I have no singular destiny, no one true passion, no goal. I flutter from one thing to the next. I want to be a physicist and a mathematician and a novelist and write a sitcom and write a symphony and design buildings and be a mother. I want to run a magazine and understand the lives of ants and be a philosopher and be a computer scientist and write an epic poem and understand every ancient language. I don't just want one thing. I want it all.
Georg Cantor showed that some infinities are bigger than others. Did he assault mathematical wisdom or corroborate it?
One of America’s foremost philosophers offers a major new account of the origins of the conscious mind.
How did we come to have minds?
For centuries, this question has intrigued psychologists, physicists, poets, and philosophers, who have wondered how the human mind developed its unrivaled ability to create, imagine, and explain. Disciples of Darwin have long aspired to explain how consciousness, language, and culture could have appeared through natural selection, blazing promising trails that tend, however, to end in confusion and controversy. Even though our understanding of the inner workings of proteins, neurons, and DNA is deeper than ever before, the matter of how our minds came to be has largely remained a mystery.
That is now changing, says Daniel C. Dennett. In From Bacteria to Bach and Back, his most comprehensive exploration of evolutionary thinking yet, he builds on ideas from computer science and biology to show how a comprehending mind could in fact have arisen from a mindless process of natural selection. Part philosophical whodunit, part bold scientific conjecture, this landmark work enlarges themes that have sustained Dennett’s legendary career at the forefront of philosophical thought.
In his inimitable style―laced with wit and arresting thought experiments―Dennett explains that a crucial shift occurred when humans developed the ability to share memes, or ways of doing things not based in genetic instinct. Language, itself composed of memes, turbocharged this interplay. Competition among memes―a form of natural selection―produced thinking tools so well-designed that they gave us the power to design our own memes. The result, a mind that not only perceives and controls but can create and comprehend, was thus largely shaped by the process of cultural evolution.
An agenda-setting book for a new generation of philosophers, scientists, and thinkers, From Bacteria to Bach and Back will delight and entertain anyone eager to make sense of how the mind works and how it came about.
4 color, 18 black-and-white illustrations
Syndicated copies to:
Some modern cosmological models predict the appearance of Boltzmann Brains: observers who randomly fluctuate out of a thermal bath rather than naturally evolving from a low-entropy Big Bang. A theory in which most observers are of the Boltzmann Brain type is generally thought to be unacceptable, although opinions differ. I argue that such theories are indeed unacceptable: the real problem is with fluctuations into observers who are locally identical to ordinary observers, and their existence cannot be swept under the rug by a choice of probability distributions over observers. The issue is not that the existence of such observers is ruled out by data, but that the theories that predict them are cognitively unstable: they cannot simultaneously be true and justifiably believed.
I’m slowly nearing the end of the entire Fletch series, but they still manage to stay relevant and interesting. Fletch and the Man Who is certainly no exception. In fact, I might argue that it is not only still very relevant to modern culture, but that it has actually ripened with age.
Caxton’s Technology Platform
The most interesting portions of the book were the prescience of the role of technology in modern life that were described within it. Mcdonald wrote this in 1983 long before the advent or ubiquitization of satellite communications, cellular phones, desktop computers, and even the internet. Yet somehow the discussion being pushed by the lead presidential candidate in the story feels very forward thinking and is highly relevant even today. Given the rise of Twitter and Facebook, it may actually be more interesting and relevant today than when the book was written in the early 1980s. Interestingly it feels like we have yet to figure out where technology is taking us. This book brings up a lot of philosophical ideas that we’re still heavily grappling with and on even deeper levels. Some of the mentions of religion and politics are all still alive and well in the modern political scene (though Communism/Marxism have died and disappeared after this book was written) and are just as touchy in their relation to technology. The recent presidential campaign certainly highlighted some of these technology issues, particularly with relation to the effect on political communication via fake news and Facebook. Mcdonald takes aim at the idea of “truth” within a political campaign and having a well informed electorate.
There is some really great satire on politics in the book. Oddly, not much of it originates with Fletch or his views on life. While there are a handful of good zingers that Fletch delivers in his wry signature fashion, this book seemed like a major departure in that the supporting characters take on the typical Fletch role of smartasses. This felt interesting and almost natural from a storytelling point of view as Fletch himself actually throws off his typical rebel character mantle to “join the establishment” and run interference for the presidential candidate’s press corps. Most interesting to me a lot of the mentions about politics still play as well today as they did 30+ years ago.
We meet one of Fletch’s old war buddies and learn a few new pieces of backstory that flesh out his character a bit more, which is something I didn’t expect as much of at this point in the series.
