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 Tausend Zeilen Luege 15 November 2019

Tausend Zeilen Lüge” is the new book by Juan Moreno about the causa “Class Relotius”, a German journalist who fabricated most of stories and by that won several awards. The manuscript informs and entertains (edutainment is the favourite after all). With the right amount of humour, Moreno manages to provide tense insights into his life as a reporter, the German magazine SPIEGEL, and the scandal surrounding Relotius. Respect for uncovering the truth about the scandal. The book is definitely a well written piece that is entertaining and easy to read.

Moreno criticises the structures of journalism. However, some of his insights can be applied to other disciplines such as science, or sales. For example, the formula of a successful manuscript is: relevance + plausbility + storytelling. Moreno claims these three ingredients to be crucial for success and popularity over truth and rigour.

Bizarre is the recurring self-portrayal Moreno’s as the fallible hero, which comically reminds me of an ironic poem by Wilhelm Busch called “To criticize yourself is smart”. The fable of the ill Relotius is quite unbelievable, and lenghty, yet vague. Moreno’s criticism of storytelling is not convincing, for Moreno himself makes plenty use of it, as he writes in a narrative way, including suspenses and dramaturgy. Where is the “abwägen” or “herantasten” (weighing up arguments, 39)?

Despite the outlined shortcomings in his argumentation, the book and story are worth reading. It has quite a few memorable quotes (spoiler alert):

“legastheniker würde daraus einen guten Text machen” (51)
“für Claas lege ich meine Hand ins Feuer” (155) :-(
“Offenbar meine Hinrichtung” (167)
“es ist schlimmer als jeder albtraum” (234)
“ich glaube, wir machen das nochmal” (235)
“Tay Wiles hat geheiratet. Was für ein Glück für sie und den Spiegel.” (235)
“ich habe beisetzungen mit besserer Stimmung erlebt” (237)
“na ja, wir haben ihn Lord Voldemort genannt” (237)
“Transparenz versprechen und dann Milchglas” (243)
“ohne Vertrauen nicht zu machen” (246) ist zentral bei Reportagen, man muss glauben
“Hauptsache die Geschichte ist spannend. Wahrheit? Egal!”

The main point is an exciting story. Truth? Doesn’t matter!


Wilhelm Busch’s (1832 – 1908) “Die Selbstkritik hat viel für sich” (translated by Walter A. Aue)

To criticize yourself is smart.
Say, I would scold myself to start:
this brings me, first, the real gain
that I’m a very modest man;
for, second, who would not agree
that I am full of honesty;
besides, and third, I snatch the prey
away from what the critics say;
and, fourth, I hope the crowd presents
some forceful counterarguments.
So, in the end, my little rap
makes me the most admired chap!

Review Komisch Alles Chemisch 14 November 2019

Mai-Thi Nguyen-Kim is a YouTuber, Podcaster, and science communicator in Germany. She works with WDR amongst others and has just won the Hanns-Joachim-Friedrichs award last weekend together with Harald Lesch. “Komisch, alles chemisch” is her first book, in which she explains parts of her daily life using school-grade chemistry, making plenty use of personal anecdotes and jokes.

In her book, Mai strongly advocates for science communication and presents the scientific methods to her readership. She familiarises the reader with science, including positive values, but also challenges such as the replication crisis, in particular within the psychology discipline. The insights in chemistry are a nice reminder of high-school chemistry. She applies them to cooking, baking, drinking, and derives tips and hints out of it.

I found some memorable quotes in the book, for example:

  • “Stop Chemism!”
  • “See how important communication of science is?”
  • “What’s in it for me?” (Ranga Yogeshwar)
  • “Chemistry is EVERYTHING!!!”

Maybe the education system should introduce science courses into the school curricula, so more people understand the basic scientific approach and the academic system.

The writing in Mai’s book aligns with my type of humour. It is the right amount of nerdiness and self-depreciation, sprinkled with wholesome anecdotes. The book includes funny illustrations, while the writing style is conversational and ordinary. Hence, the book is quick to digest, but does not include any fancy literary writing—which presumably wasn’t the goal anyway. For a future revision, I suggest to label the parts or components of the molecules that are illustrated, which would have been helpful.

I support the “MAI MISSION!” (towards more communication and appreciation of science in the general populace)

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.