You’ve Heard Of The Imitation Game. Meet The Ultimatum Game. McCarthy-Jones does a phenomenal job in this text of analyzing what exactly spite – which he defines as a behavior that harms both oneself and the other – is, why it is seemingly necessary for human advancement, how it seems to have come to be, and even some of the biological bases of the behavior. In the process, he gives some startling and many times counter-intuitive insights on how exactly spite manifests, often using a tool developed in the 1970s called The Ultimatum Game as the basis of the science. Both a fascinating and disturbing book, this could potentially provide saavy operators yet more ways to control the masses in ways that most wouldn’t even realize they are being controlled – and yet by exposing these methods to the masses in question, gives us ever more effective tools to question the propaganda we are so incessantly bombarded with through so many modern communication channels. Very much recommended.
Poetic Narrative More Memoir Than Hard Science. This is a memoir of a man who was afraid of the sea as a small child and who had one chance encounter that turned his life around… and inspired his life long study of the sea. This book really is as much about the author’s own experiences and thoughts as it is the actual scientific facts he states throughout, which is seen perhaps most glaringly in the extremely short bibliography (at least on this advance copy I read). But truly poetic and beautiful regardless, one is almost inspired to pursue a career (or perhaps second career) in something that gets one out in, on, or under the water just from the sheer awe Francois shows here. All of this noted, I do have a bit of a bone to pick with the actual title: “eloquence” is “a discourse marked by force and persuasiveness”, according to Webster. And while I found quite a bit of beauty, wonder, and awe within this narrative, I found little truly forceful or persuasive. Francois doesn’t seem to be making any major point or trying to persuade anyone to any particular position other than the sheer wonder of all that exists under the seas. Truly an excellent work, even with the quibble over a part of the title. Very much recommended.
Astounding History Of An Oft-Forgotten Era. One point Swift makes in this text is clear even in my own experience – *even as someone who has been to the NASA Cape Canaveral Visitor Center many times*: The era of Apollo after 11 and in particular after 13 is often forgotten in the zeitgeist. People talk about Armstrong and Aldrin all the time. People even talk about Lovell and Mattingly in Apollo 13 a fair amount (helped somewhat by the excellent and mostly realistic Tom Hanks movie and the fact that to this day, NASA sells quite a bit of “Failure Is Not An Option” merchandise).
But after that particular era is when the “real” lunar science began. And for that, NASA needed another tool that got a fair amount of (slightly inaccurate) press back in the day, but whose story has never been quite so thoroughly documented as this particular effort by Swift. That tool was the lunar rover, aka the “moon buggy”, and here Swift does an extremely thorough job of documenting the first inklings of an idea that it may be possible through the early history of American rocketry (while not hiding one iota from its roots in Nazi experimentation) through the conceptualization and manufacturing of the actual rover and even into its impacts on modern rover design, such as the newest Mars rover, Perseverance.
The book does get in the weeds a bit with the technical designs and what exactly went into each, along with the various conceptual and manufacturing challenges of each. Similar to how Tom Clancy was also known to get so in the weeds about certain particulars from time to time, so Swift is in good company there.
But ultimately, this is an extremely well researched and documented book that does a simply amazing job of really putting you right there as all of these events unfold, all the way to feeling the very dirt and grit the final men to walk on the moon experienced when they had certain cosmetic failures on the buggy… millions of miles away from being able to really do anything about it. Truly an excellent work that anyone remotely interested in humanity’s efforts to reach outside of our own atmosphere should read. Very much recommended.
This week we’re looking at a book all about the history and development of an issue that was at the forefront of our minds one year ago during the Great Toilet Paper Outage of 2020. This week we’re looking at Pipe Dreams by Chelsea Wald.
Thought Provoking and Informative. I consider myself a well read guy, a guy that has thought through a lot of problems and who generally knows a lot about a lot. Admittedly, I did *not* know much about toilets and related plumbing, though I had read bits and pieces in other books. (Such as a more in-depth look at John Snow and his work during the 19th century London cholera outbreak in Dierdre Mask’s The Address Book.) But I had never read up on the general history of toilets – apparently because there are scant details about historical toileting beyond the last couple of hundred years or so – much less the bleeding edge issues and technologies of this field. And that is exactly what Wald provides here, a look at everything from the history to almost to-the-day bleeding edge issues, including the Great Toilet Paper Outage of 2020 during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. Very well written and mostly reasonably documented (about 15% or so is bibliography), this truly is a fascinating read. Very much recommended.