There isn’t as much sexual tension in this as in some of the past works, but Freddie Arbuthnot makes a reappearance and really forces Fletch to work overtime for her approval. This seemed more interesting to me than some of Fletch’s past sexual exploits which seemed to come too easily for him. It’s more interesting to see him have to work at creating a relationship, particularly with a woman who had previously thrown herself at him.
Of interest to me with regard to the plotting and the reveal at the end was that there were a nice number of potential suspects. Better, despite my decade+ affair with Law & Order and similar procedurals on television, there was just enough psychological subtlety and distance that the reveal of the killer was not only well motivated but also hidden enough to be entertaining right up to the end. (No spoilers here…)
One thing I did miss was the complete lack of phony characters invented by Fletch as cover stories. To my recollection there were none in this installment. I did however notice that a despicable character in the plot had the name Hanrahan which was (probably not coincidentally) one of the fictional names that popped up in a cover story Fletch spun in the film version of the first book:
Well now, you know that and I know that, but… somebody’s bucking for a promotion. Probably that pederast Hanrahan. I don’t know. All I know is if I don’t go back with something, you and your son-in-law are going to be the scapegoats of the week.
This book would have been out and available well in advance of the May 31, 1985 release of the film.
There were a few tidbits that could have been better resolved at the end (what was Caxton really doing during those disappearances?), but overall, this was a very satisfying and interesting read. It’s certainly made me think about politics and the philosophy of technology in a different way than I have been recently, and for that this may have been to me the most interesting book in the series so far. Some of the philosophy in particular deserves additional thought and study, and may motivate me to actually re-read this one.
- 08/7/16 marked as: want to read; “The Rio Olympics reminded me that I’d gotten Carioca Fletch to read back in the 80’s and never got around to it, so I thought I’d come back and revisit the series.”
- 11/03/16 started reading
- 11/03/16 02.0% done
- 11/05/16 03.0% done
- 11/08/16 04.0% done
- 11/11/16 08.0% done
- 11/20/16 18.0% done
- 11/21/16 21.0% done; “Fletch has a new job, and like usual, the first few minutes of the book throw us right into a riveting high concept. Where we’re ultimately headed is anyone’s guess…”
- 11/22/16 22.0% done
- 11/23/16 35.0% done; “Usually Fletch is the one with all the sharp, ascerbic statements, but in this installment I’m noticing that he’s the tame one and everyone else is somehow playing the part he usually does.”
- 11/24/16 56.0% done
- 11/25/16 Finished book; “There’s some great stuff in the last half of the book about Wheeler’s platform that is eerily prescient of the situation we now find ourselves in with regard to a heavily internet connected world and who owns it. It’s also an odd feeling reading this after experiencing what’s recently happened in the 2016 presidential election and it’s ensuing results.”
Highlights, Quotes, & Marginalia
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“No,” she answered. “I’m on my way up.”
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“My dentist doesn’t subscribe.”
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“Not on crime. Gross stuff, crime. Reports on what the coroner found in the victim’s lower intestine. I don’t even want to know what’s in my own lower intestine.”
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“Funny,” said The Man Who. “I thought the government is.
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“On an American western artist. You know: Edgar Arthur Tharp, Junior.”
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“Who said that?”
“I did. I think.”
“You’re wrong. But it has a nice ring to it.”
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“You can save a lot of money by not smoking.”
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“Just one, for now.”
“And what would that be?”
“To be loyal to you.” Fletch grinned. “Until I get a better offer. Isn’t that what you just said politics is all about?”
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“Had to spend some time in the bar, Mother. Something happened. This girl—”
Doris Wheeler slapped her son, hard.
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“Now you’re leaving out Arbuthnot!” said Joe Hall.
“All creatures great and small?” asked the governor.
“Why’s that man up there calling us a bunch of animals?” Stella Kirchner asked Bill Dieckmann loudly. “Trying to get elected game warden or something?”
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“That’s another thing,” Fletch said. “I will never evade any of your questions.” He turned the microphone off and hung it up.
Added on Sunday, November 20, 2016 10:06:40 AM
“Some people,” announced Fletch, “think I always have been.”
Added on Sunday, November 20, 2016 10:07:28 AM
“You’ll never make it.”
“I know it.”
“That’s all right.” She patted him on the arm. “I’ll destroy you as painlessly as possible.”
“Great. I’d appreciate that. Are you sure you’re up to it?”
“Up to what?”
“It will be easy,” she said. “Because of all those conflicts in yourself. You’ve never tried to be a member of the establishment before, Fletch. I mean, let’s face it: you’re a born-and-bred rebel.”
