Tag Archives: books

Why old-school sci-fi is more relevant now than ever.

April was a busy month for me, with lots of flying. And lots of flying means lots of movie-watching or reading or both. Herewith, a quick review of some highlights and some discussion thereof…

On one flight I re-watched Tarkovsky’s Solaris for the umpteenth time. IMHO, it’s aged well. Sure, there aren’t today’s special effects, but that doesn’t matter. And anyway, the Hollywood version from 2002 is apparently low on effects too. Indeed, this is no Star Wars or Matrix or some other sci-fi blockbuster. This is the thinking person’s drama-mystery sci-fi flick. And anyway (again!), I haven’t seen the 2002 version with Amal Clooney’s husband starring ). I wonder what it’s like. I guess the dialog may be the same so it’s surely worth a watch. It’ll differ perhaps only in that there’ll be no smoking indoors (on space ships!), and there won’t be a VCR in sight ).

Not seen the original Solaris, and you’re a thinking Homo sapiens? Then you really must. Why? Many reasons (e.g., the question: ‘is it better than ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’?’:) but here’s a very ‘current’ one: AI.

For Solaris, nearly 50 years ago, was already telling us that artificial intelligence could become more human than, er, humans themselves. In the film, a higher intelligence – the Solaris Ocean – is the one doing the experiments on humans – not the other way round. But that’s by-the-by. The central theme is a questioning of what it is to be human, of identity, of our ‘reality’. By way of example, here’s a quote from the film: an interaction with an artificial person – one being a clone of the human lead character’s long-dead wife, created by the Ocean:

We have no interest in conquering any cosmos. We want to extend the Earth to the borders of the cosmos. We don’t know what to do with other worlds. We don’t need other worlds. We need a mirror. We struggle for contact, but we’ll never find it. We’re in the foolish human predicament of striving for a goal that he fears, that he has no need for.

[…]

I think that Kris Kelvin is more consistent than both of you. In inhuman conditions, he has behaved humanely. And you act as if none of this concerns you, and consider your guests – it seems that’s what you call us – something external, a hindrance. But it’s a part of you. It’s your conscience. And Kris loves me. Maybe it’s not me he loves, but he’s simply protecting himself. He wants me alive. That’s not the point. It doesn’t matter why man loves. It’s different for everyone. It’s not Kris. It’s you. I hate you all.

I would ask you… Please don’t interrupt me. I’m a woman, after all. You’re not a woman and you’re not a human being. Understand that, if you’re capable of understanding anything. There is no Hari. She’s dead. You’re just a reproduction, a mechanical reproduction. A copy. A matrix.

Hmmm. And talking of a matrix – one could say the film’s a forerunner of the Hollywood blockbuster starring Keanu Reeves (at a stretch). But I digress…

Not only did I re-watch a classic sci-fi movie, I also re-read a classic sci-fi novel – H.G. Wells’ Time Machine – perhaps the perfect complement to Solaris, for it, too, is about tragic contact between Homo sapiens and non-Homo sapiens.

Btw – it was, I think, Wells who first came up with the idea of folks traveling through time not by magic but through the use of technology. He also introduced the idea of the fourth dimension – space time. And when you think this book was written nearly 125 years ago (!!), you have to take the proverbial hat off to Mr. Wells ).

There’s a bonus when reading books as old as this. There are words in them that are alien to newer generations – like ‘ink’, for example. So there are history lessons dotted throughout such books, and that’s important, for, as we all know, if you don’t know the past, you won’t know the present, never mind the future…

Another btw: it was Wells who guessed that stars, at the end of their lives, turn into red giants. Science hadn’t worked it out back then; Wells imagined it – scientists later confirmed it ).

After watching and reading two retro-futuristic masterpieces, I was inspired to re-read a third – the book on which the film Solaris is based: Stanislaw Lem’s – 1961! – novel of the same name. So I did. And I highly recommend you do too!

