Monday, April 30, 2018

Happy 241st Birthday, Carl Friedrich Gauss!


Carl Friedrich Gauss is one of the most important mathematicians of all time. Today, April 30th, is the 241st anniversary of his birth, and Google's Doodle is recognizing that fact. Some of the reasons why Gauss is known as the "Prince of Mathematicians" (in Latin princeps mathematicorum);
  • Proved the fundamental theorem of algebra (in his Phd thesis!)
  • Proved that a 17-sided polygon (the heptadecagon) coudl be created with compass and straigh-edge.
  • Invented the Diiscrete Fourier Transform (160 years before Cooley and Tukey)
  • Proved Fermat's Last Theorem (for n=3 and n=5)
  • Computed the sum of the 100 positive integers (at age 5!)
  • The normal distribution is also known as the Gaussian distribution
And many, many more...

Friday, April 27, 2018

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: Openly Gay Richard Grenell Confirmed By Senate To Become U.S. Ambassador To Germany

Richard Grenell has been confirmed by a vote of 56-42 in the United States Senate to become the next U.S. Ambassador to Germany, one day before Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives in Washington, D.C. for bilateral talks with the Trump administration. Most Democrats voted against the nomination, with most Republicans voting infavor, including known homophobes such as

The Log Cabin Republicans President Gregory T. Angelo said on Fox News:
 For the first time in history, an openly gay ambassador was not confirmed “in spite of” Republicans, or simply “with Republican support.” Grenell is now our ambassador to Germany because of Republican support.
And now the Trump administration (and its supporters) will use the existence of an openly gay ambassador to a high profile country as an example that Republicans are no longer anti-gay, all the while the Trump administration continues to be virulently anti-LGBT in multiple ways.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

A solid 4 stars.

Six Wakes is a complex, amusing locked-room murder mystery set on a generation ship crewed by six cloned criminals.

I thought I would like this more than I did because I’m a fan of both the murder-mystery and science fiction genres so usually when I find a rare book that covers both categories it often resonates with me.
Books like Ben Winters’ The Last Policeman trilogy and Patrick Tomlinson’s The Ark are excellent examples of sci-fi murder mysteries.

One reason I think that didn’t happen in this case is because all the characters are horrible people who do (and did) horrible things.

Here’s the part of the review where I would generally list and summarize the characters but an important feature of Six Wakes is the revelation of the back stories of each of the crewmembers. The key technologies in the book are the use of mindmapping to make a digital record of human consciousness and the popularity of rapid human cloning. Together these advances make death simply a nuisance and greatly extends the life of most humans. Since the 6 crewmembers are all clones, the events in their past occur as many as 200 years before the events in the “now” of Six Wakes.

The writing is agile, the plot twists are surprising and the two combine to make Six Wakes an enjoyable read. The book also raises some interesting issues regarding the nature of life and consciousness.

However, as a book which is on the short list for the 2018 Best Novel Hugo award I would have expected something which would leave a more lasting impression. Sadly, Six Wakes fails to do this.

Title: Six Wakes.
Mur Lafferty.
Paperback: 364 pages.
Date Published: January 31, 2017.
Date Read: April 20, 2018.

★★☆  (4.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A-/B+ (3.5/4.0).


Wednesday, April 25, 2018

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: Secular Coalition Announces Freethinking Caucus in Congress

The Secular Coalition for America announced that there is going to be a congressional caucus for "free-thinkers." The newly announced Congressional Freethought Congress even has a mission statement:
  • First, to promote public policy on the basis of reason, science, and moral values;
  • Second, to protect the secular character of our government by adhering to the strict constitutional principle of the separation of church and state;
  • Third, to oppose discrimination against atheists, agnostics, humanists, seekers, and the nonreligious, and to champion the value of freedom of thought and conscience worldwide; and
  • Fourth, to provide a forum for Members of Congress to discuss their moral frameworks, ethical values, and personal religious journeys.
Jerry McNerney (CA-9), the only member of congress with a PhD in mathematics, has agreed to be the co-chair of the Freethought Caucus. I am not sure who the other member of the Caucus is, but presumably that in addition to Jared Huffman (CA-2) they will be from another state other than California!