Remarkable Look at Remarkable Organ. In this text, a German heart surgeon looks to both the physical heart in your chest and the various idioms and metaphysical thoughts on the heart and attempts to arrive at some “holistic” understanding that somehow marries the two. In this, it is as much personal exploration and journey as it is science book, though to be clear there is in fact quite a bit of documented science here – the bibliography is roughly 31% of the book, which is a bit higher than the norm in this reader’s experience, and generally indicative of a particularly well documented effort. This reader has read much of the brain and neurology, but this is the first book specifically on the heart that he has considered, and it really was quite stunning. As to some of the more fantastical claims, among them that the heart has its own independently firing neurons and thus could be said to have some form of thought or cognition independently of the brain, and indeed that the human consciousness isn’t just a product of the brain, but of the whole body… again, look to the sources in the bibliography – though note that in many, if not all, of these passages the author is clear that science as it currently stands at minimum doesn’t fully understand these mechanisms at this time. Ultimately a truly thought provoking book, and very much recommended.
Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics. On the one hand, if this text is true, the words often attributed to Mark Twain have likely never been more true. If this text is true, you can effectively toss out any and all probaballistic claims you’ve ever heard. Which means virtually everything about any social science (psychology, sociology, etc). The vast bulk of climate science. Indeed, most anything that cannot be repeatedly accurately measured in verifiable ways is pretty much *gone*. On the other, the claims herein could be seen as constituting yet another battle in yet another Ivory Tower world with little real-world implications at all. Indeed, one section in particular – where the author imagines a super computer trained in the ways of the opposing camp and an unknowing statistics student – could be argued as being little more than a straight up straw man attack. And it is these very points – regarding the possibility of this being little more than an Ivory Tower battle and the seeming straw man – that form part of the reasoning for the star deduction. The other two points are these: 1) Lack of bibliography. As the text repeatedly and painfully makes the point of astounding claims requiring astounding proof, the fact that this bibliography is only about 10% of this (advance reader copy, so potentially fixable before publication) copy is quite remarkable. Particularly when considering that other science books this reader has read within the last few weeks have made far less astounding claims and yet had much lengthier bibliographies. 2) There isn’t a way around this one: This is one *dense* book. I fully cop to not being able to follow *all* of the math, but the explanations seem reasonable themselves. This is simply an extremely dense book that someone that hasn’t had at least Statistics 1 in college likely won’t be able to follow at all, even as it not only proposes new systems of statistics but also follows the historical development of statistics and statistical thinking. And it is based, largely, on a paper that came out roughly when this reader was indeed *in* said Statistics 1 class in college – 2003. As to the actual mathematical arguments presented here and their validity, this reader will simply note that he has but a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science – and thus at least *some* knowledge of the field, but isn’t anywhere near being able to confirm or refute someone possessing a PhD in some Statistics-adjacent field. But as someone who reads many books across many genres and disciplines, the overall points made in this one… well, go back to the beginning of the review. If true, they are indeed earth quaking if not shattering. But one could easily see them to just as likely be just another academic war. In the end, this is a book that is indeed recommended, though one may wish to assess their own mathematical and statistical knowledge before attempting to read this polemic.
If You Want To Talk About Climate, You Need To Read This Book First. Seriously, it is *that* important and *that* illuminating. Here, Koonin lays bare what the science actually says – and what “the science” that so many claim is “settled” want to make you think. Chapter 4 alone, where Koonin – who helped *create* some of the first computer based climate models and literally wrote a textbook on the subject – discusses climate models and how reliable – or not – they are is worth the price of the book.
Ultimately this is a book that no partisan will be happy with. Koonin eviscerates positions on both the left and the right of American politics with equal aplomb, sticking to the facts of the matter at hand as the science itself dictates them and refraining from veering into political recommendations. Thus, where the science genuinely is clear that humans are having some impact or another, Koonin points this out in precise detail – precise enough for the purposes of this text anyway, while citing the studies that show the more scientific level precision. Where the science is more muddled, Koonin points this out too – and explains where we know what we don’t know and even some of where we don’t know what we don’t know.