That’s all for today folks. Back soon!…

 

 

 

Sapiens: spot-on on Homo; way-off on viruses.

Hi folks!

The other day I finished reading the book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari: an accessible and at times blunt and cynically portrayed history of mankind. It starts with the appearance of our biological species, its spread across the world, its complex journey through all kinds of pan-human revolutions (cognitive, agrarian, and various technological ones), and ends in the current era. At first the book appears to be a solid popular-science work on a par with Guns, Germs, and Steel or The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey. However, as you progress through the pages, nagging doubts start to form in your mind; then at times comes amazement at some of the inconsistencies; then it gets like… totally… WHAT? But I’ll get to that in due course…

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Actually, a lot of the facts given in the book have been known for ages. Some we learned in school, others in books we’ve read, yet others in anthropological documentaries or news from archeological digs. However, for me, up until now all that seemed to be stored in my brain in separate bits. Only after reading this book has it all come together as one. So respect is at least due there.

Now, everyone’s heard of Neanderthal man and Cro-Magnon man (our ancient ancestors), and that they lived around the same time and often on neighboring territories. But there were also other Homo species. For example, the Denisova hominins, and the hobbit-like Homo floresiensis (Flores Man) from the Indonesian island of Flores. And there will have been many more, no doubt, which have yet to be discovered. Curiously, many of them disappeared relatively recently: Flores Man, for example, lived around 12,000–13,000 years ago; Neanderthals – between 30,000 and 40,000 years ago.

This means that the definition of homo, or ‘human’, in actual fact doesn’t refer to just folks like you and me. It turns out there are a dozen other biological species that add to that full definition, all of which died out; and Wikipedia agrees with this. We (Homo sapiens) lived together with these other human species at the same time and in the same geographical areas on the planet, and we even crossbred with them (as confirmed by genetic research). Then those other species disappeared, while we stayed. That is, Homo sapiens overcame all its ‘competitor-relatives’ – completely destroying them at the very roots, all to free up for itself an ecological niche to provide for its own sustenance, propagation and further expansion.

But it wasn’t just other human species Homo sapiens wiped out.

Read on…

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Seven Books for Highly Effective Reading.

I regularly get asked which books should be read to build up a successful business. Students, start-uppers, managers, business owners – everybody wants a reading list! But that’s ok, for I do have some answers. However, I don’t believe one can become a businessperson by reading certain books, no matter how highly recommended they come. Still, there are some great books out there that sure won’t do any harm reading; eight of which I’ll tell you about in this here post…

I divide business books into two major categories.

The first helps readers with what needs to be done to build up a successful business; the second – how not to do it. The boundary is often blurred, but taken together books from both groups can help readers avoid both spending valuable time and resources on re-inventing the wheel again and again, and make the exciting business of… building a business a constant struggle.

Actually, there’s also a third category of books – works by legendary captains of business or government leaders, which instruct by example how things should be done. Such books are normally rather general as they cover such a broad range of business problems and unpredictable unexpectednesses, while also demonstrating limitless possibilities – albeit hazily. They don’t contain hands-on action plans, but they’re still well worth a read to get valuable overarching insights.

Many of the books in my list here were written quite a while ago – some even in the last millennium – so whole new industries and technologies of the 2000s are either hardly touched or aren’t touched at all. All the same, the books are still relevant to modern times; their main ideas can easily still be applied to today’s digital realities. We’re living in an era of new technologies, but man’s nature is still the same, and folks tend to repeat the same or similar mistakes. Not all folks, mind: others do things right and their companies become widely recognized and respected leaders. Which is what I hope for everyone.

All righty – here we go. Happy reading – of this post and then the books detailed in it!…

 

Jim Collins. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t

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I’d call this the most important book in my business library. In plain language and with lots of practical examples, the author convincingly analyzes the traits commonly found in various types of leaders. This book is one of the few in my first category mentioned above: How to build a great business.