Hat/tip to Friendly Atheist

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

TENNIS TUESDAY: Rafa Breaks More Records; Fed Cup Final Set; Babies Everywhere

The King of Clay, Rafael Nadal won his 11th Monte Carlo Masters title (in 14 years) by defeating Kei Nishikori 6-3 6-2. Nadal won the title without dropping  a set and basially terrorized the rest of the men's field with his 6-0 6-2 drubbing of the "Prince of Clay" Dominic Thiem in the quarterfinals.
Nadal was able to retain his hold on the World #1 ranking by defending his title as World #2 Roger Federer is again sipping the clay court season to improve his chances at winning another Wimbledon title. Nadal nw has 31 ATP Masters shields, 1 ahead of the 30 Novak jokovic has and well ahead of Federer's 27, with two more clay court Masters tournaments to be played this year: Madrid and Rome.

The Fed Cup semifinals were last weekend and the United States defeated France 3-2 behind solid wins by Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys while the Czech Republic dominated Germany 4-1 with Petra Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova each eating Angie Kerber and Julia Goerges. The Czech Republic has been in the Fed Cup final.

John Isner announced that his wife Madison McKinley is expecting their first child. Also, Sania Mirza announced on instagram that she was pregnant, and noted tennis umpire Eve Asderaki answered Dasha Kasatkina's question "boy or girl?" while umpiring a Fed Cup match this weekend with "boy."

WARNING: Russian Teams Dominate Collegiate Prestigious International Programming Contest Standings

Things that make you go hmmmm! The ICPC 2018 (ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest) was just held last week and the results could be ominous for future technological success by the United States.

The top 2 places were taken by two teams from Russia: Moscow State University (#1) and Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (#2). Teams from China, Japan and South Korea rounded out the rest of the top 5. The highest an American team placed was #10 (University of Central Florida), which just edged out #11, which was from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Of the 13 teams in the top tier, 4 were from Russia and 3 were from China.

Jus' saying...

Monday, April 23, 2018

EYE CANDY: Roly Vizcay

Roly Vizcay is a model and underwear model. In today's Eye Candy post he is wearing underwear by Hunk2 in these pictures taken by photographer John Justo. Vizcay has a popular Instagram account (@rolyvizcayofficial). He is 24 years old, 5-foot-6 and 152 pounds.


Sunday, April 22, 2018

Cover for The Expanse #8 Revealed: Tiamat's Wrath

The cover and title for the eighth (and penultimate) book in The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey has been released. Tiamat's Wrath will be released in December 2018. The television adaptation of the Expanse series is up to Season 3 and currently airing on SyFy, covering the events that appear in Book 2 (Caliban's War) and Book 3 (Abaddon's Gate). These are some of my favorite books. I'm hoping that the entire 9-book series eventually gets adapted for the screen!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Into The Fire (Vatta's Peace, #2) by Elizabeth Moon

Into The Fire is the second book in the series called “Vatta’s Peace” by Elizabeth Moon.

Moon is known for her military sci-fi and space opera series called Vatta’s War. I had assumed this new series would be in a similar vein but the space opera components appear to be increasingly minimal as the series proceeds. I have not read the previous series, just the new one.

In the first book, Cold Welcome, Kylara Vatta (Ky to her friends) returns to her home planet of Slotter Key after acquitting herself admirably in various military operations in space. However her space shuttle is sabotaged and she manages to survive a crash landing in the sea and make it to a wintry, barren continent with a couple dozen troops. That book was centered around Ky’s fight for survival for herself and the troops she commands. I thought the setting was odd for a military sci-fi space opera but the suspense of will-they it won’t they survive was compelling. And before they leave the remote continent Ky and company discover an abandoned secret military base which holds important secrets (alien artifacts).

In Into The Fire, Ky has returned to her family (her cousin Stella Vatta is the CEO of the huge Vatta corporation which focuses on planetary and interplanetary shipping of goods and services and her aunt Grace is the Rector, basically the equivalent of planetary Secretary of Defense) to discover that there’s a vast conspiracy formed to do the Vattas (and her specifically) extreme harm. So she’s “home” (well really it’s Stella’s home) but she is definitely not safe and sound.