“I bought a necktie for this job.”
She studied his solid red tie. “Nice one, too. Looks like you’re already bleeding from the neck.”
“Got it in the airport in Little Rock.”
“No. They had five or six to choose from.”
“That was the best?”
“I thought so.”
“You only bought one, though, right?”
“Didn’t know how long this job would last.”
“Glad you didn’t make too big an investment in your future as a member of the establishment.”
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“Yeah,” Freddie said. “Everyone in the country who can’t read, reads Newsbill. Big deal.”
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“You don’t like lawyers either?”
“Even lawyers’ mothers don’t like lawyers. If you do a survey, I think you’ll find that lawyers’ mothers are the strongest advocates of legal abortions in the land.”
Added on Wednesday, November 23, 2016 12:08:02 AM
“Anything your heart desires. You know a man more from his questions than from his answers. Who said that?”
“You just did.”
“Let’s not make a note of it.”
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“Oh, yes,” the governor said. “They couldn’t have played ‘America’ that badly without practicing it.”
Added on Wednesday, November 23, 2016 12:34:41 AM
“You don’t know?”
“Some press rep. you are. You ever been on a campaign before?”
“You’re cute, Fletcher. But I don’t think you should be on this one, either.”
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“The answer is yes,” she said. “Anytime. You don’t even have to bring a bottle of wine.”
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“What’s a rum toff?”
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I read this little snipe at Fletch (and the ubiquitous mention of his disliked first name) as a blatant reference to the Gelett Burgess nonsense poem Purple Cow first published in 1895. One will note the reference comes via verbal transmission rather than direct as the line is slightly modified.
I never saw a Purple Cow,
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I’d rather see than be one. 
Added on Wednesday, November 23, 2016 12:53:41 AM
The bus driver said: “Just guessed.”
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“Yell with the toothache,” Paul Dobson said. “They’re yelling because it makes their teeth hurt!”
“Make ’em hypertensive with sugar at breakfast,” Phil Nolting intoned, as if quoting, “then slap ’em down at school.”
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“Who was he?”
“Cooked for Henry the Eighth.” The governor gave him a weird look. “Buried under the chapel at the Tower of London. Forgot to take the poultry lacers out of roast falcons.”
Added on Wednesday, November 23, 2016 2:10:20 PM
Fletch said: “Wow.”
“… The Third World, as it’s called, is no longer something out there—separate from us, inconsequential to us. Whether we like it or not, the world is becoming more sensitive. The world is becoming covered with a network of fine nerves—an electronic nervous system not unlike that which integrates our own bodies. Our finger hurts, our toe hurts and we feel it as much as if our head aches or our heart aches. Instantly now do we feel the pain in Montevideo, in Juddah, in Bandung. And yes, my friends in Winslow, we feel the pains from our own, internal third world—from Harlem, from Watts, from our reservations of Native Americans …”
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“Well,” Fletch said, “roughly he said the world is getting it together despite man’s best ideas.”
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Doris Wheeler’s voice became that of a reasonable lecturer. “Caxton, you know damned well the farmers and merchants of Winslow, of the U.S.A., do not want to hear about the Third World. They want to hear about their taxes, their health programs, their Social Security, their defense, their crop subsidies. The voter is a totally selfish animal! Every time the voter hears the name of a foreign country, he thinks it’s going to cost him money.”
Added on Thursday, November 24, 2016 8:08:02 PM
“I take a cold shower in the morning.”
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“Unreal, man. Totally unreal.”
“I believe you. On television you were wearing a coat and tie.”
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“Two yesterday. No outstanding warrants on you, though. I check first thing every morning.”
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“Tits for that,” Judy said.
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Slowly, carefully, Fletch said, “No. That’s why the chicken crossed the road.”
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“Am I wrong to think that most of the bad things that happen on this earth happen because people don’t have the right facts at the right time? It’s all very well to believe something. You can go cheering to war over what you believe. You can starve to death happily over what you believe. But would wars ever happen if everybody had the same facts? There is no factual basis for starvation on this earth,” Governor Caxton Wheeler said softly. “Not yet, there isn’t.”
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“Yeah,” Fletch said. “That’s the difference between boys and girls.”
Added on Friday, November 25, 2016 2:03:34 PM
“I never wear that jacket.”
“Then why do you carry it?”
“That’s the jacket I carry.” He pointed to one on the unmade bed. “That’s the jacket I wear.”
Added on Friday, November 25, 2016 2:06:12 PM
“I live out of a suitcase, Fletcher. All the time. Anything that doesn’t fit in the suitcase can’t come with me.”
