books ranting

Of Literature and Genre Fiction

The other day Richard Geib, who’s website musings I have followed for the past two decades [], posted a new blog entry: My Jane Austen Problem []. Before diving into Jane Austen specifically Mr. Geib recounts a period of time in college when he had a voracious appetite for all the famous literature I had heard about but never read. I would read anything and everything I could get my hands on.

The insatiable desire to read, during college, is something I can relate to, along with the fact the Mr. Geib was not a literature student, he was reading out of love for reading.

I never had a late night boring desk attendant job like Mr. Geib but I was nevertheless a voracious reader during college, with the mindset of “so many books, so little time”. I was never a fast reader but I read whenever I could. In and around my college days I devoured a lot of time to literature. I read Dostoevsky [], Sartre [], Nabokov [], Mann [], Camus [], Eco [], Rushdie [], Marques [] and more. Reading was my escape from classes, homework and work. I even forced myself to finish James Joyce Ulysses, a book I disliked almost from beginning to end, every critic sings it praises It must be great, right?

As with Mr. Geib my reading slowed considerably in the years after college. Work and, later, family inevitably reduced my reading time. I also struggled for a while in Singapore because there were only a few bookstores and books were much more expensive, to say nothing about having little room to store books. Eventually I move to reading mostly ebooks. I agonized over culling my physical book collections several times, it’s down to only the favorites or those that I have some sentimental attachment to.

Despite all that I have managed to work my way through many of the novels of Hemingway [], Faulkner [], Murakami [], Cormac McCarthy [], Truman Capote [] and I even read Cervantes []’ Don Quixote [] for it’s 500th birthday. Over the past few years I’ve been reading short stories: the complete shores stores of, the complete collections of Chekov [], Turgenev [], Flannary O’Conner [], and the short story side of Nabokov and Hemingway. As well as select works of more authors.

That’s a lot of big, famous names, and the list of yet-to-be-read is infinitely longer. I’m listing these names not as a brag but to provide a counterpoint to other books… Because, one thing those names all have in common is they are all Literature in the sense that excludes most genre fiction [] (a term I just learned from looking for the opposite of big-L Literature); sci-fi and fantasy and horror as well as comics and manga. Things that stuffy old Columbia Literature Professors would look down on.

Why do I read so much Literature?

First, a bit of history, I was not always so, I started my reading journey firmly in genre fiction. Specifically in fantasy. Way back in the fifth grade, in Ms. Venning’s class, where I read The Hobbit []. I liked The Hobbit and I got a copy of The Lord of the Rings [] shortly after we finished it. After a couple of false starts on LOTR I revisited it in sixth grade because I had an hour long bus ride in the morning and afternoon and reading became my escape. Since first finishing LOTR when I was 12 it has never not been my favorite book and I have re-read it almost every year since.

Like the dwarves of Moria I dug deep into middle earth. A few years later I read The Silmarillion [] and the entire History of Middle Earth series released by Christopher Tolkien. Fantasy was my thing in middle school and high school. At the same time I read LOTR I discovered Dungeons & Dragons (thanks to the Boy Scouts and being snowed in on a trip to Fort Eustis) and I got sucked into the new TSR Forgotten Realms novels that came out around that time.

Sci-fi and fantasy ran in the family. My dad was a big sci-fi and fantasy reader (and comics reader), we had a library full of Isaac Azimov [], Sir Arthur C. Clarke [], Edgar Rice Burroughs [], David Eddings [], Robert Jordan [], Mercedes Lackey [] and many others. Shelves full of Star Trek novels, X-Men comics, Spider-Man, and so many more. So, sci-fi and fantasy were ‘normal’ for me I guess.

Like most American teenagers I had to read a lot of famous literature in school. And like most others I knew it was read-and-forget after the test. A few books stand out, I remember reading Where the Red Fern Grows [] and To Kill a Mockingbird [] as books I, grudgingly enjoyed. But for the most part I had not time for anything but my fantasy books.

