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TIL: Stroke order of Chinese surnames

TIL: Stroke order of Chinese surnames

Sometimes we publish papers with authors in alphabetical order; sometimes we use an order based on contribution, typically the main author (often the most junior) first followed by the lesser contributors and culminating in the most senior author, who might not have made many concrete contributions to the writing. Personally I'm a firm believer in the second style.

But I always wondered: how does one list authors in alphabetical order for languages like Chinese that are non-alphabetic? I had the opportunity to ask a couple of Chinese colleagues.

While Chinese doesn't have an alphabetical order, it can use a stroke order: some surnames require more strokes than others, often significantly more (four versus eleven, in the case of the two colleagues who explained this to me). So one can list authors in order of the increasing numbers of strokes needed to write their surnames. That's really clever, and no more or less arbitrary in terms of author appearance than the alphabetic approach.

The Chessboard and the Web: Strategies of Connection in a Networked World

The Chessboard and the Web: Strategies of Connection in a Networked World

Anne-Marie Slaughter


A book on grand strategy and its application to less-grand challenges in a world dominated by networks.

The central thesis of this book is that the world of hierarchies and direct state-to-state diplomacy – the chessboard – is giving way to a much more nuanced world in which state and non-state actors interact and co-operate in far ore complex ways – the web. The network effects change everything, from the nature of power and how it's used to the nature of leadership and how one can actually get things done.

It's interesting to see the concepts of network science being applied to social and political science in a way that doesn't trivialise them. The applications range from analysis of interaction patterns to trying to engineer particular interactions such as improving information sharing.

There's an obvious comparison to The Seventh Sense: Power, Fortune, and Survival in the Age of Networks, with which Slaughter contrasts her work, she being a "Wilsonian" humanist versus Joshua Ramo's "Kissingerian" realist. Slaughter's view is that there is a need for more understanding of how small-scale interactions can happen – contrasting with Ramo's desire for aggressive "gatekeeping" of a US-led networked order. I can't help thinking that her view is more realistic and democratic.

4/5. Finished 27 October 2022.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

Atoms and Ashes: A Global History of Nuclear Disasters

Atoms and Ashes: A Global History of Nuclear Disasters

Serhii Plokhy

2022


A history of nuclear energy in six disasters: five civilian and one military.

Competition seems to lie at the heart of all the problems: a lack of willingness to share details of accidents and near-accidents, and an unwillingness to learn if this requires changes in procedure. Collaboration seems lacking even within organisations and with regulators, while governments treat these matters as merely part of larger strategic concerns (even when they threaten to overwhelm them). It's also clear that the commercial operation of nuclear power is impossible without state subsidy, and acquiring this opens-up possibilities from regulatory capture – weakening requirements to make them attainable within a fixed cost – to outright bribery.

The science and engineering also seem lacking. The Castle Bravo (and other) nuclear tests massively under-estimate the weapons' yields, and this seems to be more the case the larger the bomb (culminating in the apocalyptic Tsar Bomba, which isn't covered in this book as it somewhat miraculously wasn't actually an accident). But all the systems described make use of technology little changed since the 1930s: imagine if we were still driving cars from that era!

I find Plokhy's conclusions nuanced but weak. He decides that nuclear and renewable energy sources are both risky approaches to tackling climate change, but with completely different risk profiles: the former perhaps being too slow to start up and with huge accident risks; the latter relying on technologies as yet untested at the necessary scale. But in coming to his conclusion backing renewables and the phasing-out of nuclear stations (with which I entirely agree) he devotes exactly two sentences to the problem of nuclear waste and spent fuel, which should surely be one of the major deciding factors. It's a strange omission at the end of a book that revolves around radiation hazards.

3/5. Finished 21 October 2022.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)