Thursday, May 08, 2014

Summer Break: Semester's Reading

Sorry it's been so long, but if you're a follower you know that I've been busy. Specifically I've been back in school. Now that I'm free for the summer I can go back to blogging in full force. Actually right now I'm feeling a little eager to blog, but that might just be because for the last semester I've been writing 2+ short essays per week. As I noted on my very first blog post though I started the blog (in part) to work on my writing in the hopes of going back to school. So that happened.

Anyway, hopefully I'll be back at it for the summer. 2-4 posts per month is the plan. I'll start with an easy one: Books read Fall and Spring semesters.

I'm not going to recount the books I read for class, though since I did take a sci-fi lit class in the Fall I certainly could. I'm just going to talk about the books I read for “fun”. (It has been a while though so I may have missed a few.)

-A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
(Almost) Exactly the same as the movie. Extremely well written and a quick read. I had been intimidated by it as it is one of those “classics”. I ought to know better by now. Books do not generally become classics if they are poorly written and unengaging. It isn't as shocking as the movie, I don't see how it could be, but it is worth the read. It's not for everyone and if it's not for you you probably know it. Still, if you read it or watch the movie you must commit. Watch the whole thing and don't dismiss it until you've thought about it a little.

-The first 200 or so pages of Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Some books you just feel obliged to read (ironic, no?). I have been trying to read something, anything, by Rand for about 15 years now. This is the most I've managed. Some of you will ask, “Why do you even bother.” Others will ask, “What is wrong with you that you did't get it?” To the first question: I want to take it seriously and get beyond the caricature. Some people whom I really respect cite her as a major positive influence. One thing I don't like doing is simply dismissing someone's opinion without understanding why they hold it. I don't like saying, “You like/believe this because you're stupid.” It is condescending and stifles any meaningful conversation that could have been had. To the second I can only say, I don't get it. I have a basic understanding of the philosophy and I can see ways in which it makes sense. I can also see some problems with it. But really that isn't why I stopped reading it. Her prose is awful. It's like getting hit with a sledgehammer and not in a good way. She could have written a book on any of my favorite things and I still would have hated it.

-A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge
A pretty darn good sci-fi novel. There's a lot to think about in this novel, mostly on the subject of what a mind is and how information moves. There is some fun sci-fi alienness, but that doesn't excite me much unless it's tied to an idea. Here just about every alien has a different form of mind and asks the question of what it means to have/be a mind. How does technology form a part of our mind? Is a community a mind? Is a mind a community? How do we get a detailed picture of the world with only the very little information that our senses give us? Good stuff.

-The Theory That Would Not Die by Sharon Bertsch McGrayne
I thought I needed a little introduction to Bayes' theorem and this looked like a good way of getting a taste without getting too technical. It's a good story of how, where, and why the theorem works. I would have liked to see a little more discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the competing frequentist view however. One thing that I was grateful for was the appendix that shows (with actual numbers!) what is going on with Bayes. Working (struggling mightily) through the problems made me understand much better than I would have if it had just said: Bayes=Good (the text comes close to being a hagiography). Still, I'm not a committed Bayesian yet. I don't think it solves all the world's problems, but I do think it is a useful tool.

-The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris
Have you heard of utilitarianism? Yes. Then you don't need to read this book. A cogent defense of utilitarianism, but nothing new and fails to solve the old problems (if you consider them problems).  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Frequentism is overrated.... once two Bayesians and a Frequentist went deer hunting. The first Bayesian shot and missed left. The second shot and missed right. The Frequentist yelled out, "We got him!!!" :)