{Review} Hello World by Hannah Fry

{Review} Hello World by Hannah Fry

“When it comes to artificial intelligence, we either hear of a paradise on earth or of our imminent extinction. It’s time we stand face-to-digital-face with the true powers and limitations of the algorithms that already automate important decisions in healthcare, transportation, crime, and commerce. 

Hello World is indispensable preparation for the moral quandaries of a world run by code, and with the unfailingly entertaining Hannah Fry as our guide, we’ll be discussing these issues long after the last page is turned” – Back cover

Back in the olden days (2017, I believe) when you had to travel to attend talks by luminaries, I journeyed over to Cheltenham, Gloucestershire to hear Hannah Fry talk about the Maths behind dating and settling down with someone. It challenged a lot of preconceptions I had and left my brain boggling. In short, it was brilliant.

So when a friend offered to post me her copy of Hello World, I couldn’t not say yes.

Hello World: How to Be Human in the Age of the Machine draws on different sorts of data to discuss some of the algorithms which are used to inform decision makers’ policies, as well as some algorithms that may be used in the future. The seven chapters examine the strengths and weaknesses of algorithms in a wide range of fields.

“Are algorithms actually used on a wide scale though?” I asked myself sceptically as I read the back cover. “Seems a little late 21st century”.

It turns out that everything from art, to cars, to the justice system all have algorithms which are driving innovations (heh, car pun) in these sectors. There are algorithms that can identify whether biopsies contain cancer, people will reoffend, calculate the likelihood of your being pregnant, and even create new pieces of music. Move over Vivaldi!

As you would expect, this book presents Hannah Fry’s point of view (as backed by her research). There are a decent amount of footnotes, and a long list of citations at the back which serve as an excellent springboard for further reading and forming different opinions. The strength of Hello World is that you go away feeling a sense of wonder at the tech and the formulae out there whilst not falling into the trap of thinking that a) the tech is infallible and should be put on a pedestal or b) that the ideas are beyond your comprehension.

(I’m still scarred by one author whose very well-meaning and incredibly detailed explanation of quantum cryptography left me feeling as panicked and uncomprehending as I did for the whole of GCSE Maths).

Overall: A gentle and incisive introduction to some of the many ways in which machines, data, and algorithms are increasingly used in the world around us. The impact of some of these technologies was examined, and I found Fry’s explanations of what makes these things “good” and “bad” to be insightful.

I would absolutely recommend this book if you’d like to learn more about the above subjects but worry about not knowing where to start.

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Posted by on April 10, 2021 in Uncategorized


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{Readathon Wrap Up} The London Bookshop Crawl – 2nd April- 5th April 2021

Apologies for the late post about this. Last month I changed internet provider and have been repaid for this with a month of intermittent internet. It’s been down for several days now, and I’m at my wits’ end.

Over the last Bank Holiday weekend, I participated in The London Bookshop Crawl’s Readathon. I went into it with heady hopes of reading 5 books as mentioned in my introduction. Then life happened, and I got distracted by a book a friend sent in the post and spent a day reading that instead.

Instead of Silver Candlesticks, I read Hello World by Hannah Fry. Review to follow.

I read the first 6 short stories (of 10) from Unfilled Graves by Ah Cheng (review to follow too. Curse you, non-existent internet) instead of the whole book, but felt that by savouring them slowly and re-reading a couple, I gained a marginally better understanding of the stories.

The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Beauty book was incredibly short, yet informative. I almost hesitate to mention it as I did not make any of the recipes or patterns from the book, but feel that I should include it here for posterity.

The prevalence of tallow in a lot of the recipes has put me off trying many of the suggestions. No matter how badly I want to make pink hair pomade, I’m going to have to give it a pass for now. Instead I’ll keep my eye out for some information on how to make veggie-/ vegan-friendly alternatives and try them at a later date.

It was a fun self-challenge, but the lack of other people taking part did leach some of the excitement from it (although with my 1 day of internet over that weekend I may have missed out on some social events…). Hopefully next year there’ll be better internet, and more participants with whom to share book geekery!

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Posted by on April 9, 2021 in 2021 Challenges


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{Wrap up} Books I read in March including A Thousand Ships and Mousseline La Sérieuse

{Wrap up} Books I read in March including A Thousand Ships and Mousseline La Sérieuse

March’s reading was, if possible, even more eclectic than February’s: with “choose your own adventure”, French historical fiction, and books about crafting rubbing shoulders with children’s books and a hefty tome about the history of Intelligence that sadly remains unfinished.