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“Oh, I see,” Fletch said brilliantly. “That’s why people refer to what you write as questionable. ’Bye, Mike.”
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“Politically, it’s suicide. As I said last night. You can knock the institutions on their goddamned asses,” her voice grated, “as long as you always give them lip service. That’s the only reality.”
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“You’re good at that.”
“I think it’s what I do best.”
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Guide to highlight colors
Yellow–general highlights and highlights which don’t fit under another category below
Orange–Vocabulary word; interesting and/or rare word
Green–Reference to read
Red–Example to work through
The book is a collection of papers written by a selection of eminent authors from around the world in honour of Gregory Chaitin s 60th birthday. This is a unique volume including technical contributions, philosophical papers and essays. Hardcover: 468 pages; Publisher: World Scientific Publishing Company (October 18, 2007); ISBN: 9789812770820
I’m already a major chunk of the way through the book, having had an early ebook version of the text prior to publication. This is the published first edition with all the diagrams which I wanted to have prior to finishing my full review, which is forthcoming.
One thing I will mention is that it’s got quite a bit more philosophy in it than most popular science books with such a physics bent. Those who aren’t already up to speed on the math and science of modern physics can certainly benefit from the book (like most popular science books of its stripe, it doesn’t have any equations — hairy or otherwise), and it’s certain to help many toward becoming members of both of C.P. Snow’s two cultures. It might not be the best place for mathematicians and physicists to start moving toward the humanities with the included philosophy as the philosophy is very light and spotty in places and the explanations of the portions they’re already aware of may put them out a bit.
I’m most interested to see how he views complexity and thinking in the final portion of the text.
More detail to come…Syndicated copies to:
A review of Summa Technologiae by Stanislaw Lem by David Auerbach from the Los Angeles Review of Books.
AT LAST WE have it in English. Summa Technologiae, originally published in Polish in 1964, is the cornerstone of Stanislaw Lem’s oeuvre, his consummate work of speculative nonfiction. Trained in medicine and biology, Lem synthesizes the current science of the day in ways far ahead of most science fiction of the time.
His subjects, among others, include:
- Virtual reality
- Artificial intelligence
- Nanotechnology and biotechnology
- Evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology
- Artificial life
- Information theory
- Entropy and thermodynamics
- Complexity theory, probability, and chaos
- Population and ecological catastrophe
- The “singularity” and “transhumanism”
I came across this book review quite serendipitously today via an Auerbach article in Slate, which I’ve bookmarked. I found a copy of the book and have added it to the top of my reading pile. As I’m currently reading an advance reader edition of Sean Carroll’s The Big Picture, I can only imagine how well the two may go together despite being written nearly 60 years apart.Syndicated copies to:
The second in an occasional look at the technology I use regularly
riends, family and colleagues are frequently asking my advice on what kind of devices and software I find most useful. So following in the tradition of Bernard Pivot and subsequently the Actor’s Studio, and sites like LifeHacker, Supersite for Windows, and many others, I’ve borrowed a handful of standard “get-to-know-you” type of questions that others might find helpful.
Keep in mind that given an infinite budget, I’d have quite a bit more or possibly be using something slightly different or more recent, but the following are things I actually use on an almost daily basis. I also have a large handful of occasional devices and tricks that are not included in the list for brevity.
Fifty years from now, this list should also be fairly entertaining to reread. The first installment of the series can be found here: What I Use: April 2014. It includes some additional sections and material that hasn’t changed since then.
Samsung Galaxy S6 on Sprint – I’ve had this for a couple of months now and like it a lot, but I honestly feel like there hasn’t been anything really new or exciting in the phone space for a while. Phones are becoming commodity items.
Lenovo Flex3 – I’ve had it for a couple of months and love its size, weight, and the fact that I can flip it over into a tablet. I’m still occasionally using my Lenovo Thinkpad Edge E431, but planning on decommissioning it shortly.
I am using the final, shipping professional version of Windows 8.1 with Update 1 on my primary laptop PC. Windows 10 is starting to roll out, and I’m about to make the jump…
I still have a multi-boot set up on a 10″ Asus EeePC with XP, Windows 7, JoliOS (flavor of Linux), and a multi-boot set up on an HP desktop with XP, Vista, Windows 7, and the latest Ubuntu Linux, but I’ve rarely used them in the last year.
I made the jump to Office 365 Home Premium about a year ago and generally love it, particularly being able to dump almost everything I have into the cloud via OneDrive with a 1+TB storage option. For the bulk of my writing though, I still eschew Word and use WinEdt as a text editor/user interface in combination with a MiKTeX installation and Adobe Acrobat to typeset in LaTeX – the output is simply glorious. I’ve actually been doing the typesetting and layout for a client’s novel with this set up over the past few months, and it is truly great despite having do dig under the hood a bit more than I’d prefer to get the exact results I want.
