One Word Kill starts off like an episode of Stranger Things. You've got the weird kid, his weird friends and the mysterious girl who is both beautiful, smart and hangs out with them to play D&D, all set in the 80's. Then the main character gets cancer and his future self comes to save... the girl. There is also a school boy psycho after them. But that's where the similarities end... the rest of the story is just... nothing. People explain things that needed little explaining and make no sense, good kids and their parents run around from a school boy, as psychotic as he could possibly be, without involving police or gang member allies and, in the middle of all the drama: cancer, psycho killer, future self, time travel... they play Dungeons and Dragons, a game that promotes imagination and creativity that then the protagonists fail to use in any amount in their real life.

  Having just read Prince of Thorns, I really expected a lot more from Mark Lawrence. Instead I get a derivative and boring story that brings absolutely nothing new to the table. It's reasonably well written, I guess, but nothing Wow!, which is exactly the reaction reviewers seem to have about this book. Have I read a different story somehow?

  Bottom line: I am tempted to rate this average, on account of other raving reviews and on the fact that I liked another Mark Lawrence book, but I have to be honest with me and rate this book alone, which I am sorry to say, is sub par.

  While on the road with his mother and baby brother, a ten year old prince is attacked by an enemy armed group. Thrown into a patch of thorns from where he could not move, only watch, he sees his mother defiled and killed and his brother smashed on a rock like a toy. He vows vengeance. Such a classic story, right? Only we see him a few years later, leading a band of brigands, murdering and looting and raping, his vengeance all but forgotten and replaced by a desire to unite all the hundred little states warring against each other. Well, more interesting, but still pretty classic, right? Nope, stuff still happens that makes the lead character (and you) doubt his thoughts and the true nature of reality and retroactively explains some of the more incredulous questions that the reader is asking.

  I would say Prince of Thorns is all about revealing layers of this world that Mark Lawrence is still shaping. I quite liked that. The first book sets things up, but it is not a setup book. It is filled with action. Nor does it tell us everything, leaving a lot to be explored in the next books in the series. That's something that is sorely missing in many modern stories. In order to enjoy the book, though, you have to suspend your disbelief when it tells of an eleven year old boy smashing heads, swinging swords and leading men. Yes, in feudal times being 11 is the time to have a midlife crisis, but it is all a little bit too much for a child.

  It is a game of thrones kind of book, but mercifully from the standpoint of a single character. There is not a lot of lore, but there is magic and a mysterious connection to an advanced but now dead civilisation, plenty of violence and strategy. I will probably read the next books in the series.

  I've accepted the old man should teach me as the only solution to becoming a champion, but it is hard to swallow it. He is very old, but mischievous, so whenever I try to learn something from him, he kicks me to the ground. He tricks me again and again and again. I am frustrated, but I am trying to keep my cool. I am strong. If I were to really fight him, he might be smart, but every attack would break bone and then what good would he be? Just a bag of meat and broken shards. I close my eyes, I breath, I tell myself it is worth it.

  The old man apologizes and offers me a hand, I take it, only to be kicked in the ass and thrown into a jumble of debris. I lose my temper and stomp away. He doesn't understand. Getting angry at him is pointless, hurting him futile. I have nothing to learn from him. I walk through the old grounds of my conquests, now just the walled in and decrepit underground of the large arena above. I feel a presence behind me and I see the old man is following me, eyes to the ground. Contrition? Surely another of his tricks. "Begone!" I roar at him, but he goes to his knees and kowtows in front of me, his hands touching my feet. I feel tears swelling up in my eyes. He might as well be a little boy asking for forgiveness. Just who is the teacher and who is the student? Who is the adult here?

  "How did you get to a hundred years or whatever behaving like a little kid?! You are a child!" I shout at him in admonishment. I look around and ghosts of my past awaken my anguish. I feel my face contort into a painful grin as my tears flow freely. "Every week I was coming here to murder people!", I rage, my voice barely my own, a booming, low, animal growl, my expression that of an enraptured madman, for sure. "I would stake my life every time and I would leave, alive, every time!". The images of old fights flash before my wet blurred vision and I imagine that some of the painted white walls might contain some of the scrolls of the ancient arts, built over by a world that doesn't get it anymore. "I loved it!", I say, walking in the dead halls, every step a pulse of power overlaying glorious past over grey reality. My body is shaking with now uncontrollable weeping. "I killed so many people and I miss it... so.... very... MUCH!".

