All posts by mikebostan

A citizen of the world.

Death’s End – Liu Cixin (Translator Ken Liu)

Some call them doomsday ships. These lightspeed ships have no destination at all. They turn their curvature engines to maximum and accelerate like crazy, infinitely approaching the speed of light. Their goal is to leap across time using relativity until they reach the heat death of the universe. By their calculations, ten years within their frame of reference would equal fifty billion years in ours. As a matter of fact, you don’t even need to plan for it. If some malfunction occurs after a ship has accelerated to lightspeed, preventing the ship from decelerating, then you’d also reach the end of the universe within your lifetime.

By many accounts, this is one of the best science fiction books ever written. The volume is the third in the Three-Body Problem trilogy and the best of all three. The story follows the development of humanity after the encounter with the aliens and finding the precarious balance. Many eras pass by, each one bringing amazing concepts and developments, surprising the reader. The protagonist is this time Cheng Xin, an aerospace engineer, who is not a driver, but an anchor for the narrative. She is placed in the middle of all important decisions, from Swordhandler to speedlight ships development. However, her decisions are only a consequence of being chosen as such by humanity.

Trisolarians become at the end allies in an ending universe, gargantuan, dark and soulless. The Dark Forest remains a grim fact of the universe for the author, following the same rule less world perception developed by Thomas Hobbes: Homo homini lupus, but on a cosmos scale.

The boundless imagination of presenting new eras, technologies and aliens is mindblowing. The author manages to give the right length of description with unprecedented precision: enough to give the essence of an era, summarizing the relevant developments.

The logical tightness of the tale is astonishing, managing to captivate the imagination of the reader and make him wonder of what could it be beyond the stars. The concepts brought forward: dark forest, deterrence, civilization development, dimensions of a universe, galactic distances, human choices in face of critical situations, human society evolution having different stimuli, alien courses of action, make the book and the trilogy on par with the best of scifi writers.

These volumes of hard scifi are stunningly well-research as well, replying to practical, physics questions that arise in the wave of civilization and technology development with plausible, well-thought solutions.

No doubt, this is one of the best hard scifi books written so far, bringing enthusiasm for humanity to look at starts and see what lies beyond our planet. This is despite the fact that, ultimately, the story is one of fatalism, where humans, societies and civilizations, are at the mercy of cosmic events.

[Feature image: Yayoi Kusama – Infinity Room]

Bidding Zones analysis – group project

Below my group project on Bidding zones for the EU Electricity ‎Network Codes course.

Do you think that the changes made by the Clean Energy Package to the bidding zone review procedure will lead to different results or create more challenges?

The newly-adopted Electricity Regulation (ER), article 14.1, states that “[…] Bidding zone borders shall be based on long-term, structural congestions in the transmission network. Bidding zones shall not contain such structural congestions unless they have no impact on neighbouring bidding zones […]”. EU TSOs and NRAs are mandated by the Capacity Allocation and Congestion Management Guideline (CACM GL) and ER to assess on a regular basis the existing bidding zones (BZ) configuration, and possibly initiate its review and reconfiguration.

A BZ review was voluntary under the CACM GL (article 32.1), but became compulsory under the ER (article 14.3). Under CACM GL, the review should include scenarios that take into account “likely” infrastructure developments within the following ten years (article 33.1), while the methodology required by the ER should be based on structural congestions that were not expected to be overcome (e.g. due to grid expansion) within three years (article 14.5). The ER obliged the TSOs to present a BZ methodology by October 2019 (article 14.5), and the all TSOs proposal was submitted on 7 October 2019. It includes one annex per region presenting the alternative BZ configurations that will be compared to the status-quo during the review.