Since my last “What I’m Using” I’ve moved away from Dropbox as my primary cloud service and prefer OneDrive for syncing across multiple platforms. I still have a huge amount in Dropbox and still use it for some collaboration. For email, contacts, and calendar management, I primarily use Outlook, though for some collaborative work, I have been using Google’s Calendar a lot more in the last year particularly for its simple integration into my phone. I also have a well-exercised Gmail account for sifting most of my social media accounts, as well as a lot of bacon and spam. I have gone through lately and cut the number of notifications I get by email in half. For reading Gmail, I primarily use Googles Inbox app on my cell phone when I’m waiting in lines.
Internet and communications
For web browsing, I use the latest version of Google Chrome typically to the exclusion of all others. For instant messaging and video chat I use either Skype or Google Hangouts depending on the others involved, though I generally prefer Hangouts.
I obviously use WordPress, but also have a few sites running Drupal as well. Over the past year, I’ve become a big proponent of the IndieWeb movement which fits in line with my long held beliefs about personal data. Toward this end, I’ve added a lot of IndieWeb plugins to my WordPress workflow, and I also love WithKnown which I use as my primary social stream tool. It dovetails with most major social networks incredibly well.
I do not use any third party security software as Windows Defender in Windows 8.1 includes anti-virus functionality and this seems to be more than enough. I tried a free trial of McAfee with my Flex3, but it was awfully bulky and annoying and the UI was just dreadful. Generally just not clicking on any links you aren’t 100% certain are secure will cover most problems with viruses and malware.
Music: I rarely, if ever, purchase music online or otherwise; I’m also not currently subscribing to any online delivery systems. For the last year, I’ve been using Spotify to the exclusion of almost all others, though I still visit Pandora, Google Music, and Amazon Music depending on my location and needs. Most of my owned music, audiobooks, and video content is managed through iTunes. I use DoubleTwist to sync my iTunes playlists and music to my Android devices. I sporadically use XM/Sirius in the car, but can’t bear to spend more than about $4 a month on such service when there are so many alternatives. I’m currently on an XM/Sirius hiatus, but I do miss the clarity and the dedicated bluegrass station.
Video: Netflix is the primary video service I use on an almost daily basis, though Amazon Prime’s streaming services is a fairly close second. Given the general availability of the content I want to watch, I find it rare to need to purchase any video content on any other platforms. I don’t often rip DVD’s, but when I do, I love Handbrake, which seems to be the sine qua non in the area. I spend a lot more time using my Lenovo Flex3 for Netflix with my Chromecast a close second.
Books: I have such a complicated set up with regard to ebooks, it will take an entire post to cover it all. In simplest terms, I manage everything through a well-integrated combination of Calibre, Goodreads.com, Amazon’s Kindle, Adobe Digital Editions, Adobe Acrobat Reader, DJView, and OneDrive. Most books I get are either purchased through Amazon or are borrowed from a litany of local public libraries. I’ve spent the last several years converting almost all the reading I do to electronic reading. I still prefer to read on paper, but the overall process is much simpler in digital. Most technical books I read within some version of Adobe Acrobat for its ability to highlight, comment, and create notes. For most of the last year, a lot of my pleasure/fiction reading has been done via the BaltoReader app on my Amazon Kindle 7″ which allows me to read at greatly increased speeds. (I covered it and some other options here: Speed Reading on the Web and Mobile.
Audiobooks: I’ve loved Audible.com for a long time, but I’m still on a hiatus from it playing catch up on some of the content I’ve accumulated over the past couple of years. It’s an awesome service. I also often use the Overdrive service through several local libraries for downloading and listening to audiobooks. While Overdrive is clunky and smothered in DRM, it works and is just good enough, and I’ve yet to find anything better that is free. When necessary, I’ll also borrow CD’s from the local library for listening as well.
Photos: I still do a horrible job of managing my thousands of photos. In line with a general switch to OneDrive, I autoback up my photos from my phone there, but still also prefer to use Google+ photos. I will admit that some recent changes to Flickr make me want to reconsider it for broader use, but I’m not all in just yet.
Other applications and utilities
Android Phone/Tablet apps
My favorites and most often used include: DoubleTwist, Waze, WithKnown, Google Hangouts, Google Voice, Amazon Kindle, BaltoReader, Facebook, Google Inbox, Pocket, Netflix, Instagram, Starbucks, Key Ring, Shazam, S Health, Periscope, Flipboard and less frequently Audible and OverDrive Media. The notable new entries in the last year are the “Do Suite” from IFTTT.com including Do Camera, Do Note, and somewhat less frequently Do Button. I use these several times a day and they’re front and center on my phone now. I also love IFTTT for a variety of back-end integrations for various other web technologies.
