mark cerqueira well-rounded nerd

Remembrance of Earth's Past

On February 2nd - my birthday - my friend John ignored my wishlist of books and instead gifted me the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy by the acclaimed Chinese science-fiction author Cixin Liu.

On February 7th, I started reading the first entry in the trilogy: The Three Body-Problem.

On February 9th, I dove into the second entry: The Dark Forest.

On February 14th, I started leading the conclusion to the trilogy: Death’s End.

On February 18th, I was done reading the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy.

This reading velocity is definitely on the more extreme end for me but when you stumble upon really good literature you can’t help but be pulled in and obsessively spend time reading. This series is a fantastic read from start to finish and I can easily recommend it. Liu is an expert universe builder (world building doesn’t capture the magnitude correctly) that keeps readers hooked and keeps pages turning.

The last time I remember being this enthralled with a series was back in 2017 with N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy.

For ignoring my wishlist, many, many, many thanks John!

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World

When speaking to a Twitch colleague a few weeks ago he shared his Goodreads account so I dug my account up and started logging my reading activity there. I stumbled upon the Goodreads Choice Awards and leveraged those for guidance on what book I should read next.

Further diversifying my reading roadmap in 2019, I decided to expand the pool of books beyond leadership and fiction. Dinosaurs are super cool and I haven’t read a non-fiction book in a while so The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World, which won Goodreads Choice Awards of 2018 in the Science and Technology category, was an easy pick.

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs walks us through the time before dinosaurs, the rise of dinosaurs to dominance, and the eventual downfall of the dinosaur empire. Spoiler alert: the Earth goes through very cruel phases where it becomes a very, very, very inhospitable place to live. These periods are like hitting the reset button: clearing out old-timers and providing space for new species to emerge and dominate.

A new species of dinosaur is currently being found, on average, once a week. Let that sink in: a new dinosaur every… single… week.

Steve Brusatte, a young but already very accomplished paleontologist and evolutionary biologist, walks us through the dinosaur journey. He provides both insight into the tools used presently, and in the past, to piece together the story of dinosaurs. Brusatte is passionate and it comes through repeatedly and clearly even in his writing. He loves dinosaurs and wants to infect everyone with dinosaur passion! He goes over some amazing factoids like how fast a T-Rex had to grow during its teenage years, how much destruction occurred in between the geological eras, and how dinosaurs are still with us today. If you’re into dinosaurs and want some real deal information, you can’t go wrong with this book.

During its teenage years, from about ages ten to twenty, Rex put on about 1,700 pounds (760 kilograms) per year. That’s close to 5 pounds per day!

That said, I feel this book could have been enhanced with more photos. There are many concepts covered in the book that could’ve been aided greatly with visual aids: how Pangaea split apart over each era covered, cladistic analysis, the basin geographical feature, and the size of T-rex to its ancestors to name a few. Brusatte went into so much detail to describe what could’ve been better described by a helpful visual aid. Even color would be cool to see in the book. While Power Rangers has taught us the T-Rex is red, the triceratops is blue, and so on, Brusatte covers how we can actually determine the color dinosaurs by analyzing melanosomes in fossils! It’d be awesome to see these facts come through explicitly in images.

The dinosaur empire may be over, but the dinosaurs remain.

If you’re into dinosaurs you’ll love The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs. But for someone who doesn’t know all the dinosaurs, all the dinosaur sizes, all the geological terms, I hope to see an enhanced edition of this book that makes it easier to put all the amazingness of dinosaurs into a more digestible and understandable visual format. Color would be nice too! 😀

The Sympathizer

At the New Years party for the SF Kendo Dojo I was talking to my senpai Koji about the reading I had done over the holidays. I recommended he check out the one leisure book I read: A Tale for the Time Being. Like a good senpai, Koji had a recommendation for me. He told me to check out The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. I always trust my senpai, but I did some quick research before buying the book and found very compelling evidence that this novel was indeed worthy of reading given it won a slew of awards including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2016.

The Sympathizer begins at the close of the Vietnam War. The protagonist is a captain in the US-backed South Vietnam army that has just been routed by the communists of North Vietnam. More importantly, he’s also a double agent and actually allied with the communists who just won the war. As the South Vietnamese flee to the US, our protagonist is tasked with keeping tabs on all the refugees and reporting back to the communists.

Some might say I seeing things, but the true optical illusion was in seeing others and oneself as undivided and whole, as if being in focus was more real than being out of focus. We thought our reflection in the mirror was who we truly were, when how we saw ourselves and how others saw us was often not the same. Likewise, we often deceived ourselves when we thought we saw ourselves most clearly. And how did I know that I was not deluding myself as I heard my friend speak? I do not.

