Reading Log

I decided to make a log of the books I’ve read awhile ago and have finished adding the books from this year so far. I’m mostly happy with the formatting for now, but could change it as I add previous years. If I write any reviews for specific books, I’ll link them in the rating stars.

Book review: Heart-Shaped Box

★★★☆☆

While Heart-Shaped Box was Joe Hill’s first novel, it’s the second book of his that I’ve read, after NOS4A2 earlier this summer. This novel isn’t quite as good as that one, but it’s still very enjoyable and only about as third as long.

Jude Coyne, an aging rock star, collects occult and otherwise weird items and is tricked into buying the ‘ghost’ of a man—and his suit—who turns out to be the step-father of a past dead girlfriend, Anna. The seller is Anna’s sister, Jessica and she blames Coyne for the girl’s suicide and so the ghost is meant to terrorize and eventually kill him and his loved ones.

But it turns out, Anna didn’t kill herself. She was going to expose the truth about the horrible things their stepfather did to them and to Jessica’s daughter, so they killed her. They’re going after Coyne because he might know something about what they did, apparently, which seems a bit less plausible even if this is a horror novel featuring ghosts, metaphysical travel and other supernatural elements. It’s easy to understand why the ghost of a dead woman’s father might haunt the person responsible for causing her to commit suicide, not so much when that father was the one who actually murdered her.

Coyne has an estranged relationship with his dying father and hasn’t seen him in-person in over three decades. It’s no surprise that the ghost chases Coyne and his current girlfriend, Marybeth, from their home in New York State through Georgia, Florida, and eventually to his father’s home in Louisiana where the novel has its climax that I won’t spoil further. When you write horror novels and are the son of Stephen King, as Joe Hill is, comparisons to his works are going to be made and one common complaint with King’s novels is the way they end.

Cascadia Code font released by Microsoft

In a past life, I used to be very into trying new monospace fonts, but have largely stuck with Fira Code for the past couple years. Cascadia Code could eventually replace it, as I really like how it looks on-screen, but it’s missing quite a few accented characters.

‘Close Friends,’ for a Monthly Fee

Kaitlyn Tiffany, writing for The Atlantic:

Gabi Abrao, better known as @sighswoon on Instagram, is “developing a language with the invisible.” Her page is half memes, half photos of her—eating fresh fruit, or trying out a metal detector, or posing in a museum bathroom wearing an incredible maxi dress, or staring sleepily into the middle distance in a satin pollution mask—often accompanied by poetic text about the past, the present, and the universe.

She has close to 94,000 followers, about 400 of whom are her “Close Friends,” a privilege won by paying $3.33 a month on Patreon. Those followers get access to exclusive “rants, theories, and personal updates,” including “silly details” of Abrao’s love life, big ideas about “existence and wellness,” and poetry and prose from her personal archives. She’s one of many who have figured out that the Instagram feature—originally intended as something like an image-based inner-circle group text—can also be used to make some extra money.

That people would try to monetize this Instagram feature is not at all surprising, but it is interesting how successful some people have been in doing so.

Relatedly, Tiffany co-hosts an excellent podcast, Why’d You Push That Button?, about the ways in which people use social media and technology.

Health Insurance That Doesn’t Cover the Bills Has Flooded the Market Under Trump

Zeke Faux, Polly Mosendz and John Tozzi, writing for Bloomberg Businessweek:

On her way out, Marisia gave the billing clerk David’s health insurance card. It looked like any other, listing a copay of $30 for doctor visits and $50 for “wellness.” She’d bought the plan a year earlier from a company called Health Insurance Innovations Inc., with the understanding that it would be comprehensive. She hadn’t noticed a phrase near the top of the card, though: “Short-Term Medical Insurance.”

The Diazes’ plan was nothing like the ones consumers have come to expect under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which bars insurers from capping coverage, canceling it retroactively, or turning away people with preexisting conditions. But the law includes an exemption for short-term plans that serve as a stopgap for people between jobs. The Trump administration, thwarted in its attempts to overturn the ACA, has widened that loophole by stretching the definition of “short-term” from three months to a year, with the option of renewing for as long as three years.

Fewer than 100,000 people had such plans at the end of last year, according to state insurance regulators, but the Trump administration says that number will jump by 600,000 in 2019 as a result of the changes. Some brokers are taking advantage, selling plans so skimpy that they offer no meaningful coverage.

The Diazes were billed nearly $250,000 for care after David’s heart attack because these short-term plans cover essentially nothing, yet aren’t any cheaper than the better plans available on the healthcare insurance exchanges. It is absolutely shameful that the current president dishonestly pushes people towards these plans.

Between this and GM dropping workers from their health insurance plans because of a strike, it’s no wonder Medicare for All and other single payer proposals are becoming increasingly popular.