That changed in the spring of my senior year of high school. I’m not sure why exactly, but I was home for an extended period recovering from Mono, I had almost a month laying around the house with little energy and for some reason I picked up and read the complete Shakespeare… A onion paper used copy I got from a shop in the basement of The Hardware Store on the downtown mall in Charlottesville (there I got a lot of used books, including the History of Middle Earth series). I don’t even remember why I had this book other than it was a massive leather bound red book that looked cool on the book shelf.

Maybe it was because Shakespeare was in the air that year. The senior class put on Macbeth as a school play that fall and many of my friends where in or involved in the production. We read Hamlet in my senior English class. Of course we had read Romeo and Juliet earlier in high school but more importantly Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet [] came out that year too. And I watched Kenneth Branagh’s Othello [] movie with a bunch of my drama-room and coffee shop friends that year too.

Whatever the reason I had an epiphany reading Shakespeare. At some point when you read a lot of Shakespeare you get into a groove and you can really read him, it flows and you don’t need to think about the verse, you don’t need to read and re-read the same passages over and over to understand, it just works.

Shakespeare was my first taste of literature for pleasure and it set the stage. But there was a second incident that triggered my pivot away from fantasy. This was more about the literature of “the western canon” being the basis of so much. And all these references and influences in popular culture going over my head. Someone pointed this out on a car ride back from a Rage Against the Machine concert where Rage played a song I’d never heard: The Ghost of Tom Joad. Long story short: I didn’t know who Tom Joad was, despite having, supposedly, read The Grapes of Wrath [] a few years before in school. But as with most books that were part the curriculum it went in one ear and out the other… At some point these incidents triggered a shift away from fantasy to “literature”, what else had I missed?

A lot, but set that aside there is too much to go into the myriad retellings of different forms, the quotes, the nods, the rebellions against. But beyond all that there is a reason that people are referencing these books all the time: They are good, many of them are great. Crime and Punishment [], The Age of Reason [] and Invisible Man [] are, just behind The Lord of the Rings my favorite books today.

So I spent more then 10 years reading almost exclusively big-L Literature. I never completely left fantasy and sci-fi, I continued my annual tradition of reading The Lord of the Rings and regular re-readings of Dune []. But I was working my way through such a backlog of great books and authors.

And then at some point I came back around to a more balanced diet mixing in a healthy dose of genre fiction with my hoity-toity literature. Moderation in all things, right?

Over the past decade or so I have read (or re-read in a few case) things like Leviathan Wakes [], Wool [], Old Mans War [], The Dark Tower series [] by Stephen King, The Nexus trilogy [] by Ramez Naam, The Hangman’s Daughter series [] by Oliver Pötzsch. The Watchmen [] and V for Vendetta [] by Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman [], Akira [], Fables [], Locke & Key [], and many more. For good measure I read the complete stories of H. P. Lovecraft [] (skip the essays, don’t sully yourself with his racist drivel any more than you have too in the stories themselves.)

OK, I need to stop listing books… there are so many, too many to list, but i recommend everything linked here (except Ulysses, of course 😉, read Moby-Dick [] instead). I have not posted reviews of most of these books here on Confusion. I started back in the day, reviews of books was one of the original reasons for the site, to share my thoughts on these books with my college friends when we were apart, over summers and during my long-strange-trip in Europe. There is a whole category for my book reviews [], but I’ve only written one review in the past decade – fittingly it was for Lovecraft Country [] a fantasy-horror book recommended by a friend who lives in a foreign country. Which, along with The Dream Quest of Vellit Boe [] helps to redeem a small corner of the H. P. Lovecraft mythos from his misogyny and racism. I highly recommend both books.

photography ranting

My Best Mobile Photos — 2016

On to 2016! I used the iPhone 6S the whole year so not much new to say about the camera. Looking back at my iPhone 6S photos on Flickr [], There are a significant number of photos of sunsets, so why fight it? Let’s start by picking a few of the best sunsets, and let’s go in chronological order. Starting in March, this shot was taken in Phuket, Thailand at Mai Khao Beach:


Next up is this shot from August, taken in Batam, Indonesia. If you squint you can just see the Singapore skyline in the low haze in the center of the horizon:


Next up, this shot taken in Singapore. It’s not a nice as the others but I like the feeling for some reason with the street lights on and the pink fluffy clouds:


And lastly, from December, back in Phuket, Thailand again and at Mai Khao Beach again:


That’s enough sunsets, there are more on Flickr, not sure why I took so many in 2016. But while we are on the subject of Phuket, here is another shot that I like the feeling of:


Another shot from Phuket, is this crazy cool caterpillar:


I started taking the time to cleanup and post my mobile photos due to the extra time the COVID19 pandemic forced us all to take sitting around the house. In one way it’s depressing to look though all the photos that were taken while traveling when I’m stuck at home and at the same time it’s a bit of therapy for the same thing; living vicariously through reviewing the photos and remembering that trip, that place, that scene. I love to travel and while I can’t complain about being ‘stuck’ in Singapore, a safe, clean, easy place to live companies to so much of the world. Even in the midst of a horrible second wave of the Delta Variant, Singapore must be near the top of the list of places to ride out the pandemic. But Singapore is small, you can’t go more then 20 kilometers from my house without needing a passport, I can’t jump in a car or on a train and go out to the country… I have to go out of the country to do that and international travel is severely restricted if you don’t have a very good reason. C’est la vie. Enough of my first world problems for now.

Before we move on, one more travel photos, this time from Sara, Vietnam, is panorama of the rice paddies taken on a cloudy morning hike:


Lastly, staying ‘at home’ in Singapore, is a shot of on of the places I can go during the pandemic, at least when things are not so bad we are in lockdown. Here’s a shot of the super trees at Gardens by the Bay:


Next stop 2017…


The coming machine wars

The Verge has as a story [] and title says it all They’re putting guns on robot dogs now. So, yea, that’s thing we’re doing now. As the article says, it was only a matter of time.

One robo-dog with a gun is scary, a pack of these things is nightmare fuel. Imagine being hunted by a pack of these things. Sounds like a video game I would die in, repeatedly.

And I expect that packs of these things aren’t far off. Combine gun toating robo-dog with the UN report a few months back that last year drones were used to anonymously attack opposing forces [], and possible to kill them, and the future is shaping up.

We can only hope the robot warriors of the future are more like Trade Federation Droids than Terminators…

In other news, I’m having way too much fun using Adobe Spark to create featured images for posts… Movie poster parodies for the last two posts.

Featured image is a parody of the poster for Terminator 2: Judgement Day []; duh, released by TriStar Pictures. And the doge meme [].

quotes ranting

Thank You for Scrolling

Engagement is not a synonym for good mental health.

James Mickens, quoted in Facebook’s success was built on algorithms. Can they also fix it? [] on

It’s true, I checked my thesaurus (though engagement is a synonym for battle, conflict or confrontation which is maybe more relevant). Should it be? Who is responsible for ensuring good mental health? Is it the responsibility of Facebook, or other social media, to promote things that will improve, or at the least not damage, their users mental health? I don’t think so, in fact this is potentially at odds with their responsibilities.

Facebook and other social media companies do have a clear responsibility, as public companies, to make as much profit as they can which they do by selling ads. Remember, you are the product []. To sell ads they need people engaged with the platform(s) to show ads to. The higher the “engagement” i.e. how long you spend scrolling through Facebook or Instagram, the more ads a user sees. So, if doomscrolling [] is the best way to get more eyeballs on ads, Facebook (and Twitter, and other social media companies) will inevitably start to optimize for doomscrolling. Using negative or shocking content to sell is nothing new; “if it bleeds, it leads”. Like everything the scale and speed has grown exponentially thanks to tech.

And they know it is causing harm:

[Frances] Haugen revealed internal documents from Facebook that show the social network is aware that its “core product mechanics, such as virality, recommendations and optimizing for engagement, are a significant part” of why hate speech and misinformation “flourish” on its platform.

