arkadi cloud

tech, teaching, and books

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

“This is the story of what a Woman's patience can endure, and what a Man's resolution can achieve.”

I am not a big fan of mystery novels. I tried to get into Agatha Christie but found The Murder on the Orient Express quite boring. Quite unlike Wilkie Collin's mystery novel, The Moonstone, which was a thrilling ride. Even though The Moonstone was written in the 1868, it still was great reading it over 100 years later.

Once I discovered Collins, I have been meaning to read his other popular novel, The Woman in White. I was expecting it to be about a story about a ghost or other supernatural phenomenon but I was wrong. It was still a great read, but nothing about ghosts.

“Any woman who is sure of her own wits, is a match, at any time, for a man who is not sure of his own temper.”

This novel is about an art teacher that gets hired by two sisters who live in the English countryside. One of the sisters will be married off to a nobleman very soon. There are suspicious circumstances that the teacher encounters at the country house which makes him doubt the intentions of the nobleman. The story is told through the diaries and written statements of different characters in the story. Each narrator writes in their own voice about events they know about or were a part of.

“No sensible man ever engages, unprepared, in a fencing match of words with a woman.”

This is a long novel (700 pages), and takes awhile to get interesting but if you stick with it you will be rewarded with a very intricate, and interesting plot. They plot was very well constructed and it took me almost until the end of the book to realize who the villain was, what were their secrets, and final aims. “The novel was first published in serial form in 1859–60, appearing in Charles Dickens' magazine All the Year Round (UK) and Harper's Weekly (USA). It was published in book form in 1860.” This would account for the length and wordiness of some of the novel as the magazine would've been paying Collins by the word. Also, the manner of speech in the Victorian times is a tad formal, and superfluous at times.

I would not recommend reading this before The Moonstone. If you read the Moonstone, and enjoy Collins' style, then, by all means, please go and give The Woman and White a read.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #85 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #mystery #WilkieCollins #London #detective

Look to Windward by Iain M. Banks

(Culture, #7)

One of the better Culture books in the series. I hate most series of books, but The Culture keeps me coming back for more. This book is about a well hatched plot by an enemy of the Culture to take revenge for an 800 year old injustice. There are three threads in the story: the Chelgrian ambassador going to visit the Culture orbital, the Chelgrian emigre living on the Culture orbital, and a Culture scientist studying flying creatures. These threads we beautifully woven together until everything becomes clear near the end of the book. It's incredible how Banks can weave together such a dastardly political plot which keeps the reader guessing, and makes you laugh at the great dialogue too. It's hard to write reviews for books like this because I don't want to give too much away, so if you want to learn more, read some other reviews people have written.

As with all Culture books, we learn a bit more about the Culture civilization. We learn how people keep themselves busy for entertainment on orbitals. We learn more about the history of past battles with the Culture. We also learn about new species. In this one, we get to know the Chelgrian species. They are a furry, sort of centaur/cheetah like race. We get to look inside the Mind who runs the orbital Masaq' and dig out some of the skeletons in its closet too.

“In the old days people died and that was that; you might hope to see them in heaven, but once they were dead they were dead. It was simple, it was definite. Now … ” He shook his head angrily. “Now people die but their Soulkeeper can revive them, or take them to a heaven we know exists, without any need for faith. We have clones, we have regrown bodies—most of me is regrown; I wake up sometimes and think, Am I still me? I know you’re supposed to be your brain, your wits, your thoughts, but I don’t believe it is that simple.”

This is probably my 2nd favourite novel in the series after The Player of Games. I know if I could live in any fictional universe, it would be The Culture. Their citizens get to enjoy all the excitement of life without the fear of death. They are free of money. They get to live on paradises called orbitals. I wonder if our species will ever make it as far as The Culture civilization? I can only hope.

And, as often happens after reading a thrilling Culture novel, I have already dived right in to #8 Matter.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #84 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #IainMBanks #TheCulture #space

Restic is a newer backup solution, but far easier to setup than Borg backup, in my humble opinion. This tutorial is to show you how easy it is to setup, and run daily on Yunohost. This tutorial could also be used to setup Restic on Debian or other flavours of Linux.

