Links from the past weeks

Links from the past weeks 

📖 On Reading – the early 2020s 

I used to read one book at a time. But in the last few years, coincidentally with my weaning myself off physical books, I began to read more than one book at a time. Sometimes, I had 2 or 3 books I consider myself to be actively reading. Perhaps it became necessary because borrowing e-books sometimes requires one to wait for the book to be released.

I also decided to read 1000-page things (Russian epics; WWII) and series (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings), and decided these efforts would be better aided by having physical books. So I ended up between e-books (mostly on Libby, sometimes on Kindle or the Books app) and physical books. And in a way, I am glad that I moved on from single-mindedness to this … flexibility. Sometimes you just want something different. And sometimes, in the midst of battling a big tome, you need a break.

For the past 5 years, I finished 32.8 books per year on average. I have 84 “currently reading” titles on Goodreads (I started tracking my reading in late-2017). Which seems about right, because I “touch” around 50 books a year. I used to try to finish books I started, but then decided life’s too short to finish books you don’t care to finish.


Already this year is shaping up to be different from the past 5 years. It is the end of June, and I have already finished 33 books. Perhaps it’s because of a confluence of: a stronger urge for reading this year; lowered running volume; a less busy year at work.

PS. I cannot believe we are “in the early 2020s”.

📖 The Trackers

Blurb: In The Trackers, singular American writer Charles Frazier conjures up the lives of everyday people during an extraordinary period of history that bears uncanny resemblance to our own. With the keen perceptions of humanity and transcendent storytelling that have made him beloved for decades, Frazier has created a powerful and timeless new classic.

The Trackers


I have never read Frazier before, so the fact that I was holding a signed copy did not mean that much to me. I had wanted to read it because I was in the mood to be transported, and this book was set in Depression-era America. It was also a nice souvenir, since I was visiting Seattle and the Elliott Bay Book Co made book-buying rather irresistible.

I enjoyed the book, loved how the scenery and the scene were depicted (mostly of the west, plus Florida), and felt the wistful sense of longing that every character had. Everyone is always missing something.

📖 Out 

“You know,” she murmured, “we’re all heading straight to hell.”
“Yes,” said Masako, giving her a bleak look. “It’s like riding downhill with no brakes.”
“You mean, there’s no way to stop?”
“No, you stop all right – when you crash.”

Natsuo Kirino


I finished this book in two days, or perhaps two and a half, because I read a good part of it on a plane flying from Seattle to Singapore.

The characters are all gloomy and messed up, and the details (of the scene, of the inner dialogue, of the dialogue…) are many, but the plot moves along, and you cannot put this book down. So, please make sure you have the time for it, because this book is so delicious, sucked in at one go.

Literary realism at its best. Artfully grisly? Because we all have dark impulses, and how do you know how you would act, if you were put in that situation? Despite the brutality, you feel sympathy for the downtrodden protagonist, and hope that somehow she finds some peace.


Links from the past weeks 

📖 The Wall 

“Billions of tiny cocoons hang woven into its threads, a lizard lying in the sun, a burning house, a dying soldier, everything dead and everything living. Time is big, yet it has room for new cocoons. A grey and relentless net, in which every second of my life is captured. Perhaps that’s why it seems so terrible to me, because it stores everything up and never really allows anything to end.”

Marlen Haushofer
The Wall


This story is morbid, disturbing and I loved it. It had me in a soft but firm grip, and there are no chapters, just a breathless report stretching 238 pages. The main character goes off for a holiday in the mountains and finds herself the sole survivor behind a transparent wall. The book follows her as she undertakes the task of surviving – cutting wood, planting crops, milking a cow… The narrative skips between the past and present, and that required processing but also made the read even more engaging. Even as it was clear that things would not generally go well, I was engrossed in the details, trying to guess what happens next.

This is not a fast-paced science fiction novel. It is an ode to the natural world and the human spirit. It is a simple story, told in beautiful prose. But as to whether the protagonist truly finds equanimity, I do not know.

[The book was first published in 1963, and I have never heard of the author. I am so pleased I chanced upon it at the bookstore.]