This book, per its very cover, sets out to uncover what we know, what we don’t know, and why the distinction matters – and it does exactly this truly remarkably well. Very much recommended.
Love Song To Geometry – And A Look At How It Is Truly Everywhere. This is a mathematician showing just how prevalent geometry is in our every day lives – and why modern math classes tend to ruin it for most people. As a mathematics oriented person myself (got one math-derived degree, very nearly got two others almost at the same time, former math teacher, current active software developer), this was fairly easy to follow – Ellenberg mentions some advanced concepts without actually *showing* many of them, though there *is* more actual equations in here than some might like in a “popsci” level book. Thanks to Ellenberg’s explanations of said equations and concepts, this *should* be an easy enough follow for most anyone. And he really does do a great job of showing how even advanced ideas really do come down to the most basic principles – just applied in particularly interesting ways. Indeed, the only real critique I have here is that when Ellenberg gets off the math specifically and into more political and social commentary – even when ostensbily using the math as a shield – it gets much closer to “Your Mileage May Vary” level. Overall, those moments weren’t quite pervasive enough nor did they stray far enough from the central premise to warrant dropping a star, and thus the book maintains the full five stars that all books start with for me. Very much recommended.
Intriguing New Science. For much of human history and even for much of the last few hundred years – when our scientific knowledge has seemingly gone into warp drive itself, sleep was said to be nothing more than the land of dreams, that humans could work at peak efficiency without much of it at all. Forgetfulness, even in many circles now, has been seen as a negative of various extremes, from embarrassing to debilitating.
But what if we’ve had it all wrong, and forgetting is actually one of our more *useful* adaptations? What if sleep actually plays a significant part of this process?
Here, neuroscientist Small examines what we’ve learned – in many cases, much of it over the last decade in particular – about just how imperative forgetfulness is to the very existence of the human body and human society more generally. From the social/ societal benefits all the way to the molecular, intra-cranial benefits, Small examines it all in a text that is clear enough to work in the “popular science” realm while still giving plenty of technical and precise details. Very much recommended.
Mostly Solid Work A Bit Misguided By Its Own Biases. This is one of the more comprehensive books I’ve found about the actual issues facing Autistics in the current world (circa 2020) – well, in the US anyway. Discussions of education, gender, housing, personhood, etc are mostly solid and mostly problem free, focusing on numerous interviews the author has conducted over several years combined with well documented (roughly 32% of the text of this Advance Reader Copy I read) research.
It even has two *extremely* good points:
1) “We don’t know what Autism in and of itself looks like. We only know how autism informed by trauma presents itself.” -Cal Montgomery
2) From the close of Chapter 9: “People who are not Autistic often assume they are acting benevolently by hand-holding those on the spectrum. But despite their best intentions, there is an element of condescension in thse actions because it assumes that non-Autistic people know what’s best. But it is Autistic people who live with the condition of Autism – for all of its positives and negatives – as well as the consequences of any collective action meant to help them. If there is going to be policy that has seismic impact on their lives, they deserve to have a say it in, no mater how they communicate. Furthermore, while many parent advocates, clinicians, and other “experts” may have good intentions, centering their voices continues to give them power that should lie with the Autistic community. To achieve any true sense of freedom, Autistic people need to take this power back.”
HOWEVER, the fact that the discussion routinely ignores and even outright dismisses the needs and challenges of white Autistics and/ or Autistics who *do* find meaningful employment in the science and/ or technology sectors means that the book fails to have truly the comprehensive discussion of the condition that it seems to seek to have. In ignoring these facets, it doesn’t truly “change the Autism conversation” in any truly helpful manner, as it blatantly ignores and dismisses a key component that can actually do quite a bit of good in trying to address all of the other issues the narrative does go in detail on. We Autistic technologists can create the very technologies Garcia sometimes points to as being needed, in part because we ourselves truly do live with these very same issues – and thus, we don’t actually need a neurotypical trying to approximate some solution, as we can create a solution that works for our own particular case and allow for it to be customized to fit other cases as well.
Ultimately this truly is a very strong look at the state of Autistic society today and the issues Autistics face in trying to fully integrate into larger neurotypical societies, it simply missed its potential to be so much more. Very much recommended.