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Monday, December 30, 2019

Review: Netflix's The Witcher

I came to the Netflix series having read a number of the books and played The Witcher 3 all the way to the end.  The series essentially adapts a number of stories from The Last Wish, and one of the best things about that first book was that it retold a number of familiar western fairy tales with a twist, such as Snow White, or Beauty and the Beast. Sure, there's an over-arching plot, but that wasn't at the forefront of that first series of short stories. (To be honest, the video game does a much better job than the books of giving you a plot that's coherent) I was suprised that the Snow White story didn't get played up as much as it was in the original.

The series deviates from the book in giving Yennefer an origin story that's not bad, but also doesn't provide any of the little twists that would have been in character from the books (or the video game, whose writers did an amazing job of providing plots that were entirely inline with the books).  The sword play and choreography is well done, though not so good whenever CGI monsters are in play. The CGI is not of a high quality and will age the worst.

Episodes 4 and 6 are the best of the series in providing the sort of twists that the stories in the book are known for, while episode 3 is the classic opening sequence that everyone knows from the first video game, and is well done enough that if this was your exposure to the story it's worth watching. The episodes are only loosely connected (yes, there are 3 timelines being told simultaneously, and the plot doesn't mark what order the timelines are in).

In any case, the TV series is a successful adaptation, and sets up for a second season well. I'd recommend viewing it.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Review: Noric Flash Waterproof Camera Float

The biggest problem with a waterproof camera is that you want it to float when you're snorkeling and you want it to be neutrally buoyant when diving. The Nikon W300 as I learned to my misfortune a couple of years ago sinks. With that in mind, I bought the Nordic Flash Waterproof Camera Float. The package comes with 2 floats and two quick release buckles which you then attach to the camera's anchor/neck-strap points. Even though rated for 200g, it floats well enough when attached to the Nikon W300. The float is wide enough for an adult to slide all the way up past the elbows, and the quick release is handy to drop the float if you need to dive. (That's a good way to lose the float if you're doing so in open water, however!) Together with the float, the camera is bulky enough that it tends to fall out of the pocket of my swimming shorts, but fortunately I was always able to find it again in the swimming pool. I have reasonable confidence that if I ever drop the camera again while paddle-boarding I'll be able to find it again in short order, rather than watching it disappear into the depths.


Monday, December 23, 2019

Review: Lifespan - Why We Age

David Sinclair comes with impeccable credentials: Harvard Medical School, and editor of the journal on Aging. His book, Lifespan, is a book mostly about the research that has achieved miracles in animal trials, but have yet to make it into clinical trials for people. Basically, in the lab, achievements have been made such as regrowing the optic nerves of mice, and reversing aging in mice. Unfortunately, as you read the book you realized a lot of this stuff is stuff you heard about ages ago, such as resveratrol, which turned out to have negligible benefits for human health or lifespan. Sinclair doesn't dwell on that and moves on to brag about other achievements in the lab.

OK, what can you do to live longer? Sinclair details his diet regiment, which includes NMN, resveratrol, asprin, and metformin (yes, that drug used to treat diabetes is claimed to extend life in people without diabetes). He also follows  Ray Kurzweil's regiment of getting blood draw every few months to check for biomarkers of aging. The book recommends intermittent fasting (Sinclair says he skips lunch most days), exercise (but not very much exercise --- he mentions just trying to keep his step count high and lifting weights on weekends and doing the sauna and ice baths), and as a result, despite being 50 he says he has not a single gray hair.

Part of the book is a huge diatribe about how aging should be treated as a disease and therefore deserves more funding than it toes.

All in all, the book provides health advice that you already know (eat less, fast occasionally, avoid meat and animal proteins), and doesn't seem to have high standards on actual evidence on human subjects of the drugs and supplements he recommends. As he says, there's no shortage of volunteers for his regiment, and the effects of reversing aging should be pretty obvious, so I'm now curious as to why if the animal experiments are so compelling, there isn't a rush of research into this area. Society is definitely full of billionaires who would like to live longer!

