Mistborn Review

01Apr14

So I just finished watching a Vlogbrothers video by Hank Green in which he suggested that everyone start a new internet thing called #reviewsdaytuesday, which is kind of a long hashtag but whatever.

I thought, that’s a pretty good idea. I hope I can remember to do that on the next Tuesday after I finish reading a book. And then I realized: today is Tuesday… and I just finished reading a book last night… and I feel like taking a break from work… perfect!

I finished reading Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson (which is a great name… Brand Sand, Brandon Sandon, Brandon Sanderson). I’m not going to summarize the plot because Google, and because I hate reviews that just summarize the plot.

I gave it a solid 4/5 on Goodreads. Brief summary: it had tons of potential to be one of the most amazing things I’ve read in a while without ever fully delivering on it, but even with much of that potential left unexplored it was an incredibly fun read, and I WOULD recommend it.

To get the stuff I didn’t like about it out of the way first: there was almost no character development. The only character that developed in a significant way was the main character, and I found her pretty irritating for most of the middle of the book (I felt better about her by the end). There was also tons of mostly unexplored stuff about power, politics, slavery, racism, revolution, and religion. Overall, it wasn’t as thoughtfully written as it could have been. Some of the language used to describe metal-burning was a bit distracting as well.

HOWEVER, these things become less and less annoying as the book goes on. This is partly because it’s super action-packed, pretty much right until the end. The fight scenes are quite well-written; detailed but not so much so that it detracts from the action. Some of my book club friends might argue with me on that point (they wanted more detail) but I thought they were great.

There’s also quite a bit of witty dialogue, and some fun characters. They were a bit stereotypical and I didn’t find myself becoming too attached to any of them because of it, but they interacted with each other well and made the less exciting portions of the book pretty enjoyable.

On the topic of connecting with the characters, my favourite part of Mistborn was definitely the strange, italicized entries at the beginning of each chapter. They start out seeming like only slightly-related, philosophical musings, but become more and more interesting as the book goes on. They were probably one of the reasons I read it so quickly, because I would finish a chapter, and see the little italicized bit at the beginning of the next chapter and want to read it, but once I read the intro I’d keep going and before I knew it, I was at the beginning of the next chapter and facing the same dilemma all over again. Gradually, the bits at the beginning became a character themselves, and that was probably what I connected with the most, and found the most interesting.

Also, the end was, like, WHAAAAAAT! I can’t say anything else without potentially spoiling it, but the end was freakin’ awesome.

All in all, it was a really great read. Although it didn’t fully explore all of the topics it could have, and I would have loved it if it had, that was arguably not the point of the book for the author. I would argue that the author didn’t write the book to explore social issues, but was much more interested in world-building and the overall plot or story, which happened to contain a bunch of social issues. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and am definitely going to read the next two in the series.

As an endnote, I actually bought the last two in the series over the weekend. For anyone who hasn’t read these yet but would like to, do NOT read the back of the books for the second and third (Well of Ascension and The Hero of Ages) OR their Wikipedia articles before finishing the first. Here is what the backs of the books say, and I’m not even exaggerating:

Well of Ascension description:

The spoiler has spoiler spoiler. The spoiler – the spoiler spoiler spoiler – has spoiler. But Kelsier, the spoiler spoiler, is spoiler, and now the awesome task spoiler spoiler his young protégé, Vin, the former street urchin who spoiler, and to the spoiler spoiler.

As Kelsier’s protégé and spoiler she is now spoiler spoiler, a distinction that makes her intensely uncomfortable. Even more worrying, the mists have begun behaving strangely since spoiler, and seem to harbor a strange vaporous entity that haunts her.

Stopping assassins may keep Vin’s Mistborn skills sharp, but it’s the least of her problems. Luthadel, the largest city of the spoiler, spoiler, spoiler spoiler, and spoiler. It certainly won’t get easier with three armies – one of them composed of ferocious giants – now vying to conquer the city, and spoiler spoiler atium, the rarest and most powerful allomantic metal.

