06 Dec

Capsule Review: Toussaint Louverture by Philippe Girard

Several people hit me up to note that Toussaint Louverture by Philippe Girard just came out. It’s apparently the first biography of Louverture that’s English first that has come out in 80 years.

I snagged a copy that arrived last night and read the book promptly.

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It’s best read if you already have an appreciation of Caribbean history. Something like Carrie Gibson’s Empire’s Crossroads is a great start.

Haiti’s history and the US is so intertwined. I could write a large essay. But short of it: the entire Louisiana Purchase came about because Napoleon wanted to reinvade Haiti after Toussaint Louverture’s successful rebellion. Haiti was such an economic crown jewel that Napoleon jettisoned enough territory to the US that it doubled the size of the US, much to the shock of the negotiators who showed up. There is no modern US as you conceive of it without Haiti. The French gave up plans to invade the US as well, which was a war that had been possibly brewing.

See Haiti and the Founding Fathers.

Hamilton (yes, that Hamilton) helped Toussaint draft a constitution. Hamilton, famously finding democracy and liberty messy, basically suggested a highly centralized military run system and advised against an American styled system. We’re not sure how much that influenced Toussaint, but that’s what he went with.

I find the American blindspot to Haiti very frustrating.

Oh, yeah, and Jefferson as president actively supported the French attempt to retake Haiti (Sant Domingue) because he was just plain racist.

A lot of the American South reacted to the revolution and refugees by becoming super racist, setting the state not only for the American Civil War but to the Southern Strategy in US politics that just kicked our ass right now.

It’s all bound together. History still lies with us. The evil of slavery and the creation of racism as a major tenet of modern Wester Civilization still stains the body politic, so it’s important to read about one of the major figures in this long, sad history of the fight against slavery and its follow on effects.

So finally digging deeper into Toussaint is important, and I read biography last night in one big gulp. It’s not a hagiography, but then few really good delves into the complications of major historical figures are. While I learned some things I wasn’t expecting, I have a greater appreciation for the sheer unlikeness of what Toussaint did.

Here are some highlights I noted on twitter as I was reading:

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18 Nov

Capsule Review: Planetfall by Emma Newman

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One of my regrets about how scheduled I was last year was that I got very little time to read books I was hearing buzzed about. Planetfall was one of those on my shortlist. I finally got to pull this one off my shelf and start reading it a couple days ago.

This was an interesting book because the main character struggles with a disorder and trying to plumb too much about what that is gives away some of the core secrets of the book, and this book is interestingly constructed as a mystery. A lot is revealed all at the end, even if you suspect going along the pay off is still all unraveled right in the last pages. Which is something you rarely see in this day and age of spoilers and reviews that give away endings. I’m glad I was able to miss any spoilers and come at this fresh.

Let’s just say if you like classic SF, but also enjoy a deeply personal angle on the big ideas and a bit of a mystery genre, this is a personal tragedy that makes for a fast read and is a great piece of science fiction. You have your Big Dumb Object, ‘God’s City’ which has been left by aliens for humans to figure out what it is there for. You have a plucky band of interstellar explorers heading out to explore it. And then you have the strife of survivors trying to pick up the pieces and the consequences of bad decisions made and their after affects years later.

I recommend giving it a read, reminded me of some of my favorite classics:

Planetfall on Indiebound, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon.com.

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17 Nov

SpaceX Plans to Launch over 4,000 satelites to blanket the Earth in high speed internet

Well, this is somewhat stunning and exciting:

SpaceX just asked the FCC to launch 4,425 satellites – Business Insider: “SpaceX, the aerospace company founded by the Mars-hungry tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, just made a big move to envelop the Earth in high-speed internet coverage.

“With deployment of the first 800 satellites, SpaceX will be able to provide widespread U.S. and international coverage for broadband services,” SpaceX wrote. “Once fully optimized through the Final Deployment, the system will be able to provide high bandwidth (up to 1 Gbps per user), low latency broadband services for consumers and businesses in the U.S. and globally.””

(Via Business Insider.)

Musk plans to offer 1GBPS high speed internet to anyone on Earth. You know, as you do.

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11 Nov

Capsule Review: Revenger by Alastair Reynolds

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This is one of the most fun reads I’ve had in a while.

Revenger is full of all the stock Alastair Reynolds world building that I love, since Chasm City (in some ways it’s a real return to his roots of mixing low, almost steam level punk technology and high space opera settings), yet the narrow focus on a single POV, that of Fura Ness, gives it a fast-moving whip pace that meant I ate through this book in a quick couple of days.