Rachel Metz, writing in Facebook’s success was built on algorithms. Can they also fix it? [] on

Facebook’s internal research agrees; in it’s current form Facebook (and by extension social media) is bad for us. Bad for us like smoking is bad for us. Bad for individuals and for society. Smoking is an informative analogy here. The tobacco industry hid their internal research that showed they were causing harm for decades. It was not in their interest to tell people “we are, literally, killing you.” So they buried their own science, and spent decades pushing back on anyone who claimed smoking was bad. Advertising the “health benefits” of smoking even when their own research that showed smoking was deadly.

The tobacco companies didn’t make any efforts to improve; they spent money to lobby the government to ensure it didn’t try to force them to improve and reduce their ability to mint money. It took decades for the government and the public to catch up with tobacco. And people still smoke, but we’ve taken (some) steps to try and reduce the impact on society as a whole and regulated who can smoke and where you can smoke.

A key difference between the tobacco industry and social media is we are seeing the internal damning research much earlier.

So, how can it be fixed? If society wants to change social media then i doubt relying on the “good intentions” of companies is going to result in any change. Apologies to activist shareholders but no mater what companies say about corporate social responsibility it’s a nice to have. They can drop, or ignore, or lie and cheat about these things the moment it affects their bottom line. What they can’t ignore is laws and regulations (at least not without en curing real penalties that they care about).

[Change] would require pressure from advertisers whose dollars support these platforms. But in her testimony, Haugen seemed to bet on a different answer: pressure from Congress.

Rachel Metz, writing in Facebook’s success was built on algorithms. Can they also fix it? [] on

By “pressure from Congress” I assume the author means laws and regulation. Regulation is a bad word for many people, especially on the right and a bit of a wonder drug for many on the left. So expect a long fight over it, even if both sides agree that “Facebook needs to be regulated” they disagree over what aspect needs to be regulated. The republicans think Facebook is censoring them, the democrats say Facebook is radicalizing the republicans.

Wikipedia’s article on Regulatory Economy [] says The ideal goal of economic regulation is to ensure the delivery of a safe and appropriate service, while not discouraging the effective functioning and development of businesses. This is why we have regulations on things like food and drugs, or more specific classes like alcohol and tobacco.

What would regulations on social media look like? Facebook and Twitter already have warning labels on some things, elections and COVID19 vaccines:

Which, back to our Tobacco analogy, is familiar. Way back in 1965 the Congress in the US passed a law requiring cigarettes to have a warning: “CAUTION: CIGARETTE SMOKING MAY BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH.”

Didn’t stop people from smoking.

There are minimum age restrictions on who can smoke. And Facebook also has a minimum age for who can signup, set at 13. But 13 would seem to be too low if teenagers are developing mental health issues due to Instagram content and it’s easy to get around. Maybe they should require a real world ID to register…

There are also restrictions on advertising tobacco… which, I think, amounts to preventing tobacco companies from sponsoring events and from advertisements directed towards under-aged people. Not sure it’s so relevant here; when was the last time you saw an ad for Facebook?

Maybe better enforcement of the age restrictions is something that can be done. But I think the tobacco regulations can only help so much since the industries are just to different. Tobacco companies sell a standard product to people while social media sells people to advertisers and the content that brings people to the platform is user generated. Facebook and Twitter can slap warning labels on things as fast as their AIs can detect the content but it’s hard to imagine a world were it’s as accurate or efficient as labels on cigarette packages. There are too many topics and too many ways for people to work around the AI. It’s an arms race and unless we want to put all social media behind a new version of the Great Firewall [] it’s an unwinnable race.

In the end I have not seen any proposals for regulating Facebook that seems like they actual address the issue. It will be interesting to see the coming fights between the industry and congress and the public. If it gets too depressing, go watch Thank You for Smoking [], it’s hilarious and it’s relevant.


COVID19 Singapore Update

We are currently in the midst of our second major COVID19 outbreak in Singapore. Not sure I should call it second wave as that term was used before but take a look at the chart and this is the real second wave:

Source:, snapshot taken October 5, 2021

Clearly that little uptick in July/August last year does not deserve to be called the “second wave”. The past month has been the true second wave thanks the to delta variant. The big difference between the two spikes is who was affected. The blue bars above represent people living in overseas workers dormitories, while the yellow bars represent everyone else living in Singapore.