As the siege of Luthadel tightens, an ancient legend seems to offer a glimmer of hope. But even if it really exists, no one knows where to find the Well of Ascension or what manner of power it bestows.

The Hero of Ages description:

Who is the Hero of Ages?

To spoiler and spoiler, Vin spoiler. But as a result, spoilerspoiler spoiler spoiler—is back, along with increasingly heavy ashfalls and ever more powerful earthquakes. Humanity appears to be doomed.

Having spoiler at the spoiler only by spoiler, spoiler Elend Venture hopes to find clues left behind by spoiler that will allow him to save the world. Vin is consumed with guilt at having been spoiler spoiler from spoiler. Ruin wants to end the world, and its near omniscience and ability to warp reality make stopping it seem impossible. She can’t even discuss it with Elend lest Ruin learn their plans!

The conclusion of the Mistborn trilogy fulfills all the promise of the first two books. Revelations abound, connections rooted in early chapters of the series click into place, and surprises, as satisfying as they are stunning, blossom like fireworks to dazzle and delight. It all leads up to a finale unmatched for originality and audacity that will leave readers rubbing their eyes in wonder, as if awaking from an amazing dream.

SERIOUSLY, WHO WROTE THESE?!


 

I’ve always thought that having an action figure of yourself would be pretty amazing. It’s nice to see that those who have the privilege of playing with a small plastic replica of themselves do not take it for granted, but live that experience to the fullest.

action figure

 


So I have some friends on Facebook that aren’t really real-life friends, but are more like acquantances or friends of family. Sometimes these people post things that are really annoying or problematic, and it doesn’t seem to matter that I’ve told Facebook I don’t want their stuff to appear in my feed. It still does. And I always want to respond to it, but I also don’t want to be a total dick to these people I hardly know and almost never speak to in person.

“Hi, I never speak to you and tend to only comment on your Facebook stuff when I have a problem with it, hope you don’t mind being FB friends with me anyways, have a great day!”

Usually when I want to respond to a FB post, but have realized that the response I want to give is basically the length of an academic paper, I move it onto the blog instead. So I thought to myself, instead of bottling up my frustration at these posts in the interests of not being an asshole to FB acquantances, I could move them to the blog as well. Here’s the first in what is sure to become a long line of many:

FB image 1

Okay.

Problem #1

What about children who are obese because of some kind of illness or medication they have to take? What if it has nothing to do with their eating habits? Let’s make these kids feel even worse about themselves for the sake of making the world feel more fair for people who smoke. Great idea! If you want to put gross pictures of clogged up arteries or something on McDonald’s food, I might be able to get behind that, but obese children? Really?

Problem #2

Not all cosmetics products utilize animal testing, and there are many ethical and environmental issues besides animal testing involved with using any kind of cosmetic product, from shampoo to lipstick to nail polish. Too many to fit on one package. For example, many cosmetic products are made with animal fat, which means animals have to die for you to cover up that zit you’re self-conscious about.

For those that don’t use animal fat, they probably use palm oil instead. A rediculous amount of rainforest is chopped down every day to make room for palm plantations, and many endangered species are killed or driven away from their homes in the process. For those that don’t use palm oil because of that environmental damage, they probably use soy oil instead, which is just as bad. Those that don’t use any bio oils will use fossil-based ones instead. Including all of this on packaging is kind of impractical, and I haven’t even listed the full reach of potential problems with cosmetics. It’s also not fully comparable to cigarrette packaging, as cigarrette packaging is meant to advertise health detriments to the activity, while this cosmetic packaging would be to advertise environmental ones. If we put this kind of environmental labelling on cosmetic products, we have to put the same labelling on literally everything else we do. And perhaps we should be putting that labelling on, but that’s quite a different discourse from cigarrette packaging labels, and should be treated separately. This point shouldn’t even be on here.

