Review: Rebel by Marie Lu

I very much enjoyed Marie Lu’s Legend trilogy when I read it six years ago, mainly on the strength of the two excellent main characters, June and Day.  I am not a huge fan of dystopian novels, but this series stood out to me in the sea of YA dystopias.

42121526So I was very pleasantly surprised to see a new installment in the series, Rebel, which takes places 10 years later following Day (now going by Daniel) and his brother Eden’s adventures in their new home of Antarctica.  But this one turned out to be a mixed bag for me, and I’m not sure I would recommend it unless you are already a fan of Legend.

Eden and his friend Pressa are at the heart of the story; they are the new generation of the post-war era, and in many ways like a new version of June and Day.  Eden is part of the “establishment” (the upper levels of Antarctica) as June was, and Pressa comes from the Undercity similar to how Day came from the streets.  However, I never found them as compelling as June and Day.  If Pressa had some chapters from her perspective, I think she would have felt like a more fully-realized character.

I also missed June’s perspective, though I enjoyed the chapters from Daniel.  It is a very satisfying story for June/Day shippers like myself.  The development of the relationship between the brothers Daniel and Eden was also really nicely done, and that bond was something that I never realized was missing from a lot of the books I read.  Plus, I also liked the villain, Dominic Hann, who really ends up being more of a grey character.

Antarctica is a very interesting place, governed by a system that works like a video game.  Doing “good” things gets you points that allow you to level up, getting more privileges in society, while doing “bad” things decreases your level.  However, I wish the story would have shown more of the flaws in the system rather than telling.  The scene with Eden’s classmates works towards this a bit, but we don’t really get to see from the undercity perspective at all.  What is it that is really keeping the undercity people from moving up in this supposedly merit-based system?  For example, we don’t find out until ¾ of the way through the book that it’s illegal for groups of citizens to protest in public, after the people are already doing this.

I was pretty harsh on Champion for its biological mumbo jumbo regarding plague cures, and I’m sorry to say Rebel has a bit of a similar problem: for a sci-fi book, it’s not very interested in accurately describing the engineering behind Antarctica’s level system.  When discussing how to reset the Ross City’s level system using Hann’s machine, Eden says:

“It’s the machine that’s complicated to put together. Not the signal. Once you understand how it works, you can run another signal through easily.  I watched them test one, and it took a matter of minutes.”

Huh? I supposed I should ask my husband for accuracy, but this does not sound like something a computer programmer would say, even to a non-programmer.  Is he saying that it is the hardware that is complicated, not the software?  That seems…unlikely.  Sure, it may not take long to upload the code to the computer, but how long did it take to write the code??  The Antarctic level system is a complex system with a lot of rules, all of which would have to be programmed in, including the changes that Eden wants to make.  Eden does it in no time at all, which I can tell you is not realistic, even for someone as talented as Eden. 

Overall, I enjoyed reading Rebel, but I did struggle a bit to finish it because it dragged in places.  I think it would have been better served as a novella.

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge#99: Old and New

Rome is the most fascinating mix of old and new I have ever seen: thousands of years of history all on top of each other.  It is a thriving modern metropolis, yet everywhere there are reminders of the past.  Buildings that would be “old” here in the States are practically “new” there! Here is one of my favorite shots from our bus tour of the city (I previously used it for challenge #58).  I love the mix of the motor bikes and the historic architecture.

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Another great image I have used before: the famine memorial in Dublin, Ireland, across the River Liffey from the new office buildings that make up the financial and tech hub of the country (including Facebook and Riot Games).  A way of remembering the past while looking forward to the future.

You can find more old and new at the original Lens-Artist challenge.

 

 

Engineering a squirrel obstacle course: Practical deterrent, entertainment, or science?

Like many of us bored during the COVID stay-at-home period, YouTuber Mark Rober turned to a new hobby: backyard birding.  But Mark is a former NASA engineer (you may know him from his glitter bomb bait package video), so when he saw squirrels getting into his bird feeder, this new hobby spun out into an experiment in squirrel-proof bird feeders, which then (naturally) eventually involved into building a Ninja Warrior-style squirrel obstacle course in his yard.

Rober’s squirrel obstacle course

His YouTube video on the subject is highly entertaining, but what impressed me most as a scientist was…the science!  Did you know there was going to be science?  You might have missed it because it was so interesting.

