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The Mountain Men [Jul. 8th, 2018|06:04 pm]
De Horror Vacui
The Mountain Men by George Laycock:

I picked this up at a Borders in 2004 or 2005 and read the first couple of chapters. I had originally read a few chapters, got busy at work, and went on to something else afterward. It's not what I thought from the first couple of chapters, which describe the situation around the Mountain Men. But, that was only the first five chapters (and the short informational sections that appear every 3-4 of the 23 chapters of the book). The rest of the book is an almost chronological set of 7-12 page highlights of different Mountain Men's lives.

Alright for a Saturday night, but not that amazing.

However, I got some Devilman Sam stories out of them, ones that would have The Flying Devilman (and his Siamese Bat) in them.

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So, the book is alright, and I was able to get ideas out of it. Unfortunately, it's an airplane book, and there's not enough detail to recommend it above another one on the same topic.

Other Books, 2018Collapse )
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The Nature of Space and Time [Mar. 17th, 2018|06:59 pm]
De Horror Vacui
Stephen Hawking died two days ago, and I have a copy of The Nature of Space and Time sitting in my review pile waiting its turn. It doesn't have to wait its turn, though, because (1) Stephen Hawking died (did you hear?) and (2) It's short and so easy to review.

Book ReviewCollapse )


To be honest, the debate doesn't seem to be very heated when you get to it. It's just a restatement of the positions outlined beforehand, mostly. Not much "here's why I'm right and you're wrong." So, if you were waiting to find out who won the debate, I'm sorry: it wasn't that kind of debate.

Let's see how I'm doing this year. I haven't tallied them up yet, and hopefully I've left them all in the right pile:

Other Books, 2018Collapse )
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The History of the Kings of Britain [Dec. 30th, 2017|11:43 am]
De Horror Vacui
I used to think England was a dull place. It's green. It's surrounded by water. It's infested with meddlesome priests. So be it. Then, I read Geoffrey of Monmouth's The History of the Kings of Britain, and I learned the truth. It's even more boring than I ever supposed. I shouldn't really say that, because of all of the Arthurian source material I've ever tried to read, this is the only book I've ever finished in its entirety from start to finish, not the Mabinogion, not Le Morte d'Arthur, not The Idylls of the King. Not even The Life of Merlin, and I had a project in mind for that one.  So, obviously, this passes a test none of the others does. But still, I only finished this one because I used the sneaky trick of taking notes and pretending it was a historical document rather than a work of fiction and I gave it a four month rest in the fall.

Illustrated Book ReviewCollapse )

Like most old histories and so on, this is a relatively dull outline of a good story. It doesn't include any of the interesting bits of incest and betrayal from later Arthurian legends that keep us coming back to the story (what is it about humans that they love incest so much that they can write best selling novels about cheating on your creepy uncle with your maniac sister?), but it does start to put Arthur in context, which some of the older sources don't really do well.

I'd say you should read this if you're interested in Arthurian claptrap, but if you are interested in Arthurian claptrap, then you already have.

* Contra one of my students who registered as Arthur Pendragon and Wyatt Earp to get around paying for his on-line polling software. I never did figure out who that guy really was.
** Not really so new.  Maybe six months, maybe a year old.  I just haven't scanned anything in color.
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Causal Inference in Statistics [Dec. 27th, 2017|04:58 pm]
De Horror Vacui
Causal Inference in Statistics: A Primer by Judea Pearl, Madelyn Glymour, and Nicholas P. Jewell:

This is an interesting book that presents an introduction to the use of statistics to determine causal relationships. Certainly, we're all aware of the "correlation is not causation" criticism of so much reasoning based on statistics, but Judea Pearl has been at the forefront of the combination of statistics and graph theory to determine what influences what. A short book, it does a very good job of introducing the subject with a few problems to allow the reader to see if they really do understand what's being said.

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Again, this is a nice, if short, book -- although the note below tells you where to go to have a longer and more intimate interaction with Pearl and causality. It's fun for a girl and a boy.

* Note that I had originally been thinking of picking up Pearl's Causality: Models, Reasoning, and Inference before I noticed that this book was shorter and cheaper -- and, the statistical notion of causality wasn't really the one I was interested, I wanted the physical one. Pearl promises the historical development of Simpson's paradox in that volume, which makes me want to pick it up even more.

Book List 2o17Collapse )
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Creepiness [Dec. 10th, 2017|10:29 pm]
De Horror Vacui
Would you like to feel like a creep? Here’s a good way: read a book called Creepiness whose cover design is nothing but the word CREEPINESS in a high-contrast, light font and raging Usenet caps and the name of the author, also in all caps, but smaller and in a dark, less noticeable font.