Friday, December 20, 2019

Review: Green Lantern - No Fear

I'm old enough to remember that Hal Jordan was the definitive silver-age Green Lantern. Of course, then there were Guy Gardner and others introduced, just before I stopped reading the comics. Apparently, Hal Jordan got brought back just before getting a reboot in this series, so I checked it out of my Kindle Unlimited selection and discovered that the book was no good. Maybe it's because I've been binging on Alan Moore, but the book uses many pages to tell relatively simple stories, while the characters don't ever go through epiphanies or significant changes. I'll pass on continuing to read further adventures.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Review: Hellboy Seeds of Destruction

The entire Hellboy collection is free on Comixology, so while I had a free trial (that I have every intention of cancelling), I decided to try it, remembering the movie with fondness. The art is crude and lacking in detail, but the characters are full of evocative references though unfortunately, with relatively little development. The lead character protagonist, is big on hitting things and not very big on philosophy, thinking, or talking, so don't expect a lot of cerebral action.

While the book has rave reviews (and obviously the movie was pretty good), it wasn't enough to keep me reading past a couple of the collected volumes. Maybe there's some good revelation or character development later on that justify the rave reviews, but not from the first two volumes of this work.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Review: Alan Moore's Top Ten

I was reflecting on how none of the comic books I'd read recently came up to anywhere near Alan Moore's old work, and decided to checkout Top Ten from the Kindle Unlimited library. Top Ten imagines a world in which everyone's a superhero, and follows the travails of an imaginary police station set in such a multi-verse.

Moore as usual does a great job of throwing all the tropes into play with a density of story that does in one 22 page comic book what lesser authors would spend entire graphic novels detailing. Unfortunately, as an ensemble cast, none of the characters really do a good job of becoming a character that you're emotionally involved in. Furthermore, Moore doesn't quite take the story to the extremes that he does in say, Miracleman, which is still a better work.

Nevertheless, many of the story arcs are great, though unfortunately it feels like the series was ended before its potential could really be fulfilled.


Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Review: Amazing Spiderman - Coming Home and Revelations

While I had a Comixology trial, I decided I might as well read the Straczynski Spiderman run. Coming Home is the first volume, and Revelations is the second. Not suprisingly, Straczynski's a better Spiderman writer than he is as a creator of his own worlds. With its set of rules pre-defined, Strazynski's take on Spiderman is reasonable. Even better, his improvement to the mythos was to strip away Aunt May's ignorance of who Peter Parker was, and the handling of that revelation was done delicately, without ham-handedness or easily. I was impressed in ways I wasn't for Rising Stars. Recommended.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Cabo San Lucas Trip Report

I was very jealous of Arturo's whale shark snorkeling trip. The last time I tried to see whale sharks I got completely unlucky  with weather and my trip got canceled. For thanksgiving when Xiaoqin suggested we go to Cabo San Lucas, I decided up front that we would try to see the whale shark. I'd arranged with Cabo Expeditions, who were kind enough to make an exception for Boen even though he was well below the age cut off. They requested that we brought our own life jacket and snorkel for Boen. I would later discover that VIP Tours out of La Paz would have taken kids of any age and supplied all the necessary gear.

I also organized a snorkeling trip for Saturday, using our hotel credits to do so. While in previous years, Bown had been happy to do ziplines, this year he stated "no ziplines." I guess the San Diego trip had made him to sea world had made him scared of heights with the roller coasters that flipped upside down which even gave me a little bit of a thrill.

For this trip, we brought along the Nikon W300, and the EOS M5 with just 2 lenses, the 22/2mm and the 50mm/1.8 with adapter. (Photo Link for the trip)

We arrived and had a free day, but immediately after that a storm blew in and cancelled our whale watching trip. Fortunately, we had a week, and promptly rescheduled for Friday and opted for a yellow submarine trip on Thursday that turned out to be not very interesting because of murky water. On Wednesday, we paid a visit to downtown Cabo San Lucas as well as San Jose de Cabo. Both obviously catered to American tourists on medical vacations, with lots of pharmacies targeted for Americans.

