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 Anne Frank Diary 05 May 2019

Anne Frank’s diary. It depicts the unimaginable everyday life of Anne Frank, a 14 year old Jewish girl, with her family and a couple other Jews, who were hiding from the Nazis from 1942 to 1945. She depicts the heroic efforts by the Dutch people hiding the Jews, providing a first person account of how many people struggled to survive in the Nazi time. In particular, the book shows that the escapees are just normal people, trying to make ends meet in their hideout, with the horrors, dreads, and frights of the holocaust slipping into various everyday situations. Examples include being quiet, meaning you cannot flush the toilet during the day, being in constant fear of exposure, or being malnutritioned due to reliance on the little food that is organized by the helpers.

I like how the diary looks like a normal journal on the surface, but between the lines and over the course of the book, you can really feel the struggle of the families. Given that the diary starts before the hideout, it is surprising how quickly Anne Frank accepts the situation as the new normal, and how she comes to terms with it—despite her shocking awareness of the actual situation. Between the “normal” diary entries, you find excerpts like “dying is not nice” or “all the jews are being deported”.

As a 14 year old, Anne Frank, an eloquent writer, expresses her feelings unfiltered and makes true attemps at reflection, allowing us to feel empathy with her. Over the course of the years, the reader realizes how Anne grows up and how her relationships change over time. Despite all of her hopes and wishes, including her aspirations of becoming a famous writer – which in retrospect she managed to accomplish – the book shows the cold reality of the holocaust, with everyone except her father dying—truly a tragic and bitter fate shared by millions of innocent humans.

One thing I noticed about the diary is that it got a tad repetive towards the middle, describing the same fights between the families repeatedly, but obviously this is a historical account of what actually happened.

Summarising, I highly appreciate that this account of the harsh reality during the holocaust is available for everyone to read. I suggest everyone who has in interest in the holocaust (and everyone should have this interest) to read it, as it provides insights into the lives and feelings and consequences of the bad things to happen when Nazis come into power.

Review Steven Pressfield The War Of Art 03 May 2019

The book The War of Art by Steven Pressfield suffers from dull writing, both in the stylistic and substantive sense. Steven’s writing style is simplistic and repetitive, not appealing at all, a dragging pain induced from crude wording, his lame imperative and commanding tone. Substantively, the book is a conglomeration of hollow phrases and common beliefs with little meaning or truth, – a pile of platitutes – verba vapida – which leaves the reader quite disappointed. An example of the writing is as follows:

Resistance never sleeps; Resistance is fueled by fear; Resistance recruits allies; Resistance nevers sleeps; Resistance and sex; Resistance and […]

The only good part about this book is that you can finish reading it quickly – or better: don’t even bother.

Review George Orwell 1984 19 February 2019

George Orwell’s 1984 is certainly a classic that has made its way into pop culture. Whenever I read political news about novel surveillance acts, their proposal or implementation, be it from the Five Eyes, China, Germany or some other state, I read at least one comment that compares the news to George Orwell’s 1984 – which, when that happens, is called Arken’s law (similar to Godwin’s law). The reasons for all these references is the dystopian society that Orwell depicts in his story, consisting of extreme surveillance, propaganda, and violence if a person deviates from the established ideology; and political critics seeing similar issues arising with contemporary policies on state surveillance, e.g. CCTV and others. As such, Orwell, in the year 1949, has modelled a world that is still relevant today, which manifests itself in various awards, e.g. from Time magazine or BBC, critical acclaim, and the mentioned references in popular culture.

However, this review does not only deal with the novel’s popularity, but it considers the plot and character development, that is the quality of the novel itself. Disclaimer: I read a translation and not the original version. The novel starts of well to introduce the main character and the world, so immersing yourself into the world is solely a matter of your imagination. Unfortunately, when developing details of the world, in particular the relationship between the two main protagonists, the quality of the plot falls short. Although, the idea of developing the relationship for the further purpose of the plot makes perfect sense in hindsight, it was executed poorly. In the middle part, where this development happens, the plot drags on and on - tedious - without much happening. Instead of feeling the characters, feeling the world, the reader is more likely to rationalize why this development needs to happen, for it is the necessary epitasis, the rising action, to the climax that the readers will find in the last third of the story. Contrary, the last third is very tense and makes up for the dull middle. It really gets under your skin and lets you wonder until the very last moment how the plot will wrap up – a nail biter, so I could not stop reading during the last 100 pages!

