I S S E N . T K

a coding group with political views

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This is the homepage of the ISSEN.TK group. We provide our views on current research in information systems, coding, writing, politics, and trivia. An archive of posts is available.

Review William Zinsser On Writing Well 21 October 2018

William Zinsser’s “On Writing Well - The Classic Guide to Writing Well” is a book originally published in 1976. In four parts, late William gives his view on writing non-fiction imbued with many examples. The first part takes on the principles and methods of writing. The second part goes into forms of writing and the last part addresses the attitudes of the author.

Let’s look at a few details of the book from the back. William states that you should, despite any fears of controversy, stay true to yourself. Stay true to the facts and your own conscience. Stay true to your own voice, but write as well as you can.

As such, William describes that he is quick to decline offers for writing, when he thinks that he cannot write about the offered topic, adequately. In one moment, however, he decided to go for it, despite hesitating at first. It was an essay on Roger Tory Peterson. Roger is well known for watching birds, and then drawing and writing about them. When William was approached, he refused the offer to interview Roger. But he was impressed by Roger’s age, 84 years old, at which Roger was still going strong drawing and writing about birds every day. No so much interested in birds, William’s interest was caught by the person behind the pencil and camera. Visiting Roger, the two couldn’t stop talking and the interview lasted a whole afternoon. The two discussed Roger’s work, and happened to explore Roger’s collection of birds. Impressed by the interview, William went on to write an acclaimed essay on Roger.

Despite refusing the work at first, because he was neither interested nor knowledgeable about birds, William wrote a story on the person behind the bird. He argues that stories should always be about people, not about things or landscapes – about people, who do things, or visit landscapes.

In his book, William provides many anecdotes, examples and useful guidelines for aspiring (and established) writers. One guideline that struck me, was rewriting and cutting content. It is impossible to for the you, as the author, to tell everything. Your research, notes and experiences will be too much to all go into the manuscript. Instead, you should describe the significant details, which illustrate your point. This is line with William’s credo “cut, cut, cut”. According to him, rewriting and cutting is the most important part of writing – and for him the most fun.

To provide a glimpse on what makes good and bad writing, William uses examples. I do like the examples as he selected high quality quotes from other renowned authors. However, he uses too many of them for my taste. Sometimes, they are not well embedded into the surrounding context. I guess that he did not have enough space, to be thorough with each example – and probably it would have been boring if he was. But why not use them more sparingly and focus on a fewer, but more significant ones? On the first 200 pages I counted around 100 examples.

Nevertheless, this book contains many useful hints for writing and is well written. Despite some repetitiveness, I recommend it for a relaxed read, if you are interested in the craft of writing.

Review John Stillwell Maths And History 07 October 2018

After several months I finally finished John Stillwell’s book Mathematics and Its History. It is a decent book with a broad range of topics covered. In particular, the history parts are very interesting. For me, as a non-mathematically inclined person, the formulas were tough to understand, especially when reading while tired. And only knowing maths from school in a foreign language did not make it easier.

Interesting note: 40 pages of bibliography!

Definitely recommend for people with an interest in Maths and Its History. Although it is a long read.

Review Weekend Language 06 October 2018

I read the book from Andy Craig and Dave Yewman called “Weekend Language: Presenting with More Stories and Less PowerPoint” (2013, pp. 114).

The book provides a few simple and helpful tips on how to improve your presentation skills woven around the concept of story telling. Unfortunately, the text is bloated, repetitive and lacks substance. For each hint, which the authors give, they do not explain how to implement it in detail. Instead, multiple examples are given to proof their point, but those do not help the reader to actually implement any hint. I suggest to cut down on the bloat and provide more substantial help for future revisions. Also, the ongoing advertisment of their consulting services is bothersome.

For the sake of other potential readers, who might waste time & money, I summarised the whole of the book in the following short list (SPOILERS):

  • Journalism 101
  • Inverted Pyramid
  • Meaning & Attention First, then details
  • Stories/Anecdotes/Examples/Hypotheticals/Imagine
  • Story before PowerPoint slides
  • You are in the center, not the slides
  • Do it for the audience. What is in for them?
  • Answer So what? and Who cares?
  • Use easy2understand English, clear and simple. Feynman-style (for audience)
  • Practice.
  • Structure and Agenda (incl estimated time), “signposting“
  • Pause and Pace
  • Motion and “no podium“, present naked
  • Gesture, Mimics, Eye Contact, Smile
  • check the stage
  • Video footage and evaluation forms
  • Practice, Practice, Practice

each minute of a fabulous presentation takes 1 hour of presentation.

Review Land Of The Sons 05 October 2018

I read the book “Land of the Sons” from Gipi (2018).

It is a pretty decent graphic novel, which falls of in the last third of the book. The story is about a dystopian world and two boys coming of age and trying to survive. The art style is unique and compelling, even though I had difficulties to decipher all the details in some crowded scenes. The author uses different perspectives and drawn mimics to portray the characters, which makes them genuine and authentic. The plot and development of characters is convincing as well as the worldbuilding—at least in the first half of the book.

Unfortunately, it falls off after the first half, as plot and character development do not match the depicted world anymore. For the sake of spoilers, I do not go into further into detail. Despite the shortcomings, I liked the book due to its dystopian world and art style and can recommend to read it. It is a quick read after all (2-3 hrs).

Hello World And Grave Of The Fireflies 19 June 2017

This is our first post for the 2018 saga. Hello world, friends! As a gimmick, find the following review of Akiyuki Nosaka’s Grave of the fireflies:

The essay “graves of fireflies” by Akiyuki Nosaka presents the story of two siblings, war orphans in Kobe, Japan, after/in the second world war. It is a tale how the two challenge death, after they lost their parents to B29 bombers.

The exposé foreshadows the end of the story, and is like an intuition of the horrids to follow. The horrids are vividly described and allow for the reader to imagine the situation. Since the two protagonists are children, the explication of their bodily deterioration and how the brother tries to deal with it creates an anxious atmosphere. Especially, the indifference, or even the hatred, of the other townspeople further darkens the mood of the story – very much to the compassion of the reader.

Nosaka employs a unique writing style, termed by the translator James R. Abrams as a “rambling, nanational way of telling a story”, which supports the vivid depiction of the situation and provides a nice and quick flow of the story. It is a short and concise account of the couple months timespan from the bombs to the death by malnutrition of the two protagonists. This means, you should not expect a lot of action in the story or by the protagonists, rather an outstanding tale of unsparing suffering.