Cixin Liu. The Three-Body Problem.
Head of Zeus. 2015
Ye Wenjie watches from hiding as four teenaged Red Guards
beat her father to death during a show trial at the height of the Cultural Revolution.
This experience underpins a decision she makes many years later,
a decision that indirectly leads to the suicides of many physicists, her daughter included,
and will soon impact every person on earth.
In the present day, Wang Miao encounters a strangely addictive full-immersion computer game called “Three Body”,
which may hold the clue to the suicides, and other inexplicable events.
This is a peculiarly uneven book.
The setting, both in the past and the present day, is richly drawn.
But all the characters seem either very flat or completely over the top,
and surprisingly incurious, even those who are supposed to be investigators.
Some of their actions seemed to be purely to allow info-dumping.
The alien world of the game is interesting, but the degree of immersion is implausible:
why would anyone actually play it?
I don’t know how much of this is due to the translation, how much to the original,
and how much to a different cultural style that I am unfamiliar with.
Yet there are peculiar translator’s notes in places.
I expect maybe the odd note to explain something that doesn’t translate
(Hofstadter has a lot to say about issues that face translation across cultures),
but there are also notes explaining some of the physics, which seems outside the job spec.
There’s even at one point an author’s note explaining a point of physics: infodump via footnote!
Don’t get me wrong.
There are lovely touches, like an incident precisely paralleling an earlier one:
Ye Wenjie isn’t the only one to make a fateful decision.
The scene of stopping the ship in the Panama canal will stay with me for a while.
And the solution described in the final part,
explaining all the earlier weirdnesses, fully encompasses the reason I read SF.
I will be reading the next in the trilogy to find out what happens next.
Oh, but I just have to say it; sorry.
The computer game “Three Body” involves the chaotic orbit of a planet around its three suns.
Which is, of course, the four-body problem.
So, my upgraded phone not only no longer has the wonderful “smart alarm”, that gradually increases volume, waking me up gently rather than with heart pounding, it doesn’t have the tender Angel’s Feather tone. And the alarm’s minimum volume is way too loud.
After a week of being jolted awake, or waking early in anticipation, I decided to see what I could do. The web is a marvellous beast.
First of all, the hunt for the tone (I had the name from the old phone) led me to a YouTube video.
Who wouldn’t want to wake to that?
Then a trip to OnlineVideoConverter to convert to mp3. I downloaded that to the music directory on my phone, then selected it as my alarm tone. Yay!
But still too loud. The alarm has only a very coarse volume control. So back to the web, to MP3 Louder, and decrease the volume by 3db. Download the new version.
But why Samsung had to remove both the smart alarm and the tone in the first place ... grumble, grumble ...
It’s been just over two years since I got my last smartphone, a Samsung Galaxy S5. I had a card in Trello to remind me to change to a pay-as-you-go contract after two years. But the phone itself has been letting me know that wasn't a good idea, having got slow, hot, and glitchy. So I decided to upgrade, to a Galaxy S7. The package I got has twice the memory (32 GB) and twice the monthly dowload (2GB) for the same price as previously.
The BBC News widget just displays
“loading”, which is a bit useless
The S7 looks virtually identical to the S5 (and not just because I’ve configured it similarly!). It’s the same size, and looks the same from the front, but has a different feel. The S5’s tacky chrome edging has been replaced with a much less tacky brush steel edging, but the S5’s nice non-slip backplate has morphed into a super-duper shiny smooth backplate that makes it feel as if the phone is about to slip out of my hand. The volume rocker has changed to two switches, one for up, one for down, and the off switch is lower down on the right, which makes it a little harder to hold with my thumb on the switch ready to turn it off. The double-click home button for “instant” camera should be useful.
I spent the afternoon configuring things to look as much as possible like the previous phone. This was less painful than last time: the app store has a “library” list of all the apps I had installed at some point on the previous phone, so I could just install the ones I wanted here. (Bizarrely, it is possible to alphabetise the short list of installed apps, but not the much longer list of library apps.)
Well, it has most of them. Two apps don’t appear in the list. The Rail Planner Live app isn’t there, and so it looks like I might have to pay for it all over again. I tried the National Rail app instead, but it kept freezing. And the text/OCR app I’ve been using, ABBYY TextGrabber, has changed to a rather expensive pay version – so I’m going to try Text Fairy instead.
The Samsung crudware seems much less visible this time around, so it was less effort to hide it away. There’s a nice new “blue filter” option, that makes the phone emit less blue light at night: let’s see if I get to sleep more easily. But I certainly won’t be waking up more smoothly. The alarm clock has again reduced in functionality. Last upgrade I lost my preferred gentle Sparkling mist alarm tone. I grudgingly adapted. This time it’s much worse: the Smart Alarm has been removed. The Smart Alarm was brilliant, the exact opposite of crudware: it started at very low volume three minutes before the set alarm time, and very grew gradually louder. It was the perfect wake up alarm, as I would gently drift awake, rather than wake “alarmed”. And it was the perfect alarm while at work: it didn’t jolt me out of flow. That’s all gone now. The alarm does have a “gradually increase volume” option, but it increases it from a minimum value which is still pretty loud, not from zero; since I have the volume set to that minimum anyway, the option has no effect. I am not the only one annoyed at this removal.
Now, any recommendations for some good games? I’ve got a bit bored with Angry Birds Blast, having reached level 7 gazillion, so I haven’t loaded it onto the S7.