  Does he get it now, I ask myself? Has he even an inkling of the power he needs to teach me to control? I burst through the door to the surface and climb the stairs that get me to the arena above. The seats are packed with oblivious spectators, all watching some performance I don't even care to notice. I breathe in the fresh air and feel better. Ready to come to a final understanding with the old man, if he is capable of it ,I turn around. There is little time and we should not fight each other. But the old man is gone.

   I strain my eyes into the darkness of the stairs and I feel it, The Beast, the adversary I need to fight is there. He's got the old man and, even if I cannot see it, I know it is there, all cunning, fury and power. My body roars by itself, a predator sound, strong and fearless, no sound a man should ever be able to make. The arena spectators panic in surprised horror, but I ignore them. I jump into the darkness with animal strength. I will fight this beast, I will meet it head on, I will be the most savage, alone I will remain alive.

  The Grace of Kings feels long from the very start. Ken Liu is starting off from a fictional empire of seven islands, but it might as well have been a historical book. Everything is mostly realistic, with very human characters that do what human characters do: harm and kill other people and find rationalizations for it. Some of them are heroic and occasionally think of other people, too.

  Half way through the book (which is one of a trilogy, of course) I couldn't keep up with all the characters that kind of did the same thing, the long expositions of why people did stupid or horrible things to others and the various anecdotes that made some of the characters heroes or villains. And I call them anecdotes because that's what they feel like: short moments that disrupt rather than enforce the long and unfortunately boring history of the realm.

  Bottom line, it feels like a Chinese Game of Thrones, with less interesting characters and no magic as of yet. It's not badly written, quite the contrary, but its subject is long winding and doesn't interest me. I will therefore abandon reading it.

  I guess I don't have to tell you about ad blockers and browser extensions that improve YouTube. They are a dime a dozen and bring many features to the habitual YouTube watcher. However there is one particular new YouTube annoyance that you don't really need an extension to get rid of: the dreaded Video paused dialog.

  To get rid of it is easy: on an interval, check if there is a visible element of a certain type containing a certain text and click its button. While this can be done in simple Javascript, I am lazy, so the script that I am using will first load jQuery, then run a one line function periodically. This code is to be copied and pasted in the Console tab of the browser's development tools, then press Enter.

const scr = document.createElement('script');
setInterval(()=> { 
  $('#button:contains(Yes)','yt-confirm-dialog-renderer:visible:contains(Video paused)').click();

It's easy to understand:

  • create a script element
  • set its source to jQuery
  • append it to the page
  • execute every 500 milliseconds a code that:
    • finds the element with id button containing the text "Yes"
    • inside an element of type yt-confirm-dialog-renderer which is visible and contains the text "Video paused"
    • click the element

There is an even more comfortable solution, though, that I recommend. You will need a Chrome extension called cjs that loads whatever script you tell it in whatever page you want. It gives you the option to inject jQuery, so all you have to do is write 

setInterval(()=> { $('#button:contains(Yes)','yt-confirm-dialog-renderer:visible:contains(Video paused)').click(); },500);

 as the script to be executed on YouTube.

That's it. You're all done.

  Wakenhyrst is very well written, but where it excels is the dissection of the hypocrisy of people. Michelle Paver is telling the story from the viewpoint of a young girl who must navigate the world and her own adolescence in the house of a father that has no love for her or for her mother, finds every reason to blame others for his shortcomings and deeds, and yet is untouchable because he is a man and the lord of the manor. What legions of screeching feminists could not do, Paver manages with her subdued, yet defiant description of how women are used and ignored and pretty much treated as glorified pets. It is impossible to not hate the father figure in the book, even as the main character is torn between wanting to forgive him and dealing with the creepy and sometimes evil shit he pulls. The ending is powerful, as the daughter finds the strength to sublimate her hate into an even more appropriate emotion: pity.

