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Book reviews for 2006, part 2

December 28, 2006 9:17 am Published by 1 Comment

3.5/5 stars The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki (22 July 2006 – 7 August 2006)
This book, along with Freakonomics and Blink, are the three books that took the blogging world by storm in 2005. The latter and the former are clearly applicable in social-network and website design. Somehow, I missed this one last year.

4.0/5 stars The Minority Report and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick (10 August 2006 – 23 August 2006)
I’d never actually read a single Philip K. Dick story. I came across this while I was wandering through the library, so I grabbed it. Reading Science Fiction from the 1960’s is unlike reading anything else. The state of instability in real-life scientific progress during the Cold War makes everything seem so out-of-place. Dick’s drug use, schizophrenia, and escalating psychosis definitely show through, but it never affected his ability to write a great story.

4.0/5 stars Sundiver by David Brin (29 August 2006 – 11 September 2006)
Science Fiction, at it’s best, is not about science. It’s about society. I had read something about David Brin’s “Uplift Saga” at some point, and it sounded interesting. The social dynamics in a universe where entire species are voluntarily subservient to others for millennia are fascinating and complicated. This is a great detective story. (I started to read the second book, Startide Rising, but my heart wasn’t in the story.)

4.0/5 stars Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs by Ken Jennings (14 October 2006 – 21 October 2006)
I follow Ken’s blog and subscribe to his weekly trivia mailing list. I knew he was funny, intelligent, and a great writer, so reading this book was a no-brainer. It alternates between a memoir of his Jeopardy rise-to-fame and an investigation into the history and spread of the trivia phenomenon. He even goes to a Boston-area trivia night!

2.5/5 stars Einstein: A Life in Science by Michael White and John Gribbin (24 October 2006 – 27 October 2006)
I finished Brainiac on the plane on the way to Spain, so I had to keep an eye out for English-language bookstores. When I finally found one, it was in Gibraltar. Einstein’s an interesting figure. It’s somewhat jarring to realize how young he was when he made his primary contributions (he was only 26 in his “Annus Mirabilis”) and how quickly physics ran, yes, beyond his comprehension.

5.0/5 stars The Omnivore’s Dilemma : A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan (15 November 2006 – 12 December 2006)
This is the second of the two books I would pick to recommend strongly. The Omnivore’s Dilemma is an in-depth look at how the food we buy at the grocery store gets there, and the role that historical happenstance has played in the development of the current American’s diet. Supermarket “Organic” isn’t as different from non-organic as you think.

Book reviews for 2006, part 1

December 21, 2006 3:58 pm Published by 1 Comment

Like last year, I kept track of what I read this year. And like last year, I’m going to tell you what I thought, whether you’re interested or not. Here’s the first half of the year. The second half will come later.

2.5/5 stars The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout (30 Nov 2005 – 18 Dec 2005)
To be perfectly honest, I no longer recall any of the details of this book. I apparently enjoyed it enough to finish it, but not enough to give it any more than an average score. I vaguely remember that it was an interesting read, but was about 100 pages longer than necessary. Note to self: Write book reviews in vivo next year.

3.0/5 stars Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis by Jimmy Carter (22 Dec 2005 – 21 Jan 2006)
This book was one of the most enlightening I’ve read in a long time. Although I was alive for a little more than a year of his administration, I have no recollection of it. In fact, in the political atmosphere I’ve been aware of (essentially the past five years), the idea of a deeply religious southerner who is intensely liberal and libertarian has seemed like a fairy tale.

4.5/5 stars V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd (5 Jan 2006 – 9 Jan 2006)
My sister-in-law, Shaun, gave me the comic book just a few months before the movie came out. And I’m glad she did, because the book’s plot is deeper and its philosophy is far more Anarchist. I might be willing to go so far to say that it’s a totally different message with a fairly similar story.

4.0/5 stars 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann (28 Jan 2006 – 4 Mar 2006)
If I had to suggest one book to read based on my list from this year, I wouldn’t be able to. But if I was allowed to suggest two, this would be one of them. It’s somewhat amazing to hear that there were likely more people in the Americas than there were in Europe, Asia, and Africa in the 15th century. Corn was mankind’s first GMO. Oh, and learn the dirty politics behind Squanto aiding the pilgrims.

2.0/5 stars Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences by John Allen Paulos (12 Jan 2006 – 28 Jan 2006)
This is another book I can’t remember. I was waiting for an interlibrary loan, and had to kill some time.