The only non-problematic point on here:

The point about putting victims of drunk driving on alcohol bottles is fair enough, though you may want to include pictures of damaged livers and whatnot as well if you really want it to be comparable to the cigarrette packaging. Of course, this doesn’t work when you go to bars, since you usually get your drink in a glass, not in the bottle it comes in.

Problem #3

Putting pictures of dishonest, thieving politicians on tax-returns… really? First of all, this suffers from the same problem the point about cosmetics did. It’s not really comparable. Secondly, what are these politicians supposed to look like, anyways? In my experience, most politicians look like, I dunno, people. What message is putting my MLA on my tax returns supposed to send?

You could also include pictures of elderly people receiving free healthcare, or children attending public school. Actually, such a small percentage of your tax money goes into politicians actual pockets that it seems a bit strange to compare it to the considerably higher percentage of smokers who will contract some kind of smoking-related disease. I know this is an unpopular opinion for a lot of conservative/libertarian-leaning Albertan’s who enjoy thinking that elected representatives are just evil, money-grabbing, no-good politicians, so I’m going to spend a little more time unpacking this one.

According to the Legislative Assembly of Alberta website, the average MLA gets paid a little under $80,000/year including their tax allowance ($52,000/year before the tax allowance). Sounds like a lot of money to the average Albertan slogging away in the service industry, who probably only makes between $25,000 and $30,000 per year, or maybe even less than that. But let’s look at it from a more nuanced standpoint. First of all, MLAs work between 45 and 60 hours per week. They don’t get overtime pay. There are 52 weeks in a year. So MLAs put in between 2,340 and 3,120 hours per year, putting them at $25 – $34 per hour. Still more than you make working at the mall, but why shouldn’t it be? Their work generally requires greater early investement in post-secondary education, not to mention the time they spend building up the expertise they need to succeed in this career path, as well as the investement and risk that goes along with running in and winning an election. If we compare with other sectors, Executive Directors of non-profits can make as much as $100,000/year (though the median is closer to $60,000), an Executive Director of an average private-sector company can make as much as $150,000/year (the median is closer to $71,000), and Executives of pharmeceutical companies make as much as $6 million/year (with an average closer to $800,000).

So who, exactly, is actually thieving, or greedy? Most ‘politicians’ make as much as or less than their private sector counterparts, for around the same amount of prior career investment and hours worked on the job. But most of the people who think that politicians, who draft policy and create budgets that provide citizens with free healthcare, are greedy and thieving usually don’t say the same thing about people like the executives of a pharmaceutical company, who use unfair copyright/patent laws to make it almost impossible for smaller companies or governments to make life-saving generic medications that are cheaper and more accessible. They consider these people to be hard-working entrepreneurs who deserve to make the amout of money they do. I don’t know about you, but I’m not buying it.

There’s another angle from which we can consider this problem that I’ve briefly mentioned already: the percentage of your tax money that goes into paying the salaries of those greedy, pocket-lining politicians is not remotely comparable to the percentage of smokers who will contract some kind of disease as a result of smoking. The difference in scale between the two is massive.

I’ve already shown that MLAs in Alberta make around $80,000/year. There are 83 MLAs. That’s $6.6 million in MLA salaries, plus a little bit more for the MLAs who also act as Premier or Ministers. Let’s give an estimate of around $7 million in politicians’ salaries. It sounds like a lot, but compared to the overall budget, it’s almost nothing. In 2013, the Alberta Government collected $10 billion in personal income tax revenue. That means that 0.0007% of the taxes you paid in 2013 went towards the salary of your elected representative. Comparatively, roughly 50% of smokers will die as a result of smoking (from cancer or other smoking-related diseases).

There’s a pretty massive difference between the amount of money thieved from you by politicians, and the amount of life/health thieved from smokers by cigarrettes. So why does this infographic consider them comparable?

Why do I have to tolerate this kind of garbage in my FB feed?


So this story has had quite a bit of attention lately. And it doesn’t matter where you’re talking about it, someone is going to jump in and defend the men in question, while demonizing Roy for her actions against them. This aspect of the story is perhaps the most troubling to me, because it discourages others from speaking up about discrimination they’re facing, and obstructs public discourse and education about discrimination, sexual objectification, and rape culture.