“But if time exists only in my head, and I’m the last human being, it will end with my death. The thought cheers me. I may be in a position to murder time. The big net will tear and fall, with its sad contents, into oblivion. I’m owed some gratitude, but no one after my death will know I murdered time. Really these thoughts are quite meaningless. Things happen, and, like millions of people before me, I look for a meaning in them, because my vanity will not allow me to admit that the whole meaning of an event lies in the event itself.”

Links from the past weeks

Links from the past weeks 

  • Downs–Thomson paradox

    The equilibrium speed of car traffic on a road network is determined by the average door-to-door speed of equivalent journeys taken by public transport; improvements in the road network will not reduce congestion and improvements in the road network can make congestion worse if the improvements make public transport more inconvenient or if they cause disinvestment in the public transport system.

  • GPT models are actually reasoning engines not knowledge databases

    “Even though our AI models were trained by reading the whole internet, that training mostly enhances their reasoning abilities not how much they know. And so, the performance of today’s AI models is constrained by their lack of knowledge.”

  • Cang Lan Jue is a Visual Feast inspired by Hades & Persephone

    I was recommended to watch this, and did not expect the high level of CGI wizardry. It was a visual treat, and a break from the overly sexualised storylines you get from most other things one watches on Netflix. Reminds me of the shows we watched as children, but with much better computer graphics.

  • Why EY and its rivals may eventually break up, after all

    Because the audit business is in conflict with the consulting/ advice business. Amazing how the conflict of interests rules don’t apply to some professions.

  • To fend off creepy guys online, Chinese women gather around ‘baby solid food’

    The hashtag, associated with parenting, means the algorithm pushes the content mainly to women. I am guessing there will be various other hashtags one has to use to get away from creeps.

  • I was today years old when I learned about asparagus pee. (I can’t smell it.)

  • The Benner Cycle Predicts 100+ Years of Market Movement

    Someone once told me about 11-year cycle, but in recent years, the cycles are much harder to interpret.

  • The Dubious Wisdom of Smart Brevity

    “Personally, I cannot imagine sending a note with the brusque subject line “our chief of staff quit.” I suspect this is a gender thing: I spent much of my early professional years inserting exclamations into e-mails so as not to sound like a stone-hearted ice witch.”

    We can all learn to write more concisely, but the ideology behind Smart Brevity may not be so universal, as this writer eloquently explains: “Smart Brevity is essentially a book about how to write a good e-mail. (And honestly it probably could have been a long e-mail.)”

📖 Real Estate  

“There were some small improvements. I now owned not one electric bicycle but a fleet of electric bicycles. In this sense, as far as I was concerned, I resembled a rock star I knew who owned a fleet of aero-planes. Yes, I had one e-bike locked up under the tree and two more in the garage. Friends came to stay from all over the world and we cycled around London together. It was a gesture towards a life I wanted, that is to say, an extended family of friends and their children, an expanded family rather than a nuclear family, which in this phase of my life seemed a happier way to live. If I wanted a spare room for every friend, my flat could not support this idea. If I wanted a fireplace in every room, there were no fireplaces in my flat. So what was I going to do with all this wanting?”

Deborah Levy
Real Estate


A timeless question – What have I done with my life?, sometimes interposed with a more materialistic – What do I have to show for it?

I appreciate how Levy captures the questions and how we answer ourselves, never losing a sense of optimism. I have read and adored Levy’s previous two volumes of her living autobiography. In this volume, she goes into questions about patriarchy and a woman’s place in this world, and much as one yearns for a strong message or resolution, I understand why sometimes ambivalence holds sway. We may not get the outcome we want in this lifetime, but we have to keep on trying.

Living is striving. Living is keenly observing. You may or may not have real estate to show for it.


“Yet my encounter with this rented house was a taunt, a provocation; it made me feel more alive. If I was full of desire for its ambience and grace, the fact that I did not have the means to buy it only accelerated my desire. Perhaps it was not the house but desire itself that made me feel more alive.

Maybe it is a good thing for us to keep a few dreams of a house that we shall live in later, always later, so much later, in fact, that we shall not have time to achieve it.
Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space