  But the story's power is not limited to the detailed analysis of the human psyche. It binds together Anglican folklore, medieval beliefs about devils and angels and art, whitewashed (in the actual sense of the term) by Puritans and systematically destroyed by Victorians, the power of untamed nature and the horror of the human complacency. How refreshing to have a very young girl be the rational and intelligent agent that fends for herself in a world of mystical belief and societal poppycock, so that we can identify with her and see it as it was. How wonderful to have Paver describe it all without any trace of anachronism, as if she has lived in that world herself.

  The story starts slow and the pace almost never picks up, yet the tension and the level of details are constantly increasing, managing to somehow convey at the same time two distinct and contrary feelings: one of slow burn and the other of untamed power rising to a crescendo. It brilliantly mingles the oppressive hot wet feel of subconscious fear and superstition with cold analytical reason as its adversary. In the beginning I wanted to rate it above average only, but now, the more I think about it the more I admire the writing and the way the book tells the story. Good job, Michelle Paver!

  Bottom line: move past the slower start, it is certainly worth reading. A gothic tale of subliminal supernatural horror and a very human and real one at the same time.

  Salvation Lost is the second book in the Salvation Sequence trilogy from Peter F. Hamilton. I was commenting on the previous book saying that it is mostly filler and action that is irrelevant to the larger story. This book is a lot more action packed and a bit more interesting, but ultimately just as pointless. A lot of characters that will only get relevant in the third book, if at all, a lot of stories that happen in the past as we know what is going 10000 years into the future and no closure on anything. The horror of the alien invasion is powerful, but not as much as it could have been. The story invests so much in some people only to kill them later with no apparent effect on the timeline of events.

  Bottom line: I will probably read the last book, scheduled sometime in Sep 2020, but I feel this series is one of Hamilton's weakest.

  I consider Peter F. Hamilton to be one of the great science fiction writers. Yes, he has a formula, yes he messes up the endings, but the ideas and worlds that he puts on paper have rarely disappointed me. I can't say that of Salvation, either, but I didn't especially like it, as it gives away too much too soon, then proceeds on boring or enraging the reader with police procedural vignettes that we already know will have no impact on future events.

  Hamilton has this method of combining at least two threads, usually one is hard science fiction and the other is fantasy or police procedural or something different, only to bind them together at some point in time. In this book, we see a group of people running away from an enemy species bent on exterminating humanity and also a peaceful future in which humanity has discovered how to create instantaneous transport portals to other places and was contacted by two different alien species. Somehow, how we get from one point to the other is the topic of the book, but the vast majority of it is about corporate security people that abuse their power to "get things done" or toxic cleanup people or other kinds of short stories that only bring some new information to light while eating up reading time. Then the book ends!

  And it's a bit annoying that even the technical aspects don't add up, like how you can know how to make portals, but you still rely on nuclear weapons or rockets to do war, or that people fear sabotage and terrorism, but don't see the possible threat posed by personal portals to other worlds. Gravity alterations, atmosphere loss or pollution, a portal from a star to an inhabited area would have been much more dangerous. Also some of the ways characters act are completely unnatural and it feels jarring to see them do things in a sequence (heh!) only to further the story and not consistent to their character and expertise.

  Anyway, I am reading Salvation Lost now, but in my view the first book in this series could have been a lot more, especially from a brilliant writer such as Hamilton.

  This is How You Lose the Time War came highly recommended by a Goodreads buddy of mine as the way to write sci-fi. I don't know what to say about that. He was so ebullient about how great the book was that there was bound to be some disappointment. It is nicely written and touches, under the guise of science fiction, the intricacies of human relationships and feelings. But other than that it was just one idea, stretched over 200 pages, in something that was both short and felt unreasonably long. Perhaps some time issues need arise when time travel is involved.

  What I found interesting is that it is a double author book. Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone worked on it together although I suspect it was mostly El-Mohtar with the story and Gladstone with the tech stuff, although I could be just stereotyping. To me, it felt like the story has a distinctly female vibe.

  Bottom line: it's a very humanist type of story: the time war, the tech, they are all props. One could have written the same kind of stuff about African tribes or corporate lawyers. After a while everything started to feel repetitive and stale only to reach the all too predictable ending. Nice book, but not great.

