Evensong by Krista Walsh

This was a book that I was able to download for free through Amazon Kindle books and read for the fun of it this past summer in early August. I wrote my summary on the DC Metro after I finished the book on an old Nexus tablet that has charging issues. I never got it to turn back on and had no internet to back it up so that immediate review is lost forever, but I still feel strongly enough to write a form of review. It’s also been too long and I don’t remember specific characters names, so here we go.

Evensong is an interesting blend science fiction and fantasy. The book is about a timid writer who struggles in his personal life to ask a barista on a date. He is having a break through on his book when he suddenly finds himself trapped in the book (hence the science fiction), very shortly after he began thinking about killing off one of the characters for plot points. The last point he had just written was the return of a mythical dragon that is terrorizing the town (hence the fantasy).

The writer comes to terms that “there’s more at play in his book/world than he imagined or had control over”. A villain that was only a figment of his imagination has come to life and is terrorizing the land, eventually dragging the barista into the middle of things.

As with all fantasy books, the archetypes were strong: the once timid character turns brave to overcome task at hand, the evil second in command has a change of heart, the barista unquestioningly falls for our writer. Some of these are hard to swallow. The “travel into my story” isn’t done all that well, and was better done by books I read in primary school like Inkspell.

There are two more books in the series. Unfortunately for Walsh, I was not that interested to continue reading. Then again, in reflection, I remember it being such a light and easy read, that it may not have been targeted at a recent college graduate, but after some searching – this was not a book targeted at young adults. It’s just in the fiction/fantasy section.

Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

By Source, fair use https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/6/63/Freakonomics.jpg
By Source, fair use https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/6/63/Freakonomics.jpg

I’d like to start with a quote from the book’s introduction:

“Morality, it could be argued, represents the way that people would like the world to work – whereas economics represents how it actually works.”

Although there’s no central theme to the book, other than asking questions and finding answers, Dubner writes about Levitt’s many eccentric research questions and unconventional approach to the world through economics. Levitt openly admits to not understanding economic theories, stock market predictions, mathematical derivations, etc, but, from a research perspective, he is focused on comprehending how motivations and incentives drive people while corruption and self-interest penetrates our lives and our environment using the tools economics provides. If this is worrisome to you, I guess you’ve never thought about the fact that your mechanic probably doesn’t know the thermodynamics of how potential energy in your fuel is transferred into kinetic energy in your car, but you’ve trusted him to assemble things correctly nonetheless; or you’ve never worried about politicians who get their say on a range of topics they commonly fail to understand (Thanks Jon for this).

Now to be fully honest, the ‘going against the authority figure is growing’. This book only feeds the current populace feelings of distrust in authority figures that reeks havoc in modern politics, but with a sound basis instead of on regurgitation of false news. Though an individual could walk away with extra ammunition against ‘the man’, but the real lesson to take away is that things aren’t as simple as they may appear and you need sound evidence to support an idea — Levitt has just happened to found a strong set of tools through economics (and statistics, but they don’t make that quite as clear).

The topics in this book are quite strange: (1) sifting out corruption in education and sports, (2) the power of information and how it’s used, (3) the capitalistic drug market, (4) an unconventional (and highly controversial) explanation for the drop in crime in the late 90s, and (5) what difference a parent actually makes. For the average person, these may seem like strange topics for an economist to study, but that’s Levitt’s greatest strength.

Overall the book was easy to read and enjoyable. It didn’t drip with sarcastic or arrogant remarks tearing down theories and ideas that would contradict their own. It didn’t read with the unapproachable character of an academic paper — a paper riddled with assumptions considered commonplace to the field and bogged down by tedious methodology details, but both are entirely necessary for critical evaluation of their findings. It read like someone asking you to just take a step back and reconsider the world around you with new eyes.

Just a few closing comments: (1) I thought I was one of the last people on Earth to not have read this book, which I learned is not the case, and (2) I’m glad I didn’t read this book in high school else I wouldn’t be here today — my life trajectory would be quite different right now.