There Is No Tech Backlash

Rob Walker, writing in the New York Times:

It’s fun, and increasingly fashionable, to complain about technology. Our own devices distract us, others’ devices spy on us, social media companies poison public discourse, new wired objects violate our privacy, and all of this contributes to a general sense of runaway change careening beyond our control. No wonder there’s a tech backlash.

But, really, is there? There certainly has been talk of a backlash, for a couple of years now. Politicians have discussed regulating big tech companies more tightly. Fines have been issued, breakups called for. A tech press once dedicated almost exclusively to gadget lust and organizing conferences that trot out tech lords for the rest of us to worship has taken on a more critical tone; a drumbeat of exposés reveal ethically and legally dubious corporate behavior. Novels and movies paint a skeptical or even dystopian picture of where tech is taking us. We all know people who have theatrically quit this or that social media service, or announced digital sabbaticals. And, of course, everybody kvetches, all the time.

I stopped using Facebook years ago, but it had little to do with their data collection or privacy and more to do with just not caring about the things people were posting there (like many others, I still use other services Facebook owns like Instagram and WhatsApp). That seems to be the case for many others I know who stopped using Facebook, or Twitter, or whatever. Most people do not care about the privacy or data collection issues so long as they get enjoyment out of a service.

Almost Everything About Goodreads Is Broken

Angela Lashbrook, writing for OneZero:

What Goodreads is good for is keeping your own list of books you want to read or have read this year. It’s a list-making app. And while that’s useful, it doesn’t live up to the company’s full promise of being a haven for readers. Readers and authors deserve a better online community. And while Amazon has at least some nominal interest in improving many of its other products — Alexa, for example, becomes more advanced with each passing year — Goodreads lingers in the dustbin of the early aughts, doomed to the hideous beige design and uninspiring organization of a strip mall doctor’s office.

I use Goodreads to keep a log of the books I’ve read, but that’s all it’s ever been useful for to me. The recommendations have never been any good and don’t seem to change no matter how many books I add and rate. Amazon’s Kindle Store seems to do a much better job at showing me books I might be interested in and they could presumably use the same data and algorithm, so I don’t get it.

I think I’ll start just keeping a log on my own website.

How Fan Culture Is Swallowing Democracy

Amanda Hess, writing in the New York Times:

We are witnessing a great convergence between politics and culture, values and aesthetics, citizenship and commercialism. Here, civic participation is converted seamlessly into consumer habit. Political battles are waged through pop songs and novelty prayer candles and evocative emoji. Elizabeth Warren is cast as a “Harry Potter” character and Kamala Harris is sliced into a reaction GIF. This is democracy reimagined as celebrity fandom, and it is now a dominant mode of experiencing politics.

These are truly terrible times we live in. Fun web design, though.

As Rising Heat Bakes U.S. Cities, The Poor Often Feel It Most

Meg Anderson and Sean McMinn, for NPR:

When Shakira Franklin drives from West Baltimore to her job near the city’s Inner Harbor, she can feel the summer heat ease up like a fist loosening its grip.

“I can actually feel me riding out of the heat. When I get to a certain place when I’m on my way, I’ll turn off my air and I’ll roll my windows down,” says Franklin. “It just seems like the sun is beaming down on this neighborhood.”

Franklin isn’t imagining that. Her neighborhood, Franklin Square, is hotter than about two-thirds of the other neighborhoods in Baltimore — about 6 degrees hotter than the city’s coolest neighborhood. It’s also in one of the city’s poorest communities, with more than one-third of residents living in poverty.

Most people know about the urban heat island phenomenon where cities are hotter than surrounding areas because there’s less green spaces and heat gets trapped by asphalt pavement and tall buildings, but it was surprising to me that there’s such a strong correlation between heat and income level in so many American cities.

Also interesting is the data NPR posted on GitHub if you’d like to explore the topic more.

The Scourge of Worker Wellness Programs

Lena Solow, writing for the New Republic:

When teachers and other school staff in West Virginia walked off the job in 2018, news coverage of the historic strike focused on bread-and-butter issues like their rising health-care premiums and low wages. There were horror stories of teachers working extra jobs and struggling to pay for emergency medical costs. But there were other galvanizing factors that, though less discussed, were no less galling—indignities that have become increasingly familiar to workers across the country.

As Brandon Wolford, a teacher from Mingo County, West Virginia, told a packed room at the LaborNotes conference in Chicago last year, he and his coworkers were moved to action when they were required to either pay a fee or participate in a workplace wellness program called “Healthy Tomorrows,” which penalized members for not scoring “acceptable” on a series of biometric measures. “The next thing you know we get a paper in the mail,” he said. “It says you have to go to the doctor by such and such a date. Your blood glucose levels must be at certain amounts, your waist size must be at certain amounts, and if it is not, you don’t meet all these stipulations, then you get a $500 penalty on your out-of-pocket deductible.”

Wellness programs seem like a good idea at first glance, but they benefit employees a lot less than employers, who have found them to be yet another way to control the lives of their employees outside of the workplace.