The Whale Shark trip happened and we did get to see a Whale Shark:
The process was a long wait, with a 2 hour drive to La Paz, and then when  we cleared into the National Park waters, we were told there were 19 boats ahead of water, so the tour operator just parked the boat on a beach and we ate lunch while waiting. When we got a chance to do it, the guide would direct the captain to steer near the whale shark, and then we'd get in the water and the boat would swing around in circles until we were ready to board. Our first encounter spooked the whale shark and it swam away, so we had to get back in the boat to repeat. Fortunately, with an hour trip we were able to scan around and finally found one that was moving slowly and we got plenty of pictures.

The next day we did a snorkel trip, but the water was murky. On our last day, we were supposed to visit Cabo Pulmo for a snorkel trip, but the tour operator canceled on us despite perfect weather. My guess was that it being a Sunday they wanted the day off and just made up some excuse to not do the trip. We booked a taxi to Santa Maria beach where Boen finally managed to see some fish.
On our finaly afternoon I finally persuaded Boen and Bowen to try the water slides and they had a fun time.
We did achieve all our objectives, but I'm not sure I need to repeat this trip. The Carribean is still a better place to visit.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Review: Woom 5 off

Bowen's been mountain biking enough that I bought him wider tires for his Woom 4. Of course, while corresponding with Woom about the maximum tire size I could fit on the 4, the owner casually mentioned that the Woom 5 off was going to be available soon.  He met the height requirement (50") right on his birthday, so I ordered the Woom 5 off. We expected to hold on to the bike for several years between Bowen and Boen, so I ordered a pair of "road" wheels as well so we could easily swap between mountain bike and road bike configurations.

The salient features of the Woom 5 off vs the regular version (other than the $200 premium) are the carbon fork and the disc brakes. The off also comes  with wider ties, suitable for mountain biking. I'm well known for my dislike of disc brakes. However, I hate the cantilever/V-brakes that come with the regular Woom bikes even more: those are even worse!

My lack of experience with disc brakes meant that putting together the bike was an unusually bad experience, culminating with Woom sending me off to the local bike shop to resolve a persistently bad brake rub situation that turned out to be partly my fault (I didn't realize that the big plastic piece that came with the wheel was the disc brake side axle washer), and partly theirs (the rotor was out of true). Woom paid for the work, which turned out not to be expensive ($18), but obviously made me feel very good about company. The spoke protector was also out of alignment, and they had sent me 2 left-sided pedals instead of a left and a right! This was an unusually poor experience, but Woom made everything right.

The bike is light and Bowen loves it. The easy stopping power of the discs meant that his hands no longer hurt on steep off-road descents, which was one of the main reasons to go with a disc brake! The wide tires are surprisingly light, and if you're not a stickler like me for maximizing your kid's experience with cycling, I'm not sure it's worth the expense of an extra set of wheels to get the lower rolling resistance of road bike tires. (Though I could be wrong --- if Bowen decides to go touring on his single this would be an essential purchase anyway!)

Color me impressed. It's extra expensive, but if you have more than one kid in the family, it's probably worth springing for the disc brake version of the Woom bikes rather than the regular. The reduction in hassle compared to cantilever/V-brakes in itself would be worth it.


Thursday, December 12, 2019

Review: Rising Stars Compendium

I tried to find Rising Stars after reading Straczinski's autobiography, and to my surprise it wasn't available from the library. Fortunately, it was available through Comixology Unlimited program with a 30 day free trial, so I checked it out that way.

Good Superhero books are difficult to write: all the tropes have been explored at this time, and the giants of the field, Watchmen and Miracleman (both written by Alan Moore) have yet to be surpassed even decades after Alan Moore has left the field.