His observations of the course begin by identifying his subjects: 4 particular squirrels were included in this study.  My favorite: Phat Gus aka Phantastic Gus, who turns out to be a pregnant female.  Speaking as another currently-pregnant female, Phat Gus is quite frankly an inspiration to me.

Phat Gus is my spirit animal

The study here really consists of two types of animal behavior science.  The most interesting to me is the part involving ethology, the study of animals’ behavior typically in their natural environment with limited interference.  This type of research was my primary focus during my undergrad; my career goal was to study animal behavior in zoos (spoiler alert: this is not my current field of biology at all).

For example, I would observe the manatees at the Columbus zoo, creating an ethogram of their behaviors (eating, sleeping, social interaction, swimming, surfacing to breathe) to see how much of their time was spent doing each activity, and what part of the exhibit they were doing them in.  This led me to be fascinated by the physiology of how manatees use their tails, flippers, and bodies to rise to the surface to breathe, even while sleeping.

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Rober is similarly fascinated by the physics of how squirrels are able to land so cleanly even after being launched or dropped from his platforms: lowering their terminal velocity, turning in midair and pulling in/stretching their limbs, spotting their landings, and using their tails to adjust their trajectory.  He nicely ties this back to the evolutionary ecology of squirrels, considering it an adaptation to life in trees.

Spotting his landing

Also under the ethology category would be his initial pilot study of which type of seeds or nuts the squirrels prefer: walnuts, which he then used as his obstacle course final reward.

But why’re the walnuts gone?

The obstacle course itself is a great example of behaviorism, measuring behavioral responses to stimuli (typically in a laboratory environment).  This is the kind of research people typically think of with rats in mazes or Pavlov making dogs salivate to a bell.

The course includes rope and slinky bridges, a maze, spinning obstacles, a dropping platform, a photo op, angled steps, and a (gentle) catapult.

It only took the squirrels about a week to get to the end of the obstacle course, and they were eventually able to do it all in less than 40 seconds.

Rober also highlighted another important aspect of animal research: the safety of the subjects.  I appreciated his repeated comments on how he made the course humane so the squirrels would not actually be harmed.

Gotta keep these guys safe.

This video highlights so much of why I love animal behavior research.  Animals are endlessly fascinating to me, and I find interacting with them, even just by observing in a research setting, to be a rewarding educational experience.

Rober never did find a bird feeder that completely stopped the squirrels.  But in the end, he didn’t really care.

You keep doing you, Phat Gus.

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge#98 – Delicate Colours

Nature provides many delicate colors in her palette, but today I’m featuring some man-made examples from my travels.

The Torre Glòries in Barcelona has such an interestingly subtle color scheme in the day time.  (Very different from its bold nighttime look, lit up with LEDs)

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I suspect these frescoes in Pompeii originally quite vivid, but time and volcanic ash have made them appear much more delicate.

You can find more delicate colors at the original Lens-Artist challenge.

 

 

She’s got it where it counts, kid

Online grocery shopping is generally supposed to reduce impulse buying, right?  We’ve been doing weekly grocery pickup for nearly two years…so, how do you explain these??

They are in my kitchen now.

I am a sucker for Star Wars-themed foods.  I’ve bought SW soup, SW mac and cheese, SW Jell-O…I guess in retrospect it’s not such a surprise that I bought the SW ice cream sandwiches.

I love that they are labeled as “great for birthdays,” as if this would be useful marketing when you are already in the store holding the box.  Then again, it would be totally awesome to have a birthday party with Millennium Falcon ice cream sandwiches.

I also love that they are labeled “light” ice cream, which just seems to mean that the first ingredient is skim milk rather than full-fat milk or cream.

But the real questions…how are they??

I think they did a pretty good job on the design!  They even got the sensor dish and the cockpit!

Millennium Falcon | Wookieepedia | Fandom
A reference image from the new trilogy for comparison

And I thought they were pretty tasty, too.  I’m not sure why they went with vanilla sandwiches, especially when the Falcon is greyish, but I thought it was good.  But then, I’m one of those people that likes vanilla Frostys, which according to my husband are not even real Frostys.

What crazy things have you guys been buying online while you are stuck at home?