Set in the ruins of a galaxy that has seen many civilizations rise and fall Fura Ness and her sister join a ship plying the space ways in search of artificial worlds that have since collapsed and been locked away. With strong hints of the age of sail, but with a vividly imagined solar system as its playground, and a revenge quest plot (one of my favorites!) I felt really sad when I finished because I didn’t get to stay inside the book.

Seriously, I’ll read the fuck out of a sequel.

Indie Store near you
Amazon
Barnes and Noble

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06 Oct

Check out the Blue Origins test of their capsule escape system

This is pretty amazing. Not only can SpaceX get a booster to restart its engines and land, but Blue Origins can as well. Here they are showing their ability to launch a booster, land it again after restarting the engines, and also test the escape system that shoots the capsule away in an emergency.

I know Blue Origins hasn’t gone orbital, but this puts us close to having two very amazing launch systems available going forward.

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04 Oct

Capsule Review: Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox Gambit

A capsule review of Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox Gambit that I wrote on twitter:

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I’m thinking I need to do more capsule reviews as I read things, plus maybe a books received post as they come in. I’ve been so bunkered down I haven’t been very good about sharing bookish goodness!

After reading the above book I now want to sign all my emails with “Yours in calendrical heresy.”

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30 Aug

First relaunch of a used SpaceX 1st stage will happen yet this year

This will be another epic step for the revolution in launch technology that SpaceX has shepherded in:

SES — an international satellite operator based in Luxembourg — will be the first company to launch cargo to space on a reused SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The rocket will carry the company’s SES-10 satellite, meant to provide telecommunications coverage to Latin America, into a very high orbit above Earth. That launch is scheduled for sometime in the fourth quarter of 2016 and will mark the first time SpaceX flies one of the rockets it has landed this past year.

(Via Satellite operator SES will be the first to launch cargo on a used SpaceX rocket | The Verge.)

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11 Aug

Superblocks: Barcelono’s traffic reclamation proposal, is somewhat fascinating

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Take nine square blocks of city. (It doesn’t have to be nine, but that’s the ideal.) Rather than all traffic being permitted on all the streets between and among those blocks, cordon off a perimeter and keep through traffic, freight, and city buses on that.

In the interior, allow only local vehicles, traveling at very low speeds, under 10 mph. And make all the interior streets one-way loops (see the arrows on the green streets below), so none of them serve through streets.

(Via Superblocks: how Barcelona is taking city streets back from cars – Vox.)

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08 Aug

Suicide Squad’s big opening night might be because of women viewers

I noticed this interesting quote in a news story about Suicide Squad:

The biggest surprise in terms of audience makeup was the strong turnout among females, who made up 46 percent of Friday’s audience, according to exit poling service CinemaScore. That’s unusual for a superhero film.

(Via Box Office: ‘Suicide Squad’ Opens to Big $135M But Drops Sharply Saturday | Hollywood Reporter.)

I haven’t see it yet, I’m watching DC movies on iTunes rental because they’ve been somewhat lacking for me. I’ve seen a lot of horrible reviews of Suicide Squad, but I saw a ton of excitement about it from a very wide demographic based on the trailer.

Hey, a movie with a strong female POV implied by previews got women to the theater, and that may have given the movie a 25% boost in earnings, possibly saving it due to an amazing opening night (though it’s had a horrible drop off in earnings because it turns out the trailer and the movie don’t match up?).

And the success of gender flipped Ghostbusters?

The success of Fast and Furious with multicultural varied leads? And women as well?

Maybe there’s something there… despite Squad’s critical fail, maybe women are hungry for movies that seem to not exclude them but include them?

Just a thought.

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30 Jun

First death of someone while using Tesla Autopilot

We learned yesterday evening that NHTSA is opening a preliminary evaluation into the performance of Autopilot during a recent fatal crash that occurred in a Model S. This is the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated.

(Via A Tragic Loss | Tesla Motors.)

I mentioned to someone that I thought that this would be the moment that cracks open a lot of angst about autopilots, and could be the inflection moment that either slows down adoption or demonstrates that the polity at large accepts that people will also die in self driving cars with the same equanimity that they do regarding human-driven deaths.

In general, I find humans to be stunningly accepting of driver-controlled car death, my instinct is that it will not cause a setback there. But, there are a lot of people who have been hoping and waiting for just this moment to use against Tesla because they have hated the very idea of an electric, self-driving car.

We are learning that a lot of polarizing political identity is being shaped by tribalism. Even as coal as a technology is dying and going the way of whale oil, there are people right now throwing themselves into the gap for coal because they *identify* as a certain kind of political entity. Support for coal is being against green hippies. So they rig their trucks to blow more pollution (see ‘rolling coal’) and want to dig for coal even though it’s no longer cost effective.

There are similar forces who do not want to see Tesla succeed on general principle. They will be out in force.

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