What is restic?

restic is a backup program that is fast, efficient and secure. It has multithred support. It supports many backends (SFTP, SSH, Amazon S3, Backblaze, etc.) It supports the three major operating systems (Linux, macOS, Windows) and a few smaller ones (FreeBSD, OpenBSD).

More info:

Restic user manual:

1. Setup Your Backup Location

Prepare a your backup location (another computer on the LAN, or a USB hard drive, or an internal hard drive)

NOTE: This sort of backup doesn’t protect you against theft, fire, or flood. You should have an offsite backup as well as this local one.

In this example, I am using an internal hard drive that is mounted at: /mnt/backup


Say Nothing: A True Story Of Murder and Memory In Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe

'All wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory.' – Viet Thanh Nguyen

I knew little about Ireland and Northern Ireland before reading this book. I only knew the term 'The Troubles' but had no idea what it really meant. This is an incredible book about The Troubles in Northern Ireland from the 60s-90s. It tells the stories of IRA and Provisional IRA members and what it was like to live through those times, and then the transition to 'peace'. It is about how to move on from a violent time like that, what should you remember? What should you forget? Was it all worth it?

Who should be held accountable for a shared history of violence? It was a question that was dogging Northern Ireland as a whole.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #83 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #Ireland #NorthernIreland #history #nonfiction #murder #IRA #Provos

The Parthenon Marbles: The Case for Reunification by Christopher Hitchens

This book has an amazing title, but the book suffers from a convoluted narrative which makes reading it a bit of a struggle. This book has been revised many times, and a new foreword by Hitchens has been written, but he hasn't gone back and edited the whole book as a whole. Hitchens seems like a bit of a blowhard who likes to hear the sound of his own voice, but I shall forgive him as his love for Greece seems genuine. Once you get past the 92 pages of Prefaces, Introductions, and Forewords the actual book begins.

Are the Greeks fit to be the custodians of their own antiquity?

This is the main thrust of the book, should the Parthenon Marbles be returned to Greece and reunited with the building they were stolen from? YES! The Parthenon Marbles aren't like the other trinkets the British have looted from other countries in the world, they are an integral part of a building still standing in Greece, on a very iconic historical building. The British Museum should just face the fact that Britain has become a 3rd rate country, not even part of the European Union, and is no longer an Imperial Empire. They should magnanimously give back what was stolen to the Greeks and reap the enormous bonhomie that will come back to them from the rest of Europe and especially Greece.

The structure of the book is as follows:

  • The Parthenon in History
  • The Elgin Marbles
  • Restitution Works on the Acropolis Monuments
  • Appendix 1: The Present Location of the Parthenon Marbles
  • Appendix 2: The Commons Debate 1816
  • Appendix 3: The Parthenon Gallery in the New Acropolis Museum

I want to give this 5 stars just for Greece, but it needs editing to make it a better read, more powerful read.

Rating: ★★★★ Book #82 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #Parthenon #Greece #ElginMarbles #ParthenonMarbles #History #NonFiction

Hellburner by C.J. Cherryh

A twisting labyrinth of politics and deception with the new weapons system, Hellburner, at the center of it all. In this story, we have the whole gang from Heavy Time reunited as they rally behind Dekker to pilot the new Hellburner spaceship. What they crew doesn't know is there is lots of behind the scenes jostling for power and money by the UDC, the Fleet, Earth Company (EC) and others. At times I felt like I was just on the edge of not knowing what's going on, but it was a tense, and gripping novel all the way through. In comparison to Heavy Time, there is more non-stop action and intrigue in Hellburner, but I really enjoyed the mundane details of asteroid mining, their time off on R2, and how the ASTEX (the company) works. These two books truly do work together.

In the novel, there is some chatter about the enemy, Cyteen, and their robot warriors. I shall have to keep reading more Cherryh novels to become more immersed in this world. I haven't been this hooked on a series since The Culture series by Iain M. Banks.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #81 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #CJCherry #CompanyWars #space #Scifi #Sciencefiction #military

An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook's Battle for Domination by Sheera Frankel and Cecilia Kang

Zuck: i have over 4000 emails, pictures, addresses, sns Friend: what!? how'd you manage that one? Zuck: people just submitted it. Zuck: i don't know why Zuck: they “trust me” Zuck: dumb fucks

This will not be an objective review, I detest Facebook. I deleted my account 4 years ago. Facebook for me is the perfect example of all that is wrong with the internet. This is an important book though, that brings together the years from 2015-2020. If you've been following Facebook in the news, a lot of this won't be new to you, but this book does bring together all the elements of the story in a cohesive narrative. This book will be an important historical document to look back upon Facebook in the future.

