‑i pe cei doi că norocul e posibil să li se schimbe. Se schițează o vagă poveste oarecum fantastică, sugerându‑se că pisicile erau de fapt oameni transformați printr‑o vrajă, dar mi‑a fost imposibil să găsesc vreun rost pentru care ai scrie ceva atât de insipid. Singurul motiv pentru care a fost inclusă este cel mai probabil că autorul este editorul colecției.

Următoarea, The Art of Space Travel de Nina Allan, vine cu o schimbare ca de la pământ la cer, o poveste subtilă, delicată și emoționantă despre relația dintre o fiică și mama ei. Undeva în deceniile următoare, când expedițiile spre Marte devin un spectacol recurent, rutina lui Emily, o cameristă din UK, este întreruptă de vestea că doi astronauți vor înnopta în hotelul unde lucrează. Evenimentul o face să reflecte din nou la propria ei copilărie, deoarece mama ei Moolie, bolnavă și senilă din cauza unui accident în urmă cu zece ani, a susținut dintotdeauna că tatăl ei este un astronaut decedat într‑una din primele expedițiile marțiene, evitând însă să dea detalii sau nume. Evident, adevărul se dovedește mai prozaic și mai aproape de casă. Deși am intuit ușor dezvăluirea din final, am fost impresionat de relația complexă dintre cele două, de iubirea și devotamentul fiicei, pentru că am trecut eu însumi prin experiența de a avea grijă unul singur de mama mea bolnavă.

26 July 2018

9to5Mac: “iPhone X sets new record for resale value, averaging 85% of retail price”

The iPhone X didn’t just set a new record for iPhone pricing, it’s also reportedly doing the same for how well it holds its resale value.

Liquidation specialist B-Stock says that high demand is seeing used models sell for an average of 85% of the original price…


B-Stock says that this is a substantially higher percentage than previous iPhone models sold at the same time in the product life-cycle.

Ben Lovejoy

The iPhone always had a higher resale value than competing Android devices, so that’s hardly news. For me, this piece of data raises another, far more interesting, question: I get that customers want to buy the iPhone X, but where is the supply coming from? New iPhone models are not due to launch until September, and it will take another couple of weeks for them to be widely available in stores. Together with the last statement, this implies a rather large population of Apple customers are dissatisfied with the X model enough to sell it now, and ‘downgrade’ to an iPhone 8 or 8 Plus. It will be interesting to see how this reflects in Apple’s sale numbers, which are due shortly.

24 July 2018

The Verge: “The anti-monopoly case against Google”

These are monopoly networks, or networks that have many monopoly characteristics. So we looked to the past, trying to figure out what principles people used to regulate the railroads, the utilities, and other monopoly networks. And there were two primary principles people brought to bear on the transport monopolies.

One was non-discrimination, which is most important from the side of the producer. Every single customer has been trying to use these platforms, these transport systems, to get to market, has to be treated the exact same. You get the same service, you get the same pricing, and you all get in the same line. No discrimination, no playing favorites, no giving someone a better rate.

The second principle was no vertical integration. If you own a necessary monopoly that other people depend on, you cannot deal in products that compete with other companies that depend on you to get to market. If I am growing grain on my farm and I need to get on your railroad to get to the city where my grain’s going to be consumed, I do not want the railroad to buy the farm next to me. That’s because when I go to the depot, I know that every day when I try to take my grain into town, the railroad grain will be loaded before mine is.

Barry Lynn

From last year, but just as relevant today as back then – and fitting after the conclusion of another antitrust case against Google in the European Union. I found it amusing that most of the examples in the article involve Amazon and their distribution network, but Google breaks the same principles in the digital space. In the Android case for example, Google compels hardware manufacturers to include its own digital services, thereby hurting the chances of competing online services to gain and retain customers. The ideal situation would be to have several competing platforms on every distribution market, but digital network effects appear to favor a single big platform; baring that, platforms should be closely scrutinized to prevent anticompetitive behavior.

19 July 2018

Bloomberg: “The Eurocrat who makes Corporate America tremble”

A tall man rose and introduced himself as a banker. The EU has had trouble inspiring much affection among its citizens, he said. But here in Denmark, since Margrethe Vestager took over, the competition commission has become very close to people’s hearts. Shouldn’t the EU reach out more, to become similarly beloved?

It’s not in explaining the details or showing the process that you find acceptance, Vestager said. It’s in showing results, showing that it works. You don’t want to follow the baker in every step he’s taking. You just want to eat the pastry. We’re not asking people to love everything—just to love the big thing.


The EU’s best response to all this instability, particularly across the Atlantic, Vestager says, is to double down on its core values. I don’t think Europe should be defined by the U.S. administration. We have so much going for us. This is a great place. It’s a wonderful place to do business. In the choppy new world order, if the U.S. abandons its post at the tiller and retreats into itself, Vestager says, Europe can step forward to fill whatever vacuum might appear. There is no room for worry, no time to fret. I think it’s more an obligation to be an optimist. Pessimism will never get anything done.

Samanth Subramanian

Another old article, but this seems a good time to share it, since Margrethe Vestager just delivered another verdict against Google, fining the company over the bundling of Google services on Android devices. In a world where American tech giants are causing all sorts of havoc with their ‘disruption’ mindset – or simply evading tax bills on a scale rarely seen before – it feels good to have a clear, level head with the power to investigate their practices and hold them accountable, even if the process is long and complicated. I particularly like her quote in the closing of the article, even as my own views are more pessimistic.