Much was made of Singapore being “blindsided” by the dormitory issue last year. During our first wave almost all cases were people residing in the dorms:

Source:, snapshot taken October 5, 2021

But now all the cases are “in the community”:

Source:, snapshot taken October 5, 2021

In addition to the difference between mostly affecting those living in dorms in the first wave and the general population in this new wave the other key difference is vaccination status. According to the Ministry of Health, 82% of residents are fully vaccinated, with an additional 3% having had one dose of the two dose vaccines. This makes a huge difference in the affect on people:

Source:, snapshot taken October 5, 2021

So we are all good right? 0.2% fatality rate seems low. Dispute this, the deaths in Singapore have accelerated in the past month or so:

Source:, snapshot taken October 5, 2021

We were steady in the upper 20s between July 2020 and July 2021, and in the past few months we have added almost 100 deaths. This curve is disturbing, even with the caveat about who is dying in the most recent update from the Ministry of Health:

As of 3 October 2021… 6 more cases have passed away from complications due to COVID-19 infection. Of these, 5 were male Singaporeans and 1 was a female Singaporean, aged between 68 and 91 years. Amongst them, 2 had been unvaccinated against COVID-19, and 4 had been vaccinated. 5 of them had various underlying medical conditions, while an unvaccinated case had no known medical conditions.

Emphasis mine. Source:

So, the deceased were older, and seem to have had “various underlying medical conditions” but 4 of the 6 on this day were vaccinated. Scary, but is this normal or an outlier? I couldn’t find anything showing the number of deaths vs. vaccination status on in government charts. Maybe I Missed it, but I did find “Deaths by Age Groups”:

Source:, snapshot taken October 7, 2021

I think who is dying is the key to the yo-yoing of restrictions. This whole deep dive into the numbers was triggered by a story in the South China Morning Press [] shared on WhatsApp the other day. That article included this chart:

Source: Singapore’s coronavirus cases could reach 10,000 a day in next two weeks | South China Morning Post (

This shows something that is not clear from the data on the Ministry of Health site: the number of deaths among fully vaccinated people. There were 11 deaths among fully vaccinated people in September, more than the total number of deaths from March to July! And a quarter of all deaths in September were fully vaccinated people.

So, despite the fact that most people testing positive for COVID19 in the past 28 days are asymptomatic or had mild symptoms this wave is deadly. Already more than three times as deadly in Singapore than the previous year, and deadly even to some who were fully vaccinated.

Due to all of this the Government pushed us back into more restrictive stance. Not a lock down but a step backwards.

  • Group size for “social gatherings and interactions”, in public or at home and including dine-in, reduced from 5 to 2 persons
  • Work from home “the default” again; before it was 50% capacity for offices

Although, most things didn’t actually change (see here []) the things that matter, that make the most difference day-to-day, did… You can see the conundrum… The death rates in Singapore are among the lowest in the world, and other places, with much higher rates of infection and death, like Israel or the UK, are “back to normal”. But for a politician if you say “lets open” and people die they you could take the hit. I suspect the government of Singapore would not want to be blamed for a higher death toll, to keep the reputation of having among the lowest death rates in the world. To be seen as setting an example of how to handle COVID19. But that means a very slow and cautious reopening that has been pulled back several times now. Given that all the deaths are among older people and those people were the first to be vaccinated I’m guessing we will continue with the tighter restrictions until the majority of over 60’s have had a booster shot to get that “deaths among vaccinated people” number down. But they just started the booster shot program so it could take a while.

One step forward, one step back…

All in all, Singapore is in much better shape than most places, so I shouldn’t complain too much but damn. I want to get on a plane and go somewhere… The biggest thing standing in the way right now is how bad it is in other places, only Germany and Bahrain are open for quarantine free travel, but I would totally go to Japan and spend two weeks in quarantine one the return. That is if Japan was open and if my younger daughter was vaccinated. But there is no approved vaccine for those under 12 yet, and Japan is closed. I envy those who live somewhere they can travel even a bit, by car or train to get out to the country or another city. You can’t go more then 20 kilometers from my house without needing a passport…