Ky has to deal with some bizarre fallout fir being missing for more than half a year due to the events in the first book. She was presumed dead and the Commandant of the Military Academy was killed (murdered) in the original crash. But what is Ky’s biggest problem? IMMIGRATION! Because she had been returning to Slotter Key after more than a decade away (as something of a military hero) she was unaware citizenship laws had changed and the administration considers her an illegal undocumented immigrant warranting arrest and confinement. This provides a deep insight into the administrative fussiness of Slotter Key society.

Another one of the cultural norms of the world Moon is building in the Vatta books is that assassination and violent death are considered common place (among wealthy families like the Vatta’s). Ky (and Stella and Grace) are subject to attacks of various kinds multiple times (poison attack, home invasion, direct military assault and mercenary double agents). This element of the book does add some suspense even though it’s really hard to believe any of the main characters will come to substantive harm (even though we do know that another assassination attempt successfully killed Ky’s parents and other members of her family in events that happened before this series began). Moon is at her best when she is describing the action scenes involved in these attacks and other military episodes. She also provides some intrigue by depicting the complicated nature of the relationship between Ky and Stella, who could be described as “frenemies.” This dynamic is interesting but it’s not entirely motivated in the text.

One of the key weaknesses in the book, IMHO, is Moon’s curious penchant for including the most mundane details of her character’s lives and activities. There are LOTs of examples of information being provided of things I don’t believe the reader needs to know (like the fact Ky eats ham sandwiches when she needed a quick snack after working too hard or the specifics of how meals are going to be prepared at Stella’s house when Ky and her fiancé Rafe are staying there). Maybe this is intended to communicate verisimilitude but I found it mostly tedious and distracting.

Overall, I am still interested in Ky’s character and I want to see what happens to her in the future so I will continue to read the Vatta’s Peace series but Into The Fire convinced me I don’t need to seek out Moon’s other books I presume they will suffer from this and other flaws in the writing. That’s probably too bad because I suspect that having read the multiple books in the Vatta’s War series that preceded this one would provide more context of the reasons for why another prominent Slotter Key family is going through such machinations to exterminate the Vattas.

As I reflect on my reactions to the book another flaw in Moon’s writing which I didn’t think consciously about as I read the book but becomes more evident as I prepare and write this review is that Moon doesn’t spend much time on depicting or discussing the diversity in her world-building, so my assumption is that most people are alike. She does mention a few times that Ky’s skin is light-brown in color but I don’t have a good sense of what Stella looks like (although her beauty and poise are remarked on several times). Ky’s boyfriend Rafe is described as “a shortish man, black haired, dark-eyed, well-dressed.” What image is that supposed to provide the reader of his “race” or “ethnicity”? I suppose that’s fine in a typical fiction book but there are a lot more SFF writers these days who are trying to be more explicit and direct in addressing issues of representation but Moon doesn’t appear to be one of them.

Title: Into The Fire.
Elizabeth Moon.
Paperback: 416 pages.
 Del Rey.
Date Published: February 6, 2018.
Date Read: April 6, 2018.

★★½☆  (3.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: Alabama Wants To Amend State Constitution To Allow Ten Commandments On Public Land

LOL here we go again! Today's Godless Wednesday is about a red state again trying to force religious views on everyone else. The Alabama legislature is considering a state constitutional amendment which would allow the erection (sic) of religious displays on government-owned property in the guise of religious freedom.

