A Blog from Amman, Jordan, Online Since 2004.

Month: December 2014 (Page 1 of 2)

The best and the worst of the 50 books I read in 2014


I am so happy that I finally managed to reach my yearly goal of reading 50 books. I read almost 25,000 pages of science fiction and fantasy in 2015. Shit, I’m such a geek. Ladies and gentlemen… my own personal Hugo Awards for books I read this year.

The Best Three Books I Read in 2014

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Simple, beautiful book that everyone should read. It made me cry.

A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge
Super amazing book, beautiful plot, genius science.

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
This series should be a classic. It’s very well written, the characters are so rich, and the plots are fun.

The Worst Three

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

The Elric Saga by Moorcock, Michael
So dull.

Among Others by Jo Walton
I hated hating this one, because I love Jo Walton’s articles.

Books I Couldn’t Complete

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
I’ve never been able to finish any of his books.

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
Sorry, Ray! This was awful.

Biggest Disappointments

Shards of Honour by Lois Bujold
I’ve heard so much about the Vorkosigan Saga and I was so excited to read it… unfortunately, the books are crap.

Gateway by Fredrik Pohl
It could have been a very good book, but it was empty.

Gardens of the Moon by Erikson, Steven
I’ve been looking forward to this one for years.

Most Creative Plot

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
Beautiful book!

The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton
I really enjoyed this classic — scary, fun, and fast-paced.

A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge
Loved this one.

All the Books I Read in 2014

  1. The Book of the New Sun by Wolfe, Gene
  2. Flowers for Algernon by Keyes, Daniel
  3. Sunshine by McKinley, Robin
  4. The Road by McCarthy, Cormac
  5. The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower, #1) by King, Stephen
  6. Magician's Gambit (The Belgariad, #3) by Eddings, David
  7. Cat's Cradle by Vonnegut, Kurt
  8. Shards of Honour (Vorkosigan Saga, #1) by Bujold, Lois McMaster *
  9. Queen of Sorcery (The Belgariad, #2) by Eddings, David
  10. A Fire Upon the Deep (Zones of Thought, #1) by Vinge, Vernor
  11. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Clarke, Susanna
  12. A Deepness in the Sky (Zones of Thought, #2) by Vinge, Vernor
  13. Furies of Calderon (Codex Alera, #1) by Butcher, Jim 
  14. Among Others by Walton, Jo
  15. First Lord's Fury (Codex Alera, #6) by Butcher, Jim 
  16. Cursor's Fury (Codex Alera, #3)  by Butcher, Jim  
  17. A Spell for Chameleon (Xanth, #1) by Anthony, Piers
  18. Captain's Fury (Codex Alera, #4) by Butcher, Jim  
  19. Princeps' Fury (Codex Alera, #5) by Butcher, Jim  
  20. Academ's Fury (Codex Alera, #2) by Butcher, Jim  
  21. Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander, #2) by Gabaldon, Diana *
  22. Outlander (Outlander, #1) by Gabaldon, Diana *
  23. Gardens of the Moon (The Malazan Book of the Fallen, #1) by Erikson, Steven
  24. The Gods Themselves by Asimov, Isaac
  25. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Brooks, Max
  26. Eragon (The Inheritance Cycle, #1) by Paolini, Christopher
  27. Eldest (The Inheritance Cycle, #2) by Paolini, Christopher
  28. Brisingr (The Inheritance Cycle, #3) by Paolini, Christopher *
  29. Inheritance (The Inheritance Cycle, #4) by Paolini, Christopher
  30. The Eyre Affair (Thursday Next, #1) by Fforde, Jasper
  31. Cryptonomicon by Stephenson, Neal
  32. The Martian Chronicles by Bradbury, Ray
  33. The Elric Saga Part I (Elric Saga, #1-3) by Moorcock, Michael 
  34. The Magicians (The Magicians, #1) by Grossman, Lev
  35. The Magician King (The Magicians, #2) by Grossman, Lev
  36. The Magician's Land (The Magicians, #3) by Grossman, Lev
  37. Taliesin (The Pendragon Cycle #1) by Lawhead, Stephen R. 
  38. The Maze Runner (Maze Runner, #1) by Dashner, James
  39. The Death Cure (Maze Runner, #3) by Dashner, James
  40. The Scorch Trials (Maze Runner, #2) by Dashner, James
  41. Merlin (The Pendragon Cycle, #2) by Lawhead, Stephen R. 
  42. A Wrinkle in Time (A Wrinkle in Time Quintet, #1) by L'Engle, Madeleine 
  43. Arthur (The Pendragon Cycle #3) by Lawhead, Stephen R. 
  44. The Blade Itself (The First Law, #1) by Abercrombie, Joe 
  45. Before They Are Hanged (The First Law, #2) by Abercrombie, Joe 
  46. Last Argument of Kings (The First Law #3) by Abercrombie, Joe 
  47. Prince Lestat (The Vampire Chronicles #11) by Anne Rice
  48. The Andromeda Strain by Crichton, Michael 
  49. Gateway (Heechee Saga, #1) by Pohl, Frederik 
  50. Darkover Landfall (Darkover #1) by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Astronomically Accurate Twinkle, Twinkle