There were some highlights, including finally finishing two books that have haunted me since January. There was also one especially low moment involving one book that really should be fire-bombed into oblivion. No that’s not dramatic: it’s part of a problem that Amazon’s Kindle self-publishing should address, and which has probably been discussed with far more nuance by better-informed bloggers already.

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Posted by on April 8, 2021 in Uncategorized


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{Wrap Up} Tadoku Reading Challenge 2 (March 2021)

{Wrap Up} Tadoku Reading Challenge 2 (March 2021)

The Challenge

The goal is incredibly simple: read as many pages as you fancy/ are able to in the foreign language or languages of your choice. I loved the open-ended nature of the challenge. With some reading challenges it can feel a little overwhelming to retrospectively find criteria to shoe-horn books I’ve read into to finish a challenge.

The Tadoku challenge took a lot of that stress away. Instead I just had to ask myself one question: “is this book in the challenge language?” This time around I chose just French as the challenge language. I have a shamefully large pile of books in French that I’ve bought that have languished on my TBR pile. If this challenge tickles your pickle then you can sign up here. The challenge runs every other month (January, March, May, etc.)

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Posted by on April 5, 2021 in Uncategorized


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{Review} Mousseline La Serieuse by Sylvie Yvert

{Review} Mousseline La Serieuse by Sylvie Yvert

This is one of two books that have loomed unread for no good reason since January’s Tadoku challenge.

Mousseline La Sérieuse tells the story of Marie-Therese Charlotte de France (Mousseline La Sérieuse was her nickname). Born to Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI, Marie-Therese had a life of luxury until the French Revolution which started when she was ten years old. She and her family were placed under house arrest and eventually imprisoned in Temple Tower.

Gradually her parents, aunt, and younger brother were separated from one another, and for two years she was imprisoned alone. The silence of her days punctuated with the sound of her 9 year-old brother’s cries as he was beaten. Of her family, she was the only one to survive. This retelling of her incredibly tragic life follows her from youth to old age, but dwells on the horrors she endured during the Terror.

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{Readathon} The London Bookshop Crawl – 2nd April- 5th April 2021

{Readathon} The London Bookshop Crawl – 2nd April- 5th April 2021

This year marks the first year of Ninja Book Box’s London Bookshop Crawl Readathon. Ninja Book Box specialises in spreading the word about independent publishers so I thought that now would be the perfect time to dig out some of the indie books that I’ve been itching to read but haven’t made it to the top of Mount TBR.

I’m hoping to read 2-3 books out of this list over the course of the readathon. In no real order, these are the books I’d love to read this weekend:

  1. The Mysterious Death of Jane Austen – Lindsay Ashford
  2. Silver Candlesticks – Shirley Shapiro
  3. Unfilled Graves – Ah Cheng
  4. Ghost Variations – Jessica Duchen
  5. The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Beauty – Stowell, Cox & McKnight

This is going to be a wild night in par l’extraordinaire !

Yeah I know that should have been weekend in, but what’s a terrible pun between friends, eh?

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Posted by on March 29, 2021 in Uncategorized


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Teaser Tuesday – 23/03/2021

This is Teaser Tuesday, a weekly Meme hosted by The Purple Booker. Anyone is welcome to join in!

This week’s teaser is for “L’Origine: The Secret Life Of The World’s Most Erotic Masterpiece” by Lilianne Milgrom.

L’Origine is a historical fiction novel inspired by Courbet’s painting, L’Origine du Monde. It has received glowing reviews, and has won the Indie B.R.A.G. Medallion Award. The painting blew my mind when I saw it, and the concept of the book piqued my interest, so I applied for a free review copy here.

Currently I’m just over half-way through and loving the excellent story-telling. A review should be forthcoming by the end of the week (in case you’re interested).

The more I interacted with the public, the more fascinated I became with what others saw in Courbet’s painting. For one elderly gentleman, it triggered memories of his deceased wife, while for one sweet little grandma it seemed like the perfect teaching tool to introduce her granddaughter to the birds and the bees. It didn’t quite go as planned.

“Look, chérie,” said Grandma. “That’s where all babies come from.”

“No, it isn’t!” whined her young charge.

“But it is, my little cabbage. You too came into the world from there.”

“No, I didn’t!” replied the little girl, stamping her foot. “Maman had a caesarean!”