  A Short History of Nearly Everything is very well researched, subtly written and does pretty much what it says: explain the history of science up to the present as humanity is trying to figure out where it came from, how long ago it happened and how things actually work. It's a dense work, which makes it a long read. You either go through it and not retain much or you have to read bit by bit and think on each for a while. I read it bit by bit and retained little.

  Anyway, as I was reading The Invention of Nature, another great popular science book, I've stumbled upon this quote "There are three stages of scientific discovery: first people deny it is true; then they deny it is important; finally they credit the wrong person." and never have I thought about it so much as when reading A Short History of Nearly Everything. In fact, the same quote appears in the book near the end. As Bill Bryson describes it, most of science is accidental and has to fight a plethora of egos that believe they are better than you just in order to surface. Many times the work is lost, misattributed, stolen or sabotaged into oblivion by personal opponents. As such, the book has a wonderful freshness from the tired history of science that we are so often presented where very smart people think of something and then everybody applauds and accepts another idea that will further human knowledge. The book is also about how little we know about many things that usually are presented as completely clear, fully researched and completely understood. All in all, it's a book that needs reading.

  "So", you will say, "isn't this another Sapiens?". No. I liked Sapiens and its funny and accessible style made it an instant hit worldwide. A Short History of Nearly Everything is way better. It focuses more on sciences like geology and anthropology and abstract physics and on the personal histories of the people involved in the discoveries rather than on humanity as a whole, so it's a bit harder. When it does look at humanity it sees it as small, petty and destructive. Sapiens makes you feel good, this makes you feel ashamed and happy you are still alive.

  I have to say that I almost abandoned reading it; it is that dense and full of information. If I was reading a novel in three days, spending weeks trudging through knowledge made me feel both too stupid and getting smarter at the same time. Surely I could find a better way to entertain myself, I thought. This book is entertaining, but it requires focus to read and understand. In the end, I am very glad I've read it.

  I see a lot of pages about how to write blog posts. I read them, because I am both curious and sincere in my desire to make my blog popular and spread the knowledge I've amassed here. They are always crap. Take one that says the best tool to get a blog popular is to use Google Trends or Google autocomplete to see what people are searching for. And the results are always incredibly stupid. Like "how to add one to one to get two". I am paraphrasing a bit here, but you get the gist. Go "worldwide" and the first trend is always some Chinese spam. Another post is saying that a blog post should be written as four drafts: one for what you want to say, one for how you want to say it, one for peer reviewed content and the final one that actually is what you want to publish. It sounds great, but it implies a level of work that sometimes is prohibitive related to the subject of your post. Sometimes you just want to share something as a stream of consciousness and be done with it. Is that better? No. But it sure beats NOT writing anything. There is always time to improve your work and get peer review AFTER publishing it.

  There are two big types of people blogging. The first category is akin to reporters and media people. They want to get their message across for reasons that are rather independent of the message itself. They want to earn money or influence or some other kind of benefit. I don't have any advice for people like that. Not because I disconsider their goals, but because I have never blogged for an ulterior reason. The second category of bloggers is akin to writers: they want to get their message across because they feel there is some value in the message itself. I consider myself such a person, although I probably suck as a writer. This post is for people like that.

  The most important part of writing a post is motivation. And I don't mean just the reason for writing it, but the reason for wanting to share it. For me, most of the posts I write are either content that I consume, such as books, or stuff that I think is worth considering or technical stuff that I've stumbled upon and I believe people would want to find if googling for it instead of wasting the time I wasted to solve it. Now, the books and the personal idea posts I totally agree are ego boosting shit: I feel like it's important enough to "share", but I don't really expect people to read it or that there is any inherent value in them other than getting to know me better. And everyone wants to understand other people better on the Internet, right? In the end they are just a personal log of random thoughts I have. My blog is something that represents me and so I feel that I need to share things that are personal to me, including thoughts that are not politically correct or even correct in any possible way. One can use Facebook for this, so I won't write about those posts. They still reach some people and inform their choices, which is something I love.