Facebook's success “depends upon one-way-mirror operations engineered for our ignorance and wrapped in a fog of misdirection, euphemism and mendacity” – Harvard Business School professor Shoshana Zuboff

If you want to read more about Surveilance Capital which Facebook is very much a part of, read Zuboff's book – The Age of Surveillance Capitalism.

The root of the disinformation problem, of course, lay in the technology. Facebook was designed to throw gas on the fire of any speech that invoked an emotion, even if it was hateful speech – its algorithms favored sensationalism. Whether a user clicked on a link because they were curious, horrified, or engaged was immaterial; the system saw that the post was being widely read and it promoted it more widely across users' Facebook pages.

Facebook and systems like it enable and reward the worst instincts in humans: violence, sarcasm, bullying, lust etc.

“It is time to break up Facebook,” – Hughes, a co founder of Facebook

Breaking up Facebook is an interesting concept, but the problem isn't Facebook but every internet service like it that sells your data to advertisers.

Even if the company undergoes a radical transformation in the coming years, that change is unlikely to come from within. The algorithm that serves as Facebook's beating heart is too powerful and too lucrative. And the platform is built upon a fundamental, possibly irreconcilable dichotomy: its purported mission to advance society by connecting people while also profiting off them. It is Facebook's dilemma and its ugly truth.

This quote is from the conclusion. I've read some reviews of this book and they were disappointed there were no solutions to the problem of Facebook. This isn't that type of book. This is a journalists look at Facebook behind the scenes of it's many, many missteps from 2015-2020. If you want to read more about how to fix the problem of Facebook, which is really just a symptom of surveillance capitalism, I would really recommend you read “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism” by Shoshana Zuboff, and “Privacy is Power” by Carissa Véliz.

Also, #DeleteFacebook everybody. Stop feeding the beast.

PS Friendface works along the same lines as a cold or a terrible plague” [1 min video from the IT Crowd]

Rating: ★★★★ Book #79 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #Facebook #FB #SheeraFrankel #CeciliaKang #business #politics #tech

Heavy Time by C.J. Cherryh

The Company Wars #4

“Cher. Death is. Pain’s life. And there’s, above all, sons of bitches.” – Meg Kady

This novel is about two asteroid miners in the belt who rescue a survivor from another mining vessel. The story in the foreground is about the miners and how they plan to set off for their next mission to collect ore and deal with this survivor from the wreck. The background story is about the politics of Earth (Earth Company) and ASTEX (MamaBitch) who controls the mining in the asteroid belt.

I really enjoyed this novel. Yes, it gets bogged down a times with lots of conversations about the characters feelings. It should've been editing down. It did really convey in a real way what it could actually like to be an asteroid miner, and what the politics of a mining colony in the asteroid belt could look like. She really gets down to details in what the crews do in the mining, and their off time (heavy time) in the mining station. Her grasp on computers is sometimes funny as I am now reading this in 2021 while this was written 20 years ago. Great world building though!

I don't know why I haven't heard of her before. This feels like the classic sci-fi written in the 70s & 80s. I am glad to have discovered her and now am endeavoring to read more of the series. Now, hers seems to be a bit of a tricky series for ordering (read below).

Note about the series from Wikipedia:

The Company Wars

According to the author, the novels in this universe, except Heavy Time and Hellburner (which were subsequently re-published in one volume as Devil to the Belt), can be read in any order. Those two books are chronologically the earliest in the series.