The only sort of nursery rhymes that my kids are gonna hear.

The Sun As You’ve Never Seen It Before

NASA recently published this beautiful image of the sun. It’s the most sensitive shot ever taken in the high-energy X-ray range of the spectrum.

main image

Look at the beautiful days:


zoom 2

This is really cool because the new telescope has the potential to capture hypothesized nanoflares — smaller versions of the sun’s giant flares that erupt with charged particles and high-energy radiation. Nanoflares, should they exist, may explain why the sun’s outer atmosphere, called the corona, is sizzling hot, a mystery called the “coronal heating problem.”

The corona is, on average, 1 million degrees Celsius, while the surface of the sun is much cooler at a measly 6,000 degrees Celsius. It is like a flame coming out of an ice cube.

Here’s the direct image link.

Unexpected gifts

I love unexpected, pretty gifts.

Thank you Massimo Dutti and Azadea for this lovely scarf :)

I have a really bad headache and you totally made my day!

Goodbye, Elve. Goodbye, Orc. Goodbye, Man: The End is Here

Words are eternal, but movies are not.

A few days ago, I watched what may very likely be my last visual and auditory experience in Middle Earth, with the final hobbit installment. What a sad day!

I’ve loved JRR Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” (LOTR) well before Peter Jackson’s excellent movies came out. I read every word, fell in love with the characters, and enjoyed the epicness. I’ve read LOTR several times in my life, enjoying it wholeheartedly each time. It never gets boring, it never gets old.

When I was 16, the first Peter Jackson LOTR movie came out, and it was unfathomable: the movies were AS GOOD AS THE BOOKS. That’s insane, because movies are almost never as good as the book, especially when the book is amazing as LOTR.

Yet, Peter’s rendition of Middle Earth was beautiful. He managed to change the way I imagine elves, men, and orcs, in a way that other movies have not (Harry Potter characters for example do not look like they do in the movies in my mind, nor does “The Game of Thrones”, or “True Blood”).

Peter’s Middle Earth is a perfect imagining. The sounds are perfect. The outfits are perfect. The acting is perfect.

I’m so sad it’s done, because with it’s end, it died. I tried to rewatch LOTR a few days ago. You can see the green screen :) Movies die, but Peter’s characters will never die, as far as I’m concerned.

Goodbye, Elve. Goodbye, Orc. Goodbye, Man.

Justice, Racism, and Accountability: The Serial Podcast

I listened to “Serial” this weekend, a podcast that tries to “solve” a murder case that happened 15 years ago in 1999, in which a Pakistani immigrant called Adnan Syed was charged for murder.

I strongly recommend you listen to “Serial”. For one thing, it’s real. Adnan is a real person, and he really is serving a life sentence for the alleged murder of his girlfriend. He was convicted in Maryland, the United States, when he was 18, and if you listen to the podcast, you’ll see that the conviction was pretty shady.

The podcast is an amazing insight into the nature of justice, the objectivity of perspective, and racism. Sarah Koenig meticulously goes over every piece of evidence at hand, both incriminating and otherwise. She interviews every person related to Adnan and Hae, the victim. She poses questions that tackle every single angle. She is so thorough it’s impressive.

Yet, even with all Sarah’s thoroughness, my own personal conclusion is that there isn’t enough data to decide whether Adnan is innocent or guilty. The information is inconclusive.