For those of you questioning Roy’s actions:

This isn’t just adults talking about sexual desire and preferences, or making crude but harmless jokes, and the fact that the conversation was intended to be private does not make it okay (I’ve read many comments on FB posts and news articles to this effect). This is a group of men talking about having violent sex with a specific woman, with whom they have a professional relationship, in a context in which she has no opinion, power, agency, or humanity. Do you understand how threatening it is to have people you work with talk about you in such a demeaning way?

http://bellejar.ca/2014/02/28/rape-culture-at-the-university-of-ottawa/

She has to work with them every day, knowing that they don’t see her as an equal team member in their organization but as a sexual object to be used and controlled, knowing that they’ve been spreading and encouraging this opinion between each other and perhaps to others.

It’s hard to feel safe or respected with this kind of conversation going on. You start to wonder how much alcohol or peer pressure is needed to tip that over the edge, from violent conversation to violent action. You start to wonder, am I safe in a meeting with them? At a social event? Can I trust them if they drop into my office, and I’m there alone?

If this happened in your workplace, you would go to your boss (or equivalent) to find some way to remedy the situation and allow you to feel safe in your place of work, so she does the same and seeks action at their SU board level. She seeks support from the organization she works with, so that she can feel safe and respected in the organization. And what does she get? A cease and desist, and a tabled motion.

Basically, the original conversation removed a lot of power and agency from her as a person, and when she reaches out for support, she’s essentially told they said they were sorry and it was a private conversation anyways so she has to just shut up about it already, which keeps her in that powerless position. Unsatisfied with this lack of resolution or action, she makes the issue bigger, and searches elsewhere for support. Is this spiteful or hypocritical or wrong? I don’t think it is.

http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/03/02/anne-marie-roy-decries-rape-culture-at-university-of-ottawa-after-she-was-target-of-student-leaders-sexually-graphic-chat/

It doesn’t matter that they weren’t explicitly threatening her, or that they apologized. There are more ways to threaten, harass, and injure a person than by outright saying, “I’m going to rape you.” And how is saying sorry supposed to remedy the situation? How is that, in any way, an acceptable consequence for so thoroughly dehumanizing a colleague, particularly considering the fact that these people are public figures who work with Roy to represent others? Imagine this wasn’t a bunch of students to which you have no personal ties, but your city councilors talking this way about your mayor, or your MLAs talking this way about your Premier. Would you be so quick to defend them and condemn your Mayor and the media outlets reporting on the story? Or would you expect greater professionalism and accountability of the people elected to represent you?

As representatives, they should be taking greater responsibility for their actions than a private letter of apology. To be fair, one of them did pretty quickly. If the other four were sincere in their apology, they wouldn’t have threatened legal action against her, or sent a cease and desist order.

If their main issue is that their privacy was violated, they should be seeking legal action against the person who leaked the conversation, not against Roy. She didn’t unlawfully obtain the information herself, she just reacted to it when someone else sent it to her. I can totally support them seeking such legal action against the indivual(s) who actually invaded their privacy and unlawfully accessed a private conversation, but I cannot support them shirking responsibility for their actions by trying to silence Roy’s complaints through legal action.

This is what their actions tell me: The apology they sent her wasn’t about actually being remorseful, but about regaining control and power over the situation and, by extension, over Roy. They don’t actually see their conversation as being wrong, or damaging. They feel it was perfectly acceptable to talk that way about a colleague, just because it was a private conversation, and that by writing a letter of apology, they should be absolved from any further consequence or action taken to hold them accountable.

