Book Review: Midnight in Peking by Paul French

Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old ChinaMidnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China by Paul French

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A friend who lives in Beijing recommended this book to me on the occasion of my visit there. I like to read about places that I plan to visit, so I picked it up eagerly. The atmosphere of pre-war Peking is vividly drawn, the author’s attention to detail is exhaustive, and I found myself caring about Pamela’s fate and wanting to know what happened next. Unlike some other reviewers, however, I found the writing style and pacing to be rough going. The events unfolded in repetitive fashion and since we knew from the get-go that the case remained unsolved, there wasn’t much suspense. The lack of a clear protagonist or viewpoint character added distance, compounding the distance already afforded by time and space.  Continue reading Book Review: Midnight in Peking by Paul French

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Guard Tower

I was traveling this week on Monday, so I will do the Mundane Monday Challenge on Friday this week. A theme that interests me for this challenge is to photograph man-made objects in the middle of nature. The natural frame gives them a beauty that they do not otherwise possess.  Continue reading Guard Tower

Thursday Doors: Seoul Walk

I am a few days into a trip to Asia. We started out in Seoul, Korea and will be traveling on to Beijing, Xian, Shanghai, X’ian, and Tokyo. I have wifi in at least some of the hotels, but my posting frequency will be spotty for the next 3 weeks.  Continue reading Thursday Doors: Seoul Walk

A Wrinkle in Time

For this week’s book review, I am reblogging this wonderful review of one of my favorite books, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, by one of my favorite bloggers, ecofiction author and environmental lawyer PJ Lazos. I think one of the reasons this book still inspires and has stood the test of time is that it integrates both the arts and sciences. There are many ways to be a light in the darkness. . .

Green Life Blue Water

For my bloggy friend, K. L. Allendoerfer, at A Thousand Finds, neuroscientist, violinist, educator and geocacher extraordinaire, who knows the power of reading and science and credits L’Engle for sparking her interest in both!

A Wrinkle in Time

If I had read Madeleine L’Engle’s book, A Wrinkle in Time when I was young, there’s a good chance I would have pursued a career in science. First published in 1962 before the concept of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) became a colloquialism for young women — a rallying cry, really — L’Engle’s book reads like a STEM Sisters manifesto, a how-to on being a girl and not being afraid to shine, even if it means being better than a boy in math or science. Today, a measly 12% of female bachelor students go into STEM careers, yet, I posit, that had more girls read A Wrinkle in Timeas…

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Thursday Doors: Self-Driving Car

More geeky doors for Thursday Doors!

The Computer History Museum near the Googleplex is a good place to take guests who are visiting for graduation (or anything else). I’m not a computer scientist myself, but I’m the wife of one and my dad, a chemist, has always been an early adopter of computer technology. I think we had one of the earliest IBM PC’s in our home back in 1981.

The museum is comprehensive, from Ada Lovelace to Steve Jobs. And I just felt like including this picture of one of the first computer video games, Spacewar,  because it’s cool. Spacewar was developed in 1962 and runs on a machine called a PDP-1.

Spacewar being played on a restored PDP-1 at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View
Spacewar being played on a restored PDP-1 at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View

But, let’s leave the desktop computers for a minute, and move on to computers that move! When we moved to Mountain View, it didn’t take long for us to see self-driving cars motoring around the neighborhood. They always have someone in them, though, who kind of looks like he or she is driving, so it’s not as odd of a sight as it might be.

The museum has one of these cars for visitors to sit in, both doors permanently wide open.

Side Door to Waymo Car

In my in-progress SF novel, set in the year 2074, I write about a patchwork self-driving car usage. Some cities and regions have only self-driving cars. Some are reliant on public transit like subways and trams, and have walkable and bikeable downtown areas. And in that world, for cultures who do use cars, I envision an autopilot option that comes with every vehicle, but that its use is voluntary. Some characters in particular don’t like to use that option, and their attitudes towards transportation serve to reveal more about their character.

Myself, I’m a fan of self-driving cars, at least as long as they’re electric and can be built to run on sustainable technologies. I believe they have the potential to increase safety and decrease traffic congestion. And I’ve never been so enamored of driving that not being at the wheel myself seems disappointing. Actually I quite like the idea of still being able to get around independently when I’m, say, 95, and my vision and reflexes aren’t what they used to be.

The author in the back seat of a Waymo car
Take me home, Jeeves!

Trophy

It’s that time of year again, for graduations and award ceremonies. These are generally happy occasions, but I personally find the experience a bit mixed. You see, I am not an award winner, not the one up on stage giving a speech. I am introverted, and, truth be told, not that accomplished.

More than that, though, I can’t go to an awards ceremony without hearing about the awardee’s positive attitude, the smile on the face, the spring in the step, the can-do spirit. The awardee is invariably “more” than their grades, or their work achievements, or their sports skills, and that something extra is what “really” earned them the award. It is not, we are told, the specific accomplishment that award has engraved on it or sculpted into it—not even they are handed a tiny golden man with an even tinier ball stuck to his foot.

This is all well and good–I mean, I wouldn’t want to go back to the bad old days when the only award given out went to the worst insufferable know-it-all in the class. I like that there are more awardees these days, recognizing a diversity of contributors and achievements.

But I still can’t help wondering about the other kids, the other non-award-winners. The ones who, despite a modicum of achievement, can’t summon a positive attitude; the ones whose support systems are fraying, whose grip on mental or physical health may be precarious, or who just aren’t that into it, but who still put in the effort, come to school every day, and do the work. It’s damn hard to excel at something you dislike. But these kids do it.

I think most well-meaning adults would argue that attitude is a “choice” and if you’re not feeling it, you should just fake it until you make it. After all, it’s true that you don’t have to feel like doing something in order to get it done. And from an adult’s point of view, it’s certainly a lot easier to like and bestow favors upon a smiling kid than one who is angry, frustrated or withdrawn.

But faking it emotionally comes at a cost. Student stress, anxiety, and depression have reached alarming levels, even among those who appear to be comfortable, safe, and financially solvent. Students talk about the burden of “effortless perfection” that they feel is expected of them, especially at so-called top schools.

There are no easy answers to this dilemma. Students make these expectations of each other, and of themselves too. But I think that adults contribute to the problem when we make recognition all about the smile. I’d like to see, maybe just once during a 90-minute ceremony, a kid getting an award for completing something difficult and unpleasant, for dragging themselves out of bed and facing the inner demons for the 90th time that year, and not having fun doing it.

Trophy

Thursday Doors: Stanford Medical Center

The last time I lived in the SF Bay area, I was a PhD student at Stanford University. I graduated from the Neurosciences Program, an interdisciplinary program for studying the brain that includes faculty from both the School of Humanities and Sciences and the School of Medicine. Even back then, in the early 1990s, brain science seemed to me to be the field of the future, an exciting time full of promise to understand both the world and ourselves. I thought, rightly, that you could spend an entire career, an entire lifetime, studying the brain, and never get bored or tired of it. The tagline for this blog, The Brain–Is Wider Than The Sky, is taken from Emily Dickinson’s poem with that first line.  Continue reading Thursday Doors: Stanford Medical Center