There are certainly others, but I rarely use many of them and didn’t reinstall many when I upgraded phone in June.
In the last year, I’ve moved away from Evernote in favor of OneNote which provides better integration to my Outlook workflow, but I will admit I do miss the UI of Evernote.
I’m still using a Samsung Series 5, 40″ LCD flatscreen. Though there are certainly much newer models out there, this really has everything I could want and supplies a fantastic picture as well as even native sound. Until the mansion arrives, or California housing prices drop precipitously, this is probably more television than I even need. For service I only use DirecTV which, though I desperately love, I have a feeling I’ll eventually dump it to live a complete cord-cutter life.
In addition to a DirectTV HD DVR which I upgraded last fall to a newer model with 1TB storage , I also have a Roku XD|S and Google Chomecast. The Chromecast gets far more regular use, particularly for Netflix integration (via either a tablet or cell phone) and in my mind is the clear winner for being drop-dead easy-to-use. I particularly love the fact that the Chromecast automatically turns on the television and changes the internal television tuner, so I don’t need to pick up other devices to control the television. The Roku is ancient and clunky and now doesn’t support a lot of the newer apps/channels. I get regular emails from Roku about discounts for upgrading, but I’m not sure I use it enough or that the upgrades are worth replacing it. I rarely use the mini-HDMI to HDMI adapter to connect my Kindle Fire HD to the television for streaming Amazon Prime video to the television these days.
- Cambro Containers: Over the last year, I’ve gotten a dozen large Cambro containers ranging from 2qt-8qt for more easily storing bulk goods like flour, sugar, rice, beans, etc. They store much more easily and functionally in the kitchen and the fridgerator. I don’t know how I lived without them before.
- Scraper: Almost a year ago, I got an OXO Good Grips Jar Spatula, White and it has been my single-most used kitchen item after my knife since. For size, shape, and sheer versatility it’s one of my favorite tools. I’m tempted to get rid of all of my other scrapers and buy 4 more of these.
- Coffee: I’m not a total fiend in this department and usually prefer soda or tea, but when necessary, a simple Bodum French press in combination with a Kitchen Aide coffee grinder are just great. I’m still very tempted to get the relatively inexpensive Aerobie AeroPress…
- Mixer: Life wouldn’t be complete without my 325 Watt Artisan Kitchen Aide stand mixer with a handful of attachments.
- Scale: I believe Fannie Farmer irreparably destroyed much of what could have been some superb American cuisine and any semblance of science in the kitchen, so I avidly use my Salter 3003 Aquatronic Glass Electronic Kitchen Scale to begin the healing.
- Thermometers: Among many others I primarily rely on a Maverick CT-03 Oil & Candy Digital Thermometer and a CDN DSP1 Dual Sensing Probe Thermometer and Timer.
Free-form Broad Questions
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? Why?
In a year, nothing here has changed. I simply love these:
Calibre – For my 2000+ ebooks, this is an indispensable e-book and document program that is to books as iTunes is to music. I also use it to download dozens of magazines and newspapers on a daily basis for reading on my Kindle. I love that it’s under constant development with weekly updates for improved functionality.
Waze – When living in Los Angeles, this real-time traffic application often saves me anywhere from 30-90 minutes of time in traffic a day; it also has the side benefit of helping you explore parts of the city you might not find otherwise.
DoubleTwist – Since I’m an avid Android fan, I use this simple app to dovetail my music and video collections in iTunes to sync with my other digital devices.
What’s your workspace setup like?
For the past couple of years I’ve been using a 1962 McDowell & Craig executive tanker desk that I refinished in 2008 and I use a matching chair which I painstakingly reupholstered by hand in late 2013. I often use the custom made glass top with dry-erase markers to sketch out ideas or write disposable notes and also place photos and incunabula of various sorts underneath it. I’ve been tempted to do a standing desk but as yet haven’t. I’m half tempted to follow the lead of film editor Walter Murch and set my desk up on cinder blocks to jack it up to waist level.
What’s your best time-saving/shortcut/life hack?
What’s your favorite to-do list manager?
I primarily use a very customized version of Outlook and its task functionality to track my to do list items. I use OneNote as my commonplace book particularly as it has a bookmarklet that makes it dead easy to transfer data into it.
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget(s) can’t you live without and why?