Here is the text of the language Alabama voters will see:
Every person shall be at liberty to worship God according to the dictates of his or her own conscience. No person shall be compelled to attend, or, against his or her consent, to contribute to the erection or support of any place of religious worship, or to pay tithes, taxes, or other rates for the support of any minister of the gospel. Property belonging to the state may be used to display the Ten Commandments, and the right of a public school and public body to display the Ten Commandments on property owned or administrated by a public school or public body in this state is not restrained or abridged  [emphasis added]. The civil and political rights, privileges, and capacities of no person shall be diminished or enlarged on account of his or her religious belief. No public funds may be expended in defense of the constitutionality of this amendment. 
The Ten Commandments shall be displayed in a manner that complies with constitutional requirements, including, but not limited to, being intermingled with historical or educational items, or both, in a larger display within or on property owned or administrated by a public school or public body.
The bill (SB 181) passed the state house 66-19 and the state senate (22-3). The amendment has now become an issue in the Alabama gubernatorial race with candidates trying to position themselves as the most in support of enhancing the place of religion in the public square.

It looks to me as if it is masquerading as a religious freedom amendment since it is odd that the phrase "The Ten Commandments" would need to appear three times in an actual religious freedom amendment. What do you think?

Hat/tip to Friendly Atheist.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Friday, April 13, 2018

UPDATE: Michael Johnson a.k.a. "Tiger Mandingo" Has Jail Time Reduced From 30 Year to 6 (Plus Parole)

This blog post provides an update in the ongoing saga of how a 23-year-old Black gay man who was sentenced to 30-years for consensual sex with other men in Missouri because he is HIV-positive and did not inform his partners of that fact. The man is named Michael Johnson (although he described himself online as "Tiger Mandingo") and he became a poster child for the excesses of HIV criminalization. His trial was marred by blatant homophobia, prurient descriptions of Black male sexuality and blunt race-baiting by the prosecution. The good news is that eventually his original draconian 30-year sentence was overturned and last year he agreed to a 10-year sentence instead.

The latest update on the Johnson case is there is news that parole has been granted but that it is going to be delayed for 18 months, so in effect he will end up serving 6 years of his 10 year term since he has been in prison since 2013 and he would be released in 2019.

Steven Thrasher at Buzzfeed reports:
Last month, Johnson appeared before the Missouri Board of Probation and Parole, where his friend, Meredith Rowan, attended as his delegate in the hearing. The board did not immediately respond to an email or phone call for comment, but Rowan said Johnson called her from prison today to tell her that his parole had been granted — with a delay. 
“Michael was excited that it got approved,” Rowan told BuzzFeed News. “I have to look at it that I have a date, and it’s only 18 months away, and it’s still a lot sooner than a 30-year sentence,” Rowan said Johnson told her. If released as planned, Johnson will have served 60% of his 10-year sentence. The date is contingent upon Johnson not accruing any violations.
Johnson’s lawyers, Eric Selig and Jessica Hathaway, confirmed the terms of Johnson’s parole. ”We had some hopes, because of all the support Michael had received and a couple of other factors, that he would get out at an earlier date,” Selig said. 
Johnson will live with Rowan and her family in Indiana when he is released, Rowan said. He will be supervised by parole officers for the duration of his 10-year sentence, until 2023. 
Laws that single out HIV are widespread in the US. At least “67 laws explicitly focused on persons living with HIV had been enacted in 33 states” by 2011, according to an analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and researchers from the US Department of Justice. In Missouri, where Johnson was convicted, people living with HIV can face life in prison for exposing others to HIV if they have sex without first disclosing that they have the virus.
We at this blog have been following this case from the beginning because it seemed like such an egregious example of abuse in the criminal justice system intersecting with homophobia, race and HIV stigma.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: The Girl in the Ice (Detective Erika Foster, #1) by Robert Bryndza

The Girl in the Ice is the first book I have read by Robert Bryndza. It is quite a good police procedural murder mystery with an interesting but flawed main character, DCI Erika Foster.

I am looking forward to reading more mysteries featuring DCI Foster. I’m sorta surprised that the author has made his main character have such a traumatic backstory (her policeman husband was shot and killed on a drugs raid that she was the commanding officer for). I presume this is the explanation for why Detective Foster  acts so inappropriately during the course of the investigation of the murder of the slutty daughter of a rich, politically connected businessman.

One key feature of the book which guarantees that I will read the next entries in the DCI Foster series is the diversity of the supporting characters: a lesbian DI, a handsome Black male DI and an openly gay pathologist. A relatively strong feature of the book is the level of suspense that is maintained throughout the book.  All of these supporting characters have interesting sub-plots in the book which greatly enhanced the book in my opinion.