L’Origine: The Secret Life Of The World’s Most Erotic Masterpiece” by Lilianne Milgrom

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Posted by on March 23, 2021 in Uncategorized


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{100 Days of Mandarin} Challenge – Day 1. Zero to Hero (I hope)

{100 Days of Mandarin} Challenge – Day 1. Zero to Hero (I hope)

Today is the day I start the 100 Days of Mandarin challenge! And I was psyched to be starting! If you’ve not heard of it before and are interested, here is a link to the introductory post.

Day one started quite well: I printed out a character list for the HSK 3 exam. The list has 300 characters on it, and I went through and underlined every character I could translate immediately from English into Mandarin. From there it all went… a little downhill: I only know 65 characters of the syllabus on sight. Which isn’t bad as I’ve only covered the first 80 characters so far.

But then I made a list of the English words and tried to write out those 65 characters in hanzi and got 18 right. Ouch! I don’t understand how my brain can recognise characters, or look at the English and know the pinyin but not remember how to write them. Guess I’m going to have to start drilling writing words out to get my brain into actively knowing them , instead of passively recognising them.

I began Operation Write More by copying out some sentences that used 以前 (before), 以后 (after) and 的时候 (temporal phrase to show when a moment happened) and then making up my own. I’m already feeling a little more confident with stroke order for some HSK 3 words like “鼻子”. There was a satisfying clunk in my brain when the grammar points made sense.

After some debate, I also shelled out on Chinese Zero to Hero (HSK 3). It’s getting to the stage where some of the grammar points are a little hard to fathom even after reading the textbook examples, and it looks as though ZtH has some decent and concise videos explaining them,

Later I’m going to draw up some more squared paper so I have enough for practicing writing more evenly sized characters. On regular lined paper some of them just end up looking like individual characters instead of components.

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Posted by on March 18, 2021 in Uncategorized


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{100 Days of Mandarin} Challenge – Introduction

{100 Days of Mandarin} Challenge – Introduction

At the start of 2021 I mentioned that one of the challenges I’d like to take part in this year was the 100 Days of Mandarin challenge.

In case you’re not familiar with the “100 Days of X” challenge, the goal is to spend 100 days doing at least 1 hour of X (aka. the habit you want to acquire/ thing you want to spend some quality time on). You then tweet about your progress using the hashtag #100DaysofX, and then find 2 other people who are taking part in the same challenge, and go and encourage them to keep chipping away at their 100 Days goal.
So quite similar to blogging apart from the spending an hour a day on it part (this is a reflection on me, not on the many phenomenal bloggers I’ve stumbled across on the bloggersphere).

Last year I started learning Mandarin, fell a tiny bit in love with it, and decided to shoot for that infamously nebulous goal of “becoming fluent” in it. Whilst I was fairly applied with my studies last year and breezed through the HSK1 and HSK2 exams in 6 months, this year I’ve been studying in dribs and drabs and my progress is at an all-time low. My language learning Bullet Journal is a little painful to look at, if I’m honest.

In addition to the tweets, I’m also going to post on days 1 and 100, and also do a weekly wrap-up of how studying has gone for the week as a whole. I’m hoping that this will make for pleasant re-reading at the end of the 100 days. Or if not pleasant then perhaps motivational…

If you’re taking part in a challenge, any challenge and want some moral support, then pop a comment down below and I’ll cheer you on/ go to your blog and cheer you on there.

Good luck to you all, may you achieve your goals for the day!

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Posted by on March 17, 2021 in Uncategorized


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Teaser Tuesday – 16/03/2021

This is Teaser Tuesday, a weekly Meme hosted by The Purple Booker. Anyone is welcome to join in!

In today’s world of cyber-warfare and Wikileaks it seemed like a good idea to try to learn about what intelligence actually is. As it can be quite a polemic subject I asked a friend to recommend a book that tries to show a more balanced overview of the subject.

I’m terrible at remembering dates and names, so I expect I’ll be reading this one for quite a while…

“It has saved thousands of British and American lives and, in no small way, contributed to the speed with which the enemy was routed and eventually forced to surrender.”

The general’s note encapsulated the value and the scope of the Anglo-American intelligence cooperation in its allusion to the codebreaking, human intelligence, and analytic successes of the combined effort. The fact that such a note could be sent by a general of one nation’s army to the secret intelligence chief of another nation also spoke volumes. A truly multinational intelligence instrument had been forged by the exigencies of war.

The Rise and Fall of Intelligence: An International Security History – Michael Warner

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Posted by on March 16, 2021 in Uncategorized


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