My Kindle Fire 7″ HD is indispensable and I primarily use it only for reading. I’ve also had some great experiences with my new Timbuk2 Command Messenger Bag and my Zojurishi Travel Mug – I don’t know how I managed without them before.
For education purposes (primarily lectures), I am absolutely in love with my Livescribe Pulse Pen. I own three different versions. Every student on the planet should have one.
I could maybe live without them, but I’ve had a 30 year love affair with my Pentel 0.5mm and 0.7mm mechanical pencils, and they’ve literally lasted that long.
What do you listen to while you work?
For a while now, I’ve been catching up on the mid-70’s music I missed in my early youth. I’m still exploring 60’s Jazz and classic bluegrass.
What are you currently reading?
Generally I’m actively reading 4-5 books at a time and less-actively up to 15 or so. I use Goodreads.com to manage my reading lists, to find recommendations from others, and in part to catalog my library (though I’m far from having everything I own there). I usually tend toward non-fiction, science, math, history and biography when reading for pleasure, though the occasional fiction piece will work its way into the stack.
My specific active reading list right now includes:
- Category Theory for the Sciences by David Spivak
- Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy by Francis Fukuyama
- How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics by Eugenia Cheng
- Hannibal Rising by Thomas Harris
- Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies by Cesar Hidalgo – just finished and it’s awesome on so many fronts; it’s also the only physical book I think I’ve bought in the last two years.
And I’m currently listening to:
What are you currently watching on television?
Lately I’m regularly watching Hannibal, Mr. Robot, Murder in the First, Charlie Rose, Suits, Royal Pains, The Closer (early season reruns), PBS News Hour, Major Crimes, and The Profit. Guilty pleasure watching includes Shark Tank, Last Comic Standing, America’s Got Talent, UnREAL, and solely because there’s a “Chris Aldrich” on the show, I’ve seen a few episodes of season 2 of VH1’s Dating Naked. When they return I’ll still be watching Modern Family, The Big Bang, Person of Interest, and Grimm. Relatively recent binge watches include Mad Men (final 3 seasons) and House of Cards (season 3).
Bernard Pivo-esque section
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?
I have a generally better memory than most. Though it was naturally good when I was younger, I ran across the concepts of the major system and the method of loci (aka the memory palace) at an early age and they have helped significantly.
What’s your sleep routine like?
I never seem to sleep as much as most, but lately I’ve been getting 7-8 hours of sleep at night usually from 12-7am. I’m far from a morning person and most of my best thinking hours are from 11pm to 2am.
Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?
I grew up definitely as an introvert, but during college I managed to force myself to be an extrovert. These days I move between the two as my mood and social circumstances dictate.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Some know it as the “Golden Rule,” but “Treat other people like you want to be treated.” I highly recommend people read How to Win Friends and Influence People.Syndicated copies to:
A recent post in one of the blogs at Discover Magazine the other day had me thinking about the shape of science over time.
The article made me wonder about the divide between the ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ sciences, and how we might better define and delineate them. Perhaps in a particular field, the greater the proliferation of “schools of though,” the more likely something is to be a soft science? (Or mathematically speaking, there’s an inverse relationship in a field between how well supported it is and the number of schools of thought it has.) I consider a school of thought to be a hypothetical/theoretical proposed structure meant to potentially help advance the state of the art and adherents join one of many varying camps while evidence is built up (or not) until one side carries the day.
Theorem: The greater the proliferation of “schools of though,” the more likely something is to be a soft science.
Generally in most of the hard sciences like physics, biology, or microbiology, there don’t seem to be any opposing or differing schools of thought. While in areas like psychology or philosophy they abound, and often have long-running debates between schools without any hard data or evidence to truly allow one school to win out over another. Perhaps as the structure of a particular science becomes more sound, the concept of schools of thought become more difficult to establish?
For some of the hard sciences, it would seem that schools of thought only exist at the bleeding edge of the state-of-the-art where there isn’t yet enough evidence to swing the field one way or another to firmer ground.
Example: Evolutionary Biology
We might consider the area of evolutionary biology in which definitive evidence in the fossil record is difficult to come by, so there’s room for the opposing thoughts for gradualism versus punctuated equilibrium to be individual schools. Outside of this, most of evolutionary theory is so firmly grounded that there aren’t other schools.
Example: Theoretical Physics
The relatively new field of string theory might be considered a school of thought, though there don’t seem to be a lot of other opposing schools at the moment. If it does, such a school surely exists, in part, because there isn’t the ability to validate it with predictions and current data. However, because of the strong mathematical supporting structure, I’ve yet to hear anyone use the concept of school of thought to describe string theory, which sits in a community which seems to believe its a foregone conclusion that it or something very close to it represents reality. (Though for counterpoint, see Lee Smolin’s The Trouble with Physics.)