However I did feel like a significant weakness of the book was the somewhat simplistic nature of the writing. One can't say that The Girl in the Ice is a complicated or thought-provoking read but then again very few murder-mysteries are. This is a notable exception to the complicated writing in Mark Billingham's Sleepyhead

That being said, since this is just the first book in the Detective Erika Foster series I expect the later entries will get better so I’m willing to give Bryndza an opportunity to improve, which I think he will.

RATING: 3.5 stars.

Title: The Girl in the Ice.
Robert Bryndza.
Paperback: 396 pages.
Date Published: February 12, 2016.
Date Read: March 6, 2018.

★★½☆  (3.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: B+/A- (3.5/4.0).


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

THE EXPANSE: Season 3 Debuts Today on SyFy!

The third season of The Expanse begins airing on SyFy today at 10pm EDT. This season should cover the events in the second and third books in The Expanse series written by James S.A Corey: Caliban's War and Abaddon's Gate. These are some of my favorite books of all time. The 8th book in the 9-book series is called Tiamat's Wrath and should be published in December 2018.

Until then, enjoy The Expanse!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

TENNIS TUESDAY: France-Spain, USA-Croatia Davis Cup semis; Djokovic Drops Radek; Dellacqua Retires

The quarterfinals of the Davis Cup were played this weekend and the results were: Spain (featuring the return of Rafael Nadal) defeated Germany 3-2 with David Ferrer outlasting Philipp Kohlschreiber in a 5-hour marathon match. United Staes blitzed Belgium (with ) 4-0, France beat Italy 3-1 and Croatia beat Kazakhstan 3-1. This set up a blockbuster semifinal between France and Spain in September and an intriguing tie between Craotia and the United States.

After announcing a split with Andre Agassi, Novak Djokovic also ended his coaching relationship with Radek Stepanek last week.

Garbine Muguruza won a clay title in Monterrey while Kiki Bertens won the Charleston tournament after having to play her semifinal (a tough 3-set win against Madison Keys) and final (a quick win against Julia Goerges) on Sunday.

The rankings are mostly frozen with most players taking a break as the surface change goes into effect and the clay season begins. Simona Halep has nopw spent 22 weeks at #1, more than Viktoria Azarenka or Maria Sharapova. On the men's side, Rafael Nadal stays in the #1 spot.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Harvard University Mathematics Department Hires SECOND EVER Female Tenured Full Professor

Harvard University is considered the acme of most things academic, with its 37 billion dollar endowment and its perennial placement at the top of the college rankings. The  Mathematics department at Harvard is not the very best in the country (that distinction usually goes to Princeton University) but it is definitely well-known. The fact that they have been atrocious in the area of doversity for so long is widely known.

This week comes news that things are starting to change at Harvard, as they announced they have hired their second ever tenure female full professor, ending a six-year stint in which they literally had zero tenured female professors (by contrast Princeton has had two senior female math professors for years: Maria Chudnovsky and Sun-Yung Alice Chang).

The Daily Crimson reports:

University of California at Berkeley math professors Lauren K. Williams ’00 and Denis Auroux will join Harvard’s math department as senior faculty at the start of the next academic year, Department Chair Curtis T. McMullen said in an interview last week. 
Auroux has served as a math professor at UC Berkeley since 2009 and has published articles on subjects ranging from “symplectic submanifolds” to “Lefschetz pencils.” Williams, a former math concentrator, won a tenured associate professorship at UC Berkeley in 2013—and a full tenured professor position there in 2016—and has written extensively about cluster algebras and tropical geometry.

As a friend of mine said on Twitter this weekend in commenting on the news. "It's 2018."

EYE CANDY: Maxs Souza (reprise)

Maxs Souza has appeared as Eye Candy here once before (October 16 2017). He's a Brazilian bodybuilder and model who has an excellent Instagram feed (@maxs_souza92). From his accountname I believe he was born in 1992, so he is 25 or 26 years old. Apart from that I don't have much more info about Maxs, except that he is phyne!