According to the ER, the relevant regulatory authorities shall take a unanimous decision on the TSOs proposal by January 2020. If unanimity is not reached, ACER shall decide on the methodology and alternative BZ configurations, by April 2020 latest. Once the methodology has been decided, the TSOs of each region have one year to submit a proposal to amend or maintain the bidding zone configuration, based on the results of the review. The proposal comes on the table of the concerned NRAs for approval. If unanimity is not reached, the European Commission has the final say on maintaining or amending the current BZ configuration.

The puzzle is whether the TSOs’ methodology proposal is able to identify structural congestions. Via art. 16(8) ER, it can be interpreted that a Member State (MS) suffers from structural congestion if it doesn’t comply with the 70% minRAM clause. If this is the case, the MS has two options: establish a (multi)national action plan or amend its BZ. There are two BZ configuration principles. Firstly, the BZ should be constructed independent of political borders, but built around structural congestions. Secondly, the size of a BZ should be a fine balance between structural congestions and market liquidity and competitiveness.

The main opportunities and challenges arising from the changes introduced by the CEP are summarized below:

Opportunities:

  • The 70% minRAM clause of article 16(8) offers an opportunity for a willing TSO and a MS to change the configuration of a BZ.
  • Splitting BZs may be politically sensitive at the national level, so putting ACER and the European Commission in charge of final decisions may break local interests and put the interest of the EU market as a whole ahead of national interests.
  • A process for amending BZ is now relatively clearly defined, allowing MS the possibility to create and follow action plans. The clarification was important, as the first BZ review was not successful. Action plans offer MS more time, but multiple opportunities have been built into the procedure to revert from an action plan to deciding on a BZ reconfiguration.

Challenges:

  • At the center of the BZ review process lies the identification of a structural congestion. Thus, this should be the first step of the process. However, TSOs must already propose alternative BZ configurations, even if no methodology has been developed to identify structural congestions. In this context, it is not surprising that in the annex many TSOs argue that they don’t propose a BZ alternative because their country doesn’t suffer from structural congestion (see table in annex at the end of this paper). In this context, the whole process already stops at the first step.
  • The attempt to define structural congestion based on the 70% minRAM clause has also severe limitations. Differences in interpretation can be observed (not only across MS but also different stakeholders) and it is in the NRAs’ responsibility to check for compliance. Consequently, it doesn’t appear as an appropriate tool to pressure MS suffering from structural congestion to amend their BZ.
  • Additionally, it solely gives arguments for splits and not for mergers of BZs which could be beneficial from a market liquidity and competitiveness perspective. This is obvious from reading the annexes of the all TSOs proposal, where almost only arguments against or in favor of splits are listed.
  • As stated above, if the NRAs don’t come to an agreement concerning which BZ configurations should be evaluated, ACER will take the final decision. In relation with the complexity of the situation, in particular in the central EU region, questions can be raised concerning the competences, e.g. in simulation, needed for taking such decision. Any decision not well argued or missing consistency could be raised in court.

Conclusions

The BZ reconfiguration is a necessary step towards solving several present and future congestions, in addition to requesting TSOs to offer more capacity to the market. The ER, part of the Clean Energy Package, was a natural opportunity to develop such a plan. A rather clear and agreed methodology, follow-up steps and backup solutions are all foreseen in the ER.

However, there are a number of drawbacks, such as the bias towards splitting BZ in the BZ reconfiguration, instead of merging them as well. The procedure for identifying structural congestions is possibly flawed, as TSOs must propose alternative BZ configurations in parallel with developing a methodology that must be approved by regulators. In addition, connecting BZ configurations to the 70% clause with all of its limitations (diverse interpretations, in/sufficient data availability, etc.) and action plans does not contribute to its implementation, but it is watering down the process. Furthermore, leaving European institutions as ultimate decision-makers, might look as a solution but it remains to be seen if it will be fit for purpose due to the dominantly political nature of the process.