So how sincere was that original apology, anyways? Are they sorry they behaved as they did, or are they just sorry they got caught?

http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/legal-threats-dropped-after-uottawa-student-leader-speaks-out-on-rape-culture-1.1711772

As of now, all four of the five who were elected representatives have resigned and dropped their legal threats, largely due to the strength of the public outcry against them. Their reaction to Roy’s complaints, and the way internet discourse has been largely dominated by those who feel Roy overreacted, shows how normalized sexual objectification and rape culture are. But I guess the public outcry that ultimately forced the resignation of these four representatives is a glimmer of hope that we can turn that discourse around in the future.


royal-baby-meme-lion-king

A friend of a friend on Facebook was saying that the reason the news of the newest addition to Great Britain’s royal family has got her talking is because if it had been a girl, she would have been the first female born into direct succession for the throne since the law stating that only a male could be the heir to the throne was overturned. She argued that it would have been an example of the changing times and the elevation of female rights (her words, more or less). I began writing a response, but it turned out to be too long for a Facebook comments thread, so I’m throwing my ideas into a blog post instead.  Here goes:

I don’t think that the baby being a girl would have really done a lot to “elevate female rights”. The law itself has already done that (to whatever extent it actually did), and the sex of any baby born in line for the throne afterwards is largely coincidental. I suppose we have been deprived of what could have been a useful poster girl, but I don’t really see how being deprived of the chance to exploit an individual female unlucky enough to be born into such a spotlight for the sake of having a superficial example of how women really do have equal rights for real this time is actually a bad thing. I’m not saying it’s a good thing that the baby wasn’t a girl, I just don’t think it’s actually that big a loss either.

Further, I would argue that the change in law itself (and any royal offspring affected by it) is not so much a sign of the changing times as it is a way to pacify anti-monarchists by making the monarchy appear to be more modern and relevant than it actually is. If the monarchy really wanted to be a part of the changing times it would dissolve, leaving those who are currently financially dependent on it (Queen, etc.) a reasonable inheritance to compensate for the psychological damage done to them in the name of tradition, and dividing what’s left of that considerable wealth between the nations/peoples of the world whose societies have been left in ruins by its previous colonial rampages across them, seeing as said rampages were driven in part by the monarchy’s lust for more wealth and power to begin with. Of course, the number of people who have been negatively impacted by Britain’s colonial history is so great that even the entirety of the royal family’s assets would amount to pretty small change for each of them by the time it was all divided up, but since no amount of money can actually truly repair or compensate for the damage done anyways, I would argue that it’s the symbolic meaning of the gesture that really counts here.

I’m sure many would argue in response to my anti-monarchist sentiments that the monarchy plays a harmless symbolic role in our society, and should be maintained because it’s such a big part of our history. I hear it all the time. But it’s not harmless, nor is its role only symbolic, at least not for Canada. Remember when Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament to avoid being kicked out of office after lying about the federal budget? YouTube does:

That move was made possible by the monarchy’s “symbolic” role in Canadian society.

It’s also crazy to argue that we should keep something as archaic and useless as the monarchy around just because it’s a big part of our history. After all, slavery, genocide, and the residential school system have all been a big part of both Canada’s and Great Britain’s histories, but you would be hard-put to argue to any sane and respectable person that those institutions should be kept around for only that reason. Another big part of these countries’ histories is the absolute rule of the same monarchy currently being discussed, which has since been replaced by less archaic, more representative forms of governance. Just because something is a big part of our history doesn’t mean it should automatically get to be a big part of our present too. And historical value probably isn’t even the biggest reason for the monarchy’s continued existence anyways, it just sounds nicer than the reality. The reality is, this phenomenon probably has a lot more to do with a general unwillingness of those at the top to upset long-established power structures/balances for fear of losing out themselves in the process. Also because such a move would require major constitutional and legal changes to all Commonwealth countries, which would be time-consuming, costly, and extremely difficult in the short term, so it’s continually put off even though it ends up being more time-consuming, costly, and difficult in the long term to keep the monarchy around, because no one wants to be the one to handle its dissolution. So it continues to hobble along through its symbolic existence in spite of being ridiculous and essentially useless.