  What is left is the posts that I work for. You have no idea how much I work on some of these posts. It may take me hours or even days for content that you read in a few minutes. That is because I am testing my ideas in code and creating experiments to validate my beliefs and doing research on how other people did it. A lot of the times I learn a lot from writing these posts. I start with the expectation that I know what I am talking about only to find out that I was wrong. The important part is that I do correct myself and some of the blog posts here are exclusively about discovering how wrong I was. There is nothing more rewarding than writing something that you feel others might benefit from. Perhaps other than getting feedback about how your post benefited others. Publishing your failures is just as important as publishing your successes.

  Yes, I know, if I learn something new by doing what I need to be doing, then sharing the results is like writing for myself, too. It's ego boosting, for sure. However, it would be even more obnoxious to believe no one is like me and so no one would benefit from the same work. There was a time when people came to my blog and asked me about all kinds of technical problems and I worked with them to solve them. There were usually incredibly simple problems that posed difficulties only to the laziest people, but it felt good! Then StackOverflow came along and no one actually interacts with me. But I have solved stupid problems that I still keep getting thanks for, even (maybe especially because) if the technology is really old and obsolete. Many other blogs published cool things about subjects that are not fashionable anymore and then just disappeared. The value of your content is that it may help people in your situation, even if they don't share your sense of now and even if all they take away is how NOT to do things.

  Sometimes you are looking for the solution for a problem and after hours of work you realize the problem was invalid or the solution was deceptively simple. It's the "Oh, I am so stupid!" moment that makes a lot of people shy away from writing about it. I find that these moments are especially important, because other people will surely make the same mistake and be hungry about finding the answer. OK, you admit to the world you were stupid, but you also help so many other people that would waste time and effort and feel as stupid as you if not for writing the post.

  My take on writing a blog post is that you just have to care about what you are writing. You may not be the best writer out there, you might not even be explaining the thing right, but if you care about what you are writing, then you will make the effort of getting it right eventually. Write what you think and, if you are lucky, people will give you reasons to doubt your results or improve them. Most likely people will NOT care as much about the subject as you, but you are not writing because of them, you are writing for them. Some of your thoughts and toils will reach and help someone and that is what blogging is all about.

  The last thing I want to mention is maintenance. Your work is valid when you write it, but may become obsolete later on. You need to make the effort to update the content, not by removing the posts or deleting their content, but by making clear things have changed, how they did and what can be done about it. It is amazing how many recent posts are reached only because I mentioned them in an "obsolete" post. People search for obsolete content, find out it's too old, then follow the link to your latest solution for that problem. It makes for good reading and even better understanding of how things got to the current point.

  So, bottom line: publish only what you care about and care about your readers, keep the posts up to date, publish both successes and failures.

  Imagine you are playing a computer game, exploring virtual realms and testing your mettle in cooperation or opposition to other players. You are not the best, but you are getting better and you feel that reward system in your brain getting activated and giving you that pleasant buzz, like you are doing something that matters. Suddenly, new players enter the game and they seem indomitable. You can't possibly defeat them: they are faster, incredibly so, they are more accurate, dubiously so, and they seem to have no respect at all for the spirit of the game that you, until just now, enjoyed. They don't want to get better, they want to humiliate you and the other players by just being incredibly better than all with no credible cause other than, yes, they cheat. Somehow they found a way to skirt the rules and thus make them meaningless.

  While this is a scourge that affects all online games, it is also a powerful metaphor about real life. Think about trying to advance in your company, get that job that gives you more money, more prestige and proves to yourself and others that you have become better, a worthy person for that role. Suddenly, a new player arrives, and he is the nephew of the CEO and he gets the job for no credible reason. That is not a game, it's your life. The resentment is real. You can't just change servers or turn off the computer and read a book: this affects you, your family, your loved ones.

  But I will go ever further. Imagine that you are trying to lead a good life, according to the moral principles that were instilled in you by family, culture and your own evolution as a human being. You take care of your children and make efforts to set up their lives so that they have the many and good opportunities. You paid your life insurance, prepared your pension fund and are content that in a decade or so you will finish paying the rates for the house where you plan to retire and live out your golden years. You've taken care of your health, you eat and drink responsibly, you exercise regularly. Suddenly, new players arrive. They have found a way to cheat death. Not only do they have better health, they don't age. They might even get younger and fitter and smarter with no effort at all. Your pension funds implode, because old age becomes irrelevant, the prices skyrocket because there are more people with more money buying stuff and not getting any older and weaker as they go. Your children have no more opportunities, as they can't compete with people that are of the same biological age, but have decades of experience.