To my knowledge, I can’t recall the concept of school of thought ever being applied to mathematics except in the case of the Pythagorean School which historically is considered to have been almost as much a religion as a science. Because of its theoretical footings, I suppose there may never be competing schools, for even in the case of problems like P vs. NP, individuals may have some gut reaction to which way things are leaning, everyone ultimately knows it’s going to be one or the other ( or ). Many mathematicians also know that it’s useful to try to prove a theorem during the day and then try to disprove it (or find a counterexample) by night, so even internally and individually they’re self-segregating against creating schools of thought right from the start.
Looking at the furthest end of the other side of the spectrum, because there is no verifiable way to prove that God exists, there has been an efflorescence of religions of nearly every size and shape since the beginning of humankind. Might we then presume that this is the softest of the ‘sciences’?
What examples or counter examples can you think of?Syndicated copies to:
I recently ran across this TED talk and felt compelled to share it. It really highlights some of my own personal thoughts on how science should be taught and done in the modern world. It also overlaps much of the reading I’ve been doing lately on innovation and creativity. If these don’t get you to watch, then perhaps mentioning that Alon manages to apply comedy and improvisation techniques to science will.
Uri Alon was already one of my scientific heroes, but this adds a lovely garnish.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Stephen Greenblatt provides an interesting synthesis of history and philosophy. Greenblatt’s love of the humanities certainly shines through. This stands as an almost over-exciting commercial for not only reading Lucretius’s “De Rerum Natura” (“On the Nature of Things”), but in motivating the reader to actually go out to learn Latin to appreciate it properly.
I would have loved more direct analysis and evidence of the immediate impact of Lucretius in the 1400’s as well as a longer in-depth analysis of the continuing impact through the 1700’s.
The first half of the book is excellent at painting a vivid portrait of the life and times of Poggio Bracciolini which one doesn’t commonly encounter. I’m almost reminded of Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra: A Life, though Greenblatt has far more historical material with which to paint the picture. I may also be biased that I’m more interested in the mechanics of the scholarship of the resurgence of the classics in the Renaissance than I was of that particular political portion of the first century BCE. Though my background on the history of the time periods involved is reasonably advanced, I fear that Greenblatt may be leaving out a tad too much for the broader reading public who may not be so well versed. The fact that he does bring so many clear specifics to the forefront may more than compensate for this however.
In some interesting respects, this could be considered the humanities counterpart to the more science-centric story of Owen Gingerich’s The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus. Though Simon Winchester is still by far my favorite nonfiction writer, Greenblatt does an exceedingly good job of narrating what isn’t necessarily a very linear story.
Greenblatt includes lots of interesting tidbits and some great history. I wish it had continued on longer… I’d love to have the spare time to lose myself in the extensive bibliography. Though the footnotes, bibliography, and index account for about 40% of the book, the average reader should take a reasonable look at the quarter or so of the footnotes which add some interesting additional background an subtleties to the text as well as to some of the translations that are discussed therein.
I am definitely very interested in the science behind textual preservation which is presented as the underlying motivation for the action in this book. I wish that Greenblatt had covered some of these aspects in the same vivid detail he exhibited for other portions of the story. Perhaps summarizing some more of the relevant scholarship involved in transmitting and restoring old texts as presented in Bart Ehrman and Bruce Metzter’s The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption & Restoration would have been a welcome addition given the audience of the book. It might also have presented a more nuanced picture of the character of the Church and their predicament presented in the text as well.
Though I only caught one small reference to modern day politics (a prison statistic for America which was obscured in a footnote), I find myself wishing that Greenblatt had spent at least a few paragraphs or even a short chapter drawing direct parallels to our present-day political landscape. I understand why he didn’t broach the subject as it would tend to date an otherwise timeless feeling text and generally serve to dissuade a portion of his readership and in particular, the portion which most needs to read such a book. I can certainly see a strong need for having another short burst of popularity for “On the Nature of Things” to assist with the anti-science and overly pro-religion climate we’re facing in American politics.
For those interested in the topic, I might suggest that this text has some flavor of Big History in its DNA. It covers not only a fairly significant chunk of recorded human history, but has some broader influential philosophical themes that underlie a potential change in the direction of history which we’ve been living for the past 300 years. There’s also an intriguing overlap of multidisciplinary studies going on in terms of the history, science, philosophy, and technology involved in the multiple time periods discussed.
This review was originally posted on GoodReads.com on 7/8/2014. View all my reviews