I don’t want to hate on any individuals in the royal family, particularly not the newest one, who is yet too young to even fully appreciate the fact of his own existence, let alone what that existence and the historical events leading up to it mean to the world. I just want to say, to those who still think we should care about the monarchy and keep it alive because history:

1208060712814


There is a shocking lack of anaglyph images for the outer Jovian planets.

Neptune rotates on its axis once every 16 Earth hours, and it takes 165 Earth years to orbit the Sun. It is the most dense of the Jovian planets at 1.64 g/cm3, and has a crazy magnetic field similar to Uranus’, tilted and not passing through the center of the planet.  This could also be because Neptune is experiencing a reversal of its polarity, but may be because the field is created by convection near the surface instead of in the interior.  Alternative mechanisms for such a magnetic structure are being explored because considering the fact that poles will remain stable for many thousands of years before switching again, it is extremely unlikely that two planets right next to each other are experiencing a reversal of polarity at exactly the same time.

Its atmosphere is banded like Jupiter’s, with spots and cyclones, and is composed mainly of hydrogen, helium, and methane. Its structure is exactly like every other Jovian planet discussed, so I won’t bother explaining it or posting an image. The only point to note is the higher content of carbon and carbon monoxide in Neptune and Uranus compared with Saturn and Jupiter.

Triton

One of 8 satellites, it is the innermost moon of Neptune, and orbits the opposite direction we would expect it to. Its orbit is currently circular, but would have been elliptical at one time as the retrograde orbit suggests it did not originate there but was captured by Neptune’s gravitational pull, and captured objects tend to orbit elliptically.  Such an orbit would have caused much tidal heating early in its history, before the circular orbit was established.

There is no evidence of water ice, but there is some methane and ammonia ices.  There is a polar ice cap on the south pole, which should vapourize soon as it is facing the Sun. Because the tilt of the body creates seasons like on Earth, the volatiles produced from this will likely travel to the north pole instead, where they will condense into another ice cap. It has two types of terrain, fractured plains that resemble a cantaloup in appearance, and flooded volcanic plains. There is also some active volcanism, and a very tenuous sort-of-atmosphere.


I wanted to put a compilation video of Bradley from Stickin’ Around talking about Uranus, but apparently such a thing does not yet exist.  Therefore, I will have to torrent the entire show, create one, and will replace this note with it as soon as it’s done.  Sorry for the lack of hilarity.

There are so many possibilities for hilariously juvenile and inappropriate lines in this blog post, but I shall refrain and keep to my normal format, as a friend of mine in the course has already created such a blog post.  You can find it here: http://orykath.tumblr.com/post/48745300836/uranus-is-kinda-funny Any subsequent hilarity is largely accidental.

It takes Uranus 17.24 Earth hours to rotate on its axis, and 84 Earth years to orbit the Sun once. Its density is comparable to Jupiter, at 1.28 g/cm3. It has a pretty messed up rotational axis, and is basically laying on its side. This might be because it was struck by a huge bolide (possible Earth-sized) early in its history, before its rings and satellites formed.  Its magnetic field is also a bit strange, as it tilts at a pretty extreme angle and does not pass through the center of the planet.  This might be because it is experiencing a reversal in its polarity, which is known to happen on Earth fairly frequently.

Here is a picture of the planet’s internal structure, so that I don’t have to type it out:

There are 15 known moons, which I won’t go into too much detail on.  They tend to have areas that are heavily cratered, implying an older surface, as well as smoother areas where resurfacing has occurred, which are cross-cut by fractures caused by extension of the surface. There is some volcanism and resurfacing produced by ice, slush, and liquid water. Unlike other volcanic moons in this part of the solar system, gravitational friction and moon size could not have produced the heat required to melt rock or even water in their interiors.  The presence of liquid water is likely due to dissolved ammonia, which lowers the melting point.

I also wanted to post a video of Stephen Fry talking about Uranus on QI, but apparently this clip is not available on its own, so I will have to torrent the episode, cut that bit out, and post it to YouTube before I can replace this message with it.  Seriously, do I have to do everything myself?