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The reading list
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brianhook
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Joined: 12 Dec 2003
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Location: seattle, wa

PostPosted: Sun Mar 21, 2004 6:02 pm    Post subject: The reading list Reply with quote

I feel bad that I haven't been reviewing the books I've been reading, so I figure I'll keep a "sticky" thread with my current reading list in case it sparks discussion.

My most recently finished books have been Big Planet, Blue World and To Live Forever, all by Jack Vance.

Current reading:

  • Guns, Germs and Steel by Diamond
  • Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Cialdini
  • Maske: Thaery by Vance


Ordered GEB to see what the fuss is about.
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redchurch



Joined: 01 Apr 2004
Posts: 19

PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 5:24 pm    Post subject: Brain food... Reply with quote

Reading both Influence (love it) and Guns, Germs, & Steel.

GGS is really fascinating in some parts, and dreadfully boring in others. Can't help my lack of interest in some things like animal domestication. Also, many aspects of it (at least for me) fall under Useless Trivia category, filed under Wasted Brain Space. Wink

Have you read A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson? Tis really good if you like the sort of historical unraveling of GGS. Author has a very enjoyable writing style, which may partially have to do with my boredom in some chapters of GGS. Bryson doesn't make you work very hard to find large collections of facts interesting. He makes them interesting whether one would ordinarily think so or not. Wink

Influence is great. Probably going to incorporate some of it into my writing in the near future. It has a lot of correlation to some of the Ries & Trout books (positioning), and another pet topic I enjoy--memes. Wish there were more books like Influence...

Anyway, nuff rambling.
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brianhook
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 6:41 pm    Post subject: Re: Brain food... Reply with quote

redchurch wrote:
GGS is really fascinating in some parts, and dreadfully boring in others. Can't help my lack of interest in some things like animal domestication. Also, many aspects of it (at least for me) fall under Useless Trivia category, filed under Wasted Brain Space. Wink


So far I have yet to be bored at all, primarily because everything contributes pieces to the final puzzle. The thing about animal domestication answered a lot of questions that I'd never even thought about (why aren't some animals domestiable?). It also put a bright light on "obvious" things such as the relationship between domesticable animals and food production, and how societies without large domesticated animals suffered as a result.

The fact that writing was developed almost completely as a by-product of food production and storage -- I guess that's useless trivia for some, but for me, it's pretty interesting stuff that affects how I look at game development and even fiction.

Quote:
Have you read A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson?


Nope, never heard of it, but I'll check it out. Right now my non-fiction queue consists of two books on Game Theory and then Godel, Escher, Bach.

Quote:
Author has a very enjoyable writing style, which may partially have to do with my boredom in some chapters of GGS.


Strange, because I found Diamond's approach very, well, approachable and easy to read. After dealing with text books enough, a more "straight talking" presentation of important historical information is nice to have around.
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redchurch



Joined: 01 Apr 2004
Posts: 19

PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 7:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
Strange, because I found Diamond's approach very, well, approachable and easy to read. After dealing with text books enough, a more "straight talking" presentation of important historical information is nice to have around.


Part of this has to do with me and having lots and lots of interesting books piling up.

The other factor is, after having read Short History of Nearly everything, I've come to appreciate how much Bryson works humor and style into the telling of history. By comparison, Diamond's writing style seems a little dry in places. Not textbook dry... just... not entirely entertaining.

Plus Influence captured my attention very quickly, and now I'm distracted. Damn it! Smile

I will get back to GGS very soon, as I'm curious about what Diamond is building up to later in the book.
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brianhook
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 7:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well, the Bryson book sounds intriguing -- I actually prefer authors that don't try to be funny, because a lot of time it doesn't work and I just cringe. I prefer a conversational tone.

Back to my reading queue -- now that I've finished Maske: Thaery, next up in the fiction queue is Broken Angel by Richard Morgan. Taking a breather from Vance since I have three trilogies of his lined up (Durdane, Cadwal, and Lyonesse) along with a couple solo books (Showboat World, Languages of Pao, Many Worlds of Magnus Ridolph), so I need to 'cleanse the palate' as it were.

BTW, Dan Brown's "Angels and Demons" was a fun, if mindless, suspense book.
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redchurch



Joined: 01 Apr 2004
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 7:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yeah, read Da Vinci Code, and Digital Fortress. Really enjoy the Dan Brown books. Love the way he builds up from chapter to chapter. And you can't really complain when the chapters are 3-4 pages max. Really cool technique.