Unfortunately, Straczinski's Rising Stars doesn't come close to any of the giants. It's not even as good as Frank Miller's run on Daredevil collected in Born Again.

The premise of the story is that a single event caused the birth of a hundred odd kids with super powers, and of course the government gathers them together and brings them up together. The consequence of this one time event is explored. There are a few interesting twists (such as a person who's invulnerable but has no other super powers), but mostly there aren't any interesting new twists save for a single villain whose multiple personality disorder manifests her powers.

The story starts with a murder mystery, but the murder mystery is unfair (the power behind it was never disclosed to you until after the fact), and the resolution to it is unsatisfying. Then the last third of the book gets really hokey and unbelievable. You might think that this is an unreasonable  expectation for someone reading a comic book to expect believability, but in this case it was so egregious it was dumb. (no, radiation poisoning is not a contagious disease!) To top it off the ending is hokey and  dumb.

I can't recommend this book. I don't understand why it got any of the acclaim it did.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Review: Magic for Liars

Magic for Liars appeared in several year's end "best-of" lists, so I picked it up with high hopes. It's set in a parallel world to our reality where magic exists, and the novel takes place mostly in an imaginary private school in Sunol. The viewpoint character, Ivy Gamble cannot perform magic, but is the sister of a talented magician who's part of the faculty at the Osthorne Academy of Young Mages, and when a teacher at the school dies, Ivy as a private investigator, is brought in despite the authorities pronouncing suicide.

So far so good. A murder mystery, a magical high school, and a viewpoint character who can get the magic system explained to her by the magical characters, and by grit, smarts or a combination of other personal qualities, will solve the mystery, lead a denouement, and grant us closure.

At a high level all of those properties are true of this book, and the setting is somewhat fresh and there are a few red herrings thrown in. Yet the book fails on several levels:
  1. The magic system is never explained, so the mystery is not fair. In other words, at the denouement, rules that were previously laid down in the novel were broken, so the reader has no prayer of solving the mystery on his or her own, except through the meta-mechanism of: "it's always the spouse." This is unsatisfying for many obvious reasons.
  2. Despite the setting being a school, there's not enough faculty or students in the novel to grant you a feeling of reality. You get the impression that this is a play that's designed for 5-6 characters, and despite the apparent setting you're stuck talking with/thinking about the same 5-6 characters. (Which means that if you took a random guess you would be right 1/6th of the time)
  3. OK, you can claim that (1) is never necessary in a Raymond Chandler novel. But Chandler's novels (and many sterling examples of the genre, such as Altered Carbon) have protagonists that are witty, sardonic, cynical with brilliant turns of phrases, while Sarah Gailey's Ivy Gamble is an alcoholic person who's out of touch with herself, and shows no scintillating wit.
I got to the end of the novel, but didn't feel that the pay off was worth the effort. After I was done I felt like cleansing my palette and going off and reading some decent Raymond Chandler instead.  If this novel wins any awards it'll be because of politics rather than good writing (like All the Birds in the Sky) Not recommended.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Review: The Art of Negotiating the Best Deal

I've done quite a bit of negotiating for clients, on several occasions negotiating 7 figure sums (and in one case RSUs that turned out to be worth in the 8 figures), but I'm always trying to improve my art. The Art of Negotiating the Best Deal is a great courses audio series that came highly recommended.

The first couple of lectures were repetitive, boring stuff. It's not until chapter 8 where Professor Freeman gets into BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Settlement), which I feel is the first effective method (and the most effective method for most engineers) when it comes to negotiating compensation: basically, if you don't have any alternatives that pay better than the company you're negotiating with, then you have no leverage.

Starting with chapter 8, however, Professor Freeman gets into a framework for negotiating that I think is potentially useful, including a framework for discussing different types of negotiations: distributive negotiations (zero sum games) vs non-distributive negotiations. One interesting point  that he makes is that stepping away from the negotiating table and taking time to prepare is a great approach and often improves outcome. This fact alone explains why my clients frequently do better than clients who try to negotiate on their own: to make full use of my services they have to step away from the negotiation and call, e-mail, or text me and wait for a reply, and that distance keeps them from panicking and accepting a suboptimal offer.

