How one cancelled train can ruin the whole system

After my blog post about how maths means trains seem more frequent than they are, here’s another even more irritating rail-based maths problem.

From Germany, I’ve been feeling quietly smug watching the chaos on the UK Northern and Thameslink lines over the past few days. Well, joke’s on me, because I got my own transport chaos this morning. One tram didn’t show up this morning, which was mildly annoying. But they’re frequent – every five minutes or less at peak times – so I wasn’t too worry. Five minutes later, along came the next tram, but it was so full up that no-one could board. Another five minutes, and another totally packed tram arrived. By the time I managed to squeeze my way onto a tram, I’d missed my train to work.

How could this happen? How could a well-trafficked route, which doesn’t normally run anywhere near capacity, completely collapse with a single cancelled tram?

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Thoughts: The Three-Body Problem, by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu

Spoilers spoilers spoilers! If you want to read this book, don’t read this post.

I’m skipping a book here (Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation) because I’m going to meet up with friends and discuss it at a later date, so forgive me.

I picked up The Three-Body Problem because Spuggy had already done so, and he recommended it, and my TBR will never be too long to accept a recommendation from people I love.

It’s… weird. A lot of it was probably lost on me, both scientifically and culturally. But I could not stop reading it. Spoilers spoilers spoilers.

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Recipe: Korean-style bitter orange and lime tea

No photos for this recipe, because I couldn’t find a way to make boiled citrus fruits photogenics.

This is based on the Korean yuja-cha (also known by its Japanese name yuzucha), and it’s effectively a marmalade you put in a jar and keep in the fridge. To make it up into tea, you just put a spoonful in a cup and fill it with boiling water. This recipe was mainly just something I did to use up the fruit from a bitter orange tree that I impulsively purchased, but it is really good.

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Thoughts: The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead

You know how sometimes the outside world seems to conspire to create these sort of teachable moments aimed solely at you? Where outside events are suddenly relevant to something private you’re doing or learning? Well, while I was reading The Underground Railroad, Kanye West said something almost comically ignorant about slavery.

Now, he’s absolutely not the first person to hold this sort of view – he would possibly be surprised at just how unoriginal this view is (and at the people who traditionally hold it) – but he’s in a unique position to have his words misused, and unfortunately will have to deal with that.

I wanted to wrap up this book and send it to him when I was finished, because if you really want to know how not-optional slavery was, you could do much worse than starting with The Underground Railroad.

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Thoughts: Station Eleven, by Emily St John Mandel

Another unlooked-for treasure, this was my treat after reading Covet. Station Eleven is beautiful, in the kind of painful way that only hack writers like me know: I wish I’d written this and now I can’t because it already exists in the world.

As usual, accept my heartfelt recommendation to read this book before reading my idiot thoughts on it. I’m not so worried about spoilers, but it is a great book.

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Thoughts: Covet, by J. R. Ward

This is the second of the books that Spuggy brought back from the free bookshelves, and somehow turned out to be even worse than Heart of the Dragon. I know. I hardly thought it possible myself.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

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Thoughts: Born Survivors, by Wendy Holden

I went through a sort of phase a couple of years ago where I must have felt like my TBR list wasn’t long enough, and I started asking people for recommendations. I was visiting Spuggy’s grandparents one Christmas or New Year, and I asked his grandma what she was reading on her Kindle – this book, of course – and it didn’t seem like the kind of book you say no to, so it went on the list. And see, I keep my promises, even if it takes me years.

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Thoughts: Paper Towns, by John Green

My sister was reading this when she came over to visit, and was kind enough to pass it on when she was done. The other John Green I’ve read are An Abundance of Katherines and The Fault in Our Stars, so I think I have a pretty reasonable grasp of his oeuvre, and for the most part I have to say I like it.

Sure, there’s the occasional mawkish moment (the Anne Frank house…) and sometimes the quirkiness is too quirky for its own good, but in general, yep, I like it. His writing is easy to read and comes with thoughtful questions beneath the stories. I know it’s fashionable to backlash against anything that’s been popular for too long (especially anything with a progressive or left-wing bent), and so I’ve seen Green castigated for being too successful in a female-dominated sector of publishing, among other things. On one hand, we need to get teenage boys into reading, but on the other, male YA authors aren’t allowed to do too well.

Another thing people say a lot is that teenagers don’t talk like John Green characters. Well, I hate to break it to you, guys, but we don’t talk like Buffy characters, and yet that dialogue is considered a high bar for anyone who wants to write wit.

Specific to Paper Towns, I’ve seen him accused to perpetuating the manic pixie dream girl trope, which is something like complaining that there’s sexism in The Handmaid’s Tale.

Of course it depicts a manic pixie dream girl. That’s what the book is about.

Let’s dive right in.

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Sparrow Songs: Metal that’s not about death

It’s been a while since I did one of these posts! So, one image that people have of metal music is “Oh, it’s all screaming about death and Satan and so on”. But this is not true! So, in this blog post I’m going to just post some metal songs about really random topics. Enjoy!

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Thoughts: How to be Both, by Ali Smith

This was originally not on my list but had been on my radar, and when a friend offered me a copy, I considered it a sign. Before continuing, I’ll explain the structure of the book a bit. How to be Both is essentially two novellas, connected enough to warrant the one book but separate enough that some books are printed with one story first and some the other. You won’t know which order you’re reading in until you start, and that will colour your reading. You can read it again in the opposite order, of course, but I think the first reading will already have shaped your perception of the book. To be both a person who read George’s story first and a person who read Francesco’s story first is one both we cannot be.

So that’s the first thing. I read George’s story first, which means that that’s the person I am, that’s the perspective from which I write this post. The second thing is that I’m going to be extravagantly spoilery, because to not spoil this book is not to be able to talk about it, and these posts are much more “spaces for me to talk about books I read” than they are “helpful recommendations for other people”.

You have been warned.

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