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Beth Zuckerman
Attended University at Albany, The State University of New York
Lives in Berkeley, CA
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Beth Zuckerman

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I am running Android 7.0 on a Nexus 5X, and a few days ago I installed an OS update. All of a sudden, Messenger notifications are peeking! Apparently now there is no way to turn off peeking without turning off sound and vibrations for the notifications. I want to have sound and vibrations for the notifications, but I absolutely don't want someone else to see the content of my messages if I hand them my phone or show them something on it. It's fine if they see that I have a message, but I absolutely want to hide the content. Why was this changed? I can't show anyone anything on my phone until this option is restored. Please help.
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Wow. I so much wanted to cast my number one Hugo Best Novel vote for All the Birds in the Sky, since it was so amazing, and I am friends with Charlie. But I'm afraid I'm going to have to drop it to my number two place. I was overwhelmed by Liu Cixin's Death's End.

This book was incredible. I'm not sure I've read anything quite so creative since 2001. Or Flatland, although that was nowhere near as entertaining a novel. While I feel that The Dark Forest suffers from second-book-in-a-trilogy syndrome, I am otherwise very excited by this series.

There is not much to say about Death's End without giving away major spoilers. The story spans vast distances of both time and space. It is a fascinating exploration of math and physics. This is science fiction at its best, combining the edges of what we know about science with a compelling story. It's just brilliant. 
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Well, you do really have to read the first two first!
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I think Connie Willis is a victim of her own success. I am a big fan, but her latest, Crosstalk, does not live up to her standards.


Crosstalk is a lot like a French sex farce. The entire plot hangs on secret-keeping, and repeated close calls where the secret almost gets out. Thus, the pacing and storytelling are as excellent as is typical for Willis. However, I didn't buy into the premise that the secret needed to be so secret, and, since the entire plot turned on that, it ruined the whole thing for me.


The book is about our constant bombardment with messages, phone calls, notifications, etc. In the story, some people are telepathic, so they are superlatively bombarded with other people's thoughts, and have to learn to block them out. "It's a cesspool in there," one of the telepathic characters repeatedly says. The telepaths think that, if anyone discovered their ability, they would be turned into science experiments, and that scientists would find a way to make everyone telepathic. So, they are desperate to keep their abilities secret. I would think that they could probably find some way to see the scientists coming and protect themselves, or at least convince the scientists that telepathy was miserable, but maybe that's just me.


The characters are flat and stereotypical. The tech-wiz kid, the helicopter parent, the gossiping secretary, the nerdy guy that the heroine obviously should fall in love with, and the self-centered, money-grubbing jerk she is dating instead. The two men are so stereotypical that one even drives an aging Honda while the other drives a Porsche. The jerk is so transparent from the first few pages that we can't respect the heroine because of her inability to see through him.


Secrets and secrets and secrets and secrets and secrets. And almost getting found out, and sometimes being discovered by other telepaths, and so on. This is the whole book. The story is well told, and has a sweet, satisfying ending, so the book is enjoyable to read. But so many things bothered me that I can't recommend it.

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Beth Zuckerman

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Something happened a couple of weeks ago, and now I can no longer open my Google Keep notes on desktop (recently updated Firefox in some older version of Windows). When I try to open Google Keep, it offers to install the app on my Android, and then tells me it's already installed, rather than showing me my notes. Please help.
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actually, that's encouraging - I'd rather not have heard that this is a Firefox problem.
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How many times do I have to turn off amber alerts in Android OS in order to make them STAY OFF?
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I decided to read Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt because I enjoyed "The Day the World Turned Upside Down." This book is enthralling. If you like horror, you must read it.

Hex is, as you might guess, a witch tale. The English-language version is set in a small Hudson Valley town, a location I'm sure was chosen because of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. It's a town with a secret. A witch from the days of the witch trials, who was treated most horribly by the townspeople of the time, continues to haunt the place.

Heuvelt spins his tale like the master Stephen King, dropping just the right hints in just the right places. I hung on every word, and I truly enjoyed the scary thrills. It's a scary book, for sure; avoid it if you have issues with scary books and particularly with suicide. The end does not disappoint. The only criticism I have is that a major plot point turns on someone's having used an extremely insecure password. But War Games did that as well, and I did love the film, so I can't make too many complaints. This book is magical.
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In Feedback, Mira Grant is continuing the Newsflesh series, this time with a new news team. Our narrator is Irwin Aislinn "Ash" North, an Irish expatriate. Our Fictional is Audrey Liqiu Wen, Ash's girlfriend, and our Newsie is Ben Ross, Ash's husband for the convenience of becoming an American. The team is fleshed out by Mat Newson, an agendered makeup artist and tech genius. The four are chosen to serve as the news team for a Democratic presidential candidate.

From there, there is not much I can say without spoilers. The book does what Mira Grant does. It's a great political satire masquerading as a zombie novel, with all of the attendant postapocalyptic action. Intriguing conspiracy theories, and all the blood, gore, guts, and guns you could want. While it certainly leaves room for a sequel, it does come to a nice denoument. I definitely liked it. But I didn't like it as much as the previous books in the Newsflesh series. Not as much of Feedback is told in the journal or blogging style; more is told as narrative, as in the Parasitology series. I think this drew away from the sense of immediacy and excitement.

I will mention one bittersweet moment when the characters talk about a candidate, clearly based on Donald Trump (wanting to build a wall), and how he could not possibly win. Ai yi yi.

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Hope you're havin' a happy Hallowe'en, pardners!