Similarly, the framework introduced in chapter 14, "I FORESAW IT" is a good one to use and encourages people to try for creative negotiations.

There are several places where Freeman clearly doesn't negotiate as much as I do in certain domains. For instance, he claims that you can negotiate vacation as part of a compensation package. In my experience, it's very rare that companies do so. On the other hand, some of his case studies are great: there's one example in chapter 14 where an apparently great deal turns out to be a terrible one, and Freeman explains why and how.

For parents, there's also a chapter about negotiating with kids. (It's a stand-in for negotiating with difficult people) It's good and I wish there was more of that in this audio series.

All in all, I thought the series could stand more of the case studies I described above, but even I learned quite a bit from it so I can recommend it!

Monday, December 09, 2019

Review: Becoming Superman

Despite not being a fan of J. Michael Straczynski after reading Superman - Earth One, I picked up his autobiography Becoming Superman, which received rave reviews. It's a book that deserves its rave reviews.

Straczynski's childhood life was horrific, ranging from a mom who dropped him off the roof of a house, to an abusive, alcoholic control-freak dad. It's a clear ode to a man who was clearly a dandelion, who as a teenager that he decided to be whatever his dad wasn't. (Some of us who didn't have abusive childhood made that decision as well, but obviously we didn't have so much of an anti-role model as Straczynski). His parents apparently successfully killed one of his siblings, and his horror of childhood was such that in his early adulthood he had an irreversible vasectomy just so he wouldn't be able to father any progeny.

The story of Straczynski's life is interspersed with a mystery, a name repeatedly showing up in his childhood mentioned by his parents, which later shows up as a denouement for the autobiography. Along with all this is a rinse and repeat expose of what writing for Hollywood is like, his time on various TV animation series, and how he tried to fight the censors, some of whom actually thought that the Necronomicon is a real book.

This book answers a few question I'd always had. For instance, why was Babylon 5 so unwatchable for me, despite getting all those rave reviews. And of course, all the politics behind how Deep Space 9 came to be.

In any case, I found this book not just profoundly readable, but also fun to read, despite all the horrific scenes and descriptions of Straczynski's early life. Recommended! The book makes me want to read more of his comics, even though Superman - Earth One didn't make me a fan.

Saturday, December 07, 2019

2020 Book Reviews


Audio Books

Friday, December 06, 2019

Review: RAVPower GAN Slim 45W USB-C charger

I hesitated over buying the RAVPower GAN charger for a long time, only opting to pull the trigger when I knew I had a trip upcoming where I was going to bring my XPS 13. With 45W of power over USB-C, this replaced the 144g Dell charger with a much slimmer and lighter 78g device. I was worried that the device would be awkward to use because of its long flat profile (no doubt for better heat dissipation), but it turned out that my biggest problem was that the device is too easy to pull off a power socket (no doubt because its long body provide lots of easy leverage).

Nevertheless, as only one of two chargers I brought on this trip, it did its duty charging the laptop, various phones, and also the tablets and camera (with a USB-C to USB-A dongle). In use, the device got warm but never got hot, and it's reliable about charging everything I own. Recommended. While there are lighter devices out there, they tend to cap out at 18W or 30W making them useless for charging the laptop.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Review: Nikon W300

After losing our AW130 last year, I waited until May to replace it with the Nikon W300 this year for the Shasta Trip, but didn't use it all that much during the trip, so waited until this past snorkeling trip to review it.

The image quality and other attributes of the device hasn't changed much between revisions --- the zoom range is identical, as is the resolution, etc. I would review all those aspects, since I mostly only notice what changes.