Interesting side note, my opinion aligns with C. S. Lewis’ criticism, “claiming that the relationship of Julia and Winston, and especially the Party’s view on sex, lacked credibility, and that the setting was ‘odious rather than tragic’” – which I found on Wikipedia while researching details on the book.

Summarising, this book is an entertaining read with some tedious moments in the middle. Given its popularity, it definitely makes sense to read it. Due to its relevance and original plot it gets one extra point that makes up for the literary shortcomings.

Review Brooks Landon Building Great Sentences 19 December 2018

Brooks Landon’s book “Building Great Sentences: How to Write the Kinds of Sentences You Love to Read” is a spectacle of writing style, a pleasure for your eyes. Brooks makes sure to use his own advice, crafting a great composition of short and long sentences, which despite their length are always easy to understand, using his proposed constructs in myriads of ways, e.g. parallelisms, suspenseful sentences, and by that illustrating the power of his proposed craftsmanship. Not only is his own writing a pleasure in this regard, he also gives plenty of examples from other famous authors, comparing and positioning different perspectives on the nature and structure of sentences. He equips the reader with exercises after most sections, for them to get a grasp on the concepts. In the end, he suggests further reading to back his claims with empirical evidence and, for the interested reader, he presents a brief summary on schools of writing and style.

Following up on that, Brooks critiques the prevalence—or what he quotes as the “imperative of the imperatives”—of only writing short, concise and clear texts, rather he emphasises that selected rules can and should be bent, for the writer’s style is intrinsically linked to the personality of the authors and his or her content.

Bothersome about the book is that the author proceeds in miniscule steps, rendering the text repetitive after the first half. He goes into pedantic detail for explaining marginal differences in sentence structure. Some constructs are conflated and could have been summarised more briefly.

In summary this is a great book providing perspectives and ideas contrary to the prevalent dogma of precise and concise text. It is very well written, all the way down to the single word. However, the length of the book could be reduced by 50-80 pages due to the overly detailed descriptions in the middle. In summary, I can still recommend this book, if you just skim over the repetitive parts. Focus on the first and last part.

Review Cal Newport Deep Work 04 November 2018

The book is about deep work, meaning focused hours of concentration to tackle complex tasks without distraction, its benefits, and how one can achieve it.

The concept of deep work is plausible and convincing and, to me, seems worthwhile to strive for as it enables excellence in demanding and complex situations. The book provides a clear depiction of the problem and provides pointers on how to achieve the state of deep work. For example, the author suggests to reduce (or eliminate) social media, for it leads to habitualised distractions, he proposes to embrace a strict schedule, incorporating quite hours (“predictable time off”), to maximise time without distraction, elaborating both pointers in more detail.

However, the author seems to exaggerate the value of his concept, when providing examples of its success. He likes to describe celebrities from science and economics, e.g. Bill Gates, who, seemingly, are experts of deep work, without the author considering other confounding factors leading to the mentioned celebrities success, that is, they are probably smart to begin with and are doing variety of things leading to their success. Additionally, the author contradicts himself, for example, arguing for a strict schedule and no after hours work on the one hand, and praising himself, how he is thinking clearly about his work in various out of work situations on the other hand. The self-praise, I agree with other reviews, is bothersome at times.

In total, this is yet another book, amongst others, about how to improve attention, concentration and focus, to tackle challenging tasks in an increasingly distracting environment, consisting of internet, smartphone and company. Since it does provide a few helpful tips and some hints of other valuable material on the topic, I can still recommend it as a quick read.