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Robert Sawyer has always been a very philosophical writer, but the protagonist in Quantum Night is actually a utilitarian philosophy professor trying very hard to live strictly in accordance with his principles. Jim, the professor, goes so far as to follow Peter Singer in practicing veganism and donating a large portion of his income to fight poverty in the developing world. Jim discovers that he is missing six months of memories from his college days 20 years before. The book explores Jim's attempts to recover his memories and, in the process of all of the discoveries he makes, save humanity as a whole from itself. Always, at every turn, Jim tries to do the greatest good for the greatest number.

Quantum Night is based on Roger Penrose's theory that consciousness arises from quantum phenomena in the brain. I actually am sufficiently philosophical (or crazy) to have read Penrose's book, The Emperor's New Mind. It seems that I found it less convincing than Sawyer did.

In the Quantum Night universe, microtubules in the human brain can be in three states of quantum superposition: Q1, resulting in a philosopher's zombie; Q2, resulting in a psychopath; and Q3, resulting in an actual thinking person with a conscience. This is speculative fiction, so I'm willing to go along with this for purposes of the story. What boggles my brain (and I think it's supposed to), is that, in this novel, these three types of humans exist in a 4:2:1 ratio. Sawyer seems to be speculating that, whether caused by quantum phenomena or not, this is the reality of humanity, that more than half of us are philosopher's zombies, almost a third of us are psychopaths, and only 1 in 7 of us has a conscience.

Sawyer cites an extensive bibliography at the end of the book, and is obviously much more well-read on this topic than am I (and I am rather well-read on it). It is possible that 2 in 7 of us are thoughtless, manipulative psychopaths, as of course not all psychopaths are actually violent. But the idea that more than half of us have no conscience or inner monologue going on in their brains seems, well, highly speculative. It is somewhat easier to believe that more than half of us have few ideas of our own and just follow the trends of others. The book explores the implications of all of this, not only on an intimate, personal decision-making level, but also on the geopolitical level. I appreciated Sawyer's particularly Canadian perspective.

Sawyer presents us with a wide array of fascinating characters whose lives are cleverly intertwined. The female characters are well developed, and the lead female characters are scientists. Sawyer carefully presents each character either as a philosopher's zombie, a psychopath, or a thinking person, and there many surprises.

This is a fascinating book for those of us who, like me, are wildly interested in these sorts of thought explorations of how our minds work, but those looking for action will probably find the story lacking. While I found the storytelling to be very well paced, and had difficulty putting the book down, I found the writing style a bit pat, bland, and overly simple. So, I'm not planning to nominate Quantum Night for a Hugo, but I think many of you will still enjoy it as much as I did.

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https://www.flickr.com/…/72157673981028886/with/29652740092/
Photos from last weekend's incredibly exciting North Coast Geology trip with Williams GeoAdventures. I have captioned the photos with explanations of the illustrated geology, compiled from my extensive notes from the trip and subsequent e-mail conversations with Tom, our trip leader. Mark Irons would have been 50 last week, and I'd like to honor his legacy by teaching others to appreciate geology the way he taught me.

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My feelings about The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin are mixed. I was very excited by the first half or so. The story starts off with a bang, a child murder. I was fascinated by the world-building and the depth of the characters. The story is set in a postapocalyptic world where volcanic and seismic events have wreaked havoc on the world's population, and seismic forces are kept in check by "orogenes," people with an innate power to control the earth's movements. As these orogenes are of course dangerous, they are kept under fairly strict control themselves. The book tells the story of some of these orogenes, in three different time sequences.

But deep characters and fascinating world-building can't carry a novel all by themselves; it still needs a story. Some wonderful new characters are introduced, but, there is insufficient story to carry the book along through its full length. My attention wandered through the uneven pacing. The descriptions of the action are interspersed so abruptly, with no delineation or introduction, within extensive dialogue and character study that I sometimes failed to notice when something important was happening until I was a few pages into it. Several times, I would have to go back, saying, "Wait, what happened?" It wasn't the transitions between the time sequences that created the problem; those are very clearly delineated. The problems occurred within any particular chapter.

I realize that some of my dissatisfaction with the book as a whole results from my poor attention span. My opinions are based solely on my own feelings and experience. Many of you surely loved the book and had no difficulty paying attention to what story there is as it developed. But I give The Fifth Season a mixed review. Great concept, fascinating ideas, excellent characters, poor storytelling. It definitely ranks above "No Award," but I would not have nominated it.
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I love China Mieville's writing, but I did not love This Census-Taker. It's a psychological, coming of age study with very little action. Not to sound like a puppy here, but this is not to my taste.

The story involves a lonely boy in an isolated home with a difficult father. His father kills things and drops them into some sort of cenotaph. At the beginning, we are told that one of the things the father kills is the boy's mother, leaving the two of them even more alone together. The rest of the book reveals events leading up to the moment of the murder, and the aftermath of the murder, in a jumbled way reminiscent of Pulp Fiction.

The book explores the ways in which the condition of childhood, dependent and unable to take care of oneself, can be an enormous trap. It is told sometimes in the third person, but at other times, the narrator seems to need to distance himself from the misery of it all, and switches to the third person. It's a depressing tale. A depressing tale can be uplifting if the hero finds a way to overcome the circumstances. But the hero here, as a child, is, as I say, trapped.

The end surprised me, but not in a pleasant way. The desperately-sought relief from the grimness was insufficient. I know Mieville is a grim writer, but the grimness is usually accompanied by very inventive and creative ideas and characters. This work is lacking in those redeeming qualities.

I do not know whether This Census-Taker fits in the Novel or Novella category, so if anyone actually finds it worthy of nomination, that determination will need to be made .
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Science fiction fan, aerial dancer, cyclist, photographer, gamer, naturalist, geocacher, SCUBA diver, adventurer, never a dull moment.
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Currently
Berkeley, CA
Previously
Schenectady, NY - Albany, NY
Education
  • University at Albany, The State University of New York
    1987
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Female
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Married