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Posts about bonanza (old posts, page 3)

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions

Edwin A. Abbott

1884


A satire of Victorian society, this little book also manages to be a pretty good introduction to abstract higher geometry. Written from the perspective of an inhabitant of a two-dimensional universe, it features social descriptions, dream sequences into one dimension, a subsequent venture into three dimensions, and the narrator's final coming to terms with his society's inability to believe his insights.

The parallels with Gulliver's Travels are obvious, and Abbott is a better scientist and mathematician than Swift but a less subtle satirist. Having said that, he manages to land some blows: the upper class aversion to "feeling" is probably my favourite, but his treatment of the women of Flatland and the need for (and impact of) wholesale social lying also bring a smile.

3/5. Finished 12 June 2014.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth

Chris Hadfield

2013


Part memoir, part self-help book, this is an excellent overview of an astronaut's life and the mental attitudes that have made it possible. Chris Hadfield flew into space three times, and manages to share both the excitement and the boredom and attention to detail that allowed him to successfully become an astronaut and crown his career by commanding the International Space Station.

4/5. Finished 25 May 2014.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

What Has Nature Ever Done for Us?: How Money Really Does Grow on Trees

What Has Nature Ever Done for Us?: How Money Really Does Grow on Trees

Tony Juniper

2013


An excellent discussion of ecology and ecological services. Essentially the author is putting the case for measuring the value associated with various elements of nature and their interactions, as a way to make more compelling arguments for conservation and environmental protection. This is an approach I agree with very strongly: while the emotional arguments are of course very strong, backing them up with numbers and prices can only be helpful.

The author doesn't make the mistake of so many books of this kind, of painting a picture of ecological damage that's irredeemable in any realistic sense. One can argue whether or not this is actually the case, but it's certainly true that encouraging a state of learned helplessness amongst the citizens of the developed world isn't going to be helpful.

The book covers a huge range, and everyone will find a new perspective on some familiar aspect of nature, from the evolution of pollinators to the demise of the oyster beds off the New England coast and their possible effects on the behaviours of hurricanes.

In terms of economics, the author makes a couple of points, one familiar and one less so. The point of including the "externalities" of natural services into prices and company accounts is still strong despite its familiarity: the problem remains coming up with good pricing structures. The less familiar point, though, is that companies treat the services they receive from nature as dividends that are renewed rather than as capital being spent, although many ecosystems have now passed the point of un-managed self-recovery, and so their degradation should be costed in. Having long-term investors think like this would, it is argued, have a significant effect on company behaviour in encouraging them to behave more sustainably. While a lot of the degradation is coming from the other end of the economic spectrum -- subsistence farmers trying to make a living in competition with more efficient large-scale actors -- there's still a lot to be said for this approach.

4/5. Finished 17 March 2014.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols & Other Typographical Marks

Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols & Other Typographical Marks

Keith Houston

2013


An interesting romp through the lesser-known areas of typography, literature, and language. The author manages to touch on an impressive breadth of content in a book ostensibly about punctuation, perhaps illustrating how language really does affect more of human activity than we might think.

I especially enjoyed the digressions into the emergence of pounds, shillings, and pence (as well as the pound sign). Many characters are treated in enormous detail: the history of the ampersand, for example, which walks the reader through a couple of millennia of language evolution. The hash sign and the interrobang also get star treatment, while the humble dash turns out to have more complexity than even this dedicated LaTeX user was expecting.

4/5. Finished 26 January 2014.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction

The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction

Nate Silver

2012


An essential book for anyone concerned with "big data" or any aspect of science of forecasting. Silver casts an experienced (and somewhat jaundiced) eye over a range of commonly-encountered forecasts, including politics (his own main area), poker, finance, and climate change. In each area he manages both to convince that forecasts can be made to good effect -- and to demolish many of the current practices one finds in these areas. On the way he discusses Bayesian statistics, the psychology of a good forecaster (be a "fox," not a "hedgehog"), how to spot bias, and gives some critical advice that would be of useful to anyone looking to apply such techniques. Should be required reading for all science PhD students.

5/5. Finished 02 December 2013.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)