The Dark Forest – Liu Cixin, (Translator Joel Martinsen)

The universe is a dark forest. Every civilization is an armed hunter stalking through the trees like a ghost, gently pushing aside branches that block the path and trying to tread without sound. Even breathing is done with care. The hunter has to be careful, because everywhere in the forest are stealthy hunters like him. If he finds other life—another hunter, an angel or a demon, a delicate infant or a tottering old man, a fairy or a demigod—there’s only one thing he can do: open fire and eliminate them. In this forest, hell is other people. An eternal threat that any life that exposes its own existence will be swiftly wiped out. This is the picture of cosmic civilization. It’s the explanation for the Fermi Paradox.

This is the second book of the “Remembrance of Earth’s Past” trilogy by Liu Cixin. The book continues the story in the Three-Body Problem and explores the decisions humanity makes finding that an alien civilization heads for Earth, bent on destruction, in 400 years.

The story is followed through the eyes of Luo Ji, a lackadaisical astronomer and sociologist, who is named one of the four Wallfacers, the humanity project to hide its intentions from the Tri-solarian aliens. The anchor of the book remains Luo Ji’s quiet protector, the detective and policeman Shi Qiang.

Years and generations pass and humanity oscillates from the height of optimism and arrogant self-confidence to the depths of despair, when its fleet is easily taken out by a single alien droplet.

The questions addressed and the hard science put into the plot makes the novel a fascinating read. Weaker than the first book, this volume gives less space to the aliens and more to the personal story of Luo Ji.

The book is not a hero’s story, struggling for humanity, but of an unambitious fellow put, sometimes inexplicably, in positions of decision with grave effects for humankind. The book has no real protagonist, as Luo Ji is not sufficiently explored to understand all his decisions.

The alien motivations and the world building are beautifully exposed and are logically impeccable, while humanity’s response is lackluster, even disappointing. Few raise to the task, including our main personage.

The volume is of excellent writing quality and the story is well followed and expanded from the first book. A less exhilarating experience than The Three-Body problem, but, nonetheless, a great book to read.

100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings: How to Get By Without Even Trying – Sarah Cooper

2. Translate percentage metrics into fractions

If someone says “About 25% of all users click on this button,” quickly chime in with, “So about 1 in 4,” and make a note of it. Everyone will nod their head in agreement, secretly impressed and envious of your quick math skills.

3. Encourage everyone to “take a step back”

There comes a point in most meetings where everyone is chiming in, except you. Opinions and data and milestones are being thrown around and you don’t know your CTA from your OTA. This is a great point to go, “Guys, guys, guys, can we take a step back here?” Everyone will turn their heads toward you, amazed at your ability to silence the fray. Follow it up with a quick, “What problem are we really trying to solve?” and, boom! You’ve bought yourself another hour of looking smart.

The book presents a sarcastic view of how to act during meetings, including 100 advises of how to look smarter, while not having a clue of what the discussion is about. The funny thing is that it resembles so much the modern world.

Some of the advises include:

1. Draw a Venn diagram. …

2. Translate percentage metrics into fractions. …

3. Encourage everyone to “take a step back” …

4. Nod continuously while pretending to take notes. …

5. Repeat the last thing the engineer said, but very very slowly. …

6. Ask “Will this scale?” …

7. Pace around the room. …

8. Ask the presenter to go back a slide.

The author, Sarah Cooper, is a comedian that worked for companies like Yahoo! and Google and has a blog called The Cooper Review.

When I started reading the book, I genuinely thought that it is some self-development book. Well, it is mostly a humorous take of corporate meetings, but, as the motto says, “It is funny because it’s true!”.

Tarkin – James Luceno

His strategy of flying boldly into the face of adversity was studied and taught, and during the Clone Wars would come to be known as “the Tarkin Rush”.

The book, happening in the Star Wars universe, presents an important episode in the life of Wilhuff Tarkin, the Imperial general. His unique and advanced stealth ship is stolen and used against the Empire by a cunning crew. He is tasked, together with Darth Vader, to catch the thieves by the Emperor himself. The entire story is told by using flashbacks and memories, neatly arranged.