First, the UI seems to have degraded. It's no longer easy to switch scene modes, but the camera seems to do a good job of selecting which mode to use so I'm not going to gripe too much. What's impressive though is the wireless connectivity, which used to upload downgraded photos via the Nikon Camera app. Now, a new app has been tasked with this, and it's called Snapbridge. This connects to the camera via Bluetooth, and now downloads full resolution pictures to your phone without having to open up the camera and pulling out the SD card. Usually by the time we returned to the hotel from a snorkeling trip all the photos have uploaded to the phone and are ready for sharing.

I looked around for other waterproof cameras and none of them have the depth rating (100') that the Nikon has, and I've had very bad experiences with waterproof cases in the past, so this is still the camera I recommend for divers and snorkelers.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Review: Vaincre Kids Snorkel Mask

I'll state up front that there's a ton of controversy over the concept of a Snorkel Mask, with some claiming that it's dangerous, while others claiming that it's because of either a cheap knock-off or use misuse. These masks are intended for surface snorkeling only, and not for free diving, so it's quite possible that some people killed themselves by free-diving in it. Examining the snorkel mask, it's also quite possible that an improper design could cause air exchange to be a problem. Of course, Americans can make nearly anything dangerous.

That said, I bought the Vaincre Snorkel Mask because try as I might, we could not find a snorkel with a mouthpiece that would fit Boen. It is my belief that the elimination of concerns about breathing is the biggest obstacle to learning to swim, as my experience with Bowen bore out. Bowen was the kind of kid who would follow instructions, but Boen wasn't, so with him I had to get him a snorkel mask so he could breath through his nose instead of trying to do that while wearing a mask/snorkel and then choking.

Our first day of swimming bore this out. Boen loved it so much that he wore it into the Jaccuzzi.

Then the next day we took Boen and Bowen on the whale shark tour, and once he saw that Bowen had a mask and snorkel just like daddy's he refused and insisted on wearing a regular mask and snorkel as well.  But he just couldn't fit it into his mouth and never made it off the boat. Then he tried again the day after at an easy snorkel tour and would still end up breathing water instead of air.
On the final day of our trip we went to Santa Maria Beach and finally, Boen was willing to wear the snorkel mask into real snorkeling conditions. The difference was nothing short of a revelation. Not only could he see fish for a change, with his fins he happily pushed away my hands and chased after them by himself. While it wasn't a super long trip, it was clear that he was happy and comfortable in the water in ways that he wasn't before using the snorkel mask. In the pool, he's now confident that he can swim and propel himself, which wasn't true before.

Now I will state that I was always monitoring the kid (anyone in real snorkeling conditions with a 4 year old has to do that anyway!) and checking for any signs of distress or pain. But on the same Santa Maria trip Bowen had much more struggle with his snorkel and mask, and needed to abandon the entire attempt without even seeing a single fish, so you can have problems with any kind of equipment. The onus is always on you to check on your kids using this stuff.

With that in mind I'll recommend this piece of gear. Boen would never have been able to snorkel without it, so put me in the "these things are safe if intelligently used" camp.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Review: Passage of Power

Passage of Power is Robert A Caro's biography covering Lyndon Johnson's career between the last year of his time in the Senate (including his unsuccessful run to be the Democratic nominee against John F Kennedy) and the 100 days after his assumption of the presidency after Kennedy was assassinated.

The selection of time period was so that Caro could have a rising arc and end on a triumphant note. Basically, Johnson under-estimated Kennedy as a politician, and failed to campaign early enough or sufficiently strongly to claim the primary. Then when asked to be his running mate, Johnson looked at the odds and decided that 1 in 5 Vice Presidents got to be presidents without having to be elected, which was pretty good odds by his standards.

Those 3 years as Vice President proved to be demonstrative about how much loss of power affected Johnson. Stripped of the power he had as majority leader, he became obsequious, humbling himself but still not getting anywhere near the levers of power.