Haven't touched fantasy in years. Used to love the DragonLance and Forgotten Realms series of novels, though I'm sure true hardcore fantasy fans would cringe. Wink

Fiction is my wildcard these days. I toss fiction in every 4-5 non-fiction books I read. Next fiction will probably be Angels & Demons, or Glass Bead Game by Hesse.

One thing is for sure, there isn't any shortage of good books to read!
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brianhook
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 7:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
One thing is for sure, there isn't any shortage of good books to read!


Ironically enough, I find that there is a shortage. I basically read books at a much faster rate than good books are introduced into the "system". So when I find an author I like, I read ALL his stuff....then I hit a terrible dry spell.

Thankfully some authors have a large body of work (Vance) so that keeps me going. In recent years I've stumbled on guys like Peter Hamilton or Iain Banks, and those two guys can keep me going for months.

Right now I'm mostly working through my back catalog of Vance, and then in my backup pile are the remaining Sean Russell books and Dave Duncan, which I'll get to when I get through the rest of my Vance; Perdido Street Station; the Golden Age; and Broken Angels.

This is the first time I've started really reading non-fiction that wasn't 100% computer related. My general system right now is to have two non-fiction books read in parallel and then a queue of fiction, where I have a strong split between "stuff I want to read" and "stuff I'll tolerate until I find something I really want to read".

To show you how bad things have gotten during my dry spells, I've read a lot of Forgotten Realms stuff by Salvatore, who is a complete and utter hack. I've also read Richard Lee Byer's "World of Darkness" fiction which was surprisingly good given that it's borderline fan fiction. Compelling enough that I sought out his other books -- he has one that ties together Wraith, Werewolf, Mage and Vampire in an epic story exceedingly well.

But yeah, I'm pretty much hitting the literary equivalent of Sterno when I'm reading Forgotten Realms =)
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Gus_Smedstad



Joined: 17 Dec 2003
Posts: 590
Location: Boston area, MA

PostPosted: Fri Apr 02, 2004 10:08 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

brianhook wrote:
In recent years I've stumbled on guys like Peter Hamilton or Iain Banks, and those two guys can keep me going for months.

I didn't think you liked Banks. I knew you liked Hamilton.

Speaking of Hamilton, I'm reading "Pandora's Star." Yes, it's good, though I'm seeing some parallels with The Night's Dawn. Not the possession stuff, of course, but there are mystical aliens, and a nut terrorist cult that believes in an evil alien manipulating humanity. Given how things turned out in The Night's Dawn, I wouldn't be surprised if the nut terrorist cult were in fact correct, though there's no evidence so far.

I finished Guns, Germs, and Steel. I thought it was OK, but very repetitive. I felt he kept beating me over the head with the idea that most everything is driven by food production, and the factors that affect food production. After about the third time he re-stated this, I felt like replying "I get it! I get it!"

It was good that he covered why some areas domesticated plants, and others did not, and how it happens. It was good how he explained that domesticating animals is difficult, and why animals like Zebras have still not be domesticated. It's just that past a certain point, I felt he was covering the same ground, without introducing any new ideas, and it was hard to stay awake.

I don't think he did as good a job with social evolution, and why chiefdoms enjoy a competitive advantage over bands. It's obvious that they do enjoy an advantage, but he actually underjustified his reasoning there, in contrast to overdoing it with food production.

I do agree that it's good that he examines alternate ideas, and demonstrates why they don't match the observed facts. I just get the feeling that the book could have been half the length without sacrificing any rigor.

- Gus
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brianhook
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 02, 2004 10:15 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
I didn't think you liked Banks. I knew you liked Hamilton.


I'm not sure I like Vance, but I still read all his crap =) Banks is much the same way, some of his sci-fi is amusing or interesting enough that I'll read it and almost look forward to it, some if it is just really cheezy. I read his contemporary stuff like The Wasp Factory and thought it was just bad Chuck Pahlaniuk.

Quote:
I felt he kept beating me over the head with the idea that most everything is driven by food production, and the factors that affect food production.