Read on: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail…

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Inter-NYET!

Ready? Rant begins – NOW!…

After the Chinese Rail Non-Fail the day before, I could not berliiieeeeeeeve the total fail in a Chinese airport the next day. And not just any old Chinese airport, but the main international airport of China’s capital, no less! The fail was an Internet fail, folks. And the fail was catastrophically, categorically total.

Now, the airport’s immense, beautiful, and just super all round (despite the inevitable Chinese petty tortures/mess-ups), with all its stores, escalators, fountains, sculptures… everything done contemporarily, tastefully and expensively. Everything great except for one thing: no proper Internet! Even mobile Internet ain’t happening, even with a foreign SIM, i.e., with a foreign (not Chinese) number, which doesn’t fall under the Great (Fire)Wall of China. I mean, there is some signal but it’s so weak you might as well not bother.

And I wanted to connect to my blog to write a few ‘on the road’ notes as I like to do, or some ruminations on matters of great importance, plus upload some photos as I like to do, but no – it wasn’t to be. What’s the Chinese for ‘Where’s the Internet, dammit?!’ Please let me know someone. I’ll have it printed on a t-shirt and wear it next time I’m there.

And the ruminations on matters of great importance this week were as follows:

Let’s talk about something that’s so essential to everything that, well, everything – or at least a great many things – wouldn’t exist or be possible. Something so vital that without it life would lose much of its meaning and would become unbearably dull and sad. Something that forms the basis of almost all our modern activities, without which all noble intentions, the reaching of worthy goals, and the securing of a reasonable amount of happiness of various calibers – everything! – would not be possible.

You guessed it yet?

Yep: electricity! What did you think I meant? (Answers > the comments; and keep it clean!)

Just imagine for one minute what would happen if all of a sudden there’d be no more electrical current coming through the sockets – forever! I mean, really: no more, finito, kaput, for ever more!

It would be bad, of course. Real bad. But it wouldn’t be apocalyptic, quite. Life would go on; only – by candlelight and be horse-drawn and with sails!

ATTENTION – QUIZ-QUESTION! PRIZES GUARANTEED FOR THE FIRST RIGHT ANSWER! 

What’s the name of that sci-fi flick where unfriendly invisible aliens that live on electricity land on earth? Who then consume all the electrons in all the cables and even in natural phenomena like thunderstorms? Where at the end the protagonist, by the light of a candle, bemoans how the thunder’s pealing and the rain’s pouring down but there’s no lightning, and probably never will be?

Update/PS: Further to my emotional rant regarding Beijing’s main airport, a few pics for your viewing pleasure (I finally reached a country that provides good Internet; imagine?! So radically technologically progressive!!).

And here’s pic I took from the plane: morning dead calm, and a column of smoke (or steam) rising up from the middle of a cloud.


That’s all for today folks; back tomorrow…

The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.

Many of you will know that the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is 42. But no one – NO ONE! – including Douglas Adams, the one who came up with the Ultimate Question and its answer, knows why it’s 42, and not 17, 41 or 43. I didn’t know earlier either. Now I do. And you won’t believe it…

Now, I didn’t go looking for the answer to this eternal question. It was the other way round – the answer found me: In a hot river on the island of Iturup!

So, the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is this: ’42’. That’s the temperature of the water in this magical river.

The ultimate question

Read on: what a place!…

April in Paris.

April in Paris is one of the earlier romantic fantasy stories of Ursula Le Guin. I recommend seeking it out, downloading and reading it, for it’s a magical book. And if anyone is still unfamiliar with the work of this American genius – you should be ashamed of yourself! Start with anything from this list.

Paris happens to be one of my favorite cities.

I’m not sure why but I can be happy here just wandering around for hours (today I was walking for more than six). I understand how some folks don’t like Paris, while others are indifferent… but as for me, I ‘m a pure Parisophile.

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More: The Tower, The Dame & The Modern Art…