Friday, April 06, 2018

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: LGBT Mathematician Moon Duchin Wins Prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship

Moon Duchin is an out lesbian mathematics professor at Tufts University who has just become the sole pure mathematician in the 2018 class of Guggenheim Fellows. Here's the official announcement:
Moon Duchin is a mathematician at Tufts University, where she is also a Senior Fellow in the Tisch College of Civic Life and serves as the founding director of the interdisciplinary program in Science, Technology, and Society. She majored in Mathematics and Women's Studies at Harvard and received her PhD in Mathematics from the University of Chicago. 
Duchin's research in pure math lies in geometric group theory, low-dimensional topology, and dynamics. An area of particular interest is nilpotent geometry, or the shape of groups that fail to be commutative in a controlled way. She has studied random walks, random groups, and rigidity theorems for surfaces and billiards. She is also interested in the social studies of science, particularly the role of expertise, authority, intuition, and proof. 
Duchin is currently engaged in a long-term project on the geometry of gerrymandering, an application of mathematics to civil rights. She has worked to build a national network of collaborators doing wide-ranging work on mathematical and computational interventions in electoral redistricting. They aim to engage the legal, political, and philosophical dimensions of the gerrymandering problem, working closely with civil rights organizations. Duchin recently served as a consultant for the governor of Pennsylvania in the court-mandated push to redraw the congressional map.
I know Moon relatively well, having spent a 3 days attending the latest Geometry of Redistricting Workshop at the University of San Francisco last month. I'm not surprised she has been recognized by the Guggenheim Foundation, I think that she should also be considered for an even more prestigious award, the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, in the near future.

Congrats, Moon!

Thursday, April 05, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Open Season (Joe Pickett, #1) by C.J. Box

A solid 4 stars.

Open Season is the first entry in the long-running Joe Pickett series by C.J. Box. It’s a police procedural mystery thriller set in Saddlestring, Wyoming where Pickett is a U.S. Game and Fish warden for Twelve Sleep County.

This is definitely an unusual setting since the area is so sparsely populated that the number of characters in the story is pretty small. Joe is the main character and he lives in Saddlestring with his pregnant wife Marybeth and his two daughters Sheridan and Lucy. Vern Dunnegan is his mentor (and previously held the warden job Joe now has). His best friend seems to be Wacey Hedeman, the warden in the next county. The other prominent character in the book is Sheriff Bud Barnum.

Since hunting and fishing is such a huge activity in Twelve Sleep County Joe is a very important person in the county, rivaling the Sheriff. There are very many non-local people who pass through his country taking advantage of the natural bounty to hunt, kill and trap the animals there. But sometimes some of these people get killed as well and that’s the start of our mystery. The body of a local guy (named Ote Keeley) is found with a seeping gunshot wound to the stomach in Joe’s garage.

The source of the suspense is that Joe’s family (especially his 7-year old daughter Sheridan) becomes involved in the investigation of what happened to Ote and eventually more dead bodies are found which leads Joe to discover a pretty big conspiracy. 

Joe is an interesting character who (like most characters that these  kinds of mystery series are built around) is flawed in many ways but in this case also has a very strong law-abiding core. He goes pretty wild when his family is threatened (for good reason). I believe I will read more books in the series because I’m curious to see what will happen to Joe (and his family, especially Sheridan) in the following books and to find out how Box has been able to come up with over a dozen compelling stories set in the sparsely populated Wyoming countryside featuring Joe Pickett. This one was a pretty quick read and quite suspenseful; definitely a solid entry into the mystery genre.

Title: Open Season.
C.J. Box.
Paperback: 278 pages.
Date Published: May 7, 2001.
Date Read: March 28, 2018.

★★☆  (4.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

ANNIVERSARY: Martin Luther King, Jr. Assassinated This Day In 1968 #MLK50

Today is April 4, 2018 the 50th anniversary of the date that Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. My mother was VERY pregnant with me at the time and thus for some reason I have always had an affiliation with Dr. King, since I was born a few weeks later.

