One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel García Márquez

I read “Cien años de soledad” in Spanish. Even if it took me some extra work to get a Spanish copy it would have been a missed opportunity to not read the original work.

The book is written from the perspective of the Buendía family. And this is where the strength of the book resides. Everything is described as seen by not only the eyes of the characters but also their minds.

When José Arcadio Buendía thinks that a magic carpet can fly, then it really flyes. García Márquez does not write an external interpretation of the characters thoughts, but a literal translation of those thoughts into the paper with their superstitions and personal perceptions.

Thru a rich and colourful language, the thoughts in the minds of the characters become real. The protagonists are selfish, pitiful, misguided but also compassionate. Their mindset is laid in front of the reader to examine and learn. From the vulnerability of children to the senility of old age all feelings are described truthfully for the reader to see.

Not only the main characters are shown as they see themselves. All society is described in the same terms. All the nonsense of war, the social changes that technology causes, the fight of workers for their rights, everything is written down in hyperbolic detail except that in its excess the writing shows the real feelings of the population.

Having grown up in Spain, I have seen the destructive power of the Buendía mindset that intensifies in little towns like the fictional Macondo. I can also sympathize with the historical views on Colombia’s society, many of them not so far away from the ones in Spain.

This is an indispensable book for anyone interested in the old mindset of Spanish speaking countries or just anyone that wants a deeper understanding of human nature.

Book cover. Cien años de soledad.

5/5 ★★★★ ★

Cien años de soledad
by Gabriel García Márquez
Publisher: Literatura Random House
Release Date: first published 1967

Faster Than Thought. A Symposium on digital computing machines by Bertram Vivian Bowden

To add some perspective, I can start by one of the book’s assessments: the longest prime number has 2,281 binary digits. As of July 2019, the longest prime number has 82 million binary digits. All thanks to computers.

The book starts with a brief history of computation. Bowden recognizes, at a time that it was not widely acknowledged, the contributions of Charles Babbage and Ada, Lady Lovelace, to computer science. The chapter is a charming recollection of the collaborations of the two scientists. Bowden got this information from Lady Wentworth, granddaughter of Ada. Beyond the recognition of Babbage and Lady Lovelace and the establishment of a historical base for the rest of the book, the chapter is incredibly insightful.

In the second chapter on circuit components of digital computers, amazes me to read “A digital computer may contain several thousand valves…”. The modern language and concepts make easy to forget when Bowden wrote the book. At the time of publishing the book, International Business Machines (IBM) was producing the IBM 701. The first IBM large-scale electronic computer manufactured in quantity. IBM created nineteen of these machines. Any software engineer should be familiar with this introduction. The examples are simple and straightforward. But, the chapter is very technical. The author explicitly states that you can skip this chapter if it’s too technical and enjoy the rest of the book. The format of the chapter is easy to recognize for any modern student. The author introduces Boolean logic, and the construction of AND/OR gates from valves – transistors in modern books – to later build more complex circuits like adders.

Part one concludes with a chapter dedicated to programming. The author writes about code optimization and even about an interpreter – that he calls automatic coding – that converts algebraic notation into machine code. Even at this early stage, loss in efficiency made economic sense in favour of making easier to write code.

Part two lists and describes electronic computing machines that existed at the time. The chapters are technical and illustrate different machine architectures. Many machines used Cathode ray tubes (CRT), but not as a display but as a device to store data. And failing valves rates was a major consideration on building these machines.
There are individual chapters for computers from the University of Manchester, Cambridge, National Physical Laboratory, Harwell, the Telecommunications Research Establishment, Imperial College, the Royal Aircraft Establishment, and Birkbeck College. Chapter 14 describes, with much less detail, some American computers like Mark I, ENIAC, UNIVAC, Whirlwind and others.

Part three contains predictions on what uses these new machines will have in the future.
The book predicts the use of computers for weather forecasting and acknowledges the limitations on the accuracy of the atmospheric data that can be gathered. But, there is no mention of Lorenz or chaos. As the chaos theory will not be born until eight years later when Edward Lorenz was using a computer to model atmospheric circulation.
Other topics covered are astronomy, physics, architecture, microeconomics and macroeconomics. All the chapters are practical, well informed, and look into a foreseeable future. All of them will become a reality in a few decades afterwards.
The exception to this practical approach is chapter 25. This chapter talks about digital computers applied to games, and Dr Turing wrote it in collaboration with the author. Most of the chapter follows the same practical style than the rest. But, the question “Could one make a machine which would answer questions put to it, in such a way that it would not be possible to distinguish its answer from those of a man?” is introduced here and will be part of the closing chapter of the book. For a few lines, the book dares to predict intelligence in machines. This is the only prediction that still has not become a reality.

The book is a product of its day. Its age makes it charming. The author and his many collaborators avoid daydreaming and instead introduce the realities of the computers of their time and forecast how computers will be used in the future. Their predictions will become a reality in the following decades. It is a book that is worth reading for its historical perspective and as a good example of good engineering thinking.

5/5 ★★★★ ★

“Faster Than Thought. A Symposium on digital computing machines ”
by Bertram Vivian Bowden
Publisher: Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, Ltd.
Release Date: first published 1953
“Faster Than Thought” at Archive.org

Stardew Valley

In the game, you will take care of a farm and interact with the inhabitants of a small town. 
When you start there is grinding to do. As the story develops, you will get tools to help you. 
The user interface, adapted for desktop and mobile, can be annoying depending on the activity that you realize. 
Stardew Valley is a simple bud addictive indie game. I played for 30 hours that are1 year of in-game time. 
And will recommend anyone interested to play at least that complete year and enjoy the four different seasons.

4/5 ★★★★☆

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is one of the best games I have ever played. It managed to change some core play elements from its equally great predecessor and make it different without making it worse. The Exploration mode felt natural without becoming too cumbersome. From level 1 to 50 I have enjoyed the fantastic Greek world. Beautiful graphics and historical locations make it pleasurable just to explore the map. Around 100 hours to finish this fantastic game.

5/5 ★★★★★

19 minutes of gameplay

Solaris by Stanisław Lem, Bill Johnston (Translator)

Solaris has been on my reading list for a long time. I had high expectations, and the book does not disappoint. To get that, you will need to put the novel in its right context. Reading or watching science fiction for the past decades is going to spoil plot twists. While reading Solaris I reviewed past reads and movies and realized how much Stanisław Lem influenced them.
Technology is everywhere and suffers a strong case of ‘future in the past’. “That was here too, though not in printed form—it was buried in one of the microfilm capsules.” is just an example. This does not harm the immersion into the Solaris universe but helps as a reminder of the period that it was written.
The Ocean descriptions have an important atmospheric role to set the mood of the novel. But they can get too long and difficult to visualize. Meanwhile, the dialogues and events concerning the main characters are clearly laid out.
I felt being part of an alien encounter as mysterious, interesting and frightening as it may be. I will recommend this book as much for the story as for its significance in the world of science fiction.

4/5 ★★★★☆

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Norse Mythology is different from what I expected. I guessed that Neil Gaiman would create a more novel-like experience. Instead of that, the tone of the stories matched what you will expect from an oral tradition. I felt I heard an old Norse warrior bragging about his gods and goddesses. The short stories create a bigger arch that encompasses the complete book creating a feeling of closure. It is an easy read that will introduce you to some basic stories of Norse mythology. 

4/5 ★★★★☆