The Sympathizer is a lot of things. It’s a story about the refugee experience of the Vietnamese in America following the fall of Saigon. Sometimes it’s oozing with James Bond vibes. Then it takes a turn and explores the power of Hollywood to both distort and exploit. Other times it reads like a soft-core erotic novel where the protagonist expounds on the power of cleavage. These more lighthearted passages juxtaposed with passages on the various incredibly cruel torture methods leveraged by both sides in the conflict exposes readers to a gamut of emotions.

I pitied the French for their naïveté in believing they had to visit a country in order to exploit it. Hollywood was much more efficient, imagining the countries it wanted to exploit.

Throughout this all, we see a protagonist torn by a world that seeks to neatly label everyone in extremes: us versus them, Democracy versus Communism, American versus not American, Vietnamese versus not-quite-Vietnamese. In this world there is no comfortable place for someone like the protagonist, a sympathizer, who is able to see things from all sides.

I might have been just half an Asian, but in American it was all or nothing when it came to race. You were either white or you weren’t.

Above all, the Sympathizer is also one more thing: a book you should definitely consider reading! Also, if you’re in the Bay Area and interested in hearing Viet Nguyen speak, he’ll be visiting SF State on February 19th!

Redirecting to HTTPS Enforced GitHub Pages via Cloudflare

The recent migration to Cloudflare Registrar has been relatively pain-free except for one thing: getting domains to redirect to my GitHub Pages blog with a custom domain and HTTPS enforced. I’ve previously wrote about how to set this up so if you still don’t have a custom domain set up you’ll want to pick one of your fancy domains to be the primary and then follow along here for the rest. In this post we’ll show how to redirect to my primary domain name

First, a quick review on how you do redirects in Cloudflare because this was also non-trivial for my DNS-impaired skillset. Cloudflare has a Page Rules section which allows defining (only up to 3 if you’re not a paying customer) custom rules which include a handy Forwarding URL command.

The trick here though is that Page Rules do not apply unless traffic is passing through Cloudflare. What this means is you’ll need an A record in the DNS section that gets traffic to pass through Cloudflare. You can pick a dummy IP address like for the value of this record but the most important thing is to ensure the Cloudflare icon is turned on; this means traffic will route through Cloudflare. You’ll never hit because the Page Rule with do a redirect first. Since we’re on the DNS page we also add a CNAME for www so people-inclined-to-type-www will still get routed to the proper place.

Voilà! This should work but this redirect gave me security errors (e.g. Your connection is not secure) for a while. After a visit to the Crypto page and some (increasingly rare) reading of documentation on what things do I realized my issue was that SSL was set to Flexible which forbids HTTPS support at the origin. My assumption that Flexible SSL would better serve this scenario compared to Full or Full (Strict) was my great undoing. Setting the SSL setting to Full (Strict) cleared up the security errors I was seeing.

For good measure here are all the Crypto settings I have configured for my redirecting domain that currently work without issue:

  • SSL - Full (Strict)
  • Always Use HTTPS - On
  • Authenticated Origin Pulls - On
  • Minimum TLS Version - TLS 1.0
  • Opportunistic Encryption - On
  • Onion Routing - On
  • Automatic HTTPS Rewrites - On

Hope that helps! If I got something wrong please send me a tweet or slide in my DMs. Cheers and thanks for reading!

Migrating to Cloudflare Registrar

While Cloudflare is better known for distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) mitigation and content delivery network (CDN) services, I have long relied on them to help mitigate my profound ineptitude about DNS. Given Cloudflare’s DNS changes propagate faster than your run-of-the-mill registrar it’s been an invaluable ally in my trial-and-error approach to getting my DNS settings correctly. If your nameservers aren’t pointed at and you’re definitely doing DNS wrong.

In December when Cloudflare announced they were getting into the domain registrar business at wholesale prices I hit that Early Access button fast. Today, the day has finally arrived!

I currently use Dreamhost as my domain registrar. Dreamhost currently charges $11.99 to register a .com domain and $13.95 each year thereafter. For .com domains, Cloudflare charges $8.03 ($7.85 wholesale price + $0.18 ICANN fee) a year. While $6 in savings per year per domain won’t save or break the bank it’s nice to know my domains will be with a registrar that will never charge “anything more than the wholesale price each TLD charges”.

I also rely on Dreamhost for web hosting services but with GitHub Pages and Heroku the only service I now use is their email forwarding service. With services like Mailgun that provide easy (and free) routing of incoming emails, paying for web hosting services at this point also is very unnecessary.

I’ve been a happy Cloudflare customer for a while now and while they technically won’t be making any money off me providing domains at wholesale cost I’m happy to bring my domains closer to their nameservers.