James Lucerno is a veteran of Star Wars novels, specializing in stories of the antagonists. In this book, the reader can gave a glimpse in the life and of personality of the famous Imperial Moff, later Grand Moff, Wilhuff Tarkin.

Tarkin is meant to represent the military power: ruthless, efficient, domineering. But his personal background is rather surprising, and seems unfit with the personage.

The plot is compelling and the characters are well developed, but I would not go so far to say they were memorable. The Star Wars universe is beautifully constructed, giving depth and engaging the reader.

However, I have found the vocabulary used rather poor, despite some good tries of the author. The background of the protagonist does not seem fit with his career and personality. It often feels that his inner motivations are not explored in depth. The plot is engaging, well-thought and unpredictable, but more could be drawn from it.

Overall, a solid piece of work from Lucerno, an enjoying book for the fans of the genre.

 

Ninefox Gambit – Yoon Ha Lee

She didn’t need ordnance; she needed someone who could work around the problem. And that left her the single undead general in the Kel Arsenal, the madman who slept in the black cradle until the Nirai technicians could discover what had triggered his madness and how to cure him. Shuos Jedao, the Immolation Fox: genius, arch-traitor, and mass murderer.

The book is the first in the “The Machineries of Empire” trilogy, a military sci-fi saga set in a humanoid futuristic world.

The story of the first book revolves around Jedao, a genius strategist with a twisted story. The protagonist is undead, his conscience being kept alive by a black cradle, and he needs a human anchor to move. Jedao is a prisoner of the hexarchate, an all-dominating, tyrannical empire, which we find later our strategist wants to destroy.

Jedao’s anchor is a woman, Kel Cheris, an infantry company commander, with remarkable military skills.

Jedao, the undead genius strategist with a twisted story. His conscience is kept alive by a black cradle, and he needs a human anchor to move. A breathtaking military scifi saga, awarded by Nebula and Hugo awards.

The world-building is profound and brusque, the reader being immediately immersed into the new vocabulary and organisation of the world. The explanations come only later and they are sometimes subtle and sometimes straightforward.

The plot is rather simple, a difficult rebellion needs quelling and the infantry commander chooses as weapon the infamous undead strategist. They go together to fight the rebels. However the story progresses rather nicely, with a entertaining action, careful character construction and motivations, and unexpected turns.The strong point of the saga is the world-building: a humanoid world divided into six classes, with exotic weapons, needing constant balance and removal of heresies.

Yoon Ha Lee’s saga is similar to Warhammer 40,000 stories, but less grim and hopeless; and no new species, but castes.

The story won multiple sci-fi nominations, including to Nebula and Hugo awards. A good read for the fans of the genre.

The Three-Body Problem – Cixin Liu, (Translator Ken Liu)

No. Many of the best scientists can be fooled by pseudoscience and sometimes devote their lives to it. But pseudoscience is afraid of one particular type of people who are very hard to fool: stage magicians. In fact, many pseudoscience hoaxes were exposed by stage magicians.

This is an amazing hard scifi book by the Chinese author Cixin Liu, masterly translated by Ken Liu, discussing human nature and communications beyond the solar system.

An engaging and creative plot, accurate use of mathematics and astrophysics, great character development makes this volume one of the best scifi books in the last years. The book won the prestigious Hugo and Nebula scifi book awards.

The book is the first part of the the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy, which expands the theme of human resilience and entrepreneurship.

The plot is skillfully developed as a detective story around the experiences of Wang Miao, a nanotechnologist in current day China,  involving a computer game and an old research station. The book starts with the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the development of a secret research stations and we are gradually brought to present life and introduced to the scientist Mr Miao. Shi Qiang, the cunning detective who guides the protagonist, is a superbly created character, down to earth and creative.

Overall, an exceptional hard scifi book, with a well-built, engaging plot and memorable characters, deserving all the praise it got in the last years.