  I believe this way of thinking is what instructs most ethical ideas. Life is a game, with rules that are either agreed upon or forced upon the players by the limitations of the environment. Cheating at this game sounds both ideal and amoral. We have a zillion stories warning about the perils of playing god, but in the end they are just a reaction of fear to the mere possibility that someone might find a way to hack life.

  And I agree that it is very dangerous, for the very reasons that game hacking is so annoying: it makes the game irrelevant. If people don't care about life anymore, if they have no limits, then what's the point? It's almost a Nietzschean concept that the worth of life cannot exist in a vacuum, it needs suffering and obstacles to overcome. What would the philosopher believe of someone who becomes better by overcoming hardship only to be completely overshadowed by someone who just ... cheated. What would it mean to live a happy and fulfilling life if you've hacked your brain to feel happy and fulfilled? What would it mean to live a moral life if the ability to disobey rules has been bred out of you?

  Yet, what is the moral ground to not even try, I ask. How can it be moral to conceive of life as just a game? Wouldn't that be meaningless also? I submit that the very possibility of skirting the rules makes them obsolete. I submit that just as talented people are banned from online servers for being too good, talented people are getting sidelined in life by the very same "ethical" way of thinking of life as a static game where people should follow the same rules and achieve the same relative rewards.

  As technology and knowledge and sheer individual power increase, the danger of people playing god is dwarfed by the danger of people killing god inside themselves.

  I see only one solution for this: the expansion of the human race. Only when centralized authority becomes impossible will humanity truly reach its potential. That requires we spread out so far that enforcement can only be local. It will permit us, if you will, to have different servers to play on. Some of them will ban cheaters, some of them will welcome them, and there will be many variations in between. Some of them will try and fail, maybe spectacularly, but some of them will thrive and advance not only the players, but the game itself.

  This is a very short story that is barely science fiction. It describes a place of lowlifes, living on despair, terror and violence. Among them, a bland guy that seems to be unaffected by anything, but that can explode into violence in a second. If you just thought this character has similarities with Amos Burton, you thought right and the surprise is that he was not born with that name. This is kind of his origin story.

  I felt that The Churn was a bit lazy. A criminal boss character that calls his large underdog "little man" was also used in Gods of Risk, for example. Then there is nothing that binds the plot to space and time. It can be any place of ill repute, whether on Mars, Earth or anywhere else, in the future, the present or the past. Indeed, if you ignore the last pages, it's not even about Amos, but about other characters that have incidental contact with him.

  Bottom line: it brings nothing new to any table and it is barely an Amos story, clearly not an Expanse one.

  The story is of little girl Cara, daughter of colonists on Laconia, discovering dog-like creatures in the forest, apparently able to fix anything. When her brother is killed in an accident, she takes his body to her friends, to get him fixed. Adults, though, feel differently about the whole thing.

  Strange Dogs is one of the more sci-fi shorts in The Expanse universe, though still focusing on very relatable characters and very well written. The events here foreshadow some things in Tiamat's Wrath, which makes me believe the dogs' influence on the whole Expanse plot will be important. Now I can only hope that the ninth novel in the book series won't be the last.

  I just finished watching the fourth season of The Expanse TV series and, in strong withdrawal, I started reading the Expanse shorts written by James S.A. Corey. Serendipity has it that Gods of Risk is covering most of the Bobbie Draper subplot in the TV season I just watched and that the story happens during Christmas (although what Christmas means on Mars is a bit vague).

  The story is less detailed and with characters pretty different from the TV series, after all it's a short novella, but the basic plot is that same: nephew gets in trouble with the local underworld, aunt Bobbie kicks ass and saves him. It's well written and contains that element of world lesson that I felt was in Auberon. In this case, the only reason the good Martian nephew gets in trouble is his affection for a girl and his desire to protect her after she begs for help. Help provided, despite warnings from both his aunt and her pimp, she spurns him. A good lesson for adolescents everywhere.