Yes, but I think that the proximate contributors to food production are so important but not immediately identified in relation to food production that he sort of had to. You can say "Food production is what drove everything", but more indirect effects like domesticability of animals or the Mediterranean climates and their effects on the design of grass seeds are not immediately obvious -- and much of that stuff is the crux of his discussion.

I particularly liked his implication, without flat out saying it, that the idea of a "noble savage" is ludicrous. The stereotype of the primitive barbarian who gets along with the environment and only harvests what is needed is mostly fiction -- everytime humans show up, things go extinct. It doesn't matter if it was today or 50,000 years ago, if we CAN kill it, by God, we WILL kill it.

The story of the Maori and the Moriori was kind of sad but amusing as well.
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Gus_Smedstad



Joined: 17 Dec 2003
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 02, 2004 11:13 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

brianhook wrote:
I particularly liked his implication, without flat out saying it, that the idea of a "noble savage" is ludicrous.

Yeah, I liked that too. I've had an earful of that over the years from people who think that technology, any technology, is bad, and humans didn't start damaging things until they had factories.

The truth is just the opposite: we've only been aware enough of the issues to be concerned about holding back, protecting resources, in the last hundred years or so.

Easter Island is a great example of this. They cut down all the trees in order to move those famous statues around - and then starved, because the ecology collapsed.

- Gus
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brianhook
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 02, 2004 12:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
I've had an earful of that over the years from people who think that technology, any technology, is bad, and humans didn't start damaging things until they had factories.


While it's true that humans have been as destructive as possible within their means, it hasn't been until industrialization that our means have become so immense that there is real concern about the global environment. In the 17th century the raw sewage problems of places like London (or Chicago in the 19th century) were localized phenomenon, causing huge problems for that one populace. Today problems tend to be far more global in scope.

So the "noble savage" is a myth, and our propensity to mold the environment isn't limited to Western civilization of the past four hundred years, but there is no arguing that our ability to massively alter the ecosphere today is much greater than it has ever been.

But I agree, technology per se isn't bad, it's just immensely powerful, and powerful things scare people (rightfully so).
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redchurch



Joined: 01 Apr 2004
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 02, 2004 12:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
I particularly liked his implication, without flat out saying it, that the idea of a "noble savage" is ludicrous. The stereotype of the primitive barbarian who gets along with the environment and only harvests what is needed is mostly fiction -- everytime humans show up, things go extinct.


Then you'll like this:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0142003344/qid=1080927385/sr=2-1/ref=sr_2_1/104-2594142-8421552

The entire book is about crushing mythical notions about mankind, such as the Noble Savage, Ghost In The Machine, and the idea of the Blank Slate--that there is no innate human nature, people are pliable clumps of clay that can be shaped into anything via their experiences or whatever they want.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for Pinker taking on some of these topics in his books... it's refreshing.
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brianhook
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 14, 2004 1:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

BTW, the new book in my non-fiction queue (replacing Influence) is "Calculus Made Easy", which is considered a classic (by Thomson and Gardner).

After that I may revisit Knuth et. al.'s "Concrete Mathematics".
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redchurch



Joined: 01 Apr 2004
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 14, 2004 1:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Speaking of mathematics, I have a book in the massive pile that I intend to read (sooner than later I hope) called Innumeracy. Reading comprehension has always been my strong suit, so I might as well read about why I suck at math. Wink
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brianhook
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 14, 2004 2:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
so I might as well read about why I suck at math.


I think the answer to that is easy -- math education lacks two incredibly important things today:

  • presentation that emphasizes relevance
  • teaching that emphasizes intuitive understand

Math right now is about rote memorization. You learn "rules" like the product rule for differentiation without necessarily understanding WHY the product rule works the way it does. Same with things like memorizing derivatives of trig functions, etc. etc.

But the people that control our math curricula tend to be ivory tower dicks, and they have no particular urge to "dumb down" math in an effort to make it more approachable to everyone.

This is particularly dichotomous in high school mathematics, where many students end up learning things like, say, trig and calculus, when they'll never need it ; and many other students are functionally "innumerate" because they lack the ability to answer something like:

"If this car costs $1000/year to maintain, and you have $300, how many months can you afford to keep the car running?"

That's a relevant mathematical question that just about anyone should be able to answer, but far too many cannot. Personall I would prefer to see physics and calc pushed into AP/IB/pre-college courses, and raise the overall bar of math education.
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