You see, I’ve spent a good portion of time in the past few years consciously training myself to think critically. This has involved learning formal logical fallacies. Ultimately, it is fallacious reasoning that keeps us from knowing the truth. As I listened to the prosecution, all I could do was count the logical fallacies I heard: Fallacy of Presumption, Ad Hominem, Appeal to Authority, Biased Sample, Appeal to Ignorance, False Dilemma, Poisoning the Well, Questionable Cause…

Yes, I’m aware that misusing fallacies is a natural part of the justice system. Tapping into people’s inability to think critically is what law seems to be all about: manipulation by those skilled in the art of rhetoric.

This is where accountability comes in. Our humanity is based around the concept of accountability. What makes us different from animals is not intelligence — animals are intelligent too — but accountability. Thousands of years of laws, tradition, and religion has cemented our need for accountability.

There is not enough evidence in the case to assess Adnan’s innocence or guilt. Regardless of whether Adnan is guilty or not, it seems to me that Adnan was convinced to hold someone accountable for the death of an innocent girl.

And this is why Serial is so amazing. It just shows you what such a screwed up thing justice is.

Yet, the worst part by far is the motive claimed by the prosecution. Racism screwed up a kid’s life. It is atrocious, disgusting, racist, and xenophobic. According to the prosecution, Adnan’s motive was something in between being the “crazy possessive Muslim guy” and the hypocritical bad guy who is pretending to be a “good Muslim” but is instead doing something “evil”. He was after all, they claimed, dating in secret, due to not wanting to his conservative families to know.

It was this “motive” that was used against Adnan by the prosecution, and he was made out to be the psychopath who hid his dating from his family because he is a psychopath. They said Adnan was guilt ridden about lying to his family about having a girlfriend, and so he killed his girlfriend. They presented him as this two-faced bastard with a split personality.

This is where I was like WTF.

In 1999, when Adnan was convicted, I was a teenager too. I keep going back to 1999 and feeling horrified that this poor guy basically got locked up for hiding stuff from his parents, when me, myself, and everyone I knew were hiding stuff too.

They put a kid away simply because they couldn’t relate to his background.

1. Hiding stuff from parents during your teenage is the normal thing as far as Middle Eastern culture is concerned. You operate thinking that your parents don’t want to know these things. I hid stuff from mine all the time, even though I knew they wouldn’t have given a crap. I hid it because everyone else in the community hid it from their own parents.

2. Middle Eastern culture is very strongly connected to religion, so it’s harder to face parents. Their concern over their children’s behavior is deep-rooted in the fear of God. Parents get really worried when they think their kids might go to hell, and so kids just avoid letting their parents know that they’re doing stuff that “god might not be too happy with” for their parents’ peace of mind. This is totally normal. It doesn’t make anyone a bad person. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, it’s really sweet. Let the mothers sleep soundly at night, yeah?

I can’t believe that the prosecution used this against Adnan. It really is atrocious.

So yeah. A lot of thinking about a podcast. Listen to it, it’s really good.

85 ideas, 85 years

Business Week has a cool feature for their 58th anniversary issue highlighting the most groundbreaking 85 ideas in the past 85 years, including GDP, OPEC, information theory, Google, GPS, and the pill. Very cool, read it here.

My Favorite Guilty Pleasure: Robbie Williams

Probably the only musician that I loved when I was 8, 13, 16, 20, 25, and 30. There was never a moment when I didn’t grin at a Robbie Williams song. He always makes me go back to being a silly screaming tween with Robbie’s face plastered all over my bedroom walls.

Plus, RE: Freddie Mercury post below this one, it was Robbie’s version of “We are the Champions” that made me fall in love with Queen in the first place. I loved Robbie’s version when I was a kid, and it was the only version that I knew, until I realized it was originally a Queen song.

Here is the version I knew first (Imagine my shock just now when I found out that Robbie DID perform it with Roger Taylor and Brian May from Queen. That’s insane.)

And “We Will Rock You”. My god he’s awesome!

No Freddie… but amazing performer.


Just enjoy.

Typesetting the Future

I just found the most amazing website in the world. It beautifully combines three of my top five favorite things in life: science fiction, typography, and the Internet. Basically, it here’s a piece dissecting the typography of “Odyssey 2001” (which happens to be one of my favorite books in the world, by Arthur C Clarke, one of my favorite authors in the world).

It dwells on tiny little things like the old IBM logo designed by Paul Rand, one of my favorite designers in the world.

They also have a beautiful piece on typesetting “Alien” on Typeset in the Future.

I strongly recommend reading it.

Really. What an amazing blog. It’s so beautiful.

Visit it and weep.

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