Many people are using the anniversary to discuss and analyze the "progress" that has been made towards equality and ending racial discrimination in the United States in the 50 years since he was killed.

However I just want to take a moment and recognize that the man who had already won a Nobel Peace Prize and catalyzed the civil rights movement was 39 years old when he was gunned down by a white man, James Earl Ray, who was hoping to forestall or reverse changes in the area of race relations in the United States.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

TENNIS TUESDAY: Stephens, Isner Win Big Titles In Miami; Rafa Returns To #1; Federer Skips Clay (Again); Nole-Agassi Split;

2017 U.S. Open champ Sloane Stephens beat 2017 French Open champ Jelena Ostapenko 7-6(5) 6-1 to win the second biggest title of her career. Interestingly, this result improves to 5-0 in career finals, which is a very strong indication of the 25-year-old's mental toughness. The win also catapults her up to a career-high ranking; she is at World #9 this week.

John Isner played some of the best tennis of his career in Miami to reach his 4th ATP Masters 1000 final. He defeated Juan Martin Del Potro in the semifinal 6-1 7-6(2), snapping the Argentine's 15-match winning streak. His serve was never broken in either match and in fact, by the time he beat Sascha Zverev in the final, Isner had not had his service broken in 46 consecutive service games. Like Stephens, this win catapults Isner to a career-high ranking of #9. Isner now has the best results of any player over the last 12 months: 2018 Miami title, 2017 Rome semifinal, 2017 Paris semifinal and 2017 Cincinnati semifinal.

Thanks to Roger Federer's shock 3-set loss to Thanasi Kokkinakis in the 2nd round of the Miami Open, Rafael Nadal is the new #1 player on the ATP Tour.

Like he did in 2017, 20-time major champion Roger Federer has decided to skip the 2018 clay court season, including the French Open, resting his 37-year-old body in order to maximize his chances of winning another major championship, either in London or New York City.

After he lost early at Indian Wells (to Taro Daniels) and Miami (to Benoit Paire) tongues have been wagging about what is ailing 12-time major champion Novak Djokovic as he attempts to regain his position at the top of men's tennis. The news that the coach-player relationship with Andre Agassi has come to an end will definitely not stop the whispers. However, I for one think Djokovic still has a good chance of winning more majors in the future.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

2018 HUGO Awards: Nominations Announced

The nominations for the 2018 Hugo Awards were announced on Saturday March 31. The picks for Best Novel is the category I really only follow and care about. The nominees are:
Best Novel
  • The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi (Tor)
  • New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)
  • Provenance, by Ann Leckie (Orbit)
  • Raven Stratagem, by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris)
  • Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty (Orbit)
  • The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)
Last year, N.K. Jemisin won this award for the second consecutive year for the second book in her Broken Earth trilogy, The Obelisk Gate. She previously won the award for the first book in the series, The Fifth Season, in 2016. It is very possible that she could win the award for the third book in the series, The Stone Sky, this year.  I think that would mean she would become the first author to have all three books in a trilogy win speculative fiction's most prestigious honor.

Of the other books she is competing with Scalzi, Leckie and Robinson have all won Best Novel Hugo awards before, with Leckie probably being the biggest threat to Jemisin since all three books in her Imperial Radhch series were nominated for Best Novel (although only the first, Ancillary Justice, went on to win the 2014 Hugo award). Provenance is set in the same universe as those books but has not been as universally celebrated as the Ancillary novels. I do intend to read it eventually but haven't felt an urgent need to do so. Lots of people are very high on the work on Yoon Ha Lee but I tried the first book in the series, Ninefox Gambit, and found it almost unreadable. 

I read Scalzi's The Collapsing Empire, and while it is amusing in parts it is nowhere as diverting or enjoyable as his Hugo-award-winning Redshirts, but his work is very popular. The reviews for Robinson's 2140 were similarly not kind, and I don't really intend to read it. I do intend to read Six Wakes, because it is a genre mashup of murder-mystery and science fiction.

The winners will be announced at Worldcon which is being held in San Jose, California August 16-20, 2018.


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