4.0/5 stars Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About by Mil Millington (10 Mar 2006 – 28 Mar 2006)
As I said in January, Mil Millington’s humor is canonical English. Dry and sarcastic, but also silly and exagerrated. This book gets wilder as the main character’s life spins beyond his control, but I smiled through every single page. Absolutely strongly recommended.

4.5/5 stars G̦del Escher Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter (3 Apr 2006 Р22 July 2006, holy cow)
This book took me forever. To be perfectly honest, I skipped a couple chapters in the middle and at the very end. His discussions about mathematical language systems and especially Gödel’s incompleteness theorem are invaluable. They reminded me a lot about one big part of school I miss: true theory.

I Don’t Get It

December 18, 2006 8:55 am Published by 3 Comments

Would I be embarrassing myself if I admitted I didn’t get the notorious xkcd make me a sandwich comic? (Now being made into a t-shirt, due to its popularity.) As I read it, there are a number of possible explanations for the punchline, but the ambiguity is (I think) what’s contributing to my lack-of-getting-it.

  1. The seated character (lets call her Alice) uses sudo to make the request as root. Bob follows the request, since, well, you always listen to root. So does this mean that Bob is an executable? In that case, his first response of “make it yourself” seems out of place; something simpler, like “no” would have been more accurate. I think that this is the most likely explanation, but the first line is what throws me off.
  2. The comic leaves off a “-u bob” argument from Alice’s sudo command. In this case, at the end, Bob thinks he’s making a sandwich for himself. Alice plans some sort of future sandwich-stealing action. Maybe she hopes chown will be as effective.
  3. Alice is telling Bob to use the sudo command to make her a sandwich. (In this case, “sudo” is an adverb that modifies “make”. Replace it with the word “quickly”, and you’ll get what I mean.) Bob realizes that with different permissions, he’ll be able to make any number of sandwiches and escape responsibility for purchasing more jelly. Bob’s wily, and Alice’s laziness backfires.

Like I said, it’s probably #1, but Bob’s first response is poorly composed. Part of the allure of xkcd is the off-the-cuff style, evident in the stick figures, but in this case, I think spending a few more minutes considering the dialogue would have been worth it.

Wii reviews

November 20, 2006 7:42 am Published by 5 Comments

I know that Brian got a Wii after camping out overnight. I know that Chris and Nomad were planning on showing up at their local Target at midnight. A co-worker of mine says he’s sore today from playing Wii Sports (bowling and tennis) with his wife for 4 hours yesterday. (He’s going to bring it into work tomorrow, and we’re hooking it up to the projector.) I’m interested in your reviews.

Vive la difference

November 9, 2006 1:10 pm Published by 4 Comments

Anyone with more than a passing familiarity with baseball knows that there’s at least one important rule difference between the American League and the National League: in the AL, the pitcher never bats, and is instead represented by the Designated Hitter, a player who never takes the field. Interestingly, the rule that governs this is 6.10, which begins by stating “Any League may elect to use the Designated Hitter Rule.” Apparently the NL has simply elected not to use it. More interestingly, there are a few minor official rules that specifically apply to only NL or AL teams:

  • 1.16(b) – All NL players have to wear a double ear-flap helmet while at bat. According to 1.16(c), almost all other players are simply required to wear one with at least one ear flap. (Aside: Rule 1.16(c) actually grandfathers in players who chose in 1982 to not wear a helmet with ear flaps. Tim Raines was the last player to wear a helmet without ear flaps. He retired after the 2002 season. Julio Franco is the only still-active player who would qualify under this rule. Unfortunately, he chose to wear one-flap helmets, even before they were required.)
  • 4.10(a) – The National League can adopt a rule changing one or both double-header games to be seven innings long. The AL does not have that right. As far as I know, such a rule has never been adopted.
  • 4.12(a)(7), 4.12(a)(8), and 4.12(a)(9) – The NL can adopt a rule making games that have been stopped before regulation (for instance, because of rain) a “suspended game” instead of “no game”.
  • 6.02(d) – The NL had to follow this experimental rule in 2006, essentially saying that the batter could not leave the batter’s box unless either team was making a substitution or calling a conference. I have no idea if they’re planning to make it permanent.
  • 10.23(b) – In the AL, the league pitching champion must have pitched at least as many innings as the number of games each team played that season (162 this year). In the NL, the champion only needed to have pitched 80% that many innings (129.6). As far as I can tell, this rule rarely, if ever, actually matters. The top pitchers in both leagues usually pitch at least 190 innings a year.