  • Downbelow Station (1981) – Hugo Award winner, Locus Award nominee, 1982
  • Merchanter's Luck (1982) (also published in the Alliance Space (2008) omnibus)
  • Rimrunners (1989) – Locus Award nominee, 1990
  • Heavy Time (1991)
  • Hellburner (1992) (Devil to the Belt (2000) – single-volume edition of Heavy Time and Hellburner)
  • Tripoint (1994)
  • Finity's End (1997) – Locus Award nominee, 1998

So it sounds like I did a good thing by picking up Heavy Time first. I really dig the hardcover cover. I now need to read Hellburner. One point others have made about Heavy Time is that there is a lot going on down on Earth but we only hear background chatter about it in this book. Apparently you find out more about those events in the 'first book', Downbelow Station.

All-in-all, this was a great book but got bogged down in the middle with too much minutia and superfluous dialogue.

Rating: ★★★★ Book #78 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #asteroid #murder #space #CJCherryh #SciFi #ScienceFiction #CompanyWars

Metro 2034 by Dmitry Glukhovsky

(Metro #2)

It would be hard for any novel to live up to the chilling atmosphere, original premise, and breathtaking action of Metro 2033. This was a sequel to Metro 2033, but it was altogether a different type of novel where the only similarities are the setting and one character: Hunter.

Metro 2034 is a novel about Hunter and his quest to 'save' himself, and some others. Along the way he meets up with some different characters that sort of join him on this quest. All the characters are quite flat in this book. Hunter is a killing machine. There is Homer who is an old man who likes to reminisce in the past. There is a wholly forgettable girl who somehow falls in love with, or is obsessed with Hunter. There is also a musician that is a diversion in the story. Anyways, all these characters come together under Hunter to try to save some people in a certain station because they think something has gone wrong.

If you think about the actual action in the story, there isn't a whole lot. There are lots and lots of pages of Homer, the girl, and the musician talking about the meaning of life, and what their lives could've been outside of the metro, etc, etc. It gets old very fast. There was some of this sort of philosophical musing in the original, but just enough to be interesting, not enough to bore you.

I was disappointed with this novel more than anything. I read through it because I was still interested in the Metro world, but the plot of this book leaves much to be desired. I don't fault an author for pumping out novels to make money (a la Murderbot) but at least keep the quality consistent. I don't have any appetite to read anymore Metro novels after reading this dud.

Rating: ★★ Book #77 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #PostApocalyptic #future #Scifi #ScienceFiction #metro #subway #underground #monsters #DmitryGlukhovsky

The General of the Dead Army by Ismail Kadare

“Death commands respect”

An Italian general and priest are sent to Albania to dig up, and repatriate their dead soldiers who were killed 20 years ago in WWII.

For such a simple 'premise' this book is tense, and dark all the way through. As others have said in reviews I have read, the ending isn't what I expected but still held the story together for me.

There are many conversations throughout the book between the general and the priest about war, death, and the Albanians. There are flashbacks to the generals time before leaving and the weight of the families' expectations to get back their 'boy'. There are journal entries of the soldiers that we are introduced to them as they are digging them up. The general and priest travel all over the country from little villages to mountain ravines standing watch, as their Albanian workmen dig up corpses for them, all under the watchful glare of the Albanian villagers. Are they inwardly joyful at watching their former enemies dig up their dead? Do they still hate them?

The general is an interesting character. He did not want this job. He is depressed by his task and wishes he could've led these troops into battle in Albania. He thinks maybe then there wouldn't be so many dead to collect.

“I have a whole army of dead men under my command now, he thought. Only instead of uniforms they are all wearing nylon bags. Blue bags with two white stripes and black edging, made to order by the firm of ‘Olympia.’ ”

The priest speaks Albanian. He tells the general about the Albanian psyche and their traditions. He doesn't speak that much. He also doesn't drink.

You can feel how tense things are, as the enemy, the Italians, are back in Albania digging up their dead. Is it possible to ever forgive some sins? This is a chilling tale about death, and war. The aftermath of war is sometimes more brutal and difficult than war itself. At least with a real war, it would be over quickly and you'd either be dead or victorious. This endless searching for unmarked graves in a far away country is a difficult mission. You wouldn't wish such a burdensome task on anyone. I feel exhausted and depressed just reading about it.

I have never been disappointed by a Kadare novel. They all find a way to sear themselves into your mind. After finishing the novel, I did some Wikipedia research on Albanian in WW2, and General Z, and was not surprised to find that this book won the Man Booker International Book prize in 2005.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #76 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #war #Albania #IsmailKadare #death