The death of JFK made Johnson presidency and effected an immediate transformation. Caro by no means is a huge fan of Johnson, but he makes several good points: first, because JFK wasn't a master legislature and spent very little time in the senate, both his major bills (the tax cut and the civil rights bill) were stuck in the senate. Only Johnson, with his grasp of what was going on could have pushed both of JFK's bills through, and it wasn't just because of sympathy for Kennedy's policies:
“Startled officials at the Government Printing Office” picked up their telephones to find that the caller was the President, ordering them not to close for the weekend in case the Finance Committee report was completed, one account said. Then a “flabbergasted” Elizabeth Springer picked up the phone to find the President of the United States on the line to tell her that the Printing Office was waiting for the manuscript. “No other President of the United States,” this account said, “had ever been quite so familiar with the minutiae of the legislative process.” (Kindle Loc 12863)
He had never had a gift for (or even much interest in) the more pragmatic requirements of Senate warfare: for learning, and using, the rules. (Russell “knew all the rules … and how to use them,” Johnson had told him in that Oval Office lecture. “He [Johnson] said liberals had never really worked to understand the rules and how to use them, that we never organized effectively, … predicting that we would fall apart in dissension, be absent when quorum calls were made and when critical votes were taken.”) Nor had he ever had a gift for organization; or for counting votes without false optimism. (Kindle Loc 13002) 
It was also because Johnson was under the gun if he wanted to win the presidency for himself in 1964: 
“I knew,” he was to tell Doris Goodwin, “that if I didn’t get out in front on this issue, [the liberals] would get me.… I had to produce a civil rights bill that was even stronger than the one they’d have gotten if Kennedy had lived.” And there was, as always, something more than calculation. Assuring Richard Goodwin there would be “no compromises on civil rights; I’m not going to bend an inch,” he added, “In the Senate [as Leader] I did the best I could. But I had to be careful.… But I always vowed that if I ever had the power I’d make sure every Negro had the same chance as every white man. Now I have it. And I’m going to use it.” (Kindle Loc 12980)
 Overall, the major point of the book is that history has tended to belittle Johnson's accomplishments in 1964 and 1965 with major legislature and programs, in the light of his later issue (Vietnam, etc). While parts of the book felt like padding, most of it was not, and all of it was worth reading. Recommended.

Monday, December 02, 2019

Review: The Big Picture

The Big Picture is Sean Carroll's philosophy book. I wasn't sure what to expect when I was reading it, and the early part reminded me of his Great Courses series  on Time. But once past that, he goes into ontology, ethics, and as well as that philosophical question: "What is Real?" The unique part of this, of course, is that Caroll is a physicist, so we get a unique view on what Quantum Mechanics means in terms of What is Real.

I especially loved the section on ESP and Telekinesis, having never heard someone explain it quite this way: in particular, since we've pretty much uncovered all the forces that can affect us (both on the microscopic or macroscopic level), there's very little chance that there's another force that can affect the world, so ESP/Telekinesis advocates have literally nothing to work with. (This also applies to stuff like force fields and other science fiction apparatus)

There's a great section about Bayesian statistical thinking, and how to evaluate priors and how to apply that to theories, but again, Carroll takes a twist and applies it to "how should you think about the existence of God?" This is all done with a scientist's enjoyment of exploratory thinking, and interjected with a personal memoir that I enjoyed reading.
Here in the early years of the twenty-first century, a majority of philosophers and scientists are naturalists. But in the public sphere, at least in the United States, on questions of morality and meaning, religion and spirituality are given a preeminent place. Our values have not yet caught up to our best ontology. They had better start catching up. When it comes to deciding how to live, we’re like that first fish flapping up onto land: faced with a new world of challenges and opportunities, and not yet really adapted to it. (KIndle Loc 6351)
I really had enjoyed this book. Sure, there's lots of stuff in here that you've probably read about before, but the unique twists that Caroll brings to that material, be it quantum mechanics or Bayesian statistical thinking are worth the time. Recommended.