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Unrelated, but this is awesome: https://youtu.be/IR2xnp5Lkn4

Other Books, 2017Collapse )
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The Prankster and the Conspiracy [Nov. 17th, 2017|06:14 pm]
De Horror Vacui
The Prankster and the Conspiracy, Adam Gorightly



I should have investigated the author before I picked up this biography. The subject, Kerry Thornley, is a very interesting character, and that keeps the book interesting, but Gorightly made a name for himself in the UFO-conspiracy zine community, and it shows.

The most interesting thing about Kerry Thornley was that he was one of the original Discordians, but he had an extremely interesting life. He had known Lee Harvey Oswald as a Marine, and even written a novel with him as a character before the Kennedy assassination but after Oswald defected to the Soviet Union (they had also met in New Orleans). The novel is trash, interesting only because of the assassination, and wasn't published for decades, but Thornley also wrote the first biography of Oswald (before the Warren Commission and the conspiracies). And then he was chased by Jim Garrison for years.

And because of that Gorightly occasionally goes off on multi-chapter tirades about the Kennedy assassination and his pet theories.

And that made me sad.

Other books, 2017:
42. The Prankster and the Conspiracy, Adam Gorightly
41. Sad Cypress, Agatha Christie
40. Lecture Notes on the General Theory of Relativity, Oyvind Gron
39. Extra Dimensions in Space and Time, Bars, Terning, Nekoger
38. The Mask of Fu Manchu, Sax Rohmer
37. Theory and Experiment in Gravitational Physics, Clifford WIll
36. Three Roads to Quantum Gravity, Lee Smolin
35. Taken at the Flood, Agatha Christie
34. Speakable and Unspeakable in Quantum Mechanics, J. S. Bell
33. Mulliner Nights, P.G. Wodehouse
32. The Clocks, Agatha Christie
31. 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed, Eric H. Cline
30. Speakable and Unspeakable in Quantum Mechanics, John S. Bell
29. Hickory Dickory Dock, Agatha Christie
28. Busman's Honeymoon, Dorothy Sayers
27. Quantum Mechanics and the Particles of Nature, Anthony Sudbery
26. Sleeping Beauties in Theoretical Physics: 26 Surprising Insights, Thanu Padmanabhan
25. Dead Man's Folly, Agatha Christie
24. The Murder at the Vicarage, Agatha Christie
23. Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos, Steven Strogatz
22. The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy, Jesse Walker
21. Introduction to Tensor Calculus, Relativity and Cosmology
20. Evil Under the Sun, Agatha Christie
19. Think Java: How to Think Like a Computer Scientist, Allen B. Downey and Chris Mayfield
18. Combined Action Platoons in the Vietnam War: Unique Counterinsurgency Capability for the Contemporary Operating Environment
17. Gaudy Night, Dorothy Sayers
16. Abstract Algebra and Famous Impossibilities, Arthur Jones, Sidney A. Morris, and Kenneth R. Pearson
15. Symmetry Principles and Magnetic Symmetry in Solid State Physics, S. J. Joshua
14. Mythical Trickster Figures: Contours, Contexts, and Criticisms, Hynes and Doty, eds.
13. The Mexican War 1846-1848, Douglas V. Meed
12. American Gods, Neil Gaiman
11. Energy for Animal Life, R. McNeill Alexander
10. The Texas War of Independence 1835-36: From Outbreak to the Alamo to San Jacinto
9. Lord Edgeware Dies, Agatha Christie
8. Inside the Nudge Unit: How Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference, David Halpern
7. The Mathematical Mechanic: Using Physical Reasoning to Solve Problems, Mark Levi
6. Have His Carcase, Dorothy Sayers
5. Procedural Content Generation in Games, Noor Shaker, Julian Togelius, an Mark J. Nelson
4. The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Ian Shaw
3. The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently...and Why, Richard E. Nisbett
2. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
1. The Dictator's Handbook: Why Bad Behavior Is Almost Always Good Politics, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alistair Smith
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Quick Reviews [Aug. 28th, 2017|07:52 pm]
De Horror Vacui
The Clocks By Agatha Christie:

This is a 1964 attempt by Agatha Christie to, once again, get Poirot into a spy novel. But unlike the unsatisfactory The Big Four, this book uses another Agatha Christie trick that saves the day. Hercule Poirot isn't the protagonist. He shows up in three chapters, to solve the case (and certainly not just to sell novels), and the novel focuses on hsi fine young friend, Colin Lamb. Really, not something to recommend.

Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, Gaudy Night, and Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy Sayers:

In these books Dorothy Sayers has not one, but two, Mary Sues for your reading pleasure. Obviously, the first Mary Sue is Lord Peter Death Wimsey, her extra-aristocratic super-sleuth. And the second is his love interest, Harriet Vane. The first book is the Harriet Vane cycle is loosely based on Dorothy Sayers' own scandalous affair with a foreign detective fiction writer. Only in this case, "her" lover was murdered, "she" was prosecuted, and Lord Peter has to save the day. And, it turns out to be a good read.

Usually, Dorothy Sayers' average work is better and deeper than Agatha Christie's, but not so Have His Carcase and Gaudy Night. Have His Carcase is on par with an Agatha Christie novel, but Gaudy Night is insufferable. It is long, boring, and nothing much happens. In the former, Harriet Vane stumbles upon a dead body, and she and Peter Wimsey need to solve the convoluted case. It's very readable. In the latter, the mystery is that someone is sending nasty notes to and playing practical jokes on the members of a fictional Oxford women's college (similar to the one Sayers went to). It gets so bad that one of the undergraduates tries to kill herself. That's how mean the practical joker is. It is a little like The Clocks in that the story focuses on Harriet Vane and Lord Wimsey only shows up now and again. To solve the case.

There's a reason why Tolkien, who liked Sayers' earlier work, hated Gaudy Night, and it's because it is bad.

Finally, Busman's Honeymoon saves the series by again being a good outing. In this case, Lord Peter buys a nice country cottage to live in with his new bride, Harriet Vane. They go there as a honeymoon, and someone has been kind enough to give them the best wedding present: a dead body in the cellar. It starts with a long, tense sequence filled with humor before the body is found, and the investigators only half-heartedly do their investigation for obvious reasons. Only the ending is spoiled by several chapters discussing how Peter Wimsey acts after he solves a case, which are dull.

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Books to Date, 2017 [Jun. 15th, 2017|06:37 pm]
De Horror Vacui
19. Think Java: How to Think Like a Computer Scientist, Allen B. Downey and Chris Mayfield
18. Combined Action Platoons in the Vietnam War: Unique Counterinsurgency Capability for the Contemporary Operating Environment
17. Gaudy Night, Dorothy Sayers
16. Abstract Algebra and Famous Impossibilities, Arthur Jones, Sidney A. Morris, and Kenneth R. Pearson
15. Symmetry Principles and Magnetic Symmetry in Solid State Physics, S. J. Joshua
14. Mythical Trickster Figures: Contours, Contexts, and Criticisms, Hynes and Doty, eds.
13. The Mexican War 1846-1848, Douglas V. Meed
12. American Gods, Neil Gaiman
11. Energy for Animal Life, R. McNeill Alexander
10. The Texas War of Independence 1835-36: From Outbreak to the Alamo to San Jacinto
9. Lord Edgeware Dies, Agatha Christie
8. Inside the Nudge Unit: How Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference, David Halpern
7. The Mathematical Mechanic: Using Physical Reasoning to Solve Problems, Mark Levi
6. Have His Carcase, Dorothy Sayers
5. Procedural Content Generation in Games, Noor Shaker, Julian Togelius, an Mark J. Nelson
4. The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Ian Shaw
3. The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently...and Why, Richard E. Nisbett
2. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
1. The Dictator's Handbook: Why Bad Behavior Is Almost Always Good Politics, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alistair Smith
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All Books, 2016 [Apr. 26th, 2017|07:21 pm]
De Horror Vacui
A Little Too Much Last YearCollapse )
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Think Bayes [Nov. 22nd, 2016|12:21 pm]
De Horror Vacui
Think Bayes, Allen B. Downey:

This is really the most accessible book on Bayesianism that I've seen. Which is strange, since it's a programming book. I had been trying to get through Savage's Foundations of Statistics, but there's a reason why it's been cited by more people than have read it, so I went ahead with this book which takes the same approach to a statistical valuation of knowledge as Savage had, but is more focused on practical problems. In fact, in being so practical, he discusses many of the problems I'd run into with a Bayesian view of induction in the past and some work-arounds.

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The book also has a lot of nice examples of particular situations. Data analysis, observer bias, and so on. It also goes into how to work around some of the issues I discussed. But mostly, it's just a very clear and concise description of what Bayesian statistics can do for you. It is not deeply philosophical or mathematical like Savage, but I think you get a better idea of what Bayesianism is about through this book than from more analytical treatments (I would say technical, but this is a very technical book -- very practical, just not deep).

Other Books, 2016Collapse )
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