As with every teenager who read this book and has hopes to change and understand the world, the inner child in me is screaming to go study economics. Although this seems like a dramatic response, it is consistent with my desire to use various types of computer skills (including the regression analysis frequently cited) to approach problems to better understand the world around me. Levitt (economist) and Dubner (writer) have taken their talents and shown how accepting the norm response, or believing the simple answer, often leads to an incomplete picture of what is actually happening. Although I am hesitant to simply accept their claims without finding Levitt’s papers and reading his methodology, I do agree with the idea that asking the right questions and using the right tools, even contrary to popular work, will lead you to fascinating answers. So for me, I still have hope to ascertain the ability to ask such unique questions to lead to such unique and grounded ideas.

Gates Gala 2016

Imagine the night like a movie:

The scene begins.
Setting: A fancy Mansion just on the outside of town.
Cue the Porsche 911 pulling around; camera shows legs getting out of the car.
Cut to ground level view following the person towards the door.
Door opens to reveal the black tie party with food, drinks, poker, music…
Cut to a view of Bond, James Bond, walking through the door.

Okay — it really didn’t happen that way — but it was really close.

Gates Gala, 18 Nov 2016
Gates Gala, 18 Nov 2016

The night is best described like this: imagine 200 of the coolest people you know getting to dressed up in fancy dresses and tuxedos to hang out, drink, dance, play poker, silent disco, and just have a blast with all of your friends around. It really just was a magical night to hang out with friends.

The silent disco spilled out and consumed the entire house as Titanium was sung at the top of people’s lungs — sung being a generous use of the verb.

I will update this as more pictures surface. 🙂

Emma Sprints and Gamecox!

Emma Sprints http://ebc.soc.srcf.net/sprints/ is a short race that is hosted by Emmanuel College. You complete a short sprint in “fancy dress” – so the whole team dresses up in corresponding costumes. My team all dressed up as Steve Zissou  from The Life Aquatic in our matching blue shirts and red hats. If they gave awards for the most obscure fancy dress reference, we would have won:

From the Life Aquatic
From the Life Aquatic

What this race really turns into is a bunch of novice boats and rowers rowing as fast and as hard as they can and every once in a while you get a crab:

Luckily, we didn’t have anything like that — but we won one race and lost one race. It really had to do with the timing. Here’s the race videos:

Race One: Victory

Race Two: Not so victory

I have a couple comments: first, we were miserably out of time in the second video. If you didn’t notice it, don’t go back and watch it. Second, I was dead out of breath after the first race so the second race was a tad more difficult. Time to work on that cardio!

But the fun doesn’t stop there! Or really the fun started earlier that morning when I had to cox NM2 during their race! Hence, I am officially a Gamecox.

We won our first race and lost our second in a well fought match by less than a foot. It was quite a way to go out, but for my third time coxing, I think I did a pretty good job trying to lead these boys to victory! As you can see from the pictures, I was repping the Team Zissou as the cox.


Rowing and Queen’s Ergs 2016

The only thing that stops rowing is a yellow or red safety flag – not rain and definitely not freezing temperatures. Over the last week we had a couple mornings where we rowed at 1°C or at about 4°C and raining. The really bad outing was the one where we essentially sat in the rain doing drills for an hour, cold, and wet. We put the boat up, went inside to take off our wet outer layers and jump on the ergs to row until we could feel our fingers and toes again. Does this seem miserable? Yeah, it’s what we signed up for.

But rowing does have it’s benefits: first, your workout is done before work in the morning; second, you have 8 other people to hold you accountable to your workout; third, you have 8 other people to commiserate with; fourth, you get a nice full body work out; and lastly, you get to see some pretty awesome sun rises when it’s a nice day.

Our first competition happened on 8 November: Queen’s Ergs! Queen’s college hosts an indoor erg competition: an 8x500m relay. Within each division, twelve teams of eight rowers pulls their hardest and fastest 500m erg time and are given twenty seconds to fall off the erg and let the next rower repeat.

This was absolute hell, but did you love every minute of it! You were responsible for pulling your 500m while everyone stood around you screaming to have you pull faster and ELEVEN other groups in the room were doing the same. I pulled the fastest 500m of my life at a 1:37.9s, even falling off the sliding seat for the last couple of meters.

We placed well enough in our first round to make it to the finals, aka, we had to come back at 11pm and do it all again. I did stay on the seat this time and managed to row a little faster at 1:37.2s.

Here’s a couple videos from the NM1 first round and the mixed round.